President Trump remains under fire for refusing to clearly condemn white supremacists. Congresswoman Maxine Waters speaks out. Trump campaign senior adviser Boris Epshteyn discusses the race. More Republican officials come out against President Trump's reelection.
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER -- ARI MELBER starts right now.
That's the second time I have done this, this week. I'm so sorry.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Don't worry. I know the late nights you have been working.
In hip-hop, they say, put some respect on my name. I don't need respect. Just, if you say it right half the time, we're good enough.
I do have a question for you. So, I'm glad you're here.
MELBER: I have watched your coverage. I particularly thought, right after the debate, you talking about how different audiences might see it so differently, as this plays out over the week, I'm just curious, from your experience, how do you tell a candidate or a president, whatever their shortcomings may or may not be, boy, you really messed up, even if you don't think you did?
WALLACE: So, in 2004, that task fell to me because I was on the bus with George W. Bush when the first polls came out in -- and that was when the news magazines, "TIME" and "Newsweek," had some of the best polling.
And, after his first debate, which he sort of famously bombed, against John Kerry, he lost almost the entire balance that he received after first convention. And I went to the back of the bus.
And I said, "Mr. President, the polls are out."
He said: "How did we do?"
I said: "Yes. No, we're not good. We lost everything."
He said: "I think we lost the post-debate spin war."
And I got ready to get right back at him, and say -- and he said: "I'm joking. I know."
WALLACE: So, my point is that normal politician still has a hard time acknowledging mistakes.
But if they want to win, they do when they readjust. My understanding is that Donald Trump was told by all the sycophants around him that he nailed it, that he did great.
And when a couple people did sort of confront him with the big mistakes, the refusal to disavow white supremacy and the fearmongering around the election itself, you can see what's happened. Nothing. He's really struggled to put either of those big whoppers back in the proverbial tube.
So, we will see. I don't think this is a man that knows how to recalibrate. But he is someone who wants to win at all costs. So, I think that means anything can happen.
I mean, you put that so well, and it makes so much sense. There's, the part of him that will do anything. And we have seen that in myriad ways. But there's the other part of him that's his own worst enemy.
His opponents may like that he's in the dark about how poorly this played, not just on the moral or ethical dimensions, which matter.
MELBER: But this is a race for voters and other voters who don't think it was right either.
Always good to see you, Nicolle.
WALLACE: Thank you, Ari.
MELBER: Thank you.
And I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.
And as we were just discussing, this issue about condemning white supremacy, well, we have something new on it. Every so often, there can be a moment of clarity at White House briefings, even in 2020.
So I want you to begin with me tonight by looking at a telling moment, a bad one for Donald Trump, as his own staff failed to handle the continuing fallout for this debate message, telling the Proud Boys to stand by, while he also refused to condemn white supremacists.
For any rational person among the 73 million people who watched this debate knows that happened. And, in this case, it fell to a FOX News reporter pressing the factual question about what happened.
And then you will see. The reporter seems visibly disappointed that the sitting president's spokesperson could not simply condemn this today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS: Does the president denounce white supremacism and groups that espouse it in all their forms?
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This has been answered, yesterday by the president himself, the day before by the president himself.
On the debate stage, the president was asked this. He said sure three times.
He has condemned white supremacy more than any president in modern history.
ROBERTS: But just to clear it up this morning, can you -- naming it -- make a declarative statement that you denounce -- that the president denounces it?
MCENANY: I just did. the president has denounced this repeatedly.
ROBERTS: You read a bunch of quotes from the past. Can you...
MCENANY: The president was asked this. You're making -- you're contriving a storyline and a narrative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: No, he wasn't, he said.
And fact-check true, he wasn't contriving a storyline. And he happens to work for FOX News, which brings me to a fairly basic point. That entire exchange kind of echoed the low point of the debate in miniature, if you think about it, a Trump representative clashing with a FOX News personality over the very basic request that a president oppose hate and white supremacist racism, the kind of racism that America has spent much of its history trying to overcome and improve upon in our society and our laws.
It's an ugly history that we all know Americans fought wars over, amended the Constitution over, and I will even say at some high points, some, that we have crossed ideological and party lines over.
Now, Trump's former aides here are appalled, H.R. McMaster noting dryly that "condemning white supremacists should be a layup for any leader."
There's that word, leader. Of course, what McMaster and so many others, even those who've worked for Donald Trump, are telling voters at this key time, before they vote, is that Trump is no leader.
Now, the fallout over that moment and the debate in general does continue, other insiders just blasting Donald Trump's statements about the Proud Boys as nuts, total lunacy, saying he blew that, for sure.
Top Republican Karl Rove debating Trump's performance the debate from hell and saying the attempt to be aggressive came off as both rude and undisciplined.
