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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, December 29, 2011

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Guests: Christina Bellantoni, Todd Purdum, Steve Kornacki

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: The Republican campaign to destroy the
newest surger, Rick Santorum, is officially under way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`ve been scrubbed and
scoured.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Well, we`ve seen the surge in the latest
poll.

SANTORUM: People know if there`s anything out there, it`s out there.

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: I mean, I can argue with you about some of
your ugly statements on the president and all that --

SANTORUM: Go ahead, Al. Give it to me, Al.

SHARPTON: You said some despicable and ugly things.

SANTORUM: I don`t claim to be anything to what I am.

SHARPTON: But that would probably help you in the primary if you and
I gone in an argument this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Santorum jumping 11 points in a new poll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Santorum is picking up the lion`s share of
that support.

SHARPTON: Don`t let me help you win the caucus.

SANTORUM: I`ve got a strong consistent conservative record.

GUTHRIE: You make no exception for abortion in the case of rape or
incest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Santorum has done the hard work.

SANTORUM: In two statewide elections, you know, running against
strong candidates, I was able to win the state of Pennsylvania.

GUTHRIE: There`s really just one person who predicted this all along.
You.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: The Republican clown card.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS: That has not been a dull year. That`s for
sure.

SANTORUM: I live a pretty boring life.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`ve been in the private
sector. I know how jobs come and go -- and go and go and go.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: No more mystery about Mitt`s hopes in
Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Is it hard running for the president?

ROMNEY: And that`s a darn good question, and the answer is yes and
no.

MITCHELL: They sound like, you know, great bullet points or bumper
sticker.

ROMNEY: I will use the skills I`ve learned to get government out of
our lives.

EZRA KLEIN, WASHINGTON POST: If, as Romney says, corporations are
people, then perhaps sometimes people can be corporations.

ROMNEY: If you owe the bank $1,000, the bank owns you.

KLEIN: And if any candidate in recent memory is a corporation, it is
Mitt Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Money follows momentum.

ROMNEY: But if you owe the bank $1 million, you own the bank.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s claiming the party soon. I mean, he needs
to win Iowa and win big if he wants to shut this thing down.

MITCHELL: Mitt Romney is sort of in a sweet spot, at least according
to this poll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newt Gingrich is down 19 points.

ROMNEY: I don`t why he`s so angry.

REPORTER: Speaker, what about the new poll out today?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: Less than 24 hours after Rick Santorum appeared in the top
three of an Iowa poll, he earned his first attack ad, courtesy of the Rick
Perry campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Who personally demanded more than $1 billion of earmarks
in his 16 years in Congress? Jay from Ames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Santorum?

ANNOUNCER: Right. Santorum grabbed for a billion in earmarks until
voters kicked him out of office in a landslide.

Audio bonus. Name this congressional porker.

SANTORUM: I`ve had a lot of earmarks. In fact, I`m very proud of all
the earmarks I`ve put in bills.

ANNOUNCER: Jean from Sioux City.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That`s Rick Santorum.

ANNOUNCER: That`s right, Iowa. On taxes and spending, if Rick
Santorum wins, you lose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Rick Santorum obviously decided today that the candidate
that he should be trying to stop is Ron Paul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: The problem with Congressman Paul is that the things that
most people like about him, which is his bold economic plan and he`s
cutting the government are the things that he has proven he`s been
incapable of rallying any support to do. He`s passed one bill in 20 years.

But the thing that he can do when the president has authority
unilaterally is to actually, as commander in chief, pull our troops back.

Iowa needs to send a message. We want a candidate not in the Dennis
Kucinich wing of running for president under our ticket.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Michele Bachmann is clinging to the wreckage of her
campaign in Iowa, no longer talking about what she will do as president,
but rather explaining why her Iowa campaign chair Kent Sorenson, abruptly
defected to the Ron Paul campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Clearly what
that reflected was the nervousness on the part of the Ron Paul campaign
that they were losing steam in Iowa. They told all of our campaign that he
was definitely on board and then he got in his car and he went and
announced he was going with the Ron Paul campaign. But he had told me
specifically that he was offered money, a great deal of money from the Ron
Paul campaign, and that`s why he was leaving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: For what it`s worth, Kent Sorenson says it`s not about the
money. It`s about stopping Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENT SORENSON (R), IOWA STATE SENATOR: I believe we`re at a time when
Michelle is not going to win Iowa. I think we`re -- you know, I`ve seen
Ron Paul in a tough battle, and I knew that he came to my aid when I was in
two tough battles. And I decided it was time for me to come to his aide
and help put him over the top because I do not want Mitt Romney to be
running -- for our nominee. I was never offered a nickel from the Ron Paul
campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Mitt Romney who used to be afraid to go to Iowa, lest
anyone think he actually cared about the results of the Iowa caucus where
he always expected to do very badly, is now so confident of victory in Iowa
that he will host a post-caucus party at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.

