Smart Politics asks the tough questions, and Herman Cain answers them... entirely with unedited quotes from his Republican debate performances
Smart Politics takes Mr. Cain at his word and presents the following interview with the former Godfather's Pizza and National Restaurant Association CEO in light of the multiple reports of inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment that have been alleged against him.
All of Mr. Cain's responses in the transcript of the interview below are direct, unedited sentences lifted from his statements delivered at the various Republican presidential debates held in New Hampshire (June 13, October 11), Iowa (August 11), California (September 7), Florida (September 12, September 22), and Nevada (October 18).
Smart Politics: Hello, Mr. Cain.
SP: A new national poll came out Thursday by Rasmussen that still shows you leading the GOP field despite the latest charges of sexual harassment against you that have dominated the news cycle all week.
Cain: It is not hurting my campaign.
SP: But your name is being attached to multiple charges of sexual harassment and it is dominating the media coverage. Don't you think voters will start to get Herman Cain fatigue? Or perhaps begin to question your character as new details unfold? And what do you say to the evangelicals who -
Cain: You want me to answer all of those in one minute?
SP: You can take all the time you want, Mr. Cain, but I'm wondering why you think these recent developments have not hurt your campaign, which had enjoyed so much momentum heading into November. Do you really stand by that claim?
Cain: Yes, I do still say that.
SP: Now, notwithstanding the substance of the charges, you have been criticized for what many believe to be continually changing your stance and about what you remember happened at the National Restaurant Association with regard to these claims that were settled. First you said you didn't know anything about it, then you said...
Cain: No, that's not exactly what I said. Unfortunately, the people who helped you put that together have misquoted me. I have gone on record, and I put it in a press release that's available at my office that simply says that if anyone misunderstood my intent, I apologize for that.
SP: So, you're saying what exactly about your knowledge of these incidents?
Cain: Do you want to hear some more rhetoric or do you want to hear a solution?
SP: What I think voters want to know, is if you have had a history of harassing women.
Cain: No, no, no, no. That dog won't hunt.
SP: Mr. Cain, you have built your campaign around directness and honesty. Don't you think all the vacillating and inconsistencies that have unfolded this week hurts your credibility as a candidate?
Cain: I believe we could get our credit rating back.
SP: How? Some suggest your polling numbers have probably peaked, and that the Tea Party base of the Republican Party, which you have courted and galvanized in recent months, will decide to defect from your camp and move over to Newt Gingrich or perhaps Rick Perry?
Cain: There are three deterrents to this nightmare scenario you described in terms of how bad things are going to be.
SP: For starters?
Cain: It'll work this time for a number of reasons, because I think you're only looking at a small piece of it.
SP: A small piece - you mean there is more to the story that's going to come out?
Cain: It's still real early in the process.
SP: But it seems to me your best hope in moving ahead and getting back on message is to end all this speculation as soon as possible. How long do you think you can sustain this media barrage?
Cain: We don't have an option to wait longer than 90 days.
SP: 90 days? Mr. Cain, 90 days is a lifetime in the political news cycle. Do you think you can really wait it out that long?
Cain: I was willing to go along with it.
SP: Getting back to my previous question - do you think that you been too outspoken about this issue, and that being so public and making these contradictory statements so early have gotten you into even more trouble?
Cain: We needed to do something drastic.
SP: But your critics have said you needed to take a time out, get together with your campaign for a day or so to get your story straight.
Cain: We don't need to slow down. I hate to tell you -- I hate to be the one to give you the bad news, Doctor.
SP: Please, no formalities are necessary, besides it's only a Ph.D.
Cain: Let's cut to the chase, this is what business people do and politicians don't do.
SP: But you are a politician now, Mr. Cain. You're running for president, and many Republicans seem to be losing faith in the viability of your campaign.
Cain: They're not too negative and they're not too critical.
SP: Have you read what some have written about you? Over at Red State-
Cain: The thing that I would encourage people to do before they engage in this knee-jerk reaction is read our analysis. It is available at hermancain.com.
SP: Let me understand this correctly. You've laid out a statement on these charges on your website? Does your campaign manager Mark Block know about this?
Cain: Well, I did make that statement, and it does not bother me.
SP: Speaking of Mr. Block, I'd like to ask you a brief question about the 'smoking' ad for your campaign in which he is featured.
Cain: This is an example of mixing apples and oranges.
SP: But Mr. Block has become much more front and center with your campaign in the last few weeks.
