Romney tells Aspen audience he fears Trump’s effect on GOP

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Mitt Romney talks Donald Trump and politics Wednesday wth newsman John Dickerson at Aspen Ideas Festival.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Mitt Romney fears that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is branding the party in ways that will make it difficult to win the White House this year and have unknown consequences in the long run.

Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, said Trump is doing just the opposite of what the party needs to do by alienating growing demographic groups. He cited Trumps comments about Mexicans who enter the country illegally and his desire for a temporary ban on entry by all Muslims. He also said Trump is harming the party’s chances to attract more women voters.

“I feel that the things Mr. Trump has said are unfortunately branding our party in a very negative way and one that is consistent with the image that many people have of my party,” Romney said. “It’s taken us in a direction that will be very unfortunate for us long-term.”

Romney spoke to hundreds of attendees of the Aspen Ideas Festival at the Aspen Music Tent on Wednesday. While he initially said he wouldn’t elaborate on his well-known feelings about Trump, interviewer John Dickerson of CBS News steered the discussion into what Trump means for the party.

“If (Trump) is highly successful and becomes president, he will redefine our party, but if he isn’t successful, I don’t think our party is forever changed because of his nomination.” — Mitt Romney

He said he doubts Trump could change enough through the remainder of the campaign to erase the image he has created.

Romney said he won’t “run around the country this summer” campaigning against Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton, but he certainly won’t vote for them.

“For me it’s a matter of personal conscience. I can’t vote for either candidate,” he said.

Character is the single biggest attribute that a president needs, he said, and Trump doesn’t possess it.

“Door is closed” on his candidacy

Romney said he will focus on campaigning with Save Our Senate, which will try to keep the GOP majority in the Senate, and Team Ryan, which is working to retain the margin of Republican control of the House.

Meanwhile, he hopes that a strong Libertarian candidate emerges in the presidential race. “I’d love to see someone run that I could feel good about voting for,” he said.

He said the “door is completely closed” on him running, though he acknowledged his wife and kids urged him to throw his hat in. Romney said he doesn’t believe an independent candidate can win, so he wouldn’t want to subject supporters to a losing effort.

Trump’s difficult path to victory and the fallout for the GOP was the topic at a handful of sessions at Aspen Ideas Festival, with one of the tracks labeled, “The Choice 2016.”

On Tuesday, political analyst David Gergen and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. expressed doubts that Trump can win the White House unless something drastically shakes up the campaign. They spoke during an Ideas Festival session called “The Future of the Right.”

Republican party leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Vin Weber are trying to figure out the party “beyond Trump,” Gergen said. They have their work cut out for them, he added.

“It’s got a lot to deal with if it’s going to survive as a party,” Gergen said. If it doesn’t work harder on rights for women and minorities, it will “dissolve” over time, he said.

Dionne said there wasn’t a lot of push back within the party against Trump when it mattered most. The party also has purged its moderate members, he said, so it’s not a surprise that Trump and Ted Cruz attracted the most support during primary season.

Romney’s long-term assessment

Romney continued the assessment Wednesday.

“I’m not a political scientist, so I can’t tell you what the long-term impact of Trump will be on the Republican Party,” he said, “but I do think that most people realize Trump is a departure from traditional philosophies and nominees.

“As a result, if he is highly successful and becomes president, he will redefine our party, but if he isn’t successful, I don’t think our party is forever changed because of his nomination.”

He said voices of the next generation of Republican leaders, such as Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, will “prevail.”