DAVID GREGORY, HOST: I‘m David Gregory. Right here you find the fast-paced, the bottom line and every point of view in the room.
Tonight Barack Obama has put race front and center in the RACE FOR THE
Night two on the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Welcome. Glad you are here. We are fast, hope to be smart, and I‘ll guarantee you, we are the place for politics. What we‘ve got is a panel that comes to play. “Air America‘s” Rachel Maddow, “The Washington Post‘s” Gene Robinson, both MSNBC political analyst, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and the host of “Morning Joe” Joe Scarborough. We begin, as we do every night, with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day, “The Headline.”
I‘m going to start us off here tonight. Barack Obama‘s speech was a bold gamble. He condemned Reverend Wright‘s angry, inflammatory rhetoric but stood up for his former pastor as an important spokesman in the black community.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL: The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence, and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black experience in America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: On the one hand, Obama stuck to his transcendent political appeal talking about racial reconciliation. On the other hand he urged whites to understand black anger, still embracing Reverend Wright at the end of the day, and that may scare off a lot of white voters.
Rachel, what‘s your headline on what you heard today?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Unexpectedly, for me, this story ended up really dominating the—what was important on the political scene. I have felt like the discussion of race in the presidential election in the last month has been superficial and counterproductive. I was not looking forward to another news cycle about race. But this speech ended up being the most challenging confessional nuanced, not oversimplifying treatment of race that any A-list politician has ever asked to step up to the plate for.
GREGORY: It was gutsy, right? I mean this was not the safe speech to give.
MADDOW: This was not at all safe and it was implied that he believes the American people were capable of moving forward, not being stuck in the same old rut that we‘ve been in, that we can understand shades of gray. I thought it asked a lot of us and therefore it was historic.
GREGORY: Joe, what was your headline?
JOE SCARBOROUGH, “MORNING JOE” HOST: I thought it made history, too. A very historic speech, but at the same time Barack Obama right now is not about making history, he‘s about winning delegates. There is no doubt he wowed a lot of people in Manhattan. A lot of Georgetown people, a lot of white, progressives that already supported him. The question is: how did he do in Youngstown, Ohio, and Jacksonville, Florida, with Reagan Democrats? I‘m not so sure he won a lot of votes when he went through a long laundry list of black resentments, explaining why Reverend Wright had 350 years of good reasons on why to be angry.
Again, what he said was true. But is it good politics? I‘m not so sure, and I suspect that we‘ll see in the polls in Pennsylvania in the coming weeks, and I wouldn‘t be surprised if he lost a lot of support among white, blue-collar voters.
GREGORY: Gene Robinson, he didn‘t just talk about blacks today. What was your take?
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. The headline, he said, you want to talk about race? Bring it on. And I disagree with Joe. I think he spoke directly to white, working-class and middle-class voters on hot-button issues, that they have legitimate resentments that their kids are bused across town to other schools. They have legitimate resentments when African-American—when an African-American has an advantage to get a job or a place in school.
They have a legitimate complaint about inner city crime. These are not racist complaints. These are valid. It was an amazing speech, an amazing analysis of race in America in the 21st century. I think it was an appeal to white working class voters.
GREGORY: Let me get Chuck Todd in here. Chuck, what was your headline on what you heard today?
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, simply that a white politician could not have given that speech today. And it goes to exactly what Gene just brought up, and that is, that you had Barack Obama talking about busing and the resentment that builds in white America about having to have their kids bused and talking about the struggles that—and some of the resentment that has built in white America.
The irony here is, there‘s not a white—Hillary Clinton could not have given that speech. John McCain could not have given that speech or talked specifically about that issue. And it‘s one of these things and the Obama campaign hopes that some of blue-collar, white America does hear this and I think they plan to amplify it, because they think that it actually is their entree. And that this is part of the speech he wants to do.
GREGORY: All right. He‘s getting a lot of kudos here, Rachel. The bottom line, was this was still a political speech? He gave this speech because he had a lot on the line. He was getting in trouble with his pastor.
MADDOW: Absolutely. He has to—what we have to get down to here is the political calculus. What does it mean ultimately in the next races? What does it mean towards him getting the nomination? And I think that—it depends a lot on us, on the pundit corps. I think that depends a lot on whether or not the American people are as smart and capable of absorbing complexity as he said that we were by giving the speech today.
GREGORY: Joe, you got to admit, this—if people want him to stick to his brand, this was it. This was not a conventional speech, this was a guy who said, you, the white working-class guy in Youngstown, Ohio, you can handle this truth. You can handle this conversation about race. Why do you disagree with it?
SCARBOROUGH: I don‘t disagree with it at all. I thought it was an amazing speech. I‘m not talking about what ought to be. I‘m talking about what is. I was inspired by the speech. I thought it was a challenging speech. But like you said off the top, David, this was a gutsy speech. This was a guy dropping back and throwing a bomb, and everybody that I‘ve heard thus far today keeps talking about how he‘s making history. Well you know what? This campaign for Barack Obama is not just about making history. It‘s about winning delegates.
