Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012 | 1:51 p.m.
The Republican presidential candidates spent months seeking, dodging, and sometimes outright shunning Donald Trump.
But Thursday afternoon, Mitt Romney accepted the Donald’s endorsement in the lobby of Trump's glittering golden tower on the Las Vegas Strip.
“There are some things you just can't imagine in your life,” Romney said as he accepted the endorsement. “This is one of them."
Trump, who has been a household name thanks to his television show “The Apprentice,” became a force in the presidential fray when he toyed with a presidential bid of his own. Ever the publicity man, he stoked speculation about that potential bid through the Florida primary – but his endorsement of Romney Thursday appeared sincere and emphatic.
“It’s my honor, real honor, and privilege to endorse Mitt Romney,” Trump told a group of about 80 guests and a gaggle of press in his hotel. “He’s smart. He’s sharp. He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country we all love. So Governor Romney, go out and get ‘em. You can do it.”
Trump refrained from using any of his stock catch phrases – “you’re fired” – or engaging in any self-promotion while offering his support to Romney.
But no matter what Trump says, the main challenge of a Trump endorsement is making it about the candidate, not Trump.
“Of course, I’m looking for the endorsement of the people of Nevada,” Romney said immediately after thanking Trump for his endorsement – which he then parsed for the crowd in practical terms.
“Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works. He’s done it here in Nevada, he’s done it across the country,” Romney continued. “I spent my life in the private sector -- not quite as successful as this guy, but successful nonetheless. Sufficiently successful that I understand what it takes to get America to be the most attractive place in the world for innovators, entrepreneurs and business, job creators.”
Romney’s Nevada supporters spun Trump’s endorsement in the same manner, with a reserved appreciation for the humorous light in which a Trump endorsement will be received.
“Donald Trump is a character unto himself,” said Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki. “I think Donald Trump has built a marvelous facility here in Las Vegas – it’s iconic – he certainly has a presence and a personality that we love having here associated with us in Nevada.
“I just think it’s one of those moments that’s convenient,” Krolicki continued. “We welcome the timing…two days before the Saturday Nevada caucuses, I just think it’s a convergence of his calendar that makes this endorsement happen today.”
Before the announcement, Trump played his endorsement close to the vest. His initially scheduled a “major announcement” pertaining to the president campaign, setting off rumors that Trump would be endorsing Newt Gingrich.
By Thursday morning, the Gingrich rumors had died down – but the former speaker of the House didn’t miss an opportunity to throw some water on the coming endorsement.
“I like to hire people,” Gingrich quipped Thursday morning at a campaign event – a sidelong dig at the “you’re fired” line that Trump deploys on his TV show, as well as Romney’s background as CEO of Bain Capital. Gingrich and his supporters have strived to paint Romney as a corporate fat cat who has destroyed more jobs than he has created – a view of his record that Romney disputes.
Democrats offered a similar criticism of the endorsement: "It makes perfect sense for Trump to endorse Romney. They like to fire people," Democratic National Committee Vice Chairwoman Linda Chavez-Thompson. "It's one millionaire endorsing another millionaire. ... It couldn't have turned out any better" for us.
“Whatever Donald’s going to do, Donald’s going to do,” Gingrich’s spokesman R.C. Hammond said Thursday morning, shrugging off the significance of it.
Even Trump business partner and Las Vegas casino owner Phil Ruffin said he didn’t know the endorsement was coming until the last minute.
“I was hoping he would go for Romney, because that was who I was for. We didn’t even know until the last minute,” Ruffin said. “He didn’t say a word.”
But Ruffin seemed more happy about Trump’s endorsement Thursday for a reason that has nothing to do with politics: “I’m glad they’re doing it in our hotel, we need the publicity. So anybody listening, they could come and get a good rate.”