Republicans, desperate for a presidential candidate in 2016 who can match the gravitas and excitement of Hillary Clinton, have returned to speculation that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could be the one after she gave a speech last night blasting the foreign policy performance of President Obama.
Though Rice has said repeatedly that she has no interest in running for president, that hasn’t stopped Republicans from rallying around her.
Rice’s comments to the more than 2,000 attendees at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual dinner last night in Washington, D.C., weren’t much different from comments she made a week ago at a Republican Party luncheon in California, but the buzz they created was real.
“Right now, there’s a vacuum,” she told the crowd. “There’s a vacuum because we’ve decided to lower our voice. We’ve decided to step back. We’ve decided that if we step back and lower our voice, others will lead, other things will fill that vacuum.”
Rice listed the conflicts abroad — Bashar al Assad’s slaughter in Syria, Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, al-Qaeda’s triumphant return to Fallujah, Iraq, and China’s nationalist fervor— and said: “When America steps back and there is a vacuum, trouble will fill that vacuum.”
She never mentioned the president by name, but the giddy crowd knew exactly who was the target of her comments. Rice mocked the naïve hope that “international norms” would fill the vacuum left by U.S. retreat and took the president to task for hiding behind the weariness of the public.
“I fully understand the sense of weariness,” she said. “I fully understand that we must think: ‘Us, again?’ I know that we’ve been through two wars. I know that we’ve been vigilant against terrorism. I know that it’s hard. But leaders can’t afford to get tired. Leaders can’t afford to be weary.”
Rice, currently a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a partner in the business consulting firm RiceHadleyGates, was secretary of state for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009. While she told Parade magazine earlier this month that it would be “terrific” to see a female president, she said it would not be her.
Rice has been busy hitting Republican fundraisers to raise money for the midterm elections. Her increased visibility caused tongues to start wagging.
“It’s important for the party to be able to have many different faces out there,” political consultant Ashley O’Connor, a former Bush and Romney campaign ad director, told USA Today. “I’m thrilled to see her out there. If she ever decided to run for anything, I would volunteer.”
But former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer cooled the speculation.
“I recommend you conclude that it’s Condi being Condi,” he said. “I do not think she is running for president. She is not. She is being very helpful to the cause as she always has been.”
The same thing happened during the 2012 presidential campaign, when Rice raised money for 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney and wowed Republicans with a prime-time speech at their convention.
“This is nothing new for Condi; she’s always done it,” Fleischer said. “The only thing that’s different is that it’s such a wide-open political field (for 2016) that people want to know, is it more?”
GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway told USA Today that Rice’s “mildly pro-choice” views would be a tough sell with Republican primary voters.
“Her ideology doesn’t match a lot of these voters in early states,” Conway said.