Amid the internal fight over President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state deliberations that have spilled into the public in the past week, one thing has become demonstrably clear: Trump’s campaign manager and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway believes that Mitt Romney would not be a wise choice.
During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning, Conway once again emphasized that the selection of Romney—a man who once devoted an entire speech to condemning Trump’s character and fitness to be president—would betray the base of supporters who propelled the real estate mogul into the White House.
“What Donald Trump decides, Kellyanne Conway and everybody else will respect,” Conway said in response to a question about the potential selection. “It’s just the backlash from the grassroots. I’m hearing from people who say, ‘hey, my parents died penniless but I gave $216 to Donald Trump’s campaign and I would feel betrayed.’ … We don’t even know if Mitt Romney voted for Donald Trump.”
Above all else, Conway emphasized the importance of loyalty for the position, which from their perspective is compromised by Romney’s frequent bashing of Trump during the campaign. At one point, independent candidate Evan McMullin was using Romney’s email list to raise money for his longshot campaign—a red flag in Conway’s eyes.
In a March speech, the 2012 GOP nominee called Trump a “con man” and a “fake,” and said the “prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished” if Trump were to become the party’s nominee. At one point, he said that there was a “bombshell” in Trump’s taxes that was preventing him from making them public. (They still have not been released.) And Romney once suggested that Trump was employing “trickle-down racism.”
Conway is not alone among Trump acolytes in publicly condemning a possible Romney selection; both Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee have employed the similar tactic of using cable television appearances as a conduit to influence the president-elect to tiptoe away from Romney.
However, the other most prominent candidate in the field, Rudy Giuliani, reportedly bothered Trump and his team with his transparent public jockeying for the role, further complicated by a series of stories about his foreign business ties.
Recently, other names have been thrown into the mix as an alternative to the two men who are seemingly causing anguish within different camps of the nascent Trump administration. Those include Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, Gen. John F. Kelly and Gen. David Petraeus, according to a report from The New York Times.
Conway’s remarks stood in stark contrast to those made by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, who said Trump was simply looking for the best person for the job to serve as America’s top diplomat.
“He’s going to be making the best decision for the American people,” a subdued Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It isn’t a matter of warfare. I mean, there’s a lot of opinions about this, and yes it is sort of a team of rivals concept if you were to go toward the Gov. Romney concept.”
When asked whether Romney would have to publicly apologize to Trump for his criticisms of the then-GOP nominee during the campaign, Priebus demurred.
“I can just assure the American people the fact that he’s even flirting with the idea of choosing a rival should tell the American people where he’s at, which is the best place for everyone in this country,” Priebus added.
The backlash from the Trump team toward those in the #NeverTrump movement is further complicated by the fact that many Republicans in the Senate—who will have to vote to confirm Trump’s cabinet nominations—vocally opposed his candidacy.
One such individual, Marco Rubio, who went from saying Trump was too erratic to control the nuclear arsenal to endorsing him for president, suggested on CNN Sunday morning that his opinion hadn’t completely changed.
“We had an election and ultimately the voters chose him,” Rubio dodged when asked if he still felt that Trump was, in essence, a con man. “The election is over and now it comes time to govern and we’re going to give him every chance to be successful.”