Opinion writer
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), with his family at his side and his former rival Carly Fiorina at right, in Houston on March 15. (Trish Badger/Reuters)

Carly Fiorina started the presidential race in relative obscurity. She made a splash at a couple of debates, adeptly needling Donald Trump. She then faded and dropped out. Now, however, as a surrogate for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), she may have found her highest, best use. On Monday in Wisconsin, there was this exchange:

DAILY MAIL REPORTER: Will you respond more definitively [than his previous denial, which was interestingly worded] to the story in the National Enquirer [accusing Cruz of five affairs].


REPORTER: No, I’m sorry, I asked the senator that question.

FIORINA: I’m going to comment, okay?

REPORTER: Do you have firsthand knowledge of the senator’s marriage?

FIORINA: I’m going to comment. This is an example of the media playing to Donald Trump’s tune. Donald Trump is a serial philanderer, by his own admission. And in a week, when we have had a terrorist attack in Brussels, a shooting at the Capitol, the president of the U.S. in the baseball stands with Raúl Castro, and insisting he be photographed in front of a picture of Che Guevara with the two Castro brothers, we are talking about a scurrilous, ridiculous piece in the National Enquirer?

Why? Why? Why do you dance to Donald Trump’s tune?

Let’s talk about the issues.

REPORTER: That’s fine, this is a serious question about your character. If the answer is yes, I was unfaithful to my wife, why don’t you —

TED CRUZ: I recognize that you love going into the gutter. Sir, sir — I’m going to answer your question.

Stop interrupting. What is your publication?

REPORTER: The Daily Mail, the world’s [inaudible — most read?]

TED CRUZ: Look, I’m going to give a very brief answer to your question. Which is that the National Enquirer is complete garbage, it is total lies, it was planted by Donald Trump’s henchmen, and I don’t think the people of Wisconsin or the people of America have any interest in tabloid trash. I’m going to focus on the issues that matter.

She hit a triple on that one — putting the snarky reporter in his place, pushing Trump’s own admitted infidelity front and center, and by her appearance at Cruz’s side giving him a woman’s stamp of approval. She also — and this would be critical if she became a running mate — spared Cruz from the necessity of going on offense and raising Trump’s infidelity. So make her performance an inside-the-park home run.

Compare her role — a featured and respected supporting player — with that of Trump’s “star” endorser, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is more often an extra (invited to stand there in silence) and now the subject of ridicule. Trump, for all his supposed management brilliance, does not deploy others effectively. Insistent on dominating the scene and convinced he needs help from no one, he shuffles them off stage and out of sight. There is enough oxygen in the room only for him. Cruz, more confident and more used to a professional woman at his side, demonstrates he knows how to select and utilize talent.

And speaking of running mates, Fiorina recently has been appearing with Cruz and introducing him to audiences. Her skill in taking on both Hillary Clinton and Trump are now in high demand, and the absence of her own defined agenda — a problem when she was running solo — is now an asset. The agenda is Cruz’s, while she provides the support. Whether her winning performances as a campaign ally translate into a VP slot is unknown, in part because Cruz may have to make a deal with one of his other former or current adversaries. If, however, he manages to win the nomination and put an outsider, female executive with extraordinary poise and verbal dexterity on the ticket, the GOP’s prospects in the fall may not look entirely dismal.