Upon cracking open the Washington Post home page early Tuesday morning, I counted no less than eleven stories about GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain's not good very bad day on Monday. That bad day started with a Politico article detailing two separate incidents of accused sexual harassment leveled at Cain in the 1990s. Before anyone had a chance to decide whether or not the charges had merit, Mr. Cain and his people took the report and transmogrified it into the one thing the Washington press corps loves above all else: a juicy cover-up story.
To wit: Mr. Cain and his people changed their minds about how to respond to the Politico report, quite literally, every fifteen minutes or so. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo succinctly summed up the run of the Cain crew's reaction throughout the day: "1. Politico allegations are false. Story is crap; 2. Yes, there were allegations. But they were false; 3. Yes there were allegations that were false and I don't know what money was paid; 4. I don't know whether money was paid. And it would be wrong for me to find out whether money was paid because it's confidential; 5. There was a in-depth investigation. And I was cleared. But I don't know anything about it; 6. Here's the gesture that led to my getting accused of harassment; 7. Okay, I remember some discussion of a settlement number."
Yeah, it really was exactly that bad...but believe it or not, it got worse, and on Fox News of all places. Mr. Cain went on with Greta Van Susteren to deny the whole sordid mess, to finally throw a rope around the stampeding herd of replies he and his campaign staffers had let out of the pen, and to stake out his final position on why these bad things were happening to him: "I'm in the top tier," stated candidate Cain. "A lot of people have a problem with the fact that I'm doing so well and I'm so likable." Amidst the denials and re-frames Mr. Cain spun on Fox, however, was his interesting take on the whys and wherefores of sexual harassment. "I believe I have a good sense for where you cross the line relative to sexual harassment," said Cain, "but you have to know the lady, the individual."
You know, or not.
Reaction to this insta-mess, even amid all the confusion, has been predictable. The right-leaning press has claimed it is all a hit job on Mr. Cain, which is amusing given the rightward tilt Politico displays in nearly everything it does. There have even been charges of institutional racism leveled against the mainstream media, with some right-side pundits even dusting off the fine old enmities of the Clarence Thomas wars of yore. These cries of racism might have been the best part, seeing as how they came from some of the same people who have spent the last three years arguing that the so-called "liberal media" helped elect Barack Obama in the first place. From the rest of the press, there was essentially a widening of the eyes, an attempt to get a grip on a story that changed with the winding of the clock thanks to the flailing responses of the principal character, and a subtle licking of the chops as they waited to see what fresh campaign calamities Tuesday might bring.
Word on the street has been that Mr. Cain doesn't really have a true campaign per se. Well, he'd better build himself one, like, today...and the first act of his newly-minted campaign should be to throw a bag over the candidate and lock him in a room without phones or other means of communication, so as to keep him from lobbing any more verbal hand grenades into his own roadshow.
Mitt Romney is licking his chops right now. First Newt Gingrich streaked across the sky like a meteor, only to crash back to Earth with a mighty "Derp." Then The Donald did the same, but with a comedy quotient that was greater by orders of magnitude. Then came Michele Bachmann, who stomped the terra for a little while before everyone, including a lot of Tea Partiers, finally realized just exactly how crazy she really is. Then came Rick Perry, and for a month he was the Great White Hope, firing the hearts and minds of Tea Partiers by coming off even more shallow and callow than George W. Bush...until he hit the debates like a bug into a windshield, at which point Mr. Cain became the flavor of the week, until Monday's self-inflicted debacle. Mitt might be smug now, but he'd better watch his step; bad luck appears to be stalking the Republican field like a lion in the veldt.
If this is the preamble to the actual campaign, I can't wait for the primaries to start.