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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Cain’s Pattern of Evasion and Misdirection

The GOP candidate contradicts himself on abortion, 9-9-9 and now on allegations of sexual harassment.


Herman Cain’s prevarications about how accusations of sexual harassment were settled are only the most recent example of the candidate’s penchant for making contradictory statements on major issues. He also has made a habit of telling untruths about his own stance on abortion and about his signature 9-9-9 tax plan. Time and again, he has been caught evading questions, changing his story and contradicting his own earlier words.

The most recent example is the allegation of sexual harassment. Politico reported that two women accused him of inappropriate behavior while he served as head of the National Restaurant Association and that both women received financial payments from the trade group. Cain has denied the allegations. At first, Cain also denied that either woman received a settlement. But later the same day, he acknowledged that in at least one case “there was some sort of settlement or termination” worth “maybe three months’ salary.” The next day Cain said it was “in the vicinity of three to six months.” The New York Times reports it was a year’s salary.

Similarly, Cain has made conflicting statements on abortion and his signature economic proposal, the 9-9-9 tax plan:

  • Cain told “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer on Oct. 30 that he is “pro-life from conception, period,” with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. But two weeks earlier on “Meet the Press,” Cain said he would allow an exception for the mother’s life. He falsely told Schieffer that his earlier comments on abortion were “taken totally out of context.”
  • Cain also told Schieffer it had been “misreported” that he changed his 9-9-9 tax plan to ease the burden on low-income taxpayers. He said his plan “always had a provision” to exempt those living at or below poverty from paying taxes. But Cain never spoke of it until Oct. 21 in Michigan. Previously, when asked about the working poor who now pay no income taxes, Cain spoke of other provisions: one that would eliminate the payroll tax and another that he claims would reduce the cost of new goods.

In addition to this pattern of evasion and misdirection, Cain also has a proven ability to spread outrageously false information — such as accusing Planned Parenthood of “genocide” and concentrating abortion clinics in black neighborhoods.


Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, revels in being an unconventional candidate. His campaign is perhaps best exemplified by a viral Web ad of his cigarette-smoking chief of staff declaring that “America has never seen another candidate like Herman Cain,” and then taking a long drag on a cigarette and blowing smoke.

But as he rises in the polls, Cain has come under attack from rivals and has found himself being held to the same standards as conventional top-tier candidates. He’s finding out that even unconventional candidates cannot blow smoke and get away with it.

Harassment Allegations: Settlement or No Settlement?

On Oct. 31, Politico reported that two women complained of Cain’s inappropriate behavior when he headed a trade group that represents the restaurant industry in Washington. The website said it had “seen documentation describing the allegations and showing that the restaurant association formally resolved the matter. Both women received separation packages that were in the five-figure range.”

Cain has denied the allegations. “I have never sexually harassed anybody in my life,” Cain told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren.

Cain also denied at first that either woman received a payment from the association to settle the charges. At the National Press Club in Washington that day, Cain told reporters, “I am unaware of any settlement” with the women who accused him of harassment. But later that day, he told Fox News’ Van Susteren that in one case “there was some sort of settlement” worth “maybe three months’ salary or something like that.”

A day later, Cain gave yet another answer to CNN’s Robin Meade.

Cain, Nov. 1: Here’s what I recall, that the settlement with the one that I remember and I’m aware of, that was a financial settlement, and it was somewhere in the vicinity of three to six months’ severance pay, something of that nature, which meant that it wasn’t outside the normal guidelines for employees who left. As I recall, this first lady left the restaurant association before I did.

The New York Times reported Nov. 2 that it was a year’s salary, citing three unnamed people with “direct knowledge of the payment.”

In attempting to clarify his conflicting statements, Cain told Fox News on Nov. 1 that he initially denied that there was a settlement because “when I first heard the word ‘settlement,’ I thought legal settlement. My recollection later is that there was an agreement. So, I made assumption about the word ‘settlement’ that was legal.”

That doesn’t explain, however, why Cain gave different settlement amounts — rising from “maybe three months” to perhaps as many as six months. Yes, as he has said, the payments were made many years ago. He was head of the association for two and a half years from December 1996 through mid-1999. But Cain has had ample time to get the record straight — beginning when Politico first approached his campaign about the allegations.

Abortion: ‘100 Percent Pro-Life’?

