Just like most of our readers likely have, I’ve spoken with a lot of Republicans over the summer about the presidential race and who they like. After her stunning performance in the Fox News debate last month, Carly Fiorina emerged as a name on the lips of most observers. Despite the fact that she has been few people’s first choice to lead our party and our country, her performance at the debate and on the campaign trail has caused a lot of people to take notice, in a very positive way.
At the moment, most polls show the GOP primary electorate to be in a state of roiling discontent with elected Republican leaders. The frustration at hearing so many promises for so many years only to see those promises unfulfilled—over and over and over again—has left much of the GOP base in an angry mood toward all politicians, but especially toward a perceived disingenuous party establishment whose deceptions have been finally unmasked.
This explains the most important findings in the latest poll from Iowa, where the three non-politicians in the race (Trump, Carson, Fiorina) combine for a total of 56% of the vote. Add in the decidedly anti-establishment Cruz and that total rises to 65%, buttressing another finding of that poll by Monmouth University:
Iowa GOP caucus goers say that, regardless of who they support in the primary, the country needs a president from outside of government who can bring a new approach to Washington (66%) rather than someone with government experience who knows how to get things done (23%). Among those who prefer an outsider, more than two-thirds are backing one of the three candidates who have never held elected office – Trump (32%), Carson (26%), or Fiorina (13%). However, even among those who say the country needs someone with government experience, 30% are currently supporting one of these three candidates.
(Emphasis added). My friends, these numbers are simply stunning. Certainly they are in part attributable to a once-latent anger unleashed by Trumpian rodomontade (this is, after all, the same electorate that favored Gov. Scott Walker just a short time ago…Trump is the only real ingredient that has changed), but to deny its existence—or its legitimacy—is folly.
Like it or not, Trump has unleashed a genie that no amount of “establishment” money will be able to put back in the bottle.
This is where Carly Fiorina comes in. Unlike the two other outsider candidates, Fiorina has shown a real depth on the campaign trail that goes well beyond the platitudes of Carson and the scattershot bombast of Trump. She understands the issues and can speak intelligently to them at the same (or better) level as Christie, Rubio, Paul, Walker, or Bush. She can also do so in a way that equals or exceeds the rhetorical effectiveness of Huckabee and Cruz, but that somehow nonetheless appeals to all corners of our party’s broad coalition.
She’s Trump without being, well…Trump.
With the current mood of the electorate, Carly Fiorina has an incredible opportunity to be the bridge between conservatives and moderates. This is the electoral sweet spot that Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Scott Walker have been aiming for without much effect so far. Fiorina’s outsider and underdog status allows her to hit that spot in a way that none of the other candidates currently can.
This is why the debates on September 16 are so crucial—for Fiorina and for the GOP as a whole. If you believe, as I do, that a nomination of either Donald Trump or Jeb Bush would damage our party (the latter sentiment having been cemented with recent personnel choices), then an alternative must emerge who has the credibility to beat both men at their own games. She’s now got that opportunity.
But it is a narrow window. If she can’t make a dent in Trump (without offending his base voters), or if she can’t demonstrate that she can stand toe-to-toe with former Governors on policy issues, she’ll soon be back to the second tier. There are plenty of good options that will remain, and there is still lots of time for the electorate’s mood to change and for one or more of the non-outsider/non-establishment candidates to break out of the pack.
In the meantime, expect some fireworks on September 16. Carly is a threat to Trump’s king-of-the-hill status, and to Bush’s ascendance. Expect clashes between both of these men and Fiorina. Should be fun to watch, but my money says Carly will get the better end of any such exchange.