Cain's Over: It's Down to Romney and Gingrich

RightWatch: But the absurd climate that made Cain a contender may undo the current front-runners.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

So, brother Herman, how's that jungle fever thing working out for you? 

Absurd as it seems, black businessman Herman Cain's apparent weakness for white and white-looking women may wind up playing a pivotal role in the presidential election, if Cain finally realizes that the jig is up and pulls out of a contest he was never qualified to run in. At that point the remainder of Cain's dwindling band of supporters will be free to throw their weight behind a more realistic candidate for the Republican nomination. The rest of us will get on with selecting the next president, while Cain goes home and explains himself to his wife.

Of course, it's perfectly possible that an egomaniac of Cain's stature will sweet-talk himself into staying in the race -- in fact, he's vowing in defiant speeches to do just that. But even if he stays in the race, the former pizza executive's days as a factor are over. The GOP battle increasingly looks like a smackdown between the ever-flexible front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt "the Human Pretzel" Romney, and former Speaker of the House Newt "the Egotist" Gingrich, with the irrepressible libertarian nutcase Rep. Ron Paul playing the unpredictable role of a spoiler. 

If Gingrich inherits Cain's backers, it would solidify his position as the "anti-Romney" -- the conservative alternative to Romney, whom right-wingers just can't stand because Romney used to be a moderate on so many issues. For example, as governor of the most liberal state in the nation, Romney championed a law that included an individual mandate requiring citizens to buy health insurance -- a key component of President Barack Obama's "socialist" health care reforms that Romney has sworn to repeal if he is elected. 

The Democratic National Committee highlights that flip-flop, among many others, in a pair of somewhat overheated TV spots that debuted last week. But hey, if Romney, as the DNC gloated in an email message to voters, is "two men trapped in one body," what is Gingrich, who, in a decades-long career as a politician, has been on all sides of all sorts of issues? As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post pointed out in an extremely astute analysis this week, as recently as 2007, Gingrich wrote an op-ed article contending that Congress should "require anyone who earns more than $50,000 a year to purchase health insurance or post a bond."

And health care, as Klein notes with some glee, is not the only major issue on which both Romney and Gingrich have, um, reconsidered their positions.  Both have in the past supported limits on carbon emissions to combat global climate change -- another idea that the GOP right wing finds an anathema. Gingrich even appeared in an ad for Al Gore's Climate Reality Project, in which he agreed with ultraliberal former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that "our country must take action to address climate change."

Which brings us back to the absurdity of this year's Republican campaign. The positions that Romney and Gingrich are now fleeing from are sensible, mainstream ideas that have broad support among voters. They are evidence, as Klein notes, that at some level both men want to actually solve problems and not simply pander to the Neanderthal ideology of the right-wing activists who dominate the Republican nominating process.

In other words, for all their transparent willingness to do whatever it takes to win the nomination, both men actually seem to want to govern. But for a Republican presidential candidate, the willingness to depart from dogma and find real solutions to real problems can be the kiss of death. As former President Bill Clinton quipped recently, the ideological climate in the Republican Party "basically means you can't be authentic unless you've got a single-digit IQ." 

For proof of Clinton's assertion, seek no further than Cain's empty-headed campaign. Now that he is on the verge of collapse, we can see even more clearly how ludicrous his quest was in the first place, how stunningly unqualified he was and how narcissistic. His popularity was based on spouting hard-core right-wing dogma and on the sheer simplicity of his silly 9-9-9 plan. It's frightening to know that a con man like Cain could get so far on a slogan, a shoe shine and a smile.

Jack White keeps an eye on right-wing politics for The Root.