GOP Hopeful Herman Cain: Jesus was “The Perfect Conservative”

There’s now officially a hat in the ring—or is it a pizza? Herman Cain, the man who saved Godfather’s Pizza and argued against Bill Clinton’s attempt at health care reform, has started a presidential exploratory committee. In a profile on Cain at Slate, David Weigel describes Cain’s popularity among the Tea Party folk:

When Cain speaks at conservative conferences and Tea Party rallies, he gets bigger crowds than members of Congress, and only slightly smaller crowds than Fox News hosts. He was invited to join the board of Tea Party Patriots, declining in part because he was thinking about this presidential bid, and he was a spokesman for Ginni Thomas’ “Liberty Central.” At the October 2010 Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention in Richmond, I saw football-jersey-style T-shirts displaying names of those who might run for president this year: Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, and Herman Cain. When no other Republican wanted to talk about 2012, Cain would walk into speeches introduced by a heavily produced video, a highlight reel of his other speeches.

Weigel also notes Cain’s radio show on WSB in Atlanta where he rails against President Obama, “socialism,” and the Democrats abuse of individual rights while mixing in some “Dale Carnegie-esque leadership talk.”

When it comes to his credentials as a Christian conservative, well, Cain is working on those. Sarah has already pointed out religious right connections and he’s continued to step those up. Last month he wrote a Christmas column for World Net Daily titled “An Example for America: The Perfect Conservative” in which he turned the carpenter from Nazareth into Ronald Reagan:

He helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health-care system. He fed the hungry without food stamps. And everywhere He went, it turned into a rally, attracting large crowds and giving people hope, encouragement and inspiration.

At the end of his Christmas meditation he turned toward an attack on the separation of church and state:

The attacks are disguised as political correctness or a misunderstanding of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Separation of church and state does not mean separation of church from state. The state cannot impose church on the people, but the people can display and say as much church in the public square as they desire. Our founders recognized that distinction, which helped to inspire the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the founding of this nation—the United States of America! We must be the Defending Fathers and the defenders of the perfect conservative. That’s why I proudly wish one and all a very Merry Christmas!

This week he appeared on Bryan Fischer’s American Family Association radio show where he vowed to reinstate Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and end funding for Planned Parenthood, “not because I don’t believe in planning parenthood, [but because] Planned Parenthood as an organization is an absolute farce on the American people.” His reason? He echoed the right-wing canard that founder Margaret Sanger created “a sham to be able to kill black babies.”

All of this ought to give Cain some serious religious right street cred, but he is still a hard man to pin down. Cain is an associate pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Atlanta, a church pastored by Rev. Dr. Cameron Alexander. According to the his bio, Alexander is a lifetime member of the NAACP and the SCLC. While trying to map politicians based on their pastors is always dodgy, Cain’s church background does not line up with the (mostly white) Bapticostal contingent of the religious right. Rather, Cain comes from the black Baptist tradition that birthed the Civil Rights movement and continues the social justice tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. (and not in the way of  Glenn Beck or other historical revisionists).

It will be interesting to see how Cain does among evangelical Christians who can be picky about what kind of Christian candidates they support (for one example, see Romney, Mitt). Cain could learn a thing or two from Marco Rubio, a Catholic who likes hanging out with Baptists, and find ways to endear himself to white evangelicals. Cain isn’t a perfect match for fiscal conservatives, either. Cain supported the Wall Street bailout plan and called the purchase of bank stocks by the U.S. Treasury a “win-win.” So that’s two blemishes on his record for Tea Party free marketers.

Herman Cain knows how to sell a product, whether it’s a pizza or himself. As primary season grows closer we can expect him to continue to fashion himself into someone that appeals to the fiscally minded Tea Party and conservative evangelicals. That is, he will try to be the “perfect conservative.”