updated 3/28/2008 5:30:00 PM ET 2008-03-28T21:30:00

Guests: Harold Ford, Jonathan Capehart

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC HOST:  The Democratic Party and its consequences, as bitterness between Obama and Clinton grows, their supporters may actually choose John McCain.  Is there a way out as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on?

Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Thanks for finding us.  Your home for the fast pace, the smart take and every point of view in the room.

This hour the big sweep from the campaign trail, what they are saying, what they are likely thinking as well.  And a special feature tonight inside the war room.  We‘re going to go deep inside the numbers of the latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” polls.  Don‘t miss that.

And later, the big questions we should all be considering like from Bloomberg to Gore, what are the real wild cards in this race.  The bedrock of the program as you know, a panel that comes into play.  And with us tonight MSNBC political analyst and host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow herself.  NBC News analyst and chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, Harold Ford Jr., “The Washington Post‘s” Jonathan Capehart.  And MORNING JOE is here.  The host of MORNING JOE on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough.  We‘ll begin as we do every night with everyone‘s most important take on the political story of the day.  It‘s the headline.  Rachel Maddow, you‘re up first.  What‘s the headline today?

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Barack Obama pivots to the general election.  He gives his big speech on the economy today with four—count them, four direct named hits on John McCain.  He pays no attention whatsoever to his Democratic rival and he tells reporters on his campaign plane last night that Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, his idea for a superdelegate primary is a good idea.  Barack Obama is looking to November for what feels like the first time in this campaign.

GREGORY:  What do you think is driving that?

MADDOW:  I think what‘s driving that is he‘s sensing a shift among Democratic power brokers and Democrats who get to make decisions on these things people are not going to let this thing go to Denver.  One of the ways they are going to decide that is who can hit John McCain the hardest.

GREGORY:  It is also about the need to somehow engage in a fight.  He can‘t coast.  If he‘s in the going to directly engage Hillary Clinton on some matters, does he have to start fighting on something so it doesn‘t look like he‘s coasting?

MADDOW:  I mean, people worry Barack Obama has never had a hard political fight on his hands.  He‘s never had a difficult political challenge, certainly never at the national level.  He‘s never been subjected to the kind of things Hillary Clinton has been subjected to.  People want to know he can fight, that he can take a punch and deliver one.  A good target for him is McCain, probably a better target than Hillary Clinton in terms of being beloved in the Democratic Party.

GREGORY:  Harold Ford Jr.  You‘re with us.  Hit me with your headline tonight.

HAROLD FORD JR., DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL:  Return to basics for Democrats.  I was pleased to see both Senators Obama and Clinton today give hard hitting, substantive, purposeful and straightforward speeches on the economy.  What they would do, how they would conduct the economic business very differently than the last several years.  It stands in stark contrast to the speech Senator McCain gave where he basically suggested the country should wait, government should do very little, let this economic mess we face just work itself out through the markets.

And as appealing as that may be we may need government help.

GREGORY:  If a Democrat is in charge, what should voters look for in terms of what changes in the government‘s role to the economy in the middle of a credit crisis when your home is not worth what it used to be?

FORD:  If you listen to Senators Clinton and Obama, Senator Clinton said she would provide $30 billion in pre prevention foreclosure measures for cities and state governments across the country.  And Senator Obama said he would allow for bankruptcy courts to intervene between the contracts between borrowers and lenders and help work out agreements that would keep people in their homes and hopefully stop this incredible asset devaluation we see happening with many houses, I should say, homes around this country.

GREGORY:  Harold, you know this is a personality contest in many ways between Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Is there something substantive on the approach to the economy democratic primary voters can say that‘s a difference here?

FORD:  I think the question really becomes for Democratic voters whom do they believe, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, has the potential, the capacity, the ability actually to deliver on their economic policies and plans.  At the end of the day that will be the final judgment, should say how voters have to arbitrate between these two candidates.

GREGORY:  Jonathan Capehart, your headline tonight.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  My headline tonight is, “ugly reminder for Obama.”  Reverend Wright is the gift that will keep on giving.  After nearly 30 years as pastor in his Chicago church, he‘s given plenty of sermons that by and large are probably perfectly benign.  But there‘s some passages in some sermons that people deem to be malevolent.  And as we‘ve seen today, Reverend Wright and his church bulletin coming out, or being surfaced with a reprinting of an “L.A. Times” op-ed piece, plus a revelation in a magazine run by his daughters, slurs against Italian Americans.  This could possibly be the beginning of death by a thousand cuts being associated with Reverend Wright.

GREGORY:  The big question is, who matters more, Reverend Wright or Barack Obama?  Do voters pay attention to what Obama says or to his associations?

CAPEHART:  I think they are going to pay attention to both.  They are going to pay attention to what Reverend Wright says or things that are attributed to him, then they are going to look to Senator Obama, I think, for an explanation, to explain to them why they should see him as someone separate and apart from the person who has been his spiritual mentor for the last 20 years.

GREGORY:  Is there any sense within the Obama campaign that they have got to do a chapter two on this?  They have to have another explanation, not just kind of do it day in and day out, a hit here and a hit there, but another holistic approach to explaining this relationship.

CAPEHART:  I don‘t know that for sure.  But I do think they should think long and hard about whether they should actually try to do that.  This is a situation where I think the senator did a very good job last week in that phenomenal speech on race.  I don‘t know what benefit he gets from trying to have another explanation of the reverend‘s comments.

GREGORY:  Joe Scarborough, your headline tonight.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  It‘s about Iraq.  This is an issue that, of course, was the top issue in 2006 in that campaign.  It was big for the Democrats, they say generals are always fighting the last wars, so are politicians and pundits.  But starting in December, mid December, “The New York Times” starting reporting people in Iowa didn‘t want to hear Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton talk about the war.  It would be a smattering of polite applause but got they more interest in economy, health care and other issues.  Now with continued attacks from radical Shiites, some associated with al Sadr, some of them fighting against al Sadr, suddenly Iraq is back in the news.  And with that comes a lot of political implications.  Not good political implications for the Republican Party.  Specifically bad for Senator John McCain.

GREGORY:  Let me challenge you on one point, Joe.  You do have as president bush talked about today an Iraqi leader, Nuri al Maliki who is standing up to a Shiite.  He‘s a Shiite.  You have a Shiite militia led by al Sadr and the Mahdi Army at kind of odds with itself.  He‘s standing up to Shiites causing problems here.  Is that not a vote of confidence for a central government trying to assert itself?

SCARBOROUGH:  It may be but all we see explosions are on the TV screens, we see deaths.  We find out Americans are dying in the Green Zone.  It doesn‘t matter that actually al Sadr may be fighting some of the more radical elements in the army or that Maliki, standing up to Shiite radicals.  My gosh, if they win that, six months from now, if Maliki and al Sadr can form a partnership and somehow get rid of the most radical elements, peace in Iraq may break out.  But six months later that will be too late for John McCain.  Of course people may shake their heads no.  Rachel shakes her head no.  That just belies ignorance on the ground in Iraq in 2008.  You‘ve got peace in western Iraq, in al Anbar province, Sunni awakening.

David, this could be big news not only for Iraq but the entire Middle East peace process.  But chances are good it ain‘t going to shake out in time to help John McCain.

GREGORY:  Rachel, quick comment before the break.

MADDOW:  Saying that al Maliki is standing up to extremist is up for argument.  It may just be he‘s aligning himself up with the Badr Brigade, instead of the Mehdi Army.  It may not mean he‘s our freedom fighter.  I wouldn‘t jump in ...

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t think anybody is saying that.  May be, may not be.  We see deaths on the TV screen and that impacts Republicans and John McCain negatively moving forward.

MADDOW:  Right.

GREGORY:  Coming up, a special look inside the war room tonight we‘re going to break down the fascinating results from the NBC News “Wall Street Journal” poll.  We will go deep inside the numbers.  Later on this show it‘s your turn to play with the panel.  You can call us.  212-279-0299.  Or e-mail us at race08@msnbc.com.  A lot more ahead, race for the White House coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back.  Special tonight “Inside the War Room.”  We‘re taking you inside the war rooms and our latest NBC News “Wall Street Journal” poll, helping us to evaluate what‘s working and what isn‘t.  Back with us, Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford Jr., Jonathan Capehart and Joe Scarborough.

Joe, first up, the Clinton camp may have some retooling to do.  The latest from our poll indicate that Hillary Clinton has now dipped to a new low.  Go to the numbers.  Thirty seven percent is her negative rating—rather her positive rating.  It‘s the lowest positive rating our polls have reported since March of 2001, just two months after she was elected to the U.S. Senate.  That was down from 45 percent earlier this month.  Rachel, striking.

MADDOW:  It is striking.  This is not Cheney level approval ratings.  This is not that bad.  This is not the generic approval rating for Congress, which is always somewhere down around the approval for toenail fungus.  But if you‘re running for president this is not a good number.  Barack Obama number in the same poll I think is 49 percent, that‘s not necessarily awesome either.  Clinton definitely has got some work to do in terms of making people like her again.

GREGORY:  But we do show and this feeds into this, go to the second one, the verdict is in after weeks of Reverend Wright flap headlining the news in blogs, it seems amazingly Obama came out relatively unscathed.  Sixty nine percent of voters either saw, heard or read about the speech compared to 29 percent who didn‘t see or hear the speech and of those who saw the speech, 55 percent said they were satisfied with Obama‘s explanation compared to 32 percent who were not.  Another interesting number here is that 77 percent of African-Americans who saw the speech were satisfied with Obama‘s remarks compared to 51 percent of whites.  Joe Scarborough, another number there, another 55 percent number were those disturbed by what they saw from either reading or seeing the clips of the speech.  Where does it leave Obama?

