Speaking to Utah media Monday, Sen. Mitt Romney spoke candidly about his views on former President Donald Trump’s four criminal indictments and when he plans to announce whether or not he’ll run for a second term in the U.S. Senate.

He also addressed an idea he floated on The Wall Street Journal opinion page, where he asked Republican candidates and donors to pick one candidate to coalesce around by February in order to present a united alternative to Trump.

So far, according to reporting by the Deseret News, the idea is yet to garner strong support.

Before speaking to media, Romney addressed a room full of students at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, where he took questions and spoke with Sutherland Institute President Rick Larsen.

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Utah Sen. Mitt Romney speaks to a group of students and community members as part of the Sutherland Institute’s 2023 Congressional Series at the Hinckley Institute on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Romney responds to Trump’s four indictments

When asked about Republicans who say the criminal charges against Trump show he is being persecuted by the political left Romney said Trump only has himself to blame.

“There’s no question but the indictments were brought upon him because of his own actions,” Romney said. “President Trump did not handle the classified documents properly, and he didn’t turn them over when he was asked to.”

On Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, Romney said Trump “could have come to the immediate aid of his vice president — he chose not to. That was something for which a number of senators — Republican and Democrat — said he should be removed from office and permanently barred from office (for).”

Romney said Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn the elections in Georgia, including calling Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where Trump said he wanted to “find 11,780 votes,” was, in Romney’s words, “just not right.”

“Whether that results in a crime is something which a jury will have to determine and President Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence. But did he bring this upon himself? Yes.”

On GOP uniting behind one candidate

So far, Romney said he hasn’t heard from any Republican candidates who are prepared to drop out in order to back a single opponent to Trump.

“I hear a number of people who say you’re absolutely right, we hope that happens. It hasn’t happened in a long long, long time,” he said. “I’m not sure it will. There’s such an incentive to stay in to the very, very end so that you try and get your name better known — perhaps you’re going to get a TV gig down the road. It’s unfortunate, but it would be nice to see it get consolidated.”

Romney on why Republican voters are still backing Trump

Romney was asked why he thinks Republican voters have stuck with Trump, even as the former president has faced a series of criminal charges and despite his record of turning off independent voters in the last two elections.

“Well, I think President Trump’s support is not so much because of policy. In fact, his campaign so far hasn’t put out policy. It’s very much that they like Donald Trump. They like what they believe he stands for, and so they’re sticking with him regardless of what he is accused of doing. And they’re not going to get moved by someone who says, ‘I’m Donald Trump lite,’” Romney said.

“I think the candidate that has the most likely path to replacing him as a nominee is someone who expresses some differences, either on policy or character or a vision for the future of the country. So I don’t know who that will be. We’re going to find out soon in the debates, whether someone wants to do that, but if somebody just gets up and says, ‘look, I agree with everything Donald Trump says, but vote for me instead,’ I don’t think has much prospect of becoming our nominee.”

Romney: Trump will be the nominee

Romney reiterated his belief that Trump would win the GOP presidential primary.

“I think (Trump will) be the Republican nominee, President Biden will be the Democratic nominee, and a lot of people in America are going to scratch their heads and say, ‘why can’t we do better than this? I don’t want either one of them,’” he said. “I’m one of those, but that’s probably what’s going to happen.”

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney shakes hands with ROTC students at the Sutherland Institute’s 2023 Congressional Series at the Hinckley Institute on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

When will Romney announce if he’s running again?

Romney said he was planning to make a decision in the fall on whether he would run again and would announce the decision by the end of the year.

“What I’m trying to do is to decide whether I can get some things done that I care about. In other terms, how productive can I be? Because our state deserves someone who can actually get things done, work across the aisle if need be to accomplish things, and I’m getting a sense of whether that’s going to be something that I can do in another term,” he said.

A recent Wall Street Journal article said Romney was asked by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to run again.

“He’s an incredibly effective senator,” McConnell told the Journal.

How can the country turn things around?

In response to a student question about the ugliness in today’s politics, Romney said he sees two ways the United States can turn things around.

“One is either a crisis so severe, it woke people up, but not so severe that it killed the country,” he said.

“Or, No. 2: an extraordinary leader. A person of such magnitude, personal honor and integrity that he or she was able to bring them all together.”

Romney named several examples of who he sees as such a leader, including Abraham Lincoln, former Israeli Prime minister Golda Meir and Winston Churchill.

“Do I see that on the horizon today? No. All right. I don’t see someone who has been so powerful and so beloved that the nation comes to that person and they’re able to have that that influence. That would be nice.”

Rayshon Baker, a freshman studying political science at the University of Utah, asks a question to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney at the Sutherland Institute’s 2023 Congressional Series at the Hinckley Institute on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Romney to students: Find your purpose

Romney left the students with some advice after noting that Utah is ranked first in the country for social capital.

“Social capital says, are people getting married? Are they having kids? Are they going to school? ... Are they engaged in the workforce? Are they productive?”

“And yet as a country, I think it’s fair to say we’re sort of trending downward. There are more suicides. There are more deaths by overdoses. There are people dropping out. ... And the reality is, that’ll mean people are not as happy. And the funny thing is, getting married, having kids, having a job, and having a purpose bigger than your own selfish interests, makes you happier.”

After serving as governor of Massachusetts, Romney and his wife Ann Romney relocated to Utah.

“After Ann and I moved out west, we’d been about 30 days away from Massachusetts, she said, ‘remind me again why we lived in Massachusetts for the last 40 years?’”

“Look at the beauty here. It’s wonderful. So enjoy your life. And even though there will be some typically heartaches and sorrow in your life and disappointment and reversals, it’s all thrilling and exciting. And you are fighting for a great cause, which is the preservation of this great nation.”

Matilyn Mortensen takes a photo of Sutherland Institute President Rick Larsen, left, and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney as they speak to a group of students and community members as part of the Sutherland Institute’s 2023 Congressional Series at the Hinckley Institute on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News