updated 9/19/2012 12:41:43 PM ET 2012-09-19T16:41:43

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
September 18, 2012

Guest: Dan Rather

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you, my friend.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
This, as you know, is a nuclear bomb. This is what a nuclear explosion
looks like. This is a nuclear bomb. OK?

This is not a nuclear bomb. This is something called a dirty bomb.
Actually, technically, that`s just a regular bomb. But it could be a dirty
bomb. Any bomb could be a dirty bomb.

It doesn`t look any different. A dirty bomb is just a bomb you have
put radioactive material in. It`s not a nuclear explosion. There`s no
mushroom cloud.

Dirty bomb is just a regular explosive bomb packed with radioactive
material, so when it goes off, it sprays radioactive junk everywhere. And
the dirty bomb explosion is both a metaphor for what`s going on right now
in the presidential campaign, and it specifically is one of the myriad next
things that are going to -- that the Romney campaign is going to have to
deal with out of this tape of Mr. Romney speaking at a fundraiser, which
has just been published in full by "Mother Jones".

Let me explain. Last night, after "Mother Jones" posted about five
minutes of the tape from the fundraiser, Mr. Romney convened a rather
hastily called press conference in California at which he did not apologize
for the remarks he made at the fundraiser, but he suggested that maybe the
editing was making him look bad. He suggested that if you could see the
whole thing in context, then maybe it might be better for him. He called
for the whole tape to be released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don`t even have the
question, given the snippet there, nor the full response. And I hope the
person who has the video would put out the full material.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: If you want to know how bad Mitt Romney is at running his
presidential campaign? If you want to know how bad his campaign is right
now, period? What he said there about not having the question released,
the question had already been released. And at that point in the evening,
the people who published the first five minutes had already said both in
print and on TV that they were about to publish the entire tape of the
entire evening.

And so, there he is at his press availability calling for the question
to be put out there and it`s already out there. And he`s calling for the
tape to be released and the whole tape is already being released.

And today, like they said they would, "Mother Jones" magazine released
the full 50-minute, unedited tape of Mr. Romney`s appearance at that
Florida fundraiser. And because of that, the old Harry Barbour adage that
in politics, bad tends to get worse, has never felt more true for Mr.
Romney`s campaign that it does today.

So, now, we`ve got the whole tape. And first of all, there`s the
dirty bomb thing.

This is what Mr. Romney said in response to a question about the
threat posed by Iran. Listen carefully here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I mean, if I were Iran, if I were Iran, I mean, and a crazed
fanatic, I`d say, "Let`s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah and
have them carry it to Chicago or some other place. And then if anything
goes wrong or America starts acting up, we`ll just say, "And guess what?
Unless you stand down, why, we`re going to let off a dirty bomb."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: OK. So we can add to the list of foreign policy worries
about a possible President Mitt Romney that he doesn`t know what a dirty
bomb is.

A dirty bomb is not a nuclear explosion. It`s not a mushroom cloud.
You don`t need to have a nuclear program in order to make a dirty bomb
possible. You don`t need fissile material from somebody`s nuclear weapons
program to be able to put together a dirty bomb.

A dirty bomb is just a regular bomb that explodes the regular way,
except it`s been packed with radioactive material. And that radioactive
material can come from anywhere. It can come from medical waste. It can
come from nuclear power plants. It can even come from smoke detectors.

Every country in the world has plenty of radioactive material to make
a dirty bomb if they wanted to.

And so, by singling out a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to the U.S.
in terms of what it would take to make a dirty bomb, Mr. Romney has just
displayed profound ignorance on a really important subject. Mr. Romney has
just shown us that he apparently doesn`t know the difference between a
dirty bomb and a nuclear bomb.

And, therefore, foundationally, he totally misunderstands what is
important or not important about Iran having a nuclear program. And that,
of course, is one of the reasons he says he`s running for president, is how
important he takes this threat.

Honestly, this is -- this is an important issue. This is not a gotcha
moment. Nobody was asking him about dirty bombs when he brought that up
prospect. He brought that up himself.

But now, as a follow up, reporters really do need to ask him to
explain if he knows what a term like dirty bomb means, because if he does
not know, then we are dealing with a whole new fundamental problem with his
candidacy that was unknown before these tapes were released.

Also, asked about the Mideast peace process, the conflict between
Israel and the Palestinians in which the United States has been deeply
engaged for decades, Mr. Romney said at that fundraiser that to his mind,
quote, "the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish." He
said, "These are problems and they are very hard to solve, all right?
These are thorny issues that I say there`s just no way.

And so, what you do is you move things along the best way you can.
You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize this is going to
remain an unsolved problem."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We sort of live with it. And we kick the ball down the field
and hope that ultimately somehow, something will happen to resolve it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Kick the ball down the field, hope that ultimately somehow
something will happen to resolve it. That`s the plan.

