Why the GOP can’t stop dreaming of a Condoleezza Rice candidacy

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Whether it’s headlines on the Drudge Report or speculation about her vice presidential prospects in the mainstream media, Condoleezza Rice remains a figure of endless fascination for political watchers, and as one Politico reporter put it: “the irresistible, all-too-perfect fantasy candidate of the Republican Party.”

The former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State under President George W. Bush has repeatedly insisted that she has no interest in being Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running-mate, but questions about whether she was being vetted by the Romney campaign occupied the media for weeks this summer.

Rice “has such an extraordinary personal arc to her story,” says Rick Wilson, a Republican media strategist who runs a consulting firm in Tallahassee, Florida, citing her “willingness to confront the toughest issues of the time, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. She has fierce intellectual firepower and tremendous personal discipline.”

The announcement that Rice will be among the featured speakers at the Republican Party’s nominating convention later this month essentially ended speculation that she is under serious consideration for the Romney ticket – none of the candidates thought to be on the short list have been named as convention speakers. And Rice was spotted in London watching the Olympic Games on Tuesday, while the top VP contenders were stumping for Romney stateside.

And yet, enthusiasm for Rice hasn’t waned, and talk about what Rice as running mate could do for Romney, including lending key foreign policy experience to the ticket, hasn’t completely died down.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent, says the buzz about Rice as a potential running mate began with a speech she gave before a closed-door Romney fundraiser in Park City, Utah, in June. It was after that speech that conservative blogger Matt Drudge posted speculation that Rice was under consideration by the Romney team (though some believed Drudge’s real aim was to deflect attention away from negative media headlines on Romney’s time at Bain Capital).

“I think she was really impressive to the particular audience in Park City,” Mitchell said. “And that’s what started this. She gave such a strong speech – she’s a very good public speaker. There aren’t too many people with her particular portfolio.”

The Park City audience reacted enthusiastically to her speech, Mitchell said, “and that audience included Mitt and Ann Romney, so clearly that’s when this started to percolate.”

An improbable fit for the GOP

In many ways, Rice hardly seems the ideal candidate for the Republican Party of 2012. She is believed to be pro-choice, was a key member of an administration whose foreign policy is controversial at best, considered a failure at worst, including the now-unpopular war in Iraq. She is linked to the Bush administration’s widely panned response to Hurricane Katrina (she was shopping in New York at the time, and has since said she shouldn’t have left Washington following the disaster. And she is remembered by many Americans for a singular moment: a Congressional hearing at which she read the title of a national security briefing she had given then-President Bush the August before the 9/11 terror attacks. It was titled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.”

She has also made frank statements about race, and America’s history of slavery, that hardly endeared her to the party’s conservative base, which largely reacted negatively to the idea of her on the Republican ticket.