Guests: Rob Portman, Rachel Maddow, John Harwood, Pat Buchanan, Tom Daschle, Richard Wolffe
DAVID GREGORY, HOST: Tonight, “North to the Future.” Alaska‘s state motto has more to do with a McCain campaign slogan for change as the Arizona senator surprises the political world today with his choice of 44-year-old Alaska governor and mother of five Sarah Palin to be his running mate. So what does this do to the campaign?
As the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE prepares to move to the Republican convention in St. Paul.
Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.
I‘m David Gregory.
Following the historic events in Denver this week, the McCain campaign says two can play at that game.
My headline tonight, “Game Changer.” Less than 24 hours after Senator Obama hammers McCain in his acceptance speech in Denver, John McCain delivers the biggest head fake of the ‘08 race, surprising the country by picking Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin, the first female GOP running mate, and countering Obama‘s message of change with a changeup of his own.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She‘s not from Washington, but when you get to know her, you‘re going to be as impressed as I am. She‘s got the grit, integrity, good sense and fierce devotion to the common good that is exactly what we need in Washington today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Here is what we know about Governor Palin.
She is a first-term governor of Alaska elected back in 2006, 44 years old, the mother of five. She currently enjoys an 80 percent approval rating in Alaska. She opposes abortion rights and supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a disagreement with McCain there. Besides being strong conservative credentials to the ticket, Palin hits the sweet spot in voter demographics both campaigns have been vying for, with Obama‘s performance weakest among female voters 34 to 50.
Forty-four-year-old Palin may be McCain‘s answer to closing that gender gap, winning over disaffected Hillary Clinton voters, and keeping the Obama/Clinton rift alive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA: It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren‘t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: But despite running as a reformer on an ethics platform in Alaska, Palin is facing a federal investigation involving the firing of her for former brother-in-law, a state trooper who was fighting for custody, child custody with Palin‘s sister.
Former Bush Administration official, U.S. trade representative and congressman Rob Portman was an emcee when McCain introduced Governor Palin as his vice presidential pick in Dayton, Ohio, today. He had been mentioned as a possible McCain VP pick himself.
And Mr. Portman joins me now from Cincinnati.
You know, I keep getting confused. What is it I should refer to you as your latest big title? You‘ve had a lot of them in the Bush administration.
ROB PORTMAN, FMR. CONGRESSMAN: I can‘t keep a job, David. So you have to call me Rob.
GREGORY: Yes, that‘s the problem.
Let‘s get right to it here. This choice of Governor Palin, does it reflect a campaign that thought it was behind and had to do something to get some traction, to get a second look?
PORTMAN: No. I think it reflects a campaign that has confidence in making such a pick. It also reflects the independence of John McCain.
He looked at a lot of different people, and he chose Governor Palin because he believes that she‘ll be the best vice president. I think also likes, as you said, her grit, her independence, her maverick approach to government. She‘s been a reformer, and I think he found a soul mate there.
GREGORY: One of the reasons why McCain picked Palin is her record on reform. This is how she summed it up, her own credentials, today in Ohio.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: I thank you, Senator McCain and Mrs. McCain for the confidence that you have placed in me. Along with fellow reformers in the great state of Alaska, as governor I stood up to the old politics as usual, to the special interests, to the lobbyists, the big oil companies, and the good ole‘ boy network.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: The question is whether this is a reactive choice by Senator McCain. If you heard last night‘s speech by Senator Obama, he made it very clear that this is going to be a campaign about change, who can deliver it, who you trust to deliver it, who can bring the country forward into the future, and not back into the past.
Is this a recognition that John McCain knows he has to try to grab some of that change mantle from Senator Obama?
PORTMAN: Well, David, I think it‘s because he wants to grab that change mantle. He is a change agent.
Say what you want about Senator McCain, he has not been a down-the-line Republican over the years. He‘s been a maverick.
He has taken a stand that he believes is in the best interest of the country continually. And he has the—frankly, the record and the experience and the policy positions to be an agent of change.
People talked a lot about experience today. That may be your next question for me. Well, Governor Palin has experience.
Her experience is also being a change agent. And it‘s not so much the number of years you have in office; it is what you do with those years. And I think what Senator McCain saw in her was someone who has taken her opportunities as governor to reach across the aisle to get things done. She said she ran as an ethics reformer.
She had a tough primary, she won that. And she‘s been able to ge4t things done as governor. And that‘s what people want and that‘s what John McCain can deliver.
GREGORY: All right. But Congressman Portman, you talk about experience. One of the strongest arguments that McCain had against Barack Obama, the one he‘s been making for the past month, is that he‘s not ready to be commander in chief, he doesn‘t have the experience.
