More intrigue: Romney to meet with Trump again about State job tomorrow

The intrigue will be over soon so let’s milk it while we can.

Mr. Trump is expected to have three meetings on Monday and Tuesday as the secretary of state sweepstakes heats up — retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, Mr. Romney and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, according to two people briefed on the schedule…

The Romney camp is doing its own pushback. A person briefed on the process, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss sensitive conversations, said that Mr. Romney had not sought consideration for the secretary of state, and was initially contacted by Mr. Pence. In that first conversation, Mr. Romney made clear to Mr. Pence that he would accept the position if the incoming president offered it, the person said, contradicting the claim from others in Mr. Trump’s circle who are opposed to the potential appointment.

Politico says the Romney meeting is happening tomorrow. The fact that Trump’s willing to meet with him a second time suggests to me that he really is in contention for the job, that this isn’t just an elaborate stunt by Trump to embarrass him. If it were the latter, there’d be no need to drag it out: Trump’s already given cronies like Conway, Gingrich, and Chris Collins ample opportunity to bash Romney on television by throwing him unexpectedly into the mix for the State job. Having had his fun, now would be a perfect time to leak that Romney’s no longer under consideration and to move on to choosing a nominee. And in fact, some reports do confirm that Mitt’s a top candidate:

One conservative activist said he believes the choice has come down to Messrs. Romney and Bolton, while he said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, remains a long shot for the job.

Romney’s biggest advocate within Team Trump is, supposedly, Mike Pence. (Reince Priebus also likes the idea, although apparently not as much.) If Trump and his loyalists really are running a scam on Romney for no better reason than to embarrass him publicly, it is … troubling that the vice president is in the middle of it, seemingly unaware. On the other hand, there are also reports like this floating around:

I reached out to sources in the political worlds of Romney and Trump for answers to that question. None were willing to speak on the record about such a sensitive matter, but all made clear that a) Conway, very obviously, doesn’t like Romney and b) it was their belief that she was not “going rogue” — operating against the wishes of the president-elect — when it comes to Romney.

“My reporting indicates that [Conway] was not defying Trump in her comments on Romney,” tweeted John Harwood of the Times a few hours ago. Is there any way Mitt could somehow be under serious consideration for the job and being undermined publicly by Team Trump at the boss’s behest? The only way I can square that circle is by speculating that Trump really does want an apology of some sort from Romney as a condition of him taking the job, and is using Conway, Gingrich, etc to apply pressure by lambasting him as disloyal. Presumably that’s what tomorrow’s meeting is about — Trump may tell him that he’d like to have him at State but Romney’s previous criticism obviously makes the situation awkward, so is there a way they can hash out a solution to make it less awkward? Romney will need to say something eventually to explain away his earlier attacks on Trump if he takes the job, but as a matter of simple pride, he can’t allow himself to grovel. The guy wrote a book called “No Apology,” for cripes sake. Bowing and scraping to secure a cabinet position would destroy the thing non-Trump Republicans like most about him, that he’s a dignified elder statesman.

There’s another strange wrinkle to all of this. This is mostly true, and odd:

Offhand, the only Romney critic I can think of who’s made a point of noting that Mitt’s views (especially towards Russia) make him an odd match for Trump’s isolationist tendencies is Newt Gingrich. The sum total of other criticism directed at Romney is that he’s disloyal, which matters but shouldn’t matter as much as whether the president’s sense of foreign policy meshes with his chief diplomat’s. Especially since there’s no reason to think Trump would leave Romney in his job at State if Mitt tried to “go rogue” by running an essentially independent diplomacy shop.

Then again, because Trump’s foreign policy views are so vague and sometimes contradictory, it’s hard to think of a candidate whose foreign-policy views can comfortably be said to align with his. John Bolton’s an ardent hawk and NATO advocate. Why is he under consideration? Why are Bob Corker or David Petraeus under consideration? Trump’s attitude to major appointments, like Mike Pompeo at CIA and (probably) Gen. Mattis at Defense, seems to be to pick very competent people and assume that the ideological differences will work themselves out — which is a solid way of making appointments, I think. Romney would fit squarely into that mold. But that explains why his disloyalty is such a stumbling block. If you’re choosing people based on their personal attributes more so than their ideological leanings, a personal attribute like harshly criticizing the president-elect should loom extra large.

In lieu of an exit question, here’s an ominous thought from David Frum. This might also help explain why Trump would want Conway attacking Romney publicly even though he’s under consideration for the job. It’s a warning shot to Rand Paul and other independent-minded Republican senators that they’d better be prepared to be smacked around in the media, in full view of their own local Republican bases, if they stray too far off the reservation.