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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/20/2016

Guests: Al Franken

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: October 20, 2016 Guest: Al Franken

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening, Chris. Live coverage indeed. Thank you, my friend.


MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. We are going to be live at the Al Smith dinner in just a second for the remarks by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton or Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We don`t even know which one goes first.

First woman nominated by a major party for president, Hillary Clinton. 2016, Democratic party. First African-American nominated by a major party for president, Barack Obama, 2008, Democratic Party. First Jewish person nominated by a major part for vice president, Joe Lieberman, 2004, Democratic Party. First woman -- excuse me, 2000, Democratic Party. First woman nominated by a major party for vice president was Geraldine Ferraro, 1984, the Democratic Party.

If you`re noticing a trend here, you`re right, because it was also Democratic Party in 1928 that made the first nomination of a Catholic for president in this country. And that was New York Governor Al Smith. Among the many glass ceilings that the Democratic Party has broken in presidential and vice presidential politics, Democrat Al Smith was the first Catholic to be a major party presidential nominee.

And he got shellacked. Hubert Hoover beat him in 40 states. That was at a time when we only had 48 states. Poor Al Smith.

But he is still remembered and honored among New York Catholics, most notably with this dinner they hold every year which is an election year turns out to always be lousy with politicians.

This is Al Smith`s great-grandson introducing one of the candidates. Let`s go to it.

ALFRED E. SMITH IV, MASTER OF CEREMONIES AT CHARITY DINNER: I was thinking, of course, about the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.

There are actually some rumors going around that he wasn`t going to show up tonight. He could say he wanted to keep us in suspense. We considered having a Donald Trump cutout on the dais.

But if we wanted someone still lifeless, we could ask Charlie Rose to speak again.

It is history that Donald is here tonight. That`s right, for the first time, a Catholic Church is not the largest tax exempt land owner here tonight.

We are honored to have Donald and Melania here tonight.

The Al Smith Dinner is a New York institution. Donald, the kid from Queens, with a big heart and a big mouth is without question a New York institution.

Donald, the microphone is yours, and it`s working.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Al. Wow, that was good. This is a hell of a dinner.

I want to thank your Eminence. This is really great to be with you again. We love it. Governor Cuomo. Great senators.

Hi, Chuck. He used to love me when I was a Democrat, you know.

Mayor De Blasio, wherever you are, where`s Mayor de Blasio? Hello, Mayor.

See, in the old days I would have known her very well, but I haven`t been doing very much with the real estate.

And I want to thank Al and Ann Smith, just a fantastic job you do with the dinner and congratulations. A record over $6 million, right, is their record.

And a special hello to all of you in this room who have known and loved me for many, many years. It`s true.

The politicians, they`ve had me to their homes. They`ve introduced me to their children. I`ve become their best friends in many instances. They`ve asked for my endorsement, and they always wanted my money. And even called me really a dear, dear friend.

But then suddenly decided when I ran for president as a Republican that I`ve always been a no good, rotten, disgusting scoundrel. And they totally forgot about me. But that`s OK.

You know, they say when you do this kind of an event, you always start out with a self-deprecating joke. Some people think this would be tough for me, but the truth is -- true. True.

The truth is I`m actually a modest person, very modest. It`s true. In fact, many people tell me that modesty is perhaps my best quality. Even better than my temperament.

You know, Cardinal Dolan and I have some things in common. For instance, we both run impressive properties on Fifth Avenue.

Of course, his is much more impressive than mine. That`s because I built mine with my own beautifully formed hands. While his was built with the hands of God, and nobody can compete with God. Is that correct? Nobody. Right? That`s right. No contest.

It`s great to be here with a thousand wonderful people or, as I call it, a small, intimate dinner with some friends or as Hillary calls it, her largest crowd of the season.

Ah, this stuff -- this is corny stuff.

I do recognize that I come into this event with a little bit of an advantage. I know that so many of you in the archdiocese already have a place in your heart for a guy who started out as a carpenter working for his father. I was a carpenter working for my father. True.

Not for a long period of time. About three weeks.

What`s great about the Al Smith dinner is that even in the rough and tumble world of really, really hard-fought campaign, in fact, I don`t know if you know, Hillary, but last night they said that was the most vicious debate in the history of politics, presidential debate. The most vicious.

And I don`t know. Are we supposed to be proud of that? Or are we supposed to be unhappy? They did say that.

I`m trying to think back to Lincoln. I don`t think they can really compete with that. But the candidates have some life hearted moments together, which is true.

