Businessman Cain On The Business End Of Front Runner Politics

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.

33 comments

  1. Three Jack says:

    “Cain will continue to struggle gaining the trust of the establishment Republicans.”

    if he does a 180 and starts working toward that as his overriding priority, his campaign will be over. the ‘establishment’ (rove, scarborough, mark murphy, et al) will collectively work to ensure cain stumbles as often as possible, then go on cable to lampoon the stumbles.

    cain is attractive due to his outsider approach to this big business of politics. same for palin 3 years ago before she got man handled by the likes of steve schmidt. i think it is refreshing to have a leading candidate who is not bound by shackles of political correctness. i hope he stays the course while ignoring calls from the ‘establishment’ to go along with their perception of what is proper political speech.

  2. Not to put words in Charlie’s mouth but I think he’s talking about wether or not Cain can close the deal and unite the entire GOP behind him. How he handles these accusations will go along way toward proving his ability to deal with crisis and may end up cementing him even further as the front runner.

    I’m a fan of Cain and have been since I first met him during his Senate run in 2004. I’m hoping he survives this scandal. Like it or not, his 999 plan forced Perry to come out with his bold flat tax plan and hopefully will force Romney to come up with a bold plan of his own. Thats a good thing for the GOP and what’s good for the GOP is good for America. 😉

    • KD_fiscal conservative says:

      “his 999 plan forced Perry to come out with his bold flat tax plan and hopefully will force Romney to come up with a bold plan of his own”

      I agree with you there (although Perry’s “flat tax” is, remarkably, somehow more confusing than the status quo and would cause a major increase in the deficit). Romney is also taking about flattening the tax code, but he has no reason to release any bold plans get the guaranteed left-leaning media criticism of “tax cut on the rich, increase on the poor” and thus risk his “front-runner” position.

      But, still, Cain’s complete lack of discipline on the campaign trail, daily retracting of statements and incompetent staff is finally getting the better of him, he’s not presidential candidate material. His support is already waning, and he will drop below Romney in the polls within a few weeks. I still think this will be a short primary, with “conservative alternatives” spiting votes and Romney winning 3/4 of the first states. Out of curiosity, who has the much sought-after Rep. Buzz endorsement gone to?

      • “Out of curiosity, who has the much sought-after Rep. Buzz endorsement gone to?”

        Nobody right now. Cain’s near the top of my list though. Appearing blindsided by the sexual harassment thing when Politico contacted him several days prior bothers me. A Presidential campaign is the big leagues. You’ve got to be prepared for everything.

        I follow the Buckley rule of supporting the most conservative candidate who can win.

      • John Konop says:

        …..I agree with you there (although Perry’s “flat tax” is, remarkably, somehow more confusing than the status quo and would cause a major increase in the deficit)…

        I agree with KD the Perry plan is not well thought-out. I have no issue if you make the flat tax multi tier, but flat means all write-offs go away. As I said in the past I support issuing using a VAT or NST to eliminate FICA/Medicare tax, but once again it must eliminate a tax not add a new one.

        Perry’s plan does not add up and once again favors multi-national corporations over small business our job growth machine.

  3. saltycracker says:

    The plot thickens as the responses throw on the gas.
    Don’t play that race card, Herman, oops too late:

    “On FOX News’ “Special Report” tonight presidential candidate Herman Cain told the panel, after being asked, that he believes the charge of sexual harassment against him has to do with his race.”

  4. Charlie says:

    Buzz captured where I was going fairly well above. A few more direct comments in blog form (rather than the more indirect column form above):

    1) Herman is currently leading the anti-Romney, anti-“establishment” race. Note that this group of the party also has been morphing between candidates as a 25-30% group, similar to Romney’s base which hasn’t changed. The eventual nominee will have to win over some of the supporters of the other. I still believe those 4 possibilities included Romney, Cain, Perry, and Gingrich. I personally have no strong preference among those 4. Cain may be my least favorite of those, but it (at the moment) has nothing to do with these charges. Once the feeding frenzy is over we’ll hopefully have some facts to place the importance of these revelations.

