By Sean Gallup/Getty Photos.

As diplomatic fires burned in Venezuela, China, and Saudi Arabia final week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was touring Iowa and lining up visits to Texas and Kansas, his household state. The spate of domestic travel, and the apparent concentrate on critical battleground states, has not gone unnoticed in Foggy Bottom. Is Pompeo, a former congressman and Koch network preferred, laying roots for a 2024 run? Or, additional ambitiously, is the Trump sycophant positioning himself to swoop up Donald Trump’s base for a 2020 bid, must the president get impeached or indicted?

Diplomats I spoke with had been bewildered. One particular State Division official stated they had been “baffled somewhat” by Secretary Pompeo’s travel itinerary. Yet another lamented the timing. “So considerably going on about the planet, and [he’s] traveling in the U.S.—weird,” they told me. “Pompeo clearly has political ambition beyond getting such a pathetic Secretary of State,” stated John Weaver, a longtime Republican political operative who serves as adviser to former Ohio governor John Kasich. “He was a backbench House member till he was plucked by Trump’s band of low travelers, so I’m sure he now has the taste of what success could be. Hard to see him play politically beyond the borders of Kansas though.” Rick Wilson, another longtime G.O.P. strategist, and, like Weaver, a Never Trumper, echoed the sentiment. “Like a number of other people in Trump’s orbit, he’s trying to look past the current moment, keep the Trump base thinking he’s a true believer, and set himself up for the future,” he said.

The State Department has provided a convenient purpose for each visit: the trip to Iowa was ostensibly to recruit “millions of Americans outdoors the Boston-D.C. corridor” to serve at State, and to give a series of speeches about American agriculture and exports. In Texas, Pompeo will attend an power conference, and, in Kansas, the secretary is scheduled to address a worldwide entrepreneurship summit. “The initially client of the State Division is the American persons,” State Division spokesperson Robert Palladino stated in a statement to CNN. “The secretary believes it is essential to speak straight to the American persons to clarify how the perform of diplomats about the planet contributes to their security, safety, and prosperity.” Pompeo himself flatly dismissed the notion that his itinerary has political motivations, calling the suggestion “ridiculous.”

Pompeo’s predecessors surely visited a variety of states for the duration of their tenures. A second former higher-ranking State official told me that it has “been accomplished in the previous,” and provided that “other secretaries have attempted to gear domestic trips to precise policy concerns or trips,” or “have undertaken domestic travel in response to precise members of Congress who asked them to take a look at their State/district.” But official explanations have fallen flat in corners of the Harry S. Truman Creating and amongst veterans of the State Division. As this particular person added, Pompeo’s “sudden surge of domestic travel to the heartland” appears “a bit off-important or jarring.” “He sent about an update about the trip and it was exciting but it nonetheless seemed a bit confusing in terms of a goal,” the initially State Division official stated. “The comment about needing additional F.S.O.s from the heartland: reaction was, ‘Right, simply because we do not have sufficient white persons,’ and, ‘He went to Harvard, so do not act like he is some populist,’” stated a former higher-ranking State Division official who is nonetheless in touch with former colleagues. “Having failed at each and every bit of diplomacy that matters for our actual national safety, tends to make sense to go commit time at four-H in Iowa.”

Pompeo’s political ambition has by no means seriously been in query. His profession involves degrees from the U.S. Military Academy and Harvard Law College. He served for six years in the Residence of Representatives ahead of top the C.I.A. and then taking more than at State. All that is uncertain, it appears, is the timing. Even though Trump’s 2020 campaign has kicked into gear, Robert Mueller’s imminent Russia report and an oversight-hungry Democratic Residence raise concerns about no matter if the president will be on the ballot in the subsequent election. A lot like Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Pompeo has managed to tactfully navigate Trumpworld. His obsequiousness to the president, regardless of their incongruent demeanors, could possibly position him to absorb Trump’s disaffected MAGA base. “My gut tells me that Pompeo is undoubtedly arranging on operating for one thing at some point. I believe he is also young and also vibrant a star appropriate now in the Republican Celebration for that not to be the case,” a former administration official told me. “I undoubtedly believe most persons in the administration currently had the sense that Pompeo would be operating for workplace once more.” Earlier this year, Pompeo was reportedly floated as a prospective Republican candidate to fill Kansas Senator Pat Roberts’s seat following he retires in 2020. Pompeo at some point shut down the concept, saying he had “ruled out” the possibility.

Men and women who know him nicely, even so, inform CNN that Pompeo wouldn’t say no to top the Pentagon as secretary of defense—or taking more than the presidency. “Secretary Pompeo’s trip to Iowa, and quickly to be followed by his household state of Kansas—while on government plane, no less—has raised eyebrows in the White Residence and with outdoors advisers to the president,” a senior administration official told CNN. (As the former director of the C.I.A., 1 wonders what Pompeo could possibly know about Mueller’s findings that the public is nonetheless waiting to study.)

“I believe the important will be: is this just a brief spate of domestic travel,” or one thing additional, wondered the second State Division official. One particular or two trips could possibly be written off. But the optics commence to modify if Pompeo keeps creating “continued, frequent domestic trips more than the subsequent couple of months.” That, the official stated, would “suggest to me that he is eyeing one thing else.”