Why Carly? If you love Ted Cruz, you’ll like Carly Fiorina

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Good day Austin:

With the benefit of a little time for contemplation of Ted Cruz’s choice of Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running-mate, I remain underwhelmed.

For Fiorina, it’s all good. It’s great

Much as she protested to the contrary, her presidential candidacy always seemed an audition of her availability as a candidate for vice president and, voilà, here she is, with the buttons to prove it.

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And I’m sure she was thoroughly vetted, including a musical audition before Cruz’s daughters – Caroline, 8, and Catherine, 4.

But the timing of the announcement suggests that it is all about Trump’s sweeping triumph Tuesday in five Northeastern states – which, for the record, Cruz dismissed as Manhattan writ large – and slowing or reversing Trump’s accelerating momentum, seizing the spotlight and dominating the news cycle.

For weeks, the Cruz campaign had proved its finesse at winning delegates in the caucus and convention process, and to filling the actual ranks of even those delegations pledged to vote for Trump with surreptitious Cruz supporters who, once Trump was denied the nomination on the first ballot, would reveal themselves to be Cruz true believers on a second or third ballot.

After Cruz’s big win in Wisconsin, it appeared that Trump could be stopped short of the requisite 1,237 delegates, and Cruz would emerge as the only plausible alternative.

But then Trump won big in New York, which was no surprise, and then won huge in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which was not all the surprising, except that the victory was so big and broad, and Cruz’s performance was so anemic, that it became harder for Cruz to keep calling Trump a sore loser,  or to deny that Trump had a plausible path to 1,237 delegates, pre-convention.

So, yes, by all means, recharge your campaign, do something bold, change the subject.

But to me, the Fiorina choice merely drove home the point that Cruz is reeling and Trump on the verge, and nothing about the choice of Fiorina will reverse that.

If Cruz wins Indiana, the stratagem may have proved brilliant.

But, on Wednesday, the announcement landed with a thud – it was a Hail Mary, a Hail Carly, a buzzer shot, or this, from the New York Times:

Mr. Cruz’s decision to rush out a vice-presidential pick before next week’s primary in Indiana, which is becoming make-or-break for his candidacy, was the political equivalent of a student pulling a fire alarm to avoid an exam: It was certain to draw attention and carried the possibility of meeting its immediate goal, but seemed unlikely to forestall the eventual reckoning.

The problem is that when it comes to the drama and theatrics of politics, Ted Cruz is no Donald Trump

From a story I wrote with Sean Collins Walsh back in February.

Rubio and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas effectively teamed up with one another Thursday night in the most sustained and successful assault yet on Trump, who was standing center stage between the two young first-term senators during a GOP presidential debate at the University of Houston. But, by midday Friday, Rubio was being double-teamed by Trump and by Christie, who had proved to be Rubio’s nemesis at the New Hampshire debate that cost the Florida senator his early momentum from a surprisingly strong third-place showing in Iowa and sent him reeling to a fifth-place finish in the Granite State.

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In what could be described as a Trumpian performance, Rubio also joked that Trump might have wet his pants during the debate and had a sweat mustache.

The sheer ferociousness and aggressive humor of Rubio’s attack had the political media agog, but, even as he was speaking, Trump tweeted: “Lightweight choker Marco Rubio looks like a little boy on stage. Not presidential material!”

And soon enough, Trump had out-Trumped Rubio, introducing Christie to stunned reporters at a news conference in Dallas at which the former rival, but longtime friend, endorsed Trump as the man who can defeat Hillary Clinton and be the “strong leader” America needs.

Trump’s counterpunch gained enormous heft with the dramatic entrance of Christie, who slammed Rubio for missing Senate votes while running for president: “President of the United States is not a no-show job like you treated the United States Senate.”

Campaigning in Nashville, Cruz said of Christie, “I think the endorsement was probably troubling news for the Rubio campaign.”

By daybreak, Rubio seemed to be gaining traction in presenting himself as the establishment hope to stop Trump. But the Christie endorsement could foreshadow growing Republican establishment acceptance of what could, in the aftermath of Super Tuesday, appear to be a Trump juggernaut.

