Cain on Cain
The former frontrunner reflects on his abortive run.


Robert Costa

Since suspending his presidential campaign, Herman Cain hasn’t really discussed his candidacy. He’s done a couple of television interviews, some radio appearances, but for the most part, he has bottled his feelings. He has shared few of his frustrations, of which there are many. But as he sinks into an armchair at a posh Midtown Manhattan hotel, Cain tells me that he is ready to ruminate, to start cobbling together his conclusions.

It’s been two weeks since Cain left the contest under a cloud of questions, both personal and political. In the days since, he has huddled with his wife, Gloria, at home in Atlanta. He has taken meetings with television executives and former donors. It’s been quiet, he says, busy but private. His cell phone, for the first time in months, is not buzzing. The primary has moved on.

Cain sighs and cracks a wistful grin. “I’m not bitter but I am disappointed and angry at times,” he says. “That’s different from being bitter.”

Perhaps. But what a year, what a ride. Cain began the spring as a tea-party nobody, entered the summer as a tea-party favorite, and by October had become a serious White House contender, leading numerous polls. Weeks later, after a never-ending swirl of allegations, he was a national pariah.

Reflecting on that ride is akin to asking a hoarse teenager to grade a roller-coaster, seconds after the screaming descent. But he’ll try. And over the course of 70 minutes, Cain does. “I’m not running for president, so I can say whatever the hell I want to say,” he chuckles.

Here are a dozen snippets from our conversation, which, as one might expect, drifted between topics.

The outsider: One of Cain’s main gripes concerns Republican grandees, such as Karl Rove, and how they responded to his campaign. “Let’s just say they haven’t tolerated such a bold outsider,” he says. “If you’re a timid outsider, they will tolerate you and give you an assignment to go to Weyauwega [a tiny Wisconsin town] and talk to the local Weyauwega Republicans. A lot of people within the party didn’t want to see me succeed. Some did, but I’m still an outsider.”

On race: After speaking at countless GOP and tea-party events over the past two years, “I detect no racism; I detect enthusiasm,” Cain says. “Are there possibly some elements out there that may not like the fact that I’m a black man? Yeah. But honestly, in my heart, I do not believe that the Republican party is fundamentally racist. I do not.” The “nut jobs” that caused trouble with death threats, he surmises, did so because he was a leading candidate, not because of his race.

On Democrats: Cain has scorn for those across the aisle who considered him a token black conservative in the GOP primary, or worse, a pawn of GOP interests. “To them, by being a black conservative, and a successful black conservative, you have wandered off the plantation and that’s not allowed,” he says. “I think there is more resentment of me being a black conservative in the Democratic party than in the Republican party. I really do.”