Longshot Rice Would Lift Romney’s Foreign Expertise

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried to strengthen his foreign policy credentials with a recent trip abroad, but analysts are debating whether that trip did more harm than good.

Another way Romney could bolster his standing is by choosing a foreign policy 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. The GOP announced Monday that Rice will be a headline speaker at the Republican National Convention later this month.

Still, Rice 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.

“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 Rubin says she won’t be able to “deliver” California in an election, and he gives Rice 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 her 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. 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,” Rice said.

But since then, she’s criticized Obama’s administration, and her Republican credentials do go way back. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under Bill 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. She 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 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.