The trouble with Trump's Romney endorsement: It's the birtherism, stupid

OPINION - Mitt Romney should have run from Donald Trump, even if it meant leaving Las Vegas, because besides being a sideshow, Trump is also a birther...

Much is being made about the terrible optics of Mitt Romney accepting an endorsement for president from Donald Trump, the caustic TV personality whose catchphrase is “you’re fired.” Given Romney’s unfortunate statements about not being “concerned” about the very poor (he now says he misspoke) …and about liking to fire people, the association with Trump seems like a really bad idea.

Romney declared he was “proud” to have Trump’s blessing, saying as he stood stiffly beside Trump at a Las Vegas press conference that appeared to be much more fun for The Donald than for The Romney:

“Being in Donald Trump’s magnificent hotel and having his endorsement is a delight, and I’m so honored and pleased to have his endorsement.”

The political and media consensus is that Romney should be anything but “delighted, honored and pleased” to have Trump’s blessing. But the fact that Trump epitomizes everything that’s garish and unpleasant about the merger of money, showbiz and politics isn’t even the biggest reason why.

Mitt Romney should have run from Donald Trump, even if it meant leaving Las Vegas, because besides being a sideshow, Trump is also a birther.

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The birther aspect of Trump’s three-ring circus shouldn’t be dismissed as a minor angle. Whatever else he does in life, however many hotels he builds (or bankrupts) or how many seasons he manages to milk out of The Apprentice, Donald Trump will always be the guy who tried to humiliate the nation’s first black president by demanding to see his birth certificate.

Trump’s antics when he jumped aboard the birther bandwagon were partly responsible for President Barack Obama actually making his long-form birth certificate public — an unprecedented action for a sitting president — just to quiet the absurd speculation that he was not born in the United States.

Still not satisfied, Trump went on to question how a young, black kid from Hawaii like Obama, who Trump “heard from some people” had “terrible grades” — could have possibly been qualified to attend Ivy League schools.

The unsubtle implication that Obama was an “affirmative action baby,” who essentially stole his education from a more qualified white student, is one of the oldest racist dog whistles in the book, and Trump blew it.

Trump’s barely disguised racism (he said he has always had a great relationship with “the blacks” — that was actually his defense) …should have been immediately disqualifying as pundits salivated over his pretend run for president. It should have also made him political kryptonite to Mitt Romney, if in fact Mr. Romney hopes to win the support of mainstream Americans.

After all, birtherism is rooted in an attempt to turn the president into a foreigner — a pretender — because of his father’s Kenyan nationality, not incidentally to it. Birtherism is the last bastion of people who can’t find a rational reason to hate Barack Obama. It’s an appeal to nativism, and tribalism, and racism. And Donald Trump used it to get the one thing that’s of greater value to him than a new casino or a newer, younger wife: attention.

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Now, Trump is getting a fresh turn in the spotlight by attaching himself, in all his inglorious absurdity, to Governor Romney. And so the next time Trump says something insane — and it’s only a matter of time before he does — it will be fair game for reporters to ask Romney to comment. Take the endorsement, own the endorser.

Romney, who hasn’t exactly shown a strong, natural ability to connect to people (his last attempt at relating to black Americans was to quote “who let the dogs out?” to a bunch of black teenagers during his previous presidential run) can ill afford to have to answer for Trump’s birther beliefs. But he should have to.

Romney should be asked whether he is at least troubled by Trump’s birtherism, and by his attempts to suggest that the president of the United States race-hooked his way into Harvard Law,

Otherwise, voters, and particularly minority voters, could legitimately be skeptical of a presidential candidate who would consider such an endorsement a “delight.”

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport