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October 31, 2011 8:45 AM Fallout from the Cain controversy

By Steve Benen

Herman Cain allegedly sexually harassed two female employees during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association, and both women received financial settlements that prevent them from speaking on the subject. If true, it’s obviously unacceptable behavior and speaks to the character — or perhaps lack thereof — of this leading Republican presidential candidate.

I can’t speak to whether the allegations are accurate — the Politico report certainly seems well sourced and documented — but it’s been fascinating to watch the trajectory of the Cain campaign’s response. Cain, for example, didn’t deny the charges. A Cain campaign statement didn’t deny the charges. A Cain spokesperson appeared on Fox News and didn’t deny the charges.

The Associated Press eventually got a denial, but it wasn’t an especially strong one.

Cain’s campaign told the AP that the allegations were not true, and amounted to unfair attacks. […]

Asked if Cain’s campaign was denying the report, [spokesman J.D. Gordon] said, “Yes.”

“These are baseless allegations,” Gordon said in a second interview later Sunday evening. “To my knowledge, this is not an accurate story.”

“To my knowledge” would appear to leave a little wiggle room, just in case.

So, what happens now? The Cain campaign is either lying about the candidate’s alleged misconduct or it’s not. And with the two accusers restricted by their settlement agreements from speaking, it’s possible Cain and his team feel like they can weather the storm without new details emerging. We’ll see.

But the larger political storm is just starting to brew. Cain’s reaction to direct questions yesterday — after being asked four times about the allegations, he sighed, glared at a reporter, stayed silent, and refused to respond — signaled to reporters everywhere that the Republican candidate has a real problem on his hands.

As for efforts to blame the “liberal” media, this may have some salience in GOP circles, but it’s not much of a strategy. For one thing, Politico hardly leans to the left. For another, the article was co-authored by a reporter who used to work for National Review. (Part of me wonders if it was members of the Republican establishment who leaked this, just to make Cain go away.)

What’s less clear is whether rank-and-file Republican voters will care. There’s reason to believe they won’t — the GOP has a track record of looking the other way when sexual misconduct allegations affect their own (Vitter, Clarence Thomas, et al).

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • K in VA on October 31, 2011 8:53 AM:

    I go with the notion that the GOP establishment somehow got hold of this story and leaked it to Politico.

    The idea of Politico actually doing its own legwork strains credulity. But the GOP establishment will do anything to get rid of Herman -- up to and including inventing a scandal out of whole cloth (though it appears at present that no invention was necessary here).

    (Meanwhile, why can't we go back to talking about the Mittster's many houses and, especially, about his dog?)

  • c u n d gulag on October 31, 2011 8:58 AM:

    Yup, it's clear the Oligarchs want their fellow Oligarch Romney to get the nomination, so they can start to spend their Citizens United bucks around and finally take down Obama.

    And like K in VA said, the thought of anyone at Politico doing any legwork except to get on their knees to provide sexual gratification for Conservatives, and get up again, is laughable.

  • walt on October 31, 2011 9:00 AM:

    Why would the Republican establishment want Cain to go away? Everyone knows he's not going to win the nomination. But as a Republican novelty act he provides his black skin on behalf of a lily-white party with a reputation for race-baiting if not out-and-out racism.

    Occam's razor: the story is juicy and the reporter didn't care if it hurt the right so much as it helped him.

  • Hedda Peraz on October 31, 2011 9:09 AM:

    Baseless innuendo! One woman's "suggestive remarks" is another's invitation to professional advancement.

    I once innocently asked a man to, "come up and see me sometime", and his typical male response led me to to further inquire, "Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you glad to see me?"

  • Josef K on October 31, 2011 9:11 AM:

    If true, itís obviously unacceptable behavior and speaks to the character ó or perhaps lack thereof ó of this leading Republican presidential candidate.

    Herman Cain has character? Since when?

    Nice knife twist there at 9:09am, Hedda Peraz. Wish the DC press would try that line out sometime.

  • jomo on October 31, 2011 9:15 AM:

    My reaction if I were Cain would be to blame Romney - Slippery Stepford robot candidate who will smile but calmly destroy you.

  • FRP on October 31, 2011 9:18 AM:

    The smart money goes to Romney being unable to commit a conviction , whatever that means .

  • berttheclock on October 31, 2011 9:19 AM:

    Yes, Hedda, sad day for true Christians, eh? The Associate Minister Cain under attack and those Liberal Lions of Detroit making Pro-Life TeBow look like a very lost and frightened altar boy. So Sad, So Sad.

  • berttheclock on October 31, 2011 9:22 AM:

    The TPers may still be able to bring up Romney on charges of Nonfeasence in Convictions.

  • Anonymous on October 31, 2011 9:28 AM:

    Yes, the era of bread and circuses has come to America the Beautiful!

    The clowns have taken the center ring, and their entertainment may be fatal to our efforts to better our lives!

    The Koch Bros. are this big top's piss-poor Ringmasters! -Kevo

  • DAY on October 31, 2011 9:34 AM:

    Time to buy some stock in Life Alert? ("I've fallen, and I can't get up!)

    Last Man Standing may indeed turn out to be a woman; one who has already weathered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune!
    I speak, of course, of the Godzilla from Wasilla. . .

  • Another Steve on October 31, 2011 9:38 AM:

    People, people, people.

    "Republican establishment," "oligarchs," "liberal media." Pfui.

    Come, let us reason together.

    1. This came from an oppo team, not Politico doing its own investigation. We know this because political reporters, particularly Politico reporters, don't actually investigate and look for facts themselves anymore. They really don't even consider it part of their job description. They exist solely as conduits for information provided to them by the people they cover and their opponents.

    2. The fact that this is coming now means it came from someone in one of the Republican campaigns. Cain is Obama's dream opponent. If they had this, they'd sit on it until after he was nominated.

    3. It didn't come from Gingrich or Santorum because they are joke candidates with no money to fund a real oppo team. It is unlikely it came from Bachmann because they're freaks who think God is their oppo team and they're counting on lightning bolts from Heaven will smite those who oppose them before the New Hampshire primary.

    So, Romney or Perry? Gotta go with Perry. First, Perry's political reputation is built on small-minded viciousness. Second, Cain is the current beneficiary of the "Anyone But Romney" voters and money. Taking out Cain isn't going to bring those voters and that money to Romney. Instead, it will go to the next in line, i.e. Perry. Third, Romney would clearly rather run against the guy who doesn't actually know how to run a political campaign from an organizational standpoint.

  • DaveinAustin on October 31, 2011 9:43 AM:

    COS for Cain, (The Smoking Man) Block has categorically denied that "Herb" Cain ever made any sexually inappropriate remarks to anyone, ever.... End of Story. OK. Time to get the ol' ball a rollin'!!

  • berttheclock on October 31, 2011 10:01 AM:

    Block, who, was the head of Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin, whose job was paid for by the Koch Brothers. Yeah, google his bio - lots of "Trust" one could place in this guy, eh?

  • DRF on October 31, 2011 10:02 AM:

    Do we really care which candidate leaked this story? There's either truth to the story or not.

    The Cain campaign's responses, and his own, are classic non-denial denials. Saying that the Politico report isn't "accurate" could mean nothing more than that some small portion of it isn't quite correct. I understand that the campaign manager finally this morning stated that Cain never sexually harassed anyone, "period".

    Of course, even if the conduct complained of in each instance was true, Cain could certainly take the position that he wasn't "harassing" anyone, and technically that might well have been true. However, such conduct would still have been considered "inappropriate".

    These situations often fall into a "he said, she said" kind of dilemma. However, the fact that there appear to have been two different complainants does suggest a greater likelihood that there was truth to the accusations and that there was something of a pattern of conduct. All in all, this doesn't reflect well on Cain.

  • zandru on October 31, 2011 10:05 AM:

    @Another Steve: That's a compelling analysis.

    Meanwhile, as his team works the Cain angle, Perry himself seems to be reaching out to the Cheech & Chong vote - maybe in anticipation of the latest Harold & Kumar movie...

    "expended elyLui" - that's it. One step forward, two steps back. The Tejas Two-Step!

  • 'Mericuhan! on October 31, 2011 10:09 AM:

    ...at least he "harrassed" women, he's a REAL man. Obama prolly harrasses guys, that's why he played basketball-- the locker room!

    Look, God wanted us to procreate, that's why abortion is wrong, ya know, unless its your choice-- I dont, whatever you want... anyway, how's we supposed to spread our seed if we don't play the field?!

    Black Walnut in 2012!

  • Ladyhawke on October 31, 2011 10:15 AM:

  • siameese.cities on October 31, 2011 10:17 AM:

    I didn't see any video, but Chuck Todd that Cain hummed and hawed, but finally said, "Have YOU ever been accused of sexual harassment?" to the reporter.

    "I'm not running for president!" (should be the response)

    Its embarrassing that the GOP base wants someone as ignorant as themselves. We should want a leader that's smarter than us.

    No, I don't know the president of ubeki beki beki stan stan, but I'll never have to work with him.

    Damn GOP, its not cute to be a redneck, its not endearing to be ignorant, stop embarrassing us.

  • Ken B on October 31, 2011 10:24 AM:

    Anita Hill is black,that's why the GOP was able to overlook the harassment. If the women in the Cain case are white Cain's support will evaporate.

  • andrew on October 31, 2011 10:42 AM:

    Ironic that it takes a story on harassment to get broader coverage of the fact that his previous job was working as a Washington Lobbyist, for the NRA. I thought *that* was the great problem he was hoping to shield from attention...

  • TCinLA on October 31, 2011 11:33 AM:

    How could Republicans ever propagate if they couldn't sexually harass their way to a "date"? I mean, most of them have the "social finesse" of a garden slug.

  • Kevin (not the famous one) on October 31, 2011 12:44 PM:

    Now if the attorneys had written the non-disclosure agreement correctly, there would be a clause that paid the accusers $100k each for each time Cain lied. With a ceiling at $1M after which they could talk all they want.

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