It says a lot about the Republican Party that when their voters went looking for a political outsider presidential candidate, they picked Donald Trump over Carly Fiorina.
Fiorina, the former head of software company HP who briefly sought the presidency last year (and even more briefly ran, weirdly, as Ted Cruz’ vice presidential nominee during the primaries), before being overwhelmed by the unstoppable force that was Donald Trump.
Both Trump and Fiorina spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, but the two appearances could not have been more different.
Trump was brash, as always, and continued to talk about his victory over Hillary Clinton—and how the media, pollsters, pundits, the professional political class, and everyone else failed to see it coming. No one knows when, if ever, Trump will shift out of campaign mode.
When he did talk about policy, not much of it sounded very conservative, at least not in the sense that you might expect at an event like CPAC, which brings together right-wing activists and power brokers from around the country. He talked about expanding the power of the federal government to round up illegal immigrants, to spend untold billions of dollars on the construction of an unnecessary border wall, and to spend more money on the military (though he also bemoaned how tax money is wasted by that very same military).
Perhaps the most stunning thing: he got applause for all of it.
Fiorina never once mentioned Trump’s name, but clearly aimed to strike a different tone. Rather than recapping the past six months, she was looking forward.
“It’s fun to have a fight and its’ really fun to have a fight when you win, but now that we’ve won, it’s important to bring people along,” she offered.
While it would be hard for a libertarian or a libertarian-leaning Republican to find much to like about Trump’s speech, Fiorina talked about taking “big ideas” like free market capitalism and turning it into something meaningful for people—relating a story about going to New Delhi, India, to help entrepreneurs start a business.
She advocated for decentralized planning, local control, and letting individuals and markets solve problems because that’s the best way to get results.
“We know that, in life. You don’t need to be political to know that,” she said. “You put too much power in the hands of a bureaucrat somewhere, that power is going to be abused.”
That’s all standard CPAC fare, or at least it would be in any other year.
Would Fiorina have been a better president than Trump? Who knows. She almost certainly would have been a better advocate for small government. Draw your own conclusions about what that says about the conservative movement in 2017.