It played out just like a reality show. Donald Trump invited the contestants to be the next secretary of State to meet with him one by one. Some had embarrassing parts of their personal lives exposed, while others were forced to choke down slimy animal appendages. And in the end, a dark horse rose from the shadows to claim the final rose.
But even with all the made-for-TV drama that led to Rex Tillerson’s selection to head the State Department, there was plenty of behind the scenes action that has gone unreported. Until now. In the past 24 hours both the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal pulled back the curtain on how Trump settled on Tillerson to be his top diplomat. Here’s what we learned.
Trump decided Giuliani was a diva who lacked physical stamina. Trump’s first instinct was to tap a loyalist for secretary of State and Rudy Giuliani was atop his list. But the president-elect quickly soured on the former New York City mayor, whose overseas business ties gave Trump pause. Giuliani’s ego also became a problem as he refused to consider posts at the Homeland Security or Justice departments. But ultimately it appears to have been Giuliani’s “stamina” that worried Trump most. He didn’t think the 72-year-old, who is rumored to have fallen asleep in a meeting, was physically up to the job.
Bob Gates and Condi Rice pushed Tillerson, a client of theirs.
Rex Tillerson’s name didn’t come up until Trump took a meeting with former Defense Secretary Bob Gates. After offering his thoughts on the leading contenders, Gates suggested the ExxonMobil CEO. The day before, Condoleezza Rice had recommended Tillerson to Vice-President-elect Mike Pence. Coincidence? Not at all. Rice and Gates run RiceHadleyGates, a global consulting firm that represents ExxonMobil, and had jointly decided that Tillerson would be a “fresh alternative,” according to the Post.
The initial Romney meeting was supposed to be a photo op.
Trump only took a meeting with Mitt Romney because adviser Steve Bannon “wanted to show party unity before the media cameras,” WSJ reports. But the meeting went unexpectedly well and Trump moved Romney up his shortlist, much to Bannon’s dismay.
Trump wanted an apology, but Romney wouldn’t do it.
The obsequious remarks Romney delivered after his poorly lit dinner with Trump on November 29, were the closest he would get to an apology for calling Trump a “fraud” and a “phony” back in March. And though Trump is reported to have eaten up Romney’s praise, an “ally” of Romney’s told the Post that Trump wanted a more straightforward mea culpa. Romney refused.
Opposition to Tillerson’s Russia ties made Trump like him more.
Worries about Tillerson’s connection to Russia only made Trump want to pick him more. Or, as a transition official told WSJ, “Trump became even more determined to buck the establishment” when Republicans and Democrats raised concerns about the CEO’s connection with Vladimir Putin.