RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL STRATEGIST: But right now, if you impeach Donald Trump in the House, you what he does he raise his $250 million and laugh his ass off about it because nothing happens in the Senate. It will not -- he will not be convicted in the Senate. There no days (INAUDIBLE) where Donald Trump is suddenly booed out of the White House because the House is suppose to impeach him. Nothing will happen.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Jason Johnson, a quick last word.
JASON JOHNSON, American PROFESSOR: He was going to do that anyway. He is already going to raise $250 million. Do the vote and force the Republicans --
JOHNSON: -- and defend a crook.
O"DONNELL: All right, we`re way into overtime. Jason Johnson, Rick Wilson, thanks you both for joining us tonight really, appreciate it. That is tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams actually should have started a few seconds ago.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Breaking tonight from "The New York Times," a decade of Trump`s taxes show, quote, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer. The reporter who broke this story is standing by with all the details.
Plus, we are just hours away from a vote in House Judiciary on whether to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt. The White House tells Don McGahn not to hand over documents subpoenaed by House Democrats. He also could be held in contempt.
And the Senate majority leader today provides air cover for the President. Mitch McConnell says case closed on Russia, all of it, and much more as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.
Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams. Day 838 of the Trump administration, and tonight a brand-new report from "The New York Times" offering one of the most detailed looks we have had at Donald Trump`s finances during a decade-long portion of his career. "The Times" has obtained some of the President`s tax information from the years 1985 to 1994. This was a roller coaster period of time that saw Trump go from being a preeminent symbol of the high-living 1980s to the verge of bankruptcy.
That story has been known, but we are now learning for the first time all the details which are vivid in the numbers which are staggering. Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig report, "The data which are printouts from Mr. Trump`s official internal revenue service tax transcripts, with the figures from his federal tax firm, the 1040, for the 1985 to 1994 represents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the President`s tax, information he has kept from public view."
"The Times" notes that the information does not cover the tax years Congresses is now seeking. Continuing from the story, "The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses, largely casinos, hotels, and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totalling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade. In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, "The Times" found when it compared his results with detailed information the IRS compiles on an annual sampling of high income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991, more than $250 million each year were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the IRS information for those years."
And as we said, a generation ago, Donald Trump`s dissent into debt was a major story nationally. What did it look like in real-time? Well, from April of 1991, here is NBC`s Mike Jensen reporting back then what in that moment looked like the demise of the man who had been dubbed the Donald.
MIKE JENSEN, NBC NEWS: When you borrow as much money as Donald Trump did, nearly $2 billion and the economy goes into a tailspin and you can`t pay the interest on your loans, the bankers move in, and they have. Here`s what`s in the works.
Donald`s $100 million yacht goes to the Boston safe deposit and trust company. His half interest in The Grand Hyatt hotel goes to bankers trust. His interest in Alexander`s Department store goes to Citicorp. His Trump shuttle goes to Northwest Airlines.
What Donald Trump gets is a chance to start over. He probably won`t have to declare bankruptcy. On the boardwalk in Atlantic City, he keeps his casinos. In New York, he keeps the plaza hotel, which he hopes to convert into condominiums. He keeps the old Pennsylvania railroad yards. He wants to turn them into a real estate development.
What he doesn`t keep is Ivana. She divorced him and got $14 million. If Donald wasn`t so badly in hock, she might have gotten $2.5 billion. Donald is trying to put a good face on all this. "I wasn`t free to wheel and deal during my divorce," he says. "Now I`m able to do what I do best."
But a lot of people think Donald has had his day, that his game of monopoly is almost over. The man who was the darling of the 1980s is seen in the 1990s as a man in trouble, and he knows it. "I`m being put up there," says Donald, "with Gorbachev and the Kurds."
KORNACKI: And that was 28 years ago back in the present day, though, as we`ve been reporting, House Democrats right now are demanding six years of Donald Trump`s tax returns, recent returns, not from the years that tonight`s "Times" story explores.
And just yesterday Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he would refuse to comply with that demand. And "The Times" points out, "The new tax information does not answer questions raised by House Democrats in their pursuit of the last six years of Mr. Trump`s returns about his recent business dealings and possible foreign sources of financing and influence."
Here for a lead-off discussion on a Tuesday night, one of the reporters on tonight`s big story, Russ Buettner, Investigative Reporter for "The New York Times." H e was part of "The Times" team that just won a Pulitzer for their reporting on the President`s finances. Tim O`Brien, Executive Editor of Bloomberg Opinion. His latest book is called "Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald." And in D.C. tonight, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today and author of the best-selling Barbara Bush biography "The Matriarch." Thanks to all of you for being with us.
