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Last night marked a symbolic moment for Mitt Romney. He won the Texas presidential primary, and by some counts that gives him the last delegates he needed to formally secure the Republican nomination. Romney celebrated in Las Vegas with a campaign event and a fundraiser. Yet Romney's symbolic victory was overshadowed by a campaign surrogate who seems to have a gift for finding the spotlight.
NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: At the Las Vegas airport yesterday, Mitt Romney walked down the staircase to the tarmac. A huge airplane loomed over his shoulder, screaming one word in gold capital letters: Trump. It was a perfect visual metaphor for a day when Donald Trump seemed to get in Romney's way at every turn.
Ever since the Donald endorsed Romney back in February, the campaign has handled the real estate mogul and reality TV star delicately, almost like an overstuffed suitcase that could burst at any minute. Yesterday, Trump burst all over cable news. He started on CNBC.
(SOUNDBITE OF CNBC BROADCAST)
DONALD TRUMP: Born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia. I mean this was a statement. This was from Obama.
SHAPIRO: Donald Trump is one of the last high-profile birthers left. Although President Obama's American birth has been thoroughly documented, Trump told CNBC he still has doubts.
(SOUNDBITE OF CNBC BROADCAST)
TRUMP: If you're born in a foreign country, you're not allowed to be president. So, you know, this is a minor detail.
SHAPIRO: Trump is hardly the first campaign surrogate to go off-message. Last week the Obama campaign struggled to clean up after high-profile supporters who said it was wrong for the president to attack venture capitalists.
In the Romney camp, on Monday even before these latest comments, the candidate delicately distanced himself from Trump.
MITT ROMNEY: You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more, and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.
SHAPIRO: Yesterday, a spokeswoman reiterated Romney's belief that the president was born in the United States. Yet his campaign has embraced Trump as a supporter, fundraiser, and campaign surrogate. So the Obama team pounced on Romney's failure to condemn Trump, saying it demonstrates Romney's, quote, "complete lack of moral leadership."
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney picked up the baton.
JAY CARNEY: I recall as a journalist that in 2008 John McCain made that choice, that there was a line beyond which he was not willing to go when it came to some of the rhetoric on the extreme side of his party. And it's up to every candidate to make a decision about how they want to run their campaign.
SHAPIRO: Later Tuesday afternoon, to the delight of Democrats, Trump continued the grand tour on CNN, where he attacked Wolf Blitzer right out of the gate.
(SOUNDBITE OF CNN BROADCAST)
TRUMP: I thought that your introduction was highly inappropriate.
WOLF BLIZTER: Well...
TRUMP: But that's OK, because I've gotten to know you over the years.
SHAPIRO: Compelling television, but not how the Romney campaign wanted to spend the day. They were hoping to focus on President Obama's record of job creation or, as a new ad described it, job destruction.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROMNEY AD)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Obama is giving taxpayer money to big donors and then watching them lose it. Good for them. Bad for us.
SHAPIRO: The Romney campaign says President Obama is responsible for investments that went just as bad as those the president accuses Romney of, only with taxpayer money. At a furniture factory in Las Vegas, Romney continued that argument.
ROMNEY: We are not the enemy of government, we are - we're the customer of government. They ought to start treating us like customers because the customer knows best that I will understand that if I'm at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
SHAPIRO: Earlier in the afternoon, Romney met privately with casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson for about an hour. Adelson was Newt Gingrich's biggest supporter, giving more than $20 million to fund attack ads against Romney during the primary.
In the evening, everyone made amends. Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney all attended a glitzy fundraiser at the Trump Resort and Casino. Romney thanked Trump for his help and said it's a great honor to have clinched the nomination. Cameras and microphones were not allowed.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.