A moderate, a loyalist or a hardliner—who’s who on Donald Trump’s secretary of state shortlist

“Who’s boss now, Mitt?”
“Who’s boss now, Mitt?”
Image: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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After a weekend of showbiz-esque audiences at his golf club in New Jersey, rumors continue to swirl about president-elect Donald Trump’s choices for the top national security and diplomacy roles in his cabinet. Will he continue in the vein of his appointments so far and pick staunch hard-right operators who have been fierce critics of Hillary Clinton? Or appease Washington stalwarts and the international community with a more moderate figure in his top foreign policy roles?

Here’s a round-up of the putative runners and riders for the role of secretary of state; the country’s diplomat-in-chief and outside face to the world.

The moderate: Mitt Romney

Choosing the Republican 2012 presidential candidate would kill a few birds with one stone: calming the GOP establishment and America’s global allies, while probably ensuring a smooth Senate confirmation for at least one key figure. Picking a man who aggressively attacked Trump throughout the campaign would also show a healthy dose of humility and pragmatism from the next leader of the free world.

Romney doesn’t come without downsides, though. Picking another exceptionally wealthy businessman who came under heavy scrutiny for his international dealings in 2012, may only reinvigorate the worries over conflicts of interest that hang over Trump, his family and National Security Advisor nominee General Michael Flynn. Meanwhile, his main international trip as GOP nominee was a disaster in diplomacy: on a visit to Britain, he managed to criticize preparations for the upcoming London Olympics, forget the name of Britain’s leader of the opposition, tell the world he had met the secretive head of MI6, and be publicly mocked by now-foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

What he said: “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing members of the American public for suckers.”

What they said: “Gov. Romney is under active and serious consideration to serve as secretary of state of the United States,” said vice president-elect Mike Pence.

The loyalist: Rudolph Giuliani

The former New York mayor has perhaps been the most stalwart Trump defender not in the president-elect’s family during this campaign. The two go way back—even beyond a bizarre, wooden (and, in hindsight pretty uncomfortable) skit from 2000, where Giuliani, dressed in drag for no apparent reason, is groped by Trump.

Judging by his only significant recent foreign policy comments, his priorities would broadly align with those of Trump: defeating ISIS, resetting relations with Russia (though his suggestion that the US should threaten Russia militarily is somewhat unsettling), and taking a tough stance on “currency manipulator” China.

However, beyond focusing on national security when leading New York after 9/11, Giuliani’s foreign policy experience is very slim. Plus, having another man in his seventies with a penchant for outlandish statements as the country’s chief diplomat may be a tough sell to the Senate: Republican senator Rand Paul has already suggested he wouldn’t vote for him. Oh, and he’s yet another figure with multiple conflicts of interest.

What he said: “Russia thinks it’s a military competitor, it really isn’t. It’s our unwillingness under Obama to even threaten the use of our military that makes Russia so powerful.”

What they said: Asked whether Giuliani’s international business dealings concerned him, Trump said, “No, not at all.”

The hardliner: John Bolton

Having served as UN ambassador under George W. Bush and in various other state department roles, John Bolton has easily more foreign policy experience than Romney and Giuliani combined. He also reportedly has the backing of Rebekah Mercer, the GOP donor who, according to Politico, was essential in persuading Trump to make at least three of his hard-line appointments so far.

But that’s about all he’s got going for him. One of Washington’s most celebrated hawks, his policy outlook would conflict abrasively with Trump’s professed isolationist stance. In contrast to Trump’s calls for warming relations with Russia, Bolton repeatedly criticized Obama for not reacting forcefully enough to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. He has also lauded America’s purported position as a global peacemaker (a situation Trump wants to end) and recently called for eventual leadership change as the “only long-term solution” in Iran. He would probably also be even tougher to push through the Senate; he only held the UN ambassador role as a temporary appointee and stepped down when it seemed Bush didn’t have the Republican votes to confirm him.

What he said: “The only longterm solution is regime change in Tehran…the ayatollahs are the principal threat to international peace and security and the Middle East.”

What they said: ”Bolton might be better as a secretary of war, but he is certainly not a diplomat or someone who acts in a diplomatic way or thinks that diplomacy might be an alternative to war,” said Rand Paul.

The outside shots: Nikki Haley and Bob Corker

In being neither white, nor a man (nor named Mike), South Carolina governor Nikki Haley would bring at least a modicum of diversity to Trump’s cabinet. She found widespread liberal praise when leading the movement to take down the confederate flag from outside the South Carolina statehouse. A supporter of Marco Rubio during the campaign who wasn’t shy about criticizing Trump, appointing her would also be another much-needed gesture of magnanimity on Trump’s part. However, she would, frankly, be a downright bizarre choice to head Trump’s foreign relations team, having almost no experience outside the small Republican state of South Carolina—let alone internationally.

What she said: ”This election has turned my stomach upside down. It has been embarrassing for both parties. It’s not something that the country deserves, but it’s what we’ve got.”

What they said: “I thought it was impossible to find someone with less foreign policy experience than Rudy Giuliani, but bingo. Here is somebody who has no foreign policy experience at all,” said David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy.

Senate foreign relations committee chair Bob Corker has been touted for the role without much great enthusiasm. The second term senator from Tennessee is reportedly popular on both sides of the aisle and certainly has the foreign policy know-how. He has also backed Trump since his nomination and was at one point on the president-elect’s rumored long list as a VP pick, before pulling out and hinting he wanted the state job. However, there haven’t been any reports of him meeting with Trump since the election and he has downplayed his chances of getting the nod.

What he said: “Has my name been in the mix? I’m pretty sure, yeah. Have I been having intimate conversations? No.”