Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, and the "Clown Show"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 2 2012 11:38 AM

Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, and the "Clown Show"

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NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 18: Donald Trump attends Regis Philbin's Final Show of 'Live! with Regis & Kelly' at the Live with Regis & Kelly Studio on November 18, 2011 in New York, New York. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

ELKO, Nev. -- "I spoke with Donald Trump," said Mitt Romney on December 6, "and indicated that we just can't make his debate." With one quick diss, the GOP frontrunner effectivelly killed a Newsmax-run stunt debate in Iowa, one that would have come right before the caucuses, and one that would have boosted the image of a reality TV host whose political commentary alternated between theories about Barack Obama's citizenship and threats to run as a third party candidate.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Trump was furious. Maybe he was pretending to be furious. Who knows? It was Trump. "It would seem logical to me that if I was substantially behind in the polls, especially in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, I would want to participate in this debate," he said in a statement. "But I understand why Governor Romney decided not to do it." He slunk back to his usual role as an occasional cable news talker with a short temper and shorter vocabulary. Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post blogger who's become one of the most eloquent pro-Romney voices of 2012, gave the candidate a high-five.

It is simple really: He has no intention of being part of the clown show. And in this case, his not going is a way to differentiate himself from Newt Gingrich. He chose not to say that explicitly and alienate Trump further (ever cautious, he is), but it’s very clear why he’s doing it.
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Donald Trump will endorse Mitt Romney in Las Vegas on Thursday, sources familiar with the decision tell ABC News.
A political aide in Trump’s office spoke directly with Mitt Romney by phone last night before Trump’s private plane took off from New York City to Las Vegas, according to a source familiar with the discussion.

Who's the winner here? I have no idea. Polling in December revealed that 31 percent of voters would be less likely to support a Trump-backed candidate, 6 percent more likely. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both of whom agreed to the Trump debate, can look forward to newsy questions about why Donald Trump thinks they're unelectable. (How would he know?) Nevada voters, given only four days to see candidates between Florida and the caucuses, get to watch a self-promoting birther suck the news cycle dry. And Romney, who gained something when he rejected Trump's first stump, comes off as weak and desparate.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.