updated 12/20/2011 10:05:18 AM ET 2011-12-20T15:05:18

Guest: Barney Frank, Josh Rogin


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ed. Thank you.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Two totally unrelated headlines. One about something life or death,
something monumental; and one about something political and probably
ethereal. But both of the headlines impossible to imagine even a few
months ago.

Here`s the first one, the monumental one. Last convoy of American
troops leaves Iraq. Iraq war now officially 100 percent over. After
nearly nine years of war. It started for weapons of mass destruction.
That war not there.

Here`s the other headline. Ron Paul takes the lead in Iowa.

Welcome to news from the department of impossible. These two
headlines coinciding is simply that, a coincidence. But it is a striking
coincidence, because Ron Paul, the new front-runner in Iowa, is the only
candidate in the Republican presidential field who is not a George W. Bush
foreign policy inheritor. Ron Paul is the only one who doesn`t want the
Iraq war, say, to go on for longer. And Ron Paul is officially leading the
pack in the first Republican nominating state as of the day that the Iraq
war officially ends.

Now, if you think that might mean that Republican candidates are
finally competing to put into practice their party`s long popular rhetoric
about living within our means and a humble foreign policy and the limited
reach of government, that would not be the case.

Here with the previous Iowa Republican front-runner, Newt Gingrich, to
disabuse us of that notion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: One of the things you say is that if you
don`t like what a court has done that Congress should subpoena the judge
and bring him before Congress and hold a congressional hearing. Some
people say that`s unconstitutional, but I`ll let that go for a minute.

I just want to ask you from a practical standpoint, how would you
enforce that? Would you send the Capitol police down to arrest him?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you had to. Or you`d
instruct the Justice Department to send the U.S. Marshal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: If you like that limited government idea of divided power,
co-equal branches of government, Newt Gingrich has a new idea we should
instead be a country where one branch of government has judges arrested if
that judge rules in a way the other branch doesn`t like.

That said, Mr. Checks and Balances there does find himself fading in
the polls now. After a full month of Newt-mentum, after jumping out to a
huge national lead over Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich has officially fallen
back down to earth.

And some of his fading numbers are now, sort of for the first time of
the non-Romney contenders, for the first time, some of his falling numbers
are redounding to Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is now polling at 28 percent in
this new national poll released by CNN. That is rarified error for Mitt
Romney. That is error that he is only dreamed of breathing this year. He
is on the rise.

There is, of course, not a national race for the Republican
nomination, though. We don`t vote nationally. We vote in order. And
first we vote in Iowa.

And what`s happened in Iowa is that Newt Gingrich has fallen by eight
points in the latest PPP survey. He has dropped eight points in Iowa in
the span of a week. Ron Paul is now leading the pack there.

Is that because of Ron Paul`s isolationist foreign policy, his
position on things like Iraq and Iran? Who knows?

Ron Paul is now the sixth front-runner in Iowa this year. Sixth. And
it can`t be that they`ve just been waiting for an isolationist to come
along. I mean, they picked in turn Mitt Romney and Rick Perry and Michele
Bachmann and Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain and now Ron Paul.

Iowa Republicans do not seem to want any one particular thing. They
seem to want everything in turn.

But to the extent that this race is about the whole country learning
what the Republican Party is like right now and what Republican politics
are like right now, it is worth noting at this juncture that it is, in
fact, possible to be the front-runner in Iowa if you`re an isolationist.
It`s possible to be the front-runner in Iowa without winning the Murdoch
primary, without getting FOX News on your side, to spend a little time
trolling through FOX News Channel transcripts on Lexus Nexus searching for
the words Ron Paul, to understand very quickly what it means in 2011 to
lose the FOX News Channel Murdoch primary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: I think right now anybody other than Ron
Paul could beat Obama if the election were tomorrow.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER NYC MAYOR: Ron Paul to me is just a
complete distraction.

BILL BENNETT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Look, there is no foreign policy.
There`s no commander-in-chief, because his notion of foreign policy is
impossible.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Single-handedly be responsible for the re-
election of Obama, which could you would think is the very thing that he
doesn`t want.

DICK MORRIS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I absolutely, positively guarantee
you that if Ron Paul is the Republican nominee --

BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS: He`s not going to be.

MORRIS: -- Barack Obama is the next president.

O`REILLY: Right. He`s not going to be the nominee.

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: If Ron Paul wins here, what then?

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Well, the Ron Paul people are not going to
like my saying this. But to a certain degree, it will discredit the Iowa
caucuses.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW: FOX News Channel decidedly not on the Ron Paul bandwagon.
You know, for a while when Mitt Romney was really losing the FOX News
Channel Murdoch primary, you could tell Romney was losing that because he
wasn`t showing up on FOX News anywhere. But, now, if it`s a day of the
week that ends with "Y," Mitt Romney is probably somewhere on the FOX News
Channel.

And if it is a day of the week that ends with "Y" and FOX News Channel
is talking smack about a particular Republican candidate, the candidate
they`re likely talking smack about is Ron Paul. And mostly what they`re
talking smack about is Ron Paul`s isolationism on foreign policy.

