tv MSNBC Special Coverage MSNBC October 3, 2012 5:00pm-6:00pm PDT
that's "hardball" tonight. thanks for being with us. stay tuned to msnbc all night for our coverage of the first great presidential debate here at the university of denver. it begins right now with my colleague, rachel maddow. four years ago, there was no incumbent in the presidential debates. >> if you want to run against president bush, he should have ran four years ago. >> four years ago, barack obama and john mccain faced off in a first debate that was nearly canceled when the republican suspended his campaign because of the meltdown on wall street. the day of their second debate, the stock market dropped 500 points. >> now the troubles are spreading. the market took another dive today, and there are some big names now involved. >> reporter: the day of the third debate, the stock market dropped over 300 points. >> fear that the country could be entering in one of the most
serious recessions in decades, led by wall street's 700-point sell-off. >> now four years later, the president who faced john mccain in those debates and beat him faces his new republican challenger for the first time. >> i'm looking forward to head to head. >> an mirror image of '08, a campaign is chaotic mash. new issues, new controversies, every day. the polls are bad for romney and good for obama in the swing states. but the national numbers are as tight as they get. the primaries are over, the conventions are over, but the debates, the home stretch, starts right now. all right.
the pre-season is officially over. game on. thank you for joining us tonight for msnbc's coverage of this first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign. i'm rachel maddow here at our headquarters in new york. i'm joined by ed schultz, reverend al sharpton, chris hayes, and steve schmidt. lawrence o'donnell will be our man in the spin room tonight. and the one and only chris matthews is at the university of denver, which is the site of tonight's debate. chris, i've been watching you this past hour. i can sense the excitement that you feel, that i feel as well. i mean, it is a big night when these candidates speak at their conventions, but tonight the tv audience for this debate could be almost twice the size as the convention audience. just a huge night. what are each of these guys thinking they need to do tonight? >> well, i think obama's the one i'm focused on, the president. because everybody's been talking about, it's romney's big chance, it's romney's opportunity, blah, blah, blah. suppose obama goes on the attack tonight. suppose he surprises everybody and doesn't play defense.
he doesn't try to handle his opponent and clinch, that he really goes and tries to put him away. and i think that's the significanti i significanting question. how does romney deal with the fact that he has no spontaneity? no ability to deal with the unexpected? how does he deal with that in the debate for an hour and a half? so will obama go after the guy, not play defense, not finesse the guy, knock him out and end this thing. and will the other guy be able to deal with the unexpected, which perhaps will be obama coming after him, not him coming after obama. >> chris, when you talk about the president potentially going after mitt romney, do you mean in terms of stylistic aggression, or do you means in terms of trying to nail him as a flip-flopper or going really aggressively against his policies. which do you mean? >> i would say this. you are promising something new. you keep saying i've got something new. everything you've said sounds like what we got rid of because we had a disaster.
as you showed with this excellent opening tonight, we came out of disaster because of those policies. tell me how you're going to be different than w. say the word "w.," you don't even want to say that word. admit where you came from. and then force him to get out there on the cliff and say, i'm going to get rid of the homeowner deduction, get rid of the charitable deduction, because that's the only way you have revenue neutrality in these tax cuts he's talking about. his only plan for economic improvement in this country is to cut the taxes mainly of the rich. that's his only plan. the only defense of this strategy is he's going to get rid of loopholes. tell us that, governor. show us what you're going to do or stop talking. i think he's got to be that aggressive. but the main message is, show me your cards. stop bluffing. >> we have seen a little bit of telegraphing this week from mr. romney, that maybe he will put some details into his economic talk. he's started to float some new ideas about taxes that he never floated before. my question is whether or not he thinks the right place to unveil
those is in a debate setting. surprise the president with something he's never said before or if he wants to save that stuff for a more controlled environment. that will tell us as much about his temperament and his strategy as it will about his plans. let me bring in lawrence o'donnell, chris. lawrence is in the spin room tonight, which i think has yet to begin to spin. lawrence, what do you think the expectations are on both sides tonight? >> reporter: well, rachel, in this room, there are a lot of $10,000 bets going on behind me about what the president is going to say tonight and what mitt romney is going to say tonight. i think the rules actually favor president obama because there are almost no rules. they are going to do two-minute statements, they're each going to get two minutes at the beginning of the subjects that jim leherer will introduce. and discussing not policing 30-second rebuttals and
60-second statements. none of that red light stuff with the clocks and all of that stuff. and when you're in mitt romney's position, where he's actually trying to hide some things, trying to hide the details of the deduction side of his tax plan, he's still hiding his tax returns. when you're that candidate who has things that you don't want to talk about, those very narrow rules are your friend. the red light is your friend. the very limited 30-second response, 60-second response works well for candidate who trying to dodge and trying to get away from things. president obama, i think is going to have an advantage in the way the non-rules are in this debate tonight. and i also think that mitt romney has come off a series of really easy debates. we have to remember, mitt romney triumphed in a republican presidential field that was the worst republican presidential field in the history of the republican party. those are the debates he won.
