Republicans back Clinton, but will she put them in Pentagon?

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By Rebecca Kheel – 09/03/16 09:17 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton is winning endorsements from Republicans who served in the Pentagon or worked on national security teams for GOP presidents.

But don’t expect Clinton to pay back those endorsements by nominating Republicans to serve at the Pentagon.

Former national security aides, defense policy aides and political strategists interviewed for this story say they don’t expect Clinton to nominate a large number of Republicans to her national security team.

They say those Republicans backing Clinton are more interested in defeating Republican Donald Trump than in working with Clinton.

“I would surprised if the Republican national security guys go to the Clinton administration,” said Kori Schake, a former senior defense and National Security Council official under President George W. Bush who’s said she’s voting for Clinton.

“It’s not so much they support her, so much as we all believe Donald Trump is a unique kind of danger.”

Clinton also would likely face a furious pushback from an already suspicious left if she were to nominate former Bush aides to advise her on military matters.

“I think that’s something progressives and those concerned with the challenges of a nation that’s been engaged in war for the better part of the century are keeping an eye on,” said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy for America, the progressive advocacy group founded by Howard Dean.

At least 17 Republican national security and foreign policy officials have come out in support of Clinton, including heavyweights such as Bush’s deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and Bush’s director of national intelligence John Negroponte.

There’s precedent for a Democratic president to have a Republican defense secretary, noted Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“You never see Republicans appointing Democrats, but you do see Democrats appointing Republicans,” he said.

President Obama kept on Robert Gates from the Bush administration as his defense secretary.

He later appointed Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, to be his third defense secretary.

President Bill Clinton also appointed a Republican, Bill Cohen, to be defense secretary in his second term.

Most people think Clinton will pick a Democrat as her defense secretary, however.

More specifically, they think the job will go to Michele Flournoy, who was the third-ranking civilian at the Pentagon from 2009 to 2012 and now leads the Center for a New American Security think tank.

“She has been an insider long enough to know what makes the system work and an outsider enough that she doesn’t take no for an answer,” said Rosa Brooks, who worked for Flournoy from 2009 to 2011.

Further, Flournoy would be the United States’ first female defense secretary, and Clinton has said she wants half of her cabinet to be women.

“I think that having a women in that role obviously just sends a powerful symbolic message,” Brooks said. “But if [Flournoy] were, most people would not be focusing on that. It would be icing on the cake. That’s not the reason anybody would be appointing her.”

With the defense secretary job all but locked up, Skelley said he doesn’t foresee the lower positions going to Republicans.

“It’s more unlikely,” he said. “The top job is what gets a lot of attention. I’m not sure what would go on lower down.”

Clinton could appoint Republicans to other parts of her government. Obama, as an example, nominated former Rep. Ray LaHood (Ill.) as his Transportation secretary. He also sought to nominate then-Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) as his secretary of Commerce, though Gregg backed out of the job.

At the Defense Department, aisle-crossing could be less realistic, said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

“I think bipartisan appointments don’t help that much unless it’s just the right person—and unless you govern and choose in a way that seems to reflect the viewpoints of those Republicans, in a sort of compromise style,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s very realistic for most situations, actually.”

Democracy for America said it was encouraged on foreign policy matters by Clinton’s choice of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as her running mate.

Kaine has been one of the most vocal members of the Senate when it comes to the need for Congress to debate an authorization for the use of military force for the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"I think any Democratic administration is going to have a mix of people at the table, for sure," Sroka said. "But I think we’re hopeful, again, after seeing the selection of Tim Kaine, that there will be people who don’t want to get us embroiled in conflicts overseas unnecessarily."