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Mitt Romney’s own niece, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, sides with Trump

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel spoke during a Donald Trump campaign rally on Nov. 5, 2018, in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel spoke during a Donald Trump campaign rally on Nov. 5, 2018, in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Jeff Roberson/AP

President Trump hit back at Senator-elect Mitt Romney Wednesday morning, and he got some support from an unlikely source: Romney’s own niece.

Trump’s tweet came hours after the publication of a Washington Post op-ed in which Romney pilloried “shortfalls” in Trump’s character.

In his tweet, Trump compared Romney to outgoing Senator Jeff Flake, another Republican critic of the president, and urged the former Massachusetts governor to “be a TEAM player & WIN.” He also egged Romney on about his 2012 loss to President Barack Obama: “I won big, and he didn’t,” Trump crowed in the tweet.

Rubbing salt in the wound, Romney’s own niece — Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, née Ronna Romney — sided with Trump over her uncle, calling Romney’s attack on the president “disappointing and unproductive.”

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McDaniel did not directly name Romney but referred to the former GOP presidential nominee as an “incoming Republican freshman Senator.”

Before becoming RNC chair, McDaniel played a key role in her uncle’s 2012 presidential campaign. However, during the 2016 campaign cycle, McDaniel attended the Republican National Convention as a committed Trump delegate.

“I love my uncle Mitt and I’m so proud of him,” McDaniel reportedly said during the convention. “But right now it’s Donald Trump’s turn, and I’m supporting the nominee.”

McDaniel, whose father, Scott, is the brother of Mitt Romney, was also reportedly asked by Trump in 2017 to stop using her middle name — “Romney” — publicly.

Romney said he wasn’t surprised about his niece’s tweet during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday evening, adding that he understands that she has a responsibility to the Republican Party.

“I respect her right to express that viewpoint,” Romney said. “It’s probably more, if you will, civil than it might have been across the Thanksgiving table, because we of course have disagreements in our family. But she’s a very loyal Republican, loyal to the president, and she’s doing what she thinks is best for him and for the party.”

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In his column for the Washington Post, Romney said Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

‘‘With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable,’’ he said in the column, which was published Tuesday evening. ‘‘And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.’’

Discussing how he plans to respond to the president as a sitting senator, Romney said he would not comment on every tweet.

“But I will speak out against significant statements or actions that are divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions,” he wrote.

Trump and Romney have a complicated history. Romney famously gave a speech early in the 2016 election calling Trump a “fraud” and “phony.”

But after Trump won the election, Romney was under consideration to join the new administration. Since then, Trump endorsed Romney’s Senate bid in Utah.

Mitt Romney left the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., in November 2016.
Mitt Romney left the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., in November 2016. Carolyn Kaster/AP/File

Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com.