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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, August 11, 2011

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Chuck Todd, Ed Schultz, Jonathan Alter, Eugene Robinson

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Tonight, the Republican candidates debated
in Iowa and are worried about Rick Perry`s next move.


on the issue of not increasing the debt ceiling.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Is she unqualified, or just beating him in
the polls?

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: You were the front runner, you were missing in
action. You were in the Mitt-ness protection program.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m expecting it`s going to
get real ugly.

the gotcha questions.

BAIER: I will try not to ring the bell that much. It`s the door

GINGRICH: Creating a sense of urgency.

was going on?

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When are you going to wrap
up? It`s time for me to talk.

BAIER: And you can get in through a divided Congress?

PAUL: Well --

and mow your lawn.

ROMNEY: The record of Texas I think speaks for itself.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: I got the calmness in my heart. And I`m
very calm in my heart.



O`DONNELL: We`re back with a late addition of THE LAST WORD tonight.

The top eight declared Republican presidential candidates
participated in a presidential debate in Iowa, the last debate before
Saturday`s Ames straw poll. Not in attendance was Texas Governor Rick
Perry, whose spokesman said today that Perry will announce that he is
running for president on Saturday.

Early in the debate, FOX News` Bret Baier asked Mitt Romney about
being missing in action on the campaign trail.


BAIER: You mentioned leadership on the economy, you are the front
runner in this field. Yet, when it came to weighing in on the debt ceiling
deal in Congress, something that had a major impact on the economy, many on
the stage say you were missing in action. Some columnist even said you
were in the Mittp-ness protection program. And then just hours before the
House voted, you released a statement saying you could not support the

Is that leadership?

ROMNEY: You know, this is a critical issue, which is how big is the
government going be? Back in the days of John F. Kennedy, the federal
government took up, along with the state and local governments, 27 percent
of the economy. Today, government consumes 37 percent of the economy. We
are inches away from no longer having a free economy.

And so, this is a critical issue and, therefore, well before the
debate got pushed along, I signed a pledge saying I would not raise the
debt ceiling unless we had "cut, cap, and balance." And that is the view I
took in June 30th, and I reiterated that throughout the process -- and,
frankly, all the way to the very end.


O`DONNELL: Michele Bachmann was asked about her accomplishments and
instead she gave her list of failures.


BACHMANN: I have a very consistent record of fighting very hard
against Barack Obama and his unconstitutional measures in Congress. When
it came to health care, I brought tens of thousands of Americans to
Washington to fight the unconstitutional, individual mandate. I didn`t
praise it.

When it came to cap and trade, I fought it with everything that was
in me, including I introduced the light bulb freedom of choice act so
people could purchase light bulb of their choice.


O`DONNELL: Tim Pawlenty was the first to remember that they were
also running against President Obama.


PAWLENTY: Where`s Barack Obama on these issues? You can`t find his
plans on some of the most pressing financial issues of our country. For
example, where is Barack Obama`s plan on Social Security reform, Medicare
reform, Medicaid reform?

In fact, I`ll offer a price tonight to anybody in this auditorium or
anyone watching on television, if you can find Barack Obama`s specific plan
on any of those items, I will come to your house and cook you dinner.



PAWLENTY: Or if you prefer, I`ll come to your house and mow your
lawn. But in case, Mitt wins, I am limited to one acre.


O`DONNELL: And perhaps the most interesting substantive question and
relevance to current policy, all of the candidates were asked if they would
accept a deficit reduction package that would include an increase in
taxation, but in a ratio of 10-1 -- that is to say, 10 spending cuts to one
portion of tax increases. They all said they would veto such a bill.


BAIER: Just making sure everyone at home and everyone here knows
that they all raised their hands and say that they feel so strongly about
not raising taxes that a 10 to 1 deal they would walk away from.
Confirming that.


O`DONNELL: Joining me now live from Ames is NBC`s political director
and host of MSNBC`s "DAILY RUNDOWN," Chuck Todd.

Thanks for joining me tonight, Chuck.

I want to read one of the tweets -- you issued a lot of great tweets
during the debate. But this one I think was my favorite and most
important. You said, "Grover Norquist`s most powerful man in GOP," which,
by the way, echoes the way he is described on this show. You said all say
no to 10 to 1 top cuts to taxes deal. That was a revealing moment.

