Amid incipient panic among Establishment Republicans after Donald Trump’s near-sweep of delegates in five northeastern primaries Tuesday, Ted Cruz is making a quick move today to get himself some media coverage and theoretically gain an advantage in California, the last of several crucial primaries he needs to win to keep Trump out of the winner’s circle. While campaigning in the first of such states, Indiana, he’s announcing former candidate Carly Fiorina as his would-be/will-be running mate, according to several credible sources.
The only other time a presidential candidate has announced a running mate before winning the nomination was famously in 1976, when Ronald Reagan announced Pennsylvania senator Richard Schweiker as his veep choice before the Republican Convention in Kansas City. That, however, was three weeks prior to the August convention, not in April. And Reagan’s ploy (or, more accurately, that of his campaign manager, the crafty John Sears) was clearly aimed at prying away delegates in Schweiker’s home state. It would appear Cruz’s motives are a bit less focused.
For one thing, it’s not clear that Fiorina (who endorsed Cruz some time ago) will help him much in her “home state” of California. In her one political race prior to 2016, she lost to Barbara Boxer by ten points in the wildly pro-Republican year of 2010, though she did win the GOP nomination handily over mispositioned centrist U.S. representative Tom Campbell and conservative firebrand Chuck DeVore (Campbell was the target of the famous “demon sheep” ad crafted for Fiorina by consultant Fred Davis, who is now on John Kasich’s team). She immediately moved away from the scene of the political accident, relocating to a gated community in a suburb of that well-known entrepreneur’s paradise, Washington, D.C.
Another problem with Fiorina is that she’s never shaken the accusations of incompetence surrounding her failed tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the position that made her a national celebrity, a speaking-circuit regular, and an intimate of Republican presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney. Donald Trump hit her a couple of times on that record in the debates she attended before falling off the radar screen, though she probably won her personal duel with the Donald by reacting appropriately to his nasty and sexist slurs about her appearance.
Fiorina was protected from more extensive criticism by the implicit appreciation for her in the GOP field as someone who could without inhibition attack Hillary Clinton day in and day out, which indeed became her signature on the campaign trail. Eventually, as other candidates lost their inhibitions and whaled away at Clinton with suggestions that she was a near-traitor or belonged in prison, Carly lost her distinctive purpose in campaign ‘16 and faded from sight. When she withdrew from the race in February, one pollster showed her favorable/unfavorable rating among Republicans at a tepid 36/36.
It’s unclear whether Fiorina’s supposed to humanize the Cruz effort (she is, after all, as slick a performer as the Texan), help him bash Donald Trump, improve his performance marginally among women, or just serve as a camera-ready surrogate at a time when he’s having to campaign frantically in multiple states.
Without question, it’s a testament to the “outsider” atmosphere of this cycle that a candidate like Cruz, who has been in elected office just over three years, would choose someone with zero public experience to help him take on a front-runner who has also never been elected to anything anywhere at any time. Only Ben Carson could have offered him less of a political résumé, and he’s in Trump’s corner. It’s also something of a sign of desperation that Cruz is moving now and using up a big poker chip he might have better saved to clinch the nomination on a second or third ballot in Cleveland. If he doesn’t stop Trump in Indiana and California, of course, that won’t matter.
For Fiorina, it’s actually a bit of an accomplishment to go from a failed corporate career and a failed political career to a presidential candidacy that looked likely to elevate her to a cabinet post in a GOP administration, and then to becoming the second pre-nomination running mate ever. If Cruz somehow does prevail, Fiorina will also become the second woman to join a Republican ticket, and pick up where she left off in bashing HRC. And despite her shaky résumé, Fiorina almost certainly won’t be the walking time bomb her predecessor Sarah Palin turned out to be. If the presidential nominating contest were a battle of PowerPoint presentations, Cruz-Fiorina would win in a walk.