updated 8/7/2012 6:01:49 PM ET 2012-08-07T22:01:49

Guest Host: Alex Wagner
Guests: Karen Finney, Jim Rutenberg, Maggie Haberman, Jon Ralston, Jonathan Capehart, Ana
Marie Cox, Patrick Murphy

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: Mitt Romney`s defenders must be getting tired of
defending his refusal to release his tax returns, because now they`re
attacking Harry Reid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let him prove that he has paid taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Attacks against Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The word`s out that he hasn`t paid any taxes for ten
years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not going to respond to a dirty liar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he`s lying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Do you think Harry Reid`s a dirty liar?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just said it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he`s making things up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just said it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think the leader of the Senate is lying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do. I really do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Republican have kind of misplayed this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`ll triple down on my comments.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s not doing this ringside at a boxing match in
Vegas, in a boxing match.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn`t mind being called those names.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let him prove that he has paying taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that Mitt Romney could clear this up in ten
seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Romney can resolve this in ten seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brilliant politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I give you nothing on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Claim that Mitt Romney is withholding his tax
returns. Well, that`s not a claim. He is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would have put out five or six years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A huge amount of income, paying a tiny amount of tax.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m glad I wasn`t holding my breath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the preacher can`t preach to his own choir, it`s
time to get a new preacher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE Reporter: We knew it. You must have been. Who else
would you have for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a nice day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WAGNER: I`m Alex Wagner, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.

Mitt Romney mistakenly thinks he`s found his battle cry. After trying it
out in the safe confide of Sean Hannity`s radio show Thursday, Romney
brought it on to the national stage during a media availability day on
Friday in Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Harry Reid really has to put up
or shut, all right. So Harry, who are your sources? Let`s have Harry
explain who that is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Mitt Romney claims Harry Reid has to put up or shut up, regarding
his source on Romney`s undisclosed tax returns, after Reid launched attacks
that Romney says are patently false, though he patently refuses to offer
any proof.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Let me also say categorically, I have paid taxes every year, and a
lot of taxes. A lot of taxes. So Harry is simply wrong. That`s why I`m
so anxious for him to give us the names of the people who have put this
forward. I wouldn`t be at all surprised to hear the names are people from
the White House or the Obama campaign, or who knows where they`re coming
from.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: After saying Harry Reid is wrong, Romney counters what he claims
is a specious and baseless attack on him by speciously and baselessly
claiming the White House is behind it.

When asked about that today, White House press secretary Jay Carney
basically said, well, put up or shut up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You all probably know senator
Reid well, and, you know, he speaks for himself. There`s a question for
governor Romney, right? I mean he, as recently as last week, I think on
ABC, said that he would be happy to check if he paid a lower effective tax
rate in previous years than the 13.9 percent that he paid in the year
related to the tax return that he did release.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Romney has yet to satisfactorily answer that question or this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Instead of just going back and forth with
Harry Reid, why not just release the tax returns and just put the issue to
bed?

ROMNEY: Well, actually, you can go on our Web site and you can see my
financial disclosure statements going back to 2002. You also can see the
tax returns that I`ve put out for 2010. And those are, I think hundreds of
pages of documents. You`ll get -- I`ve already received an estimate for
the most recent year, 2011. As soon as that`s completed, we`re waiting for
information to come in from partnerships to be able to complete that. As
soon as that`s completed, we`ll put one more year up there, the most recent
year.

And I`ve already learned from Harry Reid`s action and others that the
people on the other side of the aisle will try to go through anything we
give them to distort it, to turn it into something that it does not say,
and to try to make political fodder out of it.

And I`m following the precedent set by the last presidential candidate of
our party, John McCain, putting out two years` of income tax returns, and
putting out our financial disclosure statements, those are required by law,
of course. But then going back, go on the Web site. You`ll be surprised
to see the amazing amount of data that`s associated with our campaign`s
disclosure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: In a surprise to exactly no one, Republican national committee
chairman Reince Priebus is riding into battle with Romney, and throwing
around the word "liar."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: As far as Harry
Reid is concerned, listen, I know you might want to go down that road. I`m
not going to respond to a dirty liar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: You`re saying you`re not going to respond, but
you just called him a dirty liar. You stand by that? You think Harry
Reid`s a dirty liar?

PRIEBUS: I just said it.

I`ll triple down on my comments from yesterday. He`s a dirty liar and
we`re moving on. We`re moving on to defeating this president and saving
this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: But Republican campaign veterans are finding it harder to defend,
including former Reagan campaign manager, Ed Rollins.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED ROLLINS, FORMER RONALD REAGAN`S CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I would have put out
five or six years. I would not put out 20 years, and I obviously wouldn`t
respond to anything that Harry Reid states.

I think at this point in time, it`s going to dug him all the way. And he
needs to get it behind him. He`s paid a lot of money in taxes, he`s made a
lot of money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Wait a minute, do you think he should release
more taxes?

