The meaning of Mitt
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump’s flirtation with Mitt Romney as a possible pick for secretary of state has injected a sliver of hope and change into an evolving administration that could use some.
If ever there were a rarer pair — think Doberman and Labradoodle — I can’t think of one. Then again, how better to present a bad cop/good cop dynamic to a dangerous and fragile world? If Trump is perceived as unstable and potentially volatile, Romney is the face of calm, a steady hand to help guide the next president’s foreign policies.
Concerns about the two men’s pointed exchanges during the campaign season would seem less important than whether Romney can do the president’s bidding — renegotiating trade deals, for example — when Trump’s views are in direct conflict with his own. Romney has been pro-open trade while Trump campaigned on either scrapping or reworking trade deals.
Having known Romney for a decade or so, I’m pretty sure he’d accept the job if offered, which I base on my understanding of his profound sense of duty to country. While true that Romney worked against Trump during the primaries, his personal values, including a humility rare in the political world, ultimately would prevail over self-regard.
And though Trump called Romney a “choker,” hardly a recommendation for the person charged with negotiating the nation’s foreign interests, Trump is Trump, meaning he moves easily from one position to another. And politics are politics. Things are said. Things are unsaid.
Indeed, just last week, top aide Kellyanne Conway said that the president-elect won’t pursue an investigation of Hillary Clinton, despite having vowed to put her in jail and presided over many a chant of “lock her up.”
More than anything else, Trump is a pragmatist and a businessman. Operative question: What works? As he begins to organize his board of directors, otherwise known as the Cabinet, he’s surely aware that Romney, of those rumored to be under consideration, would be most effective on the world stage. The pragmatist, by definition, is unemotional about such decisions. Romney may not be Trump’s cup of tea on any number of fronts, including the impossibility of the two settling in for some “locker room” talk, but the presidency confers a broader view of the world, not to mention the burden of all that follows.
What would not work is Rudy Giuliani. Not only does the man formerly known as “America’s mayor” act like he may have plunged his finger into a live socket but his outspokenness in defense of Trump has often seemed like the mad ranting of a man angry at the moon.
We still love 9/11 Rudy, but that Rudy seems to be missing. Even if he were present, the fellow who performs best in a crisis isn’t necessarily the one who performs best in preventing a crisis.
By stark contrast, Romney would help relax tensions abroad as well as at home. He has international credibility and a sophisticated understanding of complex global relationships. Remember, it was Romney who, during his final debate with President Obama in 2012, pointed to Russia as our greatest geopolitical foe.
Obama practically laughed him off the stage, but who’s laughing now, not that Romney would gloat? Romney is also well versed in areas of international finance and economics — demonstrably superior to anyone else on Trump’s list.
The fact that Trump has admired Vladimir Putin’s strength as a leader and has indicated a preference for working with Russia to defeat the Islamic State isn’t precisely in conflict with Romney’s recognition of Putin and Russia as threats to our national interests. In fact, they can be seen as complementing each other’s perspectives with a balance of respect and caution informed by history.
On China, Romney and Trump probably agree more than not. Again, during his own presidential run Romney spoke often of clamping down on China’s currency manipulation. He is also the son of George Romney — who in addition to being governor of Michigan was president of American Motors Corp. — and likely agrees with Trump that the U.S. needs to create incentives for businesses to invest more in American jobs.
Further to Romney’s qualifications, he’s an experienced deal-maker, a skill Trump obviously admires. Super-articulate and fluent in policy (as well as French, for what it’s worth), Romney is a cool thinker and, not insignificantly, a non-imbiber, also like Trump. Not least, he is by all accounts a thoroughly decent human being.
A wise man would look no further.