Carly Fiorina is doing okay in the Republican presidential primaries. She spent the first half of the year getting between 1 and 2 percent in polls, before her breakout performance in the 5PM also-rans debate. From what I gleamed on conservative websites and podcasts, she got a lot of positive attention from the Republican establishment before that. A major reason is that she was a woman willing to criticize the presumption Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. As a result, Republicans were glad to have her running for President even if she wasn’t the first choice of many voters. The main thing that changed with the debates was that enough potential voters told pollsters that she was their first choice. The unresolved question now is why a former CEO with a mixed record was able to take advantage of the reasonably obvious conclusion that Republicans want to have a woman in the primaries, especially given the likely opponent.
The party’s bench of female officeholders isn’t that weak, so it seems worth considering why no one else is taking advantage. Re-elected Governors include Susanna Martinez of New Mexico, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma. Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice remains one of the most respected Republicans, and has incredible name recognition. Kelly Ayotte is a swing state Senator finishing her first term, at a time when other freshman Senators are forming Super-PACs. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and Marsha Blackburn are prominent members of the House of Representatives. So why aren’t any of them running?
The conclsusion is that there isn’t any benefit for them. Part of it may be that Republicans aren’t rewarding anyone based solely on gender. A pro-choice white guy who was George W Bush’s second Secretary of State would likely not get a lot of attention. Susanna Martinez is a successful small-state Governor, but still a small-state Governor. A white guy named Sebastian Miller with her record isn’t going to be seen as a top-tier contender (although a white guy named Sebastian Bush would be doing pretty well in fundraising.) Mary Fallin’s been a relatively generic Governor and has been accused of having an affair with her bodyguard. Kelly Ayotte’s a voice on foreign policy, but overshadowed by others in the Senate. I can’t really name what makes Nikki Haley’s actions as Governor particulalry impressive, aside from some good speeches after the Charleston shooting. McMorris-Rodgers and Blackburn are above average members of Congress, but that’s pretty much it. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of these women was a candidate for Vice President, but they would currently have trouble standing out in a field with 18 candidates.
In primaries, potential candidates have something to recommend to large segments of the voters, even though there are a lot of negatives. When Michelle Bachmann was the only woman running for President in 2012, she did have a well-deserved crazy reputation, but she had credentials that would have been respectable for a white guy, as the top fundraiser in the US House, and founder of the House Tea Party caucus.
In this cycle, Jeb Bush is a well-connected former big-state Governor, and has spent the last decade talking about policy. Scott Walker is the only Governor to survive a recall election. And he’s won fights against people Republicans dislike in a state that’s either purple, or Democratic. Mike Huckabee was a minister before he became Governor, and has spent years honing his communication skills on Fox News. Chris Christie was reelected in a very Democratic state, and has a good staff when it comes to video editing. John Kasich is a reelected Governor from a crucial swing state who has also served in congressional leadership. Ben Carson is a leader in his field, and was the subject of a grassroots push. Say what you will about Donald Trump, he has 100% name recognition.
The Freshman Senators aren’t backbenchers. Rand Paul is the most prominent member of the party’s libertarian wing. Ted Cruz combines red meat and academic credentials. Marco Rubio merges old ideas with stronger demographic appeal, and forced Charlie Crist out of the party. I’d imagine a big section of the party also thinks they’re okay with demographics because of the diversity of a field with two Hispanic candidates, an African-American medical pioneer, the nation’s first Indian Governor, in addition to the Bush married to a Hispanic woman for 40+ years.