Despite furious opposition from conservative leaders, including those who say Mitt Romney represents everything that’s wrong with the GOP establishment, President-elect Donald Trump prepared for a second interview with him Tuesday for the plum job of secretary of state.
The hostility toward Mr. Romney, who accused Mr. Trump of being unfit for the presidency and attempted to undermine his campaign, came from every quarter of the conservative movement.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, has lobbied the Trump transition team against putting the State Department in the hands of Mr. Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
“You need a change agent at the State Department. Mitt Romney is a lot of things, but he’s not a change agent,” said Mr. Perkins.
He said that he was not concerned that Mr. Romney opposed Mr. Trump during the campaign. He’s concerned that he doesn’t have the “mentality and focus” to implement the aggressive foreign policy changes that the president-elect has promised.
“He doesn’t bring the aggressive nature to root out what is really an anti-American mindset at the State Department,” said Mr. Perkins. “It shows a lot of Donald Trump that he is entertaining individuals who are not on board with him [during the campaign] but I think considering Romney goes overboard.”
Jason Miller, spokesman for the Trump transition team, said the president-elect is carefully reviewing the candidates for every Cabinet post.
“He’s going to pick the person he thinks will do the absolute best job,” he told reporters in a conference call.
Mr. Trump has been praised for giving Mr. Romney an audience, sending the signal that he wants to unify the Republican Party as well as the national after a brutal and divisive election. The move could be viewed as the assembling of a “team of rivals” as did President Obama when he tapped primary foe Hillary Clinton for secretary of state or Ronald Reagan when he asked rival George H.W. Bush to be his vice president.
However, those rivalries were eclipsed by Mr. Romney’s actions as a former GOP nominee who inserted himself into the race, publicly denouncing Mr. Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud” whose ignorance and recklessness he said would endanger America and the world.
Conservative commentator Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, said that if Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Romney to any Cabinet post it would be “a slap to his supporters.”
“I understand the business about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, but this isn’t the movies,” he said. “Romney personifies everything that’s wrong about the establishment. He has no respect for Trump and even less for his supporters. Should Trump select Romney, many of his supporters will wonder what respect Trump had for them, too.”
The selection of secretary of state has become the most crowded competition in the transition process, and the presence of Mr. Romney also helped make it the most contentious.
Mr. Trump bought in retired Army Gen. David Petraeus to interview Monday for the job.
He emerged from the hourlong meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan saying Mr. Trump had a “great grasp” of the challenge America faces around the world.
“He basically walked us around the world [and] showed a great grasp of a variety of the challenges that are out there and some of the opportunities as well,” Mr. Petraeus, who previously served as commander of the military’s Central Command and as CIA director, told reporters in the lobby.
“Very good conversation and we’ll see where it goes from here,” he said.
Mr. Petraeus resigned as CIA director in 2012 after revelations he had an extramarital affair.
He also was charged with knowingly passing classified information to his mistress, Paula Broadwell, who also was his biographer. In a plea deal, Mr. Petraeus was fined $100,000 and place on probation.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump often used Mr. Petraeus as an example of the type of aggressive prosecution and severe punishment Mrs. Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, should face for mishandling classified information when she was secretary of state.
Other contenders for America’s top diplomat under Mr. Trump include former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who also is scheduled for a Tuesday interview.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser on the transition team, went public with her misgivings about keeping Mr. Romney in the mix, which was widely interpreted as revealing internal conflict about the secretary of state nomination.
“The number of people who would feel betrayed to think a Gov. Romney would get the most prominent cabinet post after he went so far out of his way to hurt Donald Trump,” she said on CNN. “I’m all for party unity, but I’m not sure we have to pay for that with the secretary of state position.”
Mr. Miller, the transition team spokesman, downplayed reports of internal turmoil and said that the nomination decisions rest solely with Mr. Trump.
He characterized the follow-up interview with Mr. Romney as a chance for the two men, who met for the first time Nov. 19, to get better acquainted.
“The two haven’t spent that much time together and so this gives them a little more time to do so,” he said. “The president elect is really taking these meetings very seriously. He wants to make sure he’s making the absolute best decision for all of the different positions where folks may be joining the administration.”
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