Whichever Republican candidate was understood as “winning” the second national debate held at the Reagan Library on September 16, 2015, the clear victor going in was CNN. Approximately 23 million viewers tuned in to the three-hour spectacle which witnessed ex-CEO of Hewlett Packard Carly Fiorina displaying a confident, poised persona while taking well-rehearsed, articulate jabs at elections foes on both sides of the political aisle, particularly Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Fiorina was not originally selected by CNN to participate but persuaded the cable network to change its criteria based on her strong performance at the first GOP debate, the early session, held in an embarrassingly empty arena by Fox News last month. Fiorina has risen from relative obscurity never having held public office and being relegated to the “kiddy table” debate last August 6 in Cleveland, Ohio to now being widely considered a front-runner for the Republican nomination following her “win” last Wednesday in Simi Valley, California.
Voters appreciate a fighter; one who they assume will maintain that passion while fighting for their personal political ideology if elected. Carly Fiorina has demonstrated that she will not back down from a challenge and isn’t intimidated by people perceived as bullies such as say, for example, current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. She went right at him with zingers regarding his various misogynistic statements. “Mr. Trump said he heard clearly what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” Fiorina was referring to Trumps statement to Rolling Stone Magazine disparaging her facial appearance. Trump’s comment was directed at Jeb Bush who had said he would cut off funding for women’s health which Bush claimed was taken out of context. Trump was obviously humbled by Fiorina’s remark because he walked back his misogynistic statement by sheepishly praising her facial appearance. This was the first time in either debate where Trump was sincerely flustered. (Graham, et. al., 2015)
Something else voters admire is a candidate who differentiates themselves from the pack which Fiorina did on numerous occasions. A somewhat surprising question and answer was which woman the candidates would choose to replace Hamilton on the $10 bill. Fiorina, the lone woman on stage, selected nobody saying that the bill should remain as-is claiming it would be an “empty gesture” going on to say women were not a “special interest” group, that they were the majority providing half the county’s potential. All the men chose a woman. It seemed some were surprised by the question and were forced to “think on their feet.” Bush awkwardly answered former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
In a Presidential debate largely and strangely void of important issues or political policy exchanges, Fiorina again stood apart from her competitors. While Trump spent time explaining why it wasn’t important that he know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas yet Fiorina displayed, or at least feigned, great command over a range of foreign policy issues. She spoke of how she would handle the worsening Middle East situation and diminish Russia’s role in the region. “Many TV viewers heard the strongest portions of her improved stump speech for the first time, to her benefit.” (Halprin, 2015)
The fact that she didn’t have a completely fact-based solution to foreign affairs didn’t hurt her perception with the audience, in the library or at home watching. She acted more like a confident statesman when offering her positions unlike Trump or any other candidate who offered little if any policy positions. She denounced the nuclear agreement with Iran saying she would revoke it then reimplement economic sanctions which experts acknowledge would be an unreasonable and irrational move but both her position on the issue and the confident way by which she presented it played very well to her audience. The same held true for her position on Planned Parenthood. Her statements were provably and flagrantly false regarding the video showing that the organization sold baby’s body parts but, again, her targeted audience was delighted. “Often, those (Fiorina’s) proposals didn’t add up once you looked at them closely. No matter: On a stage where no one seemed as sharp, it was enough to impress.” (Graham, et. al., 2015)
The media chose Fiorina the winner hands down. According to the well respected polling and statistics guru Nate Silver, who has accurately predicted winners of the past several elections, both state and federal, polled members of the media to get their reaction to which candidate best helped their nomination chances with their second GOP debate performance. Fiorina earned the only “A” score – and it was unanimous while Bush and Rubio average a “B” and Trump a “C” grade. (Silver, 2015)
Up until the second debate Trump had the media spotlight all to himself. Rarely did another candidate get any air time and none close to the amount “Donald’s” was receiving. While he still dominates the attention of the media because of the public’s fascination with the billionaire real estate mogul and reality show celebrity, Fiorina is beginning to command her slice of that pie. During the marathon second debate she appeared confident, informed and eager to take on the frontrunner, an admirable quality in any situation and certainly for a political party who desperately wants to regain control of the executive branch. During the debate Trump seemed to fade away while Fiorina charged ahead. Although she hasn’t yet overtaken him in national polling she has surged greatly in just the few days following the debate while his have faltered demonstrating she was the clear winner.