Jim Cain is an old-fashioned gentleman’s politician. With his polite demeanor, international vista, and connections to the business elite, he’s like a living fossil from when voting Republican was what respectable people did. He’s also considering a run for U.S. Senate. Despite his many strengths, he could not win.

Now, I have deep respect for Ambassador Cain. He has genuine accomplishments in public service. By all accounts, his ambassadorship was unusually consequential, helping repair the damage the Iraq War did to U.S.-Danish relations. When the Muhammad-cartoon crisis hit, he balanced tolerance and security in an admirably sensitive way.

And that brings us to why the Tea Party would hate him. A man who called Islam a “great religion” in a party that seethes with anti-Muslim racism? A conspicuous establishmentarian wooing a faction that thinks of itself as the scourge of privilege? One Beaufort-area activist articulated how conservatives will perceive Cain’s candidacy: “A corporate lawyer is not a reincarnate of Jessie [sic] Helms.” Helms was once a banking lobbyist, but whatever. Tea Partiers believe what their ideology requires.

In addition, Cain’s candidacy would undermine the base of his own support. His campaign would split the mainstream faction along regional lines, with Charlotte Republicans backing Tillis and Old Raleigh largely supporting Cain. (Think of it as Myer’s Park v. Five Points.) Similarly, Cain the bundler would peel off many Republican donors. As Roll Call put it, “[H]is candidacy would likely draw significant support from the Raleigh business community.” A divided fundraising base would then open the door for Freedom Works to champion a right-winger.

Then there’s the fact that resumes are overrated. When Congresswoman Renee Ellmers said, “I think he’s interesting…there are some positives there,” she was probably referring to his on-paper credentials. But as Mitt Romney demonstrated, proven competence matters less in a world where politics can be hard to distinguish from entertainment. Since Cain sees politics as public service, I imagine he’d find campaigning tedious, or even distasteful. Unless he’s getting lessons from our PR governor, then, Cain’s potential candidacy is less than meets the eye.

 

Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.

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