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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

October 4, 2012

Guests: Ezra Klein, Krystal Ball, Steve Kornacki, Joy Reid

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: President Obama woke up to this
headline this morning in Denver. As did the rest of us who woke up in
Denver this morning. Then guess who decided to go out and do something
about this headline today? That`s right. President Obama.

And we have breaking news from Mitt Romney who just appeared on FOX
News and tried to rewrite this comments about 47 percent of America.


stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney.

ALEX WAGNER, HOST, "NOW WITH ALEX WAGNER": A new Mitt Romney took the
stage last night.

middle --

WAGNER: Possess an entirely different policies.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: First of all I don`t have a $5
trillion tax cut.


ROMNEY: I don`t have a tax cut.

SHARPTON: Is that so?

ROMNEY: I`m in a lower rates. I want a 20 percent across the board -
- across the board for all American. Twenty percent across the board. By
20 percent. I don`t have a $5 trillion tax cut.


ROMNEY: I don`t have a tax cut of the scale that you`re talking

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitt Romney just plain lied.

OBAMA: If you want to be president then you owe the American people
the truth.

JANSING: We saw a conservative Mitt Romney in the primary.

ROMNEY: I will repeal Obamacare. I will repeal Obamacare.

JANSING: Now we`re seeing a more centrist Mitt Romney.

ROMNEY: The best course for health care is to do what we did in my


TAMRON HALL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: He is now saying he would not cut

ROMNEY: I agree. Education is key. He says we need more firemen,
more policemen, more teachers. I reject the idea that I don`t believe in
great teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?

HALL: Who is the real Mitt Romney?

BASHIR: Mitt Romney is the Ron Jeremy of political campaigning.
Every day he is in a different position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wouldn`t say any programs he wanted to cut in

ROMNEY: I`m going to stop the subsidy to PBS.



OBAMA: He`ll get rid of regulations on Wall Street. But he`s going
to crack down on Sesame Street.

ROMNEY: I`m going to stop the subsidy to PBS.

OBAMA: Thank goodness somebody is finally cracking down on Big Bird.

ROMNEY: I like PBS. I love Big Bird.

OBAMA: Elmo has got to watch out.

ROMNEY: I think I get the last word.


O`DONNELL: With 33 days until the presidential election moments ago
on FOX News Mitt Romney said that he was completely wrong when he said that
47 percent of Americans are hopeless losers. Sean Hannity asked Mitt
Romney what he would have said if President Obama brought up the 47 percent
comment last night.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: What would you have said if he did
bring it up?

ROMNEY: Well, clearly in a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of
speeches and question and answer sessions, now and then you`re going to say
something that doesn`t come out right. In this case I said something
that`s completely wrong. And I absolutely believe, however, that my life
has shown that I care about 100 percent. And that`s been demonstrated
throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent.
When I become president it will be about helping 100 percent.


O`DONNELL: Here is what Mitt Romney said after "Mother Jones"
revealed Romney`s 47 percent remarks.


ROMNEY: It`s a question and answer as I recall about the process of
the campaign, and how I`m going to get the 51 or 52 percent I need. And I
point out this by focusing on those folks that are neither in his camp nor
in my camp. Of course there`s a very different approach of the two
different campaigns.

As I point out I recognize that among those that pay no tax,
approximately 47 percent of Americans, I`m not likely to be highly
successful with the message of lowering taxes. That`s not as attractive to
those who don`t pay income taxes as it is to those who do. And likewise
those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of
slimming down the size of government.

Well, you know, it`s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way.
I`m speaking off-the-cuff in response to a question, and I`m sure I could
state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like
that. And so I`m sure I`ll point that out as time goes on.


O`DONNELL: Joining me now MSNBC`s Alex Wagner and Chris Hayes.

Alex, so the first round of this, he went the Rush Limbaugh route and
defended the comments basically, explained them a little bit. Rush
Limbaugh said to him back then on his radio show this is such a golden
opportunity. This could be the opportunity for Romney and for that
campaign to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just
start explaining conservatism, which Romney was just doing then tonight to
Sean Hannity. He says, well that comment, I was completely wrong.

WAGNER: Yes, you know, Lawrence, the word that has popped into my
head in the course of the last 24 hours is lobotomy. Either Mitt Romney
wants the entire American public to have a lobotomy or is proposing that
they get one because that`s the only way they`re going to believe in the
things that he is saying or he himself has had a lobotomy, which is the
explanation for this pivot that is miraculous.