Want to bring in our experts tonight, Donny Deutsch, our colleague here at MSNBC, Michelle Goldberg from "The New York Times," and Roland Martin, managing editor of Unfiltered.
Roland, your thought of what factually occurred in that moment of the debate and how the White House is on defense over it well into tonight?
ROLAND MARTIN, MANAGING EDITOR, "UNFILTERED": A statement of condemnation from Donald Trump either in the debate or even from Kayleigh McEnany is absolutely irrelevant.
The question is, is Donald Trump and the Republican Party purposely openly courting white supremacists? The answer is yes.
There's only one party where you have had multiple Republicans call -- ask county chairs to step down -- that's in Texas -- because of racist statements and memes. Not only that. Who has one of the biggest racist in Congress? Steve King, Republican, from Iowa.
You got Marjorie Greene, a racist, coming in from Georgia, is likely going to get elected. You got racist Laura Loomer running as a Republican in Florida right now. You have Mitch McConnell. You have got photos of him standing in front of Confederate Flags accepting awards. Steve Scalise talking to white supremacist groups.
Not only that. This is also the same party that today defends Confederate statues and monuments and the Confederate Flag. You had the Southern Dixiecrats from the period of slavery all through Jim Crow who were standing in the way of voting rights of black people.
Today, it's the Republican Party. The governor of Texas today just said, forget the drop off boxes in multiple counties there because they are targeting Democrats. They target voting rights for black people. They target Muslims. They target Hispanics.
The Republican Party provides aid and comfort to white supremacists in America, period.
MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as I was waiting to come on your show, a producer or someone in my ear said, stand by, and it was very obvious what that meant, right? It meant, sit tight until we need you. It didn't mean, go away. It didn't mean, stand back.
And I think Donald Trump is paradoxical, because he is such a prolific liar, but he also, in some ways, is very honest, in that he has a hard time hiding his feelings, right? We know when Donald Trump hates someone.
GOLDBERG: And when he doesn't hate someone, when he supports someone, even if it would be in his interest, even if it would be in his political interest, he has a very hard time even mouthing the words, right, even kind of putting on an act of meeting this basic baseline of civic decency.
And I think his support for the Proud Boys, his wink and nudge, and for other sorts of right-wing militias and, in general, the sort of pro-vigilante turn in the Republican Party, their open celebration of this 17-year-old who killed -- who allegedly killed protesters in Kenosha, you have to take that into -- you have to understand that in the context of the president threatening the election, of the president saying that he wants his supporters to go and act as ad hoc poll watchers, by which he means sort of show up and intimidate people, something we have already seen happen in Virginia.
GOLDBERG: He knows that he -- I think he knows that he is not going to win this election legitimately.
And so, in some sense, he can't afford to alienate his shock troops. He's counting on them.
MELBER: Yes, I think both of you have made the important connections from the rhetoric here, which so many Americans watch, because candidates speak to each other in these debates, or over each other, as it were, to the actions, Texas very affirmatively limiting access to what is lawful voting in a state that was governed under the Voting Rights Act and the pre-clearance process precisely because of a judicial finding of a history of racism.
Not my words, not Roland's words, just what the evidence exhaustively under oath in court established.
MELBER: And that is reinforced here, then, by, as Michelle illuminates that strategy.
And so all of that comes together.
And, Donny, I'm going to get you. Stay with me. But I want to put some other evidence on the table, which is, you have a campaign on the Biden side that's discussing this as if they're up by a good amount.
And yet, 33 days out, there are, yes, clear signs Trump is trailing in state polls and in some early voting data and fund-raising, and in these signs, as Michelle mentioned, that they're operating like they're behind.
But even if being a bit behind now doesn't mean much about the final results, and people who oppose Trump may just like the idea that he's behind and losing, but using the wrong evidence over time is not only inaccurate, but, as a political matter, it may undercut the strategy and actions that Trump's opponents take.
So Biden's approach to debates or spending money could be really different whether the premise is, one, Biden's winning and needs to just hold on, steady as she goes, rather than a premise that it's tied or even Biden might be down.
So, as the panel stays with me, I want to show everyone tonight something pretty important that we have put together briefly, data that you might hear less about, a comparison of the battleground states that Trump actually won narrowly last time, compared to today.
Florida. At this point in Florida, Clinton was up two points on Trump. That's within the margin of error, Biden right now doing worse than she was then, roughly deadlocked. Now, that, of course, is a big swing state. And there is math where a Democrat could lose Florida and win the election.
But, also, look at some of these key blue-leaning states historically, warnings here for Biden tonight. In Pennsylvania, Clinton was up by 12 points. That was seen that as the kind of state lead that's insurmountable, allows you to move resources away in traditional math.
Well, she lost. Biden leads Trump there by less, by only nine points right now.