ROLLINS: I think he should release more taxes. Two years is not enough,
obviously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: And "the Wall Street Journal" editorial board. "Mr. Romney`s
problem is that he can only disprove the charge by releasing his tax
returns, which he says he will not do for years other than 2010 and 2011.
These columns argued in January when other Republican presidential
candidates raised the tax issue, that Mr. Romney should have released his
tax returns long ago to put the matter to rest. This is one of the ways in
which the GOP candidate has made his challenge harder than it should be."

That`s the problem for Mitt Romney. Romney and his campaign continue to
chase this rabbit down the hole by demanding full disclosure from Harry
Reid as to his source on Mitt Romney`s undisclosed tax returns. But even
"the Wall Street Journal" admits that the problem is not, in fact, Reid`s
attack on Romney`s returns, but Mitt Romney`s tax returns themselves.

It`s 92 days until the presidential election. And what the Romney campaign
doesn`t seem to get with is that it`s "put up or shut up" line is that when
we`re talking about an attack on Romney`s undisclosed tax returns, we`re
actually still talking about the fact that Mitt Romney hasn`t shown us his
tax returns.

Joining me now are Jon Ralston, political analyst for the "Las Vegas Sun,"
and Karen Finney, former DNC communications director and an MSNBC
contributor.

Great to see you both.

Jon, you are our resident Harry Reid expert here. And I want to ask you,
does it surprise anybody that Harry Reid is taking a tough tact on this and
not backing down?

JON RALSTON, POLITICAL ANALYST, LAS VEGAS SUN: Well, he`ll never back
down, Alex. And I think it`s just humorous to hear Mitt Romney say he
thinks the Obama White House put him up to it. There`s almost no chance of
that, for a couple of reasons.

Harry Reid loves getting all the flak himself, so Obama doesn`t have to
take it. He has nothing to lose, nothing to risk. He is saying what a lot
of Democrats would love to be saying, but don`t have the carefree attitude
that Reid does, because he`s not up again until 2016, if he`s even going to
run. What`s he risking? There`s no risk.

But also, Alex, let`s be clear here. At some point, Harry Reid doesn`t
want to become too much of the focus and the criticism of his tactics
become more salient than what you were just talking about, which is, in my
opinion, the obvious point that Mitt Romney should release more tax
returns. Harry Reid might want to be the focus, but he doesn`t want to
become too much of the focus because of his tactics.

WAGNER: Karen, I want to turn to you. On ABC`s "This Week," Reince
Priebus says he thinks this is a political loser for President Obama.
Let`s take a listen to that.

KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRIEBUS: It`s hard to believe that the president of 2008, when he
campaigned, and said he was going to bring America together, that he would
trot out Harry Reid and try to divide this country and spread this division
and hatred. It`s ridiculous, it`s wrong, it`s untrue. And it`s just going
to hurt the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Karen, "it`s just going to hurt the president." true or false?

FINNEY: Absolutely not. And Reince Priebus knows it. And I mean, this is
why you saw Republicans kind of jump out of their skin yesterday. They
know they`re in a catch-22. They have taken the bait on this issue. And
they know they kind of had to because if you don`t, then you let the charge
stand and you`re not defending it.

But the same number of Republicans who are trying to defend it are also
very uncomfortable, as you showed in the intro, with the fact that Romney
hasn`t released his taxes and they`re getting a little tired of having to
defend that, because most of them think he should just go ahead and do it.

So, part of what Reince is gristling about, he knows he`s trapped between a
rock and a hard place, a bad situation, it is not going to end up hurting
the president. And you know, I agree with Jon to some degree, you don`t
want this to go too far in terms of, you know, Harry Reid being the focus,
but the focus really is about the tax res returns.

And if Romney had been more forthcoming on any other issue in this
campaign, at any other point in this campaign, he might have a little bit
more credibility. But it comes down to, so do you believe Harry Reid or do
you believe Mitt Romney?

WAGNER: Jon, the other thing this does, I mean, this fits into --
beautifully into the White House or the Obama campaign`s narrative around
fairness, tax policy, things that they want to keep kind of in the ether,
on the front burner. It doesn`t talk about the economy, which is of course
where Republicans want to go.

White house press secretary Jay Carney got a few questions about the Harry
Reid claim and pivoted back to policy. This is what he said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARNEY: The reason why this is an issue at a policy level is because the
president believes very strongly that we need to have greater tax fairness.
And that we need to make sure that we`re passing laws that protect the
middle class. And that we`re not passing laws that give tax breaks to
millionaires and billionaires who have already enjoyed substantial tax
breaks in the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: I mean, Jon, effectively, Harry Reid gave the White House a
beautiful policy gift, wrapped up with a nice, big, red ribbon, did he not?

