'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, June 6, 2011
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Guests: Shawna Thomas, Melissa Harris-Perry, Howard Fineman
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us tonight.
Before tonight, Anthony Weiner was a household name in many liberal households. Not necessarily because he was a particularly powerful member of Congress, but because he was particularly powerful on YouTube.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: If Republicans wrapping their arms around Republican rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes, it is a shame! A shame! If you believe this is a bad idea to provide health care, then vote no! But don‘t give me the cowardly view that oh, if it was a different procedure—the gentleman will observe regular order and sit down. I will not. The gentleman will sit, the gentleman is correct in sitting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Anthony Weiner has been beloved by many liberals not just because he takes liberal positions and strong positions on liberal—on policy issues that are important to liberals, but because when he does take a position publicly, he often does so in a bombastic, out loud, sometimes funny way. He does that on the floor of the House. He does that on cable news both in environments like these here on MSNBC, and with great contentious good humor at places like FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WEINER: OK, this is the way interviews work. You ask the question and then I get to answer.
MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: Oh, thank you.
WEINER: Your commentary is when you put your commentaries in the end, they better be factually correct and in this case, they aren‘t.
KELLY: Was she or was she not the solicitor general of the United States? I thought I covered that. I remember covering her confirmation hearing to the U.S. Supreme Court. We talked about that.
WEINER: I‘m not really sure what goes on at FOX is actual coverage.
But we‘ll get that to another conversation.
Congressman, thank you so much for coming on.
WEINER: Great interview. Aces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Aces. Anthony Weiner knew that he was very good at stuff like this.
That particular clip from FOX News was not something that I saw when it aired on FOX News. I saw that for the first time when Anthony Weiner himself played that clip of himself at the congressional correspondents dinner in what was a very funny speech making fun of things like his own last name, making fun of his political enemies, and making fun of FOX News and generally cracking everybody up.
So, Anthony Weiner is the congressman with an admittedly funny last name who nevertheless has become a household name, in liberal households in particular, for the last couple of years.
As of today, he, of course, is a household name for everybody.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WEINER: Last Friday night, I tweeted a photograph of myself that I intended to send as a direct message as part of a joke to a woman in Seattle. Once I realized I had posted it to Twitter, I panicked, I took it down, and said that I had been hacked.
I have engaged in several inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, email, and occasionally on the phone with women I have met online. I‘ve exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years.
I haven‘t told the truth—and I‘ve done things that I deeply regret. I‘ve brought pain to people I care about the most and the people who believe in me—and for that, I am deeply sorry.
I apologize to my wife and our families, as well as to our friends and supporters. I‘m deeply ashamed of my terrible judgment and actions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: After that, Congressman Weiner took the rare but not unprecedented step of taking questions from reporters. Taking questions for an astonishing 25 minutes from a press pool that started out in a frenzy and quickly boiled over into frankly repetitive incoherence and self-parody.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you help to support Arnold‘s love child?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Will you help to support Arnold‘s love child.
Whether or not you had an opinion about Anthony Weiner before today‘s news about him, what does it mean that he apologized so floridly and with such emotion but he did not resign? If what happened today is the final chapter if this particular scandal, he‘s not resigning, but he did no go on the record in the most astonishing way today—is that the typical outcome for a scandal like this? Is this being turned into a bigger deal or a smaller deal than other political sex scandals suggest it ought to be?
That is an empirical question and we have a graph for that—to the grid.
All right. This is our highly subjective but still doing our best—we have this? All right. Highly suggestive but still doing our best post-Bill Clinton, modern American sex scandal consequence-o-meter. I love consequence-o-meters.
OK? On the vertical Y-axis—“New York Magazine” does something vaguely like this, which maybe where I got the idea. If so? Thank you, “New York Magazine” for the idea.
But the way that we came up with this is this, on the vertical, right
on the Y-axis, we‘ve got more creepy—all the way down to less creepy.
On the horizontal Y-axis, we‘ve got less prosecutable, all the way over to more prosecutable.
And by prosecutable—I mean rules, charges, right, ethics charges, potentially legal charges, criminal charges, tax charges, campaign finance charges. This is sort of a vaguely defined by prosecutable term, right?
Now, major political sex scandals after Bill Clinton. OK. We were trying to come one the right pointer for this. We decided that big grabby hand would be the good one. Actually, there‘s no good one. It‘s the least bad one. It‘s still pretty bad.
