Mitt Romney says Donald Trump has not risen to the mantle of the office
US media says incoming senator's comments suggest he may be considering running in 2020
Incoming Senator Mitt Romney issued harsh criticism of President Donald Trump on Tuesday, saying he "has not risen to the mantle of the office."
The barbed remarks from the 2012 Republican presidential candidate two days before he and other lawmakers take up their seats in the new Congress seemed to suggest Mr Romney is positioning himself to take over the role of Jeff Flake, a departing senator who was a vocal critic of President Trump.
US media said Mr Romney's comments even prompted suggestions online that he sounds like he is considering challenging Mr Trump for the nomination in 2020.
"With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable," Mr Romney wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.
"And it is in this province where the incumbent's shortfall has been most glaring."
It is the latest twist in a tenuous relationship . Mr Romney called presidential candidate Mr Trump a fraud and a phoney in 2016. But last year he thanked the president for his endorsement as Mr Romney ran for a Utah senate.
In the op-ed piece, Mr Romney noted he had not supported Mr Trump as the Republican Party's nominee in 2016.
He said he had hoped the Trump campaign would refrain from name-calling. He said he was initially encouraged when Mr Trump brought into his cabinet steady-hand figures like James Mattis as defence secretary and John Kelly as chief of staff.
"But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office," Mr Romney wrote.
Mr Romney said last month that President Trump's abrupt announcement that he was pulling US troops out of Syria was particularly disturbing. Defence Secretary James Mattis resigned after Mr Trump's announcement.
"The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December," Mr Romney wrote.
He said he will treat Mr Trump as he would any president, either in or outside his party.
"I do not intend to comment on every tweet or fault," Mr Romney wrote. "But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions."
Updated: January 2, 2019 03:15 PM