Who should be Donald Trump’s Secretary of State? His supporters are split in a big factional fight over this premier Cabinet position. It’s the followers of establishmentarian Mitt Romney versus those of loyalist Rudy Giuliani. To the winner goes Foggy Bottom and its prestige.
Who’ll win? Who knows? It’s possible the spat will end with a third candidate stealing the prize. But one important part of this struggle may be the manner in which it’s being conducted. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway publicized it via Twitter, perhaps as a way to undermine former Massachusetts Governor Romney’s chance.
That hints Trump administration internal discussions may play out in public on social media, in real time. Buckle up – the Trump years may be dramatic, and exhausting.
“Ugly fight over SecState is harbinger of coming fights for the favor and attention of Trump,” tweeted New York Times reporter Mark Landler this morning.
Mr. Giuliani was the early favorite here. Following the election he reportedly told associates he was set for the Secretary of State post, since he’d told Trump it was the only thing he wanted. He’d been a loud and strong Trump surrogate throughout the campaign’s ups and downs. He deserved a reward, he thought.
But the announcement wasn’t forthcoming. And as any veteran of the Washington appointment wars knows, to linger is to suffer denigration by a thousand published cuts. The press started chewing on Giuliani’s business ties with the government of Qatar and other foreign entanglements. Obviously, as far as President-elect Trump was concerned the former New York City mayor wasn’t “set” for Foggy Bottom after all.
Enter Romney. The 2012 GOP candidate had been scathing about Trump during the primaries. Perhaps surprisingly, Trump invited Romney to a meeting last weekend at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J. golf course. The two men seemed to hit it off as the confab lasted longer than expected. Afterward, word leaked that Romney was a secretary of State candidate as well.
But that nod didn’t come quickly, either. And now Romney is suffering something of Giuliani’s fate, as opposition to his appointment rallies. Specifically, the loyalists within Trump’s political operation who think Romney an apostate have turned up the dial on their disapproval. And they’re waving their hands to get Trump’s attention the best way they know how: in public. Thus Ms. Conway’s Thanksgiving Day Twitter missive: “Receiving deluge of social media $ private coms re: Romney Some Trump loyalists warn against Romney as sec of state,” she wrote.
This is extraordinary, if you think about it. A woman who is clearly part of the Trump inner circle is using public rather than private means to communicate displeasure. It’s possible that she’s being so open because she thinks only drastic measures can derail Romney’s appointment. It’s also possible she’s doing it simply because she knows it’s the best way to get Trump’s attention.
She would not be alone: conservative MSNBC host Joe Scarborough has taken to bashing Romney on his morning show, which Trump’s been known to watch.
Such open internal warfare is dramatic, and maybe Trump likes that. He’s a reality TV star after all and a feel for narrative twists was clearly part of his campaign.
But from a policy point of view, feuding isn’t always a good thing. It indicates an operation in which members devote substantial energy to fighting each other as opposed to carrying out the boss’s wishes.
“It’s not about either of them or the job. Endless ideological proxy wars are exhausting,” tweeted Commentary assistant online editor Noah Rothman on Friday.
In that context Conway said something else on Thanksgiving that’s interesting. In apparent support of Giuliani, she tweeted out that Henry Kissinger and George Shultz were secretaries of State who “flew around the world less, consulted POTUS close to home more. And were loyal. Good checklist.”
Henry Kissinger, whatever his accomplishments as Secretary of State to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, was not really any of those things. He spent considerable time crossing the globe in shuttle diplomacy, did not always keep POTUS in the loop, and continually spilled internal gossip to journalists.
George Shultz, though, was indeed such a Secretary of State to Ronald Reagan. Loyal, phlegmatic, wise in the ways of government, he gave Reagan lots of good advice. Some was ignored – he hated the operation that morphed into the Iran-Contra scandal, for instance.
But Shultz was Reagan’s second Secretary of State. The first was Al Haig, a former general who was also a loud, proud international business operator and skilled bureaucratic infighter who thought he knew best about international affairs. He exhausted Reagan’s patience, and when offered Haig’s resignation after only 18 months in office, Reagan accepted it.
That’s a quick hook that all the current claimants to the Secretary of State office might be wise to keep in mind.