Politics & Policy

Carly Fiorina: Triumph and Adversity

(Image via CitizenCarly.com)
A film made by her super PAC shows the former Hewlett-Packard executive as an indomitable fighter.

Carly Fiorina’s super PAC is redoubling its efforts to fight the stringent criticism detractors are making of the candidate’s business career. Fiorina, who was fired from her post as CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 2005, has faced skepticism from the left and the right over her competence as a leader. Yesterday, Fortune magazine, which once named Fiorina the Number One most successful businesswoman in America, published a harsh account of her “disastrous record as HP’S CEO.”

In a film, screened Tuesday at the Arlington Cinema in Virginia and set to be released online in the coming weeks, Fiorina’s backers are seeking to reclaim that narrative.

CARLY for America, the super PAC, centers the film — called “Citizen Carly” — on intimate interviews with two men who served on the HP board at the time of Fiorina’s firing. Tom Perkins and Bob Knowling both admitted that the decision to remove Fiorina from her post was a mistake and lauded her leadership during the company’s merger with Compaq, pushing back on the common criticism that the move only bloated an already failing business model.

“It was not a justifiable firing,” Knowling says. “It was a board dysfunctional coup-d’état.”

The film comes amid Fiorina’s surge in support following the CNN debate, where a standout performance propelled her to 15 percent — good for second place behind Donald Trump — in the network’s latest poll. Backers are hoping that a closer look at “what many do not know” about Fiorina’s time at HP — specifically that “the problem was not Carly, it was the board” — will help eliminate what for many remains a major obstacle in the decision to support her candidacy.

“A leader’s job is to focus on the long term,” Fiorina tells viewers. “That’s what I did.”

#share#The film also probes the candidate’s personal life. In one emotional moment, Fiorina’s sister-in-law recalls finding her sobbing in the bathroom on her 40th birthday. When she asked her what was wrong, Fiorina said that it had hit her that it was “not in God’s plan” for her and her husband, Frank, to have a child. And with photos and video footage of a bald Fiorina in the hospital and on the campaign trail, the film chronicles the candidate’s battle against breast cancer as she ran for senator in California against Barbara Boxer in 2010.

What ties these scenes together — from her time at HP to the drug-related death of her stepdaughter, Lori — is a message of resilience. A qualified leader, Fiorina says in the film, is one who can identify with both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Citizen Carly explores both.

#related#It leaves the viewer with the image of Fiorina, in the midst of cancer treatment, ripping the drainage ducts from her chest to address her supporters at the conclusion of her bid for senator.

“I had to go speak to my supporters. Most likely for the last time,” Fiorina wrote in reflection. Ultimately, Citizen Carly bases its image of the candidate — a presidential candidate of conviction, principle, and resolve — on what she said next: “And I would be damned if I was going to do it with those pieces of plastic inside my body.”

— Elaina Plott is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism at National Review Institute.

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