updated 8/9/2012 12:32:51 PM ET 2012-08-09T16:32:51

Guests: Sam Stein, John Nichols; Jonathan Chait; Irin Carmon

ALEX WAGNER, GUEST HOST: Mitt Romney`s very bad day just got a whole
lot worse tonight. Conservatives are so mad at his campaign, they`re
demanding heads roll and fast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Anyone who donates to Mitt
Romney, and I mean the big donors, ought to call Mitt Romney and say, if
Andrea Saul isn`t fired and off the campaign tomorrow, they are not giving
another dime, because it is not worth fighting for this man if this is the
kind of spokesman he has, to respond to an ad like this by citing health
care in Massachusetts?

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: But, listen. We`re watching and witnessing
here --

COULTER: No, I`m serious about this.

HANNITY: I know you`re serious. I agree with you.

COULTER: There`s no reason doing your show.

HANNITY: I agree with you.

COULTER: There`s no point of us going to a convention and pushing for
this man if he`s employing morons like this. This ad is a turning point
and she has nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. She should be
off the campaign.

HANNITY: Here`s the point --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Moments ago, Ann Coulter appeared on FOX News, where she called on
Mitt Romney to immediately fire his spokeswoman for remarks she made
earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA SAUL, PRESS SECRETARY TO MITT ROMNEY: Obviously, it`s
unfortunate when anyone loses their job. This particular case was a plant
that was closed years after governor Romney left the company. And to that
point, you know, if -- you know, if people had been in Massachusetts under
Governor Romney`s health care plan, they would have had health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: In response to Saul`s remarks, Erick Erickson, the
conservative editor in chief of Redstate.com tweeted, "OMG. This might
just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election. Wow."

Erickson later deemed Saul`s comments the "read my lips moment of
betrayal."

A senior conservative writer for "The Washington Examiner" tweeted,
"Not sure if the Romney camp realizes what a huge opening they`ve just
created for Democrats on Obamacare."

And here is Rush Limbaugh`s reaction.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SAUL: If people had been in Massachusetts, under governor Romney`s
health care plan, they would have had health care.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Well, uh -- uh -- there`s -- that`s the potential gold
mine for the Obamaites, because they can say, well, yeah, and Romney care`s
was the foundation for our plan. Obamacare, which they are already out
there saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Conservative editor for redstate.com tweets today, "What
conservatives are doing regarding Andrea Saul`s comments is the same as how
you housebreak your dog. Romney needs to know not to go there."

Here is the dog urinating on the carpet today in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`ve got to do some reforms
in health care. And I have some experience doing that, as you know. And I
know how to make a better setting than the one we have in health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: With 90 days until the presidential election, a new
"Washington Post" poll shows President Obama leading Mitt Romney on
favorability by a 19-point spread. Fifty-three percent view President
Obama favorably, 43 percent view him unfavorably; 40 percent view Mitt
Romney favorably, while 49 percent view him unfavorably.

Romney`s unfavorable score has increased 18 points this year. The
pollster notes that Mitt Romney is laboring under the lowest personal
popularity ratings for a presumptive presidential nominee in mid-summer
election-year polls pack to -- wait for it -- the year 1984.

And today, a new "Reuters" poll shows that among registered voters
nationally, President Obama leads Mitt Romney by seven points, 49 to 42
percent.

Joining me now, "The Huffington Post`s" Sam Stein, and MSNBC`s Karen
Finney. Thank you both for joining me tonight. But before we get to
anything, let us listen to Ann Coulter once again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COULTER: Anyone who donates to Mitt Romney, and I mean the big
donors, ought to call Mitt Romney and say, if Andrea Saul isn`t fired and
off the campaign tomorrow, they are not giving another dime, because it is
not worth fighting for this man if this is the kind of spokesman he has, to
respond to an ad like this by citing health care in Massachusetts?

HANNITY: But, listen. We`re watching and witnessing here --

COULTER: No, I`m serious about this.

HANNITY: I know you`re serious. I agree with you.

COULTER: There`s no reason doing your show.

HANNITY: I agree with you.

COULTER: There`s no point of us going to a convention and pushing for
this man if he`s employing morons like this. This ad is a turning point
and she has nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. She should be
off the campaign.

HANNITY: Here`s the point --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: And here is what Coulter said later in the show about how
Republicans outside the Romney campaign are better at countering the Obama
campaign`s attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COULTER: We can do it better without the drag of Romney`s campaign
spokesman, who, by the way, came from the McCain campaign spokesman, who by
the way came from the McCain campaign. Great idea!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Sam Stein, is this what is officially known as going nuclear?
This is actually a two-part question. And secondly, does this make Eric
Fehrnstrom`s comments about Mitt Romney being an etch-a-sketch candidate,
does that look like a walk in the park compared to this?

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: This is the most over-the-top reaction.
I mean, what are we talking about? We`re talking about a spokesperson who
-- and there`s a strong likelihood that Andrea was told to say this by her
superiors, that this wasn`t her going rogue, so to speak, that this was a
talking point.

