Republicans who say Donald Trump should lose in November but insist they won’t vote for Joe Biden aren’t being honest, Carly Fiorina argues.
Fiorina was a Republican candidate for president just four years ago, and was briefly Ted Cruz’s prospective running mate. Trump needs to go, she says—and that means she’s voting for Biden.
Fiorina is not going to keep quiet, write in another candidate, or vote third-party. “I’ve been very clear that I can’t support Donald Trump,” she told me, in an interview that can be heard in full on the latest episode of The Ticket. “And elections are binary choices.” She struggled with the decision, and whether to go public. But she said that this struggle is one Republicans need to have—including those who have rationalized supporting Trump despite their disagreements, because of some of his policies or judicial appointments.
“As citizens, our vote is more than a check on a box. You know, it’s a statement about where we want to go, and I think what we need now actually is real leadership that can unify the country,” she said. “I am encouraged that Joe Biden is a person of humility and empathy and character. I think he’s demonstrated that through his life. And I think we need humility and empathy everywhere in public life right now. And I think character counts.”
Of course, Trump diehards will dismiss her. She has said over the years that Trump isn’t a real businessman, that he lacks character, that he is the definition of an autocrat, that impeachment was “vital.” But she’s not the stereotype of a Republican squish: Before her 2016 run, she was a Tea Party–type candidate for Senate in 2010 and the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Four years ago, she voted for Trump—even after he’d been caught saying about her, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who said she agrees with former Defense Secretary James Mattis that Trump is a threat to the Constitution, but is “struggling” with whether to vote for him, is putting politics over principle, Fiorina told me. John Bolton, who has said he hopes for America’s sake that Trump loses but that he’ll write in a conservative Republican, looks to Fiorina like he’s “desperately trying to preserve some position in the Republican Party as a conservative Republican.” As for Cruz, who’s turned into an avid Trump defender—she said she hasn’t spoken with him in years. And Trump, she told me, can tweet whatever he wants about her.
It hasn’t been an easy journey to backing a Democrat, especially when she thinks about issues that she cares deeply about, such as limiting government spending and restricting abortion. But as she’s been working with her Unlocking Potential Foundation, which focuses on increasing diversity among corporate leadership, she’s also been watching how the coronavirus pandemic has exposed inequality in America. She needed to speak up, too. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are right, she said: The structures of power have been bent too far toward corporate control. But if conservatives really want to do anything about it, she said, they need to start by standing up for their principles.
Listen to the interview here:
What follows is an edited and condensed transcript:
Edward-Isaac Dovere: Tom Nichols, the professor and writer who’s a Republican who’s turned on Trump, tweeted a few weeks ago: “I’m not sure who my people are.” With what’s happened with the Republican Party over these past few years, do you know who your people are?
Carly Fiorina: I am a registered Republican. I don’t believe I owe loyalty to a party. I believe I owe loyalty as a citizen to my community, to the Constitution, to other Americans. And I think we have witnessed, particularly in the era of Trump—but prior to that as well— what George Washington warned us about, which is that the trouble with political parties is people will come to care only about winning, and they’ll forget about values and governing. So as I’ve said publicly before, I’m unconcerned about whether I’m a loyal Republican or not, and I’m unconcerned about where “my people” are in a party structure.
Dovere: When former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Trump was a threat to the Constitution, and Lisa Murkowski said she agreed with Mattis but is “struggling” with whether to support Trump, do you understand that struggle?
Fiorina: If you’re a politician, I do. I mean, if you’re a politician, you’re focused on winning. And I think all politicians, elected politicians in the Republican Party, have struggled with the power of Trump’s base. And so I don’t understand the struggle from the point of view of principles or beliefs. But I do understand it from the point of view of a politician. I think it’s why people are losing faith in politics and why too many people think all politicians are the same.
Dovere: Have you made up your mind about who you’re going to vote for in November?
Fiorina: I’ve been very clear that I can’t support Donald Trump. And, you know, elections are binary choices … I will say this: I think—I hope—that Biden understands that this moment in history calls for him to be a leader, not a politician.
Dovere: But so you are voting for Joe Biden?
Fiorina: Well, it’s not ’til November. I’m not voting for Trump, but it’s a binary choice. So if faced with a binary choice on a ballot: yes.