This is a really hard issue. I don`t really want to work on it. I`m
going to hope it gets better.

Mr. Romney currently trails President Obama by 45 points among Jewish
voters. He has tried to narrow this gap in part by saying that Mr. Obama
has not been a strong enough leader on the issue of Israel.

Well, now, we know what Mr. Romney is pledging to do on Israel, which
is to hope everything gets better because it seems like it`s too hard to
work on.

Just to round things out in terms of this international house of
wrong, this United Nations of wrong, Mr. Romney also attempted to make a
funny at this event about how much better his life would be if only he were
Mexican.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: My dad, you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and
was the head of a car company, but he was born in Mexico. And had he been
born of Mexican parents, I`d have a better shot of winning this, but he was
-- unfortunately born of Americans living in Mexico. They`d live there a
number of years. And I mean I say that jokingly, but it`d be helpful to be
Latino.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It would be helpful to be Latino.

Take it from Mitt Romney, a man who`s known real hardship in his life,
right?

Mexican are the ones who have it easy in this country, how he has long
to be a Mexican American.

All of these new statements are in the rest of the videotape from that
fundraiser in Florida, which Mr. Romney called for the release of in full
last night, in his first attempt to tamp down the firestorm that his
remarks have set off. But all that that means -- all of this new things,
right, all this means is that he has a whole bunch of new problems to add
to the problem that he got yesterday from the first clip of these remarks
that was released, right?

He`s got a whole new list of problems to add to the problem he got
yesterday that he`s likely to drag with him all the way to the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the
president no matter what. All right? There are 47 percent who are with
him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims,
who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who
believe they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name
it. But that`s -- it`s an entitlement. And the government should give it
to them.

And they will vote for this president no matter what. And -- I mean,
the president starts off with 48 percent, 49 percent, 40 percent, he starts
off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income taxes. Forty-
seven percent of Americans pay no income taxes.

So our message of low taxes doesn`t connect. And he`ll be out there
talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that`s what they sell every --
every four years.

So, my job is not to worry about nose people. I`ll never convince
them that they should take personal responsibility and care of their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Mr. Romney last night was asked by reporters if he wanted to
retract any of that statement and he said no. Although he said he might
have put it differently if he weren`t speaking off the cuff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: It`s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I`m
speaking off the cuff in response to a question, and I`m sure I could state
it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Well, what does it mean to say it more elegantly? Right?
Top hat? Would that have made it?

I don`t know about elegant, but in terms of saying what he said more
effectively, he`s right. And in fact, as a candidate, Mitt Romney has said
this thing more effectively in the past, because it is the policy platform
of the Republican Party this year. It is the policy of the Republican
Party to pursue the kinds of policies he described there inelegantly or
not. It is the policy of the Republican Party at the presidential level
and throughout the party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I think it`s a real problem when you have half of Americans
that are -- almost half of Americans are not paying income tax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It`s a Mitt Romney position in this campaign. It`s a
Republican policy more broadly for the whole country that people who have
less money, people in the lower end of the income spectrum in this country
are not paying enough in taxes. And the Republicans would like to raise
taxes for those people.

We don`t have it?

Senator Orrin Hatch -- I think it is abysmal that the bottom 50
percent do not pay income taxes.

Representative Eric Cantor -- over 45 percent of the people in this
country don`t pay income taxes at all. And we have to question whether
that`s fair.

And as you saw, Mitt Romney, I think it`s a real problem when you have
half of Americans -- almost half of Americans that are not paying income
tax.

That`s a problem. That`s an economic problem in this country to Mitt
Romney and the Republicans. And that is a real problem that his tax plan
would fix. The Romney tax plan would, quote, "result in a net tax cut for
high income taxpayers and a net increase for lower and/or middle income
taxpayers.

That`s from nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which analyzed Mr. Romney`s
tax proposal last month. Cut taxes for the rich, raise taxes for the poor.
That is what Mitt Romney`s tax plan as a matter of policy would do. It`s
also what Republicans have pursued in the states since they took over the
governorships in state legislators in so many states in the 2010 elections.

Earlier this year, the Republican tax reform bill in South Carolina
proposed raising taxes on the poorest families in that state and cutting
taxes for people who are well off. Because I guess Republicans believe
that South Carolina poor people have too much money.

In Wisconsin, when the Republicans took over there, what got all of
the attention was the new law to strip union rights, which is now tied up
in the courts. But the budget that Republicans introduced in Wisconsin
when they took over in that state, would have cut taxes for everybody in
the state except for poor people. The Wisconsin Republican budget would
raise taxes on the poorest people in the state, because Republicans there
also think that poor people have too much money.

