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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/17/12

Guests: Steve Kornacki, Eugene Robinson

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Have a great weekend, my friend. ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Count on that. That is a guarantee. That`s an absolute guarantee. I`m good at that. Believe me. MADDOW: I hear you, man. All right. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Happy Friday. It is going to be a good weekend and this is going to be a really good show. We had a really good day in the tape archives today. All right, in the 1970s, American Express had an awesome award winning series of TV ads that sort of defined American Express as a brand. It defined them as kind of the upscale credit card for excellent types or at least for important people. The tag line from the old ads is: don`t leave home without it. The tag line survived for decades there after. But the gimmick from these brilliant ads that they did in the 1970s, the gimmick in these ads for some reason did not survive even though it was great. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BENNY GOODMAN, JAZZ AND SWING MUSICIAN: You know me. Without my clarinet, a lot of people don`t. That`s one reason I need the American Express card. This machine is another. I put my card in here, punch my special number and get up to $500 with the American Express travelers checks at major airports around the country. After all, even the king of swing can use some extra loot. ANNOUNCER: To apply for a card, call 800-528-8000. GOODMAN: The American Express card, don`t leave home without it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: No way. That`s Benny Goodman? I wouldn`t -- right? So the premise of the ad is -- I`m a famous person whose name you would know, but you don`t recognize me looking at me. I`m important, but the only way I can get myself treated with the importance I deserve is by using this card -- this card that you, too, can have. That was the premise of the ad. They had the awesome Benny Goodman one, but they did it with other notable people as well. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHARLES CONRAD JR., ASTRONAUT: Do you know me? I`m one of the astronauts who walked on the moon, but when I walk in here to rent a car, they don`t always recognize me. That`s why I carry an American Express card. VIRGINIA WADE, TENNIS CHAMP: Do you know me? You think having won Wimbledon, people would recognize me, but without my racket, they don`t. So I carry an American Express card. FRANCINE NEFF, FORMER U.S. TREASURER: Do you know me? I was treasurer of the United States so many people know my name, but not me. That`s why I carry the American Express card. It`s welcome all over and that makes me welcome all over. Sure, it`s super to have my signature on $60 billion, but for traveling and entertaining, it`s a lot better to have my name right here. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Francine Neff turned the job of United States treasurer into awesome corporate sponsorship deal. That was also U.S. astronaut Charles Conrad Jr. and Wimbledon champ Virginia Wade. These ads were so great, and they also did one of these ads for a man named Bill Miller. That particular American express ad was referenced in a great piece in the "New York Times" today about historical vice presidential picks. I would not have known this ad existed before I read about it in the "Times" today, but we looked all day for it in the archives,. And right before air time just moments ago, we found it deep in the NBC News archives. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM E. MILLER, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you know me? I ran for vice president of the United States in `64. So I shouldn`t have trouble charging a meal, should I? Why, with this, they treat me as though I had won. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: William E. Miller. They treat me as though I had won. He did not win. William E. Miller, Bill Miller, was Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater`s choice for vice president in 1964. Before they picked Congressman Paul Ryan for V.P. this week, the last time the Republican Party picked somebody out of the House of Representatives to be V.P. was in 1964 with Bill Miller. And, of course, he was perfect for that "you don`t recognize me" American Express ad a decade later in 1975 because Bill Miller never became vice president. He and Barry Goldwater lost very badly, but it wasn`t for the lack of awesome ads like this one. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Barry Goldwater speaking with General Dwight D. Eisenhower at Gettysburg. BARRY GOLDWATER, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We keep getting back to the subject of war and peace. And in this campaign that Congressman Bill Miller and I are engaged in for the presidency and vice presidency, because we stress the need for a strong America, our opponents are referring to us as warmongers. And I`d like to know what your opinion of that would be. You have known me a long time and have known Congressman Miller a long time. GEN. DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: Well, Barry, in my mind, this is actual tommyrot. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Campaign ads were different then. Despite the awesomeness of having Ike on their side, calling their critics tommyrot, Barry Goldwater and Bill Miller, the last Republican ticket to have someone from the House of Representatives as V.P., Barry Goldwater and Bill Miller just got clobbered. I don`t think it was because of the choice of Bill Miller for V.P. I think it was more because of this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RONALD REAGAN: I asked to speak to you because I`m mad. I have known Barry Goldwater for a long time. When I hear people say he`s impulsive and such nonsense, I boil over. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Ronald Reagan telling America that he`s mad. He is boiled over with rage over allegations that Barry Goldwater might not have the appropriate emotional temperament to be president. I`m mad! Don`t say he`s mad. Probably didn`t help. But because that is what the American people thought about Barry Goldwater, that he was a little -- the Goldwater/Miller loss in 1964 was the worst presidential loss in the modern era of presidential politics. And I am defining modern loosely. The difference between Goldwater picking Bill Miller and Mitt Romney picking Paul Ryan are kind of stunning. I mean, he is the same kind of pick with the same kind of rationale. Republicans put Bill Miller on that ticket in 1964 because he was essentially seen as being super Republican. They didn`t think they`d be able to get New York state with him, where he was from, but they liked his partisanship. In the House, he had never really passed something of significant. Neither has Paul Ryan, but he had a leadership role in the Republican Party. Mr. Miller had, in fact, been Republican Party chairman. He was seen as being a rather aggressive partisan. He was very popular among Republican Party activists. He was seen as the hardcore guy, even if he wasn`t more widely known throughout the country. They thought he was such a partisan Republican hero that he could really energize their side and it would drive the Democrats nuts. Specifically, they thought that Bill Miller would drive the Democratic president they were running against, LBJ. They thought it would drive him nuts. They put that on the record. This is the front page of the "Milwaukee Sentinel" in 1964. The last time Republicans picked somebody from the House to be vice president, it was for the same reason, the exact same kind of pick as Mitt Romney and the Republicans picking Paul Ryan now. And it is early days yet, but right now at least, it`s looking like the same kind of results. We`re are one week in and I don`t think it`s unfair to say this is one of the all-time least successful roll-outs of a vice presidential selection in modern history. Maybe things will get better, but the first week has been bad. It started with the announcement itself, which became public knowledge at around 12:01 a.m. on a Friday night/Saturday morning. That was then followed up by an early Saturday morning event. The Romney campaign made a big deal about how the announcement of the vice presidential choice was going to be carefully timed to reward their greatest supporters. The only people who were going to know who the pick was were the people who downloaded the Mitt Romney cell phone app. They were going to learn it first. Instead, you know, midnight on a Friday night, there`s Chuck Todd and its on MSNBC at midnight. Yes, I don`t know. Then there was the actual announcement itself. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan. (APPLAUSE) ROMNEY: Every now and then, I`m known to make a mistake. I did not make a mistake with this guy. But I can tell you this -- he`s going to be the next vice president of the United States. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Handled charmingly. Not a great beginning. Luckily for the Romney campaign, President Obama had actually made a similar though not quite as bad version of the same mistake when he announced Joe Biden as his running mate in 20008. Still, not an auspicious start. And then there was a question of the staging. Why were they running out of a battleship? I mean, the official line was that they had been touring the battleship that morning. So, they went on a tour and then all of a sudden, realized they had to be at the podium so they run down off the gangplank of the battleship? These two men, both of whom have been of military age in major wars, neither of them served, still using a decommissioned battleship to imply that they have military service they do not have? And whether you like the announcement or not, it was all over by 10:30 on Saturday morning and America woke up and wondered what happened? What did I miss? That was followed by the first solo trip for the vice presidential nominee. Here`s what that looked like. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think -- UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to cut Medicare? (CROSSTALK) (CHANTING) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to cut Medicare? RYAN: We like to listen to one another. These ladies must not be from Iowa or Wisconsin. (CROSSTALK) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Paul Ryan is saying there, she must not be from Iowa. She must not be from Iowa. It turns out that the woman who was yelling at him was from Iowa. Despite what Paul Ryan was saying about her. She later wrote about it on the "Huffington Post." What she was screaming of him about, what the heckler who were dragged out of his first event was screaming about was Paul Ryan`s plan to kill Medicare. Paul Ryan`s plan to kill Medicare also dominating all of the local headlines in Florida newspapers. That was the initial swing state response to who Mitt Romney picked as his running mate. If the Romney folks could have seen anything coming about picking Paul Ryan, they should have seen having to answer for Medicare thing coming. The Romney campaign apparently did not plan for that. They did not come up with what they were going to say about Paul Ryan`s kill Medicare plan. When Mr. Romney was asked about the plan right after the announcement that same weekend on Sunday, he said essentially, forget about the Paul Ryan plan. My plan is different from his and that`s the one we`re going to run on. Then the next day, he said my plan for Medicare is very similar to his plan. The day after that, one of his surrogates went on television and said the plans are very different. Then the day after that, Romney told reporters that the plans are, quote, "probably close to identical." The most difficult thing to pick