Courtesy TIME Ideas
Meghan McCain fascinatingly characterized the Republican primaries as akin to dating in that the electorate keeps having one fling after another in the hopes of avoiding the seemingly inevitable marriage to the boringly dependable Mitt Romney. Herman Cain has lasted too long to be called a fling, but the GOP’s ardor for him has blinded it to his obvious ineptness in almost every aspect on which you’d test a candidate (foreign policy, domestic affairs, likeliness to seduce voters outside the party, ability to deal with the media microscope, ability to cope with scandal). The only aspect that he does well is exude charisma, as if he’s the kid who doesn’t study but somehow charms the teacher into passing him.
The party’s love for him has not cooled despite a sexual harassment scandal he continues to handle poorly. (Justin Bieber is handling his nascent paternity scandal with more forthrightness, directness and crisis management wisdom than Cain did.) Cain seems to be surviving the scandal because the GOP truly likes him and because the party really has nowhere else to go but to Romney and because this is a rather tepid scandal compared to what we’ve grown used to from politicians (he abused power but there’s not even allegations of actual sex, so for most people it doesn’t really matter). But there’s also something else. The GOP’s relationship with Cain is more psychologically important than its relationship with any other candidate because Cain is that special thing: the party’s cool new Black friend.