Susan Rice is a Rhodes scholar, a graduate of Beauvoir and the National Cathedral School, the daughter of a Federal Reserve governor, a protégé of Madeleine Albright and of Anthony Lake. In 2012 the Washington Post reported her family’s wealth at $20 million. She’s also the great-granddaughter of a slave and granddaughter of a janitor.
Ms. Rice, who served as national security adviser and as ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administration, embodies a story of upward mobility — an America full of possibility, where people aren’t trapped by their race or family backgrounds.
If the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph Biden, chooses Ambassador Rice as his running mate — a possibility that appears increasingly likely, though is not a done deal — her own story will be part of the reason. To the extent that Mr. Biden’s campaign has an optimistic message, Ms. Rice embodies it.
Mr. Biden talks about it on the campaign trail in his standard stump speech. The press doesn’t focus on it because it sounds platitudinous, but as his campaign website puts it, “In America, no matter where you start in life, there should be no limit to what you can achieve.”
Ms. Rice has more to offer than her own family story, inspiring though it is. Mr. Biden has said all along he wants a running mate with whom he is comfortable and who is ready to step into the role on day one. Ms. Rice has more extensive White House experience than any of the other candidates reportedly under consideration. She can speak about her record on pandemic preparedness — she brought in Ron Klain, a close Biden adviser, to serve as her “ebola czar” on the National Security Council.
If Mr. Biden picks Ms. Rice in part because she is a black woman, it will be ironic. In her 2019 book “Tough Love,” Ms. Rice writes that what excited her about Barack Obama was that “He was neither an icon of the civil rights era nor a ‘race-man’ (as my father used to call those who viewed the world primarily through the prism of race). He was a new American leader — for all. Like my children, he was both black and white.”
That excellent 2012 Washington Post profile that reported Ms. Rice’s $20 million in family wealth also links to a 1998 Post piece that quotes her saying that race “is not the sole or even the primary part of my identity.”
With Ms. Rice, Mr. Biden can pick a black woman running mate and simultaneously push back against the political correctness and identity politics that many Trump voters and independents find oppressive in its excesses.
Ms. Rice raised a Republican son, Jake Rice-Cameron, a pro-Trump student activist at Stanford. In November 2019, Ms. Rice told the Guardian about Jake, “He characterized himself as a Reagan conservative. ... He’s an internationalist, and he believes in strong US leadership, he believes in our alliances. He and I have a very similar conception of where the threats and challenges lie.”
Ms. Rice could help dispel any concern that a Biden administration would retreat from leadership on the world stage. Mr. Biden has already been running to the right of President Trump on China. Ms. Rice has been outspokenly in favor of keeping American troops in two places — Syria and Germany — where Mr. Trump wants to withdraw some of them.
In a June 11, 2020, MSNBC appearance, Rice faulted Mr. Trump for his plan to withdraw some American troops from Germany. “Another very serious self-inflicted wound,” she called it. “Just shameful.” In October 2019, on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Ms. Rice criticized Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, calling it “batshit crazy” and “just appalling.”
To those who lived through Democrat John Kerry’s denunciations of George W. Bush’s Iraq War in 2004 or even know about Democrat George McGovern’s antiwar campaign against Nixon in 1972, the idea of a Democratic presidential ticket running as foreign policy hawks is head-spinning.
It shows how Trump has connected with an earlier strain of Republican restraint-verging-on-isolation, reminiscent of Senator Robert Taft or of Senator Robert Dole, Republican of Kansas, back when Dole described Vietnam, World War II, World War I, and Korea as “all Democrat wars.”
And it shows how Mr. Biden has some internationalist, establishment instincts. Whether the electorate is closer to Mr. Trump’s view on these matters or to Ms. Rice’s is an open question, as is how central an issue national security policy will be in the campaign. Perhaps her views have the potential to lure back some Reagan Democrats.
One negative on Ms. Rice would be that she’s never previously run for or served in elective office. Neither, though, did Mr. Trump, which makes it a difficult line of attack for the Trump campaign.
It’s possible that Republicans could react to a Ms. Rice choice by resurfacing talk of “unmasking or “Benghazi.” But if Republicans spend the campaign concentrating on complicated years-old Washington scandals instead of providing a concrete future vision for improving the country’s health, economy, and security, that might actually wind up helping the Democrats.
Voters would have to decide between a Biden-Rice internationalist vision and a Trump-Pence administration that is less “globalist.” If Mr. Biden wants a running mate that doubles down on his strengths rather than tries to compensate for his weaknesses — a Clinton-Gore style choice rather than Dole-Kemp — he could do a whole lot worse than picking Susan Rice.