The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/08/10

John Stanton, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Melissa Harris Lacewell, Mark Leibovich, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

The Republican Party turns on their chairman, Michael Steele, turns on him like a cornered animal.  What happened today in Republican Party politics is some of the ugliest, most brutal political brawling we have seen in any political context all year long.  But it was not just a tough day for the Republican Party chairman, Mr. Steele—John McCain, Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani all ended up today in the headlines for reasons they would all not want to be there.

Plus, the Census addresses the hubbub over the fact that the word, “Negro,” is being used on the census form this year.  Our friend Melissa Harris-Lacewell joins us to talk about that.

And the president of Nigeria is totally missing.

We‘ve got lots to get to.


But we begin tonight with the Republican Party apparently—apparently—poised to replace its chairman after what has been an up and down year for Michael Steele, and certainly a very high profile one as chairman.  The Republican knives this week, today in particular, have come out for him.

A former Republican Party official is telling “Talking Points Memo” today, quote, “If we get rid of this guy now, it‘s great for us.  Let‘s shed him now.”

A top House aide telling “Hotline” that “Republican congressional aides are collaborating with each other, both on and off the Hill, on ways to keep him quite.”

While Mr. Steele is by no means been unanimously popular among Republican, what appears to have set his critics collective hair-on-fire is him embarking on the book tour this week.  GOP congressional aides telling “The Washington Post” that nobody in the Republican leadership knew that Mr. Steele was coming out with a book at all, let alone what he was planning to say in it.  One aide is telling “The Post,” “The book came out and everybody went, ‘Whoa, what happened?‘  No one in the House or Senate leadership knew he had a book contract.”

Another aide telling “CQPolitics”: “No one in the leadership had a clue this was coming.”

The media tour Mr. Steele has launched to promote his book was derided this week by another Republican congressional aide as, quote, “a Republican apology tour at the exact wrong time.”

These are—remember, these are—these are Republicans talking about Michael Steele.  This is not his supposedly critics.

As part of his book tour, Mr. Steele told Sean Hannity on the FOX News Channel this week that Republicans would likely not take back the majority in the House this year.  That sparked a conference call between Republican congressional staffers and staffers at the RNC.

Among the quotes eagerly leaked to a million different sources from that call, quote, “He‘s got to stop and put an end to this thing.”

Quote, “You guys got to tell us how long this is going to last.”

Quote, “You really just have to get him to stop.  It‘s too much.”

Quote, “Steele is setting us far back with his comments and it needs to stop.”

Quote, “You need to have him be quiet.”

One senior Senate aide was quoted by “Hotline” as saying on that call that Michael Steele is a fool.  Another House aide adding insult to insult to insult to insult to injury, telling “Hotline” that Mr. Steele has been going on television, quote, “appearing unprepared and uneducated.”

Yet another aide telling “CQPolitics,” quote, “This guy thinks he‘s leading, but he has become radioactive to the point nobody in their right mind would follow him.”

Are we seeing a pattern here?  Just count as a trend?

The way that Michael Steele has responded to this avalanche of criticism has been rather pugnacious.  And pugnaciousness is sometimes admired in politicians.  In Mr. Steele‘s case, I think his specific brand of pugnaciousness is not going over that well.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  I am in this chair.  If want it, take it from em.  Until then, shut up, step back or get in the game.  I hope you play this tape over and over again because these folks are the problem, they‘re not the solution.  Get with the program.  I‘m the chairman.  Deal with it.


MADDOW:  Those comments made by Mr. Steele in an interview with KTRS Radio in St. Louis yesterday.

Also yesterday, Mr. Steele told ABC Radio this about his critics. 

Listen to this.


STEELE:  I tell them to get a life.  And I‘m telling them and looking them in the eye and say, I‘ve had enough of it.  If you don‘t want me in the job, fire me.  But until then, shut up.  Get with the program or get out of the way.

Now, all I‘m saying is, cut it out.  You don‘t see the Democrats running around, you know, trying to beat up their national chairman or embarrass him.


MADDOW:  After that interview yesterday, Mr. Steele was due to do another ABC interview today at noon.  According to ABC, Mr. Steele confirmed that appearance at 11:15.  Then at 11:30, he suddenly canceled it, saying that he had an emergency RNC meeting to go to.

That, of course, gave rise to bring speculation that maybe that emergency RNC meeting meant that Michael Steele‘s tenure as RNC chairman will be ending as early as today at noon.

But then, RNC officials told “Talking Points Memo” there was no RNC meeting at noon for Steele to go to.  And then the same RNC officials today ABC that there was, in fact, a meeting, but it definitely wasn‘t an emergency.

Weirder still, even though Michael Steele canceled that noon interview with ABC, between 11:00 and noon, he was on the radio, with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.


