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Presidential Potential

November 6, 2011

I tried to stay optimistic about the Republican race for the presidency as long as I could. It was easier to do that from a distance than looking closely. But certain things reach you even when you do little more than give a casual glance at an Italian newspaper: ‘Herman Cain, Republican frontrunner, accused of sexual harassment’ Oy.

Sure, my first thought was the same as probably everyone’s first thought: the frontrunner sooner or later gets accused of that. I personally am not convinced of the accuastions being based on solid facts. For now the details are too vague and — considering the paranoia practiced in legal disputes over so-called sexual harassment for years now — I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the events which are being referred to (provided they actually took place) were much ado about nothing.

But for Monsieur Cain, these accusations enhance the perception that he is not cut out to be the President of the United States simply because he is too gaffe-prone. The talent which allows him to throw out smart lines that make crowds roar in enthusiasm is the same talent which makes him say things that make more skeptical folks stop and wonder.

The French Cowboy loves the idea of a black American business man turning US-President on a conservative agenda. But M Cain makes me worry that, as the president, he may continue to shoot out unhelpful comments like a loose cannon. As the leader of the free world you cannot afford to do that.

Herman Cain is a very charismatic person. This alone means that there is potential in him for a landslide electoral victory and a historically successful presidency. Without charisma, neither of the two things are likely to happen. But charisma alone will not make them happen either. (You could argue that the first part can work out well without anything more than charisma, but the second part — not so much.)

M Cain is a trained mathematician. There is a video in which he debates President Clinton on the question of health insurance costs for businesses. In this video, M Cain comes across as a serious, smart business man, armed with facts, ready to defeat a bad idea with no tools except solid reality and the ability to communicate in a rational manner. I would love to see a little more of that relatively dry, facts-only attitude of Cain as he runs for president.

We know that Herman Cain can provoke and sell missteps as charming unconventionalism. But in order to convince a broader section of the electorate, he needs to show his ability to debate in a disciplined manner, ie without verbal missteps and with reliance on deep knowledge of the facts.

Many times, when Cain answers a tough question, he makes general statements on an abstract level. These types of answers from him are always neatly logical, but often lacking in content. They typcially sound basically like this: ‘First I will identify the problem, then I will gather the facts, then I will assess the situation and, finally, I will make a decision — the decision will depend on the first three steps, I cannot give a more specific answer to the question now.’ But a presidential candidate doesn’t have the luxury to wait with forming a specific opinion until he’s won the presidency.

Cain gives the impression that he needs more time to elaborate his policies and only then can he debate President Obama the way he debated President Clinton in the above video.

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