If you enjoy transition chatter, you’ve probably played Washington’s favorite 2016 parlor game.
It goes like this. Look at the public letters in which seemingly every respectable political and policy leader has expressed some form of opposition to Donald Trump. Now, try to figure out what key figures are missing.
One particular absence has the foreign policy community raising its eyebrows. That would be Stephen Hadley, who served as President George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser from 2001 to 2005 under Condoleezza Rice, then took over her role as adviser from 2005 to 2009.
Since President Obama’s election, Hadley has been widening his influence from outside government — consulting for namesake firm Rice Hadley Gates, chairing the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and acting as a director for rainmaking defense giant Raytheon.
And yet, in a Trump administration, a cabinet post might beckon. Sources close to the transition process say Hadley’s considered a prime candidate to be Trump’s secretary of Defense, should the GOP win the White House in November. And sources familiar with Hadley’s thinking say he’s keeping his powder dry in case an offer comes along. No wonder Hadley hasn’t signed any of those letters: he might finally have a shot at a principal role.
Hadley is famously loyal and low maintenance, “a tireless worker whose strength is reconciling disparate views and coordinating policy rather than pushing for his own ideas,” according to a 2004 New York Times profile. (A less flattering portrait in this paper charged him with a “prominent role in many of the Bush administration’s bigger mistakes.”) This could make him a good match for Trump.
Of course, as for any Republican imagining a Trump appointment, there are a number of wrinkles to contend with. (Hadley declined through his assistant to express his views on Trump or comment on possible roles in a Trump administration.)
For example, Trump launched a string of personal attacks against ex-Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Hadley’s business partner, calling him “dopey,” “nasty” and “a mess” after Gates wrote in the Wall Street Journal Trump was “beyond repair.”
And Gates is far from the only member of Hadley’s world to openly disdain Trump. Two-time Republican national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, in whose firm Hadley worked from 1993 and 2001, has endorsed Hillary Clinton. Rice just called on Trump to drop out of the race in the wake of his lewd tape scandal. And the Bush family’s antipathy knows no bounds, even as W. says he does not plan to comment on the election.
This is apparently the excuse Hadley uses for his silence on the election; he tells intimates he does not want to get out in front of George W. Bush by expressing an opinion.
But that’s not passing the laugh test with the foreign policy establishment, whose elders see him as part of a crowd of wannabe saviors for a President Trump, a right-leaning cavalry ready to step in if (or when) Trump arrives in the Oval Office and finds himself in over his head.
“A number of people are saying, ‘Well, look, I don’t want to deal myself out of the future of the Republican Party,'” Hadley said Aug. 4 of people holding their fire regarding Trump.
And let’s face it: if figures like Hadley haven’t disavowed Trump yet, what’s going to make them do it now?