August 26, 2012
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Guests: Robert Traynham, Buddy Roemer, Zephyr Teachout, Cornell Belcher, Amy Holmes, Joe Watkins
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning, my question. Who is the
middle man behind the curtain of the Republican Party, is that you, Karl?
And, yes, there really are black Republicans, seriously. Three of them
here in Nerdland.
But, first, the re- introduction of Mitt Romney, the man we already know
all too well.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
It is time to break out your elephant hats, your delegate signs, your red
balloons and all your Republican Party favors because this week, the
Republican national convention gets underway in Tampa, Florida.
Even I am wearing an elephant pin.
Over the next four days, Republicans will come together to vote on the
party`s national platform and make the nomination official with
presidential pick, former governor Mitt Romney.
Now, he will have to share the spotlight with one unexpected guest who is
crashing the party, tropical storm Isaac. The storm is expected to dump
heavy rains and wind on the more than 50,000 people gathered for convention
at the Tampa bay Times forum.
Now in fact, Isaac is responsible for Republicans deciding to convene the
convention on Monday, but then suspend activity until Tuesday afternoon.
We`ll have an update for you on the path of the storm in a few moments.
The storm is an unwanted and rare piece of unmanufactured drama at this
week`s event. Modern day presidential conventions are highly chore
choreographed, carefully planned affairs, and the actual nominating part is
now most a formality, just another prop in the political theater. Ronald
Reagan`s 1976 challenge to incumbent Gerald Ford, was the last time in U.S.
history there was ever any real suspense over who would actually be a
Now, that nominee is settled on during the primary process, conventions are
about something else entirely. First, entertaining viewers with a lot of
pomp and circumstance. But more importantly, they are about re-introducing
the country to the party`s official nominee, or for those Americans who
don`t start paying attention to the election until convention time, which
of course is no one in Nerdland, when Mitt Romney steps on the stage, they
will be meeting the nominee for the first time.
Now, these days at a party`s convention is the candidate`s most visible
opportunity to cement the narrative of who he is in the minds of the
American people before Election Day.
Who could forget 1992 which Bill Clinton introduced us to the man from
hope. Or in 2000, who will presented George Bush as a country boy riding
around his ranch instead of the Yale educated son of a wealthy political
dynasty. And in 2004, John Kerry combated questions of his Vietnam war
record with this visual, arriving by boat, accompanying by swift boat
crewmates at the democratic convention in Boston.
Now, we`ll have to wait until Thursday night to find out the story Mitt
Romney wants to tell us about who he is. But one thing is clear, the self-
portrait will be drawn in etch-a-sketch ink. This is the moment when Mitt
Romney tries to shake off what has come before and recreate himself anew.
Only what`s he going to tell us that we haven`t already heard? After all
this isn`t the first time he`s been at the rodeo. Mitt Romney has been
running for president for at least the last six years. To paraphrase a
line from the great Herald Melvin and the blue notes, if we don`t know him
by now, we`ll never know him.
For instance, thanks to Todd Akin`s recent junk science claims about rape,
Romney has been forced to remind us of his views on abortion, or more
accurate, Paul Ryan reminded us on Romney`s behalf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mitt Romney is going to
the president. The president sets policy, his policy is exceptions for
rape, incest, life of the mother.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The abortion exceptions that Romney endorses are absent from
his party`s national platform. So, Romney`s idea about who or more
precisely qualifies for person hood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Corporations are people, my
friend. We can raise taxes at -- of course they are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: He`s also got some views about actual people, people, like
support of national expansion of health care, the individual mandate that
he crafted in Massachusetts as governor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: The right way to proceed is to reform health care. That we can do
as we did it in Massachusetts, and as we propose doing it at the national
level. We can do it for the nation, get everybody insured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Sorry, that was Mitt Romney circa 2009 who advocated for a
federal mandate. 2012, Mitt Romney strongly disagrees with health care at
the national level.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I want to return health care to the states. I will repeal Obama
care and let people have responsibility and authority for their own health
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we know that Mitt Romney has a tendency to switch
positions when it`s politically convenient. We also know, that to win the
Republican primary that meant overcoming doubts about his conservative
credentials, by getting as far to the right as possible, which he did with
this pledge about the dream act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: The question, if I were elected and Congress were to pass the
dream act, would I veto it? And the answer is yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And for all of those undocumented immigrants who would no
longer have a path to citizenship, we know Romney`s plan for them too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: And people don`t get work here, they are going to self-deport to a
place where they can get work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That self-deportation line got a few chuckles at Romney`s
expense from the audience at that primary debate. But he was in on the
joke when he spoke to an audience of supporters in Michigan earlier this
week, which is why we also know Mitt Romney`s idea of what is funny.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I was born at Harper hospital. No one has ever asked to see my
birth certificate. They know this was the place we were born and raised.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me today. Joe Watkins, Republican strategy and
former aid of George H.W. Bush, Karen Finney, MSNBC political analyst,
columnist for "the Hill" and former DNC communications director. Buddy
Roemer, chairman of thereformproject.org, former Louisiana governor and
former 2012 president candidate. And Zephyr Teachout, associate professor
of law at Fordham University.
Thank you to all of you for being here.
So Joe --
HARRIS-PERRY: I know. I`m sorry.
JOE WATKINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Why me first?
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m coming to you first and the question is real simple.
Who is Mitt Romney?
WATKINS: I think Mitt Romney is a family man, who is somebody who comes
from a great family, who is also raised a great family with his wife, and
somebody who has worked hard to build businesses, and to hire people to
create jobs, and to save businesses that were in trouble and somebody as
well who deeply cares about America.
He served as a public servant, being governor of Massachusetts and also
being the rescuer of the Olympics. And I`m very excited about his
candidacy. I think that, of course, we saw -- we`ve seen some of snippets
and we know some of the banter that`s gone back and forth about one thing
or the other. But, I think ultimately, it comes down to this campaign who
is best suited to put Americans back to work. We`ve got two good
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I mean, I guess what I`m saying is I don`t think anyone
would disagree with the parts you say. He seems to be a nice guy. We all
like his family. In fact, I sometimes take criticism from the lefties on
twitter, because I actually think his dad and mom were fascinating
characters that I like to talk about. I think people really like and
respect Ann Romney, the five boys that she`s raised. Sure.
But I`m not certain that bio is going to be sufficient as kind of campaign
re-introduction. What will they tell us about who Romney is?
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It is interesting, you know, there
was a "Times" piece earlier this week about the color and the shapes, and
the way they designed the stage to be inviting. I mean, that says to me
that they know there is a real sales job to be done, right? They brought
in people from Broadway and people from Madison avenue to try and help
shape the narrative.
Clearly, what they are going to try to is introduce us to potentially new
elements of history. Like, you know, his time in the church and his role
in the church. And you know, perhaps counseling.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a tough one though. Because, you know, I think that
there is this really interesting narrative that many Mormons have about
their time on mission, right? It was picking off and say where I was in
Guatemala or I was in -- he was in France, right? And in many ways, feels
like it plays to the one percent story.
FINNEY: I think the biggest challenge that they are going to have is, once
we know Mitt Romney and most people know Mitt Romney from the last eight to
ten years. And so, even though you put sort of some new polish on it, that
doesn`t change, I think, the core fundamental question of do you trust him,
do you trust his ideas and the economy.
FINNEY: They also, after this last tomb of couple of weeks, they are going
to have to redefine Mister Ryan, because what we have learned about -- we
didn`t know much about him, and then what we learned about him was scary to
people like me.
FINNEY: And I think, also, given Mister Akin`s comments, you have to
redefine the Republican party. Because we`ve seen the most extreme
elements of the party sort of on display and I don`t think that`s the image
of the Republican party that they want for the country.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And there is a little bit of data on this. Let`s take
a quick look at NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll about the overall
impression of the two candidates, President Barack Obama, Governor Mitt
Romney. You got President Obama coming in at a 48 percent positive or 43
percent negative, which you know, you would like to see that higher than
that, obviously, if you are in the Obama campaign. But boy, Mitt Romney,
at 38 percent.
And then, on this points that you were just making. We can look although
who is more easy going and likeable? And President Obama is just whipping
Mitt Romney on that. Like, even as they are willing to vote but nobody
likes this guy, and then this one which I think is really key. And I want
to come to you on, Buddy, who is more caring about average people. And
there you have President Obama at 52 percent and governor Romney at 30
percent. And that is what it feels like to me, that`s the gap that this
convention will try to get over.
