BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A war of words continues to escalate in the Republican Party.
Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney launched a sharp attack just hours before GOP front-runner Donald Trump is set to square off against his rivals in another televised debate.
“Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony. A fraud,” said Romney, who was speaking at the University of Utah.
Not to be out done –Trump fired back.
“Mitt is a failed candidate. He failed,” Trump said, while speaking in Maine.
But will the back-and-forth land any solid blows?
Romney urged fellow Republicans to shun Trump for the good of the country.
“If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” Romney said.
Trump endorsed Romney for president in 2012. At the time he called Romney “tough” and “smart.” But now says he regrets it.
“He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said Mitt, drop to your knees. He would have dropped to his knees,” Trump told supporters.
Here in Western New York, Romney’s verbal lashing of the party’s front-runner prompted a terse response from Nicholas Langworthy, chairman of the Erie County Republican Committee.
“I think it’s a joke,” said Langworthy, who officially endorsed Trump’s candidacy for president. “I suspect he [Romney] wants a larger role going forward. Who knows. Maybe he thinks he’s a substitute candidate.”
And if you don’t think the rhetoric can get any uglier — just imagine a contested convention, as some are predicting.
“All hell is indeed going to break loose,” said Kevin Hardwick, who teaches political science at Canisius College. “That convention hall is going to be like a Bills-Miami game. You know with fights in the stands.”
Hardwick, also a Republican serving in the Erie County Legislature, wonders whether the GOP establishment will pull out a “trump card” and sideline the billionaire businessman.
“If it’s a case where he has the most delegates coming in but he doesn’t have that magic 1,237, and someone who has less delegates than him or someone like Mitt Romney who hasn’t even gotten any delegates is picked on the second ballot, or the third ballot by the remaining delegates — that’s going to be a very difficult situation,” he said.
Despite a strong showing on Super Tuesday by winning seven contests, Trump is not yet on track to claim the nomination before the party’s national gathering in July, according to an Associated Press delegate count.
Trump has won 46 percent of the delegates awarded so far, and he would have to increase that to 51 percent in the remaining primaries, according to the AP.