America is a free country, and radio talk-show host Herman Cain is free to run for president. Even with low-name recognition, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO polls well. Veteran pollster Scott Rasmussen ranks him third, with 10 percent of the GOP primary vote, behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. His supporters seem enthusiastic. But they should understand one thing: Herman Cain cannot win because when it comes to politics, he is an amateur.
Cain's website opens with the slogan "Let's Get Real."
Not the Herman-ator's strong suit.
Cain can boast of a great American success story. A black man who grew up in the Jim Crow South, Cain is the son of a chauffeur and domestic worker who were determined that he graduate college. He did. Then he earned a master's degree. He applied himself. He rose through corporate America and became chief executive of Godfather's Pizza. Cain should be proud of his achievements.
In the political world, Cain has not fared as well. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, summed up Cain's political experience as "losing badly in a Republican primary in his own state" -- when Cain ran for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia in 2004. It's not a plus for a presidential candidate when Republicans in his own state nominated someone else.
Cain became an Atlanta talk radio host, a commentator for Fox Business and an author. He knows how to speak provocatively. Witness his remarks about President Obama's Kenyan roots and his admission that he would not appoint qualified Muslims unless they could prove they are loyal Americans. In short, he made a name for himself by alienating people -- the one thing you don't do if you want to win an election.
But the main reason Cain won't win is that most Republicans understand that a man who has never won an election or a battlefield has no business running for president. He was a great businessman, but that does not mean he can squeeze what he wants out of hostile lawmakers, outmaneuver treacherous allies or juggle the thousand parts of foreign policy.
Like many Republicans, I am a strong believer in citizen politicians.
When civilians enter the arena, they can bring outside-the- Capitol-dome common sense to a realm made overcomplicated by careerists who know how to cut deals but not how to get things done.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is a great example. An obstetrician who entered politics in his 40s, Coburn declared war on earmarks and ethanol subsidies -- and he has succeeded where career Republicans once dared not tread.
Ronald Reagan went from actor to politician. Please note: Reagan could not have been President Reagan without being California Gov. Reagan first.
Sabato noted that in 1980, when Democrats were painting Reagan as an extremist, "the most reassuring qualification that Reagan had was having run the nation's largest state (population-wise) for eight years -- and it was still there."
Cain has a poor sense of timing. Obama did not have a thick political resume when he won the White House. If American voters are so dissatisfied with Obama in 2012 that they want to replace him, they are not going to choose a rookie -- who never has won a showdown with other lawmakers, sat across the table from a foreign despot or withstood the pressure of a hardball election and triumphed -- whose claim to fame is that he is a good talker.
In its early stages before voters have begun to focus seriously on the election, the 2012 GOP primary has shined the spotlight on vanity candidates (Newt Gingrich), vanity non-candidates (Sarah Palin) and vanity personified (Donald Trump).
Like Cain, Palin and Trump have a talent for saying glib things that suggest that there are easy fixes for entrenched messes. Take Cain's premise that not being a politician is a plus in a presidential election.