In Kansas, where the Republican takeover has gotten much less national
attention than it ought to have -- Sam Brownback, the Republican governor
there, signed a big tax reform bill into law, which takes poor people`s
taxes and cuts them in Kansas and takes poor people`s taxes in Kansas and
it raises them.

The Republican Party has an anti-tax brand, right? They like to be
seen for cutting taxes and being against raising taxes -- but they really
only believe that for upper income people. Republican budgets like Mitt
Romney`s and like the Republican budgets in the states, they don`t ignore
the poor. They specifically target poor people for higher taxes.

The Republican approach to poverty is to say that the problem with
poor people is they have too much money. And the government has to fix
that by taking some money away from them

As a matter of policy, what was spoken at that fundraiser in Florida
this spring that`s now been released, that`s now turned the campaign on its
head. As a matter of policy, this was a gaffe. Not an error. This was
not a misstatement, it was a blunt statement.

There`s a reason they didn`t take what back what Mr. Romney said on
that tape. They are restating it in a way that is less blunt, but it is
actually their world view and their policy. And that`s why this tape has
been like a nuclear bomb, not a dirty bomb in the Republicans campaign for
the presidency this year.

Joining us now is Dana Rather. He is the anchor and managing editor
of "Dan Rather Reports" on AXS TV.

Mr. Rather, thank you for coming back and joining us again.

DAN RATHER, DAN RATHER REPORTS: Thank for having me again.

MADDOW: Let me ask your blunt reaction when you heard Mr. Romney`s
remarks at this fundraiser when they are publicized yesterday.

RATHER: My first reaction was, can`t be true. The tape must be
edited. He can`t possibly have disparaged almost half of the population in
the country with seven weeks to go in the election campaign.

Alas, it turns out to be exactly what he said.

And when you have a dedicated Republican such as Bill Kristol, one of
the real powers in the party, describing this as, quote, "arrogant and
stupid," unquote, that tells you a lot.

This is a deep wound to Romney`s chances. I think disastrous, but I`m
not prepared to say catastrophic yet. It`s got to have now, he`s got to
have 30 to 45 days playing errorless campaign politics and have a very good
first debate in early October. Otherwise, I don`t see how he can win.

MADDOW: We have seen a rift on the right over this issue. My
colleague Ed Schultz was covering this very well in the last hour, talking
about how the Romney campaign didn`t take it back. They are obviously
getting shy about these sentiments.

But there are elements on the right led by talk radio, and some sort
of harder right wing media, people saying, you know what? This is what we
believe. We ought to take this as an opportunity to articulate that 47
percent of the country that doesn`t pay income taxes. We ought to be
targeting ourselves to the country in a way that does not pay attention to
those people and speaks to the creators and not the moochers.

RATHER: Absolutely truth. That his core base, the solid base for
Romney, they love this. And they also detest if not outright hate Obama.
So, they will go to the polls.

The problem for candidate Obama is that the election is going to be
won in about seven or eight swing states with independent and sometimes up
and down voters. I can`t believe this appeals to them. One doesn`t have
to come out every day and speak up for the hungry, the homeless, the
helpless and those who think they have lost hope.

But it`s not in the American character to say, in fact, to hell with
them. They need to work harder. They are there only because of their own
purposes.

This is -- I can`t find anything comparable in American presidential
campaign history, at least for the 50 years I`ve been covering it, that`s
anything comparable to this. you know, Goldwater talked about extremism,
but he talked about it at the convention as a nominee and it cost him as
lot. McGovern had difficulty `72 campaign the Democrats -- and problems.

But nothing I`ve ever covered compares to this. Everything else is
paled by comparison. Now, having said that, the next six to seven days are
absolutely critical for Romney -- either he can steady his operation,
either he can get some momentum going forward on his core issues, which are
jobs and the economy, either he does it in the next week and gives him a
chance for the following 30 days, including that first debate, or he
doesn`t. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

MADDOW: I think that the sleeper issue in these tapes, and I think
it`s interesting chronologically that we have the Libya and Egypt gaffe by
this candidate right before this happened. I think the sleeper issue is
foreign policy and national security stuff.

To have made comments that blunt and reckless about the
Palestinian/Israeli peace process, to come out while the U.S. embassy in
Cairo was still being attacked, and attacking that embassy himself
politically -- and to have displayed, nobody has really been talking about
this at all today, but to have display I think basic ignorance about
nuclear national security in terms of a nuclear bomb and a dirty bomb in
the context of Iran, I feel like that stuff makes me hyperventilate a
little bit about this campaign in a way that is not about the way these
guys are competing, but just about how close this man is to the presidency
with some real serious weaknesses on national security.

RATHER: Well, you can bet a lot of people are asking that question.
It`s less the specifics about his foreign policy, Palestinians, Libya,
whatever, is he really ready for the presidency?

MADDOW: Yes.

