Just as Democrats have grown increasingly worried about their chances of recapturing the White House with Senators Clinton and Obama playing "catch the grenade" in the campaign's homestretch, Senator McCain and the Republicans have stepped in to reassert their claim to a defeat that is rightfully theirs. Last week Senator McCain again confused the Sunni and Shia factions battling in Iraq and had the bad fortune of having coverage of his Iraq speech claiming "unmistakable progress" (despite increasing violence) interrupted by reports of mortar attacks on Baghdad's heavily fortified "green zone".
For Democrats, McCain speaking on Iraq is a gift that just keeps giving. The week's greatest gift to the Democrats, however, had nothing to do with Iraq and came from the most unlikely of all places - the famed weekly Wednesday meeting hosted by über-conservative – Grover Norquist.
Norquist endorsed as McCain's running mate a Bush administration official who has been quietly campaigning for the number two spot but whose performance has been characterized as "disastrous, "inept" and "not up to the job" by past administration officials and even former President Bush. Granted that is not much of a clue with this administration, but last week Norquist declared that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would make a great vice president. Norquist, who will forever be remembered for his stated goal of cutting "government in half . . . to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub," could be drowning the McCain campaign by brokering a McCain-Rice ticket.
Some Beltway insiders see promise in such a pairing, since it would give the GOP its own historic ticket to match the Obama or Clinton led Democrats and potentially help the party with two constituencies that favor Democrats -- African-Americans and women – one of which may remain bitter over losing the Democratic primary battle.
The insiders, however, overstate Secretary Rice's popularity and ignore the fact that her selection violates the cardinal rule that a running mate should do no harm. Dan Quayle and Geraldine Ferraro would be inspired choices compared to Rice, since their troubles would seem insignificant as McCain labors to carry Rice's baggage throughout her first political campaign.
A February Harris poll found voters split evenly on Rice's job performance and her job approval rating has not been a net positive since 2006. By comparison, Madeline Albright had a 69% favorability rating just prior to the 2000 elections.
Rice's poll numbers are unlikely to improve since as a candidate she would have to answer uncomfortable questions she has skillfully dodged up to now; including questions about
--- her admitted false claim after 9/11 that there were no prior warnings of a terrorist attack using airplanes and her failure to heed warnings from her counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and CIA Director George Tenet;
--- charges that she made 56 of the administration's nearly 1,000 pre-war false statements about Iraq; and
--- recent reports that she chaired White House meetings that specifically approved methods of torture to be used on detainees.
Surely Senator McCain can find a qualified Republican that is not hoping for a Presidential pardon as Bush leaves office.
These problems are compounded by Rice's lack of any achievement as Secretary of State and the universally dismal assessment of her performance as both National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. When Senator McCain says that the war was poorly executed – that "F" goes on Rice's report card. Selecting Rice as a running mate would thwart any attempt by McCain to have his campaign be defined by something other than Iraq and would solidify the view that a McCain administration would essentially be Bush III.
While Beltway wisdom and political reality are two separate beasts (as evidenced by the absence of a Mario Cuomo Presidential Library), it is especially telling that the epicenter of Republican conservatism could be so divorced from reality. Increasingly, the Republican far right resembles the King Arthur character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who rides an imaginary horse while his servant clanks coconuts to simulate the sound of horse hoofs. As funny as that may sound, keep in mind that it is the Knights of the Round Table from Norquist's Wednesday clutch who will be key players in any McCain-Rice administration and no doubt will continue the Bush administration's disastrous "Pythonesque" "faith-based" approach to foreign and economic policy.
Democrats can only hope for the fruition of Norquist's gift, since in the current political climate such a ticket could be historic in another way – as one of the Republican's greatest political disasters. Should that occur, I have no doubt that the unflappable Ms. Rice would preface her concession speech by saying, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that . . ."