The ‘Carly’ Conundrum

Fiorina’s Rise in the GOP Proves
That No One Vets Anyone Anymore

I love early, if premature, campaigns like the “Iowash” Caucuses and that expanded Town Hall called New Hampshire. They become a kind of polemic test-lab for political candor that comes virtually without recourse. Political candidates seem to be able to say just about anything this early in the game—the more outrageous the better—and if it sounds clever, outspoken and original (rest assured) there will be throngs of the faithful with Kool-Aid and straws just waiting to suck up the latest simplistic soundbites as if they had any substance at all.

Political portfolios don’t matter any more. In fact, most of the time these days they are a detriment. And why should they matter after the numbing realization that both Houses of Congress have become nothing more than straw men who shake their impotent rattles with a rolled-up Bill of Rights while an imperious Administration and a Supreme Court that now notoriously legislates from the Bench do all the heavy lifting? On top of that, the GOP, which has had control of the Legislature since 2010, has recently engaged in such an orgy of “eating its own” that a horrified electorate has nothing left to do but sit back and watch it all in utter disbelief.

This Republican self-devouring comes to the delight of Democrats who will embrace anyone with a pulse, and who will never abandon any member of their posse as long as they’re not pedophiles or patriots. But the public at large has a different take. The people are concerned. And they will look anywhere these days—especially outside the beltway. That in itself goes far to explain the reason the three leading Republican candidates in the Presidential polls have no political credentials whatsoever.

Knowing how to milk the Media’s manic need for ratings, Donald Trump has been gobbling up all the broadcast time with his train-wreck campaign philosophy that says, “Break enough furniture and take on the status quo with as many insults as you can cram into a soundbite, and the people will beat a path to your door.” But recently, he is starting to see his credibility collapse like a bad soufflé because he’s beginning, with the revelation of his Swiss-cheese economic and foreign policy “plans,” to come off as both unqualified and trite. The Donald is still leading, but now according to last week’s WSJ/NBC poll his numbers have dropped from a high of 32% in early September to 23% and just one percentage point over Ben Carson.

Ironically Carson perfectly fits the Christian Coalition/Tea Party matrix so tightly that he is virtually the Republican Platform personified. As such, he doesn’t have one original idea to call his own combined with the added appeal that he is a self-made millionaire brain-surgeon who happens to be black. And, purely in terms of strategy, Ben would make a lovely Number 2, which seems to be the job for which he is actually campaigning.

That leaves the latest Zeitgeist and GOP flavor-of-the-day, Carly Fiorina. As the only woman in the field, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO has debated, scrapped and elbowed her way not only into the Top Tier of Republican candidates, but also locking solidly into third place, with 11% points, tied with the only career politician currently in double digits, Senator Marco Rubio (who has also renounced Congress as “impotent”).

To these tired eyes at least, Carly was only one of two people on the dais during the second debate at the Reagan library [along with Rubio] who came off as presidential. And on what little “scrap time” has remained in the wake of The Donald’s cable news binges as of late, Fiorina’s interviews have come off as crisp, clear and concise. Her command of the issues has seemed refreshing. She is unrepentantly self-confident. And by all appearances, she comes off as capable of thinking outside the box. Or does she?

In retrospect, I have to note that, just as FOX orchestrated the first GOP debate to take Trump down, CNN seemed to deliberately structure its Q&A building blocks very pointedly to raise Carly up during debate Number 2 at the Reagan Center. They fed her all the juicy questions, allowed her (quite rudely at times) to interrupt all the other candidates, and then crowned her the winner almost as soon as the cameras moved away from the backdrop of Air Force One and into the B-roll around the hangar.

The fact that Carly is a woman would seem to provide the perfect foil to countervail the inevitable return of Hillary (who will most definitely clean up her email “problem” in time to lock down her party’s nomination). “So why not Carly?” one is driven to ask. And many voters are starting to do just that.

Frankly, in this seeming Age of Transparency, I’m sitting here in utter disbelief at the whole process, especially at Carly Fiorina’s meteoric rise to Number 3 in the Republican polls. Although we would all like to look upon this kind of candidate as viable and credible, even the most superficial glance at her track-record causes one to wonder what kind of unmitigated hubris would cause this woman to run or why the Grand Old Party would ever take her seriously.

