by Derek Davison
Donald Trump is still adding names to his list of potential secretaries of state. After reports earlier in the week suggested that the race was down to two finalists, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, no fewer than 10 other names have been mentioned in connection with the job. Seven of them were already known:
- Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
- Senator Bob Corker
- Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
- Former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad
- Retired General Stanley McChrystal
- Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson
- Congressman Dana Rohrabacher
Of these, Gingrich earlier this week told David Corn of Mother Jones that he had no interest in being Trump’s secretary of state and wanted a role as “strategic planner” in the White House, and McChrystal said back in July, when his name was brought up in VP speculation, that he would “decline consideration for any role” in the Trump campaign (which, admittedly, is not the same thing as the Trump administration). Armitage and Paulson, both critical of Trump during the campaign, seem to be unlikely candidates for the position—though their criticisms may not totally disqualify them either. And Corker told The Tennessean on Tuesday that Trump’s secretary of state “probably won’t be me.”
On Thursday, Trump was reportedly considering three other candidates to serve as his top diplomat. One may have a hard time getting confirmed, one is of interest because he was a loud Trump critic during the campaign, and the third comes as an almost total surprise.
Surging into the State Department?
Retired General David Petraeus is reportedly “anxious to return to public life and has privately refused to rule out serving in a Trump administration,” according to The Guardian. Petraeus served as Barack Obama’s CIA director from 2011 to 2012 and is also well known for his service as U.S. commander in Iraq during the 2007-2008 “surge.” He spoke hopefully about Trump to German station Deutsche Welle this week, calling him “a political outsider” who may be able to “do something in Washington that the political insiders, who he rightly criticizes, have been unable to do, which is to come together to give a little, to gain a lot for our country.”
Petraeus has been very careful in making public statements that reveal his own foreign policy views. Asked by DW about Trump’s criticisms of the Iran nuclear deal, Petraeus offered a more neutral assessment, saying that “[the deal] has positive elements and it has negative elements,” and suggested that “undoing” the deal should not be one of Trump’s priorities. He also made some waves in 2010 when, as the head of U.S. Central Command, he testified before a Senate committee that the “perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel” complicated U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Petraeus may very well be confronted with those remarks if he winds up in a confirmation hearing in order to take a position in Trump’s administration. But what may do more damage to his candidacy is the scandal that forced him to resign as CIA director in 2012. An FBI investigation uncovered evidence of an extramarital affair between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and subsequently found evidence that Petraeus had passed classified information to Broadwell while she was writing his biography. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of “unauthorized removal and retention of classified material,” for which he paid a fine and was sentenced to two years’ probation. Having just completed a presidential campaign in which one of the main factors was a lingering investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s alleged mishandling of classified materials while secretary of state, Trump may be reluctant to nominate Petraeus, who has acknowledged mishandling classified materials in the past.
The “Never Trump” Option
NBC began reporting on Thursday that Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, is going to meet with Trump in the next few days to discuss the secretary of state position. Although Romney doesn’t have much in the way of a foreign policy record, during his 2012 presidential campaign he brought on a number of hawkish national security advisers, many with ties to the George W. Bush administration and spoke of the need for the United States to “retain military supremacy” in order to make the 21st century “an American century.”
Romney seems another unlikely choice to serve in Trump’s administration, since he was one of Trump’s most prominent Republican critics during the 2016 campaign. In a speech in March, for example, Romney was pointed and harsh in his words about the then-Republican frontrunner:
“Here’s what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney said. “His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing members of the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.”
Romney said that “dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark,” pointing to his “bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.”
If Trump were able to put Romney’s criticisms aside and offer him the position, it could send a signal to the GOP establishment that the Trump administration will not stray too far from Republican Party orthodoxy. Of course, it’s not clear that Trump has any interest in sending such a signal.
The Surprise Contender
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was scheduled to meet with Trump at some point on Thursday, as the Charleston Post-Courier reported that she “is being considered for a spot in his administration,” including possibly secretary of state. Haley was another prominent Trump critic during the Republican primary, having endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s candidacy, but she and Trump appear to have reconciled since then. Haley, however, has virtually no foreign policy experience and may have a difficult time defending a core piece of Trump’s agenda:
College of Charleston political scientist Kendra Stewart said there is very little in Haley’s resume covering matters of foreign affairs.
“Secretary of state is going to be a bit of a stretch for Haley’s area of expertise,” she said, adding that Haley has yet to be vetted about foreign policy, trade and protectionism.
It also might be difficult for Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants, to enthusiastically support Trump’s anti-immigrant platforms that surfaced during the primary period. A U.S. Department of Commerce post may be more in line with her skill set, Stewart said.
What about Rudy?
Although Giuliani still may be the front-runner, concerns about his business dealings since leaving office may be derailing his candidacy:
But Mr. Giuliani’s business ties are a major red flag. He built a lucrative consulting and speechmaking career after leaving City Hall. His firm, Giuliani Partners, has had contracts with the government of Qatar and the Canadian company that is building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and Mr. Giuliani has given paid speeches to a shadowy Iranian opposition group that until 2012 was on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
In one year—2006—Mr. Giuliani reported in a financial disclosure report that he had made 124 speeches, for as much as $200,000 each, and had earned a total of $11.4 million. He often made extravagant demands in return for agreeing to make a speech, including that the private plane that flew him to the engagement be a certain size.
Given that Clinton was attacked during the campaign over allegations about her work with the Clinton Foundation and her highly paid speeches to Wall Street firms, Trump may be reluctant to appoint someone with similar baggage to run the State Department.
Both Giuliani and Bolton, who is also still very much in the mix, may find themselves facing opposition from Senate Republicans. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, whose foreign policy views run toward non-interventionism, has said that he would oppose either man if nominated since both “have made it clear that they favor bombing Iran.” Paul, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could, in theory, join with committee Democrats to vote against recommending Trump’s nominee to the full Senate—Republicans have only a one vote majority on the committee, so Paul’s vote could be decisive. This would not block the nomination from going through, but would embarrass the nominee, and Trump, and could lead to Republican in-fighting.
Photo by James Cridland via Flickr.