Cain's race not as big an issue with conservatives as Obama's was three years ago
October 13th, 2011
09:22 PM ET
3 years ago

Cain's race not as big an issue with conservatives as Obama's was three years ago

(CNN) - Three years after the nation elected its first African-American president, the Republican Party could make its own history - given his rising poll numbers and raised awareness among voters and in the press, Herman Cain is the first African-American to have a real shot at becoming the Republican presidential nominee.

So why isn't Cain's ethnicity as much a part of his story as it was with Obama?

For one, many conservatives decry the focus on a candidate's race as an obsession for liberals.

"I think that his supporters are more focused on who he is and his principles," Luke Livingston told CNN. Livingston is the executive producer of the 2009 documentary, "The Tea Party Movie."

"Regardless of your race, whether you're Hispanic, black, white, Jew, Gentile whatever – you get up on that platform and you talk about the principles of our founding fathers and people look past race," Livingston added.

"Now the Left is going to put that out front."

There's a second reason that some conservatives, particularly tea partiers, largely ignore Cain's race: it drives a stake through claims that the movement harbors racists.

Last summer, the nation's oldest civil rights group – the NAACP – lashed spectacular claims that the tea party was not doing enough to dispel racism. Amid vehement denials from the tea party, that notion has taken hold with some of the movement's critics.

Meanwhile, Cain has long been a tea party favorite. A former radio talk show host, Cain has been a sought-after speaker at many rallies, is frequently praised by tea party members, and even won the Tea Party Patriots' presidential straw poll at their first summit in Phoenix, Arizona, in February.

Cain won nearly 22 percent of the nearly 1,600 votes cast at the summit. Texas Rep. Ron Paul won nearly half the votes cast by more than 2,300 online registered attendees.

"The mood at this summit shows that Tea Party activists are looking for leaders who share our principles of fiscal responsibility and limited government and who will vow to uphold policies that reflect those principles once in office," Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, said at the time.

Livingston said he thinks "people are encouraged that there are black conservatives, because the tea party has been labeled as racist ….But I don't think [tea partiers] are making it a big deal."

Martin echoed a similar sentiment. Her group is the nation's largest in the tea party movement.

"I think that having an African-American with so much tea party support does show that, yeah – it's another example that the tea party movement is not racist," Martin said. "[It shows] that we're looking at the issues and we're not looking at skin color."

Time magazine's Michael Crowley told CNN's "John King, USA" that while Cain's skin color isn't central to his candidacy, it does have its appeal.

It's something that conservatives really like about him," Crowley said. "To have someone like Herman Cain come out to kind of fight back and to have a black man saying this is exaggerated, it's overstated, the Republican Party is not racist and a different set of possibilities for what you could have from a black candidate I think really does energize a lot of white conservatives."

Cain's race hasn't totally been ignored, though.

Recently, in an interview with MSNBC, host Lawrence O'Donnell pressed Cain: Why didn't he participate in the civil rights movement?

Cain answered: "I was a high school student. The college students were doing the sit-ins. The college students were doing the freedom rides. If I had been a college student I probably would have been participating."

During a recent interview with CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley – host of CNN's "State of the Union" – Cain said that African-Americans "weren't held back because of racism."

"People sometimes hold themselves back because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve," Cain added.

Cain told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that blacks had been "brainwashed" into not considering a conservative point of view.

And in a radio interview with conservative host Neal Boortz, Cain said the attention on his being a black conservative are "racist," in and of itself.

"A lot of these liberal, leftist folk in this country, that are black, they're more racist than the white people that they're claiming to be racist," the candidate said.

"How dare Herman Cain, first, run as a Republican? How dare Herman Cain be conservative? And how dare he move up in the polls, so that he just might challenge our beloved Obama? That's the problem they have."

Then Cain essentially waded into the "who's more black" controversy – him or Obama.

"He's never been part of the black experience in America," Cain said. "I can talk about that. I can talk about what it really meant to be 'po' before I was poor."

Conservative radio hosts took that a step further.

"Herman Cain, if he became president, he would be the first black president,"Laura Ingraham said last week on her show. "Does he have a white mother, white father, grandparents? No, right?"

"Herman Cain could be our first authentically black president," fellow conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh also said recently. Limbaugh theorized that, in 2008, some liberals challenged Obama's ethnic authenticity given that his mother was white and his father was not African-American, but an African from Kenya.

These barbs from frequent Obama flame-throwers are surely meant as an intentional diss. By any reasonable measure, the president holds the title of being the first African-American to occupy the White House.

But what is also true is that Cain's candidacy in the Republican presidential race also carries a historic imprint.


