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Condoleeza Rice, New Political Star?

Condoleeza Rice’s speech to the Republican National Convention last night, which she delivered entirely from notes without use of a teleprompter, has been among the most well-received speeches of the entire convention so far. That’s not entirely surprising given the fact that Rice has been someone Republicans have had their eye on even since she served in a relatively minor role on President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Council. When the Republicans returned to the White House in 2001, she seemed a natural choice for National Security Adviser and then, when Colin Powell retired, Secretary of State. Ever since she returned to the academic world, there has been speculation about a political career for Rice, with many Republicans hoping she would run for office in her home state of California, or even for President. When the Veepstakes was in full gear, there were rumors floating that Rice was on the final version of Mitt Romney’s short list. Last night, she used the time the RNC had granted her to deliver a speech that the delegates in the hall clearly enjoyed immensely:

Condoleezza Rice added a dollop of star power to the evening’s proceedings with a call to tell the world ”where America stands” that mixed the exceptionalism rhetoric of the Bush administration, some soaring reminders of the country’s immigrant past and civil rights obligations, an academic lecture about trade agreements and a reminder about the obligations of leadership.

Almost as an aside, she assured cheering delegates that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have the answers.

Many of Rice’s themes echoed the red meat offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) two hours earlier — the need for U.S. strength in an uncertain and dangerous world — but delivered more as a policy speech than a political rallying cry. Without mentioning the incumbent president, his policies or perceived failings, she warned that “we cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind.”

Delegates stopped roaming the aisles and chatting with their neighbors to pay attention as Rice brought them to their feet with lines such as, “We must work for an open global economy and pursue free and fair trade to grow our exports and our influence abroad.” In the past three years, she told them, the United States had ratified only three trade agreements, while China had signed 15.

Parts of her speech were reminiscent more of Obama than of Romney. “The essence of America-that which really unites us-is not ethnicity, or nationality or religion,” she said, “it is an idea, and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. That it doesn’t matter where you came from, but where you are going.”

Education, she said, “is the civil rights struggle of our day.” Immigration laws should “protect our borders” and “meet our economic needs,” but should also “show that we are a compassionate people.”

Rice was eloquent on the burdens of leadership and the need to pay attention to the rest of the world at a time of deep domestic concern. “I know that it has not always been easy, but it has been rewarding to speak up for those who would otherwise be without a voice —  the religious dissident in China, the democracy advocate in Venezuela, the political prisoner in Iran. It has been hard to muster the resources to support fledgling democracies, or to help the world’s most desperate.” She spoke of war weariness, that “it feels that we have carried these burdens long enough.”

But, she said, “we do not have a choice.”

There’s much to criticize in Rice’s speech last night, of course. A good deal of what she was talking about essentially called for a return to Bush Administration policies that everyone who isn’t a diehard Republican have pretty much rejected. Moreover, when asked yesterday morning to name a foreign policy failure by the Obama Administration, Rice was unable to do so:

O’DONNELL: Can you be specific about somewhere where you think President Obama has failed on foreign policy.

RICE: What we should do tonight, is talk about what a President Romney would mean for America. It’s not a time to look back, it’s a time to look forward. We have real challenges out there, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Europe, with our allies.

O’DONNELL: But if President Obama isn’t doing anything wrong, then why change things?

RICE: It’s a question of what a President Romney would do and there is no doubt that the United States’ voice has been muted and when the United States’ voice is muted the world is a more dangerous place.

O’DONNELL: How is the United States’ voice muted?

RICE: Just look at the situation in Syria for instance. We have a circumstance in which Assad is butchering his people. The Iranians are helping him to do so. The United States seems to be mired in the Security Council. The Russians and the Chinese say no, no, no and we don’t have an answer. When that is the case, it’s a dangerous place. …

O’DONNELL: But I think the president agrees with that as well. Having covered the White House, the question is whether … a President Romney would be willing to advocate and commit American troops, American lives, in a place like Syria right now.

