updated 9/24/2012 1:16:07 PM ET 2012-09-24T17:16:07

POLITICS NATION
September 21, 2012

Guests: David Cay Johnston; Robert Reich, Cynthia Tucker, Chuck Nice, Krystal Ball


REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thanks, Chris. And thanks to you
for tuning in. We are live this evening from Washington.

Tonight`s lead was going to be this. The fire and brimstone case
against Mitt Romney`s 47 percent view of America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t believe we can
get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of
victims. I don`t see a lot of victims in the crowd today.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He thinks all these
folks. He thinks these folks believe that they are entitled, that they`ve
become dependent. How could he be so profoundly wrong about America? How
is that possible?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Now, what could possibly be more compelling than that to
start the show? How about Mitt Romney`s tax returns?

Late today, he finally released his 2011 tax returns. We have been
waiting for months for this promised return. So what did we learn? He
made $13.7 million from investment income. He paid $1.9 million in federal
taxes which makes his effective tax rate 14.1 percent. That 14.1 percent
is about half, half what the average worker pays. Yet another example of
how this tax code is rigged for the wealthy.

But the big news today is still all the years and years of returns
that Romney is refusing to release. Past candidates have all released
several years of returns, including Romney`s own father, who set the
standard by releasing 12 years. Romney even required 10 years of return
from his own running mate Paul Ryan. Instead of giving us more than two
years, Romney is essentially saying, trust me on this.

Today, his accountant released a letter saying that over the last two
decades, the Romneys` average federal tax rate was just over 20 percent,
and their lowest federal tax rate was 13.6 percent. Well, if they can put
all that in a letter, why not just release the taxes so we can see for
ourselves?

After the seeing of his new tax return, the question remains, what in
his tax returns is he afraid of showing the public?

Joining me now is former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, now an NBC
news political analyst, Krystal Ball, the co-host of "the Cycle" here at
MSNBC. And David Cay Johnston, tax expert and author of "the Fine Print."

Thank you all for joining me tonight.

KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC HOST, THE CYCLE: Thanks, reverend.

SHARPTON: Now, David, I just went over the basics of what the returns
show, but you found a clue in his accountant`s press release about what
he`s not sharing. It says quote "in each year during the entire 20-year
period, the Romneys` owed both state and federal income taxes." Owed, not
paid. Why is that important?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, TAX EXPERT: Well, the word is very important
because, among the possibilities the word owed raises is there was an audit
that resulted in a large payment of tax later because they underpaid the
tax, an amended tax return by the Romneys, or an obligation they didn`t pay
for some number of years.

So, I wrote the campaign and asked them. Do they know that this
statement`s going to be very closely scrutinized, and this is, after all, a
verb. Why didn`t they say paid? And the short answer that I got back was
not answering that question.

And the trouble I`m having with that is very simple. This is an issue
Romney needs to shut down for his campaign, and yet at every juncture what
he`s done is taken actions that just lead to more questions. What does
that tell us about the man`s judgment? Because the only test you have when
you are going to be president of the United States is what do you do when
you`re faced with the unexpected? Well, this is the expected, and he
doesn`t seem to be doing very well with it.

SHARPTON: Now governor, when we look at the politics of this, a poll,
CNN/ORC poll was released saying that 63 percent of all Americans say, yes,
when the question was asked whether he should release more tax returns. So
I think, when you`re dealing with tax rates, when you`re dealing with
fairness, especially when you`re dealing in light of this 47 percent
statement, that this is a sound political question since candidates in the
past have had to do this.

ED RENDELL (D), FORMER GOVERNOR, PENNSYLVANIA: No question. And what
Mr. Johnston said is particularly revealing. Because let`s assume the
Romneys did pay 14 to 20 percent that the letter seems to imply, each and
every year for the last 20. This Well this year, he paid about 14 percent.
So if that were the case, then what`s the reason for not releasing it?

