Let’s see, while the Democrat contest for president in 2016 is shaping up like the classic Bambi Meets Godzilla cartoon (perhaps better re-titled Bernie Meets Godzillary), things on the GOP side are looking downright, well, diverse.  Democratic even.

An up-by-his-bootstraps black neurosurgeon is running.  A woman secretary-to-CEO has announced.  Two first-term Latino U.S. senators, one of whom is bilingual, are running.  A former governor, married to a Mexico native, surely will announce, presumably in both English and Spanish. A Midwestern Reagan-wannabe governor obviously is campaigning.  An evangelical ex-governor from that place called Hype, er, Hope is in, too, as is a sometimes-libertarian U.S. senator.  Others are expected.  In sum, the emerging GOP race is wide open, featuring a range of interesting candidates.

ADVERTISEMENT

But in the era of gendered progress, as Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Harris rips Gabbard over Fox appearances during Obama years Steyer, Gabbard and Yang shut out of early minutes of Democratic debate MORE & co. will seek to frame 2016, the most interesting Republican candidate, albeit a dark horse, is surely Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO. The knocks against Fiorina, of course, are a Senate bid loss in California and, more significantly, a “failed business career,” as one commentator sniffed recently on the PBS NewsHour.

In fact, Fiorina can turn both these criticisms to her advantage.  The California defeat ought to be a badge of honor to many conservative GOP primary voters, while the “failed career” zinger cries out for sustained rebuttal.  A 30-year climb up the ladder in the competitive, male-dominated corporate-technology world is a career worth touting, especially to younger, tech-minded voters.  Fiorina headed HP from 1999 to 2005, too, a respectable tenure, and as The Wall Street Journal argues,  “While [Fiorina] was ousted in a boardroom brawl, her strategy that involved acquiring PC-manufacturer Compaq was largely vindicated by later events.”  Fiorina should grab every chance to positively define her CEOship, as she did with some effect Sunday on Meet the Press.

Fiorina should worry Clinton for two large reasons.  First, in any debate over scars earned from cracking glass ceilings, Fiorina wins.  Clinton’s marriage always has meant her husband’s political success propelled much of her own.  (Still, if a glass ceiling had existed over the Oval Office in the ‘90s, maybe all that Vast Rightwing Conspiracy of The Meaning Of Is could have been avoided.)   

As Americans question big government effectiveness and are repulsed by autopilot partisanship, Fiorina’s resume could resonate.  After all, heading a major corporation burnishes critical executive-political skills such as leadership, grasping bottom lines, confronting competition, and avoiding deficits in a way that, say, community organizing does not.

Second, Fiorina on the GOP ticket would make the gender progress part of the race interesting but not central, thereby undermining Clinton’s it’s-a-woman’s-turn strategy.  Electing either would make history, so issues such as foreign policy, economic growth, and executive competence might instead come to the campaign fore.

Fiorina’s gender further provides a clean pass to go after Clinton for the two most prominent – and controversial – moments of her public career:  the since-bemoaned Senate vote for the Iraq War, and Clinton’s response to the 3 a.m. phone call, or its equivalent, that alerted Foggy Bottom to the murderous foul-up in Benghazi.  (Curiously, Clinton’s record of career triumphs remains hazy.)

Fiorina can hammer at these and other issues  (Russian reset, anyone?) without the GOP having to fret whether her aggressive tone, fierce doggedness – or whatever it is labeled on the left – offends more than the MSNBC-DNC axis.  With Fiorina challenging Clinton, the oft-floated “Republican War on Women” slogan should not get off the ground.

True, Fiorina’s path will not be easy.  Perhaps the best she might gain would be the vice presidential spot on the GOP ticket.  Still, a team featuring, say, a presidential candidate campaigning in fluent Spanish and a woman tech executive for vice president surely would appeal to more Hispanics, women, and independents.  Moreover, Fiorina’s candidacy would be no election gimmick, as was Sarah Palin’s in 2008.  Going through primaries should hone her campaigning skills.

As president, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage The 2 events that reshaped the Democratic primary race MORE liked to talk about a government that looked like America.  The growing GOP presidential field, especially featuring Fiorina, does that, while the Democrat “contest” looks like a moonscape with one giant shadow flung across it.  To be sure, defeating Clinton in the general election will be tough. Yet if Fiorina can employ some campaign jujutsu, handling criticisms as opportunities, and if the GOP wants to effectively check Clinton from claiming the presidency based in large part on gender identity, some formula involving Carly vs. Godzillary might prove just the ticket.

Hugins is a retired Foreign Service officer.