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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, August 12, 2020

Guests: Renee Graham, Latosha Brown, Cecile Richards, Kimberly Karol, Stuart Stevens


Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) has debuted as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's running mate in Delaware. Donald Trump's Postmaster General will be prosecuted for federal crimes if he illegally tampers with the mail to try to rig the election for Donald Trump. Stuart Stevens tracks decades of lies the Republican Party was telling itself and decades of racism that were the perfect ramp up to Donald Trump's racist presidential campaign.



I was fascinated to hear you discussing the vetting process with Susan Rice because I've had private conversations with people who went through it. Not this time but in previous cycles. All senators, and they all hated it.

And one of the reasons I realized they hated it is elected officials don't ever go through a vetting process. But Susan Rice had gone through the vetting process multiple times before for administration jobs. And so she was completely accustomed to the way it works.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Yes. And for her to say, listen, I was vetted twice for cabinet level positions, like I thought I knew what this was like, I thought I had been through it, and this was way more rigorous than anything I had previously been through, that's a person who speaks from a position as you say of knowledge of how these things are supposed to go. That's not somebody who can easily be shocked about what that is like.

But in this case, she seems to have been pretty bowled over by how thorough they were, which should be a vote of confidence for anybody who's rooting for the Harris and Biden campaign that there won't be any surprises here.

O'DONNELL: Yeah, and as of now it seems to be off to exactly the kind of launch they were hoping for.

MADDOW: That's exactly right. Yes.

O'DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Well, in a powerful debut of the Democratic ticket today, we saw Joe Biden and Kamala Harris do something that Donald Trump and Mike Pence are incapable of doing. Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke for 19 minutes and introduced his running mate, Kamala Harris, the Democratic candidate for vice president of the United States of America. And she spoke for 16 minutes.

They each spoke about their governing visions for this country, and they each spoke about their opponents in this campaign -- Donald Trump and Mike Pence. And neither one of them, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, told a single lie. Not one lie.

And in response to that the president of the United States went in front of the White House press briefing room and lied about Kamala Harris and lied about Joe Biden. Donald Trump does not know how to speak about his opponents in this campaign or the last campaign without lying about them every single time. And once again today when Donald Trump spoke about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, it was all a lie.

That is what Stuart Stevens chose for the title of his new book, "It Was All a Lie". It is the story of how the Republican Party became Donald Trump. Stuart Stevens has spent most of his working life as a campaign strategist trying to elect Republican presidents. He won most of the campaigns he was involved with.

The last presidential campaign he ran was Mitt Romney's. He opposed Donald Trump's candidacy from the start and as he watched him succeed in his party, Stuart Stevens began to realize every good thing he believed about the Republican party was a lie. It was all a lie.

Stewart Stevens will join us at the end of this hour for his professional analysis of the debut of the Democratic ticket, and we will discuss Stuart's new book which traces 50 years of Republicans' coded campaigning on race that eventually led to Donald Trump's blatant racism that will surely become even more blatant as the first black woman on a major party ticket campaigns against Donald Trump.

Donald Trump lives in fear of prosecutors every single day. He is under a criminal investigation right now by the district attorney in Manhattan, and he is an unindicted coconspirator who federal prosecutors labeled individual one in the criminal case against Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, that sent Michael Cohen to prison. The federal prosecutor's presentation of the Michael Cohen case said that the crimes Michael Cohen committed were committed at the direction of Donald Trump. That means that those federal prosecutors believe that Donald Trump is as criminally guilty of those crimes as Michael Cohen admitted to being.

And the only thing -- the only thing preventing Donald Trump from being prosecuted by those federal prosecutors is Donald Trump's current address, the White House. It is a tradition in the Justice Department that the president should not be prosecuted for federal crimes. That concept is not supported by law or the Constitution. It is a relatively recent tradition only supported only by a memo of no legal binding authority written by lawyers working in the Justice Department during the administrations of presidents who did not want to be prosecuted for federal crimes.

Donald Trump knows that if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take the oath of office as president and vice president of the United States on January 20th, Donald Trump could be charged with federal crimes that same afternoon by the same prosecutors who charged Michael Cohen of the same crimes and obtained guilty pleas from Michael Cohen on those crimes. Criminal defense lawyers can tell you people who know they are under investigation by prosecutors live in fear of prosecutors. That is Donald Trump's life now. every single day, every single night of his life, Donald Trump lives in fear of prosecutors.

