Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney -- the most high-profile effort so far by a major figure in the GOP establishment to derail Donald Trump’s campaign for president -- denounced the billionaire in a speech in Utah this morning, calling him, among other things, a “phony and a fraud.”
While some Republicans, appalled at the prospect of Trump representing the Party in the general election, were relieved to see the party establishment stir itself to repel the Trump-led rebellion, at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), which is taking place outside Washington, DC this week, there was widespread concern – and no small amount of anger – about the effect Romney’s speech would have.
At the annual gathering of conservative activists, students, and media, the decision by the foremost symbol of the Republican establishment – the last person the party put forward to run the country – to personally attack Trump before Republican voters are allowed to choose a candidate struck many as a big mistake. Worse still, some said, was the increased rumblings that the Party might consider using dirty tricks or technicalities to bring him down.
The idea that Trump, who built his candidacy on stoking anger at the establishment, would lose supporters if the establishment demonized him seemed nonsensical to many.
Asked if such a move might backfire on the GOP and actually strengthen Trump, former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli said, “Hell, yeah.”
A prominent Ted Cruz surrogate, Cuccinelli was the first state attorney general to sue the federal government over the Affordable Care Act and remains an influential figure, particularly in the social conservative wing of the party.
“What Mitt Romney plans to do this morning is a really, really, really bad idea,” he said, while rushing between radio interviews. “I have lots of good arguments why Ted Cruz is better than Donald Trump, but ‘because the establishment doesn’t like him’ isn’t one of them.”
Ron Nervitt, a retired federal employee visiting from Williamsburg, VA said, “I’m not a Trump supporter but I think what the Republicans are doing in trying to scuttle him is terrible.” Like many at the conference, he said the possibility of driving Trump’s supporters out of the Party would be electoral suicide.
“If Trump wins, it’s ‘Oh, my God,’’ he said. “But if Trump gets scuttled? ‘Oh, my God. Oh, my God.’ Because I don’t see any of the Trump supporters voting this year if they really do something like that.”
Nervitt said that he and his wife, Lois, also attending, “were real Romney supporters” in the 2012 presidential election. But now, he said, “I’m losing respect for Mitt Romney day by day. I wish he would stay the hell out of it, already.”
Even Karl Nilson of Bowie, Maryland, who was walking around the CPAC conference in a shirt depicting a stop sign with the words “Stop Trump” emblazoned on it, was dubious about an establishment-led effort to block the billionaire – particularly one led by Mitt Romney.
First of all, he said, “The people who strongly support Trump are certainly not going to change their minds because of Romney.”
“In the end, if he gets the most votes, gets the most delegates, he should get the nomination,” he said. “I’m not going to vote for him. But I think it would be a disaster if he does win the nomination and is denied it somehow.”