WASHINGTON – As Secretary of State under the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo had little respect for the distinguished diplomatic protocols of his work, regularly throwing verbal punches at foreign governments, political opponents and the mainstream media .
Absent from his duties for more than two months, Mr. Pompeo has not stopped knocking. In a series of speeches, interviews and Twitter posts, he emerges as the most outspoken critic of President Biden among former senior Trump officials. And he ignores, just as he did in power, the custom that current and former Secretaries of State avoid the appearance of political partisanship.
In back-to-back appearances in Iowa and in an interview in New Hampshire last week, Pompeo questioned the Biden administration’s resolve on China. In Iowa, he accused the White House of reversing the Trump administration’s immigration policy “willy-nilly and without any thought.” He ridiculed Mr Biden for referring to notes during his first official press conference on Thursday.
“What’s great about not being Secretary of State anymore is that I can say things that when I was a diplomat I couldn’t say,” Pompeo said the next morning to a small crowd at the Westside Conservative Club near Des Moines.
Never mind that he was hardly known to bite his tongue, even as the country’s top diplomat. It seems clear that Mr. Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, is driven not only by freedom, but also by a drive for high elective office that has long been evident to friends and foes alike. His appearances in two presidential battlefield states only seem to confirm his widely assumed interest in a 2024 presidential campaign.
“Usually, former presidents and secretaries of state try not to quickly trash their successors – especially in the area of foreign policy,” said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian. He said Mr. Pompeo “probably believes he is showing his tricks by lambasting the performance of newly installed President Biden.”
“This rush is not a sign of self-confidence,” said Mr Beschloss. “Presidential aspirants who are confident in their ability to stay in place are not that attractive.”
Mr Pompeo’s political strategist did not respond to messages requesting comment or an interview, but people close to Mr Pompeo said Democratic secretaries of state before him, including John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, were critical openly President Donald J. Trump.
But Mr. Kerry largely held his tongue during the first few months of the Trump presidency, growing up more openly critical – if less relentless – after Mr. Trump announced in June 2017 that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. By the time Mr. Trump took office earlier that year, Ms. Clinton, his election opponent, had long since abandoned any non-partisan diplomatic veneer.
Mr. Pompeo in particular avoided criticizing directly Antony J. Blinken, the current Secretary of State, with whom he said he had a “productive” meeting in January before Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
But he has since repeatedly denounced policies in which Mr Blinken plays a key role.
Last week, Mr Pompeo tweeted that the Biden administration’s plans to restart aid to Palestinians canceled under Mr Trump were “immoral” and would support terrorist activity. “Americans and Israelis should be outraged by the Biden administration’s plans in this direction,” M. Pompeo wrote.
But his comment goes beyond foreign policy. Mr. Pompeo also condemned Mr. Biden’s “backward” “open border” policies. And on March 19, he tweeted number 1327 – an apparent reference to the number of days until the 2024 election.
Mr Pompeo appears to have a heightened sense of animosity towards Mr Kerry, who is back in government as Mr Biden’s climate czar. This appointment, in part, “does not bode well for American energy and for affordable energy here at home,” Pompeo said in Iowa.
And in a Feb. 22 appearance on Fox News, Mr. Pompeo referred to his predecessor during meetings Mr. Kerry had during the Trump years with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whom Mr. Pompeo. called a “non-American” effort to undermine Mr. Trump’s foreign policy.
There are few signs that Mr. Pompeo’s criticisms have struck a chord among Biden officials and their allies. Asked about last month’s comments, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to respond directly, but said the Biden and Trump administrations shared a goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“Nobody cares,” Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeted in response to a recent report on Pompeo’s critique of Mr. Biden’s policies.
Mr. Pompeo drew modest crowds, but a warm welcome at two events in Iowa. It was it is planned to speak New Hampshire Republicans on Monday on a video fundraiser for a State House candidate.
Republicans say Mr. Pompeo has a chance to unite the Trump movement with the more traditional Reaganite wing of the party, in which he has his roots. But it will have a steep climb.
Some polls show him far behind nearly every other 2024 Republican candidate in Iowa and New Hampshire. Even Mr. Trump, when asked in a Fox News interview last week, failed to mention Mr. Pompeo when nominating Republicans, he hopes to shape the future of the party.
“It’s going to be a very crowded area, and someone like Pompeo needs time to break through, which is why it’s starting so early,” said Alex Conant, Republican strategist and former aide to Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
For some, Mr Pompeo is simply continuing a wink campaign he started as Secretary of State, when he delivered several speeches to audiences in Swing States, to evangelical conservatives and to the Annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
He was the first sitting secretary of state in modern history to address a party’s national convention, a platform he used to introduce himself to a national audience during a visit taxpayer-funded diplomatic mission to Jerusalem in August. He also hosted about two dozen State Department dinners over two years for foreign policy discussions with American business leaders and political conservatives whose support would be crucial in future campaigns.
Mr Conant said Mr Pompeo most likely felt he needed to play a leading and combative role to make inroads among Republican voters.
“Pompeo is always looking to establish its brand,” Mr. Conant said. “He’s not that well-known in his own right, and the way to get attention is to be partisan and show the Republican base that you’re ready to take the fight against the Democrats.”
Mr Pompeo has presented his recent political policies as an aid to Republican midterm candidates in Congress.
“If we are successful in 2022, 2024 will resolve on its own,” Pompeo in Iowa said.
In a hurry, Mr. Pompeo did not deny that he was considering a presidential campaign.
“I’m always up for a good fight,” Pompeo told Fox News host Sean Hannity in a March 3 interview when asked if he would show up. “I have been part of the conservative movement for a very long time now. I aim to continue. “
“I’ll take that as a strong maybe,” replied Mr. Hannity.
“It’s perfect,” Pompeo said.
In another Fox News appearance last month, Mr Pompeo complained that former Obama officials like Mr Kerry had sought to remain active, at least on world affairs.
“They lost an election, and they should have just stepped off the scene,” Pompeo said.