Anyone who has read her latest letter to CNN would be hard pressed to believe that Carly Fiorina once praised Hillary Clinton and cited the Democrat as a champion for women. But it's true: Back in 2008, while campaigning for Sen. John McCain, Fiorina was extremely effusive in her praise of Clinton. Though some have insinuated no such statements were ever made, recent audio discovered by BuzzFeed seems very much at odds with the comments we're used to hearing Fiorina make about Clinton and her campaign.
The speech that BuzzFeed uncovered was recorded in 2008, when Fiorina was a campaign surrogate for John McCain, and was attempting to court Clinton supporters for McCain's campaign.
I have such great admiration and empathy for Hillary Clinton. ... I have great admiration for her because I know what it takes in some small measure to do what she has done. ... And as a woman, I take great pride in the fact that Hillary Clinton ran for president. And I also watched with a lot of empathy as I saw how she was scrutinized, characterized, talked about as a woman.
But Fiorina, who once called Clinton "incredibly intelligent, focused, tough, [and] determined," according to BuzzFeed News, more recently said Clinton has "blood on her hands," and that "her character is flawed." So what changed?
Ever since Fiorina effectively trounced her competitors and won the Fox News primary forum on Aug. 6, she has risen in the polls and in the national spotlight. And the former Hewlett-Packard CEO clearly has set her sights on Clinton. "Name an accomplishment" is a familiar line that the Fiorina campaign uses when talking about Clinton. "I have repeatedly asked Hillary Clinton to name an accomplishment. She has yet to name one," Fiorina said in a recent letter to CNN. "Note: Flying is an activity, not an accomplishment," referencing Clinton's record number of trips while secretary of state.
But now that the transcript of Fiorina's glowing remarks have popped up, there are questions on the businesswoman's stances. In the past, her campaign has dismissed the bulk of the comments, but now they're indisputable. And to add insult to injury, part of Fiorina's 2008 speech was made into a poster that now hangs at the Hillary For America headquarters.
Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post offers a few possible explanations: Either that Fiorina was once a fan of Clinton's, but is now disillusioned, or that she was simply attempting paying lip service to Clinton in an attempt to steal her voters from McCain. Both answers seem plausible, though if Fiorina had grown disenchanted with Clinton, she would probably have found a way to work it into her attacks.
There is, perhaps, a third reason — that Fiorina did truly respect and admire Clinton's accomplishments and still might. But for the sake of her campaign, she has seen that attacking Clinton is a quick way to gain popularity. Like Clinton, Fiorina is a highly intelligent and competent woman and has clearly realized that Republican voters react positively when a candidate is ferociously anti-Clinton. And unlike many of the other Republican candidates, Fiorina is sharp and effective at cutting to the point of an issue, which means her attacks on Clinton are more likely to cut directly at the former secretary's flaws and soft spots.
Some have also postulated that Fiorina, as a woman, is the only candidate who is able to go after Clinton relentlessly without being accused of sexism. According to Fiorina, if the two go head to head, Clinton "won't be able to play the gender card." So it is highly possible that, despite any admiration Fiorina may have once felt, she has put those feelings aside in order to gain favor and wage a hard-hitting campaign.
If this is the answer, it's, of course, disappointing, but not all together unheard of. Whether Fiorina's comments were heartfelt or not, it's unlikely that BuzzFeed's audio will do much to damage her campaign. The Fiorina of today, who now never misses a chance to take a shot at Clinton, is miles away from the Fiorina of 2008. And while we can all hypothesize and make conjectures as to how that happened, only one thing that be sure: Fiorina is unlikely to backtrack now. There's no going back and softening or qualifying her comments — all she can do is go forward and continue the attack.