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After RNC Triumph, Whither Condi Rice?

Count me among the many who were wowed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant speech at the Republican National Convention last night. She didn’t just add a note of foreign policy gravitas to a convention that served up a seemingly endless roster of mid-level GOP figures riffing on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe. Rice’s address was as much about belief in the idea of America as it was about contemporary political disputes. She left the podium not only having won the hearts of the audience with her recollection of her own rise from a childhood in the segregated south to the heights of power but left a lot of her listeners wondering whether she was interested in a future run at the presidency and making comparisons to other great convention speeches in the past that were stepping-stones to the White House.

However, those so intoxicated by her rhetorical achievement that they are now pondering Rice’s future need to take a deep breath. It was a great speech and Rice has shown she can be a formidable surrogate for Mitt Romney or anyone else she chooses to support. But Rice is never going to be a viable presidential candidate. Nor is she likely to assume any post in a Romney administration. I can’t answer the question on so many tongues this morning about what it is that Condi Rice wants. Only she can do that. But a logical analysis of her prospects requires us to accept that whatever it is she aspires to, high political office isn’t likely to be in her future.

Rice is an exceptional human being and when stacked up against the vast majority of politicians, she looks like she belongs in a higher league than the one in which garden variety governors, senators and members of Congress play. But she has never run for political office and those who believe she could parachute into a tough GOP presidential nomination fight are underestimating the difficulty of such a feat. She could certainly raise the money for such a race but it is difficult to imagine her spending 2015 (assuming Romney doesn’t win this fall) beating the bushes at Iowa county fairs three summers from now.

But even if she was willing to give up her comfortable life at Stanford University and other celebrity perks, like her new membership at the Augusta National Golf Club, as long as Rice is pro-choice on abortion, she has no chance of winning a Republican presidential nomination. This is something that was pointed out last month during the brief unrealistic boomlet seeking to promote her as a possible vice presidential nominee. Rice isn’t the only prominent Republican who supports abortion but the vast majority of those who vote in primaries are very much on the other side. It’s a handicap that would make a presidential quest on her part a pipe dream, especially when a 2016 race would probably include pro-life GOP stars like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie.

That’s a fact that Mitt Romney understood when he started on his seven-year-old quest for the presidency and one that others who fell by the wayside, like Rudolph Giuliani, would have to learn the hard way. Rice is too smart not to know this, so I can’t imagine her even trying.

As for lesser posts, it’s equally hard to see where she would fit in a future Romney administration. Having been secretary of state, it’s impossible to imagine she would take a lower level cabinet post or foreign policy job. Unless she wants another shot at running the State Department, which seems unlikely to me, she’s overqualified for any other position.

Nor do I find the speculation about her running for office in California very convincing. Having seen impressive Republican women like Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman fall short in that deep blue state, it’s hard to see why Rice would do any better.

The Republican Convention has served up an impressive slate of women speakers. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who had the difficult task of following Rice, was one. But though she may not have been as dazzling as Rice, she has a brighter political future simply because she fits into the mainstream of her party on abortion and other social issues.

Hard as it is for some pundits to admit, a good speech is sometimes just a stepping-stone to nothing other than opportunities to give other good speeches. While I was no fan of many of her policies at the State Department, Rice is a star and the Republicans are lucky to have her on their side. But it’s difficult to see any realistic scenario in which she can be said to have a political future.


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