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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/14/2015

Guests: Patrick Murray

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 14, 2015 Guest: Patrick Murray RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: It was "to whom my concern"? CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: "To whom my concern". MADDOW: To whom, wow. HAYES: Dr. Bornstein, who as of a few minutes ago was being distanced from Lennox Hill Hospital, I guess, where he works saying those opinions were solely Dr. Bornstein`s. MADDOW: Yes, this is a big day for medicine, it has to be said. It`s going to change. Thank you very much, my friend. And thanks to you at home for joining with us this hour. I need you to bear with me here on this on this opening story we`re going to do because you will not have heard this anywhere else but bear with me here and just hear me out. I think this is important. I think there is something weird going on with regard to the Republican presidential debate that is scheduled for tomorrow night in Las Vegas. CNN hosting that debate, CNN announced their criteria weeks ago for how candidates could qualify to get into that debate. And then yesterday morning at 9:00 a.m., they were all set to make the big announcement on air, on CNN, who made it into their debate, who`s going to be on the main stage, who`s going to be at the kids` table, and who is not invited at all. Here comes the announcement. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And with just two days until the next debate, we will reveal who made it to CNN`s main stage and who`s been bumped off. Plus, the top political minds join us live from the Las Vegas Strip. (MUSIC) TAPPER: Hello. I`m Jake Tapper live in Las Vegas -- (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I love me some Jake Tapper. He`s a great guy. That was kind of a weird thing on CNN, though, yesterday morning. It`s the start of his show, 9:00. CNN said we`re going to announce who has made our debate. They did not make any such announcement on Jake Tapper`s show. Even though they said they were going to. We`ll have that announcement coming up. They didn`t make the announcement. It was nearly four hours later, during the re-air of Mr. Tapper`s broadcast, they did finally belatedly get around to making that announcement, hours after they said they would. And when they did finally make the big announcement, they did not explain what the delay had been about. And when they did finally make the announcement, there was something weird about what they announced. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Republican debate right here on the strip right now. Your first look at the stage. And there are nine podiums up there. During the primetime debate, Donald Trump remains front and center, flanked by his newest closest rival Ted Cruz and also Ben Carson. Also on the main stage, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and Rand Paul. And in Tuesday`s first-round debate, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki will face off. The candidates are beginning to arrive here in Las Vegas, many planning on last-minute rallies here to mobilize their supporters before this, the final GOP debate of 2015. It`s going to be an exciting night. It all starts here on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. Up next, Frank Sinatra. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Wait, up next? That was it. That was the whole discussion. That was the whole explanation. It was like OK, here`s who`s in the debate, let`s not talk about this. Let`s don`t talk about this. How about that? Because in fact, what CNN just announced hours after they said they would announce it with no explanation for the delay, when they finally did announce it, what they gave as the roster of candidates in that debate is actually huge news. And it`s huge news about CNN, because CNN has apparently decided to try to affect the Republican presidential primary process. They`ve decided to put their thumb on the scale. And here`s what I mean. CNN announced weeks ago the criteria for making this debate, what you had to do to be eligible to get on the stage. Basically, in this debate, there are three ways candidates can make it onto the main stage. You can get a 3 1/2 percent polling average in national polls, or you can get a 4 percent polling average in Iowa, or a 4 percent polling average in New Hampshire -- 3 1/2 nationally, 4 in either of the first two states. And CNN is very up front about this, right? They`re not all woolly about their debate criteria like FOX has been honestly. CNN is very specific and transparent. They said they would look at polls that came out between October 29th and December 13th. They even gave a specific time of day by which a poll needed to be out on December 13th in order to be a qualifying poll. They gave an exact specific list of which news organizations and universities` polls they would use. They even spelled out how they would do the math in order to come up with the average. They spelled it out. Quick, look. Poll averages will not be rounded up or down to the closest poll number. No rounding. So, you just get the average that you get. So, that`s really specific, and because they were so specific, hallelujah, with criteria that transparent, everybody`s been able to follow along. We`ve all been able to keep track with each new poll as to how candidates are doing in trying to get into the next Republican debate. We`re all looking at the same numbers, right? These are the numbers that CNN is looking at. It`s all available polling. There`s nothing proprietary about their process. This is the data. We`ve all got access to the same data, and the criteria are really generous. You don`t have to qualify in Iowa and New Hampshire and