I mean I think what struck me last night was that there wasn`t even
the attempt to defend this record, his policies, his positions that he`s
put out there on everything from, you know, turning Medicare -- turning
Medicare into a voucher program, to his tax plans to this position on
education funding to, you know, any number of things that he`s run on. I
mean he just totally he white-boarded everything.

O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes -- I`m sorry, Alex. I was to say, Chris, a
presidential candidate never wants to have to say that sentence, "I was
completely wrong," because it certainly opens up, as Alex is suggesting,
what else are you completely wrong about?


O`DONNELL: But what choice does Romney have at this point in how to
respond to that 47 percent comment?

HAYES: I think Romney is relishing his new found freedom. I mean I
basically think what happened was he was a captive of the right-wring of
the party. Anytime that he deviated in any way they would smack him down.
There was line when he embraced -- Romneycare in Massachusetts. When his
spokesperson did, they said we have to house break the dog. That was the -
- what the Republicans said, you know.


HAYES: Beat the dog, bad dog. It took until conservatives got so
desperate about his chances that now he`s completely freelancing. He`s a
totally free man. If there is something, Lawrence, you like, maybe he`s
for it.



HAYES: If there`s something -- if there`s something 60 percent of the
American like tomorrow, maybe he`s for that. I -- we just don`t know. We
will -- in the next 33 days, he is completely untethered, and whatever is
out there that might prove appealing to the mass --

WAGNER: It`s like a fruit basket. It`s like a -- it could be grapes,
it could be bananas, it could be strawberries, it could be a $17,000
deduction, it could be a $50,000 deduction. It could be $25. Just pick a
number. Make up a number.

HAYES: If it`s delicious, he will eat it.

O`DONNELL: Well, we now know what the prepared response was for last
night to the 47 percent question. It was simply going to be complete
disowning of it.


O`DONNELL: In exactly the same way, Alex, that he --


And I`ve got to say, I don`t think any of us saw this coming, he
disowned the notion of doing a $5 trillion tax cut which has been a
fundamental principle of his campaign until last night.

WAGNER: It is amazing, though, that Mitt Romney who`s been so burned
by YouTube, here is now proposing that everyone is going to forget the
thing that he`s been saying for the last 18 months. I mean there are tons
of footage where he is proposing a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut
which costs $4.8 trillion. I mean there`s no mystery there.

The idea that in the last three and a half weeks, four weeks of this
campaign, he`s going to be able to white-wash everything that he said is

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to how the president talked about the new
Romney tax position, if that`s what it is, on the campaign trail today.


OBAMA: When I got on the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who
claimed to be Mitt Romney.


But I know it couldn`t have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt
Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5
trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy and yet the fellow on the stage
last night who looked like Mitt Romney said he did not know anything about


O`DONNELL: Chris Hayes, the president found his voice on that one

HAYES: Yes, I mean -- what`s interesting to me is that early on the
campaign made a strategic decision about whether they were going to attack
Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper, as someone you can`t trust because he`ll
just go wherever the political winds take him, or as essentially a hard
right ideologue, as someone who`s bound up with the Republican -- the
unpopular Republican Party.

And Mitt Romney, they chose the latter. They chose going at Mitt
Romney as this out-of-touch plutocrat who`s going to carry the torch of the
hard-right of the Republican Party, and he aided them in doubling down on
everything. And every message from the "we built this" convention, to the
(INAUDIBLE) of the job creators in the leaked video, bought -- you know,
reinforced that.

Now he`s shaking the Etch-A-Sketch and now he`s decided, you know
what, screw it, I`m going to go for whatever it is. And so the question
is, they now have to pick a new way of attacking him.

O`DONNELL: Well, I think they picked it today. Let`s listen to more
of what President Obama said about the real Mitt Romney today.


OBAMA: Whoever it was that was on stage last night doesn`t want to be
held accountable for what the real Mitt Romney has been saying for the last
year. And that`s because he knows full well that we don`t want what he`s
been selling over the last year. Governor Romney may dance around his
positions. He may do a tap dance and a two-step, but if you want to be
president, then you owe the American people the truth.



O`DONNELL: Alex Wagner, please, help me get the image of Mitt Romney
dancing out of my mind.


