Can the Republican Candidates Recover From Their Recent Implosion?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

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Richard Brian / Reuters

GOP presidential candidates (L-R) former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), businessman Herman Cain, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) stand on stage during the CNN Western Republican debate in Las Vegas, Nevada October 18, 2011.

Penn: Republican presidential candidates are daily violating President Reagan’s 11th Commandment — Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republicans. From debate finger-pointing to smear campaigns, infighting among GOP presidential hopefuls is heightening as we head into the primary season and it doesn’t bode well for the Republican Party.

Far and away, the American people are looking for a president to create jobs and fix the economy. Yet, the discussion right now is filled with Herman Cain’s allegations of sexual harassment and questions as to who leaked the story. The Cain campaign accused the Perry campaign, who in turn raised the possibility that the Romney campaign was behind the disclosure of the allegations. Then Cain started again and blamed the “Democratic machine.”

Moreover, with Romney still hitting Perry on immigration and Perry peddling Romney as a flip-flopper any chance he can get, it’s no wonder that none of the GOP candidates can get their polling numbers above the 30% mark. These low numbers fuel in-party attacks, and they put the frontrunner position in a vulnerable, yet attainable state. As a result, Republicans at large are once again looking for a new face to enter the race. Things are looking desperate as talk of Palin or Trump entering the race has begun anew.

While it’s too early to measure the lasting impact of the sexual harassment charges against Cain, it won’t be too long before the GOP as a whole runs out of time to turn around its image in time for Election Day. Whoever does win the Republican nomination may just be too bloodied and bruised to get into the ring with Obama.

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Hughes: Giddy, goofy and grumpy are not the words most Republicans would want applied to a week of presidential primary politics, but they are nonetheless an accurate description of a week that saw one campaign having to deny its candidate had been drinking, and another fending off allegations of sexual harassment.

On-stage in New Hampshire, Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared to be having a lot more fun campaigning than his current poll numbers would seem to merit. His speech gave new meaning to the word punchy, and became fodder for late night comedians. But the more lasting ramifications on the primary race could come from Herman Cain’s inability to put the sexual harassment story behind him.

Cain spent the week looking mad about accusations he hotly condemned as false. His campaign tried to divert attention by accusing (apparently falsely) another campaign of leaking them, then by week’s end, Cain made the classic mistake of thinking he could unilaterally declare the story dead. “We are getting back on message, end of story,” he told reporters. If you have any doubt that doesn’t work, just ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Now that a fourth woman has come forward, moving the story from vague allegations to tawdry specifics, Cain must find a way to effectively communicate his side of the story. He needs to provide facts and context, not blanket denials that he “has never acted inappropriately with anyone, period.” This story will not go away until the questions are credibly addressed. And Cain desperately needs other voices to speak up on his behalf. Where are the senior women who have worked with him and can speak up for him?

Mitt Romney may well be last week’s winner, by staying out of the headlines and staying focused on his economic plan. Jobs are still the number one issue for the American people, and when voting starts, Republicans will choose a candidate they believe can most effectively run against President Obama’s dismal economic record.

Can Republicans recover? Absolutely, but the onus is now on the Cain campaign to effectively rebut these allegations if he wants to stay in the top tier of candidates.

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