As a likely Republican presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina is an outlier on two scores: She’s female and she’s never held political office. But that’s not holding her back – it’s spurring her on.
The former CEO of Hewlett Packard, in fact, seems extra-motivated by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s apparent march to the Democratic nomination – which, if she succeeds, would make her the first woman to win a major-party nomination in the United States.
“If Hillary Clinton were to face a [Republican] female nominee, there are a whole set of things that she won’t be able to talk about,” Ms. Fiorina told reporters Thursday at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “She won’t be able to talk about being the first woman president. She won’t be able to talk about a war on women without being challenged. She won’t be able to play the gender card.”
Instead, says Fiorina, Mrs. Clinton will have to run on “her track record, her accomplishments, her candor and trustworthiness, and her policies.”
Fiorina dismisses the idea of “women’s issues.” All issues are women’s issues, she says – though “sometimes women see those issues differently."
On health care, “men tend to talk about overreach of government, and certainly those are issues I and other women care deeply about,” Fiorina says. “On the other hand, women tend to focus more on access and choice. Will I still be able to go to my children’s pediatrician? Will everyone have access to quality health care?”
And what about the social safety net? Single women tend to vote Democratic, in part because they are more reliant on government services than married women. Low-income single moms, in particular, often see the safety net as a lifeline.
From Fiorina’s perspective, the question is how those services are structured. She’s met single women who want a life of “dignity and purpose and meaning,” but government creates the wrong incentives, she says.
“If you are a single mom and you are on food stamps and you depend on those food stamps, we make it so hard for you to decide, ‘You know what, I want to get a job where I can work 40 hours or 45 hours or 50 hours a week to try and pull myself and my family up,’” Fiorina says.
Sometimes, though, the numbers don’t add up – especially when the cost of child care is factored in.
Fiorina agrees, then goes on: “I must say, that I think there are many, many, many examples of liberals finding facts to support the government’s overreach.”
Obamacare is one example, she says, where the government caused the consolidation of an industry that ended up “not good for anybody.”
“And I think the same is true of child care,” Fiorina says. “I mean everybody is getting ginned up to say the government needs to do all these things. I believe that the private sector demonstrably does many things better – not all things – but many things better.”
Though she has flown high in business – in 1999, becoming the first female CEO of a Fortune 20 company, HP, a position from which she was forced out in 2005 – Fiorina also makes clear that she has had life experiences that many people, many women, can relate to. She has overcome a diagnosis of breast cancer. She lost a stepdaughter to addiction.
She speaks of her early adult life as a secretary in a nine-person real-estate firm, typing and filing and answering phones. Two men in the office saw her potential and offered her the opportunity to learn about business.
“My life took a different turn,” says Fiorina, a graduate of Stanford University. “Most people have far more potential than they realize.”
Fiorina is taking that same approach to this next phase in her life. Women are underrepresented in political leadership, as in business, because they haven’t realized their potential.
The data, she says, are clear. “If you get women involved in any problem – economic growth, poverty, disease, conflict resolution … the problem gets better.”
Fiorina is not letting the fact that she’s never held political office get in the way. She did win the Republican nomination for US Senate in California in 2010, but lost to incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) in the general election. Senator Boxer is vacating her office at the end of this term, but Fiorina seems to have her eye on a different prize.
Fiorina holds out her corporate experience and advisory roles at the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, and State Department as an alternate path to the top of American government. She says voters see her as someone who “understands economies and how the world works and technology and executive decisionmaking and what makes a bureaucracy go.”
And she thinks voters have had enough of politics as usual: “Most Americans think that the professional political class isn’t a particularly good invention.”