Soledad O'Brien Doubles Down on Romney 'Gaffes' and Asks If Campaign Is 'Hot Mess'

In an interview on CNN's Starting Point, Romney Campaign adviser Bay Buchanan gave an "indictment" of the media for paying more attention to a statement by a candidate than the foreign policy of the sitting President.

"That's an indictment on the media, Soledad, that they would think that some little comment by the candidate is more important than a policy, an entire foreign policy of the President of the United States," said Buchanan. And CNN's Anderson Cooper proved that argument true as he led his show the previous night with tape of Romney and not a report that the U.S. may have had advance warning on a deadly terrorist attack in Libya.

"Also, is this not a story that one out of every six Americans is in poverty? Is that not a much bigger story that 47 million Americans have to take food stamps to take care of themselves and their families, and that's because of four years of Barack Obama and that he has no new, fresh ideas on how to put America back to work?" Buchanan asked in amazement.

Anchor Soledad O'Brien fanned the flames of Romney's latest media firestorm, his remark on 47 percent of citizens that was leaked by liberal magazine Mother Jones. "So he says he's not going to worry about 47 percent of the country. He says they're victims, they feel entitled, they don't have personal responsibility, they don't care for their lives," O'Brien said of Romney.    

"How do you justify that if you want to be President of the entire country?" O'Brien asked. She then misquoted him as saying "47 percent of Americans pay no tax," when Romney said they paid no income tax. "That's not correct," O'Brien falsely declared.

She also included two other remarks by Romney that the media deemed controversial, and finished that up by asking if the campaign is falling apart.

"[H]ere's a headline from Bloomberg, "Today Mitt Romney lost the election." Politico says the thing is kind – the wheels are falling off. Is that correct? Is it just a hot mess in there?" O'Brien asked a frustrated Buchanan.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on September 18 on Starting Point at 7:04 a.m. EDT, is as follows:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: So he says he's not going to worry about 47 percent of the country. He says they're victims, they feel entitled, they don't have personal responsibility, they don't care for their lives. That's roughly what he said in that clip there. How do you justify that if you want to be President of the entire country?

(...)

O'BRIEN: So that's Governor Romney late on Monday night sort of talking about these tapes as they were leaked, and, of course, he says 47 percent of Americans pay no tax. That's not correct.

BAY BUCHANAN, senior adviser, Romney campaign: It's no income tax, Soledad. That – you are correct. It's no income tax. They certainly pay payroll taxes.

O'BRIEN: And even those 47 percent, I think I have a chart of this, 47 percent of those people who pay no income tax, look at that chart there, 61 percent of those folks, they're paying payroll tax. Money is coming out of their paycheck.

BUCHANAN: Yes, they are.

O'BRIEN: So these aren't – it's being described as this sort of myth of the deadbeat nation. All these people on the –

(Crosstalk)

BUCHANAN: No, no, no.

O'BRIEN: But they're paying money, right? And sales tax, of course.

(...)
O'BRIEN: Let me read to you a little bit of what David brooks wrote in his op-ed. He said "The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big government lovers. They're Republicans. They're senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefitted from the entitlement explosion are middle class workers more so than the dependent poor." So essentially, didn't Mitt Romney in these leaked tapes really bash his own voters? Those are the people who are voting for Mitt Romney.

BUCHANAN: Honey, I -- I think you're my soul I'm talking to now, my husband. (Laughing)
Sorry, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's okay. I like it.

BUCHANAN: I think what he's saying -- I'm trying to charm you here.

O'BRIEN: More.

BUCHANAN: You know, it's -- you know there's no question that Mitt Romney's plan is that he recognized more and more people are becoming dependent on government. And that is Barack Obama, his answer is more government, more government. Whereas –

O'BRIEN: I hear you, but my question to you is, aren't the people that he's bashing to these wealthy donors, these are Republicans. These are white men with high school diplomas. These very people are the people who were going to vote for him, and now you have a major problem.

BUCHANAN: We're not -- first of all, we're not bashing them. He was analyzing saying certain people are with Barack. Certain people we have. Certain people are in the middle. And that's who we're going to appeal to.

But the key here is that we recognize that America today deserves better than we have. You can't have 23 million unemployed or underemployed Americans, and say that we're doing well. And Barack Obama wants you to spend more. And we say – Mitt Romney said that's not the right way. The right way is to give these people who are out there, who are finding they need food stamps, an opportunity to, again, be able to work and produce and take care of themselves and family and have that –

O'BRIEN: But he's not talking – 47 percent of the nation is not on food stamps. 47 percent, so that's –

BUCHANAN: But 47 percent –

O'BRIEN: That 47 percent number is not people who are on food stamps as you see –

BUCHANAN: 47 million Americans are on food stamps. And that is a national disgrace. You have to agree, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: But the number he's talking about in these leaked tapes is half of the country. Half of the country is not on food stamps. He's talking about half of the country are people who are going to vote, potentially, the people he's talking about who are getting some kind of entitlements including Social Security, including Medicare, they are white people. They are people who are going -- men, high school degrees. You are essentially the campaign, meaning you, are essentially undermining the very people that you're trying to get. Let me ask you another question about this –

BUCHANAN: You know, Soledad, let me make a point. I do believe that the majority of Americans, without question, way more than 47 percent, whether they're dependent now on different aspects of government, they want to again see the kind of enormous opportunity out there for their children and for themselves, that they can really pick and choose the kind of jobs that they can take.

O'BRIEN: But he didn't say that. Yes, Bay! Yes! True! And I bet he wished he said that.

(Crosstalk)

BUCHANAN: That is what he offers.

O'BRIEN: But he didn't offer it. I bet today he wishes he said what Bay just said, I wish I had said that at that dinner, because today the clips that we're talking about, he didn't say that. He said 47 percent of the nation are basically losers, they consider themselves to be –

BUCHANAN: No, he did not say they're losers. Don't put – he said they do not pay income tax. And that's a fact.

