Fiorina’s Live Mic

No doubt by now you have heard of Carly Fiorina’s open mic gaffe (you’d think that politicians would learn) in which she, amongst other things, dissed Barbara Boxer’s hair, questioned Meg Whitman’s choice to go on Sean Hannity’s show.

If you haven’t seen/heard it, here it is via CNN:

Jennifer Steinhauer writing in the NYT (An Early Campaign Gaffe Makes a Non-Issue Big) makes some interesting observations about the potential reactions to this kind of event:

They both inform and confirm the image from her days as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard that she is tart and unpleasant. And they open the entire campaign to perceptions, however tired or unfair, that women can be dragged down the road of pettiness, perceptions that detract from the serious and pressing issues of the day.

While hardly the kind of thing to decide an election, I think that this is the kind of event that can help shape a campaign narrative because it does play into existing perceptions about a given candidate.

Also interesting:

“The fact is that some voters, including many women, find this interesting and no doubt form their character judgments on such matters,” said Bruce E. Cain, a professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Of course, bad or old-fashioned hair can become a metaphor for being out of step and in need of change,” he added. “I would like to believe that people use the trivial to express their thoughts about what matters, rather than believe that the trivial matters. That said, it is not a good way to start a woman-on-woman race by playing into negative stereotypes about female culture.”

I think that there is something to the following as well:

“I think this is a mistake of a rookie candidate who doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut,” said Garry South, a Democratic strategist in Santa Monica.

I am, by the way, totally with Steve Benen on the following:

In the same live-mic clip, Fiorina reflects on Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman’s media strategy. Whitman avoided the media during her California primary, relying instead on extensive television advertising, but agreed to talk to Fox News’ Sean Hannity yesterday.

“I find it really surprising that on the first day of the general Meg Whitman’s going on Sean Hannity,” Fiorina said. “Did you hear that? I think it’s bizarre. I mean, she’s never been on Sean Hannity. I think it’s a very bad choice, actually. You know how he is.”

Fiorina added, “Why after saying no to all these people would you go on Sean Hannity? That’s not the one you would do. Sean Hannity is not an easy interview.”

I’m not sure what to make of this, especially since Hannity is a very easy interview for Republican candidates.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Ugh says:

    Fiorina loses to Boxer by double digits.

  2. JayDubbs says:

    If Hannity is the tough interviewer, I’d love to find out who she thinks is easy. Is Mr. Rogers available.

  3. sam says:

    “Is Mr. Rogers available.” Alas, no. Fred passed away a number of years not long after he retired. But you can catch his shade on the AT&T “Rethink the Possible“ ad. I hope AT&T is paying his family.

  4. says:

    Personally, I would think her massive failure as chief at HP would define her candidacy. (She was also one of the motivating forces between breaking Lucent off of AT&T, which I never thought was a particularly good idea.)

    But, since I’m not in California, not my call.

  5. john personna says:

    Somehow the body language seems more damaging than what is said.

  6. anjin-san says:

    I would think her massive failure as chief at HP

    Do you know how many magazine covers Carly was on during her tenure? Believe me, she thinks she was a brilliant success. She made a lot of money and got a lot of attention. I seriously doubt she give a rat’s ass about lost US jobs and shareholders eating it.

  7. Juneau: says:

    Biden drops the F bomb and they laugh and make a tee shirt out of it. A conservative woman expresses an opinion about another woman’s hair and questions a public appearance decision, and it deserves criticism on the boards.

    One is profane and gets accolades, the other is snarky and gets dissected. Bias is hard to hide over the long run.

  8. Leslie P. says:

    Boxer has got to get down and dirty. Paint Fiorina as a money grubber who give can give 2 shits
    about US jobs.

  9. anjin-san says:

    Biden drops the F bomb

    At least he has not gotten drunk and shot anyone in the face.

    Carly’s mouth got her tossed under the McCain campaign bus a while back. You will have a lot of unfairness to whine about, as she will continue to make stupid remarks.

  10. @Juneau:

    Context matters. The person speaking matters.

    As the column I quoted notes: Fiorina already has a reputation for being “tart and unpleasant”–this feeds that perception.

    Biden has a reputation for being a bit of a loose canon and his f-bomb dropping fits that.

    Plus, Fiorina was criticizing a political candidate, while Biden was being exultant about a political success.

    So no, bias isn’t the issue.

    And I still maintain that he whole “Hannity is tough” bit to be profoundly odd.