Mitt Romney should have said no.
He should have declined to meet with Donald Trump, and then made a big deal out of declining to meet with the president-elect. He needed to reiterate that he wanted nothing to do with a man he still considered “a phony” and a “fraud.” Flexing his integrity, Romney should have refused the stubby hand of the man he accused last March of “playing members of the American public for suckers.”
Who’s the sucker now, Mitt?
If Romney becomes the next secretary of state — and he probably won’t — he will have paid dearly with an unusually public thrashing from Trump’s bogies. As Trump fills his Cabinet, he is also filling his insatiable need for vengeance. Presidential transitions are often rife with contrasting opinions on who’s best suited for various Cabinet positions; never before have such misgivings spilled out in full gory view. Few Republicans were as harsh as Romney in denouncing Trump. Now the former Massachusetts governor is getting dragged in breathtaking fashion for his failed GOP insurrection.
It doesn’t matter that Trump hasn’t directly blasted Romney since their first post-election meeting; he has minions such as Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Kellyanne Conway more than willing to do his dirty work. And in case anyone thinks his former campaign manager has gone rogue, Trump said Monday that when Conway asked whether she could “go public” with her thoughts on Romney, “I encouraged her to do so.”
Vindictive and petty, Trump is a man who keeps score. His world is balanced only when he avenges a perceived slight, often with what he considers reciprocal humiliation. Those targeted are as varied as Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rosie O’Donnell, Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, and a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado. He is a feral child who squawks and attacks when he feels wronged — though what Trump considers unfair is usually plain truth.
It is now legend that the seeds of Trump’s once-nonsensical-seeming presidential bid were sown at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Both Obama and Seth Meyers made Trump, then waist-deep into his so-called “birther” crusade to delegitimize Obama and his presidency, the butt of numerous jokes. He was a fool exposed, and while everyone around him laughed, Trump sat seething and stone-faced. Like any thin-skinned bully, he is deeply offended when challenged, even in jest, and has no ability to laugh at himself.
Now the tetchy tyrant finds himself at the world’s center, with the power not just to punish but to pulverize his enemies. No blow is too low, as he proved after Romney ripped him last spring. Trump swung back, recalling how Romney, while running for president in 2012, courted Trump’s approval. “He was begging for my endorsement,” Trump said. “I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees’ — he would have dropped to his knees.”
What did Romney expect? Did he think Trump, like President Obama, would use as a blueprint Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” about Abraham Lincoln choosing for his Cabinet men who had run against him? That’s a model for leaders with an eye toward minimizing political conflicts; Trump, however, thrives on conflict, acrimony, and recrimination.
Trump is now drawing thirsty one-time rivals toward him just to crush and embarrass them. Revenge is Trump’s guiding principle. In a telling 2013 tweet, Trump wrote, “Always get even . . . you need to get even with people who screw you.”
That’s the same dangerous philosophy he will be applying to the presidency, an approach that could prove cataclysmic when brought to the world stage he will soon command.
Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.