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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 02/04/13

Guests: Frank Rich

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you. ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SHOW" HOST: Thank you. MADDOW: And thanks to you at home staying with us for the next half hour. Happy Super Bowl hangover day. Lots going on today`s news and on tonight`s show -- including our secretary of state and really excessively interesting increasing chaos in the home state of our secretary of state as Republicans start to get very, very desperate to find someone to run for his now open U.S. Senate seat. Also today, the president gives a barn burner in Minnesota. He says on the political issue where we are supposedly so politically divided that we can never make progress of any kind, he says on that issue specifically, actually, right now we have a national consensus that we can move on. That`s all ahead. Plus, the political right all at once, all in unison gets very vocally angry with Karl Rove. Poor Karl. Frank Rich from "New York Magazine" is here on the show tonight. We`ve also got the latest conspiracy theory about the terrifying PhotoShopped secrets of President Barack Hussein Obama. Did you know his emotional name is Hussein? The conspiracy theories about the president get even more ambitiously conspiratorial than they have in years past. That is all ahead tonight. But we are beginning tonight with a big deal -- a story you will not see anywhere else, because it is an NBC News exclusive. NBC`s national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff has uncovered something that is not classified, but that has been treated as one of the biggest secrets of this administration. It`s something the administration has been fighting over with newspapers and with Congress and with all different sorts of groups suing them who have been trying to contain what Mike Isikoff has just gotten closer than anybody else to naming. And it is happening, presumably not coincidentally, it is happening right in the midst of really big changes happening right now in national security in Washington. Today in Washington, of course, was Secretary of State John Kerry`s first day on the job. He was sworn in on Friday after his confirmation hearing and his confirmation vote process that were frankly a breeze. In the end, the Senate vote was nearly unanimous, 94-3, to confirm John Kerry as secretary of state. John Kerry, of course, will be taking over there from outgoing Secretary Hillary Clinton. John Kerry joked today that he had big heels to fill as the new secretary of state. President Obama`s second major nominee to face a confirmation hearing was another national security pick, the former Senator Chuck Hagel. His confirmation hearings for defense secretary were not a breeze. The vote on his nomination has not yet happened. Republicans in the Senate are now hinting that they might even filibuster Chuck Hagel`s nomination for Defense, which of course sounds normal, because, you know, it seems like Republicans filibuster anything now. But, in fact, that would not be normal that would be unprecedented if they do it. The reason Republicans are even considering doing this unprecedented thing is because they cannot block Chuck Hagel`s nomination by normal means. Even though the Republicans have persuaded lots of the senators on their own side to oppose his nomination, they are a minority. And they have not persuaded any Democrats to oppose him at all, at least none that have come out so far and said they`ll vote no. Now, there was that strange effort which seems to have been a right- wing effort to make it look like there was a Democratic and left-wing opposition to Chuck Hagel. But honestly, it was ridiculous. And we had to pull out the bullpucky siren. It was this really ham-handed fake effort to look like liberals were opposing Chuck Hagel, but nobody believed them and they stayed anonymous and never came out of the closet and said who they were. So, no opposition on the Democratic side of the aisle, no opposition on the left, except for the fake thing -- and that means that the Republicans would have to do something historically unprecedented and truly radical if they are going to stop Chuck Hagel`s nomination. Filibusters a cabinet nominee? Unprecedented in modern times. Now, they might try it. But it will be a huge deal if they did, a huge enough deal that it might even finally prompt the Democrats to change the filibuster rules. So, it`s not likely. Now, if you are looking for a high profile national security Obama second term nominee who really might have some interesting opposition, who really might have some opposition from the Democratic side, if not even from the left, it`s not Chuck Hagel. Obviously, it`s not John Kerry. The guy you are looking for is the one who is up this week. On Thursday of this week, President Obama`s nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan, will face the Senate Intelligence Committee for his confirmation hearing as the director of central intelligence. One of the very first things President Obama did you might remember when he first became president at the start of his first term in 2009 was that he dropped the Bush administration`s torture policy. Remember, he did that right away. He issued an executive order two days after taking office to doubly, triply extra ban torture in the United States. At the start of that first term, newly elected President Obama also wanted to nominate John Brennan to be the head of the CIA. But he didn`t end up putting him forward. John Brennan ended up taking his name out of contention for that nomination because of opposition to him being chosen. And the opposition centered on the fact that John Brennan had been deputy executive director of the CIA during the Bush days, during the bad, old "torturing prisoners" days