Carly Fiorina says some, well, interesting things while waiting to go on camera.
In 2010, the then-GOP Senate nominee went all middle-school-cafeteria on her Democratic opponent’s hairdo. “God, what is that hair? Sooo yesterday,” Fiorina, already miked up, commented, quoting an aide’s assessment. Two years earlier, in the makeup room at ABC’s “This Week” with me, Fiorina said something that, at the time, was mildly interesting, but is now revelatory. It was May 2008, close to the end of the long primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and we were discussing the two Democratic contenders.
At which point Fiorina, then a campaign surrogate for presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, offered some unprompted praise for Clinton: If Fiorina hadn’t been backing McCain, she told me, she would have been for Clinton.
“That’s off the record,” Fiorina immediately added.
Here a pause for a discussion of journalism ethics. The commonly understood rule governing when quotations are not for the record requires the source to state that position in advance, so that the reporter can agree to the limitation or not.
As veteran editor Norman Pearlstine wrote in a useful set of journalistic guidelines: “We do not allow sources to change the ground rules governing specific quotations after the fact. Once a quote is on the record, it remains there.”
The Post’s style guide cautions that “inexperienced sources — usually ordinary people who unexpectedly find themselves the news — should clearly understand that you are a reporter and should not be surprised to find themselves quoted in the newspaper.”
The first female chief executive of a Fortune 100 company and an authorized surrogate for a presidential nominee does not count as an inexperienced source. I didn’t challenge Fiorina at the time and didn’t use her comments because they didn’t strike me as newsworthy enough: By that point, Clinton was clearly not going to be the Democratic nominee.
Now is different, for two reasons. First, Fiorina’s praise of Clinton then contradicts her attacks on Clinton now. Second, Fiorina is no longer a surrogate; she’s a candidate, for the highest office in the land.
At the time, Fiorina’s comments were surprising but not entirely outlandish. She and Clinton had been two prominent jousters at the glass ceiling. Fiorina was on a mission to woo Clinton voters for McCain. She was outspoken on issues of gender equity, questioning why many health plans covered erectile dysfunction drugs but not birth-control pills and, in the process, embarrassing her own candidate, who had voted twice against requiring insurers to cover contraceptives.
The month after our ABC encounter, Fiorina declared her “great admiration and respect for Hillary Clinton and her candidacy and leadership.”
Compare that with Fiorina today. “Throughout this campaign, I have repeatedly asked Hillary Clinton to name an accomplishment,” she wrote in a commentary published on CNN.com. “She has yet to name one.”
Clinton, she added, is “the epitome of a professional political class that has managed a bloated, inept, corrupt federal government for far too long.”
Fiorina’s shifting stance on Clinton is striking: She has gone from stealth fan to Public Enemy No. 1 — the (not coincidentally female) face in the crowd who is willing to slam Clinton most ferociously as a lightweight and a liar.
One potential answer: Fiorina once was impressed but became disillusioned with Clinton’s performance as secretary of state. But “that was then, this is post-Benghazi” is not an explanation that would sit particularly well with the conservative voters Fiorina is wooing.
Another possible explanation: Fiorina then was busy sucking up to Clinton voters, trying to woo them for McCain. So she got carried away. But this interpretation poses a variation of the classic trial lawyer’s question: Which time were you being disingenuous?
Contacted for comment, Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager, Sarah Isgur Flores, said, “If Carly had been asked at the end of the Clinton-Obama primary who she would have supported in that race, she would have said Mrs. Clinton. . . . Carly, however, doesn’t remember meeting or talking to Ms. Marcus on this or any other subject.”
But the context of that conversation wasn’t which of the two Democratic candidates Fiorina preferred. I clearly recall her telling me she would have supported Clinton if McCain weren’t running.
Fiorina’s political stock, post-debate, is soaring. Her calling card is her willingness — and, perhaps, the freedom her gender bestows — to go after Clinton full-force. This seemed like the right moment to share Fiorina’s earlier assessment of the woman she aims to defeat.
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