I‘m reminded of Robert Kennedy going into a hotel suite during the 1960 convention, looking around the room, some of the most powerful people in America were there, some of the great civil-rights heroes were there and Bobby looked around the room and he locked at his brother and he said, how many delegates are in this room? When the answer came back none, he said, get them out. We want to talk about delegates.
SCARBOROUGH: Right now, I‘m just saying, six, seven hours after the speech, a lot of people are talking about history, but politics is a tough, dirty game.
MADDOW: But Joe.
GREGORY: All right, Gene.
SCARBOROUGH: The bottom line is who wins the votes in Youngstown, Ohio.
ROBINSON: But you know, I talk to.
SCARBOROUGH: .in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and in Jacksonville, Florida.
GREGORY: Gene Robinson, you said it. You spoke to Barack Obama today afterwards.
ROBINSON: I did.
GREGORY: Was he sorry that he had to give this speech? That he was forced into giving the speech?
ROBINSON: Well, you know, he said having to give the speech was a challenging situation to be in, certainly, and I‘m sure he wouldn‘t have asked to be put in the situation to have to explain his relationship with Reverend Wright and the incendiary remarks he had made. On the other hand, he said he saw it as an opportunity, an opportunity to say some things about race, that blacks say privately, that whites say privately, but that they don‘t say to each other.
And, you know, I think that was one goal. I think, frankly, another goal was to get back in the driver‘s seat of this campaign. For the last couple of weeks now, he‘s been in the passenger‘s seat. And other people have been driving. Hillary Clinton was driving. The pundits were driving. Now, he‘s driving again. I think he‘s happy about that.
GREGORY: We‘re going to take a quick break right there. When we come back, we‘re to go “Inside the War Room” talking about who‘s driving what. We‘ll look at how the Clinton campaign is dealing with the whole issue of race. How should Hillary Clinton handle the controversy surrounding Obama‘s pastor? That‘s next.
And we know you‘ve got a lot to say about Obama‘s speech today. You‘ve been calling and e-mailing all day. Keep them coming. Call us, 212-790-2299, or e-mail us, Race08@MSNBC.com.
The RACE will be right back.
ANNOUNCER: ROAD TO THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory is sponsored
GREGORY: Coming up next, how will the Clinton campaign respond to Barack Obama‘s speech on race? Plus Bill Clinton called (INAUDIBLE) over his comments back in South Carolina—are you ready—a mugging. That‘s next.
GREGORY: We‘re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Time to head “Inside the War Room.”
It‘s our chance to look behind the scenes of the campaigns. Imagine ourselves in on their strategy sessions today. How should the Clinton campaign handle the issue of race as the campaign now moves forward? “The Washington Post” Robert Novak this to say about the race issue in the weeks ahead. Quote, “In such a row prolonged contest Obama will enjoy overwhelming African-American support. The question is whether the Clinton campaign can resist pointing this out in an effort to mobilize white backing? It certainly has not resisted so far, demonstrated by feckless Gerry Ferraro‘s mimicking what she heard from Bill and Hillary.”
Chuck Todd, his point is, the Clintons have been ham-handed on how they‘ve dealt with the race issue so far. What do you say?
TODD: They‘re in a box. I don‘t think they can do much on this. They‘ve got a superdelegate problem in this respect—if they win this thing by somehow creating a racial divide or look like they‘re pushing this Wright stuff or whatever, that‘s going to turn off the superdelegates who, by the way, a bunch are elected officials, a bunch realized the number one, most loyal constituency group to the Democratic Party is African-America.
So, they‘re in a huge box. Their only hope, frankly, is that Obama starts showing problems in these general election match-ups. They have to hope that they start outperforming Obama against McCain big time. Not by a few points but literally—they got to hope it‘s Clinton beats McCain, McCain beats Obama.
GREGORY: Yes. But Joe, you‘re inside, you‘re advising the Clinton campaign here, one of the things you have to deal with is that Bill Clinton is still out there defending this approach. This is what he said Monday morning about the race issue. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has your role in the campaign changed at all from South Carolina? Has it evolved?
BILL CLINTON, FMR. UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: No. No. First of all, what happened there is a total myth and a mugging. And I think it‘s been pretty well established.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: A myth and a mugging, Joe, what he said in South Carolina.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. Send him back to Chappaqua. I‘ve been saying it for months. Send that man back to Chappaqua. A great political mind. Let him.
GREGORY: He compared him to Jesse Jackson. That was the point. He said, yes, Jesse Jackson ran a good campaign, too, when he talks about Obama.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, he can keep saying that all he wants. The history books have already been written on South Carolina. But the Clintons are doing exactly what they need to do right now in this latest dustup with Reverend Wright. They‘re sitting back. They‘re saying absolutely nothing just like John McCain is saying nothing, because this dustup, this scandal, whatever you want to call it, this does exactly what Bill Clinton was trying to do in South Carolina. And that makes Barack Obama the black candidate.
Today he talked about race. After running a campaign over the past several years, where he didn‘t bring up race, where he transcended it, where white voters in Iowa came out and really gave him his first shot at creating history. And so.
GREGORY: You‘re shaking your head, Rachel. Get in there.
MADDOW: Yes, I think that that‘s such a cynical view of what the impact of this speech is going to be. I mean this speech was about—not only about where black America‘s coming from and how they‘ve arrived at this point in history but also where white America is coming from and how they arrived at this point in history.
SCARBOROUGH: (INAUDIBLE) that was cynical? I don‘t understand. What did I say that was cynical?
ROBINSON: Did anybody notice?
MADDOW: It‘s cynical to imply that what‘s going to happen today is that he‘s going to further branded as the black candidate because he spoke about race.
SCARBOROUGH: No, I.
MADDOW: It‘s not like we haven‘t been speaking about race otherwise.
SCARBOROUGH: Listen, I didn‘t say that, but unlike a lot of other people that have been listening, too, today I‘m not declaring him the next president of the United States or throwing him a ticker tape parade down Fifth Avenue.
MADDOW: Neither am I.
SCARBOROUGH: It‘s been amazing what I‘ve been hearing today about it‘s historic. Yes, but what are the political ramifications?
MADDOW: Well, Joe, but.
SCARBOROUGH: It doesn‘t matter. This speech needed to be made.
ROBINSON: OK. Political ramifications.
GREGORY: Let me—all right. Let me get in here.
ROBINSON: Joe, did anybody notice.
GREGORY: Let me get out this question to Gene, because I think it‘s true what Joe says, that Barack Obama now owns this race issue. He has put it forward in a way that was not safe as we‘ve been saying. It was gutsy. He wants to talk about all ends of it now. It does put it front and center in the champagne, Gene.
ROBINSON: It does. I mean, he said, he told me afterwards, look, we‘re not going to gnaw on this bone at every campaign stop, but at some campaign stops he is going to gnaw on that bone. And did anybody else notice that he talked about his white grandmother? You know, it‘s a reminder that he has a foot in—you know, in other places in this race debate. And he can speak with a certain authority and a certain, you know, ecumenical knowledge that other black candidates could not about what white Americans might be feeling about race in this—in the 21st century.
MADDOW: I would also say, too, that—I think to talk about Scranton, to talk about Jacksonville, to talk about how white people and white ethnic voters are going to feel about this in all of these different states that were going to be voting, it‘s also missing the forest for the trees. There‘s nothing that can happen in Pennsylvania, in Guam and Puerto Rico and North Carolina, in Indiana, there‘s nothing that can happen in any of the remaining states that can get either of these candidates the 2025 delegates as Chuck has been reminding us over and over again.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, the bigger problem actually.
MADDOW: So the audience is therefore the superdelegates.
SCARBOROUGH: No, the bigger problem, though—I‘m not just talking about the Democratic race. I‘m talking about the general election in the fall. But Barack Obama did today may win him the Democratic nomination. The bigger question is: what happens in the fall in Ohio?
SCARBOROUGH: What happens in Pennsylvania?
SCARBOROUGH: What happens in Florida?
GREGORY: Let me get in here now and ask you, Chuck, it still comes down to how the Clintons respond to this now. Can they say anything about it? Do they do as know Novak suggests they might do and point out that he‘s going to get traction here among African-Americans and make that point essentially to white voters in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and beyond?
TODD: He‘s going to get traction with African-American voters. When you‘re winning them 91-9, I think you‘ve gotten traction. But I do want to make sort of—amplify a point that I think Joe was trying to make which is what Barack Obama didn‘t give a speech on today was Iraq. What he didn‘t give a speech on today was the economy. What he‘s going to be stuck talking about a lot between now and potentially November, if he ends up the nominee, is that he‘s always going to have to be talking about this race issue.
Now, granted, you know, some would say, well, duh, he‘s an African-American candidate, but still he‘s always having to be talking about it and at the end of the day these Democrats that Joe‘s bring bringing up in Scranton and Youngstown and Jacksonville, they don‘t like to talk about the race issue.
GREGORY: All right.
TODD: It doesn‘t mean that they shouldn‘t talk about it, they don‘t like to talk about it.
GREGORY: Got to get a break in here. Up next, new polls gauge about how Democratic voters feel about the superdelegate system. Will they back a nominee who appears to get a backroom deal?
Plus, is it time for John Ed wards to endorse a candidate?
Stay right here. You‘re watching RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. It‘s only on MSNBC.
GREGORY: Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Now it‘s time for what we call “Smart Takes.”
From the papers to the polls, we‘re tracking the smartest columnists and bloggers on the hunt for the smart take. Back with us Rachel, Eugene, Chuck and Joe. Smart take number one tonight, superdelegates, a new “USA Today”/Gallup poll finds 55 percent of Democratic voters say it would be unfair for Hillary Clinton to win the nomination based on her superdelegate support if she throws Barack Obama and delegates elected in primaries and caucuses.
Chuck Todd, you‘ve been making the case she‘s got a superdelegate problem.
TODD: She does, because these folks also remember what happened the last time a Clinton led the Democratic Party. And I think ultimately that‘s another issue that she‘s going to have to deal with, which is somehow proving that she will be better for the Democratic Party than her husband was and get more House members elected and keep control of Congress. And right now Obama makes the better case, because you see his coattails, you see how a gene of African-American base, even if Obama‘s loses the general election, actually wins the Democrats more House seats.
