Editor’s Note: Jennifer L. Lawless is a professor of government at American University, where she is also the director of the Women & Politics Institute. She is the co-author of “Women on the Run: Gender, Media, and Political Campaigns in a Polarized Era.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Jennifer Lawless: Cruz pick of Fiornia for running mate is political tactic to steal spotlight from Trump
She says she lacks political experience a candidate would seek in VP; using her to goad Trump will backfire
On Wednesday, Ted Cruz announced that former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who dropped out of the presidential race in February, would be his running mate.
At first I was perplexed. Cruz isn’t the nominee. It’s looking increasingly unlikely that he will be, and people who aren’t nominees don’t need running mates. So why the announcement?
But then I realized Fiorina is Cruz’s Hail Mary pass, his “reset button” on a campaign for a nomination that is falling further and further out of reach. She is a political tactic to try to steal back the spotlight from Donald Trump, who crushed his opponents in a five-state primary sweep Tuesday night.
What Cruz doesn’t seem to realize, though, is that it won’t work. Selecting Fiorina underscores his own lack of judgment and character in at least three ways.
First, Fiorina’s not a Washington insider, but she also has no political experience. Given that Cruz is only a first-term senator himself, it would behoove him to select someone with the political relationships and knowledge he lacks.
Barack Obama understood the importance of this when he selected Joe Biden. Donald Trump has said that he’ll do something similar. It’s one thing to distance yourself from political insiders. It’s another to demonstrate an utter disregard for the institutional knowledge required to be commander in chief.
Carly Fiorina's political career
Second, selecting Fiorina allows Cruz to goad Trump in a way that no other selection – except maybe Megyn Kelly – would. In the early stages of the primary contest, Trump’s comments about Fiorina and “her face” opened the floodgates to allegations of sexism and disrespect toward women. Cruz likely thinks that Trump will succumb to sexist temptations, offend Fiorina again and motivate female Republicans to come to her defense.
Trying to win a nomination by prodding and poking his opponent speaks at least as much about Cruz’s character as it does Trump’s. It also seems to overlook the fact that female Republicans who are turned off by Trump’s sexist rhetoric and abrasive style are already on the Stop Trump bandwagon.
Third, by selecting Fiorina, Cruz is doubling down on a strategy that didn’t work for John McCain in 2008. The McCain-Palin ticket did nothing to attract female voters. But it did send a signal that Republicans were so disconnected from women that they thought that simply putting a woman on the ticket would solve their problems.
Moments from Ted Cruz's career
Voters know better, and they’ve demonstrated that time and again. If Cruz is so naïve that he thinks voters will flock to the campaign because Fiorina as a vice president would be more compelling than Hillary Clinton as president, then he’s learned nothing from history.
Over the next few days, we’re going to hear a lot about Fiorina’s qualifications and credentials. We’re going to hear a lot about her temperament. We are going to hear a lot about the assets she’d bring to the White House. And we should.
But we should not lose sight of the fact that this announcement is more about Cruz than it is Fiorina. She’s a pawn in a game of chess that Cruz is almost sure to lose. And that’s an unfortunate place for women in politics – candidates and voters alike.