Russ, let me start with a very basic question for you because everybody has been asking about the President`s tax returns, and you have extremely detailed information about the President`s taxes from 1985 to 1994, but this was not by actually looking at his returns. Explain exactly what you saw here and how you got this information.
RUSS BUETTNER, THE NEW YORK TIMES INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Sure. There is a database that the IRS creates from every tax that gets filed. Now it`s done automatically from e-Filings than it was key-punched in and it`s used to determine who they`re going to audit, set national policy, and they also create something called a tax transcript.
If a taxpayer wants to know what their return looked like three years ago, they can get a two or three-page printout that has every number that was on the 1040 and the attached schedules. And what we obtained was a printout from those numbers referring to Mr. Trump for those years. I can`t really go into how we got it. It was a difficult process to both get it and to confirm it.
KORNACKI: Is there something -- I`m just curious here too, because this is obviously 1985 to 1994. And as your story documents, this covers as we just showed what looked in realtime the folks watching the news nearly 90s, like the end of Donald Trump. Is there a particular reason why those are the years you got access to and not other years?
BUETTNER: No, those are just the years we are able to get. But it is an extraordinarily colorful period of his life during which he is jst constantly churning through different kind of interests and focus and one thing is collapsing and it`s being propped up by something else and then ultimately as you said in that great piece pointed out, the whole thing sort of falls apart.
KORNACKI: And again, just the headline here, over this decade long period, $1.17 billion in losses. And it looks like half of those losses roughly coming in those years 1990 and 1991. That is what the real estate market was collapsing at that time. The economy was going down. He borrowed too much and it caught up to him in that moment? Is that what it was?
BUETTNER: It was really that. He really -- he designed businesses that were just not good on the cost side. He just took on too much debt, and they never sustained themselves from the revenue he generated. And he overbuilt in Atlantic City. And all of that very much came to roost.
But one of the most interesting things to us in this was that his troubles really started in 1985, which is the first year that we have him, maybe before that, the year before that he recorded losses as well. So even in the period that looked like his real heyday, he was recording major business losses year after year.
KORNACKI: Tim, I remember I was a kid, but I remember going to the supermarket with my mom in the early 1990s and Donald Trump on the cover of the tabloids, his empire in ruins, his marriage in ruins at the time. Fast forward a generation later. Obviously he is President now. We just showed that clip from NBC News. How on earth did -- was that not the end of Donald Trump? How did he get out of that jam?
TIM O`BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMPNATION": Well, he was fortunate to have a very wealthy father. So a lot of people who have gone to the kind of straits he went financially wouldn`t have had a safety net once he fell off. He had to borrow from his family on at least one occasion for tens of millions of dollar that protected him from going into personal bankruptcy. He borrowed against his inheritance from his father`s estate.
His father came to his rescue at a number of different times when he couldn`t pay his debts.
So fist and foremost, Donald Trump is, you know, somebody who is born on third base and claimed he hit a triple. He has always been a beneficiary of his father`s wealth. But he ended up being a pariah for most of the 1990s of major banks. After he almost went bankrupt in the early 1990s, most major banks wouldn`t touch him. He lost most of his major businesses. He held on to his condominium and Mar-a-Lago, and that`s about it. And he essentially became a human shingle. And he would license his name out for a fee.
And during this whole period, he was lying about how much money he actually had. He stayed in the eye -- public eye saying he was a billionaire and a particularly skillful entrepreneur, when the record itself showed he wasn`t worth as much money as he said, and that he was routinely running his businesses into the ground.
And I think one of the things that Russ is reporting bears out that there`s proof that during actually the meat of his career, when he was -- to the last time he actually did substantially large deals, he was losing 10s of millions of dollars.
KORNACKI: So this is a key turning point, then. The early 1990s just in career of Donald Trump, going from it, it sounds like you`re saying going from really being heavily invested in real estate, really being heavily invested in that world to being a branding enterprise.
O`BRIEN: Well, and being a creation of the banks, and not having the kind of financial discipline to make sure he wasn`t overpaying for properties and that he was running them properly.
And ultimately he burned the banks for over $3 billion. He had guaranteed about $900 million in which he couldn`t pay back. So really from the early 1990s until the dawn of "The Apprentice" in around 2004, he had become this punch line about the excesses of the 1980s and 1990s. And then "The Apprentice" really resurrected him and a whole new generation got to know him as something a previous generation began to laugh at.
