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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 9/27/2016

The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 9/27/2016

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 27, 2016

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: And thanks at home for joining us.

The most famous presidential debates of all, of course, are the first ones that were on television. Nixon/Kennedy, right, 1960.

And everybody knows that story, right? There`s a million different explanations. There`s a million different nuances and back stories and bits of history in terms of why those Nixon/Kennedy debates went the way they did in 1960.

But one of the things I had always thought was interesting about those debates is they didn`t set a precedent, at least not immediately. After those 1960 presidential debates, the first once on TV, they did not do another presidential debate on TV for another 16 years. They did them in 1960. They didn`t do televised presidential debates again until 1976.

And by 1976, it had been so long and the last ones had been such a huge deal back in 1960 that by the time they decided to do them again in 1976, everybody was very excited. But if you watch the coverage from the 1976 debate leading up to the first 1976 debate, weirdly, knowing what we know now about how those went, it`s kind of ominous and eerie. It`s weird, like they had an inkling of what was about to go wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: The thin man with the blue jacket and searching eyes is Bill Carruthers, Mr. Ford`s cosmetic advance man. He`s searching for risks, anything among the lights, the cameras, the podiums, the equipment, the atmosphere that might distract Mr. Ford. He`s at ford`s podium now rehearsing the sound system.

BILL CARRUTHERS, FORD COSMETIC ADVANCE MAN: Quiet, please.

REPORTER: Yesterday the stand in candidates could not hear the stand in panelist or each other and sometimes the loudspeakers howled.

DICK ARONSON, AUDIO ENGINEER: This is a bad mike?

REPORTER: The candidates will walk in with their miniature mikes already on.

ARONSON: Candidates will be miked -- pre-miked by the White House with lapel mikes and cables coming right down through their jackets and down their pant legs and hanging outside their pants.

REPORTER: By the time their pants legs are plugged in tonight, the sound system ought to work right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was before the debate, "Nightly News" 1976. It turns out the sound system did not work right in that first debate.

It was incredible. This again the first presidential debate on TV in 16 years. It was the first one in color. It was 1976, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford having a presidential debate on TV for the first time since Nixon/Kennedy.

And something went really, really wrong. It happened right after this sort of weird little moment where president ford inexplicably called the NSA NASA, which was weird. That was kind of a weird moment in itself.

And then right after he did that and the moderator turned the it over to Jimmy Carter, he started in on his answer about intelligence agencies but then, watch what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT: And I`m glad that we have a good director in George Bush. We have good executive orders and the CIA and the DIA and NASA or the NSA are now doing a good job under proper supervision.

DEBATE MODERATOR: Governor Carter?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: Well, one of the very serious things that`s happened in our government in recent years and has continued up until now is a breakdown in the trust among our people in the --

(AUDIO GAP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pool of broadcasters from Philadelphia have temporarily lost the audio. It`s not a conspiracy against Governor Carter or President Ford and they`ll fix it as soon as possible.

The pool audio from Philadelphia has been lost momentarily. We hope to have it back any minute. We don`t know what`s happened to it.

Again, the pool audio from the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia has been lost. We hope for the moment. We are, needless to say, trying to restore it. We do not know what has happened to it.

Both candidates have lost a more or less equal number of their words. I can`t hear them either. So I don`t know what it is we`re not hearing. I think they have stopped because they have been told the sound has been lost. I think they`ve stopped talking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The amazing thing about this moment in the 1976 debate, after the country had waited 16 years since the last televised debate, is that when they had this sound failure, it really wasn`t a momentary thing. And they did keep talking for a while but we couldn`t really see their mouths that clearly so we don`t really know.

The sound drop in that debate lasted for 27 minutes. And for those 27 minutes, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter just stood there, ultimately they just stood there, not really talking, not really doing anything, not fidgeting, just holding still for 20 solid minutes while folks worked on it. Nobody knew what to do.

There`s no precedent at this point. Was this the end of the debate? Are they going to finish? Carter was in the middle of an answer. Does he get to finish his -- what happened here?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ed Newman is saying something no doubt interesting, but I haven`t the faintest idea what t is because I can`t hear it.

(INAUDIBLE)

EDWIN NEWMAN, NBC NEWS: It occurred 27 minutes ago and the fault has been dealt with and we want to thank President Ford and Governor Carter for being so patient and understanding while this delay went on.

