Roger Simon interviews Carly Fiorina
ROGER: This is Roger Simon for Pajamas Media. And I have the pleasure of being here today with Carly Fiorina who is known to most of the public as the woman who broke the legendary glass ceiling at Hewlett Packard and became one of America’s first CEOs on the feminine side. Welcome, Carly.
CARLY: Thank you so much. It’s great to be with you, Roger.
ROGER: And now Carly is the chairwoman of the RNC Victory committee. Could you give us — you know, I actually don’t know what the exact role of the Republican National Committee’s Victory committee is in the campaign. Could you give us an outline of that?
CARLY: Well, sure. And I’ll quickly say that this is, you know, less than a week on the job so I’m learning as well. But, in essence, the Victory ’08 structure is something of a hybrid designed to make sure that the campaign and the RNC’s effort to elect John McCain as well as other Republican candidates are aligned. And so, within the Victory ’08 structure we have a fundraising chair, Lew Eisenberg. Frank Donatelli is in charge of political operations and works very closely with both the RNC and the campaign as do I. So we’re just trying to make sure that we leverage all of our resources and assets to win.
ROGER: When you say “resources and assets”, is this a — primarily a fundraising or a policy —
CARLY: It is policy, advocacy and fundraising. My principal role actually is to be a primary advocate for John McCain and for the party. And so I will be out and about and communicating a great deal. So I would think of it as policy, advocacy and fundraising as well.
ROGER: And how does your CEO experience juxtapose with this to some degree?
CARLY: Well, one of the reasons that I endorsed John McCain publicly, about eighteen months ago actually, and it was the first time I had ever publicly endorsed a political candidate, was because I think this election really matters. I think he is the right man for the job at this time. And it wasn’t simply because of his foreign policy experience, which I think everyone acknowledges is nonpareil, but it also is because of his economic credentials. I bring obviously a lot of expertise and experience in the business world. And so I’ve been honored to be able to provide a business and economic perspective to a lot of his ideas and programs. Certainly, I understand something about what it takes to ramp up what has been a fairly small operation into a much larger operation for the purposes of the general election. And hopefully, I can help contribute by communicating our policies and positions in terms that American families and American small businesses can understand and appreciate.
ROGER: How do you intend to do this ramping up? I mean, it’s not exactly the same as Hewlett Packard obviously. It’s a political campaign. What’s on the agenda here?
CARLY: Well, the first thing that’s on the agenda is to make sure that we have the right people in the right job and that we have the right communication between those people. And, you know, that sounds pretty basic but I know from my experience that getting the right people and the right jobs is really key to success. And so I think we’ve spent a lot of time and thought making sure we do have the right people in the right jobs. I think they’re going to see us expand our surrogate program in some interesting ways. And then, of course we have to make sure that we have the communication channels open, that we’re aligned on our policy recommendations. And finally, as you pointed out at the outset, there’s a lot of opportunity to raise money here both for the party and for the McCain campaign and we want to do a really good job of that.
ROGER: Well, we all note that the Obama campaign has done a kind of magnificent job online raising money for Obama. Do you have any plans to use this as a we-are-an-online-company and use online for raising funds for McCain? How are you going to do it?
CARLY: Well, we already have quite a good web-based program and we certainly want to get more and more money out of that program. But, you know, John McCain has had his million dollar days over the web as well. And we hope we will have more of them. So I don’t think we’re in a situation where we have to start a web-based effort from scratch. Far from it. But we certainly can leverage it more effectively and intend to. And you’re correct that Obama has just done a terrific job of using the web to attract new donors as well as new voters. And I think we have an opportunity to reach out to people who haven’t necessarily considered the Republican party in the past.
ROGER: Moving on to another subject, everyone knows that there’s a battle royale going on on the Democratic side at the moment with no conclusion yet in sight which keeps Clinton and Obama in the front of the news. And there’s some worry that McCain will then go into the — you know, onto page 6 of the newspapers, as it were — not page 6 but page 8 — I maybe made a bad choice there. Do you think this is a good or a bad thing?
CARLY: Well, you know, on balance — first of all, there’s nothing we can do about it. So one of the things I’ve learned in business is you don’t spend a lot of energy thinking about things that you can’t do anything about. So the Democrats are going to do what the Democrats are going to do. But I think the opportunity for us is to continue to sharpen the contrast between whomever the Democrats nominate and John McCain. And I also think they’re continued contest gives us the opportunity to have John McCain look presidential, act presidential on subjects from foreign policy to the economy. And I think that’s an opportunity. You’re right. You know, the media loves the battle so we have to make sure that we articulate our policies in compelling terms and have compelling communicators out there. But all in all, since there’s nothing we can do about what the Democrats are going to do, we need to play our best game in the interim.
ROGER: Now the economic area of course is your expertise and we know that there have been two recent big economic battles going on, one around NAFTA and one around the Boeing/Airbus controversy. How would you differentiate McCain on those two issues from the Democratic side?
