Mitt Romney said in an interview that aired Sunday that Trump's vocal advocacy of birtherism — a racially-charged movement predicated on the fiction that President Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen — during the previous general election cycle is "very different" from the "highly offensive" comments Trump has made thus far on the campaign trail.
The former GOP candidate for president has become one of Donald Trump's strongest critics despite competing for and winning Trump's endorsement in 2012. He has criticized Trump for his reluctance to disavow support from former KKK leader David Duke and other white supremacist groups, tweeting that Trump's "coddling of repugnant bigotry is not in the character of America." Last Thursday, Romney went further, giving an address that labeled Trump as a phony and a fraud.
In light of his strong opposition to Trump as the Republican presidential nominee, CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, pressed Romney on why he had accepted Trump's endorsement in 2012, as the business mogul had by then loudly called for Obama to release his birth certificate to prove he was born in the United States and hinted that Obama was trying to hide documents that would have proved that he was a Muslim. When Borger asked if Trump's birtherism was "bad enough," Romney disagreed.
"Well, no, I think that’s very different than calling Mexicans rapists, than saying that Muslims are not going to be allowed into the country as immigrants, that mocking a disabled reporter, that going after women and saying, 'Oh, she asked tough questions because she was in her menstrual cycle,'" Romney said. "This is highly offensive."
Trump, along with other members of the Republican party, has spent years aggressively questioning Obama's nativity, saying he had real doubts about the president's birthplace. But Trump was at the forefront of the movement in 2011, going so far as to claim (with little evidence) that he sent investigators to Hawaii.
“His grandmother in Kenya said he was born in Kenya, and she was there and witnessed the birth. Okay? He doesn’t have a birth certificate or he hasn’t shown it,” Trump said in an April 2011 interview with the Today show. “He has what’s called a certificate of live birth. That is something that’s easy to get. When you want a birth certificate, it’s hard to get.”
Even after the White House released an official copy of Obama's long-form birth certificate, Trump continued his invective.
When Borger asked whether Trump's outspoken role in the birther movement, which has racial overtones, was offensive, Romney said that the question of Obama's citizenship was a matter of differing "political views."
"He had a belief that President Obama wasn’t born in this country. I said that I disagreed with him," Romney said. "There are political views about one another where we’re going to disagree. But what he has said during this campaign, that George W. Bush is a liar, that John McCain isn’t a hero. He said some things that are completely, totally outrageous."
Trump told MSNBC's Chris Matthews in December that he did not want to take questions about his past calls for the president to release his birth certificate, and avoided answering whether he still believes that Obama was not born in the United States. The GOP front-runner said that when he discusses birtherism, people were less inclined to discuss his political positions.
"I don't answer that question because once I answer the question, they don't want to talk about the economy," Trump said to Matthews.
On Sunday, Romney was dismissive of Trump's birther crusade, but acknowledged that it seems to have foreshadowed some of the "outrageous" positions the real estate mogul has taken thus far in the 2016 season.
"The funny thing about Donald Trump’s whole birther thing — and I said this to him — is it would have made no difference," Romney said on CNN. "Barack Obama’s mother was American. It was a whole ridiculous thing that Donald Trump was pursuing and it’s I think characteristic of what you see now."
The former Republican nominee then attributed Trump's beliefs to a pattern of delusion.
"He’s saying things which get people excited, but which are detached from reality," Romney said.