The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/21/2015
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: December 21, 2015
Guest: Samantha Power
MATT WELCH, REASON: The other is Ben Carson who`s been dropping like
a stone. But if he drops out, then that`s got to go somewhere and Ted Cruz
is a likely place.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC: Maybe heavy feather, Matt. Dropping like a
Michelle Goldberg and Matt Welch, good to see you both. Thank you
for your time.
That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Alex. Thank you very much.
And thanks to you at home as well for joining us this hour.
On a night where it has already been night for a really long time, if
you think about it, this is officially the shortest day of the year. And
if you are a light-based life form that`s kind of a bummer.
That said, it`s also kind of happy news if you`re a light-based life
form because it only gets better from here. This is the shortest day of
the year, which means tomorrow technically, infinitesimally not quite so
short. Brighter days are ahead. Literally. Hang in there.
We`re also steaming ahead toward the end of 2015 and the beginning of
2016. And that, of course, means a presidential election in this country.
It means a brand new Leap Year. It means a new Summer Olympics in Rio this
year. I think the Summer Olympics are in August.
2016 also means one very, very big impending birthday. A big Nordic
birthday. In terms of the big Nordic countries, here`s Norway. Right next
to Norway, here`s Sweden.
Now, we`re going to skip that little bit in the middle there. And
then on the right side that`s Russia. And in 1917, in the midst of the
giant international conflagration that was World War I and, of course, the
Russian revolution. In 1917, that little slice of life between Russia and
Scandinavia, that little slice of life between Russia and Norway and
Sweden, they extricated themselves from everybody else and became their own
1917, Finland was born, which means all of next year is preparations
for Finland`s giant 100th birthday party. Which they`re going to gear up
for it all through 2016 so that they`re basically ready to pop a giant
Helsinki cork in 2017 to celebrate turning 100.
And on that occasion, in the build-up to the big centennial, the big
turning 100, on that occasion a very nice thing has happened because
Finland is in this geographically super interesting position between the
other Nordic countries and Russia. Finland has a ton of strategic and
interesting coastline. Finland has lots of lakes.
Generally speaking, Finland is a very good-looking country but it`s
also kind of short. A better term would probably be flat. The highest
peak in all of Finland is 4,300 feet tall, which means the highest point in
all of Finland is roughly the same elevation as Kenton, Oklahoma.
But what`s fascinating about the highest point in Finland is that
highest point is not even the tallest point on that individual mountain.
The summit of the mountain that has Finland`s highest point on it, the
summit of that mountain is not in Finland. It`s in Norway.
So, it`s very sad. If you`re walking over the top of that mountain
from the Norwegian side, you get to the top, you get to the summit and
that`s great but then you have to go downhill a ways and cross the border
before you get to the tallest point in Finland.
Well, now, on the occasion of Finland turning 100, Norway has come up
with a very nice gift idea. Norway has decided to give Finland that
mountain. Just as a present. As a gesture of happy birthday, good buddy.
If this goes through, if they move the national borders between
Norway and Finland about 500 feet in one direction and 650 feet in the
other direction, not only will Finland get a new highest point at the
summit of that mountain, they will now proudly be able to say their
national highest point is the summit of a mountain and not for nothing,
they get a new mountain. Which anybody would like for their birthday.
So, it`s a very nice offer. The head of the Norwegian mapping
authority has already personally signed off on it. She told a local
broadcaster, quote, “I must say that I think it is a very good idea.”
Quote, “It`s a nice gift.”
What did you get your special someone for Christmas? Starting to
feel a little different about it now, aren`t you? Who knows if this will
Finland mainly seems delighted that they may receive this gift. One
cranky Finn did tell the BBC last week that taking on the new mountain
would be, quote, “too much paperwork.” “We would have to redo all the maps
and count all the elk and wolves again.” So, yes, the BBC found one person
in Finland who doesn`t like the idea because you get a new mountain and
then you`ve got to count all the stuff on the mountain and plus you`ve got
to move the squiggle. Yes.
There`s one crank who doesn`t like the idea. Otherwise, they seem
pretty excited about it. The Norwegian government, at least their mapping
authority, they seem like they`re into the idea. And so maybe we will get
a significant international border shift in the coming year for the nicest
possible reason, because one country wants to give another country a
mountain as a birthday present.
And you know what? Nothing ever goes like that. Nothing ever works
out like that in international relations. Usually even the nice stuff,
even the easy stuff, even the stuff that is only even nominally
international about our relations goes a little hinky when it has the least
chance to. Usually, the rule that applies here is what can go wrong does
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE HARVEY, PAGEANT HOST: Miss Universe 2015 is – Colombia!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, my God, oh, my God. The crying. Don`t mess up the
They give her the Miss Universe sash. They give her a big bouquet of
flowers. Yes. There`s the flowers. Then they give her the very fancy
crown, which looks very precarious, but they put the crown on her head,
placed on her head by no other than the previous Miss Universe, who also
happens to be from Colombia.
And then this is the part where this nice woman from Colombia just
stands there waving in her sash, with her flowers wearing her crown. This
goes on for about 2 1/2 minutes total from when she was announced the
winner to this moment, which is when the unimaginable happens.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARVEY: OK. Folks. Uh. There`s – I have to apologize.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
The first runner-up is Colombia.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Miss Universe 2015 is Philippines.
Listen, folks. Let me just take control of this. This is exactly
what`s on the card. I will take responsibility for this. It was my
mistake. It was on the card.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And the music played. And both ladies just stood on stage
unsure exactly what to do. Until the previous Miss Universe returned to
the stage and uncrowned Miss Colombia and crowned Miss Philippines, who in
fact was the new universe.
No, it`s not exactly international relations, but it goes to the
point here. What can go wrong does go wrong.
Comedian Steve Harvey was the host of the Miss Universe pageant last
night. He was clearly very sorry that that happened. He then got on
Twitter to personally apologize again in writing both to the Phillipians
and to a well-known college in Upper Manhattan. He was trying to apologize
to the Philippines and the nation of Colombia. Later somebody fixed his
tweet so that he did. But it`s not how it started out.
I`m telling you. As a general rule what can go wrong does go wrong.
Did you ever have that experience where you`re looking at things
online and you have a few different tabs or a few different browser windows
open and your speakers are on and you find that from somewhere you can`t
totally tell, they`re all playing different streams of audio that are
playing all at once overlapping so you can`t understand any one thing,
they`re just playing too many things playing all at once?
I thought that was the experience I had today when I got to work and
I started to live stream on my computer the big U.N. Security Council
session they had today on combating transnational terrorism and the threat
from ISIS. I started the live stream and I kept thinking I was doing
But it turns out, I was not doing something wrong.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: That was the broadcast. That was the live stream today on
the U.N. session of combating ISIS and some other issues.
In the distant background you can actually hear the person speaking
in the language he is speaking, in this case English. But equally at the
same volume in the same foreground, you can hear all of the translators of
all of the other languages all speaking all at once at the same volume.
And as art, that is kind of amazing. It was like an audio tableau
vivant of the Tower of Babel.
But as politics, I think the reason their live stream could sound
like that is because they`re pretty sure that nobody`s watching most of the
time. There`s not going to be a big online outcry when this is what
happens on the live stream. This is ha they put out to the world.
That`s it. It is starting to feel like we are in a moment where
things like this, as confusing as they can sometimes seem and as small an
audience as they expect to attract, as hard as they can be to sometimes get
your heard head around, it`s starting to feel like we`re in a moment where
this sort of really is constructive stuff that`s really going on in the
world. Or in some cases at least the most interesting stuff that`s going
on in the world.
We`re in this moment where even big, powerful reasonably efficient
countries are finding that they cannot get things done nationally,
internally, but they can come to international agreements as a way of
making at least some show of progress, right?
Here`s an example. Here`s Beijing choking today through another red
alert air quality disaster. Schools closed and offices closed across
Beijing today because it is basically toxic to be outside.
China nationally cannot seem to get a handle on that terrible problem
in their own country. But the Chinese government surprised everybody by
making ambitious pledges along with 194 other countries to slow their
emissions and switch to more renewable energy sources on a pace that
hopefully will slow down the effects of climate change. Nationally having
a hard time, internationally taking great steps.
Here in this country you see this phenomenon in the case of a guy
like this. His name is Adam Szubin. He`s been President Obama`s totally
non-controversial nominee to be the American government`s point person on
shutting down the terrorists` access to money and stopping ISIS`s financial
networks. There is literally no substantive opposition to his nomination
whatsoever but because of our own sclerotic screwed up politics, the
Republican-led United States Senate cannot bring itself to confirm Adam
Szubin to that job, even though they do not object to him.