WAGNER: You know, Lawrence, I will say this. There has been this
sort of flush of ardor for Mitt Romney in the 24 hours since the debate
because they think, oh my god, he can really do it. But there -- I mean I
don`t know how excited the conservative base is going to be in the long run
which is to say in the next couple of week as we really we unpack these
sort of positions that Mitt Romney has newly adopted which is to say
embracing parts of Obamacare, or maybe not giving a tax credit -- tax
credit across the board, or maybe, hey, maybe Pell Grants aren`t such a bad

I mean they have systematically tried to placate the conservative base
for a long time because they know they are very, very rested. It will be
interesting to see if this -- if the Republican Party remains as united as
it is today in the next couple of weeks.

O`DONNELL: Chris, I think what we`re seeing today is the Obama
campaign and the president saying you can`t trust him. That -- no matter
what he says, you just don`t know what he`s going to say tomorrow.

HAYES: Yes, and that -- that I think is a new line of attack until
election day particularly if Mitt Romney persists with this new found
freedom in terms of selecting whatever policies appeared to be popular in
the moment. And in fact it`s something they laid the groundwork on last
night. And I think the jury is out on this actually.

This idea that he`s not providing enough details, I am -- I am
genuinely curious as to how effective a political attack it is. I think it
might or it might not be. But that seems to be one of the things -- one of
the things the president wanted to hammer home last night, and one of the
things in the post-debate spin room and so forth, is this idea that he
essentially is a kind of crypto candidate.

That he is keeping secret what he wants to do. And there is something
suspect and untrustworthy about keeping secret what you want to do. I
think it`s an absolutely accurate way to attack Mitt Romney because the
maddening game he`s playing, the shell game he`s playing with his policies,
is such that he`s keeping them hidden. The question is, how much that
registers with voters.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to how Rush Limbaugh explains President
Obama`s debate performance last night.


has been shielded from any kind of opposition his whole life. He`s been
protected. If he got a C at Harvard, somebody gave him an A. If he needed
to get into Harvard Law somebody greased the skids. He`s had the way paced
for him. And he`s protected. And he`s shielded. And he has a
teleprompter. And his words are written for him.


O`DONNELL: Now, Alex, I know Rush sounds like an expert on how things
work at Harvard Law School, he actually did not go to Harvard Law School
himself. And actually could not quite get through one semester of college
himself. And so he is just imagining through his bottomless pit of hate
about Barack Obama that of course Barack Obama couldn`t possibly achieve
academically anywhere and everything was given to him.

WAGNER: Yes. A subtle indictment, of course. Of course the African-
American guy got everything sort of given to him, a sort of indictment
perhaps as a affirmative action and as maybe a mobility in American

It is -- Rush`s comments unsurprisingly are reprehensible. The notion
that the president has not fought for and won the achievements that are
fairly impressive throughout his life is yet another attempt to paint him
as outside the main stream of America. Not one of us, you know. I mean
it`s despicable and the undercurrent there is this notion of laziness,
which I guess -- which is also I think a very freighted and weighted term.


WAGNER: As we talk about people of color and also as we talk about
people who are not like ourselves. You know, the Republicans are using
this -- this is their moment to dance around the maple, and throw a bunch
of confetti in the air, I am still unconvinced that this actually move
voters any significant way one way or the other. And there are, of course,
Lawrence, two more debates.

HAYES: And I will say this. The most dangerous thing for the
Republican Party, and has been throughout this campaign, is believing what
they tell themselves and what they tell themselves is that Barack Obama is
essentially an affirmative action case. This is -- this is incredibly
widespread in the right and it`s genuinely believed on the right that this
is someone who essentially has just skidded by. He`s been given
everything. And if they keep thinking that, they`re going to have a wake-
up call, I think, in the second debate.

O`DONNELL: Yes, I think they forget that Hillary Clinton, among
others --


O`DONNELL: -- ran against him for that nomination last time.

HAYES: Exactly.

O`DONNELL: And it wasn`t easy. And yes, Alex, we do have polling
that indicates absolutely nothing happened last night. Today, Barack Obama
is up one point and Mitt Romney is up two points, so there is a change of -
- in the gap of exactly one point as a result of 67 million people watching
them debate for 90 minutes. That says close to nothing happening as you
could ask for.

Chris Hayes and Alex Wagner, thank you both for joining me tonight.

WAGNER: Thanks, Lawrence.