SCARBOROUGH:  I just don‘t think we can read too much into these polls for a couple of reasons.  First of all, let‘s talk about the Hillary number very quickly.  This poll was taken right in the middle of that Bosnian controversy.  Hillary Clinton was badly embarrassed by that.  That story doesn‘t seem to have any legs.  It was there Monday and Tuesday and it‘s gone.  It was there happening on TV all the time while this poll was being taken.  Likewise we‘re not exactly sure what‘s going to shake out in the Reverend Wright controversy.  As Jonathan said earlier, this may be death by a thousand cuts.  We just don‘t know what‘s going to happen in the future.  The Reverend Wright controversy never was about the overwhelming majority of Americans.  I think most Americans realize Barack Obama has a good heart they believe he is a unifier.  But it is about a small subset of the Democratic Party, the Reagan Democrats, how they respond.  That‘s something we probably won‘t know until people vote in Pennsylvania April on 2nd.

GREGORY:  Let‘s move on.  They all claim they will unify the country.  So who is doing a better job hammering home the message?  Look at this, 60 percent of voters say Barack Obama will be successful in uniting the country and reducing partisan fighting in Congress compared to 58 percent for John McCain and 46 percent for Hillary Clinton.

Note that 50 percent of voters do not think Hillary Clinton will be a success at uniting the country.  Harold Ford, warning sign there also says something about support among independents where Barack Obama has an advantage.  Your take.

FORD:  Clearly.  I would caution us also to follow Joe‘s advice and admonition.  These polls mean something, a snapshot now.  The reality is once you join a Democrat, Republican late summer, early fall whenever it may happen, you‘ll have a different dynamic.  Voters across the country will be able to hear not only from Hillary Clinton but they will hear from a whole host of Democrats supporting her or its Barack Obama you‘ll hear from a whole host of Democrats going against John McCain.

I think it‘s a little premature to look too much into this.  The thing that Hillary Clinton most has to take from the numbers is that the ability to unify the country probably won‘t be her message if she‘s the nominee because she has such a tall hill to climb according to those numbers.  And those numbers have been pretty consistent for her.

GREGORY:  And here is what‘s interesting to me.  Not just voters attitudes might be getting a little bit later into the summer, here, Jonathan, it‘s also the fact that in this process, the way we‘re talking about this, the way we‘re analyzing all of this, there are these superdelegates who may get together and make a judgment about electability.  So how they are rated at this moment in time could matter.  No?

CAPEHART:  Yes.  It could.  On Senator Clinton‘s number, remember, she came into this race already with high negatives, so that the fact that her negative rating is increasing is really, really troublesome.  And of course superdelegates are elected officials.  They are all about backing the right horse, of course.  Backing the candidate you believe in is also important.  But if it looks like Senator Clinton can‘t seal the deal with the American people up against John McCain, they will rush to Senator Obama.

FORD:  Remember one thing, six months ago many in the media and many in politics counted John McCain dead.  We‘re still a good eight months away.

SCARBOROUGH:  Also we‘re talking about we‘re going deep inside the polls.  But you know, it doesn‘t really matter if the New York Giants rush for 20 yards or 35 yards, if they win the Super Bowl, they win the Super Bowl.  Let‘s look at the big picture.  What‘s the score board say today?  Even with those high negatives, Hillary Clinton is tied with Barack Obama, 45 percent to 45 percent.  So if Hillary Clinton is so weak, what does that say about Barack Obama?

GREGROY:  I have to go to a break here.  I want to show you one more number.  We can‘t get reaction to it.  How will Democrats react to nomination decided by superdelegates is the big issue.  Look at this, this hasn‘t been very widely reported in the polls.  A majority of Democratic voters 41 to 32 percent would not consider the nominee to be legitimate if he or she loses among delegates selected by voters but wins the nomination by winning among the superdelegates.  This a obviously a big topic of debate as well.

OK.  Going to take a break here.  Coming up, are we getting closer to seeing Al Gore on the ballot in November?  And not necessarily in the number two spot but instead in the number one spot?  Who would be his running mate?  We‘ll talk about it here, coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  We‘ve read the columns, combed the blogs, and now time for us to bring you today‘s smart takes from ‘08 race.  Here again, Rachel, Harold, Jonathan and Joe. 

First up, Gail Collins from “The New York Times” today says, “Anyone who thinks Hillary Clinton will bow down to Howard Dean is, well, somewhat delusional.”  She writes, this, quote, “Now the Democratic primary has become the McMansion of politics.  Many are the suggestions for how to make it stop, all of which boil down to making Hillary Clinton go away.  The most entertaining by far is the call for Howard Dean to Lay Down the Law.  Truly, anybody who believes that Howard Dean can make Hillary Clinton do anything she doesn‘t want to do is living in Fantasy Land.  Who do they think she is, the Clinton campaign mutters—some girl who‘ll give way so the guy can get what he wants?”

