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. Mel

    Obama went through that fire, so that Herman Cain or any candidate wouldn't. Cain should be thankful.

    October 14, 2011 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  2. SpeakMyMind

    Cain is this election's Sarah Palin. The Republicans gave us Sarah Palin to pull Hillary Clinton women voters. LOL Herman Cain is being used to show that Republicans are not anti Obama because of his race. LOL Between the Republicans and media games this country is in trouble.

    There is a quote in the movie Canadian Bacon that says Americans will believe whatever you tell them. Sadly, that is true.

    October 14, 2011 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  3. west

    Its not running as republican he's a pure phony.

    October 14, 2011 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  4. Anonymous

    Race is still an issue for Obama among the extreme right wing of the GOP. I know some of them and have heard it first hand. Thry generally don'i like african Americans and have made Obama the poster boy for their hatred, They are often reasonable on most everything else, which is deceiving, That's why a lot of GOP voters won't vote for Cain. He pobably won't even be nominated, esprcially whrn the shortfall of his 9-9-9 okan is exposed,

    October 14, 2011 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  5. ForAmerica

    Race is not the issue; however, let's see what are the issues

    1. 999 is crashing. Creating a new tax isn't going over very well. Even the paid campaign consultant who scored the plan for Cain said the idea was more of a theory than a politically viable solution — and not the route he would suggest himself.
    2. Cain will not take a stand against the Fed ( Bailouts, printing money, secret loans, banking, TARP ). He lied about his own comments during the debate. $16 trillion in secret loans and Cain says it is not important!!
    3. Cain has not proven to understand the economy. He admits he got it wrong. Says he will not get it wrong again because he now has advisers. But his advisers didn't predict the problems either.

    Sorry, but there is not a strong case for Cain on these topics; however, there is a very strong case for Ron Paul on these same issues. He predicted the problems and stands with the people against the bailouts.

    October 14, 2011 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  6. Shawn in MD

    Before Obama released his birth certificate: "He is not an American. He was born in Kenya. He is a muslim. So is his father."

    After Obama released his birth certificate: "He is not really African American. He was born to a white woman. He has white grandparents. He is not black enough."

    enough said!

    October 14, 2011 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  7. Racist movement

    well, it will be interesting to see what the tea party will do in terms of endorsement of a candidate. They are faced with three evils: Romney, Perry and Cain. Romney is 'not conservative enough', Perry practices 'cronyism' according to the tea party spokeswoman and Cain is 'black' Do we expect the tea party to endorse Cain?

    Most people don't. The majority of Americans do perceive the party as a racist movement. This they deny over and over again. I agree with the 'Strict Republican' above. Cain represents the tea party issues and values, but will they endorse him especially after Sarah Palin labelled him 'the flavor of the week'? This is the longest week I have ever seen, is he now the 'flavor of the month'? Will Sarah Palin campaign for him?

    It's clear that if they bypass Cain and support Romney or Perry it would be as a result of his flavor/color. What other proof would we need that the tea party is a racist movement?

    Let's watch and see who they will endorse.

    October 14, 2011 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  8. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    The Real Tom Paine: excellent post. Thank you.

    Inrealityhere: We have no problem with those that claim to disagree with the President's policies. Makes sense. What did'nt make sense and cannot be denied were the pictures of him as a witchdoctor with the bone through his nose, his depiction as a monkey, the picture of hundreds of watermelons in front of the White House lawn. If those things were not at least "tinged" with racism , and if you're trying to act as if race was not an issue with the treatment of this President by SOME (you blog here often enough to know better) then I'm not sure what REALITY you're inhabiting.

    October 14, 2011 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  9. Wylie Mike

    It is true that two things that Obama cleared up for us.
    1. The novelty of making a historical note of skin tone for President is over.
    2. Education doesn't mean that the candidate will honor the oath of office or preserve our Individual, Community, or State sovereignty.

    Obama has told the Black Community to 'Stop Whining' and start marching with his already printed sign slogans. And he has rallied his Internationally affiliated Union Bosses and Activist to subjugate us to their Lords and Social Doctrine.

    October 14, 2011 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  10. Travis

    Herman Cain is a joke. As a 40 yr. old professional, college-eduacted African (black) male, I can tell you that not only does Cain NOT have a voice within the black community, his position and perspective on any number of things is laughable. His perspective on "racism" clearly demonstrates that he has no idea even what it is.

    I am no fan of Barack Obama and sure as he!! didn't vote for him but I'd tell anyone, Cain's presence in this race SURELY WON'T split the black vote. That idea is laughable. (LMOA)

    October 14, 2011 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  11. tom

    Ideas matter, good conservative principals, not skin color. That is why Martin Luther King Jr was so successful. Its the same with Condaleeza Rice, Justice Thomas, General Powell...These Patriots lived the American Dream, based off of virtues and freedom. This is the basic ideas of the Tea Party. Small government, with personal responsibility and the freedom to make your life whatever you want it to be. None of the above people depended upon the government to do for them, they all made positive changes and influenced others by their own hard work and determination.

