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SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney appears to once again be playing a key role in the latest effort to stop controversial GOP front-runner Donald Trump from winning his party’s presidential nomination outright.
Romney reportedly tried to convince Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to work with Ohio Gov. John Kasich to try to coordinate their campaigns in upcoming primary election states to maximize their delegate wins.
News of Romney’s involvement came as former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt called for Cruz and Kasich to work together to ensure a candidate other than Trump can emerge as the GOP nominee at the Republican National Convention in July.
“I think we’re not far from the point where Cruz and Kasich have to realize that their interests are somewhat aligned and their objective is to stop Donald Trump,” Leavitt, a top adviser to Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said this week.
Leavitt, along with Romney and other establishment Republicans, wants to keep Trump off the top of the ticket because of the billionaire businessman and reality TV star’s statements against Mexican immigrants, Muslims, women and other groups.
Whether Cruz and Kasich can find a way to help each other in upcoming races to keep votes away from Trump “will be an intriguing thing to see. Right now, I don’t see any sign of it. And that could have an impact, if it just unfolds,” Leavitt said.
He did not refer to any role Romney might be playing, and a source close to Romney declined to comment on private conversations Romney has had with candidates or campaigns.
CNN reported Monday that Kasich’s campaign attempted to reach out to Cruz through Romney. A Kasich adviser, John Weaver, told the cable channel that Romney had urged Cruz’s campaign manager to contact the Kasich campaign.
There appeared to be little interest from the Cruz campaign, which had already labeled Kasich a spoiler in the race. New ads airing in advance of Wisconsin’s April 5 primary from a pro-Cruz super PAC call Kasich a “liberal governor.”
“You should ask Mitt. You should ask Cruz,” Weaver responded when asked by the Deseret News if he saw any chance Cruz would be willing to coordinate after Wisconsin. “Only good place post-Wisconsin for Cruz is North Dakota.”
In Utah’s March 22 GOP presidential preference caucus, Leavitt backed Kasich while Romney urged voters in a Facebook post to support Cruz as the only candidate able to prevent Trump from wrapping up the nomination before the convention.
Romney, who had already criticized Trump as a fraud and a phony in a University of Utah speech, said he was “repulsed” by the “racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, vulgarity, and most recently, threats and violence” associated with Trump.
Cruz won nearly 70 percent of Utah’s caucus vote, well over the majority threshold needed to take all of the state’s 40 delegates. Kasich was a distant second, followed by Trump.
Trump is well ahead nationally in the delegate count, with 736 of the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination ahead of the convention. Cruz has 463 delegates, and Kasich, who has only won his home state of Ohio, 143.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who endorsed Trump after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio dropped out of the race, said he wants to be a delegate to the national convention. He said he’s “more than comfortable” backing Cruz initially.
If no candidate gets the nomination on the first ballot, where delegates are bound to reflect the will of their states’ voters, Hughes said he’d consider how far apart Trump and Cruz were in terms of delegates before choosing between the two.
Kasich or other candidates that could surface at a contested GOP convention who don’t have signficant support from primary election voters are off his list, the speaker said.
“If you’re seeing front-runners that are competing for that second round, that’s fine. I think my fear is, I don’t see Kasich in that role,” Hughes said. “I think you’re looking at candidates that have earned that support that you’d have to look at.”
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said all of the machinations involved in the effort to stop Trump may be turning off voters.
“It’s messy. It’s complex. It’s not a straightforward electoral process. It’s a sort of rickety amalgamation of a variety of different processes” that puts the focus on the race itself rather than voter concerns, Karpowitz said.
“It certainly does seem like the contest has devolved from a debate about ideas and the right direction for the country to a debate about how to stop Donald Trump,” the political science professor said.
While Republicans opposed to Trump may believe they’re doing what’s best for the party and even the country, Karpowitz said voters may end up viewing the fight as “just about raw political power.”
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