What Sexual Harassment Allegations Mean for Cain

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If there’s one thing everyone across the political spectrum seems to agree on, it’s been a crazy week for Herman Cain, since Politico broke the story about accusations of sexual harassment by three women during Cain’s time at the National Restaurant Association.

There was a lot less agreement, however, on what the allegations mean — and how much they matter.  So far, the story doesn’t seem to have hurt Cain’s poll numbers. He’s still tied with Mitt Romney at the head of the pack of potential Republican candidates.

Cain has denied the allegations, maintaining that he has never sexually harassed anyone. But the way he handled the  denials has some people scratching their heads about how he could have been so seemingly unprepared for the story to come out.

He initially denied knowledge of a cash settlement for one of the women, but a few hours later, stated that “there was a financial settlement, and it was somewhere in the vicinity of three to six months’ severance pay.”  It was later revealed that at least one of the women got a year’s salary — $35,000 — as a settlement.

Despite all the discussion, some people just didn’t want to talk about the allegations at all. On ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” House Speaker John Boehner gave his take on the matter: “I think he and his opponents will have a nice debate about this. I’m not going there.”

Most people though, had a lot to say.

All of the women involved in the cases are still anonymous, and one of them has stated through a lawyer that she doesn’t plan to come forward publicly, something several people this morning said actually helps Cain.

“I’m not going to brush off the anonymity point because I think that’s central to this. We don’t know exactly what he’s allegedly done,” Gary Bauer, president of American Values told Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And we don’t have the names of any accusers, so I’m not surprised at all that it hasn’t moved his support and it certainly hasn’t changed my opinion of him.”

Others argue that the fact that there are any allegations at all — even anonymous ones — is a red flag that should raise more questions.

“I don’t have all the facts on this case, but sexual harassment is serious. We have to protect women in the workplace,” former democratic Gov. Bill Richardson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I think Mr. Cain has to answer these questions.”

Still others say the accusations are just a distraction from more important policy issues, like jobs and taxes.

“The allegations against his program, his liking the Federal Reserve and his national sales tax — yes, they are very legitimate,” Rep. Ron Paul said on “FOX News Sunday.” “Those other allegations, these problems that he had — no … I think the media blew this way out of proportion. I think there are a thousand stories out there, and I think that dilutes the real debates.”

Cain also had a foreign policy gaffe this week, when he stated that China was attempting to develop nuclear capabilities; in fact, China has been a nuclear power since the 1960s. While the focus on Cain has mostly been on the sexual harassment story, at least one of his opponents says Cain’s apparent lack of awareness of foreign policy is a bigger problem.

“I think, at some point, the substance really does matter. And you’ve got to have a commander in chief who actually understands the world in which we live,” former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, one of Cain’s rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, said on “Meet the Press.” “It’s complex, it’s confusing, it’s unpredictable. And it would be nice to have a president in office who actually had a head-start and actually knew them intimately well in terms of the economics and the security issues involved.”

Huntsman also served as ambassador to China for the Obama administration.

Newsweek Columnist Niall Ferguson told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour that the foreign policy gaffe should actually be a more serious strike against Cain than the harassment allegations.

“I thought this Oriental embarrassment was worse for him, actually, than the sexual harassment, because not knowing that China was already a nuclear power seems like a bit of a game-changer for somebody’s credibility as a potential president,” Ferguson said. “So when I saw that, I must say, I wrote him off, because if you don’t know that, what else don’t you know?”

Nearly everybody who talked about it this morning said one thing Cain has to do, if he wants to stay alive in the race, is get out ahead of the story and release all the facts on his side.

“I’m not one of the people that thinks this is necessarily fatal. But people need to know what the facts are,” former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie said on “Meet the Press.” “And that’s the challenge for him right now — to get those out as quickly as possible. Get it behind him.”

Getting it behind him seems to be exactly what Cain wants. As the week went on, Cain seemingly got more and more frustrated with the amount of attention the media has paid to the story, lashing out at reporters who tried to question him on it.

After a debate with GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich — during which the allegations were not mentioned at all, by mutual agreement — Cain refused to answer any questions about the charges, telling reporters, “don’t even go there,” and asking his chief of staff to send reporters the “journalistic code of ethics,” when they pressed him on the matter.

Whether the sexual harassment allegations will seriously affect Cain’s campaign remains to be seen. He’s currently at the top of the polls, and in a campaign season that has seen the rise and fall of a number of possible candidates, it’s unclear if this is the beginning of Cain’s fall, or if the rest of the Republican hopefuls will have to continue playing catch-up.

“He was flavor of the month. I think his month is up,” former Rep. Tom Davis said on CNN.

“He can fix it, and he still won’t survive,” George Will said on “This Week.” “That is, I don’t think his is a viable presidential campaign.”

But on the other hand, according Ferguson on “This Week” “The Republican field is such a mess that anything’s possible. And it’s perfectly plausible, given the mood in the party amongst the activists, that they … will actually go for Cain.”