Will Gloria Cain’s interview matter? That’s the question on the lips of many a political pundit, leading up to the GOP hopeful’s wife’s sit-down with Greta van Susteren Monday night. Will she help to change the image of a man accused of sexually harassing several women? Will she bring more GOP women around to the idea of a president accused of such actions? Will her statement that Cain “totally respects women” help to quiet the firestorm around the allegations?
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb much when I say no. Let’s take each of these questions separately. The answer to the last one is definitely not. Cain’s interview will only create another news cycle about the allegations and another opportunity for pundits to ponder over the accusations. It will also create another day for Herman Cain’s name to be in the news (albeit for less than positive reasons)—though this may be, given the way his fundraising has been going, exactly what he wants.
As for whether or not she’ll help gain more female supporters—a trend some have spotted—that’s unlikely, too. Those women worried about Cain’s alleged actions are unlikely to change their minds when his spouse, who is any candidate’s staunchest defender, comes to his aid. She may create a rosy image of a loving husband who would never do such a thing, but women who have been hesitant to support Cain already are wise to the idea that such a “split personality” is at least, um, possible. We’re only reminded of that sad reality every day in the news.
In the end, the real reason election watchers are interested in the Gloria Cain interview is that so little is known about her. She has not been by her husband’s side during the campaign. There are apparently no public quotes attributed to her. And the fact that it took two weeks to get her on camera to defend her husband has made her of interest on her own. She may very well end up being an asset to her husband—candidate’s wives often are—but she’s unlikely to change the image created by the accusations by speaking out. The simple fact that she’s the candidate’s wife blunts the power of anything she says, even if she helps to round out the contours of Cain’s image in the process.
Leaders in the midst of a scandal need surrogates who can speak out on their behalf about their character and their constitution. They can and do make a difference: Chris Cilizza points to John McCain’s cadre of respected surrogates who rallied behind him in talk shows and interviews after he was accused of a questionably close relationship with a lobbyist back in 2008. This entourage can play a key role in squashing a story before it gets out of hand.
But to work at this level, they need to be widely known, widely respected and widely considered independent enough to speak objectively on the candidate’s behalf. Gloria Cain is none of these things, at least at the national level. Once tonight is over, we’ll likely know a lot more about Gloria Cain and a lot more about Herman Cain’s family life. But that’s about it.
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