Romney`s super PAC Restore Our Future continues to do the dirty work
against Newt Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Ever notice how some people make a lot of mistakes?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I made a mistake. I`ve
made mistakes at times.

NARRATOR: So far, Newt Gingrich has admitted his mistakes or flipped
on, teaming up with Nancy Pelosi, immigration, Medicare, health care, Iraq,
attacking Mitt Romney and more.

GINGRICH: I made a big mistake in the spring.

NARRATOR: Haven`t we had enough mistakes?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, is finding
Gingrich enemies everywhere, including at FOX News. The super PAC put out
this written statement today. "George Will might have fired the first
shots and `The Wall Street Journal` and `National Review` might have
answered the call. But the leader of establishment media`s war against
Newt Gingrich is now clearly Charles Krauthammer of FOX News. C. Edmund
Wright of Winning Our Future theorized that perhaps Krauthammer is a bit
jealous of Newt`s intellect."

Joining me now, national editor for "Vanity Fair," Todd Purdum, and
associate politics editor for "Roll Call," Christina Bellantoni.

Christina, it seems to me the big choice facing every campaign out
there right now is who do I attack? Rick Perry has chosen to attack Rick
Santorum, but the problem in that calculation is, isn`t he helping Mitt
Romney by attacking Rick Santorum? You can`t attack someone and only help
yourself in this field.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, ROLL CALL: Yes, that`s a really interesting
question. I mean, that`s exactly what the campaigns are deciding to do.
And, you know, Bachmann and Ron Paul got into this sort of attack mode
based on this Sorenson defecting. But I think really it`s really after
Christmas, these candidates have just a couple of days left. So, this is
when it gets ugly.

You`ll recall that Huckabee and Romney, you know, really went toe-to-
toe and had a lot of friction in those last few days Iowa in 2008. And I
think that you`re going to see repeated between all of these candidates.

Everyone sort of has to have a frenemy, right? Someone who is their
rival today, but if they don`t reach that viability threshold when Iowans
go to their caucuses on a cold Tuesday night, they need a second choice
candidate. And that`s where, you know, maybe Santorum and Bachmann team
up.

You know, Perry obviously is not going to be able to lend his
supporters to really anyone because he`s gone sort of against, he`s saying
I`m the one anti-establishment guy. He doesn`t support Paul. He doesn`t
support Romney.

So, it`s really going to be pretty nasty over the next few days. And
these super PACs are just the beginning.

O`DONNELL: Todd, the free media events are over. The debates. Newt
Gingrich thought he was going to be participating in a Donald Trump-
moderated debate this week and getting a lot of free attention. But that`s
not happening. It`s coming down to how much campaign money can you put on
TV in Iowa to hit other people.

What can a candidate like Gingrich who doesn`t have that kind of money
do now that those moments for getting off the great one liner have passed?

TODD PURDUM, VANITY FAIR: Well, I guess you can hope to make the most
extreme kinds of statements possible. But, you know, your point is well-
taken. Really, all these other candidates have now spent effectively weeks
helping Mitt Romney because every time they do something, it just tends to
make Mitt Romney look more and more like the one contender in the
Republican field who is actually a potential president.

And I think, at some level, that`s what Governor Romney was counting
on all along. As you know, he`s kind of save his money for the last Iowa.
He now has the money to spend. He`s on the air.

And, yes, I mean, it`s a very amiable position to be in, to have
waited and finally had his moment come and be essentially poised for a
victory in Iowa, because if he should achieve that and then should win, his
neighbor state of New Hampshire, it`s awfully hard to see how these other
candidates get any traction going forward.

O`DONNELL: And, Todd, you point out in your piece in "Vanity Fair"
that in a certain kind of way, what Romney has been up against all year is
the one liner. I just want to read this passage from your piece.

"There is no more perennial or potentially perilous reality of the
modern presidential campaign that the planned, canned, not always grand
one-liner as this year`s Republican primary has reminded the world.
Gingrich and Romney themselves have been notably less successful in finding
the succinct phrase to sum up their cause.

