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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 09/18/12

Guests: Dan Rather

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you, my friend. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. This, as you know, is a nuclear bomb. This is what a nuclear explosion looks like. This is a nuclear bomb. OK? This is not a nuclear bomb. This is something called a dirty bomb. Actually, technically, that`s just a regular bomb. But it could be a dirty bomb. Any bomb could be a dirty bomb. It doesn`t look any different. A dirty bomb is just a bomb you have put radioactive material in. It`s not a nuclear explosion. There`s no mushroom cloud. Dirty bomb is just a regular explosive bomb packed with radioactive material, so when it goes off, it sprays radioactive junk everywhere. And the dirty bomb explosion is both a metaphor for what`s going on right now in the presidential campaign, and it specifically is one of the myriad next things that are going to -- that the Romney campaign is going to have to deal with out of this tape of Mr. Romney speaking at a fundraiser, which has just been published in full by "Mother Jones". Let me explain. Last night, after "Mother Jones" posted about five minutes of the tape from the fundraiser, Mr. Romney convened a rather hastily called press conference in California at which he did not apologize for the remarks he made at the fundraiser, but he suggested that maybe the editing was making him look bad. He suggested that if you could see the whole thing in context, then maybe it might be better for him. He called for the whole tape to be released. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don`t even have the question, given the snippet there, nor the full response. And I hope the person who has the video would put out the full material. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If you want to know how bad Mitt Romney is at running his presidential campaign? If you want to know how bad his campaign is right now, period? What he said there about not having the question released, the question had already been released. And at that point in the evening, the people who published the first five minutes had already said both in print and on TV that they were about to publish the entire tape of the entire evening. And so, there he is at his press availability calling for the question to be put out there and it`s already out there. And he`s calling for the tape to be released and the whole tape is already being released. And today, like they said they would, "Mother Jones" magazine released the full 50-minute, unedited tape of Mr. Romney`s appearance at that Florida fundraiser. And because of that, the old Harry Barbour adage that in politics, bad tends to get worse, has never felt more true for Mr. Romney`s campaign that it does today. So, now, we`ve got the whole tape. And first of all, there`s the dirty bomb thing. This is what Mr. Romney said in response to a question about the threat posed by Iran. Listen carefully here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I mean, if I were Iran, if I were Iran, I mean, and a crazed fanatic, I`d say, "Let`s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah and have them carry it to Chicago or some other place. And then if anything goes wrong or America starts acting up, we`ll just say, "And guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we`re going to let off a dirty bomb." (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. So we can add to the list of foreign policy worries about a possible President Mitt Romney that he doesn`t know what a dirty bomb is. A dirty bomb is not a nuclear explosion. It`s not a mushroom cloud. You don`t need to have a nuclear program in order to make a dirty bomb possible. You don`t need fissile material from somebody`s nuclear weapons program to be able to put together a dirty bomb. A dirty bomb is just a regular bomb that explodes the regular way, except it`s been packed with radioactive material. And that radioactive material can come from anywhere. It can come from medical waste. It can come from nuclear power plants. It can even come from smoke detectors. Every country in the world has plenty of radioactive material to make a dirty bomb if they wanted to. And so, by singling out a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to the U.S. in terms of what it would take to make a dirty bomb, Mr. Romney has just displayed profound ignorance on a really important subject. Mr. Romney has just shown us that he apparently doesn`t know the difference between a dirty bomb and a nuclear bomb. And, therefore, foundationally, he totally misunderstands what is important or not important about Iran having a nuclear program. And that, of course, is one of the reasons he says he`s running for president, is how important he takes this threat. Honestly, this is -- this is an important issue. This is not a gotcha moment. Nobody was asking him about dirty bombs when he brought that up prospect. He brought that up himself. But now, as a follow up, reporters really do need to ask him to explain if he knows what a term like dirty bomb means, because if he does not know, then we are dealing with a whole new fundamental problem with his candidacy that was unknown before these tapes were released. Also, asked about the Mideast peace process, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in which the United States has been deeply engaged for decades, Mr. Romney said at that fundraiser that to his mind, quote, "the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish." He said, "These are problems and they are very hard to solve, all right? These are thorny issues that I say there`s just no way. And so, what you do is you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize this is going to remain an unsolved problem." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: We sort of live with it. And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately somehow, something will happen to resolve it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Kick the ball down the field, hope that ultimately somehow something will happen to resolve it. That`s the plan. This is a really hard issue. I don`t really want to work on it. I`m going to hope it gets better. Mr. Romney currently trails President Obama by 45 points among Jewish voters. He has tried to narrow this gap in part by saying that Mr. Obama has not been a strong enough leader on the issue of Israel. Well, now, we know what Mr. Romney is pledging to do on Israel, which is to hope everything gets better because it seems like it`s too hard to work on. Just to round things out in terms of this international house of wrong, this United Nations of wrong, Mr. Romney also attempted to make a funny at this event about how much better his life would be if only he were Mexican. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: My dad, you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company, but he was born in Mexico. And had he been born of Mexican parents, I`d have a better shot of winning this, but he was -- unfortunately born of Americans living in Mexico. They`d live there a number of years. And I mean I say that jokingly, but it`d be helpful to be Latino. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It would be helpful to be Latino. Take it from Mitt Romney, a man who`s known real hardship in his life, right? Mexican are the ones who have it easy in this country, how he has long to be a Mexican American. All of these new statements are in the rest of the videotape from that fundraiser in Florida, which Mr. Romney called for the release of in full last night, in his first attempt to tamp down the firestorm that his remarks have set off. But all that that means -- all of this new things, right, all this means is that he has a whole bunch of new problems to add to the problem that he got yesterday from the first clip of these remarks that was released, right? He`s got a whole new list of problems to add to the problem he got yesterday that he`s likely to drag with him all the way to the election. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that`s -- it`s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And -- I mean, the president starts off with 48 percent, 49 percent, 40 percent, he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income taxes. Forty- seven percent of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn`t connect. And he`ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that`s what they sell every -- every four years. So, my job is not to worry about nose people. I`ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care of their lives. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mr. Romney last night was asked by reporters if he wanted to retract any of that statement and he said no. Although he said he might have put it differently if he weren`t speaking off the cuff. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: It`s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I`m speaking off the cuff in response to a question, and I`m sure I could state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Well, what does it mean to say it more elegantly? Right? Top hat? Would that have made it? I don`t know about elegant, but in terms of saying what he said more effectively, he`s right. And in fact, as a candidate, Mitt Romney has said this thing more effectively in the past, because it is the policy platform of the Republican Party this year. It is the policy of the Republican Party to pursue the kinds of policies he described there inelegantly or not. It is the policy of the Republican Party at the presidential level and throughout the party. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I think it`s a real problem when you have half of Americans that are -- almost half of Americans are not paying income tax. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It`s a Mitt Romney position in this campaign. It`s a Republican policy more broadly for the whole country that people who have less money, people in the lower end of the income spectrum in this country are not paying enough in taxes. And the Republicans would like to raise taxes for those people. We don`t have it? Senator Orrin Hatch -- I think it is abysmal that the bottom 50 percent do not pay income taxes. Representative Eric Cantor -- over 45 percent of the people in this country don`t pay income taxes at all. And we have to question whether that`s fair. And as you saw, Mitt Romney, I think it`s a real problem when you have half of Americans -- almost half of Americans that are not paying income tax. That`s a problem. That`s an economic problem in this country to Mitt Romney and the Republicans. And that is a real problem that his tax plan would fix. The Romney tax plan would, quote, "result in a net tax cut for high income taxpayers and a net increase for lower and/or middle income taxpayers. That`s from nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which analyzed Mr. Romney`s tax proposal last month. Cut taxes for the rich, raise taxes for the poor. That is what Mitt Romney`s tax plan as a matter of policy would do. It`s also what Republicans have pursued in the states since they took over the governorships in state legislators in so many states in the 2010 elections. Earlier this year, the Republican tax reform bill in South Carolina proposed raising taxes on the poorest families in that state and cutting taxes for people who are well off. Because I guess Republicans believe that South Carolina poor people have too much money. In Wisconsin, when the Republicans took over there, what got all of the attention was the new law to strip union rights, which is now tied up in the courts. But the budget that Republicans