'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, October 4th, 2012

October 4, 2012

Guest: Dan Rather

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Great show tonight, man. It
was epic.


MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next

All right. Televised debates have existed in this country since 1960.
That was the really, really famous one, right? It was sweaty Dick Nixon,
sick with a fever, against polished John F. Kennedy. Legend has it that
Richard Nixon heard that JFK was not going to get makeup from CBS for that
debate, and so Nixon said, well, I won`t have any makeup either, then --
even though he was running a 102 degree fever.

And not only was Nixon ill that day, it turned out that when JFK
turned down the CBS makeup offer, it was because he apparently had his own
makeup arrangements already made. And so, we got JFK with makeup and no
fever. We got Richard Nixon with no makeup and a fever. And what we got
on TV in the first televised presidential debate in our nation`s history
was beauty and the beast, right?

Of course, JFK went on to win that election that year, whether or not
it was because of the debate, I don`t know. But thus was born the entire
school of punditry that says it`s all about the optics and watching things
with the sounds off and all that existentially exhausting stuff that we
still say today.

But here is the relevant context for understanding what happened last
night when Mitt Romney beat President Obama in last night`s televised
debate. So the first televised presidential debate that we had was in
1960. Here are all of the other years that we have since have televised
presidential debates. Every four years now, we have these debates on TV.

The only years, though -- so these are all the years, right, that we -
- right? The only years, though, in which you had an incumbent president
running against a challenger in all of the years we`ve had presidential
debates on TV are these years. So in terms of understanding the historical
context of what happened last night when Mitt Romney beat President Obama
in this first debate, this is the universe of like things to compare it to.
This is how to understand it in terms of American political history. It`s
only these years right here. That`s it.

Now, by definition, you never have an incumbent president in this
situation more than once. Presidents can only serve two terms so there`s
only one opportunity when they carry into that debate, when they`re running
for re-election, they carry into that debate the gravitas of being the
president of the United States facing off against some non-president who
wants their job. That only happens once per president. And these are the
only times that has happened on TV in our nation`s history. That`s it.

And this is the situation that President Obama found himself in last
night. It`s only happened six other times in American history.

So how did he do in historical context? There isn`t that much
historical context, right? Like, this is a very knowable thing.

And honestly, that first one, that first one in 1976 where incumbent
President Gerald Ford faced off against challenger Jimmy Carter, honestly,
this one shouldn`t even really count as part of the context like the rest
of them because this one was almost too unusual. I mean, in terms of the
reaction from that first debate, you want to know who won that debate?
Well, watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening. Here`s what did it. A capacitor.
A tiny electronic component costing less than $1. A capacitor blew out
last night in an amplifier ABC was using to feed the pool side to all the
networks, plunging President Ford and Jimmy Carter into unaccustomed
silence for 27 minutes, and irritating maybe 90 million people. That`s


MADDOW: It`s so weird how this has gone down the memory hole in terms
of the way we think about televised presidential debates.

But in 1976 in the first debate ever where a sitting president faced
his challenger in a televised debate -- I mean, yes, it was mixed reviews
in terms of who won. But mostly that was because everybody was so
preoccupied with the fact the debate collapsed on television in a
technicality. Watch this.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: One of the very serious things
that`s happened in our government in recent years and has continued up
until now is a breakdown in the trust among our people and the --


MADDOW: Don`t adjust your set. This is what it was like live. Hold
on for just a second. This is what it was like for people watching the
debate that night.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pool broadcaster from Philadelphia had
temporarily lost the audio. It is not a conspiracy against Governor Carter
or President Ford. They will fix it as soon as possible.

The pool audio from Philadelphia has been lost momentarily. We hope
to have it back any minute. We don`t know what`s happened to it.


MADDOW: It took 27 minutes to get that sound back. So the first time
we had incumbent president face his challenger on TV in a debate in
American history, it was totally novel to the country, it had never
happened before, and the verdict to the extent that there was any clear
winner or not, nobody really seemed to think there was a clear winner.

Frankly, it was almost beside the point. Everybody was distracted
with what went wrong, technically, 27 minutes of silence all blamed on this
tiny little capacitor.

So, mostly, that first one should sort of drop out of the mix because
it was such an outlier from the rest of them and there aren`t that many of
the rest of them. But in terms of the contemporaneous news coverage at the
time, essentially nobody in the country thought the incumbent President
Gerald Ford clearly won that debate.

So, after the first try at this as a nation, the number of first
debates won by an incumbent president facing his challenger on TV is
basically zero. We`ll keep this as a running tally here, right? So zero
wins at this point. Zero wins, one losses. The incumbent presidents are 0
for 1.

