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.

In order to illustrate this new paradigm it is necessary to revisit 2008. From the beginning of the primary season that year most observers knew that the Democrats would set a precedent with an African-American or a woman at the top of the ticket. John Edwards never had a real chance of winning the nomination even before the truth concerning his evening devotions became common knowledge. The Republicans stuck to their formula of nominating a center-rightist, John McCain, who also happened to have compiled an outstanding military record. This stratagem failed with George HW Bush in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996, but no matter. The fact that Senator McCain presented a tired, haggard image and excited no one caused a certain disquiet in GOP circles. The figures who ran the McCain effort decided that their campaign needed a good dollop of energy and zest. They got these things when they nominated Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and they got an initial burst of good press, as well. The mainstream media, however, soon decided that it was more important to elect a left-liberal as President than to give Palin a fair hearing. The comely Governor Palin was quickly ridiculed, vilified, and smeared. Who didn’t see that one coming?

Now we transition to 2012. The post-racial President is going racial. Most Democrats, and their allies in the media are peddling their “GOP is anti-woman” campaign nonsense and some Republicans seem to sense a certain degree of vulnerability. These campaign strategists see Condi Rice as an immunization elixir, simultaneously protecting them from the racism charge and the sexism charge. The fact that Ms. Rice represents no natural electoral bloc matters little to the campaign bean counters. She brings “legitimacy” to the ticket because she is a woman who also happens to be of African-American heritage.

Every Republican candidate since 1976 has been forced to run with the racism and sexism charges thrown in their path. The charge, created by Democratic strategists and advanced by their media allies, has proven to be a tiresome constant in American politics for the last full generation. Some Republican presidential candidates chose to defuse this charge by pandering, while others did not. The defamation didn’t hurt the Party in 1980, ’84, or ’88. Now, however, the world has changed and the GOP is attempting to build a foundation on the shifting sands of popular cultural standards. A national Party ticket containing a woman or a minority candidate is certainly legitimate, while a ticket consisting of two white men is somehow compromised. This explains the Republican enthusiasm for potentially good minority candidates like Senator Marco Rubio, and potentially poor ones like Condi Rice. It also explains the continually baffling Democratic Party love affair with Hillary Clinton.

It remains to be seen in the coming weeks who Mr. Romney will tab as his running mate. If it is a white male we can expect a cascade of booing, jeering and caterwauling from those who now believe that a woman or a minority must have a place on a national ticket. That we find ourselves in this position is disturbing and ominous. We can blame popular culture and big media for our predicament, but we must also remember the fateful decisions our parties made back in 2008.


Brian Birdnow

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