If I were Romney, I wouldn’t even consider it until the job was formally on the table. Nothing would be Trumpier than to squeeze some public groveling out of Mitt before yanking the football away and handing the position to Rudy Giuliani, chortling all the way.
But even then, Romney has to ask himself: How much dignity is he willing to sacrifice for a job that might well end up being miserable? Go read the NYT on how unhappy some Trump loyalists are that he’s taken a shine to Mitt.
Rival factions of Republicans are locked in an increasingly caustic and public battle to influence President-elect Donald J. Trump’s choice for secretary of state, leaving a prominent hole in an otherwise quickly formed national security team that is unlikely to be filled until next week at the earliest…
Mr. Romney would represent a departure from the hard-liners Mr. Trump has already picked for his national security team. But aides like Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, have expressed doubts about Mr. Romney’s loyalty given his denunciation of Mr. Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud.” Mr. Bannon and others have told colleagues they fear that a State Department under Mr. Romney could turn into something of a rogue agency…
Mr. Trump liked Mr. Romney quite a bit, and was intrigued by the possibility of such a camera-ready option to represent the country around the globe, advisers to Mr. Trump said. The following day, Mr. Giuliani met with Mr. Trump and urged him to make a decision in one direction or the other.
Kellyanne Conway, who herself started the campaign as head of a pro-Cruz Super PAC, spent Thanksgiving morning on Twitter shivving Romney for having shivved Trump so many times over the past year:
Receiving deluge of social media & private comms re: Romney Some Trump loyalists warn against Romney as sec of state https://t.co/HDtpjeJTc3
— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) November 24, 2016
Kissinger & Schultz as Secs of State flew around the world less, counseled POTUS close to home more. And were loyal. Good checklist.
— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) November 24, 2016
Trump fans have started a #NeverRomney hashtag on Twitter to try to steer the big guy away from rewarding Mitt for his establishmentarian disloyalty. The Times piece raises a good point in referencing Bannon’s suspicions, though. Would a State Department led by Romney end up in conflict with Trump’s inner circle on foreign policy, especially as regards detente with Russia, or would Romney become Trump’s faithful water-carrier? Joe Scarborough claims he’s spoken to Mitt and people in the Romney inner circle and feels confident that he would be a good “company man” for Team Trump. If you like the thought of Romney at State, that sounds … not so promising. The whole appeal of the idea is having Mitt, whose instincts were sound on Russian antagonism towards the U.S., in close proximity to Trump to encourage appropriate skepticism towards Putin’s motives. If all Trump wants is a water-carrier, let him choose Rudy. On the other hand, a “rogue” State Department sounds terrible, and would obviously be unfair to Trump. You can’t have the SoS acting behind the president’s back abroad to undermine his foreign policy, however misguided official White House decisions might be.
This is what I mean about Romney quickly finding his job at State to be miserable. He’ll be viewed suspiciously, if not with open hostility, by Trump’s other advisors from the start, with good reason. The shots taken at him by butthurt loyalists like Giuliani and Huckabee, who were passed over for the position that Romney got, will be hard. If there are foreign-policy leaks and anonymous backbiting from administration officials in the papers — and there will be, since there always are — Romney will be the prime suspect, fairly or not. There’s no guarantee that Romney will be able to influence Trump’s thinking, especially with people like Bannon and Mike Flynn in Trump’s immediate orbit. Within a year he might find himself pleading with Trump, to no avail, to hold the line in eastern Europe by strongly supporting NATO and then having to negotiate gradual American retreats from Russia’s borders, the Far East, and so on. Is that what he wants to spend four years doing? It’s much easier to see how he’ll be frustrated and fail in the job than how he’ll succeed, which likely means a short stint at State. (Expect a lot of turnover within Trump’s cabinet. A man who had three campaign managers is obviously comfortable with lots of staff changes.) All of that being so, why doesn’t Romney just withdraw? Thank Trump for being magnanimous in meeting with him, wish him well, call on all Americans to unite behind him, and bow out. The fact that Trump revanchists want an apology out of him as an initial act of obeisance tells you pretty much how his entire tenure would go.
That said, if he’s intent on doing this, he’ll have to say something to explain how he went from “Trump’s a fraud” to “I’ll work for Trump.” I think he could issue a dignified let-bygones-be-bygones statement: He was impressed that Trump would reach out to a sharp critic, he was impressed during their meeting that Trump was willing to forgive and forget, he’s convinced that Trump feels a patriotic duty to do the best thing for the country, and he feels obliged to show the same spirit of patriotism by accepting his offer. There’s no groveling in any of that, and all of it might well be true. If Bannon and Conway want more than that, either because they won’t trust that Romney’s operating in good faith otherwise or because they want to see real tears to satisfy their own spirit of revenge, walk away. Who knows? When Trump’s looking around for his fourth or fifth Secretary of State circa 2018, Romney might end up in the cabinet after all.
Update: One other factor to consider in all of this is that the leak to Fox News about wanting an apology may have been engineered by Bannon, Conway, or some other Romney-skeptic inside the transition team to try to force Romney to withdraw. Obviously Mitt’s not going to humiliate himself by groveling to Trump publicly (I hope). The very idea that he might is itself an insult. Maybe the leaker figured that Romney would see this clip, say “to heck with it,” and walk away, solving their problem.