By Steve Holland
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Republican Mitt Romney made an impassioned statement in support of President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday to try to erase doubts about him among Trump’s supporters and remain in contention for U.S. secretary of state.
Romney, a fierce critic of Trump during the Republican presidential primary battle, stopped short of an outright apology but his intention to wipe the slate clean was clear.
The former Massachusetts governor, who was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 and lost, praised Trump for a “message of inclusion and bringing people together” since his Nov. 8 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Noting the appointments Trump has made to fill key cabinet positions for his administration and his desire for greater unity among Americans, Romney said that “all of those things combined give me increasing hope that President-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us” to a better future.
Romney made his remarks after a lengthy meal with Trump and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at a French restaurant at a Trump hotel in Manhattan. They dined on garlic soup with frog legs, scallops, steak and lamb chop.
Since Trump began to seriously consider Romney as a potential secretary of state, some on Trump’s team have voiced doubts about bringing in a former critic and rallied around their preferred candidate, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a long-time Trump friend and loyalist.
Leading this effort in an unusually public way has been senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who told a round of television interviews on Sunday that Trump supporters would feel “betrayed” if Romney was picked.
Trump, however, has kept Romney in contention for the secretary of state position, and a Republican source close to the transition effort said Priebus has been pushing for Romney behind the scenes.
“I had a wonderful evening with President-elect Trump,” Romney said in remarks to reporters after the dinner. “We had another discussion about affairs throughout the world and these discussions I’ve had with him have been enlightening, and interesting, and engaging. I’ve enjoyed them very, very much.”
A senior Trump aide described Romney’s remarks as “solid.”
Trump is to meet on Friday for the second time with retired Marine Corps General John Kelly as part of his secretary of state search, the aide said.
Trump is also considering U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Corker met Trump at Trump Tower earlier on Tuesday and told reporters afterward that Trump “needs to choose someone that he’s very comfortable with and he knows there’s going be no daylight between him and them.”
“The world needs to know that the secretary of state is someone who speaks fully for the president and again, that’s a decision he’s going to have to make,” Corker said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Nick Macfie)