CARLY: Well, let’s start with free trade. I, as a business person, I am quite concerned by the protectionist rhetoric that is coming out of the Democratic party. And I think we need to match that rhetoric with the facts about free trade. The facts of free trade and the facts of NAFTA are that NAFTA and free trade create jobs in this country and create opportunity. And we need to continue to put those facts in front of the American people. It is also a fact that trade agreements are an incentive for our allies to work with us. You know, Columbia, for example, is an important ally in the drug war and in the war on terror. And if we cannot get a free trade agreement passed with Columbia, they will be less likely to help us in areas of foreign policy that matter to us.
And finally as well, I think we need to remind the American people that we have always been the strongest economy on earth because we’re innovators, because we’re entrepreneurs, because we’re always moving on to the next thing. And that’s why John McCain is so focused on innovation as an engine of growth. It’s why he would make the R&D tax credit permanent. It’s why he would focus a lot of time and energy on retraining American workers so that when the lower value jobs leave, they’re prepared to take on the new higher value jobs in innovative industries.
I think all of those facts we need to put in front of the American people because we know from experience that if we roll up our borders so no trade comes in, our economy suffers.
ROGER: Well, we have a weakening economy; everybody knows that. And —
CARLY: Yes, we do. And because we have a weakening economy, we really have to focus on job creation. And how do we create jobs? We create jobs by giving more money back to the people who do the job creation. And that is small business, medium business and large business. But the truth is, most jobs in this country are created by small businesses.
ROGER: And now the Democrats are going to go into the industrial rust belt states where the job situation is the worst and the accused are sort of losing — and probably of Republicans — of having lost many jobs overseas. How are you going to contradict that?
CARLY: Well, first of all, we are also going to go into the rust belt and John McCain — and I was with John McCain in Michigan. We will go back to the rust belt states and talk factually about how many jobs have been created in this country because of free trade. We will point to, for example, the fact that Toyota, just to mention an automotive company, Toyota has invested in job creation in this country. That’s a good thing for America. But I think we will also say that if you want to focus on job creation, you don’t continue to endure the second highest tax climate in the world. The tax rate on businesses in this country is second only to Japan. And we certainly know that Japan has not exactly had a robust and rapidly growing economy over the last decade. That’s why John believes we have to lower the tax rate from thirty-five percent to twenty-five percent. And as a business person, I know that if businesses are paying less money on taxes, they’re going to be able to hire more workers. Or, for example, we need to go to the American worker or the small business owner and we need to say, what will it do, Mr. or Mrs. Small Business Owner, to your ability to create jobs if the minimum wage is increased every single year. Well, the answer is from a small business owner, they’ll hire less people. They’ll create fewer jobs. Those are the kinds of facts that we need to get out in front of the American people.
ROGER: What about the inherent protectionism in the Boeing/Airbus controversy which is in some ways related to this? How do you stand on that one?
CARLY: Well, look. I think if we want to continue to be the most competitive nation, the strongest economy in the world, then we have to have confidence in our own ability to compete. That doesn’t mean you win every one. It means you’re capable of competing. And John McCain expended enormous amount of energy and political capital to uncover corruption in the original Boeing contract that was costing taxpayers real money. People went to jail over what happened in that contract. That’s doing the hard work for the American taxpayer. This was now, thanks to John McCain’s efforts — this was a fair competition. And Boeing didn’t win it. Did they have a right to protest it? Absolutely. John’s interest has always been in making sure that these procurements, multi-billion procurements, are competitive, are fair, are open and transparent. And that’s what this one was and that’s a good thing.
ROGER: Earmarks is going to be a big subject in this campaign, no question. Can you give some idea of where McCain stands vis-a-vis his opponents?
CARLY: Well, you know, I guess I would just use one more example, what we’re talking about, working families, hard working families and small business owners. You know, John McCain is famous, justifiably so, for being an opponent of the earmark. And sometimes I think we talk in Washington about earmarks like it’s just a government policy issue. In the 2008 budget alone, there are seventeen billion dollars worth of earmarks. Now the Democrats may say well, that’s not a lot of money compared to trillion of dollars in the budget. But you know what? To a working family, seventeen billion dollars is a lot of money. To a small business, seventeen billion dollars is a lot of money. I ran an eighty billion dollar business. And seventeen billion was a lot of money. So it’s worth going after these things.
ROGER: Are we going to have some exposure during the campaign of the earmarks that were your opponents were earmarking?
CARLY: Yeah, I think you can count on that. You know, I think Senator Clinton was responsible for over 200. I think Senator Obama has been responsible for over fifty. Senator McCain has been responsible for exactly zero over his long career.
ROGER: So he will open the books on all of that?
CARLY: Well, it’s public record, you know?
CARLY: He can’t hide from that stuff.
ROGER: Okay. Well, we’ll be looking for it. Thanks very much, Carly Fiorina, for joining us here at Pajamas Media. This is Roger Simon.
CARLY: Thank you, Roger.