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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/08/12

Guests: Dennis Lieberman, Tom Ritchie, Michele Flournoy

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: That`s excellent. You can tell we`re getting closer and closer to the election, as we more and more feel compelled to get out into the country and report from other places. I am also not in my home studio tonight, Ed. Thanks a lot, man. I appreciate it. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. If things do look a little bit different tonight, it`s because we are broadcasting not from our New York studio, but from California. I did a book event in Santa Barbara yesterday for my book "Drift." I did that at the Arlington Theater. I spoke to a room of about 2,000 people, which is unnerving, if you`re not used to doing that sort of thing. And then the Q&A, after I talked about my book, I got asked a question at this event about the political impact of the first presidential debate. And the way it went seems to me important in terms of understanding the temperature of the country on the presidential race right now. Obviously, most everybody agrees that the first debate was won quite handedly by the Republican challenger Mitt Romney and lost very much by President Obama. But yesterday in Santa Barbara, I told this giant room full of people in this theater when asked about this subject that as clearly and as cleanly as Mr. Romney won the debate, it still seems politically important that Mr. Romney did not win the debate in a way that produced a single sound byte. I mean, yes, 60 million people watched Mr. Romney win the debate overall. But for the 240 or so million American who did not watch that debate, who might conceivably have been curious about how it went, there was no single sound byte to take away from the debate to remember and repeat as the reason that Mr. Romney won. And so, I sat at this event that even though Romney won that night, won on debate night, there wasn`t any day two story that could explain to people why it was that he won. I said, really, thinking about it -- the only line, the single line that survived the debate, the only line that I think anybody can remember from the debate, I said this to a room of 2,000 people. There`s one line that everybody can remember from that debate and that was -- and everybody in that theater simultaneously said back to me "Big Bird." Two thousand people all at once "Big Bird." The morning after the debate, "The New York Times" reports today that the Romney campaign surprised Democrats with the decision not to hold a big post-debate rally for Mr. Romney. The Romney campaign did not try to capitalize on Mr. Romney`s triumph in the debate by doing a big event the next morning. So, the next day news coverage of the results of that late night debate, the first presidential debate did not include follow up, post- debate footage of Mr. Romney. But they did include footage of President Obama. President Obama on the stump, the next morning, looking comparatively strong and reflecting on his rather sorry performance with a bit of a grin and hitting Mr. Romney on the one line that everybody remembers from the debate which is Big Bird. The Obama campaign, in fact, dispatched a new, very tall, very yellow- feathered surrogate to follow the Romney campaign around and remind voters of that one memorable line from the debate. Mitt Romney saying he would fire Big Bird. And ever since, President Obama has been out there enjoying the campaign`s Big Bird moment. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When he was asked what he`d actually do to cut spending, he said he`d go after public television. So, for all you moms and kids out there, don`t worry, somebody is finally cracking down on Big Bird -- cracking down on him. Elmo has made a run for the border. Governor Romney plans to let Wall Street run wild again, but he`s bringing the hammer down on Sesame Street. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Although Mitt Romney clearly won the debate, the Obama campaign right away on Thursday managed to crystallize the public`s funny bone -- a cross between a funny bone and a hot nerve reaction to defend Big Bird and company. That was Thursday. Then on Friday, the Obama campaign got that huge jobs report with unemployment falling below 8 percent for the first time in the Obama presidency. Unemployment above 8 percent has been a favorite talking point for Mitt Romney and that talking point on Friday went kaput. And more importantly, the country has now had the best election year improvement in the unemployment numbers since Ronald Reagan ran for reelection in 1984. Remember the whole "Morning in America" thing, that`s what it was about. So Mitt Romney may have won the debate on Wednesday night, but President Obama won the post-debate. At least it seemed that way for these last few days. And then today, back down to Earth for Democrats. When we started getting in the first solid round of polling that reflected the results of the debate. And however well the Obama campaign did in managing the post- debate spin and the post-debate campaigning, the poll numbers clearly have now shifted in Mitt Romney`s favor. In the new national poll out today from the Pew Research Center, Governor Romney is now tied with the president. Romney had trailed in this particular survey by nine points before the debate. So that is a big shift toward Mitt Romney and away from Barack Obama in that national poll. Likewise in the new national Gallup poll, Mr. Romney polled even with the president