BUDDY ROEMER (I), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The best chance for
Republicans in this convention is not Mitt Romney. It`s the cast who will
introduce him and talk about him. It is the future of the Republican
party, that`s the strongest point. Mitt Romney a decent guy. I like his
best credentials. I think he has a chance to create jobs in America. But
in terms of caring about the average plain people who build a great nation,
who fight the wars, who start the small business, he has no connection,
neither does Obama.
Let me say this. The fastest growing party in America are the
independents. The only party that`s healthy and --
HARRIS-PERRY: Governor, I don`t have a convention, you have no pins.
ROEMER: You repeat again what you know true. I`m not very social. But I
do speak for the people who build a nation. That`s small business. And
neither party connects with.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s an interesting point. You know, I guess, you
know I think the difference that the -- if I think about the convention
story that the Obama`s were able to tell in their videos, just in terms of
the pure aesthetics of it, right? They have a story from coming up from
working people especially the Michelle Robinson story, right, sort of who
her family is, in a way that that convention video, like I`m the privileged
kid of a wealthy, powerful family in a religion a lot of Americans don`t
know much about and may have negative stereotypes about. I went to France
to help people, and then I got much wealthier.
TEACHOUT: Let`s be clear about what the convention is for. So, this is a
phenomenally boring event. And you have phenomenally dull -- dull
WATKINS: Come to Tampa.
TEACHOUT: And the more people see of Mitt Romney, I think the less they
like him. And I actually think the real social function of a convention
may not be introducing the candidate to the public anymore. One of the
real social functions of the convention is providing access for corporate
and billionaire funders to Congress members and candidate members.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ll stay exactly that, I`m going to ask whether or not
this is in fact, phenomenally boring, in part because President Obama
models his presidency on that of Lincoln`s team of rivals. We heard this
week that in Romney`s inner circle, they are much better candidate, one
that might be phenomenally boring. And we are going to get right back to
that as soon as we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: In a recently published, Huffington magazine article, writer
John asked Mitt Romney`s senior campaign strategist Matt Rhodes about how
exactly Romney would govern if elected. Rhodes responded about the man
running to be our future president by name checking a man who was a past
president. This guy. President James K. Polk. The 11th president -- I`m
sorry -- of the United States.
HARRIS-PERRY: Polk. Now, Polk is not winning any presidential popularity
contests. True, history won`t tell it but will remember that he oversaw
the expansion of the U.S. map to include Texas, New Mexico, and California.
WATKINS: One of the most successful presidents we`ve had.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, all right, all right. Let`s just come on out. I would
fire Matt Rhodes if he said that I am modeling my presidency after James
FINNEY: The Democrat. The Democrat, by the way.
WATKINS: He was so effective. He got everything done he wanted to get
done including --
HARRIS-PERRY: He expanded the country in a way that allowed to us to
continue to have angst about the civil war. And can you imagine a more
boring than him. (INAUDIBLE).
FINNEY: OK. But, can I say something? He got things done. Why? Because
he was a strong president. Meaning that he consolidated the powers of
presidency. I thought, you all were all about the state and not the
strength of the federal government. I mean, he expanded the size of
government. Again, but I thought Republicans weren`t for. And pre-empted
war which we do know, thanks to the second George Bush you all for. But
pre-emptive war with Mexico, which I think many of us would question,
whether not true we got, you know, we picked up land from that, but was
that a good use of America`s resources? But at the time, I`m just saying.
I don`t known that would be --
ROEMER: Let me say that Texas was not some land.
FINNEY: No, no, no. I love Texas.
HARRIS-PERRY: They keep threatening to leave again. Every five years,
they will keep - they claim they are going to secede.
FINNEY: And he also strutted one of the most important issue of the time
which was, you know, slavery and kind of shuffled it off, believing to the
civil war. I mean, I don`t want a president who is not going to deal with
the big issues that are sitting on the table.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think that Polk would say he did deal with them, right?
So, I`m with you. I think it is both boring and a little odd and sort of
one term and all of that. But it does feel like even though he was a one-
term president, this kind of Al Gore for Rhodes, is this idea that he did
great things, he exited the scene. Few remember him, but Rhodes suggested
that this could be Romney`s legacy right? That he came and did great
TEACHOUT: Yes. I mean, as I see Romney and this is the first convention
with drones, right? And he is bold as boring as a drone and as unmanned as
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, poor mitt.
WATKINS: That was great, big --
TEACHOUT: He has fear in his eyes. They can be effective, but they aren`t
-- what you see with the shifting positions. I don`t think -- I think he
has a core and probably great relationship with his wife and family. But I
think in the political sphere, he doesn`t strike me as somebody who comes
with a deep moral conviction and he`s so hard to sort of --
FINNEY: Well, it is interesting you said, is one of the things that Matt
talks about, a number of people talked about in the article that is very
focused on the goal. How do I get there? And I have to tell you, when I
read that it suggested to me, OK so, this man is running for president.
So, his approach is how do I get there? I need you, I need you, I need
you, OK, what do I need to make you hope? That`s not somebody with a
strong moral core.
WATKINS: This same guy, when somebody in his little company`s girl was
lost, shut the company down and focused on finding that little girl.
That`s a moral compass. That`s a moral compass.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a personal moral compass, not about a political
ideology though. I mean, this is guy who said whose greatest achievement,
right, I mean one of the things he could run on, would be he`s been a
His great achievement was the individual mandate, and universal coverage on
health care for the people of Massachusetts which they really liked. You
could bring dozens of Massachusetts. He did this great thing except he
can`t, because he said I`m not for that, here is the guy who said I`m going
to be better on LGBT rights than Kennedy. But now he can`t talk about
that. And heck, even though no one ever after his birth certificate, we
have been asking over and over again for the taxes. And so, he can`t even
claim, you know, sort of I`m an open government kind of guy.
ROEMER: Let`s see what he has to say. Will he talk about an America that
he wants his family to grow up in. Will he talk about an American that is
growing. Will he talk about America that has fair trade with China. Not
dumb trade. Will he talk about an America where there is justice in the
land. Will he talk about an America where you can actually read the tax
code, when he talk about America that has a budget that is sustainable. Or
will he talk about business as usual. There is a lot of potential for Mitt
Romney. I`m telling you, he has a lot of talent. He is a well educated.
HARRIS-PERRY: He`s not a dumb guy.
ROEMER: But, can he see America? My problem with Mitt Romney is he misses
the real issue. The real issue is that the big boys run the country.
ROEMER: And if he were to stand up and say we`ll have a limit on giving
per individual, but everybody can give and we`ll have full disclosure and
we will have --
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on.
FINNEY: All due respect, I`m not concerned about what they would say.
ROEMER: He would win.
FINNEY: But it`s not -- here is the problem. It`s not what he will say.
It`s what has he done? When I look at what he did when he was at Bain and
how he then applied those kinds of values and principles to his tenure as
governor, come on now.
WATKINS: Saved companies.
FINNEY: He saved a few companies. He mitigated the risk for his
investors, to make sure that they were protected from risk when people lost
everything, and that`s the values he applied to governorship.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s right. And Joe, if -- this is always my angst
with businessman who run for anything, from city councilor forward. You
have to tell me this. If you believe private industry is the salvation of
the economy and you have access to being a private industry captain or
being in government and you exit that to go into government, you have to be
honest about your belief that you think that government does have a role.
And so you keep telling me --
WATKINS: It does have a role.
HARRIS-PERRY: But he doesn`t say that. And so my thing, if you are such a
great job creator, go make some. The more Romney talks about work and
jobs, the more that I learn about him and the more I think what we`re
learning is not pretty. We`ll talk about work when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: You`re looking at a live picture of the Tampa Bay Times
forum, where Republicans begin their convention in Tampa tomorrow. But
then immediately suspend activity until Tuesday afternoon due to the threat
from tropical storm Isaac.
For an update on the storm`s path, let me bring in NBC meteorologist Bill
Karins - Bill.
BILL KARINS, NBC NEWS METEOROLOGIST: Well, good morning to you , Melissa.
They just can`t win right now in Tampa, because the storm is actually
taking a track further off the coast. The impacts in Tampa are less today
than we thought yesterday. Still so too many rain and wind throughout and
some tornadoes. We are not a devastating flow blow. And by the time the
storm is gone, and then they try to resume Tuesday night, we could have a
hurricane approaching areas from Mobile to New Orleans. So, they are not
going to be able to win Tuesday night either.
Let me get update you on the latest with the storm. We do have a
possibility of tornadoes in south Florida. This is a strong tropical storm
going through the keys in south Florida. Now, by Florida standards, they
probably get one of this every year. It is not a huge ordeal. You have to
stay your house and really have to cancel your plans for today, but it is
not going to be a devastating blow for south Florida.