In many years, he paid more than he paid in 2011, if you believe what
the accountant says. They paid up to 20 percent. So the damage is already
done. People know, because of the way the tax code is skewed to the rich,
they have a lower tax rate than they do anyway. And if the Romneys paid 14
to 20 percent anyway, and this year it says, they paid 14 percent at the
low end of the spectrum, then why wouldn`t you release the last 10, 15
years, and put this issue to bed. It`s very curious. And it makes me more
curious than before the accountant released that letter.

SHARPTON: Now the other thing Krystal, that is of interest here is
his offshore money 2011. Switzerland, Cayman Islands, Germany, Ireland,
these, "the Wall Street Journal" says, his offshore money, and the whole
questions of investments out of the country, possible tax shelters, I mean,
this I s of concern to the voters for somebody to lead this country.

BALL: Absolutely. I think most voters find it very strange that a
presidential candidate would be holding their money in all the places that
you listed. And the other thing that`s very strange about his return is
the 14 percent rate that he paid. That was actually an intentionally
elevated rate. If he had taken all the charitable contribution deductions
he could have taken, then, his rate would have been more like nine percent.

The reason I think that they decided they had to elevate that number
is because Romney had come out back in August and sort of an off the cuff
comment and said that he had paid at least 13 percent in every year. So if
he had then come out with a nine percent rate in the very week when he had
castigated half the country for not paying enough taxes, it would have been
absolutely devastating.

But in another comment he had said that if someone had paid more in
taxes than he technically owed, that would disqualify him for the
presidency.

SHARPTON: Yes.

BALL: So, it`s a very strange situation. You can only imagine within
the Romney campaign what a dismal decision it was to have to figure out to
make in this week of all weeks.

SHARPTON: Now, let me go back to you for a minute, David. Because I
want to dig in a little where Krystal brought us. "The New York Times"
says that Romney actually paid more in taxes in 2011 than he needed.
Taking smaller charity deductions, and I`m reading from "The times."

"Mr. Romney has said that he has paid at least 13 percent in federal
income taxes in each year of the last ten years. In order for the claim to
be true in 2011, Mr. Romney had to voluntarily take a smaller deduction
than he was entitled to for his charitable donations."

Now, Krystal suggested he is doing that for political reasons because
of what he had stated in the past. But the fact is that whether he is
doing it for political reasons or not, that means that he is paying a much
smaller rate than working Americans, some of whom were part of the 47
percent he took a shot at this week.

JOHNSTON: Yes, he`s paying a much lower rate. And let`s remember
that there are in 2009, there were almost 1,500 millionaire income people
who paid no federal income taxes. The tax policy center estimates there
will be 1,700 of them this year. And that is without counting all the
people who were on private equity funds, as Romney used to do, and hedge
funds who are entitled under the law to defer all of their income, and if
they choose, pay no federal income tax at all.

Now, remember Romney said, and stated it as a principle, I pay what
the law requires and not a dollar more, and yet he has chosen in this case,
depending on the details of how you recalculate his return, to pay
somewhere between 270,000 and $620,000 of additional tax. I`m sorry. I
thought there was a principle here. You only pay the minimum the law
requires, or is this another case of where Mitt Romney says one thing and
then, when it appears to be politically convenient, ignore your principles
to do something else.

SHARPTON: Well, Governor Rendell, let me ask you. In an ABC
interview in July, this is what Mitt Romney said about paying more taxes
than required and how it would disqualify him from being president. Listen
to Mr. Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My view is I have paid all
the taxes required by law. I don`t pay more than are legally due. And
frankly, if I had paid more than are legally due, I don`t think I`d be
qualified to become president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: How do you respond to that, governor, given that we`re
being told now?

RENDELL: It`s stunning. It is absolutely stunning. If that`s true
and he made that remark in July, it`s just another incredible case of
stepping on his own words. I mean, it`s just incredible. But I think
that`s sort of a humorous issue, but more importantly is why he hasn`t
released the prior years.

And again, if he`s paid 13 to 20 percent, somewhere in that range, he
released his returns here and he paid a little more than 13, 14 percent,
then what`s the harm in releasing them? I can`t figure out from a campaign
point of view why they don`t just release them and bury this issue once and
for all.

