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Herman Cain has a 'Rick Perry moment' on Libya policy

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All that was missing was the "oops."

Herman Cain's meandering response to an interviewer's question about Libya on Monday is quickly drawing comparisons to Rick Perry's debate gaffe last week, presenting yet another hurdle for the former pizza chain executive's embattled bid for the GOP presidential nomination.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interviewed Cain for half an hour as he came to Wisconsin for a pair of fundraisers -- including a tailgate at tonight's Packers-Vikings game.

According to a video posted on the newspaper's website (see below), Cain seemed at a loss when the conversation turned to foreign policy, specifically on the Obama administration's handling of Libya.

After pausing to reflect on a question, Cain asks: "President Obama supported the uprising, correct?"

"Just want to make sure we're talking about the same thing," he says.

He then seems prepared to offer a list of reasons why he disagreed with the administration's handling of it, before stopping himself.

"Nope, that's a different one," he says, apparently having reached for the wrong set of talking points. Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, he confesses: "Got all this stuff twirling around in my head."

Cain then appeals to the interviewers to more specifically describe what about Obama's response they wanted him to react to. The question is rephrased, with the point made as well that it was "an issue that's come up since you've been running."

Cain says he "would have done a better job of determining who the opposition is."

"Based upon who made up that opposition, might have caused me to make some different decisions about how we participate," he said.

He says he would have supported "many of the things they did" to help stop Moammar Kadafi from killing his own citizens. But on other areas he may have disagreed -- though he says the result may have been the same.

Would he have sent ground troops?

"No. I said I would have done a better job of assessing the situation relative to the opposition first before I made decisions about what we would do," Cain says.

To another follow-up question, Cain says he's not "criticizing" Obama, but that, again, he does not think enough was done "relative to assessing the opposition before everything exploded."

Seemingly aware that his response was lacking, Cain returns to a point he has made often in the campaign: that his general approach is to rely on advisors to put the facts in front of him.

"I'm a much more deliberate decision maker," Cain says. "Some people want to say, 'Well as president you're supposed to know everything.' No you don't!"

Cain's unease in discussing foreign policy was evident in Saturday night's debate on the topic. But there he had the benefit of a format that allowed candidates to rely heavily on talking points that can fill out a short time limit. Cain's tortured response played out over more than five minutes, which included multiple follow-ups.

The moment quickly hit the social media and eventually cable news. But there were others in the interview that troubled conservatives.

The Journal Sentinel's account of the interview led with Cain's comment on collective bargaining rights for public employees, a matter that dominated state politics under the new administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The paper's headline online: "Cain backs collective bargaining for public employees."

The story quotes Cain as explaining that a similar effort to curb unions' bargaining power in Ohio was rejected by voters because "maybe they tried to get too much, and as a result, it failed." Cain also "appeared to be unclear on the issue of collective bargaining as it involves federal employees."

"Cain's cluelessness here is far more troubling to me than anything Gloria Allred is dredging up," conservative pundit Michelle Malkin posted on Twitter, referring to the allegations of sexual harassment Cain has faced in recent weeks.

The decision for Cain to even sit down with a Wisconsin newspaper is puzzling given that the state's presidential primary is not until mid-April. Other candidates have occasionally ducked into later-voting states to raise money, as Cain was scheduled to do Monday. But no one is doing so as often, and with as much public campaigning, as Cain.

His campaign also released a Web video this week touting his recent trip to Alabama, a state that doesn't hold a primary until after Super Tuesday in March.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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