I mean, the interesting part about this to me, Rachel, is the Democratic party has set up a system where they thought it would be over early.  It isn‘t.  And now neither one of them can get to the magic number.  They have set up this battle royale, and now there‘s some thought that somebody could be pulled back from the brink.  Not possible.

MADDOW:  Yes, who could pull them back.  There isn‘t a Democratic figure like that.  And we‘ve talked about this before.  The only figure of that kind of stature in the Democratic Party happens to be married to one of the candidates, and it‘s not Michelle Obama.  There just isn‘t somebody in the Democratic Party who can do this.  And all respect to Howard Dean, he doesn‘t have that kind of stature himself.  A DNC chairman never rarely has. 

GREGORY:  You know, Harold Ford, there is an aspect to this, though, that is in some ways what people really want.  They want a continuous campaign, and we see that by the fact that there‘s still so much enthusiasm for this race. 

FORD:  But this is going to last a few more weeks.  You have supporters for both candidates in West Virginia and Indiana, Pennsylvania, obviously, Kentucky and North Carolina, who are anxious—even some out out in Montana who are anxious for their opportunity to vote. 

I would differ just slightly.  I think Rachel is right, Bill Clinton is the biggest figure in the party.  But I would not downplay, and I know his name will come up later, Al Gore‘s role in helping trying to broker this, or for that matter, playing some kind of one or two role on the ticket if it reached that point.  But I don‘t think it will.  I said my first time on the show, the winner of North Carolina will be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and I still believe that. 

GREGORY:  You mentioned Al Gore, so next up, Joe Klein and “Time” magazine plays with the scenario of a third candidate taking the nomination if Clinton and Obama do come out limping from the months of mudslinging.  Let‘s go the quote for it:  “All they‘d have to do would be to convince a significant fraction of their superdelegate friends, maybe fewer than 100, to announce that they were taking a pass on the first ballot at the Denver convention.  What if they then approached Gore and asked him to be the Gore and asked him to be the nominee, for the good of the party—and suggested that he take Obama as his running mate?  A prominent fund raiser told me, ‘Gore-Obama is the ticket a lot of people wanted in the first place.‘”

You know, Joe, I always thought this was a crazy idea, because Democrats are so happy with the choice that they have.  But if this gets so so bruising, there is an actual scorched-earth scenario. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, I think Joe Klein, with all due respect to Joe, I love him, but I think he‘s still smoking some of the stuff that he collected when he worked for “Rolling Stone” in the early 1970s.  That ain‘t going to happen.  Al Gore had a chance in 2000.  He had eight years of peace and prosperity.  And a lot of Democrats are still trying to figure out how he lost three debates to a guy who can‘t even complete a sentence.  They‘re not going to give him a second chance, especially when they love Obama and when you have so many people who really like Hillary Clinton.  These people have split the party down the middle.

GREGORY:  You know, it‘s a good point, Rachel, because nobody is harder, nobody tougher on losers than Democrats are on each other if you don‘t win. 

MADDOW:  Yes, Republicans are very happy to bring back their losing candidates and put them back up there and rub the tarnish off them and say they‘re brand new again.  Democrats never do that.  When‘s the last time a Democratic presidential candidate lost and then came back and was nominated again.  Democrats just do not do it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It hasn‘t happened in this century. 

GREGORY:  David—yes, go ahead. 

CAPEHART:  That‘s assuming Al Gore would even want to do it. 

MADDOW:  Yes, good point, good point. 

GREGORY:  And there‘s no indication that he would at this stage. 

CAPEHART:  No, none at all.

FORD:  But I don‘t think he would be opposed if asked to step in and mediate or referee, if we get to that point. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Doesn‘t Al Gore—don‘t Al Gore and Hillary Clinton dislike each other so much?  And Bill Clinton now is so resentful of how Al Gore acted after impeachment in the 2000 campaign, how does that even happen? 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think that personal stuff would matter so much.  I think this is the opposite situation with Mike Huckabee.  Mike Huckabee was the guy who never did anything as cool in his life as run for president, so why would he stop.  Al Gore is now having the best time of his life.  Why would he give it up and start being a politician again?

GREGORY:  Yes, why would he get back in, right? 

All right, let me get a break in here.  Coming up, President Bush poses a question to our panel, where in the world are America‘s strategic interests? 

And you say this election is different than any in our history, and not because it might lead to first female or African-American president. 

Don‘t go away.  You don‘t want to miss your chance to play with the panel. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

GREGORY:  Back now, RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Time to pose the three most pressing questions in the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE to our panel.  Still with us, MSNBC political analyst and host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow, NBC News analyst and Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, Harold Ford Jr., the “Washington Post‘s” Jonathan Capehart and host MSNBC‘s “MORNING JOE,” Joe Scarborough. 