I have no doubt that Hillary is going to laugh quite a bit tonight. Sometimes even at an appropriate moment.

And even tonight, with all of the heated back and forth between my opponent and me at the debate last night, we have proven that we can actually be civil to each other. In fact, just before taking the dais, Hillary accidentally bumped into me and she very civilly said, "pardon me".

And I very politely replied, "Let me talk to you about that after I get into office." Just kidding. Just kidding.

And Hillary was very gracious. She said if somehow she gets elected, she wants me to be, without question, either her ambassador to Iraq or to Afghanistan. It`s my choice.

But one of the things I noticed tonight, and I`ve known Hillary for a long time, is this is the first time ever, ever that Hillary is sitting down and speaking to major corporate leaders and not getting paid for it. It`s true.

You know, last night I called Hillary a nasty woman, but this stuff is all relative. After listening to Hillary rattle on and on and on, I don`t think so badly of Rosie O`Donnell anymore. In fact, I`m actually starting to like Rosie a lot.

These events give not only the candidates a chance to be with each other in a very social setting, it also allows the candidates the opportunity to meet the other candidate`s team. Good team. I know Hillary met my campaign manager, and I got the chance to meet the people who are working so hard to get her elected.

There they are, the heads of NBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, there`s "The New York Times" right over there and "The Washington Post." They`re working overtime. True. True.

Well, this one`s going to get me in trouble. Not with Hillary. You know, the president told me to stop whining, but I really have to say the media is even more biased this year than ever before, ever. You want the proof, Michelle Obama gives a speech and everyone loves it. It`s fantastic. They think she`s absolutely great.

My wife Melania gives the exact same speech and people get on her case. And I don`t get it. I don`t know why. And it wasn`t her fault.

Stand up, Melania. Come on. She took a lot of abuse.

Oh, I`m in trouble when I go home tonight. She didn`t know about that one.

Am I okay? Is it okay? Cardinal, please speak to her.

I`d like to address an important religious matter. The issue of going to confession or, as Hillary calls it, the Fourth of July weekend with FBI Director Comey.

Now, I`m told Hillary went to confession before tonight`s event, but the priest was having a hard time when he asked her about her sins and she said she couldn`t remember 39 times. Hillary is so corrupt, she got kicked off the Watergate commission. How corrupt do you have to be to get kicked off the Watergate commission? Pretty corrupt.

Hillary is and has been in politics since the `70s. What`s her pitch? The economy is busted. The government`s corrupt. Washington is failing. Vote for me. I`ve been working on these problems for 30 years. I can fix it, she says.

I wasn`t really sure if Hillary was going to be here tonight because I guess you didn`t send her invitation by e-mail or maybe you did and she just found out about it through the wonder of WikiLeaks. We`ve learned so much from WikiLeaks.

For example, Hillary believes that it`s vital to deceive the people by having one public policy and a totally different policy in private. That`s okay. I don`t know who they`re angry at, Hillary, you or I.

For example, here she is tonight in public pretending not to hate Catholics. Now, if some of you haven`t noticed, Hillary isn`t laughing as much as the rest of us. That`s because she knows the jokes. And all of the jokes were given to her in advance of the dinner by Donna Brazile, which is -- everyone knows, of course, Hillary`s belief that it takes a village, which only makes sense, after all, in places like Haiti where she`s taken a number of the them.

Thank you.

I don`t know and I don`t want this evening without saying something nice about I had opponent. Hillary`s been in Washington a long time. She knows a lot about how government works. And according to her sworn testimony, Hillary has forgotten more things than most of us will ever, ever know. That I can tell you.

We`re having some fun here tonight. And that`s good.

On a personal note, what an amazing honor it is to be with all of you. And I want to congratulate Hillary on getting the nomination and we`re in there fighting and over the next 19 days, somebody`s going to be chosen. We`ll see what happens.

But I have great memories of coming to this dinner with my father over the years when I was a young man. Great experience for me. This was always a special experience for him and me to be together.

One thing we can all agree on is the need to support the great work that comes out of the dinner. Millions of dollars have been raised to support disadvantaged children, and I applaud the many people who have worked to make this wonderful event a critical lifeline for children in need. And that we together broke the all-time record tonight is really something special. More than $6 million net net net. The cardinal told me that`s net net, Donald, remember.

We can also agree on the need to stand up to anti-Catholic bias, to defend religious liberty, and to create a culture that celebrates life.

