All In with Chris Hayes, Transcript 8/21/17 Trump address

Guests: Leon Wolf, Wesley Clark, Ruben Gallego

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: August 21, 2017 Guest: Leon Wolf, Wesley Clark, Ruben Gallego

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN. The President in peril tries changing the subject. Tonight, more protests, month bad polls, and more talk of a primary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he will end up the party`s nominee in 2020?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It`s too difficult to say.

HAYES: As the President of the United States prepares to address the nation.

Then, inside the anti-Trump anti-hate backlash in Boston.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ideas will die in this sunlight today. We have won. Look

HAYES: Steve Bannon`s attack on the White House has begun.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that.

HAYES: And why the Secret Service says they can`t pay their agent because of Trump family travel.

TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.

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HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. The President will address the nation tonight at what is by almost all accounts, the low point in his time in office. It comes on the heels of the week where the President`s words and actions rendered him essentially a pariah with leaders in business, the arts and his own party turning against him. And tonight, President Trump will appear on television screens across the country one hour from now to lay out his plans to deploy American troops and American resources in the longest war in this nation`s history. The President returned last night from his working vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey as a wide majority of Americans reacted with disdain to his suggestion of moral equivalency between neo-Nazis marchers in Charlottesville and the anti-racist protesters who challenged their message.

Just 28 percent of Americans approve of the President`s response to Charlottesville, a new poll finds with 56 percent disapprove. There are numerous signs the President is now widely viewed as unfit to be associated with in any way. 14 charities have now canceled planned fund-raisers at his private club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. Two business advisory councils and the Presidential Arts Council have been disbanded as CEOs and artist alike abandoned the President over his Charlottesville comments. The President announced this weekend he will skip the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors after three of the five artists set to be honored expressed a specific intent to boycott or said to be considering it.

There were no Trump administration officials defending the President on the Sunday shows yesterday. Axios reporting the White House made no serious efforts to convince officials to go on knowing the hosts of the shows would pressure guest relentlessly on the President`s response to Charlottesville. Instead, President Trump was represented by Jerry Falwell Jr. the President of Evangelical Liberty University whose decision to keep defending Trump now has some Liberty University grads returning their diplomas.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said there were very fine people on both sides. Do you believe there were very fine people on both sides?

JERRY FALWELL JR., LIBERTY UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: I have no -- he has inside information that I don`t have. I don`t know if there were historical purist there who were trying to preserve some statues. I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Amid the continuing fallout over the President`s comments, Republican Senators are increasingly keeping their distance.

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SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: As we look into -- looked to the future, it`s going to be very difficult for this President to lead if in fact that moral authority remains compromised.

COLLINS: In this case, I think the President failed to meet the standard that we would have expected a President to do in a time like that.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Following tonight`s speech on the way forward in Afghanistan, President Trump will travel to Phoenix for a campaign style rally tomorrow. The White House is bracing for an angry reception particularly if the President falls through on possible plans to pardon notorious former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for continuing to target and detain undocumented immigrants despite a court order barring him from doing so.

Meanwhile, new NBC News polling shows the President`s approval rating is now below 40 percent in three crucial Midwest swing states, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Asked how the President`s conduct make some feel only about one in four voters in those swing states say they feel proud or more than 6 in 10 say they feel embarrassed. Ahead of President Trump`s remarks on Afghanistan`s strategy, I`m joined by the leading Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that would be Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. Senator, what do you make of the President`s address tonight at this moment in his Presidency?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Chris, as you pointed out, this have been 16 years we`ve been in the battle here in Afghanistan. Our objective needs to be pretty clear, and that is we do not want Afghanistan to be the breeding grounds for terrorists. That means we need to establish a government that can control the country and prevents terrorists from being able to operate in the country. What I hope that we will have is a surge on diplomacy, a surge on cooperation in the region to make it clear that we cannot tolerate terrorists operating in Afghanistan.

HAYES: Do you, I mean, all of those, as strategic objectives seem perfectly reasonable but we`ve been unable to accomplish them in 16 years through two different administrations. What would make you think that an address from the President tonight 4,000 new U.S. troops would change that?

CARDIN: Well, I don`t support a surge in troops. We tried that in the past. We`re not going to win a military victory in Afghanistan. We should know that after 16 years, what we need to do is establish a type of society that can protect its people so that there are not outside groups and terrorists that can thrive in the country. So what I hope the President will be able to lead on is how we`re going to do a surge of the diplomacy, how are we making Afghanistan safe against terrorists? And it`s not going to be about U.S. military presence. That`s not going to solve the problems.

HAYES: In a broader sense, I mean, there`s this sort of strange juxtaposition in this evening with the President of the United States coming back from vacation after this week in which he was roundly condemned across political spectrum, abandoned by CEOs and artist alike to speak on the most high stakes matters of life and death, war, and peace, as the head of state of this nation. Do you -- do you feel the President is a credible messenger for anything of this magnitude at this moment?

