updated 1/12/2012 11:23:19 AM ET 2012-01-12T16:23:19

Guests: Matt Taibbi, Tony Perkins, Bob Vander Plaats, Peter McCoy, John Heilemann, Doug Wead, Steve Kornacki

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: After New Hampshire, conservatives now fear
that if they don`t stop Mitt Romney, President Obama will.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The more Americans who
succeed, the more America succeeds.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The country already has a
leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy.

I think it`s about envy.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Are there no fair questions about the
distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it`s about envy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Romney said it`s a question of envy. So, he`s
embracing this rhetoric.

ROMNEY: I think it`s about envy.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can`t criticize
someone for these get-rich-quick schemes.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That`s not a sustainable
form of capitalism.

PERRY: There`s a real difference between venture capitalism and
vulture capitalism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Perry is going to be very embarrassed.

ROMNEY: I think it`s about envy.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just wonder whether
they`re totally ignorant of economics.

ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Mitt Romney`s biggest problem right now is
Mitt Romney.

ROMNEY: There were a couple of times I wondered if I was going to get
a pink slip.

The great middle class, the 80 to 90 percent of us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s got to reduce the line where he seems a
little out of touch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Poor George, he was born with a silver foot in
his mouth!

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: This is a real kamikaze mission to try to
stop Mitt Romney.

ROMNEY: Other campaigns were firing at me very aggressively.

GINGRICH: South Carolina is the place where we`ll make our stand.

MITCHELL: So, you`re getting hit by Newt Gingrich on social issues
already in South Carolina.

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: The down and dirty in South Carolina.

ROMNEY: It`s a good boost going into South Carolina.

HALL: Romney may have a tough time.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: Mitt Romney heads into South Carolina today
with a huge target on his back.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman
have a single strategy.

MITCHELL: He`s going to get just shellacked.

PERRY: South Carolina as good a place to draw that line in the sand
as any.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be fun!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: Mitt Romney is on the glide path to the most easily
secured nomination a Republican presidential candidate has ever had while
being one of the weakest major candidates either party has ever seen.
Those are not my words. That`s the opening line of conservative John
Podhoretz column today.

Last night, Mitt Romney, who eked out a statistical tie with Rick
Santorum in the Iowa caucuses, and could not even hit 40 percent in New
Hampshire, a state where he owns a home and has been campaigning for
president for five years. The campaign now moves to the primary state that
has consistently voted for the eventual Republican nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: A lot of people in South Carolina who are hurting tonight.
There are people who a few years ago were thinking about where they might
send their kid to college. Now, they`re wondering whether they can put a
meal on the table.

These are tough times for Americans across this country. It`s a
tragedy. It`s a real tragedy, in the wealthiest nation in the world. And
I`m going to go to work to help the American people, because I know that
dream is still out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Also today, a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich released
its much-hyped 28-minute online film that dismantles the central argument
for Romney`s candidacy, that his business experience will make him the best
candidate to face President Obama in a weak economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Romney and Bain`s cash rampage would ultimately slash jobs
in nearly every state in the country. Like popular children`s toy seller,
KB Toys.

VOICE: Where you going to find all the hottest toys on the planet
Mars?

VOICE: No!

VOICE: On a mountaintop?

NARRATOR: Romney and Bain bought the 80-year-old company in 2000,
loaded KB Toys with millions in debt, then used the money to repurchase
Bain stock. Romney called it creative destruction.

ROMNEY: Creative destruction does enhance productivity for an economy
to thrive, and as ours does, there are a lot of people who will suffer as a
result of that.

NARRATOR: Romney and other top executives take -- $120 million.

By 2009, the debt accumulated under Romney was too great, KB Toys was
no more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: South Carolina has the most conservative Republican
electorate of any of the early primary states.

The latest poll of South Carolina shows 37 percent ready to vote for
Mitt Romney, and 63 percent wanting someone else -- 19 percent are for Rick
Santorum, 18 percent for Newt Gingrich, 12 percent backing Ron Paul, 5
percent for Rick Perry, and 1 percent favoring Jon Huntsman. That leaves 6
percent undecided.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will speak to a Tea Party convention
in Myrtle Beach this weekend.

And on Friday, 150 evangelical leaders plan to meet in Texas to figure
out how to stop Mitt Romney in a field where five candidates are splitting
the conservative anti-Romney majority vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: The fact is, we have to consolidate conservatives to beat
Governor Romney. And so I need your help. And I would ask you to reach
out to your friends and to your neighbors. Because I really don`t think
that a moderate`s going to do a very good job debating Obama.

We keep getting told by the establishment, you really ought to
nominate a moderate, because they somehow can appeal to the middle.

Now, these are folks who were against Reagan in `80. These are the
folks that were against the contract in `94.