he was the one on the stage who did not look outright insane, compared to the rest of them. that isn't going to work for him tonight. he's going against the best debater mitt romney has ever been up against in his life. this is going to be, i think, a really great debate. >> preparing for this, i went back and looked at some of the 1994 debates between romney and kennedy, looking at some of that to see, you know, how does he deal with a democratic opponent? we've seen him debate a lot of republicans, but not a lot of democrats. and if it's half as fun as it was between him and ted kennedy, we are in for a very, very fun night ahead. lawrence, thank you for that, particularly on the rules. i think that was a really important point. we'll talk with you again soon. we are going to be getting more specifics from nbc's chuck todd in just a minute in terms of which each of the campaigns is aiming at tonight in terms of who they need to win over demographically, but you know, the candidates, as individual humans, they can't tailor their message to any specific groups tonight. they are talking to the whole country at once. they are maybe talking to the largest audience they will get
at any time during the campaign. so they need to be focused not on individual parts of the electorate. they need to be focused on policy and on where they need to persuade people on the issues. in the latest nbc news/"wall street journal" poll, this is how people say they trust each of the candidates on the issues, president obama has his biggest advantage over mr. romney on taking care of the middle class, as you see here. he's also strong on handling the situation in the middle east and on the issue of immigration, which mr. romney has been struggling with a little bit, as his position has been changing just in the past couple of weeks. on medicare, the republicans had been ahead or even even with the democrats not long ago. but today president obama leads on medicare by 12 points. leads on medicare by even more than he's ahead on health care in general. it's also interesting that the president's middle east numbers, specifically, is ten points higher than his advantage over mr. romney on the broad issue of foreign policy. and then we get into some real contested ground. the president is favored on the
issue of taxes, but on the generic question of who would be better trusted to handle the economy, mr. romney leads by three. on the deficit, mr. romney leads by nine. on all of these issues, that's the one on which he has the strongest trust from voters as compared with president obama. and that confidence in mr. romney on the deficit turns up not just in the nbc/"wall street journal" poll, but in a lot of national polls. even though he hasn't given a lot of details as to how he would handle the deficit as an issue. the bottom line, there's no question as to who you would rather be here, right? you would rather be president obama than mitt romney looking at these numbers. that plus 19 advantage that the president has on looking out for the middle class, that is a death nail for mr. romney's campaign if he cannot turn that around. but i think looking ahead to tonight's debate, there is a real opportunity in the huge disconnect in the electorate, in a way that reflects a real risk for president obama. there's this huge disconnect between mr. obama's best number with voters and one of his worst
numbers. which is that president obama has so far not been able to persuade people to connect these two ideas, right? he has not been able to persuade people that doing right by the middle class, where he does great, actually is the way you fix the economy. so in other words, yeah, heading into this first debate, mr. romney may seem like an out of touch rich guy who's going to be bad for the average american, but people still think that maybe a thurston howell-type figure might be what we need to get the economy in shape. sort of a discordant idea, but it seems to be held simultaneously in americans' mind. that is president obama's real challenge, to turn that idea that what is good for the middle class is also what the economy needs full stop. he has been saying that, but in the minds of the voters, it is apparently not sinking in. ed, you have talked more than anybody from a progressive perspective, in a really hard-nosed way to the obama campaign about getting smart and getting a focused issue to the
public about the economy. how do you think president obama does that? >> i think president obama has a lot of weapons tonight and i hope he uses them. he's got a great record to run on. where we have right now is a great american story. no president has ever inherited what he has. just think if president obama had inherited bill clinton's economy, a surplus. that wasn't the case. so i think the president needs to remind america where we were and where we have been and the accomplishments that we've made. as far as mitt romney is concerned, romney can go after president obama all he wants tonight. he's got some serious repair work to do after the 47% comment, because that was a real snapshot as to who he is. plus, his private sector experience has got a checkered past. he's an outsource iceoutsourcer. he's a guy who's gone to the bottom line who hasn't been good to middle class families. he can't put a number on how many jobs he's actually created. but we hear these testimonials more and more all the time because of the hardship the middle class has gone through because of the economic model he
