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Are foul-ups, gaffes and blunders derailing the Cain Train?

November 16, 2011|By James Oliphant
(Charlie Niebergall / Associated…)

All the while during the drip-drip-drip of the sexual harassment scandal that has dogged Herman Cain for more than two weeks, it’s entirely possible that the insurgent candidate has seen his support drain away in the polls not because of the allegations, but because of a steady stream of gaffes, non-answers and missteps that have exposed his lack of experience on the national stage.

The latest row involves an answer that Cain gave during a now-infamous meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Cain’s halting, looping answer on Libya got most of the attention, but conservatives, who have been the engine driving the Cain Train, may have been more alarmed by Cain’s views on collective bargaining for public workers. (Watch video below.)

Cain told the board that he believed that public employees should have the power to bargain collectively and form unions, “but not collective hijacking,” Cain said. “What I mean by that, if they have gotten so much for so many years and it’s going to bankrupt the state, I don’t think that’s good. It appears that in some instances, they really don’t care. And so I do believe in collective bargaining, but I do believe there should be some flexibility . . . ”

Cain then suggested that the effort by Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature to scale back bargaining rights of public workers in that state had gone too far. “Maybe they tried to get too much,” he said.

Voters in Ohio in a referendum overturned the law, so Cain may have just been speaking to political reality. But the fight against public unions is a cause célèbre for conservatives, so much so that Mitt Romney was roasted before Election Day when he didn’t make it clear he was he was on board.

Cain’s campaign hurriedly pointed out that the candidate had come out in favor of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s similar bid to curtail the rights of public employees in that state.

“Mr. Cain was consistent in his Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board meeting yesterday and has always supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation to balance his state budget and give his state’s government the tools it needs during the ongoing economic crisis,” his campaign said in a statement. “In fact, Mr. Cain traveled to Madison earlier this year to voice his support for Gov. Walker’s initiative to limit collective bargaining privileges in Wisconsin.”

Cain also appeared foggy in the interview about the collective bargaining rights of federal employees, appearing not to realize that federal workers lack many of the same rights that their state brethren possess and again reaffirming his support for unions generally.

The editorial board interview, combined with the uncertain performance Cain turned in Saturday night in a foreign policy-themed debate, had some conservatives crying “enough.”

Cain’s simply not ready to be president, wrote Ross Kaminsky of the American Spectator.

“Mr. Cain's responses in Saturday's Republican debate in South Carolina -- which focused on foreign policy -- were a bunch of platitudes about getting good advice before making a decision. Frequently, his answers on topics that he doesn't really know much about focus on a few points of process, on getting quality advice, on not needing to know everything in advance, and so on,” he wrote. “But this is the real world and these are dangerous times.”

Conservative pundit Michele Malkin also sounded the alarm:

“Sorry, Cain fans,” she wrote. “Tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. But like Rick Perry, Herman Cain is just not ready for prime time. The real Cain scandal: He can barely form a coherent thought on Libya when put on the spot and garbles collective bargaining 101 facts.”

Philip A. Klein, senior editorial writer for the Washington Examiner, was more succinct.

"Cain's presidential candidacy is a joke," he wrote. "He isn't making a serious attempt to run for president and shouldn't be treated as a serious candidate."

Cain’s been here before, in the past giving muddled answers to questions on border security, abortion rights and negotiations to free prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, but his stumbles were largely eclipsed in the context of his meteoric rise in the polls. Now that he is slipping, his detractors are pouncing on every misstep.

Cain’s campaign initially suggested that Cain’s lack of sleep contributed to his editorial-board encounter, but speaking to reporters Tuesday in Urbandale, Iowa, Cain didn’t use that as an excuse.

"Well, first of all, you need to understand what happens at an editorial board, being in a room where you're being asked question after question on different topic after different topic. I paused, and I don't understand why that pause created so much quote-unquote controversy," he said. "I paused to gather my thoughts."

Of course, if he were to be elected president, Cain would find himself in that sort of situation often. They’re called presidential news conferences.


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