We went through, Todd, the 9-9-9 era of the campaign, which was the
perfect demonstration of what you`re talking about, a candidacy took flight
on something that Republican voters could easily grasp and was easily
thrown out in one line forms during debate.

PURDUM: You know, through hasn`t been, and that`s one exception I
supposed to the rule of this year. But there hasn`t been a dramatic moment
of the sort when Ronald Reagan said, "I`m paying for this microphone," or
Fritz Mondale said, "Where is the beef," or something that`s really caught
fire.

And I think it`s an interesting reality because this campaign has
existed, as you point out, more than most other primary campaigns in memory
really in the media, in all these many debates, and not in the retail
politicking that we had gotten used to in the streets of Iowa and New
Hampshire.

So at some level, it`s interesting that more one liners have not
stuck. It`s really maybe a testament to the fact that these guys are not
that good at it.

O`DONNELL: Now, Christina and Todd, let`s take a look at Jon
Huntsman`s strategy. His Hail Mary pass is aimed away, I guess, from -- I
don`t know how to do this metaphor exactly, but it involves Ron Paul. And
he`s decided that the place where he wants to go to try to get some votes
is Ron Paul, which doesn`t strike me as a good idea.

But let`s take a look at his ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can candidate Ron Paul overcome his newsletter
problems?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some pretty racy and racist things if
you read some of these letters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In one, the author suggests that 95 percent of
black men in Washington, D.C. are criminals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday
for the procommunist philanderer Martin Luther King.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These stooges don`t scare me. Threats or no
threats. I blame the coming race war in our big cities, the federal
homosexual cover-up on AIDS.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, saying that in 1993, the Israelis were
responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center and that kind of
things. All right.

RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Congressman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Well, Christine, he`s aiming at it New Hampshire voters.
But in the Iowa caucus, does that play as an ad for or against Ron Paul?

BELLANTONI: Well, I don`t think Iowans are going to pay attention to
that. They`re certainly not seeing it on their air.

That`s exactly what Huntsman is trying to do in New Hampshire. I
guess he`s thinking that let`s say Paul wins the Iowa caucus, that will
tarnish Romney, which will then drop him in New Hampshire. New Hampshire
is Huntsman`s one play. He`s basically spent all of his time there.

And Paul, I actually had been predicting a couple of months ago that
Paul was going to be the surger in New Hampshire. You know, this Iowa
surge just goes hand in hand with that. I went to several events of his in
New Hampshire in the fall and he really has a lot of support there. You
know, his message plays well with some of those voters.

And so, I think that Huntsman sees, OK, I can`t let Ron Paul come in
second if I want to make any stand here at all. So I`m going to take him
down.

O`DONNELL: Todd, Ron Paul going into New Hampshire does have some
problems, including from the "Union Leader," the newspaper in New
Hampshire. I want to read to you what they said today.

Having already endorsed Newt Gingrich in the past, they say about Ron
Paul, "Ron Paul is a dangerous man. While his domestic libertarian views
are quite attractive to some voters fed up with politics as usual, it is
Paul`s position on issues of our national security that are truly
dangerous. It is about time New Hampshire voters showed him the door.

It seems to me that the New Hampshire Ron Paul supporter may be at the
fringe, appealable away to some other camps.

But who is the most likely beneficiary of defections from Ron Paul`s
camp in New Hampshire?

PURDUM: In New Hampshire?

O`DONNELL: Yes.

PURDUM: Oh, I think you`d to say, you know, probably Huntsman or
really almost anybody, because let`s not forget, the New Hampshire motto is
live free or die. So, Ron Paul`s libertarian stance does have an appeal in
that way there.

But, I mean, New Hampshire has proven itself to be famously
independent, famously quirky, famously impervious to whatever happens in
Iowa. So, I think it will be interesting to watch.

And Christina`s point is well-taken that New Hampshire is really Jon
Huntsman`s only hope at this point. And of all the candidates remaining in
the field, he must just be wondering why he hasn`t been able to get more
traction after all the on-paper qualifications he would seem to have as an
appealing person. It just hasn`t worked for him.

O`DONNELL: Todd Purdum of "Vanity Fair" and Christina Bellantoni of
"Roll Call" -- thank you both for joining me tonight.

BELLANTONI: Thank you.