Listen, a lot of conservatives have been complaining for weeks now
that Romney`s not out there touting all the good things he`s done, not just
at Bain, but as the governor of Massachusetts. The second someone says
something about his signature accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts,
which is health care, conservatives go crazy. I mean, Ann Coulter is
talking out of her mind right now. Why would Andrea Saul need to be fired
for this campaign to go on or for donors to support Mitt Romney? Isn`t the
cause a bit bigger than one singular spokesman?

I get that she`s upset. I get that Andrea Saul probably stepped on a
very big moment for the Romney campaign where they could have focused on
Bill Burton`s ad. But to act like Andrea Saul needs to be kind of
sacrificed here is just totally absurd and it`s wrong. It`s unfair.

WAGNER: Wouldn`t you say that`s a gross miscalculation if she was, in
fact, on message? I mean, you have conservatives of all sides -

STEIN: Yes, but you got to that with your first point, right, which
was that the boss of Andrea Saul, Eric Fehrnstrom, who runs communications
for the Romney campaign, had said, essentially, when you get to a general
election, you have etch-a-sketch moments. And by that, we can presume that
he means, you start to shift focus.

Everything Romney did in the primary, which included a huge disavowal
of his health care law in Massachusetts, become sort of obsolete when you
go to the general, by Fehrnstrom`s calculation. So if Eric Fehrnstrom
isn`t going to be fired for that offense, why should Andrea Saul be fired
for this one?

WAGNER: Karen, let`s bring you in. In terms of how this plays out,
Erick Erickson had lots to say on this. He did say at one point, he
tweeted, "Conservatives have put aside their distrust of Romney on the
issue in the name of beating Barack Obama. They thought that he and his
campaign team had gotten the message, but consider the scab picked, the
wound opened, and the distrust trickling out again." A delicious, visual
he`s painting there.

What did you make of a contention that this is a bid to get
independents on board?

KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Let`s be very clear what this
is about. These guys are angry because Andrea Saul committed the cardinal
sin, in that she forgot not to tell the truth. That`s what this is all
about, because the truth is, as Sam said, Governor Romney, Romneycare,
passed health care in Massachusetts. That`s the truth.

Unfortunately, in the Romney campaign, you`re not supposed to tell the
truth. You`re not supposed to -- similarly with Eric Fehrnstrom`s etch-a-
sketch, right? That`s the truth. You`re not supposed to tell the truth.

So that`s her sin. Let`s be very clear. And you know, particularly
when you see it`s validated even more so by Red State suggesting that, you
know, it`s pick the scab. That means, shh, we`re just not going to tell
anybody who this guy really is and see if we can squeak on through to get
Barack Obama out.

I mean, that`s why her reaction is over the top and sort of the
harshness of the reaction from the right and that`s why people are angry.
They`re angry she actually told the truth and forgot that she`s not
supposed to.

But the second thing I want to say, say it a little tougher than Sam
did, it is outrageous that there is this kind of reaction to what Andrea
Saul said. And you guys know, I am not one who would normally take up for
Republican spokespeople, but if they`re going to fire her, it`s very sexist
to say that, and they didn`t say that when it came to Eric Fehrnstrom, who
not only made the etch-a-sketch comment, but who on multiple occasions have
made far greater foot-in-mouth disease, caused problems for this campaign.

So if we`re going to talk about firing people who are going to make
big mistakes that are bad for the campaign, they should be looking at the
men as well.

WAGNER: Karen, you have stood in the role of spokesperson. Do you
think that this could be, you know, in fact, that Andrea was on message?

FINNEY: I don`t -- you know, Sam and I were talking about this, I
don`t think so. I don`t get the sense that this was the kind of thing
where before she went out there, she said, here`s what I`m going to say, is
everybody OK with this? Particularly watching the tape, it seemed more
like, you know, on the spot. She sort of thought of it, and put it out
there.

Because, again, remember, when it comes to Mitt Romney`s health care,
supposedly the way they`re trying to, you know, thread the needle and split
the hairs is, just that that was the Massachusetts solution. That may not
be right for everybody, but the idea of having some kind of health care
reform isn`t a bad thing.

So I don`t -- you know, I think she messed up in the context of this
campaign, but, again, I don`t think that this was an intentional comment.

WAGNER: Sam, as we talk about how this sort of makes its way through
the world and into the ether, one thing is probably for certain, and that
is that the Obama campaign is going to make hay out of that. The president
has already sort of danced around the subject and touched on it a little
bit today at a campaign event earlier today.

Let`s play that sound with President Obama talking about Romney`s
health care plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He wants to kill
Obamacare. I`m implementing Obamacare, because it was the right thing to
do. If that`s what Mr. Romney wants to get rid of, despite the fact that
he did the same thing in Massachusetts and it worked pretty well, then
that`s a different -- that`s a choice in this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: So, Sam, is it a day? Is it a matter of minutes? Is it a
matter of hours before this becomes a new web ad from the Obama campaign?

