Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: August 25, 2016 Guest: Daryle Lamont Jenkins, Jeremy Peters
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us this hour as well.
The year after World War II ended, President Harry Truman signed into law something with a very, very boring name. It was called the Employment Act of 1946. World War II was over.
The Great Depression was over, right? The competing economies had been laid waist by World War II. Our own economy had taken off like a rocket during and after World War II.
But in that single moment when it was over and the Congress came back to do the nation`s work, Congress realized we were going to be a different kind of country in a different kind of world, and the Congress decided to assert itself. Progressive members of Congress decided that economic policy in our country, now that we`re going to be a different kind of country and a different kind of world, economic policy from then on out should be steered in such a way to maximize economic benefits to working people in this country, the working class and the middle class.
If we were going to be a mega power in the world, which is what we woke up to at the end of World War II, then let`s use it in a specific way. There was this impetus at that time that we should use that, we should shape our economic might and use our economic might to benefit American working people. And the specific idea was everybody in America who wanted a job should get a job and not just a job but a good job. It should become the economic priority of our country now that we have all this new power.
It should be our priority that we have full employment, a job for everyone who wants one. So that was proposed. In the first Congress at the end of World War II that we would make that a priority and our government would be bound to follow that. And so, that was proposed, and conservatives killed it.
That bill had initially been called the Full Employment Bill of 1945, by the time it got watered down and passed in 1946, it wasn`t the full employment bill. It was just the employment bill. Conservatives and business interests really didn`t want all that stuff about full employment and working people and everybody having a job. They thought that was way too pinko, commie for the United States.
And so, we never did get that kind of priority setting and that kind of specific guidance from Congress as to what our priorities should be as a country and as an economy. But Truman did sign that watered down bill in 1946, didn`t give us much in terms of direction for us as a nation, but it did give us one thing that`s lasted ever since then. It gave us the White House Council on Economic Advisors. We`ve had the White House Council on economic advisers ever since Harry Truman. These are the current ones. Hello, Mr. Furman.
Today, "The Wall Street Journal" did a very interesting thing. They tracked down every single living person who has ever served on the White House Council of Economic Advisors ever. It turns out they`re a pretty healthy bunch. 45 of these people, these economists who have advised presidents, 45 of them are still alive. Their tenure spans over eight presidents, all the way back to Richard Nixon.
So, "The Wall Street Journal" surveyed this entire category of people who served under Obama and Bush and Clinton and the other Bush and Reagan and Carter and Ford and Nixon. They`re a diverse group. The one thing they all have in common is that not a single one of them supports Donald Trump for president.
One guy who was an economic advisor to Reagan, he is now at the libertarian Cato Institute. He says he likes Gary Johnson. So, he`s going to vote for Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate this year.
But other than that guy voting for Gary Johnson, every single living veteran of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, for every president all the way back to Nixon either explicitly supports Hillary Clinton for president or they will not say -- Donald Trump has support from none of them.
Martin Feldstein was the chairman of the council of economic advisers Under Reagan, he told "The Journal" today, quote, "I have personally known every Republican president Since Richard Nixon. They all shared an understanding of economics and international affairs. Donald Trump does not have that understanding."
It`s one thing to have, you know, some dissident Republicans rejecting a party`s presidential nominee. It happens here and there. It happens to a greater or lesser extent with almost every nominee from both major parties every election cycle. There`s always a dissenter here and there, but when it`s everyone alive who has ever worked for any American president as an economic advisor including the last five Republican presidents and they all reject you. It`s not like you ask somebody so dance and they say no. That`s like you ask someone to dance and everybody in the world decides they will never dance again because of you.
This is just -- this is profound rejection. I find that -- this just stunning. I mean, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, the other Bush.
But White House economic advisors do not the world make. And clearly even though a lot of mainstream conservatism rejects Donald Trump profoundly, there are a lot of folks who are very happy to dance with Donald Trump this year.
Last night, we hosted a long and longer and then really long interview with Donald Trump`s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, and we talked last night a little bit with her about how she got that job. But there is a back story to how she got that job, which I think it`s really helpful to understanding specifically today`s news. I think it makes some sense of what was otherwise a little inexplicable in this news cycle we lived through today.
