By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Let me provide the spoiler at once: Not entirely.
Much of what Fiorina says is vacuous, and (as with all the Republican candidates) there is the occasional gem amidst the muck. But wowsers! Fiorina’s relationship to the truth is, at the very best, non-custodial. To come to this conclusion, I read Fiorina’s answers to questions in the recent Republican debate (transcript here). I apologize for not color-coding the text, but the length is so extreme, and in any case I want to focus not on rhetoric, but just the facts. So, I’m going to skip the answers I regard as vacuous, and focus only on the answers that contain outright falsehoods, which I will helpfully underline, and the rare cases of genuine insight.
This is a campaign of firsts: The first socialist Presidential candidate, the first woman Presidential candidate, the first billionaire candidate, and, with Fiorina, the first corporate executive Presidential candidate. And each of these candidates has a different source for their personal authority or ethos: Sanders with genuine, long-held and consistent policy views, Clinton with smarts and  process expertise, Trump as the wealthy mass media personality, and now Fiorina as a toxic leader. (You think toxic leaders don’t gain authority through their very toxicity? Hmmm.)
In the Financial Times (“Leadership BS”) Dan Pfeffer, Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, comments on Fiorina as an executive:
[E]ven “people who have presided over catastrophes” suffer no negative consequences. On the contrary. Ms Fiorina, “who by any objective measure was a horrible CEO, is running for president on her business record. I love it! . . . You can’t make this stuff up — it’s too good!”
Yes, we laugh that we may not weep; I’ve often felt that way, even this early in the 2016 campaign. In CNN, Pfeffer (“Leadership 101”) comments on Fiorina’s toxicity:
Here are four things that anyone, running for president or not, can and should do:
Number one, tell your story. If you won’t, no one else will. By telling your story repeatedly [like Clinton and Trump, but not Sanders], you can construct your own narrative. …
Second, Fiorina [like Trump] has and is building a brand — a public presence. Recognizable brands have real economic value. … Running for president, even if unsuccessful, transforms people into public figures often widely sought on the speaking circuit, so in many ways, they win even if they lose.
Third, don’t worry about being liked — Fiorina doesn’t. … In that choice, Fiorina is following the wisdom of Machiavelli, who noted that while it was wonderful to be feared and loved, if you had to choose one, being feared was safer than being loved [like Trump and Clinton, but not Sanders. “Nobody hates Bernie,” as one insider commented.”]
The fourth lesson taken from watching Fiorina may be the most important. As we struggle with understanding what makes leaders “successful,” people frequently overlook the fact that success depends very much on how that term gets defined and measured. In business and in politics, the interests of leaders and their organizations don’t perfectly coincide. [Oddly, since Trump is a brand, his corporate and personal interests do coincide. And since the Clinton Foundation is a money-laundering influence-peddling operation, its interests and Clinton’s coincide as well. Sanders has no business interests.]
At Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina was well-known for not tolerating dissent or disagreement, particularly on important strategic issues. As someone quite senior in H-P’s strategy group told me, disagreeing with Fiorina in a meeting was a reasonably sure path out the door. By not brooking dissent, Fiorina ensured that few opponents would be around to challenge her power. But disagreement often surfaces different perspectives that result in better decisions. The famous business leader Alfred P. Sloan noted that if everyone was in agreement, the discussion should be postponed until people could ascertain the weaknesses in the proposed choice.
Fiorina has a pragmatic view of what it takes to be successful. And that’s one reason she should not be underestimated, regardless of the opinions about her career at H-P.
The fourth point is especially toxic, and may show up — despite the current adulation — further along on the campaign trail. If Fiorina insists on surrounding herself with sycophants, and on making all the strategic decisions herself, will her Presidential campaign turn into the trainwreck (see under “demon sheep”) her Senate race did?
To the transcript!
FIORINA: Good evening. My husband, Frank, of 30 years, started out driving a tow truck for a family owned auto body shop.
Anybody listening to this might conclude that Fiorina rose from working class roots — especially with the borrowed cachet of a truck driving man for a husband — to CEO, and at H-P. But the impression Fiorina has created would be factually incorrect. Fiorina’s actual biography paints a different picture. Here’s her background and career path, from WikiPedia:
Fiorina’s father was a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. He would later become dean of Duke University School of Law, Deputy Attorney General, and judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Her mother was an abstract painter. [S]he was raised Episcopalian.
