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. citizenUSA

    You'd have to be a total moron to vote for anyone who has never held any political office. Especially this guy. You might as well vote for me. I have plenty of great ideas but unfortunately I've never come close to having the opportunity to be the CEO of anything. Oh that's right. This guy says it's the individuals fault if they’re not rich. Once he gets out the 999 thing, you'll see he has no idea about foreign affairs, (does anyone?), or any other matters not involving 999. And speaking of race, I don't think many African-Americans are going to vote for someone who said blacks use racism as an excuse for not being better off, (in other words) or "held back".

    October 14, 2011 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  2. HenryC

    If Colin Powell had decided to run he would not only have gotten the nomination, he would have won the Presidency as a Republican. It has been some time since race would have stopped a good candidate, probably on the order of twenty years. The anti black racists hold significantly less votes than the possible black block vote for blacks in either party.

    October 14, 2011 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  3. yahahaa

    How gullible are you people? Hermain Cain has no political experience at all. His background shows he is very close to the criminal cartel called the Federal Reserve. People need to wake up in this country or you can kiss all your liberties goodbye.

    October 14, 2011 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  4. street smart

    I give Cains 15 mins about another 2 weeks. There isnt one unemployed person that will ever forget or forgive his 99%ers demonstration are nothing but deadbeats utterance. Thats like blaming the victims in the Twin Twrs for not being fireproof

    October 14, 2011 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  5. NoReDumdlicans

    Herman Cain is a joke! Not because he's black, but because he is a conservative. He didn't know how to run a company and he wouldn't know how to run a country. Now on the the race issue. The Tea Party wants to make it seem like they like Herman Cain because it stops the race issue. They can say "Look, we are not racist because we like this guy." Yet, they would NEVER give him the nomination. It's like adding the black guy to the mix to keep everyone from talking.

    October 14, 2011 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  6. ColoradoDad

    SERIOUSLY!? No one see's this as a tactic by the republicans? They know beyond a doubt that they have lost a majority of minority voters. So they throw in this guy, nothing but a token gesture to attempt to split the minority vote. With that vote being split they may actually have a chance to put a "third" party figure head into office. someone from one of the fringe elements like the tea party who we all know are just elements of the republican party anyway. Its offensive that these people would resort to this race baiting.

    October 14, 2011 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  7. Garth

    Could it be that Conservatives didn't care about Obama's race all along and it was his inexperience and policies that bothered so many people? Nah, that wouldn't create too many headlines and it actually might be some semblance of truth.

    October 14, 2011 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  8. David

    Sorry. I cannot vote for someone I personally heard lie. I actually liked him until this. Oh well...

    October 14, 2011 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  9. DJ

    Like Dole & McCain before him it's his time. Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate so Wake Up people! Herman Cain is simply the latest "Flavor of The Month" period! First it was "Show Me The Money" Palin, then "Slick Rick" Perry and now in a last ditch effort it's Herman "Buy My Book" Cain. All were held up by the media for weeks, All were deemed front runners waaayyy to early in the process and All are/were adored by the dumb sheep who blindly followed them until it was obvious to even the dumbest of the blind sheep that they were played.

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

    Race may not be the issue it was in 2008, but the Republican Party is still not ready to run a black man for president. It's still a white man's club. Colin Powell was a good man and I would have voted for him, but he ruined his career when he chose party loyalty over his county. He lost his chance to be a great man. But, then again the neo-cons aren't interested in great men, their interested in puppets.

    October 14, 2011 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  11. Chris

    Claiming someone does not have racists views is the equivalent of proclaiming you are not racist simply because you have a friend of a different ethnicity.

    October 14, 2011 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  12. Amanda

    Says the intolerable racist. Seriously, this guy is a bigger racist than Rick Perry. Ridiculous.

    October 14, 2011 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  13. BlackPanthers2020

    This uncle -tom will be done on arrival .......disrespecting other blackfolk for the sole purpose of making your self look good for a racist political group....he will never ever get the black vote and I will do everything in my power to make sure my people know exactly who this uncle-tom cut-throat is.....................

    October 14, 2011 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  14. oldbear60

    Please people, its laughter time. If Cain manages to garner the Republican Nomination it's going to be funny as hell to watch the rednecks and bigots who hate Obama mostly because he's not white 100% squiarm with having to choose between two men who aren't Rich Old WHite Guys.