STEIN: I mean, it looks like this thing could take off at any moment.
I mean, the visual of one campaign, the Romney campaign, talking positively
about Romneycare and getting just absolutely hammered by their base, and
the other campaign, the Obama campaign, talking positively about Obamacare,
ostensibly, the same bill, and getting absolutely huge cheers from his
base, is striking.

And it goes to show you that Republicans never actually expected much
out of Mitt Romney. The fact that Ann Coulter expected him to just
summarily ignore his signature legislative accomplishment as governor of
Massachusetts goes to show you what kind of respect they had for him as a
politician. They weren`t voting for someone who was governor of
Massachusetts. They were voting for a vessel, I guess.

And it`s sad to say that Andrea Saul is going to take the brunt of
this, because on strict policy terms, she did not contradict the Romney
message. The Romney message has always been that he passed a law as
governor of Massachusetts for Massachusetts, not for the nation at whole.
She said nothing that contradicts that message.

But apparently the rules for the Republican Party is, you can`t even
talk about Romneycare, and I think that`s absurd.

FINNEY: You can`t tell the truth. That`s their message. And here`s
the thing, if Governor Romney had any credibility on any of these issues.
If it wasn`t for the fact that we`ve been talking about all the various
things that he either won`t answer, won`t respond to, won`t show us, you
know, is trying to be -- is being very, you know, nontransparent about, he
would have more credibility, and therefore this problem of the lack of
trust that the base of his own party actually has with him, would be less
of an issue, and a single comment by a spokesperson would be far less
damaging.

So Mitt Romney really needs to bear the brunt of this. But I think
Sam`s right, they`re going to make Andrea, probably, take the hit for it,
but the candidate himself should bear a lot of the responsibility.

STEIN: It`s almost like they cannot make her take the hit from it,
because if she`s fired, it reflects very heavily on Mitt Romney as a
manager and as someone who leads a campaign. I mean, who`s it say about
someone who would throw someone overboard, for simply touting the virtues
of a policy he passed.

I think the bigger picture is that there`s always a business
perception of Romney as someone who lacks any compass with respect to the
legislation of policies he espouses. This is conservatives basically
admitting they don`t trust him. And that the second that he starts talking
about the stuff he`s accomplished, stuff that they abhor, they`re going to
throw anyone overboard.

I mean, it`s just a very remarkable thing for Ann Coulter to say.

WAGNER: And the other truth is that Mitt Romney is not having a very
good summer. Sam Stein and Karen Finney, thank you both for your time.

STEIN: No problem.

WAGNER: Coming up, another Romney campaign surrogate splits up
tonight. Newt Gingrich was trying to defend Romney`s attack on the
president over welfare, except Newt didn`t really defend Romney`s attack on
the president over welfare. Newt did, however, remember to say his
favorite line: food stamp president.

After that, from the department of insane conservative ideas, a family
policy expert publicly suggests creating an organized system of kidnapping
to remove children from their gay parents.

And in the spotlight, if the Obama campaign is already using the term
Romney Hood now, imagine what they`ll come up with if Mitt Romney picks
Paul Ryan as his running mate.

And breaking news tonight, Susan G. Komen for the Cure faces backlash
for joining the political fight against Planned Parenthood. Now, the
organization is making big changes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: After being obliterated in the primary, what would it take to
get Newt Gingrich to speak out for Mitt Romney? How about the chance to
say food stamp president again? The Republican race-tinged welfare attack
gets worse and so does the Romney message problem. That`s next.

And how do you campaign in Florida with a running mate who wants to
turn Medicare into coupons? Mitt Romney will find out if Paul Ryan is his
running mate. That`s in the spotlight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: It is wrong to make any change that would make America more
of a nation of government dependency. We must restore and I will restore
work into welfare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: How low is Mitt Romney willing to go to advance his welfare
lie? He`s willing to go to the guy who started the Bain attacks. The guy
who first asked what Romney might be hiding in his tax returns, the guy who
accused him of carte blanching taxpayer-funded abortions through his
government-mandated health care program, the guy who taught us all about
right-wing social engineering, the guy who has single-handedly done more
than anyone else to set the table for the Democratic campaign against him.

Yes, Mitt Romney is willing to go as low as Newt Gingrich to play
resentment politics.

This morning, speaking as the expert witness on an RNC conference
call, Gingrich went hard-core.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hard-core liberals,
hard-core left. The hard left. There is an unending desire to create a
dependent America. There is a deep repudiation of middle class work ethic.

There is a faction on the hard left that is desperate to do it. It`s
not just that Obama`s a radical, but the people who appoints him are even
more radical.

Obama who`s entire record as president has focused on increasing the
number of people on food stamps.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WAGNER: You get the gist. Gingrich was asked by a reporter about the
racial tone of his attacks, and he responded with this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GINGRICH: The average normal American understood that far more white
Americans get food stamps than blacks. That to have an honest discussion
about dependency doesn`t mean you`re a racist, it means you`re worried
about the future of people who are being taught to be dependent on the
government.

