SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney says President Donald Trump needs to acknowledge he was wrong and apologize for his remarks following the deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn," the 2012 Republican presidential nominee posted Friday on Facebook.
Romney called it a defining moment for Trump's presidency.
"The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme,” he wrote.
Also Friday, several House Democrats introduced a resolution to censure the president over his comments.
Trump drew bipartisan criticism for his first statement that there was blame "on both sides" for the violence in Charlottesville. He condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists two days later, but then reiterated his original statement and said there were "some fine people" among both the left-wing counterprotesters and the white nationalists.
Trump apologists "strain" to explain that he didn't mean what people heard, Romney wrote.
"But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the president as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric," he wrote.
Trump, he said, "should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize."
Romney said Trump needs to "testify" that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis — who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat — and the counterprotesters who were outraged to see "fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute."
"And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association," Romney wrote.
American allies are stunned, while the nation's enemies celebrate, he said, adding America's ability to secure peace and prosperity is diminished.
"And who would want to come to the aid of a country they perceive as racist if ever the need were to arise, as it did after 9/11?" Romney asked.
Don Peay, who ran Trump's presidential campaign in Utah, said Romney's statement has no merit.
"I think Mitt and everyone else just needs shut up on Twitter, and they need to sit down and start having some conversations to fix our problems because we are a divided nation, and all this chatter does nothing but fan the flames on both sides," he said, adding that Trump also needs to "tone down" on social media.
Peay said he's "100 percent" opposed to discrimination based on race, gender and religion, and "so are the Trumps. I know them well."
"If you really look at Charlottesville, it takes two to tango," he said.
Trump further inflamed the racially charged tension Thursday when he called for preserving Confederate statues on public grounds.
"Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
...can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
“So foolish!” he added, bemoaning efforts in several municipalities to remove Confederate markers.
Peay said people need to look at what he calls the "Confederate hypocrisy."
"Martin Luther King was against gays, so are the gay and lesbian folks going to say let's tear down his statues? Are we going to tear down Thomas Jefferson statues because he owned slaves?" he said.
"I would say to my good friend Mitt Romney as well, both his great-grandfather and my great-great grandfather were polygamists, and I’m sure some people find that abhorrent, so maybe erase our memory of all those people."
Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers said it "really was David Duke that was too much for Mitt" when he gave his speech at the University of Utah last year calling Trump a "fraud" and "phony" who was dangerous for the country. Romney's speech came shortly after Trump said he didn't know anything about Duke or that the white supremacist had backed his candidacy.
And Trump keeps pulling Romney back into public life where he feels like he has to do something, Jowers said.
"Mostly, though, it’s a sad state of affairs that we’re at this point with a president," said Jowers, the former head of the U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics. "It's not that we disagree over health care. It's not that we just have a great policy debate. It's that our president has just done something that is so reprehensible that it’s just hard to call him your president anymore."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed a call Friday to censure Trump for his response to the violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville.
"Every day, the president gives us further evidence of why such a censure is necessary," she said in a statement backing a resolution several House Democrats have introduced.
"Indeed, with each passing day, it becomes clearer that the Republican Congress must declare whether it stands for our sacred American values or with the president who embraces white nationalism," Pelosi said.
Contributing: Peter Samore