America is in many ways divided. Thank you.

America is in many ways divided like it`s never been before, and the great religious leaders here tonight give us all an example that we can follow. We`re living in a time, an age that we never thought possible before. The vicious barbarism we read about in history books but never thought we`d see it in our so-called modern-day world.

Who would have thought we would be witnessing what we`re witnessing today? We`ve got to be very strong, very, very smart and we`ve got to come together not only as a nation but as a world community.

Thank you very much. God bless you. And God bless America. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

MADDOW: Donald Trump wrapping up his remarks at the Al Smith dinner. We expect that it will just be a couple minutes, but then Hillary Clinton will give her remarks.

Joining me here in studio is Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

You`re a good person to watch this with, senator.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Kind of fun to watch. There were some good jokes there and there were some hits at her that have no joke work whatsoever. So it`s interesting because the best joke I thought was about how the press praised Michelle Obama for her speech and then Melania gives exactly the same speech. I mean, that`s a really good joke. But it`s like a joke.

And then some that were just hits on her that had nothing like there`s something called joke work. I think Freud talked about joke work and comedy writers, you know, try to find -- it`s a skill to write a joke. And there were somewhere he just attacked her and didn`t --

MADDOW: The people in the room were screaming at him.

FRANKEN: Yes. And really -- you know, of course, you know, this is a really important dinner because the American people want their president to be the funniest person in the country. So, this is why this is so important tonight.

But you know, what`s interesting is she laughs, and I thought actually a joke that was good that Hillary knows you`re supposed to laugh and will laugh even at inappropriate moment. I think that -- see, that`s a joke and that`s hitting her.

MADDOW: She laughed really hard when he did that pardon me joke. He said she bumped into me and said pardon me.

FRANKEN: That`s a pun. But --

MADDOW: Less joke work there, I get it.

FRANKEN: No, no. It was okay. And I think that`s why when he said she`ll even laugh at appropriate moments is that she obviously knows you`re supposed to laugh.

Now, what`s really interesting is watching him and see if he can laugh. I`ve never seen him laugh. Chuck Todd made this observation today on his show, which is -- it looks like she`s ready to go up. Let`s go. You`re the host.

MADDOW: No, you`re pretty good at this. You know how to do this. Hillary Clinton taking the stage, as Al Franken says, watch to see if Donald Trump laughs. Here we go.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Your Eminence, your excellencies, members of the clergy, Al and Ann Smith, Donald and Melania, and all the distinguished guests.

You know, earlier tonight Al reminded me that when the first Al Smith ran for president, he chose as his running mate the progressive senator from Arkansas, Joseph T. Robinson, who was one of my husband`s political heroes.

This work that you do through the dinner, Al, you`ve done it now for 30, 30 years, is such a labor of love. You`ve been a hero for both the children of the archdiocese and for the city of New York. And I think we all owe Al Smith a great, great round of applause.

This is such a special event that I took a break from my rigorous nap schedule to be here, and as you`ve already heard, it`s a treat for all of you, too, because usually I charge a lot for speeches like this. But for me, it was kind of ironic thinking about a fiery populist, Al Smith. If he were here today and saw how much money we`ve raised for needy children, he`d be very proud.

And if he saw this magnificent room full of plutocrats celebrating his legacy, he`d be very confused.

It`s a special honor to be here with your eminence. I know, your eminence, you were criticized for inviting both Donald and me here tonight. And you responded by saying, if I only sat down with those who were saints, I`d be taking all my meals alone.

Now, just to be clear, I think the cardinal is saying I`m not eligible for sainthood. But getting through these three debates with Donald has to count as a miracle. So I guess I`m up against the highest, hardest stained glass ceiling.

But your eminence, you do deserve great credit for bringing together two people who have been at each other`s throats, mortal enemies, bitter foes. I`ve got to ask, how did you get the governor and mayor here together tonight?

Now, I`ve got to say there are a lot of friendly faces here in this room, people that I`ve been privileged to know and to work with. I just want to put you all in a basket of adorables. And you`d look so good in your tuxes or as I refer to them, formal pantsuits.

And you know, because this is a friendly dinner for such a great cause, Donald, if at any time you don`t like what I`m saying, feel free to stand up and shout "wrong" while I`m talking.

You know, come to think of it, it`s amazing I`m up here after Donald. I didn`t think he`d be okay with a peaceful transition of power.

And Donald, after listening to your speech, I will also enjoy listening to Mike Pence deny that you ever gave it.