I think you can have an honest conversation about whether it`s good
for Americans -- notice I said Americans, not any particular ethnic
subgroup -- to make them dependents, deprive them of their jobs, and have
them lean on the federal government. But I`m confident that some people in
the elite media desperate to re-elect Bill -- to re-elect Barack Obama will
yell racist because they don`t have much left to yell, do they?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WAGNER: For a second there, Gingrich thought it was still 1996 when
Bill Clinton was still the most terrible, horrible, no-good, very worse
Democratic president ever.

Tonight, Newt Gingrich took resentment politics to prime-time TV. But
true to form, Gingrich couldn`t even make it through one day as a Romney
messenger without going off message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: You wouldn`t have to work, you wouldn`t have to
train for a job, they just send you your welfare check.

That`s not saying, we assume this or we think this, or we worry about
this. It`s saying as a fact, this will happen. And that`s just not
supported by evidence.

GINGRICH: I think if the ad makers had asked me, I would have said,
this makes it possible, would have been a good way to enter into --

COOPER: So you think the wording of the ad is not actually accurate?
That it is too straightforward?

GINGRICH: Well, I think that the ad does assert -- but this is a
political ad. In 30 seconds, you tend not to get all the various
amendments and things.

COOPER: If you were running this ad, you would change the wording of
the ad?

GINGRICH: If I were running the ad, it would be a much tougher ad
because I`d start it by saying, as the leading food stamp president in
American history --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Joining me now are former Governor Ed Rendell, an NBC News
political analyst, and Joy Ann Reid, an MSNBC contributor. My friends,
Newt Gingrich is back. We didn`t know when, but he is officially back.

And, Joy, I want to go to you first on this. We are now hearing the
phrase food stamp president again. We`re talking about Obama`s radicalism.
I want to play a piece of sound and explanation. Newt Gingrich said, oh,
it`s the elite media concocting this.

This is perhaps where the elite media may have gotten the idea that
Gingrich`s food stamp charge had racial overtones. Let`s take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: Obama is the best food stamp president in American history.
More people are on food stamps today because of Obama`s policies than ever
in history. If the NAACP invites me, I`ll go to their convention and talk
about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be
satisfied with food stamps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Because the NAACP would be, of course, disproportionately
interested in food stamps.

Joy, how much of a liability is Newt Gingrich right now for Mitt
Romney?

JOY-ANN REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I guess it depends
on how you look at it. At least he didn`t say he was going to make black
people`s lives better with other people`s money, which is the other way he
could have gone with this.

You know, the thing is I think the Romney campaign has essentially run
out of ideas. Their original plan was to run on the economy, that`s not
working. The polls aren`t budging. People have already factored in the
economy.

So he appears to be going to the well of the base that he never was
able to court before. He`s going to try to appeal to the Tea Party base,
with this old, tried and true, go to the well of racial resentment, go to
the welfare queens argument.

So I think that from Romney, I think he thinks that Gingrich is an
asset, because he thinks that this can gin up that base for him. But
here`s the problem, that`s not who his audience is right now. We`re in a
general election. Newt Gingrich is not useful in a general election.

WAGNER: Governor, we`ve been talking a lot about Bill Clinton and the
white working class voter, when we`re talking about sort of breeding or
fostering class resentment and using that to drive a wedge between voters
and, of course, the American public.

Is this -- is this an effective strategy for Mitt Romney and his
surrogates? Does this appeal -- does this kind of rhetoric, this kind of -
- I`ll call it class warfare, does that appeal to voters -- blue-collar
voters in swing states?

ED RENDELL, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, a lot of those
blue-collar voters are on food stamps. In Pennsylvania, literally one out
of every 11 people is on food stamps.

And that includes a lot of people who are construction workers, a lot
of people that work in manufacturing companies, they`re on food stamps.
Their cousin may not be on food stamps, but they know that they`re on food
stamps. So this whole myth is exploded, number one.

Number two, it`s not Barack Obama who will increase the number of
people on food stamps, it`s the Republican administration that preceded
him, that careened us into a recession. The reason there are more people
on food stamps today is because we`re in the midst of a recession, that`s
almost the worst since the Great Depression.

So, Newt -- the people who that attack is going to appeal to, they`re
already voting Republican. The fallacy and the stupidity of this strategy
is that these folks already are voting Republican. They`re going to turn
out because they don`t like Barack Obama.

And Joy`s right. Since you`re not increasing turnout, you`re losing
reasonable voters who may be a little bit disenchanted with the president,
but who are going to be turned off by this stuff.

WAGNER: So these are conservative dog whistles for a pack of dogs
that`s already running with Mitt Romney.

RENDELL: Already there, yes.

