CSM's 'Decoder' Twists MSNBC Criticism of Cain Strategy Into 'Leaving the Campaign Trail'

This afternoon, Jack Coleman at NewsBusters noted how MSNBC's Rachel Maddow took a shot at GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain for supposedly "taking a month off the campaign trail -- taking a month off -- to go on a book tour."

The original source for this "claim" is a very poorly written and quite deceptively headlined October 3 item at the Christian Science Monitor by David Grant. The trouble is, Grant badly distorted an item at MSNBC's First Read blog which, while quite critical of Cain, said nothing about "suspending" or "taking a month off" from the campaign (internal links are in original; paragraph breaks added by me):

Raising (and lowering) Cain: After his straw-poll win in Florida, Cain is getting a second look from conservative opinion-makers. The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger has called Cain “a credible candidate” who “deserves a serious look,” while Michael Barone now labels him “a contender.” And over the weekend, Cain won another straw poll, this one sponsored by the National Federation of Republican Women.

One reason why he’s resonating with conservatives is that he’s a non-politician with a business record (which might explain why Cain’s getting a second look but Rick Santorum isn’t). So Cain now has his moment, and guess what: He doesn’t appear to be using it. For starters, with about three months until the Iowa caucuses, he’s going on a book tour for much of October. Second, he's not scheduled to be back in Iowa until mid-November. And third, his communications director just left his campaign -- to work for the re-election of Louisiana’s lieutenant governor (!!!).

Those aren’t just signs of someone who’s unlikely to win the GOP nomination; they’re signs of someone who isn’t really trying to win, a la Mike Huckabee in 2007-2008. Cain does, however, meet with Donald Trump today. If you judge Huckabee’s 2008 campaign as a success, then Cain is on a successful path.

MSNBC's take is at least plausible (though I believe incorrect), but please note that there's no reference to campaign suspension or "leaving the trail."

That didn't stop the CMS Decoder's Grant from making it up in an item posted on Monday (note: before Chris Christie's noncandidacy announcement; bold is mine):

Herman Cain leaving the campaign trail: Why now?

The Hermantor Experience is, by almost any measure, the hottest thing going in the GOP presidential primary (not named Chris Christie).

As Decoder wrote last week, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain is romping in straw polls (Florida, and, this weekend, the National Federation of Republican Women), killing it on social media, climbing in at least one national poll, and promoting a new book. Columnists at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner have both given him love.

It’s momentum and recognition that the Rick Santorums and Jon Huntsmans of the GOP world must be lusting after.

But Cain seems destined to squander it. And here’s why.

As NBC’s thoughtful First Read points out this morning, Cain's promoting a book - and appears to be taking himself off the campaign trail for almost a month.

Isn't that great? The headline treats it as a given that Cain is "leaving the campaign trail," while the content subjectively opines that he "appears to be" doing so. The headline seems disgracefully deliberately designed to mislead some readers into thinking that Cain is not serious.

Continuing:

... Cain won’t be back in the key state of Iowa until November. With all of the jiggering of the Republican primary calendar, that means he’ll have six weeks (at best) to pound the trail before the Iowa caucuses in early January.

Perhaps equally telling, Cain's well-regarded communications director and her deputy are both leaving the campaign, with the director headed to… run press operations for Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne in a tough primary election. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence in Cain’s presidential prospects.

... Cain won’t be back in the key state of Iowa until November. With all of the jiggering of the Republican primary calendar, that means he’ll have six weeks (at best) to pound the trail before the Iowa caucuses in early January.

Perhaps equally telling, Cain's well-regarded communications director and her deputy are both leaving the campaign, with the director headed to… run press operations for Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne in a tough primary election. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence in Cain’s presidential prospects.

... When you take yourself off the campaign trail just to flog a book, it raises the question: Why are you still around, Herman Cain?

Conceding that staff turnover is usually not the best thing in the world, as of this moment, at least five other items make Grant's critique particularly grating:

  1. As of today, it's not a done deal that Iowa's caucuses are going to be in early January ("Iowa’s Caucuses may be held in the first week of January, with the possibility of a December date if New Hampshire’s primary moves much earlier"). Somehow, I think the Herminator can flex to a different timetable if he has to.
  2. Plenty of candidates have either written books (or had books written for them) and "flogged" them during their campaigns. There's nothing unique about that.
  3. Cain's calculation may be that spending October on as many talk radio and TV shows as possible might be a better way to gain the visibility and everyday voter awareness he sorely lacks and badly needs. Whether or not that turns out to be successful strategy, the idea that doing what he is doing is somehow not a form of "campaigning" is beyond absurd.
  4. Campaign 101 says that the ground game doesn't become critical until about 2-3 weeks before the electoral event, especially one that doesn't have "early voting."
  5. There's nothing preventing Cain from running radio and/or TV ads in Iowa well ahead of the caucuses. Or is that not "campaigning" either, Mr. Grant?

At to Mr. Grant's political acumen, roughly ten days ago, in a snarky Decoder item entitled "Why every GOP contender not named Rick Perry or Mitt is still running," he asked: "What the heck are all of these no-shot presidential contenders doing in the GOP field?" Cain was obviously among the "no-shots." Grant speculated that Cain wants to "elevate himself to 'party elder' status." He seems to have forgotten two "little" things:

  • On the day he announced his candidacy to a wildly enthusiastic crowd of 15,000 in Atlanta, he told the audience as only Herman Cain can, "I'm not running for second!"
  • Cain has a pretty good track record of achieving the goals he sets. (/understatement)

That Maddow ran with Grant's twist is hardly surprising.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.