Romney, Trump Dine Together; Work On Transition Continues

Nov 30, 2016
Originally published on November 30, 2016 7:59 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, it was the kind of scene where you can imagine people holding a contest to write the caption for the photo - Donald Trump and his most outspoken Republican critic dining together on frogs legs at a fancy French restaurant. The critic - Mitt Romney, and the meeting was about the unlikely possibility of Romney joining Trump's Cabinet as secretary of state. NPR's Scott Detrow is here to make sense of this and talk about why Trump and Romney would be motivated to patch things up and work together. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Morning.

GREENE: OK, so let's go down the list here. Mitt Romney has called Trump a phony, a fraud. He warned that a Trump presidency could lead to trickle-down racism. I mean, this - this probably made for an awkward job interview, if that's what this was.

DETROW: Yeah. In most job interviews, that would probably end it right there, huh?

GREENE: Yeah.

DETROW: Romney was a steadfast critic all year. And what's notable is that Romney remained one as more and more Republicans got on board with Trump or, at minimum, stopped outwardly criticizing Trump. But, you know, they met a couple of weeks ago. The meeting seemed to go well, and suddenly Romney was on the short list for secretary of state, to the dismay of a lot of Trump's allies.

GREENE: Yeah, that went public - a lot of the debate over him going to team Trump.

DETROW: It did - notably public, playing out on the TV airwaves in a way that you've not seen in previous transitions. But the big question here was whether Romney would backtrack on the things he said about Trump. And many of those Trump allies were demanding an outright apology. After they dined on the frogs legs...

GREENE: Love that.

DETROW: ...Romney came out and spoke to the press. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITT ROMNEY: He won the general election. And - and he continues with a message of inclusion and bringing people together. And his vision is something which obviously connected with the American people in a very powerful way. In the last few weeks, he's been carrying out a transition effort. And I have to tell you, I've been impressed by what I've seen in the transition effort.

DETROW: Romney also praised some of the people that Trump has brought into his cabinet already, like South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. So no apology for the previous criticism, but a lot of praise for the president-elect.

GREENE: OK, Scott Detrow, I don't want to make judgments based on just photos, but you look at the photo from this dinner, I mean, Romney does not look comfortable. I mean, it looks kind of awkward. This is all over social media. I mean, what does Romney get out of this, potentially? What does Trump get out of this, potentially?

DETROW: You know, with Romney, it's hard to tell. But if you take him at his word about his deep concerns about a President Trump - and they were so persistent that I think that's where you should start - maybe he thinks that he could steer the president in the right direction as his top diplomat. As for Trump, I think you could argue this is a victory right off the bat.

Just meeting and being shown with Mitt Romney shows he's consolidated the Republican Party and that even though Trump continues to lash out at critics in the media on Twitter, he's being magnanimous here by sitting down with someone who had been so outspoken against him all along. So maybe that's why, in that picture where Romney looks so uncomfortable, Trump looks so happy. He has a big smirk on his face.

GREENE: Yeah, he does seem pretty satisfied. Who else is in the running for this job?

DETROW: So you always have to take the names floated around with a grain of salt. But the big four are Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, retired General David Petraeus and Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. Corker's interesting because, if he isn't selected, he'd be in charge of the vetting process, the voting process. He's in charge of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So earlier in the day yesterday, he met with Trump at Trump Tower, and he spoke to reporters about what he thinks Trump should look for in a secretary of state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOB CORKER: He needs to choose someone that he's very comfortable with, that he knows there's going to be no daylight between him and them. The world needs to know that the secretary of state is someone who speaks fully for the president.

DETROW: Sounds like Corker's kind of making a plug for himself there, but...

GREENE: (Laughter) It does indeed.

DETROW: ...That does not seem to apply to Mitt Romney, though, when you hear what Corker's talking about in a secretary of state.

GREENE: OK, Scott, and before I let you go, some other news coming from team Trump this morning, right?

DETROW: That's right. If they're both confirmed, Steve Mnuchin would be treasury secretary and Wilbur Ross would be Commerce Secretary. Trump ran a populist campaign, but Mnuchin is a longtime Goldman Sachs executive, and Ross is a billionaire investor. We also got a tweet from Donald Trump this morning saying that on December 15, in a couple weeks, he's going to hold a press conference detailing how he's going to remove himself from his businesses.

GREENE: But no more details than that.

DETROW: None at all.

GREENE: OK, NPR's Scott Detrow, thanks.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.