Fiorina on Fire: Carly ‘Consensus Winner’ of Undercard GOP Debate

Fiorina debate (Scott Olson / Getty)
Scott Olson / Getty

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” the saying goes. What Carly Fiorina did Thursday night, when her ranking in the GOP primary polls gave her the “lemon” of the undercard debate, was the equivalent of opening a lemonade factory.

The 5:00 p.m. EST debate, hosted by Fox News, had been ridiculed by some commentators as the “kiddie table” debate, but it turned out to provide a number of intelligent, mature policy discussions—many of them by Fiorina.

As Breitbart News reported earlier, Fiorina drew the highest interest on social media among the undercard debate participants. Before the debate was even over, FiveThirtyEight blogger Nate Silver noted that she was “crushing it,” according to Google search traffic.

Google officially confirmed this, tweeting from their @GoogleTrends account an animated graph, showing that Fiorina dominated Google searches during nearly the entire debate.

Breitbart News’s Alex Swoyer was in the spin room after the debate and reports that Fiorina was asked about her successful social media performance, even surpassing Donald Trump, who has dominated much of the online discussion since launching his campaign.

“I think that means a lot of people were watching,” said Fiorina, “so I receive that news as very good news.”

Fiorina also acknowledged that she does not have the name recognition of many other candidates but expressed confidence that her numbers would continue to improve. “By a poll the other day, only 40 percent of Republicans knew my name, so I started with a long way to go,” she said.

Fiorina’s popularity was not limited to just online. In Fox News’s post debate wrap-up, the commentators were universally effusive in their positive reviews of her performance. “I was most impressed with Carly Fiorina,” said Chris Wallace, who also praised her as having “a kind of sharpness and intelligence about her.”

Brit Hume praised Fiorina for how well she had stood out with her intelligent and thoughtful answers. “We have a consensus winner: Carly Fiorina won this debate,” said Hume. Moreover, he continued, “because she did so well, a lot of what she did will be replayed” on news broadcasts over the next few days, so he expected that would translate to a bump up in the polls.

Stephen Hayes concurred, adding that anyone who has seen her speak in person or interviewed her “comes away impressed.” Charles Krauthammer lauded her as being “very fluid yet very strong and combative.”

Fox News viewers agreed with the people appearing on their television sets. In a flash poll taken after the debate, Fiorina was the overwhelming favorite. About two hours after the debate ended, a whopping 82 percent said that Fiorina won the debate. Left in her dust were former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) at 7 percent, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) at 6 percent, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at 2 percent, and former Gov. George Pataki (R-NY) and former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-VA) at 1 percent.

The accolades for Fiorina continued. Chris Cillizza, who writes for the Washington Post‘s The Fix blog, headlined his article, “Carly Fiorina won the ‘Happy Hour’ debate. By a lot.” Praising her “poised and confident” answers, Cillizza wrote that she was “the only one of the seven candidates who made clear that she deserves more attention — and a more prime spot in the debates — as the campaign continues.”

What made Fiorina stand out — more than what she said on any particular topic — was that she looked up to the moment. She was prepared and poised. She rarely glanced at notes. She spoke freely and easily. She had the “it” factor.

Now, winning a debate of second tier candidates that ran at 5 p.m. Eastern time in early August is not the same as winning a general election debate in primetime. Fiorina has been getting rave reviews on the campaign trail but has yet to see any real gains — either in national polling or surveys done in states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

It seems likely now though that she’ll get the boost she’s been waiting for. From there, it’s up to her to keep it going.

The Washington Examiner‘s Ashe Schow also called Fiorina the “clear winner” of the debate, designating her the “breakout star” of the evening. Noting that Fiorina had “many of the most memorable lines of the evening”—including her quip about not getting a call from Bill Clinton—Schow assessed Fiorina’s performance as so dominating that “I can’t remember a single thing the other candidates said.”

Slate agreed that Fiorina won the debate. “It wasn’t even close,” said the headline. She “immediately distinguished herself among those behind a podium,” wrote William J. Dobson, describing her as “poised” and praising her answers for being “crisp, specific, and substantive.”

The Hill said that Fiorina “stood out” and “shined” with her “shots on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” and “showing off her foreign policy acumen.”

Of course, not everyone was enchanted with Fiorina. The Democratic National Committee attacked her in a tweet that many viewed as sexist and insulting, using an image of a little girl in pigtails and a pink jacket, similar to the color of the smart pink tailored suit that Fiorina wore on stage.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker. Alex Swoyer contributed to this report. Follow her on Twitter: @ASwoyer.


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