WAGNER: Let`s talk a little bit about the reappearance of Newt
Gingrich, because why not? He`s such an endlessly entertaining point of
discussion. Let`s -- Newt Gingrich talking on CNN about his role as the
Republican national convention. Let`s hear what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: We`re going to actually, working with them right now on a
project that I think you`ll love, that has a lot more time than just an
evening speech.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: What does that mean?

GINGRICH: It means we`re going to probably have something, a very
large amount of time working with the delegates and doing things --

BLITZER: But not delivering a prime-time speech?

GINGRICH: Not delivering a prime-time speech. Anybody who wants to
the see me will have more than enough opportunity during the convention.
We`ll probably have more total time than anybody thought possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: More total time than anybody thought possible.

Joy, if Mitt -- we talked yesterday about Sarah Palin and her role in
the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich, obviously, has a different role.

How difficult is it for Mitt Romney to have Newt Gingrich in the
shadows, and to be calling in, theoretically, favors from him right now
that ultimately he`s going to have to pay for later?

REID: Well, yes, and that`s the problem, is that this is a guy who
obviously feels that he could be doing this better than Mitt Romney. And
now, Mitt Romney is opening the door for him to put on salon for Mitt
Romney on how to appeal to conservatives.

But again, back to our original point, that is not Mitt Romney`s job
right now, appealing to the base. If he`s still doing that, he`s in deep,
deep trouble with less than a month to go before his convention. This is
not the time to be trying to re-learn how to appeal to your base.

WAGNER: And, you know, Governor, we talk about wild surrogates,
surrogates that go off-message, untamed surrogated, Gingrich was asked --

RENDELL: Are you implying --

WAGNER: I`m not saying anything, I`m just saying. But Gingrich was
asked about Michele Bachmann on CNN today and her comments about a
conspiracy regarding the Muslim Brotherhood. Inevitably, Gingrich is
almost his own worst enemy. He can`t control himself and he kind of takes
this bait and then it puts Mitt Romney in a very difficult position.

How does Mitt Romney deal with that?

RENDELL: Well, Mitt Romney should have, as he`s -- he`s blown
opportunity after opportunity during this campaign to look like a strong,
independent leader. When Michele Bachmann made that absolutely absurd
insinuation about --

WAGNER: Huma Abedin and her association --

RENDELL: One of the most loyal Americans, who works her heart out for
the secretary of state, who`s doing a great job. When he makes this absurd
allegation, when she -- Bachmann -- Romney should have gotten up, forget
surrogates, forget what the base says, he should have said, that`s
ridiculous. That`s ridiculous. I know Huma Abedin and she`s a good,
patriotic American.

He should have done it, (a), because it`s the right thing to do, and
(b), because of all of the big swing states, he was doing best in Michigan.
What state has the highest number of Arab American voters? Michigan. If
you`re an Arab American, how are you going to vote Republican after that?
Michele Bachmann, we want her on the ticket. We want her as vice
president!

WAGNER: What`s amazing is that Mitt Romney has been given a chance to
plant a flag of conviction in the ground --

RENDELL: And he blows it.

WAGNER: -- time and time again --

RENDELL: He goes back to the gay soldier.

REID: He`s not even allowed to say he likes his own health care plan.

WAGNER: He`s not actually even allowed to tell us what he`s having
for dinner. So, you know, it`s a long way to go.

Joy-Ann Reid and Governor Ed Rendell -- thank you, as always.

REID: Thanks.

WAGNER: Coming up, after the backlash for defunding Planned
Parenthood, there`s a big change at Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: In the spotlight tonight, Paul Ryan`s place on Mitt Romney`s
VP short list.

Congressman Ryan`s stock is definitely on the rise. And for some on
the political right, it`s like Christmas morning and their birthday at the
same time. In a glowing piece in the conservative "National Review,"
Robert Costa writes, "a few weeks ago, it was a wishful rumor, floating in
the beltway either." Now, sources close to the Romney campaign say it`s
for real. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the budget king of the
GOP, may be Mitt Romney`s veep."

Team Romney has, no doubt, been making lists of pros and cons for each
veep stakes contestant. Taking a look at some of the items likely to be on
Paul Ryan`s two lists.

In the pro category, Paul Ryan`s budget could help give vision to
Romney`s campaign. That after months of the candidate essentially doing
everything possible to maintain absolutely no position on anything of any
importance.

Secondly, while not as risky as a Chris Christie or a Sarah Palin,
Paul Ryan is well regarded by fellow conservatives and not one of the GOP`s
so-called boring white guys.

And location, location, location. Paul Ryan is, of course, from the
battleground state of Wisconsin.

On to the cons. Congressman Ryan has none of that executive
leadership experience that Mitt Romney is always talking about. Paul Ryan
is also a member of congress, and with an approval rating of 12 percent in
last month`s "New York times"/CBS poll, Americans really hate congress. A
lot. A lot, a lot.

And, of course, Paul Ryan`s budget plan ends Medicare, which will not
exactly go over well with older voters, particularly in the critical
battleground state of Florida. But responding to Paul Ryan`s budget plan
back in March, Romney praised Ryan, quote, "for taking a bold step towards
putting our nation back on the track to fiscal sanity."

