The Democrats have always been the gold standard in the art of politics. They are a means-to-an-end operation where the only thing that matters is the end result. The Republicans are a clown car by comparison, because they get hung up on process and let the goals slip away from them. That and many of their leaders are stupid. But, they can play hardball when pressed by internal dissent. A good example is what we are seeing with Carly Fiorina.
Starting a couple of weeks before the last debate, the inner circle of the party started pressing their media friends to promote her candidacy as a more sober alternative to Donald Trump. They got CNN to change the rules to put her on the big stage so she could try to draw blood from Trump. Strangely, the establishmentarians think Trump offends women as much as he offends the Panda-Men of the party. Ever since, all of the usual suspects have been telling us Fiorina is surging in popularity.
This is the classic use of a straw candidate to dilute the support of an adversary. Since Pericles, political factions have sought to split the vote of a larger faction by offering up alternative candidates to drain away some of the vote. Recently Democrats, for example, have used straw candidates in Massachusetts and Virginia to win elections they would otherwise have lost. They surreptitiously supported libertarian candidates who had no chance of winning, but would draw away a few points from the Republican.
The best straw candidates are those who don’t know they are a straw. My favorite example of this is the 2010 governor’s race in Massachusetts. The incumbent Democrat, Deval Patrick, was in trouble so the party encouraged a guy named Tim Cahill to run as an independent. He was a conservative Democrat, but as an independent, he was biting into the vote of the liberal Republican, Charlie Baker. At first it looked like Cahill would be a strong candidate, but he faded and it was clear he was only going to split the anti-Patrick vote.
Cahill never figured out he was just a straw so he hung in the race, even after the local media began to refer to him as the straw. Whether or not Cahill was this stupid is debatable, but he kept running, throwing the election to Deval Patrick. Not long after Cahill was indicted on corruption charges by the very same Democrats who used him in the election. I always thought that was a great touch.
Fiorina has been a hang-around for about a decade now. She worked on McCain’s campaign as an adviser. She ran for Senate with party help in 2010. I’ve called her Mitt Romney in a skirt because she is one of those no-trust candidates that says all the right things, but no one really believes them. It’s as if they are actors from central casting, trained to repeat the lines, but only playing a role. If someone decides they need new lines, they will gladly say the new things.
That’s what makes her a great straw. Like Romney, she thinks politics works like a corporation. Suck up to the bosses, keep moving up the org chart and eventually you get the top job. Instead of seeing the motives of her new best friends, she thinks she is being welcomed into the club. She will suck up even harder trying to please the party bosses, who are only encouraging her so she can tear a whole in the Donald Trump dirigible.
Fiorina is never going to be the nominee. The company men just want to hide behind her skirt while she dilutes the Trump vote for a while. They correctly see that the voters are rejecting the establishment men, rallying to Trump as a protest more than anything. If that vote can be split between three candidates, that leaves open the chance to let a company man consolidate the vote currently split between guys like Jindal, Rubio, Bush, et al. If you do the math of the polls, half the vote is willing to back a company man over the rebel options.
The other role she serves as the straw is to play the “I’m mad, but I’m not crazy” card on the Trump voters. What I mean here is she will take up the same issues as Trump like immigration, but a full step further toward the party’s position. Once Trump is gone, she becomes the fringe position. Once Fiorina is gone, then it is short walk for those voters back into their cages.
I offer no predictions on whether this will succeed. This is a weird time for the GOP. I called it the Yankee Crackup because the ruling coalition is at war with itself in ways we have not seen in a very long time. Boehner just got the hook by the party bosses for failing to deal with the House rebels. Now McConnell is under pressure for being himself. The recent polling suggests this latest Fiorina ploy is falling flat so maybe a revolt is really happening.