NOW with Alex Wagner | August 27, 2012
>>> the highly anticipated much discussed republican national convention begins today and will feature speeches, remarks and calls to action for approximately ten minutes. it's monday, august 27th and this is "now." joining me today, msnbc contributor, ari melber of the nationmayor, howard wolfson , the host of msnbc's " martin bashir " show, martin bashir himself, and jodi kantor of "new york times." the republican party is now one day away from making governor mitt romney its official nominee but does anyone know who mitt romney actually is? according to mike murphy , a top republican advisor who worked for the candidate in 2008 , the next two weeks will be focused on defining romney .
>> the background of this election is the war to provide new information about mitt romney . the romney campaign is trying to fill out the story, trying to break through, point things forward on jobs. the democratic strategy is very simple. can't run on record, data is horrible, we have to destroy romney . this year, both conventions will be about romney .
>> but as voters learn more about governor romney , are they liking what they see?
>> does it bother you that according to the polls, people don't like you more or is that not important?
>> all i can do is be who i am. remember that popeye line, i am what i am and that's all what i am?
>> the old popeye defense. romney used that line three times this weekend in an interview with politico, including when asked if he would be opening up more at the convention. apparently voters are going to get what they see and nothing more. so what have we seen lately from governor romney ?
>> no one's ever asked to see my birth certificate . they know that this is the place that we were born and raised. i yam what i yam and that's all what i yam
>> we also know this about mitt romney . quote, i think one of the things i don't do terribly well is to be highly organized, he said, and follow a calendar precisely. i yam what i yam and that's all what i yam
>> and in case you were wondering, this is what mitt romney knows about mitt romney . quote, i'm emotional. i don't show it quite as clearly as john boehner but i'm an emotional person. there is, i don't know, a societal norm that if you're running for office you can't be emotional and perhaps i bow to that too often. i yam what i yam and that's all what i yam
>> but as mitt romney gives little detail about what he is and isn't, team obama is wasting no time telling the country exactly what they think he is.
>> i can't speak to governor romney 's motivations. what i can say is that he has signed up for positions, extreme positions, that are very consistent with the positions that a number of house republicans have taken, and whether he actually believes in those or not, i have no doubt that he would carry forward some of the things that he's talked about.
>> right now, the race is deadlocked. a new " washington post "/abc poll shows among registered voters , governor romney and president obama are within the margin of error in a statistical tie. if romney wants to move the needle this week, he may have to give up the popeye defense and find the answer to a more pressing question. where is the spinach? joining us from tampa is the man who helped bring the word game changer into common parlance, msnbc political analyst and national affairs editor for "new york" magazine, john heilemann. it doesn't really look -- hasn't looked that stormy down there but we hope you're wearing your galoshes.
>> i am here, got my galoshes on. we are hoping for sunshine and hoping to get sunshine despite the fact that you're not here. if you were here, it would be bright and shiny.
>> come on. there's a great song about that. let's go right to the race. have the democrats at this point done a better job defining mitt romney ahead of the rnc than the republicans and mitt romney have done?
>> well, since the republicans and mitt romney 's campaign have done very little to define mitt romney , i would say the democratic side has done much better. if you look at the public opinion polling over the last few months, you have seen governor romney 's unfavorability ratings rise. by some measures he's the most unpopular major party candidate heading into his convention that we have seen in our lifetime. i think there's no question that obama 's team has done a good job with that. the question is whether that's a reversible or not. we will see that over the next few weeks, the next couple months.
>> martin bashir , in your expert opinion , is the sort of i will call it some amount of negative momentum given where mitt romney is polling in terms of likability and the ability to see eye-to-eye and care about the concerns of the common man, is this negative sort of cloud something he can lift in the next few months?
>> it's amazing, isn't it, this man has been running for the presidency for eight years, but he's also simultaneously been running away from his own biography. he doesn't want to talk about what he did in massachusetts because that wasn't entirely favorable. he doesn't really want to talk in detail about what he did at bain capital because that's difficult. you were suggesting to john heilemann the democrats have actually defined this man. i think he's defined himself and now what are we supposed to do, wake up and say for the next two weeks, we're going to get to know this man. we know this man already. we know what he's like. he's a plutocrat, very, very wealthy, he actually isn't particularly compassionate and he's extremely awkward. that's the kind of man he is. what are they going to do, dress him up as some guy who is really getting down with the folks and really relaxed? i find this whole, i'm sorry, to be slightly contemptuoous. it's ridiculous to impose on the american people the idea we're supposed to learn about this guy. we know him. we know who he is.
>> don't you think, aside from loving those vintage popeye cartoon clips which i know you guys were entertained by, the "i am what i am" line is -- i guess that's mitt romney trying to say i'm going to try and own it.
