The GOP candidate talks with the Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about why he’s running for the nation’s highest office, his economic plan and his ideas for reinvigorating the American Dream.
Herman Cain prides himself on being the only nonpolitician among the candidates vying for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. “Whenever I give speeches at town halls, rallies or meet-and-greets and I tell people the biggest difference between my opponents and me is that I’ve never held public office, I get spontaneous applause,” he says. “The American people feel it is time for a nonpolitician to lead this nation.” With his proven track record of turning underperforming businesses into successful ones and his folksy charisma, it’s understandable how Cain is starting to generate a following across party lines.
Opportunist: How are the mainstream media, which tend to be liberal, reacting to your campaign?
Herman Cain: They’re trying to ignore me. (Laughs) But my feelings are not hurt.
Opportunist: Why do you believe the media are ignoring you?
Herman Cain: Only lately have some of them reached out to me, but most are trying to ignore me for two reasons. First of all, I am not what the media considers to be one of the quote-unquote top-tier candidates. Second, according to some, I could be Obama’s worst nightmare.
Opportunist: Why do you believe you are perceived to be President Obama’s worst nightmare?
Herman Cain: It’s pure and simple: I have a record of achievement and he does not.
Opportunist: Recent Gallup polls have shown that you have a very high positive intensity factor among voters who are familiar with you. What do you have to say about that?
Herman Cain: I think it’s great! What’s not to love about that? I believe the polls are reflective of the fact that my message of common sense and problem solving—what my record and background truly represent—is resonating with people. I don’t get into the political attack mode. You will notice that I focus on here’s what I would do. The American people are sick of promises. They want somebody who’s going to deliver the goods. I am the only Republican candidate who is 100% problem solver.
Herman Cain: Because America can’t keep waiting. Have you noticed the economy lately? Have you noticed that we have become a nation of crises? I feel compelled to run because of my cumulative experience over the years, and I feel this makes me uniquely qualified to face the problems. We don’t need politics as usual in Washington, D.C. We don’t need decisions as usual in Washington, D.C. We need bold solutions because we have so many major challenges. We won’t get bold solutions without someone who isn’t afraid to initiate bold leadership.
Opportunist: Who inspired you to pursue the life path that you have taken?
Herman Cain: It started with a good set of parents. My dad and my mom were hard-working people who instilled self-determination and taught me to be unafraid to go after the unknown. They taught me to believe in God and in myself, and to believe in the United States of America. We were economically challenged. In other words, we were “po” before we were poor. (Laughs) Dad worked as a barber, a janitor and a chauffeur until he could make it on one job. My parents were achieving their American dream on the only kind of equity they had: sweat equity. That inspiration encouraged my brother and me to go on to college. We both graduated from college, and I went to work for the U.S. Dept. of the Navy as a civil service mathematician working on fire-control systems ballistics. Then I began climbing the corporate ladder.
Opportunist: You were an executive with the Pillsbury Co. and you are credited with restoring Godfather’s Pizza to profitability during your tenure as CEO. Tell us more about your business triumphs.
Herman Cain: I’ve worked as a business analyst for Coca-Cola, I was a vice president of both the Pillsbury Co. and Burger King Corp., and I became president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. I have also served on the board of directors of some of America’s most distinguished corporations.
In 1999, I left my last full-time job as president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. They are the second-largest employer in the nation, with 14 million employees—second only to the U.S. government. I decided to get into cruise control, but that didn’t last long. (Laugh s) Since then, I had a U.S. Senate run in Georgia, survived stage 4 cancer and hosted a radio talk show for five years.
Opportunist: Given your strong P&L success record, do you see any areas of the federal government that need cutting?
Herman Cain: My approach would be to take each federal agency and drill it down to identify programs that are redundant or obsolete. The GAO [The U.S. Government Accountability Office] does this but nobody does anything with it. Merely saying you’re going to cut this program or that one isn’t right—you need to ensure that you’re working on the right problems and trimming around the edges. My approach to cutting is much more important than what I would cut.
Herman Cain: I see our two biggest priorities as national security and the economy. First, I will consult with all appropriate national security advisors and Joint Chiefs of Staff to get a handle on our national security challenges. Second, before I am sworn in, I will have Congress take up my economic growth plan as their first order of business when they convene in that January. I’ve already developed the plan and know exactly what I want to do with it.
Opportunist: Is this your 999 plan for economic growth?
Herman Cain: Yes, and it is based upon eliminating the current tax code and replacing it with a 999 structure.
Opportunist: Please elaborate.
Herman Cain: This would encompass a 9% tax on corporate profits, a 9% tax on personal income and a 9% national sales tax. It would be resident mutual and would replace all payroll taxes, all income taxes, the capital gains tax and the estate tax.
Opportunist: How do you intend to initiate your plan?
Herman Cain: I have been working with economic advisors. When I first started to campaign I had a much more modest approach. But this economy has only gotten worse, so I told my advisors we need a bolder plan. We came up with a flat tax and fair tax combination, which still maintains a very attractive corporate tax and has huge advantages for everybody concerned. Fair tax is stage two of my plan. I’m not abandoning that, but the American people need to grasp the concept first because it’s a major paradigm shift.
Opportunist: How so?
Herman Cain: It shifts from tax on income to tax on consumption. The 999 plan bridges those two, which I believe more people will be comfortable with. This economy will be growing at 5%, 6% or maybe even 7% per year GDP. One reason I believe it would happen is because we would have certainty. Businesses in the United States want certainty, so we would give them an attractive tax structure with certainty. What it would do best is grow business and create new jobs. It’s the only way to get out of this economic malaise.
Opportunist: Can you share some highlights from your recent trip to Israel?
Herman Cain: From a personal standpoint it was very inspiring because I’m a lifelong Christian. It was thrilling to see a lot of the places I’d read about in stories from the Bible. They came alive.
On the political side, I met with a number of Israeli officials, the mayor of Jerusalem and the head of the opposition party. I got a wonderful perspective on what they live with every day in that part of the world, surrounded by their enemies. Most Americans have no idea what it’s like to be threatened every day. It makes that nation a very special nation, in my opinion.
Opportunist: What are your ideas on how to rebuild America?
Herman Cain: Simple. Grow this economy dramatically—not in baby steps. We need to get a handle on the spending, and bring down the national debt. When people have jobs they have dreams, and when they have dreams they become a part of the rebuilding of America. I have lived my American Dream. I’m running for President because of my grandkids and all of those other little faces out there who deserve the same kind of opportunities that we had.
At a forum in the Palmetto State the other day, I was asked if I thought America was still that shining city on a hill. My answer was yes, it is. We may not be as high up on that hill as we used to be, but America at its worst is still better than any other country in the world.