Published on TheHill.com on October 13, 2015
The rapid rise and equally rapid fall of Carly Fiorina deserves our attention.
Before the most recent GOP debate, she was languishing in the polls at only 4 percent of the vote, according to a Sept. 9-Sept. 13 CBS survey. After a smashing performance at the event, she soared into second place with 15 percent (CNN, Sept. 17-Sept. 19). Now the most recent polls have her falling back into the pack with only 6 percent support (CBS, Oct. 4-Oct. 8).
Her initial rise was partially due to her headline-stealing riposte to Donald Trump for his ill-considered comments demeaning her physical appearance. By linking her cause to that of all women, she effectively played off the GOP front-runner’s publicity and vaulted to the top of the field.
But the deeper reason for her climb was that Republicans want to nominate a woman to counter Hillary Clinton; they found Fiorina, a self-made woman, a far more authentic model of female advancement than they did the former first lady. Here was a woman who did not depend on her husband’s career to move ahead and who did not have the baggage of scandal and secrecy that burdens Clinton’s candidacy.
Fiorina showed an eclectic knowledge of national affairs and fluently recited key facts about our weakened defense posture. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO seemed like a non-ascorbic, scandal-free alternative to Clinton.
There has been no major scandal or faux pas to bring Fiorina down. While the impact of her debate performance may have worn off over time, why is she suffering this fate while Trump, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio have continued to gain from their debating styles?
While The New York Times contributed to her fall with a front-page article chronicling — and bashing — her record at HP, it was the bloggers who brought Fiorina down. The Times story regaled the saga of how Fiorina had induced HP to buy Compaq despite evidence of its declining clout and emphasized the 30,000 layoffs under her tenure as CEO.
But the bloggers really did a number on her conservative credentials. They quoted her 2010 comment during her contest with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California that Roe v. Wade is “settled law” and noted her endorsement of Rubio’s (R-Fla.) plan for amnesty for illegal immigrants, as well as her support for Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court and her willingness to weaken Proposition 13, which holds down property taxes in California.
The blogs left Fiorina bleeding.
But the larger story here is the extreme sensitivity of the Republican primary electorate to evidence of impurity in the presidential candidates. Blessed with an abundance of articulate, young candidates — especially compared with the old, old, old Democratic field — primary voters are determined not to nominate someone who will sell them out once elected. The slightest indication of a lack of fealty to Republican conservative ideology is enough to turn them off.
In this context, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s slow ascent in the polls bears watching. Positioning himself as the “consistent conservative,” he plays into the Republican angst. After winning the elections of 2010 and 2014, the GOP voters find themselves sold out by Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to stand effectively against President Obama. And they are stung by the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by former President George W. Bush, single-handedly sustained the constitutionality of ObamaCare.
The GOP electorate is determined to nominate a candidate who will not leave his principles at home after he is elected. This distrust has had a lot to do with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s failure to catch on in 2016 and had everything to do with Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) withdrawal from the Speaker’s race. Conservatives feel betrayed and are finely attuned to evidence of disloyalty in their candidates.
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