updated 6/23/2008 12:18:19 PM ET 2008-06-23T16:18:19

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Eugene Robinson, Pat Buchanan, John Harwood, John Walsh

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Tonight, the campaigns go blow-for-blow and toe-to-toe on what feels like a back to the future tour of the last generation‘s political issues. 

Offshore drilling?  Wasn‘t that Bush‘s dad‘s executive order?  NAFTA. 

Remember Ross Perot‘s giant sucking sound? 

Elian Gonzalez?  No, really, Elian Gonzalez is an issue in this ‘08 race. 

This year?  Believe it. 

I‘ll explain as THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.

I‘m Rachel Maddow, in for David Gregory.  David will be back Monday night, and I‘ll return to my usual seat with my pals on the panel. 

We‘re happy to have you here, your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line, and every point of view in the room. 

Tonight, the aforementioned Elian Gonzalez making an appearance in the War Room. 

We‘ve got news out of Georgia for John McCain about an electoral threat to him from someone other than Barack Obama. 

In “Three Questions” tonight, Clinton and Obama planning to hit the campaign trail together for the very first time.  Is this a better gig for Clinton than it is for Obama? 

The bedrock of our program, of course, is a panel that always comes to play. 

With us tonight, Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst; Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist at “The Washington Post,” also an MSNBC analyst; Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of salon.com; and John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for “The New York Times.”  John is also the author of “Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power.”

Let‘s begin as we do every night with everyone‘s take on the most political story of the day, “The Headline.”

We‘re going to start with my headline tonight.  It‘s “Wiretap Tripwire.” 

Try saying that 10 times fast. 

The House today passed what is being called the most sweeping rewrite of the country‘s intelligence laws in 30 years.  And what they passed includes essentially a get out of jail free card for telecom companies that may have broken the law when they bowed to government demands for information about their customers. 

Why has this telecom immunity thing been such a political sticking point?  Well, in part, it‘s the principle of whether or not it‘s OK to get away with breaking the law.  But keeping those companies out of court also kills the prospects for learning more about who the government spied on, when, and why, information that might be deemed through the legal discovery process that goes along with taking companies to court. 

To the Barack Obama campaign.  This may look like a political tripwire. 

Democrats have been gun shy about taking a stand on security and spying issues in election years, but Obama has shown that he feels he‘s on offense as a national security Democrat.  It‘s hard to believe the Democratic leadership in Congress would have let this come to a vote and let this pass the House without Obama‘s OK, but Obama has also been on the record, unequivocally stating that giving the telecoms immunity is wrong. 

The Senate is due to take this up next week.  Expect laser-like focus on Obama‘s vote from the left, which is loaded for bear on this issue, and from the right, which is looking forward to a tough on terrorism issue with which to hit Senator Obama. 

OK.  Next up, Eugene Robinson. 

Gene, your headline is about something we‘ve all been waiting for. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  (AUDIO GAP) I‘m not talking about Peaches & Herb, who recorded that song years ago.  I‘m talking about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

The Obama campaign issued an announcement, a two-sentence announcement this afternoon, saying that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will campaign together next Friday, period.  We don‘t know anything more about this appearance. 

We don‘t know where they‘ll be, who else will be there, what they‘re going

to do.  But we do know that they will campaign together, and we know that

Obama perhaps has managed to change the subject from campaign finance,

which is not his favorite subject to keep talking about 

MADDOW:  Giving us a full weeklong heads up about this, but still no details about the event.  The great subject changer.  All right, Gene. 

John Harwood, you‘re up next.  Your headline sums up the week for both Obama and McCain. 

JOHN HARWOOD, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, CNBC:  Rachel, my headline is “Flip-Flop Smackdown.”

John McCain has flip-flopped on the Bush tax cuts and offshore oil drilling.  Barack Obama has flip-flopped on public financing for his campaign. 

Each will use those shifts in position to attack the other as weak and untrustworthy.  And expect more of it, because not only are these candidates now appealing to general election audiences, not primary voters, but each is a maverick, and mavericks aren‘t always consistent, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  I hear you.  We‘re going to be getting to a lot of those topics tonight on THE RACE.

Joan Walsh, your headline tonight is about Barack Obama‘s image right now. 

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Yes, it is, Rachel.  “Barack Obama Lost His Political Halo This Week.”

Partly, it‘s what John is referring to.  He has flip-flopped on campaign finance law.  He‘s getting slapped around by the nation‘s editorial pages.  And, of course, John McCain. 

Now, McCain is being very situational here.  If he had Barack Obama‘s fund-raising capacity, he‘d probably do the same thing.  But that, coupled with a signal that Obama‘s going to support that FISA telecom immunity bill compromise is getting people on the left a little bit nervous.  He might be a mere political mortal after all. 

MADDOW:  Joan, I just have to ask you, I think the common wisdom among Democrats is they‘re much more afraid of being hit from the right than being hit from the right.  They don‘t fear their base as much as Republicans do.  Do you think that might be changing this year? 

WALSH:  You know, it may be changing.  I know people are trying to raise money to run against people who are supporting this telecom immunity.

And I do want to be clear.  Obama opposes immunity, but it looks impossible to strip it out of the bill.  So it seems like if you support the compromise, you‘re going to wind up supporting immunity.  We‘ll see really what happens next week.

You know, the base, the left wing base, is trying to get riled up and organized around this, but, you know, it remains to be seen.  They‘re not feared yet. 

MADDOW:  Indeed.  All right. 

Pat buchan, what‘s your headline for us on this highly-anticipated Obama/Clinton merger next week? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Rachel, my headline is “Civil Union With a Prenup Between Obama and Hillary.”

It‘s going to be a loveless affair that‘s going to be conducted here, but it‘s going to be in a marriage of convenience in this sense—what Obama‘s going to get is access to all of Hillary‘s high donors who are maxed out in order to add to his enormous war chest.  And what Hillary‘s going to get is access to Obama‘s maxed-out donors to pay off her campaign debts. 

It‘s a great deal, but this is a loveless marriage.  It‘s being brought together, back together for the sake of the children.  Oh, happy day. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Pat, do you expect to actually hear Obama ask his donors, ask Democratic supporters to help Clinton retire her debt? 

BUCHANAN:  What I expect both of them to do is to give the other access to donors who are maxed out.  Why not? 

She wants her debt paid off.  Barack Obama has got an enormous war chest. 

This will add to it. 

Hillary must have 100,000 donors, all kinds of thousands who have maxed out.  He gets those.  She gets his.  This is a dynastic union. 

MADDOW:  And with all that money washing around, of course there has to be a prenup.  All right.

Coming up, drilling offshore, public elections money, tax cuts, these are some of the issues that McCain and Obama have been changing their minds about recently.  So it is no surprise they‘re trying to run away from those issues as fast as they can. 

We‘re going to get into how they‘re trying to change the subject when THE RACE returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Welcome back to THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.

Time for us to head deep inside the high security underground bunker we call the War Room.  We‘re taking a look at the campaign strategies, which political tactics are working and which aren‘t.

Back with us, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, Joan Walsh and John Harwood. 

All right.  First up, Senator Obama is campaigning in Florida, and he‘s hitting John McCain for saying that lifting the ban on offshore drilling would ease Americans‘ pain at the pump. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Offshore drilling would not lower gas prices today.  It would not lower gas prices tomorrow.  It would not lower gas prices this year.  It would not lower gas prices five years from now. 

Let me just repeat, John McCain‘s proposal, George Bush‘s proposal to drill offshore here in Florida and other places around the country would not provide families with any relief this year, next year, five years from now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  John Harwood, do you see this as the gas tax rollback redux?  Is Obama trying to put a wet blanket on another McCain energy idea? 

HARWOOD:  Well, actually, Rachel, I think this shows that Barack Obama is feeling a little pressure from John McCain on that.  Look, nothing these politicians are talking about doing with their energy policies are going to create instant relief at the pump.  Both of these guys have got reasonably ambitious from different points of view, ways of addressing America‘s addiction to oil.  But nothing‘s going to do much in the short term. 

Barack Obama has conceded that.  So for him to single out this one proposal by McCain with and say, oh, it wouldn‘t help you anytime soon, that tells me that he sees John McCain putting some pressure on him. 

MADDOW:  Pat, do you see that there‘s any chance that he will—that Obama will make this into a political liability for McCain, or do you think this is a winner for McCain? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s a winner for McCain for this reason: he would not have flipped on this position and taken heat for it unless he saw it as a winner, and it‘s growing to be more and more of a winner.  After all, we do drill right now off Texas and off Louisiana.  And I think gas prices at the pump and fuel oil prices this winter or this fall are going to be bigger and bigger issues. 

I think McCain has moved into the right side here.  I agree with John.  I think our friend Obama is behind the curve on this one. 

MADDOW:  He is making that case about this won‘t help your prices in the short term, but making that long-term case, there‘s nothing wrong with that as a logical argument. 

All right.

Up next, John McCain was in Canada today talking up our relations with our northerly neighbor.  He didn‘t talk about Obama and NAFTA on the other side of the border, but after his appearance, McCain released this pretty harsh statement....

“For months, Barack Obama said that he would make sure that we renegotiate NAFTA, demanded unilateral changes and threatened to unilaterally withdraw if he did not get his way.  Barack Obama knew better.  American has had not had a protectionist president since Herbert Hoover, but Barack Obama held his position anyway to further his cynical political purposes in the primary campaign.”

“Now he claims: ‘I‘m not a big believer in doing things unilaterally.‘  Barack Obama should know words matter, especially in a campaign based on rhetoric rather than a record of accomplishment.”

Words matter.  John McCain echoing Obama v. Clinton there from the primaries. 

Joan Walsh, whose vote is McCain going after with the pro-NAFTA argument? 

