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Carly Fiorina tries a more gendered pitch

Evoking Margaret Thatcher, breast cancer, and sexism, the only woman in the GOP field tries to break out from the pack.
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina during the CNN Republican presidential debate on Dec. 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina during the CNN Republican presidential debate on Dec. 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nev.

In previous debates, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has been a cool and deliberate attacker, making her name by rattling off unflinching insults. (Many of those attacks proved false.) What she hasn't done much is allude to the undeniable fact that she's the only woman in the race.

That changed at Tuesday's Las Vegas debate, where Fiorina seemed to make a concerted effort to stand out by pointing out her gender, alongside her more customary pitch that her private sector technology experience has prepared her to be president.

"I fought my way to the top of corporate America while being called every B word in the book," she said in her opening statement, after a mention of surviving breast cancer. (Twitter promptly offered a list of all the b-words it could think of.) 

Most brazenly of all, Fiorina quoted a conservative leader to make a specifically gendered appeal: "I'll just add that Margaret Thatcher once said, 'If you want something talked about, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.'" 

It's a risky gambit. Fiorina is a member of a party that is uneasy with acknowledging gender, which spent a good chunk of the night disavowing so-called "political correctness," and which is up against a likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is comfortable embracing her possible status as the first female president. 

Indeed, prominent conservative commentators seemed to disdain Fiorina's strategy. "Wow...Fiorina goes full vagina right away," tweeted Iowa radio host and Ted Cruz endorser Steve Deace.

"I love Thatcher and I love Fiorina, but I did not love Fiorina's use of that Thatcher quote," tweeted the Federalist's Mollie Hemingway. "Identity politics are for the other party."

Of course, the GOP isn't averse to its own brand of identity politics -- as its reliance on the votes of white evangelicals and its candidates' broadsides against immigration and terrorism make clear. In any case, Fiorina did not seem to break out in this debate as she had in the past. 
"I hope at some point you're going to ask me my strategy," she interjected at one point during a discussion of ISIS. 

"We will get to -- we have a lot of time, Miss Fiorina," moderator Wolf Blitzer replied. Whatever Fiorina's preferred salutation (she is technically a Mrs., and Ms. is all purpose), she never really got her moment.