On the night of the first Republican presidential debate, Carly Fiorina stormed the so-called kids’ table, then got upgraded to the main stage. There, she gave a shrewd performance that shot her all the way to second place in a national CNN/ORC poll. In the night’s most memorable zinger, she calmly excoriated the race’s front-runner, Donald Trump, for commenting on her looks: “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Fiorina said.
Since then, however, Fiorina hasn’t found a way to break through in the broader race. Her poll numbers have notably fallen, despite another highly competent performance in the third debate last week in which Florida Senator Marco Rubio was widely considered the victor.
As the next debate looms in Milwaukee, questions press in on her campaign: What has held Fiorina’s campaign back from the same kind of lift-off as Rubio? And what can she, a master of the debate form, do to reverse the downturn? Here’s what Republican activists, pollsters, scholars, and Fiorina’s advisers said.