Moving on to number one, as the chance of seating Michigan and Florida‘s delegates appear to be diminishing, Senator Clinton continues beat the drum that these voters should be counted, shouldn‘t be disenfranchised, in her words.  Last night, she gave us a preview of how far she is willing to take this battle.  Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  We‘ve been trying to support what‘s going on in Florida, because the people there want their voices and votes to be heard.  Again, Senator Obama doesn‘t want to support that.  But Michigan is really the clearest example of getting right up to the brink of doing the right thing, and have Senator Obama say no, I won‘t do it. 

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  And if he says, no I won‘t do it, that leaves Michigan and Florida out.  Does that leave you out? 

CLINTON:  No, not at all.  We‘re going to make sure those votes get counted one way or the other. 

VAN SUSTEREN:  How? 

CLINTON:  Well, you know, you can always go to the convention.  That‘s what credential fights are for. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Time for question number one, Rachel Maddow, is a credential fight the new Clinton strategy? 

MADDOW:  That‘s what credential sites are for.  Isn‘t that an inspirational bumper sticker for the campaign.  Wow, I think Democrats well outside the beltway understand that anything getting decided at the convention essentially guarantees a John McCain win in the general election.  If every end game for the Clinton campaign—or even if the end game is for the Obama campaign, for that reason—ended at the convention, I think Democrats are going to see that as a loss for the party, even if it‘s a win for the candidate.

GREGORY:  Jonathan, why necessarily?  A bruising fight doesn‘t have to lead to sure Republican victory, does it? 

CAPEHART:  No, it doesn‘t.  In fact, remember, conventions used to be that way. 

MADDOW:  Conventions used to be earlier too, though.  Now they happen five minutes before the general. 

CAPEHART:  Yes, but you used to go to the convention and you used to sort of wait up, figure out who is going to be the presidential nominee, first ballot, third ballot, fifth ballot.  I don‘t see how it would be a problem or detriment to the Democratic party to have a vigorous fight over who should represent them on the ballot in November. 

MADDOW:  Jonathan, every time that‘s happened in modern life, we‘re talking ‘68, ‘72, even ‘76 on the Republican side, the party that is in that situation of waiting up for the third ballot loses the general election.  That‘s the point.  A divided party loses in the modern era when the other party is united.  That always happens. 

FORD:  Let‘s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.  The reality is, we‘re not talking about two immaterial states.  No states are irrelevant.  But we‘re talking two of the most important states for Democrats, Michigan and Florida.  I think this issue will get worked out before the convention.  There‘s a lot of truth in what Jonathan and Rachel both are saying.  If it gets to the floor, to the convention, and we have an awful, ugly, intense fight, it won‘t be good for the party. 

The reality is, it will be hard for any serious candidate for the president to argue that Florida and Michigan should not be seated at the Democratic convention. 

GREGORY:  Let me get to question number two.  I think it‘s an important one for everyone to weigh in on.  It comes from none other than President Bush himself today.  He was talking about Iraq, just like Joe at the top of the show.  He posed the question during a sobering speech about the war in Iraq.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If America‘s strategic interests are not in Iraq, the convergence point for the twin threats of al Qaeda and Iran, the nation Osama bin Laden‘s deputy has called the place for the greatest battle, the country at the heart of the most volatile region on Earth, then where are they?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Joe, how should—how will the candidates answer that question? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I know how John McCain is going to answer.  He‘s going to say certainly, it is Iraq.  Iraq is the most important place.  We can‘t lose there because we‘re going to send a terrible message to our enemies across the world and to our friends alike.  Of course, the Democrats are going to be answering that question differently. 

There‘s no doubt it‘s a good question to pose, the president poses.  If he had about 150,000 more men and women in uniform, the United States Army, he could make a much more compelling case.  But the problem that John McCain is going to run up against is the fact that our Army is so stretched that when you start talking about Afghanistan, you start talking about Iran, you talk about Pakistan, you talk about North Korea, you talk about potential trouble spots across the globe, our own generals in the Pentagon say, we are so stretched we can‘t worry about those hot spots. 

So if it is Iraq, it is Iraq by itself, because right now we are so thinly stretched we can answer few other hot spots across the globe. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, can you argue that our interests are not there?  Do you argue with the president on that one? 

MADDOW:  I think if the Republicans are going to make the kind of argument that Joe just made, the Democrats are going to say, listen, the United States right now spends more than every other country on the globe combined on our military.  If our military is still too stretched to meet our needs, we maybe ought to rethink the way we define our needs.  Right now, it looks like having tons of American troops, hundreds of thousands of American troops in Iraq is not helping them on the road to political stability.  So let‘s think about why they are there and whether we can really afford that as a nation.  I think the country is more in line with Democrats on this then they are with Republicans. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We can‘t conclude they aren‘t on the road to stability right now. 

MADDOW:  Today doesn‘t look like it, Joe. 

GREGORY:  This is an important point, because McCain is making the argument that you can go back and re-debate how we got into the war.  The reality is al Qaeda is in Iraq now, is a real threat to the stability of that country and others around.  Iran is what it is today.  Is that not where our interests are at the moment? 