How about the next one? 1980.

All right. At that point, the incumbent president was Jimmy Carter.
The challenger was Ronald Reagan. And everybody knows how the election
came out that year.

But that`s not what we`re talking about here. What we`re talking
about is who won that first debate. Was it the incumbent President Jimmy
Carter or was it the challenger Ronald Reagan?


JUDY WOODRUFF, REPORTER: Leaving Cleveland this morning, the
president had a message for anyone who thought Reagan had come across
better in the debate.

CARTER: I think the issues are more important than the performance.

WOODRUFF: The president is visibly more relaxed today than he was on
the stage with Governor Reagan last night. Since there`s no way to know
yet for sure which man helped himself the most, it`s likely that the
president is simply relieved that the debate that many of his advisers
never wanted in the first place is finally behind him.


MADDOW: Relieved that it is over. So that was the coverage the day
after the Reagan/Carter debate.

And because Reagan went on to win the election that year,
retrospectively that 1980 debate has been imbued with a lot of over the top
Reagan worship stuff about his "there you go again" line and his "are you
better off than you were four years ago?" line.

But that enthusiasm for Reagan`s debate performance in 1980 has mostly
been cooked up in subsequent years, in recent decades as conservatives have
decided that Ronald Reagan is their party`s sort of secular saint.

But even if at the time, the reception was not so over the top, it
still was pretty broadly viewed at the time, that Mr. Reagan, that the
challenger, won that debate and Jimmy Carter, the incumbent lost that

So 1980 adds to our tally in terms of first debates won by incumbent
presidents against their challengers. After two tries at it, incumbent
presidents are -- 0-2. OK. We have two tries, 0-2.

Then there`s 1984. At this point, the incumbent president is Ronald
Reagan and his challenger is the mighty, mighty Walter Mondale. But you
can call him Fritz.

You know, we look back at Reagan versus Mondale in 1984 as Reagan
having dominated Mondale because he did beat him so soundly when it came to
Election Day. But we`re not talking about Election Day. We`re talking
about that first debate and in terms of that first debate -- it was
completely the opposite of the way it was on Election Day. Watch.


TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Good evening. I`m Tom Brokaw with NBC "Nightly

A lot of people in most of the instant polls believe Walter Mondale
won an important battle against President Reagan last night.

corner, at a feisty 170 pounds, the new heavyweight debater of the world,
Fighting Fritz Mondale.

REPORTER: At a tumultuous rally, Mondale claimed the debate breathed
new life into his campaign.

brand new race. Today everything is different.

REPORTER: While not claiming a flood of overnight conversions,
Mondale`s aides argue millions of voters finally are listening to Mondale
and rethinking their support for Reagan.

CHRIS WALLACE, REPORTER: The seemingly unstoppable Reagan bandwagon
hit a bad rut last night and the president seemed to know it. Asked who
won the debate as he left Kentucky, all he said was, I`m smiling.

At a North Carolina rally, Mr. Reagan brought up the debate, himself,
and was downbeat.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Whether I won them or not, I`ve
-- I know now that I have won the fruits of victory because I get to be
with all of you.

WALLACE: The real campaigning though, was done by the Reagan staff,
trying to limit damage from the debate.

Last night officials who seldom return reporters` phone calls swarmed
over the press, saying Mondale needed a knockout and got only a draw.
There was even some finger pointing in the Reagan camp. Top campaign
officials say White House officials did a terrible job of preparing the
president, giving him too many facts and failing to organize his answers.

One top official said Mr. Reagan did four mock debates and every time
was as bad as he was last night.

As Mr. Reagan celebrated Columbus Day, aides expect his lead to shrink
with Democrats pushing back to Mondale. They won`t change strategy, saying
voters still back the president on the issues.

For them, the worst thing is a strong Reagan performance might have
clinched the election.

What happened last night gave the Democrats new life.


MADDOW: Any of that sound familiar? That was our nation`s third try
of having an incumbent president debate on TV against his challenger. The
incumbent was Ronald Reagan and got his clock cleaned by Mondale.

So, after a third try as a nation, the tally for incumbent presidents
trying to win these first debates against their challengers was 0-3.

All right. The next time that an incumbent president is facing a
challenger is 1992. The incumbent president is George H.W. Bush. His
major party challenger is a young man from Arkansas. But there`s also this
other guy with the big ears and it`s the other guy with the big ears who
wins the first debate.


TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: The day after, victory for Perot. Clinton
holds his own. Trouble for the president.

There`s no one scorecard for determining who won and who lost last
night, but a consensus does seem to be emerging. Ross Perot, the star of
the night probably because no one knew what to expect, Bill Clinton just
good enough, and President Bush, he`ll have to do much better.

