Fiorina: A Falling Star

The rapid rise and equally rapid fall of Carly Fiorina deserves our attention. Before the most recent debate, she was languishing in the polls with only 4 percent of the vote (CBS, Sept. 9-13). After a smashing performance in the second debate, she soared into second place with 15 percent (CNN, Sept. 17-19). Now the most recent polls have her falling back into the pack with only 6 percent support (CBS, Oct. 4-8).

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What happened?

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 Trump’s publicity and vaulted to the top of the field.

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But the deeper reason for her climb was that Republicans want to nominate a woman to counter Hillary Clinton, and they found Fiorina, a self-made woman, a far more authentic model of female advancement than they thought Clinton represented. 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. She seemed like a nonascorbic, scandal-free alternative to Clinton.

Then, what happened?

There was no major scandal or faux pas to bring Fiorina down. While the impact of her debate performance may have worn off over time, why did she suffer 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 Hewlett Packard, 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.

The bloggers really did a number on Fiorina, explaining her lack of conservative credentials. They quoted her 2010 comment, during her contest with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer that Roe v. Wade was “settled law” and noted her endorsement of Marco Rubio’s plan for amnesty for immigrants here illegally, 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’s evidence of impurity in the presidential candidates. Blessed with a plethora of articulate, young candidates — especially compared to the 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, 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 election of 2010 and 2014, the GOP voters find themselves sold out by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell’s refusal to stand effectively against President Obama. And they are stung by the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by Bush-43, single handedly sustained the constitutionality of Obamacare.

The Republican 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 Jeb Bush’s failure to catch on and had everything to do with Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal from the speaker’s race. Conservatives feel betrayed and are finely attuned to evidence of disloyalty in their candidates.

Also see,

The Debate Will Not Be Kind to Hillary

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