STEELE:  I‘ve never been shy about the fact that I‘d love to be the governor of Maryland one day.  I don‘t know when that is, but right now, this is where I really believe God has placed me for such a time as this.  And I‘m prepared to do my job.


MADDOW:  Michael Steele also told David Brody of CBN today that as hard as he thinks his job is, he thinks that God gave it to him.


STEELE:  God, I really believe, has placed me here for a reason, because who else and why else would you do this unless there‘s something inside of you that says, “Right now, you need to be here to do this and there‘s going to be a lot of ugly that comes after you.”


MADDOW:  Michael Steele is having a lot of ugly come after him right now, most of it anonymous.

I don‘t recall in recent history a party chairman or anybody else in this type of job in politics having this many out-of-the-woodwork, anonymous attacks thrown at him all at once and that person surviving in their job.

The attacks against Michael Steele this week also included an article on “The Washington Times” quoting major GOP donors saying they would not give to the RNC while he is the chairman.  It also follows some public Republican grumbling over Mr. Steele‘s decision to keep taking paid speaking gigs in addition to his RNC chairmanship.  And, of course, there‘s been vocal discontent that the Republican Party has spent a ton of money and raised relatively little since he has been chairman.

How long can Michael Steele survive this?  Can he conceivably keep his chairmanship and just chalk this up to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book tour?  If he does get fired, who‘s next in line?  All good questions, right?

The best, though, may be: what does it say about the Republican Party right now, that this coordinated, anonymous multi-front assault is how they‘re handling trying to get rid of Michael Steele?

Joining us now is John Stanton.  He‘s a reporter with “Roll Call” magazine.

John, thanks very much for joining us.  Good to have you back on the show.

JOHN STANTON, ROLL CALL REPORTER:  It‘s great to be here.

MADDOW:  I want to talk specifically about what Michael Steele is going through right now—but in general, how disruptive, how big a deal would it be for the Republican Party to oust its chairman acrimoniously in an election year?

STANTON:  It would be—it would be a huge deal, I think, for them.  I mean, the fact is that there has been this big division within the party between the conservative wing and the more moderate or traditional Republican wing.  If they were forced to oust him, it would put that all out in the public and have all the dirty laundry out there.  It would distract from their efforts to try to put themselves out there as this unified, conservative, fiscal party.  And they would have to deal with that for months and months.  And it can really—it could hurt fund raising.  It could cause a civil war between, you know, the moderates and key party elements of the party.  It really could be difficult for them.

MADDOW:  Well, how much of what‘s going on between Michael Steele and his detractors inside the Republican Party is personal about him and how much of it is a proxy for the bigger civil war going on among Republicans, this issue of the tea party faction versus more mainstream Republicans, for example?

STANTON:  Well, I think most of it has to do with himself and not so much the ideological differences because he‘s at times played to conservative base.  Of course, he‘s attacked moderates in the party, but he‘s also played to the moderates when he got in a fight with Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin last year.  It really has more to do with him.  Republicans see him as a distraction from their efforts to go after Democrats, trying to raise money.

They were very upset with him this weekend with his comments about not being able to take back the House, because it came the day that Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan were retiring.  There were polling data that was coming out showing Republicans are doing well.  And by the end of that day, instead of it being about Democrats, you know, having retirements and being in the bad spot, it was about Michael Steele saying that.

MADDOW:  Is Michael Steele‘s own perceived ambition and stated ambition in some cases, a part of the problem?  I mean, one of the criticisms thrown at him this week was that it seems like he wants to run for president.  He told Laura Ingraham today that he wants to be governor of Maryland.  Is that considered remote (ph) for party chair?  Does that seen as interfering with the party‘s ambition?

STANTON:  Not necessarily.  I think the way that he‘s done it is certainly been interpreted by a number of people on the Hill as being sort of he‘s of the things for himself.  For instance, this book tour.  All the money from the sale of the books is going to Mr. Steele and not the RNC.  That‘s coming at a time where they‘re having some financial difficulties, especially with some of the big donors starting to back out and send their money to some of their campaign committees or the governors instead of going to the RNC.

So, they see this as - some definitely see this as sort of being all about him as opposed to being about the party.

MADDOW:  How widespread is the uprising against him?  I know that Newt Gingrich is an ally.  He‘s written the foreword, I think, of the book and has spoken favorable about Mr. Steele, even as all these other people have been attacking him.  Does he have any other important allies?

STANTON:  He does.  I mean, a number of state chairmen are still backing Mr. Steele.  There are other delegates on the—on the RNC that support him.  And right now, he‘s in a little bit of a difficult spot because some of these big name donors have publicly said they‘re going to back out.

But so long as he‘s able to raise money, he should be able to keep his position.  It takes 2/3 of the entire RNC to vote him out, which could occur, if it were to occur, would happen I guess this winter in Hawaii.  So.