PURDUM: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up -- Iowa caucusgoers are still asking birther
questions of the candidates. Maybe that`s because caucusgoers are not just
different from you and me, they`re different from most of the people in
Iowa. That`s next.

And why the first question asked of Republican candidates in a
California presidential primary debate should be about porn stars. That`s
in the "Rewrite."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: You know, there`s an old saying in the banking world, which
if -- which is if you owe the bank $1,000, the bank owns you. But if you
owe the bank a million dollars, you own the bank.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONELL: In 2008, a record number of Republican voters turned out to
caucus in Iowa, a huge number, record umber. That number was 120,000
people. That`s just 4 percent of the population of Iowa -- which, by the
way, is a state that Barack Obama then won in 2008 in the general election
by 10 points.

In 2008, the Iowa caucusgoers, Republican caucusgoers, picked Mike
Huckabee as their choice for president, Huckabee dropped out two months
later.

In 1980, Iowa Republicans picked George H.W. Bush over Ronald Reagan,
who eventually won the Republican nomination and the presidency.

In 1988, they picked Bob Dole over George H.W. Bush and it was Mr.
Bush who then went onto become the Republican nominee and win the
presidency.

Iowa`s track record at the picking the Republican nominee for
president is at best spotty.

Joining me now, Steve Kornacki, news editor for "Salon."

Steve, we pay an awful lot of attention to this caucus, because we
must. It`s our duty. And it`s the first. And that`s why they keep
fighting on the calendar to keep at the first.

I want to look at a caucusgoer and the kind of questions that the
candidates are getting in Iowa now. Here is someone who is going to be at
the caucus asking Newt Gingrich a question about President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: According to the Constitution, those that are
running for office must be a citizen of the United States. Why is Mr.
Obama not have to exactly prove his citizenship as he`s going to all these
other countries besides leading our country?

GINGRICH: Let me answer this. I thought you were going to ask if
Donald Trump had citizenship.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No chance. No chance.

GINGRICH: All I can report is the state of Hawaii has certified that
he was born there. We both were with a taxi driver one day who showed us
the hospital. This is one of the issues where, it`s a fact: he is the
president of the United States. Therefore, on a factual level, you know,
citizenship is a moot issue. He is the president.

(END VDIEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Steve, I believe we just saw Newt Gingrich`s finest moment
as a presidential campaigner. We also saw why the Iowa caucus pulls the
Republican Party to the right, and often to positions too far right for
them to negotiate a general election.

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Well, yes. And I think one of the things
that`s at worked there is it`s a caucus system instead of a primary system.
So, that means you`re going to get lower turnout, and that turnout is going
to be sort of disproportionately composed of sort of the activists of the
party. And then you add into that, the interesting thing you sort of
showed there historically is that George Bush Sr. won the Iowa caucuses in
1980.

That kind of result for a candidate like George Bush Sr., who is pro-
choice, who supported the equal rights amendment, who was sort from the
liberal wing of the Republican Party at that time, that`s unthinkable today
because of what happened in the 1980s with the sort of growth and emergence
of the religious right.

In Iowa, the Iowa Republican Party was sort of ground zero for that
organizing effort. So much that by 1988, when Bob Dole won the caucuses
there, second place was Pat Robertson, the televangelist, who actually beat
out Bush, the sitting vice president. So, Iowa has also sort of you know,
from that time going forward, has sort of have been a haven for the
religious right and the nominating process.

I think the other story to consider, though, is that, you know, it
used to be a lot more out of whack with the National Republican Party than
it is now, because the National Republican Party is slowly catching up.
It`s almost dominated by Christian conservatives.

O`DONNELL: And, Steve, it seems to me the Obama reelection campaign
has to be hoping for what, in fact, most Republicans seem to be hoping for,
according to the polls, anyone but Romney. They got to be hoping that
Santorum or Ron Paul or somebody keeps Romney out of the top of the results
in Iowa.

KORNACKI: Right. And I think more specifically, anybody but Romney
and even really Paul, because I think the thinking right now, you know, is
that, let`s say Ron Paul wins this thing and edges out Mitt Romney, and
then there`s a big gap between, you know, Romney, Paul and everybody else.
That still works out to Romney`s benefit because I think most people still
assume the Republican Party will just go to war to stop Ron Paul from
getting the nomination, more than they`re willing to go to the war to stop
Mitt Romney. So, that still works for Romney.

