National Security

NeverTrumpers change their tune

Republican NeverTrumpers are starting to come around.

During the course of the campaign, President-elect Donald Trump encountered unprecedented amounts of animosity from within his own party, largely over concerns that he would undermine American security and its role on the global stage.

{mosads}But more than three weeks after Election Day, some of the same forces that once opposed him are beginning to reckon with the reality of a soon-to-be President Trump, and deciding that it’s better to work with the future commander in chief than against him.

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is under consideration for secretary of State, is the most prominent Republican whose heated criticism of Trump has turned into praise.

Months ago, Romney excoriated Trump as a “fraud” and “con man” whose “foreign policies would make America and the world less safe.”

Now, he has now spent multiple hours trying to win a spot in Trump’s cabinet, offering increasingly flattering praise.

After an elaborate dinner with Trump and future White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus this week, Romney claimed that he was “impressed” by Trump’s behavior since the election and has “increasing hope” that he “is the very man who can lead us to that better future.”

Romney is far from the only one. 

In September, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling Trump “beyond repair” and “unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.”

This week, he visited Trump Tower twice, as part of what appears to be Trump’s ongoing effort to fill out his cabinet.

“I’m hoping I was wrong,” he said on Wednesday, the day before his first Trump Tower visit, on CBS’s “This Morning.”

“It’s critical for us, now that he is president-elect, for him to be successful as president,” added Gates, who led the Pentagon under Presidents Bush and Obama.

Earlier this year, former counterterrorism official Fran Townsend signed an open letter claiming that Trump would “use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world.”

This week, she too met with Trump in New York, and is under consideration to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

The meetings are part of a broader shift. While not universal, sizable numbers of Republican national security experts are beginning to come to grips with the idea of working for the future president. 

“I hope that members of the Republican foreign policy community, even those who were critical during the election season, will be willing to serve and that the Trump administration will welcome them,” Matthew Kroenig, a former advisor to several GOP presidential hopefuls who also signed the letter, said in an email.

“The American people have chosen President-elect Trump to be the U.S. commander in chief for at least the next four years, and the country will be best served if he is supported by the country’s top national security experts.”

Several Republicans who had previously derided Trump said that they were growing increasingly heartened by his selections for key cabinet roles.

“The people who are being selected to go into important cabinet positions are responsible conservatives, and that suggests to me that the president-elect will govern as a responsible conservative,” said Seth Cropsey, a former Defense official now at the Hudson Institute. Cropsey also signed the letter critical of Trump, which garnered a total of 122 signatures.

In particular, Trump has been praised for his selection of Gen. James Mattis for secretary of Defense as well as Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) to lead the CIA and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has previously criticized Trump, to be the U.S.’s ambassador at the United Nations.

“I don’t see that these are shrinking violets who are going to be spear carriers for him,” said Roger Noriega, the former assistant secretary of State for the western hemisphere, who had criticized Trump during the campaign.

“It seems to be it’s going to be a very dynamic process of foreign policy-making with some very serious people, and will serve up some good options for the president,” he added. 

The ultimate decision about secretary of State is likely to be incredibly telling about how Trump wants to run his administration.

While well regarded by establishment Republicans, the former Massachusetts governor is largely detested by the populist base that boosted Trump to power.

At Trump’s first post-election rally this week, supporters repeatedly yelled “No Romney!” in an effort to sway the president-elect. Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump advisor throughout the campaign, clearly articulated the inner turmoil over the decision in recent days, when she took to TV news shows and Twitter to make the case against Romney.

Trump has also been considering former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) to lead the State Department, though many raised their eyebrows at his lack of foreign policy experience and aggressive personality.

As alternatives, Trump is also considering Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and former CIA Director David Petraeus, who resigned in disgrace and was later convicted of handing classified information to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.

Several former national security officials remain unconvinced by Trump’s early moves, even though they acknowledge them as a potentially positive step.

“President-elect Trump has obviously had inconsistent positions on big issues,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noting the president-elect’s wavering stances on Russia, Syria and Iran, among others. “So until you develop some consistency there, this is a guessing game.”

Others remain resistant.

Eliot Cohen, a former State Department official who helped to coordinate the letter against Trump this spring, initially encouraged conservatives to warm to Trump, before reversing his position in a Washington Post op-ed

Working with Trump at this early stage, he wrote in November, “would carry a high risk of compromising one’s integrity and reputation.”

“Conservative political types should not volunteer to serve in this administration, at least for now.”


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