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Trump kicks off reelection bid. TRANSCRIPT: 6/18/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Rick Wilson

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The bleach (ph) you heard there were the insult name that the President uses for Hillary Clinton, we won`t be broadcasting those insult names on this program.  But David Jolly, it turned into a lock her up chant tonight.

JOLLY:  Sure.  And that is a reflection of Donald Trump`s followers.  Just as we hold the President accountable we should hold his followers who make those chants accountable as well.

The irony here, Lawrence, is that Donald Trump should be seeking the counsel not of Hillary Clinton necessarily but Bill Clinton.  It`s the economy, stupid.  It`s the one thing that Donald Trump could make his case on but he is too undisciplined to do that.

O`DONNELL:  David Jolly gets the last word from Florida tonight.  David Jolly, Jonathan Capehart, thank you both for joining us.  Really appreciate it.  That is tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight Trump`s sales pitch for re-election runs through a list of grievances.  We heard about the witch hunt, there was the phony dossier, 18 very angry Democrats.  No collusion, no obstruction.  The Russian hoax in general.  The wall, crooked Hillary, and for good measure the academy awards.

Plus another Cabinet secretary out this time, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, because of a personal family issue and it comes as some seem to be banging the drum for a war in the Gulf.

Then there is tomorrow`s witness before Congress, Hope Hicks.  She appears behind closed doors, a White House lawyer beside her, already making objections about privilege before it begins as THE 11TH HOUR begins on this Tuesday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  On this day, 880 of the Trump administration, with 581 days remaining in his term, Donald Trump officially kicked off his re-election campaign with a rally in Orlando tonight.  He spoke for one hour, 18 minutes. As he left the White House he commented on the departure of our Acting Defense Secretary already replaced with a new Acting Defense Secretary at a time when a thousand more U.S. troops are enroute to the Gulf amid these tensions with Iran.

Patrick Shanahan who had been running the Pentagon is out.  Mark Esper who has been Secretary of the Army is the new Acting Secretary of Defense.  The back story is rather ugly.  The announcement came within minutes of a "Washington Post" report that outlined alleged domestic violence incidents within Shanahan`s family.  We`ll have more on the story in a moment.

But first the President has wrapped up this rally in Orlando tonight where he delivered his message to die-hard supporters.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our patriotic movement has been under assault from the very first day.  We accomplished more than any other president has in the first two and a half years of a presidency and under circumstances that no president has had to deal with before because we did in the middle of the great and illegal witch hunt things that nobody had been able to accomplish, not even close.  Nobody has done what we have done in two and a half years.


WILLIAMS:  The President also wasted no time going after Democrats.


TRUMP:  Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage.  They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.  Not acceptable.  It`s not going to happen.


WILLIAMS:  The President left the stage tonight as usual to the music of the Rolling Stones, "You can`t always get what you want."  Before he took the stage, thousands of Trump supporters took part in what the campaign called "45 Fest" outside of the Amway Center there on Orlando.

Our own Monica Alba asked a number of the Trump tailgaters what they were thinking ahead of the 2020 election?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He has done very well in the economic area, very well in the job creating area, superb in the military -- enhancing the military, helping the Vets with the VA system.  Just so many things it`s hard to remember them all.

MONICA ALBA, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER:  Any concerns about who he may face in 2020 in the Democratic opponents?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So far out of the 24 or so that they are putting up, I have no concerns whatsoever.  I mean, socialism hasn`t worked anywhere in the -- in the world, so why would you want to propose that here?

ALBA:  Any disappointments or frustrations?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, none at all.  None at all.  I hope we have the next four of them and after that I hope his son runs.


WILLIAMS:  Also before the President`s rally, the Orlando Sentinel editorial board offered a unique non-endorsement as the President campaigned in their back yard today.  "Some readers will wonder how we could possibly eliminate a candidate so far before an election, and before knowing the identity of his opponent.  Because there is no point pretending we would ever recommend that readers vote for Trump.  After two and a half years we`ve seen enough.  Enough of the chaos, the division, the school yard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies."

The President arrived to more bad news in Florida in the form of a new Quinnipiac poll.  The poll of Florida voters shows Biden beating Trump by nine, Sanders by six, Warren by four, and so on.

