"Look at that face," Donald Trump said of Carly Fiorina, while talking to Rolling Stone's Paul Solotaroff. "Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?" As Trump spoke, his yes-men looked on; in his entourage, disagreement is intolerable, dissent akin to disloyalty. Even in private, Trump's dictum is clear. The most experienced political advisers, if consulted in confidence by Trump, would do well to recall what Archie Bunker said to Edith: "Stifle yourself." Otherwise, they might be told, "You're fired."
Trump would help himself, perhaps even get the nomination, if he retained his most intense critics among seasoned political strategists and incentivized candor. To paraphrase an old saying, a candidate who is his own campaign strategist has a fool for a client. But Trump, "rich, really rich" is "smart, really smart."
If Trump is undone, this will be it. (a) He has no one around like his former political consigliere Roger Stone who might tell him what he needs to hear and who could debrief him daily; (b) he does not recognize the need to be so challenged and believes, if it (he) isn't broken, don't fix it (him); and (c) he will not grow as a candidate to demonstrate a temperament not consumed by ego; and (d) unless Trump somehow changes, people at some point will have a revelation -- they will fear a president who keeps his own counsel on everything, takes action unilaterally, and appears imprudent and impulsive.
The nation does not want a chief executive to make monumental decisions involving foreign policy and national security out of ego and pride, anger or pique. All this discussion about temperament and humility is too bad, in a way. Because Trump raises serious and important issues, even if he does not offer series and important remedies.
Solotaroff reported the Fiorina episode last week in the magazine's profile of Trump. Normally, Trump would defend by offend. He would note Rolling Stone's money problems and staff cuts and say the magazine is desperate. He might next attack Solotaroff, a credible journalist twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, perhaps implying that Solotaroff is part of a conspiracy, maybe of hedge fund managers afraid of Trump's tax plan. Given the women's angle, one might even have expected Trump to pivot and bring up the politically correct Sabrina Erdely, who wrote the long and detailed Rolling Stone piece about the gang rape at the University of Virginia. The rape never occurred, the discredited article was retracted, but it did win an award from the authoritative Columbia Journalism Review as "The Worse Journalism of 2014."
Instead, Trump -- trying to save face -- and as the man who says what he means and means what he says, noted implausibly he was talking not about Fiorina's face, but her persona. Yet, many admire Fiorina who has shown persistence and competence in an uphill campaign. Her performance in the wannabee first debate was stellar, nonetheless she had to confront the CNN bureaucracy for her much-deserved placement in the main event Wednesday at the Reagan Library. Her appeal is summed up by what one high propensity voter said to me: "They ask her a question, and she answers it." Indeed, she does so directly, concisely, unambiguously.
Enter into this controversy Fiorina herself -- speaking before the ideal forum, the National Federation of Republican Women. "This is the face of a 61-year-old woman," she said to rousing applause in a clip aired repeatedly on the networks. "... I am proud of every year and every wrinkle." And in a separate interview, Fiorina showed class and grace, as she did not reply in-kind to Trump who, she said, apparently found her competitive.
All this was good for Fiorina.
Now, Fiorina is out with a new ad "Look at this face" which begins, "Ladies, look at this face... and look at all of your faces," and then shows faces of women -- young and old. Fiorina's voiceover continues -- "the face of leadership in our party... in our community" and moves toward "we are not a special interest group, we are the majority of the nation."
This widely heralded ad, actually created and funded by Fiorina's SuperPAC, Carly for America, is getting mountains of free play on the network, and the media treat it as an official Fiorina ad, part of the whole confusion between official committees and SuperPACs. And, with current trends reducing paid television ad expenditures and relying on viral Internet pickup, and the network news programs rerunning it or lifts from it, it gets plenty of notice.
Regardless of who sponsors it or how it gets out, this ad keeps the controversy alive. It appears to set up an anticipated Fiorina-Trump confrontation, almost, possibly, to eclipse a Carson-Trump exchange. Indeed, Trump is aiming for Carson, whom he perceives as more threatening; and Carson, if he plays his cards right, could emerge Wednesday the giant-slayer, or at least begin the process.
Some pundits say this Fiorina ad is clever, because it never mentions Trump but still gets at him. But it doesn't, really.
Just as explicit attacks on Trump by his opponents that he is "not really a conservative" have failed, so too will an implicit attack by one opponent, Fiorina, that he is against women, fail. The big elephant in the room is Trump's temperament. If he can grow as a candidate, learn about issues, and reassure voters that his ego is bounded and he is deliberative, he will survive and broaden his support; otherwise, he will eventually go down. This ad gets at none of that and doesn't really do much for Fiorina.
And while the Fiorina ad probably delights its creators, political groupies and reporters, it is "thou dost protest too much." Right now, Fiorina, who knows marketing, should realize her target is not the general election. It is the universe of likely Republican primary voters. And that group, including women, is not into playing the woman card. Republican primary voters, men and women, do not see women as victims. For her ad to say that women are not a special interest but a majority says, what? Is this a subtle dig to suggest that Democrats patronize women?
We know that Carly Fiorina is a woman. And it is obvious she is the only woman candidate on the Republican side.
One reason for Fiorina's strength is she is the anti-Hillary: Fiorina never has asked for anyone to support her because she is a woman. Until now.
This ad is a step back for Fiorina.