HERMAN CAIN IS LIVING SARAH PALIN'S DREAM
The New York Times tells us today that Herman Cain -- who's touting himself as a guy who should be president because he used to be a CEO -- has an astonishingly mismanaged campaign operation:
Mr. Cain has hardly shown up in New Hampshire and Iowa, ... spending the bulk of his time on a book tour through the South. He occasionally mishandled potential big donors or ignored real voters. His campaign churned through the small staff; last week, his campaign announced the appointment of the veteran campaigner Steve Grubbs, his third Iowa leader in four months.
Even bumper stickers have been hard to come by.
There's comedy gold in the story. (How did Cain "mishandle" those potential big donors? He scheduled a dinner with them and forgot to show up.) I think Barbara at the Mahablog has the best take on the Myth of the CEO-as-Demigod:
Most big companies don't get things done because of the brilliant leadership of the head of the corporation. They get things done because over time they've put procedures in place that delegate responsibilities and that enable staffs to work together to accomplish complex tasks without having to re-invent the wheel every other day. Institutional memory helps, also, as do having competent employees in key positions far, far below executive level....
In my experience, CEOs rarely come up through the ranks of production, manufacturing or engineering. They come from finance, advertising, marketing. They make decisions about money, sales, acquisitions. Often they have only a vague idea how the products their company sells actually get made. Nor do they care. As a rule they don't deal with employees below the upper management level. Often they aren't even that bright; they're just really aggressive and narcissistic and intimidate everyone around them into obedience. Their success often depends on the quality of the staffs they assemble around them who take care of the details, like actually managing....
Talk to just about anybody who has worked in the product development, engineering, production, or manufacturing department of a big corporation, and they'll tell you the same thing. The people at the head of the company were completely cut off from the process of making the products and getting them on the shelves. Their only involvement with products is to declare they want X product on the shelves in 3 months, even though the process would normally take 9 months. They don't care, and nobody ever says no to them. So the little ants in the cubicle farm spend the three months working 12-hour days and cutting every corner in creation, praying that nobody makes a mistake and orders bottle caps that don’t fit the bottles.
In my experience, the fear factor actually does motivate people, and that probably counts for something -- but good, smart, responsible, competent drones who have (or sustain) institutional memory keep the wheels turning, not genius CEOs. Which is why someone who was good (or at least competent) at an established firm is quite likely to be clueless in trying to establish a start-up. And that's essentially the way Cain is failing now.
And yet he's not failing. He's topping the charts. I don't know how he intends to get out the vote, but if that weren't a problem, he might actually win this nomination.
Nate Silver can't figure it out -- he says:
Has there ever been a candidate with such strong polling but such weak fundamentals? Almost certainly not, at least not at this relatively advanced stage of the race.
David Weigel puzzles over this (and over the fate of Newt Gingrich, who, like Cain, is doing more book promotion than real campaigning, and in the wrong states, and is also gaining in the polls). Weigel concludes:
.. there must be some ... reason why this is happening -- why we’re this close to the caucuses and 35 percent or so of Republicans in key states are still smitten with Cain or Gingrich. It's obvious. It's the Tea Party. For nearly three years, the GOP's base has believed, and been told to believe, that it is in an existential battle for civilization, that politicians who got a few things wrong can never be trusted again. (Sorry about that, Rick, Rick, and Michele.) They joined a movement that they could spend all of their media-consuming minutes on, whether it meant watching Fox News or joining Glenn Beck’s 9-12 book clubs. They don't need Herman Cain to work them over in person, carrying volunteer sign-up sheets, like Tim Pawlenty did. They know him well enough already. It might not last, and it might all end with a Romney nomination, but they're not going to give up on it.
Which means Cain is apparently living Sarah Palin's dream. Remember the articles in 2010 and early this year that noted her lack of campaign prep, then quoted Palin insiders as saying that if she ran, she'd run a campaign that was really, really nontraditional, and didn't need all that silly old campaign apparatus? Well, I suspect they were serious. I suspect they intended to go for it, but abysmal polls and poor sales for Palin's second book deterred them.
And now, I think, Cain is running Palin's no-campaign campaign. And it turns out Team Palin wasn't crazy to think a non-campaign might work.
Look, Fox, talk radio, and the online wingnuttosphere can nationalize pretty much anything, at will. A local guy like Allen West can become a wingnut superstar across the country. Wingnuts nationwide knew Cain when you and I didn't. And why shouldn't this be happening? It's 2011, fer crissake.
Yeah, I know: Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire still want you to show up and prostrate yourselves before them. Well, maybe they don't anymore. They have TV and computers and smartphones, too. Maybe they're ready to go virtual.
Hell, I live in a reliably blue state, which means I can't even dream of a presidential candidate in a general election showing up and asking for my vote. And I live in a big city, which means a personal appearance even by a candidate for state or citywide office is far from assured. I think a lot of us live that way. Maybe primary voters in, say, Iowa are just joining the rest of the ciountry.