Republican presidential candidate Hermain Cain drew criticism from both sides of the political spectrum for telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that many African Americans have been "brainwashed into not being openminded, not even considering a conservative point of view."
“I have received some of that same vitriol simply because I am running for the Republican nomination as a conservative,” Cain said. “So it’s just brainwashing and people not being openminded, pure and simple.”
Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson called Cain's comments "demeaning and insulting" toward African Americans, and former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele said on Thursday that while Cain may have a point, his use of the word "brainwashed" was likely to further alienate many black voters.
"I think the in context of running for president, there's a way to express a particular opinion with a respect to how people vote without getting everyone riled up," Steele told Chris Matthews on "Hardball." "The point, which I think is a valid one, is lost in what people hear him say right out of the box. When you start the conversation by saying, "well, the audience I'm going after is brainwashed," guess what? That audience -- you're not going after them anymore."
But Cain, who's polling third in a recent Fox News poll behind former Massachussets Gov. Mitt Romney and current Texas Gov. Rick Perry, shrugged off the criticism on Sunday and quipped that his comments were no more insensitive than President Obama's policies.
"His policies have failed the country, his policies have failed black people. That's more insulting to me than using the term brainwashed," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "That's their only weapon, Chris -- to try and silence me because I'm a conservative. And it's simply not gonna work."
Cain's inflammatory remarks are sure to raise eyebrows in light of his campaign communications director, Ellen Carmichael, announcing her resignation on Saturday, but Carmichael insists the timing of her departure is coincidental and "not reflective of any particular current event."
Cain maintains that African American voters are coming around to the idea of a black Republican in the White House, despite the GOP's historically strained relationship with minorities. Fox anchor Chris Wallace pointed out that there are only two black Republicans in Congress -- Allen West (R-Fla.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) -- compared to 42 black Democrats, but Cain said that "one-third of black people in this country, at least, are thinking for themselves," which he thinks bodes well for his chances of defeating President Obama in an election.
"History isn't necessarily a predictor of the future," he said. "[Voters are] not looking at history and what the Republican party's reputation might have been. They're now looking at this guy Herman Cain who is putting real solutions on the table, and this is what I believe the people are starved for."