And today, Donald Trump got a new prosecutor on his case, the former district attorney of San Francisco, the former attorney general of the state of California, and the current senator and candidate for vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me tell you as somebody who has presented my fair share of arguments in court, the case against Donald Trump and Mike Pence is open and shut. Just look where they've gotten us. More than 16 million out of work, millions of kids who cannot go back to school, a crisis of poverty, of homelessness afflicting black, brown and indigenous people the most. A crisis of hunger afflicting one in five mothers who have children that are hungry, and tragically, more than 165,000 lives that have been cut short, many with loved ones who never got the chance to say good-bye.


O'DONNELL: As you listen to Kamala Harris and Joe Biden on this program tonight, you don't have to close your eyes to imagine them working in the White House starting on January 20th. You can look right at them in this video and you can see exactly what that's going to be like when they take the oath of office if they do.

When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris appeared together at a high school gymnasium in Wilmington, Delaware, today we can see it all. You can see what it would be like with Kamala Harris supervising a coronavirus task force instead of Mike Pence. You could see her stepping away from that microphone in the White House in January and asking Dr. Anthony Fauci to step up to that microphone and tell America and the world the absolute, unvarnished truth of what we all need to do to flatten the curve of the coronavirus just as Dr. Fauci helped defeat the Ebola virus when he worked with the Obama-Biden administration.


HARRIS: It didn't have to be this way. Six years ago, in fact, we had a different health crisis. It was called Ebola, and we all remember that pandemic. But you know what happened then? Barack Obama and Joe Biden did their job. Only two people in the United States died, two. That is what's called leadership.

But compare that to the moment we find ourselves in now, when other countries are following the science, Trump pushed miracle cures he saw on Fox News. While other countries were flattening the curve he said the virus would just, poof, go away. Quote, like a miracle.


O'DONNELL: Joe Biden described what he expects of Kamala Harris as vice president of the United States.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When I agreed to serve as president Obama's running mate, he asked me a number of questions as I've asked Kamala. The most important was he said to me what -- he asked me what I wanted, most importantly. I told him I wanted to be the last person in the room before he made the important decisions.

That's what I ask Kamala. I ask Kamala to be the last voice in the room, to always tell me the truth which she will, challenge my assumptions if she disagree, ask the hard questions because that's the way we make the best decisions for the American people.


O'DONNELL: Kamala Harris has a very important personal connection to Joe Biden that Joe Biden said mattered a lot to him in his choice of a running mate.


BIDEN: Kamala, you've been an honorary Biden for quite some time. I came first to know who Kamala was through our son Beau Biden. They were friends. They served as attorneys general at the same time.

They took the -- they took on the same big fights together, Kamala in California, Beau here in Delaware. Big fights that helped change the entire country. I know how much Beau respected Kamala and her work, and that mattered a lot to me, to be honest with you, as I made this decision.

HARRIS: Beau and I spoke on the phone practically every day sometimes multiple times a day working together to win back billions of dollars for homeowners from the big banks of the nation that were foreclosing on peoples homes.

And let me just tell you about beau Biden. I learned quickly that Beau was the kind of guy who inspired people to be a better version of themselves. He really was the best of us. And when I would ask him, where'd you get that, where'd this come from, he'd always talk about his dad.

And I will tell you the love that they shared was incredible to watch. It was the most beautiful display of the love between a father and a son. And Beau talked about how Joe would spend four hours every day riding the rails back and forth from Wilmington to Washington so he could make breakfast for his kids in morning and make it home in time to tuck them in bed each night. All of this so two little boys who had just lost their mom and their sister in a tragic accident would know that the world was still turning. And that's how I came to know Joe.


O'DONNELL: And that is how America came to know Kamala Harris today as the Democratic candidate for vice president of the United States of America.

Leading off our discussion tonight, Renee Graham, opinion columnist and associate editor of "The Boston Globe", and John Heilemann, national affairs analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. He's co-host of Showtime's "The Circus" and the executive editor of "The Recount."

Rene, what were you thinking and feeling as you watched that launch today?

RENEE GRAHAM, THE BOSTON GLOBE COLUMNIST & ASSOCIATE EDITOR: I had a lot of feelings, Lawrence, as I watched this. What impressed me so much was I felt like Kamala Harris was using in a way her prosecutorial skill. She was making her opening statement to a jury, and the jury was the American people.

