Guests: David Shuster, Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow, Joe Scarborough, Jay Carney
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Barack Obama publicly excommunicates his former pastor. It doesn‘t get more dramatic or intriguing than this. As Obama tries to repair the damage inflicted by Reverend Wright, the RACE FOR THE HOUSE rolls on.
Welcome to the RACE, I‘m David Shuster in for David Gregory. If you‘re looking for the fast paced and the bottom line and every point of view in the room, you‘ve got it right here on an incredible campaign news day. And our panel is ready for us tonight.
“Washington Post” columnist and associate editor Eugene Robinson, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow. Both are MSNBC political analysts. Host of MSNBC‘s “MORNING JOE,” Joe Scarborough and “Time” magazine‘s Washington bureau chief, Jay Carney.
We begin as we do every night with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day, the headline. And we will start with Barack Obama and Reverend Wright. Eugene Robinson, what is your headline?
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: David, my headline tonight is “Obama finally throws Wright under the bus.” In the wake of Reverend Wright‘s Norma Desmond like performance at the National Press Club, Barack Obama finally came out and unequivocally separated himself from his former pastor. Let‘s listen to the highlights of what Obama had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle of the person that I met 20 years ago. Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don‘t think that he showed much concern for me. More importantly, I don‘t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who pray on hate. When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Wow, Eugene Robinson, if you‘re talking about Barack Obama throwing him under the bus, I would have to say it wasn‘t just throwing him under the bus, but there was Barack Obama driving the bus, rolling over him and over and over and then saying by the way, Reverend Wright, can you hear me now?
ROBINSON: You know, the interesting thing was Obama seemed and maybe for the first time in the campaign, he seemed to me genuinely angry and a bit hurt actually when he says he wasn‘t doing me any good with these remarks and by resurfacing at this time.
Inside, he has to know that Reverend Wright knew what he was doing. He‘s not an unsophisticated man. He knew what a kind of bombshell in the campaign. He knew it would resurrect the whole issue. And he did it anyway. I wrote a column this morning urging Obama to do this and I‘m happy he did it.
SHUSTER: Well and he certainly did. And now to somebody who is never angry, Joe Scarborough. Hit us with your headline.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: I‘ll tell you what. In 1980, Ted Kennedy‘s insurgent campaign against Jimmy Carter hit the rocks early when he couldn‘t answer the question, why do you want to be president? Why are you running? He seemed to be disengaged. Over the past month, Barack Obama in a different way has also seemed disengaged.
Well today, he became engaged. He was disappointed, very hurt and he went after Reverend Wright the way a lot of people wanted him to go after Reverend Wright.
This is very good news for his campaign. It‘s great news for the Democratic Party. Here‘s a guy who‘s been scratching and clawing and fighting over the past month, a difficult month. And yet here he is in mid season form, he‘s getting tough. And again, good news for his campaign. Great news for the Democratic Party.
We have 200 days left until the general election. You have an economy that‘s staggering along. You‘ve got a war where the bleeding continues. You‘ve got a Republican Party that‘s on its last leg. This could be the sign that Barack Obama‘s coming out of this tail spin and he‘s ready to roll up his sleeves and fight the way Democrats want him to fight. Not only Hillary Clinton, but also Republicans in the fall.
SHUSTER: Joe Scarborough, I could not agree with you more. Rachel, your headline today.
RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA: My headline today is more of a question. Will Obama‘s outrage be enough? I don‘t think it should be lost in all of this complementing of Barack Obama today for having gone after Reverend Wright. That in the past, Obama has said he vehemently disagrees with Reverend Wright. He says he strongly condemns him, that he categorically denounces him, that he rejects him outright. He‘s used all of those specific phrases in the past toward Reverend Wright and gotten no credit for them whatsoever. Now that he‘s appalled and outraged, it sounds like the media is moving toward giving him credit for putting distance between himself and Reverend Wright, but I don‘t know why he should get more credit for it now than he did for those past eight months.
SCARBOROUGH: Because he‘s separating personally though. He‘s separating himself personally.
SHUSTER: And we‘re going to get to that great question about whether there‘s a question mark in the media in our next segment. But Jay Carney, you‘re up to bat. Go ahead.
JAY CARNEY, TIME MAGAZINE: David, my headline is the late divorce comes too late. It probably won‘t do the trick. I disagree with every one of you. I think that while Barack Obama did try to throw Reverend Wright under the bus and I guess he did throw him under the bus, it probably came too late.
