The best thing to be said for Donald Trump’s endorsement of Mitt Romney is that the event was brief and, for once, Trump was on message and restrained. He likes Romney’s aggressive stance toward China’s unfair trade practices, not a favorite with free-market conservatives but perhaps a plus with populists and those fearing that President Obama is presiding over America’s decline.
When it was Romney’s turn, he was too gushy for my taste and likely for many serious conservatives who regard Trump as a huckster. It wasn’t really necessary for him to say, “There are some things you can’t imagine happening in your life.” He then praised Trump for his job-creating success and said it “means a great deal” for him to have Trump’s nod.
From there Romney quickly pivoted to an abbreviated version of his stump speech, empathizing with Nevadans who were underwater on their mortgages and promising to get America working again. Sounding a little Newtonian, he stressed that he wanted to “dramatically” change the way government interacts with citizens.
The average voter probably won’t care all that much about Trump’s endorsement. It’s hard to imagine Romney gaining or losing votes because of this. However, the rub will come later in the general-election campaign if Trump says obnoxious things (inevitable, isn’t it?) that Romney is forced to comment on.
In the short term, the most likely impact is to increase the animosity toward Romney among conservative media and some pundits, who are convinced Romney doesn’t understand them or the conservative movement. Now a successful GOP campaign can’t become a traveling antique show for conservatism, in which the candidate shows his wares for a select audience. But the lesson here is that the Romney camp needs better sounding boards and increased outreach to explain and defend its candidate from the arrows being shot across its bow. Its seeming unawareness that the endorsement would create a negative backlash suggests staffers don’t exactly have their ears to the ground.