With President Obama poised to nominate a woman of color to one of the nation’s highest offices, Republicans have gone on the attack. And if this story line seems familiar, it’s because it is.
Last week, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham launched a pre-emptive strike on Ambassador Susan Rice, widely considered to be the Obama administration’s likely pick to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Rice has come under fire over her appearances on several Sunday morning talk shows following the September 11th attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, where she described the attacks as a reaction to an anti-Muslim film.
Despite evidence that Rice’s preliminary assessment of the attack was based off CIA talking points, McCain and Graham voiced their intent to filibuster a vote to confirm Rice as Secretary of State, calling her incompetent and “deceptive.” During his first post-election press conference, President Obama praised Rice’s record as the US Ambassador to the United Nations and responded to Republicans vowing to block her nomination saying that if they “think she’s an easy target then they’ve got a problem with me.”
The president’s impassioned defense of Rice is also astute political strategy. If history is any indicator, GOP lawmakers continued attacks on Rice could have them playing defense the next time women and people of color head to the polls.
President Obama’s November 6th victory was supported by a diverse coalition of voters but it was the overwhelming support of Latino voters that had many pundits talking the next morning. Surpassing his 2008 margins, President Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote. Despite the incumbent’s self-admitted failure to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, the Obama campaign played to its strengths, repeating one name as it made its case to Latino voters: Sotomayor.
From campaign advertisements and marketing materials, the Obama campaign spared no opportunity to remind Latino voters of the president’s nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Tapping into the pride surrounding the appointment of the first Latina justice to sit on the nation’s highest court, the campaign also triggered memories of the bitter opposition to her nomination. As Latino voters took to the polls on Election Day, they had been consistently reminded of the Bronx native’s confirmation hearings and how she faced Republican lawmakers’ hostility with intelligence and poise.
Republican pledges to derail a potential confirmation of Rice suggests they have not fully absorbed the lesson from their bitter opposition to Sotomayor. From labeling Sotomayor an “affirmative action hire” to calling Rice “not very bright,” Congressional Republicans have repeatedly showcased the worse of their rhetoric in a public and memorable way.
With the increasingly non-White American electorate looking on, Republicans have unfairly questioned the competence of two high-achieving American public-serving women of color. In spite indications that these partisan attacks will make less likely for their party to have a competitive national candidate, Republicans are once again attempting to derail a nomination that seems all but inevitable to most. And though this opposition may keep them in the news, it may alienate the very voters that could determine the Republican Party’s future.
President Obama is daring Republicans to make Susan Rice’s confirmation fight an ugly one. But if Republicans want their candidate to have a shot to win the White House in four years, they would be smart not to take the bait.
A former UN Correspondent, Leslie Pitterson is currently working on the production of the Great Decisions in Foreign Policy television series on PBS. You can follow her on Twitter @lesliepitterson