You know, I`ve had the privilege of being at the Al Smith dinners in years past. And I always enjoy it. But remember, if you`re not happy with the way it comes out, it must be rigged.

And it`s always a special treat for me to be back in New York, a city that I love and which I think truly embodies the best of America. You know, don`t you think?

People look at the Statue of Liberty, and they see a proud symbol of our history as a nation of immigrants, a beacon of hope for people around the world.

Donald looks at the Statue of Liberty and sees a four. Maybe a five if she loses the torch and tablet and changes her hair.

You know, come to think of it, you know what would be a good number for a woman? Forty-five. But I digress.

Now, I`m going to try my best tonight, but I understand I am not known for my sense of humor. That`s why it did take a village to write these jokes.

People say -- and I hear them. I know. They say I`m boring compared to Donald. But I`m not boring at all. In fact, I`m the life of every party I attend. And I`ve been to three.

And when the parties get out of hand, as occasionally, they do, it`s important to have a responsible chaperone who can get everyone home safely, and that is why I picked Tim Kaine to be my vice president.

Now, you notice there is no teleprompter here tonight, which is probably smart because maybe you saw Donald dismantle his prompter the other day. And I get that. They`re hard to keep up with. And I`m sure it`s even harder when you`re translating from the original Russian.

But every year, this dinner brings together a collection of sensible, committed mainstream Republicans or, as we now like to call them, Hillary supporters.

Now, some of the critics, and I hear that, too. Yes.

They think I only say what people want to hear. Well, tonight that is true. And here exactly what you want to hear. This election will be over very, very soon.

And look at this dais. We have Charlie Rose and Maria Bartiromo and Chris Matthews and Gayle King and Norah O`Donnell and Katie Couric. This counts as a press conference, right?

It is great to see Mayor Bloomberg here.

It`s a shame he`s not speaking tonight. I`m curious to hear what a billionaire has to say.

And look at the dais, we`ve got the Honorable Chuck Schumer, the Honorable Andrew Cuomo, Honorable Mike Bloomberg, the Honorable Bill de Blasio, the Honorable Dave Dinkins and so many other wonderful elected officials. And we have Rudy Giuliani.

Now, many don`t know this, but Rudy actually got his start as a prosecutor going after wealthy New Yorkers who avoided paying taxes. But as the saying goes, you can`t beat them, go on FOX News and call them a genius.

So, as I said, we`ve now had our third and, thankfully, final debate. Sharing a stage with Donald Trump is like -- well, nothing really comes to mind.

There is nothing like sharing a stage with Donald Trump.

Donald wanted me drug tested before last night`s debate. And, look, I got to tell you, I`m so flattered that Donald thought I used some sort of performance enhancer. Now, actually I did. It`s called preparation.

And looking back, I`ve had to listen to Donald for three full debates, and he says I don`t have any stamina. That is 4 1/2 hours. I have now stood next to Donald Trump longer than any of his campaign managers.

Now, look, I have deep respect for people like Kellyanne Conway. She`s working day and night for Donald and because she`s a contractor, he`s probably not even going to pay her.

But I think the good news is that debates finally allow Republicans to unite around their candidate. The bad news is it`s Mike Pence.

And it`s been a long, long campaign. That should be one of our highest priorities, shortening the campaigns.

And whoever wins this election, the outcome will be historic. We`ll either have the first female president or the first president who started a Twitter war with Cher. And if Donald does win, it will be awkward at the annual president`s day photo when all the former presidents gather at the White House and not just with Bill.

How is Barack going to get past the Muslim ban?

Now, Republicans in particular seem frustrated with their nominee. Paul Ryan told the Republican members of the House, you don`t have to support the top of the ticket. Don`t worry about anyone besides yourself. Just do what`s in your own best interests.

So I guess Donald really has unified his party around his core philosophy. And I don`t understand their unhappiness. They say Donald doesn`t have many policies, he has no policies. I keep hearing that. I`d actually like to defend him on this.

Donald has issues, serious issues, really, really serious issues. And I worry about Donald`s go-it-alone attitude. For example, at his convention when he said I alone can fix it. You know, in the `90s, I said the same thing about America`s health care system, and it didn`t work out so well for me either.

But speaking of health, Donald has been very concerned about mine. Very concerned. He actually sent a car to bring me here tonight. Actually, it was a hearse.

But I kind of want to just put the information out there so everybody can draw their own conclusions and you can judge our relative health. We`ve each released our medical records.

