13 Jul 2012

Veepstake fever amid rumours about Romney’s running mate

Could Condoleezza Rice be returning to frontline politics? Speculation is mounting that she could be Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate – and that he could announce his choice within weeks.

“How many ways can I say it? Not me.” That’s what Condoleezza Rice told Fox and Friends back in March, when asked if she would consider the job as Mitt’s second-in-command. But suddenly her name has been rather prominently linked to the role, thanks to a splash by the Drudge Report, claiming she was “near the top” of the vice-presidential pick list.

It was not the first time Condi’s name had been bandied about in recent days: an op-ed in the Washington Post suggested she was seen by many conservatives rather favourably, as the “anti-Palin”, while former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan could barely contain herself in the Wall Street Journal.

Describing Dr Rice as a brilliant choice, she went on to call her “a public figure of obvious and nameable accomplishment whose attainments can’t be taken away from her”. All this, after Ann Romney told CBS the other day that her husband was considering choosing a woman to join his ticket.

It is time for all of us, in any way we can, to mobilise, get our act together, and storm Washington DC. Condoleezza Rice

Dr Rice, who served as secretary of state under President Bush, is now a professor at Stanford University in California: there has been no comment from her spokesman on the current rumours, save to say that she is currently “on vacation”.

But however much she has insisted that she is not interested in a frontline political role, prefering the more wonkish world of policy, details have emerged of a powerful and highly partisan speech which she gave at a private fundraiser for Mitt Romney in Park City, Utah.

Buzzfeed, which obtained an audio recording of the speech, said Dr Rice won two standing ovations from the big-name donors and Republican party big-shots in the crowd, as she blamed Obama for fiscal recklessness, global weakness and inciting class warfare: these are “dangerous, chaotic times”, she declared. Then, a cry to arms: “It is time for all of us, in any way we can, to mobilise, get our act together, and storm Washington DC.”

Dream ticket?

On paper, Condi might look like the ideal choice: she is black! She is a woman! She has experience in foreign affairs! But she does hold some views which could make her a non-starter with the GOP’s powerful social conservative bloc – her pro-choice views on abortion.

In September last year, as the Susan B Anthony List has pointed out, Mitt Romney told a Republican candidates’ forum that he would only choose someone who held the same pro-life views as him. “This is an important enough issue that the person that I would select in that position would share my views”, he said.

And some pundits have warned that Romney has already been accused of ‘flip-flopping’ on the abortion issue: as Governor of Massachussetts, and when he ran against Ted Kennedy, he insisted that despite his own personal views, he was a “committed” advocate of pro-choice laws: “As governor of the commonwealth, I will protect a woman’s right to choose under the laws of the country and the commonwealth”, he said in 2002.

After a complete about-turn on the issue, picking Dr Rice might send out entirely the wrong signal about how far he is really committed to the more conservative views he now espouses, from abortion to health care and more.

However, for what it is worth, even Sarah Palin, who is so pro-life that she would not sanction abortion even in cases of incest and rape, seems to be prepare to let it ride; telling Fox News last night: “I think Condoleezza Rice would be a wonderful vice-president”.

Playing Veepstakes

Now the ‘Veepstakes’ is a game anyone can play, not just the political chattering classes in Washington DC. There is a whole roster of potential names out there, mostly conventional, white, male conservatives few people have heard of, like Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty. There is a frisson of excitement around the possibility of Florida senator Marco Rubio, who could reel in the much-needed Hispanic vote, although many think his chances are overrated.

At this stage, clearly, nobody knows who Mitt will end up picking to join his ticket – in all probability, not even Mitt himself. That has not stopped the endless flurry of rumours and speculation, which is frankly Washington’s favourite sport, trumping even the Olympics. And it has not stopped the Democrats from spending weeks, nay, months, painstakingly compiling a vast screed of “opposition research” on the runners and riders.

Dozens of researchers from the Obama supporting political action committee American Bridge have compiled some 1300 pages detailing what they call the “extreme and out of touch positions” of Messers Portman, Rubio and Pawlenty. Teams armed with cameras have even been following all three men around for weeks, recording their every remark.

According to American Bridge spokesman Rodell Mollineau, it is all an effort to avoid the mistake of 2008, when he says no-one was prepared for the “disaster” that was Sarah Palin. “This year we are going to make sure that the public has as much information as possible (about) the candidates Mitt Romney would put a heartbeat away from the presidency”, he said.

No word yet on whether those teams of researchers are frantically scrambling to come up with a few pages of opposition research on Condoleezza Rice. Read it and veep.

Felicity Spector writes about US affairs for Channel 4 News