MADDOW:  Oh, when they have their winter meeting.  Right.

STANTON:  Right.  Yes.

MADDOW:  If he has ousted, is there an obvious next choice?

STANTON:  Not necessarily.  The GOP chairman from South Carolina went against him, was sort of his biggest challenger during last year‘s campaign.  I know that most of the folks, like Ken Mehlman, that have done it before, folks that I know that have talked with him, have said it‘s clear they don‘t want to have anything to do with it and that could really be the epicenter.

If he were to leave, to step down or be asked to be leave by the RNC, that could become a very difficult fight for them, in terms of having conservatives or tea party elements trying to force someone in as oppose to traditional sort of using somebody from inside Washington.

MADDOW:  John Stanton of “Roll Call” magazine, thanks very much for your insight into this.  I really appreciate it.

STANTON:  Any time.

MADDOW:  Also, I‘m very proud that for the first time ever, we had a little dancing Michael Steele as the bug in the corner of our segment there.  We‘ll be bringing him back, that little dancing bug, whenever we think that we might have a chance of getting Michael Steele on the part—on the show, probably won‘t be very frequently.

All right.  In the midst of the Michael Steele conflict, Michael Steele fighting for his political life within the Republican Party, it turns out the McCain-Palin campaign is just starting to heat up.  The senator goes over the top on the radio as his running mate gets buried on TV and in print.  It was a multiplatform McCain-Palin kersplat today.

And, former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, goes on TV to tell his version of terrorism during the Bush years.  In the process, he probably ends any hope of a future Rudy Giuliani national political career.

We‘ll be right back.



SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Rudy Giuliani.  Let me think about it.  Rudy Giuliani, there‘s three—there‘s only three things he mentioned in his sentence, a noun and a verb and 9/11.  I mean, there‘s nothing else.  There‘s nothing else.



MADDOW:  What is the world coming to when even the mayor of 9/11, Rudy Giuliani, forgets 9/11?


RUDY GIULIANI, FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR:  What he should be doing is following the right things that Bush did.  One of the right things he did was treat it as a war on terror.  We had no domestic attacks on the Bush.


MADDOW:  No—no attacks under.

One of the most surprising things about this week in politicizing terrorism is that this week may have spelled the end of a political career for Rudy Giuliani, of all people.  Mr. Giuliani not only forgetting about 9/11, later having to issue a statement clarifying that he meant after 9/11, but also having a strange colloquy with Larry King this week, in which he seemed to insist that the Richard Reid shoe-bombing which happened in December 2001 somehow magically was a pre-9/11 event.


GIULIANI:  This is something you react to immediately, not 10 days later after your vacation.

LARRY KING, TV HOST:  President Bush, though, took six days once.

GIULIANI:  Well, first of all, six.

KING:  Similar incident.

GIULIANI:  Well, you know, six days is less than 10.  I believe that six days was before the September 11th attack.


MADDOW:  No.  No, that‘s not, no.

The whole reason anybody ever thought of Rudy Giuliani as a potential national figure for the Republican Party is because of his supposed expertise, the supposed expertise he had about terrorism and national security because he had been the mayor of New York City when it was attacked on September 11th.


GIULIANI:  I‘m not talking about September 11th—just because of September 11th—September 11 is part of our debate—what I did on September 11th—not just September 11th—not September 11 – nothing to do with September 11th—nothing to do with September 11th.



MADDOW:  Rudy Giuliani‘s whole brand as a politician has been based on 9/11 – something which he appears to have politically exploited so much that he‘s lost the capacity to deal with it as a factual matter.

Let‘s give Mayor Giuliani the benefit of the doubt here.  I mean, he is, after all, the head of Giuliani Partners which sells its expertise on this issue.  What could Mayor Giuliani have possibly meant by this statement?


GIULIANI:  We had no domestic attacks under Bush.


MADDOW:  What could he had meant by that charitably?  I mean, really, what could he had meant?  Did he mean that there were no attempted attacks like the underpants bomber that just happened under the Obama administration?  No, he couldn‘t have meant that because of the Richard Reid shoe bomber attack, which even if Mayor Giuliani thinks happened before 9/11 did still happen during the Bush administration.

Could he have meant that there were no other attacks that were considered by the Bush administration to have been terrorist attacks?  He couldn‘t have meant that either because the 2001 anthrax attacks were later described by Bush attorney general, John Ashcroft, as a quote, “terrorist act.”

Maybe he thought the victims of the anthrax attack were dispersed over too large an area to count as a terrorist attack or something, but then, you know, there was the D.C. sniper case.  Ten people gunned down in the Washington, D.C. area on October 2002 by a pair of snipers, one of whom was later convicted on terrorism charges.

