After a news report out this week that President Donald Trump’s team is zeroing in on former NSC official Elliott Abrams for the Deputy Secretary of State position, it’s not illogical to think that what is left of the #NeverTrump movement may be feeling a moment of relief. Abrams is a prominent neocon and served as assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs during the Reagan administration and as Middle East director on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff. Abrams cut his teeth in politics working on Capitol Hill, where he served on the staffs of Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Jackson was a fierce critic of detente with the Soviet Union and many neocons served on his staff. Moynihan, too, was a neoconservative throughout the 1970s but moved to the left in the 1980s when he attacked the Reagan administration.
By the Reagan years, Abrams, like not a few neocons, abandoned the Democratic party to join the GOP and the administration. Now, as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and as a regular contributor to the Weekly Standard, Abrams has spent much of the previous year pointing out where Trump has gone wrong on foreign policy, why his positions are dangerous to America’s exceptional character and global power, and why other foreign-policy luminaries like him would be mistaken to support him. If the #NeverTrump crowd currently shut out of the Trump administration is happy about the Abrams news, it’s because Abrams is one of them.
A far better candidate would be Paula J. Dobriansky, the undersecretary of global affairs at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration. Dobriansky, who never signed any of the national-security letters denouncing Trump, is said to be the other chief administration candidate for the number-two post at State. She is a lifelong Republican, a seasoned foreign-policy expert, a skillful diplomat and widely respected. Having served in five presidential administrations, both Republican and Democratic, she epitomizes the idea of government service.
The contrast with Abrams could hardly be starker. Given that Trump places a premium on loyalty, it’s more than a little surprising that he would allow his national-security team to vet and put on a shortlist Abrams, who told Voice of America during the heat of the GOP primary campaign that Trump’s foreign policy is incoherent and confusing. “[Trump] has no appreciation whatsoever of the importance of allies and alliances,” Abrams commented to VOA. “All he does is insult them all the time and say they’re not doing enough, and it worries many of the allies in Asia and the Middle East and Europe.” In fact, Abrams was so concerned about Trump winning the Republican nomination that he wrote a piece in the May 16 edition of the Weekly Standard offering up some advice about what anti-Trump candidates could do to make his ascent more difficult. The article was called “When You Can’t Stand Your Candidate.”
Abrams began by reminiscing about how he disliked both George McGovern and Richard M. Nixon in 1972. The clear implication is that he voted for neither. According to Abrams, the lesson of the Democratic Convention for contemporary Republicans meeting in Cleveland was obvious: “Do not allow the Republican convention to be a coronation wherein Trump and Trumpism are unchallenged. There’s no reason others who won many delegates, from Rubio to Cruz to Kasich, should not have their names put in nomination. The party needs to be reminded that there are deep divisions, and Trump needs to be reminded of how many in the party oppose and even fear his nomination.” Another lesson that he drew was that Republicans should waste no time moving to purge themselves of any remnants of Trump after the election: “seize the party machinery back immediately after the Trump defeat.”
On May 12 on JBS News, Abrams amplified his disdain for Trump. Questioned about his stance on Trump, he told interviewer Mark S. Golub that it was “a question of character and fitness to be commander-in-chief.” He added, “you don’t change your spots at the age of 70.” Later in the interview he referred to Trump’s “absolute unwillingness to learn anything about foreign policy.” Golub asked him if underneath he really wanted Hillary Clinton to win: “I am not gonna vote for either of these two people,” he declared.
Like all presidents in American history, President Trump has the right and privilege to vet anyone he wants. But he should know what he’s getting himself into.