The love-hate relationship between President Trump and Mitt Romney took another turn Wednesday when Trump fired back at Romney, the incoming Utah senator, over a Washington Post op-ed that asserted “The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December.”
“Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake?” Trump tweeted, apparently a punning reference to retiring Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a long-standing Trump critic. “I hope not. Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful. I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN.”
Ronna Romney McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee and Mitt Romney’s niece, criticized her uncle in a follow-up tweet.
“POTUS is attacked and obstructed by the MSM media and Democrats 24/7,” she wrote. “For an incoming Republican freshman senator to attack @realDonaldTrump as their first act feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive.”
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, lost the 2012 presidential election to Barack Obama, who received 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206. Obama also won the popular vote, 51.1 percent to 47.2 percent. In 2016, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College 304 to 227 to win the presidency, but Clinton won the popular vote 48.2 percent to Trump’s 46.1 percent.
Still, Romney is thought to be among a handful of Republicans, including Flake and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who could challenge Trump for the 2020 GOP nomination. But in a Wednesday interview with CNN, Romney said he has no intention of seeking the presidency again, despite his distaste for Trump’s behavior.
“Well, over the course of the last two years, I have put out a number of statements that relate to things that were of great concern to me,” Romney told host Jake Tapper. “The Charlottesville response by the president was something that gave me great concern. The support for Roy Moore in the Senate race was something I was very, very concerned about. His attack on the media.”
Asked whether such incidents should have given him pause about accepting Trump’s endorsement in his Senate race, Romney again put distance between himself and the president.
“He was endorsing me; I wasn’t endorsing him,” Romney said.
Romney — who once called Trump a “fraud” and opposed his nomination — was a candidate for secretary of state during the transition.
Speaking to reporters before a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Trump said that if Romney had fought as hard against Obama as he did against him, “he would have won the election.”
In his op-ed posted online Tuesday night, Romney blasted Trump’s character and expressed dismay over the departure of Defense Secretary James Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly.
“With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable,” Romney wrote. “And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”
Romney said he had hoped Trump “would rise to the occasion” but that the president “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
The Trump-Romney relationship dates back to 2012, when Trump endorsed the then Republican presidential contender at a press conference in Las Vegas.
“Mitt is tough, he’s smart, he’s sharp, he’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love,” Trump said at the time.
In 2016, Romney did not return the favor, calling then candidate Trump a “fraud.”
“Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney said in March of that year. “His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.”
After the election, they patched things up, with Romney meeting with Trump several times about joining the then president-elect’s Cabinet. (Trump ultimately picked Rex Tillerson as his first secretary of state.)
And last year, Trump endorsed Romney in the Utah Senate race.
“Mitt’s a straight shooter,” Trump said in June.
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