It’s easy to see why many Republican voters are newly taken with Carly Fiorina. She is a superb debater, with a steely gaze, a flawless delivery and a mastery of talking points. She knows what she wants to say and how to command attention. She exudes a bulletproof aura that inspires confidence.
There are only two problems with Fiorina: what she has done in the past, and what she promises for the future. An inspection of those is a reminder of where she got started: in sales. She may offer an irresistible pitch. But creating a good product? That demands a skill set she isn’t known to possess.
During her time as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, its stock plunged 52 percent — double the drop in the Nasdaq average and worse than her competition, including Dell, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft. The company repeatedly whiffed on her financial targets. In the end, Fiorina got cashiered. More telling, perhaps, is that in the decade since, no corporation has hired her.
This picture contrasts starkly with her 1999 arrival at Hewlett-Packard, where, according to the Wall Street Journal, “she was greeted as nothing less than a savior.” When she was fired, the Journal noted that Fiorina “had a flair for marketing and public speaking” and “a compelling public persona” but that she “was a highly polarizing figure who stirred deep animosity among many veteran employees.”
Her big decision was acquiring rival Compaq, a move that became to her what the Iraq war was to George W. Bush: a dismal failure from which she apparently learned nothing.
“This was a big bet that didn’t pay off, that didn’t even come close to attaining what Fiorina and HP’s board said was in store,” concluded Fortune’s Carol J. Loomis shortly before Fiorina was fired. Yet Fiorina pretends it was a triumph.
That’s not the only sign that she talks a much better game than she plays. She got an ovation for rejecting Donald Trump’s attempt to explain away his disparagement of her looks: “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”
You might forget that when she ran for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010 against incumbent Barbara Boxer, she was caught on video belittling her opponent in Trump-like fashion: “God, what is that hair? So yesterday!”
In last week’s debate, Fiorina was equally facile, and equally misleading, on more substantive topics. Asked how to handle Vladimir Putin, she replied, “What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the 6th Fleet. I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland. I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”
It was the sort of litany that thrills conservatives, but as policy, it was the second day of a garage sale — replete with items that are useless, superfluous or irrelevant. The U.S. Navy is the biggest and most capable on Earth. We spend eight times more on defense than Russia — without counting what our NATO allies spend. If all that doesn’t intimidate Putin, a slightly augmented 6th Fleet isn’t going to make his blood run cold.
Neither is “a few thousand more troops” in Germany. Putting bases and GIs in Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania might deter aggression against them — but oddly, she didn’t suggest it.
President Obama canceled a missile defense program in Poland because it didn’t work. He replaced it with a system that Robert Gates, his defense secretary (and George W. Bush’s), believed was better. Obama has also conducted military exercises in the Baltic states. Putin would get the message, all right: that Fiorina is a fraud.
She wowed the crowd by daring Obama and Hillary Clinton to watch the video from a Planned Parenthood abortion of “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”
The nonpartisan FactCheck.org noted an inconvenient fact: “The scene she described, though, does not exist in any of the videos” released by the Center for Medical Progress. Other fact checkers agreed, and her campaign offered no footage to rebut them.
That’s Fiorina in a nutshell. What was obvious to anyone who watched the debate is what Businessweek noted when she took over HP: “Carly Fiorina has a silver tongue and an iron will.” The rest, however, is fool’s gold.
Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman.