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Posted at 12:51 PM ET, 10/31/2011

Herman Cain’s sexual harassment scandal that wasn’t


It’s all a cunning plan! (KAREN BLEIER - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
There are moments when apparent insanity and total incompetence are completely indistinguishable from tactical genius.

For instance, the Cain campaign.

A strange, sepia-tinted ad where a mustached man smokes and endorses Cain? Brilliance! An economic plan whose catchiness is only exceeded by its impracticality? Yes-yes-yes! GOP, meet your new front-runner!

And those This Is Herman Cain books are flying off the shelves.

“Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of sexual harassment by a woman?”

This was the question a reporter posed to Herman Cain, in light of Politico’s story that two female employees of the National Restaurant Association had complained of unwanted advances by Herman Cain in the 1990s and been let go with settlements.

Politico reported: “He breathed audibly, glared at the reporter and stayed silent for several seconds. After the question was repeated three times, he responded by asking the reporter, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”

That is certainly one way of responding.

Can you imagine if Cain had been there for other scandals?

“Did YOU have sexual relations with that woman?” “Did YOU chop down the cherry tree?”

But it’s classic Cain.

If there is one message (besides 9-9-9) that the Cain campaign has been sending, loud and clear, to the American people, it is, “We have no clue what we are doing, and it’s working.”

All those Hieronymus Bosch paintings of large crowds of headless people roaming around seeking meaning and organization turn out to be a portrait from life of the Cain effort. People who claim to be in charge of things turn out to be enthusiastic volunteers. People who are actually in charge of things turn out to have been using their non-profit organizations to funnel money into the campaign in its early stages and not to have listed this correctly on the campaign’s filings. And no one seems to have read the chapter in the Running A Campaign manual on How To Deal With Sexual Harassment Allegations.

Cain has always run an unconventional campaign, in the sense that someone who failed to study and has decided to respond to every question with a drawing of a bear has an unconventional test-taking strategy. He has an unconventional funding mechanism. He has an unconventional ad strategy. There is a fine line, sometimes, between “unconventional” and “somewhere on the line between illegal and not-ready-for-primetime.”

Since the question-answered-with-a-question, Cain has modified his approach. He appeared on Fox News Monday to set the record straight.

Have you been accused of sexual harassment?

“Yes,” Cain said. “Yes, I was falsely accused...It turned out after the investigation to be baseless.”

Of the settlements paid to the two women, Cain noted that he didn’t know the exact details and, “I hope it wasn’t for much, because nothing happened.”

“I have never sexually harassed anyone ever,” Cain said.

This may not be a campaign-ender after all. This may be more of the mystic Cain alchemy, where what would destroy any other contender only makes him stronger.

There’s nothing like being attacked by the mainstream media to add little fires to the bellies one’s supporters. Even Donald Trump is stepping in to defend him. Ann Coulter now wants him on top of the ticket. I hope this logic doesn’t catch on — if every time the mainstream media unearths a sexual harassment allegation it catapults you to the top of the ticket, Silvio Berlusconi will be the next president of the United States.

Maybe, instead of a fumbled and failed effort to deny a responsibly-made allegation, this is a brilliant piece of strategy. Hatred of the mainstream media has been elevated to somewhere between a fetish and a creed. Stories that include the phrases “sexual harassment” and “GOP frontrunner” have the effect on the commentariat that large hunks of red meat tend to have on lions — and to provoke a commensurate defensive prickling.

Meanwhile, in Perhaps More Serious Things That Are Going Wrong in Herman Cain’s Life, his infamous smoking campaign manager turns out to have been behind a non-profit organization that spotted the Cain campaign cash for travel and iPads without appearing on the campaign’s filings — which might be, er, “unconventionally legal.” But never mind that! I’m sure it’s somehow the media’s fault.

Cain was less clear on this point during the Fox interview, saying he had not read the report and didn’t know what it was talking about, and that his campaign didn’t know about the report either. It seems that the only person not following all Cain campaign news with rabid interest is Herman Cain.

Unconventional. But if anyone can make it work, it’s Cain.

By  |  12:51 PM ET, 10/31/2011

Tags:  GOP 2012, Herman Cain

 
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