She was making the case for the Biden-Harris ticket. She was passionate. She was concise. She was direct. She laid out where America is and where America needs to go and how the nation can get there.

Of course as a black woman, it was a historic moment. You know, it always is when you witness something you never expected to see. And I don't know that I expected to see a black woman in this position.

Having said that I think it's also way overdue. But in a nation where there's never been a black woman as a governor, where there's only been two black women senators and Kamala Harris is one them, this was a remarkable moment. That representation does matter and that was referenced as well.

So I think it's important for the American people to see Kamala Harris, see her -- the poise, the control, the way she laid out the case for this ticket and where America needs to go and what it needs to do and how she and Joe Biden can get the nation there.

O'DONNELL: Renee, let me ask you about something you just said, a point you just made that this was long overdue to see a black woman in this position. What does that fact that it is so overdue -- what does that add to the weight of this experience for you today?

GRAHAM: What this is about is leading the moment. We're talking about systemic racism, we're talking about white supremacy, and you're talking about the direction of the Democratic Party.

And let's not even kid ourselves. Black women have been the backbone of this party for decades. They have been its hard and its soul, and it's time for black women to assume the positions of power in this party. You know, they've hit that glass ceiling way too long, and so the fact that Kamala Harris has risen to the spot is incredibly important because these are the issues we're talking about. We're talking about the doors that are closed to black people, the halls that are closed to black people.

And we're talking about the ways that black women got Joe Biden where he is today. He's standing on that stage today because of what black women did back in February in all the primaries from South Carolina on. So this moment is absolutely overdue.

O'DONNELL: John Heilemann, you tweeted just before the show I saw a tweet you said today that this contest of sorts for vice president is now over and there's a winner but there are two winners. How do you -- explain that.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think, Lawrence, the veepstakes, obviously, the big winner here, the one who won the competition is Kamala Harris. And it was a real competition.

I think a lot of people have observed in the last 24 hours, something that I have believed on the base of my reporting for months which is that Kamala Harris was the front-runner from pillar to post, that this doesn't mean Joe Biden didn't take other options and considerations seriously like Susan Rice who Rachel interviewed earlier. But I do think she was the front-runner from the beginning, and it would have taken something really problematic they discovered about her in the vet or someone really coming out of left field to surpass her.

So she won, but I think the real winner here is Joe Biden. In the end, we know 100 years of political science tells us that people vote for the top of the ticket not for the bottom of the ticket. Which does not mean the bottom of the ticket is not important. But this is the most important decision Joe Biden has made maybe in his political career, certainly in his presidential run.

It's the most important decision he'll make from now until the day he becomes inaugurated if he's inaugurated. This is choice that is not about winning -- it's about a lot of things but it's primarily not about winning a demographic or competing in a state or fund-raising or any of that stuff. It's about a reflection of the candidates values and priorities.

And by choosing someone with whom he's manifestly just comfortable, someone who he clearly considers a governing partner, someone he met immediately -- and I will point out the fact that Republicans have attacked her. Donald Trump has attacked her on a bunch of scores in the last 24 hours.

But one thing they have not attacked her on is the most important thing, no one has assailed her on her qualification and credibility to step into the oval office, no one. She's met the most important bar, so I think Joe Biden is the other winner and maybe the bigger winner in some sense by making a selection that -- and we can talk more about this as we go further into the block -- that it was executed flawlessly.

And as we sit here tonight, the Democratic Party has rallied around this pick. The Republican Party is all over the place and has not found a clear line of attack against her. And Joe Biden right now is sitting -- has gotten basically everything out of this pick. It's only 24 hours in here, right, but 24 hours in, everything has played out exactly in the optimal way for the Biden campaign and Joe Biden would have hoped it would.

O'DONNELL: And, Renee, it used to be you'd be told if you were just elected to the Senate that it is too soon for you to be running for president in your first term as a senator, but Barack Obama did it. Kamala Harris followed exactly the same schedule running for president on the same schedule as Barack Obama as a new senator, and here she is as John says with full credibility on that ticket.

GRAHAM: Well, you know, you have to remember, she has a long political career before she was a senator. She had races to win as district attorney in San Francisco. She ran races to win attorney general in California. She understands the viscera of campaigning.

