SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — They are distant cousins, courtly would-be presidents and scions of Mormon dynasties once enmeshed in long and unsuccessful races to the White House. Now Donald Trump, the brash Manhattanite who got there first, may have revived the rivalry between Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman by considering each of them for secretary of State.
"Here they are again," said LaVarr Webb, a former Republican strategist who worked for former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. "How personal it is, how deep it goes, I don't know."
The very prospect of revisiting the Romney-Huntsman competition gives the subject the sensitivity of a toothache among Utahns — where Romney beat out Huntsman to head the 2002 Olympics — and awkwardness in national politics, where the two have vied for years. Among their similarities: Both men have issued searing criticism of a president-elect who values loyalty above all else.
Trump's plan to bring jobs home from China and Japan? "Flimsy at best," Romney has said. On national security? "Alarming." Trump's conduct toward women? "Corrupt(s) America's face to the world."
"When it comes to foreign policy, he is very, very not smart," the 2012 GOP presidential nominee said of Trump in March.
Huntsman in October called on Trump to drop out of the presidential race after the release of a recording on which Trump brags about groping women.
"The time has come for Gov. Pence to lead the ticket," Huntsman told the Salt Lake Tribune.
And yet Trump is apparently considering both men among others to be his secretary of State. Romney and Huntsman have since been model diplomats on the subject of the president-elect.
Trump on Wednesday insisted that Romney is still in the running for the post and said he's likely to announce his pick next week.
"We've come a long way together, we had some tremendous difficulties together," Trump told NBC's "Today" on Wednesday. "It's not about revenge," Trump added of his very public audition if Romney. "It's about what's good for the country, and I'm able to put this stuff behind us — and I hit him very hard also."
That Trump has let the prospect of Romney's nomination twist for weeks suggests to some that the 2012 Republican presidential nominee's star has dipped — if it ever had truly risen. It's equally unclear whether Trump is really interested in Huntsman — and vice versa. Huntsman, who at 56 is much younger than Romney, 69, said last week he's considering a run for U.S. Senate in 2018, a decision that in part will depend on whether Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, runs again.
But the mention of a new showdown resurrects a legendary rivalry among sons of families whose ties go back centuries and are deeply personal. Huntsman and Romney share a many-times great-grandfather, and Huntsman has been quoted as saying two other ancestors fished together in Idaho. Huntsman's uncle Bruce once dated Romney's sister, Lynn. And Huntsman's mother lived for two years with Romney's sister Jane while they were both at the University of Utah. Both men served as governors — Huntsman in Utah and Romney in Massachusetts.
Then came the shattering effect of the 2008 election.
Romney ran for the GOP presidential nomination, winning the backing of Huntsman's father. But Huntsman Jr. endorsed the eventual GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain, who went on to lose to Democrat Barack Obama. Both men ran for the Republican nomination in 2012. Romney won the title, but lost the general election to Obama.
"You haven't seen any recent photos of them hugging each other or sitting at the same table," said Tim Chambless, a political scientist at the University of Utah.
Kellman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report.
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