Steve Bannon, Mr. Populism? The high priest of Breitbart? The man who co-wrote a piece earlier this year slamming Romney as a sort of parasite on America’s working class and a walking, talking symbol of everything that was wrong with the Republican establishment?
Perhaps nothing is more symptomatic of the GOP establishment’s death drive than their continued embrace of the presidential aspirations of a man who shrank the party in 2012…
[T]he real business of Bain was private equity. They made a killing for their shareholders by buying out American companies, loading them with debt, bankrupting them, shuttering their factories, and shipping those jobs overseas. Unfortunately for the GOP establishment, the American electorate isn’t comprised of libertarian think tank pencil necks who worship at the Church of Ayn Rand.
If the demonization of Bain Capital wasn’t enough to finish Romney off in the eyes of working class voters, his “47 percent” comment did the trick. When you trash half of the electorate – a group that includes senior citizens living on fixed incomes, active duty military, and blue-collar Reagan Democrats – as freeloaders who don’t contribute to the country, that isn’t just bad retail politics, that’s downright offensive.
Granted, that piece was retaliation. It was published the same day that Romney famously unloaded on Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud” in his speech in Salt Lake City. Even so, it’s strange that Bannon, of all the people in Trump’s inner circle, would have been the one to encourage Trump to meet with the former running mate of Paul Ryan, a man Bannon allegedly described as “the enemy” and hoped to oust as Speaker even before he joined Trump’s team. But if you believe The Hill, that’s what happened:
President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, encouraged him to meet with Mitt Romney following his victory on Election Day, according to a high-level transition source.
Bannon wanted the 2012 GOP nominee included in the selection process, but beyond that, he has not been advocating for Romney to serve as secretary of State in the president-elect’s administration…
Those close to Trump want him to select people for his administration who were loyal to him and who embody the national populist movement, according to a high level transition source.
If that’s true, Bannon inadvertently created a monster by encouraging the Trump/Romney meeting. Presumably he nudged Trump to do it as a gesture of goodwill and party unity, gladhanding former enemies within the GOP so that they’d at least give Trump a fair shake during the first few months of his new administration. But Trump unexpectedly took a shine to Romney; before Bannon and Kellyanne Conway knew it, he was talking about putting Romney in the cabinet — allegedly with Mike Pence’s and Reince Priebus’s support. Again, if that’s true then it’s an interesting insight into Trump’s inner circle. I would not have guessed that Pence, the conservative outsider whom Trump supposedly didn’t even want as VP, and Reince, the RNC apparatchik, would be able to sway Trump on a major cabinet choice over Steve Bannon’s objections. But that’s what we’re left to believe.
Also interesting: Who leaked this to The Hill and why? Which “high-level transition source” would want it known publicly that Steve Bannon helped broker peace between Trump and Romney but did not want Romney in the cabinet? The most logical answer is Bannon himself, or one of his allies. It may be that Trump is close to choosing Romney as Secretary of State; that won’t be well received among Trump’s base but most of the public respects Romney and will respect Trump for having put aside hard feelings to to select him. Bannon will get some credit too now for having encouraged Trump to meet Romney and heal the rift. Noting that he doesn’t approve of putting Romney in the cabinet is a sop to populists, meanwhile, in case they’re annoyed at him for having played a role in this. Don’t look at me, Bannon might say; all I wanted was a handshake. His populist cred remains intact. If it really is Bannon who’s leaking this (and even if it isn’t, really), it seems like a sign that Trump is getting closer to nominating Romney. Otherwise who cares who favored a meeting between Trump and Romney and who didn’t? If Romney will soon be yesterday’s news, it doesn’t matter. If he’ll soon be Trump’s chief diplomat then it does.
But don’t jump to conclusions:
senior Trump adviser, asked if Romney is leading candidate for SecState: "No"
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) December 8, 2016
The latest name to surface in connection with the State job is former Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who joins Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as dark-horse candidates for the position. Could be that Trump is floating them for the job mainly for PR reasons: It’s an olive branch to corporate America, and considering businessmen with no political backgrounds shows that he’s thinking outside the box in staffing up. Tillerson has also had extensive contact with Vladimir Putin in negotiating oil deals in Russia for Exxon; if Trump really is planning rapprochement with Moscow as the centerpiece of his foreign policy, Tillerson would be more comfortable brokering it than Romney would. As for Mulally, Ford famously was the only one of the big three automakers not to take a bailout from Obama. Using the State vacancy to tout him might be a small reminder by Trump to his populist fans that he opposes corporate welfare.