With a name, face and salacious details now affixed to allegations of Herman Cain’s sexual misbehavior, Republicans who have otherwise been sympathetic to the former National Restaurant Association CEO are urging him to address the accusations clearly and forthrightly.
In a sign that he’s begun taking those calls more seriously in the wake of Sharon Bialek’s graphic charges earlier in the day, Cain moved late Monday to schedule a press conference for Tuesday afternoon — and prefaced the event with a defiant statement.
“After attacking Herman Cain through anonymous accusers for a week, his opponents have now convinced a woman with a long history of severe financial difficulties, including personal bankruptcy, to falsely accuse the Republican frontrunner of events occurring over a decade ago for which there is no record, nor even a complaint filed,” said Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon.
Beyond the charges themselves, the widening scandal is now threatening Cain in another way: the story has begun to loom so heavily over the GOP race that it’s irritating Republicans who want to focus on defeating President Obama.
With Bialek’s explosive press conference being replayed across TV, radio and the internet — and the Chicagoan offering fresh comments in cable and network interviews Monday night with more planned for Tuesday morning — the allegations of what are now four former National Restaurant Association employees against Cain are sure to keep consuming the political conversation.
“The American people and specifically Republican primary voters need some closure on this and really only he can do that,” said Oran Smith, who heads the Christian conservative Palmetto Family Council in South Carolina.
Smith, who has met Cain and calls himself “a fan” of the businessman, said the candidate’s plain-spoken manner has GOP activists conditioned to expect more candor.
“They’re used to hearing him take things straight up, so in a sense he’s put himself in a position where he has to confront this,” said the social conservative leader. “But that’s not what we’ve gotten so far.”
Another early state social conservative suggested Cain take an extreme measure to extinguish the story.
“Maybe he’s at a point of the crisis where he needs to say, ‘I’ll take a lie detector test,’” said Chuck Hurley, the President of the Iowa Family Policy Center and a longtime Republican there who is uncommitted in the race.
Hurley’s advice: “Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help him God and stand by that.”
But even without Cain’s full side of the story out, some veteran conservatives were growing increasingly uneasy in the hours after Bialek made her claims.
Two conservatives even raised the specter of Bill Clinton – a loaded reference for Republicans to invoke in a story involving another Republican and a sex scandal.
“Ms. Bialek appeared credible and I was very disturbed by her characterization of what happened,” said CWA chief Penny Nance of Bialek. “Whoever Republican primary voters choose as president should be a man or woman of good moral character. We said when Bill Clinton was president that character counts and we still believe that.”
William Bennett, the conservative author and commentator, lashed the media as “hypocrites” for investigating Cain while not taking Clinton’s sexual impropriety more seriously. But Bennett warned that Cain was running the risk of making his own defenders commit the same crime.
“I have watched long enough and held my tongue long enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, but can no longer say this is a witch hunt, ‘a lynching’ to use his word, or any other euphemism,” wrote Bennett on National Review Online. “There are allegations out there that matter and they have stacked up. For we who led the charge against Bill Clinton on a number of related issues to continue to blame the media or other campaigns or say it simply doesn’t matter makes us the hypocrites as well.”
Added Bennett: “Herman Cain and his campaign chief of staff, Mark Block, cannot go on as they have. There has been a pattern now that is both unhealthy for our politics and unhealthy for our polity.”
More to the point, it’s also unhealthy for the politics of the Republican Party and specifically their goal of taking back the White House.
Mississippi Gov. and former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, perhaps the de facto leader of the GOP, complained Monday night that the story had “distracted” his party and the media.
“I was on Meet the Press on Sunday and in 10 minutes, the economy, nor jobs, nor deficits, nor debt, nor health care reform, nor federal spending — none of those things was mentioned,” Barbour told National Review Online. “That’s perfect for Obama… . Anything that distracts from Obama’s policies and the results of those policies distracts from Republicans winning the election.”
The advice of Barbour, Bennett, Nance and even rival Newt Gingrich, who has been chummy with Cain: Answer all the questions and do it as soon as possible.
“I think at some point in the near future that Herman and his campaign have to lay all this out and put it to rest,” Gingrich said in a Fox interview Monday night. “I think that the pressure on them to do that will become very real.”
And Bennett noted that Cain had to clear the air even if it’s too late to salvage his White House hopes.
“If Herman Cain wants to be taken seriously as a public advocate for anything, never mind running for the chief executive and commander in chief of the most powerful and important and blessed country in the world, he needs to give a full press conference dedicated exclusively to this issue and these allegations,” Bennett wrote.
In not-for-attribution conversations, social conservatives said bluntly that the emergence of Bialek’s account had changed the story and that the onus is now on Cain.
“You can’t be non-responsive,” said one prominent Christian conservative leader. “It’s different today than it was Friday.”
This leader said Cain needed to be more aggressive in not just responding to the charges, but in raising questions about Bialek’s association with Allred, the high-profile attorney who orchestrated Monday’s press conference.
“You deny [the charges] and you point out that the attorney involved is a liberal Democratic activist, somebody who trolls in tabloid trash professionally for a living,” said this source.
In a media advisory promoting their news conference Tuesday afternoon, Cain’s campaign signaled they would take such a tack.
“Ms. Allred is a high-profile Democrat Party donor and activist who has given over ten thousand dollars to liberal Democrats like Barack Obama, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer,” wrote Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon. “The questions the media should be asking are who’s paying for Gloria Allred’s fee, how did Ms. Bialek get introduced to Ms. Allred, and was she paid to come forward with these false accusations or was she promised employment?”
Among the most hard-core Cain supporters, the fresh charges from Bialek seemed to have had little immediate impact.
Many devotees responded by focusing their ire on the woman who is the first of Cain’s accusers to speak publicly.
“As a woman, I am ashamed for these false accusations towards you. I feel that if this truly did occur, this woman would have dealt with this 15 to 20 years ago. Again — why now? To bring you down? She and Allred are pathetic,” Annie Jacobs Stevens wrote on Facebook.
“If Bialek was assaulted by Mr. Cain, why did she drive back with him, why did she not call the police, NRA or even a lawyer?” Chuck Nellis asked on Twitter.
Some Cain supporters also floated the idea of targeting Bialek with violence, or publishing her address or phone number.
Others took Allred to task.
“I love Herman Cain. I dislike you Mrs. Allred. I will work even harder to protect this great American,” wrote Richard Kusiolek, of Santa Clara County, Calif., on an online Cain forum.
Responding to the latest allegations, Cain supporters also launched We Know Herman Cain, a website designed to collect positive testimonies about the candidate’s behavior and demeanor from their own experiences.
Jeanne Seaver, co-founder of the Savannah, Ga., tea party and a former congressional candidate, penned one of the entries.
“I met Herman in 2002 when he came to our area to speak about the fair tax. He had me at hello and we have been friends ever since,” she wrote.
Seaver described Cain as a loyal friend and a “first-class act.”
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