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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/04/12

Guests: Dan Rather

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Great show tonight, man. It was epic. ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Thank you. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. All right. Televised debates have existed in this country since 1960. That was the really, really famous one, right? It was sweaty Dick Nixon, sick with a fever, against polished John F. Kennedy. Legend has it that Richard Nixon heard that JFK was not going to get makeup from CBS for that debate, and so Nixon said, well, I won`t have any makeup either, then -- even though he was running a 102 degree fever. And not only was Nixon ill that day, it turned out that when JFK turned down the CBS makeup offer, it was because he apparently had his own makeup arrangements already made. And so, we got JFK with makeup and no fever. We got Richard Nixon with no makeup and a fever. And what we got on TV in the first televised presidential debate in our nation`s history was beauty and the beast, right? Of course, JFK went on to win that election that year, whether or not it was because of the debate, I don`t know. But thus was born the entire school of punditry that says it`s all about the optics and watching things with the sounds off and all that existentially exhausting stuff that we still say today. But here is the relevant context for understanding what happened last night when Mitt Romney beat President Obama in last night`s televised debate. So the first televised presidential debate that we had was in 1960. Here are all of the other years that we have since have televised presidential debates. Every four years now, we have these debates on TV. The only years, though -- so these are all the years, right, that we - - right? The only years, though, in which you had an incumbent president running against a challenger in all of the years we`ve had presidential debates on TV are these years. So in terms of understanding the historical context of what happened last night when Mitt Romney beat President Obama in this first debate, this is the universe of like things to compare it to. This is how to understand it in terms of American political history. It`s only these years right here. That`s it. Now, by definition, you never have an incumbent president in this situation more than once. Presidents can only serve two terms so there`s only one opportunity when they carry into that debate, when they`re running for re-election, they carry into that debate the gravitas of being the president of the United States facing off against some non-president who wants their job. That only happens once per president. And these are the only times that has happened on TV in our nation`s history. That`s it. And this is the situation that President Obama found himself in last night. It`s only happened six other times in American history. So how did he do in historical context? There isn`t that much historical context, right? Like, this is a very knowable thing. And honestly, that first one, that first one in 1976 where incumbent President Gerald Ford faced off against challenger Jimmy Carter, honestly, this one shouldn`t even really count as part of the context like the rest of them because this one was almost too unusual. I mean, in terms of the reaction from that first debate, you want to know who won that debate? Well, watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening. Here`s what did it. A capacitor. A tiny electronic component costing less than $1. A capacitor blew out last night in an amplifier ABC was using to feed the pool side to all the networks, plunging President Ford and Jimmy Carter into unaccustomed silence for 27 minutes, and irritating maybe 90 million people. That`s why. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It`s so weird how this has gone down the memory hole in terms of the way we think about televised presidential debates. But in 1976 in the first debate ever where a sitting president faced his challenger in a televised debate -- I mean, yes, it was mixed reviews in terms of who won. But mostly that was because everybody was so preoccupied with the fact the debate collapsed on television in a technicality. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: One of the very serious things that`s happened in our government in recent years and has continued up until now is a breakdown in the trust among our people and the -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Don`t adjust your set. This is what it was like live. Hold on for just a second. This is what it was like for people watching the debate that night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (INAUDIBLE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pool broadcaster from Philadelphia had temporarily lost the audio. It is not a conspiracy against Governor Carter or President Ford. They will fix it as soon as possible. The pool audio from Philadelphia has been lost momentarily. We hope to have it back any minute. We don`t know what`s happened to it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It took 27 minutes to get that sound back. So the first time we had incumbent president face his challenger on TV in a debate in American history, it was totally novel to the country, it had never happened before, and the verdict to the extent that there was any clear winner or not, nobody really seemed to think there was a clear winner. Frankly, it was almost beside the point. Everybody was distracted with what went wrong, technically, 27 minutes of silence all blamed on this tiny little capacitor. So, mostly, that first one should sort of drop out of the mix because it was such an outlier from the rest of them and there aren`t that many of the rest of them. But in terms of the contemporaneous news coverage at the time, essentially nobody in the country thought the incumbent President Gerald Ford clearly won that debate. So, after the first try at this as a nation, the number of first debates won by an incumbent president facing his challenger on TV is basically zero. We`ll keep this as a running tally here, right? So zero wins at this point. Zero wins, one losses. The incumbent presidents are 0 for 1. How about the next one? 1980. All right. At that point, the incumbent president was Jimmy Carter. The challenger was Ronald Reagan. And everybody knows how the election came out that year. But that`s not what we`re talking about here. What we`re talking about is who won that first debate. Was it the incumbent President Jimmy Carter or was it the challenger Ronald Reagan? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JUDY WOODRUFF, REPORTER: Leaving Cleveland this morning, the president had a message for anyone who thought Reagan had come across better in the debate. CARTER: I think the issues are more important than the performance. WOODRUFF: The president is visibly more relaxed today than he was on the stage with Governor Reagan last night. Since there`s no way to know yet for sure which man helped himself the most, it`s likely that the president is simply relieved that the debate that many of his advisers never wanted in the first place is finally behind him. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Relieved that it is over. So that was the coverage the day after the Reagan/Carter debate. And because Reagan went on to win the election that year, retrospectively that 1980 debate has been imbued with a lot of over the top Reagan worship stuff about his "there you go again" line and his "are you better off than you were four years ago?" line. But that enthusiasm for Reagan`s debate performance in 1980 has mostly been cooked up in subsequent years, in recent decades as conservatives have decided that Ronald Reagan is their party`s sort of secular saint. But even if at the time, the reception was not so over the top, it still was pretty broadly viewed at the time, that Mr. Reagan, that the challenger, won that debate and Jimmy Carter, the incumbent lost that debate. So 1980 adds to our tally in terms of first debates won by incumbent presidents against their challengers. After two tries at it, incumbent presidents are -- 0-2. OK. We have two tries, 0-2. Then there`s 1984. At this point, the incumbent president is Ronald Reagan and his challenger is the mighty, mighty Walter Mondale. But you can call him Fritz. You know, we look back at Reagan versus Mondale in 1984 as Reagan having dominated Mondale because he did beat him so soundly when it came to Election Day. But we`re not talking about Election Day. We`re talking about that first debate and in terms of that first debate -- it was completely the opposite of the way it was on Election Day. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Good evening. I`m Tom Brokaw with NBC "Nightly News." A lot of people in most of the instant polls believe Walter Mondale won an important battle against President Reagan last night. GERALDINE FERRARO (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In this corner, at a feisty 170 pounds, the new heavyweight debater of the world, Fighting Fritz Mondale. REPORTER: At a tumultuous rally, Mondale claimed the debate breathed new life into his campaign. WALTER MONDALE (D), FOMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, we have a brand new race. Today everything is different. REPORTER: While not claiming a flood of overnight conversions, Mondale`s aides argue millions of voters finally are listening to Mondale and rethinking their support for Reagan. CHRIS WALLACE, REPORTER: The seemingly unstoppable Reagan bandwagon hit a bad rut last night and the president seemed to know it. Asked who won the debate as he left Kentucky, all he said was, I`m smiling. At a North Carolina rally, Mr. Reagan brought up the debate, himself, and was downbeat. RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Whether I won them or not, I`ve -- I know now that I have won the fruits of victory because I get to be with all of you. WALLACE: The real campaigning though, was done by the Reagan staff, trying to limit damage from the debate. Last night officials who seldom return reporters` phone calls swarmed over the press, saying Mondale needed a knockout and got only a draw. There was even some finger pointing in the Reagan camp. Top campaign officials say White House officials did a terrible job of preparing the president, giving him too many facts and failing to organize his answers. One top official said Mr. Reagan did four mock debates and every time was as bad as he was last night. As Mr. Reagan celebrated Columbus Day, aides expect his lead to shrink with Democrats pushing back to Mondale. They won`t change strategy, saying voters still back the president on the issues. For them, the worst thing is a strong Reagan performance might have clinched the election. What happened last night gave the Democrats new life. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: Any of that sound familiar? That was our nation`s third try of having an incumbent president debate on TV against his challenger. The incumbent was Ronald Reagan and got his clock cleaned by Mondale. So, after a third try as a nation, the tally for incumbent presidents trying to win these first debates against their challengers was 0-3. All right. The next time that an incumbent president is facing a challenger is 1992. The incumbent president is George H.W. Bush. His major party challenger is a young man from Arkansas. But there`s also this other guy with the big ears and it`s the other guy with the big ears who wins the first debate. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: The day after, victory for Perot. Clinton holds his own. Trouble for the president. There`s no one scorecard for determining who won and who lost last night, but a consensus does seem to be emerging. Ross Perot, the star of the night probably because no one knew what to expect, Bill Clinton just good enough, and President Bush, he`ll have to do much better. REPORTER: By morning, what had been last night`s analysis had become conventional wisdom, in the headlines, on the "Today" show. JOHN DANCY, NBC NEWS: Clinton did what he had to do and Bush did not. REPORTER: And in instant polls. KATIE COURIC: Those polls show the president finishing third among people who watched the first debate. REPORTER: The Bush people are getting very, very tired of hearing that the president did not hit a home run last night. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: So at this point as a nation, in our entire history as a country, we have had four national attempts of a challenger making his television debate debut against the sitting president of the United States. And after doing this four times as a nation, the record for incumbent presidents facing these challengers is 0-4. OK. So now 1996, incumbent president is that now not as young man from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, and his challenger that year is Bob Dole. Did Bob Dole really beat incumbent Bill Clinton in their first debate? Actually, no. This is the exception. Bill Clinton won that first debate. Here`s what the headlines looked like the next day. "President Proves Unflappable Facing Dole Barbs". So the fifth time that we did this as a country, new result. The incumbent president did clearly defeat his challenger in their first debate. First time that ever happened in the country. That moves the tally for incumbent presidents trying to win first debates against their challenger to 1-4. So next one, 2004. George W. Bush is the incumbent president. His challenger is this guy, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Remember at the Democratic convention this year when John Kerry gave the bang-up speech about Mitt Romney learning everything he knew about Russia by watching "Rocky 4", and his overseas trip actually being a blooper reel and all that stuff? This great barnburner of a very funny speech by John Kerry. And everybody said, afterwards, where was that John Kerry when he was the guy running for president in 2004? Well, that John Kerry actually did show up in 2004 when he was running for president. At least he showed up for the first debate against the incumbent president that year, and in that first debate against the incumbent president, challenger John Kerry cleaned the president`s clock. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I made a mistake in how I talk about the war, but the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse? BROKAW: President Bush and Senator Kerry were hard at it again today, campaigning across battleground states, continuing the spirited debate they had last night on terrorism in Iraq, but this time, they were not on a common stage and Kerry had the kind of confidence that comes with polls and pundits agreeing that he won last night`s showdown. KERRY: Did you watch that debate last night? DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: This was John Kerry today, bolder, declaring victory, relieving worried Democrats. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday, he showed me he`s ready to lead this country. GREGORY: In Pennsylvania today, the president tried to overcome doubts about his debate performance by swinging hard at his opponent. In a new line of attack, he failed to use last night but may wish he had, Mr. Bush accused Senator Kerry of more confusing contradictions on Iraq after first voting to authorize the war. Even some Bush supporters at today`s rally expected more from the president last night. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he could have been better in another type of format other than the debate. GREGORY: And the White House advisers were spinning a Bush debate victory, they were on the defensive today about the president`s demeanor last night. The television coverage, he appeared at times irritated, dismissive, frustrated by his challenger. DAN BARTLETT, BUSH WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He`s always been a president and a person who wears his emotion on his sleeve. GREGORY: If some in the White House thought it would put this race out of reach, a reality check today. One senior adviser said no one would put the race way in one night. (END VIDEOTAPE) MADDOW: OK. So, again, this is not who went on with win the eventual election. This is just about who won the first debate when a sitting president is facing his challenger. In 2004, when the incumbent President George W. Bush lost badly to his challenger that year, that pushed the tally for incumbent presidents trying to win first debates against their challengers to 1-5. One win, five losses, in the six times that we had done it before we did it last night. That`s the sum total of our American president of putting sitting presidents up against challengers in their first TV debates. So, that was the record for incumbent presidents and their challengers heading into last night`s showdown between incumbent President Barack Obama and the challenger, Mitt Romney. The record was one for five for presidents going into a situation like President Obama went into last night. And now, of course, the record is 1-6. As President Obama is pretty unanimously seen, OK, no, unanimously seen as having had his clock cleaned by Mitt Romney last night. And there`s more to say about the substance about what claims were made during the debate, about what was true and what was not true and what will live and what will be forgotten and how the candidates seem to be adjusting their campaigns and messages to reflect what happened last night, in order to position themselves better for the debates coming up. And we will get to a lot of that this hour. That is all still to come. But in terms of the nationwide