Romney writes new chapter in his like-hate relationship with Trump

Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Senate should host the State of the Union Dem leaders avert censure vote against Steve King GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering MORE will be sworn into the Senate on Thursday amid a political firestorm of his own making.

Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee who will be the junior senator from Utah, is taking heat from President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Rove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Ann Coulter blasts Trump shutdown compromise: ‘We voted for Trump and got Jeb!’ MORE, key allies and his own soon-to-be colleagues for a sharply critical Washington Post op-ed in which he wrote that Trump “has not risen to the mantle” of the presidency.

It’s just the latest chapter in the years-long, on-and-off feud between the two Republicans, which raised new questions about whether Romney might challenge Trump in a primary.

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In an interview with CNN on Wednesday afternoon, Romney didn’t back down from his criticisms even as he pledged to work with Trump. And he pushed back at Trump’s statement earlier in the day that if Romney had opposed former President Obama as strongly as he battled the current president, he might have won the 2012 race.

“The president of course is entitled to his perspectives, his own views. ... Where we disagree, why, we'll just have to disagree,” Romney told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Some of Romney’s colleagues warned that the freshman senator’s criticism could backfire with Republicans.

“If he's going to be the critic from Utah, it's going to hurt him and Utah,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback Democrats signal they'll reject Trump shutdown proposal Dems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell MORE (R-S.C.) told Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade.

Graham, who has publicly criticized Trump at times but has also offered him compliments and praise, added that the president wouldn’t be willing to work with the new senator “if he believes you are out to get him.”

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber GOP rep: 'Rand Paul is giving the president bad advice' on Afghanistan and Syria MORE (R-Ky.), a Trump ally who unlike Graham backed the president’s recent decisions to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria, separately told reporters that Romney’s criticism is “bad” for the party and “really bad for any kind of ability to work together in the Senate to get things done.”

“I think this [is] going to be an anomaly, and I think the new senator from Utah may have misjudged,” Paul added.

The op-ed was a dramatic U-turn for Romney, who had routinely brushed off questions from reporters as he shuffled around the U.S. Capitol attending freshman orientation and largely kept his public focus off Trump following his comfortable election win.

Romney’s relationship with Trump has yo-yoed over the years.

He warned the party in 2016 that if they picked Trump as their nominee, “the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.”

The two seemed to reconcile, at least to a degree, as Trump considered Romney as his first secretary of State.

But Trump didn’t pick Romney, and Romney criticized Trump harshly over his equivocal response to the 2017 violence in Charlottesville involving protests by neo-Nazis and white supremacists and those opposed to them.

When Romney ran for the Senate, Trump endorsed his candidacy in another turn in the relationship.

Romney is one of the few Republicans with the national name recognition necessary to take on Trump, which has fueled speculation that he could be a primary challenger.

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Bill Kristol, former editor-in-chief of the shuttered Weekly Standard and a Trump critic, praised Romney as the “leader of the Republican Resistance to Trump” and that he proves that the president’s “dominance over the GOP … can no longer be taken for granted.”  

“Romney’s op-ed is a shot across the bow. Some are disappointed because it’s not a full-on assault on the Trump battleship. But it is a shot. And shots across the bow are often followed by real boarding parties,” he said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who is eyeing a potential 2020 bid, added: “Welcome to the fray.”

The Utah senator insisted to Tapper that he has no plans to run for the White House, though he also refused to talk about who he might endorse.

“I haven’t decided who I’m going to endorse in 2020. I’m going to see what the alternatives are,” Romney said.

Spencer Zwick, who established Romney’s donor network during his two previous presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, has reportedly been taking calls from donors encouraging Romney to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2020. A member of the Republican National Committee is floating changing the rules to help protect Trump from a damaging primary fight.

Romney himself predicted last year that Trump would “easily” win reelection in 2020.

Romney in his op-ed downplayed the possibility that he would be at constant odds with Trump, stressing that he had supported some of the administration’s policies and the he will work with his GOP colleagues.

“I do not intend to comment on every tweet or fault. But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions,” Romney wrote.

Trump responded to Romney multiple times on social media and at a public Cabinet meeting but held back from the blistering criticism he’s directed toward other Republicans including retiring GOP Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE (Tenn.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSchumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least MORE (Ariz.) and, at times, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Senate to take up Trump's border-immigration plan next week Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback MORE (R-Ky.) and outgoing Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Wis.).

“Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake?  I hope not. 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!” Trump said in a tweet.

Trump added in remarks at his Cabinet meeting, which was televised, that he wished “Mitt could be more of a team player. I endorsed him and he thanked me profusely.”

Trump’s allies were sharper with their jabs.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, the senator-elect’s niece, called his criticism “disappointing and unproductive.” And Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, unleashed on Romney, saying he “lacked the ability to save this nation.”

“Jealously is a drink best served warm and Romney just proved it,” added in a tweet. “ So sad.”