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. jdalco

    GOOD to hear. Maybe we have learned at least that much from Obama. Electing him because he was black has done damage that will take us years to fix. I hope we are smart enough to elect the next POTUS based on his skills instead of skin.

    October 14, 2011 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  2. Little Tin God

    Poppycock! The right wing will NEVER nominate a black man to reside in the WHITE House! The right wing just makes sure their WHITE robes and WHITE hoods are well hidden.

    October 14, 2011 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  3. Vigla

    I read a comment above that they believed Cain would pull in 50% of black votes... LOL!! That's hilarious! Not only will Cain lose almost all black votes, he will get soundly defeated in the general. Let's be honest. Do you think Cain has ANY chance to win any blue state or swing state with his wacky policies? He is a political neophyte and it shows with all the dumb comments he's been making lately. He can barely explain his 9-9-9 plan for goodness sake!!!

    October 14, 2011 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  4. 49er

    It seems like the only ones briging up race so far is Cain himself and his supporters...

    October 14, 2011 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  5. Christopher

    Excuse me, but from what I have seen race is still a BIG issue, at least on the Republican, black-man-hating side of things.

    Seriously, I have seen more hatred against black men since Obama got elected than I EVER saw in my 26 years before that.

    October 14, 2011 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  6. Don

    It is just a ploy by the GOP to make it seem like their party is inclusive of other races when they are not, they are made up of extremists and racists from the tea party movement who are using Cain to get broader acceptance. Cain will NEVER get the nod so stop it.

    October 14, 2011 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  7. Mike

    Who cares about race? It's time for a real Change! It's time to vote for Ron Paul!!! He's the only candidate with real substance and who wants to get to the roots of this countries problems.

    October 14, 2011 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |

    Just ask any Latino person who lives and work in Alabama, Georgia to name a few, racism there is alive , and interesting enough, racism and discrimination is done against Latinos by black people not by whites as we might expect.
    Mexicans and other poor latinos are being treated in this states by blacks as second citizens.

    October 14, 2011 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  9. Woman In California

    And another thing. IF the TP isn't racist and it has to do with Obama's policies then why the signs depicting him and his family as monkeys, Hitler, bones in the nose? I'm sure those pictures had to do with his polices right? They can lie all they want but if you want to know what they are REALLY about just look at the rallies and they tell the whole story.

    October 14, 2011 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  10. Fixer2010

    Don't trust this guy....he gives me the heebeegeebees.

    October 14, 2011 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  11. itsonlyfair

    If the GOP isn't focused on race, why all of the importance given to illegal immigration? They always claim it's about the economy, but really it's about future demographics for voting. The GOP knows that they're a 90% white party demographically, and that the majority of ethnic minority votes go to Democrats.

    October 14, 2011 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  12. blutto

    This man is just a pizza maker. What qualifies him to know how to run the country? There is something really wrong about all of this. Plus he said that if you are poor is your own damned fault. So making pizza let him know how to run this country? Please get real. He's unelectable like all the other GOP buffoons.

    October 14, 2011 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  13. open400

    His 9-9-9 plan is a joke. If you sell your home in Palm Beach, Florida and make a million dollar profit, you are not taxed for the capital gain. The struggling veteran living on social security just 20 miles from Palm Beach that use to work for the millionaire that just sold the home will have to pay an EXTRA 9% for goods and services. In this example, who is bearing the brunt of the tax burden there? This whole idea we have to give millionaires and billionaires(the “job creators”) more money is absurd and not consistent with facts. I too believe in tax breaks to spur economic growth, but not unconditional tax breaks. Anybody that believes in unconditional tax break for the wealthy or corporations are incredibly naïve.
    I am wiling to give business lucrative tax breaks if that business or wealthy individual hires and/or trains unemployment people. I am not willing to give business or millionaires a unconditional huge tax break if they are planning to take the money to invest in China or stick it in a confidential bank account in the Cayman islands

    October 14, 2011 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  14. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    As for Cain and his affinity for "Conservative values"; not even 40 years ago "Conservatives" (and their values) would have him tarred, feathered, lynched, burned, shot and killed for even acting like he was even thinking about acting like he was thinking about running for POTUS...I wonder if THOSE are the values that he has so much admiration for?

    And, don't preach to me about the past and how long ago it was...there are tens-of-millions of Americans still alive today who were alive when this was the normally expected "Conservative" reaction–INCLUDING CAIN,, it wasn't THAT long ago
    Right the hell on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    All these dummies here talking about Obama NOT being a Black man because he's half-white, tell that to somebody who does'nt know the history our illustrious country.

    History has already been made: Barack Hussein Obama is and will forever be our first Black President.

    October 14, 2011 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  15. Jason

    I must disagree with the premise of this article. The rise in the polls for Mr. Cain is due to the lack of viable candidates offered by the Republicans. At this point, any name that comes up gets them excited. To say race is not an issue is laughable, as many of the people who are against Obama are motivated by his biracial background. To the extent that they won't even say bi-racial, he is BLACK to them. Cain is a joke and and just as much a token reference as Sarah Palin was in 08 as a "we have a woman too" reaction from the Republican party.