Hasn‘t he just undercut that core message of his campaign by picking someone who‘s got less experience than Senator Obama, who would be a heartbeat from the presidency?
PORTMAN: No, I don‘t think he has because there‘s still such a stark contrast between the two candidates, Senator Obama and Senator McCain. As I said a moment ago, experience can be measured in a number of ways. But one certainly should be, what are your accomplishments? What have you actually done?
And in this case, you have a governor who has proven both as a city council person and then as a governor that she does want to change things. And she‘s been able to work across the aisle to accomplish that.
In her administration, she noted today, she has Independents and Democrats. You mentioned her 80 percent approval rating earlier. That‘s because folks are seeing her getting things done.
And that‘s the kind of change that I think people are looking for in Washington to cut through the partisan gridlock. I think she will be a good partner for John McCain in doing that.
GREGORY: All right. Congressman Rob Portman himself on a short list for VP for running mate for John McCain.
Thanks very much for sticking around.
PORTMAN: Thanks, David.
GREGORY: And see you in St. Paul.
PORTMAN: Great, see you there.
GREGORY: All right. Let‘s bring in our panel now for some rapid response on McCain‘s VP pick, Governor Sarah Palin.
I‘ll start with Rachel Maddow of Air America, who beginning September 8th will hose “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” right here on MSNBC.
Rachel, is it realistic to think that Sarah Palin can reach out to those women Hillary Clinton supporters in the Democratic Party given her views on abortion, given the fact that she supported Pat Buchanan in his previous runs? Is there a legitimate reach to the center here and to Hillary Clinton supporters?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I have to say, as a woman, I think it‘s exciting that we‘re either going to have an African-American president or we‘re going to have a female vice president. It is exciting. It‘s a great day for women.
For that reason, I think Senator McCain absolutely to be complimented on the choice. It‘s a historic decision.
On the other hand, this doesn‘t change the issues like John McCain not supporting equal pay for equal work. And it really does moves abortion back into this race in a way that I wasn‘t sure it was going to have to be here. But now there is not only such a stark contrast between Obama and McCain on abortion rights, but if women voters are going to be the battleground between the two campaigns, that all has to be made very overt. We‘re going to hear a lot about abortion over the next couple of months.
GREGORY: All right.
Well, Pat Buchanan, look, as somebody who covers politics, I think this is very exciting. We just had a very exciting Democratic convention, to be followed up by a very exciting pick here by John McCain. It‘s just become a fascinating campaign. And as Chuck Todd, our political director, pointed out earlier today, both of these campaigns are thinking outside the box and pushing the envelope in the way they‘re conducting their campaigns.
Fine. The question is, if the battleground is over who can bring change over Independent voters, is Sarah Palin and her conservative credentials really best suited to reach Independent voters?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Here is why the answer is clearly yes. Look, Johnny has got a new girl here.
She is OK. There is no doubt about it, she is as conservative as they come, she is deeply pro-life, but she‘s a feminist for life.
She‘s also pro-gun, she‘s a hunter. She‘s a woman, a feminist, conservative, who has five kids, one with Down Syndrome, and yet has risen to be governor of Alaska.
Now, any women—I know a lot of women are going to say, well, she‘s too conservative. But you‘ve got to proud of the fact that this woman can do that.
What it does, David, is this: It enables her to go out. She is the princess of the American right. She can go out to all these conservative communities, the gun folks, the Evangelicals, and she gives John McCain the freedom, the latitude to go out into the middle and battle with Obama.
I think it is a bold move. As I said this morning, this is probably the biggest role of the dice I‘ve seen in American politics when the presidency is on the line. And I do—I‘ve been a critic of John McCain. I do commend the guy for the boldness of this act. And quite frankly, he has fired up the base today, which was basically probably moving toward him, but slowly and torpidly.
John Harwood, CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, political writer for “The New York Times,” assess.
JOHN HARWOOD, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, CNBC: Look, I think this is a very big risk on the part of John McCain. I think your interview with Rob Portman underscores that risk.
Every presidential candidate when we watch them says, my first priority is picking someone who‘s plainly ready to be president. Barack Obama can confidently say, I did that in Joe Biden. This guy‘s been around a long time, done very important work in Washington.
He clearly is going to pass the test with the mainstream American voter. A lot harder for John McCain to say that with Sarah Palin.
If he picked Rob Portman, everybody would have said, yes, of course, Rob Portman can handle the job. A high burden of proof on Sarah Palin.
Now, the one thing about the women voters you were talking about, a lot of swing voters in this country who we describe as being in the middle are culturally conservative, and so abortion doesn‘t necessarily repel those voters. Some of them are more sort of populist on economic issues. And one thing that Sarah Palin has going for her is that experience, as she said, as someone who worked with her hands coming up, somebody who knows about struggles, paying the bills.