RALSTON: Yes, and you are right, Alex. They wanted to change the subject
from the economy to talk about Mitt Romney`s tax returns, and Harry Reid, I
think, allowed him to do that. But I think he went a little bit too far in
how he did it.

On the other hand, I think Reince Priebus took exactly the wrong tact by
calling him a dirty liar. That shows their frustration. He doesn`t know
if Harry Reid is lying. Listen, Reid may have made this up out of whole
cloth, he may not have.

But the point is, nobody knows except people who have seen Mitt Romney`s
tax returns whether Harry Reid is actually lying or not. So they`re taking
exactly the wrong tact. Instead of just criticizing Reid for using this
unsubstantiated allegation. Calling him a liar is just the wrong approach.

WAGNER: But, again, we are still talking about this tax -- the tax issue,
which leads to the fairness issue, and Karen, we have in sound from the
president in a fund-raiser tonight, a new line about robin hood and Romney
hood and basically stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Let`s hear
that sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He`d asked the middle class
to pay more in taxes so that he could give another $250,000 tax cut to
people making more than $3 million a year. It`s like robin hood in
reverse.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: It`s Romney hood.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: They have tried to sell us this the trickle-down tax cut fairy dust
before. And guess what? It does not work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Trickle-down tax cut fairy dust. Karen Finney, how about that?

FINNEY: Hey, last week I also called it snake oil. How about that?

WAGNER: What else can you sell the American public?

FINNEY: But hey, here`s the thing. I mean, you know, again, part of the
problem for team Romney is, this isn`t working. The polls have shown that
in a number of different polls with, a majority of Americans, and in some
cases, including Republicans, think that Romney should release more tax
records. That`s one piece.

On the other piece, the reason I actually wish Harry Reid hadn`t said this
last week, it takes us from talking about the tax center policy`s analysis,
which is what President Obama was just referring to, you essentially had
Democrats last week with the best contrast ever.

There they were fighting for a middle class tax cut at the same time that
the Republican nominee for president was pushing a plan that, you know, a
nonbiased source has said would essentially give an $87,000, you know, tax
break for the wealthiest millionaires and would increase the taxes, up to
about $2,000, people, you know, making under that.

So, you know, he called it Romney hood or robin hood in reverse, but that`s
really part of what we should be talking about. Is what Mitt Romney`s
ideas and policies would do to this country.

WAGNER: How long is it before we see the Obama campaign graphic with Mitt
Romney`s fifth house in Sherwood forest? I don`t know.

John Ralston and Karen Finney, thank you both.

RALSTON: Thanks, Alex.

WAGNER: Coming up, the next big chance for team Romney to change the
subject from Romney`s tax returns will be his announcement of a running
mate.

And Romney has invited some of the top contenders to ride along on his
four-state bus tour, but they won`t have much time to talk, because the
candidate won`t actually be taking the bus. That`s next.

And the conservative lament over Romney`s refusal to take a stand on just
about any issue has now moved on to chick-fil-a.

And Republicans are now accusing the president of trying to suppress the
vote of United States veterans. That`s all coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: The Obama campaign says Republicans are using a lie to put a wedge
between the president and veterans. Former democratic congressman and Iraq
war veteran, Patrick Murphy will join me on set.

And when Mitt Romney`s bus tour begins this weekend, the candidate is
bringing along some potential VP picks. But nobody is actually traveling
by bus. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Are you having people over? That`s a lot of
soda.
ROMNEY: Well, I got some folks coming over today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Who are they?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: That was Mitt Romney, dealing with a question he does not want to
answer in typical Romney fashion.

So when will Mitt Romney pick his vice presidential nominee? Here`s what
we know about Romney`s schedule this week.

On Tuesday, Romney holds a campaign event in Illinois. On Wednesday, he
holds an event in Iowa. On Thursday morning, Romney attends a fund-raiser
in New York city. Jump ahead to Saturday when Mitt Romney will launch a
bus tour in Virginia, where he will be joined by Virginia governor, VP
contender, and trans vaginal ultrasound enthusiast, Bob McDonnell. On
Sunday, the Romney bus tour heads to North Carolina. On Monday, Romney is
in Florida, home of senator and VP contender, Marco Rubio.

In Florida, the Romney bus will make a very curious u-turn and head over
700 miles north to Ohio, where Romney will be joined by senator and VP
contender, Rob Portman.

And, no, Mitt Romney will not sit on the bus for those 700-plus miles.
Like his last multi-state bus tour, Romney will fly from state to state,
then step off his comfy jet and on to his campaign bus, which for some
reason team Romney will serve as a better backdrop than Mitt`s chartered
yet.

