Is There a Republican Who Can Beat Obama?

The field isn't looking good these days, and GOP voters are getting desperate

Herman Cain is a great American success story. He’s also entertaining and refreshing, especially standing next to Rick Santorum. But let’s get real: Cain has zero shot at getting elected president, let alone being the GOP nominee.

If he wins, I’ll spend a night in a tent with some of the Occupy Philly dregs camped outside City Hall. I hate camping—unless the campground is a Hilton or Sheraton—but I’m pretty sure Cain won’t be the next president. Vice-president, maybe.

The fact that Cain’s poll numbers have him atop the GOP field says more about the field and the crazy mood of the electorate than it does about Cain. Republican primary voters are so mad at President Obama they can’t see straight—or think clearly. In fact, they don’t know what they want other than to defeat Obama.

At first, many GOP voters were in love with Michele Bachmann. That is until they saw her up close and realized she is crazier and dumber than Sarah Palin. Then many jumped on Rick Perry’s Texas bandwagon. That is until they heard him speak. Some of Perry’s debate answers made George W. Bush sound eloquent. His campaign surge lasted about as long as the Phillies’ postseason.

Then panic set in, and many GOP voters turned to Chris Christie. Some begged the New Jersey governor to get in the race. There’s a lot to like about Christie (and at times a lot to dislike). Sure, he’s gruff, but he’s also a straight shooter. Many welcome Christie’s blunt talk. He’s rumpled and looks like Jackie Gleason, but there’s something very appealing about his style and message.

Christie would have had a tougher time appealing to the conservative base in the GOP primary than winning votes in the general election. But he also had the best chance of all the GOP candidates of beating Obama. That’s why many GOP party leaders—especially the well-heeled Wall Street types—were eager for him to get in the race. He would have captured the all-important independent swing voters, especially white Northeastern Catholics in Ohio and Pennsylvania. His North Jersey roots would have played well in the sixth borough of Southern Florida, likely giving him enough votes to win the three key states that will decide the election. But alas, Christie said it was not his time, even though this was probably his best time.

With Christie staying in Trenton, GOP voters have suddenly gravitated to Cain. His 9-9-9 tax plan sounds appealing at first blush. Except for one problem: It’s a sham. The plan is unlikely to generate enough revenue to fund the government. And it will result in a huge tax hike for most Americans. To recap: that’s less government revenue and higher taxes. Some deal. Not to mention, there is no way something that big and sweeping would ever get passed and replace the current tax code.

So while the 9-9-9 plan makes for a good sound bite, it is less filling than the Godfather’s pizzas that Cain got rich selling. Then there is the fact that Cain has no government experience.

Sure, many GOP voters are down on government and think it can’t do anything right and should just be dismantled. That sounds good, until you think about the need for highways, bridges, food safety, drug testing, defense, courts, prisons, schools and other basic services. No doubt there is room for improvement and efficiency, but the government isn’t going away no matter who gets elected. Sorry, Ron Paul.

So there remains a need for a leader who knows how to run a complex government and navigate the politics of Washington. That’s trickier than selling pizzas. Many GOP voters complained that Obama lacked government experience. Well, Cain has even less. How does that square? Lastly, does anyone really believe that Republican voters would nominate a black guy for president? Yeah, I’m safe on that night with Occupy Philly.

At the end of the day, that leaves good ol’ Mitt Romney. Granted, it is hard to imagine a president named Mitt. But then again, how did a black guy named Barack ever win the White House? Yo, Herman, enjoy your 15 minutes. Then let’s all get ready for Romney vs. Obama.

Paul Davies spent 25 years in the newspaper business, including stops at the Daily News, the Inquirer and the Wall Street Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]