August 11, 2015
Since many critics of the current administration have derided President Obama for his limited experience before entering the White House, a strong political record has become an important selling point in the primaries. Many of the candidates who have entered the 2016 presidential race so far have pointed to their previous experience of holding elected office as a point of strength. This creates a problem for candidates without any previous political experience. How can these candidates stand out from the crowd, and turn a potential weakness into a selling point?
Carly Fiorina has employed a two-fold language strategy to level the playing field between herself and more experienced candidates: embrace your outsider status, and connect your non-political skills to the demands of the Executive office. On the first point, Fiorina, a former tech CEO, has sought to turn political experience into a negative.
“Like 80 percent of the American people, I think we have a professional political class that is more focused on the preservation of its own power, title, and position than doing what needs to be done now.”
With this statement, Fiorina aims to brand her more experienced competitors as accomplices in creating American crony capitalism. Thus, by labeling herself an outsider, Fiorina tries to stand out as someone who isn’t afraid to shake things up in Washington. Her strategy thus seems clear: If you can’t beat ‘em, don’t join ‘em.
Second, Fiorina has sought to demonstrate her suitability for the presidency by drawing on her experience as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. For example, Fiorina often mentions that her tenure at HP gave her access to many world leaders, including Vladimir Putin. Since many of the other GOP candidates have very little foreign policy experience, and since the likely Democratic candidate is a former Secretary of State, this is a relevant selling point. Fiorina is thus acting like a good resume writer, pointing to the relevant skills learned in her seemingly unrelated past positions to land her dream job. Fiorina has described her foreign policy acumen as such:
“I’ve met more leaders on the world stage today than anyone running, with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton. Although I haven’t done photo ops; I’ve had substantive, private conversations. I have sat closer than you are to me now to Vladimir Putin, to Bibi Netanyahu, to the leadership of China, of Saudi Arabia, of the United Arab Emirates.”
Will this be enough to mount a credible challenge to more established candidates in the Republican primaries? She made the cutoff for the early debate last Thursday, but with Donald Trump in the race, Fiorina is not the only candidate who will draw on experience from the private sector to prove her leadership qualities. Nonetheless, Fiorina’s strategy demonstrates how an outsider candidate can embrace her outsider past rather than shying away from it. And in an already crowded field, the ability to stand out might become more important than ever.
by m+p intern Jacob Lundqvist