I think there was a very important factor for Joe Biden. He didn't want someone out there who hasn't necessarily run a campaign. And also because Kamala Harris had just run for president and had her own campaign, she's been through a lot of it. She understands where the attacks are going to come from.

It's going to be birtherism. It's going to be, is she black enough? But you can't get her on her qualifications.

There's going to be questions about her prosecutorial record, there's no question about that, but you can't look at this woman and say she's simply unqualified to be in this position. I think those are some of the assets that she brings to the ticket. But she knows how to do this. She understands the attacks. She understands how to counter punch.

That's an important thing in this campaign because we've already seen as John mentioned 24 hours, the Trump campaign doesn't have a lot to come with. They've called her nasty. They've called her angry, so they're going to play the typical racism and sexism playbook. It's all they have, that's what they're going to harp on for the next days and next months because you can't get her on her qualifications.

O'DONNELL: I've said the best description I have ever read of the vetting process was John Heilemann's reporting on the 2012 vetting process for the Republican nomination for vice president, which included John Heilemann's reporting of how Chris Christie was immediately kicked out of the process because he could not pass the vet. I'm recommending that to our audience because we don't have time to talk about it tonight, John.

John Heilemann, Renee Graham, thank you both for starting us off tonight. Really appreciate it.

HEILEMANN: Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

And when we come back, Kamala Harris gave credit to the women who came before her, who paved the way for her to stand beside Joe Biden today as a candidate for vice president of the United States. That is next with Latosha Brown and Cecile Richards.



HARRIS: Joe, I'm so proud to stand with you. And I do so mindful of all the heroic and ambitious women before me whose sacrifice, determination and resilience makes my presence here today even possible.


O'DONNELL: Senator Kamala Harris made it very clear that she did not get where she is today without help.


HARRIS: My mother and father, they came from opposite sides of the world to arrive in America. One from India and the other from Jamaica, in search of a world class education. But what brought them together was the civil rights movement of the 1960s and that's how they met as students in the streets of Oakland marching and shouting for the thing called justice in a struggle that continues today.


O'DONNELL: Joining our discussion now, Latosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund. And Cecile Richards, the co-founder of the women's political group, Supermajority. She's also the former president of Planned Parenthood.

And, Latosha, that line Kamala Harris spoke today when she said, my mother and father came from opposite sides of the world to arrive in America, it sounds like the beginning of a fairytale and it is the beginning of the story that brought us to the first woman of color as a vice presidential nominee.

LATOSHA BROWN, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK VOTERS MATTER FUND: It's a story of so many people, and oftentimes that story is marginalized and goes untold. When I heard her talking about the civil rights movement, being I'm a daughter of Selma, Alabama, and my mother as a student, I was really attached to what she said and I understood the meaning of that.

So, I think in this moment, we are very reflective of this historic space and we are 55 years passed the Voting Rights Act and the voting rights movement that actually paved the way for women to be on the ticket as a vice president. And even in that movement, you know, what we saw is we saw the marginalization of black women. There were black women that were organizing, we see the faces of (INAUDIBLE), all the contributions of John Lewis and others.

But it was Amelia Boynton who had organized around voting rights even ten (ph) years prior to that. So, in this moment we're celebrating, Kamala being selected as vice president because there are so many women, nameless women, who have done work to lead this path of where we are right now.

O'DONNELL: Kamala Harris gave some marching orders to the supporters who want to see this ticket elected. They've got 83 days to do it.

Here is what Kamala Harris told them about those 83 days.


HARRIS: Here's the good news. We don't have to accept the failed government of Donald Trump and Mike Pence. In just 83 days, we have a chance to choose a better future for our country.


O'DONNELL: Cecile, that 83 days really made it seem like there is no minute to waste between now and then.

CECILE RICHARDS, CO-FOUNDER, SUPERMAJORITY: Well, that's absolutely right, Lawrence. But I'm going to tell you there is millions of women in this country who have been waiting three and a half years to get this right and they're ready to go. We saw women dominated the Democratic primaries in states all across this country, as has been said on this show earlier. It was women. It was black women that put Joe Biden in the position that he's in, and it is women that are going to get this ticket across the line.

It's extraordinary. Looking today, the 30-point gender gap of women favoring this ticket over Donald Trump and Mike Pence and, of course, as always led by black women. And what sweet justice is it that on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of suffrage which, of course, left black women out that we would in November see a -- I think what we'll see as a historic turn-out among women and elect the first black woman, the first Indian-American woman in the executive branch. It is, as Latosha says, way, way overdue.

