Romney to speak Thursday on GOP presidential race

Michael C. Bender
Bloomberg News

Mitt Romney will lay out his case for why Donald Trump shouldn’t be the nominee of the Republican Party in a speech on Thursday in Utah, according to a source with knowledge of the remarks.

The source requested anonymity to talk about the speech by Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, before it was delivered. The speech is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Romney doesn’t believe Trump is the right person to lead the party, and wants to make his case before the New York businessman can start coalescing party leaders, the source said.

Romney probably won’t endorse, or enter the race, the source said.

Word of Romney’s speech came as the Republican Party wrestled Wednesday with whether to rally behind Trump or pursue a bloody fight to take him down, with no clear alternative to replace him.

At least some in the party began showing a willingness to get behind Trump after his big night. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who faces an uphill run for re-election in a state won twice by Barack Obama, said Wednesday he sees Trump’s appeal to voters.

Johnson, like Trump, left a lucrative life in business for politics in a bid to shake up Washington.

“I’ll accentuate the positive of anybody,” he said. “I’ll look for areas of agreement. Certainly, I would assume a businessperson like Donald Trump can understand a financial statement, understand what needs to be done. I like the fact that he knows how to negotiate. We’ve had seven, eight years of somebody who doesn’t know how to negotiate. I mean that’s one of his appeals.”

Elsewhere, Republicans dug in. Neither Florida Sen. Marco Rubio nor Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who was buoyed by a home-state victory on Super Tuesday, showed any readiness to make way for the billionaire, and a super-PAC with ties to GOP business leaders said it was stepping up its anti-Trump effort. A TV spot by the group reported Wednesday calls Trump University a “scam.”

It could spell a brutal war of attrition stretching well into the spring.

“We are going to campaign in all 50 states and we are going to do whatever it takes to ensure that I am not only the nominee, but the Republican Party does not fall in the hands of someone like Donald Trump,” Rubio said in a Fox News interview distributed by his campaign.

Neither Ohio Gov. John Kasich nor retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has effectively ended his campaign, offered any indication they’d budge, either, to allow the field to consolidate.

Many party stalwarts are loath to back Cruz, an unpopular senator who forced a federal government shutdown in 2013 and then irritated leaders by threatening to do it again. But even some of them began publicly entertaining the idea as Trump’s Super Tuesday rout became clear.

“Ted Cruz is not my favorite by any means,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told CBS Tuesday night. “But we may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump.”

Others in the party seemed resigned to Trump, or whatever outcome the party’s voters preferred.

“I’m not worried about what’s happening now,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, second-ranking Republicans in the Senate, told reporters, saying the party would eventually unite behind the nominee.

Cornyn also said it was up to senators to speak for or any against any particular candidate. “I’m flattered that you think that voters really care what senators think,” Cornyn said. “My impression is that voters are voting their own minds and they’re not looking for guidance or direction from me or anyone else.”

The conservative Our Principles PAC said it would expand an ad campaign in upcoming states including Illinois and Michigan and hire new opposition researchers to examine the real estate mogul’s past. The group on Tuesday night unveiled a YouTube clip featuring several television personalities decrying Trump as a racist. Among the new hires is Tim Miller, the communications director to Jeb Bush’s shuttered presidential campaign.

“Donald’s general election campaign will fail worse than Trump Mortgage and Trump Steaks did and Hillary Clinton will destroy him even if she’s campaigning from jail,” Miller said in a statement, vowing the group would “fight until the last delegate is counted to stop that from happening.”

Trump’s competitors also pitched themselves as the last, best alternative to preventing Trump from earning the nomination while encouraging each other to exit the race.

“So long as the field remains divided, Donald Trump’s path to the nomination remains more likely,” Cruz said during a victory rally at the Redneck Country Club in Stafford, Texas. “And that would be a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives and for the nation.”

Paired with an emerging Democratic playbook to accuse Trump of being anti-woman, intolerant, and too hotheaded to have his finger on the nuclear button it would be the first concerted effort to convince voters that Trump isn’t fit to be president.

Trump won seven state contests, giving him a 90-delegate advantage over Cruz, who won Oklahoma and Alaska in addition to Texas. Behind them trails Rubio, who won Minnesota to claim his first victory of the race.

While Cruz won his home state, it wasn’t an impressive victory by historical standards. His 43.8 percent in Texas was the lowest support ever recorded by a Republican presidential candidate in a home-state primary victory out of more than five-dozen such efforts since 1912, according to the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton strengthened her lead with seven state wins, though rival Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vowed to take his campaign to the party convention in July. He won four states Tuesday.

“We do not think the calendar ahead looks nearly as good as yesterday” for Clinton, said Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Sanders, at a media briefing Wednesday.

Clinton is now where Democrats expected her to be, on the cusp of the nomination she was denied in 2008 by Barack Obama. After an early scare, Clinton has relegated Sanders mostly to wins in liberal strongholds like Minnesota and his home state of Vermont.

“It’s clear tonight that the stakes in this election have never been higher, and the rhetoric we’re hearing on the other side has never been lower,” Clinton said at a victory rally Tuesday night in Miami, previewing an anticipated general-election showdown between her and Trump.

“Trying to divide America between us and them’ is wrong, and we’re not going to let it work.”

The Republican candidates are next set to gather together on Thursday for a debate in Detroit hosted by Fox News.

In the meantime, Cruz planned to campaign Wednesday night in Kansas, which holds its nominating caucuses on March 5 with 40 delegates at stake. Social conservatives Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee won the last two contests there. Kasich and Rubio were scheduled to visit Michigan, where a March 8 primary puts 59 delegates up for grabs.

Delegate leads built by Trump and Clinton on Tuesday look increasingly unlikely to be overtaken by any of their competitors, with the Democrat now holding more than 40 percent of the delegates she needs to win the nomination and the Republican almost a quarter of the way there.

Clinton scheduled a Wednesday evening rally at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, while Sanders planned to stump in Maine ahead of its March 6 contest.

In another year, Trump’s past support of abortion rights and a personal history that includes a pair of divorces would have disqualified him. Instead, he has found a way to channel Republican anger over illegal immigration and other issues into a wave of support for the nomination that looks unstoppable. He, too, used his victories Tuesday to pivot toward the general election.