As President-elect Trump’s cabinet was filled out, most conservatives were eagerly anticipating the Secretary of State pick as a kind of litmus test for Trump. Having filled the other two most important cabinet positions with very conservative, well-qualified nominees (Sessions as AG and Mattis at Defense), we had high expectations for a Secretary of State that was also well-qualified and embraced a conservative world-view.
Instead, it appears that Trump will put forth retiring ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for the State Department. Tillerson is not only disastrously unqualified (his only experience is negotiating oil and gas production agreements across international lines), he also lacks a political track record from which we can predict his future stances (think David Souter) and has a dangerously close relationship with Vladimir Putin, having been awarded a “Medal of Friendship” for his kowtowing to the Russian leader.
Thankfully, many in the Senate have expressed their early opposition to this off-the-wall pick, including John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham. It is my hope that Tillerson is not confirmed for this position. While Tillerson is a very intelligent man of character who I would enthusiastically endorse as a nominee to lead the Department of Energy, Secretary of State should not be an entry-level position, certainly not one to be filled by a “friend” of Vladimir Putin (well, neither is the presidency…but I digress).
Trump promised throughout his campaign that he would surround himself with strong conservative talent. This is an utter departure from that promise and the Senate has a mandate to hold him accountable.
Even worse news this morning is the rumor (reported by Bill Kristol) that one of the very few conservatives who is qualified to run the State department, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, will not be considered for Secretary of State or Deputy Secretary of State as had been previously reported. Bolton is a veteran of the Bush administration and has a very broad view of American power and our role in the world–just what is needed in the Trump administration to counteract Trump’s own weak views on foreign policy.
A team of Mitt Romney and John Bolton at State would have been a dream come true for conservatives. While Romney is weak on some domestic issues, he has a clear-eyed view of who our allies and adversaries are around the world and is one of the strongest and most experienced leaders of this generation. Bolton’s advantages in running day-to-day operations as deputy to Romney would be many.
Why did this not come to pass?
It seems that Senator Rand Paul’s threats to “fight” a Bolton nomination got into Trump’s head. For a man who claims to relish a fight, Trump sure did back down quick. After being interviewed for the Secretary job, Bolton was relegated to Deputy Secretary. Then, when Paul announced he would “fight” that as well, Trump apparently decided not to nominate Bolton for anything at all. Paul also expressed reservations about Romney as the nominee, but for some reason enthusiastically supported Obama’s Iran-deal water-boy Bob Corker for the position.
Apparently, Senator Paul is willing to throw away any shred of common sense and his own political future over a single question: “Did the Secretary of State nominee support the Iraq War, and if so, will he apologize?” Quaking in his boots over these vague threats to “fight” (as the filibuster is gone for cabinet nominees, it’s not clear what Paul was planning to do) Trump decided to nominate someone who has no public position at all because he has never been involved in foreign affairs. Regardless of the specific merits of the Iraq War, it is crucial that we nominate someone who is qualified to run the State Department. Very few qualified individuals lack a public position on the Iraq War, because most conservatives believed invading Iraq was the right thing to do at the time based on the information we had.
Or maybe, Trump just appointed Tillerson because he is a fellow “businessman” and Russophile.
Either way, he has destroyed the positive momentum his transition team had assembled thus far with the nominations of Mattis and Sessions. Based on what we know now, if Tillerson is confirmed at State without a fight and without promising to embrace American power and a healthy opposition to Putin, especially without Bolton to fall back on as Deputy Secretary, it will be further proof that the GOP plans to roll over for any ridiculous plan Trump puts forth.