What the Obama people really need right now and anybody who really
wants to see the Republicans kind of stepping it this year, you need a
clear sort of conservative alternative to emerge, whether it`s Santorum,
whether it`s Perry, whether it`s Bachman. You need one of them, even
Gingrich to catch fire in the last few days, move up and maybe win this
thing. And then you`re going to have an extended process, I think.

O`DONNELL: Steve Kornacki of "Salon" -- thank you very much for
joining me tonight.

KORNACKI: Sure.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Chuck Todd will join me from Iowa where he`s
been spending time on the Gingrich bus. And he`s ready to brief us on
everything we need to know about the big day next week.

And in the "Rewrite" tonight, when the Republican presidential
campaign makes it to California, they`ve got a very hot issue waiting for
them. It`s going to be on the same ballot their names will be on. It`s a
proposition about pornography that will test how much the Republican
candidates believe all their anti-government, anti-regulation rants.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: A great news for our final update for the year on the KIND
fund, this shows partnership with UNICEF that builds and delivers desks in
Africa to African schools. Since my last report to you last night on the
KIND Fund, UNICEF has counted $351,626 in additional contributions. Now,
much of that is UNICEF catching up with the flood of online contributions
that poured in over the Christmas weekend.

The total, we have raised this Christmas season is now $1,469,639.
And the total we`ve raised since beginning the program last year is
$3,883,638, a jump of more than $350,000 in the last 24 hours of counting.
That is enough, that total that we have now is enough to build and deliver
nearly 81,000 desks to classrooms in Malawi where most students and
teachers until this program began have never seen a desk.

Over a million students are likely to use these desks in the years to
come.

I want to thank legendary columnist Liz Smith who included a personal
note for her contribution. I want to let the final words you hear about
this year about the KIND Fund come from you, our viewers, who constantly
leave me in awe of your kindness and generosity.

I have just two e-mails for you tonight. First from Jim Jarrett from
Anson, Texas. "Mr. O`Donnell, I`m a social studies teacher at Anson High
School in west Texas. We`re a small school with about 190 students, many
of whom are from families in need. Our district is poor but all of my kids
have desks.

In honor of my kids who accomplished a lot with little, I have
purchased three desks and I am challenging every educator in America to do
the same if they are able. We take care of kids, all kids. Thank you for
your work."

Thank you, Jim. At $48 a desk, I know that`s not an easy contribution
on a public schoolteacher`s salary.

And finally this e-mail from Stan Moroncini. "I`m a veteran of Iraq
and Afghanistan and I spent eight years in the active duty Army. Sometimes
when I get down about dismal job searches and the continuing problems, I
and many veterans encounter with budget cuts while on the G.I. bill and
continuing physical and psychological problem from the ongoing conflicts we
served in. I remember that there are many people who do not have the
opportunity of being born into the greatest country of the world. Despite
budget cuts to education, our schools with a plentiful amount of desks to
go with our classrooms, unlike these children in Malawi who are so eager to
learn they are willing to sit on hard floors for hours. I gave what I can
to the KIND Fund. I know that the donations of so many good people will
make a difference."

Coming up, Chuck Todd joins me from Iowa to give us the state of play
on the ground and to share with us some of the surprising responses he got
in his interview with Newt Gingrich.

And in the Rewrite tonight, there will be a measure on the California
ballot during the Republican presidential primary that will test the
Republican candidates` belief in their anti-regulation, anti-tax rhetoric.
That`s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Can you win the nomination
without winning Iowa?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESDIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sure. Historically,
that`s happened over and over. OK. But you can`t win here if --

O`DONNELL: You have to win one, either Iowa or New Hampshire, don`t
you feel like?

GINGRICH: Win South Carolina. Everyone who has won South Carolina
has been the nominee, every single one.

That`s right. So if you looked at where we first put our team -- our
team -- our biggest team is in South Carolina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now from Atlantic, Iowa, is NBC News political
director, chief White house correspondent and host of MSNBC`s "THE DAILY
RUNDOWN," Chuck Todd.

Chuck, great interview with Newt Gingrich. But I want to get to Ron
Paul and the guy the party is really worried about in Iowa these days.
You`re at a Ron Paul event there in Atlantic, Iowa. What do his supporters
believe at this point? Romney supporters obviously believe their guy can
be president.

Do the Ron Paul supporters believe they`re going to make a statement.
Or do they believe they`re going to nominate a candidate who can win?

