So what’s the upshot of what just happened here with Herman Cain’s surprise victory? First, all the standard caveats: this was only upwards of 2,000 people. And you had to pay to vote. Still, Perry made a big push to win this. He didn’t come close. And it comes days after what everyone now seems to agree was a trainwreck of a debate performance which has seriously rattled Republican activists in their estimation of Perry. There’s some unconfirmed chatter about strategic voting pumping up Cain’s numbers. And it’s important to note that Romney did not officially even compete.
But there’s potentially a bigger story. Conservative websites did a lot of pumping of Cain after his debate performance, pushing him as the winner. And some of these same sites had been pushing hard for Perry up until then. Then, as our Evan McMorris-Santoro first reported this after, Cain had his biggest 48 hours of fundraising to date in the two days since the debate. It’s impossible to say whether that online momentum helped Cain this afternoon or whether the fundraising was a sign of what was coming.
The bigger lesson I draw from it is that the conservative/Tea Party wing of the party is seriously disillusioned with Perry. But rather than draw what from the outside might seem a logical inference — that that means it’s Romney — they’re seeking a safe harbor. A safe conservative harbor. And right now that’s Cain. Until Perry gets his act together or someone else gets in or they just decide it’s gotta be Romney and learn to live with it.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.