This past Saturday afternoon in Atlanta, the once jocular and front-running, now defiant and rapidly crumbling GOP presidential contender Herman Cain announced that he's indefinitely "suspending" his bid for the White House — and in the process he killed black Republicanism.
That probably wasn't his plan, but after running a race filled with gaffes and gimmicks and lacking any humility or substance, Cain left the conservative movement unharmed and the mainstream GOP alive and well, but he may have finally laid to rest the peculiar strain of political thought that's been driving black Republicans ever since the kinder, gentler Rockefeller Republicanism of former Sen. Edward Brooke and the late NAACP President Benjamin Hooks was replaced by the talking-point parroting brand that found its ultimate distillation in Cain.
After Cain's woeful run, American politics may have finally seen the last of the "I'm not like those other blacks" candidate — and good riddance.
Cain called himself conservative, but he mostly encouraged supporters to see him as the ultimate anti-Obama — claiming to be the "real black man" in the presidential race and saying America needed "a leader, not a reader." Yet when the time came, Cain couldn't back up those claims.
He tried to be the "likable" candidate in the Republican field but went about it by indulging in a faux-folksiness unbecoming a serious contender — kicking off stump speeches by exclaiming "Aw, shucky-ducky!" and wishing aloud that he'd get the Secret Service code name "Cornbread."
He quickly tried to revamp his 9-9-9 plan as a 9-0-9 plan after learning that a 9 percent income tax would raise taxes on 84 percent of Americans.
He backed Donald Trump's suspicions about President Barack Obama's birth certificate right up until Obama went ahead and produced his birth certificate.
He said he'd refuse to appoint any Muslim Americans in a Cain administration because they might try to "force their Shariah law on the rest of us."
He was considered staunchly anti-choice until he told CNN's Piers Morgan that on abortion, it comes down to "a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president."
When he was asked to offer his thoughts on American involvement in Libya, he gave an answer so convoluted that it really has to be seen to be believed.
Given that he has never been elected to public office, Cain's selling point was that he's first and foremost a businessman, and not a politician. But to sum up his demise in corporate-speak that the candidate himself would be all too familiar with, Cain — the fast-food exec and talk-radio host — ultimately succumbed to the Peter Principle: He was finally promoted to the level of his own incompetence.
But Cain wound up unintentionally providing an important public service. His campaign was so awful that he's made it pretty unlikely that the next black Republican who emerges on the national scene will try to do it by saying, in essence, "Vote for me — I'm not like that other guy." Thanks to Cain, that strategy, hopefully, is done for good. And as Comcast's Robert Traynham consolingly tells black Republicans, "There will be another serious candidate from their ranks."
But the emphasis has to be on the "serious" part.
After Cain, in order for the next black Republican or black conservative to make an impact, she can't just settle for being another Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — George W. Bush's elegant rubber stamp — and he also can't settle for being another Michael Steele — the perpetually cheerful but ideologically inconsequential former Republican National Committee chair who once joked that he'd try to diversify Republican ranks by telling blacks and others: "Y'all come."
No, the next time around, voters — black or otherwise — will demand more than they did from Cain. Next time, whoever that black Republican is, she'll have to win votes with real ideas about war, foreign trade, promoting entrepreneurship, taxation, immigration and school reform. Thanks to Cain, the next time around, if a black conservative wants to win, it won't be good enough just to be the black conservative in the field. He'll have to be the best conservative in the field.
Next time around, he'll have to win votes the old-fashioned way: He'll actually have to earn them. And what could be more conservative than that?
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.