Eyeing 2012, could grass-roots activists complement, or complicate, GOP 'establishment' hopes?
March 12th, 2011
09:55 AM ET
11 years ago

Eyeing 2012, could grass-roots activists complement, or complicate, GOP 'establishment' hopes?

Nashua, New Hampshire (CNN) - Can they all get along?

Something happened at a Friday event in New Hampshire that symbolizes one potential problem as the presidential race slowly heats up: Will conservative, grass-roots activists complement - or complicate - the Republican Party's hopes of winning in 2012?

Case in point: At the gathering of state GOP party faithful in Nashua, two men disagreed, in separate interviews with CNN, over the best background for the next Republican presidential nominee.

Should it be someone with real-world experience and an impressive, non-political resume but no time in public office? Or someone with a deep political background who's been a state chief executive but who's also tarred as the "establishment"?

On one side were the ideas of Herman Cain, a potential presidential candidate who is also a darling of the Tea Party movement and has ample business credentials but has never won office.

On the other, the ideas of John Sununu, a former three-term governor of New Hampshire and chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush who is some two months out of the chairmanship of New Hampshire's GOP.

Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, delivered a speech to the Hillsborough County Republican Committee.

In addition to his oft-repeated jabs at the Obama administration, Cain trained his rhetorical fire on another target: those with deep political experience.

Flat-out acknowledging his long-shot chances, Cain said, "There are some people who do not believe that a businessman that has never held public office can get the Republican nomination and become president of the United States."

He continued: "Whenever people say, 'But you don't have any political experience. You've never held public office,' I remind them: Most of the people in Washington, D.C., have. How's that working for you?"

Meanwhile, Sununu sees political experience as an asset.

In an interview with CNN, the former governor was asked who he'd be inclined to support. Several presidential candidates will undoubtedly seek his support in his first-in-the-nation primary state.

"I really have a partiality toward the experience you get in the statehouse office. So I lean towards governors and former governors," Sununu said. "I think, historically, they've made much better presidents than others."

Sununu even lumped senators into his not-as-favorable lot, repeating that state chief executives tend to fare better as presidents.

"It's what I call the Ronald Reagan rule of thumb. He was a great governor. And he made a great president," Sununu said.

Asked why he was attending an event where the main speaker - Cain - never held political office, Sununu said, "Well, I'm willing to listen."

In a post-speech interview with CNN, Cain was asked about Sununu's words.

"My response is, quite simply: that does not surprise me, OK," Cain said. "With all due respect to governor Sununu, I could see that he would lean toward a governor or someone that's part of the political establishment."

Cain continued: "Most people that have been a big part of the political establishment, or are still a part of the political establishment, I'm not expecting their support until after I get the nomination."

"Here is the big difference: The political establishment, with all due respect, they're not going to elect me. The people are. The people are the ones that are going to give me the momentum that I need. And then, once I get the nomination, then the Republican establishment, they will want someone to win."

Follow Shannon Travis on Twitter: @ShanTravisCNN

Filed under: 2012 • GOP • Herman Cain • John Sununu
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. mike4ever

    Cain someday may make a good republican president but not now. The reason the teaparty movement want him is the same reason the republicans want Steele. Remember him, he is the one republicans thought would convince the american people they were not racist.

    although we do not want to say that the teaparty is racist but the majority of them will have a lot of years to convince the american people they are not. Maybe it is the way they have shown their racism for the last two years toward the president and now they want to make a bout face and pretend that it never happen.

    This is the same group of people who want to take their country back but have no idea of where they are going. They are just as clueless as the republicans and they make a great pair. The both want to convince people that they are not racist but yet they do everything in their power to try to hurt those who are poor and old. Iguess they forget that they to will get old some day.

    If you going to run on making the country better then cut where it won't hurt the poor, elderly children, and middle class. Should all the cuts go to the top 2% but they also should not expect to stay rich on the backs of those who work the hardest. to them education slicing means less miniorty will get a good job and they can go back to sweeping floors, shining shoes and working in some rich family homes. That is their solutions on going back to the old days.

