Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore is on the shortlist to be the U.S. ambassador to Germany, according to two people familiar with the talks.
Gilmore, who briefly ran for president in 2016 and later endorsed Donald Trump, is among the finalists for the job, a senior administration official confirmed, while a second person close to the administration said Gilmore is in final talks for the post.
The ambassadorship is one of the most plum and diplomatically critical posts, especially given the Trump administration's determination to restructure the U.S. relationship with its European allies.
Trump's first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last month ended on a tense note as Trump publicly and privately pushed her on what he repeatedly referred to as Germany's NATO “dues.” Germany is one of several European countries that does not yet spend 2 percent of GDP on its own defense budget as all NATO countries have agreed to do.
Reached by phone on Friday, Gilmore said he was “startled” by the reporter's question.
“I really don't have anything to say about that,” he added.
Gilmore is a former Army counterintelligence agent who served in West Germany during the Vietnam War, but he otherwise has no high-level diplomatic experience.
Gilmore also is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and was chairman of the Congressional Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, which presented five reports to presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The job is not among the few most coveted postings such as London or Paris, which often go to top donors. But it is still considered a coveted post among the roughly 20 percent of ambassadorships that regularly go to a president’s political friends.
More importantly, the U.S.-Germany relationship is one of the most consequential on national security, economic and political grounds.
That is especially true now. Merkel is considered the most influential leader in Europe, and Germany the most important player in a European Union that is losing Britain. Merkel, who faces a challenging reelection bid this year, is at the center of several currents roiling Europe, including the flow of refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, for which she was directly criticized by Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
“What she's done in Germany is insane. It's insane,” then-candidate Trump tweeted last year.
Merkel is also a mainstay against the spread of illiberal populism in Europe and against Russian influence and territorial ambitions on the continent, putting her at potential odds with the Trump administration that Gilmore would represent.
An administration official said the Germany post and the ambassadorships to other key allied nations, including the United Kingdom and Italy, are in the process of being filled, though no final decisions have been made.
Gilmore is the chief executive of American Opportunity Foundation, which appears to focus mostly on domestic policy issues. The only post listed under “National Security” on its website is dedicated to praising Trump's policy toward the European Union.
“President Trump’s support for EU prosperity and security is the right policy,” Gilmore wrote in the post. “Vice President Pence and [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis also entreated our European allies to step up their contribution and support in NATO — holding them to make good on their required Article 3 commitments of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense.”