KORNACKI: And that`s the other part of this, the political aspect of this, Susan. I mean, "The Apprentice" I think debuted in 2004. He did have that, I guess you could call a sort of campaign for President in 1999 and 2000, didn`t fully get off the ground. Then there was "The Apprentice." And obviously 2016, he presents himself to the country as this great business success story.
SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Yes. And of course the details in this "New York times" report tonight are quite at odds with the public image that Donald Trump was presenting to the world, the idea that he knew the art of the deal and could write a book about it while being a deal maker who got losses that outpaced basically any other American on the scene for those years are quite extraordinary.
There are some things, of course, we don`t know from this. And one of the things I think we don`t know is why Donald Trump has been so determined to shield these taxes from public view. Is it simply because it shows him not to be the great businessman that he has described himself as being, or is there something else that we`re not quite seeing yet that tells us why he has broken with 40 years of American tradition for U.S. presidents in not releasing his tax returns.
KORNACKI: And Susan, I guess the question too, I think we`re always asking this when there are these big stories, surprise revelation, whatever you want. Do you think this fundamentally changes the way folks look at Donald Trump or was this in some way baked in?
PAGE: I, you know, if this had been known from the very beginning, I think it might have had some effect in undercutting his image as a successful business who could make a deal with China or members of Congress or whoever. But at this point I don`t think it has big political impact, at least not so far, not unless we learn more that we don`t know yet.
I think the reason his supporters have been so loyal to him are apart and distinct from the idea that he was in fact a successful businessman. I t has more to do with his attitude of grievance towards some of the developments in the United States and a feeling by some of his -- many of his supporters that they`ve gotten a raw deal in recent years in the United States.
KORNACKI: And it seem to the point that Susan raises there, the more recent tax returns that the House Ways and Means Committee is trying to get, six years` worth of them. What`s your sense of what might be in those? If the sort of story that emerges from these tax records that "The Times" is reporting about is whoa, this guy was way out over his skis, is it more of that, do you suspect? Is it -- what do you think might be there?
O`BRIEN: No, I think he`s routinely been way out over his skis for his entire career. I think -- I don`t think the current -- the period of time that the Congress is trying to get records for now goes back far enough. I think there is a very relevant 2004 to 2008 period in which a lot of -- hundreds of millions of dollars comes into the Trump organization, the source of which is a mystery to me. And Trump went on a spending spree. He bought golf courses in Scotland. He became financially involved with the Trump SoHo Hotel.
And I think there was allegations of money laundering in the Trump SoHo hotel. I think the reason that period matters is it`s a predicate to his presidency. And did he develop relationships during that time or financial relationships that ended up compromising his ability or his independence when he became President. And I think that that`s the really relevant time period.
KORNACKI: Russ, and I encourage everybody to go read the article, but for this period, all of these masses losses, all of these risks he`s taking, is there a success story in there at all? Is there anything that you can point to in that period and say here`s where Trump made some money, where something went right for him?
BUETTNER: Yes, it`s a great question. I mean, there are a few things amid all this red ink that kind of pop up and then ultimately fall back down again. There was a brief period of time when he started trading stocks. He would buy stocks on leverage quietly, leak a story that he had bought a large share in a company and he was thinking about taking it over. And after there was a rise, shortly later sell it and then never follow through. That lasted about two years. But it netted him I think $60 plus million in that brief period of time.
KORNACKI: Just from buying some stock, putting the word out that hey, maybe I want to buy this company, take this company over.
KORNACKI: It would shoot up in value and he would make tens of millions of dollars?
BUETTNER: Yes. And that`s part of his magic, it`s that charisma that your really -- no matter what you think of him you can`t take that from him. He is able to make things happen just by force of his personality and the sort of thing that he created around himself in this time that he was really something he wasn`t, a hugely successful business person. That ran out of gas, and the market figured out he never follows through on this. And so he ultimately lost $30 million on one stock trade.
And then there was another period of time when he bought an airline, and that didn`t really work. There is a huge payment in this period that we can`t figure out. It`s a $50 million -- $50 million in interest income in one year alone. There were auditors that were all in his books at the time and said he had on any given day between $2 million and $100 million in sort of liquid investments and cash that you can invest. Well, you can`t make $50 million even in that era from $100 million in investable income -- investment income.
So, we just don`t know what that is. But those two things very much kind of sustain him through this late 1980s period when his own debts are really starting to bury him before it all falls apart in the early 1990s.
KORNACKI: I have to say, I`m getting some ideas here. I might go buy some stock tomorrow and then start some rumors my self, see what happens.
