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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/12/12

Guests: Steve Kornacki, Felicia Sonmez, Michael Hastings

ED SCHULTZ, HOST, "THE ED SHOW": THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. Good evening, Rachel. RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you, my friend. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. The last time Mitt Romney ran for president in 2007, heading into the 2008 campaign, the "Boston Globe" ran a get to know Mitt Romney human interest profile -- on the man who had been Massachusetts governor and who now wanted to be the United States president. That profile in the summer of 2007 opened up with what is now a very famous story -- a very famous story about this member of the Romney family. The story involves this very, very handsome enormous Irish setter, whose name is Seamus, and it also involves that car, that wood paneled station wagon you see there on the right side of your screen. It also involves a 12-hour drive from the Boston area to Ontario, Canada. Ahem. And I quote, "The white Chevy station wagon with the wood paneling was overstuffed with suitcases, supplies and sons, when Mitt Romney climbed behind the wheel to begin the annual 12-hour family trek from Boston to Ontario. The destination for this journey in the summer of 1983 was his parent`s cottage on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron. Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family`s hulking Irish setter in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon`s roof rack. He built a windshield for the carrier to make the ride more comfortable for a dog." "The ride was largely what you`d expect with five brothers ages 13 and under packed into a wagon they called the white whale. As the oldest son, Tag Romney, commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first of trouble. `Dad,` he yelled. `Gross." A brown liquid was dripping down the back window." Again, I`m quoting here from "The Boston Globe." Do not judge me. "A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who had been riding on the roof in the wind for hours. As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway into a service station. There he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car and then hopped back onto the highway. It was teeny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business, emotion-free crisis management." All right. That was published in June 2007. At the end of the summer in 2007, Mitt Romney won the Ames, Iowa, straw poll for president. Right after he won that straw poll, he went on "FOX News Sunday." And the host of "FOX News Sunday" asked Mr. Romney about this dog business. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Back in 1983. You took your Irish setter Seamus on a 12-hour road trip tied to the roof of your car -- MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, no, no. WALLACE: Let me finish. In a kennel, inside a kennel. ROMNEY: Yes, yes. WALLACE: OK. I have a yellow Lab named Winston. I would no sooner put him in a kennel on the roof of my car than I would one of my children. Question: What were you thinking? ROMNEY: This is a completely airtight kennel, and mounted on the top of our car. He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself. He was in a kennel at home a great deal of time as well. We love the dog. It was where he was comfortable. We had five kids inside the car. My guess is, he liked it a lot better in his kennel than he would have liked it inside. WALLACE: Well, I got to tell you, Massachusetts law and dog lovers, and I`m one of them, take this seriously. Massachusetts law prohibits carrying an animal on top of car, even in a kennel as cruel and inhumane. ROMNEY: I wasn`t familiar with that, in terms of Massachusetts law. Love my dog. We`ve had a lot of dogs over the years. Love them. Seamus is his name is, climbed up there all by himself, enjoyed his ride. And whether in the back of the pickup truck or the rooftop carrier, it was a good ride. And all I can tell you is, I didn`t know there was any problem with that in terms of the law. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I`m glad that FOX host Chris Wallace asked Romney about that when the story first came out. So we were able to get Mr. Romney on the record about it. And I actually think that Mr. Wallace at FOX is usually pretty good with follow-up questions with politicians. He did not, however, ask the obvious follow-up at this point in the interview. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: This is a completely airtight kennel mounted on the top of our car. He climbed up there regularly. Enjoyed himself. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Enjoyed himself. He later said he enjoyed his ride. Enjoyed his ride. Remember, though. The story that had just broken in the "Boston Globe," the story that prompted his question to Mr. Romney in the first place was that Seamus, however much he usually enjoy himself on other occasions, Seamus on that 12-hour ride to Canada was not enjoying himself. The whole point of the anecdote as told to the "Boston Globe" was that the dog was in very, very evident gastrointestinal distress, the whole brown liquid thing. I`m sorry. That`s the point of the story. The reporter from the "Boston Globe" who first described the Seamus incident in 2007, did not write about this incident again for four and a half years after he wrote the original story. He finally broke his silence and wrote about it again for the first time this week. The reporter`s name is Neil Swidey. You can tell that he`s somewhat reluctantly back to this subject, but he knows even as he criticizes some people for exaggerating the story or embellishing the story. He says people have questioned his reporting inappropriately, he does think that one part of this is important. He says, "To me Romney`s critics have focused on the wrong