Kellyanne Conway warns Trump not to pick Mitt Romney for Secretary of State

Mitt Romney has called Trump a 'fraud' and a 'phony,' but the President-elect could win over skeptical establishment Republicans by nominating him.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President-elect Donald Trump calls out to the media as Mitt Romney leaves Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

An internal dispute among Donald Trump's advisers broke out into the open on Sunday when his campaign manager warned that the president-elect could face an intense backlash from supporters if he chose Mitt Romney to be his secretary of state.

Mr. Trump has been weighing whether to pick Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who spent much of the past year criticizing Trump, or former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who backed the real-estate mogul's insurgent presidential run.

Mr. Giuliani would fit with the other loyalists and conservative hardliners that Trump has picked to fill out his administration so far, but he has drawn criticism for working as a consultant to foreign governments.

Trump could help unite his party and win over skeptical establishment Republicans if he chooses Romney for the post.

Though the debate has largely played out behind closed doors, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway warned that Trump could anger his supporters if he picked Romney, who called him a "fraud" and a "phony" in speeches this year.

"They feel betrayed to think that you can get Romney back in there after everything he did - we don't even know if he voted for Donald Trump. He and his consultants were nothing but awful to Donald Trump for a year," she said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I am all for party unity but I am not sure that we have to pay for that with the Secretary of State position," Ms. Conway said on CNN.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported, 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.

Conway said she would support Trump if he decided to pick Romney for the position, but other Republicans criticized her for making her case on television, rather than talking to Trump directly.

"Astounding to hear K. Conway, who has the ability to tell Trump privately, trash possibility of Romney as Sec of State publicly," Republican strategist Ana Navarro wrote on Twitter.

(Addtional reporting by David Chance; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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