Because before becoming Donald Trump`s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway ran a super PAC. She ran one of the super PACs that supported Ted Cruz in the primary.
You might remember in the Republican primary this year, there were a whole bunch of different super PACs that supported Ted Cruz. They were all a variation of Keep the Promise. She ran the group that was called Keep the Promise I.
They ran millions of dollars in anti-Trump ads, incidentally, which is kind of ironic given what her job now. But more important than that, she ran this Keep the Promise PAC. She ran the iteration of all the Ted Cruz supporting PACs. She ran the one that was almost entirely funded by a single donor.
All the money in that PAC basically came from one source. It came from New York City hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. He gave the money. Kellyanne Conway ran that PAC. Robert Mercer and Kellyanne Conway, they supported Ted Cruz in the primary, not Donald Trump.
But once Trump won, once Cruz dropped out, that mega donor Robert Mercer and Kellyanne Conway, they decided to switch horses. They decided to keep working together. She stayed in charge of the PAC. They changed its name. They started running anti-Clinton ads to help Trump instead of anti-Trump ads to help Cruz.
Bu as a multimillion dollar donor to that effort. We`ve talked about here on the show, Robert Mercer, this hedge fund billionaire appears to have become the single largest funder in the effort to elect Donald Trump for president.
Robert Mercer is also reportedly the single largest funder of Breitbart.com. And so, this one guy, Robert Mercer, the money man, he ends up being sort of the missing link. He ends up being the thing that explains, I think, in a lot of ways, why the Trump campaign is this strange thing that it is now.
When the Trump campaign decided to fire the last guy in charge, Paul Manafort and put these new folks in charge, it was an interesting and sort of inexplicable thing, that they simultaneously, they didn`t fire Paul and pick a new person to replace him, right? They fired Paul Manafort, but then they brought in two people. They came up with two new job titles. Campaign manager and campaign CEO, OK? They brought in two people at once.
They brought in Kellyanne Conway who ran Robert Mercer`s super PAC. She is a very familiar figure in Republican politics. You saw her here last night. She`s a consummate political professional. She`s very good at being on TV. She`s been on TV for decades.
You might remember, a few days ago on the show, before she was on the program, Dan Rather praised her as someone who could, and I quote, "talk the legs off a table". I mean, clearly, she can. We saw her last night putting the most mainstream, sympathetic possible spin on everything about Donald Trump and his campaign.
But she didn`t come onto the campaign alone, right? She came on as campaign manager, right, Donald Trump`s top funder apparently installed her at the top of the Trump campaign. But he also simultaneously on the same day at the same time installed this other guy. This guy from Breitbart as the campaign CEO.
Robert Mercer is the money man behind both of these folks, behind Kellyanne Conway and her PAC, which started as a Ted Cruz thing and then became a Donald Trump. Robert Mercer was the money behind that. Robert Mercer is also the money behind Breitbart.com. He funded them both to the tune of millions of dollars. He is the thing that explains why those two otherwise unconnected individuals both came on at the same time on the same day to take over the Trump campaign.
But the two of them are kind of a weird mix. And what we`ve got with the two of them now is a weird dynamic. And I think it explains both a lot of what`s going on in the campaign and a lot of what is confusing about the campaign coverage right now, because on the one hand, here`s Kellyanne Conway, this political pro, this seemingly normalizing influence, a person who talks about Donald Trump as if he`s a normal Republican. But then at the same time thanks to the same funder, thanks to the same money man, thanks to the same influence, we also have the opposite of that.
We`ve got the person, maybe the one person in conservative politics who could make Donald Trump seem less normal than he is, because it`s one thing to bring on a political pro to took pretty about Donald Trump, but then you bring on Breitbart.com, when you take something like that out of the far- flung fringe of the conservative media and you put it at the top of the Republican Party, what you`re mainstreaming, what you`re mainlining now is honestly, some truly off the wall and occasionally radically obscure politics. Politics that are unfamiliar to most Americans, that are unfamiliar to most Republicans, that are even unfamiliar to most movement conservatives.
And by putting that stuff at the top of the Republican Party, you`re effectively saying this is the stuff that our party now stands for. This is what our standard bearer stands for. This is what we think is important. These are the stories we believe explain the world. These are our values. It has turned out to be a little weird.
There`s a little culture shock going on right now. It`s like imagine like back to Truman`s day, right? Imagine you`re like at white bread, meat loaf diner in 1946 in Missouri, and the waitress pops up with a vertically plated Asian fusion tofu desert with a piece of raw sea urchin on top of it. If you`re a New York city foodie in 2016, OK, you know what that is and might have strong feelings about it. You might recognize the connections to other food stuffs you had enjoyed.
But in a middle America mid-century diner, you might not recognize that as food.
I think that`s what`s going on right now with this latest facelift for Donald Trump`s presidential campaign. Yes, we`ve got Kellyanne talking about Donald Trump like he`s a normal Republican. Kellyanne Conway talking about him and his policies as if they`re not nearly as obscure and obscene as you might have heard.
But on the other hand, you`ve got the Breitbartization of Republican presidential politics.
We saw one of the first signs of this in Donald Trump`s terrorism speech in Ohio. That was a speech where he was having a particularly difficult time with the teleprompter. He`s reading as if he`d never seen the device before let alone the words on it.
And you might remember sort of a brief period of confusion or at least political mystification about this new insult that he tried on in that speech and tried to pin on Hillary Clinton that day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When you include the costs of health care, welfare, housing, schooling, and all other entitlement benefits that are excluded from the State Department`s placement figures, think of this, $400 million. In short, Hillary Clinton wants to be America`s Angela Merkel. And you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You hear the reaction, in the room, right? There`s one guy who guys, thank you, America`s Angela Merkel. Oh, thank you. One guy very excited. And everybody else is like, huh?
After that speech they tried to make this a thing. They tried to promote this America`s Merkel thing online. Trump tweeted it to try to make it into a hashtag on Twitter. Shockingly, it didn`t take off.
Most Americans are like, do you say Angela? Is it Angela? Is it -- who is this person again?
Pew did a survey of American`s views toward Germany last year. I don`t know why. But incidentally, they found in that survey that more than a third of Americans don`t have a good opinion or a bad opinion about Angela Merkel because they don`t know who she is. This is not a resonant political reference in the United States.
So, it was a weird thing for Trump to try to start. Hashtag, America`s Merkel. It did not take off. It had no resonance whatsoever.
And it got no pick up whatsoever because it made no sense. It sort of got blank stares, everywhere. Except at places like Breitbart.com, and at the Alex Jones conspiracy theory crazy website, because that`s the super fringe corner of a really specific arcane part of the fringe conservative movement in this country that actually is obsessed with Angela Merkel, and they can probably pronounce her name.
They`re obsessed with her as a race traitor to Germany who is too friendly to immigrants and refugees. That is not a mainstream American view of Angela Merkel. There is no mainstream American view of Angela Merkel.
If you go to a cocktail party and everybody is talking about Angela Merkel bag race traitor, probably what you`re thinking that`s not what I think about Angela Merkel at all. You`re thinking I`m at the wrong party. Who are these people and why do they care about this.
So, we saw it coming in the terrorism speech. Now, we`re seeing it again today in the last 24 hours bigger and weirder. That story and why it`s happening is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Think of this: $400 million. In short, Hillary Clinton wants to be America`s Angela Merkel. And you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Trump campaign weirdly tried to make that a thing a couple weeks ago. It didn`t go over or become a thing. And that`s because it`s only a tiny corner of the American right that`s obsessed with racial politics and nationalist politics in Europe. That corner has made a home for itself at a conservative website called Breitbart.com.
The reason Donald Trump was trying it on for size is apparently because of the influence of Breitbart and that ilk of conservative politics in his presidential movement. The chairman of Breitbart is now the CEO of the Trump campaign.
In addition to hating Angela Merkel as a race traitor to Germany for being too pro-immigrant, another object of fascination is the U.K. Independence Party. U.K. Independence Party is the inheriter of the legacy of the British National Party. Before that, the British union of fascist, like the National Front in France, right?
The U.K. Independence Party represents the most recent iteration of what Europe has had for a long time now in various guises -- anti-immigrant, racial nationalist politics in European countries. And you know what? Most Americans don`t care. But there`s a sliver of if right wing, sort of Breitbart sliver of the right wing that is obsessed with that party.
