Welcome to the Show, Mr. Cain

Susan Estrich's column is released once a week.

Susan Estrich

Running for president looked easy, I would guess, to Herman Cain: 9-9-9, big smile, business know-how, straight talk.

As long as you're losing, it is easy. Who knew anything about Michele Bachmann until she won the Iowa caucus?

There is a fundamental rule in politics: The faster the air goes into the balloon the faster it comes out. Blame the press. They like nothing better than creating sensations and then destroying them. True enough. But it doesn't matter. The press isn't running for president.

Cain wasn't complaining when his numbers were rising. He wasn't complaining when his star was on the ascent, when the press was fawning over him, fighting for interviews he was only too happy to give. He wasn't complaining when all that attention was positive.

Did he really think it would stay that way? Did he think he could play big league baseball without anyone taking a closer look at him?

Since the allegations of sexual harassment started surfacing, Cain has done everything he could to avoid the attention he so recently welcomed. He tried saying no to all the questions, or to quote him, as hotel security tried to lead him through a hall packed with journalists, "What did I say? Excuse me. Excuse me! What part of 'no' don't people understand?"

The women he allegedly harassed might say the same thing. What part of "no" doesn't Cain understand?

He has tried to hide behind confidentiality agreements surrounding the settlement process. Not so fast. This is presidential politics. Confidentiality agreements don't work. There's that sneaky business of the public's right to know, not about your personal life, but about your professional conduct. To quote Haley Barbour, Mississippi governor and former chair of the Republican National Committee, "If you have a confidentiality agreement that keeps the public from finding out something that the public is interested in knowing the facts, you ought to go on and get the facts out."

Cain's latest gambit, as word of a third woman accuser surfaced, has been to blame the campaigns of his competitors. First it was Rick Perry's campaign; then it was Mitt Romney's campaign; then it was the consultant who used to work for him. Sure, sometimes the best defense is a good offense, but in the case of a newcomer like Cain, it doesn't matter. Are his competitors trying to smear him? Who knows? But they don't need to. The press does the digging. And if it's the truth, it's the truth, not a smear.

This is, of course, not the first problem Cain has faced since he became the flavor of the month. There was his foot-in-mouth interview about abortion, during which he went on about how it was the woman's choice and then insisted that of course he was 100 percent against freedom of choice.

But my favorite is the ad by his chief of staff extolling Cain's virtues and then, as he finishes, taking a long puff on his cigarette. Yes, I know, President Obama used to smoke and struggled to quit. I used to smoke and struggled to quit. A lot of people have. But smoking a cigarette as part of a political ad? That isn't novel. It's nuts.

When was the last time you saw a television reporter take a drag at the end of a report? When was the last time you saw a politician pause during an interview to take a drag off his cigarette? It's not a matter of political correctness. Smoking kills, and putting it in your ads as if it's a fine choice — go ahead, kids, and light up — is morally questionable and politically stupid. I showed the ad to my students, and when it was over, they couldn't remember a single word the man said. What we all remembered, in shock, was the cigarette.

Herman Cain's numbers are about to start plummeting. He's in the spin cycle. After that, he gets hung out to dry until he becomes as irrelevant to this race as Michele Bachmann. In a way, it's too bad, because he really was the most entertaining candidate on the stage. My prediction is that when this is over, a career in television may well await him. He could certainly have his own show. But not the one he's in right now.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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