They want to drain the swamp? Well, then, I’m sure there’ll be some outrage over this. Which job is Cohn in line for?
JUST IN: Goldman Sachs president & COO Gary Cohn to meet with president-elect Trump today in New York.
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) November 29, 2016
Trump’s likely Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, also spent 17 years at Goldman and was — ta da — a Mitt Romney supporter in 2012. As was probably 90 percent of Trump’s “base.” As, of course, was Newt Gingrich. We’re all “swamp things” in the end, aren’t we.
Newt is a special case, though. Let me re-up this bit from a post written this past spring, the last time I got annoyed at Gingrich, of all people, attacking insular Washington “elites”:
Newt farking Gingrich, lecturing other people about their elitism. He’s an academic by trade. He’s been a Beltway fixture for nearly 40 years, half that time as a congressman and Speaker and half as a regular in the conservative media complex. He’s a rich man thanks to his businesses and the lecture circuit. There’s not a political cocktail party in America that he couldn’t get into. He might as well have a recurring part on “House of Cards.” If Newt’s not “elite,” who is?
I neglected to mention at the time that he was a well-compensated not-a-lobbyist for Freddie Mac for more than five years. Romney, meanwhile, has spent four years total in public service — at the state, not federal, level — and the rest of his time in the private sector, virtually all of it outside Washington D.C. He’s a rich man, but wealth alone can’t be proof that you’re part of the “swamp.” Otherwise Trump himself is far swampier than Romney is.
You could make a good case, in fact, that Romney is the least problematic State contender from the perspective of draining the swamp. David Petraeus has a rap sheet for sharing state secrets with his mistress; Rudy Giuliani may be unconfirmable due to conflicts of interest that will arise from his business ties. Romney is clean. Appointing him would also be a bold and surprising break by Trump with the sort of cronyism presidents routinely practice in filling their cabinets. The only reason to name a (former) enemy like Mitt to the position is meritocracy, because Trump genuinely believes he’d do the best job of the various candidates. (Josh Barro speculates that Gingrich and other Trump loyalists are nervous about Trump choosing Romney for exactly that reason, because they fear it’s a sign Trump that will prioritize competence over loyalty.) Capability over cronyism is as anti-swamp as it gets.
Even so, I wish Romney would withdraw. As much as he may feel a patriotic duty to serve if asked, he has to be open-eyed about the sideshow he’s walking into. Here’s the latest on the embarrassing drama over whether Kellyanne Conway is or isn’t ripping on Romney in public at Trump’s behest. The answer: A little of both.
Mr. Trump, in a statement emailed Monday evening by his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, said: “Kellyanne came to me and asked whether or not she could go public with her thoughts on the matter. I encouraged her to do so. Most importantly she fully acknowledged there is only one person that makes the decision. She has always been a tremendous asset and that will continue.”
Truth? Lie? Somewhere in between? Before you form a judgment, read this Politico story about Conway supposedly drifting out of Trump’s inner circle, to the point where she turned down a job on the White House communications team and is now expected to work for Trump in some capacity outside the administration. Trump may have less leverage over whom she does and doesn’t attack publicly than he used to. In which case, no wonder he’d put out a statement saying that her comments were authorized. Even if that’s untrue, it’s an easy way for him to maintain an illusion of control.
From Romney’s perspective, though, it shouldn’t matter. Conway’s knifing him, Gingrich is knifing him, Huckabee’s knifing him, and Trump is either unwilling or unable to get them to tone it down. If Mitt comes aboard, he’ll be scapegoated by Trump loyalists for everything that goes wrong in U.S. foreign policy from now until he leaves State. It’s grand to say that Romney has an obligation as a patriot to accept the job if offered, but that would be more persuasive if Team Trump itself felt a patriotic obligation not to undermine someone publicly who may end up leading the State Department. Did Newt Gingrich feel any patriotic duty not to equate America’s would-be head of diplomacy with Washington corruption per his “swamp” crack? Did Conway feel any similar duty in marveling aloud in front of television cameras about how unhappy and aggrieved Trump fans feel that Romney might get the job? No? Well, then that tells you something about how seriously the team around Romney values “the good of the country” and how little influence he’s likely to have. Trump’s under no obligation to consider him for any job — it’s weird that he’d do so, frankly, given their history — but once Romney’s in the mix and holding his own fire against Trump’s team, you would think respectful silence would follow on both sides. The fact that it hasn’t shows why he’d be nuts to accept Trump’s offer.
Skip to 3:20 for the bit about Romney.