The Romney infatuation
Presidents usually get their Cabinet choices, but sometimes pay dearly for it
Every president deserves a Cabinet of his own choosing, barring extraordinary circumstances, and that includes President-elect Donald Trump. Every president, after all, is held responsible for the success or failure of his administration, and he by right is entitled to choose his team. But even the most powerful man in the world must be wary of mortally offending the people who fought hard and long to put him where he stands. He will need them to fight with him again.
Mr. Trump continues to audition candidates for secretary of State, the most visible of Cabinet members, and the finalists seem to have been pared to three: Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and David Petraeus. Or perhaps four, with Sen. Robert Corker of Tennessee as back-up. Each man has visible strengths and even more visible weaknesses.
Mr. Trump may well have other candidates in mind. He likes surprises. It’s hard to tell because every time someone boards the elevator at Trump Tower speculation spikes afresh. Mitt Romney has been up the elevator twice, and he’s the favorite of the badly wounded Republican establishment that the Donald skewered with such brawn and glee throughout the campaign.
Mr. Romney in turn savaged Donald Trump, calling him “a fraud” and “a phony,” “unqualified,” and other unpleasant things. That he is under consideration at all demonstrates the remarkable forbearance and willingness to let bygones be bygones that Trump critics said the president-elect does not have.
Rudy Giuliani campaigned hard and long for Mr. Trump, and if loyalty alone counted he would be the man, but certain business conflicts might make confirmation difficult. Any president would like to have David Petraeus at his side, but he would be an inviting target for Democrats, having been fined $100,000 and put on probation for two years for security violations similar, if smaller in scope, to those that brought down Hillary Clinton. The general, an authentic hero of the wars in Iraq, is regarded by gun owners as weak on the Second Amendment, though domestic concerns are not usually the concerns of a secretary of State.
Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could be the fourth finalist only because he’s the last man standing with friendly connections to the Republican establishment. Like Mr. Romney, he had harsh things to say about the Donald during the campaign, and is the dark horse.
Any of these men, save Mitt Romney, would be acceptable to conservatives once the shouting dies. But Mr. Romney’s angry broadsides against not only Donald Trump, but at the men and women who supported him through the smoke and din of the campaign, have rendered him unacceptable to millions of conservatives. He is regarded by them as the man whose choking in the race against Barack Obama in 2012, particularly in the second debate when he failed to confront moderator Candy Crowley’s rescue of Mr. Obama’s fumbling answer to a question, cost the Republicans the presidency.
Nominees for secretaries of State rarely attract such ire. But occasionally one does. The anger over the prospective Romney choice recalls Allen Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Advise and Consent,” and the subsequent Academy Awardwinning movie of that name, about the confirmation of a secretary of State who had been a youthful member of the Communist Party. Details in the novel were thought by some to be a thin disguise of real people and events, though the author insisted it was not. This time the controversy over a nomination is not about loyalty to country, but loyalty to a cause.
The president in “Advise and Consent” ultimately prevailed, as presidents nearly always do, but in this event Donald Trump, wise as he may be but with no experience in the high-octane politics of Washington, could pay dearly for his infatuation with an attractive loser who does, as the Donald says, “look like a secretary of State.” But looks, as the president-elect might learn, can deceive.