When I first heard that Donald Trump was backing Mitt Romney for President (and not Newt Gingrich as had been reported), my first reaction was similar to that of Philip Klein: “Mitt Romney made the biggest blunder of his candidacy today – at least so far.”
The more I think about it, however, the more I realize it may be one of the campaign’s minor masterstrokes. Michael Scherer appears to agree. Reporting how Democrats trumpeted Trump’s endorsement (as if certain this were bad news for the GOP frontrunner), Time‘s White House correspondent spells out why the endorsement benefits Romney:
But the liberal spin missed a bigger dynamic.Romney is, after all, still engaged in a Republican primary contest, and by earning Trumps endorsement on Thursday, the frontrunner scored a hat trick. He took a potential critic with a huge megaphone off the field. He deprived his rivals of any national media attention. And he saw his strategy of staying above the political circus vindicated: In the end, it did not take any clowning around on the candidate’s part to win over the Republican party’s great jester.
Emphasis added. “Trump,” he adds, “could almost certainly deny Romney votes, either by running as an independent or joining forces with one of Romney’s rivals.” And that’s where the endorsement really matters. (Via Hot Air.)
Read the whole thing. Scherer makes an interesting point about Trump’s populist appeal. He also reports that “The endorsement has been a long time in coming. As far back as December, the discussion in Trump circles has focused less on whether to endorse Romney than on when to do it.”
The timing certainly helps. If Trump endorsed Romney in the fall, it could put the focus on the endorsement rather than on Romney’s serious reform proposals. It might make his candidacy seem like a circus act just as people, particularly undecided voters, were focusing on the campaign. This media sideshow now dispensed with (roughly nine months before the general election), Romney can now focus on the issues.
Charles Krauthammer also believes that the endorsement matters, because it disrupts the storyline of Newt as insurgent:
So all of these people that had a rise and fall as the antiestablishment alternative are the ones who lined up and supported the Newt idea of him[self] as the insurgent. Trump was one of those, and he’s the only one who stepped out of that storyline and instead of endorsing Newt, which would have been the natural continuation of that storyline, switched over and supported Romney.
Now, it’s not a huge event. But I think it does interrupt and disrupt that storyline. In that sense it matters.
Whatever you think of Donald Trump as a politician, he does, like a good entertainer, have an impeccable sense of timing. He endorsed the Republican frontrunner in a manner most likely to help his candidate — while getting his own name in the headlines.