The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and others have noted, President-elect Donald Trump has steadily backed away from some controversial campaign positions. In his interview last week with staffers at The New York Times, the billionaire developer sounded like a different man, praising President Barack Obama and opponent Hillary Clinton and talking about the need to unite a divided nation.
Many will never forgive Trump for his grossly offensive rhetoric, behavior and history – but like it or not, his “normalization” by the media is well under way. He won the Electoral College, and as president-elect – outside of his “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live” dust-ups – he’s sounded a lot more like moderate Republicans of the 1970s and 1980s than the fire-breathing conservatives Americans have seen as both parties became more rigid.
Now Trump has a chance to make his most reassuring move yet: nominating Mitt Romney – another Republican who feels from a different generation – to be secretary of state. Apart from his two failed bids for the presidency, Romney has been successful at every high-profile job he has had. The Harvard MBA and law school graduate co-founded and ran a successful investment firm, Bain Capital. He helped Bain & Company, a previous employer, return to profitability after the management consultant firm went downhill following his move to Bain Capital. He was a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Boston organization. He was brought in to serve as CEO and president of Salt Lake City’s faltering 2002 Winter Olympics organizing committee and won national praise for orchestrating a successful winter games. As governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, he won high marks and was instrumental in winning adoption of a state health insurance reform measure that was superior to the federal version enacted in 2010.
In short, he has been an even-keeled, problem-solving technocrat. Beyond that, he offers Trump, whose affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin would be a running joke if it weren’t so dangerous, his best chance to lessen worries; in 2012, Romney called Russia “our greatest geopolitical foe.”
Romney may not have the foreign-policy background of other perceived secretary of state candidates such as former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, but he is well-traveled and has established relationships with many foreign leaders, including a friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that dates back to the 1970s, when both men were rising stars at the Boston Consulting Group.
Yet because Romney harshly criticized Trump during the GOP primary, some Trump staffers are taking potshots at him and pushing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a prominent and outspoken Trump supporter. Americans remain grateful for Giuliani’s inspirational resolve in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but he is not in Romney’s league when it comes to temperament and depth of experience.
Trump appears to recognize that Romney has the gravitas to be the face of American diplomacy to the world – and he doesn’t seem as thin-skinned as some of his aides. If the president-elect chose Romney, it wouldn’t just reassure jumpy Americans.
It would reassure a jumpy world.