Tea Party and the Right

Do Allegations of 13-Year Adulterous Affair Spell Doom for Herman Cain?

Sexual harassment may be ethically worse than adultery, but for evangelical voters, Herman Cain's alleged affair may be the greater sin.

Say what you will about Herman Cain, but he's a man with a history of beating the odds. He's not only survived Jim Crow and Stage 4 cancer, but succeeded in spite of them, by dint of wit, pluck and tenacity. In fact you might say, looking at his biography, that the only man with the temerity to defeat Herman Cain -- truly bring him low -- is Herman Cain. And at that, too, he now appears to have been a success.

Peruse the 10 Commandments, and you find no mention of sexual harassment. But there's a pretty clear injunction against adultery, which means, given the claimsmade yesterday by Georgia woman, Herman Cain's goose is probably cooked.

For a few weeks in October, Herman Cain -- Baptist minister, former lobbyist, former businessman, and former operative for David Koch's Americans for Prosperity -- was the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Then, on a single day, two news outlets broke scandalous stories about the candidate: the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on some hanky-panky in the financing of Cain's campaign through a Koch-linked non-profit, and Politico ran an expose about settlements paid to two women who worked for Cain during his tenure as president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, allegedly for their silence after they complained of inappropriate sexual conduct by Cain.

While Cain's numbers held nationally in the polls for a time, they sank immediately upon the revelations of the settlements among a key group of voters: the Republican women of Iowa, the state whose caucuses kick off the presidential primary season -- and a state in which the evangelical Christian vote constitutes nearly the whole of the Republican base.

Only a Confessed Sinner Can Be Redeemed

If the women of Iowa were none too pleased with Herman Cain after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him, they're not likely to take well to Cain's latest sexual imbroglio -- allegations of an adulterous relationship that lasted for more than a decade. If Cain confessed to the affair and begged forgiveness, well, that might be another matter. To fall and be redeemed through forgiveness, that is the Christian story. Why, even Newt Gingrich, with his three marriages, two of them the end product of adulterous affairs, has been cleansed, thanks to a 2007 confession of sorts he made to Focus on the Family founder James Dobson on the good doctor's radio show.

But Cain denies everything -- first the harassment allegations, and now, an affair alleged by a woman who appears to have little to gain from the revelation. "I have never behaved inappropriately with anyone," Cain said during a debate sponsored by CNBC.

Ginger White, an Atlanta businesswoman, says she had no intention of stepping forward to talk of what she says was a 13-year affair with the GOP presidential contender.

“I'm not proud,” White told reporter Dale Russell of Atlanta's Fox 5 television station. “I didn't want to come out with this. I did not.”

But Fox 5 and other news outlets had received a tip about the affair (all from the same tipster, according to a report on the Fox 5 Web site), and reporters were beginning to sniff at her door. So, White said, she thought it best that she come forward on her own terms.

The Non-Denial Denial

Yet, while Cain told Atlanta's Fox 5 News that there was no affair, and told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he and Ginger White were merely friends, Cain's attorney, L. Lin Wood, chose more nuanced language, issuing what Woodward and Bernstein long ago described as a "non-denial denial." From Wood's statement, as posted on the Fox 5 Web site:

"Mr. Cain has been informed today that your television station plans to broadcast a story this evening in which a female will make an accusation that she engaged in a 13-year long physical relationship with Mr. Cain. This is not an accusation of harassment in the workplace -- this is not an accusation of an assault -- which are subject matters of legitimate inquiry to a political candidate.

Rather, this appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults -- a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public's right to know and the media's right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one's bedroom door.

Mr. Cain has alerted his wife to this new accusation and discussed it with her. He has no obligation to discuss these types of accusations publicly with the media and he will not do so even if his principled position is viewed unfavorably by members of the media."

