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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/04/12

Guests: Wayne Slater, John Brabender

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you. ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: You bet. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. A certain could-be, would-be first lady is breathing a sigh of relief today after what happened last night in Wisconsin. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Congressman Ryan, he`s a great leader, a wonderful speaker, but he`s not going to take Ann`s place, I`ve got to tell you that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Whew! In addition to joking that Congressman Paul Ryan will never replace his wife, "The Washington Post" notes today in an article gushing about the chemistry between Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, that on the campaign trail in Wisconsin, Mr. Romney had also joked that Paul Ryan was not his son. Which is a little less eyebrow raising than joking that Paul Ryan is not his spouse. But it does remind you that there`s actually a very big age difference between Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. Paul Ryan is 42 years old. Mitt Romney is 23 years older than that. He is 65. He is the same age that George W. Bush is now, which means that Mitt Romney is of the Vietnam generation. We think of Mr. Romney, I think, as younger than that, in part, I think, because he`s very handsome and he`s very fit. But he was 19 years old at the height of the Vietnam War. Mr. Romney was healthy. He was of the right age, and he was therefore, theoretically, quite draftable for Vietnam. But he did not serve, either in the active duty military or in the guard or reserves, like George W. Bush did. Mr. Romney, instead, lived in France during the Vietnam War. He was a missionary for his church in France for nearly three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, of course, President Obama did not serve in the military either, but President Obama is a good deal younger. Mr. Obama was 5 years old while Mr. Romney was not serving in Vietnam. But Mr. Romney has, I think, quite obviously been cognizant of the fact that his service question in his biography, him not serving in Vietnam, could be used against him in politics, if anybody ever decided to use it against him. There was a watershed moment in Mr. Romney`s failed candidacy for the presidency in 2008 when a Romney campaign playbook mysteriously made its way into the hands of the press. Remember this? It exposed the fact that the Romney campaign had thought maybe, maybe his national campaign slogan for the presidency would be, "First, not France." Not France? (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) MADDOW: He speaks fluent French! When his generation was fighting in Vietnam, Mitt Romney was, in fact, living in France. Not France is going to be his campaign slogan? Yes, quite deliberately. In 2012, in this year`s presidential campaign, you might have noticed that Mr. Romney has been talking a lot about President Obama being secretly European-ish. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: He takes this political inspiration from Europe, and from the socialist Democrats in Europe. He wants us to turn into a European-style welfare state. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Now, of these two guys, only one of them has lived in Europe. Only one of them speaks French. Only one of them spent not only a formative, but an incredibly potent multi-area period of his biography in Europe, and it is the one who`s calling the other guy European! Is Barack Obama European? No, of course he`s not European. But it`s not just a lie, it is a tactic. It is a tried and true tactic in conservative politics. It`s almost a cliche. If Karl Rove makes entitle the encyclopedia of modern political science, this is the thing that will be in the little paragraph under his little picture. Take whatever your greatest weakness is and turn it against your opponent. All right. The iconic example, of course, George W. Bush, who did avoid service in Vietnam, running for re-election in 2004 against a decorated Vietnam combat veteran hero by making it seem like he, George W. Bush, was the one who`d actually gone to war while John Kerry was the shirker. Maybe even was a traitor. It`s classic Karl Rove, right? This is what will define Karl Rove`s legacy. Take your greatest weakness and your opponent`s greatest strength and use it against your opponent. Mitt Romney does this all the time. In the speech that he gave last night when he won Wisconsin and in a speech that he gave today, he used this tactic like a dozen times. It`s kind of his only trick. All of his weaknesses as a candidate, he now just says are the weaknesses of Barack Obama as a candidate. So Mitt Romney lived in France instead of going to Vietnam. He spent years and years in Europe. So now Mitt Romney says that is Barack Obama`s problem. He`s the European! Mitt Romney signed on to the Paul Ryan kill-Medicare plan, so now Mitt Romney says wanting to kill Medicare, that`s Barack Obama`s problem. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: He has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mitt Romney was 47th out of 50th in job creation when he served as governor of Massachusetts, and his record in private industry at Bain Capital is littered with all of these horror stories about shutting down factories and firing American workers, getting rid of American jobs for his own personal profit. So Mitt Romney opened his speech last night in Wisconsin by accusing President Obama of failing to create jobs. Job creation? Don`t ask me about that! That`s Barack Obama`s problem. Incidentally, we just today got an initial jobs report for March, which shows more than 200,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy this month, the 26th straight month of private sector job growth under President Obama. But job creation? That`s Barack Obama`s problem, somehow. Mr. Romney will always take flack, even from his own side of the aisle, about all of the policy issues on which he has changed, on which he has flip-flopped. Today, Mr. Romney gave a speech to newspaper editors in Washington, in which he said, flip-flopping, that`s Barack Obama`s problem. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: As president, he has repeatedly called for tax increases on businesses. Now as candidate Obama, he decides that a lower corporate tax rate would be better. As president, he`s added regulations at a staggering rate. Now as candidate Obama, he says he wants to find ways to reduce them. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Now, to be fair, none of that`s true. If you compare new regulations under the Obama administration, say wonder the George W. Bush administration, George W. Bush would be the over-regulator. President Obama has been out on the stump this week, talking about how he has reduced taxes on businesses 17 times since he has been in office. But regardless of the truth of what he is saying, look at the tactic of what he`s saying. He`s saying if you`re concerned about flip-flopping, President Obama is the guy you ought to be worried about. He`s the flip- flopper. Mr. Romney also as a man who has elevators for his cars, who has a $100 million or so trust fund for his sons, who makes $10,000 bets, who says that $374,000 in speaking fees income was not very much money to him, a man whose single funniest story 28 about the Midwest is about the hilarious time that his dad closed a factory and the voters got mad about it, the man who easily talks about how much he personally likes to fire people -- Mitt Thurston Howell Romney III has been accused of being a little out of touch with the common man. But now, because this is his only political tactic, he has decided that the being out of touch problem, that is a President Obama problem. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: It`s enough to make you think that years of flying around in Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers, telling you that you`re great and you`re doing a great job, it`s enough to make you think that you might become a little out of touch with that, and that`s what`s happened. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: See?! See? He`s the out of touch guy, not me. My favorite one, though, is of Mr. Romney -- did you see the speech that he gave today? The speech that he gave today had all sorts of little asides, some of which we`ve pointed out already. But the entire speech, the architecture of the speech today, the basic idea was that President Obama has a secret plan for a second term that we are not allowed to know about until after we re-elect him. This is amazing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: He doesn`t want to share his real plans before the election, either with the public or with the press. His intent is on hiding. You and I are going to have to do the seeking. He wants to us re-elect him so he can find out what he`ll actually do. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. So, guess who`s just the one who just admitted on the record to having a secret plan to what he would do after he`s elected? If you said Mitt Romney, then you are clear on how this tactic works. This actually happened. Mitt Romney told the conservative magazine, "The Weekly Standard," in their latest issue, he told them that he has a secret plan. He said, quote, "One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest that I don`t care about education. So I think it`s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies. Will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I`m not going to give you a list right now." Because it might hurt me politically. You just have to wait to see what I`m going to do. Until then, it`s secret. Mitt Romney wants to eliminate entire departments or government agencies, but he`s admitting, on the record, grr, that he does not want to tell you which departments or agencies he`s going to eliminate until after the election. Having admitted an actual secret plan on the record, Mitt Romney now says that the secret plan problem, that`s Obama`s problem. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: He doesn`t want to share his real plans before the election, either with the public or with the press. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It`s amazing. Now, this whole "Obama has a secret plan for his second term" thing, this is a favorite trope on the right. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Barack Obama gets re- elected, it will be a disaster for the United States of America. ROMNEY: If President Obama`s re-elected, you will not be able to get a job. REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), ARIZONA: We simply will step into this Samarian night of European socialism. RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America will not be the land that believes in free people and free enterprise. REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: Imagine a second term if he doesn`t have to face re-election. GINGRICH: You can`t imagine how radical he`ll be in his second term. WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: We see the president`s strategy crystal clear: get re-elected. And with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms freedom. It`s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: See, according to the NRA, the way you can tell Barack Obama is going to take away your guns is that he hasn`t taken away your guns yet. Don`t you see -- ah! This conspiracy theory thing is weird enough, but now also prevalent enough that it has been subject to the highest order of mockery on Comedy Central`s "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: Everything Obama`s done in his first term is just a canard, so that he can do the opposite in his second term? Obama deported more illegal immigrants per year than President Bush did, so that the illegal immigrants could rest up in their native land for the second term invasion? Barack Obama killed bin Laden and dumped his body into the ocean -- to lull us into complacency, so we`re unaware that a zombie bin Laden is now hard at work on the ocean floor preparing a terrorist lobster army? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Jon Stewart doing what only Jon Stewart can do. But in Mitt Romney`s case, accusing President Obama of having a secret plan when he himself has admitted on the record that he actually does have plans that are secret, that we don`t get to know about until he`s elected, I think it is an interesting and an open question whether or not making fun of this as a tactic saps the tactics power. I mean, everybody knows this is how this works now, right? Whatever your weakness is, according to the Karl Rove plan, you say that your weakness is actually your opponent`s weakness. I mean, Mitt Romney is literally calling Barack Obama an out of touch flip-flopping rich guy now. Next he`ll be accusing President Obama of maybe wanting to replace the first lady with an attractive, dark-haired, much younger congressman. I`m looking at you, Heath Shuler. I mean, does the transparent dishonesty and cynicism of this now well- known Karl Rovian tactic make it less effective? I mean, we have been through this for a decade. Everybody knows that this is what they do. Everybody knows this is a transparent tactic. Even the guy who is best at this, even the guy who invented this, Karl Rove himself isn`t very good at pulling it off anymore. You may remember Karl Rove writing in the "Wall Street Journal" last month, trying sort of a variation of this tactic recently. Instead of just putting your own candidate`s weakness on the other guy, the other side of this, right, is taking away your opponent`s greatest strength. Taking on whatever it is your opponent is best at and trying to make it look like a liability. Mr. Rove took a quote from Bill Clinton completely out of context, thus reversing its meaning, in order to try to portray President Obama`s order to kill bin Laden as no big deal. He tried to say it was an easy decision that any president would have made and he deserves no credit for it whatsoever. It`s classic Rove, right? If President Obama wants to be able to run in part on the strength of his anti-terrorist credentials for having killed bin Laden, say that was no big deal. Don`t just give your opponent your own weaknesses, take away his strength. But the problem for Mr. Rove with this is that while he now says President Obama deserves no credit whatsoever for killing Osama bin Laden, here`s what he told the day after bin laden was killed. Quote, "President Obama did a remarkable job of leadership. It was a very tough decision." See? Even Karl Rove can`t pull this off anymore. As time goes on and we see this done over and over and over again, year after year, and we see it done in a way that makes it transparent that it is not at all about the truth of the world, or even the truth of politics, it is just a cynical and dishonest tactic, are we still susceptible to it? Or have we built up sufficient immunity to this as a political tactic that it is a laugh line now and not an effective attack ad or a line in a speech? Joining us now is Wayne Slater, senior political columnist with "Dallas Morning News" and an archaeologist of Rovian politics of the first order. Mr. Slater, it`s great to see you again. WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Great to be with you, Rachel. MADDOW: The "I`m rubber, you`re glue" tactic here, it`s a bit of a variation on the standard Rove strategy of attacking your opponent on strengths. Do you think that it has lost any of its effectiveness over time? SLATER: It certainly has the potential to lose effectiveness. Remember, one of the first guys in recent years use this I`ve got a secret plan was somebody who wanted to end the war in Vietnam, he won that race, although subsequent years didn`t end up very favorably. It has a real potential problem, and the reason it has a problem, is because in this case, when you`re transferring your weakness to your opponent, you`re operating from a position of weakness. And it`s the voters that you will most will need -- Mitt Romney if he`s the nominee -- most will need: moderate, independent Republicans and conservative Democrats, those are the ones who are going to be the least likely to buy the message. People on the far right, they`ll buy most anything that Romney or the Republican Party says. You say Barack Obama is out of touch, they go, fine. But the people in the middle will say, that -- I don`t believe that. You say that Barack Obama is going to gut Medicare, which is what Mitt Romney suggested, people don`t believe that. Again, the voters that Romney will need in the fall don`t believe that. You say that Mitt Romney or Mitt Romney in this case says that Barack Obama told the president of Russia, I need more flexibility, the open mic episode as evidence that he is not entirely American, that he wants to sell America out -- this is something that, in fact, most people on the voting constituencies that Mitt Romney ultimately would need, if he is going to win in November, don`t believe it. So sooner or later -- yes, it wears thin on a weary electorate. MADDOW: And you know, I think there`s two ways to think of how this works. It is -- I think it`s worth talking about, because it does seem to be really the only thing that the Romney campaign is doing. They are doing this over and over and over again. I mean, to the point of denouncing President Obama as a flip-flopper today, I just thought, wow! What else could they do? But there`s two ways in which it operates. One is that they are slinging some