Herman Cain’s Artful Sexual Harassment Messaging

The embattled Republican fielded the one debate question about sexual harassment brilliantly. Michelle Cottle on the Herminator’s artful messaging. Plus, more Daily Beast columnists weigh in on the debate.

Was it just me, or did anyone else feel a flutter of concern that Wednesday night’s live audience was going to storm the moderators’ table and dismember Maria and John for bringing up Herman Cain’s lady troubles?

CNBC’s Bartiromo had barely uttered the word “character” when the crowd started booing. A lesser journalist would have stumbled or stuttered or, like Rick Perry, completely forgotten what she was talking about. Bartiromo just plowed ahead, reminding Cain that “shareholders are reluctant to hire CEOs when there are character issues,” so why should voters pick a president with character baggage?

Granted, this tenth (!) dog and pony show was all about the economy. But considering the week Herman has had, someone had to address the sexual-harassment elephant in the room, if only to deflate the issue for 120 minutes and let everyone get down to business.

For his part, the Herminator fielded the question pretty brilliantly. He came out swinging hard and with a massive dose of pious anger: “The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations!”

And just like that, Herman transformed himself from an alleged harasser to the victim of politically motivated persecution.

Aiding the Herminator, John Harwood tried to prolong the discussion by handing Mitt Romney a shiv: asking him whether, during his takeover days at Bain Capital, he’d have booted a CEO with Herman’s rep. Harwood was clearly looking to provoke a bloody knife fight like the ones we all so enjoyed at the last debate. Romney wisely declined to engage, earning his own audience cheering. But the question itself still managed to reinforce the Team Cain storyline that this whole mess is a plot by the haters (Democrats, the media, Rick Perry…) trying to bring poor Herman down. The audience responded with even fiercer scorn than it had to Bartiromo’s inquiry, and that was the absolute last anyone heard from that elephant all night.

If only Herman could make the overall controversy vanish as neatly.