Herman Cain was once one of TARP’s strongest supporters. In fact, he still thinks the idea was a good one, in theory anyway. This puts Cain in direct opposition to the tea party followers largely responsible for his meteoric rise of late up the Republican presidential polls.
Cain acknowledges this could be an issue.
“If they want to nail me with my support for TARP — you know what? I’m not going to be able to counter that,” Cain told TPM in a wide-ranging interview last weekend. “Here’s what we will do — we will have a spot on our website that says, ‘if you really want to know the truth about my position on TARP, go look at this two-minute video.’ If they choose not to, I can’t change that.”
Should it come to it, Cain agreed that a 30 second TV spot recounting his November 2008 syndicated column extolling the virtues of what tea partiers have come to view as one of the dirtiest bailouts in history could cause trouble for his tea-fueled campaign.
But he said that anyone who thinks of him as a TARP advocate has the wrong idea. While he supported the idea of government pumping cash into banks during the darkest days of the financial crisis, Cain says he takes great issue with how the money was doled out.
“I thought TARP was going to be an opportunity for the government to allow any bank that needed to to restructure its balance sheet,” Cain said. “But it didn’t. It only picked its friends. That’s when I turned against TARP.”
Cain says that the way TARP worked — he said it was used to “reward winners and losers” — was not what he expected. And that turned him from a friend of the program to a foe.
But Cain still speaks highly of the idea of TARP in a way that would probably give some of his supporters pause.
“We needed to do something drastic because we were facing a very drastic situation,” Cain explained. “The concept was fine.”
Back in 2008, Cain wrote that anyone who opposed the financial sector bailout was practicing “economic illiteracy.”
He tempered that a bit in our interview.
“They are economically uninformed,” he said when I asked if the tea partiers who still oppose bailouts of any kind are among those he talked about in his column. Cain said that he’s spoken with tea party leaders about his past support for TARP, and he doubts that his views will be a problem for him on the campaign trail.
“Is my support of TARP the biggest problem we have in this country? We got a moral crisis, we got an economic crisis, we’ve got an entitlement spending crisis, we’ve got an immigration crisis, we’ve got a foggy foreign policy crisis, and we have a deficiency of leadership crisis,” Cain said. “If people want to make a decision to support Herman Cain based on me supporting TARP initially, I can’t stop that. But that’s not going to stop me from running the toughest race that I could possibly run.”
Read other stories from TPM’s interview with Herman Cain, including his quarrel with House Republicans over disaster relief funding and his explanation for why the tea party’s not more overtly diverse.