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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/22/11

Guests: Melissa Harris-Perry, John Stanton, Steve Kornacki

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Ed, you feel like you and Rex is a merry Christmas present to the whole country. That was so awesome, man. (LAUGHTER) ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Well, it was unrehearsed. And he was actually out on the set earlier and threw up. So he got all the nervousness out. MADDOW: You know, that`s what I do every Friday. So I understand how that works. SCHULTZ: Me too. Rachel, thank you. MADDOW: Thanks, man. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Listen, it was a 100 percent total collapse on the Republican side in D.C. today over the ongoing payroll tax cut fight. It appears to basically be over now. We`re going to get the latest details in just a moment about what happens next in Washington. But it looks like the payroll tax cut thing will be at least temporarily extended. You will not be having an extra 40 bucks taken out of every one of your paychecks starting January 1st. That`s what it looks like. But the way that this has ended, the way that this total political disaster for the Republicans has come about has given us really two things in American politics. It has shown us one interesting new thing about the Democratic Party and the way Democratic politics are working right now. And it has raised one really important question about the Republican Party. So, first on the Democratic side, the critique from some parts of the left, and not just from the left but from -- even from Obama supporters who say they wanted more out of this presidency, one of the critiques from that direction in the polity has been that Democrats aren`t fighting hard enough, that Democrats cave too easily, that Democrats given even when public opinion is on their side. Now, whether or not what happened this week was done in response to that kind of criticism from the left, I`ve got to tell you, the Democratic Party`s behavior in D.C. in this particular standoff has proved those critics wrong. And I have been among those critics so I know of what I speak. The Democrats this week showed not even an inclination toward backing down from this fight. They were confident in their position. They were unified. And they not only resisted what is too often the Democratic temptation to roll over on their backs and show their bellies and surrender. They actually stayed on offense the entire time. And that`s true of both congressional Democrats this week and specifically of President Obama. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Enough is enough. The people standing with me today can`t afford any more games. They can`t afford to lose $1,000 because of some ridiculous Washington standoff. On Tuesday, we asked folks to tell us what it would be like to lose $40 out of your paycheck every week. And I have to tell you that the response has been overwhelming. We haven`t seen anything like this before. Over 30,000 people have written in so far, as many as 2,000 every hour. They should remind every single member of Congress what`s at stake in this debate. Let me just give you a few samples. Joseph from New Jersey talked about how he would have to sacrifice the occasional pizza night with his daughters. He said, and I`m quoting, "My 16-year-old twins will be out of the house soon. I`ll miss this." Richard from Rhode Island wrote to tell us that having an extra $40 in his check buys enough heating oil to keep his family warm for three nights. In his words, I`m quoting, "If someone doesn`t think that 12 gallons of heating oil is important, I invite them to spend three nights in an unheated home. Or you can believe me when I say that it makes a difference." Pete from Wisconsin told us about driving more than 200 miles each week to keep his father-in-law company in a nursing home. Forty dollars out of his paycheck would mean he`d only be able to make three trips instead of four. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama today not only keeping the political pressure on House Republicans but also really turning up the emotional component of the political pressure as well. So, as the Republicans just caved and fell apart on this, this afternoon, the lesson that we learned about Democratic politics right now is that the critics, including me, who have sometimes said that Democrats have a hard time playing offense, in this instance, we critics have been proven wrong. More interesting, though, I think, than learning that fact about the Democrats is the great question that this turn of events has raised about what`s going on in Republican politics and inside the Republican Party in Congress. And that question is this: who killed J.B? With apologies to "Dallas" and J.R. Ewing, who killed John Boehner`s career here? Raise your hand if you still think John Boehner`s still going to be speaker of the House at this time next year. Anybody? You know, I can see you through that TV. That shirt is lovely. It`s very flattering on you. And also, nobody`s raising their hand. Thank you. Things do not look all that good for John Boehner`s speakership. And I say that not because screwing up this payroll tax thing today and having to cave on it today with his tail between his legs, it`s not that this in itself is such a substantive failure that it is a career killer, although I guess reasonably it could be. I think the reason what we`ve got now are serious questions about John Boehner`s viability as speaker is because of the way this all went down. This was not John Boehner tripping and falling. This looks like John Boehner was pushed. Who let John Boehner took this stand on the payroll tax? I mean, John Boehner took this defiant out-on-a-limb stand with absolutely nobody in his own party backing him up. John Boehner came out this weekend with this bold plan to defy the thing the Senate had already approved by an 89-10 margin, including a huge majority of people in his own party. He came out with this plan to defy a deal that his own party had worked out, to defy a deal that he himself supported a few days earlier, to defy a deal there was overwhelming public support for, John Boehner came out this past weekend and boldly declared that House Republicans were standing against, against this payroll tax cut extension, and we are not doing it. I realize I said I was for it before and I realize it just got 89 votes in the Senate and that Senate Republicans have signed on to it and that we want to be seen as the tax cut party and that even though we were sort of against this before, we`d like to be for it now and tit`s kind of a mess. But no -- John Boehner said no. I have a bold idea, Republicans are standing against it. Who`s with me? Who`s with me? No, seriously, who`s with me? Hey, guys, where did you go? Have you seen the movie "Old School", Will Ferrell? Watching John Boehner this week was like that scene from the movie "Old School" where Will Ferrell gets really, really drunk and decides that everybody`s going streaking. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILL FERRELL: We`re going streaking! Yes! Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. We`re going -- we`re going streak through the quad, and into the gymnasium. Come on, everybody! Come on! Whoo! Come on! We`re streaking! Come on! Come on, everybody! Come on! Whoo! Whoo! We`re streaking! We`re streaking! Whoo! Come on! UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait, why are you slowing down? Just drive. Go. FERRELL: Whoo! UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Frank? No way. Frank! FERRELL: Hey, honey. Hey. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What the hell are you doing? FERRELL: We`re streaking. We`re going up through the quad to the gymnasium. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who`s streaking? FERRELL: There`s -- there`s more coming. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Frank. Get in the car. FERRELL: Everybody`s doing it. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now. FERRELL: OK. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Get in the car, Frank. You know hard it was for us to blur out his moving butt like that? We are not that technically adept. But essentially, that is John Boehner right now. John Boehner is the metaphorical out of shape naked guy running down the street alone at this point. Why did John Boehner believe it was feasible for him to say no to this payroll tax cut deal that everybody else was on board with? Why did he think this was a good idea? What made him think he wasn`t going to be left running naked through the streets on his own, as he ultimately has been? He went out on a limb, and the Republicans in Washington started sawing through that limb as soon as he was out on it. As soon as John Boehner took this crazy stand on Sunday, everybody in his own party started killing him for it. First, it was the more or less centrist Republicans in the Senate attacking him, people like Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe attacking him for, quote, "playing politics rather than finding solutions." Then it was more conservative Republicans in the Senate, people like Chuck Grassley and Roger Wicker and John McCain attacking John Boehner for, quote, "harming the Republican Party." Then it was anonymous Republican staffers on the Senate side saying that John Boehner and House Republicans have, quote, "painted themselves into a corner. They are on their own." Then it was named Republican staffers on the House side circulating e- mails and then leaking those e-mails to the press, things that said -- saying things like, quote, "Republicans are not playing this right" -- written in all caps. Then it was named members of the House, members of John Boehner`s own caucus, the people who supposedly answer to him, coming out in public opposition to him. Republican Congressman Rick Crawford of Arkansas saying, quote, "An all or nothing attitude produces nothing." Republican Congressman Shawn Duffy of Wisconsin calling out Speaker Boehner directly, demanding that he bring the Senate bill to the floor. Then today, 30 minutes after John Boehner gave his "I`m staying out on this limb, I will not budge" press conference, 30 minutes after John Boehner did that this morning, Mitch McConnell -- his supposed compadre, his counterpart in the Senate, the other Republican congressional leader in Washington -- 30 minutes after John Boehner declared he`s not backing down, Mitch McConnell put out his own statement saying, "No, John, you`re on your own, get in the car, John. Nobody`s behind you." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Speaker Boehner, there`s a lot of folks who are saying hat you caved on this. Did you cave? And considering the fallout, was this the worst week of your speakership? REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You know, sometimes it`s hard to do the right thing. And sometimes, it`s politically difficult to do the right thing. It may not have been politically the smartest thing in the world. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Part of this I believe is John Boehner being bad at his job. Nancy Pelosi, whatever you think of her politics, in the previous two years when she was speaker, Nancy Pelosi never allowed there to be a vote in the House that she controlled where she did not know the outcome of that vote in advance. There were no surprises. She got everything lined up just so before ever going public. John Boehner, on the other hand, puts stuff on the House floor and whoo, anything can happen. So part of this, I think, is just that John Boehner is not good at his job of being speaker. And I don`t mean that as a dig at Speaker Boehner. I just mean in terms of observing the way he works he doesn`t seem to be good at it. But in this case on this payroll tax thing, it can`t be that he just John Boehner blundered into this one on his own, because somebody made John Boehner believe that if he did this bold defiant thing that the Republicans would have his back. That some other Republican would have his back for some other purpose than just jamming a political knife into that back. Who are the people on John Boehner`s own side who let him do this? Joining us now is John Stanton, reporter for "Roll Call" newspaper. John, it`s