NOW with Alex Wagner | September 18, 2012
>>> when does an inflection point become an inescapable downward spiral . quick, someone call boston. tuesday, september 18th . and this is "now."
>>> joining me today, the man who helped bring the word game change in common par lens, msnbc political analyst and national affairs editor for "new york" magazine john heilemann, politico senior white house reporter glenn thrush, msnbc political analyst and former dnc communications director karen finney and msnbc contributor ari melber of the nation. when did it all begin to go so very wrong for mitt romney ? the trouble started just before the olympics, thoepg look presidential while in london, romney found himself in over his head.
>> fourth time you've been here in run done. do they look ready to your experienced eye?
>> you know, it's hard to now how well, it will turn out.
>> then, there was the paul ryan pick, after being heralded by members of his own party for making a tough, bold choice, in his running mate, romney immediately distanced himself from any of the tough bold choices put forward by his running mate.
>> i have my budget plan as you know that i've put out and that's the budget plan that we're going to run on.
>> when romney tried to get his mowjo back with his acceptance speech at the convention he was blocked by a chair, empty chair, that led off the prime time coverage of the rnc and according to a pew poll 20% of americans that was the most -- for them that was the most notable part of the entire convention. if the chair wasn't bad enough romney 's speech itself would quickly become famous for what he did not say, afghanistan, not one mention of the war that has already cost 2,000 lives and nearly $450 billion. perhaps in an attempt to prove to the country that he had some awareness of issues, relating to national security and foreign policy , two weeks later mitt romney waded into a diplomatic crisis with a misleading and uninformed attack on the president at exactly wrotsening time, which brings us to the present day . the campaign desperate to get back on message a video has surfaced featuring romney speaking at a closed door fund-raiser last may in florida. the auto he vent see the questionly filmed and given to the magazine mother jones . after months of asserting the president has run on a campaign of, quote, division and anger and hate, onded when asked about convincing the american public that, quote, everybody has to take care of themselves.
>> that 47% figure comes from the number of americans who do not pay federal income tax . for the record, those are mostly elderly and poor americans , many of whom pay other taxes and at a higher rate than mitt romney 's own 13%. this is what romney had to say about those 47%ers.
>> in his words, mitt romney believes that nearly half of the country will never take personal responsibility for their lives. rarely one to admit fault romney stood by his comments of the fund-raiser as the campaign hastily scheduled a press conference last night.
>> this is the same message i give to people, which is we have a very different approach, the president and i, between a government dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams. i'm talking about the process of campaigns. typically i don't talk about process in speeches because i think candidates are wiser to talk about policy.
>> how will the past eight weeks of abysmal message management and seemingly nonexistent strategy play out for candidate romney . from bloomberg view -- mitt romney lost the election. from david brooks , mr. romney your entitlement reform ideas are essential but when will the incompetence stop? we don't know, david brooks , but one thing remains certain, this avalanche of errors has made the upcoming presidential edebates which begin two weeks from today not nearly crucial but critical. romney must deliver a super human performance to not only reverse the downward spiral of his campaign but cat ta put him to where he might win an election that is seven weeks away. we hope rob portman is one heck of a sparring partner. john heilemann, your colleague in "new york" magazine said mitt romney has revealed himself to be the smearing pluto crat everyone thought he would be. has he and can he reverse that impression in the course of the next few weeks?
>> i don't know if everybody thought he would be. certainly there's a negative stereotype of governor romney . it's been an open question . is he a sneering police toe crat, is he not, who is mitt romney ? he's done a lot of things to create the stereotype david brooks called him -- i like to pair that with gordon gekko and make gordon gekko the hall the third. so many problems with this statement. certainly furthering that impression for a lot of people is one of the most powerful, he -- made this comment last night in the press conference when wasn't apologizing saying he spoke inartfully. i think the biggest problem with the video he speaks very elegantly. he speaks more eloquently and articulately in the video than on stage. i think that impression the fact he's speaking with passion and conviction and not haltingly and stumblely leads people to say this is the real mitt romney and the combination of condensation and conten tu wasness he speak of 47% of the country is troubling. challenger in any race has an uphill battle always, against anybody, under any circumstances. he is like sisofis where the rock is rolling down the mountain is his own campaign and performance. he's trying to push up against this huge weight he imposes on hisself and it is, you know, i think a lot of people are looking to the extent there are people in the middle of the electorate trying to decide is this a plausible alternative what they want to see is a president, a potential president, and if you think about the libya comments last week and these comments this week, this is a person not coming across as a serious, sober presidential person, big enough tofy fill that chair.
>> it's also there's a bigger problem than that. i completely agree but i also think it shows, david brooks said this, a lack of understanding of this country and who the people who inhabit this country are and what the experience is. more and more americans have an experience in the terms of role of government than the republican narrative is willing to acknowledge and they're not lazy and they're not victims and they're not not willing to work hard. an increasing number of americans are stepping back saying that's not my life, how i live, how i think of myself and are offended by the idea he's so dismissive of half of the country and of the experience and the life reality of half the country.
>> i thought it was questionable when he said, i don't really like focusing on process. this is not about process. this is about policy. david brooks writes romney criticized president obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups the makers. romney 's comments reveal he has lost any sense of the social compact . sort of the fund mentalals of role of government in life.
