For an event so politically fraught, it flashed by in what seemed like a New York minute.
Donald Trump endorsed Mitt Romney for president Thursday in a brief joint appearance at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel, an occasion more notable for its odd brevity and lack of theater than anything either man said.
Stepping to the microphone in an area curtained off from the marble-and-chandeliered lobby, Trump praised the Republican presidential hopeful as tough, smart and sharp. “He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love,” said Trump, who for months toyed with a run himself as he raised unsubstantiated questions about President Obama’s birthplace.
Turning to face the former Massachusetts governor and his wife, Ann, Trump said, “Get out and get ‘em. You can do it.”
Looking pleased, Romney stepped to the microphone. “There are some things that you just can’t imagine happening in your life. This is one of them,” he said. “Being in Donald Trump’s magnificent hotel and having his endorsement is a delight.”
There were signs that it wasn’t pure delight: In all, with time for applause from Romney supporters, the event was over in about five minutes. Neither man took questions, minimizing the possibility for gaffes or flamboyant statements from the famously provocative Trump. Soon afterward, the Romney campaign issued a long list of his endorsements, as if to place the support from the showman-businessman into a broader context.
Newt Gingrich, Romney’s Republican rival and the candidate some news organizations had incorrectly reported would receive the endorsement, cut to the Romney campaign’s concerns when he responded with a gibe at both men.
“I like hiring people,” Gingrich said, referring to the line that is Trump’s reality show trademark — “You’re fired!"— and Romney’s comment last month that he liked being able to fire people. (Romney was speaking as a consumer, regarding the service he expects.)
Democrats responded in the same vein. Even before the joint appearance, the national party released a Web video featuring pictures of Romney and Trump saying “they both like firing people” and sprinkling in some of the unkind things that Trump previously said about Romney.
The campaign of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas issued a tart statement: “Please explain to us why anyone would care.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania countered with an endorsement of his own, that of former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, a favorite of the tea party but a pariah to many Republicans after her 2010 loss to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Angle praised Santorum as “a strong fiscal and social conservative who stands on principles above politics.”
But it was Trump, again inserting himself into the contest, who was the day’s focus.
After ostentatiously flirting with a run for president, auditioning and publicly critiquing several of the candidates and trying and failing to entice them into a Trump-moderated debate, he told reporters Thursday that he settled on Romney because of his toughness toward China and OPEC. Trump did not, however, elaborate. He also did not explain his prior poor-mouthing of Romney’s performance in office, his business acumen and his difficulty connecting with voters. But since making those remarks, Trump said, he has gotten to know Romney better.
Toward that end, he ruled out a threatened independent run for president should Romney win the nomination, something Trump had previously held out as a possibility.
Polls suggest that Romney is headed for a big win in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. Battling from behind, Gingrich for a second day seized on Romney’s comment Wednesday that he wasn’t concerned about the very poor, given the country’s social safety net. Touring a construction equipment firm in Las Vegas, Gingrich likened Romney to Obama in suggesting that government programs were the answer to poverty.
“I’m for replacing the safety net with a trampoline,” the former House speaker said. “Nothing is better for someone who’s poor than getting a job and getting a paycheck … and having their children see that it’s OK to go to work.”
Angle endorsed Santorum in a statement to the National Review Online, but her blessing was of dubious value, given the fury over her loss to Reid. Santorum praised her effort. “Despite tens of millions of dollars thrown against her, Sharron did not back down,” he said in a statement.
Paul, who has campaigned heavily in Nevada, set his sights on the more sparsely populated north on Thursday, with rallies in Reno and Elko. The independent-minded 76-year-old has strong support in rural Nevada, where weathered yard signs from his 2008 run can still be spotted.
Times staff writers Maria L. La Ganga in Reno and Seema Mehta in Las Vegas contributed to this report.