Carly Fiorina, former chief executive officer of tech giant Hewlett-Packard, spoke about her recent presidential campaign Tuesday night in the Fischer Colloquium as part of Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service’s ongoing series, “Reflections on Running.” Fiorina spoke to a standing-only audience, describing the intricacies of her presidential race with a sort of political candor that can only occur in retrospect.
Fiorina opened the event by addressing her lack of interest in politics earlier in her life, saying she gradually transformed from being politically apathetic to fervently active in politics.
“As a student I didn’t care anything about politics,” Fiorina said. “Frankly, there were a lot of times in my life when I didn’t bother to vote. I thought politics somehow existed in a different world, which had nothing to do with me. … As I spent more and more time in business I came to realize that actually politics and politicians and the policies they pursue impact every one of our lives whether we know it or not.”
Fiorina also discussed her unhappiness with the political landscape she encountered that prompted her run for the California Senate in 2009 to address her dissatisfaction with the state’s policies.
“I had seen the impact of many liberal policies on the state that I loved, [California], which has the highest income inequality in the country, which spends more money per pupil on education than 49 out of 50 states and yet has outcomes that are 49th out of 50,” Fiorina said. “California is kind of a test case, in my mind, of what happens when you have wrong-headed policies for too long. It works really well for the rich and it doesn’t really work for anyone else. And so I ran.”
Although her bid for the California Senate was ultimately unsuccessful, Fiorina did not regard the attempt as a failure, but rather as an encouragement for future political action.
“It’s a demonstration, I think, that as Americans we actually have more common ground than we imagine sometimes. That’s certainly what I found, and I found it to be true in the presidential election as well,” Fiorina said.
After battling breast cancer and losing her daughter, Fiorina officially announced in May 2015 she would be running for president. Fiorina said the decision was driven, in part, by her desire to rebuild the reputation of conservative women in the United States.
“I wanted to reintroduce people to what being conservative is because there are a lot of things that people think they know about conservative women, but those are just caricatures,” Fiorina said.
With her hat officially in the ring after her announcement video went up on her website on May 4, 2015, Fiorina said she began looking for opportunities to improve her discouraging initial odds.
“We always knew that because we didn’t have the years of building up the political infrastructure, I mean I started literally from ground zero, [that it would be hard],” Fiorina said. “I had a team of two people, I had less than four percent name recognition nationally. Most people had never heard of me.”
Fiorina said she knew the debates would be important for building her reputation among voters. However, Fiorina did not initially make the main debate stage and was instead featured on what she called the “happy hour debate,” the less publicized debate which aired before the main presidential debate. This debate featured candidates considered to have an outside chance in the presidential race.
Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), the executive director of GU Politics and the event moderator, said Fiorina first captured the public eye in this debate, highlighting her own performance and its impact on her campaign.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who would disagree that she was the star of that night among both debates,” said Elleithee. “She saw a surge right after that, people did begin to hear her name, and did begin checking up on what she was talking about.”
Fiorina was invited to the next Republican debate at the Reagan Library during which her sparring with Donald Trump and stern words for Planned Parenthood saw her polling number rise to its eventual peak in the next few weeks.
“I was very satisfied,” Fiorina said on air with American Broadcasting Company’s “Good Morning America”. “When I went into the debate, almost half the audience didn’t know my name, and I introduced myself successfully.”
Fiorina’s rising polling numbers stalled weeks later and after lackluster results in Iowa and New Hampshire, Fiorina officially bowed out of the race Feb. 10, citing lack of media attention as a major factor in her campaign’s fall.
“We couldn’t get any oxygen. When I was no longer on the debate shows there was no path forward,” Fiorina said.
Having traced her campaign’s trajectory in the primary race, Fiorina then spoke about the presidential race going forward, fielding several questions about the campaign of the Republican Party’s frontrunner, Donald Trump.
“Politically speaking, I think I probably thought what a lot of people thought, that [Donald Trump] was going to go away,” Fiorina said. “Well, we were wrong, he did not go away, which is why, on the Republican side, the only thing we can do now is beat him.”
Fiorina said she formally endorsed Senator Ted Cruz since she believes he is capable of beating Trump.
“[One of the reasons] I’m campaigning for Ted Cruz is because he’s the only one who can beat Donald Trump, and Donald Trump has to be beaten. He cannot be the nominee of the Republican party,” Fiorina said. “When the Republican establishment gets together and says, ‘we’re going to pick the nominee,’ it doesn’t work. … The only candidate who has a chance at beating him fair and square at the ballot box is Ted Cruz.”
The event ended after nearly an hour and a half of Fiorina’s reflection.
An attendee of the event, Jason Gusdorf (SFS ’16) believed Fiorina’s response to a question about Trump’s candidacy to be unaligned with the reasons the public criticizes Trump, but enjoyed the event nevertheless.
“Fiorina declared that Trump and Clinton were ‘two sides of the same coin,’ since Trump donated money to politics and Clinton accepted it; Clinton and Trump were equally guilty. This won Fiorina a round of applause from the audience. Not only was her thought patronizingly simple, but it implied that the criticisms of Trump centered around how much money he has donated to politicians … How an audience of Georgetown students could applaud such a statement baffled me,” Gusdorf said. “Regardless, I appreciated the chance to see such a high-profile political leader.”
Anthony Persico (SFS ’19), who also attended the event, said he considered Fiorina’s talk as a candid look into the unseen aspects of a political campaign.
“It was refreshing to hear somebody as intelligent as Mrs. Fiorina talk outside of a political setting. She was able to speak openly and honestly without worrying about how people would really react,” Persico said. “She spoke about personal stories and experiences that only somebody on the inside of the campaign for the White House could have known.”
The event marked the second in a series of talks by former presidential candidates, the first being a talk by Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor who also ran in the 2016 presidential election. GU Politics announced another installment of the “Reflections on Running” series Tuesday. Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator and two-time candidate, will be speaking about his recent campaign March 21 at 7 p.m. in Old North. It also announced Thursday that the fourth installment of the series will be held March 22 at 6:45 p.m. in McShain Lounge with a talk from Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor and presidential candidate.
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