And Rachel, I‘m not sure what you‘re talking about when you say the media won‘t accept his explanations. After his terrific speech in Philadelphia, the media was overwhelmingly supportive of what he was trying to do and did try to move on. The problem is that Barack Obama is in a serious political campaign against Hillary Clinton and against the Republicans. Those opponents aren‘t going to let this go. I‘m not sure at this late date distancing himself in the way that it did from Reverend Wright will be enough to put this problem that he has, serious problem that he has away for good. And if it doesn‘t hurt him between now and Indiana, it will hurt him if he gets the nomination in the fall.
SHUSTER: Jay Carney, you are just itching to be ganged up on tonight and we will on the other side of this block.
But coming up, we‘re just a week away from North Carolina‘s primary. Hillary Clinton scores the governor‘s endorsement. How big of a deal is this for her? And later in the show, it‘s your turn to play with the panel. Call us at 212-790-2299 or e-mail us at Race08@MSNBC.com. RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, we‘ll be right back.
SHUSTER: We‘re back with the RACE and heading deep into the campaign war room to see which ‘08 strategies are working and which aren‘t. This round, we‘re heading into the Democrats war room.
And back with us, Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow, Joe Scarborough and Jay Carney. First up, inside Obama‘s war room decision to take on Reverend Wright. Take a look at Wright‘s comments before the National Press Club yesterday and then Obama‘s response today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEREMIAH WRIGHT, REVEREND: You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles.
OBAMA: I want to make absolutely clear that I do not subscribe to the views that he expressed. I believe they are wrong. I think they are destructive. I think he caricatured himself and that was - as I said, that made me angry, but also made me sad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Well, how do McCain and Clinton take advantage? Should they, can they? Joe Scarborough, you said in the last segment, this is over. In 10 seconds or less, does that mean there‘s no way for Hillary Clinton or John McCain to take advantage of that?
SCARBOROUGH: There‘s no way he can. In this last speech, he said, Barack Obama, in Philadelphia said I cannot disown this man and said he was a great marine, a great scholar, a great leader. Well he‘s disowned him. He has said, I find his views repugnant. He has caricatured himself. There is nothing Hillary Clinton or John McCain can do at this point regarding Reverend Wright that won‘t make them look craven.
SHUSTER: Eugene Robinson, Reverend Wright still has a huge following in Chicago, especially in northern Indiana in a town like Gary that Barack Obama needs to do extremely well in Indiana, a week from today. How will this impact African-American voters and does it risk Obama losing some of them?
ROBINSON: I think the impact will be minimal among African-American voters. And here‘s why. One of the things Reverend Wright did was essentially try to portray himself as the black church. An attack on Jeremiah Wright is an attack on the black church.
SCARBOROUHG: And his mama.
ROBINSON: Is one of the amazingly egocentric things that he says. Exactly, it is outrageous. And that is outrageous to African-Americans as well. That‘s why I said happily Obama disassociated himself with this guy because this guy is off the reservation.
SHUSTER: All right Eugene Robinson, thank you. And moving on, before we get to Rachel and Jay. Moving on, a quick recap of the super delegates scorecard for today. Clinton picks up Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton and North Carolina Governor Mike Easley while Barack Obama adds on Kentucky Congressman Ben Chandler and Iowa farmer and super delegate Richard Machacek. The biggest news of those today was North Carolina Governor Mike Easley‘s enthusiastic endorsement of Hillary Clinton, who appears to be closing the gap in North Carolina. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MIKE EASLEY (D), NORTH CAROLINA: This lady right here makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy. She‘s got get up and go. She‘s here today. She‘s going to be here next month, the month after that and the year after that as the president of the United States. I‘m proud to support and endorse Hillary Clinton, the next president of the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Jay Carney, how big of a deal is Easley in North Carolina, or is it not a big deal at all?
CARLEY: Well for Hillary Clinton, you can‘t really have a bigger deal. This is a state where if she‘s able to narrow the gap between herself and Senator Obama, she can then count on stories coming out. If she wins Indiana on the same day, then she sort of won the day. And she lives to fight another day and the storyline goes back to what‘s wrong with Obama, why can‘t he close the deal? If she‘s blown out in North Carolina as earlier polls suggested she might be, it‘s a big state and I think that would allow Obama to regain his footing somewhat after his pretty horrendous previous six weeks.
SHUSTER: And speaking of Indiana, Clinton and Obama are duking it out in the Hoosier State over who‘s the working class candidate. The Obama candidates dropped this mailer in mail boxes of Hoosier voters. It shows Clinton on the cover of a “Fortune” magazine and asks, “When the chips are down and we need her most, can we really count on Hillary Clinton to stand-up for Indiana jobs?” Meanwhile, Clinton donors and union supports spent $700,000 on this ad attacking Obama over jobs and the economy. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our economy is in trouble. Rising prices, unemployment, foreclosures. So what‘s Barack Obama‘s plan? The “Associated Press” reported that Obama‘s plan to clean up financial markets had no specifics. And the “Washington Post” wrote that Obama would actually do remains a mystery in too many areas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Rachel Maddow, it may not be fair, but it usually works in terms of suppressing turnout. So smart strategy, right?
