I’m not asking that rhetorically. I really don’t know the answer. You tell me what’s going on here.
Have a look at HuffPo’s table of national polling in the GOP primary. The second debate, Fiorina’s breakout moment, was held on September 16th. In the last poll taken before that day, she was stuck at two percent. The next poll? 22 percent, tied with Trump nationally. She never approached that number again but she hit double digits in various polls afterward, notching 11, 15, 7, 6, 12, and 11 percent in the six surveys that followed. A week after that, at the very end of September, she was still pulling double digits in some polls, hitting 9, 8, 11, 9, and 13 percent. That last poll, conducted by a reputable outlet (Suffolk) from September 24 to 28, left her tied with Ben Carson for second behind Trump. A promising couple of weeks for Carly.
Since then, though, she hasn’t hit double digits once. This month she’s done 9, 9, 6, 7, 6, 7, 6, and 5 percent in the most recent Morning Consult poll. She’s within a couple of points of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush in most of those polls, but she trails Rubio fairly consistently, at least, and she’s well behind Trump and Carson. In two polls, in fact, she trails Ted Cruz. What happened? The self-serving lefty explanation, as you might expect, is that she’s been exposed as some sort of fraud in her claims about Planned Parenthood and is paying the price. Never mind whether that’s true or not — it isn’t, but left-wing “factcheckers” know what their mission is when PP is threatened. The question is why the PP dispute, which is far more boutique than pro-lifers would prefer despite Fiorina’s best efforts to amplify it at the debates, would drive her numbers down among Republicans and right-leaning independents who’d naturally be inclined to take her side. The liberal narrative that she’s a big fat liar might hurt her in a general election but the effect should be minimal in a primary populated by voters who are skeptical of media attacks on Republicans, especially vis-a-vis strongly partisan issues like abortion.
The better explanation for Fiorina’s downturn, I think, is that a lot more pieces like this about her record at HP ended up filtering through big media in the aftermath of her poll surge. Republicans eager for info about their new star’s background would pay attention to something like that, especially with Trump periodically attacking Fiorina as a failed CEO. Meanwhile, Fiorina’s done little to counter the attacks with paid ads, relying on the same “earned media” approach that Trump has perfected but with only a tiny fraction of the airtime that he’s gotten. As Twitter pals pointed out when I put this question to them this afternoon, as a longshot candidate whom big donors had overlooked initially, she’s been stuck trying to make a splash at the debates and on whatever cable news shows will have her on. Although that might be about to change:
B/t July 1st & Sept 30th, we raised $6.8 million; spent $2.2 million; & have $5.5 million cash on hand. Thank you @CarlyFiorina supporters!
— Sarah Isgur Flores (@whignewtons) October 13, 2015
That’s more money than Rubio raised in the third quarter, and like Rubio, Fiorina finally has some donors with verrrrry deep pockets interested in her. If she does well at the third debate later this month, she might have the resources this time to keep her media profile high and sustain whatever momentum in the polls she gains from it. Then again, though, Rubio and Ben Carson have also been living off of “earned media” by and large and their poll numbers (Carson’s especially) have shown more resilience since the second debate than hers have. It can’t all be a function of resources. If Carlymania is already over, what killed it? Inquiring minds want to know.