OK, so Herman Cain just announced the suspension of his presidential campaign. That was pretty predictable (despite moves in recent days that seemed to confuse this predictability). Perhaps less predictable, given that he pledged to stay in the race the day after the Ginger White allegations went public, is that, in his remarks today, he announced that he would endorse another candidate “in the near future.” Who will it be? The smart money is on Newt Gingrich. There are many reasons to think so, but the immediate one that comes to mind was tweeted just moments after Cain’s announcement.
Mere moments after Cain’s announcement, Gingrich tweeted the following, the first of Cain’s GOP rivals to respond to the announcement on Twitter:
At the time of this posting, only Gingrich and Michele Bachmann has tweeted on the announcement, and only she, Gingrich, John Huntsman and Rick Perry have made statements (the others will, surely, and soon, but I’m interested in the speed). Note Bachmann’s language in her tweets:
First, past tense: he “provided” and “generated“, an implicit assumption being that he may not from this moment. Huntsman’s public statement similarly uses past tense:
Herman Cain offered a unique and valuable voice to the debate over how to reform our country’s uncompetitive tax code and turn around the economy. I understand his decision and wish him and his family the best.
As does Rick Perry’s:
I know this was a difficult decision for Herman Cain, his family and his supporters. He helped invigorate conservative voters and our nation with a discussion of major tax reform. Anita and I wish him and his entire family all the best.
By contrast, Gingrich’s tweets (again, they were fast, virtually immediately out of the gate) are present (and future) tense: While the first tweet uses past tense regarding the impact of the 9-9-9 proposal on the campaign’s policy dialogue, note the more personal second tweet:
I am proud to know Herman Cain and consider him a friend and I know he will continue to be a powerful voice for years to come.
Gingrich expresses his current friendship with Cain, and suggests a future of continued legitimacy and political power in his voice. This is not the statement of a magnanimous victor alone — this is a guy who wants to continue to cultivate a relationship. And he wanted that intent to be made public before anyone else in the field.
There is certainly evidence to suggest a special relationship between Gingrich and Cain. On November 5, the two engaged in a one-on-one, “Lincoln-Douglas style” debate on entitlement policy sponsored by the Texas Patriots PAC. As the New York Times reported, not only was the debate not truly a Lincoln-Douglas debate format (too much moderator participation, for one thing), but it actually displayed the two candidates not only as political colleagues, but actually as a common voice not always willing to dispute the interlocutor:
The event, formally titled the Cain-Gingrich Debate 2011, was actually a fund-raiser held in a cavernous hotel ballroom north of Houston that was packed with 1,000 people. It felt more like a conservative love-in, with each candidate going out of his way to compliment the other and shower praise on the audience.
After Mr. Gingrich took a few minutes to answer a question on Medicare , saying that there was need for radical change, Mr. Cain was to offer a rebuttal.
“I’m supposed to have a minute to disagree with something that he said, but I don’t,” Mr. Cain said to some chuckles and applause. “I believe, as Speaker Gingrich believes, that we can’t reshuffle Medicaid , Medicare or Social Security ; we must restructure.”
When one opportunity for a clash did emerge, it was quickly set aside. “I’m going to sidestep the temptation to talk about ‘9-9-9,’ ” Mr. Gingrich said after Mr. Cain brought up his signature economic plan, which would replace the tax code with a 9 percent flat tax on individuals and corporations while adding a 9 percent national sales tax. They focused more on what they had in common. “We are the two most radical candidates,” Mr. Gingrich said as Mr. Cain looked on, approvingly.
And so it went, for roughly two hours in a style modeled after the legendary Lincoln-Douglas debates during the Illinois Senate campaign of 1858. The meeting was meant to be a departure from the flashy fast-paced format of the candidate encounters so far this campaign season.
As both candidates rose in the polls against Mitt Romney and the rest of the pack, Gingrich and Cain used their mutual admiration society to communicate at least two things: (a) they like each other, and (b) they share some key policy commonalities.
So, the current campaign discourse on public record suggests that a Cain/Gingrich political alliance would provide a powerful shake-up to the rest of the GOP field, especially the still-strong but always beleaguered Romney. Both Cain the “outsider” iconoclast and Gingrich the “big ideas intellectual” have a tendency to present larger-than-life philosophical and political pronouncements. Cain is charismatic and has a rabidly loyal base of supporters; Gingrich has consistently been framed in the media as both the campaign’s resident intellect and as a resilient politician who has already weathered the ethical challenges Cain is now facing and has come back from a political coma to lead the field.
If Cain throws his support to Gingrich (which might also signal weak-leaner supporters of conservative alternatives Bachmann and Santorum that it’s OK to throw in with Newt, who is suddenly the sole viable Not-Romney), that’s the margin of victory needed to take down Romney both in Iowa and New Hampshire, which would seal Mitt’s campaign fate.