(The Root) — After getting hammered by the media over the last week for his failure to release multiple years of his tax returns, Mitt Romney needs to change the subject — badly — so by the time you read this, he may have already announced his vice presidential running mate. I don't know who it will be, but I can tell you one thing: It won't be Condoleezza Rice.
Rice herself has said, "There is no way I would do this." But that hasn't stopped folks from floating her name out there as a candidate.
Notwithstanding last Thursday's headline on the Drudge Report home page and Monday's Boston Herald endorsement that described Rice as a "breath of fresh air," there's no way Romney would — or should — consider her as a serious contender to be his VP.
Rice is eloquent and statuesque and has instant name recognition. She's got Southern roots, West Coast ties and a Washington, D.C., résumé. She was national security adviser and secretary of state for President George W. Bush, has a Ph. D. in Cold War politics and speaks Russian as a bonus, which would have made her a great vice president — in 1982. She's thought of as one of those rare above-the-fray political figures, but she'd be a terrible vice presidential pick for Romney.
Why? Because her signature "achievement" in public life was co-signing Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq — one of the worst foreign policy blunders in American history. If she were on the Romney ticket, the Democrats' attack ads about never-found weapons of mass destruction would just about write themselves.
Rice is also pro-choice in an anti-choice party that already doesn't trust Romney's conservative bona fides in light of his well-known flip-flop on the abortion issue.
And Rice has never run for office before — so that admirable "above the fray" quality would go right out the window once she did. The fact that her name keeps being mentioned as a serious contender says not much about her and much more about the politics of being on the vice presidential "short list." In theory, she gets the prestige that comes from being on that list, and Romney gets credit for including an African-American woman among the finalists, even if everyone knows she won't be the ultimate choice.
In Rice's case, though, whenever she's mentioned as a possibility, it not only underscores Romney's relative lack of foreign policy chops, but it also comes off as sort of a weak-sauce attempt to showcase party diversity.
Like the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan suggesting that Rice might be the antidote to "a campaign that always threatens to take on a painful racial overlay." But while talk of Rice might help Romney with Republican-leaning voters who want to see a more moderate, inclusive GOP, her close association with the Bush years means she's no help with most African-American voters, for whom Bush remains particularly unpopular.
Republicans have legitimate Asian-American stars in South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (yes, "Asian American" includes South Asian) — and Latino stars in New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.
But the Republican roster of African Americans just isn't there yet. Notable figures like my The Root colleague Michael Steele, Florida Congressman Allen West, Herman Cain and Condi Rice are all different individuals with very different reputations, but they've all got at least one thing in common: minimal traction among black voters.
Instead, keep your eye on the dynamic Mia Love, mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah. She's Mormon, the daughter of Haitian-American immigrants and currently vying to become the first black woman Republican member of Congress. She's got the potential to be a force in Republican politics and draw more African Americans to the conservative cause.
But that's not Rice. She's a nice idea, but not a for-real candidate out on the trail.
If the goal is a bigger-tent party, then Republicans' time might be better spent looking for the next Jack Kemp. The GOP's 1996 vice presidential nominee was a white guy who earned his credibility among African Americans because his interest in issues near and dear to black voters was understood to be sincere.
And that credibility might be more effectively attained by fine-tuning the conservative pitch to a wider contstituency instead of grasping for a "breath of fresh air."
It's true — the GOP could use more diversity. But let's stop trying to make Condi happen and see if Republicans can do a better job of reaching out with conservative ideas.
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.