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How Trump Chose Tillerson

This Postaccount of Trump’s decision to nominate Tillerson for State includes some remarkable details:

Then, by happenstance, Trump welcomed into his office a man who has served presidents of both parties, Robert M. Gates. Trump asked his guest, a former CIA director and former defense secretary, what he thought of the four candidates. After Gates ran through his thoughts, it seemed that Trump was “looking for a way out,” a person familiar with the session said.

Trump asked whether there was someone else to consider.

“I recommend Rex,” Gates told Trump, referring to Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil. Gates said in an interview that he had not gone to the meeting intending to recommend Tillerson, and he did not recommend anyone else. Separately, on the previous day, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had proposed Tillerson to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Rice and Gates, who run a consulting firm that counts ExxonMobil as a client, had jointly concluded that Tillerson might give Trump a fresh alternative.

Trump “seemed intrigued,” Gates said. “It was not something he had considered.” [bold mine-DL]

If this is what happened, it seems that Trump was looking for any alternative and Gates provided him with one, and between Gates and Rice they managed to get Trump to choose the candidate they wanted. This is presented as an example of Trump’s “unorthodox style,” but it also shows how random and arbitrary his decision-making can be. Tillerson may end up doing a good job at State, and he may be effective in repairing relations with Russia, but the fact that he was apparently never on Trump’s radar until his boosters mentioned him suggests that none of this had occurred to Trump earlier on. According to the report, Trump didn’t know Tillerson, and hadn’t planned to speak with Gates until Flynn set up a meeting between them. Tillerson seems to be preferable to the other candidates that were seriously considered for the position, but it is worth remembering that he was chosen almost by chance.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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