Jul 13 2012

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The Next Vice President?

“There is no way I would do this…I didn’t run for student council president. I don’t see myself in any way in elected office. I love policy. I’m not particularly fond of politics.” ~ Condoleezza Rice regarding the 2012 Republican Vice Presidential nomination

Categorical statements like these make it easier to cross off a public official in the ongoing Romney VP-stakes.  I took the former Secretary of State at her word and  took her off my list weeks ago. But now The Drudge Report is running a story that the list of Romney running mates has been narrowed to a handful, and Condi is not only in the running, but is the front-runner.

The Romney campaign has not commented on the story, and Rice is on vacation this week and not available, so for now – for the sake of argument – what  if Drudge is right?

First, on the day of such an announcement, Romney will have made history by naming the first African-American woman to the GOP ticket.  Mortifying for woman’s rights activists on the Left, it will have been the GOP alone which twice put a woman forward on a national political ticket in two consecutive elections.

More important, Rice would be the “anti-Palin.”  Democrats who lampooned Sarah Palin as a vacuous “Caribou Barbie” would have a hard time laying a glove on Rice. Indeed, Rice has excelled at the very kind of academic achievement that sends shivers up Democratic legs.

At 19, Rice earned a B.A., cum laude in political science from the University of Denver. She obtained a master’s degree in political science from the University of Norte Dame in 1975. In 1981, at the age of 26, she received her Ph.D in political science from at the University of Denver. For the paragons of advanced study, Rice’s professional career has been anchored to her university work at Stanford  (nearly 20 years), and it is it that base upon which her high profile government assignments have revolved.

Rice’s selection as the VP nominee would immediately generate excitement and buzz. It would be a candidacy-altering event for Romney, whose public image has been a caricature of  a cautious, reserved and out-of-touch patrician. It would shatter the preferred Democratic narrative of Romney as a tool of a Party dedicated to rich, old, white men.

And Rice brings valuable, complementary skills to a potential ticket with Mitt Romney – solid and practical foreign policy experience. As a former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor who served during one of the most tumultuous decades in American history, Rice brings gravitas in her own right to an area where Romney is not as strong.

More subtly, Rice also brings an authenticity in her African-American heritage and experience that President Obama cannot match.

Rice was born in Alabama in 1954. Her family can trace their roots to the years before the American Civil War. Rice grew up in the segregated south and was directly impacted by the struggles of the civil rights movement. During the violent days of the Civil Rights Movement, Rice’s father, a Reverend armed himself and kept guard over the house. Rice herself was eight when her schoolmate Denise McNair, aged 11, was killed in the bombing of the primarily black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church by white supremacists in 1963.

Thematically, you could call Romney-Rice the “Fix It” ticket. Romney, the former businessman, dedicated to reforming government and getting the economy growing again, creating jobs and reducing the deficit. Rice, the experienced hand in foreign policy, re-balancing America’s interests abroad.  It would be a potent team of talent.

Importantly, the ticket’s very diversity, would be tied, not to some form of “quota politics,” but to actual merit – two high performance individuals who rose to the top of their professions based on skill and capability.

So a slam dunk, right?

Not so fast.

A Rice candidacy, like any potential candidacy, comes with its own set of unique challenges.

Rice has never held elective office. While that isn’t a disqualification, the last candidate for VP with no formal electoral background was Sargent Shriver, the second VP pick for George McGovern in 1972. Before that, you have to go to the 1940 election, where Franklin Roosevelt was seeking a third term, where he picked his Agriculture Secretary, Henry Wallace, to be his running mate.

This matters to the extent that Rice’s views beyond foreign policy are not widely known. Additionally, no amount of experience at the top of appointed positions in the federal government prepares an individual for the rough and tumble of a campaign. Rice’s life – not simply her credentials – will be be the subject of intense scrutiny. Those that have been through it – think Sarah Palin – cannot conceive of what the microscope will be like. That may be a difficult transition for Rice.

And what are Condoleezza Rice’s positions outside foreign policy? This matters because grass roots and movement Republicans already have reservations about Romney’s commitment to conservative causes.  A VP nominee who is not on the same page will likely to cause more trouble in the base and increased suspicion of Romney, despite the overwhelming desire to replace President Obama.

On two issues, Rice is already at odds with the base.  She has said that she is “mildly pro-choice,” and does not favor overturning Roe v. Wade. That will be a red-line for social conservatives.  With regard to the hot button of immigration, Rice has been quoted as saying, “When did immigrants become the enemy,” sure to fire up those who favor a tough approach to illegal immigration.

Even with her established record as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Rice is not without controversy.  As National Security Advisor, she was a vocal proponent of the Iraq war in 2002-03.   In addition, the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that on July 17, 2002, Rice met with CIA director George Tenet to personally convey the Bush administration’s approval of the proposed “water-boarding” of alleged Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah. “

Indeed, Rice’s central role and close personal relationship with  George W. Bush would insert into the campaign the very issue that Republicans has worked diligently to avoid – association with the Bush administration on everything from terrorist detention to ‘wars of choice.”

And Rice’s record has not only been a source of controversy on the Left.

In late July 2008, former Undersecretary of State and U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was referring to Rice and her allies in the Bush Administration whom he believes have abandoned earlier hard-line principles when he said: “In terms of the Bush presidency, this many reversals this close to the end destroys credibility… It appears there is no depth to which this administration will not sink in its last days.”

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly criticized Rice after their terms in office ended. In his book, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, he portrayed her as a young, inexperienced academic who didn’t know her place. In addition, in his book, In My Time, former Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that Rice had misled the president about nuclear diplomacy with North Korea, saying she was naïve. He called her advice on the issue “utterly misleading.”

Other conservatives still have criticized Rice in particular for her opposition to the change of strategy in Iraq and surge in U.S. forces that began in 2007, an effort that was a turning point for the Iraq war.

All of that will need to be assessed and balanced against the needs of the ticket.

In addition, there is also an operational consideration.

The vice presidential nominee’s role in any campaign is to be the attack dog so that the presidential nominee can rise above the most rhetorically meaty attacks. While Rice has been critical of President Obama’s foreign policy, those criticisms have been voiced in the language of academia where content and emotion are measured and circumscribed.  It is not yet known whether the political attacks of an African American VP candidate on an African American president will have an impact, and if so, will they be deleterious to the Republicans.

So, strangely, in considering Condoleezza Rice for the ticket, Mitt Romney is in a position not that different situationally from John McCain four years ago.

Certainly, if Rice is in the mix, she has been vetted far more effectively than Palin was, as we have since found out. And, on paper, Rice is a far stronger candidate for VP, with exceptional academic credentials and significant national and global experience and a record of accomplishment.

But there are durable, practical political issues that keep the advisability of the candidacy as an open question.

Four years ago, facing a catastrophic financial crisis, an unpopular incumbent president and the Obama phenomenon, McCain had to do something to shake up the race – to change the dynamic and the narrative, in order to have a chance at winning.

Palin was high risk/high reward that did not work out as planned.

This year, after a long and divisive Republican primary, Romney has closed to within the margin of error with President Obama, and remains competitive in all swing states.  In addition, Romney’s fundraising is set to put him on par with Team Obama, where McCain was outspent 3-1.

Sound judgement would advise that Romney doesn’t need a “game-change” this year. Indeed, if he simply doubles down on “quaified and capable,” he will be offering a startling contrast to Obama-Biden.

So will Romney tempt fate in pursuit of celebrity? Or will he be governed by his cautious instinct?

We’ll know within 40 days.





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