CARDIN: Well, the President has certainly failed in representing American values. His comments about Charlottesville was outrageous. He tried to equate moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and white supremacist and those who were protesting against their presence. That`s outrageous. The President lost his standing in representing America strength and our values. So I think it`s going to be a tough sell not only in the United States but certainly globally.

HAYES: There`s increasing quotes we saw through the weekend of people even describing senior administration officials speaking about the President as if they themselves view him as unfit. People talking about, you should see all the things that we kill. Do you feel that there is a strange consensus forming in that respect?

CARDIN: You know, this is a tragic situation. We have people who are serving in the White House saying they`re there in order to prevent damage. You would hope that the President`s there to advance the values of America and the progress of our country and that people want to serve in the White House in order to help in that regard. It seems like people in the White House to try to control the damage done by this President. That`s certainly a healthy situation for our country. I must tell you, this White House is not only losing the confidence of the American people but in his own party, you see more and more Republicans that are distancing themselves from President Trump. And then you see President Trump criticizing members of his own party. It`s a very, very dangerous situation I think for America`s progress will be seeing out coming of the Presidency.

HAYES: What do you mean by that word dangerous?

CARDIN: Well, we`re losing opportunities. We need global cooperation and dealing with terrorism. We need the cooperation of other countries. We need a President that when he meets with world leaders that he has the credibility that what he says is believable. We have seen over and over again the President saying things that just aren`t believable. So he`s put America at risk.

HAYES: All right. Senator Ben Cardin, thank you for your time tonight.

CARDIN: Thank you.

HAYES: I`m joined now by Jennifer Ruben, Conservative Columnist for the Washington Post and Michael Steele, former RNC Chairman and MSNBC Political Analyst. Michael, what do you make of this moment in the -- in the Trump Presidency? It seems at one level this is an attempt to change the topic. If it`s 4,000 troops they`re saying, it doesn`t seem like a major change in the strategy going forward, yet at the same time, it is the most important in some ways issues that a President handles.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST AND FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: It is. And in one sense, Chris, it`s a reset for the President on a number of levels. It`s a reset certainly on the domestic front to sort of change the conversation away from Charlottesville and a lot of that. But it`s also a reset in terms of getting focus and positions in place on foreign policy. That has been a very sort of humbled-jumbled kind of mess from the beginning of the administration, particularly with respect of how we dealt with our allies.

So now, the President I think has an opportunity to sort of come before the country and kind of lay out his understanding and vision of Afghanistan, where he wants to go next. He`s been on the record having criticized his predecessor for his handling of Afghanistan talking about the life and treasure that was wasted there. Now it is on his watch. He`s looking to commit more American life and treasure to this engagement. And so we all now need to understand what does that mean and how does that fit into a broader policy? So this is not something the President can just drift through. He`s going to have to have some clarity of purpose set in stone about where he wants to next in Afghanistan.

HAYES: Well, to Michael`s point, Jennifer, it strikes me that in some ways it would be more illuminating were the President to face questions on this particular topic than for him to read -- to read the statement. What do you make of that word reset?

JENNIFER RUBIN, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, first of all, I think it would be terrifying for us our allies for him to speak off the cuff because he is obviously incapable of doing so. You`re right, it would be nice to have a President who could speak fluently on the issues. We don`t have one of those right now. I think in terms of reset, it`s really hard. Two Presidents much more capable than he have tried to get Afghanistan right and they haven`t. And it requires a great deal of trust in his judgment, in the judgment of those who surround him that more troops, or better strategy or some combination is going to make any difference. And I don`t think he has that now.

I think if he said the sky was blue, people would no longer believe him. He has furthered that away just a couple days ago. He was talking about this nonsense claim about General Pershing and poisoning bullets with pig`s blood. This is the kind of nonsense that he speaks. So our allies supposed to believe him? Are they supposed to have confidence in him or the American people? I think this is a very precarious situation. And if they`re doing this just to distract from the abominable week they had last week, I think that`s a mistake. I think they should wait for a time when he has a little bit more command of the situation and perhaps an ability to actually convince some people. Right now, I don`t think anything he says is going to make a difference.

HAYES: Well, to Jennifer`s point, Michael, I mean, they have the speech tonight, the networks are taking it. Again, it`s an address on the longest war on the nation`s history. Tomorrow night, a campaign style rally in Phoenix where he may pardon Joe Arpaio. Any idea that there is you know, new -- you know, more Presidential et cetera, they have already cut that off of the pass with their scheduling choices.

