Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina: The 'Outsider' for Establishment Conservatives?

Try to name a position she holds that is not solidly attached to the right.


Down with the establishment! Up with everything the establishment believes!
Credit: Gage Skidmore / photo on flickr

Today Yahoo News has an interview with Carly Fiorina noting that the Republican presidential candidate is a defender of waterboarding as an interrogation tool. In addition, in the wake of Sept. 11, she, as then-CEO of Hewlitt-Packard, sent trucks of computer servers to the National Security Agency (NSA) to help them implement its secretive warrantless wiretapping programs. She also defends that decision, but she also calls for greater "transparency" from the CIA. From Yahoo News:

"I believe that all of the evidence is very clear — that waterboarding was used in a very small handful of cases [and] was supervised by medical personnel in every one of those cases," Fiorina told Yahoo News. "And I also believe that waterboarding was used when there was no other way to get information that was necessary."

A Senate report last year portrayed waterboarding as "near drownings" that were tantamount to torture and concluded that the agency's often brutal interrogations produced little actionable intelligence. But Fiorina rejected those conclusions, calling the report "disingenuous" and "a shame" that "undermined the morale of a whole lot of people who dedicated their lives to keeping the country safe."

I read the full Senate report and wrote about it multiple times. As I noted at the time, several waterboarding incidents were actually to confirm that their targets didn't have additional information. There was no sign the waterboarding actually provided any information the CIA didn't get through other means, and there is allegedly still-classified internal CIA report, referred to as the "Panetta Report" after former CIA chief Leon Panetta, that validates the findings of the Senate report.

Here's Fiorina on helping provide servers for the NSA to set up its surveillance systems, though she didn't know exactly what they'd be for at the time:

Fiorina acknowledged she complied with Hayden's request, redirecting trucks of HP computer servers that were on their way to retail stores from a warehouse in Tennessee to the Washington Beltway, where they were escorted by NSA security to the gates of agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

"I felt it was my duty to help, and so we did," Fiorina said. "They were ramping up a whole set of programs and needed a lot of data crunching capability to try and monitor a whole set of threats. …What I knew at the time was our nation had been attacked."

After Hayden became CIA director in 2006, he named Fiorina as chair of an agency external advisory board consisting of former top intelligence officials, generals and business leaders. In that capacity, she made regular trips to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., including overseeing one specific project requested by Hayden: Provide advice on how the CIA could maintain its undercover espionage mission in a culture of increasing government leaks and demands for greater public accountability and openness.

Remarkably, one of Fiorina's suggestions was to make a spokesperson out of a man later accused (but never charged) of destroying the videotapes that showed the waterboarding of two detainees. He later went on to contribute to the recently released Rebuttal, written by former officials defending the CIA's practices during the war.

The latest presidential poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal has Fiorina tied in third place with Sen. Marco Rubio. They both are pulling 11 percent of the vote. Donald Trump and Ben Carson still lead with 21 and 20 percent of the vote respectively. That means three of the four top candidates are bearing the "outsider" label.

But there's actually little of Fiorina's policy proposals or the arguments that she has presented in debates that actually mark her as an "outsider" among Republicans. Trump and Carson obviously bear the outsider brand well. Not only do they not seem to know how the sausage is made, they don't care. It is a point of pride, both for them and for their supporters.

Fiorina is obviously politically experienced without having actually held public office. Her stated positions mark her clearly, unambiguously as a conservative. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to find a single position or policy she's put forth that couldn't have come out of the mouths of "insiders" Jeb Bush or Rubio (though feel free to correct me if I've missed something).

Ultimately Fiorina is benefitting somewhat from having an "outsider" status while holding many of the same positions as "insiders" whom she's currently beating in the polls. This may end up mattering when we consider the utter failure and eventual resignation of GOP House Speaker John Boehner. Establishment Republicans are being tarred heavily for being largely ineffective in office. Fiorina is avoiding that problem, even though what she holds are actually very mainstream Republican positions. She is quite possibly the candidate for establishment-minded Republicans to demonstrate their frustrations about party failure without having to abandon their core principles.