At the same time, though, the U.N. Security Council just convened a
Security Council meeting of treasury secretaries including our own Jack Lew
and finance ministers from major countries around the globe to develop a
global program to shut down ISIS`s money, to shut down terrorist financing.
We can`t get it together to do that properly within our own
government even when our government doesn`t internally disagree on the
subject. But we have found a way to work with other countries, including
countries we sometimes really don`t get along with, to put together some
sort of way forward on that difficult crucial international problem.
On the Iranian nuclear deal, the prospect of a nuclear Iran, on
climate change, on international terrorism, on the worst problems in the
world – is there reason to be hopeful we`re having a moment of
international constructive action?
I mean, just take Syria. Syria is a black hole of despond. It does
not look like Syria is looking over the edge abyss. It feels like Syria is
the abyss. It just feels like a bottomless pit of hopelessness and
terrible consequences being compounded all the time.
That said, the U.N. Security Council just agreed to a framework to
try to settle the war in Syria by political means. Instead of trying to
force it through that terrible, terrible unending war.
Is that just talk or is that real reason to hope? And how do we
Take Afghanistan. Tonight, six American families are waiting to hear
the worst news ever. On this Christmas week, we learned today that six
American soldiers were killed in action in Afghanistan today by a Taliban
suicide bomber on a motorcycle near Bagram Air Base just outside Kabul.
This is year 15 of the United States military killing and dying and
getting hurt and expending incredible effort and incredible resources to
try to accomplish some national objective that will let us leave that
country finally. Today, with 10,000 American troops still there, with six
Americans killed and three Americans wounded along with three Afghan police
also wounded in that same attack today, with increasingly dire current
warnings that the Taliban are back in the driver`s seat, that they may be
about to retake Helmand province, where so many Western troops including
Americans and British soldiers died to take it away from them.
In the face of that dire news from Afghanistan tonight, the U.N.
Security Council today did what they do. On Afghanistan today they
extended the travel bans and the asset freezes, the system of sanctions
against members of the Taliban. It was a unanimous vote today in the
And what I want to know is, is that reason to be hopeful? Is there
the possibility of real progress, real resolution? Is there a friendly
gift of a mountain anywhere on the horizon? Or is it safer honestly not to
get our hopes up? What kind of a moment are we in?
Joining us now for the interview is someone who might know, U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.
Madam ambassador, it is great to have you here. Thank you for being
SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Great to be
here. I should show that video to my council colleagues, a little pep
MADDOW: Well, half pep talk, half worried.
I mean, let me start with Afghanistan. Obviously, there`s this
terrible news about the six Americans killed and a number of Americans
wounded and Afghans wounded in this attack today. When the Security
Council does something like extending sanctions, is that a sign of failure
because it`s just an extension of something that we`ve been doing for a
long time and there aren`t new ideas? Or is that a sign of resolve that
should give us some hope that there`s unanimity in some way forward?
POWER: Well, Afghanistan, like sadly a number of theaters of
conflict now, is a place where there are terrorists. And I think almost
regardless of what the question posed to the Security Council on
Afghanistan, you`d be able to forge unity as it relates to terrorism.
Where we run into trouble is making sure that the enforcement of the
measures on terrorism are airtight, as we`ve seen on foreign terrorist
fighters and money flows and so forth. That`s why we`re trying to tighten
the screws on that. But also when it`s state violence like that by the
Syrian government on innocent civilians or even now by Russian airplanes on
markets and medical clinics and so forth.
That`s when the Security Council divisions emerge and people tend to
choose sides in a manner that shuts down the process.
MADDOW: On Syria does that mean essentially almost kind of
structurally or by definition that in order to come to an agreement about a
way forward to try to seek a political solution to that conflict, that you
can`t actually get to any of the crucial issues like whether Assad has to
go, whether the civil war will be resolved in a way that preserves the
Syrian government or that eliminates it.
POWER: Well, that`s been the problem up till now. For nearly five
years of division on those grounds.
