Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Donald backs Mitt:
When an endorsement isn’t an endorsement


This is my mistake,
Let me make it good

— "World Leader Pretend," R.E.M.



Today in Las Vegas, putative billionaire and walking reality show Donald Trump endorsed Mitt Romney for president. At the Trump International Hotel, a physical setting with more cosmetic gravity than it probably deserved, Trump offered his full-throated, blow-dried support: “It’s my honor, real honor and privilege to endorse Mitt Romney. Mitt’s tough, he’s smart, he’s sharp. He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love.”

Most of the TV phalanx of the punditburo delivered this news with barely suppressed smirks, or like Chris Matthews, with a twinkling smile attached, as though they were getting ready to offer up the day’s entertainment news. So far, at least, they’re generally caught up in the comic relief aspect of this (and there’s plenty of that around) or the ways it indicates Romney currying favor with the far right wing of the Republican Party.

But for all its political bling value, despite being worth its weight in unearned media, Trump’s endorsement is the worst thing that could happen to Romney right now.

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One rich guy backing another: That’s the shorthand takeaway from Trump’s support. The meme of Romney the Rich Guy had already gotten plenty of reinforcement on Wednesday, when the candidate, flush with victory in Florida, stepped in it when he offered CNN’s Soledad O’Brien his rationale for seeking the presidency.



“I’m in this race because I care about Americans,” he said. “I’m not concerned about the very poor; we have a safety net there; if it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine ...”

He went on to describe how his deepest convictions of passion were with “the very heart” of Americans, the middle class. But O'Brien gave him a chance to tweak his comment. Romney basically repeated his initial assertion and, as you can see when you watch the video, the damage to be done was never undone.

Romney’s Wednesday comment got the soundbite treatment; the offending passage was isolated from the rest, but it needn’t have been. Any part of it was bad enough.

We have a safety net there; if it needs repair, I’ll fix it, the candidate says with the same flat, dutiful alacrity a husband might use to tell his wife he’ll fix the garage-door opener the following weekend. Taken in its entirety, Romney’s comment partitions his concerns according to economic demographic, just the kind of stratification a bitterly divided country doesn’t need.

◊ ◊ ◊

And now an anointing in Las Vegas. At a moment when Romney’s populist bona fides are seriously under fire from the right he’s embraced and the moderates he’s abandoned, the former Massachusetts governor doubles down on that wealth thing that’s got him in trouble already. This is coals to Newcastle.

Sometimes politicians can be adroitly, brilliantly counter-intuitive, steering head-on into the same winds that could capsize a campaign, but navigating those winds just so, falling down a potentially destructive force and emerging stronger. This ain’t one of those times.

Romney’s unblinking acceptance of Trump’s endorsement is dumb counter-intuitive; In fact, it’s not counter-intuitive at all. It’s utterly predictable, This perceptual merger and acquisition of what’s left of Romney’s credibility follows directly from what we’ve seen of Romney before.

It’s all of a piece with the arrogance of the optically foolish $10,000 bet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry; the brazen insensitivity of his statement that “corporations are people, my friend!” on the campaign trail in August; and the breathtaking indifference of yesterday’s comments on CNN. It reflects nothing more or less than a tone-deafness to the lives and problems of the American people; to the subtleties and nuances of political alliances, and to the perception of those alliances by the people he’s trying to reach.

◊ ◊ ◊

It wasn’t even especially strategic. If Romney’s acceptance of Trump’s support is a bid for the base of the Republican base (the Tea Party crew, the birthers and acolytes of political personality Sarah Palin®), it may be wasted time. Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker and blood enemy of Romney, has by conservative necessity pitched for exactly the same cohort of support — hell, Gingrich can’t afford not to, at this point.

And courtesy of CNN, we got some idea of what the Tea Party thinks of Romney, back when South Carolina was in play:



What’s it all mean? Just that Romney’s bid for the base of the base will likely be a wash with Gingrich’s bid for the same wing-within-a-wing of the party. No advantage confers to Romney for doing what Gingrich, his closest opponent, has been doing for months, and doing aggressively for weeks. Since before he won the South Carolina Primary.

And since Donald Trump isn’t exactly known for being either a pillar of political consistency or a fount of wisdom on the nation’s economic and geopolitical ills, Romney gains no real advantage there, either. We got proof of that last year. A Fox News poll on the influence of a Trump endorsement on voters nationally found that only six percent of voters thought a nod from The Donald was more likely to have an effect on their vote. Thirty-one percent said it was less likely to do so. Sixty-two percent said it’d make no damn difference at all.

This was from a Fox poll in September, mind you, when the field of GOP contenders was about twice what it is now — well before Romney surged to the front, and a Trump endorsement for him would mattered more, would have been more of a real stand on principle, rather than a bet on a sadly probable sure thing.

Or maybe not. Maybe Trump’s bluffing, maybe he thinks something else again. Like back in long-ago 2011, when Trump had issues with Romney’s stature as a businessman.

You never know what you’ll get with Donald Trump; his political constant is unpredictability; publicity is the North Star he guides by. In that much, Trump and Romney seem to deserve each other. For both men, empire is a reason for being. For both men, achieving the common touch is important. For both men, that common touch is the farthest thing from reality.

Image credits: Trump, Romney: CNN

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