Or the very famous Wisconsin, which Democrats do tend to need to ever win the Electoral College. Clinton was leading by a narrow four points around this time and lost. Biden leaves Trump by only two points more than she did at this time.
Michelle, having covered both of these cycles, to you and then Donny, what do you make of that comparative math?
GOLDBERG: Look, obviously, it's frightening. And, obviously, the lesson of 2016 is, nobody should take anything for granted.
And I think that one of the problems in 2016 is that a lot of Democratic voters or potential Democratic voters did take things for granted. They felt like they had license either to stay home or to indulge themselves and vote for a third party.
So, look, nobody should act like this is in the bag. I do think it's a -- there's something different about being up by over 50 percent, right, because you just -- Trump doesn't just have to sort of make up the gap. He has to pull away some of Biden's support.
And so I think that you can look at these numbers and just say, there's far fewer people who are undecided. There's far fewer people who are gettable for Trump at that -- at this point, and take some comfort from that, if you're terrified of another Trump turn.
But, yes, nobody -- nobody should be relaxing, and I don't think anybody is relaxing.
MELBER: I'm going to go to Donny first, who has been patiently with us. I see, from Roland's face, he has other thoughts.
But, Donny, go ahead first.
DONNY DEUTSCH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You know, there are obviously lessons in 2016. But we're in a very, very different world now, beyond the racial wildness that basically Trump tried to use in 2018 with the caravan that never showed up, that clearly did not work, as the House took 40 seats away.
We have got corona. We have got over 200,000 people dead, heading to 400,000 by the end of the year. And I think, particularly as it heats up in October, I think that's going to continue to actually widen those margins.
And you also left out Michigan and Wisconsin and Arizona. And so there might be a couple of those states that are showing those kinds of nervous signs.
MELBER: We had Wisconsin in there.
DEUTSCH: Wisconsin was in there? I'm sorry. I stand corrected.
I believe this is a moment in time -- and I actually think Trump's going to lose in a landslide. I really do. I don't want to get overconfident. But I think -- and I think, if you take the debate of the other night, any undecided voter, if there are 12 or 14 percent left -- and I don't want to meet them, by the way, because anybody who is undecided at this point, I don't what planet are you living on?
I think that, if you just saw that debate, you went, do I want more of the same? And you go, no, I just -- time for something new.
And I think that kind of visceral thing happened in the other direction with Hillary, particularly 10 days out, when the Comey e-mails dropped. I think -- I'm going to equate the Comey e-mails with the debate.
You saw that, and you went, oh, I can't take any more of this. I will give this guy a chance.
And I think all that kind of what the hell vote goes now for Biden vs. it went for Trump. So, obviously, the Democrats have got to play like they're from behind.
DEUTSCH: They can't feel good about things.
MELBER: Although, in fairness, Donny, in fairness, James Comey says, he thought about it, and he still thinks he was right.
DEUTSCH: Well, whether he was right or not...
MELBER: No, I'm just saying it settles it.
No, I mean, I'm joking.
DEUTSCH: Oh, I'm sorry.
MELBER: I'm joking.
DEUTSCH: By the way, editorializing, clearly, it shifted the election.
Comey can think whatever he wants.
And I'm a little slow on the take tonight, obviously. Excuse me.
MELBER: No, you're good. Or my joke wasn't funny, and so it didn't even register.
But go ahead.
DEUTSCH: Ari, you are always very funny.
Like I said, I'm an older gentleman now. These things, sometimes, you have to repeat yourself a couple of times.
DEUTSCH: But something to obviously look out.
But I don't believe Trump doubling and tripling down on the racial disgustingness is going to help at this point.
DEUTSCH: I think he's actually doing it as a head-fake, because there's nowhere else to go right now.
MELBER: Right. Where does he go?
MELBER: Well, to your point, Roland -- stay with me -- Donny makes a point. And we really go through the evidence.
There's a million political opinions. We go through the evidence. I'm going to get to Donny.
But, on this point about what people saw, this is worth registering, because those of us who watch the news, we watch all of it, right?
But some people, of course, are busy living their lives. They did tune in, 73 million people. It's one of the highest audiences for any American debate in history. If you look at the comparison here, in 2008, about 52 million watched Obama-McCain. In 2016, that was a record 84 million.
But, Roland, to the point Donny raises, the numbers back up the fact that this was, however unwatchable it seemed, one of the actually most watched debates in the modern era.
MARTIN: But here's the thing that we got to put this thing on the table.
And I'm sorry, Michelle. I'm sorry, Donny. It has to be put here. The majority of the electorate are going to be white people. The last election, 72 percent of all ballots cast were by white Americans.
This election, they're estimating it's likely going to be 68 or 69 percent. A tape came out in 2016 that we were sure women were going to be shocked and stunned and just aghast at Donald Trump. And 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump.