MADDOW: Well, it‘s a smart strategy if you want to try to hurt Barack Obama‘s electoral chances. I‘m not sure it‘s a smart strategy if what you want to do is hurt John McCain‘s electoral chances. I think that the real question right now, there‘s a real X factor as to whether or not Democratic voters and the people who really matter right now, Democratic super delegates get upset with the candidates who are using this harsh negative stuff.
I think both Obama and Clinton have done it, but when the idea is to only raise questions about your opponent, not put out anything against John McCain and not put out anything positive about yourself, I think when you‘re looking at the long run, when you‘ve got your eyes on the horizon, that‘s something that‘s going to be trouble, maybe in terms of how this stands the Democratic Party in the long run.
CARNEY: I have to say that I agree that damage is being done here to the eventual Democratic nominee, whether it‘s Obama or Clinton because of the nature of the fight, but if this is harsh, negative campaigning, then I feel like everybody here is sort of a Bambi in the woods because we‘ve seen much worse in every election cycle since I‘ve been around.
SCARBOROUGH: This is not harsh.
MADDOW: The problem here is not the tone, the problem is not that this is the worst thing that‘s ever been done in an election campaign. The problem is that the Democrats are going to need a nominee to beat John McCain. And there are ways to campaign right now, for example, competing on trying to hit John McCain the hardest that super delegates are going to be happy to see from either candidate. They may not be happy to see this negative stuff from the Democrats at each other, simply because one of them is going to have to be the nominee against McCain very soon.
SCARBOROUGH: Except for the fact that most of these super delegates are elected politicians who are in office because they‘ve run this type of campaign before.
SHUSTER: Well, speaking of problems, let‘s take a look at an ad that may be one. Hillary Clinton is playing up her Midwestern roots in a new television ad. Let‘s watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My father served in the navy and ran a small business. My mother taught Sunday school and took care of us. I come from Park Ridge, Illinois, benefiting from all their hard work and sacrifice. I carry with me not just their dreams, but the people like them all across our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Joe Scarborough, does Hillary Clinton come from Illinois, or is it Arkansas, or is it New York or wait a second, maybe it‘s Pennsylvania?
SCARBOROUGH: I‘ll tell you what, looking at those ads, she comes from Scarborough country. She is Middle America, baby. Seriously, I do not recognize this Hillary Clinton. But I can tell you this, if she acted this way in 1993 and 1994, we would have drafted her to run against her husband in 1996. I‘ve never seen anything like it. The Republican in me likes it.
ROBINSON: What happened to the lake outside of Scranton? That‘s what I want to know.
SHUSTER: A lot happened at that lake. That‘s a story for another day.
SCARBOROUGH: By the way, she won Scranton by 50 percentage points, 50 percentage points.
SHUSTER: One of these days, we‘ll ask Hillary‘s brothers about the lake, but that‘s a whole other issue.
Up next, forget Barack Obama. One of our “Smart Takes” says Hillary Clinton should be the one delivering a speech on race because she‘s in a better position to calm racial tension. Meanwhile, if you are a college basketball fan, watch closely. You will never see, never, the North Carolina Tarheels play defense as passively as this. Yes, that was Barack Obama this morning in Chapel Hill with a nice photo op for voters along Tobacco Road.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to the RACE. The provocative, the insightful, the thoughtful “Smart Takes.” Here again, Eugene, Rachel, Joe and Jay and our first “Smart Take.”
“The Wall Street Journal‘s” Jerry Seib says it might be time for
another race speech, this one from Hillary Clinton. Quote, “Senator
Clinton now has the greater ability to ease racial tensions and arguably
the greater need to do so for her long-term standing. She could go some
ways for defusing the issue, simply by acknowledging the tension and
declaring that neither she nor her husband intend to do anything to add to
it. The most useful thing she might say is simple. ‘I hope nobody votes
for me just because I‘m the white candidate.‘ Senator Obama might do
himself some good by saying the same thing in reverse, ‘I hope nobody votes
for me just because I‘m the black candidate.‘”
Eugene Robinson, good advice?
ROBINSON: Well, I don‘t think anybody is going to take that advice particularly. I don‘t think either candidate is going to drive away voters. And the other thing is Hillary Clinton doesn‘t have any particular status as a repository for the hopes and dreams of white people I think. Perhaps, arguably, the fears of white people, but I just don‘t think, I‘m not sure she has the standing to give that sort of speech right now. I think if she were to get the nomination, she would have to speak to African-Americans in some way to try to get some of that vote back, because she‘s missing like 90 percent of it.
