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President-elect Donald Trump is having a heckuva time deciding on who to nominate as secretary of State. It began with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s insistence that he wanted and deserves the job as payback for the yeoman work he did for candidate Trump when many leading Republicans were, shall we say, less than enthusiastic in their support of his fellow New Yorker. The mayor is an up-front sort of fellow, but trying to force a new president’s hand as he did is not always the best approach for a cabinet wannabe who might have a hard time being confirmed.
At any rate, Mr. Trump began interviewing others for the job as well and before much time had passed reporters were suggesting that just about anyone who boarded the elevator at Trump Towers was there to be interviewed for the job. Mr. Trump’s problem is that everyone being mentioned either knows little about the job or has more detractors than supporters outside the interview room. At the outset, former State Department official and U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was assumed to be on the short list. Mr. Bolton is incredibly popular with the conservative base, was a protege of both former Secretary of State James Baker and the late North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, served honorably in the administrations of both Bushes and Ronald Reagan and has, arguably, spent a lifetime preparing for the job.
What’s more, Mr. Bolton wrote and spoke favorably of Mr. Trump before November 8 and would bring the sort of hard-headed realism to the job that Mr. Trump will need as he works to build a stronger but less adventurous foreign policy. He was apparently struck from the list because Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is upset that he not only supported the policies of his previous bosses, but has since refused to apologize for doing so, but is now scheduled to meet the president-elect before week’s end.
The Trump team’s most public flirtation has been with 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, but while Mr. Bolton may have one strategically placed senator preparing to deny him the job, millions of dedicated Trump supporters including a few who ride the elevator to those interviews with job seekers believe appointing a man who didn’t just oppose their man during the campaign, but did so in a vicious personal manner would be a huge political mistake. Still, Mr. Romney has heavy support from the Republican establishment many of whom see his appointment as a way the president-elect could let the nation’s elites know he cares as much or more about them as about those who voted for him.
Should Romney be passed over establishment support will no doubt go to Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, but most conservatives viewed the way in which he acted as an enabler for Mr. Obama’s Iran deal while undermining the Senate’s institutional ability to thwart similar deals in the future as disqualifying.
And then there’s Gen. David Petraeus, a military man of great talent, who like Hillary Clinton has had his problems dealing with classified materials. Mr. Petraeus made his bones in the Middle East on the battlefield, but stumbled at the CIA, had to resign after sharing secrets with his mistress and pleading guilty to crimes minuscule in comparison with those Mrs. Clinton was to commit later with impunity. Those problems could plague him if has to face Senate confirmation, but are not as serious as some of the substantive positions he’s taken as he’s worked hard to rehabilitate his public image.
Although the man had rarely addressed domestic issues many conservatives assumed he was one of their own until he finally joined forces with former Astronaut Mark Kelly who serves as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s point man in his jihad against the Second Amendment to form something called The Veterans Coalition for Common Sense to fight for the “common sense” firearms restrictions so loved by Mr. Bloomberg, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama. He entered the fray with an impassioned plea for more gun control in June as Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton were squaring off on guns, which tells one a bit about his issues and political priorities.
Some have argued that this shouldn’t matter as a secretary of state has little to do with such issues. Those who take this position are simply wrong. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama helped negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty that established an international civilian gun control framework which, based on what Mr. Petraeus has said, won’t trouble him at all. The treaty has been signed, but not ratified. A President Trump could withdraw that signature or his State Department could continue to play patty-cake with Mr. Bloomberg’s international friends pursuant to advice from the next secretary of State.
After Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolton meet, the president-elect should consider putting him back on a list that doesn’t include Mr. Petraeus.
• David A. Keene is Opinion editor at The Washington Times and the former president of the National Rifle Association.
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