It is going to be intensifying as it moves away from the keys though. And
that is the Key to the forecast. The potential for what Isaac could
become, not what it is right now. It is only about 130 miles from the
keys, which we passing over the keys in about the next four to six hours.
So, let`s talk about where this is heading. The next update, by the way
from the hurricane center will be coming out here in about 30 minutes.
This is the 5:00 a.m. advisory. They had the storm going to about a
category two strength as we went through Tuesday with 105-mile-per-hour
winds, landfall somewhere near the Mississippi, Alabama border. But I
think that will shift further to the west once again.
I think New Orleans is going to go under a hurricane watch with a new
advisory coming out shortly. These are computer models, projecting where
the storm could head. And you have noticed, a lot of them, shifted to
Louisiana, some of them right through New Orleans or just at the south of
the town. So, New Orleans is quickly becoming the focus of where the storm
could potentially come.
Let me show you one of our hurricane computer models. The center of the
storm, where the circles are, this forecast would be for Tuesday afternoon,
with that storm potentially just to the south of New Orleans with the
landfall looks like Tuesday night to Wednesday morning.
So Melissa, in other words, they are going to try to get convention going
again Tuesday night. They are hoping that they can really do that with a
hurricane possibly hitting New Orleans at this time? I mean, as I said,
they just can`t win at convention and of course, you know, all of our fears
and concerns, the people of New Orleans, because they are going to have to
make some serious decisions about whether to stay in the city or start
evacuations here probably later today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. So Bill, like you a lot. But I`m not sure you`re
invited back to Nerdland anymore, because I live in New Orleans, and I got
a flight there in a couple hours, and --
KARINS: So, we can use you for hurricane coverage.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m feeling like maybe right now my mother, my husband, and
my daughter are in a full-out panic. So thanks, Bill.
KARINS: Yes. Good luck. We will keep you updated and let`s hope it turns
away from New Orleans in the next 24 hours.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
And let`s bring back our panel, although I do feel like I should just maybe
suspend the show for a few minutes and maybe make some flight changes.
But that said, Joe Watkins, Karen Finney, Buddy Roemer, and now at the
table is, Cornell Belcher, a democratic pollster for OUR Obama 2012.
So, I`m going to gather myself a little bit here because I am still
interested in what this -- what this moment might mean in terms of re-
inventing Romney. And I want to go to one thing in particular that has
been working on me. And it says, conversations about work.
Early on, we heard Romney sort of repeatedly saying that he is one of the
unemployed. So, let`s listen to that for one second here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I`m also unemployed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can help you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So I get it. That part of him like being folksy,
you know, I`m one of the unemployed as well. But the news mean from the
Romney folks, is that President Obama doesn`t respect work. So let`s
listen to this sort of welfare to work conversation that is the new main
out of the Romney/Ryan camp.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: If I`m president, those who can work, I will put work back in
welfare. Those who can work ought to have the opportunity for a job and if
they are getting state assistance, they ought to have requirement for a
good job, we will end a culture dependency and restore a culture of good,
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, good hard work is good for poor people, but if you are
wealthy, whatever, on the value of work, like this is -- this for me is
like the inherit angst that I have with Romney. I don`t know what he
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I see it as a strategy. I
mean, this fits nicely with this whole welfare sort of strategy and the
whole new birtherism strategy. Because quite frankly, their economic
predicate that they have been pounding the president on for the last six or
seven months, almost a year now is not a majority predicate. They have not
moved a majority of voters toward them.
Historically, you know, Dole took a lead on Clinton. Kerry took a lead on
Bush. And none of the polls have you seen sort of him take a statically
significant lead in most of the public polling.
HARRIS-PERRY: Cornell, I think, I need to you say that again, in case
folks missed that. Because, you know, I think we remember just who won and
who lost. But you are telling me that there was a point in the campaigns
where each of those challengers against an incumbent actually took a lead
in the polls.
BELCHER: No, that`s right. Especially sort of when the primary season
starts to wrap up, and the base of that party starts to rally around them.
You seen them take a lead.
Romney has never sort of taken a significant lead in any of the polls, even
NBC`s polling, CNN`s polling, right now he still down a couple of points.
And the problem is, in the sort of un-defining things is, because he`s what
we call underwater sort of in our terminology, meaning his faiths - his
unfavorable are higher than his favorable right now and actually at a
So, he goes into the convention right now as one of the most unpopular
nominees in modern political history which is the real problem, and the
economy isn`t working for him. So, I think it`s a return to the cultural
FINNEY: And you know, I think we can`t talk about this without
acknowledging sort of this anthropology of the language that is being used.
And we talked about the culture of poverty, right?
Initially, that was meant to talk about the systemic free - you know, poor
health, lack of access to education. And then, it kind got bastardized
into a kind of me that really referred to African-Americans and this whole
narrative about poor people, specifically African-Americans as lazy and
undeserving of welfare, and actually Kaiser family foundation, along with
NPR and the Kennedy school, did a lot of great polling on this. You will
be proud of this.
FINNEY: And whether we like it or not, the really is, Republicans more
likely than Democrats to, when we talk about welfare to think of black
people and think of white people as more deserving than black people when
it comes to welfare. And blacks are more likely than whites to have this
idea that you can be poor and be on welfare and still working hard. So I
think that to say --
HARRIS-PERRY: But it`s also simply an inaccurate statement about the
president`s policy position.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m actually not a fan of the Clinton welfare to work
reform. In part because I think you can`t on the one hand say the value of
mothers in the home for small children is paramount and, but if you`re
mother of a small child and you are poor, get out and work at a minimum
wage job, because that`s more valuable.
So, for me, I was never a fan of that, but fan or not, just empirically,
the president has not changed that.
WATKINS: I don`t think that this discussion really moved numbers one way
or the other. I think for African-Americans, there is no doubt about it.
The African-American is going to vote with President Obama in big numbers
as they did in 2008. That`s not going to change.
And so, the people that need to be moved are the people who haven`t yet
made a decision about who they want to vote for. And those people are
wondering how do I get a clear message from either campaign with all of
this meanness, you know. Meaning all of this character assassination. How
do I get a message about where this person really stand, how they would put
me back to work, or more importantly, if I own a small business, like my
buddy who owns a pizza shop in Long Island is saying, you know, I`m not a
Republican or Democrat. I just want to know how -- who is going to make
the economy better?
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, maybe or maybe not the answer will be in the
convention. But as soon as we come back, we are going to take a pop quiz
about the convention. That is going to be fun, I promise. They are not
boring, they are fun, great. Pop quiz, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Assuming hurricane Isaac dissipates or goes away, or
something, fall semester classes start at Tulane University this weekend.
So, I`m back in my teacher mode. We give you most of the summer off, but
it is time again for a pop quiz.
All right. One day ahead of the Republican national convention in Tampa.
I`m putting my panel to the test on all things RNC convention related.
Here`s the deal.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. I`ll ask the question, you ring the bell with
an answer and we have actual prizes.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. This one. It is not going to be no problem. You guys
are going to get this one. To begin, with our first question, take a look
at this classic convention moment. You all going to remember it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Read my lips. No
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. That`s true. But that was not the question. That, of
course, was George H.W. Bush at the Republican national convention. Where
was that convention held?
BELCHER: That convention held in New Orleans.
HARRIS-PERRY: That convention was held in New Orleans. Hey, put a nerd on
it. Put a nerd on it. Yes.
WATKINS: You didn`t ring the bell. New Orleans.
ROEMER: George Bush, New Orleans.
ROEMER: I was governor of the state and spoke at that convention, as a
HARRIS-PERRY: Wow, look at that.
ROEMER: Pretty rare, apparently. Was booed. Booed off the stage, talking
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. OK, OK. Next question. You guys are great.
All right. Which candidate was nominated at the second-ever Republican
ROEMER: Abraham Lincoln.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, Buddy Romer. And I love Nerdland sticker for you. That
is right. It was in 1860. It was in Chicago, and he was not the front-
runner at that convention. It took a lot of politicking and had absolutely
nothing to do with vampire slaying.
FINNEY: Oh, sorry to say, I saw that movie.
BELCHER: I`m sorry.
HARRIS-PERRY: We will have a segment on that later.
OK, next question. Which was the first ever televised Republican national
WATKINS: 1948, Philadelphia.
HARRIS-PERRY: And who was the nominee?
WATKINS: Thomas Dewey.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was 1940 convention in Philadelphia. And it was a guy
who by his name alone, you got to know wasn`t going to win. Wendell Wilke.
HARRIS-PERRY: By the way, Wilke was want by FDR (INAUDIBLE).
