Over the past few months, Condoleezza Rice has had a media renaissance of sorts. She’s been prominent in raising money for Republican female candidates. Over the past few months, she was discussed as a frontrunner during Mitt Romney’s vice presidential search. She has a prime speaking role at the upcoming Republican National Convention, where she will seek to attract more female swing voters to Romney’s side. Last week, Rice – a longtime Cleveland Browns fan – made her modeling debut for the NFL’s women’s clothing line. Yesterday it was announced that she was of the first two women invited to join the Augusta National Golf Club, which has denied membership to women since its inception in 1933.
While it appears to casual observers that Rice is making a comeback, she never really left the national scene. Returning to a Stanford University post after her tenure with the Bush administration, Rice subsequently launched a consulting firm to help American businesses in emerging markets. She has penned two best-selling books over the past two years. She joined forces across the political aisle with legendary singer Aretha Franklin to raise money to increase inner-city youth’s participation in the arts.
Rice has long been the most popular figure from the Bush administration years, with 58 percent of Americans still approving of her even during the Bush administration’s most tumultuous years.
However, this latest media wave may serve as the evolution of Rice’s re-branding campaign to distance her from her Bush-era political tenure. She is increasingly transforming herself from doing mostly policy work to being a trailblazing Renaissance Woman icon across various arenas: education, foreign affairs, sports, business, and the arts.
Part of the reason for Rice’s re-emergence in the public consciousness could be economic nostalgia for the Bush days, especially among Republicans and an increasing number of independents. Unemployment has been above 8 percent throughout the Obama administration, compared to a 5.2 percent unemployment average during the Bush administration. President Obama has made whatever he fiscally inherited significantly worse by racking up more federal debt within his one term than Bush did across two terms. The Congressional Budget Office reports that food stamp rolls have also increased by 70 percent since 2007.
Despite the economic malaise, Rice’s popularity may also be precisely because she has never been an elected official. Rice may serve to confirm for many center-right voters’ minds that the Republican Party is increasingly a welcoming place for racial minorities and represents racial progress in the wider society. Younger Republicans especially yearn for an inspiring political figure capable of going toe-to-toe with President Obama.
While Rice’s life story makes her a very compelling “Great Black Hope” for the Republican Party, ideological realities within the GOP dictate that she will not be in a position to significantly help the party with black voters or independent female voters as is often claimed in media articles.