Mitt Romney will not, as it turns out, be the new U.S. Secretary of State. And that is not a good thing.
This week Donald Trump’s transition team revealed that Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, is the president-elect’s choice for the nation’s top foreign relations post. Considering Tillerson’s deep ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, his nomination has already garnered opposition from both parties within the Senate.
Romney on Monday evening posted a bland confirmation that he was out of the running:
I’m not saying that “bland” is an insult. Far from it. In fact, in our current political climate it’s just about the highest compliment that I could pay a leader.
Bland is measured. Bland is “think-before-you-shoot-off-at-the-mouth.” Bland is doing your homework. Bland is sitting in on policy meetings and taking copious notes.
If being prepared for a job, and adhering to a moral code of conduct, are the definition of blandness, the Trump administration could use a whole lot more of it. They’re not going to get it with Tillerson, who has no foreign policy experience to speak of other than as a business leader closing the “deals” Trump so admires.
The decision to pass over Mitt Romney, one of Trump’s most strident and consistent critics during the long campaign, tells us that at the end of the day, our insecure, thin-skinned, volatile president-elect isn’t prepared to put the good of the nation and the world ahead of his own bruised ego.
In fact, until this morning there wasn’t a single nominee who wasn’t a Trump supporter; today, it was announced that former Texas governor (and onetime presidential rival) Rick Perry is being tapped to serve as Energy Secretary. In general, however, Trump hasn’t practiced good politics so much as great nepotism.
What a significant departure this is from the actions of one of the best Republican presidents in our nation’s history, Abraham Lincoln. I’d be willing to bet good money that Donald Trump has never read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (especially since, as has been noted, Trump never reads books of any kind), but if he ever did it could teach him a thing or two.
The basic thesis of Goodwin’s book is that Abraham Lincoln filled his inner circle of advisors not with his cronies, or with sycophants he could trust to flatter him, but with his toughest critics—the men who had also sought the presidency in 1860 and lost.
The history offers story after story of how men like Edwin Stanton and Salmon B. Chase, who mocked Lincoln endlessly both before and during the campaign, were given the highest posts of government in one of the darkest times in American history.
And this wasn’t just a Machiavellian “keep your friends close but your enemies closer” strategy on Lincoln’s part. Rather, it stemmed from his sincere belief that his fiercest critics had much to offer exactly because they were his fiercest critics.
Lincoln valued the fact that they saw things differently than he did, and therefore possessed perspectives that were vital to his fledgling administration.
And he understood that he needed people around him who would never be afraid to tell him when they thought he was dead wrong about something.
Stanton, before the war, had once snubbed and mocked Lincoln during a trial they were both litigating in Ohio, calling him a “long armed Ape” and questioning his abilities as an attorney. Far from nursing a grudge, Lincoln carefully studied Stanton’s strategy in court and went home to Illinois “to study law,” admitting that Stanton’s example made him realize how much he still had to learn. Six years later, when Lincoln was not quite a year into his presidency, he asked Stanton to replace the scandal-ridden Secretary of War:
Lincoln’s choice of Stanton would reveal . . . a singular ability to transcend personal vendetta, humiliation, or bitterness. As for Stanton, despite his initial contempt for “the long armed Ape,” he would not only accept the offer but come to respect and love Lincoln more than any person outside of his immediate family. (175)
Far more than healing the personal relationship, it can safely be said that the choice of Stanton – whose genius for organization and strategy Lincoln had been right to admire – greatly helped to win the war and save the Union. Without Lincoln’s ability to get past personal insults, we might not have a “United States of America” today.
Donald Trump is Lincoln’s polar opposite in terms of temperament – reactive where Lincoln was measured, prone to tantrums where Lincoln was mature, and desperate for adulation where Lincoln was – let’s just say it – sometimes bland.
This very public rejection of Romney probably feels good to a man like Trump, whose hypersensitivity to insult is legendary. And perhaps being passed over is a relief to Romney himself, who appears to have agreed to the possibility of serving in Trump’s administration primarily because he believed he could offer some much-needed damage control, even if it meant personally indenturing himself for at least four years of waiting for a wicked master to give him a sock.
But the decision is a very bad sign for the nation and the world.