The Rachel Maddow Show | March 30, 2012
MADDOW: " Wall Street Journal " published a big investigating page one story yesterday morning about what appears to be a bit of a tax shelter set up by Bain capital . A tax steal that lot of employees of Bain do invest using tax deferred accounts in roundabout and potentially tax-evadish ways. Basically, the story raises questions about whether Bain capital came up with a way for its employees to benefit from them devaluing assets in order to avoid paying taxes on them. In this election year it also, of course, raises questions about whether Mitt Romney , the former head of Bain capital took advantage of said questionable tax practices. The Obama campaign responded to the ' Wall Street Journal " investigation by calling on Mitt Romney to release his tax returns dating back to the '80s. Mr. Romney has so far released just two years of tax returns . That, of course, is in contrast with say, his own father who released many more years of his taxes when he ran for president. The Romney campaign said it's outraged by the Obama campaign 's latest request for Mr. Romney's taxes. And here is how the Romney campaign responded in particular. I think this is strange. This was their response to the Obama campaign asking for Mitt Romney 's tax returns . This what that Romney campaign said. Ready? It said, quote, " Obama should release, Obama should release the notes and transcripts of all his meetings with world leaders so the American people can be satisfied that he's not promising to sell out the country's interests after the election is over." Seriously? In what universe is the response to release your tax returns , the statement that the president should release all his notes and transcripts from all his meetings with world leaders ? Why would you think it would be a good idea for a president to do that? Why would you think that would be good for the country? And why would you bring that up? What's the connection? Right. This is the new Mitt Romney campaign thing now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your mission is simple, Mr. Obama , win one last election to gain unchecked flexibility, weaken our defenses and fundamentally transform the world. Dmitri will transmit the information.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Starring Barack Obama as president flexible.
MADDOW: That's the new ad from Karl Rove 's dark money group . It pairs with this new Mitt Romney op-ed in foreign policy magazine which he says, quote, "in his dealings with the Kremlin as in his dealings with the rest of the world President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness. And here is the reason why the Republican have all these new foreign policy talking points all of the sudden. According to " Washington Post ," the Romney campaign is thinking this is their new thing. This is their new approach against President Obama . Economy thing maybe not working out so well, so they are resetting the Romney campaign as a foreign policy campaign . Now, whether or not you are fan of President Obama 's approach to foreign policy , here is the hiccup for the Romney campaign with this new approach. They can't just generically say, President Obama is wrong on foreign policy . They have to also make it seem like Mitt Romney would be better and that's hard to do when your Mitt Romney .
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I also think we have learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independents for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan 's independence from the Taliban .
MADDOW: For the record, this is an Afghani . This is an Afghan. So, it lacks several of them. OK. Money Afghani is money. Afghan is person. It's not as bad as when Rick Santorum called the people of Afghanistan , Afghanstanis , remember that one.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Iran is a country that has killed more American men and women in uniform in Iraq , in Afghanistan than the Iraqis and Afghanstanis have.
MADDOW: Rick some solve sloppy Afghanistan , it's the Afghanistanis . Mitt Romney calling the Afghan people , Afghanis as if you would call the American people dollars. It's not as bad as Rick Santorum , but it's not good. And yes, the words Afghan and Afghani are very similar, but come on. Mitt Romney is running for president. More than ten years into an American war . In a country that is called, Afghanistan that is filled with people who are called the Afghan people . Pretend to care about that enough to get it right at a debate if you're running for president or at least correct it when you get it wrong. But Mitt Romney says it over and over again. Whether or not he memorizes his flash cards well on this subject or not, Mr. Romney has a larger problem in trying to run a foreign policy base campaign . In a larger problem is that he does not, himself, appear to have a foreign policy . Here for example was Mr. Romney last April arguing against troop withdrawals in Afghanistan .
ROMNEY: We witnessed a weakening of our military and a decline of our standing in the world. President Obama 's troop withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan were quite apparently based upon electoral expediency, not military requirement.
MADDOW: Mitt Romney against troop withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan . Here is Mitt Romney arguing for them in June.
ROMNEY: It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can consistent with the word that comes our generals .
MADDOW: Mitt Romney on a timetable for exiting the Iraq war in 2007 .
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Do you believe there should be a timetable in withdrawing the troops?
ROMNEY: Well, there's no question but the president and prime minister have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak out. But those shouldn't be for public pronouncement.
MADDOW: They have to have a set of timetables. This is what he said in 2008 .
