Yes, Carly Fiorina Was Great. But She’s Still Not Electable

Yes, Carly Fiorina Was Great. But She’s Still Not Electable

OK, probably not electable.

Judging from the Twitter consensus—and our own Mollie Hemingway—Carly Fiorina was the clear winner of the JV Republican debate.  And setting aside Fiorina’s positions, I concur. Not only did her tone and presence contrast well against the others—which ranged from overly enthusiastic to the bellicose-but-comatose—she offered compelling, sharp and smart answers, carving out some genuine ideological distinctions between conservative and progressive worldviews rather than relying only on bromides.

But, by far, the most refreshing aspect of Fiorina’s performance was that she actually answered some questions. On NSA, for instance. And in doing so, she reminded me a little bit of Barack Obama in 2008, when the president sounded like he was a thoughtful person rather than someone rattling off prefabricated talking points handed to him by staffers.

Needless to say, there will be a lot excitement around Fiorina in the next few days. She’s probably as qualified as anyone running. A Hillary-Fiorina race would be historic, obviously, and transform the entire complexion of 2016 by stripping Clinton of her chromosomic advantage. Fiorina can’t be bullied by War on Women rhetoric, etc. But there are a few things that should be pointed out before Republicans get too excited.

For starters, referring to this early FOX debate as a “debate” is a misnomer. What we had was mostly a round of dim—sometimes endlessly meandering and confused—softballs posing as questions. What we didn’t have was a formal discussion where opposing arguments were put forward and then debated. Though Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum performed fine, Rick Perry was perhaps the only other candidate who seemed like he belonged in the top tier. When judging Fiorina, you should remember that her answered often followed those of George “I beat Mario Cuomo” Pataki and a guy named Jim Gilmore.

Though Fiorina’s been pretty good every time I’ve heard her the past few months, she still has a lot to prove. At the very least, though, she belongs in the top tier—certainly above the likes of Donald Trump or Mike Huckabee. But Fiorina will most likely not get a chance at the next prime time debate. CNN is using all qualified polls from July through Sept. 10, so she may not get enough of a bump to qualify.

It’s also fair to point out that Fiorina’s record, as far as records go, isn’t very conservative. But the most daunting political challenge Fiorina will face is answering for her own accomplishments. She broke through the glass ceiling becoming the first woman Fortune 500 CEO. The trouble with a real CEO running for political office is twofold. There’s no winning. It doesn’t matter if your tenure was outstanding or a dismal failure. Politics is not about merit, or 90 percent of incumbents wouldn’t win elections. At some point CEOs fire people. At some point they ruin lives, no matter how good they are at their jobs. Many of those fired faces, some of them with terrible stories to tell, will be on TV. Every transaction is grist for an misleading attack ad. Ask Mitt Romney.

Here, for instance, is the second paragraph of her Wikipedia page:

In 2002, Fiorina undertook the biggest high-tech merger in history, with rival computer company Compaq, which made HP the world’s largest personal computer manufacturer. HP gained market share following the merger and subsequently laid off 30,000 American workers.

Yes, 30,000 American workers.

And beyond the challenge of defending a real-world record, it’s fair to ask: was Fiorina a solid CEO? There’s a debate over this question, and America is soon going to be fed every ugly morsel of one side of the story. Right now a New York Times reporter is probably furiously working the phones to find out how many parking tickets Carly Fiorina got when she was 23—so you can imagine what a team of reporters working on the Hewlett-Packard story will do to the GOP candidate. Voters, in a populist mindset, would probably have little patience for a candidate who engage in scary sounding, but completely innocuous, things like “outsourcing” and “offshoring.” Now, I think Fiorina makes a pretty persuasive case that she did an admirable job at HP, but she has a lot of history to answer for. Probably too much.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. He is the author of First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History with the Gun. Follow him on Twitter.
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