WASHINGTON — Politico’s bombshell Herman Cain sexual harassment story broke on Sunday night. On Monday morning, Cain kicked off a week of public and private events in Washington D.C., the country’s political media capital. How did he handle day one? Here’s a recap.
It started poorly for the Cain camp, when his spokesman went on Fox News Sunday night and fed Geraldo Rivera a repetitive string of non-answers, blaming the story on the liberal media without confirming or denying the substance of the Politico report. Even Rivera warned that such a strategy would be a losing one on an issue as sensitive as this.
Cain himself started his Monday morning off with an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute where an event moderator firewalled Cain from questions about the Politico story. One reporter started to ask the Politico question, but was quickly shut down. Cain promised he’d answer the question later in the day — “I’ll take all the arrows later,” he said.
The first news organization to shoot said arrow was Fox News, which asked Cain a series of questions on the report during a mid-morning appearance on the network. Cain answered the question with a straight-up denial — “I’ve never sexually harassed anyone” — a clarification of sorts — “I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association” — and a rejection of a part of the story he would later come back to confirm — “If the Restaurant Association did a settlement, I wasn’t even aware of it.”
Around 1 p.m. Cain took the stage at the National Press Club where he gave a campaign speech on renewing America before a moderator promptly asked him, again, to deny the Politico charges. He did so, and when the moderator suggested the accusations could have come from a potential opponent, Cain said: “I told you, this bull’s eye on my back is getting bigger,” he said. “We have no idea of the source of this witch-hunt.”
The moderator asked him if the Restaurant Association was going to release any details to corroborate Cain’s story, Cain said no, and the interview turned to less pressing topics, like Cain’s 9-9-9 economic plan that, on this day, was the least intriguing part of the Republican’s trip to Washington.
(Oh, yeah, Cain sang a little bit, too).
Finally Monday night, Cain expounded on the whole ordeal in as much detail as he had all day, detailing for Fox News and PBS’s “Newshour” his relationship to one of his accusers (an employee in the communications department who worked on the same floor as Cain) and recalling, for the first time, the details of the financial settlement he’d claimed earlier to have forgotten.
“I know that there was some sort of agreement, but because it ended up being minimal, they didn’t have to bring it to me,” Cain told PBS. “My general counsel and the head of human resources had the authority to resolve this thing. So it wasn’t one of those things where it got above a certain authority level and I had to sign it. If I did — and I don’t think I did — I don’t even remember signing it because it was minimal in terms of what the agreement was.”
The whole scandal comes at a time when Cain has shot to the top of many Republican presidential polls, supplanting Rick Perry (who supplanted Michele Bachmann) as a potential conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.
The long-term effects of the Politico story depend mostly on how well it and Cain’s response resonate with voters, both those participating in the Republican primary and even potential general election voters, should Cain succeed in besting the Republican field. Cain will naturally want questions on the story to cease and the focus to turn back to his 9-9-9 plan, among other things, but it’s certainly not going to be that easy for someone who’s seen his political stock only rise in recent weeks — with that kind of success comes scrutiny.
Cain is still in Washington and is scheduled to speak to the Congressional Health Care Caucus on Wednesday.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry