Anderson Cooper Suggests Paul Ryan May Have Used Racial Dog Whistle

After Paul Ryan held that a voter turnout increase in "urban areas" hurt the Romney ticket, CNN's Anderson Cooper questioned if he was using racial overtones and hammered him with a "Keeping Them Honest" report claiming Ryan missed other reasons why Team Romney lost.

"Well, some critics jumped on those remarks, since 'historically urban' has often been used as a code word for African-American voters," said Cooper, who proceeded to "keep Ryan honest" by noting that urban areas weren't the only reason why Ryan and Romney lost. GOP strategist Alex Castellanos laughed at that assumption and called it "ridiculous."

Ryan's actual words were, "when we saw the kind of turnout that was occurring in urban areas which were really fairly unprecedented, it did come as a bit of a shock. So those are the tough kind of losses to have, the ones that catch you by surprise."

"But 'Keeping Them Honest' the Election Day picture was a bit more complicated than that," responded Cooper. "Turnout among African-American voters was up this year and turnout was up in some swing state cities but it was down in others. And the President's win was not solely dependent on black or urban voters," he reported, implying that Ryan may have used the phrase "urban areas" to include African-American voters.

Even the liberal Paul Begala wouldn't assume that Ryan was using racial overtones. "Well, I don't want to ascribe any sort of dog whistle to it," he told Cooper.

Republican Alex Castellanos said he too was watching the voting demographics on election night: "we were all looking at election night. Was Barack Obama going to be able to get out the black vote to 2008 levels with the same intensity as he did for the first black president of the United States four years ago? Was he going to get out the Hispanic vote?"

"Well, he [Obama] got both of those not only to 2008 levels, he got the Hispanic vote higher," Castellanos went on.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on November 13 on Anderson Cooper 360 at 8:17 p.m. EST, is as follows:

[8:17]

ANDERSON COOPER: Welcome back. Another "Keeping Them Honest" report tonight. Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, is making the interview rounds, giving his take on why he thinks his ticket lost the election. Here's what he told a local television station in his hometown, Janesville, Wisconsin, which Romney lost to Obama.

(Video Clip)

REPORTER: The reports that you and Governor Romney and your wives were shocked by the results that were coming in. True?

Rep. PAUL RYAN (R-Wisc.), former vice presidential candidate: It is true. Yeah, we – the polling we had, the numbers we were looking at looked like we stood a pretty good chance of winning. And so when the numbers came in, you know, going the other direction, when we saw the kind of turnout that was occurring in urban areas which were really fairly unprecedented, it did come as a bit of a shock. So those are the tough kind of losses to have, the ones that catch you by surprise.

(End Video Clip)

COOPER: Well, some critics jumped on those remarks, since "historically urban" has often been used as a code word for African- American voters. We can't say for sure what Ryan meant there. But "Keeping Them Honest" the Election Day picture was a bit more complicated than that. Turnout among African-American voters was up this year and turnout was up in some swing state cities but it was down in others.

And the President's win was not solely dependent on black or urban voters. He also won more than 7 in 10 Asian and Latino voters, 6 in 10 young voters and 55 percent of women voters nationwide. What's more, white voters played a big role in the President's re-election. Although Romney easily won white voters nationwide, the picture isn't quite so clear-cut when you look at swing states. In Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Colorado and Minnesota, President Obama did better among white voters than either John Kerry or Al Gore did. And President Obama won in some key swing states with predominantly white voters, many of whom live in the suburbs or rural areas. Take Iowa, where white voters made up 93 percent of the electorate. More than half of those voters, 51 percent, backed President Obama to 47 percent for Romney.

It was the same breakdown in New Hampshire where white voters were also 93 percent of the electorate and 51 percent voted for President Obama. There's also the fact that many New Hampshire voters live in rural areas, yet President Obama won those rural voters by 16 points, 57-41 percent.

As all the numbers suggest, it's not quite as simple as Congressman Ryan suggests. Urban voters can't take all the credit for the President's win. Joining me now is CNN contributor David Frum who has a lot to say about this. His new e-book is "Why Romney Lost." He joins me now along with CNN contributors Paul Begala and Alex Castellanos. So Paul, liberals have been critical of Congressman Ryan's comments about urban areas. What do you think of it?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN political contributor: Well, I don't want to ascribe any sort of dog whistle to it.

COOPER: Sure.

BEGALA: Let's just actually use the nomenclature he did, which is geographic. He's just wrong. You know, he's just flat-out wrong. And this is the odd thing, everybody said, well, Paul Ryan is a numbers guy. Well, no, he's not, because first off, if he was shocked that the President, a Democrat, did well in urban areas, he hasn't been following politics for the last 100 years.

But he also won – I looked up a couple of interesting counties that I like to look at. Dubuque, Iowa, very rural. They filmed the movie "Field of Dreams" there. Barack Obama won. He won Henrico County, a very classic suburban county in Virginia which is the home of Eric Cantor, the Republican House Majority Leader. And in Wisconsin, get this, Barack Obama overwhelmingly won Rock County, Wisconsin, which – whose biggest town is Janesville which is Paul Ryan's hometown and home county. And I don't know, I have been there, actually, but, you know, I've walked the gritty streets of Janesville, it's not actually all that, you know, urban. And how can he be this dumb is the only question I've got.

COOPER: Alex, does Congressman Ryan's comments on turnout in cities miss the point on why he and Mitt Romney lost, do you think?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, Republican consultant: No. (Laughing) It's ridiculous. Look, this is one of the keys you look at, and we were all looking at election night. Was Barack Obama going to be able to get out the black vote to 2008 levels with the same intensity as he did for the first black president of the United States four years ago? Was he going to get out the Hispanic vote? Well, he got both of those not only to 2008 levels, he got the Hispanic vote higher.

You're looking at keys. Is he going to achieve that, and when he did, that frankly was a surprise to everyone. Look, if it's all right for the Obama campaign to take credit for it, it's probably fine for Paul Ryan to notice. And I'll also point out that Paul Ryan is the Republican in the Romney campaign who said look, let's go campaign among black voters, even though they're not voting for us, because if we're – if we're the Republican Party of opportunity for everybody, that's where we ought to be among the part of the economy that needs help the most.
 

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