SHUSTER: But Rachel Maddow, why not have Hillary Clinton take a stab at it?
MADDOW: I don‘t think there would be anything wrong with her giving a speech in which she acknowledges the racial divide in the Democratic electorate right now. I don‘t think there would be anything wrong with her saying, “I want to be the candidate of everybody in the Democratic electorate. I want to be the candidate of the whole candidate. I don‘t want you to vote for me because of it‘s a racist vote.”
The same way that John Edwards made that case in the primaries. I don‘t think there‘s anything wrong with it, but I also thing her own message would be undercut by the fact that she has used guilt by association with Reverend Farrakhan as well as Reverend Wright against Barack Obama, which I think a lot of people saw not unkindly, not unfairly as race baiting against Obama so far in the primaries.
SHUSTER: Our next “Smart Take,” “Politico‘s” Roger Simon says Obama is turning to the dinner table to prove he‘s not an elitist. Quote, “Since his loss in Pennsylvania, Obama has been emphasizing his non-elitist roots, talking about eating pot roasts and potatoes and Jell-O molds. But does anybody besides me find it a little dismaying that a person feels he has to campaign for president in this country based on whether he ate Jell-O molds as a kid. Wouldn‘t it be more refreshing if Obama was saying what he used to say, that is wrong to slice and dice voters into isolated groups and that it would be good for America to emphasize what unites us people what divides us?”
Jay, this reminds me of the time in Iowa when I heard Barack Obama talk about the rising price of arugula and some Iowa farmers didn‘t quite get what he was saying.
CARNEY: Well, exactly. And what you said is yes, it would be nice if he didn‘t have to do that. It would probably be smarter if he stuck to his message. But he needs to stick—he can forgo trying to prove that he‘s an average guy talking about Jell-O molds because it will ring too false because it seems like he‘s trying too hard to be the regular guy.
But what he can do is bring his lofty rhetoric down to Earth a little bit and talk specifically about what he plans to do and how he fells the pain of the people that do have dinner every night and Jell-O molds for dessert. And I feel that‘s where he has failed to make a connection with blue collar, working class Democrats who have been voting overwhelmingly for Hillary not just for racial reasons, but for real economic reasons.
SHUSTER: David, the same thing happened in 1988 when Michael Dukakis was talking about Belgian endive in Iowa. You also have George Bush Sr. making sure everybody knew that when he drove around Washington D.C. in his limousine, he listened to country and western music and ate beef jerky. The thing is, Barack Obama doesn‘t need to talk about eating pot roast. He needs to be seen eating a pot roast, not in a white stark shirt and $150 tie. He‘s either in a suit or he‘s playing basketball.
SHUSTER: Eugene Robinson, I think it does seem like, if nothing else, Barack Obama does seem to need to loosen up a little bit and perhaps relate to people a little bit easier, right?
ROBINSON: I think that‘s actually the heart of the issue. The fact is, he did grow up eating Jell-O molds. He didn‘t grow up in a wealthy family. He went to fancy schools on scholarships. And I think it‘s perfectly appropriate to point that out and to let people know that that‘s where he came from, but I think the larger issue is his ability to connect with people personally on that sort of sitting at the counter eating pot roast level.
SHUSTER: Well this conversation is not over and up yet, after weeks of carefully addressing the issue, Barack Obama finally expresses some raw anger on Reverend Wright. Is he finally turning the corner on the controversy that‘s been hovering above his campaign? More after this.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Time for today‘s three questions. Still with us, “Washington Post” columnist and associate editor Eugene Robinson, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow, both MSNBC political analyst, host of MSNBC‘s “MORNING JOE,” Joe Scarborough, and “Time Magazine‘s” Washington Bureau chief Jay Carney.
First up, the big political news story of the day; Barack Obama gives a blistering repudiation of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, or, as Gene Robinson put it, effectively threw Wright under the bus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I want to make absolutely clear that I do not subscribe to the views that he expressed. I believe they are wrong. I think they are destructive. And to the extent that he continues to speak out, I do not expect those views to be attributed to me. I think he caricatured himself and, as I said, that made me angry, but also made me sad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Our first question today, the big question, has Obama turned the corner on the Wright controversy? Jay Carney, at the top of the show, you said this is too little too late. Explain more, why is that? What else could Barack Obama have done given the last couple of days and the news cycle here?
