Carly Fiorina came out strongly against funding for Planned Parenthood in Wednesday night's debate. Ted Cruz and Chris Christie did so as well, but Fiorina's stance is striking because a large part of Fiorina's appeal is that she has executive business experience, and funding for Planned Parenthood is shaping up to be a central issue of a budget fight that is looming in a little less than two weeks. By putting herself visibly into the middle of a fight between Congress and the President, Fiorina is courting a bunch of potentially "no win" questions in the next few weeks.
Planned parenthood: unplanned vacations for federal employees?
A vocal group of conservative members of the House are threatening to revolt and possibly shut the government down if Planned Parenthood is not defunded. This threat is not an idle one. Many of the same members of Congress shut the government down for about two weeks in 2013. That time, the goal was to defund Obamacare. It was a disaster for the GOP. Not only was Obamacare not defunded: it seemed to become more popular. In addition, the GOP took a hit in the polls during and after the shutdown.
A good executive keeps the business open
At the most general level, these are important lessons for any politician: holding the government hostage does not play with voters (just ask Newt Gingrich). The lessons are particularly poignant for someone like Fiorina, though, for two reasons.
First, part of Fiorina's appeal is that she has executive business experience and, as such, knows how to set politics aside and get things done. The "professional" temperament is one that avoids t
antrums and lives to fight another day. But she has no way of controlling how this particular fight will go. She is neither a member of Congress nor the president. While opposing Boehner is probably not a bad idea (in June, Speaker Boehner had 31% approval among Republicans), the simple fact is that following too closely with conservative members of the House GOP might cede a lot of control of her message to forces beyond her control.
Second, if the House does shut down the government over Planned Parenthood, Fiorina could be forced to choose between standing for her principles or demonstrating that she knows how to put partisanship aside for the greater good. As I've written about before (a couple of times), explaining one's way out of such a choice is exactly why it's so hard for us to keep the government open.
Aren't 14 opponents enough?
In the end, the coming weeks might be a really great "teachable moment" for all those aspiring to be president. In addition to seeing the ugliness of budget politics up close, they will each get a very clear picture of just how much of a pain Congress, even a Congress controlled by their own party, can be. As far as trying to join in this forthcoming fracas, I just don't see any upside for the GOP candidates. Rather, I see only an opportunity to join in a gunfight with no bullets.