Wow. After a GOP primary season in which the George W. Bush administration was viewed as toxic -- and went all but unmentioned -- Republicans and independents who lean Republican now seem to want W's loyal national security advisor and secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, as Mitt Romney's vice presidential choice.
The new CNN/ORC poll on favored veep choices is very early days, of course, and Condi Rice's place at the top of the list has more to do with high name recognition than anything else. (Proof: the generally respected Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, considered a top possibility, got less than one half of one percent of the vote, apparently because 67 percent of those polled had never heard of him.)
But it does take us back to the GOP identity crisis we were obsessed with during the primary season: just what do Republicans want to be and who do they want to represent them? Never has the base been so fickle, it seems, judging from the restless search for a Not-Mitt during the primaries and the successive flameouts of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and finally Rick Santorum as they each sought to claim the title of champion.
All of which points up a paradox. On one hand, there is an extraordinary polarization in politics today: As my colleague Ron Brownstein has pointed out, the ideological gap between Democratic and Republican voting records in Congress is the widest since the 19th century. The GOP base has gravitated around more rightward views on economic and social issues.
But even as it lurches fitfully toward a unanimity of views, the base still seems utterly divided about who it wants to give voice to them (unless you count Romney, which I guess we all have to now). The party has a set of policy positions without a face.
One irony of Rice's name appearing at the top of the list is that, by the end of her time in office in early 2009, she herself had moved to the middle and became anathema to hard-right GOPers such as Dick Cheney and the truculent John Bolton (whom Newt Gingrich, in yet another failed appeal to the Right, once suggested he wanted as be his secretary of State). While Rice was considered an ineffective national security advisor and not an especially successful secretary of State around the world, at home she did manage to moderate Bush's foreign policy by his second term. She marginalized Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bolton and the neocons, and refocused U.S. foreign policy on diplomacy and compromise. It was, perhaps, her greatest achievement.
So Condi Rice can hardly be seen as a champion of the Right. Even if Romney seriously considered her (highly unlikely), she would not be able to endure much scrutiny. We saw this same dynamic play out during the primaries. The more the base learned about the real records of its various Not-Mitt hopefuls, the less enthusiastic it got.
Romney doesn't have to put his veep choice to a vote. Unless, of course, he thinks he needs to. ...