Beware the Condi bandwagon

I am as pleased as anyone with Condoleezza Rice's initial performance as Secretary of State.  She's a smart, articulate, passionate defender of America and George W. Bush's foreign policy vision.  But all the excited talk about 'Condi for President' is wildly premature, and even dangerous to the conservative cause.  For all her virtues and strengths, and she has many, Rice simply is not presidential material.  This is not a criticism.  Plenty of highly accomplished, successful people are not made out to be President.  Rice is an outstanding cabinet official and a shining star in the Republican firmament.  But she lacks the background and experience to be a credible, let alone winning, candidate for the White House in 2008.  Critically, between now and then, Republicans need to find someone to fill Dubya's big shoes.  The time and energy spent daydreaming about a Condi candidacy would be better spent identifying viable national candidates and building up their political capital for the hard fight to come against Hillary, Kerry, and the Democrats.

No one starts his (or her) career in elected politics by running for the White House.  The idea is absurd.  (Are you listening Dick Morris?)  The liberal media and the mainstream public alike would reject, indeed ridicule, anyone ignorant — and arrogant — enough to believe that they could 'start at the top' like this.  True, Dwight D. Eisenhower never ran for political office before being elected President.  But Ike won World War Two!  With all due respect, Condi is no Ike.  (This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it means Rice has no chance of becoming President in 2008.)  Even Hillary, who has presidential ambitions of her own, realized that she had to start by winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.  If Condi wants to be a serious candidate for the White House someday, she needs to pursue a similar course.

I would not recommend that she run for the Senate, however.  The American President is the chief executive officer of the nation, not the chief legislative officer.  He has advisors for that.  Not surprisingly, successful presidential candidates overwhelmingly come from an executive, not legislative, background.  Since 1900, almost every elected President previously served as governor or Vice—President (or President via succession):  McKinley (governor of Ohio), Teddy Roosevelt (governor of New York and Vice—President/President), Wilson (governor of New Jersey), Coolidge (governor of Massachusetts and Vice—President/President), FDR (governor of New York), Truman (Vice—President), Johnson (Vice—President/President), Nixon (Vice—President), Carter (governor of Georgia), Reagan (governor of California), George H.W. Bush (Vice—President), Clinton (governor of Arkansas), and George W. Bush (governor of Texas).  In addition, Taft (Secretary of War/governor of the Philippines), Hoover (Secretary of Commerce/head of European relief efforts during World War One), and Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, during World War Two) all had strong executive—level credentials.  Only two elected Presidents since 1900, Harding and Kennedy, made their names as Senators, and Kennedy is another exceptional case.  (Trust me, Hillary won't be the third, but that's another article.)

Rice plainly lacks these credentials.  Her academic and policy wonk backgrounds, however distinguished they may be, are not the stuff of Presidents.  They might impress the chattering classes, but they do not mean much to average Americans who expect their President to be a 'take charge' CEO—type, who can be trusted to manage and control the awesome machinery of the federal government.  Rice has never even managed a business or led a major organization, let alone exercised executive branch authority at any level of government. Her role as Secretary of State is her first significant political position.  Give her time to prove herself in this job, and perhaps win election to statewide office somewhere, before even thinking about 'drafting' her for the biggest job of all in 2008, or beyond.

If Rice were to run for President, her lack of executive—level credentials would not be her only weakness.  Politically, she has no recognizable base of support.  Although Dick Morris predicts she would garner support from African—Americans, Hispanics, and single white women (in addition to traditional Republican voters), this is nothing but crude identity politics masquerading as political analysis.  What state, what region, what economic or cultural groups does she represent?  The faculty of Stanford University, the members of the National Security Council, and the Board of Directors of various Fortune 500 companies, while useful friends to have, do not make up a winning electoral coalition.  Tip O'Neill famously once said that 'all politics is local.'  While this may be an overstatement, it nevertheless highlights a key feature of American politics:  successful politicians build their constituencies from the ground up.  What is Rice's constituency?  Born and raised in Alabama, educated in Colorado, living for many years in northern California (hardly a Republican stronghold), and now working in Washington, D.C., she is a peripatetic modern professional.  This may have been good for her career, but it is terrible for politics.

