Republican candidates have been struggling to get the “one over” on Donald Trump since he stepped into the race. Typically, the Donald doesn’t worry too much about insulting his fellow potential nominees, because the ensuing struggle usually favors him, as it did over the weekend with Bobby Jindal, who got down into the mud to tangle with Trump over his stature – and Trump ended up loving it, especially the part where they traded snarky barbs on social media.
His mess with Carly Fiorina, however, has been more difficult to clean up. Although people are racing to Trump’s defense, the general sentiment is that Trump’s attack was personal and small-minded, surprisingly unbecoming of someone who is supposed to be a terrific communciator. Sure, we know what he thinks of women – his occasional, pre-Millennial sexism is a hallmark of his quasi-boorish persona – but this is a higher-level competition and she’s a high-level competitor.
Which is probably why she was the first candidate able to take Trump’s words and use them to her advantage – which she did in a speech this weekend to the National Federation of Republican Women (who, of course, ended up putting her first in their straw poll).
“Ladies, look at this face,” Fiorina said to loud, knowing cheers from the audience of roughly 600 Republican women at the National Federation of Republican Women convention. “This is the face of a 61-year-old woman. I am proud of every year and every wrinkle.”
The former Hewlett Packard executive, and the only woman running for the GOP nomination, came to the stage to a standing ovation and received a few more as she confidently wandered the stage, delivering a speech with the same vigor and precision that brought her great praise at the first Republican debate.
“And look at all of your faces — the faces of leadership,” she continued. “The faces of leadership in our party, the party of women’s suffrage. The face of leadership in your community, in your businesses, in your places of work and worship. Ladies, note to the Democrat party: We are not a special interest group; we are the majority of the nation.”
Her campaign even released a video.
Here’s what makes this such an effective response: she’s not playing Trump’s game on a field where Trump can win. This is cool, calm and collected, thought-about and strategized. It’s fearless, just as she claims to be. It’s standing up in the face of a bully trying to cut someone down for the way they look or what they believe. And it’s not something Trump can respond to without apologizing for his remarks, which he still both insists he didn’t make, and insists are about Fiorina’s “personality.” She’s taking what he said and making it positive, instead of trying to engage in a war of words on Twitter, or hold a fevered press conference to deliver an agitated stump speech calling him a blowhard. She’s simply taking him for what he is, and responding to his criticism in a productive, if completely poignant way.
Republicans often forget that there are other Republicans out there who aren’t old, white men. The Democrats count on target demographics to motivate their base, and one of those target demographics is women. They may not be the largest voting bloc, but they are the most vocal on social media and elsewhere and most likely to spearhead peer-to-peer marketing. This is an ad that appeals to women. And while Trump may not appeal to women generally, this is a positive ad that puts those women in Fiorina’s camp. And I think that plays very well for her, and not so well for the Donald.
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