Herman Cain won’t be “trashing” his fellow tea-party candidate Michele Bachmann, but he’s convinced that his more extensive business experience will give him a boost among voters.
“I would make my case [to undecided tea-party voters] not by trashing Bachmann,” Cain tells National Review Online in a wide-ranging interview today. “I happen to think that she’s very competent, very capable, and I like the fact that she is helping to deliver the conservative message. On issues, you’re not going to find us too far apart.”
Instead, Cain pinpoints “leadership style” as the key difference between himself and the Minnesota congresswoman.
“She has been a businesswoman at one point in her career. I have been a businessman my entire career. So I have a longer track record of fixing problems, of turning things around,” Cain says, adding that the “diversity of problem situations” he had coped with during his time at Pillsbury, Godfather’s Pizza, and the National Restaurant Association gave him more experience than Bachmann gained in her time as a tax attorney.
He won’t be targeting frontrunner Mitt Romney on his record or bringing up the Massachusetts health-care program, either. “I’m going to leave that to the media,” he says. “They’re doing a good job beating him up on that hill. They don’t need my help.”
He also pushed back against the suggestion that the resignation of Matt Murphy, the only Cain staffer in New Hampshire, meant he wasn’t competing to win in the Granite State. Murphy told the New Hampshire Union-Leader yesterday that he had no “ill will” toward Cain, but that the two had differences regarding how often Cain should visit New Hampshire and whether the campaign should spend more and hire additional staff for the state.
“The statement that Matt Murphy made that we were not competing in New Hampshire was false,” Cain says, noting that he’d visited the state 14 times since the beginning of the year. He’s been to Iowa 21 times. “The only reason there’s a seven-visit difference is because Iowa votes first,” Cain remarks. “I’ll catch up to New Hampshire when we get Iowa behind us.”
He confirmed that he plans to have more than one staffer in New Hampshire in the near future, but wouldn’t give the exact number. “Can’t tell you that,” he chuckles. “I don’t want Mitt Romney to know.”
That’s not to say he plans to compete with Romney on money or staff, though. “No matter how many we have, he’s going to have about five or ten times more. Numbers aren’t necessarily what’s driving this train,” he says. “We’re not going to raise as much money as Mitt Romney is capable of spending, or what he’s already spent.”
When he’s not polishing his campaign strategy, Cain continues to develop detailed policy positions. On economic growth, he’s at least as optimistic as Tim Pawlenty, whose economic plan calls for a 5 percent growth rate. “If Herman Cain is president, I believe we can be growing 5 or 6 percent,” he says. He plans to achieve this through aggressive tax cuts, coupled with a switch to the FairTax, which involves eliminating the IRS and levying a federal sales tax instead. To him, economic reform is also a national-security issue: He believes the U.S. “must outgrow” China, which is currently experiencing double-digit economic growth. When pressed, he clarifies that we don’t need to grow at a higher rate than China; we merely need to grow quickly enough to stay well ahead.
When it comes to foreign policy, Cain views his lack of experience as ultimately irrelevant “How much foreign-policy experience do you need to listen to experts?” he asks. “How much foreign-policy experience do you need to not telegraph what you’re going to do to your enemy?”
When asked which experts he would consult, Cain rattles off a list of four-star generals and national-security hawks: Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. David Petraeus, Reagan-administration official K. T. McFarland, and former United Nations ambassador John Bolton. “There’s a long list of people who know what the hell we should be doing,” he says.
But shouldn’t the president himself know? “Not necessarily,” Cain argues, “because we got more than one problem.” His economic expertise is more essential, he believes.
Cain is frank about the fact that he lacks a blueprint for how he’d handle the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. He excuses this omission because “I don’t have access to part of the information” — our top-secret intelligence, that is. “I’m developing that blueprint now.”
But he does have concerns. First, “How do we exit this Libyan situation?” For now, it’s Obama’s problem, and Cain hopes we’ll be out of that country by 2013. Second is Iran. “If we are perceived as having a leader that will not be decisive when it comes to national security or standing by our allies, it might tempt them to test us,” Cain warns.
Yes, Cain’s foreign policy is precarious, and his comfort with cuts to the Defense Department is sure to rile conservatives. “It’s on the table,” Cain says, before qualifying that he will evaluate each major program individually. “I’m not going to say, ‘I will cut the defense budget,’ because the world is not safe. I will examine the defense budget to see if there are some legitimate things there that we need to cut.”
Cain confronted inefficiencies in the Defense Department firsthand as a member of its citizens’ advisory board, serving for a year in the 2000s. Its mission was to bring the best business practices to the military. “That sounds good, doesn’t it?” Cain asks, chuckling. Unfortunately, the higher-ups weren’t interested in the board’s advice. When it suggested that the military privatize its mail-sorting service, the top brass ignored the recommendation. “I said, ‘If you all can’t get them to switch something as simple as the mail system, I’m wasting my time,’” Cain concludes.
A stubborn bureaucracy also impedes progress on the immigration crisis, Cain contends. “The problem with the current path to citizenship happens to be the bureaucracy within the government — within ICE.”
One path that Cain thinks needs repaving is the H-1B visa, which allows high-skilled immigrants to work in the U.S. Cain supports increasing the number of high-skilled immigrants in the country, though he can’t say by how much.
He adds, “I would open it up to people that have some skills or, you know, other skills, not just high-skilled people.” Yes, “you’re going to get pushback from the unions; you’re going to get pushback from some industries: ‘You mean you’re going to let all these people come in here and take American jobs?’ Uh, no. If you get off your ass, and go to work, and you show that you’re competent . . .”
Why is he so eager to grab more immigrants? “We’re in a global economy!” Cain exclaims. “Why build barriers that don’t make sense? If high-skilled people want to come to the United States, if medium-skilled people want to come to the United States . . . let them in!”
Ultimately, Cain’s convinced that his policy viewpoints and business experience will attract voters — and that they won’t be dismayed by his lack of political experience. But he’s also reached out to others who have gone straight to a high political office from the private sector. Cain has spoken to Republicans including Ron Johnson, a senator from Wisconsin, and Rick Scott, governor of Florida, about the rare experience of running for a high office without having been elected previously. Their advice to him has been simple.
“They said, ‘Herman, keep doing what you’re doing, because it’s working,’” Cain says.
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute. Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.