You might know Nicolle Wallace as one of the co-hosts of The View, but you’re more likely to be familiar with her work as the GOP campaign operative who was once responsible for handling vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. It was a role for which she apparently feels duty-bound to repent. Absolution from the liberal entertainers who have given her a second career seems, however, eternally just beyond her reach.
As a commentator and frequent television guest in the Obama era, Wallace has embraced punditry. Offering unsolicited advice to political figures is part of that job description, and Wallace has often performed an admirable service as the voice of reason while surrounded on all sides by liberal voices on the set of Morning Joe.
Because the professional company she keeps holds views and subscribes to values that deviate so substantially from her own, Wallace may perhaps be used to being unduly scoffed at for submitting even the most anodyne and reasonable policy prescriptions. But there is a difference between offering sage but unwelcome advice, and simply being provocative just to fill the silence. Wallace’s latest pronouncement falls into the latter column.
Described as “one of the GOP’s savviest strategists,” Wallace recently sat down with Politico’s Glenn Thrush to pitch her new novel about a hypothetical presidential administration composed almost entirely of women. The premise alone tickles a liberal erogenous zone that is never more stimulated than by the prospect of retributive social justice targeting the oppressor classes — in this case, the male gender. But Wallace has spent years rebranding herself as a pundit, and she’s perhaps loath to give up entirely on that reinvention in favor of the latest incarnation of Nicolle Wallace, the novelist. To preserve that brand, the former GOP operative offered a bit of advice to Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina: Stop campaigning against Hillary Clinton.
“Her role in the Republican field has been to be the most sort of strident critic of Hillary Clinton’s, which is interesting to me as well. Why does that fall to a woman?” Wallace told chief political correspondent Glenn Thrush during a taping of this week’s POLITICO podcast.
“You know, I don’t want to be the chick police, but I think that Carly will go far by broadening the attack to everything that’s wrong with the liberal approach as opposed to being the thorn in Hillary Clinton’s side,” added Wallace, who has been making the rounds promoting her new novel, “Madame President,” which she calls a “fantasy” in which women also serve as defense secretary and White House chief of staff.
“She runs the risk of having it look personal,” Wallace added. “But it’s certainly up to her, if she thinks she’s found her niche as the No. 1 Hillary Clinton critic, I’m sure she’ll get a lot of attention.”
Wallace added that, in 2008, Clinton made a point of not issuing attacks on Palin, and the former vice presidential nominee returned the favor by not attacking Clinton. Clinton is not the defeated and diminished figure she was in 2008. What’s more, anyone with any familiarity about how Clinton campaigns must know that the former secretary will try to frame any attacks on her as rooted in personal animus. Hillary Clinton is always the victim. Why Wallace brought her 2008 experience up in this instance is anyone’s guess. Perhaps she simply wanted to remind her audience of her qualifications to opine on presidential campaign strategy. Savvy.
Whatever one might think of Carly Fiorina’s presidential prospects, her campaign is certainly not in desperate need of outside advice. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO entered this absurdly crowded field of candidates a virtual unknown who was familiar only to political junkies as the candidate who lost a bid for U.S. Senate to Barbara Boxer in 2010.
Since she entered the 2016 presidential race, Fiorina has deftly managed to control the media narrative around her candidacy. The former CEO has assembled a crack team around her that managed to turn what might have been a bad news cycle into a success story. Fiorina was briefly mocked for failing to purchase a URL that could be linked to her campaign, but she responded to that controversy by buying up the domain name associated with every comedian, late night host, and reporter who asks her about it. “Very clever,” Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd conceded after quizzing Fiorina on “domain-gate” only to learn she had just snatched up ChuckTodd.org. “Campaign works fast.” It sure does.
As for her attacks on Clinton, they are actually rather smart. They are substantive, not gratuitous, and are often cutting. Conservatives might justifiably take umbrage at the notion that Friona is best positioned to censure Clinton as a woman, but there is no doubt that the former CEO is protected from a shallow media culture that will undoubtedly accuse a male GOP candidate of bias for issuing even the mildest attacks on the Democratic presidential candidate.
“‘Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment,’ she says, a dig at Clinton’s much touted travels around the world,” The Week’s Michael B. Dougherty observed. “Fiorina rightly detects that Clinton’s bragging is a weak substitute for her lack of substantive achievements as secretary of state.”
Fiorina can be lashing when talking about Clinton’s tweets in support of women’s rights, even as her foundation accepts money from countries with terrible records on women’s rights. And Fiorina’s willingness to put herself out there in interviews with Seth Meyers, Katie Couric, and The Today Show are also a nice contrast to the Clintonian political style of hunkering down with an army of paid experts.
Mary Katharine Ham agrees. “Perhaps the most important thing in the modern media environment is to know when to push back, to know how to turn a question around, be nimble, not take the media’s premises as they’re stated, and show a bit of charm while doing so,” she wrote. “Plus, that kind of candidate keeps us entertained, and as long as we have to watch the whole thing, that’s the least they can do. Carly’s doing her part.”
Finally, and this is most important, it’s not at all clear that Wallace knows that Fiorina is running in a primary race. She faces the uphill climb of her life if she is to secure the nomination. Fiorina has to not only carve a niche out for herself on the steerage compartment that will be the GOP’s presidential debate stage, but she must also do so in a way that leaves her viable in a general election in the event that she wins her party’s nod. So far, Fiorina has managed to thread this needle with clever messaging, savvy rapid response, and a deft eye on the ultimate prize – taking down Hillary Clinton.
As a pundit, let me offer my own bit of unsolicited advice to Carly Fiorina: Ignore Nicolle Wallace. You’re doing just fine.