So all that‘s in her favor. But that commander in chief test is big. It‘s a first order test for a vice presidential candidate. It puts the burden of proof on her going forward.
GREGORY: All right. We‘re going to take a break here.
Coming next, Hillary Clinton‘s response to McCain‘s VP pick. Will Sarah Palin help McCain win some disaffected Clinton voters?
When THE RACE returns.
GREGORY: Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.
I‘m David Gregory.
In Ohio today, Governor Sarah Palin praised Hillary Clinton for her historic candidacy. Well, late this afternoon, Senator Clinton responded to McCain‘s VP pick with this statement: “We should be all proud of Governor Sarah Palin‘s historic nomination, and I congratulate her and Senator McCain. While their policies would take America in the wrong direction, Governor Palin will add an important new voice to the debase.”
Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida is the former co-chair of Hillary Clinton‘s campaign. She‘s now supporting Barack Obama, and I just saw her on the convention floor at INVESCO last night.
Good to see you here.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Good to see you, too, David.
GREGORY: So, Congresswoman, this statement from Hillary Clinton, could this not be interpreted as a message to her own supporters that perhaps this new Republican ticket ought to warrant a new look?
SCHULTZ: No. I don‘t think that‘s the message that Hillary Clinton was sending at all. On the contrary, she made it clear that John McCain and Sarah Palin are wrong on all the issues that matter to women.
This is a pick that demonstrates colossally bad judgment on the part of John McCain. You know, we‘re talking about someone who has less than 18 months experience as governor of a state that has fewer people than my own congressional district. Someone who was the mayor of a town of 8,000 people. Someone who would have their hand on the tiller of our foreign policy and combat the war on terror with that colossal lack of experience is frightening, and it demonstrates that John McCain, just like Barack Obama said last night in his acceptance speech, just doesn‘t get it.
GREGORY: Right. But Congresswoman, I thought I heard Obama say last night that it‘s not about experience, it‘s about judgment. How can Democrats have it both ways? If Joe Biden confers credibility for Senator Obama, given his lack of experience, why can‘t Senator McCain‘s experience confer some credibility on Sarah Palin?
SCHULTZ: Well, John McCain has failed both tests, experience and judgment. He‘s chosen someone who, you know, totally lacks the experience that we need in a potential president of the United States. And he‘s demonstrated an unbelievable lack of judgment in choosing her.
What he‘s done here is he‘s tried to appeal to the women of this country by choosing someone that simply has the same parts that we do. And what matters to women is not having someone that‘s the same gender as we are, but we need to make sure that we have someone in office that cares about the same issues that we do. Sarah Palin is wrong on a woman‘s right to choose, wrong on equal pay for equal work, wrong on expanding access to children‘s health care. It‘s just—it‘s insulting, I have to tell you.
GREGORY: But as a politician, do you acknowledge that this is a game changer for the Republican campaign?
SCHULTZ: The thing that I will acknowledge as a mom of three young children myself is that clearly Sarah Palin has accomplished a lot in her life. And I know the difficulty of balancing work and family. So, I mean, I will give her that.
But that doesn‘t mean that she‘s ready to be the president of the United States. I‘m sure she manages her household with five children very well, but she is not ready to manage this country.
GREGORY: All right. Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, good to see you.
Thanks for joining us.
SCHULTZ: Good to see you, too. Thanks, David.
GREGORY: Now for the view from the other side, Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, who was often mentioned himself as a potential vice presidential candidate.
Thanks for being here, Congressman.
REP. ERIC CANTOR ®, VIRGINIA: David, it‘s good to be with you.
GREGORY: Is there the potential, as the congresswoman indicated, that John McCain would actually experience a backlash from the very women he‘s trying to court here, Hillary Clinton supporters and other women around the country that this looks like pandering?
CANTOR: Yes. Well, David, you know, it was interesting to listen to my colleague Debbie and what she was saying. I mean, I think that there is some significant amount of fear coming out of the Obama campaign now because just as Debbie said, you know, Sarah Palin represents what so many women in this country are about: trying to balance work and raising a family. And all the double income families out there in America, we all feel the strains, and the women often bear the brunt of that.
So what we have in Sarah Palin is an individual that has a wealth of experience not only raising five children, becoming a mayor, and then a governor, but also one of experience. I mean, I find it really unbelievable that the Barack Obama folks are starting to criticize Sarah Palin over lack of experience. She has as much experience as Barack Obama, and even more.