But I think ISIL is the proverbial trip to the gallows that focuses
the mind maybe. And I think to the degree we`ve seen progress now over the
last two or three months with the Vienna process and then with this
Security Council resolution on Friday, unprecedented, right, that we`re
rallying all together united on a political track, I think it is somewhere
– maybe it`s deep down in Putin or maybe it`s closer to the surface, one
can`t yet quite tell. There is a recognition that as long as there`s not a
political transition, as long as most of the Sunni population in Syria has
chosen the opposition side, there`s not going to be the kind of shared
effort against ISIL that Russia believes is in its interests. Even if
Russia itself isn`t really striking ISIL right now, is propping up Assad,
is, you know, hitting moderate opposition groups more than they`re hitting
the terrorists themselves.
So, it remains quite confusing. But still what we see is them
embracing at least the conversation about what a political track would look
like. And I think it is the ISIL problem and the fact that they recognize
that absent a political transition, the kind of unity that we need against
terrorism is going to be very hard to find inside Syria.
MADDOW: When you look at the Syrian conflict and the way that it
evolved and the types of policy approaches that have been taken by us and
other countries around the world who wanted the bloodshed to stop and you
look at what hasn`t worked, how do you think it ends? Not how do you want
it to end, but how do you think it`s going to end? What kind of time frame
should we be thinking about?
I feel despair when I look at Syria. When I look at what has failed
that has been tried thus far.
POWER: Well, it`s true. I mean, you know, sanctions have been
tried. We brought a referral of the war crimes to the International
Criminal Court to the Security Council. That was vetoed by Russia.
Political negotiations, various waves of them over the years.
I think what`s needed is the stakeholders outside of Syria who each
have their proxy, as it were, in this fight. So, Russia and Iran backing
this regime almost no matter what they do. They use chemical weapons.
Russia claims it was someone else who uses chemical weapons.
Iran, you know, sort of files in, you know, thousands of advisers and
so forth. Russia now actively participating. On the other side a number
of countries in the Gulf who are supporting different opposition groups.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands of different military factions
and that`s where one –
MADDOW: You`re getting to the part where I have despair. You`re
explaining my despair well.
POWER: But it`s also the case that the spigot is controlled by in
many cases people outside. It`s going to be very hard to put the genie
back in the bottle.
But having all those countries who are stakeholders around the table
for the first time, united around a common platform where a lot of details
are left to be sorted out like at what point does Assad go, you know, in
this political sequence, elections are in 18 months, how do you get calm
before the elections so elections can be actually free and fair and
internationally supervised, so many questions. But getting everybody
together and then making sure that the Syrian opposition itself is
relatively inclusive and unified, so that there`s also someone on the other
side of the table from the government. That`s how you get there.
MADDOW: The military side of the United States trying to engage with
the opposition seems like it has been sort of a disaster. Is the
diplomatic front in terms of trying to engage with the opposition any more
likely to succeed?
POWER: Well, I think – I mean, there have been big gains against
ISIL in Syria backing different factions. I think the train equip program
it`s fair to say, asking Syrians who`ve been, many of them barrel bombed,
had their families destroyed, to leave the country, renounce the fight
against Assad, and then go back in, it just proved that they wanted to stay
where they were, they didn`t want to leave, when they left they wanted to
come back in where they wanted to come back in. It was very challenging.
So, I think, now, the approach on a military side, I`ll get to your
diplomatic question, but is to work with those factions on the ground as
best we can who are actually fighting ISIL, of whom there are many moderate
opposition groups who are doing. And there`s no workaround to the fact
that you need a ground force to fight ISIL. You can`t do this, as we know,
from other theaters as well, from the air. And I think we do have more and
more moderate opposition groups stepping up to say we want to fight –
MADDOW: You`re seeing that proportion increase in terms of
moderation on the opposition?
POWER: I`m seeing – what we`re seeing is more opposition groups
coming forward, not wanting to leave the country for an elaborate train and
equip program but saying we`re already fighting ISIL –
MADDOW: Groups the U.S. is comfortable calling moderate.
POWER: Yes. I think – yes. Absolutely. And we`ve seen also with
the Kurds taking Kobani and other parts of northern Syria, and you know,
we`re only 68 miles from sealing off that border and actually denying ISIL
control of the Turkish border in a way that will be helpful.
On the diplomatic front it`s, again, extremely challenging because of
the heterogeneity and just the sheer number of groups, but that`s what the
Riyadh conference was about. It was the first time that number of groups
came together around a common platform. Al-Nusra and ISIL, the two
Security Council designated groups of course not present. Their groups had
no one in the international community will support, of course. And the
whole idea is get everyone together so you can turn your sights against the
al Qaeda affiliate and against ISIL.
