the national interest

Why Romney Decided to Stick With Trump

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) and Donald Trump shake hands during a news conference held by Trump to endorse Romney for president at the Trump International Hotel & Tower Las Vegas February 2, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Romney came in first in the Florida primary on January 31 and is looking ahead to Nevada's caucus on February 4.
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Mitt Romney’s decision to hold a high-profile event with Donald Trump, whose buffoonish claims about President Obama’s birth have overtaken Romney’s own message, has prompted a widespread guessing game as to what he is thinking. Conservative reporter Byron York spoke to some members of Romney’s campaign, and the answer seems to be … they aren’t thinking anything. Here, via York, is the rationale:

Romney aides believe that cooperating with Democrats and media figures who are demanding a Trump disavowal would most certainly lead to more calls for more disavowals of other figures in the future

Team Romney views it as a silly and one-sided game designed to distract voters from the central issue of the race, which they remain convinced will be President Obama’s handling of the economy.

By one-sided, they mean not only that Obama has not disavowed SuperPAC contributor Bill Maher for a number of Maher’s statements that were particularly insulting to Republican women. They also mean the press, with, as Team Romney sees it, questionable associations of its own. Has David Gregory, moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” repudiated his colleague Al Sharpton, the MSNBC host with a decades-long record of incendiary statements and actions?  And has, say, the New York Times columnist Gail Collins repudiated her colleague Charles Blow, who once wrote to Romney, “Stick that in your magic underwear”?

This isn’t strategy, it’s petulance. First of all, the campaign seems unable to separate questions about the smart thing to do from questions about the morally right thing to do. Nobody thinks that Romney is a birther. The question before the campaign is, do they want to allow themselves to be besmirched by Trump’s idiocy? Answering the question by fulminating that it’s unfair is a dodge.

Second, even if fairness were the important consideration here, the Romney campaign’s sense of fairness in this instance is bizarre. Trump is running around claiming Obama is ineligible to serve as president — he is claiming this right now. That is not the same as Charles Blow tweeting a nasty comment and then apologizing for it.

York does not name his source, but the reasoning, or lack thereof, has all the hallmarks of Eric Fehrnstrom, the top Romney adviser. Jason Zengerle wrote a fantastic profile of Fehrnstrom in GQ not long ago, and the dominant personality trait that comes through is his bristling resentment of liberal media elites. The Trump episode is hardly a major development in the campaign. But if it turns out to presage a pattern of testosterone-driven decision making, where anger eclipses calculation, it will have revealed a major flaw in Romney’s operation.

Why Romney Decided to Stick With Trump