It was a sober, direct attack — tougher than Trump has faced from any other Republican in this campaign.
But tucked in Romney's takedown was a shaky path forward. He didn't endorse any of the other three Republicans in the race — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Romney instead said he would vote for anyone who could beat Trump in any state, essentially a route that he hopes would lead to a rare brokered convention, where Republicans could try to wrestle away the nomination from Trump.
He also hoped the remaining candidates can coordinate into an anyone-but-Trump brigade.
He questioned Trump's temperament, reminding the crowd that the GOP front-runner mocked a disabled reporter, attributed Fox News' Megyn Kelly's tough questions to her menstrual cycle and bragged about his marital affairs.
Romney questioned Trump's sincerity, suggesting that the candidate has changed positions — or at least hinted that he's willing to — on issues such as immigration and releasing his tax returns.
Romney said he understood the anger felt by American voters and that presidents have previously channeled such anger into purpose.
"Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less-than-noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture and for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press," he said. "This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss."The 64 thousand dollar question will be if Romney's remarks or any move by members of the Republican establishment will blunt Trump's momentum. Hinckley Institute Director Jason Perry said polls show Trump voters "are locked," but he noted there remains a slim chance to stop the front-runner.
Romney's speech followed Twitter sniping with Trump in which he suggested there was a "bombshell" in Trump's tax returns. Perry said those clashes led Romney to try a more direct assault and helped to draw attention to the speech.