nationally. You just have to qualify in one of those. So, nationwide, for example, look -- there are only five candidates who make the criteria of having a polling average over 3 1/2 percent nationwide. But there`s a handful of candidates who are doing terribly in the national polls, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, and Chris Christie. But they`re still going to make the main debate stage comfortably because it turns out even though they`ve got numbers like this nationally, they`re doing great in New Hampshire. You need a 4 percent polling average in New Hampshire or in Iowa in order to make it onto the debate stage, even if you are doing terribly nationwide. And so, good New Hampshire numbers like these put John Kasich and Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina all very comfortably on the main stage even though their national numbers stink. And now, we get to the part that`s really weird. Now we get to the part that I sort of can`t believe isn`t a big national news story, because these are the polling numbers for a candidate named Senator Rand Paul, nationwide. Again, he would need to hit a polling average of 3 1/2 percent in order to make the main stage. He does not get it. He`s at 2.73 percent. Unlike those other candidates I just mentioned, Rand Paul also has bad numbers in New Hampshire. He would need 4 percent in New Hampshire to qualify for the main stage. He`s not at 4 percent in New Hampshire. He`s at 3 percent. How about Iowa? Again, he needs just 4 percent at his polling average in Iowa in order to make the main stage. Rand Paul does not make a 4 percent polling average in Iowa. He`s at 3.67 percent. And you might say, oh, well, that rounds up to 4 percent. But explicitly, CNN says they are not rounding. Poll numbers -- what`s the phrase? -- will not be rounded up or down to the closest whole number. And so, manifestly, overtly, explicitly, with absolutely no gray area whatsoever, Rand Paul doesn`t make it, Rand Paul does not make it onto the main stage for the Republican debate tomorrow. Really. He does not make it by CNN`s own very clear stated in advance transparent public rule. But there`s CNN announcing with no fanfare whatsoever that Rand Paul has made the debate. And up next, Frank Sinatra. And then throughout the day yesterday and today, they keep talking about Rand Paul making their own debate as if somehow his polling numbers justified it, which they don`t. I mean, CNN is not like a cockamamie off the rails news organization. But what they`re doing here, this is so weird. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Rand Paul will indeed be on the debate stage tomorrow night. At the very last minute, Paul qualified for the main stage after a FOX News poll showed his supports up to 5 percent in Iowa. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That`s not true. There was a FOX News poll that showed him at 5 percent in Iowa, but that wasn`t enough to qualify him for the CNN debate under CNN`s own rules. He doesn`t get a polling average of 4 percent or more in Iowa. Even with the late-breaking Iowa FOX News poll. But CNN has just -- I don`t mean to be weird. But they have been -- I hesitate to say lying, but they`ve been lying about this on their own air for a couple of days now and I really don`t understand why. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: Doug Stafford joins me now. He`s the senior strategist for Rand Paul`s campaign. Welcome, sir. DOUG STAFFORD, RAND PAUL CAMPAIGN: Good morning, Carol. How are you? COSTELLO: I`m good. First of all, what`s it like -- you`re waiting for these polls to see if you qualified for the main stage. This FOX News poll comes out Sunday at the last minute. What`s that like for you and the candidate? STAFFORD: Well, we`re just very pleased that senator Paul is going to be on the main stage where we feel he belongs. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: It`s so weird because here`s Rand Paul`s campaign guy talking to a CNN anchor about how Rand Paul qualified for the CNN debate with this new poll. And the Rand Paul campaign guy knows that Rand Paul did not qualify for the CNN debate. But he`s just going to kind of go with it. We believe he ought to be on that stage. Yes, ma`am. But this is how CNN has been mishandling this issue on the air. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Nine candidates will compete in the primetime debate with Chris Christie and Rand Paul being awarded spots in the main stage based on late polling numbers. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: No candidate has more different ideas when it comes to national security than Rand Paul, who there was some thought that he might not make the main stage. He did make the main stage. He will be there Tuesday night. That`s a big deal from him. COSTELLO: What would have happened had he not made it, had that FOX News poll not come out? (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: No. Even with that FOX News poll coming out he didn`t make it. And it is a big deal for him that he`s not getting relegated to the undercard debate, that he`s being allowed onto the main stage. But it has nothing to do with his own polling performance. His polling performance by CNN`s own rules means he shouldn`t be there. He literally did not make the cut. CNN nevertheless is pretending on air that he did make the cut. And they`re breaking their own rules apparently in order to let him into this debate. And it turns out they will admit that if you press them on the matter no matter what their anchors are saying on the air. CNN`s full statement explaining why they are letting Rand Paul break their rules and be in the debate that he has not qualified for is this, quote, "In the light of new polling released this morning and in the spirit of being as inclusive as