Russ Buettner, does a fantastic reporting there. Appreciate you stopping by. Tim O`Brien, Susan Page, thank you to both of you as well.
And coming up, we are just hours away from a vote to hold the United States Attorney General in contempt. The latest reporting on the showdown between the Trump administration and Congress.
And later, electability, we keep hearing that word over and over during the campaign. What does it actually mean? We`re going to dive into how it played in past elections and how it could affect the race this time around. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Tuesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: The Special Counsel`s finding is clear. Case closed. Case closed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Democrats on the Hill are reacting with outrage to that declaration today from the Senate Majority Leader and with resolve to press ahead with their efforts to further investigate the President. But just a short time ago, the Justice Department sent a new warning to House Democrats about their effort to force the Attorney General to hand over the full Mueller report.
In just a few hours, the House Judiciary Committee plans to vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for his refusal to comply with a subpoena for Mueller`s complete unredacted findings.
Tonight the Justice Department has now sent a letter to the Committee Chairman, Jerrold Nadler, demanding that that vote be canceled or Barr will recommend the White House assert executive privilege over the reporting -- over the report and the supporting material.
A House Judiciary Democratic aide telling NBC News that members are still scheduled to vote on that measure tomorrow morning. And that is just one battle in the administrations war on Congressional Oversight.
Earlier today the White House ordered former counsel Don McGahn to defy a House Judiciary subpoena for documents related to the Mueller investigation. McGahn, who is cited more than any other witness in the Mueller report, had been ordered by the Committee to turn over those materials today. President Trump is also trying to block McGahn from testifying later this month before that same panel.
Tonight Chairman Nadler is now threatening to hold McGahn in contempt if he doesn`t appear at a hearing or produce those documents.
With us for more, Shannon Pettypiece, White House Correspondent for Bloomberg, and Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Contributor for Politico. Thanks to both of you for being with us.
Shannon, this has, as just said, escalated within the last hour. So now the Department of Justice is telling Jerry Nadler`s Judiciary Committee that if they go forward with this contempt vote, that the White House is just going to start -- the Attorney General I should say will recommend to the White House that they just start asserting executive privilege on what? On everything the Judiciary is asking for?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and it seems like the White House was going in that direction anyway. There has been this dance going back and forth, and part of what we`re seeing here is the White House and the justice department trying to slow that dance down, sort of trying to run out the clock, trying to drag things out. And the Congressional committees trying to speed it up, speed it up, speed it up.
The White House wants to get in sort of a back and forth negotiation here. And the committees want to move things as quickly as possible. For example, with this Don McGahn subpoena, the White House didn`t all-out say no, McGahn is not turning over these documents. They said, well, actually these documents reside with the White House. Don McGahn has them, but he is not authorized to give them. You need to reissue your subpoena to the White House.
The DOJ in this letter is making this argument about an accommodation process. They want to, you know, sort of get into the details of who can see it and who can`t see it rather than giving any sort of hard and fast definitive answer. So their end, it`s all about running out the clock here.
KORNACKI: Yes. So, Josh, what is likely to happen right now with this pending vote? Apparently the Judiciary Committee still planning to go forward with it. If they do, what would that mean?
JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it means that Barr, Attorney General Barr could be held in contempt. Potentially Don McGahn, although I think that may slip to the back burner a little bit as Barr takes center stage. And we`ve also seen the fight over Barr become a proxy for the broader discussion that some Democrats don`t seem to want to have about impeachment. It`s a much simpler vote to go after the Attorney General.
I also think one other thing that`s going on here is this accommodation process is a prelude to potential court battles over all of these issues. When they go into court, I think the Executive Branch will be in a better position if they can argue, look, we`ve tried to accommodate Congress` request and they`ve been completely uncooperative with us. On the other hand, you have the President every time he gets in front of a camera sort of drawing a red line and saying it`s over, we`re not going to do this anymore and that argument won`t go down as well in court.
KORNACKI: Let me ask you about the time line in all of this too, though, because Shannon is talking about the idea of running the clock. Democrats are accusing the White House of saying, look, they`re just trying to get past the 2020 election without anything else happening here. If it does turn into the kind of legal battle you`re describing, is that something that`s going to take months, weeks, years, how long do you think that would take to sort out?
GERSTEIN: It would take at least months and it could potentially take years.
