Donald Trump has taken Mitt Romney into his oily embrace, and let's hope it makes Mr. Romney's skin crawl because, if it turns out he actually does like hanging out with The Donald, we should fear for our country. Can you say "Vice President Donald J. Trump?" Kind of burns in the throat, doesn't it?
To Mr. Trump's list of identities -- real estate shark, casino owner, reality TV star, serial monogamist and grandly self-impressed comb-over king -- we can add his stint as the weirdly entertaining clown who refuses to quit the 2012 election circus. After pumping up speculation that he might, himself, become a candidate for president, he now is styling himself as Mr. Romney's chief surrogate while, at the same time, being the loudest voice among the kooks questioning the president's eligibility to be president.
Earlier this year, Mr. Trump hosted Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, at his hotel on the Las Vegas Strip so he could publicly bestow his endorsement in a grand manner. At the time, one had to wonder which was more uncomfortable for the Mormon couple, spending the night in a gambling den or spending five minutes on stage with a pompous windbag. Apparently, neither experience put the Romneys off making a return trip -- and that is what they will do next week when Mr. Romney reunites in Vegas with Mr. Trump and Newt Gingrich. It's the Rat Pack re-imagined.
As a fundraising gimmick, the Romney campaign also plans to raffle off a dinner in New York City with the candidate and the "Celebrity Apprentice" host. That's right, a meal with Mitt and Donald. Picture what that will be like: Mr. Romney choking on his glass of milk as Mr. Trump spews bits of steak tartare and riffs on Barack Obama's birth inside a grass hut in Kenya. Talk about a Maalox moment.
Mr. Trump has refused to let go of his contention that the president was not born in the United States. It is actually inconceivable that he would give it up, since he has never admitted to being wrong about anything else. Mr. Trump is the reigning prince of the birthers, and he finds it impossible to keep his thoughts on the subject to himself, thereby forcing the Romney campaign to issue the same disavowal, over and over again, that Mitt disagrees with Mr. Trump and is convinced that President Obama is Honolulu born.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump sent out a Twitter message asking, "What could be better than dinner with Mitt Romney and me?" Unfortunately for Mr. Romney, he also sent a second tweet speculating that the alleged cover up of Mr. Obama's true birthplace could be another Watergate. Mr. Romney can ignore the birther mania when it comes from a small-market talk radio screamer or a lowly tea party congressman, but when it is spouted by a dinner partner who commands the kind of instant media attention that can drown out the campaign's serious message, it becomes tough to ignore.
What is to be done, then? Can Mitt get Donald to shut up? Highly unlikely. Can he get him to quietly go away? Not a chance. Mr. Romney really only has one choice: grit his teeth when Mr. Trump is being too Trumpish and hope the man brings in enough campaign cash to make the embarrassment worthwhile.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.