You know a US presidential election campaign is desperate for headlines when it announces a running mate in April.
This week, Ted Cruz named former rival and Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as his vice-presidential nominee, confirming rumours circulating in political corners of the Twittersphere for days. The announcement came despite the fact that he is not yet the Republican nominee and that he would have to overcome the seemingly immovable force of Donald Trump in order to be anointed.
While choosing a running mate prior to nomination is not unprecedented – Ronald Reagan announced his veep pick before the 1976 convention (and went on to lose to Gerald Ford) – it is definitely unorthodox. Making this announcement before you are the nominee, especially when you’re not even winning, runs the risk of looking arrogant or pathetic to an already fed-up primary electorate.
But it was a risk Ted Cruz’s campaign had no choice but to take. And, insofar as it removed Trump’s mug from the airwaves the morning after he had a clean sweep of decisive wins across five north-eastern states, it was a risk that seems to have paid off.
Carly Fiorina was a smart play on a number of fronts. Though she was raised here in Austin, she spent most of her life in California, where she ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2010. Ties to the ‘golden state’ are worth a lot right now, with 172 delegates up for grabs on June 7.
Her personal story is compelling, as a self-made cancer survivor who shattered the glass ceiling in the then-masculine world of Silicon Valley and rose to the very top of a global tech powerhouse.
Her stint at the helm of HP may be contentious, having overseen an expensive merger with Compaq that Fortune Magazine called an outright “failure”, but at least she has a record of business leadership – unlike Cruz and so many other politicians. In a climate where those with commercial experience are favoured and career politicians (regardless of their public service record) are shunned, this is a tick for the new Cruz ticket.
More importantly, before dropping out of the 2016 race, she was perhaps the most effective attacker of both Trump and Hillary Clinton, a truly epic debater that displayed a deep understanding of both economics and foreign affairs.
However, given the steam with which the so-called ‘Trump train’ is now accelerating, it will probably take more than a surprise VP announcement to turn things around for Ted Cruz.
Whatever you think of the Texas senator, you have to feel for him. He has literally spent his entire life fighting what he calls the “Washington cartel”, railing against the now-unpopular party moderates and advocating a platform of solidly conservative principles. Arguably a little too conservative for the purposes of the general election, but this usually counts for a lot in a GOP primary.
In fact, Cruz is so detested inside the ‘beltway’ that John Boehner, former Speaker of the House of Representatives – who is pretty much a cartoon of an out-of-touch Washington elite – publicly referred to him as “Lucifer in the flesh”. You’d imagine that having someone like Boehner have a go at you, in a climate where the party’s base is more pissed off than in it has been in decades, would be a political Godsend.
And yet, even Cruz is considered too much of an insider in this outsider’s election cycle.
Sure, he went to Harvard and Princeton and worked for George W Bush, but Trump inherited millions, went to Wharton and had the Clintons at his wedding. Both of these resumes seem equally ‘Establishment’ to me.
And herein lies the political genius of Donald Trump. He is able to effortlessly hog the limelight and define the narrative of his opponents in a way that works in his favour, regardless of the facts.
Somehow, he is able to convince people, for example, that it is Cruz that is “Lyin’ Ted” even though Trump’s own campaign manager has admitted his whole persona and platform is nothing more than an act.
Cruz might be “Lucifer in the flesh”, but it will take more than a little devilishness to derail the Trump train.
image source: VICE
Published on 29 April 2016