All the brouhaha over the alleged rifts within the Trump transition over Mitt Romney misses the point. I think it is theatre, a distraction by the same man who was able to direct media attention where he wanted it all throughout the campaign.
Donald Trump has a plan that eludes his critics, who can’t help thinking about politics the way it has always been played and still do not grasp his thinking nor the range of new tools he brings to the presidency.
The Department of State is badly broken and desperately needs to be fixed. State requires fundamental restructuring as well as the departure of many entrenched figures whose goals and beliefs are antagonistic to realistic confrontation with Islamic jihad and the generations-long efforts of Muslim states to "wipe Israel off the map." The State Department is full of people called "Arabists," who instinctively blame Israel when it is attacked and defends itself and who presume that the U.S. should attend to the prejudices of hundreds of millions of Arab Muslims because they are so populous, and because they have oil and have funded an amazing number of sinecures for retired bureaucrats with generous compensation and few demands (other than reflexive support whenever an issue arises).
This is just a start on enumerating the problems, for the Middle East is not the only problem ahead, merely the oldest. There are serious issues with Russia, China, North Korea, and Venezuela, among major problems for U.S. diplomacy.
Arnold Cusmariu today makes the case that John Bolton is the man to reform the State Department while implementing President-Elect Trump's policies. I am a great admirer of Bolton and would be happy if he were to get the job. But even though I am much closer to Bolton's politics than Mitt Romney's, the former governor's skill set seems ideal for the job ahead.
First of all, my assumption is that when he assumes the presidency, Donald Trump will largely make foreign policy from the White House, a move with much precedent. He would do this by using the National Security Council staff, who do not require Senate confirmation, and who can operate quicker and more flexibly than the barnacle-encrusted State Department protocols allow.
Mitt Romney as secretary of state would focus not on policy, but on doing to the State Department what he has done to poorly performing companies: close down entire segments of the organization and reorganize what the survivors do around re-thought goals and procedures. This is a formidable art, and one that Romney is an acknowledged master of, thanks to his many years at Bain Capital, buying companies and turning them around. He has deep experience in refocusing on what matters most and the most effective ways to accomplish the redefined priorities.
It helps a lot to be a total stranger if you are making ruthless cuts. Bolton's experience at the State Department could be a plus in many ways, but also his human relationships could be an obstacle for sweeping change. He would be only a phone call away from Romney, were the latter to need his advice. The portrait of Romney painted by the Obama campaign in 2012 could be turned to advantage if State Department employees started sending out their résumés in anticipation of Mitt the Knife forcing them out.
Donald Trump has endured a certain amount of mockery for saying that Romney "looks like" a secretary of state, but I take the remark as an indication that he intends to make unprecedented use of the media in his foreign policy (and everywhere else in his administration). Remember that he understands reality television's appeal better than anyone else in politics. And for better or worse, a sizable chunk – probably a majority – of the public apprehends politics at the level of TV drama, with heroes and villains, and especially with victims.
Donald Trump is spending a lot of time with Mitt Romney, and the two are to dine together. I think this suggests that the president-elect is using his formidable persuasion powers to explain to Mitt what the job he has in mind will look like and solicit Romney's formidable intelligence and experience in the task ahead.
The master showman is also a master persuader (hat tip: Scott Adams). I think he has big plans for big changes at State, and he thinks Romney is the guy to do it.