Governor Carter was making his response and had very nearly finished it. He will conclude that response now, after which President Ford and Governor Carter will make their closing statements.

Governor?

CARTER: There has been too much government secrecy and not enough respect for the personal privacy of American citizens.

NEWMAN: It is now time for the closing statements.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Go ahead and finish your thought, Governor. It was 27 minutes ago that you started this thought and we don`t really know where it cut out so we don`t know how far you got in your thoughts before people couldn`t hear you and you`ve been standing here for 27 minutes and nothing is like this. But go ahead and wrap up. Complete your thought.

It was really weird, right? It`s really strange. But sometimes at debates, at presidential debates weird things happen. That was the first debate in 1976.

Jimmy Carter, of course, won the election. Four years later, in 1980, he was the incumbent facing off against Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. That was the most watched debate of all time until the 1980 record was broken last night. More on that in a moment.

But that 1980 debate also had something crazy happen. Nobody knew about it in the time, but in a lead-up to that debate, somehow the Reagan camp got hold of Jimmy Carter`s debate prep materials. And again, nobody knew it at the time, but that`s nuts, right?

They only had one debate. Reagan clearly won that debate and he won that election. It was not until three years into his time in office that his campaign somehow getting the sitting president`s debate prep materials ahead of the last debate became a real scandal. It actually became a criminal investigation in the Reagan administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Now, the FBI is involved. The Justice Department announced today that there will be a full criminal investigation of just how the staff of President Reagan acquired Jimmy Carter`s campaign briefing papers during the `80 campaign. At the same time, President Reagan says he has nothing to apologize for.

CHRIS WALLACE, NBC NEWS REPORTER: The president was in California today talking about education, but questions about the briefing material shadowed him. What did he think of the criminal investigation?

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: What I need to say. I asked this and they`re doing it.

WALLACE: Will you apologize to Jimmy Carter?

REAGAN: I haven`t said anything to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: "Will you apologize to Jimmy Carter? I haven`t said anything to him," he says there.

Well, ultimately, the FBI investigated. There was a congressional investigation as well, but nobody was ever prosecuted for the Ronald Reagan campaign apparently stealing Jimmy Carter`s notes ahead of that debate, the one debate they held in the 1980 campaign.

Something similar happened 20 years later in 2000. George W. Bush and Al Gore were debating in 2000. Somebody working for George W. Bush`s media adviser was caught and was convicted after she packed up a videotape of one of George W. Bush`s debate practice sessions and mailed the videotape to the Al Gore campaign. When the Al Gore campaign received it, they did the right thing and handed it right over to the FBI. A woman did a year in prison for that one.

Weird stuff happens at debate. And not just in the ancient history ones.

In the last election cycle in 2012, you might remember that first debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama marked by an abnormally terrible performance by President Obama. President Obama is usually a very good debater. He`s good at everything involving public speaking. He`s a particularly good debater.

But that first debate against Romney in 2012, you all remember, right, he just didn`t seem into it. His heart didn`t seem like he was in it. Mitt Romney was super-aggressive. President Obama was laid back to the point of barely being present. It was really like his mind was elsewhere.

It turns out the Obama campaign in 2012 had agreed to that first debate of the 2012 campaign being held on the night of Barack and Michelle Obama`s 20th wedding anniversary. So, yes, maybe his mind was elsewhere.

Weird stuff happens in debates. Weird circumstances intrude on debates sometimes. But even when an appreciation for that rich weird history that we`ve got as a country, last night`s record breaking debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump I think will go down in history not for the weirdness of any circumstances surrounding the debate or any technical failures or criminal scandals. Last night`s debate will go down in the history of weird American debates just for the sheer amount of weirdness that happened on stage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: She`s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don`t -- maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

We have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is -- it is a huge problem. I have a son. He`s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it`s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it`s hardly doable.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I have a feeling by the end of this evening, I`m going to be blamed for everything that`s ever happened.

TRUMP: Why not?

CLINTON: Why not? Yes, why not?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: Somebody who`s been very vicious to me, Rosie O`Donnell, I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her.

LESTER HOLT, DEBATE MODERATOR: We`re talking about racial healing in this segment. What do you say to Americans, people of color who --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Well, it was very -- I say nothing.

I then spoke to Sean Hannity, which everybody refuses to call Sean Hannity. I had numerous conversations with Sean Hannity at Fox. But nobody called Sean Hannity. If somebody would call up Sean Hannity --

CLINTON: Negotiate down the national debt of the United States.

