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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/14/11

Guests: Lawrence Wilkerson, Steve Schmidt, Jameel Jaffer

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thanks a lot. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Some presidents are better at giving speeches than other presidents are. But all presidents, even the bad at speeches presidents now have professional speechwriters who are really good, who can make anybody sound good. And all presidents I think in part because of the professionalization of the whole speech writing thing, all presidents now use some of the same tricks. They follow some of the same patterns, even some of the same cadences in giving their good presidential speeches. So, for example, every year at the State of the Union, or any speech where there`s an invited formal audience with dignitaries, like maybe including the first lady, pretty much all of these in modern times now, from any president, you can expect a little anecdote about one of the invited guests at that event. It will be an applause line. So like Wesley Autrey, the New York City subway hero, or Daniel Hernandez, the congressional intern who helped save the live of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The speech writers come up with a way to fit the personal story of the hero into the speech. That person gets recognition at the big speech event. It`s a way we model heroism for the whole country. I think it`s a very nice thing. I do not resent this at all. I think it`s cool. When presidents speak to military audiences, there`s sort of a variation on this, a variation where they highlight the story often of a service member who has a connection to that specific military audience. President Obama is speaking today at Ft. Bragg on the occasion of the ending of the Iraq war. President Obama did one of those tried and trued include a personal story thing in the middle of his speech today about the war ending. The president told a service member`s individual story. But this time, there was a surprise. It had a very unexpected ending, this story. I did not see this coming. I don`t think the audience saw this coming -- not from the way they reacted. This is not how I thought this story would end. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As Americans, we have a responsibility to learn from your service. I`m thinking of an example -- Lieutenant Alvin Shell who was based here at Ft. Bragg. A few years ago on a supply route outside Baghdad, he and his team were engulfed by flames from an RPG attack. Covered with gasoline, he ran into the fire to help his fellow soldiers and then led them two miles back to Camp Victory where he finally collapsed, covered with burns. When they told him he was a hero, Alvin disagreed. I`m not a hero, he said. A hero is a sandwich. I`m a paratrooper. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I`m not a hero, a hero is a sandwich, says the actual flesh in blood hero in the middle of doing his incredibly heroic thing in wartime. I did not see that line coming in the president`s speech today. The president`s remarks today at Ft. Bragg are sort of the closest thing we are going to get as far as I know to any sort of victory day parade after Iraq. It`s the closest we`re going to get to a ticker tape ceremony to mark the end of the Iraq war and all the veterans of that war coming home at last. More than 1 million Americans have served there. The president saying at Ft. Bragg today that the colors of the United States Armed Forces, the flags of the United States and the U.S. military, which American troops have been fighting under for nearly a decade, those flags will formally be taken down and cased at a ceremony tomorrow in Baghdad. Those colors will begin their journey home. There are a few ways in which to me this is sort of surreal. I mean, on one level, it is just flatly remarkable that the consuming, moral and political crisis of the Iraq war, this huge, long catastrophic war. The national convulsion we had over why we were fighting it and when we could come home, after all that, it is a little surreal that it is ending so quietly. At another level, I think that it is upsetting to see the persistence of the divide that grew between the military and the rest of the country during these post-9/11 wars, where less than 1 percent of the population has been fighting two of the longest wars in American history simultaneously -- two deployments, three deployments, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine deployments. Families including the families of guardsmen and reservists, not just all active duty troops, even the reserve forces, their families absolutely U-turned to be a 100 percent on a war footing experience for a decade. There`s been a great split in the experience of our country. A great split in experience between the military bearing this huge burden for a solid decade and civilians at home, you know, getting tax cuts. But the whole war on the deficit, put both wars on the deficit. We are seeing that divide perpetuated even at the end of the Iraq war now, as the military marks this occasion with ceremonies and with big home comings across the country. And with solemn carefully choreographed hand-over events in Iraq where this fighting has been taking place. But in civilian life, the end of the Iraq war so far, at least, sort of goes down as just one world news story among many. At the end of other long wars in American history, the country threw ticker tape parades to welcome home our soldiers rejoining civilian life. But the military has had such a different experience for the past 10 years than the rest of America that, at this point, if there are going to be parades, we