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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 03/18/13

Guests: Lawrence Wilkerson, John Brabender

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Michael. Thank you. Thank you for talking about "Hubris" and that overall political context of it. I love to hear you and Gene talk about it. But it`s such an important thing. I really appreciate it, man. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you so much for making that documentary, Rachel. It`s a great one. MADDOW: Oh, thanks. Thank you. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. We start with some jaw-dropping information about American politics that has been reported out by a British news source. It`s the BBC. The BBC has just aired a new documentary based on Oval Office tapes, which proves something about the American presidency and American modern history that even the most conspiratorial among us would not be able to believe were it not all captured on tape, but apparently, it`s all captured on tape. Here`s what happened. OK, it`s about the 1968 presidential election. In that selection, the Democratic electorate was kind of in trouble and that the Democratic electorate was really split. They were not at all unified behind their candidate. On the right, Southern white Democrats who were against civil rights, they were being peeled off to vote for George Wallace, the former Alabama governor and, of course, the symbol of proud segregation. So, the Dixiecrats are getting peeled from the Democrats that year. And also, different problem for the Democrats, people hated the Vietnam War. And the president at the time was a Democrat, Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ. The escalation in Vietnam was on him. So if you were against the war, as most Americans at that point were -- this is the Gallup polling on the war at that time -- the number of people who thought it was a mistake, that number going up and up and up over time. If you were against the war, as increasingly everybody was, you were not psyched to vote for LBJ`s successor in the Democratic Party, right? So the Democrats were losing their appeal in the South because of race and racism, and they were losing the anti-war vote because Vietnam was their war. Well, the Republican candidate tried to take advantage of that split on the Democratic side was this handsome devil, candidate Dick Nixon. Richard Nixon in 1968 was running against a Democratic Party that he knew was split. He was, in response, pledging to get rid of the draft. And he claimed to have a plan to end the war. He argued that if you wanted the war to end, you needed to elect him. You needed to vote the Democrats out of office because, clearly, LBJ and his party, the Democrats and their Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, they had no idea how to end the war. If you wanted the war to end, what you needed was Nixon, what you needed was total change at the White House. The Democrats had to go so Dick Nixon could come in and end Vietnam. But then less than a week before the election, it all went horribly wrong for Richard Nixon, because less than a week before election, five nights before Election Day, on Halloween night 1968, the Democratic president, LBJ, went on TV in a surprise nationally televised address. He made a surprise announcement that peace was at hand. The communist side, the North Vietnamese side was going to make concessions at peace talks? The U.S. anticipating that the other side, the South Vietnamese, were going to agree to a deal based on those concessions. Peace was at hand. The terms were all set. Peace was at hand. In recognition of the fact that peace was about to be declared, the United States would step back right away and stop all military operations in Vietnam. LBJ said that on Thursday night. The election was going to be Tuesday. It turns out the Democrats know how to end this war, this war that the country hated. So, this was bad news for Richard Nixon for that election right? Bad news for Richard Nixon, but good news for the country who wanted the war to be over, good news certainly for the people who were fighting the war. This was good news, right? Almost. Thursday night, LBJ made that announcement, that peace was about to be agreed to, by all sides in Vietnam. That was Thursday night. By Saturday morning, never mind, deal was off. Peace was not at hand because the South Vietnamese side has decided actually it didn`t want the deal. In fact, they didn`t want to talk about it deal. They pulled out of the peace talks. And so, the war was back on. What happened? What happened between Thursday and Saturday? Now, we know. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Hello? OPERATOR: Go ahead, sir. SEN. RICHARD RUSSELL: Good morning, Mr. President. JOHNSON: How are you, my friend? RUSSELL: Just fine. JOHNSON: Well, I`ve got one that`s pretty rough for you. We have found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he`s been doing it through rather subterranean sources here, and he has been saying to the allies that you`re going to get sold out. You better not give away your liberty just a few hours before I can preserve it for you. Mrs. Chennault is contacting their ambassador. This is not guess work. Mr. Chennault, she`s young and attractive. I mean, she`s a pretty good-looking girl. She`s around town, and she is warning them to not get pulled in on this Johnson move. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: President Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1968, Saturday morning, November 1st, explaining to Senator Richard Russell what had gone wrong with this peace deal that everybody thought was going to end the war. I mean, LBJ had been so sure that this was going to end the war, that he went on TV Thursday night and told the country the war was going to end. Peace was at hand. The reason peace did not happen, what he was explaining on the phone, is that the Republican nominee for president that year, Richard Nixon, had intervened in the peace talks to blow them up. He used an intermediary who was involved in the talks to approach the South Vietnamese side and told them don`t do it, approach them and tell them to pull out and not agree to a deal, and told them this deal being worked out by LBJ, this whole deal to end the war, these peace talks in Paris, is not going to be a good deal for them. They should not participate. They should just wait until after the election when he, Richard Nixon, would be president and he`d give them a much better deal. Johnson was going to sell them out. He, Richard Nixon, of the one he should deal with. Nixon`s intermediary was actually caught on tape telling the ambassador, just hang on through the election. Hang on. Hang on. Don`t end the war. We need the war to keep going through the election. It`s outrageous, right? I mean, the war could have ended. It was on the verge of ending, except a candidate for office in our country thought that the war ending would help his opponent in the election. He thought he`d have a better chance of getting elected if the war kept going. And so, while saying he wanted the war to end, he did what he could to keep it going, when it otherwise would have ended. It is astonishing. And President Johnson thought so, too, at the time, we now know. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) JOHNSON: And they oughtn`t to be doing this. This is treason. I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important. SEN. DIRKSEN: Yes. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: President Lyndon Johnson there on the same day as that earlier tape remarking that, as far as he could tell, this is treason. I do not think he is saying that hyperbolically. He says it repeatedly on these tapes. He thinks that has happened there, an American politician purposely prolonging the war and stopping the peace for his own purposes, he thinks that is a hanging offense. He thinks that is treason. This was four days before the election that year. Having thought that the war was going to be over, that the president deal being negotiated now, the president finds out the peace deal fell through because a candidate who wanted there not to be peace before the election intervened to make one sidewalk away. Now, why didn`t LBJ say anything publicly? I mean, this is right before the election. Can you imagine how the country would have reacted to that? This is a war the whole country was against. It was going to be over except candidate Nixon intervened to undo the peace deal and keep the war going? Can you imagine how angry the American public would have been? But LBJ did not say anything publicly at the time because he thought that he couldn`t. The reason he thought he couldn`t is because of the way he found out what Nixon had done. The FBI illegally wire-tapped the phones of the South Vietnamese ambassador, that`s how we knew. We couldn`t let anybody know that we were illegally listening into the ambassador`s phone lines so they couldn`t let anybody know what they had heard illegally, while they were illegally listening on the ambassador`s phone lines. So Nixon got away with it. And the October surprise, the Halloween night surprise that the war was ending right before the election, that October surprises ended up getting undone. The war did keep going and anybody who was anti-war in the country really did have no reason to vote for a Democrat. The racist right wing guy peeled off 13 percent of the Democratic vote on the other side of the Democratic coalition and so, yes, the Republican, Nixon won. It worked. Richard Nixon got elected barely. Squeaked by, but he won in part on the basis that he was the guy who knew how to end the war, not those dumb Democrats. And, of course, Nixon did not know how to end the war. He`d sure know how to keep it going. But he didn`t how to end it. He didn`t have a plan. And instead of the war ending on Halloween in 1968, the war went on for five more years, while he was president, in which time more than 15,000 Americans were killed, as were untold numbers of Vietnamese. So that happened. That actually happened. And now in 2013, what are we supposed to do with that information? LBJ is dead, Nixon is dead. Hubert Humphrey is dead. George Wallace is dead. Fifteen thousand Americans are dead who otherwise would not have been because of what happened, all Vietnamese who died. How does this get made right? It cannot be made right in the most basic sense that the people who died needlessly because this duplicitous political decision cannot be brought back from the dead. You also can`t get revenge. You can`t indict Nixon`s ghost. But you can refuse to let him get away with it again. We can make sure it is a way we tell his history and the history of that war and the history of modern American politics. You have to include it in the history, both so nobody gets away with it in the long run the way he did in the short run, but also so we don`t do it again. So we at least know something like this as possible, so we at least don`t dismiss this kind of possibility as some conspiracy theory of nonsense. So we at least know there is precedent, modern precedent for this particular kind of craven evil. On Friday night`s show, Chris Hayes was here, for which I`m very grateful. I was in L.A., being on the Bill Maher show and I know Chris was here, very ably helming this desk. One of the things that Chris talked about was the appearance at CPAC this