So, I mean, again, a lot has to go right. A lot has to break right.
But the amalgamation, if you had said three months ago that we`d be sitting
in the Security Council with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Russia, the
United States, all agreeing on the same framework, you know, you`d not have
thought that that was –
MADDOW: It`s important to mark those benchmarks when you get there
because it does feel like the slough of despond from a high height. But
following steps along and knowing the degree to which we`re engaged and
trying to find a path is heartening.
And thank you for being here.
POWER: Of course.
MADDOW: Thank you for the work you do.
POWER: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.
We got her to come here in studio.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Sort of an amazing story broke late tonight about the
Republican race for the presidency. I did not expect this. But it had to
do with Ben Carson and the Ben Carson boomlet, which now appears to have
evaporated if current polling is accurate.
“The Wall Street Journal” is reporting as of late tonight that in the
month of October, when the Ben Carson surge was in full swing, when it
looked like he was doing great, his campaign that month raised a total of
$8.8 million, which is a great number – but they spent that same month way
more than that. They spent $9.5 million that month.
Overspending, spending more than what you have raised, especially in
good times, that can be one of those ominous signs that your campaign is
going under. It certainly means you are no longer treading water. The
campaign`s chief financial officer told “The Wall Street Journal” tonight
about these figures. Quote, “I don`t know who gave it to you, but they
were not supposed to.”
Everybody`s been watching for the Ben Carson collapse somewhere other
than the polls. These financial details from “The Wall Street Journal”
tonight may be the first real signs of it. We`ve got more on the
Republican race and much more just ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: The first Democratic presidential primary debate this year
was the one that happened in Las Vegas. That was the one where Jim Webb
and Linc Chafee were still running around. Hi, guys.
That debate with five Democrats on stage, that drew 15 million
viewers. The second Democratic debate was last month. They held it on a
Saturday night in Iowa, at the exact same time that the undefeated Iowa
Hawkeyes were taking on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their blockbuster
college football game.
Did I mention that the game and the debate were both in Iowa, both
starting at the same time on a Saturday night? That debate shaved about
half of the audience off the first debate. That brought in about 8.5
The third one was this past weekend. This Saturday before Christmas.
It brought in even fewer viewers than the previous one. Nielsen numbers
look like it`s roughly 7.85 million people who watched Saturday night.
And, of course, the Republicans have been putting up blockbuster
ratings for their zillions of prime time highly promoted debates, some of
which have had over 20 million people watching them.
But look at this. Compare these ratings to 2012. Remember, in 2012,
President Obama was running for re-election. So there`s no Democratic
party debates, right? It`s just the Republicans holding their hilarious,
riveting, bizarro 2012 primary with Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich and all
the rest of them.
I mean, in 2012M the Republican debates were the best show on
television by a mile. And I say that as a person with a TV show on
television. Everybody was watching the Republican debates in 2012. You
could not turn away.
But compare the numbers. More people watched the Democratic debate
this past Saturday than watched any of the Republican debates in 2012.
More people watched the Democratic debate this past Saturday than
almost every other Democratic debate in 2008, which was the Barack Obama-
Hillary Clinton blockbuster year. There were 15 debates that year on the
Democratic side. The fourth highest debate that year was held on MSNBC.
It drew 7.77 million viewers. This Saturday debate, this snoozer Saturday
night before Christmas, beat that number. Did I mention that was Hillary
So yes. The Democrats have buried their debate schedule in a
haystack, and it is impossible to find this year. Compared with the
Republicans this year, the numbers of people watching the Democratic
debates are much smaller. But compared with previous years, even this
year`s Democratic debate numbers are ginormous. The Republican numbers are
break the scale but the Democratic numbers are historically huge.
Americans are into this election. But what do the huge debate
ratings mean for who`s likely to win the election? It`s hard to know. It
is hard to tell at this point whether big debate audiences are going to
help or hurt either party.
I do have one metric, though, one last metric I want you to look at.
Check this out. During the last Democratic debate this Saturday, this
snoozefest in New Hampshire the Saturday before Christmas, the candidate
who attracted the largest number of new Twitter followers over the course
of that debate was Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders went up more than
anybody else on Twitter during the Democratic debate.
During the last Republican debate, the Republican debate last Tuesday
in Las Vegas where 18 million people watched, during the last Republican
debate you want to know who the candidate was who attracted the largest
number of new Twitter followers during the Republican debate? Also Bernie
Sanders. He had a great night that night too, on Republican debate night.
There`s one clear metric that shows which candidate did their
campaign the most good over the course of the last Republican debate and
over the course of the last Democratic debate. And in both instances, for
whatever reason, it was Bernie. Ratings schmatings.
This race this year is just freaking weird. Weird and awesomely
unpredictable. And I love my job.
MADDOW: So, on Friday night, on Friday`s show we brought you a
special report about the poisoning of a town in Michigan – the lead
poisoning of the town of Flint, Michigan. It happened on the watch of
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, through the actions and the inactions of
people who report directly to him.
It raises a lot of questions about what Rick Snyder is doing now to
respond now that we know that Flint and its kids have been poisoned. That
report that we did on Friday got a really big response, including some
Tomorrow night, people on all sides of this story prepare to see red
again, because tomorrow night, we have new documents obtained under the
Freedom of Information Act which I think push the story into even more
deeply unsettling territory. We`re going to have that story and those
documents for you here exclusively tomorrow night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They said, you know, he`s
killed reporters. And I don`t like that. I`m totally against that.
By the way, I hate some of these people. But I`d never kill them. I
hate them. No, I think – no, these people. Honestly – i`ll be honest.
I`ll be honest. I would never kill them. I would never do that.
Let`s see. No, I wouldn`t. I would never kill them.
But I do hate them. And some of them are such lying, disgusting
people. It`s true. It`s true.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
It`s true. But I would never kill them. And anybody that does I
think would be despicable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I would never kill – mm, let me – never?
Donald Trump tonight in Grand Rapids, Michigan, talking about the
criticism he has received for embracing a pseudo-endorsement that he
recently got from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Again, Donald Trump,
“I would never kill reporters. Uh, let me see.”
The presidential campaign this year is weird. About a week ago, a
Monmouth University poll showed Mr. Trump at 41 percent on the Republican
side. And that as an absolute number may or may not mean anything to you,
but look at what it means in relative terms. That gives him an astonishing
27-point lead over his nearest rival.
That poll showed such a commanding lead when it first came out we
thought that Monmouth Poll was maybe an outlier. But then a “Washington
Post”/ABC News poll came out the next day showing pretty much the same
thing. So, did the most recent FOX News national poll. In that one, Trump
is up by 21 points over his nearest rival. He polls better than Ted Cruz,
Marco Rubio and Ben Carson combined.
The latest Public Policy Polling shows Mr. Trump his largest lead yet
in that poll. Based on the latest national averages, Mr. Trump is now
leading the Republican race by on average more than 20 points.
And here`s why that`s a really important metric. No Republican
presidential candidate in modern American history has ever had a national
lead of 20 points or more at this time in the race and then not gone on to
win the Republican nomination for president.
Let me say that again. In modern American history, any Republican
nominee with a polling lead of 20 points or more at this point in the race,
throughout modern American history anybody with a poll lead that big at
this point has won the nomination.
The polling now says that if Donald Trump doesn`t win the Republican
presidential nomination that will be historically unprecedented. Donald
Trump apparently is not going anywhere.
But today, we did lose one Republican candidate for president. South
Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham officially called it quits today. So that
means we can now puff him off our list. One two – oh. So soon?
That means we started at 17 candidates. We`re now down to 3 –
sorry, 13 candidates left on the Republican side. The “I`m still here”
list includes juggernauts like George Pataki, Mike Huckabee, my boyfriend
Jim Gilmore as well.
Jim Gilmore took pains to reassure everyone today after Lindsey
Graham`s departure that he, Jim Gilmore, is still very much in it to win
it. To Governor Gilmore`s point, though, I will say he`s right, that with
Senator Graham leaving Jim Gilmore is now the only military veteran in the
race from either party.
Even though Senator Graham was polling at less than 1 percent in the
polls, his departure could have a bigger impact than you might think. As
long as don`t think about it as just redistributing his support.
There`s two ways in which Lindsey Graham`s departure may change the
race in a noticeable way. First, it may get U.S. senators off the
sidelines in terms of make endorsements of various Republican candidates.
Until now, most Republican senators have stayed out of the race, they have
not declared who they`re going to endorse. That may be out of deference to
Senator Graham, who is both a long-time Republican senator and also very
widely liked by his Republican and Democratic colleagues in the Senate.