Meanwhile, as we mentioned, back in Washington a lot of people were caught by surprise today when Patrick Shanahan took his name out of consideration to be the permanent Secretary of Defense.  "The Washington Post" reports that in the months he has served as Trump`s Acting Defense Secretary, Shanahan has worked to keep domestic violence incidents within his family private.

"The Post" reports, "His wife was arrested after punching him in his face and his son was arrested after a separate incident in which he hit his mother with a baseball bat.  Public disclosure of the nearly decade-old episodes would re-traumatize his young adult children, Shanahan said, Shanahan spoke publicly about the incidents and interviews with "The Washington Post" on Monday and Tuesday.  "Bad things can happen to good families and this is a tragedy really," Shanahan said.  Dredging up the episode publicly, he said, "will ruin my son`s life."

"The Post" cites court and police records from Florida and Seattle about the incidents cited in their report.  We should note NBC News has not seen those same documents.  Earlier today President Trump said Shanahan has decided not to move forward with the confirmation process so he can spend more time with his family.  Again, the President was asked about Shanahan before departing for Florida this afternoon.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you ask Shanahan to withdraw?

TRUMP:  No I didn`t.  I didn`t ask him to withdraw, but he walked in this morning, he said it is going to be a rough time for him because of obviously what happened.  But I did not ask him to withdraw.  He presented me with a letter this morning.  That was his decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you know about these allegations before you said you wanted him?

TRUMP:  I had heard about it yesterday for the first time.  I didn`t know about it.  I heard about it yesterday.  It`s very unfortunate.  Very unfortunate.

WILLIAMS:  NBC News reports that while it`s not clear when Trump learned about these issues, White House aides and other officials in the administration have known about the alleged domestic issues and Shanahan`s past for sometime.

This news of course comes amid high tensions in the Middle East, the United States blaming Iran for attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman just last week.  Iran continues to deny any responsibility for the incidents.

Here with our lead-off discussion on a Tuesday night we welcome back Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," Robert Costa, National Political reporter for "The Washington Post" and moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS, and Annie Karni,  White House reporter for "The New York Times" who was in Florida fresh from tonight`s rally.

Annie, I`d like to begin with you because of the event you attended tonight.  It seemed like a perfectly stirring kick-off of his campaign against Hillary Clinton.  We say that because there were seven Hillary mentions, one Bill mention, and one extended lock her up chant.  What couldn`t we see on T.V.?  We did see on your social media that the crowd was entertained by a replay of election night coverage 2016 on Fox News, how did this event differ in any regal sense from the usual Trump rally?

ANNIE KARNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  It didn`t.  There was no new message anvil tonight, there was no new theory of the case presented about what Donald Trump would do with a second term.  The hats were the same.  The campaign slogan was the same.  The play list was virtually the same.

As I tweeted, the entertainment before he got there was a replay of Fox calling states on election night 2016 and the crowd was cheering and loved it.  And again, he attacked Hillary Clinton more often.  I think he made one passing reference to Joe Biden and one passing reference to Bernie Sanders.

So, one of my takeaways was that he wants to relive 2016 and his supporters were there to relive it with him.  It kind of felt like a blast from the past but in terms of a relaunch he, you know, he filed the paperwork for his re-election campaign on the day of his inauguration.  And it was a larger rally, it was a campaign rally on steroids, but this was just another rally, the same kind of all the rallies that been staging for two and a half years.

WILLIAMS:  So, Robert Costa it does sound like we`ll relitigate from top to bottom.  It sounds like good doses of anger, resentment, and grievances.  Any tone or content that you noted was different from 2016 in any serious way?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  It was an escalation of the President`s populism that he used in 2016.  It was not red versus blue tonight in Orlando.  It was us versus them.

Framing his entire political movement as a victim of the forces beyond his control that are out there, that are ominous from a, "flood of migrant" to "radical Democrats, socialists."  This is how the President was framing the opposition and he was rallying his core voters to stick with him, to provide him with that lift and some of these key states throughout the industrial Midwest and elsewhere, places in the south like Florida, to make sure they come out.

And this was -- hew would stay on script, Brian, when he was talking through his talking points, his litany of his record over the past two and a half years, but when he went off script it was all about populism in a raw sense, nothing that was really scripted.  It was punching at enemies perceived.  And the Republican Party was right there with him, Senator Rubio, Senator Scott, Senator Graham in the crowd, camera shot to them.  Laughing and cheering as the Presidents went on these rifts at the snapshot of the Republican Party today.