Ultimately, any viable candidate for POTUS would be running on some record of accomplishments. Trump, for all his shortcomings has a net worth of from $4 billion to $10 Billion and can simply out-muscle any RNC cabal set in place to take him down. Ben Carson is a brain-surgeon, self-made millionaire and co-founder of The Washington Times. Carly, on the other hand, has a record of personal and professional failures so broad and deep that, upon examination, she would (under inevitable media scrutiny) come off like a shadow-protagonist in House of Cards. And rest assured it is something of which RNC insiders are keenly aware. So let’s just hit the highlights if we may:

Fiorina’s main claim to fame is her tenure as the first female CEO of venerable tech giant Hewlett-Packard. When questioned about her six-year tenure beginning in 1999, she proudly points to the fact that, through their purchase of Compaq in 2001, she doubled HP’s annual revenues and increased its acquisitions to about $89 Billion, making it the largest computer company in the world at the time. Even though Hewlett Packard’s stock dropped 30% during the acquisition, the deal looked great on paper, and the figures sang. What really went down in subtext was the undeniable truth that one outdated “big box” computer company bought out another dying but cash-rich big box computer giant, creating a “Maya” (illusion) investment bubble that was doomed to burst.

At the time this HP/Compaq “merger” took place in 2001, Apple was already blowing the tech market wide open with new innovations like iPods, feather-light laptops and swivel face, flat-screen computers that had Windows based technologies in a panic. But one thing we get to learn quickly about Carly is that she is all about the numbers. In terms of people skills and consensus management, she has always scored at the bottom. In truth she is one of the Judas goats of the Top-Down business model that boasts a lovely bottom-line (for a while) while jobs and productivity become, in equal measure, the first casualties of the new “Executive Pretty” regime.

The biggest part of Carly Fiorina’s impact everywhere she goes is the ruthless specter of “attrition management.” Her tenure as Number 2 at Lucent Technologies (from 1996-1999) was often referred to by employees as “Carly’s Reign of Terror,” where the company slashed jobs while artificially puffing up the profits through specious “vendor loans” and cooking the books that ended in a $1.1 Billion fine by the SEC. 

 

While CEO of HP, she immediately cut 18,000 jobs to make the fit with Compaq more supportable, took HP’s employees off its vaunted profit sharing plan and onto a bonus system, which is analogous to taking away someone’s 401 K while giving them a chump-change money bump at Christmas. Add to that the fact that Hewlett Packard, formerly Number 1 in employee morale when Fiorina took over plummeted down to dead last among all major corporations. Her management style was often described as “shrill.” And her relationship with the HP Board was most frequently characterized as “dysfunctional.”

By the time Carly was forced out in 2005 (with a $100 M Golden Parachute), HP’s stock had tanked to about half its value. InfoWorld (the tech bible) grouped her merger with Compaq as “The 6th Worst Tech Flop of All Time,” and many financial commentators referred to her as “the Anti-Steve Jobs,” citing her charismatic personal style as being more than countervailed by her lack of vision and outdated approach to innovation. Top it all off by the fact that thousands of the HP jobs Fiorina cut while at the helm of HP got outsourced to China, and you have what amounted to the perfect poison package that would cause the average CEO with any conscience at all to consider taking hemlock. On her way out, she seems to have been credited as the Genesis of a New Millennium business stigma called “Corporate Suicide.”

To say no one at HP was sorry to see Carly go would have been an understatement. But she still managed to appeal to a certain class of corporation that prized an ability to juggle structure over long-term vision. And she ended up landing on her feet with consulting jobs for the next couple of years, until 2008, when Carly—apparently because of her “no prisoners” approach to finance—was named Funding Chairman for the Republican National Committee and immediately brought on board as the Money Wazir for John McCain’s final push for POTUS.

Never accused of being a team player when she was at either Lucent or HP Fiorina, from the outset, started making the 2008 McCain campaign all about “her.” She immediately started holding press conferences—several of them, more than the candidate himself—while grabbing headlines and issuing public proclamations in the process.

Carly’s constant upstaging had already started chafing with McCain when she dropped the first shoe in a spate of major gaffs by opining in an interview on CNN that Alaska Governor and VP Candidate Sarah Palin was “not qualified” to be head of a major corporation like Hewlett Packard. Since Palin was running as No. 2 for that other sizable corporation, the United States of America (and was already chafing from allusions to her being the summary Barbie Doll and intellectual lightweight), it did not set particularly well with McCain insiders.

Rather than back away or revert to the ultimate equivocation that she was “taken out of context,” Fiorina doubled down on it the next day by also declaring that John McCain wouldn’t be qualified to run a major corporation like HP either—basically inferring that neither the Candidate nor his already beleaguered Running Mate were in Carly’s league when it came to actually getting things done.

It was reported from the inside that McCain, known for being dyspeptic even the best of times, went ballistic and demanded that Fiorina immediately be removed form her RNC post. And within 24 hours (and only after seven weeks on the job) Carly was gone.

Somehow, the debacle that followed in the wake of her handling of the GOP finance committee in 2008 and the “bad blood” that came out of it didn’t dampen her political ambitions in the least. So in 2010 she launched her campaign to run for Barbara Boxer’s seat in her home state of California.