introduced in Wisconsin when they took over in that state, would have cut taxes for everybody in the state except for poor people. The Wisconsin Republican budget would raise taxes on the poorest people in the state, because Republicans there also think that poor people have too much money. In Kansas, where the Republican takeover has gotten much less national attention than it ought to have -- Sam Brownback, the Republican governor there, signed a big tax reform bill into law, which takes poor people`s taxes and cuts them in Kansas and takes poor people`s taxes in Kansas and it raises them. The Republican Party has an anti-tax brand, right? They like to be seen for cutting taxes and being against raising taxes -- but they really only believe that for upper income people. Republican budgets like Mitt Romney`s and like the Republican budgets in the states, they don`t ignore the poor. They specifically target poor people for higher taxes. The Republican approach to poverty is to say that the problem with poor people is they have too much money. And the government has to fix that by taking some money away from them As a matter of policy, what was spoken at that fundraiser in Florida this spring that`s now been released, that`s now turned the campaign on its head. As a matter of policy, this was a gaffe. Not an error. This was not a misstatement, it was a blunt statement. There`s a reason they didn`t take what back what Mr. Romney said on that tape. They are restating it in a way that is less blunt, but it is actually their world view and their policy. And that`s why this tape has been like a nuclear bomb, not a dirty bomb in the Republicans campaign for the presidency this year. Joining us now is Dana Rather. He is the anchor and managing editor of "Dan Rather Reports" on AXS TV. Mr. Rather, thank you for coming back and joining us again. DAN RATHER, DAN RATHER REPORTS: Thank for having me again. MADDOW: Let me ask your blunt reaction when you heard Mr. Romney`s remarks at this fundraiser when they are publicized yesterday. RATHER: My first reaction was, can`t be true. The tape must be edited. He can`t possibly have disparaged almost half of the population in the country with seven weeks to go in the election campaign. Alas, it turns out to be exactly what he said. And when you have a dedicated Republican such as Bill Kristol, one of the real powers in the party, describing this as, quote, "arrogant and stupid," unquote, that tells you a lot. This is a deep wound to Romney`s chances. I think disastrous, but I`m not prepared to say catastrophic yet. It`s got to have now, he`s got to have 30 to 45 days playing errorless campaign politics and have a very good first debate in early October. Otherwise, I don`t see how he can win. MADDOW: We have seen a rift on the right over this issue. My colleague Ed Schultz was covering this very well in the last hour, talking about how the Romney campaign didn`t take it back. They are obviously getting shy about these sentiments. But there are elements on the right led by talk radio, and some sort of harder right wing media, people saying, you know what? This is what we believe. We ought to take this as an opportunity to articulate that 47 percent of the country that doesn`t pay income taxes. We ought to be targeting ourselves to the country in a way that does not pay attention to those people and speaks to the creators and not the moochers. RATHER: Absolutely truth. That his core base, the solid base for Romney, they love this. And they also detest if not outright hate Obama. So, they will go to the polls. The problem for candidate Obama is that the election is going to be won in about seven or eight swing states with independent and sometimes up and down voters. I can`t believe this appeals to them. One doesn`t have to come out every day and speak up for the hungry, the homeless, the helpless and those who think they have lost hope. But it`s not in the American character to say, in fact, to hell with them. They need to work harder. They are there only because of their own purposes. This is -- I can`t find anything comparable in American presidential campaign history, at least for the 50 years I`ve been covering it, that`s anything comparable to this. you know, Goldwater talked about extremism, but he talked about it at the convention as a nominee and it cost him as lot. McGovern had difficulty `72 campaign the Democrats -- and problems. But nothing I`ve ever covered compares to this. Everything else is paled by comparison. Now, having said that, the next six to seven days are absolutely critical for Romney -- either he can steady his operation, either he can get some momentum going forward on his core issues, which are jobs and the economy, either he does it in the next week and gives him a chance for the following 30 days, including that first debate, or he doesn`t. It will be interesting to see how it goes. MADDOW: I think that the sleeper issue in these tapes, and I think it`s interesting chronologically that we have the Libya and Egypt gaffe by this candidate right before this happened. I think the sleeper issue is foreign policy and national security stuff. To have made comments that blunt and reckless about the Palestinian/Israeli peace process, to come out while the U.S. embassy in Cairo was still being attacked, and attacking that embassy himself politically -- and to have displayed, nobody has really been talking about this at all today, but to have display I think basic ignorance about nuclear national security in terms of a nuclear bomb and a dirty bomb in the context of Iran, I feel like that stuff makes me hyperventilate a little bit about this campaign in a way that is not about the way these guys are competing, but just about how close this man is to the presidency with some real serious weaknesses on national security. RATHER: Well, you can bet a lot of people are asking that question. It`s less the specifics