REPORTER: By morning, what had been last night`s analysis had become
conventional wisdom, in the headlines, on the "Today" show.

JOHN DANCY, NBC NEWS: Clinton did what he had to do and Bush did not.

REPORTER: And in instant polls.

KATIE COURIC: Those polls show the president finishing third among
people who watched the first debate.

REPORTER: The Bush people are getting very, very tired of hearing
that the president did not hit a home run last night.


MADDOW: So at this point as a nation, in our entire history as a
country, we have had four national attempts of a challenger making his
television debate debut against the sitting president of the United States.
And after doing this four times as a nation, the record for incumbent
presidents facing these challengers is 0-4.

OK. So now 1996, incumbent president is that now not as young man
from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, and his challenger that year is Bob Dole. Did
Bob Dole really beat incumbent Bill Clinton in their first debate?

Actually, no. This is the exception. Bill Clinton won that first

Here`s what the headlines looked like the next day. "President Proves
Unflappable Facing Dole Barbs".

So the fifth time that we did this as a country, new result. The
incumbent president did clearly defeat his challenger in their first
debate. First time that ever happened in the country.

That moves the tally for incumbent presidents trying to win first
debates against their challenger to 1-4.

So next one, 2004. George W. Bush is the incumbent president. His
challenger is this guy, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

Remember at the Democratic convention this year when John Kerry gave
the bang-up speech about Mitt Romney learning everything he knew about
Russia by watching "Rocky 4", and his overseas trip actually being a
blooper reel and all that stuff? This great barnburner of a very funny
speech by John Kerry.

And everybody said, afterwards, where was that John Kerry when he was
the guy running for president in 2004?

Well, that John Kerry actually did show up in 2004 when he was running
for president. At least he showed up for the first debate against the
incumbent president that year, and in that first debate against the
incumbent president, challenger John Kerry cleaned the president`s clock.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I made a mistake in how I talk
about the war, but the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is

BROKAW: President Bush and Senator Kerry were hard at it again today,
campaigning across battleground states, continuing the spirited debate they
had last night on terrorism in Iraq, but this time, they were not on a
common stage and Kerry had the kind of confidence that comes with polls and
pundits agreeing that he won last night`s showdown.

KERRY: Did you watch that debate last night?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: This was John Kerry today, bolder, declaring
victory, relieving worried Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday, he showed me he`s ready to lead this

GREGORY: In Pennsylvania today, the president tried to overcome
doubts about his debate performance by swinging hard at his opponent. In a
new line of attack, he failed to use last night but may wish he had, Mr.
Bush accused Senator Kerry of more confusing contradictions on Iraq after
first voting to authorize the war.

Even some Bush supporters at today`s rally expected more from the
president last night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he could have been better in another type
of format other than the debate.

GREGORY: And the White House advisers were spinning a Bush debate
victory, they were on the defensive today about the president`s demeanor
last night. The television coverage, he appeared at times irritated,
dismissive, frustrated by his challenger.

been a president and a person who wears his emotion on his sleeve.

GREGORY: If some in the White House thought it would put this race
out of reach, a reality check today. One senior adviser said no one would
put the race way in one night.


MADDOW: OK. So, again, this is not who went on with win the eventual
election. This is just about who won the first debate when a sitting
president is facing his challenger. In 2004, when the incumbent President
George W. Bush lost badly to his challenger that year, that pushed the
tally for incumbent presidents trying to win first debates against their
challengers to 1-5. One win, five losses, in the six times that we had
done it before we did it last night. That`s the sum total of our American
president of putting sitting presidents up against challengers in their
first TV debates.

So, that was the record for incumbent presidents and their challengers
heading into last night`s showdown between incumbent President Barack Obama
and the challenger, Mitt Romney. The record was one for five for
presidents going into a situation like President Obama went into last

And now, of course, the record is 1-6. As President Obama is pretty
unanimously seen, OK, no, unanimously seen as having had his clock cleaned
by Mitt Romney last night.

And there`s more to say about the substance about what claims were
made during the debate, about what was true and what was not true and what
will live and what will be forgotten and how the candidates seem to be
adjusting their campaigns and messages to reflect what happened last night,
in order to position themselves better for the debates coming up. And we
will get to a lot of that this hour. That is all still to come.

But in terms of the nationwide Democratic bedwetting that`s going on
today over the challenger having won this first debate against the
incumbent president, Barack Obama -- come on, kids. Buck up. Challenger
wins first debate is not a headline that should surprise anyone. Let alone
cause anyone to tear their hair out in disbelief.