Oh. An Episcopalian secretary.
During her summers, she worked as a secretary for Kelly Services. She attended the UCLA School of Law in 1976 but dropped out after one semester and worked as a receptionist for six months at a real estate firm Marcus & Millichap, moving up to a broker position before leaving for Bologna, Italy, where she taught English.
So, speaking of bologna…
Fiorina received a Master of Business Administration in marketing from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1980. She obtained a Master of Science in management at the MIT Sloan School of Management under the Sloan Fellows program in 1989.
So that’s when Fiorina’s rise began; with degrees in marketing and management. Fiorina’s one of those MBAs you get called into a windowless conference room to hear how you’re going to lose your job because bullet points. That’s what she was trained to do, and that’s what she does.
On the empire:
FIORINA: Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We’ve talked way too much to him.
What I would do, immediately, is begin , I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. . …
Russia is a bad actor, but Vladimir Putin is someone we should not talk to, because the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side, and we have all of that within our control.
We could rebuild the Sixth Fleet. I will. We haven’t.
On the Sixth Fleet and imperial strategy generally, Ezra Klein comments:
The Sixth Fleet is already huge, and it’s hard to say why adding to its capabilities would intimidate Putin — after all, America has enough nuclear weapons pointed at Russia to level the country thousands of times over. Her proposal for more military exercises in the Baltics seemed odd in light of the fact that President Obama is already conducting military exercises in the Baltics. And the US already has around 40,000 troops stationed in Germany, so it’s hard to say what good “a few thousand” more would do. And pushing
ona missile defense system in Poland is a very long-term solution to a very current problem. In total, Fiorina’s laundry list of proposals sure sounded like a plan, but on inspection, it’s hard to see why any of them would convince Putin to change course.
FIORINA: Dana, I would like to link these two issues, both of which are incredibly important, Iran and Planned Parenthood.
One has something to do with the defense of the security of this nation. The other has something to do with the defense of the character of this nation.
Let me briefly look at the rhetoric here, because Fiorina’s smooth, corporate bullet point-like effrontery in “linking” Planned Parenthood and Iraq is breathtaking. Because where is the link? Only in the very fact of Fiorina linking them, apparently, and the fact that — “at a high level,” as we say — they both could be said to concern “the nation.” Note the three-fold parallelism of “something to do” — whatever that means — and “the defense of” and “if this nation”; it’s as elegant as a PowerPoint template. But swap in different terms, and you can see Fiorina’s linking for the nonsense it is:
FIORINA: Dana, I would like to link these two issues, both of which are incredibly important, home insulation and churchgoing.
One has something to do with the defense of the heating of our homes. The other has something to do with the defense of the spirituality of our homes.
Back to the the transcript, and skipping the vacuous material on Iran:
FIORINA: As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has , I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, it’s heart beating, it’s legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.
That’s quite a dare, since the tape doesn’t exist. The answer to this headline in the Dallas Morning News (!) — “Sharon Grigsby: Did Fiorina flat-out lie about abortion video?” — is Yes. The Wall Street Journal explains why Fiorina is factually incorrect:
But . Instead, one video from the group depicts a former employee of a tissue procurement company stating what she says she saw at a Planned Parenthood clinic. There was never any video that depicted, as Ms. Fiorina stated.
So, at best, Fiorina “flat-out lied.” At worse, she’s making up a vivid picture in her mind, that she sincerely believes. Why is that the worse? Because if she insists on making all the strategic decisions herself, those decisions could be based on fantasy.
FIORINA: First let me say, We have just spent a good bit of time discussing, as Republicans, how to solve this problem. I would ask your audience at home to ask a very basic question. Why have Democrats not solved this problem?
President Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 on solving the immigration problem. He entered Washington with majorities in the House and the Senate. He could have chosen to do anything to solve this pro — this problem. Instead, .
Why? because the Democrats don’t want this issue solved.
