Remember "Condi for President?"
It was just a little over a year ago that Dick Morris was dominating the airwaves and the bestseller list with his argument that the secretary of state was the candidate: the one who Republicans needed to draft, the only hope to beat Hillary Clinton, the personal embodiment of the future of the Republican Party.
Democrats openly expressed concern that even if she didn’t end up in the top slot, she would be the obvious choice for vice president, with the potential to break the bounds of loyalty that had tied African Americans to the Democratic Party.
The woman who went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to defend the president’s proposed escalation of the Iraq war is not on anyone’s short list for anything in 2008.
“Grilled Rice,” the on-line magazine Slate described it, in summarizing the day's papers. Fried Rice might have been more accurate.
In the Senate, one after another of the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raked her over the coals. As the committee’s new chairman, Sen. Joe Biden, put it at the conclusion of her testimony: “I think what occurred here today was fairly profound, in the sense that you heard 21 members, with one or two notable exceptions, expressing outright hostility, disagreement and an overwhelming concern with the president’s proposal.”
The pictures of the secretary of state carried on the front pages of the country’s newspapers showed a woman under attack: in one, her head is bowed as she takes questions; in another, on the front page of the New York Times, she looks angry and defensive. A candidate would recoil at the images: None of them are shots you would ever use in a campaign.
What happened to the Condi boomlet? Ms. Rice is as smart and articulate and attractive as she has ever been. The black vote is as important as it has ever been. Barak Obama notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton is still the one to beat on the Democratic side, and the argument that it will take a woman to beat one has certainly not been proven wrong.
So how did the most visible and attractive woman in the Republican Party become, politically speaking, chopped liver?
The answer is simple. Her war failed. Her policies were proven wrong. She is now presiding over a disaster. Why would anyone want to turn to her to lead the party in a campaign?
As for the Condi-Barbara Boxer dust up, the problem is not that Condi doesn’t have children. The point Barbara Boxer was trying to make, which is certainly true, is that the price for this war is not being borne equally by all Americans. It’s not just about who has kids and who doesn’t, but the reality of how the absence of a draft makes some of us more removed than others from the costs of the war.
But this much is for sure: Condi is no longer seen as so popular, so much admired, that she is beyond attack. Fair game doesn’t begin to describe it. She is a target, and her defenders have been forced to resort to demonizing Barbara Boxer as a bad feminist in their efforts to protect her.
Which raises this interesting question: What about McCain?
If Condi is the would-be candidate most closely associated with the disaster in Iraq, John McCain is in the process of setting himself up as a close second. The more Republicans who desert the president on the war, the more visible he is in his lonely support.
With folks like Sam Brownback and Chuck Hagel openly challenging the president’s policies, comparing Iraq to Vietnam, making clear their view that the administration is on the wrong course, McCain’s suggestion that maybe the president hasn’t asked for enough additional troops makes clear that he is the “war candidate” in a country that has come to oppose the war.
If her connection with the Iraq failure has been enough to turn talk of a Condi candidacy into a faint memory, what will it mean for John McCain?
If Condi, with all that she had going for her, can’t survive the association with the ongoing disaster that is almost certain to be a primary issue in 2008, how can John McCain?
McCain’s people would almost certainly point out, in his defense, that his almost certain candidacy is about more than the war: McCain has been a leader on issues of ethics reform, an independent voice to end the bipartisan bickering on Capitol Hill, the author of landmark legislation to limit campaign contributions.
Of course, those are all the reasons many Republican regulars distrust him.
More important, that’s not what anyone is talking about right now.
“It’s Iraq stupid.” The war is the issue. And if you’re wrong on the war, does it matter if you’re right on anything else? The would-be, won’t-be Condi candidacy suggests not.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.