Yesterday, as Herman Cain continued to fend off multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, Cain's chief of staff Mark Block went on Sean Hannity's eponymous Fox News show and did something unaccountably stupid. With the recently leaked name of accuser Karen Kraushaar in hand, he concocted a secret conspiracy between the accuser and Politico, who first broke the story of Cain's sexual harassment accusations, and then said that he had "confirmed" this:
"Her son works at POLITICO," Block said of Karen Kraushaar, whose name POLITICO printed earlier today after other media outlets made her identity public.
"I've been hearing that all day - you've confirmed that now?" Hannity asked.
"We've confirmed that he does indeed work at POLITICO and that's his mother, yes," said Block.
The only problem here is that if you abide by the laws of material reality that govern the universe, this is untrue and it's therefore not something that's possible to confirm. Josh Kraushaar -- the younger Kraushaar to which Block was referring -- is not Karen Kraushaar's son. The two are not, to their knowledge, even related. (Kraushaar also left Politico for National Journal in 2010, but that's almost beside the point.)
This behavior is really hard to fathom. At a time when the Cain campaign's basic defense against these charges is to say that all his accusers are lying and the facts will bear this out, why risk undermining its own claim by going on television and "confirming" something that not only isn't true, but is so easy to debunk? I suppose I can see how Block might have gotten suspicious -- if I put myself in his shoes, I might check out whether there's more to this pair of Kraushaars than the mere coincidence. But that's the thing: I would have checked it out, because there's a high cost for being wrong (i.e. people think of you as being unaccountably stupid).
At best, it seems that the Cain campaign was taking a shot in the dark and hoping for the best. There's precedent for that sort of thing in politics. During the 2010 campaign for the GOP slot in the Nevada Senate primary, beleaguered contender Sue Lowden sent out a fundraising email to supporters, claiming that a "volunteer investigator" had determined that her opponent, Sharron Angle, had lied when she claimed to have been a teacher at a one-room Christian school. It didn't take long for the Las Vegas Review-Journal to debunk what Lowden thought she had confirmed. So why did Lowden assert something that didn't hold up factually? Well, she was in desperate straits at the time, as far as her race was going.
Is the Herman Cain campaign in desperate straits? Mark Block sure is behaving like it is. And yesterday's impossible confirmation is just one part of an overall pattern of Block not quite thinking things through. In addition to this ill-advised Kraushaar accusation, Block has also "confirmed" that the campaign had considered filing a lawsuit against Politico. For God knows what! After all, the Cain camp has already confirmed that all of the facts in Politico's original story were, in fact, true. (Cain's case is that the charges were baseless, but no Politico story currently takes issue with that.) Beyond that, does suing Politico even make a lick of strategic sense? It would be an excellent way to bring all of the lurid details of these accusations into the open, and set them before a newspaper that purchases digital ink at wholesale prices.
And let's recall that back before the Cain campaign was considering suing newspapers and inventing the heredity of various reporters, Mark Block was accusing Rick Perry's campaign of dirty dealing. On this occasion, the dot-connecting went like this: Cain had employed the services of a consultant named Curt Anderson -- to whom he had divulged the details of these past claims against him -- during his 2003 Senate run; Anderson went to work for the Perry campaign this fall; now, all of the stuff that Anderson was allegedly in the position to know about was spilling into the newspapers.
As accusations of dirty tricks go, it was, at the very least, an intriguing theory. After all, the guy who's standing in the way of Rick Perry getting back to the top tier is Herman Cain, so the Perry campaign would have motive, and, theoretically, opportunity to drop the dime. But as intriguing as it was to chew over, the basic fact of the matter is that it was still an allegation made up out of thin air and theorizing. As Erik Wemple pointed out, it was pretty ironic for the Cain campaign to be defaming Politico for airing anonymous claims against him, while simultaneously airing unsourced claims against Rick Perry. (Block was also, at the time, threatening to send reporters on the Cain beat a copy of the "journalistic code of ethics," as if the Cain campaign were the keeper of those mysteries.)
Look: at the bottom of this, we're talking about a campaign that seems out of its depths, responding to recent problems with a staggering incompetence. And on one level, that's pretty boring; If you consider Newt Gingrich's staff exodus, Michele Bachmann's war with Ed Rollins, and Rick Perry's overall flame-out, you can hardly say that the Cain campaign has cornered the market on ineptitude. But let's recall that Cain prides himself on being a political neophyte. That's where his strength lies, according to the pizza mogul. And the promise he repeatedly makes is that he is different from career politicians because he knows how to "surround himself with good people" and "work on the right problem."
Well, if Mark Block -- and let's recall that Herman Cain has said that the whole point of the famous smoking ad is to "let Mark Block be Mark Block" -- is any indication, then at the very least it's time to downgrade Cain's people-surrounding and problem-identification skills. We can now surmise that the people in whom Cain puts his trust are guiding him to respond to pressure and rumors and stress with paranoia and unprovable claims and desperate vindictiveness. And that's important to note, because running the country requires a president to respond to pressure and rumors and stresses with calm judiciousness.
It sort of makes me want Cain to be kept far away from the robot drones, if you know what I mean.
UPDATE, 1:25pm: The Cain campaign is now responding to critics regarding their Kraushaar cock-up. Via TPM:
“Based upon information available at the time of Mr. Block’s Tuesday night interview on Fox News, the campaign was led to believe that Mr. Josh Kraushaar, currently with the National Journal and a former employee of Politico, was the son of Karen Kraushaar,” campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon said. “We have since learned that is not the case.”
But what on earth is Gordon referring to when he says, "based on information available at the time?" There was no information available at the time. There was, at no time, "information" that suggested that Josh Kraushaar was the son of Karen Kraushaar. The Cain campaign, in making that allegation, was operating with the absence of information. They threw some junk at the wall, hoped it would stick, it didn't, the end.