Carly Fiorina entered the presidential race as an acerbic critic of Hillary Clinton, a contrast — she said — between herself (a woman who went from secretary to chief executive officer) and a woman who rose not on her own merits, but in spite of her own incompetence. Fiorina had international business expertise and had thought long and hard about innovation and technology. She was prepared on foreign policy questions (reminding us of her advisory roles on intelligence and national security) and articulate in jabbing at Clinton and Donald Trump. However, a few good debate performances were all she provided. There turned out to be no there there.
Rather than develop clear policy proposals and show greater depth of understanding on the issues as time passed, Fiorina stuck with the same platitudes and simplistic answers. (Make the tax code three pages! Her first two calls would be to the Israeli prime minister and the Iranian supreme leader, etc). She refused to come out with full-blown policies on taxes, entitlements or much of anything else. What was glib in the summer seemed superficial in December and January.
She sunk in the polls. She did not build out a ground game. She did poorly in Iowa, garnering only 2 percent of the vote and one delegates. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who finished ahead of her, dropped out, as did Mike Huckabee, who got 140 fewer votes than Fiorina. She is free to carry on despite awful results, but she is not content merely to soldier on. She now insists that the debate rules be changed, not because the polls failed to pick up a surge (the basis for her successful plea in September to get into the main debate), but because she is a woman. She proclaimed on Wednesday: “It’s hard to justify a single candidate, the only woman, being excluded.”
It is not hard at all. Fiorina did not come close to meeting any of the criteria for the next debate (top three in Iowa or top six in New Hampshire or top six nationally). She finished seventh in Iowa and ranks seventh in the RealClearPolitics average for New Hampshire and 10th in the RCP average nationally. Since she has been repeating the same one-liners since the summer, it is hard to see what more she could contribute to the debate.
This is February, not September. Candidates have had months to drum up significant support. The purpose of the debates is to help voters decide their nominee, not to let everyone in to get free airtime. The voters have a right to see that the most viable candidates have sufficient time to make their case and interact with other viable candidates.
Fiorina is now undercutting her message, namely that Clinton’s gender is no reason to elect her president. (“Mrs. Clinton is going to play that gender card all day long. It is the rationale for her candidacy,” Fiorina said in October.) The same is true of Fiorina. Moreover, as she remains in the race sinking further in the standings, she makes herself less attractive (politically speaking) as a Cabinet official or future candidate.