Carly Fiorina is used to being underestimated. She’s used to being disrespected. There’s pretty much no shade you can throw her way that she hasn’t heard or seen before. But proving people wrong is Fiorina’s calling card. Succeeding in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles is what makes her such a formidable businesswoman and presidential candidate.
Nevertheless, Democrat candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, just couldn’t help herself. At a recent speech in Iowa, Clinton attempted to capitalize on her gender by pulling out the tired political trope of labeling the Republican Party a bunch of old, white men.
“Those guys on the other side, and by the way they are all guys last time I checked,” Clinton said, before pausing for effect. “Oh no. There is one woman. There’s one woman. Sorry, I forgot.”
Did Clinton honestly forget? It seems more likely that in an effort to take a swipe at a hackneyed Republican caricature, she was being purposefully dismissive of Fiorina’s campaign. If so, it’s a strategy that’s bound to fail. After all, has she even bothered to take a look at the parties’ candidates for president?
If she had she would notice that Democrats’ current slate is uniformly white and old while the Republican field is the most diverse ever put forward by either party. As of now the GOP field includes two Hispanic U.S. Senators (who also happen to be in their 40s), an African-American neurosurgeon, a Spanish-speaking former governor, an Indian-American governor, and, oh yeah…a woman who ran one of the largest corporations in the world.
While Clinton gets bogged down playing a poor game of identity politics, Republican candidates aren’t taking the bait. Bobby Jindal has publicly eschewed the notion that he is a “hyphenated American.” Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have both steered clear of ethnicity-based appeals to voters. Ben Carson, despite numerous provocations, some of which go so far as to question his “blackness,” has stayed focused on the issues. And Fiorina, in her typically jocular style, has vocally pushed back at previous Clinton attempts to make this a gender-centric campaign.
“Hillary Clinton must not be president of the United States, but not because she’s a woman,” Fiorina told an Iowa crowd. “Hillary Clinton cannot be president of the United States because she is not trustworthy. And while she has held many titles, she hasn’t accomplished very much.”
And that is what makes Clinton’s subtle dismissal of Fiorina’s presence in the race so exasperating. Fiorina biography reads like a Horatio Alger novel, a North Star star for any young person—man or woman—to chase and find the American Dream.
She went to law school, but hated it and dropped out after just a semester. From there she bounced around, doing everything from secretarial work for a real estate firm to teaching in Bologna. Unsatisfied, she returned to school, got two masters degrees, and got an entry level job at AT&T. She started as a sales rep, but after making her mark she took the risky step of jumping to hardware and systems division, which was not exactly known for its inclusivity.
“The rap on Network Systems was that it was all guys with 20-inch necks and pea-sized brains. You know, heavy metal bending,” Fiorina said in an interview with Fortune. “I went because it was a huge challenge, completely male dominated, and outside everything I’d experienced.”
Invigorated by the challenge, Fiorina soon became the division’s first-ever female officer. Not long after she was tapped to become president of Lucent and subsequently guided them to the biggest IPO in U.S. history. And not long after that Hewlett-Packard asked her to be its CEO, making her the first woman to ever lead a Fortune 20 company.
Fiorina didn’t just break down barriers for women in the traditionally male-dominated tech sector, she shattered the glass ceiling on her way to being one of the most powerful people, not just women, in America. It’s a uniquely American story built on self-discovery, a willingness to take risks, unrelenting determination and a lot of hard work.
There is no doubt that it will take heaping portions of each of those traits to successfully navigate the path to the White House. Fortunately, the Republican field has them in spades, in no small part because of their incredibly diverse backgrounds. So while Hillary Clinton continues to be caricaturize the Republican Party, engage in identity politics, and be dismissive of one of her toughest challengers, don’t expect it to faze Republicans in the least. Because, to paraphrase a line Fiorina often uses, having been through hard things, our candidates are not afraid of anything…least of all Hillary Clinton.