I would submit, though, that looking to a convention speech to be a dissertation on specific policy proposals, either on foreign policy or any other topic, is a mistake. The primary purpose of a convention speech is to set the tone for a campaign, and to address the party faithful. In that regard, Rice did exactly what the RNC asked of her last night.

The Fix’s Aaron Blake contends that, with this speech, Rice has made herself a new GOP political star:

 TAMPA — The next time Republicans are searching for a presidential candidate, rest assured: Condoleezza Rice will be a part of that conversation.

Rice’s speech Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention was easily the best-reviewed of the week so far and, at times, even seemed to out-hype vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s keynote remarks.

The former secretary of state used her time on stage to deliver a speech that was at times wonky, at times red meat for the base, and at times personal reflection. It was good without being gimmicky — a trap other GOP speakers seemed to fall into.

Through it all, the audience was rapt.

(…)

The question from here is whether she actually wants to be president — or serve in some other elected position (senator from California, perhaps?).

Rice has made a significant effort to stay in the political game in recent months, and there is clearly a place for her there. A recent Fox News poll in advance of Ryan’s selection as vice president showed that Rice was the No. 1 choice for the job, with 30 percent of Republicans picking her, well ahead of Ryan and even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Much of that could be attributed to the fact that she had higher name ID than the likes of Ryan and Rubio, but it shouldn’t be discounted as a reflection of enthusiasm for her role in the party.

As we’ve written several times, there were plenty of reasons she wasn’t the V.P. pick this time — not least the fact that she has expressed some pro-abortion rights tendencies and may or may not have voted for President Obama in 2008. Oh, and there’s also the matter of her having served as a close adviser to Bush, who Republicans would still like to pretend doesn’t exist. Rice was deeply involved in the Bush administration’s foreign policy, which even many Republicans now balk at.

But time heals wounds, and parties (and politicians) evolve. The fact is, if Rice wants to run in 2016 or 2020, abortion may not be as huge a hurdle as it once was. And by that time, Rice will only be in her low-to-mid-60s, and Bush and Obama could be a relatively distant memory.

One thing’s for sure: the Republican base already liked Rice a lot even before Wednesday night. And on Thursday, they are going to like her even more.

The speech she gave is the kind that keeps politicians in the national dialogue for years to come. It wasn’t on the same level as President Obama’s 2004 Democratic convention keynote  — which effectively stamped his ticket for the 2008 race — but it’s along the same lines.

As Blake notes, in the past Rice has demurred from taking on a political role of any kind. During the Bush Administration, of course, this was due to the non-political nature of the jobs that she held. Even after 2008, though, she declined to step into the political ring at a time when, notwithstanding the sour reputation of the Bush Administration as a whole, she likely could’ve run for any office she wanted to and the GOP base would’ve rallied behind her. When the talk about her possibly becoming Romney’s running mate came up last month, she dismissed the talk and indeed dismissed the idea that she would ever have any role in electoral politics. Yet, there’s no denying that Rice has taken on a more political role even while denying any interest in running for office. Several months ago, she ended up being the star attraction at a private Romney fundraiser by delivering a speech that impressed pretty much everyone in attendance, including the candidate. Now, she’s given a speech before the Republican National Convention that, while not a direct attack on the President, was certainly partisan and political in nature. If Rice truly didn’t want any role in politics, she wouldn’t have accepted the invitations, I submit.

