Carly Fiorina Shapes Herself as the Republican Foil to Hillary ClintonCarly Fiorina
She has been the chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, a senior adviser to a Republican presidential nominee and a candidate for the United States Senate. But Carly Fiorina recently took on her boldest role yet: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s loudest critic.
Over the past few weeks, Ms. Fiorina has mocked Mrs. Clinton’s globe-trotting as secretary of state, assailed Mrs. Clinton’s use of only a private email account to do official business, and even accused Mrs. Clinton of stealing intellectual property. From her. Twice.
Ms. Fiorina insists she has no problem with Mrs. Clinton personally — only with her liberal philosophy and policies, and what she dismisses as an unimpressive record on getting things done.
“Like Hillary Clinton, I too, have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe, but unlike her, I have actually accomplished something,” she told conservatives in Iowa in January. “Mrs. Clinton: Flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.”
On Tuesday, an hour after Mrs. Clinton’s news conference to explain her email practices, Ms. Fiorina came down on her just as harshly. “In effect, @HillaryClinton told us to trust her,” Ms. Fiorina said on Twitter. “Nothing in her track record suggests we should do so.”
Ms. Fiorina easily sticks out among the wide field of possible Republican contenders for president: Most of the others are white men. But what has distinguished her most so far, aside from her gender, is not her private-sector experience or her pro-market policies, but her increasingly pointed attacks on Mrs. Clinton.
Of course, every Republican contender has taken aim at Mrs. Clinton, the presumed Democratic opponent who looms in the distance. But Ms. Fiorina alone can present herself as a natural foil without the added risk of being labeled a sexist man.
“In a field of men, she could really emerge as a very effective critic of Hillary, which Republicans are going to need,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist in Sacramento. “You look at the field, and obviously there is a space for a very articulate, conservative woman.”
Allies of Mrs. Clinton, who plans to make gender a central part of her appeal, call this a cynical ploy. Ms. Fiorina, they say, is being put to use by a Republican Party that is desperate to damage Mrs. Clinton without antagonizing female voters
“These guys really believe it’s unfair that women are now running,” said Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to Mrs. Clinton in her 2008 campaign.
Speaking after Ms. Fiorina had just ridiculed Mrs. Clinton’s travel pace as secretary of state at the Iowa event, Ms. Lewis said: “Carly Fiorina went only to show she could be mean to Hillary.”
And Adrienne Elrod, a spokeswoman for Correct the Record, a group set up to defend Mrs. Clinton, dismissed Ms. Fiorina as “short on substance, with sophomoric one-liners,” in contrast to Mrs. Clinton’s “forward-thinking agenda and lifetime of work fighting for children and families.”
In an interview, Ms. Fiorina, 60, said she was not seeking the approval of Republican leaders. “The party is not leaning on me to do anything, and I didn’t ask the party’s permission,” she said
But she did not shy away from arguing that her gender, along with her having worked her way up from a secretary to chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, made her particularly well positioned to go after Mrs. Clinton.
“The Democrats and Hillary Clinton have made gender an issue with their ridiculous ‘war on women,’” Ms. Fiorina said, alluding to the contention that Republicans have sought to hold women back by denying them reproductive rights and pay equity, among other things. “I think if Hillary Clinton faces a woman opponent, she will get a hitch in her swing.”
In addition to her belief in deregulation and free markets, Ms. Fiorina is adamantly against abortion rights. “Liberals believe that flies are worth protecting but that the life of an unborn child is not,” she said in Iowa.
Some of Ms. Fiorina’s lines of attack seem less high-minded.
She accused Mrs. Clinton, whose most recent memoir is “Hard Choices,” of copying the title of her own 2006 memoir, “Tough Choices.” An aide to Ms. Fiorina posted an image on Twitter of the two book jackets side by side.
And last month, after Mrs. Clinton urged 5,000 female tech professionals in Silicon Valley to “unlock our full potential,” Ms. Fiorina again accused Mrs. Clinton of stealing: Her leadership political action committee, an aide to Ms. Fiorina noted, is called the Unlocking Potential Project. And next weekend she will kick off an Unlocking Potential conference, with the tagline “From Hometowns to Washington: How Women Across America Can Create Real Conservative Change.”
A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton declined to comment, but Ms. Fiorina came in for some derision on The Huffington Post, which recounted the tussle under the headline “Overused Management Bromide Now the Exclusive Property of Carly Fiorina, Apparently.”
A Nexis search identified 618 uses of the phrase “unlocking potential” in news articles in the past year.
Despite their vastly different politics, Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Fiorina have had to weather the challenges of being powerful women in male-dominated worlds.
When Ms. Fiorina, formerly a top executive at Lucent Technologies, took over at Hewlett-Packard in 1999, it was the largest publicly traded company ever to be led by a woman. Yet she also outraged some feminists by saying, “ I hope that we are at a point that everyone has figured out that there is not a glass ceiling.”
Her business career ended a few years later in one of the more notorious flameouts in modern corporate history. After orchestrating a merger with Compaq that was then widely seen as a failure, she was ousted in 2005.
Still, Ms. Fiorina received more than $21 million in severance, and she began to dabble in politics. In 2008 she advised Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee. Two years later, Ms. Fiorina challenged Senator Barbara Boxer of California, but lost by 10 percentage points. “We gained a lot of Republican votes,” she said, but her campaign could not compete with the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort in California.
Ms. Fiorina moved to Virginia in 2011 with her husband, Frank, and is now involved in several nonprofits, including Opportunity International, a provider of microloans to people in developing countries that lists her friend Deborah Bowker as an executive.
She also left behind nearly $500,000 in campaign debt and several unhappy political consultants. The San Francisco Chronicle called Ms. Fiorina the “deadbeat presidential candidate,” a characterization the newspaper later took back. In the interview, she said the debts were her campaign’s, not hers personally, and that she had repaid them.
Ms. Fiorina has not spared her Republican rivals entirely. She suggested that Jeb Bush hoped to “scare people out of the race” by raising the most money, but added, “I don’t think it’s working.”
She also said her party could be more sensitive when it comes to discussing women’s issues. “I think Democrats have to work on their policies,” she said, “and Republicans have to work on our tone.”
For now, though, Ms. Fiorina seems content to focus most of her fire on Mrs. Clinton, a target who in practical terms is a very long way off.
“I don’t know that she views it as her assigned role,” Ms. Bowker said of Ms. Fiorina’s attacks on Mrs. Clinton. “But is she comfortable making those comments she’s made lately? Absolutely, she’s comfortable.”