Why Herman Cain confounds pundits, and might win the GOP nomination

Herman Cain's leads in the two latest polls, just two months before the Iowa caucus. The case for why Herman Cain could end up with the GOP 2012 nomination.

(AP Photo/Beth Hall)
Presidental candidate Herman Cain speaks on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011, in Springdale, Ark.

For weeks now, Decoder has been questioning Herman Cain’s seriousness as a presidential candidate. In general, we’ve tended to agree with James Carville, who said on ABC yesterday that there’s “zero chance Herman Cain is going to be the nominee.” (And even as we write this, we can’t resist pointing out that Cain’s spending much of this week in Texas and Alabama - two states with essentially zero influence on the nomination process.)

But despite our deep skepticism, we’ve also noted that Cain is still leading the GOP field in two recent national polls - CBS News/New York Times and Fox News. This, even as he has come under far greater scrutiny and attack.

Which has us kind of, sort of, starting to wonder: Is there a chance - even a small one - that this guy could actually win?

We’re not the only ones starting to think this way.

Recently, veteran political scribe Walter Shapiro wrote a piece in The New Republic titled, “Yes, The GOP Just Might Nominate A Candidate Patently Unqualified To Be President.

Shapiro cites Republican voters’ distrust of the media, their anger at elected officials, and the general lack of affection for Mitt Romney as key factors capable of propelling Cain all the way to the nomination. Shapiro concludes:

" …it does not take a huge leap to imagine Cain winning in Iowa, where he leads in the latest statewide poll. A follow-up victory for Cain in the South Carolina primary would also be conceivable. After that, starting with the Florida primary at the end of January, voters will mostly judge the candidates based on their performances on television screens. And make no mistake—Cain is a great performer. "

In Slate, John Dickerson also pondered whether the “Cain boomlet may actually last” - writing:

"Perhaps the thickest part of the cushion for Cain is that his conservative voters don’t have anywhere else to go. Michele Bachmann was eclipsed by Perry. That isn’t going to happen to Cain. There aren’t any eclipsing figures left"

But perhaps the most intriguing analysis came yesterday from The New York Times’ Nate Silver, who calls Cain a “huge outlier” among presidential candidates, writing that when it comes to predicting his trajectory, all bets are off.

Silver notes that poll numbers and campaign fundamentals (such as staffing, money, endorsements, etc.) typically go hand in hand. In rare cases where they don’t, it’s usually candidates with strong fundamentals who for some reason can’t get traction in the polls. For Cain, however, it’s been the exact reverse. What to make of this? Silver writes:

"It implies that there is either something fundamentally unusual about this year’s Republican nomination process, or perhaps that some sort of “new normal” has been established and that the old rules of how you win a nomination no longer carry as much weight."

He concludes that there is no reliable way to game out Cain’s chances of winning the nomination, adding, “frankly, I think it is quite arrogant to say that the man leading in the polls two months before Iowa has no chance, especially given that there is a long history in politics and other fields of experts being overconfident when they make predictions.”

Decoder certainly wouldn’t want to be arrogant - or presumptuous.

And so, as we watch Cain’s momentum continue unabated, we’re at least starting to wonder … what if all the conventional wisdom is wrong?

Like your politics unscrambled - with a side of humor? Check out DCDecoder.com.

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