Oct. 16, 2011 -- The Occupy Wall Street movement spread worldwide this weekend, with demonstrations in 950 cities and 82 countries, but Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain said today he doesn't understand what they are after and that their anger is misdirected.
"What is their message? That's what's unclear," Cain, the new frontrunner in the GOP race according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "If their message is let's punish the rich, I don't empathize with that message. They should be protesting the White House."
Just days ago, the protesters marched to the homes of some of the wealthiest "1 percent" as the protesters call them, including Rupert Murdoch and David Koch, whose support has helped fund Cain's campaign.
Cain has denounced protesters, saying that they should blame themselves -- not corporations or the super-rich -- if they are unemployed. In a New York Times op-ed he wrote that they are hypocrites who would "rather have a handout than work."
Like Cain, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the OWS demonstrators should be holding Democrats accountable, but he also dialed back on his earlier criticism of the movement, instead expressing some sympathy for the plight of the demonstrators, who he had previously called a "mob."
"I think more important than my use of the word is the fact that there is a growing frustration out there across this country and it's warranted. People -- too many people are out of work," Cantor said on "Fox News Sunday." "But where I'm most concerned is we have elected leaders in this town who, frankly, are joining in the effort to blame others rather than focus on the policies that have brought about the current situation."
Democrats have tried to claim the protests as sympathetic with their own goals. At the dedication ceremony for the new Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C., President Obama said that King would have supported the movement.
"If he were alive today, I believe that he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there," he said.
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said on ABC News' "This Week with Christiane Amanpour" that the protests are an indication of how out of touch the GOP is.
"Obviously, I don't think any American is impressed when they see [former Massachusetts] Gov. [Mitt] Romney and all the Republican candidates say the first thing they'd do is roll back Wall Street reforms and go back to where we were before the crisis and let Wall Street write its own rules," Axelrod said.
Axelrod said public support was also with the White House's jobs bill, which was defeated last week in the Senate. He insisted that the bill is not dead, said that the defeat presents an opportunity to hammer out some specifics.
"We're going to take it apart and we're going to go piece by piece. The American people support every single plank of that bill, and we're going to vote on every single one of them," Axelrod said.
Obama called Cantor out last week, asking him to explain "what exactly in this jobs bill does he not believe in."
But Cantor said today he is not the only one who does not believe in the president's jobs plan.
"Well, the plan in total was one that was met with a lot of resistance, frankly, on both sides of the aisle when the president unveiled it in September," Cantor said. "And so, when the president spoke that night, I said, let's work together, stop the all-or-nothing approach. We're not going to be for tax increases on small businesses. He knows that."
One of the most hotly debated aspects of the plan is the proposed millionaire surtax, called the Buffett Rule, after billionaire Warren Buffett who said the wealthy should be taxed more. The plan would seek a new tax base rate to ensure that millionaires pay at least the same percentage as middle income Americans.
The plan faces tough opposition among conservatives, and Cantor said it disenfranchises the wealthy.
"I mean, these are policies that they put into place and there's a lot that can be done here in this town to turn the economy around, and promote against income mobility and not go in and excoriate some who have been successful," he said. "We want success for everybody."
But Axelrod said the average American does not share the Republicans' opposition to the plan.
"The American people strongly support it. And the American people are going to be heard on this legislation," he said. "I think so many Americans are just sitting there saying, 'Act,' to Congress. 'Do something. Stop playing games.'"