Herman Cain: The jokester of the 2012 race for the White House?

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
Font Size:

The phrase most often associated with Herman Cain’s presidential candidacy is “9-9-9,” the name of his tax reform plan that helped propel the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO into the top tier of White House contenders.

But there’s another phrase we’ve heard more than a few times on the trail from Cain: “America needs to learn how to take a joke.”

Cain’s likeability and sense of humor are assets for the businessman from Georgia who takes pride in being an unorthodox candidate. He has endeared voters with jokes about his Secret Service codename being “Cornbread” and installing a fully functioning Godfather’s Pizza inside the White House if elected.

But using the excuse that he’s only joking, or a variation of it, is also a technique Cain uses to back away from past statements that may be outlandish or contradictory to what he stands for today.

Take, for example, last month when Cain told The Daily Caller he wasn’t being serious when he penned a column in 2006 calling on Republicans to groom golfer Tiger Woods to run for president.

“That was a joke,” Cain said. “That was a joke, okay. That was a joke. Americans got to learn how to have a sense of humor.”

But the column, written before Woods’ high-profile extramarital affairs were revealed, didn’t exactly read that way. “Tiger will be 40 years old in 2016,” Cain wrote then. “The Republican Party should begin grooming him now for a run at the White House. His personal attributes and accomplishments on the golf course point to a candidate who will be a problem solver, not a politician.”

The most recent example of Cain using his sense of humor as an excuse was this week, when he told an editorial board in Wisconsin that he had offered former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger his old job back in a Cain administration, though Kissinger politely declined.

Later pressed by reporters, Cain said he was only joking and wasn’t really making a formal offer.

“Yes I was teasing. I was not serious about asking him because I know he’s retired, but I was serious about seeking his counsel. And he was nice enough to say that I could seek his counsel some more in the future, which I treasure dearly,” Cain said.

Here are other examples of Cain backtracking from statements, saying he was only kidding:

— Cain said he wasn’t being serious when he said he wants an electric fence to span the border with Mexico. Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press with David Gregory, Cain said, “That’s a joke, David… That’s not a serious plan…I’ve also said America needs to get a sense of humor.”

— Last week on the campaign trail, video surfaced of a voter asking Cain if he had heard “the latest news today” about Anita Hill, who in 1991 made sexual harassment accusations against then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings. Cain responded, “Is she going to endorse me?” to the raucous laughter of those present. Spokesman J.D. Gordon later explained that, “it was a joke.”

Follow Alex on Twitter