Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, or, in an equally Shakespearean enclave, Trump World.
I have a sinking feeling that Donald Trump’s courtship of Mitt Romney is a setup meant to eventually embarrass the one-time Never Trumper on a massive scale.
When it was first floated that the President-elect and his transition team were considering Romney for Secretary of State, it seemed like a far-fetched idea or, at best, a trial balloon meant to gauge Romney’s footing amongst Trump Republicans.
After all, Romney was the guy who, voluntarily and unprompted, reemerged from private life to call Trump a fraud and a phony who was unfit to be president.
Few were more vocal — and less effective — in their opposition to Trump’s candidacy. And in return, Trump continually mocked Romney as a choke artist. These guys weren’t meant to brush it off and bro-hug after this was finished.
And yet, there they were, sipping on non-alcoholic beverages, munching high-priced vittles and smiling for the cameras at Jean Georges restaurant in Trump’s hotel in New York City. It was the second meeting between the former rivals, and one that Romney raved about afterward.
Immediately following the meal he took to the lobby of Trump International Hotel to greet the press.
“I happen to think that America’s best days are ahead of us,” he said. “I think you’re going to continue to see America continue to lead the world in this century.” He also said he was “impressed” with Trump’s transition and Cabinet appointments.
“All of those things combined gives me increasing hope that President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us to that better future.”
It’s certainly a stunning about-face from Romney, but it’s also a puzzling move by Trump.
Forgetting the personality clashes between these two men, Romney’s and Trump’s foreign policies are very, very different.
In 2012, Romney outlined plans to open US markets to Asian economies, reducing tariffs and increasing trade. While a vocal opponent of illegal immigration, his “self-deportation” idea was a stark contrast to Trump’s talk of a “deportation force.” Romney also supported looser immigration laws to attract highly skilled workers from other countries.
On Islamic extremism, Romney advocated for military intervention in places where Al Qaeda was operating and even suggested sending forces to places like Bali and Pakistan to train local populations to fight jihadists. Romney called Russia and Vladimir Putin, who Trump has praised, America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”
It’s hard to imagine Romney and Trump bridging any of these serious divides, which would be a pretty obvious problem if Romney were to head up the State Department under a President with whom he disagrees on nearly every position and policy.
The other oddity is that Romney’s competition isn’t getting nearly the same treatment. When is Rudy Giuliani’s photo op? When does David Petraeus get frogs’ legs and diver scallops?
The non-cynical answer would be that Trump is seriously considering Romney and wants to signal publicly that he’s leaning in his direction while calming the detractors who think they couldn’t possibly get along.
But I’m not buying it. The whole thing reeks of a Stephen King prom night setup that ends with Trump dumping a bucket of pig’s blood onto Romney’s head.
Knowing Trump’s obsession with loyalty and his penchant for revenge — he once tweeted the Alfred Hitchcock quote “Revenge is sweet and not fattening” — it’s totally plausible that this is just an elaborate plan to embarrass Romney for his opposition.
“Get even with people,” Trump once said in a speech. “If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard.”
I’m not alone in my suspicion. I talked to a Romney insider who also is worried this flirtation is all being staged to eventually pull the rug out from under him.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope Trump is sincere and that the seriousness of running the country has sobered and humbled him. And if he does pass on Romney, I hope he does it with dignity, respect and generosity.
But something tells me the third act of this drama will end very, very badly.