Team Obama was ready with a counterpunch saying governor Romney has
said he`s on the same page as congressman Ryan, so America`s seniors and
the middle class should take note of what that means for them. There`s
also the issue of Romney care, which we now know that team Romney has
nothing but love for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know if people had been in Massachusetts
under governor Romney health care plan, they would have had health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Paul Ryan, on the other hand --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-W), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: No, actually, I`m
not a fan of the system, and I think that was part of it. I`ve got some
relatives up there in Massachusetts. My uncle is a cardiologist in Boston,
and I`ve talked to a lot of health care folks up there who what`s happening
now, because costs are getting out of control, premiums are increasing in
Massachusetts, and now you have a bureaucracy who is having to put all of
these cost controls and now rationing on the system.

This idea of having the government be the sole, you know, single
regulator of health insurance, defining what kind of health insurance you
can have, and then an individual mandate, it is a fatal conceit, and these
kind of systems that we`re now seeing in Massachusetts are unsustainable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: "These kind of systems as we`re now seeing in Massachusetts
are unsustainable." So I guess you could add being sharply and publicly
critical of Romney care to the list of Paul Ryan`s cons.

Joining me now, Jonathan Chait, daily columnist for
newyorkmagazine.com who has written extensively on Congressman Ryan and
John Nichols, Washington correspondent for "the Nation" and associate
editor of the capital times, who is an expert on Wisconsin politics.

Gentleman, thank you for joining me.

John, I want to go to you first. Paul Ryan is one of the most
mysterious and also influential people in the Republican caucus. He`s
definitely pulling the strings as far as the fiscal policy and strategy
there.

Tell us a little bit about his governing philosophy. Ryan`s own
philosophy, as he sort of illustrated it and wrote it out in his road map
is only by taking responsibility for one`s self to the greatest extent
possible can one before free. And only a free person can make responsible
choices between right and wrong, saving and spending, giving or taking.
How has that made manifest in his policy decisions?

JOHN NICHOLS, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: Well, it sounds
an awfully lot like a section from an Ayn Rand novel, and that makes,
because Paul Ryan is obsessed with on rand, the extreme libertarian
novelist who wrote books like "atlas shrug." He has even said that reason
he went in to politics was because of reading on an rand novel.

So, we have to begin with the fact that this is a guy who really hugs
an ideological extreme. He`s obsessed with and fascinated by obscure
Austrian economists who have theories about getting government out of
everything.

And he has done well politically, because in a Republican caucus that
is pretty cutthroat, he`s actually a very nice guy. One on one, he gets
along with people quite well. He`s got a good sense of humor. But the
thing that needs, that Mitt Romney needs to understand is this. He may get
along very well personally with Paul Ryan, but if he chooses Paul Ryan as
his running mate, Paul Ryan will define the Romney campaign. Not Mitt
Romney. And that`s what he`s done in Congress as well.

WAGNER: Jonathan, you`ve done what I deem a national service in terms
of outlining some specifics of Ryan`s plan. There are going to be two tax
rates. The top level will go town to 25 percent. Unspecified tax
deductions. We know a lot of is that stuff will be balanced on programs
for the poor and middle class. Medicare is unchanged for those 55 and
older. He`s going to repeal Obamacare, insuring up to 30 million Americans
in total. It could be up to 57 million Americans. This is a fairly
draconian prescription for the country, is it not?

JONATHAN CHAIT, NYMAG.COM DAILY COLUMNIST: It is draconian, but the
thing you have to keep in mind is that Paul Ryan is an extremely good
politician. And I think you shouldn`t underestimate his skills in those
regard.

His district in Wisconsin is not a Republican district. It`s right in
the middle. And he`s won it strongly. He`s also very successfully managed
to craft this image of himself, who he is, what he believes, and where he
comes from that`s wildly at odds with the reality and peddle it with almost
total success. And make himself a beloved figure, not just among the
movement, conservative who is share his beliefs, but among a lot of
centrists, a lot of people who don`t really share his beliefs, but he`s
persuaded to make due. So that`s, you know, a potent combination.

WAGNER: John, I want to talk to you a little bit. John writes -
Jonathan Chait writes a little bit about the Romney/Ryan relationship and
sort of where this might go. He says Romney has shown no inclination to
challenge Ryan praising him fulsomely and even promising him according to
the "Weekly Standard" Steven Hayes. He`d enact Ryan plan in the first 100
days. Republicans envision an administration in which Romney has relegated
himself to a kind of head of state role, where at least domestically, with
Ryan as the actual head of government, which very much echoes what you were
saying.

So effectively, I mean, you know, this kind of goes back to the Grover
Norquist contention that we don`t really need a president, we just need
someone who can sign on the dotted line.