So on a purely selfish reasons those House Democrats who are superdelegates may just lean toward Obama simply out of self-preservation.
GREGORY: Joe, is it a fairness issue that he‘s just winning the PR on?
SCARBOROUGH: No, he‘s winning the delegates. He‘s won the most delegates. He‘s won the most popular votes. Hillary Clinton‘s best and perhaps last great chance is winning the popular vote. If she wins the popular vote, Barack Obama wins the delegates. Well, chances are very good that she can make an argument that might move those poll numbers a bit. But she certainly has no argument if she loses the popular vote as well as the most states as well as the superdelegates. She needs to rack up big wins in the popular vote between now and Puerto Rico.
GREGORY: Next up, as the “Smart Take” the looming question of an endorsement from John Edwards. MSNBC‘s own political team posted this “Smart Take” on Firstread.MSNBC.com today, quote, “If Edwards were to endorse Clinton wouldn‘t this be the week to do it when Obama‘s support among whites is taking a hit?”
Rachel, what do you say?
MADDOW: Whether or not John Edwards would be enough to put either candidate over the top remains to be seen. I mean, as we‘ve talked about the Democratic Party has a few larger-than-normal sized figures in it. But it has no giants. The only giant in the Democratic Party is married to one of the candidates. And so there isn‘t somebody who can come in and wave a magic wand and make this happen. That said, if this goes all the way to Denver because nobody steps in and tips this over before the Denver convention in August, that‘s almost a guaranteed win for McCain as I see it.
GREGORY: And Chuck, what was on your mind when you wrote this thing?
TODD: Well, that this would be to try to get any wavering superdelegates who are wondering, gees, maybe this guy is unelectable. If John Edwards, the ultimate Mr. Electable who always ran on that, if he went out and came out for Hillary Clinton, all of us would be going, see, this is a signal to Democrats that, you know, white voters are going to favor Clinton and that‘s the way to win.
GREGORY: The issue, Gene, is that John Edwards not endorsing becomes a prospect, a potential person who could help resolve this Democratic rule split over Michigan and Florida, over the nomination overall. He takes himself out of the game if he jumps in.
ROBINSON: Exactly. And if he wants to be something of a king-maker this time around, you know, I think he sits on the sidelines and waits to see what happens when we get to Denver. So, he might not do anything.
GREGORY: All right, got less than a minute. Another “Smart Take” here. The National Archives ready to release thousands of documents from Hillary Clinton as first lady. This is something that we‘re going to talk about when we come back.
Is there anything for her campaign to worry about? That‘s all ahead.
Plus, will Barack Obama‘s speech on race spur a backlash from white voters?
It‘s next on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE only on MSNBC.
GREGORY: Still to come, “3 Questions” including this: Barack Obama‘s made his big speech. Is Hillary Clinton next? Should she lay out Bill Clinton‘s role in a new Clinton White House?
And what will we find in her soon-to-be released documents as first lady? But, first, a check of your headlines.
(UP TO THE MINUTE)
GREGORY: And we‘re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Night two, welcome, glad to have you here.
Time now for Three Questions. Our panel, once again, Air America host Rachel Maddow, Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post,” NBC News political director Chuck Todd.
Question number one, the Clinton library, National Archives announced today they will now release more than 11,000 pages of records from Hillary Clinton‘s time as first lady. What is the fallout from this new flood of documents? Chuck Todd, you‘ll be going through them.
TODD: That‘s right. I think myself and a lot of members of the media will go through them. So what this creates is a potential for not stories on what they released, but what happens—and this is what drives the Clinton campaign crazy—is that this will then create stories about what wasn‘t released.
You know, they haven‘t released their tax returns. They haven‘t released this. They haven‘t released the Clinton Foundation notes. I think that‘s what this release does. And it could be a reminder to voters, remember, there‘s always going to be a paper trail and there always could be something.
But I think for the most part, I don‘t expect to see any blockbusters in her schedule.
GREGORY: But is there substance here, Gene? Is there actual substance about her role in the White House, whether it‘s health care, whether it‘s foreign-policy crises, whether she responded to a 3:00 a.m. phone call and dealt with something in the middle of the night? What do we learn here?
ROBINSON: We‘ll see if there are time stamps on those phone records.
GREGORY: The 3:30 a.m. meeting after the call came in?
ROBINSON: Really, no, this is—I think you shouldn‘t overlook the fact—look, that‘s a lot of pages. And odds are there‘s something in there that will be interesting, at the very least, and potentially, you know, either embarrassing or whatever. But we‘ll have to see what‘s in it. It‘s going to be a lot of reading in the next few days.
GREGORY: And, you know, Rachel, I actually think—chuck, the one thing about this—this question is to Rachel—they are going to put so many documents out there, are people really going to raise their hand and say, no, no, what about the other stuff we wanted? There‘s going to be plenty here for people to pour over, no?