Another of Rice's political weaknesses is her complete lack of domestic policy experience.  Although she is a Cold War scholar and defense policy expert, the closest Rice has come to working on domestic policy issues is serving on the Board of a Bay—area educational foundation and as Vice—President of her local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club of America.  While these are admirable endeavors, they are hardly sufficient for someone who wants to be President of the United States.  Even after 9/11, domestic policy issues — including Social Security, health care, taxes, crime, education, tort reform, and welfare — remain the centerpiece of presidential politics.  As governor of Texas, President Bush gained experience and credibility in these areas, something Rice sorely lacks.  Rice needs to establish her own domestic policy bona fides, before she will be in a position to contend for the White House.         

Finally, one cannot ignore the demographic factors that would play into a Rice candidacy.  First, while I do not believe that Rice's being black is a negative, neither is it a plus.  I do not doubt that there are voters who would not vote for her simply because of her race, but I am convinced their number is too small to make any difference electorally.  Nor is there any reason to believe that these voters are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats or to reside in 'swing' states versus solidly red or blue states.  So whatever political effect such racism would have is likely to be negligible.  At the same time, there will be voters who will be energized by the prospect of electing a black President and 'sending a message' that racism has been relegated to the dustbin of American history.  (Much of the excitement over the prospect of a Colin Powell candidacy in 1996, which I shared, came from these sorts of feelings.)  Although such sentiments are honorable, they are unlikely to motivate many Republican voters, who will refuse to play 'diversity' games with the Presidency of the United States, or persuade many Democrats — who otherwise revel in diversity games — to vote for a conservative presidential candidate.

Rice's being a woman is a different issue, however.  Whether we like it or not, most Americans — men and women — are not accustomed to having women in positions of significant authority outside the family.  Moreover, I think it is safe to say that many Americans — men and women — view women CEOs, women generals, and women political leaders through a rather skeptical lens.  Especially women generals.  Do many people outside of NOW take them seriously, as leaders of men who go into battle to kill the enemy?  I doubt it.  Well, the President is commander—in—chief of the most powerful military in world history, one that is engaged in deadly hostilities, and deadly serious stand—offs, across the entire globe.  Fair or not, the American people will not easily be persuaded to put a woman in this position.  Consequently, any woman presidential candidate, including Rice, will be fighting an uphill battle to overcome this inherently pro—male bias in the nature of the Presidency.  This is not an impossible task.  Indira Gandhi, Golda Meier, and Margaret Thatcher all led their countries in wartime.  But these three women rose to power in parliamentary systems, which have a different political dynamic than our constitutional system, making it easier for women to assume leadership positions.  Nevertheless, I expect this threshold to be crossed here in my lifetime.  But it will require a female candidate who has much more high—level political and business experience than Rice.

The 2008 presidential election will present Republicans with a potentially historic opportunity to strengthen their support across the country and solidify their status as the majority party in America.  The choice of candidate to succeed George W. Bush will be critical to this goal.  A weak candidate (a la Bob Dole) could allow the Democrats to retake the White House and make inroads in Congress.  I do not know who the right Republican candidate will be.  Many have suggested Jeb Bush.  Others have promoted Rudy Giuliani or John McCain.  Still others have plumped for Ken Blackwell, Ohio's black Secretary of State who probably will be elected that state's governor.  Frankly, I do not think we will know who the viable candidates are until after the 2006 midterm elections.  A lot can happen between now and then.  But I do know that 2008 is not the time for Condoleezza Rice.  Republicans should stop fantasizing about Rice and start thinking seriously about the next Republican President.

Steven M. Warshawsky frequently comments on politics and current affairs from a conservative perspective.  He can be reached at smwarshawsky@hotmail.com.