have to expect the military to hold them themselves for themselves. It has not, in an important sense, been the country`s war in Iraq. It has been the military`s war. And that is dangerous for any country. It is a dangerous disconnect for any country to find itself experiencing. But the final and frankly much more pedestrian level in which the ending of the war is playing out in a sort of strange way right now is in the politics of how the Iraq war is ending. George W. Bush essentially hasn`t been seen or heard from, safe from a book tour and recent charity trip to Africa for the past three years. The George W. Bush era in the Republican Party, everybody agrees is over, at least for now. I think that`s part of why Republicans are having such a hard time picking a presidential nominee. There are no inheritors of the George W. Bush era in Republican politics, at least they don`t want to be seen that way. They`re all saying they`re Reagan Republicans or Teddy Roosevelt Republicans. They may now want to be seen as Calvin Coolidge Republicans or Herbert Hoover Republicans? They`ll be anything but none of these guys call themselves George W. Bush Republicans. And that`s why it is so remarkable that the Republican politics of the ending of the Iraq war now are that the Iraq war ought not end, that the real problem is that the troops are coming home in time for Christmas. Republicans, people running for president, elected officials, all of the conservative leading voices on issues like this, they are all against the war ending. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Unfortunately, unfortunately, it is clear that this decision of a complete pullout of the United States troops from Iraq was dictated by politics and not our national security interests. I believe that history will judge this president`s leadership with a scorn and disdain that it deserves. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This was a failure by the Obama administration to close the deal. At a time when we need troops in Iraq to secure the place against intervention by Iran and the bad actors in the region, we`re going to go into 2012 with none. STEPHEN HADLEY, U.S. INSTITUTE FOR PEACE: The administration was not interested in having 10,000, 20,000 troops there. That`s a decision they made. I think others, including I, myself, would have made a different decision. DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We`re now in a situation where we`re pulling all of our troops out of Iraq, period, no stay-behind force. I think that`s a mistake. REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look at every time we have deposed a dictator, the United States has always left troops behind to be able to enforce the fragile peace. In this case, once we`re finished in Iraq, we`ll have more troops in Honduras than we`ll be leaving behind in Iraq. That`s why I called on President Obama to return to the negotiating table. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Leon Panetta, the secretary of defense, communicated that we were going to have a presence in Iraq going forward. That that was part of our objective, and this president has failed to deliver. They were unable to negotiate a status agreement to allow 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 troops to remain which I think is failure in the part of the administration. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Actually, a caveat here, the last one was Mitt Romney speaking with "The Des Moines Register" editorial board last week. And right after what you heard he just said there, right after he said that not leaving up to 30,000 troops in Iraq is a failure of the Obama administration. This is what he said immediately thereafter. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: But is the wind-down in Iraq appropriate? Yes. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So, just to be fair, like on everything, you can put Mitt Romney down as being both for bringing the troops home and leaving them there, whatever you need to hear. Mark him down as for and against. But most of the other Republican candidates, at least the ones not named Ron Paul, think ending the war in Iraq is a bad idea. They think that the problem with the Iraq war is that it`s not going to be any longer. Rick Perry says that getting out of Iraq is, quote, "putting political expediency ahead of sound military judgment." Michele Bachmann, as you just heard there, wants President Obama back at the negotiating table getting American troops back to Iraq. Newt Gingrich has given Romney-esque mixed signals on this, but he, too, slams what he calls an "accelerated withdrawal from Iraq" as promoting dangerous regional dynamics. Even Jon Huntsman says bringing the troops home from Iraq is, quote, "a mistake." Ron Paul is the only Republican presidential candidate who has been clear that he is in favor of the Iraq war ending as it is now. All of the other Republicans speaking out on this seems to want the Iraq war to go on for longer. They have all expressed their unease with the Iraq war ending right now. This seems remarkable to me. This seems like kind of a big deal given how much distance today`s Republican wants to put between themselves and George W. Bush. Between themselves and specifically the most salient think about the George W. Bush presidency, the most controversial thing about the George W. Bush presidency -- the thing that will be in the top line of his obituary at the end of his long, healthy and happy life. Aside from Ron Paul, they are all saying after 8 1/2 years that the war ought to keep on going, do not end the war. Keep the troops there. Do not bring them home. For context, in terms of a snapshot of American public opinion right now, the