Mitt Romney's Dilemma

Mitt Romney's Dilemma
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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.
Mike Segar / Reuters

Mitt Romney may soon be faced with a dilemma. If Donald Trump offers him the job of secretary of State, should Mitt take it? Normally this wouldn't even be an open question, much less a dilemma. The position is one of the most prestigious in the federal government, and any career politician would jump at the chance to fill it, in normal times. But this is Donald Trump's administration we're talking about, which will complicate Romney's choice (to put it mildly).

Mitt Romney was one of the most vocal -- and most scathing -- critics of Donald Trump during the campaign. He wasn't afraid to say exactly what he thought of Trump, in no uncertain terms. Romney let it be known that he thought Trump was patently unqualified to lead the country, and he warned his fellow Republicans not to vote for such a charlatan. The voters didn't listen, of course, but it's pretty obvious what Romney thinks about Trump -- and his election to the presidency has likely not changed Mitt's opinion much at all. So to accept the job would mean working for the same man Romney was warning America about, not too long ago. Maybe Mitt could grow a beard and just give up shaving, so he wouldn't have to face himself in the mirror every morning.

Secretary of State would be a perfect end to Romney's career -- if he were serving someone like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, that is. Romney has always seen himself as a statesman, so it'd be a perfect fit. He wouldn't be in charge of anything to do with the economy, so his past career as a plutocrat wouldn't even be an issue. But being in charge of foreign policy for an average Republican president isn't what's being offered. Instead, Romney would be Trump's face to the world -- and that comes with a whole lot of potential downsides.

Will Trump be surrounded with sober-minded people who will constrain his worst knee-jerk impulses? Or will he be tweeting freely about what he thinks of other countries, perhaps precipitating international incidents by doing so? No one, at this point, can tell. But the possibility certainly exists. Which would leave Romney the job of continually cleaning up avoidable messes. Or worse.

How would Donald Trump take America to war? That's also a very real possibility. If this comes to pass, his secretary of State will be the one who has to try to get allies to stand with us. If the reasons for going to war are seen as illegitimate (or vindictive, or petulant, or irrational, or whatever...), then that's going to be a very hard sell. Trump may bear the blame for such a war, but the secretary of State will likely bear the blame if we wind up waging such a war unilaterally. The job will require a lot more reassurances and hand-holding than normal, that much (at least) seems certain.

So why would Romney even consider setting himself up in the rather unenviable position of attempting to explain Donald Trump's thinking to world leaders? Romney obviously doesn't have a shred of respect for Trump, but he'd be responsible for trying to build respect for Trump among the world's leaders. That's a pretty duplicitous position to put yourself in, to say the least.

Perhaps Romney could delude himself into thinking he'll be able to control Trump, or at least steer him away from his worst impulses. If that's the case, then Romney could convince himself that taking the job would be the highest form of public service -- saving Trump from himself for the betterment of the country and the world. That's a noble way to put it, but you could see Romney thinking along those lines. After all, if Romney is offered the job and doesn't take it, Trump could easily name some hothead instead -- which could lead to even more sticky situations. Romney could see himself saving America from such a fate, I suppose.

One of the scarier things I've heard about Trump came from a former contestant on his reality television show. Trump, according to one of his former apprentices, makes up his mind on any given subject depending on the person he last talked to about it. This is scary indeed, since it suggests an incredibly high degree of suggestibility and an incredibly shallow method of decision-making. But the more you watch Trump, the more accurate this portrayal seems. When Trump talks to someone in favor of torture, then he's all for it. But then after he talks to a Marine general who thinks it's ineffective, Trump suddenly isn't such a big fan of it after all. If this really is who Trump is, then the obvious conclusion is that you would want a level-headed individual to be the last guy Trump talks to before making momentous decisions. Secretary of State Romney might just be a sobering influence on Trump after all, in this scenario.

Whoever takes the job, they're going to have to navigate a minefield on a daily basis, that much seems certain. If anything blows up, the secretary of State will be in the middle of it all. If Trump has some spectacular failures on the world stage, that is going to reflect on whomever's job it is to explain Trump to the rest of the planet. Meaning it would be a very risky job to take for anyone who values their political career and public opinion (as Romney certainly does).

Of course all of this is assuming that Romney is even in the running, and not just a massive feint by Trump to soothe the public's fears. He may wind up choosing someone else for the job, in the end. But if Trump does offer the job to Mitt Romney, then Romney will have a big decision to make. Should he risk his own reputation on the chance that he can constrain Trump and guide him to sober foreign policy decisions? Or is the possibility of Trump setting off some world crisis by an off-the-cuff decision just too high to even consider attaching your name to his administration? Romney would always have the option of just stepping down, should Trump do something completely unforgivable. He could then say "I tried -- but failed -- to talk Trump out of it," and leave with at least some of his reputation intact.

If Trump does offer Mitt Romney the job, Romney's going to have to ask himself some very tough questions, though. Can he follow the leadership of a man he has absolutely no respect for? Can he wake up every morning and go into work knowing full well that Trump is the least qualified person to sit in the Oval Office, or will this be too much for Romney's own self-respect to bear? Does he feel he owes it to America to try to constrain Trump by serving, or is that just too much to ask? These are not normally questions any cabinet officer would have to ponder, but they are very pertinent questions Romney is going to have to answer when deciding whether to serve President Trump or not.

-- Chris Weigant

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

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