MADDOW: Yes, this is going to be a full employment program for opposition researchers. Lots of people who failed in other parts of the political world are very excited that they‘ve got lots to work on now. I think the big story here, barring some sort of bombshell, which I don‘t think anybody is really expecting—I think the big story here is at these are the terms for which the Democratic nomination for the president is unfolding.
That means the discussion about Hillary Clinton continues to be about her being a former president‘s wife, continues to be about the ‘90s and, meanwhile, John McCain looks like a president traveling through Iraq.
GREGORY: -- and process. And it‘s about process.
All right, let‘s move on. Let‘s listen to Barack Obama addressing his relationship with his controversial former pastor, Reverend Wright. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Which brings us to our second question: will Obama face a backlash from working-class whites over his continued embrace of Reverend Wright, as well as his appeal to understand black anger and the black experience? Gene Robinson, what do you say?
ROBINSON: I think he will face continued questions about that. And I asked him about it today. I said, look, why didn‘t you just disown him? You said you wouldn‘t disown him, but why didn‘t you? Don‘t—you must realize that there are a lot of people out there who wanted to hear you say that.
And he said, essentially, yes, I realize that there are some people who might be disappointed that I didn‘t. But there it is. And, you know, clearly, I think you have to take him at face value what he said in the speech, that, you know, he disavows everything controversial that Reverend Wright said. But this is a man who obviously‘s been very close to and he said—
GREGORY: All right, and let‘s also—Rachel, you brought this up last night, let‘s talk about double standard. When the Republicans got in trouble, whether it was the president or John McCain back when, I think it was Jerry Falwell, said that 9/11 was the answer to homosexuality, when Pat Robertson has said incendiary remarks, did they distance themselves completely from these guys?
MADDOW: No, they didn‘t. John McCain has done both.
GREGORY: Yes, he did and didn‘t do it.
MADDOW: He‘s got both sides of that going. There is a double standard here in terms of the Republican party‘s full-on embrace of the religious right in this country, and all of the controversial things that come with it. We‘ve almost accepted that as the politics as usual. Therefore, when we start seeing religious controversy, religious-oriented controversy in the Democratic side, it‘s a huge story.
But immediately we‘re confronted with these bad parallels. It can‘t be that Jeremiah Wright is a huge controversy, a potential career-ending stumble for the Obama campaign, where Rod Parsley who says that, you know, that the purpose of the United States of America‘s existence is to destroy the faith of Islam, and John McCain describes him as a spiritual guide, that can go with just a peep in the liberal media and it never makes it on to television. That double standard can‘t be sustained.
GREGORY: Again, is Barack Obama expecting too much from voters around the country to sort of be with him mentally, intellectually, to have this kind of debate about coming to terms with racial grievances in the United States, or are they just going to hear Reverend Wright making these comments about 9/11, talking about God Damn America and comments like this and that is going to inform their world view about Barack Obama?
TODD: Look, the best thing that Obama can hope out of this is that the country has learned a lesson that, you know what, there‘s politics that are practiced in the churches on the Democratic side as well as on the Republican side. The worst thing for Obama in this is if you have the Reverend Wright comments pasted together with the, you know—with Michelle Obama‘s comments before—you know, she had to apologize for them, about not being proud until this campaign of being an American. Pasted together with that photo, that keeps making its way around the Internet, about him not having his hand on his heart during the Star Spangled Banner.
You put all three together and it‘s one of those things you can see how the Republican attack machine or an underground attack machine or a—who knows whose attack machine could do political damage.
MADDOW: But, Chuck, we know that‘s going to happen. We know it‘s already happening on right wing talk radio. We know it‘s already happening on places like Fox News. We know that‘s happening. The question is whether the mainstream media will choose to balance that out by also talking about the things that are just as controversial on the Republican side.
GREGORY: Let‘s get to the third question and bring this back to Hillary Clinton. All the talk of the big, defining speeches, it was Romney, now Obama; does Senator Clinton have one in her? Does she need to address Bill Clinton, her marriage, her husband‘s potential role in her White House, or where his administration would end and hers would begin? Chuck Todd?
TODD: Well, look, talking to Clinton folks, they knew—six months ago, they said, yes, she‘s going to address this issue. They just don‘t believe they ever have to address it in the primary, that if she is the nominee, they know that she‘s going to have to address this. You have to explain to the American public what Bill Clinton will do, period.
TODD: What will his job be?
GREGORY: But, Gene Robinson, why is it just a question for the general election? Aren‘t there a lot of primary voters with a lot of questions about Hillary Clinton?
ROBINSON: I think—I think there are, especially given Bill Clinton‘s interventions thus far in the campaign. I think there are a lot of primary voters who like to hear exactly what his role is going to be. Is he going to have an office? Is he going to have some sort of, you know, assignment to do? I wouldn‘t give him health care, but, you know, what is she going to give him to do? If anything.
TODD: The Irish Peace process.
GREGORY: Rachel, what do you say?
MADDOW: I think that, you know, I actually would love to hear Hillary Clinton give a big speech about what the Democratic party stands for and what the difference is between Democratic politics and Republican politics after Bill Clinton. And in order to that, you have to be just as nuanced, just as confessional, just as challenging as Barack Obama was today on the issue of race.