CHUCK TODD, "DAILY RUNDOWN" HOST: It was and a very bad general
election moment, bad answer to the whole -- I was really surprised that
even Huntsman wasn`t going to use at one of them or Mitt Romney, wasn`t
going to use it to sort of differentiate themselves on the leadership
question. But I think it just tells you, this taxes thing, and I saw it
earlier today. You know, Mitt Romney had a much tougher debate this
afternoon at the "Des Moines Register" soapboxes at the Iowa state fair
than he had tonight. It was interesting to watch most of the candidates
sort of ignore him tonight.

But he was so defensive on the issues of taxes. And even here
tonight, one of the ways he was defensive with on the issue of taxes. It
is and I have a Republican pollsters tell me this and explain to me because
I`m sitting there and going, why not take a four to one deal? This is back
during the whole bargain.

And I had a Republican pollsters say, look, you don`t understand.
Taxes is the only thing. This no taxes pledge, the only thing that keeps
various coalitions of the Republican Party together, whether it`s the Ron
Paul folks, the Tea Party folks, the foreign policy interventionist folks,
whatever wing you want to put inside the Republican tent -- the only common
denominator is taxes. If that somehow got compromised, it would create a
divide inside the party that I`ve had Republican strategist say to me,
Lawrence, would tear the party down.

O`DONNELL: Chuck, can you reach a judgment at this point of who had
the best night, who did what he or she had to do up there most effectively?

TODD: You know, look, the cheap, cliche answer is to say Rick Perry,
right, because he didn`t have to be up there, he didn`t have to do this.
And everybody tonight had some odd moments. The ones that had to do well
obviously was a Tim Pawlenty.

And you got the sense that -- to use a baseball metaphor -- any ball
that was thrown remotely in front of him, he took a swing at it, right?
So, he went after Bachmann. And sometimes he did it in a very serious
policy way and sometimes he was kind of cheeky and cheap about it. Same
with when he went after Romney a couple of times.

And you could feel the air of desperation with him. And you see that
with his campaign. You know it is sort of this feel of a do-or-die moment
for him with the straw poll. He put so many resources in there.

And then you had Michele Bachmann, who early on seemed really
prepared for getting hit. And had her -- she was ready for these attacks
by Pawlenty. And then she seemed to get tired.

And, frankly, at the end, I think she came up with a position on the
debt ceiling. When she came up on the debt ceiling and said, we never
should have raised it under any circumstances, you know, that is a minority
view even inside the House Republican Conference. And that is not going to
go over well with the business community.

And I think that makes it very hard for her to take this leak from
being a Tea Party favorite and making the leap to a main -- the possibility
of becoming a mainstream Republican candidate that the business community
can get behind because the business community is not going to like that

And then you had Mitt Romney who had sort of -- he was able to stay,
you know, on the side and above the fray, took a couple of hits, he didn`t
really fire back. But, again, he was more effective this afternoon against
his hecklers than he was tonight.

O`DONNELL: All right. Let`s bring in the rest of our debate
analysis team. We have MSNBC`s "THE ED SHOW" host Ed Schultz.

Ed, thanks very much for joining tonight.

We also have "Washington Post" columnist and MSNBC analyst Eugene
Robinson, and "Bloomberg View" columnist and MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter.

Thank you all for joining me.

Ed, you for an hour during this debate. But you got the first hour
of the debate. Chuck`s tweet about the 10-to-1 ratio, it really is
probably the high point, the most interesting point of the debate. They
are now positioning themselves against what popular polling tells us,
especially about the general election, where that position is favored by
about 20 percent of the electorate.

These kinds of debate, it seems are going to corner them more and
more into tight, Republican corners that do not appeal to the general

ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: It almost seems like they are trying
to outdo each other on taxes.

O`DONNELL: Always.

SCHULTZ: If you say something to the debate, wait, I could say
something better than that.

O`DONNELL: Well, yes, he could have followed it up with out 100 to
1. And all the hands would have stayed up.

SCHULTZ: So, they are out trying to outdo one another. And that was
my interpretation of all that. But, you know, we have a thing in Minnesota
called Minnesota nice. And so, this was in the first hour of debate. We
found out tonight the Minnesota nice has left the Republican arena.

And I thought that Bachmann and Pawlenty going back and forth with
one another is very telling. And I think we`re going to see more of this
with the candidates as we get going, because they`re going to have to
separate themselves on some issues on just how far they will go when it
comes to taxes, how far they will go when it comes to entitlement programs,
and how far they will go when it comes to rolling back health care reform.

I thought Bachmann was strong tonight, and I thought Mitt Romney was
strong. But the strongest, I thought, was Newt Gingrich. Newt tonight
came out with a really serious tone.

