Conservative hawks are grumbling about this today but I find it hard to fault a president for not hiring a guy who once deemed him unfit for office, especially when that president is already besieged by embarrassing leaks from skeptics within his administration. If you’re nervous about your deputies airing your dirty laundry, why would you hire a new one who’s already on record as not thinking much of you?
Here’s how Abrams began an op-ed for the Weekly Standard in May 2016: “The party has nominated someone who cannot win and should not be president of the United States. We anticipate a landslide defeat, and then a struggle to take the party back from his team and his supporters and win the following presidential election.” In an op-ed published three days ago, Rand Paul claimed that Abrams once said of Trump, “the chair in which Washington and Lincoln sat, he is not fit to sit,” although I can’t find the source of that quote online. The real question in Abrams being rejected for State isn’t why he was rejected but how it somehow managed to escape Trump’s notice until after they’d met about the position that Abrams was a critic of his candidacy.
President Donald Trump met with Abrams and the sources said that the meeting went well but when the President learned that Abrams had criticized him during the campaign, the President nixed Abrams as Deputy Secretary of State, according to the sources.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to convince Trump to offer the job to Abrams despite the criticism because he felt he needed Abrams’ experience.
Republican sources also say White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner also strongly supported Abrams, and tried to convince the President to reconsider…
Another Republican source with knowledge of what happened said, “This was Donald Trump’s thin skin and nothing else.”
So Trump’s ego sank an otherwise qualified candidate, one favored by Rex Tillerson himself! Or … is the ego thing just a smokescreen?
feel like Abrams was done in by the anti-neo con forces within Trump orbit and the ‘criticism’ is just the public spin
— Joel Braunold (@braunold) February 10, 2017
Yeah, the problem with the “Trump’s ego was bruised” theory is that Trump’s already proved in ostentatious ways that he’s willing to forgive and forget in staffing up. According to every account I’ve read, his interest in Mitt Romney as a potential Secretary of State was sincere, and Romney criticized Trump far more harshly than Abrams did. Nikki Haley also criticized Trump intermittently during last year’s campaign and she’s currently his right-hand man at the United Nations. Trump has demonstrated some surprisingly, and admirably, thick skin in considering skilled people who aren’t his biggest fans for diplomatic positions. And it’s exceedingly hard to believe that no one told him Abrams had criticized him during the campaign until after they’d met to discuss the State position. If that were true, Trump would have every right to be irate that his staff isn’t telling him key details about potential hires before wasting his time with job interviews.
As the tweet above suggests, the likelier explanation is that Abrams got spiked because he’s a Bush-style neoconservative and Team Trump didn’t want to pick a needless fight with that wing of the GOP by specifying that as the reason for their antipathy to him. Better to give a philosophically neutral reason — he was disloyal to Trump as a candidate and the president has enough disloyalty inside the tent already — than to start an intramural war within the party over foreign policy. In fact, it’s a testament to how bipolar Trump’s foreign-policy apparatus is that a hawk like Abrams made it as far as he did in the process. It’s the same pattern we’ve seen over and over: Trump, the NATO skeptic and Iraq-war critic who wants to make nice with Putin, nonetheless has no problem staffing up (or nearly staffing up) with traditional hawks like Mattis, Haley, Romney, Bolton, Abrams, and on and on. To some extent that’s a product of having limited choices, as hawkishness has been the dominant foreign-policy posture within the GOP for decades, but it’s amazing to watch a guy who got elected promising to be a great disrupter of the status quo end up with a lot of pretty status-quo types in line for top jobs. Not Abrams, though. Maybe the more isolationist types in Trump’s inner circle finally drew the line.
Oh, and if you’re thinking that Abrams might have been rejected for fear that he couldn’t be confirmed by the Senate, with Rand Paul vowing to never vote for such a dastardly neocon, the Weekly Standard insists that’s not true. Allegedly Tom Cotton assured the administration that Abrams would have the votes he needed, possibly with Democratic help. He was rejected either because Trump didn’t want another former critic on his team or, more likely, because he and his team didn’t want another interventionist.