But I think that she‘s got it in her. I think the thing the Democratic primary voters, not just in the general, but in the primary, want to hear is what being a Democrat means in America now. And she could give a lofty, important, confessional speech about that, that dealt with her husband‘s legacy and, I think, elevated her own stature.
GREGORY: We‘re going to take a break here. Up next, it‘s your turn to play with the panel. Your reactions to Obama‘s speech, plus panel predictions.
And Chuck Todd finds a way to work the NCAA into this race for the ‘08 with his prediction about John Edwards. RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE continues right after this on MSNBC.
GREGORY: We‘re back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Now it‘s your turn to play with the panel. Joining us, Rachel Maddow, Gene Robinson, and Chuck Todd, and Joe Scarborough of “MORNING JOE” is back because he is in high demand. He was gone for a few minutes, but now he‘s back. Good to see you Joe.
The big headline today, Obama‘s speech; June from New Jersey called in with this question. Listen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was absolutely floored that somebody could so eloquently and honestly sum up the fears and hopes about an issue as divisive as race in this nation as well as he did. I would say that anybody at this point in time who could listen to that speech and how heartfelt it seemed, and argue at all as to whether or not this is a great American, and everything that he stands for, and the life he has lived, I think would be a fool.
GREGORY: But not everyone was in love with the speech. In fact, some of you found what you thought was a major contradiction. Melissa in Minnesota wrote in this; “Obama said in his speech today that heard Reverend Wright‘s ‘hate speeches.‘ That is not what he said last Friday night on talk shows like COUNTDOWN, where he told Keith-O he had never been Wright‘s pew during those ‘hate‘ or ‘unpatriotic,‘ to put it lightly, speeches, and had he been there, he would have said something.”
So we wanted to double-check and here is what Obama did say last Friday on “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I did not hear such incendiary language myself personally, either in conversations with him or when I was in the pew. He always preached a social gospel.
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GREGORY: Gene Robinson, you talked to Obama today. Was this a contradiction?
ROBINSON: Well, what he said today in the speech was, you know, did I hear him say controversial things? Yes. So, I asked him about that. I said, well, what did you hear? Did you hear the—you know, the really incendiary remarks that we‘ve seen played or other equally incendiary things? And he said he did not. He said he did hear him, you know, use language and say something that would be controversial.
He said, it was mostly—most of what he heard was in the context of talking about family relations, fathers who weren‘t, you know, doing right by their families, by their spouses, or by their children. And sometimes using language that was of the vernacular and of the street, and that that was what he was referring to, not the sort of --
GREGORY: Joe, are we past with this speech today—isn‘t everybody past the issue, or maybe not, of whether Obama should have just gotten up and gotten out of that congregation altogether?
SCARBOROUGH: I don‘t think it matters what he heard, what he said before, what Barack Obama knew and when did he know it. I think most Americans believe that he understood what type of pastor this man was. He‘d been his spiritual adviser. He‘d been going there for ten years. It just defies belief that somehow Barack Obama missed all of these sermons.
I think what mattered most was that he confronted it. Perhaps he tried to thread the needle a little bit here by saying, yes, I heard some of the speeches, but not more of the more vitriolic ones. I don‘t think that matters in the end now. I think we‘re way past that. I think the issue that matters now is whether Americans buy this speech of Barack Obama. If they do, they don‘t care what the reverend said before.
GREGORY: All right, now to a voice mail from Mike in Indiana, who is worried about the future of the Democratic party and says, there is one person to blame. Listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m really concerned about—Hillary seems to want to do anything to get this—to get the presidency. She even seems bent on destroying the Democratic party if she has to. She‘s running her race as a Republican. This really worries me as a Democrat because I really think it could tear the Democratic party in half.
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GREGORY: Rachel, Mike seems to be channeling David Axelrod, who is Obama‘s chief strategist, who said almost the same thing about Hillary Clinton, she‘ll do anything to get the vote.
MADDOW: On my radio show on Air America, I spend the day back stroking through the Democratic base every day, in terms of talking to my listeners and hearing what our feedback is on Air America. And you‘re hearing two things: you‘re hearing exactly what that caller just voiced, which is I‘m worried this is scorched earth. This leaves the Democratic party in a bad place. This is win at any cost. We can‘t afford that.
And, simultaneously, hearing well, you know, what, Democrats have been waiting for somebody for a long time who would be a bar brawler. We wanted our Karl Rove. We wanted somebody who we know will fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, and maybe Hillary Clinton is that person. I think Democrats have conflicting instincts on that question.
SCARBOROUGH: I think Republicans have conflicting instincts also, David. It‘s very interesting some of the e-mails I got from the same Republicans, who said they were so inspired by Barack Obama‘s speech in Iowa, said today that they thought maybe he went too far, talking about the black resentments over the past 350 years, and person after person said, Hillary Clinton, this candidate that everybody wanted to go up against, a lot of people said, Hillary Clinton is going to take him apart. She‘s going to win this nomination, and she‘s going to be tough to beat in the Fall.