All right. August 2004, Jim McGreevy, remember him? Democratic governor of New Jersey admits what he has cheated on his wife with a man. Governor McGreevy says he is gay and he resigns.
It‘s a little bit creepy, the lying, the adultery, the man he said he was involved in was someone he had appointed to a homeland security position. But as these things go on the overall matrix, this is on the low side to have creepy scale and not particularly prosecutable either, right, again, as these things go.
Florida Congressman Mark Foley in 2006, Republican, right? Mr. Foley resigns after allegedly sending explicit instant messages to underage congressional pages, quite creepy given that they are underage and in the congressional scheme of things, subordinate to him in the workplace. And therefore, quite conceivably prosecutable—though, in this case, not prosecuted.
Louisiana Senator David Vitter, Republican. His name turns up on the D.C. madam‘s phone list in July 2007. David Vitter apologizes for, quote, “serious sins.” He then runs for re-election and wins. Thank you, Louisiana.
Senator Vitter is not dealing with underage people or people subordinate to him in the workplace. But the allegation is prostitution. The allegation is paying for sex. So, that is relatively high on the prosecutability scale.
And then there is congressman—excuse me, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, right? You may remember good old Mr. Wide Stance arrested in June 2007 for lewd conduct in a Minnesota airport bathroom. I wish we had a special axis here, like maybe one that came out this way for kind of pitiful.
Instead we go sort of medium on the creepy scale for the rank hypocrisy of a virulently anti-gay politician tapping away his reputation on a bathroom stall, and sort of medium also in the prosecutable. He did plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Mr. Craig said that he would resign from the Senate but then he did finish out his term anyway.
Then there was New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Boink! A Democrat. Admits in March 2008 to paying for sex with hookers. He resigns. And now, he has the same kind of job that I have.
His case is just about exactly as creepy and as prosecutable as David Vitter‘s—if we could them one on top of the other, we would. But then, that would look like a whole different kind of commentary. Nobody is understand age. No one is in a subordinate position to him in the workplace here.
But, again, the allegation is prostitution. It is paying for sex.
So, again, high on the prosecutability scale.
Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada. Big family values guys. Admits in June 2009 to cheating on his wife with a married staffer who is married to another one of his staffers, who both happen to be long time family friends of his. Nearly two years later, he announces he would be resigning, but only because it seems he would be thrown out of the Senate.
A special counsel report on Mr. Ensign paints him as pursuing the affair against the stated wishes of the woman he is pursuing it. Both the mistress and her husband are definitely subordinate to him in the workplace and their whole family is essentially 100 percent financially dependent on them.
He is not paying for sex directly like Vitter and Spitzer, but the coercion and abuse of power, frankly, more than makes up for it on the creepy scale. The prosecutability here, of course, is quite evident in the special counsel‘s report, that referral for campaign finance and criminal investigation, and the fact that the Senate ethics committee was considering expelling him about five seconds before he quit.
A week after the Senator Ensign scandal was first revealed, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, another family values Republican, admits he‘s having an affair with a woman from Argentina and he is staying on as governor. This may be among the less creepy scandals on our graph. I mean, it‘s pretty much straight up family values politician, adultery, hypocrisy, right?
But he did face 37 ethics charges all of which he was eventually cleared by in South Carolina. But clearly, they pursued 37 different ethics charges against him. Let‘s put him here.
Congressman Eric Massa, Democrat of New York—March of 2010, Democrat. Admits to tickling a staffer until the man cannot breathe. Mr. Massa resigns. Slightly less creepy than Mark Foley, right, because the staffer was at least an adult. I think this one is less prosecutable, too. Not totally, but less.
Congressman Chris Lee, New York Republican, married. He got caught looking for an extra helping on Craigslist and saying he was somebody else while doing it. He resigns before you could hit refresh on that one. For showing up shirtless on Gawker, he gets to be creepier than Mark Sanford and these guys. But in terms of prosecutable, he‘s not prosecutable at all, except in the Gawker.com comment section.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican, fathered a child with a woman who worked for his family. The news broke last month after he was already out of office as governor for the affair with someone in a subordinate staff position to you and for having a kid with that staffer who you hide from your wife and your other children for a decade—you, sir, are capital C creepy. Yes.
