What’s next for Cain and the GOP

With Herman Cain’s presidential campaign on ice and his political career finished, there are a couple of questions to consider in the short term: (1) what will Cain do now? and (2) where will his supporters go?

Up until relatively recently, Cain seemed destined to become a conservative star on the media/lecture/publishing circuit, conceivably even offering a justification for his absurd campaign. But over the last several weeks, it probably became apparent, even to Republican voters, that Herman Cain is a not-terribly-bright guy with a scandalous personal life. The more we learned about Cain, the harder it was to respect him.

That said, Cain remains a GOP player of some notoriety, and the remaining Republican presidential candidates were tripping over one another this afternoon to offer praise for Cain, hoping to woo not only the man but also his remaining supporters. When Cain declared today, “I will be making an endorsement in the near future,” this only intensified the other campaigns’ eagerness.

We’ll see what happens, but today’s announcement certainly doesn’t do Mitt Romney any favors. The former governor, who’s had a rough couple of weeks, benefited greatly from Cain’s presence in the race — Cain was the unelectable sideshow who took attention and support away from stronger challengers.

For that matter, the more candidates stuck around to dilute the anti-Romney majority, the easier it was to imagine Romney winning with underwhelming levels of support.

At least in the very near term, I would imagine Newt Gingrich is smiling this morning, for the reasons Chris Cillizza outlined a few days ago:

Gingrich appears to be the latest in a long string of candidates — reality star Donald Trump, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Cain — that have emerged as the conservative alternative to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

With Cain, Perry and Bachmann — all of whom continue to target social conservative voters — struggling, Gingrich can now reasonably make the case (and he has already started to do so) that he is the last conservative standing who has a real chance to unseat Romney as the nominee.

The Iowa caucuses are 31 days away.