Video: TDR Panel: Can Cain Comeback?

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    >>> all right, conservative commentators have largely lined up behind herman cain , at least for now. only a handful going rogue, so to speak. take a listen.

    >> look at how quickly what is known as the mainstream media goes for the ugliest racial stereotypes they can to attack a black conservative .

    >> i found it hard to believe the campaign didn't know that this was coming and was as badly prepared as they were. you don't start off by saying there's nothing to this whatsoever and then go into, well, we don't know anything about it, and then say, yes, i know it, but i didn't do it.

    >> jennifer rubin writes the right turn blog for "the washington post ." democratic strategist jemal simmons is a principal at the raven group and jeanne cummings is a deputy government editor for bloomberg news. welcome all. jennifer rubin , i want to start with you. i know you've been personally pretty critical of cain 's handling of this, but overall, the conservative commentariat has been sort of supportive of cain .

    >> i don't think it's been entirely supportive, like kevin williams took a position similar to mine. i think that's going to largely change over time.

    >> what would make it change?

    >> i think what's going to change is how he handles this, and if he repeats a day today like he did yesterday, i think you're going to see much more criticism on the process side of it, which he is, i think, entirely deserving of receiving, and that is just as karl said, the contrary statements, evolving story, the unpreparedness. remember, this is a guy who's selling himself as a business executive and that was his appeal as an outsider, as a can-do guy, a problem-solver. this is a pretty big problem and he hasn't solved it.

    >> jemal simmons, as an operative, you've been on your share of bad days like this. you watch this evolving story. is this a case -- i'm not asking you to read the mind of a mark block, but when i had him on yesterday, it seemed as if he had the information that was given to him by the candidate, and ultimately, you were handcuffed by that when you're an operative, are you not?

    >> oh, there's nothing worse than when you know there is more information than the information you have at hand and you've got to figure out a way to get through it. the problem i see is sort of what jennifer was talking about, is if they've known this for this long and didn't do anything proactively to deal with it, even once you start getting phone calls from the press, you then have the ability to go out ahead of the press and say, listen, this is coming, and then try to put the best light on it that you can and try to get through it. but to sit there and just wait for the ambush and then not even be prepared with the guns loaded when it comes is just malpractice.

    >> but it's an interesting way hermane is dealing with this, jeannie cummings, which is this, okay, i'll go on any tv interview that asks. he's got three or four more today. he's going to be the beast himself.

    >> well, he will. and he is very undisciplined in his messaging, as we've pointed out, changing stories all day yesterday. i thought, if you look at the process, what was most disturbing was that they had ten days notice that the story was coming and then still were not prepared. that's just incompetence. but i think this could open a whole new window as he does more interviews, on cain , in that his abortion position is troubling as well. that ran under the radar screen yesterday.

    >> right.

    >> but he flipped on his abortion position. his tax plan he's amended once, may be amending again. there is now a lot more ammunition for when all of these debates pick up again.

    >> right.

    >> that his opponents are going to have a lot more questions.

    >> one thing i want to bring up. you know, one missing piece to this has been his wife. in a story like this, you usually see something with a spouse when trouble like this. here's what he said when he was asked about where his wife was on the campaign trail.

    >> you will meet my wife publicly in an exclusive interview that we are currently planning and anticipating. she will be introduced in terms of some limited exposure, but it's not her style for her to be with me on every campaign stop because, number one, it's grueling, and i want her to continue to be the nucleus for that calm and tranquility that you want from your family.

    >> jennifer rubin , that is, at this point, it seems like he desperately needs her on the trail if this is this 43-year marriage that he's talking about his, you know, you've got people now have wandering minds about him.

    >> actually, i think the bigger problem is how he has handled it, rather than the initial allegations, but it sure would help to have his wife there. the last candidate who left his wife out of the limelight was howard dean --

    >> and it was odd, and i remember --

    >> it was odd.

