It's been less than 24 hours since Politico reported that two different female employees at the National Restaurant Association issued complaints in the 1990s about their then-boss, Herman Cain, and his campaign is scrambling to pick up the pieces. After an awkward "I know you are, but what am I?" response to reporters yesterday, Cain is now denying the allegations. Chances are this won't be the end of it. But Cain shouldn't be too worried. From Clarence Thomas to Dov Charney to Kobe Bryant to Dominique Strauss-Kahn to Julian Assange, powerful men faced with allegations of sexual assault or harassment typically follow a 10-step path to redemption in the public eye.
Step 1: Media outlets reveal the accuser's identity. The first step in most public sexual harassment cases comes when the media reveal the identity of the anonymous woman (or women) destroying the man's reputation. Cain said today that he wasn't going to waste time "chasing anonymous sources." But this is the wrong move. Cain should take a cue from Strauss-Kahn: The game changes when all the players are known.
Step 2: Reporters and attorneys dig up dirt on the accuser. Is she a slut or a psycho? She was asking for it. Did the boss reveal his flirtatious personality at the job interview? She knew what she was getting into. Has she lied in the past? She must be lying now. Is she non-white/an immigrant/kind of unattractive? The dude is in luck—people won't believe her anyway. No matter who Cain's accusers turn out to be, there will be a way to discredit them. Even if they fit the mold of the perfect victim.
Step 3: Pundits add fuel to the fire. The airwaves explode with commentators weighing in—just how bad are these accusations? Was it rape-rape or not-quite-rape? Are the accusers just the dating police? Do women need to lighten up? Suddenly the "victim" doesn't seem so victimized anymore...
Step 4: The accused breaks out a classic excuse. In sexual harassment cases, the go-to explanation seems to be "boys will be boys." Does anyone really know what "sexual harassment" means, anyway? Cain has already hinted at this tactic, stating today that he has "a sense of humor, and some people have a problem with that." He'd be advised to keep using the oldest trick in the book: Women need to learn how to take a joke. Failing that, he can always quote his role model Clarence Thomas (again) and call these allegations a "high-tech lynching."
Step 5: Hush money is thrown at the accuser. Of course, it'd benefit her to take the money, given that her life is about to be ruined if she pursues the case further. But then the public will just think she's a gold digger. Either way, it advantages the accused man yet again. Rumor has it the National Restaurant Association already dug into its pockets. But Cain may consider adding to those five-figure sums to seal the deal.
Step 6: The accused blames politics. It worked for Julian Assange—people are much more likely to sympathize if the allegations are politically motivated. Cain's press people characterized the report as a case of "a prominent Conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics." Cain even used the term "witch hunt" today. Wise move; people love a political scapegoat.
Step 7: The accused cites the calendar. Roman Polanski got out of his mess by emphasizing how long it's been since that infamous night in the hot tub. Cain's staff has toyed with this strategy, saying the case was "many years ago" and that he was only "vaguely familiar" with the allegations.
Step 8: Fans come out of woodwork to support their idol. Regardless of how true the allegations turn out to be, the public will always be wowed by success. Who wanted to see an Oscar-winning filmmaker behind bars? Who wanted to see a champion basketball player hauled off to jail? No one—or not the people who matter, anyway. Cain's campaign has reminded people that having a "leadership position" causes people to "take a shot at you."
Step 9: Allegations fade from the headlines. The accused gets on with his life, and remains in the spotlight because of his career, not his scandal. That is, until...
Step 10: The accused pens a tell-all memoir. In Clarence Thomas' 2007 memoir, his anger toward Anita Hill was as fresh as ever. Clinton had the last word on the Paula Jones case with a single line from his 2004 autobiography: "It wasn't true." Given Cain's commitment to his first book tour, publishers will surely give him a chance to settle the score.
It could take a few months, but if recent history is any indication, this is how the media circus surrounding the harassment allegations will play out. Cain may not win the election—let's face it, he had zero chance, anyway—but he'll certainly make a killing on that book deal.