    2) I still think we don’t know what the true impact of this episode with respect to the Cain will be. I conducted a few media interviews Monday and Tuesday, so it’s clearly what is being talked about, and thus this column. When it’s faceless accusers, a settlement behind a confidentiality agreement, and a single(double?) 15 year old data point, it’s probably not relevant. When it becomes a changing story, a face put to the accuser who tells a different story, or if other credible data points emerge to couple with this, it could be a problem.

    3) For now, it’s neutral to Cain. While he’s taking a media hit, conservatives are rallying to his defense (despite the fact that it was likely another Republican campaign that placed the story). Cain’s camp needs to be careful in managing their success out of this as well, however. Some of the tweets/emails I saw yesterday appeared to be celebrating and/or fundraising off of this story. While that may work short term to fire up the base, it’s not going to help him when the same are reviewed later on when he’ll be fighting for independents and especially among female voters.

  5. John Konop says:

    I do find that the main stream of both parties referring to Herman Cain as a pizza guy rather insulting. Godfather pizza corporation was the 5th largest chain in the country and bleeding money when he took it over. Cain did a great job turning this company around and getting them into the black. Other than Romney and Huntsman what other candidate has any real business success? Agree or disagree with Cain on issues, he should be given the proper respect for his accomplishments!

  6. ckingtruth says:

    Wow, where do I even begin? First I doubt seriously that these women were the leak. They signed papers and kept quiet for nearly 15 years. Secondly, I doubt that anybody on the other side of the aisle is really concerned about Cain being the nomination. There would be no reason to bring out something like this so early in the game. So my guess is that this really came from within the Repub ranks–more specifically, Karl Rove.

    It’s time to thin out the pack. Here we are just around the corner from the first primaries and there is no clear nominee yet. And Karl does not want it to be Herman.

  7. Three Jack says:

    i personally am more concerned about deal-like shenanigans being pulled by cain and his team than unsubstantiated tales of sexual harrassment from 15 years ago — http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-politics-elections/cain-profited-from-campaign-1215080.html

    while it may be legal to personally profit from a political campaign, it still doesn’t pass the smell test. especially in this case where cain is running as anti-establishment candidate, then pulls a trick like the above where his company is paid over $50,000 by the campaign for pamphlets (at least deal had used friends/relatives to setup the corporations doing business with his campaign). this feeds into the popular narrative that cain mainly decided to run for president as a means to gain national publicity in order to sell more books.

    i think actions like the above will do far more harm to his campaign, we’ll see.

    • Charlie says:

      Extend this further for the Cain loyalists who have a ready apology every time Cain can’t answer a question correctly. They say he’ll surround himself with experts like a good CEO does.

      Cain picked as his CEO Mark Block.

      Discuss.

        • KD_fiscal conservative says:

          Or do you just not like guys who get multiple DUIs, get banned from politics for voter suppression, or show an overall lack of competence in running a campaign?

      • DTK says:

        I’m not a Cain supporter, but I think any campaign manager that takes a candidate who’s never held elective office, has virtually no name ID at the beginning of the campaign, and then has the candidate leading in national polls 60 days before the Iowa caucus speaks for itself.

          • DTK says:

            I think it says that his detractors care more about snark than results.

            There are a ton of political consultants who’d kill to have their candidate lead GOP polls two months before Iowa, and yet this loser from Wisconsin has done it with virtually every obstacle in his way.

            Cain will likely fade, but his rise shows that his campaign had the right idea. This isn’t 1988 and Lee Atwater is not walking through that door. Unfortunately, too many political consultants haven’t figured this out yet.

            But to address your point: Yeah, it seems like Block is a mild scoundrel. I say hooray to that. I hate that you have to be a saint to put yourself in the public arena these days. There’s nothing wrong with surrounding yourself with scuzzy people so long as (1) they don’t cross the line too far, and (2) they get results. In other words, we need more Bill Clintons and fewer Jimmy Carters.

            • Charlie says:

              I disagree that you have to be a saint. You have to be realistic and self aware about your negatives, then have a plan to handle & mitigate them.

              If 6 months ago, Herman had done a show about tort reform on WSB, and included “you know, back in the 90’s when sexual harassment claims were all the rage, I even had two complaints waged against me. Can you imagine that? Me, the Hermanator. Never had a problem before, haven’t had any since, but during that period, a lot of lawyers made quick money getting 30% of quick settlements because employers didn’t want to spend the time & money nor take the PR hit to fight baseless charges. Employers need tort reform so they can get this economy moving…”

              There would have been a lot of other ways to do this. To say he has “results” because he made it high in the polls now but won’t make it to the finish line says a lot about what the real goals are. Professional campaigns only care about the results on election day. Riding high so you can fall harder because you weren’t prepared for the trip isn’t a good result.

              • DTK says:

                I agree completely that Cain could’ve handled this better and even diffused it before it became an issue, just as you’ve outlined. But Cain isn’t the first politician to be tripped up by sexual allegations; in fact, I’d wager that most experienced politicians who’ve run into this issue have handled it just as bad or worse than Cain has.

                And you’re right that the most important result is the one on election day. But I’m sure Nick Ayers would love to trade places with Mark Block right now. And that’s the point I was trying to make: this is the “American Idol” era of campaigns and those who deride Cain’s tactics as nothing more than a book tour are getting it wrong. Pawlenty went traditional, loaded up on paid staff, and put everything on Iowa, just as the old playbook said. And he didn’t get past the straw poll. Cain did everything a low-ID, little-money candidate had to do, and he’s reaping the benefit of it.

    • Three Jack says:

      “Wilson said for legal reasons, he can not discuss details of the incident.”

      whole lot of bloviating going on with very little substance. i did a quick google on WPA Opinion Research where Chris Wilson is a partner and found they are working for the ‘make usa great again’ pac which supports rick perry. this is not exactly a credible source to be saying, ‘the campaign is over if the girl talks’.

      http://www.wparesearch.com/uncategorized/perry-leads-gop-field-in-iowa/

      one other thing, if mr. wilson is prevented from providing details about the incident due to legal reasons, then he just violated the legal reasons by saying what he said.

      wonder when it will come out that perry is politico’s source?

      • Charlie says:

        Much like Bachmann taking herself out of contention by attacking Perry over Gardasil with the assertion about a mother with a 12 year old retarded girl, sometimes these attacks take out the target and the attacker.

        I agree with the assertion that Mr. Wilson is violating the clause as well, but you still have someone saying there were witnesses, it was widely known, and there’s more to come. Only a little of that has to become true for this to be much worse for Cain.

  8. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Cain’s problem is that he likely did not expect to end up in frontrunner status as evidenced by the way that his campaign has been setup from the start, which seemed to be more to help sell his book than as a serious run for President.

    The only problem for Cain is that the field of candidates for the GOP’s Presidential Nomination has been so underwhelming that a seeming rank political amateur like himself relatively quickly floated to the top when compared to the increasingly unappealing rest of the field.

    The increasing lack-of-appeal and obvious flaws of the rest of the Republican field of candidates has placed Cain in a position that he likely never expected or seriously planned to be, hence, his trouble functioning as a serious frontrunner.

    • cheapseats says:

      Reading through this post, it struck me as the “Sonny Perdue Story” – substitute “Sonny” for Cain and “Goobernator” for “Presidential” in the above and you can see how Cain might just become POTUS. Just, wow!

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        “Reading through this post, it struck me as the “Sonny Perdue Story””

        Please, don’t remind us.

        There are people that I know that are “dyed-in-the-wool” Liberals that voted to re-elect Sonny to a second term because his opponent in the General Election that year was so underwhelming (Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, I think it was…and yeah, he was so unremarkable of a candidate so as to be almost completely forgettable) that he made Sonny look like the second coming of Ronald Reagan, by comparison.

        (Though, to Sonny’s credit, he did file the appeal to Judge Magnuson’s federal court decision cutting off Metro Atlanta from Lake Lanier, which resulted in a reversal by a higher court that let Metro Atlanta maintain access to one of its sole sources of water supply.)

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