As US president-elect Donald Trump mulls names for the remaining berths in his cabinet, jockeying among his advisers and aides for the secretary of state has spilled into the open and on cable news and social media.
At the heart of the battle are two men, one a steadfast loyalist who stuck it out with Trump as he negotiated his worst lows and blowouts that threatened to imperil his campaign. And that man is Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor. And the other man is someone who did everything possible, and openly, to defeat Trump, calling him a “fraud”, a “phony” and aggressively lobbied Republicans to not vote for him. That’s Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential nominee.
“Receiving deluge of social media & private comms re: Romney(.) Some Trump loyalists warn against Romney as sec (secretary) of state,” Trump’s erstwhile campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tweeted.
Mike Huckabee, a presidential nominee who became an early Trump backer, has said Romney’s appointment would be “a real insult to all those Donald Trump voters who worked really hard. “That’s what I think he has to stop and consider”. And Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who was in contention for secretary of state himself at one stage, has said, “I can think of 20 other people who would be more naturally compatible with the Trump vision of foreign policy.”
Neither contender has any foreign policy experience, and certainly not anywhere near that of some of the others in the fray, such as senate foreign affairs committee chairman Bob Corker and former CIA boss David Petraeus.
But expertise or previous experience doesn’t seem to be much of a qualification in the eyes of the president-elect, whose pick for ambassador to the UN, Indian American Nikki Haley, has nothing on her resume to back her up.
Trump seems to be leaning towards Romney, saying, he “looks the part”, but he has clearly not made up his mind yet or has not revealed any more about his thinking, as his advisers pile up pressure on him to pick the loyalist Giuliani.
The former mayor has not been coy about his expectations. After openly auditioning for attorney general and calling himself best suited for that job but losing it to Jeff Sessions, he has been focussed on the top slot at the state department.
In his favour, he has cited work done around the world by a consultancy firm he set up in 2001 on policing and security matters.
The same foreign dealings are being cited by those opposing his selection.
Romney, who met Trump in a highly publicised visit to the president-elect’s golf club resort in New Jersey last week, has been quiet about his intentions, but, noticeably, he has not said he is not interested or has declined it.
As speculation rages about secretary of state, Trump will be looking to fill other high-profile positions such as secretary of defence — retired marine general James Mattis appears to be the favourite — and heads of homeland security and treasury.
No announcements are expected until Monday, after the long Thanksgiving weekend, though Trump’s transition team has not ruled one out knowing they work for someone who is neither easy to read nor predict.