about his foreign policy, Palestinians, Libya, whatever, is he really ready for the presidency? MADDOW: Yes. RATHER: He already suffered rightly or wrongly the image of being brittle, awkward, inauthentic. Not quite ready to be president. Now, when he makes these gaffes one after the other, reminiscent of what Casey Stengel said about the Mets in 1960s, anybody here play this game. Many Republicans are asking themselves now about the Romney campaign -- is there anybody that can run this game? I think it`s the cumulative effect of these things saying, well, I was prepared to consider Romney, but, you know, he doesn`t strike me as leadership material. It goes back to that I think we said in this program before, it`s less what he says about a specific policy than it is how he makes people feel. And I think what he has shown over the last couple weeks, sort of beginning just before the Republican convention is he makes people feel a little uneasy when they try to imagine him as president. MADDOW: In terms of the actual tax-related statement that he made that`s gotten him in so much trouble, the reason people don`t pay federal income taxes in this country is because mostly of deductions and exemptions that we put in the tax code, because mostly that`s been a preferred Republican way of legislating social policy, to reward work and reward childbearing and reward education. And Democrats have done it too, but it really was very much championed by Republicans over this time. Are we actually seeing an ideological shift in the Republican Party around taxation? Their basic ideas about the legitimacy of taxing people at all, that`s allowing them to essentially criticize the results of all of their own policymaking that created deductions for people in the military, people getting college education, people having kids and all the stuff that made possible this 47 percent? RATHER: Yes. The short answer is yes. You had this ideological change within the party, especially with those who are most active in the party coming for some time. It`s now come full. The Obama campaign is out with a new television ad today that basically says, get this clear, people. Candidate Romney wants to cut taxes for the wealthy, increase taxes for the middle class and those below. And the Romney people have their answer, but this is an effective argument given what the candidate has said and what the party platform says. MADDOW: Yes, and what the Republicans have done in the states where they have control, which I think is overlooked in terms of sort of making intentions here. This is just mind boggling. Dan Rather, it so great to have you here -- always, but particular tonight. Thank you. RATHER: Thank you very much. MADDOW: Dan Rather is the anchor and managing editor of "Dan Rather Reports" on AXS TV. Dan`s latest program is called "College on the Cheap." And it airs tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. OK. So there may be a more elegant way to say this, but where are Mr. Romney`s tax returns? Who is paying? Who is not? And why? That`s next. Ow, do people really wear these? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Surreptitiously recorded video of Mitt Romney talking to a roomful of donors at a $50,000 a plate dinner about how 47 percent of Americans are free loading moochers and he`s not even trying to connect with as a candidate, that is obviously and for obvious reasons the main story in the political news cycle right now. Dan Rather just moments ago compared it to Barry Goldwater talking about extremism in 1964 and other historical presidential collapses. There`s something important that`s embedded in the video, in the way that Mr. Romney talks about taxes and morality, I think it`s going to be driving the next news cycle. It`s not the part where he says he`s not going to worry about 47 percent of the country in trying to become president, it`s about what he says is wrong with that part of the country. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that`s -- it`s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. I`ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Personal responsibility and care for their lives. Mr. Romney is not just saying that people who don`t pay income tax are a lost cause for his campaign, which is how he tried to spin it in his remarks late last night. Instead, he`s saying there`s something. There`s something innately bad about being a person who doesn`t pay income tax. He says people who don`t pay income tax are self-styled victims who do not take responsibility, who feel entitled. Mr. Romney is making whether or not you pay federal income taxes a moral issue. He says, I`ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives, making it a moral issue is an awkward case for Mitt Romney to be making. Mr. Romney, in fact, has taken great pains to try to move the national conversation away from the discussion of his own tax returns, which he refuses to release to the public. His vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, released 10 years of tax returns to the Romney campaign because according to Mr. Romney`s standards, that`s what it takes in order to vet a vice presidential nominee. And Mitt Romney is responsible for vetting the nominee for vice president of the United States from the Republican Party. He`s the one who Mitt has to make that pick. And in order to make that pick responsibly, he felt like he needed to see 10 years of tax returns from Paul Ryan. Well, the people who are responsible for vetting to be president of the United States, that would be us, and we are not allowed to have 10 years from Mitt Romney. We are only allowed to see one year of Mitt Romney`s tax returns and a summary of the second year, at least so far. The question of why Mr. Romney will not release more of his tax returns has positively dogged his campaign. Over his summer, a laundry list of prominent Republicans called on Mr. Romney to release the returns. That followed a whole, another gaggle of Republicans who did so during the primaries. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went on a tear, loudly and publicly accusing Mr. Romney based on a single unanimous hearsay source of having paid zero taxes for 10 years. Mr. Romney denies that. He says he`s never paid less than 13 percent in taxes. But he does just say that. We`re supposed to trust him that that`s true. The problem with us all just trusting Mitt Romney about what is true about his taxes, the problem with us not actually seeing the evidence of what`s in his taxes is that the last time Mr. Romney asked voters to trust him about what was in his taxes that he didn`t want to show, we just had to trust him, was when he told Massachusetts voters in 2002 when he was running for governor that he was in fact a Massachusetts resident and you could tell this because he never filed taxes as a resident of the state of Utah. It turned out he had filed his taxes as a resident of the state of Utah despite his assurances to the contrary. Asked about it at the time, the Romney campaign specific quote for that was, "You`re going to have to take my word for it." And it turned out anybody who did take their word for it was a sucker. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: The Democrat`s point to Romney`s house in Utah which was listed as his primary residence to support a challenge. They also want to see his tax returns. JAMES ROOSEVELT, JR., MA DEM PARTY COUNSEL: We`ve now learned from his own lips this afternoon that Mr. Romney lied yesterday when he said he filed resident tax returns in both Massachusetts and Utah. REPORTER: Romney acknowledged today he amended his 1999 and 2000 Massachusetts state tax returns to make him a resident here. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So when Mitt Romney says trust me about what`s in his taxes, his record on trusting him about what in his taxes says that we in fact cannot trust him. During the Republican primary when the question was someone else`s tax policy, Mr. Romney said something more revealing about his own taxes than he`s ever said when faced with direct questions about them. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, is the tax on capital gains also 15 percent or is it zero? NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Zero. ROMNEY: Well, under that plan, I`d pay no taxes in the last two years. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: He`s trying to criticize Newt Gingrich`s tax plan there. Newt Gingrich`s proposal is to get rid of the capital gains tax, which would leave Mitt Romney only liable for income taxes. And you know what? Guys like Mitt Romney, they don`t really pay income taxes. Mr. Romney there is essentially admitting that he does not pay income taxes. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Under that plan, I`d have paid no taxes in the last two years. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mr. Romney`s personal tax burden has been an issue in this campaign all along. But now that he has declared people who don`t pay income taxes as people who believe they are victims, people who are dependent on the government and people who do not take responsibility or care for their lives, now there`s an even more pressing interest in knowing whether Mitt Romney himself is one of those people. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: First time in a long time and desperately needed, we have a best new thing in the world today coming up at the end of the show. We have not done one of these in forever, but it`s back just in time. Yay! (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. So, a lot of people are pronouncing Mitt Romney`s presidential campaign donesville. Bloomberg published an opinion column yesterday titled, "Today Mitt Romney lost the Election." "Huffington Post" has front paged the column by its business news editor that`s titled "Why Romney`s Video Comments Have Killed his Candidacy." Jonathan Chait at the "New York" magazine says that Mr. Romney`s comments at that fundraiser in May, quote, "disqualify his claim to the presidency." I know, I know. Those are liberals. But then there are conservatives. "The New York Times`" influential conservative columnist David Brooks calls Mr. Romney, "Thurston Howell" today. Yes, I agree. That is the right metaphor. More importantly, though, he says that Mr. Romney`s comments at that fundraiser are, quote, "a country club fantasy. It`s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney." David Brooks goes on to say that while he likes Mr. Romney, he quote, "says stupid things because he`s pretending to be something he`s not." He accuses Mr. Romney of, quote, "running a depressingly inept presidential campaign." And he ends it all, he ends the column by asking, "when will the incompetence stop?" When you get even more conservative than David Brooks, the comments get even more devastating. Here`s a taste. This is referenced earlier this hour by Dan Rather. Look at the headline here. This is Bill Kristol writing at the conservative magazine, "The Weekly Standard," the headline is, "A Note on Romney`s Arrogant and Stupid Remarks." Bill Kristol goes on to half jokingly suggest that Mitt Romney quit the race that he drop off the ticket so he can, quote, "Get the Ryan/Rubio ticket we deserve." This is what it looks like for the wheels to come off. But you know what? Wheels have come off in other campaigns too. And sometimes after the wheels come off, the campaign crashes because there`s no wheels, but then the candidate and campaign scramble around in the underbrush and they find the wheels and they bolt them back on and then sometimes they even win that race. Do you remember how John McCain won the presidential nomination? During the primaries in the summer of 2007, John McCain`s campaign in the primaries