last CBS poll that asked Americans if they agree with President Obama`s decision to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq by the end of 2011, that poll found that the number of Americans who agree with that decision is 77 percent, ending the Iraq war polls higher than the smell of bacon at this point. Even among Republicans, there is 63 percent approval for the decision to end the war in Iraq right now and bring all the troops home. But Republican elected officials and their supposed national security experts who get booked on TV to talk about all this and essentially all of their candidates running for president who aren`t named Ron Paul, they are all taking the other side of 77 percent of the American public on this. I know that nothing about the end of the Iraq war is getting an exclamation point in civilian life right now for some reason, and that bewilders me. But Republican politicians uniformly saying we ought not end the Iraq war, it seems to me like if anything deserves an exclamation point about this, probably that does. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Over the last three years, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. And over the next few days, the small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country. Those last American troops will move south on desert sands. And then they will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high. One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end. Iraq`s future will be in the hands of its people. America`s war in Iraq will be over. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The president went on to say, "We knew this day would come. We`ve known it for some time, but still there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long." I think there is also something profound about this being the ending to this war that has lasted so long. It is politically astonishing to me the lesson learned about the Iraq war for the Republican Party of 2011 is that the Iraq war hasn`t gone on long enough. And the troops shouldn`t come home. More important question, though, I think for the whole country, regardless of politics, is whether there`s still a way these last 10 years of war could be something that we see ourselves having done as a country, not just that we see our military as having done essentially without us and on their own. Joining us now is retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He`s former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell. He served during the first term of the Bush administration. Colonel Wilkerson, thank you for being here. It`s nice to see you. COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, SEC. OF STATE POWELL`S FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF: Thanks for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: Let me ask first, looking back on the start of the war and looking back on the past 8 1/2 years, how it feels to you to have the Iraq war ending now and having all the American troops coming home. WILKERSON: Let me say first that I want to thank you for your very eloquent and accurate commentary with regard to the state of condition of the U.S. Armed Forces. It`s unconscionable in some respects that we have let these people sacrifice for as long as they have in Afghanistan and Iraq and literally gone on with our lives. Reduced taxes, as you pointed out, and shopping as President Bush said, and so forth. These men and women not only deserve to come home, they deserve to come home a long time ago. The preposterous protests being made by members of my political party, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others just boggle my mind. We need to move in a military sense back to a position of strategic agility. That is to say, we need to be in offshore confirmation. We need to be in battle groups and marine amphibious groups and Air Force in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We need to have that agility to be able to move as we need do to influence actions if we need to with hard power in eastern Asia. It`s absurd that we were mired in Iraq so long. Secondarily, we need the Iraqis to do their own thing, the greatest defense Iran with respect to Iraq is Iraqi nationalism. When my son served in Kirkuk with the third Iraqi air force, he said the only thing that unified those members of the air force, Sunni, Shia, whatever they were, was their hatred for Persians. This kind of nationalism in Iraq is the best defense against Iran. Not U.S. forces on the ground, unless, of course, your plan is to go on to Syria or go on to Iran from Afghanistan and from Iraq. And, of course, that was the plan of George Bush and Dick Cheney, a plan that was put asunder by the fact that Iraq turned so badly in the years 2004, `05, `06 and `07. MADDOW: I think there are a lot of hard questions to ask about what we learned from the Iraq war experience as a nation. The kind of things you were just mentioning there about the split between civilian experience in the last 10 years and what our military`s experienced in the foremost, especially for those of us who are civilians, I think we have to think hard about that. One of the things I really don`t understand, it`s a wide open question to me, is how the experience of the Iraq war changed Republican politics. I feel like it`s surprising to hear Republican politicians all talking now as if it is 2005. As if nothing has happened that`s any different than when the first few years of when the war started. Do you understand how Republicans may feel differently about war and peace and foreign policy than they did before the Iraq war experience? WILKERSON: The only way I can explain it, Rachel, is their hatred of President Obama. And I say that