HAYES: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Mitt Romney`s $5 trillion lie is next with Ezra
Klein and in the spotlight tonight a preview of the next debate. Biden
versus Ryan. One week from tonight. And later President Obama responded
to Mitt Romney`s attacks on Big Bird today. And in the "Rewrite" tonight
I`ll tell you why everyone is wrong. Everyone. And why Mitt Romney won
nothing last night.


O`DONNELL: Thanks to FOX News now we know how Mitt Romney would have
handled the 47 percent comment last night if he had been asked about it.
He would have simply disowned his own comments. Just the way he tried to
disown his $5 trillion tax cut. The lies of Mitt Romney are next with Ezra

And in the "Rewrite" tonight why everyone, everyone is wrong about
what happened in that debate last night. That`s coming up in the



and let me warn the nation against the smooth evasion that says, of course
we believe these things. But we do not like the way the present
administration is doing that. Just turn them over to us. We will do all
of them. We will do more of them. We will do them better and most
important of all the doing of them will not cost anybody anything.


O`DONNELL: Not even Franklin Roosevelt could have anticipated the
evasion Mitt Romney tried last night on his tax plan. No one anticipated
this. There isn`t a single pundit anywhere who predicted what Mitt Romney
would say about his tax plan.


OBAMA: Governor Romney`s central economic plan calls for a $5
trillion tax cut on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts. That`s
another $1 trillion.

ROMNEY: I don`t have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don`t have a tax cut
of the scale that you`re talking about.

OBAMA: For 18 months he`s been running on this tax plan. And now
five weeks before the election he is saying that his big, bold idea is
never mind.


ROMNEY: Joining me now is Ezra Klein, a columnist for the "Washington
Post" and an MSNBC analyst.

Ezra, Mitt Romney says he doesn`t have a $5 trillion tax cut. Does he
have a $5 trillion tax cut?

EZRA KLEIN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Mitt Romney`s tax cut exists and has
always existed in a state of -- I`d say quantum uncertainty. It is
impossible at any moment to ever say what kind of tax cut Mitt Romney does
or doesn`t have.

The way you break this down, and I actually wasn`t surprise by what
Mitt Romney said last night. I don`t think he`s been inconsistent on this.
He said that he`s got a tax cut. That if you just implemented it, it would
cost $5 trillion. Those numbers from the Tax Policy Center. They are
credible, they`re probably correct.

What he says, though, and has always said from the very beginning is
he will pay for that tax cuts. So when you include that "I will pay for
that tax cut" sentence that he say, he then says fairly scored the tax cut
cost you your dollars because I promised at a later date to pay for it.

The question with him has always been, well, OK, how are you going to
pay for it? And if you`re not telling us any of the thing you`d do to pay
for it, why should we believe you when no Republican in 20 or 30 years has
paid for a tax cut?

The answer to that is well, didn`t I just tell you I will pay for the
tax cut? So I`m not -- I`m not sure it`s wrong for Romney to say that he`s
not going to do a $5 trillion tax cut. If that`s what`s really in his
heart, fine. The problem is, he just hasn`t told us a word about how to
pay for it and every analyst who`s run these numbers in a rigorous real way
who`s looked into it and said, the three things he wants to do, have this
20 percent across-the-board rate cut, have it all paid for and not cut
taxes on the rich at all while protecting a bunch of tax rates like the
capital gains rate that he benefits from, they can`t all be done at once.
So something has to give and we don`t know what it will be.

O`DONNELL: Well, I have to tell you that he is wrong about saying he
doesn`t have a $5 trillion tax cut because, if we give him the allowance
that you`re willing to give him rhetorically, that will be the first time
in the history of the discussion of tax policy in our government that
anyone has ever been able to say, I don`t have a $5 trillion tax cut
because I`m going to pay for it with other things.

The tax cut is measured by how much revenue you will cut from tax
collection. That`s what -- that`s how the tax cut is described. The fact
that you will offset it another way in your tax bill is a whole separate
section of the legislation. And it is a whole separate issue. And so if
we give him this rhetorical allowance he will be the first person in the
history of tax policy discussion in America, the first politician who is
given that break. Who`s allowed to talk about it that way.

KLEIN: But to be fair on this, I mean, look, I don`t think very many
people are more critical of this plan than I do because it hasn`t -- it
doesn`t add up. But if Mitt Romney were to come out tomorrow and give us
the breaks, if he were to send us, show me a list of what he will close,
and it came up to $5 trillion, I would be happy to say on this program or
on any other, this is not a $5 trillion he`s paying for. It`s going to
cost the treasury $5 trillion.

