It's time for the right's infatuation with Carly Fiorina to end.
Fiorina's debate performances have taken her to the main stage, and, as of this week, to second place in some polls, just behind Donald Trump. She is by far the sharpest of the pack in her rhetorical attacks on Hillary Clinton, and the most deft when taking on the billionaire blowhard who is staging a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. Conservatives have very quickly stripped off her "good veep choice" label, giving her consideration for the top spot.
She's willing to show her preparation on the specific policies. She's great at connecting emotionally with the pro-life base in the party. As Ross Douthat has written, she has the "outsider's narrative and the insider's smoothness, the anti-politician's rhetoric and the politician's care in how she marshals it." Some even imagine that there is a Nixonian quality to her rise from the ashes of her failed Senate campaign in California in 2010.
Conservatives are asking themselves: How does a woman with no political experience but a failed Senate run become such a compelling politician?
I have a good reason: She has no political experience but a failed Senate run.
You see, Carly Fiorina is a true believer. She is a perfect candidate for the conservative movement, but not necessarily for the considerably more diverse Republican Party of which it is an important part. She speaks like the most fluent reader of National Review and The Weekly Standard, a woman of truly conservative ideals. What Ben Carson is to evangelicals, Carly Fiorina is to the conservative movement. And she's truly free to recite the most charming lines from the movement's catechism.
This is because she's never road-tested one of those ideas in governance. She's never passed a piece of legislation that actually creates losers in its wake, or has unexpected consequences. She's never had to reach a compromise that achieves only 70 percent of her conservative aims by giving 30 percent away to opponents. None of her positions can be compared against a prior record.
She can neither be accused of promoting policies that turned out disastrously nor of flip-flopping. She is a great spokesperson for the conservative movement's ideas, because she doesn't have the mixed record that is the inevitable result of being a politician in a democracy. In this way, a never-elected senator is as good as one just elected yesterday.
Fiorina is the perfect candidate for those who thought the problem with George W. Bush was that he was not conservative enough. If only Bush hadn't been a crony-capitalist. If only he hadn't increased spending, or Medicare Part D. If only he hadn't done the bailouts. If only, in other words, he had been a conservative talking head.
Even a conservative talking head like myself can recognize that the Republican Party, if it wants to govern, cannot win by shrinking itself until it is identical with the core of the conservative movement.
So if Fiorina really wants to be president, she has to come up with reasons beyond the ones given to her by Bill Kristol. Donald Trump's pitch, such as it is, calls for an economic program that helps working class whites in the party. Rand Paul's candidacy proposes that the way to grow the GOP's appeal is an injection of libertarian idealism aimed at young people and minority voters. Jeb Bush's role is to be the accomplished conservative, one who appeals to the middle by grounding conservative ideals in the moderate language of accountability and common sense, rather than idealism. What does Fiorina bring to the party?
If she cannot answer that, her candidacy may still serve a purpose as a foil to Trump, or as an example of how to defend conservative ideas when under pressure. But ultimately there are other people who listen to talk radio and subscribe to conservative newsletters that can perform this role. You know, people who don't have to answer questions about their record as the boss of a corporate giant that subsequently failed and shed a ton of jobs.
Now that Fiorina is in the top tier, her choice is simple: Get a rationale for leading your party, or get out of the way.