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The Mitt & The Donald – Why Romney Plays The Trump Card

This article is more than 11 years old.
Donald Trump greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, after announcing his endorsement of Romney during a news conference in February. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Donald Trump greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, after announcing his endorsement of Romney during a news conference in February. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Why will Mitt Romney campaign with Donald Trump? Does he hope for gild by association?

Conservative commentator George F. Will is perplexed… and perturbed:

“I do not understand the cost-benefit here. The costs are clear. The benefits, what voter’s going to vote for him because he’s seen with Donald Trump? The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious, it seems to me. Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your IQ can be very low and you can still intrude into American politics.”

To be fair, Trump might be too ignorant to realize he’s not smart. So when he continues to suggest that Barack Obama was not really born in Hawaii, despite release of the president’s long-form birth certificate, perhaps he is merely foolish.

But why is the Romney camp using him as a surrogate? Let’s consider possible reasons, even those that seem like a stretch:

Makes Romney Look Good By Comparison?

Maybe Romney strategists believe that their candidate will seem all the more sensible to voters if they listen to a Trump rant. Even so, that is more than offset by the impression that Romney favors the super-wealthy. Shouldn't he try to break that stereotype?

Maybe Romney advisers want to remind voters that their candidate has great hair. One can’t help but wonder how, and why, Trump persists in having a bad hair day every day. Many voters already appreciate that Romney looks like a president from central casting. And personality-wise, some feel he resembles Ward Cleaver from “Leave It to Beaver.” But in that show, would Mr. C have befriended a Trump type character – arrogant and small-minded? No. It would have been a matter of principle for Ward and his wife, June – setting an example for the Beav – not to encourage such an egotist, even if expedient.

Better To Keep Him Inside The Tent

Romney staffers likely concluded that if they didn't humor Trump, letting him have the ego-gratification of being a media spokesman, they’d risk his being mischievous to gain attention on his own. Maybe he’d go back to his trick of sending up a trial balloon about his possibly running as an independent for president.

Media speculation about Trump running as an independent could undermine Romney. In a Public Policy poll taken in December, Trump took 19 percent in a three-man race. Most of those votes came at the expense of Romney (Obama 45, Romney 31, Trump 19).

Huckster Hero

Romney seems impressed by Trump’s ability to sell simple ideas – like, “China is our enemy.” As he’s proven with his reality TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump knows that simplicity sells. Perhaps Romney strategists hope that Trump will rub off on their candidate, so he’ll be more of a showman. However, Romney seemed to emulate Trump’s simple style when he declared that Russia is “without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” But that assertion hurt his credibility on foreign policy.

Focus On Job-Creation

Romney advisers might have concluded that anything which keeps the focus on the economy is a positive. So, even though Trump seems too Vegas and vain, controversy about the billionaire can reinforce the idea that Romney knows how to encourage the job-creators. But it’s risky having Trump as an entrepreneurial exemplar since he’s had four bankruptcies (“restructuring debt”) as well as successful ventures, and is known for a catchphrase that strikes fear in many hearts, “You’re fired!”

Romney aides say that he does not share Trump’s birther paranoia. But Romney’s failure to renounce Trump’s promotion of the issue disappoints many GOP leaders and activists. And Trump’s new statement that he’d accept a Cabinet post under Romney, if offered, suggests that keeping The Donald at a distance might be difficult.

With a sluggish economy, Romney has the opportunity to present himself as Mr. Fix-It. But he’s not going to be convincing if 1) he doesn't demonstrate the strength to stand on his own and renounce counterproductive ideas, like birtherism, and 2) advocate smart, creative solutions to revitalize the economy. To win this high-stakes game, Romney’s trump card should not be a joker.

Todd Domke Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.



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