Political devotees and insiders all seem convinced that Carly Fiorina is only running for vice president. Big-donor types say it. Consultants say it. Members of the media say it. Grassroots activists say it. Republicans of all stripes, and all kinds of people who cover them and opine on them, say it.
And they’re all wrong.
The widespread idea that Carly has set her sights on the VP slot is both irritating and eyebrow raising, especially when it’s voiced by women’s-advancement-oriented female devotees of the word “feminism.”
It is true that I am an unapologetic Carly fan, who has worked with her and consulted for her in the context of prior campaigns. It is true that I do not approach this from an unbiased standpoint.
It is also true that at the end of the day, Carly may very well not be the nominee of the Republican Party in 2016. Only one out of what seems like a gazillion GOP candidates will get that honor, and everyone else will collect their bags and go home.
But what is also true is that, in countless conversations about her and the field at large, I have yet to hear a single person say of any male candidate that they are “only running for vice president.” This is despite the fact that only a couple of prospective or actual candidates appear on paper to have, as of right now, the ability to actually win the nomination, or indeed present themselves as viable vice presidential contenders should they fall short.
The truth is that the majority of the field is running for the veep nod, at best. More realistically, they’re sniffing for a Cabinet position should a Republican win, or maybe a role as a party elder regardless of the outcome in November 2016.
Yet people don’t tend to talk down what male candidates are attempting to accomplish, or at least not in the same way.
Yes, it is generally acknowledged that Bobby Jindal will not be the 2016 GOP nominee. But it is also generally acknowledged that he is seriously pursuing the presidency, pipe dream though it may be.
We seem to not regard Carly Fiorina in the same way, implying she is not serious about running for president. This is odd, and somewhat ironic, since more than any other actual or prospective candidate, she is focusing her energy and her firepower on the woman everyone expects to be the actual Democratic nominee—Hillary Clinton—as opposed to, say, the sitting president, other Republicans, or pop music stars.
Carly is the only Republican consistently, day in and day out, showing that she can take the fight to Hillary, which of course will be one of the nominee’s central tasks. And she’s doing it with fewer resources and far less media attention than she would should she win the nomination.
But we still tend to treat her less seriously than a host of other (male) candidates.
Maybe this is all just a function of the polling, which shows her with a tough road to navigate, combined with the perception (accurate, in my view) that unlike some others with little support at present, she could actually be a formidable nominee and run a good race against Clinton.
Perhaps it is a function of the American political class having learned to be skeptical about candidates with a business-heavy background, despite the fact that Carly has political experience, too, albeit not in an elected capacity.
Maybe people really do say that John Kasich will run to be VP or, perhaps more realistically, Treasury secretary. Maybe I have simply missed this.
But I think it’s improbable that anyone is dismissing male members of the Republican field like they’re dismissing Carly. And I think it likely that there is something else going on here, at least a little.
America is not used to seeing women rise to the top in politics. That is true in both the Democratic Party, where they rejected the first female could-have-been-nominee in 2008, and in the GOP, where we have seen high-profile women run for high office only to be rejected as unqualified, lightweight, aimless, or not up to the task.
And Carly is, after all, the only female Republican woman running in 2016, despite the party having boasted numerous female governors, senators, and high-ranking officials like Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers.
The truth is, some of us may not be ready for Carly’s run for president. But she is. And make no mistake, she is running for president, not to be Joe Biden’s successor.
Editor’s note: In addition to working with Fiorina in the context of the 2008 presidential campaign and having consulted for her 2010 U.S. Senate campaign, the author of this piece has also been a paid consultant to Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Rand Paul.