Rumor: Kelly Ayotte for defense secretary

This is … surprising, enough so that I’m guessing it’s something they’re leaking mainly for PR reasons with no intention of actually appointing her. One thing about Trump, though — he likes being unpredictable.

No decisions have been made and the current list for possible defense secretary picks still centers around retired Army Lt. Gen. Joseph “Keith” Kellogg, former Defense Intelligence Agency director Gen. Mike Flynn and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Flynn would need a congressional waiver to bypass a law that requires any defense secretary to be seven years out of active duty service before taking command of the Pentagon.

But Ayotte’s name has surfaced in internal discussions as a potential olive branch to the GOP foreign policy establishment that the Trump campaign was often at odds with over the past year. Ayotte is regarded as knowledgeable and competent, sources familiar with the discussions said, and would surely get swift Senate confirmation…

Ayotte did not attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. During one of her debates, she said Trump was “absolutely” a role model for children and later said she “misspoke.” After Trump’s lewd comments about women were exposed on the Access Hollywood tape, Ayotte announced she would cast a write-in vote for Mike Pence, saying “I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women.”

Remember this post, about Trump having trouble filling national security jobs because the Republican defense community really, really dislikes him? One reason I thought Stephen Hadley’s name had showed up on Trump’s list of potential cabinet secretaries was to try to appease those people and lure them back into the tent. With someone like him or Jim Talent from the GOP foreign-policy mainstream in a top position at Defense or DHS, wary natsec officials might decide to give Trump a second chance. Ayotte isn’t as experienced as Hadley or Talent but she has robust Senate credentials as a member of the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees. She’s built relationships with plenty of people at the undersecretary level over the last six years, I’m sure. Putting her at Defense would be a gesture by Trump towards continuity.

But it’d be a weird pick — good-weird in some ways. Per the excerpt, Ayotte hasn’t been an enthusiastic Trumper. She spent her entire Senate campaign awkwardly shifting from sort of supporting Trump to opposing him, in hopes of finding just the right distance to win her race in New Hampshire. It almost worked, but not quite. For Trump to appoint her to a position as significant as SecDef would be a surprising show of forgiveness to a critic in the interest of appointing competent people, an encouraging sign given the stories circulating about Team Trump plotting revenge on its enemies within the GOP. Would Trump fans accept it, though? Why reward Ayotte with a plum job like Defense when a loyalist like Mike Flynn could have it instead? Another deeply weird angle here: Unlike Trump, Ayotte is an outspoken hawk. She became the “third amigo” in the John McCain/Lindsey Graham “interventionism forever” camp in the Senate. She’s also been aggressive in the past in criticizing Trump’s friends in Russia and in calling for harsher sanctions on them. Flynn is famously friendly to Russia. Why would Trump choose her over him? Is he really finding natsec hires so difficult that he has no choice but to offer them an olive branch along these lines?

Occam’s Razor: As I said, Ayotte is probably being mentioned mostly for PR reasons, to reassure America’s many Trump-skeptics that he’s at least looking at people with whom they’re comfortable even if he doesn’t really intend to appoint them. (And he is looking at them, and hiring them too. He really has no choice. Their institutional knowledge can’t easily be replaced by newbies.) One point I didn’t make yesterday in writing about the list of potential Trump cabinet appointees that’s circulating is that it’s awfully thin on potential women nominees, especially for the big jobs. Sarah Palin, Jan Brewer, and Mary Fallin are all named — but all as contenders for the same job, the relatively low-priority Department of the Interior. Pam Bondi is mentioned as a dark-horse candidate for AG but she’s not going to beat higher-profile candidates like Giuliani and Christie for that, especially when it would dredge up news about that donation that Trump’s charity made to her campaign in Florida. All of the really influential cabinet jobs, from Defense to State to Treasury to DHS, listed men exclusively as being in contention. Floating Ayotte for the Pentagon helps solve that problem, especially since she’d be the first woman SecDef if confirmed. Although, as I said earlier this afternoon, if Trump wants to blaze a trail with a groundbreaking staffing decision involving a woman, there’s always Kellyanne Conway for chief of staff. That position is influential enough that it might singlehandedly kill the heat he would otherwise take if he ends up with no women in major cabinet positions.

Speaking of staffing, Corey Lewandowski resigned from CNN today presumably because he’s agreed to a job in the Trump White House. The Daily Caller reported last night that he’s being looked at as a senior advisor and deputy chief of staff for planning. Naming him chief of staff probably isn’t worth the flak Trump would take from critics for it, especially since, as a deputy, he’ll be in close proximity anyway. Oh, and via the Daily Rushbo, here’s another staffing possibility suggested by Rush Limbaugh today. I … don’t think Hannity would accept the sort of pay cut that would come with being press secretary. And if you’re trying to carry a message to the entire country, naming a guy whom half the population has disdained for 20 years for his noisy right-wing partisanship isn’t the obvious way to do it. But in the end, who cares? Press secretary is, as noted earlier, a lame job. At least Hannity would be comfortable speaking on camera.