I mean, sometime during this campaign, they`ve got to be able to focus
the nation`s attention on the economy, none of this other distraction. And
why don`t they do that? Does anybody -- Krystal, do you have a thought?

SHARPTON: Krystal, I mean, is this going anywhere? I mean, you know,
you are talking about he knew he was going to run for president. A lot of
Americans, me included, in the fight with the IRS. But if you know you are
going to run for president, why wouldn`t they take care of this and how do
they get beyond it? Is this going to quiet down, Krystal?

BALL: It`s not going to quiet down, and the release really does raise
more questions than it answers. And it is unbelievable. I mean, it`s not
like he`s just decided he was going to run for president. He has been
planning for years to run for president, and the thought didn`t occur to
him that this would be an issue. And there is a broader scene throughout
his campaign of a complete lack of transparency, whether it`s within his
own finances or what he intends to do for the country if elected. There is
absolutely no willingness to share those details with the American people.

SHARPTON: Ed Rendell -- Governor Ed Rendell, Krystal Ball, and David
Cay Johnston, thanks for your time tonight. Have a good weekend.

BALL: Thank, Reverend.

RENDELL: Thanks, Reverend. You too.

JOHNSTON: Thank you.

SHARPTON: Today, Paul Ryan was selling his plan to end Medicare as we
know it to a big crowd of senior citizens. You can guess what kind of
reception he got.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The first step to a
stronger Medicare is to repeal Obama care because it represents the worst
of both worlds. I had a feeling there would be mixed reaction. So let me
get into it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Plus, the Obama-Biden ticket comes out swinging on Romney`s
47 percent comments. You want to hear this.

And a prominent conservative is calling the Romney campaign, a, quote,
"rolling calamity."

And now, Ann Romney has had enough. She has a message to fellow
Republicans slamming her husband.

You`re watching "Politics Nation" on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Paul Ryan claims he is here to reform Medicare, not to bury
it. He wanted this fight. He said he would win this fight. And then
today he met some actual voters. The day the boo birds came to Ryan-land.
That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: The president was talking about Medicare yesterday. I`m
excited about this. This is a debate we want to have. This is a debate we
need to have, and this is a debate we`re going to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Remember that? The good old days, back in August when Paul
Ryan joined the Republican ticket. The dynamic duo was going to run on
Medicare. It was a debate they were going to win. How is that working out
for them? Let`s listen to congressman Ryan talking about the issue to
seniors at the AARP today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obama care
because it represents the worst of both worlds. I had a feeling there
would be mixed reaction, so let me get into it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: I don`t know if that`s a mixed reaction, so much as a
negative one. But, how is this for a mixed reaction? That`s Ryan talking,
and these are all the people walking out of his speech. They`re voting
with their feet. Here`s a hint. They are not winning on Medicare. They
are losing on it.

In key states, President Obama leads on the issue by six points, and
that includes Florida. Surprise, surprise, Americans don`t like the idea
of radically changing Medicare, especially when you want to give tax breaks
to the rich and to oil companies, especially when our seniors have worked
so hard for the peace of mind that this program gives them. Don`t take my
word for it. Just listen to the folks who attended Ryan`s speech today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I worked for that. I paid into all these
programs, the Medicare and that. They are not entitlement. And why is it
OK for oil companies to have entitlements that they are, you know, that
they are getting?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I didn`t find Ryan sincere at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, a lot of them, people around me were
booing, and I think they get the feeling that these folks will say anything
just to get elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Hey, how is that winning argument going?

Joining me now is E.J. Dionne, columnist for "the Washington Post" and
an MSNBC contributor.

E.J., thanks for coming on the show tonight.

E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Glad to be with you.

SHARPTON: Doesn`t seem like Medicare is the winning argument they
thought it would be?

DIONNE: Well, you know, it`s as if the Democrats went out there and
said, we are the party that`s better on tax cuts for well off Americans,
and no matter what they said and how much they tried to argue that, most
Americans would say, no, the Republicans are the party for that sort of
thing.