Mr. Schwarzenegger has faced a few questions about state money to cover things up here. But so far, he‘s way down on this side of the graph because nothing is solidly prosecutable.
Former Senator John Edwards, Democrat running for president in 2008, the National Enquirer publishes news of an extramarital affair and child. In October of 2007, while he was running for president, Mr. Edwards denies it. Meanwhile his campaign never gets off the ground. He quits the campaign in January 2008 after a disappointing showing in those early primaries.
By August of that year, John Edwards admits to having the affair. Finally, January of 2010, he admits that the child is his. For his phony campaign image as a loyal husband and for using his wife who was battling terminal cancer in his campaign ads and for denying he fathered a child, he, of course, is capital C creepy and for being indicted just last week, I would say he is among the most prosecutable here.
Which brings to the reason I am up here with this sloppy handed pointer thing in the first place—Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, Democrat.
Hi, Congressman. Welcome to our consequence-o-meter.
Congressman Weiner has just admitted to exchanging explicit photos and Facebook messages with women who were not his wife. Some before he got married, some after he got married. It is kind of creepy—the idea of messages like that coming from a congressman‘s Twitter account and Facebook page that he also used for a lot of official politicking.
So far, anyway, this one looks like it is not really prosecutable at all. Although, we will be talking about potential ethics charges later on in the show.
Also, Congressman Weiner making clear today he is not resigning.
This is our best estimation of where these various scandals fall on these various axes. Now, you may think differently. I actually that I would put Vitter up a little higher than Spitzer on the creepy axis, I was going to do this now because of the hypocrisy thing that Spitzer didn‘t really have there in terms of the family values stuff.
But all of this stuff is fairly subjective, right? You could put these things—these guys where you want them. But looking at this data set in general, without nitpicking here—these are the ones who resigned, the ones who circles around them here. We don‘t include John Edwards—excuse me, John Ensign, because he didn‘t resign because of the sex scandal. He resigned because he was about to get thrown out of the Senate which is not the same thing.
So, these are the ones who he resigned. These are the one who is did not resign, including today, Congressman Weiner. Hello. He‘s now in this group, but, of course, without having any of the family values political hypocrisy that some of these other guys have.
Mr. Weiner explained his decision not to resign today by that while he was very sorry for what he had done, he had committed no crime. He had broken no rules of the House.
Whether or not you agree that he should have resigned or not resigned, whether you think this apology was enough or wasn‘t enough, or if you think it was too much, this is sort of how—what he did stacks up against his really, really opposite of illustrious cohorts on the post-Bill Clinton modern political sex scandal consequence-o-meter.
That said, will your opinion about what happened today, about Anthony Weiner and the way he has handled this particular sex scandal, will that change if he moves further in this direction, if he moves further down the prosecutable axis?
Democrats in the House of Representatives are calling for an ethics committee investigation of Congressman Weiner, Democrats, his own leadership. If that moves him down the scale, will that make you feel differently about what he decided to do today? That‘s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WEINER: I don‘t see anything that I did that violated any rules of the House. I don‘t see anything that I did that certainly violated my oath of office to uphold the Constitution. I engaged in inappropriate, online conversations with people, that included, you know, photographs and it was a mistake to do that. But I didn‘t—I don‘t believe that I did anything that violates any law or any rule.
Congressional time could theoretical be anything. Congressmen work long hours. But I don‘t believe that I did anything here that violates any law or violates my oath to my constituents.
Did I violate the Constitution of the United States by lying about posting a Twitter post? I certainly don‘t think so. And I haven‘t spoken to anyone who did. But if people want to say that this is a violation of my oath because I sent a Twitter that I regretted and I lied about it, and obviously people are entitled to that viewpoint.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and the chair of the Democratic Party‘s campaign committee in the House, Steve Israel, both tonight called for an ethics investigation into whether or not any Congressman Weiner violated House rules in the course to have online exchanges with women that he admitted to today in his extraordinary press conference.
The congressman himself issued a statement in response, quote, “I welcome and will fully cooperate with an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. I am deeply sorry to my family, staff and constituents.”
Joining us now from Washington, D.C. is producer Shawna Thomas who covers the House, among other things for NBC News.
Shawna, thanks very much for your time. It‘s good to have you here.
SHAWNA THOMAS, NBC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL PRODUCER: Thanks for having me again, Rachel.
