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. Sadie Boyd

    Oh please...Herman Cain is an opportunist and a token...

    October 14, 2011 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  2. ICU

    Obama is not African American. His mother is white.

    October 14, 2011 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  3. Erick

    You wanna know what makes Ron Paul's tax-plan better than Herman Cain's? Ron Paul isn't planning on taxing the people.

    October 14, 2011 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  4. rdarkchild

    I'm a black male without party affiliation.
    I cannot believe that black males or females like Herman Cain, Ken Blackwell or Clarence Thomas really think that conservatives consider them as equals. Their feeling about people of color is a part of their DNA. That is not to say that these people (conservatives) are bad people but they just can't surrender to the idea that a non white male is in charge. Many black people know men like Herman Cain that believe that all of the stereo types about people color that dominate the conservative mindset are not whispered about them when they are not present. Herman you are an accomplished man how can you be so easily fooled.

    October 14, 2011 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  5. Donkey Party

    It's simply because the racist right-wingers love the way Cain attacks minorities and the poor. Reminds me of a Dave Chapelle skit where Dave acts like a condescending southern white racist, and is able to blend in with that ilk, but only because he is blind and believes he's a caucasian, so the real white racists seemingly embrace him because he can easily be taken advantage of, even though under their hoods and robes they loathe him like your average GOP-bagger normally would. Art imitating life...

    October 14, 2011 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama


    Race isn't an issue with the republican party, character is.
    That would be zero for two.
    Or maybe you meant "characters" because they certainly have plenty of those.

    October 14, 2011 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  7. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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.
    And a lot of Teabaggers walking around with half their foot shot off!

    October 14, 2011 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  8. 40acres

    It's interesting that he is the only candidate I hear lumping all blacks (at least the blue ones) into a single category and labeling them as brainwashed (and racist). I believe he did the same thing with Muslims. It almost seems he's being a little racist or very exclusionary, or both (maybe that's what the Republicans like about him).

    October 14, 2011 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  9. The Real Tom Paine

    There was a story that after the University of Texas got its first black player and he was tackled by a black plaer from the opposing team, a bosster got up and screamed " Get that n*gger off of our colored boy!". Cain is the latter for conservatives, a means to an end to persuade weak-minded people they ( conservatives)think otherwise when many still think and speak that way in private. The idea that Democrats are racist and intentionally keep blacks in perpetual dependency is questionable on a good day, and an outright fantasy on any other day. Conservative bloggers are constantly using racial stereotypes and not-so-coded words to show how they really feel. Its also interesting that Cain feels comfortable going on Laura Ingraham's show, when she cut her chops at Dartmouth on the Dartmouth Review, hounding black professors out of the school by provoking and taping confrontations: one professor was described in one of the articles as having a face " a crinkled mud pie". Are these the people that now claim the GOP is purged of racists, and that Democrats ( who they claim can't run anything) have this nefarious master plan to keep blacks brainwashed and solidly voting for Democrats? The real world does not bear out their paranoid fantasies.

    October 14, 2011 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  10. Adam B. Embry

    For many conservatives like myself, one's ethnicity is not an issue. It's what the candidate believes that counts.

    October 14, 2011 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  11. Lost in Texas FOREVER

    I live in the REDDEST state in the union, plenty of far right conservatives down here and this is one thing I know for sure......if you talk the talk they they like to hear they could care less what color you are. Not sure how much in private Cain may believe in all the stuff he talks, but it works with the far right public sector. And it also helps them get away from the so-called "white guilt" they claimed help put Obama in office in 2008. They can vote for a black guy who is like them and then claim "see I'm not racist". It's like that far right couple that claims they have a black friend or they listen to Motown music or let their kid have Micheal Jordan posters on his wall. Trust me things have not really changed much here.

    October 14, 2011 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  12. DC Johnny

    Dominican mama 4 Obama – you're right about one thing. President Obama has shown minorities something special... that even a minority child can grow up to one day ruin this country just as much as a white person can.

    Your racial bias during the past few years has been incredibly clear and beyond laughable. Obama cannot run on charm and charisma any longer. Three years ago he had nothing but a history of "present" votes. Now he has a history of failure from which he cannot hide.

    I look forward to four years of your scathing anti-Conservative lack of respect for our next president, to prove the hypocrisy that burns bright inside you as you request for others to respect Obama on a daily basis.

    October 14, 2011 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  13. Stephen Daugherty

    The first reason why it's not such a big issue anymore is that Obama did it first, and the world hasn't come to an end. The Democrats crossed the threshold, and after almost three years of being President, it's not an implausible fantasy that a black man could be President, it's historic fact.

