If the Drudge Report is to be believed, Condoleezza Rice is at or near the top of Mitt Romney’s list for running mate. God forbid.
Ms. Rice is by all accounts a wonderful human being. She is intelligent and poised, and her sensibilities and most of her values and philosophy are admirable. She is a galvanizing speaker. But she would be a godawful choice as vice presidential nominee.
The first requirement for the choice is that the vice president be immediately ready to be a good president on Day One of the new administration if some disaster befalls the president. Secretary Rice fails that test. Despite all of her intelligence and knowledge, she did a remarkably poor job as National Security Advisor and as Secretary of State. She showed no sign of strong managerial ability, no indication she knows how to impose her will on policy, and no evidence that her policy instincts and analyses are particularly acute in the first place. On the contrary, she often was on the wrong side of policy disputes; our world standing is worse because of it.
As National Security Advisor, she (in)famously failed to adequately police the raging disputes between Don Rumsfeld’s Defense Department and Colin Powell’s State Department. What emerged was often not just a split-the-baby failure, but a roughly-tear-the-baby approach, with grisly results. From the earliest days of the U.S.-led coalition’s post-Saddam regency and reconstruction effort in Iraq, for instance, the endeavor was a notorious cluster-bumfuzzle, with competing and confusing agendas, lines of authority, and even personnel. Some top officials were sent all the way to Iraq, only to arrive and find that nobody expected them and they weren’t welcome. What began as a triumph eventually fizzled into a slow-rolling stumble-fest, with the Bush administration ignoring for nearly three years the wise calls from multiple sources for more troops and a counter-insurgency strategy matched to Iraq’s cultural realities. (In fact, much of the evidence indicates that she remained a staunch opponent of what became the vaunted “Surge” in Iraq, putting her on the wrong side of the best decision of President George W. Bush’s entire second term.)
Granted, the buck doesn’t stop with the National Security Advisor: It is ultimately the president’s job to make the right calls. But if a president is hamstrung by a weak hand as NSA, the likelihood is that he’ll make serious mistakes.
As Secretary of State, meanwhile, Rice was often captured by the left-leaning State bureaucracy. Her handling of policy towards North Korea was particularly inept, earning her serious criticism from numerous conservatives. She also, by some accounts, was far too slow in recognizing Russia’s Vladimir Putin for the thug he is, leading to baleful results. She also was an enthusiast of the radical-environmental Kyoto Treaty. Finally, Rice certainly didn’t help matters four years ago, and exhibited horrible predictive abilities to boot, when she praised the choice of Hillary Clinton as her successor, calling her “terrific.”
In other words, Rice is clearly experienced and well intentioned — but again and again, both wrong and ineffective. Even apart from the politics of choosing her, then, she’s just not the right person to be a heartbeat from the presidency.
Meanwhile, the politics of a Rice selection, despite the conventional “wisdom” from fuzzy-thinking Republican insiders, would be extremely damaging to Romney’s cause.
Oh, sure, she’s a black woman. Wow. Golly gee! The thinking is not so much that she will therefore attract a sudden surge of black voters or that left-leaning women will somehow flock to the Romney ticket, but that a whole lot of “moderates” of different hues will appreciate the optics and “message” that Romney will supposedly send by choosing Rice. Combined with Rice’s undisputed star power and impressiveness behind a microphone, this message of inclusiveness is supposed to be the proverbial “game changer.”
Perish the thought.
If Romney chooses Condi Rice, he chooses the single former official most closely associated, in a very personal way, with G.W. Bush. It is in some ways undeserved, but Bush remains a profoundly unpopular former president, and the Obama campaign is all but drooling at every possible chance to make this election a referendum on the supposedly horrible Bush past rather than the even worse Obama present. Worse, the part of the Bush legacy that is most unpopular, overwhelmingly so (if, again, not entirely fairly), is the part most directly associated with Rice. Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction. Abu Ghraib. “Torture.” Missing Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. Nation-building failures in Afghanistan.
Nothing would make Obama happier than replaying what so many Americans consider to be bad memories, and tying them to Romney. Nothing would do more to undermine Romney’s message of representing desirable, forward-looking change. By choosing Rice, he might as well forfeit the election right now and save Republican activists and donors the misery of wasted effort.