Romney`s lack of campaign events scheduled for Thursday and Friday has at
least one conservative pundit predicting Romney`s VP announcement will come
this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL KRISTOL, POLITICAL ANALYST: Weird, I think, to do this four-day tour
through four swing states, big bus tour, a lot of excitement, without
having picked the VP and with that sort of hanging over him and dwarfing
whatever message he wants to get out. So I now believe the pick will be
made Thursday afternoon or Friday. Let the guy go on the morning shows on
Friday, dominate the news through the weekend, very exciting bus tour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: As for who Romney will nominate for vice president, we can safely
eliminate a few possibilities today after the Republican party announced
some of the headline speakers for the convention later this month.

The list of speakers includes South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, New
Mexico governor Suzanna Martinez, and Condoleezza Rice. Their inclusion on
that list likely indicates that Romney will not nominate them for vice
president. Not announced as convention speakers, VP contenders Marco
Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal,
Kelly Ayotte, and Bob McDonnell.

Joining me now, Jim Rutenberg, a national political correspondent for "The
New York Times," and Maggie Haberman, intrepid senior political writer for
"Politico."

Tell us the answers, read the tea leaves. You know that this media
speculation over the veep stakes is going to continue until an actual VP is
announced by the Romney campaign.

But, Maggie, let`s sort of look into the bus tour, right? Is there a
reason that Mitt Romney is going from Florida to Ohio? If you were
actually doing this logically, you might want to start in Ohio.

What do you think about the speculation that it all ends with fireworks and
a Rob Portman announcement?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, INTREPID SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, POLITICO: I think maybe
and maybe not. I think they are interested in keeping as much speculation
going as possible. And they know that doing the bus tour this way does
that. The thing that is very important to remember about the Romney
campaign right now is they are losing a series of news cycles, one after
the other after the other. And Dan Balz who is neither of our colleague
had a very sobering piece in "the Washington Post" yesterday about how Mitt
Romney has not been ahead in many of these swing state polls, most of them,
Obama has maintained a slight lead.

And so, I think they are doing anything they can to try to win as many
headlines as they can. They need to switch the narrative. They know the
VP pick is their best chance for doing that. So I think this is all about
just sort of fulminating interest than anything.

WAGNER: I think in that same Dan Balz piece, he mentions the president has
been ahead almost twice as much as Mitt Romney has.

But, Jim, the question is, can Rob Portman or any of these picks, the
feasible picks, really change the narrative for Mitt Romney. I mean, how
much mileage can you get out of a VP announcement?

JIM RUTENBERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it
depends. Let`s remember Governor Sarah Palin. So you can definitely
change narratives --

WAGNER: That is true!

RUTENBERG: For sure. I don`t know. I mean, the one thing about this race
as we`ve covered this race, we notice that we are focused on the story of
the day. And then see the polls come out and it`s about the economy and it
is kind of broader issue and it doesn`t move. However, there`s no
disputing that this does set a new tone for the Romney campaign. It gives
them something new to talk about.

WAGNER: And they need something new to talk about. I have to ask you,
because you are experts in this field, who are your picks? I mean, we had
Bill Kristol out there, saying, I would really like to see someone who`s
going to excite the party. Whether that`s a Chris Christie or Marco Rubio,
I mean. But what is the likelihood that those guys are actually on the
short list?

HEBERMAN: I think they`re on the short list. And it is likelihood they
get picked is a different issue. I do think they`re under consideration,
but I still think it`s likeliest that Mitt Romney depose with a Tim
Pawlenty or a Rob Portman. I think those are the safe picks, those are the
comfort picks. I think he has likes this idea of governor versus governor,
and governor, I`ve heard this a bunch too outsiders, you know not in D.C.
Senator Portman come out D.C. He worked in the Bush administration. You
would spend a lot of time talking about that and so forth.

I think there are definite downsides to Pawlenty. You know, he ran a
campaign that is going to get focused on again if he gets picked. But he`s
very good with evangelicals, governor Romney is very comfortable with them.
So I think you can point to all of those things. And he also, I think,
would play well with working class voters.

I think it is very unlikely that you would see Paul Ryan picked. I know a
lot of people want him. I think Marco Rubio is in the hunt. I still think
he is less likely. And I think what you are then going to see, and I think
what people like Bill Kristol are setting the stage for is an outcry when
people like that are ultimately not picked.

WAGNER: And that`s the point. It`s sort of a bound-to-disappoint
situation. This is Bobby Jindal talking about Paul Ryan. Let`s listen to
what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I think there are a lot of good choices.
I`m not trying to pick one out of all of them, but as an example, I think
picking someone like a Paul Ryan would send a very powerful message that
this administration is serious about tackling Medicare reform, entitlement
reform, shrinking the size of government, and doing so in a courageous way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: It`s like everyone on the short list is pointing to someone else
who may or may not be on the short list. But again to Maggie`s point, Jim.
I mean if he does end up going with someone who is, let`s say, not as much
firework and glass as a Chris Christie or a Bobby Jindal or a Paul Ryan,
what does that do for conservatives? I mean, do they then say - do they
express their disappointment? There is already so much disappointment
around Mitt Romney.

