What was Herman Cain thinking?

Herman Cain’s campaign was faltering anyway, but accusations from an Atlanta woman, who’s alleging a 13-year affair with the Republican presidential candidate, certainly won’t help.

The woman, Ginger White, made the disclosure in an interview with Fox 5 News in Atlanta, becoming the fifth person to accuse Mr. Cain of improper behavior. Ms. White is not, however, claiming that harassment took place. Rather, she described what amounted, in her words, to a romance.

“It was pretty simple,” Ms. White said. “It wasn’t complicated. I was aware that he was married. And I was also aware I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship.”

Ms. White showed the news station some of her cellphone bills that included 61 phone calls or text messages to and from a number she said was for Mr. Cain’s private cellphone. The contacts were made during four different months — as early as 4:26 a.m. and as late as 7:52 p.m. The most recent were in September.

Hoping to get ahead of the story, Cain appeared on CNN yesterday afternoon to acknowledge the allegations, but insist that he did not have an affair. How does Cain explain the 61 times he contacted White? The Republican says he was “trying to help her financially.”

If that seems hard to believe, it’s because the explanation is hard to believe.

According to the accuser’s version of events, during Cain’s tenure at the National Restaurant Association — the same position he held when he was repeatedly accused of sexual harassment — he began an adulterous affair with White, including flying her to meet him at various events. The relationship reportedly ended about eight months ago, when Cain began moving forward with his campaign plans.

White says she came forward in part because reporters who’d heard rumors were beginning to contact her, and in part because of how Cain and his campaign had mistreated the women who accused him of sexual harassment.

The story took an awkward turn when Cain’s lawyer issued a statement that didn’t deny the allegations, but instead argued that it’s no one’s business: “This appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults — a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public.”

This reinforced suspicions that the allegations are true, but it’s worth considering whether the lawyer’s statement has a point. There’s a reasonable case to be made that political candidates are entitled to some degree of privacy, and whether Cain engaged in a consensual, adulterous relationship is between him and his family. He wouldn’t be the first Republican adulterer to run for president, and the public has shown a fair amount of tolerance in this area. Politicians shouldn’t get away with sexual harassment — which directly speaks to a person’s professional conduct — but infidelity is quite different.

There are, however, some relevant angles to keep in mind in this instance. Part of Cain’s pitch to voters is that he’s a morally-righteous minister who celebrates traditional marriage. Bad judgment in one’s personal life is one thing; hypocrisy is another. Americans have shown far less patience for the latter.

What’s more, the question that I keep coming back to is why in the world Herman Cain even decided to run for president in the first place. He had to realize that the sexual misconduct allegations would surface eventually, which would prove humiliating to Cain and his family. He doesn’t seem to understand government or public policy; he’s never held public office at any level; he seems to have a Bush-like level of intellectual curiosity; and he appears to have a scandal-plagued personal life.

Cain realized all of this and decided to launch a presidential campaign anyway? What was he thinking?