Then Trump took the stage at the Fort Worth Convention Center to raucous applause and chants of “U.S.A.” from a crowd estimated at about 7,000, and he wasted no time ripping into Rubio as a “lightweight senator who’s losing big” and a “little frightened puppy.” He said Rubio applies makeup with a trowel to cover up his big ears, and that he sweats so prodigiously that he leaves a puddle of sweat under him when speaking publicly. Trump added, “He’s a nasty guy, and we don’t need nasty.”

Christie’s endorsement also lent an air of gravitas to the Trump campaign, even as Rubio had appeared to hit a nerve with his characterization of the tycoon-turned-reality-TV-star as nothing more than a big-talking flimflam man.

Trump’s deployment of Christie was brilliant. It came as an utter surprise. It seized the news cycle, and reversed the momentum on a dime. It was a setback from which Rubio never recovered. Christie took a beating for reducing himself to Mr. Trump’s butler, but that didn’t hurt Trump. It made you think that Trump was a  more formidable candidate.

But the Cruz campaign leaked days ago that it had been vetting Fiorina, losing the element of surprise, and unlike Christie endorsing Trump, Fiorina had nothing to lose and everything to gain by hooking up with Cruz, and so it didn’t cause anyone still deciding about Cruz to pause and go, “Huh, I didn’t see that coming. That’s interesting. Maybe I should give him a second look.”

Imagine though, if Cruz had unveiled his choice of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, or even Little Marco. It would have been arresting and made people think, well, if an impressive person like that with plenty to lose is throwing his or her lot with Cruz, maybe I’ve underestimated him and he still can win it.

While I’m sure that Fiorina and the Cruzes have been having a ball campaigning with one another the last seven weeks = just as Fiorina described it – it also seems possible that  sometime a few days ago, Ted and Heidi Cruz locked eyes as Carly and the girls were engaged in a particularly animated game of Chinese checkers, as if to say, “This is getting a little weird. Maybe if we offer her the vice presidency she’ll give us a little breathing space.”

And, there was also one telling line in Cruz’s presentation of Fiorina that rubbed me the wrong way.

“There’s an old adage in management that A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s.”

The line fell flat among the Cruz supporters, many of whom probably got the occasional `B,” or recall that the last president Republicans elected was George W. “Gentlemen’s C” Bush.

Here’s what some other people think about the Fiorina choice.

From Chris Cillizza. at the Washington Post.

Announcing Fiorina is a big swing at story-changing.  Cruz has to hope that the coverage over the next few days — both in Indiana and nationally — will focus on Fiorina and why it was smart of him to pick her. Every second that cable TV and local media outlets spend talking about Cruz and Carly is a second that Trump doesn’t dominate the conversation. And what recent history has told us is that when Trump dominates the conversation, he almost always wins.

This is rightly understood as a desperate attempt to re-take the momentum in the race before it’s too late. To Cruz’s credit, he’s trying it. (I’m a big believer in leaving it all out on the field. If you are going to lose, lose with all of your best plays called. Or something.)

Let’s take as a given that since Fiorina’s campaign ended and she endorsed Cruz on March 9, the two have found out that they have a genuine rapport and share a vision for the country. And let’s also assume that Fiorina has passed some sort of basic (or more-than-basic) vet by the Cruz campaign. (Remember that Fiorina not only ran for president in 2016 but also ran for Senate in 2010.)

What else does she bring Cruz?  In order of importance:

* A woman.  Trump’s numbers among female voters — especially in a general election — are disastrous.  Cruz has struggled to drive that message home in the primary but is clearly hoping that by elevating Fiorina to I’ll-pick-her-if-I-can-pick-anyone status that Fiorina can help reach female voters who the Texas senator needs, not just in Indiana but going forward in the race.

* A Californian. Fiorina is a known commodity in California Republican circles due in large part to her 2010 Senate campaign which, although she lost, got better post-campaign reviews than the gubernatorial effort run by fellow wealthy businesswoman Meg Whitman. Cruz is banking on Fiorina as an able surrogate for him in California — both in front of the camera and behind the scenes — in advance of the state’s June 7 primary. By that point, Trump should be nearing the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the nominee, and depriving him of a handful here and there in California congressional districts may be Cruz’s only option. He believes Fiorina can help that cause.