Literally every other Republican candidate, for all of their
diversity, for all the different thing that each of them prioritizes for
all of their policy positions and outlooks, all of them except for Ron Paul
have indicated they would like to start a war with Iran, please, the sooner
the better. And all of them have to a greater or lesser extent criticized
the fact that the Iraq war is ending. The only problem with that war is
that it hasn`t gone on long enough.

Ron Paul stands alone on those issues. And he gets pilloried for it
by the establishment Republicans and by the establishment Republican media.

But the idea of not getting involved in another war in Iran, for
instance, is something that does get Ron Paul applause from Republican
audiences, at Republican debates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know what I really
fear about what`s happening here? It`s another Iraq coming. It`s war
propaganda going on.

And we`re arguing -- to me the greatest danger is that we will have a
president that will overreact. Nuclear weapons are loaded over there.
Pakistan and India -- Israel has 300 of them. We have our ships there. We
got to get it in a proper context. We don`t need another war.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: Understood. And you make that point quite a
lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: You make that point quite a lot. Now please stop making it.

It is likely that whoever wins Iowa, it really will not matter all
that much. I mean, it could be Ron Paul, could be Michele Bachmann, could
be anyone other than Rick Santorum really. I mean, it could be Mike
Huckabee, right? It was Mike Huckabee in 2008.

The uncomfortable truth about the carpet bombing coverage of the Iowa
Republican caucuses is that Iowa, itself, doesn`t much matter when it comes
to the process of picking the Republican nominee for president anymore. It
is not predictive of what Republicans in the rest of the country are going
to do when it`s their turn to vote. Winning Iowa mostly just means you are
popular in Iowa. Good for you.

But the persistent popularity of Ron Paul both in Iowa and elsewhere,
his sustained fund-raising, his sustained support, his sustained ability to
turn out big crowds, his appeal across the country, his cross demographic
appeal, where he can get people without gray hair to turn out to Republican
candidate events.

No offense to people with gray hair. I have some myself.

What is most interesting about Ron Paul is not just his isolationism.
There`s always been a strain of that in Republican politics. Pat Buchanan
ran as an isolationist among other things when we ran back in the `90s.

What`s most interesting about Ron Paul is the extent to which his
domestic stuff, his social issue libertarianism, his position on things
like not just the war in Iraq but the war on drugs, calls out a really
uncomfortable truth in modern Republican politics which is that Republicans
want their brand to be small hands-off government.

But the policies they support are more like big intrusive government -
- things like forced mandatory drug testing by the government and federal
regulation of every marriage in every state in the country, and rounding up
and arresting federal judges I guess now, and the government putting people
in jail for smoking marijuana.

Ron Paul is for the decriminalization of drugs, which is a coherent
position for a small government conservative, personal responsibility,
liberty. That`s what Republicans say they are for. But to be Ron Paul in
this instance, in this year, in this set of politics, to be Ron Paul in
this Republican Party, means that in this next clip from this weekend, you
are not with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan or conservative columnist
George Will. In this next clip, you small government conservative, you are
with Barney Frank.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Can I get an answer on
marijuana, George? Are you with me? I mean, personal liberty, if someone
wants to smoke marijuana who`s an adult, why do you want to make them go to
jail?

GEORGE WILL, ABC NEWS: With regard to marijuana, I need to know more
about whether it`s a gateway drug to other drugs. I need to know how
you`re going to regulate it, whether you`re going to advertise it.

FRANK: It`s been around for a long time. Gateway, anything is a
gateway to anything. Let`s put it this way. That`s the slippery slope
argument which is a very anti-libertarian argument. The fact that if
somebody`s doing something that`s not in and of itself wrong, but it might
lead later on to something else, then stop the something else. Don`t lock
them up for smoking marijuana.

WILL: What you`re calling a copout is I`m calling a quest for
information.

FRANK: How long is it going to last? We`ve been doing this for
decades.

WILL: I understand liberalism is a version of information because it
often doesn`t go in their direction.

FRANK: I`ve been studying this for a long time. You know, you`re on
Medicare. I mean, how much longer are we going to have to wait for you to
make up your minds?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC NEWS: I wanted to get back to the issue of
social mobility because I think it is the basic --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. Let`s get off marijuana and on to this.

FRANK: It`s a great embarrassment to the conservatives that they want
to tell people --

(CROSSTALK)

FRANK: -- big government. Who can I have sex with? Who can I marry?
What can I read? What can I smoke?

You guys, not on the whole, not all of you, but it`s the conservatives
who want to intrude on personal liberty there.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: All right. Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Taking that into account.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Please stop talking about the issues. Maybe we`ll see a
Barney Frank/Ron Paul wing of the Republican Party emerge. I wonder how
that would do in South Carolina.

Joining us now is Dave Weigel, political reporter for Slate.com and an
MSNBC contributor.

Dave, thanks for being here. It`s nice to have you here.

DAVE WEIGEL, SLATE.COM: Thanks. Good to see you.

MADDOW: You have followed Ron Paul and his relationship with the
Republican Party for a long time before these primaries.

WEIGEL: Since the beginning of 2007, really.

MADDOW: Yes. Some of your -- part of the reason I started paying a
lot of attention to you as a reporter because I thought you were trenchant
and insightful and not dismissive about Ron Paul in a way that really
resonated with me.

