There are some fairly significant unanswered questions surrounding Herman Cain and allegations of sexual harassment. For example, did he do what he’s accused of doing? Is Cain willing to let his accusers speak publicly? And why has he changed his story so many times?

Cain’s handling of the matter has offered crisis-management textbook writers a new case study on what not to do, culminating in desperate attacks accusing just about everyone of racism — because to accurately note that a Republican presidential candidate was accused of harassment is, apparently, necessarily evidence of bigotry.

As Cain’s responses swing back and forth between incoherent and offensive, yesterday the Republican presidential candidate decided he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.

The issue did not come up at all during the 90-minute Saturday night debate with Newt Gingrich, sponsored by a local tea party group. But reporters after the event began asking him about the reports of his inappropriate behavior at the National Restaurant Association — and Cain initially dismissed them, saying, “Don’t even go there.” […]

When asked again why he would not answer questions on the topic, Cain still refused to answer, referring the reporters in question to his chief of staff, Mark Block.

“Where’s my chief of staff?” Cain said. “Please send him the journalistic code of ethics.”

Here’s a tip for the candidate: those accused of sexual harassment, who’ve been caught with contradictory explanations, who’ve casually thrown around accusations of bigotry without proof, and who started parsing the meaning of the word “settlement,” probably shouldn’t be lecturing others on “ethics.”

Campaign reporters, doing their job, pressed on. One asked, “Mr. Cain, do you think you can just not answer questions about the sexual harassment claims?” Another asked, “Are you never going to answer questions about this ever again, Mr. Cain?”

That appears to be the plan. It’s quite a trajectory, isn’t it? Learn that a bombshell is coming, fail to prepare, stumble with the initial response, change the story, wildly point fingers in contradictory directions, accuse everyone of racism without grounds, and then decide to take the ball and go home.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.