Breitbart actually has a U.K. and a U.K. version of itself, the U.K. version of Breitbart, their editor and chief left his job at Breitbart to go work for the U.K. independence party much like the Breitbart chair in the U.S. went to go work for Donald Trump.
Editor and chief of U.K. Breitbart went to work for the U.K. Independence Party and specifically went to go work as the chief of staff as the U.K. Independence Party`s leader, Nigel Farage.
And you know what? There`s no reason you should know that. Most Americans have not been sitting on the edge of their seat hanging on every twist and turn in and European racist and neo-fascist political movements. Most Americans don`t have strong feelings about European politics of any kind or the constituent states of the European Union, like most Americans, it`s not a pressing thing.
But one fringe element of the far right is obsessed with that, because they really want politics like that here. And those folks have now been elevated to the top of the Republican Party as unlikely as that might seem. That is how we ended up last night with Donald Trump standing in front of a basically mystified all white audience in Mississippi introducing this British guy, introducing Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party to preach in Mississippi about how politically inspirational it was when Britain voted for Brexit, as if anybody in that room had any idea what he was talking about, let alone how they should feel about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This is a great honor for me. I am going right now going to invite onto the stage the man behind Brexit, and a man who led brilliantly the United Kingdom Independence Party in this fight and won despite all odds, despite horrible name-calling, despite so many obstacles. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Nigel Farage.
NIGEL FARAGE, U.K. INDEPENDENCE PARTY: Well, thank you. Good evening, Mississippi.
I come to you from the United Kingdom. We saw experts from all over the world. We saw the International Monetary Fund. We saw Moody`s. We saw Standard & Poor`s. We saw global leaders giving us project fear, telling us that if we voted not to be run by a bunch of unelected old men in Brussels -- yes, well, it`s OK. They don`t like me either. So, it doesn`t really matter. Does it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW This is the British guy preaching the gospel of what happened on June 23rd with the Brexit vote -- to a bunch of people in Mississippi who are not quite sure if when he says Brussels that`s supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing. Are we against Brussels? Are we supposed to cheer? This is a Brexit? This is the exit with a biscuit.
I mean, it`s like -- I`m not saying it went over any worse in Mississippi than anywhere else in this country. I mean, just before any generic Republican audience anywhere in this country, this kind of thing is getting up and preaching quadratic equations. There`s probably an advanced mathematician somewhere in the room who`s going to have hair rise, but most people are waiting for what to say and think and this means nothing to them and is it over?
This is weird. It`s ten weeks from the American election. European nationalist politics and denouncing Angela Merkel and Nigel Farage and bringing him to Mississippi?
It`s -- there`s a reason it feels weird and obscure. This is a little window into some of the priorities and some of where the political resonance is in this one tiny obscure sliver of the American far right that this guy Robert Mercer has been funding at Breitbart.com. Robert Mercer is now Donald Trump`s donor. Robert Mercer is also the person who apparently brought Kellyanne Conway on to be the leader of the Donald Trump campaign right now.
But he brought on Kellyanne Conway and this guy at the same time. So, Kellyanne Conway is supposed to make it look normal, but the guy running the politics of it thinks you know who Nigel Farage is. If it feels like they`re trying to do an organ transplant here without having first check the blood type for compatibility, there`s a reason it feels that way.
The Trump campaign was never going to be normal politics, because Donald Trump is not a normal politician. He`s not a normal candidate. He doesn`t come from any normal political background. I think there were widespread expectations that in winning the nomination, he would somehow become a more normal seeming political person. I mean, the Kellyanne Conway part of the campaign is certainly designed to make it look and feel that way.
But she`s only half running the campaign. The other part of the Trump campaign has not formed a presidential campaign out of Trump`s existing political views. Several months ago, Donald Trump didn`t know what Brexit was either, right? There`s certainly not forming a normal Republican political campaign out of Trump`s existing political view. I think that`s what a lot of people thought they would try to do.
What they`ve actually done instead is brought into the Trump campaign a foreign thing, an intact, whole, specific, identifiable political agenda that was formed separate and apart from and before Donald Trump, but it comes from a previously really fringy and obscure place in American politics.