STEELE: Well, that`s true. But let`s hope he doesn`t do a pardon tomorrow night because that definitely will just undermine everything that comes from tonight. There`s no doubt about that. And I`m sure you know, the Chief of Staff General Kelly is looking at this and emphasizing to the President over and over again the importance of creating a message, an important message on foreign policy, one, broadly speaking, Afghanistan specifically that to, you know, Ms. Ruben`s point that American people can trust because you`re right, if, you know, the President tomorrow comes out and goes hard core political, in a way that is just you know, undermines everything he does today, I think Jennifer`s right. In the end, it takes away from anything that our allies can rely on, the American people can rely on and whole idea of going doubling down if you will in Afghanistan becomes much more suspect than it may already be.

HAYES: Well, to Michael`s point, Jennifer, I mean, there -- it seems to me there`s a democratic issue here, small Democratic issue. The President did run on essentially curtailing American intervention in Afghanistan. It was one of the few consistent policy positions he had. And the idea of this sort of President who`s at 37, 38 percent distrusted at home while also simultaneously being kind of carried away by the inertia of the things that he said he was going to undo, it`s sort of an example of a kind worst of both worlds scenario it appears to me that we may be entering into.

RUBIN: Absolutely. You know the President has gone after the media something fierce because he thinks that we have somehow denied him his credibility, somehow denied him his legitimacy. He`s done that to himself in word and in deed and it shows you know when you need it the most when you need the American people to be I think supportive of the President, understand him, trust him, it is not there. This is a very precarious time for America to have someone in that position.

HAYES: You know, to that point, Michael, the decision to pull out of Kennedy Center Honors, which in sort of juxtaposition with life or death of troops is tiny and meaningless but is a symbolic level, it struck me that what a remarkable statement that was. I mean, that is where the President presides. It`s where he does the thing the word emanates from. He presides over something and he cannot do that.

STEELE: Yes, that to me is very disappointing. And I really think that the President just seeds so much ground those who are in opposition to him when he does stuff like that. Show up. You know, you put your big boy pants on, and you go into the crowd and you show up. You make it very clear, I`m the President of the United States. I`m here to celebrate these honorees. I`m here to celebrate this moment. It`s one of the few times you can sort of set the partisan crazy behind, battle with the media. And I really think that the President miss-serves himself -- does a disservice to himself when he does that.

HAYES: Jennifer Rubin and Michael Steele, thank you both for your insight tonight.

Next, one week after those horrific events in Charlottesville, another alt- right protest headed to Boston, the stunning scenes of the opposition that forced the President to tweet and delete over and over after the two-minute break.

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HAYES: A week after the horrific display of violence and racism in Charlottesville, some of the same groups converged again last weekend in Boston for a so-called free speech rally (INAUDIBLE) for both the alt-right and a counter protest in opposition of their agenda. Notably, the alt- right attendees in that gazebo there on Boston commons, a crowd of many dozens were far outnumbered by the counter protesters marching for an end to white supremacy, crowd of many, many thousands. And in some cases, members of a larger crowd working to keep things peaceful.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what did -- what did they do? What did the crowd around them do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing, I just chanted at him. I just wanted to make sure he was all right. We walked in a circle. Yes. He had his free speech, we used ours. I wanted to make sure that idiot was safe because he is an American citizen just like me and you. And now they`ve gotten inside. Yes, good for them, all three of them. We won, we won. Look around. We`ve won, all right? We`ve won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think this rally will take place? Do you think it`s still going to go on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn`t -- yes, they should. Let them speak. Let their ideas out there. Their ideas are ridiculous. Their ideas are silly and they`ll die. Their ideas will die in this sunlight today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: The President, of course, watching on T.V., we assume, saw something different happening. Tweeting looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart. But a short time later, Donald Trump softened his tone to a tweet a message of healing. Our country has been divided for decade -- singular -- but it will come together again. Sometimes protest is needed in order heel -- that`s heel - - and heel we will. So (INAUDIBLE) Trump deleting that tweet and for take two, may decades thorough but missed the heels, third try, 36 minutes after the first tweet, he finally nailed both decades and heal and then added, "I want to applaud the protesters in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate."

Joining me now to talk about the President`s evolution, Christina Greer, Social Professor of Political Science at Fordham University and Karen Finney former Senior Spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton`s Campaign. What did you make of the tonal turn around between the first tweet which seemed very Donald Trump and the second which seemed less like him but I thought was interesting given the week they have in the wake -- in the wake of Charlottesville?

CHRISTINA GREER, PROFESSOR, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Well, we know who Donald Trump is. Donald Trump is the first tweet. We know -- we saw it when he came out and he says you know, both sides, both sides. We saw it when he had that disastrous press conference and we see his tweets every single morning and we saw him on the campaign trail when he called Mexicans rapist and Muslims terrorists and we saw him for the ten, 20, 30 years before that when he talked about double ax and the Latinos.