As an African-American, I am used to white Americans taking racism and putting it aside and putting their tax cuts in front of it, and putting pro-life in front of it, and putting housing in front of it, and putting other issues.
And so I have to see white America prove to me that they're going to reject the white supremacy of Donald Trump, because the voters of Iowa didn't reject Steve King.
MELBER: Let me get clarity.
And I'm running over on time, but this is important. I'm going to get Donny, who's literally raising his hand to respond.
MELBER: But just to be clear, Roland, are you saying you think, at this moment, you see it's likely Donald Trump will be reelected?
What I'm saying, as a black man, I will never say that publicly. I will say Joe Biden is down 10 points because I don't trust the people who are responding to pollsters, because what you cannot measure is the intensity of people who normally don't vote in elections.
And if you roll the tape from four years ago, I said the very same thing on MSNBC 60 days out to Hillary, to Podesta, to Robby Mook. Get your heads out of your iPads. Listen to the ground.
I simply don't trust that, because the results are the results. We swore women were not going to vote for Trump, and 53 percent of white women voted for him.
MARTIN: And that's how he won.
MELBER: And, if we did roll the tape, to Roland's point, we showed the data tonight, Donny, that, in key places, it's narrower than it was then, when it's still close for Trump.
MELBER: Let me say this.
I got to go to Maxine Waters right after this. It's our shortest 30-second break.
But, Donny, you were raising your hand. You get the final rebuttal.
DEUTSCH: Only because that's a good point.
Roland, I -- by the way, I feel your passion. I have been going on the air saying that, basically, if you're voting for Trump, it's one of two reasons. It's an extra dollar in your pocket or you're a racist, an out-and-out racist or a subtle racist, one thing or the other.
Having said that, with the backdrop of corona, with the backdrop of 100,000 -- of health insurance on the table for 100 million Americans, even if they're not voting with a moral imperative, I think there's enough that's going to take him out of office.
And, unfortunately, he's there because 40 percent of this country is still grotesquely racist. So, we're on the same page. I think the outcome is going to be much different this time, I pray.
MELBER: As promised, I got to fit in the break.
MARTIN: I'm praying.
MELBER: I want to thank Donny, Michelle.
Go ahead, sir.
MARTIN: I'm just saying, I'm praying.
MELBER: Oh, praying.
Now, do you pray in or out of that iPad?
MARTIN: I pray -- look, my wife is a minister. So, trust me, we got prayer warriors to make sure this thug loses in November.
MELBER: Well, you know, Roland, when I grew up, they always said, you don't need Wi-Fi to reach God.
MELBER: They didn't really say that, but it -- maybe they will start saying it. I don't know.
MELBER: Roland, Michelle, and Donny, a lot of passion on important issues.
As I mentioned, when we're back in 30 seconds, Congresswoman Maxine Waters on all of this -- when we return.
MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT.
New details on a story we mentioned at the top of the hour, Donald Trump and the Republicans literally urging partisan efforts and getting supporters to -- quote -- "watch the polls."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully.
Watch it. Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do.
We're going to have sheriffs and we're going to have law enforcement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: This goes beyond rhetoric.
The Republican National Committee has publicized now a goal of 50,000 volunteers that would also do partisan poll watching, and then Donald Trump Jr. put it in these terms -- a quote -- "army."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: We need every able-bodied man, woman to join army for Trump's election security operation. We need you to help us watch them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Let me be clear. There are legal ways to do this. And, obviously, regardless of what party you're in, you can do it.
There's also illegal ways to extend this kind of operation, if it amounts to partisan politicking close to where voting occurs, which is usually barred, or, for example, illegal voter intimidation.
Democrats point to examples of that, like just last month in Virginia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... is in full swing in Virginia, and there are accusations of voter intimidation.
CROWD: Four more years! Four more years!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So much tension on this year's election. The Trump train rolls into the Fairfax County Government Center during the second day of early in-person voting on Saturday.
County officials say they won't allow any future events in this area when voters are nearby.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, the context more widely, beyond anything that any politician says is, of course, the environment in the United States.
Look at the facts in Louisville. Men were dressed up in tactical gear. They carried long guns and semiautomatic weapons, patrolling the streets. Many saw it as an attempt to intimidate, in that case, free speech rights, rather than voting rights. This was related to the debate over the handling of the Breonna Taylor case.
And then there's something that we're about to get into with our next expert guest. There is a long history in this nation of people , and it is traditionally white people in charge, trying to intimidate minorities, and specifically black Americans, from exercising their voting rights and civil rights.
It ranges, of course, from all the things that America tried to uproot, the Jim Crow restrictions on whether people could go to school together, sit at lunch counters together, to the ongoing debates that we have been reporting on tonight regarding your right, no matter who you are, to cast a vote when and where you choose.
