Brian Birdnow

Two weeks ago, before Matt Drudge roiled the waters by announcing that presumptive GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney would name former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his Vice-Presidential running mate, quiet news reports began to circulate that Romney was actively seeking a female to run with him on the Republican ticket. The Associated Press reported on July 5th, “Mitt Romney’s wife has confirmed a tidbit about the Vice-Presidential search…he’s considering choosing a woman.” (Drudge may have been reading these tea leaves before making his prediction) Despite speculation that Romney was vetting Kelly Ayotte, the conservative U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, Condi Rice won these mythical sweepstakes based on name recognition.

Despite the Rice boomlet and her expressed disinterest in the position, the fact remains that the Romney camp seems transfixed at the idea of a woman on the ticket. The question remains: Why this scramble for a female running mate? The simple answer is that we are now seeing the ill effects of the 2008 gambits with 20/20 clarity. The historic nature of an African-American candidate heading one national ticket, and a woman holding the Vice-Presidential slot on the other side set an unspoken, but ironclad precedent. From 2008 forward, a national ticket would be deemed illegitimate if a woman or a minority did not occupy one of the two slots, as a candidate for President or Vice-President of the United States.

This shift may be subtle in practice but it contains disturbing portents for the future, as it reflects a sea change in official attitudes on this subject. Traditionally, a Vice-Presidential running mate was nominated with an eye toward providing geographical balance or for shoring up a candidate’s perceived weakness in a particular area. Most Americans of a certain vintage remember Walter Mondale’s 1984 choice of the spectacularly mediocre Geraldine Ferraro as the publicity stunt that it was. Now, little more than a quarter-century later we have arrived at a point where the lords and ladies of political correctness demand a minority set-aside on presidential tickets.

Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.