Commentary: Send Romney to the VA, not the State Department

There is a fantastic job in the incoming administration for Mitt Romney, and it’s not at State. It’s at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where his skills as a turnaround artist could save lives.

Before we get to that, though, let’s take a look at whether it’s a good idea for Romney to be made Donald Trump’s Secretary of State. On the upside, Romney is cool, calm, detached – qualities Trump is not really thought to possess in abundance. And Romney is nothing if not competent.

But Romney is also a guy with a presidential-sized ego who already thinks of Trump as a charlatan, which is a situation ripe for fights and disloyalty. Romney is used to being in charge, and it’s hard to imagine him taking orders well from a guy he has no respect for on some level.

It’s also hard to imagine Romney and Trump ever getting to the point where they operate on the same wavelength. Romney will say one thing, Trump will say another, and our enemies and allies alike could easily get the wrong impression about what America is planning to do, and what we’re willing to put up with. That’s dangerous.

Plus, Romney sees himself as the leader of the Trump-skeptical wing of the GOP, a grouping formerly known as #NeverTrump. He intends to have his own camp whether he’s in Trump’s camp or not.

Really, when you think about it, there’s nothing from Romney’s current flirtation with the State posting that won’t end poorly for him. If he’s not offered the job, he’ll have been humiliated somewhat, having already retreated from his principled opposition to Trump.

If he gets the job, though, how long could that possibly last? How does it end well? We know enough about Romney and Trump to see why putting them together would make for an unstable coupling.

So what about the VA posting for Romney, an arrangement first floated by the Financial Times’ Liz Peek a few weeks ago?

It’s obviously a lower-profile gig, which in an odd way could give both Trump’s and Romney’s egos room to breathe. Given the prominence of the role, a Secretary of State has to be rather in sync with the president; this is not the case with VA secretary. Ideally, Romney could run the VA with very limited oversight from the White House, allowing the former governor and CEO to act like a chief executive once again.

And it’s hard to overstate how the VA might benefit from a talented chief. Despite marginal improvements over the years, it’s still the same sclerotic bureaucracy offering substandard services. Just this week, in fact, a VA medical center in Wisconsin had to notify nearly 600 vets that due to one of their dentist’s shoddy work, they might have been exposed to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.

That dentist, by the way, is still employed by the VA in an administrative position, despite having been turned in by a whistleblower. In 2012, Romney’s record of rescuing business in the private sector was criticized because he sometimes fired a lot of people in the process. It sounds like the VA, however, could use a few terminations.

Would Romney take a job like VA secretary after being in the running for State? His ego, again, makes me think he would probably turn it down.

But what a capstone to his career it could be. If he were able to fix that disgraceful mess of an agency the way he rescued the Olympics in 2002, which was really an impressive feat, he will literally be saving the lives of American veterans, and raising the standards of living for countless more. That’s no small legacy.

Plus, a man who saw his political career collapse amid (somewhat unfair) allegations that he represented the worst, most malignant strain of uncaring capitalism will end his time in public life doing something truly selfless.

Yes, it won’t be glamorous. But good work rarely is.  

  • Will Rahn

    Will Rahn is a political correspondent and managing director, politics, for CBS News Digital.