Cain and supporters attach themselves to Clarence Thomas, to their benefit

at 12:50 PM ET, 11/03/2011

The parallels with Clarence Thomas were probably unavoidable for Herman Cain, but as the scandal regarding sexual harassment claims heads into its fifth day, they’re starting to crop up more frequently — including, now, at Cain’s own behest.

Cain’s campaign has brought Thomas into the conversation by sitting down with the U.S. Supreme Court justice’s wife, Ginni , who happens to be a conservative activist and contributor for the Daily Caller. Meanwhile, a super PAC supporting Cain is now calling the controversy a “high-tech lynching” — the same words Clarence Thomas used in 1991.

“That’s exactly what they’re doing to Herman Cain today,” Americans for Herman Cain campaign director Jordan Gehrke says in a fundraising e-mail released Thursday morning and sent using the American Conservative Union’s e-mail list.

The e-mail was titled “Don’t let the media ‘lynch’ another black Conservative.”

So is it a good idea for Cain and his supporters to compare him to Clarence Thomas?

In a word: yes.

In a new video on the Daily Caller Web site, Cain tells Ginni Thomas that he feels like he’s “guilty until proven innocent.”

The video includes no references to the similar controversy that Thomas and her husband went through more than 20 years ago when Clarence Thomas was nominated to the court, but the fact that Cain even sat down for an interview with Mrs. Thomas suggests Cain is okay with the parallels that are being drawn.

Those parallels have been increasingly made by his supporters since Politico late Sunday broke the story that two women accused Cain of sexual harassment while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s.

(Another parallel outside Cain-world: the lawyer for one of Cain’s accusers announced Wednesday that his client wouldn’t be speaking out publicly, for fear of becoming “another Anita Hill .”)

So why does the Thomas parallel work for Cain?

Mostly because few things in politics in recent decades have rallied conservatives as much as Thomas’s Supereme Court nomination, and Thomas continues to be — along with Justice Antonin Scalia — the justice that conservatives most admire.

Also, the Thomas Senate confirmation hearings showed how such accusations can be overcome by vilifying the media and one’s political opponents. By the end of the hearings, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed 62 percent of Americans thought Thomas should be confirmed, and while Thomas actually gained respect, the news media and Democrats lost it among many Americans.

This was despite the fact that relatively few people — including Republicans — believed that Thomas was innocent. A 1992 Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 43 percent of people believed he did harass Hill, compared to just 27 percent who believed he didn’t (many were undecided). Among Republicans, just 42 percent said definitively that Thomas didn’t harass Hill.

Despite this, Thomas overcame the allegations and was confirmed to the court, becoming a conservative hero in the process.

For Cain, the doubts about his past appear as though they will linger, even among Cain supporters. But by making this about his opponents trying to bring him down rather than the allegations (also see Cain’s accusations about Rick Perry’s camp), Cain is effectively changing the subject, just like Thomas did 20 years ago.

Cain has significant — and notably different — problems, and they only seem to be growing by the day, but looking to Thomas’s experience and tying himself to the conservative idol is probably a smart strategy.

Right now, Cain has more goodwill than any other Republican presidential candidate among the GOP base, and that base seems to be solidly standing by Cain, at least currently. Cain’s fundraising tells the story; accroding to his campaign, he’s raised $1.2 million over the last five days — an even faster pace than he had set in early October.

Making himself into the next Clarence Thomas only solidifies that base of support. And it’s a great strategy — at least in the Republican presidential primary.

 
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