Similarly on Medicare, the whole history on Medicare is that Democrats
introduced it, and the skeptics, including back then, Ronald Reagan, were
the Republicans who were against it, the conservatives. Then you have Paul
Ryan come along who wants to create a voucher plan. Everybody knew that
was his position.

SHARPTON: Right.

DIONNE: For a little while, they gained some ground by talking about
the cuts that Obama made to providers and said this is a big $716 billion
cut. But then, it became clear that Ryan himself included that money in
his own budget and that it came back to normal after a while. I think the
democratic convention president Clinton and others made the case pretty
strongly. Then, if you really want to defend traditional Medicare, the
party that traditionally defended it, that gave it to you, is still the
party to go to. And so, I think that`s why they`re fighting uphill, and
why I don`t think they will ever win on the Medicare issue. And what
happened today I think was an indication of that.

SHARPTON: And that is also, while we are on Ryan, there is also a lot
of talk about a 2005 audio of Ryan slamming Social Security. Listen to
this, E.J.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: Social Security right now is a collectivist system. It is a
welfare transfer system. If every worker in this country becomes an owner
of real life, of seeing the fruits of their labor come and materialize for
their benefit, then that many more people in America who aren`t going to
listen to the likes of Dick Gephardt and Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, the
collectivist class warfare-breathing demagogues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Class warfare-breathing demo -- I mean, is he in another
planet, an alternative universe something, I mean?

DIONNE: I think in that case, he really was. Because it was - as I
understand the article which came out from a professor in the Midwest, he
was talking to Ayn Rand Folks, and Ayn Rand really is on another
ideological planet from most Americans.

And the Republicans, again, these are arguments that go all the way
back to the 1930s, and for a long time after Dwight Eisenhower, the
Republicans made their peace with Social Security and said Americans are
for this, they like this, we are not going to touch it.

And suddenly, you have got Ryan back there saying what he really
believes, which is that the core FDR social insurance programs are really
just a kind of socialism. So, I think he is being quite honest there. I
just don`t think that`s where most Americans are.

And I think, if we look back at this period in the campaign as a
turning point, which it`s looking more and more like we will, I think part
of it will be this was a period when the country came to realize how
extreme this version of Republicanism and conservatism is, and that`s why
they are having a problem.

SHARPTON: Well, and you know, President Obama also addressed the AARP
before Ryan did by tape. Let`s listen because he kind of preemptively
addressed some of the claims that Ryan would make. Let`s listen to what
the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Medicare and Social Security are not handouts. You have paid
into these programs your whole lives. You`ve earned that. My opponent`s
running mate wrote a bill that would have privatized Social Security, and
after what happened on Wall Street just four years ago, does anybody
actually think that`s a good idea? Contrary to what you have heard and
what you may hear from subsequent speakers, Obama care actually
strengthened Medicare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Your reaction to the president`s preemptive tape?

DIONNE: Well, you know, when the Republicans tried to partially
privatize Social Security under President Bush, Paul Ryan was one of the
leading supporters of this. And it went down, not just because Democrats
opposed this, it went down because a whole lot of Republicans said, we
can`t do this. This is unpopular. This is a mistake.

And so, to have a candidate who can actually put Social Security back
on the table for Democrats, this is kind of a gift from heaven to the
Democrats, and I think the president`s speech suggested he feels that way
too.

SHARPTON: Yes, well, Ryan, as you say, he believes it. So, I guess
he`s doing what he believes. I may believe I`m 7`1", but that doesn`t mean
they`re going to sign me up on a basketball team and pass me the ball.

DIONNE: I could say the same thing. Thank you.

SHARPTON: E.J., thanks for coming tonight. Have a great weekend.

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

SHARPTON: Ahead, President Obama and Joe Biden came out today
hammering governor Romney for dismissing 47 percent of the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: How could he be so profoundly wrong about America?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: And from politician to punch line. Can the Republican
candidate recover after becoming a target for late night comedians?

You`re watching "Politics Nation" on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, THE LATE SHOW: The leaves are falling.
Temperatures are falling. Romney`s poll numbers are falling. It must be
autumn.