arrows at President Obama, calling him -- making all those accusations that you just ran down, but they are also trying to break any arrows that might potentially ever been shot at Mitt Romney. They`re trying to make it seem like, ah, all the politicians say that each other -- all the politicians say to each other that they`re going to kill Medicare. I`m sure it`s not true about any of them. So it essentially disarms the attack against Romney on that. SLATER: And that`s an old tactic, the idea of inoculation in one way or another. And again, both parties do it, smart political operatives try it. So that you anticipate what your opponent is going to say about you and you do whatever you can do, including just blame your opponent for the same thing, in order to blunt the attack. So that in the end -- in the end, the voter doesn`t know more about you or think more highly of you. The idea here is -- and that`s kind of the tragedy of it -- the idea is that the voter basically doesn`t think much of either of you. A pox on both their houses. This is the goal of an operation that tries to use not what a candidate is about, but use a tactic in which you talk about what your opponent is all about, both his strengths and his weaknesses, not your strengths. MADDOW: Wayne Slater, senior political columnist with "The Dallas Morning News," who has seen this tactic be born and come to fruition and then go national. Wayne, it`s always a pleasure. Thanks very much. SLATER: Great to be with you. MADDOW: All right. Still ahead, the Bush administration, the George W. Bush administration is casting a larger shadow in the current presidential race than anybody on the Republican side wants to, and that got significantly worse today. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Rick Santorum is betting almost all his remaining presidential chips on winning his home state of Pennsylvania. He might want to ask Pennsylvania first. One of Mr. Santorum`s top strategists is joining us live here in the studio just ahead. An actual Republican live in the flesh here, I`m so excited. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The positions I`m taking now on the budget and a host of others issues, if we had been having this discussion 20 years ago, or even 15 years ago, would have been considered squarely centrist positions. What`s changed is the center of the Republican Party. Cap and trade was originally proposed by conservatives and Republicans as a market-based solution to solving environmental problems. There`s a reason why there`s a little bit of confusion in the Republican primary about health care and the individual mandates since it originated as a conservative idea. Now, suddenly, this is some socialist overreach. Ronald Reagan, who, as I recall, is not accused of being a tax and spend socialist, understood repeatedly that when the deficits started to get out of control, that for him to make a deal, he would have to propose both spending cuts and tax increases -- did it multiple times. He could not get through a Republican primary today. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Ronald Reagan could not get through a Republican primary today. President Obama speaking yesterday to the "Associated Press" about how much the Republican Party has shifted to the right, how Republicans` own policies, its own heroes, would be denounced as too left wing by today`s radicalized conservative Republicans. This is a true thing about the Republican Party, and it is a potentially devastating thing for independent and centrist voters to realize about the Republican Party. And so, the administration has been repeatedly making this case for a while now. When Vice President Biden makes the case, he says things like, this is not your father`s Republican Party anymore. President Obama himself has been throwing his own policies back into the faces of his Republican critics, trying to get them to acknowledge that they, themselves, used to support those policies. Speaking at a fund-raiser last month, the president said, quote, "In 2008, the guy I was running against, the Republican nominee, he didn`t deny that climate change might be a problem. He thought it was a good idea for us to ban torture. He was on record as having supported immigration reform." President Obama there making the case that the policies embraced by the last Republican presidential nominee, even just in the last election cycle, are now seen as way too left-wing for today`s Republicans. Cap and trade, the Republicans in 2008, Senator McCain supported that. The DREAM Act, the Republicans in 2008, Senator McCain, supported that. And a ban on torture, John McCain himself a survivor of prison torture after he was shot down and captured in Vietnam -- John McCain led the fight within his own party to ban torture and then he won his party`s nomination for president of the United States. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, Governor, I`m astonished that you haven`t found out what waterboarding is. ROMNEY: I know what waterboarding is, Senator. MCCAIN: Then I`m astonished that you would think such a torture would be inflicted on anyone that we are held captive and anyone could believe that that`s not torture. It`s in violation of the Geneva Conventions. It`s in violation of existing law. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: John McCain beat Mitt Romney in that contest. He won the presidential nomination in 2008. And during that campaign, Mr. Romney repeatedly refused to say that waterboarding a person was a way of torturing that person. Did Mitt Romney`s point of view win out in today`s Republican Party? Is that another one of these issues in which even the politics of John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008 are too left wing now for today`s Republicans? We may be about to find out. Every time the Romney campaign thinks that the George W. Bush presidency no longer lurks in the shadows of Mr. Romney`s own efforts to capture the nomination this year, out comes a sinewy hand from under the bed to grab at Mr. Romney`s bare ankles. Today, three years after the Freedom of Information Act requests were filed for it, today the "Wired" magazine reporter, Spencer Ackerman, and the National Security Archive at George Washington University finally got their hands on a document written by this man. He`s Philip Zelikow. He ran the 9/11 Commission. He was Condoleezza Rice`s lawyer at the State Department. At the beginning of the Obama presidency in 2009, the Obama administration released memos in which the Bush administration had told itself that torturing people was legal. That as they read the law, CIA interrogators couldn`t be prosecuted for torturing anyone, because torture was legal, as they saw it. Torture is not legal. Torture is illegal. And as a top lawyer at the Bush State Department, Philip Zelikow circulated a letter within the administration saying that essentially the administration was kidding itself in trying to say that there was some way around the law here. They were trying to give a legal green light to CIA interrogators to torture people, but that green light, he said, was a sham. After the Obama administration released those sham memos from the Bush administration, Philip Zelikow disclosed that he had written this dissent. He said he had written this dissent at the time, but he said that I cannot disclose it to you, because the Bush administration tried to cover it up and pretend like it never existed. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PHILIP ZELIKOW, FORMER BUSH ADMIN. OFFICIAL: I heard the memo was not considered appropriate for further discussion and that copies of my memo should be collected and destroyed. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Philip Zelikow said that the White House attempted to collect and destroy all the existing copies of this memo in which he called bullpuckey on how the Bush administration was trying to say torture was legal. I got a chance to ask him about that on this show. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Why do you think they tried to destroy every copy of the memo that they knew existed? And how did you find out that they did try to destroy copies of the memo? ZELIKOW: Well, I found out because I was told -- I mean, we`re trying to collect these and destroy them. And you have a copy, don`t you? But I -- the -- I know that copies were obtained in my building. I think copies still exist. Why would they destroy them? That`s a question they`ll have to answer. Obviously, if you want -- you want to eliminate records because you don`t want people to be able to find them. MADDOW: Am I right in thinking that they would want to erase any evidence of a dissenting view within the administration, because it would undercut the legal authority of the advice in those memos, the advice that those techniques would be legal? ZELIKOW: That`s what I thought at the time. I had the same reaction you did. But I don`t know why they wanted to do it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Within the George W. Bush administration, they wrote a legal justification for torture. There was dissent within the administration on that. The Bush administration disagreed with the dissent, they tried to eliminate evidence that dissent ever existed, and today that dissent came to the light. Philip Zelikow`s memo, tearing apart the legal justifications for torture that the Bush administration was counting on to say that torture was legal, this memo that was circulated and read in which they attempted to make disappear during the Bush administration, now it is out in the light of day. And if the Republican Party were still the Republican Party of John McCain, with this would open up a whole new can of political worms, because the Obama administration, remember, looked into Bush administration-ordered torture, and they decided not to prosecute any of it. They decided, effectively, that the Bush administration was operating on good faith when they ordered torture? They thought it was legal? Probably not, actually. It turns out they had good reason to know it was not legal. So that means it was a crime. It was probably a war crime, not to put too fine a point on it. And that is something that we are legally obligated to prosecute in this country. This reopens the whole question of the legal liability for torture that was administered by the previous administration. The Democratic Party will be split by this, because the White House politically doesn`t want to deal with it, even if it`s wrong and even if they know it`s wrong. And the Republican Party still has to figure out who it is. Is the Republican Party still the party of John McCain, which has now the opportunity to outflank the president on a matter of principal here? Where the White House knows what the right thing to do is, but they don`t want to do it. Or are the Republicans still the party of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, who thinks torture`s OK? Gut check time. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK, quick. You`re in a crowded place. Lots of people jammed together, some of them kind of angry. Say it`s a political convention, the kind of event that brings out plenty of ideological die-hards and a few certified nuts among them. If the situation gets hairy, which of these items in the hands of a stranger next to you scares you more? A Glock handgun, which is advertised as hard to see and tough to face, or a piece of string, with which you might pull a tooth if you could somehow tie one end to a molar and the other to Mitt Romney`s dog. Which scares you more in the hands of a stranger next to you, the handgun or a string? Which would you ban people from caring into this event if you were in charge of this event? Why you will be able to take your Glock, but not your twine to this year`s Republican national convention -- coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There were elections last night in Maryland, in Wisconsin, and in Washington, D.C., but Rick Santorum was not in any of those places last night when it came time to deliver his concession speech. Mr. Santorum was in Pennsylvania. In part, I think, because he did the not figure that he would be winning any of those three contests last night anyway, and he really, really, really wants to win his home state of Pennsylvania. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANTORUM: We`ve got three weeks to go out here in Pennsylvania, and win this state. And after winning this state, the field looks a little deferent in May. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If Mr. Santorum does win Pennsylvania, catching up in the delegate count will still be a near mathematical impossibility. "Near" being the important word there. But it is still important, right? And Mr. Santorum has been very publicly confident about his surefire victory in his home state. He has gone so far as to guarantee a win. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: You agree, Pennsylvania is a must-win for you? SANTORUM: Pennsylvania -- we have to win Pennsylvania. BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS: Over the weekend, I know you said you will win in Pennsylvania. But today, Senator, can you guarantee a victory in your home state? SANTORUM: Oh, absolutely. HEMMER: You`re saying that you guarantee a victory in three weeks? SANTORUM: Oh, no question about it. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Pennsylvania is not only a must-win for the Rick Santorum campaign, it is a guaranteed win. No question about it! But what if Rick Santorum does not win his home state of Pennsylvania in three weeks? He`s still ahead in the polls in Pennsylvania, but his lead has shrunk enormously in recent weeks. In a Franklin and Marshall College poll taken seven weeks ago, Santorum is leading Mr. Romney by 29 points. In same poll taken a week and a half ago, Mr. Santorum leads now by just two points. Despite being his home state, Pennsylvania is not exactly what you might call slam dunk Santorum country. I mean, don`t forget, this is the state that did vote him out of office in 2006 by 18 points. As the folks at the "National Journal" put it, quote, "The makeup of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania gives Mitt Romney a chance to win there," a chance to beat Rick Santorum in his home state. The Pennsylvania demographics are a lot like other Midwestern states, like Ohio and Michigan, where Romney pulled out narrow victories. Even when it comes to the conservative base in Pennsylvania, there are some potential problems for Mr. Santorum, including the fact he endorsed the more-moderate Senator Arlen Specter over a conservative primary challenger in Pat Toomey back in 2004. "The Hill" newspaper notes that some of Mr. Toomey`s Tea Party supporters in the state are still mad at Mr. Santorum for that. Despite his personal guarantees to the contrary, the possibility that Rick Santorum will lose his own home state in three weeks is real. And that possibility has given way to -- is giving way to a common sense argument that if he does lose Pennsylvania, Mr. Santorum will have to drop out of the race. And if he will lose in Pennsylvania, if it looks like he`s going to lose in Pennsylvania, shouldn`t he probably drop out before that loss in order to avoid the embarrassment of losing at home? A former Mike Huckabee aide telling "The Hill" newspaper today that the political damage of losing in Pennsylvania would be huge, quote, "If he loses Pennsylvania twice, that`s going to really hobble him in the future. That would be very hard to live down." Given Rick Santorum`s guarantee that he will win Pennsylvania, his admission that he needs to win Pennsylvania, and the real possibility that he might not in fact win Pennsylvania, the Santorum campaign appears now to be trying to reframe the importance of the contest there. "The New York Times" noting that while Mr. Santorum has said he must and will win Pennsylvania, quote, "His aides are now casting it as a mere stepping stone, a way to provide momentum leading into may and other state contests like Texas." A top Santorum aide telling "The Hill" newspaper that winning either Pennsylvania or Texas is vital for the campaign to go forward. Quote, "It`s going to be tough to go on without Pennsylvania. We must win one or both those states." So, suddenly it`s not, we must win Pennsylvania, it`s, meh, Texas, Pennsylvania, tomato, tomato. It`s not that Rick Santorum needs to win Pennsylvania, it will just be tough if he doesn`t. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Let me ask you this question. How important is Pennsylvania? Is it a must-win state? SANTORUM: Oh, yes, we have to win here. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Rick Santorum`s chief strategist joins us next for the interview. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Senator, you`re in a good, strong position as a runner-up. Why risk an embarrassing loss in Pennsylvania? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick, welcome home. SANTORUM: Thank you very much. John, it`s great to be home. REPORTER: Let me as you this question: how important is Pennsylvania? Is it a must-win state for you? SANTORUM: Oh, yes, we have to win here. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Somebody ribbing former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum there, calling him a good runner-up today outside a diner in his home state. Still, though, an illustration of just how much is at stake in the Pennsylvania primary for Mr. Santorum. Joining us now for the interview is John Brabender. He`s a chief strategist with the Rick Santorum campaign. Mr. Brabender, thanks for being here. JOHN BRABENDER, SANTORUM CAMPAIGN SR. STRATEGIST: Yes. And I`ve got to tell you, every time I say I am doing an interview with you, people say, what is wrong with you? And I don`t understand it. I mean, look, I know I`m not going to change your mind on anything, which is a good thing. And I know -- but you`re always respectful and you`re always fair. You ask tough questions, but they`re reasonable. So tell me why I shouldn`t be here? MADDOW: Well, I think you ought to be. So it`s nice of you to say. Well, here`s something -- I appreciate you being here, and I know it`s not the easiest thing to do, among Republicans, you do get a hard time. But I feel like this is a real question on which I feel like I`m hearing two different things from the campaign. And as chief strategist, I want to know which side you agree with. We`re hearing Pennsylvania kind of matters, but we could do it without Pennsylvania as long as we get Texas. And we`re also hearing in part from the candidate, we need Pennsylvania. If we don`t have Pennsylvania, there`s no way forward. BRANBENDER: Well, the candidate`s right. I mean , we have to win Pennsylvania. And we`ve said before, we have to win states like Texas and we have to win almost every state, we think, in May. Truth of the matter is, in almost all those states, we are ahead. I saw you put a poll up that shows us two points up in Pennsylvania, there was also a Quinnipiac out today that showed us six points up. And, you know, Pennsylvania has a lot of moderates in the southeast. And Romney will do reasonably well there. But there`s a whole mess of conservatives in the rest of the part of the state which I think Rick Santorum will do very well. It`s a very unique state. And the other thing about Pennsylvania is don`t forget, it`s probably going to be a battleground state in the fall. And so, we need a nominee that can do well here. MADDOW: If the Pennsylvania race does not go the way you want it to - - if you come in second instead of first, do you make it to May? Do you make it to Texas? BRABENDER: Well, I mean, you re-evaluate everything. And you look -- and what Rick Santorum said very clearly is he got into this race to beat Barack Obama, not just because he`s going to see some cause, or this isn`t just about stopping Mitt Romney and those type of things. If at some point we feel like Mitt Romney would be the nominee, we`re going to rally behind Mitt Romney and we`re going to help him beat Obama. But we would assume he would do the same thing on his end. MADDOW: But, now, Mr. Santorum has said that Mr. Romney would be the worst Republican in the country to nominate -- to run against Mr. Obama because of the centrality of the health care issue. He thinks that Mr. Romney is essentially disarmed on that issue. BRABENDER: I think he is very concerned. I will tell you -- Rick Santorum said one of the reasons he did get into this race is because of Obamacare. You know, it`s deeply offensive to a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats, quite frankly, and independents as well. The problem is, as the president has said himself, that Mitt Romney was basically the architect of Obamacare. If that is the most potent issue that we have against the president, I think it is concerning that are we taking it off the table with Mitt Romney? MADDOW: But that wouldn`t be enough to keep Mr. Santorum from not just endorsing, but working on behalf of Mr. Romney, if he does not beat him in the primaries? BRABENDER: I think -- I would look at it this way. To Republicans, the great unifier in this race is Barack Obama. I think that you have to look at -- we look at Obamacare not just because we think it`s bad medicine or bad economics, but it changes freedom in America. But it`s not just limited there. There`s many other areas that we`re very concerned. I will tell you -- I`m very troubled about his attacks on the Supreme Court this week. That`s not the first time this president did it. Two State of the Unions ago, he went after the Supreme Court when they were sitting in the audience. You know, I think that`s an issue. I think that will become a big issue in the fall. MADDOW: It has been sort of standard operating procedure on the right to attack the Supreme Court as not just godless but unelected and tyrannical. BRABENDER: And they`re wrong to do that. MADDOW: OK. So you think that`s wrong on both sides. BRABENDER: Absolutely. I do. I think that we have to respect the Constitution. The Constitution lays out how our country is governed and I think that not to have that respect is wrong. And, you know, both sides do work hard to get their nominees on the Supreme Court. Let`s not doubt that. One of the reasons Rick Santorum will tell you he worked so hard to support Arlen Specter is he had Specter guarantee his vote for whatever judges came up which happened to be Roberts and Alito which right now we see why that`s so important to conservatives. MADDOW: On -- here`s a campaign issue which is about your candidate, but it`s a question about how he has handled your campaign. I have criticized your candidate on the air, including last night, for a couple of things that he has said that seemed to please his audiences very much that were very blatantly not true. He said this week that at the University of California, there`s a number of campuses that don`t teach American history. It`s not available. He had also said recently that there`s a huge proportion of deaths in the Netherlands that are attributed essentially to the government killing people who don`t want to be killed under the guise of euthanasia. People wear bracelets that say "don`t kill me." Not true about the Netherlands, not of that what he said was true. Not true about the University of California system, but he doesn`t correct those things when he`s called out on them. Do you think that he should? BRABENDER: Well, first of all, I`m not going to get into -- I don`t know whether he said was true or not. I`ll take your word for it that they