ROMNEY: I do not support and have never support a time withdrawal. I've never talked about a timed withdrawal with a date certain for us to leave. That's not the case. Simply wrong.
MADDOW: Actually, simply, totally correct. You have to idea what your own policy is, do you? And when it comes to Libya , whatever you think was the right thing to do in Libya , trying to figure out what Mitt Romney would have done, has baffled anybody that has tried. ABC News did some great reporting on this in October of last year because last March, Mr. Romney said he supported military action and in Libya . Then in April, he literally fled down a hallway at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas to avoid answering reporters' questions about Libya saying instead, quote, "I've got a lot of position on a lot of topics but walking down the hall probably isn't the best place to describe those." Then in April he pended an op-ed in which he accused the Obama administration of mission creep and mission muddle in Libya . But once the mission was successful, he said he was very pleased with how it all gone. And in response to all this back and forth and back again, laid out step by step by ABC , the response from the Romney campaign , remember the guy who said the etch a sketch thing. This is what that same guy said about Mr. Romney on Libya . He said quote, " Mitt Romney has responded to the situation in Libya as it has developed." Pivoting quickly then to "it's the president who has been completely unclear regarding what his intention was with respect to our military 's involvement in Libya ." Whether or not you agree with President Obama on foreign policy and I think that most Americans find his foreign policy largely uncontroversial, it's hard to imagine that Mitt Romney is going to be able to portray himself as the guy that makes more sense on foreign policy . And if this is the new Romney campaign plan, this is particularly awkward timing for them to re-launch their campaign around the idea of a Mitt Romney foreign policy genius strategy. All this week, the Romney campaign has been making all lovey dovey with the Paul Ryan budget but Mitt Romney says he absolutely support and say would like to be pictured next to as such as possible. When people think Paul Ryan , Mitt Romney would like them to think Mitt Romney right there behind him. The Paul Ryan 's budget has a big foreign policy problem, which is he's just accused all of the top U.S. generals of lying to congress.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Why did the committee choose to go against the advice of the generals ? REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don't think the generals believe that their budget is really the right budget .
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: You don't believe the generals ? This is not an Obama defense budget . We saw all of combat commanders. We saw all of the service chiefs stand up and say this is actually what we need. And this would not be first time. This would not be odd for a defense budget to decline after conflicts.
RYAN: I agree. What I believe is that this budget does hollow out defense . I believe it goes beyond where we ought to go to have a strong national defense to keep people safe. I think they are using budget gimmicks as well. So, I think there's a lot of budget smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon 's budget . It's not a true, honest and accurate budget .
MADDOW: It is not a true, honest and accurate budget . He said the generals did not give their true advice. We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don't think that the generals believe that their budgets is right budget . Here is how general Martin Dempsey , chairman of the joint chief of staff responded to congressman Ryan . He said quote, "there's a difference between having somebody say they don't believe what you said versus calling us collectively liars. My response is I stand by my testimony. This was very much a strategy driven process to which we mapped out the budget ." Romney campaign is, obviously, looking for a new wagon to hitch their campaign to. They are having problems with the old line which is the economy is a disaster, blame Barack Obama. And so, they are looking for something new. Mitt Romney , trust me on foreign policy . I'm the guy who you should look to for foreign policy genius. That's their new plan. Give it a go. You never know. I think this is a bad idea for them. Joining us now is David Corn . He's author of the new book "showdown, the inside story of how Obama fought against Banger , Canter and the tea party." David is also the author of the book "Hubris" with Michael Isikoff which told the definitive story of how the last president sold the country a decade ago on why he thought it was great to invade Iraq . David Corn , thank you so much for being here tonight.
DAVID CORN, AUTHOR, CHIEF, MOTHER JONES DC BUREAU: Good to be you, Rachel .
MADDOW: I was talking earlier with Steve Schmidt about whether or not the George W. Bush legacy hangs over the Mitt Romney campaign in a positive or negative way. He said it would be great day for the Romney campaign when they inevitably get the George W. Bush 's endorsement. I think it already looks bad for Romney that he has the George W. Bush foreign policy advisers. Do you think that the Iraq and the George W. Bush presidency's still resonate when people look at Mitt Romney .
