Carly Fiorina says she has never met Sarah Palin. She’s proud of the famed “demon sheep” ad she ran in 2010. She maintains she could have saved her own job at Hewlett Packard – and that her actions there ultimately created many more jobs than were lost amid massive layoffs during her tenure.
That’s the world according to “Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey,” the book Fiorina published Monday, coinciding with her announcement that she’ll run for president. She’s now the first and likely only Republican woman who is trying to challenge presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The book is a 188-page campaign style tome that’s long on references to the Founding Fathers and descriptions of Fiorina’s belief in “the power of human potential,” if short on actual policy prescriptions. It’s at times sympathetic and revealing, offering some personal details of Fiorina’s struggle with breast cancer as she campaigned for the Senate.
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But largely, Fiorina’s book reads as a point-by-point defense of what critics might cast as the series of missteps that have plagued her career in the public eye, first as the ousted CEO of Hewlett Packard, then as surrogate for presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, and finally as a losing candidate for a Senate seat in California.
Here are some highlights from Fiorina’s new book.
“I could have prevented my dismissal”
Fiorina defends her tenure as CEO of the technology giant HP, even though she was fired amid a messy public dispute with the board of directors and her tenure has been blamed for an overall decline at the company. She says she should have taken the opportunity to fire all of the company’s board – “one of the members suggested that they all resign and I could reappoint those I found trustworthy … I did not take that path. I should have.”
She says she could have prevented her own firing, and says that the board members responsible for her ouster “were fired a year later for conduct unbecoming.” And she insists that she could have signed off on a statement that would have said she wasn’t fired. “I refused. It would have been false,” she writes.
The day after the firing, Fiorina writes, President George W. Bush called her at home to offer her a role in his administration.
Fiorina also says that she ultimately created more jobs at HP than the number that were lost during her tenure. “Although some people, regrettably, lost their jobs, many more jobs were created,” she writes. She offers no further detail than that.
Defending Sarah Palin
Fiorina writes that in 2008, then-presidential nominee Sen. John McCain called her and asked her to prep the new vice presidential pick for her new job. “She’s going to need help, Carly,” McCain told her. “I was glad to do it,” Fiorina writes, but says the session never happened. “To this day, I have never met her.” It’s possible that’s because shortly afterward, Fiorina went on a St. Louis radio show and said Palin wasn’t qualified to run HP – and followed up by clarifying that McCain and Barack Obama weren’t, either. She was removed as a McCain campaign surrogate.
“Suffice to say,” she writes in the new book, “I learned an important and painful lesson. Even a ‘Washington gaffe’ – that is, a misstatement that is nonetheless true – has consequences.”
2010 Senate campaign
When she ran for the Republican nomination for Senate in California in 2010, Fiorina’s campaign ran what her book calls “the most talked about ad of the political cycle.” The idea, she writes, was “daring and unconventional.” The ad, by famed admaker Fred Davis, featured a sheep that turns evil on screen. Quickly dubbed the “demon sheep,” it went viral, ending up with its own Twitter account. ”The ad more than accomplished its objective,” she writes.Fiorina won the primary, but went on to lose the general election to incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer by 10 points. Among the reasons for the loss, according to the book: Boxer’s “distorted” attacks on Fiorina’s record at HP, her labeling Fiorina as having “Sarah Palin values,” and even the sunny weather in Los Angeles County on Election Day.
“What’s the weather going to be like on Tuesday?” she recounts Ronald Reagan campaign manager Stu Spencer asking her. “It’s supposed to be beautiful,” she responds.
Says Spencer: “Well then, you will lose.”
Fiorina’s book is at its most resonant when she talks about fighting breast cancer, from her discovery of the disease during a self-exam to her decision to run in spite of it. She talks about what it was like to campaign while sick: Making speeches nearly bald from chemotherapy, racing to the hospital after a day of campaign events, even ripping drainage ducts out of her chest before going onstage to conclude her campaign. Her husband wasn’t happy. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I had to go speak to my supporters,” Fiorina writes in the book. “Most likely for the last time. I would be damned if I was going to do it with those pieces of plastic inside my body.”
Women in the GOP
Fiorina recounts creating an organization aimed at animating women Republicans – a constituency she says the party’s left untapped.
“So many women see the tableaux of smiling female faces behind the male officeholders and wonder why those smiling faces rarely seem to be asked to speak – unless, of course it is a ‘women’s event,’” she writes. Womens’ disengagement with the GOP “is a tragedy, because women – every bit as much as men, maybe more so – have the potential to contribute to our party. They are neither the helpless victims nor the unthinking drones nor the single-issue hysterics our politics treated them as.”
She goes on: “Failing to take advantage of the talents of women – half the population – is corporate malpractice as far as I’m concerned. The same is true for any party that hopes to be a governing party. And the Republican Party must be as diverse as the nation we want to represent.”
On policy: Common Core, ‘aliens’ and the 47%
Fiorina’s books contains very few policy prescriptions or positions. She identifies as anti-abortion, says she’s against gay marriage, and criticizes the idea of an Internet sales tax. Her most detailed comments come at the end of the book, when she discusses Common Core, arguing the standards risk making the U.S. more like China, with an education system that is “too homogenized and controlled.”
“Although the Chinese are a gifted people, innovation and entrepreneurship are not their strong suits,” she writes. “Americans excel at such things, and we must continue to encourage them.”
Fiorina also takes issue with the tone the Republican Party uses to discuss public policy issues. She criticizes Democrats for their rhetoric, too, but goes on: “Our tone and language matter just as much. Whatever we suppose the solutions are to the immigration crisis, calling people ‘aliens’ is disrespectful. Dismissing 47 percent of Americans as takers whom we should write off in our political efforts is disrespectful.”
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, was captured on video dismissing 47% of voters as people “who are depending on government, who believe that they are victims” and who would never vote for him – a comment that became a major stumbling block for the former Bain Capital CEO and a cautionary tale, evidently, for Fiorina.