I have no idea if Donald Trump will pick Mitt Romney to be his secretary of state. Maybe he will. Or maybe Trump is stringing him along to set up a publicly humiliating rejection as payback for Romney’s many past criticisms of the man who is now the president-elect. Who knows?
What I do know is those past criticisms don’t mean Romney has now sold his soul or committed a brazen reversal to even consider serving in the Trump administration. They certainly aren’t reason enough for him to turn down the job if Trump offers it.
One thing we hear people of all political stripes bemoan is the “lack of statesmanship” today. Well, what else is statesmanship but a willingness to put aside partisan or personal differences to do what’s best for the country?
Romney is clearly qualified for the office, and he would bring a softer touch to what will surely be hard-edged rhetoric on all topics, including foreign policy, from the new administration. I have to imagine folks in foreign capitals would be somewhat relieved to have Romney as a point of contact with the White House, compared to some of the other possibilities. What’s more, as Trump doesn’t appear to have hard and fast beliefs about very many topics, it may be that Romney could help shape, or at least smooth, the new president’s views on some important issues. Anyone who disagrees with Trump would have to see that as an opportunity worth seizing.
I’m not saying he’s the only or best choice, just that he would be a good one. And that, knowing he would be a good choice for a crucial job, he had an obligation to consider it when approached.
Now, all this changes if Trump and Romney find themselves irreconcilably opposed on too many foreign-policy topics. The president needs someone who will represent him and his views well and accurately, and any secretary of state would have to be both confident in and comfortable with those views. If Romney can’t — and you have to admit, for example, there’s some space between Trump’s comments about Russia and Romney’s declaration four years ago, underscored by events since then, that Moscow is America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe — he shouldn’t even be offered the job, much less accept it. In that case the country would be better served by having Romney offering honest critiques of Trump’s foreign policy from the right.
But the fact Romney is listening doesn’t mean he’s lost his principles. It means he’s honoring the most important of all: country first.