Now that Herman Cain has risen to the top of GOP presidential polls, he's getting a lot more scrutiny than he did when he was treading water at the bottom. And as a result, statements and missteps that wouldn't matter if Cain were still a "political novelty act" are suddenly threatening to hurt his campaign. Here, seven of Cain's potentially damaging goof-ups:
1. His big book purchase
Team Cain recently reported that it had used more than $36,000 in campaign cash to buy copies of Cain's autobiography, This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House — along with other Cain-penned books and pamphlets — to hand out to his supporters. "Questions about the ethics aside," says Greg Howard at Slate, this news "is sure to bolster the opinion voiced by many of Cain's critics that the former Godfather's Pizza chief executive is more interested in selling books that winning the GOP nomination."
2. His idea for an electric fence on the Mexican border
Immigration advocates howled when Cain said the U.S. should put an electric fence on the Mexican border to kill illegal immigrants trying to cross. Cain later insisted he was joking — but that wasn't enough to keep a Latino Republican leader in Texas from leaving the party in protest. Then, after meeting with Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio ("America's Toughest Sheriff"), Cain flip-flopped again, revisiting the border fence idea, and saying that, yes, "it might be electrified."
3. His foreign policy gaffes
Cain is proud to say he's a businessman, not a career politician. But his lack of foreign policy experience has translated into some awkward interview moments. On Sunday's Meet the Press, Cain drew a blank on the neoconservative movement — even though it was the guiding principle behind the Bush administration's aggressive foreign policy. "I'm not sure what you mean by neoconservative," Cain told host David Gregory. And on Fox News Sunday earlier this year, Cain seemed confused by the controversial and well-known idea of the Palestinian "right of return" to Israeli territory. After wondering aloud "Right of return? Right of return?" Cain said, "Yes. They should have a right to come back if that is a decision that Israel wants to make." Unsurprisingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it's just "not going to happen."
4. His SimCity tax problem
Cain's signature policy proposal is his 9-9-9 plan, which calls for a flat 9 percent corporate, income, and national sales tax. The trouble is, Cain's plan is "almost exactly the same" as the default tax plan in SimCity 4, a 2003 computer game in which a player is the "mayor" of a make-believe city. What could be worse than the thought that a candidate got his tax plan from a game? "Running SimCity 4 on its default tax setting was a disaster waiting to happen," says Bridgette P. LaVictoire at Lez Get Real. Unless you used a cheat code, "you ran out of money pretty fast, in fact, and had to go deep into debt."
5. His theory about who killed Jesus
Last December, Cain described Jesus as "the perfect conservative" in a column he wrote for RedState. "He helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health care system. He fed the hungry without food stamps," Cain said. "For three years He was unemployed, and never collected an unemployment check." Then, Cain said, he was sentenced to death by a "liberal court." Simply "baffling," says Zaid Jilani at ThinkProgress.
6. His plan to ban Muslims from his cabinet
Cain was "on the upswing" once before earlier in the year, but stumbled partly due to the negative publicity he got when he said he wouldn't want Muslims to serve in his administration. Cain said he would insist that Muslims — but not people of other faiths — take an oath of loyalty to the U.S. "That's not discrimination. It's called trying to protect the American people," Cain said, as quoted by CNN. "This nation is under attack constantly by people who want to kill all of us, so I'm going to take extra precaution." After a flurry of criticism, Cain walked back his comments.
7. His willingness to negotiate with terrorists
Just this week, Cain made another "excruciating" walk-back, this time regarding an assertion that he'd free every Guantanamo Bay detainee if it meant saving a single American soldier, says Thomas Lane at Talking Points Memo. "I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer," Cain told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Mere hours later, after suffering a barrage of criticism, Cain reversed himself: "If I said that I spoke in error. Maybe I didn't understand the question."