Arguably one of the least popular and most corrupt Senators in California political history, Boxer was considered beatable, especially given the national tone of discontent with the first two years of the Obama/Reid/Pelosi triumvirate. As everyone remembers 2010 was a banner year for Republicans who recaptured the House of Representatives and gaining major inroads in the Senate, winning landslide elections practically everywhere but California.

What happened instead was a candidate, in Fiorina, who emerged as brusk, unlikable and incredible. Her primary campaign against Tom Campbell was labeled sleazy and defamatory, and her “demon sheep” commercial was rated one of the most ridiculous TV political ads of all time—so much so that, by the time she got to the general election her “favorable” ratings had flatlined, and she couldn’t have beaten Hugo Chavez in a runoff.

As predicted, Boxer absolutely clobbered Carly on her record as CEO at Hewlett Packard (especially the outsourcing of jobs to China) and underscored what insiders had known all along—that in 2008 McCain had, prior to Palin, initially considered Fiorina for VEEP when insiders warned that the corporate baggage Carly brought from her debacle at HP could take down their bid for the White House. As a result Boxer, no fan favorite by any means, cleaned Fiorina’s clock by double digits when in fact Boxer herself couldn’t garner a 46% approval rating in her own state prior to the general election.

If Carly Fiorina flopped that badly against Barbara Boxer, one can only imagine what her chances would be against a tough campaigner like Hillary Clinton, a former Secretary of State and two term senator with a political portfolio packed with good report. Add to that the fact that, in the wake of her 2010 debacle, Fiorina stiffed both staffers and media alike with unpaid bills and bounced salaries. Granted, vanquished political candidates are notorious for leaving the detritus of unpaid bills lying around in the wreck of their defeat. But not if they ever plan to run again.

But Carly is running again—this time with great gusto, even though she seems to have an uneasy relationship with the truth, as evidenced by some of her “references” during the debate. Ready with what seemed to be an over-prepared response to CNN’s Q&A, she referenced her very hawkish stance on foreign policy, underscoring her “no compromise” dealings with Iran.

“The first thing I would do on Day One,” Carly responded, “would be to give a call to my good friend Bibi Netanyahu, and reassure him…” etc. But is Ms. Fiorina really that close to the Israeli Prime Minister? According to every source consulted, Carly Fiorina may have met the Israeli Prime minister once for about a minute—scarcely the basis for a close friendship. She also made absurd promises about building up the Sixth Fleet (already the largest maritime nuclear force in the world) and putting more troops in Germany that, at this moment, stand at 40,000.

And no! Ms. Fiorina is not close to Netanyahu. But according to rumors, she is pretty tight with some Muslim leaders, including former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And to this moment, she remains tainted by what has now become the ultimate paradox, her ill-timed “Praise for Islam” rant that oddly scraped across the open wounds of a Nation in mourning just two weeks after the attack at One World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. On September 26 in that same month and year, the then HP CEO went on rhapsodically about the greatness of Islamic culture as one of the civilizing influences of the world—a speech she recently refused to disavow, and one for which she is currently getting hammered by members of her own party.

 In subtext, what seems to have motivated Carly to launch into such a lofty, if inaccurate (and propagandist) paean to the Ottoman Empire had little to do with ideology and more to do with her company’s lucrative technology contracts in the Middle East, including a $140 million “shadow deal” with a then sanctioned Iran. So, it would seem that Ms. Fiorina’s speech might well have come as a somewhat calculated move to ingratiate herself and her company by sending a little political “sugar” to her contacts in the sub-continent.

Ignoring the fact that Elephants have long memories and that everything you do in politics will come back to haunt you, Carly Fiorina now finds herself in the consummate Conundrum. Is she an Islamophile, as her 2001 “Ottoman Rhapsody” would indicate? Or was that “I love Islam” tagline a mere corporate ploy to take the heat off her cronies in that troubled corner of the world? Either way some issues of character come into play. And Fiorina’s credibility has come to the chopping block. I realize that calling someone a lying politician is the very definition of pleonastic. But shouldn’t one at least start out in one’s career by trying to tell the truth?

In truth, Ms. Fiorina’s entire track-record is built on a body of lies, half-truths and foggy interpretations of her prowess so overripe and unpalatable as to render her low-hanging fruit for any Democrat Candidate with half a brain to splatter across the airwaves with a single swipe of the facts.

In a Republican Party so desperate to regain a hold on its soul, Carly arrives at this point in a pretty package indeed. Smart, insightful, rich, successful, articulate and tough—she would appear to be ready to take on all comers, and the Devil take the hindmost. Unfortunately “the Devil” is also in the details. And at this point, Carly Fiorina is looking a lot more like Faust than Abraham Lincoln.

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