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CBS's Norah O'Donnell: Did Romney 'Insult' GOP Voters In Secret Video?

Norah O'Donnell played up the possible negative impact of the hidden camera video of Mitt Romney on Tuesday's CBS This Morning. Regarding the elderly vote, O'Donnell asked 2008 McCain presidential campaign manager Rick Davis, "Did Mitt Romney just insult many of the people who end up voting Republican?"

Co-anchor Charlie Rose led the interview of Davis with a question on the impact of the remarks, and threw in the reported splits in the presidential nominee's campaign: "So, how damaging is this, and all these reports of dissension within the Romney camp?" O'Donnell followed up with her "insult" hint about Romney, as she cited figures from the liberal Tax Policy Center.

Davis replied that the CBS anchor had "fallen in the same trap that Mitt Romney fell into, and that is saying seniors always vote for Republicans." O'Donnell retorted, "No, no, no - I said a majority of them vote for Republicans. That is true."

After Rose hyped the media narrative about a supposedly struggling Romney campaign, O'Donnell returned to tax reform and pressed her guest on the issue. By his answers, Davis seemingly interpreted the anchor's questions as pushing for a tax increase:

O'DONNELL: Let me ask you about this. Clearly, there's something wrong with our tax code. I think all Americans agree with that. Why not, then, have Mitt Romney make what is an affirmative argument, which is, look, this is the tax code. It's wrong. I'm the candidate for tax reform....I went back and looked at Mitt Romney's speech from the convention. He never said the words 'tax reform' in his speech. Shouldn't the Republican candidate be the candidate who embraces tax reform?

DAVIS: Norah, I think there's no question that our party probably spends as much time as any party in history talking about the failed tax system that we have. And you're right - the statistics alone-

O'DONNELL: But be the champion of tax reform. Why not be the champion of tax reform?

DAVIS: Well, I think that – part of the elements that he's talked about are. I mean, you can't talk about deficit reduction without having a component of tax reform. You can't talk about changing entitlements without knowing that you're going to have an impact on the tax reform-

O'DONNELL: But he didn't say that last night. I mean, he didn't say that....

The CBS anchor didn't quite reach the fever pitch she did with Senator Rob Portman five days earlier. O'Donnell threw out five confrontational questions in just over two half minutes in that interview.

The full transcript of the Rick Davis segment from Tuesday's CBS This Morning:

CHARLIE ROSE: With us now, Rick Davis – he was John McCain's campaign manager when McCain ran for President in 2008. Welcome.

RICK DAVIS, FMR. MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Thank you, Charlie.

[CBS News Graphic: "September Surprise: Secret Video Sends Romney In Damage Control"]

ROSE: So, how damaging is this, and all these reports of dissension within the Romney camp?

DAVIS: Well, the two things are completely unrelated. I think that everybody has their YouTube moment in American politics. You just described the Obama YouTube moment from four years ago. If you're in this game long enough, you're going to have a roomful of donors that – somebody's going to be taking a picture. And it's a lesson to all politicians that there's no such thing as a living room where you can, sort of, let your hair down, and the fact that he let his hair down in a group of donors and it made news isn't really news in itself. But what he does with it is going to be really critical.

This is a character-building moment. I mean, the American public looks in at various times during a campaign, and I promise you they'll be looking in this week, and it may be a fresh opportunity for Mitt Romney, the candidate, to try and connect with voters. You know, this is an issue that has been relevant to him as a candidate, and I think this is an opportunity that he can try to do better.

NORAH O'DONNELL: You know, what's interesting about these moments, too, they're opportunities to learn more about just what the tax system is, and what Romney suggested is that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax, which is true. But it is also true - and we made a graph to help everybody understand - of those 47 percent who don't pay federal income tax, 28 percent still pay some sort of payroll tax-

DAVIS: Payroll tax – right-

[CBS News Graphic: "Income Tax: 53.6% Pay Income Tax; <1% Others; 6.9% Nonelderly Income under $20,000; 10.3% Elderly; 28.3% Pay Payroll Tax; Source: Tax Policy Center"]

O'DONNELL: And of those that pay no federal income tax and no payroll tax, that's just about 18 percent, of which, a majority are seniors, and seniors vote for Republicans. So, did Mitt Romney just insult many of the people who end up voting Republican?

