Carly Fiorina Just May Be the Surprise Dark Horse of 2016

I’m a Ted Cruz fan. At the same time, I find myself increasingly intrigued by Carly Fiorina.

She speaks like no one else in the field. Perhaps, in part, because she’s not a politician.

At the outset of many of her speeches, she tells a personal story about being a little girl in Sunday school when her mother said: “What you are, is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself, is your gift to God.”

After that, she often shares the following:

I started my career as a secretary in a little nine person real estate firm. And ultimately I would become the Chief Executive Officer of the largest technology company in the world and run for president of the United States. That’s only possible in the United States of America…because our founders knew what my mother taught me. Our founders knew that everyone has God given gifts. Our founders built a nation on the visionary, and at the time radical idea, that every life has potential. And that everyone has the right -- the right -- to fulfill their potential. That is what our founders meant when they talked about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And they believed that right to fulfill our potential came from God and should not be taken away by man or government.

In just a few short minutes, Fiorina manages to interweave personal stories with core values that include faith in God, limitless human potential, and the greatness of America.

Her speeches don’t sound like they have built-in applause lines. She simply speaks. If people clap, that’s fine. She doesn’t appear to expect it or revel in it.

She is articulate as she speaks on a wide array of topics with impressive mastery, from the economy to national security and everything in between.There is a sense of urgency and passion behind what she has to say. And she says it in a way that is crystal clear.

For the first time in U.S. history we are destroying more businesses than we’re creating. And while we celebrate in the world of technology people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, the truth is the heroes of the American economy have always been the person who opens up the 9-person real estate firm, the person who opens up the family-owned autobody shop, the nail salon, the restaurant, the lawn service company. These are the heroes of the America economy because small businesses and family-owned businesses create two-thirds of the new jobs in this country and employ half the people. And so when we crush small and family-owned businesses, we are crushing the potential of this nation.

Fiorina gives concrete examples of how she would put that vision into practice. And she integrates just enough personal stories to make what she has to say, well, personal. And relatable.

She appears unafraid to say what she thinks, to say where she stands, to say what is right, and to say what is wrong. She doesn’t pander.

Fiorina often speaks about leadership, which she defines as a person who is willing to challenge the status quo; a person who refuses “to accept what has been broken simply because it has been that way for a very long time.”When speaking about leadership, she often shares the following reflection:

When I was a secretary all those many years ago, I thought a leader was somebody with a big office. If you had the big office, if you had a big parking space, if you had perks, if you had a title, you must be a leader. And then I got a little older and wiser and I learned that there were people with big offices and big titles who had not led a day in their lives. We have one of those in the Oval Office right now.

The idea of leadership is also featured on her website, which at this point is extremely bare bones in appearance. The main page reads: “New Possibilities. Real Leadership. Carly.” If you click “join us” you come to a page that features another sentence that singles out leadership as central to the vision of her campaign.

Fiorina is facing an uphill battle on several fronts, including her tenure at Hewlett-Packard. Or more precisely, the end of her tenure. And while she has a multitude of facts at her fingertips about positive changes that occurred under her leadership at the company, what the media will hound her about and what many people may remember is the fact that she was fired, which is supposed to indicate an ineffective leader.  

Fiorina embodies the idea of a leader in countless ways, including how she tends to stay on point during media interviews, answering questions with confidence, ease,  a hefty dose of gravitas, and a radiant kind of charm.

Part of her charm comes from her personality and how she expresses her ideas. Part of it comes from her ability to unexpectedly turn interactions on a dime. Most recently, during an interview with Seth Meyers (host of a late night TV show), Meyers noted that Fiorina had not registered the domain, that someone else had done so, and that when you go to that site you get a page that bashes Fiorina for the number of people laid off during her tenure at HP. Fiorina was good-natured about it. Then she asked Meyers if he knew who owned He didn’t know. Turns out, Fiorina bought it while waiting to come on stage for her interview. And when you go to it redirects to Fiorina’s campaign web site. In fact, lately she’s taken to purchasing various domains that redirect visitors to her site, including and (correction: Fiorina did not purchase the domain, according to Buzzfeed).

But Fiorina is not only charming and engaging, she is smart. Very smart.

Part of her intelligence includes her quick wit. She is willing to mock herself as when she shared that after getting her undergraduate degree in Medieval History and Philosophy from Stanford University she realized she was “all dressed up with nowhere to go.”


“…that degree has come in handy recently since our president keeps on talking about the Crusades.”

Listening to her, I get the feeling she writes her own speeches -- that Fiorina knows who she is and what she wants to say about pressing matters of the day as she stands at the podium.

And speaking of podiums, while I realize it’s all the rage among GOP presidential hopefuls to speak without a teleprompter (or even notes), not all candidates should. Cruz is very good at it, but not everyone can pull it off, resulting in speeches that sound offhand and rambling. So at CPAC and other venues, Fiorina often speaks from behind the podium using notes, which does not lessen the impact of what she has to say one bit. (See here, here, here, and here for links to recent speeches.)

But she doesn’t have to use notes. So if you want to watch her speak for well over an hour with nothing more than a few notes scribbled on a couple of pieces of paper set on a stool off to the side of the stage, listen to last year’s speech at James Madison University, here, where she spoke for 40 minutes before even glancing briefly at a note. (The speech is quite different from her stump speech and well worth a listen.)