    Going back to them means sending a message loud and clear, do not elect another miniorty for the white house because that is a job for white only. Too late, things will never go back to those days when white was right and black get back. Those days are over and we are moving towards a better generations where all people are equal and will be treated equal no matter how it might upset those who had that idea.

    Republicans try to say Obama was the dictator but they themselves have proven to be the dictators and the american people have finally caught on. Now that the tables have turn the new republicans have to find another way to react again instead of thinking.

    March 12, 2011 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  2. Rationalist

    For as united as the GOP has been in recent elections behind a certain Presidential candidate, there is no front runner emerging. What it is looking like right now, is that the mainstream GOP will likely select a candidate that has a chance of defeating Obama (ie Mitt Romney) and the Tea Baggers reject that candidate, putting someone of their own. This situation would split the GOP vote, allowing Obama to be re-elected easily. One would think as many times as this has happened to a mainstream candidate because of a smaller movement, that the Tea Baggers would just accept it as reality and go along with the GOP; but thus far they've demonstrated that intelligence is not their strong suit.

    March 12, 2011 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  3. fayse

    The "mandate" of 2010 was only possible because, historicaly people just don't bother to vote in the mid-term elections. The Tea Party counted on that and many of those that did vote did so out of anger and ignorance. The GOP / TP have shown their true colors over and over again. They can't hide from the fact that they are beholden to Fox and the Koch Brothers. I cannot believe that the majority of Americans really want Billioinairs an Foriegners aka Rupert Murdock deciding what is best for America. Their agenda is to divide and conqure. Remember Americas basic rule is United we Stand, divided we fall. For that reason I say that the GOP is self serving and unpatriotic. That is my opinion and I am entitled to it even if it is different from others.

    March 12, 2011 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  4. mesamick

    Businessmen and execs DO NOT make good public officials. They have certain genetic impulses that make the good in business – profits at any cost, dictatorial power and more often than not greed.

    Public service on the other had requires just that – the service genetic impulse – which is just the complete opposite.

    Put another way – Government service requires implementing the desires of the majority even though those desires may have costs that do not produce profits. That's why trying to run a government staffed with individuals who want to run it like it's a business are doomed to ultimate failure – Government primary responsibility is to the will and the greater good of those that elect them not greater profits and dominance of the marketplace...

    March 12, 2011 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  5. Annie, Atlanta

    I'm still trying to get over the stunning "GOP grassroots activists," part of the headline. Where are the real GOP grassroots activists? And I don't mean the front groups funded by the billionaires or the one CNN hitched their wagon to.

    March 12, 2011 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  6. Jilli

    Folks are getting a taste of tea bagger governance, and I don't think they're going to like it. I expect the dems to make big gains in the next election cycle. As for the presidential candidates, there's not one gopper that stands a chance against Obama – even with 9% unemployment. Bible thumping frauds, spineless opportunists and a slew of also-rans just won't cut it. Folks aren't concerned with abortion – they want jobs, and that's the only word we haven't heard uttered from the republicans. Buyers remorse has set in. Now it's time to curtail the damage they're inflicting.

    March 12, 2011 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  7. sue

    The Republican Party is going to have so many wacko's and noboby's in their primary that these people will take away the votes needed for the best Republican to win in their primary......so Obama is assured another 4 years.

    March 12, 2011 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  8. tony

    Interesting. Without the tea party paid posters boiler room being directed here, we suddenly don't get the 20,000 plus tsunami of all name calling comments that the Wisconsin article got.

    March 12, 2011 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  9. fayse

    To call the Tea Party a "grass roots movement" is a joke. The Koch brothers, Rush limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdock can hardly be considered grass roots. The tea party is just a spin off of the John Birch Society. The Koch's father was a founder and funder of the JBS now we have the Koch brothers following in his footsteps. America rejected the John Birch Society years ago. Why would middle class Americans want to have these Milliionairs and Billionairs deciding what is right for America. Of course they want to control the middle class workers. They want more power for Corporate America.

