Cain blows his job interview

Campaign 2012

Herman Cain's campaign is collapsing. A very awkward job interview appears to be ending.

At The King's College we are interviewing people for faculty positions. We are looking at technical competence in their fields as well as character and compatibility with the mission of the college. If we were to flummox a second round candidate with a softball question that any sophomore could hit with ease ("Federalist Paper No. 51? Now, let me see. Which one was that?"), the interviewee would get an immediate thank you and good-bye.

We should hold presidential candidates to less a standard … and it's not a high standard. Political primaries and campaigns are a kind of job interview. Questions range from stock and easy to surprising and tough. The nation was stunned this week to see serious contenders for the GOP presidential nomination fail the simplest, qualifying round questions.

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Rick Perry had his "oops" moment in a nationally televised debate. It was stunning. He is proposing that we address our national budget crisis in part by cutting three entire departments. That is an awesome-and I think admirable-step. But he could not remember all three: "It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, education, and the uh … uh … what's the third one there?" He never came up with it. Interview over. Not ready for this level of performance. Have a nice day. It's an easy call. Don't make excuses for him. You jeopardize the country and everyone in it. This is a high-stakes hire.

Cain has had a few such disqualifying moments, such as when he revealed he was unaware that China has nuclear weapons, which they have had since 1964. He tried to finesse that one with "what I meant was" clarifications. But his utter confusion this week over what President Obama did in Libya to bring down Muammar Qaddafi should be the end of the interview. He had to ask the reporter whether or not Obama supported the uprising. He didn't know. He was going to give several ways that the president mishandled the crisis. Then he stopped. "Nope, that's a different one. Um. [Long pause, shifting in seat, searching memory.] I've got to go back and see. Uh. [Another long silence.] I've got all this stuff twirling around in my head."

Whereas Perry's campaign excused their candidate, saying that he had a headache, Cain's people complained that that their man was sleep-deprived. Perhaps. But a president must be able to function under all circumstances. A campaign is difficult, but not as difficult as actually serving as president. Also, when interviewing for a high-level job that entails responsibility for lives and fortunes, there are things you need to know better than your own name and that you can recite even through the haze of semi-delirium.

The Republican Party has to show the country at this point that it has a politically mature understanding of what they expect of a serious contender for the office of president. It's time to call the interview "over" for these two applicants. According to a new CNN poll that shows a sharp 11-point drop for Cain, it seems that primary voters are finally drawing up that short letter that begins, "Thank you for your interest in the nomination. …"

Read a review of D.C. Innes' new book, Left, Right & Christ, in the current issue of WORLD.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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