part of the anecdote. It`s not that Romney put his dog on the roof. I`ll take the Romneys at their word that Seamus loved his alfresco rides. What is beyond debate, though, is that this far into this particular trip, Seamus had ceased enjoying his ride." Right? This would be the gross part of the story. "Faced with such irrefutable evidence, most people I suspect would have relented and let the ailing dog cram into the back of the wagon." Right. Even if you`re OK with the dog being strapped to the roof of the car, once the dog has been up there for hours and is sick, once he is ailing, you take a hose to him and then put him back up there and keep driving with him still strapped to the roof of the car for more hours. You remember Rick Santorum`s Google problem? Rick Santorum famously said that same-sex relationships were akin to man on dog relationships. In retaliation for that and other things, proponents of gay rights Google- bombed Rick Santorum. They redefined his last name as a vulgar, sexually explicit term and then they pushed that redefinition of the word Santorum to the top of his Google search results via a website called There is now a Web site, which is about poor Seamus. And it defines the word Romney as a verb, which means -- well, you can see it here. The word terror there is a hyperlink to that story about Mr. Romney strapping his dog to the roof of the car and then the dog getting sick and then Mr. Romney hosing off the dog and then strapping the dog back to the roof of the car for more hours of driving. This incident happened in 1983. It has been around in the public record since 2007. As Mr. Romney`s political fortunes have risen, the story has received more and more attention. This week, the Newt Gingrich campaign, not some PAC vaguely related to Newt Gingrich, but the Newt Gingrich for president campaign put up this web ad which features footage of Chris Wallace asking Mitt Romney about the dog amid a number of other Mitt Romney gaffes from the campaign trail. The title of the Newt Gingrich web ad is "For the Dogs." The Newt Gingrich campaign has also created an official Web site called, where people take pictures of their beloved animals, and I guess they sort of describe their animals as Newt Gingrich supporters. It`s a little weird. Why would you do that? But it exists. Mr. Gingrich`s spokesman asked if the campaign did the pets with Newt to create a contrast with what we know about Mitt Romney and pets. The Gingrich campaign spokesman responded by saying, quote, "I will neither confirm nor deny that that`s why pets with Newt was launched." Unrelated to Mr. Gingrich, there`s also what appears to be a grassroots Web site called They refer to the Seamus incident as crate-gate. You can buy a t-shirt like this that says, "Never forget crate-gate, Dogs Against Romney." They have blog posts like this one, "Howling mad at Mitt Romney." Or this one, with the tough looking dog, "Let`s see who goes on the roof now.` But the overall idea here is that Mitt Romney is unfit to be president because of the way he treated his dog. Look at this. "Hi, I`m Rusty. Mitt Romney is mean to dogs. Help me get my message out." The t-shirts on the Web site hit the Mitt Romney is mean theme over and over again. In fact, this one just says it. "Mitt is mean," Whether or not the Seamus story -- oh, Seamus -- whether or not the Seamus story moves you, the reason this story has some political energy behind it, the reason this story has -- forgive me -- legs, is because the idea of a presidential candidate as mean, as cold and unfeeling, that is something that can be defining framework in a presidential election. We saw this happened in 1992, for example, when again we had an economic recession and when -- no matter what else was going on in the country frankly economic pain was the defining feature of the election. It was the most important thing in the country. And one of the candidates for president that year who was from humble beginnings himself, he had an incredible gift for demonstrating his empathy towards people who were hurting. He was the "I feel your pain" guy. And that was a very real thing. That was in contrast to the other candidate who had the opposite of humble beginnings, who had been a rich guy his whole life, and whether or not it was why -- he just seemed to have a tinnier when it came to relating to people, particularly on the issue of money and poverty. Just as a snapshot from that race. This is just a squib (ph) from one of the debates that took place during the campaign. Watch how George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton each respond to a question about how they`ve been personally affected by the economic pain in the country. First, here`s President Bush. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a question right here. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How has national debt personally affected each of your lives? And if it hasn`t, how can you honestly find a cure for the economic problems of the common people if you have no experience in what`s ailing them? GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I think the national debt affects everybody. Obviously, it has a lot to do with interest rates. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She`s saying you personally. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On a personal basis, how has it affected you? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has it affected you personally. BUSH: I`m sure it has. I love my grandchildren. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How? BUSH: I want to think they`re going to be able to afford an education. I think that`s an important part of being a parent. If the question, maybe -- I don`t want to get it wrong. Are you suggesting that if somebody has means that the national debt doesn`t affect them? I`m not sure -- help me with the question and I`ll try to answer it. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: In fairness, the woman in the audience probably meant, how are you affected by the recession as opposed specifically to the national debt? But the response there from President Bush was not exactly "I feel your pain" stuff. Whatever she was trying to communicate, he did not get it. In contrast, here was Bill Clinton`s answer to the same woman right immediately after that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I`ve been governor of a small state for 12 years. I`ll tell you how it`s affected me. In my state when people lose their jobs there`s a good chance I`ll know them by their names. When a factory closes, I know the people who ran it. When the businesses go bankrupt, I know them. I`ve been out here for 13 months meeting citizens just like this ever since October with people like you all over America. People that have lost their jobs, lost their livelihood, lost their health insurance. What I want you to understand the national debt is not the only cause of that. It`s because America has not invested in its people. It`s because we have not grown. It`s because we`ve had 12 years of trickle down economics. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Mr. Clinton went on and on in that vein, but that`s sort of how it`s done. The perception of George Herbert Walker Bush as patrician and cold and out of touch was partly stuff that he did, like flunking that question in that debate. It was partly also who he was and how who he was showed up on the campaign trail. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president got a chance to see a supermarket checkout scanner in action. It seems that he hadn`t really seen one of those before. And the president said that he was amazed. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The president said that he was amazed. To this day, don`t you wonder if any member of the Bush family has ever bought groceries for him or herself? Do they all try to do that now so they don`t get trapped the same way he did? This year, the role of incumbent and challenger is sort of reversed. But the likely challenger to the incumbent president this time around is the patrician silver spoon guy -- the guy who has to worry about coming across as out of touch, about coming across as cold and an unfeeling in a time of economic pain, the guy who has to worry maybe about coming across as mean. The White House today in a speech by President Obama`s chief economist doubled down on economic empathy. They`re putting income inequality and the good fortunes of the rich not translating to good fortune for the rest of the country. They`re putting that right at the center of the president`s re-election campaign, where it looks like it will remain until November. Meanwhile, over in Seamusville, thus far, the response is anybody talking about income equality in the United States is just playing the politics of envy. They`re just jealous about how good rich people have it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: When you say we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy, I`m curious about the world envy. Do you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country is envious? Is it about jealousy? Or is it about fairness? ROMNEY: You know, I think it`s about envy. Everywhere we go or he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It`s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This is the intangible that can define a presidential campaign. Is America just jealous of Mitt Romney? Does the whole country really just want to be like him? Or do we look at him and his life and say, wow, not me, no. I can`t imagine ever doing that. No. Never. Joining us now is Steve Kornacki, political news editor at Steve, thanks for joining us. Good to see you. STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: And I`m here as the senior dog defecation analyst, too. MADDOW: It`s like the dog story gets shorthanded all the time as Mitt Romney put his dog on the roof of his car. Not actually the point of the story. KORNACKI: It`s much more than that. MADDOW: You have to get to really the gruesome details before you get why it might reflect on him as a guy. And so, I`ve been putting off doing that for a long time. But I sort of feel like, got to do it. Looking back in 1992 -- incumbent president running for re-election during a recession, George H.W. Bush versus Bill Clinton. Are there parallels between the public image of Poppy Bush and Mitt Romney? KORNACKI: No, I think so. I mean, I think what you said there is right. Part of it was Bush couldn`t help himself, you know? And part of it is who he was. It was also because of who he was and because how deeply engrained in the public`s consciousness that was, even innocent, even innocuous things he did would reinforce that image. And the thing I think that same debate you showed, I think it might have been at the beginning of that clip, too, when he looked at his watch. MADDOW: Yes. KORNACKI: Now, you know, I can imagine that same debate if Bill Clinton glanced at his watch after that kind of performance, nobody would really have noticed. But when George Bush did, it became one of the headlines that came out of the debate. There`s Bill Clinton feeling everybody`s pain connecting with them and there`s George Bush, the tired, defeated president who can`t wait to get the heck out of there and who can`t understand why all these people are so upset at him. So, that sort of thing -- you know, it creates a problem for a guy like Romney, too, you know, where I think for instance there`s a picture that`s making the rounds today, you know, the shoe shine on the tarmac. I don`t know if you saw this one. I don`t know where this came from. But he`s sitting in front of an airplane. I think it might be a corporate jet, and he`s wearing a suit and he`s getting a shoe shine. He`s got a big smile on his face. MADDOW: He`s not shining his own shoes? Somebody -- KORNACKI: No, he`s getting a shoe shine. We put this on "Salon" earlier today. I`m not sure where it originated. But, you know, it never looks good for a politician to be getting a shoe sign, you know, on a tarmac. But it looks terrible when it`s Mitt Romney and this is your image and this is your background. And it looks worse when it`s if year 2012 and the economy is in such a bad place, and the Democrats are going to be going after your party for being the one that sort of favors the people who gets shoe shines on tarmacs. MADDOW: What is -- I mean, drumming down on that, though, what is the image that he creates? What is the image that a candidate like Bill Clinton, as you`re saying, wouldn`t create but a candidate like Poppy Bush or Mitt Romney does. I don`t think it`s a problem that the guy has money. Americans don`t particularly dislike people who have money. There`s something about it, though, that is, the guy who has money who also appears to not know what it is to enjoy the trappings of not having money who would be in charge of the whole country and not just rich people. I mean, am I getting close to it? KORNACKI: Yes. I think part of it is the bearing. That`s part of it, you know, you look at George Bush Senior`s life, he couldn`t help himself. You look at Mitt Romney`s life in a lot of ways, he can`t help himself. He`s going to have that sort of aristocratic bearing. But part of it, too, I think is, you know, in Bush`s case 20 years ago and Romney`s case today, you know, the charge from Democrats was going to be that, you know, he represents a party, he represents a philosophy that`s trying to protect the moneyed elite in this country. And it`s very tough to sort of defense against that when you embody, you know, the moneyed elite. So, what I think of -- what`s interesting to me is if you look at the platforms of all the Republican candidates, they`re no different than Romney when it comes to questions of inequality and class. If anything, Romney is less hostile, slightly less hostile than the middle class. I mean, he had a dust off with Newt Gingrich in December over eliminating entire capital gains tax. Romney said, no, I don`t want to go that far. If anything, he`s more moderate on these issues. But he has the image problem that reinforces where the party is on these things in a way that a guy like him, and I think of Chris Christie, his big surrogate. Chris Christie has the exact same views on these issues as Mitt Romney, but Chris Christie wouldn`t face the questions if he was the Republican candidate because he exudes for middle class values. Romney exudes 1 percent values. MADDOW: And if that`s the dynamic at work, what do you make of the defense that, oh, you`re just jealous. You`re just envious you want to -- KORNACKI: That`s what I`m saying. You know, you could say that if you`re Mitt Romney. Maybe he meant it that way. Maybe he didn`t mean it that way. But it`s going to be taken that way. MADDOW: Yes. KORNACKI: And multiply that by, you know, here we are in, what, January. If he`s the nominee, we`re going to do this all the way through November, and we`re going to do this in a climate where this country is actually talking about economic inequality and class. And this guy has the tendencies. You know, I still think he`s the strongest candidate. But this is a serious flaw for him. MADDOW: Yes. Steve Kornacki, political news editor at -- I`m sorry that I made you sit through the dog poop stuff., but I really appreciate it. KORNACKI: I learned something about it. MADDOW: Yes, we learned way too much. Now, we have to bleach our minds to make it go away. All right. Michael Hastings is here tonight for the interview., which I`m really, really looking forward to. Stephen Colbert is reportedly running for president now. That`s just broken tonight. Also, I think CNN is doing the Rick Perry campaign a weird favor, and I`m not exactly understanding why they are doing that. But I think they`re doing it. We got all that and more ahead on tonight`s show. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Brian Stilter at "The New York Times" is reporting tonight that Stephen Colbert, Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central, may be running for president. Mr. Stilter tweeting after the "Colbert Report" and the "Daily Show" taped tonight that Stephen Colbert is transferring his super PAC to Jon Stewart and he`s forming his own exploratory committee for president. We do know already in all seriousness that Stephen Colbert, comedian, is already outpolling Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah, in South Carolina, among Republican voters there. I guess this means if you thought the race this year was already good, it`s getting better. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The South Carolina primary is Saturday, the 21st of January. Two days before that primary, CNN is hosting a debate for the presidential candidates. Will Texas Governor Rick Perry be allowed into that debate? On the surface it appears he does not qualify. To qualify for the debate here`s what CNN says you have to do. You need to either place in the top four in Iowa or New Hampshire. There`s no question that Rick Perry didn`t do that. He was fifth in Iowa. He was sixth in New Hampshire. But CNN says you either need a first, second, third or fourth in Iowa or New Hampshire to qualify to be in the debate. Or you can get in if you have an average of 7 percent in at least three national or three South Carolina polls released this month. Rick Perry also does not seem to have that. Nonetheless, CNN told Talking Points Memo yesterday that Rick Perry can still be in the debate. Really? Is CNN changing its debate rules just so Rick Perry can be in the debate? At first glance, it seems like they are. But CNN says no. CNN tells Talking Points Memo that they are not changing the rules for Rick Perry. They`re just looking at his pull numbers in a very, very creative way that nobody else would have