RUTENBERG: I don`t know. You`ve got to wonder, when an announcement gets
made, everything changes, right? So they want, they want, they want.
There`s going to have to be a rallying effect. So we`ll see.

You know, the interesting thing here is, every time we think something`s
going to happen, and I`m with Maggie, and reporting wise, it`s Pawlenty,
Portman, these are the names, they surprise us. So maybe there`s a name we
haven`t thought about it. I doubt it, but it`s possible.

WAGNER: Arnold Schwarzenegger? I mean, who else could be put into the
kitty at this point?

RALSTON: Someone at this table.

WAGNER: Yes, me. Not me! Let`s talk about timing a little bit.

We know that the Olympics are ending on Sunday. Do you guys think - I
mean, this is going to happen, the general wisdom says this is going to
happen well before the conventions. Does it happen this week? Does it
happen next week? Again, I know this is tea leaf reading and an obnoxious
media device, but I have to ask anyway.

RUTENBERG: Has anyone checked the dressage schedule?

WAGNER: Rafalca has not done well, but that`s probably a good thing for
Mitt Romney.

HEBERMAN: I think miss Romney is due back tomorrow or Thursday morning. I
think any time after that could be when it happens. I think that they had
hoped to delay this as long as possible. I`m not sure that they be able to
delay it much past this week.

WAGNER: Maggie Haberman says any minute now. Hold on to your seats.

RUTENBERG: I`m going to venture any day.

(LAUGHTER)

WAGNER: Thank you, Jim, for that bold assessment.

Jim Rutenberg and Maggie Haberman, thanks, as always.

RUTENBERG: Thanks.

WAGNER: Coming up, Mitt Romney, master of the vague response and not just
about policy, about everything, including Chick-fil-A.

And next, when Levi Johnston thinks your behavior is disgusting, you know
things must be pretty disgusting. Levi`s latest battle with the Palin clan
is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE CHILD: (Bleep )! I don`t like you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you just say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE CHILD: I don`t like you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don`t laugh!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can`t believe you just said that. I`m doing a
terrible job disciplining Tripp. I know he`s going to continue to push the
boundaries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Citing the reality show "Life`s a Tripp" as proof of bad
parenting, Bristol Palin`s ex-fiance Levi Johnston is planning to seek full
custody of their son, Tripp. That according to a new TMZ report out today.
In the report, Johnston says he`s, quote, "disgusted by his son`s language
and behavior on the reality show."

He also tells TMZ, Tripp, quote, "deserves a better family," and "I
love my son more than anything and I will do whatever it takes to make sure
he is raised the right way."

According to the report, Levi Johnston has picked up the necessary
paperwork for full custody and plans to file it as soon as possible. TMZ
says calls to Bristol Palin were not returned.

Coming up, Mitt Romney goes to the grocery store and fills his cart up
with totally stilted behavior. Also, soda. Jonathan Capehart and Ana
Marie Cox join me to talk about the unbearable weirdness of being Romney,
next.

And Team Romney spent the weekend lying. We`ll get into details
regarding President Obama`s real record with the military. That`s coming
up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: In the Spotlight tonight, Mitt Romney is still making a habit
of taking as few solid positions as possible, leaving answers to questions
about how he would actually govern if elected open to rampant speculation.
Emboldened by several Tea Party victories, the latest being Senate
candidate Ted Cruz in Texas, Tea Party leaders are poised to have their way
with Romney.

No one said it better than Amanda Shell, a spokeswoman for the Tea
Party group Freedomworks. Last week, she told ABC news, quote, "these
newly elected Tea Party candidates are going to force Romney to the right.
That is our entire mission."

True to form, today Romney`s campaign released a new Texas-themed web
ad, again lying about President Obama`s so-called "you didn`t build that"
comment. Along with the ad, Team Romney released a pro-business quote from
Senate candidate Ted Cruz.

Romney also stumped over the weekend for Tea Party candidate Richard
Mourdock in Evansville, Indiana. But again, everything around Romney
remains vague.

"Politico" reports, "Romney stuck mostly to generic praises of the
candidate. Mourdock, during his fight for the nomination in his own race,
had criticized his primary opponent, outgoing Senator Dick Lugar, as being
too bipartisan and moderate." Romney can`t even get near a Chick-Fil-A
without the right wing fetishizing the thought of him eating a hot,
steaming chicken sandwich.

On Thursday, "Weekly Standard" editor Bill Kristol pleaded with Romney
to take a side, or perhaps a bite. Quote, "Mitt munching on a Chick-Fil-A
sandwich, the right thing to do and politically smart too." And with
Romney still neither yay or nay on Chick-Fil-A, Kristol was forced to
update his post adding, "didn`t happen."