just bottomed out. It was over. He laid off dozens of staff members. His fundraising collapsed. What was left of the campaign ordered up a recovery plan that was called living off the land, a plan for financial viability. It called for McCain to scramble for all the free press he could get, to focus on looking good in places like New Hampshire where the campaign would work the press to convince reporters that John McCain was still in it, so reporters would write stories saying he was still in it. So he would seem like he was still in it even though it was really kind of just all made up. But it worked. Senator John McCain won in New Hampshire. And then he rolled out victories in Florida, in Virginia and Maryland and Kansas and on and on, and he was back and John McCain won the nomination after having been declared gone the previous summer. In the 2008 Republican primaries, John McCain was a phoenix that rose from the ashes of the campaign he previously burned down. He came back from somewhere much worse than where Romney is right now. I mean, at least Mitt Romney still has his donor billionaires, right? McCain was able to win the nomination. Now, I should also note that 2008 John McCain also provides us the opposite political science case study of how to burn down your campaign in a way you can`t recover from. So, yes, he got the nomination, but once he had the nomination and he was actually running for president, the burning down again kind of started this week. It was the third week of September 2008. That was the week that Lehman collapsed and the crater of the American economy began on Wall Street. John McCain responded to that by saying, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong." Then his economic adviser said it was John McCain who invented the BlackBerry. Then John McCain surrogate Carly Fiorina said John McCain was not capable of running a company like Hewlett-Packard and by the way, neither could Sarah Palin. You remember Carly Fiorina was on their side. Then the campaign said Carly would disappear for awhile. Then while John McCain was trying to talk about the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, the SIPC, he kept over and over again calling it the SPIC. The SPIC, which is just awful. Then he sold his drill, baby, drill plan by saying in sort of goofy that fish love oil rigs. And then Sarah Palin hailed the dawn of a new Palin and McCain administration. Oh, Palin and McCain. That`s nice of you. Then Mr. McCain said he would fire the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the SEC. But in trying to make that point, he instead named the head of the FEC, which is a totally differently agency that`s totally unrelated. That was this week. That was one five-day, Monday to Friday period this week four years ago in the John McCain campaign for the presidency. In that time, even though he had risen like a phoenix when he bottomed out in the primaries, that time, he really did not come back in the general election. I mean, that was this time in the campaign, mid-September. By October, the McCain campaign was completely collapsed symbolized most intensely by the campaign`s vice presidential nominee, Ms. Palin, being trashed in the press by staffers of her own campaign. That was still a live campaign at that point. That happened and then we voted and honestly it wasn`t even close. All campaigns have low moments. John Kerry and the swift boat controversy, Barack Obama and the Reverend Wright stuff. Mitt Romney`s dad way back in the day saying he got brainwashed by the military in the trip to Vietnam. Some of these things are survivable for a candidacy and some of them are not. Is it just the timing? Is it just needing enough time to recover before people start voting? Is it the type of error and how close it is to the candidate`s weaknesses in the campaign? Does the history of campaigning tell us anything about whether Mitt Romney is likely to survive this or whether this is the end? Whether, like everybody is saying, this is door nails at donesville this point. Joining us is a very acute scholar of modern presidential campaigning, Steve Kornacki. He`s co-host of "THE CYCLE" on MSNBC, a senior writer for Steve, thank you for being here. STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Happy to be here. MADDOW: When I was thinking about this today, I was thinking, you know, I wonder what Steve thinks about previous collapses. I mean, historically speaking, what makes the difference in terms of whether campaigns are able to pull out of a tailspin and pull off a win? KORNACKI: I mean, some of it has to do with the basic structural factors at work. Is it a year your party has a chance to begin with or has a good chance to begin with, and that sort of gives you a margin of error, that gives you a certain amount of wiggle room to screw up and still recover. The good news for Mitt Romney is this is the kind of year where because of the structural factors, basically the economy, the state of the economy, Barack Obama`s vulnerable. So, there`s an opportunity for Romney to win the election. The closest analog I can find in recent history is John Kerry in 2004. If you can think back to the trajectory of that campaign, in the summer months, it was tied in the polls. Kerry was even ahead for a lot of summer by two or three points. Bush had, sort of like this year, the mirror image of what we had this year, Bush and Republicans went second with their convention in `04, they had a much better convention statistically than the Democrats. In Labor Day on in 2004, for the entire month of September, Bush was ahead six or seven points on average in the national polls. In that month, there was all sorts of loud public second-guessing of the Kerry campaign, sort of like what you`re hearing now from Republicans about Romney. People were saying Kerry`s blown this perfectly winnable election for the Democrat. What changed it for Kerry