Democratic bedwetting that`s going on today over the challenger having won this first debate against the incumbent president, Barack Obama -- come on, kids. Buck up. Challenger wins first debate is not a headline that should surprise anyone. Let alone cause anyone to tear their hair out in disbelief. What happened last night is the historical norm. Had Mr. Romney lost, given the fact he is behind the polls and given the fact that challengers basically always win the first debate against an incumbent president, it would have been historically notable and probably would have been fatal for the Romney campaign. But the fact it was the president who lost instead says what exactly about the rest of the race? Exactly. This modern history right here, the complete record of the precedent for this sort of thing in American politics predicts exactly nothing about the outcome of an election after what just happened at they debate last night. Again, in terms of who won the first debate, the record for sitting presidents is 1-6 now after last night. But in terms of who went on to win the election after those first debates, look -- it`s dead even. Wins, three. Losses, three. Half these guys won, half these guys lost when it came to Election Day. And this year, who knows? The great Dan Rather joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Dan Rather joins us next for "The Interview". (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The president began this segment so I think I get the last word. So I`m going to take it. JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: You`re going to get the first word in the next segment. ROMNEY: He gets the first word of that segment. I get the last word of that segment, I hope. Let me just make this comment. I`m sorry, Jim. I`m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I`m going to stop all the things -- I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. I`m not going to -- I`m not going to keep spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. LEHRER: All I want to very quick -- (CROSSTALK) ROMNEY: Let`s get back to Medicare. The president said the government could provide the service at a lower cost without a profit. Let`s -- LEHRER: There`s the specific. (CROSSTALK) ROMNEY: Let me mention the other one, let`s talk -- LEHRER: Let`s not. Let`s let him respond. Let`s let him respond to this specific on Dodd/Frank and what the governor just said. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney rolling over the debate moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS last night during the first presidential debate of this campaign season. Joining us now for the interview is Dan Rather, the host of "Dan Rather Reports" on AXS TV. He`s the anchor of CBS` "Evening News" for 20 years. Mr. Rather is, of course, a veteran observer of these campaigns. Thank you for your time tonight, sir. Nice to have you here. DAN RATHER, AXS TV`s "DAN RATHER REPORTS": Always a pleasure to be here. MADDOW: What is your reaction overall to the debate last night? I am assuming you think Mitt Romney won the debate. What do you think is important about it? RATHER: Well, I think what`s important about it is it gives Governor Romney a chance to get a second look from the electorate. On this program, not long ago, when he was in a bad patch after the 47 percent, you said, what does he need? Not to make any more big mistakes and he needs an outstanding first debate. So, he got that. So, the advantage for Governor Romney now, a lot of people, most importantly independent swing voters and undecideds in the key battleground states, he has an opportunity to get a second look. But I would say the danger -- there`s a danger for the Obama people. The danger for the Romney people is that they start moon dancing in the end zone, begin high fiving, saying we`ve turned this whole thing around. I think it`s very dangerous for them. On the Obama side, important to remember, yes, they were beaten, but you take the view, I can be beaten but never defeated. This doesn`t mean he`s lost the whole election by any stretch of the imagination. Clearly, they`re going to have to rethink whatever strategy they had last night. I found this a very curious performance by President Obama -- puzzling to say the least. But as you pointed out, the historical record shows two things. One of which you just detailed, and that is the challenger usually wins the first debate. MADDOW: Why do you think that is? I mean, I was surprised going back at the record to find five of six previous examples were such clear victories for the challenger. RATHER: Well, I think there are two main reasons. Number one, Americans love an underdog and love a good fight. They love a good game. They love a good race. So, there`s natural undertow, if you will, for the underdog. The second is the president, he`s busy with a lot of things during his presidency. And he doesn`t have the time to prepare. And give Mitt Romney credit. For those who say, well, he was lucky last night. Listen, where preparation meets opportunity, that`s what a lot of people call luck. MADDOW: Yes. RATHER: He was enormously prepared. He also had gone through 19 debates during the primary season. Had spent a great deal of time preparing for this debate, whereas, it`s no excuse, but President Obama had a lot of other things to think about. I also think President Obama made the classic mistake, which is to underestimate his opponent. And the second mistake -- this is a long list -- that he viewed this apparently more as a seminar than a debate. Where you want to say, sir, please, excuse me, Mr. President, sir, but this is a debate, not a seminar. There were moments when he came off rather professorial rather than a candidate seeking re-election. MADDOW: To the extent that there are factors of holding the presidency, itself, that sort of structurally disincline a president toward a good debate against a challenger