So how well did Herman Cain perform, during his first day of scandal management? About as well as we might have expected. A political riptide is no place for newbies, and this is a guy who would drown in three feet of water.
In the wake of Politico’s report that two female subordinates at the National Restaurant Association had once accused Cain of sexual harassment and received five-figure payoffs to zip their lips, the candidate labored yesterday from dawn to dusk to limit the damage. Like any amateur, he managed only to make matters worse. That’s what happens when you change your story virtually by the hour.Rather than track all the twists in his tale, I’ll simply group them under three general headings. Around the lunch hour, he channeled Sgt. Schultz, the German prison guard in the TV sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, who always exclaimed, “I know nothing! Nothing!” At the podium of the National Press Club, Cain insisted that “I am unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn’t for money.” That sort of jibed with something he had told Fox News a few hours earlier: “If there was a settlement, it was handled by some of the other officers that worked for me at the association.” (Or, as Sgt. Schultz liked to say, “I see nothing! I was not here!”)But late in the day, a miracle seemed to occur. Cain suddenly exhibited the gift of cognitive memory. Funny how that happens. Of course, he didn’t remember everything – when asked on PBS whether he had ever made inappropriate remarks to either of these women while they were traveling, Cain replied, “I have no recollection of that” – but he knew enough to channel Richard Nixon, who famously pioneered what he and his aides called “the modified limited hangout route.”In other words, a semi-confession of sorts. Cain surfaced on Greta Van Susteren’s Fox News show to declare that, come to think of it, he did remember some kind of settlement after all. And that, yes, some money was paid out after all. In his words, “We ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement, quite frankly…There was some sort of settlement or termination,” worth “maybe three month’s salary.” (Translation: During his Sgt. Shultz phase at the National Press Club, he lied.)But Cain’s spin got a tad murkier when he spoke last night with Judy Woodruff on PBS. Regrettably, it appeared that his amnesia had returned. Woodruff asked him: “In terms of the settlement which was reached by the Restaurant Association, you as the CEO were not aware of that, or you were aware of that?” And Cain replied: “I was not.”Huh? Say what? Hadn’t he just cleared that up with Van Susteren?Cain then sought to explain what he meant. All of a sudden, he had a problem with the meaning of the word “settlement.” He seemed to be channeling Bill Clinton, who famously quibbled, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, over “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”Cain told Woodruff: “I was aware that an agreement was reached. The word ‘settlement’ versus the word ‘agreement,’ you know, I’m not sure what they called it.”Let me see if I have this straight. When Cain was talking to Van Susteren, he recalled that there had been a “settlement.” But when talking to Woodruff, he said he had no such recollection, although he did recall that there had been an “agreement,” which he placed in a whole separate category, as something more minor than a “settlement.”Cain to Woodruff: “I know that there was some sort of agreement, but because it ended up being minimal, they didn’t have to bring it to me. My general counsel and the head of human resources had the authority to resolve this thing. So it wasn’t one of those things where it got above a certain authority level and I had to sign it. If I did – and I don’t think I did – I don’t even remember signing it because it was minimal in terms of what the agreement was.”OK, so in this version of events, he didn’t have to sign a mere “agreement” – but he may have signed one anyway, and just in case it comes out that he did sign it, “I don’t even remember signing it.”Got that? But hey, the week is still young. As public relations executive Doug Thornell said today, “It looks like Herman Cain went to the Anthony Weiner School of Communications.”It’s an old story in politics: Bad spin is often way worse than the original sin. Cain seems to be engaging in the ancient Chinese torture method known as Ling chi, death by a thousand small cuts. Mitt Romney and the other Republican rivals are no doubt happy to stand back and bear witness to the purported front runner’s self-inflicted wounds.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1