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Romney flirtation jolts Trump World

Romney flirtation jolts Trump World
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Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote READ: Liz Cheney's speech on the House floor Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' MORE will meet Tuesday with Mitt Romney, a candidate for secretary of State who is distrusted and almost universally opposed by the president-elect’s inner circle.

The possibility of Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president and a former governor of Massachusetts, joining the Cabinet has set off an unusual skirmish in Trump World that has become a public spectacle.

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Opponents of choosing Romney say it would be a mistake to reward someone who was such a harsh critic of Trump during the campaign. Some have even called it a betrayal.

But others argue that Romney’s presence in the Cabinet would not only build a bridge to the Republican establishment but also give Trump a powerful ally for enacting his agenda.

Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, is supportive of Romney, according to a source familiar with private conversations between the RNC chairman and the president-elect. Vice President-elect Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceCruz outspending other senators on Facebook ads: report Trump spokesman says defeating Cheney a top priority GOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories MORE appears to be caught in the middle.

“Mike is supporting Romney but he also supports Rudy,” said a source close to Pence. “He has only positive things to say about both.”

But Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager, has been on the warpath against Romney.

On television and on Twitter in recent days, Conway has raised doubts about Romney’s loyalty and even questioned whether he could perform the basic duties of a secretary of State.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani, who campaigned for Trump, is angling for the secretary of State job, telling confidants after the election that it was the only position he wanted.

Giuliani has the advantage of unwavering loyalty to Trump. He alone went on the Sunday shows as a Trump surrogate following the leak of the “Access Hollywood” tape where Trump talked of grabbing women.

Other names floated for secretary of State include former CIA Director David Petraeus, who resigned and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges after sharing classified documents with his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.

Trump is meeting another potential top contender for State on Tuesday: Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and was supportive of Trump throughout his campaign.

Despite the public debate, the personnel decision remains shrouded in mystery.

Many in the conservative movement aren’t in regular contact with Trump and are relying on public statements from Conway and other Trump loyalists like Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee to divine the president-elect’s intentions.

Two conservative leaders whom The Hill spoke to on Monday privately wondered whether the Trump campaign has orchestrated an elaborate plot to humiliate Romney.

Another source working with Trump on the transition speculated that the Romney talk could be “one of the great head fakes.”

On a conference call Monday morning, Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller was asked why the president-elect needed to see Romney a second time.

“The president-elect is really taking these meetings very seriously,” said Miller. “He wants to make sure that he’s making the absolute best decision for all of the different positions where folks may be joining the administration.

“And also, too, I think with the case of Gov. Romney, the two quite frankly haven’t spent that much time together.

“This gives them a little more time to do so.”

Many conservative leaders think the Romney deliberations are real — or at least real enough to warrant pre-emptive fire.

“The very idea of Mitt Romney as Secretary of State — or any other cabinet position in a Trump administration — is a slap to his supporters,” wrote Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, in a statement Monday.

“I understand the business about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, but this isn’t the movies.

“Romney personifies everything that’s wrong about the establishment. He has no respect for Trump and even less for his supporters.”

Romney enraged Trump and his loyalists during the campaign when he condemned the businessman as lacking the qualifications, temperament and character to serve in the nation’s highest office.

With Trump strengthening his grip on the pathway to the party’s nomination in March, Romney used his first major speech on the 2016 race to blast Trump as a “phony, a fraud” who is playing Americans for “suckers.”

Later, he promoted strategic voting meant to deny Trump the majority of Republican delegates and throw the nomination to an open convention.

While it’s not surprising that conservatives would be opposed to Romney — many of them distrusted him when he was the GOP nominee — the public lobbying by Trump aides is something altogether different.

“It’s unusual to have members of the president-elect’s staff debating the merits of candidates for major Cabinet positions in public,” said Charlie Black, a Republican with impeccable establishment credentials whose old firm did lobbying work for the Trump Organization for more than a decade.

In an interview with The Hill in his D.C. office on Monday, Black said he’s been encouraged by Trump’s Cabinet picks so far, but hoped that the president-elect would limit his tweeting, particularly after the recent message where Trump claimed widespread voter fraud.

Asked whether Trump’s actions so far in the transition were making Republican insiders uneasy, Black said, “Republicans inside the Beltway are just generally uneasy because they don’t know Trump, and they don’t know what to expect, and very few people have the insight of how he operates.”