Fiorina Won't Help Cruz Win California

by Seth Millstein

Despite being a very heavy underdog to even win the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz has chosen a running mate. Cruz announced on Tuesday that he’d be tapping former 2016 rival Carly Fiorina to fill out the ticket, should he win the GOP nomination. There are a few reasons why Cruz might have done this, the most obvious being that Fiorina might help Cruz win her home state of California. So, can Carly Fiorina really help Ted Cruz win the California primary?

On the surface, the argument is compelling: After all, Fiorina did win a competitive Senate primary in California as a Republican in 2010, which suggests at least some strength among the state’s conservatives. But that is the only reason to think Fiorina will help Cruz in the state, and frankly, it’s not even a good reason.

Despite her success in the 2010 Senate primary, Fiorina isn’t exactly a force to be reckoned with in California politics. After winning the nomination, she suffered a crushing 10-point loss to the incumbent Democrat in the general election, and this was in one of the best election cycles Republicans have had in decades. From there, Fiorina left the state altogether, moving to Virginia and starting a political action committee.

Darren McCollester/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Because her Senate campaign was largely self-funded to begin with, Fiorina had little need to build relationships with Republican operators and donors in the state. Indeed, she didn’t build or maintain any meaningful connections with the state’s Republican apparatus after leaving, and the most enduring legacy of her 2010 Senate run is the widely-mocked “Demon Sheep” ad her campaign produced during the primary.

What’s more, Cruz has bigger things to worry about than winning California. Before the Golden State votes, Indiana will head to the polls, and if Cruz loses Indiana, he’s finished. There’s no reason to think Fiorina will hurt Cruz in Indiana, but there’s equally no reason to think she’ll help.

Slate’s Jim Newell may be onto something when he suggests that Cruz picked Fiorina primarily to bait Donald Trump into saying something sexist about her. This wouldn’t be a terrible strategy: Trump has said misogynistic things about Fiorina in the past, and he hasn’t dealt with the subsequent backlash very well. It’s at least conceivable that Trump could say something so odious about Fiorina that California (or Indiana) voters will revolt. But that would be a bankshot, an indirect victory that Cruz himself has no ability to produce.

Cruz’s selection of Fiorina will let him dominate a few news cycles. But it’s not going to help him win California, or the Republican nomination.