O'DONNELL: Latosha, Kamala Harris made it clear she's hoping that you and other activists who are making sure voting rights are preserved around the country and that people can actually freely exercise their vote will do so in bigger numbers than just a 1 percent victory. She said they'd need a mandate. Let's listen to that.


HARRIS: We need more than a victory on November 3rd. We need a mandate that proves that the past few years do not represent who we are or who we aspire to be.


O'DONNELL: Latosha, can they win a mandate? Can they win big, not just win by a point?

BROWN: Absolutely. I think there can be a mandate. But I think that is more than just voting for this election to get Trump out or even to elect Biden and Harris ticket. I think it's really important that we start building a robust democracy that fundamentally what we need is we need more people engaged in the shaping of this nation going forward.

We need more people who are really speaking to we want to have peace. We want to see those policies that actually facilitate peace, not war. We want to see every American that is going to work have the resources that they need to take care of them and their families. We want to see major changes. And in order to have that robust democracy, you have to have citizen participation.

And so I think ultimately this is an opportunity to really be transformative as we go forward. That there are more people engaged not just on election day and on November 3rd but continue to be engaged so we can really have the kind of nation that we deserve. And it's going to take all of us, all hands on deck, to make sure that happens.

O'DONNELL: LaTosha Brown and Cecile Richards, thank you for sharing your perspectives on this historic night. We really appreciate it.

BROWN: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: And when we come back, Donald Trump's big helper in the last presidential election, Vladimir Putin, will not be prosecuted for the crimes that he will commit and has already committed in trying to help Donald Trump get reelected this year.

But Donald Trump's Postmaster General will be prosecuted for federal crimes if he illegally tampers with the mail to try to rig the election for Donald Trump.

That's next.


O'DONNELL: The question tonight and every night for the next 83 nights is which one of these guys is going to do more harm to American democracy in his effort to interfere with our election to help Donald Trump win reelection. These two guys want exactly the same thing. They both want Donald Trump to get four more years in the White House.

One is the dictator of Russia, and the other is the Postmaster General, the job first held by Benjamin Franklin. Louis DeJoy is a businessman who contributed enough money to Donald Trump's campaign to secure the position of Postmaster General, which is now the most important job in the Trump campaign.

Louis DeJoy is not officially a member of the Trump reelection campaign because that would be a crime, a federal crime, just like tampering with the mail is a federal crime. We have had 75 Postmasters General, and none of them have been accused on the Senator floor of tampering with our election process until now.

Louis DeJoy is doing what Vladimir Putin would be doing if he were running the postal service. He has reassigned or displaced 23 experienced postal executives who know how to deliver the mail and have been making sure mail-in ballots get delivered for many, many years.

And now Louis DeJoy wants to change how much states -- state governments have to pay for postage on mail-in ballots. He wants to raise the postage fees for mail-in ballots. And that kind of tampering with our election, which could be the kind of tampering with the mail that the Biden Justice Department might consider a crime next year if they investigate that, brought this condemnation of Trump's Postmaster General on the Senate floor.


SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: What a despicable derogation of democracy. What is his rational? It's a small amount of money. Ballots are a small percentage of the mail that's delivered.

It is to discourage people from voting. He ought to be ashamed of himself. If anyone had any thought that this Postmaster General was on the level, it's now dispensed.


O'DONNELL: Here is how Kimberly Karol, postal worker and president of the Iowa Postal Workers' Union described the impact of these changes to NPR.


KIMBERLY KAROL, PRESIDENT, IOWA POSTAL WORKERS' UNION: Mail is beginning to pile up in our offices, and we're seeing equipment being removed. So we are beginning to see the impact of those changes.

I don't see this as cost-saving measures. I see this as a way to undermine the public confidence in the mail service. It's not saving costs. We're spending more time trying to implement these policy changes. And it's, in our offices, costing more overtime.


O'DONNELL: Joining us now Kimberly Karol president of the Iowa Postal Workers' Union. She's been a postal worker for nearly 30 years and is currently postal clerk in Waterloo, Iowa.

Kimberly, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Let me just begin with a thanks to you and the postal service. I have been very, very grateful to the people delivering my mail throughout my life. I have known many people who have done it as a career, and I really appreciate that.

