Opinion writer

Carly Fiorina talks to a restaurant patron during a campaign stop at the Starboard Market this month in Clear Lake, Iowa. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Pres)

Better than any candidate, Carly Fiorina has been taking on Donald Trump in ways that put her on the offensive and endear her to conservatives. On Trump’s anti-immigrant rage, there was this exchange with Hugh Hewitt yesterday:

CF: . . . Just anger and frustration won’t change anything. And, stoking people’s anger and frustration and fear can make things far worse over time as your question suggests.

HH: Do you think Donald Trump is doing that?

CF: I do.

HH: And to where does that lead? Does that dissipate or does that build to a majority on his part?

CF: I don’t know. I don’t know. What I am focused on is talking to people about solutions because there are solutions to every one of these problems. Every problem we have can be solved and every wound is self-inflicted, but it will take real leadership that has proven track record of problem-solving, challenging the status quo, producing results – I have that track record. I think my track record is superior to anybody in the field and I am a real outsider, and it will take citizens to help the leader challenge the status quo. But we can’t just talk about problems. We also have to talk about solutions that actually can happen and that are practical and reasonable.

Acknowledge the anger but call out Trump for inciting the mob. Even more successfully, she drew contrasts with Trump’s incoherent views.

On China, Trump thinks trade protectionism is the answer. In reaction to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s impending state visit, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker thinks we should send China’s leader packing. Fiorina has a more sophisticated take:

CF: First, I think we need to understand that China is undergoing a very difficult time. They’ve made a bargain with their people, and the bargain is we will grow this economy and lift millions of you out of poverty and in return, you’re going accept oppression, censorship, terrible safety standards, and killing pollution. And when that bargain begins to break down as it is when they can’t grow their economy, the government is under huge pressure. Now is the time for us to put pressure on them. And I would pressure on them in the follow way: I would be conducting big fly-overs right now in these disputed territories in the South China Sea. We cannot permit China to control those. I would be giving the Japanese and the Australians the technology they’ve asked for and make sure the Chinese know it. That the Australians and Japanese can join us in patrolling the South China Sea and that trade route to which five trillion dollars worth of goods and services flows every year. To guarantee that China cannot control that trade route. And I would keep the visit, and I would negotiate very hard on two issues: number one, you cannot our nation through cyberattacks with impunity. And number two, we will never permit you to control this trade route, and you need to stop building your military bases. Actually now is the time to put pressure on China when their economy is faltering.

HH: But you would keep the visit. Would you downgrade the visit from a state visit–

CF: Yes.

HH: . . . Which is an honor actually.

CF: Yes. Yes, I would. I would downgrade the visit. I would let the Chinese know that this going to be a very serious negotiation, not you know a bunch of pomp and circumstance to build [up] the Chinese leader, but that this would be a very serious negotiation and if the Chinese leader did not want to accept those conditions, then the visit can go by the wayside. This is not an opportunity to build him [up]. This is not an opportunity for a state dinner. This is not an opportunity for a bunch of photo opportunities. This is an opportunity for serious negotiation as well as for serious action in the South China Sea.

That’s as good an answer as you will hear from any candidate — firm, detailed and soundly reasoned. And likewise on South Korea, Fiorina hits Trump for wanting to pull out U.S. troops:

First of all, I disagree. We should not be withdrawing troops from South Korea. In fact, now is the time for us to be building up our military. We need to have the strongest military on the face of the planet. Everybody has to know it, so I actually would be leaving our forces in South Korea. I would be encouraging Japan – not to become a nuclear power – I don’t think we should be encouraging nuclear proliferation. It’s why the Iran deal is such a terrible deal as you and I have talked about and why we have to cut off the money flow to Iran which I will do. But, the point is, our Japanese and South Korean allies need to see leadership and support and resolve from us. We should not ever trust North Korea or the Chinese for that matter will not try and take advantage of the situation if we leave South Korea or Japan weakened. The truth is, there is a lot of technology that the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Filipinos, and the Australians are asking for from us to help them be more assertive in the region. To push back against China that is not a nuclear weapon. That that would be extremely helpful and I think we should be providing it.

Can there be any doubt who is more conservative in outlook on foreign policy and who is better prepared to lead? Trump sounds like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), while Fiorina sounds like she is a credible commander in chief. As other candidates swing wildly at Trump, she wields a stiletto. She slices and dices his record and views and reminds the GOP that the race is about changing Washington, not blowing up our political discourse. It would be political malpractice for the Republican National Committee not to make sure that she is on the main debate stage next time around.