PALM BEACH, United States: As families across a bitterly divided America gathered for Thanksgiving, a battle erupted on Thursday (Friday in Manila) in Donald Trump’s camp over his pick for secretary of state, with loyalists seeking to block the path of Mitt Romney, a fierce former critic of the billionaire.
With the president-elect hunkered down at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the holiday weekend — from where he urged the country to unite after a “painful” campaign — his team appears split over the prospect of making Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, America’s top diplomat.
Some of Trump’s staunchest supporters have united to oppose naming a man who called the real estate magnate a “fraud” and a “conman” during the campaign, when he helped lead the party establishment’s drive to sideline him.
But the other leading choice for top diplomat, outspoken former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani — one of Trump’s loudest supporters from early in his campaign — has drawn scrutiny for business dealings that could pose conflicts of interest.
“I am working hard, even on Thanksgiving,” Trump tweeted on Thursday, saying he was seeking to persuade an Indiana air-conditioning company, Carrier Corp, to remain in the United States.
But his transition team said there will be no new cabinet announcements until at least on Friday (Saturday in Manila).
Opposition to Romney
Despite his lack of experience in foreign policy, Giuliani, 72, has openly lobbied for secretary of state, telling Trump’s advisers he is interested in no other position, The New York Times reported.
However, Giuliani’s candidacy has drawn attention to business dealings with foreign governments that may rule him out.
Picking Romney — who lost the White House race to Barack Obama four years ago — would reassure the Republican establishment and US allies worried about Trump’s foreign policy.
But the businessman and former Massachusetts governor who savaged Trump’s candidacy during the campaign also publicly differs from him on Russia, a leading foreign policy challenge.
While the president-elect has praised President Vladimir Putin, promising to improve strained relations with Moscow, Romney has called Russia America’s “number-one geopolitical foe.”
Trump’s close aide Kellyanne Conway cast further doubt on his suitability on Thursday in what appeared to be a bad sign for Romney.
“Receiving deluge of social media & private comms re: Romney,” she tweeted. “Some Trump loyalists warn against Romney as sec of state.”
Among them, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, another staunch Trump supporter, expressed skepticism that Romney would represent “the kind of tough-minded, America-first policies that Trump has campaigned on.”
“I can think of 20 other people who would be more naturally compatible with the Trump vision of foreign policy,” he told Fox News.
Gingrich was joined by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who told Fox News he was “still very unhappy that Mitt did everything he could to derail Donald Trump.”
Victory for conservatives
Trump has so far nominated mainly older white men for his future administration, representing tough, right-wing lines on immigration, Islamic extremism and other issues. They include Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Michael Flynn as national security adviser and Stephen Bannon as chief strategist.
Trump moved to broaden his cabinet’s base on Wednesday, nominating two women, including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley — whose parents are Sikh immigrants from India — as US ambassador to the United Nations.
Haley is a Tea Party conservative with no foreign policy experience, while Trump’s choice of billionaire Betsy DeVos — a fierce advocate of alternatives to local public schooling — for education represents another victory for social conservatives.
Trump is widely expected to name the tough-talking retired Marine Corps general James “Mad Dog” Mattis as defense secretary on Friday.
Trump is also expected to pick his former primary rival Ben Carson — an African American former neurosurgeon and religious conservative — as secretary of housing and urban development.
Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, is tipped for Treasury secretary, and according to the Financial Times the billionaire Wilbur Ross could be in line for the strategic post of commerce secretary.
With Americans still coming to terms with Trump’s shock win on November 8, the former Green Party candidate Jill Stein announced Thursday that her party has raised the necessary $1.1 million to request a vote recount in the key battleground of Wisconsin, and is on track to seek one in two other Rust Belt states.
The Midwestern state of Wisconsin was a key battleground in helping to propel Trump to victory. The billionaire also won swing state Pennsylvania, and claimed a razor-thin victory in Michigan according to unofficial results released on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
The request comes amid mounting pressure from liberals to challenge the results of an election marked by fears of foreign hacking and — from the Trump camp — of vote rigging.
Although it is not expected to change the outcome, the demands could reignite debate over the legitimacy of Trump’s election, already fueled by Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote that now stands at two million.