Cain appeared on “Face the Nation” Oct. 30 and was asked to clarify his position on abortion. He gave conflicting and confusing statements about the sensitive subject during interviews Oct. 16 on “Meet the Press” and Oct. 19 on “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

Schieffer, Oct. 30: Where do you stand on the issue that is so important to so many Americans? At one point you said you were against abortion, period. But you, at another point said in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake, you would leave that to the families to decide. So is that your position? In other words, that you are pro-life with the exception of rape, incest and when the health of the mother is at stake?

Cain: I am pro-life from conception, period. And if people look at many speeches that I have given over the years, that has and will still be my position.

Schieffer: But talk about those exceptions.

Cain: The pro-life from conception, period. I was — that piece that was pulled out was taken totally out of context when we were talking about —

Schieffer: Okay, so in other words you — you don’t — would not even believe in abortion if rape, incest or the health of the mother was involved.

Cain: Correct. That’s my position.

Cain’s insistence that he has been “pro-life from conception, period” with no exceptions is at odds with what he told David Gregory in an Oct. 16 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” In that interview, Cain said the family should decide about abortion when the life of the mother is at risk.

Gregory: Exceptions for rape and incest?

Cain: Not for rape and incest because …

Gregory: What about life of the mother?

Cain: Because if you look at, you look at rape and incest, the, the percentage of those instances is so miniscule that there are other options. If it’s the life of the mother, that family’s going to have to make that decision.

Gregory: Mm-hmm. But you can — would you condone abortion if the life of the mother were …

Cain: That family is going to have to make that …

Gregory: You won’t render a judgment on that.

Cain: That family is going to have to make that decision.

Cain clearly told Gregory he opposed abortion in cases of rape and incest, but not in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. Cain was less clear in his Oct. 19 interview with Piers Morgan. Cain told CNN’s Morgan: “I believe that life begins at conception. And abortion under no circumstances.” But asked whether he would want his granddaughter to raise the child of a rapist, Cain said it “ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. … Whatever they decide, they decide.”

His comments set off a flurry of news stories. A conservative, anti-abortion website reported that Cain “is raising eyebrows today of pro-life advocates.” Cain ultimately issued a statement to say he is “100% pro-life.” His statement offered an odd explanation about how he interpreted the question.

Cain, Oct. 20: I understood the thrust of the question to ask whether that I, as president, would simply “order” people to not seek an abortion. My answer was focused on the role of the President. The President has no constitutional authority to order any such action by anyone. That was the point I was trying to convey.

Regardless of what Cain did or didn’t say or what he meant to say on CNN, we do know this: His response on “Face the Nation” was different than the answer he gave on “Meet the Press.” And blaming others for taking his words out of context doesn’t change that.

Tax Plan: When Did 9-9-9 Become 9-0-9?

Cain also passed the buck when Schieffer asked him about the changes to the candidate’s 9-9-9 tax plan, which he began promoting as early as Sept. 15 in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal.

Cain insisted there have been no changes in 9-9-9 — which he first referred to as 9-0-9 on Oct. 21 in a speech in Michigan. In that speech, he said for the first time that his tax plan would allow those earning at or below the poverty level — depending on their family size — to be exempted from paying income taxes. Schieffer asked him about the change in his plan.

Schieffer: You’ve already made a change in it saying it ought to be 9-0-9 so poor people don’t have to– to pay this additional tax. But do you think you’re going to have to just go back to the drawing board on this?

Cain: Absolutely not. And one correction, Bob. I didn’t make a change to it — 9-0-9, it was already in the analysis, and it was misreported that I changed it. It’s just that people who were trying to attack it didn’t read the entire analysis.

Schieffer: But it said 9. It said 9-9-9.

Cain: Right. The plan–

Schieffer (overlapping): And now you say it’s 9-0-9.

Cain: No, no, no, no, no, no. What we’re saying is we’ve always had a provision in the revenue that we collect to be able to allow people at or below the poverty level to pay zero on that income if they’re at or below the poverty level. So we’re not modifying it. That’s been a part of it all along.

Schieffer: Correct me if I’m wrong.

Cain: Yes.

Schieffer: Did you not refer to it as 9-0-9?

Cain: Just the poverty piece. Just the poverty piece, but not the entire plan. The entire plan is 9-9-9.

