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November 11, 2011

Standing by your man

The Herman Cain harassment story is turning into a long-running saga with each day seemingly bringing forth a new complainant and him changing his story accordingly. According to initial polls, the sexual harassment settlements do not seem to have hurt his standing amongst his fan base in the Republican party. His fundraising seems to be going well too.

I am not surprised. One of the things that characterize a sizable chunk (~20%) of party loyalists is that once they make an emotional investment in a candidate because they think he or she is 'one of them', they will stick with that person whatever happens, even if that requires them to abandon positions that they once held.

I suspect that this attitude has always been there but I first noticed it in its most extreme form back in 2008. People who would condemn sex outside of marriage and look down as a bad parent someone whose child had a baby out of wedlock, completely abandoned that stance when it was revealed that Sarah Palin's daughter was pregnant while still in high school. I wrote then:

I have been impressed by the ability of some of the Republican party and its conservative Christian base to pivot so quickly, suddenly celebrating things like teenage parenthood that they would have normally been swift to condemn as incontrovertible evidence of the increasing sinfulness of the nation as a result of taking prayer out of the school and teaching evolution. Now because the person whom they like has these things going on in her family, we are hearing paeans for them as being 'real people', that such things show that the Palins represent 'heartland values'.

I suspect that had McCain nominated someone who later was revealed to be a serial killer but who said he loved Jesus, opposed abortion, and favored policies that favored the wealthy, these same people would suddenly say that 'real Americans' have prison records and the ability to kill without compunction is just the kind of toughness we need in a national leader in order to deal with terrorists. They would also decry as wimps the Democratic candidates because neither had the gumption to shoot a man, just to watch him die.

So far I have not heard anyone say that being charged with sexual harassment is a sign that Cain is a real man, someone with passion and drive who does not play by the rules of namby-pamby society but knows what he wants and goes for it and that is the kind of leader the country needs. But I would not be surprised if someone does. The closest they have come is to make the extraordinary claim that 'sexual harassment' is a 'meaningless' charge that does not exist is reality but is largely a scam to sue powerful and wealthy people. This will no doubt come as a surprise to many people in the workplace.

Things may change if the charges keep coming. Even the most loyal supporter may realize that at some point, even if they are personally willing to overlook the fact that their man is a creep, he is damaged beyond repair and unelectable.

Whatever develops on the harassment front, it is becoming apparent that Cain is an unpleasant, arrogant, egotistical, and self-important man who is used to pushing people around to get his own way. His arrogance is on display in this long profile of him in the New York Times by T. A. Frank.

And is it any wonder that Herman Cain has shed a lot of high-level campaign staff members, both within his national organization and in crucial early states like Iowa and New Hampshire? Most of these former staff members have signed nondisclosure agreements, and others would speak to me only off the record. None of them recall their former boss as a sexual harasser. But they do speak of a man so egotistical that careful self-policing would never really enter into the realm of consideration.

They also speak — bitterly — of a candidate with zero interest in policy. They speak of events canceled at the last minute to accommodate any available television interview. They speak of unrelenting self-absorption, even by the standards of a politician.

But they don’t speak of someone who can’t win.

Cain, when flustered, is very different from Cain the motivational speaker. He grows stiff, his jaw tightens and his blinking speeds up. Meaningless phrases (“It was a joke to the extent in the context of the views that speech”) pile up in a panic.

An interview with Piers Morgan the next day went just as poorly, with Cain, supposedly a pro-life absolutist, offering a full-throated endorsement of a woman’s right to choose. “What I’m saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make, not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat,” Cain said.

This had to be it for his campaign. The past few days had been disastrous.

Cain’s next set of poll numbers: solid lead.

Let us pause here to make a necessarily severe assessment: to say that Herman Cain has an imperfect grasp of policy would be unfair not only to George W. Bush in 1999 but also to Britney Spears in 1999. Herman Cain seems like someone who, quite frankly, has never opened a newspaper.

Frank's article also has a long quote from Cain's book where he describes how the number 45 keeps cropping up in his life and therefore he ascribes a mystic significance to it. This is despite the fact that he majored in mathematics in college, and thus should be able to see the fallacy of his reasoning.

But there are warning signs that this support for Cain might be soft and that repeated new allegations may sap the enthusiasm of even the most ardent supporter.

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