March 26, 2014, 06:00 am
Condi Rice steps onto the stage
By Cameron Joseph
Condoleezza Rice is wading back into the political waters, a sign she plans to maintain a higher profile in both world events and the battle for the soul of the GOP.
The former secretary of State is headlining the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual fundraising dinner on Wednesday, a marquee slot often reserved for White House contenders. In a rare move, she recently penned an op-ed weighing in on the situation in Ukraine, and cut an ad for American Crossroads on behalf of her friend and former employee Dan Sullivan (R), who’s running for Senate in Alaska.
She has intentionally kept a low public profile since the end of the Bush administration. But as one of the party’s most powerful and popular women and one its few high-profile African-Americans, she’s in high demand within the GOP — and when she feels like speaking out, people listen.
“She’s very concerned with where the party is going, where the country is going, and that’s why you’re seeing her engaging,” Georgia Godfrey, Rice’s chief of staff, told The Hill. “What she’s going to do this cycle is really support the party, help empower leadership and help the party win back Congress.”
That means weighing in on international politics as well as an increased involvement in the GOP’s internal battles. Rice recently headlined a fundraiser for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), helping him against his Tea Party challenger, Matt Bevin, and keynoted the California Republican Party’s annual fundraising dinner. She’s serving as a co-chairwoman of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s task force pushing for immigration reform, and has weighed in on education and energy issues in recent months.
Many from the Republican establishment welcome her increased involvement.
“At a time when there’s such a focus on America’s leadership on the world stage, who better to hear from than former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,” NRCC Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement. “She is living proof that our country is the land of opportunity. We are very grateful that she is our keynote speaker and appreciate her help making this event such a success.”
Sources say Rice plans to use her closed-press NRCC speech to discuss the importance of passing immigration reform legislation and call for a stronger, more internationalist foreign policy — a direct rebuke to the rising strain of libertarianism within the party.
She sounded a similar note when her speech to the NRCC was announced.
“America is at its best when it is strong and prosperous both at home and abroad. That is why we need a robust Republican majority in the House working each day to promote peace and economic opportunity for all. I’m proud to join with the NRCC in promoting these values across the country,” she said in a January statement.
To the chagrin of many Republicans, Rice has no interest in returning to Washington or running for office. She’s running the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, serving on a number of corporate boards and was named last fall to the NCAA’s college football playoff selection committee, the only woman on the 13-member panel.
But sources familiar with her thinking say the events of the last six months, both abroad and domestically, have spurred her to get more involved politically.
“For her, where things have been going internationally has been one big flashing red light, and the government shutdown and the mobilization of the non-shutdown crowd within the GOP was also a spur to action. There was a realization that she has an enormous amount of capital and credibility ... and that means weighing in on some of the internecine GOP fights,” said one source who talks to her regularly. “There’s a realization that she can move the needle. I think she will, and I hope she does a hell of a lot more.”
Rice kept a low profile in the first few years after she left office, helping two female statewide candidates in California but largely staying out of the national fray in 2010. She began to get more involved during the 2012 election cycle, speaking with female Republican candidates running for office and helping to support ShePAC, a group that backs Republican women. She also spoke at the 2012 Republican National Convention, talking about education as well as foreign policy.
“This is not anything towards a future run for office or a candidacy. This is truly about wanting to help the party and have an influence and impact. She’s made it pretty clear Washington isn’t where she wants to be,” said Godfrey.
Others close to Rice say she has no interest in challenging Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in 2016, despite a sometimes-tense relationship between the two. The only thing that might entice her, say some familiar with her thinking, is an offer to be a vice presidential candidate.
Former Bush White House press secretary Oceander Perino said she has no expectation her friend will run for office in the future.
“Condoleezza Rice is a very good example of a public servant utilizing all sorts of different ways to participate in the process without having to run for office,” she told The Hill. “She really is Superwoman.”