Herman Cain, a rising GOP presidential contender, tells National Review Online that meeting the late Jack Kemp was the major turning point in his political life.
“He helped me to focus in on the power of the free-market system,” Cain says, as we chat in his hotel room, a few blocks from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference. “Growing up in corporate America, I was in the middle of it. I didn’t step back and analyze it. He helped me to realize that it was under attack; he helped me to recognize the grenades that were being thrown at the free-market system; he helped to realize, and even study, how tax rates being too high was a negative against the free-market system.”
Kemp, the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 1996, first met Cain, then the chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, at an Omaha airport terminal in 1994, soon after Cain famously confronted President Clinton during a Hillarycare town-hall event.
Kemp, then a leading Republican in Washington, fresh off of a stint in the George H.W. Bush administration, was intrigued by Cain’s corporate success and frank style. So he chartered a plane to the Cornhusker State.
“Jack Kemp flew to Omaha, Nebraska on a private plane,” Cain recalls. “We met at airport, at the private airport terminal, for three hours and talked. We talked about capitalism, we talked about entrepreneurship, we talked about enterprise zones, we talked about Godfather’s Pizza, we talked my career, and so forth, etc. Then he got on the plane and left.
“He came just to get to know me,” Cain smiles. “I was flattered; I was somewhat shocked. He didn’t come with an agenda. He didn’t ask for a contribution — nothing.”
But Kemp did fly away impressed. A year later, he enlisted Cain to join him on the Economic Growth and Tax Reform Commission, a congressional study group. The pair’s relationship — part advisory, part friendly — continued during the 1996 presidential campaign.
“Jack Kemp just didn’t look at my resume; he was the type of person who wanted to look in my heart, and know who I am and what I stood for,” Cain says.
The admiration was mutual. Cain, Kemp would say later, has the “voice of Othello, the looks of a football player, the English of Oxfordian quality and the courage of a lion.”