Yesterday evening the Herman Cain sexual harassment debacle turned into a cut-rate potboiler when his chief of staff accused the campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry of outing his boss’s sexual harassment problems. Cain pointed to his former aide, Curt Anderson, who is now with the Perry camp, whom he said he told during his failed Senate run about one incident. Cain supporters also point to Chris Wilson, a former pollster for the National Restaurant Association and now with Perry’s superPAC, who came forward as a witness, he claimed, to a sexual harassment incident he witnessed in a Virginia restaurant.
Anderson and the Perry camp deny the claims. Wilson e-mailed me last night: “To be clear, and you can ask any of the reporters covering this story, I had nothing to do with leaking this in any way, and I’ve never discussed or shared this story with any of my clients — period.”
It’s unknowable for now (and maybe forever) if the Perry camp actually tried to move the story. Sure, he’d benefit substantially from Cain’s political demise, but the risk of involving himself in this sordid tale would have been great.
But the real point here is: So what?
If Perry’s camp did help surface a settlement case or two, is this any different than the normal oppo research that goes on in every campaign? It’s not like they hired a private eye or went snooping through Cain’s garbage; Allegedly, Cain’s behavior had been witnessed by lots and lots of people. Frankly, if he did so, he spared the Republican Party some grief by letting the cat out of the bag before primary voting began.
And more to the point, the source of the story is not relevant to evaluating Cain. It’s his behavior that voters should assess, both as an executive then and in handling a scandal now. The past few days have been horrendous for Cain, not merely (or primarily) because of the underlying allegations. He’s played the race card (how Perry fits into that scheme is unknown). He’s changed his story multiple times. He’s shown to be, at the very least, forgetful; at worst, a liar. Under pressure, he’s essentially wilted. So does it matter if Perry or someone else got the ball rolling? Hardly.
What this week has shown is that Cain lacks both knowledge (on China, terrorism, taxes, abortion) and self-awareness. He has a weird and incompetent staff. He lacks any feel for political communication in emergency situations. So if Perry did orchestrate this (and I find that hard to believe), he did the party and country a public service. Cain shouldn’t get near the White House, unless he’s on a public tour.