MADDOW: What do you know about the kind of investigation that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is calling for? And does the fact that she‘s calling for it mean that it will happen?
THOMAS: Well, we know that she‘s calling to look into whether any official congressional equipment was used in his—let‘s call it texting and if any other rules were broken. Now, just because she calls for it, doesn‘t mean they have to do it. The chair and the ranking member of the ethics committee can call for an investigation themselves.
And even once they call for it, it may take some time for it to get going. We may or may not find out when the investigative subcommittee is actually paneled. These investigations take a long time.
MADDOW: So, that would be sort of use of congressional resources for inappropriate personal use. Are there any other potential violations or overt House rules that this might conceivably come under the rubric of?
THOMAS: Well, there‘s basically rule number one, which is conduct reflecting credibility on the House that‘s unbecoming. So, basically, there‘s a catch all rule that members should not do things that make the House look bad. What they don‘t tend to prosecute this unless there are other things they‘ve done as well, like when we talked about Rangel, he had many, many others that could have been a problem. And then at the end of the list, there‘s always this conduct unbecoming.
So, there is that. But that‘s a really large catch all type of thing.
MADDOW: And you‘re saying that those sort of catch-alls of credibility of the House and conduct unbecoming—those are sorts of things that don‘t usually get prosecuted on their own. They usually get talked on to a more specific allegation.
MADDOW: OK. In terms of the Republican side of the House—obviously, the House is Republican controlled. The ethics committee is one of those that is not under partisan control. Have you heard anything from Speaker Boehner‘s office or the Republican leadership about this?
THOMAS: You know, I talked to the speaker‘s office briefly and they said they are not going to join in the call for an investigation. I think they are going to let—sorry, almost call her speaker, the Democratic leader take the lead on this. So, they‘re going to see what happens with the investigative committee themselves.
However, the ethics committee can do what they want. So, he doesn‘t need to call for it.
MADDOW: He doesn‘t need to call for it meaning that the ethics committee investigating on their own terms at their own initiative.
MADDOW: All right. Shawna Thomas, NBC News producer, live in Washington, D.C. for us tonight—Shawna, it‘s always great to have you here. Thank you.
THOMAS: Thanks a lot, Rachel.
MADDOW: Anthony Weiner has made a career of saying a lot of things American liberals really like to hear and saying them loudly, and often with a good sense of humor. Now, he has done things that nobody likes to hear about period no matter your politics. Melissa Harris-Perry will join us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WEINER: I‘m not making any excuses for my behavior. I don‘t—I don‘t to drugs. I was not drinking. That wasn‘t the cause of this. This was—this was me doing a dumb thing and doing it repeatedly, and then lying about it. That‘s all there is.
I don‘t know the exact ages of the women and I don‘t know if—if you
do, I‘m going to respect their privacy. But they were all adults, at least
to the best of my knowledge. They were all adults and they were engaging -
and they were engaging in these conversations consensually. I know that I never had any intention of having any interaction with underage women. And no information that I have now shows that I did.
I love my wife very much. We have no intention of splitting up over this. I am deeply regretting what I have done. And I am not resigning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Perry, professor of political science at Tulane University and MSNBC contributor.
Melissa, please tell me there‘s one big eloquent thesis statement that makes the most sense of what happened today with Anthony Weiner?
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I wish I could. But I got to tell you that, really, my husband and I have been reduced to being 11-year-olds, making Weiner jokes at this point. So, I don‘t know I have an eloquent thesis.
You know, obviously, I loved the grid that you presented at the beginning. I think we need to think about this in the context of the, you know, kind of the ick factor versus the question of how illegal if at all illegal these activities are.
But I think we also can‘t underestimate the potential impact of even an ick factor scandal.
MADDOW: When you say underestimating the impact of it—do you mean for Congressman Weiner, or do you mean for all of our ethics and, I guess, sensibilities in terms of how much of this type of information about public figures gets considered newsworthy?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, look, let me tell you a little political story here. So, there was once a candidate named Jack Ryan. He was a good-looking young guy in the Illinois GOP. He won the nomination of the Illinois GOP to run in 2004 for the U.S. Senate against a guy named Barack Obama.
He had a good, strong candidacy, and quite likely could have given that young state senator a run for his money. But he got caught up in an ick, you know, factor scandal. He had taken his wife to a sex club. She didn‘t like it. She divorced him. There was nothing illegal here. There was nothing deeply salacious.