He stuck it to Chris Wallace which I think the public liked. He is
very serious about being Barack Obama away from the sound bites. And he
drew on his experience about other accomplishments that they were able to
get when he was around Washington, what Reagan did. He put into historical
perspective how when there was gridlock, they found a way to move forward.

And he just an air of confidence about him that I just hadn`t seen
for a while.

O`DONNELL: He did. Bret Baier opened it up, and he consistently
asked the best questions. Chris Wallace was the second questioner.

And, Jonathan, we were watching it together. Chris Wallace stayed on
stuff that had nothing to do with policy. Gingrich called him on it. It
was a bright moment for Gingrich.

Who else scored in this debate?

scored because nothing happened that upset his position. He`s the
frontrunner. He is now very clearly the front runner.

O`DONNELL: In debates like this, the front runner wins when he
doesn`t get hurt.

ALTER: Absolutely. And, you know, maybe Rick Perry will knock him
off his pedestal. But he looked good. He sounded confident. And he
looked like a president. He didn`t sound crazy, which you couldn`t say for
most of the other candidates up there tonight.

And so, I think he did himself some good.

But that moment that you identified when they all raised their hands,
like those guys testifying before Congress, the tobacco company executives
all raising their hands. Remember that shot?


ALTER: This was I think an iconic moment because what it indicated
is that, that is the only thing that the Republican Party stands for. It
does not stand for deficit-reduction, which is more in tune with where the
American people are. They want to get off the credit card. They don`t
stand for that as a party because what they said by raising their hand was
we don`t care how much deficit reduction you can get. We don`t care how
close you get to balancing the budget.

If you raise taxes by one dime, we are against it. That`s not a very
good position to take in a general election.

O`DONNELL: Eugene Robinson, did you see anyone on that debate stage
tonight, when you consider the road that candidate will take to get all the
way to the Republican nomination, who can take the presidency away from
Barack Obama?

did, Lawrence. I think if you`re going to judge by that metric, you know,
I think Romney is the strongest of those eight candidates in the general

And so, we`ll see the extent of which he corners himself in this sort
of radical, right position.

I thought the Pawlenty/Bachmann/Minnesota nice, it Minnesota not-so
nice smack down was certainly -- those were the most entertaining moments.
And I actually thought, she outpointed him in that they` both connected
with blows, he was going after her record. She was going after his

And since she was aiming at a more sensitive spot and did connect
with her blows, I thought she got the better there.

And what really struck me was Rick Santorum, who I think did himself
some good in this debate tonight. You know, when he was in the Senate, he
seemed so, so far to the right, that he was just beyond the pale. And here
he is, Rick Santorum, seeming rather moderate in this crowd, explaining to
them the practice and necessity of legislative compromise as if it`s a
foreign concept to everybody else on the stage. It was fascinating.

O`DONNELL: And Rick Santorum complaining about the Iranian regime
being kind of tough in the area of gay rights. That was one of the
surprising notes of the evening.

Ed, Chuck, Jonathan, Eugene, stay with me everybody. More to come on
tonight`s debate.

And coming up, Stephen Colbert is back in the "Rewrite" for what he`s
doing with his filthy, dirty super PAC money after we caught him not
telling a lie about it.


BACHMANN: I need to respond to that.

BAIER: I understand. You have the next question, Senator.




CAIN: America`s got to learn how to take a joke.


O`DONNELL: That was about the best joke in tonight`s Republican
presidential debate in Iowa.

We`re back with NBC`s political director and host of MSNBC`s "DAILY
RUNDOWN," Chuck Todd, who is in Ames, Iowa. Also, host of MSNBC`s "THE ED
SHOW," Ed Schultz, is here. "Bloomberg View" columnist and MSNBC analyst
Jonathan Alter is here with us. And "Washington Post" columnist and MSNBC
analyst Eugene Robinson is back with us.

Thank you all for staying with me.

Chuck Todd, the Bachmann verses Pawlenty, was that the hottest one-
on-one conflict in the debate?

TODD: There was no doubt about it. But what struck was -- one
another thing that struck me it and was something I wanted to say before
the break, watching Pawlenty hit Bachmann because I agree, I think it was
Eugene that said, you know, if you were scoring it at the time, you`ll be
like, OK, Bachmann got -- probably won the exchange overall tonight.