This doesn’t mean that Rice is interested in running for office. One can have a political role outside of elected office, and Rice has said in interviews several times this week that she is especially interested in engaging the public in more discussion of issues like education, which she calls the civil rights issue of the modern era. However, if she does have that desire in her, it seems fairly clear to me that there are plenty of Republicans who would welcome her into the arena. The interesting thing, though, would be how many of them would react to the fact that she has expressed views on some issues that conflict with where the majority of Republicans stand. She’s said repeatedly, for example, that she considers herself pro-choice on the issue of abortion, she’s spoken positively about at least granting gays and lesbians the right to enter into civil unions, and she’s firmly in the Jeb Bush camp on the issue of immigration. Much like Colin Powell, it may be that her star power in the GOP will fade if she starts speaking out more on these types of controversial issues in a manner that deviates from where the base of the party stands. That’s a matter for the future, but for the moment at least Rice clearly made some fans inside the GOP last night. Where she chooses to go from there is something she’ll have to decide.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    I recall her 2000 convention speech, which was her introduction to most of the nation, quite good as well. If she talked in 2004, I don’t remember it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Except for her role in selling the war in Iraq to the public, and selling the possible nuclear threat that Saddam Hussein presented – she has impeccable credentials.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 2

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Condoleeza Rice’s speech to the Republican National Convention last night, which she delivered entirely from notes without use of a teleprompter

    Why are conservatives (and libertarians) obsessed with teleprompters? I don’t recall people being obsessed with teleprompter technology, which has been around for many years, until Obama became president. Why is that?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  4. I think the whole teleprompter thing is silly. I mentioned it because it’s a fact about her speech, nothing more, nothing less.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  5. steve says:

    She has never held an elected office. Her time as NSA was certainly a mixed bag, unless you are a hardcore neocon. She is not going to be a presidential nominee.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  6. Dwight says:

    A friend of mine says this is the third time he has seen Condoleeza speak this year, and it’s the third time he has head this same talk from her. Puts the not using the teleprompter in a bit of context.

    Content wise, this says it all

    A good deal of what she was talking about essentially called for a return to Bush Administration policies that everyone who isn’t a diehard Republican have pretty much rejected.

    many Republicans think America is dumb enough to repeat the same mistakes again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  7. Rob in CT says:

    Well, she wouldn’t make it to the top of the ticket in today’s GOP. Maybe in tomorrow’s GOP.

    Not that I’m impressed by her work, mind you. She might be intelligent (no doubt), well spoken and a decent enough person. But her record is not good, and I care more about that than I do the rest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  8. Dwight says:

    @Dwight: *third time he has heard…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    “New” political star?? Hmm. You would think that being NSA and Sec. State would mean she already is a political star. Although for obvious reasons liberals in the media and on university campuses vehemently would disagree.

    That aside, Rice is a viable high-level cabinet pick for any GOP administration. Clearly she’d be a viable candidate for California governor, although in a ghastly irony she would have enormous difficulty getting through a GOP primary contest out here and its addled and “single issue” demographics. The U.S. Senate could use someone like Rice, although with Feinstein and Boxer as entrenched incumbents that’s a tough row to hoe. Regarding the presidency, again the ghastly irony is that Rice would have major problems dealing with the GOP’s national primary selectorate and its bad demographics and detached priorities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  10. As I noted in the post, those positions are not generally seen as being as overtly “political.” Indeed, you will never see a NSA or Secretary of State campaigning for a President’s re-election or for other candidates. Hillary, for example, will be out of the country during the Democratic Convention

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Franklin says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I agree the teleprompter thing is silly. For one thing, one misplaced word in an off-the-cuff remark these days can ruin a career. But on the other hand, since so many people use them, it’s impressive when somebody doesn’t. IIRC, the teleprompter failed at the start of one of Bill Clinton’s SOTU addresses. But he was so well-prepared that he delivered the first 20-25 minutes without it, and nobody knew the difference.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. Barry says:

    @al-Ameda: “Except for her role in selling the war in Iraq to the public, and selling the possible nuclear threat that Saddam Hussein presented – she has impeccable credentials. ”

    And being National Security Advisor during the worst attack the USA has ever suffered.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  13. Franklin says:

    Regarding Rice, I have been generally impressed with her and appreciate her intentional avoidance of criticizing Obama. (I disagree with Doug’s characterization that she “couldn’t” come up with a foreign policy critique.)

