Why Carly Fiorina (probably) can’t save the Republicans

The former HP boss is just the kind of woman the party base loves – and that other Americans are scared of

10 October 2015

9:00 AM

10 October 2015

9:00 AM

The Republican party is showing all the attention span of a hyperactive toddler this primary season, moving from one shiny toy to the next. Donald Trump still dominates the nursery, like some giant plastic fire engine. But the pieces are starting to look careworn and the battery is going on the siren. The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, now tied with Trump in some polls, is the teddy bear dragged around the playground a few times and now slumped in a corner. Fresh out of the box though is Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett Packard, gleaming amidst the gaggle of tired rivals.

At the most recent Republican debate, Fiorina wore what seemed from podium height upwards to be an electric-blue wetsuit. She was the only candidate who didn’t look like she’d been living in hotels and breakfasting on doughnuts for three months. She shot down Donald Trump for questioning whether anyone could vote for ‘that face’ and the audience went wild. She is a conservative dynamo plucked from Cecil Parkinson’s most fevered imaginings. And a friend of Benjamin Netanyahu to boot. When she was in corporate technology sales, she once turned up to a meeting with socks stuffed down her underwear to show the men she had what it took to close a deal. She tells the story proudly in her memoirs. For rich, hot-blooded Republicans, how much better can you get?

But Fiorina might not be so attractive to middle America. She speaks with the brusque confidence of the corporate CEO, often starting sentences with the phrase, ‘I am angered by…’ She is angered by a lot: hypocrisy, the tax code, environmentalists and liberals, especially liberals. She says brutal things with a tilt of the head and a bright, white smile, the kind that evil executives put on when they are firing everyone, moving jobs to China and then leaving with a giant golden parachute.

For a lapsed Episcopalian who rarely goes to church, Fiorina is unusually angry about abortion. In the most recent candidates’ debate, she challenged the absent Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to watch a video about government-funded abortion clinics gathering foetal tissue for medical research: ‘Watch a fully formed foetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, “We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” ’ It’s the kind of gory stuff you hear on the anti-abortion, religious fringes, but not often in the mainstream.

She’s just as angry with anyone who fusses about climate change. She makes the usual conservative arguments that jobs matter more than the fate of animals, that the science on climate change is questionable and that there’s no point America putting its economy through the environmental wringer while China does nothing. But just when you’re thinking, ho-hum, another country-club Republican clinking the Scotch glass and grouching about tree-huggers, her anger takes her off piste. Wind turbines are an exciting technology, she said in a recent interview, but people need to know the truth: ‘Do we tell people the truth that it slaughters millions of birds every year? I mean, eagles, falcons, birds people that care about. Do we tell people that it’s slaughtering these birds?’

The greatest bird-slayer in America isn’t wind turbines. It’s windows. Followed by cats, high-tension wires, pesticides and then cars. Windmills aren’t butchering America’s birds of prey, spraying blood and feathers across the sky. Most of the birds who fly into them are ‘small passerines’, perching birds or songbirds. But the gore-crazed Fiorina wants us to think of environmental issues in the same way she wants us to think about reproductive rights, in the grisliest terms conceivable. Only the blood of eagles can sate her righteous anger.

But perhaps you have to use extreme language to get any attention in this primary circus. It works for Donald Trump, and Fiorina may be smart to use controversy to win media airtime. She also tells a mean personal story. Born to a solid middle-class family, started work as a secretary, rose to be head of the largest technology company in the world, survived breast cancer, buried a child. Tough. Resilient. Only in America.

Some of it is even true. Her father was an eminent judge who taught at Stanford Law School and served as deputy attorney general under President Nixon. She went to Stanford as an undergraduate, studied ancient Greek to read Aristotle and received a degree in medieval history and philosophy, which she jokes made her unemployable. She worked as a secretary in her university holidays and for six months in her early twenties. She then obtained an MBA and, at the age of 25, joined AT&T as a management trainee. Nineteen years later she was appointed chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, making her the most prominent woman in corporate America.

During her five-year stint at HP, she doubled the size of the company by acquiring a rival computer maker, Compaq, and was paid more than $100 million for her work. She managed through the collapse of the dotcom bubble, and HP emerged from the carnage in tolerable shape. But even today people still can’t agree whether she was any good. She was certainly ambitious, aggressive and brutal to anyone who opposed her. She was reported to have hung a painting of herself in the corporate headquarters, and issued noisemakers at corporate events to greet her when she arrived on stage. Her board fired her in 2005, citing problems with execution and a share price that had fallen 60 per cent under her tenure. She has not taken another job in business since.

In 2009 Fiorina was diagnosed with breast cancer; she underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation and has since recovered. That same year her 35-year-old stepdaughter, Lori Ann, died. Fiorina married her second husband, Frank, when she was 31. Frank had two daughters by his first marriage, who were ten and 14 at the time. The girls were placed in the custody of their mother, Frank’s ex-wife. As an adult, Lori Ann suffered from bulimia and became addicted to prescription drugs. She married, divorced and died having distanced herself from her father and stepmother. This was the child Fiorina tells her audiences she buried.

She derives emotional texture from this story, but she has never said enough about her relationship with her stepdaughter for her audience to empathise at more than the most superficial level. Lori Ann’s mother has said that Fiorina’s version of events is incomplete. This sounds like emotional dynamite which could still blow up in Fiorina’s face.