CORN: I'm not sure people make the connection when they look at Mitt Romney . But the more he talks as if he comes from the 1970s and 1980s when it comes to foreign policy , they will put the connection that he's looking back ward and not forward. I mean, I think you are right that he's a hard sell , that his foreign policy , whatever it may be is better than Barack Obama. But when he gets out there, and he's been doing this for a good coupling of years and calls the president an apologizer and an appeaser, I don't think that just rings true. I don't think it hits the mark. In my book, I tell the story of what the president did on Egypt , Libya , the bin Laden raid. And I think again and again, he came across maybe not every minute of those crisis, but at the end as the guy who is deliberative, decisive and got pretty damn good outcome without a lot of expenses being paid by the U.S. So , I think if the Romney campaign chooses to engage on that level, the president can just start telling that story, people have to read my book if he wants, and I think he has he will make a pretty damn good case. Mitt Romney will have a hard time refuting with just his empty rhetoric that you always that Republicans always throw against Democrats as being weak on national defense .
MADDOW: Do you see it that way? Do you see it as sort of a generic Republican versus democrat template that they are trying to apply here whether or not it fits Mitt Romney or whether or not it fits Barack Obama. They are just hoping people associate Republicans in a positive way with foreign policy strength? They associate democrat with weakness even if it doesn't fit these men very well?
CORN: I think that they're going back to playbook 101 for the GOP , which is just call the other side, weak. There's a new book out now called "drift," you might have heard of it. And in it, you talk about Ronald Reagan losing the first primaries in 1976 against General Ford and then he came out and started talking tougher on national security and starting saying things that weren't necessarily true about the soviet military being bigger and having more money spent on it than the U.S. military and presto, all of the sudden he started winning primaries. Not enough to get the nomination in '76, but it helped him in 1980 . So, I think they just see the same old playbook, that you get up there and you say things that might not even be true like the president wants to apologize or the president is an appeaser and just say I'm going to be stronger. What does Mitt Romney have to do to show that? Really, nothing, except make the charge.
MADDOW: Is it going to hurt Mitt Romney to have taken a stance for withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan and against withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan , for a timetable in Iraq and against a timetable in Iraq and for having taken every position under the sun on Libya while it was happening before it and after it? I mean, that -- his inability to be identified with any particular foreign policy position, does that make it a harder place to throw the punches from?
CORN: You mean to be a flip-flopper? Let me think about that one for a moment. I mean, I do think if he tries to engage that level of detail, he can be blown out of the water because he doesn't have a strong position. He has been back and forth. And I can just see if it rises to the level of the presidential debate, the president being out there and able to say, hey, what happened in Libya , my friend? You said this. You said that. I was the one that got the rest of the world to join together to get Gadhafi out of office. It didn't cost us a single U.S. troop. It didn't cost us a lot of money either. I was leading from behind, as the saying goes, but I was leading from behind the scenes in a collective manner that worked much better than anything that happened during the Bush years. You remember the Bush years. Those people that were advising you from the Bush years. So, I think again and again and again, Obama will have a very compelling argument on the details. The only question is if he's going to really be have to engage on this if it will become an issue during the campaign .
MADDOW: David , in your book, "showdown," you said the name of my book, I'll say the name of yours.
CORN: Fair trade.
MADDOW: But one of the things that you go into a detail is the Arab spring. And the way that the president handled the issues of the Arab Spring . And the wave that the president handled the issues of the Arab Springs , both the length of time that he spent on them and the foresight he had about them and the way he decided to position the United States , not against the Arab Spring as a whole but specifically based on what was going on in each country. Do you get the sense the White House think they have an election year narrative to tell about the spring given the fact it's still ongoing, that it's still unsettled in so many places that Americans worry about?
CORN: What's great about doing this book is going back after the fact and looking at episodes that you and I were debating by denounce seconds as they were happening. And in that time period images were being or impressions were being established for the president. I think on Egypt in particular, a lot gone his back for dithering because he didn't call from a barrack to leave right away. But if you go behind the scenes like in the book and let him in the meetings, he was both nudging Mubarak and nudging his own government which a lot of people had an interest in preserving the status quo and try to sort speak to the aspirations of the people in the streets of Egypt and elsewhere who were looking and nine months prior to that he had already talked to people within his administration about looking forward to the changes in the Arab world . So, I think Mitt Romney once he gets settled and start telling that story, it will be very compelling and I think Mitt Romney will have a very difficult case to make against the president.
MADDOW: David Corn , Washington Bureau chief from mother Jones . The new book, again, "Showdown" is in stores now. David , thanks for your time. Nice to be with you on a Friday night. Appreciate it.
CORN: Thank you, Rachel .
MADDOW: All right. We'll be right