My blood pressure is 100/70. His is unbelievably great. My cholesterol is 189. His is presidential. My heart rate is 72 beats per minute. His is the most beats ever or the least beats ever, whichever sounds best.

But Donald really is as healthy as a horse. You know, the one Vladimir Putin rides around on.

But I can say, without fear of contradiction tonight, that I will be the healthiest and youngest woman ever to serve as president.

But this has really been a strange campaign. You saw it last night. You saw it again tonight. Donald has attacked me for life in public service. And I didn`t get that at first. I kind of get it now.

As he told Howard Stern, he doesn`t like it when women have been around for more than 35 years. But, Donald, we have so much more in common than actually you may realize. For example, I tried to inspire young people by showing them that with resilience and hard work, anything is possible, and you`re doing the same. A third grade teacher told me that one of her students refused to turn in his homework because it was under audit.

And here`s another similarity. The Republican National Committee isn`t spending a dime to help either one of us.

So, tonight, let`s embrace the spirit of the evening, let`s come together. Remember what unites us and just rip on Ted Cruz.

I hope you enjoyed my remarks tonight. I said no to some jokes that I thought were over the line. But I suppose you can judge for yourself on WikiLeaks in the next few days.

Donald will tell us after the benediction whether he accepts if this dinner is over. He has to wait and see.

But there`s nothing funny about the stakes in this election. In the end, what makes this dinner important are not the jokes we tell but the legacy that we carry forward. It`s as often easy to forget how far this country has come. And there are a lot of people in this room tonight who themselves or their parents or grandparents came here as immigrants, made a life for yourselves, took advantage of the American dream and the greatest system that has ever been created in the history of the world to unleash the individual talents, energy and ambition of everyone willing to work hard.

And when I think about what Al Smith went through, it`s important to just reflect how groundbreaking it was for him, a Catholic, to be my party`s nominee for president. Don`t forget, school boards sent home letters with children saying that if Al Smith is elected president, you will not be allowed to have or read a Bible. Voters were told that he would annul Protestant marriages.

And I saw a story recently that said people even claimed the Holland Tunnel was a secret passageway to connect Rome and America to help the pope rule our country.

Those appeals, appeals to fear and division, can cause us to treat each other as the other. Rhetoric like that makes it harder for us to see each other, to respect each other, to listen to each other and certainly a lot harder to love our neighbor as ourselves. I believe how we treat others is the highest expression of faith and of service.

Now, I`m not Catholic. I`m a Methodist. But one of the things that we share is the belief that in order to achieve salvation, we need both faith and good works. And you certainly don`t need to be Catholic to be inspired by the humility and heart of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, or to embrace his message.

His message about rejecting a mindset of hostility, his calls to reduce inequality. His warnings about climate change. His appeal that we build bridges not walls.

Now, as you may know, my running mate, Tim, is Catholic and went to Jesuit schools, and one of the things he and I talked about is the idea from the Jesuits, of the magis, the more the better. We need to get better at finding ways to disagree on matters of policy while agreeing on questions of decency and civility, how we talk to each other, respect each other.

So I have taken this concept to magis to heart in this campaign as best as one can in the daily heat, the back and forth of a presidential campaign, to ask how we can do more for each other, and better for each other. Because I believe that for each of us our greatest monument on this earth won`t be what we build but the lives we touch. And that is ultimately what this dinner is all about. And it`s why it`s been such a great honor to join you all again. Thank you.

MADDOW: Hillary Clinton wrapping up her remarks at the Al Smith dinner following Donald Trump.

This is the visual here is what people imagine when they fantasize about rich elites running things behind the scenes and meeting, you know, privately. Having television cameras there interrupting the fantasy a little bit. But you see the two candidates. Cardinal Timothy Dolan between them.

SMITH: I did see candidates reach across a great divide tonight and shake hands. I think we should nominate Cardinal Dolan for the Nobel Peace Prize, what do you think?

MADDOW: Cardinal Dolan there.

The man who is speaking at the microphone is Al Smith IV, who is the great- grandson of Al Smith who was the first ever Catholic nominee for president in 1928. And this dinner has existed since the `40s. They started holding this dinner in his honor after he died. It benefits Catholic charities.

It is quite a plutocratic gathering. It is a charity event. It benefits Catholic charities but it is white tie which is the even fancier version than black tie. It`s full of some of the richest and most powerful people on earth and this is sort of the way it goes.

Al Franken is here in studio with us.