WILLIAMS:  And Peter Baker, indeed, there were several notable side bars, number one the President indicating in his view Lindsey Graham wasn`t doing that well politically back home in South Carolina until Trump took him under his wing.  Number two, still tough to get used to seeing Sarah Huckabee Sanders the sitting White House Secretary speaking, performing at a re-election rally for the President.  How did tonight score in your view as a sales pitch, kind of what we`ve been talking about so far?

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, look, this was President Trump`s greatest hits.  And if you have been a fan of his hits this is going to stir you up and get you going again.  But it was a repeat of 2016.  It wasn`t a new message as Annie said.

and I think Robert is exactly right about the Republican Party.  The difference between 2016 and today, the difference between that Fox News clips that they were showing before hand and the red hats and all of the things we`ve gotten used to from two years ago, two and a half years ago is he does now control this Republican Party.  This is Donald Trump`s party.

Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, two and a half years ago -- three years ago at least ran against him for the nomination and excoriated him and said he wasn`t qualified to be a president, said he was a con man.  Both of them uses that same phrase, con man.  Today, he is showing off in his rally, making clear that they now belong to the party of Trump.

So does Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  She may the future of the party of Trump in a way.  I mean, you pointed out that she takes the stage.  He wants her to run for governor of Arkansas, that would be of course in 2022 when the seat next comes open and that would be the next generation of Trump supporters if she were to run and were to win.  So I think that, you know, the big difference between the last time and this time isn`t the message, isn`t the hats, isn`t the music, but it is the Republican Party.

WILLIAMS:  Annie, it strikes me that in the past at some Trump rallies they have shown live coverage of Fox News to the crowd as kind of a warmup.  It further strikes me that had they done that tonight there is a chance some of those poll numbers would have appeared on the screen.  Is there any evident sensitivity to those quite real poll numbers that you were able to pick up?

KARNI:  Not among the supporters.  I interviewed probably a dozen people outside the rally before I got there.  And everyone expressed great confidence that he would win in a landslide.  They don`t seem -- at least the Trump supporters that show up at the rally seem to think he is no underdog this time and he is going to win.

There is sensitivity inside of the campaign for sure and Donald Trump obviously is sensitive to the polls.  But at this stage of the race -- I mean, one reasons they wanted to come to Florida is because he wants to consolidate support in a critical state that he needs to win where the campaign does have some concerns, that his numbers are softer than they should be.  They had buses rented across the state to bus in supporters.

So there was -- and he was smart to come here to do the rally here.  That reflected the importance of Florida for his re-elect.  But in the crowd, it was -- they`re supporting their win at the Yankees this time around.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, let`s talk about the personnel change that`s in the news tonight.  This is really the Mattis job, this is Secretary of Defense, Mr. Shanahan has been the acting secretary, takes himself out of the running.  At heart, this is a story about an American family.  This is also a story about vetting and a lot of acting titles in the Trump administration.  What do our viewers need to know about the story?

COSTA:  A tragic story on a personal level for Acting Secretary Shanahan.  But putting that aside for the moment, looking at foreign policy in this administration, this entire episode, that vacancy now with another acting secretary, it leaves the impression for so many officials in this administration that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo along with President Trump is in control of foreign policy.  They do not expect a Secretary Mattis type, a strong personality to be nominated.

I hear Veteran Secretary, Robert Wilke, he`s on the top of the short list, he`s a low key person.  They gets Bolton, the National Security Adviser.  He has a bit of a tense relationship with the President at the moment because he is a very strident hawk.  But as Secretary Pompeo driving the discussions on Iran along with President Trump and the Pentagon is not expecting in the coming year or two to be a major force on that front.

WILLIAMS:  Mr. Shanahan came from Boeing just a note to our viewers and while Mark Esper, the Army Secretary, who is now running the Pentagon on an acting basis did lobbying for Raytheon.  In addition to that, he had a whole life prior to that.  He fought under the umbrella of General McCaffrey in the Gulf War, Bronze Star, West Point, Harvard masters degree, Ph.D. from GW.  So, that is the man currently running the Pentagon.