Even the simplest of things with Mitt Romney forces the question, who
is this guy? Today, Romney, with a full press pool in tow, went shopping
in Wolfsborough (ph), New Hampshire. First up, Bradley`s Hardware. Upon
exiting the store, Romney fielded this hard hitting question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, what`d you buy?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hardware stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: "Uh, hardware stuff." As Romney got out of his SUV, you
could clearly see a list in his hand that he took with him inside the
hardware store. So he could have answered that question simply by looking
at his own list. But also when asked that question, Romney had a bucket in
his hand, with his newly purchased items in it. He could have at least
told us that he had bought a bucket.

Joining me now are Ana Marie Cox, political correspondent for "The
Guardian U.S.," and Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for "the Washington
Post" and of course an MSNBC contributor.

Ana, Mitt`s grocery list -- Mitt`s grocery list -- and Jonathan,
prepare a response, because I`m going to ask you about this too. What was
on it? Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi, native sweet corn,
bottled water, and my favorite, Greek yogurt.

Is Greek yogurt the arugula of this election cycle?

ANA MARIE COX, "THE GUARDIAN U.S.": I don`t know. Greek yogurt is
pretty, you know, mass market now. John Stamos does ads for it. So when
you have "Full House" buy in, I think maybe it`s not the high-end retail
thing that you thought it might be. But I`m surprised he didn`t buy bio-
nutrient gruel.

WAGNER: Or batteries.

COX: It`s funny, because with all this stuff he`s saying, his generic
responses, I used to think of him as an android. Now I think of him kind
of as a Ken Doll, you know, just smooth and featureless.

WAGNER: Jonathan, which is better, an android or a Ken Doll? And why
can`t Mitt Romney tell us anything about anything?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I`m sorry, I have the image
in my head of Mitt Romney as a Ken Doll. It`s just too much. Look, as
we`ve always known, Mitt Romney doesn`t do this part of presidential
politics very well. He`s not very comfortable in his own skin. And it
goes back to what we`ve talked about for -- over and over and over again.
He`s not comfortable in his own skin, because he`s not comfortable who he
is, who he really is.

I think Joe Scarborough put it very brilliantly last week on "MORNING
JOE," when he said, Mitt Romney has three problems, and they all begin with
M: money, Massachusetts -- money, Massachusetts, and Mormon. Those three
things --

(CROSS TALK)

CAPEHART: All three of these things make up Mitt Romney, who he is to
his core. And he won`t talk about them. So you get situations where Phil
Rucker, my colleague from "the Washington Post" asking him, governor, what
did you get, and he just looks and says, "uh, hardware stuff."

WAGNER: Yeah, hardware stuff. Now, we`re laughing about buckets and
Greek yogurt, because those are funny things.

COX: Together, especially.

WAGNER: Together, Greek yogurt and hardware. But there`s a very real
question here, which is how Mitt Romney will legislate if he`s actually
elected president. And let`s go back to the Tea Party element here. Let`s
remember that Mitt Romney`s new buddy, Richard Mourdock, has shown a wild
distaste for bipartisanship. This is what he said about compromise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD MOURDOCK (R), INDIANA CANDIDATE FOR SENATE: I certainly think
that bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican
point of view.

Bipartisanship means they have to come our way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: And Ana, we`re talking about a very emboldened sort of fringe
elements of the Republican party. Nobody`s been able to chasten them thus
far. And I think there`s a real question among voters, independent and
otherwise, how beholden to the Tea Party is Mitt Romney going to be?

COX: There`s -- I don`t know how comforting it is to think that once
they get in office, these Tea Party people are faced with the problems of
actually governing. But there is a problem with Romney, that if you are
featureless and blank, you let other people define you. And they can
impress their opinions upon you.

And if he really is as directionless as he appears to be, where else
is he going to get his direction from than from the people who are the most
vocal? I suspect that he actually has opinions, but we don`t know for
sure, do we? I mean, like, I think there`s a person in there, who has
opinions and beliefs. But he hasn`t given any sign as to who that is.

WAGNER: Jonathan, it is also -- I mean, it`s uncomfortable, seeming,
for Mitt Romney to do a dance with Richard Mourdock, given his
gubernatorial record, which of course he never wants to talk about, which
was all about compromise and being a moderate Republican.

CAPEHART: Right. You know, this also goes back to Mitt Romney`s
other problem is he`s still trying to convince the base of his party that
he`s one of them. He`s still trying to convince conservatives, who view
him with great suspicion, that he, if elected, will carry out their dreams,
hopes, and wishes. And they don`t trust him.

And he`s not going to say anything or even do anything that would fuel
those suspicions.

WAGNER: Ana, I want to -- you know, as we talk about Mitt Romney
being held hostage to various elements in the Republican party, "The Daily
Beast" reports about Sheldon Adelson, who`s always good for a chat.
"Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, a major contributor to Mitt Romney`s
election effort, is pressing the Republican nominee to come out for the
release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, a major Republican donor." And
associates of Adelson and Romney tell "The Daily Beast," "Romney has
rejected the request so far, telling Adelson he would have to review the
relevant intelligence material accessible to him as president before
granting pollard clemency."

