The list of 2016 also-rans makes for a grim chronicle. There were the vanity candidates — Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum (add, soon: Ben Carson) — for whom self-interest outweighed the public interest. There were the heavyweights — Rick Perry, Scott Walker, and Bobby Jindal — whose prospects were cut short by foolish voters. There were the head-scratching candidates: Jim Gilmore and George Pataki.
And there was Carly Fiorina.
About Carly, who dropped out of the Republican presidential race on Wednesday after single-digit finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, one can say a rare thing: The Republican party is better for her having run — and, if the party is smart, she’ll be a part of it going forward.
To be sure, that Carly’s presidential bid never caught on is not a surprise. Her path was always narrow. She had no political experience besides a failed Senate race in deep-blue California. Her “CEO-as-president” pitch was undermined by a rocky tenure at Hewlett-Packard. The field was crowded. And it turns out that the Republican electorate is feeling thumotic — fair or not, an advantage to men.
But in a year of also-rans, Carly stood out — as one of the clearest, most incisive, and most forceful conservative speakers to come along in years.
That was on full display on the debate stage, where she turned in one solid performance after another. It was on display on the campaign trail, as my colleague Jay Nordlinger observed last year. And it was on display when you sat down and chatted with her, one-on-one.
#share#She knew how to nail a target: Hillary Clinton is “more qualified for the big house” than the White House, she said, and when she suggested that Republicans would love to see her debate Hillary Clinton, she was right. Where Clinton is cold and robotic and steals outfits from Kim Jong-Un’s wardrobe, Carly is amiable, fluid, and fashionable. She was also the only debate challenger of whom Donald Trump has seemed afraid, and perhaps rightly. When asked about Trump’s comments about her face, she slipped the knife in — “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said” — and he bled the rest of the night.
She singlehandedly forced liberal media outlets to discuss the Planned Parenthood videos that they had struggled desperately to ignore.
And consider: She singlehandedly forced liberal media outlets to discuss the Planned Parenthood videos that they had struggled desperately to ignore. How? By telling their story: “I dare Hillary Clinton [and] Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’” Nebraska senator Ben Sasse rightly tweeted that Carly is “one of the best story-tellers [the GOP] has.”
That’s something the party should seek to capitalize on going forward. The Republican party does not lack for substance. From Paul Ryan to “Reformocons” to the Right’s many think tanks, the party is full of eggheads. But it’s long lacked for style. Conservatism has been spoken like a second language (Mitt Romney’s “severely conservative”) or like a dirty secret (George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservative”) or like a round of tea party-movement Mad Libs (Plug in “constitution” wherever it tickles you!).
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are counterexamples, of course. But Carly offered a primetime exhibition of what a fluent, forceful conservatism sounds like from the lips not of a practiced politician, but of a capable amateur.
Had Carly won in California in 2010, she would be an important voice in the Senate at present. But her loss may prove a blessing in disguise. Rather than a congressional seat, Republicans should entrust to her the media hot-seat the next time Debbie Wasserman-Schultz accuses the GOP of this or that outrage.
A fearless, rapier-tongued Republican woman? Democrats will tremble.
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.
[Editor’s Note: This piece has been amended since its initial posting.]