The fierce divisions in President-elect Donald Trump’s inner circle over the choice of secretary of state spilled into public view Thursday as a top Trump transition adviser shared a Politico story about Trump loyalists warning against Mitt Romney’s potential selection.
“Receiving deluge of social media & private comms re: Romney,” wrote the adviser, Kellyanne Conway, who was also Trump’s campaign manager. And in an apparent reference to Romney’s fierce opposition to Trump’s campaign, she noted two past GOP secretaries of state who “were loyal.”
The tweets were striking development as Trump decides who will run the State Department, a key Cabinet post in an administration headed by a man with no prior experience in elected office or foreign affairs.
Conway told CNN that she told the same thing to Trump privately.
“I am struck by the intensity and volume of resistance [to Romney] from the grassroots; words like ‘betrayal,’” she said.
Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee, was perhaps Trump’s preeminent GOP critic both before and after he captured the nomination. In a scathing March speech, Romney skewered Trump for his business bankruptcies and caustic campaign rhetoric.
“Here’s what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University,” Romney said then. “He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”
Romney refused to endorse or vote for Trump in the general election.
But the former Massachusetts governor now appears willing to set aside his distaste for Trump. Last Saturday, he met with Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. The New York Times reported that the talk lasted around 90 minutes.
“We had a far-reaching conversation with regard to the various theaters of the world with interest to the United States of real significance,” Romney told reporters after the meeting. “We discussed those areas and exchanged our views on those topics. A very thorough and in-depth discussion over the time we had.”
It’s not clear whether Trump plans to offer the post to Romney. His appointments so far show a clear preference for rewarding his early campaign backers and allies. And Romney and Trump have serious disagreements on foreign policy, especially regarding Russia.
The Times reported Thursday night that Trump’s inner circle is divided between Romney boosters and those backing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another potential State Department pick and one of Trump’s most loyal surrogates during the campaign. But Giuliani’s critics note that his foreign business ties could lead to a messy confirmation hearing.
“Both Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani have made their interest in the role known to Mr. Trump,” according to the report.
Other names reportedly in the mix include Gen. John F. Kelly, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and former CIA Director David Petraeus. If Trump were to land on Petraeus, it would be a stunningly ironic development: The former CIA director pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for mishandling classified information. During the campaign, Trump raged against Hillary Clinton for how she handled classified information at the State Department.