NICHOLS: Well, we did have that back, from 2001 to 2009 with Dick
Cheney. And though they are very different figures on the surface, the
comparison between Paul Ryan and Dick Cheney is not an inappropriate one.
Just as Dick Cheney came up initially as an aide and a Washington hanger-
on, went into congress, and then moved himself ultimately into the vice
presidency, Paul Ryan is a Washington hanger-on. He`s been in Washington
for the better part of 25 years, as a congressional aide, as a Senate aide,
as a think tank member, and then as a member of congress.

He is not of the Midwest in most senses. He really is somebody who
spent his entire adult life in and around congress. That, as with Cheney,
in the Bush administration, would make him a very powerful figure. Because
Mitt Romney would arrive in Washington as someone who`s never really worked
much with congress, and here he`d have a vice president who could go up to
Capitol Hill and actually be an intimate player on all the policy issues.

WAGNER: Jonathan Chait and John Nichols, thank you for trying to lift
the veil of mystery over Paul Ryan. We look forward to speaking to you
again soon.

CHAIT: Look forward to it.

WAGNER: Coming up, the Susan G. Komen foundation faced blowback when
it joined the fight against planned parenthood. Now, late tonight comes
news that the group is making changes.

And the war on women didn`t do Romney any favors with female voters,
but Rush Limbaugh isn`t putting down his battle acts. That`s coming up
next.

And what kind of family organization advocates kidnapping to steal
children from their parents? You`ll meet their leader, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: No difference between Obama and Romney on boy scouts. Both
want homosexuals to have access to young boys in BSA. That tweet is from a
leader of the American family association, who just yesterday advocated on
behalf of a kidnapping ring. That`s next.

And the war on women, "the hunger games," and Rush Limbaugh might just
be responsible for helping to drive a big chunk of women to the polls for
President Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: Yesterday, conservative radio host and issues director for
the American family association, Brian Fisher, took to twitter to make the
case for a modern-day underground railroad.

An underground railroad to, quote, "deliver innocent children from
same-sex households."

Fisher, who last month pointed to the Penn State sex abuse scandal as
evidence of why children should not be put in same-sex households, chose
yesterday to invoke the memory of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas as
part of a broader campaign against gay rights.

While large parts of the thinking world might pause at the strategy of
using a seminal example of the historic struggle to secure basic freedoms
for our persecuted minority to undermine basic freedoms sought by a
persecuted minority, we`ll leave Mr. Fisher`s questionable semiotic
strategies aside.

Fisher was outraged in particular regarding criminal charges filed by
the U.S. justice department against a group of people who participated in
the international kidnapping of a 10-year-old to Nicaragua in an effort to
evade court-ordered visitation with the child`s lesbian mother.

Never mind the criminality, absurdity, and wholesale disregard of what
is actually in a child`s best interest. A director for the American family
association is advocating kidnapping as an alternative to raising a child
in a same-sex household.

According to a study posted by the department of health and human
services, children of LBGT parents seem to, quote, "benefit from
egalitarian co-parenting. Research shows that the adjustment and social
relationships of children does not seem to be impacted by the sexual
orientation of their caregivers.

There is no evidence that children of same-sex unions face greater
stigma, nor is there evidence that these children are more likely to be
abused or to suggest the children of these parents are more likely to be
gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender themselves. The research concludes,
quite obviously, children will, in fact, be who they are.

So, wait, it`s not better to remove a child from a two-parent home,
flee the country, and abscond to Nicaragua via Canada to raise a kid on the
lam? No?

Perhaps instead of offering passage on an underground railroad to
children of same-sex couples, we should, instead, offer amnesty to the men
and women who live with and are forced to put up with the nonsense, libel,
fear mongering, and comedically awful parenting advice of people like Brian
Fisher.

Coming up, Mitt Romney is taking fire in the war on women.

And breaking news, there`s shake up at the Susan G. Komen for the
cure, months after it waded into fight over planned parenthood.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDRA FLUKE, WOMAN`S ACTIVIST: When I was verbally attacked earlier
this year, the difference between President Obama and Mr. Romney became
very clear. Mr. Romney could only say that those weren`t the words he
would have chosen.

Well, Mr. Romney, you`re not going to be the candidate we choose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: That was the new voice for women`s health care rights, Sandra
Fluke, introducing President Obama at a campaign rally today in the all-
important swing state of Colorado.

President Obama decisively won the women`s vote in 2008 and most polls
suggest he`ll do the same again this year. A new Quinnipiac poll on swing
states finds the president beating Mitt Romney among women voters by eight
points in Colorado, 14 points in Virginia, and 23 points in Wisconsin.

But with women making up more than half of the electorate, the Obama
campaign isn`t taking any chances, and has enlisted the help of celebrities
like "the hunger games" star Elizabeth Banks to spell out the difference
between Obama and Mitt Romney when it comes to reproductive rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH BANKS, ACTRESS: Planned parenthood is something I care very
deeply about. Planned parenthood was my health care provider when I didn`t
have insurance after graduating from college. Yes, I got birth control,
but it was for my massive migraine headaches and my heavy flow. Yes, I`m
on record saying I had a heavy flow.

