The GOP usually entertains the idea of the “non politician” right up until it’s time to vote. This time there are three—Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, two sitting atop the polls and Fiorina making an impact in the news media. Of the three, Carly proven her mettle the most Wednesday night, with detailed policy proposals, while the others present a vague idea of what their presidency would look like. She’s able to drop lines like “good friend Bibi Netanyahu” while Donald Trump says he would “get along with the heads of Mexico” without naming them or explaining why the “heads” of Mexico would get along with him after he builds his much-touted wall along their border.
And yet the problem for Fiorina is that despite her killer debate performances and her perfect ads, few are taking her seriously as a candidate for president. Is it possible to have a runaway favorite for vice president? If it is, then Carly Fiorina is it.
At about this point in the 2012 election, Herman Cain was leading in the polls. More Trump than Fiorina, Cain was a successful businessman, he kept his message simple, and he didn’t concern himself with knowing a lot about world politics. (Full disclosure: I worked on Cain’s U.S. Senate race when he ran in Georgia in 2004). In 2008, Rudy Giuliani was the runaway favorite. While Giuliani was a politician, he was the successful two-term mayor of New York City who led the city in the time of crisis following the 9/11 attacks; he wasn’t the traditional senator or governor, with experience with statewide races, who we tend to see on the presidential stage.
What these non politicians have in common is they tend to speak plainly, with language not couched by years of politicking and trying to be many things to many people. The public loves it—but ultimately doesn’t come out and vote for it. The liability of the non-politician is they have limited experience running for office. Like Cain, Fiorina has run for U.S. Senate previously and lost.
Having a winning campaign under your belt is important. Structuring an organization, raising money and putting together a strong ground effort in the early states is learned through earlier campaigns, and these skills are much more important than having your face on TV. If Fiorina, or Carson or Trump, wants to stand a chance, they’ll spend their time meeting with precinct captains in Iowa and district leaders in South Carolina, putting together a strong ground game and spending their time on the phone with donors raising money. There’s no doubt the more seasoned politicians in the race are doing those things right now.
Fiorina is doing something right, and she should keep doing it. On Wednesday night, compared to the other candidates, Carly Fiorina looked like she could go another three hours and not miss a beat. Whether Americans are finally ready to take a chance on the non politician, be it Fiorina or the others, remains to be seen.
Markowicz has a Master’s Degree from NYU in Political Management and also worked on more than 10 political campaigns in four states.