Donald Trump's dramatic search for a secretary of state

Romney and Trump meet for dinner
Romney and Trump meet for dinner


    Romney and Trump meet for dinner


Romney and Trump meet for dinner 02:00

Story highlights

  • Trump dined with Romney and Reince Priebus Tuesday night
  • He has four contenders for the secretary of state job, a critical one for a President-elect with no foreign policy experience

(CNN)Donald Trump is presiding over Survivor, State Department edition.

The destiny of US diplomacy is coming down to a process of elimination between Republican giants Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani -- and two others, possibly including retired General David Petraeus.
There was high drama and haute cuisine in the latest twist of intrigue Tuesday night, when Trump and Romney appeared for dinner at the three Michelin-starred Jean Georges restaurant in Manhattan.
    The moment was true to Trump's penchant for reality show politics, his impresario's love of drama and flair for publicity, that will introduce a new dimension to the theatrical side of the presidency next year.
    It's not only Washington captivated by Trump's showmanship. The rest of the world, confused and concerned by his pronouncements on the campaign trail, hopes the identity of the new secretary of state will provide clues as to how the new president will wield US power.
    But this show has a few more episodes yet.
    "At this point, the secretary of state position has been narrowed down to four candidates," Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Wednesday.
    "There is no timetable set. It will be when President-elect Trump decides who his finalist will be," Spicer said, making no attempt to play down the melodramatic nature of the last-man-standing duel for State.
    No announcements on the job are expected this week. But if Romney eventually secures the prize, which could be more influential than normal given Trump's own lack of foreign policy experience, Tuesday's tete-a-tete will go down in history as the "Frog Legs Summit."
    Chaperoned by incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the two former rivals who could become the unlikeliest of colleagues dined on the French delicacy as well as prime Sirloin steak, lamb chops and chocolate cake.
    If Trump was looking for a sign of contrition from Romney after his biting attacks during the campaign, he got it. Though the defeated 2012 GOP nominee didn't grovel, he was extraordinarily effusive about Trump after being a leading member of the #NeverTrump movement during the campaign.
    Romney said afterwards that his second meeting with Trump since the election had been "enlightening and interesting and engaging."
    Perhaps playing on Trump's competitive streak, Romney pointed out that -- unlike himself -- his host was a general election winner and poured praise on the President-elect's accelerating transition effort and cabinet appointments.
    President-elect Donald Trump and Mitt Romney dine at Jean Georges restaurant, November 29, 2016 in New York City.
    One pool photo from the restaurant, at a Trump hotel, showed the billionaire President-elect grinning and the multi-millionaire Romney looking somewhat pained.
    CNN Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who installed himself in the restaurant before the three men arrived to a round of applause, said that the conversation was warm, animated, punctuated by frequent smiles and lacked any of the previous animosity between Romney and Trump.
    One reason why the thought of Romney at Foggy Bottom was initially considered so far fetched was his fierce denunciation of Trump as a con man during the campaign -- comments that the President-elect repaid by branding Romney a "choker" who walked "like a penguin."
    Both men have calculations to make. From Trump's point of view, can he trust Romney to share his worldview, and to be a team player, given that he would come into the job with his own power base and reputation?
    Romney must consider whether the drama of the audition process -- which has seen top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway trash him on television as an insult to her President-elect's anti-establishment supporters -- is a bad omen for how his time in the Trump administration could unfold.
    And he must also wonder whether his foreign policy outlook -- a hawkish stance on Russia for instance -- is compatible with Trump's clear admiration for President Vladimir Putin.
    Romney, a man who prides himself on dutiful conduct and a certain formality, might also wonder if he is being used by Trump.
    Should he not get the job, his weeks of being paraded before the cameras at Trump's properties in New Jersey and in New York might come to be seen as humiliating.
    Trump advisers have declined to handicap the race for secretary of state. Beyond Romney, Giuliani and Petraeus, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, who met Trump Tuesday, is also being mentioned as a possibility. Petraeus impressed the President-elect during a meeting at Trump Tower on Monday.
    Corker demurred Wednesday when asked whether he'd be a good fit for the Trump administration. But he praised the transition team for "getting different prototypes" in front of the President-elect.
    "It's a decision only he can make .... he's got to find someone he's really, really comfortable with," Corker said.
    The lingering diplomatic psychodrama means more torment for Giuliani.
    A vehement defender of Trump during the campaign, "America's mayor" at one point had seemed a shoo-in for secretary of state e as a payback for his loyalty.
    But sources have told CNN that there is also concern about a possibly bruising confirmation fight that could given Guiliani's web of business interests abroad.
    And Trump may also have been irritated by Giuliani's campaigning for the job on television.
    There are also suggestions that both Vice President Mike Pence and Priebus favor Romney -- although it's not clear how far either will go on prevailing on Trump to pick him.
    Thickening the plot, John Bolton, the former US permanent representative to the United Nations, was seen arriving at transition headquarters in Washington for a meeting with Pence on Wednesday. Some national security conservatives have been pushing Bolton for secretary of state.
    Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice showed up at the transition offices as well.
    The protracted theatrics over the top State Department job contrast with the brisk efficiency of the rest of the Trump transition, which after an erratic start has now moved into high gear.
    In recent days, the President-elect has allocated the top jobs at the Treasury, Commerce and Transportation departments, allowing his nominees to get ready for confirmation hearings early next year.
    He also appears to be moving forward on an effort to separate himself from his vast business empire to avoid conflicts of interest -- though it remains unclear how far he will go.
    Still, the duality of Trump's political character has been on show.
    His tirades on Twitter, as recently as Tuesday when he challenged constitutional norms on flag burning, suggest he is not going to change his political persona as President.
    But Trump's deliberations over the secretary of state post -- and the caliber of his assumed candidates -- hint at a genuine desire to find a nominee with stature in Washington and abroad, and a developed worldview.
    Trump, however, isn't quite ready to quit orchestrating intrigue.
    Asked by Acosta Tuesday if he was walking out of the restaurant with the next secretary of state, Trump replied: "Well, we are going to see what happens."