Running against Politics: Will Carly Fiorina’s Anti-Establishment Message Pay Off?

As GOP candidates struggle to stand out from one another in an ever-more-crowded field of presidential hopefuls, one has opted to bet her fortune on voters’ antipathy for political shenanigans.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has launched her campaign as a scrappy underdog, criticizing the behavior of what she terms the “political class.” That willingness to take on the establishment has earned her positive media attention following her performance in the August 6 GOP pre-debate.

“One thing a lot of people learned about her was that she was a good campaigner, especially when she was authentic, unscripted, off the cuff,” said Thad Kousser, political science professor at the University of California, San Diego. “That’s something she did very well, especially when she wasn’t just sticking to a script.”

Fiorina’s anti-political politics aren’t new, Kousser added — they’re part of a long tradition.

“Americans are now and have always been tired of the political class,” he said. “Running against politics — running against Washington — is always a strategy that makes sense. The question is, are Americans more tired of the political class or the business class, the ruling economic elite?”

Americans are now and have always been tired of the political class.
Thad Kousser, professor at UC-San Diego
That perception — that she, as a former CEO, is one of the economic elite — is one Fiorina will have to fight if she wants to make a good impression.

And despite her debate performance and her underdog candor, Fiorina’s presidential bid faces a major roadblock — her lack of experience holding office.

“Voters still look for political experience in their presidential candidates, or exceptional military experience without political experience — [for example] Eisenhower,” said Alison Howard, department chair of political science at Dominican University of California. “While governing may share some aspects of the skills associated with business leadership, at the end of the day, governing is fundamentally different from running a business. Governing, especially at the presidential level, does take political skill and expertise.”

Though some candidates have broken into politics from non-political backgrounds, Fiorina is playing a much bigger game.

“I cannot recall any candidates at the presidential level who were successful without political or military experience,” Howard said. “State level, yes, there have been candidates without much political experience elected as governor — Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, although all had significant name recognition prior to running for office.”

As the race continues to heat up, Fiorina will have to find a way to make her name and her message stick — otherwise, she could fade into the background once again, Kousser stressed.

“I think the big obstacle for these business candidates is, because they haven’t introduced themselves to voters, no one knows who they are,” he said. “People often fall in love with them, but they just as quickly fall out of love.”

Photo Source: AP