So the first tweet is Donald Trump. The second tweet that has a softer tone may have been written by someone else or may have been written by Donald Trump at the urging of whether his daughter or son-in-law or his son. Insert a name family member who is calling a check from this administration. So that`s part of the problem. We know who Donald Trump is and anyone who still on the fence is either blind -- deaf, dumb, blind, stupid -- you know, that whole -- that willingness to just allow yourself to ignore the truth and reality of who this man is.

HAYES: There was really interesting Karen, polling on that. This is -- the polling says 28 percent of Americans approve of his reaction, 56 percent disapprove. And yet, at the same time, the sort of overall approval rate like, it was clear there`s some category of people who disapproved to what he said about Charlottesville, it did not move them on their approval of the President more broadly. What do you make of that?

KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SENIOR SPOKESWOMAN FOR HILLARY CLINTON`S CAMPAIGN: Well, look, I think last week was a huge wake-up call for a lot of Americans and it shouldn`t have been. I mean, we know that these hate groups and this level of hate and bigotry has been sieving among us for quite some time. We saw frankly the FBI and SCLC talking about after President Obama was elected, the rise in those groups. So you know, people shouldn`t be surprised nor should they have been surprised that you know, last -- that Charlottesville happened because certainly -- I mean, it was horrible and horrifying and I think we all wish it hadn`t happened that way but again, I think there`s been a lot churning for a long time and certainly we saw President Trump talk about this a lot during the election.

I mean, you know, these were many of the people who fueled his victory and many of the people who fueled, if you listened and looked at those rallies that he did, he still does them, I think it shouldn`t have come as a surprise to people that this is a reality in America. So I think, maybe the disparity in some of those polling numbers are in part people kind of waking up to the reality that we`ve got a real problem in this country, that to put him aside, we`ve all got to deal with this. There can`t be an aftermath of Charlottesville. It has to be about what are we all going to do about this?

HAYES: So one the ways that has been concretize, the President talking about the statues and they`re taking down our beautiful statues with you know, I don`t think people really care one way or the other about the beauty of the statues but a bunch of statues have come down across the country. New York Times (INAUDIBLE) graphic about Confederate Statues and you wrote a fascinating piece that I`ve learned something new about you. You said -- this is you from the Washington Post last week. I`m black, Robert E. Lee is my relative. His statues can`t come down soon enough. Why did you write that piece?

FINNEY: Yes. I wrote it because of a couple of things. I wanted to put a, you know, a personal narrative and personal story and personal face on the pain that I know our country is going through and that this narrative has caused and continues to cause. You know, in the letter I talk about you know, my own family`s journey from a place of extreme hatred and bigotry where my own grandmother, you know, tried to convince my father not to marry my mother because she`s said -- you know, mixing of the races was a sin, to a place where and she became a very loving grandmother and parts of my family have you know, we`ve actually been to each other`s celebrations. It was complicated long journey. It`s going to be a complicated long journey for our country. But I also think it`s important to remember the symbolism behind those statues and what they mean in terms of white supremacy in this country and racism and bias and a legacy of a part of our history that we all need to just reckon with and move on.

HAYES: To that point, to Karen`s point about reckoning with the statue, I saw plenty of people saying oh, no, don`t -- you know, in the wake of Charlottesville and as this week unfolded, don`t get caught up in talking about the statues. That`s what he wants you to talk about. And yet at the same time when you look at the Boston folks coming out in Boston and protest happening around, you know, U.T. Austin are going to take down the Jefferson Davis statues and others. It seems like that is a fight people want to have because it`s an important one to have. What do you think about it?

GREER: Yes. I think it`s really important because the distinctions matter. These statues should come down because when they were put up, it`s significant as well. They were put up during Jim Crow to further terrorize blacks and others who believed in equality, right? And so, that`s one. Two, when Trump tries to change the conversation and starts talking about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, I have many issues with them as slave holders and lots of things that will be in another episode. However, they are not the same as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are treasonists. They tried to overthrow the government. They should never have had a statue. And so the types of people who put them up in the first place put them up for a specific reason.

HAYES: Yes, and we should note that there`s a battle happening across the country including one really interesting one in Tennessee right now. A bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest who founded the KKK is in the state capital there, just one of many of those sites of conflict. Karen Finney and Christina Greer, thanks for joining me.

GREER: Thank you.

FINNEY: Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: Who protects the President if the Secret Service runs out of money? The head of the Secret Service is looking for an answer to that very question and that story is next.

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HAYES: Just seven months into the Trump Presidency, the Secret Service is running out of money in a remarkable on the record interview with USA Today. Secret Service Director Randolph "Tex" Alles said more than a thousand agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year. The workload for the Secret Service has been exacerbated by two things. The President has traveled to one of his properties in Florida, in New Jersey or Virginia almost every weekend of his Presidency. Also, an unprecedented number of White House protectees under Trump, 42 people have protection, a number that includes 18 members of his family up from 31 during the Obama administration.

