Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s inability to remember his own plan is obviously the gaffe of Wednesday’s Republican debate. But former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain stumbled too, calling former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “Princess Nancy.”
In response to a question on health-care policy, Cain told the crowd that there was a Republican plan to fix the system, but “Princess Nancy sent it to committee and it stayed there.”
It was a reference to Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price’s’ (Ga.) health-care bill, known as H.R.3000, which was allegedly shelved when Pelosi was House speaker (when Republicans took control of the House in 2010, Pelosi became the minority leader).
Cain’s campaign tweeted out his debate comments. But Cain himself began to walk his words back as soon as the debate was over. “That was a statement that I probably shouldn’t have made, but I was trying to make a point,” he told CNBC.
On Thursday, he walked back his own walk-back a little, telling reporters he only apologized “so you all would stop asking me about it” and adding that the press should “ask her why she called the tea party people AstroTurf a couple of years ago.”
Cain got laughter from the debate audience, but many Republicans were not amused.
“She earned that title,” said Republican strategist Steve Schmidt on MSNBC, referring to Pelosi. “It was contempt [Cain] showed her.”
Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino concurred on Twitter: “Ay yi yi, former Speaker Pelosi called a princess in the debate? Not fair. We may disagree on policy, but she earned the Speaker title.”
It wasn’t the first time Cain used that insult. On his radio show in 2010, he mocked “Princess Nancy” for pushing through a “$26 billion bailout of teachers.” (Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity has also used the phrase; it isn’t Cain’s creation.)
But Cain, obviously, is on thinner ice since the sexual harassment allegations against him came to light, and calling the former House “princess” is not going to endear him to voters concerned about those accusations. The fact that he said it anyway — and that his campaign promoted it — suggests that he is feeling bullish in spite of the controversy.