Is there an obvious, but bold, choice being overlooked?
Choosing a running-mate is a about as difficult a decision as a Presidential candidate can make. The rules are not complex (e.g. do no harm, bring a state or demographic if you can, and ‘complement’ the nominee), but the decision is not easy. Back in December, I said that I struggled to see any of the Republican Party candidates as a Vice President to one of the others. All seemed to be maverick Senators, or Governors, or Mayors – none of them struck me as the sort of men who would do well at the bottom of the ticket, working to someone else’s direction. If it is Romney, or Pawlenty, or Tom Ridge, I’m sure we’ll have a chance to debate their strengths and weaknesses ad infinitum, but before the announcement is made, I think there is one candidate who has been overlooked to a large degree.
The more I dwell on McCain’s choice, the more I begin to wonder whether the candidate he should select is Condoleezza Rice.
Her credentials are excellent – former National Security Advisor, the US Secretary of State – she is a Stanford Academic, who as Provost balanced a multi-billion dollar budget, and so her executive experience exceeds the running of the State Department. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she speaks five languages and is an accomplished concert pianist (a key pre-requisite for a successful Vice-President).
The arguments against are well rehearsed, but I’m not sure any excludes her from consideration. Of course she is tied to the GW Bush Administration, as is Colin Powell – the question would be whether she could be re-cast as a moderate who made the most of what was possible given colleagues like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. McCain is not exactly running away from talking about Iraq, and her experience of negotiating with Russia, China, and North Korea only serves to underline that Obama is less qualified to deal with a whole host of nations who didn’t give him a standing ovation on his world tour.
I think she poses a problem for Joe Biden, because it forces his attacks on the Bush Administration to be directed at her, and he will not have the license to play as virulent an attack dog against Rice. She is more than capable of sparring with him, but we also know that it can be politically dangerous for a male politician to appear to bully a woman in a debate.
Her executive experience I have mentioned – the strike against her is that she has never been elected to public office. In a way, I think this is a positive thing – she’s not a 36-year Senator, with a voting record on every issue, and she’s never had to say things to appease the extremes of her party to win primaries. On domestic policy, she is effectively a blank canvass, avoiding any embarrassing prior contradictions of McCain. And it keeps the focus of this election (Rice v Biden especially) on foreign affairs.
However, the other key attributes are race and gender. I don’t think she would cause many women to vote for McCain, or for many African Americans, but I think she does undermine Obama’s unique-selling point, and act as a dampener on efforts to ensure high-turnout. The affinity that African-Americans feel for Obama could be challenged if Rice is chosen – her experiences of being black in American chime far more easily with most black voters, compared to his upbringing in Hawaii. Indeed, any comparison between Obama and Rice diminishes him, given that he is running for President and she would be running only for VP. The possibility of attracting women voters for historic reasons is also a plus for Rice.
Ultimately, I have asked many, many Democrats here in Denver who they would least like to see on McCain’s ticket. They are adept at finding cataclysmic flaws in Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Pawlenty or anyone else you care to mention. But their strikes against Rice rely on a world-view that already opposes the Iraq War, that already says that anyone linked to Bush (except Colin Powell interestingly) is tarnished goods, and that no-one can compete with an Obama-Biden ticket. When you play Devil’s Advocate, Rice seems toxic to confirmed Democrats, but I have yet to hear a compelling reason why she would be an awful choice.
There is an element to which you should pick the candidate your opponent most fears. Biden was an ok choice, but Warner would have set off alarm bells at the GOP. Why do I feel she would be a good pick? Because it would put the Democrats into tailspin, and I don’t think they have a way of responding to her from the perspective of people who don’t already agree with them. It would certainly shake things up a bit – but would he ask, and would she agree?