What Happened to Carly Fiorina? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

David just addressed the question at length. A reader’s view:

Carly’s bump in numbers was manufactured by the media. As soon as she was given all the softball questions in the first debate, it was clear that there was a lot of people in the media or establishment that wanted her to be a candidate. Maybe it’s because they wanted to draw women to the Republican Party by saying “We're not sexist; we have a woman running!” Or maybe it’s simply a desire for ratings by trying to find a woman to fight with Trump on social media, but it's pretty clear she was never going to win.

She hasn’t held elected office, her stint at HP didn’t produce anything to cheer for, and she doesn’t have the anger of Trump or the crazy of Carson needed to draw strong support from the Republican base. There’s just not much substance there.

How another reader puts it: “Failed business leader = No Chance.” Another: “If Carly Fiorina wants to end Planned Parenthood she should just become its CEO.” Oh snap. Another reader finds that Fiorina is “failing for three reasons”:

First, she doesn’t understand how to play the media game. In a field with 14 other candidates, you need to be constantly in the news in order to stand out. Trump figured this out long before anyone else. Carson figured it out too. Say something offensive or controversial and you’re guaranteed to get media coverage. And best of all, it’s free. What has Carly Fiorina done to keep herself in the news? The controversy over Planned Parenthood has passed, so she can’t keep talking about that.

Second, Fiorina has no signature issue. When you think of immigration, you think of Trump. She tried to make abortion her signature issue, but Republican voters aren’t that excited to talk about abortion. [CB note: That claim is questionable, as least according to a Gallup poll from May concluding that “Abortion Edges Up as Important Voting Issue for Americans,” especially among pro-lifers: “abortion more important to pro-life vote than pro-choice.” And then there’s a CNN poll from September 14—two days before the most recent debate and in the heat of the Planned Parenthood controversy—concluding that “the share [of voters] calling abortion an extremely important issue is up 7 points to 27%.”]

Third, Fiorina is the least “outsiderish” of the outsiders. Half of Republicans want an outsider. While that’s a huge percentage, it doesn’t appear to be growing. That means Carly is really only competing against Trump and Carson. But Fiorina is really an establishment figure trying to market herself as an outsider.

Clearly, she does well in debates. She may score another bump in the polls after next week’s debate, but you can’t win a nomination just on debate performances. What the Fiorina camp needs to figure out is who she can steal votes from. It’s obviously not Trump or Carson. Maybe she should go after Bush and show voters that she has a bigger pair than he does.

Another reader recommends:

Carly needs to stop attacking Trump. It is not a winning strategy. She still has a realistic shot, but with Carson and Trump doing so well, it is going to be an uphill battle. I don’t think she should shuffle right. The GOP establishment candidates will be Cruz and Rubio. Rubio will get the fiscal conservatives and Cruz the social conservatives. There is no room for Fiorina on the right.

It’s a pretty incredible sign of the times when Cruz is considered an establishment candidate.