TRUMP: No, you`re wrong. You`re wrong.

CLINTON: No, I`m not.

TRUMP: Murders are up. All right. You check it.

CLINTON: New York -- New York has done an excellent job.

But Putin is playing a really tough, long game here.

The invasion of Iraq.

TRUMP: Wrong.

CLINTON: That is absolutely proved over and over again.

TRUMP: Wrong. Wrong.

CLINTON: He actually advocated for the actions we took in Libya.

I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated --

TRUMP: Not.

CLINTON: -- which I was not responsible for, I concluded it wasn`t.

Then he called her "Miss Housekeeping," because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.

TRUMP: Where did you find this? Where did you find this?

CLINTON: Her name is Alicia Machado.

TRUMP: Where did you find this?

CLINTON: And she has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet --

TRUMP: Oh, really?

CLINTON: -- she`s going to vote this November.

TRUMP: OK, good.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW: All debates are a little bit weird. But just take it at face value -- the number of interruptions, verbal outbursts, uncontrolled noises. Not! Shouted out individual words. Wrong! By one of the two people on stage.

It was just something we have not seen before in a presidential debate. My single favorite uncontrolled verbal tick moment, it`s hard to narrow it down. I mean, yelling wrong, wrong, wrong, like he was a button on a sound board at an a.m. radio show. That was amazing.

That moment where he just yelled not like there was suddenly a heckler at the back of the seventh grade classroom. Not. I mean, it was hard to narrow it down, right?

I think, seriously, though, the best one was where he just said, ugh. When Hillary Clinton started talking about African-American and Latino communities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We need law and order. And we need law and order in the inner cities, because the people that are most affected by what`s happening are African-American and Hispanic people. And it`s very unfair to them what our politicians are allowing to happen.

HOLT: Secretary Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, I`ve heard -- I`ve heard Donald say this at his rallies, and it`s really unfortunate that he paints such a dire negative picture of black communities in our country.

TRUMP: Ugh.

CLINTON: You know, the vibrancy of the black church.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Black communities in our country. Ugh!

What do you have to say to people of color -- I say nothing. I say nothing. Black communities in this country. Ugh!

Mr. Trump also at one point bragged that he gets tons of credit and he`s very proud of the fact that he allows Muslims and black people to golf at one of clubs. He said he gets incredible credit for that. He`s proud of that.

This was a strange, strange, strange debate. Everybody thought that the challenge for Hillary Clinton and for the moderator, Lester Holt, and for the media covering it was going to be raw fact checking, right, the number of untrue things that Donald Trump has said on the campaign trail that he`s not used to getting called on live and in real-time.

He did say a lot of untrue things. Bill Clinton did not sign NAFTA. George Bush signed NAFTA. Donald Trump did, in fact, say that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Donald Trump did not drop his allegation that President Obama is secretly foreign after the president published his long form birth certificate in 2011. He kept up with it for five years.

The murder rate in New York City is not going up. It hasn`t gone down. Donald Trump was in favor of the Iraq war before the Iraq war started.

Hillary Clinton has not been fighting ISIS all her adult life not unless ISIS is something other than ISIS. Hillary Clinton was not the originator or the proponent of the idea that President Obama`s birth certificate was fake. Stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional. Trump did, in fact, once suggest that he would try to negotiate down the national debt of the United States.

The fact checking certainly could be done. I mean, most people can do it off the top of their heads. But the fact-checking didn`t end up being the hard part of how to process this or understand what just happened and what was unusual about last night.

The hard part of this ended up being, you know, the random aside about his 10-year-old son and how good he is with computers in the cyber war and nobody calling Sean Hannity and nobody has sympathy for Rosie O`Donnell and this mysterious 400-pound person in a bed, who ought to be -- in a bed? He ought to be blamed instead of poor Russia who probably did nothing wrong.

I mean, what has ended up being hard to get, hard to put in context because there is no historical precedent for it, is the randomness, the bizarreness of the pronouncements from the stage. The insecure ping-ponging around every sentence like every comma offers a new alternative and a new option for a different direction to go in because this sentence was heading nowhere from the top.

That said, in some ways, there is a case to be made that we did see it coming. That the American people as a whole appear to have had some inkling that something unusual was going to happen last night in this debate. A lot of people watched.