ever thought to do. Now, remember, the deal here is that he needs an average of 7 percent of three polls. All right. So three polls averaged together they have to come up to 7 percent. And they have to all be polls from January. Either polls from South Carolina or polls for the whole country. In South Carolina, there`s really no question. He doesn`t cut it. Rick Perry looks to be pulling at a really solid 5 percent. He`s at 5 percent in the Insider Advantage poll out yesterday. He`s at 5 percent in the PPP out over the weekend. He`s at 5 percent in both the Rasmussen poll and the CNN poll out last week. Any three of Rick Perry South Carolina polls average out to 5 percent, because they`re all 5 percent. In South Carolina, Rick Perry is Mr. 5 percent. So how about the national polls? In the national polls, he`s again 5 percent in this week`s Gallup tracking poll. He`s at 7 percent in the "Reuters" poll out earlier this week. But then he`s at 6 percent in both the CBS poll and the Pew Research poll over the weekend. The Rasmussen poll that was out last week, he`s even worse. He`s at 4 percent. Putting together just his three best of those results, and still the most generous average Rick Perry gets out of his national polls doesn`t cut it, 6.3 percent, which is less than 7 percent. And 7 percent is the cut off. So, no Rick Perry in the debates, right? No, it turns out CNN has a totally different take on Rick Perry`s polls. CNN has a take on it that is very generous to Rick Perry. Remember I mentioned there was a CBS poll that has Rick Perry at 6 percent. CNN says, yes, he only got 6 percent in the poll. But if you go to the internals and you look at a different part of the poll, not the one CBS reported as the result, not the one everybody reported as the important thing, but if you look at a different section of the raw polling data, there was a slightly different way of asking the presidential preference question that did result in Rick Perry getting 7 percent instead of six. So, if you balance that very raw data result with an earlier Gallup tracking poll, instead of the current one where he got 7 percent instead of 5, and then you average those against the one poll "Reuters" poll where he legitimately did get 7, you can get three sort of polls at 7 percent. He can qualify sort offish, asterisk. "The Washington Post" reporting today that since Mr. Perry did decide to stay in the race after New Hampshire, he has lost one key South Carolina donor and supporter. The Perry supporter and investment fund president named Barry Wynn reportedly objects to Mr. Perry taking on Mitt Romney for being a vulture capitalist. And to add injury to insult. That donor is not just leaving Rick Perry`s team, he now plans to endorse Mitt Romney. Joining us now is Felicia Sonmez. She`s at the "Washington Post." She reported on Rick Perry losing his big South Carolina donor today. Felicia, thank you for being with us. FELICIA SONMEZ, WASHINGTON POST: Thank you so much for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: Rick Perry, as I tried to explain there with regard to the debate is already not polling terribly well in South Carolina. He`s really borderline for even making it into the CNN debate. How important is the loss of this South Carolina donor for Mr. Perry at this point? SONMEZ: It`s a pretty significant loss, Rachel. This is -- this could be a significant turning point right now for Rick Perry`s campaign. He`s been pretty much having the airwaves to himself in South Carolina over the past two months. And in that span of time, $2 million has been spent on his behalf. He`s seen polling numbers actually go down from 11 percent back in early November, down to 5 percent now as you mentioned. So, there`s not much further down you can go. Yet today we saw this prominent supporter Barry Wynn, as well as two other major donors to his campaign, have not only left, but went over to Mitt Romney. So, it`s a pretty big blow to him. And it`s pretty hard to see how he`s able to recover from this. And this debate performance next week could actually end making things worse for him based on his previous performances. MADDOW: Implicit in our outstanding of presidential politics is that this isn`t all decided at once. It isn`t all decided in the country. It`s decided state by state. But as you pointed out, Rick Perry really has been advertising the heck out of South Carolina. He has been the predominant advertiser in terms of ads on his behalf and by his campaign. But yet it hasn`t translated into numbers there. Does that say to you that national dynamics are influencing the South Carolina electorate more than state specific targeting they might be getting from the campaigns? SONMEZ: Sure. Absolutely. I mean, if you talk to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, pretty much anywhere around the country, they`re looking at Rick Perry and they`re seeing the kind of performance that he`s put in, in these debates especially. And it`s not something that inspired a lot of confidence in his campaign. I think what`s interesting now is the attacks that you`re seeing both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich making against Mitt Romney. There are a lot of attacks that are considered beyond the pale by many members in the Republican Party. Jim DeMint, popular conservative in South Carolina, one of the most popular ones in the whole state, is coming to Mitt Romney`s defense on this and that`s something will be pretty hard for the other candidates to overcome. And to me, it really reminded me a lot of the 2008 Democratic primary when Bill Clinton was the one who was making attacks against Barack Obama at the time. And a lot of Democrats, Jim Clyburn in South Carolina came out and told him that he needed to cut it out, the attacks went a little bit too far. I think you`re seeing the same kind of reaction now among Republicans to Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich in this. Again, both nationally and within South Carolina, it`s something that could end up backfiring for both of them. MADDOW: It`s like we talk about this stuff all yearlong. And then on this kind of a day in politics, the stuff that we`ve been talking about all year, you finally see it happen. I mean, people in movement politics talk all the time about the elites. About the establishment making compromise decisions that might be good for the next election but don`t reflect the party`s principles. It gets talked all yearlong. But it`s nights like this when you really see it overtly in action. Are you seeing any sort of meaningful, powerful insurgency against the elites of the Republican Party who really -- really do seem to be settling on Romney now and counting out specific types of attacks against him? SONMEZ: I mean, it`s fascinating actually. Comparing the race now in 2012 versus where the Republican Party was in November of 2010, back then you saw a ton of Tea Party fueled insurgencies and candidates who had never been involved in politics before, businessmen such as Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, overwhelmingly getting voters to go to the polls for them. And this time around, you`re not quite seeing that. In New Hampshire, actually polls showed that the number of voters in the Republican Party primary who were supporting the Tea Party had dropped about ten points in the past couple of months. So, it`s quite unexpected situation now that you`re seeing the same elites that a lot of the members in Republican Party were revolting against two years ago are now suddenly the ones backing a candidate like Mitt Romney who might have been the last person you would imagine to capture his party`s nomination now seems well on his way toward a win. MADDOW: All that sound and fury about the Tea Party insurgency turns out in the end when it counts, it signifies nothing. Felicia Sonmez, of the "Washington Post" -- it`s really nice to have you on the show. Thank you for being with us. SONMEZ: Thank you so much. MADDOW: All right. Michael Hastings is still ahead for the interview. His new book is one of the best nonfiction books I have read in a really long. It`s exciting that he`s here. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOWE: You bleached your mind yet of the image of Mitt Romney`s dog getting sick on top of his car amid an hours long car trip from Massachusetts to Canada? I`m still sorry about that. I promise from here on out, at least for tonight`s show, no more gastrointestinal distress and its fluids on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. But before we move on completely, one quick note -- in discussing Mr. Romney`s potential image problem as a patrician figure, a man of privilege, we did not show this picture, but our guest described this picture, which has been circulating heavily on the Internet today. He described it as showing Mr. Romney sitting on a tarmac appearing to getting his shoes signed. I had not seen this picture before the guest mentioned it. But apparently, it has been everywhere today. The thing is, this is important to note, this is not a picture of Mitt Romney getting his shoes signed. The scene which was photographed at an airport in San Diego in 2008 shows Mr. Romney actually being wanded as part of being cleared by security. Now, he is outdoors. He is on a tarmac and the wider shot shows that he does appear to be sitting in front of what appears to be a private jet, which is not how most people get security screened, but still, it`s a picture of him being security screened, not a picture of him having his shoes shined. We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The last American president to relieve his top military commander in the middle of a war was Harry Truman who fired General Douglas MacArthur in the midst of the Korean War in 1951. President Truman later explained, "|I fired him because he wouldn`t respect the authority of the president. I didn`t fire him because a dumb son of a bleep, although he was. But that`s not against the law for generals. If it was half to three quarters of them would be in jail." So 1951 was the last time a commanding general got himself fired in wartime. It was the last time before Barack Obama became president, whereupon that same thing has since happened twice. The young reporter whose article led to President Obama firing celebrity General Stanley McChrystal will join us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In the summer of 2010, less than two years into the Obama presidency, "Rolling Stone" magazine published the "Runaway General," a no bleeps, no holds barred account of a young but experienced war correspondent hanging out with the commanding general for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. While the general and his top aide aides went through Europe, supposedly convincing our NATO allies to do more for the Afghanistan fight. The general and his aides were quoted talking smack at President Obama, talking smack about Vice President Biden, talking smack about America`s top diplomatic envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, talking smack about the American ambassador to Afghanistan. They got really drunk. They swore. They derided what it was they were working on on behalf of the U.S. military and the country. And it all ended up, all of it, words and all, in "Rolling Stone." The response was swift and certain. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I accepted General Stanley McChrystal`s resignation as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That point the president just made about undermining civilian control of the military, that point ended up getting a little bit lost in all of the drama over a president firing a wartime commanding general, which is a rare thing -- especially a wartime commanding general as famous as Stan McChrystal was. But that point was key to what Michael Hastings reported in "Rolling Stone." A celebrity general and his handpicked inner circle, including his public relations team just dripping with contempt for the civilians who supposedly decide what the U.S. military does. That was one of, I think, two key insights that Michael Hastings brought back from his McChrystal reporting and from his war reporting on the ground in Afghanistan. The other key insight he brought back was about what we`re doing in Afghanistan anyway. Stanley McChrystal was not just a celebrity general. His celebrity was based on how he embodied supposedly the military`s new way of doing things. Counter insurgency -- a do anything, be everything, never leave doctrine that has kind of a liberal elegance to it that tends to shut up its natural critics. Even as it justifies calls for tens if not hundreds of thousands of troops staying in places like Afghanistan maybe for decades. Now, 18 months after the runaway general conflagration, General Stanley McChrystal runs a consulting company and teaches the other celebrity general of the post-9/11 wars, David Petraeus is now out of uniform. He`s now running the CIA. Counterinsurgency doctrine in the latest defense policy statement is busted down to number nine -- ninth on the Army`s list of stated priorities. The balance of power between the Pentagon and the political leaders who are supposed to be controlling the Pentagon appears to be tilting toward civilian control. And yet, and yet, the war in Afghanistan continues at phase, twice as many Americans have died in Afghanistan under President Obama as died there under President Bush. And today the new National Intelligence Estimate on the war in Afghanistan leaked to the "Los Angeles Times." "The L.A. Times" reporting that this year`s review of the war is as bad as last year`s review of the war, sort of a stalemate. Not getting better. No prospects for getting better, no prospect for a tidy ending. True to form, the Pentagon has reacted by saying actually things are much better than that. There are reasons to be cheerful about staying in that war. Top brass filing a dissent to the NIE, according to "The L.A. Times" today. But are the brass in a position to get what they want, if what they want conflicts with what our civilian government wants? Are we still, as a country, beholden to the operators? Which is how Michael Hastings has titled his great new book about the McChrystal disaster and more. It`s called "The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America`s War in Afghanistan." Joining us tonight now for the interview is Michael Hastings. Michael, congratulations on the book. It`s great. MICHAEL HASTINGS, AUTHOR, "THE OPERATOR": Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. MADDOW: That`s how I see the two key insights of your book and of your reporting for "Rolling Stone" that weren`t about McChrystal as a person. Disdain for civilian control and counter insurgency as sort of a problem. Do you agree that those are the two main points? HASTINGS: I think those are the two main points. I mean, the original article was the runaway general. The book is the runaway military. MADDOW: Yes. HASTINGS: And besides the crazy one-month boozy, you know, wild maniac killers running around Europe and in Kandahar and Afghanistan, I feel I`m trying to give an insight into the people after 10 years of work who ended up running this thing. So, that`s very important. But, yes, the White House has struggled with the Pentagon and President Obama is trying to regain control of the Pentagon is one of the major themes. And coins on the outs -- at least the Pentagon is reading my material, you know? They finally came around. It only took them a couple of years. But I`ve been saying this for years now. MADDOW: I`m struck by -- and I don`t think I thought about it until I read the book. That America has this long history of celebrity generals. Right? Norman Schwarzkopf and George Patton, and Dwight Eisenhower, Colin Powell, of course, Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus is the biggest names of the post-9/11 wars. Now, that Petraeus is out of uniform and McChrystal is gone, there are no new celebrity generals. Is that on accident or do you think it`s on purpose? HASTINGS: I actually wonder if President Obama did this by design or if it sort of happened that way in his quest to sort of regain control of the Pentagon. But, yes, Petraeus has been defrocked. He`s at CIA. General McChrystal is -- you know, who is running the war in Afghanistan now? You probably know. But, you know, some guy named John Allen. Hero, he`s a great guy, I`m sure. But none of the other generals -- there`s no big-time general that can threaten the president`s command. MADDOW: Are you troubled -- I sense a sort of not ambivalence but sort of seeing both sides of it in terms of the way you wrote about how generals do PR. Describe the problems with civil affairs as an institution in the military, but also the sort of weirdness about generals picking up civilian PR pros to spin their own view of the world and to represent essentially as famous people. Do you have mixed feelings about that? Was I reading that right? HASTINGS: Oh, I think we`re using taxpayer dollars to give generals their personal sort of PR team, right? And what are they doing with this public relations strength? What are they doing with their media influence? They are using it to push their own agenda and policy. David Petraeus is the one who sort of pioneered this method. You get a fan base in the media. Therefore, you can bypass the traditional chain of command. And, by the way, for people interested in 2016, this is the book to read for Petraeus opposition research. So, this is the one that they are going to go to. MADDOW: Well, General Petraeus` name floated today in a survey piece by Howard Kurtz about potential vice presidential picks. HASTINGS: And the White House was worried about that. I mean, this plays into the whole yet again, these