Romney's appearance comes at a critical juncture for the Republican Party, with Donald Trump's march to the nomination setting off alarm among party leaders who fear that he would lose the general election and tarnish the party's brand for a generation.
Romney has emerged in recent days as an aggressive critic of Trump, taking to Twitter to call on the billionaire to release his tax returns and to scold him for his refusal Sunday in a CNN interview to disavow the endorsement of his campaign by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Some of Romney's friends and allies are involved in quickly expanding efforts to stop Trump.
Romney has not yet endorsed a candidate in the 2016 race, and his associates said Wednesday that he was unlikely to do so in the immediate future. He has kept in touch with two remaining candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
"This is not an endorsement or announcement of candidacy," a person close to Romney said regarding his Thursday remarks.
In what could be seen as a foreshadowing of his Thursday remarks, Romney outlined his views on the 2016 race in an appearance last month at Babson College in Massachusetts. Speaking to students, Romney said he shared the feeling of many Americans that Washington has failed them and urged national leaders to tackle big problems such as climate change, poverty, education and income inequality.
“We’re just mad as hell and won’t take it anymore,” Romney said of the national electorate. He harshly criticized “the failure of current political leaders to actually tackle major challenges, or to try at least, or to go out with proposals."
“Think for a moment about the major challenges you believe this country faces and tick them off in your mind and ask, 'Are we making any real progress on any of them?' " Romney said, striking an exasperated tone as he turned to the crowd.