But I’m making, I think, just as important a point, which is: He will get a lot of pressure, as all politicians do, to be a politician. And yet I think what the nation is looking for is a leader. What’s the difference? Well, politics is about win-lose. I’m right; you’re wrong. It is, unfortunately, often about an argument between extremes. Leadership, on the other hand, is about problem-solving and making progress and changing the order of things for the better, which means it’s about humility and empathy and collaboration. And I think this moment calls upon Joe Biden to be a leader. I am encouraged that Joe Biden is a person of humility and empathy and character. I think he’s demonstrated that through his life.
Dovere: What about John Bolton, who says he’ll write in a conservative Republican, even though he wants Trump to lose?
Fiorina: I don’t really know what to make of that. I can’t read John Bolton’s mind, but I think John Bolton is desperately trying to preserve some position in the Republican Party as a conservative Republican. And maybe that’s what causes him to say that.
Dovere: Why isn’t it enough to say that the president got tax reform and all the judges, and that he’ll hold off all the liberal policies that he says will come with Biden?
Fiorina: I applaud his Supreme Court justice picks and the justices that he’s appointed into the lower courts. And I’m pro-life, and I didn’t agree completely with his tax-reform package. I didn’t agree with the bailout of big companies. I mean, I don’t always agree with the positions the Republican Party has taken. But, yes, there are plenty of policy differences that I have with Joe Biden. And there are plenty of policy differences that I have with the more progressive wing of the Democrat Party. And yet, I think when Biden talks about the soul of the nation, I think what he’s talking about is values and principles and character. Principles like coequal branches of government, principles like problem-solving should be a collaborative process, a bipartisan process. I think all those things matter.
Dovere: Abortion is an important issue for you. Trump says he’s been very committed to blocking abortion, and has appointed judges in favor of restrictions. Biden wouldn’t be. How do you reconcile what you see as an issue of life and death?
Fiorina: The vast majority of Americans agree that abortion for any reason at all after five months is wrong. And yet we haven’t made progress on that, despite having pieces of legislation in front of us. That’s because playing politics on the extreme, you’re either pro-choice and any abortion any time is okay, or you’re pro-life and there is no middle ground, and we have to pass amendments on personhood. We’re not making progress. And so let’s focus on making progress where people agree and actually solving a problem of abortion after five months. Let’s start there. And I’ve been public about that for a very, very long time. I would also say this, that if we care so deeply about unborn life—and I do, because I think every life has enormous potential and is gifted by God. And I think abortion is used discriminantly against poor people and people of color—but if we care about life that’s unborn, we need to care about life that’s in this world too. And that means we actually have to make progress on criminal-justice reform and police reform. And we have to stand up and recognize systemic racism and structural racism and make real progress on that, because too many lives that are here are being wasted and ignored and dismissed and overlooked. And sadly, murdered in broad daylight.
Dovere: Biden is a devout Catholic, and he’s struggled with his own position. But he has moved toward fewer restrictions, not more.
Fiorina: I think this is a great example of an opportunity to lead rather than just playing politics. He could do that. He could lead. He could problem-solve. He could find common ground on a bipartisan basis.
Dovere: We’re in a period of rethinking the economy. What’s the fiscally conservative approach to rethinking the economy that you’d like to see?
Fiorina: What’s happened over decades and decades is: Big companies have used the power of big government to make their businesses bigger and more powerful and profitable. That’s just a fact. It’s true in many, many industries. And so we have to start with the fundamental recognition. I believe, as our Founders told us, it’s why they wrote the Constitution the way they did. Power concentrated [is] power abused. So you have big companies using big government. You have wealthy individuals using the complexity of the tax codes, all of those things—Washington, the way it’s structured, favors the big, the powerful, the wealthy, the connected. And so that means, in my view, that wherever possible, we block-grant money to states instead of keeping it in Washington, D.C. I think we should have done that in the CARES Act and as we deal with the coronavirus. It means that we have to have reasonable regulation that holds big companies accountable. And that’s true whether it’s finance or energy or, frankly, technology. And it also means, I think, that we have to take extraordinary care to help small businesses survive, and to make sure that hourly workers have the opportunity to earn a living. I think all those things are required. Now, there are a lot of people who would listen to all that and say, “Boy, you don’t sound like a Republican.” Okay, fine. And maybe I don’t sound like a Democrat either, but I think those are the things that would actually work. It is absurd. I mean, just take on one other issue: It’s absurd what CEOs are paid now as compared to hourly workers. And the business community ought to take that on, because if they don’t take it on, eventually, government is going to take it on. And that’s not necessarily the right answer.
Dovere: Are you worried that we could come out of the pandemic with more inequality and structural problems, that the economy will get worse?