I mean, today is the day to have some sympathy for the poor Atlanta Falcons. Last night, the Falcons absolutely crushed the New Orleans Saint in an away game. They played at New Orleans. The Falcons beat them 45-32, and nobody noticed. Last night`s Monday night football game had roughly 8 million viewers, which was the lowest for a Monday night football game in over a decade.

So, Pity the Falcon, I guess, because Americans knew enough to tune in last night to see that spectacle. Eight million people were watching football, 84 million people were watching last night`s debate. That`s not only a record, that`s not even counting the number of people streaming online. That`s just television viewers.

In a lopsided performance of the two contenders of the debate, it did lead to some strange follow-up news today. Donald Trump initially praised the moderator, Lester Holt, of NBC News as doing a, quote, "great job" and being, quote, "very fair". Today, the Trump campaign started denouncing Lester Holt as if he somehow skewed the debate against Trump.

The Trump campaign and the candidate himself also today repeatedly raised the prospect that Trump`s microphone was somehow tampered with. The candidate apparently believes that he couldn`t be heard last night. I`m not sure anybody who actually watched that debate would believe that was a problem.

Initially last night immediately following the debate, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta raised the prospect I think jokingly, that Donald Trump`s performance was so bad last night that maybe he`d skip the next two debates. I think everybody initially thought that was either joking or maybe some partisan trash talk on the part of the Clinton campaign chair.

But by this morning, a top Donald Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani was saying is on the record that if it were him, he would, in fact, refuse to participate in the next two presidential debates because this one was so unfair. He said he wasn`t necessarily advising Trump to skip the next two debates but he said if he were the candidate, he sure would.

Trump himself tonight telling NBC`s Ali Vitali that, yes, sure, he does plan to participate in the next two debates. That was his word exactly, he said, sure.

That said, his campaign has now raised the prospect that that won`t happen. So, are there going to be two more debates? We`ll see.

If the two additional debates do happen, if this was not the one presidential debate of the 2016 presidential election that we saw last night, I think there is an important question, that is hard to answer, genuinely open question, in terms of what`s about to happen next. And the question is this -- does stuff this weird start to seem normal once we get to see it more than once?

All right. We have never before seen a presidential candidate act as strangely or speak as strangely or behave as strangely as Donald Trump did last night in this at times surreal truly weird debate. He interrupted Hillary Clinton more than 50 times. He told dozens of very easily disprovable lies.

I`m not counting like complicated policy lies where it really is just a disagreement about how things are likely to work out if somebody implements their blah, blah, blah policy. I mean really simple lies. Over and over, saying things like I never said that when he`s on record on tape saying just that.

It was such a weird performance with the grunting and the sighing and the sniffing and the yelling out, not and wrong like a heckler at your own event. It was weird. And the question is, will it still seem weird if and when he does it again and then again if we have two more debates where this candidate continues to behave that way? Does that become part of our normal expectation for how candidates are expected to behave at presidential debates?

Because his strangeness is a mixed bag for us as a country and as a participatory democracy. I mean, his strangeness is, in fact, riveting. There`s a reason 84 million people knew to tune in and watch this thing last night. More people than watched any other presidential debate in U.S. history.

It`s a mixed bag, though because, yes, it does get people to pay attention. But the most important stuff that we said last night was not the hilariously strange stuff, that was not the stuff that made you point at the TV and laugh out loud, or spit out your beer and lose a drinking game. The stuff that was the most important stuff last night was stuff that was deeply, scarily, seriously wrong.

It was not him sniffling through the debate. It was not him advertising his Trump Hotel in Washington. It was not the random aside about Rosie O`Donnell or the computer skills of his son. It really wasn`t that stuff. It was bigger than that and it was worst than that.

And that`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In a normal year, in normal politics, this would be what`s usually described as a teachable moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGH HEWITT, DEBATE MODERATOR: Mr. Trump, Dr. Carson just referenced a single-most important job of the president. The command, the control and the care of our nuclear forces and he mentioned the triad. The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It`s an executive order. It`s a commander-in-chief decision, what`s your priority among our nuclear triad?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible, who really knows what he or she is doing. That`s so powerful and so important.

HEWITT: The three legs of the triad, do you have a priority? Because I want to go to Senator Rubio --

TRUMP: I think to me nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The power, the devastation is very important to me.

Republican candidate Donald Trump during the Republican primary, he had no idea what the nuclear triad is. Now, nuclear triad is admittedly a kind of annoying Washington phrase, right? But it`s not that obscure phrase. It`s not like terrible jargon.

