Multimillionaire Mitt Romney shared a stage with billionaire Donald Trump as he accepted the backing of the real estate developer and reality television star, the latest sign the Republican presidential frontrunner isn’t shying away from a focus on his wealth.
The two men stood together yesterday and praised one another at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, a day after Romney came under attack for his comments about America’s poor.
“Our country is in serious, serious trouble,” Trump said, as Romney’s wife, Ann, also looked on. “Mitt is tough. He’s smart. He’s sharp. He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country.”
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Romney’s top rival in the Republican race, continued to try to gain advantage from the former Massachusetts governor’s Feb. 1 comment that he’s “not concerned about the very poor” because of the government programs available to them.
“There are some very big differences both between me and Governor Romney and me and Barack Obama,” Gingrich said as he campaigned yesterday in Las Vegas in advance of Nevada’s Feb. 4 caucuses. “I really believe we should care about the very poor, unlike Governor Romney, but I believe we should care differently than Barack Obama.”
Gingrich made his comments at a construction equipment manufacturing plant, where the crowd was dominated by factory workers.
He said that, while Romney and Obama think the poor just need a government-provided safety net, he would give them “a trampoline” by tying job training programs to unemployment insurance.
Gingrich has sought to cast his candidacy in populist terms, portraying Romney as beholden to Washington politicians and Wall Street bankers. He has attributed his 14 percentage point loss to Romney in Florida’s Jan. 31 primary to the spending disparity between the two campaigns. Ad spending by Romney and his allies -- mostly for negative spots -- outstripped Gingrich and his forces by more than 5-1 in the state.
Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University, discounted the importance of Trump’s endorsement.
“I don’t think it will have a big impact,” he said. “I don’t think Donald Trump is a serious political player. He is great at attracting media attention, but I don’t think he has a huge impact with the electorate.”
David Damore, an associate political science professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said the backing could hurt Romney. “I think it plays into that narrative that Romney is an elitist and he doesn’t understand the common people,” he said.
Romney, a co-founder of the Boston-based Bain Capital LLC private equity firm, faced fresh questions about whether he is out of touch with less-fortunate people after his comments about the poor in a CNN interview.
Romney told reporters later that his remark was taken out of context. In an interview airing yesterday on the “Face to Face with Jon Ralston” television program in Nevada, he said he “misspoke.”
Romney, who traveled yesterday for the first time with a U.S. Secret Service detail, told Trump at their joint appearance that he was honored and surprised to have his backing.
“There are some things that you just can’t image happening in your life,” Romney said. “This is one of them.”
He also took the occasion to criticize Obama’s jobs record. “He does not understand what it takes to get America working again,” he said.
In a reference to Trump, Romney said, “I spent my life in the private sector -- not quite as successfully as this guy -- but successful nonetheless, sufficiently successful to understand what it takes to get America to be the most attractive place in the world for innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses.”
Trump told reporters before his appearance with Romney that he likes the candidate’s calls for a tougher China trading policy.
“He’s somebody that really understands that China is ripping us off,” he said.
Trump, 65, and Romney, 64, have had ups and downs in their relationship. In December, Romney declined to attend a Republican presidential candidates’ debate Trump had proposed in Iowa. The event was later canceled.
‘Small Business Guy’
Gingrich’s campaign issued a news release offering past Trump criticisms of Romney. Included was Trump’s comment in an April 18, 2011, appearance on CNN that Romney “is a basically small business guy” who ”walked away with some money from a very good company that he didn’t create; he worked there. He would buy companies; he’d close companies; he’d get rid of jobs.”
Romney’s wealth, estimated in his financial disclosure statement to be as much as $250 million, periodically has emerged as a campaign issue.
Romney released his 2010 tax return on Jan. 24 after his previous refusal to do so immediately appeared to hurt him in the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, which he lost to Gingrich by 12 points. The records showed that, with an annual income of $21.6 million, he paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent, lower than for many Americans who make far less.
Also in January he said in an off-the-cuff remark that he likes “being able to fire people who provide services to me.” Though he was referring to switching health-insurance companies as a consumer -- not his own employees -- he was put on the defensive.
Gingrich, 68, made a reference to the flap yesterday when he said at his Las Vegas event, “I like hiring people.”
In December, Romney had to deflect criticism that he is out of touch with ordinary voters after proposing during a candidates’ debate a $10,000 wager with Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has since exited the race.
Trump was asked by reporters yesterday whether he had advice for Romney about discussing the wealth issue.
“I think he’s actually becoming very comfortable with it recently, more recently,” he said.
Trump, who has unabashedly showcased his wealth, told Bloomberg Businessweek last year that he was worth more than $7 billion. Forbes lists him as the 128th richest American, with a net worth of $2.9 billion.
Trump, host of “The Celebrity Apprentice” on NBC, dropped hints last year he might enter the Republican presidential race before announcing in May he wouldn’t. Since then, he left open the possibility he might seek the White House as an independent if he was dissatisfied with the Republican choice.
He said yesterday he has no plans to get into the race, and he thinks it is time for Romney’s Republican rivals -- Gingrich, U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania -- to exit.
“It would be a positive thing if other candidates got out of the race,” Trump said.
Obama press secretary Jay Carney was asked at his daily White House briefing with reporters yesterday if the president had sought Trump’s endorsement.
“You know, I’m not going to comb over that question,” he responded.