after the debate, erasing what have been a 5-point advantage for the president. We also have new polls tonight from all-important swing states and near swing states, polls that include reaction to the first debate. In swing state Wisconsin today, the president leads by just two points. That`s according to a relatively left-leaning poll. And that showed -- that particular poll previously showed the president having a 7-point lead before the debate. But now, it`s down to two. In Colorado, in one right-leaning poll, Romney is now up by three points. The same survey had showed Mr. Romney losing by five before the debate. Now, he`s up by three. In Virginia, sort of lefty leaning poll shows the president ahead by three in Virginia. That same poll had the president`s lead at 5 points before the debate. So, that shows the president`s lead shrinking. In Michigan, it`s now Barack Obama by just 3 points. The president had led by 10 last month. Now it`s down to three. In Iowa today, a poll on the right gives the president an edge of 2 points. Now, interestingly, that poll in Iowa shows a gain for Mr. Obama, a 5-point gain. In Florida today, that same company`s poll shows a 4-point swing toward Mr. Romney. They`re now putting Mr. Romney up by two points in Florida. So, the bounce, the counter-bounce, the major fall, the minor lift. However you rattle the numbers loose, this race now looks tighter than Dan Rather and that staying about a tick that nobody understands. As the overall national polling shifts and the swing state races shift with them, the state where the Romney campaign is hoping for the biggest shift of all is in Ohio. In modern political history, Ohio has been the path to the presidency for Republican candidates. If Republican candidates win Ohio, they win the White House. If Mitt Romney doesn`t win Ohio, he honestly has to put together a hard to imagine combination of Colorado and Virginia and Florida and, and, and. But if he wins Ohio, he has a much clearer shot at actually winning the White House. The deadline for registering to vote in this year`s presidential election for Ohio is tomorrow. They started voting in Ohio last week with Democrats camping out so they could cast votes on the very first day of early voting. And yet in Ohio, the overall rules for voting right now are still kind of a mess. They are already voting, but we still don`t know what the rules are for voting in Ohio. The rules are not set. Look at the headline today in the "Cincinnati Enquirer." Quote, "As November 6th nears, Ohio rules still not set." This is kind of remarkable, right? Ohio`s Republican secretary of state John Husted says voting procedures should be, quote, "locked down" months before Election Day, especially if the rules or the laws have changed since the last election, which the paper points out they have in Ohio. Quoting Secretary Husted, "We`re just trying to run an election here. Tell us what the rules are and settle it earlier." He says, quote, "The later you make a decision, the more likely it is to cause a problem. Consistency matters in how you run an election. Consistency and clarity. Time is of the essence and confusion is dangerous." That`s what Ohio`s Republican secretary of state says when he`s talking about voting rights and elections and democracy in his state. We`re just trying to run an election, he says. He says it`s already late in the game by his own timetable. He`s on the record saying those things when he`s trying to pressure the courts into ruling his way on matters of dispute in Ohio voting. But when it comes to the issue of early voting, when it comes to the evident desire of Ohio voters, particularly Ohio Democratic voters to head for the polls and bank their vote before election day comes, when it comes to this question about early voting, which the courts have already settled, Secretary Husted in Ohio has decided, you know, maybe he feels urgency about some other things. But this, he`s going to kick this down the road. On Friday, a federal court, as you know, ruled that Ohio voters could vote early right up until Election Day. The court ruled Ohio voters could cast ballots on that final Saturday and Sunday and Monday before Election Day when nearly 100,000 Ohio voters voted last time around. But now, Ohio voters are waiting to see whether their Republican secretary of state, their top elections official, John Husted, is going to appeal that decision for a second time. He`s apparently in no rush on this. He released a statement on Friday saying he would do nothing that day and he would do nothing over the weekend. Today, Monday, he appears not to be doing anything either. Given an answer by the court about early voting, John Husted has decided just to kick it down the road. I don`t know about this one. We`ll let it ride. If Secretary Husted decides to appeal, that will push the ultimate resolution of when you get to vote in Ohio. It will push that resolution even closer to Election Day. We`re already inside a month. I mean, he could just accept Friday`s decision and establish statewide early voting hours. But, you know, why the rush? Seriously, the election is still almost a month away. I have my hair to wash and stuff. By his own admission, the later you change the rules before an election, the more pressure that puts on local elections officials to accommodate those rules. They have to publicize the hours, they have to staff the polls, they have to have the machines ready -- everybody has to be trained. The voters have to know when and where they can vote. That`s the job of the elections board, right? Ohio has had early