    My only concerns with her are basically the same things as al-Ameda said, and whether she has learned anything from it. I guess I just don’t agree with her method of projecting American power, which still appears to favor military action over diplomacy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Barry says:

    @al-Ameda: “Why are conservatives (and libertarians) obsessed with teleprompters? I don’t recall people being obsessed with teleprompter technology, which has been around for many years, until Obama became president. Why is that? ”

    Rovian Big Lie technique, which is an amplification of standard right-wing Freudian projection.

    Take your own biggest weaknesses and crime, and accuse others of them.
    Bush was famous for not being fluent in his own first language, so the right accuses Obama of needing help (Obama, who once took on 50-odd GOP politicians and verbally whipped them).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  15. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Clearly she’d be a viable candidate for California governor, ”

    Let’s see – zero domestic policy experience, zero domestic political experience, no significant other assets in California (such as Schwarzenegger having a career there and massive face/name recognition),………

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. stonetools says:

    The problem with this speech is that Ms. Rice really can’t identify a single thing Obama is doing wrong. A honest conservative would have to admit that Obama’s FP is fine.

    Ms. Rice is the intelligent conservative’s idea of what a political candidate would be. Unfortunatel;y, nowadays, the typical Republican candidate is more like Todd Akin- who would easily beat Ms. Rice in most Republican primaries.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  17. Dave Schuler says:

    Dr. Rice’s future is in think tanks, the academy, or in an appointive role in some future Republican administration. That’s it. She has no future in elected politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  18. I’m sorry, but it seems like a lot of the praise amounts to “She speaks so well!”. Take that for what its worth.

    Condi the statesperson is an impressive figure. Condi the Bush era advocate… honestly? Mixed bag. The end results of her selling of the Iraq War – just like Colin Powell – are terrible. But if you read Woodward’s book on the post-9/11 era, she fought with the more dominant personalities of that administration for a different push.

    That, to me, scares me off of her being President more than anything. She couldn’t win that conversation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. Rob in CT says:

    I mean… do we have to pull out her record here? It’s pretty embarrassing.

    Meanwhile, this is what she’s bringing:

    Without mentioning the incumbent president, his policies or perceived failings, she warned that “we cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind.”

    Which is substanceless.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  20. C. Clavin says:

    That Rice can be a Republican star after the failures of 9.11, Afghanistan, and Iraq…says pretty much all you need to know about Republicans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  21. Franklin says:

    Well, she has always dreamed of being NFL commissioner, too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  22. C. Clavin says:

    “…while not a direct attack on the President, was certainly partisan and political in nature…”

    It’s gotta be pretty hard for Rice to attack the President with a straight face when he has done what she and the rest of the Republicans couldn’t. Talk about the gang that can’t shoot straight.
    They allow 9.11 on their watch. Then they ignore Afghanistan…and invade Iraq. All they really managed to accomplish is to shoot a guy in the face and out a covert operative. Yeah…she should definitely run for office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  23. rudderpedals says:

    Did an ambassadorial position in the Soviet Union open up? Secretary of Piano? The lady doesn’t bring anything to the table.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  24. MBunge says:

    @Christopher Bowen: “But if you read Woodward’s book on the post-9/11 era, she fought with the more dominant personalities of that administration for a different push.”

    Even taking Woodward’s book as gospel, the fact that she lost despite her status as a Bush family courtier speaks ill of her abilities as any sort of political actor.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. James in LA says:

    Were she not an accomplice to war crimes, I could actually see voting for Dr. Rice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  26. Robert Levine says:

    Condi Rice is an empty suit. Her sole demonstrated strength is in getting male mentors to appoint her to positions above her competence.

