How many more cases of alleged sexual harassment have to surface before Herman Cain becomes known as the Tiger Woods of the Tea Party?
To quote the soon-to-be-former presidential candidate's reprise of one of his father's favorite quips, "I does not care."
Cain never was and never will be more than a minstrel act in the Republican nominating process, an entertaining diversion for white conservatives so eager to establish their lack of bigotry through their showy (albeit transitory) support for a black man that they overlook his total lack of qualifications. Indeed, they are so hell bent on thumbing their nose at the mainstream media that they rushed to Cain's defense, driving him even further up in the polls.
But that's a chimera, a blip destined to disappear when the time for Republicans to select their real standard-bearer grows nigh. The white folks who are rallying around Cain right now will throw him under the bus faster than Barack Obama jettisoned the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Until then he'll loiter around, shucking and jiving his way through debates, threatening legal action against the reporters who broke the sexual harassment story and boasting about how close he is to the notorious right-wing financiers David and Charles Koch, whom he considers to be "brothers from another mother." He may even break into song from time to time, as is his wont.
It will, to be sure, be entertaining as all get out, but it will be totally irrelevant. The issues facing this country are way too serious to waste any more time on the pretentious shenanigans of a self-serving egotist behind whose genial image may well lurk a habitual letch. The details that so far have emerged suggest that instead of turning his victims on, Cain's vulgar come-ons gave them the creeps.
As a matter of fact, one of the women who received payments from the National Restaurant Association to settle their claims against Cain said through her lawyer on Friday that the offensive behavior occurred for more than a month and happened more than once. Married for 26 years and now a federal employee, the victim has chosen "not to relive the incident" and to remain anonymous, according to the lawyer, because the experience was "so painful."
The interesting political question that arises is which Republican candidate will benefit most from Cain's inevitable deflation. Or, to put it another way, once he is finally out of the way, which of the right-wing extremists who remain in the field will emerge as the principal alternative to the ever-flexible former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney?
No one hopes more than Obama's re-election campaign staff that one of the nuts will wind up as their opponent. They know that with the economy in the tank, sky-high unemployment and the gathering sense across the nation that the American dream is sagging toward a collapse, Obama's best hope for a second term is to run against a foe whose hard-right positions will scare the bejesus out of independents and disaffected Democrats.
The smooth and relatively moderate Romney, despite the flip-flopping on issues that makes him resemble a political pretzel, remains the toughest challenge. So a super PAC allied with the Obama campaign is already beating up on Romney, releasing a savage Internet ad outlining his twists and turns, in hopes that this assault will sour Republicans on his candidacy even more than many conservative activists already are.
If so, Obama's strategists reason, Republicans might become more likely to line up behind one of the far-right candidates, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
I'm putting a long-shot bet on Santorum, who has done much better than expected during GOP debates, while Perry has come across as an ignorant oaf — or maybe, as evidenced by a virally circulating YouTube video of a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, as some kind of kook. A relative moderate, such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, has no more chance of snagging the nomination than Cain ever did, even though he has much better credentials than most of his rivals.
And so, settle down and brace yourself for the start of what could be the ugliest presidential campaign in memory, as hordes of super PACs on both sides of the political fence, and funded by anonymous corporate cash, finance fire barrage after barrage of negative messages filled with lies and distortions. To make matters even worse, it will start sooner than ever before, with the Iowa GOP caucuses scheduled for Jan. 3, and the New Hampshire primary coming a week later.
Meanwhile, we can distract ourselves by wondering when and if more salacious details will surface about Cain's clumsy innuendos. With each revelation, Cain will seem less like a presidential contender and more like a dirty old man.
Jack White keeps an eye on right-wing politics for The Root.
is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.