Maybe Mayor Giuliani meant that there were no attacks that were linked to al Qaeda or inspired by 9/11?  Well, he couldn‘t have meant that either because there was the Iranian graduate student who claimed to be following in the footsteps of his idol, 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, when he plowed his car through a crowd of North Carolina college students in 2006.

So, what is Rudy Giuliani talking about?  There‘s no possible way in which he is making since unless he was just seeing if he could get away with a mix of political fantasy and political spin.


GIULIANI:  We had not domestic attacks under Bush.

DANA PERINO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush‘s term.

MARY MATALIN, FMR. BUSH ASSISTANT:  I was there.  We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation‘s history.


MADDOW:  Who you did you inherit that from?

I hesitate to fall into the old trap of saying that when things happen in threes, it‘s a trend, but I wonder if the next ambition in political spin is to try to convince us all that 9/11 didn‘t happen while George W.  Bush was president and Dick Cheney was vice president.  Is that the plan?

Some of this history may be recent but that doesn‘t mean that it was factually fungible.  The clamoring by Rudy Giuliani to try to get some more political traction out of 9/11, to try to get some more political traction out of terrorism depends on us forgetting his own history on this issue.  The only way Mr. Giuliani makes political hay here is if we give up on the facts and decide to believe his wacky version of history instead.


GIULIANI:  We are going to have military courts.  We are going to have civilian courts.  And it seems to me, we‘re going to—we‘re going to be trying the most dangerous terrorist in the wrong place, the ones who attacked us here in the United States.


MADDOW:  OK.  Again, let‘s give Rudy Giuliani the benefit of the doubt

here.  He wants us to believe that it‘s his position that anybody who

attacks us here in the United States shouldn‘t be tried in a civilian court

so says the guy who after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 applauded the federal court convictions of four of the planners.


Straight from “The New York Times” that day, quote, “‘It should show that our legal system is the most mature legal system in the history of the world,‘ Giuliani said, ‘that it works well, that that is the place to seek vindication if you feel your rights have been violated.”

Nearly four years later, the mastermind of that attack, Ramzi Yousef, was sentenced.

Again, straight from “The New York Times” that day, “Response to the sentence came quickly came from city and federal officials.  Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said the sentencing sends a clear message to the world, the United States will vigorously prosecute and punish those who murder and maim the innocent.”

OK.  If you want to give him even further benefit of the doubt, those trials were both pre-9/11.  Maybe post-9/11, he had “come to Jesus” moment and decided after 9/11 that any terrorist who attacks here ought to be tried in civilian courts.  Is that what we‘re supposed to believe?  That that‘s Rudy Giuliani‘s principled anti-terrorism position, which is all about his expertise on the subject matters, has nothing to do with him trying to make political hay out of this?

Then what accounts for his response to the federal court conviction of 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui in 2006.


GIULIANI:  It does show that we have a legal system that we follow it, that we respect it, and it‘s exactly what‘s missing in the parts of the world—or a lot of the parts of the world that are breeding terrorism.  It does say something pretty remarkable about us, doesn‘t it?


MADDOW:  Yes, it does say something very remarkable.  There is something remarkable going on here.  The once promising political career of the New York City mayor who has national aspirations simply because of his supposed credibility on the issue of terrorism, is probably over now.

And this is the whole basis of Rudy Giuliani‘s national political identity.  This is the whole reason that Rudy Giuliani‘s considered a national brand.  It‘s the reason he‘s considered a national level political aspirant.  It‘s his supposed expertise on national security and terrorism.  That‘s what has made him more than just an ex-big city mayor with a consulting firm.

May Giuliani Partners live long and prosper.  But the idea that Mr.  Giuliani will ever run for anything other than running that business—that idea I think is over.



GLENN BECK, RADIO HOST:  African-American is a bogus, P.C., made-up term.  I mean, that‘s not a race.  That is your ancestry is from Africa.  And now you live in America.


MADDOW:  That is Glenn Beck there, the FOX News Channel host and the talk radio host, putting his own “we are the world” spin on question number nine, from this year‘s United States Census form.  As we highlighted this week, question nine on the census form asks: what is person one‘s race?  Your possible answers include: white, American Indian or Alaska Native, or black, African-American or Negro.

And before you ask, no, I do not know if Mr. Beck is more comfortable saying the word “Negro” than he is saying the word African-American.

It doesn‘t seem like the Census Bureau is actually all that comfortable with its use of the word “Negro” on the census form.  But they do have a relatively cogent explanation for what it‘s doing there.  The Census Bureau‘s Public Information Office told us today that in the last census, in the year 2000, over 56,000 Americans wrote in the word “Negro” specifically, even though that word was printed there, alongside African-American and black on the check box, just like it is on this year‘s form.

