Surprise GOP presidential frontrunner Herman Cain was accused of inappropriate, "sexually suggestive behavior" by two female employees who worked for him during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, according to a "devastating" report published Sunday night by Politico. Details on the specific allegations remain scant, but the two women were reportedly paid settlements to leave the trade association after these episodes. The Cain camp argues that Politico is "casting aspersions on [Cain's] character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts." On Fox News Monday morning, Cain acknowledged that the women had indeed accused him in the '90s, but called their allegations "totally baseless and totally false." How bad is this for Cain?
It's a bomb, but it can be defused: This is serious, says Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice. The damning allegations are apparently well-sourced and thoroughly vetted. But this bombshell doesn't have to spell the end of Cain's campaign. If he attempts to "defuse the charges head on" with specific answers to every question asked, the story will fade. Attacking Politico might seem smart since that strategy "will play well to the party's conservative base," which loves to discredit the supposedly liberal media, but it will only open Cain up to more scrutiny, essentially "inviting the media" to dig up more dirt. If Cain is swift, smart, and honest, he can still make this go away.
"The Politico breaks Herman Cain scandal"
Actually, this could ruin Cain: It may not matter whether these allegations are even true, says Ed Driscoll at Pajamas Media. "It's the attack that counts," especially with relatively disengaged voters who may only remember the screaming headline. The Cain campaign's response will be key to determining how damaging this story will be — and so far, Team Cain's "awful," muddled response does not inspire confidence. A long-winded rebuttal on TV by Cain's spokesman Sunday night, for instance, "did nothing to stop his employer's potential hemorrhaging."
"The Politico draws first blood"
C'mon. This is a transparent attack by the liberal media: Just like the shameful accusations against Clarence Thomas in 1991, this is another "high-tech lynching"of a conservative black man conducted by members of the liberal media, says Jeffrey Lord at The American Spectator. When Bill Clinton faced the Lewinsky sex scandal during his second term, his defenders argued that "these kind of charges were only about sex," and not relevant to his political job. But when a conservative black candidate is accused by anonymous women of "inappropriate behavior," it's considered enough to keep him out of the Oval Office? What a double standard.
"High-tech lynching: The sequel starring Herman Cain"
If anything, this proves Cain is for real: It's no coincidence that someone leaked this story to Politico now, says Erick Erickson at Red State. It's an indicator that Cain's rivals are taking his "very real" polling lead seriously. In past GOP nominating fights, "we have never seen a candidate publicly vetted... like this." The closest comparison is Mike Huckabee in 2008, who faced "a never ending media attack" as rival GOP campaigns were caught off guard by Huckabee's success, and dished dirt to the media to squelch Huckabee's surge. It's clear that some establishment figures "want to make sure Herman Cain cannot become Mike Huckabee for 2012."
"The oppo dump on Herman Cain begins in earnest"