Why you should care

The former secretary of state keeps racking up high-profile appointments and remains broadly popular. With a word, she could scramble the route Republicans are charting back the White House in 2016.

In two years, Republican voters in early caucus and primary states will determine their 2016 standard bearer and the direction of their party as they seek to regain the White House. It may not matter. Democrats have a serious demographic advantage. But the race for 2016 could get really interesting if Condoleezza Rice is a player.

The GOP is in big trouble. With a 28-percent national approval rating, Republicans are at their lowest ebb since Gallup started surveying political parties in 1992. Equally significant, they have a problem with the changing face of America. White voters have declined in every presidential election since 1992. Mitt Romney carried the white vote by 20 points in 2012. That was good enough to win — in 2000 — but not now. If demography is destiny, the Republican Party may need to change its mascot from elephant to mastodon. Unless it can come up with a game changer.

This is unlikely to happen at the top of the ticket in 2016. The GOP’s current major presidential candidates are white males except for Senator Ted Cruz, and he’s a social conservative whose views on major policies are out of step with the critical Hispanic voting bloc, especially on immigration. Cruz dominated the Value Voters Summit straw poll last month, an early indicator of conservative voters’ presidential preference in a Republican primary.

George Bush sitting and speaking, center, with Rice on his left looking on.

President George W Bush gives the sign for the college football team the Texas Longhorns.

Source Corbis

Instead, the Republican solution may be the second slot on the ticket. And the best person for this spot currently resides in California of all places, a solid Democratic state. Condoleezza Rice is a partner in the Silicon Valley consulting firm RiceHadleyGates, a stone’s throw from her other job as a professor of political economy in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford.

She appears to have no plans for the presidential prom in 2016 — she declined to be interviewed for this article — but maybe she’ll change her mind if her position on the ticket helps to strengthen it — and save the party.

Rice, 58, is the former secretary of state and was the country’s fourth most powerful person during her time in the George W. Bush administration. She was the first female national security adviser and the first female African-American secretary of state.

Since she left office, she has continued to add high-profile appointments to her already impressive Wikipedia page, breaking into typically male bastions

Her book could be just the kind of coyly delivered calling card it would behoove the Republican Party to heed.

This year, she became one of the first two women admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club. She’s also the only woman on the NCAA college football playoff selection committee that will pick the teams to compete for the national championship next year. And she’s writing a book. Rice’s upcoming tome, to be delivered in early 2015 for Henry Holt & Co., focuses on democracy here and abroad and could be just the kind of coyly delivered calling card it would behoove the Republican Party to heed.

Condoleeza photographed through a sea of people in foreground. She is smiling.

Source Getty

So far she has expressed zero interest in running for elective office, and it’s hard to picture her slogging through Iowa, New Hampshire or a possible “Midwestern Primary” featuring Great Lakes states. But joining the ticket as a VP candidate? That might be more appealing.

“She should be at the top of any presidential candidate’s VP list if they can get her interested in the taking the job,” says Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. The only reason the McCain camp did not include Rice on their 2008 list is because they did not think she would leave her position as secretary of state, according to Schmidt. But now, “On paper she solves a great many issues the Republican Party has at a structural level.”

A Fox News poll of Republican voters had Rice as the top choice with 30%. Senator Rubio was a distant second at 19.

Rice is a welcome antidote to a Republican Party that at times has seemed at war with women andminorities. At the 2012 Republican Convention, she called for immigration laws that “show we are a compassionate nation of immigrants.” As far back as 2005, Rice has been “mildly pro-choice.” And while negative early life experiences with the Ku Klux Klan have molded her pro-gun take on Second Amendment rights, even her lack of evolution sounds fresh when combined with echoes of civil rights struggles. She supports civil unions but even in 2010 she was quoted as saying, “I don’t ever want anybody to be denied rights within our country.”

In 2016, Rice would be the strongest Republican running mate to offset the dual advantage of domestic and foreign policy chops that Hillary Clinton brings to race. No major Republican presidential candidate has serious foreign policy experience. This was particularly evident in the list of governors that made the “Grover Norquist primary,” the individuals Republican kingmaker Norquist anointed as most formidable on OZY last month.

Even the Iraq debacle, with its faulty evidence and multiple rationales, has not diminished Rice’s stature with voters. When her name was floated as a potential running mate for Romney in 2012, her numbers were impressive. In a Rasmussen poll, she was 65-24 favorable among likely voters. A Fox News poll of only Republican voters had Rice as the top choice with 30 percent. Senator Marco Rubio was a distant second at 19.

Rice understands the GOP’s challenge in 2016 and beyond. Here’s what she told Politico after Romney’s loss: “Right now, for me the most powerful argument is that the changing demographics in the country really necessitates an even bigger tent for the Republican Party.”

Schmidt speaks glowingly about her as the person who can expand the tent. “She is one of the most remarkable personalities in America. Her talent level is like the Robert Redford character in The Natural.” But he takes at face value her current lack of interest in electoral politics.

“Maybe someone could convince Condi that she not only helps the Republican Party but also a country where we’ve seen the collapse of trust in every major institution, except the military. People yearn for the type of leaders who can restore trust. She’s that type of leader.”

Jude Barry is the founder of Catapult Strategies, a political consulting firm. He has managed California gubernatorial and presidential campaigns, a mayor’s office and start-ups in Silicon Valley.

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