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. Bie

    Cain has clearly internalized his own oppression is to say the tea party is not racist is simply ridiculous!! And the tea party will continue to tokenize him as their token black person. Race is clearly apart of Obama's presidency where his own family have become victims to the racist sentiments that this country continues to try and downplay. Racism still exist people!! WAKE UP!!!!

    October 14, 2011 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  2. noone

    999 does make some sense.. people are just scared of it because they think wel "it's a new way for the government to take... etc. blah bla"... but they don't pay enough attention to it to realize that it is supposed to REPLACE the current IRS tax code system.

    October 14, 2011 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  3. rob

    he was trying to be italian when he made pizza...epic fail...now he's trying to be white and be a conservative...get your own life dude!

    October 14, 2011 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  4. David

    I don't care if you're purple and have 3 legs. Are you intelligent, can you compromise and are you a well-spoken leader.....the end. GO CAIN!!!

    October 14, 2011 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  5. MeanOldMan

    I couldn't care less what his race is but his 999 plan is a pure piece of fantasy. Even he doesn't understand how it could possibly work. The largest tax break in history for the wealthy and the largest tax increase for the poor. Even Grover Norquist has spoken against it and for once I have to agree with him. Look deeper folks.

    October 14, 2011 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  6. WTHH

    I have felt this way from the beginning, Obama is the first bi-racial president. I will never consider him "black". Cain, he's black. And in the end, does color, religion, etc. really matter as long as they can get the job done?

    October 14, 2011 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  7. John in AZ

    Puhleez! Herman Cain is not the first African American individual to de-emphasize race, nor will he be the last. And all such individuals find a home in the Republican Party because it helps their narrative. Even before the election of Barack Obama, Republicans loved people like Clarence Thomas...who refused to acknowledge that any of his great accomplishments as a jurist may not have been possible without Affirmative Action. We are not in a post-racial America, there is just a significant number of people who want to erase History and deny that we are still contending with a legacy of discrimination. And before anyone jumps on me for my comments, I am white.

    October 14, 2011 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  8. Mike in NJ

    I'm going to disagree with the story. I don't think Cain has a chance in **** of being nominated for the Republicans. Even if he were qualified (I don't think he is), racism is still alive and well out there. And by the way, Laura Ingraham is just a horrible horrible person and needs to STHU.

    October 14, 2011 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  9. Chris

    Race hasn't been an issue since the early 60s....THE MEDIA sensationalizes it and makes it an issue. I'm 23 and can tell you I have never met a REAL racist.

    October 14, 2011 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  10. LIP

    wow...lots of veiled racist comments from both white and black. Will we ever get beyond race or will it dog us to our graves? I like listening to Cain and think he may make a good president; he seems flexible enough to reevaluate his 999 plan and probably will. I don't think he has a single agenda like Obama, which seems to be total destruction of Capitalism.
    Whoever runs has got to be more experienced and less single minded and able to work with both parties. Lets all hope for the best, get our heads out of you know where and stop with the racist comments...be constructive for a change.

    October 14, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  11. ATL001

    Trust me – Herman Cain will not be nominated by the Republican Party. And if he is, there will be no split among black voters. We will definitely side with Obama in 2012.

    October 14, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  12. Joel Miller

    Race is front and center and Cain is putting it there. When he says blacks have been brainwashed to vote Democrat, when he denies that racism creates huge disparities in American society by saying: "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." he his addressing a racist white audience that love to hear a Black man confirm their previously held racist ideas. He also claims to be more Black than Pres. Obama which enforces his authority to appeal to these racist stereotypes.

    October 14, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  13. TheGarderner

    I don't care what a candidate believes. He can believe in god, dogs.. etc. what I expect him to to is to improve unemployment rate, narrow the huge gap between rich and poor. Don't try to fool us all to get us into deadly wars. Do not lie. He/She can refuse to disclose, but upon disclosure of any, he/she better tells the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.

    October 14, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  14. maggie

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

    "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.

    Boy, is that ever a joke. When you consider that Republicans are having heartburn over, egads, a Mormon, if you think for 5 minutes they aren't spinning around on the issue of race, Livingston is sadly delusional.

    October 14, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  15. maggie

    Laura Ingraham is nothing more than a shill. I thought she disappeared long ago. Sad to see she's still running her trap.

    October 14, 2011 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  16. Annie, Atlanta

    I'm seeing this from a different angle. I think Cain is rising in the polls with conservatives because of his shocking put-downs of African Americans and their communities. But that's just me.

    October 14, 2011 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  17. Gerard

    I can assure you if its between the Obama and Cain, the Black vote will NOT be split...it wont even be close

    October 14, 2011 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  18. Thad

    Thunderbolt the name says it all a freaking nazi talking about a liberals started the race crap. All the racist crap Rush said during the haiti earthquake. Please face the music Romney belongs to a racist cult call mormonism. Go look it up and find out they believe in a lilly white heaven. Race hating bigots all on the ticket except the only real repub. Dr. Ron Paul he is the only one who could beat Obama. But the repubs to busy trying to get another warmonger in office.

    October 14, 2011 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  19. BD70

    The fact that the tea party endorses Cain sends me running the other way. Sick of their simplistic attitudes and answers about our complex problems.... and not willing to compromise at any level.

    October 14, 2011 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  20. Pratt

    It will never happen. He's a token candidate from the Republicans. The hard core Republicans....the big money guys....will never elect a black person. They're all still fuming at Obama beating McCain. Sorry.....race is THE issue for Republicans....they coat it with the economy or jobs or too much regulation, but it's really the fact that a black man is in the White House. They are the true racists in America.

    October 14, 2011 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  21. Annie, Atlanta

    rkt210 – stop with the socialist agenda for Christ's sake. You need to get new talking points. Obama isn't a socialist. He's not a communist, marxist, nazi, muslim, Kenyan either. I'm a Liberal Democrat, and Obama isn't even that, let alone a socialist. This is just sad what right wing tv and radio have done to promote such stupendous ignorance. We need the fairness act back before we destroy ourselves from within with lies and hate.

    October 14, 2011 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  22. John

    Go Back to making Pizza

    October 14, 2011 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  23. MO

    Cain is doing a great job to lose.

    October 14, 2011 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  24. Tricia

    If you think Herman Cain has a real shot at becoming the Republican presidential nominee, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you. Besides, as has been noted, Colin Powell was the first African-American with a real shot at becoming the Republican nominee.

    October 14, 2011 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  25. Hobbitea Baggins

    All this does is prove that poor political choices are color blind.....No, I don't think the Tea Party has an agenda that is racist, but it's more than a coincidence that most racists are conservative and/or Tea Party members. Hence the quote "I did not say that most conservatives are racists what I said was most racists are conservative"

    October 14, 2011 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
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