Do you think that he is more acceptable to the Republican
establishment now than he used to be? Or is he still on the same
relationship with them that he`s always been in?

WEIGEL: Well, he talked in 2007 about building up the Republican
Party, adding more people to it. I think he actually succeeded in part
bringing people who might have been up for grabs. I talked to Ron Paul
voters in 2007 who liked Barack Obama and liked Ron Paul. I actually was
one of those voters.

And once they were disappointed by what Barack Obama did in office,
they`ve remained in his camp. I mean, if you talk to these young people at
rallies, you`ll hear a lot -- the first things they`ll list off, the
reasons they go for him, are the social issues. Then they`ll list the
economic crisis issues.

They come over to his side the way they could have easily been
convinced by Ayn Rand as they could be convinced by Trotsky. You know,
you`re at that age where you`re receptive to ideas like that. He`s added
those people to the party.

I think also because the economy collapsed in 2008, because he`d been
predicting it for so long, doesn`t really matter if he was wrong in
previous instances, you know. The preachers who predict the rapture are
ever right, are we going to forget he got it wrong 20 times? That happened
to him.

And I think people in the Republican Party who disagree with him on a
lot of issues became more sympathetic to him. This coalition in Iowa is
partly the new voters and partly old-line conservatives who would have
listened to him before, but he was right about something.

MADDOW: It`s a little bit, I feel, underappreciated in terms of the
Iowa dynamic, though, that he`s been running a really, really strong
antiabortion campaign in Iowa. He`s essentially campaigning as Ron Paul
obstetrician in Iowa when you look at his ads.

WEIGEL: Four thousand babies.

MADDOW: Do you think that`s driving his more traditional support? Or
how does that -- how does that interact with the support that he`s driven
from younger voters and the people who are motivated in the way you were
just describing?

WEIGEL: They look past it because when voters fall for a candidate,
they look past a lot of things. I mean, voters -- Herman Cain supporters
until the very end looked past a lot of things about Herman Cain.

And so, the social -- the people who will social libertarian mostly
have forgiven him because when will they ever get a chance like this again
to vote for a guy who promises to end the Fed, et cetera?

In Iowa, definitely, the way he put this current coalition together is
him being very heavily on the life issue. It`s very sensitive ad where he
talks to the camera for a minute seeing a baby thrown into a trash can or a
fetus be thrown into the trash can. And he`s gotten away with that,
because no one wants to attack him.

Some of the Iowa kingmakers like Bob Vander Plaats has started to
point out that, look, he says these things, he believes these things. But
as a federalist who doesn`t want to impose this on every single state, and
as somebody, looks at gays in the military, says it`s not any of my
concern, we can`t trust him to actually do this stuff.

We don`t want somebody who just believes it but will enforce it.

MADDOW: Will enforce through big government which he doesn`t believe
in.

(CROSSTALK)

WEIGEL: -- these judges, et cetera. And he`s gotten away with it so
far. But this is two weeks before the caucus, people taking him seriously.
We`ll see if that lasts.

MADDOW: Do you think the combination of that sort of two-pronged
appeal that you`re describing and what`s needed to win in Iowa, which
everybody says is organization, organization, organization -- does he have
that other side of it? Do you think that he actually could end up winning?

WEIGEL: The organizational side, he`s always had that. He was only
about 100 votes short of Michele Bachmann in the Ames straw poll.

MADDOW: That`s right. Yes.

WEIGEL: And actually, they talked about this since then. No one
wanted to interview Ron Paul after he came in second to Michele Bachmann.
Look, he got nearly 10,000 votes around the ballot in that caucuses in
2008. He got nearly 5,000 votes in that straw poll. And, typically, you
do about at least six or seven times better.

He actually has the numbers to put this together. And that`s why I
think that is important. But also the factor that Mitt Romney would not
mind if this is the guy who ends up being the next anti-Romney. It`s very
cynical. But that can help him.

No, he`s got an organization the Republican Party did not see coming,
as I think you put it very well in the first segment.

MADDOW: And Romney is not going to spend $3 million destroying him
the way that he has with Gingrich.

WEIGEL: He`s like (INAUDIBLE), the best man, sometimes you like to
have somebody else take care of the mess and you can move in later.

MADDOW: Dave Weigel from Slate.com and MSNBC contributor, somebody
who I read every day but do not talk to frequently enough. Thanks, Dave.

WEIGEL: Thank you.

MADDOW: Good to see you.

All right. Congressman Barney Frank who you just saw a moment ago
making good Sunday morning laughs on ABC, will be joining us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Kim Jong Il, the North Korean dictator, is dead. Please hold
your applause until the end. There`s more to say. That`s coming up in
just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: We should have known very early on in the tenure of the
Republican majority in the House of Representatives that the leader of the
Republicans in the House, Speaker John Boehner, was having a tough time
with his job. Here in the Beltway broadcasting from D.C. tonight, here in
the Beltway, the common wisdom is the reason John Boehner is having such a
tough time is of all those Tea Party Republican congressmen that he`s got.
They`re just wacky and rebellious and nobody can tame them. They`re like
wild legislative animals.

