Carly Fiorina: The former Hewlett Packard CEO won the kids' table debate.

Carly Fiorina Won the Preliminary Debate. It Wasn’t Even Close.

Carly Fiorina Won the Preliminary Debate. It Wasn’t Even Close.

The Slatest
Your News Companion
Aug. 6 2015 6:46 PM

Carly Fiorina Won the Preliminary Debate. It Wasn’t Even Close.

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Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina participates in a presidential pre-debate forum hosted by Fox News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena Aug. 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Seven Republican presidential hopefuls assembled at the Quicken Loans Arena for the first of two GOP debates Thursday evening, but one candidate was not like the others. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina immediately distinguished herself among those behind a podium. Fiorina was poised, and her answers were crisp, specific, and substantive.

William  J.  Dobson William J. Dobson

William J. Dobson is Slate’s Washington bureau chief and the author of The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.

She had the first zinger of the night when she turned a question about Donald Trump around by asking if anyone else had gotten a call from Bill Clinton before running—a reference to the real estate baron’s ties to the Clinton family and the recent revelation that Clinton may have encouraged Trump to run. “I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn’t.”

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When asked about how she would handle the conflicting agenda of America’s allies in the Middle East, Fiorina was the first to invoke her close relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (“my good friend Bibi Netanyahu”) and said she’d call the Supreme Leader of Iran to scotch the Iran deal. “Yes, our allies are not perfect, but Iran is at the heart of most of the evil,” said Fiorina. Where other candidates cast about, Fiorina was steady and confident. At one point, even former Texas Gov. Rick Perry seemed to suggest she was the right person for the job.*

Admittedly, her competition was from candidates who couldn’t crack the top 10 in early GOP primary polling. But if the first GOP debate in Cleveland amounted to the “kids table,” Fiorina looked like the one adult in the (almost empty) room.

*Correction, Aug. 6, 2015: Will Dobson misstated that former New York Gov. George Pataki suggested Carly Fiorina would be a good president. It was former Texas Gov. Rick Perry who suggested that.