Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain struggled to answer a question about U.S. foreign policy toward Libya in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board Monday.
"Okay, Libya," said Cain, glancing up. "President Obama supported the uprising, correct? President Obama called for the removal of [Muammar] Gaddafi. Just wanted to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I say, 'Yes, I agreed. No, I didn't agree,'" said Cain.
"I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason," Cain started, before cutting himself off. "Nope, that's a different one." Cain shifted in his chair, adjusted his jacket and looked up again.
"I got all this stuff twirling around in my head," he added.
Cain repeated he would have "assessed the [Libyan] opposition differently," speaking in generalities about his problem-solving approach.
Cain raised broader questions about the nature of the Libyan opposition. "It's not a clear yes-no answer, because all of those things I think should have been assessed, that's what I'm saying."
"And you don't think they were assessed?" asked an editorial board member.
"I don't know that they were or were not assessed. I didn't see reports of that assessment," Cain responded.
Cain has made multiple foreign policy gaffes in his campaign. Earlier this month, he warned China was "trying to develop a nuclear capability," though the country tested a nuclear device in October 1964. When asked whether he was prepared to answer "gotcha" questions in October, he said, "When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I'm going to say, you know, 'I don't know. Do you know?'" Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai later joked about the exchange.
In the editorial board interview, Cain also expressed support for collective bargaining rights and suggested that Ohio Gov. John Kasich went too far in trying to strip public employees of those rights.
This stumble is just the latest to roil the GOP primary. At a debate last week, Cain's rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was unable to remember the three federal agencies he would cut as president. After naming two, Perry took nearly a minute to regain his bearings before conceding, "I can't think of the third one. I can't. Sorry. Oops." He later clarified that he had been thinking of the Department of Energy.
The Cain campaign tried to downplay the clip later in the day.
"The video is being taken out of context," Cain spokesman JD Gordon said, according to MSNBC. "He was taking questions for about 30 to 40 minutes on four hours of sleep. He didn't say anything wrong or inaccurate; it just took him a while to recall the specifics of Libya."
Gordon added, "It just took him a while to gain his bearings."
Click through the slideshow below for more on Herman Cain:
A relative unknown upon his entry into the race, Herman Cain has experienced promising numbers in both name recognition, as well as the new metric of "positive intensity." These upward trends have since propelled him to the top of many GOP primary polls. In late June, a Gallup poll showed Cain's name recognition up 25 percent from earlier in the year, to 46 percent. Meanwhile, his positive intensity score stood at 24, among the highest of any candidate in the field. Enthusiastic supporters have also helped Cain take impressive wins at a variety of early straw poll events. He's taken the top spot at the Western Conservative Summit, the Georgia GOP Straw Poll in August (Georgia is Cain's home state), and more recently in Florida and Chicago. Cain also won a February straw poll at an Arizona Tea Party event, beating Ron Paul in a vote among attendees, though at the time he was the only officially declared 2012 candidate involved.
Cain's first trip to the political spotlight was launched by what is now called a "YouTube moment," though it took place more than a decade before the website was launched. It has since been re-transformed into a YouTube clip. The highlight came in 1994 when Cain, then CEO of Godfather's Pizza, duked it out with Clinton at a town hall forum the president was holding to push his health care reform proposal. As Slate's Dave Weigel reports: Cain got a question in. He'd been a turnaround artist at Pillsbury, working with Burger King, and in 1986 he'd been put in command of the failing Godfather's Pizza franchise. He saved it with triage, closing 250 of around 800 restaurants, before leading an investor group that bought the franchise and put him in charge. By the time he met Clinton, he had been elected president of the National Restaurant Association. This explained some of his confidence as he lit into his president. "On behalf of all of those business owners that are in a situation similar to mine," asked Cain, "my question is, quite simply, if I'm forced to do this what will I tell those people whose jobs I will have to eliminate?" "Well, wait a minute," said Clinton, attempting a charm offensive. "Let's ask--let's talk a minute about what you would have to do." The employer mandate would add only 2 percent to Cain's costs, Clinton argued, and Cain could just charge more for pizza. "I'm a satisfied customer, I'd keep buying from you." "Mr. President," said Cain, "with all due respect, your calculation on what the impact would do, quite honestly, is incorrect." It didn't take long for this clip to make the rounds, which won Cain commendations from Republican icons such as Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp and Rush Limbaugh. For more on Cain's rapid political rise, read the rest of Weigel's piece at Slate.
