The GOP presidential race has been in full swing for months with a new “it” candidate bursting onto the scene every few weeks. Romney, Bachman, Perry, Cain, Gingrich – they’ve all had their fifteen minutes of fame as the top GOP contender. (Poor Ron Paul has been relegated to the radical, libertarian favorite once again.) But, this weekend, once-favorite Herman Cain officially “suspended” his presidency, plagued by accusations of sexual harassment and adultery. What went wrong? Well, a better question may be what didn’t go wrong?
His PR team failed at environmental scanning. Proactive crisis communications is effective crisis communications. Whether or not the allegations are true, they were raised in the past, and Cain even paid settlements to keep them quiet. If it was an issue once, it was certainly bound to be an issue again, especially on the national stage. Cain’s crew should have prepared a full crisis communication plan to deal with the allegations that were sure to arise again. As Crisisblogger says, “Hope might be a good campaign slogan, but it sucks as a crisis communication strategy.”
He denied allegations and feed the media frenzy. Instead of apologizing or confronting allegations, Cain decided to deny these allegations, over and over and over. The more he denied the allegations, the more the media covered his denial, keeping this in the news cycle over and over again.
He avoided questions. He deflected and ignored questions – on the street, in studio interviews, in press conferences. He blamed others – the women, the media, anyone but himself. Rather than claiming responsibility for his actions or even giving off a more apologetic tone, he relied on blame rather than truth and transparency.
He lived in a fantasy world. Okay, so this claim is a bit harsh, but let me explain. Cain prided himself on distancing himself from the “dirty games” of Washington politics. Although this is admirable, it’s certainly not realistic. Yes, Washington politics may be an exclusive club, characterized by clique-ish 50-year-old men and lobbyists, but that’s reality. Cain claimed that this constant issue was simply a “distraction,” and he was right – it as. However, there’s always a distraction. Obama’s race. Bachman’s gender. Romney’s faith. There’s always a distraction in the real world. As part of a political team, your job is to recognize these distractions and prepare for them. Welcome to the real world, Cain. See you in 2016?
What do you think Cain did wrong? How could he have salvaged his campaign?