LAS VEGAS — Donald Trump has confirmed that he will endorse Mitt Romney’s GOP presidential bid. He says he made the decision after getting to know Romney after meeting with him several times in the past few months.

He also cited Romney’s performances in presidential debates and his tough stance on China as reasons.

He confirmed the endorsement while speaking with reporters gathered at his Las Vegas hotel for the announcement.

Trump has said negative things about Romney in the past. But he said his comments were a reflection of not knowing Romney well enough.

Trump also said he would not run for president as an independent if Romney becomes the GOP nominee.

The real estate mogul and reality TV show host made the announcement in Las Vegas at the hotel bearing his name. Nevada holds its presidential caucuses on Saturday.

The surprise development came hours after Newt Gingrich had informed close advisers Wednesday night that he expected to win Trump’s support.

Trump has played an unusually prominent role in the presidential contest since last spring, when he mused publicly about joining the Republican field. His blunt criticism of President Barack Obama and fierce warnings of a nation in decline resonated with tea party activists. At one point, polls showed him briefly surging to the top of the field.

Trump stirred controversy and considerable criticism during that time by openly questioning the validity of Obama’s birth certificate, lending credence to the chorus of “birthers” who believe Obama was not born in the United States and thus is ineligible to be president. The fuss pushed Obama to release a long-form version of his birth certificate.

Trump announced last May that he would not be a candidate for the GOP nomination. But he welcomed other hopefuls to his office at Trump Tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue for strategy sessions. Romney made the trek, as did former candidates Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry.

Gingrich visited in December when he was topping polls in Iowa and nationally.

Trump even took Sarah Palin out for a widely publicized pizza dinner in Times Square when she was considering a presidential bid. But the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee ultimately decided against running.

Gingrich’s camp was so confident of Trump’s endorsement that those close to the former House speaker confirmed it Wednesday night for news organizations, including the AP. One of those officials said Trump had “sent signals” to Gingrich that he would support him. Today, that individual declined to elaborate on what those signals were