RomneyWatch™: Giuliani reportedly out of running for State job, Tillerson moving up the list; Update: Rudy withdraws


Petraeus seems to be out. Rudy’s reportedly now out too. Only one top-shelf contender remains. One word: Mittmentum.

No, actually, I think Romney’s probably been excluded now too, although Trump can’t reveal that yet lest it dim the suspense for next week’s rose ceremony nomination announcement.

Poor Rudy. Secretary of State was famously the only job in the administration that he wanted in return for months of campaigning for Trump. In the end, he had to endure the ignominy of Trump confidant Joe Scarborough touting him for, um, ambassador to Italy on MSNBC today instead. Could be that Trump wanted him at State but had to make a hard calculation that between Rand Paul’s opposition to Giuliani and the ethical concerns his business dealings in the Middle East would raise during the confirmation process, he simply couldn’t get through the Senate. Whatever the reason, if you believe Gabriel Sherman’s reporting this is a defeat for Steve Bannon, who supported Giuliani for the position. It’s also another surprising defeat for Trump loyalists generally: At the moment, neither Giuliani, Chris Christie, nor Newt Gingrich has a job in the new administration despite them being three of the most high-profile advocates within the GOP for Trump this year. Gingrich insists he’ll have some sort of general portfolio focused on streamlining government, but we’ll see what that amounts to in practice.

Is this really a defeat for Bannon, though, or a temporary setback? Here’s more from Sherman:

The Priebus–Bannon power struggle is playing out most prominently in Trump’s search for a secretary of State. According to sources, Bannon has advocated for naming Rudy Giuliani, while Priebus has made the case for a more moderate choice. When concerns were raised about Giuliani’s business conflicts hurting his chances to be confirmed by the Senate, Bannon lobbied Trump not to settle for Mitt Romney and to expand the search for new candidates to include ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, and Senator Bob Corker, a source close to Bannon told me.

Tillerson’s the guy to watch right now, per CNN’s reporting. Fox News also sees movement towards Tillerson. (John Bolton is supposedly being lined up for a deputy role at State.) Bannon may get his fallback choice, particularly with populists putting some pressure on Trump over his nominations in the last 48 hours or so. Just within the past day, he’s nominated pro-amnesty Andy Puzder to be Labor secretary and named Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn to lead his National Economic Council. If he caps that off by choosing Mitt farking Romney as chief U.S. diplomat after passing over Giuliani, Christie, and Gingrich, his fans will be annoyed. Spiking Romney is an easy way to make them happy.

Just one question: Could Tillerson get confirmed? Read this Journal profile and count the potential red flags. For starters, he’s a “strong supporter of free trade,” which might be reason enough for Trump to pass him over. If renegotiating trade deals to make them more protectionist is destined to be the centerpiece of Trump’s foreign policy, why would he want a free-trader in charge of that? (That’s a strike against Romney too, of course.) If Tillerson’s nominated, though, then he’ll run into conflict-of-interest problems just like Giuliani would have. He’s the CEO of Exxon; of course he has business interests around the globe, including and especially in Russia.

The deal would have been transformative for Exxon. Mr. Putin at the time called it one of the most important involving Russia and the U.S., forecasting that the partnership could eventually spend $500 billion. But it was subsequently blocked by sanctions on Russia that the U.S. and its allies imposed two years ago after the country’s invasion of Crimea and conflicts with Ukraine.

Mr. Tillerson spoke against the sanctions at the company’s annual meeting in 2014. “We always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who are they really harming with sanctions,” he said.

One of the first issues Mr. Tillerson would have to resolve as secretary of state would be his holdings of Exxon shares, many of which aren’t scheduled to vest for almost a decade. The value of those shares could go up if the sanctions on Russia were lifted.

He could solve this particular conflict by dumping his stock options after he’s nominated, but there may be similar conflicts in other countries. He’d have to divest comprehensively — which would inadvertently highlight his new boss’s refusal to divest from his own global business interests even though he’s in a more influential job. And then there’s the fact that “few U.S. citizens are closer to Mr. Putin than Mr. Tillerson” thanks to Exxon’s extensive negotiations with the Russian government over the years. How would Russia hawks like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio feel about having a guy who fits that description in charge of U.S. diplomacy? If Democrats hang together in hopes of giving Trump a black eye by defeating a key nominee, Schumer would only need three Republicans to vote no to block Tillerson.

Oh well. Probably doesn’t matter. The Trump children will be running U.S. diplomacy during their spare time, when they’re not running Trump’s businesses. Put whoever you want at State as an ornament. Exit question: Why is Trump planning to meet with Carly Fiorina? What job does he have her lined up for?

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