I am as pleased as anyone with Condoleezza Rice's initial performance as Secretary of State.  She's a smart, articulate, passionate defender of America and George W. Bush's foreign policy vision.  But all the excited talk about 'Condi for President' is wildly premature, and even dangerous to the conservative cause.  For all her virtues and strengths, and she has many, Rice simply is not presidential material.  This is not a criticism.  Plenty of highly accomplished, successful people are not made out to be President.  Rice is an outstanding cabinet official and a shining star in the Republican firmament.  But she lacks the background and experience to be a credible, let alone winning, candidate for the White House in 2008.  Critically, between now and then, Republicans need to find someone to fill Dubya's big shoes.  The time and energy spent daydreaming about a Condi candidacy would be better spent identifying viable national candidates and building up their political capital for the hard fight to come against Hillary, Kerry, and the Democrats.

No one starts his (or her) career in elected politics by running for the White House.  The idea is absurd.  (Are you listening Dick Morris?)  The liberal media and the mainstream public alike would reject, indeed ridicule, anyone ignorant — and arrogant — enough to believe that they could 'start at the top' like this.  True, Dwight D. Eisenhower never ran for political office before being elected President.  But Ike won World War Two!  With all due respect, Condi is no Ike.  (This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it means Rice has no chance of becoming President in 2008.)  Even Hillary, who has presidential ambitions of her own, realized that she had to start by winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.  If Condi wants to be a serious candidate for the White House someday, she needs to pursue a similar course.

I would not recommend that she run for the Senate, however.  The American President is the chief executive officer of the nation, not the chief legislative officer.  He has advisors for that.  Not surprisingly, successful presidential candidates overwhelmingly come from an executive, not legislative, background.  Since 1900, almost every elected President previously served as governor or Vice—President (or President via succession):  McKinley (governor of Ohio), Teddy Roosevelt (governor of New York and Vice—President/President), Wilson (governor of New Jersey), Coolidge (governor of Massachusetts and Vice—President/President), FDR (governor of New York), Truman (Vice—President), Johnson (Vice—President/President), Nixon (Vice—President), Carter (governor of Georgia), Reagan (governor of California), George H.W. Bush (Vice—President), Clinton (governor of Arkansas), and George W. Bush (governor of Texas).  In addition, Taft (Secretary of War/governor of the Philippines), Hoover (Secretary of Commerce/head of European relief efforts during World War One), and Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, during World War Two) all had strong executive—level credentials.  Only two elected Presidents since 1900, Harding and Kennedy, made their names as Senators, and Kennedy is another exceptional case.  (Trust me, Hillary won't be the third, but that's another article.)

Rice plainly lacks these credentials.  Her academic and policy wonk backgrounds, however distinguished they may be, are not the stuff of Presidents.  They might impress the chattering classes, but they do not mean much to average Americans who expect their President to be a 'take charge' CEO—type, who can be trusted to manage and control the awesome machinery of the federal government.  Rice has never even managed a business or led a major organization, let alone exercised executive branch authority at any level of government. Her role as Secretary of State is her first significant political position.  Give her time to prove herself in this job, and perhaps win election to statewide office somewhere, before even thinking about 'drafting' her for the biggest job of all in 2008, or beyond.

If Rice were to run for President, her lack of executive—level credentials would not be her only weakness.  Politically, she has no recognizable base of support.  Although Dick Morris predicts she would garner support from African—Americans, Hispanics, and single white women (in addition to traditional Republican voters), this is nothing but crude identity politics masquerading as political analysis.  What state, what region, what economic or cultural groups does she represent?  The faculty of Stanford University, the members of the National Security Council, and the Board of Directors of various Fortune 500 companies, while useful friends to have, do not make up a winning electoral coalition.  Tip O'Neill famously once said that 'all politics is local.'  While this may be an overstatement, it nevertheless highlights a key feature of American politics:  successful politicians build their constituencies from the ground up.  What is Rice's constituency?  Born and raised in Alabama, educated in Colorado, living for many years in northern California (hardly a Republican stronghold), and now working in Washington, D.C., she is a peripatetic modern professional.  This may have been good for her career, but it is terrible for politics.