FORD:  There are two fundamental parts of our interest.  The first is, you can‘t withdraw from the war against Jihad.  We can remove troops and reduce our presence in Iraq, which I think the next president, regardless of whom it is, is probably going to do.  The reality is we need a new policy and a new framework for how we address terrorism and how we seek to reduce the levels of hatred against the west. 

Until a presidential candidate—I should say, when a presidential candidate begins to talk seriously about that, I think, is when the majority of independents, for that matter, a good number of Democrats and Republicans, will begin to listen more intently.  Either an argument about staying or leaving is not going to attract the country to the kind of debate that we need on this issue.  What we need is a serious, sober one about how do we fight Jihad and ensure that America‘s interests are protected there. 

GREGORY:  We raised John McCain.  Let me grab this.  This is John McCain in a speech yesterday about foreign policy, talking about his view of the world.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.  We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our Democratic allies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Interesting, Jonathan.  The Democrats are going to try to say, this is a third Bush term.  McCain is signaling that he‘s going to distance himself from Bush.  The question is, how far will he go. 

CAPEHART:  Well, that‘s pretty far to say that you‘re going to listen to allies and listen to your Democratic elected allies and get their input, which goes directly against what‘s been the driving force behind the Bush foreign policy, which is you‘re either with us or you‘re against us. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, do you see it that way? 

MADDOW:  No.  I think that John McCain is not distancing himself from President Bush.  I think that he‘s making it sound more nice.  But in that same speech he also said the reason that we‘re staying in Iraq is so that Iraq will be a pillar of democracy and stability to lead the Middle East out of its dark ages.  That‘s the Bush doctrine.  That‘s what says that we should invade any country that we want because we want to change what their neighborhood is like. 

You can say that you want to listen to people, but if you want to continue invading other countries to lead their neighbors towards some mythical democratic future, then you‘re George Bush term three.   

FORD:  This is a substantial departure though rhetorically from where Bush was.  It reminds me of when Bush ran in 2000.  He labeled his campaign—or the theme or theory of it was a compassionate conservative, when, in many ways, he was just conservative.  I think you‘re hearing a pivot.  We talked a little about this the other day.  I figured McCain would come back from Iraq with a little different tone. 

I think Rachel is right, a lot of what he would want to do is essentially a continuation of a Bush third term, with regard to how we approach Iraq and the Middle East.  But his tone and his message is changing.  He‘s having his compassionate conservative moment.  I think he handled it well and did it well. 

GREGORY:  I think philosophically there‘s something different here, which he‘s not talking about a transformative agenda for the region.  He‘s talking about sticking it out in Iraq.  He‘s talking about fighting global jihad, fighting a terrorist ideology, but I don‘t think he harbors the same vision about how to transform the region that George Bush talked about.

MADDOW:  He is saying that‘s why we won‘t leave Afghanistan and Iraq because he still holds out hope they will transform their regions and that they will bring about peace across the Muslim world by being Democratic.  That‘s the Bush doctrine. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The other thing that John McCain has going for him that George Bush didn‘t back in 2001, 2002, and 2003, is the fact that old Europe, as Donald Rumsfeld called France and Germany, now have leaders who really like George Bush a lot, like America a lot.  Whoever the next president of the United States is is going to be able to work with Sarkozy and also with the German leader, Merkel.  Chances are good they are not going to have to confront them.  They‘re not going to have to stick their fingers in their faces.  They‘re not going to be stabbed in the back at the United Nations by France or Germany.  That‘s going to make a big difference for whoever the next American president is. 

GREGORY:  Let me get a break in here.  Reverend Wright is under fire again, this time for comments he made about Italians.  You and our viewers won‘t stand for it.  You the viewers won‘t stand for it.  Your chance to play with the panel up next.  Plus, Rachel and Joe aren‘t seeing good things in McCain‘s future.  Stick around for predictions. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  That time of the show, we‘ve listened to your voice mails, read your e-mails, your turn to play with the panel.  Still with us, Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford Jr., Jonathan Capehart and Joe Scarborough. 

First up, Hillary in Nevada is wondering if the super delegates are the ones to blame for all the fighting inside the Democratic party.  She writes this, as we go to the quote board, “the candidates are not really the ones responsible for the problems we are seeing in the Democratic party, in my opinion.  The problem is that the super delegates will not make their decision and put their name in one candidate‘s column or the other.  If they would do that now instead of June, there would be a lot less problems in the Democratic party.”

It is interesting, Harold, maybe you can bring in some of the thinking about why they don‘t want to do this. 

FORD:  Well, two reasons.  One, voters should make these determinations early in the process.  Allowing the primaries and caucuses to go forward is a good thing.  The super delegates‘ role, in many ways, is designed for moments like this, when a candidate does not reach the required amount of votes.  The super delegates are to assess this, again, step back, take a pause and look at this very seriously, which they will do and they have to do it in the open. 