Cain: It's not correct to mix apples and oranges.
SP: For example, Mr. Block and your campaign have made some pretty serious charges against Rick Perry through this whole affair.
Cain: I was willing to go along with it. I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, number one.
SP: But calling out the Perry campaign as the source of these allegations. Can you afford to have a campaign manager who some say is such a loose canon? Do you think Mr. Block has overstepped his bounds? Does he need to be reigned in or replaced as campaign manager?
Cain: We don't need a new one, we just need to clean up.
SP: OK, Rick Perry aside, do you think it's possible other campaigns were involved in the sourcing to the original POLITICO article?
Cain: Yes, I have two candidates waiting in the wings.
SP: Who? Which campaigns?
Cain: I've got to keep them confidential.
SP: Now, as this story continues to unfold, it's not just he said / she said anymore. Chris Wilson, a Republican political consultant, who used to work for the National Restaurant Association said he "witnessed Herman Cain" engage in inappropriate conduct and suggestiveness toward a female employee.
Cain: Wait, wait.
SP: Doesn't that give you pause when-
Cain: He mentioned me-
SP: When a fellow Republican-
Cain: He mentioned me, and you didn't give me an opportunity to respond.
SP: What do you have to say to those charges?
Cain: I don't know where that came from. Now, so you've got to be careful of the stuff that you get off the Internet, because that's just not something that I have said.
SP: OK, now let's get to the settlements made by the National Restaurant Association themselves.
SP: You are now saying that you're aware of the settlements, although you previously said you were not aware of them.
Cain: So yes, and I'm owning up to that. Therein lies the difference between me, the non- politician, and all of the politicians.
SP: More specifically, as for the charges themselves made by the two women, can you recall what they said you did in their claim?
Cain: What they basically say is that they are not real clear. And I also said that they have basically targeted the wrong target.
SP: Then, if, hypothetically, the charges were not clear, why was a settlement made by the general counsel of the National Restaurant Association?
Cain: This is a game, and it is hypothetical. I'll play the game. So on the surface, I don't think we can say he did the right thing or not. A responsible decision-maker would have considered everything.
SP: Do you fault them for settling?
Cain: So what, it is their money.
SP: But -
Cain: I believe that there's enough money to go around.
SP: But how much money are we talking about? There are some reports of $30,000 for one of the women. And $45,000 for the other.
Cain: It is not the price of a pizza.
SP: So you have no philosophical problem with an association of which you are CEO settling claims that you believe have no merit.
Cain: The way to deal with it is pay those things that need to be paid.
SP: But is that good business sense?
Cain: We need to be allowed to do that, and so should other organizations and other associations.
SP: A few days ago you said you didn't think the Restaurant Association should settle for much, if they did at all. Why not?
Cain: I was simply saying very emphatically, American laws in American courts.
SP: So you would have preferred these grievances be aired out in a trial?
Cain: I did then, and -- but I know about it. I've been documented.
SP: But it never went to court. The women settled instead.
Cain: They opted out because that was a very short window of opportunity. They took it.
SP: A lot of well-known politicians and public figures have been accused of sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct in the work place, such as Bill Clinton, Bill O'Reilly, Mark Foley, David Letterman -
Cain: I have walked in Dave's shoes.
SP: Well can I ask you then generally about sexual harassment? What is your feeling about how these policies are adopted and enforced in the workplace?
Cain: I believe that its focus needs to be narrowed.
SP: Should such laws be abolished?
Cain: No, no, no, no. The implementation was at fault.
SP: Let me shift for a minute to your relationship with women.
Cain: I've been married to my wife, Gloria, for 43 years.
SP: Yes, but I mean the women who claim you have harassed them. Why do you think they brought these charges?
Cain: Now, they retire with a whole lot more money. Why? For a real simple reason -- they have an account with their money on it.
SP: So wait a minute - are you accusing them of making all this up for the money?
Cain: I still stand by my statement, and here's why. When you interview a person for a job, you look at their -- you look at their work record, you look at their resume, and then you have a one-on-one personal interview. During that personal interview, like in the business world and anywhere else, you are able to get a feeling.
SP: And what feeling is that?
Cain: America has got to learn how to take a joke.
SP: You think the American people should find humor in this situation?
Cain: Our men and women have too many other things to be concerned about rather than have to deal with that as a distraction.
SP: But back to these women at the Restaurant Association who say you harassed them.
