Donald Trump's search for a secretary of state took him on an ideological tour of the political world he upended, only for him to land basically where he started.
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Trump’s unique reality show of a search process cycled through former rivals, sitting senators, Bush administration officials, establishment figures and even a certain onetime presidential nominee who famously called him a “phony,” a “fraud” and a “con man.”
None of those individuals got the job. In instead choosing Rex Tillerson for the most prized assignment he has to dole out, Trump is turning to another businessman with no government experience and with close relationships with Vladimir Putin and Russian interests.
Trump is also choosing confrontation over accommodation in pressing his case for a revamped foreign policy. He is risking a confirmation battle -– even possible rejection of his highest-profile nominee -– and is all but daring some Republicans who are least comfortable with his presidency to stand up to him.
“I have serious concerns about his nomination,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a former Trump rival whose perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could place him as the most influential voice in determining whether Tillerson will be confirmed.
Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, is likely to be installed in the job as secretary of state. Senators -– particularly those of the president’s own party, early in an administration -– typically hesitate to deny the president his choices to populate his ranks of top advisers.
Tillerson also has a fair amount of establishment support for an outsider, owing to his long career in international business. Both Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates -– two top officials in the George W. Bush administration –- expressed their support for Tillerson; ExxonMobil was a client at their consulting firm.
But this is no party-unifying pick. Word leaked of Tillerson’s front-running status over the weekend virtually at the same time that fresh headlines emerged over Russia’s apparent attempts to influence the election, heightening the scrutiny on Tillerson’s –- and Trump’s -- relationship with Russian officials.
Picking Tillerson accentuates the splits between Trump and much of his party when it comes to foreign policy. Social conservative groups have signaled their own concerns with him, citing his work pushing the Boy Scouts to lift its ban on gay scouts when he was a volunteer board member of the organization.
Choosing someone like Mitt Romney would have signaled a move toward healing old political wounds with a respected veteran hand. Choosing someone like Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would have suggested a move toward the GOP mainstream.
Choosing Tillerson means that Trump is committed to a new relationship with Russia, despite concerns being voiced inside his own party. It may be a fight he can win –- but a fight it will be for Trump.