WALSH:  I think that‘s a strange one, and, you know, I think Obama is in a little bit of trouble here because he has kind of tacked back and forth on this one.  He did speak much more like an anti-NAFTA populist in the primaries, and he‘s now coming back and talking much more free trade in the general election. 

But I‘m not sure that this helps McCain much either.  You know, I think that McCain is the one who‘s really looking like the flip-flopper, especially with this crazy flip-flop on offshore oil drilling. 

MADDOW:  Pat, did you want to jump in on that? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, I sure did.

I don‘t know what McCain is doing, for heaven sakes.  It‘s a 50-40 issue negative nationally.

MADDOW:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  You take Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, they think NAFTA is a four-letter word.  And he‘s going up to Canada and praising a trade deal when we‘ve lost 3.5 million manufacturing jobs under Bush alone. 

If I were Obama, I would hammer on this.  Frankly, he‘s putting at risk his election with this nonsense. 

ROBINSON:  Apparently, Pat doesn‘t think there are a lot of votes in Canada for McCain. 

MADDOW:  He said it after he came back.  But the Canadian trip was meant to be the symbol. 

HARWOOD:  Rachel, we‘ve got to admit, when John McCain makes that argument on NAFTA, he‘s taking on the Pat Buchanan wing of the Republican Party. 

OK?

But look, I want to say one thing to Joan‘s point about Barack Obama tacking.  He‘s tacked on a number of things now that we‘re out of the primaries.  And on this FISA question that Joan talked about earlier, Barack Obama is just wishing, hoping that the left attacks him for caving in on national security because all of these things, a little flack from the left, helps him look more reasonable to those mainstream voters he‘s trying to court now that he‘s won the Democratic nomination and is trying to win the general election. 

MADDOW:  Looking for a little fight on the left.

All right.  Next up, McCain‘s new fund-raising numbers.  It‘s a good news/bad news thing for the McCain campaign. 

The good news, he had his best month yet.  He raised $21.5 million in May, bringing his total cash on hand to $31.5 million.  The bad news for McCain is that this impressive cash on hand total is still $15 million less that Barack Obama had a month ago. 

Obama still hasn‘t released his fund-raising totals for last month.  And keep in mind, Obama was still in a close primary race with Hillary Clinton back in May.  This current month will be the first time he‘s had Democratic donors all to himself. 

Gene, unless something dramatically changes, McCain is not going to be out fund-raise Barack Obama.  But is there anything he can do to try to blunt Obama‘s financial advantage? 

ROBINSON:  No.  I don‘t think so.

I mean, Obama has built a fund-raising machine the likes of which we‘ve never seen.  And he could—now that Obama has opted out of public financing, he could have a two-to-one, three-to-one financial advantage in the general election.  And it could make—he could spend, for example, in states like Georgia and North Carolina, and make the Republicans defend those states where they don‘t want to throw in a lot of money.  He could—this could be, if not decisive, this could be a big factor in Obama‘s favor. 

MADDOW:  I‘ve just got one last point here.  Wait.

HARWOOD:  Rachel, his best month is not even half of Barack Obama‘s best month. 

MADDOW:  Indeed. 

We‘ve got one last point on money here, and that is that the McCain campaign has spent the last 24 hours pounding Obama for opting out of public financing, a reversal from his previous position. 

Team McCain is painting it as a trust issue, saying, “It‘s increasingly hard to know what Obama truly believes at his core.”

This afternoon in Florida, Obama defended his decision. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  What we have done is to create a system that allows us to free ourselves from dependence on special interests and from lobbyists.  That stands in contrast to Senator McCain‘s operations right now where he says he‘s in the system, and yet a huge proportion of his money is raised from special interests. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  John Harwood, has he come up with a good explanation here? 

HARWOOD:  No.  That is a very thin explanation. 

He knew all that stuff when he said he was going to be in the public system.  And for Barack Obama to say, well, I can‘t do it because all of these other groups are out there helping John McCain, look, most of the ammunition out there right now is for Barack Obama. 

So he‘s trying to do the best he can to limit the hit he‘s got to take right now from editorial writers and from McCain.  But he knows that the benefit he gets from this huge financial advantage far exceeds that hit. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Up next, “Smart Takes.”  Conservative David Brooks busts out slang from the 1890s to praise Barack Obama.  Sort of. 

That‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘re back on THE RACE, bringing you what we call “Smart Takes,” the most interesting, the most provocative insights into today‘s news.  They‘re not always smart in the dictionary definition sense of the word “smart,” but they‘re always at least smart-ish, and they always get us thinking. 

Here again, Pat, Eugene, Joan and John. 

First up, this “Smart Take” comes from The New York Times‘ David Brooks, who calls Barack Obama a politician with a split personality.  But Brooks says that split should not be seen as a disadvantage. 

Here‘s the quote from Brooks. 

“On the one hand, there is Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set and feeling the fierce urgency of now.  But then on the other side, there‘s Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who would throw you under the truck for votes.”