You know, I want to get your reaction to something that the Postmaster General said on Friday. He said that the postal service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time in accordance with our delivery standards.

What is your reaction to that statement by the Postmaster General?

KAROL: Well, it's the dedication of the employees. We do have the capacity to be able to handle the election mail and we're prepared to do that. But it's going to require that people who choose to cast ballots through the mail should be preparing to do so and sending their ballots in early because the changes that are in place or taking place are slowing down the mail.

O'DONNELL: And what are the kinds of changes that you think are going to impact the voting by mail process?

KAROL: Well, he is initiating pilot programs and that is changing how we move the mail for delivery. In many cases, we have to double handle the mail. In some cases mail has to be processed again.

So those are the things that are going to impact the elections. And -- but it's not going to stop the mail. That's important for everyone who is listening to understand. The postal service isn't broken. He's just trying to slow it down and get the message out there and scare people away from doing elections or casting ballots through the mail.

We're not broken. We still will process mail. We still will make deliveries. And we've got thousands of employees dedicated to that process.

O'DONNELL: Ok. Kimberly, let me keep you on that point. That's the most important thing you can be communicating to our audience. You are telling us that if we mail in our ballots early enough and we take care this time to mail them earlier than we usually do, you will get those ballots delivered?

KAROL: Absolutely. The postal service has safeguards in place to protect the sanctity of the mail and to control election mail to make sure it gets to its destination. And every employee that works for the postal service is dedicated to making sure that that mail gets to the appropriate offices so that it can be counted.

So please, if you choose to cast your ballot through the mail, do so early so that we can do our job and make sure that that gets delivered on time.

O'DONNELL: Kimberly Karol, invaluable insight tonight. We really appreciate it.

And, please, we are going to ask you to come back from time to time as we continue to cover these developments with the mail and mail-in ballots through this campaign. We really appreciate it.

KAROL: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: And when we come back from this break, former Republican presidential campaign strategist Stuart Stevens will join us with his professional judgment of the launch of the Biden-Harris ticket today.


SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: 30 years ago I stood before a judge for the first time, breathed deep and uttered the phrase that would -- that would truly guide my career and the rest of my career. "Kamala Harris for the people". The people, that's who I represented as district attorney, fighting on behalf of victims who needed help. The people, that's who I fought for as California's attorney general when I took on transnational criminal organizations who traffic in guns and drugs and human beings.

And it is the people who I have fought for as a United States Senator where I have worked every day to hold Trump officials accountable to the American people. And the people are who Joe and I will fight for every day in the White House.


O'DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is my old friend Stuart Stevens who has an invaluable perspective on today's events, having worked on five presidential campaigns, all of them Republican campaigns, and most recently as the chief strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign.

Stuart is the author of the new book "It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party became Donald Trump".

And Stuart, I've never worked on a presidential campaign. So I'm always eager to hear what the presidential campaign professionals think of a launch day like this. How did it go?

STUART STEVENS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I thought it went great. You know, there is really three big moments in a vice presidential campaign -- The announcement, the convention speech and the debate. And if you can pull off that trifecta, you have had a successful vice presidential campaign.

In many ways, the launch is the trickiest. You know, people forget it is very strange to merge these two cultures. You have been working on a presidential campaign. You have probably had a near death experience. Most campaigns do, the Biden campaign did. You have a very tight group of people.

And then you have to bring in this whole alien culture into your culture and sort of an arranged marriage and go forward as one unit. And it's actually very tricky. And I think they have done it very well, very professionally. And I think it bodes well for the road ahead and for her candidacy.

O'DONNELL: I think we know how -- one way that Republicans are going to be attacking Kamala Harris. It is the way Karl Rove was attacking her ten years ago when she was running for attorney general in the state of California.

Let's look at this Karl Rove ad against Kamala Harris ten years ago in California.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son was killed in the line of duty with an AK-47 by a gang member.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even before his burial, Kamala Harris refused to seek the death penalty against his killer.

Tell Kamala Harris, California's worst criminals deserve the toughest punishment the law allows. No exceptions, no excuses.


O'DONNELL: Stuart, this is an opportunity that the Republicans have since she had that career as a prosecutor. But it has an old-fashioned ring to it as Republican campaigning though.