presented in the private sector. that is a huge target for the president tonight, and i think he'll exploit it. >> steve schmidt, from a republican perspective, looking at that plus 19 number that president obama has got on handling issue of the middle class, how does mitt romney chip away at that? given his personal biography? how does he use policy, how does he use style to chip away at that? >> he needs to begin to make a case for himself tonight, which so far in this race, he hasn't done. they didn't accomplish it at the republican convention. over the course of the month of september, they've careened from disaster to disaster. the hour's running late now. topline, the american people in enormous numbers will be watching this debate tonight, and the decision that they're starting to make, and in fact, are starting to vote already in some states, do we fire the incumbent president of the united states and hire this guy? is this the person who's able to move the country forward, to get our fiscal house in order? to repair prosperity to the middle class? to deal with dangerous situations all over the world? so all of the drilling, all of the preparation, all of it's out the window the second the two of
these men walk on the stage tonight and begin to face off. and you really will get, i think, through the debates, a measure of their character. the american people will see them, they'll evaluate them, there's no spinners, no handl handlers, no commercials there to mitigate their weaknesses or enhance their strength. it's just the two of them on the stage, and the american people will start to judge tonight. >> on that issue of character and how that emerges from this unfiltered setting that the debate is, do you think that's -- do you think that's the most important thing that m kos at us? that people get a sense of temperament and intangibles with these men? >> absolutely. i think the american people will feel you as much as they will hear you. one person said, and i agree, that if you turn off the volume and watch them and see who can make the connection, they win the debate. and i think that is why the president has an advantage with this format.
as one that was in primary debates, presidential primary debates are different, because you're not one of the two guys or ladies that's going to be president. but your friend was the red light, because you could almost time your best line because the light's going to get me, so you can almost time it. when you don't have the timer and you don't know what the other guy's going to do, you really have to think. the other thing is, as much as i would like to see the president go after mr. romney, he's also got to not come off like the angry man that they're projecting him to be and all that implies. so he's got to deal with romney without looking like he's not the president, but an angry guy that's protesting. but the real advantage i think he has, i think that we must remember that mitt romney, if i were using boxing as an example, he's never faced a top ten contender since ted kennedy. all of the debates he had in the primaries, there was no one of
the level of barack obama. if he goes in there thinking, because he was up against the guys that he was this spring, against president obama, he's going to look like an amateur in a heavyweight championship fight. and all the president has to do is lay back and rope-a-dope. and i'm not calling romney a dope, at least not until we see what he does tonight. but i think clearly, all he's got to do is lay back. because there's so many areas that he's ahead, that he doesn't need to risk bringing down and he needs to build on those economic numbers and build them up, and then he can walk out of there tonight, having wrapped this with a bowl. >> needs to be confident, but not aggressive? >> confident, but not aggressive, but presidential. saying, i'm confident because, look at where i've brought the country and look at what we've done together. he's got to include it. it's not me, it's us. we did this together as a nation. let's finish our task. >> chris hayes? >> i think one of the things that's most striking about those numbers is the one place that
he's weakest, which is on the deficit. i think the big question of tonight is, and this is actually a question how jim lehrer navigates this, where is the emphasis of the domestic policy discussion on the spectrum of deficit and jobs? if it is on jobs, that is where you want to keep the conversation as the president. because even though the unemployment number is high, there are many things he can point to as the president that are concrete plans for job creation. if it's deficit, the president the in a weaker position, because people just associate him with the deficits, with spending. that's been a very effective line for mitt romney. and it's actually going to be interesting to see whether jim lehrer subscribes to a beltway connection with deficits, and we see from those numbers, the president is doing poorly on deficits and he's winning the race right now. >> people vote more on jobs than they vote on deficits, despite the amount the beltway obsesses on it.
