Whenever writing about Donald Trump’s march towards the nomination, it’s become routine for many of us to insert—always with a faint hint of pleading—phrases like “but Ted Cruz still has time.” But does he, really? The Ted Cruz-Carly Fiorina ticket might be a great one in any ordinary political year. But this is Year Zero for the GOP, and having happy thoughts do not move votes.
Now, I’m often wrong. So I hope I’m wrong this time, as well. We’ll know more after Indiana, where Cruz is reportedly down by double digits in his internal polling. But as my colleague Ben Domenech pointed out in The Transom this week, Trump is now the presumptive GOP nominee. Cruz’s effectiveness has been in decline over the past few weeks, while rank-and-file voters seem to be coalescing around the frontrunner, as they often do. Trump is now outperforming polls. No matter how inexplicable or dumb his message becomes—or maybe because of it—he marches forward.
So will Fiorina, who is by most measures more impressive than Trump, help change this dynamic? There are a number of reasons to be skeptical she will, including the following.
The move exudes desperation, not fight. If this is a last-ditch effort to save a campaign, it’s not remarkable enough. Although it’s a tricky to poll, it’s likely that vice presidential nominees make little difference in a general elections (even in their home states). So it seems implausible that Fiorina will shake up this GOP primary/reality show in any significant way. Some voters may see it as another trick being pulled by the (newly minted) “establishment slicker” Cruz.
ALSO: If Cruz loses Indiana, the Carly-running mate stunt lasts, what, one week? Unless Trump collapses, Cali won’t even matter much.
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) April 27, 2016
One poll of Carly in Indiana had her at 3 percent around the time she left the GOP race. Maybe she’ll steer some undecided Republican women into the Cruz camp. But perhaps it escapes our attention that a Bobby Knight is probably worth more than a Carly Fiorina in Indiana.
Now, if Fiorina has been recruited to help Cruz win California, it would make more sense if she was actually popular in that state. She is not. Even at the height of her surge last year, she was polling behind Trump in the state. Will there be enough undecideds willing to align with a candidate because of a presumptive vice presidential pick in a primary? Seems doubtful.
As Dan McLaughlin writes in NRO:
… Cruz may be banking on Fiorina helping him in California, where she won the GOP Senate primary in 2010 (grabbing 56% of the vote – 1.3 million primary voters – by running to the center of conservative Chuck DeVore and liberal Republican Tom Campbell) and got 4.2 million votes in November, more than Meg Whitman in that year’s gubernatorial race or Neel Kashkari in 2014. But again, her real appeal is questionable, since she did end up losing to Barbara Boxer in a great Republican year.
So maybe Cruz has something else up his sleeve. Because he can do well in Indiana (and there’s no guarantee he will), California’s 172 delegates would basically decide whether we’re headed to a contested convention in July or not. But will Fiorina, who, knowing Trump’s propensity to dominate the news, be a factor for more than one cycle? Her own short-lived primary surge came on the heels of impressive debate performances. There will be no such public opportunities for her moving forward. Without a stage, she lagged behind most candidate during her run. Will she even matter by June 7?
By most measures, Fiorina has a more impressive story to tell than other candidates. But that’s not how it works. Trump has been absolved of his checkered life in business (until he secures the nomination, that is, when we’re going to hear all about it), but others are held responsible for theirs. A former Hewlett-Packard CEO, her success would be used against her when it comes to the kind working class voters that need to be peeled away.
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.
Fiorina would surely be an effective weapon to use against Hillary. “Let me tell you,” Cruz once said about Fiorina not long ago, “that woman gives Hillary Clinton nightmares.” That’s probably right, as far as it goes. Adding gender diversity to the ticket is smart move—after the primaries. There’s probably no dangerous downside to naming a VP before you’re even the nominee. But right now, I fear it’s too late, too desperate, and too inconsequential to make the kind of difference that matters.
It doesn’t mean conservatism is dead. It just means Republicans will be stuck with a demagogic fraud for one election cycle, one conservatives should reject. Either way, the republic will survive.