Senator Franken, I know that you`re a Hillary Clinton supporter. So, therefore, you cannot be objective as to how she did comedically compared to her political opponent.

FRANKEN: That`s right. I can`t be objective.

One thing I did notice is that Trump got the memo to smile and he smiled and then actually -- but he didn`t laugh. Remember, we were going to look for that. See him do that human thing that human beings do, which is laugh at things.

But Giuliani didn`t get the memo.


FRANKEN: And that`s a moment that should be replayed, I think. It`s -- because every -- these are events where everyone takes -- it`s like a roast. Like a mild roast. And I thought that -- she had one joke that I thought was -- remember I criticized Trump for not having any joke work or something?


FRANKEN: When she did a couple of those that I said, ah, and she said about the dinner, it must be rigged. If it didn`t go well, it must be rigged.

And I liked the idea that the dinner is rigged, just didn`t like the execution of that. There are really a lot of good jokes. I won`t go over them.

MADDOW: Can I ask you, I saw what she led off with, I took a break from my rigorous nap schedule.

FRANKEN: Very good opener.

MADDOW: Opener.

Something that got no laugh in the room at all but made me laugh is that she`s up against a stained glass ceiling in terms of eligibility for sainthood. You didn`t laugh at that either.

FRANKEN: I actually missed it.

MADDOW: I think many missed it in the room. You have to be Catholic to think that is funny which is possible why that moved me.

FRANKEN: I get it. That`s a human thing. But I`ve never seen Trump laugh.

MADDOW: The Statue of Liberty, Donald Trump looks at her and sees a four.

FRANKEN: Yes, that`s a good joke.

MADDOW: That`s the one when they went to Giuliani with the camera and he didn`t get it.

FRANKEN: I think the one they went to him on is we have all these great leaders, she named them, and then we have Rudy Giuliani. And he was like - - it was a very odd thing for him not to understand that there`s cameras there and they may cut to you.

MADDOW: How do you feel about -- how do you -- obviously, you had a life in comedy, and now you have a life in the Senate. I think everybody wants you to intertwine them more than you do.

FRANKEN: Right. Very disciplined.

MADDOW: In being not funny since you`ve been in the Senate. I still think you`re inherently funny no matter what you do.

FRANKEN: Thank you.

MADDOW: Do you get frustrated that we ask our particularly not funny candidates to try to --

FRANKEN: Hillary is funny. And I`ve seen Trump be funny. I`ve seen him be funny, honestly.

MADDOW: As a politician or just as a celebrity person?

FRANKEN: I thought that in the first debate, that he had, with all those candidates and she said, you`ve called Megyn Kelly, said you`ve called women pigs and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and he said only Rosie O`Donnell. And he got this big laugh in that audience. And if he had stopped there, he would have been fine.

And I`ve seen him. I mean, it`s an offensive joke, I know, in the context I just kind of told it. But in the moment, it was funny. He was -- you know.

And I think he did an aside here that was really kind of funny. Just to ad lib an aside. And I think that to his supporters, he`s funny sometimes when he goes on stage. And there`s certain thins that he`s been criticized for that I do think were actual jokes.

So --

MADDOW: Except where people took him literally and you don`t think he meant it literally. You think he was hyperbolic --

FRANKEN: But he`s also done the opposite, which is called for the Russians to release her e-mails and he wasn`t joking. And also when he said that Obama and Hillary created ISIS or Obama created ISIS, then he kept saying it was a joke, then he would literally say, it`s not a joke. And really mean it.

And so, it`s fair for everyone to discount when he says something is a joke because he`s -- look, he is this has been a very odd -- today, I came from Minneapolis today. And on the plane there was a couple there with kids and she was a seventh grade American history teacher. She`s been doing this for a while. She said, every year, she`d have kids play both candidates.

And I think this is going back to Gore v. Bush. She said this year she couldn`t do it.

MADDOW: Oh, wow.

FRANKEN: This year she couldn`t.

MADDOW: Because she didn`t want to put any kid in the position of acting out --


MADDOW: Trump.

FRANKEN: Yes. So this is -- you know, I`m not a fan of his. And I think she was right, that everyone wants this to be over as soon as it can.

MADDOW: Does it give you comfort that he bombed tonight?

FRANKEN: I don`t think he bombed. He started okay.

MADDOW: I think when he got to Haiti, he was bombing.

