Carly Fiorina gives one heck of a speech.
That was my first impression, a positive one, when I caught up with her in Sacramento in 2010 to chronicle her bid for the Senate.
She had focus, urgency and a brimming arsenal of barbs, just as she does now. She liked to mention an incident in which Sen. Barbara Boxer, the incumbent Democrat, once upbraided an Army bigwig for calling her “Ma'am” rather than “Senator,” and she told Californians that if they gave her Boxer’s job: “You may call me ‘Ma'am.’ You may call me ‘Senator.’ You may call me ‘Carly.’ You may call me, ‘Hey, you, remember, you work for me.’”
She presented herself as a woman of the people, at our service.
But that wasn’t my impression of her after about a week of attending her campaign events, riding around California with her and interviewing her about her drive and her desires.
Even more so than is usually the case, the candidacy seemed to be all about the candidate. She yearned to silence forever all of the naysaying about her stewardship of Hewlett-Packard, to be validated by voters, to have the final say.
She failed, and she failed big, losing to Boxer by 10 points. Her response? To seek a promotion. She’s running for president.
Give her credit for dauntlessness.
But look closely and you see its ugly sibling, shamelessness, not just in the way she treats facts but in the way she treats others.
The Washington Post just published a humiliating account of her sluggishness to pay bills from that 2010 campaign. That she stiffed several vendors until January 2015 wasn’t really the damning part: That’s sadly common in politics.
But The Post reported that one of the people stiffed was the widow of pollster Joe Shumate, who dropped dead of a heart attack, “surrounded by sheets of polling data” for Fiorina, shortly before Election Day in 2010. Fiorina mourned him as “the heart and soul” of her operation, then neglected for years to fork over at least $30,000 that she owed him.
Martin Wilson, who managed that campaign, told The Post that he occasionally implored her to settle up. “She just wouldn’t,” he said.
It’s striking that he’d tattle like that on Fiorina. She apparently doesn’t leave much love in her wake. Reuters interviewed about 30 people who worked for her in 2010, 12 of whom said: Never again. “I’d rather go to Iraq,” one unidentified campaign aide groused.
And The Daily Beast examined Fiorina’s recent campaign-finance filings and noticed that almost no one at Hewlett-Packard had given more than $200 – the minimum amount for which a donor must be identified – to her presidential quest.
She has her loyalists, including some glass-half-full revisionists. Consider this from the Post story: “Her supporters cautioned that little could be gleaned from her California campaign. They maintain that Fiorina’s corporate experience is more akin to managing a presidential campaign than a bid for office in one of the nation’s most liberal states.”
In other words, the Boxer contest was small potatoes – peculiar ones, too – and a leader of Fiorina’s vision and scope is suited only to a giant spud.
For someone so caustic about others’ shortcomings, she’s awfully cavalier about her own.
“It was a mistake,” she said to me in 2010 about her failure to vote in elections in New Jersey, where she’d once lived for 10 years, and in more than half of the 18 elections in California in which she could have participated.
Then she qualified that confession, explaining that she hadn’t been “running my life to seek political office,” as if such a goal were the only reason to show up at the polls.
In the cause of others, she’s not so quick, exuberant or deft. She campaigned as a surrogate for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election but had to be sidelined after saying that neither McCain nor Sarah Palin, his running mate, could run a big corporation. It was a fascinating lapse, in that she was denying them the chops to do precisely what she had done (albeit poorly, by many measures).
In her calculus, the corporate world qualified her for governing, but government experience didn’t qualify others for the corporate world. What self-flattering, self-serving arithmetic.
It has been correctly observed that her ascent in the polls, coupled with Donald Trump’s enduringly strong showing, reflects the currency of political outsiders right now.
But it also reflects the potency of an insatiable hunger for approbation and an unshakable belief in your genius. She and Trump share that, and of course she gives one heck of a speech. She thrills to her own voice.