of the George W. Bush administration. So you`re going to have a brand-new president who bans torture, but then you`re going to put a guy who was there for the whole torture regime in charge of the CIA? Yes, there was an effort made to make the case that John Brennan had been opposed to the torture methods while he had been at the CIA, but nothing was -- nothing in his known professional tenure backed that up, at least not enough to save his nomination. And John Brennan withdrew his name from consideration that year and he did not run the CIA during Barack Obama`s first term. Instead, he got the world`s greatest consolation prize. He became a very close White House adviser to the president. He`s White House counterterrorism adviser, and he was there at a time when the CIA and the United States generally were not known for torturing people. We are not known for torturing people anymore. What we are known for in the Obama era is not torturing people, but rather killing them. On the same day that President Obama signed that executive order banning torture a couple of days into his first term, he also signed this executive order to close Guantanamo. Now, of course, four years later, Guantanamo is not closed, even though that was an almost first day priority for President Obama. He still says he would like to close Guantanamo, just as George W. Bush said he wanted to close Guantanamo. We have Congress to thank for the fact that it`s still open. Congress has blocked the president`s options for closing that offshore prison. But notice also that not a single new terrorism suspect, not a single new prisoner has been added to Guantanamo since President Obama has been in office. People have left by a number of different means, but nobody knew has shown up since Barack Obama was sworn in as president. We have not been shipping people to Guantanamo, even though the president has not been able to close it. We have not been shipping terrorism suspects anywhere, really. Mostly that`s because we haven`t been capturing them mostly. We`ve been doing something else. Since 2002, targeted killings, targeted missile strikes have killed as many as 4,700 people, mostly in Pakistan. The highest profile targeted killing which is not by a drone, which is by a Navy SEAL team was, of course, the killing of Osama bin Laden during a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, in Pakistan. The highest professional drone strike killing was this guy, Anwar al Awlaki, who is a U.S. citizen. He was born in New Mexico. He was killed in Yemen. But between those very high profile killings, there have been dozens and dozens, ultimately hundreds of drone strikes under President Obama, most of them mostly unnoticed in the news. On the Monday of President Obama`s inauguration, the same day that President Obama outlined this wide-ranging liberal agenda for his second term, that same day, there was a drone strike in Yemen. And that drone strike on inauguration day followed drone strikes in Yemen on both days of the weekend that preceded Inauguration Day. So we had drone strikes on Saturday and on Sunday and on Monday, the Monday the president was sworn in. It doesn`t really make the news. One of the most unusual things about drone strikes for us as citizens in a country that does them is that for so long, our country would not admit that we did them, even when we all knew that we did. That was the case. That did not change officially until April of last year, April 2012. And the person the administration put forth to do that, to admit that policy for the first time publicly was John Brennan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: So let me say it as simply as I can. Yes, in full accordance with the law and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives, the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft often referred to publicly as drones. And I`m here today because President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Why exactly the Obama administration thinks these strikes are legal. They say -- let me say as simply as I can, in full accordance with the law, the United States government conducted targeted strikes. "In full accordance with the law." We know that they do think it`s legal. But they won`t say why they think it`s legal. The closest we have come to learning about how the Obama administration justifies drone strikes is this. In the fall of 2011, "New York Times" reporter Charlie Savage wrote this story. This is about a week after Awlaki was killed. Awlaki, the U.S. citizen who was killed in Yemen. And the story describes a super secret 50-page memo written by an office within the Justice Department that effectively serves as the Obama`s administration`s legal justification for why they think it`s OK to kill an American citizen without a trial. Now, "The New York Times" did not actually get to see this memo. They did not publish the memo, nor did they quote from it directly. The memo was described to the reporter by anonymous sources. And that`s when things got really weird, because after the times reported on the existence of the memo, "The Times" reporter who wrote that story and another "Times" report and "The Times" itself and the ACLU and other people tried to get the Obama administration to release this memo. Well, somebody from the administration who has high enough clearance to read it is willing to talk to a reporter about it. Please, can we see it? Everybody filed Freedom of Information Act requests. None of that worked. The Freedom of Information Act requests were denied. And the government refused to even acknowledge that the memo in question even existed. The Justice Department and the Obama administration have refused to acknowledge whether or not the memo exists. Its existence is itself classified, or should I say its existence or lack thereof is classified. But "The Times" did report on its existence back in October 2011. And they filed their lawsuit back in 2011. And members of Congress have also asked the Obama administration to please release this memo. We know you think it`s legal. Why do you think it`s legal? The closest anybody ever came to getting the attorney general to admit that this memo in fact exists was this very, very awkward moment caught on tape during a routine budget hearing back in March of 2012. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I still want to see the Office of Legal Counsel memorandum. And I would urge you to keep working on that. I realize it`s a matter of some debate within the administration. ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: That would be true. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That would be -- can I say that it would be true that there is debate about the hmmm. Just last month, a federal judge named Colleen McMahon ruled on the lawsuit to release this memo. So they had filed a freedom of information request. They said no. They said, OK, it`s no longer a request. We`re suing you, demanding you release this memo, and Colleen McMahon was the judge who received that lawsuit. And she ruled in the government`s favor. She ruled that the government could keep it secret. The government could, in fact, keep secret their secret justification for killing a U.S. citizen without trial. But what was amazing about this trial is the judge was so vocally unhappy about having to issue the ruling. Look at what she said. Quote, "I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret." Quote, "The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me." She added that she was operating in a legal environment that amounted to a veritable catch-22. John Brennan faces his confirmation hearing to be the head of the CIA on Thursday of this week. He will face questions from senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee who will presumably ask him about his time in the CIA of yore under George W. Bush and his time as the face of the drone program under President Barack Obama. One of the senators who sits on the intelligence committee is going to get a chance to question John Brennan is Oregon Democrat John Wyden, who is a bit of a contrarian on the issues. Senator Wyden recently wrote a letter to John Brennan asking for answers of his own about targeted killing and why it`s justified and how it`s justified. The questions themselves are so basic that they are almost more telling than some of the answers they could but probably won`t receive. Questions like, for example, how much evidence does the president need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed? Also -- this is one that sticks with me -- does the president have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender before killing them? And, are there any geographic limitations on the intelligence community`s authority to use lethal force against Americans? Including, can intelligence agencies kill people under this authority in the United States? Could the CIA or any other intelligence agency come kill you if the appropriate high-ranking official in the Obama administration, say President Obama, decided that you were affiliated with al Qaeda, and you were a threat, and you might act eminently to endanger their nation? Could you then be legally killed as you lay in your bed? We may see on Thursday how many of those questions John Brennan will answer. But tonight, four days ahead of that hearing, NBC News, Michael Isikoff has obtained a document that is closer than we have ever gotten to obtaining details about that secret memo that supposedly justifies this, the memo that may serve as the justification for the American government killing American citizens. Tonight, we have exclusive reporting on the contents of that white paper. Joining us now is NBC News national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff. Michael, thank you for being here. MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPOANDENT: Good to be with you, Rachel. MADDOW: So, everybody has been looking for this memo. You have not the memo, but a white paper based on the memo. Does it tell us anything that we did not know before about how the government justifies targeted killings of Americans? ISIKOFF: Yes. In short, it does. It provides detail. It fleshes out some of the arguments that have been made publicly, and in ways that in some instances contrast with what has been said publicly. Now, to be fair, Attorney General Holder gave a speech last March where he laid out the administration case for targeted killing of Americans. He gave a three-part test -- if there is an eminent threat of a violent attack against Americans, if capture is not feasible, and if the attack is carried out, if the strike is carried out in accordance with law of war principles. Well, let`s take that first one first: eminent threat of violent attack. That`s the way Holder defined it. When you look at this 16-page memo, which I`ve obtained, which is a further legal justification, you see that that actually they refer to what they call a broader concept of eminence than direct active intelligence of a plot against the U.S. In fact, it explicitly states that eminence does not mean that the United States has to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons or interests is under way. If the U.S. believes that the target has in the past been involved in such violent activities, and the target has not renounced such activities, it can be assumed that they are an eminent threat now, and that that would justify an attack. Now, again, remember, we`re talking about targeted killings of Americans. We`re talking about making decisions based on secret intelligence. And we see in this memo that some of the definitions are a bit more elastic and open to interpretation than the administration has publicly let on. MADDOW: Well, Mike, on