Monday, November 28, 2011

Herman Cain’s very bad days

Excuse me. Excuuuuuse me. You know it’s hard out here for a motivational speaker and talk-show host with designs on the White House, especially one with a flair for self-aggrandizement and an apparent eye for the female form. The media won’t let him alone, neither will other candidates seeking the same office.

And neither, it seems, will the past. Today, the increasingly salacious five-spiral crash of the campaign of Herman Cain took another turn when Ginger White, an Atlanta businesswoman and single mother of two, came forward to claim that she and the candidate had been having an affair, that she’d been his outside woman.

For 13 years. Until eight months ago.

The lawyers are weighing in, or probably soon will; the punditburo is properly salivating; and goes without saying, the candidate himself is denying any of this ever happened. But this latest less-than- flattering perspective of Cain, from the latest in a series of apparently credible women professionals, further undercuts the rationale behind continuing to pursue something that was never better than a long shot to start with.

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The toppings started dropping off Cain’s pizza supreme on Oct. 31 when the Web site Politico broke the story that two women, former employees of the National Restaurant Association (once headed by Cain) accused him of acts of sexual harassment while he was in charge at the NRA in the 1990’s.

Politico reported that the story’s sources “describe episodes that … include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature.”

The political news site also reported that the women “reached agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts.”

Reader humuhumunukunukuapuaa speculated at The Huffington Post: “WikiLeaks is reporting the plaintiffs rejected the original settlement offer of $5,000 plus a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi and a side order of breadsticks.”

Cain needed some extra media whoopass on the pizza he was preparing for the nation. And so … to the airwaves.

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Cain spoke to the National Press Club defending himself against the charges. And in an interview with Greta van Susteren on Fox News that night, he confirmed that a financial settlement was paid to one of the two accusers from his stint at the NRA. But he denied any sexual improprieties. “I have never sexually harassed anyone and those accusations are totally false ... It was concluded, after a thorough investigation, that it had no basis.”

“My general counsel said this started out where she and her lawyer were demanding a huge financial settlement … I don't remember a number … But then he said because there was no basis for this, we ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement.”

Then Cain swung over to PBS' NewsHour, when Judy Woodruff doubled down on the details from the Politico story, pressing Cain for the details of the misunderstanding from his point of view.

According to Cain, something he said about one woman's height was the source of all the trouble. “One incident that I recall as the day has gone on. She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture, saying …’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. ...”

“I have never sexually harassed anyone. And so this false allegation to now come up is kind of baffling.”

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But Cain said something that revealed more than he probably intended — something that takes on a fresh importance given today’s bombshell from Atlanta.

"If more allegations come, I assure you, people will simply make them up," Cain told Fox on Oct. 31. "What you can expect from my campaign is for me to stay on message, for us to continue to do the things and execute our strategy in order to win the nomination," Cain said.

This, in retrospect, was clearly meant to be a Cain pre-emptive strike, but that’s exactly the problem. By issuing a blanket denial for anything in the past, Cain opens himself up to knowing that some of his behavior in the past was suspect, or maybe even criminal. A predictive denial begs the question of why you have to deny (in advance of any accusations) doing something you said you didn’t do in the first place.

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Clearly, Cain knew what was coming. On Nov. 2, an Iowa conservative talk-radio host alleged that Cain displayed inappropriate behavior toward one of the employees of his own staff when he showed up for an interview. That same day, GOP pollster and political consultant Chris Wilson told KTOK radio that he was a witness to Cain’s sexual harassment of a woman at a restaurant in Crystal City, Va.

Then on Nov. 7, things went south in a hurry. First, the scandalette acquired a name and a face. Sharon Bialek, a former member of the NRA’s education committee, accused Cain of what amounted to sexual assault, alleging that Cain forcefully pushed her head towards her crotch, and then made a direct connection between Cain receiving sexual favors and the prospects for Bialek’s employment at the NRA — if true, a textbook instance of sexual harassment. “I know what happened and he knows what happened,” she said on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

Then, Karen Kraushaar, one of the women who filed a complaint against Cain when he was in charge at the NRA, became Public Face #2, coming forward after her name was leaked in the press. She repeated her assertions in an interview with The New York Times.

And oh yeah, to cap off the day, the Internal Revenue Service reported it had been asked by the watchdog org Center for Media and Democracy to investigate a Cain tax-exempt nonprofit organization for the possible misappropriation of money, namely, rerouting of funds from the nonprofit directly into the campaign — if true, a violation of laws governing tax-exempt groups and campaign financing.

And how the hell was your damn day?

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And now, Ginger White. “It was pretty simple,” White told Fox 5 Atlanta in an exclusive interview. “It wasn't complicated. I was aware that he was married. And I was also aware I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship.”

“He made it very intriguing,” White said. “It was fun. It was something that took me away from my humdrum life at the time. And it was exciting.”

In response, Cain did the predictive thing again, announcing on an interview with CNN — within hours of the Fox 5 Atlanta broadcast today — that White’s claims were untrue.

Cain told CNN he expected allegations of "an affair for an extended period of time" and denied any such thing ever happened. Being cagey about using White’s name, he called her “someone that I know who is an acquaintance that I thought was a friend."

"Here we go again," Cain said. "I didn't do anything wrong."

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But for a Republican party trying to get serious about a credible nominee, it’s just one more headache, one more thing to deal with. Day by day, one more increasingly unnecessary thing.

Cain remains game for the game. “Obviously, some people are going to be turned off by this cloud that someone wanted to put over my campaign," he said on Halloween night. "But a lot of people aren't going to be turned off. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

But that’s the thing. We already know what happens next. And so does he. We’ve all lived through this movie before: the full-throated, high-profile denial and excoriation of the media that reported it, followed by a burrowing into the campaign business at hand, followed by the steady drip-drip of new revelations, followed, sure as the grass grows, by the suddenly announced need for the candidate to “furlough” or “retool” the campaign in order to address Matters of a Private Nature.

Carry on, like nothing’s happened? That trick never works. Hell, just ask Gary Hart.

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Herman Cain is following a path, if not a script. It’s the classic downward spiral, the Icarus descent common to politics and our culture’s other contact-spectator sport: celebrity. And like it is with other such descenders, from Norma Desmond to Richard Nixon, the one making the plunge from grace can’t see it, or won’t see it, until it’s too late.

Maybe he can still land this thing and walk away. With this latest allegation of marital infidelity, now’s when we find out how pragmatic Herman Cain can be, how much the bottom line of numbers and the necessary of public relations still factor in the decision-making that made him a successful businessman.

It’s common knowledge that Cain once was ruthlessly practical about laying off employees for the good of his company. We’ll see if, or how soon, he can be as ruthlessly practical is assessing his own political career for the good of his party.

Image credits: Cain: Associated Press. GROPE: reliapundit via Sharon Bialek: via MSNBC. Ginger White: Fox 5 Atlanta. Cain campaign logo: Cain 2012. 

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