File this under the "He would know" category. George Stephanopoulos, the former Democratic operative who worked for Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis, confidently asserted on Tuesday that Democrats are "licking their chops" over Mitt Romney's comment that he likes to "fire" health insurers who don't provide adequate coverage. [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Stephanopoulos teased the segment by hyping, "But has Mitt Romney hurt his chances for a big win with these controversial comments?" How did Stephanopoulos and GMA cover another controversial story, the questionably legal appointment of Richard Cordray to run a consumer protection board? They didn't. On Tuesday, however, Stephanopoulos said of Romney's comment: "Democrats just licking their chops when they saw this."
Clearly, Stephanopoulos is aware of what's going on with Democrats. In 2009, his daily phone calls with then-White House operative Rahm Emanuel became "controversial."
In a previous segment, ABC played up a photo of Romney at Bain Capital (see picture at right) holding dollar bills as reporter David Muir recounted, "Romney spent years buying and selling companies at Bain Capital. Sometimes creating jobs, but sometimes cutting them. And so, talking about getting rid of insurance in terms of firing them, it's drawing fire from opponents."
Locating the candidate on the campaign trail, Muir interrogated, "Are you concerned about the tone of the words with the millions of Americans who are out of work?"
Former Democratic and Republican strategist Matt Dowd appeared with Stephanopoulos and compared Romney to John Kerry: "To me, this is exactly what happened to John Kerry who thought he had an asset, his military experience, his Vietnam experience, in a national security election."
A transcript of the January 10 segment, which aired at 7:05am EST, follows:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's get more on this now from our political contributor Matthew Dowd. And you heard the Romney defense, the words were taken out of context. Some campaign officials were also telling me they're happy to have the focus be on his business record, not necessarily his record in Massachusetts. Not what they were expecting and this won't hurt him in New Hampshire. But South Carolina, is a problem.
MATT DOWD: Yes, South Carolina is a problem. It could diminish his overall vote in New Hampshire if the 24 hours go on end. The problem that Mitt Romney now has, they were fearing there was going to be coalescing around one candidate against him. And what's now happened is they've coalesced around one message. All the other candidates are saying the exact same thing. All attacking him on Bain. All saying he's out of touch. All saying he's not genuine. And I do think it could have an affect in South Carolina, because, South Carolina, the Republican Party there is not based in big business. It's not based in-
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's working class.
DOWD: Blue collar. It's much more populist. It's places where, like, Sarah Palin can be successful with that populist message. That's where he has to worry about this is in South Carolina.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the unemployment rate about ten percent in South Carolina. Of course, the possibility that this would lead to a vulnerability in the general election. Democrats just licking their chops when they saw this. But, the Romney team has also argued that on that [sic] Republicans shouldn't be taking on a Democratic message. That's what they've been saying that about their opponents.
DOWD: Well, I think this could hurt him in the primaries. I do think that the Republican Party is not what a lot of people thought it was. And so, I think it can hurt him. But, it's definitely going to hurt him in the general election. To me, this is exactly what happened to John Kerry who thought he had an asset, his military experience, his Vietnam experience, in a national security election. And that was undermined in the course of that election, that military, Vietnam experience. This time, we have an economic election. And the main asset Mitt Romney thought was his private experience, the experience at Bain. And now what's going to happen in the course of the primary and then the general election: That asset? The Democrats and the Obama administration and the Obama campaign is going try to turn this into a liability. And that's where this could be really problematic.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Let's- Quickly on tonight, Mitt Romney, we still expect him to win, although his lead might come down. How about the rest of the field?
DOWD: I actually think what could easily happen today is because of what's happened with Mitt Romney and the surge I think you're seeing in independent voters, Jon Huntsman could finish second here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that would be big.
DOWD: And that would be a really big story. He was fourth or fifth a week ago and now he could finish second. That would give him a big lift.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that means everyone goes on to South Carolina.