Cain has been making a big pitch for his "9-9-9" plan, which would eliminate some taxes such as the payroll tax and estate tax, and lower a variety of others, leaving business taxes and income taxes at a flat rate of 9 percent. It would also create a national sales tax of 9 percent. The 999 plan has been criticized as an economic blueprint that would put a bigger tax burden on the middle class. HuffPost's Amanda Terkel also reported that the simple tax structure exhibited some similarities to the default given to players in the video game, SimCity 4. Cain added an important update to his plan in October, outlining tax exemptions for poorer Americans and economically depressed areas. The Associated Press reports: After sharp criticism over his one-size-fits-all plan from Republicans and Democrats alike, Cain proposed no income taxes for Americans living at or below the poverty line. He also proposed exemptions for businesses investing in "opportunity zones" as a way to give an economic jolt to rundown neighborhoods such as the one he visited in hard-hit Detroit.
Herman Cain has repeatedly caused consternation with questionable comments about Islam and American Muslims. At a March event held in Iowa for prospective presidential candidates, Cain said outright that he wouldn't appoint any Muslims to his cabinet if elected, over fears that they would work to install Sharia law. He later attempted to walk that statement back, saying "I am not anti-Muslim. I am anti-terrorist." Months later, Cain stoked more scrutiny when he said Americans "have the right" to block mosques in their communities. The claim came in response to a question by "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace about Cain's criticism of a planned Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which had sparked protests from residents of the town. He later held a summit with Muslim leaders to try to patch up relations with the community. AP reported at the time: Cain met with four Muslim leaders in Sterling, Va. He said in a statement later he was "truly sorry" for comments that may have "betrayed" his commitment to the Constitution and the religious freedom it guarantees.
Cain's first display of political greenness came at an inopportune time, during his campaign announcement in May. Speaking to his followers about the importance of following the Constitution, Cain seemed to refer to the Declaration of Independence. "We don't need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution," Cain said. "And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those that are not going to read it because they don't want us to go by the Constitution, there's a little section in there that talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The Constitution, of course, doesn't reference "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Weeks later, Cain made another public blunder on Fox News Sunday, when he appeared to be confused on the concept of Palestinian "Right of Return," or the belief that Palestinians, as well as their descendants, who were forced to leave their property in Israel should be allowed to return. Israel is firmly opposed to the "Right of Return," and considering Cain had slammed President Obama earlier for his supposedly anti-Israel approach to Middle Eastern affairs, his apparent confusion on the issue didn't go unnoticed.
Cain made a big impression in Omaha in the '80s when he helped spearhead an effort to save an inner-city youth center. It eventually culminated in a series of charity gospel concerts that raised more than $5 million for a new branch. HuffPost's Andrea Stone reports: It was the late 1980s and the then-CEO of Godfather's Pizza and self-made multimillionaire brokered a deal with the YMCA of Greater Omaha to merge with the struggling Edmonson Youth Outreach Center so that its founder could get health insurance. Joe Edmonson was a beloved wrestling coach in the community who, despite being a quadriplegic, inspired a generation of underprivileged black youth. Cain had joined the board of the sports and after-school program in predominantly-black north Omaha after a young wrestler whose mother worked as a janitor at Godfather's headquarters approached him to help sponsor a team trip to a national tournament. So when the local YMCA approached Cain, one of Omaha's most prominent African American business leaders, for help to raise funds for a new neighborhood branch, he agreed. But only if the Y merged with the Edmonson Center. But the object of Cain's charitable affection may have changed of late, Stone notes: In recent years, Cain has written more checks to political causes and candidates than to charity. But the former businessman and conservative radio talk show host had chosen in years past to focus his philanthropy on education for inner-city youth so, he has said, they can overcome poverty and racial discrimination the way he did. Cain has also donated large sums to The University of Nebraska at Omaha, Morehouse College and Antioch Baptist Church. For more on the giving habits of other GOP presidential candidates, click here.
Cain has sought to capitalize off of his supposed political outsider status, but a recent report suggested that the one-time pizza mogul may be deeply involved with some of the powerful, moneyed influencers in Washington politics --particularly the Koch brothers. From the Associated Press : Cain's campaign manager and a number of aides have worked for Americans for Prosperity, or AFP, the advocacy group founded with support from billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which lobbies for lower taxes and less government regulation and spending. Cain credits a businessman who served on an AFP advisory board with helping devise his "9-9-9" plan to rewrite the nation's tax code. And his years of speaking at AFP events have given the businessman and radio host a network of loyal grassroots fans. Read the rest of the report here.
Politico reported in late October that two women had filed sexual harassment complaints against Cain during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Cain has denied that the allegations had any merit, though his reaction to the resultant firestorm has been anything but consistent. After first claiming ignorance, Cain later admitted to knowing more about the story than he had first let on. The video above documents Cain's vacillation on the facts of the report.