And I think tax reform is perfectly reasonable put to work that way.
The issue for Romney and for the country is that he hasn`t done that and
he`s basically saying trust me, and the question for people is, why trust
him and when the analysts say the numbers don`t add up, how can you trust

But that`s the thicket that Romney is hiding in here because he says
he`ll pay for it. He says the president can`t fairly say it`s $5 trillion.
What the president, I don`t think, did a good enough job of saying last
night is, why should we believe you? If you`re not willing to say in a
campaign when your job is to tell the American people what you`re going to
do, if you`re not willing to tell them the hard truth, if you`re not going
to tell them the hard part of the tax cut, why should we believe that when
the rubber hits the road you`re not just going to do what George W. Bush
did and what Ronald Reagan did and blow up the deficit with another
gigantic tax cut that you pretend is going to have huge growth effects and
pay for itself down the road?

O`DONNELL: There is one element of truth in what Romney says about
the deduction side when he says, well, that`s up to Congress. Well, the
truth is the entire thing is up to Congress. But the president proposes
his notion of the way he should go and then he sees how much he can get.
So, you know, the idea that he can stand up there and talk about what he`s
going to do to the tax code, and not tell anyone in America what he will
veto if Congress tries to do to their mortgage deduction, for example, is a
complete abdication of what presidential power is in tax legislation.

KLEIN: Right. I mean it`s completely (INAUDIBLE) he sort of has this
odd theory of governance, or at least rhetorical governance, in which what
you`re supposed to do as a presidential candidate and a president, is tell
the American people, and I guess tell Congress, the popular part of what
you`ll do, but it would be somehow overstepping the boundaries of your
authority to try to sell to them the tough parts of what you`ll do, the
parts that will actually be required to make it work.

You`ve been through this words before. And if the president isn`t
going to be able to go out and get support for the hard parts, Congress
isn`t going to be able to go out and get support for the hard part,
Congress isn`t very likely to do the hard part on its own. The big tax cut
part, that`s the easy thing. That`s the part he doesn`t need to sell
people on.

O`DONNELL: Ezra Klein, thanks for joining me tonight.

KLEIN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Paul Ryan keeps saying it takes too long, way
too long to explain the math of his budget plan. But you know I think Joe
Biden will let him have all the time he needs let`s week. That`s next in
the spotlight. And later it`s Mitt Romney versus Big Bird. And in the
"Rewrite" what really happened in that debate last night. The answer much
less than you think.


O`DONNELL: Jim Lehrer, our most experienced presidential debate
moderator, has suffered a lot of criticism for the way he moderated last
night`s debate. I, for one, prefer when moderators get out of the way, do
not try to be come stars of the debate, and let the debaters debate. Our
televised presidential debates have become littered with ridiculous
questions and gimmicky hypotheticals that do not belong in presidential

Be careful what you wish for when you wish for assertive, clever
presidential debate moderators.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first question goes to Governor Dukakis. You
have two minute to respond. Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and
murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer.

And I think you know I that I have opposed the death penalty during all of
my life. I don`t see any evidence that it`s a deterrent. And I think
there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We
have done so in my own state. And it`s one of the reasons why we have had
the biggest drop in crime of any industrial state in America, why we have
the lowest murder rate of any industrial state in America.


O`DONNELL: And who was the last first lady who was raped and
murdered? When did that become something presidents have to become
prepared to deal with? Give me Jim Lehrer over that nonsense any day.

Coming up, if you were one of the people who declared a winner after
watching last night`s debate, I`m going to ask you to reconsider in
tonight`s Rewrite.

And Paul Ryan will finally have all the time he needs to explain his
Medicare killing budget plan when he debates Joe Biden. Krystal Ball and
Steve Kornacki will join me next.

And Mitt Romney says he is going to pay for his tax cuts for the
wealthy by cutting one 100th of one percent of the federal budget. That is
right. Mitt Romney wants to fire Big Bird.



dead wrong -- I love him. As my mother would say, God love him ,but he`s
been dead wrong on the fundamental issues relating to the conduct of the
war. Barack Obama has been right. There are the facts.


O`DONNELL: In the Spotlight tonight, the next debate. At this exact
moment, one week from now, Vice President Joe Biden and Paul Ryan will be
hugging their families on a debate stage in Danville, Kentucky, where they
will have just completed their one and only vice presidential debate.
Today, Joe Biden explained what he`s doing to prepare.