Fiorina: Look, I agree with Elizabeth Warren, for example, that the financial industry has concentrated too much power. I agree with Bernie Sanders that our health-care system does not work for everyone. Where I disagree with them profoundly is their answer is a big government program for all of that. And power concentrated is power abused. We know that. So if we continue to create vast government bureaucracies to control everything, guess what? The bigger are going to get bigger and the wealthy are going to get wealthier, because they know how to play the system. And meanwhile, the small get crushed and the disadvantaged are no better off. So, yes, I’m very concerned. And I’m also concerned—I mean, as I think many Americans are—this pandemic has exposed how inequitable our economy is. This isn’t news. But I think people are becoming aware. It’s not news that there hasn’t been equal justice under the law, that it’s not news if there hasn’t been equal opportunities to succeed. It’s not news that people don’t have equal access to quality health care. All that’s been around for a long time and politicians have argued about it for a long time. But it’s not getting better. And so now we need problem-solving and leadership, not politics as usual.
Dovere: When you ran for office, your argument was to bring some of the business mentality to government. That was part of how Donald Trump positioned himself too. Has he proven that government doesn’t need a business mentality?
Fiorina: Donald Trump is many things, but he’s not a successful businessman. I understand government is different than business. But here’s some things that government could learn from business: an emphasis on results, on facts, on data, on numbers. And when we look at the problems that we face as a nation, the facts and the data and the numbers have been crystal clear for a long time. Here’s another thing that business discipline would bring to government: an emphasis on customers. Government’s customers are who? Citizens, citizens. Here’s another thing that comes from business: the ability to consistently ask your customers, survey your customers, use technology to serve your customers. I talked a lot about this during the campaign as well. We have the technology available that would literally allow citizens to weigh in—not politicians—citizens to weigh in on every pressing issue of the day. And yet politicians don’t use it. Government doesn’t use it. Here’s one last one: Every dollar counts. In business, dollars matter. You don’t get to print money, and therefore you spend a lot of time prioritizing how to spend money. We haven’t prioritized how to spend money in Washington in a long time, which is why we just keep spending more and more of it, and the same problems that we’re talking about now are the problems we talked about 40 years ago.
Dovere: You were Ted Cruz’s running mate. When was the last time you talked to him?
Fiorina: Several years ago.
Dovere: What do you make of the way he’s turned around on Trump and is now supporting him?
Fiorina: I don’t excuse it. I don’t. It disappoints me. I’ve been public in my disappointment about how few politicians have been willing to stand up and speak on values and principles. But I understand it if you’re in politics, sadly. So I—people, I think, are tired of politics and politicians and whether they’re Democrats or Republicans. If you’re in politics, as Hillary Clinton used to say, you’re in it to win it.
Dovere: What does a turnaround like his mean for the future of the GOP? If Trump loses, is it a party that continues to be defined by him, or is it a party that tries to forget about him?
Fiorina: Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know. I think—I just don’t know.
Dovere: You’ve had the experience of being a woman in politics. Biden will pick a woman as a running mate. What does she need to watch out for?
Fiorina: Well, you know, I would liken it honestly to the experience I had when I became the first woman to lead a Fortune 50 company: It’s different when you’re different. The scrutiny is different. The criticism is different. The expectations are different. Both much higher and much lower. There isn’t the benefit of the doubt granted. There isn’t the presumption of competence granted. The margin for error is far smaller. I remember as a presidential candidate being on national TV for an interview, and the interviewer said to me, “We have a viewer in Texas who asks: Don’t a woman’s hormones prevent her from serving in the Oval Office?” In other words, isn’t a woman too emotional? And I paused on national television and I said, “Gee, can we think of a single instance in which a man’s judgment was clouded by his hormones, including in the Oval Office?” Now, that’s a funny example. But it’s a very telling example, I think. Men are some of the most emotional creatures I have ever met, and they are driven in no small measure by their hormones. And yet we are always worried about women’s emotions. It’s different when you’re different. I had people say to me, “You don’t smile enough on the debate stage.” No one would make that comment about any man, any man.
Dovere: What happens if President Trump tweets about you and this interview?
Fiorina: Honestly, let anybody tweet. I don’t spend my life trying to upset people. I spend my life trying to have a positive impact by working with other people. And that means that when I’m wrong, I hope I can admit it. When someone teaches me something I needed to learn, I hope I incorporate it. But it also means that I have to be forthright about who I am and what I believe and what I have learned over a lifetime.