The truth about Ted Cruz's "Hail Carly": Why his Fiorina-for-VP stunt is desperate, unorthodox — and just a little bit clever

Donald Trump probably has the nomination sewn up, but you have to give Cruz credit for hitting him where he's weak

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 28, 2016 12:00PM (EDT)

Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz   (Reuters/Carlos Barria/Aaron Bernstein/Photo montage by Salon)
Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz (Reuters/Carlos Barria/Aaron Bernstein/Photo montage by Salon)

Say what you will about Ted Cruz, he is a good student. After watching Donald Trump upstage everyone in the race all year long, he knew that after such a big string of wins the night before, yesterday was going to be a big day for the frontrunner, particularly since he had scheduled his first major foreign policy speech for that morning. So, taking a page out of the Trump manual, he scheduled his own big event that afternoon and word quickly "got out" that he would announce Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Sure enough, the cable news networks all covered Trump, of course, but then switched almost immediately to the Cruz event and covered both his speech and Fiorina's in their entirety. He bested Trump at his own game by dominating a very packed news cycle that should've been all about Trump's triumphant march through the northeast.

There may have been some good luck involved as well. The Cruz campaign clearly had planned the Fiorina announcement as part of his Indiana Hail Mary and likely because he knows that Trump's biggest vulnerability is with women voters. He couldn't have known that Trump would launch a sexist broadside against Hillary Clinton during his big victory speech on Tuesday night that brought that issue into sharp relief -- and created a meme that went viral when the first lady of New Jersey, standing behind Trump and reflecting the feelings of millions of American women, gave him an obvious side-eye when he said this:

"I think the only card she has is the woman's card. She's got nothing else going on. And frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she's got going is the women's vote. And the beautiful thing is women don't like her, okay?"

He obviously thought this was an extremely clever line since he had said it earlier in the day and Clinton had responded to it in her own victory speech. And Trump, as is his wont when a woman challenges him, couldn't resist going there again on "Morning Joe":

TRUMP: I haven’t quite recovered, it’s early in the morning, from her shouting that message. I know a lot of people would say you can’t say that about a woman, because of course a woman doesn’t shout. The way she shouted that message was not ... ewwwww ... that’s the way she said it, and I guess I’ll have to get used to a lot of that over the next four or five months.

One can imagine that millions of women gritted their teeth and mouthed the words "what an ass" when they heard that one.

Lucky that Cruz happened to be planning to play his own "woman card" later that day to take full advantage of Trump's sexist impulses. After all, Trump may be deluded that the ladies really like the cut of his jib, but the fact is that they actively loathe him. The Gallup polling over the month of March, showed that 70 percent of women have an unfavorable opinion of him. Cruz needs votes and he's strategically targeting the people who already hate his rival. What choice does he have?

Cruz's speech was a dull and predictable as usual but he did take the opportunity to remind every woman who was listening exactly what Trump had said about Fiorina:

Everyone remembers that in one of the earliest debates Carly confronted Donald Trump. [cheers] A man who in his characteristic understatement said of her "look at that face." [Boos] And everyone of us remembers the grace, the class the elan with which Carly responded. She responded to Donald that she knew exactly what he was saying and that every woman in America knew exactly what Donald Trump was saying. One of the great principles of bullies, they feed off of fear. They feed off of people who will cower in the corner when they yell and scream and insult and holler and curse. And they don't know what to do when a strong powerful woman stands up and says "I am not afraid."

He was basically saying that Donald Trump has very small hands. It's fair to assume he hopes that Trump will show his usual lack of control and respond on the stump with his patented crude misogyny. He offered this doozy up to Chris Cuomo on CNN already:

“When I came out, I was competing against 17 very capable people… and a woman.”

The pundits all dismissed Cruz's so-called "Hail Carly" as a desperate move, and it is. But Cruz had to do something to change the dynamic after Trump's string of wins in the east and this isn't a bad way to do it. Fiorina never won much in the way of votes but all the reporters who followed her campaign reported that she was quite popular on the trail, especially among GOP women. It's unlikely to hurt and could possibly help. It's worth a try.

Cruz and Fiorina may be antediluvian political throwbacks in most ways but, for all his faults, Cruz does not seem to be threatened by professional women. After all, his wife has been the family's primary breadwinner. And there has been some kind of "arrangement" between the two candidates from the beginning of the campaign. Recall that Cruz's Super PAC contributed big bucks to Fiorina's campaign, which would normally seem quite bizarre, but which was explained at the time by Amy Chozick of the New York Times:

“Fiorina finance chairs told me supporters of other candidates have thrown them $$$ to have a woman in race attacking HRC.”

Now she's oddly in cahoots with HRC, drawing misogynist fire from Donald Trump. What a strange campaign.

Finally, there is one other excellent reason to recruit Fiorina to the cause. If Cruz could pull off a miracle in Indiana and live to fight another day, Fiorina might be helpful in her home state of California. She may have failed spectacularly in her Senate bid but she did manage to get the GOP nomination in a statewide contest and she is well-connected with the Republican establishment there. It's possible that she could actually do some good and help keep Trump's delegate haul below the magic number.

All of this is an extreme long shot and most people think that Trump has it in the bag even Cruz comes close. But this has been the weirdest primary race in history and you just never know. Cruz is still in there, working every available lever to keep his campaign alive. Yesterday, he managed to upstage Donald Trump on the day of his greatest triumph and took clever advantage of Trump's weakness with women. He isn't dead yet.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Carly Fiorina Donald Trump Elections 2016 Gop Primary Ted Cruz