Tuesday, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney became the third invited candidate (after Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman) to turn down the offer to appear in a GOP debate moderated by Donald Trump. That was a good decision. Unfortunately for Mitt, he does not appear to have sufficiently angered The Donald with the way he went about declining the invitation, and this means he is still eligible for Trump's endorsement. That's too bad!
As Christian Heinze reports over at The Hill, Trump was on MSNBC this morning discussing Romney's decision, and by all appearances, the amount of ill will sowed by Romney was insufficient to disqualify him from Trump's support:
"I'm surprised that Mitt Romney said 'no.' He was very nice. He called me yesterday, and he said he's very busy, he's so busy, and I was a little bit surprised at that.
.... I think he's a very nice guy, actually, I've known him for awhile, and I've gotten to know him pretty well, lately.
Frankly, I'm surprised because he really wants my endorsement. I mean, he wants it very badly."
That's a pretty terrible assertion to have out there, that you in some way "want" Trump's endorsement, because the possible outcome is that you may get it, and -- as polling data indicates -- it is something of a kiss of death. Romney's team should be shooting this down, right now.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman have avoided this fate largely because of the smart way they went about pulling out of the debate. Huntsman told Fox News, "I'm not going to kiss his ring and I'm not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy," and went on to suggest that Trump lacked "courage." Jesse Benton, speaking for Ron Paul, issued a statement in which he said, "The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the Presidency and flies in the face of that office's history and dignity."
Trump responded bitterly to these snubs, declaring both Huntsman and Paul to be "joke candidates." "That's great, please keep saying that, Donald Trump," is what I imagine unnamed sources close to the campaigns of Huntsman and Paul to have thought to themselves, in response.
The essence of Trump's delusion here is that he somehow has a powerful brand name that can lend a certain amount of prestige to a presidential candidate, but I think the fact that Trump's not willing to rule out endorsing Romney proves Huntsman's point about "courage": Trump would like to leave the door open to endorsing Romney, if Romney re-asserts himself as the frontrunner, because Trump is actually in need of a powerful political brand to lend him some prestige.
If you're Mitt Romney, you'd rather not have much part of this. Think Romney believes that Trump has anything to teach him about technocracy or high finance? Ha ha, no. And as we noted yesterday, Romney's taken great pains to keep a distance from Trump -- when the two men did meet earlier this year, Romney was careful to avoid being photographed with him.
That's something that an ordinary person might correctly perceive as a diss, but Trump's either not perceptive enough to notice or he's willing to let it slide. So, this morning, he held open the possibility of getting behind Romney despite the fact that he'll be a no-show at this debate: "That doesn't necessarily affect it [endorsement] one way or the other, but he really wants my endorsement."
In short, Romney was right to reject the Trump debate, but he didn't do it hard enough. Now he runs the risk of garnering Trump's support. That's too bad.
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