Ready for Carly?

The presumed inevitability of Hillary Clinton has overjoyed some liberals and has caused consternation in others – particularly pundits – who worry about the longer-term effects of a cakewalk Democratic primary. Republicans, proceeding on that same assumption of a Clinton nomination, have focused efforts on criticizing, countering and contrasting their own experience and ideas with hers, looking to get a head start in the general election fight they look forward to.

We conservatives know what we’re in for with a Clinton campaign and – God forbid – presidency, so the attribute “can beat Hillary” is one of the more desirable a Republican candidate can possess. This is one reason that Carly Fiorina is so intriguing.

The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and 2010 candidate for the U.S. Senate seat from California is likely to officially announce her candidacy this month for the Republican presidential nomination. In anticipation, she’s been hitting Clinton hard on her record – or, according to Fiorina, lack of one. She can do this, she argues, because she is a woman and therefore Team Clinton cannot come back with the “women card.” I think Fiorina will be surprised at the logical contortions liberals can accomplish in defense of Hillary.

Yet many are still fascinated by the possibility of a Fiorina candidacy. The Weekly Standard’s Michael Warren writes:

[T]here’s something intriguing about Candidate Fiorina. She’s a veteran of big business who rails against crony capitalism. She’s a modern, independent woman who’s unabashedly pro-life. Carly, as everyone knows her, is less Sarah Palin and more Ronald Reagan, a natural storyteller with a quick wit and an ear for emotional narratives.

Fiorina’s experience as a CEO is attractive, especially to the Right, who like candidates would have actually run something. The problem is that her tenure at Hewlett Packard, for which she is most well known, was famously troubled. She has often been cited as being one of the worst tech CEOs of all time and was ultimately forced out.

Business and government are of course different animals (presidents Grant and Eisenhower similarly found the military and government to be different) and it is entirely possible that Carly would find success as the nation’s chief executive. This nuance is, unfortunately, likely to be lost on most voters, as the narrative “she failed as CEO” is too clear and easily repeated to be avoided. The Blaze’s Matt Walsh, confounded by her popularity among conservatives, took to Facebook with that very argument.

Here’s a quick recap of Mrs. Fiorina’s resume:


She was CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005. During that time, the company lost half of its value, thousands of employees were fired, hundreds of jobs were shipped overseas, and Fiorina was finally forced to resign in disgrace, taking a 21 million dollar severance package. She has been consistently rated as one of the worst tech CEOs of all time, and was generally despised by her employees. It’s widely considered that, although she ran the company during a difficult economic time, she also helped run it into the ground, and was rewarded with a multi-million dollar payoff.


Then, in 2010 she ran for senate in California and lost.


Now she’s going to run for president.


And based on what? Her stellar track record of failure?

Walsh went on to say that this is simply an example of conservatives partaking in the very identity politics we regularly decry.

Okay, but what about the vice presidency? Fiorina says she’s running for the presidency and she is only being asked about vice president because she is a woman. But it is well known that a VP pick is seen by both parties as an opportunity to engage in identity politics. Differences of race, gender and geography are always taken into account when a nominee looks to fill the other half of the ticket.

It is easy to visualize Carly as an attack dog unleashed to pound Hillary’s record, should she be the Democratic opponent. The vice presidency not being a chief executive position, Fiorina’s record wouldn’t be as subject to scrutiny. The most decisive question though is whether she can draw women, particularly independent women, to the Republican ticket.

Unfortunately, that is a dubious thesis, as Linda Hirshman, for one, has argued. Hirshman is a radical feminist, but she nonetheless believes that women are not more inclined toward identity politics than the average voter. In a New York Times piece she wrote in 2008, she explains,

Historically, there is no reason to believe that women, even Democratic women, will automatically support a female candidate. As Nancy Burns, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, demonstrated in a recent article in the journal Politics and Gender, women, like men, have multiple commitments and connections, which pull their electoral loyalties in many directions. And because women’s lives are intimately connected with those of men, women are a little harder to organize than, say, a segregated racial minority. Burns also maintained that “gender consciousness,” far from helping women to organize themselves politically, has little power to generate political action, and that its influence has “waned over the last 30 years.”


On the other hand, the presence of a female candidate is consistently bracing to women voters — even if they don’t end up voting for her. In their book, “The Private Roots of Public Action,” the political scientists Nancy Burns, Kay Lehman Schlozman and Sidney Verba found that for women, “living in a state with a statewide female politician has a significant impact on each of the components of psychological engagement with politics: political information, interest and efficacy.” Women are more likely, for instance, to know the name of their state’s U.S. senator or Senate candidate if a woman held or was competing for the office. Seeing themselves as part of the political arena encourages women to get involved.

Carly – as a candidate and perhaps eventually on the ticket, top or bottom – means an increased opportunity for Republicans to make their pitch to women voters.

Obstacles aside, Fiorina is a compelling candidate personally. She manages to come down within conservative Republican orthodoxy on practically all issues, but is yet able to convey an out-of-the-mainstream freshness that can make voters look again.

Though her experience and demographic appeal may not be as strong as her supporters contend, there is something personally interesting about her and that might be enough to move her into contention.