What happened last night is the historical norm. Had Mr. Romney lost,
given the fact he is behind the polls and given the fact that challengers
basically always win the first debate against an incumbent president, it
would have been historically notable and probably would have been fatal for
the Romney campaign. But the fact it was the president who lost instead
says what exactly about the rest of the race?

Exactly. This modern history right here, the complete record of the
precedent for this sort of thing in American politics predicts exactly
nothing about the outcome of an election after what just happened at they
debate last night. Again, in terms of who won the first debate, the record
for sitting presidents is 1-6 now after last night.

But in terms of who went on to win the election after those first
debates, look -- it`s dead even. Wins, three. Losses, three. Half these
guys won, half these guys lost when it came to Election Day.

And this year, who knows?

The great Dan Rather joins us next.


MADDOW: Dan Rather joins us next for "The Interview".



MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The president began this
segment so I think I get the last word. So I`m going to take it.

JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: You`re going to get the first word in the next

ROMNEY: He gets the first word of that segment. I get the last word
of that segment, I hope. Let me just make this comment.

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

LEHRER: All I want to very quick --


ROMNEY: Let`s get back to Medicare. The president said the
government could provide the service at a lower cost without a profit.
Let`s --

LEHRER: There`s the specific.


ROMNEY: Let me mention the other one, let`s talk --

LEHRER: Let`s not. Let`s let him respond. Let`s let him respond to
this specific on Dodd/Frank and what the governor just said.


MADDOW: Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney rolling over the debate
moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS last night during the first presidential debate
of this campaign season.

Joining us now for the interview is Dan Rather, the host of "Dan
Rather Reports" on AXS TV. He`s the anchor of CBS` "Evening News" for 20
years. Mr. Rather is, of course, a veteran observer of these campaigns.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir. Nice to have you here.

DAN RATHER, AXS TV`s "DAN RATHER REPORTS": Always a pleasure to be

MADDOW: What is your reaction overall to the debate last night? I am
assuming you think Mitt Romney won the debate. What do you think is
important about it?

RATHER: Well, I think what`s important about it is it gives Governor
Romney a chance to get a second look from the electorate. On this program,
not long ago, when he was in a bad patch after the 47 percent, you said,
what does he need? Not to make any more big mistakes and he needs an
outstanding first debate. So, he got that.

So, the advantage for Governor Romney now, a lot of people, most
importantly independent swing voters and undecideds in the key battleground
states, he has an opportunity to get a second look.

But I would say the danger -- there`s a danger for the Obama people.
The danger for the Romney people is that they start moon dancing in the end
zone, begin high fiving, saying we`ve turned this whole thing around. I
think it`s very dangerous for them.

On the Obama side, important to remember, yes, they were beaten, but
you take the view, I can be beaten but never defeated. This doesn`t mean
he`s lost the whole election by any stretch of the imagination. Clearly,
they`re going to have to rethink whatever strategy they had last night.

I found this a very curious performance by President Obama -- puzzling
to say the least. But as you pointed out, the historical record shows two
things. One of which you just detailed, and that is the challenger usually
wins the first debate.

MADDOW: Why do you think that is? I mean, I was surprised going back
at the record to find five of six previous examples were such clear
victories for the challenger.

RATHER: Well, I think there are two main reasons. Number one,
Americans love an underdog and love a good fight. They love a good game.
They love a good race.

So, there`s natural undertow, if you will, for the underdog.

The second is the president, he`s busy with a lot of things during his
presidency. And he doesn`t have the time to prepare.

And give Mitt Romney credit. For those who say, well, he was lucky
last night. Listen, where preparation meets opportunity, that`s what a lot
of people call luck.


RATHER: He was enormously prepared. He also had gone through 19
debates during the primary season. Had spent a great deal of time
preparing for this debate, whereas, it`s no excuse, but President Obama had
a lot of other things to think about.

I also think President Obama made the classic mistake, which is to
underestimate his opponent. And the second mistake -- this is a long list
-- that he viewed this apparently more as a seminar than a debate. Where
you want to say, sir, please, excuse me, Mr. President, sir, but this is a
debate, not a seminar. There were moments when he came off rather
professorial rather than a candidate seeking re-election.

MADDOW: To the extent that there are factors of holding the
presidency, itself, that sort of structurally disincline a president toward
a good debate against a challenger and the way you`re sort of describing
there, are there historical precedents of chief executives, of presidents
turning it around and doing a much better job in subsequent debates? I
mean, are they structurally bound by what it means to be president that
they can`t be good debaters or do they learn from these bad first debates?

RATHER: Well, it depends -- each case stands on its merits.


RATHER: But there have been cases over the years where it`s a wake-up
call, that Romney delivers his own political version of shock and awe to
Obama and his campaign.

