Good lord almighty. This might actually happen.
Mitt Romney is now the strongest remaining candidate for President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state, CBS News’ Major Garrett reports.
No final decision has been made yet, but Romney, in comparison with Gen. David Petraeus (ret) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is in the strongest position to date.
Petraeus, sources told Garrett, is out of the running. Gen. John Kelly’s nomination to run the Department of Homeland Security played a large role: Mr. Trump will not have four generals in the upper echelons of the Trump administration — the other two are Gen. James Mattis (ret), who was named defense secretary, and Lt.-Gen. Michael Flynn (ret), who will be national security adviser. Giuliani is still on the short list, but he is not considered as likely as he once was to get the job.
I have a separate post coming on Trump choosing Kelly to lead DHS, but I think CBS is right that he and Petraeus were an either/or deal given how many generals are already in Trump’s inner circle. It’s not just Flynn, Mattis, and Kelly; Admiral Mike Rogers is on the shortlist for Director of National Intelligence too. Throw Petraeus in at State and you could conceivably have five generals, all of them in key national security positions, in the cabinet. (National Security Advisor isn’t technically a cabinet position but it’s at that level.) Trump’s critics are already snarking on Twitter about the Kelly pick that Trump is assembling his own “junta,” and some Democrats have warned that they’ll try to block a waiver for Mattis to serve at Defense on grounds that it’s a threat to civilian control of the military. All of that being so, Trump and his team may have concluded that Petraeus simply can’t get confirmed if he’s nominated for State. The number of generals already on the team plus Petraeus’s rap sheet for mishandling classified info means he’d likely run into 51 nays in the Senate. If Kelly was in, Petraeus had to be out.
Watch below at 2:50 of the clip as Trump confirms that Romney is a real, honest-to-goodness, top-flight contender for State. Matt Lauer asks him point blank if he’s stringing Romney along as part of some revenge plot. No, says Trump, this isn’t about revenge, it’s about what’s good for the country. Good answer, although his hardcore fans presumably disagree. If Trump is good for the country and Romney was adamantly anti-Trump, then Romney is bad for the country by definition — unless, of course, he’s had a recent change of heart. Presumably Mitt, like so many other Republicans, is in the midst of a well-timed political awakening. I’d also recommend watching from 9:50 to the end of the clip, as that’s the most interesting bit in the segment — Trump talking about his newfound respect, and even personal affinity, for … Barack Obama. Quote:
President-elect Donald Trump said early Wednesday that he has run some of his Cabinet choices past President Barack Obama.
“I would say that, yes, I take his recommendations very seriously and there are some people that I will be appointing and in one case have appointed where he thought very highly of that person, yes,” Trump told NBC’s “Today” show.
“I do like him. I love getting his ideas. And I may differ in many cases, I differ very greatly. In many cases I’m the opposite,” Trump said of Obama.
Trump gushing about O makes his new fondness for Romney seem pedestrian by comparison. I’ve said before that it’s smart of Obama to put aside his own feelings and try to cultivate Trump’s friendship in hopes of influencing him on policy, but it’s smart of Trump to cultivate Obama’s friendship too, especially with Republicans in total control of government and vulnerable to charges that they’re not listening to the opposition. Literally every poll taken during the general election showed that voters were concerned about Trump’s “temperament,” probably fearing that he’s too impetuous and vindictive to operate smoothly in government and to attract quality people around him. Making nice with Obama and Romney, two of his harshest critics in public life, is an efficient way to reassure people that he can put aside personal feelings when there’s some public good to be gained by it.
Taking Obama’s political advice is another matter, but hearing him out is a small goodwill gesture to Democrats. And maybe more importantly, it’ll make Obama think twice about how harshly he wants to criticize Trump going forward. Obama’s still a popular president and an effective speaker, even if nearly everything he touched during his two terms ended up turning to ash. If he ends up pulling his punches against Trump after leaving office (at least for awhile) because they’ve built some kind of advisory relationship, that’s probably a net win for Trump. Exit question: Trump mentions that he’s already announced one cabinet nominee whom Obama thinks highly of. Who’s that? The temptation is to say Mattis, but Obama fired Mattis from Centcom and Mattis repaid the kindness by criticizing various aspects of Obama’s foreign policy in retirement. Maybe Elaine Chao? Nikki Haley?