TODD: No, this is -- these are statement folks. These are folks that
really want to -- if you`re looking for the devoted crowd, the devoted
supporter, you`re going to find that at a Ron Paul event. You`re not going
to find somebody that I interviewed today, for instance, that drove four
hours to go see Mitt Romney. You are going to find this young man who
drove -- who spent last night making 200 phone calls, he told me, from his
apartment in Minneapolis, to New Hampshire.

Then he drove four hours today. He`s got family that lives close out
here in Iowa. We`re a little west of Des Moines. He drove four hours to
catch a glimpse of somebody. He`s like, it`s just something I wanted to do
before I died, he said. You don`t find that kind of supporter at a Romney
event, at a Gingrich event, at a Santorum event.

It`s just a different vibe when you go to Paul. Lawrence, the other
thing, I was at two of these rallies today. I`ve certainly seen plenty of
these rallies on tape as we cover them. But to be there and hear Ron Paul
himself -- you know, he`s being attacked for his stance on Iran and this
anti-sort of non-interventionist policy that he has staked out in these
debates.

And when you go to these rallies, that`s the biggest applause lines.
The folks that are here, that`s the first thing they say to me. I`m like,
why Ron Paul? Well, he`s the one that`s talking about -- and they`ll mix
in the debt message with the we`ve got to bring troops home message. It`s
a way to focus on America.

O`DONNELL: Chuck, then how many -- what is your sense -- I don`t know
if we have polling on this. But what is your sense, among Paul supporters,
how many of them would not be caucus-goers -- they wouldn`t be Republican
voters if it were not for Ron Paul, especially that anti-war vote?

TODD: Right. Anecdotally, I can tell you this, the folks that I did
some interviews with, and just did a classic sort of interviewing people at
a couple of these rallies. I did run into a woman who caucused for Paul
four years ago, voted for Obama, caucusing for Paul again. This time, she
goes, will, if it`s Obama-Romney, I guess I`ll be for Obama. But she goes,
you know what, I would rather see Ron Paul run third party.

Her friend that was with her goes, you know, I`m writing Ron Paul in
this time. There was you can tell that tinge of disappointment a little
bit in Obama. But I did run into a fair amount of Paul supporters who are
Republicans, but they feel as if the Republican party, they`re somehow --
their wing of the party is being ignored, the libertarian wing.

As you know, this sort of prairie populism, it has a long tradition
here in the Midwest. I think that`s why Ron Paul is probably going to
over-perform where the Republican party is, where his wing of the party is
here and in Iowa. And probably, he`ll do the same in a lot of the
Midwestern states. Remember, a lot of the Midwestern states -- Minnesota
is a caucus state. We`re going to have a lot of caucus states there.

He`ll do well in those. When you get to the primaries, particularly a
state like New Hampshire, that touches water, has a different view and a
different -- when it comes to this non-interventionist foreign policy, he`s
probably not going to do as well.

O`DONNELL: Chuck, it seems to me that Mitt Romney is the only
campaign that has an easy choice of who to attack. They want to attack
Newt Gingrich to eliminate any significant challenge coming his way. You
see Rick Perry attacking Rick Santorum. You see Santorum attacking Ron
Paul.

That`s the one that interested me the most, in the sense that can --
and Huntsman going after Ron Paul. Can anybody really pull supporters away
from Ron Paul? Is that the wrong place to look to try to pick up votes?

TODD: It`s funny you say that. On one hand, I agree with you. Yes,
you`re not pulling anybody away from Paul. What you are doing is capping
them. Paul is trying very much this campaign to become a more mainstream
choice inside the Republican party. You know, they handed out Iowa family
cookbooks today, for instance, the Ron Paul family cookbook. And it was
with pictures of his family.

It was very much -- as a colleague of mine said today, it reminded me
of the Clean for Gene idea, the way Gene McCarthy and his campaign told his
supporters, make sure you shave. Very much trying to -- this version of
the Paul campaign trying to say, hey, we`re more mainstream conservative
Republican than maybe we get credit for. So they`re doing little things
like that.

So that`s one sense that you get in this attempt by Santorum, which is
don`t be let Paul grow, because any growth he does, he`s taking away from
you.

But you bring up an interesting point that we`ve been wondering, which
is, isn`t it amazing, five days out, Mitt Romney clearly is the guy ahead
in the polls here in Iowa. He`s the guy being attacked the least. Go
figure.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, yeah. It`s amazing. I want to get back to Newt
Gingrich, who we all thought we were going to be talking more about this
week, as he was surging earlier this month. You had great ride with him on
the bus yesterday. You pick up things on the campaign bus that you can`t
get anywhere else, that feeling of where they think they are.