>> it's funny where he wants to talk about policy where we haven't gotten a single lick of --
>> this is the pivot, sfloob pivot into armageddon. but it's like, no, the obama people have been hitting him for months and months. he wants to talk about policy. that wouldn't be a terrible idea for him right now to sort of shut down the -- we seem to be having a nightly 10:15 press conference with mitt romney . he's entering the letter zone.
>> working on a hawaiian time zone . i thought this was a really notable comment made by joe scarborough regarding how other people in the conservative party in the gop have treated the notion of sort of the haves and the have nots. this is joe scarborough talking about his time with jeb bush . take a listen to that.
>> i was in rooms with jeb bush when he was governor and there would be wealthy people that would say things like this to jeb bush , and he would just glare at them. and then he would say, when nobody was watching, you don't understand. those are the people we have to help. you can help yourself . you get your lawyers, whatever. these are the people we've got to help.
>> those are the people we have to help, ari. i think the most damming part of mitt romney 's fund-raiser video tape is my job is not to concern myself with those people talking about half of the people.
>> right. scarborough's point really overlaps what you're saying which is this is not about tactics, this is not about tone, this is not about misspeaking. this is about a world view . and it's where his process as he calls it, overlaps perfectly with the policies which is leaving a lot of people behind and mistaking at least for the oppressed minority that needs help. it's remarkable. that's really the point about separating out income taxes , that statistic which is legion on the right is a fact without a point. right? it divides up the tax burden into certain categories and says you don't pay this category. i don't pay the boat tax because i don't own a boat but that doesn't tell you much about the burden. this is the most important thing to come out of all this. the people he's talking about pay a higher tax rates than he does for the few years of income taxes he has released as you pointed out in the open. that can't be repeated enough. 15% here. and he wants to not only pay less than these people but then attack them for not paying taxes.
>> we will talk about the specifics of the tax breakdown. the 47% don't pay taxes. it's like a -- it's exactly what david brooks says, this narrative of the makers versus takers and he's fueling that further.
>> he also splits it out somehow f you're in the 47% which that number i think is disputable, you know, somehow you're a victim, you're a moocher but if that top 3% lucky enough not to have to pay taxes on your income as the irs said, 3% of america because they had all kinds of good lawyers and schemes so they could, you know,obligations, that's okay because you're hard working and the rest of you people you're moochers.
>> but he is tapping into the life force of the republican base here. this has been the argument. this is not a mitt romney argument.
>> that's not right.
>> he's tapping the life force of certain set of conservatives, right wing elites. the conservative base is a lot of white working-class voters who have received tons of entitlements spending.
>> for the last three years when i was on the hill i watched vote after vote in which the majority on both houses on the republican side vote on extending unemployment --
>> lot of toughing going on.
>> separate you guys.
>> the point is, like i -- look, there's definitely a dog whistle , an argument that's become totemic for conservatives for right wing conservatives. one of the things that david brooks points out that is a fact that is what is crazy about this politically if you look at those people, who is it that are the majority of the beneficiaries of the entitlement society? those are white working-class voters, that's the republican base. who are actually not paying income taxes , elderly voters. the only segment of the electorate voting for mitt romney . beyond all of the things that are -- enormative sense that are wrong about this statement it's political suicide .
>> the political dog ma of republicans is to say they're not that group of people and there's somebody lower than you if and if you don't hate those people, the karl rove anger points, you got to hate those people because you're a little higher up than them.
>> if you go to the rallies in toledo, go toes these rallies in a lot of these battleground states and all over ohio and western pennsylvania , scranton, you find people, including obama supporters, articulating that very point, which is why they push why the republican found it fortuitous to push the anti-union stuff in wisconsin. a lot of this --
>> viewed as being very much in terms of base energizing. i think the problem with mitt romney he's still trapped in the mind space of the republican primary . he has not been successful in terms of toggling, he hasn't shored up the base and he is singing to an audience not going to get him --
>> that's right. that's the irony of all of this. he can't really even apologize for these comments because that's seen as capitulating to the left when in reality there are a lot of people in the republican party that hear the comments are like finally you're saying it, calling it like it is, we understand you had to do it in a closed door fund-raiser but that's what's going on in the country and they don't see themselves, people on the base, they don't think of themselves as those moochers. no no no. [ inaudible ].
>> keep your hand office my medicare and my -- keep your hands off my social security .
>> not understand d.
>> hey, guess what.
>> in the early days of the tea party who is a tea partier and these people are against government intervention and handouts and don't want their social security --
>> i don't think this is just damaging for independents or liberal critiques. glen's point i disagree. i think there are a lot of conservative voters out there who will see the totality of these remarks, ricochet around, from the candidate's vote voice, a disdain for people who pay taxes, classic, elite gimmickry of calling this one thing and the other thing. if you pay payroll tax , rich or poor worker, every time you get a paycheck there's a bunch of money missing. if mitt romney and his buddy want to tell you we have a different name for that and the lower rates we pay, i don't care what union hall or senior center you're i don't think it sells well.
>> we have to talk about the 47%ers. governor romney was asked if he was worried whether the offended whether he offended half of the united states in his videotaped comments.
>> well, you know, it's not eloquee elegantly stated, i'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question and i'm sure i could state it more clearly in a more effective way than i did in a setting like that. and so i'll -- i'm sure i'll point that out as time goes on.
>> we will try to elegantly and effectively answer any lingering questions about who those 47% are next on "now." bob...