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

    Actually Colin Powell was the first African American who had a real shot at the Republican nomination. I'm not quite sure what Herman Cain is.

    October 13, 2011 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  2. Sandy

    He is not going to win the nomination.

    October 13, 2011 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  3. Ken

    Ask Michael Steele how much race matters to Republicans. Cain, Bachmann, and Palin, the Republican's deep thinkers.

    October 13, 2011 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  4. Steve-Illinois

    The more people listen to this guy, the more they like him! Career politicians are a huge part of our problem!

    October 13, 2011 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  5. Ann

    If it is between Herman Cain and Barack Obama, I think it is clear that since the black vote will be split, the Independant (probably Ron Paul) will be our next President, simply because he is white.

    October 13, 2011 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  6. JLH

    This entire article is offensive, as it operates on the basic premise that conservatives are racist. I tried to find some means of statistics to support this supposition contained within the article, but none found.

    October 13, 2011 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  7. Lila

    It's not impossible for Herman Cain to win the nomination and if he does, I will surely vote for him! He's a no-nonsense type of guy and I respect his conservative fiscal outlook.

    October 13, 2011 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  8. Jonathan

    I love Herman Cain. He's intelligent, driven, and a successful picture of American accomplishment. I'm also glad he has garnered so much Tea Party support, helping to disprove liberal allegations of Tea Party racism.

    October 13, 2011 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
  9. Reggie from LA

    First of all 9-9-9 is not an end all to our economic woes. It reduces the taxation on a greater revenue pool at the 2%. In effect, IT IS a tax break for the wealthy. Look at it this way, with the middle paying a fair share and the wealthy (maybe one day) paying a fair share at current & proposed %ages, revenue is increased and taxes will STILL come from sales. Our schools need help. Our first responders need help. Our infrastructures need help, oh yeah, a lot of folks are not aware of how much our veterans often require. And it needs to be made known that programs that protect our citizens in need will not knuckle under to ideological pressure from the far right. A suggestion of tax reform is not new. Economists make recommendations all the time, but we don't always adopt them and we certainly don't turn them into Presidents for the sake of suggestion. What else does Cain have? I guess the right figures the next President could be African American. It might just as well be THEIR African American as opposed to Obama. That way, they get the results in support of their agenda.

    October 13, 2011 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  10. connieb

    Really? Did the people saying Cain would be the first black president say that with a straight face? I remember President Obama saying once in an interview that if he left the building and raised his hand for a taxi, the taxi driver wouldn't hurry over to pick him up because he was a white guy. Get real people. Obama 2012.

    October 14, 2011 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  11. Glen

    African Americans are the descendents of slaves brought to this country from West Africa. Obama's mother was white and his father was a Kenyan, from East Africa. There is no history of slavery in Obama's family unless his Muslim father was a descendent of the Muslim slave traders that populated coastal trading enclaves in Kenya. The term African American is not synonymous with black.

    October 14, 2011 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  12. TheAlaskaCurmudgeon

    Can we focus on the issues?

    October 14, 2011 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  13. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Obviously, race is still a HUGE issue for conservatives.

    October 14, 2011 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  14. Jewels

    The guy won't make it– that's all I've got.

    October 14, 2011 01:40 am at 1:40 am |
  15. O

    Republicans would be smart to nominate Cain. Pitting two african american politicians against each other for the presidency, voters would have no choice but to elect an african american. And since republicans have a better voter turnout than democrats, with all things being equal, Cain would most likely win. If republicans had to elect an african american, they'd rather elect a republican than a democrat.

    October 14, 2011 02:07 am at 2:07 am |
  16. GaryB

    I don't really care what race Cain may be. What I don't like is the fact that his 9-9-9 pan would by most estimations put even more of our country's money into the hands of a wealthy few while raising net taxes on a whole lot of working Americans, and by most estimations it would make the deficit worse. Hard to see how this helps our country (unless, of course, you're already part of the upper class).

    October 14, 2011 02:47 am at 2:47 am |
  17. Golden Girl

    I'll believe that when it happens...

    October 14, 2011 03:16 am at 3:16 am |
  18. AlaskaPalin

    Cain is 99.9 percent right on race issues within the conservative movement. The Reality is before obama a republican president had more blacks and a black lady at the highest level of his cabinet than any democrat. The rise of cain could not have happen without white conservatives support for blacks are not yet fully on board. Now here is an opportunity for blacks to respond to this embrace of healing from the republican party a party who's ideologies are more closely aligned with blacks who are said to be mostly fiscal and social conservatives. It is to the democrats advantage to keep harping on racism to get blacks vote but is it to the overall interest of the black community and the country as a whole? There, it must be admitted, have been a breakdown of communication over the past decades between the republican party and black voters who have traditionally voted republican since this was the party which historically joined hand in hand with them to brake the shackles of slavery. Now we see a new dawn arising which excites the soul about the possibilities for blacks that have always been there within the conservative movement. The embracing of these possibilities by blacks will be great for all AMERICANS. Blacks are seeing through the smoke screen of racism thrown up by the democrats to the full answer to all of their potentials within their party, the Republican party.

    October 14, 2011 03:32 am at 3:32 am |
  19. Tony

    I can't believe the first sentence in this article:

    "Amid political warfare, it's certainly meant to shock and awe: some conservatives have recently said that Herman Cain could become America's 'first black president.' "

    This is sad. Obama's birth certificate is a dead issue. He released his long-form birth certificate. Haven't the birthers given up yet?

    October 14, 2011 05:43 am at 5:43 am |

    These teabaggers actually think that Cain hides the fact that they are premium saltines. They thought the same about Micheal Steel before they bounced him out.

    October 14, 2011 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  21. kevin

    Race isn't an issue with the republican party, character is.

    October 14, 2011 06:31 am at 6:31 am |
  22. Don

    I'm sure Herman Cain already showed his birth certificate. Long form of course. Funny we haven't heard about it yet!

    October 14, 2011 06:48 am at 6:48 am |
  23. Jon in Rochester, NY

    If Cain gets the nomination, I can see a lot of good old boys not going to the polls next year.

    October 14, 2011 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  24. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    President Obama broke the "presidential" color barrier in th same way that other African-Americans have broken it in every other field be it sports, education, business world.
    President Obama has shown OUR country (the world at large did not have such archaic and backwards ideas) that a Black man can be as intelligent (if not more), as accomplished, as hard-working, as capable of holding the highest office as any Caucasian that had held it previously. Fears of inadequacy have been allayed for many who held ridiculous, and quite frankly racist-based preconceived notions as to what a Black man could accomplish.
    Quite frankly President Barack Obama in the face of INCREDIBLE and UNJUSTIFIED opposition, facing an economic crisis of world-wide proportions, with two wars on his plate, and the looming threat of international and domestic terrorism has conducted himself ADMIRABLY.
    I am so, so very proud of our first African-American President for having broken down the barriers,and doing it in a manner that would allow others to follow without having to face at least the scrutiny and doubt of whether or not they would be 'as capable' ,as polished, and up to the challenge.
    President Obama has opened the doors for other 'minorities' to achieve as far as their dreams will take them. Removing all doubt he has clearly and irrefutably proved that YES WE CAN!! UES WE CAN!!!
    Obama 2012.

    October 14, 2011 07:39 am at 7:39 am |
  25. Adrienne

    No, it is just because the race has already been won by a black man. We know it can be done now. The next big move will be by a woman or a Hispanic. When you see either of those two get close.. watch America get really excited near the end.

    October 14, 2011 07:53 am at 7:53 am |
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