(CNN) — Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Thursday he plans to withhold his endorsement in the 2020 race both in the primary and in the general election.
“I’m not planning on endorsing in the presidential race,” Romney told CNN at the Capitol. “At this stage, I’m not planning on endorsing in the primary or in the general.”
The move underscores the uneasy relationship between the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee and the leader of his party.
Romney’s statement adds more certainty about his plans for the presidential race. He had previously signaled he was “unlikely” to endorse a candidate in the 2020 elections. The decision by a party’s previous nominee to avoid backing a sitting president is another norm-breaking episode in Mr. Trump’s tumultuous time atop the Republican Party.
Romney is a friend of one of Trump’s primary challengers, Bill Weld. Weld served as Massachusetts governor before Romney’s term in office. In an April interview, Romney declined to say if he would get behind the long-shot candidate.
On Thursday, Romney told CNN that he’s concerned about the move by several states to cancel their primary contests. The cancellations are seen as a bid to help President Trump as he faces challenges from Weld, former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh and former South Carolina congressman and Gov. Mark Sanford.
“I would far prefer having an open primary, caucus, convention process … where people can be heard,” said Romney, who reiterated that he’s not running himself
Past criticism of President Trump
Romney was an outspoken critic of Trump’s in the 2016 campaign. He then flirted with the notion of becoming the President’s secretary of state before the President chose Rex Tillerson for the job.
On the eve of starting his job as a freshman Utah senator, Romney wrote an opinion piece bashing Trump’s actions and questioning his character, saying he had “not risen to the mantle of the office.”
And after the Mueller report came out, Romney offered perhaps the toughest criticism of any Republican lawmaker, saying he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President.”
Yet Romney only periodically spars with Trump. He often votes to back the President’s nominees. Romney has supported Mr. Trump’s policies and has shied away from criticizing even some of the more controversial Trump tweets.
Critics turned supporters
Other Trump critics have now become allies of the President. For instance, after lashing Trump repeatedly in 2016 and warning voters about the threat Trump posed to the country, Sen. Ben Sasse received the President’s endorsement for his Senate reelection campaign. This, after the Nebraska Republican mostly avoided criticizing the President this year.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, once a fierce critic of Trump’s, is now one of his closest confidantes. Asked Thursday if he’s concerned that some state primaries are being canceled in 2020, Graham said it’s been done in the past and that Trump has been a “good President so I’m all good with that.”
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