Mitt Romney, The State Department, and Loyalty

Rich asks if Donald Trump is considering Mitt Romney for Secretary of State simply because he looks like one. As someone who often criticized the Romney presidential campaigns as resting on this basis and specifically questioned Romney’s foreign policy credentials in 2008, I think there’s much to be said for the seriousness and diligence Romney would bring to the job, as well as the simple fact that the past four years have proven him correct about so many of the things he said about foreign affairs during the 2012 campaign (on the whole, he seemed to have put the four years following his first run to good use on that front). His foreign policy experience may still be thin, but many past Secretaries of State were mostly domestic political figures whose foreign policy experience was at best incidental (George Schultz was a combat veteran and had negotiated the end of the gold standard as Treasury Secretary, and James Baker had been White House Chief of Staff, but neither was principally a foreign policy guy by training). Nearly 61 million people did think Romney was adequately prepared to be Commander-in-Chief, after all.

What’s a more interesting question is Trump’s willingness to bring aboard a guy who was arguably Trump’s most vociferous Republican critic throughout 2016. Trump can be notoriously petty, and this is a poor time to engage that instinct, although it’s not an inappropriate thing (within reason) for a newly elected President to want to reward those in the party who supported him, rather than those who opposed him. If Trump is willing to hire Romney, that speaks well of his intent to be magnanimous and, perhaps, a little humility about the need to hire people who can bring something to the table rather than just yes-men.

In terms of loyalty going forward, Romney at least is not a threat to go after Trump’s job, as he seems to have accepted that his time for that has passed (his father never gave Nixon any headaches while serving as HUD Secretary after Nixon crushed the elder Romney’s presidential bid). Nor is he likely to be the kind of Washington figure who leaks against his own side out of spite or to gain bureaucratic advantage. In that regard, Trump should trust him.

But the best subordinates are those who are loyal to the cause moreso than personally to the president. Which begs the question of what exactly Trump’s cause is on foreign policy, and how willing Mitt Romney would be to pursue it rather than his own ideas. Frankly, one of the greatest minefields for Trump going forward is the possibility of a rupture in the party if one or more of his major appointees were to resign in protest over something he does in the next few years. Granted, Trump will already be in political hot water if anyone is even considering that, but after his stance in the primaries, it’s not hard to see Romney as the guy who might do that. As outsiders to the Administration who want it to do good as well as doing well, we should hope Trump would hire people with the integrity to take such a stance at an appropriate time, and the restraint not to do so lightly. But hiring people who might disagree with your goals and have the public credibility to take that dispute to the Hill or the general public can be a risky move. Probably the best bet for Trump, if he’s serious about hiring Romney, is to talk through some of their possible areas of disagreement frankly up front.

Dan McLaughlin — Dan McLaughlin is an attorney practicing securities and commercial litigation in New York City, and a contributing columnist at National Review Online.

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