Cain, for his part, mentioned Romney first when talking about which fellow candidate he would most likely pick as vice president if he were the nominee. “If Governor Romney would throw out his jobs-growth plan and replace it with ‘9-9-9,’ he has a shot,” Cain said before going on to speculate about Newt Gingrich as another possibility.
But if Romney has largely held his fire so far, Cain has not been similarly reluctant. He has said that Romney’s business background is “Wall Street,” while his is “Main Street.” Asked by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show
what he thought of Romney, Cain said, “Good hair.” In June, Cain told the Washington Times
that Romney was hurt this cycle by having “an ankle bracelet on called Romneycare.” Noting that he had endorsed Romney in 2008 (“I like Mitt”), Cain pointed out that Romney hadn’t won the nomination and added, “I don’t think that he is going to be any stronger this time around, [against] Barack Obama, even though Barack Obama has a terrible record.”
His hesitation about Romney is nothing new. It’s true that Cain endorsed Romney in a glowing column in 2008. But that may have had more to do with what he thought of John McCain than what he thought of Romney. Cain disliked McCain’s record on taxes and immigration, among other issues.
Even more significant is how few mentions Romney earned in Cain’s weekly column during the election cycle. In a December 2006 column, Cain dismissed the GOP field as “as inspiring as Saturday’s leftovers for Monday’s lunch,” and, noting Romney, pointedly asked, “Where does he stand on the issues today?” In March 2007 column entitled, “Presidential Baggage Check,” Cain wrote, “Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper on the social issues; he’s Mormon; and his hair is too perfectly groomed.” Cain tackled Romney’s Mormonism in greater depth in a confusing October 2007 column titled, “Mitt Romney Is a Mormon and I Am a Baptist: Get Over It!” In the piece, Cain argued that Mormons shared religious beliefs with other Christians, including Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics. But he ultimately made the case not for accepting a Mormon candidate per se (“This is not an endorsement of Mitt Romney, nor is this intended to defend or explain the Mormon religion. It is a reminder that Christianity has several denominations with different practices.”), but for preferring a candidate who clearly had religious beliefs. “Since the First Amendment to the Constitution protects us from a president imposing his religious preference on the rest of us, I would rather have a president with some religion than one whose religion is suspect,” Cain wrote.
The final mention of Romney in the Cain columns from the previous election cycle is in a February 2008 column, in which Cain briefly notes that Romney “has gracefully ended Act One of the drama in the Republican presidential primary by suspending his campaign.” Over the course of that campaign, Romney got exactly five mentions by Cain, including the endorsement column — hardly the sign of an enthusiastic supporter. Significantly, Cain only endorsed Romney on February 4, 2008. Just days later, Romney officially ended his campaign.
So far, Romney has handled Cain’s sudden meteoric rise in the polls by continuing his friendly attitude. Asked on Fox and Friends last week what vulnerabilities Cain had, Romney refused to go that route, saying “Herman Cain’s a good man and I respect him. I’m not going to look at his vulnerabilities.”
But as the intensely negative back-and-forth between Romney and Perry in recent weeks has shown, Romney’s not afraid to attack when he feels threatened by another candidate. For Cain, the best sign that he’s a viable contender for the GOP nomination may not be a surge in the polls, but criticism from Romney.
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.