and the way you`re sort of describing there, are there historical precedents of chief executives, of presidents turning it around and doing a much better job in subsequent debates? I mean, are they structurally bound by what it means to be president that they can`t be good debaters or do they learn from these bad first debates? RATHER: Well, it depends -- each case stands on its merits. MADDOW: Yes. RATHER: But there have been cases over the years where it`s a wake-up call, that Romney delivers his own political version of shock and awe to Obama and his campaign. And you can bet that President Obama will be much more prepared and pay more attention next time. But one point we should point out I think, the vice presidential debate scheduled for next week is always nearly kind of a throwaway. People watch but don`t pay much attention to it. The stakes are suddenly raised now for the Paul Ryan versus Joe Biden debate, because the Obama campaign I don`t think can afford the perception that they lost two in a row. MADDOW: Yes. RATHER: Now, I would think Vice President Joe Biden`s fingernails are beginning to sweat a little bit about next Wednesday because he`s somewhat in the same position as President Obama. He`s been vice president in for four years, had a lot of things going, been a long time since he`s debated. Paul Ryan has been in the cut and thrust of Congress, to be better prepared. However, Ryan is in the shoes President Obama was in last night and the expectations are high for Ryan. I think most people feel that Paul Ryan will walk Joe Biden`s dog in this debate, and that`s a down for him. But I would venture that the vice presidential debate may get the largest audience of any vice presidential debate we`ve had so far, partly because of what happened last night. MADDOW: Last time around, in 2008, with the introduction of Sarah Palin, that was the first time the vice presidential debate was ever the highest rated debate. We may have this again. It will be fascinating this week. RATHER: You know, Romney -- MADDOW: Yes. RATHER: Governor Romney, last night, people say he mangled the truth to put it gently. And the Obama campaign -- they did a smart thing today. Got up bright and early this morning realizing they took a loss last night and began pointing out where Governor Romney had not said what he said before, had not stuck to the truth. However, we learned again last night, if we needed reminding, that there`s power in taking the view. Listen, I`m frequently in error, but never in doubt. I believe what I`m telling you. And that carries its own power and strength. MADDOW: Especially when you`re talking to 50 million or 60 million people at a time. That is a perfect segue to everything we`re doing in the rest of the hour on this show. Dan Rather, it is always such an honor to have you here. Thank you. RATHER: Thank you very much, Rachel. MADDOW: Thank you very much. RATHER: Thank you, Rachel. Enjoy to be on. Thanks. MADDOW: Dan Rather is the anchor and managing editor of "Dan Rather Reports", which is on AXS TV. All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. We do not expect from the Romney campaign and their surrogates any level of subtlety anymore when it comes to dog whistling about the president`s race. Por ejemplo, Newt Gingrich -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I`m assuming there`s some rhythm to Barack Obama that the rest of us don`t understand, whether he needs large amounts of rest, whether he needs to go play basketball for a while. I don`t watch ESPN. I don`t quite know what his rhythms are, but this is a guy who`s a brilliant performer as an orator who may well get re- elected at the present date. And who, frankly, happens to be a partial part-time president. I mean, he really is a lot like the substitute referees in the sense that he`s not a real president. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. Basketball -- check. A performer -- check. Not a real president -- check. Reference to his rhythm and his need to sleep a lot -- check. Check. Subtle as a sledgehammer, right? Well, today, the national chairman of the Romney campaign got even less subtle than Newt. Hold on. That`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAk0 MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell has interviewed a lot of scary people and dictators and egomaniacs over the years. And over the years from doing that, she has endured these scary people and dictators and egomaniacs saying crazy things to her in close proximity. But also she has endured worse. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Rice tried to challenge Sudan`s President Omar al Bashir, his security men blocked her aides, even slamming one against a wall. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s not the free press, sir. No. No. It`s the free press. MITCHELL: Then security men tried to stop us from covering a photo opportunity. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No. No. We don`t let cameras into -- no! We can`t -- MITCHELL: And when I asked Sudan`s president a question -- (on camera): Can you tell us why the government is still supporting the militias? (voice-over): They grabbed me from behind and dragged me out. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: When things like this happen to Andrea Mitchell, because she is such a pro, she is totally Zen through the whole thing. She does not crack up. She doesn`t yell at people. She doesn`t let her jaw drop to the floor. He doesn`t do a Loony Tunes style split take. Andrea Mitchell has an incredible capacity to maintain composure in difficult circumstances. So, when something happens that causes you, the viewer, to be able to see and Andrea Mitchell slightly recoil, to see her be even slightly shocked, that`s really something. That something happened earlier today. I want you to look closely. This is Andrea Mitchell on her fantastic 1:00 p.m. MSNBC show today. Did you see that reaction? That reaction from the unflappable Andrea Mitchell who never does that? What made that happen? What made -- watch. That never happens. Here`s what made that happen. Mitt Romney`s national campaign co- chairman today dispatched by the campaign to talk about last night`s debate, here`s how he did it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN SUNUNU, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: What people saw last night I think was a president that revealed his incompetence, how lazy and detached he is. MITCHELL: Governor, I want to give you a chance to maybe take it back. Did you really mean to call Barack Obama the president of the United States lazy? SUNUNU: Yes. I think it -- I think you saw him admit it the night before when he delivered the pizzas. He said, you know, they`re making me do this work. He didn`t want to prepare for this debate. He`s lazy and disengaged. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That is how the national co-chair of the Romney campaign thinks last night went. That`s how the Romney campaign followed up on their debate win last night. National campaign co-chairman saying the president is lazy. They also put the same man on FOX News to call the president stupid. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t think there will be a better prepared President Obama on stage next week? SUNUNU: When you`re not that bright, you can`t get better prepared. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was the Romney campaign`s post-debate message from their national campaign co-chair. The president is lazy and not that bright. Here was the Obama campaign`s post-debate message. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Mitt Romney we all know invested in companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing jobs to other countries. But the guy on stage last night, he said he`d never heard of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, never heard of them. And he said, if that`s true, he must need a new accountant. So now we know for sure that wasn`t the real Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney is doing just fine with the accountant that he already has. Whoever it was that was on stage last night doesn`t want to be held accountable for what the real Mitt Romney`s been saying for the last year. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama cannot rewind and unleash that last night at the podium? But the way he and his opponent`s campaign have adjusted their tactics in moving on from last night`s debate tells you more about where the campaign is going from here than any dial test you saw during last night`s debate. That`s next with Jonathan Alter. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years ago, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more, if you will, trickle-down government, would work. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was one of the very few lines that stood out in the first presidential debate. I think just because the term trickle-down government is a funny phrase and it seems like such a nonsense term. It turns out not to have been a mistake or marplot. Governor Romney showed up today at an event in Colorado and in the span of seven minutes used that new strange term nine times. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I saw the president`s vision as trickle-down government. Trickle-down government. Trickle-down government. Trickle-down government. Trickle-down government. With trickle-down government. Trickle-down government. And trickle-down government. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Nine times, seven minutes. The term trickle-down government is nonsensical, literally. It has no etymological meaning apart from the way it is being used politically. And its political use is to make the classic and I always thought sort of vaguely emasculating and kind of gross out accusation of trickle-down economics seem less understandable. Make that seem less like an understandable critique of an economic plan and more like campaign mumbo jumbo nonsense that you hear from both sides. The phrase trickle down economics has been used for decades, for generations, to criticize economic plans that rely on supposedly magical economic effect of giving money to rich people. Rich people doing better is supposed to trickle down to non rich people somehow. That is the core of Mr. Romney`s economic ideology and economic plan. So I think they have coined this other competing trickle-down term so the insult of trickle-down economics starts to just sound confusing and meaningless. Trickle-down government, trickle-down economics, both sides are saying this, I don`t really know what it means, it`s just political noise. Mr. Romney trying to rob that phrase of its power by using the phrase itself in new nonsense ways, right? So, we know one way Mr. Romney may be trying to neutralize expected attacks on his economic ideas could be to rob his opponent`s words of any meaning, right? Now we also know after last night`s debate is the other thing he`s doing is just saying the economic plan he has been stumping for all year long is not his plan at all. Mr. Romney worked both those strategies last night and Mr. Romney, of course, won the debate -- he won on style, he won presentation, he won on demeanor. And now, day two is the attempted cleanup for things he actually said. Today has been a day of Mr. Romney`s campaign saying he did not mean what he said about people with pre-existing conditions being able to get health insurance. His campaign said today he does not have a plan for that even though he said he did. The Romney campaign today said he did not mean what he said about half the energy companies supported by the Obama administration going bankrupt. He didn`t actually mean that. Sort of rolled over from Democratic and liberal bewilderment last night that Mr. Romney was abandoning his main