The vice presidential spot on the Republican presidential ticket is the only place Condoleezza Rice is not these days. Unlike her ex-boss, former president George W. Bush, she is scheduled for a coveted speaker slot at the Republican convention next week in Tampa, and she made headlines this week as one of two women admitted as members at Augusta National, breaking a gender barrier that has lasted through the golf club’s 80-year history.
The former U.S. secretary of state has made history on several fronts while escaping the lingering, negative feelings about the Bush legacy. Of course, her attachment to the former president’s wars would be an issue if she had been offered and had accepted the chance to run for public office for the first time in her long government career. Even so, a poll found her presence on the ticket would have helped Mitt Romney appeal to undecided voters.
Moderately pro-choice views surely disqualified her during veep deliberations. Though she has said she is against late-term abortion, she has also defended Roe v. Wade, saying: “I have not wanted to see the law changed because it’s an area that I worry about the government being involved in.” After the Todd Akin stumble, though, Rice’s words must look conciliatory rather than a deal-breaker for a party trying to win women voters.
During the Bush years, her disagreements with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld regularly flared. Now, despite occasional views that put her at odds with the most conservative branch of the GOP, it’s Rice who stays in the party’s good graces. Rather than looking to settle scores, her 2011 book “No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington” tried instead to set her own legacy.
When she spoke about the book at Queens University of Charlotte then, there were a few protesters but she was greeted like a rock star by the crowd that filled the auditorium. While she didn’t stray far from the low-regulation and low-tax Republican message, her views on strengthening schools and her reminders that America is “a country of immigrants” veered from GOP policy. Unlike say, another former secretary of state, Colin Powell, who wasn’t on the Tampa list, Rice has retained some independence without paying the price. That bit of independence has endeared her to some that reject the hard-right turn the modern GOP has taken.
Since she knows she won’t have to go before a partisan electorate, Rice can buck up her GOP bona fides in Tampa, adding a face of diversity and conciliation to a party that has been accused of lacking both, before moving on to a relaxing round of golf at Augusta. Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post writes that the choice of Rice and high-powered South Carolina businesswoman and philanthropist Darla Moore will “class the joint up.”
Rice has said she likes reading her paper, knowing she is not the one in the spotlight. In Charlotte, she said it with just enough of a sly smile to insure that rather than drifting out of the news, she’s not going anywhere.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3