the three-part, so it has to be eminent risk. And you just described the broader concept of eminence, which is the phrase in there. (CROSSTALK) ISIKOFF: Yes. MADDOW: Yes. And that there can`t be a capture, that we`re killing somebody because they can`t be captured. There is also an elaboration on that which it seems to me seems to be quite a wide definition. I mean, I`m fascinated by the fact that we don`t really capture terrorist suspects in Yemen and Somalia and Pakistan and these other places where we know drones, American drone strikes, have killed people. People get killed there. They don`t get captured. The definition for why a capture is impractical always seems to be very, very wide. ISIKOFF: Exactly. What the memo says is that there are relevant factors that could be considered, including whether they would be an undue risk to U.S. personnel in conducting a capture operation. Again, that`s a factor that was not stated publicly by Attorney General Holder, and raises a host of questions. What is an undue risk? Who determines what that risk is? And how is this balancing test met? There is also language in there that suggests that if the host government where the target is located is not on board with a capture operation, that could be a reason to conduct a targeted killing as well. I mean, the problem when you go through this memo -- and, by the way, we`re posting it all on tonight, and people can read it for themselves -- is that there is a lot of language in there that is as I said before, you know, somewhat elastic, somewhat open to interpretation and can be defined in very different ways -- by different administrations in the future, by the way. MADDOW: Michael Isikoff, NBC News national investigative correspondent. Again, Mike`s story is now posted at And we`re going to have the memo up there as well, Michael? ISIKOFF: Yes, we will. It should be up there now. MADDOW: All right. Thanks for being here. Congratulations on the scoop, and appreciate you being here with us. Thanks. ISIKOFF: Sure enough. MADDOW: All right. Lots to come. "New York Magazine`s" Frank Rich is going to be here. Stay with us. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: President Obama today traveled to Minneapolis where he met with victims of gun violence and their families and with local law enforcement. The president then gave a speech in which he explained that he has done what he can do as president about gun violence. For more to happen, he said, Congress must act. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Real and lasting change also requires Congress to do its part and to do it soon. Not to wait. The good news is that we`re starting to see a consensus emerge about the action Congress needs to take. The vast majority of Americans, including a majority of gun owners, support requiring criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun. (APPLAUSE) So, right now, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are working on a bill that would ban anyone from selling a gun to somebody legally prohibited from owning one. Senators from both parties have also come together and proposed a bill that would crack down on people who buy guns only to turn them around and sell them to criminals. It`s a bill that would keep more guns off the street and out of the hands of people with the intent of doing harm. We shouldn`t stop there. We should restore the ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines. (APPLAUSE) And that deserves a vote in Congress, because weapons of war have no place on our streets or in our schools or threatening our law enforcement officers. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The president today is urging people to, quote, "keep the pressure on your member of Congress." Also saying that that specifically, the ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines, quote, "deserves a vote in Congress". The president is sort of continuing to work the outside game here. Metaphor doesn`t seem exactly right, but it`s basically the idea to get reform done inside the Beltway by leaving the Beltway. Physically leaving Washington, D.C., going out into the states, keeping the country`s attention on this story by virtue of the fact that you are the president and you`re out in the world talking about it and thus trying to get grassroots pressure from outside Washington to be brought to bear on members of Congress. That is the outside game. The president said he was going to play it on this. And he is. Now, back in Washington, we`re beginning to see how the inside game is going to be played. "The Wall Street Journal" reports today that Democrats in the Senate are working on a bill that includes most of the president`s proposals, and it is aimed at hitting the Senate floor for a full vote next month in March. Now, I say most of the president`s proposals here, because it does not necessarily mean all of them. The expanded background checks is there. The bill that would come out of committee is likely to include a ban on high capacity magazines as well. But "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that what will come out of committee will likely not include the ban on assault weapons. The ban on assault weapons that was introduced last month by Senator Dianne Feinstein, and that you heard mentioned again today by the president. Now, that`s not necessarily a done deal. That`s not necessarily final. If that bill reaches the Senate, the Senate floor without a ban on assault weapons included, it is possible lawmakers could then amend the bill on the Senate floor to include the ban. But they also might not. Sam Stein at "The Huffington Post" reported today that the assault weapons ban might be strategically sacrificed in order for the rest of the president`s plan to go through. Sam Stein reporting that advocates for gun control are not as concerned about the assault weapons ban