weren`t. I know in the Netherlands, there are statistics that it was close to -- I was told there were some problems there. MADDOW: Not even close. BRABENDER: But here`s the more fundamental thing that I will tell you. We don`t have a pollster on our campaign. Why? Because Rick Santorum doesn`t want somebody whispering in his ear what he said. He said I want to do this without a net. I want to talk from the heart. We don`t use teleprompters. You know, so there are going to be occasions where he may say something that isn`t always accurate. You give thousands and thousands of speeches, that`s not unusual. However, in some sense, it`s a good thing that we have somebody who`s willing to go out there, just speak from the heart, say what they really believe. The one thing I will say, Rick Santorum is not going to be your cup of tea. We both know that. But you know he has convictions. MADDOW: But because of that, that`s the thing -- it`s not that he made the error. That`s not what troubles me. People make errors. I make errors all the time. What troubles me is he`s been called out on it. He should know it will take you five minutes to verify what he said about the University of California is not true. Same thing with the Dutch. And then there`s no correction. And so, because I think he is running as a man of conviction, even though they may be things people disagree with, he is running as a guy who has some integrity. And so, correcting something, when you put something out there that`s false seems like a man of honor, and I`m surprised he doesn`t do it. BRABENDER: I would guess if that somebody he thought was credible gave him misinformation that he thought was credible, and he felt that he spoke, I think he would he one of the first person to say I was wrong. And I`m going to tell you. That`s the type of person he is. MADDOW: I will follow up with you on this. These are easy ones. BRABENDER: OK. MADDOW: John Brabender, thank you so much. I really appreciate -- BRABENDER: Thank you. By the way, I think we look good together. You know, there`s a point/counterpoint we could be doing. So -- MADDOW: That`s actually a `90s thing. But you and I could do like something else. Maybe song and dance? BRABENDER: All right. Great. MADDOW: A regular fight at least. BRABENDER: Thank you for having me. MADDOW: John Brabender is the chief strategist for the Rick Santorum campaign. And I`m really glad he came on the show. See, Republicans, it`s OK. Nobody`s crying. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The national political conventions this summer -- they`re the kinds of occasions for which people really accept that security`s going to be tight, right? The good news, though, for gun lovers this August, it appears that you and your concealed handgun may find a way to have a Grand Old Party together in Tampa. This year, the Republican Party is going to be naming its nominee in Tampa, Florida, so the mayor of Tampa has put together a list of the many, many items he considers security threats. And he doesn`t want them anywhere near his convention center that week. Not on the list of items, firearms. The city is not even going to try to ban firearms from the Republican National Convention because of that weird and always adapting creation known as Florida state law, which bans local governments from placing any restrictions on carrying guns in public places. As the city attorney explained to the "Tampa Tribune," quote, if we tried to regulate guns, it wouldn`t have worked. It just wouldn`t have. I mean, come on, this is Florida. Now, because the Secret Service is the Secret Service and they do not care what your state law says, the Secret Service is still going to ban guns from the small security zone that the Secret Service will be setting up around the site. But that still does leave a whole big zone around that zone that the city is responsible for. That`s the so-called clean zone. And that includes where all the protesters are going to be. And in the clean zone, well, according to the list, the city of Tampa`s list of dangerous security items at the Republican National Convention? How about a water pistol. Water pistol -- banned or not banned from the Republican convention by the city of Tampa? Water pistol is banned. How about a Glock handgun -- banned or not banned by the city of Tampa from the Republican convention? Glock handgun, good to go. Not banned. Okay, next, how about a mask. Any mask. Should you want to embrace your inner guy fox or your inner Groucho Marx at the RNC, will the city of Tampa let you? No. That mask will be banned from the Republican convention. How about a Springfield XD compact .45 -- banned or not banned by the city of Tampa from the RNC? That`s OK actually. That handgun is safety personified. Not banned. OK. Here`s my favorite. Piece of string -- a piece of string more than six inches long, could be twine, dental floss, definitely longer than half a foot, though. Can you bring a piece of string anywhere near the Tampa Convention Center the week of the Republican convention? No, you cannot. That piece of string, any string longer than six inches will be banned for safety reasons. Guns -- not banned. But string -- banned. Because maybe you were going to trust the Republican nominee up like a nice roast chicken? Amazing. All right. Before we go tonight, I have to say something else. I got word tonight that this new book that I wrote, this book "Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power," "Drift" is going to debut at number one on "The New York Times" best-seller list, which is a little overwhelming. And so I just want to say thank you -- if you are reading it or if you are thinking about reading it. And thank you to everybody here at the show and at MSNBC with their indulgence with me working on it for so long and talking about it all the time now. I really appreciate it. Thanks. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END