Washington • President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly picked Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, passing over both Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, who had been on the short list to be America's top diplomat.
NBC News reported Saturday, citing two anonymous transition officials, that Tillerson would be appointed.
The campaign has not confirmed the choice, though Trump met with Tillerson on Saturday. The Associated Press reported that Trump had not formally offered Tillerson the job as of Saturday afternoon and that no announcement was expected over the weekend.
The selection of Tillerson, a late entry into the mix to head the State Department, would likely sting for Romney, a Utahn and former GOP presidential nominee who had met twice with Trump to audition for the position.
Huntsman's name was a late add to Trump's considerations for the gig and it's unclear if the former Utah governor met or talked with the president-elect.
Tom Rath, a New Hampshire GOP consultant and a longtime Romney friend, said Saturday that it may be a relief for Romney not to be asked to serve. But Rath said Romney might step up again if needed.
"My sense, from afar, is that his willingness to even be considered — let alone be publicly speculated about or appear to be seeking the job — turns completely on his deeply held sense of service and that if your service can be useful to the greater good, you are obligated to hold yourself open to that service," Rath said, noting he had not spoken to Romney about the position.
"I think he was willing to tolerate all the negative, condescending public commentary of the 'process' because he felt his obligation to contribute his service if required outweighed the personal embarrassment brought on by the public process," Rath added.
Romney, who was highly critical of Trump's candidacy and personality during the campaign, was thought to be a leading contender for secretary of state, but that potential move seemed to unravel in recent weeks.
Trump, who called Romney a "loser" and a "choke artist" for his 2012 failed presidential bid, met with Romney last month in what he called a "great" meeting; Romney said he looked forward to the "coming administration and the things that it's going to be doing."
But a week after that meeting, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, dismissed Romney as a potential candidate, tweeting that the "volume & intensity of grassroots resistance to Romney is breathtaking."
"I'm all for party unity, but I'm not sure that we have to pay for that with the secretary of state position," Conway said on CNN's "State of the Union."
"We don't even know if Mitt Romney voted for Donald Trump," she added.
She wasn't alone in the criticism. "Well, I mean, what do I know about Mitt Romney? I know that he is a self-serving, egomaniac who puts himself first, who has a chip on his shoulder, that thinks he should be president of the United States," New York Rep. Chris Collins said on CNN's "New Day" a day after Conway's remarks. "I mean, there's no love lost between me and Mitt Romney. I've called him a loser for the last six months, even though I supported him."
Romney served as governor of Massachusetts but has never held a foreign policy role. That said, Romney led the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a gig that saw him flying around the world and working internationally.
Romney served his LDS Church mission in France and speaks French.
Huntsman served as the U.S. ambassador to China and, before that, to Singapore, and he was the deputy U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush. He speaks fluent Mandarin.
Huntsman did not respond to a request for comment.
Tillerson's rise coincided with the withdrawal of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani from consideration. Giuliani told Trump in late November that he didn't want to be secretary of state.
"This is not about me; it is about what is best for the country and the new administration," Giuliani said in a statement released by the transition team on Friday. "Before I joined the campaign I was very involved and fulfilled by my work with my law firm and consulting firm, and I will continue that work with even more enthusiasm. From the vantage point of the private sector, I look forward to helping the President-elect in any way he deems necessary and appropriate."
Trump said that Giuliani is a close friend and he would call on him for advice and perhaps a spot in the administration at a later date.
— Editor's note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Tribune owner and Publisher Paul Huntsman