In an hourlong discussion on tax policy this morning at the American Enterprise Institute, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain spoke with the confidence of a frontrunner. He made references to his “administration,” as did his interviewer. He said his high spot in the polls stems from “the people.” He spoke with apparent authority on all kinds of taxes — consumption taxes, business taxes, value-added taxes, ultimately concluding that “it doesn’t matter” what you call them. And he touted his decision at Godfather’s Pizza to eliminate “three of the four crusts.” (Good thing he didn’t take things a step further.)
In all, pretty confident stuff.
Yet Cain lost his swagger when it came to a point of protocol.
In the question-and-answer session, ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked the candidate about the topic that had been flatly neglected through 45 minutes of tax-policy chatter: Hey, what about this Politico story that two women under your direction at the National Restaurant Association claimed you’d sexually harassed them?
Cain at that point turned from the leader of the free world in abeyance into a deferential pipsqueak:
“I am going by the ground rules that my hosts have set.”
Herman Cain, a prisoner of format? The guy who’s fighting against the ways of establishment Washington is now powerless to appeal a little protocolic quirk of an establishment think tank. No choice in the matter here, folks!
Véronique Rodman an AEI spokesperson says:
“Rules vary with the host and the event. Kevin Hassett as head of AEI’s economic policy studies team decided that – as planned – we would devote the questions to tax ones. I think that Kevin thought that this was a great opportunity to really get into the tax plan and that Cain and the media would have lots of other opportunities to discuss other topics.”
The candidate did say that he’d take all the “arrows” later in the day, at a National Press Club session.