So Mitt Romney's newest fundraising effort involves not only appearing with the world's most famous birther, Donald Trump, but also dining with him and a lucky, raffle-winning supporter. OK, I give up: What exactly is Romney thinking?
My own snarky first reaction is that Donald Trump is the kind of rich guy that Mitt Romney imagines the common people can relate to. Romney, remember, has a habit of saying things like he doesn't follow NASCAR "as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners." Maybe he thinks Trump—known far and wide for a decorating style that gives new meaning to the word vulgar—has the common touch in a way that stolid Romney doesn't? That can't be it, right?
Thinking I must be missing something here, I checked with a couple of top GOP operatives. "I got nothin'," one says. Another offers the Godfather theory for dealing with Trump: "Yes, it reinforces the 'I have wealthy friends' stereotype," the Republican strategist says. "And whenever Trump says something stupid it's magnified 10-fold, so there are serious downsides to it. But in the end you would rather embrace it—like the Godfather line about keeping your enemies close." It's better to have Trump running amok inside the tent than causing trouble outside of it, in other words. Trump, remember, has floated the idea of a third-party candidacy, which could only serve to divide the anti-Obama vote (a December Public Policy Polling survey had Trump pulling 19 percent in a three-way race with Obama and Romney, with 7 in 10 of his supporters coming from Romney's column). "We'd rather have Donald Trump saying 'you're hired' than 'you're fired," the strategist says.
Maybe so. But Trump has become inextricably linked to the birther movement, and he won't shut up about it. Just this week, he spoke to the Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove and after getting the preliminaries out of the way (saying he's "honored" that Team Romney wants him and his Las Vegas hotel to help fundraise), then Trump "launched into a furious disquisition concerning Obama's place of birth." To be clear: Trump wasn't unwillingly goaded into spouting his Obama-was-born-in-Kenya theories. He practically lead with them.
From the Beast:
"Look, it's very simple," said Trump, who has spent the past 13 months questioning Obama's constitutional eligibility to occupy the White House (and only doubled down with his stubborn skepticism after Obama produced a long-form birth certificate, certifying he was born on Aug. 4, 1961, in Hawaii[)], ... "A book publisher came out three days ago and said that in his written synopsis of his book," Trump went on, "he said he was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia. His mother never spent a day in the hospital."
Actually, Obama's literary agency at the time, two decades ago, published a recently discovered catalogue of clients and their projects that included erroneous information about Obama and a prospective book about race that he ended up not writing. An agency assistant back then, Miriam Goderich, said last week that she was mistaken when she wrote that Obama was born in Kenya.
But Trump isn't buying it.
At what point does Romney throw up his hands and run screaming from this guy? Trump isn't simply off-message, talking about something other than the economy, he's dangerously off-message, reminding anyone who will listen that a nontrivial portion of the GOP has been taken over by conspiracy theorist weirdos.
Maybe Romney thinks Trump can help shore up his support with the conservative base? That seems dubious. The most recent poll numbers for Trump I could find were a year old, but after briefly leading the GOP field last year, the Apprentice host had cratered in opinion surveys. As of May 2011, 34 percent of GOPers viewed Trump favorably while 53 percent viewed him unfavorably. This was mere weeks after he was leading the field.
Nevertheless, the Romney campaign has invited supporters to contribute $3 for the chance to win dinner with the Mittster and the Donald. This is a copy of the Obama campaign's $3 low dollar fundraising efforts where dinner with the president has been raffled off (such a small amount not only adds up, but also gives people buy-in, making them more likely to support the campaign financially and in other ways down the line).
While the GOP offers dinner with Trump and Romney, the Democrats are asking for $3 for a chance to dine with Obama and Bill Clinton. Honestly, while dinner with the current and former president would no doubt be more interesting and intellectually stimulating, there is a certain freak show appeal to watching Romney and Trump interact. And freak show does sell.
Maybe Trump really is Romney's idea of a rich guy with the common touch.
Updated on 5/25/12: A previous version of this post failed to block quote the latter two paragraphs of the Daily Beast quotation.