An Open Letter to Herman Cain

| October 20, 2011 | 11 Replies

Mr. Cain,

I don’t know if you remember me, but we’ve spoken three or four times. I supported your run for President before you actually declared. I was on board the Cain Train before there was even a train to board. Your limited government principles, faith in the American people, and common-sense ideas for good governance would help this country immensely.

But you have to get to the White House first. You know, as a successful businessman, that you can have all the big concepts right but still watch your plans crash and burn because of poor planning or flaws in execution. So far, the big concepts you’ve outlined have put you out in front, but you’re on the verge of a crash and burn and I don’t think you will get to the White House if you continue to do what you are doing.

I realize that’s a harsh thing to say, and I have very likely overstepped my bounds. I’m about as far from the kind of person a national candidate would hire as you can get: uncredentialed, unsophisticated, and without a multi-page political resume. However, I am a careful observer and, like you, I have spent much of my life solving problems. I see problems with your campaign and I’d like to help you solve them.

Some of your recent public comments, especially on the release of Gilad Shalit and the abortion issue, have hurt you among people who might otherwise be on your side. You’ve done well to clarify your comments, but the cycle of “speak then correct” has become common with your campaign. It can not become a habit. Voters do like politicians who correct themselves when they’ve said something wrong, but when it happens often, they will see that politician as unreliable and uninformed. You can not afford to be labeled as either one, not among Republicans who have reputations for stability and intelligence.

This might run against all your instincts, but you have to slow down in interviews. You do not need to answer every question a journalist asks. You are allowed to say, “I honestly don’t know”. You can acknowledge the difficulty of an issue and allow yourself some room to be less than decisive with your answer. For example, when Wolf Blitzer asked you about Gilad Shalit, you could have easily told him that you appreciated the difficulty of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision and that while you hold to the position that we should not negotiate with terrorists, you understand that there could well have been circumstances that caused Israel to do so.

Chiefly, you must remember that those journalists are not your friends. Even if they are not openly hostile to you, they want their interview with you to make big news. They hope to get their name in the headlines on Wednesday because of their interview with you on Sunday. You are no longer an interesting businessman or a talk show host but the man who wants to dethrone their beloved Barack Obama. They will not play fair. They will line up a series of “gotcha” questions to trap you. Don’t give them a chance and for goodness sake, don’t trap yourself. Like I said, that will be hard for you because you’ve built a reputation as a straight-shooter, but it’s a skill you’re going to have to learn fast.

That brings me to my second point. You need a solid inner circle. They don’t have to be famous. They don’t have to be political. They do have to be smart and willing to tell you things you may not want to hear. And you have to trust them implicitly. They will be the ones who prepare your for interviews by playing Devil’s Advocate with you. They will keep you abreast of the latest news. They will critique your public appearances so that the next one will be stronger and better. They will dig the choice facts out of your plans so that you can use then to fight back in debates (“Read my plan” is not nearly as good an answer as a brief but specific defense of your plan). They’ll find the flaws in your plans and help you shore them up well. I honestly don’t know if you have any of those people in your campaign, which tells me that you probably don’t. None of these people need to spend any time in front of a camera, but they are key to your electoral success. They will keep your sharp and informed. They will hone your message to a brutal sharpness.

Lastly, you have to get better on current events. You should never have been blindsided by the  Shalit story or by the right of return. I know you are a smart man, but you don’t look smart when you get sandbagged by a question the average blogger could have answered at least moderately well. Your poll numbers are still very good, even after a debate performance that should have sunk you,  but they won’t stay that way if you have another week like this week. This is where your inner circle can help you immensely. Just spend some time during the day in conversation with them about the news. You don’t have to drill deeply into the issues; table talk along will help give you the basic information you need. Put some of the topics for upcoming interviews on the table and kick them around over dinner. Those talks will help you more than you think, and they’ll help you relax a bit, too.

You can win the nomination. There isn’t a person in this race you can’t beat on the debate stage or at the ballot box. As you know, though, the other professional politicians in the race with you have had a huge head start. They know how to handle the press. They’ve been able to spend all their days on poltics and issues in a way you haven’t. You’re going to have to be sharper than all of them to take on Barack Obama next year. It’s a huge task, but I think you’re up to it, if you tighten up those areas where your campaign has been loose thus far.

Thank you for your time. Best of luck!

 

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