Election 2016

Shots Fired: 7 Astonishing Moments in Mitt Romney's Donald Trump Takedown

The GOP's elder statesman has launched the long-promised war on Trump.

The Republican establishment has finally launched its war on Donald Trump. After mounting calls from party leaders, the editorial pages of the Washington Post, New York Times and others, Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, made the case Thursday morning that Trump would be a ruinous choice for Republicans and the country, calling him cruel, unstable, intolerant, belligerent, uninformed and unfit to be president.  

Trump countered by tweeting that Romney is a "failed candidate." However, he told MSNBC that he might run as an independent, saying the "establishment" attacks—which include new TV ads—were "really unfair." Trump said, "If I leave, if I go... I mean, may or may not. But if I go, I will tell you, these millions of people that joined, they’re all coming with me." 

Romney’s remarks were unprecedented in modern politics: a former nominee trashing his party's frontrunner and saying why he must not be president. Romney began by invoking a similar warning from Ronald Reagan in 1964, in which he said the country’s future was at a crossroad. “If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.”

What follows are seven excerpts from Romney’s speech, which he delivered in sober tones with occasional smirks. Even though Romney welcomed Trump’s endorsement in 2012, for which he is being called a hypocrite, and both he and Trump made fortunes in businesses that prey on ordinary Americans—Romney’s leveraged buyouts and Trump’s casinos—it was stunning to watch Romney dismantle Trump’s candidacy.

Romney started with domestic policy, then turned to foreign affairs and most important of all, the leadership qualities that are needed and expected in a presidential candidate and commander in chief. On all fronts, he called Trump a fraud, a fake and a dangerous poseur.

1. Trump will trash the economy. “First on the economy, if Donald Trump's plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into prolonged recession. A few examples, his propsed 35 percent tariff-like penalties would instigate a trade war and that would raise prices for consumers, kill export jobs and lead entrepreneurs and businesses of all stripes to flee America. His tax plan, in combination with his refusal to reform entitlements and honestly address spending, would balloon the deficit and national debt. So even though 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 American families.”

2. Trump’s business record stinks. “But you say, wait, wait, wait, hasn’t he been a huge business success? Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about? No, he isn’t. And no, he doesn’t… Look, his bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them. He inherited his business, he didn’t create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? What about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine, and Trump Vodka, and Trump Steaks, and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.”      

3. Trump has no real solutions. While Romney said that not every idea of Trump's is bad—like bringing jobs back from overseas—“his prescriptions to do those things are flimsy at best. At the last debate, all he could remember about his health care plan was to remove insurance boundaries between states… Frankly, the only serious policy proposals that deal with a broad range of challenges we confront today come from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich. One of these men should be our nominee.”

4. Trump is a national security disaster. “Now let me turn to national security and the safety of our homes and loved ones. Mr. Trump’s bombast is already alarming our allies and fueling the emnity of our enemies. Insulting all Muslims will keep any of them from engaging with us in the urgent fight against ISIS. And for what purpose? Muslim terrorists would only have to lie about their religion to enter the country.

“Then what he said on '60 Minutes,' did you hear this? It was about Syria and ISIS. It has to go down as the most ridiculous and dangerous idea of the entire campaign season. Let ISIS take out Assad, he said, and then we can pick up the remnants. Now think about that. Let the most dangerous terror organization the world has ever known take over an entire country? This recklessness is recklessness in the extreme. Now Mr. Trump tells us that he is very, very smart. I’m afraid when it comes to foreign policy, he is very, very not smart.”

5. Trump’s temperament isn’t presidential. “I am far from first to conclude that Donald Trump lacks the temperament to be president. After all, this is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter. Who attributed a reporter’s question 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 laces his public speeches with vulgarity... He said he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11. Wrong. He saw no such thing. He imagined it. He’s not of the temperament or the kind of stable thoughtful person we need as leader. His imagination must not be married to real power.”

6. Trump’s personal qualities are appalling. “The president of the United States has long been the leader of the free world. The president, and yes, even the nominees of the country’s great parties, help define America to billions of people around the world. All of them bear the responsibility of being an example for our children and our grandchildren.

“Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities. The bullying. The greed. The showing off. The misogyny. The absurd third-grade theatrics. We’ve long referred to him as The Donald. He’s the only person in the country to whom we’ve added an article before his name and it wasn’t because he had attributes we admired….

7. Watch how Trump will respond to me. “Watch by the way, how he responds to my speech today… Will he talk about our policy differences or will he attack me with every imaginable low-road insult? This may tell you what you need to know about his temperament, his stability and his suitability to be president.”

Romney Tells Republicans to Pick Rubio, Kasich or Cruz

Romney said he was not endorsing a specific candidate, but said the primary season should continue as long as needed to pick another nominee. He said that if he were voting in Florida next week, he’d vote for Rubio; if he were in Ohio on March 15, he would vote for Kasich; if he were a Cruz supporter, he’d vote for Cruz.

There were several times Romney appeared to delight in attacking Trump, which could undermine his critique. The three men he said were qualified to be president are all harsh right-wingers when it comes to almost every issue—immigration, reproductive rights, climate change, slashing safety nets and privatizing public agencies. That fact should not be lost as the attack on Trump continues to unfold.   

Romney closed by saying the national polls show Trump losing to Hillary Clinton, who he attacked as one of the most unsavory public figures of our time. “Of course, a Trump nomination enables her victory,” he said. “If I’m right, you’ll have all the proof you need to prove that Mr. Trump is indeed a phony. Attacking me as he surely will won’t prove him any less of a phony.”

Sure enough, Trump tweeted a reply to Romney, repeating what he has previously said, “Failed candidate Mitt Romney, who ran one of the worst races in presidential history, is working with the establishment to bury a big 'R' win!”

Trump also told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program that he might run as an independent because he was being disrespected by the party, even though he signed a pledge to support the GOP's 2016 nominee.

"I am watching television — and I am seeing ad after ad after ad put in by the establishment, knocking the hell out of me, and it’s really unfair," Trump said. "I signed a letter with the RNC, and I said, you know, I wanna do this as a Republican — the pledges, they call it," he said in Thursday's interview. "But I’m not being treated the right way. I am not being treated properly.”

Tonight there is another GOP debate on Fox News, where you can be sure the moderators and other candidates will pick up on Romney’s remarks and Trump's reconsideration of a third-party run. Rubio, Cruz and Kasich will have one of their last chances to change the race’s direction before the next delegate-rich states vote: Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina.     

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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