WATKINS: It was a tough one.
BELCHER: You don`t want to repeat that one.
HARRIS-PERRY: You don`t want to be Wendell Wilke running against FDR.
ROEMER: Too much like James Polk. Just a thought.
HARRIS-PERRY: Too much like James Polk.
ROEMER: All of these parallels. Just a thought.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. The fourth one, in 2008, what former member of a
Democratic national ticket had a role in the Republican convention?
WATKINS: Joe Lieberman.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. And why? Why would Joe Lieberman speaking?
BELCHER: Because he`s crazy.
HARRIS-PERRY: We don`t do crazy here.
FINNEY: He broke his word. And because initially he said he wouldn`t
speak against the Democratic nominee, and then he decided that he had to
speak because McCain was a good friend.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you remember that McCain wanted to choose Lieberman as a
running mate and ended up with Sarah Palin. You get a Nerdland sticker.
I really love this. I really love this question. Which former Louisiana
governor was a delegate at both a Democratic and Republican national
WATKINS: Buddy Roemer.
HARRIS-PERRY: How did you not get this one, Buddy? How is this not you?
ROEMER: Give me the sticker.
HARRIS-PERRY: Joe is stickering it up. He is Nerdland it up. We have one
bonus round. I just want you all to listen. This is a little sort of name
that tune. Listen to this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And to those critics who was so pessimistic about our
economy, I say don`t be economic girlie men.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Don`t be economic girlie men. Arnold Schwarzenegger. I`m
giving you this one. Nerdland stickers.
ROEMER: I`m going to do something Nerdland was? Wish happy birthday to my
mother-in-law. Divorced years ago after a long bachelorhood, I got re-
married, 11 years ago, and I`m keeping this one forever. And I want to
wish happy birthday to my mother-in-law in Madison, Mississippi.
HARRIS-PERRY: That is lovely. And it`s a good day for moms, because it`s
also the -- it`s also the day in which we mark the passage of the 19th
amendment which gave women the right to vote. And it was a mom calling her
son to tell him you should vote so women can vote. So, it is all - it is a
good day for moms.
Up next, how the parties are losing control of politics and shadow groups
are stepping in to replace them. We`re talking rogue when we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: 2.5 billion, that`s the long-signed price tag" Time"
magazine that put on 1600 Pennsylvania avenue in the 2012 race. Then you
thought, home crisis were declining. 2.7 million Americans are trying to
help President Obama raise the money he`ll need to extend his lease another
I tell you how many individual donors the Romney campaign had, if they were
telling us. But we know they are trailing, $348 million. That`s how much
the Obama campaign has raised as of this week as compared to $193 million
for the Romney campaign. $155 million that ought to be the money advantage
that President Obama has over former governor Mitt Romney and it would be
if it weren`t for this figure, 4-1, that`s the ratio of spending according
to the center for responsible politics of conservative super PACs to
liberal super backs to July of this year.
More specifically, $137 million spent by conservative groups, compared to
$31 million spent by their liberal counter parts during the same time. And
there just getting started.
$325 million is how much the super PACs have raised so far with promises
from billionaires of plenty more to come. And much of it is headed
straight to Karl Rove. $47 million is how much his American crossroads
super PAC has raised so far. 5.4 in July alone. And by that, what I need
is what was reported by politico, $5 million raised from just four donors
and their companies. Combine that with the $41.7 million the investigative
journalism organization estimates Rhodes separate nonprofit crossroads GPS
has already spent on ad to influence the presidential race.
Beyond Rove, there are dozens more groups. The numbers are all add up to a
new reality for our two-party system. Republicans and Democrats are now
each flanked by their own shadow parties.
And when we come back, we`ll show you why political money is still just in
HARRIS-PERRY: Did you hear about the amounts of secret money being
funneled into campaigns, for some there is something actually something
scarier. Bush`s brain is back.
Behind the scenes, Karl Rove, the man that George W. Bush dogged the
architect is leading the charge to make sure Republicans not only win the
White House, but also keep a majority in the House of Representatives and
take back the Senate. And if political predictions are correct, we haven`t
seen anything yet when it comes to Rove rain making and I`m not talking
about the Tampa strip clubs, but Rove rain making money machine.
At the table, Robert Traynham, MSNBC contributor and former Rick Santorum
communications director, Zephyr Teachout, associate professor of law at
Fordham University, Buddy Roemer, chairman of thereformproject.org and
Cornell Belcher, pollster for Obama 2012.
So, both and Buddy, this is what you guys fundamentally care. You keep
kind a tried to bring me last hour. Like no, no, no. The convention is
really about the money. Make the case for me.
TEACHOUT: Well, the convention sets a 1980 law have always had a loophole
which allowed for corporate giving and don`t have to report giving until
October. So the conventions have historically been a place where you bring
together money donors and politicians. This time, of course, the super
PACs are playing a very active role. There is a great story in "New York
Times" today detailing many of the parties given by the super PACs.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, you are saying that this is just the beginning,
though. We are just in the infancy.
TEACHOUT: Yes. I mean, basically these two cases that found, citizens
united in 2007 case which allowed for greater range of what you could say
in an ad, both created a whole new way of engaging in politics. Just like
chess was invented this year, two years ago.
And so, what we`ve seen in the last couple of years is Rove and others
putting their toe in the water. But there`s a lot of reasons to think this
is just the beginning. First of all, much of the money this year is a lot
of the money coming from Texas. Wall Street is not really involved in
super PAC giving. Once we see wall street involved, we`ll see --
HARRIS-PERRY: When you say Texas. Like two guys in Texas. We have this
amazing -- the amount of money coming from just two extremely wealthy
ROEMER: Well, 155 people have given all the money in this campaign,
Democrat and Republican. The average American does not give. It is the
one percent, not in terms of their wealth, although that`s true sometimes.
In terms of their special interests. In terms of the need. Who gave on
the health care issue? Insurance companies and pharmaceuticals. Look how
it changed the whole debate. I`m telling you, America is not just broken,
it`s bought. And it`s bought by people who have never done better,
HARRIS-PERRY: But it felt to me like the most exciting thing of 2008 was
the little red button, push donor donate, $10, $5, $15.
BELCHER: Push back a little bit. The Obama campaign have a lot of small
donors, but here is the fundamental problem with this in two different
areas. One is, as a campaign professional, you lose control of your
message and narrative. I mean, for better or worse, have you candidates
now who are not in control of the message in America.
Take Newt Gingrich in the primaries, for example. Newt Gingrich did most
of his communicating in the primaries, of millionaires through the super
PACS that most do the communications. So, you have your candidates
literally being puppets of millionaires, and the other problem about this,
if you are going to say money is, in fact, speech, well then, you
automatically say rich people have more speech.
And you know, I did focus groups a couple weeks back and so were talking to
voters and they feel their voice is being sort of overrun and the system
being rigged. This -- this decision does not -- does not expand democracy.
It shrinks democracy.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think your point there about control of the message and
the fact that there are campaign professionals who is in control the
message. That is maybe the most heartening thing I`ve heard about all
this. Because what I keep trying to figure out is, what is the incentive?
Who has some sort of power and influence, who has some sort of incentive to
push back against this? Because ordinary people are trying to fight back
one vote at a time. we are trying to collect all of this information. But
if you are telling me there is actually a group of well organized
professional people, who are like, wait a minute, I would like to control
my message. Maybe in that group, There is some sense of pushing back
ROBERT TRAYNHAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right. I totally agree with
everything that Cornell just said. But I`ll flip the coin a little bit
here because I remind everybody around the table that back in 2008 to
control his own message. Barack Obama said, no. No I`m not going to take
matching funds, not going to take public funds, raise unlimited amounts of
money, yes, so I can control my own message.
Ironically, John McCain is the one who campaigned finance reform who said,
yes, I am going to take public funds, yes, I had take control of my
message, but did he really?
So, what is ironic here, we haven`t talked this, is that Barack Obama, And
I`m saying that from a historical standpoint, he was the one that kind of
raised the roof by saying I don`t want public funds.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s about to get hot, and I promise you, we`ll all get to
talk more about it. More on Karl Rove and Buddy Roemer as soon as we get
back, I promise.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Welcome back. I am Melissa Harris-Perry
and I am in the middle of what could become a fistfight. Why? Because
I`ve got MSNBC contributor Robert Traynham, Fordham University`s Zephyr
Teachout. But over here on the other side, I`ve got former presidential
candidate Buddy Roemer and Obama pollster Cornell Belcher.
We are talking money and politics and these folks care. It has been
heated. I really -- I hate that we were in a commercial.