I mean, look, she was chief executive of a state. Barack Obama has had no executive experience whatsoever. So I really don‘t think that they have any room to sit here and say that Sarah Palin is not experienced enough to run this country.
GREGORY: Well, but wait a second. The difference here is that in a vice presidential pick in Joe Biden—I‘ll play devil‘s advocate with myself—you have somebody that everybody would acknowledge has the depth of foreign affairs experience, national security experience, to assume the presidency.
Here, in the Republican nominee, John McCain, he turned 72 years old. He‘s actively talked, or at least there‘s been discussion in his campaign that I know of first hand, about him just pursuing one term as president. I don‘t think he‘s going to follow that up. But there was that talk.
And now he‘s got someone who‘s 44 years old, who‘s only been governor since 2006. Will Americans look to her and think, yes, she can do the job, if anything happens to him?
CANTOR: David, I think that Americans will pull the lever when they go into the ballot booth, the voting booth in November. They‘ll pull it based on Barack Obama versus John McCain.
It is those two gentlemen who are seeking to go into the Oval Office. And just as Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech last night, what the American people are voting for is the judgment of the person. Well, the judgment of the person in his case is a person that has three years experience in Washington, has several more years in the Illinois State Senate. I find it very difficult to even give credibility to an argument that attacks Sarah Palin‘s credibility and experience.
GREGORY: All right. We‘ll leave it there.
Congressman Cantor, hope to talk to you soon. And see you in St. Paul.
CANTOR: Absolutely, David. Thanks.
GREGORY: Thanks very much.
Coming next, Hurricane Gustav is on track to hit the Gulf Coast on the first night of the Republican convention. We‘re going to talk about that coming up next.
GREGORY: Back now on THE RACE. Here‘s a look at what else is happening on THE RACE‘S radar today.
Could a perfect storm be on the horizon for the Republican convention? Deadly storm Gustav became a hurricane late this afternoon. It‘s wreaking havoc on the Caribbean and it‘s on target to hit the Gulf Coast and possibly New Orleans late Monday night. It‘s the first night of the Republican convention and the night both President Bush and Vice President Cheney are scheduled to speak.
Let‘s bring in the panel on this.
John Harwood, from CNBC, what do the Republicans do?
HARWOOD: Well, I think Gustav has the potential for really cutting into their convention attention in the same way they have stepped on Barack Obama‘s story today. And it also, of course, has the potential for a reminding of those uncomfortable Katrina memories. I think it all depends, David, on how devastating the hurricane turns out to be.
Pat Buchanan, if it does hit on Monday, what is the call that they make inside the White House about whether the president goes to the convention?
BUCHANAN: Look, the hurricane would certainly come first. The advantage the administration has here is, look, they fouled it up horribly with Katrina. But they do have all the resources and power of government and every agency. And I can bet you right now that everybody at Homeland Security and everything else is ready to roll.
And the president of the United States, my guess is, would be down there right away. I don‘t know if McCain would. This could be an enormous opportunity for Republicans, assuming, David, they are not going to sit on their hands and let this thing come in without being prepared and being there.
HARWOOD: And David, imagine what would happen if President Bush skipped going to the convention, which in itself might be some benefit to John McCain, but if he addressed the convention, say, by video from the site of the hurricane, and said, I‘m in charge, here‘s what I‘m doing. That could have a beneficial effect, as Pat suggested.
GREGORY: All right. We‘ve got to take a break here.
Coming up next, former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle will join me. He had a front row seat at INVESCO Field for Obama‘s big speech. So how did Senator Obama did, and what does he have to do as he comes face to face with the Republican convention in St. Paul?
THE RACE returns right after this.
GREGORY: Extraordinary and bold and historic, words Democrats used today to describe Barack Obama‘s acceptance speech. But was it overshadowed by Senator John McCain‘s announcement of his pick for vice president, Sarah Palin? She‘s the governor of Alaska. Joining me now is former Senate Majority leader and Obama campaign co-chair, Tom Daschle. We‘re going one on one for more insight on how the selection of Governor Palin impacts the race and talk about the speech last night.
You‘re just back from Denver. I‘m just back from Denver. Thanks for being here.
TOM DASCHLE, FMR. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Somebody has described this as an in your face move by Senator McCain to Barack Obama, since he didn‘t pick Hillary Clinton to be his running mate. Governor Palin is now joining Senator McCain.
DASCHLE: The one thing it says it the west is in play. I think, obviously, all of the western states, David, are states that we think we can be competitive in. This is just yet another example of that. I think it really comes down to judgment. We have said from the beginning, this is about judgment. She is still, regardless of what you say about her and her record or lack of it, the bottom line of it is that she is going to have to defend the John McCain record and that record is all about George Bush and extending the Bush policies for four more years. That‘s, in essence, what this is about.