This is perhaps what we call the chickens coming home to roost or the
vague threat of a horse head being left in his bed if he doesn`t do
something about this. Sheldon Adelson has given Mitt Romney 10 million
dollars for efforts to elect Mitt Romney.

COX: Isn`t just intelligence stuff going to be enough for Romney
here? I mean, he`s held hostage by a lot of people. He owes a lot of
people favors. Again, his unwillingness to put himself out there and take
any political risk speaks poorly for him as a governor, I don`t mean as the
governor of Massachusetts, but as someone who wants to push ideas forward.

He seems to have no ideas of his own. The fact that he`s resisted
Adelson so far, I mean, the guess devil gets to play the violin -- fiddle
for as long as he can. He`s only going to be able to resist him until he
actually gets into office and has to do something. And we don`t know what
that will be.

WAGNER: Jonathan, isn`t it sort of humiliating to be -- I won`t say
bullied, but at least pummeled around by Sheldon Adelson?

CAPEHART: Yes, especially when you`re dependent on his deep pockets
to help make up the fund-raising gap between you and the president. If it
weren`t for Sheldon Adelson and a bunch of other independent folks, these
527s, throwing money to help him, he`d be at a disadvantage. But I want to
say something about Mitt Romney`s supposed response to the Jonathan Pollard
ask from Sheldon Adelson. I actually was quite relieved to read that Mitt
Romney did a nice little Rafalca-like dodge around Sheldon Adelson`s
request, to say, well, I`ll have to look at the intelligence and we`ll see.

If Mitt Romney becomes president, I think there`ll be some more
buffers and layers between Mitt Romney and Sheldon Adelson. So I`m not too
worried about that.

WAGNER: Jonathan Capehart, you officially coined my favorite phrase
of the evening, "a Rafalca-like dodge." I hope to hear that many times,
and I think I will, in the course of this election season. Ana Marie Cox
and Jonathan Capehart, thank you both for joining me.

CAPEHART: Thanks.

WAGNER: Coming up, what the shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple
really says about the country and what we should be hearing about it from
our leaders.

Plus, Mitt Romney`s gross manipulation of the facts, episode one
million. This time it`s about President Obama and his record with
veterans. We will tell you what the president is actually doing when it
comes to those who serve in the military. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: Mitt Romney spent the weekend lying about what the president
wants to do to military voting rights in Ohio. Romney falsely claims that
the Obama campaign wants to take away early voting rights for servicemen
and women. On Facebook, Romney wrote, "President Obama`s lawsuit claiming
it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended
early voting privileges during the state`s early voting period is an
outrage".

On Sunday, Romney`s campaign lawyer doubled down writing, "it is
despicable for the Obama campaign`s to challenge Ohio`s lawful decision."

The truth is that President Obama wants to restore early voting rights
for all Ohioans, a right that nearly a third of them took advantage of in
the last presidential election.

But in case Mitt Romney forgot, here`s the president`s record on
military concerns. President Obama repealed Don`t Ask, Don`t Tell and
ended the war in Iraq. Unemployment among veterans is currently at its
lowest point since before President Obama took office. And let us not
forget the First Lady, who`s made helping military families one of her top
priorities.

Today, President Obama continued that tradition and signed into law
the Honoring America`s Veterans Act, which, among many things, helps the
families affected by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. The law also
bans protests two hours before and after funerals for service members, a
direct hit on the fringe Westboro Baptist Church.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Graves of our veterans
are hallowed ground. And obviously we all defend our Constitution and the
First Amendment and free speech, but we also believe that when men and
women die in the service of their country and are laid to rest, it should
be done with the utmost honor and respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Joining me now, Iraq war veteran and former Pennsylvania
Congressman Patrick Murphy. Patrick, great to see you.

PATRICK MURPHY, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA CONGRESSMAN: Thanks for having me
on, Alex.

WAGNER: Congressman, you told reporters today that Romney lives in a
bizarro world. What`s the actual truth behind this lawsuit in Ohio?

MURPHY: It`s really amazing, Alex. They have no shame on the other
side. Here you have a coordinated effort to suppress millions of
Americans` right to vote, including in Ohio, my home state of Pennsylvania,
Florida, et cetera. They`re doing that and then they have the gall -- the
Romney campaign has the gall to say, look, President Obama is trying to
suppress military votes. He`s doing nothing but trying to get everyone to
vote, including the 913,000 veterans in Ohio.

WAGNER: The other thing that John Soltz of VoteVets.org points out,
that the law in Ohio only covers those actively serving in the military,
which means the law would restrict voting for 900,000 veterans. The irony
there is so thick, you could probably slice it.

