Over the weekend President-Elect Trump’s Campaign-Manager-turned-Senior-Strategist KelleyAnne Conway had harsh words for the GOP’s 2012 Presidential nominee, and potential 2017 Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. Citing “the base,” Conway vocally denounced Romney as someone who would cause a great deal of concern over his loyalty from Day One.
Now, before we jump to the defense of Mitt Romney, let’s get a few things straight. First, Mitt Romney probably shouldn’t be under consideration for Secretary of State. Though things are said on the campaign trail that people later regret, Romney’s decision to attack Donald Trump repeatedly, especially over personal issues, showed the deep fissures in the Republican Party and generally helped to make the nominee less-palatable to voters. While, certainly, Romney could be seen as “defending true Republican values,” as he most likely tells himself, the real effect was nothing more than creating feelings of mistrust between “institutional” Republicans and “the base,” or, those people who decided to vote for Trump.
In response to this climate of palpable distaste, you can understand why Trump would meet with Mitt Romney and why he may even consider Romney for a patronage position. As we’ve covered before here on several occasions, once you’re elected President, you don’t need to be vindictive or hold political grudges against members of your own Party. Rather, figuratively killing them with kindness and doing everything in your power to heal divisions is in your governing interest. Could Trump wage a cathartic scorched-earth campaign against his Republican rivals and cut them off from the seat of government? Sure, and it would feel good for all of a week before he realizes how much more useful GOP insiders are as vassals than as enemies.
So, it makes sense for Trump to consider Romney for Secretary of State from a magnanimity standpoint. Binding one of your biggest critics to your success (or failure) could eliminate a powerful “told ya so” voice that could give cover to others in the Party who would try to undermine the Trump Presidency. That aside, Mitt Romney’s high profile denunciation of Donald Trump rose to an unprecedented level in modern American politics (modern, because some of our Founding Fathers savaged other members of their early parties worse, but, let’s not dwell on that). Putting someone of questionable loyalty in the position of the nation’s top diplomat would do little to silence Romney’s detractors and would fuel criticisms of Trump from the right that he’s just playing the establishment game.
The real concern about Secretary of State Romney isn’t that he’d be ineffective or be a national embarrassment. Rather, it’s that you can imagine him making an offhanded joke to Angela Merkel or another foreign leader to the flavor of “yeah, I didn’t vote for Trump, but just try to play nice and we’ll figure this out when he’s not looking.” This kind of a dismissive statement, while not overtly disloyal, could undermine the President’s authority and mandate to conduct diplomacy abroad.
From a less-nuanced perspective, considering Romney for an international diplomatic post is essentially continuing a globalist message. Trump needs an ideological ally in the post, not someone who has an agenda that seems to fly apart from Trump’s own.
Now, as we started out saying, the point of this article is actually to defend Mitt Romney. Yes, it may be a mistake for Donald Trump to choose Mitt Romney as Secretary of State, but that’s not a good reason for Team Trump to savage Romney in the press.
It should be abundantly clear by now, and KelleyAnne Conway, who has proven herself to be one of the most adept readers of today’s political climate, understands: Trump’s decisions are impacted by how they are reported by the media. We may hate it and wish that the President-Elect could rise above the ebb and flow of the institutional media, but, that doesn’t seem to be a pivot Mr. Trump will be making any time soon. So, what is the best way to change the President-Elect’s mind when he’s leaning toward picking Mitt Romney for Secretary of State, come out and poison the well and generate massively negative press about Romney, even at the risk of inflicting damage on your potential choice.
The defense of Romney is simple: the President-Elect should have the right to appoint whomever he likes (within reason, obviously) to form a government. While the decision to appoint Romney may be concerning, or even politically dangerous, using the media or your own position as a close ally of Trump to influence the President-Elect’s decision-making isn’t how the nomination process should work.
Here’s the point: Trump should reconsider Romney as Secretary of State, but not because KelleyAnne Conway went to talk to the press.