At this week’s Republican presidential debate, Carly Fiorina hoped to get her struggling campaign back on track by pointing to her military bona fides:
“One of the things I would immediately do, in addition to defeating [U.S. enemies] here at home, is bring back the warrior class – Petraeus, McChrystal, Mattis, Keane, Flynn. Every single one of these generals I know. Every one was retired early because they told President Obama things that he didn’t want to hear.”
For Fiorina, it was a two-fer – she could boast about personal connections with top U.S. military brass while simultaneously condemning President Obama for dismissing generals who disagreed with him.
The problem, of course, was that Fiorina wasn’t telling the truth. David Petraeus, for example, didn’t retire because of a conflict with the president; he retired from the military to become the CIA director, but was forced to quit after a sex scandal in which he shared classified information with his mistress.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, the even more striking example is retired Gen. Jack Keane, who retired in 2003 – when Obama was still a state senator. The idea that Keane, who has never even met this president, was forced out of the military because of a disagreement with Obama doesn’t make any sense. Keane said as much during a Fox News interview yesterday.
But that’s not the funny part. What makes Fiorina such a bizarre presidential candidate is how she handled the follow-up questions the day after the debate.
Talking with reporters Wednesday after a town hall here, Fiorina was asked if she misspoke about Keane given the timing of his retirement.“No, I didn’t misspeak,” she said. “But he has been someone of great experience who has been highly critical of the way this administration has not taken threats seriously and unfortunately he hasn’t been listened to. I would listen to him.”
The CNN headline on its piece read, “Despite facts, Carly Fiorina stands by claim about retired generals.”
It would have been easy for Fiorina, less than a day removed from the debate, to say she accidentally referenced Keane, but that’s just not how she likes to campaign. The same thing came up in September, when Fiorina was caught lying about Planned Parenthood, but instead of walking back her bogus claims, the Republican insisted that fiction is fact.
To be sure, Fiorina isn’t the only presidential hopeful to have been caught saying things that aren’t true. But she is the only national 2016 candidate to respond to incidents like these in such a ridiculous way.
As we discussed in September, Americans can learn a lot about presidential candidates by reviewing their records and proposals, but how they respond to challenges tells us something important, too. In this case, a candidate for national office was caught once again saying something that was plainly untrue, which in turn created a test: how would Carly Fiorina defend a lie? What would her defense tell us about her readiness for national office?
The answers should be alarming for her campaign supporters.
Indeed, in recent months, as Fiorina has seen her poll numbers steadily collapse, there’s been quite a bit of chatter about how the Republican businesswoman managed to fall so far, so quickly. There’s more than one explanation for her failures, but incidents like these are a reminder about Fiorina herself creating doubts about her preparedness for the White House.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece.
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Carly Fiorina trips over fact, fiction distinction