That said, the Census also told us today that they are exploring the prospect of dropping this word from the form for 2020.  This year, they‘ll test the effect of removing the term “Negro” from the form.  They‘ll send about 30,000 homes forms that don‘t have the term listed as prewritten option, to see what happens.

Joining us now live from the great city of New Orleans is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton.

Melissa, thanks very much for joining us.


MADDOW:  On Twitter today, you unscientifically polled people on what the word “Negro” made them think of.  What kind of responses did you get?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Yes.  I mean, you know, I‘m a public opinion researcher and this is clearly the least scientific poll I have ever done.  But I was interested just because, you know, there‘s this sort of advocacy position saying that “Negro” is necessarily a derogatory term.

And I was just sort of interested, do people respond to it necessarily in a derogatory manner.  And, in fact, that‘s not what I got at all.  Some people had sort of cultural references in things like Negro spirituals or Negro League Baseball.  And some people, in fact, had a very positive political and historical memory of it, saying that Negro was, after all, the common term in usage during the civil rights movement.

So there‘s a way in which one could say that most of the important 20th century efforts towards civil rights happened because Negroes did it, because African-American - Afro-American and black became sort of common usage after the civil rights movement. 

So in that sense, I saw - but of course, there were also people who said Negro made them think about segregation, made them think about antiquated terms and even possibly derogatory ways of talking about black people.  

MADDOW:  David Wilson of “The Grio” was on the show this week.  And he said that he thinks it‘s possible that the word will be offensive and strange enough to a lot of younger African-Americans that it might actually hurt their participation in the census.  Do you think - there‘s no real way to measure that.  But do you think that‘s possible? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, the fact is that there are good ways to measure it.  You know, one of the things about census folks is they‘re not perfect at everything, but they are mighty good at pre-testing questions.  And that‘s part of what they‘re up to here with this 30,000 folks and a sample to see whether or not there is a response rate difference.

In other words, if you take it off the form, you end up with a different kind of response rate or different sorts of people responding than when you leave it on the form.  So in certain ways, it‘s an empirical question and we‘ll have an answer to it later. 

But it was funny.  My first tweeting about it happened when I did see David on talking about this with you.  Because I think there are real issues about the census, about undercounting, under-representation of African-Americans that we should be concerned about. 

And for me, Negro doesn‘t make the top 10 of those concerns.  In fact, I almost felt like saying, “Negro, please.”

MADDOW:  I do actually think this is sort of more interesting that it is controversial, right?  I mean, there have been people on the right who have tried to make the census controversial, raising the specter that it‘s some kind of big brother intrusion or something. 

But the census is really important.  Getting undercounted in the census materially affects your political representation in this country.  So is there not some sort of a risk to being scared of or offended by the census? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Maybe, but again, if we think about the biggest issues facing race and representation around the census, the first thing I would say is - because I‘m a professor, I have a reading list for everybody. 

And at the top of that reading list would be a terrific book by Melissa Nobles at MIT about the history of the census and issues of race in both the U.S. and Brazil, which are an interesting case about how we develop the very concept of blackness and who gets counted as black or as brown or as mulatto in these various categories. 

But I think what we really need to be asking is, at this particular historic moment, what happens when we count, for example, incarcerated persons, who are disproportionately people of color, when we count them in the counties where they‘re incarcerated rather than in the home communities from which they hail. 

So that, for example, in a state like Illinois, you end up with young African-American and Latinos being counted in disproportionately in predominantly white downstate counties and not in the very neighborhoods from which they come. 

And of course, that then affected political representation.  It affects federal dollars.  There are millions of dollars at stake here.  And what we want to be doing is encouraging African-Americans, blacks and Negroes to be filling out the survey, not to be sort of raising a specter of anxiety. 

Still, it is important and it‘s interesting and it‘s worth asking sort of what does it mean when a community of people who have been typically under-represented and marginalized when they want to name themselves and what happens if these sort of historic names, these names that still may carry a great deal of negative baggage, if they push off exactly the people we‘re trying to count and trying create more equity and fairness for. 

MADDOW:  Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, the perfect person to talk to about this.  I knew you‘d have the academic rigor of the pre-testing down.  Thank you very much, Melissa.  It‘s great to see you. 


MADDOW:  OK.  So the McCain-Palin 2008 campaign manager is offloading some merciless truth on Sarah Palin.  Do you remember in Sarah Palin‘s book the campaign staffer she attacked for his weight and said that he swore too much? 

Well, now, that campaign staffer has some memories of Sarah Palin to share with all of us from the campaign trail.  Stand by.




Barack Obama and Sen. O‘Biden -


MADDOW:  Sen. O‘Biden.  Remember that moment from the vice presidential debate?  At the time, it just seemed like a strange sort of mini-gaffe for Sarah Palin.  We now know the back story that led to it. 

