ERROL, NH — It’s 8:30 AM in rural upstate New Hampshire. Farmers have already counted their cattle and watered their crops, but someone else’s day is just starting. Carly Fiorina is lacing up her knee-length stiletto boots in front of me, and she hears my quite audible gulp.
“I thought reporters were supposed to be brave,” she says with a sneer.
Carly Fiorina thinks a lot. A holder of two masters degrees and the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, she casts an intellectual shadow over her competitors. She isn’t without her indulgences, though.
“You ever see this? You ever see these videos? They’re amazing. These Japanese women put on heels and stomp animals to death. I need to start my day with those. That’s what gives me the energy to go out there. That’s why I do what I do. Do you understand me?”
Despite my protests, Carly makes sure I watch all 5 videos she selected as she sips her Keurig-prepared coffee. Her hands-on leadership is literally apparent as she guides my head back to the screen of her tablet every time I try to look away. My socks now soaked in cold sweat, we’re off to the campaign trail.
As a Presidential candidate whose only political experience was losing a Senate race by double digits, Carly’s campaign has always looked like a long shot. This has never been more apparent than now, as she languishes at the bottom of the polls and has staked her campaign on beating the odds in New Hampshire.
Yet just a few months ago, Carly was the breakout star of the GOP debates. On stage at the Reagan Library in September, she famously described in graphic detail a purported video of a late term abortion at Planned Parenthood.
“Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,” Carly declared, her lips curling and her eyes maintaining an unblinking stare.
Fact-checkers called foul, saying the video didn’t exist. But Carly was defiant.
“Oh, it’s real,” Carly told Face the Nation. “I’ve watched that bloody fetus video maybe a hundred, two hundred times. It’s on this site, Rotten dot com. That’s Rotten dot com. That’s where the real nasty, sick stuff is. They got a whole section of fetus dissections, guys doing surgery on themselves without anesthesia, just the nastiest stuff you can think of. Rotten dot com. I have it bookmarked.”
It’s lunchtime at Jack’s Burgers in Errol, NH. But that doesn’t discourage Carly from doing her usual stump speech.
“You seen these ISIS videos? Can’t stop. Can’t stop watching them. They just…the head is dangling by the little fibers that connect the spinal cord to the brain. It’s so fucking sick. They seem so thin but they keep the head dangling around the bloody stump of the neck without falling off. You have to see this shit.”
Spoons and forks drop, as the diners seem uneasy. Carly goes around to each table and makes the small talk that voters here have come to expect every 4 years.
“What are you eating there? Open-faced meatloaf sandwich? Oh wow, that reminds me of those video, it’s called swap.avi, it’s made by this messed up Brazilian porno company. There’s these two chicks, right, and one of them takes a dump, and, and the other–“
As Carly describes one of her favorite films in detail, diners within earshot make a beeline to the bathroom. One runs outside and empties the contents of his stomach into the snow. The candidate is perfectly glowing, feeding off the energy and emotion her words inspire.
The owner of the restaurant, Jack, pulls me aside and begs me to ask Carly to leave. I shake my head and mouth “no.” We both have terror in our eyes.
But not every voter is terrified by Fiorina. At the next campaign stop, a rally at a small Baptist church, she receives an enthusiastic response as she runs down her favorite snuff videos.
“This guy is a politician, right, and he calls a press conference and in front of all these live cameras, he puts a handgun in his mouth and just blows himself away. Blood goes everywhere. All of it on live TV. And if you send me to Washington you will see many more career politicians follow suit.”
“I love this shit! Keep going! Keep going!” cheers Curd Curruthers, a 43-year-old man dressed entirely in camo-patterned clothes. He’s kept on his Oakley sunglasses inside but more notably, is openly carrying an AR-15.
“This bitch gets it. She knows what the world is about. She’s not afraid to face it. Can’t get enough,” he raves to me.
Carly has caught the ears of a demographic referred to by pollsters as “War Dads.” They’re typically middle aged, single, and without custody of their children. These internet savvy voters are the biggest consumers of beheading videos, airstrike footage, and anything else that can be classified as a violation of human rights or dignity.
“It’s a disgusting, filthy world out there and you need to be strong. I feel like Carly’s the only one who can do it. I’ve looked into her eyes and she’s showed me stuff I never even found before. She’s beyond Liveleak. I feel like I can trust her to take whatever steps are necessary,” Seth Cliggins says, watching the rally exactly 300 yards from the church, as he is required to do by law.
Carly needs these war dads to turn out in big numbers if she’s to make a respectable showing in New Hampshire. But come Primary Day, how many of them will have custody hearings, or meetings with parole officers? Only time will tell.
It’s time for a 20-minute sit-down with Carly in her campaign dungeon in Manchester. I have been dreading this all day, but a journalist must face his fears to get the story.
Carly’s press secretary sends me through a labyrinthine series of damp hallways. There are bumps all over my arm from the cold. I finally find the candidate’s dressing room. As I’m about to knock, I hear from the other side in a hoarse croak, “Enter.”
Carly is sitting with her back turned to the door. I can see she’s watching Russian dashcam videos on her iPad. “Close the door,” she says, without so much as turning to me. “Sit.”
I plop down on a 6-inch stool. I feel small. It’s like when you go to parent-teacher meetings in elementary school and have to sit in a kid-sized desk.
She finally turns to face me. She’s wearing a Catholic nun’s habit over her standard pantsuit.
“Um, okay. Ms. Fiorina, what was the craziest thing made of butter you saw at the Iowa State–“
“What is your fear, Carl?”
“What is your fear.”
I’m sweating profusely. I feel her voice first in my ears, then pierce into my gut, until it finally settles coldly in my groin. She reminds me of the older girl at camp who slapped my thighs with a towel because of how I ran. I could never stop thinking about her and I never knew why. I feel that exact same feeling again as Carly leers over me. She puts a riding crop on my shoulder as she inches closer.
“Tell me what scares you the most, Carl. I know a lot scares you. You’re scared right now. But what scares you the most?”
My legs are heavy. I feel like they’ve been filled with concrete. I’m a prisoner in my own body as my fear constricts my breathing and narrows my vision. I can’t fight or fly. My boy. Colby. I remember Colby. I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but I feel like it would leave my beautiful boy without a father. I come alive.
Children can give their fathers wings. I only know that because I was sprinting down the hallway as I heard Carly calling my name before I felt I was on my feet. I just see the elevator at the end of my path, running as fast as I can.
“What are you afraid of?” she taunts.
My terrified jag down the tastefully patterned carpet is my answer.
Will Carly have what it takes to “Live Free or Die?” when the ballots are counted in New Hampshire? Or will John Kasich ride a shopping cart full of empties to victory? We’ll find out in less than three weeks! Until then, I’ll see you at my three-martini mailbag tomorrow, Digheads!
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet to @carl_diggler.