Sharon Bialek, accused Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, pictured, on Monday of making an unwanted sexual advance against her in 1997. Cain’s campaign instantly issued a denial.
WASHINGTON — Many Republican voters are drawn to Herman Cain’s forceful campaign style. But an examination of his comments and proposals raises questions about his grasp of issues he would face if elected president.
Cain has drawn unwanted attention for contradictory or unorthodox comments on abortion, China policy, immigration, torture and other matters. He has struggled to answer some questions about health policy and Libya, at times openly laboring to retrieve facts or talking points.
On a few occasions he has quickly corrected his statements. Other times he has laughed off his critics, telling people to have a sense of humor.
His against-the-grain style appeals to some conservatives, especially those weary of full-time politicians with well-rehearsed stands. What some find refreshing, however, strikes others as betraying a troubling inexperience, or even a lack of seriousness and judgment.
His string of puzzling remarks “has created an image of him as not being up to this task,” GOP political strategist Karl Rove recently told Fox News.
The latest incident involved Cain’s uncomfortably long struggle Monday to say whether he agreed with President Obama’s handling of Libya and the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi. In a widely distributed video interview, Cain fidgeted, stared at the ceiling and talked of having “all this stuff twirling around in my head.”
Cain, who holds a master’s degree from Purdue University, is far more steeped in business than politics. He was a computer systems analyst for Coca-Cola, a Pillsbury Company vice president and regional vice president of Burger King. He was president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza before becoming president of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s.
It’s not unusual for presidential candidates to falter at times, especially when they are tired. Obama, a Harvard Law School standout, once referred to the nation’s “57 states.”
And many candidates, including multi-term governors, are thin on foreign policy experience.
Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon acknowledged that Cain has been forced to explain some campaign remarks.
“You have thousands of hours of on-the-record interviews,” Gordon said. “There are going to be instances where you may have to make clarifications based on the extreme level of scrutiny in the media spotlight.”
Remarks that have raised eyebrows include:
— Torture. Cain seemed to contradict himself at Saturday’s Republican debate on whether waterboarding is acceptable when interrogating terrorism suspects. The Obama administration has banned waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
“I would return to that policy,” Cain said. “I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.”
He added: “I will trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture.” Cain did not explain how his views square with the Army Field Manual, which prohibits waterboarding.
Gordon said Tuesday that Cain “would support the CIA use of waterboarding if we needed to use it.”
— Prisoner exchanges. On Oct. 18, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Cain about a recent prisoner transfer in which a captured Israeli soldier was swapped for hundreds of Palestinian detainees. Cain was asked if a single U.S. soldier had been held for years, and a terrorist group such as al-Qaida demanded “you’ve got to free everyone at Guantanamo Bay, several hundred prisoners at Guantanamo, could you see yourself as president authorizing that kind of transfer?”
“I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer,” Cain said.
During a televised debate that night, Cain said he did not recall making those comments. He later acknowledged them, however, saying: “It was moving so fast, I misspoke. I would not do that, I simply would not do that.”
— Muslim extremism. In a lengthy interview with CQ, Cain was asked about his earlier statement that he would feel uncomfortable with a Muslim in his Cabinet. Cain told the magazine that “one very well-known Muslim voice” told him “that a majority of Muslims share the extremist views.”
Cain said it was hard to believe, but he believed it nonetheless “because of the respect that I have for this individual,” whom he would not name. Cain said he was speaking of U.S. Muslims.
— Discouraging Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Cain told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly on Nov. 1 that he would seek greater U.S. energy independence to drive down global oil prices, thereby reducing Iran’s revenues and military capabilities. Cain also said he would double the number of U.S. Aegis guided missile warships near Iran in the Persian Gulf.
When asked if Iran might view that as a provocation and attack the ships, Cain replied, “That would be perfectly all right, because I believe that we have a superior capability.”
Asked if he wanted “a shooting war” with Iran, Cain said: “I don’t want that, Bill, but if they fire first, we’re going to defend ourselves and defend our enemies.” (He presumably meant “allies.”) “They are no match for our warships,” he said.
At Saturday’s debate on foreign policy, Cain said he would “not entertain military opposition” against Iran “at this time.” Gordon said Tuesday that Cain was clarifying he would lend covert aid but not provide military action to support Iran’s opposition movement.
— China’s military. Speaking to PBS about China on Oct. 31, Cain said, “They’ve indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have.”
China has had nuclear weapons since the mid-1960s.
Cain later told The Daily Caller: “Maybe I misspoke. What I meant was China does not have the size of the nuclear capability that we have.”
— Border fence with Mexico. On Oct. 15, Cain said he wanted a large fence to deter illegal immigrants from Mexico. “It’s going to be 20 feet high,” he said. “And it’s going to be electrified.”
The next day he called the comment “a joke,” saying, ‘That’s not a serious plan.”
One day later, Cain said the fence he envisions “might be electrified.”
— Abortion. Cain says he is “100 percent pro-life.” Groups variously interpret that to mean opposing abortion in all cases, or in all cases except those involving rape, incest or the mother’s life being in danger.
When asked about rape and incest cases, Cain told CNN on Oct. 19: “It ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide.”
When anti-abortion groups objected to the breadth and tenor of Cain’s remarks, he said he was merely pointing out that a president cannot order a person not to have an abortion.