O'BRIEN: He said , they did not. He said they are victims, they believe the government has a responsibility for them. My job is not to worry about them. I'll never convince them to have personal responsibility, implied, they don't. I'll never convince them to care for their lives. Implied they don't. That's what he said.

BUCHANAN: No.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you another question. I've got to move on. Because I want to get to something else. I want to play a clip about a joke that he made about being – If he were Latino he would have an easier path I guess. Let's play that.

(Video Clip)

ROMNEY: Had he been born of Mexican parents I'd have a better shot of winning this. But he was not.

(Laughter)

ROMNEY: But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico, lived there for a number of years. And – I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino.

(End Video Clip)

O'BRIEN: The irony is that earlier in the day he'd been talking to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and he had then highlighted in his speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce the direly high unemployment figures for Latinos and then makes a joke well if I were Latino I'd actually be doing better than I'm doing. At the very least, bad idea to make that joke?

BUCHANAN: It's a joke. He's used it before. He did it on Univision where they were laughing and talking about, hey, you were born in, you know, your folks were born in Mexico, so couldn't you claim this? And so it's kind of a joke that's been going back and forth.

But the key is, if you look at Barack Obama, black Americans are extremely proud to have him as President of the United States, one of their own, if you like. And they vote overwhelmingly, 90-some percent. And so the idea is, hey, maybe I could get a higher percentage of Hispanics if I could claim that. And it's a joke. That's it. We all should be laughing and not be too concerned about this –

O'BRIEN: You know, there was a while back in the beginning of the campaign in the primary process when I did an interview with Mitt Romney, and we went back and forth in his interview, he had just won the Florida primary, so it was about hey, you won, congratulations. Let's talk a little bit about the strategy ahead. And then he said this. I'm going to run the chunk of the interview that I did with him, because it now seems to be coming back around. Let's play that.

(Video Clip)

ROMNEY: I'm not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling, and I'll continue to take that message across the nation.

(End Video Clip)

O'BRIEN: All right, I know I said last question, but I've got to ask you, you just said "I'm not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net." And I think there are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling, who would say, that sounds odd. Can you explain that?

ROMNEY: Well, you had to finish the sentence, Soledad. I said I'm not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them.

O'BRIEN: Got it, okay.

ROMNEY: The challenge right now, we will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor, and there's no question, it's not good being poor. And we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans. My campaign, you can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich. That's not my focus. You can focus on the very poor. That's not my focus.

(End Video Clip)

O'BRIEN: I think there are people who would say, yeah, and I guess that's true. You know, he kind of went later and backed away from those comments. But I think people hearing these clips from inside this private dinner, with very wealthy donors, $50,000 a plate to attend this, say actually, what he said there was the truth was what he was thinking, that he doesn't care about the very poor.

BUCHANAN: Again, he didn't say he didn't care, Soledad. Let's –

O'BRIEN: He clearly said he didn't care.

BUCHANAN: There's a safety net out there for the poor. And he said if there's any holes in it, well let's make certain that we fill those holes because we have to have a safety net, a government does. And he supports that.

But right now what's happening in America is we're losing our middle class. And so his campaign is to give a plan, to show Americans what he will do as President to provide those opportunities, to make certain the private sector becomes invigorated, that that energy is started again, and that's where the American spirit lies.

O'BRIEN: What he said was half the country sees themselves as victims and there's nothing I can do about those.

BUCHANAN: No, what he – it wasn't inarticulate I meant – he said 47 percent. That's a fact. That comes out of a report, 47 percent of Americans do not pay income taxes.

O'BRIEN: No, no, no, no. What he said – there's two different clips, okay? So he said that, too. But he said this, "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what, who believe they are victims." You're – another section he was sort of conflating the idea that 47 percent of people do not pay taxes, and you could argue he's speaking specifically about income tax, even though they're paying payroll tax, and so it's really 18 percent.

But 47 percent of people, he says, they're victims and they think they're entitled. And obviously, today, everybody in the campaign is thinking that's a big mistake. Listen, there's a sense, you saw the Politico article I'm sure, that the campaign is in big trouble. Bloomberg writes –

BUCHANAN: Oh my gosh.

O'BRIEN: – here's a headline from Bloomberg, "Today Mitt Romney lost the election." Politico says the thing is kind – the wheels are falling off. Is that correct? Is it just a hot mess in there?

BUCHANAN: You know, Soledad, I find it very humorous. We've just spent a week – everybody said Romney has had a rough week. And certainly this is a bump in the road. But we, but it's the other campaign. Is anybody looking at the campaign of Barack Obama? He has spent the last week with America watching as his foreign policy is of appeasement and apologies, has disintegrated. We have problems around this world in all the Muslim countries where people, our anti-American sentiment is unbelievable. And that's a good week for the President?

O'BRIEN: But aren't you kind of answering your own question when you say looking at the campaign of Barack Obama. No, because look at the headlines. You're right. You're drawing focus from your own campaign by these headlines.

BUCHANAN: That's an indictment on the media, Soledad, that they would think that some little comment by the candidate is more important than a policy, an entire foreign policy of the President of the United States. Also, is this not a story that one out of every six Americans is in poverty? Is that not a much bigger story that 47 million Americans have to take food stamps to take care of themselves and their families, and that's because of four years of Barack Obama and that he has no new, fresh ideas on how to put America back to work? That's what Mitt Romney is all about. That's what our campaign is about. That seems to be a whole lot more important than some comment that he made – inarticulately stated about which voters are Barack Obama's –

O'BRIEN: I appreciate your spin on that. But I think "inarticulately stated" is the least of the problems they're facing.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014