as they are with some other elements of the president`s package. Jim Kessler of Americans for Gun Safety says, quote, "If you are going to die at the hands of a criminal with a gun, it`s going to be a handgun." And statistically speaking, which is what he means, that might be true. But it`s not handguns that people remember from a tragedy like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in December. It`s assault weapons that now appear so difficult in political terms to crack down on. The other night on this show, we heard from Connecticut`s new Senator Chris Murphy, who represented Newtown when he was first elected to Congress in the House. He is now a senator and represents the whole state. We called Senator Murphy`s office tonight to get his reaction to this reporting of how gun policy reform might move through the Senate. He said, quote, "Too many people in Washington want to eulogize specific pieces of common sense gun reform before the debate has even started. How can we wait for another state to join Connecticut on the tragically long list of states devastated by gun violence? There would be more little boys and girls alive in Newtown today if the ban on military- style and magazines had been on the books in December. The time to act is now." The sources on Capitol Hill tonight also tells us that Senator Dianne Feinstein is actively working on the assault weapons ban, that she does not yet have the votes she needs to pass it, but she is not giving up. Sources tell us that she has key supporters including Democrats Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer. And remember, of course, historically speaking, it was Dianne Feinstein who got the old assault weapons ban passed in 1994, and nobody thought she could have done it then either. On the other side of Congress, in the Republican-controlled House, the leading voice for gun reform is, of course, Democrat Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband to gun violence before she entered politics. She tells us, quote, "I`m looking forward to seeing what the Senate majority puts together, because it`s clear that the House majority will only follow from there." So, Congresswoman McCarthy effectively saying that gun reform starts with the Democrats in the Senate. Effectively, that`s as ambitious as any of this is ever going to get. Whatever the Senate Democrats do on this issue will set the bar for Republicans in the House to compromise away from. You`re never going to get any better than what you get from Senate Democrats. You might get significantly worse. In other words, aim high. The story line here is far from complete, but at least the arc of how this is going to happen is starting to get clear. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: It took until two and a half years into his first term as president. It took until more than halfway through his first term for President Obama to put to rest the absolutely nutty, electric, Kool-Aid, acid test, crazy right-wing fantasy conspiracy theory that he was secretly foreign, and therefore, secretly not really president of the United States at all. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We got better stuff to do. I`ve got better stuff to do. We`ve got big problems to solve. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It took that act in April 2011, the release of the president`s long formed birth certificate to finally quiet the wild incoherent questioning of President Obama`s citizenship. Ha! Yes, right. Of course, that did not quiet those conspiracy theories on the right. If those things could be disproven by fact, they wouldn`t be very satisfying conspiracy theories. Seeing the president`s birth certificate did not satisfy the Republicans, who had demanded to see the birth certificate. I know we said that`s what we wanted, but we still don`t -- can we do more of this? Seeing the birth certificate did however dampen Republicans` excitement for that particular conspiracy theory just a little bit. So, they`ve had to come up with a new one. Do you want to know what their new one is? That`s coming up. That`s our last story tonight. Hold on. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Now that John Kerry has officially started his new gig as secretary of state, the question of who is going to run to replace him in the Senate is getting weird. We know on the Democrat side that Congressman Ed Markey and Congressman Stephen Lynch are both running. They will be in a Democratic Party primary against each other on April 30th if everything goes as expected. But on the Republican side, the list of would-be candidates seems to be getting smaller and smaller every day. Last week in a surprise move, of course, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown announced via text message that he would not be running for the seat. That prompted Jed Lewison and the merry liberal pranksters at "Daily Kos" to start a campaign to draft Mitt Romney to run for that seat. Quote, "With Brown out in Massachusetts, we must draft Mitt Romney for U.S. Senate. Draft Mitt. No deferments this time." Then much to the surprise and delight of the already delighted folks at "Daily Kos", then came reports that not Mitt, but some other Romney was seriously considering running. The news came from "The Boston Herald", which claimed to have learned that Tagg Romney was considering running for seat, now that Scott Brown had opted out. And that was on top of the herald`s weekend reporting that they were urging Tagg`s mom to run, Ann for Senate. So, yes, we know that Mitt Romney lost by 23 points ion this one of his home states. But maybe he was just the wrong Romney. Republicans in Massachusetts just itching to get a Romney, some Romney, any Romney back on the ballot this year -- 23 points. But almost as quickly as the Ann or Tagg Romney excitement had built up, it started to crumble. And by this