Monday, October 31, 2011

Cain Mini-Scandal

I suppose I should do a post on the day's big story, that  Herman Cain apparently sexually harassed two employees in the 1990s. Fortunately, I've waited a bit so all the good comments have been made already, and I can mostly just point you to them.

Paul Waldman is right, I think, that this story is unlikely to hurt Cain's future earnings in his career of exploiting the conservative marketplace, which is for Cain probably the biggest question, given that he wasn't going to be the nominee either way. Indeed, I think Steve Kornacki is correct that if anything the story stands to make Cain even more popular with conservatives.

However. It is possible that some GOP elites were starting to wonder if there wasn't something about Cain that they should start believing in, in the way that many Democratic party leaders in fall 2003 started wondering whether perhaps Howard Dean was a serious candidate after all. If so -- and I don't really see any evidence of it, but it could be happening -- then this scandal, even if it totally fizzles out and even if it temporarily helps Cain in the polls, is apt to be treated by them as a reminder of the dangers of unvetted candidates.

That is, the logic driving those party actors such as politicians and governing professionals is at least in part pragmatic: they care about winning the general election (because their jobs depend on the party doing well). At the same time, they don't want to be the last one on a (successful) bandwagon, and there's always a lot of uncertainty about who is going to win the nomination. Insiders don't necessarily know more than outsiders about that! So when something unusual happens -- and surely someone with Cain's credentials leading in early polls is unusual, whatever else it is -- some party insiders are going to be confident in their judgment that it's just a meaningless blip, while others are going to wonder if there's more to it, and worry about what if they're missing something important...politicians are always worrying that they're missing something important going on in the electorate, and in particular Republican politicians in 2011 are even more spooked than usual about Tea Partiers and GOP primary electorates. But then again, no one wants to jump on a bandwagon that's not really there.

The other piece of this is that breaking stories can be a lot less important than they seem in the first 24 hours. It's hard, without more information, to know whether this will stick with Cain forever or whether it'll wind up mostly forgotten, even by the Iowa caucuses.

1 comment:

  1. There's a new story that Cain may have violated campaign finance laws too: http://www.jsonline.mobi/watchdog/noquarter/state-firms-cash-to-herman-cain-may-breach-federal-campaign-tax-laws-132898423.html.

    Since Cain may not have had a lot of professional help in mounting and running his campaign, it would not be surprising if he got tripped up on election law, which is pretty arcane, even for specialists.

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