Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
FILE - Mitt Romney speaks at the Utah County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. Romney sees President Donald Trump's proposed $100 billion in new tariffs on China as a shot across the bow but doesn't think it would lead to trade war.

SANDY — U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney sees President Donald Trump's proposed $100 billion in new tariffs on China as a shot across the bow but doesn't think it would lead to trade war.

"I think the president is leading with some policies that will wake up our friends in China and they’ll recognize that business as usual is going to have to change," the former Republican presidential nominee said. "China over the years has taken advantage of the attitude in America, which is we haven’t watched very closely and they’ve been cheating."

Romney and his wife Ann talked to about 600 people at what was billed as a "candid conversation" about faith, family and life in their home moderated by former TV news anchor Ruth Todd at the new Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy. Much of the 40-minute discussion, however, turned to politics.

A massive trade war with countries placing tariffs on each other would not be good, Romney said.

"I don't think we're going to go there," he said.

Trump will focus on specific companies and countries that aren't playing fair and tell them to change their rules or lose access to the U.S, Romney said.

Romney, who harshly criticized Trump over the years, said he supports much of what the president has done such as cutting taxes, rolling back business regulations and reducing the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in southern Utah.

An audience member asked Romney if he would give the same scathing speech about Trump today that he did before the election and if not, how would he change it. Romney called Trump a phony and fraud in a March 2016 speech at the University of Utah.

Romney didn't bite.

"I look forward. I'm not going to look backward," he said, adding Trump has moved on a number of important issues, including backing away from imposing a 45 percent tariff on all foreign goods.

As for Trump sending military troops to the Mexican border, Romney said he would give the president "the benefit of the doubt," noting President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush did the same thing.

Romney is among a dozen Republicans vying for the GOP nomination to replace U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch. He is close to qualifying for a primary election through collecting voter signatures. The state GOP convention is April 21.

While Romney chatted at the fancy Hale theater, Democratic frontrunner Jenny Wilson had a meet-and-greet with voters Thursday at Fatty's Pizzeria in Castle Dale. The Salt Lake County Council member then headed to the Rio Theater in Helper for the Carbon County Democratic Party convention to finish up a four-day swing through southern Utah, including meeting with Navajo tribal leaders.

Wilson said she was "disheartened" to see that residents are dealing with the same issues they faced during the 1990s when she worked for late Democratic Rep. Bill Orton, whose district included rural counties.

"The state and federal government aren’t delivering," she said. "I'm actually getting angrier and angrier by the minute."

Wilson said she became "more offended" by the Republican tax bill that she contends helps the wealthy but doesn't fill basic infrastructure needs for rural communities.

"The Romneys and others are doing quite well," she said.

Government can do better to help rural Utahns dealing with low wages, poverty and the opioid crisis that is hitting them particularly hard, Wilson said.

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Wilson is among four Democrats seeking the party's nomination. The Democratic state convention is April 28. Wilson is not gathering signatures to get on a primary election ballot.

Romney, too, has courted voters off the Wasatch Front. He has visited 23 of the state's 29 counties. He said there are four counties where there are more prescriptions for opioids than there are people. Finding ways to help small counties thrive would be a big part of the job as senator, he said.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Ann Romney's name was misspelled as Anne.