Petraeus had been mentioned before as a dark-horse nominee for Secretary of State amid the scrum between Romney, Giuliani, and John Bolton. If loyalists won’t tolerate Mitt in the position and the rest of America dislikes the idea of Giuliani in the job, then find a compromise candidate. The fact that Petraeus is being called in today, with Team Trump allegedly at odds over Romney, seems like a sign that Trump is moving in that direction.

President-elect Donald Trump is considering retired General David Petraeus to be secretary of state and plans to meet with the former CIA director Monday in New York, according to a senior official with the transition…

Petraeus’s government career collapsed after revelations that he had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and shared classified documents with her. He resigned from the CIA in November 2012 and avoided a criminal trial by agreeing to a plea deal in April 2015. It required him to serve two years on probation and pay a $100,000 fine on a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized possession of classified information.

While that may create the unusual prospect of a Cabinet secretary who could still be on criminal probation for his first months in office, Trump said during the presidential campaign that Petraeus’s violations paled compared to those of his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who shared classified information on a private e-mail server.

Trumpers are scrambling on social media to resolve the cognitive dissonance between attacking “Crooked Hillary” for mishandling classified information and appointing a guy who’s actually been convicted of that offense to follow her at State. One defense is that Clinton’s negligence, involving setting up a private server through which sensitive material was routed, was more egregious. Perhaps, but the fact remains that Petraeus has a criminal record in this regard while Clinton wasn’t charged. Does Trump really want a public debate over whether his nominee for State was more or less culpable for spilling state secrets than Hillary Clinton?

Another defense is that Petraeus did his time and paid his debt to society and we shouldn’t continue to punish him for it by ruling him out for government jobs in which he might serve effectively. Okaty, except that … Petraeus hasn’t done his time yet. The two years of probation to which he was sentenced in April of last year are still running. And why would it matter whether he’s served his sentence or not when weighing whether to trust him again with access to state secrets at the highest levels? Millions of people voted for Trump on the theory that Clinton, despite never having been convicted of anything, disqualified herself by showing horribly poor judgment in how she handled classified information. Wouldn’t that still have been true if she had pled guilty years ago, received probation, and “done her time”? If she couldn’t be trusted as president due to her recklessness on national security, why should Petraeus be trusted as Secretary of State?

If you want an argument for giving Petraeus a break, this is your argument:

Right. If we’re stuck choosing between Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, David Clarke, Judge Jeanine, or whoever else Trump might cook up for this position, let’s gamble on the likelihood that the sober, seasoned four-star general turned CIA director learned his lesson after a terrible lapse. Ironically, though, I think Giuliani and Gingrich might have an easier time being confirmed by the Senate than Petraeus would despite his superior qualifications. With Rudy and Newt, you might get a few Democratic crossover votes; with Petraeus, Dems will be under heavy pressure from their base to pay Trump back for attacking Clinton over Emailgate by voting no as a bloc. Joe Manchin will probably vote for whomever Trump wants — that’s what it means to be a Democrat in deep red West Virginia — but are there four Republicans willing to vote no on Petraeus because of his natsec sins? Seems possible. This would be a fine moment for Trump and Reince Priebus to make a coffee date with Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, to get the lay of the land in the Senate as to who can and can’t be confirmed. Romney would be confirmed without difficulty, but everyone else whom Trump has floated for this position to date would run into problems, if not necessarily insurmountable ones. (Sen. Bob Corker, whom Trump is also meeting with today, would also be confirmed without trouble but would be attacked by hawks for his role in helping Obama’s Iran nuclear deal avoid a Senate veto.)

As for the sturm and drang over Romney, this is a sharp point:

If you subscribe to the “Conway is attacking Mitt at Trump’s behest” theory, you need to grapple with the fact that Conway — and Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee, and so on — have helped make Trump’s next move painful no matter what he does. If he picks Romney, it means a round of headlines about how Trump’s loyalists don’t trust, and even actively dislike, his choice for chief U.S. diplomat. If he passes Romney over, it means a round of headlines about (a) the alpha-male president being bullied by his own advisors into not choosing a candidate whom he likes or (b) the possibility that Trump orchestrated this Romney drama simply to humiliate Mitt, confirming most of the country’s worst suspicions that he’s going to be an unprofessional vindictive clown in office. Here’s Newt Gingrich yesterday on Fox, further boxing Trump in.