The media has been all abuzz over real estate mogul Donald Trump's forthcoming endorsement of Newt Gignrich ever since reports to that effect surfaced last night. But in a dramatic turn of events over the last few hours, it has emerged that Trump will bestow his electoral blessing upon Mitt Romney instead:
Donald Trump will endorse Mitt Romney in Las Vegas on Thursday, sources familiar with the decision tell ABC News. A political aide in Trump’s office spoke directly with Mitt Romney by phone last night before Trump’s private plane took off from New York City to Las Vegas. The call, sources say, was to inform Romney of Thursday’s endorsement, which will take place at a 12:30 p.m. event at the Trump International Hotel on the Las Vegas strip.
Trump's a loudmouth Birther who ostentatiously bolted the Republican Party in December, and whose every move seems calculated to generate maximum attention for himself. Regular readers will recall that I'm not a fan of The Donald, and I don't see how this endorsement will benefit Romney in the least. In fact, according to this Fox News poll, it might actually damage:
A Fox News poll last month suggested the reality TV star and businessman could do a candidate more harm than good. In the poll, 27 percent said his endorsement would make them less likely to support a candidate. Only 10 percent said Trump's support would make them more likely to vote for a candidate. For most people, the endorsement would make no difference.
This decision is mystifying. You just know that the first question or two that Romney will field from reporters will pertain to President Obama's birth certificate. Wasn't Romney supposed to be the guy who could make the general election all about Obama's record and not get bogged down by needlessly indulging counter-productive distractions? So much for that. He'll instead appear on stage with a Democrat-donating advocate of tax hikes and universal healthcare to celebrate their newfound political alliance. As Greg notes below, the optics of this spectacle will be sweet nectar for the Obama campaign and DNC. Trump is famous for firing people. Say, didn't Romney churn out a harmful messaging disaster just yesterday? And his campaign's follow-up to the "very poor" flap is this? Good grief. One of the best arguments for Romney as the nominee is that he is an intelligent guy with an organized and well-prepared campaign. Did the candidate authorize a two-day vacation from competence after his Florida win? Maybe Team Romney is a little punch drunk off the latest polling numbers in Michigan (+15), Arizona (+24) and Nevada:
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney enjoys a substantial lead over rival Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich among registered Nevada Republicans and those likely to attend Saturday's statewide presidential caucuses. An 8NewsNow/Las Vegas Review-Journal telephone poll, conducted Friday through Tuesday by UNLV's Cannon Survey Center, found Romney favored by 44.5 percent of 608 registered Republicans polled, compared to only 24.2 percent for former House Speaker Gingrich. Fellow Republican candidates Rick Santorum (10.9 percent) and Ron Paul (9.1 percent) also remained well behind.
The only explanation I can summon for Romney's baffling call to genuflect before Trump is that he's trying to kill off any residual threat of a third party run. Polls show that such an adventure from the center-right would insulate Barack Obama, whose popularity is otherwise limping along. This story from National Journal puts some more meat on these bones:
The bad news: His job approval ratings in the other battleground states are solidly underwater and, in many states, worse than publicly perceived. In Colorado, seen as a gateway to aggressively contesting the Southwest, Obama scored a net -12 job approval (40/52) throughout the year. In Nevada, also seen as a major bellwether, Obama has a 41 percent approval rating, with 50 percent of respondents disapproving. In the critical battleground state of Ohio, 50 percent of voters disapprove of his performance, with only 42 percent approving. In the must-win state of Pennsylvania, Obama's job approval is underwater, with 45 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving.
Some unpleasant surprises abound for the Obama campaign, too. New Mexico has been seen as a Democratic-leaning state because of its voting history and significant Hispanic population. But Obama's performance there -- 42 percent favorable, 51 percent unfavorable -- isn't much different than his weak standing in the other Southwestern battlegrounds. The Obama campaign has been arguing it has an outside shot at contesting Arizona, but his approval rating is at 40 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. In New Hampshire, a state that John Kerry carried in 2004, Obama's job approval is at 39 percent, with 54 percent disapproving. It's a state that, with Romney heading the GOP ticket, is starting to look out of reach.
These numbers notwithstanding, the eventual Republican nominee is going to have to bring his A-game to defeat the deep-pocketed incumbent in November. Beyond his impressive victory on Tuesday, this hasn't exactly been a banner week for Mitt Romney.
UPDATE - I half-agree with Carol's take on all this, but I still don't see why a gracious statement accepting Trump's endorsement wouldn't suffice. Maybe Trump insisted on a joint press conference?