FRANKEN: America doesn`t want their president, it isn`t -- we want our president to be the funniest person in the country. I always -- I used to tell people like friends, I like Gore and Hillary and when they`re doing Letterman, they maybe would ask me for advice and I`d say that. Americans want you to have a sense of humor about yourself.

That`s why I think it`s good to see someone be able to laugh at a joke about them. But then his joke kind of defused that when he said that she`s going to laugh tonight and even at an appropriate moment. That`s a good joke that he told.

MADDOW: Right, then it resonated throughout the rest. And we were looking at her when she laughed.

FRANKEN: That was a good joke. I like when she said it took a village to write all these jokes. And I`m not funny and that`s why it took a village. These are interesting exercises and they`re fun and they raise a lot of money for Catholic charities, which is a good thing.

MADDOW: Senator Al Franken from Minnesota, it`s great to have you here. It`s really nice to see you.

FRANKEN: Good to see you.

MADDOW: Thanks for joining us. It`s fun to watch this with you. I feel like I`m learning things as I`m laughing. Appreciate it.

FRANKEN: Always good to learn while you laugh.

MADDOW: I want to bring into the conversation now NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss who is watching with us tonight.

Michael, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for being here.


MADDOW: To Al Franken`s point about what we`re looking for in a president, presidents have been doing this event, and in fact, this specific event for decades, for 30 years.

BESCHLOSS: Even more.

MADDOW: Do they -- A, do they matter and, B, was tonight any different than it usually is?

BESCHLOSS: Yes, I think they do matter. I mean, nowadays as both you and Al Franken were saying, one of the metrics we use to measure a potential president is does this person have a sense of humor that gives us a sense that he`s one of us or she is one of us.

And that was not always the case. For instance, when Adlai Stevenson ran in 1952, he was criticized by a lot of people for being so witty and making jokes but that wasn`t something as serious as a president -- it didn`t sound like a president. Obviously, life has changed a huge amount since then.

The first one of these things where you had the two candidates was 1960, Kennedy and Nixon. They`d just been through these debates which were, you know, contested, but nowhere near as brutal and as bitter as the three debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have turned out to be. And what this dinner has turned out to be politically is that you go through the debates, you go through a tough campaign, it`s nearly over. This evening when it has been held with both candidates present has been, you know, almost a healing moment.

You could almost rely on it to be an evening where the two were in harmony and each candidate would be self-deprecating and rip the other but it would be pretty gentle and funny.

The reason why I agree but, Donald Trump bombed, you could hear the cat calls and boos, and this is a very Republican audience, traditionally, was that he went beyond gentle ribbing to talk about his opponent going to jail and needing to be pardoned, and, you know, one joke after another that was really a political attack mildly veiled in humor. I think the reaction of the room was that he didn`t get what this night has traditionally been.

MADDOW: NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss, thank you for that. I think it`s important to figure out whether or not they`re funny and whether or not they get where they are.

BESCHLOSS: Yet another institution changed by this campaign.

MADDOW: Yes, exactly.

Thank you, Michael. I appreciate you being here.


MADDOW: Thanks.

You know, in terms of what happened last night and what`s happening now, one of the things that we`ve been dealing with today is trying to figure out the seriousness of one of the things that Donald Trump said last night at the debate which was greeted as sort of a shot heard round the world. Since then, in the aftermath of last night`s debate and throughout the day, people have been trying to answer, what exactly he meant by the statement of his at the debate last night that made headlines all over the country.


REPORTER: What about the idea that you will not -- he says he`s going to look in to the results of the election? Does that give you pause?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It doesn`t give me pause. Do you remember Al Gore in 2000?


MADDOW: Do you remember Al Gore in 2000. That`s been some of the way the Trump campaign has dealt with this issue today about what their candidate said last night at the debate, about respecting the results of the election.

You know, when we do remember Al Gore in 2000, I think there`s a piece about that, that we tend to remember wrong, particularly the liberals among us, we tend to remember it wrong. This is the Supreme Court as it was constituted in 2000. When the court ruled in Bush v. Gore. Do we have that? And made George W. Bush president, even though gore won more votes than Bush did.

You remember the ruling, Bush v. Gore, that ruling was a 5-4 ruling. We think of that falling along partisan lines, the five Republican-appointed justices voting for Bush and the four Democratic justices voting for Gore, that`s how we got 5-4, right? That`s how we think of it.

But that`s not actually true, because David Souter who voted with the Gore side in Bush v. Gore, he was not appointed by a Democrat. He named to the court by George H.W. Bush in 1990. It`s one of the things that a lot of Republicans have always held against Poppy Bush, that one of his Supreme Court appointees didn`t end up being conservative when he got onto the Supreme Court.

