We met at the foot of the stairs at the Anderson Sports Center at The Citadel, a few minutes before our event was supposed to begin. A phalanx of both local and national media was standing behind her—reporters, cameras, microphones all wavering uncertainly in the noontime Charleston sun.
Carly Fiorina stuck out her hand and I took it.
“Madame President,” I said, and then I pretended to be flustered. “I’m sorry, a natural slip.”
She threw back her head and laughed. No sense of humor, people were saying about her. I certainly didn’t think so: anyone who laughs at one of my jokes clearly has a sharp, not to mention sophisticated, sense of humor. Or perhaps she sensed I believed that, and was playing along. Either way, Carly Fiorina was already scoring high on my IQ test for politicians.
All this was last Tuesday the 22nd , as Fiorina and I met for a town hall meeting sponsored by Americans for Peace Prosperity and Security. That’s a group organized by my friend and Hudson Institute colleague Mike Rogers to encourage presidential candidates in this 2016 election season to speak about and ask questions about American foreign and defense policy in front of a public audience. Fiorina was there to address issues which President Obama has made matters of urgent worry to millions of voters: China, ISIS, Iran, Russia, genocide against Christians in the Middle East, even immigration to America as a serious national security threat. I was there to moderate, and to throw out the first questions rather the way someone throws out the first pitch at a baseball game—and which Carly Fiorina proceeded to hit out of the park.
You can watch the YouTube video of the town hall meeting and judge for yourself.
But there’s no doubt that Fiorina was impressive from the first moment she stepped out on the stage, and then led us all in the Pledge of Allegiance. There’s also no doubt she knew her stuff, and was not only well briefed but had really thought about issues like how to deal with China and its serial cyber thievery; how to reverse President Obama’s disastrous Iran nuclear policy, and how Obama’s silence about the slaughter of Christians across the Middle East is a moral stench in the nostrils. I was even impressed when she picked up my phrase “Pax Putinica” which I coined in an article that ran in National Review this week, describing how Putin has used the conflict in Syria to position himself as the new power broker in the Middle East, and how Obama has let him get away it, even enabled it.
The audience loved it. And when after an hour the last question was asked and the cheering died down and we all said goodbye and Carly Fiorina left followed by the same phalanx of reporters and photographers while others hung back to collect my card (“did you say you are now with the Hudson Institute?”), it all set me to thinking.
First, who would have guessed a year ago that foreign policy would come to play so dominant a part in this presidential cycle (I’m including immigration here, which is actually as much about a failed Latin American foreign policy as it is failed border security), all thanks to Obama.
Second, who would have guessed that the rising star among GOP candidates would be a woman, especially such a woman—almost a Sarah Palin anti-type.
Third, who would have known that the place where she shows the most skill and cut-and-thrust would be foreign policy? Fiorina’s GOP competition on this topic is fierce: Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, Jeb Bush, even Ted Cruz. Yet her answer to my question on China was nine minutes of highly specific policy recommendations, not just focus group boiler plate.
I certainly wouldn’t say Carly Fiorina is my candidate for president. But the title “Madame President” does flow naturally off the tongue when you see her in action-despite my earlier joke. And whatever else happens in this race, she is definitely going to give the boys of the GOP a run for their money.