Welcome to the big time, Herman Cain.
One of the ugly sides of politics is that people perceived as threats tend to have mud thrown their way. And the definition of mud is a thinly — and anonymously — sourced story that just happens to land on the evening before a fast-rising candidate is due to get some positive “earned” media (meaning news coverage they get for talking about their ideas, as Cain did yesterday in Washington).
It’s clear that someone, somewhere, considers Cain’s spike in the opinion polls something more than a temporary blip.
I will issue a caveat here that there could well be more details and facts to come out about the sexual harassment allegations leveled against Cain while he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s. Without such details and facts, I’m not very troubled by these allegations alone: They’re just allegations that, from what we know so far, seem not to have had much merit. But if they do come out, and they are bad for Cain, he will have a serious problem on his hands.
Absent such revelations, the biggest problem for Cain is one of his own creation — and undoubtedly the precise problem hoped for by whoever brought the allegations to the Politico reporters’ attention. I’m talking about his response.
Cain’s biggest asset as a candidate is not so much his 9-9-9 plan, because all such plans are subject to change. It’s his credibility: as an “outsider,” as a genuine man and authentic conservative, as a trustworthy and respectable human being.
If you’re Herman Cain, that credibility has taken almost 67 years to build, and you are the person best capable of throwing it all away.
Had Cain immediately acknowledged the two settlements, noted that they were small and based on unproven charges, and explained his side of the story, I and others probably wouldn’t be writing about them today. But for whatever reason — because his advisers gave him bad advice, because he thought he could put a lid on the story with a less-complete explanation, because he’s so convinced of his innocence in the cases — he didn’t do an adequate job. (This kind of thing is one reason I’ve had my doubts that, in the year 2011, the presidency could be the first elected office a candidate had ever won.)
Instead, his story has, to put it charitably, evolved over the past 36 hours. And he’s fallen back on a tactic we’ve seen on stories such as his stances on abortion and on swapping prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for captured American troops: chalking it up to not hearing the question properly or his choice of words being misinterpreted.
On its own, a story based on innuendo from second-hand sources probably wouldn’t have been enough to drag Cain down. Cain’s response may ultimately hurt him more with GOP primary voters.
– By Kyle Wingfield