— -- Make no mistake, Carly Fiorina is running for president of the United States. But, at times, it seems like she’s pitching herself to voters to be CEO.
“The only way you go from secretary to CEO is you challenge the status quo, you produce results, and you build teams,” Fiorina recently told a gathering in Oskaloosa, Iowa. “And that is what we need to do for the American people.”
The former Hewlett-Packard chief, who made a name for by climbing the corporate ladder rather than rubbing shoulders in the halls of power, talks about governing in terms more akin to a business plan than a policy agenda -- placing emphasis on producing measurable results and talking tough about holding bureaucracies accountable, promising a “top-to-bottom review of every single agency’s budget.”
Fiorina’s case to voters is about more than her track record as a business leader, which has itself been the subject of some controversy since Fiorina was fired from her job as the CEO of HP. During her time as the company's chief executive, Fiorina oversaw a controversial merger that was accompanied by 30,000 layoffs. Fiorina explains her firing as a boardroom brawl and points out that she steered the company during the dot-com bust, when the technology industry as a whole was struggling.
Her case is also about her experience as an executive decision-maker.
“There are no tougher decisions than the president of the United States has to make,” Fiorina said at the same event in Iowa. “And for someone who has never made a decision in their life, the Oval Office is the heck of a place to learn.”
Fiorina’s decision-making experience, she suggests, has equipped her better for the pressures of the Oval Office than someone whose only real governing experience is casting votes in Congress.
But Fiorina’s performance in the boardroom has not convinced everyone that’s she’s ready to take the reins. Current HP CEO Meg Whitman, for example, has said Fiorina’s corporate experience, though valuable, does not make her ready to be commander-in-chief.
"While I think business strengths are important, I also think having worked in government is an important part of the criteria," Whitman, who supports New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, recently told CNN. "I think it's very difficult for your first role in politics to be President of the United States and so I think having experience in either the Senate or as the governor of a state is really important.”
But Fiorina’s years at HP demonstrate she’s not afraid to make unpopular decisions.
Fiorina oversaw the layoffs of some 30,000 employees during her time as the company’s CEO. She also talks about filing many of the nation's IRS agents.
But if Fiorina gets her way, there won’t be a need for as many IRS agents as there are today. That’s because she wants to slash the tax code from its current length -- which she says is 73,000 pages -- to just three. (The official tax code is much shorter than the figure Fiorina uses, at 3,868 pages in length, according to tax lawyer and Cornell University Professor Robert Green. But Fiorina's campaign is using a number that also includes regulations and case law.)
“That has to be a first order of business, to simplify [the tax code] dramatically to get rid of all that complexity,” Fiorina said. “Because it’s only by simplification that we level the playing field between big and powerful and small and powerless.”
Fiorina says such a dramatic simplification is achievable if every deduction and loophole is eliminated.
It’s part of her broader vision to shrink the size of government while spurring economic growth through a strategy of cutting regulations, which Fiorina says are “crushing” small business innovation and American families while emboldening big corporations and the powerful power players, who thrive in a system of “crony capitalism.”
But with Fiorina polling at just 3 percent in the most recent national Quinnipiac poll, Fiorina’s business pitch has yet to sell in a big way in the Republican nominating process.