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October 12th, 2011

Herman, Where’s The Beef?

Herman Cain’s rapid rise to national prominence in the 2012 presidential campaign is as amazing as his rags to riches personal life story.

It’s almost impossible not to like Herman Cain.  Not only is he a gifted orator, but also his quick wit makes him entertaining to listen to and his charming personality is equally infectious.  It’s no wonder Cain has been successful as a radio host and now as a national politician.

However, for all of Cain’s strengths as a candidate and campaigner he has a major weakness – a lack of substance.  It’s probably blasphemous to ask Cain “where’s the beef” when it comes to specific policy since it’s a famous ad campaign from a fast food joint other than Godfathers Pizza.  However, after watching last night’s debate, I’ve come to the conclusion that if Herman Cain was a pizza, he would be a simple cheese pizza void of any toppings.

As has been the case with all of the previous debates, Cain proves that he can effectively deliver talking points, but he utterly fails to offer any specifics even when asked to provide them.  Cain repeatedly talked up his 9-9-9 plan, but when the debate moderators or his opponents critiqued it, he offered little in the way of a defense other than to say that they were wrong.

The sad part is that, even now that Cain is a serious contender for the Republican nomination, the debate organizers let him get away with shrugging off any criticism that comes his way.  While candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have to constantly explain their healthcare mandates, Cain is able to smile, wink, and deny his way out of any uncomfortable situation that may arise.

Here are a few examples from last night’s debate.  You can read the full transcript by clicking here.

To start the debate, Cain was asked, “What would you do specifically to end the paralysis in Washington?”  Cain’s answered by citing his “bold” 9-9-9 plan to grow the economy and stated that the nation needs to get serious about bringing down the national debt.

So much for the specifics.

This answer from Cain is insufficient and incomplete not just because every Republican presidential candidate basically agrees when it comes to the debt, but because President Obama himself uses the same language.  In his State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.”  Since Cain has never held office, providing substance is critically important because Cain has no record to back up what he’s saying.  Cain’s 9-9-9 plan does provide some specifics, but when the plan is scrutinized, Cain attacks those who question it instead of defending or explaining how the plan would work.

Here are a couple examples from the debate:

Mr. Cain, you say that your plan is revenue-neutral. And last year, the U.S. collected $2.2 trillion dollars in tax revenue, but Bloomberg Government has run the numbers, and your plan would have raised no more than $2 trillion. And even with that shortfall, you’d still be slapping a 9 percent sales tax on food and medicine.

CAIN: The problem with that analysis is that it is incorrect.

The reason it is incorrect is because they start with the assumptions that we don’t make. Remember, 9-9-9 plan throws out the current tax code. And it starts with three simple economic driving principles: production drives the economy, risk-taking drives growth, and we need sound money, measurements must be dependable.

Now what 9-9-9 does, it expands the base. When you expand the base, we can arrive at the lowest possible rate, which is 9-9-9. The difference between the 9-9-9 plan and the other plans that are being proposed is that they pivot off of the existing tax code.

We have had an outside firm, independent firm dynamically score it. And so our numbers will make it revenue neutral.


Cain initially tries to ignore the question by saying those who criticize him are wrong.  This exchange reminded me of an incident I had with Cain in Des Moines when I pressed him about his lack of campaigning in Iowa before the Straw Poll.  When I stated that he had only held six events over the span of a few months, Cain said I didn’t have my fact straight even though I was correct.  In this instance, the question is fair, but Cain dismisses it.

Cain was pressed again on the issue.

But then explain why under your plan all Americans should be paying more for milk, for a loaf of bread, and beer?

Cain answered, “Pizza, I don’t buy beer.”

He then offered some further justification:

You have to start with the biggest tax cut a lot of Americans pay, which is the payroll tax, 15.3 percent. That goes to 9 percent. That is a 6-percentage point difference. And the prices will not go up. So they have got a 6 percentage point difference to apply to the national sales tax piece of that, and in doing so, they have the flexibility to decide on how much they want to spend it on new goods, how much they want to spend it on used goods. Because there is no tax on used goods.

The last time I looked, its impossible to buy used bread or beer, so once again Cain is avoiding answering a serious question about his economic plan by ignoring the question and using humor to defuse a tense situation.

Cain’s 9-9-9 plan was also attacked for being impractical since it would be difficult to enact. Congress can’t even agree to cut spending let alone agree to scrap the entire tax code.  Just like the question on paying a federal sales tax on bread, these are foundational questions that Cain has to be able to answer in order to defend his proposal.

Still, Cain mocked those who criticized the practicality of his plan.  “9-9-9 will pass, and it is not the price of a pizza, because it has been well-studied and well-developed,” Cain claimed.  “And it will pass, Senator, because the American people want it to pass,” He added later.

Cain’s substance problem goes deeper than his 9-9-9 tax plan.  As we saw the last time the national media became infatuated with him, Cain came off looking confused on 2nd Amendment Rights when he said that states and local government have the right to pass gun restrictions.

Cain has also struggled with foreign policy.  In a Fox News debate he openly admitted that he was not knowledgeable enough to make decisions about the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and thus would defer to the Generals in the field.  He also flubbed a key foreign policy question on Israel.

Despite being lauded for his performance in last night’s debate by the mainstream media, Cain depth of knowledge was called into question even outside of his 9-9-9 plan.  When asked which Federal Reserve chairman over the last 40 years he thinks has been most successful and might serve as a model for that appointment, he answered Alan Greenspan.

The justification for his answer had nothing to do with Greenspan’s policies as the Chairman of the Fed, which most conservatives disagreed with, but rather, Cain  praised Greenspan for how he coordinated the Fed in the 1990’s.  Again, when it comes to Cain, personality trumps policy.

Speaking of the Fed, Ron Paul asked Cain if he still thought that those who wanted to audit the Fed were ignorant.  Once again Cain attacks the messenger and tells Paul that he shouldn’t believe everything he reads on the internet.  However, Paul was exactly right about what Cain said, with Cain having made these comments not all that long ago during his presidential campaign.

Whether it was in last night’s debate or throughout the campaign, Herman Cain has been devoid of substance.  The news media seems uninterested in Cain’s inability to get away from the talking points and provide some specifics.  Now that Cain is riding high in the polls, one would hope that would change.  Maybe it will, but they sure let Cain slip by last night.

In this election cycle, Cain should be providing “meat lovers” type substance.  Sadly, all he is offering is cheese pizza, but I guess it’s selling.  And in the end, that’s all that matters.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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