Opinion: The Romney Agonistes

Mitt Romney speaks to reporters after dining with President-elect Donald Trump at Jean Georges restaurant, November 29, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Poor, gullible Mitt Romney. He thought maybe, just maybe, Donald Trump wouldn’t focus his transition on settling petty scores. He fooled himself into believing the Donald might consider him a diplomat rather than a comic prop. He got so wrapped up in the possibilities of the moment that he let photographers snap shots of him at a dinner with Trump, not realizing that, without doubt, he was the main course.

Romney could almost taste the mahogany of the State Department’s 7th floor executive suites — or was that the polish coming off the Donald’s boots. Hard to tell. But it was all an illusion — like the ultimate prank from a ’70s movie where the prom king pretends to like the nerdy girl. It’s frankly surprising that Trump didn’t actually dump a bucket of pig’s blood on Romney’s head as he exited Trump Tower for the final time.

Romney’s bad news, though, is good news for everyone else in this way: Now there can be no mistaking how Trump plans to use his newfound power. He’s not trying to form the best government, unify the country or “Make America Great Again.” He’s just on the greatest narcissistic power trip in American history.

I wrote previously that we should give Trump time to prove whether he was serious about governance and whether his Cabinet would reflect that. His process is so ridiculous — a public pageant, candidates appealing to him like court jesters on national television, and the ritual humiliation of people willing to go through the trials and tribulations — that no one in their right mind would put up with it.

He’s not putting together a team of rivals. He’s putting together a team of losers. Pick the one you like: I think Nikki Haley’s pretty talented. And setting aside the facts that he couldn’t name the department, believes it shouldn’t exist and appeared on “Dancing with the Stars,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry seems like a relatively reasonable Energy secretary in a Republican administration. Nothing wrong with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as ambassador to China. And while there’s good reason not to have recent generals commanding the Pentagon, James Mattis is certainly qualified.

On the other hand, the head of Trump’s Situation Room table is going to be heavy with generals. It probably won’t be long until he commissions a commander-in-chief uniform, replete with gilded epaulets and rows of newly invented medals that would make any dictator envious. And you know, the Donald would look mighty fine with that square jaw set, chin raised to a 30-degree angle under a beret.

Some of the people in his midst are incompetent and others are truly dangerous. Some of his Cabinet selections have been so uproariously unfit for the jobs that it’s easy to forget he’s making alt-right promoter Steve Bannon his top White House strategist and retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who blathers about tin-foil-hat theories and once had an outside internet line installed in his Pentagon office, as his national security adviser.

There are thousands of Americans who are ostensibly more qualified than Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as the nation’s top diplomat. And the rumor is that his No. 2 will be John Bolton, who accused the Obama administration of running a “false flag” operation to plant fake Russian fingerprints on recent efforts to hack American election system. The CIA is wrong sometimes, but Bolton is wrong all the time.

Then there’s the Goldman Sachs twins, Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn. I don’t know anything about them, but I know Trump campaigned against a global banking elite. They’re the ones who robbed hard-working Americans of their chance at a better life. So, his Treasury Department and White House economic team will be run by the villains of his advertising campaign.

And let’s not forget Ben Carson, whose own business manager thinks he’s unqualified to run a federal agency. Trump put him at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, despite lots of expertise in pediatric neurosurgery and none in urban affairs. But Trump doesn’t like HUD. Let’s face it, that’s the agency that insists on fair housing. And we all know Trump’s firm got sued for rejecting housing applications from people of color.

Wait, it gets better — or worse. I almost omitted Jeff Sessions, who has worked to dismantle the Voting Rights Act. He wasn’t considered impartial enough for a federal judgeship in 1986 but he’s now on a glidepath to become attorney general. Maybe Sessions will be the guy who his colleagues say he is: Fine, decent, upstanding, un-biased. Perhaps their praise and their votes will encourage him to be his best self. But he’s got a lot to prove to people of color in this country. At least he may be capable of running a federal department.

For most of the rest of the lot? Good luck.

Trump isn’t wise enough to know that when these agencies fall apart, that when Americans see their elected officials spouting crazy conspiracy theories on television and that when the government is unable to provide basic services and protections to its citizens, that will all reflect back on him. By then, after having watched the ugly contortions with Romney, no one will come to his rescue.

The Romney episode should be enough to keep most Republicans of good conscience far away from Trump Tower.

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