The Republican field of all eight candidates vying for the White House met in Rochester, Michigan at Oakland University on Wednesday night to debate economic policy. Most did not think that any of the candidates on stage would bring up the women who are accusing Herman Cain of sexual harassment from his time as president of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990’s.
However, CNBC moderators, did bring up the controversy. CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo said to Mr. Cain, amid booing from the audience, “The American people want jobs, but they also want leadership. They want character in a president. In recent days, we have learned that four different women have accused you of inappropriate behavior. Here we’re focusing on character and on judgment.” She added, “You’ve been a CEO.”
Bartiromo then asked, “You know that shareholders are reluctant to hire a CEO where there are character issues. Why should the American people hire a president if they feel there are character issues?”
Cain, unflinching in his response, answered:
“The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations.”
“And I value my character and my integrity more than anything else. And for every — one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably — there are thousands who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.”
“You’re right. This country’s looking for leadership. And this is why a lot of people, despite what has happened over the last nine days, are still very enthusiastic behind my candidacy. Over the last nine days… (APPLAUSE) Over the last nine days, the voters have voted with their dollars, and they are saying they don’t care about the character assassination.”
“They care about leadership and getting this economy growing and all of the other problems we face.”
The GOP audience cheered Mr. Cain on throughout his answer. However, CNBC’s probing of Cain’s problems did not end there. CNBC’s John Harwood decided to throw the Cain sexual harassment accuser question over to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney had previously called the accusations against Cain “disturbing.”
“When you were at Bain Capital, you purchased a lot of companies. You could fire the CEO and the management team or you could keep them. Would you keep a CEO — are you persuaded by what Mr. Cain has said? Would you keep him on if you bought his company?” asked Harwood.
The audience erupted with boos. Romney, however, rose above attacking Cain on the issue saying: “Herman Cain is the person to respond to these questions. He just did. The people in this room and across the country can make their own assessment.”