voting for everyone and every election since 2005. So, the secretary of state was already trying to get them to change from something they had been doing. Now, he`s making it so they won`t know what they will be able to do and whether they will go back to the way it used to work since 2005, or whether they`re going to have shorter hours and fewer days. He`s now making it so that the local elections boards will not know any of those things until as late as possible, putting that burden on county election officials now less than a month before the election. This is nuts. I mean, this has not been a normal year for Ohio elections boards. Ohio Republicans first tried to cut early voting in half. When they failed at that, they decided to cut off those last three days of early voting. The same three days when African-American churches like to carpool down to the polling place, their Souls to the Polls campaign, the Sunday before the election. Nearly 100,000 people voted in those last three days of 2008. A new study just published today shows that African-Americans in the Cleveland area were 26 times more likely to cast an early in person ballot than white voters. That`s not a typo -- 26 times more likely. It was with that very recent history in mind that two elections officials in Montgomery County, Ohio, voted to open the polls on the weekend right through the Election Day, on the weekend before, right through Election Day. At the time the state had approved expanded weekend voting in Republican counties, but not in the counties that lean Democratic. But these two officials decided that weekend voting would be good for their county, for their Democratic-leaning county too. And for that, Ohio`s Republican Secretary of State John Husted fired them effective immediately. He kicked them off their county board of elections. And as of last week, Mr. Husted had once again kicked the question he said he so fervently desires to settle, he kicked it down the road again. Why rush? Why try to avoid confusion? You know what confusion looks like on Election Day, don`t you? Long, long lines. Joining us now are: Dennis Lieberman and Thomas Ritchie, the Democratic members of the Montgomery County, Ohio board of elections, former members because they were fired by Secretary of State John Husted for wanting to do in their county what a federal court now says Ohio counties must be allowed to do. Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Ritchie, thank you both for being here. It`s nice to have you back. DENNIS LIEBERMAN (D), FORMER OHIO ELECTIONS OFFICIAL: Thank you. TOM RITCHIE, SR. (D), FORMER OHIO ELECTIONS OFFICIAL: Thank you. MADDOW: Mr. Lieberman, let me put it to you, chime in if I have missed anything here. In my description about what`s been happening there in Ohio, I know you guys follow it even closer than we do. Did I get anything wrong there or did I confuse any of the details there? LIEBERMAN: No, I think you got most of it pretty much correct. We are still fighting these fights. We have some victories, some important victories from the United States District Court and then most recently from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed it. And we`re just waiting to set the hours on the weekend before Election Day so that we can get everybody down there and get everybody to vote. MADDOW: With this delay -- (CROSSTALK) MADDOW: Sorry, go ahead. I didn`t mean to interrupt you there, sir. RITCHIE: No, I agreed with Dennis. I think it`s very critical for us to get folks to the poll and do it as soon as we can, and try to forego any of the delays that`s been planned by people. MADDOW: Well, with this delay in responding to the federal ruling here, we have the federal ruling on Friday. We got immediately got a response from the secretary of state saying he wasn`t going to respond that day. He wasn`t going to respond either day over the weekend. And he didn`t respond today either. So, he`s pushing the decision of whether or not this will be a settled matter or not, further and further, and closer and closer toward Election Day. Am I right to suppose that a lack of clarity over when people are going to be allowed to vote is the sort of thing that can create both confusion at the county level and potentially something that can translate into longer lines and sort of chaos at the polling place? Is it right to connect those two things? RITCHIE: I think you`re absolutely right to connect those two. LIEBERMAN: You know, what we have -- what we have seen is that when there`s a lot of confusion relating to voting hours or when people can vote, they just stay at home because they don`t know what to do. And I really think that this is by design, frankly. I mean, after all, it didn`t take Mr. Husted a weekend to decide to fire us when we voted for early voting. Within two hours, we were suspended. So I know he`s capable of making some quick decisions. MADDOW: Based on this court ruling on Friday, one of the things that I have been trying to figure out, if it`s a possible outcome of this, is something that Secretary Husted tried to sort of arrange before, which is that for a time in Ohio, it looked we were going to get more early voting hours, night time hours, more weekend hours, for example, in Republican- leaning counties than we were going to get in Democratic-leaning counties. Do either of you look at this ruling from this judge, look at the lack of response from the secretary of state in Ohio and think that it`s possible one outcome we could get here is that different counties are going to have different provisions in terms of when people can vote