WASHINGTON -- Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele spoke Tuesday with embattled GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain and offered him this advice: "Think long and hard about what you do next and how you go about it."
"I said, I'm not going to go out here and blow you up and call on you to get out of the race," Steele recounted in a phone interview. "If you decide to stay in the voters are going to let you know how they feel about that."
He also told Cain: "It's not just about the presidential campaign anymore. It's about your wife and your family and your own credibility, and your opportunities and options beyond this moment."
"This is serious. There are impacts and ramifications not just for Herman and his family but for the party as a whole," Steele said.
Steele and Cain are two of the best-known black conservatives in the country, and have known one another for over a decade, Steele said. The two men talked on the phone Tuesday as Cain told senior aides that he was "reassessing" his candidacy after an Atlanta woman named Ginger White said Monday that she and Cain had a 13-year extramarital affair.
Steele, who came under immense pressure himself to resign from the RNC during his tenure there and is now a paid analyst for MSNBC, said he did not push Cain to make a decision one way or another.
"A lot of people want to pontificate and tell him what he should do and what he must do. And I don't know how many of those folks have actually said, 'I'm not here to tell you what to do but to let you know a friend is with you, and b, your heart will tell you what to do next,'" Steele said.
"You know the truth. You know the facts. You know the realities. And you've got to evaluate all of that, in toto, and say to [Cain's wife] Gloria, you know, 'We can do this.' Because she may say to you, 'No we can't.'"
Steele also said he thought race had, to some degree, colored the Republican party's response to the numerous allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct lodged against Cain by several different women.
"Race is not involved to the extent that decisions and choices are made by an individual. They don't do it along the lines of race. How you're perceived and how you then take those decisions and choices gets colored, maybe, through a racial lens," Steele said.
But when asked to clarify whether he thinks Cain has been treated differently than a white politician would be if he were in the same situation, Steele indicated he did not think so.
"I don't think that Congressman [Anthony] Weiner's time was any easier or harder than Herman Cain's at this moment," Steele said. "In fact I think Herman's would be a little bit worse because he is running for president of the United States. It's not like he's a congressman who can't keep his fingers off of his Twitter buttons."
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