nice to have you here. Thanks for being here. JOHN STANTON, ROLL CALL: Anytime. Of course. MADDOW: Let me ask you about my basic thesis about how the House works and how a speaker works in a situation like this. Is it possible he got into this on his own or would he have had to have some help in coming to the conclusion that this was a viable political move he was making? STANTON: No, I think this was a situation in which I think Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader McConnell and Harry Reid sort of all thought they had this agreement. It looked like it was going to go forward. And when the speaker went to go talk to his caucus last weekend, he realized there was just no chance they were going to get it through the House. And he found himself in sort of a no-win situation frankly. Here he had the hardest conservative part of his party, the freshmen, some of the long-term conservatives, the Tea Party types, were adamant they weren`t going to agree with this. I think there was some hope that with 89 members of the Senate voting for it, that they could pressure folks and it just didn`t work. And he found himself in a position where he had to go out and say no to a deal that this had bipartisan support from the Senate. And then he started to see his own people attacking McConnell and other Republicans in the Senate which devolved very quickly. Any support he might have been able to get, from say, Leader McConnell and others in the Senate was just not going to come at that point once house Republicans started attacking the Senate. MADDOW: Well, then moving forward, just thinking about his effectiveness in Congress, if this all started with he and Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell sitting down and making a deal, and it turns out that John Boehner`s negotiation meant nothing, that he couldn`t actually speak for his own caucus -- why would anybody negotiate with him on anything in the future? Doesn`t this affect his ability to even enter into future discussions about what`s going to happen in Congress if he doesn`t speak for anybody? STANTON: I mean, I think it to a certain degree remains to be seen what effect this is going to have. This is certainly the worst example of it. But, you know, there have been other instances over the last year, with the C.R. in the spring, with the debt deal, with the C.R. this fall, where he`s had to contend with his sort of right wing and find ways to massage deals. And, normally, what he allows them to do is sort of fight their way out of their anger. And they fight and they fight and they fight. And then they eventually come back to a deal that he and McConnell have worked out. But this breakdown I think could have a potential problem for them, particularly when we come back to this same payroll fight in February when the Senate is going to come up with something and he`s going to have to try to move it through his chamber, if it`s not very far to the right. I don`t know that he`s going to be able to muster the support, particularly given the fact that folks like Alan West and others are coming out and pretty much point blank saying they`re unhappy with him, they`re unhappy with the deal that`s being made, they`re feeling they`re being forced to swallow this agreement they don`t want to do, they want to continue to fight, and so it`s going to be challenging for him. MADDOW: That kind of open insurgency that you`re describing there, pair that observation with what your newspaper "Roll Call" has been reporting this week about sort of rumblings about viability of John Boehner`s speakership, rumblings that he may essentially be forced out before the end of his term -- how serious do you think that is or does that depend on the emergence of a viable alternative to him? STANTON: Yes, I think that there`s less of a chance that he`s going to lose his speakership. I don`t see that happening in the cards, frankly. There`s nobody there that could really sort of lead a revolt against him. Eric Cantor, his number two, he`s not going to do that. I don`t know that either he or, say, Kevin McCarthy, the whip, or anybody else could really sort of be the lightning rod that brings the people that are angry with him together to overthrow him. I`m not sure there`s enough of an anger to try to overthrow him. But what it does do is creates a challenge for him because now that they`re sort of openly criticizing him and openly criticizing this decision he`s going to have to contend with that now on every single step that he goes forward. And to a certain degree, he`s going to have to try to play against that and try to bring those people back in, which is going to move him further to the right from the Senate, from Senate Republicans and Democrats, and it`s going to make his life even more miserable than it already has been this year. MADDOW: John Stanton, reporter for "Roll Call" newspaper -- John, thanks very much for your time tonight. It`s good to have you. STANTON: Anytime. MADDOW: All right. I should also note when Republicans took over in the House in January when John Boehner took over as speaker, poll numbers said that Americans trusted the House Republicans over President Obama by five percentage points. A poll out today from CNN shows President Obama more trusted than House Republicans by 19 points. And that polling was done before the whole payroll tax debacle. We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK, today on MSNBC, Al Sharpton had Christmas carolers on his show singing Republican Christmas carols, and then Reverend Al arguing with the Christmas carolers about the lyrics of their songs. It was mesmerizing. Also today on MSNBC, Ed Schultz had a dog on his desk. I cannot compete with this. Everybody at MSNBC is better at their job today than I am. I simply cannot compete with this. However, I am the only person on MSNBC who has Melissa Harris Perry as a guest on the show tonight, which means I win. Even if the competition today here was brisk, and adorable. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: And it`s fair to say that none of the Republican presidential contenders this year is inspiring overwhelming enthusiasm. So, campaigns and the media get extra excited in years like this about endorsements. It`s essentially like listen, you might not like me all that much, but look, you like this other person, right? And this other person likes me. So, by the transitive property, can I have your vote? So there was lots of news coverage when a social conservative, sort of fundamentalist leader in Iowa named Bob Vander Plaats made his endorsement this year. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BOB VANDER PLAATS: I believe Rick Santorum comes us from. He comes from us. Just not to us. He comes from us. He`s one of us. And so, I look forward to the next two weeks to see what I can do to advance his candidacy. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: To refresh your memory, this is the guy with the marriage vow. He says he`ll only support a candidate who will vow to vigorously oppose, quote, "any redefinition of the institution of marriage through statutory, bureaucratic, or court-imposed recognition of intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, and same sex." They`re also demanding, quote, "support for the enactment of safeguards for all married and unmarried U.S. military and National Guard personnel from intrusively intimate commingling among attracteds." Protecting our troops from the attracteds. Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and, of course, Rick Santorum also signed this thing. Newt Gingrich said he wanted to tweak it first. Mr. Vander Plaats has done it a very good job of making it seem like he matters, like he`s the key to winning Iowa. FOX News calls him a kingmaker. And this kingmaker this year chose Rick Santorum. So, yay, Rick Santorum. Oh, and also, Mr. Vander Plaats would please like some money from Rick Santorum. "The Des Moines Register" reporting this week that Mr. Vander Plaats had for help in raising money to promote the endorsement and that Mr. Vander Plaats said he`d like to have the money to do television advertisements to promote his personal endorsement of Santorum, and he urges Santorum backers to contribute money for that purpose. CNN`s Christine Romans asked Mr. Vander Plaats about the endorsement for cash thing yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN: It`s been reported in the "Des Moines Register" you that had asked him, look, we would like money, maybe a million dollars, to help get out there and advertise our support for you. Explain to me that relationship. VANDER PLAATS: First of all, absolutely not. We would never ask a candidate -- and by the way, when you endorse Rick Santorum, you probably should also know that you`re not asking him for a million dollars. We would never ask a campaign or a candidate for funds. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: We hear that loud and clear. He would never ask a candidate for funds. But you might want to try telling that to Rick Santorum, because that same day, Rick Santorum was interviewed by another CNN reporter on the campaign trail. It`s a little hard to hear because they`re both off mike. But on his way out of the interview the reporter throws him one last question. Did he ever ask you for money in exchange for this endorsement? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What he talked about is he needed money to promote the endorsement and that that would be important to do that. But there was never a direct ask for me to go out and raise money. REPORTER: Did he mention maybe that if could be helpful -- SANTORUM: He mentioned that that was something that they would need to do in order for their endorsement to have an impact. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: He didn`t ask me for money. He just mentioned that it was important to have some money while he was mentioning that he was also endorsing me. Right. This whole smarmy endorsement sort of but maybe not really in exchange for money incident says a lot about how things work in Republican politics in Iowa. Do you remember when Michele Bachmann won the Ames, Iowa, straw poll? She was the front-runner and it was a big deal, right? The way candidates win the Iowa straw poll in Ames is kind of -- well, the Ames straw poll is many things -- state fair with carnival rides, political convention, fund-raiser for the Iowa Republican Party, test of a candidate`s organizational strength. And it`s also what some might describe as an institutionalized if genteel day of bribery. This thing is conducted only by Republicans. The Democrats don`t do this thing, right? And the Republican straw poll in Ames requires candidates to fork over thousands of dollars to the state Republican Party in order to pitch their tents. It`s pay to play. Candidates spend hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more on food, entertainment, and transportation, commandeering fleets of buses to get supporters to Ames from around the state. For the record, the candidate who paid the most this year for his tent at the straw poll was Ron Paul. He paid $31,000 to the Iowa Republican Party. And at Ames, he came in second. He came in second only to Michele Bachmann. And maybe he came in second to Michele Bachmann because she served meat sundaes -- mashed potatoes with brown gravy that looks like chocolate with a cherry tomato on top. How can you compete with that? All the debates and the paying for endorsements and carnivals and meat sundaes aside, this is all leading to January 3rd, right? But how Democratic are the Iowa caucuses? If you want to vote in the Iowa caucuses, you have to show up at a specific time, which means if you can`t make it at that time you do not get to vote. Plus, in Iowa you either spend a lot of money to get voters to notice you or you have to rely on endorsements like Bob Vander Plaats, endorsements that may not mean anything on Election Day but mean a lot of ideological pandering and maybe the exchange of money. We talk about Iowa a lot this time of year, right? First in the nation, we talk about the caucuses because they mark the beginning of something, the beginning of the voting season. But how much are the Iowa caucuses really like the rest of how we vote in America? How Democratic is the Iowa system? Joining us now is Steve Kornacki. He`s