"The rich will get richer," she warned, if the other side wins in 2016. "The poor will get poorer. The middle class will continue to get crushed."

The speaker was Carly Fiorina, the former Republican presidential candidate. She was warning about a Hillary Clinton presidency.

This was Fiorina's central economic message: "The bigger government gets," Fiorina said on many occasions, "the more powerful and complicated it becomes … only the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected can handle it and the small and the powerless get crushed."

Right there is the most timely, most morally grounded, and possibly most politically effective defense of free enterprise today.

Fiorina actually understood this. Many Republicans speak of "crony capitalism" these days, but they often don't mean much by the word.

If you're an Obama donor and you make some money, a GOP congressman might call it "crony capitalism." Liberals use the term more broadly and emptily — if you get rich at all, it's crony capitalism.

Fiorina actually meant something when she used the phrase. "Crony capitalism," she said in an interview with Nina Easton of Fortune magazine, "is what happens when you have big government get bigger and bigger and more complicated so that only big business can thrive. And big business uses the processes of big government to advantage its position…"

Her solution: "The only way to level the playing field is to lessen the power and the complexity and the reach of both big government and big business."

On healthcare, she made the crucial point that there was no free market before Obamacare. "Health insurance has always been a cozy, little game between regulators and health insurance companies."

But "reform" just made things worse: "Who helped write this bill? Drug companies, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, every single one of those kinds of companies are bulking up to deal with big government."

She's correct. Drugmakers promised to spend big to save Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid if he would usher through an Obamacare that they liked. "We got a good deal," a top drug lobbyist later wrote of the bill.

The senators, congressmen, cabinet officials and aides who wrote, passed, and implemented the law cashed out to get rich. The companies that can afford them will do okay, while the rest wither away.

Fiorina's defense of free markets was not the standard Republican "leave the job-creators ALONE!" It was instead an argument about fairness — about unrigging a rigged game.

This moral defense of free enterprise and small government is necessary if these ideas are to survive, especially in these days of populist fervor. And a full-throated attack on cronyism is needed if Republicans are to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Clinton has always intertwined her policymaking with her fundraising — leveraging her political clout to benefit herself and her cronies. Most voters don't trust her. Attacking her cronyism will be effective for two reasons: it confirms what everyone suspects about her character and it counteracts her arguments that bigger government will make things fairer.

Clinton wants bigger government because she wants more power to help her friends and hurt her enemies. Fiorina always knew that was the message that could defeat Clinton.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the winner of New Hampshire and co-winner of Iowa, isn't a corrupt cronyist. He's just hopelessly naïve in his own battle against corporate power. By calling for bigger government to unrig the economy, he's calling for more gasoline to douse a fire. Some Carlyism could mitigate Sanders' populist appeal.

Fiorina wasn't a perfect enemy of cronyism. She sometimes overstated the case. Also, she eventually slid into a wishy-washy position on ethanol. But she was one of the first candidates to come out against the Export-Import Bank, and her anti-cronyism arguments were the clearest and soundest — because she understood the subject.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz understands the subject. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at least partly does. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich spend a lot less time on it. Donald Trump is very experienced at cronyism.

Fiorina won't be around the race anymore, but any smart Republican will pick up her arguments about cronyism and run with them.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.