Or, here, when she spoke at the United IE Conservative Conference with no notes, where she paces the stage in blue jeans and a casual blouse, speaking with amazing passion and ferocity.

Oh, yes. No matter what she’s talking about, Fiorina speaks with intensity, passion, and a laser focus. Whether speaking about crony capitalism, Obamacare, our burdensome and complex tax code, regulations, decades of unaccounted for government growth and ineptitude, or the dreadful way we serve our veterans as being “a stain on our nation’s honor,” it is clear she has a deep and broad grasp of the issues facing this nation, and indeed, the world.

Talking about international politics, she speaks not only about her relationships with world leaders such as Vladimir Putin, King Abdulluh of Jordan, and Bibi Netanyahu (to name a few), but she offers specific, concrete ideas about what the United States should be doing in various parts of the world to combat evil.

Let us rebuild the Sixth Fleet. Let us rebuild the missile defense programs. Let us conduct military exercises in the Baltic States and hasten their entry into NATO. And let us arm the Ukrainians. There is plenty we can do President Obama besides go to war.

After speaking about our lack of support for Arab allies in their fight against ISIS, she had this to say:

If I am in the White House the first two phone calls I will make: Number one, to Bibi Netanyahu. The United States will stand with the state of Israel. And number two, to the supreme leader of Iran. He might not take the phone call, but he would get the message. Until and unless you are willing to open up every single nuclear facility to full and unfettered inspections, we will exact the most crushing financial penalties we can and make it very difficult for you to move money around the financial system. Which we can do.On our own. We don’t need anyone else’s permission. And let’s not confuse ourselves. China and Russia are not sitting on our side of the table in terms of negotiations with Iran.

Fiorina not only has important things to say, but she is able to deliver her message in a way that feels like an unlikely combination of precision practice and spontaneity. That’s an important talent. Giving the same speech over and over again in an effective manner is challenging. How do you keep the words and ideas fresh? How do you maintain your connection to the feeling behind the words when they were first written and read? On some level, giving a speech repetitively requires the ability to re-connect with the words as if anew. Fiorina has said that she likes to campaign. Perhaps this is one of many ways that it shows.

In addition to being a compelling speaker, Fiorina is also impressive in settings where she is the featured guest for a lengthy interview, such as when she was interviewed at the Smart Women, Smart Power conference, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She was asked numerous questions on a range of issues and she answered every single one with amazing directness, clarity, thoughtfulness, and vision. As in other settings, she overflowed with terrific ideas.

There is no doubt Carly Fiorina is a force to be reckoned with. I think she is, by far, the best communicator in the GOP field. And what she has to say has me, and I believe many others, paying attention.

In fact, some are saying she is the “dark horse” in this race, something Megyn Kelly pointed out during an interview with Fiorina earlier this year. At one point,Kelly noted that if Fiorina were to win the GOP nomination she would likely be going up against Hillary Clinton. Kelly then h ypothesized Clinton touting the fact that she’s been Secretary of State, First Lady, and a U.S. Senator, while following up with an actual Clinton quote: “I’ve traveled more miles than any Secretary of State.”

Fiorina’s response (which she rolled out at the 2015 Iowa Freedom Summit):

Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe, but unlike her, I’ve actually accomplished something. You see, Mrs. Clinton, flying is not an accomplishment. It is an activity.

Meanwhile, this week, Fiorina garnered a great deal of attention and interest when she spoke at the Iowa Lincoln Day dinner. During her 10-minute speech, she returned to a theme that is one that appears near and dear to her heart: human potential and limitless possibilities. She spoke of her sense of “deep disquiet” among so many she talks to as she has been traveling the country over the past ten years.

…people are disquieted because they fear they are losing something. And I think what people fear we are losing is the sense of limitless possibility that has always defined this nation. We always knew that if something were worth doing, we as a nation would do it. If something were hard to do, even better. We would figure out how to do it. We knew our lives were filled with possibilities because of our God-given gifts and we had faith that our children’s and our grandchildren’s lives would be filled with even greater possibilities. And yet people don’t believe that anymore. And when we lose the sense of limitless possibility that has always defined us as a nation, we lose the core of who we are. The truth is the potential of this nation is being crushed by a government that is so big, so powerful, so costly, and so complex that only the big, the powerful, the wealthy, and the well-connected can handle it.

But for all her strengths, Fiorina has many hurdles to clear, chief among them being fired from HP, being an advisor to a failed presidential run by John McCain, and her unsuccessful run against Barbara Boxer in 2010. These realities suggest a leader who may be ineffectual. Despite all of that, Carly Fiorina has piqued my interest. I’m drawn to what she has to say. And she’s got a level of maturity, life experience, and thoughtfulness that lend weight to her words.

If you would like to learn more about Carly Fiorina, in addition to visiting her web site, her Facebook page, and listening to speeches and interviews, she has written two books. Her most recent book, Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey, came out this month. Prior to that, in 2006, she wrote a memoir titled Tough Choices. And of course, there is always Wikipedia, for what it’s worth.

The last rookie politician that won the presidency first won World War II.  Carly Fiorina is a highly accomplished woman, but she cannot reasonably claimed to have saved civilization from a new dark age. The top of the ticket may be what she is shooting for, but that still has to be reckoned a long shot. But her ability as a woman to criticize the presumptive Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton, and avoid being castigated as a sexist makes the possibility of appearing somewhere on the 2016 GOP ticket a lot higher than many people realize.