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CNN's O'Brien Tells Romney the DNC Chair Has a Point - That's Not What She Said Earlier

When DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz claimed that Mitt Romney suffered a "setback" in New Hampshire, CNN Soledad O'Brien challenged her outlandish assumption – but then used the talking point to grill Romney in a later interview with the candidate.

According to Schultz, Romney failed in New Hampshire by not garnering 40 percent of the vote. O'Brien, who questioned that point by hailing Romney as "the clear front-runner," gave the spin credibility when she pressed Romney "I get it that her [Schultz's] job, governor, is to spin, spin, spin, spin, spin. But doesn't she have a point about – this is a place where you have lived, and that number, while very good, is not 60 percent, or 70 percent?"

As O'Brien herself told Schultz, then-candidate Obama failed to breach the 40 percent barrier in the 2008 New Hampshire primary – and that was in what basically was a three-candidate race. She still asked Romney why he didn't earn 60 to 70 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, CNN contributor and phoney-conservative David Frum countered with another dubious prediction, insisting that an exciting candidate who garnered 60 percent of the New Hampshire vote would lose in the general election – because he would be too right-wing.

"Look, given the mood of the Republican Party today, given how angry it is and given how much to the right it has moved, a candidate here who would have racked up a huge Republican total, 60 percent of the vote, would have been unelectable in the general election," Frum claimed.

"All the reasons that the Republicans have been cool toward Mitt Romney are the things that will make him a formidable candidate in the general," he added.

Schultz also slammed Romney's remark that he liked firing people – when he actually meant "firing" service providers who were giving him, the customer, poor service – pooh-poohing that "Any time an employment relationship comes to an end, it's never enjoyable." Would she deny that the American voters didn't delight in "firing" Speaker Pelosi from her position of power in 2010?

She also denied that her claim of Romney wanting to keep the "wind at the backs" of the wealthy was "talking points."

A transcript of the segments, which aired on January 11 at 7:06 a.m and 7:36 a.m. EST respectively, is as follows:

[7:06]

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I get that your gig is the spin. I totally 100 percent understand that. But this was – this was your tweet. "Romney's failure to perform better in hash-tag New Hampshire primary is a major setback for both his campaign and his candidacy." How can you say "major setback" when really, I mean, 40 percent – I think that's higher than many people were predicting. We just showed the exit polls that showed him high in all the categories that many people thought he couldn't be strong – how is that a major setback?

Rep. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ (D-Fla.), DNC chairman: Well first of all, there was a pretty significant drop-off in the Republican turnout. So – and that's as a result of the voters in New Hampshire, particularly on the Republican side, being pretty unenthusiastic about their entire field. And I think Mitt Romney was at 39 percent – I mean this is ostensibly his home state. He's got a family home here, he was governor of the state next door. So to not crack 40 percent in a primary that you should have droves of Republicans coming to the polls to vote for you, that's a problem. But he's here as a – he came out of this primary now as a wounded candidate.

O'BRIEN: Barack Obama, back in 2008, he got 36.6 percent of the vote. He didn't crack –

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Right. He didn't live in the state next door and serve as governor for four years. I mean, Mitt Romney has a family home here, was governor of the state next door for four years, has basically been campaigning for president here for seven years, and was not able to crack 40 percent of the vote.

O'BRIEN: But how bad is that going to be ultimately down the road, right? Because he's now the clear front-runner –

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: It's the drop-off in the turnout, Soledad. There was – there is really a lack of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney in particular, for the whole field. I mean they should have been blowing the doors off the turnout. If their singular goal is to beat Barack Obama, they should have increased the turnout from the last primary.

O'BRIEN: David, here – David Frum is at the end of the table going no, no, no.

DAVID FRUM, CNN contributor: That's completely wrong. Look, given the mood of the Republican Party today, given how angry it is and given how much to the right it has moved, a candidate here who would have racked up a huge Republican total, 60 percent of the vote, would have been unelectable in the general election. All the reasons that the Republicans have been cool toward Mitt Romney are the things that will make him a formidable candidate in the general.

