In February, Cain traveled to Madison to support Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who was attempting to pass a budget-repair bill as the public unions roiled. Cain’s chief of staff, Mark Block, is a former Wisconsin organizer for Americans for Prosperity, a leading tea-party group.
Cain’s speech outside the state capitol, at what he called “ground zero” in the national labor debate, was an example of how he follows the conservative zeitgeist, flying to wherever politics are hot. But, if one keeps close watch, it is clear that he balances out his appearances: Some days he is rallying with Andrew Breitbart, other days he is meeting with pastors.
As a devout Baptist, Cain is pro-life and supportive of traditional marriage. In South Carolina, he chastised President Obama for not defending the Defense of Marriage Act. He once called Obama’s refusal to uphold the law via the Department of Justice “treason.” The moderator’s mention of this dusty quote brought cheers.
One of Cain’s few snags on the domestic front, at least among the tea-party crowd, is his support for the Troubled Assets Relief Program in 2008. In a column, he chided the “free-market purists” who criticized the legislation. “Wake up people!” he wrote. “Owning a part of the major banks in America is not a bad thing. We could make a profit while solving a problem.”
If Cain continues to shine, that column could haunt. But the Georgian is not worried. “I don’t have any regrets,” he says. “I studied the situation. I didn’t have trouble with the idea; I had trouble with its implementation, picking winners and losers.”
With the federal government bleeding red ink, gas prices skyrocketing, and businesses not hiring, Cain thinks there is an appetite for somebody different, somebody fresh. Heart and experience, he bets, will take him far.
“Maybe I’m a little ambitious,” he says. “But that’s nothing new.”
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.