Everything Is Working Out for Herman Cain

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Herman Cain, not making his infamous hand gesture. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The question of whether the Herman Cain sexual harassment story will hurt his presidential campaign sort of misses the point that there is no Herman Cain presidential campaign. There are certain things you do when you run for president. You try to raise a lot of money. Cain is not doing that. If you can’t raise a lot of money, you campaign heavily in early primary states, trying to get some early success that can snowball into later primaries. Cain isn’t doing that, either. You hire a staff of political operatives. You at least pretend to know something about world affairs. You try to attract as many people as possible to your events. Cain, by contrast, frequently charges admission.

Cain is executing a business plan. It’s an excellent plan. The plan involves Cain raising his profile as a conservative personality, which he can monetize through motivational speaking, book sales, talk shows, and other media. Cain’s selling point is that he’s a black conservative who can capitalize on the sense of white racial victimization that has mushroomed during the Obama era. Accordingly, Cain assures conservatives that they are not racist, as proven by their support for him. Indeed, it is the liberals who are racist, as evidenced by their opposition to Cain.

If Cain were campaigning to be president, the scandal would hurt him. Since he is instead campaigning to boost his profile, it will help him.

Cain is exploiting a loophole which allows a person to declare their candidacy for president, and then attract free media coverage and participate in nationally televised debates simply because the media can’t prove that they’re not really trying to win. The actual presidential candidates seem to understand this. That’s why they have spared him the vicious attacks that a putative front-runner might be expected to attract, and completely avoided jumping on the latest scandal. If they were worried about Cain winning the nomination, they would be using the issue to sow doubts about him with women and Republican elites concerned about electability.

Instead, the vacuum has been filled with right-wingers rallying to Cain’s defense. Here we have Cain pitted against the dread liberal media, targeting him for his race. Rush Limbaugh announces:

"What's next, folks? A cartoon on MSNBC showing Herman Cain with huge lips eating a watermelon? What are they gonna do next? No, Snerdley, I'm not kidding. The racial stereotypes that these people are using to go after Herman Cain, what is the one thing that it tells us? It tells us who the real racists are, yeah, but it tells us that Herman Cain is somebody. Something's going on out there. Herman Cain obviously is making some people nervous for this kind of thing to happen."


Cain is not actually making anybody nervous, save perhaps his female underlings. But before this week, the one element missing from Cain’s profile was persecution by the liberal media. In the minds of the most conservative Republicans — which is to say, Cain’s customers — the sexual harassment story proves his importance and his virtue.