With that context, we turn to Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Democrat of California, the chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, and someone who's worked on many of these issues, and who has joined us on civil rights issues before.
First of all, good evening to you.
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): Thank you. I'm delighted to be with you this evening.
And I thank you for bringing attention to what is being organized, basically by the president of the United States. It is simply voter intimidation, where they're talking about having over 50,000 volunteers who are going to be poll watchers that's being organized by the president's son.
They're simply targeting minority communities, targeting low-income communities, and making sure that they do everything possible to intimidate and frighten and keep people from voting.
The history of this is replete with these kinds of actions. As a matter of fact, if we go back through the history of intimidation, we find that, when African-Americans were intimidated by bosses where they worked in many of our Southern states, or they were renting from white managers and owners of property, who said, if you go to the polls to vote, we're going to evict you.
I mean, everything from being intimidated about your job, being intimidated about your ability to rent a place, being intimidated at the polling place, asking you to count the number of beans in a -- jellybeans in a jar, it goes on and on.
And it's moved to another level that we all know about, and we have all seen happen before.
WATERS: And that -- when you put these bullies out there with armbands talking about they are, what, national ballot security task force, as being described by Trump Jr., that is meant to intimidate.
We recall what happened in Florida when they went through, and they told people, if you have ever been arrested, or if...
WATERS: ... you're on a list as someone who's committed a felony, and they had people actually scared away from the polling places.
MELBER: Yes, and, Congresswoman, I just want to jump into play -- because it's important and I appreciate your points -- the -- some of this audio that leaked, because, as I mentioned, there is a potential legal way to do this.
And then there's the many illegal aliens and racist ways that it's been done. And some of the audio that is bad for the Trump campaign here is an adviser saying it's time to go on offense.
Well, again, if you're poll watching to make sure things are fair, that's allowed. If you're going on -- quote -- "offense" and trying to restrict the right to vote, you could end up in jail, as long as the laws are enforced.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JUSTIN CLARK, TRUMP DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Their voters are all in one of the part of the state.
So let's start playing offense a little bit. And that's what you're going to see 2020. It's going to be markedly different. It's going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MELBER: Congresswoman, your response to them describing this as -- quote -- "going on offense."
WATERS: What they're simply saying is, they're going to organize and use the tactics of intimidation for voter suppression. That's basically what they're describing.
And, you know, they are not ashamed to describe this and talk about this. It is shocking that the president of the United States of America could be organizing in such a fashion, number one, to talk about mail-in voting is going to be fraudulent, making people to think ahead of time that there's something wrong with the system.
It is absolutely unthinkable and unconscionable that they would organize openly to talk about how they're going to intimidate at the polling place with so-called watchers.
But that's what they're doing.
WATERS: And this is a sad time in the history of this country...
MELBER: I hear you.
WATERS: ... to have the president of the United States of America who unashamedly is organizing right in -- before our very eyes to do intimidation of voters.
WATERS: And we have to work against it.
We have got to see to it that the local police are there when his hoodlums drive up in their motorcycle with their guns in carry states and all of that.
WATERS: The people at the polls need to be protected from that kind of...
MELBER: I think all that makes sense.
I'm only jumping in because I got one more point. It's a little lighter.
MELBER: It involves Obama, OK?
There's a very popular corner of the Internet called The Shade Room. You and some of our viewers may be familiar with it. And it's -- it does a lot of different stuff, pop culture, this and that.
But, apparently, former President Obama's hip to it, because he went there because it's so popular, even though it's not usually involved in voting. And he put a message out to that community.
I want to play it for our viewers and for your response. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hey, roommates, Barack Obama here, yes, coming to you from The Shade Room.
As you know, the election is coming up. And I have got just one word for you: Vote. That's because there's a lot at stake in this election, not just our pandemic response or racial justice, but our democracy itself, because now is the time to fight for what we believe in.
Let's go out and win this thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I just have about 30 seconds.
But I didn't want people to see that. There's lightness and darkness. There's all this. What is important to you about the president and other people, the former president, using their platform, particularly going out to the Internet and other places where people aren't always talking politics, and reminding people about their voting rights?
WATERS: Well, I think it's very important, particularly important for Obama, who was a respected president of the United States, who people believe when they hear from him.
And for him to go into The Shade Room, that means that not only is he serious about encouraging voting, but he's going to get a whole 'nother population of young people involved, who understand why it's important to be in The Shade Room.
MELBER: Makes sense to me.
And you're busy. We appreciate you making time tonight, Congresswoman.
WATERS: Thank you so very much for discussing this intimidation the way it should be discussed, so people will understand what we're up against.
MELBER: I hear that. People got to get ready.