And Peter Baker, that brings us to the President`s depiction of the situation with Iran tonight.  Just in the last 24 hours a thousand American families have learned that a mom or dad, sister or brother have -- are heading off on a deployment to the Gulf because we are beefing up force protection there.  Here is the depiction that the President gave the crowd tonight.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


TRUMP:  I withdrew the United States from the disastrous, just a disaster, a disaster, the disastrous Iran nuclear deal and imposed the toughest ever sanctions on the world`s number one state sponsor of terrorism.  We`re charting a path to civility and peace in the Middle East because great nations do not want to fight endless wars.  They`ve been going on forever.  Starting to remove a lot of troops.


WILLIAMS:  Peter baker, the removal of troops is not a story we`ve been covering.

BAKER:  Well, it is interesting.  You know what you`ve got here is a president who seems to be at odds with his national security team.  But rather than the first generation of security team when Jim Mattis and Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster were there seemingly intent on withhold -- you know, restraining a volatile President from going too far, now it`s sort of the other way around.  John Bolton is the hawk as Robert said.  Pompeo is a pretty strong conservative hawk on some of these things.

And it is the President who is saying, wait a second, let`s tamp this down a little bit.  He is more than happy to attack Iran rhetorically and economically.  But he said in an interview I think on Monday that the explosions on the tankers in the Gulf of Oman were minor incidents, you know, it basically implied he wasn`t going to take military action over that.  He would he said perhaps over, you know, a nuclear program if Iran were to pursue that again as they seem to be on the edge of doing.

So it is not that you couldn`t stumble into a war here.  But I think his inclination as he said in at that rally tonight is not to do that.  His inclination is to pull back from the Middle East.  He doesn`t want to send more troops.  And I think that he`s kind of in this situation where his rhetoric on Iran is now being, you know, measured against the actions that his adviser suggesting he take.

WILLIAMS:  I`ll go out on a limb and say of the four of us Annie Karni gets the award for being in the warmest environment tonight, certainly witnessing the most precipitation.  I saw the reports coming out of Florida this evening.  With that our thanks to the three of you, to Peter Baker, to Robert Costa, and Annie Karni for joining us for our discussion tonight.

Coming up she played a unique role in the Trump inner circle.  Tomorrow she goes under oath again.  Hope Hicks, the star witness of a closed door hearing before House Judiciary.

And later, President Trump tonight hints at his big plans for our fourth of July as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on this Tuesday night.


ALBA:  What is the main reason you`ll vote for him again?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The main reason?  Because he`s one of the best presidents that we`ve had for a very long time, very long time.  He doesn`t lie.  I know you all say he does.  He doesn`t.  He doesn`t.

And I`m just going to be honest, I`m not trying to be mean, but the way the media treats him, it`s a disgrace.


WILLIAMS:  There`s a lot to talk about right there in that exchange.  And with us tonight to do that Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Columnist for "The Washington Post" and Rick Wilson, he`s a Florida man, he`s a veteran Republican strategist whose views about our 45th President are contained in the book titled "Everything Trump Touches Dies."  Let`s go ahead and assume that woman is not a potential customer even in trade paperback.

Rick, I would like to begin with her, as a Florida man, first of all, say what you just told me about their foot wear tonight.  But second, pretend we`re on the front line and speak seriously about the grievances they bring to a Trump gathering.  And if anything can shake the promise they see in that man.

RICK WILSON, AUTHOR, "EVERYTHING TRUMP TOUCHES DIES":  First off, it is grievance Paluzza.  This is everyone -- everyone there is -- there is not this affirmative feeling about the greatness of our country or some vision for the future.  It is, he is the avatar of my anger.  He is going to go out there and smite the people that I can`t smite.

And you know there were a lot of people there, classic Florida, they`re a little bit of smattering of queue in on (ph), there were people wearing their formal flip-flops and their dress cargo pants.  But, you know, on the whole, this was sort of like a patchwork speech with an audience that has seen this great -- it is a greatest hits tour.  You know, this is the boy band that were introduced to go in touring the state fair, it`s the same song from a couple years ago.  And, you know, while there`s a niche audience for it, it hasn`t expanded his base one iota.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST:  But, you know, when you talk about that audience, though, you talk about that woman who was interviewed, so she says he doesn`t lie.  OK?

WILLIAMS:  That`s her chief point.

