When Herman Cain told his staff Tuesday that he was doing a “reassessment” of his campaign after new accusations of adulterous behavior, many pundits saw it as the beginning of the end for the onetime GOP presidential front-runner. Maybe, or maybe not. But if his alleged affair with an Atlanta woman does prove the straw that broke the Cain campaign’s back, it will say something troubling about the conservative donors and voters who until now have supported him: They’re less bothered by his woeful lack of knowledge about foreign affairs than his apparent inability to keep his trousers zipped.
Cain’s policy pronouncements, like those of most of the GOP hopefuls, have largely been a recitation of tea party talking points. One area of distinction is his “9-9-9" tax plan, which would eliminate loopholes and impose a 9% federal tax on sales, individual income and corporate income. We can understand why this plan would appeal to rightward-leaning voters, even though it is fraught with risks and would worsen the tax burden for the lower class. But another area in which Cain has stood out is his breathtaking ignorance of, and disdain for, key foreign trading partners and conflicts. A Cain presidency would be marked by rising hostility around the world, diminishment of U.S. international influence and frequent diplomatic breaches.
Think we’re exaggerating? Cain reveled in his own foreign policy shortcomings by saying in an October interview that when the media ask him “who’s the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’” In response, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice commented that this “probably wasn’t a great thing to say if you’re running for president.” He has stated a belief that most American Muslims are extremists, offered to release every prisoner at Guantanamo Bay in a deal with Al Qaeda in exchange for a single American soldier, and suggested that China represented a threat to the U.S. because it is “trying to develop nuclear capacity” (China has had nuclear weapons since the 1960s). More recently, his inability to recall any details of U.S. policy in Libya was one of the more painful-to-watch video moments of the 2012 campaign.
None of these gaffes, which would probably be campaign-ending had they been committed by a Democrat, did much damage to Cain’s standing in the polls, but when women starting coming forward accusing Cain of sexual harassment, his approval ratings plunged. New allegations of a consensual affair — which, unlike harassment, isn’t illegal and is far from uncommon among political leaders — may finally be more than the conservative establishment can stomach. If so, we have to wonder how deeply voters have delved into current front-runner Newt Gingrich’s romantic history.