When Bullying Backfires

After Sharon Bialek, who did not receive a settlement from the National Restaurant Association, came forward to make a claim of sexual harassment against Herman Cain earlier this month, and Karen Kraushaar, who did receive a settlement, spoke with reporters, Wood issued a stern warning during an interview by Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times:

“I’m not here to scare anyone off,” Mr. Wood said, in the same interview when he warned new accusers to “think twice,” adding, “I’ve been brought in to bring an element of fairness to the accusations being brought.”

The Times noted that Wood is no mere litigator: he's an advocate with a crack research team. In other words, he's got a crew of people who will comb through your life and find ways to smear you if you dare to make a claim against his client.

Then, in an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, Cain said that all of women who received settlements from the National Restaurant Association for claims against him were lying.

“It bothered me that they were being demonized, sort of, they were treated as if they were automatically lying, and the burden of proof was on them,” Ginger White told Fox 5's Dale Russell. “I felt bad for them.”

As far as White is concerned, the bullying may have proved to be something of a tipping point. Here she was, with reporters homing in on her, Cain himself keeping tabs on her, and his lawyer threatening to expose the unsavory bits of anyone's life who dared to come forward. But White felt she was about to be exposed anyway, so she stepped out on her own, even owning up to other aspects of her life she would have preferred to keep quiet, such as a feud with a business partner that resulted in a stalking accusation against her (dismissed by the court), and a string of evictions.

In Fox 5's television news report, White hands Russell her phone, and he sends a text to the number labeled with Cain's name in her contact list. Cain calls it back. When he gets the reporter instead of White, he denies having an affair, saying that White was a friend, and he was "helping her financially." (One imagines that any help she may have received from him is likely to come to an abrupt close.)

White tells Russell that the sexual relationship between she and Cain ended when he announced his presidential run, but that he remained in touch with her:

She showed us some of her cell phone bills that included 61 phone calls or text messages to or from a number starting with 678. She says it is Herman Cain's private cell phone. The calls were made during four different months -- calls or texts made as early as 4:26 in the early morning, and as late as 7:52 at night. The latest were in September of this year.

A Sinking Ship

Ever since the Halloween surprise of the dueling scandal stories, Herman Cain's campaign has been on a downward slide, not because either set of allegations -- sexual harassment or campaign finance shenanigans -- were unsurvivable, but because their target failed to heed the implicit warning: Those who ascend will be scrutinized.

But Cain seemed to think he could continue to coast on force of personality, minus the due diligence required to arrive at actual policy positions beyond those of his gimmicky 9-9-9 tax plan, a proposal that seemed designed to simply push the rest of the field into endorsing a flatter tax structure for individuals and a lower tax rate for corporations (the kind of thing that David Koch could get behind).

The combination of hubris and seat-of-his-pants witticisms that propelled Cain to the front of the pack became his undoing, as witnessed by his epic #FAIL before the Journal Sentinel editorial board. There, when asked if he would have handled the uprising in Libya differently than President Barack Obama, he seemed uncertain as to whether or not the U.S. had supported the uprising, and hemmed and hawed his way through a nearly incoherent answer.

That led Cain to blow whatever chance he'd had in New Hampshire when he stood up the editorial board of the all-important Manchester Union-Leader because of their insistence that the meeting be video-recorded. The paper went on to endorse former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

In South Carolina, a state heavily populated with evangelicals whose primary comes right after New Hampshire's, Cain saw his lead slipping to Gingrich, even before yesterday's revelations by the woman who says she was his lover for 13 years. As of last week Cain was holding on in Iowa, still polling ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and just behind the new front-runner, Gingrich, the confessed and redeemed adulterer.

Herman Cain, unrepentant, vowed to stay in the race -- "as long as my wife is behind me."

Correction:The original version of this piece misstated the number of women who received settlements from the National Restaurant Association, allegedly because of inappropriate behavior toward them by Herman Cain. While four women have made such allegations against Cain, only two received settlements.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. She also writes for the AFL-CIO Now blog. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan