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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/10/12

Guests: Stephanie Cutter

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed, and thank you. And thanks to you at home for joining this hour on the eve of the vice presidential debate. The Republican nominee for vice president was in Florida today. He was at an ice cream shop. And he decided to do an informal, on-camera, question-and-answer session with reporters. It started off great for him. And then it went very wrong, very quickly. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Congressman, you ready for tomorrow night? REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Yes, how you doing? I am. I feel good about it. REPORTER: How did your debate prep go? RYAN: It went well. These are easy softballs. REPORTER: How about the difference between your position on abortion and your running mate`s? RYAN: Our position is unified. We have -- our position is consistent and hasn`t changed. REPORTER: What is your position? RYAN: You`ll find -- you`ll -- I`m sure you`ll find out in these debates. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That suddenly became not fun at all for Paul Ryan. He actually asked for hardball questions. What`s with all this softball? Oh, wait, abortion? Let`s go back to the softballs, huh, guys? That was just one awkward exchange with reporters today, but it portends a bigger fundamental shift that has just had to happen in the Romney/Ryan campaign. Now, over and over and over again on this campaign, on issues big and small, the Romney/Ryan campaign before today has been able to use one particular technique to escape the consequences of having unpopular policy ideas or policy ideas they don`t particularly want to defend. They do this same thing over and over again, and usually, it works for them. Here`s the pattern. Here`s the pattern they have established. Here`s Mitt Romney back in August telling Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes" that he believes abortion should be allowed to protect a woman`s health. Seriously? Mitt Romney thinks abortion is OK if a woman`s health is in danger? No, not really. His campaign later said, no, never mind what Mitt Romney just said. He does not believe abortion should be allowed to protect a woman`s health. OK. Then in September, here was Mitt Romney telling David Gregory on "Meet the Press" that he`s not going to repeal all of Obamacare. He says he will keep part of Obamacare. But the part that requires coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Seriously? Mitt Romney is going to keep part of Obamacare? No, no, not really. His campaign later said, no, never mind what Mitt Romney just said. He is going to repeal all of Obamacare and he does not want a law to fix that problem for people with pre-existing conditions. Then just a few days later, same game. This was September 14th. Here`s Mitt Romney telling George Stephanopoulos that he has the same red line on Iran that President Obama has. Seriously? Does he? On Iran? No, not really. His campaign later came out and said, no, never mind what Mitt Romney just said. He does not really believe that. He does not have the same red line on President Obama that President Obama does. Mr. Romney would draw his own red line far before President Obama`s red line. Then a few days after that, on September 17th, same deal again. Here`s Mitt Romney at a Latino issues presidential candidates forum, saying that the guy who wrote the Arizona`s "papers, please, law," -- he`s never met the guy. No idea. He doesn`t know why he keeps say that guy is his immigrations adviser. Seriously, Mitt Romney has never met Kris Kobach? No, not really. His campaign later coming out and telling CNN, never mind what Mitt Romney just said, he has met the guy who wrote the "papers, please law," Kris Kobach does advise the campaign. Then a few days after that on September 25th, they went and did it again. Here`s Mitt Romney conceding one of his most frequent attacks on President Obama. This was Mitt Romney at a rally that day admitting that President Obama has not raised taxes while he has been in office. Seriously? Mitt Romney is dropping that argument? He doesn`t think President Obama has raised taxes? No, not really. His campaign later saying, never mind what Mitt Romney just said. That`s not actually what he believes. Sure, he said President Obama didn`t raise taxes, and President Obama didn`t raise taxes, but really, Mitt Romney officially thinks that he did. They have done this over and over and over and over again, on big issues like health reform, on small issues like whether he met a guy or not. And it is a ridiculous technique. I mean, think about what this means for the long run. I mean, the Romney campaign is training the country to not believe this guy when he is talking. They`re training the country to feel that, you know, wherever you hear Mitt Romney saying something today, don`t worry, it doesn`t really matter. It is all subject to revision later. Long-term, this is a weird technique. It has been a strange political technique from the get-go this year. But mostly, it has worked for them -- them correcting the record later on to a smaller audience has mostly worked. And so they just keep doing it. And they have kept getting away with it. But now, as of today, they have seemed to have gone too far to get away with it anymore. This is what Mitt Romney told "The Des Moines Register" editorial board late yesterday. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) REPORTER: Do you intend to pursue any legislation specifically regarding abortion? MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I don`t -- there`s no legislation with regards to abortion that I`m familiar with that would become part of my agenda. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: Seriously? Mitt Romney is not going to pursue any anti- abortion legislation if he wins the presidency? Seriously? No, no, not really. It took about two hours for his campaign to say, no, never mind what Mitt Romney just said, that is not what he believes at all. The Romney campaign spokesperson saying, quote, "Governor Romney of course would support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life." Usually they get away with this, on Iran, on Obamacare, on taxes, on immigration, on all these other issues -- they are using to getting away with this technique. This is their go-to, right? They just say, no, never mind what Mr. Romney just said, he didn`t really mean it. Usually it works for them. But today, the Beltway press and the opposing campaign and anybody who has ever paid attention to Mitt Romney on this issue, today, enough. Today, everybody said enough. On this one, no, you cannot get away with it. Not when this is your record. With the record that you have on this subject, you have to run on this record. This is the Mitt Romney record on this issue. On just the overall idea of whether a President Obama would ever sign legislation to ban abortion, this is not a matter of dispute. This is not a matter of subtleties. This is an actual question that Mitt Romney has answered, directly. It`s very clear. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I would welcome a circumstance where there was such a consensus in this country that we said we don`t want to have abortion in this country at all, period. That would be wonderful. I`d be delighted. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you sign that bill? ROMNEY: Let me say -- I`d be delighted to sign that bill. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: "I`d be delighted to sign that bill," that would no longer allow abortions at all, period. I`d be delighted to sign that bill. On personhood legislation that would not only ban abortion, but would also ban in vitro fertilization and the IUD, it would ban emergency contraception, and according to those proponents, it may very well ban hormonal birth control, which means the most popular forms of birth control in the United States, what would Mitt Romney say to a personhood ban, which his running mate has proposed for the whole country? What does Mitt Romney think about that idea? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE HUCKABEE, FOX NEWS: Would you have supported the constitutional amendment that would have established the definition of life at conception? ROMNEY: Absolutely. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: "Absolutely." The thing that is preventing states from banning abortion outright right now is Roe versus Wade. What does he think of Roe versus Wade? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes, I do. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Clear, right? How about the largest abortion provider in the United States, which also happens to be the largest provider of women`s health care in the United States, that`s Planned Parenthood. What does Mitt Romney want to do there? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Planned Parenthood, we`re going to get rid of that. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And on that one, the Romney campaign sometimes tries to complain about that sound bite, going to get rid of Planned Parenthood, whenever anybody uses it. But on his campaign Web site, it says right there in black and white, he`s going to get rid of Planned Parenthood. It has a priority of his. He told "The Des Moines Register" that he has no specific legislation in mind at all that he would use to go after women`s health rights or access to abortion. No specific legislation in mind at all. Well, here`s the pledge that he signed and put forth as an op-ed on the "National Review" online last year, detailing specific named anti- abortion legislation that he would advocate for and support as president. Trying to run now as a guy who doesn`t believe any of these things, just having your spokesperson quietly walk it back later, like you always do -- that might not be enough this time. Not with this record. So the candidate actually, himself, had to take part in the walking back of this today. Mitt Romney himself had to take back what he said yesterday to the "Des Moines Register." But the Democrats are not letting it go. They might have let it go in previous years, but this is the year when Democrats, for some reason, got their sea legs on how to campaign on this issue. And President Obama brought it up tonight, talked about it tonight in his first debate season interview with ABC`s Diane Sawyer. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Governor Romney is now saying there is no abortion legislation that is part of his agenda. Your campaign has called that a lie. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, look, Diane, this is another example of Governor Romney hiding positions he`s been campaigning on for a year and a half. SAWYER: Is it a lie? OBAMA: No, I actually think his position on, when it comes to women`s rights to control their own health care decisions, you know, what he has been saying is exactly what he believes. He thinks that it is appropriate for politicians to inject themselves into those decisions. I mean, Governor Romney has made very clear that if a bill comes to his desk that overturns Roe versus Wade, that he will be fully supportive of that. And he`s said, I will appoint justices that will overturn Roe versus Wade. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: OK. Game on. Usually they get away with this. They are not getting away with it on this issue. Mitt Romney is still trying to walk back what he said about not planning on pursuing any anti-abortion legislation as president. But as long as the game on is here and the Democrats are not letting them get away with it, for whatever reason, on this issue, this time, here`s what you need to know -- there are still two other big problems that he has yet to walk back or at least explain. That was today`s news. Here`s tomorrow`s news. Here and the Democrats are not letting them get away with it, for whatever reason, on this issue, this time, here`s what you need to know. There are still two other big problems that he has yet to walk back or at least explain. That was today`s news. Here`s tomorrow`s news. One of the things that he has walked back is something else he told "The Des Moines Register." He said, people should be able to choose a health insurance policy that covers birth control. He used a weird metaphor to do it. Watch. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) REPORTER: Should health insurance cover birth control? ROMNEY: Uh, health insurance can now. Health insurers have -- REPORTER: Should they? ROMNEY: Well, it`s a question as to should you get a car painted red or blue? I mean, you could decide which you like. People who want to have contraceptive health insurance can choose that in their policy. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: It`s like painting a car. You can decide what you like. If you want a contraceptive health insurance, you can choose that in your policy. Mr. Romney has not yet walked that one back, but Mr. Romney supports the Blunt Amendment. What would the Blunt Amendment do? It would make it so you can`t choose a health plan that covers contraceptives, not if your employer doesn`t want you to have it. That was the whole point of the Blunt Amendment. To take away women`s option to get contraceptive coverage on their insurance plans. You can either stand for that or you can stand against that. Mr. Romney, right now, between his on the record policy position and what he told that paper in Iowa, right now, Mitt Romney is standing both for it and against it. And at this point, in a presidential campaign, that is not tenable, not for long. Also, second point, while trying to get away with this idea that he`s not in favor of legislation to restrict abortion rights, despite his record to the contrary, it should be noted that Mitt Romney picked as his vice presidential nominee an anti-abortion absolutist named Paul Ryan, a man who has co-sponsored 38 anti-abortion measures in Congress who today outside an ice cream shop in Florida said there is zero daylight between his and Mitt Romney`s ideas on this subject. What Paul Ryan believes on abortion, Mitt Romney believes to. Right down to redefining rape in co-sponsorship with Todd Akin? Is that included? Mr. Romney said today under duress that the Romney/Ryan position is the Romney/Ryan position, there`s no difference between them. And he also said you`ll hear more about it at the vice presidential debate tomorrow. I bet you will. Joining us now is Steve Kornacki, co-host of MSNBC`s "THE CYCLE," and a senior writer for Steve, thank you for being here. STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Yes. Thanks for having me. MADDOW: The issue about women`s vote is not only about women`s health issues, but the Democrats have been aggressive in driving their campaigning on this issue, because they think that`s a key issue for locking up the women`s vote. With this walk back, this attempted and failed walk back that happened within the last 24 hours from the Romney campaign, do you think that`s going to have an impact there? KORNACKI: Yes. There`s some interesting data that came out in the last few days that I think was behind what Mitt Romney initially said to the editorial board, where he tried to take a moderate-sounding on abortion. First, you had this poll that came out in Ohio the other day that shows the overall gap at four points now, Obama ahead of Romney by four. The gender gap in this thing was astounding. Among men, Romney had a 16- point lead in Ohio, 52 to 36. Among women, 60-38, Obama. MADDOW: Oh. KORNACKI: That is like a 38-point gender gap. I have not seen something that big. We have conflicting data on this. At the national level, a lot of these national horse race polls are showing the gender gap disappearing here. So maybe this Ohio thing is an outlier, or maybe it indicates that in the battleground states, you know, where they`re exposed to the campaign`s messages a lot more aggressively, maybe the campaign is playing it a little differently in those states. You have that. You also have -- there`s a poll of swing-state voters from Bloomberg that was conducted last week that identified a very specific group of voters. That`s married women. And it said on the economy, they were actually basically siding with Romney. They were basically willing to give up on Obama, say it`s failed, and think that Romney`s competent. Where they were having reservations, and why Romney was not having the kind of margins that he needs to win these swing states is on cultural issues, is on social issues, particularly abortion, contraception, Planned Parenthood, things like this -- things that have been emphasized by the Obama campaign. That might account for what happened in Ohio. If that`s the case, that would account for, you know, Romney telling the editorial board, basically trying to say, you know, hey, women, if you`re willing to vote for me on the economy, you don`t have to worry about all this abortion stuff. And this is certainly a tactic he`s used before. I can remember, 10 years ago, the only general election campaign that Mitt Romney ever ran, the basic problem for him was the suburban voters were ready to vote for him. The swing voters in Massachusetts were ready to vote for him. They didn`t want to have all Democratic control in Massachusetts. They had reservations about him on abortion, because he had already -- you know, he thought he was running for office in Utah a year before. He had said to a Utah paper, don`t call me pro-choice. He came back to Massachusetts and said, now call he pro-choice, or said, I will now support the pro-choice laws. So he had to win over the benefit of the doubt from those swing voters and the suburban swing voters in Massachusetts. And he was able to do that then, and it seems like the same decision he`s making now. I want to give these voters reassurance so they can vote for me on another issue. MADDOW: What strikes me, though, we`ve seen this pattern -- I get the Romney campaign`s motivation on this issue, for all those issues you just described. But what strikes me is they have tried to do this type of walk back on so many other issues they have succeeded at. The Obama campaign seems determined to not them not walk back this one. Is there anything you can see in terms of Romney`s past or other historical precedent on this in terms of whether or not the Obama campaign might succeed in sort of holding him to this? Not letting him etch-a- sketch on this? KORNACKI: I really think it depends -- you know, it was tough in the first debate with Obama and Romney, for Obama to bring up these issues, because Jim Lehrer didn`t mention any women`s issues during the debate. So, there wasn`t an opening there. But there were opportunities when he could have forced a discussion into that direction, he chose not to. I would say now they`re going to try to bring it up in the vice presidential debate tomorrow. They`re going to try to bring it up in the next presidential debate. The question, though, is how specific is the attack? When it`s Biden tomorrow night, when it`s Obama against Romney, are they pointing out, OK, this is what you have said about a human life amendment, this is what you`ve said about Planned Parenthood, this is what your platform says, this is the legislation that Paul Ryan has proposed. Get as specific as you can and pin him down on those specific questions, as opposed to making a more general assertion about he would have an extreme view on abortion or this sort of thing, because the one thing Romney`s really good at, saw this last week in the debate and I saw this in Massachusetts 10 years ago, is his platform might say, two plus two equals five, he might have said two plus two equals five to get the party`s nomination, but in the general election debate, he`s going to say, I don`t what you`re talking about, I`ve always said two plus two equals four. And he can sell it. He can be very glib and very convincing, and that can be tough to get (ph). MADDOW: A guy who was willing to say completely the opposite of what is in his record is a dangerous guy unless you`re able to tie him to his record. KORNACKI: Yes. MADDOW: Steve Kornacki, senior writer for "Salon", co-host of "THE CYCLE", weekdays at 3:00 Eastern here on MSNBC -- Steve, thank you for this. Appreciate it. All right. Obama campaign deputy director Stephanie Cutter is going to be joining us tonight, shortly, ahead of the most important vice presidential debate, maybe, ever. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: There are four debates overall in this presidential election season. The vice presidential debate is the second of four. Vice presidential debate is tomorrow night in Kentucky. Heading into that second of four debates, and now it`s expected to have a giant audience tomorrow, my favorite effort so far to encapsulate what happened in the first debate is the effort to do so by bad lip reading. And to be fair, when bad lip reading did their sum up on the first debate, they focused more on Jim Lehrer than they did the candidates, but did so to beautiful effect. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hot tub is cool now, but they poisoned it. (LAUGHTER) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know, right? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt, how did you know about who done it in the lounge? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn`t know. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn`t know? Well, they started clapping, for the mad cow, until someone sold him. And then when he died, they had him stuffed, like that water buffalo, stuffed. I want you to turn to and look at each other. Yes. Oh, now, that`s nice. Just stare deeply into each other`s eyes. Yes. Good. Now say the first thing that pops into your brain. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t want to touch sandpaper. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like the whiz. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, all right. Now, I want to try something. Why don`t we go mmmm - UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mmm -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mmm -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, good, that`s what I want you to do. Uh, Mitt? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he`s asleep. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh! UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s party time, chumps! (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I love the bad lip reading people. On the eve of the second debate, which is the vice presidential debate tomorrow, that was bad lip reading`s effort to sum up the first one. There`s a minute or two more of it. It`s awesome. You can watch the whole thing at But before you do that, did you hear what Bill Clinton said to sum up the first presidential debate and what Bill Clinton thinks will happen at next one? That is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This right here was the state of the presidential race one month ago tonight. Take a look at this. President Obama and Mitt Romney were essentially neck and neck, all throughout the summer, and then, boing! President Obama very quickly and very dramatically jumped out to a six-point lead. What happened all of a sudden to cause that sort of jump? Well, right here was President Obama`s speech at the Democratic convention in Charlotte. What you`re looking at thereafter is what people call the post- convention bounce. After what had been a static race, President Obama not only jumped ahead in national polls like this Gallup daily tracking poll, but he also jumped out t a sizable lead in all the key swing states. Again, here`s what the race looked like around this time last month. President Obama was up in Virginia. He was up in Ohio. He was up in Florida. He was up in Colorado. He was up in New Hampshire. He almost could not find a swing state poll that did not show President Obama increasing his lead. This is what a post-convention bounce, and a good one, looks like. And it was a bounce that lasted for a while. A Pew poll released more than a week after the Democratic convention showed President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney by eight points. Well, here`s what that Pew poll looks like now. Mitt Romney has erased his eight-point deficit and he has turned entitle a four-point lead in that poll. What happened in the race all of a sudden to cause that sort of a jump? Well, right here was the first presidential debate that happened last week. So, before we had numbers that reflected the post-convention bounce for the Democratic side. What you`re looking at after that is