Now, if it`s a total stand off and both sides won`t negotiate at all, maybe it could be resolved before the 2020 election. But if they really get into a protractive back and forth, it could go on a long, long time. You know, the last attorney general who went through this was Eric Holder, and that court battle which begun about five years ago is still pending today, it`s still pending in front of the courts. Both sides have kind of switch positions in that case, but that gives you a sense of these things can actually move at a really glacial pace once they into the court system.
KORNACKI: OK. That`s an important point to keep in mind there. Shannon and Josh are staying with us.
Coming up, on top Democrat accuses Donald Trump of goading the party into impeaching him. But other Democrats are getting impatient, more on that when THE 11TH HOUR continuous.
KORNACKI: Shortly after Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, declared case closed in the Mueller investigation, Senator Elizabeth Warren offered a different take on the Senate floor. Warren said the Mueller report makes clear that President Trump, "worked actively to obstruct justice" and she renewed her call for impeachment.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not a fight I wanted to take on, but this is the fight in front of us now. This is not about politics. This is about the constitution of the United States of America. We took an oath not to try to protect Donald Trump. We took an oath to protect the -- and serve the constitution of the United States of America. And the way we do that is we begin impeachment proceedings now against this President.
KORNACKI: We also heard from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today on that question, the question of impeachment, and she struck a different note.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: Trump is goading us to impeach him. That`s what he`s doing. Every single day he is just like taunting, taunting, taunting, because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country, but he doesn`t really care. Just wants to solidify his base.
KORNACKI: Pelosi is obviously a critic of President Trump, to put it mildly, but she has repeatedly urged caution on moving ahead with impeachment. Shannon Pettypiece and Josh Gerstein are still with us.
Shannon, I`m curious the position Pelosi is in here. It`s obvious she does not want Democrats strategically to be going ahead with the impeachment. A lot of people say she remembers 1998 when there was this blowback against Republicans for pushing ahead with it back then. That might be part of her thinking on this. But is this somebody who in statements like we just played there, is she trying hard to convince Democrats to sort of keep them in line on this, or is she sort of expressing a consensus view there?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WH CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, she is trying to walk this line in her party between those who want impeachment and those who want to move on. Remember, there are a lot of members of the House selected in districts that voted for Trump. They are in more conservative districts, and they`re going to are to go back to their, you know, constituents in two years and explain why they impeach the President if they go down this road. I think that she is correct based on the advisers to Trump that I have talked to that they do want to see impeachment. The President`s advisers see no downside in impeachment right now. They see that as a battle they can fight.
They know there is not support in the Senate to remove the President from office, so they say go ahead, impeach the President. They do not see a downside in these hearings continuing, because yes, while they continue to bring up negative information about the President that was in the Mueller report, they think that if anything, it`s just going to detract from issues Democrats could be focusing on where Republicans and the President are more vulnerable like health care, for example, or infrastructure, things that the President hasn`t accomplished, and they think that the Democrats risk overplaying their hand.
So in Trump world, they are fine seeing the continued hearings here, and I think they genuinely do not have a concern with impeachment.
KORNACKI: I think we can put our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on the question of impeachment. There were actually three different options, you`re seeing two combined there, to either do impeachment now, hold impeachment hearings right now or keep on investigating and leave that possibility open. That`s 49%. The move on position, no impeachment, just move on to something else, 48%.
Interesting to me there, Josh, though, the number they are saying let`s move to impeachment right now. A number of Americans saying that 17% are there right now. It seems like even among some Democrats, certainly Independents, not just Republicans, there is apprehension right now about moving in that direction.
JOSH GERSTEIN, SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR, POLITICO: Yes, there`s no question that there is a sense among some people that this would be a mistake. I think the White House advisers think it`s a two for them if the House goes in this direction they get base activation and they get alienation of moderate voters from the Democrats who think that the Democrats are off on some sort of a lark that goes after the President. And as you say, it`s not going to mean anything in the Senate anyway. We think it`s almost impossible to get the two-thirds vote in the Senate.
What I do wonder, though is that whether House leaders are taking into account -- we were talking earlier about these legal battles over trying to get all kinds of records from Trump, the banking records, the tax records, the records from the Trump organization. The House really could strengthen its hand by declaring impeachment proceedings. When you go into impeachment proceedings in an impeachment inquiry, everything is on the table. The House decides what it is that constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors. And I think the courts would be extraordinarily deferential, and during Watergate they were very deferential as to what the House wanted to look at, including listening to Nixon`s tapes.
But sure of that, you may have a more granular look or what is this committee investigating? Why does it need those specific Trump tax returns or that specific bank loan information?