GREGORY: When you say judgment, is that to say that her experience level, lack of experience is not an issue for her?
DASCHLE: Well, we don‘t know yet about what her experience levels are and how that might apply. But I think, when it comes down to it, it‘s really a question of whether or not she has the capacity to defend where John McCain has been all along on all of the issue. It‘s really about her judgment on her positions. She‘s really out there on the far right limb on most of these issues. I don‘t think that‘s where the mainstream is. In fact, we know that‘s not where the mainstream is, is not. So I think, on the question of judgment and where she is, where she‘s coming from, how she‘s going to defend John McCain, how John McCain is going to defend her and Alaska, with all the things he said about Alaska, puts him in a very difficult position.
GREGORY: Is she capable of being president?
DASCHLE: We‘ll find out. She‘s currently the governor. We‘ll find out how capable she is. Again, as I say, it‘s a question, fundamentally of whether she can take on the responsibilities as vice president and defend the positions of John McCain and George Bush these last eight years.
GREGORY: Let‘s talk about the big speech last night. Although, one more question about Palin, as I think about the speech last night. It shows that stage craft is not the exclusive purview of the Democrats. Right? John McCain pulled off something pretty good here?
DASCHLE: Well, that‘s right. But you can only do that once. This is going to be a story for a day or two. We‘re going to go on with the campaign. He did it once. They are going to have—as you said, they‘re going to have a lot of issues they‘re going to have to deal with next week. One is, unfortunately—I‘m very troubled by this hurricane business and what that could mean and how they are going to have to deal with both a hurricane and New Orleans, of all places, on the third anniversary of Katrina, and then carrying out the responsibilities of the convention.
GREGORY: Let‘s talk about the speech last night, particularly the fact that Barack Obama made it his business to go on the attack against McCain, create some very serious contrasts, and take the fight to his rival. In one instance, he attacks McCain on this business of whether he‘s ready to be commander and chief. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Just as we keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America‘s promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament and judgment to serve as commander and chief, that‘s a debate I‘m ready to have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: The word temperament is loaded. What did he mean?
DASCHLE: I think what meant was does John McCain have the capacity— given all the tremendous challenges that we face in the world today, does he have the capacity? Is he going to shoot from the hip? Is he going to be too spontaneous? Is he going to not reflect adequately before he takes this country to a position we don‘t want to go. I think it‘s very important for us to show the balance that Barack Obama showed with such strength last night. It was a remarkable statement about judgment, and about the character and about the extraordinary leadership you have to have as president of the United States in these difficult times.
GREGORY: Let‘s be clear about what you‘re saying, that John McCain would not apply due diligence, would not think about foreign policy decisions or questions of war in a deliberative manner, that he would do so shooting from the hip, shooting first, asking questions later?
DASCHLE: We don‘t know. What I‘m concerned about with John McCain—and I‘ve known him a long time and consider him a friend—on these issues, on the questions of leadership, oftentimes John McCain will rush to judgment. I think he did it on Iraq. He did it on an array of foreign policy questions over these last several years. That causes me to be concerned. It‘s again a question of judgment.
GREGORY: It‘s interesting. I want to play a piece of sound from last night about his humble beginnings. Senator Obama talking about his family, about his single mother, and he contrasted that against some of the attacks that have come his way. Let‘s listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don‘t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Their‘s are the stories that is shaped my life. And it is on behalf of them that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: One of the aspects of last night, as a tremendous political celebration, the stage craft the likes of which we haven‘t seen, if ever, in a very long time—did it undercut a major message of this convention, which was I, Barack Obama, am like you. I‘m like the average voter. Did he come across as the average voter last night?
DASCHLE: He was speaking to the average voter right in the room. That‘s what I thought was so fundamental last night. It was the opportunity to say, look, if you want to come and be a part of this celebration of democracy, this celebration of our party and the all of the things that Barack Obama is talking about, come with us, join with us. You had 80,000 people all together celebrating that moment. That‘s to me what populistic politics is all about.
GREGORY: All right, Senator Tom Daschle, thank you very much for being here, fresh from Denver. I appreciate it.
I want to get the panel involved in the remaining moments. Quickly go to Pat Buchanan. Your reaction to this notion of Barack Obama‘s acceptance speech and that rather pointed charge about whether he has the temperament to be commander in chief.
BUCHANAN: That‘s very rough. Let me just say on Barack Obama‘s behalf, it is fair. I mean, McCain has been beating him up and challenging and questioning his patriotism, suggesting he‘s taking positions for political reasons. There‘s a legitimate concern among some of us, including me, about whether John McCain is too bellicose, too unreflective, too automatically in your face, when the country seems to be challenged abroad by adversaries.
That‘s concern a lot us, if you will, on the anti-war right have had. It‘s rough, yes. But I don‘t think it‘s all together unfair. Quite frankly, it‘s about time Barack Obama threw some punches of his own.
GREGORY: Quickly, Rachel Maddow, are we going to hear more of this? We hear from Barack Obama that John McCain is out of touch on domestic matters and, frankly, out of touch or not possessing all his faculties or maybe irrational or lacking temperament when it comes to important national security decisions.
MADDOW: On the temperament issue, I think we‘ll keep hearing it because I think that McCain keeps demonstrating it. When he said, we are all Georgians now, that may have sounded like big, tough rhetoric. But he‘s essentially saying, let‘s treat Georgia as if it was a member of NATO, which means, let‘s treat Georgia as if it were Nebraska that just got invaded by the Russians. Let‘s go bomb Moscow. To have that sort of reaction, that sort of hair trigger reaction on a very sensitive on-going foreign policy dispute, where our own government is taking a very different tack, yes. No matter who says that, I think temperament ought to be an issue.
He keeps bringing it up himself.
GREGORY: We‘ve got to take a quick break here. When we come back, surprised by McCain‘s VP pick? Well, you weren‘t the only one. What Governor Sarah Palin herself said about her VP prospects just last month. RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE returns right after this.
GREGORY: Welcome back. John McCain‘s announcement of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin surprised many today. We are taking you inside McCain‘s decision to pick Palin, dissecting who she is, what she brings to the ticket, the pros and the cons. Still with us, Rachel, Pat and John. First up, before today, Palin didn‘t even think she had a shot at the VP slot. Here is Palin at the National Governor‘s Association in Philadelphia on July 14th. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: I really doubt that such a thing would happen. You have to keep this in perspective. I‘m hockey mom from Alaska. Do you really think that it‘s even in the realm of possibility to be tapped. So, just considering that the reality there, I doubt it‘s ever going to happen. I don‘t really have to contemplate such a thing. I get to concentrate on my job, which I love, and that‘s serving the people of Alaska.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: It‘s interesting, John Harwood. I was reading another interview today, actually with cNBC, in which she questioned whether the vice presidency is even a job worth having, as compared to being the governor of a state. Larry Kudlow said it‘s a powerful job, these days, trust me.
HARWOOD: Exactly. I think that answer and the one you just played from the Governors Association underscore the risks to John McCain in somebody who—You look at her in that clip, did that look like a president to you? She may have tremendous skills. She‘s certainly charismatic. She did well today in her debut. Got to giver her that. But there‘s a know it when you see it test that I think voters apply to people running for national office. She hasn‘t clear that yet.
GREGORY: Pat, there was something else I thought of today. I actually did some reporting on this point, which was whether this is a decision that John McCain made after hearing Senator Obama last night. It doesn‘t appear that is the case. Nevertheless, he made a decision, it seems, that he has got to be able to compete on this change issue, that he cannot cede the change issue to Senator Obama. He has to be able to go head to head on it. That‘s what the campaign is really going to be about.
BUCHANAN: I think that is certainly one aspect of it, David. She‘s a different generation. She‘s young. I also think he probably was driven by the fact that, whatever you say, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who ran a gallant, great race, and got 18 million votes, was dissed by the Democratic Party and dissed by Barack Obama. For heaven‘s sake, the obvious ticket was Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And he stepped in here and said, all these women—it‘s not just left, right. Women must say, for heaven‘s sake, why was she not picked?
Then, McCain goes out and honors this woman, who is a young woman, who is not just beyond Hillary‘s generation. I tell you what, if she has something to do, Sarah Palin ought to go down to the Senate, walk into Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s office and say you ran a gallant and great race. I admire what you did. We disagree on the issues. But you broke the glass ceiling for my daughters. Thank you and go out and tell the press that. That will shame the Democrats, a lot of them, who really dissed the woman who was a leader in their party.
GREGORY: Maybe they can campaign together.
GREGORY: Hold on—
GREGORY: I want to play another piece of sound. I want to people to get a chance to hear from her today. The race to define Sarah Palin; she sold herself in Ohio today as just your average mother.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: I was just your average hockey mom in Alaska. We‘re busy raising our kids, serving as the team mom and coaching some basketball on the side. I got involved in the PTA, and then was elected to the city council, and then elected mayor of my hometown, where my agenda was to stop wasteful spending and cut property taxes and put the people first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Rachel, you said on this program, numerous times, it would be a mistake for either of these candidates to pick somebody who is of Washington. OK, she‘s pretty far outside Washington. Would you stipulate to that?
