Three weeks ago, before the Romney soap opera began, I would have told you that a Pence/Rice huddle was nothing more than a courtesy call, a gesture of goodwill from the next Republican president’s administration to the last Republican president’s administration. They’re in the middle of choosing a new Secretary of State, aren’t they? Well, then, it only makes sense that Pence would make a show of consulting with the person who most recently held that position in a GOP White House. If nothing else, it might help thaw relations between Trump and Bushworld. And that might help woo Bush loyalists who are currently loath to work for Trump to consider deputy secretary positions.
Vice President-Elect Mike Pence will meet with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington, D.C. today, @seanspicer says
— Arlette Saenz (@ArletteSaenz) November 30, 2016
But we’ve since found out that literally no one in the GOP has been ruled out for a job in a Trump administration, not even a guy who called Trump a “fraud” and a “phony” in a speech this spring and then refused to endorse him after he became the Republican nominee. If Romney can be Secretary of State, or at least be considered for the position, then everyone on the right is a potential hire. (Except maybe Jeb Bush.) Even someone who wrote this the day the “Access Hollywood” tape was leaked:
Enough! Donald Trump should not be President. He should withdraw.
As a Republican, I hope to support someone who has the dignity and stature to run for the highest office in the greatest democracy on earth.
Is … Condi Rice being recruited for a position on Trump’s team? If all Pence wanted was her advice on the State job and other hires, he could have dialed her up and skipped the personal meeting. If he was intent on extending an olive branch to the Bush administration, he could have requested a meeting with Dick Cheney or Dubya instead and made a much bigger splash. (I assume the Cheney meeting will happen eventually.) Given her antipathy to Trump, Rice is an odd choice — unless, that is, Pence is pitching her on something. But what? Trump already has a nominee for national security advisor in Mike Flynn and he’s made his (belated) opposition to the Iraq war a cornerstone of his foreign-policy cred, making Rice a non-starter for Secretary of State. Could he be sounding her out about an ambassadorship? Her expertise in international relations is Russia and eastern Europe. Imagine Donald Trump, Putin fanboy, hiring Mitt Romney and Condi farking Rice as his two top liaisons to Moscow.
The odds that they’d want to bring Rice back at State are close to absolute zero, I’m sure, but maybe not quite absolute zero. Here’s how Pence, who’s been hugely influential in the cabinet process, described his role to Sean Hannity:
“I think what you’re witnessing here is a leader in President-elect Donald Trump who wants to take in all the options,” Pence said Tuesday on Fox News’s “Hannity.”…
Pence said his first obligation is to bring together a broad range of people for the president-elect and his team to look through to “create that lineup that’s going to be able to move the Trump agenda forward.”
Trump’s base hates Romney; Giuliani has conflicts of interest abroad; and Petraeus has a rap sheet for mishandling classified information. None of the leading candidates for State are without their problems. Pence may have thought it was worth checking in with Rice, in an entirely open-ended way, to see if she’s interested in returning to government in some capacity. Trump would need to forgive her for her harsh attack on him — but he’s already done that with Romney. He’d also need to get past her Iraq baggage — but Romney and Giuliani were also supporters of the war, if not instrumental in making it happen the way Rice was. And Rice was known during her time at State for being less aggressive abroad than more devout hawks like Cheney were. Could she get confirmed for an ambassadorship, though? Rand Paul would vote no, I’m sure, because of her Iraq pedigree. Democrats would probably vote no as a bloc for the same reason. That would give her 51 votes, with virtually no margin for error. Why would she want to come out of retirement from politics and risk a humiliation like that?
By the way, when I say that Pence has been influential in guiding Trump on appointments, I’m understating it. Read this, which doesn’t even capture the entire picture. It’s been reported elsewhere that Pence is Romney’s strongest supporter for the State position; who knows if Trump would have already abandoned that idea if not for his VP leaning on him to consider it. Pence also knows Nikki Haley from their time serving together as Republican governors and probably had some say in securing the UN ambassadorship for her. And Pence is a “longtime friend and ally” of Rep. Tom Price, Trump’s new director of HHS. To think, if not for Paul Manafort, it might be — gulp — Chris Christie in the VP role right now making all of these picks instead of movement conservative Pence. Thanks, Paul!