Any speculation about who will be named as secretary of State in a Trump administration is only one tweet away from disconfirmation.
But after Tuesday evening’s awkward-looking dinner involving President-elect Trump, Mitt Romney and future White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, it seems increasingly likely that Trump will indeed entrust the management of the State Department to the man who called him a “phony” and a “con man.”
On Wednesday, Preibus said a Romney appointment to Foggy Bottom was “not a done deal.” Other candidates are reportedly in the running, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and retired Gen. and former CIA Director David H. Petraeus.
But unless Trump is serving Romney an extremely cold dish of revenge, the president-elect seems to have recognized that Romney at State would be good for his administration and good for the country.
That’s the right call, but not because Romney possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of foreign affairs or experience as a diplomat.
Rather, his value as secretary of State would lie in his stature in his party, his ties to a Republican foreign policy establishment that was skeptical — in some cases scathingly so — of Trump’s fitness for the presidency and, last and most important, the reassurance his presence in the administration would offer to jittery American allies.
Also — though this probably isn’t a comparison that would appeal to Trump — installing Romney at State would be reminiscent of President Obama’s decision to give that position to Hillary Clinton.
Unlike Obama and Clinton in 2008, Trump and Romney weren’t literal rivals; but Romney was the spokesman par excellence for that segment of the Republican establishment that refused to make its peace with the blowhard businessman. An administration that included Romney would thus be the ultimate symbol of Republican reconciliation.
When it became clear that Trump was seriously considering Romney for State, there was criticism — from Trump intimates such as Kellyanne Conway who said Trump supporters felt “betrayed” by the idea but also from commentators who thought Romney would be compromising his principles to accept the position.
Romney was widely ridiculed for dining with Trump and for his statement after the meal in which he said, “I had a wonderful evening with President-elect Trump.” (The snide headline on a Slate story was: “The Going Rate for Mitt Romney’s Soul Is Apparently a $215.57 Meal at Jean-Georges.”)
This strikes me as way too cynical. If Romney were to accept an offer by Trump to serve as secretary of State, it would be a patriotic act, not an exercise in self-aggrandizement. Let’s face it: This would be a high-risk assignment for Romney. As he surely knows, there is no guarantee that Trump will take his advice or that his tenure won’t end in a demeaning dismissal or a resignation in protest. That he is apparently willing to say yes anyway reflects well on him.