And apparently, the Sen. O‘Biden problem for Sarah Palin was way worse than anyone knew until now.  John McCain‘s campaign manager spills the beans on what it was like to deal with Sarah Palin during the campaign.  That is ahead. 

But first, let me get something out of the way here.  Last night on “David Letterman,” when I called the Christmas Day bomber the “fruit of the boom guy,” I should have credited the “fruit of the boom” phrase to Xeni Jardin and our friends at “”  They came up with that first.  Fruit of the boom!  I hope that sticks.

In any case, since the “fruit of the boom” attack on Christmas Day, Americans have been paying rather more attention to Nigeria because it‘s the country of origin for the “fruit of the boom” bomber. 

In Nigeria, however, you want to know what they‘re worried about right now?  They‘re worried their president might be secretly dead.  According to press reports, after lots of longstanding rumors about the president of Nigeria having poor health, he has not been seen anywhere for six weeks.  He‘s MIA.

Rumor has it he‘s in a hospital in Saudi Arabia.  But back home, in the nation that is Africa‘s largest economy and most populous country, people are freaking out.  Three lawsuits have been filed seeking to declare him unfit for service. 

The house of representatives in Nigeria is taking up the issue on Tuesday.  Political opponents are claiming his signature on a recent budget bill was a forgery.  There are demands on the Saudi king to issue a report on the president‘s health. 

Amid worries about the country‘s stability and the threat of a coup - that has happened before - the one silver lining here is that the vice president is Good Luck Jonathan.  That‘s his name.  His first name is Good Luck; his last name is Jonathan. 

So the bottom line here, if the president of Nigeria is secretly dead, then Good Luck Jonathan.  Then President Good Luck Jonathan, I guess.


MADDOW:  If you believe that right-wing tea partiers are just purging moderates from the Republican Party, stay tuned for the list of serious conservatives they‘re after, too.  Everybody but us, out.  Exclusion ad absurdum.  That‘s coming up. 


MADDOW:  Common wisdom about the tea party movement is that it‘s the hard-liners in the Republican Party and in the conservative movement purging the moderates from their ranks.  Out, out I say. 

It turns out the tea party push is actually about really, really, really conservative conservatives trying to take down the people who are really conservative conservatives.  The moderates don‘t even factor in here. 

Case in point, the soon-to-be-ex-chairman of the Florida GOP, Jim Greer, who was tea-partied right out of a job this week. 

In a parting diatribe, when he left office as the Florida GOP, chairman, he went after his tea party Republican enemies saying quote, “I cannot be a participant in the shredding and tearing of the fabric of the Republican Party.  These individuals who have turned their guns on fellow Republicans instead of focusing our efforts on defeating Democrats have done nothing to serve our party.”

How dangerously moderate is this guy, Jim Greer?  Having termed President Obama‘s message to school children last year “socialist,” Mr.  Greer defended himself as follows on “HARDBALL” of Chris Matthews.


JIM GREER, FLORIDA GOP CHAIRMAN:  And I don‘t want them to take their

minds away either to push his agenda.  When I saw and heard about this

speech and saw the lesson plans that the White House was preparing that

talked about, you know, “What can you say good about President Obama‘s

initiatives, new ideas, things of that nature, that concerned me as a

parent, as an American -


MADDOW:  That guy - that “I don‘t want Obama to take their minds away guy.  He‘s the guy who‘s too easy-going and moderate for the tea partiers to be the chairman of the Florida Republican Party. 

Right-wing sights are also being set right now on Utah Republican Senator Bob Bennett.  Today, the Club for Growth announced it would oppose Bob Bennett for re-election, even though there‘s no obvious Republican candidate to run against him.  They just want him gone, too. 

Perhaps it‘s because of Bob Bennett‘s horribly moderate agenda, like claiming the number one assignment of 2009 was to kill Obama-care, complaining that President Obama has had too many czars in his administration and arguing against creating a Consumer Financial Protection Agency because of how much he hates the Environmental Protection Agency. 

I might as well be Chairman Mao, right?  The purging instinct within Republican circles right now extends even to the crowning even of the conservative political calendar, CPAC - the conservative political action conference. 

This year, Sarah Palin turned down an invitation to speak at CPAC.  She‘s instead going to give the keynote at a tea party convention. 

See, because there needs to be a conservative, conservative convention that deals with important issues like Obama‘s birth certificate, because the regular conservative one that‘s so extreme it‘s co-sponsored by the John Birch Society isn‘t apparently conservative enough. 

Joining us now is “New York Times” reporter Mark Leibovich.  He‘s written the cover story about the tea party movement in Florida for this Sunday‘s “New York Times” magazine.  Mr. Leibovich, thanks very much for coming on the show.  It‘s nice to have you here. 

MARK LEIBOVICH, REPORTER, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Hi, Rachel.  Good to be here. 

