2) Running an outsider campaign like an amateur: Presidential politics is not for rookies — rookie candidates or rookie staffers. There’s a reason the same names manage campaigns every four years: they know how to do it. Cain never ran his campaign in a professional, strategic way, which rightly worried the GOP establishment and major donors. Eventually, his staffers’ inexperience caught up with them. I suspect Cain would say he didn’t hire high-priced operatives because he couldn’t afford them initially and he didn’t want to run a traditional campaign. That may be, but the results were tragic. Cain had no pollster. He had no media consultant. Several of his staff had spotty professional backgrounds. His campaign ads were widely ridiculed (remember the Mark Block smoking ad?). His communications team consisted of one very well-regarded but overworked staffer (Ellen Carmichael) for much of 2011. He failed to run field operations in the early states or build an in-house finance staff. His campaign resembled an upstart congressionalcampaign, not that of a GOP presidential frontrunner. When he had the chance to upgrade, he consistently chose not to — and he paid the price.
3) Failing crisis communications completely: It may be easy to blame the media for “attacking a conservative,” but to date five women have come forward. At some point, where there’s smoke there’s fire. The most damaging error that Cain’s campaign made was completely botching its response to the original Politico story. Politico reporter Jonathan Martin, among the best-sourced, hardest-working and most decent in the national press corps, gave the Cain campaign 10 days to respond to accusations that two former colleagues had accused him of “sexually suggestive” and “inappropriate” behavior while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. But the Cain campaign chose not to respond. Then, Martin publicly confronted Cain after a Sunday show interview to get his response — on the record. Unbelievably, Cain appeared to be totally unaware of the story. On top of that, the Cain campaign apparently didn’t even prepare for the story by developing timelines or nailing down what the candidate’s exact recollections were. Stunning incompetence. Once the story ran, the campaign repeatedly fumbled its response, with rolling disclosure, a story that changed and endless media hits where the candidate himself tried to explain what had or had not happened. His attacks on his accusers brought more accusers forward. His campaign’s awful response raised further questions about its professionalism and about Cain’s personal integrity, and sidetracked the campaign at a critical time.
4) Undermining his own credibility: Cain’s most valuable asset was his supporters’ intensity, which by August and early September was higher than that of any other candidate’s supporters. His supporters valued his straight talk and honesty, and they found him credible. But then Cain undermined his own credibility by repeatedly changing his story, which invited further investigations from national reporters. In the immediate aftermath of the story, his campaign also wrongly asserted: 1) that one accuser’s son worked for Politico and 2) that a Perry campaign operative, Curt Anderson, was directly responsible for leaking the information that generated the original Politico story (Anderson immediately denied the accusation, on air, in a very convincing fashion. That forced the Cain campaign to walk back the charge.). If Cain was guilty of anything — outright adultery, bad judgment, inappropriate comments or even just a wandering eye — his only hope was to admit it and move on. By denying it, launching false attacks, changing his story and utterly mishandling the public relations angle, he invited further scrutiny and lost his credibility. Once a candidate loses his credibility, nothing can bring it back.
Herman Cain has proven himself to be a rare talent in politics, with undeniable personal charisma, intelligence, experience and likability. His future in the Republican Party remains bright. His long-shot bid for the presidency caught the imagination of the American people for a moment, but that moment has long since passed.