Gaffes Derail ‘Cain Train’ – Analysis


By Kerim Rached

In the span of only a few days, multiple gaffes by GOP presidential nominee hopeful Herman Cain regarding both domestic and foreign policy issues important to conservative-minded voters have caused his campaign to lose momentum only weeks before the upcoming Iowa caucuses, the results of which tend to indicate the candidate most likely to win the nomination of his or her party.

On November 13, in the National Journal Republican presidential debate aired on CBS News, Cain stated that the administration has mishandled the Arab Spring revolutions and that President Obama “has been on the wrong side in nearly every situation in the Arab world, which has basically done nothing except to put that entire thing [the Arab Spring] at risk.”

Herman Cain. Photo by Gage Skidmore
Herman Cain. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Yet just a day after having briefly addressed the Arab Spring and specifically mentioned Libya, Cain attempted to answer an interview question by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in Wisconsin relevant to precisely the same issue in what many media commentators have described as, at the more optimistic end of the spectrum, a very awkward moment. Cain, when asked whether or not he “agreed with President Obama on Libya” just after he had publically rebuked his handling of it, appeared to have little to no idea as to what any sort of U.S. involvement in the country over the span of close to a year even consisted of.

With long pauses between words and uncomfortable shuffling throughout the interview, he began his answer with “President Obama supported the uprising—correct? President Obama called for the removal of—Gadhafi,” looking for any sort of hint from the interviewer that he was on the right track. “Just want to make sure we’re talking about the same thing before I say ‘Yes, I agreed’ or ‘No, I didn’t agree.’”

To make his position even more unclear and even contradictory to his previous statements, he seemed to not be able to find even a single reason to disagree with President Obama on Libya. “I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason, um—no that’s a different one, um—I gotta go back and um—got all this stuff twirlin’ around in my head.”

Following the interview, a reporter caught up with the candidate outside and asked “Mr. Cain, do you think the Libya comments reinforce the idea that you don’t have a thorough understanding of foreign policy?” Cain merely pursed his lips shaking his head, then looked straight into the camera and said “9-9-9,” his campaign slogan regarding taxation. Later in the day, speaking to supporters on his campaign bus, he added “I’m not supposed to know anything about foreign policy.”

Rival GOP candidate Newt Gingrich offered his two cents regarding the episode on The Laura Ingraham Show on the morning of November 16, emphasizing that he thinks “it’s fairly important in a dangerous world to have a president who knows something about foreign policy.” Although Gingrich’s earlier statement referring to himself as having “more substance than any other candidate in modern history” on the same radio program on November 11 would most likely be considered an exaggeration even by his own supporters, he is acknowledged by many observers to have been able to rejuvenate his own formerly oft-presumed dead campaign due to Cain’s recent slips.

Not long after Cain’s November 14 Libya blunder, actually in the very same interview, Herman Cain decisively answered “Yes” in response to a question asking if “public employees should have collective bargaining” in a way that is more likely to infuriate rather than merely confuse the economic conservatives of his base. He proceeded to reply to a question of whether or not “they,” referring to Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich and the supporters of his administration’s proposed law to curtail the collective bargaining rights of the state’s public employees, “had gone too far” by briefly nodding and stating that “In this case, they may have tried to get too much in one bill.”

On November 16, Cain took his campaign back to Florida where he had earlier won a GOP straw poll, which initially helped kick-start his presidential campaign. Things did not seem to run as smoothly the second time around however, as he had to duck questions regarding immigration laws and other policies relevant to Florida’s politically affluent and largely conservative Cuban-American community numerous times while on the trail. He was perplexed by and ignored a question by a Miami Herald reporter regarding the “wet-foot, dry-foot policy,” a common name referring to the 1995 revisions made by the Clinton administration to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, a frequent topic of political discussions in the state. He also called a Fox News reporter’s question about what he thinks of Obama’s current Cuba policy a “gotcha question.”

While in Florida, Cain also attempted to recover from having taken another position at the November 13 debate inconsistent with many of his earlier remarks. Having stated that he would “not entertain military opposition” against Iran at the debate, a position not quite in sync with many of his conservative supporters and colleagues, he said in Florida that “We are going to stand with our friends—starting with the nation of Israel. We will stand with Israel,” reiterating that “If you mess with Israel, you’re messing with the United States of America.” It is likely that as a result of his contradictory statements, he will have to clarify his position to Republican voters further into the campaign.

Considering how much steam the Cain train has seemed to have lost over the past week, there should be no surprise as to why today, on November 17, Cain refused to have his interview with the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader daily newspaper videotaped by C-SPAN.

Despite having just come out on top in the recent Iowa Bloomberg News poll on November 16, it is evident that the recent slip-ups in addition to the already widely-publicized accusations against Cain of sexual harassment have played a part in diminishing his standings in Republican polls in addition to dispersing his supporters toward rival candidates. In the Bloomberg poll, Herman Cain received 20% of the vote, Ron Paul 19%, Mitt Romney 18%, and Newt Gingrich 17%. This essentially, particularly when taking the 4.4 percent margin of error into account, means there is no clear front-runner in the early election state of Iowa at the moment. In the New Hampshire Bloomberg poll, Cain managed to pull just 8% of the vote, firmly behind Romney, Paul, and to a lesser extent Gingrich.

Most significantly, according to the results of a national Public Policy Polling poll released on November 15, Herman Cain has lost five points since October and now trails Newt Gingrich.


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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