DAVIS: Well, I think, Norah, you've fallen in the same trap that Mitt Romney fell into, and that is saying seniors always vote for Republicans. Well, they don't-

O'DONNELL: No, no, no - I said a majority of them vote for Republicans. That is true-

DAVIS: Well, in some cases. And so, I think that this is a gross over-evaluation of the American electorate, right? I mean, not half of the American electorate is off the table to Republican voters-

O'DONNELL: Right, right-

DAVIS: Republican voters [sic] don't always get more than half of all the senior voters, and I think everyone needs to take a big step backwards on demographics. You know, they change in every election. Barack Obama ran in this election, so far, as a re-creation of the energy and excitement he had four years ago. It's probably not going to turn out that way for him. And Mitt Romney needs to open up his mind and his campaign's mind and say, you know what? Those candidate – those voters that we thought we couldn't get – reach to - you got to reach out to them now.

ROSE: But are most Republicans disappointed in the Romney campaign so far?

DAVIS: Look, I think that it's endemic in every presidential campaign that there are going to be highs and lows. Right now, obviously, this is a bad day for the Romney campaign, and they're going to have to pivot on this, show new excitement, roll up the sleeves-

ROSE: But we continue to run up into these times in which Republicans are saying, the candidate has to redefine himself. It was supposed to happen at the convention - ran into some problems-

DAVIS: Well, I think the convention actually did a good job of defining Mitt Romney-

ROSE: So, what is the redefinition that has to take place now?

DAVIS:  I mean, Ann Romney's is one of the great speeches of any convention-

ROSE: What does Mitt Romney have to do now, to say, this is me and this is who I am?

DAVIS: Yeah. I think that – the problem is, he was ready to launch into more of an articulation of his economic plan, which I think was exactly the right thing to do at this form [sic] of the election. And now, he's going to have to take a step back a little bit, and say, you know what? The reason I have these views about my economic plan is because of who I am. And so, he's going to have to double up that message a little bit. And so, it's maybe a little less defined., but again, maybe the best thing he could have done is to talk about himself a little bit more.

O'DONNELL: Let me ask you about this. Clearly, there's something wrong with our tax code. I think all Americans agree with that. Why not, then, have Mitt Romney make what is an affirmative argument, which is, look, this is the tax code. It's wrong. I'm the candidate for tax reform. I'm going to be make – and able to work with Republicans in Congress, which Barack Obama has not been able to do. And I went back and looked at Mitt Romney's speech from the convention. He never said the words 'tax reform' in his speech. Shouldn't the Republican candidate be the candidate who embraces tax reform?

DAVIS: Norah, I think there's no question that our party probably spends as much time as any party in history talking about the failed tax system that we have. And you're right - the statistics alone-

O'DONNELL: But be the champion of tax reform. Why not be the champion of tax reform?

DAVIS: Well, I think that – part of the elements that he's talked about are. I mean, you can't talk about deficit reduction without having a component of tax reform. You can't talk about changing entitlements without knowing that you're going to have an impact on the tax reform-

O'DONNELL: But he didn't say that last night. I mean, he didn't say that-

DAVIS: Well, that's just semantics. I mean, if you believe that-

O'DONNELL: Or messaging-

DAVIS: The only time people understand that you're talking about taxes is when you say the word [sic] 'tax reform', then you're right. I mean, he probably ought to use that more often if they believe that that's an issue. But you've got to remember, too - he's been under enormous assault from the Obama campaign on his own taxes, on his own tax issues that have probably borne into some of that rationale as to why they don't like to talk about tax reform in that context.

So, it's not in a vacuum. I mean, you can't just say, oh,  this campaign started today, and right now, we're going to take a look at it from that perspective. I think you've got to take it in its entirety, and realize that this is a pretty well-formed campaign. Part of what Mitt Romney talked about is what everybody thinks about, which is, we're a pretty widely divided country.

ROSE: Thank you, Rick. Thank you very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Rick Davis, thank you.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.