The story from Thursday’s GOP debates in Cleveland that bled most obviously into Friday’s RedState Gathering in Atlanta was Carly Fiorina’s highly regarded performance in the undercard. She was much talked-about by the attendees, and her speech this afternoon seemed to live up to their suddenly heightened expectations.
Her polling numbers are a fraction of Donald Trump’s, no doubt. But as the more palatable straight-talking non-politician in the GOP field, she has an opportunity to peel away Trump supporters who are backing him more out of a general sense of frustration with the political class than for the red meat on immigration he’s feeding them.
More than Trump, Fiorina focuses her attacks on the progressivist left and in particular Hillary Clinton — who, she noted, hadn’t managed to answer her challenge to name an actual accomplishment as secretary of state since “flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.” The election, Fiorina charged, would be “a fight between conservatism and the progressivism that has completely dominated the Democratic Party. It’s not only undermining the country, it’s crushing the country’s engine of economic growth.”
In keeping with a theme of the event, she also argued conservatism was not only a better antidote to such ills and poverty, but a less insulting one than the left’s: “No matter what they say, their core message is that some of you are smarter than others, some of you are better than others, some of you are more capable than others of taking care of yourself,” and that’s where a paternalistic government comes in.
She went hard after the Washington bureaucracy, arguing we need a president with experience managing large organizations. Of inspector-general reports that some federal employees spend much of their time on the job watching pornography, she quipped: “As Donald Trump would say, you’re fired.”
The crowd ate it up, and one of the questions from the audience was about how those who were newly impressed by her could help get her elected. That’ll be the key: Whether Fiorina can turn what’s still a 24-hour splash into momentum that gets her out of the polling doldrums and into the top 10 before next month’s second debate. If nothing else, the response from staunchly conservative activists here suggests it won’t be a glass ceiling that keeps her from the top of the GOP field.