Even if you never participated in a conversation about it or read a briefing on it or even just read about the nuclear triad. You can almost sound it out, right? Use your words. Tri means three. So you can kind of almost figure it out even if you didn`t know, right?

What`s something about nuclear weapons where there`s like three options, like a trio of option. You can almost make it up even if you don`t know it, right?

The nuclear triad is the three ways we can launch nuclear weapons as a country. We can launch them from the air, the airplanes, from the sea, from submarines, and we can launch them from the land, from land-based nuclear missiles. That`s the nuclear triad -- land, sea and air.

Not everybody knows that off the top of their head, but surely like just as surely, everybody running for president should know that because that`s the potentially humanity-ending part of your presidential responsibilities. Presumably, if you want to be president, you take that a priority if you can`t spell it, or sound it out if you can`t do that, count it off on your fingers.

But that scary bad answer having no idea what the nuclear triad was, that was in December. Donald Trump has had nine months to bone up, has some kind of answer ready the next time someone asked him about nuclear weapons. Last night, he got his chance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLT: On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation`s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy? Mr. Trump, you have two minutes on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The first use policy.

Our country, the United States, is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war. We launched two nuclear bombs against Japan 1945. Nobody has used nuclear weapons in war since then. I mean, if you know one nuclear thing other than the fact that the United States has a bunch of nuclear weapons, you should probably also know that we have used them.

And even though President Obama considered changing U.S. policy this year to say that, actually, we never again will use nuclear weapons first. We`ll only use them if somebody else uses them against us, he did consider that change, but U.S. nuclear policy famously, forever, since we did actually drop the bomb on Japan twice, we do have a first use policy.

Obviously. Obviously. We would use nuclear weapons first before somebody used them on us. Obviously, look at what we did with it.

So, that`s the question, right? Do we keep that first use policy or do we change it as President Obama has been considering? Do we change it and promise to never again launch a first nuclear strike? Do we keep it or do we change it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLT: On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation`s longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy? Mr. Trump, you have two minutes on that.

TRUMP: Well, I have to say that, you know, for what Secretary Clinton was saying about nuclear with Russia, she`s very cavalier in the way she talks about various countries. But Russia has been expanding their -- they have a much newer capability than we do. We have not been updating from the new standpoint.

I looked the other night. I was seeing B-52s, they`re old enough that your father, your grandfather could be flying them. We are not -- we are not keeping up with other countries. I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike.

I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it`s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can`t take anything off the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: I would certainly not do first strike. I can`t take anything off the table. Saying you certainly would not do first strike is by definition taking something off the table. You get that, right?

I mean, Donald Trump last night was pledging simultaneously to keep first use of nuclear weapons as U.S. policy, keep it on the table, and he also simultaneously pledged to get rid of first use of nuclear weapons as U.S. policy. He promised both that he would keep it and he would get rid of it.

Does he know which is the policy right now? Does he know that it is a policy that is currently in place and has been in place for decades and that he is pledging to keep it while simultaneously proposing to reverse it, which make no sense and is a big deal if a would be, could be U.S. president doesn`t make sense on nuclear weapons.

After complete whiffing the nuclear triad thing in December, either Donald Trump did no research on this topic because he wasn`t worried about his ignorance on the subject or worse, maybe he did try to learn about it but he learned it wrong. He tried and still that`s the way it came out.

I mean, lots of presidential debates have weird unprecedented moment. But we`ve never seen anybody get this close to controlling America`s nuclear arsenal who so clearly has either no interest in or no aptitude for learning the most basic things about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening. Here`s what did it -- a capacitor, a tiny electronic component costing less than a dollar. A capacitor broke out last night in an amplifier they were using to feed the pool sound to all the networks plunging President Ford and Jimmy Carter into unaccustomed silence for 27 minutes and irritating maybe 90 million people. That`s why.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Weird stuff happens at presidential debates all the time, including in 1976 when they lost sound for 27 minutes. And we now know it was that less than a dollar capacitor and that blew out in an amplifier. Weird stuff happens all the time.

Joining us now, though, is Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian to talk about what we should see as truly weird, truly unprecedented about last night`s debate.

Michael, it`s great to see you again. Thank you for being here.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you, Rachel. I think you`ve been doing great on that.