* An attack dog. This works on a near-term and long-term basis. In the near term, Cruz now has an attack dog who has proven to be relatively effective in battling Trump. Fiorina’s reputation on that front is largely built on a single exchange during a CNN-sponsored debate in September 2015 in which she appeared to get the better of the real estate mogul who has made comments about her face. (Yes, really.)

From Erica Greider at Texas Monthly:
What’s surprising about this is the timing, of course, rather than the choice itself. Fiorina was among the 17 candidates for this year’s Republican presidential nomination, and having dropped out after the New Hampshire primary, she announced her support for Cruz in March. The former Hewlett Packard CEO certainly would have been expected to be on Cruz’s shortlist, because though her own bid came up short, she is well-equipped to play the “attack dog” role that running mates sometimes adopt—not just against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee, but against Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner.
It’s highly unorthodox, though, for Cruz to announce his running-mate pick at this point, since he has yet to secure the nomination and is seemingly unlikely to do so, especially after yesterday’s primaries in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, and Rhode Island—in which Trump won not just every state, but, to their enduring ignominy, every county in each of those states. And the fact that Cruz and Fiorina are set to announce their agreement in Indianapolis underlines the obvious implication: Cruz is trying to give his campaign a boost before next week’s increasingly crucial Indiana primary.
With that said, I’m hard-pressed to fault Cruz for this Hail Mary. His prospects of winning the nomination are, at this point, not excessively auspicious, but still—would we prefer him to admit defeat, pack it in, and begin making preparations for 2020? That would, perhaps, be a shrewd play on his part. But it would also, under the circumstances, be a serious blow to both the party and the nation. It may be too late for Cruz to stop Trump from winning. But no one with any commitment to our civic health should resent him for trying.
But, if you are not already favorably disposed to Cruz, Fiorina, and the evident Cruz-Fiorina chemistry, is not going to do much for you, and, while Fiorina sings sweely, her default setting is stern-to-the-point-of -grating,
As in this remark to MSNBC today on John Kasich:
“He didn’t get the memo, when you can’t win you need to get out,” Fiorina said.
Which would have sounded better before Tuesday, when Kasich ran ahead of Cruz in four of five states.
But, beyond that, it is simply no way to try to draw Kasich voters in Indiana – from which Kasich, per a deal/non-deal with Cruz, is keeping his distance.
If you are a Kasich supporter in Indiana who is thinking of voting strategically for Cruz to slow Trump, and you see Cruz pick Fiorina – blowing up any possibility of a Cruz-Kasich ticket – and then Fiorina insult Kasich, well, no thanks.
 

From Avik Roy at Forbes, who was the policy director for Rick Perry, and then moved over to the Rubio campaign:

On Tuesday, Donald Trump crushed the opposition, winning 110 of the 119 bound delegates available in the “Acela primary” of northeastern states. Ted Cruz tried to bounce back by naming former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as his Vice Presidential pick. Cruz is hoping that Fiorina’s roots in California could help him compete better in that state’s crucial June 7 primary. But the Fiorina pick could well assure Donald Trump the GOP nomination.
Why?

If Cruz wants to deny Trump the nomination, he has to sweep in Indiana, and hope to split California. Right now, he isn’t doing either. Cruz and Trump are neck-and-neck in Indiana, and Trump is up by double digits in California.

So, how does Cruz beat Trump? His hope is that Fiorina will serve as an attack dog—the traditional veep role—and bring Trump down a notch or two. Maybe.

But Cruz has a bigger problem. It’s that so many conservatives who don’t like Trump also don’t like him. In Indiana, for example, anti-Trump voters beat pro-Trump voters 51 to 38 percent. In California, anti-Trump voters win 45 to 43 percent.

In both cases, a large portion of the anti-Trump vote is going to Ohio Gov. John Kasich: 19 percentage points in Indiana, and 18 in California.