However, following the USA Today article, Secret Service Director issued a press release saying, the issue is not one that can be attributed to this current administration`s protection requirement`s alone but rather an has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade due to an overall increase in the operational tempo. Bear in mind, Secret Service has had to pay the used certain Trump Properties like you know, $60,000 on golf cart rentals one of their -- on one of his courses. And the secret service usually vacated its Trump Tower command post in lease dispute with none other than President Trump`s company. Another Trump-related dispute that could save the government some money, the exit of Chief Strategist Steve Bannon who`s no longer on the White House payroll. Bannon begins his first week on the outside today. That`s next.

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TRUMP: I like Mr. Bannon. He is a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late, you know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that.

And I like him. He`s a good man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Mr. Bannon is now back at Breitbart where his presence is already being felt. According to Vanity Fair`s Gabe Sherman on the day Bannon left his White House employ, he quickly pivoted. "`Why do you sound unfazed?` a friend asked Bannon as news of his demise richoeted across the web. `Because,` Bannon replied, `we`re going to war.`"

Today alone, Breitbart has panned President Trump`s soon to be revealed plan for Afghanistan as well as taking yet another swipe at national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

Of course, Breitbart was already trying to undermine McMaster, which raises the question how much worse could it get?

The inflection point, according to Sherman, would be, quote, if Trump, under the influence of Kushner and Gary Cohn, deviates too far from the positions he ran on. If that happens, said one high-level Breitbart staffer, "we`re prepared to help Paul Ryan rally votes for impeachment.

Here to discuss how much influence Steve Bannon does or does not have over the Trump White House, Leon Wolf, managing editor at The Blaze.

This is a quote from Bannon, "I feel" -- this is an interview with The Weekly Standard. He says, "I feel jacked up. Now I`m free. I`ve got my hands back on my weapons."

Why do they all talk like this? Someone said it`s like 13-year-olds trash talking while playing Xbox Live.

LEON WOLF, THE BLAZE: Well, I mean, listen, you can`t blame a lot of the way Trump talks on Bannon because Trump talked that way before Bannon got there.

But definitely kindred spirits in that respect. And Bannon has always been a little bit like that.

I don`t have the -- I think it`s good for the country in general that Bannon is gone out of the White House. But there is a reason that a lot of kind of my center right friends are nonetheless alarmed. Even a lot of people who disliked Bannon, kind of like I do, they look and see who is in Trump`s inner circle right now. And it`s Cohn, it`s Ivanka and it`s Jared, three New York liberal Democrats and then a bunch of career military guys without an ideological bone in their body.

And a lot of people are wondering right now, where is the conservative voice in the White House going to come from? I mean, Bannon was not a -- you know, he is more of a populist, but he was farther to the right than any of those people, certainly.

And so they`re wondering, you know, if Anthony Kennedy, you know, resigns tomorrow who is going to be the guy in Trump`s inner circle who is going to say you`ve got to nominate somebody like Gorsuch. Your base demands it. If you don`t, they`ll turn on you forever.

HAYES: OK...

WOLF: And I don`t know who that is.

HAYES: That`s an interesting question, right. So, I have heard this conservatives, people on the right, worried now, like who is he listening to? Last connections he had to the institutional right are gone.

Do you think -- do you see it as possibility to see someone like Breitbart actually turning on the president actively or the people that they rally that they speak to turning on the president in that same way?

WOLF: Oh, absolutely.

You know, definitely from what I know of Bannon, he is a personally vindictive person. And I do think that if he tends to kind of go towards the way that I think the presidency is going to go, to where you have kind of an increasingly hawkish stance that`s really out of step with America because of the number of military generals that he now has in his inner circle, his big pivot is this speech tonight where he`s going to commit us further Afghanistan. Who wants that? Even on the right, there is not a lot of people that I know who are really just itching to extend our commitment in Afghanistan right now.

And on the domestic front -- I mean, it`s just looking like his presidency is going to turn into a more left-wing version of George W. Bush. And I could definitely see the folks at Breitbart turning on Trump if it comes to that.

HAYES: Well, I think that the folks who deal with, say, immigrants who are being deported by ICE and the folks who are looking at the Paris pullout would not agree with that characterization.

But I get your point...

WOLF: Not where he has been, where he is going. I think that there`s probably a real pivot coming in the direction the White House is going to go. I don`t know that it`s going to do him any good politically, but again Trump is such a malleable guy. He has no ideological core. He`s also not very well informed on the issues. So, he relies on advice probably more than any president in our lifetimes, maybe in history. And who he is getting advice from are not going the kind of people who are going to advise him to continue on a lot of these paths.

