SALT LAKE CITY — Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney pledged Friday "to do everything within the normal political bounds" to keep the Republican Party's controversial front-runner, Donald Trump, off the November ballot.
"I think he would be terribly unfit for office. I don't think he has the temperament to be president," Romney said on NBC's "Today" show Friday, the day after he delivered a tough-talking takedown of Trump at the University of Utah.
In the U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics speech, Romney grabbed headlines around the world for labeling Trump "a phony, a fraud" and warning the billionaire business mogul and reality TV star would be a danger to the country in the White House.
Romney, who was endorsed by Trump in the 2012 presidential primary race, also attacked Trump's "personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics," including his use of vulgarities.
Not attracting as much attention was Romney's suggestion that Republicans support the other candidates still in the race — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — in the states where they're strongest.
But that appears to hold the key to the strategy behind stopping Trump, creating a contested convention so another nominee can be chosen — maybe even Romney himself.
"I'm not running for president, and I won't run for president," Romney told Today Show interviewer Matt Lauer after being repeatedly pressed to close the door on the possibility he could be persuaded to run for president a third time.
Considered a favorite son even before he once again made Utah his home after serving as governor of Massachusetts, Romney told CNN later he won't get into the race at a deadlocked convention.
"That's not going to happen," he told CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger. "What's going to happen in a contested convention is that people who are running for president and who have delegates are going to be able to battle with one another."
Romney called a contested convention "a realistic scenario" and said during the interview: "A lot of people have thought that for some time."
South Carolina pollster Dave Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University, said a convention without a presumptive nominee "may be the best Republicans can hope for."
Woodard said encouraging all of the remaining candidates to stay in the race may be the only way to stop Trump.
"We're going to avoid a disaster and let the convention figure it out some way," he said.
But Woodard said he wasn't sure Romney was a "viable" option despite having a unique standing in the party to challenge Trump as the previous nominee.
"He has credibility because he’s been there. He’s run a presidential campaign. He knows what’s ahead for the nominee and the party," Woodard said.
Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a key adviser to Romney in his 2012 bid to unseat President Barack Obama, said there are three options for keeping Trump from becoming the GOP nominee.
"The first is someone in the Republican Party catches fire besides Trump. The second is that two or more candidates begin to unify and create a new narrative. It could be a Kasich/Rubio combination," Leavitt said.
The third, of course, is a convention where the nomination is up for grabs.
"Then you end up with a very complex scenario, but we're not dealing with the ideal here. We're dealing with what the facts present," Leavitt said. He said Romney "sees this as a decision the party needs to make in the way the party has organized to make it."
If none of the candidates can win enough delegates to secure the GOP nomination before the Republican National Convention meets in Cleveland in July, then the party has to determine just how to come up with a nominee.
And existing nomination rules — including those that bind delegates to vote on the first ballot according to the results of their state primaries and caucuses, as well as those governing nominating a candidate not already in the race — can all be changed, said Utah Republican National Committeewoman Enid Mickelsen.
Mickelsen, a vice chairwoman of the national Republican Party committee responsible for putting on the convention, said it's the delegates, not the party or the candidates, who control the nominating process.
And if there's not a clear winner in advance of the convention, "there are a lot of ifs," she said. While she declined to comment on specific candidates, Mickelsen said what Romney "was saying was, 'Let's make it so no one gets a majority.'"
Choosing a candidate other than the front-runner in that situation is "not that you're denying someone" a nomination or the will of the voters, she said. "If you don't get a majority, you have to allow delegate flexibility."
CNN reported Thursday that "Romney has instructed his closest advisers to explore the possibility of stopping Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention," citing "a source close to Romney's inner circle."
Romney said on the "Today" show there's plenty of support for a candidate other than Trump.
"There are a lot of people, establishment or not, who agree with me that Donald Trump should not be president of the United States and don't want to see him become the Republican nominee," Romney said.
He defended the impact of his involvement on the millions of voters nationwide who have backed Trump.84 comments on this story
"That’s the way politics works. You get behind the people you support. You fight for them, and the person who wins through the process becomes your nominee," Romney said.
He said he would not vote for Trump — or the Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But Romney sounded convinced he won't have to make that decision.
"I intend to vote for our nominee, and I expect that nominee to be a real conservative, a real Republican," Romney said. He said he expects to see a "narrowing of the field" after the March 15 elections and may endorse a candidate then.