KORNACKI: Well and that`s the key question I think or one of them, Shannon is this issue of the subpoenas on all these other issues. If this impasse continues, if it accelerate, intensifies, does that change the appetite among Democrats at all to say hey, let`s revisit this impeachment issue?
PETTYPIECE: Well, I think Josh has a really great point there to the fact that if the Democrats really want to have a legal argument to get the documents they want, they`re going to have to do it through an impeachment hearing. At least that`s one of the legal arguments. Because right now they`re requesting things like tax documents or business records, and the White House and the President`s lawyers are just going to respond to that and say well, what is your legislative purpose? That`s the word they keep using, legitimate legislative purpose. What is your legitimate legislative purpose in asking for information about the President`s private business?
If they don`t have an impeachment hearing, that`s going to be a harder argument for them to make. They`ll try and make it, but it makes it more difficult. If they go into impeachment, yes, then they can -- they have a better shot at getting this. But of course, yes, that comes with the political connotation. And it`s going to look like Democrats are potentially on this partisan witch hunt, and it could have this blowback like it did with Clinton and make Trump look more of a sympathetic figure and the Democrats look like people who are not there to legislate that there are people who are just there to, you know, obstruct the President, which is the pitch the Trump camp is making.
KORNACKI: All right, Shannon Pettypiece, Josh Gerstein, thanks to both of you.
And coming up, with voters now hearing from nearly two dozen Democratic candidates for President, that word "electability." You are hearing it everywhere. What exactly does it mean? How can you actually figure out who`s got it and who doesn`t? We`re going to go to the big board and take an interesting trip into the past to help us inform the present. When THE 11TH HOUR continues.
KORNACKI: All right. This is going to be a fun one. I`ve been looking forward to it. That word, electability. You`re hearing it all the time right now. Joe Biden wants Democrats to think he`s the guy who can beat Trump. All the other candidates trying to make their arguments too. We hear so much about electability. How do you measure it? How do you know who has it? How do you know who doesn`t? It`s so subjective, and yet it is a permanent condition of primary campaign politics. Electability always seems to come up.
And so what we thought we would do is take a quick and fun trip down memory lane using the old NBC News archives and show you some of the times it has come up in all sorts of primary campaigns in the past. And you can see, sometimes the arguments in hindsight look spot-on. Sometimes they look laughably silly, and sometimes we`ll just never know.
And here`s what I mean. Let`s go all the way back to 1992. Remember this guy? Bill Clinton. They were calling him Slick Willie in the `92 primaries. The Vietnam draft (ph) scandal, the Gennifer Flowers scandal, and his opponents on the eve of the Georgia primary in `92 were desperate to stop him. And so they leaned on electability.
Take a look.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still, one opponent, Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey now warns that if Clinton is nominated, he won`t be able to campaign on the issues against President Bush. On a stage full of war veterans, Kerrey warned that Clinton`s draft problems could mean another disaster for the Democratic Party.
BOB KERREY, FMR SENATOR: But if he is the nominee of the party, he will be the issue, and not the issue of jobs and not the issue of the economy. The Republican Party knows how to exploit every single weakness. I will tell you today that Bill Clinton should not be the nominee of our party because he will not be able to win.
KORNACKI: Bob Kerrey saying that. But Bob Kerrey obviously was wrong. Bill Clinton was nominated. Bill Clinton won in 1992. How about 1996? Republicans need an opponent who could beat Bill Clinton. This guy, Lamar Alexander. Remember him? He campaigned in 1996 for the Republican nomination. And he told Republicans to remember their ABCs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The former Tennessee governor talks about new ideas, but the principle idea he is pushing is that he is electable.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, (R) TENNESSEE: Remember your ABCs, Alexander beats Clinton.
KORNACKI: Alexander beats Clinton, he said. Well, we`ll never know. Alexander was not able to beat Dole in 1996 in the primaries. So he don`t know if Alexander could have beaten Bill Clinton, but he ran on it. 2000 is George W. Bush, John McCain running for the Republican nomination. The winner was going to face Al Gore. The vice President and John McCain was in split polls showed him running 10, 15 points better against Gore, and he tried the make that an issue. Here`s what he said.
JOHN MCCAIN, FMR SENATOR: Don`t fear this campaign, my fellow Republicans. Join it. Join it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: McCain stressing he is the one Republican who can win in November.
MCCAIN: I will beat Al Gore like a drum.
KORNACKI: That was his line. He said he would beat Gore like a drum. Republicans though they stuck with Bush. Bush was able to win in the Electoral College while falling short in the popular vote. So Bush ended up being electable. I wouldn`t say he beat him like a drum. Now maybe McCain wouldn`t have either.