possible, CNN has decided to include Senator Rand Paul in the prime time debate." Again, the new polling released yesterday morning does not qualify Rand Paul for the debate. But CNN has decided to let him in because, eh, they felt a spirit of inclusiveness. The spirit of inclusiveness apparently did not extend its fairy wand over George Pataki or Rick Santorum or Lindsey Graham or Mike Huckabee. They don`t get vaulted to the main table even though they haven`t qualified for it. The spirit of inclusiveness at CNN only cheats for Rand Paul. But why? Why? Why are they doing this? Why are they breaking the rules to let Rand Paul do something he hasn`t qualified for? You have to remember that the last time CNN had a Republican debate you might remember they also bent their rules in order to let Carly Fiorina onto the main stage. In that case, though, CNN at least had the good sense to announce that they were changing their rules well in advance of actually declaring who was in the debate, and they didn`t just change the rules specifically because the spirit of something told them to for Carly Fiorina. They at least changed the overall criteria for how to get into that debate in a way that had the effect, yes, of letting her in but theoretically, it could have applied to other candidates as well. In this case it`s just -- we think Rand Paul gets to cheat this time, which must be awesome for Rand Paul. But it is truly inexplicable for CNN. And yes, it feels weird enough that the most likely outcome of the Republican primary process this year is that the Republican Party is going to pick Donald Trump to be their presidential nominee. But don`t let that bizarre outcome, the likelihood of that bizarre outcome at this point overshadow how freaking bizarre their process has been and continues to be this whole year. You might remember the day after the last CNN debate, the RNC said they weren`t going to have any more kids` tables at any more debates, no more undercard debates they announced in September. Well, at all of the debates since then, they`ve had kids` tables. They`ve had undercards. Who`s in control of this process? And then tomorrow night, the kids` table really should include Rand Paul for the first time ever, but CNN inexplicably decided to give a boost to his campaign and let him break the rules and be on the main stage. So, he`ll be on the main stage. Of the people left at the kids` table, two of them are I think it`s fair to say sort of on the watch list as candidates most likely to drop out of the race next. George Pataki is one of those candidates. We`ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop in George Pataki`s candidacy ever since we learned two weeks ago that he did not qualify to even be on the ballot in the Florida Republican primary this year. We actually sent the George Pataki campaign an inquiry asking for their reaction to not getting on the ballot in Florida. And their answer was really funny. Governor Pataki`s spokesman just wrote us back this one line, "Last I checked, Florida is winner take all." We asked for clarification for what he meant by that. Why does that make it OK that you`re not on the ballot? But he wouldn`t write anymore after he wrote us that. Therefore, I think it means because they thought George Pataki had no chance of winning in Florida, they`re not going to bother even trying to get his name on the ballot in that state. And frankly, that`s the kind of logic that could be applied to a lot of states if you`re George Pataki, but so far, he has not dropped out of the race. Another kids` table dropout watch lister is Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, which is part of why people think winning the Iowa caucus isn`t that important anymore. Mike Huckabee won Iowa in 2008. He cannot get arrested in Iowa this year. He has terrible numbers in Iowa and terrible numbers everywhere. Now, today, Mike Huckabee lost one of his top staffers and it was a surprise. His press secretary and top spokesperson quit today with really no warning and no explanation. She worked for him in 2008 when he won Iowa. She also worked for Rick Santorum in 2012 when he won Iowa. She has been working with Governor Huckabee again this year, until today. And now, she`s gone with no explanation. This was the full statement put out by the Mike Huckabee campaign to announce she was gone. Quote, "Alice Stewart is no longer with the Huckabee for president campaign", period. So no thanks, no praise, no spending more time with her family. Nothing. Mike Huckabee is below 3 percent nationwide. He`s below 2 percent in Iowa. He`s below 1 percent in New Hampshire. And now, some of his top staff is quitting without explanation. So when it comes to Mike Huckabee, tick-tock. Up at the top of the ticket, this was a weekend of good news for Ted Cruz, particularly in Iowa. But the biggest of the big stories continues to be Mr. Trump. Correlation is not causation, and it may all be one big coincidence. But since Mr. Trump proposed to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, the news has been getting better and better and better for him. Since his Muslim ban proposal, there have been three major national polls released, the Monmouth poll, the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, and the CBS/"New York Times" poll, all three of those polls released since Mr. Trump proposed banning Muslims from the country, all three of those polls show Mr. Trump`s support going up. There have also been three major polls in Iowa in that time. "The Des Moines Register" poll, the FOX News poll and the Quinnipiac poll. Even though Ted Cruz shows strength in those polls, the fact remains that two of the three of those show Donald Trump`s support going up since he proposed banning Muslims from the country. The third one is the first of its kind this year, that