And you can bet that President Obama will be much more prepared and
pay more attention next time. But one point we should point out I think,
the vice presidential debate scheduled for next week is always nearly kind
of a throwaway. People watch but don`t pay much attention to it.

The stakes are suddenly raised now for the Paul Ryan versus Joe Biden
debate, because the Obama campaign I don`t think can afford the perception
that they lost two in a row.


RATHER: Now, I would think Vice President Joe Biden`s fingernails are
beginning to sweat a little bit about next Wednesday because he`s somewhat
in the same position as President Obama. He`s been vice president in for
four years, had a lot of things going, been a long time since he`s debated.
Paul Ryan has been in the cut and thrust of Congress, to be better

However, Ryan is in the shoes President Obama was in last night and
the expectations are high for Ryan. I think most people feel that Paul
Ryan will walk Joe Biden`s dog in this debate, and that`s a down for him.

But I would venture that the vice presidential debate may get the
largest audience of any vice presidential debate we`ve had so far, partly
because of what happened last night.

MADDOW: Last time around, in 2008, with the introduction of Sarah
Palin, that was the first time the vice presidential debate was ever the
highest rated debate. We may have this again. It will be fascinating this

RATHER: You know, Romney --


RATHER: Governor Romney, last night, people say he mangled the truth
to put it gently. And the Obama campaign -- they did a smart thing today.
Got up bright and early this morning realizing they took a loss last night
and began pointing out where Governor Romney had not said what he said
before, had not stuck to the truth.

However, we learned again last night, if we needed reminding, that
there`s power in taking the view. Listen, I`m frequently in error, but
never in doubt. I believe what I`m telling you.

And that carries its own power and strength.

MADDOW: Especially when you`re talking to 50 million or 60 million
people at a time. That is a perfect segue to everything we`re doing in the
rest of the hour on this show.

Dan Rather, it is always such an honor to have you here. Thank you.

RATHER: Thank you very much, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you very much.

RATHER: Thank you, Rachel. Enjoy to be on. Thanks.

MADDOW: Dan Rather is the anchor and managing editor of "Dan Rather
Reports", which is on AXS TV.

All right. We`ll be right back.


MADDOW: OK. We do not expect from the Romney campaign and their
surrogates any level of subtlety anymore when it comes to dog whistling
about the president`s race. Por ejemplo, Newt Gingrich --


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I`m assuming there`s some
rhythm to Barack Obama that the rest of us don`t understand, whether he
needs large amounts of rest, whether he needs to go play basketball for a
while. I don`t watch ESPN. I don`t quite know what his rhythms are, but
this is a guy who`s a brilliant performer as an orator who may well get re-
elected at the present date. And who, frankly, happens to be a partial
part-time president. I mean, he really is a lot like the substitute
referees in the sense that he`s not a real president.


MADDOW: OK. Basketball -- check. A performer -- check. Not a real
president -- check. Reference to his rhythm and his need to sleep a lot --
check. Check. Subtle as a sledgehammer, right?

Well, today, the national chairman of the Romney campaign got even
less subtle than Newt. Hold on. That`s coming up.


MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell has
interviewed a lot of scary people and dictators and egomaniacs over the
years. And over the years from doing that, she has endured these scary
people and dictators and egomaniacs saying crazy things to her in close
proximity. But also she has endured worse.


When Rice tried to challenge Sudan`s President Omar al Bashir, his security
men blocked her aides, even slamming one against a wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s not the free press, sir. No. No. It`s
the free press.

MITCHELL: Then security men tried to stop us from covering a photo

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No. No. We don`t let cameras into -- no!
We can`t --

MITCHELL: And when I asked Sudan`s president a question --

(on camera): Can you tell us why the government is still supporting
the militias?

(voice-over): They grabbed me from behind and dragged me out.


MADDOW: When things like this happen to Andrea Mitchell, because she
is such a pro, she is totally Zen through the whole thing. She does not
crack up. She doesn`t yell at people. She doesn`t let her jaw drop to the
floor. He doesn`t do a Loony Tunes style split take.

Andrea Mitchell has an incredible capacity to maintain composure in
difficult circumstances. So, when something happens that causes you, the
viewer, to be able to see and Andrea Mitchell slightly recoil, to see her
be even slightly shocked, that`s really something.

That something happened earlier today. I want you to look closely.
This is Andrea Mitchell on her fantastic 1:00 p.m. MSNBC show today.

Did you see that reaction? That reaction from the unflappable Andrea
Mitchell who never does that? What made that happen?

What made -- watch. That never happens.