I always say, make up your mind, vote for whoever you want, but this is a democracy, and everyone has that right to vote, and we're going to be on it.
Thank you, Congresswoman.
WATERS: Thank you.
MELBER: When we come back, there's a stampede of Trump allies and Republican officials going towards Joe Biden. It may have just gotten worse for Donald Trump.
And, later, I have a very special fact-check, because we actually are seeing evidence that facts matter. They may change minds. We're going to get into all that on what's on the line in 2020 later this hour.
MELBER: You hear the word unprecedented a lot these days, but it does fit.
We are 33 days out from this election, and we have something that just doesn't usually happen 30 or 15 days out, huge, famous and prominent Republicans rebuking their own party leader and endorsing a Democrat, sometimes a Democrat they have passed criticized many times, Joe Biden.
We just saw, for example, three Trump insiders who worked with him in various capacities just last night joining together, abandoning Trump and supporting Biden.
Today, the former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- you may remember him -- retired Army General Stanley McChrystal, he was actually forced to end his long and pretty illustrious career in the military because he broke the chain of command by being quoted in a newspaper, or "Rolling Stone," a magazine, criticizing Joe Biden.
Well, whatever he felt then, it's way worse against Trump, because he just announced he's backing the former vice president.
Meanwhile, over 50 former U.S. national security officials in the GOP also backing Biden, a former chair of the party backing Biden, Kasich, Powell, Cindy McCain. It's a long list.
And it also reflects, in some cases, people who either supported or basically went along with their party's person, and then over time did change against Trump. It's a key strategy for Biden to find people and pull them over time.
Those insiders that we just spoke to last night, they told us how long it took to turn on Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: How many years, in your account, in your mind, did it take to change your mind about Trump?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: A decade.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Seven years.
TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP: THE ART OF THE DEAL": Zero. I knew who he was at hello.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Joining me now is Alicia Menendez, host of "AMERICAN VOICES" on MSNBC.
Good to have you.
ALICIA MENENDEZ, MSNBC HOST: Hey, Ari.
MELBER: You look at that time frame, and that's part of this, time of the essence, 33 days out, because there are voters, as you know, from being around and covering politics, who struggle to change their mind or how it plays in their friend group or when they do it.
What do you see here in the potential encouragement, if you want to call it that, permission structure, whatever, in having so many big shots, including people who may have issues with Biden, like McChrystal, out front right now?
MENENDEZ: I mean, how damning to have so many people who've worked with you directly say that they can't support your candidacy?
And to underscore a point you made, how unusual to have so many elites from one party come out and proactively endorse the presidential candidate of another party?
I would put these defections in two different categories. You have people like Cohen there who really were Trump loyalists, came to politics through Trump. Then you have people like Bolton, who I think are seen more as insiders, as institutionalists. I think they potentially appeal to different voters.
But to get to what you were just saying there, it really is about that permission structure. It's what you and I keep hearing from the organizers who are trying to get people who voted for Trump four years ago to feel like they have the option of not voting for them again.
And you said it exactly right. It's about those casual conversations with your family, in your friend group. And I think part of what they have understood is that, as sort of shiny as these people are, and as much as they create headlines, all of the people you just rattled off, sometimes, the most effective messenger is really someone who is peer to peer, who is an everyday voter...
MENENDEZ: ... someone who says, I'm Republican, or I'm a Christian, and I too am voting for Joe Biden.
It's why you see Republicans Against Trump Buying billboards in North Carolina with the faces of Republican voters explaining why they're voting for Joe Biden, because, sometimes, that is actually the more effective way to get the point across.
MELBER: Yes, you put it like that, Alicia, it's interesting hearing you lay it out.
I mean, we hear this term imperfect messenger. But life is imperfect. Politics is far from perfect. Everyone feels that way. In 2016. I talked to a lot of voters -- I'm sure you did -- who really felt that they didn't love either choice, that there weren't perfect choices, in their views. Other people were happy with both or one of the choices they were able to make.
But some of these imperfect Trump messengers may actually appeal to the type of person who, for whatever reason, hasn't been moved by everything else. So I'm not saying that Anthony Scaramucci is the most popular person in America. It's no insult to him. And I think he'd agree if I had him on there. He doesn't have the polling of a Tom Hanks.
But there may be people who are sympathetic to Trump for whatever reason and look at him and say, well, yes, I kind of feel like Anthony did. I kind of did like XYZ, the glitz, in the beginning, but now I'm having second thoughts.
With that in mind, for your analysis, take a look at one more point that Anthony shared with us in that joint interview last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCARAMUCCI: I was actually trying to stay loyal after I got fired. And I ended up seeing a lot of things that you couldn't take.