CARNEY: I‘m not sure he could have done more today, although I felt like he didn‘t—his denunciation today, while he talked about being angry, he didn‘t show it all that much to me. But being cool and detached is sort of his style. The problem he has is that Jeremiah Wright will not go away. While Joe rightly said that Hillary Clinton and later John McCain can‘t explicitly invoke Jeremiah Wright going forward, they don‘t have to. It‘s already showing up in polls, where a lot of people feel like Obama‘s views were represented by Wright, that Wright worries Obama. The emergence of Wright on the political stage has diminished Obama‘s support among independents. I think he‘ll have to keep addressing this problem in various ways throughout the campaign before he can finally say he‘s put it to bed.
SHUSTER: Eugene, go ahead. You get the first shot.
ROBINSON: I think the opportunity here for Obama is to make this really a sister soldier moment. So, of course, Reverend Wright, I suspect, is not going to go away, but it does give Obama the opportunity to amplify on what he said today and to just kind of let him have it when it comes up. I think that probably, in the long run, helps him rather than hurts him. I think this isn‘t over. I think you could argue that a corner has been turned.
SHUSTER: Rachel Maddow, Jay Carney says he wasn‘t angry enough. I thought he was exceptionally angry, especially when he talked about how Reverend Wright has taken up three or four consecutive days in the middle of this major debate. Was he not angry enough for you.
MADDOW: I thought he seemed angry. As I said before, so far Barack Obama has said—and I‘ve made notes of it as he‘s done it—he vehemently disagrees with him. He strongly condemns him. He categorically denounces him. He rejects him outright. Today we got that he‘s appalled by him, that he‘s outraged by him.
I find it incredible that we‘re all sitting her going, why won‘t the Jeremiah Wright controversy go away. You know what, today, John McCain unveiled his health care plan. We got three different statements, three different policies on gas prices. We got the president of the United States making a huge economic speech and speaking to reporters for 40 minutes. We have got four U.S. soldiers who are announced to have been killed in Iraq yesterday.
What else has to happen in the news to push Jeremiah Wright out of the headlines before we do it for six straight headlines on every politics show in the country? This is all we‘re capable of talking about.
SCARBOROUGH: When you have Jeremiah Wright going in front of the National Press Club saying—again, Barack Obama‘s spiritual mentor, someone that Barack Obama didn‘t distance himself from until today, saying that Louis Farrakhan was one of the great people of the 20th and 21st century, the same Louis Farrakhan that said Hitler was a great man and that Judaism was a gutter religion. It required the Obama campaign to do something.
There‘s a big difference between Barack Obama saying in Philadelphia -
I‘m sorry, you might find that funny. I guarantee you there‘s millions of people in America who don‘t.
MADDOW: I don‘t find you tying Barack Obama to Hitler funny. I find it funny for you to say that what Jeremiah Wright is doing requires a response from Barack Obama. What requires a response is the blanket media coverage of everything that Jeremiah Wright does that will not quit.
SCARBOROUGH: Rachel, if I can talk for a second here.
MADDOW: Please do.
SCARBOROUGH: In Philadelphia, Barack Obama said this, quote, I can no more disown him, Jeremiah Wright, than I can disown the black community or my white grandmother. That‘s not him separating. Today, he said was divisive and destructive; he was appalling. He gave comfort to those who pray on hate. He is not the man I met 20 years ago.
He had to do that. He knew he had to do that. Axelrod knew he had to do it. It‘s going to make a big difference.
SHUSTER: Point made. I want to go on. Joe, this next one was teed up specifically for you. After her win in Pennsylvania, Governor Ed Rendell gave Hillary Clinton permission to take the Rocky theme on the road. She‘s pushing it hard on the campaign trail in upcoming states.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: So we can either say OK, fine, we‘ll go along and elect somebody who‘s nice or elect somebody who is going to continue the Bush policies. Or we can elect somebody who‘s going to fight for you. That‘s the choice in this election.
I know there are some people who say oh, my goodness, she is tough.
If you had my life, you‘d be tough too. I tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: You‘d be tough too. Let‘s get this straight; Wellesley undergrad, Yale Law school, Arkansas first lady for ten years, first lady for eight, New York senator. Does that life really make you tough? We‘ll get to that in a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: Exactly, Rose law firm; she‘s had a really rough life. I will say this though, David, I don‘t want to overstate it, but what Barack Obama did can‘t be overstated and it‘s important. What Hillary Clinton does between now and the end of the campaign is irrelevant if Barack Obama proves to the super delegates that he can stand-up and fight and be tough and separate himself from Reverend Wright and the San Francisco comments.
When he does that, little else matters. The only way the Clintons win is by proving that he is unelectable. They can‘t get the delegates. They probably can‘t get the popular vote. So what Hillary Clinton does moving forward, between now and Denver, is irrelevant if Barack Obama rights himself and leans forward like he did today.
