As has been reported recently, it appears very likely that former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will be launching a Presidential campaign sometime in the not-too-distant future, quite possibly as the only woman in the Republican field. Most of the analysis of her potential campaign has stated that she is likely really trying to set herself up for the Vice-Presidency (which, if she runs a strong campaign but falls short of the nomination, could be a possibility) or for a Cabinet position under a Republican President (this I have more trouble believing–she is qualified today for a Cabinet position under a Republican President, she does not need to run an unsuccessful campaign for President to prove that to anyone).
However, I think it’s a mistake to discount her chances of winning the Presidential nomination so quickly. She may well be a long-shot, but, in such a crowded race, pretty much everyone else is a long shot at this point as well. Watching her very well-received speech in Iowa a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me what I think her strategy is.
It goes beyond just being the only woman in the race (that strategy would not be likely to succeed in a Republican nomination race, our party is not generally into the idea of identity politics just for the simple sake of identity politics). However, she appears to be utilizing her gender to amplify her message in three ways:
#1. She is using it to help her further emphasize her non-traditional-for-a-Presidential-candidate background in a campaign in which a large percentage of Republican voters are likely to be searching for a candidate outside the traditional political circles.
#2: She is using it to be able to attack Hillary Clinton as aggressively as possible (but in substantive, policy-oriented ways rather than in shrill, personally insulting ways) without fear of any sort of phony “War on Women” charges.
#3 (and, while this seems to have gotten the least notice from media analysts, I think it may well be the most important part of her early strategy): She is using it to talk more about abortion than most of the other candidates (with the possible exception of retreads like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum).
While her business experience and economic issues appear likely to be the main thrust of her message, if she establishes herself as the most exciting and most electable candidate willing to talk about the abortion issue in a meaningful way rather than simply paying lip service to it like most of the other candidates will do, then watch out for her in Iowa, in which religious conservatives play a huge role in the caucuses.
If she manages to win a large percentage of the religious conservative vote in Iowa, coupled with at least some other support (maybe from Republican women and from some other activists who see her as a strong opponent for Hillary Clinton), then she has a real chance to either win the caucuses or at least finish in the top three. If she wins them, her momentum may be very difficult to stop. If she simply finishes second or third, then she will be a top-tier candidate with as much chance to win the nomination as any other top-tier candidate.
As I said, I think it is a mistake to view her candidacy in purely symbolic terms or as merely angling for a good consolation prize down the road. She may really be “in it to win it.”