    >> then when she got introduced, she wasn't comfortable and it looked forced. then you started questioning whether -- you know, because you have to be in this together.

    >> yeah, and i think that is a truism. you can only be so much of a maverick in the way you run a presidential campaign . you have to put forth positions, you have to have a willing spouse, you have to have some discipline. it's great to be all outside the beltway, but eventually it comes back to bite you if you don't have certain requeisites --

    >> i can't pass by rush limbaugh and conservatives using race to defend herman cain , who demeaned the notion of having race even play a part in politics or having to do with his campaign.

    >> it is interesting, these commentariates on the left and right, can we just agree not to play the race card at all? and when you see it played, it is

Image: Herman Cain
Dave Martin  /  AP
Republican Presidential candidate, Herman Cain campaigns in Talladega, Ala., Friday.
updated 11/1/2011 12:23:42 PM ET 2011-11-01T16:23:42

The sexual harassment allegations engulfing the candidacy of Republican Herman Cain dominated American politics Tuesday as prominent conservative voices rallied to his side, saying he was a victim of a "high-tech lynching."

Cain has been pointing to his long record in business to argue that he has the credentials to be president during a time of economic hardship — a small government, anti-tax message that has struck a deep cord with conservatives.

The forceful early reaction to the Cain firestorm — fueled by racially charged rhetoric — suggests the Georgia businessman's attempt to cast himself as a victim of the news media and liberals is, so far, paying dividends among his conservative Republican base who will hold considerable sway in selecting the party's nominee.

First Read: Cain's explanations evolve
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But the accusations against Cain, which he denies, may give more moderate Republican voters pause and could cause would-be donors to shy away even as Cain works to capitalize on his rising poll numbers.

It's not the first time Cain has had to explain himself since his quick climb in the polls. The political newcomer had a series of fumbles and has had to clarify comments on abortion, immigration and terrorism suspects.

Supporters were quick to liken Cain's latest troubles to those that roiled the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, another prominent black conservative, who faced sexual harassment allegations during his explosive Senate confirmation hearing two decades ago.

The head of the conservative Media Research Center, Brent Bozell, labeled the story a "high-tech lynching," evoking Thomas' divisive Supreme Court confirmation hearings two decades ago, where he was confronted with sexual harassment allegations from a one-time employee, Anita Hill.

Slideshow: Herman Cain (on this page)

Cain is again on the defensive after a report on the Politico website that said the National Restaurant Association gave financial settlements to at least two female employees who had accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior when he was its chairman.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, meanwhile, reported that Cain allowed a tax-exempt charity to illegally provide money to help his presidential campaign get started. Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, says the campaign has asked a lawyer to review the transactions.

On Monday, the candidate declared he had been falsely accused of sexual harassment in the 1990s while he was head of the restaurant trade group. He said the allegations that are surfacing now are part of a "witch hunt." He has, however, given varying responses to questions about whether there were financial settlements with the women who brought the complaints.

In a Tuesday interview, Cain told CNN's Headline News that he didn't contradict himself when he said a day earlier that he was unaware of a settlement between a woman and the National Restaurant Association.

He said he was aware of an agreement, but not a settlement.

Cain investigates benefits from nonprofit

The Politico report was based on anonymous sources and, in one case, what the publication said was a review of documentation that described the allegations and the resolution. Politico said Cain refused to comment when asked specifically about one of the woman's claims.

Cain, who is best known for his management of a pizza restaurant chain, stunned the political establishment with his rise from national obscurity to place at or near the top of national surveys and polls in early presidential nominating states. He is competitive with Romney, long considered the front-runner for the nomination.

Cain was skipping a gathering Tuesday of fellow party hopefuls in Iowa where they were to outline their plans for fixing the damaged U.S. economy. On Jan. 3, Iowa will be the first American state to formally select a favorite Republican candidate for nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.

Also absent from the Iowa forum will be Cain's fellow front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has sought to stay above the inter-party scramble that has seen other would-be Obama challengers shoot to the top of the Republican nominating heap only to plunge dramatically and quickly out of contention.

