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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/23/12

Guests: E.J. Dionne, Wendy Weiser

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Posted online a taped interview with the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri. He had just won his primary earlier this month. He`s the Republican challenger trying to unseat Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: If it`s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was 10:30 a.m. local time, 11:30 a.m. Easter Time on Sunday. By about 2:00 that afternoon, Talking Points Memo has written up the Republican candidate`s comments. It flew under this headline. "Republican Senate Nominee, Victims of Legitimate Rape Don`t Get Pregnant." And then -- then it was just a matter of time rapidly ticking by. As of Monday at 10:30 a.m., Republican senator Scott Brown was first out of the gate. He releases a statement saying, Mr. Akin should resign the nomination for U.S. Senate. That was 10:30 a.m. By 12:11 p.m., just after noon, it is Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson. "Todd Akin`s statements are reprehensible and inexcusable. He should step aside today." By 1:30 p.m., it`s the National Republican Senate Committee. "Over the next 24 hours, Congressman Akin should carefully consider what is best for him, his family, the Republican Party, and the values that he cares about, and has fought for throughout his career in public service." Then, a half hour later, Karl Rove`s PACs pull their ads from Todd Akin. Then just moments later, just after 2:00 p.m. that National Republican Senate Campaign Committee decided to go beyond it`s statement from a few minutes earlier and they decided to pull their ads for Todd Akin as well. They pulled $5 million worth of ads. Then by 2:30 p.m., the top Republican in the Senate Mitch McConnell pulled his support for Todd Akin, too. Quote, "I believe he should take time with his family to consider whether this statement will prevent him from effectively representing our party in that critical election." That`s 2:30 p.m. By 3:00 p.m., Reince Priebus, the leader of the Republican Party, says if it was me I would step aside. An hour later, when Republican Charlie Summers, who`s also running for Senate in the great state of Maine, he says, "Todd Akin should resign effective immediately." Less than an hour and a half later, at 5:30 p.m., the head of one of the Astroturfy Tea Party group says he should step down and give conservatives a chance at taking back the Senate in November. That was all on Monday. Then it was time to wake up on Tuesday morning, hello, it`s 11:00 a.m. and Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is jumping in, too. "Yes, Todd Akin should step down." By 11:50 a.m., less than an hour later, Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, "I urge Todd Akin to do the right thing and withdraw from the Missouri Senate race right now." Ten minutes later at noon, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine is clear as bell, quote, "Congressman Akin cannot and should not represent the Republican Party in this fall`s general election." Just moments later, speaking on a radio show, Republican Senator John McCain says, "This guy should drop out." Ten minutes later, at 12:15 p.m., Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, the freshman from New Hampshire, she piles on and says, "Akin should step aside now." By 12 -- excuse me, by 1:00, 45 minutes later, there`s a new joint statement, a joint statement from one sitting Republican senator from Missouri and four former Republican senators in Akin`s state in Missouri and they say, quote, "The right decision is to step aside." Two hours later, 3:00, Rush Limbaugh in his old tiny radio hour, says Todd Akin, "must put the nation and its future ahead of everything else that he`s considering and I hope he comes to the right conclusion." At 4:10 p.m. after all that, after initially only disagreeing with and then chastising Todd Akin, after 36 hours of everybody else and their mother in Republican politics, saying this guy has to go, finally, finally, 36 hours into it, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, finally joins in and calls for Todd Akin to step down, saying, quote, "I think Todd Akin should exit the Senate race." After that at 4:10, at 5:30, we got a statement from Republican Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas, he`s the head of the House Republican Campaign Committee. He said, "I believe that winning the race would mean that Todd would not be that candidate that would be on the ballot." In other words, get out. Less than an hour later, 6:20 p.m., Orrin Hatch then says Todd Akin should step aside today. That`s what you call a unified front. And a fast one, right? But do you notice a pattern there of who you weren`t hearing from? Who isn`t calling for Todd Akin to get out of the Missouri Senate race? Democrats. And a liberal Web site. It`s not just an absence of calls for Todd Akin to get out of the race, it`s unbridled glee over the prospect of Todd Akin staying in the race. It`s the conservatives who were on him to get out. FOX News hosts telling him to get out. FOX News pundits telling him to get out. More FOX News hosts telling him to get out. The guy who`s now only on the Internet machine, Glenn Beck, telling him to get out. It`s right-wing talk radio. It`s all on the right that they are saying that Todd Akin should get out of the race. Liberals want him to stay. Liberals of course want this guy as the Republican candidate in that Senate race for obvious reasons. Todd Akin`s Democratic opponent, Senator Claire McCaskill, she is not rushing to push him out either. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: It`s not my place to decide. It is the people of Missouri. And I think the people of Missouri have to make this decision. They got a hotly contested, three-way primary and Todd Akin won by a comfortable margin. I really think that for the national party to try to come in here and dictate to the Republican primary voters that they`re going to invalidate their decision, that would be pretty radical and I think there could be a backlash for the Republicans if they did that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: There is a reason that Claire McCaskill, the Democrat, is all but wearing an "I`m for Todd Akin" pin on her lapel in public appearances, right? I mean Todd Akin is not an accidental candidate in this race. Todd Akin is Claire McCaskill`s handpicked opponent for her Senate race. During the primary, the McCaskill campaign rand this ad going on and on and on about how many departments and the federal government old Todd Akin wanted to cut, all about his pro-family values. Todd Akin, Missouri`s true conservative. Hear that, Republican primary voters in an overwhelmingly Republican state? The McCaskill for Senate Democratic campaign waited into the Republican primary to try to get Republican voters to pick Todd Akin because if you`re running against a guy like that, well, forget the Missouri headwinds. Democratic candidates, congratulations. I mean against a more sane seeming Republican opponent, you might not have had a chance in Missouri. But against Todd Akin, you`re going to be fine. I mean at a surface level, this Todd Akin brouhaha looked like it was bad for the Republican Party, right? I mean Republican doing embarrassing thing, that must be bad for the party. But very quickly, if you just scratch the surface, it was obvious that this could turn out great for the Republicans. I mean if they could use this as an excuse to force Todd Akin out of that race, then the Republicans could replace with a better candidate, this guy who was probably the weakest candidate that they had. Probably the weakest candidate that they had in any theoretically winnable Senate race in the country. And of course, big bonus, in pushing Todd Akin out, the Republicans will get to make a big show out of expunging from the party this one guy. Casting out this one bad apple with this one crazy position on abortion. As if Todd Akin himself is the only abortion extremism problem in today`s Republican Party. He`s not, of course, but they would love for it to be reported like that. And so you`ve got that well-timed, very fast cascade of coordinated Republicans reaction. A unified front against him. Throwing Todd Akin out of the party was supposed to be a win-win for the Republicans. You get rid of one of your weakest candidate in an important Senate race, and you also paint him as the only guy in the party who is an extremist on women`s issues, making you guys who are left look less extremist because of his absence. And you know frankly, it looked like it really was going to be a win-win for them at the beginning of the weak. It looked like they were going to be able to pull this off but then it just all fell apart. All of it. I mean first of all, Todd Akin is not getting out of the race. Mr. Akin, in fact, apparently held a power summit last night in Florida at the site of the Republican convention with some of the biggest names on the social conservative right. So not only is Todd Akin not getting out of this race, he`s now rallying the troops and getting himself more support and inevitably more publicity. Now that Republicans realize he is not getting out, they`re essentially writing off their chances of winning that Missouri seat. They are looking for other seats that they might -- maybe be able to pick up instead in their attempt to take control of the Senate. Could old Tommy Thompson maybe win Wisconsin? Maybe? Please. Oh god, this is a miss. I can`t believe Todd Akin is staying in. So yes, Todd Akin is staying in. He is not getting out of the race. That`s their first big problem. But the other part of this whole strategy, remember I said it`s a win-win? The first win, the second win is even worse for them the way that has fallen apart. And this whole idea of casting Todd Akin as the one crazy guy thing, that part has failed even harder. This week was supposed to be a ceremonial sacrifice of Todd Akin as a way to free the party of the taint of abortion extremism. Everybody, talk about how crazy Todd Akin is and denounce him, and we`ll all denounce him together, and -- when we get rid of him, it will look like we took care of our crazy problem. Well, it looked like we`re not crazy. That has not worked. Because it turns out nobody believes that Todd Akin is a outlier. The "Huffington Post" noted yesterday there are more than 40 Republican House and Senate candidates other than Todd Akin, who like him want to ban abortion access even for women who get pregnant because of rape or incest. So this -- this is not the Todd Akin problem. This is the Todd Akin party. When local news outlets in important swing states like Pennsylvania covered the Todd Akin controversy this week, listen to how they covered it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Ryan like Romney distanced himself from Akin`s remarks but in Congress he joined Akin in opposing abortions even when a woman has been raped. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Should abortions be available to women who are raped? REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, I`m proud of my pro-life record. And I stand by my pro-life record in Congress. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: In Congress, Paul Ryan joins Todd Akin. This attempt to paint Todd Akin as an isolated problem, as the one bad apple in the party, it has not gone according to plan over these last few days. And that`s because, A, the press has done it`s job, and B, the Republican Party`s position on this issue really is the Todd Akin position. I mean they put it in the Republican Party platform this week. The party`s platform on the issue of abortion adopts for the entire party the Todd Akin policy of no exceptions, no empathy for rape and incest victims. Since this is the party that`s about to nominate Mitt Romney and since Mitt Romney`s campaign was all over the platform process, does this mean the Romney campaign is running their presidential ticket on Todd Akin`s abortion policy? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: As far as our platform is concerned, I mean, this is the platform of the Republican Party, it`s not the platform of Mitt Romney. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Oh, the Republican Party platform, that has nothing to do with the Republican Party`s presidential nominee. RNC chairman Reince Priebus, if you didn`t exist, somebody would have to make you up. RNC communications director, Sean Spicer, he`s another one. He made another try at that same issue this morning. This was even better. This was his answer on the Republican Party having a platform on abortion that is the same as Todd Akin`s platform on abortion -- no exceptions for rape and incest. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN SPICER, RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Our platform is just a simple set of principles. There`s no additional language. So to talk about exceptions or whatever is just not found in the platform. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Our platform not having rape exceptions in it doesn`t mean there aren`t any rape exceptions in it. I know we say we`re banning abortions and there`s no exceptions, that doesn`t mean there`s no exceptions. Want to try that again? When vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan was grilled on the fact that his policy on abortion is the exact same as Todd Akin`s policy on abortion, here was Paul Ryan`s answer. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: Mitt Romney is the top of the ticket, and Mitt Romney will be president, and he will set the policy of the Romney administration. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So the Republican Party`s response so far to the allegation that the Romney-Ryan ticket embodies the same exact views of Todd Akin. Todd Akin is not just some lone nuts, right? Their response so far has been don`t worry that Paul Ryan shares those views, Paul Ryan has no chance of ever being president. That`s why you should elect him vice president. Also the Republican Party`s platform, that has nothing to do with the Republican Party`s nominee. And just because the platform has no mention of rape exemptions in it doesn`t mean there aren`t rape exemptions in it. The Romney campaign is also now refusing to comment on reports that the anti-abortion doctor, from whom Todd Akin learned his views on rape and pregnancy, that doctor has met personally with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in recent months. This doctor was a prominent Mitt Romney surrogate when he ran for president the last time in 2008. Todd Akin has cited this guy by name as the source of his beliefs about rape and pregnancy, and the Romney campaign has been happy to denounce Todd Akin and say these ideas are crazy, but they have not shot down any of these reports about meeting with the guy from whom Todd Akin got the crazy theory. They`re just refusing to respond. It is radio science. They`re not denying it. They`re not explaining it. They`re not saying anything about it. The whole strategy of portraying Todd Akin as an isolated problem, thinking they could run the whole Republican Party against Todd Akin for their own political benefit, that strategy has failed. And the confirmation of that came in rather glorious fashion earlier today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Political specialist Sean Boyd just finished an interview with Romney just literally a couple of minutes ago. Sean is with me now. And Sean, you were one of only four local reporters to get to talk to him, and what did you ask him? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I had about five minutes with him, and we got through a fair amount of material actually in that five minutes. The one stipulation to the interview was that was I not ask him about abortion or Todd Akin. He`s the Missouri Republican who created the firestorm after saying women`s body shot down in a legitimate rape to prevent pregnancy. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The one stipulation to the interview was that I not ask him about abortion or Todd Akin. How did this happen? I mean if this was working the way it was supposed to be working, when the Republicans cooked up this obviously coordinated plan for dealing with Todd Akin, they would be scheduling interviews for Mitt Romney to talk about Todd Akin, right? To talk about how crazy Todd Akin is and how much he disagrees with him, right? That`s how you would maybe win that whole allegation over the war on women thing. By expunging somebody from your own party and denouncing extremism and promoting your comparative moderation. That`s how you might turn this to appeal to women, right? That`s kind of what was supposed to be the good side of this policy for you of throwing Todd Akin off the ballot, right? You get him off that ballot so maybe you can win that race. But you also get to look like the guy standing up for women`s rights by going after Todd Akin. Instead -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The one stipulation to the interview was that I not ask him about abortion or Todd Akin. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was quick. You know, I sort of hate campaign books now, but when the campaign book is written about the Mitt Romney campaign in 2012, there is going to be a chapter on whose genius idea it was to try to turn the Todd Akin issue into a Republican asset. This big coordinated campaign the week before the Republican convention, and how it`s backfire completely screwed up any other effort at Republican messaging in the week between picking their vice president and their nominating convention. Who came up with this idea to try to message this Todd Akin story this way? Who came up with this idea? My money is on Eric Fehrnstrom. Mr. Fehrnstrom, I`d be happy to talk about it with you if you`d like to call. Anytime. Joining us now is E.J. Dionne, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, columnist for the "Washington Post," MSNBC contributor and of course author of the new book, "Our Divided Political Heart." E.J., thank you for being here. Good to be with you. MADDOW: The reason that I did the sort of tick-tock at the top there of all of the different Republican responses to Todd Akin, all using almost exactly the same language, all following in this very tightly orchestrated cascade of statements was to show that this seemed like a pretty -- clearly coordinated thing for the Republican Party. Do you think it`s possible that they thought that they could turn the Akin lemons into lemonade as it were? E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: I think that`s what they were trying to do. By the way, I love watching Senator Claire McCaskill defend Todd Akin`s rights against the Republican establishment in Washington. That was a delicious sound bite. And I think that some of the problems they face were revealed in that tick- tock. For example, you noted that it took Mitt Romney 36 hours to come to this. And I think that`s going to be an issue that`s going to play longer. Because it`s the question of does Romney have to clear all his positions with the Republican right? If he had jumped way out in front of this, perhaps it would have had an effect. But he was waiting, it appeared, to take the temperature of the Republican right. So that`s a problem for them. Second, I think the mass Republican effort against Akin, when he refused to drop out, actually gave the story more juice over the course of the week. And as you also pointed out, we would not have paid any attention at all to this draft Republican platform and the language on abortion, but because of the Todd Akin story and how big it became, that became a big story. And the last thing is, I think they`re going to start running into trouble among their right-to-lifers. The message of the establishment is, well, you should have built a majority, we`ll use your votes at the polls, well, use your seats in Congress, but then if you step on a line and mess us up, we`ll throw you under the bus. And I`m waiting to see what`s going to happen next week with some of the social conservatives who were going to look at this Republican establishment and say you -- you don`t cut us any slack. MADDOW: I was very struck by that report in which is the first I saw it last night that Todd Akin was meeting with social conservatives who are all on hand in Tampa preparing for the Republican convention. Essentially one has to think sort of portraying himself as a martyr against the Republican establishment, looking at the Republican lineup for the convention next week. I mean they`ve given really good speaking slots to Rick Santorum and to Mike Huckabee, somebody who they definitely didn`t owe anything to and doesn`t have a history with Mitt Romney that you think would put him there, but they`re obviously trying to front page their positive relationship with social conservatives if there is a revolt on this issue, because it`s really not going away. Do you think that will be made manifest at the convention? Or do they have to clean it up some way between now and then? DIONNE: Well, I don`t think it will make itself manifest necessarily on the convention floor, but there won`t be much news out of the convention. So there`s a lot of mischief that can happen outside the convention hall, at news conferences at noon. It`s going to be interesting to watch that. But I think it also shows the box that Mitt Romney is in and it`s a box in a way that John McCain was in, which is he came in there not as the first choice of social conservatives. A lot of social conservatives mistrust him. And so he`s got to make more and more of an effort to win them over when he ought to be shaking that Etch-a-Sketch and trying to appeal to undecideds, to moderate voters, and especially to women where he has an enormous gap. So I think that he`s going to have this contradiction of not being in a position to appeal to more moderate voters, because he`s going to have to constantly reassure the social conservatives who largely voted against him in the primary. MADDOW: Right up until election day and the thing that will probably most concern independent voters or moderate voters who are looking at him on those issues is whether or not he`s going to have to keep sort of pedaling that fast, to keep the social conservatives happy once he already is president, if he actually wins is he going to have to keep answering to them in that way. This is -- it`s all ended being so unpredictable this time in the campaign. It`s been fascinating. E.J., thank you for being here. It`s really nice to have you here. DIONNE: Great to be with you. MADDOW: E.J. Dionne, of course columnist for the "Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor. And I mean it, Eric Fehrnstrom, you have my number, any time. Tock. The Romney-Ryan ticket is in a queasy making spot right now in one specific part of their poll numbers. They have some poll numbers among huge groups of American voters that are almost identical, maybe even a little worse than McCain-Palin ticket were four years ago when that ticket lost and lost badly. The weird thing is this year, the Republicans say they are not worried about these bad poll numbers. Doesn`t matter. Don`t even - don`t even bother comparing them to 2008, they have it covered. You will be amazed at how they say they have it covered. That story is coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Every night on his very fine show, my friend Ed Schultz does something that is unscientific but interesting. And kind of