But sorry about the common wisdom. Since people have started looking
at the voting records and concluding that Tea Party Republicans vote with
the rest of their party nearly all of the time, I don`t believe that
explains what`s going on with John Boehner. I think John Boehner`s record
explains what`s going on with John Boehner.

On day one, the first day Republicans were in charge of the House,
they flailed their way through a reading of the Constitution, skipping some
sections by accident, because the pages got stuck together in the three-
ring binder they were reading from and then leaving out some sections on
purpose because they just didn`t want to read them.

Also day one, two Republicans who managed to miss the swearing in
ceremony on the House floor tried instead to take their oath from a
television that was broadcasting the ceremony. And then they tried to
start voting on stuff as if they had actually been sworn in by the
television. That had to be undone.

The brand new Republican majority also passed a bunch of new rules
about transparency and accountability and citing the constitutional
authority for every single bill they introduced and almost immediately,
they started violating those new rules, their own rules.

The John Boehner-led house Republicans also promised to cut spending
for every bill that adds to the deficit. They promptly broke that promise
by exempting their own legislation from the new rule.

And there`s their jobs, jobs, jobs problem, right? John Boehner`s
Republican majority keeps talking about jobs. But what they`ve been
working on is stuff like rolling back abortion rights and defunding Planned
Parenthood and defunding NPR.

And then there were the competing State of the Union responses from
Republicans. The official response from Paul Ryan and randomly the Tea
Party response that CNN aired live from Michele Bachmann.

And don`t forget the legislative losses. The John Boehner-led House
Republican leadership has repeatedly brought up bills for a vote only to
have them fail because they don`t have enough Republican support which is
the kind of thing you`re supposed to know in advance.

Remember when House Republicans promised to cut $is100 billion from
the budget? Yes, me neither. And now, nearly a year into his tenure as
speaker of the House, yet again, Republicans thought they had a deal. They
did, in fact, have a deal on extending the payroll tax cut.

Here`s the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell high fiving over
that deal with another senator on Friday. Woo, we did it, got a deal, yes,
give me five. Oh!

On a Saturday conference call, Mr. Boehner, himself, reportedly called
it a good deal and a victory for Republicans. But now, it is up to John
Boehner`s caucus to actually vote on it and all signs point to a new vote.

House Republicans under the leadership of John Boehner are poised
tomorrow to vote against the deal their own party brokered and high-fived
over and pitched as a victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: We outright reject the
attempt by the Senate to kick the can down for 60 days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: And that`s why there is now a real threat that everybody in
America who earns a paycheck is about to get a big tax hike starting in
January. When the tax break everybody`s getting right now is set to
expire, it`s because the Republican leadership in Congress thought they had
a deal to extend it, but it turns out John Boehner couldn`t keep the deal
together.

It`s the same reason extended unemployment benefits might expire.
Republicans thought they had a deal to get that done. But John Boehner
does not seem to be able to pull it off in the House.

You can blame this on some crazy Tea Party revolt. But without
evidence that people identified with the Tea Party are voting any
differently than the rest of the Republicans in the House, there is a
simpler explanation for why Republicans cannot pass things that they come
up with. Their own ideas, their own deals.

There is a simpler explanation for why Republicans cannot get anything
done. It is, as yet, only a hypothesis, but there`s a growing body of
support for it. It could just be that John Boehner is bad at this job.

Joining us now with the latest is Congressman Barney Frank, Democrat
of Massachusetts, joins us from the Hill.

Congressman Frank, thank you for being here.

FRANK: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: From the outside, it looks like the Republicans after a very
long meeting tonight are still going to vote against extending the payroll
tax cut. Is that what you understand is about to happen?

FRANK: Well, it`s even worse. By the way, I agree with you, this is
probably a measure of John Boehner`s incompetence.

But increasingly, I think, you know, if you look at the Republican
position, there are a lot of inconsistencies. They are for any possible
tax cut except the one we`re talking about right now when it`s so critical
for the economy. They`re for tax cuts for the wealthiest people in
America, not offset, but when you do a payroll tax on a somewhat regressive
tax, it hits working people more than they take a different position.

Unemployment compensation is not really been controversial,
particularly now. On the one hand, the Republicans, in fact, exaggerate
the degree of difficulty in the economy. And they say, look, there are no
jobs. And then they blame people who don`t have jobs as if they`re not
looking and want to deny them unemployment.

And there was one common theme. You know, H.L. Mencken described
truism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, was having a good
time.

The current Republican ideology is they fear that the American economy
might be recovering. We are doing better than Europe. Things are starting
to come back. And these are people who are so dedicated to the defeat of
Barack Obama that they are clearly prepared to sabotage things that every
economist says are in the national economic interest right now because they
do not want to see Obama go forward.

Now, Boehner`s incompetence, his inability to figure things out is a
part of it. And the other thing I would say agree with you, it`s not true
to say the Tea Party Republicans, because the Republican membership in the
House is divided pretty much in two. Half of them are people who agree
with Michele Bachmann, but the other half are people who are afraid of
losing a primary to someone who agrees with Michele Bachmann.

So you have the only thing that unites them, the only thing they can
get together on is trying to sabotage Barack Obama. And if that means
blocking economic activity that almost every economist, including the very
conservative ones, thinks would be helpful, that`s what they`ll do it.

