By: Dipak Krishnan, Contributor
After last week’s GOP debate, Carly Fiorina has found a new groundswell of support within the Republican establishment. In a race led by ‘outsider’ candidates like Donald Trump and increasingly, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina has not enjoyed the same level of name recognition as other candidates. However, she is gaining momentum now and Carly Fiorina is becoming a name that can’t be ignored.
In the first GOP debate in August, Fiorina dominated the “JV” debate. At the time, she wasn’t polling well because Republican voters didn’t know who she was. She decisively beat out career politicians like Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham. But her articulate speaking style and command of topics like foreign policy, compelling views on abortion (persuasively pro-life and anti-Planned Parenthood), traditional conservative social values and business experience endeared her to voters who were fed up with robotic politicians. She accumulated enough traction in the preliminary polls (top 10 overall) to get her onto the debate stage with GOP frontrunners Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush among others. Her debate performance was most notable for her verbal sparring with Mr. Trump, eloquently positing that his business career wasn’t as good as he broadcasted to the public, and his comments on women’s rights were completely out of touch with the American reality that she saw.
In her most important moment of the night, Fiorina responded to Trump’s comments about her appearance. In a Rolling Stone article, Trump sardonically commented, “look at that face… who would vote for that face?” Obviously alluding to Ms. Fiorina’s looks, Trump’s comment was characteristic of his brash, loud, unapologetic manner. But in the debate, when asked about Trump’s words, Fiorina calmly noted that she felt that “women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” She temporarily threw Trump, who mustered a weak response complimenting Fiorina’s “beautiful” appearance. The debate flowed to Fiorina from then. Among voters who saw the debate, Fiorina seemed the most prepared for the debate with a +34 differential in terms of those who thought she did the best job (36%) and those who thought she did the worst job (2%). She outpaced Trump who had a +2 differential. On business, Trump and Fiorina went back and forth on their business careers, Trump noting that
Fiorina’s business record at HP was suspect as she oversaw a down period for the company in which it was mired in a crisis in which its stock had fallen by 50% and its debt rose to $6.75 billion. Fiorina maintained her record at HP was down to the tech downturn of 1999-2000 and that she set the groundwork for future HP successes, and called out Trump’s mysterious bankruptcies that may or may not have preceded his success in commercial real estate. Fiorina came across as composed yet passionate, and more even-keeled than Trump.
Now, Fiorina finds herself at 15% in the most recent polls. She’s gaining ground fast and ironically, Trump has had a huge hand in her success. Fiorina’s problems all along were simply her lack of name recognition and her lack of experience. Trump’s arrival on the national political stage as an outsider woke up the ‘silent’, anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party, which voided Fiorina’s lack of political experience as a problem. In fact, it made it a strength as Fiorina has decried the ineffective “professional political class” who “have failed us” because they are unwilling to sponsor true change that is needed to bring America back to its eminent position in the world. As to her lack of name recognition, Fiorina’s successful jabs at Trump have given her the notoriety that she needs. Among the other candidates who have attacked Trump for various reasons, Trump has always been able to rebuff his opponents with cutting (if not childish) barbs about their own problems, cultivating his power with his supporters. No one has been able to land a hit on him. That is, until Carly Fiorina did on the national stage. By becoming the first to successfully respond to Trump’s comments and then do it on the CNN debate stage that had record-breaking ratings brought in large part, by Trump himself, Fiorina catapulted herself forward.