RATHER: He already suffered rightly or wrongly the image of being
brittle, awkward, inauthentic. Not quite ready to be president. Now, when
he makes these gaffes one after the other, reminiscent of what Casey
Stengel said about the Mets in 1960s, anybody here play this game. Many
Republicans are asking themselves now about the Romney campaign -- is there
anybody that can run this game?

I think it`s the cumulative effect of these things saying, well, I was
prepared to consider Romney, but, you know, he doesn`t strike me as
leadership material. It goes back to that I think we said in this program
before, it`s less what he says about a specific policy than it is how he
makes people feel.

And I think what he has shown over the last couple weeks, sort of
beginning just before the Republican convention is he makes people feel a
little uneasy when they try to imagine him as president.

MADDOW: In terms of the actual tax-related statement that he made
that`s gotten him in so much trouble, the reason people don`t pay federal
income taxes in this country is because mostly of deductions and exemptions
that we put in the tax code, because mostly that`s been a preferred
Republican way of legislating social policy, to reward work and reward
childbearing and reward education. And Democrats have done it too, but it
really was very much championed by Republicans over this time.

Are we actually seeing an ideological shift in the Republican Party
around taxation? Their basic ideas about the legitimacy of taxing people
at all, that`s allowing them to essentially criticize the results of all of
their own policymaking that created deductions for people in the military,
people getting college education, people having kids and all the stuff that
made possible this 47 percent?

RATHER: Yes. The short answer is yes. You had this ideological
change within the party, especially with those who are most active in the
party coming for some time. It`s now come full.

The Obama campaign is out with a new television ad today that
basically says, get this clear, people. Candidate Romney wants to cut
taxes for the wealthy, increase taxes for the middle class and those below.

And the Romney people have their answer, but this is an effective
argument given what the candidate has said and what the party platform
says.

MADDOW: Yes, and what the Republicans have done in the states where
they have control, which I think is overlooked in terms of sort of making
intentions here. This is just mind boggling.

Dan Rather, it so great to have you here -- always, but particular
tonight. Thank you.

RATHER: Thank you very much.

MADDOW: Dan Rather is the anchor and managing editor of "Dan Rather
Reports" on AXS TV. Dan`s latest program is called "College on the Cheap."
And it airs tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

OK. So there may be a more elegant way to say this, but where are Mr.
Romney`s tax returns? Who is paying? Who is not? And why? That`s next.

Ow, do people really wear these?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Surreptitiously recorded video of Mitt Romney talking to a
roomful of donors at a $50,000 a plate dinner about how 47 percent of
Americans are free loading moochers and he`s not even trying to connect
with as a candidate, that is obviously and for obvious reasons the main
story in the political news cycle right now. Dan Rather just moments ago
compared it to Barry Goldwater talking about extremism in 1964 and other
historical presidential collapses.

There`s something important that`s embedded in the video, in the way
that Mr. Romney talks about taxes and morality, I think it`s going to be
driving the next news cycle. It`s not the part where he says he`s not
going to worry about 47 percent of the country in trying to become
president, it`s about what he says is wrong with that part of the country.
Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the
president no matter what. All right? There are 47 percent who are with
him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims,
who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who
believe they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name
it.

But that`s -- it`s an entitlement. And the government should give it
to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of
Americans pay no income tax. I`ll never convince them that they should
take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Personal responsibility and care for their lives. Mr. Romney
is not just saying that people who don`t pay income tax are a lost cause
for his campaign, which is how he tried to spin it in his remarks late last
night. Instead, he`s saying there`s something. There`s something innately
bad about being a person who doesn`t pay income tax.

He says people who don`t pay income tax are self-styled victims who do
not take responsibility, who feel entitled. Mr. Romney is making whether
or not you pay federal income taxes a moral issue. He says, I`ll never
convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for
their lives, making it a moral issue is an awkward case for Mitt Romney to
be making.

Mr. Romney, in fact, has taken great pains to try to move the national
conversation away from the discussion of his own tax returns, which he
refuses to release to the public. His vice presidential nominee, Paul
Ryan, released 10 years of tax returns to the Romney campaign because
according to Mr. Romney`s standards, that`s what it takes in order to vet a
vice presidential nominee. And Mitt Romney is responsible for vetting the
nominee for vice president of the United States from the Republican Party.
He`s the one who Mitt has to make that pick. And in order to make that
pick responsibly, he felt like he needed to see 10 years of tax returns
from Paul Ryan.

Well, the people who are responsible for vetting to be president of
the United States, that would be us, and we are not allowed to have 10
years from Mitt Romney. We are only allowed to see one year of Mitt
Romney`s tax returns and a summary of the second year, at least so far.