with some circumspection. They want to defeat this man. They want to bring this man out of the White House. They want to embarrass this man. They want to put this man through every kind of turmoil they can possibly put him through politically. So, they will take almost any stand even -- and this is what really grates on me as a Republican -- even if it`s not in the interest of this country, they will take a stand and have repeatedly taken stands that oppose the president simply because they oppose the president. It`s not America. It`s not the United States. It`s not our best interests. It`s certainly not our national security interests. It`s getting rid of this president. That is political opportunism and political blindness of the first order. And it may cause me to leave this party eventually, I must say that. MADDOW: Is there -- do you see any hope within the Republican Party for a new vision, a conservative realistic not reactionary foreign policy emerging? Is anybody leading on that? WILKERSON: I see Ron Paul. I see Walt Jones from North Carolina. I see a few others who speak sanely and soberly. But as far as the leadership goes, whether it`s domestic policy, tax reform, taxing the wealthiest in this country, which incidentally Dwight Eisenhower did for eight years at the rate of 90 percent, an arch- Republican, if you will. Any issue you want to pick, my Republicans seem to be intent on suicide. MADDOW: Retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell in the first term of the Bush administration -- sir, I always enjoy talking to you and in particular on this subject and tonight. Thank you. Really appreciate it. WILKERSON: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: All right. Speaking of Ron Paul, how`s this for a headline? Ron Paul could very well win the Iowa caucuses. The 76-year-old libertarian your nephew in college loves could very well be the Republican front-runner after the critical first presidential caucus. Wrapping our minds around what that means and what that doesn`t mean, coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The Beltway media capital "Q" question of the day about 2012 politics is whether Iowa might be won not by Newt Gingrich, not by Mitt Romney or sleepy or dopey or any of the seven dwarves but Ron Paul. As one conservative columnist notes in "The New York Times" today, it`s not just the new Iowa poll out yesterday from Public Policy Polling showing Ron Paul only one point behind Newt Gingrich, statistically tied for the lead in Iowa. It`s not just that Ron Paul does great in that one poll. It`s that Ron Paul has done great in basically every poll in Iowa since Thanksgiving. Ron Paul is not leading, but he is in second place in every Iowa poll except one that has been taken this month. So, yes, Newt Gingrich is ahead there. But if for some reason, pick one, I got a million, if for some reason Newt Gingrich is not going to win Iowa, right now, the polls say the guy who`s going to win instead is not Mitt Romney, it`s old Dr. Paul, which is amazing, right? I mean, that would change everything in Republican politics. That would change everything in the 2012 race this year. If Ron Paul won Iowa, right, that would change everything, wouldn`t it? No, no, it wouldn`t. Remember which Republican won Iowa in 2008? That was this guy, self- help weight loss guru, FOX News personality and guy hosting the latest antiabortion jubilee for the Republican candidates in Iowa tonight, Mike Huckabee. In 2008, Mike Huckabee had the best chance of winning the nomination as I did. But he did Iowa that year and winning Iowa did mean he got to stay in the national race longer and keep losing that national race for the nomination for longer than he otherwise might. But that`s pretty much all it meant. This year, the Beltway thrill of the moment might come true. Ron Paul might conceivably win Iowa. Heck, Michele Bachmann could conceivably surge to victory there, too. The Rick Perry people are trying desperately to start rumors they could win in Iowa. Anything`s possible. No, not you, Rick Santorum, you`re still not possible. But everybody else is possible. Even though the Ron Paul numbers are sustained and solid now, and even though the Ron Paul candidacy is always interesting and unique, for some of the reasons Lawrence Wilkerson just talked about, but for all of the reasons Ron Paul is interesting -- even though Ron Paul`s success raises questions about libertarianism and isolationism in Republican politics right now, the hard truth is Ron Paul winning Iowa, itself, would not matter very much. No matter how excited the Beltway media is about that prospect today, it would not matter very much. Not unless you believe that we really were going to get a President Huckabee in 2008. Not unless you think that in the year 2000, Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer were the real competition for George W. Bush and not John McCain. Not unless in 1996 you think that Pat Buchanan was a real threat to go all the way. Sorry, Pat. Not unless in 1988, you think televangelist Pat Robertson really did have a better shot at the presidential nomination than Ronald Reagan`s vice president, George H.W. Bush. Iowa Republican`s parochial picayune conservatism is so unrepresentative of the rest of the country`s voters, even though the rest of the country`s Republican voters. That while the Iowa caucuses on the Republican side are fun to cover and they are of interest in their own right, Iowa Republicans do not pick presidents. They pick Huckabees. And who doesn`t heart Huckabees? There he is tonight in Des Moines. Weight loss self-help guru, FOX News celebrity, extreme anti-abortion activist, supporting the personhood thing that could have banned birth control pills in Mississippi, and all the Republican candidates are kissing his ring right now because he is the last Republican to have won Iowa. And if you want to know what a lot of good winning Iowa does for him in the long run, well, you`re looking at it tonight. I`m not going to lie to you, it would be fun to watch Ron Paul win it in Iowa this year. It would make pundits` heads explode everywhere, right? Because what he would be winning is the Republican caucuses in Iowa, that result would also mean roughly nothing to the rest of the presidential race. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Today in Congress, nothing happened to make it less likely that your taxes are going to go up at the end of the year. Right now, you are benefiting from a temporary cut in the payroll taxes that get taken out of each one of your paychecks. President Obama and the Democrats say they want to extend that cut when it expires at the end of the year, maybe even make it bigger. Republicans have been, meh, about that idea. Republicans have now passed something out of the Republican-controlled House that would extend the payroll tax cut, but they made sure to combine it with a whole bunch of other poison pills that President Obama had said explicitly that he would veto. The House Republican poison pill thing also has zero chance of passing the Senate. And Senate Republicans moved today to block taking a vote on it. So, in short, politics had a huge day today. House Republicans voted on a bunch of stuff that has no chance of becoming law but it might be useful for trying to make Democrats look bad, specifically, it might be useful for blaming Democrats if your taxes do go up at the end of the year even though Democrats are trying to make sure that tax rise doesn`t happen and it`s Republicans who are blocking the simple extension that would prevent that. So, politics did have a very big day today. But substantively, the issue of whether or not you`re getting a tax cut, that got nowhere today. Policy, no. Politics, yes. And now, they`re saying it could lead to the threat of yet another government shutdown before the end of the year. Fourth try of that this year. And that`s why nobody sighs contentedly anymore when their child tells them what they want to be when they grow up is a member of Congress. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Basically, the entire opinion section of today`s "Washington Post," every single byline columnist had a column in that newspaper today, fulminating against Republican presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich. The liberal Ruth Marcus totally against the idea of a president Newt Gingrich. Same with Dana Milbank, who`s basically issue to issue but sort of a center or center left guy. And then Kathleen Parker, erudite and even keeled from the center right, Kathleen Parker going after Mr. Gingrich today, too. Also George Will from the right, metaphorically claiming I guess he wants to kill Newt Gingrich today by headlining his piece, "Newt Gingrich commits a capital crime." The whole "Washington Post" editorial page, left, right, center, and back to the right a sect time, all of them unanimously dismantling Newt Gingrich, the whole page. All year long, there`s been a vague sense of Republican dissatisfaction with Mitt Romney, with Mr. 22 Percent -- as Republicans have hopscotched from one non-Mitt Romney candidate to another. Mitt Romney is still polling around, you know, 22 percent, 23 percent, can`t seem to get any higher. But the vague sense of Republican dissatisfaction with front-runner Mitt Romney is now being supplanted by a not at all vague blistering, black, white and red all over clear statement of worry and dislike for the new frontrunner from the conservative establishment. And that is turning into a sense of near panic that Newt Gingrich`s lead in the polls might hold. Check this out. Behold. Talking Points Memo posting this chart today. It is the answer you get when you ask voters about a race between Barack Obama and Newt Gingrich. These numbers go back to March 2010. This is a head to head Obama versus Gingrich. Newt Gingrich never gets closer to Barack Obama than four or five points. On average he loses by more than 10. If you hone in on the last few weeks, you can see that Barack Obama is going in a completely different direction from Newt Gingrich, the direction commonly known as up. This graph shows basically this conversation between pollster and voter. Hey, voter, Gingrich or Obama? Then the voter responds by going, let me think, OK, Obama. But if you ask voters about a race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, you get this. This other graph here on the bottom. That conversation goes something like this. Pollster says, hey, voter, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama? The voter says, hmm, Romney or Obama, Romney or Obama? Let me think about that. I think probably Obama, but let me think about that. In the end, Mitt Romney trailing the president by just over two points which in this scale is a statistical tie. With the economy this much in the doldrums, President Obama is not a lock for re-election and he knows it. The door is sort of wide open for a likable, reasonable, adult Republican to at least run a credible campaign. Instead, national Republicans have fought their way from having a front-runner the party really doesn`t like to having another front-runner who is this guy. Who`s Newt -- Newt Gingrich, Center of attention on the "Washington Post" editorial page today and the same way the guy in handcuffs is the center of attention at a perp walk. Today, we got a glimpse of the great Newt Gingrich panic. Not just at the national media level but also in the states, particularly in the Northeast where