ROBINSON:  That`s a real barrier to me having a productive conversation with her.  And I would like to have a productive conversation with her, but it would have to start with some agreement on fact.  With sort of getting into the same sort of, you know, reality.  And we`re not in the same reality and that`s what`s really sort of -- just sort of what`s quite disturbing about the time we are living in.

And it`s not entirely -- it`s not all caused by Trump but certainly accentuated by him.  But these are different realities and it is very difficult to have a Democratic conversation that moves the country forward if you`re living in different world.

WILLIAMS:  And Rick, tonight the journalist Daniel Dale who`s one of the truth keepers --

WILSON:  Absolutely.

WILLIAMS:  -- will have, I`m sure by close of business, a hard number of mistruths in that speech.  He`ll get on social media.  It will get read on, you know, what is called "Democratic Twitter" and so it goes.

WILSON:  Right.  Those folks tonight, Donald Trump can say anything and do anything and there is no boundary he can cross with them that loses their vote.  The ones that were committed enough to go and show up in that room tonight, they live in a completely separate political sphere now.  It is hermetic.  They live inside Donald Trump`s definition of reality.

He can tell them the wall is 3,000 feet long and made of solid gold and has alligator moats and they`ll say of course it does.  They can`t shoot, you know, it`s all in our head of course but they believe what he tells them and it doesn`t matter.

And this is something the Democrats have to face very quickly is that he is going to spout a torrent, a tidal wave of BS in this campaign and they`re going to try to play catch up with it every day and they`re not going to be able to because he can lie with a speed and faculty that no one else has ever had.

WILLIAMS:  Take us into Hope Hicks, young woman who knows a thing or two because she has seen a thing or two.  Are they actually behind closed doors tomorrow?  She`ll have a White House lawyer next to her.  They`ve already said don`t ask certain questions.  Are they going to lead her into a real discussion of obstruction?

WILSON:  I seriously doubt Hope Hicks is going to fall into a trap behind closed doors where she`s going to get herself in trouble.  She is intensely loyal to this President even though that she is now, you know, been cast out into the darkness.  She is still loyal to this guy.  And there is still a bond there.

And I think these people have a sort of mafia like sense of Omerta, that she is not going to talk.  And the fact they`re doing it behind closed doors is a stupid move on their part because the way you bring these people into the heat is to bring them into the light.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene, they probably need a few witnesses who can appear in public session.

ROBINSON:  Definitely do.  And I mean, you saw the difference between the written 448-page Mueller report and Robert Mueller`s actual appearance --


ROBINSON:  -- when he spoke had 10 times the impact.

WILLIAMS:  He used words.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  He used words.  It`s very different.  And so, you know, a hearing behind closed doors and what she`s, as Rick said, probably not going to say anything.  I`m not holding my breath.

WILLIAMS:  I want to pick up on that point which is good because both our gentlemen have agreed to stay with us.

Coming up, what to expect from the opposition.  We`ll have that discussion when we come back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  You know, there was a lot of corruption on the other side.  But, you know, the simplest thing, they delete and they acid wash, which is very expensive.

Many, many plants are now under construction in Michigan and Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida.  They hadn`t built one in decades.

We are taking billions and billions of dollars in.  And remember this, and you know it as well as I do, we have never taken in ten cents from China.

The Democrat agenda of open borders is morally reprehensible.


WILLIAMS:  Just a sampling of what they heard tonight in Orlando.  Eugene Robinson and Rick Wilson remain with us.

David Dale of the Toronto Star apparently still going over his numbers.

EUGENE ROBINSON, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST:  I mean, just that -- those clips we just heard, not a thing there was true.  I mean, literally Trump --

WILLIAMS:  Let`s spent some time on this.  You live in Florida, a lot of plants going up?

ROBINSON:  Lot are to put (inaudible).

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL STRATEGIST:  All of these things, all of these -- we`re open a million coal mines, we`re going to bring back all the steel mills.  He just rips this stuff out there and Daniel Dale is right, but it goes back to what we were talking about earlier.  The two bubbles, one bubble believes there are a thousand shiny new steel mills already built and already in full swing.

The real world, they`re not.  And, unfortunately, those folks inside the Trump-spear don`t care.  They don`t care.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene, you made a point just before the break that I wanted to go into.  It was better to hear and see Mueller than reading this and the septic 440 plus page tome.

