Green Room

Rick Perry’s Prime Directive: Destroy Cain

posted at 5:00 pm on October 23, 2011 by

The Iowa caucuses are now just 72 days away. Once Iowans vote on Jan. 3, the 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination ceases to be about debates and gaffes and spin, and begins to be about actual results.

This week’s uproar over Herman Cain’s CNN interview with Piers Morgan will likely be a distant and irrelevant memory by Jan. 3. Despite Cain’s rhetorical difficulty in consistently articulating a pro-life position, his bona fides on the issue have long been established, as demonstrated in 2006 when he led a $1 million effort to encourage black voters to vote pro-life.

What should be more troubling for Cain’s supporters are persistent concerns about the strength of his campaign’s “ground game” in Iowa. Organizing for the Iowa caucuses is a time-consuming, labor-intensive effort and 10 weeks is a very short time in terms of building effective operations in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. That’s why many people were startled a week ago when ABC News showed Cain’s Iowa headquarters nearly empty:

Duane Lester of All American Blogger interviewed Cain’s Iowa communications director Lisa Lockwood this weekend at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Forum and asked her about that video:

Lockwood’s explanation — that many of Cain’s volunteers in Iowa are working from home, rather than from the campaign office in Urbandale — may help reassure Cain’s supporters, as do the latest poll numbers from Iowa. But the poll numbers also point toward a looming danger for the Cain campaign:

When you look at the RCP average, you see that every Iowa poll for the past two weeks (beginning with the Oct. 7-10 PPP poll) has shown Cain in first place and Perry in single digits. It is therefore scarcely surprising … that the prime directive of the Perry campaign is now “Destroy Herman Cain.”

Allahpundit yesterday explained what Perry’s situation means going forward:

[W]hile Perry can skip New Hampshire, I think he’s stuck having to compete in Iowa. Sooner or later he’ll have to suck it up and start attacking Cain in earnest.

And this is very much in line with what I wrote Friday:

That the Perry campaign has become a purely negative organization — a machine whose prime directive is the destruction of other non-Romney candidates, leaving Perry as the sole hope for the Anybody But Romney movement — is an inevitable consequence of how the campaign began with the goal of becoming the overnight front-runner. When you begin with that kind of plan, with your campaign organized around the idea of raking in front-runner money, you inevitably encounter a problem when, for example, a poll shows your candidate in sixth place in Iowa. …
[T]he Perry campaign’s relentlessly negative message now – the turn to the Dark Side, as it were — is a predictable reaction to the failure of their original plan to become the overnight front-runner and Only Legitimate Alternative to Romney.
Those who bought into the original plan, which fell completely apart within six weeks of Perry’s Aug. 13 announcement … are now trapped into an all-or-nothing effort to destroy Herman Cain.

That lengthy contemplation of the strategic logic of the Perry campaign was prompted by an item from Alexander Burns in Politico, showing how Cain has previously given ambiguous answers, based on a Human Events article in 2003, when Cain was beginning his campaign for Senate in Georgia. Having spent enough time on the campaign beat to know how these things happen, I observed: “$17 million buys a lot of opposition research, as well as a team of people paid to disseminate it. Excuse me for suspecting that Politico columnists don’t spend their spare hours reading eight-year-old back issues of Human Events, IYKWIMAITYD.”

Of course, there’s no telling who dug up that 2003 article. Mitt Romney’s also got an ace team of opp-research guys on their staff and, when I mentioned the Politico column in a phone conversation Thursday with Cain campaign communications director J.D. Gordon, he pointed out that Team Obama isn’t exactly shabby when it comes to planting oppo-research hits in the press. So it would be unfair to jump to the conclusion that Team Perry was responsible for that item, however

The poll numbers in Iowa and the strategic logic of the Perry campaign point inexorably to the necessity of Team Perry “going negative” on Herman Cain — and doing so PDQ, while Perry can still get the maximum advantage of his fund-raising advantage.