(...)

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN senior political analyst: Can I go back and ask you about something else you said, though. Because apart from the results, what do you think Democrats learned about Romney as a candidate, particularly in the last few days as he came under heavier fire from other Republicans?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Well clearly that he won't shy away from demonstrating how dramatically out of touch he is with working families and middle-class voters. To say – and I know you're going to come back and say it was out of context, but to say out loud that you enjoy firing people, no matter what –

O'BRIEN: It was out of context. He was talking about insurance companies and how –

(Crosstalk)

O'BRIEN: And again, it was really, really not smart to say that when the tapes are rolling and are going to repeat it.

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Any time an employment relationship comes to an end, it's never enjoyable. So for him to say that was demonstrative of how out of touch he is, like when he said corporations were people, like when he said that we should let the housing mar – the foreclosure crisis just hit bottom and have investors come in and scoop up the properties and do nothing for those people.

O'BRIEN: Does it hurt the Democrats that all of this, you know those gaffes – he is, theoretically he's a smart man, he is going to improve on his performance, those are what you were calling –

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Well he's actually not improving.

O'BRIEN: – you were calling it self-inflicted wounds –

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: – but he could, he got better in the debates as he went along, we have to expect he'll get better on these self-inflicted wounds as he get along. Does that help the Democrats that this is out this early, or does it hurt the Democrats – you know, at some point does everyone say oh god we talked about Bain, we talked about Bain six months ago, move on.

SIMMONS: Well Soledad, here's what I think. What I think is that Mitt Romney has won a couple of big battles – Iowa, not New Hampshire – but he's losing the larger war about defining himself. What he is in the midst of now is an onslaught of attack from his rivals and from Democrats about his tenure at Bain. He has not come up with a compelling way to explain that part of his life. And you know what, this reminds me an awful lot of the ten-day period in 2004 when John Kerry couldn't come up with a way to respond to the Swift Boat attacks. You've got to figure out how you're going to answer these questions, and if you can't, then you will not be president.

O'BRIEN: But there's an argument that if it happens now, and eventually even if you muddle through it, that by the time – September is a much worse time to be trying to figure that out.

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Soledad, this election is going to be a dramatic contrast between Mitt Romney, or whoever they end up nominating, but if it's Mitt Romney – and President Obama. Because Mitt Romney clearly is supportive of making sure that we keep the wind at the backs of people who are already doing well, millionaires and billionaires, and people who are just fine. President Obama –

O'BRIEN: I hear the talking points.

(Crosstalk)

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: No, no, no. It's not talking points. It's reality. This is a guy who has consistently said we should extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, most fortunate Americans.

(Crosstalk)

O'BRIEN: My question is does all of this coming out now help him or hurt him? Yes or no.

BROWNSTEIN: No look, I think that more is going to come out. The answer is that this is not the end of the debate, and the arguments you could make in the Republican primary saying the opponents are attacking free enterprise – that's going to be less effective, I think, in the general election. We'll have his audience, but I think he's going to need a more compelling way to explain – as I said yesterday, I think it is an absolute pivot point of this election. Do we get to November, and most Americans believe that Bain experience equips him to improve the economy, or –

[7:36]

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is the chair of the DNC, as you well know. And we had her sitting down having breakfast with us this morning, joining our panel – which we'd love to have you do too, at any point. And one of the things that she said was that this was not a victory. And we asked her to explain herself. Here's what she said.

(Video Clip)

Rep. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ (D-Fla.), DNC chair: You know I think Mitt Romney was at 39 percent – I mean this is ostensibly his home state. He's got a family home here, he was governor of the state next door. So to not crack 40 percent in a primary that you should have droves of Republicans coming to the polls to vote for you – that's a problem. But he's here as a – he came out of this primary now as a wounded candidate.

(End Video Clip)


O'BRIEN: (to Mitt Romney, GOP candidate) I get it that her job, governor, is to spin, spin, spin, spin, spin. But doesn't she have a point about – this is a place where you have lived, and that number, while very good, is not 60 percent, or 70 percent?


- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center