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Mitt Romney: Trump’s biggest failure is a lack of character in leading ‘divided’ nation

Donald Trump and Mitt Romney emerge after a meeting in November 2016 during discussions about Trump’s pick for secretary of state. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate and incoming US senator, has sharply criticised Donald Trump both personally and professionally, accusing him of deserting the nation’s allies and lacking the character to lead a “divided” nation.

In a Washington Post essay published on Tuesday evening, Romney said Trump’s presidency “made a deep descent” in December and blamed him for the departures of defence secretary Jim Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly.

“The appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a ‘sucker’ in world affairs all defined his presidency down,” he wrote.

“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.”

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Romney praised Trump’s tax policies, stance on China and appointment of conservative judges but said they were “mainstream” Republican policies.

“To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation,” he wrote. “A president should unite us and inspire us to follow ‘our better angels’. A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit.

“With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”

He added that “Trump’s words and actions have caused dismay around the world” and cited Pew reports suggesting belief among people in Germany, Britain, France, Canada and Sweden that Trump would “do the right thing” had fallen from 84% in 2016 to 16% a year later.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Romney is staking out an independent position two days before he takes office on Thursday. It is unclear whether Trump will face a serious challenge in 2020 to securing the Republican party’s presidential nomination.

In February last year, Trump endorsed Romney’s run for a Senate seat in Utah.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Romney excoriated Trump as a “fraud” who was “playing the American public for suckers”. Trump responded that Romney had “choked like a dog” in his unsuccessful 2012 campaign against Barack Obama.

Despite Romney’s prior criticism, after Trump won the presidency in November 2016, Trump briefly considered tapping Romney as secretary of state.

In his essay on Tuesday, Romney said he “will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions”.

Romney has strongly defended press freedom and challenged Trump’s repeated attacks on some news outlets as an “enemy of the people”.

In an essay in November, he wrote: “The media is essential to our Republic, to our freedom, to the cause of freedom abroad, and to our national security. It is very much our friend.”

Reuters contributed to this report