    October 14, 2011 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  15. will

    like the 9 9 9 plan would make it through the house and senate anyway.

    October 14, 2011 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  16. LOL

    Lies. All lies. It does matter and people do care. What a bad article.

    October 14, 2011 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  17. mj

    Why is race such an issue in the 21 century. I'm a black man and race is the last thing on my mind. I want to know what he is going to do to fix this failing government and how he is going bring our country back to being number 1 in education, tech, manufacturing, and everything else we use to be # 1 in. I don't care if the man is green as long as he fixes our great nation. If can't convince me with his plans, I'm not voting for him.

    LEGALIZE MARIJUANA TOO!!!!! that would be a plus but I still won't vote for him if his plans can't convince me.

    October 14, 2011 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  18. Chris

    Sorry, I got ahead of myself. What I meant was, claiming to not have racist views because a black man is a contender for a presidential nomination is the equivalent of proclaiming one is not racist simply because he or she has a friend of different ethnicity. It is completely short-sighted.

    October 14, 2011 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  19. Rambo

    May be not Race, but may be Brains.

    October 14, 2011 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  20. Ex-GOP Con

    Uhh...because the GOP are hypocrites no matter what the issue is.

    Might as well ask:

    Why is Newt Gingrich's infidelity not an issue?

    Why is the fact that Palin raised taxes as governor not an issue?

    Why is Romney's Mormonism and Romneycare not an issue?

    Why is GOP reckless spending during the Bush years not an issue?

    etc. etc.

    October 14, 2011 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  21. sunpacific

    "The mood at this summit shows that Tea Party activists are looking for leaders who share our principles of fiscal responsibility. . ." Yep, the republican principles of fiscal responsibility means a Value Added Tax (VAT) that Cain calls 9-9-9: it's a regressive tax which shifts the tax burden from the richest in this country to the poorest. This is typical right-wing-economics: conservatives assume that by making the rich even richer, these wealthy folks will immediately run out, start companies, and begin hiring. This is not the case: the wealthy simply hold on to more money. Look at the banks- after George Dubya Bush approved TARP, the banks received billions of dollars. That's right, billions (fiscal responsibility my a$$). The idea is that by giving them this cash, they would loan them out to kick-start the economy. The only problem is that it didn't happen- instead, the banks kept the money to increase their own profits.

    October 14, 2011 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  22. Wes

    Wow, look at all the racists in this thread attacking Cain because of the color of his skin, calling him an uncle tom, etc. Even the article itself is ridiculous since it pushes the assumption that conservatives suddenly like black people instead of Republicans being the party that fought slavery and got the Civil Rights Act passed, and the party which Doesn't bring up race race race every chance it can for every little thing. Dems and libs are always always putting a racial spin on everything because they can't argue on actual facts.

    October 14, 2011 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  23. OhioConservative

    I like Cain for what he says and stands for, and I think he would make an excellent president. Unfortunately, I don't think he would get elected as the nominee for president, because he has no political experience. But I think that any other Republican who is nominated would be smart to choose him as running mate. Then put him to work fixing the economy. I think he is the best person so far seen to lead us into recovery.

    I am amused at how the liberals are saying we conservatives are pushing for a black man because we are racist against blacks. Think about it.....

    October 14, 2011 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  24. Nick Naranja

    People need to separate skin color from culture. All too often people get them confused. Barack Obama and Herman Cain have very little in common with an African-american living in the projects. What most white people get in trouble for nowadays is confusing ghetto culture with color. There is a ghetto culture that is predominantly black that nobody should be trying to protect. It is equivalent to the trailer-trash culture in rural whites. High drug use, high domestic violence, high dependence on public aid. If a black child is aspiring to get out of the ghetto he is ridiculed for acting white. Since when did staying out of trouble and getting good grades become a whites only endeavor.

    October 14, 2011 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  25. Common Sense

    Maybe if we stopped electing presidents based on them being the "first black" president, or the first latino, etc. and instead looked at what they would do for our country maybe we would get somewhere. Obama hasn't been a great president, and that has nothing to do with his race but his lack of experience.

    October 14, 2011 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
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