I find myself in the odd position of both half-heartedly defending Obama and quoting Ezra Klein, but here goes:
Her immigration answer was also odd to anyone who knew the issue’s recent history. It’s true Obama didn’t immediately push immigration reform when he took office, but it was his top priority after reelection, and he spent a solid year trying to make the Senate’s comprehensive immigration-reform bill — the one crafted, in part, by Sen. Marco Rubio— into law. That legislation was stopped by Republicans in the House of Representatives, not by the Democrat in the White House. “Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months,” Obama begged in 2013, “and I will sign it right away.”
FIORINA: I very much hope I am the only person on this stage who can say this, but I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing.
My husband Frank and I buried a child to . So, we must invest more in the treatment of drugs.
I agree with Senator Paul. I agree with states’ rights. But we are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having a beer. It’s not.
Now, anybody might think that marijuana had something to do with the death of Fiorina’s child. But the impression Fiorina has created would be factually incorrect:
Fiorina’s daughter Lori died in 2009 after “drinking too much in college,” the former HP CEO and current presidential candidate wrote in her recent biography. Her daughter, she wrote, followed up that drinking with years of abusing prescription drugs. …
Fiorina never mentions marijuana in her biography, whether in connection with Lori’s death or otherwise.
Back to the transcript:
FIORINA: We do need — we do need criminal justice reform. We have the highest incarceration rates in the world. . It’s clearly not working.
Factually incorrect. Slate:
Though Fiorina was correct that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world—no other country comes close—the rest of her statement was false. In fact, when you look at the roughly 1.5 million people currently doing time in state and federal prisons, only about 300,000 of them are there primarily because of drug offenses, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
I’m quoting this part as a gem. A carefully cut and polished gem, totally canned, but a gem nonetheless:
FIORINA: I think what this nation can be and must be is symbolized by Lady Liberty and Lady Justice. Lady Liberty stands tall and strong. She is clear-eyed and resolute. She doesn’t shield her eyes from the realities of the world, but she faces outward into the world nevertheless, as we always must.
And she holds her torch high, because she knows she is a beacon of hope in a very troubled world.
And Lady Justice, Lady Justice holds a sword by her side, because she is a fighter, a warrior for the values and the principles that have made this nation great. She holds a scale in her other hand. And with that scale she says all of us are equal in the eyes of God. And so all of us must be equal in the eyes of the law and the government, powerful and powerless alike.
And she wears a blindfold. And with that blindfold she is saying to us that it must be true, it can be true that in this country, in this century, it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t amatter how you start, it doesn’t matter your circumstances, here in this nation, every American’s life must be filled with the possibilities that come from their God-given gifts.
One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The only problem… Is that what we’re hearing is “Leadership B.S.,” as peddled by a toxic leader. But it sounds wonderful! Lovely figures of speech, in “Lady Liberty and Lady Justice,” anaphora with “it doesn’t matter,” and all sorts of lovely repetions. (Fiorina’s funders have bought themselves a highly effective speechwriting team, at least. Although speechwriters don’t make strategic decisions.)
But if presidential campaigns were decided by fact checkers, Al Gore would have won in a landslide. Fiorina is, for now, able to do what her competitors aren’t: command a stage, speak in specifics, project knowledge, and elicit roars from a crowd. She’s a political outsider in a campaign that favors outsiders, an orthodox conservative at a moment when Republicans are terrified of Donald Trump’s heterodoxies, and a woman in a year when most Republicans think Hillary Clinton’s main advantage is her gender. And she’s now won two debates against the most talented Republican field in a generation.
Fiorina is going to be a force to be reckoned with, even if it’s going to leave fact checkers and policy analysts pulling their hair out.
Well, in this post I’ve focused on Fiorina and the facts. But if I weren’t sitting behind my keyboard, but at a campaign operatives desk, I’d consider framing Fiorina as a toxic leader who — like so many corporate executives these days — lives in a fantasy world. That would also have the great merit of being true. And many, many voters have experience of corporate leaders exactly like Fiorina, and it didn’t work out well for them.
 Here’s a WaPo fact check on Fiorina’s claims about her tenure at H-P: “Breathtakingly cherrypicked.”
 There might also be a question whether she can hire competent and loyal staff, given that she took five years to pay off the staffers for her 2010 Senate campaign.
 Oh, come on. And if Gore weren’t a lousy candidate, and hadn’t wussed out in Bush v. Gore, and hadn’t been hated by the press, he might have won the Presidency, in addition to winning the popular vote.
 Which is, or is not, saying something.