the post-debate bounce for the Republican side. We are actually still experiencing Mitt Romney`s post- debate bounce. It is not over. Every new national poll released today shows Mr. Romney either leading President Obama or tied with him. This is what a post-debate bounce looks like. For all the Democratic hand wringing going on right now, here`s essentially what happened in the last month. The race was tight and President Obama got a post-convention bounce and went out ahead and then Mitt Romney erased that with his post-debate bounce, and so now, the race is tight again. Tada, we are back where we started. Democrats, of courses, are hoping that the Mitt Romney post-debate bounce ends tomorrow. Democrats are hoping that we are about to have a new seismic event in this campaign in tomorrow`s vice presidential debate, one that functions the same way that this same debate schedule worked out in 2004, for a very different incumbent president. In 2004, it was the vice president`s solid performance in his debate that essentially stopped the bleeding for his incumbent party. That`s what happened in 2004 after John Kerry just destroyed President George W. Bush in the first `04 debate and Kerry got a big bump in the polls thereafter. But that bump eventually dissipated, partly on the heels of Vice President Dick Cheney`s strong performance against John Edwards the following week in the V.P. debate. Democrats this year are hoping for that same kind of dynamic to play out. So honestly, the stakes for tomorrow night`s debate between vice president Joe Biden and Paul Ryan could not be higher for the Obama campaign. And interestingly, nobody on the Obama side is trying to play down this debate as if it is not important. The Romney/Ryan side did make a kind of hilarious feint this week at trying to play down how well Paul Ryan is expected to do at this debate. This is Mr. Romney trying to do that on CNN yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: I don`t know how Paul will deal with this debate. Obviously, the vice president has done, I don`t know, 15 or 20 percents during his lifetime, experienced debater. This is, I think, Paul`s first debate. I may be wrong. He may have done something in high school. I don`t know. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: High school? Really? Paul Ryan`s first debate? As ABC News noted today, quote, "Paul Ryan has actually participated in at least eight debates during his 14 years in Congress. That`s according to available articles and information provided by the Ryan campaign." First debate? Ninth debate? What`s the difference, really? We know what the truth is here, but we put our presidential candidate out to talk to the press on camera and just make stuff up about it that`s not true? Big stuff, small stuff, nobody expects that what Mitt Romney says at any given moment is anything that you can take to the bank. We`ll just revise it later. I do not get this strategy on their part. I do not get why that campaign does not take their candidate`s perceived trustworthiness more seriously? They squander it on even small stuff like this. But, anyway, momentum-wise right now, obviously, all of the momentum is on the Republican side in this race. They can try to play that down as much as they want to, but it is very, very clear from the polls. Substantively, for the Democrats, the challenge right now is, how do you prepare to debate? And how do you actually debate a campaign that is not really sticking to any identifiable policy stances? A campaign that`s willing to change what they`re running on so much minute from minute, that you actually never know who`s going to turn up on that debate stage and what they say they`re going to stand for in that moment? How do you prep for that? How do you prep for a moving target like that? How do you rebut that? How do you turn that -- in fact, that malleability, that of willingness to abandon previously held policy positions -- how do you turn that into a political liability at the debate for a Mitt Romney or for a Paul Ryan? Former President Bill Clinton speaking yesterday at a rally in Las Vegas, I think, is sort of modeling a means of doing that. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLINTON: I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did. I mean, I thought, "Wow! Here`s old moderate Mitt. Where you been, boy, I missed you all these last two years!" But I was paying attention these past two years. And it was like one of these Bain Capital deals where, you know, he`s the closer. So he shows up, doesn`t really know much about the deal and says, "Tell me what I`m supposed to say to close." Now the problem with this deal is, the deal was made by severe conservative Mitt. That was how he described himself for two whole years. Until three or four days before the debate they all got together and said, "Hey, Mitt, this ship is sinkin` faster than the Titanic. But people are still frustrated about the economy, they want it fixed yesterday, so just show up with a sunny face and say I didn`t say all that stuff I said for the last two years. I don`t have that tax plan I`ve had for the last two years. You`re going to believe me or your lyin` eyes here? Come on. What are you doin`?" And if I`d been the President, I might have said, "Well, I hate to get in the way of this, I missed you. I could have used you when I was trying to enact a national version of the Massachusetts law and you were all of a sudden against what you had been before. Yes, I missed you." (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Former president bill Clinton speaking at a Democratic event yesterday afternoon in Nevada, seemingly having the time of his life doing so. Once it became clear that Mitt Romney was going to be the Republican Party`s presidential nominee this year, the Obama campaign had a choice to make, a choice to make how they were going to run against Mitt Romney, how to define Mr. Romney before they got a chance to define himself. And all of the campaign reporting from this year about the Obama campaign tells us that the decision-making process in the Obama campaign pretty early on was that they were going to not run against Mitt Romney has a flip-flopper. They thought they had that as an option, but didn`t want to run against him that way, because they expected him to win the primaries and they didn`t want to help him into his escape hatch, to escape all the policy positions he would have to take during the primaries. They didn`t want to help him make his case by showcasing all his flip-flops that he didn`t really believe the super right-wing stuff he was going to have to pledge himself to in the primary campaign. The Obama campaign decided to not to run against Mitt Romney like that. Instead, they decided to run against his actual stated policies, highlighting how far right they are. But now having run against him that way thus far all year long, Mitt Romney, in the debates, as President Clinton just explained, is abandoning all those policies and trying to run as Mr. Moderate. So does the Obama campaign insist as holding Romney to all the hard- right stuff he said he was going to run on for these past two years, even though Mr. Romney now denies those positions? Or do they go back to the old strategy that they decided against at the start of this campaign? Do they go back and decide, forget it, we`re going to run against him as somebody who stands for nothing, who flip-flops, who says whatever sounds good in the moment? Heading into debate two, given what happened in debate one, is what happened in that first debate now forcing the Obama campaign to essentially give up their main strategic commitment that they made early on in this campaign to run against Mitt Romney? President Obama`s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter joins us next for the interview. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) OBAMA: I mean, you know, the debate, I think, it`s fair to say, I was just too polite. Because, you know, it`s hard to sometimes just keep on saying what you`re saying isn`t true. It gets repetitive. But, you know, the good news is that that`s just the first one. Governor Romney put forward a whole bunch of stuff that either involved him running away from positions that he had taken or doubling down on things like Medicare vouchers that are going to hurt him long-term. And, you know, I think it`s fair to say that we will see a little more activity at the next one. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: "A little more activity." That should be music to Democrats` ears and hands, which are exhausted after a week of near-constant handwringing. Not only did most debate watchers think that Mitt Romney won the first presidential debate, but most Democrats think that Mr. Romney won. It`s not a weird outcome. Challengers almost always beat the incumbent president in the first debate. There`s only arguably one time in American history it hasn`t worked out this way. But that has not stopped Democrats and Obama supporters spending the last week really publicly freaking out about this debate and all the subsequent tightening of all the polls. Joining us now for the interview is Stephanie Cutter. She`s the deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign. Ms. Cutter, thank you very much for joining us tonight. It`s nice to have you here. STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: You guys have not done much to fight the perception that Mr. Romney won the first debate, include the president himself not fighting that perception. Is that -- is that intentional? Are you trying to lower expectations now about your guy getting a better showing at the second debate? CUTTER: Well, you know, what we said before the last debate is exactly what you just said. Five out of the six last challengers won the first debate. So we went into that, despite, you know, everybody`s public proclamations as the underdog. And we`re realistic, that Mitt Romney had a good night that night. He had a great performance. But that`s just what it was. It was a performance. And as the president said, he said a lot of things that weren`t true. He also said a lot of things trying to move away from some of his positions. And then, finally, he doubled down on some of the bad positions. Some of the things that would take us back to the same policies that crashed our economy. So, you know, he gave us a lot to work with and we`re glad he did that on a national stage. But as the president has said and as we`ve been saying for days now, you know, we understand, we`ve looked at the tapes. We understand that there`s more that we can do to hold Mitt Romney accountable in these debates and the president is ready to do it. MADDOW: Do you anticipate the same sort of strategic approach from Paul Ryan that you saw from Mitt Romney? Obviously, you guys had some trouble handling that strategy in the first debate. Do you expect Paul Ryan to behave the same way? And if so, or if not, how is Vice President Biden preparing for that? CUTTER: Well, let`s just take a look at Paul Ryan`s convention speech. And it was packed full of lies about the president`s policies. Blaming the president for an auto plant that shut down under George Bush, blaming -- you know, saying that the president was weakening the work retirement, welfare to work, a whole number of different things that Paul Ryan said. The only thing that anybody remembers about that speech is that he l lied. Now, going into tomorrow night, we`re prepared for that. Paul Ryan has a choice to make. You know, he -- in Mitt Romney`s words -- is the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. He has years of strong commitments and convictions that he`s laid out, on everything from abortion to taxes, to Medicare, to Medicaid. We know where he stands. So tomorrow night he has a choice to make. Does he stand by what he has said and done over the course of his career? Or does he do what Mitt Romney did and try to run from those positions and hide them, because he knows that they will ultimately hurt him in a general election? MADDOW: Stephanie, you led the Obama campaign`s pushback today after Mr. Romney tried to get away with saying that he wouldn`t act as president to roll back abortion rights. He eventually even personally gave a statement, admitting that he would do that as president. CUTTER: Right. MADDOW: Why do you think his campaign has had to go