Trump Backers Continue Criticism of Romney as Potential Nominee

  • Adviser questions Romney’s experience to be top diplomat
  • First House backer says Romney may not follow Trump’s wishes

Is Mitt Romney the Next U.S. Secretary of State?

The first House member to endorse President-elect Donald Trump said he would not choose Mitt Romney as secretary of state but will support Trump if he does, amplifying the comments of a top Trump adviser a day earlier.

Representative Chris Collins, a New York Republican who serves on Trump’s transition executive committee, in an interview Monday on CNN called the 2012 Republican presidential nominee a “self-serving egomaniac” who has a “chip on his shoulder,” still thinks he should be president and might not take Trump’s direction.

Collins’ comments come a day after Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s campaign and is now a senior adviser to his transition, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she is “just astonished at the breathtaking volume and intensity of blow-back that I see” toward the possibility of Romney serving as the nation’s top diplomat.

Beyond simply relaying concerns, though, Conway expressed some of her own, including whether Romney, the millionaire co-founder and former chief executive of private equity firm Bain Capital, has the foreign-policy credentials to be the top U.S. diplomat.

“In the last four years, I mean, has he been around the globe doing something on behalf of the U.S. of which we’re unaware? Did he go and intervene in Syria where they’re having a massive humanitarian crisis?” she asked on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Has he been helpful to Mr. Netanyahu?” she asked, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

‘Cost of Admission’

“We’re all for party unity,” Conway said in a separate interview on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “I don’t think a cost of admission for party unity has to be the secretary of state position.”

Conway also said that Romney hadn’t confirmed he’d even voted for Trump.

Political analyst David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama, said on Twitter that Conway’s comments would constitute “an unbelievable breach” unless she had been told by the Trump team to bash Romney: “I have never, EVER, seen any aide to a POTUS or PEOTUS publicly try and box the boss in like this. Extraordinary.”

Romney, 69, who embraced Trump’s endorsement during his own run for the White House, was among the fiercest Republican critics of him during the 2016 presidential campaign. Romney called Trump “a conman” and “a fraud” and raised questions about his fitness to serve and commitment to conservative values.

Unclear Strategy

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Conway and Collins comments were an attempt to signal dissatisfaction using the media that Trump consumes avidly, an assignment from transition officials to get Romney to take himself out of contention, or some other strategy.

The moves may presage an ongoing conflict between the insurgent populists who got behind Trump early, and the conservative establishment that largely opposed him until his election.

Officials jockeying for roles in an upcoming administration, including through the use of anonymous leaks to the press, is common, but such opening questioning is nearly unheard of even as presidents-elect have searched for cabinet choices outside of their bases or from the opposing party.

Among those also said to be under consideration for the secretary of state post are former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, and retired Marine General John Kelly.

‘Open Mind’

Newt Gingrich, former House speaker, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are other Trump allies who’ve suggested some degree of opposition to Romney. Huckabee said choosing Romney would be “an insult” to Trump voters.

Since his election, Trump has moderated some of his positions, saying he is now keeping an “open mind” about following the Paris climate agreement and that he wants to preserve the part of Obamacare that stops insurers from rejecting those with pre-existing conditions. Trump has also signaled he doesn’t intend to pursue an investigation into his Democratic campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private e-mail server when she served as secretary of state.

Trump has embraced another former critic, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, whom he nominated Wednesday to be United Nations ambassador. Haley first backed Florida Senator Marco Rubio during the Republican primaries.

“President-elect Trump is going to keep talking to the right people and get opinions on what the right decision would be,” Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman whom Trump has named his chief of staff, said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked about Huckabee’s suggestion that Romney should publicly repudiate his earlier criticism of Trump. “But ultimately it will be his decision.”

Despite Sunday’s comments, Conway, who may be in line to be the next White House press secretary, said she would “respect” Trump’s ultimate decision.

— With assistance by Benjamin Bain

(Updates with Collins starting in first paragraph. An earlier version corrected POETUS to PEOTUS in seventh paragraph.)
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