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Right Turn
Posted at 09:07 AM ET, 09/20/2012

Pawlenty out — who is in?

The Hill reports: “Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will take over one of K Street’s most prestigious jobs as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable. The group announced Thursday morning that the former GOP candidate for president would replace long-time CEO Steve Bartlett, who is retiring. Pawlenty will step down as co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign to take the position.”

This is further evidence that, while a diligent surrogate for Romney, Pawlenty never attained the status of Romney confidante and was unlikely, despite his angling, to be handed a plum Cabinet post if Romney won the presidency. Pawlenty tried to carve a profile in foreign policy (in speeches and media appearances), despite his lack of national security experience. Whatever aspirations he might have had (secretary of state was his most likely target), his decision to snag a juicy K Street slot (and finally make some money for his family) ends the Pawlenty speculation.

This also comes as a bit of relief to foreign policy hawks. Pawlenty is inoffensive but not sufficiently bold or farsighted on foreign policy matters. Many conservatives worried he would have been a lackluster figure in a top national security spot.

So who does that leave if Romney wins? Over the last few months Richard Williamson, whose experience dates back to the Reagan administration, has moved into the most prominent role during a series of national security developments. He is the only foreign policy adviser who travels with Romney and has his ear. He is a mature, authoritative figure in the campaign. He certainly has the inside track for either secretary of state or national security adviser. In a campaign that has dawdled, delayed and often failed to articulate a definitive message, he has consistently lobbied within the campaign for clear, forward-leaning policy positions and urged Romney to speak out more often.

Former Missouri senator Jim Talent (R-Mo.) remains a heavy favorite for secretary of defense. He is experienced and knowledgeable on national security and played a more prominent role at the convention in Tampa as a surrogate than many had expected. He would have an easy confirmation and remains well thought of by former colleagues.

Outside the inner circle in Boston, soon-to-retire Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) would get serious consideration and would have significant support among conservative foreign policy gurus for a top slot. Unlike in 2008, Lieberman has not endorsed a candidate in 2012, but he and Romney got along well as co-surrogates for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and respect each other. Kyl, who was an early critic of START and “Russian reset,” would be a popular pick with critics of the Obama administration's foreign policy — or lack thereof.

Former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was an early supporter of Romney and has diligently hit the airwaves and the speaking circuit on Romney’s behalf. Democrats would raise a ruckus if he were appointed to a confirmable position. Nevertheless, his appointment to head an intelligence agency or to fill a key diplomatic role would signal a desire to shake things up and paint bold colors in foreign policy. Dan Senor, who has become a top adviser to VP nominee Paul Ryan, would also be in the running for a national security spot as well as for a key role for the VP (e.g. chief of staff) in a Romney-Ryan administration.

And finally, Richard Grenell, who was briefly with the Romney campaign, has become a dogged advocate on his own for the Romney team in social media, in print and on TV. His biting criticism of the president’s handling of national security has, at times, been the only sign of clarity on foreign policy, piercing through the rhetorical fog hovering over Boston. Especially if Williamson or Bolton (both of whom are close to Grenell) gets a top slot, look for Grenell to be named to a national security communications role.

All of this is moot, of course, if Romney doesn’t win. The mood inside Boston, as I have gathered in multiple conversations over the last few days, bears no resemblance to the Chicken Little hysterics that has overtaken some Beltway Republicans. In Boston, there is a sense that on policy issues and particularly on foreign affairs, the Romney team has an opening to do real damage. If the team does pull through, the stock of those who consistently pushed to delineate strong differences between Romney and Obama will rise dramatically.

By  |  09:07 AM ET, 09/20/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, foreign policy

 
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