    October 14, 2011 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  16. Liesofthefoxists/fascists

    Why do people keep saying a corporate for-profit mind set is what we need as President?
    That makes no sense and the only reason it was created by the right wing propagandists was to promote Repub ideology of utter nonsense.
    Take a moment to think about it – government is a NON-PROFIT venture.

    It’s has nothing to do with controlling a corporation where you can rationalize that firing 2000 Americans so you can hire 3000 communist Chinese at a third the cost is a good idea.

    We don't want greedy corporatists running such a huge non-profit entity by choosing the benefit of corporations over the benefit of its people while directing billions of dollars to un-regulated for-profit companies!
    We had that with the Bush/Cheney regime and remember what happened – policy and management failure on every level – almost total destruction of our economy and our standing in the world.
    The result has been just what the terrorists of 911 wanted.

    This GOP mantra of ~ sacrifice anything and everything for corporate profits ~ will be the end the US.

    October 14, 2011 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  17. Vigla


    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.


    Yeah, like there is a way to gain presidential experience without actually doing it... I think we all agree you lost that argument when you nominated Sarah Palin as VP and McCain just seemed too senile and not up to the job physically or mentally.

    October 14, 2011 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  18. Johnson

    Perhaps Romney wont be able to buy the Nomination after all. And a Black man too! Mormons considered Blacks to be symbols of the devil until the late 70s. Good for Cain.

    October 14, 2011 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  19. Bambam

    Wow...who will all the racists vote for if it's Cain vs. Obama? Inquiring minds want to know.

    October 14, 2011 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  20. Wes

    Lawrence O'donnell pressed Cain on why he didn't volunteer for the military after being passed over for the draft. O'donnell says every President needs to have served to be Commander-in-Chief, etc. how many years did Obama serve in the military?

    Al Sharpton and Janeane Garofalo call out Cain "for not really being black". Look at all the calls that he's an uncle tom. ...where's the outrage? How can people get away with such blatant racism? It's amazing with how much the left gets away with.

    And this article implies conservatives cared what race Obama is. Come on. They care that he's a big-government status quo, and they saw him lying through his teeth. Look at what Obama promised and what he has actually done. Wasn't this supposed to be the most transparent administration ever? Conservatives are sooo racist that they cheer for guys like Cain and Allen West. Explain that one to me.

    October 14, 2011 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  21. Big Daddy

    Is the author of this article serious. I don't care what the tea party or any republican says. There is no way the Republican Party will nominate a Black man as their standard bearer. If Herman Cain wants to believe he has Republican and tea party support he has to be dellusional. Just ask Michael Steele. This is a fact, look at any picture of any tea party rally or any republican event or convention. You can count the number of Black people there; and contrary to what has been said Mr. Cain is using the race card. He made it an issue when he said Blacks have been brain washed in their voting decisions. Its racist when anyone else says it, it's stupid when a Black man says it. Because Black people don't support his run for the nomination does not mean they are brain washed it means they don't like him. If someone ever said White people vote for a candidate or postion because they are brain washed tea partiers and conservatives would be up in arms. Herman Cain was offensive and insulting to make such a stupid statement.

    October 14, 2011 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  22. scooter

    I am not sure what air traffic controllers are going to do if Cain is nominated by the Republicans. Since pigs will be flying. And hell will have to be lose some of its brimstone luster when it freezes over.

    October 14, 2011 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  23. lakeshore22

    This is like reading the funny paper! Either the author Shannon Travis is an idiot, or Shannon thinks we're all idiots! There is NO WAY the ultra-conservative, racist tea party would EVER select Cain as the GOP nominee. The funniest part is that Cain himself actually believes he can win the GOP nomination, LOL!!! Well, I sincerely hope he does, then Obama can wipe the floor with him!!!

    October 14, 2011 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  24. David Nelson

    Race is not an issue? I like the sounds of that. Now how long until the nation is mentally stable enough to make religion a non issue. I'm LDS as is Mr. Romney and Mr. Huntsman. I understand most everything I've heard and read recently surrounding the country's views of my religion are based on perception rather than actual understanding of what the LDS church is about. (Yes Jesus Christ is central to my faith.) I personally don't support Mr Romney or Mr Huntsman. However, in the end it seems our country is a little prehistoric in it's thinking if a qualified person can't become president based on their faith. Good grief what is wrong with our country? It really makes me worry that if that's the case perhaps I should fear that the next president I support won't have my children and my welfare in mind because we attend a church with a different name. I really think America needs to wake up. Equal rights to all it's citizens regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs.

    October 14, 2011 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  25. detada

    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.

    This is just dumb. Our founding fathers did not look past race, as many of them were slave owners. Perhaps this is justified on the basis that slaves were not considered human beings, so that makes the race argument mute. Cain is a first tier candidate, because the republican field is pathetic and because the front runner is a mormon, which republicans also reject. I wonder how they would accept Cain if he told them he was gay. So, don't tell me the republican party and tea baggers are not bigoted. Tea Baggers are now beginning to attack Cain, because they are finally figuring out that his 9-9-9 plan will raise taxes.....bunch or morons.

    October 14, 2011 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
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