“This guy is the whole Chicago package—an idealistic, lakefront liberal fronting a sharp-elbowed machine operator.  He‘s the only politician of our lifetime who‘s underestimated because he‘s too intelligent.  All I know for sure is that this guy is no liberal goo-goo.”

“Republicans keep calling him naive, but ‘na‹ve‘ is the last word I‘d use to describe Barack Obama.  He‘s the most effectively political creature we‘ve seen in decades.”

John Walsh, no liberal goo-goo, you think? 

WALSH:  Do I need to translate that, Rachel? 

MADDOW:  It would help, I think. 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  I think that goes back to good government person, you know.  And I lived in Chicago for a while, and there was this kind of, you know, contempt and pity for people who tried to clean up the system and just didn‘t understand that cronyism was really the way to go.  And so, you know, I laughed when I saw it. 

I think this does cut both ways for Obama.  Look, there were plenty of Democrats during the primaries who defended their support for Hillary Clinton by saying the Clintons are fighters, and this guy doesn‘t know how to fight.  And I think, you know, he‘s come out, and he‘s definitely bruised some people with some of his stances, but he‘s shown he‘s going to fight.

He‘s going to do what it takes to win.  And I think some people will read that column and say, yes, we‘re glad we‘ve got a fighter and not a goo-goo. 

MADDOW:  Gene Robinson, when you hear that analysis from Brooks, do you think that naive is really the way that Barack Obama is seen on the right, or do you think that‘s just the way he‘s been caricatured? 

ROBINSON:  I‘m not sure he‘s seen that way on the right.  That was a concern of some Democrats during the primaries.  We want to elect somebody who will fight, and, you know, who will bring a gun to a knife fight, as—you know. 

And so—plus, I thought it was a great column, actually.  I mean, it was provocative.  It was delightfully written.  And it got us talking. 

So good for David Brooks. 

MADDOW:  Pat, let me ask you to weigh in on this.  On the issue of—naivete is one thing.  The sense that he is too liberal for the country is totally another, in terms of political strategy. 

You‘ve been arguing all along that that‘s how they will hit Barack Obama, as out of touch and way far off to the left. 

BUCHANAN:  I think culturally, socially, exactly, he‘ll be off on the left. 

But I agree with Gene here. 

Look, I think the Democrats want somebody who‘s a fighter.  They don‘t want another Adlai Stevenson, and he showed he‘s got an Adlai Stevenson side, but there‘s a little Richard J. Daley here, and I think it helps him very much, the fact that he‘ll take these guys on.  You know?

So I think Barack Obama is helped by the fact that he‘s willing to do this. 

He‘s tough enough to do it. 

MADDOW:  John Harwood, last comment here.  Do you think that he‘s put the oh, Obambi, accusation to rest here? 

HARWOOD:  Yes.  I think that David, in keeping with your intro, has written a smart-ish column. 

MADDOW:  Ooh. 

HARWOOD:  But look—no, no, it‘s not—my point is it‘s not that one is fronting for the other.  The fact that he is an idealistic guy, a lakefront liberal who is also tough-minded, doesn‘t mean one‘s fake and the other‘s legit. 

You know, you can—people are complicated and they have different sides.  The guy wants to win.  We saw that in the campaign finance decision, and this is what Democrats are wishing for, as Joan indicated. 

MADDOW:  All right.

Up next, what could very well turn into the year‘s most anticipated political event.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama together on the same stage not debating each other. 

What‘s the right way to play this huge headliner of an event?  We‘ll take it on right after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m Rachel Maddow in for David Gregory.  We‘re happy to have you with us.  Let‘s turn our attention to the day‘s “Three Big Questions” in the ‘08 race.  Still with us: Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst; Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist at The Washington Post, also an MSNBC political analyst; Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of salon.com; and John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC and political writer for The New York Times, John is also the author of “Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power.”

OK.  First up, stop the presses.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are scheduled to appear together at a Clinton—I mean, Obama campaign event next Friday.  The word is already out, which means we get a whole week to talk about it, and that is before it even happens. 

So that said, our first question, Clinton and Obama together.  Who helps whom?  Pat Buchanan, what do you think? 

BUCHANAN:  Oh, I think Obama is helped.  Clinton still has an enormous amount of support in the Democratic Party.  They‘re unhappy people that she lost this.  I think the more she comes out for Obama and encourages her people to do so, it‘s all plus all the way.  I think they both have a vested interest in getting together, and Obama, of course, is the nominee now. 

But I think Hillary is helped too with his people, but that‘s a down-the-road situation. 

MADDOW:  Joan, do you think that there‘s a chance here that Senator Clinton will be seen to upstage Senator Obama at an event like this?  After all, he‘s out there every day on the campaign trail.  We won‘t have seen her since the end of the primaries. 

WALSH:  You know, I don‘t really worry about that, Rachel.  He‘s so enormously charismatic, crowds love him.  Now whatever they do, whatever they stage, she will look great, and she will—it will have an impact.  But I‘m not worried about her upstaging him. 

