Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ranting On...Secretary of State Mitt Romney

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
One of the things that I've been thinking in the past few weeks in terms of Trump and, in particular, his cabinet selections is, what exactly is it I want to see here?  Democrats are still reeling, and in part we're in a position where we aren't going to be able to win.  Right now, with people like Steve Bannon as the President-Elect's Senior Advisor, we have an actual white nationalist in the White House, besmirching not only Trump but also the history of the country.  And Jeff Sessions, someone who was too racist to be picked as a federal judge in 1986 somehow has become less racist enough to now head the entire Justice Department, and is likely to be our next Attorney General.  But in the past few days we've started to hear names emerge that, well, appear to be relatively sane options for positions.  Forgetting, for a second, qualifications (and that's a big thing to forget here), we have Gov. Nikki Haley fast-emerging as the United Nations Ambassador (and the first woman to be rumored for a prominent position of power in Trump's administration) and former Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. being bandied about as Transportation Secretary, a bipartisan pick as Ford served as a Democratic congressman for five terms from Tennessee.  Largest amongst these is Mitt Romney, who was the Republican nominee in 2012 and was an ardent, vocal opponent of Trump on the campaign trail, to the point that he didn't even endorse him on Election Day, who is the frontrunner at this point to be Secretary of State.

The conundrum for Democrats here is that these people, while not specifically-qualified for these positions, aren't what you'd consider to be vile, odious Republicans that are going to have the base up in arms like Jeff Sessions, Newt Gingrich, or Rudy Giuliani.  These feel like the appointments of a traditional Republican administration.  Indeed, it's not hard to picture Jeb Bush going with these exact same three people, while he wouldn't allow Steve Bannon within a mile of the White House.

In a normal situation, we'd probably have calls to celebrate this.  While cabinet appointments don't mean as much as they used to do (during the Bush and Obama administrations, some of these have felt more ceremonial than others, with the real power existing in persons like Karl Rove or Valerie Jarrett, whose positions reflect more the likes of Bannon than a traditional cabinet secretary), but these aren't positions devoid of power or influence.  Romney's and Haley's, in particular, will have a significant eye to the world, and could go a long way in tacitly holding together our international alliances from the Trump administration until we have a more reputable and qualified person sitting in the Resolute Desk.

Admittedly, it says something about Romney that he'd be willing to do this (which I will state he has not yet accepted-it's just heavy speculation at this point), considering the hit it will have on his reputation.  Romney, at age 69 and with a Republican about to take the White House, will never be POTUS-that was decided definitively the second Donald Trump won Pennsylvania-so Secretary of State would be the biggest part of his legacy.  It will be (by far) the most important position he ever holds.  As a result, a man who has dominated the Republican Party for over a decade would be giving over all of his goodwill and reputation to a man that he detests, a man whose demeanor he finds abhorrent.

You can look at this two ways.  In one corner, you have Mitt Romney, someone who was described frequently in attacks in 2008 and 2012 as an empty suit, someone only out for himself and his wallet. Taking this position, a consolation prize but one that John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both also added to their Wikipedia page, would be a way to legitimize himself in a manner that he was never going to do if he couldn't win national office.  It's the only plum left on the tree for Romney, and he may be willing to throw his entire reputation out the window for one, last moment-of-glory.  It reeks of opportunism, perhaps it's even a bit pathetic.  It speaks to the worst aspects of Mitt Romney's critics.

In the other corner, though, there is the question of whether Mitt Romney is doing the right thing even if it costs him his reputation; whether he loses in the eyes of the current public but history is much kinder.  Here's where we return to the conundrum for the Democrats.  There is a difference between normalizing and ignoring the Trump administration, which is happening no matter how many articles you read about the electoral college revolting or misplaced ballots in Wisconsin.  Normalizing it means that we routinely, constantly make sure Trump and his administration do not have it easy for the next four years if they are doing the wrong thing, particularly when it comes to equality, the environment, and international diplomacy.  Democrats need to make sure that the persecuted minority doesn't become forgotten, as it was during the Reagan administration, otherwise we're stuck with 8-12 years of this.  But on the other hand, the Democrats have to face facts: Donald Trump will be commander-in-chief for the next four years.  We need good people surrounding him, people who are competent in positions and won't abuse their power.

Mitt Romney fits that description.  I disagree with him on virtually every major issue, but he's a patriotic American who has devoted his life to public service.  He's not going to let Trump start a nuclear war without threatening to resign in the process or publicly denouncing him.  He's going to make sure that Trump maintains at least a modicum of respect for critical alliances in the EU, Japan, and Israel.  He's going to be a voice of sanity in a White House where Steve Bannon has undue power.  It's hard to say it, but we may wish we'd had Mitt Romney in the White House a year or two down the road when Trump is facing myriad international and domestic crises and is petulantly angry at his portrayal on Saturday Night Live or a CNN panel denouncing his decisions nightly.  Quite frankly, we need a grownup in the room who isn't Mike Pence or Paul Ryan, both of whom have shown such hate for disenfranchised groups like LGBT citizens or the poor that they should strike the same level of fear in the hearts of Democrats everywhere.  Mitt Romney does that.  If he accepts, we should confirm because whomever comes next is going to be worse.  It's hard to stomach, but don't confuse reality with normalizing-we have to accept the former even if the latter is something we firmly cannot embrace.

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