As I was looking into Herman Cain's run for president, I thought about another businessman who thought he saw an opening for a non-politician, jumped into the Republican primary, and wound up with minor fame but no delegates. That was Morry Taylor, the chairman and CEO of Titan International, who ran in 1996 and became, for some reason, a favorite subject of TNR election correspondent Michael Lewis.
I called Taylor and asked if he thought Cain could do what he never could.
"Heck yeah," said Taylor. "It depends on how he promotes himself. You can't get anywhere until you have name recognition. He's got to get his name recognition up, and generally you do that through going on television. If you're not on talk shows you've got no chance." That said, he didn't know much about Cain, and his preferred 2012 candidate would be automotive tycoon Roger Penske. "Roger's a leader," he said. "He's a billionaire." Taylor seemed perplexed when I said I hadn't heard of Penske.
Taylor started running in 1995 because he thought the success of Ross Perot proved that Americans were sick of politicians. At the time, though, he quickly became a novelty candidate. Had the current economic climate changed this? Did a novice politician have a chance? Sure. Now, he said, the annoyance with the political class was even starker.
"Today, I think the American public is more receptive to somebody like that because, you know, for years the politicians, no disrespect -- there're all smart, they're all nice people, and they all want to be liked," he said. "But they have almost no idea how to run anything. You cannot run anything and be always worried about how you'll be perceived. Every state in the union is in trouble. They're bankrupt."
He gave me an example. "I was with the governor of Illinois the other day. Pat Quinn. He's talking to the six of us business guys. I had to say, finally, 'You've put this state in bankruptcy. You're so far below, you're in so deep, you're not even solvent.' He's raised taxes 66 percent and it doesn't even cover half of the deficit! Jesus! His background probably was political science or history -- it sure wasn't math!"
Taylor informed me that he had to run back to lunch -- "I've got my bride here," he said -- but asked me to follow up with his office. "They'll send you copy of the Michael Lewis book," said Taylor. "He wrote about me and as an afterthought he wrote about John McCain. I told him back in 1996, you should follow John McCain!"
(Photo credit: PoliticalLibrary.org)