MADDOW: In terms of the coherence here, to describe it as sabotage
would mean that this is a plan. That they are deliberately trying to
ensure that nothing passes, particularly if something passing would help
the economy. That would imply that they are actually sort of coherently
organized enough to at least make sure nothing gets done.

FRANK: That`s a fair point. I -- that overstates their coherence.
But I would say this. They certainly are happy if the consequence of all
this is that nothing happens. That is, I agree. They didn`t set out and
plan this like a chess match.

But at some point it occurs to them that deadlock is in their
interest, that chaos is their friend because it means undermining what, you
know -- look, six months ago, there was talk about a second recession.
That`s clearly not a problem here in America. We have a European situation
that holds us back a little. But we`re moving ahead.

But the other interesting point I want to make is this. And you said,
you know, they planned to vote against it. Well, there are enough
Republican, a handful maybe, who are worried about political survival if
they do vote to let taxes go up and if they vote to cut unemployment.

So, Boehner as of now, we are told -- I just left the Democratic
whip`s office -- they`re not going to allow this to come up for a vote.
You correctly talked about their views about transparency and openness.
The Republican leadership is apparently afraid that if the Senate-passed
bill came up with all the Democrats being supportive, enough Republicans
would vote for it so it would pass.

So what do these people committed to majority rule and transparency
and democracy do? They have announced that they`re going to use their
control over the procedures not to allow it to come to a vote, because they
are afraid that there might be out of the 245 Republicans, 35 or 40 who out
of sense of survival will vote with us.

MADDOW: In terms of that sense of survival, if this doesn`t pass and
if the payroll tax cut expires at the end of the year and people start
seeing their paychecks shrink in January, does your political sense tell
you that people will blame Washington in a generic sense? And Democrats in
the White House and Republicans will all get hurt equally in the court of
public opinion? Do you think people will discern this is something
Republicans weren`t able to bring themselves to do?

FRANK: I am hoping, obviously, it`s the latter because that`s
accurate. As you point out, this is a deal that Mitch McConnell made with
Harry Reid. It is clear given where we are in the senate, the only way to
get this through -- I`d love it to be an indefinite extension. The only
way to get it through is to do this.

And there may be some of this -- oh, it is all their fault. I will
say that troubles me when people said, well, why can`t you work it out? I
can`t work out constructive measures with people who are dedicated to kind
of tearing things down.

The thing that worries me more, though, is not just who gets blamed
for this. But this will be very bad for the economy. And the economy is
doing better. It`s not nearly as good as it should be, but if you look at
various indicators, there is reason to think that next year, we will have
significant growth, much better than are people in Europe. And if Europe
doesn`t collapse, we could get significant growth.

This will undermine that. And the tragedy is that the Republicans are
gambling, maybe successfully, that they can cause damage to the economy and
then benefit from it politically because the president will always get a
blame when the economy`s not doing well.

MADDOW: Congressman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, there on
the Hill working late tonight and joining us -- thanks for your time
tonight, sir. I really appreciate it.

FRANK: Thank you, Rachel. Appreciate it.

MADDOW: I have an imaginary tinfoil hat that you have to imagine me
putting on. Although when I`m on this set with these pretty poinsettias, I
feel like I can`t really put it on. I would ruin the look.

Anyway, imagine I have a tinfoil hat. I have a wild conspiracy theory
about the 2012 election that is brewing. And the reason I have to wear the
imaginary hat is because otherwise the gamma ray damage could be extensive.
So, if you have an imagine tear tinfoil hat, you have to put on one, too.

That`s just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I have an old prediction that everyone, including me, thought
I got 100 percent wrong -- may turn out to actually be right after all in
the long run. For a while, I was convinced that Sarah Palin would make a
bid in 2012 for the Republican presidential nomination.

Tonight, none other than Sarah Palin said during an appearance on the
FOX Business Network that, "It`s not too late for folks to jump in. Who
knows what will happen in the future?" Indeed, who knows?

One thing we do know that if Governor Palin wants to run as a
Republican, it sort of is too late. She has missed the filing deadlines
for all the early primaries. She can`t even adopt the Rudy Giuliani
memorial wait until Florida strategy. May it rest in peace -- because
Florida`s ballot deadline was this past October 31st, on Halloween.

So if Sarah Palin wants in, she`ll have to run as a third party
candidate. She cannot be the Republican nominee for president.

I have another prediction, really more of a theory that somebody else
might also give it a go.

Former half term governor of Alaska is not your last hope,
dissatisfied Republican voter. There may be another one. That`s coming
up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Every half full glass of water is also half empty. There is
a cloud for every silver lining. No matter how naturally sunny your
disposition, if you look hard enough, there really is a down side to
everything in life, even something like the death of Kim Jong Il. It turns
out it has a down side.

There are few, if any, deaths worth celebrating in the world, but this
year has been a banner year for those that at least come close. May 1st,
the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. October 20th, the death of
Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. And now, last night, word from North Korea of
the death of the "dear leader." He supposedly died of a heart attack while
on a train.

But Kim Jong Il, details from state media are often wildly, flagrantly
made up. So, read into that what you will.