MURPHY: You`re talking about National Guard members. You`re talking
about reservists and veterans, those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Vietnam, Korea, World War II, or not war at all. I mean, it`s really
remarkable that Mitt Romney is trying to suppress over 900,000 veterans`
votes in Ohio.

Here in Pennsylvania, Alex, by the way, if you`re a veteran from the
Iraq or Afghanistan war, you come back and get a government-issued
identification card from the V.A. That is not enough to prove your
citizenship, to prove the right to vote in Pennsylvania. That`s how
restrictive it is now, because the Republicans took over in our state
capital.

WAGNER: Patrick, you know, I would assume that the sort of logic here
among the Romney campaign is that the active military service members are
going to be more likely to vote for Mitt Romney. I mean, from your
perspective, from your point of view, who is more likely to win the
military vote this year?

MURPHY: I really believe that they`re going to rally behind the
commander in chief, Barack Obama, for several reasons, Alex. First being,
he took out the person who murdered over 3,000 Americans on 9/11. That was
bin Laden. Number two, he`s been the best champion for veterans, the new
GI Bill, the largest increase in veterans` benefits, making sure our
veterans are hired when they come back home.

And third, Barack and Michelle Obama, basically they understand the
sacrifices that military families make, and how the level of stress is. I
mean, you look at right now, every day an active duty soldier commits
suicide. Every 80 minutes, a veteran in America commits suicide. There`s
so much more that we need to do.

Barack and Michelle Obama will make sure that we take care of these
heroes when they come home. Mitt Romney doesn`t even have a plan for
veterans.

WAGNER: Patrick Murphy, thank you, sir, for your time.

MURPHY: Thank you, Alex.

WAGNER: Coming up next, what symbol do you have to wear to prove you
are an American?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: If you were in New York City in the weeks after September
11th, you remember the sudden and conspicuous appearance of American flag
decals on taxi cab windows and food carts, many of which were driven and
owned by Muslim and Hindu merchants. The stickers were described as a sort
of insurance policy, proof that these were patriots and not terrorists
intent on plotting the next national tragedy.

These were simply people living peacefully in the United States. But
in that climate, it was better to put the sticker in the window or hang a
flag on the dashboard. September 11th gave harbor to something that has
long plagued our society, a deep, sinking suspicion of "the other." In
this case, the other was Islam.

For all of his gross miscalculation in the months following the
attacks, it was President George W. Bush who immediately understood this
and who spoke directly to Muslims throughout the world in the days after,
saying "we respect your faith. Its teachings are good and peaceful. The
enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends."

But in the intervening years, Bush`s words have been forgotten. The
fear around Islam and the Mideast has become further engrained, the
paranoia more insidious. When President Obama has been called a secret
Muslim, the charge is no longer criticized for its inherent bigotry. So
what if he is, in fact, Muslim. It`s challenged as a matter of truth. Of
course he`s not Muslim.

Yesterday morning, an Army vet and a member of a racist Skinhead bands
is alleged to have opened fire on worshippers at a Sikh temple in Oak
Creek, Wisconsin, killing six and wounding four. While we don`t yet have
details on what motivated him, many, including the New York-based Sikh
Coalition, say that practitioners of the Indian religion are often confused
with Muslims because of their traditional beards and turbines.

Since 2001, the coalition says it has received more than 700 requests
from Sikhs needing assistance with hate crimes, discrimination, and
bullying. Last night, hours after the rampage in Oak Creek, a Mosque in
Joplin, Missouri, that had been earlier targeted by an arsonist, burned to
the ground. Said the head of the mosque, "this is the month of Ramadan.
We just take this as a test from God."

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate
groups in the U.S. has increased by 69 percent since 2000. Census data
shows that Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just 12 miles north of Oak Creek, was the
most segregated city in America last year. To this dubious distinction,
its mayor, Tom Barrett, explained, "I think there are still some people who
don`t want to live with people who have different skin colors than theirs."

What these statistics and stories show us is a volatile mix of
bigotry, fear, and hate. While President Obama said today that he was,
quote, "heartbroken by the events in Oak Creek," and Mitt Romney has pulled
campaign ads and canceled all local events until further notice, perhaps a
better description might be -- a better prescription might be a forceful
reminder from our leaders about who we are and what we value.

Namely that targeted violence and destruction are not tests for the
faithful, but proof of a society that is sick and in need of healing, that
the story of America is precisely the story of people of different skin
colors living together, that there is no law that says you must prove your
patriotism or defend your innocence with a bumper sticker or a flag decal,
and that you can wear a turbine or a yarmulke or a skull cap or a hijab and
be protected under our laws.

And the fact that you are is precisely what makes us America.

That`s THE LAST WORD tonight. Be sure to watch the very LAST WORD
videos on our site, LastWord.MSNBC.com.

END

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