Herman Cain clarifies, sort of: "I am 100% pro-life. End of story."

It’s a nice try but this doesn’t jibe with the exchange between him and Piers Morgan.

Yesterday in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, I was asked questions about abortion policy and the role of the President.

I understood the thrust of the question to ask whether that I, as president, would simply “order” people to not seek an abortion.

My answer was focused on the role of the President. The President has no constitutional authority to order any such action by anyone. That was the point I was trying to convey.

As to my political policy view on abortion, I am 100% pro-life. End of story.

I will appoint judges who understand the original intent of the Constitution. Judges who are committed to the rule of law know that the Constitution contains no right to take the life of unborn children.

I will oppose government funding of abortion. I will veto any legislation that contains funds for Planned Parenthood. I will do everything that a President can do, consistent with his constitutional role, to advance the culture of life.”

No one on either side is arguing that the president has a constitutional power to issue executive orders barring women from having abortions. I’ve never heard even a diehard pro-lifer suggest that, so in essence, he wants you to believe here that he was responding with a point that no one disputes to a question that no one ever asks. Which means either he’s lying about what he understood Morgan’s question to mean or he’s so unacquainted with the most basic terms of the abortion debate that he genuinely felt obliged to reassure Americans that he won’t be sending the FBI to pregnant women’s homes to make sure they carry to term. Bad, bad news either way.

Beyond that, though, it’s simply not true that his response to Morgan was couched in terms of the limits of presidential power. Go back and watch the clip again. Morgan asks him what he’d want his daughter or granddaughter to do and Cain quickly arrives at this answer:

No, it comes down to is, it’s not the government’s role — or anybody else’s role — to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you’re not talking about that big a number. So what I’m saying is, it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president. Not some politician. Not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn’t try to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive decision.

He’s talking about the entire government, not just the presidency, and of course it’s a core argument for pro-lifers that Congress should act to make this decision on behalf of women if/when Roe v. Wade is overturned. A moment later he told Morgan that his opinion as president shouldn’t necessarily operate as a “directive” on the nation, but then he was back to broad language about government again: “The government shouldn’t be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to a social decision that they need to make.” No pro-choicer could say it any better. How did we get from that to “I am 100% pro-life, end of story” in the span of 24 hours?

Question, then: Does this hurt him at all, and if it does, has the damage been done to his social conservative credibility or to his overall credibility, i.e. the basic belief that presidential candidates are fully engaged on complex but essential issues? For now, the rest of the field is attacking him on the former point. Santorum questioned his pro-life cred earlier this morning and then Perry, who desperately needs Cain to fade in social-con bastions like Iowa and South Carolina, issued this statement:

The campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry has responded to Cain’s comments, with Perry communications director Ray Sullivan saying, “A number of the Republicans candidates have flip flopped or been tripped up on the abortion issue. Governor Perry has been proudly pro-life for his entire career, successfully working to pass a parental consent law, a pre-abortion sonogram law, and defund Planned Parenthood in the state budget.”

That’s awfully timid. Let’s see what happens at the next debate. Until then, read HuffPo’s report on the reaction of Iowa social conservatives to what Cain told Morgan. Exit quotation from talk-radio host Steve Deace: “Cain is good at regurgitating talking points, but when he is forced to explain what he believes the devil is usually found in the details. Based on the testimony of his own words, Cain is neither ready, willing, nor able to honor the oath of office required of a President of the United States.”

Update: David Freddoso’s also underwhelmed by Cain’s spin and wonders how he’d fare in a debate with Obama.

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