MADDOW: She‘s almost as far as you can get. It‘s actually kind of great that we‘ve got both Hawaii and Alaska finally getting their due in this presidential race. Looking at that tape—actually, looking at all the tape we have seen so far since the top of the shoe—credit to you guys. You pulled up some great stuff today. I have to say that this feels a little Dan Quayle like to me. I guess it would be Danielle Quayle.
Have they been seen together before? Are there any pictures of them together? Is there any evidence that they have ever spoken? In an interview today, Sarah Palin did not know what John McCain‘s plan is on Iraq. The reason that Dan Quayle was a bad choice is that it was a transparent electoral choice. I think this guy will make me look younger. I think this guy will make me look more like the future.
There was not even lip service paid, either with Dan Quayle or with Sarah Palin, to the idea that these politicians want to govern together, that they even know each other, or that the McCain campaign really thinks she‘d be the best president, of everybody else in the country, other than John McCain. It just—as John says, it just doesn‘t feel right. It doesn‘t smell right. It seems a little insulting.
GREGORY: That‘s the question, John Harwood. Is this stage craft first?
HARWOOD: Yes. You know, Rachel just mentioned Dan Quayle ‘88. I‘m thinking of another election that I know at least Pat and I remember quite well and that‘s Walter Mondale in 1985, running against Ronald Reagan. He knew the deck was stacked against him, decided he had to throw the cards up in the air, picked Geraldine Ferraro, who had been in the House for only six years. Now that, did not prove to be a catastrophic choice for Walter Mondale, but did not appear to help him in that election. I think that‘s the danger for John McCain.
He has a much narrower margin for error than other recent Republican nominees. He has to have everything go right. If people look at her and say, this was a real reach that was made for political reasons, to try to appeal to those Hillary supporters, that‘s going to hurt him. By the way, on Pat‘s suggestion, Hillary Clinton‘s rather lukewarm statement seemed to open the door to that a little bit. I asked some Obama campaign strategists afterwards, were you happy with that? Didn‘t you want her to take a little shot at her inexperience. They said, it‘s OK for now. Maybe there will be more later. We‘ll see.
MADDOW: Good point.
GREGORY: We talked a lot during the Democratic convention, Rachel, about the Biden family and what a beautiful family that is. The Obama family is such a beautiful family. The Palin family is beautiful as well. There‘s a detail that came out about her today, and that is with her fifth child, number five, five children, who unfortunately has Down Syndrome, that when she was delivering, she was at a governor‘s conference in Texas, I believe, went into labor, started to have labor pains, and then got on the airplane and flew home to Alaska. I think that‘s pretty incredible.
MADDOW: Her water broke and then she still gave the speech afterwards, after her water broke. And then she got home and flew home to Alaska. She was desperate to make sure that baby was not born a Texan for some reason, which is where she was, where she could have stayed. She‘s a great story. She‘s funny. Her husband races snowmobiles. She eats moose. She drives herself rather than having her security drive her. She has lots of amusing speeding violations and stuff. She‘s a very colorful character.
The problem is that I don‘t think Americans believe that there‘s any connection between her and John McCain at all, other than John McCain needing a Hail Mary pass.
GREGORY: Not only that, just about 15 seconds, Pat Buchanan, you called her a princess of the right. It does not sound, given her record and her views, that she‘s necessarily going to effectively appeal to those Hillary Clinton supporters.
BUCHANAN: Listen, a lot of those Hillary supporter are up there in Pennsylvania. They are Catholic women and men who will love a gal like this. They like Hillary. A lot of those folks out there are very pro-life. She can go right through Pennsylvania and say, that‘s right, I am pro-life and my opponent, Mr. Biden, he is pro-choice on abortion. I think it‘s wrong. I‘ll tell you, the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania will be coming out for her and denouncing Joe Biden.
GREGORY: I can‘t wait for the debates, the presidential debates and now the vice presidential debates. This has gotten even better. Coming next, Obama hits the road in Pennsylvania after a show-stopping speech last night. But will McCain‘s choice of a female VP throw a wrench in his campaign plans? What Obama and McCain need to do next, after this.
GREGORY: We‘re back now on THE RACE. It‘s time for our daily debrief. After a big night in Denver, Obama and Biden hit the road for a bus tour through battleground states Pennsylvania and Ohio. What should be next on his to do list? “Newsweek‘s” Richard Wolffe is in Pittsburgh covering the campaign. He joins me now. Hey, Richard.
RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”: Hey, David.
GREGORY: Talk about Sarah Palin. We know what the talking points are out of the campaign. But from your reporting, did it take them by surprise?