CONAN O`BRIEN, HOST, CONAN: People are commenting that Mitt Romney
has been looking extremely tan lately. He got tan. Yes. In fact, if
Romney gets any darker, he`s not going to vote for himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Can you hear that? That`s the sound of Republicans running
from Mitt Romney and his attack on the 47 percent of the country. Look out
below. Campaign falling! That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Welcome back. So why did Governor Romney pick today to
release one year of his tax returns? We don`t know, but it may have had to
do with the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week he`s had since the
secret tape revealed him calling 47 percent of Americans victims and free
loaders. And this tape has handed the Obama campaign the political
equivalent of a sledge hammer. In Virginia today, the President was
swinging it again at Mr. Romney`s view of America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I don`t believe we can get
very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims,
who think that they`re not interested in taking responsibility for their
own lives. I don`t see a lot of victims in this crowd today.

(CHEERS)

I see hard working Virginians. Nobody believes that anyone`s entitled
to success in this country. We don`t believe the government should be
helping people who refuse to help themselves, but we do believe in
something called opportunity. The values we believe in don`t just belong
to workers or businesses, the 53 percent or the 47 percent, the rich or the
poor, the one percent, the 99 percent -- these are American values. They
belong to all of us.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: They belong to all of us. Suddenly, the talk about taxes
doesn`t seem so bad, and that political sledgehammer was passed to Joe
Biden today. For the first time, he weighed in on the tape. It was
classic Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRES. JOE BIDEN (D), UNITED STATES: He thinks these folks
believe they`re entitled, that they`ve become dependent. They see
themselves as victims who won`t take responsibility for their own lives.
How could he be so profoundly wrong about America? How is that possible?

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

Not in my neighborhood, not where I grew up, not the people I know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: How could he be so profoundly wrong about America? Is what
so many Americans are asking.

Joining me now is Robert Reich, former Labor secretary and now
economics professor at U.C. Berkeley. He`s also the author of the new book
"Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong with Our Economy and Our Democracy,
and How to Fix Them." And Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist
and visiting professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. Thanks
to both of you for being here tonight.

Secretary Reich, let me start with you. They`re pounding Romney on
the 47 percent comments. How did you see this playing out?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR: It plays into a story that
not only the Obama administration has been telling about Romney but also a
lot of people have been talking about Romney for a very, very long time
now. And that is -- here is somebody who is not only out of touch with
America but also somebody who is so rich and privileged and also quite
powerful, given his position on Wall Street and in Bain Capital, that he
has, in many ways, represented and embodied what is wrong with America
right now.

A kind of a plutocracy, extraordinary concentrates of the income and
wealth at the very top and everybody else floundering. And it is not only
a heartless plutocracy, but it`s a plutocracy that is not bearing its fair
share of the responsibility for keeping the country going. This is what
links the tax return to what Romney said about the 47 percent who he says
he doesn`t really have any care for or doesn`t have any worry about. They
all play into the same underlying story.

Also, Romney`s gaffes, repeated gaffes, I`ll bet you $10,000 and so
forth. This is essentially a story about somebody who not only doesn`t
care about America but also is proposing in his budget, in his Paul Ryan-
Romney plan to give a gigantic tax break, $3.7 trillion over the next ten
years, to the same wealthy people that he`s been talking to and he was
talking to at that fund-raiser. I mean, Romney`s taxes today, I mean, that
he finally released today, he would be paying substantially less of a tax
rate. He`s paying 14.1 percent. He`d be paying about two percent if his
own tax plan went into effect.

SHARPTON: Yes.

REICH: I mean, this is a president or presidential candidate who
basically is not out for everyone. I mean, he is out for everyone, but
he`s not there for the country. He`s there to represent and to be of and
by and for the top one percent, top one-tenth of one percent.

SHARPTON: Now, Cynthia Tucker, you`re a Pulitzer prize winning
columnist, a conservative columnist, Peggy Noonan, had an exchange with
Romney surrogate John Sununu today. Let me share what I mean. Noonan
wrote, "The Romney Campaign" -- this is the second time she`s hit them this
week. She says, "The Romney Campaign has to get turned around. This week
I called it incompetent but only because I was being polite. I really
meant rolling calamity."

