Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Once the current media feeding frenzy has concluded, the only thing surprising about the revelations against businessman and GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain revealed Sunday will be that we were surprised at all. It’s not that anyone should have expected Cain to have been accused – anonymously – of sexual harassment roughly 15 years ago. The kind of charge that was to be made really the only variable. The exercise of which we are closer to the beginning than the end should have been expected since the day Cain announced, and has been certain since he achieved any sense of “front runner” status.
In reality, a person running for the nation’s highest office as a blank slate is in a race of his own.
Cain and his supporters are attempting to inform the voters of his long career, record of accomplishment, and his core values from which he will make decisions that affect our lives as commander and chief. Likewise, his opponents have an equal amount of time to poison that slate with negatives. Those who choose to do so usually outnumber those who push positives, and are not burdened with necessarily making their case themselves, or even necessarily being based in fact.
Cain now must defend himself in the court of public opinion against two anonymous accusers who are themselves likely not the source of the leak into mainstream media. Unless the women do decide to come forward and substantiate this story, the real news with lasting long term impact will likely be Cain’s response to the story.
A campaign team which has thus far prided itself on its lack of a conventional approach to politics now finds itself on the defensive across all conventional fronts. Despite several days head’s up from Politico asking questions on the topic, the candidate and campaign seemed completely surprised by the questions when they were interjected into public discussion Sunday. In the first 24 news cycle, Cain’s response morphed slightly. Most notably, Cain’s original explanation that he was unaware of a settlement in the cases became a detailed explanation of his discussions with counsel who was handling that same settlement when he was interviewed with Greta Van Susteren Monday night. For Cain to keep hopes of innocent until proven guilty with public perception, his story must not change further, and related stories must not indicate a pattern of conduct.
Presuming neither of the above, Cain is likely to weather this storm. The public, right and left, has grown weary of similar stories among politicians, and is rightfully beginning to question the motives of those who front them. Similar instances of scandal from Clarence Thomas and Bill Clinton brought few winners and many losers. The more recent false accusation against the Duke Lacrosse team cemented the phrase “Where do I go to get my reputation back?” in the American lexicon for the falsely accused.
The early stages of the feeding frenzy have been marked by conservatives rallying around Cain. The enemy has ranged from the “mainstream media” to “the establishment”. Cain’s original base prides themselves on having the highest positive intensity in support of their candidate and is now combined with newer supporters who presumably backed Bachmann and/or Perry. Cain’s supporters could be expected to identify as anti-establishment Republicans, and as such, this initial defense strategy may hold.
Cain’s continued struggle, however, will be found in his ability to lure more traditional Republicans to his campaign. After repeatedly bungling interviews, his inability to answer questions about qualified deductions under his own “simple” 9-9-9 tax reform plan, a bizarre ad featuring his campaign manager blowing smoke into the camera, and questions surrounding that same manager’s checkered past, Cain will continue to struggle gaining the trust of the establishment Republicans. Not because of unproven sexual harassment allegations, but because he has yet to prove himself as someone who is ready to handle the basic political campaign tasks that will only get more difficult as the election gets closer.
As a man who offers himself as a businessman and not a politician, Cain is now learning the hard way that politics is big business. The players play for keeps, and the rules are fluid and situational. His outsider status also equals a certain amount of naiveté with respect to other candidates who have been continuously personally vetted throughout their public careers. Cain continues to face a steep learning curve, and at times, the lessons are public and painful.
This week’s negative news most likely will not end the Cain campaign. His ability to stabilize operations and seize control of his message will be his first real tests since he was anointed front runner. If he is able to do so, we’ll be able to see what Cain has learned from this experience. More importantly, we’ll learn a lot more about Cain.