I think Republicans are now conflicted. Democrats are now conflicted. They really don‘t know who has the best shot in the fall. And if you look at the polls, the head-to-head match ups, Hillary Clinton‘s actually doing better now against John McCain than Barack Obama, for the first time.
GREGORY: We are playing with the panel. One last word here on race. I think this is interesting. Elizabeth in Illinois said, “enough is enough. This country is in a world of hurt. I am not interested in having discussions about race every day. How about jobs, economy, protecting Social Security? Every day instead, it‘s race, race, and more race.”
Chuck Todd, a blogger today on the “National Review” site said, maybe not such a good idea to appeal to voters with the idea that we should come to terms with some of our racial grievances. Do voters really want to have that conversation?
TODD: Well, no. I think that‘s where—you asked earlier how is Hillary Clinton going to do, going to respond to this? She‘s going to start talking about bread and butter all day long. She‘s going to try to own the economy, talk about Iraq, talk about the issues. While that hadn‘t been working for her, maybe it does work for her now, where you have an exhausted electorate, who is tired of the race conversation, of which Obama is going to be forced to continue to have, at least in the next week or so.
GREGORY: Comment Rachel?
MADDOW: I think that Barack Obama had no choice. He had to give a race speech today. On MSNBC and everywhere else in the pundit world it‘s been race, race, race for the past month. He may not have asked for that to be the discussion, but it got put upon him. And he did a smart thing today by putting it back in his own terms and taking control of it, saying if we‘re going to talk about race and let‘s talk about it in a smart way that I know this country is capable of.
It was a lofty, inspirational thing. I don‘t think he had a choice.
We‘ll see what he does next. But I think he may have put it to bed.
SCARBOROUGH: It‘s interesting, we just said the voters are tired of listening to race. We really don‘t talk about race that much in America, unless there‘s a big controversy. But, Chuck Todd is exactly right, candidates—I mean, a lot of voters don‘t want to talk about that. They don‘t want to hear about black resentments. They don‘t want to hear about white resentments.
And, again, what Barack Obama did today was historic. I do believe it was the most important speech on race in 40, 45 years. But the bottom line for Barack Obama is: will he win this election? And if he wins the Democratic race, did this speech today actually set him back in swing states, where Reagan Democrats carry the day, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida?
GREGORY: And isn‘t it interesting that Hillary Clinton had a press conference today, earlier this afternoon, did not comment, said she hadn‘t read the speech, hadn‘t seen it. Clearly, she doesn‘t want to have the conversation, wanted to let Obama open and close it.
You can play with our panel every weeknight right here on MSNBC. E-mail us at Race08@MSNBC.com or call us. We‘re standing by the phones, 212-770-2299.
And coming up next, we‘ll get predictions from our panel. Chuck Todd isn‘t the only one making college basketball predictions, by the way. John McCain is challenging people to go head-to-head on his NCAA bracket picks, which will be posted on his campaign website on Thursday. This is the problem when you‘re the presumptive nominee too early. You‘ve got nothing to do. Stay right here. RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE comes right back.
GREGORY: You‘ve been waiting for it. Now it‘s time for predictions, when the panel gazes into the crystal ball, throws out their political tarot cards and reads the tea leaves, telling us what we can expect from the candidates tomorrow.
First up, Joe Scarborough, what do you have?
SCARBOROUGH: I‘m going to be a contrarian tonight. I think Barack Obama‘s poll numbers are actually going to slip in Pennsylvania in the coming weeks. I think they may slip nationwide. I think Hillary Clinton wins every time Barack Obama talks about race. It doesn‘t matter that the speech was historic and that it was the most important race speech in the past 40 to 45 years, it will still not help his campaign in the short run.
GREGORY: Even if it reinforces what a lot of not just African-Americans but white voters like most about the guy?
SCARBOROUGH: He‘s already got the progressive white voters. He already has the African-American voters. He needs to grab some Reagan Democrats, bring them on his side. I don‘t think listing 350 years of black resentments, even though they were accurately listed—I don‘t think they will won‘t do it.
I see Rachel shaking her head. I don‘t think Rachel has the slightest idea about what moves the blue-collar voters in Youngstown, Ohio.
MADDOW: He doesn‘t need Reagan Democrats in order to get the Democratic nomination. That‘s the contest at hand. He‘s got to persuade Democratic party elites. This was custom built for that.
SCARBOROUGH: That‘s why Republicans are cheering today. You want to win the Democratic nomination and lose the general election in the fall? That‘s what I‘m talking about.
MADDOW: He‘s fighting to get to the general and I think he moved himself closer today.
SCARBOROUGH: You‘ll see it in the Pennsylvania polls soon.
GREGORY: On to Eugene. What do you see?
ROBINSON: My prediction is ka-ching. I think the cash registers will ring for the Obama campaign tonight. A lot of supporters were worried that the campaign had lost its stride. They were worried about this Reverend Wright controversy and how he would pull off the speech. I think he did pull it off, and I think the campaign will be rewarded with a new kind of surge of donations tonight.
