Tales from the Trail

Watch live: Newt Gingrich speaks at CPAC

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks at CPAC at 4:10pm ET.

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Maybe it’s better not to get that big endorsement

One staple of the U.S. political scene is the quest for endorsements, and Republican front-runner Mitt Romney seems to be leading in the race for support from the GOP establishment.

He picked up the support of Arizona Senator John McCain, who was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, who also was a member of the U.S. presidential field until August.

He may not be part of the party “establishment,” but Romney even got the backing of a high-profile party figure — albeit one who declared himself an independent in December — reality television star and real estate mogul Donald Trump, who called the former Massachusetts governor “tough, sharp and smart.”

Newt’s moon colony — the gift that keeps on giving

Comedians everywhere surely could not have been more thrilled last week when Republican White House hopeful Newt Gingrich laid out his plans for a permanent colony on the moon, with the long-term goal of making it the 51st U.S. state. “By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the moon,” Gingrich said to thundering applause at the NASA stronghold of Cocoa, Florida.

That includes the copywriters at Team Mitt Romney, for whom Gingrich’s proposed moon program is the gift that keeps on giving. Following up on an email over the weekend entitled “Earth to Newt: Tell the Truth,” the Romney Press Shop sent out the following missive on Thursday: “Ground Control to Major Newt: Nevada needs jobs, not a moon colony,” which reminded the former U.S. House speaker that unemployment in the Silver State is still running at 12.6 percent and nearly six in ten mortgaged homes in the state are under water.

Predictably, Comedy Central political satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were quick to ridicule the moon colony. Stewart accused Gingrich of wanting to be “Lunar Trump” by starting a colony the size of a condo development. “And like Earth Trump, you will not be President,” he said. Colbert mocked Gingrich’s idea that the moon could become a manufacturing hub. “America will bring manufacturing to the moon. Ohio? Out of luck.”

More grief for “The Mitt” with backing from The Donald?

Mitt Romney, Donald Trump said in a surprise endorsement from Las Vegas this afternoon, would make a “tough” and “smart” president who wouldn’t “allow bad things to continue to happen to this country we all love.”

But it wasn’t clear that backing from Trump, a real estate mogul who cultivates an aura of glitz and glamour, would help Romney, the former private equity executive who has a net worth estimated at some $270 million and fights charges by critics that he is out of touch with the concerns of average Americans.

Democrats pounced on the opportunity to draw parallels between Romney and the television personality, claiming in a video that alluded to Trump’s starring role on the reality television program, “The Apprentice,” that Romney nabbed Trump’s endorsement because “they both like firing people.”

Washington Extra – Combat ready?

The Obama administration is known to be methodical when it comes to its messaging. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s declaration that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan might end next year seems to have caught people here and overseas by surprise.

Today, everyone from Panetta to White House spokesman Jay Carney to NATO allies tried to tamp down notions that a major policy shift was underway. But many were still scratching their head about whether there is now a new U.S. timetable for winding down a war that is over a decade old.

One senior NATO official summed up the potential for confusion with a mind-bending quote: “He (Panetta) said the combat role will come to an end but he also said combat will continue. And that’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Gingrich to get Trump recommendation – media reports

The “major announcement”  Donald Trump will make   Thursday afternoon  in Las Vegas is that he is endorsing the presidential bid of  former House Speaker Newt Gingrich,  according to media reports.

The CBS affiliate in Las Vegas, KLAS  TV reports  sources confirmed  what Trump would say.  Earlier a Trump spokesman said only that the impending announcement would pertain to the campaign.

Trump’s announcement will come two days before the Republican  caucuses in  Nevada, the next state in the party’s presidential nominating contest.

Is Romney too rich and out of touch?

Mitt Romney ran into a wall of criticism during what should have been his Florida victory lap when he said live on CNN this morning that he is “not concerned about the very poor” and the country has a safety net to protect them.

Democrats leaped onto the remark as yet another sign that the wealthy Republican frontrunner is out of touch with average Americans. Whether or not that is true, it was another gaffe by a candidate who is becoming increasingly known for misspeaking on the campaign trail, especially on issues related to wealth and poverty, even as he blasts Democratic President Barack Obama for waging “class warfare.”

Last month, Romney said he had made “not very much” in speaking fees — and the total turned out to be $375,000. In December, he blundered in a debate by offering Texas Governor Rick Perry a $10,000 bet on healthcare policy. Earlier in the campaign, Romney came under fire for saying he liked to fire people, telling jobless workers in Florida that he, too, was unemployed. And he famously told a questioner at the Iowa State Fair that “corporations are people.”

Washington Extra – Driver’s seat

The day the Congressional Budget Office forecast that the United States is headed for its fourth straight year with a $1 trillion-plus budget deficit, President Obama touted the benefits of big government spending.

His venue? The Washington auto show. His tools? Shiny new American cars, preferably those from General Motors and Chrysler. Those were the two companies that received billions in a 2009 taxpayer funded bailout that has obviously paid off, both for the automakers and the Obama administration.

The president got behind the wheels of muscle cars, SUVs, trucks, and fuel efficient and electric models and proclaimed “The U.S. auto industry is back.” But he couldn’t just leave it at that, for there were more political points to score. He did so by taking a veiled swipe at his most likely opponent in the November election – Mitt Romney – for having opposed the bailout that helped bring Detroit back from the brink.

Hard to believe there’s room for TV programs in Florida

For those voters in Florida who have felt overwhelmed by political advertisements this primary season — you have been.

By January 25, Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney and his supporters had aired almost 13,000 advertisements on broadcast television in the state, compared with only about 200 spots from Romney’s main rival, Newt Gingrich, and outside groups supporting his presidential aspirations, according to data from Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan University media project.

And that was six days before Florida holds its primary on Tuesday.

With the blizzard of ads, Romney has seen his place in the polls leap upward in Florida. He went from trailing Gingrich by 5-9 percent in polls of the state taken a week ago, to leading by an average of 12.5 percent. A week ago, Gingrich was fresh off his upset victory in on Jan. 21 in South Carolina, where he defeated Romney by 12 percentage points.

Gingrich cites Soros in attempt to paint Romney as “liberal”

When renowned investor George Soros referred to Newt Gingrich as an “extremist conservative” last week, he didn’t mean it as a compliment. But that hasn’t stopped Gingrich from wearing it as a mark of honor.

In an interview from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Soros told Reuters Digital Editor Chrystia Freeland that in his view there wouldn’t be “all that much difference” between President Obama and a President Romney. But an “extremist conservative” like Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, he said, “would make a big difference.”

Gingrich, fighting to close the gap with frontrunner Mitt Romney a day ahead of the Florida primary, seized on his words, starting with an appearance on Good Morning America. Gingrich told host George Stephanopoulos that Soros “said publicly, in a Reuters interview on video, that he’s perfectly happy with either Obama or Romney, that they’re the same people. Minor differences. He said, ‘Gingrich, now, that would be real change.’”