back so many times and revise their candidate`s statements? I mean, the role of campaign staffers on the Romney/Ryan side is very different than the role of staffers on your side. You`re very rarely saying the president didn`t mean what he just said. CUTTER: Exactly. Well, you know, I think, Rachel, they have a strategy. Or at least Mitt Romney has a strategy. I`m not sure his campaign has caught up with him, to soften these positions and hide these positions, because we know it`s hurt them with women, hurt them with seniors on Medicare, hurt them with young voters on some of these positions that he`s taken. So I think what we saw yesterday in the "Des Moines Register" editorial board, he was trying to move a little bit away from his staunch from-life stance to soften that position, because he has a problem with women voters in Iowa. Now, you know, I saw in some press reports today that the first call they made, when that ed board ended was to Tony Perkins. And I`m sure that Tony Perkins reined them right back in and they quickly clarified it, and Romney doubled down on his positions, his pro-life positions and he promised to defund Planned Parenthood, sign legislation to overturn Roe v. Wade and another editorial board today. So I think what it shows is that there is a very tight hold on Mitt Romney by some of the most conservative extreme elements of that party. MADDOW: Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for the Obama re- election campaign, thank you very much for joining us. We are all very much looking forward to tomorrow night. CUTTER: Thanks, Rachel. MADDOW: Appreciate it. All right. Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown debated in Massachusetts tonight in front of a kind of rowdy crowd. I live in Western Mass, I know what that`s like. Hold on, that`s ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Campaigning in Ohio today, Mitt Romney told a story he has recently become very fond of telling on the campaign trail. It`s about a young man he met once at a party. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: One was a former Navy SEAL, Glen Doherty. And he -- we chatted for a while. He came from Massachusetts, where I`d been governor. And I had family there. He also had skied in some of the places, snow skiing, that I had found during the Winter Olympics in Utah that I`d skied at. And we had a nice chat together. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The man Mr. Romney is talking about there is Glen Doherty. Mr. Doherty is the former Navy SEAL, who was one of the four Americans killed in the attack in the American consulate in Benghazi, in Libya, in September. Mr. Romney told that same story about meeting Mr. Doherty yesterday while campaigning in Iowa. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: He skied a lot. He skied in some of the places I had. We had a lot of things in common. He told me that he keeps going back to the Middle East. He cares very deeply about the people there. You can imagine how I felt when I found out that he was one of the two former Navy SEALs killed in Benghazi on September 11th. And it -- it touched me, obviously, as I recognized this young man that I thought was so impressive. He -- according to the reports on CNN International that I read, he was actually in a different building, in an annex, a safe place, somewhere else across town when he and his colleagues there heard that the consulate was around attack. And they went there. They didn`t hunker down where they were in safety. They rushed there to go help. This is the American way. We go where there`s trouble. We go where we`re needed. And right now we`re need. Right now the American people need us. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Politicians repeat the same stories on the campaign trail all time. That is not what is uncomfortable-making about what Mr. Romney is doing here. It`s not the repetition that is the issue. What part of the problem is here is that Mr. Romney equating his running for office with the bravery Mr. Doherty displayed trying to save lives in the face of the armed attack in Benghazi. "Right now the American people need us," he said. After talking about all these other things he said in common with Mr. Doherty like Massachusetts and skiing, he compares what he`s doing now with what Mr. Doherty did in Benghazi. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: They didn`t hunker down where they were in safety, they rushed there to go help. This is the American way. We go where there`s trouble. We go where we`re needed. And right now we`re need. Right now, the American people need us. (END VDIEO CLIP) MADDOW: If you think it takes the same kind of bravery for this guy to run for president as it was brave of this former Navy SEAL to respond the way he did to an RPG and mortar attack in mortar attack in Libya, then maybe this was an inspiring moment for you in Iowa. Otherwise, it was probably something else. Since it`s become clear that this is going to be a repetitive standard part of Mr. Romney`s stump speech, Glen Doherty`s friends and his family have began speaking out against Mitt Romney and the Romney campaign for using Mr. Doherty on the campaign trail in this way. An old friend of Mr. Doherty gave an interview to a Seattle radio station yesterday, giving what he said what Glen Doherty`s take on that meeting he had with Mr. Romney at that part. His friend said Doherty told him that Mr. Romney kept introducing himself to Doherty over and over again, forgetting that he had just Mitt him and Mr. Doherty found that pathetic. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the ultimate count by the end of the night was four times. Romney actually approached him using this private gathering as a political venture to further his image and Glen just believed it to be very insincere and stale. You know, he said it was pathetic and comical to have the same person come up to you within only, you know, a half hour reintroduce himself to you, having absolutely no idea whatsoever that he just did this 20 minutes ago and did not even recognize Glen`s face. Whether it be Republican, Democrat, it doesn`t make a difference. This guy is using our great friend, our humble and honorable great friend that we know is just a regular guy who is truly larger than life. He has become an actual part of the soap box routine for politics in a presidential race. I think Glen would feel more than anything almost embarrassed for Romney. I think he would feel pity for him. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: We should also note that Glen Doherty`s mother Barbara has released a statement to a local Boston TV station. Quote, "I don`t trust Romney. He shouldn`t make my son`s death part of his political agenda. It`s wrong to use these brave young men who wanted freedom for all to degrade Obama." After Mr. Romney persisted in telling the story about Glen Doherty yet again after that statement from Mr. Doherty`s mother was released, a reporter at "BuzzFeed" today pressed the campaign about whether Mr. Romney was going to keep this as part of his stump speech despite the objections. Then the campaign relented, saying that Mr. Romney had been inspired by that meeting but, quote, "We respect the wishes of Mrs. Doherty." Since before the attack was even over in Benghazi, the Romney campaign has tried and tried and tried to make some political hay out of it, to take advantage of the fatal attack on the American consulate in Libya. It started before the attack was over, before the deaths had been confirmed there. It has continued with Mr. Romney`s efforts to loop into his campaign now. One of the Americans killed in that attack is sort of an unwilling political surrogate after he`s died. The man`s friend and family finally appear to have put a stop to that today but an effort to politicize this attack to get partisan advantage out of this attack on American interests and the death of four Americans abroad is also happening now in Washington, where a congressman who is a Romney surrogate, Utah`s Jason Chaffetz, convened this hearing today in Washington. The House is not actually even in session right now, but Jason Chaffetz of Utah said that he had to step in to ensure that more security in Benghazi, more resources for diplomatic missions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I believe personally, with more assets, more resources, just meeting the minimum standards, we could have and should have saved the life of Ambassador Stevens and the other people that were there. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz speaking at this hearing today. You should also know that this is Jason Chaffetz, the same guy speaking in an interview today on CNN. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SOLEDAD O`BRIEN, CNN: Is it true that you voted to cut the funding for embassy security? CHAFFETZ: Absolutely. We have to make choices in this country. We have -- think about this -- 15,000 contractors in Iraq. We have 6,000 contractors, private army of President Obama in Baghdad. And we`re talking about can we get two dozen or so people into Libya to help protect our forces. When you`re in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices. You have to prioritize things. O`BRIEN: OK. So you`re prioritizing. So when there are complaints that, in fact, that there was not enough security, you`ve just said absolutely, that you cut -- you were the one to vote against, you know -- to increase security for the State Department which would lead directly to Benghazi. That seems like you are saying that you have a hand in the responsibility of this, right? The funding of the security if you`re happy to cut it? CHAFFETZ: You get -- because there are literally close to 200 embassies, consulates, those types of things. You have thousands of people that are involved in this. You have to prioritize things. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And he voted to cut it. What the CNN anchor Soledad O`Brien is referring to there is that House Republicans, including Mr. Chaffetz cut the administration`s request for embassy security funding by $128 million last year and $331 million this year. That was over and above the objections of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who warned that the Republicans` proposed cuts would be detrimental to America`s national security. Republicans said, no, they did not, they would not, they did not think those things would hurt national security. And now, 27 days before the election, they are holding grandstanding hearings about under-resourced security where there ended up being an attack. On any given day, politics has an ick factor, right? This is grosser than usual. (COMMERCIAL BREAK,) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Let`s talk about what Senator Brown did after Dodd-Frank passed, that is, it came in the "Boston Globe", that he was out working in secret to weaken the regulations, so the biggest financial institutions wouldn`t have to deal with such difficult regulations. SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: We are both pro-choice. We both support Roe v. Wade. There`s no secret about that. WARREN: They had exactly one chance to vote for a pro-choice woman from Massachusetts to the United States Supreme Court and he voted no. BROWN: Let`s make it clear, I`m not going to be raising taxes on anyone in Massachusetts or anyone in the United States. WARREN: I think I just heard Senator Brown say that instead of working for the people of Massachusetts, he`s taken a pledge to work for Grover Norquist. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Some highlights from the Elizabeth Warren versus Senator Scott Brown debate in Massachusetts tonight. He did not pull out his magic Scott Brown divining rod to measure Elizabeth Warren`s whiteness like he did in previous debates but there`s always time left for that. Tomorrow night, of course, is the V.P. debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Four years ago, more people watch the V.P. debate between Mr. Biden and Governor Sarah Palin that did any of the Obama-McCain debate. It was the highest rated vice presidential in history last time around. Our coverage of the V.P. rematch tomorrow starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Cannot wait. We`ll see it there. In the meantime, now, it is 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