Carly Fiorina’s Identity Politics

Carly Fiorina’s Identity Politics

A frustrating fact of political life is that female Republican candidates do little to convince critics that the GOP is for women. Carly Fiorina isn’t helping.
D.C. McAllister

Carly Fiorina’s lauded performance in last week’s GOP debate has made her the flavor of the week for pundits itching to find someone to take down Donald Trump and push back the tiresome Democrat war-on-woman charge that has blighted the GOP in recent election cycles. But Fiorina isn’t the panacea so many are making her out to be. She’s weak on many issues compared to the other candidates, and she plays the game of identity politics—something our country doesn’t need.

When Trump criticized Fiorina much in the same way he criticizes many people, she launched a response rooted in identity politics. Trump said, “Look at that face,” and she interpreted the criticism as sexist. Her ad, “Faces,” rallies all women together in response to Trump. Despite what commentators like Kim Strassel might think, Fiorina did play the gender card, and reinforced it during the debate when she said, “I think women all over the country heard clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

The assumption here is that an attack on Fiorina’s looks or persona is an attack on all women – classic identity politics. Was Trump being sexist with that comment? Was he criticizing Fiorina as a woman? Look at it from this angle: Was it an attack on all blacks when Trump criticized Ben Carson as an “okay doctor”? Did we see Carson respond with an ad saying, “Look at all these black doctors. We’re leaders. We’re successful, too”? Was it an attack on all Christians when Trump questioned Carson’s faith? When Trump criticizes Marco Rubio, should all Hispanics be offended? Will we be seeing ads about women, blacks, Christians, and Hispanics flooding the airwaves every time Trump says something critical of an individual candidate? Let’s hope not.

Carly Fiorina Claims She Represents an Interest Group

Was it an attack on all women when Fiorina criticized Barbara Boxer’s looks when running for the Senate? In case you missed it, Fiorina was caught off mic, saying of Boxer, “Just look at that hair!” and laughing. Pretty hypocritical, don’t you think? Speaking of hair, how many times has Trump been criticized for his hair, his looks, his persona? Has that been sexist? Should Trump rally all fair-haired men to his cause?

Fiorina has actually advanced the notion that the GOP is sexist and doesn’t care about women’s issues.

While Fiorina calls out Democrats in her ad, saying women are not a “special-interest” group, we all know the ad was aimed at Trump, not the Democrats. It wasn’t Hillary Clinton who criticized Fiorina’s face. It was a male GOP candidate, and everyone commenting on the ad has put it in that light (she sure did put that sexist Trump in his place!). While many have praised Fiorina for pushing back on Trump and the war-on-women meme, she has actually advanced the notion that the GOP—and not just Trump—is, in fact, sexist and doesn’t care about women’s issues.

A frustrating fact of political life is that female Republican candidates do little to convince critics that the GOP is for women. That’s because their policy positions eventually “out” them as being anti-women in the eyes of skeptics. This is already happening to Fiorina even as pundits in the Beltway are going giddy over their chosen Trump-slayer.

Carly Can’t Out-Special-Interest the Left

Igor Bobic has written at the Huffington Post that while Fiorina seemed to trumpet the cause of all women in her response to Trump in the debate (see, even he gets it—liberals do love identity politics, don’t they?), “she hasn’t done so where it matters most—in her campaign platform.” Bobic goes on to list the GOP’s typical “anti-women” positions: abortion, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Paycheck Fairness Act, maternity leave, etc. So, according to Bobic, Fiorina has played the gender card in one way but not in another.

By interpreting Trump’s comment as sexist, Fiorina played right into the Left’s identity politics narrative.

Andrea Flynn agrees, writing at The New Republic, “Fiorina is helping the Republican Party in its efforts to turn Trump’s misogyny against him, to simultaneously usher him out of the race and curry favor with the crucial women’s vote. She hopes to convince women that the party is not actually out of touch with them. But make no mistake: If Fiorina gets through the gates, she will attempt to rout women’s rights in America.”

