Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rice and Rubio: Two who won’t do

NOW THAT Mitt Romney’s back from his brief tour of capitals in Europe and the Middle East, the parlor game of handicapping the veepstakes, guessing who the former Massachusetts governor will pick for a running mate, starts in earnest.

Any number of names have floated in the ether for a while now, but according to the latest Public Policy Polling survey, Romney’s best chances for winning the electoral vote in Florida — that state that always manages to figure in the election outcome, for better or worse — lie in picking one of two seemingly galvanizing choices: Former Bush 43 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

In those names, there’s the frisson of making history, the tantalizing prospect of the GOP reaching for a deus ex machine surprise, naming either the first Latino or the first African American vice-presidential running mate to a Republican presidential ticket.

But once that rush of blood to the head passes, a look at both candidates suggests that, at the national level, neither Rice nor Rubio work for Republicans, for reasons singular to the GOP’s internal mindset, or for Americans generally, for reasons that resonate with the 47 million indispensable female beneficiaries of one component of the Affordable Care Act.

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While jobs are thought to be the linchpin issue for the 2012 election, people still tend to vote their interests. For those 47 million women, their interests were upheld on Wednesday when new health insurance regulations under the Affordable Care Act went into effect, in particular no co-pay preventive services for women’s health including annual checkups, domestic violence screening, FDA-approved contraception, breastfeeding support and supplies, gestational diabetes screening, HPV testing, sexually transmitted infection counseling, and HIV screening.

They’re part of a law that Republicans want nothing to do with; they’re also part of a law that millions of American women likely won’t want to live without. The importance of the ACA provisions to those women, and the vehemence that Republicans attach to those provisions, complicate life for Romney if he picks either Rubio or Rice.

PPP, a polling organization based in Raleigh, N.C., tested the names of five potential Romney running mates with 871 likely voters between July 26 and July 29. “Home state Senator Marco Rubio makes the biggest difference for Romney, pushing him up to a 49-47 lead,” PPP reported. “Rubio's approval numbers aren't earth shattering at 45/42, but his appeal is strong enough to help Romney gain a couple points with both Democrats and Republicans.”

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“The other difference maker among potential Romney running mates is Condoleezza Rice. She has a 59/28 favorability rating, basically unheard of among politicians today. Republicans (76/15) and independents (62/26) and love her and even with Democrats she's on narrowly positive ground (42/41). If she was on the ticket Romney's lead with independents would jump from 7 points to 13, leaving him ahead 46-45 overall.”

“Basically, what we found is that if Romney wants things to pretty much stay the same, he can make the safe choice and pick one of the boring old white guys," said Tom Jensen, director of PPP. "But I think it’s pretty clear with his running-mate choice, if he wants it to be a game-changer, he is going to have to take a risk.”

Astute observers of American presidential politics will note that phrase game-changer. The last time the phrase had currency in our political conversation was in 2008, when advisers to the John McCain presidential campaign used it as much of their rationale for picking Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate.

We all know how that turned out.

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According to the PPP analysis, adding either Rice or Rubio to the Romney ticket cuts President Obama’s lead with Florida’s Latino voters from 27 percentage points to 14. That’s a big chunk but it still leaves a sizeable double-digit lead the GOP isn’t likely to erode any further.

And on the favorables of his poll’s results, Jensen of PPP gives Rice an edge. “At a time when we are so polarized as a country, it is really rare for somebody to have that kind of universal appeal,” Jensen told The Huffington Post.

But hold up. Jensen may be confusing “universal appeal” with universal recognition, and those two ain’t the same animal at all. The specifics of the distinctions between them constitute some of the reasons why Rice won’t do for the Republicans.

First of all, Rice has been consistently reluctant to do it. She’s denied having presidential aspirations previously and frequently, indicating she’s happy to hunker down at her post at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. So much for fire in the belly.

It doesn't look good when a candidate has to be effectively drafted, dragged into the race against her will. Her primary occupational energies are already focused on doing something else. And if Rice does harbor political ambitions, it can’t have escaped her attention that signing on for the tail end of the most bewildering GOP campaign in memory could well damage her brand, and her chances, down the road.

