Monday Morning Politics: Cain Stained, Super Committee Struggles

Monday, October 31, 2011

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain addresses an audience at AEI(American Enterprise Institute) for Public Policy Research on October 31, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer ShowUSA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page rounded up national politics from the weekend, and looked forward at what's coming this week.

Scandals by the slice

Herman Cain continues to lead the pack of presidential hopefuls, but with two potential scandals surfacing in the past week, doubts about the shelf life of his candidacy linger.

The first such "scandal" came when Cain's team released a web ad that featured his campaign manager smoking a cigarette. It was bizarre, but far from a campaign-killer. Susan Page suspected that most voters who are drawn to Herman Cain probably wouldn't mind that his ad included a smoking man. Callers to The Brian Lehrer Show proved her right.

The other scandal doesn't need quotation marks around it: Politico reported over the weekend that two female employees of the National Restaurant Association brought charges of sexual harassment against Herman Cain while he was running the organization in the late '90s. The National Restaurant Association allegedly gave the women a financial settlement and avoided going to court, but Cain's camp has so far refused to comment on the matter.

Brian Lehrer wondered, if there had been a settlement, whether Cain may be legally prohibited from speaking about the harassment charges publicly. Susan Page didn't buy it.

I don't think that passses the common sense-o-meter test. A presidential candidate—the leading Republican candidate—can't address a major issue that allegedly happened in his career?...It's credible that the women cant talk about it or the National Restaurant Association can't talk about it, but I believe Herman Cain will have to talk about it.

The vetting process

Cain's response: This is just the Beltway media taking shots at the hottest candidate. When Rick Perry burst on to the scene, he was Republican enemy number one. Now that the Texas governor's star has faded, reporters are looking for a Cain albatross à la Perry's unfortunately-named hunting camp.

Page said that such digging is reserved for candidates who hang around a long time and appear to have a real shot at taking the nomination. That Cain has done both of these things is a big surprise.

This is part of a vetting process for a candidate who has done better than any of us expected. Herman Cain has really defied the expectations of political reporters who didn't take him seriously even as he was rising in the polls. We were slow to recognize the appeal he had with the Republican electorate. Now he's beating Rick Perry in a poll in Texas.

How it hurts Cain in Iowa

If the scandal proves true, would it endanger Cain's long-term chances? Susan Page said it was definitely possible, given a primary schedule that gives conservative, evangelical Republicans in Iowa the first say.

Sexual harassment is offensive to everybody, but one thing we know about the Iowa caucuses is how many evangelical Christians and social conservatives go...This is the kind of issue that they will take seriously.

Before the story broke, the most recent Iowa poll showed Cain out in front, a trend that Page said could be reversed by the revelation. At this point in the campaign, and given the field of candidates to choose from, staying on top is a delicate balancing act.

Nothing is settled. 75 percent of likely caucus-goers say they might change their mind. This is not a field that has been cooked...I think [the scandal] could make this poll instantly out of date.

Meanwhile, in Washington...

The media loves a sex scandal, but there are bigger fish to fry on the horizon. Remember that debt reduction super committee that's supposed to save our country from financial ruin? Did you know their deadline, which, if missed, will trigger deep and mandatory spending cuts across the board, is less than a month away?

Yeah, it doesn't look great. Susan Page said that given how far apart Republicans and Democrats remain on the issues, it would be remarkable for a deal to be struck by Thanksgiving. But that doesn't mean Congress will hold themselves accountable and suffer the consequences.

The next Congress could decide that they want to change the provisions of the deal that was struck that set up the super committee. I think we're a long way away. It's one of the things that keeps the penalties from inaction from being as draconian as they might seem.


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Comments [19]

Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Susan is surprised by the success of Cain?

I know this will seem like patronizing, liberal blather but I think that Cain's popularity is a direct result of the media's "out of touchedness" with the mind of the American voter. (or alternatively, the American voters ability to make decisions on something other than reality).

Rather than focus on facts and the reporting that reflects reality, most media outlets - USA Today, NPR and WNYC included - focus more on the circus than the substance. As a result, people are left to think whatever they like with little or no consequences. Until, of course, they enter the voting booth and have to deal with the consequences of that vote (or that non-vote viz. Wisconsin and Ohio).

Like climate change, which makes the environment seem to run like an engine without a flywheel - our political discourse is controlled more by social media and gossip. Another cost of the Internet where there's plenty of room to create and comment but very little editing.

