There's a dream out there, and her name is Condi. Since her confirmation last month as Secretary of State, enthusiasm for the idea of a Condoleezza Rice presidential candidacy seems to be bursting out all over. Condi-for-President paraphernalia is available for purchase on several websites; some of it was spotted last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where Rice garnered 18% in the straw poll of activists' favorites for the 2008 nomination, behind only Rudy Giuliani (19%).
There are at least nine websites dedicated exclusively to encouraging a Rice campaign, with names like Rice2008, Condi for Prez, Citizens for Condi, and Blogs for Condi; the last has links to about 30 bloggers who are bullish on a Rice '08 run. (Click here.) There's already a 527, Americans for Rice, raising money to promote the idea of a Rice candidacy and support her campaign, if there is one.
There's something a little odd about all this. Rice has expressed no interest in running. The Secretary of State hasn't been a stepping stone to the presidency in 150 years. We know very little about her thoughts on domestic policy, and what we do know gives few hints as to how she might govern.
At a luncheon in 1999 Rice described herself as a "Second Amendment absolutist" -- growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, she watched blacks in the early sixties arming themselves in self-defense during periods of racial tension. But on affirmative action, she's offered only the lame statement that "while race-neutral means are preferable, it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body"; liberals cheered. On abortion, she's reportedly described herself as "mildly pro-choice" or "reluctantly pro-choice"; no word on what, specifically, she means by that.
As with Giuliani, her chief appeal is that she might be counted on to continue with a Bush-style foreign policy. But it's worth noting that she doesn't have many fans in the foreign policy establishment, even on the right half; a little birdie who has worked for the civilian leadership at the Pentagon at a very high level has told me that he knows no one in government who thinks much of her. Indeed, getting National Security Council members on the same page is to a certain extent part of the National Security Advisor's job, and the way that bureaucratic infighting sometimes paralyzed decision-making during Rice's tenure is not encouraging. As David Frum has noted, it took 14 months to settle on an interim leader for Iraq simply because there was an unresolved disagreement about who would be the right man.
One of the biggest driving forces behind enthusiasm for Rice is the notion, popularized by Dick Morris, that she is the best candidate to stop Hillary Clinton. Writes Morris:
The political fact is that a Rice candidacy would destroy the electoral chances of the Democratic Party by undermining its demographic base. John Kerry got 54 percent of his vote from three groups that, together, account for about a third of the American electorate: African-Americans, Hispanics and single white women. Rice would cut deeply into any Democrat's margin among these three groups and would, most especially, deny Clinton the strong support she would otherwise receive from each of them.
The basis for Morris's political assumption is dubious. There's little evidence that blacks are much more likely to vote for black Republicans as they are for white Republicans, and the mention of Hispanics is, unless I'm missing something, a non sequitur. Maybe single white women would be more open to a candidate like Rice, but that's hardly a slam dunk. In a Rasmussen poll earlier this month, Sen. Clinton led Dr. Rice 55% to 32% among those who are not married. Overall, Rasmussen showed Clinton leading Rice 47% to 40%.
This isn't the first time Republicans have gotten starry-eyed about an idealized black candidate; there was buzz about a potential Colin Powell candidacy in the fall of 1995. Hilariously, William Kristol was a booster a Powell, years before Powell became undoubtedly Kristol's least favorite cabinet member. (Others at the Weekly Standard were less enthused.) By that time, it was clear that the GOP field was weak enough to make the lackluster Bob Dole the frontrunner. While the field for 2008 isn't looking all that exciting at this point, there is plenty of time for a formidable candidate to emerge. The slightly desperate courting of Rice seems awfully premature.
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