So, no matter how much Fiorina goes after Trump, she will convince few people already critical of the GOP that the Republican Party is pro-woman. Identity politics has already done its job on that front.

By interpreting Trump’s comment as sexist, she played right into the Left’s identity politics narrative. Instead of taking the criticism personally—that it had to do with Fiorina and only Fiorina—she broadened it, generalized it, and brought in all the sisters to identify with it. The Left applauded her because they always think this way. What’s shocking is that those who normally oppose such group-think shenanigans are also applauding her, failing to see that she is working from the exact same playbook as Clinton when it comes to public perception about women in GOP politics.

Carly Fiorina Has Played the Gender Card Before

It’s also not the first time Fiorina has played the gender card. When she ran against Chuck DeVore in the California Senate primary, she said, “A woman stands a better chance of defeating Boxer. . . . I have nothing against white men, I am married to one. But Boxer has defeated [them] over and over again.”

Now we have our own candidate playing feminist identity politics.

Michelle Malkin wrote at the time, “In keeping with Fiorina’s identity politics-driven campaign, she also said today that even though she didn’t follow the nomination closely, she would have voted to confirm Obama SCOTUS pick Sonia Sotomayor. An Obama echo, not a choice.”

Playing the identity politics card when it comes to public perception is no small matter. It’s not something we should sweep under the rug as we consider our next president. Ever since Clinton announced that she wanted to be the next president, the Right has been bracing for more feminist identity politics and all the manipulations that go with it.

Now we have our own candidate playing feminist identity politics. This only confirms in the minds of voters that GOP men are sexist, and Fiorina’s platform does nothing to change their minds. At the end of the day, she has done little to stem the war-on-women tide, and many of her policy positions—from a conservative perspective—aren’t what America needs. They’re weak, ill-defined, and, at times, mimic the Left.

Carly Fiorina Is No Conservative

When Fiorina ran against DeVore, Erick Erickson of RedState supported DeVore because “Carly’s conservative record was thin to nonexistent, and there were many troubling signs that she held liberal views.”

Carly Fiorina’s oft-repeated claim to be a ‘lifelong conservative’ was only plausible in the universe of NRSC [National Republican Senatorial Committee] staffers who recruited her in the first place. During the primary, Fiorina aggressively positioned herself to the right, aided by millions in self-funding and the support of a DC-based network more interested in her money and her connections than in any conservative principles.

Do we really need that when we have candidates who are so much better on the issues? While Fiorina’s Planned Parenthood comments during the debate got a lot of fist-pumping (just like immigration hawks at Trump rallies), Rand Paul has been fighting to defund Planned Parenthood more fiercely than anyone. So has Ted Cruz. We have governors who have actually done it. While other candidates on the same stage have been working to save babies’ lives, Fiorina has been inconsistent on the issue. She’s now an outspoken advocate for pro-life policies, but she has endorsed funding for embryonic stem cell research—something most other candidates have not.

One good sound-bite in a debate about defunding Planned Parenthood doesn’t change the fact that when it comes to the issues. Fiorina pales in comparison to her counterparts. On education, she has criticized Common Core but supported No Child Left Behind, and the only specific proposal she has put forth increases federal funding to education. In her Massachusetts Institute of Technology dissertation, she wrote, “I have ended by believing that we will never meet our own expectations of public education unless the federal government is willing to play a consistent, long-term role.”

Compare that to Paul, who opposed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, opposes Common Core, and says in no uncertain terms that the federal government should not be regulating education: “More local control is better.” Paul supports school choice for parents and in 2013 voted in favor of an amendment making federal education dollars portable. When it comes to education, Fiorina isn’t even in the same ballpark as Paul.

Fiorina’s Platform Weaknesses Don’t Stop There

Regarding the budget, Fiorina is also weak. She supported portions of the Obama stimulus, the Wall Street bailout (TARP), and in 2011, Fiorina, then the vice chairman of the NRSC, went on CNN to attack conservative House members who were fighting against a debt ceiling increase without real spending cuts.