How about 2004. John Kerry running for the Democratic nomination could had go up against George W. Bush, remember war-time president. The Iraq War was going on. John Kerry, the message he gave to Democrats. He ran on electability, and he framed it in a very, very aggressive way. Here`s what he said. Running for the Democratic nomination.
JOHN KERRY, FMR US SECRETARY OF STATE: If George Bush wants to make national security the central issue of this campaign, I have three words for him. We know he understands. Bring it on! Bring it on! Bring it on!
KORNACKI: Brought it on. Kerry was nominated. Kerry ended up not being able to beat Bush in 2004. Of course this is building up the ultimate example. Everybody said Donald Trump was unelectable in 2016. We know how that one ended up. So there is your little tour down memory lane on the question of electability.
Coming up, so far Joe Biden`s front-running status is not scaring off his rivals. So many still remain. 545 days ahead of the Presidential election, what to expect from the Democratic hopefuls, next. We are back after this.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: We`re about to nominate the one person that not only would lose in 2016, but would destroy the party for decades to come. I`d rather lose without Trump than try to win with him. And if he wants to leave the party, leave.
KORNACKI: Well, we were just talking about that question of electability in presidential primary campaigns. That was Lindsey Graham in 2016. Of course -- excuse me, Graham saying back then that Donald Trump had no chance of being elected President if he was nominated. Donald Trump is now president.
With that in mind we are joined now by Elana Schor, national political reporter for the Associated Press, and Laura Barron-Lopez, national political reporter for Politico. Thanks to both of you for being with us. Excuse me.
Let me start, Elana, with you. Look, Donald Trump I think is a good way to set up any discussion of electability because the fact that Donald Trump was able to win in 2016 has called in to question just about every traditional definition of electability that was out there.
ELANA SHOR, POLITICAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Absolutely. And for that matter, the fact that Hillary Clinton lost is giving a lot of women hope they can win this time. You know, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, they look and they say look, you know, Hillary failed, and I can succeed for the very reason that Donald Trump has upended convention.
KORNACKI: All right, so it`s interesting. I think electability, sometimes you can see how it is a response. The perception of electability is a response to who won the last time. When you look at Joe Biden and how he has framed his campaign, you know, that kickoff speech he had in Pittsburgh a week or two ago where he said look, if you`re going to beat Donald Trump, it`s going to happen right here. Talking about one of those areas in one of those states that really swung hard to Donald Trump and made the difference in 2016. A lot of times electability is defined in terms of response to the perceived strength of the person you`re trying to beat.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICAL: Right. And so -- sorry.
KORNACKI: Laura, go ahead.
SHOR: You go ahead.
BARRON-LOPEZ: OK. So right. With Joe Biden, I mean he`s running his entire campaign saying that he is the most electable person. He has the most experience, that he can take on Trump and beat him. And his -- the way to do that is by speaking to the white working class, by speaking to those voters that people believe went to Trump, maybe used to be in the Obama camp that Hillary couldn`t keep in the fold, and the frustration that a lot of female Democratic operatives and activists have is that they feel as though that electability question is code for, well, white and male.
So that is just a way to discredit candidates of color and female candidates, and we saw Harris push back on that recently, saying that it`s pretty ridiculous and that candidates like her actually can drive out voting blocks that also, we saw, fall behind in 2016 and those are black voters.
KORNACKI: Speaking of that, here is Kamala Harris making that argument to Andrea Mitchell today.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every office I`ve run for, in particular running for district attorney and then running for attorney general, no one like me had ever done the job, based on gender, based on race. And the pundits for the most part, each time I ran, said it was impossible, it can`t happen, people aren`t ready for it. And I won.
KORNACKI: You know, Elana, it is an interesting strategic discussion I`m hearing Democrats have, because you look at Joe Biden and the message there is, basically, hey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, those voters who had voted for Obama and then voted for Trump, I, Joe Biden, can win them back. That`s the electibility pitch right there. The Kamala Harris argument, part of the Kamala Harris argument, is hey, look at turnout, specifically among African-American voters in, say, Detroit, in Michigan, in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin, look how down that was in 2016, I can get that number up. You can`t get your 11,000 votes in one state, your 24,000 votes in other state that way.
SHOR: Absolutely. And there`s a number that will blow your mind, 78,004, that is the difference between Barack Obama`s turnout in Wayne County, that`s where Detroit is, and Hillary Clinton`s turnout. That`s a huge lost, that`s more than five times the margin that Hillary would have needed to take Michigan, so, it actually show that, you know, in the midwest, the numbers bear out Harris` argument.