and how many early voting days there are? LIEBERMAN: Yes. I mean, I think that that is a possible outcome, but, you know, there`s a real easy way for Mr. Husted to deal with this. And that is to instead of breaking those ties in the major urban areas, which is what he was doing, in favor of no early voting or in favor of limited hours, instead of doing that, break the ties the other way. Make it so that everybody has open hours, everybody has early voting on the weekends, and make it so that people can come and have access to voting. That`s all he has to do. If he wants to make it uniform? Great. Make it uniform so that everybody has that chance to vote. Don`t make it uniform so that you limit people. MADDOW: Dennis Lieberman and Thomas Ritchie, former Democratic members from Montgomery County, Ohio Board of Elections, before the secretary of state took the jobs. Gentlemen, thank you for your time tonight. I have a feeling we`ll be talking to you again as these fuzzy rules continue to unfold in Ohio closer and closer to election night. Thank you it, gentlemen. I appreciate your time. RITCHIE: Thank you. LIEBERMAN: Thank you very much. MADDOW: Lots still to come tonight, including a big deal get for us for the interview, which I`m very excited about. I`ll tell you about that in a moment. Plus, the best worst story about gasoline you have heard since the last time you heard something truly amazing about gasoline. We`ve got a lot to go through on tonight`s show. Lots to come. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In 2008, the John McCain campaign produced a big package of opposition research on Mitt Romney. John McCain won the Republican nomination fight against Mr. Romney, thereby winning the right to lose in the general election to Barack Obama, right? But earlier this year, when Mitt Romney was running for the Republican nomination for the second time, so he could earn the right to run against Barack Obama, earlier this year, the McCain campaign`s whole opposition research treasure trove against Mitt Romney from the last election found its way on to the interview. Andrew Kaczynski at found the ample research against Romney that the McCain campaign put together and he published it from beginning to end. It was essentially a how-to guide for running against Mitt Romney. All of his observed weaknesses, his inconsistencies, his politically disadvantageous statements on the record. For people interested in politics and the political prospects of Mitt Romney, it was a bit of a gold mine, right? There were huge sections on Mitt Romney at Bain Capital, buying up companies and then gutting them for his own personal profit. Ten pages documenting his varied and many stances on abortion rights. And there was this bit: gun control -- gun control in the top hits section. Remember, this is relativity straight forward opposition research from one of Mitt Romney`s fellow Republicans. This is research that the John McCain campaign put together to use against Mitt Romney when they were competing in the Republican primary. So, it says things like this. In 1994, when Mitt Romney first ran for Senate, he backed the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban. As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney upped the cost of gun licenses four-fold and he promised on the campaign trail to not chip away at gun laws. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts. I support them. I won`t chip away at them. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And he did not. In 2004, Governor Romney, in fact, signed the permanent assault weapons ban in Massachusetts. Then Mitt Romney decided to run for president. He started prepping himself for the Republican presidential primary and then, of course, things got hilarious on the subject of guns. Mr. Romney said in a virtual debate with "The Boston Globe," quote, "I have a gun of my own. I go hunting myself." To which someone in the room replied, and I quote, "Excuse me, but isn`t that your son Josh`s gun?" Yes, yes, it was. Out on the campaign trail, Mr. Romney touted his Second Amendment bona fides by saying he was a lifetime member of the NRA. He would brag about that. That was sort of true. He joined the NRA as a lifetime member in August 2006, just before announcing his presidential run. You see, lifetime isn`t the same thing as lifelong when it comes to membership in the NRA. You too could become a lifetime member of the NRA right now, simply by giving them 1,000 bucks. When asked about his very recent membership that he was calling a lifetime membership, Mr. Romney explained, quote, "I`m after the NRA`s endorsement," in other words -- I`m running for office for Pete`s sake. Mitt Romney wasn`t just after the NRA`s endorsement in the 2008 Republican presidential primary. He was also after the NRA`s endorsement retroactively for a previous political campaign. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I also was pleased to have the support of the NRA when I ran for governor. I sought it. I seek it now. I`d love to have their support. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Yes, Mr. Romney`s campaign spokesman later had to clarify. Actually, quote, "The NRA did not endorse him in the 2002 campaign." So in the `08 Republican primary, he owned a gun, only he didn`t. It was his son`s. Mitt Romney proclaimed himself a lifetime member of the NRA for a matter of months. Mr. Romney said he was once endorsed for governor by the NRA, only he wasn`t. And then there was a little issue about whether or not he was a hunter and if so, what kind. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I`m not a big game hunter. I made it very clear. I`ve always been, if you will a rodent and rabbit hunter, all right? Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so, and have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times, I also hunted quail in Georgia. It`s not really big game hunting, if you will. It`s not deer and large animals, but I have hunted a number of times, various types of small rodents. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Let me save you the trouble of looking up. The last time somebody used the word varmint on the screen on which you are watching me right now is the last time you watched "Caddyshack". It was Carl and caddyshack and his primary characteristic in that movie was that he was not qualified for his job. And yet the National Rifle Association, the NRA, which is supposed to be so principled on gun rights, principled to the exclusion of all other political considerations, the NRA last week endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Why did they wait so long? I don`t know. But they did. But they endorsed Mitt Romney despite Mitt Romney`s actual record on guns, and his previous statements on gun policy. They are still delighted to endorse him. And more importantly, to run this it new ad in four swing states criticizing President Obama for being just terrible on gun rights. What has President Obama done that`s so terrible? What anti-gun laws has President Obama passed? Precisely none. Zero. President Obama`s actual record on guns as president is that you can now carry guns on Amtrak trains and in national parks. And that`s the guy who did not get the endorsement of the NRA. This guy did. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I don`t line up 100 percent with the NRA. I don`t see eye to eye with the NRA in every issue. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The NRA is not looking to honestly compare the two candidate`s records on their one and only issue of gun rights, right? The NRA just wants the Republican. That`s what they want. That is why they exist. They are a Republican-interest group and describe them any other way is to play into their spin. Their idea about how to advance their own interests is to get a Republican elected to office. And whatever you think about them in terms of its effectiveness on Republican politics, frankly, that stinks for people who really do care about gun policy because they have the worst supposed advocates ever. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Hey, the interview tonight responding to Mitt Romney`s big foreign policy speech today, the interview tonight is the highest ranking woman in the history of the Pentagon. Very excited for this interview. That`s straight ahead. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. Chart imitates life. Look at this -- this is what we have been spending on our military over time. This is the base budget for the Pentagon. The Web site of "Foreign Policy" magazine posted this today. The first spike there, that`s military spending going up, going way up for the Korean War and then you see it comes back down again. The second spike, that`s military spending going way up for the Vietnam War and then it comes back down again. The third spike, that`s the Cold War, giant arm`s race buildup and then, of course, the Soviet Union starts to collapse into 1989 into 1991, and our spending -- our post-Cold War spending comes back down. Then you get the terrorist attack in September 2001 and the spending goes back up again. Again, the reason this does not show e it going through the roof between 2001 and 2010, which it did, is because for the whole Bush administration, they did not count the spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as if it were defense spending. They did it as an emergency. So this is just the base defense budget. This just shows how the base defense budget went up after 9/11, not including that emergency spending on Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, here`s the amazing thing. Watch this. So this is where our spending is now, OK? That`s what the blue line means. If we were to let our spending drop like we did after the end of the Cold War, our spending would look like this. OK. Now, you know the sequester that you`ve been hearing about, with all those draconian defense cuts that all the hawks are saying would be so awful, this is what our spending on the military would be like with the sequester. That`s the purple line there. President Obama`s plan, what the Pentagon and President Obama have agreed should happen and what their plan is if President Obama gets a second term is this line -- to have military spending to have go like that. The third one there in the little stack, essentially setting the spending levels we have got now as a new normal, even though he keeps spending going slightly up over time. Now, check this out. People say, oh, there`s no difference between the candidates. There`s no real difference, but maybe the Republicans would be better for the deficit. Maybe the Republicans would spend less than the Democrats or something. Check this out. This is what Mitt Romney is proposing for spending on the military. Tada! People say there`s no real difference between the candidates? Holy mackerel! When you`re talking about the biggest pile of money in the whole world, the largest amount of discretionary money spent on anything by our government -- boy, howdy, is there a difference here. Boy, howdy, does this election matter. But for a guy who wants to be thought of as cheap, as thrifty, for a guy who wants his campaign to be thought of as tough on spending, to be proposing that radical a spike in a pile of money that`s already unimaginably enormous, to get us back to Korean War levels of spending and then some, he must really have some big idea that he`s really committed to, to justify that. To justify such a radical and expensive change in course for the country. He must, right? This must be something he knows a lot about and cares a lot about. Right? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: About our commitment to our military effort in terms of building a military that`s prepared for the eventualities of a future that`s hard to predict. I mean, I -- back in 2008 during the presidential debates, there was no discussion of terrorism. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. ROMNEY: And yet a year later, the world was changed. So it`s very difficult to predict precisely what will develop in the world. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Hold on. That was Mitt Romney today speaking to a roundtable of retired generals after his big foreign policy speech today. Mr. Romney is telling the retired generals in the 2008 presidential debates -- I`m quoting him directly -- "back in 2008 during the debates, there was no discussion of terrorism." What is he talking about? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The war on terrorism started in Afghanistan and it needs to end there had. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: My friend, some of this $700 billion ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations. OBAMA: The central front on terrorism. MCCAIN: A signal from a terrorist. OBAMA: The possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. MCCAIN: Preventing the spread of terrorism. OBAMA: The war on terrorism. The drug trafficking that`s funding terrorism. MCCAIN: A sponsor of terror. OBAMA: Dealing with critical issues like terrorism. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Mitt Romney today after his big foreign policy speech told a room full of retired admirals and generals that all never happened, that there was no discussion of terrorism in the 2008 presidential debates and that makes no sense at all. Mitt Romney today in his big foreign policy speech said that President Obama has not signed any free trade agreements in the past four years. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: The president has not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: With respect to Romney, that also makes no sense unless Mr. Romney is contending that when we all thought President Obama was, in fact, signing free trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia and Panama, maybe he`s contending that the president secretly wasn`t doing that at all and he was signing something else and duping us all? Mr. Romney also in his speech today criticized President Obama for only having hope that things will get better in the Middle East, for only having hope, but not having a strategy to make that so. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I know the president hopes for a safer, freer and more prosperous Middle East allied with us. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Hope is not a strategy. Remember what Mitt Romney told his donors was going to be his strategy in the Middle East? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Today, he gives a speech on how hope cannot be the strategy in the Middle East. Hope explicitly is his strategy in the Middle East, unless kicking the ball down the field is something way more specific than I think it is. At least when he`s speaking behind closed doors, he admits the only thing he`s got to offer in the Middle East is hope and can-kicking. Listen, Mr. Romney has never really had a firm grasp on basic foreign policy stuff. The last time he ran for president, he said, "It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time. I support it now." Then this past December, he said, of course, we should not have gone into Iraq knowing what we know now. Today, he said we shouldn`t have left Iraq. That ending the war in Iraq was too abrupt. Eight years into that war, he thought the two and a half yearlong process of ending that war was too abrupt. He`s had a tough time deciding whether he`s for or against the timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Today on what was build as this major foreign policy address from Mr. Romney, he waited until the 37th paragraph of his 46-paragraph speech to even mention the war in Afghanistan. More importantly, when he finally got there, in his five-sentence statement on the war, he came out both for and against a timeline for leaving, saying he would get U.S. troop out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but that President Obama`s plan to do exactly the same thing, that`s what he called a politically timed retreat -- a politically-timed retreat that he`s also going to follow. Listen, this is not this man`s forte. This is not what he has ever done in his life. Nor is it what anyone thinks he does well. But what he`s saying he will do on the subject of the military is mathematically startling in its enormity. Look what he`s proposing to do. Particularly for a candidate who seems to have the loosest grasp on the basics of this subject on which he is proposing such a radical change. Year 12 of the war in Afghanistan starts this week. It`s the worst birthday present ever, right? But what`s even harder to grasp than this war going on this long is that the presidency of a country that`s been waging a war, that`s been going on that long, that presidency is being contested without one side even bothering to come up with a position on that war. Mr. Romney`s top foreign policy advisors told David Sanger for a startling article in "The New York Times" today that they are not even sure Mr. Romney reads the policy papers that his own foreign policy advisers prepare for him. They said that he just doesn`t seem that engaged or interested on the subject of foreign policy at all. They said that he has no enthusiasm for the subject and that even they, Mr. Romney`s own top foreign policy advisers, have no idea what he would do about foreign policy if he were elected president. Has there ever before in American history been a presidential campaign where one side just forfeited on this subject? Year 12 of the longest war in American history is starting this week. The president`s Afghanistan war plans are really hard to explain, let alone to square with public opinion. This really ought to be a foreign policy election. But on what is supposed to be Mitt Romney`s big foreign policy day today, it has never been more clear that it really, truly, truly is not. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Drones and modern instruments of war are important tools in our fight, but they are no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East. I`ll restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf. I`ll restore our Navy to the size needed to fulfill our missions by building 15 ships per year, including three submarines. The route to war and to potential attacks here at home is a politically-timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and use it to launch the attacks of 9/11. I`ll evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders and I will affirm that my duty is not to protect my political prospects but to protect the security of the nation. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney today giving what his campaign described as a major foreign policy address. Those remarks were some of the specifics in that speech, or at least a close approximation of the specifics. Joining us now for the interview is Michele Flournoy. She`s the former undersecretary of defense for policy. She`s now co-chair of the National Security Advisory Committee to President Obama`s reelection campaign. Ms. Flournoy, thanks very much for your time. I`ve been really looking forward to talking to you about this. MICHELE FLOURNOY, FORMER DEFENSE UNDERSECRETARY FOR POLICY: Very happy to be here. Thanks. MADDOW: Mr. Romney`s foreign policy address was titled "The Mantle of Leadership." He tried to cast President Obama as weak, saying that in the Middle East, the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office. What`s your assessment of that claim? What`s your reaction to that? FLOURNOY: Well, I think the president`s record speaks for itself. I mean, this is a president who has been very -- very good at doing what he actually says. He said he would bring us out of Iraq responsibly, he did that. He said he would refocus the fight on al Qaeda, he`s done that. He said he would chart a transition course in Afghanistan to bring our troops home in 2014, and he`s done that. So I think, you know, when you think about what this speech needed to do for Mitt Romney, it needed to do two things. One is to be clear that he articulates some kind of vision, indicate that he has some kind of compass on these issues. And secondly, to clarify if he has differences with the president, exactly what would he do differently as commander-in-chief. And I don`t think he passed the test on either count. MADDOW: Specifically, you mention the issue of Iraq. One of the things that I wonder a lot about and one of reasons that I sort of hope for a revival of the Republican Party`s confidence on the issue of foreign policy is because I`m not sure what the lessons learned are for us as a country of the war in Iraq. Mr. Romney was for the war in Iraq although he later said in retrospect he would have been against it. He famously said that he thought it was possible that Saddam Hussein had hidden his weapons of mass destruction in Syria. I mean, he`s had some -- he`s had some difficulty with the basic facts of that. But I wonder with Mr. Romney today saying that we shouldn`t have left Iraq, that we left Iraq precipitously, that it was too abrupt that we`d be better off if the war in Iraq were still going on and American troops were still there. I wonder if you feel like there is any sort of foreign policy or military foreign consensus about what we should have learned from Iraq, about what we won`t do as a country because of what we learned with the Iraq war. FLOURNOY: Well, I think there should be a consensus because I think a lot of the lessons are very clear. I think the first Bush administration rushed into war based on intelligence that turned out to be wrong, to go after weapons of mass destruction that didn`t exist and ended up occupying a country without having thought through a strategy, without having a plan, and finding ourselves -- got ourselves deeper into the middle of an insurgency and a counter-insurgency campaign that cost us thousands of lives and, you know, put America`s blood and treasure on the line for a cause that was really in the end questionable. I think when President Obama came in, he was very clear that he wanted to responsibly end that war. And he did that. The discussion here -- the question of whether we should have left troops -- I mean, my question to Romney would have been why, and under what conditions? The president in our negotiations