And, of course, one of Romney`s surrogates responded, John Sununu, who
is standing by Romney`s side as others are leaving, and he hit back at
Noonan personally on MSNBC today. Let me play what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN SUNUNU, FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: I wouldn`t hire Peggy
Noonan to run a campaign. I don`t ask her to have me write her columns.
The fact is that what is going on in America is a response to a president
who has established a campaign of class warfare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Doesn`t seem like the Romney people aren`t too happy with
Miss Noonan`s advice.

CYNTHIA TUCKER, VISITING PROF., UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: No, they are
not, and I have to say -- I have to give Peggy credit. She`s always been a
fabulous wordsmith. Rolling calamity is what the Romney campaign has been
for the past few weeks. It`s been an absolute gaffe machine. But, no,
they are not happy. And one of the reasons they are not happy is because
the mistakes of the past two weeks have drawn fire not just from Democrats,
but from Republicans as well.

Leading Republicans have been out there drubbing the Romney campaign
for, first, the terrible misfire on Libya when Romney got out there and
said something that was clearly wrong, attacking Obama when a consulate had
been attacked and Americans, including an ambassador, dead.

SHARPTON: Right.

TUCKER: Republicans, leading Republicans jumped all over him for
that. That followed with this, you know, tape, this secretly recorded
videotape of him saying absolutely vicious things about half the country.
Many Republicans have jumped on him about that because it is truly awful.
They don`t want republicanism to be associated with that. So Romney is not
just hearing from Democrats, he`s hearing from Republicans saying, for
heaven`s sakes, do something about this campaign because it`s falling
apart.

Some Senate, some Republicans who are running for the Senate are
distancing themselves from Romney, and, of course, Ann Romney has come out
and vented her own frustration with the Republicans who are criticizing
Romney.

SHARPTON: Yes. Let me go to your first point, first, though,
Cynthia. Secretary Reich, "The Washington Post" reported in an article
titled, "Some Republicans in Tight Races are Distancing Themselves From
Standard Bearer Romney." And they`re saying, quote that "Some GOP
candidates in tight races are getting anxious about being cemented to Mitt
Romney, push back against the GOP standard bearer showing up in competitive
Congressional and gubernatorial races." I know you`re an economist but
you`ve been in a political administration. How do you respond to this?

REICH: Well, in politics, when other politicians see a ship going
down, they do whatever they can to get as far away from that ship as
possible. I mean, the irony here is that Mitt Romney turned right very,
very strongly because his advisers said to him, everybody in America has
already made up their minds who they`re going to vote for. This election
is going to be won on the basis of turnout. And therefore, Mitt Romney,
you have got to ignite the base, make them excited, get them turned out to
a greater extent than the liberal and democratic bases turned out.

And so, Mitt Romney took their advice, followed exactly what the Tea
Partiers wanted, he got Paul Ryan on his ticket, and then he began to
basically mouth what the Tea Party has been saying all along. And this,
you know, to have the Republicans basically desert him at this point is
wildly ironic because this is exactly what the Republican Party has come
to represent, this radical right wingism. And this is what America is
finally understanding it doesn`t want.

SHARPTON: We have to leave it there. Robert Reich and Cynthia
Tucker, thanks for your time tonight. Have a good weekend to both of you.

TUCKER: You too.

REICH: Thanks, John. You too.

SHARPTON: Governor Romney became the punch line for comedians this
week, but the result may not leave him hurting. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARPTON: Early voting started today in two states, and that means
the GOP effort to suppress the vote is in full swing. Why we must continue
to fight. That`s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Romney campaign unveils its new strategy. So
47 percent of you can skip that segment.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Folks, this is not a crisis for Romney, this say
triumph because Mitt nailed it. Obama supporters are nothing but lazy
parasites. Get a job!