BIDEN: What I have been doing mostly is, quite frankly, studying up
on Congressman Ryan`s positions on the issues. And Governor Romney has
embraced at least everything I can see. I don`t want to say anything in
the debate that is not completely accurate.


O`DONNELL: Meanwhile, Paul Ryan is pretending that he is not
memorizing staff written lines.


line guy. I`m more of a gut guy. I`m more of a -- you know me well. I
don`t try to be anybody other than who I am. I believe what I believe. I
do what I do. And I really believe in the policies we are providing, that
we`re pursuing. And at the end of the day, I`m just going to go in there
and be me.


O`DONNELL: Joining me now, MSNBC`s Krystal Ball and Steve Kornacki.
Krystal, let`s look at Paul Ryan going with his gut with Chris Wallace.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You haven`t given me the math.

RYAN: I don`t have the time. It would take me too long to go through
all of the math.


O`DONNELL: Krystal, in his gut, he just doesn`t have enough time.

KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: It is too long. It is complicated, all
those deductions I don`t want to talk about. I mean, Joe Biden is not
going to have any fear of being aggressive. I think if Paul Ryan doesn`t
get pushed on the specifics of the plan, Biden will be ready to go after

And I went back and reread the transcript of the Biden/Palin debate,
and one of the things that really struck me that I had sort of forgotten
was that Biden really knew his stuff, not just in a folksy, appealing way.
He knew facts, figures. He knew exactly what the president`s positions
were. He knew exactly what McCain`s positions were.

And even though, as you showed in that clip, he and McCain were very
good friends, he was very aggressive in going after McCain and his plans.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to Paul Ryan being questioned by a voter
about specifics. This is Tuesday at a campaign event.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why aren`t you more specific? I heard you -- was
it Sunday when you were on Fox. And you didn`t answer his question about
how we`re going to -- you know, what are your plans?

RYAN: Oh, yeah, no -- look, when you get in a math conversation, it
can take a little while.


O`DONNELL: Steve --

BALL: We`ve got time.

O`DONNELL: You know, yeah, Joe Biden is going to just step back and
go, take your time. Go ahead, you know, we can listen.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yeah, there is this famous S&L sketch
from the 1988 election I remember. And the panelists asked George Bush
Sr., who was running this year, you`ve got a minute and a half, can you
talk about what you would do for the homeless problem. And Bush hems and
haws, and he says, well, I don`t have enough time, there is so much I would
like to get to. And he gets to the point where they finally, you know
what, Mr. Vice President, we have stopped the clock for you. And he just
sort of stares.

You kind of wonder -- the thing was, look, in the debate last night,
Obama had multiple opportunities I think to press Romney to be specific on
the math and to present the math to people in a way that would make them
understand why Romney was being so evasive. Obama missed those opening for
whatever reason. He didn`t want to take them.

But I think Krystal is right. When you look at Joe Biden, when you
look at how Joe Biden has conducted himself in debates in the past, I think
there`s two things you have to remember. One is the reason -- one of the
big reasons he is on the ticket in the first place is how well he performed
in the 2008 primary debates. We don`t really remember his presidential
candidacy in `08, but he made a strong impression on Democrats. He made a
very strong impression on Obama and the Obama campaign. That`s one of the
reasons he rose to the top of the VP list.

The other thing is, if you go way back in history for Joe Biden, when
he first ran for president in 1988, that campaign ended because of the Neil
Kinick (ph) thing, but in the early going, in the spring and summer of that
year, Joe Biden, more than any other candidate running, had a reputation
for being a powerful orator and performing very well at least in the early
debate they had with William -- on "Firing Line" that summer.

So Joe Biden -- there`s a caricature of Biden as this gaffe prone guy,
the crazy, all that stuff. But you know take that away, I think there`s a
lot of unfairness there. This guy is a really communicator and, like
Krystal said, a very strong debater.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to Joe Biden giving us a little preview today
of what might happen in that debate.


BIDEN: Look, folks, I know we all don`t have access to Governor
Romney`s accountant.


BIDEN: I thought last night when he said I would like to introduce my
accountant to that -- I thought, I would love to have his accountant. But
look, we may not have his accountant, but we understand someone ends up
paying for all of this.


