Donald Trump and Mitt Romney met for dinner last night, and, as mood lights sparkled off the crystal glass, one detected a certain electricity in the air. Had that third-wheel narc Reince Priebus not been there, you could imagine the two of them biting the same strand of spaghetti, glancing at each other, munching closer…remarkable considering that they were bilious political enemies during the campaign, even more remarkable given that neither of them were drinking alcohol. (Remember Jason Sudeikis playing Mitt Romney on “Saturday Night Live,” ordering from a bar? “I’ll have a napkin.”)
Unlike President Obama’s famous Beer Summit in 2009, Trump’s and Romney’s meeting—we’ll call it the “Perrier Summit”—appears to have actually accomplished something useful, and Romney afterwards was ebullient with accolades, gushing over Trump’s “message of inclusion and bringing people together.” It was a slight upgrade from when he called Trump a “sniveling coward” and a “con man,” but no doubt flip-flops are seen as résumé enhancers in the upcoming administration. Romney likely feels debased by all this and is only doing it because he wants to mitigate whatever damage he thinks Trump might inflict. It’s an arrogant yet honorable state of mind, and if Romney can continue to pull off this masquerade, he might just land himself at the State Department.
Or maybe not. Trump thus far has thumbed through a voluminous flip book of secretary of state candidates, carefully leaking each one to the press and cackling as journalists dance like there’s static under their heels. Now, after weeks of toying, Trump has narrowed his choices down to three likelies—Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and David Petraeus—all of whom have serious defects. Romney is much too hawkish, Giuliani is much too hawkish and much too unqualified, and Petraeus has been known to use classified secrets as pickup lines. All three have tended to support the Republican catechism on foreign policy, though Giuliani is worse than Romney in this regard, and Petraeus, tight-lipped for years thanks to his military service, still has plenty of question marks.
These candidates merit serious vetting, yet far more common has been an impatient exasperation with Trump on the part of the media. Get on with it already! Doesn’t Trump understand they have 24 hours to fill? They’re certainly not going to elapse that time with interviews from midsection America or reports from Aleppo. Yet despite the hyperventilation of my profession, I’m going to give Trump some serious points here. He should take his time deliberating over the next arbiter of Foggy Bottom, not only because that’s what presidents-elect do, but because the secretary of state is the most important position Trump will fill, and the stakes are nothing less than the next four years of our foreign policy.
Under Barack Obama, the State Department has become a rat’s nest of leaks, complaints, and obstreperous hawkish drum-beating. Earlier this year, State diplomats plumbed a letter through the back channels demanding that the United States bomb Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, which could lead to armed conflict with Russia. John Kerry, the secretary of state, was demanding anti-Assad airstrikes back in 2013, and Hillary Clinton before him persuaded President Obama to destroy Moammar Gaddafi in Libya, a debacle that destabilized North Africa. State Department officials are forever being quoted anonymously in media outlets, usually the Daily Beast, demanding that the White House deploy the military all over the world.
Trump won election pledging a cessation of these nation-building capers and issuing uncharacteristically wise admonitions over the failures of Iraq and Libya. To make good on this, he’ll need a secretary of state who can tame Foggy Bottom and realize the essentials of his vision. He’ll want a cool head who can agreeably but persistently exhort the Europeans to take charge of their own defense. He’ll require a temperate personality who can douse his frequently hot head. Nominate the wrong guy and the impressionable Trump could find himself surrounded by hawks at his cabinet table, and off we’ll go into another stupid war. I’m not sure whether any of the present finalists merit consideration, but I’m glad that consideration is at least occurring.