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I meant what I said was not elegantly stated.
Perhaps I made a bit of a honey boo boo. Ha ha ho, ha ha ho, ha.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let`s see the leaves are falling. Temperatures are
falling. Romney`s poll numbers are falling. It must be autumn.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Mitt Romney`s words we gave late night comedians one of
their best weeks. He became the punch line. Romney`s elegant explanation
of the secret tapes inspired Stephen Colbert to get fancy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: I will now deliver Mitt`s core message,
but this time with a little more panache.

But unfortunately, almost have two score and seven percent will vote
for my opponent, that socialist Hottentot. Bring me the shrimp and the
mindless masses. Come on, come in. See how they love it? See? Stop
being a victim. Oh, Winslow, Winslow, take them away. They depress me,
and they smell like shrimp. Out, out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Hilarious. Hilarious. "Saturday Night Live" found enough
material for a special Thursday night edition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Paul Ryan is great if you like Mitt Romney but you
think he`s too cool and relatable.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This first question is worth $25.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That`s OK. We`re not going to answer questions for
a quarter.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So, that`s $25.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right. Which is a quarter of $100. Is there any
other type of quarter? I don`t understand.

SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: As for his claim that it`s not his job to
worry about Americans who don`t pay taxes, I wouldn`t worry, buddy. It`s
looking less and less like it will be your job.

I think we`ll be seeing a lot more of that in the next 46 days. It`s
all in good fun, but when your campaign becomes a punch line, you know
they`re laughing until it hurts.

Back with us is Krystal Ball, co-host of "The Cycle" here on MSNBC,
and comedian and TV personality Chuck Nice. You may know him from shows
like "Best Week Ever." Chuck, this is really not Mitt`s best week. Are
late night comedians making it as worse?

CHUCK NICE, COMEDIAN: Absolutely. And with good reason because Mitt
Romney is to comedy what Mr. Softee is to ice cream, so easy to serve up.
And I`m sorry. That`s just the way it is. That`s the stark reality.

SHARPTON: But I thought you wanted Romney to win?

NICE: You know, Reverend Sharpton, I was here sometime ago and I told
you that I wanted Mitt Romney to win, and I have to say, after Libya and
through this whole 47 percent thing, I am now declaring my public support
for Mitt Romney because I believe God is telling me, look what I`m doing
for you here, Chuck.

KRYSTAL BALL, CO-HOST, "THE CYCLE": It`s all about your career.

NICE: Look what I`m doing for you. It can`t get any better.

SHARPTON: You know, Krystal, a lot of comedians, and I suppose a lot
of people in the entertainment world feeling Romney would give them a lot
of material. But isn`t that a negative thing? I mean, there`s one thing
to have fun in -- when I ran for president, I did "Saturday Night Live,"
they didn`t do me, I did the show.

BALL: Yes.

SHARPTON: But it`s all good, all in fun, but when you become a
nightly joke --

BALL: Right.

SHARPTON: In what point does -- well, let`s me show you what happened
in `08 with Sarah Palin and McCain. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hillary and I don`t agree on everything.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Anything.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I believe that diplomacy should be the
cornerstone of any foreign policy.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And I can see Russia from my house.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I would like to take this opportunity to make my
opponent a proposal. Effective immediately, each of us suspend our
campaigns and instead hold a series of three pie eating contests.

(LAUGHTER)

Next Tuesday, Kansas City lemon meringue. Saturday, Jacksonville
blueberry. The following week in Dallas, coconut custard.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

When it gets out of the joke and the comedy shows, it starts getting
into the ground water, it stinks, Krystal.

BALL: I love that pie clip, Reverend. Well, I think that`s right. I
mean, I always try to think about not what partisans, what the sort of belt
way media are talking about, but what is getting through to the average
American?

SHARPTON: Right.

BALL: And a lot of the daily ups and downs don`t break through, but
over the course of the campaign, an impression forms. And that impression
is what you`re seeing in, I think, the late night shows. And Mitt Romney
over the past really three, four weeks has provided a lot of material. The
thing that was so devastating about Tina Fey`s Sarah Palin is that in some
instance she actually just took Sarah Palin`s words verbatim and read them
and then would add a little bit of a twist to make it that much further
over the line. And in some ways, you`re able to do that with Mitt Romney
because he caricatures himself in a way by being so all over the map with
the messaging that he puts out on a week to week basis.