Right before we went to commercial -- Rob, make your point again
about President Obama, because I think it`s one that infuses a lot of
passion into this conversation.
ROBERT TRAYNHAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I didn`t mean, you know,
coming in with a blow torch and straw hat here, but I think we need to
remember that Barack Obama started this. And I`m not saying it was a good
thing or bad thing. I was saying it was a strategic thing --
CORNELL BELCHER, OBAMA POLLSTER: You confide to me how Barack Obama
BUDDY ROEMER (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Make your point,
Robert. Be true.
TRAYNHAM: 2007, Tim Russert asked him, would you take matching
funds? He said under those circumstances would I take matching funds. I
won`t take matching funds.
ROEMER: He said it.
TRAYNHAM: He did say that. Fast forward to after the primaries, he
said, you know what? I`m not going to take matching funds, I need to
raise, quote, "an unlimited amount of money to define myself and go after
the Republicans." That`s what he did.
BELCHER: Add to it, Robert, so, under the law, was it not capped how
much an individual could actually give?
TRAYNHAM: Of course.
BELCHER: OK, thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: At the point, I think that`s fair. So, on the one
had, you have a moment as a candidate, the man who becomes president says,
I am not going to do the public matching funds, I`m going to go separate on
this, but it`s also at a moment, it`s pre-Citizens United and there is an
individual giving cap per person. So, yes, he makes that decision, but he
does make it under a different set of circumstance than what we currently
exist under with Citizens Unit.
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: And there`s a real substantial
difference between unlimited small dollar donors and unlimited
TEACHOUT: I mean, Teddy Roosevelt called it the criminal money
class. And I thought Mike Crown wrote a wonderful piece in "Time"
magazine. But the problem is that he talks about it as the Republican
This is not the Republican Party. Aristotle talks about rule by the
wealthy as oligarchy.
ROEMER: Well, I don`t want to take money out of politics. You
provide a service that needs to be paid for. I`m not trying to take money
out of politics. I`m trying to do two things. I`m trying to reveal who
gives it and when.
And number two, I`m trying to make the playing field more level.
And the Supreme Court, even -- I disagree with Citizens United. To
me, it`s like Plessy versus Ferguson ruling in 1896, separate but equal.
It`s wrong, you do not have the right in America to buy an election or to
own a president.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask that on the president question. Are we
focusing on the wrong thing all together? I mean, on the one hand, clearly
this is going to have an enormous influence on the presidency. Let`s just
look for a moment at the amount of money raised by President Obama and the
Democratic Party, Priorities USA Action super PAC, versus Mitt Romney and
the GOP party at Restore Our Future super PAC.
I mean, you are looking at, you know, millions and millions, and
$587.7 million raised, $502 million spent on the Democratic side, $524
million raised and $396 million spent on the Republican side. But at the
presidential level, this is information saturated environment. There`s a
lot of money, but there`s a lot of information.
I`m worried about the House, the Senate, the kind of down card races.
BELCHER: Can I make a point on the campaign side of this? Two
things -- one, historically, you have a sitting president which is
incredible. And, you know this as well as I do, you do not want to be
outspent two to one.
BELCHER: In some states, Democrats being outspent 5, 6-1, and at
some point, that does have an impact and if you are -- and this is where it
hits the ground. If you`re sitting, if you are a congressman sitting in
medium or small market district, you`re raising money, you think you are
fine, you think you know what your challenger is doing, you think you`re
fine, and all of a sudden, Karl Rove comes in, and dumps $1 million
negative advertising in your market and that will move numbers.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Even if it doesn`t -- so if he dumps the money
and the money is about Romney or -- it can still impact your local
congressional candidates (ph).
BELCHER: You`re attacking the sort of Democratic brand.
TRAYNHAM: It`s a tidal wave. There`s no question about it that
look, you know, the presidential level is almost like a cruise liner if you
will. And congressional level or gubernatorial level like a sailboat.
It`s Karl Rove or David Axelrod on the Democratic side or someone like that
brings money into a battleground state, it definitely has a down market
HARRIS-PERRY: So, who is the head of the so-called -- I mean, I
heard you say they are not a party, right? The Republican Party would be a
mass based party that go out there with their ideas that are better or
worse, Democrats are saying, right, people give money to support the ideas
If Karl Rove and, you know, Bob Perry and Harold Simmons who are the
two Texas millionaires who together have given $15 million to Crossroads,
right, if those three guys can dump that much money, is there a party or is
there a shadow oligarchy here?
TRAYNHAM: But wait a minute, what about George Soros on the
Democratic side? I don`t understand --
HARRIS-PERRY: I wish.
HARRIS-PERRY: Part of the reason, Democrats in part are --
ROEMER: They are bought. Look at the facts, Melissa. The
Republican Party is now building the war chest supposedly in a non-
coordinated way. Do you think this is non-coordinated. That is a joke.
Mitt Romney spoke to the fund-raiser of his own super PAC.
Now, let`s go to the other side. President of the United States
stood in the White House at a press conference and said he would allow
super PACs to be formed. In fact, as members of his administration to go
out and raise money for him. And the Supreme Court said --
ROEMER: I`m not saying that. I`m just saying the Supreme Court`s
ruling is now a lie. It says that uncoordinated, third-party contributions
can`t be limited.
All these contributions are coordinated. This is America today.
Elections are being bought. Our choice and 314 million Americans are two
guys saying almost the same thing -- nothing about jobs, nothing about
trade, nothing about our future. It`s a disgrace.
BELCHER: Nothing to disagree with that. However, at some point you
say to your people running for Congress and running for Senate, will you
support changing this law? Will you support going into the Senate and
standing there and fighting the-to-change this law, pass this law, roll
HARRIS-PERRY: I got to say, I hear you, I hear the passion, it`s
operating on both sides.
BELCHER: It`s not equal.
HARRIS-PERRY: A, it`s not equal. First of all, not equal, and
secondly we do absolutely have all these progressives saying, we won`t go
into the super PAC. But certainly answering the president on the money
But, third, I`m not sure that there are no ideas being displayed
here. In fact there, are a lot. And we do have a real choice. One party
said we will make taxes less for the wealthiest Americans. We will
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s talk about some real thing things.
ROEMER: Let me say this I`ve been in Congress, I`ve been a governor.
I know ho to you get things done. Neither party will get it done. You
know why? They are bought. The special interests own --
TEACHOUT: Governor, I would be back in Vermont writing country music
songs. The reason we are here is we think something is possible. We need
to make sure not just Cuomo is making move toward matching funds, which he
needs to do, if Obama comes out strong for matching funds, I think we`ll
get more support -- an extraordinary support for breaking up big companies.
Neither parties are talking about that. They should, if they did.
TRAYNHAM: I agree.
TEACHOUT: There are these little moments. It`s important to act
now, because as you said right now --
ROEMER: Things can be done.
TEACHOUT: Just one minute. We`re playing the game. First year of
playing the game, and right now the political class is not yet bought in.
Right now, people like you --
BELCHER: I`m not the political class.
TEACHOUT: Right now, you are -- those who are political strategists,
still primarily working for candidates. Right now is the time that we need
to roll this back, because when you finally get the political class bought
into the super PAC world, they become the quarter in the oligopoly. So,
it`s really important.
TRAYNHAM: There`s two words that we have not mentioned here, that`s
very uncomfortable to talk about, it`s term limits. When you take look at
a president who won re-election in a second term, his overall body language
changes. He doesn`t have to worry about raising money.
So, guess what happens? He makes tough decisions. He doesn`t have
to worry about running for reelection.
So in the process, hypothetically, if, in fact, we had term limits
both at the senatorial level, but also clearly at the congressional level,
then I think we may have a change. People say, you know what? I`m not
going to take that phone call from George P., whomever, or Richie Rich or
whatever cast it would be. And the reason is because I don`t have to worry
HARRIS-PERRY: Robert Traynham, first of all, you made the single
best case for President Obama`s re-election that I ever had a Republican
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. I like that.
But I actually have been a long-time supporter of term limits,
although very long term limits, I think there is a great deal of value in
people gaining professional experience and all of that. So I`m fan of an
even 20-year time limit.
TRAYNHAM: So, a Senator serving two terms, in other words, 12 years
and perhaps making --
TEACHOUT: -- question, term limits in combination with other
TEACHOUT: Unlimited super PAC money.
HARRIS-PERRY: We just solved problems of America.
BELCHER: That`s a pointless conversation. Term limits aren`t going
to happen. We should move on and talk about something --
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, come on.
TRAYNHAM: You think nothing`s going to happen for the next two
BELCHER: You heard people talk about campaign finance reform. So,
you know what? Put it to the members of Congress running, get them on
ROEMER: Robert, I agree with you. We got no take this one step at a
We know we need reapportionment reform. We know that. We know we
need term limit reform. We know that.