ed, last word? >> the other thing about the deficit, this could rope the president into a very vulnerable position and get him into a conversation about what hays going to do if he's re-elected when it comes to the big three, medicare, medicaid, and social security. i mean, is he really going to go big? >> that's a big question. >> you bet it is. and if romney can get him into a position, saying he is going to go after those big three, i guarantee you -- the president already got a letter last week, tell us what you're going to do with these earned entitlement programs, whatever you want to call them. that is a big opening for romney tonight. >> and that's some place the democratic base is going to be watching the president, wanting him -- >> absolutely. the democrats want the president to stand strong. >> but if i'm romney, i go there. floating around saying the president made certain agreements there. i would go there and try to pin him down and try to get him to do that with a rote sum of his report. we'll see how skillful romney is. the advantage we have is, steve
is here with us. >> right now there's a romney strategist rushing a memo to mr. romney in his prep room saying, the liberals on msnbc say -- we'll see if they take this. we've got to take a quick break. tonight is probably as big as it gets in terms of the persuadable audience watching tonight to make up their mind between these two candidates. it may not get bigger than it is tonight. we have nbc's chuck today straight ahead with the latest numbers. we've got a lot to get to. this is msnbc's live coverage of the first presidential debate. >> i want you to know that, also, i will not make age an issue of this campaign. i am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience. [ male announcer ] wouldn't it be cool if we took the nissan altima and reimagined nearly everything in it?
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in the modern era of presidential debating on tv, the candidate who is ahead in the polls coming out of the debates has always gone on to win the presidency. obviously, heading into the debates, starting tonight, president obama is ahead in the polls. if the debates starting tonight are enough to flip that, to propel mr. romney into the lead, then statistically speaking, mr. romney will be in good shape for the november election. if the debates are not enough to flip the polls in plm mr. romne favor, he would have to pull off a modern american miracle to win the election in november. chuck todd joins us from the debate site at the university of denver. chuck, what are you watching for tonight? >> the buzz word, the buzz phrase of "middle class." essentially, the reason romney is behind is because he's been losing that attribute to president obama by double-digit margins. i think it's been the most
important attribute of the campaign, because it explains why is the president in a tough economic times, why has he been winning or at least neutralizing the economic argument and staying ahead in the polls. it's because he has been winning that attribute, if you will, of who's more in touch with the middle class, who looking out for the middle class. obviously, 47% was a huge body blow to romney. he was already in a deficit on this issue, of not being, looking out for the middle guy. so that, to me, is sort of how does romney try to deal with this tonight? he's been trying to deal with it for the last ten days, ever since the 47% comment came out. how he tries to do it. they acknowledge, the romney campaign, that this is their number one goal tonight. yes, it's to present a choice on stage. yes, it's to do a lot of things, but they've got to have romney connect to this working class voter in ohio, wisconsin, iowa, three states in particular where he is struggling. it's been all over the midwest has been a problem for him, even
before the 47%. and mathematically, it's a problem for him in the electoral college. and so that's sort of how i'm watching this. the obama campaign knows it. and i think you're going to -- i'll be curious to see tonight, who says the words -- the number "47" more. president obama or mitt romney in defending himself, if you will. who's saying 100% more, which has been the romney line on this. so ultimately, i feel like that is the sort of stylistic substance, if you will combine it, if you will, that i'm watching tonight and seeing how romney does this. >> chuck, in terms of how much that 47% remark hurt mr. romney, i think part of the reason that it hurt so badly is because it dovetailed with the personal attributes of mr. romney in terms of him being a really wealthy guy. the questions about his own tax status and things like that. the question of how much his tax plans will help wealthy people like himself. is there any sign that the romney campaign has come up with sort of an anecdote to their 47% problem. a different way to explain that, other than the, what i think have been sort of weak responses to trying to explain it away
over the last couple of weeks. it's really hurt them. >> well, it has. they know it's hurt them. and you've heard mitt romney talk about the $17,000 bucket, if you will. the idea of, as he's been asked about detail, and the romney folks say, you know, that he will try to put a little bit of meat on the bones of this, in order to try to reassure these folks that don't believe that he's somehow looking out for them. you know, we did a fascinating thing the msnbc/"wall street journal" poll. we asked anybody who told us they were either undecided or only leaning obama and romney, we asked them this question -- what is your hesitation? what is your big hesitation about mitt romney becoming president or about president obama getting a second term? almost unanimously, the responses on hesitations on romney, even from people who were leaning romney, were, he seems to be too rich, he seems not to understand middle class america, he seems to not understand me. this is the fundamental problem.
and remember, this has been a six-month campaign by the obama folks to define him as a rich out of touch guy and then a 47% hit. >> thanks, chuck, i appreciate that. i want to get chris matthews in on this. in terms of that being the weight that mitt romney is dragging into this, i mean, you're a student of presidential history. you know that it's always rich guys who become president. it's not like it's been a real working class office in most of american american political history. how do you escape -- there are ways to escapes being your personal biography as a rich guy and being seen as insensitive towards people who don't have as much money as you. how have other presidents and other candidates done that, but mitt romney isn't able to. >> because of their missions. because people know why they're in office. fdr was out for the forgotten man, the forgotten america. that's who he was looking out for by the time when he went into politics. even rockefeller looked out for the average guy. that's what they were about. teddy roosevelt wasn't out to help the rich. he was a trust buster.