afternoon, Tagg Romney announced himself in complete sentences, with full actual words, that he is not going to run for that seat. And I don`t think Ann Romney is going to run either. And that leaves Massachusetts Republicans in a tough spot. No Scott Brown, no unspecified member of the Romney family. Right now, the surest thing that Massachusetts Republicans have is Dr. Keith Ablow, a FOX News expert on psychiatry. He recently co-wrote a book with Glenn Beck. He announced that he will totally run for Senate in that special election, as long as Massachusetts Republicans unify around him and nominate him with no primary. What could possibly go wrong? That seems like a foolproof idea. Did I mention he co-wrote a book with Glenn Beck? But it`s not just in Massachusetts that Republicans are having trouble coming up with candidates for the U.S. Senate. In the great state of Iowa, Democratic Senator Tom Harkin has announce head is retiring at the end of this term, which means his seat will be up for grabs in 2014. And the really interesting thing is the polling on this race. When you poll just Iowa Republicans, just likely Republican midterm voters, they want this guy. They want Tea Party birther guy Steve King. Steve King polls way ahead of his next closest primary challenger, the more moderate Republican Congressman Tom Latham. Steve King ahead by 17 points in that Republican primary matchup when you look at the polls. But, of course, when you put Steve King up against the likely winner of the Democratic primary, and you actually poll the whole state, all likely midterm voters in Iowa, Steve King, the Tea Party birther king guy, loses to Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley. But just counter factual here, let`s say the wacky Tea Party guy, the birther Steve King guy, didn`t run off with the primary, look what happens when you poll statewide among likely voters and ask them to choose between the not Steve King guy and the Democrat -- actually, the Republican guy wins. In other words, the whole state of Iowa would rather have the more moderate Republican guy. But if you do not give them that choice in the general election, if Republicans decide that what they`re offering is just the birther guy, just the wing nut Tea Party guy and a Democrat, Iowa is going to pick the Democrat. The Republican who polls show will lose to Steve King in the primary is these right now the Republican who might have a shot in the general -- which is to say Steve King is already poised to be the next Sharron Angle, Christine O`Donnell, Ken Buck, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock of the Republican Party, which is also to say this is turning out to be kind of a long-standing problem for Republicans. All over the country, candidates who can win Republican primaries are not the same thing as candidates who can win general elections. Those two circles do not overlap. Now, this guy, Karl Rove, has decided he is going to try to cure the Republican Party of this particular disease. The Karl Rove-backed super PAC American Crossroads has formed a group called Conservative Victory Project designed as a way -- described as a way to fight back against the Tea Party groups that have helped elevate candidates who ultimately lose their seats to Democrats in real general elections. "The New York Times" reporting, quote, "The group`s plans call for hard-edged campaign tactics, including TV ads against candidates whom party leader see as unelectable and a drag on the efforts to win the Senate. One of the groups founders honing in on the upcoming Iowa race as an example, quote, "We`re concerned about Steve King`s Todd Akin problem. This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in the general election. All of the things he said are going to be hung around his neck." This new plan to keep the fight the kookier candidates out is not going over well on the right. Jim DeMint`s Tea Party Senate campaign group for one, they`re outrage. They tell "Roll Call" newspaper, quote, "This is a continuation of the establishment`s effort to avoid blame for their horrible performance in the 2012 elections. Now they want to use this new PAC to trick donors into giving them more money so they can lose more races." Also, the Club for Growth, remember them? They`re pointing to the electorally successful Tea Party insurgents of the recent past. They`re telling "Politico", quote, "They are welcome to support the lights of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst. We will continue to support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz." FreedomWorks compares these developments to everything from the "Star Wars" empire to the dystopia imagined by George Orwell. They say, "The Empire is striking back. The empire is striking back. An Orwellian-named Conservative Victory Project is created with the sole mission of acting activists across the country. These blatant acts of hostility are typical behavior of an entrenched establishment circling the weapons around incumbents regardless of performance in office." Biggest problem with the Republican Party right now might be that these guys kind of have a point. Yes, Republicans have a very real, very identifiable problem with their primaries turning out candidates that cannot get elected in general elections. This is a pattern. This is a three-election cycle pattern now for the U.S. Senate. But Karl Rove super PAC, the same folks who are starting this new Conservative Victory Project to start winning races, those guys got a whopping 1.92 percent return on their investment in the last campaign. They spent over $100 million, and almost all of it went to races that they lost. So it`s not like they`re the geniuses here. Remember, they`re the geniuses who supported Mitt Romney and thought he would win, and were shocked that he didn`t, to the point of making that nice lady from FOX News go down to the decision desk and fight with those statisticians. It was so embarrassing. The question is not only which side is going to win this big intraparty fight, but also what will that mean for the future of the party. Which side really has the potential to fix what`s wrong? The great Frank Rich joins us next. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) KEN BUCK (R), FORMKER SENATE CANDIDATE: Why should you vote for me? Because I do not wear high heels. CHRISTINE O`DONNELL (R), FORMER SENATE CANDIDATE: I`m not a witch. REPORTER: What do you mean Second Amendment remedies? SHARRON ANGLE (R), FORMER SENATE CANDIDATE: Thank you. REPORTER: Why won`t you answer Second Amendment remedies? RICHARD MOURDOCK (R). FORMER SENATE CANDIDATE: Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen. TODD AKIN (R), FORMER SENATE CANDIDATE: If it`s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. (END VIDEO CLIPS) MADDOW: Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle, Christine O`Donnell, Ken Buck, a veritable child`s treasury of the swings and really bad misses that make up the Republican Party`s recent history of trying to win very winnable U.S. Senate seats, and then losing those seats because they picked really fringe ridiculous candidates. Those are the types of candidates that Karl Rove`s super PAC now says it hopes to prevent from winning Republican Senate primaries going forward. I wonder if they can do that. I wonder if they should. Joining us now is Frank Rich, writer at large for "New York Magazine". Frank, it is always a pleasure. Thanks for being here. FRANK RICH, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: People don`t take advice from us when we give it to them, but I think we should give it to them anyway. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: It`s not hard to see merits on both sides of this fight. The right is very upset with Karl Rove for even suggesting this, let alone pursuing it. And, you know, the Tea Partiers have given us Todd Akin and Sharron Angle. At the same time, Karl Rove`s group picked winners 1 percent of the time or less in the last election. So who has the electoral credibility to win this argument? RICH: In a way, I think it`s the party, the Tea Party side of things. As you showed in that poll, Steve King is ahead in Iowa because that`s actually the base of the party. That`s what they want. And so it`s very easy for Karl Rove to saunter in and say, oh, well, we`ll stop this. But you can`t fight something with nothing. He did not back a single winning candidate last year. And so what`s going to happen? That is the Republican Party. That`s why they win primaries. And the Republican Party has a more serious problem, which is that`s 30 percent of the country that holds those views, maybe more or less. They can win primaries. They can never win national elections. But what is this Republican establishment that Rove represents? It`s money people. But where are the voters within the Republican Party. So, I think that Tea Party people -- it`s not just Tea Party, it`s the real base of the Republican Party, whether they call themselves Tea Partiers or not -- this is what they want. MADDOW: I was struck by how unified the reaction against Rove was on the right. I mean, all of the influential -- all of the right-wing blogs that are influential enough that a liberal like me knows to go read them. RICH: Right. MADDOW: All of them unified with being just disgusted with Karl Rove for having suggested this. And there is -- it does seem to me like this was a very good day for Steve King -- RICH: Yes, exactly. (CROSSTALK) MADDOW: -- has come out as being the guy that the establishment needs to destroy, that`s the best vote of confidence Steve King has ever had. I`m sure if he was never going to run for Senate, he`s going to now. All the media, particularly the online media is unified here, is there any way for establishment figures in the right to effectively fight it, or do they really just have to surrender? RICH: I think they have to surrender, I think what Rove`s game was, he lost a hundred million bucks from his donors, the people who basically support him. And so, he wants their money. You know, he said -- and what you showed. He said I`m going to do this by running ads, and stuff. Well, that`s not going to do it. The party is what it is, and so this idea that it is something else is a fantasy and they`re going to have to get real about it and face the party they have and change it from within. Not by stunts involving spending money on advertising. MADDOW: And how does that effort, them trying to change the party from within on both sides? I mean, both sides are used to seeing themselves as insurgents. Neither one likes to be called the establishment. When Karl Rove does talk about what he`s trying to do, he also says that he is always standing up against the liberal media, like he`s an activist with a placard out front, instead of hundreds of millions of dollars in his pocket. RICH: Right. MADDOW: How does that affect governing? How does that affect the ability for the Republicans to participate constructively in governing coalition, potentially with Democrats on stuff that they want to do? RICH: Well, they`re way far away from that. The classic example is immigration. They know that it`s an existential threat to the Republican Party, a Latino electorate is growing, they don`t like Republicans, they don`t like Republican policy on this issue. And we`ve heard the establishment -- the Karl Roves, the John McCains -- say, oh, surely now we`ll get behind the gang of eight or whatever, and do the immigration reform. They can`t get the House contingent to support even that, which is like a knife at the heart of the Republican Party demographically. So, it shows this is going to be a long battle within the GOP that`s going to rage on for quite a while, not least because the biggest