If getting your major policy plan mentioned dozens of times at a debate by everyone present is success, then Herman Cain is winning.
To cap off a day in which President Obama’s jobs proposal failed to move in the Senate, the Republican presidential candidates gathered last night for a Bloomberg/Washington Post economics debate. Cain’s own “9-9-9” plan—which would create an entirely new tax code by changing corporate taxes, federal income tax, and sales tax to 9 percent each—-was referenced over and over by the businessman himself, and served as the butt of other candidates’ jokes.
Even the moderators got in on the action. Karen Tumulty, a columnist at the Washington Post, having weathered Cain insisting repeatedly that his plan is all he cares about, prefaced a question about the Federal Reserve with a bit of sarcasm: “We all know your priority is 9-9-9.” Then the question ended up being who Cain thinks has been the most influential Fed chair.
Cain’s answer? Alan Greenspan, the chairman who served from 1987 to 2006.
It’s no surprise that Cain picked Greenspan. He had complimentary words for the man in is his memoir, “This is Herman Cain!,” calling him “a very amiable, soft spoken, at times brilliant guy.” Cain added, “He would sit patiently and listen to all the reports; hear everybody; and then come to his insightful conclusion about what we needed to do.”
Still, Greenspan also happens to one of the few people who could have foreseen the housing bubble burst that led to the economy’s collapse, and someone who has admitted that he was wrong “30 percent of the time.”
And 9-9-9 was recently dissected by New York Times’ Bruce Bartlett, who writes, “At a minimum, the Cain plan is a distributional monstrosity. The poor would pay more while the rich would have their taxes cut, with no guarantee that economic growth will increase and good reason to believe that the budget deficit will increase.”
In a way, the economics debate was refreshing. Candidates were able to display how much (or how little) they knew of economics in the country.
Of the other major candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came out sounding most presidential. Even his big flaw (for Tea partiers, at least), “Obamney Care” was minimized by the time the debate concluded. Romney actually touted his health care plan, on which President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was modeled, saying, “I’m proud of the fact that we took on a major problem in our state.”
And unsurprisingly, the trailing candidates, Michele Bachman, John Huntsman, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum, mainly served to field attacks on Romney, Cain, and Perry.
When pressed on health care reform, Romney said the difference between his and Obama’s health care plans was that his only went after the eight percent of Massachusetts citizens who were uninsured—whereas Obama’s affected everyone in the country.
Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry seemed to sleepwalk through the debate. He had little of substance to say on health care—which is, perhaps, not a surprise considering his state enjoys uninsured rate of more than 25 percent, driven by the fact that roughly 40 percent of Latinos in the state are uninsured.
Perhaps it’s a sign that while Perry enjoyed an early lead, he’s taken some major hits in the wake of the “Niggerhead Camp” controversy. In the meantime, Cain has pulled ahead. Of course, Perry’s torpor in the debate may have something to do with the limited number of questions he received from the moderators, who appeared to ask more questions of Romney and Cain.