Mitt Romney went hat in hand to meet President-elect Donald Trump this weekend and offer his services to someone he denounced as unfit to be commander in chief, signaling the GOP establishment’s near-complete capitulation to an outsider who defied the party and captured the White House.
Mr. Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, embodied the Washington establishment’s resistance to Mr. Trump. He took the unprecedented step of speaking out during the primary to denounce the fellow Republican as a “fraud” and “phony,” saying the real estate mogul’s reckless behavior and uninformed foreign policy views would threaten the safety of America and the world.
He sang a different tune Saturday when he emerged from the meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he was interviewed for the job of secretary of state.
“I look forward to the coming administration and the things that it’s going to be doing,” Mr. Romney said as he left the clubhouse after a nearly 90-minute meeting.
“We had a far reaching conversation with regards to the various theaters in the world where there are interests of the United States of real significance. We discussed those areas, and exchanged our views on those topics,” he said.
Mr. Trump was roundly applauded for acting graciously in victory by bringing in Mr. Romney. During the campaign, Mr. Trump had dismissed the former Massachusetts governor as a loser. He said Mr. Romney “choked like a dog” when he failed to beat President Obama in 2012.
Peter Feaman, a GOP national committeeman in Florida who worked with both men during their presidential runs, gave a nod to the humiliation experienced by Mr. Romney.
“It had to be hard for Romney to show up at Trump golf course with a mouth full of crow,” said Mr. Feaman, who backed Mr. Trump and correctly predicted that he would win the Sunshine State.
Mr. Feaman said he hoped the entire Republican Party was following Mr. Romney’s lead.
Most of the Repoubican Party establishment, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, at best gave Mr. Trump tenuous support and were quick to join Democrats who criticized his rhetoric as racist or bigoted.
“Trump did something we haven’t been able to do in 30 years, and that is break through the blue wall in Pennsylvania and Michigan — and that’s Romney’s home state,” Mr. Feaman said. “I think Romney and his ilk are smart enough to see that there is something going on here.”
“We’re going to get back to the definition of the Republican Party that we had under Reagan, which is working men and women frustrated with Washington,” he said.
More than a week after the election, the race had not been called yet in Michigan, where Mr. Romney grew up and his father, George, served as governor in the 1960s. Mr. Trump leads Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by about 10,000 votes.
Michigan has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988. It was one of the Rust Belt states, where Mr. Trump successfully appealed to working-class voters.
Beyond the attacks Mr. Romney launched against Mr. Trump’s character and his reputation as a successful businessman, he also had significant policy differences with billionaire businessman.
In 2012, Mr. Romney identified Russia as posing the greatest threat to American interests abroad, a position that was mocked by Mr. Obama but one for which he was later vindicated as Moscow expanded its influence in Ukraine and Syria.
Mr. Trump promised, however, that he would forge better relations with Russia and work with the former Cold War foe to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals.
Republican strategist Ryan Williams, who was deputy national press secretary for the Romney campaign, downplayed the amount of backpedaling by his former boss.
“He was certainly wrong that [Mr. Trump] couldn’t win. We all were,” he said. “Are there concerns that exist regarding his temperament? Sure, but people can change depending on what they do in office.”
Mr. Williams said the concerns Mr. Romney raised about Mr. Trump during the campaign “were litigated and Trump won.”
“He made his views on Trump known during the campaign. He wanted to make sure he didn’t shirk away from expressing his views and he didn’t,” said Mr. Williams. “The governor cares about this country and cares about public service. I’m convinced he wants to see Donald Trump succeed because that means the country succeeds.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is leading the transition team, commended Mr. Romney for sitting across the interview desk from Mr. Trump and himself. He called it a “cordial meeting.”
“These are two people that earned their party’s nomination. One was successful and won a mandate from the American people earlier this month to make America great again. Another one fought hard to do that four years ago,” Mr. Pence said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I know the president-elect was grateful that Mitt Romney came here to Trump National and spent some time and is willing to be considered for this important role at such an important time in the life of our nation,” he said.
Democrats applauded a possible Cabinet post for Mr. Romney, whom they reviled in 2012 but found new respect for in comparison to Mr. Trump.
“In this new world, I would love Mitt Romney at the State Department. I think he would be a consummate diplomat,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
But Mr. Schiff said he suspects the Romney interview was “a total head fake.”
“I think this is Donald Trump still being the entertainer, still running a show where he wants to build suspense,” he said.
• S.A. Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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