DEER VALLEY — Mitt Romney said Saturday at his annual political retreat that he's not going to campaign against Donald Trump now that he's the GOP nominee, but will continue to call him out on "destructive" comments.
"I know a lot of folks are saying, 'Mitt, just get off your high horse on this and get behind the guy.' But these things are personal. I mean, I love this country. I love the founders. I love what this country is built upon, and its values," he said.
"Seeing this is breaking my heart for the party," Romney said, his voice quavering with emotion as the audience of several hundred business and other leaders who helped fund his 2012 run for president broke into sustained applause.
He acknowledged that "90 percent" of Republicans will vote for Trump, but said both the controversial businessman and the Democrats' presumptive nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will be destructive to the nation.
Romney said he's not trying to turn anyone against Trump at this point, noting the concern over future appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court is a "darn good reason" to get behind the GOP candidate.
Still, in an on-stage interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer at the Stein Eriksen Lodge near the end of the fourth annual E2 Summit, Romney repeatedly criticized Trump for statements that he said may have a "trickle down" effect on the culture.
Romney spoke of his own father, a former governor of Michigan who was born in Mexico and ran for president, in questioning Trump's statements that a Mexican-American judge was unqualified to consider a case because of his heritage.
"My dad was born in Mexico. Does that mean he was unqualified? It's just so offensive, I had to say something about it," Romney said. He said Trump only sees the controversy as a political problem.
But Romney also acknowledged the Republican leaders who support Trump, including his former running mate, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus, both at the retreat.
Romney even complimented Trump on his campaign, noting that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and other Republicans in the 2016 race spent too much time and money attacking each other.
Trump "played it extraordinarily well," running a shoestring operation focused on connecting with the "high degree of frustration and resentment" among voters, winning "fair and square," he said.
Romney said had he decided to make a third run for the White House, he'd "have just been another establishment person. Anger and resentment may have been just as effective against me." He said he couldn't see himself winning.
Still, Romney said he would have targeted Trump more directly than the other candidates, not "turn the other cheek. I probably would have been more aggressive and assertive in the debates."
He said he would have been happy to be part of a GOP administration "in some role" if Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won the White House.
Now, Romney said, he splits his time equally between business, politics, charity and family. He said he expects to convene another summit next year to talk about how the nation can deal with the results of the November election.
Boyd Matheson, the head of the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, said continued discussion is what is most important to a Republican Party divided over Trump's selection.
"I think that's really the message he was trying to send, that, 'Look, people. The next five months are going to be painful for all of us, but it's not about just the next five months.' It's much, much more than that," Matheson said.
He said the participants, including business leaders and GOP strategists, needed to hear from Romney that there could be disagreement within the party over Trump while still looking to the future.
"I don't know that it was about healing. I think it is about changing the focus," Matheson said. "Let's not destroy ourselves in that battle. Because that's the wrong battle."
Romney told a reporter after the three-day, largely private retreat ended Saturday that it was "a superb conference with lots of interesting views."