Let's pretend, for a moment, that Herman Cain was never accused of sexual harassment by anyone. And let's ignore that his campaign thoroughly bungled its response to a potentially damaging story they knew was coming. With those generous hypotheticals in place, take a deep breath and watch the following clips of candidate Cain fielding questions from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board. (See Katie's post on this issue HERE). First, Cain was asked about the contentious fights in Wisconsin and Ohio over limits on collective bargaining privileges for state workers:
Over the course of two-and-a-half minutes, Cain expresses support for public employee collective bargaining, mistakenly suggests that federal employees already have the "right" to collectively bargain ("they already have it, don't they?"), and asserts that Ohio's recently defeated law went too far and "tried to get too much." Conservatives (rightly) challenged Mitt Romney when he seemed reluctant to embrace Gov. Kasich's law in the weeks leading up to the referendum vote. Romney quickly clarified his position, stating that he unequivocally supported the "Yes on Issue 2" position. In the clip above, Cain spoke as if he would have voted "no" on the same question -- and seems to favor extending these privileges to federal workers for the first time ever. What a dreadful response, even with his nebulous "undue burden" caveats. Here's a quick refresher on the law that Cain chalks up to conservative overreach, via Conn Carroll:
Kasich's new law: 1) bans government unions from bargaining over health insurance, 2) requires that all government union members pay at least 10% of their wages toward their pensions, 3) ends seniority rights as the sole factor in layoffs, 4) replaces seniority pay raises with merit pay raises, 5) bans government unions from striking, and 6) makes government union dues voluntary. But government unions would still be able to bargain about many other topics including pay and working conditions.
That's all a bridge too far, Cain says...for now. I suspect he'll walk his answer back any minute -- like he did on abortion, negotiating with terrorists, and the legality of taking out Anwar Al-Awlaki -- but the damage is done. And that wasn't even the most painful answer of the editorial session. This was:
The first 68 seconds of that response are agonizing to watch -- I dare say it's an even worse display than Rick Perry's infamous brain freeze in Michigan. Cain spends more than a full minute trying to remember exactly what Libya is, stammering, and blaming his false-start answers on the "stuff twirling around in my head." This uh-oh moment -- complete with panicked ceiling-gazing and chin-stroking -- reminded me of his aborted stab at answering a very basic Medicare question, which he ended up punting over to Newt Gingrich:
This time around, Cain was the only candidate in the room, so handing the ball off to anyone else wasn't an option. And he fumbled. Little bits and pieces of his unfocused answer weren't horrific (the nature of the opposition in Libya is a legitimate concern, and he was right to raise it), but his answer sounded as if he couldn't even recall his bare-bones debate prep bullet points on Libya -- if they existed in the first place. Remember, this is a guy who said he'd like to be Secretary of Defense if he's not elected president. Team Cain assures NBC's Chuck Todd that Cain's answer wasn't problematic on substance, and mentions that Cain was operating on four hours of sleep. Um, okay. Does that also explain the collective bargaining answer?
I could have posted video of Herman Cain's wife defending him against sexual harassment charges. I also could have embedded video of Gloria Allred holding a hearsay-laden press conference with Sharon Bialek's ex-boyfriend, who says she's telling the truth. But does the harassment issue even matter if the candidate is unprepared to answer basic, non-gotcha questions on actual policy? At Saturday's debate, Cain frequently said he'd defer to the judgment of his top advisors and generals on foreign policy and national security matters. Given his disastrous conversation today, it's increasingly clear that Cain is using his stock, "ask the generals" response as a dodge to mask huge knowledge gaps. Even if one remains a committed Cain loyalist, will average voters watch videos like these and conclude that Cain is prepared to be President of the United States?
To be clear, I don't mean to suggest that Cain is a stupid man. He was clearly a talented businessman, for instance. But there are a lot of intelligent business people who don't follow domestic and international politics that closely. And that's totally fine for most people. But it's inexcusable for somebody running for president.
It's unclear whether Cain's candidacy is just part of his book tour, part of an effort to land a Fox show, or some sort of mere vanity project. But whatever it is, it is not a serious presidential campaign. Cain hasn't earned the right to be taken seriously, because he hasn't approached the task of being a presidential candidate with seriousness.
UPDATE II - Wow.