And I agree with Pat.  It helps both of them.  She helps Obama.  But, you know, she has got to be seen right now as a team player who‘s working her heart out for him because of the bitterness of the campaign. 

From everything I hear from people, she‘s ready to do that.  So, you know, I think it‘s a little bit more—I see a little bit more love there than Pat sees.  I think there will be a genuine affection between them. 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  But there will be a prenup.  You can have love and a prenup. 

HARWOOD:  Rachel, Pat‘s feeling some grief right now because he was thinking there was going to be a big bloody convention in Denver.  Democrats are so happy right now that they‘re beginning this choreography of bringing it together. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Pat had been investing in pitchforks for the past year and hoping that would come in handy.  John, let me ask you, though.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  A thousand dollars a ticket at ringside. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Exactly right.  John, let me ask you though if you think that Obama and Clinton need to do something overtly at that event next week in order to make it look like it‘s not a president and vice presidential ticket standing before us? 

HARWOOD:  You mean like a fist bump? 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  Fist bump, having their families there, having her hold a sign that says “not in the running for V.P.”?  I don‘t know. 

HARWOOD:  You know, I think Hillary Clinton has actually helped Barack Obama a lot by her statement that this is Barack Obama‘s decision alone.  I think you have to, from a Democratic Party viewpoint, look at this as a very auspicious sign. 

I‘m in Atlanta, Georgia, right now.  Everybody in this part of the country remembers that fiasco at the Democratic Convention in 1980 where Jimmy Carter was chasing Ted Kennedy around the stadium at the convention trying to get a handshake and bring the party together. 

We‘re now months before the convention, and they are now beginning that process.  Everybody will watch the body language.  The choreography is important, but we‘ve got a while before that convention, and I suspect it‘s going to happen more than once. 

MADDOW:  And it should be noted that we‘ve got a while before the Clinton-Obama event.  The fact that they gave us a weeklong heads up about this to let us know it was coming, so knowing that we wouldn‘t be able to resist talking about it, I think... 

WALSH:  We can‘t sleep.  We won‘t sleep until then. 

MADDOW:  Yes, exactly.

ROBINSON:  Right.

MADDOW:  It is a smart political move.  All right.  No presidential campaign is complete without a fair share of mudslinging.  This year isn‘t proving to be any different.  No matter how clean we expected the fight to be, the Obama campaign even started a Web site denouncing the so-called smears against him, so-called smears that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg even felt compelled to weigh in on. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY:  There are plenty of e-mails floating around the Internet targeting Jewish voters and saying that Senator Obama is secretly a Muslim and a radical one at that.  Let‘s call these rumors what they are, lies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Meanwhile, Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press is pointing out what she says is a loophole in Barack Obama‘s explanation for why he chose to forego public financing, a decision that was all about the smears but not really. 

Quote: “Obama blamed his decision in part on McCain and the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups.  But he failed to mention that the only outside groups running ads in earnest so far are those aligned with Obama and running commercials against McCain.  So much for being a straight shooter.”

I‘m not sure that I agree with Sidoti on this one.  I guess it really depends on how you define “in earnest” in that phrase.  But Jonathan Martin at politico.com was on about this as well today.  Is there really no threat to Obama from outside groups on the right? 

Gene, what do you think? 

ROBINSON:  Well, of course there is a threat from outside groups on the right, but right now it comes more from these kind of shadowy “he‘s a Muslim” e-mails than from any 527 group like the Swift Boat Veterans in the Kerry campaign, for example. 

There aren‘t Republican attack 527s organized right now, and, you know, if you want to call that hole in Obama‘s explanation a loophole, I have no problem with that.  I mean, you know, it‘s an expedient decision to forego public campaign financing.  I think it‘s the correct decision from his point of view. 

You could argue that it would be political malpractice to do anything else given that he‘s going to have this huge financial advantage and thus a better chance to win. 

MADDOW:  Joan, we haven‘t seen a big right-wing mobilization like we saw in 2004 with the Swift Boat Veterans and the other groups, many of them funded out of Texas.  But we have seen a little bit of attack against Barack Obama, from groups unaffiliated with the McCain campaign.  These Web ads, for example, were saying that Barack Obama can‘t be trusted when he says he isn‘t a Muslim. 

I wonder if the people who made those groups—small scale as they may be, I wonder if they‘ve almost done Barack Obama a favor by giving him something to point at and complain about when he explains why he‘s getting out of public financing. 

WALSH:  You know, I think that‘s an interesting point, Rachel.  I think maybe they have.  It‘s—I guess the question is, are they really going to tip their hand now though?  I mean, I saw the Jonathan Martin piece.  It was very well reported. 

You know, there isn‘t any evidence right now that anybody is gearing up or raising money, but that doesn‘t mean they won‘t.  On the other hand, I think “Fight the Smears” is more symbolic than necessarily effective.  The best way to fight smears is to have somebody like Mike Bloomberg going out and telling Jewish voters that this is a lie. 

