Why Condi Rice Won’t Be Mitt’s VP

The GOP's "big tent" is collapsing. If you want to see vibrant, messy democracy in all its glory, check out the Democratic Party.

No, Condi Rice will not be Mitt Romney’s running mate. Yes, Drudge splashed Rice’s name back into the news last week as a possible vice-presidential candidate. And yes, Romney might even have some good reasons for picking her—in this post-Obama age, after all, it’s hard to put two white guys on your presidential ticket without looking like you’re the party of white guys.

Plus, the political world would be a little brighter if it included a candidate who once played Alec Baldwin’s love interest on 30 Rock.

But no, Rice won’t be on the ticket. The reason? The GOP’s “big tent” has all but completely collapsed. There’s now room in the Republican Party mostly for the far right and the far, far right, but not much else. Rice—with her pro-choice viewpoints, and for other (never-confirmed) reasons as well—doesn’t really fit.

If you want to see the glorious, fractious mess that is democracy in action, in other words, you’re better off looking at the Democratic Party, which is a hodge-podge of interest groups and opinions, than at the increasingly homogeneous Republican Party.

Is this about race? Sure, but only partly. It’s also about ideas.

The Democratic Party, after all, is known nationally for being the party in favor of abortion rights, the safety net, and effective regulations to protect our food, environment, and financial system from utter disaster. Yet the party is led in the Senate by Harry Reid, an anti-abortion Mormon. It’s most famous and beloved alumnus is Bill Clinton, who presided over a welfare overhaul that required beneficiaries to seek work. And its most powerful figure in determining policies affecting the financial industry is Chuck Schumer, who hasn’t exactly made a name for himself as a pro-regulation zealot.

President Obama, you’ll remember, officially became a supporter of gay marriage just this year.

Heck, Hillary Clinton nearly won the 2008 Democratic nomination after voting to permit George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq—a stance that was widely despised among the party’s base. The party’s 2000 vice presidential candidate was Joe Lieberman—who also nearly ended up being the Republican V.P. candidate just eight years later: It kind of made sense both times!

Are there any major figures in the Republican Party who would easily fit on the top ticket of both parties? It’s difficult to think of anybody.

Point being, there’s room for lots of viewpoints—even contrasting ones—in the Democratic Party. In the GOP? Not so much.

Republicans will tell you this isn’t actually true. For nearly two decades, they’ve been bandying about the story of how pro-life Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey was denied a slot to speak at the Democratic Party’s 1992 convention. That story might be overblown. The truth is this: Casey’s equally pro-life son received massive Democratic support to run for Senate in 2006. And it’s not like Republicans are going to feature any speakers at their convention this year giving a pro-choice speech. There’s simply a greater diversity of opinion among Democrats.

Heck, Democrats even use Republican ideas. Obamacare is a direct descendant of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health reform, which originated in the 1990s as a Republican counteroffer to Bill Clinton’s failed health bill. Ask yourself if Republicans will ever pass Democratic bills when they’re in power.

This is anecdotally true: Even longtime Reagan Republican stalwarts like Dick Lugar and Bob Bennett can’t win a primary election anymore because they’re not conservative enough. And statistical analysis bears it out: The Republican Party is further right than it’s been for 100 years.

So what, really, are the chances that this party, at this point in time, would put pro-choice Rice on the ticket? Mitt Romney would be signing his own political death warrant if he did so; conservatives who only kind of distrust him now would probably just sit out this election entirely. Or write in Sarah Palin’s name at the polls.

Now: There are downsides to this for Democrats. One of the more painful scenes in Robert Draper’s recent book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside The U.S. House of Representatives, involves Nancy Pelosi hiring a consultant to try and figure out a bottom-line statement of what it is, exactly that the party stands for. Republicans—with “smaller government” sloganeering—don’t really have that problem.

But the upside to a big tent is that it holds more people. That makes it easier to win elections. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Lugar, Bob Bennett, and (yes) Arlen Specter don’t fit into the GOP tent anymore, despite decades of service to the party. And that kind of makes you wonder: How long before the Republican tent is too small for anybody to fit inside?