funny sometimes. To punctuate a story that he is covering on his show. Ed does a text poll. And just about every night in the "ED SHOW" text poll the results end up being cartoonishly lopsided. It`s almost always like 98-2 or 97-3. Tonight was 93-7. It`s always that kind of result. The losing side is always in the single digits. But even though the results of the "ED SHOW" text poll are pretty much always that lopsided almost every night, it turns out that it`s only once, once in the whole history of their polling and their extremely lopsided results that "THE ED SHOW" text poll produced a result of 100 percent to 0 percent. Only once. I mean in any survey of a substantial number of people, even the hilariously uneven "ED SHOW" text polls, the number zero is a really, really rare result. Well, in the latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll of the American electorate, the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket trails among African-American voters by a margin of 94 percent to 0. Zero percent of African-American voters surveyed favored Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in November`s presidential election. I`m supposed to say plus or minus the margin of error, but I actually think it would just be plus the margin of error because I don`t think there could be minus from zero? It`s no surprise that President Obama would win a big majority of African- American voters, but zero is kind of intense, right? I mean in comparison, John McCain and Sarah Palin managed to get 4 percent of the African- American vote, but Mitt Romney is polling at nothing? What is the Romney-Ryan campaign doing about this dismal situation? Nothing really except the false by always racially alienating charge that President Obama has somehow weakened work requirements for welfare, giving away this hardworking white man`s money to lazy welfare recipients who Obama says don`t have to work to get that guy`s money. And policy wise it is totally, utterly, completely untrue, but it does get the message across. If you know what I mean. And the Romney campaign has now done five of these welfare ads saying that President Obama is effectively the president of lazy welfare recipients taking your money. They`ve done five of those ads in 2 1/2 weeks. And so yes, Mitt Romney is polling at zero percent among black voters. Given how Mr. Romney is campaigning, maybe zero actually is a poll number for him among black voters that we can trust. As for Latino voters, the Romney-Ryan ticket is also polling very poorly. They trail the Obama-Biden ticket 63-28 percent. That`s a 35-point margin among Latino voters. That`s almost exactly the same margin by which McCain and Palin lost the Latino votes when they lost to Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Is the Republican National Convention maybe going to help Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan with the Latino vote? Well, they started off their convention proceeds by writing into the official national Republican Party platform that Republicans wants the Arizona papers please law for the whole country. And then after they got that done, the Romney immigration advisor who wrote the Arizona papers please law celebrated by suing the federal government today trying to stop the president`s Dream Act program that he instituted by executive action starting this month over the objections of the Republican Congress. So you can`t exactly say that the Republicans are in hot pursuit of the Latino vote right now. Same thing for the African-American vote of which they currently enjoy zero percent support. So with the same support from Latinos, the Republicans lost with in 2008, with even less support among black voters, how can the Republicans expect to win this time? Well, there is a tactic that might be of some use. It is very basic. It is tried and true in our American history. It is already organized and apparently funded for this year, and I personally find it creepy, and that creepy story exclusively is here, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Not long ago, in the great state of Houston, in the great city of Houston, Texas, some conservative activists got together and formed a group that they named -- and they named themselves, they named the group after this street in Boston, Kings Street. King Street in Boston, not King Street in Texas. King Street as in old King George III who happened to be the king in charge when British troops guarding the King Street Customs House opened fire on American colonists in Boston. Five people died in the King Street shooting which eventually became known as the Boston massacre. The date was March 5th, 1717. A couple of centuries later in 2009 Houston conservatives founded a Tea Party group and they named themselves the King Street Patriots after the site of the Boston massacre, after the site of that historic and bloody confrontation. And while it may seem that much of the Tea Party movement has withered away or just turned into a name brand part of standard Republican politics these days, the King Street Patriots Tea Party group does have this one other very specific thing that they`re doing that is definitely growing. It`s this. True the Vote. They call it an anti-voter fraud project. You can see from the (INAUDIBLE) buttons that they are recruiting, right? You can donate, you can volunteer. You need voter I.D., well, do you? True the Vote`s motto is equipping citizens to take a stand for free and fair elections. We got our first look at what True the Vote meant by that soon after they were founded in the fall of 2010 in Houston. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The county attorney says it`s received numerous complaints about overzealous poll watchers at several heavily minority early voting locations including here at Cashmere Gardens where a poll watcher told us he was recruited by True the Vote, an organization that proclaims rooting out voter fraud as its main goal. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Reports at the time showed that the poll watchers in and around Houston that year tended to be white people and they tended to hang around in districts that were mostly, not white, that were mostly African- American. These mostly white watchers were looking down over mostly black crowds and sometimes they wandered around among the cramp voting booths. White poll watchers watching over black precincts and black voters. So many voters and election workers complained about the aggressive tactics and general atmosphere of intimidation in those sites, that the U.S. Justice Department announced it would send in federal observers. That was True the Vote in 2010. Since that Houston election, True to Vote has continued training volunteers and they have left the confines of Houston. Big time. Now True the Vote`s model for poll watching and challenging voter registration is in place they say in at least 20 states. The group`s Tea Party organizers say they wanted to be everybody, coast to coast. True the Votes says it will have trained a million poll watchers in time for the November election with, quote, "no polling place unmanned. A leader of this True the Vote group reportedly told a national summit this year that effect of all these volunteers on voters is supposed to be, and I quote, "Like driving and seeing the police behind you." Excuse me, the police following you. Come on down to your friendly local polling place. It`d be like the police are following you there. Is this really how we`re going to run the 2012 election? Maybe so. In addition to the national summit in Texas, True the Vote has been holding summits in other states. Last month they helped one in Florida. The list of sponsors included the mighty, mighty Astroturf, Koch Brothers funded Americans for Prosperity, for this project of the humble King Street Patriots Tea Partiers. Last week, True the Vote helped a summit in Colorado. Colorado`s Republican secretary of state, Scott Gessler, was one of the featured speakers. He`s the guy in charge of elections in Colorado. Mr. Gessler has spent his year trying to stop county clerks from mailing ballots to all the people who usually get one including some troops overseas. And last week, before his True the Vote speaking engagement, Mr. Gessler wrote to 4,000 Colorado voters and told them either to prove that they`re eligible to vote or get off the rolls. On Saturday, True the Vote will hold another summit, this one in Ohio. In that state the new Republican majority has tried to make it harder to vote, significantly harder. They tried to cut the days for early voting in half. Ultimately, after Democratic pressure, they had to settle for cutting only the last three days of early voting. As we`ve been reporting on the show for the last couple of weeks, the Republican secretary of state in Ohio, John Husted, then allowed some Republican counties to expand the time for early voting in those counties even as he blocked Democratic -- Democratic counties from doing the same. He`s going to make it easier to vote if you`re a Republicans than if you are a Democrat. Until finally, under a lot of public pressure and attention, he decided that all right, we won`t go county by county, instead we`re going to cut early voting for everybody. Less voting for everyone. And now he has threaten to fire two Democratic elections officials who say they still want voting on nights and weekends which has been especially popular with African-Americans voters in Ohio. So what will Ohio secretary of state John Husted be doing this weekend? How will he be occupying his Saturday before the Republican convention? He will be a featured speaker at the Tea Party backed True the Vote Ohio summit. John Husted, the guy running the elections in the state of Ohio, in a presidential election year. That guy, for reals. This True the Vote thing has gone big time. Joining us now is Wendi Wiser. She`s director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Wendy, thank you for being here. WENDY WEISER, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: Thank you for having me. MADDOW: I know that you`re not an expert on the history of True the Vote, but in terms of the kinds of things that they have done, did I get anything that you know to be wrong in that intro? WEISER: No, absolutely not. MADDOW: OK. How concerned are you about poll watching efforts and whether they constitute voter intimidation? WEISER: I`m very concerned this year. You know, there`s absolutely nothing wrong with people watching the polls and we should certainly be taking all the reasonable steps to stop voter fraud or any other kind of misconduct in elections but it`s simply not reasonable to actually allow self-appointed political operatives to act as self-appointed police officers of our voting process. MADDOW: When they got involved in the Wisconsin election earlier this year, True the Vote was very open about the fact that they wanted to have a big presence at the Scott Walker recall elections. When Scott Walker was not recalled from office, True the Vote described that as a victory, that election outcome is being the victory that they were there looking for. But partisan declarations like that create any sort of higher standard of anything that they have to do in order to justify putting themselves in polling places the way they have? WEISER: You know, unfortunately, this is a problem with the law. We actually allow partisan political operatives to go in there in many states and to challenge voters` eligibility on election day, to create an intimidating environment with very few standards. This is something that we really need to fix. MADDOW: Is this something left -- is this some vestigial leftover thing from something that used to make sense and it doesn`t any more? Was there ever a good reason for this or was this -- has this been part of voter intimidation back through