from the day he went into politics, he was nothing but trouble for the republican party. let me make a point of why i think it's going so well in ohio and pennsylvania. the most important thing in this election happened four years ago. when president obama named hillary clinton secretary of state, and forged the unity of the democratic party. that convention in charlotte is the reason they're winning today. the exuberant excitement of a party that feels united, because of the clinton/obama connection. they are connected. no president who's been elected in the 20th century, except for hoover, has been defeated in a two-way race. the only people who have lost is when there's been divisions. whether it's ross perot pulling off the right wing from george senior or george anderson pulling the moderate and liberals away from carter. in a two-person race with the incumbent president, the incumbent wins. and all you have to do is stay united. that's what they've dope with clinton. it's still true. bill clinton today up in new hampshire again, sealed the deal again. he will do it in pennsylvania, he will do it in ohio, and when the time comes, he'll do it in
wisconsin. they're going to own the rust belt, the democrats, because of this united party. that's what i think is really important this election. >> and you've got it on politics and you've got it on policy. you've got bill clinton in new hampshire stumping for president obama today. and today with this crisis in syria, in turkey, with this ongoing crisis in libya, you've got hillary clinton out there, the tip of the sphere, the administration, she's going press availabilities with the foreign minister of kazakhstan today. she's absolutely integrated into the obama administration with no question of any division between them. i think that's -- i think to the extent that the clinton popularity in those rust belt states still explains enthusiasm that, i think that's exactly right. all right, we've got lots to come, including a look at what will be the hardest questions for each of the candidates to answer tonight. stay with us. this is msnbc's live coverage of the first presidential debate. it's a big night.
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when candidates the debate, they are playing both offense and defense. they have attacks they cannot wait to launch and they have questions they would rather not answer. ezra klein has been working on the latter part of that today. on the worst-case scenarios for both candidates. toughest questions they know they will face that they are not looking forward to tonight. ezra, thank you for joining us. >> happy debate tonight, rachel. >> thank you. it's my favorite night in politics. let's start with president obama. what do you think the most challenging question the president is likely to face tonight? >> the toughest question for the president is about a graph that his administration released, and it was before they were an administration. back in september of '08 when they were in transition. it was about how to sell the stimulus. it said, if you pass our stimulus bill, we will keep unemployment below 8% for the rest of the administration. is, ill never go above that. unemployment went up above 8% by february, before the stimulus had actually passed, much before it ever went into effect, and it's never come back down below that.
so for the obama administration, what they somehow have to argue is, this was bad because it was worse than they knew. romney will say, you tailed by your own measure. is they will say, we thought the recession was about a third as bad as it was. and everybody thought that, goldman sachs and the other banks thought that. so we were optimistic in the way that everybody was optimistic, but if we hadn't done what we did, things would be much worse today. >> so does president obama at the debate tonight just say, hey, everybody was wrong about how bad the recession was, flkding us? we couldn't see it coming? >> so, that's a little bit a part of it. but the problem for them, and i image romney will get into this, but year over year, the obama administration has been too optimistic. for years, pretty much every year so far, they've said the economy is going to recover faster than it actually has. and there are reasons it didn't. europe imploded. there was a tsunami that hit japan, rocking global demand. the arab spring sent oil prices skyrocketing. and at home, we did things like
the debt ceiling, which didn't help. but they stop sounding like explanations and begin sounding like excuses. so president obama needs to be able to make the case that the economy is just worse. and there wasn't -- with a very bad hand, his policies did about what could have been expected, about as good as we have been have done. romney wants to make it sound like it was a set of bad policies that led to a slow and sluggish recovery. >> what about governor romney in terms of what his most challenging question is, the thing he's least looking forward to talking about? >> it's flip of that. if president obama needs to defend why the recovery hasn't been quicker, romney needs to explain why he would actually make it faster. this is where the obama campaign sees their opportunity. george w. bush, obviously, his prime economic policy was a set of very large tax cuts. they did not have a very positive effect on the economy, even before the recession. it was a very, very weak expansion. and so governor romney has come in and he's proposed very, very large tax cuts again. and he hasn't wanted, in order to get away from the bush part, he hasn't wanted to explain them
