Yes, a presidential campaign is often a freak show. That's true, and I will join you in denouncing the modern campaign freak show (I am tut-tutting as I type this, which ain't easy). But my point is not the obvious one that the freak show is deplorable. It’s that the freak show is not going away. Every president faces it once he gets in office. Cain in most ways benefits from the freak show—the emphasis on televised debates and well-turned one-liners. Poor Rick Santorum is dragging his can through all of Iowa's 99 counties and he's getting nowhere. When Cain puts a foot wrong, his supporters largely let him off the hook, whereas other candidates go into free-fall in the polls.
So how did Cain handle the freak show? Not well at all. Though he'd been given time, Cain gave incomplete and misleading answers to Politico. Once the story became public, Cain's answers were insufficient and seemed to conflict. In the morning at the National Press Club he didn’t know if there had been a settlement. By the afternoon he knew that there had been. When asked about the evolution, he sounded almost Clintonian. “I was aware an agreement was reached,” he said. “The word settlement versus the word agreement—you know, I’m not sure what they called it."
The good news for Cain is that calling something a "high-tech lynching" is actually very helpful. Conservative voters feel like they've seen this movie before. They feel Thomas was unfairly treated, and regardless of whether the analogy is apt, they imagine Cain is being similarly unfairly treated. They also see recent examples to discount what the mainstream media say in the Rick Perry hunting camp story or the investigation into Sen. Marco Rubio's family history.
Distrust of the media, plus the Cain cushion, suggest that while this is a frenzy in Washington, it won't immediately harm him where the voting takes place. The Des Moines Register ratified this notion when it called those who had said they preferred Cain in their recent poll. None said they were jumping ship. And the Cain campaign said it had one of its best online fundraising days when the story hit. This may be another instance, for Cain at least, of a crisis turning into an opportunity.