Cain Needs a Debate Lifeline

With his sexual-harassment saga dominating the headlines, Herman Cain needs to put out the fire at tonight’s Republican debate—and Mitt Romney can coast. Plus, David A. Graham on 5 things to watch tonight and join The Daily Beast's live debate chat.

11.09.11 3:22 AM ET

Forget the “Smoking Man.” Herman Cain needs a fireman.

The nation nears $15,000,000,000,000 in debt. Iran is building its nuclear-weapons capabilities. The European Union is facing economic and political upheaval. And the U.S. attorney general is grilled about the federal government’s complicity in the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. But the big headlines this week have been filled with “he said” versus “she said, she said, she said, she said, and she said.”

Herman Cain’s meteoric surge in the GOP presidential primary race may well have ended following a week of sexual-harassment allegations from both named and unnamed women in his past. Whether the charges are proved true or not in the court of public opinion, it is in adversity like this that character is measured. And the Cain campaign’s handling of the crisis has done little to engender trust.

But Cain can seek some solace perhaps with Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, both of whom rocketed to the lead in national polls before falling back to Earth.

Meanwhile, the national frontrunner, Mitt Romney, remains unscathed, apparently in possession of the secret immunity idol in this ultimate game of Survivor. And, Newt Gingrich proves miracles do happen: Lazarus lives.

Though Gingrich’s campaign appeared in shambles, he has battled back. His performance at the heralded Lincoln-Douglas–style Tea Party debate with Cain this past Saturday confirmed the depth of his knowledge and conservative vision. It’s apparently Newt’s turn to lead the “not Romney” field.

With the early primaries looming just two months ahead, and with President Obama’s vulnerability increasing, here’s what the GOP eight need to do at Wednesday night’s debate in Michigan, the 10th—yes, 10th—debate for the full field since May.

It’s a study in contrasts, really.

To survive through to the first caucus in Iowa on Jan. 3, Herman Cain needs to put out the fires started this week. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum need to set a few to break out of the pack.

Rick Perry needs to take back control and not shoot himself in both boots, while Jon Huntsman needs to inform conservatives that he has more legitimate conservative credentials than Mitt Romney.

Newt Gingrich may be the newfound “anyone but Romney” candidate. The more he talks, the more people listen. But Mitt Romney just needs to say nothin’.

And Ron Paul. Well, he’s Ron Paul. We know exactly what we’re going to get.

The campaign trail ain’t easy. But it’s just a proving ground. Tougher challenges lie ahead at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.