BOSTON — For nearly a year now, the eat-your-own Republican primary has made for amusing political drama.
The GOP has seemingly revived the tradition of local theatre with an epic string of debates featuring wing-nuts like Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann.
Key take away message: The right has pitched a very big tent. Sarah Palin is by no means alone among its eccentrics.
But now that Republicans have selected a presidential candidate, the shenanigans are behind us, right?
From the party of Reagan, Bush and Bush we can expect a disciplined, focused and united effort to defeat President Barack Obama in November, right?
Well, may not.
Today, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editorial page editor Brett Stephens weighs in one of the party's brightest intellectual stars, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
Rice is currently favored as Mitt Romney's vice presidential nomination, with an approval rating of 80 percent among GOP voters. Her closest rival is Rick Santorum, a political non-starter, having spent the primaries dumping on Romney, his would-be boss.
Although the WSJ editorial page tilts Republican, Stephens doesn't share voters' favorable view of Rice.
And that's an understatement.
Here's Stephen's nut:
"[Rice] was on the wrong side of some of the administration's biggest internal policy fights. She had a tendency to flip-flop when it came to the president's core priorities and her political misjudgment more than once cost Mr. Bush dearly. She was a muddler of differences at the national security council. Her tenure at State was notable mainly for the degree to which the bureaucracy ran her, not the other way around."
Ouch. That's no ringing endorsement.
Objectively speaking, Rice is an asset in the way that "9-9-9" or "End the Fed" isn't.
Regardless of whether you agree with her, she is a widely respected expert on foreign policy, with experience throughout the highly charged Bush presidency. She is eloquent and worldly, a longtime professor at Stanford. In a party that has struggled with gravitas, she certainly knows what newspapers she reads. To convince the electorate that she is qualified, she won't need to claim that Russia is visible from her bedroom window.
Credentials aside, she would also strengthen the already-tattered Republican ticket.
Stephens concedes this point:
"The political appeal of Romney-Rice is obvious. Here are two seasoned and reassuring presences who seem to complement each other in all the right ways. He's the business whiz; she's the foreign-policy wonk. His government experience is in the statehouse; hers in Washington and foreign capitals. He's the un-Obama; she's the un-Palin. He's the world's whitest white man; she isn't. That could even count for something if President Obama decides to dump Joe Biden for Hillary Clinton."
But that's where Stephens complimentary words end.
The rest of the well-argued piece trashes her as a "a bad national security adviser and a bad secretary of state." Weilding her memoir as a dagger, Stephens eviscerates Rice for equivocating on the Iraq surge, and for bumbling into North Korea. Certainly, she never exactly saw eye to eye with Pentagon Chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, although not everyone saw that as a bad thing.
So who would Stephens suggest as an alternative? He doesn't say — perhaps that's fodder for another column.
Instead, he concludes:
"If the presumptive Republican nominee is going to choose his running mate with an eye toward governing the country and not just winning the election, he can do better than Ms. Rice. Choosing her would simply be evidence that he doesn't have much faith in his own November chances."
Maybe someone less divisive, like ... Rumsfeld? Cheney? How about Cain or Bachman or Palin? Better yet, maybe the party would like to have an open, extended debate over the veep choice, just like the primary?
Here's what's certain: As the campaign heats up, President Obama must be watching this family fight with glee.