    March 12, 2011 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  10. CNN The Masters of Spin

    Here is you answer: if CNN can get their wanted results from the spin.....it will complicate, however we Conservatives all know that regardless of who or what is said, at the end of the day the vote will fall against Obambi and Big Government>>>>>

    March 12, 2011 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  11. Ksobserver

    Problem I have with Cain is: who the hell is he?

    March 12, 2011 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  12. CBR

    There will be more fringe groups this time. The supposed success of the Tea Party, the constantly negative climate supported by some media people, and the mounting pressure for those in opposition to these groups to become more active will further divide people. Many politicians are running regardless of their backgrounds or reputations. Egos are in tact, though.

    March 12, 2011 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  13. whoa!

    In this modern day and age, its sooooooo fun to watch cannibals in action!

    March 12, 2011 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  14. David Duke

    We need a white man with strong "real" Christian beliefs. I always support the Republicans but why are they allowing any neandathral dark skinned monkey in the ranks when the have the mark of Cain. Plus a lot of republicans are secretly members of the klan, we are very much motivated in the neo-con movement. Thank God for the tea party.

    March 12, 2011 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  15. Preston MacDougall

    Who says "business experience" is any more welcome among Independents than political experience? Anyone looked at the American economy lately?

    March 12, 2011 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  16. GonzoinHouston

    One of two results: the TP's will drag the GOP so far to the right that nobody sane would vote for them and Obama will win in a walk OR, Failing to get a far-right enough candidate, the TP's bolt the party and run something like a Palin/Bachman 3rd-party ticket, splitting the republican vote, and Obama will win in a walk.

    March 12, 2011 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  17. Monster Zero

    In all of this past month Liberal Democrats have shown what they truly are. Self absorbed teat suckers off the hard work of others, violent, unable to function in a Democratic process. You want to continue to bash people that are sick of government waste and abuse of their hard earned money in favor of overpaid, over compensated Unionized dolts that care nothing for what their greed has created. Herman Cain, Sara Palin, hell anyone with a concept of what governments true role in our Nation is would surpass this gas bag we have now. It isn't about black or white now, it is about fiscal responsibility and reigning in of an over burdensome bureaucracy that is clueless and cares less of what is transpiring on Main Street. How many Tea Party people did you see making death threats and acting like a bunch of stupid A-holes in Wisconsin. Stand back and watch the results, the tide is turning and the libs will be floating like the debris in Japan after 2012!

    March 12, 2011 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  18. Anne In DC

    With the likes of Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Snyner in Michigan, and Rick Scott in Florida, the Tea Partiers have exposed themselves in all their inflexibility and ineptitude. I do not like any of the prospective GOP presential candidates, including Cain. All they have done is to try outdoing each other in pandering and in uttering the requisite anti-Obama spiel.
    The GOP has painted itself into an untenable position by embracing the crazies, and they have only themselves to blame.
    They cannot win the nomination without the base, whose worst fears and basest prejudices they have to appeal to by pandering. On the other hand, they cannot win the presidency with their negativity and fear-mongering. I also suspect that
    before it's all over, many people will remember the power grabs of the governors in the states mentioned above, and that
    will also work against the GOP. In addition, as a black woman, I would not vote for anyone like Cain because he tows the same reactionary line. Frankly, if the party is split as a result of an establishment GOP nomination and a Tea Party one,
    I will not lose a second of sleep over it. It would be a case of reaping what they have sown.

    March 12, 2011 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  19. Silence Dogood

    Asked why he was attending an event where the main speaker – Cain – never held political office, Sununu said, "Well, I'm willing to listen."

    D, R, I, or other party: Doesn't matter what party you identify with, I have to give the guy kudos for what they ALL should be doing. We need all our politicians listening to each other, including opposing ideas, if we're EVER to move forward.

    March 12, 2011 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
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