Filed under: 2012 • Herman Cain
soundoff (486 Responses)
  1. Brett

    Herman Cain has no business getting near the nomination, let alone the white house. That guy is the death of the Republican party, and believe it or not, it has nothing to do with race.

    His "9-9-9" plan is a disaster. First off, it's double taxation. On top of that it won't maintain the current government revenue, which isn't enough now as it is. At the very least we need a tax plan to maintain revenue. Giving the government two separate ways to raise taxes on the people is extremely dangerous. You think because "Herman Cain won't allow the rates to go up" that they won't. Cain isn't going to be president forever (if he gets elected). His plan for a 2/3rds majority to pass a rate change negates his veto power anyways (which shows his lack of knowledge of the system to begin with).

    –Herman Cain was a director of the Federal reserve bank in Kansas City.
    –Herman Cain said that the housing bubble didn't exist and that the economy was fine (May 2008) 4 months before the collapse and he couldn't see the financial crisis.
    –Herman Cain voted for tarp, one of the worst policies in American history

    The list goes on and on. Why would anyone vote for this guy? He is a box of rocks.

    October 14, 2011 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  2. cookie

    I believe Mr Cain can win. Interesting Obama vs Cain. If this is how the election indeed turns out, this should once and for all end the race card forever. Lets have real equal opportunity for all. I remember in the 1970s Spokane, Washington had a African-American Mayor elected by a predominantly Republican city.

    October 14, 2011 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Mr.Cain, the sad truth that you and every person of color in this country knows is that there are HUGE pockets in America that will NEVER accept that a man and woman can fall in love and married regardless of their RACE, RELIGION, or SEXUAL ORIENTATION.

    Look at Mittens, and Huntsman capable individuals in their own right, saddled with the bs surrounding their religion.
    Then turn and look at yourself having to HIDE th fact that you'r married to a White woman in order to keep your ratings up amongst your rabidly conservative base.

    Tsk, Tsk went the Black man. Welcome to Black America Mr. Cain. Have a nice day.

    October 14, 2011 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  4. leen321

    I believe Mr Cain can win. Interesting Obama vs Cain. If this is how the election indeed turns out, this should once and for all end the race card forever. Lets have real equal opportunity for all. I remember in the 1970s Spokane, Washington had a African-American Mayor elected by a predominantly Republican city.

    October 14, 2011 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  5. JR

    This is a well written article demonstrating liberal bias. Cain started to rise based on performances in debates. He did'nt start making comments about Blacks being brainwashed until liberal media attempted to discredit him as an "authentic black" because he is conservative. the timing of this article is off and demonstrates left wing thinking. The left fears Cain because he encourages Afircan Americans to think for themselves and work hard. Democrats need minorities to suffer in order to get their vote, otherwise they will lose power. Liberals are the true racists in this country, just listen to them talk...

    October 14, 2011 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  6. Chris

    @ Carla Because that's what lots of black politicians (who are traditionally democrat/liberal) make it all about.

    October 14, 2011 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  7. chill yo...

    Doesn't the very fact that there is a news story saying race is not an issue mean that race is still an issue?

    October 14, 2011 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    Carla observed:
    "He's never been part of the black experience in America," Cain said. "I can talk about that. I can talk about what it really meant to be 'po' before I was poor."
    This is what is wrong with so many conservatives, why does the "black experience in America" equate with being poor?
    ------------
    Exactly.
    Mr. Cain continues to think that it is all about the money. I guess Mr. Cain's idea of the "black experience in America" means not having a decent roof over your family's head. It's all about the money. For most families, black and white alike, it is not all about the money and the roof over your head. It is all about the *family living together* under that roof that is most important.

    October 14, 2011 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  9. Reggie from LA

    Interesting how racism suddenly just disappeared from the face of the earth. Pooof. Racism is gone. Poof, there are no racists in the GOP and Tea Party. Of course we know that the previous is sarcasm ( I sure hope we do), but don't count on Dems being MORE racist than Republicans. Wittingly or unwittingly a number of Right activities have been racist. Who has fought the hardest against affirmative action and I know it's coming so i will say now: There shouldn't have to be such a thing, but it has been and in many cases still required to help to level Mr Cain's proverbial "playing field." Raciality has no place in our society, but we have put it there. Don't pretend it's a non-issue in politics. That's naive.

