Why the Herman Cain Train Won't Stay on Track

Despite a recent surge, the former pizza titan has nowhere to go but down

herman cain trump towers republican presidential candidate
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks to the media outside of Trump Towers before a scheduled appearance with real estate mogul Donald Trump in New York.
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Quirky hard-right GOP presidential contender Herman Cain is suddenly riding high in the polls, having leapfrogged Texas Gov. Rick Perry into to the top tier of candidates. The former Godfather's Pizza CEO pulled off a surprise victory in Florida's Presidency 5 straw poll on September 24, and a recent poll has him tied for first place with default frontrunner Mitt Romney. But does Cain have a real shot at the White House? No – and here are some reasons why not.

• He doesn't have his act together. Cain's former New Hampshire director, Matt Murphy, told the Wall Street Journal that "organization was a real challenge" for his former boss. (Cain lost important staffers this summer in Iowa and New Hampshire.) "New Hampshire is an ideal state for a candidate like him without a lot of name recognition or money for advertising," Murphy said. "But his strategy has seemed more like a national campaign than a targeted, state-by-state local one." An anonymous adviser told the New York Times that the campaign has only 40 staff members, with just four in crucial Iowa. Cain himself concedes he needs to beef up his operation, but he can't do that without serious cash, and though he says donations have increased in recent weeks, he managed to raise only $2 million in the second quarter. (Perry raised $17 million.)

• He isn't really on the rise. Jonathan Bernstein at the Washington Post points out that Cain is just the latest star of the "GOP Nomination reality TV show." Like Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump before him, Cain's been good for easy headlines and sound bites; this empty coverage produces a jump in the polls, and in turn more coverage, until the media finds a new fixation. The fade from media prominence will happen to Cain as surely as it happened to Bachmann after her Ames straw poll victory, Bernstein predicts. Meanwhile, behind the scenes Republican bigwigs have already narrowed the field down to Romney and Perry.

• Cain's surge makes a Romney win more likely. Cain is a full-on Shariah-law-opposing conservative with potent Tea Party appeal. But this just means his surge will draw support away from also-conservative Perry and help the moderate Romney. A new CBS poll showed Perry's Tea Party support down to 12 percent, with 24 percent in favor of Cain. Two weeks prior, Perry was polling at 30 percent with the group.

• His nutty ideas are about to face serious scrutiny, for the first time. Cain hasn't been a real contender long enough to have his positions and policy ideas thoroughly vetted. But once they are, his fortunes could plummet. Cain has little political experience and his proposed policy proposals are pretty out-there. He's running on a plan to wipe out the current tax code and replace it with one branded 9-9-9 – a nine percent personal income tax, corporate income tax and sales tax. Cain's plan faces major constitutional hurdles and would likely lead to either constant deficit or reduced social programs, notes Talking Points Memo.

• He's not even that serious about running. In recent media appearances Cain has focused as much on his just-out memoir This is Herman Cain! as on his run for the White House. Cain told the New York Times that his book tour and presidential aspirations "complement one another." However, it's hard to shake the sense that Cain's focused on raising his profile, the better to jack up his lucrative speaking fees and gin up business for his "leadership consulting firm." Cain's official campaign schedule for October is slow, yet his book-signing schedule is jam-packed. Book publishers Simon and Schuster "get kudos for believing in me and this campaign," Cain told the Times. "Now they're going to cash in. That's how it works."