When you’re at the top of the polls - and center stage at tonight’s GOP debate in Las Vegas - chances are you’re going to take some blows. While Herman Cain largely dodged them during last week’s debate, Decoder has an inkling he won’t be so lucky this week.
Here are five potential chinks in The Hermantor’s armor. Once you’ve checked them out, get ready to join us at our live chat during tonight’s debate (kicks off at 8 p.m. ET).
1. Was Cain against “999” before he was for it?
Herman Cain may turn out to be his own worst critic. As Business Insider points out, Cain once wrote an op-ed posted on several conservative sites (like The Daily Caller, here) entitled “Don’t Be VAT Stupid” in which he argues:
The worst idea is a proposed national sales tax, which is a disguised VAT (value added tax) on top of everything we already pay in federal taxes.
Cain’s campaign says this is taken out of context - but in the op-ed, Cain lays out explicitly why a national sales tax, the third “9” in his pantheon, is a terrible idea.
First, we have a spending problem in Washington, D.C., not a revenue problem….
Even worse is reason number two: In every country that has established a VAT with the promise of reducing its national debt, the VAT has eventually gone up or expanded on top of the existing tax structure….The third reason the national retail sales tax on top of all the taxes we already pay is a bad idea, is that there is already proposed legislation that replaces allof the federal taxes we pay. It replaces all current revenue. It supercharges our national economic growth, and puts the power of taxation back into the hands of the people who spend their money.
It’s called the Fair Tax.
As you learned from Decoder’s “999 plan” explainer, Cain’s ultimate goal remains the Fair Tax. Indeed, in this same op-ed he argues that “a national retail sales tax on top of all the confusing and unfair taxes we have today is insane!” Those three, bolded words (emphasis Decoder’s) may be his saving grace, as his 999 plan would abolish all other taxes.
2. Gay marriage
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has already signaled he’ll be going after Cain on 999 - but he’s also ready to hit Cain on gay marriage as well. After Cain told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that gay marriage should be left to the states, Santorum offered this on a talk radio program in Iowa:
“The idea that this issue should be left to the states is the position Barack Obama takes and it’s not the right position.”
Cain’s position struck a (negative) chord among several other conservative leaders, as Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post’s “Right Turn” blog.
3. Is Cain too “shocking” on immigration - or not shocking enough?
As Decoder wrote previously, Cain has waffled on whether a fence along the US border with Mexico rimmed with electrified barbed wire is a good idea or not. Whatever this discussion does to the GOP’s chances with Hispanic voters, Michele Bachmann has already hit Cain from the right for suggesting such a fence would be a joke.
"This is no laughing matter, the border fence," Bachmann said. "We’ve seen jokes made by presidential candidates about the fence. It is not a joke. This is a real issue, and this is a serious issue."
4. Does he know anything about foreign policy?
Cain also discussed foreign policy during his chat with Meet the Press host David Gregory. To put it bluntly, Cain has not impressed many experts with his command of foreign affairs. He typically falls back on “I will ask the ____” where the blank can be generals, intelligence analysts, or other experts. Perhaps an honest position, but as the Washington Post’s Rubin writes, when you mix that in with his inability to formulate his own coherent views about foreign policy, the resulting goo is … well, goo.
Right now Cain is telling us he likes the neoconservative Charles Krauthammer and the conservative critic of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, George Will. He told David Gregory he likes both John Bolton and Henry Kissinger as foreign policy thinkers. (What — he curries favor with the despots only on odd-numbered days?) These pairs of conservatives are polar opposites, of course. It is sort of like picking Justice Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as your favorite Supreme Court justices — it suggests a lack of understanding of the diametrically opposed views they present. More to the point, it raises doubt as to how Cain could make national security decisions with no vision of his own or familiarity with the issues.
5. Is Cain a serious contender?
Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have practically become Iowa residents. Jon Huntsman is boycotting the Nevada debate in an attempt to score points with New Hampshire. Rick Perry’s political DNA is about retail politics. Any of them could go after Cain for eschewing the early primary states as he continues on his book tour (he hasn’t been to Iowa since August) in hopes that voters in those states will remember how much time they’ve lavished on early primary contests.
Watch the top Republican candidates face off in the CNN Western Republican Presidential debate LIVE from Vegas! Tuesday night at 8ET on CNN. (Sponsored message.)
Photo: Eric Thayer/Reuters