But it was enough for him to go out, Alan Keyes to come in, and Barack Obama to rise to the U.S. Senate not just in sort of an ordinary electoral fashion, but in the way that ultimately put him on that stage in 2004 at the DNC and made him in part possible as a presidential candidate in 2008. Now, that was in part because Jack Ryan was not a good steward of his public life.
And so, what we don‘t know here with Weiner is whether or not his lack of stewardship over the reality of being a public person and needing to make choices that, you know, maybe you don‘t have to make in private life, but once you‘re in public life, you have to make different choice—it could have a reverberating impact that we simply don‘t know about yet.
MADDOW: And in terms of the ethics and the newsworthiness of all of this, the first thing I thought of when I realized what Anthony Weiner was going to be talking about at that press conference today was comparison with the Christopher Lee scandal. Very similar in the sense that it is online contact. That is adultery of a sort. But it is certainly nothing criminal.
We just heard Shawna Thomas talk about a potential investigation as to whether or not he used congressional resources. I would—frankly, I was just stating my opinion, it does not—that does not seem like the kind of thing that is ultimately going to get him in serious ethical problems with the House—given the other things that people have gotten away with in the House. So, this is sort of a matter of his public life, as you say, being sort of poorly stewarded.
What made Christopher Lee newsworthy I think is that he resigned. Had he not resigned, I never would have discussed that story at all on this air. And so, there is sort of matter, you have to decide where a line that crosses where other people have to right to talk about this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure. Look, the fact is that in the U.S. Congress, it‘s a big group of people, all of them wielding supposedly the same amount of power. So, someone like Weiner has basically built up kind of political credibility, political power that he uses for the good of his ideology, and for the good of his party, and for the good of his constituents. And he has spent every single cent of that political capital on a sort of icky sex scandal. That is what‘s happened.
So, maybe he has not violated any laws or even as he said the oath he took against—or relative to the Constitution. But the fact is he has made himself a significantly less effective spokesperson for all of the issues and all of the constituents that he cares about. And in that, I do believe that it is fundamentally newsworthy.
Look, I‘ve been reading about FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt when I was, you know, prepping for a class. I‘m going to teach on America‘s first ladies. And the fact that is questions of extramarital affairs, and they‘re deeply human complex anxieties. They go way back in our history.
But the fact is in this new media environment, to be a steward of your constituent‘s interests requires in part making choices in your private life that can be displayed in a way that is respectable by the standards of our kind of contemporary, political and social norms.
MADDOW: See, I just—I feel like I agree with you and that all totally make sense for me—and viscerally, I believe in people‘s right to be icky.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, of course.
MADDOW: As long as they‘re not victimizing anyone and not being hypocritical. But I think you‘re right. That the way to measure the impact is to talk about the way it detracts from their ability to speak up for things that they want paid attention to.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. Yes, look, I believe in how—I am descended from Mormon ancestors. And I had Mormon ancestors what were imprisoned for consensual bigamy.
And, you know, I‘ve always had a lot of anxiety about that because—you know, my sense is if people are adults making a choice to be in complicated marriages, you know, what does the state have to say about that? But the fact is the state has a lot to say on questions of marriage. If it didn‘t, then we would have marriage equality in this country.
There is in fact a very strong sense that although—you know, Anthony Weiner is not sort of a family values guy, but in choosing the option of presumably monogamous, heterosexual marriage, he does signal that he is behaving with a certain set of practices. And he‘s signaling that to his constituency.
The fact is it opens him up for exactly this kind of—you know, this kind of scrutiny. Yes, everybody has a right to be icky in the context of consent. On the other hand, the public also will, whether we like it or not, exercise the right to know.
MADDOW: The right to be icked.
Melissa Harris-Perry, professor of political science at Tulane, MSNBC contributor, and person about whom I just enjoy discussing all sorts of topics that I wouldn‘t like to talk to other people about.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Thanks.
MADDOW: Thanks, Melissa. Appreciate it.
All right. On a day when one husband‘s uggy, cringy, skibby behavior became pages one, two and three in a six-page run down, there was a husband in the news today, a congressional husband no less doing the right thing—doing the right thing in a way that may never, ever be topped in the history of congressional spouses, like don‘t even try to compete with this spouses of planet Earth even if you have no connection to Congress.
