Story highlights

Carly Fiorina says the looks of male candidates are not discussed

She also opened up about the loss of her daughter to drug addiction

Washington CNN  — 

Fresh off a headline-grabbing debate performance, Carly Fiorina said Donald Trump’s focus on her appearance represents the sexism that remains in American politics.

“It’s still different for women,” she said Thursday on CNN’s New Day. “It’s only a woman whose appearance would be talked about while running for president – never a man. And that’s what women understand.”

After Fiorina responded during the debate to Trump’s claim he was referring to her persona and not her actual face in a Rolling Stone article, he tried to compliment her by calling her beautiful. The former tech CEO remained stone-faced during Trump’s attempt to play nice.

Fiorina told CNN his focus was emblematic of a deeper issue.

“Women are half this nation. Half the potential of this nation. But somehow we still spend a lot of time talking about women’s appearance and not their qualifications,” she said on “New Day.”

Fiorina takes on Trump

Fiorina also spoke about the pain of being the mother of a child who died after battling drug addiction.

“There are so many families who have gone through this or are going through this. And it is an epidemic now in so many parts of our country,” she said. “We don’t invest enough in its treatment. We need to tackle criminal justice reform. Anyone who’s gone through this knows that this is strategic.”

Fiorina distinguishes herself on debate stage

The former executive said two people approached her following the debate to share their personal experiences of dealing with addiction in their family.

“It touches every part of our society. It’s not just about poor. It’s about poor, middle class, rich, men, women, young, old. The war on drugs has failed. We need a different approach,” she said.

Investing in treatment and criminal justice reform is necessary, Fiorina said, given high incarceration rates and the large number of inmates who are non-violent drug offenders.

“It’s a terrible tragedy and while of course it’s difficult to talk about, I also think it’s very important to talk about, too,” she said. “That families suffering through this should not feel ashamed or stigmatized.”

Opinion: Fiorina wins when she stumps Trump