For one bright, shining moment, GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina was within striking distance of being a real contender for the nomination. Now, the former (failed) CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who has long touted her business record, has fallen from her exalted place right behind the Trumpster and is back among the “second-tier” nobodies.

After the last GOP debate, Fiorina was a rising star among Republican voters, with poll numbers of 15 percent among likely voters.  Today, the luster has worn off; according to the most recent CNN poll, she’s down to 4 percent. Her poll numbers are slightly better among women voters, but not by much.

So…what happened?

Fiorina’s fall from grace is a mystery to Donald Trump, who expressed surprise. Appearing on CNN’s New Day, he said: “I don’t know why she would have dropped so much…there’s no answer to that. She’s talented. I’m surprised to see that much of a drop.”

One reporter for speculates that it may have to do with her comments about Planned Parenthood.  Those comments centered around a controversial, graphic video that purported to show an aborted fetus, still alive and struggling on a metal examination table while its organs were harvested. The video was later proven to be one of a stillborn child whose mother had miscarried. A member of a pro-life group had obtained the video (without the woman’s consent) and edited it in order to mislead and manipulate public opinion by manufacturing controversy.

Whether Fiorina was among those who had been duped or knew of the hoax may be open to question. She nonetheless gave her opinion during the last GOP debate: “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.’ ”

That remark came back to haunt her after the deception was made public. Even after the video had been proven fake, when confronted by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Fiorina remained adamant:

I don’t accept that at all, I’ve seen the footage…I find it amazing, that all these supposed fact-checkers in the mainstream media claim this doesn’t exist. They’re trying to attack the authenticity of the videotape.

Fiorina’s issues with Planned Parenthood didn’t end there. A few days later, it was revealed that her own charitable organization, the mysterious and questionable Fiorina Foundation (actually an account within a larger organization), donated nearly half a million dollars to Planned Parenthood over a two year period. Although the money was not directly channeled to Planned Parenthood, revelation of the connection raised serious questions about her sincerity, considering her vehement criticism of the organization.

Her mistake may have been in focusing on the narrow issue of Planned Parenthood instead of discussing broader issues concerning voters. This is the opinion of GOP strategist Rob Stutzman, who told CNN:  “They [the Fiorina campaign] had this moment and in some ways reduced it by not taking a broader, frankly, more presidential focus…they weren’t prepared for the moment they fought so hard for.”

Beyond that, there have been serious questions about Fiorina’s much-touted business record. As her candidacy has drawn more voter attention, that record has come under increasing scrutiny. As CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina oversaw the acquisition of rival Compaq Computers, a deal that harmed shareholders and resulted in massive layoffs. It was the primary reason that the HP board asked for her resignation.

It’s not just the CNN poll that shows Fiorina losing ground. Public Policy Polling has her down to 6 percent, while Fox News shows her polling at 5 percent. Meanwhile, like Cleopatra, Fiorina continues to reign as the “Queen of Denial.” Either she continues to be a pathological liar or she cannot discern reality from fantasy.  She continues to insist that her poll numbers haven’t actually fallen, citing more obscure polls that have her at marginally higher levels. She’s also apparently denying that the national polls even exist.  It should come as no surprise; after lying about Planned Parenthood and her business acumen, why wouldn’t she lie about her poll numbers?

Fiorina is not the only Republican candidate to see a drop in polling numbers in the wake of last month’s debate. Marco Rubio, who has recently attracted attention from some deep-pocketed billionaire donors, has dropped from 11 to 8 percent in recent polling. In the meantime, Donald Trump, whose lead was threatened by Fiorina’s rise, is back on top as most favored to win the GOP nomination.

Could Fiorina make a comeback? Anything is possible, though it is highly unlikely. She will nonetheless have another chance come October 28th, when Republican candidates will again face off behind the podiums. GOP strategist Amanda Carpenter advises Fiorina to take a different approach. She told CNN that “Donald Trump has shown such a willingness to go after her on her business experiences, which is why she needs to make it more of a character question.” She adds that Fiorina is “probably the most capable debater…in terms of going into a high-stakes environment.”

According to Carpenter, Fiorina needs to convince voters she is the better candidate by being “substantive.” The big question is, since she has been exposed in her lies (or delusions) since the last debate, can she win voters’ trust? Part of Trump’s appeal lies in how he is unafraid to “tell it like it is” – at least as he perceives it, whether it bears any resemblance to reality or not.

Fiorina herself isn’t concerned. During a campaign trek across Iowa recently, she told reporters: “I am looking forward to the debate because it is an opportunity, once again, for me to introduce myself to that 40% of people who don’t know anything about me.”

She may be in for a rude surprise if it turns out that the “40%” she refers to already do know her, and they perceive her as a compulsive liar or someone who has little grip on reality.

Watch David Pakman address Fiorina’s tumbling numbers

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.