GREGORY: And we, by the way, did promise that we‘d keep tabs on all your predictions to see who has the best track record. Eugene, yesterday, you predicted Obama‘s speech would make race a bigger issue in this campaign. Quickly to our panel, is race more or less an issue after this speech? Chuck?
TODD: More, obviously, and it will be all the way to November.
GREGORY: What do you say, Rachel?
MADDOW: Today, more. Tomorrow, less. I think he‘s put it to bed to a certain extent.
SCARBOROUGH: More at least through Pennsylvania, the end of the Democratic process. I don‘t know what happens in the fall, but I suspect this is one of those issues that nobody‘s going to have to talk about. It‘s there now. It‘s going to be with voters in those Reagan Democratic areas between now and November.
GREGORY: All right, Rachel, what‘s your call tonight?
MADDOW: John McCain, on the heels of his Middle East trip, is going to decide that he‘s built up enough political capital with the Republican party; he can go back to his maverick ways and put his thumb in their eye a little bit, do something that will be good for him in the general election, and show he supports the troops by signing on to the new GI Bill, which incredibly, neither McCain nor Lieberman, nor Lindsay Graham, who he is traveling with in Iraq right now, have signed on to. I think we‘ll hear something from him about the GI Bill.
GREGORY: Chuck, prognosticate for us, please.
TODD: John Edwards will not endorse anybody until after the University of North Carolina is done with its basketball season. And him being a Tar Heel fan, that means probably not until at least April 6th. But in all seriousness, why would—as I was reminded today, John Edwards, why do you get his endorsement when there‘s no votes to be had? You want his endorsement inside of a week of when there are actually people going to the polls.
GREGORY: Or, Joe, do you want John Edwards as part of a group that helps to arbitrate the fights in the Democratic party?
SCARBOROUGH: If I know I have John Edwards in my pocket, I tell him to keep his powder dry as long as possible, because at some point there may become—we may come to a place where there‘s a tipping point, where if you get Al Gore, John Edwards, Howard Dean together, maybe they talk to the super delegates and say, it‘s time to swing this Obama‘s way or Clinton‘s way.
I see no gain in John Edwards endorsing anybody right now because we don‘t know how it turns out.
MADDOW: I don‘t think there‘s a natural pivot point coming. I think that they‘re going to have to create that timely crisis to end this campaign, to get them to start working towards the general. I don‘t think there‘s any point that it automatically—
ROBINSON: I think they just keep it going.
SCARBOROUGH: The crisis comes from Hillary Clinton when it‘s—when it‘s proven she can‘t win the popular vote, if that time comes.
TODD: May 6th.
GREGORY: Let me end on this. Chuck Todd, we with talking about this today, Michigan and Florida; Which way are these going to go after we reported here last night, there‘s not going to be a revote. So what happens to these delegates?
TODD: I don‘t want to completely predict this. I think Michigan is not going to have a revote. I think the Obama people are going to play a game of chicken on this, and figure they‘re going to make Michigan Democrats mad. I think you‘re going to see a hopefulness by the Obama people that they put this away by May 6th, which is the day of the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, and then go ahead and seat Florida and Michigan fully as the nominee, with nothing to fear.
That‘s the Obama hope.
GREGORY: You got to wait it out a little bit, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, yes. I think—I think they‘re going to weight it out. But at the same time, again, Barack Obama, as long as he plays down the center of the road on the delegates issues, he wins the delegate count. Again, for the Obama campaign, they know if they win the popular vote, they‘ve got everything. They‘ve got the most states. They‘ve got the most popular votes. They‘ve got everything.
So if they don‘t rerun Michigan and they don‘t rerun Florida, they can say, those votes are illegitimate. They are outside DNC rules. Howard Dean and the DNC will agree with him, and Hillary Clinton loses all of those popular-vote advantages that she got in those states.
MADDOW: But if we wait for every popular-vote opportunity has passed, until every delegate opportunity passed, it‘s a pyrrhic victory, because it‘s then too late to do anything against John McCain.
ROBINSON: Rachel, that‘s where we are going. We are going to the end, I fear. And we‘re just going to—the party is just going to have to put itself together.
SCARBOROUGH: All way to Denver, Hillary Clinton is not going to step down, nor is Barack Obama.
GREGORY: But the question, Gene Robinson, does Howard Dean want to just let this roll out? He doesn‘t want to intervene and enforce his own rules unless he absolutely has to.
MADDOW: He has to.
ROBINSON: No, he doesn‘t, and what power does Howard Dean really have? I mean, he‘s the head of the party. But as we‘ve discussed, there is no Democrat who can really bring this thing to an end. There is no one Democrat who can solve Michigan and Florida. This is going to have to play out for a while, and we‘re going to have a campaign for some weeks and maybe months.
TODD: All right, I think one person, Al Gore, can still end this thing. He can still—this is Florida, he can figure out a solution. I think he‘s the only one.
GREGORY: Look, you hear that? That had a little sound of a prediction. We‘re going to leave it there. Thanks to a great panel. I‘m David Gregory. The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. I‘ll see you back here tomorrow at 6:00 Eastern. “HARDBALL” starts right now.
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