Having departed the Republican presidential field, businessman Herman Cain still retains a substantial amount of power over this race.
He can (and, he promised Saturday, will) endorse another candidate, and while many of his supporters will find a new favorite on their own, we have to imagine at least a few will take Cain’s pick seriously.
With reports emerging that he’ll likely choose fellow Georgian Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House might then find himself in a position to complete his absorption of the anti-Romney vote among conservatives, a feat he has accomplished in a remarkable few weeks.
But what if that’s wrong, and Herman Cain — sleazy, rude, prone to sexual harassment and generally awful treatment of women — getting behind fellow philanderer and two-time-divorcee Newt Gingrich only reminds conservatives of everything they dislike about Newt Gingrich, halting his rise and even damaging his candidacy?
This is not to say conservative activists will have a feminist awakening and decide they need someone to lead them who respects women as equal members of society. No, rather it is that a Cain endorsement — with all the weird, tacky implications — might remind conservative activists, for example, of Newt’s cynical conversion to Catholicism in advance of his third marriage (to a former congressional staffer he cheated on his previous wife with).
Newt’s path to the Republican nomination is as an intellectual in a party that hates them, a thinker in a movement that wants to move past them. His characterization of Paul Ryan’s Medicare privatization scheme as “right-wing social engineering” was that of a history professor, not a politician, and yet these same academic tendencies have made him a solid debater and confident general election opponent for conservatives’ greatest foe: Barack Obama.
The former Speaker’s brand only flies when he’s in the ring and not drawing attention to his conduct on the sidelines. A Cain endorsement does exactly that: reminds us of what we don’t like about Newt. Which is why he should be wary of publicly seeking or embracing it.
Follow Political Correspondent Matt Taylor on Twitter @matthewt_ny.