political news editor at Steve, thanks for joining us tonight. Nice to have you here. STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Sure. MADDOW: Should -- am I being naive to be shocked by the allegation that the Bob Vander Plaats fundamentalist social conservative endorsement comes with a price tag? KORNACKI: Well, I mean, you`ve got to love the irony because one of the sort of messaging things Republicans have emphasized for a couple of decades now is the Democrats are the party of machine politics, they`re the old school party with vote buying and -- MADDOW: Chicago politics. KORNACKI: Right. And here`s the religious guy engaging in it. But I think the thing about Iowa, this sort of thing does happen in both parties, in primary states, but I think it`s really pronounced in a state like Iowa on the Republican side because you have such a small activist-dominated voting universe. When you look at what the turnout is like for the Iowa caucuses, in a normal year, the percentage of like registered voters in Iowa who will participate in the caucuses is usually under 10 percent. MADDOW: Wow. KORNACKI: Now, in 2008, you know, hugely interesting year, it swelled to 18 percent. Now, contrast that with like the New Hampshire primary where in 2008, another year there was a lot of interest you`re looking at like 70 percent. MADDOW: Wow. KORNACKI: Or you go down to South Carolina, a state that`s even smaller than Iowa, but three times as many people participated in the Republican primary in South Carolina in 2008 as participated in the Iowa caucuses in 2008. So, it`s this really -- and you look at the sort of demographics of the people who are there, 60 percent of the people who participated in the Iowa Republican caucuses in `08 identified themselves as evangelicals. That`s a staggering number I don`t think is even representative of what the Republican Party in Iowa is. So, that`s the universe you`re dealing with. And then you`ve got -- you know, you`re Rick Santorum. You`re at 10 percent. You`re trying to distinguish yourself on the Christian right. Here`s this guy that ran for governor, Bob Vander Plaats, he`s got 40 percent. He`s the key to the Christian right. So sure, wants a little action for himself, all right, we`ll take care of that, you know? MADDOW: I feel like those truths about the Iowa caucuses are sold often as if they`re an asset, as if they are a nice thing. It`s the tradition of the Iowa caucuses. Six old people get together and decide the whole thing. I mean, it`s sold as being a romantic thing, sold almost as if it`s the sort of New England town hall tradition. But I wonder if there`s an extent to which the organizational principle of Iowa does make it not only less democratic, less representational, but a little bit more corrupt. I mean, in the sense that the Republican Party does run the caucuses in a lot of ways as a fund- raiser. KORNACKI: Right. Absolutely. That`s something you see in New Hampshire. You know, there`s a lot of people who make some money off the presidential primary and get some prestige out of it. But in Iowa, it`s just a lot more pronounced because it`s hard when you`re a candidate also to sort of understand, to sort of separate, OK, is this guy who`s promising me others going to deliver a bloc of votes at the caucuses, a consequential bloc of votes, is he legitimate or not? You know, is this firm that works and does politics in Iowa that everybody tells me I have to hire if I want to win the Iowa caucuses, is that legitimate or not? And so, you know, you look at an example -- sort of the most famous example was in 2000 when George W. Bush had the biggest machine ever assembled on the Republican side. In the spirit of that thing was just anybody who says they can do anything, hire them up, grab them up, let`s just get everybody. You know, it was a great payday for the Republicans in the state. I`m not sure how many at the end of the day did anything for him. MADDOW: It`s amazing. Do you think that -- I mean, sort of like if you`re looking at this system from outer space this would seem like a strange system. The race that`s been going on for months and months now leading up to this small, not very democratic vote in Iowa, do you think there`s any possibility that Iowa is going to sort of feel pressure at least, maybe if not from the entire political system, from the Republican political system because they have not really become a means of pick a presidential nominee? Iowa is not only a weird system for picking somebody, they are a non- representational system in the sense that the Iowa nominee tends to be somebody who doesn`t do well in any other states. KORNACKI: Right. Although I think the effect of -- the importance of Iowa or a state like Iowa, you need a state to lead off, what it usually does it winnows the field. So, the candidate who may not win it but comes in second or comes in third and is determined to have done something significant there, like John McCain`s performance in 2008, he didn`t win it, but it was better than expected. So it propelled him into New Hampshire where he overtook Romney where he was coming off the disappointing showing in Iowa. MADDOW: But it also kept Mike Huckabee going forever when he actually didn`t have any traction anywhere else. KORNACKI: I think that`s a huge problem when looking at these early states. And they have that winnowing effect and it really matters which state it is and it matters what system they use. You look at New Hampshire. Jon Huntsman is now at 13 percent in New Hampshire. Is there another state in the country besides Utah where Jon Huntsman would be polling at 13 percent right now? But it has such a significant effect on the process that if Jon Huntsman can climb to 20 there, or if you know, Mike Huckabee can come up and get 35 percent in Iowa, it elevates them. You know, it could be the reason Mitt Romney wins the nomination. If Mitt Romney wins this thing, a big part of it`s going to be getting 40 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. You know, he`s really lucky one of the few states that really likes him is voting second, (INAUDIBLE) South Carolina. MADDOW: I agree with the principle of what you`re