Cain Plays the Race Card After All

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 2 2011 10:47 AM

Cain Plays the Race Card After All

My colleague John Dickerson wrote yesterday about the really, truly baseless idea that Politico's investigation of Herman Cain was just like the "high tech lynching" Clarence Thomas bemoaned in 1991. When he wrote it, the claim was being made, mostly, by conservative defenders of Cain like Rush Limbaugh. Just as it was being published, I see that Charles Krauthammer got Cain to endorse the meme.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

KRAUTHAMMER: Mr. Cain, when Clarence Thomas was near to achieving position of high authority, he was hit with a sexual harassment charge. You, contending for presidency nomination, the office of highest authority, leading in the polls for the Republican nomination, all of a sudden get hit with a sexual harassment charge. Do you think that race, being a strong black conservative, has anything to do with the fact you've been so charged? And if so, do you have any evidence to support that?
CAIN: I believe the answer is yes, but we do not have any evidence to support it. [Ed -- Well, hard to argue with that.] But because I am unconventional candidate running an unconventional campaign and achieving some unexpected unconventional results in terms of my, the poll, we believe that, yes, there are some people who are Democrats, liberals, who do not want to see me win the nomination. And there could be some people on the right who don't want to see me because I'm not the, quote/unquote, "establishment candidate." No evidence.
KRAUTHAMMER: But does race have any part of that? Establishment, maverick, yes. What about race?
CAIN: Relative to the left I believe race is a bigger driving factor. I don't think it's a driving factor on the right. This is just based upon our speculation.

Cain's playing the race card. Start with the "relative to the left" stuff -- how much has "the left" been bringing up race in the context of this story? I spent a lot of time reading black news sites for this piece about what Cain's success said about conservatives and race. They were cold on Cain before this story, but they had nothing to do with this story.

There's a bet being made here. The conservative base does not, generally, like to see black candidates claim that they're being treated unfairly because of race. Cain knows that. In his memoir, he hits liberals for defending Barack Obama on racial grounds: "Whenever President Obama is criticized over policy mistakes, his surrogates tend to play the race card, as if there's supposed to be something inherently morally wrong in such criticism."

But the Republican base really likes Cain. It really likes Clarence Thomas. This is exploitable. No one, not even Cain, knows how exploitable it is -- up to now he's better off when he's ignoring race except for goofy one liners about how he's a "dark horse" or how his Secret Service name would be "Cornbread." Now he's played the race card, full stop, so he'll see how far that gets him with a base that doesn't want the media to be right about the story.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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