Photo of Romney by Bill Pugliano, Getty Images | Photo of Tillerson from CNN

The Rogue and the Boy Scout

Why Trump Dumped Romney and Stuck with Tillerson for Secretary of State

Michael Cohen
Published in
5 min readDec 16, 2016


While it remains to be seen whether or not Rex Tillerson will become the next Secretary of State for President-elect Donald J. Trump, the one person who will not get the job is Mitt Romney. As our PEORIA Project research this campaign season indicated, Trump’s following and engagement on Twitter previewed where he might end up and now we can see how this is playing out in appointments for his administration using the same tools. That Romney went rogue and Tillerson did not is reflected in our evaluation of Twitter analytics via our partners at Crimson Hexagon.

Never Trump Romney

It is important to remember that Romney was an ardent #NeverTrump Republican, a hashtag we tracked throughout the campaign. In Romney’s speech at the Hinkley Institute in Utah on March 3, 2016, he made it very clear that he wasn’t there to endorse anyone but he delivered a wide-ranging takedown of Trump from his public policy, business experience, national security, foreign policy, to a deeply negative personal assessment.

“I’m afraid when it comes to foreign policy, he is very, very not smart.” (7:11)

Trump responded later that day without a script and it was even more personal. Some quotes:

  • “Mitt is a failed candidate. He failed horribly.”
  • “I backed Mitt Romney. I backed him. You can see how loyal he was. He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, Mitt, drop to your knees. He would have dropped to his knees.”

That was just the first minute of the response. Here is the complete video speech:

This was not a one-time exchange. As late as October, Romney put the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in broader context as to how it could be viewed by the world.

A month later, Trump won the election and at the end of the month, there were two of the most awkward set of pictures you’ll ever see from someone under consideration to be the Secretary of State.

The Dinner | Courtesy of CNN
The Send-Off | AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The post-mortems of Romney’s meetings with Trump were brutal. Roger Stone said that floating the Secretary of State job to Romney was the way to “torture” him, to “toy with him” because he had crossed the line. My own well-informed source said that aside from President of the United States, Secretary of State was the only other job he wanted in government and that he was willing to set aside his feelings about Trump to serve the country. More recent reporting by Salon indicates that the deal to have Romney on the team broke because he wouldn’t apologize to Trump for what he said. All of this may be correct.

What is also true is the reaction to Romney being floated by Trump was very negative. The night before the ill-fated dinner, Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway said that supporters were feeling “betrayed” by the possible choice of Romney and that the reaction was intense. Here is a snapshot of what the reaction looked like on Twitter:

Mentions of Mitt Romney by Name | Courtesy of Crimson Hexagon

As you can see above, sentiment analysis showed that mentions of Mitt Romney’s name on Twitter were 11% more negative than positive. Emotion analysis on the 1% (very small) sample of tweets also showed how uniformly negative the reaction was. Anyone watching this data flow through the system could tell you that Romney was not going to be the nominee.

Nominee Rex Tillerson

Contrast all of that baggage to the relatively straight-forward choice of Rex Tillerson, who worked his way up through the company from engineer to CEO of ExxonMobil. Tillerson never came out against Trump during the campaign and it is reported that the two of them got along instantly in their meeting. Trump called him a “world class player,” which in Trump’s parlance is high praise. He’s also an Eagle Scout.

After negotiating a massive deal for drilling for oil in Russia in 2011, he was awarded the Order of Friendship, the nation’s highest honor to a foreign citizen. Tillerson’s success is complicated by his relatively closeness to Vladimir Putin, who has been accused of directing the hacking of Democrats during the election. With the 52-48 split in the Senate, only three Republicans need to defect to deny Trump his nominee. So far, Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Marco Rubio have said they are concerned about these ties to Putin.

A photo like this doesn’t help.

Tillerson (Left) and Putin (Right) | Getty Image

But support elsewhere does.

Again, looking at Twitter, it is clear that Rex Tillerson has a much better chance than Romney did. Using the same methodology, we find about the same number of posts. In contrast to posts containing Romney’s skewing negative, Tillerson’s are better than 3:1 positive. Instead of only 1% of Romney posts being able to be analyzed by emotion, indicating that there is no clear feeling, 18% of Tillerson’s can be categorized. Tillerson’s selection results in 62% (of the categorizable 18%) as “Joy” while the only 3% of categorizable tweets felt the same way for Romney.

It’s not even close. Tillerson won Twitter.

Will Tillerson make it to Foggy Bottom? There’s a long road for him to get there from here but from the initial indications we’re seeing, he’s off to a good start, despite the trio of Republican Senators’ concerns, solid Democrat opposition, and mixed media reaction. One thing is for certain: criticizing this President-elect and offering no apology has a way of guaranteeing you won’t get the job.

If you enjoyed this article, click the💚 below so other people will see this here on Medium. Follow me on Twitter @michaelcohen. You can follow our research on this website or on Twitter @PEORIAProject, which is funded by a generous grant from Mark R. Shenkman. To learn more about the Graduate School of Political Management visit our website or follow us on Twitter @GSPMgwu.



Michael Cohen

Founder of Cohen Research Group. Publisher of Congress in Your Pocket. Lecturer at Johns Hopkins. Author of Modern Political Campaigns