Condi for President? Of What?

Posted July 8, 2005 at 9:23am

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continues to be mentioned for high political office, including the White House. Since it’s still 30 months until the first primary or caucus battle of the 2008 presidential election, I guess it does no harm to speculate about Rice’s intentions. But let’s not get carried away just yet. [IMGCAP(1)]

The Web site Americans for Dr. Rice promotes Rice, and pundit Dick Morris is currently trying to make a living by tooting her horn as the only Republican who can stop Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) from winning the White House in 2008.

Within the last couple of weeks, US News & World Report’s Washington Whispers column quoted an unnamed “political associate” of Rice as saying, “She definitely wants to be president.”

But all of the hoopla about a Rice bid for the presidency in 2008 is about as realistic as the over-hype last year about retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s presidential prospects. Actually, it’s less realistic, since the major parties have nominated and Americans have elected a lot of white men (and generals) to the presidency already.

The evidence is overwhelming: Rice isn’t running for anything anytime soon. And if she does opt to run for high office, she’ll need plenty of work before she becomes a serious candidate.

Rice herself has been clear about her intentions. “I don’t have any desire or intention of running for president. I’ve never wanted to run for anything, and I just don’t have any desire to do it,” she told Tim Russert on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” (Translation: Rice might like to be president, but she doesn’t want to run for it. Unfortunately for her, president is an elective office.)

When pressed by Russert to close the door firmly on a run, Rice answered, “Tim, I don’t want to be president of the United States.”

After some more back-and-forth, Rice finally said what the three words that Russert was looking for, “I won’t run.”

Sure, politicians say stuff all the time that they ignore. Remember all those term limits pledges? Rice could change her mind and run for something in 2008 or beyond. But there is simply no compelling evidence that she wants to run for high office — or that she would be good at running.

Rice is an academic turned government official. But she still sounds more like the provost of Stanford University or the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs than a politician.

She’s person of considerable accomplishment, she’s bright, she’s thoughtful and she has an appealing smile. Her uniqueness — her role as a black intellectual of considerable charm who is both a Republican and a confidante of President Bush — adds to the media’s fascination with her.

She’s a good story. We can all agree on that. But president of the United States of America?

While Rice has charisma, she doesn’t have a style that automatically connects with real people. Analytical? Yes. Warm? Nope.

I’m not suggesting that she couldn’t connect with a wide range of voters. She has an interesting personal story that could resonate with working class voters, with suburbanites and with young and old alike. But she’ll need to learn how to tell it.

Wesley Clark’s foray into presidential politics in the 2004 presidential election should serve as a reminder to Rice advocates that non-politicians just can’t parachute into a presidential race and perform as a seasoned veteran of campaigns can.

Rice has never run for office, and nobody knows how she would behave under the media’s scrutiny. Nor does anyone know how she would handle tough question on domestic policy. Right now, she’s something of a celebrity. But if she were to decide to seek high office, she’d become a candidate — and that’s a completely different role than the one she currently occupies.

Yes, three former presidents served as secretary of State immediately before being elected president: James Monroe, James Madison and John Quincy Adams. But it hasn’t happened in over 180 years, so it’s obviously not a natural transition.

The last two men to move directly from a president’s Cabinet to the White House were William Howard Taft (secretary of War) and Herbert Hoover (secretary of Commerce). Again, a move from the Cabinet to the White House isn’t a natural one. (I imagine that Rice wouldn’t like to be compared to Hoover, whose dismal presidency actually tarnished his prior reputation as a skilled and admired public servant.)

For the most part, any mention of Rice for the presidency is all about entertainment value. Morris’s promotion of a Rice White House bid seems more an effort to sell himself than a handicap of the likelihood that the secretary of State will seek high office.

So, if you want to have some fun by talking about a Condi Rice presidential bid, go right ahead. Just don’t take it too seriously.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.