WOLFFE: They were certainly surprised today. I can tell you, they weren‘t expecting it, just as we in the media weren‘t. I have to say, they weren‘t overly concerned by this pick. In public, and this is a measure of how little concern there was—in public, the candidate and his vice presidential pick were very respectful, even complimentary about Governor Palin‘s track record and life story. In private though, a lot of questions being raised by Obama aides, saying does she really have the capacity, in case something terrible happens to John McCain as president—does she have the capacity to take over as commander and chief? What kind of foreign policy experience does she have? Has she even traveled abroad.
They are quite happy in watching this story unfold.
GREGORY: Maybe that‘s a weakness that can be exacerbated during the vice presidential debates, when they were able to fill in that gap for Barack Obama with Joe Biden. Let‘s talk about what happens after the speech last night, which I described as a blueprint for the final sprint of this campaign. It was more detailed, more concrete, created a contrast with McCain and articulated the themes that he‘ll run on between now and then.
So, top to do items now, as they hit these battleground bus tours.
WOLFFE: Top to do items is to bring this campaign down to Earth, back to the working families, especially the white Catholic working families that Joe Biden is supposed to be so attracted to through these battleground states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan. To say, look, this is the application of all that lofty rhetoric. This is the detail, especially on things like the economy, on taxes. One thing the campaign concedes is that they have, to some extent, allowed the McCain campaign to characterize the tax issue against them. They want to point out that Barack Obama is offering a tax cut to most Americans. That‘s going to be a message you‘ll hear time and again through these, I think, smaller events we‘re going to see through these battleground states.
GREGORY: All right, Richard Wolffe in Pittsburgh tonight. Thanks very much. I want to turn to the panel to talk about John McCain as he goes into St. Paul and the convention. What is on his to do list? Pat Buchanan, I spoke to a top Republican, who said, first on that to do list should be a redefinition of what the Republican party is. This Republican saying that every successful Republican candidate, you think Reagan, you think George W. Bush, redefined what the Republican party was on their road to victory.
BUCHANAN: Yes. Well, the Republican party, as Reagan redefined it, of course, was no pale pastels in 1980. We are a conservative party, whether you like it or not. That worked. If I were John McCain, because the party remains conservative, and he still is really outside in ways of the mainstream of the Republican party, I would not touch the platform at all. What he‘s done with his choice of Sarah Palin, said I know you guys don‘t like me and we have never gotten along, but here‘s a lady that you admire and respect. I‘m putting her on the ticket.
I think the conservatives at that convention are going to be as excited, really, as they have not been this entire electoral season.
MADDOW: I think Pat is right to the extent that Sarah Palin is going to be a big focus for next week. But the convention is, to a certain extent, for the party, but it really is, in a bigger sense, for the country. It‘s the infomercial of the party and the ticket to the country. Had he picked somebody like Rob Portman or Tom Ridge or Mitt Romney, then it would have very much been about John McCain next week.
But now, with Sarah Palin out of nowhere, nobody really even all that sure how to pronounce her name, let alone where she comes from and who she is and what she stands for, the whole week is going to have to be dominated by trying to convince America that this young woman, who they have never heard of before, except maybe in a human interest story, is qualified to be a heart beat away from the presidency. I think that‘s got to be the whole focus for the whole week.
GREGORY: John Harwood, what does he have to accomplish in St. Paul?
HARWOOD: David, I think he‘s got to do something very similar to what Barack Obama needed to do in Denver and needs to do throughout the rest of the campaign. that is connect the change that he‘s talking about—in McCain‘s case, he talks about maverick and shaking up Washington—connect that to the real economic changes he would bring to average people. Obama did that last night, as Richard pointed out, saying 95 percent of working families are going to get a tax cut from me, and I‘m going to spend 150 billion dollars on green jobs and revive the economy. How does John McCain do that at the same time he‘s sticking with George Bush on tax cuts and some principal economic issues? That‘s not much easier for John McCain than it was for Barack Obama.
GREGORY: It does seem important, just as it was for Barack Obama, to be specific about what change means to average Americans. Now, John McCain faces a test on getting specific on the economy, demonstrating some empathy for the working class and also coming up with a prescription to deal with the economy, when there‘s some real questions and lack of confidence about that among those critical swing voters that everybody‘s trying to reach. We‘re going to leave it there. Thanks so much to the panel tonight.
That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory. We will see you Monday, live from the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. The race just intensifies from here. The big day today, the big pick from the Republican side. It‘s Obama/Biden versus McCain and Palin. That‘s Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska. She‘s now on the ticket. It‘s only getting more exciting. Stay right here. HARDBALL with Chris Matthews starts right now.
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