And unfortunately, these are the types of things that I don`t want to
discuss with employers. I don`t want to talk about that with my employer.
That`s between me and my doctor. And at the time, my doctor happened to be
at planned parenthood.

President Obama has not compromised on women`s rights and that`s why
President Obama needs to stay in office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: And speaking of planned parenthood, earlier tonight, Susan G.
Komen for the cure announced a huge shake up among its leadership team.

NBC news confirmed that after 30 years, its founder, Nancy Brinker, is
stepping down from her position as CEO and taking on a new management
position. Its president, Liz Thompson, and two board members, are also
leaving the organization. This comes about six months after a firestorm
erupted when the breast cancer organization decided not to renew funding
for planned parenthood. Susan G. Komen for the cure eventually backed down
on that decision after protests from supporters.

Joining me now is Irin Carmon, a reporter for salon.com.

Irin, great to see you.

IRIN CARMON, REPORTER, SALON.COM: Hey, Alex.

Let`s talk about the Komen decision first. Is this not evidence of
how contentious the issue of women`s health is at this moment right now in
American politics?

CARMON: I would say, it`s not only -- it`s evidence that some people
are trying to make it contentious. If you looked at, you know, what used
to be consensus issues, the Republican party has moved so far to the right
on women`s health, that now what you have is a situation where they think
they have successfully stigmatized planned parenthood, that when they hear
planned parenthood, they hear crazy lady abortion factor and they hear
slut. Where in fact, what they hear is that`s worth three million women
got care last year. That where I got my free birth control. That`s where
I got an STI testing or an cancer screening.

So in fact, it was contentious, but then when Komen defunded planned
parenthood and now you`re seeing them trying to do the same thing on the
federal government level and state`s levels, people got mad. You have this
amazing outpouring of support, just like you had for Sandra fluke and I
think they really overplayed their hand.

WAGNER: Giving how much a seeming ground people need to make up with
women, you would think that the outreach would be better. I was shocked to
learn that today Mitt Romney announced the creation of Women for Mitt,
which is a coalition led, of course, by Ann Romney. Why didn`t he do that
earlier?

CARMON: Look, the whole time they`ve been saying the war on women is
made up. They have now looked at their poll numbers, they`re looking at
this tremendous gap that they have with independent women, with women in
swing states, single women in particular, and now they`re freaking out.
And so what`s amazing is that I went and I looked at the announcement for
Women for Mitt, and I was trying to figure out, what does Women for Mitt
stand for?

WAGNER: There are so many questions relating to what Mitt Romney
stands for.

CARMON: Republicans who have to be women, right. And they say
something vague about the deficit. But, you know, to Obama`s credit, he
can point to a list of specific things that he`s done for women`s health
care to, you know, support the paycheck fairness act to the Lily Ledbetter
act.

I mean, if you want to say Women for Mitt, they have this problem
where they want to say that there`s no such thing as a women`s issue. I`ve
had Republicans say that to my face. But now they`re obliged to say, OK,
Women for Mitt, who happen to be biological female, are really worried
about the deficit.

WAGNER: Irin, the no matter how hard Mitt Romney tries though, he
seems to be continually undercut by members of his party, elder statesmen
in the conservative circles. Rush Limbaugh, who has had much to say on
women`s health, did not shy away from commenting today.

Let`s hear what he had to say about Sandra Fluke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: When I hear the name Sandra
Fluke, what`s the first thing that pops into your mind? No, no, no --
never mind -- never -- no! The first thing that comes into your mind is my
name. He says it`s not the first -- when you mention her name, my name is
what most people think of. I should be getting a finder`s fee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Rush Limbaugh wants residuals for getting Sandra Fluke on to
the national stage, which seems to only help President Obama. And to this
notion that, you know, no matter how hard Mitt Romney may try to court the
women and the female vote, you have Rush Limbaugh on the side cackling
evilly, calling her whatever he did. And then you also have the action on
state level which seems to bring up the basic issues around women`s health
in a draconian way.

And you wrote about this today, talking about personhood amendments.
I mean, you look at what`s happening to the gutting of women`s health care
problems. This keeps this a front burner problem for Republicans on the
national stage.

CARMON: You can even just think about, who does he have -- you know,
who are major Mitt Romney surrogates? Mike Huckabee is one of the greatest
and most visible supporters of the personhood movement. They want to say
that fertilized eggs are people, they want to ban IUD. You know, they want
to ban IVF. There are also people he has in his tent, whether he wants to
talk about it or not, they are inviting him in and they are incredibly
extreme on women`s health.

WAGNER: That tent is an increasingly scary and rowdy play.

Irin Carmon gets "the Last Word." Thanks for joining us.

Be sure to watch the very "Last Word" on lastword@MSNBC.com, and you
can always follow my tweets @alexwagner and join me new weekdays from my
show, now we are back on the air next Monday, August 13th after the
Olympics.

"The Ed Show" is up next.

END

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