Here`s what made that happen. Mitt Romney`s national campaign co-
chairman today dispatched by the campaign to talk about last night`s
debate, here`s how he did it.


JOHN SUNUNU, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: What people saw last night I think was
a president that revealed his incompetence, how lazy and detached he is.

MITCHELL: Governor, I want to give you a chance to maybe take it
back. Did you really mean to call Barack Obama the president of the United
States lazy?

SUNUNU: Yes. I think it -- I think you saw him admit it the night
before when he delivered the pizzas. He said, you know, they`re making me
do this work. He didn`t want to prepare for this debate. He`s lazy and


MADDOW: That is how the national co-chair of the Romney campaign
thinks last night went. That`s how the Romney campaign followed up on
their debate win last night.

National campaign co-chairman saying the president is lazy.

They also put the same man on FOX News to call the president stupid.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t think there will be a better prepared
President Obama on stage next week?

SUNUNU: When you`re not that bright, you can`t get better prepared.


MADDOW: That was the Romney campaign`s post-debate message from their
national campaign co-chair. The president is lazy and not that bright.

Here was the Obama campaign`s post-debate message.


know invested in companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing jobs to
other countries. But the guy on stage last night, he said he`d never heard
of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, never heard of them.
And he said, if that`s true, he must need a new accountant.

So now we know for sure that wasn`t the real Mitt Romney because the
real Mitt Romney is doing just fine with the accountant that he already
has. Whoever it was that was on stage last night doesn`t want to be held
accountable for what the real Mitt Romney`s been saying for the last year.


MADDOW: President Obama cannot rewind and unleash that last night at
the podium? But the way he and his opponent`s campaign have adjusted their
tactics in moving on from last night`s debate tells you more about where
the campaign is going from here than any dial test you saw during last
night`s debate. That`s next with Jonathan Alter.

Please stay with us.



ROMNEY: The president has a view very similar to the view he had when
he ran four years ago, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing
more, regulating more, if you will, trickle-down government, would work.


MADDOW: That was one of the very few lines that stood out in the
first presidential debate. I think just because the term trickle-down
government is a funny phrase and it seems like such a nonsense term. It
turns out not to have been a mistake or marplot.

Governor Romney showed up today at an event in Colorado and in the
span of seven minutes used that new strange term nine times.


ROMNEY: I saw the president`s vision as trickle-down government.
Trickle-down government. Trickle-down government. Trickle-down
government. Trickle-down government. With trickle-down government.
Trickle-down government. And trickle-down government.


MADDOW: Nine times, seven minutes.

The term trickle-down government is nonsensical, literally. It has no
etymological meaning apart from the way it is being used politically. And
its political use is to make the classic and I always thought sort of
vaguely emasculating and kind of gross out accusation of trickle-down
economics seem less understandable. Make that seem less like an
understandable critique of an economic plan and more like campaign mumbo
jumbo nonsense that you hear from both sides.

The phrase trickle down economics has been used for decades, for
generations, to criticize economic plans that rely on supposedly magical
economic effect of giving money to rich people. Rich people doing better
is supposed to trickle down to non rich people somehow. That is the core
of Mr. Romney`s economic ideology and economic plan.

So I think they have coined this other competing trickle-down term so
the insult of trickle-down economics starts to just sound confusing and
meaningless. Trickle-down government, trickle-down economics, both sides
are saying this, I don`t really know what it means, it`s just political

Mr. Romney trying to rob that phrase of its power by using the phrase
itself in new nonsense ways, right?

So, we know one way Mr. Romney may be trying to neutralize expected
attacks on his economic ideas could be to rob his opponent`s words of any
meaning, right?

Now we also know after last night`s debate is the other thing he`s
doing is just saying the economic plan he has been stumping for all year
long is not his plan at all. Mr. Romney worked both those strategies last
night and Mr. Romney, of course, won the debate -- he won on style, he won
presentation, he won on demeanor.

And now, day two is the attempted cleanup for things he actually said.
Today has been a day of Mr. Romney`s campaign saying he did not mean what
he said about people with pre-existing conditions being able to get health
insurance. His campaign said today he does not have a plan for that even
though he said he did.

The Romney campaign today said he did not mean what he said about half
the energy companies supported by the Obama administration going bankrupt.
He didn`t actually mean that. Sort of rolled over from Democratic and
liberal bewilderment last night that Mr. Romney was abandoning his main
economic plan that he was running on, his $5 trillion tax cut plan, his big
trickle-down plan, to be rolled over from Democrats being bewildered about
that to the Beltway press and mainstream pundits I think now having a hard
time deciding whether they are supposed to call that a lie or whether
they`re supposed to just say this is a radically new position for the
candidate and welcome to it.