MADDOW: Well, what`s -- judging this from a historian`s perspective, obviously, it was a bit of a spectacle last night and there was, I think, an unusual contrast in demeanor between the two candidates and just sort of on-set behavior.

But as a historian, when you look at the clash last night, is there anything about it that seems unprecedented to you?

BESCHLOSS: Well, the biggest one is the one that you mention which is Donald Trump asking to be the first president of the United States elected since 1789 and George Washington with no military experience, no political experience at the national level, no government experience, and so, you would think that that being true, the first thing he would make an enormous effort to do is to educate himself about what you rightly call the most important power a president has, which is to launch nuclear weapons against another country.

That`s not only the most important power the president has, it`s almost the only one he can do immediately without a check by Congress or the Supreme Court. So, when you have them make a statement such as the one he made last night about no first use, contradicting himself, you sort of wonder, you know, does he not take this seriously? You know, was he briefed, he didn`t remember it. Why was he so unprepared.

MADDOW: Has there been either in modern times or historically speaking more broadly, I guess, have there have been other very serious national security gaffes or screw-ups or professed misunderstandings at debates?

BESCHLOSS: Yes, the biggest one was also you were talking about `76 Carter versus Ford. That was the first debate with the audio problem.

And the second one, that`s when Gerald Ford said the United States -- there will never be a Soviet domination of Eastern Europe under a Ford administration. He had his head handed to him within about 48 hours. His polls began to drop. He had been going up.

That was one of the closest elections in history. And I think it`s very fair to say that if Ford had not made that one statement, if you deleted that from history, Ford would have been elected that fall rather than Jimmy Carter. But that was a gaffe, that was an offense of much smaller magnitude than the one we`re talking about last night.

MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian -- thank you for giving us your perspective on this, Michael. I really appreciate having you here. Thank you.

BESCHLOSS: We`ll stay tuned. Won`t we?

MADDOW: Yes. I know, hopefully, it won`t be for more nuclear news tonight.

BESCHLOSS: Yes. Be well.

MADDOW: Much more ahead. Stay with us tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: One of the most powerful surrogates the Hillary Clinton campaign has right now is first lady Michelle Obama. Well-received appearances at the Democratic Convention and earlier this month in Virginia. She`s now going to be out tomorrow headlining two Hillary Clinton events, both of which will be in Pennsylvania.

And we have also just learned that First Lady Michelle Obama is about to take her case for Hillary Clinton nationwide. It`s a TV spot by the first lady that this TV show got ahold of exclusively tonight. We`ll show you that new ad in just a minute. We got it before anybody else did. That`s ahead.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: If you grew up as a Catholic kid, particularly a Catholic kid who didn`t go to Catholic school, you may remember spending one afternoon a week after school going to a kind of a weekday version of Sunday school to get you ready for your confirmation, which happens in the Catholic Church in this country when you`re around 14 or something like that.

As a not particularly good Catholic kid, I once got thrown out of my Wednesday afternoon CCD class for wearing a shirt to that class that said on the front of it "Jesus is coming. Look busy", which I thought was hilarious at the time. Sister Jacinta did not agree.

But in poly-sci or sociological terms, "Jesus is coming, look busy," that`s an actual thing. It`s called the Hawthorne effect. And it`s an usual important in today`s news, and that`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The Hawthorne effect. That`s a term that was coined in the 1950s by a researcher named Henry A. Landsberger. It was named after a series of industrial experiments carried in the `20s and `30s, at a factory outside Chicago called the Hawthorne Works. They`re trying to boost worker productivity and the company carried out studies to increase or decrease the amount of light that workers were getting to see what effect that would have on their performance. They also changed their working hours, their break times, a whole bunch of other stuff.

What they found was that every time a change was made to the workers` conditions, productivity improved. And it doesn`t matter what the change was. More light, less light, early breaks, late breaks, didn`t matter. Short-term productivity just went up when they made the change.

What they concluded, to their surprise, was that workers` productive wasn`t increasing because of their varying physical changes to their surroundings. Productivity was increasing because workers knew they were being watched by these people who were studying them. They essentially became more productive for the simple reason that they knew they were being monitored. That`s the Hawthorne effect.

People improve their behavior just for the fact they know they`re being observed. So Jesus is coming, look busy. That`s a version of the Hawthorne Effect.

After a debate like last night, obviously, everybody tries to figure out who won the debate. There`s this immediate need for data, any data who might tell us who won, who lost.

