Here's What You Need to Know About Newly Announced Republican Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina

If you came here wanting to know which designer she wore for the big announcement, you came to the wrong place.
Publish date:
May 6, 2015
women in politics, election

Two more faces entered the crowded Republican presidential race this week as Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson both announced that they were making a bid for the White House — Ms. Fiorina stands out as the first female candidate in the Republican melee, while Mr. Carson is the first Black man, hoping to follow in Barack Obama's footsteps. Like Hillary Clinton, Fiorina is likely to encounter considerable sexism over the course of her campaign, including from oh-so-enlightened liberals who dislike her politics and will think it's appropriate to rag on her for misogynistic reasons too.

Before we drown in a sea of sexism, it's worth learning a bit more about who Ms. Fiorina is, and what her politics are actually like.

For those not active in the tech or Republican political consultancy scene, Carly Fiorina might seem like a bit of an unknown, but she shouldn't. The 60-year-old breast cancer survivor has been named among the most powerful women on multiple occasions by industry magazines, and she's decisively broken the glass ceiling in the tech industry, where she helmed numerous firms including Hewlett-Packard — though her time there is widely regarded as rather disastrous.

Ms. Fiorina hasn't announced a formal platform yet, but given previous positions and statements, it's possible to sketch out where this conservative candidate is likely to go. And it's possible to do it without resorting to misogyny or pointed attacks — like the claims already swirling that this is just a stunt campaign to promote her new book, Rising to the Challenge, about her career as a woman in the notoriously competitive world of business.

One thing we definitely know: She's a huge promoter of the free market economy, less government intervention, and more license for businesses to do whatever they want to do. In a recent editorial for the Washington Post, for example, Ms. Fiorina railed against businesses "under siege by an army of professional [climate change] activists" that "caved" to demands to reform their environmentally destructive practices. (Notably, Fiorina doesn't dispute the fact that climate change is an actual phenomenon, unlike some of her fellow Republicans.)

In the same op-ed, she spoke in loving terms of ALEC, a conservative organization notorious for cookie-cutter legislation deployed across the United States. The group develops acts of legislation on a variety of subjects, especially pro-business and anti-regulation, and pushes them through state by state. While ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, some of the legislation it's sponsored has included anti-immigrant, pro-voter identification, anti-labour, and pro-gun laws; not exactly nonpartisan issues.

Fiorina's support of the organization is a strong indicator that she favors the same federalist approach to governance, and that as president, she'd be likely to support legislation that reduces intervention on the part of the federal government. This is also a consideration when evaluating any potential Supreme Court appointments, as the Roberts court is already rather conservative, and an additional conservative candidate with values aligned to Fiorina's could make decisions like Hobby Lobby even more common.

As part of her pro-business stance, she promotes the H1-B visa program, which has been accused of being a form of labor exploitation that also contributes to offshoring U.S. jobs. Fiorina's response to concerns about outsourcing, particularly in the tech industry, has been to argue against "protectionism" and to suggest that jobs aren't necessarily a right for Americans — instead, businesses need to focus on their own interests, including low-cost and of course non-union labor.

Mrs. Fiorina has extensive business experience at Fortune 500 firms, and notably built that experience from the ground up — she started out as a secretarial temp. She worked with AT&T and spinoff Lucent before transitioning to Hewlett-Packard, where she oversaw the notorious Compaq merger and a controversial series of layoffs amounting to nearly 30,000 people. The layoffs are often targeted by progressives and liberal candidates as evidence of an unthinking, cruel, ruthless CEO interested in the bottom line, but in fact it's more complicated than that. Yes, 30,000 people lost their jobs — but large losses of this nature are common in mergers, even those involving the most progressive of firms, and thus it's not entirely fair to trash Fiorina for the layoffs.

Fiorina's corporate influence began to wane in 2005, however, when HP's board challenged her to account for some serious concerns about the company's performance and ultimately forced her to resign. She moved on to a number of endeavors, of which one of the most relevant is political consultancy. She was an active member of McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, and ran for Senate in California in 2010, losing to the venerable and nearly unshakeable Barbara Boxer after spending nearly $22 million. Today, she's a highly influential woman in the GOP, and a potentially appealing candidate.

Fiorina argues that she enters Washington with beyond the beltway experience, bringing her corporate background to the White House — which might not be an advertising point, given the issues with her time at HP. However, it may be catnip to conservatives frustrated by what they view as business as usual in Washington. Furthermore, some suspect that she'll be an ideal candidate to viciously attack Clinton (as she's already doing), because she "can't be accused of sexism." (Apparently women can't be sexist and women can attack other women from the safety and comfort of their own mutually shared womanhood.)

As one might expect from a small-government conservative, Ms. Fiorina opposes the Affordable Care Act as well as the Common Core (though for different reasons than educators concerned about Common Core and American education). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fiorina is opposed to reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, in line with the rest of the GOP, but notably, she does support some LGBQT rights, though only in whispers. While not a fan of marriage equality, she's in favor of civil unions and partner benefits. Given how critical the argument over LGBQT rights has become, she's not alone among candidates who need to tread carefully in the coming weeks and months to avoid alienating their base while attracting voters who are still on the fence.

Like Clinton, however, Fiorina is savvy enough to recognize the role of the Internet and social media in her campaign. While she may have made her announcement in a very conventional way on Good Morning America, she also took to Facebook and Twitter to reach young voters and the growing social media audience. That shouldn't come as a surprise for a woman with strong roots in the tech industry. As the Obama campaign proved in 2008 and again in 2012, social media and Internet engagement are no longer optional for successful presidential campaigns, and Fiorina is hitting the ground running.

Almost. Someone on her campaign staff neglected to snag, which is currently hosting some A+ Fiorina snark.

In the coming months, we will be hearing more from Fiorina. Though she's currently resting in the middle of the GOP pack in the polls, she's not likely to stay there, and she's definitely more than a novelty candidate. As her platform develops, we'll learn more about what she wants to do in the White House and how she plans to do it — and whether she's qualified to do it, given her flops in both the corporate and political worlds.

As with Clinton, however, it's important to focus on criticizing Fiorina's politics and qualifications, not her personal beliefs or physical characteristics. Whether you favor Clinton or Fiorina, or neither, both candidates deserve to be treated with respect, and there's plenty to criticize without having to resort to cheap personal attacks. If you really want to change minds, rise above.

I'll leave you with this, one of the most bizarre and infamous campaign ads ever:

Photo credits: Gage Skidmore, also Gage Skidmore, Gage Skidmore again.