Yesterday, Carly Fiorina went to Columbia, South Carolina intending to ambush Hillary Clinton who was there for a speaking engagement. Clinton was, as is her usual practice, not offering any press availability. So while the crowd of journalists following the former First Lady offered Fiorina a large media audience, they vented their frustration on her and subjected the former Hewlett-Packard CEO to the kind of tough questioning that Clinton has so far evaded. It made for a difficult few moments for Fiorina and the encounter left some observers wondering whether she was hurting herself more than helping by seeming to shadow Clinton. In a race with up to 20 candidates competing for the Republican presidential nomination where all are fighting for attention, it appears that being the scourge of Hillary has become both Fiorina’s political identity and her only shot at edging her way into contention. Will that be enough?
Heading into 2015, Fiorina’s candidacy seemed to be pointless. She had no political experience other than an unsuccessful run for a California Senate seat in 2010. Nor had she a claim on the loyalty of any of her party’s key constituencies like the Tea Party, social conservatives, foreign policy hawks or the establishment. But over the course of the last several months, she has parlayed a tart speaking style and clever barbs aimed at Hillary Clinton into some attention if not good poll numbers.
There’s no question that her reception at campaign cattle calls and on the stump has been good. Republicans seem to like her. And they love her ability to call out Clinton. Her stock attack lines about the former secretary of state needing to learn that “flying is an activity, not an accomplishment,” has made her something of a GOP star.
The fact that liberals are starting to attack Fiorina and deriding her as lacking the qualifications for the presidency and merely being a GOP version of affirmative action shows that her arrows have found their target. The resentment against Fiorina from liberals, and especially liberal women, is visceral. Their ire is not so much about her views on the issues as it is the fact that Fiorina’s gender allows her to take shots at Clinton in a manner that no man could do without being excoriated for sexism.
That makes her a useful weapon in the GOP arsenal. But is it enough to make her candidacy viable? The jury is still out on that question.
So far, all the good press she’s gotten hasn’t yet translated into a surge in the polls. The latest Quinnipiac Poll that was published today shows her with just two percent support. That’s not laughable in a field that big and with there being a five-way tie for first place. Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee all have just ten percent. But it still leaves her in a statistical tie for tenth place trailing Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and even the comical Donald Trump ahead of her. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has neither campaigned nor declared his intention to run, is tied with her at two percent.
Being ahead of Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham is not a negligible achievement but it also means she is in great peril of not finishing in the top ten and being, therefore, ineligible for the first GOP debate on Fox.
Thus, while it is fair to say that merely being the Republican’s designated hitter on Clinton doesn’t do much to highlight Fiorina’s case for the presidency, it does get her some attention that she might otherwise never get. The problem is that there is a difference between assuming the role of the thorn in Clinton’s side and being a serious presidential contender.
Fiorina is an impressive speaker and the more she gets a chance to appear on national forums, the better she is likely to do. But that doesn’t change the fact that she hasn’t got a core group of voters or base within the party. So long as that is true most political observers will continue to believe that she is really running for the vice presidency or a Cabinet post in a future Republican administration.
But right now, her goal is to get on the stage at the Fox debate in August. If she keeps hitting Clinton hard while also avoiding gaffes, she has a fighting chance of making the first cut and raising enough money to continue her effort. Whether or not Democrats like it, Fiorina’s anti-Hillary barbs have been hitting home. They may be enough to keep Fiorina in the race until the voting starts next winter. Though it may not provide her with a path to the nomination, let alone the presidency, Hillary is jump-starting Fiorina’s campaign.