The Trump campaign is trying to look mainstream, but it has not been mainstream. It is now a vehicle for something that has never before been this place to the center of American politics. That is what Hillary Clinton pinned him on today, which is what we`ll be talking about with an expert on the subject here, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: This is not conservatism as we have known it. This is not Republicanism as we have known it. These are racist ideas, race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women - - all key tenets making up the emerging racist ideology known as the alt- right.
Now, alt-right is short for alternative right. "The Wall Street Journal" describes it as a loose but organized movement, mostly online that rejects mainstream conservative and views immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white identity. So the de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for this group -- a fringe element that has effectively taken over the Republican Party.
MADDOW: We`ve got more ahead for you tonight, including some perspective on this big, new fight in politics today from someone who likes to fight this fight in person every day, sometimes in very controversial ways. That`s next.
(BEGIN VDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you accusing me of being a white supremacist?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m accusing you of being a racist. Yes, I am.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Good. Have a nice day, buddy.
Will somebody take this guy out of here? You punk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was at the 2010 CPAC Conference. I went to that CPAC conference. It wasn`t that found.
That was the founder of Breitbart News, Andrew Breitbart, in a confrontation with Daryle Lamont Jenkins. Daryle Lamont Jenkins has made it a personal crusade to monitor and expose and honestly to annoy white supremacists all over the country for more than a decade. He`s showed who they are.
He goes to their conferences. He puts pictures of them online. He asks some questions.
He`s been doing this since well before the rise of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. But the rise of Donald Trump and the Republican Party also means this year that following America`s white supremacists and white nationalists around means following them to the Republican convention, including the founder of a white nationalist think tank and journal who hung around the RNC wearing a shirt that said, "Want to talk to a racist?"
But because Daryle Lamont Jenkins has been tracking these guys for so long and trying to disrupt and embarrass them for so long, these guys know him on sight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DARYLE LEMONT JENKINS, ONE PEOPLE`S PROJECT FOUNDER: You know what I want to talk to a racist.
RICHARD SPENCER: Oh, no?
JENKINS: You knew I was coming.
SPENCER: I didn`t know you were coming. I thought you might be dead by now.
JENKINS: No. That was your dream. This country is going through change, and not for the better for you, because you want to pick this fight against everybody that`s not right.
SPENCER: I think you might be creating alt-rightist when you say that.
JENKINS: They will fall with you.
SPENCER: What do you mean by that? Are you talking about white genocide?
JENKINS: No. But I`m calling for the all white to fall.
SPENCER: Just to fall.
JENKINS: To drop dead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Daryle Lamont Jenkins is the founder of the One People`s Project. For years now, he`s been the aggravator extraordinaire of the people who Hillary Clinton made her alt-right speech about today, and who the Breitbart/Trump alliance has now brought into the center of politics.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins joins us now.
Daryle, thanks for being here.
JENKINS: Thank you for having me. I didn`t think I was that intense when I was filming that video.
MADDOW: It didn`t feel as intense when you were doing it as you`re seeing it now?
JENKINS: No. It didn`t. I just thought that I was just doing what I do, aggravating them, as you say, and them calling me everything but a child of God, and, wow. I can be insane sometimes.
MADDOW: You take a lot of pleasure in your work.
MADDOW: You have some joy in your heart about this project that you have made of documenting them but also annoying them.
MADDOW: Can you tell me about your overall approach to them over the years and how you started doing it?
JENKINS: I started this when I was a kid. I always wanted to know exactly where the old Klan from the civil rights era went after we got our civil rights. And then when you start seeing the modern day Klan in your weekly reader, and on television, you start getting more curious about what do they think they`re going to achieve.
So, that`s exactly what happened. I just started following them. Started getting a little bit more curious, and then I started listening to talk radio and started hearing the same things I`ve heard from, like, your neo- Nazis, and I said there`s a problem. And I really just started documenting from then on. Once there was a white supremacist rally in New Jersey about 16 years ago, we decided to form an organization that will monitor these groups a little bit more radical, I should say, than this other probably law center.
No offense to Southern Poverty Law Center. They have approached that we appreciate, but I think we need to get a little more --
MADDOW: They`re a research driven approach. You go out there and personally confront these guys.
JENKINS: Right. I come from a side of anti-racist activism called anti- fund. I come from that cluster. We don`t play games. We get in their face and tell them this far but no farther.
MADDOW: How does that feel -- given that background, especially because you`ve been doing this for 16 years, because all these guys know you and because you`ve been doing this work a little bit in obscurity, but enough that I know who you are. How does it feel to have them at the center of presidential politics now?
JENKINS: You know, I --
MADDOW: To have Clinton calling them out.
JENKINS: I`m happy Hillary Clinton called them out, that`s one thing, but I`m a little annoyed by the fact that they got this far. But by the same token, I kind of saw it coming, because this is all they wanted to do.
We were talking about Richard Spencer a minute ago. He`s been holding conferences at the same time the Conservative Political Action Conference will be held, CPAC, and basically trying to recruit those young people going to CPAC, and once we saw the numbers grow, we said we`re going to have work to do in the future, and this is the work to do.
MADDOW: In terms of the Trump campaign and their relationship with this part of the sort of white nationalist, white supremacist movement, is Breitbart the right key, the right sort of Rosetta stone to look at?
JENKINS: Absolutely. The only way I know of Breitbart is from being a part of this crowd. I mean, there was a gentleman -- don`t want to mention his name now. We all know him. He was a guy that dressed up in a pimp suit to go after ACORN.
We caught him at one of these white supremacist meetings that put together that was founded by Richard Spencer. And when we put him on blast for being here, we had a photograph of them and everything, and Breitbart went on an eight-hour Twitter rant trying to suppress the story. He went after everybody that followed it, everybody that reported it other than One People`s Project, us.
The reason why I confronted them in CPAC, I wanted to see why did he think he was going to play games without somebody saying no, you`re a liar, and the rest is history.
MADDOW: Well, now, with the chairman of Breitbart running the Trump campaign, I feel like everybody is reverse engineering a lot of the work that you`ve done over this time.
JENKINS: Yes, I mean, I think about all the things I`ve seen Breitbart and company do over the couple of years when you talk about certain authors, certain writers that are going after senators with links with white supremacist links. O`Keefe, again, sorry. I said his name, but -- and then you start finding pictures of Andrew Breitbart with some of them.
One of them, incidentally, was roughing up a woman at a Donald Trump rally months ago and you start saying, OK, we`re onto something. But they`re not just in the peripheral. And then when they post the alt-right article, it was OK, we got them. We`re done.
MADDOW: Daryle Lamont Jenkins from the One People`s Project, I hope you come back and talk to us about this. This was sort of an alt-right day in presidential politics, but it`s not a one day thing.
JENKINS: Can I say something right quick? I know we`re pressed with time, but the one thing I would say is let`s not call them alt-right. They`re white supremacists. I mean, the fact of the matter is, the alt-right is just their way of rebranding. They weren`t called the alt-right four or five years ago. They were calling themselves racialists, race realists, identitarians.
Enough is enough. They`re white supremacists and we need to recognize them for that.
MADDOW: I feel you on that. Any time somebody like this wants to define the way I talk about them, I inherently reject it.
JENKINS: Exactly and I`m rejecting this.
MADDOW: Daryle Lamont Jenkins of the One People`s Project -- nice to see you. Thanks for being here.
JENKINS: Thank you. Nice to meet you.
MADDOW: All right. Much more to come tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is a cellphone video that taken in May 2014. In retrospect, it turns this was a key sign that something was about to go wrong. At the very top end of mainstream politics in this country, when we saw this happen in a hotel ballroom in Virginia, we should have known something big was coming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), FORMER MAJORITY LEADER: When I sit here and I listen to Mr. Brat speak, I here the inaccuracies. My family is here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If you can`t make out who is talking, if you didn`t recognize the voice there, it`s hard, right, because the video is taken from far away. That was then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the number tow Republican in Washington, conservative Republican from Virginia.
He was in line to become speaker of the house, but there he was in his home district getting booed and heckled. And we should have known when those Republicans were booing and heckling him, we should have known something was up.
We also should have known something was up when the same Republicans in Eric Cantor`s home district voted out their local Republican Party chairman who have been an Eric Cantor loyalist. They booted him out in favor of this guy who made a big show at a Tea Party event of berating an empty chair and a picture of an empty suit labeled Eric Cantor.
After those things happened, sure enough, Eric Cantor got primaried by a conservative professor who made it a one issue campaign, immigration, immigration, immigration. He said that Eric Cantor was a squish on immigration, that he wanted amnesty for illegal aliens.
