Dickerson: Herman Cain Calls a Press Conference to Proclaim Himself a Victim

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Nov. 8 2011 9:50 PM

I'm the Victim Here

Herman Cain tries to turn the tables at his press conference about accusations of sexual harassment.

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Herman Cain in Arizona Tuesday: He raised as many questions as he answered.

Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images

For a person claiming to have been falsely accused, Herman Cain knows how to sling an accusation. Since allegations of his past sexual harassment have surfaced, Cain has blamed the media, Rick Perry, the Republican establishment, disgruntled former colleagues, "a troubled woman," the  "machine that wants to keep a businessman out of the White House" (the Antichamber of Commerce?) and the Democratic machine (proof of how screwed up this Democratic machine is: It's apparently trying to stop Herman Cain from getting the nomination).

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Many of Cain's accusations came out at a press conference Tuesday in which he said he didn't have any proof of some of his claims and he didn't have any names to connect to them. Still, he made the accusations anyway. "I cannot say that it is a conspiracy," he said. "We do not have definitive, factual proof. We can only look at some coincidences to suggest it, that maybe someone is deliberately behind it."  In this way his defense tactic exactly mirrors the complaints he makes about the charges against him: non-factual and anonymous.  It was just one of the ways in which the improbable front-runner’s defense of himself created as many questions as it answered.

Let’s start with the "troubled woman." As Cain took to the podium to defend against the fourth charge of sexual harassment, his lawyer complained Sharon Bialek was trying Cain in the court of public opinion. She didn't take her claim to the authorities but to the cable news shows. That’s a fair point, maybe even a smart one. But if making the charges in private and through proper channels lends credibility to the claim, then that only validates the two women who reported Cain to the National Restaurant Association and were paid settlements.

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Cain repeatedly talked about anonymous charges. Since the first Politico story broke, Cain has made this claim in order to make the whole thing seem like shady whispers. But in the case of the two harassment claims at the NRA, they weren't anonymous at all. The names of the accusers were on the complaints, legal documents, and the checks written to them to settle the charges. One of them, Karen Kraushaar, has now gone public and according to Gloria Borger of CNN has kept all those documents and will provide them.

To undermine Bialek, Cain's campaign showed that she had financial trouble and hadn't been able to hold a job. If Cain believes that Bialek’s past legal troubles are a window to her character, then it ratifies the idea that Cain’s are, too. Also: what if Kraushaar has a benign background with good credit rating and regular dental check-ups? Does this add to the validity of her claim?

The strange press conference followed an equally strange email from Cain to his supporters in which he argued that his current troubles were merely the product of a successful business career. “At some point during a career like this, someone will not like things you do, or how you do it. Someone will complain. That is just the nature of things if you’ve ever done much in your life.”

It is unlikely that Mitt Romney, the other candidate bedeviled by the machine that doesn’t want a businessman in the White House, would agree that a handful of sexual harassment claims is as natural a part of a successful business career as the gold watch at retirement. On the other hand, it could be more proof of the skim-milk nature of the Romney enterprise. Cain rises to the polls and the Conspiracy launches in confederation against him. Romney has been at the top of the polls for months, yet the scandal-mongers, whisperers, and shady mumblers are too bored with him to even conjure up an alleged library late fee.

As Cain's troubles have mounted, his rival Michele Bachmann has taken subtle advantage of them. "There will be no surprises," she says, if she becomes the GOP nominee. She'll never lose the race because of some October surprise from her background near Election Day. You are in a tough spot when the candidate who spent a portion of the campaign living down her past unpredictability and occasional wacky statements is pointing out your instability. But it's not just Herman Cain's past that might offer surprises. Every time he opens his mouth something surprising happens.