Many Republicans are now fantasising about unleashing Fiorina on Hillary Clinton. The only thing better than beating Hillary would be to gazump her bid to become America’s first woman president with one of their own. But Fiorina’s anger and attitude so far seem like the socks bulging through her underwear. Diverting and provocative, but not the real thing.

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  • jim jones

    Who would vote for the person who destroyed Hewlett-Packard?

    • Heil Hitler

      Fiorina’s troubles were at Lucent, not HP… Julie Packard ruined HP.

  • Vuil

    Yup, that’s the New Spectator. Not to be confused with the New Statesman although reading the Speccie articles you could of course be confused.

    It seems that if you scribble for a living – no matter the shape or form – you become a lefty.

    Enough to make you wish Fahrenheit 451 becomes truth

  • Heil Hitler

    The “chosen parasites” couldn’t give two shiites about borders.

    1. UN chief of Migration, chairman at Goldman-Sachs bank.
    2. Sydney Blumenthal, not a Muslim, he works for Hillary.
    3. Rupert Murdoch: ‘Bloomberg would make a good president.’
    4. Bloomberg sells Sharia financial services.
    5. Syrian “rebel” terrorists met Keating 5 Senator McCain.

  • Curnonsky

    Are we to believe someone named “Philip Delves Broughton” is in tune with what Middle America thinks?

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  • sidor

    Judging from her statements, she is hopelessly stupid. It is beyond my comprehension how a b-grade bachelor in medieval history could be appointed as CEO of a big high-tech company. That she failed is of no surprise. But who needs this useless creature to run for presidency?

  • Terence Hale

    Carly Fiorina has lead a trial of destruction culminated when she took control of HP. Taking over competitors to destroy competition not to improve service. A lady of disdain.

    • Terry Field

      Your view.
      Not ours.

      • sidor

        An empty statement unless you tell us yours.

        • Terry Field

          In a mature market, where a business faces a declining total market place, and ease of entry by competitors reduces margin, buying competitors or market segment operators and closing them down can and does produce a good cash-cow yield.
          The emotional element comes where private investors simply fail to realise the condition of the technology and the stage the market has reached.
          She may not be a great manager, but she has cunning. Her observations on climate change are, from my viewpoint, nauseating, but she does it with a smooth, corporate sort of style; that does not run in England, but it has MUCH more traction on the USA, where there is a fuller aspirational element fed into the media system by the corporate interests.
          She can win.
          She is less exposed and looks less old than Clinton. That matters in this unpleasant world where women are always looked at so some degree as objects of attraction.

          • sidor

            You inform us that she isn’t a great manager. She also lacks of education in physics and mathematics. Should we be surprised that she failed as a head of a high-tech company? And why do you think this useless failure would be good as a president, besides that she “looks less old than Clinton”?

  • Terry Field

    She can do subtle.
    She is able to modify to meet circumstances. She can win.

  • Nexialist

    I have to say that PDB’s assessment of Carly Fiorina’s chances in the stakes for the Republican Presidential nominee don’t altogether convince. In the CNN debates, she literally wiped the floor with almost all of the male donkeys in the race, including Trump. She now occupies second place in the polls behind Trump, closely followed by Marco Rubio. I must admit, I like the woman, largely because she is not the incompetent and smug Hilary Clinton, mainly responsible for the Benghazi consulate massacre. And even if her political pedigree and business track record are not totally untainted, so what?, her gender gives her a significant advantage. Most importantly, she scares the Democrats and Hilary shitless and that is good enough for me. Hilary calls her a ‘terrorist’, Fiorina labels her opponent ‘extreme’. What we need is a ‘head to head’ television debate of these two contenders; I know who I would back.

  • Pioneer

    The author hasn’t a clue. The base call her FioRINO.(Republican in name only).

    Unless they get a real Republican as POTUS, western civilization is finished. It will be horrific.

  • ajcb

    The memory of Fiorina in Silicon Valley is that she “expanded” HP with the cheap cheat of buying another company, then firing a bunch of people. In other words, no love lost. I thought her big tv debate “comeback” against Trump was limp considering what he said about her — she could have buried him with (deserved) ridicule, but she didn’t. I can only picture one small slice of the US electorate: the CNBC Wall Street water-cooler yakkers, who might think Carly’s a goer. Otherwise, I cannot imagine who will vote for her. This piece is a little like Americans scratching their heads as to why Tony Blair is not still PM.

  • Wow, what a mean-minded, slanted article this is. You a Democrat by any chance? You write like one!

    Carly Fiorina For President. I’d vote for her in a heartbeat.

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  • Owen_Morgan

    Was it your grandfather, or your great-grandfather, who was a murderer, by the way?

    • Can you believe that the author would be so scathing about Hillary, the crook and the abettor of Benghazi (and that’s me being nice about her). Watergate was nothing compared with the Benghazi massacre, which the Whitehouse practically invited. Yet Watergate was a big deal and… Benghazi is a mere unfortunate incident. Media complicit, as always.

  • CosmotKat

    What stupid and dull article from an idiot. Is this the norm here?

  • In related news, this is a hilarious take on Trump, for anyone interested (enactors with Trump’s real statements in their mouths):