KORNACKI: All right Elana and Laura are sticking around. Quick break a bit. Coming up one candidate some Republican strategists are rooting for in the very crowded Democratic field. THE 11TH HOUR back after this.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: They can talk all they want about socialism, all socialism is a method into the poor House.
And we will say again tonight that America will never be a socialist country, ever. Never.
They want to take away your real healthcare and use socialism to turn America into Venezuela, lovely place. Lovely place.
The last thing we want in the United States is socialism.
KORNACKI: Well, expect to hear a lot more anti-socialism talk from Republicans as the 2020 election gets closer, and there is a strategy behind it. Politico reports today that Republicans are praying for Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee. The report goes on to say, quote, "Some GOP incumbents are practically cheering him on, confident there`s no way a self-described Democratic socialist could win a general election against President Donald Trump and that he`d drag other Democrats on the ballot with him."
Still with us Elana Shor and Laura Barron-Lopez. Well Elana, there`s always that-- we say Trump is the example in 2016, there is the be careful what you wish for lesson with Donald Trump. I remember a lot of Democrats cheering his nomination, now you`ve got Republicans cheering on Bernie Sanders here, thinking maybe he`d been an easy mark, but I`m curious, how much does that strategy of painting the Democratic Party as the party that wants to bring you socialism, how much of that is dependent on Democrats nominating Sanders, or is that going to be what you hear from Trump and Republicans no matter what?
SHOR: I think it`s fairly likely that you are going to hear this from Trump and Republicans no matter what. I mean, to be sure, Politico was correct in saying that, you know, Sanders and Warren, honestly, is like the number two most effective candidate when it comes to sticking on that label, just because these are the most vocal liberal progressives. Nonetheless, if a Harris or a Booker is a nominee, you`re still going to hear the socialist rhetoric Aphrodite (ph).
KORNACKI: Laura, I`m curious what you make of the polling we`ve seen recently, we had one last night, a brand new one and it showed Joe Biden, now he`s basically getting 40% on the Democratic side. There was a lot of talk, you could see the poll there, this is the brand new Morning Consult. There was a lot of talk that, you know, Biden`s ceiling might be more in the 20s. A lot of conversation out there based around the rise of like AOC in the last few months of the Democratic Party being driven by younger, more liberal voices.
Is there a larger constituency for sort of traditional Biden-style liberalism in the Democratic Party than maybe folks had appreciated until recently?
BARRON-LOPEZ: I think there is. I also think that when we look at polls, again, it`s what, eight, nine months out from the first primary contest, but that being said, I mean, he is very well-known, there are a lot of Democrats that feel as though he may be the best to take on Trump, and that`s kind of what`s occupying the mind of all these Democrats right now, is that they`re so nervous about who can actually beat Trump, because they`re worried about what happened in 2016 and they`re worried that if they go with someone like Sanders that won`t be possible.
Although again there is polling even to suggest that Sanders in a one-on- one match-up would be able to beat Trump. So, you know, these attacks of socialism, we`re going to see it happen, as Elana said, whether it`s Sanders at the top of the ticket or Biden. We`ve already seen ads going out in vulnerable House districts with Democrats where they`re attacking them as socialists and as tied to AOC and is tied to the green new deal, whether they is up to support those policies or not. And as Democrats keep the focus on healthcare, then that`s where they may be able to survive those labels.
KORNACKI: It`s interesting, too, Elana just those risks that Laura is outlining there, we were talking about, you know, Nancy Pelosi, she sees a political risk, it seems, in impeachment, and she`s been pretty strong there in trying to keep Democrats from trying to go down that road. Do you see Democratic leaders being, having pragmatic, strategic instincts in being able to convince the party based on that?
SHOR: Absolutely. And, you know, what really matters here is the difference between the party base on Twitter and the party base out in the real world, right? Because on Twitter, obviously, you see a lot of constituency stumping for Warren on the Democratic side saying, yes, it`s time, I agree with you on impeachment hearings, but odds are that, you know, off social media, there`s a lot of base Democrats out there who agree with Nancy Pelosi, saying, no, not the time.
KORNACKI: All right, and again, that`s been Pelosi`s position, we say pretty consistently here, but we`ll see if the events, there`s a lot that`s taking shape the next couple dates, we`ll see if that changes the temperature in her caucus at all. Thank you Elana Shor, Laura Barron- Lopez.
That is our broadcast for tonight. Thank you for being with us and good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.
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