this guy to be on the ticket and your explanation of his biggest liability is clear as mud. We didn`t think this up. Where the Republican position on the Paul Ryan kill Medicare plan is being made crystal clear, however, is down ballot from these guys. As Republicans across the country and all sorts of states have started running advertisements and making statements to the press saying that they are against Paul Ryan and his plans for Medicare. And those among those candidates who were lucky enough to be able to vote against it have been touting as loudly as they can that they voted no on Paul Ryan from Denny Rehberg, excuse me, in Montana, to Chris Collins in New York state, to Scott Brown in Massachusetts, Linda McMahon in Connecticut, Heather Wilson in New Mexico, all Republicans all saying they are against Paul Ryan on the Medicare issue. This is all just the first week of his roll-out as the vice presidential nominee. This is the honeymoon. And then he himself started talking to the press, and he handled it roughly as well as he handled those hecklers at his first solo speech in Iowa. He tried to get away with insisting that he had never requested stimulus money for his home district, telling a reporter this week, quote, "I never asked for stimulus." Yes, yes, you did. After he got called out for lying about that, the new vice presidential nominee had to backtrack, saying actually he just hadn`t recalled and it was a mistake when he did ask for the stimulus money, and oh, yes, then he took the courageous stance of blaming it on his staff. "The Boston Globe" nailed him again today, finding another federal program he had attacked and called wasteful even while he was getting funds from it for his own district. We`ll see if he blamed a staffer for that as well. He also then tried to get away with blaming President Obama for an auto plant in his district closing even though that auto plant closed before President Obama ever became president. So you`d be wanting to blame George W. Bush for that one. This is week one. This has been a bad rollout. There has been no honeymoon whatsoever, which you can tell in part because Mitt Romney is still answering questions about his tax returns. The rollout of the vice presidential selection did not even distract people for long enough to get that off the front pages, we will have more on that later, because it`s still a story. But you can also see it in the numbers. As Nate Silver of "The New York Times" noted today, the average vice presidential announcement produces a four-point bounce in the polls. In the case of Paul Ryan, it`s more like a one-point bounce. The Democrats, of course, are gleefully sending around those numbers, noting that Paul Ryan`s rollout is the least successful on record. It`s on par with the rollout of Sarah Palin and the rollout of Dan Quayle. Now, the Sarah Palin dig, of course, that one hurts. The Dan Quayle one, though, Democrats may be gleeful about comparing Paul Ryan to Dan Quayle. But when the Republicans rolled out Dan Quayle for vice president that year, Republicans won that year. So, regardless of how embarrassing Dan Quayle now looks in retrospect, he did win for them. How can the Republicans turn this into a Dan Quayle year and not a Sarah Palin year? I mean, you would assume the Republicans knew the Medicare thing was always going to be hard, right? Maybe you can forgive them for still having no idea to say about that except some people saying very clearly, no, no, no, let me run away. The other thing Paul Ryan supposedly brought to them is his reputation for policy seriousness. His ability, his willingness, his reputation for being a details guy, for being willing to defend even his controversial policy positions in detail. So at least they have still got that, right? The newest leak from the Romney campaign to what is effectively their campaign newsletter,, is that their overall strategy from here on out, now that they have Paul Ryan is nobody on the campaign is going to be allowed to discuss details. It is their view that, quote, "diving into details during a general election race would be suicidal." Well then, what did you pick Paul Ryan for exactly? You have made him abandon his own policies and run against his own plans now. You won`t let him talk about your policies you`re making him embrace. The thing that most people knew about him if they didn`t know him as the kill Medicare guy, at least he`s from the least popular Congress in the history of polling in the popularity of Congress. And the most recent historical president for picking a Republican from the House is the guy who not only lost but who then had to parlay the depths of obscurity into which he fell into a credit card commercial deal a decade late. What`s the plan here? There has to be a plan here. You guys are supposedly careful planners. What`s the plan? Joining us now is Steve Kornacki. He`s co-host of MSNBC`s 3:00 p.m. Eastern show "THE CYCLE." He`s also senior writer for And he`s a good student of history. Steve, thanks for being here. STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Sure, I spend way too much time in the C- Span video archives, so I love the intro, the old Bill Miller clips, the American Express ads, Dan Quayle coming up that riverboat. MADDOW: The fact -- the premise of the Bill Miller ad is you have no idea who I am looking at my face. It`s as if I won, I`m so happy with this credit card. I mean, that was not only a loss, but a huge loss. But I was so struck today going back and looking at contemporaneous press coverage to see the rationale for picking him by the Goldwater folks and all of their strategic dunderheadedness was that they really needed someone who seemed like a hard core partisan to keep their own side happy. It`s essentially the rationale that they`ve used for Paul Ryan, is that reason to believe that it`s a dumb strategic move as much now as it was in `64? KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, you