The “Fight the Smears” site, you know, it might help.  I thought personally that it helped spread the crazy Michelle Obama whitey rumor by putting it out on the Web under his auspices in a funny way. 

So I think these things—they can all cut both ways.  It‘s going to be—I think there will be ugly moments in this campaign.  There‘s just no way around it. 

(CROSSTALK)

HARWOOD:  And, Rachel, boy, aren‘t vice presidential ambitions a wonderful thing for these candidates?  You‘ve got Mike Bloomberg giving Barack Obama cover on the Jewish question.  You had Charlie Crist out there giving John McCain cover on oil drilling. 

This is a big asset for a lot of people who want to get on that ticket for these nominees to find a ways for them to be politically useful for the nominees. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  And, John, as Joan says, it does free up the candidate from having to restate the so-called smear in order to rebut it by having a third party come in and do that.  I think that‘s right. 

All right.  Third question.  It seems flip-flopping is all the rage these days.  John McCain on Bush‘s tax cuts.  President Bush and Florida Governor Charlie Crist on offshore drilling.  Barack Obama on campaign financing.  Some argue that flip-flopping is maybe not a sin.  That it‘s merely changing your mind once you‘re better informed.  Our third question today, is flip-flopping always a bad thing? 

Pat Buchanan, what do you think? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, a fish flips and flops to stay alive.  He flips and flops to get back into the security of the water.  If you flip and flop and get back there, you‘ve succeeded, and most of these people, especially in the presidential campaign, they will change their position when, to use Gene‘s word, it is expedient, when they want to move to a new and stronger position. 

I don‘t see anything wrong with it as long as they don‘t come out and say, you know, try as Barack did today for these high-minded motives.  He said, I‘m going to keep my war chest of $250 million, when we all know why he did it. 

MADDOW:  John, do you think that in order to avoid flip-flopping being a bad thing, you have to come up with a good explanation for why it is that you changed your mind, why it is that your earlier position was wrong but your current one is right? 

HARWOOD:  Well, you‘ve got to have a decent cover story and then you‘ve got to hope the political parade moves on.  You know, we don‘t focus on these things for all that long.  There‘s—we‘ve seen time and time again that voters don‘t punish people for flip-flopping that much as long as they flop to the popular position. 

And so I think this is something that is a talking point for people like us who cover the candidates and for some insiders.  But the average voters, they‘re looking at the bottom line at the end of this election. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Coming up next, he‘s back.  And making his way into the ‘08 race.  I‘m talking about Elian Gonzalez, incredibly enough.  We‘re going to explain how he has made his way back into presidential politics when the RACE returns.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘re back with the RACE and heading back “Inside the War Room” for today‘s second campaign strategy session.  Back with us, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, Joan Walsh, and John Harwood. 

All right.  First up, what does Elian Gonzalez have to do with Barack Obama‘s presidential bid?  Today in Miami, Elian Gonzalez‘s great uncle held a news conference denouncing two Barack Obama advisers, who in 2000 had helped send the then 6-year-old Elian back to Cuba.  Obama was asked about it at a news conference in Jacksonville this afternoon. 

Here‘s what Obama had to say. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That was eight years ago, and obviously it was a wrenching situation for the families involved.  But I‘m running for president in 2008, and my focus is on how do we create a U.S.-Cuba policy that will create political freedom? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Barack Obama speaking today in Florida where the latest Quinnipiac poll puts him up by 4 over John McCain. 

Gene Robinson, I know that you were involved in reporting on the Elian Gonzalez story.  You even went to Cuba in part of your reporting there.  Do you feel like this is still a potent enough issue to really affect Obama‘s chances in Florida? 

ROBINSON:  No, I don‘t.  I think that, look, the diehard anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Florida who hold a grudge against Eric Holder and other Obama aides who were somehow involved in the decision to send Elian home, they‘re never going to forget it, and they‘re never going to vote for Barack Obama because he has indicated that he—you know, he might somehow change our Cuba policy. 

You know, the rest of the state, I think it‘s not beyond that issue, but everybody knows where everybody else stands.  The Cuban exile community -- Cuban immigrant community has changed quite a bit in Florida.  There‘s a generational change there.  The younger generation tends to be more in favor of an opening—or at least a modest opening to Cuba.  So, no, I don‘t think this substantially alters the situation. 

MADDOW:  Joan, let me ask you if you think that this is complaints by people who would never support Obama anyway or if this has—if you see this as having a potential impact on people he might be able to bring over to the Democratic side? 

WALSH:  I really don‘t, Rachel.  Gene is absolutely right.  The influence of this segment of the Cuban community is really declining.  And we are talking—this is not something Barack Obama had any involvement with.  We‘re talking about two fairly peripheral campaign advisers.

And, you know, I think Florida will be tough for Obama.  I think that poll is a little bit optimistic showing him ahead.  But the race is not going to hinge on who did what around the Elian Gonzalez case. 

