Opinion writer

Herman Cain denies that he sexually harassed women over the years, but there’s no disputing the rude thing he did last week to a man.

After Karen Kraushaar came forward as one who accused the Republican presidential candidate of workplace misconduct, Cain’s chief of staff, Mark Block, told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that “we’ve come to find out that her son works at Politico” — the publication that first reported on the sexual harassment allegations against Cain.

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

“You’ve confirmed that now, right?” Hannity asked.

“We confirmed it that he does indeed work at Politico, and that’s his mother, yes,” Block said.

In reality, Josh Kraushaar has not worked at Politico for 17 months — and he isn’t related to Karen Kraushaar.

As I watched the Cain campaign execute this bluff, I was reminded of George W. Bush’s campaign vow to follow the Clinton presidency with an era of “personal responsibility,” a time when people would no longer think that “if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else.”

The era of personal responsibility, if it ever began, has surely ended with the 2012 Republican presidential campaigns. The candidates blame the media, the elites, the Democrats, the government and each other for their problems, but never themselves. In essence, Republicans are now playing the sort of identity politics they deplore when the Democrats do it; they are pretending they are a persecuted minority, discriminated against because of race, religion and culture.

After Texas Gov. Rick Perry essentially ended his presidential aspirations at Wednesday’s Republican debate, flailing, and failing, to remember the third of three Cabinet departments he would dismantle, he promptly blamed the media, and the federal government, for his “oops” moment. “Just goes to show there are too damn many federal agencies,” his campaign wrote in an e-mail. The e-mail asked supporters to look ahead “while the media froths over this.”

This is the same Rick Perry whose wife said, as her husband plunged in polls because of his weak debate performances, that the couple was “being brutalized by our opponents and our own party. So much of that is, I think, they look at him because of his faith.” Asked about that charge of anti-religion bigotry, Perry said: “I’ll stand by my wife.”

Newt Gingrich, in turn, sees benefit in blaming the media for his problems. At Wednesday’s debate, he continued his practice of attacking the moderators, mocking one of the CNBC questioners and claiming that the media “doesn’t report accurately” on the economy. He also accused moderators at a Fox News debate of asking “gotcha” questions, and he told a moderator from Politico that he was “frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each ­other.”

Among the others in this conservative field, blame has been liberally spread. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has blamed problems with his “Romneycare” health reforms on his successor, a Democrat. Before he quit the race, Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, likewise blamed his Democratic successor for budget problems he left behind. Pawlenty’s fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann has gone further afield, blaming Washington politicians for an earthquake and a hurricane. Just joking, her staff said.

But none has a blame game quite like Cain’s. When the allegations of sexual harassment first arose, he blamed the accusers for failing to get his “sense of humor.” Then he blamed a “witch hunt.” Then he claimed it was “the Perry campaign that stirred this up.” (The Perry campaign, in turn, blamed Romney.) Cain moved on to blame “the D.C. culture” for his troubles, before blaming “the Democrat machine in America.” Naturally, he blamed the media, winning cheers at the debate for complaining about the press trying him “in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations.”

Cain even played the same race card that he condemned Democrats for using, claiming that he was victimized because he’s “a black conservative.” A group of Cain supporters alleged a “high-tech lynching,” and commentator Ann Coulter blamed Obama strategist David Axelrod for spreading the sexual harassment allegations.

As if Democrats don’t dream of having Cain as the GOP nominee. But logic plays a small role in this new era of blame. Wrote the falsely accused Josh Kraushaar last week: “I can say from personal experience that it takes a blatantly inaccurate personal smear for the Cain campaign to own up to its mistakes.”

Even then, you can’t be sure.

danamilbank@washpost.com