Fox News viewers following along at home agreed on one thing Thursday (other than defunding Planned Parenthood): Carly Fiorina easily won the GOP forum. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO remained cool and collected, stayed on-topic when answering questions (looking at you, Sen. Lindsey Graham), and did not bat an eyelash when she explained why she would be so damn good at being president of the United States. Basically, Fiorina was the anti-Donald Trump. So why is he the current GOP frontrunner while she's hanging on by $3 donations?
Just like no one can believe that Trump is a serious contender for U.S. president, it's still doubtful that Fiorina, who also has zero political experience, could be the leader of the free world. But Trump and Fiorina, who share a similar background of business failures, have two very different election-season narratives. While Trump is propped up by the right-wing populists as the straight-talking, veiled racist, anti-Washington guy, Fiorina is constantly told she's incompetent.
Yes, Fiorina has a terrible track record at HP — she laid off 30,000 people and caused the company's stock to plummet — but Trump has hardly been an astute businessman. Trump has filed for corporate bankruptcy four times — he's actually proud of it, having admitted in the past that he uses corporate bankruptcy as a business tool. And contrary to some more ignorant beliefs, Trump didn't even build the Trump Empire from scratch; it was his father who had the real estate company in which Trump got his start. If you're looking for a bootstraps kind of guy, Trump isn't it.
But Trump catches breaks. There is, of course, sexism at play, with women in business more susceptible to what is known in the business world as the "glass cliff": A woman is put in charge of a failing company, is blamed when the company fails, and sees her career permanently deflated. Meanwhile, male CEOs bounce back — and become one of the frontrunners for the U.S. presidency.
That sexism seeps into American perception of men and women who are in charge. Whereas Trump is seen as authoritative despite his tumultuous past, Fiorina is forever labeled an amateur. Even Trump himself mocked Fiorina's presidential run earlier this year, telling reporters in Florida:
Look, you have a woman who got fired from her job. And I mean fired viciously. She got fired viciously. She then went out and lost in a landslide when she ran in California for the Senate. And I mean, she lost in a landslide. She got clobbered. And now she’s running for president. Now, I’m all for it. I think she’s a very nice woman. But she got fired. And, she lost in a landslide. Does that qualify you to run for president?
Fiorina may have been right when she said Thursday that Trump has "tapped into the anger" of Americans. "They’re sick of politics as usual," Fiorina said, explaining Trump's appeal to American voters. "Whatever your issue, your cause, the festering problem you thought would be resolved — the political class has failed you."
But Fiorina, as diplomatic as she was on Thursday, is not playing around. The difference between her and Trump was best exemplified when she was asked specifically about her fellow businessperson in the race. Fiorina responded not with an insult or personal attack, but a truth-bomb dripping equally with snark and class.
“Since he [Trump] has changed his mind on amnesty, healthcare, and abortion, what are the principles by which he will govern?” Fiorina asked.