donors are not necessarily in tune with the base. Some are, like the Koch brothers, but a lot of the Wall Street types and so on, they`re not on the base on immigration, on abortion rights, on gay rights, and a lot of things. And so -- MADDOW: Taxes only. RICH: Taxes only. MADDOW: It will be really interesting to see on guns, thinking about President Obama out in Minnesota today with all the cops standing behind him. On background checks in particular, 92 public support for universal background checks. If Republicans cannot figure out a way to support something that has 92 percent to support the Republicans and Democrats on that, I think, I don`t know what happens next for them. It`s going to be fascinating. RICH: It will be fun to watch from our point of view. MADDOW: OK, you can turn your TV back on, we`re leaving. Frank Rich, writer at large for "New York Magazine" -- Frank, thank you very much. RICH: Thank you. MADDOW: Appreciate it. All right. Next, President Obama skeet-shooting photo that, of course, is outrageous and fake, and communist and Kenyan or something. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In October, the month before the election, when the unemployment rate dropped a couple of tenth of a percent, the former head of G.E., Jack Welch, tweeted that the data was made up. Quote, "Unbelievable job numbers. These Chicago guys will do anything, can`t debate so change numbers." Jack Welch started it, and then it became a thing on the right. The unemployment rate is made up. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DICK MORRIS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The economic data that the Obamas peddling is just phony. You start with the unemployment rate. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, are they playing around the numbers? Look, it`s the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It`s supposed to be nonpartisan. But that`s the Department of Labor. Hilda Solis heads the Department of Labor. Hilda Solis works directly for Obama. You know -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying they`re cooking the books? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I`m -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Are you are saying they`re cooking -- you are saying that, aren`t you? The president faked the unemployment rate, he made it up. Also, the president is bulldozing President Reagan`s childhood home. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one wall that probably shouldn`t be torn down. This apartment complex used to be the home of a young Ronald Reagan. It was denied landmark status and the University of Chicago is ready to demolish it. The university, which has close ties to the Obamas, is also trying to become the site of President Obama`s presidential library. That has drawn strong concerns the university might turn President Reagan`s former house into a parking lot for an Obama library. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: And then President Obama is going to exhume Ronald Reagan and then he`s going to -- it`s not true. But it sounds terrible, doesn`t it? It`s very exciting in a bad way to think President Obama is personally going to be bulldozing something related to Reagan, even if he isn`t? Oh, do you remember ring-gate at World Net Daily where Rick Santorum works now? President Obama`s supposed wedding ring is actually a secret "I am a Muslim" ring, quote, "The ring Obama has been wearing for more than 30 years is adorned with the first part of the Islamic declaration of faith." Wait, wait. That`s not it. No, wait. Did I say the ring proves he is secretly Muslim? No, I meant gay. It secretly proves he`s gay. It is a wedding ring, but it is a gay wedding ring. See, you can see why it would be confused. This is also "World Net Daily." It`s about the same ring. But it`s the whole different conspiracy theory about he`s gay so the ring shows he is gay married. That`s all "World Net Daily". Over at Breitbart, they have been very upset about this picture of the president gay throwing a football. In that corner of the right-wing media, President Obama was not actually throwing a football in this photo. You see, you can tell because he is looking slightly up there. That`s just inexplicable. Why would you do such a thing? Clearly it`s doctored? There is no way in football, you always look to the down or side unless you`re a secretly gay-married Muslim, bulldozing Reagan. Now, the latest one is this. According to the right, this is not really the picture of the president shooting a gun. Yes, when "The New Republic" in a recent interview asked the president if he ever shot a gun, he said yes, he had been skeet-shooting at Camp David. The White House supported the claim by tweeting this picture of the president shooting skeet. And that`s when cuckoo for cocoa puffs right wing fired up the conspiracy machine. According to them, this isn`t really a picture of the president shooting a gun. You see, they can tell because the president is shooting with the gun sort of too flat. It`s too straight. See, now, he is too straight. Then there`s the errant smoke where it shouldn`t be. Also this stance -- bad form, can`t be real. Also a little pot belly. No, I`m not kidding, that actually really was part of the argument against the veracity of the picture. You can see his tummy, clearly a conspiracy. In a real world, a tummy means you maybe had a jelly donut. But in the world where Obama invents job numbers, tears down the home of Roland Reagan, wears a Muslim ring, I mean, a gay ring and doesn`t really play football, he just looks like he is, him having a little poochy belly means they`re shopping for political gun control. You know how they do. Now it is time for "THE LAST WORD" tonight with 100 percent more Ezra Klein than usual. Hello, Mr. Klein. Nice to see you. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END