The more serious argument is that if nothing else is clear this season, it’s that the outsiders are winning. There’s Trump, of course, who is somehow expanding his lead atop the polls despite all manner of impolitic remarks. Fiorina and Ben Carson have quietly moved up in recent weeks, and, on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is giving Hillary Clinton a surprisingly strong challenge. Fiorina is not a natural candidate of grievance; her on-air style is measured and even-toned, and her strong delivery in the Fox News “Happy Hour” debate stood out on a stage of lesser communicators, probably much more so than if she was debating against the more soundbite-friendly Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christie.
Yet the mere possibility of Fiorina’s unfair exclusion from the next GOP debate gives her an opportunity to play against two pillars of the establishment—the media and the Republican National Committee—in a manner that would be laughed off as a loser’s lament if she were still registering at 1 percent in the polls.