HAYES: Do you -- you know, Breitbart has been such a -- I mean, in some ways it`s -- you know, it`s just a website, you know, it`s got a relatively large audience, I suppose, although it has this kind of outsized role it`s played, I think, in the characterization of the Trump era, same with Bannon who is -- you know, he`s a website publisher. He did a bunch of other things before.

I guess my question is like how influential is it really as he enters this period of his presidency?

WOLF: Well, I don`t know that I can necessarily answer that. But I do know that there is kind of a real sense that if Breitbart turns on the president, you know, in the conservative media there definitely is a little bit of leeriness about being the leading edge of criticizing the president.

For better or worse, he is still popular with 75 percent of the Republican base. And, you know, criticizing Trump in print or online can get you, you know, some negative reactions from your audience.

HAYES: I`m watching euphemism flicker across your face.

WOLF: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Definitely.

But I mean, if Breitbart is out there doing it, it makes it a lot easier for other people in this space to kind of breathe easier about kind of being a little more honest about what Trump is doing.

HAYES: That is a fascinating point, that they can sort of change the dynamics of how much in the conservative media people feel afraid or wary about criticizing if they are doing it themselves.

WOLF: Yeah. I think that`s probably the biggest impact of where it is going to be felt.

HAYES: All right, Leon Wolf, thank you for taking the time tonight.

Ahead, awaiting the president`s prime-time remarks. Is he about to issue an about-face on one of his most consistent policy positions. What we can expect coming up.

Plus, Thing One, Thing Two reaches totality right after this break.

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HAYES: Thing one tonight, the very cool science event that united Americans across the country: the total solar eclipse that plunged some areas into complete darkness as seen here in this moment of totality in Columbia, South Carolina.

Satellite images show the shadow of the moon streaking across America as millions upon millions gazed up along this rare and awe-inspiring celestial moment.

I watched from Brooklyn alongside New Yorkers who crowded into the streets as my colleague, Rachel Maddow, did outside NBC studios along with these two jabronis (ph).

Lawmakers showed off their vantage points. Four generations of Bushes held a viewing party. And even the president watched from the White House balcony.

But as everyone -- everyone knows there is just one rule about solar eclipses, only one, you have one job during an eclipse. The president`s extended lesson on what not to do is Thing Two in 60 seconds.

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HAYES: President Trump gawked at the solar eclipse without glasses to protect his eyes today as an aide below him shouted, don`t look, and there are probably many, many Americans who knew better but still couldn`t quite stop themselves from stealing a glance at the harmful rays of the solar spectacular.

But this is the president who reportedly gets two scoops of vanilla ice cream with his pie instead of a single scoop for everyone else. And so today one or two glances skyward didn`t seem enough. He endulged just a bit more. And despite the don`t look advice from the staff, he persisted.

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HAYES: In just a few minutes, Donald Trump will give a rare prime-time address to the nation about Afghanistan, the longest running war in U.S. history. According to a White House statement, the president will provide an update on the path forward for America`s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia with reports indicating he may authorize the deployment of up to 4,000 more troops, that`s in addition to the 8,400 U.S. troops and approximately 6,000 troops from NATO allied countries.

This announcement will come after a campaign of criticism over the war in Afghanistan, one of the most consistent policy positions Donald Trump has held.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What are we doing there? These people hate us. As soon as we leave, it`s all going to blow up anyway? And you say what are we doing there? We`re spending hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions of dollars on this nonsense.

What are we doing? We don`t have money. We`re a debtor nation. We can`t build our own schools and yet we build schools in Afghanistan. I`ll tell you, our thinking is so far off. It just shows the leadership of this country, I mean, we just don`t have it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: And of course there are the tweets nearly 20 of them going back to Barack Obama`s first term disparaging the war effort, calling for American troops to come home.

For example, this one from 2013 "we have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation, let`s get out."

Or this one from even two years earlier, "Ron Paul is right when he says we are wasting lives and money in Iraq and Afghanista."

Hans Nichols, NBC`s Pentagon correspondent here to help fill us in.

I guess the question is what -- how did he get turned around from that position to what it appears he`s announcing tonight?

HANS NICHOLS, NBC PENTAGON CORREPSONDENT: Well, his generals got to him, Chris. And by generals I don`t just mean generals, I mean marines. The troika that is advising him. That`s General Dunford, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, now Chief of Staff John Kelly, former marine. He actually lost his son in Afghanistan; and then Secretary Mattis, himself, marine general.

You know this persuasion has taken place at dinners, at breakfasts. There have been a lot of informal conversations. And the generals in some ways have been willing and now the secretaries have been willing to sort of endure some abuse, namely the president saying we`re losing I want to fire the general there. They say, no, Mr. President, that isn`t quite the right way.

So it`s persuasion, some might argue it`s -- they`ve been generals co- opted, the generals have co-opted the president.

