Milwaukee — Carly Fiorina says no “deal” has been struck with Ted Cruz to become his running mate, but she won’t rule out joining the GOP ticket should he emerge as the nominee.
Her remarks came moments after Cruz identified Fiorina, a former rival for the Republican nomination, as the type of “strong, inspirational” leader the country needs. More broadly, they came against the backdrop of an ugly feud between Cruz and Donald Trump involving their wives and tabloid-fueled allegations of extramarital affairs, prompting fresh concerns from GOP leaders about the party’s ability to attract women voters in the fall.
Fiorina, who quit the presidential race in February and endorsed Cruz prior to Florida’s March 15 primary, has emerged as his standout surrogate on the campaign trail. Her engaging presence and shoot-from-the-hip style are a strong supplement to Cruz, who can struggle to connect with voters and sometimes comes across as inauthentic. Fiorina’s latest swing with Cruz is conspicuously well-timed, coming amid the Texas senator’s clash with Trump and fresh scrutiny of the front-runner’s history of verbally degrading women. (Fiorina, who antagonized Trump as a rival candidate, experienced it first-hand; she memorably confronted Trump on the debate stage in September after he told Rolling Stone of her appearance, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”)
On Tuesday morning in the nearby suburb of Brookfield, Fiorina fired up a bleary-eyed audience — earning ovations that, reporters noticed, rivaled Cruz’s — and was greeted with repeated calls from the crowd: “Carly for VP!” Cruz wasted no time singing her praises upon taking the stage, telling his audience that Fiorina “gives Hillary Clinton nightmares.”
A short while later, during a meet-and-greet stop here at Solemans Pub and Grill, Cruz was asked by NRO about the chants — and whether he would consider Fiorina as his running mate.
“Listen, I think Carly’s terrific. She is an incredible leader. And there’s a reason we’re campaigning together all over the country,” Cruz said. “I think very, very highly of her. She’s inspirational, her campaign inspired people all over the country, she’s inspiring people now. I think we need strong, inspirational leaders.”
Pressed on whether he has begun to evaluate possible ticket-mates — considering the potential for a contested convention and the compressed timetable for making such a selection — Cruz didn’t get a chance to respond.
“Maybe we ought to get him the nomination first!” Fiorina said, jumping in. “Folks in Wisconsin have a really important role. Let’s get him the nomination.”
Fiorina, carrying over a grievance from own campaign, said the media has been getting ahead of itself and needs to let the process play out — even though Cruz himself promised over the weekend that he would beat Trump and become the Republican nominee.
“There’s actually something really important that has to happen here in Wisconsin: The people in Wisconsin get a chance to vote, and they have to make a really important decision,” Fiorina said. “I think that they are going to vote big-time for Ted Cruz. That needs to happen first. So let’s stay focused. Let’s not put the cart ahead of the horse.”
Cruz, standing a few feet away, nodded. “We’re focused on the task in front of us.”
Nevertheless, with the convention less than three months away, Cruz’s campaign almost certainly has started — even if broadly and informally — the process of vetting potential running mates. Assuming Trump fails to reach the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, Cruz could either name his VP pick before Republicans gather in Cleveland to gain momentum; wait until a second round of balloting begins; or hold off on announcing anything to retain maximum negotiating leverage at the convention.
Whatever the eventual scenario, Cruz’s team before long will be examining a short list of names — and considering how she complements him, Fiorina’s name will almost certainly be on it.
But would Fiorina, who repeatedly said as a candidate that she wasn’t interested in joining anyone else’s ticket, be open to it?
“I don’t rule anything out completely,” Fiorina said.
She added, “I went into a voting booth by myself in my home state of Virginia and I cast a vote for Ted Cruz because he’s a constitutional conservative and he’ll challenge the system. That’s why I ran. That’s what I’ll do. So this isn’t about a deal. It’s not about what comes next. It’s about what we need to lead this party and to win in November.”