Romney tries to slow Trump's march, drawing billionaire's wrath

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Can Mitt Romney Galvanize the 'Stop Trump' Movement?

Donald Trump took to the airwaves Thursday with a barrage of name-calling in response to news that the Republican Party's last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, was trying to torpedo the billionaire real-estate developer's chances in this year's contest.

"Mitt Romney is a stiff," Trump said on NBC's "Today Show." "He got killed, he got decimated in the election."

Romney is planning a speech later Thursday in a bid to dislodge Trump from leading the party's presidential nominating race, branding the New York mogul as untrustworthy and saying he'd be a boon to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

SEE ALSO: Who's Winning the 2016 Delegate Count?

"Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud," Romney will say later Thursday at the University of Utah, according to a transcript provided to Bloomberg News by a person familiar with his remarks. "He's playing the American public for suckers."

The attempt by the party's last nominee to take down his presumptive successor is an unprecedented escalation in Republican infighting. The criticism marks the bluntest attempt so far by the Republican establishment to slow Trump's momentum after his victories on Tuesday in the single biggest day of voting in the Republican race.

Responding Thursday on MSNBC, Trump said Romney was "a disaster" who failed to inspire voters in 2012. "He was a catastrophe," Trump said on MSNBC. "He ran one of the worst campaigns, as you know, in presidential history."

SEE ALSO: Super Tuesday Unlikely to Narrow Republican Field

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Predicting Recession

Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, is expected to make a case that Trump as U.S. president would damage the country at home and abroad.

"His domestic policies would lead to recession," Romney will say. "His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president."

As Clinton moves closer to becoming the Democratic nominee for November's presidential election, Romney will say that any decision to make Trump the Republican counterpart would bolster Clinton's chances of succeeding President Barack Obama.

"A person so untrustworthy and dishonest as Hillary Clinton must not become president," Romney is due to say. "But a Trump nomination enables her victory."

Full Circle

It was only four years ago that Romney and his wife, Ann, traveled to Las Vegas to accept Trump's endorsement at a news conference where Romney praised Trump -- who had taken to questioning Obama's birthplace and eligibility -- for "an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works and to create jobs."

Trump didn't hesitate to point that out in a Twitter post Thursday, "Why did Mitt Romney BEG me for my endorsement four years ago?" Romney passed on a 2016 campaign himself and has grown more critical of Trump as the billionaire's campaign progressed. Days before Super Tuesday, Romney suggested Trump may be delaying the release of his tax returns because they contain a "bombshell."

The irony wasn't lost on those who recalled the pressure Romney came under in 2012 to release his own tax returns, including taunting by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. More recently, after Trump failed to disavow the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke during a TV interview last weekend, Romney said the mogul had disqualified himself.

On NBC Thursday, Trump said "I disavow David Duke and the KKK and anybody else who preaches hate."

Political Outsider

Romney's speech is the latest attempt by long-time Republicans to stop his momentum after Trump's competitors in the race for the party's nomination -- from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida -- have been unable to collect more than a handful of wins at the polls. Romney will not endorse any of Trump's opponents in the speech, a Republican familiar with his plans said Wednesday.

Of 15 U.S. states that have held nominating contests to date, Trump has won 10 and has 46 percent of the delegates awarded so far.

Trump has begun to collect endorsements from high-profile elected Republicans, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Maine Governor Paul LePage, and U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

'Fundamentally Dishonest'

After Trump's Super Tuesday wins this week, a pair of super-PACs that oppose him stepped up their advertising efforts as Republicans wrestled with whether and how to stop Trump at this late stage of the nominating process -- and which alternative candidate to unite behind. The ads targeted the billionaire's Trump University as a "scam" duping "victims."

Sixty Republicans, including former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, former Homeland Security Sec. Michael Chertoff, signed an open letter opposing Trump and vowing not to support party ticket with Trump at its head.

"He is fundamentally dishonest," says the letter, coordinated by Bryan McGrath, manager of defense consultancy TheFerryBridgeGroup, and Eliot Cohen, a Defense Department and State Department adviser under Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Read Trump 'Phony,' 'Fraud,' With 'Worthless Promises': Romney on bloombergpolitics.com

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