Wednesday, July 18, 2012

To Governor Romney: Getting Condi as VP isn't a Shoe-in

Last week, the Drudge Report announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on the top of Governor Mitt Romney's shortlist for running mates. While the choice for Vice President is oftentimes a game of rampant speculation and rarely gets the selection right, the fact that the Romney campaign would be considering Secretary Rice is a sign that they are looking for a shoe-in candidate. Ideally, Rice would seem to be the ideal companion to Governor Romney; what the former Governor lacks in foreign affairs expertise and experience in management of the federal government management, Rice brings experience as the nation's top diplomat and representative to the world. However, while this may seem like the ideal choice, picking Rice will not necessarily guarantee victory.

First and foremost, it is a canard to believe a selection of a Vice Presidential Candidate rarely affects polls or can pick up voters. Senator John McCain threw a hail Mary pass in 2008 picking Sarah Palin but in the end, the economy trumped the firebrand nature of the Alaska Governor. Similarly, John Edwards failed to pick up his home state of North Carolina for John Kerry, and Geraldine Ferraro did not aid in Walter Mondale's embarrassing campaign in 1984. At the end of the day, voters choose the top of the ticket, not the bottom. Come November, people will not care about what Vice President Joe Biden or Dr. Rice (hypothetically) say or believe-they will only care about President Obama and Governor Romney.

Second, Governor Romney is under the false impression that by picking someone as universally respected as Secretary Rice, that she will be absolved from the usual scrutiny that Vice Presidential candidates face. This is misguided because of the fact that as National Security Adviser and later as Secretary of State, Rice was not directly accountable to the American public, though she has been indirectly via her Senate confirmation hearings. In addition, Secretaries of State have the luxury of having the most non-partisan job in Washington. The role of Secretary of State is that of America's representative to the world and promoting America's interests rather than the interests of one party's ideology over another-though it is possible to instate ideology at the State Department. It is for this reason that partisan hands like James Baker made the transition from George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan's attack dog to foreign policy sage and Hillary Clinton shed the polarizing image she had as First Lady and Senator to becoming one of the most revered members of the Obama Administration.

However, the moment Dr. Rice enters the national stage,  her foreign policy doctrine and her worldview will all be fair game for the press, and the voting public. In turn, all of these will become subject to polarization. It is for this reason that many military and diplomatic technocrat superstars like Colin Powell, David Petraeus, and the aforementioned Secretary Baker have all turned down the offers to run for President; they know running departments and running for office are very different animals altogether. For every Dwight Eisenhower that America may yearn for, there are a thousand Alexander Haigs, Bill Richardsons and Admiral Stockdales.

In addition , a Rice Vice Presidential run would also include questioning on some of the more unpopular aspects of the Bush Presidency, including her advice in how to handle the briefing of President Bush on the eve of September 11, and her hand in the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. Thus, Governor Romney would have the odor of a still relatively unpopular former president attached to his ticket. It could also become a battering ram for President Obama. Together, he and the Vice President could then target the ticket as "continuing the policies of the eight years before, Romney with the fiscal issues and Rice with the foreign policy."

While Vice President is certainly a high call to service, it would mean Dr. Rice would need to value service to Governor Romney more than she values her own legacy. Furthermore, her power would be tethered to how much a hypothetical Romney Administration would give her and if she is given a menial Vice Presidency, the role could be a demotion in regards to her actual work while being a titular promotion. If there is one lesson that both Governor Romney and Dr. Rice need to know before going into a race together is that the candidacy must benefit both of them equally.

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