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Mitt Romney Attacks Trump's Character In 'Washington Post' Op-Ed


The president shapes the public character of the nation. Trump's character falls short. That is a quote, an excerpt. Actually, the headline of a scathing new Washington Post op-ed by Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate praised President Trump's tax cuts and his hard line on China. But the gist of this op-ed is a moral and ethical takedown of the president of the United States by a new senator from his own party. This comes as Trump meets with congressional leaders today to talk about border security and presumably come up with a plan to end the partial government shutdown.

I'm joined now by Republican strategist Scott Jennings. He was a senior adviser to Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. Scott, welcome back to the program.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Good morning. Thank you.

MARTIN: I want to read a little more from this op-ed. Basically, Mitt Romney is saying here that President Trump has, quote, "not risen to the mantle of the office." He says the president has failed to lead with honesty or integrity. What is your former boss doing here? I mean, he hasn't even been sworn in yet, and he's attacking the president this way right out of the gate.

JENNINGS: Yeah. I think Senator Romney, Senator-elect Romney is doing what he said he would do during the campaign. I recall back in the summer, he wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune that he was going to speak out when the president does things that he doesn't like. He said he was not going to speak out on every tweet, but that if the president is acting in a way he doesn't approve of, he won't hesitate to speak out. I think he's also doing what a lot of Republicans do, which is separate policy from behavior and style. And that is not something that is unique to Mitt Romney. A lot of Republican voters did that when they voted for Donald Trump in 2016. So Mitt Romney has a six-year term, and he represents a state that won't mind if he tackles the president every now and again. And I expect he'll keep doing that.

MARTIN: Although at one point, Romney appeared to get over his moral qualms with Trump because he was vying to become his secretary of state. So he has changed his mind before.

JENNINGS: He has. I wonder if Mitt Romney is not delivering a little bit of payback to Donald Trump, who sort of led him on for secretary of state and then went with Rex Tillerson, of course, there, during the transition. These two guys have a long and interesting history. I suspect this won't be the last chapter that's written. But these Senate terms being six years, it does give you a lot of political freedom, especially at the beginning, to do things that you don't immediately have to answer for from voters back home.

MARTIN: I want to shift and talk about the shutdown and the border security in that fight. But just briefly, do you think this means Mitt Romney wants to position himself to run against President Trump in 2020?

JENNINGS: No. I can't imagine that to be the case. I mean, I guess if something catastrophic happened to President Trump and he could not run, perhaps Mitt Romney would be a candidate. But my view is Donald Trump is as strong in the Republican Party as he has been during his term, and if he wants to be the nominee of the GOP, he will be that nominee, regardless of Mitt Romney, or John Kasich or anyone else runs against him.

MARTIN: So the president is meeting with lawmakers today at the White House. It's day 12 of this shutdown. Democrats don't have a lot of incentive to back down. Should the president at this point ease up on his demand for the $5 billion for the wall, do you think?

JENNINGS: Well, you're right. They don't have a lot of incentive to back down, and the president hasn't given them much. But he ought to. In my opinion, the president ought to put something back on the table that he put on the table back during their previous negotiations, and that's fixing DACA. Fixing DACA was part of the president's four-pillars strategy way back earlier in 2018. It's something he has endorsed before. That would give pause, I think, to this Democratic strategy of letting this thing run out for a very long time. A lot of these new members of Congress ran on a fix for DACA. I think a very fair deal here would be 5 billion for the wall in exchange for DACA. That's a win for everybody...

MARTIN: Although...

JENNINGS: ...And gets us past this issue.

MARTIN: Sorry to interrupt you, Scott, but even as outgoing chief of staff John Kelly said in an exit interview, the administration gave up on the idea of an actual physical wall a long time ago, that it was always more about border security, technology. Maybe the president hasn't gotten the memo on that, but do you think that's ultimately where it's going to end up, anyway?

JENNINGS: Well, I think that the president says he wants a wall, and John Kelly no longer works there. So (laughter) I don't know, as we message this publicly, what this thing's ultimately going to look like. But I know what the president's going to call it, and that's a wall. And I know the Democrats are going to continue to say they don't want just wall funding. That's why I think there has to be something here, something new, to get past the impasse. That's why I think reintroducing DACA as part of this deal could be that something new that gives everybody a way to go home and say, look what I negotiated for you.

MARTIN: Which, in the end, is what everyone wants, to be able to save face and say they won. Republican strategist Scott Jennings for us this morning.

Scott, thanks, as always. We appreciate it.

JENNINGS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.