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Also, for reasons she has everything to do with, Condi Rice on the Romney ticket would revive perceptual connections to the Bush 43 administration, and its role (and her own) in the genesis and prosecution of the two most ruinous wars in the nation’s history, one of them absolutely unnecessary. Rice imagistically weds the Republican Party to the freight of its past. Much of the country outside conservative Florida wouldn’t let Romney-Rice forget that. The Obama campaign wouldn't let the country forget it, either.

But the third matter may be the thorniest one. Rice won’t do because her pro-choice stance on abortion, and a moderate view on women’s reproductive rights, have already made her anathema to those most risk-averse, severely conservative conservatives in the Republican base.

Potentially making matters worse, picking Condi Rice in light of Wednesday’s startup of those new ACA health-care provisions for women, including contraceptive counseling, would be seen as a Romney slap in the face to those conservatives Romney needs. For them, Rice’s foreign-policy credentials are offset by her fidelity, however mild, to pro-choice principles — and by extension, the provisions of the ACA that now enshrine those principles as law. A law that Republicans hate.

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SEEN THROUGH the wider lens — what appeals to the country as a whole, and not just to Republican values voters — Rubio is equally problematic, for different and similar reasons. If Romney taps Rubio, much of the campaign’s energy will have to be directed at alerting the country to his personal biography, telling the country just who Rubio is beyond being a young Cuban-American perceived as a “rising star” in American politics. For an electorate that still has questions about Romney himself, a Rubio pick might be one relative unknown too many.

Choosing Rubio will definitely reawaken the experience argument — that, simply put, he hasn’t yet achieved the political gravitas for being the proverbial heartbeat from the presidency. After the debacle of McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin, it’s not clear that Republican rank and file voters would get behind yet another improvisation, another emotionally satisfying but politically inchoate “game changer,” so soon after the last one.

Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska for about two years and eight months. Marco Rubio was elected in November 2010 and didn’t take office until January of last year. You don’t grow presidential timber that fast, and the Republicans know it.

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And Rubio can be expected to have problems with many American women who remember that he co-authored the Blunt-Rubio amendment, an intrusive piece of legislation Rubio advanced in the Senate with Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt.

The measure, which died in the Senate on March 1, would have let employers make exemptions to workers’ health-care coverage based on how they felt about the moral dimensions of birth control — effectively replacing doctors with employers on a very personal matter.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith told the Tampa Bay Times that Rubio “championed a dangerous and extreme measure which would have denied women the lifesaving health care they need. Make no mistake: Sen. Rubio, along with Mitt Romney, tried to turn women's health care into a political football in order to advance their own extreme agenda — a shameful, partisan tactic which threatened the lives of women in our state and across our country.”

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THERE ARE more than 22 million women between the ages of 18 and 29 who are eligible to vote. That 22 million is less than half of the American women empowered by the reproductive rights provisions of the ACA now in effect.

A Romney pick of Rubio would be a slap in the face to those 47 million women, many who’ll remember Rubio’s earlier gambit, as well as the poisonously invasive law signed by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a law that requires women to have an abdominal ultrasound procedure before an abortion. If Rubio’s on the Romney ticket, he won’t be any more appealing to women in that state than McDonnell is right now.

“Governor McDonnell's unwillingness to listen to the thousands of women across the commonwealth who are outraged by this political overreach into their lives shows nothing more than arrogance,” NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene said in a March statement.

Bottom line tactical question: What’s it gain Team Romney to win the swing state of Florida and lose the swing state of Virginia, with Rubio aboard? Sounds like a wash at best.

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We’re less than a month from the Republican National Convention, the GOP’s dressage event in Tampa, Fla. If Romney is contemplating a rollout of Rice or (especially) Rubio, ethnically diverse, demographically rich Florida would be a natural setting, and likely to yield the Romney campaign a short-term punch in the polls.

But Mitt Romney’s not running to be president of Florida. And what plays in Florida can’t be expected to play everywhere else.

The list of veep possibles has been bandied about for months now. Bob McDonnell. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It’s been said, as much as advice as analysis, that Romney doesn’t want a “boring old white guy” for a running mate.

There should be some serious discussion in GOP circles about answering another question: Whoever Romney picks, will that choice be enough to distract potential voters from their concerns about the “boring old white guy” they can’t get around — the one at the top of the ticket?

Image credits: PPP logo, poll snapshots: © 2012 Public Policy Polling. Romney: CNN. Rice: Public domain. Rice, Colin Powell, George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, 2002: public domain. Rubio: via

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