His departure also does one other thing, though. It may make South
Carolina a lot more interesting very quickly. I mean, until now, you`ve
sort of noticed that almost all the Republican focus has been on Iowa and
New Hampshire. Those two states are oversaturated by the candidates.
And in terms of national attention, things have been surprisingly
quiet in South Carolina. That may have been because of Lindsey Graham
being in the race but so far behind to not be a factor sort of put a damper
on South Carolina Republican figures getting involved energetically in the
race in a way that didn`t put them in Lindsey Graham`s failing camp but
didn`t also alienate their serving senior senator. Now that Lindsey Graham
is out, expect South Carolina to go off like a bottle rocket.
One other weird factor in South Carolina that hasn`t had much
attention because it`s been so quiet is the Bush family factor in South
Carolina. Yes, Jeb Bush is failing ostentatiously in his presidential run
thus far. But historically speaking, every time someone from the Bush
family has run for president, whether or not they have gone on to win the
presidency that year, they have won the South Carolina primary. Pappy
Bush, George W. Bush, they win in South Carolina. They appear to have
South Carolina wired in some way that doesn`t make sense even when other
For that reason alone, there will be a lot of attention on Jeb Bush`s
campaigning in the state even though the raw numbers would suggest that
he`s not going to be a factor.
Today, though, officially South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham is
out. And if you were going to leave the race, our next guest called the
date on which he would do it weeks ahead of time. I`m not kidding.
Joining us is MSNBC political correspondent Kasie Hunt who weeks
ahead of time basically knew that today would be the day Lindsey Graham
Kasie, how did you know? How did you pick today?
KASIE HUNT, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was really tough,
Rachel. I just called the South Carolina board of elections and I asked if
they had said anything about when it would be possible to get off of the
ballot in South Carolina. Now, this was something I had several people
suggest that I call the board of elections because they had heard that
Senator Graham might be thinking along these lines.
But essentially they set this as the deadline for the last chance
that they could definitively say your name is not going to be printed on
any ballot. And think about it. If you`re Lindsey Graham – and he`s not
just the senior senator from South Carolina, he really is in many ways the
South Carolina political machine embodied. I mean, he is the guy engenders
all kinds of loyalty among the operatives in this state.
And if he were to get on that ballot and not do well, and their
internal polling was telling them he needed to do well in another state if
south Carolinians are going to get on board with them. You don`t want to
go into this election and only post a couple of percentage points, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, he was desperate to not have his name on the ballot even
though if he quit tomorrow, he could have excused a bad result in the South
Carolina primary by saying oh, yes, yes, yes, I quit, right? I mean,
there`s a little bit of peacocking going on here in terms of what number he
wanted to get, right?
HUNT: There is a little bit of that. But I also think, look, this
protects him from any ramifications surrounding his own pride or ultimate
MADDOW: That`s fair. Yes.
HUNT: But I do think that it also gives him an opportunity to play a
very real role. And what you were talking about with the primary being
frozen there so far is absolutely the case. Again, the Republican
establishment in South Carolina is so focused on him.
And Graham is a masterful political tactician. Nobody would want to
cross him. They know what would happen.
But he has a network that really matters in the state. And he really
could not necessarily with an endorsement but with the role that he plays
down there could put his foot on the scale for one of these other
Republicans. And that matters very much to Lindsey Graham.
I mean, the idea that he wants – or that the Republican Party needs
a candidate who can win in the election, someone who can appeal to
Hispanics, somebody who isn`t turning off women and swing voters, it`s been
something of a crusade for Lindsey Graham for the past several years.
He did it in his own race. You remember he kind of cleared the field
of any legitimate Tea Party challengers. But he ran his own race as
somebody who was willing to say the courageous thing, who was willing to
talk about the fact that undocumented immigrants should have a path to
citizenship. And he got up proudly and talked about those things. And he
wants to be that voice in the Republican Party.
And he tried to do it himself. First, it was about Rand Paul. Then
it became about Donald Trump and building the wall. And now also to a
certain extent Ted Cruz.
But it`s pretty clear he decided that`s not the best way for him to
play that role. And I think he could first in New Hampshire and then in
South Carolina potentially be decisive in helping the establishment needs
to settle on someone because if they don`t all that stuff you just outlined
with those polls, it`s going to end up coming true.
