For all the criticism and intrigue about Rex Tillerson’s ties to Russia, his lack of any conventional foreign policy experience (despite having contended with various world leaders) and status as an oil company executive, just why did Trump pick him? Like no conspiracy theories, just why? Were they old friends? Is there some business connection? This Politico article gives a more detailed version of the story I’ve now heard in a number of press accounts: Trump had no prior relationship with Tillerson. But he was recommended to Trump by Bob Gates, Condi Rice and finally James Baker.
Notably, each of the three recommenders have business ties to Exxon and Tillerson. But that’s not terribly remarkable in itself. People recommend friends, people they’re in business with.
What does not compute is that Gates and Rice were at least passively anti-Trump. Even if it was not a Romney type situation these are not people who themselves have deep relationships Trump or have said nice things about him. I don’t remember James Baker coming up many times during the campaign. But given his deep and longstanding relationship with the Bush family, I can’t imagine he was too pro-Trump.
So these three people, who Trump has little if any relationship with and little reason to be friendly to suggest Tillerson and suddenly he’s the nominee?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting the story is false. I assume that as far as it goes this is what happened? But still, something does not quite add up.
Let’s run through a few things. 1) No personal relationship with Trump. 2) No experience in government, foreign policy or diplomacy. 3) Not someone who has ever been mentioned for Secretary of State or any top diplomatic position ever or apparently shown any interest in either. As I said, I recognize that someone who has had to negotiate business deals around the world does have some relevant experience. Still, this is an odd list of categories to be in and rocket from non-consideration to nominee.
The only thing I can think of is that none of the other prospective nominees – Romney, Corker, Giuliani, Petraeus, et al. – were willing to sign on to Trump’s desire for something between rapprochement and strategic alliance with Russia. Sources close to both men say this conflict did come up between Romney and Trump, whether or not it was the deciding factor. Given Petraeus’s acculturation within the US military, it’s difficult to think he would be very comfortable executing such a policy and just by dint of his conventional Republicanism I suspect the same would be the case for Corker.
I don’t really know where Rudy would come down on any of this. Remember, the only elected office he’s ever held was Mayor – despite his Churchillian grandiosity. But my sense is he got the boot because Trump always has to undercut his lackeys and Rudy got a bit uppity.
It’s the only real explanation I can think of. He has a good relationship with Russia and Putin. He’s cut deals with him. Doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently nefarious. Lots of American firms do business in Russia. But he was the only suggestion he got where this wouldn’t be a thorn of contention.