clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

With Huntsman in mix for secretary of state, will Romney be passed over?

FILE — Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Primary Children's & Families' Cancer Research Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Friday, June 6, 2014.
FILE — Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Primary Children's & Families' Cancer Research Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Friday, June 6, 2014.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — With former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. now being looked at by President-elect Donald Trump for secretary of state, it appears more likely that another contender for the post with Utah ties, Mitt Romney, will be passed over.

"This just shows you how nasty this business can be, if someone is chosen other than Mitt Romney," said Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Romney, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, was one of Trump's toughest critics during the campaign, using a March speech at the U. to label the billionaire businessman a phony and a fraud who would make America less safe.

But that didn't stop Trump from meeting with Romney twice since the election to talk about a potential role for him in the new administration, including at a high-profile dinner in a posh New York City restaurant last week.

Now, however, Trump is reportedly broadening his search for a secretary of state beyond Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former CIA director David Petraeus and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.

The decision to continue the search comes as key members of Trump's transition team, including his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, continue to say Trump's supporters would feel "betrayed" if Romney became secretary of state.

Perry said Trump could be sending "a very public and visual warning to anyone who crosses him." He said it would be a "real slight" for Romney to have been "publicly dangled out there the way he has been" and lose the job — especially to Huntsman.

Romney was chosen over Huntsman to take over the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. A decade later, both men ran for president, but Huntsman's White House bid was short-lived.

Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said Romney may end up "stuck in a strange no man's land" after reversing himself on Trump.

"Increasingly, it's looking like Romney will emerge as the biggest loser in all of this. If he's not chosen as secretary of state, he will have sacrificed his principled opposition to Trump," Karpowitz said.

Huntsman, whose name surfaced over the weekend as a possible pick, told Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo Monday that he was "greatly honored that my name is in the mix in an expanded large group of people."

The twice-elected governor said Trump's longer list means "he's taking this job very seriously, he's reviewing the candidates, looking at the issues, bringing in different voices who maybe see differently America's role of the world."

Huntsman said he had not yet met with the president-elect and had "no idea what lies ahead. … When your name is floated, there might be a follow-up call, there might not be. We'll have to wait and see."

The ambassador to Singapore under President Bill Clinton and to China under President Barack Obama told the Deseret News later Monday there was "nothing to report" about being considered for the position.

Last week, Huntsman acknowledged his interest in running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. He did not rule out getting in the 2018 race even if Hatch, who first won his seat in 1976, decides to seek an eighth term.

Hatch has been supportive of Romney for secretary of state, telling the Deseret News last month that he hoped "they can get together because these are two giants in the Republican Party, two giants in politics and they can help each other."

The senator said then he has talked with Trump about Romney and, "frankly, (Trump is) very high on Mitt. He wants to have a friendship there. I'm really pleased." Hatch has not commented on Huntsman as a possible secretary of state.

In a statement, Hatch's office said he "appreciates the thoughtful process President-elect Trump has undertaken to select a diverse and well-qualified cabinet, and has confidence he will continue to do so going forward.”

But Karpowitz said Huntsman's consideration coming so soon after he expressed interest in Hatch's seat "is very interesting timing, for sure." A Huntsman pick "would simultaneously be a blow to Romney and an assist to Hatch," he said.

The BYU political science professor said he didn't know "whether Hatch had a role" in Huntsman being considered, but he noted the senator would still face difficulties making another run even with Huntsman out of the race.

Hatch may continue to back Romney for secretary of state, a source with knowledge of the senator's conversations with Trump suggested.

The senator has had "a number of conversations with President-elect Trump that included secretary of state. They have discussed multiple candidates, but the one Hatch seems to be most favorable on is Mitt," the source said.

Other names reportedly under consideration by Trump for the top diplomatic post include former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson. It's not clear how soon a pick will be made.