Mitt Romney criticizes Donald Trump — and gets rebuked from within the family

Ronna McDaniel called her uncle's "attack" on the president "disappointing and unproductive."

Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, R-Utah. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Kim Raff
Mitt Romney. –Bloomberg / Kim Raff

Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, tweeted Wednesday that Mitt Romney’s recent Washington Post op-ed criticizing the character of President Donald Trump was “disappointing and unproductive.”

McDaniel joins a number of fellow prominent Republicans, including Trump, who are condemning Romney’s decision to publish the piece less than 48 hours before he is sworn into the Senate. But in addition to her role as the head of the national party, her rebuke of the former Massachusetts governor is noteworthy for another reason.

McDaniel is also Romney’s niece.

Referring to her uncle as “an incoming Republican freshman senator,” McDaniel said his decision to “attack” Trump with his “first act” as Utah’s incoming senator “feeds into what the Democrats and media want.”

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McDaniel, a Michigan political operative and daughter of Romney’s older brother Scott, used to go by her full name — Ronna Romney McDaniel — professionally, but stopped using her maiden name upon becoming the RNC chair following the 2016 election.

The Post reported last year that Trump himself had “lightheartedly” requested she make the change before she got the RNC job. The New York Times reported last January that Trump had been joking, and McDaniel told Glamour in September that “no person in the world” could tell her to change her name.

But either way, the change was made.

Described by the Times as “unfailingly loyal” to Trump, McDaniel’s criticism of her uncle came in a retweet of the Republican president’s own response to Romney’s critical op-ed.

“Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful,” Trump wrote Wednesday morning. “I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!”

Romney won his Senate seat by nearly 32 percentage points this past November. Sixty-four percent of Utah voters said they wanted to see him stand up to Trump, according to one poll.

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The former one-term Bay State governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee was one of the first national Republicans to forcefully — and frequently — speak out against Trump during the 2016 election. But amid his (unsuccessful) secretary of state candidacy and (successful) Senate candidacy in Utah, Romney’s relationship with the president has gotten a bit more complicated.

In his opinion piece published Tuesday night, Romney said that “on balance” Trump’s conduct since taking office “particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office” — even if he agreed with the administration’s practices relating to corporate taxes, regulations, China, criminal justice reform, and the judiciary.

“I will support policies that I believe are in the best interest of the country and my state, and oppose those that are not,” Romney wrote. “I do not intend to comment on every tweet or fault. But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”

While he gained some qualified praise from Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans, Romney’s piece also drew the ire of some top GOP members, including the libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul and Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

“Jealously is a drink best served warm and Romney just proved it,” Parscale tweeted Tuesday night, puzzling many followers.

Michael Steele, a former RNC chairman, also weighed in Wednesday with the perspective of someone who knows McDaniel’s position well. According to Steele, as the leader of a national political committee, McDaniel doesn’t really need to walk a proverbial tight rope on the Trump-Romney dispute. Rather, her job demands that McDaniel “say (and tweet) as instructed,” he wrote.

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“To refer to Mitt so impersonally reflected that,” Steele wrote. “Her loyalty runs direct to Trump not her uncle—if she wants to keep her job.”

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