Is The Media Being Sexist To Carly Fiorina?

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Is it sexist to suggest former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is really running for president in order to put her name forward as a top candidate for the Republican vice presidential nomination?

That’s what Republican strategist Liz Mair, who consulted for Fiorina’s 2010 California Senate bid, says.

“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,” she writes in The Daily Beast. “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.'”

To a degree, Mair is right. The only candidate that commentators and reporters (myself included) really suggest entered the race for the White House in order to audition for vice president is Carly Fiorina. But that’s not because of sexism. In fact, it’s a compliment to Fiorina. Of the nearly 16 million or so contenders running for the Republican nomination, most are running because they are delusional or, perhaps in the case of some, to build their national profile. It’s a testament to Fiorina’s talent that many think she is making a strong case to be on the Republican ticket next November.

As I have argued previously, there are only a handful of candidates who can actually win the Republican nomination. I don’t think Fiorina is one of them, partly because she has never won elective office before. The only political race she ever ran in — for Senate in California in 2010 — she lost by 10 percentage points. I’m not a campaign strategist, but I’m told losing your only race for elective office by 10 percentage points is not exactly a superb launching pad to win a presidential nomination.

Strange things happen in elective politics, of course. In 2012, I don’t think there was a single article suggesting Rick Santorum was running for president in order to get the vice presidential nomination. Rather, most believed his run for president was an act of delusion, or at best an attempt to insert himself back in the national conversation. After all, losing re-election to the Senate by 17 percentage points isn’t traditionally a great launching pad for the presidency either.

And yet, Santorum emerged late as a real challenger for the nomination. Maybe the same will happen with Fiorina, though it should be noted that at least Santorum had held elective office before, even if he lost re-election by a substantial margin. He was also running in a far weaker Republican field.

Most political observers recognize Fiorina to be a tremendous political talent. She is wowing crowds on the stump and  taking the fight to Hillary Clinton. That’s partly why she is viewed as a strong vice presidential contender for whomever the Republican nominee turns out to be. She could be the attack dog for the top of the ticket — and it doesn’t hurt that she is a woman, since you know the Democrats will want to paint the Republican side as sexist if Hillary Clinton is their nominee.

Now I can’t speak to Fiorina’s psyche. In a crowded GOP field, maybe she really believes she is running to win. There is always the possibility the other candidates could be incapacitated by a meteor or revealed to be secret members of al Qaida, leaving her as last (wo)man standing. But deep down, considering her lack of political experience, it’s hard not to believe she views her entrance into the race more as a chance to set herself up nicely to be a top contender for the vice presidential nomination, than as an effort to actually win the Republican presidential nomination outright.

The point is, it’s not sexist to suggest that this is what Fiorina is really after. Ben Carson is polling far better than Fiorina, but no one is seriously suggesting that he will either win the Republican nomination or be a top candidate for vice president. Considering her lack of political experience, it’s a compliment to Fiorina that she is considered unlikely to win the Republican nomination but a serious contender for the vice presidential nomination.

Far from treating Fiorina “less seriously than a host of other (male) candidates,” as Mair suggests, Fiorina is being afforded far more respect than most of the male contenders who have practically no chance of winning the GOP nomination.

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