A lot of Democrats believe one better.  Let us tell what he could not in more bite-sized ways than he was willing or able to.  As our own Mike Memoli put it, people have decided not to read the book.  Will they see the movie?

ROBINSON:  Well, I think they will see the movie but you got to put it on, right?  I mean, you don`t put it on, you know, in a no audience allowed theater.  I mean, you don`t do it behind closed doors.

You bring the witnesses out.  And frankly, this is something that President Trump is deathly afraid of.  He understands the power of television as well as anybody.  And he knows what impact it has to see a witness there saying the same things that might be in the report but to hear it from a witness, to see it live is much greater impact. 

WILSON:  And even if those witnesses are going to stonewall and plead the 5th, they`re going to have to say, "I`ve been advised by the White House, I may not testify.  I`ve been told by the White House I may not testify.  I`ve been told by the White House I may not testify."  At some point that starts to have a visual impact on people and sort of say, "Wait a minute.  Maybe the White House is covering something up."  Because, you know, with the advantage of that being true.

WILLIAMS:  Well, that`s take one.  Chris Christie, I`ve not discussed this with him.  I don`t know nothing about it.  But if he is called Chris Christie remembers a former US attorney and I`m guessing there`s a better than average chance.


WILLIAMS:  He would be willing to raise his hand, be sworn in, and tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  That would get some attention.  That could be a television moment.

WILSON:  It could be a television moment.  It would also be -- if we had a live streaming camera in the White House, Jared would be curled up in the corner in a fetal position.

ROBINSON:  I`d pay to see that or I`d pay to see Chris Christie testify.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene, it is going to be important.  We finally have the podium locations for all of the Democrats, the Democrat Paluzza over two nights.  We have -- we`re going to put the shot on the air of the wall of Democrats.  Night one you got your de Blasio, your Ryan, your Castro, your Booker, your Warren, your O`Rourke, your Klobuchar, your Gabbard, your Inslee, your Delaney.  And then, on night two, the -- has been widely said, even though they were randomly selected, your selected your bigger names, your bigger guns.

As they say in the sports business in the pre-game show, what are you looking for?

ROBINSON:  Well, night one, the biggest name is Elizabeth Warren.  So I`m watching her basically, and watching the others go after her.  Does she sort of establish herself as a top tier candidate?  What does she say?  How does she act?

And then, night two, I just want to see it.  I just want, you know, do they go after Biden?  Buttigieg, does he attack?  He`s not really an attack dog kind of guy but this is really his moment to leap into the very top tier perhaps.

Kamala Harris, you know, she is really good in a sort of back and forth question --

WILLIAMS:  A former prosecutor.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  I mean, she is not somebody I`d want questioning me.  So it`s going to be quite a night.

WILLIAMS:  I can`t thank you both enough.

WILSON:  Thank you, sir.

WILLIAMS:  Great conversations.  Thank you both for coming to our studios tonight, Eugene Robinson and Rick Wilson back with us.

Coming up, the contrast between some members of the conservative media and passionate members of their audience, there they are in Orlando tonight.  We`ll have more when we come back.



SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST:  You are witnessing history in the making.  President Trump`s re-election campaign is now officially under way.

Take note by the way, sleepy, creepy, crazy Uncle Joe, that is how you kick off a campaign.  Needless to say, enthusiasm for tonight`s rally was unlike anything we`ve seen from, let`s see, how many, two dozen plus radicals running for the extreme socialist Democratic nomination.


WILLIAMS:  One summation of the 2020 campaign kick-off event from Fox News host Sean Hannity.  It would seem Sean plans to be even more involved in Trump`s re-election campaign.


HANNITY (via phone):  Well, I`m going to be out on the campaign trail.  Tell everybody let not their little hearts be troubled.  They`ll be sick of seeing me by the end of the campaign.


WILLIAMS:  Interesting place to begin our conversation with our friend Jeremy Peters, Political Reporter for the New York Times.

Jeremy, it seems that for a lot of folks in the media tracking erosion in conservative media may be a lot like listening to a, including but not limited to, a Ben Sasse, a Susan Collins, a Portman, a Blunt, at the end of the day they break for the President.

JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  That`s exactly right.  At the end of the day they are most likely going to be voting with him, Brian.  It`s just underscoring the fact that it`s so politically perilous right now in this climate to be seen as against the President, to do anything but say how great he is as he and his aides, and his allies in the conservative media insist.