COHEN: There was a lot of good moments. And when Donald Trump is good, he's good. But when he's bad, he's worse than evil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Is it more persuasive politically for people to acknowledge that there are things that some folks might like about Trump that still don't make him worthy of another term?
I think that sort of is what political communicators always call getting inside the circle, that, if you acknowledge that there's something about him that a voter finds appealing, and then pivot to the point that they might have some discomfort with, then it creates a sense of commonality.
I was also struck in your interview, though, something that Michael Cohen said about the celebrity and the appeal of the celebrity.
MENENDEZ: And you can tell that he retroactively might feel a little bit foolish about it, but it does speak to that, sort of the durability of Trump's brand, right, even in light of the taxes, even in light of what we now are learning about his business, that there is this -- still this sense out there that, despite no record to back it up, that he is a successful businessman.
And so I found that really resonant. And I also found it interesting, when you talk about someone like Bolton and some of the other high-level Republicans that have come forward, Ari, that they're willing to say, I'm not going to vote for Donald Trump, but they're not willing to go so far out there that they say that they're going to support Joe Biden.
MELBER: Yes, what is that, though?
MENENDEZ: And that's -- yes, I think that is about existing within a framework where you're saying, am I choosing between ideology one, or am I choosing ideology two?
When, perhaps, in light of the debate in the coverage that I have watched you do over the past several minutes, you -- has that dynamic shifted? Are we talking about one candidate who is actively undermining democracy, with lies about voter fraud, by telling his supporters to go to the polls and act as poll watchers...
MENENDEZ: ... and another candidate who has not, because those are different choices.
But did Howard Zinn not say you can't be neutral on a moving train?
And I think -- and here's another thing I wondered, Ari, with the people, because it's not just Bolton who has come out and said, I'm not going to vote for Trump, but has not also proactively come out and said that about -- that he will support Biden.
You saw that both with former President Bush. You saw it with Senator Romney, where they have made it clear that they're not going to vote for Trump, but they're not necessarily coming out in support for Vice President Biden, that I wonder if that appeals to a different voter, Ari, right?
MENENDEZ: If there is a different voter who says, I'm comfortable living in the space where I am saying, I am not going to double down on Trump, but I am not yet comfortable enough to proactively support a Democratic candidate, that perhaps that is a different permission structure.
MELBER: Right. Right.
And, as you say, if it's math, and that still peels off a vote, in some places, that may matter.
We're going to fit in a break.
Can I shout out your show?
MELBER: You know, 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on weeknights, we do THE BEAT, but 6:00 p.m. Eastern on weekends, I hope you meet up with Alicia Menendez, because, at 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. weekend nights, a new show that we're proud of.
Thanks for coming on.
MENENDEZ: Thanks, Ari.
Trump allies are worried about more than just the debate. The tax bombshell seems to have legs, and Donald Trump contradicting himself, claiming he supports Obamacare now? We have the facts for you that may come up in voter conversations.
And another special guest coming up tonight.
Stay with me.
MELBER: Welcome back.
And we're now joined by Boris Epshteyn. He is an adviser to the Trump campaign, for that perspective, as the election comes up.
Thanks for being here.
BORIS EPSHTEYN, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN STRATEGIC ADVISER: Ari, great to be back with you. How are you, my friend?
MELBER: I'm good.
Donald Trump famously opposed Obamacare, ran against it, tried to extinguish it. How do you think that is playing here during the pandemic on the campaign trail?
EPSHTEYN: Well, I think the president's plan on health care, as contrast that to Biden's $2.25 trillion huge waste of money on health care that he's proposing, is playing very well.
President Trump signed an executive order this week that protects preexisting conditions. He's going to be sending out drug discount cards to 33 million senior citizens. President Trump is focused on protecting and securing Americans, while Joe Biden wants to put the individual mandate back in and truly hurt the American people, because that will hike up those premiums that have just begun to come down on, Ari.
MELBER: You mentioned -- you mentioned a couple things, including the insurance discrimination.
Why fight to eliminate it, and then pass an executive order claiming to support it? You do see how that seems like a contradiction?
EPSHTEYN: Well, it's actually a fair question, Ari.
The point is -- and you're an attorney, as well as I am -- the whole law, the whole Obamacare, the whole ACA, is completely -- is a complete mess, complete disaster, and really should have been overturned. And we all know what happened in the Senate back in 2017.
So, what President Trump is doing is, he wants to get rid of the terrible carcass that is Obamacare. And he's putting in these new policies, including lowering drug -- prescription drug costs, making drugs, making medicine more affordable for Americans.
MELBER: Right. The question, though, is not about the drug part.
The question is about insurance discrimination, though. You're basically saying, OK, so Trump does support that part of Obamacare?
Trump is getting -- the president is getting rid of Obamacare. The president is making sure for those with preexisting conditions, those who are the most vulnerable in our country, are protected. That's what he did with an executive order signed in the last week.