O`DONNELL: Krystal, Joe Biden really has the touch with that sort of

BALL: He does. He is funny. And that always helps when you can be
funny and spontaneous and get the crowd on your side. That is always

And the other thing that I would note from his performance in 2008 in
the vice presidential debate -- and also from his speech to the DNC -- is
how loyal he is in communications. Nothing is really about him. It is
about the president. It is about the president`s plans. Or it`s an attack
on Governor Romney and his plans, or back in 2008 McCain.

And at that time in 2008, I noticed that Palin focused a lot of her
time on mavericky she was, her record in Alaska, her family. It was very
me centered. And I could see Paul Ryan walking down that same path,
talking about his plans, and the work that he has done in Congress, rather
than really making it about Governor Romney and President Obama.

O`DONNELL: Steve Kornacki, do you think the age difference is going
to be a factor in any real way on that stage? I think there`s 27 years
between these two.

KORNACKI: Yeah. Almost exactly -- I`m not trying to start anything
here, but almost exactly the same age difference as between Lloyd Benson
and Dan Quayle from 1988. And of course there was -- that was a situation
where Quayle was the young guy and he really looked like the young guy.
And Benson was the old guy and he really look and acted like the old guy,
almost like an Old Testament figure.

So when Benson looked at Quayle and said, you`re no Jack Kennedy, it
had this sort of authority to it. I think Biden mixes it up more.

BALL: Biden is still hot. He has got it.

KORNACKI: He acts -- he doesn`t quite have the same gravity I guess
of a guy like Lloyd Benson.

O`DONNELL: Steve Kornacki and Krystal Ball, thanks for joining me

BALL: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Mitt Romney wants to try to balance the budget
by getting rid of Big Bid, which will save one 100th of one percent of the
federal budget. That`s coming up.

And next, it is easy -- I know it is easy to have a gut reaction about
who won the presidential debate. But being right about that, that is not
so easy. That is next in the Rewrite.


O`DONNELL: At this very minute, exactly 24 hours ago, the news media
on TV and online were flooded with people telling you who won the debate.
I wasn`t one of them. I used to be that guy. I used to think I knew who
won the debate immediately after the debate. I knew for sure that John
Kerry won all three of his debates against President Bush. But of course
he didn`t.

This is a good time -- it`s a good night for all of us to think about
what it means to win a debate, a presidential debate. In high school and
college debates, there are judges who decide which team or which debaters
actually won. Sometimes the audience votes on a winner in those debates.
Those debates have real winners, winners who get real trophies.

No one got a trophy last night. But plenty of people guessed at who
would have gotten a trophy. Trouble is President Obama and Mitt Romney
weren`t debating for a trophy. They were debating for votes. And those
votes won`t be counted until next month.

So all the winner talk you have been hearing is just guessing. And
all of the guessers, all of them have been wrong before. My guesses about
who won presidential debates have been wrong many times, which is why it
was so easy for me to resist guessing who won last night.

You know, court reporters are smarter about this than us political
pundits. Court reporters have seen high priced defense lawyers deliver
brilliant closing arguments that made the prosecutors look like amateurs.
But court reporters don`t immediately say the defense lawyer won. Not even
privately to each other. They wait. They wait hours, sometimes days for
the jury to vote and then tell them who won.

Court reporters see lawyers with the best argument and the most
engaging style lose cases every day. And they see the opposite happen
every day. Frequently juries will tell court reporters they didn`t care
about the testimony that the news media thought was so important, the most
important thing. They based their decision on something, something else
that was said or not said.

Hanging around courtrooms guessing what juries are going to do is a
humbling experience. I think you should watch these debates the way you
should watch a trial. When the lawyers make their opening statements in
court, you shouldn`t think one of them just won. You should wait to hear
from the witnesses. We are going to hear from a couple of witnesses next
week, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. And then you should listen to the rest of
the lawyers` arguments, especially their final arguments, which will come
on October 22nd.

And then you should wait 15 days, just 15 days and find out who won,
won the debates right here, at this hour on November 6th, when we report to
you who won 270 electoral votes. But that is not what political pundits
are going to do. They are going to continue to watch presidential debates
the way they watch the World Series.

They`ve told you Romney won game one. They will tell you who wins
games two and game three. But none of them will know who won. They won`t
actually know. They are so used to thinking that they know who wins these
debates that they don`t realize anymore that they are guessing, just
guessing. What millions of voters they will never meet, who live in places
they have never been and will never go -- what those people think of the
debaters, that is what they are guessing.