But we got to start with the money.
BELCHER: You do have to start.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. Thank you, Zephyr Teachout and Buddy
Roemer. Robert and Cornell are sticking around.
I love this, because that`s right. It`s not just who are the
characters in the game, but it`s the rules of the game. And I appreciate
that you are passionate about that.
ROEMER: Appreciate you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, why Condi Rice is not the only black
Republican in America. She`s just not. There are a few more. I`ve got
HARRIS-PERRY: As Mitt Romney heads to Tampa for the Republican
convention this week, polls show the race between him and President Obama
could still go either way. But a new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows
one problem for the Republican challengers. Romney trails President Obama
in African-American voters, 94 percent to 0 percent. Yes, I said zero.
But remember, that`s a percentage. Not a count of the number of
black Romney supporters. Because here is a bit of breaking news: not all
black people think alike. I know, with all of the talk of the black
community and the black church and the black vote, and with that big fat
zero in Romney`s support, it`s easy to believe that African-Americans have
a single political mind.
But nothing could be further from the truth. African-American
political history is one of spirited disagreement. Think of WEB Boise`s
fierce condemnation of Booker T. Washington or his decades of debate with
Ida B. Wells.
Or the differing rhetorical styles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and
Need more evidence? When are you watching the convention in Tampa
this week, you might see something that will surprise you -- black
Republicans. No, they are not lost. They will be there because they
support Mitt Romney and are prepared to work to make him president of the
No, this does mean that they hate themselves or other black people.
Yes, this means they disagree with the majority of black voter who will be
working to get the president reelected. But remember my earlier news, not
all black people think alike. So, why would an African-American be
During the first 100 years of black citizenship in America, most
black folk were Republican, for one really compelling reason- - that guy.
But today, the reasons are more complicated.
Among many African-Americans, there is a strong ethic of economic
self-reliance and a long history of distrusting government. For some, this
tradition translates into support for Republicans. Also black Americans,
especially those older and living in the south report high levels of
religiosity and social conservatism. For some, these beliefs translate to
support for the Republicans.
And there`s another reason, if you`re an ambitious, young, African-
American who wants to seek office -- well, the line is much shorter in the
Republican Party, and when it comes to seeking office, Republicanism isn`t
a bad professional strategy.
But let`s not overstate the point. The Democratic Party still enjoys
the robust support of African-American voters, because the policies
supported by the national party are demonstrably better for the economic
well being of African-Americans.
But, hey, even that`s up for debate. Why? Say it with me -- because
not all black people think alike.
When we come back, I`ve got some of those rogue black folk, right
here in Nerdland.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY WILMORE, "DAILY SHOW" CORRESPONDENT: Then they try to get me
on the train with them. Larry, aren`t you disappointed with Obama? Health
care, Larry. Aren`t you?
You know, let me just clear something up. I voted for Obama because
he`s black, OK? All right? I don`t have disappointment issues, all right?
As long as he keeps being black --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was comedian Larry Wilmore of "The Daily Show,"
entertaining the congressional correspondents dinner last year. And,
obviously, he was joking.
With me now are three African-American conservatives for whom
President Obama`s blackness is most decidedly not an automatic requirement
With me, former Rick Santorum communications director, Robert
Traynham; Amy Holmes, GBTV anchor and former speechwriter for Republican
Senator Bill Frist; Joe Watkins, former aide to George W. Bush; and Obama
2012 pollster Cornell Belcher.
BELCHER: I`m not in that group.
AMY HOLMES, GBTV: I was going to say, one of these kids is doing his
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It turns he`s actually doing his own poll,
we`ll come to in a moment.
Amy, this is your first time here in Nerdland. So, I`m sort of
interested -- how do you politically identify at this moment, and sort of
walk me through a little bit of why you`re politically identify that way?
HOLMES: Sure, I`m a registered independent and I actually voted for
Bill Clinton in 1992. I didn`t vote for a Republican until the last
election cycle actually, in 2008, for Senator McCain. I guess I
politically identify as a conservative, and I just kind of came to
And a lot of it during the `90s and the big debate over welfare
reform, and it just -- the argument in support of welfare, against welfare
reform, didn`t make sense to me, I grew up in, you know, middle class
family. My mom, a single mom. And we were sort of an up by the bootstrap
sort of family.
So the story about self-empowerment, and you can take opportunities,
take the bull by the horns, being architect of your destiny, that`s what
spoke to me.
And, you know, I often say to my mom, did you ever think when you
came back to the States with me and my little brother, that would you have
a daughter who went to Princeton and a son who went to Morehouse? And she
said, no, I would never have imagined it. And here we are.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s so interesting, because in many ways, like your
bio doesn`t read that different than our current president, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: Child of a mixed race family, father who is from the
HARRIS-PERRY: And all of that makes me, you know, sort of have this
kind of political perspective and you`re saying, yes and that background
makes me feel like I have this kind of political --
HOLMES: It just goes to show that biology is not political destiny.
And the president and I have shockingly similar biographical backgrounds,
of white American mother who meets an African college student, my mother
ended up moving back to Zambia with him. She had me and my brother. And
they split when we were little. I didn`t grow up with my father, didn`t
know him. She got remarried when I was six.
So, all of these things, too, how a family can put itself together in
an independent way. My father is my adopted father and he`s my dad and I
love him. And I consider myself being from a traditional family.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s interesting to hear this narrative in
this way -- in my first book project, I really am concerned with -- I am a
very strong progressive, tough to get me not to support a Democrat,
although occasionally there`s a Republican I support because I find the
Democrat so awful, that happens recently, but not at the presidential
level. That said, like I`m a little bit worried about how we police the
notion of authentic blackness. And we say that you can only be black if
you believe in these ideas.
Is that something that as black conservatives you`ve come up against?
BELCHER: I can jump in before you --
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure, police them.
BELCHER: All the conservatives, the one thing I have to jump in is,
you know, when you -- blacks have been conservative for a while especially
when you talk about African-Americans in the South and what you see is sort
of conservatism becomes a proxy for their religiosity. So conservatives
isn`t always tied to some political spectrum for a lot of Americans,
particularly African-Americans in the South, where you still have a large
swath who consider themselves conservative. But their conservatism or
their religiosity takes them to a different place.
You know, a regular church-going African-American woman is one of the
strongest Democratic voters there is, a regular church going white person,
their religiosity takes them something very different politically.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. That notion of private, ethical, morality
uplift is not at odds for being a Democrat for the vast majority of black
TRAYNHAM: You know, it`s interesting, because just being out in
public and so forth, I can`t tell me how many black individuals come up and
say I like what you see on television, I`m conservative too.
TRAYNHAM: That`s great. I`m glad to meet you. Why are we
whispering? Why do we have to whisper?
And the conversation always switches to, well, you know, my brother
is a Democrat, or my family is a Democrat, and I`m chastised because if, in
fact, I say I`m a black conservative then something may be different.
Something is off, not part of the mainstream.
I`m a conservative because I`m adamantly pro-life. I am inherently
distrustful of big government. I believe strongly that the individuality
of a person, very similar to what Amy said a few moments ago, is the
overall essence of someone. And thus the process by pulling yourself up by
your boot straps makes you a stronger and better person from the character
Now, that isn`t to say -- let me clear about this that isn`t to say
welfare and certain social programs are not needed, because they are. But
inherently, I am -- I can`t tell you how much when the government comes
knocking on the door, I`m inherently distrustful.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. And I think that distrust of government,
particularly for African-Americans, has an awful lot of good history behind
it, right, particularly at the local level. So, this is the fight I was
having with how vice president Ryan was introducing Republicanism in the
reading of the Declaration of Independence. He`s like, oh, look, rights
are natural, you don`t need government. I`m sorry, actually --
TRAYNHAM: Melissa, you slip there, you said Vice President Ryan.
HARRIS-PERRY: Uh-oh. I`m sorry. Vice presidential candidate Ryan,
HOLMES: No, no, it`s OK.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, God, please help us.
Cornell, just before we go, I know that you did do a poll around
exactly these issues, and I`m just sort of wondering, sort of what you see
BELCHER: We did a poll for BET that`s going to be released tomorrow.