It is hard not to see the sunny side of the death of an autocrat who
kept millions of his citizens on the brink of starvation and worse. In
this case, the down side of Kim Jong Il dying is that the American
government who was apparently on the brink of announcing a historic
agreement with North Korea, an agreement to give them hundreds of thousands
of tons of food, essentially in exchange for North Korea putting their
nuclear program on ice.

It was 2006 when North Korea joined the nuclear club -- a club that
threatens to become less and less exclusive all the time. North Korea
detonated in 2006 a rather feeble but nevertheless nuclear explosion.

What was reportedly in the works for this deal, this current deal, was
North Korea would hit the pause button own enriching uranium for the
nuclear weapons program in exchange for us giving them food for their
people.

Back in the 1990s, a similar deal was in the works. North Korea would
push the nuclear pause button in exchange for getting help with
electricity. That deal fell through for different reasons.

But this is what North Korea looks like at night from space these
days. The diagonal strip of bright lights that looks like a sea horse,
that`s Japan. Across from the southern part of Japan is South Korea.

Just above that, the part we outlined there, the dark empty space,
that`s not empty, it`s not the ocean. It`s not wilderness. That`s North
Korea after the sun sets and the lights do not go on.

When you look down from space, this nation of 25 million people looks
like it could be a thousand years ago.

In May, Amnesty International published their own satellite images of
North Korea`s prison camps where it`s believed that people are not just
sent for punishment. They`re not just sent to work. They are sent to work
until they die in starvation conditions.

North Korea`s extensive prison network isn`t new. It`s been around
for decades. And for the past 10 years, we have been able to get aerial
data from at least six North Korean prisons. You can see them here in
satellite images from 2001.

In just one of those prison camps, there are an estimated 50,000
people. Prisoners in many cases worked to death.

Escaped prisoners telling Amnesty International that 40 percent of
prisoners were dying of malnutrition, alone. What Amnesty International
found this year when they looked at new satellite pictures was that these
gulags were growing, they were getting bigger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM ZARIFI, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: We understand that there are at
least six political prisoner camps, and these are vast areas. These are
huge areas and that there`s, we think, a total population of around 200,000
people.

SUSAN WOLFINBARGER: Here we see the main layout for the entire Yodok
prison facility. These areas you see at the very beginning are
administration buildings and there are also barracks for the guards where
they live. Particularly we`ve seen the growth in this first area that
you`re entering the camp in, but there`s also been some growth in other
areas.

The camp spreads up along two river valleys, and so there has been
growth in roads going in both of those directions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It is thought that the camps spread up along valleys and
rivers, the way you heard described there because Kim Jong Il and the North
Korean government have been trying to hide them. And that strategy might
work for eyes at ground levels. But these days, you need to not only hide
from eyes at ground level, you need to hide from satellite eyes in the
upper atmosphere. Hiding atrocities on a mass scale is technologically
more difficult than it used to be, being held accountable for them is still
tough.

Now that Kim Jong Il is dead, maybe that is an opportunity for change
in North Korea. Maybe. Maybe it`s a chance to pry open that society to
some semblance of international normalcy after decades of personality
communist autocracy.

And maybe even if that`s true, this has just become a very dangerous
time for the 25 million people who live in North Korea, who have had stolen
from them the opportunity to even fend for themselves of people who need
food, and whose fate including on this big U.S. food deal right now, has
just been delivered to the ministrations of Kim Jong Il`s young son.

Joining us now is Josh Rogin. He`s a staff writer for "Foreign
Policy" magazine and author of the blog "The Cable."

Josh, thanks for being here. It`s nice to have you here.

JOSH ROGIN, FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE: Great to be here.

MADDOW: Was it a very bad sign that the first thing we heard out of
North Korea after Kim Jong Il is dead, oh, and, by the way, here`s our next
missile test?

ROGIN: There`s two ways to look at it. I mean, the bottom line is,
nobody knows what`s in the mind of the North Korean leadership as they do
these things. I`ve heard from administration sources today that the
missile tests were already planned and the Obama administration is trying
to play this as -- oh, well, look, this is something that they always do
and the left hand might not know what the right hand is doing.

On the other hand, that`s the biggest problem that you mentioned, is
that nobody knows who really has their hand on the button in North Korea.
The new leader, Kim Jong Un is 27, 28, 29, depending who you ask. He may
or may not be controlled by Kim Jong Il`s brother-in-law and sister.
Nobody knows if he has control or over the military or if the military has
control over him.

What`s happening with the loose nukes? Whether he`s going to be able
to consolidate his power. How long that`s going to take? And then what`s
going to happen next? And will his policies be different?

There are so many unanswered questions that it really boggles the
mind.

MADDOW: When you worry about loose nukes, the potential for
proliferation, but also nuclear weapons and them being used as nuclear
weapons.

In Pakistan, even with all the instability in Pakistan, there is this
assurance that there`s a military and intelligence establishment that for
whatever your beef is with them in other ways, they actually do have the
nuclear thing sort of under control. At least that`s the argument that is
made.

Can you make any sort of argument like that in North Korea?

