I will admit that upon hearing the news I indulged in some of the same inner snark that I imagine is widespread. There is indeed something perfect about the choice.
Of course I doubt it really matters in any important sense — and not just because it’s hardly the most crucial appointment in the first place for American diplomacy. Ambassadors these days have little autonomy, and an ambassador in this administration has an even more impossible job than usual. As Michael Sean Winters explains for the National Catholic Reporter:
My friend, Ambassador Tom Melady, who served as Vatican ambassador during the administration of George H. W. Bush and who has since gone to God, used to tell the story about one of his successors, former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs. When the White House floated her name, a Vatican official contacted Melady to ask if she would have access to decision-makers, seeing as it was her husband, Hale Boggs, who had been Majority Leader in the House, and she had never held a leadership position in Congress. Melady explained that her son ran the most influential lobbying firm in Washington and her calls would be answered.
Some months later, according to Melady, Ambassador Boggs was called to a meeting by the Vatican’s foreign minister. There was a matter of some urgency he wished to bring up. Mrs. Boggs asked if she could borrow the phone on his desk, and within two minutes, she had Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the phone. That is what the Vatican wants in an ambassador.
It is not clear if Mrs. Gingrich will have that kind of access to President Trump’s team or to his Secretary of State, or if she will have to route it through her husband. It is not clear how much longer Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be at the helm of that department. He told Chuck Todd yesterday that he has to earn President Trump’s confidence every day, which is hardly what someone with a close working relationship says. Tillerson also pledged never to compromise his own values, which also indicates some distance between the two and a concern on Tillerson’s part not to get pulled too completely into the Trump vortex. It is the kind of comment Trump notices and does not appreciate. Ask Jim Comey.
It’s been plain for a while that this administration has not only no interest in diplomacy as a tool of statecraft, but limited interest in statecraft at all. The administration has used appointments like these for purposes of symbolism, but even when it has done so — as, for example, with the appointment of David Friedman to be ambassador to Israel — there’s every reason to question whether there’s any substance behind it, not so much because the administration’s real agenda may contradict the symbolic agenda but because there probably isn’t any real agenda at all.
Still, the symbolism here is pretty snarkily delicious.