history? WEISER: You know, many of these laws were put in place precisely for the purpose of keeping down minority votes especially black votes after a reconstruction, for example. In Ohio, for example, in 1868 we had challenger legislation that actually expressly said that you can challenge people based on, and I`m quoting here, "if they have a distinct and visible added mixture of African blood." That were the grounds of challenges. You know, maybe this might have made sense in a day when you can tell whether or not people were eligible to vote based on they look like. Based on the color of their skin color, or their gender. But we don`t live in that society anymore. We actually all have equal voting access and this is something that`s a relic from a bygone era and doesn`t make any sense in modern elections. MADDOW: We saw a little bit of what True the Vote look like in those Houston elections. We played some of that local news coverage there. If they really are going to be coast to coast and I`m assuming they`re going to focus on swing states if they`re not going to be coast to coast. Do you, as somebody who studies this, and you as an attorney, have any advice for somebody who feels intimidated by somebody in their polling place like that? WEISER: Absolutely. This is actually illegal to discriminate against voters, it is illegal to intimidate voters, it`s illegal to disrupt the polling place. It`s even illegal to target people unreasonably for vote suppression. If you see any of this, you should report it to your election officials, you should report it to law enforcement officials. This is something that we need to be vigilant against. You know, no matter what the intentions are of the people doing these operations they can and often do slide into using tactics that suppress legitimate votes. We need to push back against that. MADDOW: People need to be confident in their right to vote and know that they have redress -- WEISER: Absolutely. MADDOW: Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Thanks for being here. It`s nice to have your advice. Thanks. WEISER: Thank you for having me. All right. The reason Republicans do not want to talk about war policy in this election cycle and the reason that maybe Democrats should want to talk about that is coming up. More ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The news cycles skidded and squealed into a sharp turn this week. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AKIN: If it`s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So then yes, after that happened, that`s pretty much all anybody talked about forever, all week long. And nevertheless, there was one bright spot for Mitt Romney about this sharp squealing turn into abortion politics, and that was that for a second, it stopped everybody from talking about last week`s big political news. About something of Mr. Romney`s that he still won`t let anyone see. Something potentially embarrassing or maybe totally exonerating. Who knows? Something that rhymes with rax deturns. But now that there`s sort of timeout on the rax deturns story is over, again, it is something Mr. Romney could easily end, but he will not, continuously, over and over and over and over again. It`s still going and it`s getting worse. Stay tuned. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Well, we`re starting to get the schedules now for the political conventions, and with the serious caveat that a storm named after our executive producer`s 4-year-old`s son might be bearing down on Florida during the first day of the Republican convention. Hi, Isaac. And also got a storm named Joyce, obviously named after my friend Joyce. It might be bearing on somewhere near North Carolina during the Democratic convention. With the caveat that all of might change due to weather occurring on its politics altering scale. With all those caveats, the basic plans are in. Monday night at the Republican convention, the major speaker is Ann Romney. They also put Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul on the schedule that night. Tuesday is the big draw. Tuesday night the big draw is supposed to be Chris Christie. That night is also Rick Santorum and a whole mess of Republican governors who are not Chris Christie. Wednesday night is Paul Ryan night. And Thursday, the last night. is the big kahuna, Mitt Romney, and he will be introduced by Marco Rubio. Well, there`s lots of other speakers booked on all of these night. They book people to raise their profile -- hi, Ted Cruise. Or a they book people as consolation prize for not winning some other thing. Hi, you guys. Other people, particularly the less famous people are picked usually to enter (INAUDIBLE) a certain talking point. But it`s all a really tightly choreographed thing. Everybody who`s there and everything they do is designed to send a political message. Nothing is left to chance. Do you want to know who they seem to have picked to announce the vice presidential nominee this year? Here`s a hint. Here`s what he says when he`s asked what his foreign policy experience is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: I voted to send people to war. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Yes, you voted for the Iraq war. After comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler and Stalin and saying he had WMDs and a nuclear program. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: Not since Hitler, not since Stalin have we seen so much evil delivered by one man. This is a cause that we cannot go unanswered. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So that`s hint one. That`s what he says is his relevant foreign policy experience for being a heartbeat away from the presidency. Here`s hint number two. That`s his top staffer on the campaign, Dan Senor, who you may remember as the George W. Bush`s administration`s Iraq war spokesman. Hint number three is the person speaking before Paul Ryan is introduced that night at the convention. Jeb Bush. So his relevant foreign policy experience is voting for the Iraq war. His top adviser on the campaign is the spokesman for the Iraq war. They put his big speech on the night of George W. Bush brother`s big speech. So who`s introducing Paul Ryan? Condoleezza Rice. That is how they are rolling out Paul Ryan. They are rolling him out as if they`re rolling him out as Paul Wolfowitz. I mean they`re not going to say beep about our existing war in Afghanistan for the whole convention, but they`re talking re-rolling out the Iraq war instead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: One bright side for the Romney-Ryan campaign. All the talk this week about legitimate rape and forced childbirth, and how much Paul Ryan is like Todd Akin. One bright side of Todd Akin providing a window into the soul of Republican rape and abortion politics week is that it pushed out of the news cycle, the story of Mitt Romney`s tax returns. You want to know what came up again in today`s news cycle? Mitt Romney`s tax returns. published 950 pages of documents they say are associate from Mr. Romney`s investments. We have not verified that these documents are what they purport to be, but they purport to be internal audits, financial statement and private investor letters for some of Mr. Romney`s investment vehicles. They include eight entities Mr. Romney apparently invested in that are based in the Cayman Islands. Now why base them in the Cayman Islands? These documents spelled it out in pretty clear terms. They describe how Cayman Islands entities are typically set up to avoid U.S. federal taxes and they say that under current Cayman Islands laws the entity doesn`t have to pay taxes in the Cayman Islands, either. Which we -- we should note this is an entirely legal arrangement but it does tell you exactly why somebody would put their money in the Cayman Islands and it would also tell you why that person might not want to answer questions about putting money in the Cayman Islands if they were, say, running for the president of the United States and not running for president of the Cayman Islands. We have known this for a long time, from the one year of tax returns Mr. Romney did release. We know that some of his investments were offshore, and we know that offshoring stock in the Caymans is one of the things you do to avoid paying taxes. But now we`ve got this trove of documents at Gawker putting in black and white the tax avoidance benefit of what purports to be Mr. Romney`s money being in the Caymans. And yes, you know, this is the story that the campaign has been voting to push out of the new cycle all summer long. They probably thought they finally did it with their announcement of Paul Ryan as the vice presidential nominee two weekends ago. But honestly that only worked for about a day as a distraction before everybody went back to asking about the tax returns. Then this week there was some respite. The new cycle did move on to Congressman Todd Akin and to Republican policy on abortion and pregnancy and pregnancy`s connection or lack thereof to rape. But now it -- we are moving toward anything else in the news cycle it seems that we are moving back to Mitt Romney`s taxes. There`s no proof here. Published in these documents today about what total amount Mr. Romney paid in taxes. There`s no smoking about anything that appears to be illegal. The documents are even proven to be from Mitt Romney`s investments. But he does have Cayman Island investigates and this explains why a person would want to those. And the reason why is tax avoidance. We also learned today that as of this weekend in Parade Magazine which comes out on Romneys are going to unveil a new explanation as to why America does not need to see anymore of their tax returns. Thank you very much. According to excerpts released by the magazine ahead of publication, Mr. Romney will explain that he does not want to release his tax returns because he does not want to talk about the money he gives to his church. Quote, "One of the downsides of releasing one`s financial information is that this is now all public. But we had never intended our contributions to be known. It`s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our god and to our church. You know, this particular thing used to be the thing Mitt Romney most wanted to talk about with regard to his taxes. He didn`t want to tell you how much he made or how much he reported or how much he paid in taxes, or how we avoided paying what normal people pay in taxes. The only thing he wanted you to know about his taxes was that he gives 10 percent of his money to his church. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The bible speaks about providing tithes and offerings. I made a commitment in my church a long, long time ago that I would give 10 percent of my money to my church. And I followed through on that commitment. ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY`S WIFE: Mitt is honest, his integrity is just golden. We pay our taxes, we are absolutely -- beyond paying our taxes, we also give 10 percent of our income to charity. M. ROMNEY: Over the past ten years, I never paid less than 13 percent. And if you add in addition the amount that goes to charity, the number gets well above 20 percent. A. ROMNEY: He`s a very generous person. We give 10 percent of our income to our church every year. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Bringing it up. Hey, I pay 10 percent of income to my church. But now, that specific information which the Romneys keep volunteering to the press, we`re now supposed to think that information is so private that it alone must preclude the release of their tax returns. Listen, it`s either the thing you want us to know or it`s the thing you don`t want us to know. You have to pick one. Maybe you`d prefer if we just go back to talking about abortion? 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