A.B. Stoddard: Breaking the glass ceiling

A.B. Stoddard: Breaking the glass ceiling
© Greg Nash

The Republican Party is facing a steep challenge in 2016: finding someone to beat the formidable Hillary Clinton, who seeks to make history as the first woman president. 

Republican voters aren’t yet excited about their candidates because not one of them has broken out with a lead in the polls. Considering this, counting out Carly Fiorina would be pretty stupid.

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Sure, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO barely registers in polling, and she can’t play in the Koch Brothers Sweepstakes. Nor does she have a random billionaire swooning for her, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) does. 

Perhaps the usual rules will apply, like the GOP nominating its No. 2 in line — safe establishment picks such as former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Maybe there aren’t women in the Republican Party right now who are ready and able (former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann) or willing (former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice) to be president of the United States.

But if Fiorina, who will announce May 4 that she is running for president, continues to perform well — and she has — much could change and this cycle might surprise. 

Her ability as a woman to attack Clinton alone places her on any short list for vice president. So far, Fiorina is standing out as a woman and as a great speaker. On policy, however, she blends right in with the men in the race. She is not going against any GOP grain on issues and, so far, hasn’t been directly or indirectly critical of the other contenders the way Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have.

Like Clinton, Fiorina has made history, rising to great heights at HP in an industry dominated by men. Like Clinton, as global chairwoman of Opportunity International — one of the world’s largest microfinancing organizations — she has a long record of helping women and girls. Like Clinton, she is a woman, and therefore neutralizes Clinton’s glass-ceiling-breaking advantage. 

“I must say, as a woman, I find it offensive that Hillary Clinton travels the Silicon Valley, a place where I worked for a long time, and lectures Silicon Valley companies on women’s rights in technology, and yet sees nothing wrong with taking money from the Algerian government, which really denies women the most basic human rights,” Fiorina said recently on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity.” “This is called, Sean, hypocrisy” — a statement that would hardly pack the same punch coming from one of her male rivals.

And, just like Clinton, Fiorina has taken her share of arrows, and has developed the requisite thick skin President Obama — who had largely been adored — could have used more of before becoming commander in chief. 

Because she was fired from her high perch at HP, her success at the company has become a liability. There is an entire website devoted to criticizing Fiorina’s record there. She has defended her tenure at HP with successful statistics from the company’s scorecard, and she discusses it at length in a book out next month titled, Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey. In an interview with The Hill, Fiorina said she will run on that record, not away from it. “This is never something I have been ashamed of or haven’t been completely transparent about.”

Fiorina often notes that 53 percent of voters are women, and she is trying to reach them. While heading up the Unlocking Potential Project, she has worked to attract independent women to the GOP through messages that connect with their priorities. Engaging more women in the process would be a service in itself, and if Fiorina attracts them in large enough numbers, she could make history again next year. 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.