The five-minute video posted by theÂ Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has become an internet hit and was linked repeatedly with the tag #cainwreckon on Twitter.
On Monday Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, in the midst of a Midwestern campaign swing, stumbled badly when attempting to answer a question about whether he agreed or disagreed with President Barack Obama’s approach to handling the Libyan crisis.
Meeting with Journal Sentinel reporters and editors before fundraising appearances in Milwaukee and Green Bay, Cain was discussing foreign policy in general when he was asked specifically about Obama’s handling of Libya.
“OK, Libya,” Mr Cain said before rolling his eyes up and pausing to gather his thoughts after being asked if he agreed or disagreed with Obama’s response.
“President Obama supported the uprising. Correct?Â President ObamaÂ called for the removal of Gaddafi. Just want to make sure we’re talking about the same thing before I say, ‘yes I agree’ or no I didn’t agree,” he said.
“I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason â€“ no that’s a different one,” the flummoxed Republican contender continued, adding he’s “got all this stuff twirling around in my head.”
Cain paused for some time, then wanted to clarify that Obama had supported the uprising. Clearly struggling to articulate a response, Cain paused again, saying, “Got all of this stuff twirling around in my head.”
Finally, Cain said: “I would have done a better job of determining who the opposition is. And I’m sure that our intelligence people had some of that information. Based upon who made up that opposition … might have caused me to make some different decisions about how we participated.”
“Secondly, no I did not agree with (Moammar) Gadhafi killing his citizens. Absolutely not. … I would have supported many of the things that they did to help stop that.”
Mr Cain’s inability to answer a direct and relatively simple foreign policy question stunned some pundits, who soon began debating whether it was a more serious gaffe than rival Rick Perry’s “oops” moment at a debate last week, when the Texas governor forgot the third federal department he wanted to shut down.
Cain has made multiple foreign policy gaffes in his campaign. Earlier this month, heÂ warnedÂ China was “trying to develop a nuclear capability,” though the country tested a nuclear device in October 1964.
When asked whether he was prepared to answer “gotcha” questions in October, heÂ said, “When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, you know, ‘I don’t know. Do you know?'” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghan President Hamid KarzaiÂ later jokedÂ about the exchange.
When a Journal Sentinel reporter riding on the Cain bus asked him about the reaction his interview was getting, Cain responded with a smile and indicated he found the reaction ridiculous.
“I paused to make sure I didn’t say something wrong. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t. I didn’t say anything wrong … but the fact I didn’t answer immediately – I’m going to be honest with you, that is silly. That is silly!”
Mr Cain added: “I call it flyspecking every word, every phrase, and now they are flyspecking my pauses, but I guess since they can’t legitimately attack my ideas, they will attack word and pauses. I’m kind of flattered that my pauses are so important that somebody wants to make a story out of it.”
Mr Cain on Monday explained that his inability to provide a “yes or no answer” to the newspaper’s editorial board was because he’s a “deliberate decision maker.”
“Some people say as president you’re supposed to know everything. No you don’t,” Mr Cain said.
“I believe in having all the information, as much of it as I possibly can, rather than making a decision or statement about whether I totally agree or disagree when I wasn’t privy to the situation.
“I’m not trying to hedge on the question. That’s my nature as a businessman,” he continued. “I need to know the facts as much as possible. I need to hear all the alternatives.”
Meanwhile, the Cain campaign tried to downplay the clip later in the day.
“The video is being taken out of context,” Cain spokesman JD Gordon said,Â according to MSNBC. “He was taking questions for about 30 to 40 minutes on four hours of sleep. He didn’t say anything wrong or inaccurate; it just took him a while to recall the specifics of Libya.”