Here’s Why Romney’s Assault on Trump Could Backfire
Policy + Politics

Here’s Why Romney’s Assault on Trump Could Backfire

© Mike Blake / Reuters

Mitt Romney’s condemnation of Donald Trump gives renewed urgency to the “Never Trump” movement of GOP officials and elders working against their own frontrunner while at the same time presenting new risks to Republican chances in November.

“Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat,” Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, said Thursday during a speech in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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The billionaire’s “domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe,” according to Romney. “He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”

The roughly 20-minute address was a full-throttle attempt to paint Trump as a charlatan. Romney ticked off a laundry list of areas where the GOP frontrunner isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, from his various business ventures – “a business genius he is not” – to foreign policy where Trump has proposed the “most ridiculous and dangerous idea” of the 2016 cycle by suggesting ISIS take out the regime in Syria.

Trump brings "the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss," Romney said.

The strong words are part of a coordinated effort to tear down the former reality TV star, who has already won 10 nominating contests and could rack up several more this weekend when voters turn out in five more states.

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Earlier this week, an anti-Trump super PAC headed by a former Romney aide, announced it would spend at least $1 million on new ads arguing the real estate mogul is a con artist.

"The truth about Trump University? Donald Trump made millions, while hard-working Americans got scammed," the narrator says in a minute-long spot by Our Principles PAC. "Donald Trump belongs in a 3 a.m. infomercial, not here," the narrator adds, before an image of the White House flashes on the screen. 

On Wednesday, 60 Republican national security wonks posted a letter on War on the Rocks declaring their opposition to Trump – the self-proclaimed “most militaristic person” in the GOP primary. The defense hawks rattle off a series of Trump foreign policy positions, including his embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as reason they are “unable to support a party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head.”

But given the Teflon nature of Trump’s candidacy where he’s shrugged off innumerable charges and attacks that ordinarily would sink a White House hopeful, it’s hard to image the latest assault, launched from the quintessential Republican establishment, will have any effect.

In fact, one possible negative consequence of the collective anti-Trump movement is that the billionaire decides to split off from the GOP, taking with him the millions of new voters who have turned out to support him.

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Trump hinted at that very idea Thursday morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

"The establishment — they want to throw that right out the window. Because if I get out, all those people are going, they're all going with me," he said. "I signed a letter with the [Republican National Committee] and I said I want to do this as a Republican," Trump said, flirting once again with the idea of launching a third-party bid. "But I'm not being treated the right way. I'm not being treated properly."

"Whether I ran as an independent or not, those people will never go out and vote ... they didn't vote for Romney last time," Trump said. "If the time comes and when... who knows what's going to happen, but I will be able to get along. And we will have a much bigger party, we will have a much more inclusive party.”

The feud between the pair, which began on Twitter a few weeks ago when Romney skewered Trump over not releasing his tax returns, is likely to continue, given Trump’s thin skin. The former Massachusetts governor predicted Trump would use every “low road” against him in the days ahead, including possibly at Thursday night’s GOP debate.

Indeed, during an interview with NBC’s Today Show, the billionaire called Romney a “stiff.”

Yet Romney’s words could resonate, as evidenced by a statement released by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the GOP’s 2008 nominee, moments after the address concluded.

“I want Republican voters to pay close attention to what our party's most respected and knowledgeable leaders and national security experts are saying about Mr. Trump, and to think long and hard about who they want to be our next Commander-in-Chief and leader of the free world,” said McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.