Politico’s recent report revealing allegations that Herman Cain sexually harassed two female employees in the 1990s has taken the Washington Establishment by storm. Pundits can barely mask their relief at what looks like the possible end of the Cain “boomlet,” and conservatives have gleefully seized on the opportunity to call the mainstream media racist and accuse women in the workforce of not being able to take a joke.
But while the national press corps works itself into a tizzy, one key fact appears to have been overlooked. Republican primary voters — the people who will actually decide Cain’s electoral fate — don’t seem to care. According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa voters seem totally willing to give Cain the benefit of the doubt. In fact, the story has barely been mentioned on Iowa conservative talk radio or blogs this week.
This is not to say that Politico is running some kind of “smear campaign” — Cain is running for president and sexual harassment allegations clearly warrant a story. But unless something much more serious comes to light, this probably won’t be the death knell Washington reporters are making it out to be.
No one else has come forward. Usually, high-profile sex scandals open up a Pandora’s Box of accusations as more people go public (see Anthony Weiner, Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton). Cain must have interacted with hundreds of women over the course of his restaurant industry career, but it has been days since the harassment story broke and no other women have emerged from the woodwork. While this doesn’t diminish allegations against Cain, it does indicate that he is not a habitual leecher, and lends credence to claims that his behaviour toward his female accusers was simply misunderstood.
It was the 90s. The concept of sexual harassment first entered the national spotlight in the 1990s, and workplace sexual harassment suits rose by 50% over the course of the decade. At that point, the legal definition of what constitutes sexual harassment was still being defined, largely through litigation. Given the apparent lack of incident during the rest of his career, it seems totally possible that the accusations against Cain were the product of these shifting attitudes about sex and gender in the workplace.
There are no names or faces. Cain’s accusers are barred from giving their side of the story by confidentiality agreements associated with their NRA settlements, leaving the public with no victim with whom they can emphathize. Thus in the absence of more details, people are likely to reserve judgment against Cain — particularly in light of recent high-profile harassment claims that turned out to be false.
People don’t care about sex scandals unless they are violent or freaky. Except in cases of rape or abuse, American voters are surprisingly forgiving of politicians who have been accused of/involved in heterosexual sex scandals (see Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter). So unless the Cain allegations get much more salacious — i.e. we find out he has been sending lewd web videos to young campaign aides — the Cain campaign will probably survive this news cycle.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.