Barack Obama’s first ambassador to Chy-nah is going to be Trump’s top diplomat, huh?
If you’re inclined to believe that Trump’s interest in Romney has always been a ploy to humiliate him (which I don’t believe), leaking that Mitt might be passed over for Huntsman is all part of the game. Each from influential Utah families, the two have been rivals for years, starting with Huntsman endorsing McCain over Romney in 2008 and continuing through Romney’s victory over Huntsman in New Hampshire in 2012. The feud has reportedly turned even more bitter ever since. Trump vetoing Romney at State for the “other” famous Mormon Republican former governor would be the final nut-punch in the Trump/Mitt feud.
According to two people close to the transition, Trump is moving away from two of the front-runners for the job, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee. Giuliani’s international business ties and public campaigning for the job are said to have rankled Trump. And while Trump has met twice with Romney, he’s said to be aware of the risks of angering his supporters by tapping a Republican who was among his fiercest critics.
Former CIA director David Petraeus is still in the mix, though both people close to the transition said Trump’s prolonged decision-making process has left the door open to other options.
One of the sources said Trump was open to expanding his short list of secretary of State prospects. Among the possibilities: Jon Huntsman, a former Republican Utah governor who also served as the ambassador to China and speaks Mandarin.
Huntsman’s an interesting choice not just because of his Obama pedigree but because he was a rare moderate Republican who endorsed Trump early in the general-election campaign. A few days before Trump wrapped up the nomination by winning in Indiana, Huntsman told Politico that it’s time to “stitch together a winning coalition” and noted, presciently, that “Trump has the ability to assemble a nontraditional bloc of supporters.” There weren’t many “No Labels” types at the time who were bullish on Trump’s chances against Clinton. Maybe Trump remembered that. On the other hand, Huntsman was also one of the Utah Republican leaders who turned on Trump the day the “Access Hollywood” tape dropped, calling on him to step aside and let Pence lead the ticket in November. Trump and Huntsman have some history too. In 2011, when Trump was most famous politically for Birtherism, Huntsman turned down an invite to participate in a presidential forum hosted by him and disputed Trump’s claim that he had sought a private meeting with him. Trump’s reply: “He called my office asking for a meeting, and I’m sure, being a Mormon, he will absolutely confirm that.”
As we’ve learned from his courtship of Romney, though, Trump is perfectly capable of forgiving and (sort of) forgetting much nastier slights. Huntsman would be an … odd choice given his Obama pedigree and his reputation on the right as a cosmopolitan who cares more about being thought well of by the media than by GOP populists. But he has diplomatic experience, specifically with Trump’s enemies in Beijing. Huntsman once showed up at an anti-government protest in China while he was ambassador, an appearance he tried to downplay but which made waves there. Trump obviously likes the idea of rattling China’s cage, per his call on Friday to Taiwan. Maybe he and Huntsman have huddled and found they’re simpatico on China policy. Although, ironically, that’s also an area of common ground between Trump and Romney — maybe the area, in fact.
“This wasn’t just to have some photo op with Mitt Romney,” the transition source said. “We don’t have time for that. This was — Governor Romney is a real serious guy, he’s got real gravitas. He ran for president twice, and a lot of what he had to say was important.”…
“Romney’s very much in the mix here,” said the transition source, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. “The meetings have gone well.”…
“A lot of it was based around Romney’s positions on China in 2012, which were very astute,” a transition source said. “On trade, on currency manipulation, and the whole geopolitical situation with China. We thought he had a really well-defined idea about how to approach it.”
That’s from the Boston Globe, whose transition sources name four finalists for the State job — Romney, Giuliani, David Petraeus, and, surprisingly, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson. Either the AP piece that mentioned Huntsman is more up to date or someone’s sources are wrong. (Again, some mischievous anti-Mitt Trump staffer — Conway, maybe? — could be leaking Huntsman’s name purely to tweak Romney.) If it’s true that both Mitt and Rudy have fallen out of contention, then Petraeus would seem to be the frontrunner with Bob Gates, who’d be an excellent choice, a potential dark horse in light of his multiple meetings with Trump this week. That would put three generals in Trump’s cabinet along with Mike Flynn and James Mattis, with both Mattis and Petraeus (who’ve worked together before in co-authoring the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency manual) each at risk of being rejected by Congress. Petraeus could be blocked by the Senate because of his conviction for mishandling classified info; Mattis could be thwarted if McConnell can’t find 60 votes to waive the requirement of seven years of retirement for a veteran before leading the Defense department. If Trump nominates both, Dems might double down on blocking at least one in the name of reducing “military control” over the new government or however Chuck Schumer will end up phrasing it.
Here’s Petraeus on “This Week” this morning in an interview touted by Politico as a sort of tryout for the State job. “The retired general and former CIA director cleared the appearance with Trump’s team before committing to it,” said one source, framing it as “a good opportunity for him to prove that he can deftly handle any questions that senators might raise during confirmation hearings.” Romney, interestingly, hasn’t appeared on any Sunday shows recently in a tryout of his own. Presumably he figures that that experience will be painful enough, with the host playing old clips of his attacks on Trump, that it’s not worth forcing himself through it until he at least has the nomination in hand.