too much. in fact, paul ryan, his running mate says, the math is just too hard. but it really isn't. and i would imagine the obama administration, or obama's going to go through tonight, you really only need to know two numbers about romney's tax plan, one is $480 billion. that's the cost of it in 2015, just to pick one year. and the other is $251 billion. that's the amount that will go to very wealthy families. now, mitt romney's promise, his tax plan won't cost a dime on the deficit. so he somehow needs to get $480 billion out of the tax code by closing breaks and loopholes, seems like the mortgage interest deduction, and also that it won't be a tax cut on the rich. so about $250 billion of it needs to come from tax breaks for the rich. the problem for him is that independent analysts have looked at and basically said, when you take into account the tax breaks he's promised he won't touch, like the capital gains tax break, it's basically impossible to make the numbers worse. there's no way to get that many tax breaks from the rich,
because they don't use that many tax breaks. you have to go to implausible assumptions about growth and other things. romney so far hasn't had a good answer, has tried to be vague, but over 90 minutes, it's going to be hard to be vague, when the president is across a stage, badgering him for specifics. >> and he has got a little bit more specific over the last couple of days? >> a little bit. he came into denver yesterday and told the fox-31 affiliate that while he was thinking about maybe doing a cap on deductions at $71,000, the campaign has been quick to say this is only an illustrative example. it isn't a terrible idea necessarily, but it wouldn't raise anywhere near the $480 billion we're talking about here, and it probably wouldn't be significantly progressive to keep romney's promises, so it doesn't get rid of his math problem. the tax plan still doesn't add up. the question for him is whether or not he's able to obscure o that on the stage tonight. >> ezra. thank you. so chris hayes, do we end up in a mega-audience version of paul ryan saying this weekend, i
don't really have the time to give you the numbers. i'd bore you if i gave you the math. >> that, to me, is the most fascinating element in this debate. is that he has said time and time again, mitt romney even said at one point, look, i learned from governor christie, if you give people details, they just use it to attack you. he has said explicitly as a matter of strategy, we won't give you more details. so how long can he avoid details on stage with the president for 90 minutes. and the other problem, it's not just bain, it's not just fact that this is the wealthiest man to run for president, well, in nominal dollars, ever, but in real dollars, in a long time. but he is proposing the same thing that republicans always propose when they get into office. the one reliable policy you can always count on republicans controlling national government to push through are tax cuts on the wealthy. they won't close deficits, they won't do a lot of other things they say, but the one thing they will do, you can bank on it, is cut taxes for the rich. and that is hanging around him. people saw how that worked the
last time. they're going through a recession that has hammered the working class in the way it has benefited the wealthy. and on top of that, he wants to do these tax cuts for the rich. that is the core truth that he has to defend. >> it is hard for him to connect with the middle class when he offers a policy like that. it's more of the same, no doubt. i want to go back to what ezra was talking about, about the economic model that the obama administration had and talking about where unemployment was going to go and how good it was going to be. all of that discussion was being presented to the american people, not knowing that we were going to have is a record amount of filibusters. obstruction is not an excuse. it is a reality. and i believe the president has an obligation tonight to make sure that he points that out. that this economy has gone forward without any help of mr. romney, your party. you know, this has been some heavy lifting on the american -- and i think he has to be that direct with it. won't have to be angry about it. obstruction's a fact. and every jobs bill that's been
put on the table, every jobs bill that's been put on the table, they haven't even brought it up for a vote in the house. they have dogged it everywhere, claiming we don't have enough tax cuts. that we've got too much regulation going on. i find it very interesting, the last few days and on some of our shows, we've played some of these millionaires and zillioni zillionaires and gillionaires complaining about the economy -- they uought to be loving president obama. >> reporter: one of the arguments, he's trying to make himself feel more compassionate by saying, we all care about this part of the country. president obama and i both care, the difference is, i can fix it, i can get it done. which is implicitly a message about obstruction right? that i'll be a can-do guy in washington, he can get around the filibuster. >> one of the more interesting aspects of the campaign is the fact that mitt romney is someone
who's never spent a day working in washington, d.c. yet he has not run a campaign as an outsider attacking the excesses of both parties in washington, d.c. now, i think it's probably too late to start that, but you look at the brands, particularly the republican brand, the congressional brand, it's toxic. there is no reason he had to attach himself to it. so the hour is getting late. he's behind in the polls. he's going to have to make an argument tonight where the middle class of the country, people that are still persuadable in the election say, he gets my issues. he gets my concerns. and he has a plan that i can relate to and i understand, that i find credible, to create economic growth. >> if he did that tonight, it would be a big strategic advantage for him, compared to where he's been. and it would be a shocking surprise. but i agree with you. >> but it would be a miraculous flip-flop of all times. >> he'd be breaking news, no doubt. >> because he would have to become not a new candidate, but a whole new person. because, first of all, he has not said anything that the middle class or people that are poor can really relate to.
