When 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney took to the airwaves last week to inject a dose of reality into this year's primary campaign, few thought in advance his remarks could so much as leave bite marks, let alone draw blood. Romney's gentlemanly manner, cheerful demeanor and general likability, coupled with a near universal respect for him as a human being — even by his political detractors — paved the way for goodwill, but there were few expectations that his delivery of harsh truths about the GOP front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCould President Hillary heal a divided nation? Trump lands first major newspaper endorsement Clinton: Trump's election talk poses 'threat to our democracy' MORE would have an impact.
The low expectations were proven misguided.
Romney did not dance around the severe danger of Trump as the nominee, let alone president. On the heels of what grew to more than 100 national security experts putting their names (and reputations) on a public warning about the danger of a Trump presidency, Romney was on terra firma:
"[H]is bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them."
"Mr. Trump’s bombast is already alarming the allies and fueling the enmity of our enemies."
"[T]his is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter’s questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity."
Romney noted the many Trump business failures — from Trump Vodka to Trump Airlines, Trump University to Trump Mortgage, and more.
Yet much of the case against Trump that Romney laid out to the American people, unfiltered on live television, was new information to many. The media right-of-center Americans have grown accustomed to relying on for important truths about politicians were not reporting many of the ugly truths about Trump, unless they were denying them, trashing the messengers or providing Trump with a huge platform to defend himself, deny or trash the messengers.
Last Saturday's primaries and caucuses showed that Romney and the team of national security experts weighing in, warning voters about Trump, indeed had an impact. While Trump won Kentucky and Louisiana, it was by significantly smaller margins than pre-Romney speech polling predicted, thus limiting Trump's delegate haul for the day. In fact, Trump narrowly lost to Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzIs Georgia turning blue? Five takeaways from money race Club for Growth: Anti-Trump spending proved to be 'good call' MORE (Texas) in Louisiana among voters who actually voted on Saturday, 41 percent to 40 percent, as opposed to early voters who cast their votes prior to having the benefit of Romney's pointed remarks, the national security experts' letter or even Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioNew York Times endorses Rubio's rival Rubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Poll: Clinton holds 4-point lead in Florida MORE's (Fla.) direct confrontations with Trump at the most recent debate.
A new poll from Morning Consult suggests the Romney effort may have moved the needle toward Trump in terms of how people say they would vote at the time they were surveyed. But Saturday's vote results suggest that the combined truth-telling held Trump's numbers down. Rather than adopting a strategy to back down from Trump, Republicans and others who understand the danger he poses should double-down and push harder. It will be an uphill battle — far more difficult than it would have been had die-hard, dug-in Trump supporters had the benefit of the details about The Donald months ago.
The so-called "conventional wisdom" was that Trump was coated in Teflon and nothing could affect his support among GOP primary voters and caucus-goers. I'd maintained for many frustrating months that this was an incorrect assessment. Last summer, the Club for Growth spent $1 million in Iowa attacking Trump. His numbers dipped, but it was early and more needed to be done in light of the massive media coverage gifted to Trump. As donors opted to sit on the sidelines this campaign season, a crowded GOP field, massive amounts of free ratings-grabbing airtime, right-wing talk radio support and near-100 percent name ID from his years as a reality show host all propelled Trump to the top of the polls. It was not a magic message or something inexplicable, although that made for scintillating Sunday morning news-show chat.
Romney merely did the job the media had failed to do for so many months: He vetted Trump. He told the truth about "the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny." He did this while accurately predicting that Trump would very soon take to Twitter, the airwaves and rallies to call him names and attempt to disparage his honesty and character. Like so many of us who've found ourselves in Trump's cross hairs when we criticize or vet him, Romney seemed to almost acknowledge the oncoming "incoming" as a badge of honor.
It's time for the media to do their jobs and vet Donald Trump — even if he calls them names. They will be in good and rapidly growing company.
Jacobus is president of Capitol Strategies PR and has worked on Capitol Hill and at the Republican National Committee.