But just to give you a sense of this, Chris, some flavor, remember back I believe sometime this spring, that president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner flew to Iraq on a secret trip with General Dunford, got a lot of briefings along the way.

They somehow manage the military to convince Trump of their world view, and it wasn`t just Jared Kushner. Dina Powell was on a trip to the Middle East with Secretary Mattis that I was on once. They`ve cleverly co-opted the White House and convinced them of their views, which looks like additional troops.

HAYES: Hans Nichols, thanks for joining us. That is quite illuminating.

With me now, retired four star Army General Wesley Clark and Congressman Ruben Gallego, Democrat from Arizona who served in Iraq.

Let me start with you, congressman, we lost a U.S. service member just last week, Staff Sergeant Aaron R. Butler who was killed last week fighting. He was killed by IED by, it appears, ISIS in Afghanistan, which did not exist when we invaded. Do you think we should be extending this war?

RUBEN GALLEGO, (D) CONGRESSMAN OF ARIZONA: At this point, we should not be extending the war in the matter we are conducting it. What we are doing right now is essentially just trying to put a band-aid on a gushing wound.

The biggest problem is our partner, the Afghanistan government, is horribly corrupt. We`ve had 16 years of trying to build and train and supply this army and has not succeed because at the core of it again you have a corrupt government that is going to make it nearly impossible.

What you need to do is make the Afghanistan government understand that we are not here to be the perpetual force. They need to take hold of their own destiny. They need to understand that we are going to be pulling out and they need to be responsible for their own security.

What is the president I think potentially is going to be doing is actually really just putting us in a perpetual war without any insight, without any metrics of success and I think unfortunately just to say we haven`t given up on the war, and I think that`s a very unfortunate situation that a lot of men and women are going to find themselves in for years to come, if that`s the case.

HAYES: General Clark, the congressman`s comments sound like the kinds of comments the president himself made for years about this precise conflict. You heard Hans Nichols talk about the way in which the Pentagon and generals around the president convinced him otherwise.

Do you think that`s good thing or bad thing?

WESLEY CLARK, ARMY GENERAL: I think is a good thing that Donald Trump is exposed to the realities of the situation, but I don`t think just adding troops the mix is sufficient.

There has to be a strategy. There has to be, let`s call it, a winning mechanism or a defeat mechanism for the enemy. It involves diplomacy and economic development, political development of the Afghan government and maybe it does require more troops.

But if you only emphasize the troop strength we`re never going to get out that successfully and somebody is going to say that`s it, just pull them out.

The truth is we do have some interest there. We don`t want an ungoverned space in which ISIS can take form and threaten us elsewhere or at home, and we are working in such a way in that area that we don`t want to appear to be pushed out by Iran or Pakistan or Russia because that affects other things we`re trying to do.

So there are interests at risk here, but there has to be a strategy. What I`m listening for tonight, from what the president says, what`s the strategy. Not what`s the troop level.

HAYES: So let me ask -- I want to follow up on this. I want you to describe to me the institutional psychology here. I remember when President Obama was going through his policy review there was a sense in which the generals on the ground in the Pentagon were trying to jam him a little bit.

There was a lot of controversy about this. They wanted more resources and more troops. They were trying to box the president in.

You`ve articulated the question about what`s the strategy and when do we cut our losses.

Why does it seem that institutionally the Pentagon is so unwilling to do that?

CLARK: You know, Vietnam left a long mark and nobody wants to be the guy who pulled out and lost the war.

We might have had a different outcome in Vietnam had we followed the way we operated in Korea where we stabilized and then we kept forces there.

So a lot of this is all of these generals, including I and many others have grown up in the shadow of Vietnam experience.

HAYES: Interesting.

CLARK: So they believe that if you hang on and press -- but of course the problem with this is it`s not -- you`re looking at it only through the military eyes. It`s a much bigger set of issues, as the congressman was indicating. You`ve got corruption, tribalism. You`ve got other countries. You can`t just focus on troops.

HAYES: Congressman?

GALLEGO: Chris. We`ve got to remember. This is not the decision of the generals. This is a decision of the politicians. We`re in charge of the military, and at this point the president needs to make the call. At the same time Congress needs to take power back away from the presidency.

If the presidency is being too influenced by the generals in the Pentagon and they`re not making the decisions that we think are in the best interests for this country, and we are going to continue being in perpetual war, then at this point we need to actually exert our influence and oversight on the Pentagon.

We can not continue to be in these perpetual wars without any strategy or any end game just so some people can save their ego and say they weren`t responsible for being the man or woman who pulled out the last troop.

That`s been a problem for President Obama and that`s a problem now for President Trump, and I urge members of Congress to actually start reasserting our authority and as a member of the Armed Services Committee I certainly am too to do this.

And by the way, I don`t think it`s a coincidence that the president is making this announcement when the Senate and the House is out of session. If this is a real serious proposal that was thought out we would have been informed and had some hearings on it.