Even in that vacuum, you get a ton of quick online snap polls that are unscientific, right? The samples aren`t weighted. Anybody can vote. You can vote as many times as you want. Those polls are garbage. I mean, they`re fun, but they are garbage.

There was one scientific poll that was taken last night, CNN poll. That poll showed Hillary Clinton winning the debate, 62 percent among -- 27 percent among registered voters who watched the debate. Real poll, real data, statistically significant results.

Caveat though, the Hawthorne effect. All the people in the CNN survey, the one scientific poll that was taken after the debate, all were called ahead of time and asked to watch the debate and then called after the debate to find out who they thought won.

There`s a reason CNN did this. They weren`t wrong to do it. There`s a rule that says that pollsters aren`t allowed to call late at night. So, they had to set it up this way to get people`s permission to call them after the debate.

Those people knew they had to watch the debate and they`d get a late call and asked questions about it. Knowing that, knowing you`re going to be observed in terms of your opinion about this, that can change your behavior. They may have watched the debate in a different way because they knew they were going to be asked about it, afterwards, right?

But for now, that CNN poll is the best piece, maybe the only piece of hard data on last night`s debate.

We did also see at least two focus groups of undecided voters also suggesting that Hillary Clinton won the debate. The mainstream press by and large seems to think that Hillary Clinton showed a superior command of the issues, that she dominated the debate.

But until more real polls come out in the days ahead, real, statistically significant scientific polls, not online garbage, vote as many times as you want -- we won`t really know for sure what if any effect the debate is going to have on real voters` opinions. You may have watched the debate and thought like a lot of people it wasn`t even close, it was a complete wipeout.

Right now, there is only one poll to support that these. So we don`t really know. And that`s especially true because in some quarters Hillary Clinton winning the debate was not the consensus at all. In that world, Donald Trump at worst fought it to a draw and at best Donald Trump delivered a stunning knockout performance. And a trip to that alternate reality is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: You know how you`ve heard all day how Hillary Clinton cleaned Donald Trump`s clock in that in that debate? You were not watching FOX News, were you?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was an enormous, historic victory for Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mrs. Clinton scored by staying in offense. But Mr. Trump hardly disqualified himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think in the end, it was something like a draw. But I do believe that the draw goes to the challenger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She had to prove she was likable. And he had to prove that he wasn`t a lunatic. And in the end, he proved that he was pretty solid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, I think Trump won because he didn`t meltdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She`s so robotic. She`s so plastic. She came in with a prepared little words and lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was all about the temperament, did he have the temperament to be commander in chief? That`s what a lot of people were wondering, you kind of go, yeah, kind of looked like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: FOX News Channel on last night`s debate, seriously. I swear I did not make that up. That was not bad editing. That was not something from a different time. That`s what they said about last night.

Joining us now is Steve Kornacki, MSNBC host and political correspondent.

Steve, thanks for being here.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Happy it to be here.

MADDOW: I wanted to show the alternate reality of FOX News, because it`s inherently funny, but also because I think it highlights the fact that we don`t really have data on who won the debate, or do we?

KORNACKI: There`s a couple snap polls. CNN`s the one that`s been doing it the longest. They take a poll in the hour right after the debate. They call people up and ask who won. They came back last night with a poll that said 62 percent Clinton, 27 percent Trump.

Now, couple of things to note in that one is they even said you`re doing this "on the fly." they probably had too many Democrats in this. They take it with a little grain of salt. You see a 35-point margin, probably in reality, it`s a little less than that.

There`s also a YouGov poll out though, they have one come back with a 27 percent margin for Hillary Clinton.

So, I do think that based on those two polls out there, they`re the closest things we have to purely scientific readings on this, that Clinton in the eyes of people watching, their snap judgment, and that judgment can always change, but in the snap judgment, Hillary Clinton was the winner last night.

It also comes to the other catch there is four years ago, the snap judgment after the first debate was overwhelming that Mitt Romney had won over Barack Obama, and obviously that didn`t end up being the result of the election. So, you have to keep that in mind as well. But --

MADDOW: Right. The initial impression ultimately only is important to the extent that it foreshadows if it`s going to change people`s voting behavior. How -- when would something like this, if it was a clear win in either direction, I would think it would more likely be a clear win in Hillary Clinton`s direction, when would that start showing up in swing state polls and national polls?

KORNACKI: Yes, we`d see it over the next week. And you can look back a the last three elections, where you can really start tracking the movement more precisely.