year of the last Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney. Chris talked about how Mr. Romney expressed defiance optimism about the future of conservative politics and the Republican Party. But the thing that struck me the most about Mitt Romney`s speech, which was his first major public appearance since losing the presidency, was the part at the end of his speech where he talked about the Iraq war. He described the Iraq war as a war of liberation. We fought the Iraq war to liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny. You know what? Actually, the Iraq war was supposedly to get Saddam Hussein`s weapons of mass destruction and the nuclear weapons he was going to set off. We were going into that war to stop him from giving those nuclear weapons and those biological and chemical weapons that he supposedly had to stop him from giving those weapons to the terrorists that they told us he was working with in al Qaeda. That`s why they told us we had to go to war in Iraq. That`s what they told us about why we had to have that war. None of it was true. Ten years ago this week when we invaded Iraq, we were told that it was all about 9/11, that if we didn`t go invade Iraq, that the next attack on us by the same people who attacked us before would be a nuclear attack, a chemical weapons attack, a biological weapons attack, or a nuclear attack. The smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud. And that was not true. There was no nuclear program. There was no weapons of mass destruction. There was no relationship between the Iraqi government and the people who attacked us on 9/11. And yet, there`s the Republican presidential nominee, the last one to run, saying actually the Iraq war was a war of liberation. At the Republican convention this year, when they picked presidential nominee, the foreign policy speech was given by the person who was national security adviser during the Iraq war, the one who said the smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud, who describe that war in her speech that night at the convention as a hard, hard decision to keep us from being attacked again, the way we were on 9/11. Ten years in, it was very hard to get right with, to come to terms with the fact we went to war based on something that our government told us, that our president told us that was not true. There is nothing that can bring back the 115,000 Iraqi civilians who died in that war, the more than 4,400 American troops who died in that war, the more than 30,000 American troops who were wounded in that war, will not be made whole by anything that we can do now. We cannot bring them back. We cannot heal their injuries retroactively. And George Bush and Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and all the rest of them are still around. You know, I don`t know what justice would like for them at this point. But in terms of how we get right with this as a country, the accountability can`t just be personal about the decision makers. It has to be about telling the story honestly about what happened so that they, like Nixon, don`t get away with it in the long run the way they got away with it in the short run. So that we tell the story correctly and honestly, so that it doesn`t happen again. So, it`s not dismissed as a conspiracy theory, generations hence, by Americans who can`t believe something this evil and duplicitous would happen in our country. It did. And to right by what happened, we need to teach it that way and learn it that way if we want to have any hope of it not happening again. In American politics there were plenty of Democrats who went with the Iraq war 10 years ago, who believed it, who fell for it, who advanced it, and made the lie more convincing by virtue of their Democratic endorsement. On the Democratic side, though, since, that at least has since become a source of shame. It`s a strike against you in Democratic politics. It`s part of the reason we have a president named Barack Obama who was not part of that mess and not a president named Hillary Clinton who frankly was part of that mess. In the Democratic Party, people who were wrong on the Iraq war are seen as having been wrong about the Iraq war. They`ve had to apologize and explain why they were wrong. That vote for the Iraq war has held against them. On the Republican side, though, it`s not like that. On the Republican, Nixon still does have a secret plan to end the war. On the Republican side, Iraq was a war of liberation if you ask them in 2013. On the Republican side, the Iraq war is what kept us safe so we wouldn`t get attacked again the way we did on 9/11 if you ask them in 2011. That smoking gun could have been a mushroom cloud. Thank God we went in. They are still -- they`re arguing that. We have been through two presidential election cycles since then. It is now 10 years after the war and the war is over. And this is still the line at the top tier of the Republican Party, trying to sell us the same lies that got us into that war in the first place. And until the Republican Party gets right on that, the history will never be told honestly because it will always be told as a contested and partisan thing. How does this ever get right? Colin Powell`s chief of staff at the State Department from the lead up to the war joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapon. But we don`t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Condoleezza Rice who was then President Bush`s national security adviser, talking during the lead-up to the Iraq war in September 2002, about something that was not true. Joining us now is retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell ion the lead-up to the war in Iraq. He has since then a rather unafraid truth teller