Another of Rice's political weaknesses is her complete lack of domestic policy experience.  Although she is a Cold War scholar and defense policy expert, the closest Rice has come to working on domestic policy issues is serving on the Board of a Bay—area educational foundation and as Vice—President of her local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club of America.  While these are admirable endeavors, they are hardly sufficient for someone who wants to be President of the United States.  Even after 9/11, domestic policy issues — including Social Security, health care, taxes, crime, education, tort reform, and welfare — remain the centerpiece of presidential politics.  As governor of Texas, President Bush gained experience and credibility in these areas, something Rice sorely lacks.  Rice needs to establish her own domestic policy bona fides, before she will be in a position to contend for the White House.         

Finally, one cannot ignore the demographic factors that would play into a Rice candidacy.  First, while I do not believe that Rice's being black is a negative, neither is it a plus.  I do not doubt that there are voters who would not vote for her simply because of her race, but I am convinced their number is too small to make any difference electorally.  Nor is there any reason to believe that these voters are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats or to reside in 'swing' states versus solidly red or blue states.  So whatever political effect such racism would have is likely to be negligible.  At the same time, there will be voters who will be energized by the prospect of electing a black President and 'sending a message' that racism has been relegated to the dustbin of American history.  (Much of the excitement over the prospect of a Colin Powell candidacy in 1996, which I shared, came from these sorts of feelings.)  Although such sentiments are honorable, they are unlikely to motivate many Republican voters, who will refuse to play 'diversity' games with the Presidency of the United States, or persuade many Democrats — who otherwise revel in diversity games — to vote for a conservative presidential candidate.

Rice's being a woman is a different issue, however.  Whether we like it or not, most Americans — men and women — are not accustomed to having women in positions of significant authority outside the family.  Moreover, I think it is safe to say that many Americans — men and women — view women CEOs, women generals, and women political leaders through a rather skeptical lens.  Especially women generals.  Do many people outside of NOW take them seriously, as leaders of men who go into battle to kill the enemy?  I doubt it.  Well, the President is commander—in—chief of the most powerful military in world history, one that is engaged in deadly hostilities, and deadly serious stand—offs, across the entire globe.  Fair or not, the American people will not easily be persuaded to put a woman in this position.  Consequently, any woman presidential candidate, including Rice, will be fighting an uphill battle to overcome this inherently pro—male bias in the nature of the Presidency.  This is not an impossible task.  Indira Gandhi, Golda Meier, and Margaret Thatcher all led their countries in wartime.  But these three women rose to power in parliamentary systems, which have a different political dynamic than our constitutional system, making it easier for women to assume leadership positions.  Nevertheless, I expect this threshold to be crossed here in my lifetime.  But it will require a female candidate who has much more high—level political and business experience than Rice.

The 2008 presidential election will present Republicans with a potentially historic opportunity to strengthen their support across the country and solidify their status as the majority party in America.  The choice of candidate to succeed George W. Bush will be critical to this goal.  A weak candidate (a la Bob Dole) could allow the Democrats to retake the White House and make inroads in Congress.  I do not know who the right Republican candidate will be.  Many have suggested Jeb Bush.  Others have promoted Rudy Giuliani or John McCain.  Still others have plumped for Ken Blackwell, Ohio's black Secretary of State who probably will be elected that state's governor.  Frankly, I do not think we will know who the viable candidates are until after the 2006 midterm elections.  A lot can happen between now and then.  But I do know that 2008 is not the time for Condoleezza Rice.  Republicans should stop fantasizing about Rice and start thinking seriously about the next Republican President.

Steven M. Warshawsky frequently comments on politics and current affairs from a conservative perspective.  He can be reached at smwarshawsky@hotmail.com.