MADDOW:  in your article for this Sunday‘s “Times,” you described the just-ousted Republican Party chairman as sounding like a harassed substitute teacher getting pelted with spit balls from every direction.  That‘s in front of a Republican audience. 

Are Jim Greer and Charlie Crist being attacked for their policies or is it more complicated than that? 

LEIBOVICH:  It‘s certainly more than that.  And I would say this.  I mean, people are, I think, right now, making the mistake of talking about the quote, “the tea party movement,” as sort of a monolithic, singular, you know, group at this point.  I don‘t know if the Republican Party, but certainly conservative wing of the Republican Party. 

I mean, the fact is, no one really knows what they‘re dealing with the tea parties.  I mean, right now, some of the organizations or actual political action committees are pretty well-organized.  Some are ragtag local operations. 

And the fact is, you can go to two different tea parties in various parts of Florida, which I just happen to be focusing on, and find different characteristics. 

Now, having said that, Jim Greer - you know, his remarks this week which you just read were just remarkable because the degree to which he might have been channeling Charlie Crist, who was a candidate for senator, might not be able to say that, you know, something that was sort of in the subtext to everything he was saying. 

But Jim Greer, as you mentioned, is a very, very conservative guy.  Charlie Crist has been known as a moderate over the years, but he is working like the Dickens now to portray himself as the true conservative in the race. 

And frankly, I don‘t know if this signifies great energy on the right that everyone should be paying attention to or, frankly, if it signifies a shrinking of the right because of this purge that you‘re talking about. 

MADDOW:  One of the things you describe is sort of a stylistic challenge more than a policy-based challenge. 


MADDOW:  I mean, after all, even though Charlie Crist is conceived of as a moderate in the Republican circle, he does support a lot of very conservative policies.  You sort of describe him as having the bad luck to not seem stylistically appropriate to the party right now. 

Is part of the energy behind Marco Rubio the challenge to Crist? 

Because Rubio just seems like a more combative figure? 

LEIBOVICH:  I think to a degree, yes.  But I also think - I mean, Charlie Crist has more baggage.  I mean, I think this is a terrible year to be a familiar face in the political realm.

And Charlie Crist has been around Florida for many, many years.  He‘s been in many different jobs.  And Marco Rubio is a very - he‘s certainly a very fiery personality.  He is someone who gets crowds very excited.  But I was actually struck - I mean, I‘ve heard about him as a real firebrand, someone who has developed a real following, not just in Florida, but across the country at this point, certainly within the conservative movement and within the tea party groups. 

But he‘s actually pretty conciliatory.  He actually has a fairly sheepish manner in his own way.  He didn‘t attack President Obama to the degree to which I thought he would. 

And he‘s actually - if you listen closely to his words, he is actually not that uncomfortable, I wouldn‘t say as a compromiser or as a consensus seeker, branding names, but someone who is - who actually will admit that there are some gray areas in politics.  So, I think his appeal goes a lot deeper than that.  

MADDOW:  Very briefly, Mark.  Are you seeing any signs of a counterrevolution when Jim Greer left with that parting shot at the tea partiers?  Anybody that you met in your reporting in Florida for this story think is going to be cheering him on? 

LEIBOVICH:  I think there‘s going to be a silent - I don‘t if it‘s a majority, but there‘s certainly a group of people within the, quote unquote, “Republican establishment” that Charlie Crist is, I think, banking on to be there for him, you know, nine, 10 months from now. 

But you know, frankly, right now, the moderate wing of the Republican Party in Florida and across the country is a very, very small group.  So you know, if they existed at all, they‘re pretty quiet at this point.  So we‘ll see. 

MADDOW:  “New York Times” reporter Mark Leibovich, thanks very much for joining us.  Enjoyed your reporting for this piece for the “Sunday Times” magazine.  And it‘s nice to have you on the show. 

LEIBOVICH:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  So will the tea partying fringe movement within the Republican Party that appears to be taking it over - will they win out if Michael Steele gets ousted?  That issue is coming up on “COUNTDOWN.”

First, on this show, as John McCain desperately tries to win an election in Arizona, his former running mate finds out exactly what happens when you tread on Schmidt, as in Steve Schmidt.  That‘s next.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  Operation destroy Sarah Palin‘s political career and reputation is not just a left-wing project.  No secretive George Soros funding.  No ACORN operatives lurking in the shadows.  This effort is FRO - for Republicans only. 

Steve Schmidt was the campaign manager for McCain-Palin ‘08.  And I‘m guessing that‘s the last Palin ticket with which he will be associated.  In a blockbuster “60 Minutes” interview set to air this weekend, Mr.

Schmidt recalls trouble that then-candidate Sarah Palin had with the truth. 


STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  There were numerous instances that she said things that were not accurate, that ultimately, the campaign had to deal with.  And that opened the door to criticism that she was being untruthful, and inaccurate. 

