Fallout from the Cain controversy

Herman Cain allegedly sexually harassed two female employees during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association, and both women received financial settlements that prevent them from speaking on the subject. If true, it’s obviously unacceptable behavior and speaks to the character — or perhaps lack thereof — of this leading Republican presidential candidate.

I can’t speak to whether the allegations are accurate — the Politico report certainly seems well sourced and documented — but it’s been fascinating to watch the trajectory of the Cain campaign’s response. Cain, for example, didn’t deny the charges. A Cain campaign statement didn’t deny the charges. A Cain spokesperson appeared on Fox News and didn’t deny the charges.

The Associated Press eventually got a denial, but it wasn’t an especially strong one.

Cain’s campaign told the AP that the allegations were not true, and amounted to unfair attacks. […]

Asked if Cain’s campaign was denying the report, [spokesman J.D. Gordon] said, “Yes.”

“These are baseless allegations,” Gordon said in a second interview later Sunday evening. “To my knowledge, this is not an accurate story.”

“To my knowledge” would appear to leave a little wiggle room, just in case.

So, what happens now? The Cain campaign is either lying about the candidate’s alleged misconduct or it’s not. And with the two accusers restricted by their settlement agreements from speaking, it’s possible Cain and his team feel like they can weather the storm without new details emerging. We’ll see.

But the larger political storm is just starting to brew. Cain’s reaction to direct questions yesterday — after being asked four times about the allegations, he sighed, glared at a reporter, stayed silent, and refused to respond — signaled to reporters everywhere that the Republican candidate has a real problem on his hands.

As for efforts to blame the “liberal” media, this may have some salience in GOP circles, but it’s not much of a strategy. For one thing, Politico hardly leans to the left. For another, the article was co-authored by a reporter who used to work for National Review. (Part of me wonders if it was members of the Republican establishment who leaked this, just to make Cain go away.)

What’s less clear is whether rank-and-file Republican voters will care. There’s reason to believe they won’t — the GOP has a track record of looking the other way when sexual misconduct allegations affect their own (Vitter, Clarence Thomas, et al).