Rand Paul defends Trump against Romney op-ed: He 'wants to signal how virtuous he is'

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe buck stops here: How to restore accountability to the federal regulatory system Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Lawyer: Flynn will keep cooperating after co-conspirator revelations MORE (R-Ky.) took aim at his incoming Senate colleague Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm Liberal think tank: GOP paid parental leave proposals are too narrow Romney won't say if Trump's attacks against minority lawmakers are racist MORE on Wednesday after the Utah senator-elect targeted President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE in an op-ed criticizing the president's character.

In a tweet, the Kentucky senator accused Romney of attempting to display "how virtuous he is in comparison to the President," while calling him a "big government Republican" opposed to former President Reagan's ideals of limited federal power.

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"Like other Big Government Republicans who never liked Reagan, Mitt Romney wants to signal how virtuous he is in comparison to the President," Paul wrote in a tweet.

"Well, I’m most concerned and pleased with the actual conservative reform agenda @realDonaldTrump has achieved," the senator added.

Paul's tweet came in response to a Washington Post column penned by Romney on Tuesday ahead of his Thursday swearing-in as Utah's junior senator in which Romney attacked Trump for a "shortfall" of leadership and good character.

Romney will replace retiring Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (R) in the Senate.

"On balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office," Romney, who ran as the GOP nominee for president in 2012, wrote in the Post.

"To reassume our leadership in world politics, we must repair failings in our politics at home. That project begins, of course, with the highest office once again acting to inspire and unite us," Romney added in the piece.

The president himself responded to the op-ed Wednesday morning, calling on the Utah senator to focus on the White House's efforts to secure funding for border security and other policy issues.

"Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake? I hope not," Trump wrote on Twitter.

"Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful. I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!" he added.