Billionaire property mogul Donald Trump endorsed front-runner Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday, ending weeks of speculation about which candidate he would back.
His decision will be seen as a major coup for Romney, who just came off of a major victory in the Florida primary and is favored to win Saturday’s caucuses in Nevada.
“Mitt is tough. He is smart. He is sharp,” Trump said as he made his announcement this afternoon in the Trump International hotel in Las Vegas. “He is not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to the country that we all love.”
Romney, with his wife, Ann, at his side, was on the stage with The Donald. “This is a great couple,” the businessman and television reality show host said.
As Trump introduced his choice, he said, “Governor Romney, go out and get them — you can do it.”
The former Massachusetts governor responded with a message that resounded in Nevada, a state with a high rate of foreclosures. Part of his goal as president would be to make sure that “homes are worth something again,” he said.
He also said he would be looking to his experience in the private sector, although he conceded that his success in business was not as great as his new backer’s.
Trump’s endorsement was not without its drama. The Associated Press initially reported that he would back former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The Salt Lake Tribune said officials from Gingrich's camp had told several news outlets on Wednesday that Trump would back their candidate.
“One of those officials said Trump had ‘sent signals’ to Gingrich that he would support him,” reported the Tribune.
Once it was clear that the former House speaker would not be getting Trump’s backing, Gingrich said, “I don't know of anybody who does a better job of getting attention by announcing that he will presently announce something.”
The business mogul, who has become an outspoken opponent of President Barack Obama, flirted with the idea of trying to win the Republican nomination himself last year, before dropping the idea in May, saying he was more interested in business than politics.
Since then, most of the major candidates, including Romney and Gingrich, have visited him in a bid to get his backing.
Trump has said he would be prepared to run as an independent in the general election if the GOP choice is not someone he could support. However, he has refused to specify which candidates he would find unacceptable.
The hints that Romney was likely to win Trump’s endorsement started after the former Massachusetts governor decisively won the Florida primary.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked him outright on Monday what was holding him back from endorsing Romney. Trump replied that he respects both Romney and Gingrich, and both wanted his endorsement.
On the same day, he told Fox News that he was pleased that Romney was starting to embrace his wealth, rather than appear embarrassed about it.
"It's a great thing when you can show that you've been successful and that you've made a lot of money and that you've employed a lot of people," he said. "I actually think it's a positive and I think that actually Mitt Romney is starting to do that. You know, at first he was a little bit hesitant about it and now he's out there . . . So I really think it's a positive."
Skeptics suggest that Trump’s endorsement was all timed to give publicity to the new season of his NBC show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” which starts a new season this month.
While introducing the announcement on Fox News, commentator Shepard Smith wondered aloud twice how long it would be before Trump mentioned the show in his endorsement speech, something that did not happen.
Other pundits wonder how the endorsement will affect voters. The Los Angeles Times said that, in view of Romney's misinterpreted comment about liking to fire people, it might not be helpful to get the backing of a man whose catchphrase is “You’re Fired.”
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