But I think Pawlenty, kind of like how Chris Dodd sort of threw
himself on the grenade, if you will, when it came to attacking Hillary
Clinton in those debates, 2007, particularly that one debate -- I got a
sense that Pawlenty exposed some real weaknesses and gave Romney and Perry,
essentially, the playbook on how to go after her. You know, assuming,
maybe Pawlenty wins the stronghold and gets his mojo back and he is able to
get out of the show -- if that doesn`t happen, though, I would not be
provided the blueprint as to how he sort of threw himself on the grenade
and tried to stop her if you were Romney or if you were Rick Perry.

O`DONNELL: Ed, this is a very important point because I think for
the men on that panel, taking on the only woman on the panel is difficult.
There are some optics to that that are difficult. It seems that Romney and
-- will want Pawlenty to stay in as long as he can to that job for him.

SCHULTZ: No doubt about it. But I want to point out, from my
knowledge base what Michele Bachmann said tonight about Tim`s record was
accurate. I mean, the cap and trade, the raising of the taxes, and the
budget issues that he`s had.

And I thought Pawlenty seriously misrepresented himself tonight in a
budgeting process about how he balanced the budget. He kicked a lot of
cans down the road and penciled a lot of stuff out that was not true
budgeting. And Mark Dayton, former senator who`s now the governor, will
tell you that he`s been left with a real mess.

So I thought Bachmann didn`t expect Pawlenty to be as aggressive as
he was because he wasn`t in the last debate. But I thought she handled
herself really well and what she said from my knowledge base was factually

O`DONNELL: Jonathan, there`s --

TODD: No, Ed, I don`t --

O`DONNELL: Go ahead, Chuck.

TODD: I don`t disagree on that part. But there were two things that
Pawlenty sort of forced Bachmann to admit and that was the inability to get
something through in Congress, the inability -- the result -- and she ended
up with that weird "I sponsored the light bulb bill."


TODD: You know, that is just something that, capture that in a 30-
second ad in New Hampshire. Think about New Hampshire voters that they
want results, that`s going to be a tough sell.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan, the other part of Bachmann`s accomplishment
list is here are all the things I fought against and lost. You know, she
fought against the Obama health care bill which became law and she just --

ALTER: She hasn`t gotten it done. So, it has a kind of a tilting on
wind mills, you know, quality. And also, she repeatedly misstates the
facts. I mean, her light bulb bill, for instance, it`s premised on the
idea that by law you won`t be able to get old light bulbs, only

That`s not true. You know, it`s kind of a right wing myth that`s
developed in this country. And there were several such things. But
interestingly, she had the crowd behind her, which gives you some
indication --

O`DONNELL: Don`t you feel that they are kind of protective of her
when the attack closes in on her?

ALTER: Yes. And that indicates -- it bodes well for her in the
straw poll and I think in the Iowa caucuses in general. I was listening
for that crowd reaction.

Another time that struck me was when Ron Paul sounded unbelievably
dovish. It was like George McGovern on steroids, you know, about Iran, of
all places. And the crowd was repeatedly cheering his neo-isolationism.
That means it`s going to be a little bit harder for the Republican in the
fall against Obama to try to out-hawk Barack Obama when the base of the
party is now moving in an isolationist direction.

O`DONNELL: Gene, what do we make of the Republican debate when the
biggest audience reactions go to the guy who was saying the leftiest stuff
in the debate, Ron Paul?

ROBINSON: Well, we may combat that Ron Paul really is a special
case. Ron Paul in these sorts of small kind of contests where the
participants are self-selecting, really organized. You know, he has -- his
believers are Paulite to the max and they are going to stick with him. And
he does well. You know, he will do well because he always does well in
these sorts of situations.

But, interesting, about Bachmann, I thought she not only had the
crowd in the hall on her side, but that sort of fighting spirit and never
compromise, I stood firm -- I just think that really plays well with
Republicans this year. And I think it`s got legs beyond Iowa.

Not that I`m saying she`s going to win the nomination, but I think if
she does well in the straw poll and then potentially does well in the
caucuses, she`s going to be around in this race for a while and she`s going
to drive either Romney or Perry or whomever crazy.

O`DONNELL: All right. We`re going to have to wrap up there.

Ed Schultz, Chuck Todd, Jonathan Alter, and Eugene Robinson, thank
you all for your time. Chuck, we are all going to be watching the "DAILY
RUNDOWN" for your clips and highlightsand the debate.

TODD: You got it, buddy.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Texas Governor Rick Perry decides it`s high
time the Republican presidential primary had a gun-toting, cowboy boot-
wearing candidate. His spokesman announced when Perry will announce.

And Sarah Palin figures she can make one more desperate claim for
attention in Iowa before the presidential campaign leaves her behind.




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