Cain said the exemption for the working poor had been “part of it all along,” and blamed others for not reading his plan. He was referring to a report by Fiscal Associates, a Virginia firm hired by his campaign to determine the impact of the 9-9-9 plan on federal revenues. In its report, Fiscal Associates said it assumed that a tax credit for the working poor “will inevitably be part of any tax reform,” but it did not say if Cain’s plan included such a tax credit, and Cain himself didn’t either. The candidate did not post Fiscal Associates’ analysis on his campaign website until Oct. 18. It was posted after he told viewers during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas that it was available on his website. Until then, his campaign website contained only a summary of the plan that did not mention the tax credit for the working poor. The summary said only charitable deductions would be exempt from the income tax.

The candidate, too, did not mention the tax credit during the Oct. 18 debate or in any of the earlier debates or interviews. When asked about the impact of his plan on low-income taxpayers, Cain typically said they would benefit, because 9-9-9 would eliminate the payroll tax, reduce the price of new goods and exempt used goods from the proposed national sales tax.

For example, in the Oct. 16 interview with David Gregory on “Meet the Press,” Cain was twice asked about the impact of his plan on those who don’t pay income taxes now because they receive a tax credit under the current system. Neither time did Cain mention his tax credit.

Gregory, reading from the Washington Post: “Robert Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center is working on an analysis of Cain’s signature proposal. Williams said it would increase taxes for the poor and middle class, despite Cain’s statements to the contrary. ‘For starters, about 30 million of the poorest households pay neither income taxes nor Social Security or Medicare levees, so for them,’ he says, doing away with the payroll tax doesn’t save anything and you’re adding both a 9 percent sales tax and a 9 percent income tax, so we know they will be worse off.’ ”

Gregory: That’s the reality, Mr. Cain. Without making a judgment about it, why do you think that’s an acceptable reality for the overall goal of reform?

Cain: First, they’re missing one very critical point about sales tax. It wasn’t even mentioned in that analysis that you read. On the price of goods there are invisible taxes that are built into everything we buy. We’ll simply — those invisible taxes are going to go away, and we’re replacing them with a 9 percent visible tax. For example, take a loaf of bread. The farmer pays taxes on his profits. The company that makes the flour, the baker, the delivery man. By the time that loaf of bread gets to the grocery store, there are a series of invisible taxes, which are also called embedded taxes. So in reality, those taxes go away, and so the price of goods don’t go up. …

Gregory: For those 30 million Americans who don’t pay income tax, including 16 million elderly Americans, you concede they would, in fact, pay more.

Cain: Not the elderly. That’s two different groups. Let’s talk about the elderly. You don’t pay taxes on your Social Security income. It replaces the capital gains tax. Many of the elderly make money off of their investments. They won’t pay that. Tax on dividends and tax on income generated from investments, you only pay once. So in that sense, it helps the elderly.

During this time, Cain was insisting that his plan was “simple” and “transparent,” as he did during the Oct. 11 debate in New Hampshire.

It turns out that Cain’s plan was not simple or transparent – or has it changed?

Based on Cain’s public statements and his campaign website, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center did not include the tax credit for the working poor when it produced an analysis of Cain’s plan. “Cain himself kept denying that there was such a deduction and the plan included no description that we could model,” said Roberton Williams, author of the report. The TPC study found that Cain’s plan — without the poverty tax credit — would increase taxes for 84 percent of Americans. Williams said he plans a new analysis.

Williams, Oct. 31: We plan to reanalyze the plan once we get details on how the deduction would apply. I’ve been in touch with [Cain economic adviser] Rich Lowrie and he has agreed to discuss the plan’s details. He has not responded to my most recent email request, however. Including a poverty deduction would reduce the impact of the 9-9-9 plan on the poor (making it 9-0-9) but would not protect the poor from tax increases under the plan. It would definitely lose revenue relative to current tax law.

Cain has even offered alternate versions of early 20th century history, as we reported Nov. 1 in “Cain’s False Attack on Planned Parenthood.”

In that case, Cain falsely claimed Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, wanted to prevent “black babies from being born,” saying the organization built 75 percent of its clinics in black communities. There’s no evidence for either claim.

What’s clear in all of this is that when Cain plays fast and loose with the facts and when he comes under attack, he exhibits a pattern of evasiveness and misdirection — changing his position and then blaming others for misunderstanding him.

— by Eugene Kiely


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