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Longshot Rice Would Lift Romney's Foreign Expertise

Aug 6, 2012
Originally published on August 6, 2012 6:44 pm

One way Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney could bolster his foreign policy standing is by choosing an expert as his running mate. One name that's been circulating in the rumor mill is former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice, who served under George W. Bush both as secretary of state and as national security adviser, says she's not interested in the job. Still, she created a lot of buzz in June when she spoke to Romney donors in Utah.

An Exceptional Career

In her speeches, Rice often talks about America as an exceptional country, telling the story of " a little girl from Birmingham, Ala., the most segregated big city in America, where her parents can't take her to a restaurant or to a movie theater, but they have her absolutely convinced that she may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworth's but she could be president of the United States if she wanted to be. And she becomes the secretary of state instead."

That little girl also grew up to play piano, and has even performed with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Rice is a Stanford professor with a background in Soviet studies. She's also a football fan and once said her dream job is to be NFL commissioner.

There are some obvious things Rice would add to Romney's campaign, says Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, though he's not a big fan of the former secretary of state.

"It could make a great deal of sense to bring someone like Dr. Rice on because she adds a great deal of diversity to the ticket in terms of life story, in terms of race, in terms of gender and also in terms of geography, since she now calls California her home," Rubin says.

But he says Rice won't be able to "deliver" California in an election, and he gives her poor marks for the way she ran Bush's National Security Council through the Sept. 11 attacks and the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Just the internecine civil war that marked the Bush administration between the Pentagon and the State Department was an indication that Dr. Rice wasn't as good of a manager as perhaps she should have been," Rubin says.

Her reputation improved as she served as secretary of state during Bush's second term, as she tried to repair alliances frayed over the war in Iraq.

Philip Zelikow, who was one of Rice's top advisers, says: "In addition to her foreign policy background — which naturally evokes memories and arguments from the Bush years, but I think would be a net plus for candidate Romney — she also brings serious interests in many domestic issues, including the future of public education, which is a subject to which she has been devoting a lot of her recent time and energy."

'Future of the Republican Party'?

On other domestic issues, Rice has gone on the record saying she's "mildly pro-choice" and in an exit interview with NPR as she left the State Department, she sounded enthusiastic about President Obama's election.

"For somebody from Birmingham, Ala., it's a remarkable thing," she said at the time. "I thought I would see it. I thought I might be 80 before I did and so I'm glad that it's happened for our country. It shows that overcoming old wounds is possible."

But since then, she's criticized Obama's administration.

Rice's Republican credentials do go back. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under President Clinton, once told NPR that her father was Rice's academic mentor. So when Albright was looking for a foreign policy expert to work on Democrat Michael Dukakis' campaign, she called Rice.

Albright recalled that conversation: "She said, 'Madeleine, I don't know how to tell you this, but I'm a Republican,' and I said, 'Condi, how could you be? We had the same father.'"

Rice doesn't pass a perfect litmus test of Republican orthodoxy, says Zelikow, who now teaches at the University of Virginia. But he says Rice provides a fresh voice.

"She believes that she represents what should be the future of the Republican Party," Zelikow says.

Still, he takes her at her word that she's not interested in entering this campaign now. Rice told the Heritage Foundation in April that she's often asked how her life is different outside of government.

"One of the big differences is that I get up every day and I get my cup of coffee. I go online to read my newspapers and I read them and I say, 'Isn't that interesting?' and I'm able to go on to other things because I no longer have responsibility for what's in the newspaper," Rice said.

For now, she seems to prefer teaching seminars at Stanford and golfing on the weekends.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Mitt Romney tried to burnish his foreign policy credentials by taking a trip abroad. But there's debate about whether the trip helped his image. Another way Romney could build those credentials is with his choice of a running mate. We've been profiling people who are rumored to be on Romney's list. And today, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has this story on what she might and might not bring to Romney's ticket.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Condoleezza Rice says she's not interested in the job, and today there's news that she'll be a headline speaker at the Republican National Convention. Still she created a lot of buzz in June when she spoke to Romney donors in Utah. In her speeches, she often talks about America as an exceptional country where she says...

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: A little girl from Birmingham, Alabama, the most segregated big city in America, where her parents can't take her to a restaurant or to a movie theater, but they have her absolutely convinced that she may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworths but she could be come president of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes secretary of state instead.

KELEMEN: That little girl also grew up to play piano, performing here with Yo-Yo Ma.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KELEMEN: Condoleezza Rice is a Stanford professor with a background in Soviet Studies. She's also a football fan, who once said her dream job is to be NFL commissioner. There are some obvious things she would add to Romney's campaign, though Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute is not a big fan.

MICHAEL RUBIN: It could make a great deal of sense to bring someone like Dr. Rice on because she adds a great deal of diversity to the ticket in terms of life story, in terms of race, in terms of gender, and also in terms of geography since she now calls California her home.

KELEMEN: But Rubin says she won't be able to deliver California in an election. And he gives Rice poor marks for the way she ran President Bush's National Security Council, during 9/11 and the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

RUBIN: Just the internecine civil war that marked the Bush administration, between the Pentagon and the State Department, was an indication that Dr. Rice wasn't as good a manager, as perhaps she should have been.

KELEMEN: Her reputation improved as secretary of state as she tried to repair alliances frayed over the War in Iraq. Philip Zelikow was one of her top advisers there.

PHILIP ZELIKOW: In addition to her foreign policy background, which naturally evokes memories and arguments from the Bush years, but I think would be a net plus for candidate Romney. She also brings serious interests in many domestic issues, including the future of public education, which is a subject to which she has been devoting a lot of her recent time and energy.

KELEMEN: On other domestic issues, she has gone on record saying she's quote, "mildly pro-choice." And in an exit interview with NPR, as she left the State Department, she sounded enthusiastic about President Obama's election.

RICE: For somebody from Birmingham, Alabama, it's a remarkable thing. I thought I wouldn't see it, I thought I might be 80 before it did. And so, I'm glad that it's happened for our country. It shows that overcoming old wounds is possible.

KELEMEN: She's now come out and criticized President Obama's administration. And her Republican credentials do go way back. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once told NPR that her father was Rice's academic mentor. So when Albright was looking for a foreign policy expert to work on the Michael Dukakis campaign, she called Rice.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: And she said, Madeleine, I don't know how to tell you this, but I'm a Republican. And I said, Condi, how could you be, we have the same father.

KELEMEN: Condi Rice doesn't pass a perfect litmus test of Republican orthodoxy, says Philip Zelikow, who now teaches at the University of Virginia. But he says Rice provides a fresh voice.

ZELIKOW: She believes that she represents what should be the future of the Republican Party.

KELEMEN: Still he takes her at her word that she's not interested in entering this campaign now. Condoleezza Rice told the Heritage Foundation in April that she's often asked how her life is different out of government.

RICE: One of the big differences is that I get up every day and I get my cup of coffee. I go online to read the newspapers. And I read them and I say, isn't that interesting.

(LAUGHTER)

RICE: And I'm able to go on to other things because I no longer have responsibility for what's in the newspaper.

KELEMEN: For now, she seems to prefer teaching seminars at Stanford and golfing on weekends.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.