We’ve talked about where Cain stands on the issues and shared some of our opinions…we’ve discussed Cain’s background and personality…we’ve even spent some time specifically dissecting his major campaign pillar, the 9-9-9 plan.
I think we ought to give a few moments of thought to how Cain is running his campaign and whether these tactics would serve him well in a battle to the death with Obama and the media.
One thing is very clear at this point – Cain is taking a different path to his celebrity status on the campaign trail…it largely involves…um…not having a campaign trail. The big donations going to Romney and Perry cannot be combated by a true Washington outsider with a fundraising drive and the traditional system of organized, paid campaign management in all of the fifty states. Cain doesn’t have the keys to the vault so he has to play a different game – at least for now. Wisely, he and his advisers have agreed to debut a new style of campaigning that involves far less in the way of paid organizers and expensive TV ads and far more in the way of social media, viral web marketing and door to door volunteer work by energized populists in the grassroots. His staff in Iowa, for example, consists of (wait for it) four people in one building in a suburb of Des Moines (and the building looks more like a shack than an office complex). In New Hampshire, he’s got one (that’s the number 1) staffer. In Florida, where most of his boots are presently on the ground, he’s got two offices and a dozen or so paid staffers.
He’s choosing to do something that I do not believe has ever been done – he’s choosing to get his advertising for free by appearing on as many national TV newscasts and talking-head programs as he can and by tweeting and facebooking and blogging about his exploits along with his many passionate supporters (most concentrated in the Southern states). He got this idea from his days in the tea parties. His blog and his Atlanta radio show earned him the chance to be a spokesman for the tea parties at various rallies and conferences starting in about 2007 (before the movement was even called the Tea Party). His close ties to American Freedom Works and other grassroots conservative non-profits got him exposed to the strategy that led to a sweeping Tea Party victory in the November 2010 midterm election. In essence, he’s trying to run the kind of populist campaign that has worked in local and state elections but has never been tried for Presidential candidates. His success or failure to capture the GOP nomination could be quite the statement about whether the Presidency is truly bought and paid for by powerful special interests or whether there is still room yet in Washington for a man of the people without those ties to the important and the connected.
That is of course…if he doesn’t throw away his current popularity with a lot of gaffes on national TV like his comments on abortion. The press wants to destroy him because they are, themselves, a powerful and connected special interest, and they don’t want to see their influence slip far enough to lose their grip on the White House. And so far, Cain has not proven immune to slip-ups that may haunt him for some time to come. He’s got to play a tight game. Like Billy Beane in 2002 and 2003 (GM of the Oakland As made famous for revealing market weaknesses in baseball that changed how front offices evaluated talent), Cain is at the leading edge of what could be a revolution in public policy and campaign strategy. The days of the mainstream media holding the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. may be coming to an end since advertising doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg if you get contemporary in your web usage and the people are starting not to trust them anyway. But if Cain is going to be the one to lead that change, he’ll need to avoid mistakes…he’ll need to be nearly perfect.