It`s interesting, Robert, what are you talking about isn`t something that`s
-- that`s alien to African-Americans. There are two party traits that are
-- that are on equal opportunity, fighting for equal opportunity and
sharing their values that axed to sort of help Democrats, but also axed to
But what`s most important here is that the trait acting that`s not
acting on the Democrats, but acting on the Republicans, is the trait of
hostility toward minorities. Too many leaders, hostility, not open
So, if you could get past hostility sort of that many African-
Americans feel toward the Republicans are and that they are, in fact, on
their side, equal opportunity there, could be some bridges sort of made to
African-American community because look, we`re about to see a candidate get
a historical low of African-Americans. And the question becomes, in
diversity that is America, can you be president of United States with
winning 1 percent or 2 percent of black vote?
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`ll tell you, we`re not going to walk over the
bridge of birtherism into the Republican Party.
More on exactly this. Thanks, Cornell. The rest is sticking around.
And when we come back, I`m going to put one of our guests on the spot
for his recent star turn on the HBO show, "The Newsroom." Don`t miss it.
HARRIS-PERRY: The following is a clip from a recent episode of HBO`s
new drama "The Newsroom," a scene that grew incredibly tense after the
show`s news anchor pressed his black gay Republican guest on whether his
support for Rick Santorum went against who he was as a black gay man.
After being pushed and pushed, the guest responds like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am more than one thing. How dare you reduce me
to the color of my skin or my sexual orientation? There are people who
look just like me, thousands and thousands, who died for the freedom to
define their own lives for themselves. How dare you presume to decide what
I should think is important? Yes, when it comes to equality for the gay
community, Senator Santorum is wrong, but I`m far more insulted by your
high-handed implication that I need your protection.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut up! I`ll let you know when I`m finished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: With me now is the man who it would seem is the direct
inspiration of the character, although he has never told me to shut up.
Former Santorum communications director Robert Traynham is still with us.
Amy Holmes, Joe Watkins and back at the table, Karen Finney.
All right. Did all your friends call after the episode?
TRAYNHAM: Oh, my goodness. It`s unbelievable.
You know, it`s funny because that character did, I think it did a
very good job of expressing what I think and what I`ve said in the past.
And you`re right, the only thing I wouldn`t do is I would never say shut-up
KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: And I have to stick up for
Robert for a second. That was based on a segment he did with our own Chris
Matthews, not quite like that, but he was pressing with questions about
your work with Santorum. He was very respectful. But you were very
respectful as well and I thought did a really fine job without having to
say shut up.
You know, I`m always like explain it to me. You really represented
well and did a good job of balancing, here is what he says a lot of things
that you would think are not consistent with being a person of color, but
my own values.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I think this is -- this is -- I am in disagreement
sort of with where at least three out of four of you kilometer down on
partisan identification. What I find troubling against any idea that are
you not authentically American, that you`re not authentically black, that
you`re not authentically thinking people.
And even as I critique what I see is the birtherism argument from the
right that President Obama is somehow not truly American, he doesn`t really
get the American story or something -- like I think it`s a similar sort of
kind of bizarre counter-birtherism that occurs when you say you just don`t
get blackness, just don`t understand it. It`s different to say I just
don`t agree with you. Like I don`t come down where you come down on these
JOE WATKINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: For me, as a Christian person,
it`s important to love everybody. You know, I mean, to love everybody,
have love in your heart, to not be judgmental. The Bible says judge not,
you be not judged.
So, I happen to be a Republican. I worked for a Republican U.S.
senator, and I worked for a Republican president and -- I love people who
agree with me. I love people who don`t agree with me, and I love having
the chance to dialog and talk with people.
I have love in my heart for the president of the United States. I
think Republicans should love and respect the president of the United
States. They may disagree with him on issues, but they should love him and
pray for him. And I --
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m interested on the religious piece. I want to push
this a little bit because, for me, so often what we hear of as the basis of
social conservatism, where there were Republican inroads in 2004 prior to
hurricane Katrina failure on part of the Bush administration, was around
But I`m always a little surprised, because to me it presumes that
there`s only one way to read a fundamentalist narrative of the Bible and it
seems to me the great gift of African-Americans to American Christianity
has been to trouble those narratives. You know, the slave master says,
slaves, obey your masters and enslaved people say I see that whole Moses
story with let my people go. So, why would we assume that one way a
fundamentalist reading of the Bible would necessarily mean sort of a drift
HOLMES: Well, I have to let Joe answer that I`m actually not a
social conservative. I`m pro-choice, I`m pro-gay marriage. So, I`m coming
from the West Coast for my upbringing and seeing a lot more African-
Americans registering independent and folks who don`t feel they are
represented really by either party and, you know, want politics that is
sort of less --
HOLMES: Combative. When we were having this conversation, I`m
feeling as a black conservative, and this came out in the 2008 election,
that it`s a lot easier, in the `90s, these conversations were far more
fraught, far nor fractious, and really ugly, in fact.
But there seems to be sort of a liberating thing that happened in
2008, perhaps for African-Americans who are Democrats like, it`s OK, we got
Obama. We don`t need you anymore.
HOLMES: We can have this conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Feel free to do whatever it is you are doing over
HOLMES: By the way, I`m conservative too. And I`m like, it`s OK, we
have a meeting, 6:00.
TRAYNHAM: But to your point, Melissa, I think Republicans try to
with the whole faith based argument, with the whole same sex marriage
argument, is to have a common conversation with African-Americans, and say,
you know what? We speak the same language that you speak when it comes to
religiosity. We speak about religion the same way we do. It`s very free
to us. It`s very comforting to us.
So, as a Republican, this is what we have in common. We`re clock
into you in the same level and respect to same-sex marriage, which I
disagree with, obviously with faith-based religion, obviously that Joe can
So, the question becomes quite frankly, and this is a larger
philosophical conversation, can we have a conversation where we
respectfully disagree? Can we have a conversation, and quite frankly, you
say tomato, I say tomato, and we just see things fundamentally different?
WATKINS: Can we have a conversation and work together?
WATKINS: For me, that`s the real challenge because right now, our
country is so divided, so fractured that people see it as -- you are either
for me or against me, you`re either on my side or on the other side. And
my whole point is why can`t we work together?
FINNEY: Part of the problem, Robert, to your point, we all hear
things differently and one of my biggest frustrations, and that`s this dog
whistle politics that has been reintroduced.
When Mitt Romney makes this joke about his birth certificate, he may
think it`s funny, and he`s just making a joke, but the fact that he may not
understand that there is a large building section of population, not just
African-Americans, by the way, who are offended by that, that`s a problem.
The point, you know, what it is to be a black person in this country,
that definition is shifting and changing. But also, our country is
shifting and changing, and we have to have more respect for the impact that
our language has, and how women here, when you tell me you think me using
my Medicaid to get an abortion if I have been raped is some kind of
loophole that I`m going to exploit, what does that say about how you feel -
TRAYNHAM: And this conversation --
HOLMES: We`re all in chains.
FINNEY: But that`s kind of --
HOLMES: Charlie Rangel said you bet your ass he was saying that.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, one of the things that I have pushed a lot
on, we ought not be as focused on the sort of discursive utterances of the
left or the right as policies. For me, does Vice President Biden pretty
regularly absolutely put his foot in places I`m -- yes, right. Sure,
HOLMES: In racial territory.
HARRIS-PERRY: And absolutely in racial territory and besides that,
I`m still not completely over the Anita Hill hearings, right? So, I`ve got
my issues. But that said, Vice President Biden`s position on the Violence
Against Women Act, his position in this administration. The actual
policies tell me something very different than where a Vice President Ryan
FINNEY: When we`re talking about welfare reform and putting the work
back in welfare reform, that we`re talking about in the last hour, some of
the language around that I think is very much geared towards the dog
whistle politics without recognizing a huge and growing population hears it
a very different way.
TRAYNHAM: That`s never appropriate. The point is, what it means to
be black Republican and to your point --
WATKINS: I get recognized everywhere I go.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to stop the conversation on just -- I`m going
to stop the conversation on just that. That`s exactly what we will talk
about next which is the question of whether or not part of the issue is
that there is professional value to being sort of one of the few.
So, we`re going to talk about, you guessed it, Congressman Artur
Davis, who was one of Senator Barack Obama`s biggest supporters, but is now
speaking at the RNC against President Obama. More on that when we come
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ARTUR DAVIS (D), ALABAMA: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the
cause for which we stand. An American president named Barack Obama who
will lead and inspire the free world. An American president named Barack
Obama who will stand for the rule of law, who will remember the torture is
the way of the people who hate us and not our way. An American president
named Barack Obama, who will affirm that terrorism can never win, unless it
warps us and makes us forget who we are and what we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was now former Alabama Congressman Artur Davis`
speech seconding the nomination of Barack Obama for president of the United
States at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Same Artur Davis who
will this week be speaking at the Republican convention.
