Mitt Romney's victory lap after finally tying down the Republican presidential nomination has been derailed by Donald Trump, the billionaire who has repeatedly questioned whether Barack Obama was born in America.
In what appeared to be another misstep — coming after his campaign's smartphone app misspelled the word America — Mr. Romney appeared at a fundraising event with Mr. Trump in Las Vegas rather than holding a rally in Texas, where a primary win has finally awarded him enough delegates to be declared the Republican candidate.
That moment of victory in Texas was overshadowed by a day of media appearances by Mr. Trump, a Romney backer. The eccentric real-estate mogul repeatedly espoused his support of the so-called birther movement, which posits that Mr. Obama was born in Kenya, has no genuine birth certificate, and might be ineligible to be President. He got into a verbal spat with CNN host Wolf Blitzer on the issue, refusing to back down from questioning Mr. Obama's place of birth.
Some Republican strategists were blunt in their assessment of the potential damage Mr. Romney's joint appearance with Mr. Trump might cause, given widespread debunking of the main charge of “birtherism” and its tinge of racist sentiment.
“That was a big steaming plate of s**t spaghetti Trump just deposited on CNN for his supposed friend Romney,” tweeted David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
Mark McKinnon, a long-time adviser to 2008 Republican nominee John McCain, told the New York Times that Mr. Trump made Mr. Romney look like “an out-of-touch rich guy without any real core, which means he'll associate with anyone if he thinks it will further his ambition”.
Conservative columnist George Will called Mr. Trump a “bloviating ignoramus”.
Mr. Romney, who has stated that he does not believe in birtherism, has not spoken out publicly against Mr. Trump's views.
The Obama campaign rushed out a campaign video on the issue, claiming that Mr. McCain stood up to extremist elements of the Republican party in 2008, while Mr. Romney courts them in 2012.
The video featured repeated clips of Mr. Trump espousing birtherist theories. But in an apparent rebuttal to that video, Mr. Trump took to Twitter and said: “[McCain] lost the election. Don't let it happen again.” The message was later apparently deleted.
The Romney campaign attempted to shield their candidate. Some local media interviews were cancelled. No cameras were permitted to film Mr. Romney and Mr. Trump at the Las Vegas event, which was expected at raise at least $2 million.
Despite the wave of criticism, Mr. Romney's polling numbers have improved in recent weeks. He has narrowed a gap in national polling with Mr. Obama, and the Real Clear Politics average of polls has Mr. Obama with only a two-point lead. A new Quinnipiac University poll in the battleground State of Florida showed Mr. Romney opening a six-point lead over Mr. Obama, by 47 per cent to 41 per cent. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012