Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney joined a growing effort among Republicans trying to halt billionaire Donald Trump’s march toward the party’s 2016 nomination, speaking out Thursday to denounce Trump as “a phony” and “a fraud.”
Speaking in Utah, Romney said Trump’s “promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University” – a reference to a Trump business enterprise that is under investigation for fraud in New York.
“Here’s what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud … (and) he’s playing the American public for suckers,” Romney said.
Romney, the Republicans’ unsuccessful candidate opposing President Barack Obama’s re-election four years ago, spoke in Salt Lake City, at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics Forum.
His increasing jabs at Trump in recent days include sharp criticism of the party front-runner’s refusal to release his tax returns and his initial reluctance to disavow an endorsement from a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group.
Romney’s attacks on Trump now contrast markedly with the two men’s relationship in 2012, when billionaire real-estate mogul Trump championed Romney, who in turn praised Trump’s business expertise.
“Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works, to create jobs for the American people,” Romney said then. “He understands that our economy is facing threats from abroad. He’s one of the few people who stood up and said, ‘You know what, China has been cheating.’ ”
Critical of Trump
Romney joins an increasing number of party leaders and influential donors who strongly oppose Trump’s candidacy.
They are critical of the one-time television reality show host’s controversial policies on trade, immigration and other issues: his vow to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States and for Mexico to pay for and build a tall wall along its entire U.S. border.
Romney urged fellow Republicans to shun Trump for the good of the country and the party.
“Of the remaining candidates, the only serious policy proposals that deal with the broad range of national challenges we confront have come from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich,” Romney declared.
Sources told the Reuters news agency Romney was not expected to endorse anyone in his speech.
After Romney’s speech was announced Wednesday, Trump mocked the former Massachusetts governor on social media, calling him “Failed candidate Mitt Romney.”
Foreign policy veterans
Meanwhile, group of 60 Republican foreign policy veterans signed a joint letter released late Wednesday opposing Trump, saying he would “act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world.”
The list of signatories includes former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former World Bank President and Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and former top Pentagon official Dov Zakheim.
Later Thursday, Trump will join Florida Senator Rubio, Ohio Governor Kasich and Texas Senator Cruz at a debate in Detroit, Michigan.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson will not take part in the debate in his hometown.
While not formally dropping out of the race, Carson issued a statement Wednesday saying he sees “no path forward” to the nomination. It was not immediately clear whether he would officially suspend his campaign.
Kelly-Trump debate rematch
The Republican debate, to be held at 9 p.m. EST (0200 UTC Friday), is being hosted by Fox News, with moderators Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace.
Thursday night’s debate is the first time Trump and Kelly will meet after the first Republican debate in August. Trump, who felt he was being grilled unfairly by Kelly, has made several disparaging remarks about Kelly in interviews and on social media.