On Tuesday, Donald Trump swept all five Republican presidential primaries. The next day, Ted Cruz, who now cannot enter the Republican National Convention as a first-ballot winner without somehow impossibly winning 104 percent of the remaining primary delegates, named Carly Fiorina as his running mate.
There’s an indispensable Simpsons moment where Homer’s brain says, “That’s it, I’m gettin’ outta here,” before you hear the sounds of footsteps and a door slamming. That moment might as well be now.
Sometime next year we’ll all have to figure out when the moment happened to each of us, probably to some more profound organ. Call it a soul, the spirit, a lingering faith that something meaningful is happening. We will all have to pinpoint the moment each of us broke. It doesn’t even have to be a serious or grand moment. It can be stupid. It just has to be enough.
Cruz and Fiorina are enough. My God, are they ever enough. A bumper crop, mother lode and doorbuster clearance of it. They are such a surfeit of enough that it’s practically homeopathy: one molecule of themselves diluted endlessly amongst the world’s tides would fix us all for good.
You can see why Cruz’s picking Fiorina happened, if you need to view these things through the kaleidoscope of election sense. Ted Cruz knew Wednesday’s news cycle would feature wall-to-wall coverage of Donald Trump handing him his ass in a box stamped RETURN TO HOUSTON. He knew Trump’s closing press conference comments about Hillary Clinton and his history of misogyny are a relevant electoral liability. And he knew Carly Fiorina is a woman and not busy doing anything else right now.
This is Cruz’s argument: Forget that I’m losing and pay attention to how — with the help of Carly Fiorina, noted woman — I wouldn’t lose a general election the same way Donald Trump will.
There’s no doubt that Cruz and Fiorina will get along just as well on the ticket as they have for the past several weeks. For one thing, they are two spectacular failed approximations of human beings, a man-and-woman pair with more rigid affect and two-dimensional representation of what people are like than the plaque NASA slapped on the sides of Pioneer 10 and 11.
They campaign alike, too. Ted Cruz “totally didn’t coordinate” with his super PAC by recording hours of forced family video and leaving them on YouTube where they could be “found” and turned into commercials. Carly Fiorina “totally didn’t coordinate” with her super PAC — which hilariously skirted the naming rules by being an acronym that spelled out CARLY — despite having almost zero official campaign and publicly booking appearances where that gosh darn super PAC could always track her down!
Both of them have a fun sense of biography. Ted Cruz comes from the Ivy League and once clerked for William Rehnquist and cynically portrays himself as a down-home duck-huntin’ yahoo who doesn’t know that Jemmy Madison would kick his ass up and down Independence Hall for treating the First Amendment as a blueprint for a Christian theocracy.
Fiorina cratered two companies and blames every economic woe on bureaucracy, despite the latter being impotent enough that it didn’t stop HP from using a third party to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran during her tenure. She also wants to fight for American jobs, despite shipping 30,000 of them to China, equivalent to half the population of Palo Alto, where her company was headquartered.
Both are great at following a script when it comes to a really good lie. Just as Ted Cruz reliably lets you know that we are one liberal Supreme Court justice away from sandblasting all the crosses and Stars of David off the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Fiorina hit her marks over and over again during the debates.
Remember the impassioned testimony at seeing a video of an abortion that didn’t exist? Then there was the litany of absurd national security moves on day one. After “calling [her] good friend Bibi Netanyahu,” she would start pushing more paper military commands around the map than Hitler in the bunker during the last ten days.
But there’s one script Fiorina followed that Cruz is especially interested in. The core substance of Fiorina’s campaign was this: I, Carly Fiorina, female person, will attack bad-woman Hillary Clinton for you. It makes sense, up until you notice all the ways it doesn’t.
First, no amount of Carly Fiorina attacking Clinton in a woman’s voice now erases nearly a quarter century of the relentlessly sexist commentary the GOP has directed at Clinton. Nor can her presence magically silence every chauvinist twit who thinks the one thing conservative hopes are counting on is his zinger.
(Hell, it probably took less than an hour after Cruz’s announcement for someone to paste Fiorina into another one of those, “If the Democrats are the party of women, how come ours are so much hotter?” image macros. If that disgusts you, Fiorina can’t fix it. Willingly or not, she’s just going to become its symbol.)
Second, however, a move like this presupposes that conservative women voters needed a feminine mouthpiece to hate Hillary Clinton, instead of relying on everything they already believe in. If you’re a woman member of the party that wants to defund Planned Parenthood, you don’t need a woman running against a woman avatar of ideas you oppose to clarify the issue for you.
Third, if Carly Fiorina is an alternative, the question is to what? Ted Cruz hopes that the short answer members in his party will see is, “Donald Trump.” But that trick only works if they don’t look at the rest of the party. Fiorina’s presence on the ticket can’t save the GOP from Donald Trump’s misogyny when a huge and vocal chunk of the party has been taking political comportment lessons from Rush Limbaugh for a generation.
Leave aside institutional opposition to equal pay for equal work, forget opposing the re-signing of the Violence Against Women Act, ignore derision for Title IX, skip over attacks on reproductive rights and ask who came up with the 25 years of ridicule of Clinton. Forget the Todd Akins and lesser women-hating knuckle-draggers of the GOP menagerie and remember that the chief purveyor of FEMINAZIS! and CANKLES! material has been feted, feared and obeyed by the conservative establishment for all that time. People’s heroes have a tendency to show you the things they don’t value every bit as much as the things they do.
If a quarter century of that bothered Republican voters, then Carly Fiorina is not the solution, especially when her idea of acknowledging a war on women is claiming that Hillary Clinton invented it, and her spin on the gender pay gap is to blame unions, seniority and women leaving work to have children, the same boilerplate with a feminine face. At worst, she’s another misogynist misdirection, the model standing in front of the prototype car rolling on four-tire fires, a cynical reduction of person to parts and accessories to satisfy only the most superficial of criteria.
And if a quarter century of sexism and legislative scorn didn’t bother Republican voters, then what single thing does she change in the slightest?
The literal answer is a single thing: She adds one delegate to whatever mathematically insufficient total Ted Cruz winds up with.
Something that ridiculously small is enough. Her singing tuneless songs to the same Cruz children who recoil from Ted Cruz, singer of unrequested show tunes, is enough. She and Cruz exchanging rictus grins and constant non-verbal cues that they have no idea what to do with their bodies is enough. We have never in American electoral history had more enough than we have right now.
The only thing we don’t have is an answer Fiorina cannot give and Ted Cruz lacks the self-awareness and the humility to ask for: How much will the Republican Party break itself at its convention, and for how long? Until then, everything else is more than enough, a deep unkindness — a long forced downward march into national indignity, with the only light at the end coming from the thought of Fiorina’s valediction as a failed running mate taking the form of raising a well-practiced hand and firing Ted Cruz’s entire staff.