With all the negative media attention swirling around Hillary Clinton’s emails, the possibility of a criminal indictment, her slumping poll numbers and a potential challenge from Vice President Joe Biden, it’s easy to forget there is another woman running for President
She is Carly Fiorina. Her skillful performance in the first two televised Republican debates has her rising in the polls and she appears to have scored big as the first Republican candidate to capably, and classily, dress down Donald Trump.
During the second debate, she was asked to respond to Mr. Trumps’ offensive comments about her looks, which Mr. Trump later backtracked from, saying he was referring to her ‘persona’ and not her face. Unlike Mr. Trump, who usually replies with insults, Ms. Fiorina was measured yet direct: “women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” Her answer received a huge applause and forced Mr. Trump to retort with a clumsy, “I think she’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman.” Ms. Fiorina showed no emotion at Mr. Trump’s awkward comeback, and didn’t need to. She and all of America knew she connected with a powerful punch to the gut of Mr. Trump.
Ms. Fiorina is everything Hillary Clinton is not. She’s never held elective office, isn’t married to a politician, and never served in government. However, there are similarities; both are very wealthy, and both have a few skeletons hanging in their closets.
Ms. Fiorina, now 61, began her business career as a twenty-five year old management trainee at AT&T. At the age of 44 she was the first woman CEO of a Fortune 20 company, Hewlett-Packard, a name recognized worldwide. She not only broke the corporate glass ceiling for women, but completely shattered it. In 2004, Forbes magazine named her number ten on their list of the world’s 100 most powerful women.
Professionally, she is very tough. One of her favorite stories is of attending a client meeting in a strip-club early in her career. She calls that moment a turning point: “that was purposefully a challenge by my colleague to me: ‘Do you have the guts to do this?’ And because it was a challenge, I had to rise to the challenge… because sometimes women are not given the presumption of competence. Men are given a presumption of competence, and women aren’t always given that presumption. The strip club was a turning point,” Fiorina says. “It was a moment where I had to decide, ‘Am I going to be brave or not?’”When you’re brave once, she adds, you have the confidence to do it again. It wasn’t the only time Ms. Fiorina faced the sad, misogynist behavior of male colleagues; she also tells the story of a boss who introduced her to a client as “the token bimbo.”
She is also personally tough. A breast cancer survivor, she underwent a double mastectomy and breast reconstructive surgery in 2010. The same year she was diagnosed with cancer, her stepdaughter, Lori, died at the age of 35, after a long battle with alcohol, prescription pills and bulimia. She mentioned the death in the second Republican debate, saying, “My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction. We must invest more in the treatment of drug addiction.”
Despite her challenges, don’t mistake her for an advocate of women’s rights. She scoffs at the idea of a ‘war on women,’ a repetitive Democratic theme and calls such talks an insult against women. Democrats, she asserts, think women are all about reproductive rights and nothing else. Liberals, she says, insult poor women because liberals like to think they know what’s best for you. She is against Obamacare as well as federally mandated paid maternity leave and a federally mandated minimum wage. She is fervently opposed to a women’s right to choose and a vocal critic of Planned Parenthood. When it comes to what Democrats like to refer to as “women’s issues,” Ms. Fiorina says that all issues America faces are women’s issues, “because women are half the population.”
Like Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Fiorina’s record is not without criticism. Her tenure at Hewlett-Packard ended in her sacking, in what she calls a boardroom brawl, but others call mismanagement. Her management style has been referred to as brash and authoritarian. After she engineered the Compaq Computer merger, the largest hi-tech merger in history at the time, the bottom began to fall out of Hewlett-Packard. Thirty-thousand employees lost their jobs and the stock lost half of its value. She defends her decisions as CEO but there are critics, led by billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who claim she was a failure. Mr. Trump also points to her time at Lucent Technologies, where she was a key executive. Lucent failed and was absorbed by France’s Alcatel, S.A.
It’s a long shot to think Ms. Fiorina will become the Republican nominee for President, but anything can happen. Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the 2008 Democratic candidate until Barack Obama came along. If a Republican does win the White House in 2016, expect to see Ms. Fiorina serving in some capacity. She could even emerge as a Vice-Presidential choice among Republicans, presenting a very appealing ticket to many Americans.
Ms. Fiorina is a keen debater and would love to engage Mrs. Clinton, should she be the Democratic nominee. In a way, it would be a pity if Ms. Fiorina doesn’t get the Republican nomination. Witnessing these two women contest for the most powerful job in the world would be stunning. A career liberal female politician and a conservative female self-made businessperson fighting it out for the American Presidency would be extraordinary.
Cover Photo: Carly Fiorina