second of all, he has not presented a plan. but third of all, there is no track record for anyone to stay, i believe that. the advantage that president obama has is to say, this is what i believe, this is what i tried to do. they stopped me. had i been able to do this, we'd be at this level. and i came out of the middle class and the working poor. mr. romney can only refer to one thing that remotely shows compassion, and that's the thing he won't touch like a third rail, and that's romney care. because then he loses the hard right. the only thing in his portfolio he can refer to, he will not touch, which is why he's playing with his own career, because he's given away the one tool that he could try to lock into people with. >> okay. we are just minutes away from the start of the biggest event in the presidential campaign, at least thus far. this is msnbc's live coverage of the first presidential debate. we be right back. it doesn't get any better than endless shrimp at red lobster. you can mix and match all day!
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presidential debate. it was in philadelphia. and with about ten minutes left to go in that debate, this happened -- >> one of the very serious things that's happened in our government in recent years, and has continued, up until now, is a breakdown in the trust among our people and the -- [ no audio ] >> the pool broadcasters from philadelphia have temporarily lost the audio. it is not a conspiracy against governor carter or president ford. and they will fix it as soon as possible. >> the pool audio from philadelphia has been lost momentarily. we hope to have it back any minute. we don't know what's happened to it. >> for 27 minutes, technicians worked feverishly to restore the
audio from that debate hall in 1976. and for those 27 minutes, president gerald ford and jimmy carter just stood there at their podiums in awkward silence until the debate could pick back up again. that was the first time an incumbent president had agreed to a live tv debate with his challenger. mr. carter, the challenger, credited those debates with helping him unseat the president. he said in particular, debating foreign policy that year with gerald ford helped make him, quote, a more respectable person in the mind of the electorate. as a challenger trying to unseat an incumbent president, the debates give the country a chance to imagine you, the challenger, as president. as you stand there for one night on equal footing with the leader of the free world. it worked for jimmy carter in 1976, and then it worked against jimmy carter four years later when, as president, he was challenged by ronald reagan. >> these are the kind of elements of a national health insurance important to the american people. governor reagan, again, typically, is against such a
proposal. >> governor? >> there you go again. when i oppose medicare, there was another piece of legislation meeting the same problem before the congress. i happened to favor the other piece of legislation. >> that "there you go again" line is the line that mr. romney said he will be tempted to use himself against president obama. he of course will be tempted to use anything that will remind people of republican ronald reagan beating democrat jimmy carter in 1980. but when incumbent president george h.w. bush fumbled a question about how the national debt and the faltering economy affected him personally, president bush just could not give a personal answer to that question. but his challenger, a man named bill clinton, pounced. >> well, i've been governor of a small state for 12 years. i'll tell you how it's affected me. i have seen what's happened in this last four years, when in my
state, when people lose their jobs, there's a good chance i'll know them by their names. when a factory closes, i know the people who ran it. when the businesses go bankrupt, i know them. and i've been out here for 13 months in meetings just like this ever since october, with people like you all over america. people that have lost their jobs, lost their livelihood, lost their health insurance. what i want you to understand is, the national debt is not the only cause of that. it is because america has not invested in its people. it is because we have not grown. it is because we've had 12 years of trickle-down economics. >> to be president. as the challenger, the presidential debate is pretty much your moment. it is your chance to maybe rattle the incumbent president. it is your chance to make yourself seem like a plausible president. like a better choice than the current guy. how does mitt romney do that tonight? chris matthews in denver at the site of tonight's debate. what do you think? >> well, first of all, jimmy carter was right.
