Here’s a statement that Cain’s lawyer made to a TV station that is planning to broadcast a story about an alleged affair that Cain (who is married) had:
Mr. Cain has been informed today that your television station plans to broadcast a story this evening in which a female will make an accusation that she engaged in a 13-year long physical relationship with Mr. Cain. This is not an accusation of harassment in the workplace — this is not an accusation of an assault — which are subject matters of legitimate inquiry to a political candidate.
Rather, this appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults — a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public’s right to know and the media’s right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one’s bedroom door.
Mr. Cain has alerted his wife to this new accusation and discussed it with her. He has no obligation to discuss these types of accusations publicly with the media and he will not do so even if his principled position is viewed unfavorably by members of the media.
I don’t find the argument particularly persuasive. Whether someone is faithful to his wife is not by any means a perfect predictor, or even a strong predictor, of whether he will be faithful to his country or to the oath he takes when elected. But it strikes me as not completely irrelevant to that question, either. We elect candidates not just because we like their policies, but because we think they can be trusted on the myriad matters that they will decide in secret, without our scrutiny; and that’s especially so as to the President.
A candidate’s trustworthiness is thus quite important; and evidence that he betrayed his wife’s trust is some evidence — though, again, not the strongest of evidence — of whether he would betray other trusts. And while a candidate’s having had an affair shouldn’t be disqualifying, I don’t think that discussion of it can just be ruled out of bounds. (I recognize the possibility that there was no betrayal of trust because it was always understood by the particular husband and wife that such extramarital affairs would be permitted; but that, it seems to me, is an unusual arrangement, and a spouse who had an affair and who wants to assure the public that the affair did not involve a betrayal of trust should bear the burden of showing that there was such an arrangement.)
I would think that this view would be especially strongly held (1) by people who believe marriage to be a sacred religious bond, (2) by people who particularly respect Cain because he is a minister, and (3) by people who faulted President Clinton for his affairs (and not just for his statements to the grand jury or to the public about those affairs) — and I suspect that Republicans, and in particular Cain supporters, are especially likely to fall into one or more of these three groups.