MADDOW:  But you do have to admit it‘s a little weird that it‘s back from 2000 in this race. 

WALSH:  It‘s a little weird, yes, definitely. 

ROBINSON:  We should have a field trip to the Elian museum in his hometown of Cardenas.  He‘s the only kid in town with a policeman permanently stationed outside his house and a museum to his exploits in the center of town. 

MADDOW:  Wow.  I just read today that he has just joined Cuba‘s Young Communist Union as well. 

WALSH:  I saw that.

ROBINSON:  Exactly. 

MADDOW:  What do you send, flowers? 

HARWOOD:  Hey, Rachel?

MADDOW:  Yes.

HARWOOD:  That‘s weird-ish. 

MADDOW:  Weird-ish, as opposed to smart-ish.  Good point. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  All right.  Next up, spoiler alert.  A new national poll shows the impact of the other two candidate in this national race.  Perennial independent candidate Ralph Nader, and former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, who is running as a libertarian.  An Opinion Dynamic poll shows Nader and Barr together taking about 6 percent of the vote nationally. 

But Barr could potentially pose a threat to McCain, at least on the margins, in his home state of Georgia.  A new Insider Advantage poll shows Bob Barr taking 6 percent there, cutting McCain‘s lead over Obama in Georgia to just 1 point. 

Pat Buchanan, you have some experience with the effect of outside party candidates here.  Do you think that Barr is a real issue for McCain? 

BUCHANAN:  I think he is.  You know, we only got 500,000 votes in 2000, but my votes were the margin of Bush‘s defeat in four states, Oregon, New Mexico, I think it was Wisconsin and Minnesota.  And Barr in the South, especially a state like North Carolina or Georgia, while that may be a bridge too far, I think it could be a real problem if this is a very, very close race. 

And frankly, Ralph Nader, who is far better known nationally than Obama, getting 4 percent at this point I think is pretty significant.  I think this could be a very tight election, and either one of those folks could toss it to the other. 

MADDOW:  Even though none of us are thinking that Bob Barr or somebody like Ron Paul is going to be president any time soon, I wonder if the Ron Paul mobilization and the amount of money that he was able to raise, the number of people he was able to excite, coupled with this potential spoiler threat from Bob Barr, means that we might start hearing John McCain try to address some of their issues. 

John Harwood, do you expect any of that? 

HARWOOD:  I do.  I think you‘re exactly right.  And I think it‘s going to be a state-by-state phenomenon.  Bob Barr is from Georgia.  If Barack Obama makes a serious effort, and we‘ve seen a tentative step in that advertising campaign he has got right now, to target this state, the polls that you were just talking about indicate that he has got a shot, and Bob Barr is part of that shot if he can peel off just a few of those votes. 

Georgia is a tough state for Democrats.  Even if you super charge the black turnout, Barack Obama is going to need some breaks, and Bob Barr could be one of those breaks. 

MADDOW:  I think that could be very interesting to watch.  We‘ll have to watch him in some other states in the South as well.

But coming up next, disaster politics.  John McCain toured parts of flood-ravaged Iowa yesterday, the same day as President Bush.  But today a top aide to governor of Iowa Chet Culver said he advised both presidential candidates not to visit so they wouldn‘t disrupt the ongoing recovery efforts. 

Quote: “As a courtesy, and as we did for Senator Obama, we privately made an effort to make sure that Senator McCain knew that state and local resources were still being deployed to support the flood fight, and that now might not be the best time for a campaign trip.”

Today McCain‘s campaign insisted the visit did not hamper any recovery operations.  The mayor of Columbus Junction, one of the towns McCain visited, confirmed that to the AP. 

Gene, do you think that the visit to Iowa is an uncomplicated win for McCain, or are there some reminders of Katrina happening here? 

ROBINSON:  No.  I think it‘s a pretty uncomplicated—you know, it‘s an uncomplicated plus, I think.  I mean, I wouldn‘t call it a win, but, you know, he showed that he saw what was happening and that he cared about it.  And I think that‘s—I don‘t think there‘s really a downside for him on that. 

MADDOW:  Joan, I have to say though, while I agree with Gene, I was surprised to see a somewhat snarky reaction both to the visit of Bush and McCain in The Des Moines Register today. 

WALSH:  Yes, I was surprised to see that too.  You know, I agree with Gene.  I think he did the right thing by going.  I‘m not sure about Bush.  I mean, Bush, between tying himself to McCain on the offshore oil drilling and then Iowa, I don‘t know.  Does he want McCain to win?  He seems to be trying to tie his legacy to McCain. 

But I think, you know, the Democrats—the local Democrats are playing politics with this a little bit.  I don‘t think there was anything wrong with what John McCain did. 

BUCHANAN:  Rachel?

MADDOW:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  Rachel, I think The Des Moines Register is snarky all the time. 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  Pat would know.

