Leave Herman Cain Alone!
The three arguments Republicans are using to defend him.
“He was on message, and that’s as it should be,” said Rep. Andy Harris, a freshman from Maryland. “What we ought to be concentrating on is not wasting that time paying attention to issues other than the economy and how we’re going to get out of this mess we’re in.”
That’s what Newt Gingrich is saying, too. Shame on the media for asking about this! “He’s out there trying to help a country that’s in desperate trouble,” Gingrich said. “And he has gotten more coverage over the last few days over gossip.” If Gingrich had wanted to, he could have looked at some right-wing blogs, which have taken this ball and spiked it. (Speaking of which: Did you know that one of the Politico reporters behind the scoop is sort of vaguely connected to George Soros?)
It’s fun, and it’s familiar, but how does it help Cain? This isn’t a case of a media outlet formulating a story out of nothing. This was a story that multiple organizations had heard inklings about, that Politico did the work on, and that its reporters backed up with primary documents.
Effectiveness level: Limited, because the media isn’t the problem.
Argument No. 3: There’s No Such Thing as Sexual Harassment
This one took a while to come out. It’s a hard conversation to start. Conservatives don’t like to admit it. But hell, time to say it: They just don’t think that the stuff Cain was accused of was all that bad. Sexual harassment claims are overblown. When he says the charges are false, they believe him. The lawyer and pundit Kurt Schlichter summed it up in a widely circulated op-ed: “In the world of sexual-harassment law, the accusations are bad enough.”
As they gripped and grabbed with Cain on Wednesday, Republicans said the same thing. Maybe the women in question were a little bit nutty, or a little bit—hey, you know the rest. “It’s unfortunate,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson after the health care meeting. “But during campaign time there are certain individuals who will raise half-truths and mis-portray things. Sometimes they do that because they’re desperate in their own campaigns. I guess I’m not surprised this type of thing is brought forward.”
Steve King, among Cain’s most vocal defenders, took me back to his days running his construction company and working with the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors' Association. Sexual harassment training was a pain, an insult. After he and colleagues had to watch a 45-minute how-not-to video, he stood up and said, “I am insulted that you would burn up our time with something that could be replaced by the two words ‘common courtesy.’” The only woman in the room, he said, applauded.
“It’s a terrible concept,” said King, “to define an action by the perception of the perceived victim.”
Let’s say that Cain has bungled away the nondisclosure agreements that the National Restaurant Association put away in the 1990s. The women in question come out and speak. At that point it’ll be their word against his. All those doubts about the very idea of sexual harassment settlements, all those doubts about whether this stuff can be trusted—that will come in handy.
Effectiveness level: It’s the best he’s got.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.