On Monday, the campaigns of Kasich and Cruz announced that they would be cooperating in upcoming Republican primary states, in an effort to deny Donald Trump the GOP nod. But within hours of their announcements, Kasich was undermining the deal, urging his followers to vote for him even in Cruz-friendly states.

For better or worse, Kasich has become the vessel of moderate Republican voters: the suburban, upper-income folks who prefer pragmatism to bomb-throwing. And Carly Fiorina is, at least rhetorically, a Cruz-style firebrand.

There’s also the fact that pragmatic conservatives tend to favor someone for veep who has deep experience in governing and legislating, something that Fiorina does not.

In other words, Cruz picked one of the few people in the 2016 field who will struggle to appeal to Kasich voters and unite the GOP around Ted Cruz.

Maybe that won’t matter, given Fiorina’s intelligence and rhetorical verve. But there’s just as much reason to believe that Fiorina pick will drive Kasich voters further away from Cruz, at precisely the time when he needs them.

In which case, Cruz is toast.

The underlying problem here is that Cruz’s campaign is premised on the view that the way you win is to be the purest, most unflinching conservative in the race. Period. Broadening your appeal equals undermining your appeal. In presenting his ideological doppelgänger yesterday as his running mate, Cruz said they would offer “a choice, not an echo” – a very telling echo of Barry Goldwater’s announcement of his 1964 candidacy for president that won him in the nomination but ended in his being buried in the Johnson landslide.

From Goldwater’s announcement on Jan. 3, 1964:

I’ve been spelling out my position now for 10 years in the Senate and for years before that here in my own state. I will spell it out even further in the months to come. I was once asked what kind of Republican I was. I replied that I was not a “me-too” Republican. That still holds. I will not change my beliefs to win votes. I will offer a choice, not an echo. This will not be an engagement of personalities. It will be in engagement of principles.

In the Senate, Cruz was Goldwater on steroids. And the choice of Fiorina does nothing to make Cruz more palatable to more mainstream or establishment Republicans, who loath him as much more as Trump.

From the Stanford Daily at Stanford University, where former House Speaker John Boehner spoke yesterday.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” the former speaker said. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

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Boehner for the most part accepted Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee, though he did express his surprise at the candidate’s success. While he did not praise Trump’s policies, the Speaker did say he would vote for Trump in the general election if he becomes the Republican nominee. The former Speaker said he would not, however, vote for Cruz.

Asked about that today, Cruz, Fiorina by his side, seized on Boeher’s comments as defining exactly why he is running and what he is running against – rolling Boehner into the Trump-Clinton Washington cartel.

I’ve never worked with John Boehner. Truth f the matter is I don’t know the man. I’ve met John Boehner two or three times in my life. If I’ve said 50 words to John Boehner in my life, I’d be surprised. And everyone one them has consisted of pleasantries.

When John Boehner calls me Lucifer, he’s not directing at me, he’s directing it at you

What Boehner is angry with me for is standing with the American people.,

“What made John Boehner mad is that I led a movement of the people to hold Washington accountable.

Meanwhile, there was Rick Perry, who endorsed and campaigned for Cruz after his own campaign ended,  on  The View yesterday, saying that while he doesn’t think the nomination is sewn up for Trump and there is still a way for Cruz to win yet, if Trump, who he once called a “cancer on conservatism,” is the nominee, he will vote for him.

 

I asked Rutgers University political scientist yesterday whether the Fiorina choice made sense to him.

To be honest, no, on first cut.

Although, perhaps it is a play to address Trump’s apparent woman problem. I’m thinking about the Our Principles PAC super PAC that ran the anti-Trump ad with many women just using the phrases he has said about women generally, which seemed like a potentially effective ad.

Seen in that light, it could be a strategic move, especially if followed by direct attacks on Trump and his history with women, done by Fiorina.

But of course, the problem is that it also seems pretentious, to announce this, when he has virtually no chance of actually being the nominee.

See, also, Ronald Reagan tapping Sen. Richard Schweiker of PA in 1976 to try to make a last-ditch play for “liberal” GOP delegates to upset Ford. But Reagan actually had a chance to win the nomination.

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