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Romney plays with fire in Trump association


Is Mitt Romney playing with fire in his dealings with Donald Trump?

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee will appear with Trump, the pugnacious real estate mogul and reality television star, at a fundraiser Tuesday in Las Vegas. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a nemesis of Romney's throughout the Republican presidential primary, will round out the group.

Steve Marcus / Reuters

Real estate mogul Donald Trump's ties to presidential candidate Mitt Romney run deeper than most run-of-the-mill supporters of the former Massachusetts governor.

Setting aside Gingrich’s own bombast, it’s Trump who could prove the bigger long-term headache for Romney. The latest example of that came Tuesday morning, when Trump said he’s still unconvinced that President Barack Obama was born in the United States, further linking Romney to that sentiment in a subsequent tweet from his @realDonaldTrump handle:

@BarackObama is practically begging @MittRomney to disavow the place of birth movement, he is afraid of it and for good reason. He keeps using @SenJohnMcCain as an example, however, @SenJohnMcCain lost the election. Don’t let it happen again.

It’s become clear that Trump’s ties to Romney run deeper than most run-of-the-mill supporters of the former Massachusetts governor. Romney and Trump appeared together when the “Apprentice” host made official his endorsement on Feb. 2. Since then, Trump’s become an involved surrogate for Romney, doing radio interviews and robocalls during the height of the GOP primary. He’s also hosted fundraisers for Romney, most notably one on Ann Romney’s birthday that netted the campaign $600,000.

“Donald Trump is playing an extremely important role, which has been acknowledged by both Ann and Mitt Romney, which has been acknowledged by them in election night speeches,” said Michael Cohen, a spokesman for Trump, in an interview.

Former Sen. Blanche Lincoln and former Rep. Tom Davis talk about the pros and cons of Mitt Romney associating himself with Donald Trump.

Romney put some distance between the two men, though, before taking off for Colorado late on Monday night. "You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," he told reporters aboard his campaign charter plane.

Romney was burned back in April when conservative rocker (and campaign supporter) Ted Nugent called Obama “evil,” and said if the incumbent were to win re-election, “I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”

FIRST THOUGHTS: Playing the Trump card

Democrats stoked that story in the media, forcing Romney to personally address the Nugent controversy; now, it appears as though they’re hoping for another opportunity to do the same with Trump.

That is, when — not if — Trump goes off-message, Romney will have to answer for the controversy. His campaign won’t have the luxury of shrugging off a figure like Trump, who’s undeniably much closer to the Republican nominee than Nugent.

"It raises a question, that's come up before during this campaign, as to whether Gov. Romney will embrace these extreme voices in his party, or stand up to them," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said Friday on MSNBC.

Ben LaBolt, National Press Secretary for the Obama campaign, joins Andrea Mitchell to discuss the President's political strategy, as well as new poll numbers that show a tight race between Obama and Mitt Romney.

And already, the Obama campaign released a video on Tuesday bracketing the fundraiser this evening, contrasting Romney's relative silence toward Trump with the actions taken by Republican nominee John McCain in 2008 to shun extreme voices in the GOP.

For now, the Romney campaign has emphasized its singular focus on the economy, casting media firestorms around Trump or Romney’s previous work at Bain Capital as nothing less than a distraction.

"In a world of record job loss, record home loss, more people falling into poverty than time since the Depression, I don't think this stuff matters," said a Romney aide. "I would think the last few weeks would be a good lesson in that. From the anniversary of the Osama bin Laden killing to gay marriage, this election is just about one thing: are you happy with the economy and who do you think will do a better job?"

But the irony for Romney is that, for a campaign that prides itself on discipline and focus, its association with Trump threatens at any moment to knock the candidate off-message.

  • Consider just a small sampling of the things Trump has recently said:
    May 22: Trump said on CNN that invoking Obama’s association with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright in the campaign, which Romney had disavowed, is fair game. "These tapes are devastating for the president. I mean, Rev. Wright is an angry man. He's extremely angry at the president,” Trump said on CNN. “I see nothing wrong with using it."
    May 22: Also on May 22, Trump stoked the flames of “birtherism,” skepticism of whether the president was born in the U.S., despite Obama having released his long-form birth certificate a year earlier, showing he was, in fact, born in Hawaii. Trump tweeted: “I wonder if @BarackObama ever applied to Occidental, Columbia or Harvard as a foreign student. When can we see his applications? What do they say about his place of birth.”
    May 7: Trump suggested, during the Chen Guangcheng incident, that the United States’ economic tension versus China could translate into an actual war in due time. “It's not a war with bullets, but it's certainly a war,” Trump said of those economic tensions. “Maybe someday, it ends up with bullets because, frankly, they're building a military like you wouldn't believe.”

And there are more politically substantive examples of Trump breaking with Romney and the GOP.

“I just think it’s very dangerous,” he said of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposals this March on FOX. “Already, the Democrats are just starting to write their campaign literature based on this plan. I think it’s very dangerous for the Republicans.”

Cohen said that Trump didn’t presume to speak for Romney.

“Donald Trump is his own individual, and he will make statements that he feels are accurate, are on the minds of other Americans and are significant in showing the voters who the real Barack Obama is,” he said. “Whatever questions will be posed to Gov. Romney and the Romney camp, they are certainly entitled to answer as they see fit. The current president and vice president don’t agree on all topics. Not all Republicans agree with all Republicans, and not all Democrats agree with all Democrats. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”

And to Trump’s credit, he’s never been known as a shrinking violet. His views have certainly been publicly aired at this point, and voters may be able to better distinguish between his headline-grabbing comments and the more staid sentiments of Romney.

But in a campaign cycle driven by grievance politics (“When will Mitt Romney/Barack Obama apologize for…?”), it’s difficult to imagine Romney not having to answer for some outburst of Trump’s between now and November.

“He’ll stand up next to Donald Trump, and he’ll talk about why he wants to be president, and why he believes the economy needs to be turned around,” Romney adviser Kevin Madden said Friday on MSNBC of the way Romney would relate to Trump. “Anytime that something goes off of that – or something where Gov. Romney would disagree – he’s going to make that very clear, just as he has in the past, and he’ll do it in the present, and he’ll do it in the future.”

NBC’s Garrett Haake contributed to this report.

Andrea Mitchell talks with Kevin Madden, a Romney campaign adviser, about Donald Trump's involvement in Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, and whether or not Trump will help or hurt Romney's chances come November.