Herman Cain's surprising resilience: 6 theories

Not even a highly publicized sexual harassment scandal can knock Cain from the top of the GOP presidential polls. What's his secret?

All week, headlines screamed the news that GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain was accused of sexual harassment by three women in the 1990s, and yet, he's still on top of the polls.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Even as potentially damaging details about past sexual harassment allegations continue to dog Herman Cain, the GOP presidential frontrunner's political fortunes are actually improving. Since Politico reported late Sunday that two employees accused Cain of sexual harassment during his tenure leading the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, Cain's campaign has raised at least $1.2 million. A new Rasmussen poll of Republican voters conducted Wednesday night put Cain in front of the GOP field for the first time, with 26 percent to Mitt Romney's 23 percent. Similarly, a Washington Post-ABC poll conducted after the scandal broke shows Romney (24 percent) and Cain (23 percent) in a virtual tie atop the GOP field. At this rate, "if Romney wants to wind this thing up, he needs to sleep with a staffer," quips Heather (Digby) Parton at Hullaballoo. How is Cain not only weathering this storm, but thriving in it? Here, six theories:

1. Republicans just really like him — and hate the media

"Many conservatives around the country see this as an attack by the liberal press on a prominent black conservative," says Michael Barone at National Review. And "they're correct" about the liberal media's double standards. But more importantly, GOP voters continue to "back him because he seems conservative, articulate, and likable." In that case, says Rich Lowry at National Review, Cain should get "out of Washington and... in front of real voters who are much less likely to obsess about this story than Washington-based journalists."

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2. He's playing the "race card" brilliantly

Cain generally hates the "race card," and thinks nobody should ever use it, says David Weigel at Slate. But now that he's in trouble, "he's searched under the couch cushions to find the card, brush it off, and shove it in the other guy's face." That has mostly worked "to Cain's advantage," says Joe Klein at TIME. Rush Limbaugh and other big conservatives have run with Cain's Clarence Thomas–"high tech lynching" comparisons. Accusing the media of smearing Cain with the "particularly toxic stereotype" of black man as sexual predator is clearly feeding "the self-righteous satisfaction some Republicans are getting from supporting a conservative black man for president."

3. He's also playing the humor card skillfully

Cain claims women have simply misunderstood his "irreverent sense of humor," which he's already used so winningly on the campaign trail, says the AP's Beth Fouhy. And as employment lawyers point out, that argument often works for accused harassers. Iowans, at least, "seem willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," says Kathie Obradovich at the Des Moines Register.

4. The allegations are too vague to catch fire

According to Rasmussen, only 13 percent of GOP primary voters think it's "very likely" that the allegations against Cain are "serious and true." And a Washington Post-ABC poll shows that seven in 10 GOP voters don't think the allegations should be a factor in picking a candidate. That's hardly surprising, says Aaron Goldstein at The American Spectator. "We still have nothing but rumor and innuendo," and Republicans "shouldn't be prepared to ruin a man's life, much less his political future, on the basis of thin air." Don't be surprised, says Allahpundit at Hot Air, if "come December, Politico will still be running airy pieces about what may or may not have happened, Cain will be at 50 percent against Romney, and he’ll have raised $20 million for the month."

5. The conservative media has Cain's back

"In the world of the Old Media this typical liberal media jihad would have succeeded," says Jeffrey Lord at The American Spectator. But in 2011, "Cain is getting the chance to make his case thanks in part to interviews" with conservative-friendly Sean Hannity and Co. "Rush is there to discuss. [Mark] Levin is there. Fox is there." And the most promising argument they're making for Cain, says Slate's Weigel, is that "they just don't think that the stuff Cain was accused of was all that bad. Sexual harassment claims are overblown." Those doubts will come in handy if the women break their silence.

6. The scandal just isn't sexy enough

Cain's thriving because "people don't care about sex scandals unless they are violent or freaky," says Grace Wyler at Business Insider. Bill Clinton, Sen. David Vitter, Arnold Schwarzenegger — "American voters are surprisingly forgiving" of garden-variety heterosexual affairs. "Unless the Cain allegations get much more salacious," he'll probably continue to skate. Seriously, Politico, says Hot Air's Allahpundit, it takes skill to make an "alleged scandal about a presidential frontrunner be boring."

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