Businessman Herman Cain’s performance at his much-anticipated news conference on Tuesday was the best that his supporters could hope for.
If you went into Tuesday liking and supporting Cain, you almost certainly woke up this morning in about the same place.
Of course, the opposite was also true. Said Steve Schmidt, who managed Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, of Cain: “He is far more likely to be seen on next season’s ‘Dancing with the Stars’ than in a general election debate.”
But establishment skepticism for Cain isn’t really his biggest problem as he tries to weather a controversy that is now entering its 11th day. Cain’s real problem is the lack of any real national organization working on his behalf.
What that means is that in one-off settings like the press conference — or Cain’s Tuesday sitdown with ABC’s Jonathan Karl — he can hold his own.
But, without a broader Cain organization 1) driving a steady message, 2) pushing back on anyone who speaks out against him, 3) making sure there are surrogates on television to speak up for him, and 4) conducting a deep dive into his background to ensure there are no more surprises out there, it’s hard to see how Cain emerges from all of this in a position of strength.
Compare how McCain and his team handled a 2008 New York Times story that alleged a too-close relationship between the senator and a Republican lobbyist, with Cain’s handling of these harassment allegations.
From the moment the Times story hit the web, Schmidt and a cadre of other McCain surrogates were on the television airwaves denouncing it. McCain’s campaign was sending out reams of (digital) paper with documentation insisting that the story had missed the mark. It was an absolute political full-court press. And largely, it worked.
Cain, by comparison, seemed caught by surprise by the initial Politico story — though the organization had reached out to him repeatedly for his side of the story — and meandered through a number of different explanations (and moods) over the past 10 days or so. (The latest example: Campaign manager Mark Block wrongly accusing Josh Kraushaar — formerly of Politico — of being related to Cain accuser Karen Kraushaar on Tuesday night. Amazing.)
The pushback from his side — in terms of contesting the actual facts of the allegations — has been minimal, although Cain’s campaign did put out a release on Tuesday that sought to cast Bialek as serially litigious and someone who has struggled to hold down a steady job.
Cain has long taken his unorthodox approach to presidential politics as a point of pride — and did so again on Tuesday. “This is another difference between the Cain campaign and what we’re doing and how I’m doing it than the typical expectations,” Cain told Karl. “My candidacy is unconventional.”
But the same unconventional approach that has captured the imagination of Republican voters looking for something different now threatens to handcuff Cain as he tries to fight through this controversy.
“He’s an exciting outsider, [but] he’s not ready to be president,” said Ari Fleischer, a GOP consultant and former press secretary to President George W. Bush.
Election recap: For those who didn’t stay up with The Fix’s live blog on Tuesday night, you missed out.
Here’s a quick recap of the big headlines:
Big ad buy against Sherrod Brown: The conservative retiree group 60-Plus is going up with a $750,000 ad buy against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), starting tomorrow.
The TV and online ads hits Brown for voting in favor of what the group is calling a “Medicare IRS” — a.k.a. the Independent Payment Advisory Board. The group says the board has unchecked power to determine doctor payments and, therefore, what treatments patients receive.
The ad can be found at www.NoMedicareIRS.com.
60-Plus bills itself as the conservative alternative to the AARP.
Hilton Hotels won’t confirm or deny details of Bialek’s hotel reservation — and Cain’s alleged upgrade of her room.
Keep an eye on this: Cain said Tuesday that he would take a lie detector test — at some point.
Rick Perry speaks out against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
An Arizona court declines to reinstate the chairwoman of the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission, who was ousted by Republicans.
“Mitt Romney at a crossroads on Iowa Republican caucuses strategy” — Philip Rucker, Washington Post