Herman Cain's unconventional campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has become engulfed in that most conventional bane of candidates: a sex scandal.
At least two female employees of the National Restaurant Association received financial settlements after accusing Cain, who was then its chief executive, of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Although Cain had been forewarned by Politico, which broke the story last Sunday, he reacted to the bombshell with ever-changing explanations. From initially saying, "I am unaware of any sort of settlement," he told PBS that he was "aware that an agreement was reached" and then told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that "there was some sort of settlement or termination," worth "maybe three months' salary."
He first called the accusations a "witch hunt," which drew sympathy from conservatives who compared the allegations to those against Justice Clarence Thomas, and then blamed Texas Gov. Rick Perry for spreading the charges, a claim since retracted.
The former head of Godfather's Pizza has gone from being a curiosity among the GOP field to the top of opinion polls, aided by his straight talking persona and his 9-9-9 tax plan.
Yet the seriousness of his quest is questionable. He's devoted scant time to building a political organization in key states and spent two days last week in Alabama, promoting his book.
While the harassment allegedly occurred 15 years ago, Cain's muddled responses confirmed the Watergate adage: It's not the crime; it's the cover-up. A sharper political operation would have confronted the story head-on, with a reasoned response designed to put it behind the candidate and move on.
Although Cain's candidacy may well survive the scandal, his bungled response to the allegations raises grave doubts about his readiness to play presidential politics.