    The second reason is, contrary to what Republicans say, Democrats have little objection to Herman Cain being a black candidate. Their main objections are to his tax policies, his antipathy towards regulation, and other policy differences where the objection would remain even if God came down and made a white man out of Cain. If his fellow African Americans have a problem, it's mostly with the fact that he seems to think of them all as dupes, and that he plans to make things worse for the millions of African Americans and minorities who are already in poverty, already hurting from this recession.

    In short, Herman Cain would have very little problem being a candidate if he wasn't such a rabid, right wing conservative. His race here is not his problem in terms of electability.

    October 14, 2011 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  14. mike proctor

    This man is nothing more than a charlatan and the American people are to stupid to see what this man really representive in reference to his knowledge of how to a Government. 999 let him try to explain how it works,he cannot explain where it can from and how it will affect the poor/middle-class taxes. You listen to everyone comments "He have a plan" okay! WHAT KIND OF PLAN AND WILL IT PRODUCE JOBS?? Mr. Cain was asked a question in N.H. in reference to 999 and his answer was "I DO NOT KNOW!! well hell if he does not know the answer to the man question concerning 999 how in the hell are we support to figure it out. Have anyone listen to his reponses to questions concerning the poor/mid-class who are out of work. OH!OH! this is a good one,Ready! if you are not rich that not my fault,it your fault,if you not working ,that not my fault,it your fault. NOW! that a man with a heart and compassion for his fellow-man or NOT! I suggest that everyone buy plenty of vaseline because if this guy become President and he dick you, I guarantee he will not use any before hand. America wake up before its too late and you screw up like you did in November 2010 and let the fox back into the hen house with the proimse that I will not eat any of the hens,YES! I would bet everything I own that President Obama will get us back on a more soild fountation if he was only given additional time to carry out his programs with the help of the American people.

    October 14, 2011 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  15. westward

    Cain's 999 plan is pure garbage. And that is his SOLE platform. Not anywhere near good enough, people. Oh, and remember – he blames YOU!

    October 14, 2011 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  16. Roger

    It's not about race. It's about doing the right thing for the American People!
    This guy would just drive the middle class down even more than it is now.

    October 14, 2011 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  17. Andy Botwin

    Cain's philosophy that poverty is a result of laziness fits right in with decades of Republican ideology. Of course they embrace him. He's part of the "all fates are deserved" mantra.

    October 14, 2011 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  18. Satndford

    I do have one question on his 9-9-9 Scam – Are all those Golden Deductions for GOP elites still in Herman’s 9-9-9 Tax Scam? All his private jet expenses are a big fat tax deduction! The cost of the flight, accelerated depreciation on a private jet, very expensive jet fuel, salaries of flight crews and aircraft maintainers – all paid for by Herman’s Lazy People – Average Taxpayers!

    October 14, 2011 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  19. Just Saying...

    the reason Cain is acceptable to conservatives is that he is an Uncle Tom. And just as stupid as the rest of the conservatives.

    October 14, 2011 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  20. Al-NY,NY

    Mr Flavor of the Week is not going to make it thru the long haul. The more he talks, the worse it gets..except for the sheep who lap up his drivel like they haven't eaten in years. If the GOP is dumb enough to nominate this guy, they can kiss the White House goodbye

    October 14, 2011 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  21. BEn275

    Cain is just a token and this time next year he will not be running against President Obama. Once the GOP/teabaggers sort out their mess of candidates they arent going to give him the nomination. They are just using him like they used Steele.

    October 14, 2011 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  22. Bill in VA

    I always thought race was a liberal issue. More accurately they try to play the race card. Think Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, Al Sharpton (might as well throw in Loius Farrakhan too but even he makes Al Sharpton seem downright reasonable) who are treated by the media as enlightened but they are all bigots. Sure there are white bigots but they have been cast aside as a fringe element by every one including conservatives. Only the black bigots seem to be treated as if they are not. Many of us conservatives were disappointed that Colin Powell did not make a run. Herman Cain is a serious guy and he is my guy. I sadly think he may come up short but I think he is the best of the lot on the Republican side. The more I hear him, the more I like him. But the more I hear Obama, I would take any of those in the Republican primary over that empty suit.

    October 14, 2011 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  23. big Al in KC

    We need to stop electing Presidents that are "lawyers" because they are the ones that tell you what you want to hear and then twist and bend the truth. We need to "vote in" the person who can get "The JOB" done. Got it?

    October 14, 2011 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  24. Ryan

    I can't help but laugh-out-loud at the people that respond to this article saying that "doesn't matter, they're still racist."

    PLEASE show us the evidence or put your head back in the sand and quitting spewing your venom.

    Those of you that want to project racism onto others are part of the problem.

    October 14, 2011 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  25. Bob, Virginia

    How pathetic that these clowns are bleating that they would make this idiot the nominee just to prove they aren't racist.

    October 14, 2011 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
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