US 'Thatcher' outpitches GOP Mad Men
Carly Fiorina, the only woman among 16 Republican men running for president, put in a strikingly strong performance at the debate for second-tier candidates by trashing Donald Trump's conservative credentials and promising to "put America back in the leadership business".
The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, who compares herself in speeches to Margaret Thatcher, is registering barely 1pc in the national polls and failed to qualify for Thursday's prime time debate.
But Mrs Fiorina, who has never held elected office, stood out among the seven candidates who took part in an earlier "undercard" debate on Fox News and looked assured and confident among the senators and governors onstage with her.
The 60-year-old was asked about Donald Trump, who was not in the early debate but was described as the "elephant in the room" of the Republican primary who has a double-digit lead in the polls.
Mrs Fiorina pointed out that the billionaire had donated to both Bill Clinton's global charity and to Hillary Clinton's 2000 senate campaign before calling into question his conservative bonafides.
"Since he has changed his mind on amnesty, on health care and on abortion, I would just ask, what are the principles by which he will govern?" she asked.
Mrs Fiorina has never served in government but claimed to "know more world leaders on the stage today than anyone running, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton."
She laid out a rapid-fire schedule for what she would do in her first two days in the Oval Office, promising to make two phone calls: one to her "good friend" Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and a second to the supreme leader of Iran.
"He might not take my phone call, but he would get the message," Mrs Fiorina said, promising to impose new sanctions on Iran until Tehran agreed to "anytime, anywhere" inspections.
Mrs Fiorina, like most Republicans, opposes the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers.
She said she would spend her second day at a summit with Arab allies at Camp David, the presidential retreat, "not to talk them into this lousy deal with Iran, but to say to them, 'what is it that you need to defeat ISIL?'"
Mrs Fiorina led Hewlett-Packard, one of the world's largest technology companies, for six years before being forced to resign by the board, which took issue with her management. Shares jumped sharply on news of her resignation.
Since then she has been involved in philanthropy but also ran for Senate as a Republican in California in 2010, losing by 10 points to the incumbent Democrat.
There was only one hitch in Mrs Fiorina's debate performance: one of her aides printed out a copy of her closing statement only to leave it in the printer where a rival campaign found it and tweeted it out.
The debate - Republican bear baiting would be a more accurate description - was a spectacle to behold.
Most significant was that we now know the identity of the next Republican nominee to be President of the United States. It will be Jeb Bush. It can only be Jeb Bush.
He was the only one of the candidates who bore even a passing resemblance to a serious politician. He was mature, measured, and successfully achieved his primary objective, which was to steer clear of the claws and fangs of his rivals.
Another thing we know - though we knew this already - is that Donald Trump is a lunatic. He confirmed this with his first answer, where he announced in his strangely bombastic but rambling way that if he didn't secure the nomination he would consider running as an independent, thereby wrecking any hope of Republican victory.
Which is fine by me. And will probably be fine with the American people. Because one of the other most telling things to come out of the debate was the way in which the Republican Party as a whole has learnt nothing from its past two defeats. Or at least, if the audience, who crammed into the cavernous Cleveden Quicken Loans Arena, are in any way representative of the GOP, they've learnt nothing.
Each event like the debate has one stand out moment that everyone remembers. And the moment that will linger was Donald Trump's exchange with Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly. Kelly read out a list of some of Trump's comments on women. "You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals'." The audience tittered. There was a smattering of applause. "Only Rosie O'Donnell (a US comedian and actress)", Trump responded. At which point the audience went nuts. They cheered, they laughed, they applauded.
"No it wasn't", Kelly said, pressing gamely on. She read out some additional comments, including one to a woman on his show 'The Apprentice' in which he'd said "it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees". "Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?" Kelly asked.
"I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct", Trump replied. That one brought the house down too. Trump ended his comments with the slightly sinister aside: "Megyn if you don't like it, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you although I could probably not be based on the way you have treated me, but I wouldn't do that."
After Mitt Romney lost in 2012 one Republican observed: "our problem is we're a 'Mad Men' party living in a 'Modern Family' world". Judging by what we saw, the GOP is now a 'Flintstones' family living in a 'Modern Family' world.
So the Republicans are about to do their thing all over again. Trump will soar and burn brightly. And then he will fade and vanish. But in the process he will drag the debate to the Right. And that will drag the other candidates to the right. And that will open up the political centre to the Democrats.
Perhaps Jeb Bush is just politically savvy enough to hold a moderate (these things are relative) line. It was interesting to observe yesterday how he is running as his father, rather than his brother. Iraq had been "a mistake" he said.
But it's not clear his party will let him hold that line. Which is why the real winner of last night's Republican bear baiting was, of course, Hillary Clinton.