Carly Fiorina, you're no Dan Quayle

Photo by REUTERS/Aaron Bernstein

Ted Cruz’s announcement of Carly Fiorina as his choice for vice president drew obvious comparisons to Ronald Reagan’s 1976 early vice presidential announcement — Sen. Richard Schweiker — but it is also reminiscent of George Bush’s surprise vice presidential selection of Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle in 1988.

In both cases, the results were not positive for the presidential candidates and should have served as a warning to Cruz about making an impulsive vice presidential selection. The first warning: Reagan lost, despite the early selection. The controversy of Quayle’s nomination should have sounded a second alarm. Favorable political and campaign events enabled Bush to survive Quayle, but it is unlikely Cruz will survive Fiorina. Here’s why:

Vice presidents often provide some kind of balance to the ticket. For example, selecting a political outsider is wise if the presidential candidate has extensive Washington experience. George Bush had the luxury of selecting Dan Quayle (a young, conservative senator) to balance his two decades of service. Questions over Quayle’s qualifications overwhelmed the announcement and distracted the campaign — and Quayle, at the time, had more Senate experience than Ted Cruz does now. Fiorina’s business background compliments Cruz’s maverick persona, but it does not provide any ideological or regional balance and her rawness may prove distracting. If nominated, first-term Sen. Cruz’s pick gives the Republicans their most politically inexperienced ticket since 1940, and the Democrats will surely pounce on this in the fall.

Vice presidential selections can often provide campaigns with new momentum. Quayle’s nomination coincided with the convention and an aggressive negative campaign against presidential candidate Michael Dukakis that erased a 17-point July lead. Cruz’s announcement provides little momentum and is a desperate distraction from a campaign that has lost six straight Republican contests, has a tenuous alliance with John Kasich and is mathematically prevented from winning on the first ballot. Fiorina does not change these facts, which will magnify if Cruz does nothing to reverse them.

Vice-presidential selections should expand a candidate’s voting base. Republicans believed Quayle’s age and appearance would attract younger voters and help to close the gender gap between between the parties. Cruz is anticipating that Fiorina’s strength with millennials and women will help him with these same groups. In 1988, the Republicans won despite the youth and gender gap; in 2016, they cannot. Increased support among women and young voters, who voted disproportionately for Obama in 2008 and 2012, is essential if the Republicans have any hope to win in 2016. Fiorina’s selection does not expand Cruz’s electability in the primary — and if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, it likely will not help in the general election, either. The same is true among millennials if Bernie Sanders wins.

Vice Presidents should win their state in the Electoral College. In 1988, Indiana voted Republican and Quayle remained popular with conservative voters. Fiorina does not place Cruz in a stronger position in the must-win Indiana primary, and she is unnecessary in the remaining safe Cruz states of the upper-Midwest (Montana, South Dakota). The Electoral College favors the Democrats, and Fiorina does not expand the GOP electoral map. In California, it is unlikely that Fiorina, who lost by double digits in her 2010 Senate race, would turn that state or any others from blue to red. It is equally unlikely that she will even tip California to Cruz on the state’s crucial June 7 primary. If Cruz was looking for a candidate for electoral reasons, Fiorina was not the choice.

Any buzz generated by Fiorina will be short lived, and her political impact will be negligible. If Cruz stops Trump from winning the necessary 1,237 delegates, it will not be because of Fiorina. We vote for the presidential candidate, not the vice president (even Sarah Palin was not enough to change the outcome in 2008). The electoral obstacles facing Cruz are enormous, and Fiorina does not help him overcome these.

In a 1988 vice presidential debate, Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas famously informed America that Dan Quayle was “no Jack Kennedy.” As a vice presidential candidate, Fiorina brings so little to the Cruz campaign that she is no Dan Quayle.

Brian W. Smith

Associate Professor, School of the Behavioral and Social Sciences, St. Edward's University