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Mitt Romney expected to pitch case against Trump at U. Thursday

Published: Wednesday, March 2 2016 7:10 p.m. MST

Mitt Romney listens at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, during the official launch of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney is expected to make his strongest pitch yet to topple Donald Trump as the Republican Party's presidential front-runner in a high-profile address at the University of Utah Thursday.

But an endorsement in the race is not anticipated from Romney, leaving open the possibility that the GOP could turn to him at the party's national convention in July if no candidate has enough delegates to secure the nomination.

In the address, added to the U. Hinckley Institute of Politics schedule late Wednesday morning, Romney will speak about "the state of the 2016 presidential race."

NBC national correspondent Peter Alexander tweeted out three excerpts from the address this morning.

"Here's what I know," the excerpt reads. "Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

The two-time candidate for the White House, who won the GOP nomination in 2012 but lost to President Barack Obama, has already been confronting Trump in interviews and through social media.

But the billionaire business mogul and reality TV star, who has made statements seen as critical of Muslims, women, immigrants in the country illegally and many others, won big in Tuesday's primaries.

Romney's speech, using his status as an elder statesman in the GOP, may make the most direct case yet to galvanize growing party establishment opposition to Trump as the nominee, a source told the Deseret News.

"Mitt Romney loves his party. He loves his country," longtime supporter Kirk Jowers said. "He is going to take the opportunity to provide his unique perspective on the state of this presidential race and its implications, depending on how it turns out."

Jason Perry, head of the Hinckley Institute, said Romney has not provided details about his address but made it clear he wanted to deliver it in front of an audience of students.

The event will be held at Libby Gardner Hall in the David Gardner Hall Building, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Seating is limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

"He's going to talk very directly about this election. He hasn't indicated to us he’s going to be critical of anyone," Perry said. "I haven’t heard he plans on endorsing anyone or making an announcement necessarily about his plans."

There is plenty of national speculation about what Romney will say, with conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin suggesting he's "positioned to deliver some tough love" to Republicans.

And, Rubin writes, because Romney was endorsed by Trump in 2012, "he is uniquely positioned to do a mea culpa and tell Republicans that they are in good company if they failed to recognize Trump’s danger earlier."

University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said he isn't sure how much impact Romney will have on the electorate unless he pushes harder against Trump than most Republican leaders have been willing to do.

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