Does the GOP Have a Candidate Who Can Beat Hillary in 2016?

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At the Iowa Freedom Summit, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, proved that she’s a compelling speaker. She wove a personal narrative that struck an appealing balance between relatable and inspiring, turning stories that could be named as failures by opponents into turns on the road to success.  She talked about dropping out of law school after discovering she hated it, and her subsequent rise from secretary at a small business to CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She hit on liberals, abortion rights, and California politics, where she lost her 2010 U.S.Senate election.

“The state of California — that’s a state, as you well know, where liberals have been in charge for a very long time. And the result: the highest poverty rates in the country, income inequality is soaring, the devastation and exodus of the middle class, the worst business climate in the nation,” said Fiorina, moving on to a combination of environmental conservation critique and right-to-life rhetoric. “In California, liberals expend enormous energy to protect frogs and fish, and, yes, even flies. And it is on the issue of life that the hypocrisy of liberals is at its most breathtaking. Liberals believe that flies are worth protecting, but an unborn child is not.”

Fiorina slides in a great deal of personal background while still addressing small business, Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), welfare critique of the “work brings dignity” kind, the problems of Veterans Affairs, some points on business management, and the need to limit government. Her comparison of business and politics, as well as the downside to each, was refreshing. It represented some pushback to the idea that she lacks the political experience to take on the presidency. The idea that perhaps political experience isn’t precisely what’s needed rang out from her podium.

But while Fiorina makes a compelling speaker, reality can’t let rhetoric negate the importance of experience. Logistically, her lack of name recognition in the political landscape matters a great deal. In the issue of how suited she is for the position, the question of political pragmatism comes into play quite strongly. Making the argument that so many — on both sides of the aisle — have made, that the “system has to be changed,” does not mean it will change enough to get someone elected.

When listed beside Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, there are a couple of problems for Fiorina. For one, the fact that she’s a female Republican does not in any way make her the perfect response to Clinton.

“The most effective way to criticize a woman is to have another woman do it,” one Republican strategist said to Time in favor of Fiorina’s chances. But that’s a flimsy argument, and even if voter response has shown it to be true, Fiorina shouldn’t be listed as such; being a woman cannot be the only factor that would make her the right anti-Hillary. The fact of the matter is that Clinton has the polling strength, name recognition, and experience that Fiorina lacks. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO’s response to this fact is somewhat unconvincing.

“Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something. Mrs. Clinton, flying is not an accomplishment, it’s an activity, not an accomplishment,” said Fiorina. She listed her business efforts in more than 80 countries and her time as chair of the External Advisory Board of the CIA, plus her knowledge of foreign state actors, because she’s “met Vladimir Putin.”

Even if Clinton doesn’t offer a fresh face in politics with a business mindset, she has a leg up on Fiorina. If Fiorina were to win, she’d be the first in almost a century to sit in the Oval Office never having held pubic office — either the vice presidency, state governor, state legislature, and so on.

In terms of policy, perhaps the better matchup for Fiorina would be with Warren, a well-loved progressive who has stolidly said time and again that she won’t be running for president, making the argument somewhat pointless. But for the sake of a good theoretical, both candidates have a reform and restructure attitude that could complement the other’s and ultimately clash terribly. The two would be interesting to see debate on economic policy and financial institutions, in particular.

Another issue with Fiorina is that she still owes money from her last campaign: almost $500,000, according to the Federal Election Commission (a total of $486,418). What’s more, she “hasn’t really communicated with anybody in 18 months about how she intends to deal with the campaign debt,” said Martin Wilson, the vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce, to whom Fiorina also owes money from his time as a strategist. “Hopefully, if she gets more serious about running for another office, she’ll revisit the issue and get some of those bills paid off,” he told the Washington Post.

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