could look at `64. I mean, the sort of caveat there is there were so many factors lined up against Barry Goldwater in the election, that it didn`t matter who he picked. He had been against the civil rights that year. He was going to lose the north by 40 or 50 points. So that thing was over. But another parallel that`s kind of interesting to me is when you think about 1996. You think of Bob Dole selecting of Jack Kemp as his running mate. And it wasn`t just that he took Kemp as the running mate. It`s that Bob Dole, who had been sort of an Eisenhower style Republican his whole career, he`s been a deficit hawk, he never bought into the supply side stuff, he reinvented himself in the middle of that summer and he embraced supply side economics. He embraced, you know, Jack Kemp`s economic philosophy because he needed to do that in order to win over and to really reassure that Republican base and energize the Republican base and give him something, quote, "big" to run on in the fall. And I saw shades of that in Romney`s announcement last week because you have the same guy, a similar guy who`s not trusted by the Republican Party base, needs to energize them, needs something to define his campaign, so what did he do or what did it look like he was going to do, he was going to embrace Ryanism. He was going to embrace the Ryan budget. He`s going to embrace the Ryan Medicare plan and then they`re going to roll the dice and see if they could sell the press and public on the idea that they were courageous truth tellers telling people things they didn`t want to hear but need to hear. So, on some level, that made sense to me when they did it. They`re down in the polls. The summer isn`t going to way they want it to go, so this is the risk you take. But it now basically seems like they have decided a week into this thing, they want to run with Paul Ryan and the want to strip the Ryanism out of it. MADDOW: Yes. KORNACKI: It`s like a Rube Goldberg thing. They have gone through the most elaborate possible means to get to a generic vice presidential candidate. That`s what they`re trying to turn Paul Ryan into right now. And if you wanted a generic vice presidential candidate, you could have picked anybody in the Republican Party. He`s literally the worst person in the Republican Party you could have picked if you wanted a generic vice presidential candidate. MADDOW: Well, imagine you`re the Bob Dole/Jack Kemp campaign to have been a better campaign, right? I mean, if we can imagine to that sort of a choice. It`s actually not even just an historical analogy because Paul Ryan says he learned economics from Jack Kemp. He worked for him directly. So, it`s more of an apostle than someone learning from the writing. But is it possible to make a good case to the country for supply side voodoo economics, or trickle down economics or the Ryanism supply side stuff that Ryan has made his name on defending? Could you do that at the presidential level? KORNACKI: I think what is interesting there is what Ryan represents is the next generation of what Kemp and that sort of Kemp/Bill Roth, you know, supply side crowd started. Because the thing about Kemp was he cared deeply about tax cuts, he cared deeply about slashing rates for upper income, for businesses, that sort of thing, believing that would grow the economy. He did not have an appetite for cutting into the social safety net. His answer to that always was like, we got these huge deficits under Reagan, we`re going to grow out way out of them. We can always grow our way out of it with tax cuts. Paul Ryan, now, he`s largely -- he and the fellow Republicans in Congress are responsible for the deficits of the last decade that Bush sort of racked up. But Paul Ryan`s posture now is to take the theory and apply this sort of, you know, libertarian war on government to it. So, it`s not just we want tax cuts. It`s we want to dismantle the social safety net in so many ways, and that is politically problematic and that`s something the Romney campaign recognized right away. We got Ryan on the ticket. Apparently, our candidate wanted this guy, but we can`t run on Ryanism because this is not just supply side economics. This is a new generation of it. MADDOW: So, they`ve got Ryan, so anybody who looks closely finds that out about him, but anybody who`s not looking closely, just listening to what Romney is having him say in the stump is hearing Paul Ryan essentially try to be a liberal. That Barack Obama is cutting the safety net, getting rid of your Medicare. It`s amazing. They`re trying to make him run as a liberal, the worst possible choice for that strategy. KORNACKI: Yes. And his case is basically, look at Barack Obama, he`s doing what I actually said he should do. But no, we don`t want to say that. MADDOW: I believe that if you look at the fundamentals, this presidential election is the Republicans for the taking. And I believe that the Romney campaign is fundamentally incompetent on the basic decisions they need to make in order to take something that should be basically theirs. Just incredible. Steve Kornacki, the host of MSNBC`s 3:00 p.m. Eastern show, "THE CYCLE," also senior writer for and a nice guy for being here late on a Friday. Thanks, Steve. Appreciate it. All right. The Romney/Ryan campaign has assigned somebody to be the Paul Ryan person, the Paul Ryan guy. If they were thinking about the politics of this, again, I have no idea why they picked this particular guy. We`ll have more on that ahead. But, first, one more thing about Bill Miller, .Barry Goldwater`s pick for vice president in 1964. Yes, Bill Miller and Barry Goldwater got beaten really, really badly in 1964, the Republicans` worst presidential showing ever. Johnson and the Democrats beat them by over 20 points, and yes, Bill Miller was lost enough to obscurity that a decade later he did one of those American Express do you know me ads where the whole idea of the ad was, of course, you didn`t know who this person was. But there`s one thing about Bill Miller besides being Barry Goldwater`s vice president and being in that American Express ad and his previous career in politics and the military. There`s one thing that survives the years about Bill Miller for which he still to this day is totally justifiably famous in a very positive way, and that is that he is Stephanie Miller`s dad. Stephanie Miller, the high priestess of excellent liberal talk radio. Her dad was Bill Miller, Barry Goldwater`s vice president. And it is conclusive evidence of a life well-lived that she is his daughter. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The Obama campaign made Mitt Romney an offer he had to refuse today. More drama in an already dramatic narrative. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: This tyrant has amassed a large cache of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, and is aggressively seeking nuclear weapons. He sees America as the only obstacle to his perverse ambitions, and that is what he shares with al Qaeda, these terrorists against us. this deep hatred for America. We must not let him share anything else with these terrorists, Mr. Speaker. And with that, Mr. Speaker, it`s a painful vote, it`s a painful subject, it`s a painful issue, but this is a cause that we cannot go unanswered. I urge a yes vote and I urge passage of this resolution. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, not presumptive vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan back in October 2002 explaining his vote in favor of invading Iraq, because of the weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein had stockpiled and was ready to deliver to the al Qaeda terrorists. Paul Ryan will probably not be asked on the campaign trail about how wrong he was about Iraq when he voted to authorize a unilateral, preemptive, preventive war for something that wasn`t there. The Iraq war is over and pretty much nobody in American politics talks about it much anymore if they are not a member of the Cheney family. That said, if the Romney campaign wanted to draw attention to Paul Ryan`s disastrous record on Iraq, they couldn`t have found a better senior adviser for him. They have elevated a man named Dan Senor, who is already a Romney campaign foreign policy adviser, to be the top Paul Ryan staffer. Dan Senor was the spokesman for the U.S. led provisional government in Iraq. In the months after the invasion, he was the spokesman, he was trying to convince all of the reporters that the invasion was going awesome when of course in fact it was a disaster. The "New York Times" described what Mr. Senor did in Iraq as, quote, "Often delivering rosy accounts of the war` progress to reporters whose on- the-ground view of the crisis was anything but." "Washington Post" reporter (INAUDIBLE) described an encounter when Dan Senor told him, quote, "Well, off the record, Paris is burning, but on the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq." That`s Dan Senor. That`s the Paul Ryan senior adviser, the staffer they gave to Paul Ryan, the top guy. The Bush administration flack who was charged with trying to sell America on the Iraq war as it was descending into chaos. But the Iraq war is over, so nobody is asking Mitt Romney why he wanted the off the record Paris is burning guy on his campaign at all. And nobody is asking Paul Ryan about the weapons of mass destruction he said Saddam was about to give to al Qaeda when he was helping cheer lead the country into a second simultaneous war in the end of 2002. Of course, the other simultaneous war that we were in at the time, we still aren`t out of, the war in Afghanistan, the Bush -- the other Bush/Cheney war that has become the Obama war, is still very much under way. There have been five so-called "green on blue" attacks in Afghanistan this week where uniformed Afghan security forces fired on coalition troops who are training them or otherwise working with them. Two of the attacks were today. At least seven Americans have been killed just in the last week by uniformed Afghan service members we`re supposedly working alongside. And this appears to be part of a trend in Afghanistan right now, a very bad trend. By "The Associated Press`" count, there were five coalition troops killed in `09, five killed in 2010, last year, that figure was up to 11, and this year, which is not over, there have already been 34 coalition troop deaths in green on blue, or insider attacks in Afghanistan. NBC News has learned today that in response to all of these attacks by Afghan security forces on Americans, all U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan have been ordered to have a fully loaded magazine in their weapons at all times, no matter what else they`re doing. The Army has also ordered that at any gathering of U.S. military and armed Afghan security forces, at least one U.S. soldier will be designated as a guardian angel to stand in a protected space with a loaded weapon ready to respond immediately if there is an attack. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar, remember him? He`s apparently back, at least back enough to try to take some degree of credit for these attacks, but it should be noted that`s always what the Taliban does, whether or not they deserve the credit. Nobody expected this would be a foreign policy election. But we are at war. Tens of thousands of Americans are in harm`s way right now and their families are hanging on every word from the war zone. What is politically incredible is not so much we can have an election without talking too much about the war, what`s even more incredible than that is that the Ryan/Romney ticket is so confident in that result, they are so confident they will not asked any hard questions about this war or the last one that they have put the spokesman for the last disastrous war right at the top of their campaign. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The last time Mitt Romney told voters to trust him about what was in his unseen tax returns, it turned out he was not telling the truth about what was in them. Why that is now coming roaring back. That`s ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We spent a lot of very good time in the way deep archives today, looking for a tape we showed at the top of the show about the last time Republicans picked a member of the House for their vice presidential nominee. That was the Barry Goldwater campaign back in `64. And while we were rooting around in all that archive tape, we had a little bit of an eureka moment when we got to the part of the archives about tax returns. I have never seen this before today, but I think this is amazing. All right. It`s 1974. Richard Nixon has just resigned. Gerald Ford has, therefore, just become president. And by the power vested in him by the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, Gerald Ford gets to pick who the new vice president of the U.S. will be. But because there is not an election that confirmed his pick, it`s just someone being appointed by the guy named president, actually, Congress has to confirm the choice. Congress has to confirm the guy Gerald Ford picks to be the new vice president. Who does he pick? He picks Michael Bloomberg. He picks the Michael Bloomberg of his time. He picks a governor who is a giantly, giantly rich New Yorker. But Nelson Rockefeller has to go before the senate to be confirmed as V.P., and Nelson Rockefeller will not release his tax returns. At least he tries not to. Watch him try not to with members of the press. The context here is that he is saying he will release his tax returns if the Senate demands that he has to. But he`s not going to give his tax returns to some pesky reporters. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NELSON ROCKEFELLER, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The role of the vice president depends on the president, if the president wants to use him, wonderful. If he doesn`t, fine. REPORTER: Do you believe that -- what would you do about your financial assets to meet the requirements of the vice presidency? ROCKEFELLER: I`ll just conform to the law. REPORTER: Are you prepared to detail your personal finances for Congress, including your tax returns? ROCKEFELLER: I`m prepared to do whatever the Congress asks me and to conform to the law in every respect. REPORTER: What is your net worth now, Governor? ROCKEFELLER: You`re not a member of the Congress, excuse me. REPORTER: You seem to be a little less open with us, it seems to me. You`re a little than open with us. ROCKEFELLER: Well, you`re not the committee of Congress. I haven`t been confirmed and I haven`t gone before the committee. My understanding is that protocol says that you don`t discuss matters that are going to be taken up by a committee before you get to the hearings. REPORTER: Do you doubt you will be confirmed? ROCKEFELLER: Pardon me? REPORTER: Do you doubt you would be confirmed? ROCKEFELLER: I would never take anything for granted in life, particularly the action of this time. Thank you, gentlemen. It`s been a pleasure. I may see you again. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Eventually, Nelson Rockefeller did get confirmed by the Senate but not before coughing up seven years of tax returns. Precedent matters, right? I mean, politically, right now, the most important thing about Mitt Romney not releasing his tax returns is he hasn`t been able to change the subject from people asking him to release his tax returns. But substantively, there`s two things I think are underappreciated and very relevant to this whole discussion. One of them is precedent. The other, of course, is what light his tax returns would shed on his plans. How much money he would make under the policies he`s proposing for the country. What his policies would do for his own tax burden and for the taxes paid by the middle class. On the issue of precedent, though, I think the national press, for some reason, is blind to looking back at Mitt Romney`s public record. I don`t really understand it, but it seems like there`s a willful resistance to looking back at what Mitt Romney has done in public life in the past. When Jim Messina from the Obama campaign today tried to make a deal with the Romney campaign about the tax returns, Obama campaign narrowed the question. They asked for five years of returns. They asked Mr. Romney to release from 2007 to 2012, basically the years Mr. Romney has been running for president. In doing that, they tried to address the Romney campaign`s main objection to releasing more tax returns. They keep saying they`re worried if they reveal anything, the Obama campaign will only demand they release more. Well, today, the Obama campaign manager acknowledged that concern. They said, quote, "If the governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more -- neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign." Despite the question being narrowed and their objection being met, the Romney campaign still said no, no deal. Mr. Romney said he had looked back over the last decade of his returns and found that he, quote, "never paid less than 13 percent." And we all have to trust him on that. But back when he was running for governor in Massachusetts in 2002, Mr. Romney set a precedent for what he is doing now, and it`s a bat precedent. He was refusing to release his tax returns. He was insisting instead you have to trust me. That year in 2002, he just finished running the Olympics in Utah, he came back to Massachusetts and announced he would be make a bid for office, because he had been in Utah, working in Utah for a few years. He had told a local Utah reporter he declared himself a Utah resident for tax purposes. So the public and the press and certainly Massachusetts Democrats wanted to see his tax returns. They wanted to know whether he was qualified to run for governor of Massachusetts, whether he met the requirement that you have to be a resident