Donald Trump — television star, serial exaggerator, national joke, famous for firing people — isn’t the sort of endorser a politician like Mitt Romney seeks out in ordinary times. Trump is broadly unpopular with Americans and grew intensely unpopular when he thought about running for president.
Romney’s decision to accept the Trump endorsement, though, is aimed at just one American, Newt Gingrich. The rollout could not have been better planned to humiliate Gingrich, with Trump’s camp putting out stories that he would endorse the former Speaker. (It’s hard to know whether this was Trump’s standard-issue deceit or part of a plan. Romney’s campaign, of course, knew the truth, but did nothing to correct the misinformation.)
The timing — the Thursday before a caucus in which Gingrich may be fighting for third — just buries Newt. The move “cuts off free media oxygen,” POLITICO’s Maggie Haberman writes. It’s not clear when, if ever, that oxygen will get switched back on for Gingrich.
News outlets are beginning to make coverage plans for February — the dead period between early primary states and Super Tuesday — as network news sources say space for election coverage is getting tighter and tighter.
Gingrich has gained in the polls only when he has been able to take advantage of earned media — powered by debates and a massive news hole for primary news. That hole is rapidly shrinking, and with it, any chance Gingrich has to reemerge as a serious candidate for the nomination.
But facing a backlash from conservative bloggers and outright glee from Democrats, Romney will have to ask himself whether Newt was worth the trouble.