Posted by: Joshua Green on November 1, 2011
For a guy who spent yesterday awkwardly ducking and revising his story about two alleged incidents of sexual harassment that took place while he was head of the National Restaurant Association, Herman Cain doesn’t look to be in such bad shape. Much of the conservative media sphere (Rush Limbaugh, etc.) instinctively leapt to his defense. His campaign manager claimed this morning that donations hit a record level yesterday. And the Des Moines Register, which had just released a new poll showing Cain leading in Iowa, re-polled some of its respondents and found that none intended to abandon Cain over the allegations.
Instinctively, I’m skeptical of the notion that a scandal can ever help a candidate, as a number of defiant Cain supporters have suggested this one might. But I am willing to believe that the media has less authority in the minds of many voters — especially conservatives — than it once did, and that therefore a scandal like this one might not register with anything like the force it would have in the past. I can also envision a scenario in which Cain will now thrive, especially in Iowa.
This scenario doesn’t owe entirely to the scandal, although it does depend upon Cain’s emerging from it more or less intact. Here it is: Cain leads Romney by a single point in the Register poll, with Rick Perry tied for fifth. But Perry has $15 million to spend, intends to go after Romney with a vengeance, and has doubled down on winning Iowa. Perry’s attacks are bound to have an effect, but that doesn’t mean that Perry will automatically gain support. (Negative ads often hurt the target and the perpetrator — one reason why, as Slate’s John Dickerson points out, Perry is running positive ones.) If Romney drops but Perry doesn’t rise, or doesn’t rise much, it stands to reason that Cain would be the major beneficiary since, according to Gallup, he has had the highest “positive intensity score” of any of the candidates for much of the year — that is, people like him. Here’s a chart comparing his positive intensity score to Perry’s:
So you can see why Cain might benefit. If he does become the prime beneficiary of Perry’s attacks, and Romney the victim, that would leave Cain alone atop the Iowa field — which means he’d be in even better shape than he is today. That’s not what’s supposed to happen when a politician gets caught up in a scandal. But it would surprise me much if that were the outcome here.