It's a moment the GOP establishment has been waiting for: Mitt Romney took the stage to "eviscerate" Donald Trump in a highly-anticipated speech Thursday, exposing the businessman and reality TV star as a "phony" and a "fraud" who is playing Americans for "suckers."
In a conventional election cycle, it could be a devastating condemnation. In this outlandish, bewildering fun-house of a race, it's more likely to be a gift to the Trump campaign, says Harry Wilson, professor of public affairs at Roanoke College in Salem, Va.
"It may well make little difference to Trump. Whatever caché Romney has in the Republican Party at present is almost certainly not with the Trump supporters," says Professor Wilson.
Based on his prepared remarks, it's not clear Romney and his backers have considered that.
"Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud," Mr. Romney said during his mid-morning address at the University of Utah. "His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."
The irony of being attacked by Romney isn't lost on Mr. Trump, who has been on a Romney offensive for days, publicly questioning whether his supporters would listen to "a failed candidate" for whom "nobody came out to vote."
As New York Magazine’s Frank Rich tweeted:
Here's four reasons why Romney's speech will only help Trump:
Romney is the establishment
Romney, a millionaire former governor and former presidential candidate, is the epitome of the establishment, the ruling class that Trump and his supporters are running against. A denunciation from him is a confirmation for Trump, says Wilson.
"As a strong representative of the establishment wing of the party, he represents what Trump’s supporters do not want in a candidate. He might even help remind folks that the last time the Republicans ran an establishment candidate – Romney – they lost to President Obama," he says.
"The former Massachusetts governor is a perfect representation of what Trump is running against in 2016," Steve Bennen wrote for MSNBC. "The quintessential, elite party insider, following two failed presidential campaigns, and speaking on behalf of the party’s powerful donor class, wants Republicans to reject their current frontrunner."
"Trump should be thrilled by today’s rebuke.... It’s as if Romney is deliberately trying to make things easier on his target."
He's the wrong guy for the job
Romney is "the embodiment of everything Trump has built his entire campaign against," writes Chris Cillizza for The Washington Post.
Where Trump is maverick, Romney is establishment; where Trump is tough, Romney is cautious; where Trump is populist, Romney is elite; where Trump is electrifying, Romney is seen as boring.
Trump, of course, understands this perfectly, as he pointed out on Twitter.
And then there's the uncomfortable fact that Romney pursued, and received, Trump's endorsement four years ago when the former Massachusetts governor ran for president. The picture of a smiling Romney shaking Trump's hand has been plastered across of many news sites, serving as an unfortunate reminder for the former presidential candidate.
As MSNBC's Mr. Bennen puts it, to Trump's supporters, Romney is "a loser representing an establishment in need of replacement, not a wise leader whose advice has real value."
Romney is a 'loser'
In Trump's parlance, at least. The outspoken billionaire has been on an offensive against the former candidate - who lost the 2008 GOP nomination to John McCain, and the 2012 presidency to Barack Obama - for days now.
"He's a failed candidate," Trump told NBC's "Today" on Thursday when asked if he thought the speech would have an impact. "Mitt Romney is a stiff."
Romney’s 2012 presidential bid was "one of the worst presidential campaigns in history," he said on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe."
His Twitter has been a barrage against Romney:
"He's the face of a Republican party who lost twice to Barack Obama," writes the Post. "He's part of the problem, not the solution."
It's too late
Trump has already proven himself a winner in 10 primaries and caucuses, and the attacks against him are too little, too late.
After all, Romney's comments come after the brash businessman has topped national polls for more than six months; won 10 of the 15 nominating contests so far, including seven Super Tuesday victories; earned 46 percent of the delegates awarded so far; and started collecting the endorsements of party figures like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who once served as head of the Republican Governors Association, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
As Slate’s Isaac Chotiner wrote, “Romney is less a cure for the GOP’s problems than a symptom of what ails the party.”