Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for the 2012 White House race, has implored Republican voters to reject the candidacy of Donald Trump, who is “a phony, a fraud.”
Speaking at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday, Romney said the victory of Trump in the 2016 presidential election “will have profound consequences for the Republican Party and, more importantly, for the country."
“If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” he warned.
“Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes,” Romney said. “This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.”
"Here's what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud," Romney said. "His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing members of the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat."
Romney said that "dishonesty is Donald Trump's hallmark," pointing to his "bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics."
Romney, a businessman, served as the governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. In 2012, he won the Republican nomination, but was defeated by incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama.
Trump returns fire
Hours later, speaking at a campaign rally in Portland, Maine, Trump returned fire by mocking Romney's loss to President Obama. Trump also pointed to Romney's desperate efforts to secure his endorsement.
"He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, 'Mitt, drop to your knees' -- he would have dropped to his knees," he said.
The 2012 was “a race, I have to say, folks, that should have been won ... I don't know what happened to him. He disappeared. He disappeared. And I wasn't happy about it, I'll be honest, because I am not a fan of Barack Obama, because I backed Mitt Romney -- I backed Mitt Romney. You can see how loyal he is."
Trump said Romney thought about joining the 2016 White House, but he "chickened out."
Romney hits back
In message on his Twitter handle, Romney admitted he courted Trump's endorsement, but added that had Trump made similar statements about the KKK and others in 2012, he would not have sought his endorsement.
"If Trump had said 4 years ago the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would NOT have accepted his endorsement," he said.
Trump, who has never held elected office, is leading the Republican presidential primary field, despite the fact that his campaign has been marked by controversial statements, including with disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants and Muslims.
Trump has won the states of South Carolina, Nevada, and New Hampshire, while finishing second in Iowa.
On Super Tuesday, the former reality TV star made a further step toward a nominee for the November presidential election by winning in seven states.