about what went so wrong at that time in our country. Colonel Wilkerson, thank you so much for your time tonight. COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET): Thanks for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: How would you describe the prevailing mindset in your party among Republicans active in the party today about the war in Iraq? A lot of Democrats supported the war. That has become a political liability and Democrats essentially had to repent if they supported the war. How do you think Republicans feel about it now? WILKERSON: Rachel, that depends on to whom you`re speaking. Some like myself, I think Brent Scowcroft, Chuck Hagel, and others, I would describe as moderates, a dying breed in the Republican Party, by the way. As Hagel as said in the past, believed that Iraq was a catastrophe, still believe that and believe that history`s verdict ultimately will be that. Others in the party are trying desperately to defend the decision because they see it as impacting their future possibilities of particularly regaining the White House. And still others just don`t want to listen. They`re sort of like that crew that you were describing in your opening remarks that won`t believe the truth even if it hits them in the face. And, incidentally, I was using the LBJ revelations in my seminar today to demonstrate to my students some of the nefarious and venal things that happen at the highest levels of power in this country. MADDOW: You know, thinking about the Republican possibility of regaining the White House, as you say, people are making that political calculation about how they have to explain their past behavior, I think that in any presidential year, it`s about a 50/50 chance that a Democrat or Republican will take the White House, I mean, give or take the circumstances. But as I think about that, that`s why I am worried about the Republican Party not sort of getting right about what happened there. Because it`s possible we are going to have a Republican president sometime soon again, and I want to know that the Republican Party has been through an acknowledgement about what went wrong there, and some sort of process to make sure it doesn`t happen again. Do you feel like there is at least honesty that it was a mistake, that there`s some effort to make sure it doesn`t happen again? WILKERSON: I wish I could say yes. I wish I could answer in the affirmative. I will tell you that one of the basic reasons I cast a vote for President Obama this time around, even though I`m a Republican, a second time around, although I`d lost some faith in him because he didn`t close Guantanamo and didn`t do some other things I wish he`d done, the main reason I cast that vote that way was because I kept thinking that Mitt Romney would be another George Bush, that despite the fact there`s often the inconsistency, regardless of who`s in the White House in our foreign policy, that of late, there`s develop this kind of schism in that foreign policy and Mitt Romney would indeed lead us down the road to another catastrophic war in western Asia, this one with Iran. I still believe that. So, I`m quite happy that I voted the way I did. MADDOW: Having been there while it was going so wrong, and knowing so many of the players involved, seeing it up close, when you think about our governance, do you think there`s something that we can do now as a country to try to make it right, to fix the harm we did to ourselves as a country by doing that, not just politically, but the real harm caused. Is there any kind of way we can fix the strategic error of that war internally and internationally? WILKERSON: I think it boils down to the American people. I would like to say there`s institutional change we could make statutorily or otherwise. I would like to say that we could elect different people. I would like to say all manner of things that would be easier to do, but I think the bottom line is the American people have got to get angry and they`ve got to start doing things, local things, state things, national things, whatever they can find or think to do. I was in Great Neck, New York, talking to a synagogue group this last weekend, and I`ll tell you that all those people were war-weary and sick and tired of all the people we`ve been spending. They`re Jewish Americans and yet they see what we`re doing in terms of Israel, they see what AIPAC does from time to time in terms of influencing U.S. policy, and they see how it would lead potentially to another war, this time with Iran as I said. And the American people need to get angry. They need to get as angry as these people were. They need to do things. They need to write their senators, write their representatives, call them. Do whatever they can do within their capacity. Some have a greater capacity than others. But it`s ultimately going to take the American people to say, we are sick and tired of the military instrument being that which represents America to the world and war being its manifestation. Until we do that, we`re going to have more of it. MADDOW: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell during a lead up to the war in Iraq, that view that you are seeing out in the world, that you`re talking about is reflected in public opinion polling. That`s people say they think the war in Iraq was a mistake. They don`t want another war anywhere else. But whether it`s manifest in the way that resonates inside the Beltway, I think it`s still an open question. Thank you so much for your time tonight, sir. I really appreciate having you here. WILKERSON: Thank you, Rachel. Appreciate it. MADDOW: Thank you. All right. And a reminder that our look back at how the world and the country was sold on the Iraq war, "Hubris" is going to air this Friday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. All right. Today was a big day for new ideas in American politics. By new, think Betamax. Think Commodore 64. Think pong, boldly into the future. That`s just ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Today was a big day in Republican politics. Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus held court today at the National Press Club to talk about a new RNC report calling for drastic changes if Republicans want to remain a viable competitive political party. Among the many things that need to be changed, according to the new report, is the party`s relationship with people of the lady persuasion. Quote, "The RNC must improve its efforts to include female voters and promote women to leadership ranks within the committee. Additionally, when developing our party`s message, women need to be part of this process to represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have. The Republicans say they want to do training programs for messaging, communications and recruiting that address the best ways to communicate with women. They say they want to book more women on TV on behalf of the party. They want a more aggressive response to Democrat rhetoric regarding a so-called war on women. They want to use women`s history month as an opportunity to remind voters of the Republican`s party historical role in advancing the women`s rights movement -- emphasis on historical role. On discussing the 100-page report as whether it might help Republicans today to appeal to women more, if they stop aggressively promoting and enacting policies to roll back women`s rights by decades at a time in this century. That is one unexamined problem area with the ladies that the Republican Party is apparently not trying to change. In Congress, this current session, this new one this year, it opened up in the House with two dueling Republican bills to defund Planned Parenthood. In the Senate, Republican savior Marco Rubio started off the year by sponsoring a brand new federal abortion restriction. Senator Rubio then found himself one upped by his rival for the Republican savior label, Rand Paul, who introduced a personhood bill which would ban abortion altogether at the federal level. The bill would also likely ban hormonal birth control as well as in vitro fertilization. Whatever you think of the viability of all the Republican federal anti-abortion and anti-contraception and anti-Planned Parenthood legislation, it has to be said that the place where this brand of aggressive Republican activism turns into law and not just into politics is all over the country in the states -- the states where Republicans are in power, in the states where Republicans are in power, they are doing stuff right now that they have never done before, as long as abortion has been legal in this country and constitutionally protected for the past 40 years. They have never been more radical than they are right now. We have reported before on this show about the radical turn taken this year in Arkansas` newly Republican controlled legislature where lawmakers just passed a ban on abortion that starts at 12 weeks, the governor of Arkansas vetoed the ban, citing the fact that it was unconstitutional and the fact that the inevitable lawsuit will cost the state`s taxpayers dearly. But the Arkansas legislature went ahead and overrode the veto because the Republicans in Arkansas simply do not care that new law is illegal under the constitution, or that they are definitely 100 percent going to get sued over it, and they very clearly will lose that lawsuit and they will therefore waste a bunch of money in the process. Much as they would like to, Republicans cannot just ban abortion, thanks to Roe versus Wade, which is why the Arkansas decision is kind of strange. But now we know that the Arkansas decision is not an outlier. Arkansas does not stand alone because now Republicans in North Dakota have passed an even more extreme and obviously unconstitutional ban on abortion. Theirs doesn`t start at 12 weeks. Theirs starts at six weeks, which is before many women even know they`re pregnant in the first place. North Dakota`s Republican governor has three days to either sign or veto the bill. He has not said what he will do, but the bill passed with enough votes in the House and the Senate that even if he does veto it, the legislature can`t just override them like they did in Arkansas. And while he decides what to do about the most radical, new, blatantly unconstitutional, obviously illegal abortion ban in the country, Republicans in his legislature are poised to send him a couple more even more radical bills to consider after this one. There`s two Rand Paul style personhood bills that would ban all abortion and birth control pills and in vitro fertilization. Those bills have already passed the Senate. They are set to skate through the House and they`ll be on their way to him thereafter. It is getting harder and harder for any one unprecedented totally unconstitutional abortion ban to hold the title of most extreme abortion restriction in the country. Republicans are essentially in a race now. In the Beltway they are preaching about how to appear more reasonable to the women folk among us, while where they are governing, it is now a competition, it`s a race to see who can get the most extreme the fastest. And these are not just proposals for political benefit. This is not just a wish list on the fringe anti-abortion movement. These are actual bills that are being passed through entire legislatures and enacted into law in Republican-controlled states. This is what Republican governance looks like right now. It is more radical on abortion and contraception that anything else in 40 years. Happy Women`s History Month from the Republican national Committee. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: What would you do if one of the most high profile members of your political party, one of your party`s rising stars said this over the weekend? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: If standing for liberty and standing for the Constitution makes you a wacko bird then count me proud wacko bird. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: What would you do if one of your rising stars said that on tape this weekend, proud wacko bird? And on the very same day, another high-profile member of your party at the same event said this? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: More background checks? Dandy idea, Mr. President. Should have started with yours. (CHEERS) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: What would you do if the most guaranteed to get headlines member of your party decided to stick with the birther thing and your rising star on the same day called himself a proud wacko bird, and in the same 24-hour period, the man in your party who has more name recognition than any conceivable candidate for national office said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti- worker, and the list goes on and on and on. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If that from Jeb Bush and the background birther thing and the proud wacko bird thing all happened all at once in the same 24-hour period, thus setting up your party for about a week straight of a miserable news cycle, what would you do? What would you do almost before sunrise on the following Monday morning to prevent those clips from getting any more air-time than they absolutely had to get? What would you do to step on that news? What happened early this morning to knock those clips right out of the headlines, that is straight ahead. Don`t move. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The Conservative Political Action Conference is really good at generating attention. If you`re a conservative, it`s a place you go to get headlines, to make waves. The sheer waves were made by Republican Senator Rand Paul, fresh off his old timey talking filibuster. He said at CPAC that the Republican has moss growing it. A man named Donald Trump talked about his new golf course at CPAC. That made waves of some kind. Newt Gingrich tried to make waves by bringing props to his appearance. It was a shouting match at one panel titled: are you sick and tired of being called a racist when you know you are not one? It did not help when the white nationalist contingent showed up. Former Alaska governor and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin used her turn at the podium at CPAC to try to start a fight with Karl Rove. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PALIN: The last thing we need is Washington vetting our candidates. (APPLAUSE) If these experts, who keep losing elections yet keep getting rehired, reeking in millions, if they feel that strongly about who gets to run in this party, then they should buck up or stay in the truck. Buck up and run. The architects can head on back to -- (APPLAUSE) They can head on back to the great Lone Star State and put their name on some ballot, though for their sake I hope they give themselves a discount on their consulting services. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: One heartbeat away from the presidency, thanks to John McCain. So, yes, CPAC is not a place where ideas or ideas or programs or policies get launched. It is a headline generator. It`s cable news chum. It`s three days of conservative fantasy where elections do not have consequences and Breitbart.com is where you get some of your news from. Because there`s always so much guaranteed red meat at CPAC, there`s so much off the wall kookiness. People pay attention to CPAC. CPAC is fun, right? It`s fun to cover. CPAC started Thursday. It ended Saturday. It got a ton of press and frankly, people might still be taking about Sarah Palin and her starting a fight with Karl Rove and her taking a sip out of a giant tub of soda pop, or maybe Mitt Romney`s farewell speech to politics where he called Iraq a war of liberation. People might still be talking about all this stuff if it were not for this. The day after CPAC ended, the morning after CPAC ended, the Republican National Committee stamped any glowing embers of CPAC news by releasing to the public its party-wide postmortem on why they lost the 2012 election. The Republican Party booked the National Press Club today first thing Monday morning for the big event. And that, of course, gave everybody a new story to talk about in Republican politics instead of the CPAC craziness. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: The report notes that the way we communicate our principles isn`t resonating widely enough. Focus groups described our party as narrow-minded, out of touch, and, quote, "stuffy old men". That`s frustrating, because we care about every voter. We want to lift people up from poverty, to put the American dream in reach for everybody. We`ll champion school choice and solutions to lowering the costs of healthcare. The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic, community, or region of this country. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The main thrust of the Republican Party`s autopsy of what went wrong. Their plan for how to get back from the electoral wilderness is as Ben Smith of BuzzFeed pointed out, I think correctly, it`s kind of a redo of compassionate conservativism. The Republican Party took a month`s long look in the mirror and they came up with the solution that they should try to be now what President George W. Bush wanted to be remembered for, which ended up not being at all what he is remembered for. Compassionate conservativism was supposed to be the signature of the George W. Bush party -- a kinder, gentler Republican Party, a kinder, gentler approach to immigration, more funding for Medicare and education. George W. Bush used to talk about his armies of compassion. But armies of compassion are not what George W. Bush is remembered for. Now more than a decade later, the Republican Party seems to have revived the strategy that got him elected in the first place, this idea of compassionate conservativism, a kinder, gentler, less mean-seeming Republican Party. The question is why would it work now when it did not end up working for George W. Bush except to get him elected once? And how can you earn an image change like that without changing any of your policies that earned you the image you now want to change? Joining us now for the interview is John Brabender. He`s a former chief adviser to Rick Santorum`s presidential campaign. Mr. Brabender, it`s great to have you here. Thank you so much for being here. JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I`m glad to be here, and every I`m here, I become increasingly convinced you are not going to switch and become a Republican. MADDOW: You know, I will keep trying to persuade you of that. Let me ask you if you think my analysis is biased by the fact that I am not a Republican. I look at sort of the Republican Party prognosis for what went wrong, the diagnosis that autopsy that they unveiled today, and I see that as trying to rebrand as compassionate conservativism again? Do you see that? BRABENDER: Well, I actually think it`s more complicated than that. First of all, I do think that Chairman Priebus had very good intentions, tried hard, did all the processes and actually put out a pretty good report. I don`t necessarily agree with everything in there but I think there was a lot of good things in there. One of the things I thought that was important but not getting as much press is the whole point about the American dream not being reached anymore by lower income and middle income Americans and how we have to get back to doing something about that. So, they understand we`re fighting for them. I think that the perception is that the Republican Party today fights for the wealthy with tax breaks for the wealthy, for corporations, loopholes, and doesn`t really understand the average hard-working American anymore and that`s really what we`ve got to get back to. MADDOW: I was struck by that piece of it because it seems it`s not a sort of a hypothetical or divorced from the facts assessment. I mean, during the primary campaign where your candidate Rick Santorum did very well against Mitt Romney, at one point in the campaign where Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum got the most traction against Mitt Romney, was really him talking about some of those economic, populist angles on the way that Mitt Romney had behaved in corporate America and the unfairness for workers, when CEOs were doing very well and sort of vulture capitalism and that whole critique. It wasn`t endorsed uniformly by all of Mr. Romney`s critics, his competitors in the primary but it did seem to work. And then there was just a vociferous backlash among the Republican establishment that you shouldn`t talk that way about success. How do you think that plays out in the long run? BRABENDER: Well, I think there was some truth to that, that it looked like we were attacking capitalism, and I don`t think that was the intent. But I do think this -- all over this country tonight, there will be people waking up at 3:00 in the morning, tossing and turning and not be able to get back to sleep, and it`s not because they`re worried about tax breaks for the rich. It`s not worried about financial bankers on Wall Street getting too small of bonuses, it`s about how they`re going to get their kids in college, it`s about their take home pay that`s becoming smaller, it`s about becoming more difficult to raise children frankly in this culture. And, you know, Ronald Reagan was good making what was known as Reagan Democrats feel very good that he was fighting for them and I think our party has gotten away from that. MADDOW: Your candidate in the primaries, don`t mean to con flat you and Mr. Santorum, I know that you have different views and you come from a different place, but he was really the champion of cultural politics at high level Republican politics, really hitting still on issues about gay rights, on issues about sexual morality, on issues like abortion. I see the party as not moving away from those issues, even as some of the intellectual discussion in the party says that stuff needs to be left behind. Do you think that`s the party`s future? Or do you think it`s only the past? BRABENDER: Well, I would say there`s two things. One is the mistake or trap we fall in is we allow ourselves to be singularly defined by those issues. I would argue things like abortion is a very important issue. However, we can`t let our party only be about abortion. And sometimes we fall in the trap of letting that happen. The second thing is a lot of people are looking at demographics and election results and say we have to become a different party. I would argue that if a consultant came to you and said they could get your ratings up, but only if you change your positions on things like abortion or gun control or marriage, chances are you would say no, you`re not doing that, that`s your core convictions. I think the Republican Party has to be the same way. MADDOW: Let me just -- on the abortion issue, though, this is something I cover a lot on this issue, and I feel like I just don`t understand it. It is