ROGIN: Well, yes. So, there`s more transparency in Pakistan. That`s
not to say there`s a lot of transparency in Pakistan. But nobody is seeing
these nukes. We`ve explosions that we assume were nukes, the testing to
think that they are nukes. We don`t know how many they have, we don`t know
where they are, we don`t know who has control over them.

Let`s remember here that Kim Jong Il`s single biggest project was to
acquire the bomb. He believed the survival of his regime was dependent on
North Korea being a nuclear nation so that nobody, including the United
States could challenge that rule. He achieved that.

And no matter what we give them in food or money or whatever, they`re
not ever likely to give up the bombs that they have. They might slow down
the pace of the bombs. They might try to tell us they`re not going to
build anymore.

But let`s realize that North Korea is going to be a nuclear nation as
far as the eye can see and deal with them based on those terms. And who
has control over the nukes is a huge, unanswered question.

MADDOW: You hear numbers as high as 6 million people in starvation
conditions in any one time in North Korea out of a nation of 25 million.
We`re not talking poverty. We`re talking starvation level.

This food deal, I know -- I realize that the administration`s
perspective on this is that there`s never a direct trade. We`re never
giving them food in order to get a concession on nuclear issues. But both
of those things are supposedly on the table at once. So, make of that what
you will.

Do you have any reason to believe either side of that might still
happen with Kim Jong Il dead? Either the nuclear concessions or getting
them the food?

ROGIN: So, isn`t this a crazy situation? They were going to announce
the food deal today. They`ve been working on it for months.

U.S. officials, that food officials and the nuclear officials happened
to be in Beijing last week at the exact same time, even though the Obama
administration says there`s no link, it`s just a coincidence. They were
about to roll out this huge, ambitious controversial project in the face of
a lot of Republican opposition, by the way. That`s all on hold for the
indefinite future.

Now, what does this mean? This means that -- it doesn`t mean that the
North Koreans are going to starve more. It means that they`re going to be
more dependent on China because the one country that will always give North
Korea enough food to keep its people just above the starvation line is
China.

So, now, the ball is completely in China`s court. They have all of
the leverage. It`s not clear how much leverage that is.

Will they use it? What is their stake here? What is their agenda?
These are also unanswered questioned.

So, now, the focus shifts away from the U.S./North Korea bilateral
relationship, which is where we were until yesterday, to the U.S./China
relationship, the South Korea/China relationship and the U.S./South Korea
relationship. That`s where the action is now and it`s going to take weeks
to play out if not months.

MADDOW: Do you have any hope this is a crack -- Kim Jong Il dying is
a crack in the autocracy that it could be destabilizing enough that North
Korea`s trajectory radically changes?

ROGIN: Well, I`m an optimistic guy. So, I always have a little bit
of hope.

But the indications point the other way, because what do we have? We
have a 27-year-old, 28-year-old leader who has no constituency. Kim Jong
Il before he took over was trained for 20 years.

There was this entire cult of personality built around him. He was
rumored to have scored 11 holes in one in his first round of golf, right?
So, this was to convince the North Korean people he was a supreme figure.

His son doesn`t have any of that going for him. He`s a much weaker
position. He`s only been prepared for a couple of years. So, he`s much
more dependent on the organs of power inside North Korea. We`re talking
about the generals, his family members, the rich families. There are some
very rich families.

So they will control the agenda as much as he will. That`s a big
problem. That points more toward the status quo rather than some radical
change.

MADDOW: I used that hole in one thing to get the gig at MSNBC so I
need a whole new one. So, I`m going to watch closely on the succession
there.

Josh, thank you, man. Nice to see you here. Thank you.

Josh Rogin is a staff writer for "Foreign Policy" magazine. He`s
author of the blog "The Cable," which you should bookmark.

OK. It`s tinfoil hat time. Follow me down the election conspiracy
rabbit hole starring the Bush family. That`s coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Best new thing in the world today coming up at the end of the
show. It stars ZZ Top and Rick Perry and other amazing hair. Stick
around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I`m just going to ask it. Why does Jeb Bush have an op-ed in
the Wall Street Journal today? And it`s really campaigny op-ed, too. It`s
all, "As Florida`s governor for eight years" and "we can return to the road
we once now," and "Congressman Paul Ryan." That`s a sure sign that a
Republican politician is feeling ambitious these days when they write a
public love letter of Paul Ryan, the congressman with the kill Medicare
plan.

Mitt Romney is even running ads now that make it look like it`s
actually Paul Ryan who is the candidate.

But Mitt Romney at least is running for president officially. What`s
Jeb Bush doing today with his public mash note to Paul Ryan and "The Wall
Street Journal" "vote for me" op-ed?

Jeb Bush isn`t running for anything, is he? Is he?

A lot of what`s happening in 2012 politics right now is exciting but
it`s not exactly out of the blue. Newt Gingrich`s bubble is bursting right
on schedule. He`s down eight points on one pole in Iowa today. And his
lead over Mitt Romney in national polls is starting to go poof.

The next bubble, or micro bubble looks to be Ron Paul, who was showing
up first in Iowa, believe it or not. In a couple of polls out today, Ron
Paul is ahead.

Mitt Romney is still Mr. Mired in 20-something percent support. He
did perk up a bit in the latest polls today. But, honestly, Mr. Romney`s
poll numbers ought to be the new Google image for flat.