Some have said this is like a closed door, smoke filled room.  I disagree fervently.  Super delegates are elected officials, most of them.  Many are them are more accountable than the delegates we have today.  I dare say, most watching the show tonight can probably name several, if not all of the super delegates, because they are senators, Congressman, governors, former presidents and vice presidents. 

So let the process play through.  There‘s no need to develop and implement an overtime strategy before the game ends.  When the game ends and we have a tie or we need the super delegates to come in, let them listen to the candidates, as my governor from Tennessee has proposed, let them vote in the open, in the public, and let the Democrats get on with whomever the super delegates and voters across the country have chosen. 

GREGORY:  A lot of messages about Obama‘s pastor.  Mary wonders what will come next from Reverend Wright.  The quote board, “so the good pastor has done it again, insulting Italians along with Jews.  I can‘t wait to see what he has to say about the Irish.  This stuff will kill Obama should he end up winning the nomination.”  Jonathan, this goes to the point about will there be a drip, drip, drip quality to this, and will Obama have to deal with it again. 

CAPEHART:  Yes, like I said, he was in the pulpit, pastor of Trinity Baptist—Trinity Church for 30 years.  He‘s probably given most of his sermons benign, talking about brotherhood and bringing people together, helping the sick and poor and hungry.  There are probably going to be other snippets from sermons that could possibly come out that would be deemed also as malevolent as some of the more famous ones we‘ve seen over the last couple weeks. 

GREGORY:  Joe, as you turn this over in your mind, is this going to ultimately be about a guy who Obama chooses to help him find god, to help him find faith, or is this going to ultimately be about, did he do this for political reasons and then found it convenient to distance himself, kind of a calculated—in other words, is he calculating.  Does Obama look calculating here, or is this a bad choice in judgment in terms of who you chose to lead you in faith. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It is so calculated the decision he made, it seems to me, from an outsider who doesn‘t know Barack Obama‘s heart.  It seems to be a very calculated decision by a young man in a hurry, a black man from Harvard, who went to the south side of Chicago and was considered too white.  So that part seems calculated. 

But still people understand that.  They don‘t mind that their politicians are that way, are calculated or ambitious.  The problem is that this speech, which we‘ve all said is one of the most important race speeches in years, that was almost looking back—almost too calculated.  If Obama had sat down with somebody and talked about the first time he found Christ and how it was Reverend Wright that told him about Jesus‘s love, and how it moved this young man, who had a troubled background, and how it moved him from being an atheist to being a believer of Jesus Christ.  My gosh, I owe so much to this guy, how could I abandon him, because he saved my soul, something like that. 

If he showed more of himself than being quite so analytical, being the Harvard Law Review attorney that he is, I think people might understand a little bit more than making a historic speech about race, but also a calculated and political speech about race. 

GREGORY:  Let me move on.  Eric in Wisconsin has an idea for the Obama campaign that he thinks could change the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Go to the quote board, “why doesn‘t Barack Obama start campaigning as if he is already the nominee?”  Rachel, we see some examples of that, right? 

MADDOW:  We are seeing some examples of that in his economic speech, as I mentioned at the top of the show, with four mentions of John McCain, and no mention of Hillary Clinton.  There‘s definitely been a lot of back and forth, a lot of primary campaigning between Obama and Clinton. 

GREGORY:  They are already putting out talking points saying that the math isn‘t possible for her.  They‘re trying to quash it. 

MADDOW:  Exactly.  They are trying to do their own inevitability campaign. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Ask Hillary Clinton the dangers of seeming inevitable. 

GREGORY:  How did that work out? 

MADDOW:  That‘s exactly right.  I think that either of them would love to be in the position to pivot and start paying attention to John McCain.  I‘ve been arguing that both of them ought to.  It will show Democratic voters that they are tough, that they can fight.  They can be a great opponent for McCain in the fall.  But Obama is in a better position to do that than Clinton is, and it shows. 

GREGORY:  Betty in New Jersey thinks Hillary Clinton should make the history books by taking on an unexpected prominent role.  Here is what she says, quote, “why can‘t we consider Hillary Clinton to be the majority leader of the Senate.  That would be ground breaking.  That would be a power base for her.  She wouldn‘t lose face.” 

Interesting point here about this, Harold, is people are thinking about, hey, what levers would she have if she did get out of the race.  What could she ultimately do?  She could have a tremendous role for herself going forward. 

FORD:  She probably could.  I would remind everybody on the panel and those watching, she‘s still running for president.  I think this is probably the last thing on her mind.  Not to go back to the segment, but where I go to church, after listening to what Joe Scarborough just said, and the advice he gave Senator Obama, we would say amen.  You gave him good advice.  Hopefully at some point that‘s what we will learn from Senator Obama about this relationship with Jeremiah Wright. 

