Fiorina the Smooth Operator

In a piece at Vox today that you should most definitely read if you are following what passes for a bipartisan debate on climate change, Dave Roberts looks closely at a four-minute segment of an interview Katie Couric did with Carly Fiorina that Republican flacks are praising as a genius tour de force (for Carly, of course, not for Katie). He goes through ten claims Fiorina–not a climate change denier but rather someone who finds infinite excuses not to do anything about it–made in the interview against Democratic climate change proposals and shows they are more than a bit factually challenged. A sample of an argument Carly advanced as a Californian:

California “destroys lives and livelihoods with environmental regulations”

California’s climate regulations are indeed the most ambitious in the nation, and they just keep getting more ambitious. (A pair of new climate bills has cleared the Senate and is headed to the Assembly.)

If California were its own country, it would be one of the world’s top 10 in total renewable energy generation and one of the bottom two in carbon intensity. It is the top state in the nation for venture capital investments in cleantech, cleantech patents, and advanced-energy jobs. In fact, it leads the nation in virtually every cleantech category, from electric vehicles to green buildings to solar capacity to policy to investment, reliably topping the US Cleantech Leadership Index.

Meanwhile, between 1993 and 2013, thanks to energy efficiency, the average residential electricity bill in California declined, on an inflation-adjusted basis, by 4 percent, even as bills rose elsewhere in the country. Between 1990 and 2012, the state cut per-capita carbon emissions by 25 percent even as its GDP increased by 37 percent. Its total carbon emissions are declining, even as its economy continues to grow.

Oh, and California created more jobs than any other state in the nation last year, with the fifth-highest GDP growth rate. And its budget is balanced.

Looks like the state is surviving its environmental regulations so far.

After nine other, similar expositions, Roberts concludes:

However smooth Fiorina may be, in the end it’s not going to make sense to voters to acknowledge the science of climate change and then say you’re against every solution to it except handing out subsidies to the coal industry. That is some unstable derp. If I had to predict, I’d say political pressure will be such that Fiorina will either be forced back into outright denialism or she’ll have to offer something less vaporous on the policy front. She won’t be able to stay where she is.

But note that qualifier “in the end.” Untutored folk watching Fiorina may simply notice how “smooth” she is. And the fact that it’s Katie Couric interviewing her is instructive. A series of Couric inteviews took Sarah Palin down several notches in 2008 because the nationally unknown Alaska governor was anything but smooth. But that’s the essence of Fiorina ’16: a smooth exterior with little beneath it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.