Why Herman Cain needs to stop talking — immediately

at 06:30 AM ET, 11/02/2011

On Monday, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain declared “enough said” about the swirl of questions surrounding allegations of sexual harassment leveled at him during his time as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.


Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is pictured before speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, October 31, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed
He then appeared on PBS’s “Newshour” and Greta van Susteren’s program on Fox News Channel that night. Then on Tuesday he gave an on-air interview with CNN’s Headline News and appeared not once but twice (!) on Fox News on Tuesday evening.

While Cain almost certainly justifies such high-profile appearances as the best way to get his side of the story out, the problem he has run into is that his side of the story keeps changing. And that means that every time he goes on television, he is creating more questions than he’s answering.

“Cain should give up his shovel and stop digging the hole with these interviews,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican communications consultant. “When the room is on fire, you want to starve it of oxygen.”

The temptation to do otherwise is strong, though, and there are any number of recent examples of politicians who tried to use the media to solve their problems and wound up making them much, much worse.

Remember when then-New York Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) sat down with NBC’s Luke Russert to “explain” a growing controversy over lewd images sent from his Twitter account? Weiner’s inability to say that the photos were not in fact of his private parts — “I can’t say with certitude” — turned a problem into a Problem.

Or when then then-Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott took to Black Entertainment Television (BET) to explain his praise for then-South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond? Lott resigned as Senate Majority Leader four days later.

(Another major factor in surviving these controversies: timing. Both the Weiner and Lott stories were the only major news on the political landscape for weeks, allowing reporters to drill down relentlessly on unanswered questions.)

“Ultimately, crisis communications is about survival,” said Brian Jones, a former communications director at the Republican National Committee and now a principal in the Black Rock Group. “Repeatedly re-litigating the story and injecting new facts only fuels the story while also casting doubts on the truthfulness of the pushback.”

In other words: Get your story straight and stick to it. And that’s the opposite of what Cain did in the first 48 hours of this controversy.

It’s possible that Cain will start heeding the advice of the crisis communications professionals some time soon. But, at the moment, he is doing himself far more harm than good with his repeated media appearances.

More Cain updates: In other Cain news, the candidate won’t say whether he will ask the restaurant association to lift a confidentiality clause that would allow one of his accusers to speak out. We’re not holding our breath.

And the New York Times reports one of the women was given one year’s pay — $35,000 — as a settlement. Cain previously said he thought the settlement was for a few months’ pay.

Opponents let Cain dig his own hole: Despite his problems (or maybe because of them), Cain’s opponents aren’t exactly piling on, with the exception of former senator Rick Santorum.

We noted Tuesday morning that Santorum’s campaign is calling on Cain to be forthcoming, for fear of the party having a nominee with skeletons in his (or her) closet.

Other campaigns aren’t going even that far, notes NBC’s Domenico Montanaro. This isn’t terribly surprising. Political protocol says that, when your opponent is shooting himself in the foot, get out of the way.

Tight race in Florida, Rubio a boon as VP: Yet another poll shows Florida emerging as a key battleground in the 2012 GOP presidential race.

The Suffolk University poll shows Cain and Mitt Romney in a statistical tie, with Romney at 25 percent and Cain at 24 percent. Newt Gingrich was third at 11 percent, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry was fourth at 9 percent.

Florida is the fourth nominating contest, behind Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, but ahead of Nevada.

In another interesting finding in the poll, having home-state Sen. Marco Rubio on the GOP ticket improves Romney’s performance in a matchup with President Obama by a few points.

Redistricting upheaval in Arizona: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and the state Senate on Tuesday removed the chairwoman of the state’s redistricting commission, after the commission drafted a map that favors Democrats.

Brewer called a special session and secured the support of 20 state senators in a significant power move.

In response, Democrats are threatening to launch recall efforts — ala Wisconsin — against four Republican state senators.

“This is a historic abuse of power without parallel in modern American history,” state Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny said in a statement.

Despite the hyperbole, the move is a significant one, and if Wisconsin and Ohio have shown us anything in recent months, it’s that a motivated opposition can cause some damage.

The map is not final, so the move throws the final product into doubt. The chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, is a registered independent, but the GOP questioned her actual political motives.

Fixbits:

A super PAC supporting Cain goes there, calling the allegations against Cain a “high-tech lynching.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) won’t run away from President Obama — at least not literally. She says she will campaign with him, while emphasizing their differences.

McCaskill has dropped a bunch of weight in preparation for her reelection campaign — a full 50 pounds.

Rich Lowrie versus Rich Lowry on Cain.

The Justice Department has cleared the GOP’s ambitious map in North Carolina. The map imperils four Democratic incumbents and is probably the GOP’s best chance for gains in 2012.

Must-reads:

Candidates Contrast on Energy Subsidies at Iowa Forum” — Shushannah Walsh, ABC News

Redistricting offers Asian-Americans a political opportunity to gain fair representation” — Margaret Fung, New York Daily News

Central Florida will be ground zero for minority districts” — Aaron Deslatte, Orlando Sentinel

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