    October 14, 2011 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  10. Everybody

    LOL. Herman Cain has about as much chance of getting the nomination as SpongeBob SquarePants does. He's more clueless than even Giuliani was, and his dumb "999" plan (or maybe that should be "plan") is about as credible as OJ Simpson's defense was. He'll enjoy his five minutes of fame, I'm sure, but Romney will be ROFL'ing all over the place at the new, so-called, front-runner. Cain is a joke candidate, the same as Palin was, or Bachmann is. I think they put these comedic candidates in the running just to get TV ratings to be honest.

    October 14, 2011 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  11. Matthew F. Gaitan

    The African American community does not even have this guy's back because they are thoughtful, and are not living by the dogma which clouded the 2008 election indicating -'It's time for a black president". Every major political forum geared towards the black community is in line with the rest of the country – THEY ARE VOTING FOR RON PAUL.

    October 14, 2011 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  12. clark1g

    because Cain's values are good and will yield decisions that move the country in the right direction .... while Obama's values are wrong and have moved (just as predicted) the country in the wrong direction.

    October 14, 2011 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  13. TAW

    Oh don't you believe for one second that race is not an issue. Race is THE issue here.
    Cain does two things for his party... This is an attempt to dispel the obvious racist disposition of that party. "Show them a token". Let him take the heat for the rest of us, let them trash his ideas and stances so we'll know what not to say... After the news media has grown tired of him.... "Pull the rug"!
    Secondly, Cain's platform is outlandish to the point of ridiculous buffoonery, and that what they need of him. This serves the same function that was put forth in "Birth of a Nation". Black folk don't know what they want... incapable of leadership, loud, crude, and we told you ... will turn on each other in the drop of a hat...

    October 14, 2011 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  14. Palin 2112

    More smoke and mirrors from the TEA party ( Traitors Embracing Anarchy).

    October 14, 2011 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  15. david patrick

    In the Republican Party? The home of the KKK? Only in his dreams.

    October 14, 2011 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  16. Chris

    Race is not THE issue with whites as it is with BLACKS, especially those African Americans who can't seem to get past the AMERICA owes "us decendants" of slaves more, and more, and more ........
    When these African Americans get past the history of slavery, when they stop trying to make money from slavery, and when they drop the name African American and become Americans like everyone else, then America is part race as an issue.
    Until then ....... well, business as usual.

    October 14, 2011 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  17. anonymous

    race is not an issue for the wealthy Mr Cain , it is definitely an issue for the not so wealthy...get a reality check

    October 14, 2011 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  18. pbsat

    "A lot of these liberal, leftist folk in this country, that are black, they're more racist than the white people that they're claiming to be racist,"
    Being a non-white immigrant to this country, this is my personal observation too. I agree with Herman Cain.
    We had a racism that's excluded some people based on their background in the past, the new genre of racism is to include their kind and seek special privileges than be truly equal.

    October 14, 2011 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  19. Double D

    Cain is right, race is not an issue with democrats and Independents in America but if the Republican Party it's a HUGE problem. Cain will never make it out of the GOP primaries. Cain needs to check how many republicans voted for and African American.

    October 14, 2011 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  20. Cwonder

    I wish I could say it's hard for me to believe that here in the year 2011 there is still racism to even discuss. Wow, 2011 and America still has issues with race. Shame. And we ask GOD to bless this place ?? A place where racism and hatred are sooo alive. Shame.

    October 14, 2011 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  21. Nat Turner

    The "Hermanator" is in for a rude awakening. He's been allowed to have his fun. Now it's time for big boys to let him know who's really in charge. Look for his downfall in the coming weeks. Cain is a bigger fool than I thought if he seriously believes his color is not a factor.

    October 14, 2011 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  22. DB

    What utter rubbish. Racists LOVE Herman Cain because he's willing to lie and tell them what they want to hear.

    But never mind his outrageous comments about race. Herman Cain is bad for America for the simple reason that he wants to raise taxes on middle class and working class Americans (which would be disastrous for the economy as it would reduce their spendable income), and cut taxes for the rich so much that the deficit would EXPLODE. You idiot conservatives think Obama borrowed too much? He'll seem like a "fiscal conservative" compared to Cain if you elect him. But I know you won't bother listening to me...anybody who contradicts what you people believe is immediately dismissed.

    October 14, 2011 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  23. Dave

    Cain appears to be scoring points with the Tea Party by always slamming blacks and blaming them for all their problems.

    October 14, 2011 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  24. NickyP

    It boils down to 'Our black man is blacker, so there.' Who's willing to bet Cain voted for Obama? Anybody?

    October 14, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  25. Noodle Nose Johnson

    Would LOVE to see Herm get the nod. The debates would be hilarious. Herman Cain is completely unqualified to be President, but I'm certain Mitt will try to get him on the ticket to make himself look more "colorful"

    October 14, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
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