The reason for this is that Fiorina is, pardon my French, a badass.
She’s a high-ranking businesswoman who clearly knows how to hold her own in boys club contexts.
And she’s ably met the challenge—amplified by the presence of the perpetually boorish and misogynist Donald Trump—of confronting and condemning sexism in campaign politics.
When Trump infamously critiqued Fox News’ Megyn Kelly by suggesting she only posed hard questions at the first Republican debate because she was on her period, Fiorina not only claimed the moral high ground but turned the conversation on its head.
“When I started this campaign, I was asked on a national television show whether a woman’s hormones prevented her from serving in the Oval Office,” she said. “My response was, can we think of a single instance in which a man’s hormones might have clouded his judgment?”
Fiorina’s cool and concise response to Trump’s transparent attack on her looks was equally on-point.
So I can understand why Fiorina’s campaign is refreshing to Millennial women eager to see the White House’s glass ceiling broken—and who, prior to Fiorina’s rise, only had Palin and Hillary Clinton as options for that goal (there was Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, too, I suppose, but her brief campaign is on no one’s radar anymore).
But here’s the thing: When was the last time you heard someone say, “This male candidate’s policies are totally different from mine, but he’s just so well-spoken and composed that I like him anyway”? Jeb Bush, for instance, often comes off as a smart and likeable guy, but I don’t see anyone cutting him similar slack.
Because whatever one thinks of Fiorina’s demeanor and wit, many of her policies are awful. You could put the bulk of what she says in John McCain’s or Mitt Romney’s mouth and not notice any difference.
Here’s a selection:
—Though she has (admirably) criticized crony capitalism, as recently as 2008, while stumping for John McCain, she said TARP, the Wall Street bank bailout, was “necessary because credit is tight for hardworking Americans and small businesses” and “something had to be done.” Her assessment of the bailout was that “it appears to be working thus far”—completely ignoring the question of whether TARP was constitutional or ethical.
—While not quite a drug war fanatic on the level of, say, Chris Christie, she falsely suggests that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol—a standard pro-prohibition talking point, though the opposite is true.
—She insists that she opposes the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but she endorses two of its most controversial aspects: the individual mandate and the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
—She wants to add an extra $500 billion (plus nukes) in unfunded spending to the military budget—even though the Pentagon is notoriously wasteful and unaccountable and we really (really, really) can’t afford it.
To be fair, this is hardly the sum total of Fiorina’s views. Some of her positions are great.
But at the end of the day, the willingness I’ve observed to like or support Fiorina irrespective of her policies is troubling. Messaging is important, to be sure, but how low are our expectations for women in politics when the ability to speak rationally and persuasively is enough to garner a female candidate lavish praise?
Holding women in politics to a lower standard than our male counterparts doesn’t advance equality—and it’s a practice I suspect Fiorina herself would oppose.