>> well, look, i'm in the unlikely position of sticking up for mitt romney here. couple things. one, conventions are traditionally the point at which they try to tell their story in a way that captures the imagination of the american people . he has a chance to do that. that's what conventions are typically about. secondly, he doesn't like to talk about his time in the business world, doesn't like to talk about his time as massachusetts governor . that's a real problem. the other thing he doesn't like to talk about or hasn't yet is his faith. if he does, i think there's ample evidence, at least i've read, he is a compassionate person, a person who is deeply involved in his community, that he has helped people. whether he tells that story, whether people get to see the mitt romney that they have not yet seen is open to question but that is typically what conventions are about and that is in many respects the task at hand.
>> can i say briefly, there's two pieces, though. one is that it's not i am what i am, it's i am what i wasn't. that is to say, i am not the man who was governor, i am not the man who passed the assault weapons ban , i'm not --
>> not nearly as catchy, ari.
>> maybe not.
>> i'm not the man who was pro-choice and i previously was and now i'm not. all of these things, i am not.
>> exactly. and who was defined in part by a piece of legislation that was very good, universal health care at the state level. there's that big pivot. to howard's point, the other problem is, he hasn't been known nationally by doing something or being a senator for 20 years or one of these other sort of onramps. he's in the crucible of these tough campaigns. this is where the obama campaign will have trouble post-convention, in a way his numbers are slightly artificially depressed. hillary clinton has been very popular when in office, then her numbers obviously go down when she runs for president, because everyone shoots at you, then they go back up. there's a possibility in a different context, he will do better.
>> i want to ask about expectations, john. is there going to be a great big reveal? we were talking about the mormon question and we know a mormon pastor will introduce governor romney , but is he really going to wrap his arms around these sort of big issues that we're heretofor not things he ever wanted to discuss?
>> i think that's no question. i think they are keeping a pretty tight lid on exactly what his speech is going to say, how much leg or arm or anything else he's going to show on some of the issues that howard mentioned. but look, just to take one slight piece of exception with what martin bashir said, most people in america have not actually paid that much attention to this race. we all do. people who appear on this show, people who talk about this all day long on television, including me and you and everyone on the panel, but most americans have not paid that much attention and they slowly start to focus now. that's why howard wolfson is so right. the romney campaign feels really good about where they are right now. the poll that came out yesterday that has him up by one point with registered voters and registered voters have generally been worse for romney , he probably is in a better place with likely voters than with registered voters and the fact that the president's at 45% on the eve of the republican convention , before any bounce for mitt romney , the romney campaign feels really good about where they are and that might actually limit the extent to which they feel they need to do something dramatic with his speech thursday night.
>> i want to talk about the attacks the romney campaign launched in the direction of team obama and call to everyone's attention something that david corn wrote today. romney has deployed assaults against president barack obama that are tinged with racism, attack ads that push the already much stretched envelope of political truth bending. at this moment as romney commands a national audience, they are poised to build on a foundation of untruthfulness and obama hatred years in the making. this is on the heels of the comments mitt romney made, the joke he made on friday about the birth certificate but clearly david paints a bigger, more concerning portrait around the president. i guess i wonder how much you think that sticks and that in turn is depressing the president's numbers.
>> well, as my colleagues very effectively demonstrated this weekend, it's a tactic and the reason why the romney campaign is using the tactic is that their prior tactics haven't worked well enough. they are going for a more direct character attack on the president than they have used to date because they feel that is the most effective way for them to win the election and they basically admitted as much. you know, when we think about conventions, one pattern that i think is important to note is that there's always kind of an inversely proportional relationship between the nasty, ugly stuff and the lofty elevated hopeful flattering tone.
>> i haven't seen any of that stuff yet.
>> remember, it was the gennifer flowers scandal that produced the inspirational man for hope video from president clinton which remains the gold standard of how a candidate presents himself. i think with both of these conventions, with the nastiness of the romney attacks, we will see them try to complement that with ann romney and craig romney and people from governor romney 's church and by the way, the same thing will be true next week in charlotte with these ugly racially tinged attacks on the president. that's where they bring out the obama girls, right, the heartwarming, uplifting, positive figures.
>> so john heilemann, we have to cut it here but i want to ask you on a scale of one to ten, how epic is the romney video montage going to be?
>> a scale of one to ten, somewhere between one and ten. i think they will do a very nice job. they have a lot of great hollywood ad men working on that. i'm sure it will look fantastic. i think it's going to tug at your heartstrings. you're a sentimental girl.
>> wow. one in ten out of one in ten. thank you, john heilemann, as always.