The struggle for the position of the US secretary of state intensified on Friday with forceful lobbying from one candidate and reported calls from the Trump presidential team for the other to apologise publicly for campaign slights in return for the job.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump loyalist, has been aggressively pushing his case in the media, boasting of his foreign experience. His apparent main rival for the job, the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who spoke derisively of Donald Trump during the primaries, has been trying to keep a low profile but has found himself baited by leaks from the transition teams.
The secretary of state contest has become the most visceral expression of a battle inside Trump’s circle between those calling on him to reward loyalty during the campaign and deliver on his pledges, and others urging the president-elect to use appointments to build a broader consensus and heal the divide in the Republican party.
The Trump transition has already overturned the normal practice of choosing top cabinet members behind closed doors, turning it into a spectacle with contenders boarding a golden elevator in Trump headquarters in New York in front of the cameras on their way to making their pitch to the president-elect.
However, Giuliani’s open campaign in the press and public interventions by Trump aides have set new precedents in the selection process. Giuliani has fought openly to combat perceptions of inexperience, not having held an official post since leaving office as New York mayor in 2001.
“I probably have travelled in the last 13 years as much as Hillary did in the years she was secretary of state,” Giuliani said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday. “My knowledge of foreign policy is as good, or better, than anybody they’re talking to.”
“I’ve been to England eight times, Japan six times, France five times. China three times – once with Bill Clinton, by the way,” he added.
It is the purpose for much of that travel that it has been under the closest scrutiny in the past few days. He earned a living as a public speaker and consultant for a large number of foreign governments, corporations and organisations. Most controversially, he was paid tens of thousands of pounds to speak out forcefully in favour of an Iranian rebel group, the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), which was listed as a terrorist organisation by the state department from 1997 to 2012 and is widely considered to operate like a cult because of its control over the lives of its members.
Some Trump advisers say Mitt Romney should be out of contention for the job after his comments on Donald Trump during the campaign. Photograph: Press via Rex/Shutterstock
Romney is a more conventional candidate, backed by much of the Republican establishment in Congress, but over the course of the campaign he derided the eventual winner. “Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark,” he said in a speech in March. “Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities. The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.”
Some Trump advisers argue such remarks put Romney beyond the pale. His campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, tweeted that she was receiving “a deluge” of comments expressing concern over Romney’s loyalty as a secretary of state. Fox News cited a senior Trump aide as suggesting that Romney make a public apology for his campaign remarks.