If you are looking for the antidote, the feel good antidote to the Anthony Weiner screwed up his marriage story today, stay tuned for “The Best New Thing in the World Today.” It‘s coming up right at the end of the show.
MADDOW: On a news day like today, when a salacious politician sex scandals gets more than blanket coverage, when a story like that sucks all of the oxygen out of the proverbial room, the bigger loser of a news cycle like this other than the man at the center of the scandal himself is probably the politician who was struggling to get some attention for him or herself out of today‘s news before realizing too late that that would be impossible.
Well, poor old Rick Santorum was that man today. Poor old Rick Santorum announced his presidential campaign today in Pennsylvania. Rick Santorum, a man who desperately needs some media attention to up his name recognition so people will stop Googling him not knowing what to expect.
Rick Santorum announced his presidential campaign today. He frankly got five seconds of national attention for it and then—whoop—the Rick Santorum is running for president story got totally swamped by the Anthony Weiner coming clean about his sex scandal story.
So, aside from Anthony Weiner himself, probably the biggest loser in today‘s news was Rick Santorum.
Now, though, there are also some winners in today‘s news. Some winners from specifically today‘s news being taken over by the Anthony Weiner scandal. I would say it is a toss up in terms of who wins the news cycle between former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Both of whom are presumably and/or actually running for the nomination of the Republican Party.
Heading into this past weekend, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin tried to tell the story of Paul Revere while she was on a trip to Boston. She got the story of Paul Revere quite ostentatiously wrong, saying that Paul Revere was warning the British rather than warning Americans about the British.
Now, rather than admit to getting the Paul Revere story exactly backwards, team Palin has decided to tough it out. They have decided to try to make the story retroactively correct by aggressively trying to edit the story of Paul Revere on Wikipedia to make it seem like the way Sarah Palin described it was correct.
The overall message here is: if you‘re Sarah Palin, don‘t worry about it. If you mess something up about history, we‘ll arrange, just change the history. On a day where politics news was not totally dominated by the Anthony Weiner sex scandal and amazing press conference, the change in history to match what Sarah Palin said about it story would be a much bigger deal. So, by that calculus, Sarah Palin actually comes out to with a winner on the Anthony Weiner exhausts the news day.
But so does Newt Gingrich. And Newt Gingrich‘s troubled presidential campaign now has Anthony Weiner to thanks for what otherwise would have been another serious, serious day of off-message headlines for Mr. Gingrich. After a spectacular flip-flop belly flop on the Paul Ryan kill Medicare budget plan right out of the gate, right after his presidential campaign started, Mr. Gingrich‘s campaign, you might recall, immediately bumbled into another mine field. Remember, the candidate could not and would not explain a quarter million to half million dollar revolving charge account that he had at the jeweler Tiffany‘s.
Why is this a problem? Well, it‘s sort of like a nonsexual version of the ick factor. For a guy trying to run as a fiscal conservative, the hundreds of thousands worth of jewelry on credit is just hard to explain. It‘s an image thing. Mr. Gingrich has been at pains ever since to try to revise his image, to try to re-establish some man of the people credentials, trying to not seem like an out of touch rich Washington guy who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on diamonds.
In the midst of that image challenge, Mr. Gingrich is actually off the campaign trail for a while on a two-week vacation. Asked on Friday where it was that Mr. Gingrich would be vacationing, Mr. Gingrich‘s spokesman would not say. But that was before Mr. Gingrich was spotted among the guests aboard a luxury cruise ship sailing between Greece and Turkey with stops on islands like Mekados (ph) and Rhodes (ph).
After the Tiffany‘s thing, he never quite could answer: does the Newt Gingrich for president campaign want to spend a whole new campaign day talking about Newt and Callista‘s luxury cruise through the Greek islands? No, they do not. And now, they don‘t have to—thanks to Congressman Anthony Weiner.
You know, the exciting thing about expecting a thank you gift from Newt Gingrich is that there‘s always the possibility that it will come in a really fabulous famous light blue box.
Joining us now is Howard Fineman, MSNBC political analyst and “Huffington Post” media group‘s editorial director.