CARNEY: To go back, if I may, David, to Rachel‘s point, that‘s why Senator Obama had to address Reverend Wright. It wasn‘t a media constructed conspiracy to force the issue on the people. Super delegates were getting nervous. Super delegates were privately saying—the uncommitted super delegates, many of whom privately saying that they were actually for Obama and were biding their time before coming out, maybe until after the primaries, were beginning to actually have the doubt about Obama‘s electability that the Hillary Clinton campaign had been trying to sew for weeks.
ROBINSON: Not only that but some super delegates who were committed to Obama were very, very happy to hear his remarks today.
SHUSTER: I think what makes today so dramatic is that while a lot of people were looking for Barack Obama to show he could fight, I don‘t think anybody quite expected he would take the fight to his own pastor, Reverend Wright. In any case, it‘s been clear for weeks that Barack Obama has been pushing unity and moving beyond old divisions. The distinction is clear, at least up until today, Obama is a peace maker and Clinton is a fighter.
The next question, what‘s more important, fighting or unity. Jay Carney, pick it up.
CARNEY: I think this is actually one of the problems Obama has. He delivers a beautiful message about moving beyond the existing system because the system is broken, and he‘s going to fix it. The problem is a lot of people don‘t believe the system can be fixed. They want somebody who can make the system work a little bit better for them, who can deliver health care, who can deliver a reduction in gas prices, that sort of thing. I think Obama needs to blend his message of unity and fixing the system with something more concrete for people who want answers and are very cynical about government.
SHUSTER: Speaking of the system, finally, Denver or bust. Hillary Clinton said she would take her campaign all the way to the convention. Now her campaign chairman has a new end date, June 15th. Here‘s what chairman Terry McAuliffe told CQ reporter David Horn: “the primary‘s finish on June 34rd, and after that there will be pressure on the uncommitted super delegates to commit.
“So all done by June 15? You won‘t contend the nomination beyond that,” Corn Asked.
“Oh, I‘m confident we‘ll be the nominee,” McAuliffe said, smiling.
Our next question, is there an end game surprise in store for the Democrats and what about these shifting dates, June 3rd, June 15, the end of June, as Howard Dean says. Rachel Maddow, what do you make of it all?
MADDOW: They always say that it‘s going to be after the next primary, is going to be somehow magically decisive. As if what happens in Indiana and North Carolina somehow is going to mint a nominee. It just won‘t work that way. Mathematically, it doesn‘t work that way. We don‘t know on what grounds the super delegates are going to make up their decision. We know there are 230 or so of them who are not yet decided. I don‘t think there‘s any reason to believe they are all waiting on Indiana, just as I don‘t believe there‘s any reason to believe they‘re all waiting on June 3rd.
They are all going to decide based on their own terms. The real surprise is that we don‘t hear from them. We don‘t hear from those undecided super delegates that they are getting pressure, either from the Democratic powers that be, like Howard Dean, or from Barack Obama. We are only hearing about direct pressure on undecided super delegates from Hillary Clinton. That might be her smartest campaign move yet.
SHUSTER: I keep hearing that there are 25 to 30 super delegates who are ready to break if Barack Obama wins North Carolina in a big way, and certainly if he also wins Indiana. Joe, go ahead.
SCARBOROUGH: I was just going to say, there‘s something going on in the Clinton campaign, because McAuliffe said that today. Last night, somebody very close to the Clinton campaign, very high up in the Clinton campaign also told me something was going to happen in June. This was not going to go to Denver. I got no more details than that. I find it very instructive that Terry McAuliffe said the same thing today. I don‘t know what‘s up. I guess, Jay, you‘re hearing the same thing?
CARNEY: I hear the same thing. I think it must arise out of some concern for the state of the party. There‘s no reason after June 3rd not to force super delegates to show their hand. If Hillary‘s on a run; she wins Indiana, wins a bunch of other primaries, they will make their case. If she hasn‘t, I think they will fold their tent. In fact, I think if she loses Indiana, which I don‘t expect, on Tuesday, as well as North Carolina, I think she‘ll fold her tent next week.
SCARBOROUGH: Something is up.
SHUSTER: I agree, something is up. In fact, I think we are starting to see the beginning of the end of the idea that this is all going to the convention, regardless of what happens.
In any case, coming up, John McCain changes his tune on health care. It‘s not quite a flip-flop, but it is a move toward the middle. Stick around to hear his new plan and judge for yourself.
Jay Leno keeping tabs on the candidates last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”: If you‘re following the campaign, you know John McCain is currently on his tour of forgotten places. He‘s touring what he calls forgotten places. When you‘re 71, the room you just walked into is a forgotten place. Why did I come in here again? I was just here.