Republicans say they`re worried Newt Gingrich at the top of the ticket in November could hurt candidates in lower tier races. They say specifically they`re worried about candidates like Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Chris Shays who will be running for Senate in Connecticut. Republican strategist Brad Todd telling "Roll Call" that Mr. Gingrich, quote, "may have a hard time in competing with Obama in the parts of the campaign that talk about the future," which I think is Republican for Newt Gingrich is going to sink this ship. Talking Points Memo also reporting on a new anti-Scott Brown fund- raising letter from the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Their killer pitch against Scott Brown right now, quote, "Newt and Scott Brown are birds of a feather" -- which is also sort of a comment on evolution if you think about it. Joining us now to help us plum the depths of the Republican political mind is Steve Schmidt, senior strategist for the McCain campaign in `08, and now, an MSNBC political analyst. Steve, it`s good to see you. STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Great to see you, Rachel. MADDOW: Am I wrong that there`s panic in the establishment over Newt Gingrich`s prospects? SCHMIDT: I think there`s a lot of panic in the establishment over his prospects. I mean, one of the things, Rachel, is there are 31 House freshmen in districts that President Obama won in 2008. And the notion that Newt Gingrich could be at the top of the ticket, I think, is petrifying to them. I think also you`re seeing a lot of people who worked in close proximity to Newt Gingrich and people who covered that era very closely, who have very serious questions about his capacity to lead, about his volatility, about his lack of discipline. And when you look at the election today, you look at the dissatisfaction over the economy, over the president`s handling of the economy, this is an election that Republicans should be able to win. But people are deeply worried that we may be about to put someone into the nominating convention who is, you know, deeply, deeply flawed. MADDOW: Do you think that that sentiment I think articulated in an even keel way from you, articulated with exclamation points from other Republicans, do you think that is going to change his poll numbers? Is that going to have an effect? Do you see the Republican voter responding to that worry? SCHMIDT: When you look at the NBC poll yesterday, what you see is all of the conservative intensity in the race is behind Newt Gingrich. And that Mitt Romney is really lagging in terms of conservative support. And of course, conservative support is determinative of the outcome of an election. I think Mitt Romney`s path is clearly one of character and leadership. Whether you agree with Mitt Romney`s policies or not, he`s led an exemplary life and he is a person who has gotten things done from a leadership perspective in all the days he`s done. And I think you`re going to see a focus in the weeks ahead that he has the capacity to lead and you saw him pointing out that Newt Gingrich has a lot of zany ideas. And let me give you one example. The economy is clearly the issue that Republicans are going to have to run on to win the election. Newt Gingrich the other day says the biggest threat facing the country is the electromagnetic pulse. And it`s the lack of discipline that will be absolutely lethal in the context of the general election against President Obama. MADDOW: But again, that very even keel case you just made very carefully for what Mitt Romney`s sell for himself is, that`s been the same sell all along though. And that`s why he`s Mr. 22 Percent. He doesn`t seem to be getting conservative enthusiasm with that. And Newt Gingrich really has been wrapping it up. What I want to know is if there`s a split in the Republican Party, not in terms of who people like or who they don`t like, who they root for, but whether there`s a split in the Republican Party between sort of elite establishment opinion and voters, or whether voters are going to follow the order. SCHMIDT: I think at this stage in the race, you look at the numbers and you look at a lot of the inconsistencies between things that Newt Gingrich has done, things that Newt Gingrich says. There`s a case of collective amnesia. And Newt Gingrich is really being evaluated by Republican primary voters, one dimensionally, through the prism of his debate performances. Republican voters are looking and saying, that`s the guy we want in the ring to fight against President Obama. That he has the capacity, in the minds of a lot of Republican primary voters, who have fantasies of him intellectually demolishing the president on the debate stage. I think the reality is, is when you look at Gingrich`s record, you look at that history of discipline, you look at the propensity to reach for the self-destruct button at any given moment, on any given day, there`s just deep worry by people who know him best. And so, you know, I think someone had written this last week and it said, all the people that basically know Mitt Romney, who have been around Mitt Romney, support Mitt Romney. You know, all the people who have been around Newt Gingrich know Newt Gingrich really well are in a state of panic about the prospect of a Gingrich candidacy. I think that says something about Newt Gingrich. Something he`s going it have to deal with in the weeks ahead. MADDOW: Sounds to me you`re not saying it directly, but sounds to me like you`re expecting the poll numbers to -- SCHMIDT: I think that -- I think that as he becomes the focus of the race, I think those poll numbers are going to drop. I think that Ron Paul is in a strong position in Iowa to challenge Newt Gingrich. And I think there`s going to be a lot of focus on the Gingrich record and I think there`s going to be an intense voter education effort that takes place that will actually reach the Republican voters and give him pause to think about it. MADDOW: Their amnesia will be cured. Steve Schmidt, former McCain campaign senior strategist and a political analyst with MSNBC -- thanks, Steve. It`s good to have you. SCHMIDT: You bet. Great to see you. MADDOW: I will just say, "The National Review" has just editorialized tonight -- the White House seems winnable next year. We fear to nominate former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the front-runners in the polls, would be to blow this opportunity. So, there`s that. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Every year for almost 50 years now, Congress has gotten together to pass a bill to fund the Department of Defense. It always passes and the president always signs it. And the Pentagon gets a whole bunch of money. That`s the way it generally works. But this year, the bill to fund the Defense Department also became the bill to require that people suspected of terrorism, potentially including American citizens captured on American soil, people suspected of terrorism be put into military custody, where they could be held indefinitely without trial. So, here`s your Pentagon budget, but we`re going to go ahead and take the Sixth Amendment off your hands. Why should the bill defund the Defense Department also have to be the bill that codifies and expands and cements indefinite imprisonment without trial? The Obama administration responded by saying, well, it shouldn`t. They said essentially, no way, that`s not going to be in the bill. The White House threatening last month to veto the entire defense authorization bill over this new lock them up and throw away the key set of rules that were included in the bill. Tons of administration officials have spoken out publicly against this thing at various times over the last couple months. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Jeh Johnson, who`s the top lawyer for the Defense Department, John Brennan, the president`s top counterterrorism adviser, they`ve all said that this detention provision would hurt counterterrorism efforts. The director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, saying these limitations could deny our nation the ability to respond flexibly and appropriately to unfolding events, including the capture of terrorism suspects. With all that pushback, House and Senate negotiators got together and tweaked that part of the bill in hopes of avoiding a presidential veto. Monday night, they announced they were all done. The House and Senate did make a bunch of changes to the legislation. Now, there`s been a lot of confusion and some disagreement as to whether the changes they made actually fixed the problem, actually deal with the concerns voiced not just by law enforcement and the intelligence community and the White House, but also by civil liberties and human rights groups. And all the way through yesterday, the White House wasn`t weighing in. There was no word on whether their threat to veto this big bill still held. Meanwhile, two retired four star Marine generals wrote an op-ed in yesterday`s "New York Times" when they called this, quote, "both misguided and unnecessary," saying members were, quote, "all too willing to undermine our ideals in the name of fighting terrorism. They should remember that American ideals are assets, not liabilities. Just this morning, the FBI director told a Senate committee he still has concerns about the current language, about the uncertainty that the detainee language could create from this bill. So, there`s going to be a veto, right? Actually, no. This afternoon the Obama administration said that they wouldn`t veto. Press Secretary Jay Carney saying the White House is still concerned this is going to create uncertainty for counterterrorism efforts but enough changes for made to satisfy the demands the administration had made that caused them to threaten to veto it in the first place. So, the House passed the defense bill this afternoon, the Senate is expected to vote on it this week and the president is no longer threatening to veto it The big open question here is did those changes resolve the big constitutional concerns the White House and others had? Is that why the veto threat was rescinded or is the White House signaling they`ll be OK with letting these concerns slide? How problematic is the bill the president is going to sign? Joining us now is somebody who is on one side of this argument, Jameel Jaffer. He`s deputy legal director of the ACLU. Mr. Jaffer, thanks for being here tonight. Nice to see you. JAMEEL JAFFER, ACLU DEPUTY LEGAL DIRECTOR: Thank you. MADDOW: Did the changes to the bill substantively affect your concerns about effect on civil liberties? JAFFER: No, I think it was an awful bill before and it is an awful bill now. It`s a bill that would make permanent as -- make permanent in American law a fixture of worldwide detention without trial. It`s a bill that further militarized counterterrorism policy. It`s a bill that would make it harder to close Guantanamo. It has all the problems that we identified earlier. And it`s really quite astonishing and disappointing that president is withdrawing his veto threat. MADDOW: What is the -- what is the difference from somebody who was picked up on suspicion of terrorism? What would be the difference in being treated as somebody who`s in military custody versus somebody being treated in the normal court system? JAFFER: Well, there are all sorts of human rights ramifications of military custody, but I think that it`s worthwhile to focus on the national security ramifications, because as you mention, many