Fact-Checking the Sunday Shows: March 6

Did Mitt Romney really flip-flip on Donald Trump’s record? And is David Brooks right in saying history shows an increased GOP primary turnout won’t translate to more votes in the fall?

03.07.16 1:45 AM ET

by Louis Jacobson and Linda Qiu

Republican politicians, pundits, and party leaders took to the Sunday news shows to discuss the impact of Donald Trump on the future of the Republican Party. While some talked of a potential split in the party, others were more optimistic about the long term.

“We’ve got a process and I’ve said it repeatedly, whoever has the majority of delegates is going to be the nominee of our party,” said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus on This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

“I actually think when we get down to this summer and this all comes together, and the pressure and intensity now is taken care of, I think we’re going to have a nominee, whoever it is, and we’ll have support for the nominee,” said conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh on Fox News Sunday.

On Meet the Press, Mitt Romney continued to press the case that Trump is an unacceptable nominee that voters should reject before the convention arrives.

“Let me put it plainly: If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” said Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee.

Romney delivered a blistering speech against Trump on Thursday, prompting Meet the Press host Chuck Todd to ask Romney about his comments on Trump’s business record. Four years ago, Romney spoke positively of Trump’s record when accepting Trump’s endorsement for president.

“Were you just sort of saying something you had to say four years ago in order to accept his endorsement?” Todd asked.

PunditFact put Romney’s comments on our Flip-O-Meter to see if Romney had really changed his views. We found Romney said very different things about Trump’s track record in 2016 and 2012.

Here’s what Romney said last week:

“But wait, you say, isn’t he a huge business success that knows what he’s talking about? No, he isn’t. His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who worked for them. He inherited his business, he didn’t create it. And what ever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks, and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.”

Here’s what Romney said in 2012 at a news conference in Las Vegas with Trump at his side:

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“Being in Donald Trump’s magnificent hotel and having his endorsement is a delight. I’m so honored and pleased to have his endorsement…Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works to create jobs for the American people. He’s done it here in Nevada. He’s done it across the country…I spent my life in the private sector. Not quite as successful as this guy. But successful nonetheless.”

Romney’s comments in Las Vegas are less specific than what he said in 2016—he did not single out specific business ventures other than the hotel where the endorsement event was being held.

When we contacted Romney’s office for comment, they pointed us to remarks Romney has made in other recent interviews. Romney’s message seemed to be that he was focusing on the positive part of Trump’s business history in 2012 and giving a more detailed, nuanced recounting in 2016.

“Oh, let me tell you, this is a guy if we look at the past, this is a guy who was very successful and made a lot of money for himself,” Romney said in an interview on the March 6 Fox News Sunday. “But at the same time, take a very close look and look how many small people he crushed along the way and how many failures he had.”

Still, we see his comments four years apart as being fundamentally different in their message. We rate Romney’s view on Trump’s business record a Full Flop.

Primary turnout

While Republicans like Romney are concerned about Trump, others have noted that the GOP contest is bringing voters to the polls, with Republicans turning out in much larger numbers than Democrats.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Republicans will have an advantage in the fall, said conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks

“There’s no correlation between primary turnout and wins in the fall in the last 11 elections,” Brooks said on Meet the Press.

Brooks’s statement rates True.

It’s important to note that not all 11 presidential cycles had competitive primary contests on both sides.

Primary turnout was low in five elections simply because one party’s nomination was locked up by incumbent presidents and thus not predictive of general election results.

In the six elections where there were contests on both sides, the party with the higher primary voter turnout won the popular vote just three times. In 1976, 1992, and 2008, Democratic primary turnout surpassed that of the GOP nominating race, and the Democratic candidates won the general election.

In the other three elections, more votes in the primary didn’t lead to more votes in the general.

About 6 million more votes were cast for the Democratic nomination in 1980, but Republican Ronald Reagan won about 8.5 million votes in the general election. Similarly, in 1988, Democratic turnout was almost double that of GOP turnout in the primaries, but George H.W. Bush won the election with about 7 million more votes. And in 2000, about 3 million more voters turned out for the Republican primary, but George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore.

Democratic turnout this election cycle may be lower because the contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is simply not as competitive or diverse as the Republican race.

Exit polls show that the vast majority of voters in the Democratic primary are satisfied with either Clinton or Sanders, pointed out Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor.

“On the Republican side, 50 percent or less say that,” McDonald said, pointing out that some are casting ballots in the GOP primary to vote against a candidate as much as they’re there to vote for one. “Voters see stark differences between the candidates, and they’re not as happy if the opposing candidate would win.”

Overall, though, more votes in the primaries may not mean much in what will be a highly competitive general election, according to McDonald.

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