It`s not only dangerous politically.  It is dangerous commercially if you are a conservative media personality.  There have been radio hosts who`ve lost their jobs, lost their shows because their audiences deem them to be insufficiently pro-Trump.

And I think that`s -- the situation you`re in right now and it`s troubling to some who are saying, you know, this is a bit too cultish for us.  And, you know, there is no one person we should be worshiping here because after all we are a democracy.

WILLIAMS:  Because Mr. Peters is a canny and crafty writer that was a segue to the piece he has just written about Mr. Michael Savage.  I`m going to read a quote before I ask Jeremy to explain to folks who he is and why this is news.

"To too many people," this is Michael Savage talking about Donald Trump, "he is not a human being, he is a demigod," Mr. Savage said one afternoon after wrapping up a broadcast.  "This especially includes his colleagues in the conservative media," he said.  "It is embarrassing to listen to some of these people."

OK.  Jeremy, remind folks why we know the name Michael Savage, how many listeners he has, and how much of a break this represents?

PETERS:  Michael Savage was instrumental early on before Donald Trump was being taken seriously by most conservatives.  As early as 2011 Michael had Donald Trump on his radio show and said, "You know what?  I think you should be the president."

Now, this was so far out on a limb for most conservative radio hosts, even Fox News, even Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, these people did not come around until later on Donald Trump.  And it built a bridge for Trump into a constituency that really didn`t trust him, didn`t know him as anything more than the star of "Apprentice" and a flashy playboy developer from Manhattan.

So to have Savage suddenly, well, not so suddenly, it`s been pretty gradual actually, but to have Savage start to doubt Trump is significant because it really undercuts the core of the President`s re-election message which is, I kept my promises to you.

Savage and a handful of others in the party in the conservative movement are now saying, "You know what, Mr. Trump?  You didn`t keep those promises."  And proof of that is the fact that the wall that you told us every rally you held was going to be built is not built and it won`t be built.

WILLIAMS:  So what does he run on?  He talked about federal judges tonight coming up on 1:45.  He`s had success with the Supreme Court.  Is that it because the Mexican funding didn`t come through?

PETERS:  What he is going to run on, Brian, is grievance.  The enemies list that you heard recited tonight, the 13 angry Democrats, the Democratic presidential candidate who is no longer running for president, the Democratic president who is no longer president, the people in Congress, the people who are trying to impeach him, the people who are more importantly enemies of the people not just enemies of Donald Trump.

But when he said, I think it was one of those important lines in the speech tonight, they`re coming after you.  That`s his campaign, that`s his re- election.  He needs to convince Americans that support him still.

And hopefully, if he lucky, some others, he can kind of pick up along the way, that the Democrats, the media, the opposition that has tried to undermine him from day one are relentless and they will not stop and that`s how he wins.  It`s us against them.

WILLIAMS:  Our thanks to the human form of the New York Times byline Jeremy Peters who covers this kind of thing for a living and comes on our broadcast from time to time to talk about it.  Great to see you again, thank you very much.

PETERS:  Thanks. Brian.

WILLIAMS:  And coming up, we head on our next stop on "The Road to Miami."  Here`s a hint.  It is home to the nation`s highest point east of the Mississippi River.  Steve Kornacki takes us there when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  There is the signal.  We are only eight days from the first Democratic debates on this very network.  And we`re continuing our series "The Road to Miami" where our own Miami Steve Kornacki breaks down everything we need to know about the states along the teaming I-95 corridor.

Last night, you might remember, Steve was in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Well, tonight he has successfully crossed the border on the south end of the Tar Heel State, the great state of North Carolina.

Back at the big tonight our National Correspondent Steve Kornacki.  Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Hey, Brian.  That`s right.  And I think I can make out Miami actually from where I`m standing right now because I am at the highest point east of the Mississippi.  We are in western North Carolina.

We took a 300 or so mile detour from I-95 but it was worth it because we wanted to climb Mount Mitchell here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, 6,684, 6,684 feet above sea level.  The highest point east of the Mississippi, it`s right here in this state of North Carolina.  So we thought we would check that out.

We climbed a mountain today.  And politically, I guess the equivalent of climbing a mountain would be climbing the biggest mountain in politics, it would be winning the presidency.