saying, but I think that the only way New Hampshire matters to Mitt Romney is if he loses it. And if he loses it, he`s toast. KORNACKI: Sure. MADDOW: But if he wins it, everybody is going to be like oh, he used to be governor of Massachusetts, whatever. KORNACKI: Sure. MADDOW: The more you learn about the quirks of the individual states, the more amazing it is how much power they have. But how much power they have I think may wane because Iowa`s getting so weird. I guess we`ll have to see. KORNACKI: The only thing that Pat Robertson second place 23 years ago and he`s still kicking. MADDOW: He can leg press 2,000 pounds. Would that have happened without Iowa? KORNACKI: That`s right. MADDOW: Steve Kornacki, it`s great to have you here. KORNACKI: Sure. MADDOW: All right. Libertarians, firm believers in personal responsibility, right? That means you just don`t get to erase the parts of your past you that don`t like. The albatross around the neck of the Ron Paul for president campaign -- that`s coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Newt Gingrich does not own the Web site He forgot to buy it or forgot to renew it or something. And now, it has been picked up by a liberal political action committee, which is offering to sell back to him, or to anyone, actually, for the low, low price of $1 million. Somewhat confusingly, right after putting the million-dollar price tag out there, they also said they would be willing to accept $10,000. But mostly I think that was a dig at Mitt Romney for his make me a $10,000 bet thing. In any case, is not under Newt Gingrich`s control. And unless and until he gets it back, it seems like the people who own it are going to be making the most of the fact that they own it. And it doesn`t just do one thing now. It does a whole lot of different things. If you type in, it redirects to this article about Newt Gingrich still shilling his books and DVDs to make a buck while he is campaigning for president. But then, this is the amazing thing, just do it, don`t hit refresh but type in again, and it goes somewhere else. It goes to his InTrade page which shows the spectacularly precipitous drop-off of his chances of winning a Republican president nomination, at least if you ask the people betting on that at InTrade. Type in again and it goes fought Newt Gingrich-Nancy Pelosi ad on global warming. If you type in again it goes to an article about the imploding of his campaign this summer with all his staff criticizing his crazy lack of discipline. If you type it in again, it goes to a travel guide to Greece. If you type in again it goes to Freddie Mac. You keep going. It goes to Tiffany`s at one point. It`s great. Your typing goes to this Think Progress article about his awards scam and a porn company. It just goes on and on and on. -- just keep typing it in over and over and over again. It`s not exactly the same problem as Googling the phrase Rick Santorum, but it is getting to be close. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is the skeleton in Ron Paul`s closet. This is from the "Ron Paul Newsletter," the February 1990 edition. Quote, "Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro- communist philander Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a congressman. What an infamy that Ronald Reagan approved it. We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day." This is from the Ron Paul report in 1992. Quote, "If you live in a major city, you`ve probably already heard about the newest threat to your life and limb and your family, carjacking. It is the hip-hop thing to do among the urban youth, who play unsuspecting whites like pianos. What can you do? More and more Americans are carrying a gun in the car. An ex-cop I know advises that if you have to use a gun on a youth, you should leave the scene immediately, disposing of the wiped off gun as soon as possible. Such a gun cannot, of course, be registered to you, but one bought privately through the classifieds, for example. I frankly don`t know what to make of such advice, but even in my little town of Lake Jackson, Texas, I`ve urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self-defense. For the animals are coming." The "New Republic" a few years ago also unearthed this gem from the Ron Paul newsletters on the subject of foreign affairs. The end of apartheid`s white rule in South Africa described in a Ron Paul newsletter as, quote, "a destruction of civilization that was the most tragic to ever occur on that continent, at least below the Sahara." Again, these are all from Ron Paul`s newsletters from the 1980s and 1990s. This is not a new issue for Ron Paul`s political career. We have known about these newsletters for a long time. He has been called to account for the wildly racist and conspiratorial passages in his old newsletters every time they`ve been unearthed periodically over the 15 years or so. When Ron Paul ran for Congress in 1996 after being home in Texas for a few years, "The Dallas Morning News" pulled a couple of passages from a 1992 issue of the Ron Paul political report. Quote, "If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be." Also, "Given the inefficiencies of what D.C. laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal." These were quotes from Ron Paul`s newsletters. And when the "Dallas Morning News" asked him about them, running for Congress that year, he did not disavow these statements. Quote, "In the interview, he did not deny he made the statement about the swiftness of black men. If you try to catch someone that has stolen a purse from you, there is no chance to catch them," Dr. Paul said. He also said the comment about black men in the nation`s capital was made while writing about a 1992 study produced by the National Center on Incarceration and Alternatives, a criminal justice think tank based in Virginia. Quote, "These aren`t my figures," Dr. Paul said Tuesday. "That is the assumption you can gather from the report." When the "Houston Chronicle" started asking about those comments also in 1996, Dr. Paul`s campaign spokesman defended the remarks about the criminality of black men thusly. He said that the Reverend Jesse Jackson had also talked about urban crime, so essentially that made it OK. So, that`s how Ron Paul and his political campaign responded to criticism about nakedly racist passages in his newsletters when he was asked about them during his congressional campaign in the mid `90s. He responded essentially by defending those nakedly racist passages. And that was not enough to kill Ron Paul`s political career, quite to the contrary. He won the election that year in `96. He went back to Congress, and he has been there ever since. And right now, Ron Paul is having the biggest political surge of his career. He`s the front-runner in most of the Iowa polling. There`s a reasonable chance he could win the Iowa caucuses in a week and a half. But now in the face of the scrutiny that early state front-runner status brings, Congressman Ron Paul has come up with a totally different explanation for what`s in his old racist Ron Paul newsletters. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I didn`t write them. And I don`t endorse those views. And I`ve explained it many times. GLORIA BORGER, CNN: So you read them but you didn`t do anything about it at the time? PAUL: I never read that stuff. I`ve never read it. I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written. And it`s been going on 20 years that people have pestered me about this. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: In 1996, Ron Paul defended the black men are fast and criminal writings in his newsletters. Today, he says not only did he not write that stuff, he didn`t even read it. That`s at least what he told CNN before in the middle of the interview, he took off his microphone and stormed away, walked away. It is hard to believe that Ron Paul didn`t see this coming, that he didn`t think he`d need a good explanation while running for president for the fact that advice on how to shoot black young people, without getting caught for it, appeared under his big bold-faced name as if he had wrote it, as if he had written it, excuse me. But after first defending the stuff in 1996, Ron Paul`s defense on this stuff is just sort of slowly evolved, changing over time, to make him seem less and less culpable. In a 2001 interview with "Texas Monthly," he reversed what he had said five years earlier, claimed he didn`t actually write any of the racist stuff from his newsletters. By 2008, he had decided than only had he not written that stuff himself, he didn`t even know who had written it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WOLF BLITZER, CNN: How did this stuff get in these Ron Paul newsletters? Who wrote it? PAUL: Well, I have no idea. Have you ever heard of a publisher of a magazine not knowing every single thing? The editor is responsible for the daily activities. And people came and gone. There were some people that were hired. I don`t know any of their names. I do not -- absolutely, honestly do not know who wrote those things. BLITZER: Did you used to read these newsletters? Congressman? PAUL: Not -- not back then. There might have been at times I would, at times. But you know, I was in a medical practice. I traveled a lot. I was doing speeches around the country. So very frequently, you know, I never did see these. As a matter of fact, some of the things you just read I wouldn`t have recognized them. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: All of the candidates who could conceivably win Iowa this year, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, they`ve all been in politics for a really long time. And they all have scandals in their past. Perhaps none as scandalous as having overtly racist, violent diatribes written in your name, but what is reanimating this dusty skeleton in Ron Paul`s closet right now is not just the substantive disgust for what this scandal is, it`s frankly Ron Paul`s incoherent, inconsistent explanations for how it happened. He`s supposedly Mr. Integrity, Mr. Consistent, right? His multiple stories and his unwillingness to explain this clearly, to clear it up in a way that seems credible, is what is giving this controversy new life, less than two weeks out from the Iowa race that polls now show him leading. Political science professor and MSNBC contributor Melissa Harris-Perry will join us to help unpack all of that Ron Paul baggage, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: I was still practicing medicine. That was probably why I wasn`t a very good publisher, because I had to make a living. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If not being a good publisher means letting people put out how to shoot black people without getting caught instructions under your name, then put Congressman Ron Paul down as not a good publisher. Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Perry, political science professor at Tulane University, an MSNBC contributor, and tonight`s guest host of "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Melissa, I`m looking forward to that. MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it`ll be good. MADDOW: Good to have you here. Ron Paul`s defense when he`s asked about this scandal now is that this is very far in the past, this is a settled matter, why is everybody still talking about it? What is your reaction to that? HARRIS-PERRY: Well, you know, there are so many ways that Ron Paul is America. And it`s one of the reasons that I always have been an engaged Paul watcher. I was talking to my daughter earlier, who`s 10, and reminding her that when she was 6, she got a copy of the Constitution from Ron Paul in New Hampshire. We were there for the primaries, he happened it had to her, and, you know, we still have it, because he really is sort of an "I am America," but that is also sort of America`s response to the entire history of institutionalized racism. Let`s not talk about that, let`s not think about that, that was in some time in the past. I`m now this remade thing. And so, we don`t have to cope with any of the residual realities of American racism. So I actually feel like the one hand, easy to beat up on Paul, but he is part of -- symptomatic of something larger. MADDOW: That said, this has got his name on it? HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. MADDOW: And, I mean -- the -- I