The Associated Press

Photos: Herman Cain

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  1. Republican candidates for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, Johnny Isakson of Marietta, left, Herman Cain of Forest Park, right, and Mac Collins of Atlanta, reflected in the mirror on the wall, wait in the green room of WSB-TV studios before the start of a debate between the three in Atlanta, July 10, 2004. (John Amis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Republican senate candidate Herman Cain held a press conference to promote advance voting after casting his ballot with his wife Gloria in McDonough, Ga., on July 13. 2004. Cain married Gloria in 1968, the year after he graduated from Morehouse college with a degree in mathematics. The couple have two children and three grandchildren. (Rob Felt / Daily Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sarah Palin impersonator Patti Lyons, right, shares a laugh with Herman Cain in the lobby of the Marriott Wardman Park hotel during the Conservative Political Action Conference Feb. 11, 2011 in Washington, DC. In a speech on the second day of the conference, Cain declared that "stupid people are ruining America." (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Herman Cain announces his run for the Republican candidate for president at a rally, May 21, 2011 in Atlanta. Though he never held public office he worked on the Bob Dole and Jack Kemp campaign in 1996, ran for president briefly in 2000 and ran for Georgia state senate in 2004. (David Goldman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Republican presidential hopefuls Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain, cross paths during the taping of a radio show at the Barley House, May 31, 2011 in Concord, N.H. (Jim Cole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Herman Cain speaks in the spin room following the Republican presidential primary debate June 13, 2011 at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. Cain repeated his earlier statements the he would be uncomfortable with a Muslim in his cabinet (Darren Mccollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Herman Cain speaks during the "'Energy Independence Day Tea Party" rally on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, on July 4, 2011. (Joseph Kaczmarek / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Herman Cain talks to reporters as dozens of Tea Party supporters rally near the U.S. Capitol against raising the debt limit in Washington, July 27, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Herman Cain talks to voters from the Des Moines Register's Soapbox during the second day of the Iowa State Fair August 12, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa. The Republican candidates attended the fair in hopes of winning the Iowa Straw Poll, but Cain finished 5th. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Herman Cain visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Aug. 24, 2011. It was Cain's first trip to Israel where he also attended Glenn Becks "Restoring Courage" event. (Bernat Armangue / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Republican presidential hopefuls, from left, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and former Gov. of Utah Jon Huntsman, pose for photographs on Sept. 7, 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., for the Republican presidential candidates debate. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Herman Cain speaks to delegates during the Republican Party of Florida Presidency 5 Convention in Orlando, Florida, Sept. 24, 2011. (Phelan Ebenhack / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Herman Cain talks with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show at NBC Studios on September 30, 2011 in Burbank, California. (Kevin Winter/nbcuniversal / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. After strong comeback and winning Florida's straw poll, Herman Cain makes a campaign stop and launches his new book "This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House," outside The Olde Blind Dog Irish Pub, Oct. 2, 2011, in Milton, Ga. (Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal & Constitution via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Herman Cain signs a copy of his new book for supporter Mary Wargula, of Dunwoody, Ga., Oct. 2, 2011 in Milton, Ga. Cain has written five books, two of which published during his current presidential campaign. (Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal & Constitution via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain arrives to address the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington on Oct. 7, 2011. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Herman Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate in the Republican Presidential debate hosted by Bloomberg and the Washington Post on Oct. 11, 2011 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. The debate focused the discussion on the economy giving Cain an opportunity to promote his 9-9-9 plan, which was mentioned 24 times in the two-hour event. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Herman Cain announces that he is suspending his campaign as a Republican presidential candidate while his wife Gloria Cain stand behind him during the scheduled opening of a local campaign headquarters on Dec. 3, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. Cain had taken time to reassess the condition of his campaign "because of all this media firestorm stuff," adding, "my wife and family comes first." (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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