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Herman Cain’s problematic position(s) on abortion

at 02:28 PM ET, 10/20/2011

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain’s campaign has some explaining to do after the candidate appeared to take an essentially pro-abortion rights position last night in an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan.


Former CEO of Godfather's Pizza and Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain speaks during the Western Republican Leadership Conference at The Venetian hotel-casino in Las Vegas October 19, 2011. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

“The government shouldn’t be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to a social decision that they need to make,” Cain said.

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Just last week, though, Cain appeared to take the opposite position on abortion, telling Fox Business Network’s John Stossel that “abortion should not be legal” — although even in that interview, he confused the hosts about just what his position was. Also, in 2003, he said he supported a Constitutional amendment outlawing abortion.

The confusing set of statements from the new GOP frontrunner represents just the latest instance in which Cain appears to be trying to take positions on both sides of an issue. And it’s opening him up to charges of being a flip-flopper.

Early in his campaign, it was the fact that he wouldn’t hire a Muslim to a cabinet position, which he later backed off. Then it was the electrified border fence, which he supported, then said was a joke, then suggested he might support. Before Tuesday’s debate, it was Cain saying he might trade Guantanamo Bay prisoners for a hostage and then saying at the debate that he wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists. After the debate, he said he misspoke.

The latest instance, though, is the most politically hazardous.

Opposing abortion rights is the easiest of easy calls for a GOP candidate, and unless Cain wants to completely alienate social conservatives who hold abortion as their top — and, for many, only — issue, we should expect a “clarification” in pretty short order. (Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and Cain rival in the GOP nomination fight, plans to spend the better part of Thursday afternoon going after Cain on the issue.)

But getting out of this jam will be tough.

Cain has oftentimes dismissed his conflicting positions by saying he was just joking or misspoke.

The “joking” defense won’t work this time, because there’s no way he was joking about such an issue. He also didn’t misspeak, stating repeatedly that he didn’t think government should make the call on abortion and that it should be left to families.

“It gets down to that family,” he said. “And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn’t try to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive decision.”

There is no word yet from the Cain campaign on whether he is sticking by his position that the government should not get involved in abortion, but let’s just say it wouldn’t surprise us to see him pull yet another 180.

He did offer this brief tweet Thursday: “I’m 100% pro-life. End of story.” That doesn’t really answer the question about whether it should be legal, though.

The question is, then, do repeated backpedaling and botched answers hurt Cain?

So far, he has benefited from being a lower-tier candidate, and even as he has risen, his personal favorable numbers remain very strong among the people who know him. Voters quite simply haven’t found a reason to dislike the businessman running as an outsider.

But the repeated position changes, at some point, have to drag him down, at least a little bit.

Mitt Romney has suffered from the flip-flopper charge for years; the difference between Romney and Cain is that Romney’s political “evolution” took place over the course of years – even decades.

Cain, on the other hand, is pretty brazenly changing his positions within the span of a couple days and even hours.

Mostly, it’s the sign of a candidate who is doing this for the first time. Yes, Cain ran for Senate before, but the media appearances in this campaign – especially now – will continue to afford him constant opportunities to misspeak and offer confused responses.

If he continues to suffer from moments like the one on CNN last night, it’s going to be pretty hard for him to keep his momentum.

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