Did he make the switch because he has truly adopted a new Republican
world view, or is the path to political relevance us simply shorter for him
as a Republican?
Here again to help examine that question are three conservatives and
one liberal. Robert Traynham, Amy Holmes, Joe Watkins, and Karen Finney.
So, I mean, we`ve got to talk about political entrepreneurship here
because I think at a minimum, it is perceived as such among at least my
Twitter feed and many others that the issue isn`t really authentic
Republicanism, it`s that line -- you know, look, the Democratic Party would
have to take some of the blame here, because it blocks out new leadership
and if you really want to kind of get in there, get a chance to run, get a
speaking gig, you go to the Republican Party.
FINNEY: You know what`s interesting about when Howard Dean was first
chairman of the Democratic Party, one of the meetings we have was with
members of the CBC and a number of the younger members of the CBC raised
that exact issue and said, you know, it`s very attractive for us to think
about running as a Republican, because in terms of career opportunity, we
have more opportunity to do what it is we want to do, because , otherwise,
we are told we`ve got to wait in line.
HARRIS-PERRY: Barack Obama is president because he couldn`t be a
congressman. I mean, basically the reason that Barack Obama runs for the
U.S. Senate and then president of the United States is because he could not
get through Bobby Rush`s district.
HOLMES: But he`s also -- I probably shouldn`t say that because Jack
Ryan took his wife to strip clubs. I mean --
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t understand -- why is that -- can we pause on
Jack Ryan for a moment?
HOLMES: Sure. I love sex talk. Let`s go.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why is that a scandal? He didn`t take his intern. He
didn`t take -- he took his wife. She didn`t like him, she divorced him.
Why is that a scandal?
HOLMES: You know, I certainly wouldn`t be discussing other people`s
TRAYNHAM: It`s not a scandal, it`s seedy. We don`t like talking
about seedy things especially as it relates to our politicians.
HARRIS-PERRY: And part of this idea that part of the reason he can`t
survive it, he is supposed to be the good --
TRAYNHAM: Back to the original point. Two sides of this bagel,
right? The upside could be what you just said in terms of the -- about the
opportunities, right? Purely from an opportunistic standpoint.
TRAYNHAM: The other side, could he have a change of heart?
HOLMES: Zell Miller went to the Republican convention.
TRAYNHAM: There are scores of Democrats that turned Republican,
(INAUDIBLE) Campbell and you go down the list, but also a score of
Democrats that have turned or vice versa. I think Buddy Roemer was one.
HARRIS-PERRY: But of the score -- I mean, truly there has been a
score historically of Democrats who turned Republican. But most did so
because they were Southern segregationists, right?
TRAYNHAM: That`s true.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s a little odd to watch the black Southerner become
Republican when historically, Democrats who came Republicans from places
TRAYNHAM: He`s not here to speak for himself. I would presume he is
going on to the Republican Party because he believes in the philosophical
believes of the Republican Party.
Here`s why, is because for him to lead the Democratic Party and go to
the Republican Party and go to the Republican convention and nominate or
help nominate Mitt Romney, you want to make the argument it`s political
suicide in some incidences.
HARRIS-PERRY: You don`t have a speaking gig at the DNC. He just
FINNEY: And a political calculation, his opportunities, on the
Democratic side were limited, so, hey le met --
WATKINS: Liberals, moderates, conservatives in both parties. You
can probably find your space on the other side of the aisle, you know, as a
moderate, a liberal, or a conservative.
HOLMES: Let`s consider a lot of African-American voters apparently
staying home this November.
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t think some of.
HOLMES: Enthusiasm is not as high.
HARRIS-PERRY: I got to tell you, I actually think Republicans are
doing a good job in re-invigorating black Democratic voters through voter
suppression efforts and through birtherism.
HOLMES: Exactly, if you were disappointed in the performance of this
president? Is that fair to put that tag on Mr. Davis? I don`t think it
is. I think you can have a genuine political conversion.
Zell Miller was a Democratic, Democratic governor of Georgia and
Democratic senator, and then he went and spoke at the Republican
convention, because he didn`t like the approach to terrorism. If you
remember, he speaks about spit balls or we`re going to kill terrorist with
spit balls. Nobody challenges is this authentic, is this sincere?
Zell Miller, he is a personality. He speaks for himself.
FINNEY: Artur Davis, I mean, part of the aftermath when he ran for
governor, there`s a political narrative around him that specifically raises
this question far more complicated than that, and I will tell you, if
Cornell were here, he would tell you, some of the early polling showed that
the more the GOP does the birther talk and all that the more African-
Americans become galvanized around the president.
HARRIS-PERRY: You all got to get your people. I mean, if you all
would all get your people and have this sort of -- part of what I --
TRAYNHAM: Who`s our people?
HARRIS-PERRY: No, no, Republicans in general.
I actually think that there are reasons, strategic regions for
African-Americans to be more of a swing vote, more like Latinos are. But
in order for that to happen, the kind of discourse and policies that we`re
seeing are going to have to shift.
WATKINS: I think it`s -- it`s just not going to happen when you have
the first elected African-American president, black people, the lion`s
share of black people are proud. They say this has never happened before.
We didn`t expect this to ever happen. We`ve got a smart African-American
guy as president. He has a great family.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to give you all four years. Get your people
More in just a moment. But, first, time for a preview for "WEEKENDS
WITH ALEX WITT."
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: (AUDIO GAP) a stop to that discussion.
Tropical storm Isaac growing as it approaches the gulf. We`re going
to bring you live reports on the latest path of the storm and how severe it
might get. Plus, how the storm is affecting plans for the Republican
National Convention. Will it steal the headlines from Mitt Romney for much
of the week?
And the economy, women`s vote, Medicare and Mitt Romney`s critical
convention speech. We`re going to discuss all that with DNC chair,
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and GOP Senator Kay Bailey
We`ve got a packed couple of hours. Melissa, back to you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks, Alex. I really appreciate it. I`m very --
this Isaac thing has got me worked up. So I will be watching.
And thank you, my footnote is ahead. I`m going to talk about why
none of us deserve to be in a big box.
HARRIS-PERRY: First published in 1980 as a contribution to "Ms.
Magazine," "The Big Box" is a children story written by Nobel Prize winning
author Toni Morrison and her then 15-year-old son Slade. Unlike most
children`s books, "The Big Box" does not seek to impart a moralizing lesson
about how to fit into the adult world. It encourages young people to value
freedom and the complications and consequences that freedom brings.
There are three kids, Patty, Mickey and Liza Sue. And each of them
runs afoul of adult authority figures. Each is placed in a big box. And
the box is full of comfortable and material possessions that are supposed
to make kids happy. Like swings and slides and a canopy bed.
But the box has a door with three big locks. And the windows have
shutters to keep out the day. When Patty first learns that she will be put
in the box, she says, "I know you are smart and I know that you think you
are doing what is best for me. But if freedom is handled just your way,
then it`s not my freedom or free."
Freedom is going to be an oft-repeated phrase at this week`s RNC
Convention in Tampa. But don`t be fooled by the ease of the word. The
project of freedom in a diverse, democratic society is complicated. And it
requires tolerance of those with whom we have fundamental gut level
disagreements -- a disagreement like the one I have with Boyet Junior High
School seventh graders in Slidell, Louisiana. It`s just outside of New
And when given a social studies assignment, to draw political cartoon
several of them drew inflammatory pictures of President Obama, including
two that hinted at violence. Their teacher, Robert Duncan, lost his job
after displaying the students` pictures in the school hallway.
I understand why parents were troubled and community members angered
by the images, but firing the teacher and shoving the seventh graders into
a big box isn`t fair or prudent. If freedom is handled just your way, then
it`s not my freedom or free.
Now, the GOP needs to get real comfortable with the realities of
freedom. "The New York Times" describes their platform as extreme and
mean-spirited, writing, "The draft document is more aggressive in
opposition to women`s reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in
Like the children in "The Big Box," American voters are supposed to
be pacified with the promise of material gains. And while the Republican
plan for economic growth is debatable, their intentions toward those of us
who use their moral reasoning to reach conclusions that diverge from theirs
is clear, we should be secured in a big box because we just can`t handle
our freedom -- to which I respond, "I know you`re smart and I know you
think you`re doing what is best for me, but if freedom is handled just your
way, then it`s not my freedom or free."
And that is our show for today. Thank you to some free thinkers,
Robert Traynham, Amy Holmes, Joe Watkins and Karen Finney, for sticking
around. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`ll see you again next
Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Next week, we`re going to
explore the coming health care crisis in America and why getting a doctor`s
appointment in the first place may be a big problem.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITH."
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