But David Souter was appointed by a Republican, and he didn`t end up being a conservative justice. He also didn`t end up particularly liking his time on the court. As soon as President Obama got sworn in and settled in in 2009, David Souter announced he was retiring to go back to his beloved New Hampshire in order to resume his pre-Supreme Court practice of declining all media requests and wanting to be left alone. David Souter speaks very rarely in public and when he does he chooses his words carefully.

Because we`ve heard so little from him over the years, I think the gravitas and the crackling intelligence of his speech can be kind of a surprise when you hear it. But given what happened last night, given the shock that spiked down the nation`s spinal column last night and today when the Republican nominee threatened that this little election thing you got there, this little democratic process you`ve got here, it`s nice, it`s fine, but he doesn`t necessarily plan on abiding by its decision when it comes to the presidency.

Given that shock that`s just been administered to this system, I want you to watch this. This is David Souter. He will not make you feel better about what the Republican Party has done to the country by picking this nominee. But it is comfort, it`s helpful I think, to know that there was a reason to see this whole thing coming. This is Justice David Souter in New Hampshire four years ago.


HON. DAVID SOUTER, RETIRED U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I think some of the aspects of current American government that people on both sides find frustrating are in partly a function of the inability of people to understand how government can and should function. It is a product of civic ignorance.

What I worry about is a remark that Benjamin Franklin made and Susan Leahy quoted Jefferson at the beginning about how an ignorant people can never remain a free people. Democracy cannot survive too much ignorance.

Franklin, in effect, had a comment to which the Jefferson comment is an answer or a response. And I, you`ve probably heard this, but it bears repeating. Franklin was asked by someone I think on the streets of Philadelphia shortly after the 1787 convention adjourned, what kind of government the Constitution would give us if it was adopted? And Franklin`s famous answer was "a republic, if you can keep it."

You can`t keep it in ignorance. I don`t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I`m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don`t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of the places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, give me total power and I will solve this problem.

That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.

If we know who is responsible, I have enough faith in the American people to demand performance from those responsible. If we don`t know, we will stay away from the polls. We will not demand it. And the day will come when somebody will come forward and we and the government will in effect say, "Take the ball and run with it. Do what you have to do." That is the way democracy dies.

And if something is not done to improve the level of civic knowledge, that is what you should worry about at night.


MADDOW: Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter in New Hampshire, speaking more than four years ago, being prophetic enough to now be a little spooky.

At the commander in chief forum this year, Donald Trump said once he gets elected, there will be all different generals in the U.S. military, which is not the way the military works. At the last debate, he told Hillary Clinton she was infective as a senator if she couldn`t change the tax code herself while she was a senator from New York, right?

Senator sounds like such a powerful job. You`re telling me you can`t personally change the tax code even if you`re a senator?

He also said he had a plan to use the special prosecutor system to put her in jail once he`s elected, which is not how the special prosecutor system works or how our political system works. Now, as of last night, he insists there`s no reason for him to abide by or respect the results of a national election, if he thinks the media was biased against him or something else about it that he doesn`t like.

And after the national outrage about that from coast-to-coast, across both parties last night and into today, he still didn`t get why that`s a big deal thing to say, why that is not a thing that people joke about.


TRUMP: I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States, that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election if I win!


MADDOW: Tat`s the joke he made today to open his campaign rally after the debate.

He doesn`t get why this is something that responsible, you know, patriotic people in politics wouldn`t joke about. Or he does see it, and he`s just trying to wear out the nerves, trying to kill the nerve endings that register the hurt of what this kind of specific threat does to our democracy. Maybe if he says it long enough, people will stop being outraged by it, right? As partisans will start to go along with it, we will lose sight of how radical this idea is, we`ll stop registering that what he`s selling is a rejection of the very basic idea of self government that is at the core of who we are as our country.

And if we lose sight of the importance of that idea of self government, well, then are we willing to give it up? Democracy wasn`t solving our problems anyway, was it? Maybe let`s try something new?


SOUTER: Some one person will come forward and say, "Give me total power and I will solve this problem." That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.


MADDOW: We`re having an unprecedented election. We have a candidate making unprecedented threats against our democracy.

But just because it`s unprecedented here, doesn`t mean that no one saw it coming, or that history can`t give us a guide for how to fix it.

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


Good evening, Lawrence.