If you needed any further evidence that this is a Republican primary without precedent, you got it on Thursday as the last two party nominees for president united in opposition to current frontrunner Donald Trump.
The fireworks began at the University of Utah, where 2012 nominee Mitt Romney dedicated a blistering, 20-minute assault on the real estate mogul. “He’s playing the American public for suckers,” Romney said. “He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.”
Romney, who expressed interest in running this year before ultimately deciding that Jeb Bush and others had already shored up too much of the donor base, was uncompromising in his systematic takedown of Trump. Drawing on a quote from John Adams, Romney insinuated that a President Trump could lead to nothing less than the “suicide” of American democracy. He referred to Trump as a “fraud,” a “phony,” and a man whose hallmark was “dishonesty.”
He said that it was a mistake to believe that Trump was a successful businessman. “His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who worked for them,” Romney said. “He inherited his business, he didn’t create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks, and Trump mortgage? A business genius he is not.”
Referring to a 1997 interview Trump did on the Howard Stern show, where Trump joked that surviving the 1970s without getting an STD could be likened to his own “personal Vietnam,” Romney said, “There is dark irony in his boasts of his sexual exploits during the Vietnam War while John McCain, whom he has mocked, was imprisoned and tortured.”
McCain, who led the Republican Party in the battle against Barack Obama in 2008, was quick to agree with Romney’s assessment of Trump.
“I share the concerns about Donald Trump that my friend and former Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, described in his speech today,” said McCain. “I would also echo the many concerns about Mr. Trump’s uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues that have been raised by 65 Republican defense and foreign policy leaders.”
Neither Romney nor McCain went as far as to endorse another candidate, however. In fact, Romney’s speech seemed to indicate a strategy that involved keeping Trump away from the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination using any means necessary. He called on voters to support whichever candidate had the best shot at beating him in any given state, a strategy that would likely lead to a contested convention in July. At that point, party officials could potentially award the nomination to literally anyone they wanted.
It’s not the first time that plan has been floated, but the drawbacks – even for those who despise Trump – are obvious. Republicans may not be thrilled with their frontrunner, but it would be suicidal to openly thwart the will of the voters. Even if Trump did not mount an independent run, his stalwart supporters may refuse to vote for a nominee crowned by the establishment. A Democratic victory in November would be nearly inevitable.
For a country that has suffered for seven long years under Obama, the prospects of a bright future grow dimmer by the day.