On the Gingrich campaign bus, does it feel like they`re in a stall and
they`re not going to get there?

TODD: Well, on one hand, yes. It`s funny. I asked Gingrich. I said
how much of this are you just elated that you`re in the game, right?

O`DONNELL: He has every right to be.

TODD: Right. On one hand, he said -- he goes, a lot of you -- even I
didn`t think I would be where I am right now. But he got the taste of it.
You can tell he got the taste of it a couple weeks ago. Now there`s some
competitive juices here. Now he wants to keep going.

I think he does believe -- frankly the way -- when I talked to our
folks that are on the ground in South Carolina, it`s real. He does have --
if there is one state where he has an organization, it is South Carolina.
And it`s a pretty good one.

So you can see that being a last stand. But I`ll tell you, you go to
the Newt rallies -- I went to a couple of them yesterday. And it was
amazing how many people after the rally, you talk to, they weren`t with
Newt. They were sort of -- they liked him. But they said, well, we`re
kind of undecided.

A couple of them volunteered the Virginia ballot issue, volunteered
it. I didn`t prompt them about it, saying that made him wonder, is he
really built for the long haul? Can he really win this campaign because,
boy, Obama is going to be organized.

It wasn`t about Romney. It was about Obama`s going to be organized.
He -- maybe he doesn`t have it together. I thought, you know, a lot of us
sometimes in the news business, we think, oh, don`t cover process. People
don`t care about process.

But these activists here in Iowa, they are paying attention. I think
that had a little bit more of an impact on his candidacy out here than
maybe some of us realized.

O`DONNELL: I thought there were some great moments in your interview.
I was especially interested in his reaction to how his candidacy has been
received by people who he thought were going to be supportive of him. He
knew he was going to be attacked by the left and all that.

But let`s listen to what he told you about his surprise at the lack of
support he got from some of his former colleagues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I really didn`t expect people I had been colleagues with,
people I had known for years, to be as negative as they have been.

TODD: You don`t know where it came from?

GINGRICH: No. You`d have to go talk to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Chuck, you find out who your friends are in a presidential
campaign.

TODD: No, you do. And I think he did. He really -- that, you can
tell, bothers him, because he thought these were the ideological warriors
with him. He wasn`t just talking about the former members of Congress that
he served with. He was also talking about some of these columnists.

He was also talking about the -- I think the -- from -- whether it`s
the "Wall Street Journal" editorial board page or the Charles Krauthammers
of the world, you know, George Wills -- excuse me. I don`t think
Krauthammer hit him as hard. But I think he`s -- a lot of those
conservative opinion elite in Washington who he spent a lot of time with
them in editorial board meetings.

And I think he thought they were going to be natural allies. And they
came at him with such venom, I think that`s what bothered him.

O`DONNELL: Chuck Todd, thanks for the latest state of play.

TODD: You got it, buddy.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Newt Gingrich couldn`t get enough signatures to
get on the ballot in Virginia. But the AIDS Help Foundation got more than
enough signatures to place a proposition on the Republican presidential
primary ballot in California that is going to drive the Republican
presidential candidates crazy. That`s next in the Rewrite.

And later, the late night comedy writers get THE LAST WORD.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I`ll be the nominee. I mean, it`s very hard not to look at
the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I`m going to be the
nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Speaking of signatures, you know, the 10,000 signatures
that Newt Gingrich failed to get in order to be on the Republican primary
ballot in Virginia? The state of Virginia has a population of 7.9 million
people. Newt Gingrich couldn`t find 10,000 of them who want to see his
name on the ballot.

The city where I am now, Los Angeles, has a population about half the
state of Virginia. And the people of Los Angeles produced 70,000
signatures, 30,000 more than needed to put a measure on the presidential
primary ballot that would require actors in porn to wear condoms while
filming in the city of Los Angeles.

There is no clearer marker of the depths that the Gingrich campaign
has sunk to than the fact that there are more people who want to protect
the health of porn stars than there are people in the entire state of
Virginia who want the chance to vote for Newt Gingrich for president.

But we should all hope that the Gingrich campaign can hang on and make
it all the way to the June 5th California primary. And we can only hope
the rest of the candidates in the Republican clown car can hang on all the
way to California, not just because a bitter long fight for the nomination
is enormously helpful to the Obama reelection campaign, but because if at
least two candidates are left standing when the Republican campaign comes
to California, the very first question I want to hear asked at the debate
is are you in favor of porn stars being required to wear condoms?

