U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday cautioned fellow Republican Mitt Romney to be a “team player” after the former presidential candidate and incoming U.S. senator sharply criticized the president’s actions and questioned his character.
In a Washington Post essay published late on Tuesday, Romney suggested the U.S. leader had “caused dismay around the world” and said his presidency had “made a deep descent in December.”
“On balance, his conduct over the past two years … is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office,” said Romney, who starts his new role representing Utah on Thursday.
“The appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a ‘sucker’ in world affairs all defined his presidency down,” he wrote.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment, but Trump fired back in a tweet on Wednesday taking aim at Romney’s failed 2012 White House bid.
“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 wrote on Twitter, appearing to reference outgoing U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, one of the few Republican lawmakers who publicly spoke out against Trump, at the cost of drawing the president’s wrath.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2019
It is unclear whether any other Republican lawmakers will feel emboldened to criticize Trump ahead of his presumed 2020 re-election bid or whether Trump will face any serious challengers for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
Romney’s move to stake out a more independent position highlights divisions within the party, since Trump, a real estate developer and television reality star who had never held public office before winning the 2016 election, upended many conservatives’ long-held positions on foreign policy and deficits, among others.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel also criticized Romney on Twitter, calling his essay an “attack” on Trump that was “disappointing and unproductive.” McDaniel is Romney’s niece.
Representatives for Romney could not be immediately reached for comment on the tweets by Trump or McDaniel.
Romney and Trump traded barbs during the 2016 presidential campaign, with Romney calling Trump a “fraud” and Trump slamming Romney’s 2012 loss to Democrat Barack Obama.
The two later appeared to bury their bitterness, with Trump briefly considering Romney for secretary of state after he won the White House and endorsing Romney’s 2018 run for the Senate.
In his essay on Tuesday, Romney vowed to speak his mind in Washington, which now includes a divided Congress as Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives following their November election gains.
“I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions,” he wrote.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)