MADDOW: That`s right. I think your point there that he is really,
really good at tactical politics and really good at understanding how
machines and establishments work and that might be a skill that he brings
to greater effect in this political contest than being the candidate
himself – it`s going to be interesting to see if he tries to be that guy.
I think he really could be.
MSNBC political correspondent Kasie Hunt, who again call this weeks
in advance – Kasie, thank you very much.
HUNT: I do think underestimating Lindsey Graham is never a good
MADDOW: Fair enough, fair enough. I will say Lindsey Graham out of
the race, remember, when South Carolina made the decision to take the
confederate flag down at capitol grounds, Lindsey Graham was there, part of
that bipartisan decision.
Lindsey Graham is the only Republican candidate who believes that
climate change is a real thing. Lindsey Graham, other than Jim Gilmore is
the only candidate in either the Republican or Democratic side who`s got
personal experience in the military. And Lindsey Graham is the only one
who would make jokes about booze and would swear while telling funny
stories during the debates.
He will be missed. We`ll be back.
MADDOW: A couple months ago, Ben Carson`s wife Candy belted out a
seriously impressive treatment of the anthem at a campaign event in Iowa.
At the time, Dr. Carson was enjoying a major surge in the Iowa polls. He
was leading Donald Trump by double digits there. I don`t know if those
things were related. I don`t know if he was surging because his wife was
singing at his events.
But now, that the polling situation for Dr. Carson isn`t quite as
good, it looks like the Carson campaign might be trying to recapture some
of that polling/singing magic – because this was tonight in concord, New
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: People always say that a candidate`s spouse is his or her
secret weapon. Candy Carson may, in fact, be a powerful political weapon
on behalf of her husband but she is no secret. She also plays violin. Do
you know that she has just put out a Christmas album? It`s called “A Very
Candy Christmas.” And now that she`s back out singing carols at his
events, if Ben Carson has a Christmas surge in New Hampshire now, I think
we will know who is responsible.
MADDOW: Best new thing in the world and today it comes from a very
unlikely place, the United States Senate, which despite themselves managed
to do something constructive right before they went home for Christmas. It
also resulted in the best new thing in the world tonight, which is a
picture I will show you in a second.
The context here is this man, the first Iraq war veteran ever elected
to the U.S. Congress. Patrick Murphy, captain in the 82nd Airborne combat
veteran, winner of the Bronze Star me came back from Baghdad in 2004,
decided to run for Congress in 2005. He beat a Republican incumbent, went
to Washington as an anti-Iraq war vet. He held on for two terms in a
conservative district, he ended up losing his seat in the big red
Republican wave of 2010.
Even though he knew he was from a tough district for a Democrat,
Patrick Murphy led with his heart, including making himself the lead
advocate for the legislative repeal of “don`t ask, don`t tell”, as a
straight man and a combat veteran representing a conservative district. He
did that even though he knew he would pay for it at home.
Patrick Murphy is a fundamentally good person. He has done a show
focused on veterans issues here at MSNBC. You may have seen it. It`s
called “TAKING THE HILL.” He`s also been a frequent guest on this show.
In May, you might remember there was a terrible train derailment in
Philadelphia which killed eight people, wounded more than 200 people on
that train. Congressman Patrick Murphy was onboard that train when it
derailed. He helped people out of the train. He kicked out emergency
windows. He helped the first responders find the wounded. He then stayed
there basically as an on-scene correspondent through the night and into the
next day, helping people and helping explain what happened. He`s just a
great, great guy.
And right before the Senate went home for the weekend for the
Christmas break, last order of business, they confirmed good old Patrick
Murphy to be undersecretary of the United States Army, which brings us to
the aforementioned best new thing in the world, because whether or not you
like Patrick Murphy as much as I do, and, boy, do I like that guy, whether
or not you have any particular feeling about him being our undersecretary
of the United States army, inarguably, this is the best new thing in the
The photo that we got today of how his family felt about the
proceedings in the Senate where daddy got confirmed. Did I mention the
vote was late in the day on Friday. Last order of business?
Yes, it`s exciting for daddy to be confirmed as undersecretary of the
Army, but also can I use my iPad, mommy, there`s “Fruit Ninja” to be
Congratulations to congressman, now Undersecretary Patrick Murphy.
Congratulations to your family, sir. May all of your achievements be this
riveting for your kids.
Best new thing in the world. Truly awesome.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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