There is no better trick question for the Republican candidates.
These are the candidates who swear that the only greater evil than
government regulation is, of course, taxation. And the measure that will
be on the ballot in California with those Republican candidates not only
calls for regulating the -- wardrobes in porn films, but it imposes a fee.

Really it it`s an -- it`s a tax really. It`s really a tax on porn
producers to pay for government inspection of porn film sets, to make sure
the actors are complying with the new government regulation.

Porn producers hate this thing. You would think anything that`s bad
for the porn business is something prudish Republican candidates would want
to -- I`m not going to say get behind. I`m -- the problem for Republicans
is that this is a classic liberal big government imposition of regulation
and taxation on small businesses that Republicans swear to us are already
over-regulated and over-taxed.

And it creates a new kind of government worker whose salary and
benefits Republicans would always be trying to cut, porn set condom
inspectors. Now we know there`s only one Republican candidate who would
have no problem with this question in a Republican debate. Ron Paul would
be vehemently opposed to the regulation and taxation of porn producers to
pay for that regulation.

But where do the rest of the Republican candidates go on this one? Do
they choose to make life tougher for porn producers? Do they side with the
AIDS Health Foundation that got the signatures to put this on the ballot?
Do they Rewrite their anti-regulation, anti-tax chants to include
exceptions for porn producers?

Do they oppose the tax on porn producers because, as they always say,
government already taxes small businesses way too much in this country? Or
do they just stick with their principles, stick with their anti-tax, anti-
regulation principles, and stand side by side with porn producers in the
principled fight against condoms on porn sets.

Rick Santorum meet Steven Hersh. He is the founder of Vivid
Entertainment, possibly the most successful porn studio of all time. He
can pour more money into your campaign than you can count. And you two
have finally found something you can agree on. The only people who hate
regulation even a little bit more than Republican presidential candidates
are porn producers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: As the curtain falls on the year in politics, it`s time
for a quick look back at the year in comedy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIMMY FALLON, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Republican candidates
held their eighth debate in New Hampshire. And of course after every
debate, these guys get criticized. Well, the front-runners have been
putting out commercials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. I`m Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather`s
Pizza. Recently, I unveiled a bold new tax plan called the 9-9-9 plan.

(SINGING)

FALLON: It turns out that presidential candidate Herman Cain was
accused of sexually harassing two women in the `90s, which explains his new
campaign slogan, did somebody order a pizza with extra sausage?

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Herman Cain seemed to sense that his
supporters needed something to lift their spirits, which is what led to
Herman Cain saying the greatest nine words ever spoken by an American
politician.

HERMAN CAIN, FORMER GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe these words
came from "The Pokemon Movie."

STEWART: When Cain dropped out of the race, I felt despondent. I was
depressed. I was losing all hope that my job would ever -- would ever
bring me joy again.

And then --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are just confirming that Donald Trump will
moderate a Republican debate on December 27th in Des Moines, Iowa.

STEWART: Thank you, Jesus. Sometimes when God closes a door, he
opens a window. Sometimes standing outside that window is a circus peanut
wearing a badger.

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Donald Trump is a friend.
He`s my best friend. Number one, best, greatest friend of all time. We
race yachts. We trade mistresses. I call him Trump card. He calls me
cold beer.

That said, the guy is a boob. He looks like a tangelo had sex with an
old dish rag.

JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Donald Trump has decided to cancel his
Republican debate he was going to host later this weekend. The good news,
he only has to tell two people. Those are the only ones who showed up.
just Gingrich and Santorum.

COLBERT: Newt Gingrich says he is against gay marriage. That
explains why it`s the only type of marriage he hasn`t tried yet.

CONAN O`BRIEN, "CONAN": Newt Gingrich is now riding very high in the
polls. Yeah. He`s the front-runner now, I believe. Some polls have him
as the front-runner by quite a margin. I`m surprised that Newt is doing so
well because if you`ve seen him, his campaign ads, his message, it isn`t
very positive.

GINGRICH: The America we know and love is a thing of the past.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America, it`s over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newt Gingrich, 2012, it`s over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: The late night comedians get THE LAST WORD of 2011. You
can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog, TheLastWord.MSNBC.com. From
there, you can learn more about the KIND Fund and how to help Kids in Need
of Desks.

Thank you all for all that you`ve done.

END

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