So when it comes to North Carolina and racing for the presidency, what we say?  The North Carolina primary, sometimes it hasn`t mattered at all.  Sometimes it`s been late in the process.  But there are two times where the North Carolina primary made presidents.  And we thought we`d tell you about them.

Let`s go back in time.  Remember these two guys, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan.  The year was 1976.  Remember, Ford was the unelected president, succeeded to the presidency when Nixon had to resign.  Reagan challenged him in the primaries.  The primary season started off and it started off as a disaster for Reagan.

Ford won Iowa.  Ford won New Hampshire.  They went down to Massachusetts and Vermont.  Ford won in both.  They went into Florida, Illinois.  Ford win.  Ford win.  This was the scene in the middle of March 1976, newspapers all across the country saying Republicans want Reagan out of the race.  He said, "Give me one more chance.  Give me one more chance.  If I can`t win in North Carolina, I`m out of the race."

So he fought on to the 1976 Republican Primary in North Carolina and lo and behold it was a big upset.  Ronald Reagan knocked off Ford in the Republican Primary in North Carolina.  He got hot.  He did not win the nomination but he came as close as you can in `76.  And when Ford lost the general election, Republicans looked to Reagan and they said there`s the guy for 1980.  Wouldn`t have happened if he hadn`t turned everything around in the North Carolina primary, he might have been an afterthought.  Try imagining that.

And then, the other one we say, it was in 2008.  Remember, Democratic race started in 2008 in Iowa.  Obama won Iowa in 2008.  Then they went to New Hampshire.  Clinton won New Hampshire.  Then this war of attrition ensued for months.  Obama won some states, Clinton won some states.  They came to North Carolina in the middle of May, and it ended up being decisive.

Obama won the primary in the middle of May but what it really did is it broke the idea of a stalemate on this network.  That night as the results came in Tim Russert with a famous declaration.


TIM RUSSERT, FORMER WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, NBC NEWS:  We now know who the Democratic nominee`s going to be, and no one`s going to dispute it, Keith.  You know, sometimes in campaigns the candidate is the last to recognize the best timing.


KORNACKI:  And that was it, Brian.  When Tim Russert said that, that really did change where the Democratic race was going in `08 and everybody did know, Obama would be the nominee and then the president.

WILLIAMS:  Wow.  We`ve also been thinking about our friend Tim Moore than usual.  We just passed the anniversary of his death, and it`s great to see his brand of political coverage as we watch your brand of political coverage as well as we are so enjoying the series of reports.

Steve Kornacki in North Carolina, yet oddly here in New York as well.  Thank you.

KORNACKI:  Thanks.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, a record-setting senior Republican weighing into a contentious issue for the other side, when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight is Mitch McConnell.  The Senate Majority Leader has thus far turned that Senate majority into a churning confirmation machine for the Trump nominees, largely for the federal bench, about to number 145 federal judges.  And it`s all under the banner of elections have consequences.

Mitch McConnell is indeed a cagey political veteran.  He delights in his own cantankerousness.  From his perch in the Senate, he has about as much power as any other individual in Washington.  His chamber, for example, would conceivably be where any impeachment effort would stop.

For a man with sweeping national powers, he is accountable to the voters back home in Kentucky, and they have sent him back to Washington five times since his original election in `84.  He`s the longest-serving senator in Kentucky history.  He`s the longest-serving Republican leader in history.  He is up for re-election in 2020.

But to be truthful about 2019, the Democrats have to reckon with the fact that they have not made the Senate or his seat a priority.  About that cantankerousness, just this week he referred to Jon Stewart as being bent out of shape over the issue of 9/11 first responders and their health.

Today, in answering a question, he waded into a big fraught contentious issue for the Democrats, a controversial issue in America, and that`s reparations.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  I don`t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea.  We`ve, you know, tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war by passing landmark civil rights legislation.  We`ve elected an African-American president.

I think we`re always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that.  And I don`t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.  First of all, it would be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate.  We`ve had waves of immigrants as well who`ve come to the country and experienced dramatic discrimination of one kind or another.  So no, I don`t think reparations are a good idea.

WILLIAMS:  Mitch McConnell, on the topic of reparations today while flanked by his leadership team there in the Senate.

And with that, that is our broadcast on a Tuesday night.  We thank you for being here with us.  Goodnight from NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

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