Howard, it‘s great to see you. Thanks for being here tonight.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: In terms of the overall Republican presidential politics right now, the thing that is still the most important thing is the fate of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney standing along is the only major candidate who has not committed himself one way or another on the Paul Ryan kill Medicare plan and Mitt Romney standing alone as the one candidate or potential candidate who all of the other candidates are running against.
Is that how you understand the main primary dynamic, what you understand the primary dynamic to be in the Republican field right now?
FINEMAN: Yes, I think that‘s right. I was in New Hampshire last week and saw the forgettable official kickoff of the Mitt Romney campaign.
One thing you can say about Mitt Romney, though, Rachel, is there‘s no ick factor there. Either in terms of jewelry or sex, I don‘t think.
The ick factor with Mitt is that he‘s flip-flopped a million ways on everything and he comes off as Andrew Sullivan famously said as making plastic look genuine. But, yes, he‘s the guy all the other candidates love the hate right now, to the point where I think they‘d better be careful what they wish for because if Mitt Romney is the weakest front runner in modern history goes down too fast, it exposes all the rest of them to more scrutiny, which is not necessarily a good thing.
If you‘ve got a weak front runner in the field, prop him up until next December or January, otherwise you won‘t get any credit for knocking him off.
MADDOW: Looking today at the Ron Paul money bomb against Mitt Romney
Ron Paul has previously—Dave Weigel noted today—has previously run money bomb, these one day fundraisers on patriotic occasions, right, things like Fourth of July or some other, some of American history moment. His latest money bomb is essentially “I hate Mitt Romney” and he‘s raised over $1 million asking people to contribute against Mitt Romney.
To the extent that there is a lot of anger not only by the other candidates toward Mr. Romney, but really among the grassroots to the idea that he will actually get the nominee, is that potentially a fundraising opportunity to rile up the Tea Party base of the Republican Party?
FINEMAN: Well, there‘s no question, because weak though he is, Mitt Romney man—this is part of the reason high he‘s so weak as a front runner is he‘s like the remainder man of the Bush era Republican establishment. He‘s got all those staff people working for him. He has the halfhearted approval of some of the Bush orbit and family circle.
He just seems like he‘s got all these things working against him. He‘s an establishment guy in an anti-establishment year. He inherits the support of a lot of people who have been around politics probably for way too long. He has changed his positions on innumerable issues and he‘s a terrible campaigner.
Other than that, he‘s a great front runner. But he gives all these people something to shoot at, because he does so typify what‘s left of—I stress “what‘s left of”—the Republican establishment.
MADDOW: In terms of Mr. Santorum‘s announcement, I don‘t think anybody‘s under any illusion that Rick Santorum is going to be a credible contender. But I did think it was interesting in policy terms that the very first thing that he volunteered as the reason for his candidacy today when he was on “Good Morning America” today was that he wants to privatize Social Security.
So, we have the Republican field falling all over each other to
embrace the Paul Ryan kill Medicare plan, which is endorsed by slightly
fewer people that endorsed toenail fungus is a good idea. Then we‘ve got -
now we‘ve got Rick Santorum going after Social Security as the reason that he‘s running and then we‘ve got all of the other Republican candidates attacking Mitt Romney for Romneycare. The newest polls out of Massachusetts show more than 60 percent approval of people actually living with that policy.
What—how do you make political sense out of running against all of these very, very popular policies?
FINEMAN: Well, first of all, Rachel, you have to understand that Rick Santorum who I‘ve covered for many years, he‘s from my home state of Pennsylvania, in my hometown of Pittsburgh, rose as the anti-abortion guy. That‘s he got his initial support when he went in the state legislature and so forth.
He‘s a cultural issues guy, but he knows that this year is an economics issue year. The one thing Mitt Romney has going for him, by the way, he‘s in the right spot. He‘s wrong guy probably been in right spot on economic issues, economic management.
So, Rick Santorum is trying to get on the economic side. But disparately so because he‘s reaching for the one thing that is even, you know, less popular than going after Medicare, which is going after Social Security.
And I think he‘s going it as a kind of mini branding issue, Rachel. There‘s a lot of people now getting in the race. There‘s going to be a debate next week with seven or eight candidates. Rick Santorum has got to show the Tea Party types that he‘s got a mini brand and his mini-brand of Social Security while the others are talking about Medicare.
MADDOW: You don‘t think that the other candidate will now all say they want to privatize Social Security, too?