guess the cheapest possible objection to this is, dude, you let people put out a newsletter with your name on it and you didn`t even bother to read it, doesn`t sound like a very effective manager, the cheapest possible approach to it. But, I mean, we -- the other part of this what is happening politically here is Ron Paul knew that this scandal was out there knew he was getting asked about it since at least the mid-90s. HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. MADDOW: And he knows that he doesn`t have a coherent explanation for what happened here, didn`t bother to come one even while running for president again. Is he banking on people not caring about it, sore that sort of dereliction of duty, politically speaking? HARRIS-PERRY: No, you know, think -- so I agree, the cheap seats are -- well, you put out a newsletter and didn`t know what it said or you just sort of a bad politician. No. This smacks of someone who fundamentally believes in the inequality of African-Americans and probably other people of color relative to whites and a belief that white Americans should have a right to behave in a way that represents what he would understand as freedom but that freedom doesn`t stop at the -- doesn`t have to respect the freedom of people of color. And so, you don`t have to quite work up a political explanation for it because it`s a deeply ingrained belief, it is part of his sort of ideological adherence. So, I don`t know it is about being a bad politician. I think it`s about believing that if some black kid wants to take your car, you have a right to kill that person. MADDOW: The Ron Paul defense is he didn`t write this stuff, it was essentially irresponsible -- I guess he might concede it was irresponsible somebody did it in his name, but that he doesn`t belief these racist sentiments. Now, that said, when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was commemorated the 40th anniversary in Congress, Ron Paul voted against it, describing the Civil Rights Act as a unconscionable expansion of government power, staying it reduced liberty. So, I mean, nobody says that they`ve ever seen Ron Paul behave or speak in a way that seems like an overtly racist guy. He denies that these overtly racist things were authored by him. But at what point does his civil rights and race track record intersect with his defense? HARRIS-PERRY: Well, look, it`s under his name and it`s written down. You and I both exist in a business where we write collaboratively, we present idea collaboratively. MADDOW: Yes. HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s your head from here up saying the words, but it`s part of a collaborative process. But you take responsibility for it once it comes out of your mouth. You don`t turn around and say, oh, that was my segment producer, I don`t actually really think those things. MADDOW: Right. HARRIS-PERRY: No, that`s your responsibility. And so, I think we can lay this right at his feet for just this. We don`t need him to say oh, yes, of course, I don`t believe that. He need not be David Duke, who will openly say I was a member of the Klan and all of this. He can simply be the person who, under his name allowed this to be published. MADDOW: And when he says I disavow it, how far does that go? What else does he have to do to prove that he really means that he disavows it? HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I mean, I think at a minimum, I would like to hear the reasons that these arguments are either inaccurate or -- I mean, there needs to be some reasoning. Ron Paul, whatever else he is, is incredibly good at giving reasoned arguments often based in kind of American historical, you know, constitutional language. Let`s hear that argument for racial equality. MADDOW: I think that would be the way that he could put this away. Otherwise, I think this might mean the end for him. That`s what I think about it anyway. Melissa Harris-Perry, political science professor at Tulane, MSNBC contributor, guest host of "THE LAST WORD" at the top of the hour. HARRIS-PERRY: Two minutes. MADDOW: I know. Thank you for being here. I really appreciate it. HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks. MADDOW: All right. Still to come here, best new thing in the world today, for the first time ever -- it involves ticker tape. Yay. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In New York City, when you do something great, something heroic, like say winning the World Series, you get one of these -- a trip down the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan, under a shower of ticker tape, or confetti. Sometimes, it`s sports teams. Senator and astronaut John Glenn got his second ticker tape parade in 1998 after his trip on the space shuttle Discovery. The veterans of First Gulf War got one in June 1991. Crowds celebrating the return of troops after the campaign to take back Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. That same month, veterans of a much older war, the Korean War, also got a long overdue trip down the Canyon of Heroes. Now that we have officially ended the 8 1/2-year war in Iraq, now that the last American troops have left Iraq, crossing into Kuwait over the weekend, why not throw them a ticker tape parade? Two New York City councilmen have formally requested a parade but no word yet from New York City`s mayor. Mayor Bloomberg appears on a radio show every week, responds directly to New Yorkers who call in questions. Today, he used Twitter to solicit questions he will answer on the radio tomorrow. And today, Paul Rieckhoff, the head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted: "What do you think of the idea of a welcome home ticker tape parade for Iraq vets in NYC?" Do the troops from this American war get a ticker tape ride down the Canyon of Heroes, do they Mr. Mayor? I would go and so would everybody I know. Thanks to Paul Rieckhoff, that question is openly, publicly, respectfully, in play. A simple suggestion from an Iraq vet -- best new thing in the world today. That does it for us tonight. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell, tonight with Melissa Harris-Perry. Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END