This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Park City • Mitt Romney said Saturday he understands why reasonable Republicans may back Donald Trump in November, and he has no intention of becoming an "attack dog" trying to take down his party's nominee.
But at the same time, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee refuses to stay quiet when Trump makes comments that veer into racism, xenophobia, misogyny and violence, because he believes Trump's rhetoric is damaging to the American public.
"These things are personal. I love this country. I love the founders. I love what this country is built upon and its values, and seeing this is breaking my heart," Romney said to sustained applause on the last day of his ideas summit, which brings together his donor network, business leaders and politicians.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer moderated an open session with Romney during the largely closed-door E2 Summit, which stands for "Experts and Enthusiasts."
Romney was taking issue with Trump's argument that a federal judge can't rule impartially in a fraud case involving Trump University because of his Mexican heritage, because the candidate has called for building a massive border wall. He called it "trickle-down racism" in an earlier TV interview.
Since lambasting Trump in a nationally televised speech from the University of Utah in March, Romney has become the most prominent Republican critic of the 2016 presumptive nominee. On Saturday, he stood by his past criticism that Trump doesn't have the temperament to lead the nation and that his policies on trade and immigration would lead to a recession.
But the focus of his criticism Saturday was on Trump as a national role model.
"There is no question but that the actions and the words of a presidential candidate and of a president have lasting effects on a population," he said, suggesting school children are now joking that the size of a boy's hands equate to the size of his penis because Trump and his rivals talked about that on the campaign trail. As an example, Romney said: "Bill Clinton's dalliances in the White House affected the sexual practices and inclinations of a generation and probably beyond."
Romney said he can't support Trump because he believes the president needs to be a role model and a respected leader, but he also said there's "a darn good reason" that many Republicans will vote for him.
"If your No. 1 concern is the Supreme Court, that's why you vote for Donald Trump," Romney told the crowd of a few hundred gathered at Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley. "Because he's more likely to appoint people who will defend the Second Amendment and other parts of the Constitution we feel is important."
Romney said he respects Republicans who feel this way and won't second-guess or try to change the minds of leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was his 2012 running mate, or Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus, both of whom attended the summit and are supporting Trump. He also said he expects "90 percent" of Republicans to eventually back Trump, though he won't be one of them.
Romney may write in a name and he may vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson he hasn't decided.
Romney said he feels a need to vocalize his opposition to Trump's comments "in part to communicate to the millennials and others that that doesn't represent the Republican Party at large."
He said he finds this election to be depressing because if voters elected presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, that would be "destructive to the court and the future," and electing Trump would be "destructive to our culture as a society and to our prominence and to the value of our brand in the world."
His goal after the 2016 election is to help shape what the Republican Party stands for going forward, with an emphasis on inclusion. And he said the next E2 Summit, in the summer of 2017, will focus on the same topic.
He said: "We'll come together again, in my view, to try to save our country from the destructive effects of one or the other."
Blitzer asked Romney that if he feels this strongly about Trump now, why did he seek the billionaire celebrity TV star's support in 2012, when Trump was already known for being a leader in the "birther" movement that erroneously claimed that President Barack Obama was ineligible to be commander in chief because he wasn't born in the United States?
Romney said he found "birtherism" to be "kinda nutty" and irrelevant, because Obama was born to an American citizen, his mother. He noted that his own father, George Romney, was born in Mexico to American citizens and ran for president in the 1960s. But at the same time, he said he didn't think Trump's involvement in the birther movement made him someone he couldn't associate with. He said it wasn't "xenophobic or racist or misogynist. It wasn't bigoted."
Romney brought up his father again in defending Mexico as a strong trading partner with the United States and a good neighbor, where many Americans hail from. He said he was concerned that Trump didn't recognize that his criticism of the judge born in America to parents from Mexico was inappropriate, not only for the racial component but also because it undercuts the integrity of the judicial system.
Ever the counter-puncher, Trump slammed Romney on Twitter for his TV interview, saying: "Mitt Romney had his chance to beat a failed president but he choked like a dog. Now he calls me racist but I am least racist person there is."
Romney said he has no intention of getting into a back-and-forth with Trump now, but if he had run, he argued that he would have been far more aggressive against him than any of his 2016 Republican rivals turned out to be.
Romney criticized former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and others for not directing their fire at the front-runner earlier in the process and instead attacking each other, saying that boxers don't fight down, they "punch up."
Blitzer asked Romney if he thought he could have defeated Trump.
"I would have just been another establishment person and the anger and resentment may have been just as effective against me as it was against Marco Rubio or against Jeb Bush," said Romney, who then added "I probably would have been more assertive and more aggressive in the debates."