Don't feel sorry for Herman Cain, because he should have seen it coming. Once a candidate moves from the entertaining-but-not-threatening role as a presidential field's outlier to the position of being an actual contender, the gloves come off.
For months, Cain was enjoying the lack of scrutiny that enrages bottom-tier candidates even as it benefits them. Sure, the Godfather's Pizza magnate had to endure his share of pizza-delivery jokes. And his position as the only African-American in the GOP presidential race made him not an historical symbol or a target for racism, but a butt of his own jokes. He kept calling himself the "dark horse" of the race, and, as to whether he was just the "flavor of the month?" Cain quipped, "black walnut," in a manner that never would have worked for, say, Barack Obama.
But then Cain gained traction. He won a Florida straw poll. He placed a shocking second place in New Hampshire in a poll conducted by Harvard University's Institute of Politics and St. Anselm College. Most likely, Cain is another symbol of the unhappiness Republican primary voters have with the field as a whole. Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann had their day, too, and have faded. But since Cain is getting a close look from Republican voters, it stands to reason the rest of the primary field is giving him a harder time.
Cain has a 9-9-9 plan to reduce the deficit, a proposal to replace the current tax system with one that imposes a 9 percent tax on individual income, corporate income, and sales. Bachmann, who has been factually challenged in the past, was spot on when she noted in Tuesday night's debate that such a plan was an opening for the federal government to create a permanent, increasingly expensive revenue stream. And the sales tax is bound to be unpopular. With companies complaining that poor sales are keeping them from hiring new workers, why add a national sales tax on top of the state and local taxes consumers already pay? How will that create jobs?
Cain went after former Gov. Mitt Romney for the complicated nature of his 59-point economic plan. Things aren't always so simple, Romney responded—and he's right. If the ailing economy could be fixed with something as simplistic as the 9-9-9 plan (which has the added creepiness of looking like an upside-down Satanic message), it would have been done ages ago.
Even the field's resident nice guy, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, went after Cain's plan, saying that he thought the 9-9-9 referred to the "price of pizza."
Success, Cain is learning, is a mixed blessing.