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With an Eye on 2024, a Rarely Bashful Pompeo Grows More Combative


WASHINGTON — As secretary of state during the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo had little regard for his job’s genteel diplomatic protocols, routinely throwing verbal punches against foreign governments, political opponents and the mainstream media.

Out of office for more than two months, Mr. Pompeo has not stopped punching. In a series of speeches, interviews and Twitter posts, he is emerging as the most outspoken critic of President Biden among former top Trump officials. And he is ignoring, much as he did in office, the custom that current and former secretaries of state avoid the appearance of political partisanship.

In back-to-back appearances in Iowa and during an interview in New Hampshire over the past week, Mr. Pompeo questioned the Biden administration’s resolve toward China. In Iowa, he accused the White House of reversing the Trump administration’s immigration policy “willy-nilly and without any thought.” He derided Mr. Biden for referring to notes during his first formal news conference on Thursday.

“What’s great about not being the secretary of state anymore is I can say things that when I was a diplomat I couldn’t say,” Mr. Pompeo said the next morning, to a small crowd at the Westside Conservative Club near Des Moines.

Never mind that he was hardly known for biting his tongue, even as the nation’s top diplomat. It seems clear that Mr. Pompeo, a onetime Republican congressman from Kansas, is animated not just by freedom but also by a drive for high elective office that has long been evident to friends and foes. His appearances in a pair of presidential battleground 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 foreign policy,” said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian. He said Mr. Pompeo “probably believes he is demonstrating his Trumpiness by castigating the performance of the newly installed President Biden.”

“This hastiness is not a sign of self-confidence,” Mr. Beschloss said. “Presidential aspirants who have faith in their staying power are not so grabby.”

Mr. Pompeo’s political strategist did not respond to messages seeking comment or an interview, but people close to Mr. Pompeo said Democratic secretaries of state before him, including John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, were openly critical of President Donald J. Trump.

But Mr. Kerry largely held his tongue for the first months of the Trump presidency, growing more openly critical — if less relentlessly so — after Mr. Trump announced in June 2017 that the United States would pull out of the Paris climate agreement. By the time Mr. Trump took office earlier that year, Mrs. Clinton, his election opponent, had long shed any nonpartisan diplomatic veneer.

Mr. Pompeo has notably steered clear of directly criticizing 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 the Palestinians canceled under Mr. Trump were “immoral” and would support terrorist activity. “Americans and Israelis should be outraged by the Biden administration’s plans to do so,” Mr. Pompeo wrote.

But his commentary goes beyond foreign policy. Mr. Pompeo has also condemned Mr. Biden’s “backward” “open border” policies. And on March 19, he simply tweeted the number 1,327 — an apparent reference to the number of days until the 2024 election.

Mr. Pompeo appears to have a heightened sense of animosity toward Mr. Kerry, who is back in government as Mr. Biden’s climate czar. That appointment, in part, does “not bode well for American energy and for affordable energy here at home,” Mr. Pompeo said in Iowa.

And in a Feb. 22 appearance on Fox News, Mr. Pompeo unloaded on his predecessor over meetings Mr. Kerry had during the Trump years with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, which Mr. Pompeo called an “un-American” effort to undermine Mr. Trump’s foreign policy.

There is little sign that Mr. Pompeo’s criticism has struck a nerve among Biden officials and their allies. Asked about the remarks last month, a State Department spokesman, Ned Price, declined to respond directly but said the Biden and Trump administrations shared the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“No one cares,” Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeted in response to a recent news report about a Pompeo critique of Mr. Biden’s policies.

Mr. Pompeo drew modest crowds but a warm reception at two events in Iowa. He was scheduled to speak to Republicans in New Hampshire on Monday on a video fund-raiser for a State House candidate.

Republicans say Mr. Pompeo stands a chance of uniting the Trump movement with the party’s more traditional Reaganite wing, in which he has his roots. But he will have a steep climb.

Some polls show him lagging far behind nearly all other 2024 Republican contenders in Iowa and New Hampshire. Even Mr. Trump, when asked during a Fox News interview last week, neglected to mention Mr. Pompeo when naming Republicans he expects to shape the party’s future.

“It’s going to be a very crowded field, and somebody like Pompeo needs time to break through, which is why he’s starting so early,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former aide to Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida.

To some, Mr. Pompeo is simply continuing a nod-and-wink campaign he began 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 domestic audience while on a taxpayer-funded diplomatic visit to Jerusalem in August. He also hosted about two dozen dinners at the State Department 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 that he must take an early high-profile and combative role to make inroads among Republican voters.

“Pompeo is still looking to establish his brand,” Mr. Conant said. “He’s not as well known in his own right, and the way to get attention is to be partisan and show the Republican base that you’re willing to take the fight to the Democrats.”

Mr. Pompeo has cast his recent politicking as assistance for Republican congressional midterm candidates.

“If we get 2022 right, 2024 will solve itself,” Mr. Pompeo said in Iowa.

When pressed, Mr. Pompeo has not denied that he is considering a presidential campaign.

“I’m always up for a good fight,” Mr. Pompeo told the Fox News host Sean Hannity in a March 3 interview when asked if he would run. “I’ve been a part of the conservative movement for an awfully long time now. I aim to keep at it.”

“I’ll take that as a strong maybe,” Mr. Hannity replied.

“That’s perfect,” Mr. Pompeo said.

In a separate Fox News appearance last month, Mr. Pompeo complained that former Obama officials like Mr. Kerry had sought to remain active, at least when it came to world affairs.

“They lost an election, and they should have just gotten off the stage,” Mr. Pompeo said.



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