FINEMAN: No, I don‘t. I don‘t think they‘ll do that. I think they‘ll stick to Obamacare because as they call it, because it works in their constituency and the others are thinking they may actually have a chance to win the nomination. So, they don‘t want to, you know, wade into the Social Security thing if they don‘t have to.
MADDOW: The debate you‘re talking about next week, Howard, is in New Hampshire. Of course, Iowa is starting to come into shape as well. Jon Huntsman all but saying that he‘s going to let Iowa go. We‘ve got Michele Bachmann announcing that her camp—she‘s hiring for her campaign the person, who was running Mike Huckabee‘s campaign when he won Iowa last time around.
MADDOW: Still the open question of what Mitt Romney will do in Iowa. Do you have a sense now of who the front runner will be for Iowa, and will it matter who wins Iowa? Or is Iowa now too radical to be relevant?
FINEMAN: Well, now, in basketball terms, Rachel, Iowa is like the play-in game in the NCAA tournament, if I can use that analogy, because I know you follow that closely. But Iowa is—Tim Pawlenty of neighboring Minnesota has to win Iowa. But that‘s the place where Michele Bachmann is going to make her play because her family‘s from Iowa. She‘s a big cultural conservative, anti-abortion, et cetera.
So, that will matter on the cultural right. That will be the playoff game in the culture right. Mitt Romney absolutely has to win New Hampshire. It‘s a neighboring state. It‘s supposed to be libertarian, conservative state. He‘s going to focus on economic issues.
And then the big confrontation I think after those two will be in South Carolina, where you‘ll have both economic types and the cultural types facing off against each other, but Pawlenty has to win Iowa and Romney has to win New Hampshire. And I‘m not sure either will win either.
MADDOW: This is—this is the best year yet and it‘s just getting started, Republican primary politics.
Howard Fineman, MSNBC political analyst, “Huffington Post” media groups editorial director—Howard, it‘s always a pleasure to have you here. Thank you.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: We‘ve got some breaking news our of the White House to report
unexpected report from the White House about somebody leaving who was not expected to be leaving. We‘ll have that for you when we come back.
MADDOW: -- on a big white board with erasable markers. The White House indicated tonight that they hope to find Mr. Goolsbee‘s successor as quickly as possible. The position does require Senate confirmation. And right now the U.S. Senate, it is impossible to get confirmation that today is Monday and ice is cold, let alone can you get anybody through the Senate and into an important job.
But, again, the news out of the White House today, on a day where Anthony Weiner‘s sex scandal press conference dominated all else in politics, the news is that the head of the Council of Economic Advisers, Austan Goolsbee, will be leaving the administration.
We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: After a day of political news dominated by a member of Congress screwing up his marriage, after a litany of very, very specific information and pictures of exactly how that congressman screwed up his marriage, “The Best New Thing in the World Today” is the antidote to all that. Also about a marriage, also about the marriage of a member of Congress, but it is the opposite of screwed up.
All right. Last night, U2 played a show in Seattle. When they played their hit “Beautiful Day,” the band dedicated the song to Gabby Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman still recovering from an assassination attempt in January.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to dedicate this to Gabby Giffords, a beautiful spirit who served her country and nearly died, serving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, remember Congresswoman Gabby Giffords‘ husband is Mark Kelly, captain of the space shuttle Endeavour, which is up at the International Space Station right now. Gabby Giffords chose the song “Beautiful Day” to be Commander Kelly‘s wakeup call for his first morning in space on the shuttle. So, that‘s the back story.
U2 dedicates the song to Gabby Giffords. It‘s an important song for her and her husband who is up on the space shuttle at the space station right now, and in the middle of this U2 concert in Seattle last night, watch what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK KELLY, NASA COMMANDER: Hello, Seattle! From the International Space Station!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What words would he have to say to us? What would be on Commander Kelly‘s mind? These people are heroes.
What‘s on your mind, Commander Kelly?
KELLY: I‘m looking forward to coming home. Tell my wife I love her very much. She knows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Space shuttle commander Mark Kelly quoting David Bowie. Commander Kelly with in effect a love song from space for his wife, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. That is the antidote to today‘s bad news about congressional marriages from Anthony Weiner. And it is also “The Best New Thing in the World” today.
Thanks very much for being with us tonight.
Now, it is time for “THE ED SHOW.” Have a great night.
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