The drumbeat marching Herman Cain to the Republican nomination has pretty much reached a crescendo. And it’s made for an interesting couple weeks, hasn’t it?
Cain entered November riding atop the polls. Over a brief 30-day period marked by two debates and the release of his autobiography “This is Herman Cain: My Journey to The White House“, his popularity jumped from 9 percentage points on October 1 to 26 percent on November 2.
In baseball, that kind of meteoric rise would have made him another Reggie Jackson, Mr. October. Except Cain achieved this pinnacle of success not by hitting home runs but by essentially running the bases backward.
He spent no time in the pivotal early voting states of Iowa or New Hampshire. Instead, he went on a book tour promoting his book about his journey in Florida, Wisconsin, Tennessee, California and New York. He said little of substance in the debates but told the magazine GQ that his idea of a “manly man” pizza was one with all the toppings.
And just to rub a cigarette butt in the eye of the first baseman, he authorized an Internet video showing his campaign manager Mark Block declaring “We’ve run a campaign like nobody’s ever seen, but then nobody’s ever seen a candidate like Herman Cain” – then puffing on his cigarette for the camera.
The Politically-Incorrect Option
Conservative Republicans ate it up. Cain has given this campaign its first goofy idea: The 9-9-9 income/sales/business tax proposal to simplify the tax code. But he has also proposed its second and third: barring Muslims from cabinet positions and putting alligators in a moat between Mexico and the United States. His offer this week to make Henry Kissinger his Secretary of State (which Kissinger refused) would have made it a reverse grand slam if Rick Perry hadn’t come up with the idea of making Congress part time.
“It was a joke,” Cain said when pressed on the alligator patrol. “Can’t anyone take a joke?” If you are a libertarian, as most Republicans are, and don’t trust Washington to produce anything but political gridlock, Washington is a joke. Just ask Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jon Stewart or Rush Limbaugh.
So is Herman Cain running for president or trying to take over Mike Huckabee’s slot on Fox TV?
Four Reasons Why Cain is Not Serious
The Nation recently published an article citing four reasons why Cain is not seriously running for president:
1) He doesn’t have a field organization in Iowa.
2) He doesn’t have a field organization in the next two early voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
3) His campaign organization has spent more buying up copies of his autobiography ($36,000) than it has spent on TV advertising in Iowa 60 days before the election.
4) He continues to accept motivational speaking engagements (“I have not raised my prices.”) even though his campaign reports it has raised $9 million in this quarter.
Cain tried to rectify his lack of organization in Iowa on October 21 by hiring Steve Grubbs, a former Republican party chairman, as his field coordinator. Grubbs admitted that he was starting late but so were all the other candidates. (At this point in 2008, Barack Obama had an active field organization in almost half of Iowa’s 99 counties.)
In advance of Saturday’s Thanksgiving Family Forum debate in Des Moines––an event where Cain should do well––Grubbs wanted to get Cain into the state for two days. He showed up for one. It would be only his second appearance in Iowa since his 5th place showing in the August Ames straw poll, and his first since charges of sexual harassment surfaced.
The candidate went to a restaurant in Urbandale, Iowa, for breakfast Tuesday. Since he was late in committing, there was no advance publicity and his audience consisted largely of reporters trying to get Cain to explain his fumbled answer to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel question about Obama’s handling of Libya that went viral Monday on YouTube.
Then Cain climbed onto his bus and headed straight to the airport, canceling his other scheduled appearance at the opening of the Des Moines Cain headquarters because OCCUPY DES MOINES protesters were threatening to picket. The plane took him back to Florida where he held yet another book signing in Miami and attended a $999-dollar-a-plate fundraiser in Palm Beach.
He Said She Said
Cain’s “oops” moment before the Journal Sentinel editorial board came just as the controversy over allegations he sexually harassed two women while he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 90’s was flagging. Ever since Politico reported on October 30 that the NRA made cash settlements with two women who accused Cain, a dark cloud settled over Cain’s otherwise sunny demeanor.
The story was bulletproof in all the details, but incomplete because the names of the women and the specific allegations were protected by a non-disclosure agreement. So Cain staved off disaster with a hazy recollection of the lawsuits.
“I never sexually harassed anyone,” he told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren. But he did sort of recall one time when he had a conversation with one of the women at NRA headquarters. “She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture saying, ‘Oh’ — and I was standing close to her. And I made a gesture, ‘You’re the same height as my wife,’ and brought my hand — didn’t touch her — up to my chin and said, ‘You’re the same height of my wife because my wife comes up to my chin’, my wife of 43 years. And that was put in there as something that made her uncomfortable as part of the sexual harassment charge.”
Another Accuser Steps Forward
It was not a particularly convincing denial, and certainly didn’t explain why the NRA paid the woman $45,000 to settle the claim. Then on November 7 another woman who worked in the NRA Chicago office, Sharon Bialek, stepped forward with celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred at her side to say she too had been harassed.
After being fired from her job, Bialek said she flew to Washington to appeal to her old friend Cain to get re-instated. He upgraded her hotel room, took her to dinner, and on the way back to the hotel stopped by NRA headquarters. In the car, “he ran his hand up my skirt, reached for my genitals and pulled my head toward his crotch,” she said.
Watching the press conference on TV, CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin turned from the screen and announced, “If what she says is true, that’s not sexual harassment, that’s sexual assault.”
The next night, Cain fervently denied the charge on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show. “I watched the press conference with my staff. They could see steam coming out of my ears and the feelings that you have when you know that all of this is totally fabricated, you go from anger, then you get disgusted,” he said.
“You try to control yourself to make sure you watch this thing all the way through it, and I was listening very closely,” he added. “And when it was all over with, I said, ‘well, I know what we’ve got to do because there’s not an ounce of truth in all of these accusations.’ I will talk about any and all future firestorms because here’s one thing people don’t know about Herman Cain. I’m in it to win it and I’m not going to be discouraged.”
At a press conference in Phoenix the next day, Cain went further. He said he never met the woman and offered to take a lie detector––if his women accusers would as well. His denial creates an especially bright line between who is telling the truth in this he said-she said episode of Herman Cain’s Journey to The White House. A single photo of the two of them together could be his undoing. (And does anybody doubt in this age of iPhone cameras that it, or something even more damning, will?) But as serious as the sexual harassment is, the brouhaha so far has hardly proven fatal in this Republican race.
Cain’s poll numbers have slipped from 26 to 15 percent nationwide since the controversy broke. But he remains in a four-way tie with Romney, Paul and Gingrich in the Iowa polls. (All are bunched around 18 – 20 percent.) He claims to have taken in $1 million over the Internet the day after his press conference. And his supporters still love him.
“A Crazy, Surreal, Potentially Disastrous Day”
After his awkward 5-minute brain freeze in the Journal Sentinel editorial board room, reporter Craig Gilbert climbed aboard Cain’s campaign bus as it made its way from Milwaukee to a Monday night football game in Green Bay. It was Cain’s first appearance in Wisconsin since he announced his candidacy. (The primary isn’t until April 3.) He stopped along the way to shoot television commercials, joked with his staff, watched his wife get interviewed on Fox TV (“She hates that stuff.”) and was mobbed by Packer fans when he stepped off the bus for a tailgate party outside Lambeau Field.
“I don’t think anyone is having more fun that we are,” he told Gilbert when they boarded the bus. A few hours later, after the Journal Sentinel posted his fumbling remarks on the Internet, he still seemed oblivious to the potential damage to his campaign.
“I’m not supposed to know anything about foreign policy,” Cain said. “I want to talk to commanders on the ground. Because you run for president (people say) you need to have the answer. No, you don’t! No, you don’t! That’s not good decision-making.”
“I paused to make sure I didn’t say something wrong. Fact of the matter is, I didn’t. I didn’t say anything wrong,” he added. “I call it flyspecking every word, every phrase, and now they are flyspecking my pauses, but I guess since they can’t legitimately attack my ideas, they will attack words and pauses. I’m kind of flattered that my pauses are so important, that somebody wants to make a story out of it. Now when you go to PC school you don’t say what I just said. Since I didn’t go to PC school, you say what I just said.”
“It was a crazy, surreal, potentially disastrous day inside the Cain for President Campaign. Or maybe it was a perfectly normal one,” Gilbert wrote.
And it’s not going to end soon. Herman Cain is having too much fun. And there’s still a lot of books to sell.