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Opinion Who cares if Mitt Romney is a sellout?

Here's a look back at Donald Trump and Mitt Romney's turbulent relationship. (Video: Deirdra O'Regan/The Washington Post)

Mitt Romney has sold out. Or so they say. Over dinner at Jean-Georges restaurant at Trump International Hotel & Tower New York, the erstwhile Republican presidential nominee — a finalist to serve as Donald Trump’s secretary of state — hobnobbed with the man he once said would make a mess of America.

Maybe, as some Romney supporters have argued, he’s doing it out of a deep-rooted sense of duty. Maybe, as pretty much everyone else has said, he’s just as much of a “fake” and a “phony” as the candidate he once criticized.

Really, though, who cares? If Romney is a sellout, at least he’s a sane one.

Alternatives to Romney, according to the Trump campaign, are Rudy Giuliani and two unnamed contenders. These could be retired Army Gen. David Petraeus — who, if chosen, would have to notify his probation officer of a change in employment — or Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). It seems, though, that Giuliani is Romney’s toughest competition.

The onetime moderate mayor of New York has transformed into a shrieking hatemonger whose propensity for peddling conspiracy theories is overshadowed only by his countless conflicts of interest from consulting for foreign governments. Romney, on the other hand, is a skilled negotiator with a steady hand and a solid knowledge of world affairs.

Stick a sterling silver fork in Trump’s ‘populism’

Playing up Romney’s campaign-time opposition to Trump, and getting others to parrot it, can accomplish only one thing: molding the president-elect’s all-too-malleable mind. That’s precisely what noted Romney-naysayer Kellyanne Conway hoped to do when she went on the air to knock the former Massachusetts governor.

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It may be a good strategy for someone like Conway, who wants to see Giuliani thrown a bone for sticking by Trump’s side through the rough. But those who are squeamish of sending someone so clearly unhinged into the most delicate of diplomatic negotiations would do well to stop complaining about Romney’s 180.

Some might worry that, if Romney saves Trump’s national security policy from disaster in his first term, the real-estate mogul will have a better chance of winning another one. Yes, another four years of Trumpism — from Twitter tantrums to a Supreme Court stacked with anti-LGBT, anti-abortion justices — would be nothing to cheer about. But it’s irresponsible to play a long game with foreign policy that could determine who lives and who dies in the here and now. That’s trading security today for a mirage of security tomorrow.

Others may be concerned that, if Romney signs on, Trump will cement the mainstream credibility that endorsements from the Republican rank-and-file granted him during the campaign. But Trump already won that credibility when he was elected president of the United States. The Republican establishment sold out months ago. One more addition to its spineless roster — if Romney’s about-face really is motivated by personal ambition — won’t do much more damage.

Trump’s denunciators within the GOP, Romney included, have to decide: How can they make sure they don’t become the party of Breitbart? How can they make sure the country doesn’t, as Romney himself once said, “cease to be a shining city on a hill”? At this stage, the soundest option is to position themselves where they have the best shot at shaping policy.

Sens. Ben Sasse (R.-Neb.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and others who have exhibited Trump-induced queasiness — even House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — can do that in Congress. Romney may have the opportunity to do it in the Cabinet and across the oceans, where there may be no one else up to task. No one should fault him for taking it.