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Romney, Trump Spar Over Future of GOP

Romney speaks on the state of the Republican Party in Salt Lake City on Thursday, calling GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump a fraud and arguing that he should never be nominated. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

The man establishment Republicans held up as their standard bearer in 2012 and the political outsider disaffected voters have increasingly rallied around in this year's presidential contest went at it on Thursday in a public spat over the soul of the party.  

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who lost to President Barack Obama four years ago, offered a litany of reasons in a speech at the University of Utah why the country should reject current GOP front-runner Donald Trump.  

Romney took aim at every part of Trump’s conventional wisdom-defying candidacy. “The rules of political history have pretty much been shredded during this campaign,” Romney said of the unprecedented rise of the wild-card businessman/politician.  

He assailed Trump’s character (“The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny …” are just some of the personal shortfalls Romney called into question), his business savvy (“A business genius he is not,” Romney stated after laundry listing Trump’s failed marketing ventures), his bravado (warning that allowing Trump to follow through on threats to exterminate presumed terrorists and their families would greatly diminish “the prospect for a safe and prosperous future”) and his overall demeanor.  

“Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark,” Romney asserted. “His imagination must not be married to real power.”  

Although he began his speech with a caveat that he would not endorse any one candidate, Romney did send a coded high-five to Florida Republican Marco Rubio by thanking those who’ve sounded the alarm over Trump.  

“There’s plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man and a fake,” Romney said.  

He urged conservatives to disregard Trump’s media spectacle and take a harder look at the sound proposals being espoused by rivals Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.  

“One of these men should be our nominee,” Romney counseled.  

Romney also reiterated his challenge for Trump to share his tax filings. “He will never, ever release his tax returns. He has too much to hide,” he assured the audience. “Watch how he responds to my speech today,” Romney advised. “Will he talk about our policy differences? Or will he attack with every possible low-road insult?”  

The answer came soon after as Trump weighed in on Romney’s assault at a rally in Portland, Maine, delivering a stream-of-consciousness retort for nearly 50 minutes.  

The most common refrain: “Get ‘em out of here!” a command he shouted to event security several times after protesters continued cropping up in the crowd. When not being interrupted by demonstrators, Trump maintained a staccato rhythm.  

Rather than provide a point-by-point rebuttal to Romney, Trump got all manner of annoyances off his chest.  

He complained about a rug purportedly ruined by a parade of rain-soaked Romney supporters during a 2012 fundraiser he helped organized; trumpeted his 100-some construction projects around the world; related exchanges he’s shared with his wife, Melania, throughout the campaign; bemoaned missing the golf tournament taking place at his club in Florida; dubbed his rivals “lightweights” (both Romney and Rubio were tagged with the insult); groused about commuter travel (“We have trains that go ‘chug-chug-chug,’” he said, expressing his admiration for the Maglev trains in service abroad) and described what he thought Romney would have done for Trump’s 2012 endorsement.  

“I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees.’ He would have dropped to his knees,'” Trump said. “He was begging me.”  

Trump ultimately did endorse Romney in that race, a courtesy he said he now very much regrets.  “Mitt was a disaster to begin with,” Trump said. “He let us down. He should’ve won.”  

Trump brushed aside Romney’s campaign to shame him on his personal taxes, reiterating statements that the IRS audits him like clockwork. “When the audit’s finished, I’ll release my tax return,” Trump said.  

He took the media to task as well, ridiculing pundits for continuing to be wrong about him. According to Trump, when he first officially got into the race — something naysayers wrote off as a publicity stunt — public support for him was at about 3 percent. He then cited a recent CNN poll that has him at 49 percent.  

“This is not a plateau. This is a movement we have going on,” he declared.  

Arizona Sen. John McCain has said for weeks he’ll support the GOP nominee, but called Trump “dangerous” in a statement on Thursday.  

“I share the concerns about Donald Trump that my friend and former Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, described in his speech today. I would also echo the many concerns about Mr. Trump’s uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues that have been raised by 65 Republican defense and foreign policy leaders.  

“At a time when our world has never been more complex or more in danger, as we watch the threatening actions of a neo-imperial Russia, an assertive China, an expansionist Iran, an insane North Korean ruler, and terrorist movements that are metastasizing across the Middle East and Africa, 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.”  

Disillusioned conservatives have for months worked to turn the tide against Trump.  

GOP consultant Liz Mair launched an anti-Trump Super PAC Make America Awesome , specifically designed to thwart “Donald Trump’s political ascent,” while former House Republican leadership aide Doug Heye continues to try to chip away at the businessman’s reputation with his #NeverTrump campaign.  

Still, Heye worried that publicly tearing down Trump might backfire.

Kasich seemed far less concerned, congratulating Romney for his candor.    

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