Carly Fiorina oozes confidence on the debate stage. The Republican presidential candidate always manages to be armed with an arsenal of facts and figures. She’s incredibly smooth and well-spoken. She never fails to shrink from a fight with her 2016 rivals.
There’s just one problem: In many of Fiorina’s standout debate moments that seem to soar on stylistic grounds, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO has said things that leave fact-checkers howling over the substance.
Take Tuesday night’s debate in Milwaukee, where Fiorina went after Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on foreign policy. At one point, she earned applause when she took a dig at the billionaire real estate mogul, noting that unlike him, she had met Russian President Vladimir Putin “not in a green room for a show, but in a private meeting.”
However, during a September interview on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” Fiorina used the term “green room” to describe her own encounter with the Russian leader, saying “I met [Putin] in Beijing. We were in sort of a green room setting—each of us were giving a speech at a major economic conference.”
Fiorina campaign spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores stressed to MSNBC on Wednesday that Fiorina’s meeting was at a conference and not a television show. (Trump had previously said he got to know Putin “very well” because the two were on “60 Minutes” when it turns out the two interviews were taped separately.)
“The point wasn’t the type of room it was. The point was that Trump tried to claim he ran into him before ‘60 Minutes’ – which of course turns out to be entirely fabricated. Carly had a meeting with Putin for 45 minutes at a conference,” said Flores.
Fiorina’s defense proposals, which she strongly laid out on Tuesday night, are also being called into question.
In many ways, Fiorina seems to be her own worst enemy. It’s not moderators or her GOP rivals who get her into trouble – it’s her own verbal missteps and loose use of the facts.
Just look at last month’s GOP debate, when Fiorina rattled off a debunked claim that 92% of the job losses in President Obama’s first term belonged to women. Days later, and after fact checkers called her out, Fiorina said she “misspoke.” But she brushed off the criticism as no big deal and instead shifted the blame to the “liberal media.”
“It attacks the messenger trying to avoid the message,” she told ABC News days after the debate in Colorado.
The candidate’s first appearance on a prime-time debate stage on Sept. 16 in California also raised some serious questions. Although she passionately dared Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama to watch a secretly recorded video from an anti-abortion group showing a “fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,’” no one has been able to verify that such a video even exists.
Of course, Fiorina isn’t the only candidate coming under the microscope about his or her claims. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has been aggressively questioned about his claimed admission to West Point, his personal account of violent behavior as a young man, a story about being given a cash reward for honesty by a Yale professor and more.
Carson laughed off the criticism on Tuesday, saying he has “no problem being vetted.” He added that Clinton should receive the same level of scrutiny.
Whether or not Fiorina’s misleading claims stick in the minds of voters is yet to be seen. But that may be beside the point.
Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist and former John McCain campaign adviser, noted several other candidates have had verbal missteps, too. “I just think she’s too far down in the polls and doesn’t have a clear path to the nomination…. Ben Carson is not the greatest debater, but it’s not hurting him in the polls. In Carly’s case, she has no natural constituency. She needs to turn heads and she successfully does that during the debate but it dies away after those performances.”