Oct. 31 2011 10:44 AM

How is anyone surprised at any Republican hopeful that does reasonably well. After all the awful people we've seen gain traction, how is Herman Cain's popularity surprising compared to Palin or others?

Oct. 31 2011 10:33 AM
Dorothy from NYC

If Cain's smoking ad is meant to convey his support for personal freedom, does he support all women's rights to have an abortion?

Oct. 31 2011 10:29 AM
David from Greenpoint

We should boycott the Metropolitian Museum of Art that houses the great works of 15th - 18th century French art, since the Kings harrassed and abused women. They probably smoked as well.

Oct. 31 2011 10:26 AM
marco from New York

Most Americans can't find Iraq on a map so don't expect them to ponder more substantive issues. The smoking issue is particularly idiotic...listening Mr. President?

Oct. 31 2011 10:25 AM
Ken from Little Neck

The more I think about this, the more I think this ad was specifically designed to keep the spotlight on Cain by any means necessary. Last week he put out his 9-9-9 plan which sounded nice (if you didn't think about it too much) but once people actually looked at it, they realized it was a joke. That joke is the only even remotely concrete piece of policy that Cain has proposed. Herman Cain is in this race to sell Herman Cain, and has absolutely nothing of substance to say. Once he runs out of marketing gimmicks, he'll be out of the race very soon thereafter.

Oct. 31 2011 10:24 AM

Is it at all surprising that people are finding it easier to become righteously indignant over the image of a Cain employee smoking than to tackle the topic of the tobacco lobby's influence on American electoral politics?

Oct. 31 2011 10:24 AM
Jerry from LES

I dunno why anyone is having this discussion, if you pay attention to anything you will know Mitt Romney has already sealed the deal with Wall Street.

It IS cooked.

Oct. 31 2011 10:23 AM
Nez from New York

Your caller believes Cain's ad says that people should be people and that responsible adults can make their own decisions, yet Cain does not support the right to choose in regards to abortion -- he clearly thinks adults can not make a responsible decision on that issue.

Oct. 31 2011 10:23 AM
TJ from Queens

So, considering the Politico releases regarding sexual harassment charges against Cain, it is no surprise that Herman Cain thinks Clarence Thomas is the kind of justice he would appoint were he President.

Oct. 31 2011 10:21 AM

smoking is no big deal now, but through more taxes and higher insurance, we are the ones who pay the millions of dollars for the hospital bills after they die. it's not about the smokings; it's about all of the surgery, chemo, and radiation that smokers need in their last years. no wonder smokers don't care - it's the rest of us who have to pay their tab. you can't smoke and still say you're a fiscal conservative - polar opposites!

Oct. 31 2011 10:20 AM
Willy from the epicenter of hipness

Isn't Cain's advt is a brilliant comment on the Pres. who is a [closeted] smoker.

Oct. 31 2011 10:20 AM
keren from Hamilton Heights

Agree with Dan....
Can we please cover some real news...?

Let's talk about Cain's 999 or about the economy...

Oct. 31 2011 10:18 AM
John from office

Wow, you can admit to smoking pot or doing coke as a kid, but if you smoke, it is the end of the world.

Oct. 31 2011 10:18 AM
Phoebe from Bushwick

The idea that anyone smoking on tv is inherently bad is ridiculous. I am not a Caine supporter (or a republican) nor am I a smoker, but I have a problem with this kind of censorship. People smoke in this country. They have a right to smoke. It is not illegal. It should not need to be a closeted activity.

Oct. 31 2011 10:15 AM
john from office.

It will be so sad to have Obama lose to the cast of charactors on the republican side. Not one of these guys can hold Obama's coat.

Oct. 31 2011 10:14 AM
Robert from NYC

I certainly do not support this Cain guy but I think this smoking thing is a bit much. You know if someone smokes they smoke and i understand the concern of Bob but I agree that if someone smokes so be it. You know this smokers = murderers is a bit much and it's not quite that bad but it's getting close to it.

Oct. 31 2011 10:13 AM
JoeM from Brooklyn

Didn't the Restaurant Lobby lobby by proxy for the Tobacco Lobby in those days?

Oct. 31 2011 10:12 AM
Arthur Aptowitz from Forest Hills, NY

Please don't "try to make sense of this." The Republican primary is the best (Reality) show on TV. Don't take this seriously. Our TV news became entertainment years ago, now its our politics.
Do you really want to hear nine months of a robotic Romney only?

Oct. 31 2011 10:12 AM

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