Back in May, Politico gave us “an incredibly boring white guy” as an anonymously sourced description of what Mitt Romney was looking for in a running mate. Here it is July, and Bill Kristol is still finding that prospect incredibly boring, so he reads a reported but speculative RealClearPolitics article with a short list of Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal – and comes up with a column about Condoleezza Rice, who isn’t even mentioned in the piece.
Why? Because Ann Romney said so. Or rather, she said an incredibly vague thing when she was asked about whether Mitt would nominate a woman: "We've been looking at that, and I love that option as well." This is a very thin strand on which to hang anything. The alternative would have been for Ann Romney to say that no women were being considered at all, which is, at the moment, considered poor form.
Kristol briefly considers that this could (plausibly) mean that New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte or (less plausibly) New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez are being at least considered, but that’s boring. But instead he zeroes in on a Park City campaign event in which Rice “seemed to impress Mitt Romney, who was standing beside her,” and argues that she “would complement Romney in terms of area of expertise, gender (obviously!), and life experience.” (Obviously! He doesn’t mention race.)
As Kristol columns go, this is particularly lacking in anything resembling convincing facts. Rice denied the speculation over a week ago in terms far more convincing than the usual coyness: "There is no way that I will do this because it's really not me. I know my strengths and weaknesses." Once again, Rice has never run for office and doesn’t have domestic experience, not to mention the fact that she’s nebulously pro-choice – a no-go for Romney in trying to reassure the social conservative base. But don’t worry, Kristol doesn’t really mean it: “Let me be clear: I'm not advocating the selection of Rice. I'm just reading the tea leaves, and the biggest tea leaf out there right now is Ann Romney's comment. It makes sense to take Ann Romney seriously. Cherchez la femme!”
I’ll give Kristol this: It does make sense to take Ann Romney seriously if you take seriously her husband’s campaign trail assumption that she’s his pipeline to the hearts and minds of women everywhere. (On the other hand, Ann Romney also said of Mitt, "There's a wild and crazy man inside there.”)
The problem with all this – besides incredibly bored people struggling to entertain themselves in July with rank speculation – is that because John McCain once made a pandering, ill-thought-out decision, all Republican women are tarred with the same brush. Or, as the Week put it in its roundup, “Some worry that Mitt could repeat the mistakes John McCain made in 2008.” To be clear, Mitt Romney choosing a woman over the handful of men he clearly favors would be pandering, but it wouldn’t be a mistake if she happened to be the best person for the (mostly non-substantive) job.
This is the same essentialism that says that Ann Romney, who has no relevant background besides being born female, is a fast-track to the female vote. And it’s the same inability to see women as human beings on their own terms, a self-fulfilling prophecy that says that even the most qualified Republican woman will be nothing but Palin redux. Talk about one step forward, two steps back.