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Trump needs to get his way on Romney

President-elect Donald Trump and Mitt Romney walk out after a meeting at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images
President-elect Donald Trump and Mitt Romney walk out after a meeting at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster Township, N.J. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

President-elect Donald Trump is relishing a moment straight out of a reality show season finale that hasn't quite come to fruition: That moment when his most vocal and severe Republican detractor publicly gives in and kisses his ring. That detractor would be former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who made the extraordinary move to portray Trump in the harshest possible terms in a nationally-televised news conference earlier this year.

Now it looks like Romney is willing to eat one of the biggest dishes of crow in American political history if it means getting the job as Trump's Secretary of State. But there's one problem with this scenario: A fair number of Trump's closest confidants led by campaign manager Kellyanne Conway are dead set against it. Conway went so far as to say that even considering Romney was a "betrayal" of his supporters.

This all is part of what happens in almost every incoming presidential administration. That is, the inevitable power struggle between the people who ran the successful campaign and the people who come from outside the campaign who want to set the agenda in the White House. The big difference is that this dispute is a lot more public in nature and it's going to leave some of Trump's inner circle permanently on the outside looking in.

You don't need to be a psychologist to know why this Romney moment is so alluring for Trump. Starting with his years as a Queens native trying to break into the haughtier real estate market in Manhattan, he has always seen himself as an outsider trying to get into an often unwelcoming and snobby establishment.

Romney doesn't come off snobbish, but could anyone more look the part of "establishment Republican?" And Romney's March news conference laying out all his objections to the Trump candidacy sounded a lot like the kind of things Trump has probably heard from experienced politicians and "older money" types his entire life. It's one thing for Trump to win the White House and make that establishment uncomfortable, but it's another to make an icon of that establishment in Romney literally come work for him.

So should Trump go with the establishment on this one or side with the rebels?

"After Tuesday, the 'will he or won't he?' drama over Romney will reach an effective expiration date. This is a decision President-elect Trump needs to make and make soon."

On the "pro-Romney" side, regardless of Trump's personal motivations, choosing Romney as Secretary of State would be a strong and unifying political move. Remember that Romney's bashing of Trump was much more politically expensive for him than for another Democrat or media critic.

If someone like Romney can be brought into the Trump tent, it will signal other holdout Republicans and even some Democrats to do the same. And talk about being a good diplomat! It's doubtful Romney will have to swallow a more bitter pill for the sake of American foreign relations that he's apparently willing to swallow to work with President Trump. Forget the resume, that's a sign that Romney could be an exceptional diplomat.

On the "anti-Romney" side you have the fact that appointing him will likely force some of Trump's more loyal allies like Conway and possibly Rudy Giuliani out. Will that really be worth it? The simple answer is yes. Conway, Giuliani and their entire camp are loyal and smart. But there are plenty of loyal and smart people out there willing to serve the president of the United States. And Trump needs to show early on that he's not being unduly influenced by anyone or allowing any staffer to gain too much attention as a supposed kingmaker.

And then there's a final important caveat. There may still be more than 50 days until Trump takes the Oath of Office, but this Romney drama has been going on for two weeks now. This is the first publicly tough decision for a developing administration that wants to appear as clear and decisive as Trump was on the campaign trail.

After Tuesday, the "will he or won't he?" drama over Romney will reach an effective expiration date. This is a decision President-elect Trump needs to make and make soon. Again, everyone's cards are on the table, so the only decision Trump has left to make is which side he's willing to anger the most.

In the end, he's going to have to insist that all of his inner circle publicly accept his decision or leave the team. Almost every incoming president has to do this. Beyond this Romney decision, the only way President-elect Trump is going to be able to govern effectively is if he isn't shy about making these kinds of internal decisions first. He might as well lay down the law now. Calling Conway's bluff or telling Romney to take a hike is something an effective leader would do and do soon.

So if Trump really wants Romney as Secretary of State and he is willing to jettison Conway in the process, he needs to make that happen and fast. The same is true if Trump wants to prove he can make Conway and her anti-Romney allies accept his Romney decision and find a way to work together. But if he waits much longer, he will appear weak and indecisive, which will hurt him, especially when the harder decisions come up. And they will, and when they do they'll make this cabinet choice dilemma look like child's play.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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