RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Mitt Romney has been watching the current presidential campaign and worrying. Later today, the 2012 Republican nominee for president will deliver what's being described as a major speech on the state of the Republican race. And later this evening, in Detroit, there's another Republican debate with a much smaller field of candidates. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea joins us now to preview both events. Good morning.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And what do we know about what Romney plans to say in this speech?
GONYEA: Well, the first thing we know is there will be no endorsements. So if the other candidates were looking for Mitt Romney's backing, they will not get it tonight. It's going to be kind of an appeal to Republicans - and not just to candidates but to voters too - to, I guess the best way to put it is, to find their better angels. We do know that Mitt Romney has been really, really frustrated by this campaign - by the tone, by the topics, by the rhetoric, by the insults, certainly. And we know he's already been a vocal critic of Donald Trump. Most recently, just last week, he warned about what could be lurking in Trump's tax returns. So give a listen to Romney here on Fox News with Neil Cavuto just last week.
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MITT ROMNEY: We have good reason to believe that there's a bombshell in Donald Trump's taxes.
NEIL CAVUTO: What do you mean?
ROMNEY: Well, I think there's something there. Either he's not anywhere near as wealthy as he says he is, or he hasn't been paying the kind of taxes we would expect him to pay.
GONYEA: So there's just a taste. But Renee, it's very unusual for a former nominee - a former unsuccessful nominee - to be doing this.
MONTAGNE: And what about Trump's reaction to Romney?
GONYEA: Well, Romney has already been one of Trump's favorite targets. He almost never misses an opportunity to ridicule him during a speech. He loves to call him a loser, a guy who should have easily beaten Barack Obama four years ago. And again, let's go back to just before Super Tuesday. Trump was at a rally in Texas, and in that rally he stopped to ridicule Romney's 2012 campaign and his skills and his manner as a candidate. Give it a listen.
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DONALD TRUMP: When you walk onto a stage, you cannot walk like a penguin. He walked like a penguin. I said, this is a problem. Somebody tell him, take some steps. Anyway, Romney turned out to be a disaster, but I know he'll support Rubio. He probably has no choice. If he wanted to support me, I would not accept his support.
MONTAGNE: Well, what is this speech, then, by Mitt Romney likely to accomplish?
GONYEA: Well, plenty of others have called out Trump, not to mention the outrageous things Trump has said and done on his own, and here we are. He has a big lead, and he padded that lead considerably on Super Tuesday. But, you know, this also kind of underscores the leadership void that the Republican Party has right now. Romney can play that role somewhat as the last nominee, but he's clearly an establishment figure, and he's the kind of figure that's being rejected by primary voters so far.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's get to tonight's debate. It's in Detroit. Michigan is the next state to vote, on Tuesday. We'll have fewer candidates on stage, for starters.
GONYEA: Right - no Ben Carson. He hasn't officially ended his campaign, but he won't be there. So it's Trump, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich. Time is getting short. Look for all of them to go after Trump, but they're also keeping an eye one another as well.
MONTAGNE: Well, let me also - just a couple of seconds here, but Fox News Channel - that's where the debate is - one of the questioners will be anchor Megyn Kelly.
GONYEA: That big conflict with her and Trump back in August - he skipped the debate in Iowa in January because she was moderating. He'll be there tonight. She'll be there tonight. And it's the first time they've faced off, shall we say, since August.
MONTAGNE: Well, it'll be interesting.
GONYEA: Tune in.
MONTAGNE: They all are, actually, these days.
GONYEA: They all are. It's that kind of year.
MONTAGNE: NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea, thanks.
GONYEA: All right, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.