“Common sense isn’t regional,” former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and self-made businessman Herman Cain told The Daily Caller in a sit-down interview in TheDC’s downtown Washington office. “When I talk about common sense solutions with respect to what I would do about the economy in order to truly stimulate it, it resonates with people all over the country.”
From before last year’s midterm elections, Cain has been traveling the country, preaching his “common sense” message and becoming a Tea Party star. Cain, who has formed a presidential exploratory committee in preparation for a potential run for the White House, relies on grassroots conservatives, what he calls the “citizens’ movement,” as his base of support. It is a movement he expects to remain an influential part of American politics for generations to come, much less the next election cycle.
Cain said he “sees evidence” of grassroots conservatism’s vitality when he travels around the country. “I’ll go to a town in Iowa or New Hampshire, for example, and they’ll announce that I’m going to be there,” Cain said. “My field guy will say, ‘We have a problem,’ and I say, ‘Well, what’s the problem.’ He’ll say, ‘the room can only handle 50 people, and they had to turn 10 people away.’ People are hungry for leadership and they’re hungry to hear about how we solve stuff, not more rhetoric about what’s wrong.”
WATCH: Herman Cain’s interview with The Daily Caller:
Though Cain has exceptionally low name recognition, he sees his common sense, grassroots effort bearing results.
“We have very definitive measure that shows that this ground game that we’re doing is working,” Cain said. “The analogy that I like to use is that a football team that has a very strong running game and a mediocre passing game is going to win a whole lot more games than the team that has a strong passing game and a mediocre running game.”
Cain told TheDC he’s “probably” going to officially announce his candidacy “within the next six weeks or less,” and maintains confidence in his ability to win. After all, he says, he’s a “very determined person.”
“Whenever I read an article that says I don’t have a chance at getting the nomination, that just inspires me,” Cain said. “My whole life, in terms of my professional pursuits, has been against the odds because I’m not very easily discouraged when going after a challenge. Sometimes, the bigger the challenge, the more inspired I get.”
Cain’s motivation isn’t something that should be underestimated. He grew up poor in the suburbs of Atlanta, and his story fits almost perfectly into the “American dream” narrative. He said poor people in America now are more easily “hooked on staying poor.” Cain believes that America needs to shift from an “entitlement mindset” to an “empowerment mindset.”
“When I was growing up, there wasn’t as much temptation to stay on government assistance programs because you knew that if you wanted to improve your economic situation, that you were going to have to do it the old-fashioned way,” Cain said. “You were going to have to work for it. So, today, too many people have been tempted and lulled into this victim mindset and then they become their own worst enemy in terms of getting out of this cycle of being poor.”
Cain’s corporate professional history is what he plans to model his campaign after. He rose to the top of two different companies. At Pillsbury, he moved through the ranks to become a vice president in his early thirties. Then he started over at Burger King, a Pillsbury subsidiary. He started at the bottom to learn the restaurant business. He worked in a Minneapolis store making hamburgers as he worked through the company’s management training program. He ultimately ended up managing 400 Burger King stores in the Philadelphia region. Then, Pillsbury named him the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and he turned that struggling subsidiary around in 14 months. He and a group of investors eventually bought out Godfather’s Pizza from Pillsbury.
One issue Cain is likely to confront during the campaign – which might both surprise and anger his conservative grassroots supporters — is his previous support for the first Temporary Asset Relief Program (TARP) signed into law by President Bush. In an interview at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference with Shark Tank blogger Javiar Manjarres, Cain said he “supported the concept of TARP without knowing what the details were,” but that he “didn’t agree with the implementation.”
Manjarres told TheDC he was caught off guard when he heard that – it wasn’t something he expected Cain to say. He said Cain still stands by his statement of why he supported TARP, and why he supported the concept of it. “Regardless of how it was implemented or not, he was still for it,” Manjarres said in a phone interview. “He was for the bailout, in other words.” Manjarres said he got the impression that Cain still supports the concept of the TARP bailout.
Cain’s spokeswoman told TheDC that Cain now understands why the TARP bailout was a bad program, having seen what little effect it has had.
“If Mr. Cain knew then what he knows now, he, like many other conservatives, would have actually opposed the passage of the Troubled Assets Relief Program,” Cain spokeswoman Ellen Carmichael said in an email.
Cain, who is black, said he doesn’t expect his race to be an issue in his campaign.
“[S]ome people voted for Barack Obama because they wanted to have elected a black president in their lifetime,” Cain said. “Okay, hopefully they’re over that. It now gets to focusing on the content of one’s ideas and character.”
Obama “was a fresh voice, a fresh face, and he put together and ran one heck of a campaign – I don’t take anything away from him for that,” Cain continued. “But, I don’t think the majority of people voted for him just because he was black. I’m just saying, now that we’ve gone down that road, let’s just simply get on to comparing ideas and comparing leadership styles.”
It is on that platform Cain believes he can emerge triumphant in a competition with the president. But first, he has to make it through what is likely to be a extremely crowded GOP primary.