with the Iraqis, the Iraqis made clear that they were not willing to provide legal protections for our troops to stay even as trainers on a long-term basis. And so that`s not -- those are not conditions under which you could actually leave troops, leave them unprotected, if you will. So, you know, I think it`s a great rhetoric, but you wonder what is really his substantive position at the end of the day on these issues. MADDOW: I highlighted just a moment ago that the proposal that Mr. Romney is making for military spending, for increased military spending, he`s proposing a dramatic increase in military spending. And the president frequently charges that that is additional spending that the Pentagon does not want. FLOURNOY: That`s right. MADDOW: What does that mean and why wouldn`t any part of government, even the Pentagon, want additional money that a politician wanted to dump on them? FLOURNOY: I think the point is, first, there`s no strategy behind the Romney plan. He`s arbitrarily picked a percentage of GDP, 4 percent. And he said that`s what our military spending should be. But there`s no strategy driving that number, there`s no stated military requirements driving that number, there`s no threat assessment driving that number. It is simply throw a mark on the wall because it sounds good and it sounds strong. But the second question is, you know, how would you pay for that? MADDOW: Yes. FLOURNOY: Especially if you`re not putting revenues on the table. If you`re part of the Republican consensus that says no new taxes even for the wealthiest Americans, how in the world do you pay for that, and what does that 4 percent of GDP towards defense that we don`t need, what does that do to our deficit? I mean, after all, the foundation of our national security is our economic security and we have to remember that. MADDOW: Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy, now co-chair of the national security adviser committed to the president`s reelection campaign, thanks for your time tonight. I`d like to have you back whenever you want to talk national security with somebody who dorks out on that -- FLOURNOY: Thanks. I would be happy to do that. MADDOW: Appreciate it. Thanks. All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In election season, pundits follow the campaigns, but political scientists don`t necessarily follow the campaigns. Some of them instead follow this -- one of the lousier, determinist theories holds it doesn`t much matter who the candidates are, or how they are running for office. It`s really the price of gas that determines who wins the election. This theory has basically been debunked, but it is still repeated a lot any way. It`s sort of pot poli sci. Well, in the great state of California right now, gas is the most expensive it has ever been. Ever. The average price of a gallon of gas in California is $4.67. Depending where you are in the state, you could fine yourself paying as much as $6.65 per gallon. It happened all of a sudden. It does not seem to have happened just in a normal course of events. There have been a bunch of different oil refinery troubles in the West, including this fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, back in August. And then a different refinery, an Exxon one in Torrance, California, shut down when it had a power outage. That caused further shrinking in the availability of gas. California`s governor just announced measures to boost supply yesterday, to try to help the state deal with the rising prices. But today, Senator Diane Feinstein of California called for a federal investigation into whether this is more than just the supply and demand issue, whether something shady or possibly even illegal is going on here. She says that publicly available data appears to confirm that market fundamentals are not to blame for rising gas prices in California. Senator Feinstein is asking the Federal Trade Commission to start monitoring the gas market for fraud or illegal manipulation -- illegal manipulation -- of the whole market. Like, oh, I don`t know maybe speaking hypothetically here, main some random broker accidentally buying -- buying, most of the global market in oil futures and causing a ginormous spike in oil prices because he was super drunk? Look, drunken broker. On June 30th, 2009, between the hours of 1:22 a.m. and 3:41 a.m., a very drunk young man in England who also happened to be a commodities broker gradually bought 69 percent of the global market of oil futures. On the morning of the 30th, an administrative clerk called him to ask why he had bought 7 million barrels of crude during the night. The broker had no recollection of the transaction and it turned out he had made the trades during a drunken blackout, according to way Financial Services Authority investigation in the U.K. At 6:30 a.m., presumably sobering up and realizing what he had done, he sent a message to his boss claiming an unwell relative meant he would not be able to make it into work that day. The drunken broker said he was sorry, he got fined, he got his license revoked for five years. When the British authorities revoked his license, they said the broker quote poses an extreme threat to the market when drunk, which is both a hilarious back story, to why there was that one sudden and unexplained spike in oil prices in the world in 2009. But it also makes me much more sympathetic to the idea that there ought to be an investigation into what the heck is going on in California with $6 a gallon gas breaking out inexplicably one month before the election. 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