Perry finished the third quarter with more than $15 million cash on hand, whereas Cain had about $1.5 million cash on hand. But the Cain campaign is now getting a huge influx of contributions and it has been suggested they may be raking in $200,000 a day online now, which would translate to more than $5 million by the end of October. That would be “Romney-esque money,” as one GOP consultant put it, and if they could keep up that pace, Team Cain might be approaching financial parity with Perry and Romney by Thanksgiving. So if the Perry campaign wants to strike hard on Cain with TV and radio attack ads, it behooves them to do it before the Cain campaign can accumulate the money and organizational resources to fight fire with fire.

And if Team Perry does mount an attack-ad campaign against Cain, they will almost certainly do so in Iowa. The combination of poll numbers and the campaign calendar explains this:

Iowa caucuses ………………… Tuesday, Jan. 3
New Hampshire primary …. Tuesday, Jan. 10
South Carolina primary …… Saturday, Jan. 21
Florida primary ……………… Tuesday, Jan. 31
Nevada caucuses ……………. Saturday, Feb. 4

Notice that there are 10 days separating New Hampshire (Romney’s must-win state) and South Carolina (Perry’s must-win state). If we assume that Mitt wins his must-win, Perry would be under extreme pressure in South Carolina, and the pressure would be even worse if Perry fares poorly in Iowa. And if recent poll numbers are any indication, Perry could fare very poorly indeed in the Hawkeye State:

Public Policy Polling (Oct. 7-10) ………….. Perry 9% (4th place)
Insider Advantage (Oct. 16) ……………….. Perry 6% (6th place)
University of Iowa (Oct. 12-19) …………… Perry 6% (5th place)
Rasmussen (Oct. 19) …………………………. Perry 7% (6th place)

Can the Perry campaign afford for their candidate to finish fourth, fifth or sixth in Iowa? No way, José. They don’t necessarily have to win it, but if Perry finishes as far back as fourth in Iowa on Jan. 3, it’s unlikely he will do much better in New Hampshire on Jan. 10. By the time the South Carolina primary rolls around on Jan. 21, the media will have been doing “death watch” reports on Perry campaign for more than two weeks. If Perry then underperforms in “must-win” South Carolina, there will be another ten days of “death watch” coverage before the crucial Florida primary on Jan. 31. Romney is reputedly strong in Nevada, so by the time votes are counted there on Feb. 4, Perry could be batting .200 in the first five nominating events, and perhaps even 0-for-5 if he were somehow to lose his “must-win” state.

The strategic situation clearly indicates the necessity for Team Perry to leverage their current cash-on-hand advantage by mounting an attack ad campaign against Cain in Iowa, in hope of restoring Perry’s status as the most viable choice for the Anybody But Romney voters, who are a majority in the GOP primary electorate.

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The Herman Cain presidential campaign announced Wednesday that former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman, Steve Grubbs, will join the campaign as the Iowa State Chairman.

Steve Grubbs is considered one of the leading Republican strategists in Iowa. He has worked on four presidential campaigns and more than 100 state and local campaigns in the state. He served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa in ’97-98 and served six years in the Iowa House of Representatives prior to that.

“We tried a community organizer as president, maybe it’s time we put a CEO in the White House,” said Grubbs. “I’ve had the good fortune to work with Bob Dole, Steve Forbes and Tommy Thompson and I can honestly say that I’ve never quite seen the groundswell of excitement that I’m seeing for Herman Cain.

FYI from an e-mail I just received from Herman Cain

Knucklehead on October 23, 2011 at 9:01 PM

Rick Perry better start presenting some compelling reasons for his candidacy reeeeal fast. I was pulling for him and his record in Texas is exemplary, but he has been an absolutely miserable debator and “words” like “distractive” are indeed “distractiving” from his campaign. The utter inarticulateness has been astonishing. And if he or any of the others think that we’re going to want to spend our time next year explaining their Palinisms, well, good luck with that.

DocinPA on October 23, 2011 at 9:19 PM

DocinPA on October 23, 2011 at 9:19 PM

Versus Cain? Has Perry botched any questions on abortion? If you want articulate vote for Romney. If you want conservative vote for Cain, Perry, etc. The only candidate who is a great debater, knows the issues, and a great mind is Gingrich.

I wouldn’t mind at all if Cain is the best anti-Romney. I just want all conservatives to rally behind the conservative when the voting starts.

Bill C on October 24, 2011 at 1:19 AM