Carly, queen of the rodeo: Fiorina did in Perry, will she do in Cruz?

Good morning Austin:

SIMI VALLEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina take part in the presidential debates at the Reagan Library on September 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, California. Fifteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the second set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

From the minute the Republican under card debate last month in Cleveland ended, Carly Fiorina was the consensus winner. Her poll numbers spiked and she and her supporters successfully lobbied CNN to expand the cast for the main stage of the second debate to eleven to include her. And, once again, even before it was over, Fiorina had emerged as the clear winner.

“Every time she spoke it was like a pin-prick strike,” said Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning.

Of her debate performance, “I’ve never seen anyone like her anywhere … She’s terrifying. She’s really good.

“It is one of the strongest performances in modern American politics,” said Joe Scarborough, saying she brought to mind his hero – Margaret Thatcher.

“Carly Fiorina was phenomenal, phenomenal,” said Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s chief strategist.

There was an absolutely cold-blooded precision and efficiency to Fiorina’s performance that was devastating.

Obviously, all the other candidates suffer when another candidate excels. But the biggest losers from the performance by the Austin native at both last month’s debate and last night’s debate were the two other Texans in the race – Rick Perry and Ted Cruz.

It was Fiorina’s performance at the so-called kids’ table debate on Fox that effectively ended Perry’s candidacy.

For Perry – who entered the race for president four years ago as the instant, if flash-in-the-pan front runner – it was humiliating to be consigned to the junior varsity debate this time around. His only chance to get back in the mix in a way that would win him a serious hearing from voters in the long run – and donors in the short run – was to prove himself in debate, his obvious weakness last time around.

As it was, Perry’s performance in Cleveland was OK. Not bad. Not great.

He probably wouldn’t have emerged as the “winner” of that debate even without Fiorina being there. But her triumph by acclamation and elevation to the main stage this time around essentially buried Perry, consigning him to the perpetual purgatory of the second-string debate, a fact of life that Perry accepted by bowing out of the race days ahead of yesterday’s debate.

Fiorina’s impact on Cruz’s campaign is not as obvious as on Perry’s, but I think that she unmistakably stole his thunder last night in two ways – one general and one specific.

The general harm to Cruz was that, of everyone on that debate stage, he is reputed to be the pro – the brilliant Princeton debate champ. He is very good at it.

But Fiorina was way better – turning every answer into a crisp, memorable tour de force.

And, specifically, Fiorina delivered Cruz’s defunding Planned Parenthood lines better than he did, winning far greater applause – and far more media replays and comment – than Cruz on what was supposed to be his defining issue.

As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.

This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up in and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.

Cruz’s tactical decision to be the only Trump rival who only says nice things about Trump robbed him of a potential moment of confrontation with Trump, the kind of moment or moments that ensured that Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Scott Walker and especially Fiorina would get some quality replay time.

But Fiorina’s performance on the Planned Parenthood question also blocked Cruz’s other route to the highlight reel.

GOP 2016 Debate.JPEG-02f62

Fiorina had too many of those moments. Here she was on Trump’s dissing her looks.

Jake Tapper:

In an interview last week in Rolling Stone magazine, Donald Trump said the following about you. Quote, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Mr. Trump later said he was talking about your persona, not your appearance. Please feel free to respond what you think about his persona.


You know, it’s interesting to me, Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.

On Trump, more generally.


You know, I think Mr. Trump is a wonderful entertainer. He’s been terrific at that business.

I also think that one of the benefits of a presidential campaign is the character and capability, judgment and temperament of every single one of us is revealed over time and under pressure. All of us will be revealed over time and under pressure. I look forward to a long race.

On the question of drugs, she offered a powerfully personal answer that no one else could touch.

I very much hope I am the only person on this stage who can say this, but I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing.

My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction. So, we must invest more in the treatment of drugs.

I agree with Senator Paul. I agree with states’ rights. But we are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having a beer. It’s not. And the marijuana that kids are smoking today is not the same as the marijuana that Jeb Bush smoked 40 years ago.

We do — sorry, Barbara. We do need — we do need criminal justice reform. We have the highest incarceration rates in the world. Two-thirds of the people in our prisons are there for non-violent offenses, mostly drug related. It’s clearly not working.

But we need to tell young people the truth. Drug addiction is an epidemic, and it is taking too many of our young people. I know this sadly from personal experience.

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina on the debate stage at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

She even aced the fluff, beauty pageant question.

Jake Tapper:

Earlier this year, the Treasury Department announced that a woman will appear on the $10 bill. What woman would you like to see on the $10 bill?

Paul said Susan B. Anthony.

Huckabee said his wife.

Ben Carson had an arresting answer:

I’d put my mother on there. You know, she was one of 24 children, got married at age 13, had only a third grade education, had to raise two sons by herself, refused to be a victim. Wouldn’t let us be victims, and has been an inspiration to many people.

Rubio said Rosa Parks. Good answer. So good that Cruz and Trump seconded it, though not before each offered a trademark tick, with Trump first suggesting maybe his daughter Ivanka, and Cruz saying, “Well, I wouldn’t change the $10 bill, I’d change the $20. I’d take Jackson off and I’d leave Alexander Hamilton right where he is as one of our Founding Fathers.”