Joining us now is Jonathan Alter, columnist for "Bloomberg News" and
an MSNBC political analyst.

Mr. Alter, it is great to have you here.


MADDOW: How does President Obama counter the strategy of Mitt
Romney`s to unveil whole new ideas or deny he ever held the ideas that he
plainly has held? I mean, it`s one thing to have a truth squad fact
checking online. But how do you counter that thing in real time at the

ALTER: Well, there`s two separate problems. One is the "I`m rubber,
you`re glue," you know, what you say bounces off and sticks to you.


ALTER: So, he did that with trickle-down, to just try to confuse
everybody, throw up a lot of smoke about that word, trickle-down. So, both
sides --

MADDOW: He did that with war on women, too. Remember that too?

ALTER: He did it with war on women and has done it in the past on
saying that Obama wants to, quote, "end Medicare as we know it".

MADDOW: Right, exactly.

ALTER: So that, again, to throw up a lot of confusion about who`s the
one who`s really changing Medicare?

So, this is where the president failed most, is he needs to call him
out when he does that. So, right at the top of that debate last night when
Romney first mentioned trickle-down government, Obama, obviously -- it`s
easy to say in retrospect -- but he obviously should have said, no, you`re
the avatar, you`re the big supporter of trickle-down economics, let`s not
confuse the issue, let`s be clear, you believe in trickle-down economics
and grab the initiative.

He has to do that the next time when Romney plays these word games.

MADDOW: And is the thing to do to name the tactic? You are doing
this in order to confuse the fact, in order to, you know, occlude the
accusation against you that -- I mean --

ALTER: Is that how you do it? You go after the tactic -- and then,
again, it`s very easy to say, this as a Monday morning quarterback -- then
you pivot to the substance of it and explain why what he just said is not
true. You don`t call him a liar or say that`s not true, or do something
that can end up, you know, going viral in some way that is not helpful to
the campaign. Just have to very clearly and cogently, and it was cogency
that was lacking last night, rip through the other guy`s point.

MADDOW: The other part of it is Mitt Romney saying that he does not
espouse positions that he`s been running on all year. President did try to
get him on that, on the $5 trillion tax cut thing. I`m not sure he
effectively pinned him down on that though the Obama campaign was spinning
that they did.

ALTER: OK, I think they made a mistake on that issue, the Obama
people did, by going with the $5 trillion, because that, you know, policy
wonks can debate whether it amounts to $5 trillion or not. What they can`t
debate, it`s a 20 percent tax reduction for the wealthiest Americans. That
is a plain irrefutable fact and if they used that, it would, first of all,
explain more what this is, which is a tax cut for the wealthy, which was
one of several points the president wasn`t able to actually convey in a
clear way. And would also be, you know, be on dispute factually.

MADDOW: And when a -- sorry, go ahead.


MADDOW: When Paul Ryan spoke at the Republican convention, the first
reaction was, wow, young fresh guy, so handsome. You know, there`s like --
an immediate positive response. Later that night, that same eve evening in
the same news cycle, the sort of second breath response was, wow, there are
a lot of lies there.

And the long-term story of the Paul Ryan speech at the convention is
that he told a lot of lies. I mean, the two stories out of the Republican
convention were what was up with Clint Eastwood, and Paul Ryan, did you
hear about his marathon time, too?

ALTER: Lot of lies there.

MADDOW: Can the Obama -- does the Obama still have that option, to
turn the legacy of this first debate into that for Romney?

ALTER: I don`t think so. I think the first debate will be remembered
for Romney one and two, Big Bird, which was not helpful to Romney. But
that`s the image that will be on Saturday night live.


ALTER: The only way to turn that to his advantage is to make damn
sure in the second debate that they call him out on it and then they will
use the results of the first debate to improve his performance in the
second debate and it will all seem like ancient history if the president
can come back.

Remember, his big mistake is that he went into a prevent defense. He
was sitting on his lead. He`s not going to make that mistake the next

He`s a fourth quarter performer. He is a very competitive guy. And I
think we can expect he will come back with a strong performance.

MADDOW: Jonathan Alter, "Bloomberg News" columnist, MSNBC political
analyst, thank you for being here. I was very excited to talk about this
and I interrupted you a lot, I`m sorry.

ALTER: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: All right. So, it turns out we have a really unfortunate
scoop. It`s out of Pennsylvania and that story is coming up next here,
exclusively. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Before the big unavoidable news of the first presidential
debate this week, before that ate the rest of the news in this political
news cycle, on Tuesday of this week, on debate eve, something happened that
could have a major impact on the upcoming election.