The question of why Mr. Romney will not release more of his tax
returns has positively dogged his campaign. Over his summer, a laundry
list of prominent Republicans called on Mr. Romney to release the returns.
That followed a whole, another gaggle of Republicans who did so during the
primaries.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went on a tear, loudly and publicly
accusing Mr. Romney based on a single unanimous hearsay source of having
paid zero taxes for 10 years. Mr. Romney denies that. He says he`s never
paid less than 13 percent in taxes.

But he does just say that. We`re supposed to trust him that that`s
true. The problem with us all just trusting Mitt Romney about what is true
about his taxes, the problem with us not actually seeing the evidence of
what`s in his taxes is that the last time Mr. Romney asked voters to trust
him about what was in his taxes that he didn`t want to show, we just had to
trust him, was when he told Massachusetts voters in 2002 when he was
running for governor that he was in fact a Massachusetts resident and you
could tell this because he never filed taxes as a resident of the state of
Utah.

It turned out he had filed his taxes as a resident of the state of
Utah despite his assurances to the contrary. Asked about it at the time,
the Romney campaign specific quote for that was, "You`re going to have to
take my word for it." And it turned out anybody who did take their word
for it was a sucker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: The Democrat`s point to Romney`s house in Utah which was
listed as his primary residence to support a challenge. They also want to
see his tax returns.

JAMES ROOSEVELT, JR., MA DEM PARTY COUNSEL: We`ve now learned from
his own lips this afternoon that Mr. Romney lied yesterday when he said he
filed resident tax returns in both Massachusetts and Utah.

REPORTER: Romney acknowledged today he amended his 1999 and 2000
Massachusetts state tax returns to make him a resident here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: So when Mitt Romney says trust me about what`s in his taxes,
his record on trusting him about what in his taxes says that we in fact
cannot trust him.

During the Republican primary when the question was someone else`s tax
policy, Mr. Romney said something more revealing about his own taxes than
he`s ever said when faced with direct questions about them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, is the tax on capital gains also 15 percent or
is it zero?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Zero.

ROMNEY: Well, under that plan, I`d pay no taxes in the last two
years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: He`s trying to criticize Newt Gingrich`s tax plan there.
Newt Gingrich`s proposal is to get rid of the capital gains tax, which
would leave Mitt Romney only liable for income taxes. And you know what?
Guys like Mitt Romney, they don`t really pay income taxes.

Mr. Romney there is essentially admitting that he does not pay income
taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Under that plan, I`d have paid no taxes in the last two
years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Mr. Romney`s personal tax burden has been an issue in this
campaign all along. But now that he has declared people who don`t pay
income taxes as people who believe they are victims, people who are
dependent on the government and people who do not take responsibility or
care for their lives, now there`s an even more pressing interest in knowing
whether Mitt Romney himself is one of those people.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: First time in a long time and desperately needed, we have a
best new thing in the world today coming up at the end of the show. We
have not done one of these in forever, but it`s back just in time. Yay!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: OK. So, a lot of people are pronouncing Mitt Romney`s
presidential campaign donesville.

Bloomberg published an opinion column yesterday titled, "Today Mitt
Romney lost the Election." "Huffington Post" has front paged the column by
its business news editor that`s titled "Why Romney`s Video Comments Have
Killed his Candidacy." Jonathan Chait at the "New York" magazine says that
Mr. Romney`s comments at that fundraiser in May, quote, "disqualify his
claim to the presidency."

I know, I know. Those are liberals.

But then there are conservatives. "The New York Times`" influential
conservative columnist David Brooks calls Mr. Romney, "Thurston Howell"
today. Yes, I agree. That is the right metaphor. More importantly,
though, he says that Mr. Romney`s comments at that fundraiser are, quote,
"a country club fantasy. It`s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each
other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney."

David Brooks goes on to say that while he likes Mr. Romney, he quote,
"says stupid things because he`s pretending to be something he`s not." He
accuses Mr. Romney of, quote, "running a depressingly inept presidential
campaign." And he ends it all, he ends the column by asking, "when will
the incompetence stop?"

When you get even more conservative than David Brooks, the comments
get even more devastating.

Here`s a taste. This is referenced earlier this hour by Dan Rather.
Look at the headline here. This is Bill Kristol writing at the
conservative magazine, "The Weekly Standard," the headline is, "A Note on
Romney`s Arrogant and Stupid Remarks."

Bill Kristol goes on to half jokingly suggest that Mitt Romney quit
the race that he drop off the ticket so he can, quote, "Get the Ryan/Rubio
ticket we deserve."

This is what it looks like for the wheels to come off. But you know
what? Wheels have come off in other campaigns too. And sometimes after
the wheels come off, the campaign crashes because there`s no wheels, but
then the candidate and campaign scramble around in the underbrush and they
find the wheels and they bolt them back on and then sometimes they even win
that race.

Do you remember how John McCain won the presidential nomination?
During the primaries in the summer of 2007, John McCain`s campaign in the
primaries just bottomed out. It was over.

