More on the "Condi bandwagon"


Steven Warschawsky responds to Mattehew May's article yesterday:

In 'The Bandwagon,' Matt May presents an impassioned defense of his and others' support for Condoleezza Rice for President in 2008.  I respect his point of view and acknowledge that there are plenty of smart people who disagree with the thesis of my article, 'Beware the Condi bandwagon.'  Nevertheless, I think Matt May both overestimates Rice's strengths and underestimates her vulnerabilities at this stage in her political career.  I discussed Rice's main weaknesses in my original article.  I would like to add just a few more observations in response to May's rebuttal.

As May implicitly acknowledges, Rice's public reputation is built on one thing, the War on Terror (a war I wholeheartedly support).  But her role to date largely has been as a policy advisor working behind the scenes to develop and hone America's military and foreign policy strategy.  While this role has been integral to the success of America's efforts, the cerebral and nonpublic nature of her role means that Rice is unlikely to receive the kind of widespread adulation for the war's successes that Bush has received (let alone what Ike received after World War Two or even Colin Powell received after the First Gulf War).  Nor is she likely to steal the spotlight from Bush in her new role as Secretary of State (even if foreign ministers do 'swoon' over her).  Moreover, plenty of people in this country, including many Republicans, disagree with the war and/or are critical of the Bush administration's handling of it.  Indeed, despite the war's incredible achievements so far, including severely diminishing Al Qaeda's ability to engage in terror,  overthrowing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, 'persuading' other rogue nations like Libya to give up their WMD programs, and holding free, democratic elections in Afghanistan and Iraq — all at a historically low cost in terms of lives lost and treasure expended — politically, the war is a mixed bag.         

As one of the chief architects of the War on Terror, Rice will have to answer the war's critics on the campaign trail, day—after—day, month—after—month.  These critics inevitably will include fellow Republican presidential candidates who will try to differentiate themselves from Rice (or anyone else supported by the Bush administration) by arguing that they can manage the war on terror better than Bush et al. has done.  (Does anyone doubt this will be Giuliani's position? or McCain's?)  While Rice may be effective in defending the Bush administration's approach to the war, this debate will use up her present store of political capital.  Unlike Bush in 2004, at this point in time Rice lacks any other positions on which to campaign.  I do not think she can be successful simply promising to continue the Bush administration's policies across the board, or by appointing really smart advisors.  She needs to stand for something.  Usually that 'something' is defined by politicians as they build their careers and constituencies over time (which requires the kind of grassroots politicking that May dismisses much too casually).  Rice has yet to do this.  And, no, I do not think her six—year tenure as Provost of Stanford University is remotely relevant to her pursuit of the White House.

Finally, it strikes me as counterintuitive, at best, to argue that a political neophyte, who also happens to be a black women Republican, is not only the 'most qualified' person to be President in 2008, but also the person who is best positioned to be elected by the country at large.  I did not realize we were living in such extraordinary times politically.  Maybe we are.  And maybe new and unforeseen events over the next few years will so transform the political landscape that Rice will rise to the top of the political field.  I'm not denying it could happen.  But I do not think it is very likely.