Barack Obama also on a tour of places he‘d like to forget, like his church.
SHUSTER: THE RACE is back and we‘re bringing you a special second edition of the war room. This round, we‘re heading into the Republican war room. What‘s working and what isn‘t. Still with us, Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow, Joe Scarborough and Jay Carney. First up, John McCain‘s call to action tour kicked off day two today, launching a new ad in Iowa on health care. Take a listen.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The problem with health care in America is not the quality of health care, it‘s the availability and the affordability. Let‘s give every American family a 5,000 dollar refundable tax credit so that they can go out across state lines and get the insurance policy that suits them best.
We need walk in clinics. We understand that emergency room care is the most expensive in America. Health care must be made affordable and available.
I‘m John McCain and I approve this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Eugene Robinson, when a lot of voters think of health care, they don‘t think of John McCain. A lot of people know that Iowa is a battle ground state for the fall. Is this what this is entirely about?
ROBINSON: I think it‘s about McCain trying to have something to say about health care that doesn‘t sound like the standard Republican party line, which is basically, what‘s the problem. He realizes that this is a huge issue for millions of Americans. I think it‘s not really a health care plan. It really doesn‘t speak in terms people understand. I think of the 38 million Americans who don‘t have insurance.
You know, walk-in clinics, these people can‘t even walk anymore. They are uninsured. They‘re not getting medical care. They are going to have to put ramps on those walk in clinics.
SHUSTER: Moving on, the Republican National Committee today is demanding that television networks stop running this ad attacking John McCain, arguing it misrepresents the senator‘s 100 years in Iraq line.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush has talked about staying in Iraq for 50 years.
MCCAIN: Maybe 100. That would be fine with me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If all he offers is more of the same, is John McCain the right choice for America‘s future?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Joe Scarborough, what exactly is wrong with using John McCain‘s own word in an ad like that?
SCARBOROUGH: The words are edited. They‘re heavily edited. You even have something like Frank Rich of the “New York Times” saying the Democrats are distorting John McCain‘s views. That being said, it seems to me that it‘s fair game. It‘s fair game because while he was talking about a peaceful presence like we have in South Korea or like we‘ve had in Germany, it‘s still a presence in Iraq and I‘ve got to say that it‘s inside the lines of what is fair when you talk about politics.
SHUSTER: Joe Scarborough, you Republicans are tough, but I know I can always count on you to be consistent, at the very least.
Moving on, Barack Obama is under attack in Mississippi, not by McCain or Clinton. The GOP is now using the controversy surrounding Obama in a new ad designed to weaken the Democratic rivals down ticket. Take a look.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Travis Childers endorsed by liberal Barack Obama. Obama says Childers will put progress before politics. When Obama‘s pastor cursed America, blaming us for 9/11, Childers said nothing. When Obama ridiculed rural folks as clinging to guns and religion, Childers said nothing. Travis Childers, he took Obama‘s endorsement over our conservative values.
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SHUSTER: By the way, a clarification, Joe Scarborough is not necessarily Republican. He‘s unpredictable, as all of us know.
Rachel Maddow, as far as that particular ad, is that what you‘re talking about as far as the kind of stuff that may pop up in the free media? Here we are playing that ad that is attacking Barack Obama.
MADDOW: Yes, you look at that ad and even the font on that is old school politics. Right? That ad, if Hillary Clinton were the front-runner, you would see the same sort of scare mongering ad, with maybe less racial overtones in it. They are going to use the liberal guilt by association thing with any Democratic candidate. They will use it in the south, just as they do in every national election. It‘s not that much of a surprise.
The question is how those down ticket candidates respond to it and whether they stand-up for themselves and say, you know what, I‘m not going to respond to the comments of the former pastor of somebody who endorsed me. That‘s not going to be the grounds on which I run. These kinds of ads are inevitable. I think the real interesting thing will be to see whether or not Democrats push back against it this time.
SHUSTER: Jay, should they be pushing back?
CARNEY: I think they should. They should be defending themselves and standing up for what they believe in. What Rachel said is very important, because it goes back to the race between Hillary and Obama. For a long time, much of the concern about the affect on the nominee on Democrats and down ballot races was that if Hillary were to be nominated, she would drag down Democrats across the country. Obama‘s argument was that he would help Democrats across the country. His more recent troubles are now leading some to believe that maybe he will be harm. That‘s why we see ads like this.
I think we‘re going to see more of this. How—remember, so many of these uncommitted super delegates are elected officials, members of Congress. How they react will be key.
