Let’s all pause together to look at a deeply odd New York Times story about Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina who is, as you may have suspected, a lady. She’s almost definitely not going to be president, the story says, but her existence can prove Republicans are totally “credible” with women. Oh?

Fiorina turned in an impressive performance during this weeks’s second and interminable GOP debate, even as some of what she (and the other candidates) said was dangerously and thoroughly wrong: in her case, a claim that the Planned Parenthood videos show “a fully formed fetus” on a lab table, for example, about to have “the brain removed.” (The videos mostly show people talking, Carly; there is one still image of a fetus, but it doesn’t show it “squirming,” as she said, or being dismembered).

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But she certainly sounded authoritative, and did a solid job responding to (and not kicking the testicles of) Donald Trump when he called her a “beautiful woman” and insisted he hadn’t recently mocked her face to a reporter. In her hawklike comments on Iran, she was elegant as she forgot to mention that when she ran Hewlett-Packard, the company’s Dubai-based subsidiary sold millions in equipment to Iran despite a trade ban.

For Fiorina, as it would for any other longshot candidate, this solid performance led to a flurry of polite little stories about her “surprise surge.” But it also gave us this Times piece, which takes it as a given that Fiorina won’t be the nominee, but that her simple presence can somehow prove that Republicans don’t have a woman problem:

To win the White House in 2016, Republicans would almost certainly need to win more than 56 percent of the white female vote. Many see Mrs. Fiorina as a way to help them do that, either as the nominee or in some other role.

“Many Republicans will see her, even if she’s not the nominee, as that magic key that can unlock the gender gap,” said Bruce Haynes, president of Purple Strategies, a Republican consulting firm. “That’s a challenge that many have feared has been set in concrete over time.”

It’s not quite clear how Fiorina, as the not-nominee, would act as that “magic key.” Vice president, an option briefly mentioned? “Some other key role”? Just as someone who the nominee can point to as proof that Republicans did once briefly consider having a lady in there, or can at least stand to hear her speak?

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There’s no doubt Fiorina would eventually struggle when women voters find out that she doesn’t support raising the minimum wage, or that she blames the pay gap between men and women on “unions,” which is exactly the opposite of the truth.

The underlying idea, though, among the people that the Times talked to, is that Fiorina’s ideas and how they affect women don’t matter much. What’s important are the optics, simply—the look of a woman onstage, in proximity to the Republican establishment, even at a time when that establishment is busily getting ready to shut the government down for the third time over Planned Parenthood funding. In a cycle so far dominated by the idea-free Donald Trump, I guess that’s about right.


Contact the author at anna.merlan@jezebel.com.
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Fiorina during the second GOP debate. Photo via AP Images