His ticket doesn’t need another foreign-policy expert — nor another easy Obama-era target.
If vice presidential candidates are supposed to help a presidential candidate’s chance of winning, it’s hard to see how Susan Rice is the top choice for Joe Biden.
Every four years we are told by the campaign experts that veepstakes winners are supposed to do a certain job. They fill gaps in things like audience demographic reach, policy expertise, geographic regional affiliation, or some other tangible or intangible quality lacking in the main candidate. If the boss is from the South, pick someone from the north. If he’s old, pick someone young. Or, as in 2016, if she’s perceived as an aggressive liberal unpopular with white men, pick a white male who is a steady moderate senator and military veteran from a state with a lot of electoral votes, like Virginia.
Joe Biden is an old, white man. Susan Rice is a middle-aged Black woman. After that, it’s hard to see what she brings to this campaign that Biden can’t find in other VP candidates, and with greater potential impact and less baggage. In fact, Rice already may be more of a liability to Biden than asset.
Just Google “Susan Rice memes”. Conservatives already are using her name to shout about the expected bits of Obama’s national security record: Benghazi, Hillary Clinton’s emails, Iran, and now the unproven allegation of spying on Trump during the 2016 campaign. The memes are vulgar, vile, and attack her for being Black, being a woman, and being rich, but mostly for standing next to Obama and Clinton. And those are the nice ones. “These men died, Susan Rice lied” is superimposed over the pictures of the Benghazi victims.
Now, little ol’ internet memes are nothing Rice can’t handle, and by themselves are no reason she shouldn’t be considered for VP. But would she attract more voters to Biden or Trump? Memes are a canary in the coalmine of modern politics. Last week, the New York Post said picking Rice would be like handing Trump a weapon to use against Biden. The Daily Beast reported that Democrats are having an “Are we sure about this?” kind of moment about Rice. And by Tuesday, Politico was reporting that Rice was the GOP’s top pick for gaining Trump votes because she’s “just the kind of ‘deep state’ villain who could fire up his MAGA base.”
Rice’s record as national security advisor is celebrated by many former Obama officials who served with or under her and are waiting in the wings with the rest of the Blob, the establishment, and the hawkish middle. Look beyond, however, and her record has been harshly criticized by far-left progressives and far-right conservatives who say Obama’s record of military interventions, particularly in the Middle East, was spotty and disjointed; his Iran deal left much to be desired; and his flat-footed reaction to China’s rapidly rising security and economic threats are as much to blame for the current state of Beijing-Washington relations as Trump, Xi Jinping, or the coronavirus pandemic.
Or, they just get to the point: “You know, she has a history of going on Sunday shows and lying,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, defending himself against Rice’s criticism in an interview last month with Fox News host Laura Ingraham. Putting aside Pompeo’s own history of on-air lies, his charge offers a preview of what VP-candidate Rice could expect. “You all remember that — back in 2012, she went on five Sunday shows and Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods had all perished under her administration watching Benghazi, Libya.” Pompeo repeated a favorite conservative allegation that Rice in 2012 knowingly lied to the nation by downplaying the seriousness of the Benghazi incident to justify the administration’s response. “She did so because it was politically convenient to say that. It’s the worst kind of behavior from a national security leader.” That CIA later corrected the talking points which they had fed Rice matters little to the false narrative Pompeo continues to speak.
Pompeo went on to tie Rice to other Obama-era foreign policy fracture points, including watching Russia take Ukrainian territory, the “red line” decision not to strike Syria, and “underwriting the Iranian regime while it was killing American soldiers in the Middle East. That was an administration that didn't care about our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines and certainly didn't act in a way that was securing the American national interest.”
That’s what Pompeo is saying on air. Team Trump is already trying to repurpose every national security attack on Hillary Clinton for Susan Rice.
None of this is to say Rice isn’t a proven, capable leader who would bring grossly missed federal government experience back to the executive branch. It’s also not to say that she couldn't fire up Biden’s existing supporters and draw in some new ones, particularly women and Black voters. But there are other candidates that, at least on paper, check that box; others who might draw out more voters but spare Biden and the country the sure-as-the-sun-rises divisive, exhausting rehashing of partisan dead horses from the Obama-Clinton era.
California Sen. Kamala Harris spent the last year introducing herself to progressive and moderate Democratic voters, and she’s the one most seem to be rooting for. She’s the same age as Rice, but over the primary campaign Harris captured some youth energy for being the cool, sassy auntie character played by Maya Ruldoph on Saturday Night Live. More importantly, she’s a few things Joe Biden is not: a former California attorney general, a relative newcomer to Washington, D.C. She’s also of-the-moment; she ran for the Democratic nomination under the slogan “Justice is on the ballot.” With the country’s collective kitchen-table conversation so suddenly turned toward justice and civil rights this summer, she’s a vice presidential candidate that comes ready-to-wear. If it’s down to Rice and Harris, as is being reported, one comes with baggage, and one is traveling light.
Biden will draw all the fire he deserves for his foreign-policy record, and Obama’s. He can handle it. Picking Harris gives the country, media, and pols something different to talk about. Harris’s foreign-policy views as a presidential candidate were not too far from Biden’s. She’s a bit more forward-leaning on Afghanistan, having promised to end the war “responsibly” in her first term. But she sings the same song concerning U.S. moral and security leadership of the community of nations in the international order. She’s no risk to his national security platform.
Susan Rice is as Washington establishment as it gets. There’s a good chance she’ll be back in the West Wing if Biden wins. But his chances of getting there are probably better without her on the ticket.