But in the midst of all that explicable, even predictable 2012 news,
here`s something that really doesn`t have an explanation -- someone is
asking voters in New Hampshire for their opinion about Jeb Bush. Last
week, we brought you this story from our guests early this evening, Dave
Weigel at Slate.com. Someone is robo-polling New Hampshire about Obama
versus Mitt Romney and Obama versus Newt Gingrich and Obama versus Jeb
Bush, who supposedly is not running for anything.

Nobody knows who is putting out these calls. Rove says Jeb Bush told
him he`s not doing the robo-polling. So, at face value, that rules out two
possibilities, Karl Rove or Jeb Bush.

But this kind of thing doesn`t just happen. It costs money. You
don`t do this accidentally. Who would spend money asking New Hampshire
voters this question about Jeb Bush for 2012 and why? To what end?

Polling on Jeb Bush would do no good in the New Hampshire Republican
primary. The deadline for filing as a candidate, get your name on the
ballot, that was back in October. There`s no way he could get on the
Republican primary ballot if he tried.

What`s the only other way New Hampshire voters may get a chance to
vote on Jeb Bush for 2012, if not through the Republican primary? Well,
since he can pretty sure he wouldn`t be running in the Democratic primary,
mom wouldn`t allow it I`m sure -- how else might Jeb Bush get on the
ballot?

Well, that brings us to the less mysterious and more conspiratorial
part of my Jeb Bush 2012 conspiracy theory because that question brings us
to the other utterly inexplicable, as yet unexplained 2012 politics story
of this month.

A group called Americans Elect is right now on the path of getting a
line on the ballot in all 50 states, giving voters a third party choice for
president. They are on the ballot in 12 states already. They picked up
California just today. They`re working on the other 38 states, and
observers say there`s no reason they will not make it to all 50. There
will be an Americans Elect line item on the presidential ballot in all
likelihood in every state next November.

Who will be the candidate listed on that line?

The group says they will pick their candidate not through primaries,
but starting this spring through online voting and a virtual convention.
By June, they will have a candidate who can go on the ballot for real in
all 50 states. So, say, for example, the Republican establishment is
worried that a Newt Gingrich or FOX forbid, even a Ron Paul might
successfully challenge Mitt Romney for the nomination, What`s their safety
valve if they`re worried about that?

May I present a figment of my tortured imagination. The New Hampshire
ballot in November 2012, starring Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Newt
Gingrich and Americans Elect party candidate, Jeb Bush.

We asked Americans Elect today if they were doing the polls in New
Hampshire and they said, no, absolutely not.

Jeb Bush`s spokesperson has disavowed them from the start. And also,
quote, "Nothing`s changed. Mr. Bush has said that he will be not be a
candidate next year."

So this one`s impossible, right? Right. Probably.

But it has had me tossing and turning and up all night anyway. Who`s
funding those calls in New Hampshire? And why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Best new thing in the world today. It is and I do not mean
this critically, I mean it sincerely. It is Texas Governor Rick Perry`s
newly enunciated fondness for people`s facial hair, other people`s facial
hair.

You may remember this from a couple weeks back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With that, I think
we`ll open it up with Q & A from the audience. Yes, sir with the beautiful
beard. You get to go first.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Yes, sir, with the beautiful beard. That was three weeks ago
in New Hampshire. It`s kind of weird about the beard, right?

But not bad, just a one off, right? Wrong. Not a one off.

Here`s what happened when the governor made the rounds with the
Saturday morning breakfast crowd in Iowa this weekend. According to the
ABC News embed following Governor Perry, he stopped when he set his eyes on
one voter with a long, white beard.

"We got you a lot going on there," Perry told him as he tugged at the
man`s beard. "You`ve got a good full one."

This is what that exchange looked like. See. There`s the man with
the long white beard. Although you cannot see the tug and the audio isn`t
very good, when our producer Trisha cranked up the sound as high as she
could while wearing a headphone said today she said she thought she could
make out Governor Perry saying "we got you a lot going on there." That was
Governor Perry`s first stop of the day.

At his second event, he zeroed in on someone else. Perry said as he
greeted on over, "I like your beard" and expressed a touch of jealousy that
he can`t grow one of his own. Quote, "I`d grow one but I`ve got too many,
I`d look like an old mangy dog."

"This is kind of ZZ Toppish," the man said about his own beard as
Perry laughed and agreed. "They`re from Texas."

At the mention of ZZ Top, Perry shared a personal moment he had with
the band. "One of the fun things I got to do in life is play drums with ZZ
Top one evening," he said.

ZZ Top, the best beards of all. Governor Perry not only gets the
reference, but, yes, he did play with them at a Bush inaugural event in
2005.

Rick Perry loves beards. Once is amazing, twice is a coincidence.
But three times here is kind of a trend. Based on the magical three
instant sample set, Governor Rick Perry is consistently an entertainingly
and apparently sincerely fond of the beards of his fellow Americans.

Let it fly, Governor. I love it. You openly loving beards to the
point of needing to touch them in other people`s faces in public is the
best new thing in the world today. Let it fly, Gov.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow night from
New York.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a
great night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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