WASHINGTON (AFP) – Republican 2012 White House nominee Mitt Romney excoriated Donald Trump as unfit to be president Thursday, in a brutally personal attack that showed party panic at the billionaire s frontrunner status.
Baldly stating that “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney said his party s leading White House candidate “has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.”
Romney offered a litany of pejorative descriptions of Trump, painting him as greedy, dishonest, vulgar, reckless, bullying and misogynistic, with policies that would prompt a recession and spook allies.
Romney s stem-winder is highly unusual in a party that usually swears by Ronald Reagan s “11th commandment” — “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
But it is another sign that Trump s shock electoral success has provoked panic among the Republican grandees.
Romney heavily lost the 2012 election to incumbent president Barack Obama, a point that Trump was keen to point out on Twitter.
“I am the only one who can beat Hillary Clinton. I am not a Mitt Romney, who doesn t know how to win.” he wrote.
“Why did Mitt Romney BEG me for my endorsement four years ago?” he added.
Many believe Trump s racially tinged rhetoric and unorthodox past will lead the party to electoral oblivion.
Romney warned that “if we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.”
His comments were endorsed by the party s 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, who also criticized Trump s “uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues.”
But it is far from clear such interventions will stop Trump s meteoric rise.
The real estate mogul has defied expectations in winning nine of the 15 state-wide primary contests held so far, garnering more than three million votes.
Using seemingly unlimited free media coverage, Trump has tapped into deeply felt grassroots anger at the party leadership.
The Republican mainstream has failed to coalesce around one candidate, leaving Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich to split the non-Trump vote.
Romney was quick to nix suggestions he would use the speech to back a rival or throw his hat into the ring.
“I am not here to announce my candidacy for office,” he said. “I am not going to endorse a candidate today.”
Diplomatically, Romney listed Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich and said “one of these men should be our nominee.”
Members of Romney s inner circle have been among Trump s most vocal critics, openly urging all candidates to stay in the race and deny Trump the 1,237 delegates needed to win.
They hope that would prompt the party convention in July to consider another candidate.
That is a long shot, and there are increasing signs that some establishment Republicans are willing to back Trump.
Conservative New Jersey governor Chris Christie recently endorsed Trump, and a trickle of party strategists have argued it s time to coalesce behind and train fire on likely Democratic nominee Clinton.
Trump has recently moved to fuel that trend, making the case he can unify and grow the party.
“I think we ll be more inclusive and more unified. I think we ll be a much bigger party. I think we re going to win in November,” Trump said in Florida after victories on Super Tuesday.