Source: President Trump calls Romney, encourages him to run

Mitt Romney was one of Trump’s harshest critics during the 2016 election.<br>

President-elect Donald Trump gives the thumbs-up as Mitt Romney leaves Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Washington • President Donald Trump called Mitt Romney on Thursday night to encourage him to run for the soon-to-be-open Senate seat in Utah, a source close to the White House confirmed Friday, as all eyes are on the former presidential candidate who has been a sharp critic of Trump.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private call, said the two had a short conversation but that the president wanted Romney to run after Sen. Orrin Hatch announced he would retire early next year.

Romney had called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud” during the 2016 Republican presidential primary and has used social media to castigate some of Trump’s actions. But the two had a cordial call Thursday, the source said.

Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said separately that the president and Romney spoke by phone, but didn’t confirm nor deny that Trump encouraged Romney to run.

It was a good conversation,” Gidley told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They spoke about Senator Hatch and his outstanding service.”

Romney, who was the 2012 GOP nominee for president, didn’t mince words when Trump was seeking the White House, saying in a now-famous speech at the University of Utah that Trump would be detrimental to the country if elected.

Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University,” Romney said. “He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”

After Trump won, Romney sat down with the incoming president for dinner as Trump was weighing whether to nominate Romney for secretary of state. Trump later picked former Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson.

Hatch, who had also encouraged Romney to run, said Tuesday that he would not seek an eighth term.