Instead he`s rushing it out. It`s not because Afghanistan is that much more dangerous now then two weeks from now, it`s just more that he is in political trouble and needs to change the subject, therefore they`re rushing this out at the consequence of potentially a lot of men and women`s lives.

HAYES: General Clark, can you imagine a time line where this continues like this into subsequent administrations where ten years from now there are people serving, American men and women who weren`t born on 9/11 serving in Afghanistan and fighting and dying?

CLARK: Well if you imagine it, you to imagine that American leadership just isn`t very effective.

It`s sad to me to see how long we`ve been in Afghanistan without an effective strategy. We`re not dealing effectively with Pakistan. We`re not dealing effectively with Iran, Russia and India who are also actors in the area.

And with our own forces we`re keeping our foot in the door but we never put the resources in, either military or civilian to do the job right.

We`re relying a lot on the contractors who are overpaid and frankly underincentivized to get the job done in there.

It`s been sad so far. It it goes on for another ten years, it`s unimaginably sad.

HAYES: General Wesley Clark and Congressman Ruben Gallego -- Congressman, I have to get out of this so that we can take the president`s speech.

Thank you both for joining me.

As you can see there at the Ft. Myer military base, the president and some of his advisers and cabinet officials there surrounded by active duty members of the armed services.

The president is minutes away from his address to the nation on what they`re calling the new path forward in Afghanistan. Rachel Maddow picks up our coverage next.

END

RACHEL MADDOW, ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us for our special coverage tonight of the president`s prime time address. We know you have basically infinite choices of where to watch a presidential address on a night like this, so thank you for choosing to be here with us tonight.

The president tonight will be speaking from Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, that`s the army post that is immediately adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. It`s very, very close to downtown Washington, D.C. It`s basically immediately across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. You can see what the room looks like there tonight.

The president will be expected to be at that podium within about five minutes or so. Most of the cabinet is there tonight.

Interestingly, the secretary of defense is not there tonight, but you see all those uniform military personnel in the audience.

If this were a more predictable presidency, the White House announcing a rare presidential prime-time address on the same day the whole country came together to watch a stunning solar eclipse. You might expect that the topic of that presidential address would be designed to capitalize on what happened today and the whole country being warm-hearted about space and science today, everybody wowed by the mysteries of the universe.

In a more predictable presidency you could imagine tonight being the presidential address that announced a manned mission to Mars or a back to future plan to return to the moon or something.

That is not what we are in store for tonight. We`ve been told to expect an announcement from the president on his strategy for the war in Afghanistan. That war begun almost immediately after al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11. The war has not stopped since. It`s the longest war in U.S. history.

U.S. troop numbers have fluctuated in Afghanistan from as high as 100,000 troops in President Obama`s first term down to fewer than 9,000 troops there today.

Five years ago tonight in 2012, the man who is now president was clear as a bell as to what he thought should happen with the Afghanistan War, quote, "Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home." That was exactly five years ago tonight, August 21, 2012 from Donald Trump.

But that was not a new sentiment from him at the time. He had already been preaching that same thing for a very long time by then.

In 2011, when American troop strength was at its highest in Afghanistan, he was calling the Afghan war a waste of trillions of dollars, demanding, quote, "when will we stop wasting our money on Afghanistan?"

As a president and as a politician, Donald Trump has been accused of inconsistency and at times inattention on some important policy matters. But he has been consistent and insistent over a period of many years now when it comes to this war. "It is time to get out of Afghanistan. It is not in your national interest." That was sent in 2012.

Time to get out. Time to get out of there. Get out now.

We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money?

Even when he gets some of the nouns wrong, like calling the Afghan people Afghanis, which is the equivalent of calling the American`s dollars. Even when he gets some stuff screwed up, his point has been clear as day from the beginning and invariable. Quote, "let`s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis. We train and we waste billions of dollars there. Nonsense."

"We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Let`s get out."

"We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives."

This is the way that Donald Trump has talked about Afghanistan for years now in public life. And for politicians rhetoric about wasted lives while Americans are still fighting and dying overseas, that would usually be considered thin rhetorical ice for any politician.

But Trump has been emphatic on this subject, even to the point of using language like that. Before he became president, at least, he really had only one consistent message on the Afghanistan War, end it. End it now. End it yesterday. It is a total waste.

Since he has been president, though, we really have no idea if that idea still holds for him. The only change in course we have seen since he`s been in office was in the second week of April when U.S. forces for the second time ever dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in the world on a mountainous corner of eastern Afghanistan.

We still don`t really know why. The stated reason was that that bomb, that $16 million Mother of all Bombs was necessary to blow up a complex of deep caves in that part of Afghanistan. Our military does have penetrating bombs that are designed for underground targets, but that giant bomb they dropped in April is not one of those bombs.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

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