not just difference of opinion, I just don`t get it. That a lot of Republicans say we don`t want to be defined as or seen only as being interested in anti-abortion politics, but then you look at what`s going on where Republicans are governing and they really are in an unprecedented anti-abortion activist wave rolling back abortion rights in the states more so than any time other than 40 years. It can`t be that you do that and don`t want to be known for it, right? I mean, either you keep it as your policy focus and you are known for it or you stop doing that in policy and then people start thinking about other things that you do, right? BRABENDER: Well, basically one of the things I would look at is what the report talked about is the success of Republican governors and in many cases, Democratic states, why? They`re still pro-life, they`re still pro- marriage, you know, they`re pro-gun, but they`re not defined that way. They`re defined on a lot of times budget issues and so forth. The other thing, too, is as a party we often talk about being pro- life. And I would argue too many times only pro-birth and we kind of forget about the person as they get older. Are we fighting as hard for the life that`s not going to bed at night, and not getting the food they need, and are under poverty and fighting for them? And I would say, again, we need to do a better job at that. MADDOW: I think you guys are always going to be famous for policy, no matter what you want to be famous for, what you do is what ends up making the news. I think it is a fascinating discussion. Seeing the Republican fight amongst yourselves about this stuff. I think it`s -- so far, I think it`s a constructive discussion. We will see if it extends to policy. But so far, the talk at least is great. John Brabender, former adviser to Rick Santorum`s presidential campaign -- John, thank you so much for being here. BRABENDER: Glad to be here. Take care. MADDOW: We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. Today is Monday, which means tomorrow is Tuesday, but tomorrow is not just any kind of Tuesday. Tomorrow is this kind of Tuesday. (MUSIC) MADDOW: Yes, if it`s Tuesday and you hear that music, it must be an election day somewhere. It is rare to get to hear this wonderful music in an odd numbered year. But we already did once last month with the primary in Illinois for Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.`s vacated house seat. And now, here we go again. Here is what you need to know. It`s tomorrow, the election in South Carolina`s first congressional district. And here is why it is happening. Back in 2010, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina won re-election to his Senate seat. He`s rather handily beat the guy on the right side of your screen, one of the stranger candidates of 2010 cycle, a man named Alvin Green. Beating Alvin Green, Senator DeMint earned another six-year shot at playing conservative king maker in the Senate. But then, just two years into that new term, Jim DeMint quit. He suddenly gave up, he gave up his Senate seat, resigned to become president of the Heritage Foundation instead, which used to be a think tank but now just employs guys like Jim DeMint. In any case, that vacant seat gave South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley a free shot at filling that vacant Senate seat with whoever she wanted. The guy she picked was this man on the left side of your screen here, Congressman Tim Scott. He had only first been elected to the House in 2010. He only had one term under his belt when he got the nod to move up to the Senate. But thanks to that appointment, he became the first African-American senator that South Carolina has ever had. And now, it is his seat in the House that is vacant. And tomorrow, both Democrats and Republicans are going to hold their primary elections to try to fill that seat. On the Democratic side, the nominee is expected to be Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Her brother uses a much fancier pronunciation of their last name, you know him as Stephen Colbert. On the Republican side, the front runner is the guy who almost as famous as Stephen Colbert and more famous than Stephen Colbert`s sister but not for a good reason. It`s former Governor Mark Sanford. He does have a big national profile, but it is because of his fake hiking trip on the Appalachian trial, which has now become a famous national euphemism for what he was actually doing at that time which shtooping his Argentinian mistress. Mark Sanford apologized. He finished out his term as governor and then he withdrew from public life for two years. Now, he is back, trying to win back the public`s trust and respect by trying to win back the congressional seat that he once held for three terms. Mr. Hiking the Appalachian Trail though is only one of 16 Republicans trying for that seat tomorrow. The others include the son of media mogul Ted Turner. Conveniently, his name is Teddy, which makes Ted Turner really hard to forget. Internal polling reportedly says that Mark Sanford is the frontrunner in this primary, but unless he gets more than 50 percent of the vote in a field of 16 candidates, then it will be a runoff. He and who comes in second will have a runoff election next month. In any case, the polls open tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. in South Carolina. This will be the first federal election in South Carolina since the state passed a law requiring photo ID. Justice Department personnel will be monitoring polling tomorrow to ensure they`re in compliance with the Voting Rights Act and, of course, we will be watching, too, the results tomorrow night. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." Thanks for being with us. END