Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
Over the weekend, the Tea Party Patriots held its first national "policy summit" in Phoenix, Arizona. The nation's largest tea party umbrella organization managed to get about 1,600 activists to show up at the Phoenix convention center to hear from a line up of B-list pundits (Dick Morris), no-name right wing pseudo-academics, and a handful of Congress's most out-there members (Rep. Louie "terror babies" Gohmert (R-Texas)). At the last minute, TPP managed to snag presidential contender and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who, according to Politico, gave a firey speech calling on tea partiers to "rise up" against the union-coddling Obama administration.
But Pawlenty's speech wasn't enough to put him over the top in the event's two straw polls, one held in person and the other online. As with so many of these conservative straw polls, the winner of the online vote was Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who also spoke at the event. But winning the in-person balloting was former Godfather pizza founder Herman Cain, who has become a regular on the tea party circuit. Tea partiers have long insisted that they aren't, as some in the media have suggested, a bunch of racists, so perhaps Cain offered them a chance to prove that there is a black man in politics they could vote for. (He got an enthusiastic response from the audience when he told stories of other African-Americans criticizing him for criticizing Obama: "Some black people can think for themselves," he declared.)
But more likely, Cain won their hearts with his tremendously funny political delivery, if not with his policy prescriptions. Cain, most recently working as a motivational speaker, riled up the crowd with talk of American exceptionalism and Gipper references. But his solutions for the nation's most urgent problems were vague, thin, and hardly original. They were essentially the fantasy of any corporate executive. He called for lowering the tax rate from 35 to 25 percent and for reducing capital gains taxes to zero. "These are not rocket science ideas," he noted.
Still, even with that thin gruel, Cain cleanly trounced both Pawlenty and Sarah Palin (who endorsed the summit but didn't attend), suggesting that tea partiers would prefer an outsider in the White House to any of the current contenders. But given that their leading preferences are Cain and Paul (a candidate whose prospects were roundly dissed by none other than Donald Trump last month), you do have to wonder how much impact the tea party may ultimately have on the 2012 election. A Cain/Paul ticket has about as much chance of winning the election as a Democratic one headed by Michael Moore and Alan Grayson. Anyway, check out Cain's speech to see the man for yourself: