A spokesman for the Cain campaign has told Politico that his candidate is “vaguely familiar” with allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct toward female employees during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association. Several of his staffers have issued similarly tepid denials since the story broke last night and—according to Politico—Cain himself responded to repeated direct questions by “breathing audibly” and finally saying, “Have you ever been accused of harassment by a woman?” It’s a classic defense, but it will only throw them off the trail for so long. It seems too early to say whether Cain invited a female employee into a closet to “sixty-nine. No, screw it—just nine.” Without more facts, we must presume that he is innocent, and that Politico made up a couple of employee complaints and an out-of-court settlement from 20 years ago before publishing a four-page story about it. We should also consider the possibility that this is real.
If it is, what will it mean for Cain’s
presidential campaign book deal? The candidate happens to be in Washington today for several scheduled appearances, so it will be difficult for him to avoid what he called the “inside-the-Beltway media.” Presumably a bunch of people will ask him whether the Politico report is true, and Cain will answer that question without the plain speaking or forthright charm for which he has become famous. Then one of the women will come forward or someone will find legal documents, and we will probably get some weirdo quote that reveals with terrifying specificity what Cain considers sexually enticing, and then he will admit it and get a book deal. You know how these things work. The question is whether it will substantially alter the trajectory of the Cain campaign.
Perhaps I’m cynical, but nobody thought this ride was going to last forever. Black Walnut is too good to be President, and by “too good” I mean too obviously unqualified and crazy. His campaign has been a sideshow from the beginning, and though it has upstaged Mitt Romney’s elephant-thinking-about-the-Bible act it remains a sideshow nonetheless. The news that Cain said a bunch of crazy stuff and traded on his charm as head of a restaurant lobbying association hardly reveals his secret personality.
Nor does it substantially affect his viability as a candidate, which holds steady at zero. I don’t think the hardcore church people were voting for Herman Cain anyway. The portion of the GOP that likes him probably likes his policies of breaking the government with catchy tax laws and being mean to poor people, not his moral compass. And if you are a member of the general public—who, unlike the GOP primary audience, has not been steeped in Ayn Rand and declarations of American socialism since January 15, 2009—he just seems crazy. The discovery that he is maybe sexually crazy is unpleasant, but it’s no Donna Rice.
That’s because Herman Cain is no Gary Hart. Maybe I’m the only person in America who doesn’t see that the former pizza magnate is serious about politics and ready to lead, but to me he does not look substantially more real than Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann or any of his fellow vanity candidates. Cain is the frontrunner in a Republican campaign that has yet to take itself seriously. The GOP’s arranged marriage to Mitt Romney has given the present campaign season the quality of a backpacking trip through Europe, and Cain is just the guy Republicans are banging on the roof of the hostel. To hear that he did the same thing with some British girls last summer is probably not going to end the affair, because it wasn’t going anywhere in the first place.