MADDOW:  I‘m just happy to hear you say that word, Pat, I just have to say. 

All right.  When we come back, it‘s going to be your chance to “Play with the Panel here on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘re back and handing the reins over to you.  It‘s time for you to “Play with the Panel.” Back with us, Pat, Eugene, Joan, and John. 

All right.  First up is Nick in Maryland, who called in with this question. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CALLER:  Behind the scenes consideration that Senator Obama has to weigh when it comes to whether or not to choose Senator Clinton as V.P. is that there may be some sort of power struggle within the White House but not between himself and Senator Clinton.  I‘m thinking between Michelle Obama and Hillary.  They are both very strong-minded, opinionated women, and I suspect that there is no love lost between the two of them. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  John Harwood, what do you think is with everybody, including Nick, thinking they can accurately suspect these women‘s feelings about each other? 

HARWOOD:  Well, this is a problem for all of us covering the campaign.  We don‘t get to talk to any of the candidates or their spouses all that often, so there‘s some guesswork involved.  And you read the body language, and you try to interpret some of the public statements. 

But there‘s no question about it.  You don‘t have to speculate.  That‘s a crowded ticket and a crowded White House if you‘ve got Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, former president of the United States, and Hillary Clinton.  It‘s just very tough and unwieldy, and that‘s one of the considerations, I think, that has led.

BUCHANAN:  Rachel?

HARWOOD:  . the Obama people to conclude this is not such a great idea. 

MADDOW:  Pat?

BUCHANAN:  Rachel, this could look like the final scene of “Hamlet” if you get all four of them in there. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  Well, but one consideration, though.  The president can assign the vice president an office in the basement.  He cannot do that to the first lady. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  That‘s fair enough.  Joan, though, do you think that there is a double standard, that people think that women—if they believe they disagree or don‘t like each other, that people think that women can‘t get over it, even though men can work through it? 

WALSH:  It‘s ridiculous, Rachel.  Of course Michelle Obama, if this was—if they sat down and looked at the map and said, this is the right thing for Barack Obama, Michelle Obama would get behind it 100 percent. 

They‘re not there yet.  It might not be.  But this notion that Michelle would block it, look, there were clearly hard feelings at certain points during the campaign, but I think Michelle Obama has developed a new appreciation for Hillary Clinton given the savaging she has gone through in the last couple of weeks. 

So if this ticket makes sense, Michelle Obama will be the person who endorses it.  She will get over any hard feelings.  And you‘re right.  It‘s a real—it‘s a kind of sexist stereotype. 

MADDOW:  Any imagined hard feelings that we believe she has. 

WALSH:  We believe.  I haven‘t talked to her recently. 

MADDOW:  Right.  All right.  Stel is up next.  Stel writes: “I know it‘s pie in the sky, but what does the panel think of the pros and cons of Colin Powell?  Not as John McCain‘s, but as Barack Obama‘s choice for vice president.”

Gene, do you think the Democratic Party is ready for Colin Powell, Democratic veep? 

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think we have to reach the question.  It‘s not going to happen.  I think he‘s not interested.  He has said over the years he‘s not interested in running for higher office.  So I don‘t think he‘ll be considered.  And I don‘t think the Democratic Party will have to make that decision. 

MADDOW:  On the other side of that, Pat, do you think that Colin Powell would consider it if asked on the Republican side? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, I do think he would consider it.  I think Colin Powell feels very wounded by how he was badly used in that U.N. speech, but I don‘t think Colin Powell will be offered the vice presidency for two reasons. 

One, he‘s wrong on the social, cultural, moral issues from the Republican standpoint.  Secondly, we will spend the whole campaign asking about that speech at the U.N.  Did you mislead the country into war?  And who misled you?

I don‘t think McCain wants to get back into the beginning of the war. 

He wants to debate how we end the war. 

MADDOW:  One last question here.  Lisa in Oklahoma writes: “How can we have a president who cannot even use a computer?  Does John McCain have any hope of beating the first real Internet candidate?  I‘m shocked that a man who wants to run the country has to have his wife help him with e-mail.  He is way out of touch.  I am not saying he is old.  A 30-year-old who can‘t use the computer is also out of touch.”

John Harwood, do you think this is socio-cultural problem for McCain? 

HARWOOD:  No.  Look, you may have noticed, Rachel, the president has got a lot of people around him to help him, to help bring him information... 

MADDOW:  To do the typing.

HARWOOD:  Right.  What you want to hire in a president is somebody who has got judgment, who has got strength, who has got leadership ability.  That‘s the ground these guys are going to be fighting on, not how familiar they are with their BlackBerrys or Google searches and that sort of thing. 

MADDOW:  The Google.  That‘s right. 

WALSH:  But I think.

MADDOW:  We have actually got to run.  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE for the day.  Thank you to our great panel.  Thanks to you for watching.  David Gregory will be back here Monday night, same time, 6:00 Eastern on MSNBC.  Have a great weekend. “HARDBALL” is next.

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

END   

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