So, go to 2004 I think is really a good example. Kerry came into the debate with George W. Bush, the first debate, it was September 30, 2004, John Kerry was actually in danger of being blown out in that election. The average was about a 7-point Bush lead going into that debate.

And if you remember, John Kerry was widely seen in the snap poll showed as the clear winner of the first debate. And the result was he gained nearly five points. The margin basically shrunk by about five points over the next week.

MADDOW: (INAUDIBLE)

KORNACKI: And the rest of that race was a dog fight, you know? It was looking like a blowout at the end of September. Obviously, Bush won. But that debate made it a close race.

So, you saw in had that first week and even four years ago you saw it with Romney and Obama. Obama came in about four or five points ahead of Mitt Romney, came out of it about a point and a half, to points ahead. So, there was movement. Again, it didn`t went the election for Romney, but it made it a much more close and competitive election.

So, that`s sort of the wildcard here. I know a lot of people sort of the Trump side say even if Donald Trump didn`t win the first debate, hey, neither did Mitt Romney -- neither did Barack Obama, neither did George W. Bush.

The difference is Donald Trump didn`t come in to this debate last night ahead.

MADDOW: Right.

KORNACKI: George W. Bush in `04, you came in ahead. You can take a loss. When you`re Obama in `12, you could take a loss. When you come in behind, I`m not so sure you can take a loss. That hasn`t been established in modern times.

MADDOW: So, we`ll watch to see what the effect is on the polls and then its durability. But he`s in a worst spot heading into it than she is.

Steve Kornacki clarifying as always, thank you, my friend.

KORNACKI: Sure.

MADDOW: Good to see you.

All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Are you registered to vote? Do you know for sure? Do you definitely remember if you`re registered?

Also, what state do you live in?

I`m going to put in four slides here. They`re alphabetically. So, if your state begins with A through F, it`s listed here. And the date that`s listed alongside the state, that`s the date by which you have to be registered if you want to vote in this year`s presidential election. As you can see, time is getting short.

Now, here`s the next sets. These are states G through L, Georgia through Louisiana. You see registration deadlines. Generally, this is the date in which a registration has to be postmarked. In some cases, though, it`s a date by which it has to be received.

Here`s the third. These are states that begin with M and N. Alphabetically, we have a lot of those in this country. But if one of these states is where you live, there is your registration deadline. It`s coming up.

And here`s O through W, Ohio through Wyoming. These are the registration deadlines in each of these states. If you want to be registered in time to vote for president this year.

Today is national voter registration day, which is conveniently timed to remind people, right now ahead of all these deadlines, that it`s time to get yourself registered. And in a bunch of states, you can register online. In some states, you can go through the process of registering in person, and voting in person on the same day, on election day.

But you know what? It`s better to be safe than sorry and get registered now when you`re thinking of it, than hoping you`ll remember to do it some other later time. Just do it.

Now, the Trump campaign doesn`t appear to be doing something special for voter registration day. The Clinton campaign though is basically going hog wild with it today. Vice President Biden did a big rollicking event in Philly today, pegged to National Voter Registration Day, in front a young audience. They`re pegging all their candidate and some surrogate appearances to National Voter Registration Day.

And they`ve done something that we`ve got exclusively. This is the first time this has been seen anywhere. For the first time, Michelle Obama has cut an ad for Hillary Clinton, pegged to National Voter Registration Day. You`ll see what pops up at the end. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Our children watch everything we do. And the person we elect as president has the power to shape their lives for years to come. Hillary has spent her entire career bringing folks together on behalf of our kids, because she believes every child deserves a chance to succeed.

Hillary will be a president our kids can look up to, a president who believes in our kids and will fight for them every day. That`s why I believe in her. I hope you`ll join me.

CLINTON: I`m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: We got that exclusively tonight. It`s the first time it`s aired anywhere. But it`s due to start airing tomorrow in national cable and battleground states. That push at the end, IwillVote.com is their effort to get everybody to register to vote by the deadline in each state, you can go to that website in order to get voter registered in every state.

Alternatively, you can watch THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW during one of our patented clip and save moments. Take a poster of this, cut it out and stick it to your fridge. If you are not registered by the deadline in your state, none of us are going to listen to you whine about it and you`re going to have to suffer in silence for the next four years. So, really, don`t suffer in silence. Check your registration.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Hello, Lawrence.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END