Well, she didn’t have to worry about being bashed by the giant hands Jimmy Fallon and Ryan Reynolds had been smacking each other with in an earlier segment of “Slap Poker.”
Indeed, as Carly Fiorina took to Fallon’s Tonight Show stage Monday night, she was surfing a wave of heartening news.
The mission now, steering the former Hewlett-Packard CEO toward the warmer waters of late-night chat, was somehow to rid her of her speak-your-weight-machine monotone and robotic iciness.
To achieve this objective she came armed with a lullaby she sings to her dogs and a strong rebuttal to fellow candidate Ben Carson’s contention that a Muslim could not be president.
Fiorina may well want the American military to tool up as never before—her warmongering zeal stood out during the debate—but this appearance was all about softening her steel toecaps.
Is it sad that she and Hillary Clinton, both allegedly mining in the same “make me more approachable” media trope, have to parade themselves like this? Male politicians do too, of course: The ability to appear folksy appears to be a shared campaigning curse whatever your gender.
Anyway, the image advisers had gone to town. Gone was Fiorina’s stiff, angular dress of debate night. Now she was in a simple olive green silk dress, with black splodges over it. Even her blond bob was softer. But spontaneity and larkiness are not friends of Fiorina, even when she’s trying to play nice.
Fallon first asked her what was it like to been deemed the winner the CNN debate, after she was relegated to the “happy hour debate” for the first.
“Well, I earned my way onto the big stage, happy to do it,” she stated. “When I started this race, nobody knew who I was—honestly. Most people, 90 percent plus of the American people, had never heard my name, didn’t know I was running for president, so I had to work really hard to introduce myself. That happy hour debate gave me the first opportunity. Obviously, last week gave me the second opportunity. When people get to know me, they tend to support me—that’s what you see in the polls.”
There in the last sentence, is a hint that arrogance is the cherry on top of the Fiorina sundae: to her, people’s support is expected.
Fallon lobbed some extremely soft balls. What should people know about her? he asked.
Fiorina—biting her tongue not to say she would just be the best president ever and why does there even need to be an election to rubber-stamp something so self-evident?—had a home-baked homily piping hot and ready.
“When I was little girl, my mother said to me, ‘What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.’”
Fiorina had learned in her life that everyone had God-given gifts, she said—although it soon became unclear what she was imputing to God and what she was to self-made ambition.
“I started as a secretary, typing and filing for a nine person real estate firm,” Fiorina said. “It’s only in this country that you can go from being a secretary, to the chief executive of the largest technology company in world, and run for president of the United States. It’s only possible here.”
Actually, it is also possible anywhere else with corporate structures that allow you to earn lots of money and gain lots of rich, powerful friends who make a presidential run feasible. None of this happens by accident. But it earned Fiorina her first applause of the night.
“I want to make sure that every American, regardless of who they are, what they look like, how they start, or what their circumstances, has the opportunity to fulfill their potential and find and use their God-given gifts,” Fiorina said.
Ah, lovely. Oh, wait—here came a storm cloud.
“And that isn’t true in America today.”
There was no applause for this, as it was too much of a rhetorical leap to take without any justification, even for an audience ready to clap anything.
Fallon then brought up Ben Carson’s contention that a Muslim could not be president.
“Well, I think that’s wrong,” said Fiorina. “It says in our Constitution that religion cannot be a test for office. It’s also true that this country is founded on the principle that we judge each individual [a telling, partial thought], and that anyone of any faith is welcome here.
“I actually believe that people of faith make better leaders, whether they’re Christians, as I am… My faith has sustained me through some very bad times. I battled cancer, I’ve lost a child. I’ve been tested. But whether it’s a person of Christian faith, or Jewish faith, or Muslim faith, or other faiths, I think faith gives us humility and empathy and optimism, and I think those are important things.”
“You would be fine with that,” Fallon asked about the Muslim-being-president notion.
“Yes, I would be fine with that,” Fiorina reasserted.
Fallon then bought up the “pope fever” currently assailing New York.
“You do need to be saved big time,” Fiorina told Fallon.
“One of the things I appreciate very much about the pope is that he reminds us of the richness of spiritual life,” she said. “This is a pretty superficial world sometimes, maybe all the time, and he reminds us that spirituality is a source of strength. I don’t agree with him on all his politics for sure. But I certainly admire how he is trying to break down the bureaucracy of the church in a lot of ways and go back to serving the poor and helping people.”
Ahh, yes, lovely pope, isn’t he…but wait, uh oh: Fiorina storm cloud approaching.
“I do think it’s interesting that Democrats say, ‘Oh, he’s so right about the environment and he’s so right about capitalism.’ But they don’t really talk about his belief in the sanctity of life because that they don’t agree with.”
