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Carly Fiorina on Trump: ‘I don’t think he has been a business leader, actually. I think he’s been a very fine entertainer and manager of his brand.’

Carly Fiorina
 

After Carly Fiorina, 65, ended her GOP presidential primary run in 2016, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard dedicated herself to leadership training. Despite a recent microburst of media speculation that she might launch a primary challenge to President Trump, she has “no plans” to run, according to a source close to her. But when we spoke a few days before the latest headlines about her, Fiorina had plenty of thoughts about politics, Trump and her recent book on unlocking personal potential, “Find Your Way.”

Can you talk a little bit about that process of deciding what would be next for you?

You know, when I got into the presidential race of course it was a very long shot. So I didn’t have any illusions about the odds, but I also thought that it was actually time for an outsider. A lot of Americans agreed with me: We have an outsider in the White House, whatever you think of him. But I also don’t tilt at windmills. It was crystal clear after [the] New Hampshire [primary] that there was just no path. It was no secret I did not want Donald Trump to be the nominee of our party. I worked actively to try and make sure he wasn’t the nominee of the party. When that was over, I came back to my touchstone, which always is: I want to solve problems. I want to make a positive difference. And this is where I thought I could make a positive difference.

In “Find Your Way” you write: “I love seeing people get unlocked and unleashed so they can connect with their true purpose in life. We are not here to be spectators. … We are here to make a positive contribution. … Stay with me; you’re about to be beautifully freed.” The context is leadership and problem-solving, but it sounds almost spiritual.

Over the course of my life I have noticed that there is a look that people get when they do something they didn’t think they could do. It’s the same look the world over. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult. It’s the same look. People get this look — they get it in a corporate setting, they get it in a community setting — and that look for me is fuel. I believe, based on experience, that everyone has far more potential than they realize to actually change the order of things for the better. To actually make a positive impact, which is the purpose of leadership, not title, not success traditionally defined.

What do you think of President Trump as a leader? He styles himself a business leader, a dealmaker.

When he was running for office, I was asked what one word would I use to describe him. I said “entertainer,” and I think that’s accurate. I think he’s an entertainer. I don’t think he has been a business leader, actually. I think he’s been a very fine entertainer and manager of his brand and very successful at that. Now what I would say is he’s a politician, and I don’t think it is fair to say that Donald Trump has created all the dysfunction in politics. I actually think he is the result of all the dysfunction in politics. I think he’s taken the vitriol to a new low. But the vitriol was there before Trump. He took advantage of it in many ways. I do not think he leads. Leaders change the order of things for the better. Leaders understand how they do things matters as much as what they do. Leaders bind people together. Leaders look for win-win. Leaders solve problems.

Are you happy to see primary challengers emerge?

The political system makes a real challenge impossible. The party has signaled its complete loyalty to Donald Trump.

So what does a Republican do in that situation?

In this country, citizens are sovereign, actually, not political parties. Not presidents. And it’s not our job to hew to party orthodoxy. I don’t know what the Republican Party stands for anymore. I only know what I stand for, and what I stand for is, everybody has more potential than they realize, and people’s opportunity to fulfill their potential should not be constrained by what they look like, who they are, what they believe, how they live, what their circumstances are. People closest to the problem know best how to solve it. So somebody in some bureaucracy thousands of miles away isn’t going to do as well as people who are right there. Power concentrated is power abused — I don’t care if it’s in the headquarters of Facebook or Washington, D.C. So power and money and decision-making should be dispersed. Those are the things I believe. And so we will see how this election plays out. But I think it’s one of the reasons why people find politics so depressing, debilitating, frustrating is because they look at all the potential in this country, all the people we have in this country, and wonder: Wow, how did we get to these choices?

Four years ago, you had done really well in those first [crowded] GOP debates; you were surging and attention was on you. Now it’s on the Democratic side where there’s a million people in the debates. What’s your advice to folks in a crowded debate to take control of the debate and shine in it?

Well, I’m not sure I’m the best person to give advice. But what I would say, whether it’s good advice or not, what I would say to them is what I said to myself: Don’t sell your soul, be who you are and let the chips fall where they may. Say what you believe. Say what you believe. And sometimes that’s not a winning argument.

One of the things you did is, [Trump] had made a pretty nasty attack on you [about your looks], and you managed to turn it around and win the audience, win the people at home. That’s one of his favorite tactics. How do you do that jujitsu and turn it around on him?

Well, part of perhaps the advantage I had is, I had a lot of practice with that. I mean, I’ve had men make comments about my appearance — positive or negative — for decades. I’ve gotten used to it. The advice I give people in our [Leadership] Labs is, criticism is the price. If you’re trying to change the order of things for the better, if you’re getting outside your lane to actually make something, you’re going to get criticized. So you need to be prepared for that, instead of getting thrown on your heels. So the fact that some guy would say something about my face? It’s been there, done that. Usually when people — no, I should say it differently — always when people behave that way — and I tell young women in particular this all time — it’s not your problem. It’s their problem. Their behavior is the problem. So that’s what I was trying to do with my response. To not give him any more airtime with that, but to say in my own way, this is completely inappropriate, whatever you think of my face.

You have said that liberals or Democrats have sort of co-opted the word “feminist” and the concept of feminism. What is conservative feminism, or feminist conservatism, and can you appropriate it back from liberals?

A feminist to me is a woman who chooses to live her own life by her own standards, whatever that means. It could mean she’s a CEO, it could mean she’s a home-schooler, mother of five. But on her own terms. The word “feminist” has become associated with a particular political orthodoxy, and I don’t think that’s fair. So you’re a feminist if you are pro-choice. Why should that be? You’re a feminist if you — frequently — are a liberal. I mean, my candidacy was called offensive to women by women’s groups. When women are challenging each other’s feminism based on politics, we disempower ourselves. That’s the triumph of politics over celebrating women leaders, whoever they are and whatever they believe.

Analysts say the GOP is in trouble with suburban women. The gender gap in Congress is only growing in terms of Democrats and Republicans. What is it with the GOP and women?

People need to see themselves, and they need to feel respected. If the Republican Party wants to be a majority party they need to look like the nation they intend to serve. And everyone in the nation has to see themselves in that party. And when people don’t, their response is, You don’t care about me, you don’t think I add value, and you don’t respect me. Let me go somewhere different just for a moment, and I’ll come back to your question. To me it’s fundamentally the same thing that caused Trump to win the election, in this sense: Why did Trump win? Because a group of voters felt disrespected and undervalued by the Democrat Party. That’s why Trump won. It’s the same thing. Respect is so fundamental. And if I were advising the Democrat Party — I’m certainly not — but if I were advising the Democrat Party, what I would say to them is, it is so easy to blame Trump. It is so easy to train all your fire on Trump. Look in the mirror. Understand why you lost. A group of people felt disrespected and undervalued by you. And I would say the same to the Republican Party. A whole lot of people feel disrespected and undervalued by the party. Both parties have some work to do here, and both parties need to fix it.

Another thing that you write in your book, speaking to the reader, you say, “You are not yet all you can be.” So I wanted to ask Carly Fiorina, after AT&T, Lucent Technologies, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, running for president, the work you’re doing now, are you all you can be?

I hope not. I hope not. I don’t think we finish life ’til we finish life. We get like termites, we get in our zone, you know, we’re doing our thing, our head down, we’re moving our dirt, we’re doing whatever we do, and we all squander potential and impact. I mean, I don’t live up to my potential every single day. I’m not holding myself out here as the paragon. I just know that I do think we are here for a reason, and I think the reason is to make things better. And that work is never done.

 

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