And I think that that is something that continues to this day.  She went out and said that, “You know, this report completely exonerates me,” and in fact it didn‘t.  You know, it‘s the equivalent of saying down is up and up is down.  It was provably, demonstrably untrue. 


MADDOW:  OK.  OK, Fine.  Ms. Palin wanted bend the truth a little and to cut corners.  It happens in politics all the time.  It‘s not like she wanted to flat-out lie, is it? 


SCHMIDT:  Stuff like the Alaska Independence Party that her husband had been a member of for seven years.  She wanted to put out a statement saying that he was not a member of it.  He was a member of it. 


MADDOW:  Oh.  Well now in addition to illuminating Sarah Palin‘s reality-based problems, Mr. Schmidt also hits the Alaskan‘s preparation for the vice presidential debate with Joe Biden.  The process, he said, was so disheartening, another member of the McCain-Palin campaign staff warned that the debate might produce a political apocalypse. 


SCHMIDT:  He told us that the debate was going to be a debacle of historic and epic proportions.  He told us she was not focused.  She was not engaged.  She was really not participating in the prep. 

Rick Davis and I sat in the back of the room for a few minutes, suggested everybody take a break.  Asked everybody to leave the room and we had a conversation with her. 

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, “60 MINUTES”:  What did you say to her? 

SCHMIDT:  I said to her - I said, “Governor, this doesn‘t seem to be going very well to me.”  And she assented.  She agreed.  She said, “You know, I think that‘s right.”


MADDOW:  In fact, that assessment was so right that the McCain team convinced Sarah Palin to make a slight change in terminology in order to avoid making the same verbal gaffe over and over again. 

As Palin wrote in her book and Mr. Schmidt now confirms, during debate prep, Ms. Palin conflated the names Biden and Obama calling her stand-in opponent O‘Biden over and over again.  The solution was just to call Joe Biden Joe. 


PALIN:  Nice to meet you.  Hey, can I call you Joe? 


MADDOW:  “Can I call you, Joe?”  You know what they say about the best-laid plans, though, right?  


PALIN:  Barack Obama and Sen. O‘Biden, you said no to everything in trying to find a domestic solution to the energy crisis that we were in. 


MADDOW:  Oh, Sen. O‘Biden.  Given the number of enemies that Sarah Palin made among those who worked closest with her on the campaign trail, expect the drip, drip, drip of unflattering Sarah Palin anecdotes to continue until the only office to which she can be elected is president of the Palins against Schmidt PAC. 

That said, while the former governor of Alaska is struggling for national credibility, her former running mate, John McCain, is desperately seeking some local credibility.  Kent Jones is here with that side of the story.  Kent, thanks for joining us. 

KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Rachel.  You know, even though John McCain is listed as the most influential person in his party, he‘s got a tough re-election battle against him in Arizona right now.  Now check out the tough guy radio ads he‘s running. 



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over):  He‘s lived through a battle or two, languished many a foe.  But perhaps no battle in our lifetime is more vital than the one John McCain fights now - a battle to save America.  Save our jobs.  John McCain leads the charge to slash government spending, bloated bureaucracies, and ridiculously unaffordable ideas like government-run health care. 


President Obama is leading an extreme left-wing crusade to bankrupt America.  I stand in his way every day.  If I get a bruise or two knocking some sense into heads in Washington, so be it. 

I‘ll keep fighting for jobs and economic growth for Arizona as long as I‘m in the Senate.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John McCain is Arizona‘s last line of defense. 

Character matters. 

JONES (voice-over):  Now, that‘s what he‘s saying.  But here‘s what I‘m hearing.  Perhaps no battle in our lifetime is more vital than the one John McCain fights now - the battle for his job. 

He‘s been rejected by the American elector at twice now.  Forget them.  They‘re dead to him.  Arizona is the only place that deserves John McCain.  And in this election, it‘s just John McCain, raw. 

And in this election, it‘s just John McCain - raw.  There‘s no hockey mom running around saying she can see Russia from her house.  The original maverick is man enough to admit it - that was a dumb call. 

And since his party doesn‘t seem to have anybody else leading it, why not John McCain?  Who are Republicans supposed to follow?  Liz Cheney?  Chuck Norris?  What‘s her name?  Now that he‘ll never be president, John McCain is free to pursue a new dream, annoying Barack Obama.  And it feels so good. 

John McCain is Arizona‘s last bruised petulant, deeply vindictive line of defense.  And you‘d better vote for him.  Character matters. 


MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  I do love that he got to keep the announcer from his presidential campaign. 

JONES:  Oh, yes.  Very nice.

MADDOW:  That‘s what he got in the split.  That does it for us tonight.  Have a great weekend.  “COUNTDOWN” starts right now. 



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