What Herman Cain Doesn't Know


Are the mounting allegations of sexual harassment hurting GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain's chances with Republican voters? An Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters says yes, showing his popularity falling from 37 to 32 percent. After a brief period of excitement, the folks playing Intrade prediction market seem to have given up on the candidate entirely. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released today, on the other hand, says the accusations haven't hurt him too much. And a just-released Gallup ranking actually puts Cain in the lead for the nomination, tied with Mitt Romney.

Republicans may end up rejecting Cain—if I had to play political prognosticator, which I shouldn't, I would guess that he'll be out of the top slot by Thanksgiving—but right now the effect of the scandal on the GOP electorate is at least somewhat unclear.

One side consequence of the media frenzy around the sex scandal, however, is that it distracts from all the non-scandal-related ways in which Cain is a terrible candidate who has trouble recalling even basic policy details and distinctions. 

Take this non-answer that he gave over the weekend at a one on one debate with Newt Gingrich:

Now, most people probably don't spend much time thinking about the difference between "premium support," which, like Paul Ryan's health care plan, offer beneficiaries a fixed subsidy toward the purchase of insurance, and defined benefit health care plans, which, like traditional Medicare, offer beneficiaries guaranteed access to a set of predetermined health benefits regardless of the eventual total cost.*

But Cain doesn't appear to know the difference at all.

There's a lot that Cain doesn't appear to know, or care to know. He famously bragged about not knowing the name of the president of "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan." (To be sure, I would have to look up the name of the country's president too; but I'm not a foreign policy wonk, and I'm not running for president.) Cain then went on to call for an end to "foggy foreign policy" in a speech last Friday, and declared that his own foreign policy was an "extension of the Reagan philosophy" that he described as "peace through strength and clarity." How much clarity can there really be if you dismiss the need to know even basic details about a country of substantial strategic importance to American trade? 

It's not just foreign policy that confuses Cain either. Cain deferred questions about his own signature economic plan to a policy adviser at an American Enterprise Institute event on Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan and a National Press Club Event last week. 

Indeed, Cain seems to have frequent trouble figuring out exactly what he does and doesn't know, even on issues that are presumably chewing up large amounts of his time and attention. When the first details of the sexual harassment scandal broke last week, reports surfaced indicating that the National Restaurant Association, where he was president during the time the incidents were alleged to have taken place, had ended a complaint with a cash settlement. Cain denied knowing about a settlement a first, but later changed his story and said that he did know about a settlement. And then, in response to accusations that he changed his story, Cain declared that, well, he didn't change his story. Gotcha.   

On the other hand, he's the only GOP candidate I've heard sing at a press conference.

*Mitt Romney's answer, as I noted this morning, is "both."