of the people who have objected to this language are people who have national security credentials. These are the president`s most senior national security advisers who spoke out against the bill, and they spoke out against the bill in a form that is substantially similar to the bill we`ve got now. And they weren`t objecting on human rights grounds. They were objecting that these provisions, this militarization of counterterrorism policy was a national security problem -- and it is a national security problem. If you look at the effectiveness of, for example, military commissions at Guantanamo and compare them to Article 3 courts, ordinary courts inside the United States, it is quite obvious that the ordinary federal courts are much more capable of adjudicating prosecutions, of presiding over terrorism prosecutions. And you see that across the board. And you see -- what you see if you look at the statements from people like Petraeus and Panetta, what you see is that a lot of the power that`s being invested in the military is power that the military doesn`t even want. And so, there are all sorts of human rights reasons to oppose this legislation, but there are national security reasons to oppose it as well. MADDOW: Are there stated policy aims of the Obama administration that would be blocked if the president signs this? Closing Guantanamo you mention? JAFFER: Yes. I think it will make it harder to close Guantanamo. It is also going to create all sorts of problems for the United States abroad because the powers we are claiming are not powers that other countries are very happy with. And ultimately in order to have effective counter terrorism policy, you need to have other countries that are willing to cooperate. And this theory that we have indefinite detention authority, power to detain people picked up anywhere in the world without charge or trial until the end of hostilities, whatever that means, that`s a power many other countries are uncomfortable with. And that many people here in the United States are uncomfortable with. And even the Obama administration we thought was uncomfortable with it until today. But apparently, President Obama was willing to go to bat for presidential power. He objected to the original version of this bill because it was too constraining. And now that the president has gotten a bill that is somewhat less constraining, he is withdrawing his objections. But the human rights concerns remain. The national security concerns remain. The only thing that`s been resolved is this problem, if you think of it as a problem, of constraints on executive power. MADDOW: Jameel Jaffer directs the national security project at the ACLU -- thanks for helping us understand this. I have a feeling that we -- that this story is not over and there`s more. JAFFER: No. I think this debate is just going to move to the courts now. MADDOW: That`s right. Jameel Jaffer, thanks for being here. Appreciate it. JAFFER: Thank you. MADDOW: All right. Best thing in the world tonight coming up next, with a twist. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Katsaridaphobia is an irrational and insidious condition. It is the one thing which can make somebody who normally looks like this, act instead like this! (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) MADDOW: That would be THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW`s producer Bill Wolff who admits to become a trembling mess at the sight of and a presence of or even at a thought of cockroaches. It is a fear of cockroaches. Katsaridaphobia it`s called, according to National Geographic, fear of cockroaches. And Bill has Katsaridaphobia really, really, really bad. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) MADDOW: So, today because Bill Wolff is not here right now, so it`s safe. Today, for the first ever on this show, we bring you the best new thing in the world, but the best eww thing in the world. The best eww thing in the world is the discovery of this. It is a roachy looking roach for sure, nuclear war surviving buggy style. But what makes this new discovery new, what makes it the best eww thing in the world today is -- this! The rest of the bug, the other part of the bug. Look at those long, nasty legs on that roach! This apparently is a leap roach. It`s called that because it can leap up to 50 times its body length. If roaches make you oogy anyway, imagine a roach with all of the scuttily blackiness of a roach that can also fling itself well into the air. Look. Bill`s take on this when he found out about this discover. He said, locusts are the biblical harbinger of doom. Leap roaches make locusts look like Labradoodle puppies. Just in case you needed an ooginess palate cleanser, here are the aforementioned Labradoodle puppies. Not oogy at all. Now back to the leaping roaches. This is a bad news/good news/bad news situation for Katsaridaphobics. The bad news is there is a cockroach can jump on you from across the room. The good news is, it was discovered in the grass lands of South Africa, and it subsists on a diet of grasshopper poop. So, if you just stay in the comfort of any place that is not the grasslands of South Africa or grasshoppers who poop, you are unlikely to be jumped on by a leaped roach. But the bad news part two here, Dr. Mike Picker (ph), an entomologist at the University of Cape Town who took the picture of the leap roach and wrote a study about it speculates that there may, in fact, be other leap roaches lurking out there in the world which have yet to be discovered. So, don`t turn off the lights. The best eww thing in the world. Bill Wolff back at the office, and we`ll return this segment from eww to new tomorrow night. That`s it for us. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END