SHUSTER: Our phones are ringing off the hook and our in box is over flowing. When we come back, it will be your chance to play with the panel. A lot of you have a lot to say about Reverend Wright. And we have something to say about Joe Scarborough and prime time television. You don‘t want to miss this. We‘re coming back right after this break.
SHUSTER: We‘re back. This block is all about you. It‘s your turn to play with the panel. Back with us, Eugene, Rachel, Joe and Jay.
Joe Scarborough, you‘re on in the morning. You‘re on during the day. Now, you‘re on in now the evening. “Law and Order,” I want everybody to watch this. Take a look.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you catch morning Joe?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mayor Brooks is on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You‘ve got to see this.
SCARBOROUGH: Thanks a lot for being with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great to be here, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: We‘ve got to start by asking the obvious question.
What‘s with the sheep?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean Elliott here. You‘ve got to admit, Elliot‘s pretty damn cute.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You‘ve got to be kidding me.
SCARBOROUGH: Also, I have to admit you have inspired an awful lot of people by what you did in court.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe we should stop acting like Elliott here and start questioning authority. I believe this button says it all.
SCARBOROUGH: No sheep. I like it.
Let me ask you, what‘s next for you, your sheep and your social revolution.
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SHUSTER: Joe, how come that sheep looks so comfortable around you?
SCARBOROUGH: I was going to say, that‘s highly inappropriate, David Shuster. Watch out. I‘ve got to say, the sheep was much calmer on the set with Robin Williams and myself.
SHUSTER: All right, let‘s get to the e-mails. We‘re not going to go there. Kicking it off with Mike in Illinois. He writes, “a great Oscar performance by Reverend Wright. He has retired, has nothing to lose, and provided Obama with a nationally televised reason to throw him under the bus. So what happened today? Obama threw him under the bus and was able to break all ties to possibly end this story.”
Eugene Robinson, your response to Mike.
ROBINSON: Well, my response is, we‘ll see if it ends the story. I think it at least creates a slightly different story for Obama, perhaps a substantially different story for Obama, and takes away a lot of the leverage that Hillary Clinton and John McCain might have had on the issue.
SHUSTER: Next up, David in Wisconsin writes—this will be for Rachel Maddow—“After listening for weeks to Senator Obama indicate that Reverend Wright was taken out of context, what has Reverend Wright said over the last five days that is distinguishable from the previous sound bites to justify today‘s divorce, and how could the context be that different from 20 years of sermons?”
MADDOW: I think Barack Obama has continuously, since this story on March 13th, heard all of this series of impolitic things and increasingly outrageous things from Jeremiah Wright, and the reason that he‘s upped his rhetoric against him is because the story will not die. The story will not die because the media will not let it die. No matter how many times and how many ways Barack Obama has tried to distance himself from Wright, and say do not conflate with me this guy, do not put his words in my mouth, the media will not let it go. So therefore, he has to keep upping the ante about how vehemently he speaks about the reverend.
SHUSTER: Eugene, your part of the media. Are you going to let it go now?
ROBINSON: Well, I have no plans to write about it anymore.
MADDOW: Say yes.
SCARBOROUGH: Ignore news at all costs. If Reverend Wright goes out tomorrow and sets himself on fire, please, don‘t cover it.
ROBINSON: Joe, you would think that would be a bad move for me.
SHUSTER: We‘re all a little worried about you spinning some more yarns on the story. Horrible. Let‘s move on. Josie in New York writes this: “It looks like Senator Obama today has officially exhausted his opportunities for escaping the Reverend Wright debacle. Could Obama turn to comedy as a last resort? Could a ‘Saturday Night Live‘ crazy uncle skit be the only card left in Senator Obama‘s deck?”
Jay Carney, “Saturday Night Live?”
CARNEY: I predict that within ten minutes of the show being off the area, NBC will be getting a phone call from the Obama campaign. That‘s not a bad idea. Self deprecation humor is a good way to diffuse this stuff. It‘s also an opportunity for Obama to show his softer, more human side, and his less detached and cool side. I think it‘s a great idea. “Saturday Night Live,” here they come.
MADDOW: I think we should all pinky swear to leave this story alone and see what happens.
SHUSTER: The one call we‘re definitely going to be getting is from the American Sheep Owners Association. Those calls will be directed to Joe Scarborough.
SCARBOROUGH: David, let‘s finish on a much higher not though. This was a very good day for Barack Obama. This is the best day Barack Obama has had since the day before the Texas and Ohio primary. I think you‘re going to see, as we move forward, that this story will be put behind us, because Barack Obama has been the issue, not Reverend Wright. Today, he took care of it.
SHUSTER: You‘re absolutely right. That‘s the perfect way to end this. I‘m David Shuster and that does it for THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Thanks for watching. David Gregory will be back here tomorrow.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.