On Tuesday, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that voters don`t need a voter
ID to vote in this year`s election. So, changing voter rules that was
potentially going to disenfranchise up to one in eight voters in that big
swing state, those new rules were put on hold.

But whether or not people who do not have a driver`s license in
Pennsylvania are disenfranchise and don`t participate in this election may
depend not just on whether that law technically has gone into effect, or if
it has been locked, which it has. It will depend in part on whether or not
people think that law has gone into effect, whether people in Pennsylvania
believe that if they don`t have a driver`s license or another suitable ID,
they shouldn`t bother showing up to vote.

That ought to be a consequence of whatever the law is in Pennsylvania,
but in the real world, it`s a consequence of what people believe the law is
in Pennsylvania.

Before the ruling this week, when the law stated that you did need an
ID to vote, here`s what the consumer-friendly voting in Pennsylvania Web
site, votespa.com told voters. This is the big splash page at the go here
if you have questions about the election, user friendly widely advertised
Web site that the state of Pennsylvania is telling everybody to go to.
This is how that Web site greets voters as of earlier this week, before the
judge`s ruling.

That small print, you see, voters are required to show an acceptable
photo ID before casting their ballot, after the judge`s ruling, after it
became legally clear that you do not need to have an ID to vote in
Pennsylvania, it is actually OK for you to go vote if you don`t have a
driver`s license, you are welcome at the polling place -- here is how they
changed the Web site, you ready?

Look at that difference. Oh yes, there it is. It`s little change in
the small print. They have changed the fine print there. But the overall
impression is pretty much the same. If you don`t have a driver`s license,
the implicit message here is don`t show up.

Pennsylvania is a hotly contested swing states. But this is going on
in other states, states where they were not able to change the law, to keep
people without ID from being able to vote. But where there is still an
effort to try to block people without ID from voting anyway, by just making
people those people think they won`t be allowed to vote, so don`t bother
showing up.

In Idaho, here`s what that look like. In Idaho, You are not required
to show ID in order to vote. If you don`t have an ID, you can show up and
you can vote.

But here is what the state is distributing as their hopeful and handy
informational booklet to voters. Bring your ID and vote. Tada!

You hear about rogue vigilante under the radar, shady things like this
every election year, right? It seems like there`s more of them than usual
going on this year. These external groups are trying to convince people
not to show up or to be intimidated if they do show up.

But it`s is another thing for it to be your state, right? Your state
using your tax dollars to miss inform you about what your voting rights are
in your state.

So let`s say you found yourself, I don`t know, perplexed by the very
subtle change on the Votes PA Pennsylvania voter information Web site.
Let`s see you, for some reason, found this change slightly confusing. So,
you decided to inform yourself. Call the state elections office directly,
get it straight once and for all. You go to the Pennsylvania state Web
site, votesPA.com and you call the toll free number that they list there,
1-877-VOTESPA, this is what you get.


OPERATOR: Thank you for calling the Pennsylvania Department of State
Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation.

Press one for English.



OPERATOR: Press one for information on Pennsylvania new voter ID law.
Press 2 --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. All Pennsylvania voters will be required
to show a photo ID before voting at a polling place, beginning with the
November 2012 general election. All photo IDs must be current and contain
an expiration date unless otherwise noted.

Acceptable photo IDS --


MADDOW: Today, that`s today when you call the official number. That
is not the law at all in Pennsylvania. You don`t have to have a driver`s
license or any other ID in order to vote in Pennsylvania. You do not.

But when you call the state`s official number to figure out how to
vote, that is the outgoing message telling you, you need to have ID, as of

So, naturally when we got that recording, one of our producers called
back and asked why. Why the confusing Web site? Why the totally wrong,
outgoing message from the state?


VOTESPA SPOKESMAN: We`re trying to reach out and figure out all of
our marketing campaigns, all the ads out there, whether it was advertised,
whether it`s TV ads, and just check and make sure everything is, in a
sense, compliant with the judge`s ruling and to make sure that`s nothing`s
out there that`s sending mixed messages to the voters.


SPOKESMAN: But we encourage anyone who`s confused or has questions to
go on the VotesPA Web site or to call up that number on the VotesPA
information to let us know and to find out more about everything that`s
going on.

PRODUCER: OK. But your out going message is actually like sending
not just a mixed message but it`s like a factually incorrect message to the
voters right now. Can you change that message, do you think?



SPOKESMAN: For something like that. It is important to call us and
contact us like you are doing right now.


MADDOW: Like you`re doing right now.

After we called, they did remove that outgoing message all together.
No rush. It`s not like we are in an election season, or anything, people
are making their decisions about voting. Don`t rush, you guys.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a
great night.


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