He laid off dozens of staff members. His fundraising collapsed. What
was left of the campaign ordered up a recovery plan that was called living
off the land, a plan for financial viability. It called for McCain to
scramble for all the free press he could get, to focus on looking good in
places like New Hampshire where the campaign would work the press to
convince reporters that John McCain was still in it, so reporters would
write stories saying he was still in it.

So he would seem like he was still in it even though it was really
kind of just all made up. But it worked. Senator John McCain won in New
Hampshire. And then he rolled out victories in Florida, in Virginia and
Maryland and Kansas and on and on, and he was back and John McCain won the
nomination after having been declared gone the previous summer.

In the 2008 Republican primaries, John McCain was a phoenix that rose
from the ashes of the campaign he previously burned down. He came back
from somewhere much worse than where Romney is right now. I mean, at least
Mitt Romney still has his donor billionaires, right?

McCain was able to win the nomination. Now, I should also note that
2008 John McCain also provides us the opposite political science case study
of how to burn down your campaign in a way you can`t recover from. So,
yes, he got the nomination, but once he had the nomination and he was
actually running for president, the burning down again kind of started this
week. It was the third week of September 2008.

That was the week that Lehman collapsed and the crater of the American
economy began on Wall Street. John McCain responded to that by saying,
"The fundamentals of our economy are strong." Then his economic adviser
said it was John McCain who invented the BlackBerry.

Then John McCain surrogate Carly Fiorina said John McCain was not
capable of running a company like Hewlett-Packard and by the way, neither
could Sarah Palin. You remember Carly Fiorina was on their side. Then the
campaign said Carly would disappear for awhile.

Then while John McCain was trying to talk about the Securities
Investor Protection Corporation, the SIPC, he kept over and over again
calling it the SPIC. The SPIC, which is just awful.

Then he sold his drill, baby, drill plan by saying in sort of goofy
that fish love oil rigs. And then Sarah Palin hailed the dawn of a new
Palin and McCain administration. Oh, Palin and McCain. That`s nice of
you.

Then Mr. McCain said he would fire the head of the Securities and
Exchange Commission, the SEC. But in trying to make that point, he instead
named the head of the FEC, which is a totally differently agency that`s
totally unrelated.

That was this week. That was one five-day, Monday to Friday period
this week four years ago in the John McCain campaign for the presidency.
In that time, even though he had risen like a phoenix when he bottomed out
in the primaries, that time, he really did not come back in the general
election. I mean, that was this time in the campaign, mid-September.

By October, the McCain campaign was completely collapsed symbolized
most intensely by the campaign`s vice presidential nominee, Ms. Palin,
being trashed in the press by staffers of her own campaign. That was still
a live campaign at that point. That happened and then we voted and
honestly it wasn`t even close.

All campaigns have low moments. John Kerry and the swift boat
controversy, Barack Obama and the Reverend Wright stuff. Mitt Romney`s dad
way back in the day saying he got brainwashed by the military in the trip
to Vietnam. Some of these things are survivable for a candidacy and some
of them are not.

Is it just the timing? Is it just needing enough time to recover
before people start voting? Is it the type of error and how close it is to
the candidate`s weaknesses in the campaign?

Does the history of campaigning tell us anything about whether Mitt
Romney is likely to survive this or whether this is the end? Whether, like
everybody is saying, this is door nails at donesville this point.

Joining us is a very acute scholar of modern presidential campaigning,
Steve Kornacki. He`s co-host of "THE CYCLE" on MSNBC, a senior writer for
Salon.com.

Steve, thank you for being here.

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Happy to be here.

MADDOW: When I was thinking about this today, I was thinking, you
know, I wonder what Steve thinks about previous collapses. I mean,
historically speaking, what makes the difference in terms of whether
campaigns are able to pull out of a tailspin and pull off a win?

KORNACKI: I mean, some of it has to do with the basic structural
factors at work. Is it a year your party has a chance to begin with or has
a good chance to begin with, and that sort of gives you a margin of error,
that gives you a certain amount of wiggle room to screw up and still
recover.

The good news for Mitt Romney is this is the kind of year where
because of the structural factors, basically the economy, the state of the
economy, Barack Obama`s vulnerable. So, there`s an opportunity for Romney
to win the election.

The closest analog I can find in recent history is John Kerry in 2004.
If you can think back to the trajectory of that campaign, in the summer
months, it was tied in the polls. Kerry was even ahead for a lot of summer
by two or three points. Bush had, sort of like this year, the mirror image
of what we had this year, Bush and Republicans went second with their
convention in `04, they had a much better convention statistically than the
Democrats.

In Labor Day on in 2004, for the entire month of September, Bush was
ahead six or seven points on average in the national polls. In that month,
there was all sorts of loud public second-guessing of the Kerry campaign,
sort of like what you`re hearing now from Republicans about Romney. People
were saying Kerry`s blown this perfectly winnable election for the
Democrat.

