Virtual Voices

Trusting Cain

Campaign 2012

Politics is about trust. People vote for you because they trust you. They entrust public authority into your care. According to recent polls, Herman Cain has gained the trust of about a quarter of the Republican Party, and for his presidential run, that is gold he can spend in state primary after state primary. Clearly, many Republicans do not trust the architect of Romneycare who was once pro-abortion and is now pro-life.

To a sizable bloc of Republicans at this point, Cain sounds like a leader but not like a politician. He sounds like he has the good of his fellow citizens at heart, and his tax plan seems bold and plausible to them. For that reason, the way Cain has handled the revelation of a settlement in the 1990s over sexual harassment charges while he was president of the National Restaurant Association is potentially fatal to his candidacy. This is especially true given how soft the support has been for frontrunners in the GOP race so far.

Cain told the National Press Association-with cameras running and with the nation watching-"I am not aware of a settlement." But later he described in detail the legal and financial settlement the National Restaurant Association reached with a particular woman on his behalf. It didn't sound like the sort of thing you'd forget. Defending himself against the contradiction, Cain quibbled over specific terms, like settlement as opposed to agreement. It seemed unsettlingly Clintonian.

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Trust is the heart of any relationship. It's the essence of friendship. Marriage, a special kind of friendship, falls into crisis when trust is broken. Businesses cannot function without trust. The political relationship, the bond between citizens and between the electorate and the elected, is for the most part a trust relationship, a kind of distant friendship. An election campaign is a courtship of sorts. An election itself is a civic handshake. So in any election, what voters are looking for in a candidate is not only political wisdom but also personal trustworthiness. When political leaders or prospective leaders break trust-whether it's the Solyndra affair or (what appears to be) the Cain cover-up-voters go into strict scrutiny mode.

So expect prospective primary voters to take a second look at Herman Cain and ask, "Did this guy lie to me? How well do I know him, after all? What else don't I know that I should know before I shake his hand, entrust him with the highest office, and call him my president?"

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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