Republican foreign policy veterans are newly alarmed over the emerging shape of Donald Trump’s national security team, after signs that Trump is passing over well-regarded establishment figures in favor of controversial and less experienced political allies including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a likely Secretary of State pick.
After the initial shock of Trump’s election last Tuesday, some GOP elites had consoled themselves over early talk that the New York real estate mogul might choose for the most sensitive posts in his government several well-known centrists with conventional views who might temper Trump’s boldest impulses.
But that mood has darkened sharply since the weekend. In recent days Trump aides have signaled that Giuliani—who has no formal diplomatic experience and who critics say is tangled in conflicts of interest—may run the State Department. Another contender for that post is former John Bolton, a contentious figure whom even a Republican Senate refused to confirm when George W. Bush tapped him to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005. (Bolton was installed at the U.N. by recess appointment).
Meanwhile, several well-regarded figures such as former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who was ousted from Trump’s transition team on Tuesday, are no longer seen as being in play for senior jobs.
As a seven-term Congressman from Michigan, Rogers was widely respected, even among many Democrats—a potential reason he was shown the exit from Trump’s transition. The conservative Weekly Standard magazine noted on Tuesday that Rogers had overseen a 2014 House Intelligence Committee report into the September 2012 Benghazi attacks that angered conservatives with its conclusion that the Obama administration had not misled the public about that event. Other sources familiar with the transition said that Rogers had been purged for his connection to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was ousted last week as the head of Trump’s transition team.
Other foreign policy figures whom Republicans say would be natural choices for any other GOP president-elect are conspicuously absent from Trump campaign personnel leaks. They include Stephen Hadley, a centrist who served as George W. Bush’s national security advisor; outgoing New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, a leading GOP voice on defense and national security; and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, considered a temperate mainstream voice. Rogers had been in line for a top intelligence post, possibly CIA director.
“Last week people were buoyed that Hadley might be under consideration and Corker seemed to have a shot at Secretary of State,” said one disillusioned Republican with ties to the Trump transition, referring to open letters signed during the campaign by dozens of GOP foreign policy elites.
Now those fleeting hopes have been dashed, several sources said.
The growing understanding that Hadley is highly unlikely to join the Trump team was particularly deflating, sources said. Many establishment Republicans had pinned their hopes on a key role for Hadley, perhaps as Secretary of Defense, because he was among the most senior GOP foreign policy insiders not to publicly denounce Trump during the campaign, and because he inspires loyalty in GOP circles.
Many Republicans critical of Trump said they found it hard to imagine Giuliani or Bolton as America’s top diplomat.
Giuliani lacks traditional foreign policy experience, although he does enjoy Trump’s personal trust after serving as one of his staunchest campaign defenders, including after a tape of Trump making lewd comments threatened his candidacy.
After witnessing the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center when he was mayor of New York, Giuliani has been impassioned on the subject of Islamic terrorism to a degree that makes even many hawkish Republicans uncomfortable.
“I said ‘Islamic extremist terrorism!’” Giuliani cried at the Republican National Convention this summer in a speech many noted for its bellowing delivery. “You know who you are! And we’re coming to get you!”
Corker, by contrast, has rarely been heard to raise his voice, a quality far more typical for a prominent diplomat.
Several Republicans conceded that Bolton has a strong grasp of foreign policy and diplomacy, drawn from a long State Department career that included his tenure at the U.N. But many are turned off by his contentious manner.
Republicans also noted that Giuliani has had numerous business dealings abroad, including in the Middle East, that will draw sharp scrutiny. Both Giuliani and Bolton have reportedly taken money from and supported the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian political-military organization that advocates the violent overthrow of Iran’s clerical regime but which was considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. until 2012.
Top Republicans also expressed strong doubts about the fitness of other inner circle Trump advisors to hold top foreign policy positions, including the retired General Michael Flynn, who has been mentioned as a possible national security advisor.
To Trump’s allies, the complaints from the GOP establishment are a sign that he is on the right path.
During his first major foreign policy speech in April, Trump vowed that he would “look for talented experts with new approaches, and practical ideas, rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect resumes but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.”
But many elder statesmen of the foreign policy world have grown alarmed that Trump’s team will not be prepared for the dangers of the increasingly unstable world they will inherit.
At a Monday meeting of the elite Aspen Strategy Group, Brent Scowcroft, who served as George H.W. Bush’s national security advisor—and who endorsed Hillary Clinton—urged attendees, “If you’re asked to serve, please do. This man needs help.”
For many Republican insiders, that does not seem to an option. Republicans who might be stepping into plum jobs under a president Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio say it is becoming clear that Trump and his opaque inner circle don’t seem hungry for establishment expertise.
“They’ve got a quality gap they have to close. And if you pick someone like Kelly Ayotte you’re going to get people who think, ‘You know what? [Trump] wasn’t my guy, but he’s president, he’s making good personnel choices. I feel like I can go and work for her,’ ” said a former senior Republican foreign policy official.
“None of that is happening,” he added.
“No one—literally not a single Republican I know, and I know a lot of Republicans—is talking to that tiny inner circle” in Trump tower, said one former George W. Bush administration foreign policy official. “That’s because the Trump people don’t want to talk.”
Evidence for that came Tuesday from Eliot A. Cohen, a former aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. An adamant opponent during the campaign, Cohen had urged fellow Republicans after the election to consider serving Trump in the national interest. But on Twitter Tuesday, Cohen reversed course.
“After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away,” Cohen wrote. “They’re angry, arrogant, screaming “you LOST!” Will be ugly.”
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