Fiorina says she wants to throw punches at Clinton on the issues, but how can she when she has sometimes sounded just like Clinton?

Compare that to Cruz, who has opposed raising the debt ceiling, voted for an amendment balancing the budget in five years without raising taxes, and voted against the massive 2014 omnibus bill. Paul and Rubio also have stellar records compared to anything Fiorina has proposed.

She’s also weak on the environment. Fiorina believes in man-made climate change, is soft on cap-and-trade, and refused to overturn the economically harmful Global Warming Initiative.

Compare that to Paul, who has always opposed cap-and-trade schemes, voted to remove all energy subsidies, and was one of the eight cosponsors of a 2011 amendment to ban the Environmental Protection Agency from promulgating carbon emission regulations. Cruz has also been an aggressive fighter against federal energy and environment abuses. He rejects man-made global warming, introduced the American Energy Renaissance Act of 2014, opposes cap-and-trade, and was one of the few Republicans who opposed federal land grabs in the National Defense Authorization Act.

Fiorina says she wants to throw punches at Clinton on the issues, but how can she when she has sometimes sounded just like Clinton? As Daniel Horowitz writes at Conservative Review, “During the 2013 Obamacare funding showdown, Carly ripped into Ted Cruz, echoing the Democrat talking points about the ‘Cruz shutdown.’ She also said she felt bad for John Boehner. If you look at her statement carefully, this runs a lot deeper than the issue of defunding Obamacare. She is fundamentally parroting the establishment talking point that Republicans will always get blamed for a shutdown and ultimately must always accede to the Democrat demand – no matter the issue.”

She is also parroting Clinton’s talking point against Republicans. “How can Carly throw this punch if she has articulated the premise just as passionately as Hillary?” Horowitz asks.

Like Clinton, Fiorina has accused Republicans of sounding like racists regarding the border debate.

On immigration—something clearly very important to GOP voters—Fiorina falls short of other candidates. Like Clinton, she has accused Republicans of sounding like racists regarding the border debate: “There has been a very unfortunate racist tone that has emerged in a lot of the discussion about immigration and that’s inexcusable. We must be a country that welcomes legal immigrants to this country. We must be a country that recognizes that we have industries like agriculture that have depended on temporary migrant labor for generations.” Fiorina also supports the DREAM Act—amnesty for young illegal immigrants.

Compare that to Cruz, who has introduced legislation blocking Obama’s expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program and supports closing the birthright citizenship loophole, or Rick Santorum, who laid out a plan in 2015 to decrease immigration by 25 percent in order to protect American jobs.

The GOP Candidate Needs to Be Big-Tent

When it comes to the issues, Fiorina isn’t the best candidate by far. Not only that, she sends mixed signals regarding identity politics, both playing the gender card then tossing it aside, confirming to skeptics that GOP men are anti-woman and that her own policy platform is pretty sexist, too. What the GOP needs is not a woman who plays identity politics while being weak on the issues, but a candidate who doesn’t worry about identity politics, stands for all Americans, and has the conservative platform to truly make America great again for everyone.

The GOP needs a candidate who doesn’t worry about identity politics, stands for all Americans, and has the conservative platform to truly make America great again for everyone.

As John Hawkins writes at Townhall, people might be excited about Fiorina because of her debate skills, but what people think about her is very different from what she actually is. Because of that, Fiorina is going to follow the 2012 pattern. “People will initially get excited about her, find out what her record really looks like and then she’ll quickly implode.”

Given this fact, those fist-pumping Fiorina in the aftermath of the debate should take the advice Erickson gave to California voters: Go ahead and vote for Fiorina, “But do so understanding who Carly Fiorina actually is. The mask is off, and there’s a squishy moderate underneath. In the Golden State, the sad truth is that our best hope is to replace a radical with a RINO. Considering the choice we could have had, that’s a shame.”

The same is true today. When it comes to the presidency, we don’t need to replace a radical with a RINO. We have other choices.

Denise C. McAllister is a journalist based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a senior contributor to The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @McAllisterDen.

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