Donald Trump's top advisers 'trying to intimidate him' over Secretary of State pick

By Sam Clench

President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, where on January 20 he will take the oath and assume office. Photo / AP
President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, where on January 20 he will take the oath and assume office. Photo / AP

Donald Trump's inner circle has gone rogue.

In an "extraordinary" move, several of the President-elect's closest confidants, including his former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, are publicly undermining his deliberations over the still-vacant Secretary of State job in his administration.

Trump is reportedly considering two candidates for the role: former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who supported him throughout this year's election campaign; and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who was one of Trump's harshest critics.

Conway clearly believes her boss should reward the more loyal candidate. In a series of interviews with CNN, ABC and NBC today, she repeatedly pressured Trump to pick Giuliani.

President-elect Donald Trump and Mitt Romney shake hands. Will Romney, who has previously called Trump "a phony, a fraud" become the next Secretary of State? Photo / AP
President-elect Donald Trump and Mitt Romney shake hands. Will Romney, who has previously called Trump "a phony, a fraud" become the next Secretary of State? Photo / AP

"We don't even know if Mitt Romney voted for Donald Trump," Conway told ABC. "So I think there are concerns that those of us who are loyal have. You want a Secretary of State who is loyal to the President and loyal to the President's view of the world.

"We're all for party unity. I don't think the cost of admission for party unity has to be the Secretary of State position."


Over on NBC, she claimed there had been a grassroots backlash against the prospect of Romney becoming America's top diplomat among Trump's supporters.

"I'm not campaigning against anyone, I'm just a concerned citizen. I'm not campaigning against Mitt Romney," Conway said.

"I am just astonished at the breathtaking volume and intensity of blowback that I see, just as one person close to the President-elect.


"People feel betrayed to think that Governor Romney, who went out of his way to question the character and the intellect and the integrity of Donald Trump, would be given the most significant Cabinet post of all."

Joining Conway in the very public crusade was former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who lost to Romney in the 2012 presidential primaries and is now a close adviser to Trump.

"I think there's nothing that Mitt Romney can say that doesn't sound phony and frankly pathetic," Gingrich told Fox News. "Speaking for most of the Trump supporters, while we will support President-elect Trump and whatever he does, I think we would be enormously disappointed if he brought Mitt Romney into any position of authority."

Giuliani himself has also gone on the record, saying he's the best candidate for the job and isn't interested in any other position within the administration. Romney has said nothing at all since his meeting with Trump more than a week ago.

President-elect Donald Trump and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliana, an early Trump backer, was predicted to earn a big role on Trump's cabinet. Photo / AP
President-elect Donald Trump and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliana, an early Trump backer, was predicted to earn a big role on Trump's cabinet. Photo / AP

The high profile interference from Trump's top advisers in the President-elect's decision-making is virtually unprecedented. According to America's political experts, there are two possible explanations:

1. Trump is secretly orchestrating it. He has told Conway and others to publicly trash Romney in an effort to humiliate his former nemesis;

2. The advisers really have gone rogue in an effort to stop Trump from giving Romney a job in the administration.

Both explanations are disturbing, in their own way. If the first is correct, it suggests Trump is a vindictive grudge-holder with no real intention of reaching out to his critics within the Republican Party. If the second is correct, it means the President-elect's authority is already being openly undermined by his own staff. You choose which option is worse.

Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager and adviser. Photo / AP
Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager and adviser. Photo / AP

"I think this Romney dust-up is really a proxy for his loyalists wanting a cut of the action they think they're due," Weekly Standard writer Jay Cost said today.

"It is beyond the pale for staffers to try to box the PEOTUS (President-elect of the United States) by talking to the public in such a direct way.

"What worries me is Conway's boldness. She knows she can do this and Trump won't mind. That's a bad sign."

David Axelrod, who was the chief strategist for Barack Obama's presidential campaigns, struck a similar note.

"I have never, EVER, seen any aide to a POTUS or PEOTUS publicly try and box the boss in like this. Extraordinary," Axelrod said. "I wonder if Donald Trump appreciates being manipulated in public like this?"

Perhaps the harshest reaction of all came from MSNBC host and former Republican politician Joe Scarborough.

Mitt Romney talking to media after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. Photo / AP
Mitt Romney talking to media after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. Photo / AP

"Rudy tells the world what position he will and will not accept from Trump while Kellyanne attacks Trump's choices in public. Wow," he said.

"Giuliani and Conway are trying to intimidate the President-elect. How weak do they think he is? Their lack of discretion is embarrassing.

"Now all world leaders will be watching to see if a President Trump can be bullied by his staff. How sad and pathetic if he can."

President-elect Donald Trump boards his plane at Palm Beach International Airport. Photo / AP
President-elect Donald Trump boards his plane at Palm Beach International Airport. Photo / AP

To be fair, Trump's loyalists do have plenty of reasons to mistrust Romney, who spent much of this year actively trying to deny Trump the presidency. In March, he staged a public intervention of his own, excoriating Trump and splitting the Republican Party down the middle.

"Let me put it plainly. If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished," Romney said.

"I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channelled that anger, and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good.

"Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants, he calls for the use of torture and for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit first amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.

"His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.

"Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers - he gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

When Trump eventually claimed the Republican nomination, Romney led attempts to recruit another conservative candidate to run against him as an independent in the general election.

That effort ultimately failed to produce a viable contender - and Trump became the President-elect.

- news.com.au

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