Novi — It is harder to run for elected office as a woman, former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said Monday, comparing the rough-and-tumble world of campaigning to the spectacle of televised wrestling.
The former Hewlett-Packard chairwoman was the only woman in a crowded Republican presidential primary field that included New York businessman Donald Trump, who in late 2015 ridiculed Fiorina’s face to a Rolling Stone reporter and later apologized in a debate.
“You can be forgiven for thinking politics is sort of like WWF,” Fiorina told a crowd of roughly 75 spectators at a Republican women’s roundtable at the Sheraton Detroit Novi, discussing the reality that the majority sex remains a large minority in Congress and most state legislatures.
“They say I don’t like the tone. I don’t like the vitriol. I don’t like how nasty it is,” Fiorina continued. “Women are problem solvers. We solved problems all day long. I think it’s really hard for women to understand all this talking, all this running, all this money and nothing ever gets fixed, so they walk away.”
The former Hewlett Packard CEO said little about Trump on Monday and was not available for press questions, but she illustrated the challenges women can face in politics by recounting how conservative radio host Steve Deace suggested she went “full vagina” in her opening statement at a December debate.
“No one said anything,” Fiorina said. “No one stood up, and, frankly, it shouldn’t have had to be women that stood up. No men stood up, and that is unacceptable.”
Republicans need to recognize that any candidate who “steps forward and is a little different” — whether a woman or a racial minority — may face unique hurdles, she said.
“We can’t just throw somebody in the deep end of the pool and say, ‘You go, girl. We’re right behind you.’ We have to support them.”
Fiorina, who ended her campaign in February, spoke as part of a Power Of Women Electing Republicans round table hosted by the Michigan GOP. Fiorina was expected to address Kent County Republicans Monday night during an annual Lincoln Day dinner.
The Clinton campaign responded with a statement by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.
“No number of campaign events can change the fact that Donald Trump has consistently disrespected women, calling them ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs’ and ‘disgusting,’ ” Dingell said, adding that Clinton has “always fought for women and their families.”
Fiorina was joined by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, former chairwoman Susy Heintz Avery and GOP fundraiser Lauren Rakolta. Spectators included state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who lost her bid for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
“One of the things that drew me to politics is the fact that all issues are women’s issues,” said Romney McDaniel, “and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Democratic Party for the past several cycles has continually put us in a corner and belittled us as single-issue voters.”
As a mom, the Michigan GOP leader said she cares about issues like education, national security and jobs.
While Trump has raised eyebrows with controversial comments about Fiorina and other women, including Fox News host Megyn Kelley, “the policies are what are so critical, because that’s what he’s going to enact that will help every voter,” Romney McDaniel later told The Detroit News.
“He doesn’t say things always the ways I would say them, and I think that was articulated here today, but his actions and what he’s talking about in terms of helping my family and helping my country are far better than what Hillary Clinton is proposing.”
Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, could be the first woman ever elected president if she beats Trump in November. But that doesn’t mean women have a responsibility to vote for her, Fiorina said.
“As a woman, I find the Democratic Party’s insistence that you’re not a feminist unless you vote for Hillary Clinton incredibly insulting,” she said.
“A feminist is anyone who chooses to use all of her gifts and lives the life she chooses on her own terms. ... As a feminist, I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton.”
Rakolta, who recently left the political fundraising world to run an auto industry supplier company, said she was impressed by Trump’s recent speech outlining his new proposal to have the federal government cover six weeks of paid maternity leave for working mothers.
“I didn’t get paid maternity leave, and I don’t want the same for my girls now,” Rakolta said. “I think just because Hillary’s a woman means nothing. I think Donald has a great role model in his daughter Ivanka.”
Trump’s maternity leave proposal would operate through the existing Unemployment Insurance program. The Clinton campaign has called it “out of touch” and suggested that it would benefit the wealthy while drawing from a program designed to help working families. Clinton has proposed her own paid family leave and medical leave policies.
Women make up roughly 53 percent of the total U.S. population, and electing more women to public office would help Congress and state Legislatures do a better job representing the citizenry, said Johnson, a former state legislator.
“I think it’s so important,” she said. “But really I think the reason we don’t have as many women run is because we probably aren’t innately as much into risk taking as men, so we have to encourage other women.”
The disparity between the number of men and women serving in elected office is not unique to Republicans.
Michigan’s 38-member state Senate includes four women, three Republicans and one Democrat. Twenty-six women serve in the 110-member state House, including 16 Democrats and 10 Republicans.
Nationally, women hold 1,800 seats in state Legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, 1,080 are Democrats and 704 are Republicans,
Fiorina said Republican women are often asked why they align with the political party.
“I’m a Republican because I know no one of us is any better than any other one of us,” Fiorina said. “We start, as Republicans, with the knowledge that everyone has the capacity to build a life of dignity and purpose and meaning.
“We know there is a difference between taking a chance on someone, giving them a helping hand, and saying instead you’ can’t make much of your life so never mind, we will take care of you.”