What changed it for Kerry at least temporarily was the first debate.
In early, in September 30th of 2004, Kerry clearly outperformed Bush in the
first debate. That six, seven-point gap was basically erased overnight.
And from that point on, you had a neck and neck election through Election
Day.

Now, we look back now, because he lost, we say here are the 10,000
things that Kerry did wrong. But for the month of October, all of those
critics within the Democratic Party were silenced and it looked like he was
running a really, good competent campaign.

So I think the lesson from that is, you know, that race was about as
winnable for Kerry as this is for Romney. So Romney needs something like
Kerry got, which was basically be Romney needs to go into this debate and
clearly have a better performance than Obama and then he could be right
back in.

MADDOW: It seems to me, though, that one salient difference is that
the reason that Kerry fell behind at the time that you`re describing in the
`04 race was not because of big screw ups on his part. He was getting a
lot of criticism on the left, getting a lot of criticism by Democrats, but
really it was George Bush ran a good convention and was running a good and
very aggressive campaign.

The things that were hitting Kerry were attacks organized by the
George W. Bush side. In this case, the Romney campaign, it`s all self-
inflicted. I mean, I`m sure Democrats would like to believe this has all
been orchestrated by the Obama campaign, but it really hasn`t. It`s Mitt
Romney talking on his own terms and people just hearing what it is that
he`s saying.

So, does that make a difference in terms of the recoverability factor?

KORNACKI: Yes, no, I think it does. The only thing I think about
Kerry in `04 was, you know, given that interview, they were hitting him on
the security stuff and Kerry gave this interview where he talked about
fighting terrorism more as sort of a police issue as opposed to a military
issue. The Bush people really hit him hard on that, probably unfairly but
probably effectively.

But, yes, I was looking for a precedent where you have something like
an open mike incident like this that reinforces a candidate`s prime
vulnerability. And, domestically, I really can`t think of one. The only
thing I think of is you have to go international.

2010 in Britain, the part with Gordon Brown. You remember Gordon
Brown, sort of his biggest vulnerability was the perception that he was
cold and that he was arrogant. He met with the working class voter and the
mike was still on and he gets back in the car and he talks about what a
bigoted woman she was. It caters directly to this really sort of damning
impression of Gordon Brown. Of course, it came at a time when his party
was really struggling to hold off the conservatives and he weren`t able to
win the election.

So, I think that`s the closest parallel I can find in a major
election.

MADDOW: The Romney campaign came into the week saying they were going
to sharpen the message and start providing specifics about Mr. Romney`s
policies. That was before the open mike incident, before the fundraising
thing came out. That was when their biggest problem seemed to be the open
venting of fighting within the campaign to "Politico" most notably but then
to a lot of news outlets.

Is that still in the works? Should that still be in the works as a
potential way out of this? It now seems to me to be so patently irrelevant
especially because them getting specific about tax policy would make this
47 percent problem they`ve got now much worse.

KORNACKI: That`s it. Pick your issue. Whatever he`s going to get
more specific on, there`s a reason he hasn`t been specific. It`s not that
they have forgotten to be specific. Usually you`d do that in your
convention speech.

The problem is, the more specifics you get, the more the divide where
the Republican base is today, where the Republican Party is today, a
Republican Party that Mitt Romney has been totally and completely
responsive to at every step of the way, where that party is, and where the
general election audience is.

This 47/53 percent thing is a perfect example of this, but this is a
mean that`s gospel on the right. It`s become gospel on the right. In the
Obama era, if Romney starts preaching that gospel now like he did on this
video, that`s poisonous to the rest of the electorate.

But if he moves away from it, the Republican base looks at it and
says, what are you doing? This is what we believe in. This is what we
nominated you for.

So, he`s in this untenable position and you can multiply that by five
or 10 different issues, because that`s really the story of the Obama era.
The Republican has moved very far to the right, and has tried to win
elections by sort of papering over those big philosophical differences they
have with swing voters.

MADDOW: Well, Steve, the thing that the Romney campaign is doing to
try to move out of this, rather than what they say they are going to do has
gone almost completely unnoticed while everybody has been fixating on this
screw up. We`ve got it as our feature next.

So, I have to go do that now and say goodbye. But thank you.

Steve Kornacki, senior writer for Salon.com, Steve`s show is called
"THE CYCLE." It airs weekdays at 3:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC. You`re
exactly right at what you just said about how this is going. It`s great to
have you here.

KORNACKI: Happy to do it. Thanks.