ronald reagan has been working for the american medical association in the early '60s to fight medicare. he didn't have an alternative plan. he was against medicare. and second of all, the question put by that young african-american woman to george bush senior was how does the federal deficit affect you personally. instead of answering the question in general terms, how's the bad economy affected me, he sort of vetted the person. the woman in front of him. clinton ignored the particularity of the question and said, i know what you're talking about. has the economic slowdown affected you personally, let me tell you how it's affected me as governor of arkansas. so what you do is, if you're smart, you engage your emotional iq, not your intellectual iq. this is not a logical event that's going to happen in the next hour and a half, it's about emotions, and how the smart one uses his or her intelligence to get through the static of the intelligence. reagan would have said "there you go again" no matter what carter said. it was a brilliant line. he basically said, you're clinging to office and it's time
for you to go. and in the case of george senior, he wasn't up to the oprah winfrey kind of politics where you engage the audience on personal terms. you don't ask them to be as sophisticated as you've become. it was great examples -- they were great, rachel, examples of where emotional intelligence beats out logic. >> steve schmidt, when you were senior strategist for palin and mccain, does the campaign advise candidates on that emotional intelligence issue? do you just hope that they're good actors? do you hope they get it? is there a way to train people for that? >> you spend a lot of time preparing for these debates. and you have this big apparatus of the campaign around the candidates. you have the commercials, you have the fund-raising. you have all of the surrogates. but tonight is now the moment where they have to walk out there by themselves. and there's no net underneath them. you know, the country is looking at the two men. one of them is going to be the next president of the united states. and so they have to seal the deal themselves.
the campaigns, the organizations, the parties can only carry them so far. and now the rest in their hands. and tonight, the american people look at them, take their measure, and we will soon know who these guys really are. >> al, when you were a candidate, when you prep for a debate, you're prepping factually, you're making sure you know your own policies and the weaknesses in your opponent's policies, but do you prep in terms of style, acting, emotional intelligence, as chris was putting it, the way you're going to come across? >> i think you try to learn the style of your opponents. we would look at tapes of the opponents in their debates. we would watch them. every debate, you'd know them better. but it's like someone that is going to do a concert. you can have the best orchestra, the best voice trainer, the best acoustics, but if you can't sing, it's not going to help you. and the problem is, we're going to see tonight what romney has in him. no matter how much he's able to put around him, in 90 minutes,
you're going to come down to who he really is and isn't. i remember when george bush ii ran. kerry was excellent, but there was a core in bush, despite the fact he was losing the debates, that sort of connected with people. so even though we felt, i was there the first kerry/bush debate, we felt that he was slaughtered by kerry. but you didn't leave there disliking him. the problem with romney is, his likability. and if he walks out tonight, not only losing, but still not likable, it's over with. >> i just want to talk about what steve said. i think we know who president obama is. and i think there were some real impactful moments in the last time president obama was in this position. in one of the debates, foreign policy was huge. and there was a big narrative out there that president obama, you know, he couldn't take the 3:00 a.m. phone call, wasn't prepared, didn't have executive
experience, wasn't ready to do foreign policy. president obama stood up in that debate, and i think it's one for the highlight reel. he said, if we have intelligence that osama bin laden is, you know, in pakistan and the pakistanis are unwilling or unable, we will do what we have to do. something to that effect. i mean, it was very effective. and so i think that president obama has a record in a debate. we know who he is. he means what he says. and i think that this is the failure of romney's campaign, throughout the entire narrative of this campaign, we've never been able to really know who this guy is. he has to play tonight. >> i think chris's point about emotional intelligence is really important. but i will say this. training can get people to places they haven't been before. when president obama began, everyone said he was too professorial, too diffident, he didn't have that elmpathic
quality. >> and when people are having a good time, you like them. we're having a good time. do you like us? we are now just a couple of minutes away from the big show. this is my favorite night in politics. this is part of the reason we are excited here. this is msnbc's live coverage of the first presidential debate. we're right back. our abundant natural gas is already saving us money, producing cleaner electricity, putting us to work here in america and supporting wind and solar. though all energy development comes with some risk, we're committed to safely and responsibly producing natural gas. it's not a dream. america's natural gas... putting us in control of our energy future, now.
this is it. this is what we have been waiting for. this is msnbc's coverage of the first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign, which is set to get underway in just a moment from the university of denver. i'm rachel maddow here at our headquarters in new york. chris matthews is at the site of tonight's debate, at the university of denver. chris, your last thoughts before we go to jim lehrer on the debate stage tonight with these two candidates? >> it's probably going to get down to, who do you like? it's as simple as that tonight. after all the talk, who do you like? >> i have to tell you that i think that the format tonight is going to be important. we are not expecting to hear a lot of cheering from this audience. it is not set up for that to be the expectation. we are not going to have buzzers. we are not going to have rigid time limits. it's going to be divided into sort of 15-minute chunks with these candidates. it is going to focus, they say, almost entirely on domestic policy. there's going to beci