SHARPTON: And then, Chuck, there seems to be things that just seem to
be weird and unnecessary if you`re trying to win people over. For example,
on that same tape, he said that David Letterman hated him. And let me play
you what David Letterman answered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, COMEDIAN: The man is delusional. If he thinks --
honest to God, if he thinks I hate him. Let me ask you something, Mitt.
If we hated you, why do we keep begging you to be on the show? Mitt Romney
or his little buddy, the vice president -- who`s the little guy?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Paul Ryan.

LETTERMAN: Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan. Gilligan, his little buddy
Gilligan. An open invitation any time. On short notice, you want to be
here tomorrow? Fine. Come tomorrow. You want to be here Monday, any
time. I don`t care. Bring in Paul Ryan. Bring in Mitt Romney. Bring in
Mitt and Mrs. Mitt and all the kids. Bring in everybody. We don`t hate
you, Mitt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: That`s got to be devastating, Chuck.

NICE: It is devastating because if you think about it, in instances
such as that, we`re not laughing at Mitt as much as we are just laughing at
Mitt. And that`s really what it comes down to. When you set yourself up
in a position where you say something like, well, no president should talk
to "The View" or David Letterman hates me, you open yourself up to these
things and you make it so that it`s shooting ducks in a barrel, as I should
say. Or I don`t know, what`s a really rich word for duck. Maybe it`s the
shooting foie gras in a barrel.

BALL: Reverend --

SHARPTON: Yes, Krystal.

BALL: One of the other things here is any candidate is going to get
mocked at some point, but I think you have to have that sense of humor and
show the American people that you have a sense of humor and you`re not
taking yourself too seriously.

SHARPTON: Yes.

BALL: And it`s one of the great gifts that the President has. He`s
able to convey that, and he also has fantastic comedic timing. So he can
deliver a joke and himself be funny, which is a huge advantage.

SHARPTON: No, it is. It`s just that, when you start being the
delivered joke, it becomes a disadvantage. Krystal and Chuck, thanks for
being here tonight. Have a great weekend to both of you.

NICE: Thank you.

BALL: Thank you. You too.

SHARPTON: And don`t forget, don`t forget, don`t forget, watch Krystal
on "The Cycle" weekdays at 3:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC. We`ll be
right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If you`re going to vote, we`ll need some photo ID.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But I`ve lived here all my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Stopping all Americans from voting is for the
protection of all Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But I`m a 40-year-old white guy who didn`t go to
college and gets all his news from monitors at gas stations.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In you go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Voter ID is such a problem now, even the Simpsons are
making fun of it. But this republican effort to suppress the vote is no
laughing matter. Just this week, we heard the sponsor of Pennsylvania`s
voter ID law saying this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: As Mitt Romney said, what, we have 47 percent of
the people that are living off the public dole, living off of their
neighbor`s hard work, and we have a lot of people out there that are too
lazy to get off, you know, to get up and get out there and get the ID.
They need. So, I mean, if individuals are too lazy, but they can`t fix
that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Republicans piled up obstacles to voting and then have the
gall to accuse people of being too lazy to vote. This is what we`re up
against. In these final 46 days before the election, the battle over
voting rights will be fought in the courts and in the streets. Precinct by
precinct. But in a lot of ways, Election Day starts today. Idaho and
South Dakota became the first states to begin early in person voting, and
by the end of this month, people in 30 states will be voting early, even in
person or through absentee ballots.

I`m in Washington in two days of meetings at the Congressional Black
Caucus and others talking about efforts of groups like mine, the National
Action Network, to get people to vote, to go beyond efforts to suppress the
vote, and all I can say is no matter who you vote for -- and I mean this --
whatever your choice, vote this year if for no other reason to show people
we will not allow them to take the vote from us. Make record numbers in
voting to show we`ve come too far as Americans to have some stopped, to
have some suppressed. Voting is part of what makes this country what it
is.

Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. "HARDBALL" starts right now.

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

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