You will have your favorite guessers. I have my favorite guessers.
We will be tempted to believe them. But we should try to resist that
temptation. Not that I`ve ever been good at resisting temptation, but we
should at least try.

Here is what a poll tells us happened last night. A Reuters poll
showed us that basically nothing happened, that today, in a poll taken
today, that President Obama has gone up one point, from 47 to 48. Mitt
Romney has gone up two, from 41 to 43. That is movement within the margin
of error. It means absolutely nothing.

"The Denver Post" headline today uses a sports analogy, uses a boxing
analogy, round one. John Ingald (ph), who wrote the "Denver Post" front
page story, switches to another sport, if we can call bull fighting a
sport, in the first paragraph of his article. It is really, really

"Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney rhetorically charged at
President Barack Obama in their presidential debate at the University of
Denver on Wednesday, in a clash that was notable for Romney`s
aggressiveness and Obama`s reluctance to engage in a direct fight." Here
is the great part. "Like a bull to a matador, Romney time and again turned
toward Obama to deliver attacks on the president`s job performance,
portraying him as clueless to his policies` impacts and hopeless in trying
to turn the economy around."

"Like a bull to a matador, Romney time and again turned toward Obama
to deliver attacks." "Like a bull to a matador." And what does a matador
do to a bull in the end?



RICHARD SCHIFF, ACTOR: At a time when the public is rightly concerned
about the impact of sex and violence on TV, this administration is going to
protect the Muppets. We are going to protect "Wall Street Week." We`re
going to protect "Live From Lincoln Center." And by God, we are going to
protect Julia Child.


O`DONNELL: That was Emmy winner Richard Schiff ready to fight for PBS
on the NBC series "The West Wing." Last night, Mitt Romney says he wants
that fight.


ROMNEY: I`m sorry, Jim, I`m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I`m
going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like
you too. But I`m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow
money from China to pay for.


O`DONNELL: And President Obama had this to say on the campaign trail
in Wisconsin today.


OBAMA: He said he`d eliminate public television funding.


OBAMA: So don`t boo now. But I want to make sure I got this
straight. He will get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he is going
to crack down on Sesame Street.


OBAMA: Thank goodness somebody is finally cracking down on Big Bird.
Who knew that he was responsible for all these deficits. Elmo has to watch


O`DONNELL: Joining me now MSNBC`s Joy Reid.

Joy, we asked Mitt Romney for specifics and we now know how he is
going to balance the budget. He is going to cut one 100th of one percent
of the federal budget, by cutting any subsidies that go to PBS. I don`t
know, I don`t think he is going to quite get to that balanced budget with

JOY REID, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don`t think he`s going to get to
that, Lawrence, but he will stop those socialists Muppets. They`re
different colors. They`re all different indeterminate species all
commingling together on "Sesame Street." So he will stop that.

The problem with the idea of cutting such a small piece of the budget
as PBS is that two thirds of our budget is defense, Social Security,
Medicare and Medicaid. He says he would exempt Social Security from cuts,
and that he would increase military spending. So what Mitt Romney would be
left with would be slashing at least a third out of everything else.

Lawrence, that`s not just Big Bird and Grover. That would also be
school lunches, veterans benefits, things people actually care about,
children`s health care. So he would have to literally slash everything
else in the budget.

O`DONNELL: The politics of it is just looney. Going after something
as popular and this kind of programming for something that is such a tiny
dollar cost that will not even show up, it is not even in the rounding
error margins on the budget, it is just politically dangerous. Peggy
Noonan is warning him against it, Republican -- former Republican speech
writer. She is saying "watch out for Big Bird. Putting the merits and
realities of overall PBS funding aside, Mr. Romney here gave a small gift
to the incumbent. Democrats will exploit it."

I think she is right, Joy. This is a bad place for Romney to go.

REID: I think it is bad. It`s interesting that this was the one bone
that Romney threw to his far right constituents, after obliterating
everything else. They have this obsession with PBS indoctrinating people
and children into socialism. That is the one thing he gave them. And that
is actually really sad, even on "Sesame Street."

O`DONNELL: Yeah. And Joy, I just want to let you know, Nate Silver
has just updated his chances of the president winning tonight to 86.4,
which is the highest chance of winning Nate Silver has projected for the

So much for that debate. And so much for Romney attacking Big Bird.
Not a great idea. Thanks for joining me, Joy.

REID: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: "THE ED SHOW" is up next.


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