This guy was a no name in politics. He was an economics professor. But he got this traction with the hard right wing of the Republican Party, specifically for picking this one issue, for going after Cantor for being soft on immigration, for being for amnesty.
At the time, the Beltway continued to believe that Eric Cantor was safe. He`s in a safe Republican district, right? He was the number two Republican in Washington. There`s no way this guy who comes out of nowhere could turf out the majority leader, but he did. He did it with a huge margin, beat him by 12 points.
And that sent a shock wave through the Republican Party. That was June 2014.
It turns out in Republican politics now, it doesn`t matter how tall a tree you are. The sharp ax that will take you down in modern Republican politics as if you`re not a hard liner on immigration. If you suggest anything other than the deportation, mass deportation of millions of people, anybody in this country without proper papers, unless you want that, they`ll come for you.
That`s how they killed off Eric Cantor. That`s who they got to work at the project of destroying the former speaker of the House, John Boehner. They decided to go after him after they felt like they caught him in his home district talking too nicely about immigration reform in his own party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I don`t know whether we`re going to get to it this year or not. I think we should, but the appetite, the appetite of most of my colleagues for doing this is not real good. This guy is back here with a camera, but here`s the attitude. Oh, don`t make me do this. This is too hard.
You should hear them. You know, we get elected to make choices.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was enough for the right to declare war on John Boehner. He wants amnesty. He wants amnesty. And it was that same charge, amnesty, again, that was how they justified an attack against their golden child Paul Ryan this year who is their new speaker of the house after they forced out John Boehner. The Paul Ryan charge didn`t work.
But why do you think he got one?
Republicans, right, in theory should want to support immigration reform. They`re never going to win national elections unless they do. It`s a demographic issue. It`s an issue that the Republican Party, a lot of the Republican Party knows they need to get right on, because as long as you`re only enthusing white people in this country, you`re an end of life territory as a major political party.
But for a powerful and conservative part of the Republican Party, they don`t care, immigration reform to them is a fatal third rail. If you support anything short of millions of deportations you`re dead. You can see that with Eric Cantor as majority leader, you see it with John Boehner as speaker of the House, you can see it with their attempt on Paul Ryan, the current speaker of the House.
It doesn`t how big you are or how anti-immigrant you are, if you`re short of wanting to deport millions of people.
Donald Trump is still saying he wants to build his wall. But he`s also starting to make some of the same kinds of noises on the issue of immigration that prove to be political fatal for Republicans who came before them. He said yesterday he`s open to softening the stance on immigration, saying, yes, he still wants a wall, but maybe there won`t be millions of deportations, maybe undocumented immigrants will have to pay back taxes, won`t be able to get citizenship, but, quote, "we will work with them."
Is this a turn that will hurt Donald Trump the way it hurt Republican leaders before him? Or does the hard right part of the party that`s been an enforcer on this issue see him as too big to fail? This has been an issue where the right wing of the Republican Party, conservative media has been absolutely uncompromisingly nails on this issue. Will they turn on Donald Trump on this issue too? That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: No citizenship.
TRUMP: No citizenship.
Let me go a step further. They`ll pay back taxes. They have to pay taxes. There`s no amnesty, as such. There`s no amnesty.
TRUMP: But we work with them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: But we work with them? Wait a minute.
That was Donald Trump on immigration last night.
Joining us is Jeremy Peters, the "New York Times" reporter who`s covering the 2016 presidential campaign.
Mr. Peters, appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for being here.
JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: The reason I`m interested in this is not because of the fuzziness of Donald Trump`s position of what was a signature issue. It`s because of hard line anti-immigration forces in the Republican party killed off Eric Cantor, arguably killed off John Boehner, earned Paul Ryan a primary challenger this year. Is there a risk that Donald Trump is treading into that territory, too?
PETERS: I think there is because this has been his signature issue. If you think about Republican politics, Rachel, there are two things that you cannot do if you`re a Republican leader, one of them is step too close to gun control. The other one, is talk about immigration in a sympathetic way and suggest anything that can be perceived as, quote/unquote, "amnesty".
Donald Trump built his constituency on being an immigration hard liner.