tensions we`re talking about. But, look, again, back to the PR point, the Pentagon employs 27,000 people and spent some $4 billion a year on broadly speaking public relations. How many reporters are there in Afghanistan? You know, 100 English-speaking reporters on a good month? I mean, probably much lower than that, right? So, how many reporters are there in the press corps? So, there is this total imbalance between the people who are tasked to cover the Pentagon and the tremendous amount of resources that the Pentagon has to shape the message. "The New York Times" Kabul bureau`s budget is not $4 billion, right? MADDOW: Yes. HASTINGS: You could have totaled all the news organization covering it, and it wouldn`t even come close to what the Pentagon is spending to spin this message. MADDOW: Have you paid a professional cost for what you did in the "Runaway General"? How have you been able to get to talk to people on the record after that? HASTINGS: I mean, I`ve been able to do a bunch of pretty interesting stories and then people will talk. I mean, I was banned, sort of de facto banned from embeds, and the Pentagon launched three investigations into my reporting. The kind of cover story of the investigations were that to find out the wrongdoing that the generals in the Pentagon were actually up to. But in fact the real intent was to try to damage "Rolling Stone`s" credibility. MADDOW: Yes. HASTINGS: But I think what I`ve tried to demonstrate and without seeming like too much of a jerk is that you can do this kind of reporting, like if you`re a young reporter out there, you can do this kind of reporting. You can be uncompromising and hard hitting and fair and accurate and honest and you can still -- people will pick up the phone again. MADDOW: Yes. Fair and accurate and honest being key to it because you will attack them with everything you`ve got and so, you better will be absolutely right and nail down every single detail and source and everything, and cross every T and dot every I. HASTINGS: Bombs away. Bring it on -- as our former president once said. You know, this is the joy of reporting. I mean, the stakes are so high, you know? MADDOW: Yes. HASTINGS: And the challenge that I face with writing about this and that I face with writing about these issues all the time is, how do you get the reader to actually read about Afghanistan or Iraq? And in this case I did it in a way that I hoped was sort of entertaining and kind of smart Alecky and fun. But in other times, dead serious -- very, very serious. MADDOW: Yes. Let me ask you about that. I mean, you describe something that almost -- that very rarely gets described in reporting about Afghanistan. A little bit about Iraq but not really about Afghanistan. You describe being with a group of soldiers in Afghanistan who you describe as borderline mutinous and it`s in part, that part of the book is about McChrystal not getting that and McChrystal just trying to make sure that that played well as PR. But is there a broader story to be told about morale of the troops in the war, the story that`s not being told? HASTINGS: I think -- I think there is. I mean, we saw this horrible video that just came out with the soldiers urinating on the -- MADDOW: The corpses. HASTINGS: The corpses. There certainly was at that time when I was with that unit, like the lowest morale that I`ve seen. It reminded me of Baghdad 2006 when everyone just didn`t believe in the mission. And one of the problems with morale is that essentially the war is over. In a strange way, when President Obama continuously says the tide of war is receding, we`re leaving, it`s just now a glide path, it`s just going to all play out. And that must be quite dispiriting for your soldier on the ground risking your life, knowing that, well, you know, no one is really caring, no one is really paying attention and at the end of the day, we`re going to be left with some sort of mess that we can call victory but no one`s buying it. MADDOW: Well, caring about it and paying attention to it is something that we as citizens are dependent on their being good and honest and compelling and well-written reporting about it and you are doing it. And you`re my friend so I might blow a little smoke at you if I didn`t believe this but I`m not smoking at all to say this is one of the best reads, this is one of the best books I have read in more than the past year. So, congratulations on it. It`s great. HASTINGS: Thanks so much. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. MADDOW: Thanks, man. Really appreciate it. Michael Hastings new book is called "The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America`s War in Afghanistan" and it is really good and it has a lot of "F" words in it. All right. Right after this show, on "THE LAST WORD," Lawrence`s guest is "Saturday Night Live`s" Fred Armisen, which means that the host of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is actually and uncomfortably jealous. Fred Armisen with Lawrence and with my fan girl envy, coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Updating our breaking news about art becoming life -- fake TV newsman Stephen Colbert will reportedly announce on his show tonight that he`s transferring his super PAC to Jon Stewart and forming an exploratory committee as part of a possible presidential run. The news broken tonight by Brian Stilter at "The New York Times." At least one poll of South Carolina, Mr. Colbert`s home state has him at 5 percent among Republican voters, which would put him a point ahead of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman who definitely is running for president and who has been running for a long time. Just when it appears that Stephen Colbert cannot up his game any further because there is not game higher than his. Stephen Colbert ups his game. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Thanks for being with us tonight. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END