Trump Endorses, and Mitt Romney Grins and Bears It

The Donald gets behind the front-runner in Las Vegas, but with no four-letter words or talk of birth certificates -- alas.


LAS VEGAS -- The last time Donald Trump gave a political speech here, he explained to a devastated crowd why he could not possibly attain the presidency.

"There's a real good chance, no matter what happens, I won't win," he said, "because, you know, one of these blood-sucking politicians who's been bullshitting people for years will end up, you know, getting elected."

Trump boasted about getting President Obama to release his birth certificate -- "I accomplished something that nobody else had accomplished." He lamented high oil prices: "We have nobody in Washington that sits back and says, 'You're not going to raise that fucking price, you understand that?'"

Perhaps that was the mental picture a more subdued Trump had in mind on Thursday, when he endorsed Mitt Romney.

"Mitt is tough, he's smart, he's sharp," the reality-show star and New York real-estate mogul said, speaking before a backdrop of American flags in the lobby of his eponymous hotel tower off the Las Vegas Strip. "He is not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love."

Romney next took the podium, emblazoned with a plaque reading "TRUMP," with a slightly sheepish smile. "There are some things that you can't imagine happening in your life," he said. "Uh, this is one of them."

Romney added, "Being in Donald Trump's magnificent hotel and having his endorsement is a delight."

Trump, Romney said, "has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how the economy works and create jobs for the American people." He praised Trump's tough talk on China -- "we need to have a president who stands up to cheaters," he said.

He did not, alas, echo Trump's earlier words for Chinese leadership, which were, "Listen, you motherfuckers, we're going to tax you 25 percent."

The earlier speech came last April, when, as you will recall, Trump was riding a wave of irresistible publicity for his shameless flogging of the birth-certificate issue and his contemplation, which he and his advisers insisted was totally serious, of a Republican presidential candidacy.

In the months since announcing he wouldn't seek the nomination, Trump has continued to dip a toe into the political arena, whether hinting at an independent bid or attempting to host a GOP debate in Iowa -- an effort that fell apart when Romney and most of the other candidates refused to attend. Newt Gingrich, whom Trump snubbed with his endorsement, had said he would attend.

Trump's building, dubbed the Trump International Tower, rises phalically behind the Strip, set back closer to the strip clubs on Industrial Road than the pedestrian traffic of Las Vegas Boulevard. It does not include a casino, and though Trump likes to claim that the 64-story, 24-karat-gold-plated tower is the city's tallest building, the needle-shaped Stratosphere Hotel is far taller. (Trump does not consider it a building.) The lobby is a soothing mix of glittering crystal, bronze satin and peach-colored marble. It is, you know, classy.

In the gift shop, the Trump Store, T-shirts and hats bearing the words "You're Fired!" are for sale, as are copies of nine different books by Trump, "gold bars" made of chocolate ($4) and Trump's own signature blend of tea in both regular and decaf.

It was this flamboyance that had the giant horde of media that gathered here hoping that some sort of crazy spectacle would unfold. But Trump spoke onstage for only about a minute and kept his remarks tame and acceptable.

Still, Trump couldn't resist giving about three impromptu press conferences on his way in and out of the venue, but even there, he was measured and on message. Asked what constituency he might bring to support Romney, Trump said, "I think people that are tired of watching this nation get ripped off, and that's a lot of people."

He added, "I bring a lot of people with me. If you look at my Twitter, if you look at my anything -- if you look at my ratings, period -- we bring a lot of people. Not because people like me, but they agree with what I'm saying about our country. We are being just ripped, to the tune of trillions of dollars, by other countries andd other places, whether it's China or OPEC or India. And I don't think that's going to happen with Mitt Romney."

Asked what happened with Gingrich, who was rumored to be getting the endorsement until the Romney news contradicted that late Wednesday, Trump said, "He's a friend of mine, I like him a lot, I respect him a lot. But this is the way I went."

Democrats would like the Trump news to embarrass Romney, and have taken hte occasion to give new life to Romney's recent "I like being able to fire people" gaffe. But while Romney and Trump both have excellent hair and are both very rich -- Romney joked Thursday about being "not as successful" as Trump -- it's safe to say no one is going to mistake them for one another anytime soon. Despite their shared tax bracket, Trump appeals to precisely the opposite strain of the GOP from Romney -- the vulgar, unrefined, proudly backwards strain.

Up to now, that strain has belonged to Gingrich, with his tone of striving resentment and his refusal to play by polite rules. As Gingrich's campaign has fallen apart (again) in recent weeks, the appeal of an ever-unfolding spectacle was all he still had going for him. Now, Romney has taken that away from him. He has snatched away the absurdity card.

And in the process, he has tamed Trump, at least for the moment. Hoping against hope, reporters asked Trump if there was a chance he could still run as a third-party candidate.

"I think what is going to happen is Mitt Romney is going to get the nomination," Trump said, "and, obviously, then I wouldn't do anything."

And with that, the man whose antics make American politics seem dignified by comparison was gone.

Image credit: Getty Images/Ethan Miller