economic plan that he was running on, his $5 trillion tax cut plan, his big trickle-down plan, to be rolled over from Democrats being bewildered about that to the Beltway press and mainstream pundits I think now having a hard time deciding whether they are supposed to call that a lie or whether they`re supposed to just say this is a radically new position for the candidate and welcome to it. Joining us now is Jonathan Alter, columnist for "Bloomberg News" and an MSNBC political analyst. Mr. Alter, it is great to have you here. JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Rachel. MADDOW: How does President Obama counter the strategy of Mitt Romney`s to unveil whole new ideas or deny he ever held the ideas that he plainly has held? I mean, it`s one thing to have a truth squad fact checking online. But how do you counter that thing in real time at the podium? ALTER: Well, there`s two separate problems. One is the "I`m rubber, you`re glue," you know, what you say bounces off and sticks to you. MADDOW: Yes. ALTER: So, he did that with trickle-down, to just try to confuse everybody, throw up a lot of smoke about that word, trickle-down. So, both sides -- MADDOW: He did that with war on women, too. Remember that too? ALTER: He did it with war on women and has done it in the past on saying that Obama wants to, quote, "end Medicare as we know it". MADDOW: Right, exactly. ALTER: So that, again, to throw up a lot of confusion about who`s the one who`s really changing Medicare? So, this is where the president failed most, is he needs to call him out when he does that. So, right at the top of that debate last night when Romney first mentioned trickle-down government, Obama, obviously -- it`s easy to say in retrospect -- but he obviously should have said, no, you`re the avatar, you`re the big supporter of trickle-down economics, let`s not confuse the issue, let`s be clear, you believe in trickle-down economics and grab the initiative. He has to do that the next time when Romney plays these word games. MADDOW: And is the thing to do to name the tactic? You are doing this in order to confuse the fact, in order to, you know, occlude the accusation against you that -- I mean -- ALTER: Is that how you do it? You go after the tactic -- and then, again, it`s very easy to say, this as a Monday morning quarterback -- then you pivot to the substance of it and explain why what he just said is not true. You don`t call him a liar or say that`s not true, or do something that can end up, you know, going viral in some way that is not helpful to the campaign. Just have to very clearly and cogently, and it was cogency that was lacking last night, rip through the other guy`s point. MADDOW: The other part of it is Mitt Romney saying that he does not espouse positions that he`s been running on all year. President did try to get him on that, on the $5 trillion tax cut thing. I`m not sure he effectively pinned him down on that though the Obama campaign was spinning that they did. ALTER: OK, I think they made a mistake on that issue, the Obama people did, by going with the $5 trillion, because that, you know, policy wonks can debate whether it amounts to $5 trillion or not. What they can`t debate, it`s a 20 percent tax reduction for the wealthiest Americans. That is a plain irrefutable fact and if they used that, it would, first of all, explain more what this is, which is a tax cut for the wealthy, which was one of several points the president wasn`t able to actually convey in a clear way. And would also be, you know, be on dispute factually. MADDOW: And when a -- sorry, go ahead. ALTER: No. MADDOW: When Paul Ryan spoke at the Republican convention, the first reaction was, wow, young fresh guy, so handsome. You know, there`s like -- an immediate positive response. Later that night, that same eve evening in the same news cycle, the sort of second breath response was, wow, there are a lot of lies there. And the long-term story of the Paul Ryan speech at the convention is that he told a lot of lies. I mean, the two stories out of the Republican convention were what was up with Clint Eastwood, and Paul Ryan, did you hear about his marathon time, too? ALTER: Lot of lies there. MADDOW: Can the Obama -- does the Obama still have that option, to turn the legacy of this first debate into that for Romney? ALTER: I don`t think so. I think the first debate will be remembered for Romney one and two, Big Bird, which was not helpful to Romney. But that`s the image that will be on Saturday night live. MADDOW: Yes. ALTER: The only way to turn that to his advantage is to make damn sure in the second debate that they call him out on it and then they will use the results of the first debate to improve his performance in the second debate and it will all seem like ancient history if the president can come back. Remember, his big mistake is that he went into a prevent defense. He was sitting on his lead. He`s not going to make that mistake the next time. He`s a fourth quarter performer. He is a very competitive guy. And I think we can expect he will come back with a strong performance. MADDOW: Jonathan Alter, "Bloomberg News" columnist, MSNBC political analyst, thank you for being here. I was very excited to talk about this and I interrupted you a lot, I`m sorry. ALTER: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: All right. So, it turns out we have a really unfortunate scoop. It`s out of Pennsylvania and that story is coming up next here, exclusively. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Before the big unavoidable news of the first presidential debate this week, before that ate the rest of the news in this political news cycle, on Tuesday of this week, on debate eve, something happened that could have a major impact on the upcoming election. On Tuesday, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that voters don`t need a voter ID to vote in this year`s election. So, changing voter rules that was potentially going to disenfranchise up to one in eight voters in that big swing state, those new rules were put on hold. But whether or not people who do not have a driver`s license in Pennsylvania are disenfranchise and don`t participate in this election may depend not just on whether that law technically has gone into effect, or if it has been locked, which it has. It will depend in part on whether or not people think that law has gone into effect, whether people in Pennsylvania believe that if they don`t have a driver`s license or another suitable ID, they shouldn`t bother showing up to vote. That ought to be a consequence of whatever the law is in Pennsylvania, but in the real world, it`s a consequence of what people believe the law is in Pennsylvania. Before the ruling this week, when the law stated that you did need an ID to vote, here`s what the consumer-friendly voting in Pennsylvania Web site, told voters. This is the big splash page at the go here if you have questions about the election, user friendly widely advertised Web site that the state of Pennsylvania is telling everybody to go to. This is how that Web site greets voters as of earlier this week, before the judge`s ruling. That small print, you see, voters are required to show an acceptable photo ID before casting their ballot, after the judge`s ruling, after it became legally clear that you do not need to have an ID to vote in Pennsylvania, it is actually OK for you to go vote if you don`t have a driver`s license, you are welcome at the polling place -- here is how they changed the Web site, you ready? Look at that difference. Oh yes, there it is. It`s little change in the small print. They have changed the fine print there. But the overall impression is pretty much the same. If you don`t have a driver`s license, the implicit message here is don`t show up. Pennsylvania is a hotly contested swing states. But this is going on in other states, states where they were not able to change the law, to keep people without ID from being able to vote. But where there is still an effort to try to block people without ID from voting anyway, by just making people those people think they won`t be allowed to vote, so don`t bother showing up. In Idaho, here`s what that look like. In Idaho, You are not required to show ID in order to vote. If you don`t have an ID, you can show up and you can vote. But here is what the state is distributing as their hopeful and handy informational booklet to voters. Bring your ID and vote. Tada! You hear about rogue vigilante under the radar, shady things like this every election year, right? It seems like there`s more of them than usual going on this year. These external groups are trying to convince people not to show up or to be intimidated if they do show up. But it`s is another thing for it to be your state, right? Your state using your tax dollars to miss inform you about what your voting rights are in your state. So let`s say you found yourself, I don`t know, perplexed by the very subtle change on the Votes PA Pennsylvania voter information Web site. Let`s see you, for some reason, found this change slightly confusing. So, you decided to inform yourself. Call the state elections office directly, get it straight once and for all. You go to the Pennsylvania state Web site, and you call the toll free number that they list there, 1-877-VOTESPA, this is what you get. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) OPERATOR: Thank you for calling the Pennsylvania Department of State Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation. Press one for English. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Para Espanol? (BEEP) OPERATOR: Press one for information on Pennsylvania new voter ID law. Press 2 -- (BEEP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. All Pennsylvania voters will be required to show a photo ID before voting at a polling place, beginning with the November 2012 general election. All photo IDs must be current and contain an expiration date unless otherwise noted. Acceptable photo IDS -- (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Today, that`s today when you call the official number. That is not the law at all in Pennsylvania. You don`t have to have a driver`s license or any other ID in order to vote in Pennsylvania. You do not. But when you call the state`s official number to figure out how to vote, that is the outgoing message telling you, you need to have ID, as of today. So, naturally when we got that recording, one of our producers called back and asked why. Why the confusing Web site? Why the totally wrong, outgoing message from the state? (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) VOTESPA SPOKESMAN: We`re trying to reach out and figure out all of our marketing campaigns, all the ads out there, whether it was advertised, whether it`s TV ads, and just check and make sure everything is, in a sense, compliant with the judge`s ruling and to make sure that`s nothing`s out there that`s sending mixed messages to the voters. PRODUCER: OK. SPOKESMAN: But we encourage anyone who`s confused or has questions to go on the VotesPA Web site or to call up that number on the VotesPA information to let us know and to find out more about everything that`s going on. PRODUCER: OK. But your out going message is actually like sending not just a mixed message but it`s like a factually incorrect message to the voters right now. Can you change that message, do you think? SPOKESMAN: Yes. PRODUCER: OK. SPOKESMAN: For something like that. It is important to call us and contact us like you are doing right now. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Like you`re doing right now. After we called, they did remove that outgoing message all together. No rush. It`s not like we are in an election season, or anything, people are making their decisions about voting. Don`t rush, you guys. 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