Donald Trump responded to a scorching anti-Trump speech that Mitt Romney delivered earlier today by calling it "irrelevant" — before devoting the next 20 minutes of his campaign rally to blasting Romney.
Speaking to a crowd in Maine, Trump zeroed in how Romney "begged" him for an endorsement when he ran for president in 2012.
"I could've told him, 'Mitt, drop to your knees.' He would've dropped," Trump said gleefully. He then pointed out that Romney was a "failure," after having lost the last two presidential elections, first in the GOP primary in 2008, and then in 2012 as the party's nominee against President Obama. The reason Romney didn't run for president a third time in this election, Trump said, was because he was "scared" of Trump.
"[Romney] doesn't have what it takes to be president!" said Trump.
As Trump's rally was beginning, Romney took to Twitter to defend himself. "If Trump had said 4 years ago the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would NOT have accepted his endorsement," he tweeted.
Trump, meanwhile, was too busy unleashing his standard arsenal of insults on Romney, calling him "a lightweight" and a "big, big choke."
Trump's assault on Romney, while not entirely out of character, was in response to a scorching takedown of the Republican frontrunner that Romney had delivered earlier in the day. Romney had called Trump "a phony" and "a fraud" who is "playing the American public for suckers."
Romney had lambasted the frontrunner on everything from his plan to defeat the Islamic State — "the most ridiculous and dangerous idea of this entire campaign season" — to Trump's personality, which he said, disqualified him to be president.
Romney also suggested an interesting strategy to voters who wish to stop Trump's progression: Not to back their favored candidate, but whichever Trump opponent seemed most likely to win their state. He urged voters in Florida to vote for Sen. Marco Rubio and those in Ohio to vote for Gov. John Kasich, for example, in order to winnow down Trump's list of state victories in the coming contests.
But it quickly became clear that Romney's attack had pretty much no negative effect on his intended target. On the contrary, it seemed to give Trump, who has perfected the art of the personal insult during this election, genuine pleasure to dish it back just as hard. As the past has shown time and time again, when Trump goes into attack mode, his popularity tends to grow rather than diminish. Especially when it is against an establishment figure, which Romney most certainly is.
Before the rally, Trump said his wife Melania pleaded with him to "act presidential" and restrain himself from hitting Romney back too hard. But Trump said he brushed off his wife's request because "when you have incoming you can't be too presidential."
Romney's home state of Massachusetts, where he served for four years as governor, voted overwhelmingly for Trump earlier this week, giving him just under 50 percent of the vote on Super Tuesday.
As Trump's gleeful rebuttal reached the 20-minute mark, he momentarily pulled back to offer a brief compliment to Romney. His wife, Trump said, was "a lovely woman."
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