Herman Cain's Sexual Harassment Story

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 30 2011 10:37 PM

Herman Cain's Sexual Harassment Story

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DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks with the news media after unveiling his 'Opportunity Zone' economic plan in front of the Michigan Central Station, an abandoned train depot, October 21, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. Cain has reportedly proposed changes to his '9-9-9' tax plan to exempt taxes for those living at or below the poverty line and businesses investing in 'Opportunity Zones' (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Way back in May, after a good debate in South Carolina first turned the media on to Herman Cain, Byron York asked the candidate a question that he was ready for -- a question he relished.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"[T]he race card is going to be short-lived if Herman Cain gets the nomination," [Cain said.]
But wouldn't liberals and Democrats still find a racially-based way to attack Cain? They certainly found a way to attack Clarence Thomas, the black, conservative Supreme Court justice.
"They're going to come after me more viciously than they would a white candidate," Cain responded. "You're right. Clarence Thomas.  And so, to use Clarence Thomas as an example, I'm ready for the same high-tech lynching that he went through -- for the good of this country." Cain smiled broadly. "I'm ready for the same high-tech lynching."
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That exchange got a lot more resonant last night after Politico dropped a sextuple-byline atom bomb on the Cain campaign. According to the paper, "at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior" when Cain ran the National Restaurant Association. The sources and their stories are well-guarded in the story. One woman, received "'an unwanted sexual advance' from Cain at a hotel" hosting an NRA event, and has "indicated to her current employer that she received a compensation package from the association and has warned there that she may be the subject of an embarrassing story involving a presidential candidate." That detail points to a long and ugly news cycle for Cain. What happened in the hotel, and when? One source suggests that the woman was offered a good deal on the way out in order to keep quiet: Is that true?

I seriously doubt that this story was on Cain's mind back in May. (York, not Cain, brought up Thomas's name.) But the "high-tech lynching," the phrase Thomas used to characterize the campaign against him as a race-charged media assault, is a useful framework for the Cain response. After Politico's scoop went up, York grabbed a statement from Cain's spokesman J.D. Gordon (he appears in the Politico piece, pre-emptively dismissing the story while admitting that the candidate is aware of the basis).

Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain’s tenure as the Chief Executive Officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts.
Since Washington establishment critics haven't had much luck in attacking Mr. Cain's ideas to fix a bad economy and create jobs, they are trying to attack him in any way they can.
Sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before – a prominent Conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics.

My emphasis. Off the top of your head, name some "prominent conservatives" that the movement believes were targeted for petty reasons because they threated the Democrat-Media Industrial Complex.* Not "candidates," but "prominent conservatives." Thomas materializes pretty quickly, doesn't he? The Cain campaign's immediate response to the story is to rule it out as false and unfair, and to link it to other situations that ended with the conservative base rallying behind the target.

We'll see how that works. (I'm expecting tomorrow's Cain speeches at AEI and the National Press Club to be clusterfarks of Biblical proportion.) If this is the Cain strategy, it's lacking for two reasons. One: It's one thing for a movement hero or SCOTUS nominee to get in trouble, because everyone stands to lose if he's taken down. Quite the opposite is true if a presidential candidate is in trouble -- countless people stand to gain from the coming dogpile. Two: This isn't a one-day story. Politico protected the names of the sources while leaving a Hansel and Gretel trail for others to follow.

In the meantime, just looking at the comments on York's new story about the Gordon statement, you can see what elements of the base want next.

- "Deja Vu Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill. And not coincidental."

- "This comes after Politico's Roger Simon accused Republicans of being racists on CNN's Reliable Sources."

- "Two words: Anita Hill. The left needs to find a new playbook.

*Hat tip to Andrew Breitbart for that humdinger of a phrase.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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