Given advance notice of 10 days by Politico, which first reported the charges, Cain and his campaign inexplicably had no immediate response. For the next 24 hours, as he staunchly denied the main allegations, Cain dribbled out more and more details of what he claimed to remember, sometimes directly contradicting what he had said only hours before. The more he’s said, the worse he’s made it for himself.
Cain’s verbal dexterity — and upbeat personality — have been the keys to his rise in the Republican nomination battle. His willingness to stand his ground in debates and his pro-business message have resonated far more widely than anyone expected when he first joined the race.
He prides himself on being an unconventional candidate. But at critical moments he has lacked the sure-footedness expected of a successful candidate. Unless he can repair that problem, his candidacy likely will face even stiffer headwinds.
The problem isn’t just related to the crisis of the moment. The same holds for his handling of substantive issues. Cain’s upbeat personality has moved him to the front of the Republican field, but he remains a work in progress as a prospective president. Repeatedly he has fallen back on the claim that because he doesn’t have all the information that a president has, he cannot say what he would do about certain problems.
His signature issue is his 9-9-9 tax plan, which has found a receptive audience among potential Republican voters. But he has struggled to fend off criticism that the plan would add a 9 percent sales tax on top of sales taxes people already are paying and that the overall proposal would produce far less revenue than he claims.
His response has been to criticize the critics for not understanding his plan. On the revenue estimates, it is Cain’s word, or campaign analysis, versus a series of others that disagree. On the impact of a national sales tax, it is Cain’s contention that there would be a general deflation in the cost of goods because hidden taxes would disappear in favor of his tax.
He has stumbled on foreign policy, either out of lack of knowledge or lack of clarity in his views. The latest examples came this week in the midst of the sexual harassment crisis. On Tuesday night, he was interviewed by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News and ended up in a verbal joust with the host over his foreign policy views.
Cain called the Middle East the biggest area of concern in the world. O’Reilly asked him what he would do about Iran. “Let me tell you what I wouldn’t be doing in Iraq,” he said. “And that is, I wouldn’t be announcing and telling our enemy that we are going to pull out of Iraq.”