Former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is reportedly headed to New York early this week to meet with President-elect Donald Trump for further discussions about the key position of Secretary of State in the nascent Trump administration. At this point, Romney’s decision to keep himself in the mix for the job is, to say the least, surprising.
That’s because Romney, in the past week, has come under unremitting assault on multiple fronts from a top Trump aide, a prominent surrogate, and a media company that was, until recently, run by Trump’s chief White House strategist.
There is, to be sure, considerable fence-mending that would need to happen for Romney to work successfully with Trump. As the most recent GOP nominee, Romney came out decisively and loudly against Trump during the Republican primaries, referring to the former reality television show star as “a phony, a fraud” who was “playing the American public for suckers” and who “has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.”
There is a current of thought in the commentariat that suggests Trump might simply be stringing Romney along in order to maximize the humiliation that ultimately handing the job to someone else would inflict. However, taken at face value, Trump’s decision to consider Romney for the top appointment in his cabinet looks like a willingness to try to move past the acrimony of the primary elections.
But while Trump seems ready to move on, others in his inner circle seems far less willing to forgive and forget -- particularly when Trump’s most dogged defender during the worst days of the primary -- former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani -- in known to want the job badly.
On Thanksgiving, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway posted a tweet saying that she was “receiving deluge of social media & private comms re: Romney Some Trump loyalists warn against Romney as sec of state.” In a follow-up, she pointedly suggested that being “loyal” to the president should be a key factor in filling the role of secretary of state.
Then, she made the rounds of the talk shows on Sunday and continued to bash the former Massachusetts governor, both for his treatment of Trump in the primary and for his losing 2012 presidential campaign. (He “lost spectacularly,” she noted.)
“I’m all for party unity, but I’m not sure that we have to pay for that with the secretary of state position,” Conway said on CNN. “We don’t even know if Mitt Romney voted for Donald Trump.” She called the resistance to Romney among core Trump supporters “breathtaking in scope and intensity.”
Later, in an appearance on NBC, Conway said appointing Romney to run Foggy Bottom would be a betrayal of Trump’s voters.
"People feel betrayed to think that Gov. Romney, who went out of his way to question the character and the intellect and the integrity of Donald Trump, now our president-elect, would be given the most significant Cabinet post of all, secretary of state,” she said.
That Conway’s evident misgivings are playing out on such a public stage is remarkable, in that she presumably still has the ear of the president-elect, and could make her concerns known to Trump in private rather than by publicly attacking Romney.
But Conway was not the only high-profile Trump surrogate going after the former Massachusetts governor. Trump surrogate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested Trump might not be able to trust Romney to carry out his wishes if he gets the job.
“You have to list out all the things he said and think, ‘Is this guy really going to be loyal?’” Gingrich said. “But also, you know, Gov. Romney wanted to be president, not secretary of state, and you have to ask the question: When he goes overseas, is he going to be the secretary of state for President Trump or is he going to be Mitt Romney’s own secretary state?”
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, also an occasional Trump surrogate during the campaign, said that a Romney appointment would be “a real insult” to Trump’s supporters, and said that he shouldn’t even be considered without making an apology in which he “he goes to a microphone in a very public place and repudiates everything he said” about Trump during the campaign.
Meanwhile Breitbart News, the organization formerly operated by Steve Bannon, CEO of the Trump campaign and now chief White House strategist and senior counselor to Trump, has been highlighting criticism of Romney for several days, including gleefully noting that he finished a “distant fourth” when the website asked its readers to rank potential secretary of state picks.
With the knives so plainly out for him, for Romney to make another trek to Trump Tower to talk about taking the secretary of state job can be tacked up to one of two things: either patriotism backed by extraordinary optimism, or utter desperation for the job.