Mitt Romney showered Donald Trump with uncharacteristic praise on Tuesday night, minutes after polishing off a dinner of frog legs, scallops and lamb chops with the president-elect at the tony Jean-Georges restaurant in Trump International Hotel in New York.
“I had a wonderful evening with President-elect Trump,” Romney, who is under consideration to be Trump’s secretary of state, told reporters. “We had another discussion about affairs throughout the world and these discussions I’ve had with him have been enlightening, and interesting, and engaging.”
Romney, who savaged Trump as a “con man” during a speech in March, took a markedly different tone following the meal, which was joined by Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff.
The former Massachusetts governor praised Trump’s victory speech, noting that he’d accomplished something Romney hadn’t in two failed presidential bids: “He won.”
And he said Trump had promoted “a message of inclusion and bringing people together,” just hours after the president-elect threatened to jail or revoke the citizenship of anyone burning American flags.
Ticking through Trump’s Cabinet picks (who he lauded as “solid, effective, capable people”), Romney said he was “impressed by what I’ve seen in the transition effort.”
In his March speech, Romney painted a picture of a dark future under a President Trump, with a looming global recession and the end of Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as a “shining city on a hill.”
But on Tuesday, Romney had a sharply different take.
“I happen to think that America’s best days are ahead of us,” he said. “And what I’ve seen through these discussions I’ve had with President-elect Trump, as well as what we’ve seen in his speech the night of his victory, as well as the people he’s selected as part of his transition, all of those things combined give me increasing hope that President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us to that better future.”
Romney is competing with a number of other contenders to lead Foggy Bottom, including retired general David Petraeus, Senate Foreign Relations chair Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Several sources who have been in direct communication with the president-elect say they believe Giuliani’s prospects had seriously faded. The former mayor has been damaged by scrutiny into his business ties and by the perception that he’d been openly campaigning for the job, something that has angered Trump. Should Giuliani, a loyal Trump backer, not get the secretary of state job, the sources said, he might be offered another, lower-profile job as a consolation prize of sorts.
Many of Trump’s closest advisers, including incoming chief strategist Steve Bannon, have loudly urged him against picking Romney. Some of them have gone so far as to warn the president-elect that tapping the former governor would make him look weak.
During the dinner, Trump’s transition team allowed a pooler in for a glimpse — Trump flashed a thumb’s up when asked how things were going — and CNN correspondent Jim Acosta happened to be eating a few tables away. And then duly live-tweeted what he saw, including some notes on body language. (“Trump crossing his arms for a good while now as Romney smiles and speaks.”)
Per the pool report, Trump and Priebus had sirloin steaks for entrees. Romney chose lamb chops. The appetizer, per the pool, was young garlic soup with thyme and sautéed frog legs as well as “diver scallops with caramelized cauliflower and a caper raisin emulsion.”
Whatever was discussed, there was agreement on dessert: Everyone had chocolate cake.
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