OK, let’s get some things straight: Senator Ted Cruz won’t have an actual “running mate,” because he won’t have a presidential candidacy much longer. And if he did, against all odds, get the GOP nomination at a contested convention, he would dump poor Carly Fiorina as fast as you can say “swing state.” Fiorina is no electoral draw: She won exactly one delegate in the GOP primary; she lost her 2010 campaign to be California’s senator, badly; and if Cruz was hoping she might somehow swing California, anyway, that’s seems like bad advance work, because she doesn’t even live in California anymore. Speaking as a recently transplanted Californian myself, she is wildly despised there. Nationwide, her favorable rating is 25 percent. Finally, in a year when the GOP is having to reckon with the revolt of its white, working-class base, I can’t think of a worse choice to challenge Trump than an icy former CEO who shed workers with less conscience than Trump has shed wives.
Other than that, she’s a brilliant choice.
But since the 2016 GOP presidential race is all lurid spectacle and strategic dysfunction, let’s take a moment to appreciate how both were displayed in Cruz’s Fiorina announcement.
First, it came only three days after the Texas senator’s abortive pact with John Kasich. I mean, really, if you were going to seriously team up with Kasich to thwart Trump, wouldn’t you try to make him your running mate? In fact, wouldn’t you, earlier, have tried to lure Senator Marco Rubio? Or anyone with more than the literally one delegate controlled, right now, by Carly Fiorina?
But let’s give Cruz credit: He’s trying to win over the women’s vote, given that 70 percent of women tell pollsters they have “negative” feelings—what a euphemism—about Donald Trump. He picked Fiorina right as Trump was trashing Hillary Clinton for playing “the woman card,” insisting if she “were a man, she would have 5 percent of the vote.” Clinton immediately embraced the insult, with her campaign producing a “woman card” with her logo, while feminists on Twitter and elsewhere outdid themselves mocking the idiocy of the concept that being a woman is any kind of advantage in the world (this piece is my favorite.)
One big problem with Cruz’s strategy, though, is that there are few female candidates as poorly situated to capture women’s votes as Fiorina. Her failed presidential campaign’s only rationale seemed to be that she could brutalize Clinton politically without being derided as sexist. She then became infamous for her cold-blooded lies about the doctored Planned Parenthood videos, including the morbid and oft-repeated false claim that they depicted infanticide. Sarah Palin was a smarter choice to appeal to women than Fiorina is—and Palin was a disaster.
The other problem with this obvious desperation move is that Cruz and Fiorina appeal to the same narrow base of Christian conservatives. Somehow that became more ridiculously apparent to me when Cruz seemed to introduce Fiorina—to a small, lackluster Indiana rally—as someone who was going to be his nanny, bizarrely playing up her relationship with his two young daughters. For her part, Fiorina seemed to very much want the job, coming out on stage and crooning a song to young Caroline and Catherine, in a display of political pandering that was unforgettably creepy. Again, I think there was political strategy, however deranged, behind the odd tableau: Fiorina has a seriously harsh persona, so this was supposed to humanize her. It also seemed to appease Christian conservative misgivings about powerful women—Fiorina is at once fit to be commander in chief, if anything were to happen to Cruz, as well as to care for his daughters.
But nothing is going to happen to Cruz; he will go on trying to defeat Trump with incompetence and futility. He will not be the GOP nominee, let alone president. In fact, Fiorina is perfectly suited to tell us why: As she said during her own failed campaign, Cruz is “just like any other politician” who “says whatever he needs to say to get elected,” and he “cannot possibly beat Hillary Clinton.” He can’t beat Clinton—and, more relevant to his immediate aim of getting the Republican nomination, he can’t beat Trump. But he and Fiorina gave us a day of surreal political theater, a day in which Trump’s incoherent foreign policy was not the strangest thing to happen, and I’m grateful.