Last week marked the beginning of debate season for 2016 Presidential candidates, with not one but two GOP debates. While much of the resultant conversation has centered on Donald Trump and his antics, a rising star emerged in the early session, referred to as the “Happy Hour” debate.
Who could make an impression large enough to overshadow Trump? Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, the lone female in the GOP field. As MSNBC noted, “among Republican and Republican-leaning voters who watched either of the debates or followed coverage of the debates in the news, Carly Fiorina emerged as the clear winner. Twenty-two percent said Fiorina won or had the best performance in the debate, followed by 18% who said Trump had the best performance…When the candidates’ negative performance percentages are subtracted from their positive percentages, Fiorina notched a positive 20, whereas Trump scored a negative 11.”
MSNBC was just one of the many major news outlets to sing Fiorina’s praises. An NBC News online poll over the weekend showed Republican primary voters declaring Carly Fiorina “the overall debate winner”. Per the network, Fiorina received the second-highest bump in the ratings of all of the candidates, improving her rating by 6 percentage points.
ABC News noted Fiorina “delivered one of the most forceful performances” of the night. Google declared Fiorina the winner of the “Happy Hour” debate, noting that hers was the top search term during and for a brief time after the debate. Shortly after the debate, CNN ran a piece entitled, “Twitter Declares Fiorina the #GOPDebate Winner”. Even liberal journalist Ezra Klein declared in his Vox piece, “Carly Fiorina Was the Clear Winner of Fox News’ First Debate”.
So, what was it about Fiorina’s performance that captured viewers’ attention? You can watch a brief collection of her top moments in the debate here:
Some of Fiorina’s most memorable statements from the debate:
- On Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton: "[She] lied about Benghazi, she lied about emails, she is still defending Planned Parenthood, and she is still her party's frontrunner." When asked which two words best described Clinton, she gave two answers- “Not trustworthy. No Accomplishments.”
- On Iran: Fiorina stated if she became President, one of her first calls would be to the leader of Iran. What would she say? “The message is this: Until you open every nuclear and every military facility to full, open, anytime, anywhere for real inspections, we are going to make it as difficult as possible for you to move money around the global financial system.”
- On Government overreach: The “potential of this nation and too many Americans is being crushed by the weight, the power, the cost, the complexity, the ineptitude, the corruption of the federal government."
- On Trump: “Since he has changed his mind on amnesty, on health care and on abortion, I would just ask, what are the principles by which he will govern?"
Praise for Fiorina hasn’t just come from networks or polls. Other candidates respect her, too. During the debate, when asked about the Iran Deal, Governor Perry stated, “I will tell you one thing. I would a whole lot rather have Carly Fiorina over there doing our negotiation than John Kerry”. The moderators were impressed as well. Chris Wallace credited Fiorina for her “sharpness, intelligence, and…precision”, noting she “just stood above the other six people on the stage”. Fellow moderator Megyn Kelly told the candidates at the second debate, “It’s a good thing Carly Fiorina isn’t here…She unleashed a can earlier tonight.” In fact, despite not actually being onstage for the second debate, Fiorina still played a role, as back-to-back video clips featuring her statements on Iran preceded a question for the candidates.
Even liberal pundits have given Fiorina their begrudging respect. In a post-debate interview, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews challenged Fiorina’s statement that Hillary Clinton has a history of lying. Undaunted, Fiorina proceeded to outline exactly where she believes Clinton has been dishonest, and continued to lay out the points on which she would engage Clinton in a debate. Matthews, briefly stunned into silence, ultimately responded by telling Fiorina, “I see why you stood out tonight”.
While some are skeptical that a lower-tier candidate could be a contender, Fiorina herself dismisses such speculation this far out from the 2016 election. As she said during the debate, “I would…remind people that at this point in previous presidential elections, Jimmy Carter couldn't win, Ronald Reagan couldn't win, Bill Clinton couldn't win, and neither could’ve Barack Obama.” While it’s far too early to tell who will win the GOP nomination, once thing is clear: Fiorina has shown she is ready for prime time, and viewers will be watching her closely during the CNN-hosted debate next month.