Now, I`ve heard people argue that his followers will say, oh, this is just Donald doing what he needs to do in order to get elected. We understand, we know deep down inside he`s really with us. I don`t know the voters think that way, and I don`t know that he`s going to get the benefit of the doubt.
His supporters have tolerated a lot, but I think there`s only so much that they`re willing to take and this might be a bridge too far.
MADDOW: Are there signifiers that we should look in terms of whether or not he`s hit a third rail? Specific outlets in conservative media, specific sort of supporters and enablers who would otherwise have his back on that sort of thing, what are you watching to find out whether this is a real risk for him?
PETERS: I think the interesting one the other night is Ann Coulter. Ann Coulter has been somebody who has stood with Trump on almost everything, has apologized for every outrageous and provocative statement that Trump has made. And yesterday, she criticized him. And then she pulled it back. She said, wait, I`m with Donald, I always will be, he`s great.
So, that tells me that there`s something really deep going on here. There`s an effort by the Trump campaign to reassure people, I would imagine, like look, just trust us on this, he`s not going to betray you. So, I think the Trump people are trying to go out and mute those voices that might be critical.
MADDOW: And those voices, they`ve tried to mute them in the past and they`ve been unmutable, which is both confusing and not a word.
But it`s going to be interesting to find out if they see him as too big to fail in this issue when they`ve gone after so many other Republican leaders on this issue.
Jeremy Peters, "New York Times" reporter covering the campaign -- thanks for being with us tonight. It`s nice to have you here.
PETERS: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`re going to be right back. Lots more ahead.
MADDOW: So, we got some answers last night, some answers from Donald Trump`s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. We did get specific factual questions to answers. We`ve got some substantive news, lots of it, actually, and that news is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I did want to pass along a hello from Donald Trump. I talked to him this evening and I told him I was coming on your show. He said that`s such a terrific idea, and I said, I hope I`m just like the warm up band, your B-band and that you`ll come on the show sometimes too. Maybe you can come visit us in the tower.
MADDOW: I would love to do that. Let`s -- I don`t want to spoil it, so maybe we should call it off right here. And say that`s the end of the interview. No.
CONWAY: I know you disagree with him perhaps philosophically, but I hope Mr. Trump will seat one day, but thank you for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That interview last night was a long interview. I was super glad she agreed to do it. I don`t often get people in high end Republican politics to talk to me. So, unfortunately, for her I wouldn`t release her once I got her. But she`s very nice about it.
In that interview, we did learn some stuff we don`t otherwise, we don`t otherwise know. For example, we learned from the Trump campaign manager, at least according to her, the former CEO of FOX News, Roger Ailes, is not working for the Trump campaign, despite reports to the contrary. We got a definitive denial from her on that.
Also, interesting, the new campaign team disavows the current round of campaigning that Mr. Trump is doing in places like Mississippi where he was last night. The new Trump campaign manager also last night disavowed the national political director of the campaign`s assertion that there`s going to be a full scale Donald Trump campaign operation in New York. He may say so, she`s the campaign manager, she says no.
Last night, substantively, she also over a long discussion disavowed, basically, Donald Trump`s proposed ban on all Muslims entering the United States. She disavowed it, but it is officially the policy of the Trump campaign.
Honestly, in her discussion she rescinded it and said that`s not the policy, even though she said it`s not rescinded as the policy of the campaign. So, that position really is untenable. That`s going to have to go one way or the other, it can`t be they`re not accountable for that policy, but they still have that policy.
Finally, sort of a weird discussion, one that landed in a surprising place, on the issue of health, Donald Trump`s campaign manager here last night agreed that, perhaps, in her words, perhaps, it would be a good idea for him to release more credible and more thorough medical information about himself, as opposed to the hilarious translated dotcom Korean to English digital musical birthday card version that they produced from a gastroenterologist in December.
That letter is patently ridiculous. Donald Trump`s campaign manager said last night that she would pass on a request from me that the campaign ought to release more medical information from Mr. Trump. We followed up with the campaign today on that issue, we haven`t yet heard back. But we live in hope.
We did get some firm answers to questions from a campaign that has been very opaque, I want to thank again Kellyanne Conway for being here and fingers crossed that we do get to speak with her candidate here. Here, or Trump Tower, or on the corner, anywhere, I`ll be there.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END