Jackson, was of course, an Indian killer and author of the Trail of  Tears, but I suspect that Cruz mostly begrudges Jackson’s place as founder of the Democratic Party.

Bush said Margaret Thatcher. Walker said Clara Barton. Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Mother Teresa. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Abigail Adams.


But once again it was Fiorina who offered he most compelling and unexpected answer, using her status as the only woman on the stage to say what none of the men could, offering an answer finely tuned to Republican sensibilities and setting her apart and above her rivals on a question that was also asked of all the candidates at Trump’s Miss USA Pageant, and asked of one of the finalists at Sunday’s Miss America Pageant. (Miss Colorado offered a clearly Democratic answer – Ellen DeGeneres.)

Fiorina’s response:

I wouldn’t change the $10 bill, or the $20 bill. I think, honestly, it’s a gesture. I don’t think it helps to change our history. What I would think is that we ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group. Women are the majority of this nation. We are half the potential of this nation, and this nation will be better off when every woman has the opportunity to live the life she chooses.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The three hour debate was preceded by a four-candidate preliminary debate between former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, South Carolina Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Graham carried the day, the Henny Youngman of American politics.

For example:

And like that.

But the most revealing moment of the early debate came when Jindal was asked about the case of Ahmed Mohamed.

Jake Tapper:

Governor Jindal, I do want to bring you in. I want to turn to a story in news in the story today. A 14-year-old Muslim high school student in Texas was arrested on Monday for bringing a homemade clock to school after it was mistaken for a fake bomb. Police released the young man after they determined it was, in fact, a clock. Today, President Obama invited that student to the White House.

Governor Jindal, throughout your campaign, you’ve spoken many times about Muslim extremists in this country. How would you, as president, strike a balance between vigilance and discrimination?


Well, Jake, look, I think the American people – we don’t discriminate anybody based on the color of their skin or their creed. I think the way you strike that balance, you say to Muslim leaders, they have got two responsibilities.

One, it’s not enough to denounce just simply generic acts of violence. They have got to denounce the individuals by name, and say these are not martyrs. These terrorists are not martyrs; rather, they are going straight to hell. They are not going to enjoy a reward in their afterlife.

Secondly, they have to explicitly embrace the same freedoms for everybody else they want for themselves. Look, I know it’s politically incorrect to say this, the president says Fort Hood was an issue of workplace violence.

We are at war with radical Islam. Our president loves to apologize for America, he goes to the National Prayer Breakfast, brings up the Crusades, criticizes Christians. We’re at war today with radical Islamic extremists.

It’s not politically correct to say that, but the way you strike that balance, you say to Muslim leaders, denounce these fools, these radical terrorists by name, say they are not martyrs.


Governor Jindal, I’m afraid you didn’t answer the question. How do you strike the balance between vigilance and discrimination?

Obviously, we know how you feel about the vigilance part of this. Do you ever see the discrimination part of it?


Sure, I don’t think a 14-year-old should ever get arrested for bringing a clock to school. So, if you’re asking me I’m glad he wasn’t – he was released. I’m glad that police are careful. I’m glad they are worried about security and safety issues.

Look, in America we don’t tolerate them. The biggest discrimination is going on against Christian business owners and individuals who believe in traditional forms of marriage. They are throwing this woman in jail in Kentucky.

Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the Christian florist, the caterer, the musician, who simply want to say, don’t arrest us for having – or don’t discriminate against us, don’t shut down our businesses, don’t fine us thousands of dollars for believing marriage is between a man and a woman. Let’s talk about not discriminating against Christians

This is unbelievable. Clueless. Tone deaf. And surpassingly lacking in self-awareness.

Bobby Jindal has always been the brilliant, scrawny, brown-skinned, child of immigrants wunderkind.

How can Bobby Jindal look at Ahmed Mohamed and not see himself?

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.29.55 PM

How could he offer an answer so utterly lacking in anything but the most pro forma empathy?

What happened in Irving is a disgrace.

How could any educators allow Ahmed to be led out of their school in handcuffs?

And even after their disgraceful actions, they compounded it by suspending Ahmed.

Can anyone seriously suggest that Ahmed’s treatment didn’t have everything to do with his name, his color and his background?

Everyone in the chain of command in that school system ought to be gone.

President Obama instantly understood this.

Hillary Clinton understood it (thought typically offered a stiffer response than Obama).

Mark Zuckerberg understood it.


Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 7.17.45 AMAhmed Mohamed comes out of this fine.

More than fine.

But if the Republican Party is at a place where they are not horrified by what happened to Ahmed, they’re in a lot of trouble.

Ronald Reagan would have been on Ahmed’s side.

Anyone with the slightest relationship to Hollywood storytelling would know that there is only one way to tell Ahmed’s story and that is from Ahmed’s point of view.

But Bobby Jindal, for whom this should have been most obvious, blew it.

It was a telling moment and I wish every candidate at the main event had had to answer the same question.



Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

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