Herman Cain is now under assault by a key group that boosted his fortunes: the conservative media. Yesterday, Cain’s muddled comments on abortion surfaced. Later in the day he tried to walk them back. His campaign released this statement on Thursday:
Yesterday in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, I was asked questions about abortion policy and the role of the President.
I understood the thrust of the question to ask whether that I, as president, would simply “order” people to not seek an abortion.
My answer was focused on the role of the President. The President has no constitutional authority to order any such action by anyone. That was the point I was trying to convey.
As to my political policy view on abortion, I am 100% pro-life. End of story.
I will appoint judges who understand the original intent of the Constitution. Judges who are committed to the rule of law know that the Constitution contains no right to take the life of unborn children.
I will oppose government funding of abortion. I will veto any legislation that contains funds for Planned Parenthood. I will do everything that a President can do, consistent with his constitutional role, to advance the culture of life.
That didn’t impress conservatives. Politico reported: “The fact that Herman Cain is prone to discordant statements on a single topic is not new, but it is new to people who are just tuning in to him as a candidate since his rise in the polls. . . . Iowa radio host Steve Deace cut to it today in a column looking at Cain’s inconsistencies on a range of issues.”
The blowback was particularly strong in Iowa, as Jon Ward reports, his original comments defending the “choice” of families to decide these issues is not sitting well with the critical block of social conservative voters:
“That is a pro-choice position,” Bob Vander Plaats, a social conservative leader in Iowa, told The Huffington Post. “It’s not where we’re at on the issue and it’s not where a lot of caucus-goers are at on the life issue. They believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned.”
Other Iowa activists ranged from angry to rattled by his comments:
“[It] hurts him,” Ann Trimble-Ray, an Iowa activist who works for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), said in an e-mail. “It will cause his current wave to die sooner than it would otherwise.”
Another Iowa Republican operative said that there are “troubled waters ahead” for Cain but said “he has time to clean it up.”
Craig Robinson, a former Iowa GOP official who now runs a political blog in the state, wrote: “Basically, Cain’s position as a candidate is that of pro-abortion activists. The government has no right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.”
Outside Iowa the conservative press was scathing. On the Washington Examiner’s Web site, Charlie Spiering asked, “Cain’s Fred Thompson moment on abortion?” He was referring to the disastrous 2008 presidential run by the former Tennessee senator , and specifically to a “Meet the Press” appearance in which he suggested that states should be allowed to set their own rules for abortion. Spiering commented: “Herman Cain might think his abortion comments won’t undercut his ‘100% pro-life’ record, but he should move quickly or face the full wrath of social conservatives. Cain’s biggest mistake was using a liberal argument to defend his pro-life views against seemingly harsh government restrictions on abortion.”
To make matters worse, John McCormack at the Weekly Standard found, “ During a recent appearance on John Stossel’s Fox Business show, Cain’s remarks on abortion were even more befuddling.” In that outing Cain had this exchange:
“I don’t think government should make that decision,” Cain said, in reference to abortion. Cain added that abortion in the case of rape is a woman’s choice.
“So abortion should be legal?” Stossel asked.
“No, abortion should not be legal,” Cain replied.
Whatever he thinks, it is fairly obvious he can’t consistently articulate his own position, or the position conservatives want to hear, under pressure. Cain perhaps never intended to do this well in the presidential race. But now that he has, he is facing ferocious criticism that may dim his star in conservative circles. If the point of the campaign was really (as many suspect) to raise his profile, sell books and raise his speaking fees, he may have become a victim of his own success.