Cain: I cannot give their names.
SP: But you know who they are?
Cain: I've got to keep them confidential.
SP: But the National Restaurant Association and you could waive the confidentiality agreement so they could tell their side of the story. Would you do that?
Cain: I simply said, if someone wants to initiate that action, go right ahead. It doesn't bother me.
SP: Because, right now, if they spoke without the agreement waiver in place they could probably be sued for their settlement money.
Cain: I'm not concerned -- I am not concerned about what they will do with that money if it is allowed to come back.
SP: Well, you may not be concerned, but you're a rich man, Mr. Cain. You might not appreciate that $30,000 is a lot of money to most Americans.
Cain: I can connect with people's pain because I was po' before I was poor.
SP: Let's get back to the fundamental question. Can you think of a reason, other than money, why these women would have brought these harassment charges against you if, as you claim, you did nothing wrong?
Cain: They might be frustrated with Wall Street and the bankers, but they're directing their anger at the wrong place.
SP: Well, you're not a banker, but you did work at the Fed.
Cain: Yes, I do still say that.
SP: And you worked at the Fed before your term at the Restaurant Association. And you had other jobs before that. Can we expect other claims of harassment to surface from your pre-NRA days?
Cain: The answer is absolutely yes, because I was a worker before I was an executive and before I was a business owner. Absolutely.
Cain: Now, I know that makes some people nervous.
SP: I'm sure it makes Mr. Block nervous. But, to be fair, he has not been the only one defending you. You have received a record number of contributions to your campaign in recent days. And some women, such as Ann Coulter, have publicly taken to the airwaves to rush to your defense. And, it should be pointed out, you have also quite strongly advocated for and recognized the achievements of women across the world.
Cain: Yes. I believe in the Chilean model.
SP: You keep mentioning this model from Chile. Is she officially part of your campaign, and are you planning to use her in any way to assist you in this current crisis?
Cain: Let's just fix it using the Chilean model.
SP: You place a lot of confidence in her. Do you know the Chilean model quite well?
Cain: I've been misrepresented in that regard.
SP: Now, Mr. Cain, you'll be heading out on the campaign trail and presumably visiting Iowa and New Hampshire more frequently now that we're coming down the home stretch.
SP: And there have already been complaints about your behavior regarding a female employee at an Iowa radio station. So my question is - looking forward - should people be concerned, female campaign staffers for example, that you might harass them on the trail?
Cain: One of my guiding principles has been and will always be, surround yourself with good people.
SP: But I'm talking about how you treat them. Should they be concerned about harassment?
Cain: Current seniors will not be affected. It's to give the option to the younger workers.
SP: So there is an age limit in common with all the women involved here in these harassment allegations?
Cain: That break point would be approximately 40 years of age.
SP: And why is that?
Cain: I invite every family to do your own calculations with that arithmetic.
SP: Mr. Cain -
Cain: Allow me to give a serious answer. Is it in the vital interest of the United States of America? If the answer is no, then we don't go any further.
SP: But how do you think these allegations - and your handling of the resurfacing of the allegations - reflects on your leadership skills as you seek to become chief executive of the United States?
Cain: I will be a president to do what's right, not what's politically right.
SP: And the steady drumbeat of reports and rumors? What if they continue?
Cain: All of the rest of it won't matter. A poet once said, life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it's never easy when there's so much on the line. We have a lot on the line.
SP: You seem to have a healthy outlook considering all that has happened to you since last Sunday.
Cain: I believe we can turn it around.
SP: And is there anything you think voters have learned about Herman Cain from this ordeal that would make you a more attractive candidate for the presidency?
Cain: I would bring a sense of humor to the White House, because America 's too uptight.
SP: And the state of the campaign, you earlier said the resurfacing of these charges is not affecting it at all.
Cain: I don't care what you call it, it's broken.
SP: Wait - now you're saying your campaign is broken?
Cain: It's a mess. It's just an absolute mess.
SP: But just a few minutes ago -
Cain: We don't just have one problem; we have a crisis. Yes, I do still say that. And here's why. It is a disaster.
SP: And what is your campaign planning to do about it?
Cain: Start all over. It's out of control. We have got to fix the problem.
SP: And to all the women listening to you now, is there anything you'd like to say to them. Are there any other women who, regardless of your intentions, might have been offended at your past behavior?
SP: Mr. Cain?
Cain: I'm sorry, Representative Bachmann.
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