Trump Endorses Romney In Surprise Shift

In Las Vegas Thursday, Mitt Romney picked up the endorsement of multimillionaire businessman Donald Trump. Trump's endorsement comes one day after the former Massachusetts governor stirred up controversy — on the left and the right — by saying he's "not concerned about the very poor."

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Mitt Romney picked up an endorsement today from a man who was once at the top of the presidential polls - even though he was never officially running for president.

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DONALD TRUMP: Governor Romney, go out and get him. You can do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, thank you.

CORNISH: In Las Vegas, Romney enthusiastically received the endorsement of real estate mogul, and reality TV star, Donald Trump. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, the timing could have been better.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: In front of six American flags, workers polished a gleaming plaque saying Trump International Hotel Las Vegas. It sparkled just so in the TV lights.

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TRUMP: Mitt is tough. He's smart. He's sharp. He's not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love.

SHAPIRO: Donald Trump's endorsement is one that all of the candidates in the race were fighting for. But for Romney, it's an awkward moment to get the blessing of a man who embodies opulence and conspicuous consumption. Romney is still taking flak for this comment he made on CNN yesterday.

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ROMNEY: I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America.

SHAPIRO: At first, the criticism was along the lines of, Romney made a gaffe. Now, people are looking under the surface and questioning the substance of his policy positions - both Democrats and Republicans. At Trump Hotel, Romney did not mention poverty at all. But across town, at a manufacturing plant, rival Newt Gingrich was not letting him off the hook.

NEWT GINGRICH: I really believe that we should care about the very poor - unlike Governor Romney.

SHAPIRO: In Gingrich's view, the problem goes beyond Romney saying that he does not care about the very poor.

GINGRICH: Both Governor Romney and Barack Obama seem to believe that a quote, safety net, is all the poor need. I don't believe that. What the poor need is a trampoline, so they can spring up, and quit being poor.

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SHAPIRO: Conservatives have argued for a long time that the safety net does not help the poor; it keeps them poor. To those critics, when Romney says he wants to repair the safety net, he sounds like he's siding with liberals. Erick Ericson is editor of the website redstate.com.

ERICK ERICSON: He's perfectly happy to leave the safety net alone instead of, from a conservative's perspective, trying to elevate the poor into the middle class.

SHAPIRO: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has warned that the safety net is becoming a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency. But Romney supports Paul Ryan's budget plan. Poverty experts say that plan, and the other policies Romney endorses, do not repair the safety net at all despite Romney's claims. Beth Mattingly is director of research on vulnerable families at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute.

BETH MATTINGLY: It appears to me, by and large, that a lot of those proposals aim to weaken - rather than strengthen - the social safety net by providing less funding, by really trying to restrict eligibility, restrict access.

SHAPIRO: She also says the numbers Romney cites are way off. In his CNN interview, he said if you set aside the very rich and very poor...

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ROMNEY: I'm concerned about the very heart of America - the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now, are struggling.

MATTINGLY: That is certainly not an accurate breakdown of those who are in poverty.

SHAPIRO: Mattingly says the federal government's definition of poverty includes about 15 percent of Americans. But when you look at those who depend on the social safety net, the numbers are far higher.

MATTINGLY: When you consider all of the non-cash safety net programs, as well as all of the work-related and whatnot expenses, it comes up to over a third.

SHAPIRO: Perhaps most relevant to Romney's hopes of becoming president: His views on poverty may not sit well with some voters in his own party. Roughly a quarter of Republican voters have annual family incomes under $30,000. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of them believe the government does not do enough for poor people in this country.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Las Vegas.

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