Cain Not Able! By MAUREEN DOWD

We have the starchy guy — tall, handsome, intelligent and rich, with a baronial estate — who’s hard to warm up to. And we have the spontaneous guy, who’s charming and easy to warm up to — until it turns out that he has an unsavory pattern with young women and a suspect relationship with facts.

It’s the Republican primary. Or “Pride and Prejudice.” Take your pick.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it’s not the scandal that kills you; it’s the cover-up. Herman Cain has added a corollary: It’s not the cover-up that kills you; it’s the cascade of malarkey that spills out when you try to cover up the cover-up.

Sure, the dalliance with the grandfather, gospel singer, motivational speaker and self-made millionaire in the black cowboy hat was fun while it lasted, just as it was with Ross Perot, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and The-Rent-Is-Too-Damn-High dude.

You have to give props to the C.E.O. of a pizza company who dons a white choir robe at a press event to sing a Lennon parody, “Imagine There’s No Pizza.”

And you have to give Cain credit for breaking creative new ground in unconventional when he responds to a scandal about sexual-harassment complaints when he was chief of the National Restaurant Association in the ’90s by standing up at the National Press Club here and singing a gospel song about “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “Danny Boy.”

Yet despite the taunting tweet from the Times blogger Nate Silver the other day, before the sexual-harassment scandal broke, asking if there was “anyone out there who 1) gets paid to write about politics; 2) is so sure Cain can’t win that they promise to quit their job if he does,” Cain was never going to be the Republican nominee.

Even Barack Obama couldn’t be lucky enough to waltz past two wacky black conservatives, first Alan Keyes and then Cain.

The Herminator was just a raffish passing fancy, like Mr. Wickham, a place for Republicans to store their affections while they try to overcome their aversion to Mitt Romney’s Mr. Darcy.

Early in October, the improbable shooting-star candidate was preening with David Brody on the Christian Broadcasting Network, saying he “felt like Moses when God said ‘I want you to go intoEgyptand lead my people out.’ ” He bragged that he was ready for the gotcha questions from the press, saying: “When they ask me who’s the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’ ”

Yet despite being aware that the scandal would surely pop at some point, and despite 10 days’ warning from Politico, which broke the news, Moses was flailing in the mediaRed Sea.

When Politico’s Jonathan Martin waited outside the CBS News bureau here to catch Cain after “Face the Nation” and ask him, “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?,” the candidate’s lame riposte was: “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”

If your appeal lies in being refreshingly plain-spoken, you can’t turn into a verbal corn maze.

He has contradicted himself even more risibly on his memory of the harassment charges than he has on his abortion position.

At first, he said he wasn’t aware of the five-figure settlement to one woman; then, suddenly, he was aware. Instead of the meaning of “is,” Cain tried to parse the meaning of “settlement” versus “agreement.” He still claims he doesn’t remember the other five-figure settlement to another woman.

His memory may soon be jogged. A lawyer for one of the women, an Ivy League grad who works for the federal government and lives in suburbanMaryland, said that she wants to be released from a confidentiality agreement on the settlement since Cain is going around disparaging the accusers.

Trade association boards have been known, especially in the flush ’90s, to lavish money on silly things: face-lifts for top executives and their wives and payoffs to executives’ cast-off mistresses.

But if Cain is right that the charges were “baseless” and he’s the victim of a “witch hunt,” why did the association pay the women anything? The Times reported on Wednesday that the payment to one of them was $35,000 — a year’s salary.

Ann Coulter has a point when she says that feminists rewrote their own rules on sexual harassment to support Bill Clinton. It is never right for any boss, especially the president of theUnited States, to mess with an intern, even if she’s the aggressor.

But Coulter falters when she charges that, like Clarence Thomas, Cain is the victim of a high-tech lynching, that “if you are a conservative black, they will believe the most horrible sexualized fantasies of these white women feminists.”

This isn’t an incendiary story about race. It is the most hackneyed story inWashington— another powerful man who crossed the line and then, when caught, tried to blame the women.



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