How Carly Fiorina Did It: Pugilism With a Precise Touch
Over three hours of questions and answers designed to encourage conflict, Fiorina distinguished herself as the outsider with facts and full sentences; she did not wait to be called on, so frustrating Chris Christie that one of the country’s premier interrupters was reduced to complaining about her tendency to interrupt. When Donald Trump tried in vain to make up with her, by appealing to her vanity, she answered with the merest of nods, declining to smile, then or through much of the night.
She began the evening by turning down an invitation to question Trump’s temperament—and credibly promising that she’ll be among the last candidates standing.
“You know,” she said, “I think Mr. Trump is a wonderful entertainer. He's been terrific at that business. I also think that one of the benefits of a presidential campaign is the character and capability, judgment, and temperament of every single one of us is revealed over time and under pressure…I look forward to a long race.”
In one of the several times she did jump into the fray unbidden, she dismissed the establishment as a species that simply doesn't know any better. “A fish swims in water,” she said. “It doesn't know it's water. It's not that politicians are bad people, it's that they've been in that system forever.”
She repeatedly answered Trump’s vague statements with crisp specifics, as when he confirmed, as he has said before, that as he sees it, the major problem with Ukraine-grabbing, Assad-supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin is that President Obama doesn’t get along with him.
“Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn't talk to him at all,” she declared. “We've talked way too much to him.”
Actions speak louder than words, she explained, rattling off a bill of particulars that must have impressed the self-described “very militaristic” Trump.
“What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I'd probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message. By the way, the reason it is so critically important that every one of us know General Suleimani's name is because Russia is in Syria right now, because the head of the Quds force traveled to Russia and talked Vladimir Putin into aligning themselves with Iran and Syria to prop up Bashar al- Assad. ... We could rebuild the Sixth Fleet. I will. We haven't. We could rebuild the missile defense program. We haven't. I will. We could also, to Senator Rubio's point, give the Egyptians what they've asked for, which is intelligence. We could give the Jordanians what they've asked for...”
“Thank you, Ms. Fiorina,” said Jake Tapper, trying to take back the microphone.
No dice: “…bombs and materiel,” she continued. “We have not supplied it.”
“Thank you,” he said again.
Did somebody say something? Fiorina ignored him. “I will,” she said. “We could arm the Kurds. They've been asking us for three years. All of this is within our control.”
Her whole performance was precise, in particular contrast to the front-runner, who seemed to suggest that one can’t take anything too he says too literally: “I did it a little bit half-heartedly,” Trump said of his admonition that Jeb Bush shouldn’t speak Spanish. “[B]ut I do mean it to a large extent.”
And again and again, Fiorina took shots at Democrats rather than Republicans on the subject of immigration reform and others.
Her biggest challenge, of course, remains defending her controversial tenure as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard that ended in her firing. But even in that, she was happy to compare her record in business to Trump’s, saying, “I find it quite rich that you would talk about this” given that he “ran up mountains of debt, as well as losses, using other people's money, and you were forced to file for bankruptcy not once..not twice, four times, a record four times.”
That’s when Christie lost all patience: “While I'm as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald and Carly's career, for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn't have a job, who can't fund his child's education, I've got to tell you the truth; they could care less about your careers, they care about theirs.”
“A track record of leadership is not a game,” Fiorina answered in a serious tone. “It is the issue in this election.”
“Carly, listen,” the New Jersey governor said, “you can interrupt everybody else on this stage, you're not going to interrupt me, OK?”
Takeaway for the audience: She’s the one who was dominating the discussion.
Near the end of the jawbone-athon, Tapper served up a question tailor-made for the only woman on the stage: What woman’s likeness should go on the $10 bill?
Trump, who pledges to “take care of women,” couldn’t seem to think of any: “Well, because she's been sitting for three hours, I think my daughter, Ivanka, who's right here.” (Then he added that he’d go with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz’s answer, Rosa Parks. “I like that.”) Ben Carson picked his mom, Mike Huckabee went with his wife, and both Bush and John Kasich named women from other countries, Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa.
And Fiorina? Who cares, she seemed to say: “I wouldn't change the $10 bill, or the $20 bill. I think, honestly, it's a gesture. I don't think it helps to change our history. What I would think is that we ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group. Women are the majority of this nation. We are half the potential of this nation, and this nation will be better off when every woman has the opportunity to live the life she chooses.” In the White House, for instance.