WASHINGTON — For Republicans, there’s something about former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that makes her an inspirational choice to be Mitt Romney’s running mate – or an unmitigated disaster.
Republican thinkers from Weekly Standard editor William Kristol to former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan have swooned about the prospects of a Romney-Rice 2012 ticket. And Rice apparently wowed Romney and his brain trust when she spoke at a campaign retreat in Park City, Utah.
“She’s qualified,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who’s also rumored to be in the Romney VP mix, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “She’s excellent.”
Other conservatives think otherwise. From the moment Rice’s name surfaced as a potential vice presidential pick, they’ve howled about her support for legalized abortion and argued that she’s too moderate on other domestic issues to share the same ticket with someone whose conservative credentials have also been questioned.
“Choosing Condoleezza Rice would inject tremendous excitement into the campaign and remove all suspense from the outcome,” conservative pundit George Will said Sunday on “This Week.” “You would have such an uproarious convention in Tampa, you’d have perhaps a third party, you’d have a challenge to her on the floor, you’d have walkouts of delegation, and he’d (Romney) lose 40 states.”
Still, Rice detractors and supporters agree that she’s an intriguing figure in the vice presidential debate, even though she’s repeatedly said that she’s not interested in the job.
“It would be a gamble for Mr. Romney, but it would be an interesting one,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute. “Her gender is critical. The fact that she’s African-American might not get Romney more black votes, but it might help with moderate whites.”
On the plus side, Rice is a compelling story: a preacher’s daughter and a child of the segregated South who overcame and went on to become an accomplished pianist and ice skater; a Stanford University provost; national security adviser under President George W. Bush, and later the first African-American female secretary of state
But Rice would also bring considerable baggage that could turn off conservative as well as moderate voters, Brown and others say. She’s closely aligned with Bush, whose name is still political kryptonite to many Republican and Democratic voters.
She was part of the neo-conservative core within the Bush administration that pushed for the Iraq war to rid Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction that were never found. "We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," she warned in 2002 during the march to war. In a hypothetical fall debate, Vice President Joe Biden likely couldn’t challenge her on Iraq; as a senator and one of his party’s top voices on foreign policy, he also supported the Iraq war. But others could and would remind the country of her role.
“Any throwback to the Bush years leads to re-litigation of the Bush years and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which probably would not be helpful,” said Steve Duprey, a New Hampshire Republican Party official who was a traveling confidant of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during his 2008 presidential campaign. “Secretary Rice has never participated in partisan politics; she has zero political experience in that. I think it would be even more severe for her than what Gov. Sarah Palin went through.”
In addition, Rice unabashedly supports affirmative action.
A Rasmussen Poll in February found that 55 percent of Americans opposed affirmative action, while 24 percent supported it and 21 percent were undecided.
While she was in the White House, the Bush administration led a Supreme Court brief opposing a University of Michigan admissions program that used race as a considering factor. Rice, who was then national security adviser, took the extraordinary step of issuing a carefully worded statement saying that she disagreed with Bush’s opposition to the Michigan policy.
“It is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body,” she said in the statement, which added that “race neutral means are preferable.”
Rice’s downsides make it unlikely that she will be Romney’s choice, several political analysts believe.
“Condi Rice is a political rock star,” said Joel Goldstein, a professor at the St. Louis University School of Law and an expert on the vice presidency. “But the ideological clash with the party base is a deal breaker.”