MELBER: But just as a fact-check, that's one of the most -- it's one of the most popular parts of Obamacare.
In fact, I can play for you. This is Donald Trump discussing preexisting conditions, that protection that is already in that law. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. TRUMP: Obamacare has to be replaced. And we will do it. And we will do it very, very quickly.
We have come up with a solution that's really, really, I think, very good.
We already have the concept of the plan.
I have it already. And it's a much better plan for you. And it's a much better plan.
The historic action I'm taking today includes the first ever executive order to affirm it is the official policy of the United States government to protect patients with preexisting conditions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I think the point here that I want you to address -- and I hope you will do it with us on the evidence here, because voters care about their health care -- I think we could all accept that premise -- you have the president claiming he's going to release a secret plan in '16.
We get out four years later. He's been president, and he's claiming again: I have a much better plan. It's a secret. It's ready. It's not out yet.
And then the one thing he is doing is embracing this popular part of Obamacare.
And so my question to you, if you can clear it up, because you got to explain your boss' words, is, what are you telling voters? You like the part of Obamacare that's popular, but you're trying to extinguish it, but then you will replace it with an executive order?
EPSHTEYN: Ari, there were actually a couple of accuracies in there.
The president has already done a lot on health care. He got rid of the individual mandate. That was part of the historic tax cuts that were put into place when the president came into office and finally we were able to get them through Congress. So that was very important.
He's lowered drug prices. The premiums have come down that were hiked up because of Obamacare.
MELBER: Right, but -- I'm only going to jump in, Boris.
EPSHTEYN: Just -- I'm answering.
MELBER: You get your time, but my viewers, because we do this in the news, they can hear you changing the topic.
Now, you can use your time that way, because I give time to both candidates.
EPSHTEYN: I'm not changing the topic. You said -- you said the only thing that...
MELBER: But I'm not asking about prescription drug prices, which, by the way, are continuing to go up.
EPSHTEYN: You asked about health care. I'm answering about health care.
MELBER: Although, in fairness, in fairness, prescription drug prices have tended to go up under both parties.
But the question is about eliminating Obamacare and the actual insurance protection and then saying, oh, we're going to put it back in, in an order. You do see how that's contradictory?
EPSHTEYN: Well, actually, Ari, to be fair, you said in your question that the only thing President Trump wants to do on health care is protect preexisting conditions.
Protecting preexisting conditions is extremely important to President Trump, but it's far from the only thing he's done. And I was laying out what he's done, which is very important.
EPSHTEYN: I think you would agree that lower prescription drug prices are also important.
MELBER: Let's keep moving. You got that point across. We're going to keep moving to one other item that's big in the news.
There's a lot of cases here around voting, but I will put up on the screen, when the Republican Party and Trump-backed cases have gone to court, they continue to lose in efforts to restrict, for example, mail voting.
We have Democrats, according "The Washington Post," in 90 cases reviewed, voting lawsuits found the judges dismissed most Republican arguments. In no case did a judge back Trump's claims regarding voter fraud.
Those are facts, which I ask you to address. What does it tell you that you keep losing these cases right now? And are you less likely to win the election if you can't limit this more widespread access to voting?
EPSHTEYN: Well, first of all, President Trump and his campaign are absolutely focused on making sure that this election is full of integrity,. and that it is an election that stands up to all levels of scrutiny.
In terms of the cases, even the headline you put up so, well, most of the cases.
MELBER: Most of the 90 reviewed, yes.
EPSHTEYN: Well, sure, some cases are won, some cases are lost.
But the fact of -- the facts of the matter is, in a place like Paterson, New Jersey, a judge ordered a new election because of voter fraud.
In Philadelphia, a judge in charge of voting has now been charged with voter fraud.
EPSHTEYN: So, this campaign is doing everything possible to making sure that it's a free and fair election full of integrity.
MELBER: We're running over on time in this segment. The facts are on the screen.
I think voters should hear from everyone, so, Boris, I do appreciate you coming on. I hope you will come back, sir.
EPSHTEYN: Look forward to it. Thank you, Ari.
MELBER: Shana tova.
That means happy new year.
Thank you, Boris.
And we will be right back.
MELBER: We're reporting on a big development here in the Breonna Taylor case situation.
Transcripts and recordings from the actual grand jury proceedings, which normally never see the light of day, are now, in an unusual development, set to be released.
We expect it from the court around noon Eastern tomorrow, and we expect up to 20 hours of even audiotapes.
MSNBC across the board will have full coverage. And we will look at that story with an update for you, of course, tomorrow night on THE BEAT.
We wanted you to have that update.
MELBER: As always, thanks for watching THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER.
We will see you tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.
"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" starts now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END
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