5 Reasons We Shouldn't Have Underestimated Carly Fiorina

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina participates in a presidential pre-debate forum hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Fiorina and six other GOP candidates were selected to participate in the forum based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Thursday night was the first GOP presidential debate, and it didn't disappoint anyone who was hoping for some on-stage fireworks — between Donald Trump, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Ted Cruz alone, it was a pretty rambunctious affair. But, not to be forgotten, there was another debate earlier that afternoon, for the seven Republican candidates who didn't make the top-ten cut. It gained the derisive nickname "the kid's table debate" in some places, but it may still prove to be pretty consequential. Here are 5 reasons we shouldn't have underestimated Carly Fiorina, because she turned in a performance that got everybody talking.

Fiorina may not have any political experience, nor any expereince at running for national office, but she's been through the campaign grind once before — she unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in California back in 2010, losing in the general election to incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. 

Suffice to say, she's entering some unknown terrain, but not without a little relevant experience to fall back on. And she took full advantage on Thursday afternoon, standing out as more or less the lone bright spot in a GOP junior-league squad full of dead-enders. Here are five reasons we should've seen this coming.

1. She's Clearly Put In The Work

Fiorina is an independently wealthy private citizen, and she hasn't dealt with the all-encompassing life of campaigning, governing or lawmaking for the past five years. As such, while rivals like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham have been juggling their political prospects and public image concerns in the here and now with how they'll need to appeal to voters to make an impact in 2016, Fiorina's been able to focus her all her attention on a single goal. 

Of course, having the time and freedom to prepare, learn, and chart a course doesn't guarantee success — Perry has claimed he's been preparing for years following his infamous debate flame-out in 2012, and he only looked marginally more confident and competent at it. But Fiorina spoke with firmness, clarity, and seems to have impressed many conservatives on foreign policy and cybersecurity, displaying a good deal of savvy.

2. She's Got No Political Track Record

We typically think of having no elected experience as a detriment, but it also works to Fiorina's advantage. Her extremely problematic, widely disparaged tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard notwithstanding, there's a lot less for critics to pin on her than allmost every other candidate in the race, including the ones who made the top-tier debate. 

And judging by how it went, she won't be out in the cold much longer — I'm guessing plenty of sensible conservatives watched last night's debate and thought "damn, we put Huckabee out there instead of her?"

3. She's Far More Electable Than Her Rivals

Is there anyone who would seriously assert that Ted Cruz has a better shot than Fiorina? Ben Carson? Donald Trump? The conventional wisdom these days seems to be that Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are serious players, but neither of them particularly shone last night, and virtually all of the Republicans carry at least one glaring weakness.

Simply put, Fiorina's a much stronger candidate than advertised, because it's a much weaker field than advertised — it's just creating the illusion of strength via bloat.

4. She'd Defy The "Republicans Don't Want A Female President" Narrative

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center released a poll finding that a dismal 20 percent of Republican women actively wanted to see a woman make it to the White House. It drew a lot of appropriately concerned coverage, because considering we've never had a female president, you'd think there'd be a little more desire for it, at least in an abstract sense.

But a lack of abstraction could've been a huge part of why the poll turned out how it did. Even though Pew was asking about electing a female president generally, any Republican asked that question in 2015 probably has some idea what it really means, which is a Hillary Clinton victory. If Fiorina picks up steam and starts to resemble a bonafide contender, it'll be telling if those numbers start to come around.

5. Even If She Doesn't Make It, She's A Prime VP Option

Look, it's never comfortable to dig too deep into the cynical realities of politics. But there are few areas of a presidential campaign where cynical realities can make themselves felt quite like a VP pick — think Sarah Palin in 2008. Was Palin the best choice from a governance standpoint? No. Was she qualified to be president? Hell no, and basically everything she's done as a public figure since that ill-fated campaign has confirmed that. 

But she did represent a dynamic, last-ditch opportunity for the McCain campaign to shore up some votes from disaffected Democratic women. It didn't work, obviously — most people are more than sharp enough to tell the difference between a Hillary Clinton and a Sarah Palin — but the potential advantages of having a woman in that slot were real. It's not just the right thing to do morally and historically to get a woman on your ticket, it can be the right thing politically, too.

And simply put, there's really no woman in the Republican Party who seems as realistic an option as she is. Whatever your opinion of Fiorina's politics, she oozed competence, intelligence and diligence in that debate, especially as compared to the rogue's gallery of men she went up against. Even if she can't pull this thing off, you can bet that she'll land on somebody's vice presidential short list. Though probably not Trump's, in fairness — he doesn't seem to get along with confident, accomplished women very well.

Must Reads