    October 14, 2011 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  12. Dave

    The only people talking about Herman Cain's race are the liberals.

    October 14, 2011 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  13. steve

    Cain is a crack pot just like the right right wingers, nothing he says makes sense, 9-9-9 doesnt add up, he has weird views on religion and he admits he doesnt read the facts. Not intelligent enough to lead. Romney will appeal to the center and independents, he is the only hope the GOP have on winning. Agreed, colin Powell should run one day, he has the respect of the American people and the world. shame he doesn't he has the intelligence as well.

    October 14, 2011 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  14. Nat Turner

    Why all the hoopla about how receptive repubs are of Cain? He hasn't done anything. He's leading in polls...POLLS! The true test would be if he became the GOP nominee. It will NEVER happen! His little "run" makes the repubs and tea party look like saints. They're playing a cat and mouse game with Cain. When they tire of him, they will devour him. Now that he's their man, he will be more closely scrutinized. Look for the personal attacks and the dark secrets and allegations to come forward. He won't be the golden child for long.

    October 14, 2011 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  15. Georgia Tee

    Herman Cain is the result of the voters in this country that feel strongly about how a message is delivered, NOT its content....The major problem is not the elected individual being beholden to big business, IT'S THE VOTERS WHO CONTINUE TO VOTE AGAINST THEIR BEST INTEREST, because they vote party, not person, not truth, but opinion based on misinformation and out right lies. We the voters are ruining this country..

    October 14, 2011 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  16. Will N.J.

    Forget the fact that they're both African american black... take a step back and look at the names: Herman Cain... Barack Obama... Look again, Herman Cain... and BARACK OBAMA... Which name sounds more threatening to good ole American way of life? What Barack Obama DID by becoming the first AA president of the U.S. is well beyond the comprehension of anyone who thinks it was simply, him becoming the first AA President. Herman Cain wouldnt be where he is if not for Obama. And while it's still early in the election cycle and Cain is enjoying a fair amount of popularity, just wait n see where he is in the next 10 months or so... Because racism is REAL in the republican party, and if you think not you're a fool. That racist element will find it's way to the front burner the longer Herman Cain stays among the top presidential contenders... you just wait and see!!!

    October 14, 2011 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  17. nytw

    There is no currently NO national sales tax. So it seems very obvious that any national sales tax implemented will be a NEW tax.
    It makes me sick to so-called conservatives supporting a new tax.
    Why are conservatives not speaking out against this NEW tax.
    When are professional politicians like John Boehner, Harry Reid, Herman Cain, and Barak Obama going to understand we need lower taxes and spending cuts to grow the economy, not NEW taxes.

    October 14, 2011 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  18. west

    Boy, howdy, that dude is a paid distraction, he has no chance.

    October 14, 2011 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  19. xab

    You can still be black and be racist. Even against your own race. The article fails to take this into consideration.

    October 14, 2011 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  20. joshan

    do you all think that he is gonna get the nomination? a black dude to make obama loose?no he will not b nominated.tea partiers were just trying to get obama out of the office coz he is black either bringing a billionare to call him foreign born or trying to prove him muslim.even if he gets nominated them contry guys will never vote for him coz he looks darker than obama is.American will rather choose obama's intelligence.

    October 14, 2011 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  21. Thomas, Baton Rouge, LA

    Race is not the issue. The fact that Cain is crazy is.

    October 14, 2011 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  22. Brian

    Herman Cain is NOT African American he is an American that is black... He is not from Africa. You are either an American or not there is no room in this country for hyphonated names just ask Teddy Roosevelt

    October 14, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  23. james Miller

    9-9-9 is 6-6-6 when you really look into its ramifications up and down the income strata. The poor will pay a greater proportion of their total income on daily living expenses ( taxed) than upper income groups. --- This is one time I totally agree with Bachman.

    October 14, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  24. harrison

    God I hope not. That 999 is the most regressive thing I've ever heard of. Pretty sure someone like the Koch brothers are financing him. Know for a fact that they have given Bachmann and Perry money. Can you imagine a tax system that only taxes the wealthiest 9% but taxes someone who does not make enough to save much money 9% on their income and then 9% when they spend it. Tax the poor twice as much as the rich.

    October 14, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  25. Corey

    "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.

    Yeah...except our founding fathers were slave owners. Those were part of their principles. Do you think they looked past race? Do you think the Tea Partiers or the GOP does? These people live in a fantasy world.

    October 14, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
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