    Any competent candidate, D or R, running against her for anything more significant than dogcatcher would beat her like a drum. She was the central person in the national security apparatus during the two greatest national security debacles in recent memory furchrissakes. The delegates might have chosen to forget that last night, but in any setting where simply running the clock out on questions isn’t an option (as it was, sadly, during her testimony to the 9/11 Commission), she would melt down quicker than the Wicked Witch of the East.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  27. swbarnes2 says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Why are conservatives (and libertarians) obsessed with teleprompters? I don’t recall people being obsessed with teleprompter technology, which has been around for many years, until Obama became president. Why is that?

    You aren’t serious are you?

    Obama is a black president. Huge numbers of conservatives take it as an axiom that he can’t be competant at the job. So how do they express this sentiment to each other without just saying “He’s black, of course he’s stupid”? They take completely normal behaviors and scream that they are proof that he’s incompetant. And then step 2, “respectable” conservatives amplify this sentiment by saying “Gee, I’m a political commentator, but darned if I understand very common conservative thinking. All I know is that it’s inexplicable, and absolutely not racist”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  28. Me Me Me says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Clearly she’d be a viable candidate for California governor

    Good grief.

    First of all, no Republican is any longer a “clearly viable” candidate for California governor. After Arnold even being a movie star at best makes you a long-shot.

    Secondly, leaving aside her party affiliation, Rice has never held elected office. Her area of expertise of foreign policy, which has no relevance the issues that California faces.

    Thirdly, she was a total failure in her area of expertise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  29. @James Joyner: same reaction from me: she gave a really good speech in 2000 (which I would consider her first foray into politics) and it generated similar interest in her Politicla future. However, I don’t see it happening.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. DRE says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:
    Surprisingly (to me at least), I agree with almost everything you said except the “liberals in the media” bit and this:

    Clearly she’d be a viable candidate for California governor, although in a ghastly irony she would have enormous difficulty getting through a GOP primary contest out here and its addled and “single issue” demographics.

    You are overlooking the fact that there is no longer a GOP primary contest in California, except for president. All other offices have a top two non-partisan primary which someone like her (both demographically and politically) could easily win. I don’t know how she would be at fundraising or campaigning, and her interests would fit better with the Senate, but she would be well positioned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. An Interested Party says:

    …again the ghastly irony is that Rice would have major problems dealing with the GOP’s national primary selectorate and its bad demographics and detached priorities.

    In other words, Rice could never be on a GOP presidential ticket because she’s black and pro-choice…

    …she warned that “we cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind.”

    She also warned about smoking guns turning into mushroom clouds and we see how well that turned out…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  32. Rob in CT says:

    In other words, Rice could never be on a GOP presidential ticket because she’s black and pro-choice…

    The GOP would have to change in important ways. But then it wouldn’t have to be a total change. Rice is fine with restrictions on abortion, but not banning it. She’s the sort of pro-choice that actually has a majority in public opinion polling. She is, in the context of abortion rights, a moderate.

    And I think the GOP would love to nominate a minority for POTUS, just so they could say see we’re not racist. The whole thing where the worst thing that can ever be done is accuse someone of racism? Yeah, that has real emotional value.

    As for her record… the “Conservative” party in America doesn’t have a memory. That was the beforetime. Before the Obamamonster. It doesn’t matter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Jib says:

    Oh good grief will you people never learn. She was in the inner circle of one of the worst administrations in US history. She took point on selling to the US public some of the very worse mistakes that administration made. Politics aside, by all accounts her managerial skill is non-existent, organizational chaos followed her where ever she went.

    She is the peter principal incarnate, very good at getting promoted (which includes being able to give a good speech to a room) and not good at all at actually doing anything. She has to have a boss, she can never be the leader herself, how can she figure out what to do if she has no boss to kowtow to?

    She has peaked, getting into Augusta was the pinnacle of her career.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. jukeboxgrad says:

    her role in selling the war in Iraq to the public

    Rice told some brazen, proven lies, like this one :

    We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance — into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to — high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.

    The key words there are “only really suited” (link, link).

    Her history as a liar makes her a perfect fit in the GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  35. Fran says:

    Um…the GOP will never nominate her – she owns a home with a woman.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0