Mitt Romney became the adult in the room in the 2016 presidential race on Thursday morning.
During a 20-minute smackdown of Donald Trump at the University of Utah, Romney eviscerated the Republican frontrunner, saying he was unfit to occupy the White House.
“Trump is a phony and a fraud,” said Romney. “His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.”
Romney’s measured take down of Trump stood in stark contrast to the often juvenile slap fight that has erupted between Trump and his two chief rivals for the GOP nomination, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz.
Romney rattled off a litany of reasons why he feels Trump lacks the temperament to be president.
“This is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter’s questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity. Donald Trump says he admires Vladimir Putin while he has called George W. Bush a liar.”
Romney also said Trumps reaction to his criticism will strengthen only further his argument that he is too juvenile to hold the highest office in the land.
“Just watch how he responds to my speech today,” he said to a big round of applause from the audience. “Will he talk about policy, or will he attack me with a bunch of low-road insults?”
Trump did not disappoint. At a campaign rally in Vermont, he mocked Romney saying he “begged” for his endorsement in 2012. “He would have gotten on his knees for me,” said Trump.
Romney also laid out a laundry list of reasons why Trump’s self-proclaimed business acumen is a mirage.
“Isn’t he a huge business success that knows what he’s talking about? No, he isn’t. His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who worked for them. He inherited his business; he didn’t create it. And what ever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks, and Trump Mortgage? A business genius he is not.”
Romney also warned a majority of Trump’s policy proposals pose a grave threat to the country, and his bombast is alarming allies. He says Trumps idea to let ISIS take out Assad in Syria is “reckless in the extreme.”
“Trump tells us he is very, very smart. He is very, very not smart when it comes to foreign policy. His proposed 35% tariff-like penalties would instigate a trade war that would raise prices for consumers, kill export jobs, and lead entrepreneurs and businesses to flee America. His tax plan, in combination with his refusal to reform entitlements and to honestly address spending, would balloon the deficit and the national debt. So even as Donald Trump has offered very few specific economic plans, what little he has said is enough to know that he would be very bad for American workers and for American families.”
Romney also blasted Trump’s penchant for saying things that are patently untrue.
“Dishonesty is Trump’s hallmark: He claimed that he had spoken clearly and boldly against going into Iraq. Wrong, he spoke in favor of invading Iraq. He said he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11. Wrong, he saw no such thing. He imagined it. His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader. His imagination must not be married to real power.”
Some local Trump supporters were non-plussed by Romney’s effort to derail Trump.
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, the second highest ranking Republican in the Utah Senate, said: “I love Mitt Romney. I wish he was in the (presidential) race.” But he added that he believes having an “outsider in the race is a good thing, good for the mix” of the current candidates.
Okerlund said he didn’t watch the Romney speech, but “I knew he (Romney) would go after him (Trump).”
Asked if he still endorsed Trump — after Romney, much revered by Mormons and Republicans in Utah — Overland hesitated, then said yes. “Of those still in the race, yes, I still support” Trump.
Okerlund and Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, the third highest ranking Republican in the state Senate, endorsed Trump several weeks ago when the Trump campaign officially organized in the state.
Adams declined to be interviewed by UtahPolicy before the Senate convened Thursday morning just after the Romney speech.
Romney also warned Trump’s nomination virtually hands the White House to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“Someone so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton must not become president. A Trump nomination enables her victory in November.”
Romney’s most dire warning about Trump’s candidacy was about his supporters and the emotions he seems to be tapping into.
“I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channeled that anger, and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good. Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants, he calls for the use of torture and for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit first amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.”