FOX News Iowa poll. There`s no way to know if Mr. Trump`s support was going up or down in that one. There`s also been one major poll conducted in New Hampshire since Mr. Trump proposed his Muslim ban, and that poll as well found Mr. Trump`s numbers going up. Found his support growing. But the biggest news, because it`s the biggest number, a number that made people`s jaws drop all over the country today, was this result in the current national poll just released this afternoon by Monmouth -- look at that -- Mr. Trump has 41 percent. He has a 27-point lead over his nearest rival. This is an astonishing lead. This basically shows Donald Trump neck and neck with a mythical candidate who`s made up of all the other candidates combined. Whatever you think about the rise of Donald Trump, this particular poll today showing him at 41 percent support, this particular poll today is kind of freaking people out. Joining us now is the man who did this particular poll today that`s freak everybody out, Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Mr. Murray, it`s great to have you here. PATRICK MURRAY, MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY POLLING INSTITUTE: It`s good to be here, Rachel. MADDOW: A 27-point lead and 41 percent support overall seems like an outlier. It seems ginormous even for a candidate who seems to have a clear lead. MURRAY: Right. And there have been a number of polls that have shown him in the 30s. This was the first that had significantly put him over 40 percent. And that follows our Iowa poll last week where we actually had him trailing Ted Cruz. So, this is a tale of two different types of polling right now. You look at those three polls that you show and they each ask a different question. We ask, who would you support for the presidential Republican nomination of anybody who identifies as a Republican or Republican-leaning voter. Other polls, the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll asks, are you going to vote in the primary in your state and if so who are you going to vote for? There`s another poll that asks who would you like to see win the Republican nomination, right? So, they`re all very different. They ask them in different places in the questionnaire either before or after issues, which could help Donald Trump in terms of the voters who are thinking in terms of these poll respondents. But the number here is that he was at 28 percent and our poll in October. And now, he`s gone up to 41 percent, using the exact same methodology. MADDOW: So, the apples to apples comparison shows him going from 28 to 41 from October to now? MURRAY: Right. And every single poll that`s been coming out over the past few weeks has shown him going up. And if you look at his overall trend line going back five weeks when he started to drop a little bit and that stopped five weeks ago. And he`s been consistently going up, every time he says something bizarre, outside the mainstream, something that makes Republican leaders cringe and squirm, his supporters say that`s why we like Donald Trump, because he`s going right after the political establishment. He`s saying the kinds of things we want to say because we want to send politicians a message that politics as usual just doesn`t cut it anymore and we want somebody out there that`s going to do it. The real question here is that there`s no such thing as the national primary. So, all his national primary polling just gives a general sense of the mood of the country, the mood of Republican voters. But it does not tell us what`s going to happen in Iowa and New Hampshire. MADDOW: And that`s the way we vote. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada. When people are looking at the earlier polling in this race, one thing a lot of people said while looking at the data was, it appears that there is a ceiling for Donald Trump. Wow. Surprisingly robust numbers for Donald Trump. Who would have thunk it for this non-politician, this amateur in the race? But he`s got a ceiling, don`t get too excited. What were people looking at when they were saying that, and are we sure they were wrong? It feels like they`re wrong. MURRAY: I think there is a ceiling. It`s just the ceiling is a little higher than we probably thought it was going to be. When we talked to Trump -- when we talk to Republican voters who don`t support Trump, the vast majority of them say Trump is not presidential timber. So, they`re not going to vote for him. So, there is this kind of ceiling. And I think the ceiling is even higher in a place like Iowa or New Hampshire where we`re talking about real voters. What Trump is bringing in is people who don`t participate in the partisan process. MADDOW: Oh. So, it`s not that he`s persuading people who used to say I`d never vote for him in any circumstance. Those people still exist. But more people are coming into the process. And I want to vote because I want to vote for Trump. MURRAY: And the question is if you`ve never gone out and spent two hours at a caucus on a cold February night in Iowa, is this the first time that you`re going to do it? Is Donald Trump really sparking you? Without having that kind of organizational support, because remember Iowa`s all about one precinct leader bringing 20 people with him to the polls and getting him to support one particular candidate. Donald Trump needs all these different voters to come out of their own accord just out of the blue, never having shown up at this kind of event before and say I`m going to spend two hours because I really believe in Donald Trump. It`s a lot different than what happened eight years ago with Barack Obama, when he brought out voters, an incredible number of voters in Iowa through organization and through a very hopeful message, that we`re going to change politics for the better. This is like we`re just going to destroy Washington. And I`m not sure people come out to vote for that. But Donald Trump has basically blown up every rule that we have in politics so far. So, he might blow up this one. MADDOW: Right, the new rule, no extrapolating from the past into this year because it doesn`t work anymore. Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, which turned out this astonishing 41 percent number for Donald Trump today -- thank you very much. MURRAY: My pleasure. MADDOW: Thanks. Much more to come on this very busy news night. We`ll be right back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Attention, bargain shoppers. If you light defunct campaign swag, like this Romney-Ryan button that I keep on my desk. I do. If you like swag from losers and/or quitters and you also like a bargain, I am happy to let you know that for the low, low price of $30 you can be the proud owner of a Scott Walker for president 2016 lapel pin. Scott Walker quit the presidential race this year after only running for about 70 days. But he apparently incurred enough debt in that time, maybe by buying lots of extra lapel pins, he incurred enough debt that candidate Ted Cruz is trying to help Scott Walker retire that debt now. Ted Cruz today forwarded Scott Walker`s campaign donation solicitations to help him retire his debt, including the lapel pin offer for anybody who donates 30 bucks. That said, if you`re looking for a real politics bargain, candidate Jeb Bush offered a truly priceless prize today for the low, low cost of $25. If you send Jeb Bush $25 today, he is now promising that he will leave you alone. He will stop e-mailing you for the whole rest of the year. I do not endorse candidates, and I do not fund-raise for them, but paying Jeb Bush to leave you alone? Kind of seems like a bargain at any price, doesn`t it? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Mystery. Tonight, as the Republican presidential field descends on Las Vegas for tomorrow`s Republican debate, there is a genuine honest to goodness mystery unfolding in that city, and it`s a fascinating one. It has to do with the state`s largest newspaper, which is called the "Las Vegas Review-Journal." That paper was just purchased for a ton of money, which ordinarily would be good news for the somewhat beleaguered newspaper business. Except in this case, in the case of "The Las Vegas Review-Journal", nobody knows who bought it. The purchase was by a brand new company just formed in Delaware. People who work at the paper went to an employee meeting to find out who just bought them. The only thing a representative of the company would tell them is that the buyers are, quote, "undisclosed financial backers with expertise in the media industry." But they wouldn`t say who it is. These mystery buyers paid $140 million for the paper, which is way more than anybody thought it was worth. That itself is weird. Reporters from the paper asked the one representative of this new company who they`ve met, they asked the manager of this company, if he could tell them who owns them now. According to the reporters at the paper, this is how he replied, quote, "They want you to focus on your jobs. Don`t worry about who they are." The paper`s publisher removed that quote from the article, along with a quote from the editor who was critical of the secrecy around this purchase, really? Don`t worry. Nothing to see here. Yes, definitely nothing weird about anonymous deep-pocketed people buying the largest newspaper in the state a year before a presidential election and less than eight weeks before the Nevada caucuses. Nothing to see here. Today, reporters from the paper staged an online protest. They all simultaneously tweeted the link to the Ethics Code of the Society of Professional Journalists, which reads, "Be accountable and transparent. Journalists should abide by the same high standards they expect of others." But as of tonight, this really is still a mystery. Nobody knows who owns that paper on the eve of tomorrow`s all-important debate in the biggest city in that state. We`re going live to Las Vegas, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Behold, Donald Trump`s record of health. This is a letter Donald Trump released today from his doctor as all presidential candidates are supposed to do at one point or another. This letter naturally attests to Mr. Trump`s good health. But this being Donald Trump, all similarities to any other presidential candidate end there. The letter weirdly is dated ten days ago and it begins like this, "To whom my concern. I have been the personal physician of Mr. Donald J. Trump since 1980. His previous physician was my father, Dr. Jacob Bornstein." And what`s weird about that is Donald Trump tweeted today this letter was from Jacob Bronstein in which case he must have filed it away before he passed. "Over the past 39 years, I`m pleased to report Mr. Trump has had no significant medical problems. Actually" -- that`s in his text. "Actually his blood pressure 110/65 and his lab test results were astonishingly excellent. If elected, Mr. Trump I can say unequivocally will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." Healthier than Lincoln. Healthier than Andrew Jackson. Healthier than James K. Polk. Healthier than notoriously healthy President Taft. Healthiest president ever, unequivocally, which I can state unequivocally is the weirdest presidential health statement we`ve ever had for any candidate ever. But that`s what it`s like this year, with this particularly astonishingly excellent front-runner. Joining us now from Las Vegas, the site of tomorrow night`s Republican debate is Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post", and now an MSNBC political analyst. Robert, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here. ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: I know you`ve been talking to several of the campaigns today about how they`re approaching tomorrow`s debate. What are they saying? Should we expect something in line with the previous debates` trajectory or should we expect something new? COSTA: I think we should expect a new dynamic tomorrow connected with several of the campaigns today, both mainstream Republicans and conservatives. Trump is the target. He continues to lead national polls. And if you`re Jeb Bush, a Marco Rubio, a Chris Christie trying to get some traction in this race, you have to perhaps go at Trump, harder than you have before. MADDOW: In terms of Mr. Trump`s popularity, one of the things I was just discussing with a Monmouth University pollster who was here moments ago is that even if you are suspicious about any individual poll right now, there does seem to be a consistent trend since he made his proposal that Muslims should be banned from the United States. Basically, every poll since then has shown him going up, getting more support. Do we expect that to be a point of contention or is that something where other candidates are not going to be competing with him? COSTA: People who are really struggling right now in this race, I`ve spoken to allies of Senator Paul, allies of Governor Kasich of Ohio, they may look like Trump and really take him on on the Muslim front. But because it`s so popular with Republican-based voters, there`s a real hesitation privately among many of the campaign to go at Trump and to call him out, because you could have a moment, they tell me, but at the same time you don`t want to have his wrath. MADDOW: Robert, you wrote a story a few days ago about party leaders, Republican party leaders preparing for a potentially contested convention, a convention in which there might not be a clear nominee heading into it. Now, as far as I can tell, candidate Ben Carson appears to have reacted to your reporting, reacted to that story by basically threatening to leave the Republican Party. He interpreted that story as the Republican Party scheming to deny the nomination to Mr. Trump. Did Mr. Carson, Dr. Carson misunderstand that reporting or is that in fact what`s happening? COSTA: I think there`s been some misunderstanding of the reporting because it wasn`t reporting about an anti-Trump effort or anti-Carson effort. It was about the Republican establishment and two of the biggest leaders in the party, Chairman Priebus of the RNC and Senator McConnell, thinking about the reality, the possibility of a brokered convention. But I understand the fear of a lot of grassroots conservatives, especially their campaigns, because they do fear if this campaign went to a second ballot in Cleveland and those delegates became unbound, they do fear that the establishment, the Republican else, would maneuver to take the nomination. MADDOW: Robert, I have to ask -- I mean, when I look at the numbers, if I look at the numbers agnostically and I pretend I don`t know what candidates` names attend to each number, it looks to me like there`s a really clear frontrunner and there`s maybe a little competition in Iowa, but the last two winners in Iowa were Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, so who cares. And it looks like Mr. Trump is really far ahead everywhere. And it seems to me like this is a weird time to be expecting a convention where there isn`t somebody who`s clearly on top. What is it about Mr. Trump`s lead that the RNC is suspicious about and thinks might not last until the convention? COSTA: There`s a question about Trump`s organization. But you and I have spoken before. Trump has the Americans for Prosperity alumni on his campaign. Corey Lewandowski is running it. They have a strong team in Iowa. They`re in the lead in New Hampshire, been in the lead for months. They have a ground game there. The campaign manager is from New Hampshire. And they have a national grassroots network that`s pretty powerful. Cruz is well-organized as well. But what this is actually shaping into not only in the polls but on the ground is potentially a Cruz-Trump showdown. Not the usual establishment versus conservatives fight. MADDOW: Robert Costa, "Washington Post" national political reporter - - always truly insightful. Thank you, Robert. Appreciate it. COSTA: Thank you, Rachel. Appreciate it. MADDOW: It remains to be seen what exactly will come out of tomorrow night`s debate on the Donald Trump Muslim ban issue, his call to ban Muslim immigration and even tourist visitation in this country. But there was a fascinating election result on that issue this weekend in another country, in France. Voters in France this weekend resoundingly rejected the political party that`s called the Front National, the National Front. That`s the party led by Marine Le Pen, which is built on essentially anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, pseudo fascistic French nativism. And a week ago, her party finished first in an initial round of regional elections in that country. The final vote, the next round of voting was this weekend. Ahead of the weekend`s vote, a rival encouraged its voters in some region to unite behind a mainstream conservative rival to the National Front, so as not to split the vote. They did that just to make sure the National Front wouldn`t win. That strategy appears to have worked. Just a month after the Paris terror attacks, more than 70 percent of voters rejected the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant National Front, which appeared to be surging after the attacks. The party did not win a single region. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: In the great state of New Mexico, today was sentencing day for high-ranking elected officials. In the bright red election year of 2010, New Mexico voters decided that they would elect a Republican to be their secretary of state. First time a Republican was elected to that job in 80 years. But New Mexico elected Republican Dianna Duran in 2010, and now this week she is going to jail. New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran was hit with a 65-count indictment earlier this year. The indictment alleged that she funneled thousands of dollars in campaign donations into her personal bank account. Apparently, she then withdrew that money and spent it at various casinos across the state. Once the indictment came out -- once the charges started to surface and then once the indictment came out, Dianna Duran basically kept a low profile. There were several weeks where she basically didn`t show up to work and nobody knew who was really doing the job of being secretary of state. She did end up resigning. She did end up pleading guilty to six of the counts against her. Today, she appeared in court. State prosecutors had recommended no jail time for her, but the judge in her case basically decided to throw the book at her. In addition to a 30-day jail sentence, Dianna Duran has also been ordered to repay $14,000 to individual campaign contributors whose money she embezzled for personal use. The judge also ordered her to write a letter of apology to each contributor. And then she has to hand-deliver each of those letters. Plus, she has to write a letter of apology to the people of New Mexico, which is to be published in no fewer than six publications across that state. She will also be required to give four public appearances at schools or civic groups every month for the next three years to talk about what she has done, four a month for three years. That means she`ll be doing more than 140 public apology tour appearances at least, by order of the court. If she wants to, Dianna Duran has until Wednesday, the day after tomorrow, to withdraw her guilty plea in this case. But if she chooses not to withdraw her guilty plea, she will be reporting to jail at the end of this week. She`ll be starting her jail sentence on Friday. And then all of the other restitution and apologies will start after the jail sentence and continue for three years at least. And in the meantime, New Mexico has an acting secretary of state just holding the position until the governor appoints somebody new for that very, very important job, which among other things runs the elections for the state of New Mexico. Choose carefully, Governor. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: They took this picture in April 2014. I know it looks like a JJ Abrams lens flare special. But this is not a "Star Wars" outtake. This is a christening for a ship, a ship whose name starts with the letter Z. The ship is named for this Navy admiral, who is memorialized as tough and patriotic and very charismatic. And his first name was Elmo. They laid the keel for that great big letter Z ship in 2011 in the admiral`s honor. They christened the ship in 2014. And then last week, they turned it loose. They set sail. And you will never believe what happened on Elmo`s first time out. Real-life adventures on the high seas. We`ve got that story coming up right at the end of the show tonight. It`s amazing. Plus, last week we showed you this infrared time lapse image of the natural gas leak in Porter Ranch, California. With this we can see what people there have been smelling and getting sick from for nearly two months now. This huge out-of-control natural gas leak that they just cannot get under control, big rolling clouds of methane gas. This thing has been leaking for weeks now. And the gas company says they`re still nowhere near figuring out how to stop the leak. They`re still estimating that this leak could keep going on for four more months before they figure out how to stop it. And the scale of this thing near Porter Ranch, California in southern California, the scale of this thing is nuts. State air quality regulators estimate the leak is releasing so much methane per hour that this one leak basically accounts for 25 percent of all the daily greenhouse gas emissions in the entire state of California. So, we have these infrared images of the leak, right? Natural gas, you can`t see it, right? So you can`t see it without some sort of imaging technology that lets you see it in the atmosphere. These infrared images help us see it. We also have the state`s own numbers about the leak. But today, we got a new indicator about the scale of this ongoing billowing problem in Southern California because today the Federal Aviation Administration has now banned planes from flying near this thing. This leak is now a no-go zone not just for neighbors on the ground but for planes in the sky. A spokesman for California`s Office of Emergency Services says the flight ban at the site of the leak is partly for protection of gas company workers on the ground, they don`t want them distracted by low-flying planes. But they also told us today that pilots may be at risk of getting sick from the fumes as they fly through the giant plumes of gas. So, pilots are not going to be allowed to fly closer than 2,000 feet. And that restriction lasts from now until March. We reached out to the FAA tonight about this flight ban. They told us that they have received at least one request so far to be an exception to the no-fly order. They`ve had at least one request to basically violate the no-fly order. And that request came from NASA. NASA apparently wants to fly some kind of monitoring drone through the area where there has been this huge leak. No word yet from NASA on what exactly this drone`s mission would be at the site of the leak, but I for one cannot wait to see what our nation`s best astrophysicists will find if they get to look inside this giant, hugely polluting, apparently endless gas disaster in Southern California that`s due to carry on for months yet. Watch this space. However you can. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) BOWE BERGDAHL: The first plan was, go from point A to point B. MARK BOAL: Yes. BERGDAHL: And that was it. However, 20 minutes out, I suddenly, you know, 20 minutes out I`m going, good grief, I`m in over my head. This is, you know, when I get back to the fob they`re going to hit me with everything they can. I knew that was going to happen. But suddenly, you know, it really starts to sink in. I really did something bad. Well, not bad, but I did -- I really did something serious. (END AUDIO CLIP) MADDOW: We have news tonight apartment the case of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who spent five years in captivity. Captured in Afghanistan by the Taliban after he wandered away from his base in 2009. The U.S. ended up swapping five prisoners from Guantanamo to win Bowe Bergdahl`s release. When we last talked about his case last week, it was about that audio you just heard at the top there. Sergeant Bergdahl had just appeared on first episode of the second season of the stupendously popular podcast that`s called "Serial." And the U.S. military was still deciding waht they were going to do him. Well, we got the U.S. military`s decision. The Army is going to court-martial him. They didn`t have to but they`re going to. Back in October, the lieutenant colonel recommended that Sergeant Bergdahl be tried to a misdemeanor court in the military. Today, the Army announced that he instead face a general court-martial on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. If he is found guilty, he faces life in prison. Among other things, Sergeant Bergdahl has been a favorite target of Donald Trump`s. The Republican front-runner has called him, quote, "a no good traitor who should have been executed." Today, the soldier`s defense team called for Mr. Trump, quote, "to cease his prejudicial months-long campaign of defamation against Sergeant Bergdahl." We don`t have a date for this court-martial of Bowe Bergdahl. But, again, he`s now facing life in prison. We`ll keep you posted. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. This is an amazing story. Portland, Maine, fittingly, has a big and busy port. People there are used to seeing ships outside their windows, right? Cruise ship, cargo ship, tug boats, fishing boats, tankers, you name it. Last week, even the city`s long time residents that have seen a lot of ships in and out of their port, they were caught off guard when this truly strange looking vessel slipped into Portland harbor unannounced. What is that? Ship kind of looks like a pyramid with its top cut off maybe? The bow coming at you is almost impossible to see in a way that you can understand. It`s got a razor sharp angle on that bow. This is a U.S. Navy destroyer called the Zumwalt, first in its class. It weighs more than 15,000 tons. But because of the way that it`s built, because of its sharp angles and flat plains, on radar, this thing looks like basically a little fishing boat. It does not look like a 600 foot long warship. It`s almost invisible on radar. In addition to the Zumwalt`s tiny profile on radar, it can deliberately take on water and sit itself very low in the water. Conversely, it can be used in really shallow water where you wouldn`t think a 600 foot ship could sail. It`s the largest ever destroyer built for the U.S. Navy. It`s also the most powerful. It can produce enough energy onboard to power about 47,000 American homes. The Navy hopes to one day outfit this thing with one of its most futuristic weapons, a rail gun. Not a nail gun, a rail gun which fires projectiles at seven times the speed of sound, more than 5,000 miles per hour. If the Zumwalt didn`t sound straight out of science fiction, the name of the original captain is James Kirk, Captain James Kirk. Seriously. But on the Zumwalt in this case. Early Saturday morning, something interesting happened with the Zumwalt. The U.S. Coast Guard sent out a request looking for assistance from any nearby vessels in the water off of Portland. Turns out the captain of a 45-foot long fishing boat called the Danny Boy was having chest pains. He called in I need help to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard flew a rescue chopper out to get them out of their base on Cape Cod. When they got there they couldn`t figure out a safe way to hoist him on the helicopter from the fishing boat. It wasn`t going to work for some reason. So, the Coast Guard put out a call for a ship in the vicinity who might be able to help. And wouldn`t you know it, there was this guy, the Zumwalt was out there going through its first deep water testing. They said, sure, we can help. We have some capability that might come in handy. The Zumwalt launched a small boat like the kind used by Navy SEALs and other special forces. They sent that small boat out to the Danny Boy. The crew on the small boat boarded the Danny Boy, they collected the sick fisherman. They put him on their little boat. They brought that little boat back to the Zumwalt, and then as you can see in this video here, he was later hoisted from the deck of the destroyer on to the coast guard helicopter for rescue. So, the fishing boat, the Danny Boy didn`t offer a lot of space for that Coast Guard chopper to get the fisherman out. But a 600 foot long Navy destroyer that weighs 16,000 tons and costs $4 billion -- yes, turns out that offers a pretty nice platform for collecting the fisher pan. He was taken to a nearby hospital. He`s in stable condition. So, yes, technically this is a your taxpayer dollars at work story. But not exactly the way anyone expected. Handy to have that little honey around when you need a hand, right? That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Good evening, Lawrence. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END