Herman Cain has no public appearances planned for Thursday, so the good news is that as long as he manages to not bump into any packs of reporters, he'll avoid more of those awkward moments where he's bellowing "Excuse me!" at them. Also, there's a pretty good chance that he won't sexually harass anyone new today, so he's got that going for him too. But as he darts from view, Cain leaves behind a field of competitors, some of whom want to exploit Cain's humiliation to their advantage, others of whom are trying to dodge his "whodunit" claims.
Yesterday afternoon, the Washington Post's Rachel Weiner pointed out that you could really separate the wheat from the chaff in the 2012 field by sizing up the candidates' reaction to the Cain story. Those making the biggest deal about the sexual harassment charges? National poll basement dwellers Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann. On one level, this is understandable: Santorum stands alone in the field of candidates as the rock-ribbed, family-values fighter who probably books time in his Flagellation Dome if the barest whiff of a lustful thought tweaks his amygdala. And Bachmann, Weiner points out, is "the only woman in the field, which gives her criticism in this area a little more heft."
Still, as Weiner notes, "Both contenders are mired in the single digits. They want to get shots in wherever and whenever they can, and here they have an opportunity to draw contrast and get their names attached to a big story."
But yesterday, if you edged up the national polling totem pole, you'd have found that the double digit candidates were keeping their distance from the story:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney have both completely ignored the harassment claims (and Cain's odd responses).
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who can (and does) say whatever he wants, commented only to speculate about "who is making the charges and what the motivations are." Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich dismissed the allegations as "gossip."
"There's no reason to take on the potential baggage" of bringing it up said former Bush White House political director Sara Taylor Fagen. "It's blowing into such a big news story that they dont have to."
The Cain campaign had dragged Rick Perry into the story by yesterday evening, however, by insistently blaming his campaign for leaking the charges. Cain would hardly be the first to suggest that someone in the Perry campaign was likely to have dropped the dime. But Cain campaign smokesman Mark Block's accusation, as he related it to Fox News' Bret Baier, is a bit odd:
In 2003, Herman Cain ran for the Senate. He hired a general consultant, Curt Anderson. Mr. Cain divulged the NRA claims at that time to his general consultant, so the campaign at that point would be prepared if the issue surfaced. It did not. Approximately two weeks ago, as you know, Mr. Anderson went to work for the Rick Perry campaign. What else happened about two weeks ago? Politico began this smear campaign, citing anonymous sources, claiming Mr. Cain acted inappropriately.
You'd think that Cain, having fulsomely provided Anderson with the details of these accusations once, would have recalled them more completely from the outset of this most recent flap. But despite the fact that Cain is apparently a practiced reciter of these charges, he spent the first half of the week acting as if he'd been completely blindsided by them. It's one thing to forget the odd detail or two after eight years, but it strains credulity to think that Cain wasn't even a little conversant in the matter when it arose a second time.
In addition, Block says that Politico "began this smear campaign" two weeks ago. He'd be in the position to know that -- Politico had made attempts to get answers from the Cain campaign. It's odd, though, that with a week's lead time, he couldn't have better prepared his candidate for this big story he knew was coming, one that Cain had previously, ably divulged to Curt Anderson.
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple takes it a step further, noting that the Cain campaign has blamed Perry based on pure, unsourced speculation, which means that they're not willing to hew to the same standards as they've demanded from Politico.
Meanwhile, the Perry campaign almost managed to respond in a manner befitting someone who wants to be thought of as a serious contender:
"That is false, patently untrue, no one at this campaign was involved in this story," said Perry communications director Ray Sullivan.
That's fine! Leave it there! Let it go!
Sullivan then suggested to CBS News and National Journal reporter Rebecca Kaplan that Mitt Romney's campaign is behind the allegations.
"I wouldn't put it past them," he said, stating that blog posts have noted that Cain's successor at the Restaurant Association "is a big Romney donor."
"There are much closer connections between the Restaurant Association, Cain and the Romney camp than there are with us," he said.
Oh, you idiots. What does the Romney campaign have to say about this?
In response to Sullivan's comments, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul offered two words to CBS News: "Not true." She declined to elaborate.
Mitt Romney wins this round!