Just like that, Carly Fiorina is back. The former HP executive dropped out of the presidential race months ago after a poor showing in New Hampshire. But now that Ted Cruz has tapped her as his running mate, Fiorina can exert influence over the race once again, and potentially try to make up for qualities Cruz lacks. “We must unite,” the Texas senator said, referring to the Republican Party, “and Carly is a vice-presidential nominee who I believe is supremely skilled, supremely gifted at helping unite this party.”
Cruz’s announcement was well timed in terms of attracting attention to his campaign. It came one day after Trump swept the Northeast and hours after Cruz’s chief rival made his first (poorly reviewed) policy speech. It also comes days before the primary in Indiana, where Cruz hopes to slow Trump’s accumulation of delegates, now with Fiorina by his side.
Throughout her presidential candidacy, Fiorina found it difficult to attract eyeballs in a sprawling field. But when she did, she made a splash: She was the only candidate to “break through” to a main-stage debate after a television network relegated her to the poorly watched “happy hour” debate among the less popular Republican candidates. Her performance directly, albeit briefly, translated to support in the polls. In a way, her mostly under-the-radar candidacy could be a boon to the Cruz campaign: It offers the opportunity to reintroduce her to the American people. At a contested convention, Fiorina’s presence on the ticket could potentially sway delegates. On Wednesday, Cruz explained why he decided to announce his choice of a running mate now—after all, he hasn’t won the nomination, candidates don’t technically pick their vice presidents, and even when they tap someone, their choices are typically revealed during a party’s convention. He said he wants voters in upcoming primary states, including Indiana and Fiorina’s native California, to “know what you will get.”
One possible Fiorina strength is her outsider status. She was one of three non-politicos in the race, along with Trump and now-Trump-supporter Ben Carson. Her business record wasn’t an unalloyed advantage—she faced sustained accusations of poor management during her time at Hewlett-Packard. But Trump’s private-sector background is equally mixed, and that doesn’t appear to have hurt his chances. Perhaps Cruz could attract some Trump-prone voters with a veep who shares part of his profile. The senator certainly highlighted her business experience Wednesday, hyping her tenure at HP and saying a presidential candidate must pick someone who understands jobs and the economy.
Fiorina wasn’t as damaged in this long campaign as other dropouts have been. She wasn’t even much damaged by the man Cruz hopes to beat. When he criticized her looks in a Rolling Stone interview, she spun it into A Big Moment in her first appearance at a main-stage debate. Cruz praised her composure in his introductory speech. She’s been stumping on his behalf since endorsing him in March, and Cruz noted that “she is careful, she is measured, she is serious.” For Cruz, her attitude presents an opportunity: Fiorina can take on Trump in a way Cruz can’t.
Fiorina could also help the Cruz campaign pivot to the general election, even as he continues to fight for a contested convention. While other candidates were bickering amongst themselves, Fiorina always seemed to have November in mind, attacking Hillary Clinton—sometimes personally—at every turn. As Cruz and his team obsess about delegate math and how they’ll beat Trump in July, Fiorina can signal to American voters that they’re ready for a post-Trump campaign as well. She got the ball rolling on Wednesday, lampooning Clinton, as well as Trump, for being part of a corrupt political system.
“I am prepared to stand by [Cruz’s] side and give this everything I have,” Fiorina said, “to restore the soul of our party, to defeat Donald Trump, to defeat Hillary Clinton, and to take our country back.”
Fiorina offers a different profile of the female politician than Clinton does. Cruz praised her for cracking the proverbial glass ceiling—a reference to her business career. As Clare Foran argued earlier this year, she represents a conservative version of feminism that challenges the pro-choice and progressive policies typically associated with the movement.
All that aside, Fiorina probably won’t have a game-changing effect on Cruz’s candidacy. As one longtime Republican operative noted last week, most people cast their ballot for the top of the ticket, so her pick might not even factor in for some voters. And Fiorina’s candidacy failed for a reason. She didn’t have a natural constituency of voters, so she won’t have one to deliver to Cruz. Her business dealings—and failed 2010 U.S. Senate bid—could now get a harsher look from Trump than it did before. And voters might still like their candidates more outsider-y than even Fiorina.
Still, when Fiorina announced her campaign’s suspension back in February, she promised she wasn’t going away. “I’ve said throughout this campaign that I will not sit down and be quiet,” she said. “I’m not going to start now.” It looks like she’s trying to make good on that pledge.