This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," November 5, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain, and his campaign's shifting response. Does he have what it takes to go the distance?
Plus, as world leaders scramble to contain the European debt crisis, we'll have a U.S. investor's guide to the rocky road ahead.
And a new Obamacare mandate has Catholic groups up in arms. Could it cost the president a key voting block in 2012?
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
First up this week, can Herman Cain's candidacy survive? His campaign is reeling from allegations of sexual harassment by as many as three former employees, offering a haphazard response to the story and accusing a rival of being behind the leak. Despite that, a poll taken this week after the scandal broke shows Cain still leading the GOP pack with the support of 26 percent of likely primary voters.
Joining us this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Bret Stephens; and editorial board members, Dorothy Rabinowitz and Jason Riley.
Dorothy, with the accusations and the responses, what have we learned about Herman Cain's candidacy this week?
DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: We've learned that it's fallen to its predictable point, which is this is a campaign run, as we say, by the seat of your pants. The response is by the seat of your pants. This wasn't what was required in this situation and we got a certain amount of loss of his usual affable cheery nature. That's not surprising. He has a lot of fire and intimacy and that's what ignited audiences. And I wouldn't have expected him to be deeply diplomatic, but let me say, this was not a good outcome. The explanations were not good. The inconsistencies are perhaps predictable, but there's a kind of rip-roaring hostility, which you can understand. He's being accused by anonymous people.
BRET STEPHENS, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Only in the world of ESPN political critics does this seem to resonate. You just saw the poll numbers. Cain remains on top. It has a lot to do with his personality. It has a lot to do with, so far, the vagueness of the accusations. People understand that sexual harassment claims can be serious but many of them can also be frivolous. Until we have some idea of who the accusers are, what the credibility of the accusations really is, I think that voters are -- GOP voters are going to give him the benefit of the doubt. This exists as one of the classic Washington attacks coming from god knows where, and leaving a candidate in a position of trying to sort out accusations that he or she may not really understand.
JASON RILEY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I don't know how long he'll continue to get the benefit of the doubt. You're right about the vagueness of the claims. We don't know who the people are. We don't know the specifics of the accusations. But here's what we know from this week's events. We know that a man who was running for president on his business experience is not adept at crisis management. And for people who are already suspect of his policy expertise, this doesn't help matters, Paul. It really doesn't help matters.
GIGOT: Well, we did know, Bret, too, as far as a legitimacy of the story, there were settlements. Your right that settlements often are made as kind of a routine matter when these calls are made --
STEPHENS: Cost of doing business.
GIGOT: Cost of doing business. Let's get it behind us. But nonetheless, having been formally done, the settlements, you knew as a candidate they were going to come out eventually. Shouldn't you be prepared for that?
STEPHENS: Yes. And there are two issues, one of which is the competence of the campaign, whether these guys are running it as -- as Jason said --
GIGOT: On that point, what do you think?
STEPHENS: As a business? Not particularly -- not particularly well. But is that what we're really rating as a president. Obama ran a peerlessly confident campaign and it didn't tell us what kind of president he was.
RABINOWITZ: Bret, there's one thing you have to take into account. The nature of the vociferous support that Herman Cain has enjoyed. I think even if these were highly specific charges and women were trotted out, there would be a very large volume of voters saying, we don't care. We don't believe this. This is a malevolent charge. You feel in your bones a kind of perverse -- we don't care about this press assault. This is our job.
GIGOT: And, yet, you're saying you care. You're saying it reflects upon how you think he would perform as president.
RABINOWITZ: Yes, I do think that.
RABINOWITZ: Well, I think because it is a completely, kind of combustion going on there, out of control. But you know, you could get over that kind of non-management. This is a very difficult time for anybody to have this thrown in his face. What I'm talking about is the push for Herman Cain that's particularly passionate, kind of perverse in insistence that there's no ills attached to him, that's out there too.
RILEY: One of the reasons, Paul, some of us like a longer primary process versus a short primary process is because it gives voters the chance to vet the candidates, to find how they respond to setbacks and controversies and so forth. Herman Cain is failing that test right now. He's failing it badly and it could be fatal.
GIGOT: If you knew that this existed, why wouldn't you preemptively get this out? Inevitability, in modern politics, Bret, this is what happens. Every story comes out. You're under withering scrutiny. And what would a Republican say if he got -- if he gets the nomination and this story came out after Labor Day, when he's already the nominee.
STEPHENS: The comparison is often made to George W. Bush's DUI story that came out days before the November 2000 election.
GIGOT: It really hurt Bush.
STEPHENS: But that allegation was true. That's the difference. We don't yet know whether these allegations are true and --
GIGOT: No, but we do know that there were settlements, so we do know that that story would have come out regardless.
STEPHENS: Look, I think people are asking -- a lot of people who support Cain want to move away from a certain kind of "business as usual" politics --
STEPHENS: -- where everything is strategy. And let's assume for a moment that Cain is innocent of the charges, that they were frivolous allegations that the National Restaurant Association simply settled as a course of doing business. Perhaps, a very human reaction is, there's no truth to the story, so why do I want to get a story out that isn't really there to begin with. That's a perfectly normal thing to do.
RABINOWITZ: He has been an ecstatic high in a very real and infectious way. And you don't think about that. Did John Edwards think what might happen if he actually won the nomination and this child emerged in the world?
GIGOT: That's a little different circumstance.
Very briefly, Jason.
RILEY: This is also reinforcing the notion this is not a serious candidacy, that he doesn't have the infrastructure in place. And again, that's not going to help him. And it's going to test the GOP voters sticking with him in the polls --