GREGORY:  This is not—you are either a spiritual person or you are not.  You either had a deep commitment and abiding commitment to go on a spiritual journey or you did not.  So it doesn‘t solve the calculation problem if you decide this is how you‘re going to frame it.  It‘s an extension, Joe, of who you are and what path you‘ve been on. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But Barack Obama has told us that this man led him from a troubled youth to believing in Jesus Christ, that he transformed him.  He changed his life.  He made him believe in something bigger than himself.  If Barack Obama was telling the truth then, tell that to the American people.  There are a lot of people that right now have some serious questions about him, serious questions about Reverend Wright that will say, OK, I understand that. 

I understand that on the big issue, on the thing that matters to me most, this Reverend Wright guy got it right.  That‘s the important thing.  One other thing about Hillary Clinton; she‘s going to be Senate majority leader anyway.  She doesn‘t have to strike a deal with anybody.  If she loses, she‘s going to get Harry Reid‘s job anyway. 

GREGORY:  Steven in Pennsylvania wants to know more about Hillary Clinton‘s motives.  He writes the following, quote, “does the panel believe Clinton is putting her own personal success ahead of the success of the Democratic party.”  Rachel? 

MADDOW:  I think she‘s trying to win.  She thinks that she would be the best nominee, and she would have the best chance of beating John McCain, and she would a better nominee for Democrats than Barack Obama was.  I don‘t question her motives for what she‘s doing.  I do think everybody has to question the affect of what each of the candidates does.  The reason I think it would be good for Democrats, for there to be a super delegate primary, is not because I believe that I could predict who would win that primary, but because it would end the process, and thereby start the general election, and then give some Democrat a chance of beating John McCain. 

GREGORY:  You can play with our panel every week night on MSNBC.  The e-mail, Race08@MSNBC.com.  The phone number, you see it, 212-790-2299. 

We‘re not done talking about Mike Bloomberg.  Jonathan‘s predicting the New York mayor‘s future when we come back.  This is MSNBC, the place for politics. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back and we waited almost an hour.  It‘s finally time for our panelist to break out the tarot cards and read some palms, do whatever they have to do to make their predictions.  Joe is up first.  What do you see tonight? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I talked earlier about how a story like Bosnia affected Hillary Clinton in the short run.  Iraq is another issue that is going to have a negative impact on another candidate, this one being John McCain, again, in the short run.  We‘re going to see violence on our TV screens at least over the next two to three weeks, as he we see a shakedown, in which way the Shiites go.  Do they go with Maliki government?  Do they go with al Sadr?  That‘s going to cause John McCain‘s poll numbers to drop, at least in the short run. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, you‘re up. 

MADDOW:  Similar lines.  I think that John McCain is going to get increasingly belligerent on Iran as a way of dealing with the political fallout from Iraq.  We heard President Bush today describe Iran and al Qaeda as twins.  We heard John McCain this week in his foreign policy speech again blur the lines between Iran and al Qaeda.  I think he‘s going to go on the aggressive against Iran, as a way of diverting from what‘s not been success in Iraq. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Harold, you‘re up. 

FORD:  Consistent with what we talked about earlier, there will, in fact, be a super delegate primary.  My governor, Phil Bredesen, has proposed the best idea.  He states here is what our party should do: schedule a super delegate primary in early June.  After the final primaries, the Democratic National Committee should call together all of super delegates in a public caucus. 

There would be a final opportunity for the candidates to make their arguments to these delegates, and then one transparent vote.  It will happen. 

GREGORY:  You think that will settle it all at that point. 

FORD:  Rachel said it best, someone will reach 2025, and the fall campaign will start. 

GREGORY:  Jonathan, what have you got tonight? 

CAPEHART:  All three candidates will give Bloomberg serious consideration for the number two spot.  I‘m not just making this up or pulling it out of thin air.  I used to be a policy adviser on the first campaign.  Here are the three reasons why: he‘s fiscally conservative and socially moderate to liberal.  He‘s a very successful two-term and term limited mayor of New York City and has a strong record to run on.  Three, the most important reason, he‘s got a billion dollars that he was willing to spend on a presidential race that he could use to self-finance this ticket. 

GREGORY:  Let me ask you this, what does he do?  What does he bring you? 

CAPEHART:  What does he bring in? 

MADDOW:  A billion dollars. 

GREGORY:  Aside from the billion dollars. 

CAPEHART:  Remember, what he brings is eight years, by then, eight years a successful mayor of New York City.  Remember, when he took over the government in New York, it was in the aftermath of 9/11.  He inherited or had to take care of a six billion dollar budget deficit and did it in a way that didn‘t decimate services in New York, and now—

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s also, David—the Clintons have been talking about Obama being weak among Jews.  He‘s a Jewish mayor from New York City.  It may not hurt. 

FORD:  On a lighter note, Tennessee beats Louisville tonight. 

GREGORY:  We got to watch.  Thanks very much to a great panel.  I‘m David Gregory.  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE back here tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time.  Now, time for “HARDBALL.”

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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