Many of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters thought it was crazy that the president-elect met with Mitt Romney twice.
Maybe it was, instead, crazy like a fox.
Just like so many times during the campaign, some of us are playing checkers while Trump is playing chess. Here’s why I think there is a special psychology to President-elect Trump’s strategy with Romney. And here is why I believe there is no way he actually picks Romney as secretary of state, even though Romney is said to be on the short list and has had the most highly publicized meetings with Trump.
Romney was one of the most ardent enemies of candidate Trump during the race. He was solid in his disdain for the billionaire, rogue candidate. He was arguably the head of the octopus in the “Never Trump” movement.
In one of Romney’s only public speeches during the presidential campaign, Romney called Trump a “phony,” “fraud,” “con man” and “fake.”
“His domestic policies would lead to recession,” Romney added. “His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
Romney appeared on Fox News and demanded Trump release his taxes saying, “Either he’s not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is, or he hasn’t been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay. Or perhaps he hasn’t been giving money to the vets or the disabled, like he’s been telling us he’s been doing.”
Romney even went so far as to recruit a Utah Mormon, Evan McMullin, to run for president as an independent in an effort to cause Trump to lose the Republican state of Utah and possibly the Electoral College vote.
Looking back after the election, we now see Trump did not need Utah. Trump’s electoral win was so big, he could have lost Utah and Florida (the state every expert said Trump must win) and still won the presidency.
Romney now looks foolish and on the wrong side of history after Trump beat McMullin handily in Utah, outperformed Romney with every demographic and won six states that Romney couldn’t pull off in 2012.
After the election, President-elect Trump began meetings with potential Cabinet members, and Romney gladly accommodated, because it was his only shot at relevance other than “two-time loser for president.”
Trump knew exactly what he was doing, in my opinion.
He wants to silence the “Never Trump” movement entirely so he can act as president without the little dogs nipping at his heels.
Now that Romney has not only met with the president-elect in his home at Trump Tower, but has also dined with Trump at the most exquisite of his restaurants, how can Romney possibly criticize Trump ever again in the future?
Like a child, he wanted to punish, President-elect Trump knew that if Romney took the bait and came to these interludes, he would be asked about them afterward. Naturally, desperate to be relevant again through an appointment of some sort, Romney would praise the same Donald Trump he trashed and recruited against for the last year and a half.
Now imagine the position in which Romney finds himself. No matter what happens, if he ever says an unkind thing about President Trump or his family, Romney will look schizophrenic. First he hates him, then he praises him. He can’t go back to disparaging him now that Trump has put him in this position.
Crazy like a fox, indeed. Always playing chess while the rest of us are left scratching our heads and speculating about his demise with the American public.
Analysts like me are going to have to remember to go deeper, and sometimes to shut up and wait to comment, because Trump is likely strategizing again beyond the level of sophistication that many in media can even extrapolate.
He did it in his campaign over and over. How many times was he counted out because of a misstep or a hurdle that experts said he could never overcome?
Remember when he said he was going to “build a wall” and many concluded “he’s done”?
Remember when he called for the Muslim ban?
Remember when Trump hit his ceiling in the polls at 20 percent, then 30 percent, then 40 percent?
The fact of the matter is, the average person, especially the average media or political personality, is reading from a different playbook. The elite in this country honestly believe they are better than the “deplorables” out there in rural America. They believe the American voter is to be manipulated, not courted.
Donald Trump demonstrated again this week that his relationship with the American people is a courtship and one that he is willing to engage, even in victory. He showed us his favorite place to be isn’t sitting in Trump Tower entertaining dignitaries and wiping his feet on his enemies, but that he wanted to be at a rally, with average Americans. He wants to have a conversation again with those who have been silenced. He didn’t want to celebrate with the New York City cake eaters. He wanted to celebrate with the millions of voiceless Americans for whom he ran.
So he did.
Right after he finished his interviews with Cabinet possibilities and effectively silenced his white-gloved enemies, he went directly to where he really loves to be – with the American people.
The strategy of candidate Trump in this election was positively fascinating for this psychological analyst to watch, and I have to admit, I am even more excited to watch his presidency. But, we must be careful not to view Trump’s actions through the prism of the old political playbook or we will continue to misjudge and underestimate him just as we have for the past 17 months.