When the “Cain Train” crashed and burned, political observers presumed that the biggest beneficiary from Herman Cain’s self-destruction would be Newt Gingrich. In the short term, they were right. But we now know that in the long term, the biggest beneficiary of Cain’s meltdown was not in the race for president, but in the unofficial race for vice president featuring newly anointed frontrunner, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In 2004, Rice’s popularity was credited with helping to save the presidency of George W. Bush. A CNN poll at the time revealed that 54% of Americans did not believe the president had done all that he could to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Then his National Security Advisor—the first black woman to serve in the role—appeared before the 9/11 Commission. After her testimony, the number of Americans that believed the president had not done enough dropped to 40%. Now GOP insiders are hoping her popularity can help save the party.
Since President Obama’s election, the GOP has struggled with a seemingly endless string of race-related gaffes. Some highlights include a Republican mayor who thought depicting the Obama White House on a watermelon patch was hysterical and a top California GOP official who e-mailed a faux family photo featuring the president depicted as a chimpanzee with the tagline, “Now you know why—No birth certificate.” With each new controversy, and the ensuing cycle of media coverage, eventual apologies and forced resignations that followed, the GOP of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice became an increasingly distant memory. Emerging in its wake seemed to be a new and not-so improved Republican Party—the party of Rush Limbaugh and Marilyn Davenport (the chimpanzee joke genius.)
Herman Cain’s rise was supposed to help change all of that, proving that the Marilyn Davenports of the world were the exception, not the party rule. His implosion and the racially charged questions his exit raised, (namely why the sex-scandal plagued Newt Gingrich has managed to survive and thrive while his black counterpart was driven from the race by sexual indiscretion) has left a void. It’s a void that a well-respected, well-liked, minority candidate—particularly one that has already been vetted for personal baggage—could potentially fill. Which is why the “Rice-mobile” is gaining steam now that the “Cain train” has gone off the tracks.
Asked about Rice’s potential contributions to a GOP ticket, Kevin Madden, who served as an advisor to current GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, acknowledged the role that the former Secretary of State’s race might play. “Ethnic and gender diversity, of course, do figure in to ticket considerations.” But he added, “The same goes for an ability to boost a ticket’s chances in certain swing states or with key demographics that help the electoral math equation. So, as a result, the parlor game of compiling ‘short lists’ for VP will always include a prominent figure like Secretary Rice who has an appeal with independents.”
Pollster David Paleologos of the Suffolk University Political Research Center said of the speculation regarding Rice: “The Republican Party cannot afford to lose African-American and Hispanic voters by the same proportion it did last election.” According to Paleologos, that makes the addition of a racial minority to the GOP ticket in the upcoming presidential election practically a given. But he notes that Rice, an established figure, will likely face serious competition from some of the party’s rising stars of color. “It’s almost as if [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio is the obvious choice for a GOP ticket.” Paleologos points to a recent Suffolk poll that indicates that Rubio’s presence on the ticket could mean the difference between the GOP carrying the state of Florida, and the election, and President Obama gliding to a second term.
Michael Steele, who like Rice, broke racial barriers within the GOP, by becoming the Republican National Committee’s first black Chair in 2009, expressed skepticism that Rice’s race could benefit the party in a substantive way. Describing Rice as a friend, Steele said, “I’ve never subscribed to this idea that because you have a person of color or someone who’s Hispanic, African-American or a woman in these positions, that that’s an automatic softener in those areas where you have a problem. You’ve got to have a concerted, personal effort to engage these voters whether they are young people, whether they are African-American, Hispanic or women, and say, ‘Not only do we want your vote but we want to address those issues through public policy that will best benefit you.’ That’s where you turn a corner. The rest of it is just window dressing.” But he added, Condi is “a very talented, gifted woman and has brought so much to national leadership that her name being floated in any capacity now or in the future is a good thing.”
It’s worth noting that the recent Suffolk University poll showed that another female candidate could shake up the presidential race if she decides to throw her hat into the race for VP. According to Paleologos, “if you replace Biden with Hillary, Obama’s numbers skyrocket to 50% in Florida and the GOP only gets 41%.”
So perhaps controversial former Clinton pollster Dick Morris had it right when he predicted a showdown between the two Secretaries of State in his 2005 book “Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.”
He just got the sub-title wrong. It should read “The Next Great Vice-Presidential Race.”