When the Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took to the press conference-stage on Wednesday to announce that former rival Carly Fiorina would join his campaign as running mate-in-waiting, he took a good long time making that point clear.
It wasn’t until at least 30 minutes after the press conference was scheduled to begin that he finally named Fiorina as his pick.
And once Fiorina started to speak, you could kind of understand why he took his sweet time.
Though Cruz has a plenty-impressive debate résumé, Fiorina might be the only other person in the Republican field who could conceivably outshine him. Plus, Carly actually talks like a normal human being.
“You sort of felt that when you watched yesterday,” said Debbie Walsh, who heads Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. “It felt like the crowd got more juiced up over her than over him.”
And, Walsh said, that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
“When you watched her in those debates, she consistently was one of the top—if not the top—performers in the Republican field,” she added. “Probably of all of the Republican candidates who came under attack from Donald Trump, she was the most effective in silencing him.”
Though Cruz’s debate performances won plaudits, experts say Fiorina’s ice-queen response to when Trump provided a mealy-mouthed apology for criticizing her face may be the single most memorable moment from an unforgettable series of primary debates.
It came after Trump leveled an insult that seemed incredibly over-the-top, even for him.
“Look at that face,” he said to staffers, according to a report in Rolling Stone. “Would anyone vote for that?”
“Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” he added. “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
When Fiorina and Trump came face-to-face at the Sept. 16 Republican debate, a few days after the magazine reported the comment, he tried to explain it away by saying he was just referring to her persona.
But Fiorina didn’t buy it for a second.
“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she replied, never cracking a smile.
“I think she’s got a beautiful face and she’s a beautiful woman,” Trump replied.
Fiorina didn’t blink.
“That moment on the stage—I think every women in America knew what Trump meant when he said that,” said Walsh. “He stopped, and we’ve never really seen him stop before. So she’s effective in that way.”
Shortly after the debate, the SuperPAC backing her released an ad cashing in on the moment.
“Ladies, look at this face, and look at all of your faces—the face of leadership,” she said in the video, which used footage of a speech she gave to a Republican women’s group in Arizona. “The face of leadership in our party, the party of women’s suffrage.
“This is the face of a 61-year-old woman,” she concluded. “I am proud of every year and every wrinkle.”
The video racked up half a million views on YouTube and was hailed as one of the best of the cycle.
Chris Jahnke, whose firm Positive Communications helps female Democratic comments hone their rhetorical skills, said she shows video of Fiorina’s Trump-smackdown to her clients.
“It’s because she’s so in control,” said Jahnke.
“She has this ability to exude confidence, and that was really how she pulled herself by the fingernails onto the mainstage of the debates,” Jahnke added. “She’s got this strong, commander-in-chief presence.”
The Texan has a presence all his own, of course—but it’s a little different.
“Cruz is obviously an amazing speaker—but he’s almost too good of a speaker to appeal to the masses,” said Kristin Tate, a conservative columnist and author of the new book Government Gone Wild. “In this election, two things are very evident: The voters want someone who is authentic, and someone who is an outsider. Fiorina is both. She sounds less scripted than Cruz when she speaks, which could help combat the claims that Cruz is not authentic enough.”
Fiorina could be a reverse Sarah Palin. When Palin first joined John McCain’s ticket in 2008, many conservatives hailed her as a godsend. But thanks to her public policy cluelessness and her propensity for saying things that made absolutely no sense, she ended up being more of an albatross.
Fiorina, in contrast, is known for her relentless discipline and preternatural ability to stay on-message. And while McCain made Palin a star, Cruz may end up tarnishing Carly—after all, she’ll be permanently linked to the guy who lost to Donald Trump (unless Cruz wins! Anything could happen!).
While Cruz draws criticism for sounding robotic and waxing overly poetic about Constitutional law (Glenn Beck has even called him boring on the stump), the main criticism Fiorina gets is that she doesn’t smile enough. For many women, that’s a charge that’s all too familiar.
Kellyanne Conway, who heads the pro-Cruz SuperPAC Keep the Promise 1, said Cruz’s willingness to be outshone is one of his strengths.
“Good ‘bosses’ hire up, and Ted Cruz proved again in his selection of Carly what we already knew through his marriage to Heidi: He is unafraid of strong, brilliant women,” she said. “His choices speak volumes about his judgment, and his confidence in occasionally being overshadowed by those strong, brilliant women.
“A common description of Cruz is that he is the smartest person in the room,” she continued. “He just got some welcome competition in Carly Fiorina.”