Did Mitt Romney just preview Democrats' anti-Trump plan?

Brushing away Romney's attack may have been easy, but could Trump endure sustained interrogation from the Democratic nominee?

Jim Urquhart/Reuters
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney criticizes current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a speech at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City Thursday.

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Thursday voiced strong opposition to current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, calling him a “fraud, a “phony,” and “very, very not smart” while decrying Trump’s “third-grade antics” and calling his policy proposals “flimsy at best.”

In a short but punchy speech at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, Mr. Romney did not just sign up for the #NeverTrump movement of conservatives opposed to Mr. Trump as party standard-bearer. He seemed eager to go even further, perhaps into a new social media hashtag: #NeverEverTrumpInAMillionYears.

Trump’s embrace of tariff-like trade penalties would send consumer prices soaring and cause businesses to flee America, Romney said. Trump company bankruptcies have “crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them,” according to the 2012 GOP standard-bearer.

Romney ran through a list of now-defunct Trump brands, from Trump Airlines to Trump Magazine, Trump Vodka, and Trump Steaks.

All, all are now gone with the wind. The business that remains is one built with cash Trump inherited from his dad. “A business genius he is not,” said Romney.

Romney then went through a brief history of Trump’s insults, from his mockery of a disabled reporter, to his insulting of Carly Fiorina’s personal appearance, and his attribution of a reporter’s question to her menstrual cycle.

Trump has bragged about his romantic exploits during the Vietnam era, said Romney – a time when Sen. John McCain, whom Trump has said is not a hero, was imprisoned and tortured by the North Vietnamese.

“He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants,” said Romney, adding that he’s embraced torture and the killing of innocent family members of terrorists.

“This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss,” Romney said.

That was the general tone. It went on a bit longer, and included an anti-Hillary Clinton part that was fairly tough as well.

In the short run, the beneficiary of this rampage could well be Donald Trump. Mitt Romney is just the kind of establishment Republican Trump supporters think has been rolling over for the Democrats for years. He begged for Trump’s endorsement, they’ll say. He blew a winnable race against Barack Obama, they’ll say. And so forth and so on.

Anyway, it’s too late. Trump is closing in on the nomination. The time to stop him was in January, not March.

“Trump has already proven himself a winner in 10 primaries and caucuses, and the attacks against him are too little, too late,” writes the Monitor’s Husna Haq.

That might be true – for the primary. But we quoted Romney’s remarks at length for a reason. Study the general form. You’re going to be hearing them again, often.

That’s because this is a preview of the general election. Romney’s basic argument – that Trump is a con man and a boor who would hurt working families while making the United States weaker abroad and poorer at home – is going to be the Democratic Party playbook for a general election. At least it will be if Trump is indeed the nominee.

The Democratic nominee (OK, Hillary Clinton, probably) or a surrogate will be saying something like this every day from July until November. It’ll be in every Democrat’s stump speech. For all we know they’ll just play a tape of Romney for warm-up. Could a Trump candidacy sustain that kind of pounding?

Maybe it could – it’s been a pretty weird election cycle. But Trump has been fortunate to avoid sustained attack from any of his rivals to this point. Romney may not have the time or resources to keep this up. The Clinton (or Bernie Sanders) campaign will.

Plus, the Romney outline, as the Democrats will adapt it, won’t let Trump pick the playing field. Democrats will ignore his latest antics to just repeat what they’ll portray as Trump’s demonstrated problems and faults. They will try to make Trump answer them, not the other way around.

And it will be focused. In a multi-candidate GOP race The Donald has not been everyone’s constant target. Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida has spent a lot of time attacking Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, and vice versa. Trump’s been able to break out and near victory while everybody is flailing at somebody else.

So, yes, Romney perhaps did not dissuade any current Trump supporters on Thursday. But the same argument could have a different effect on a different and larger audience in the fall.

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