The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
WASHINGTON – Herman Cain is no longer a political candidate, but the McDonough businessman is still a political provocateur with a new book out this week trumpeting his tax code overhaul and plans to influence this year’s elections.
Genevieve Ross, AP
Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks during the annual Tax Cut Rally, sponsored by the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, at the Minnesota State Capitol, Saturday, April 28, 2012, in St. Paul, Minn.
Despite Cain’s relentless promotion, the 9-9-9 tax plan has gotten a cold shoulder from the Washington establishment and even tax reform activists. Cain has neither a presidential campaign-powered megaphone, a legislative champion nor wide support in Washington’s tax wonk community.
Cain remains devoted to the catchphrase that helped catapult him briefly to the forefront of the Republican presidential race late last year. The campaign crashed under the weight of Cain’s policy gaffes and allegations of sexual misconduct that Cain maintains were entirely false but too damaging to allow him to continue in the race. He dropped out in December.
“I didn’t go quiet or dark in terms of being out there because I care more about changing the leadership in Washington, D.C., and changing the tax code,” Cain said in a phone interview this week. “That’s my mission.”
Cain’s new book, with adviser Rich Lowrie, is entitled “9-9-9: An Army of Davids.” It’s a treatise in support of the tax plan – and other policies such as increased oil drilling — and a call to action for Cain’s supporters to build momentum for a flat 9 percent income tax, business tax and national sales tax (with a few exemptions for the poor and businesses that operate in poor areas).
Cain trumpeted support for 9-9-9 by influential conservative economist Art Laffer as well as 30-plus congressional candidates as evidence the plan is catching on. But official Washington has mostly kept its distance. Cain recently discussed the plan with Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, but said Romney is “not there yet.”
Tax reform activists said they were pleased to see Cain raise the profile of a massive tax code overhaul during the campaign, but they are wary of 9-9-9.
Jim Tomasik is an avid backer of the Fair Tax, which would entirely replace the current system with a 23 percent national sales tax. Tomasik helped organize a Cain rally in Bartlett, Tenn., in October as Cain’s presidential campaign caught fire, yet Tomasik sees 9-9-9 as nothing more than a distraction from the Fair Tax.
“We feel like he is selling a catchphrase,” Tomasik said.
Fair Tax supporter Lisa Chambers, of Snellville, wrote in an email that she was a Cain supporter but “after Herman dropped out, 9-9-9 became just another tax reform idea with no ‘muscle’ behind it. The Fair Tax, though, is an actual plan with 20 years and millions of dollars of research behind it; and it is an actual bill in Congress.”
Cain said he supports the Fair Tax and plans for a flat income tax, but he added those have been talked about for the better part of two decades without real action in Congress. He sees 9-9-9 as a catchy hybrid of the two that could be more politically palatable, and he would be open to eventually getting to a sales tax alone.
“Get on board,” Cain says to Fair Tax advocates. “Right now we are at zero. … Let’s get 80 percent of the way there, then we’ll work on going all the way to the [Fair Tax] if in fact that’s where the American people want to go.”
Lawrenceville Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall is one of the principal congressional champions of the Fair Tax.Woodall said Cain’s proposal is good “constructive criticism” for Fair Tax supporters because of Cain’s political calculation.
“Herman Cain is a Fair Tax supporter, and when he got his chance at the big show, when he was standing on the big stage alone at the microphone, he looked at America and said, ‘Golly, I don’t think America is ready for the Fair Tax. I don’t think we can get there in one step,’” Woodall said.
Still, Woodall and several other supporters of the Fair Tax and a flat income tax said they were concerned that keeping the income tax intact along with the consumption tax would allow those 9’s to rise over time. Consumption taxes were introduced in Europe at low amounts that gradually grew.
Even though Cain has not given up the cause, the spotlight has faded since December. Cain boasts of his 400,000-strong email list, brought over from the campaign, but could only muster 200 or so attendees at a Tax Day rally at the Capitol. He keeps up frequent media appearances and travel, and he said he is negotiating a steady paid media gig, but he is far from the news cycle force he was in the fall.
“The opportunities afforded by a presidential campaign to … put issues in the national debate square are pretty substantial and somewhat less so when you’re trying to get traction with an idea through other means, like books or even nonprofit organizations, and goodness knows we have some of that experience ourselves,” said Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.
Cain, 66, said does not plan to run for president again, nor is he interested in another elected office. He ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2004, but he said he does not “have the same passion” for any office other than the White House. That leaves only the cause.
“I’m going to die a happy man regardless,” Cain said. “But if 9-9-9 is the law of the land I’m going to die happier.”