President-elect speaks with Taiwan’ leader in a break from the US’ “one China” policy triggering protest from Beijing.
At Trump Tower, the Manhattan headquarters of the next president of the United States, Kellyanne Conway emerges from the gold lift doors with some news.
US President-elect Donald Trump is no longer considering only four people for secretary of state, the crown jewel in cabinet-level appointments at the White House. The list is growing, according to Conway.
“It’s a big decision and nobody should rush through it,” says Trump’s former campaign manager and senior adviser.
Up until Sunday, the talk focused largely on two contenders: former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Trump has paraded the two men in front of the media like contestants on his hit reality-TV series, The Apprentice. But Conway’s remarks open the possibility that Trump is now backing off those picks in favour of other people.
Still, many Trump supporters know who they want.
“I like Rudy,” says Julie Pickering, 51, a retired registered nurse from Mississippi, hanging out in the busy lobby of Trump Tower. “He stood by Trump and deserves that position.”
“You want people who will be with you through the good times and the bad times,” says Angela Bounds, 53, a retired financial adviser.
“You never saw Rudy Giuliani turn his back on Donald, no matter how many times the media reported negative and fake news about Donald.”
That’s not the case, they say, with Romney, who ran for president in 2012. Both women campaigned for him during his bid for the White House but they were “shocked” when he came out in March and denounced Trump.
“If we, the Republicans, choose Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” Romney told an audience in Salt Lake City.
“Trump tells us that he is very, very smart. I’m afraid that when it comes to foreign policy, he is very, very not smart.”
It was a brutal takedown of the man who would win the election and led to a mea culpa of sorts from Romney himself last week in New York.
The Republican, who lost to US President Barack Obama in 2012, dined with the man who will replace President Obama and emerged from dinner with a completely different tone.
“I happen to think that America’s best days are ahead of us,” he told reporters at Trump Tower. He said the meeting filled him with “increasing hope that President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us to that better future”.
Indeed, the choice of secretary of state will be key in this administration and anyone seeking the position got a taste recently of how challenging it truly will be under Trump.
On Friday, Trump broke decades of protocol and took a call from the Taiwan president, sparking a diplomatic firestorm that upset the Chinese government which lodged a formal protest.
China considers neighbouring Taiwan a province and the US has abided by its wishes for 37 years, by having no formal direct government-to-government relations with Taipei in an effort to maintain good ties with communist China.
No US president or president-elect has spoken to or had direct talks with any Taiwanese president during that time.
Anthony Arend, a professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University, calls the Taiwan exchange “troubling”. He also believes Giuliani would be a disastrous pick.
“He seems to bring the ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ approach that Trump himself has,” argues Arend. “If anything, we need a secretary who comes across as thoughtful, consistent, trustworthy and predictable.”
Romney, in Arend’s opinion, is that person.
“Having lived abroad for over two years when he was younger, he also knows the importances of understanding different cultures and the role culture plays in international politics.
“He would also likely be able to bring into the state department many of the traditional Republican foreign policy experts that had previously indicated that they would not support Trump.”
Other names that are reportedly in the mix include former CIA director General David Petraeus, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China.
Both Bounds and Pickering believe Trump will make the right choice in the end. Still, Bounds adds, “I just wouldn’t trust Mitt Romney.”