Ashley J. Tellis, a former George W. Bush administration official who became a top “Never Trump” Republican and actually backed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, is trying to sneak his way past President Donald J. Trump into a plum diplomatic position in the Trump administration.
Tellis, who is reportedly close to being selected as President Trump’s United States ambassador to India, supported Clinton for president to undermine Trump during the campaign as part of a group of Republicans who tried to tank his candidacy post-primary. Tellis has even been openly opposed to the Trump administration’s “America First” doctrine, making the news he is even being considered for the top diplomatic position in one of the biggest countries in the world even more puzzling.
Tellis, 55, is a former Bush administration White House official and former senior adviser at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi from 2001 to 2003. He also worked on the National Security Council as a special assistant to president George W. Bush, and as senior director for Strategic Planning and Southwest Asia during the early part of the Bush administration. He is an Indian scholar who went on be a senior fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, among other positions.
But, during the 2016 presidential election–after Trump was officially nominated at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July–Tellis joined a group of rogue Republicans who publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidency.
“Together for America is launching to lead the Hillary for America campaign’s recruitment and outreach to the growing number of Republicans and Independents who are stepping forward to endorse Hillary Clinton for president,” the Clinton campaign said in the release that listed the Republicans who abandoned their nominee, the man who would become president of the United States. “The list of nearly 50 endorsements includes three former Cabinet Secretaries, six current or former Members of the House and Senate, six former Ambassadors, five former leaders in the armed forces, nearly 20 senior Republican administration officials and numerous business or community leaders.”
The argument the Clinton campaign put forward in this release is that voters were “increasingly seeing that Clinton understands the complex and volatile world we live in and has the experience and temperament to be president and lead the nation as Commander in Chief and that Donald Trump does not.”
“These endorsements send a strong signal to Republican and Independent voters that respected leaders are putting country over political party in this election,” the Clinton campaign release said.
The release even quotes Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the disgraced leader whose emails would later be published on WikiLeaks, praising so-called Republicans like Tellis for undermining the GOP nominee and instead backing Clinton. Podesta said:
Americans are looking to the next president to help bring us together to tackle the big challenges facing the country and Hillary Clinton’s bi-partisan support is the latest proof that she can work across the aisle to make us stronger together. Hillary Clinton’s experience and temperament make her a steady leader for this unique moment while Donald Trump is unfit, lacks the temperament, and is too dangerous to be in the Oval Office and the Situation Room. Regardless of party, voters are increasingly concerned that Trump’s tendency to bully, demean and degrade others sends the wrong message to our children.
Tellis’s name appears on the list below that quote, alongside the names of other top Republicans who were backing Clinton as part of the Never Trump movement, including former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), and former Hewlett-Packard CEO and failed California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman,
Trump has been reportedly blocking other “Never Trump” Republicans from getting administration posts, not selecting people who signed various letters against him for different spots in government. But Tellis somehow seems to be slipping through unnoticed, off the Trump team’s–or the president’s–radar.
“Transition sources said Trump is close to selecting Ashley Tellis, a former White House official and renowned India expert, to be the next U.S. ambassador to India,” the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin wrote in early January.
Last week, the Hindustan Times in India added that the foreign policy establishment there hopes Trump picks this Never Trump Clinton supporter.
“Ashley Tellis, a Mumbai-born scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is an authoritative voice on India-U.S. ties and is tipped to be Donald Trump’s envoy to New Delhi,” Sushil Aaron wrote in the Indian outlet. “India will hope his appointment will come through, not only because he has been a consistent advocate of close ties but also because he has offered firm public advice to Trump about the need for continuity in policy towards Delhi.”
But what’s perhaps most puzzling about this guy might being considered is that even after Trump crushed Clinton on Nov. 8, winning a landslide 306 electoral votes to shock the world and win the presidency, Tellis has continued publicly criticizing the now president of the United States and his policies.
According to the Indian Express—which published a piece on Tellis’s criticisms the day before President Trump’s inauguration–Tellis is now publicly warning that Trump’s “‘America First’ strategy has the potential to damage the U.S.-India relationship” and that “Trump should instead strengthen India’s alliance to cope up with the challenges posed by China.”
The Indian Express was quoting from an op-ed that Tellis wrote on Asia Policy by the National Bureau of Asian Research, titled: “Avoiding the Labors of Sisyphus: Strengthening U.S.-India Relations in a Trump Administration.”
In it, Tellis wrote that that Trump’s election “could interrupt the dramatic deepening in U.S.-Indian ties to the disadvantage of both nations.”
“If this outcome were to materialize, it would not be necessarily because Trump harbors any particular animus toward India,” Tellis wrote.
Tellis quoted several different statements Trump made about India throughout the campaign.
“During the election campaign, he admittedly did complain that ‘India is taking [U.S.] jobs’ and that the United States was being ‘ripped off’ by many Asian countries, including India,” Tellis wrote. “But he also declared that he was ‘a big fan,’ and that ‘if…elected President, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House.'”
Tellis went on to argue in this piece that Trump has “probably unsettled” views on India as a whole, and his comments about the country taking U.S. jobs away are part of a “nationalist agenda” that is “understandable–even defensible,” but that Trump in his view has not thoroughly thought this issue through. He even mocked Trump for condemning what he laughed off as “pernicious globalism.” Tellis wrote:
The variety of positions expressed by Trump suggests that the potential threat to the continuing transformation of U.S.-India relations comes less from his views on India—which are probably unsettled—than it does from his iconoclastic convictions about the relationship between the United States and the world. Throughout the campaign, Trump emphatically affirmed his opposition to the existing international order, arguing that the United States, far from being its beneficiary, was in fact its principal victim. To remedy the inconveniences flowing from this pernicious ‘globalism,’ his America-first campaign promoted an agenda that rejected multilateral free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, demanded that allies bear a greater share of the burdens associated with their defense, and eschewed U.S. military intervention in virtually all instances other than to avert direct threats to the U.S. homeland.
If Trump does overlook all of this and names Tellis to the position, he would replace Richard Verma. Verma, in 2015, was named U.S. ambassador to India by former President Barack Obama.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter and Periscope @AdelleNaz