STEVENS: Yes. Well, crime is an issue. It declined greatly as crime has declined across the board. I don't think that will be the winning ticket. I think that they're going to try to paint her as an ideological -- they're going to do two things that are contradictory. Try to paint her as an ideological soulmate of AOC and the far left of the party. And then they're going to try to divide the party within by saying that she's not enough of a soulmate of the AOC wing of the party. They seem very confused about it.

But listen, I think at the root of this is going to be a deep set misogyny and a deep-set racism. You are going to see a lot of angry black women motifs run against Senator Harris. It's already started. I think it's shameful. But it's going to happen.

And it's going to be completely in keeping with the kind of campaign that Donald Trump is running which is the most obviously and openly racially divisive campaign by any presidential -- any president and any presidential nominee, certainly in my lifetime.

O'DONNELL: Stuart, I want to stay on that point.

I have to squeeze in a break here because this is a very, very important lesson in your book "It Was All A Lie" about the race-based campaigning of the Republican Party for the last 50 years.

We're going to take a break and pick up exactly where Stuart left it right after this break.


O'DONNELL: "Blame me." That is what Stuart Stevens says on page 1 of his book, "It Was All A Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump". Stuart Stevens tracks decades of lies the Republican Party was telling itself and decades of racism that were the perfect ramp up to Donald Trump's racist presidential campaign.

This book taught me many things I didn't know including that the intellectual founding father of the modern Republican Party of the 1950s William F. Buckley Jr. was an avowed racist who fiercely supported segregation in the 1950s when he said that the white community is the advanced race and he believed in the cultural superiority of white over negro.

This book is going to become an important reference volume for future historians trying to explain what happened to the Republican Party in the second half of the 20th century and the Trump era.

Stuart Stevens is back with us. And Stuart, this book is full of discoveries for me. You write that it's a painful story to tell because you were living in the middle of it. And I have to say we -- we are lucky that you were because it takes a writer, it takes someone with your insights as a writer to be able to see this story and deliver it to us the way you have.

STEVENS: Well look, it's a book I never thought I would write. And it's a book I didn't want to write but it's a book that ultimately I felt like I had to write. You know, to me, there's really two strains to the Republican Party that go back to the 50s. There was that Eisenhower strain called the McCarthy strain.

The second book that William Buckley wrote after (INAUDIBLE) in Yale was a strong defense of McCarthy. And those elements sort of play together and against each other throughout the party. Those of us who worked for Governor Bush, then President Bush, we believed in a different vision, compassionate conservatism which is not to say we were perfect. I mean we played too much from a dark side, I'm sure. But we aspired to something that was bigger and better than ourselves.

If you go back and you read Bush's acceptance speech in 2000 at the Republican convention, the things reads like a lost artifact from a civilization from 10,000 years ago about humility and compassion and service. That guy couldn't win 10 percent in the Republican time (ph) today with that message.

So a lot of us told ourselves that that dark side of the party was recessive gene and that the party we wanted to believe was the dominant gene and I think Trump has made that impossible to believe. I think in fact, we were wrong.

We were the recessive gene and the other proved to be the heart and soul of certainly the way the party evolved.

O'DONNELL: Yes, so the elements that I used to think of as the element -- the reasonable elements of the Republican Party in the United States Senate represented by Bob Dole and others when I was working there who we could compromise with on certain issues at certain times.

That that was actually kind of a veneer that was covering a much, much more important and ultimately controlling energy of the Republican Party that has ultimately delivered Trump.

STEVENS: I think you have to look at it sort of like Darwinism, what emerged as dominant. When Donald Trump says his party is 95 percent behind him, it's probably an exaggeration like everything Trump says. Maybe it's 88 percent, 89 percent.

So you know, what I say about Donald Trump and racists, you don't have to be a racist to support Donald Trump. But ultimately you have to be comfortable with having a racist as president. And it's something you think you're getting from him being president is more important than him being a racist. And that's increasing difficult to deny, you know, every hour as we go forward.

I think that that's just a very haunting truth that you have to come to grips with. I mean the same weekend that my home state of Mississippi took down their state flag, which is basically a confederate battle flag. It's a very moving moment for many of us --


STEVENS: Donald Trump was trying to raise the confederate flag over the White House. It's a sad evolvement (ph) of where the party has gone.

O'DONNELL: And that full story is told in Stuart Stevens's book. Stuart, thank you very, very much for joining us tonight.

The book is "It Was All A Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump".

Stuart Stevens gets tonight's LAST WORD. Thank you Stuart.




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