There was again no applause for that, but perhaps collective relief Fiorina didn’t go on about the harvesting of fetal brains, as she did last week during the CNN debate.
Fallon wanted the dish on what happened when Fiorina met Vladimir Putin, whom Donald Trump said he’d like to meet when the Russian president comes to address the U.N. General Assembly next week.
“Well, the two of them have a lot in common, actually,” said Fiorina, drily.
Fiorina asked Fallon if he did an imitation of Putin, in a moment that felt pre-scripted.
He did. She carried on with her anecdote regardless (she is very much about hitting her talking points—they visibly scud across her face), about meeting Putin at a 2001 APEC meeting.
This is a meeting she’s very fond of referencing to underscore her power-adjacent bona fides.
“Well, he was kind of bursting out of the buttons of his shirt,” she said. “He’s a barrel-chested guy and proud of it.”
If he’s wearing a shirt at all, noted Fallon, referencing Putin’s famous bare-chested, horse-riding pictures.
Fiorina described meeting Putin, waiting in a green room together, for around 45 minutes. “I would describe him as a formidable adversary,” she said. “He’s very confident, he actually can be quite funny and charming, but he’s a KGB guy. We should never forget this. He lusts for power. He’s gathered up a lot of it, and he’s a very bad actor, and it’s a very bad thing that his fighter jets and his soldiers are sitting in Syria right now. That’s a bad thing.”
Fiorina reasserted her anti-Putin, generally militaristic stance of last week. “I wouldn’t talk to him at all. I think Donald Trump is wrong. I think we’ve talked way too much to Vladimir Putin. What I would do is immediately begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet. I’d rebuild our missile defense program in Poland. I’d conduct regular military exercises in the Baltic. I’d put a few thousand more troops into Germany. I would have certainly been leading in Syria three years ago, because Obama and Clinton haven’t.
“Putin needs to see that he faces strength and resolve and leadership from the United States of America. He would see that from me. He is not seeing that, unfortunately, from this administration.”
Sadly, Fallon did not push her on how much she intended to spend, and where she intended to get the money, for this global Rambo-on-patrol makeover.
Intriguingly, left out of the final cut of the interview (this reporter heard it in its entirety), was Fiorina’s condemnation of big government: “Government has gotten so big and powerful and complicated and complex that actually the truth is only the big, the powerful, the wealthy, and the well-connected can deal with it.” (Umm, like her, then?)
Also cut was her rejoinder to critics, including Trump, who claim Fiorina left HP in disarray after her firing in 2005.
“I think those are Democratic and Trump talking points, actually,” Fiorina parried, adding masterfully, “By the way, your persona of him was just perfect, Jimmy.”
“I was hired, recruited actually…to save the company,” she said of her stewardship of HP. “It was a company that was losing. In technology, if you are not leading, you are losing. My job was to transform a company that was lagging behind into a leader, and we did that in really important ways.
“We went from losing market share to gaining market share. We went from lagging behind in every product to filing 15 patents a day. We quadrupled cash flow. We saved 80,000 jobs in the worst technology recession in 25 years when many of our strong competitors went out of business altogether. By the time I left, we were the leader in every market segment, every product category. We’d grown to 160,000 jobs. I will run on that track record all day long.”
Instead of this proud defense of her record, Tonight Show viewers saw Warm Fiorina seek to reassert herself in a song she apparently sings to her Yorkshire terriers, Snickers and Max.
Fiorina actually looked kind of furious when asked whether this was “dorky.”
“My dogs are not dorky,” she insisted. You sensed she’d have the Sixth Fleet, or any available missile system, trained on the next person who suggested such a thing—even in jest.
No, Fallon said, was her singing dorky?
“I don’t know,” Fiorina said kittenishly. “You want to hear a verse?”
This again was obviously preplanned, although Fallon seemed to feel it was all a bit excruciating. “No,” he ventured.
“You want me to hum a bar or two,” said Fiorina, wanting to hum a bar or two—and if she needed a few thousand extra troops to make it happen, so be it.
“This is a song in four verses. I’ll only give you one,” she made clear.
“Maybe we can clap along,” she added to the audience. Translation: “Clap along, or I’ll invade something.”
Then the hawkish hopeful for next leader of the Free World, keen to make war, not love—and keep those pesky Russkies in their place like it’s 1983 again, started to sing to the tune of “Rock Around the Clock.”
“My name’s Snick and I’m lazy, / Please don’t take a walk with me. / I’d rather stay right here at home instead, / I want to lie back down in my nice, warm bed. / My name is Snick, and you’re going to have to carry me.”
Next time, how about Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice”?