of the state for seven years. Mr. Romney declined to release his tax returns citing a concern for privacy. Now, because the question was not Mr. Romney`s income at the time but it was his residency, "The Boston Globe" narrowed the question, just exactly the way the Obama campaign did today. They offered the Romney campaign in 2002 a deal. "The Globe" said, release the tax returns to us with all of the financial information redacted, all of the numbers blacked out, with only your name and address still visible. They narrowed the question to account for the supposed objections that Mr. Romney had raised to it. The issue is your residency. Just let us see the tax returns just to see your residency. Still, they said no, no deal. Mr. Romney had been filing as a Massachusetts resident, the campaign said. Mr. Romney`s staffer Eric Fehrnstrom told the paper, you are going to have to take my word for it. It turns out that word was not good. Facing a legal challenge by the Democrats, Mr. Romney was forced to admit that actually maybe the reason he didn`t want to release the returns is because what was in them was not what he said was in them. He had not been filing his taxes as a Massachusetts resident as he publicly insisted he had. After he announced the campaign for governor, he had to retroactively amend his taxes so that they would match what he had been saying they said. What the Romney campaign said been saying about his taxes when they said the public should trust him was. They had been lying about what was in the tax returns. That`s why they would not release them, even with all of the financial details blacked out. Now, they`re assuring us they never paid zero in taxes and even with their stated objections addressed in this new offer from the Obama campaign, even then, with the question narrowed, they still will not show the evidence. They`re still saying just trust us. The precedent for trusting them on this is not good. Stay with us. More ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Let me also say categorically, I have paid taxes every year, and a lot of taxes. My view is I have paid all the taxes required by law. I don`t pay more than are legally due. REPORTER: A spokesperson would only reiterate, Mitt Romney has paid his taxes in full compliance with U.S. law and he has paid 100 percent of what he has owed. ROMNEY: I pay all full taxes. I`m honest in my dealings with people. People understand that. ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Is there some secret? People know you`re wealthy. ROMNEY: I understand. MITCHELL: There`s nothing to hide. ROMNEY: No, I agree. There`s nothing to hide. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I agree. Mr. Romney will not release his tax returns and he cannot seem to change the subject. Today, the Obama campaign pressed that political advantage, addressing the Romney campaign`s complaint no matter what they released, the Democrats would just ask for more. The Obama campaign asked Mr. Romney to release just the last five years of his taxes. They promised if they did that, they would not criticize him in public for not releasing more. The Romney campaign still said no. Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post", and an MSNBC policy analyst -- Gene, thank you very much for being here. It`s nice to have you here. EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: Great to be here, Rachel. MADDOW: They cannot get this issue off the front pages. Does this issue survive all the way to November, through the debates and everything? ROBINSON: I think it probably does. It`s a really easy to understand issue. You know, everybody pays taxes. So let`s see them. I mean, his stated reason for not showing the taxes is that what`s in there, whatever is in there, will be used as ammunition. Therefore, he`s saying, gee, there`s something in there that doesn`t look good. So, you know, that really makes people more curious as to what it is rather than less curious. I never understood that like of defense. MADDOW: Well, on this specific issue of his precedent. He has been dogged by his tax returns all the way back to `02 when he ran for governor of Massachusetts. He said it back then, everybody had to trust him, he filed as a Massachusetts resident, until he had to admit he hadn`t. What he said been saying to trust him about was not the case. Now, he says we should trust him that he never paid zero in taxes. A, how does he shake the precedent? And, B, how come Mitt Romney`s time running for governor of Massachusetts isn`t more central to the way we understand how he behaves now? ROBINSON: Well, you know, it should be more relevant to how he behaves now. Look, precedent for the voters was -- voters looking back, it`s precedent for Romney, too. I mean, in 2002, from his point of view, he did have to admit that there was this sort of discrepancy in residency, but it got cleared up in his favor. He cleared it up, and he ended up not releasing the actual taxes. And I think he figures he can get away with that again. MADDOW: Today, the Paul Ryan side of the ticket released two years of tax returns. It showed him making less money than Mitt Romney but paying more in taxes. I wonder if that might sort of be a foreshadowing about the kinds of troublesome questions we would be asking if we did see more. ROBINSON: I think so. There`s an ad running in battleground states now, I know, because it`s running in Virginia. That the Obama campaign just put up about the 14 percent rate that Romney paid last year and essentially saying, gee, the Romney/Ryan tax plan is he pays less, you pay more. I think we`re going to hear that a lot. MADDOW: Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post," MSNBC policy analyst, and a good sport for being here with us on a Friday night -- thanks a lot, Gene. I appreciate it. ROBINSON: Great to be here, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. We got more ahead. We got more ahead that will specifically challenge your structural integrity. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: I moved to western Massachusetts in 1998 when I was something v very sad called ABD, as in "all but dissertation". I had finished all my coursework and everything else for my degree but I had not finished my thesis. My idea about western Massachusetts was that I would live in undistracted bucolic bliss in order to finish the darn thing. It took me years but I did finish. To the extent that finishing the darn thing meant having to work in libraries, I did most of my library work here at the W.E.B. DuBois Library at UMass Amherst. It is the tallest university library in the world, almost 30 stories. And western Massachusetts is not a skyscrapery kind of place. It`s more of a 19th century barn and a couple of cows kind of place. But the campus library at UMass Amherst is this big tall brick tower. You can see it from everywhere. And here`s the weird thing. The whole time I was squeezing blood from that stone, the whole time I was writing my dissertation, there was this temporary looking chain link fence that went around the building. These are pictures of the fence from back in the day. The chain link fence meant you couldn`t just walk up to the building except through one tiny alley of space. So, it`s a giant building visible from everywhere. But when you got there, you had to enter through this tiny colored alley like cut through in the chain link fence. And that was because of the building`s unfortunate habit of dropping bricks off its facade. So the fence kept you far enough away from the building that the brinks would not hit you on the head and the one little alley they allowed you to walk in was covered up by a roof that would protect you if the bricks did fall. Local legend had it the architects who designed the library in the late `60s did a lot of neat things and made a lot of neat plans, but did not plan for the weight of the books. And so the bricks popped off. You might have heard a similar architecture rumor about a library near you. UMass Amherst is not the only school that has that particular urban legend. But I say it`s an urban legend because brick chips have been falling off that library at UMass Amherst for decades but apparently the weight of the books accuse was a bit of legend. It was never substantiated. It is maybe probably not true. Not why that problem was happening. To prove I`m an old person, these days that ugly chain link fence at UMass library is gone, but it`s because it`s been replaced by a prettier fence because they still have the same trouble. There is a place where the factoring in the weight of the building`s content legend turns out to be a real thing. There`s a new inspector general report out about this federal government regional office in North Carolina. And in this new report, the inspectors describe what the building`s contents were doing to the building`s structure. The building`s contents, quote, "created an unsafe work space for employees and appeared to have the potential to compromise the integrity of the building. The contents exceed the capacity of the floor by approximately 39 pounds per square feet. The excess weight has the potential to compromise the structural integrity of the whole sixth floor of the facility. We noticed floors bowing under the excess weight." So, what could possibly be causing floors at this federal government regional office to be buckling? Tada! This turns out to be a Veterans Administration office. A V.A. office. And so, naturally, what is so out of control that is potentially destroying the building are files. Tens of thousands of pounds of claims files -- an estimated 37,000 of them stacked on top of file cabinet and in boxes on the floor, causing the floors to bow to the point that inspectors could see the cabinets were not level. An after the inspection, the V.A. decided to shift a lot of that paperwork out of the building and figure out how to store it better which may make the building safer but doesn`t solve the real problem. The site of all of those files stacked up in those piles in just one of the V.A.`s regional offices is sort of astounding visual confirmation of an outstanding statistic. The V.A. right now is wading through a backlog of nearly 900,000 claims from America`s veterans. That`s close to a million veterans who`s filed their paperwork for services they need and still waiting to hear back whether or not they`re going to get them. If you are a veteran who`s been waiting right now, if you haven`t already been waiting for four months to hear back from the V.A., you`re not even counted yet in that backlog. In places where the V.A. is doing really badly, like in Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area, the wait for vets is more like 10 months. In Phoenix, Arizona, the wait is more like a year. In Central Texas, it is more than a year. Veterans are waiting that long to even hear back about whether or not they are getting what they are owed. We`ve seen multiple congressional hearings on this. We have heard V.A. promises to do better. We have heard claims that they are making progress -- lots of talk from them about digitizing records, to make them easier to be processed. To be clear: this does not look like progress has progressed far enough. Moving this stuff out of this one building to another building that might not fall down under the weight of the paper is obviously a necessary first step. But I would hesitate to even call it a step forward. To the good people who work at the V.A., we are all counting on you. Your job is really important to us as a country. Your failures as an agency are a moral failure for all of us as citizens. So please stop saying this is all under control, that this is all getting better. What do you need to fix this problem? We will get you what you need. That does it for us tonight. Now, naturally, you, prison, right now. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END