MADDOW: All right. What the Romney campaign is doing to try to get
out of this and which I find implicitly hilarious. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: What I meant to say was that in 2002 Mitt Romney, the
candidate for governor, had told Massachusetts voters that he had never not
filed his taxes in Massachusetts. The moment ago when we were talking
about that I said Utah when I meant Massachusetts because that was the
controversy about his residency. I`m sorry that I transposed those in my
mind. I`m sorry to screw that up. I apologize.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: So the Mitt Romney campaign this week had to add crisis
management to their to-do list, but that does mean that anything else has
fallen off their to-do list. They still, for example, really need to work
on the big problems they`ve got in the polling. After their convention,
they had been gaining in polls among Latino voters a little bit, but now
they are back to where they are before.

There is a 42-point gap between President Obama and Mr. Romney among
Latino votes. And you cannot win the presidency with that few Latino
voters.

On women, the women numbers for Mr. Romney are just awful. The latest
NBC poll show Mr. Romney losing Florida overall by about five points. But
he`s losing Florida women by 14. He`s losing Virginia overall by 5 points
but he`s losing Virginia women by 14. He`s losing Ohio by 7 points
overall, but he`s losing Ohio women by 16 points.

Nationally, in the new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll just
released tonight, Mitt Romney is losing women across the country by 10
points. So it is awful for him among women nationally but it is worse for
him in the swing states.

And that`s not just a commie, pinko, liberal take on the numbers,
those are the numbers. They`re just terrible for him.

So even as he`s dealing with all these other new crises, of course,
this most recent devastating tape of him, disparaging half the country as
victims that he doesn`t care about, even as he`s dealing with these new
problems, Mr. Romney still has all his old problems to work on, too.

And one of his worst old problems is women. So today, in the midst of
everything else, the campaign very quietly started airing this. This is
Mr. Romney`s new "hello, babies" ad. The phrase "hello, babies" was coined
by profane and excellent political Web site Wonkette.com. But I have to
say, "hello, babies" is actually less awkward language than the language
which this ad actually starts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Dear daughter, welcome to America. Your share of Obama`s
debt is $50,000 and it grows every day. That`s what Obama`s policies have
done for women. Welcome daughter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Welcome daughter to this Obama hellscape. Don`t with you
wish you could go back to where you came from.

Where is the daughter coming from? Why does she need to be welcome to
America? Is she a foreign baby? Congratulations. Or perhaps she was
recently traveling. Maybe she did a trimester abroad?

Hello, foreign babies. Welcome to America. Vote for Mitt Romney?

The Romney campaign is in serious trouble. But you do what you`ve got
to do in these situations, you`ve got to put one foot in front of the other
to get out of where they`re at, and they have very quietly apparently
decided that the way they`re going to get out of these problems is that
they`re going to take these steps and their steps is going to be baby
steps.

Welcome to America? Seriously, who`s making the decisions in this
campaign right now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: OK. Best new thing in the world today -- specifically, it is
the best new thing in Mitt Romney`s world today. It was a chance for him
to get on television without having to answer questions about what he said
at that fundraiser in Boca Raton. Mr. Romney got his chance to be on TV
today, on network TV, but to not have to answer any questions about his
current major campaign troubles. And he got that chance through the magic
of time travel, also known in the TV world as a pre-taped interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So as you know, we have a huge show today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We taped an incredible interview with
presidential candidate governor Mitt Romney and his wife Ann which we`re
going to show you today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That is a person named Kelly Ripa and a person named Michael
Strahan, who are co-hosts of a new daytime talk show on ABC. And you could
see them there. They are teasing forward as they say to an interview with
Mitt and Ann Romney which they taped last Friday, but they aired it today.

Because they knew they were going to pre-tape it and air it later,
they conducted it as an evergreen interview. That`s TV talk when you don`t
want an interview to sound dated if news events happen to change before you
get a chance to air this thing.

So, the happiest of happy Republican accidents today, right? The
lurching, horrible, damage control headlines of the Romney campaign finally
got interrupted on network television today by something else from Mitt
Romney that was not about his campaign collapsing and why. Instead, it was
about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most serious question of all. Honey
boo-boo or Snooki?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know who either of those two are?

ROMNEY: I`m kind of a Snooki fan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She has a baby now.

ROMNEY: Look how tiny she`s gotten. She`s lost weight and she`s
energetic. I mean, just her spark plug personality is kind of fun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Isn`t it awesome how tiny? Weird, right? But also sweet
relief from the Romney campaign in the darkest hour of this campaign when
everything is about what`s wrong and other shoes just keep dropping every
day, when Mitt Romney`s appearances on TV look like he`s quitting the race,
if you watch him with the sound off and sometimes with the sound on.

In the middle of all that, there`s his pre-taped remarks about Snooki
from "The Jersey Shore" that ABC saved from last week to air today, like a
parachute for a falling man. Thank you, Snooki. Thank you, ABC.

And we now return to our regularly scheduled presidential campaign
catastrophe.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a
great night.

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

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