at least temporarily was the first debate. In early, in September 30th of 2004, Kerry clearly outperformed Bush in the first debate. That six, seven-point gap was basically erased overnight. And from that point on, you had a neck and neck election through Election Day. Now, we look back now, because he lost, we say here are the 10,000 things that Kerry did wrong. But for the month of October, all of those critics within the Democratic Party were silenced and it looked like he was running a really, good competent campaign. So I think the lesson from that is, you know, that race was about as winnable for Kerry as this is for Romney. So Romney needs something like Kerry got, which was basically be Romney needs to go into this debate and clearly have a better performance than Obama and then he could be right back in. MADDOW: It seems to me, though, that one salient difference is that the reason that Kerry fell behind at the time that you`re describing in the `04 race was not because of big screw ups on his part. He was getting a lot of criticism on the left, getting a lot of criticism by Democrats, but really it was George Bush ran a good convention and was running a good and very aggressive campaign. The things that were hitting Kerry were attacks organized by the George W. Bush side. In this case, the Romney campaign, it`s all self- inflicted. I mean, I`m sure Democrats would like to believe this has all been orchestrated by the Obama campaign, but it really hasn`t. It`s Mitt Romney talking on his own terms and people just hearing what it is that he`s saying. So, does that make a difference in terms of the recoverability factor? KORNACKI: Yes, no, I think it does. The only thing I think about Kerry in `04 was, you know, given that interview, they were hitting him on the security stuff and Kerry gave this interview where he talked about fighting terrorism more as sort of a police issue as opposed to a military issue. The Bush people really hit him hard on that, probably unfairly but probably effectively. But, yes, I was looking for a precedent where you have something like an open mike incident like this that reinforces a candidate`s prime vulnerability. And, domestically, I really can`t think of one. The only thing I think of is you have to go international. 2010 in Britain, the part with Gordon Brown. You remember Gordon Brown, sort of his biggest vulnerability was the perception that he was cold and that he was arrogant. He met with the working class voter and the mike was still on and he gets back in the car and he talks about what a bigoted woman she was. It caters directly to this really sort of damning impression of Gordon Brown. Of course, it came at a time when his party was really struggling to hold off the conservatives and he weren`t able to win the election. So, I think that`s the closest parallel I can find in a major election. MADDOW: The Romney campaign came into the week saying they were going to sharpen the message and start providing specifics about Mr. Romney`s policies. That was before the open mike incident, before the fundraising thing came out. That was when their biggest problem seemed to be the open venting of fighting within the campaign to "Politico" most notably but then to a lot of news outlets. Is that still in the works? Should that still be in the works as a potential way out of this? It now seems to me to be so patently irrelevant especially because them getting specific about tax policy would make this 47 percent problem they`ve got now much worse. KORNACKI: That`s it. Pick your issue. Whatever he`s going to get more specific on, there`s a reason he hasn`t been specific. It`s not that they have forgotten to be specific. Usually you`d do that in your convention speech. The problem is, the more specifics you get, the more the divide where the Republican base is today, where the Republican Party is today, a Republican Party that Mitt Romney has been totally and completely responsive to at every step of the way, where that party is, and where the general election audience is. This 47/53 percent thing is a perfect example of this, but this is a mean that`s gospel on the right. It`s become gospel on the right. In the Obama era, if Romney starts preaching that gospel now like he did on this video, that`s poisonous to the rest of the electorate. But if he moves away from it, the Republican base looks at it and says, what are you doing? This is what we believe in. This is what we nominated you for. So, he`s in this untenable position and you can multiply that by five or 10 different issues, because that`s really the story of the Obama era. The Republican has moved very far to the right, and has tried to win elections by sort of papering over those big philosophical differences they have with swing voters. MADDOW: Well, Steve, the thing that the Romney campaign is doing to try to move out of this, rather than what they say they are going to do has gone almost completely unnoticed while everybody has been fixating on this screw up. We`ve got it as our feature next. So, I have to go do that now and say goodbye. But thank you. Steve Kornacki, senior writer for, Steve`s show is called "THE CYCLE." It airs weekdays at 3:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC. You`re exactly right at what you just said about how this is going. It`s great to have you here. KORNACKI: Happy to do it. Thanks. MADDOW: All right. What the Romney campaign is doing to try to get out of this and which I find implicitly hilarious. Next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: What I meant to say was that in 2002 Mitt Romney, the candidate for governor, had told Massachusetts voters that he had never not filed his taxes in Massachusetts. The moment ago when we were talking about that I said Utah when I meant Massachusetts because that was the controversy about his residency. I`m sorry that I transposed those in my mind. I`m sorry to screw that up. I apologize. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So the Mitt Romney campaign this week had to add crisis management to their to-do list, but that does mean that anything else has fallen off their to-do list. They still, for example, really need to work on the big problems they`ve got in the polling. After their convention, they had been gaining in polls among Latino voters a little bit, but now they are back to where they are before. There is a 42-point gap between President Obama and Mr. Romney among Latino votes. And you cannot win the presidency with that few Latino voters. On women, the women numbers for Mr. Romney are just awful. The latest NBC poll show Mr. Romney losing Florida overall by about five points. But he`s losing Florida women by 14. He`s losing Virginia overall by 5 points but he`s losing Virginia women by 14. He`s losing Ohio by 7 points overall, but he`s losing Ohio women by 16 points. Nationally, in the new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll just released tonight, Mitt Romney is losing women across the country by 10 points. So it is awful for him among women nationally but it is worse for him in the swing states. And that`s not just a commie, pinko, liberal take on the numbers, those are the numbers. They`re just terrible for him. So even as he`s dealing with all these other new crises, of course, this most recent devastating tape of him, disparaging half the country as victims that he doesn`t care about, even as he`s dealing with these new problems, Mr. Romney still has all his old problems to work on, too. And one of his worst old problems is women. So today, in the midst of everything else, the campaign very quietly started airing this. This is Mr. Romney`s new "hello, babies" ad. The phrase "hello, babies" was coined by profane and excellent political Web site But I have to say, "hello, babies" is actually less awkward language than the language which this ad actually starts. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NARRATOR: Dear daughter, welcome to America. Your share of Obama`s debt is $50,000 and it grows every day. That`s what Obama`s policies have done for women. Welcome daughter. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Welcome daughter to this Obama hellscape. Don`t with you wish you could go back to where you came from. Where is the daughter coming from? Why does she need to be welcome to America? Is she a foreign baby? Congratulations. Or perhaps she was recently traveling. Maybe she did a trimester abroad? Hello, foreign babies. Welcome to America. Vote for Mitt Romney? The Romney campaign is in serious trouble. But you do what you`ve got to do in these situations, you`ve got to put one foot in front of the other to get out of where they`re at, and they have very quietly apparently decided that the way they`re going to get out of these problems is that they`re going to take these steps and their steps is going to be baby steps. Welcome to America? Seriously, who`s making the decisions in this campaign right now? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. Best new thing in the world today -- specifically, it is the best new thing in Mitt Romney`s world today. It was a chance for him to get on television without having to answer questions about what he said at that fundraiser in Boca Raton. Mr. Romney got his chance to be on TV today, on network TV, but to not have to answer any questions about his current major campaign troubles. And he got that chance through the magic of time travel, also known in the TV world as a pre-taped interview. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So as you know, we have a huge show today. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We taped an incredible interview with presidential candidate governor Mitt Romney and his wife Ann which we`re going to show you today. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That is a person named Kelly Ripa and a person named Michael Strahan, who are co-hosts of a new daytime talk show on ABC. And you could see them there. They are teasing forward as they say to an interview with Mitt and Ann Romney which they taped last Friday, but they aired it today. Because they knew they were going to pre-tape it and air it later, they conducted it as an evergreen interview. That`s TV talk when you don`t want an interview to sound dated if news events happen to change before you get a chance to air this thing. So, the happiest of happy Republican accidents today, right? The lurching, horrible, damage control headlines of the Romney campaign finally got interrupted on network television today by something else from Mitt Romney that was not about his campaign collapsing and why. Instead, it was about this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most serious question of all. Honey boo-boo or Snooki? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know who either of those two are? ROMNEY: I`m kind of a Snooki fan. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She has a baby now. ROMNEY: Look how tiny she`s gotten. She`s lost weight and she`s energetic. I mean, just her spark plug personality is kind of fun. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Isn`t it awesome how tiny? Weird, right? But also sweet relief from the Romney campaign in the darkest hour of this campaign when everything is about what`s wrong and other shoes just keep dropping every day, when Mitt Romney`s appearances on TV look like he`s quitting the race, if you watch him with the sound off and sometimes with the sound on. In the middle of all that, there`s his pre-taped remarks about Snooki from "The Jersey Shore" that ABC saved from last week to air today, like a parachute for a falling man. Thank you, Snooki. Thank you, ABC. And we now return to our regularly scheduled presidential campaign catastrophe. 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