Carly Fiorina has become the new pretender to the Republican Party nomination after a debate performance little short of phenomenal.
A CNN Poll at the weekend showed she won the debate and that she has leaped into second place behind Donald Trump and passed Doctor Ben Carson in an astonishing rise. Trump is at 24pc down eight, Fiorina at 15pc and Carson at 14pc.
Her meteoric rise has raised the possibility of an all-women’s race for the White House – Hillary versus Carly. What a historic battle that could turn out to be.
Columnist Marc Thiessen, writing in the ‘Washington Post’, commented: “Her (Fiorina’s) ascent raises a possibility that should terrify Democrats: The GOP (‘Grand Old Party’ – ie, the Republicans) might just nominate a passionate, articulate pro-life woman as its standard-bearer in 2016. If that happens, Democrats can say goodbye to their beloved ‘war on women’ rhetoric.”
It has been an astonishing rise from no hoper to sudden threat. For the first debate she had been relegated to the kiddie’s canteen where the six also-rans – who had polled lowest of the then 17 candidates – took part in a play-debate before the adults arrived.
However, she was so impressive she got to the adult table for the second debate and seized her moment.
Dressed in a blue outfit with creases so sharp you could cut your hand on them, she knifed through the opposition with detailed insight, humanity and an incredible sense of timing.
The history of women running for president in the GOP is a pretty sad one. Elizabeth Dole, wife of former senator Robert Dole, ran in 2000 on the single basis that she was a woman – hardly a good enough rationale. Michele Bachmann, a far-right candidate, ran on being a woman and a mom and suffered the same fate after showing briefly in 2008.
When it comes to women candidates, the GOP can be tough territory. There are so many traditionalists who believe the woman should stay at home and have no part in active politics that it can be impossible to make a run.
However, Fiorina has solved the issue by running on competence, not gender. When asked in the last debate to discuss what woman would she put on a $10 note from the treasury she dismissed the question as irrelevant, which indeed it was.
She spoke with resignation and sadness in what was perhaps the most memorable moment of the debate when she recalled how her husband Frank and she had lost a child to drug addiction at the age of 35. She has also spoken eloquently on surviving breast cancer.
She didn’t talk about those issues it in a self-pitying way and she avoided a similar trap when asked to react to Donald Trump’s inane comment about her looks. She beautifully understated her response, noting that every woman in America knew exactly what Trump was up to – judging a woman on looks only.
Fiorina has suddenly become the darling of the anti-Trump crowd. Right-wing talk show host and huge Trump backer Mark Levin believes it is all part of a plot to unseat Donald as the front-runner and replace him with Jeb Bush.
“Most of the same voices who opposed Trump, and before him Cruz, are singing her praises today. Notice that?” Levin mused.
“Notice how quickly they have lurched from Bush to Kasich to Fiorina? They don’t really care, they just want to take [Trump] out. And once they take him out they want to take the next one out. They want to clear the field for Jeb – they’ll circle back to Jeb. It’s a long process...”
He may just be right. In that same CNN poll, Trump fell from 32 to 24pc, the first ominous sign he is losing altitude. He is running on a series of blustery pronouncements on everything from border fences to Muslims but has no detailed policy positions.
His blatant lack of knowledge of foreign affairs was evident to everyone in the second debate when he stumbled over questions about US relations with Putin and Russia.
When it came to her turn Fiorina – as befits a former Hewlett Packard CEO – has done her homework. She knows down to the last ship and soldier how much she will expand the US armed forces. She talks knowledgeably about trade and Chinese and Russian relations. She does not operate off a set of bromides like Trump who expects to fill in the gaps later.
Her supporters are much more mainstream Republicans than Trump’s wild-eyed prairie partisans or Carson’s strong evangelical base.
Much of the base of the party is still conservative middle-class and white, and they are rallying to Fiorina’s competence and insight into what needs to be done.
As for Hillary, the prospect of facing another woman throws a new unknown into the equation.
There is precedent. In her only other political race Fiorina took on California senator Barbara Boxer for a US Senate seat.
She was roundly defeated after Boxer lived up to her name and pumelled her on her business record with Hewlett Packard, where Fiorina fired 30,000 workers and moved jobs overseas.
But what worked in blue state California may not work across the United States, and Fiorina has fiercely defended her record.
Right now she is the Republican in the passing lane and closing in on Trump. Will she turn out a real contender or yet another pretender for the GOP nomination?