By Justin Sink - 05/30/12 12:16 AM EDT
Real estate mogul and reality television star Donald Trump’s repeated attacks Tuesday on President Obama’s birthplace eclipsed Mitt Romney’s criticism of the administration’s handling of the economy.
On a day when Romney was poised to secure the 1,144 delegates required to clinch the GOP nomination, the news cycle was dominated by Trump, who in two television interviews— including a testy exchange with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer — doubled down on questions regarding Obama’s birth certificate.
“A lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate,” Trump said in the interview with Blitzer.
Obama last year released his long-form birth certificate, and Romney says he believes Obama was born in the United States, Blitzer noted. He then accused Trump of “starting to sound ridiculous.”
“I think you sound ridiculous,” Trump retorted.
Trump then took several shots at CNN, which has fallen to third place among cable news networks, saying its ratings were “pretty small” and that Blitzer was asking questions about Obama’s birthplace because “it’s probably going to get a few more people watching your station which, unfortunately, they’re not doing.”
Even before the interview, Democrats had used the Vegas fundraiser to mount a daylong attack on Romney’s association with Trump, which they hope will turn off centrist voters.
White House press secretary Jay Carney questioned Romney’s judgment during the daily press briefing, and deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter accused Romney of a “complete lack of moral leadership.”
“Mitt Romney’s continued embrace of Donald Trump and refusal to condemn his disgraceful conspiracy theories demonstrates his complete lack of moral leadership,” Cutter said in a statement.
“If Mitt Romney lacks the backbone to stand up to a charlatan like Donald Trump because he’s so concerned about lining his campaign’s pockets, what does that say about the kind of president he would be?”
Republicans say it will be tough to make that argument stick, however, especially when Romney has steadfastly maintained he does not subscribe to the so-called “birther” movement.
GOP strategists also suggested that the short-term political hit of appearing with the man George Will dismissed as “a bloviating ignoramus” would be worth an exchange for Trump’s fundraising prowess and celebrity.
“I can’t say I necessarily disagree with [George] Will, but I don’t think there are really any long-term downsides for being occasionally associated with Trump,” said Republican media consultant Chris Ingram. “People have short memories, and the ads that the money they raise will buy will far outreach the issues today.”
With new campaign laws further loosening restrictions on individual spending, the benefit of embracing Trump could pay significant dividends down the road — especially if he gives generously or encourages fellow casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who backed Newt Gingrich during the primary, to donate to the campaign. Adelson was expected to attend the Tuesday fundraiser, which should net some $2 million for the Romney campaign.
Conservative political observers also believe there’s little risk of Romney associating with Trump, because most see the reality television host as an entertainer more than a political figure and don’t seriously link the pair.
Romney’s perceived disadvantage during the primary process — holding positions considered too mainstream for some far-right conservatives who preferred candidates like Rick Santorum or Gingrich — could also benefit him in rebuffing attempts to paint him and Trump as closely aligned.
“I don’t think the establishment or swing voters are going to suddenly decide that Romney is outside of the mainstream,” said GOP consultant Alex Vogel. “The argument has always been that Romney is Mr. Mainstream, that he has a problem with people on the ends of the spectrum. This sort of thing is common anytime you mix celebrity and politics.”
More likely, Republicans say, is that Trump excites a base still warming up to Romney’s candidacy, or makes their nominee more accessible to voters who might not yet be paying attention to the presidential election — but are fans of Trump’s popular television show.
There’s also an element of danger in openly repudiating Trump now after courting his endorsement during the primary. As Trump demonstrated again Tuesday, he has a penchant for creating — and reveling in — controversy, and some on Team Romney might fear that a public break could turn Trump’s sights on the campaign.
“I think the Romney people are learning that Donald Trump is his own man that can’t be quote-unquote handled,” said Roger Stone, a Republican political consultant and longtime Trump adviser. “Donald is Donald and wants to do what he wants to do.”