In choosing key members of his administration, President-elect Donald Trump is also choosing a tone and direction.
That is why this is such a closely watched, and worrisome transition. We are getting our first look at the true Trump — the man who will be the free world’s leader, and whose decisions and diplomacy will affect us personally and impact the stature of our country. This is when we begin to find out what the future holds.
So far, Trump’s selections have held to the tenor of his candidacy. Our unpredictable future president has veered from dismayingly tone-deaf in selecting far-right media executive Steve Bannon for chief strategist; to decidedly hard-line in choosing retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis for Secretary of Defense, who already enjoys broad bipartisan support; to interestingly open for tapping South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for United Nations ambassador.
Two Republicans with strong political ties to our state, Mitt Romney and Scott Brown, would bring needed credentials to the president-elect’s inner circle.
Both are principled, experienced and — particularly in Brown’s case — well matched to the offices they seek.
Romney, awaiting Trump’s decision on whom to nominate for Secretary of State, brought business stringency and an overall firm, steady hand to the Massachusetts governorship from 2003 to 2007. Though his policies and fiscal conservatism often met resistance in this blue state, he steadily showed determination, cooperation, dignity and reserve.
He also helmed Massachusetts’ landmark health care reform law of 2006. The complex and largely successful reforms, aimed at getting nearly all Massachusetts residents insured, helped set the stage for the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. (Sadly, it seems, Trump will not be seeking Romney’s counsel on that subject.)
Romney’s ardency is balanced by a measured style and poised public speaking. And like incumbent Secretary of State John Kerry, former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Romney possesses a combination of personableness and seriousness that is essential for the world stage.
Romney’s emphatic words last March — “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.” — still ring with the mention of his name. For many, and no doubt Romney to some extent, they also still ring with truth. If the past year has proved anything, it’s how strange the political game can be. That harsh political stance would seem to preclude Romney’s candidacy for a top cabinet post, but evidently, and reassuringly, it hasn’t.
It would be a strong point in Trump’s favor for him to bring on the well-rounded Romney, who now resides in Utah. The short list of other potentially more-problematic Secretary of State candidates is said to include former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-CIA Director David Petraeus. The former, though energetic and still on the radar, has failed in not being critical enough of Trump; and Petraeus’ character is marred by serious scandal involving an extramarital affair and mishandling of classified material.
Meanwhile, Scott Brown is eminently qualified to serve as Veterans Affairs secretary. The U.S. Senator from Massachusetts from 2010 to 2013, and longtime state senator — he now lives in New Hampshire — was an effective and focused statesman. Having learned the political ropes in a largely Democratic state, he touted his independent streak in his runs for U.S. Senate, and indeed showed a knack for teamwork in his political roles over the years.
Undeniably burnishing his credentials is that he has advocated for veterans across his career, and served in the National Guard for 35 years, until 2014.
Brown is an excellent candidate for the VA position in his own right, and especially in comparison to the person said to be his competition, Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate is too much the opportunist, with no military service or other standout qualities to recommend her to Trump beyond her steady support of his candidacy.
Brown’s endorsement Thursday by his liberal former rival Elizabeth Warren, who won Brown’s U.S. Senate seat in his 2012 reelection bid, is further reason for Trump to choose him. In addition to the considerable credentials Brown would bring to the Department of Veterans Affairs, he would carry to Trump’s Cabinet the backing of a high-profile and well-regarded Democrat.
“Listen, if Scott Brown is the nominee for Veterans Affairs, I have no doubt that he would put his heart and soul into trying to help veterans,” Warren said on WGBH News’ Boston Public Radio.
Trump would be wise to take advantage of opportunities to ease divisiveness, in order to build the beginnings of wider support and sense of common purpose that invisibly, but immeasurably, aid any presidency.
Winning the White House has given him breathtaking responsibility. Previously, the blustery office-seeker and billionaire attention-seeker, Trump now rises to a task that, to do right by, would be daunting for any but the best among us.
After a bitter and often bizarre election, the president-elect’s initial choices are a tense test. It’s little wonder that these always-awkward weeks have piqued the world’s interest.
The people Trump surrounds himself with will be instrumental to his success or failure and to the furtherance of the country’s precious founding principles. He needs to pick leaders who have long done the hard practical work that advances the democracy, diversity and might of our country. Such people, to borrow from Warren’s words about Brown, put their heart and soul into America.
More than he may realize, the self-billed ultimate outsider needs some ultimate insiders to guide and advise him. We feel Romney and Brown are solid choices for Trump’s still-forming circle.