The way you get to the middle is simple. You define how clearly far
to the left Obama is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now, a leading social conservative leaders of
the Republican Party who maybe at that meeting in Texas on Friday, Tony
Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council.

Tony, I said you may be at the meeting, because just before the show,
I asked if you were, and you said it looks like you`re going to be.

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: It looks like I`m going to be
there. I have some conflicts on the schedule to work out.

O`DONNELL: OK.

Newt Gingrich says you have to consolidate around one candidate in
order to beat Mitt Romney. Is that the way you see it?

PERKINS: The numbers show that. I think what you`ve seen, though,
primarily, across the country, Mitt Romney`s not gotten about 25 percent in
support. There`s a consensus out there that the people would like a more
conservative candidate for their nominee. And so, there`s going to be that
discussion.

Is there the possibility of some consensus around one of those
candidates that can help them in South Carolina succeed?

O`DONNELL: So, it`s really -- the choice is really Gingrich, Santorum
or Perry. Does Perry -- given Perry`s weakness in these last two states,
is there any real chance for him emerging out of a meeting like that? The
meeting`s in Texas, so a lot of people think, hey, hometown advantage.

PERKINS: Well, you know, a lot of people -- I know Rick Perry, I like
him, he`s got a good, solid, record. He`s got a good platform. People
like him and they`ve chosen -- you know, some have chosen candidates early
in this race and they`re reluctant to let go of one that they have chosen.

I`m not overly optimistic that a consensus around one candidate will
emerge. But I do think as a result of this weekend and a discussion of
what`s at stake and the landscape politically across this country, that
you`ll see people beginning moving toward a particular candidate.

South Carolina is key. And as you mentioned, it`s a conservative
state, 55 percent of the vote is going to be evangelical. That`s more than
double of what took place in New Hampshire. That`s higher than the
national average of 45 percent of the primary vote being from evangelicals.
It`s a key state.

If Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry are to truly challenge
Mitt Romney and go after the nomination, it`s going to have to happen
there.

O`DONNELL: Talk about success voters. We`ve been -- there`s been a
lot of speculation about what is the Mormon factor in a candidacy like
Romney`s? Is there some kind of drag on it in a place like South Carolina?

I`ve had Republican operatives who study these kind of polls over the
years say that they think there are places where it can be as much as a 20
percent drag, just within the Republican electorate. Not statewide.

PERKINS: You know, honestly, Lawrence, that`s not been talked a whole
lot about in this primary cycle. There`s really two issues here. And the
primary issue --

O`DONNELL: Is it a concern of any of the people who will be at the
meeting that you`re going to?

PERRY: You know, it`s not one that I hear very often. What I hear,
they never get to that, because they`re talking about his policy positions.

O`DONNELL: Right.

PERRY: They`re concerned about what he did as governor.

Now, in full disclosure, he has adopted new positions, but they`re
untested. And people that are concerned about the issue of life, concerned
about the sanctity of marriage, they`re uncomfortable in using the
presidency as a testing ground for his new policy positions.

O`DONNELL: But, I mean, there is the Christian notion of forgiveness,
there is the Christian notion of your life starts today. And so --

PERKINS: That`s why Newt Gingrich --

O`DONNELL: What is the worst fear, that you think -- that you think
is a reasonable fear that conservatives have about Mitt Romney and a policy
they really care about?

PERKINS: That`s a fair question. In 2008, as he was running, he was
running as a strong social conservative, articulating very strong positions
on the life issue, on the sanctity of marriage and all those issues. This
time, he hasn`t talked much about those issues. In fact, he`s avoided the
social community for the most part, social conservative community.

So, there were those critics he had four years ago who were saying,
these are not genuine positions. There are many of us who are ambivalent
just watching and not really taking sides, interested in him.

I think he`s a very good candidate. But because he has not talked
about them in this cycle, and because he`s kind of avoided that segment,
important segment of the voting populous, it gives credence to those
critics. And so there is questions out there.

O`DONNELL: I want to bring in supporters for two candidates who are
vying to be that conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.

Bob Vander Plaats is supporting Rick Santorum. He`s the president and
CEO of the Family Leader and the state chairman of Iowa for Freedom.

And South Carolina state representative, Peter McCoy is supporting
Newt Gingrich. He is the chairman of the Gingrich Low Country Campaign in
South Carolina.

Peter McCoy, the actions moving to your state. What case do you think
Newt Gingrich should be making to become that candidate that conservatives
consolidate around?

STATE REP. PETER MCCOY, GINGRICH SUPPORTER: Lawrence, thank you for
having me on the show tonight. I hope everybody`s doing well. I knocked
on 7,000 doors for my election when I ran in Charleston.

The main concern that we`re looking at right here in South Carolina
right now is unemployment. Our unemployment rate is at 10 percent. You
look at Iowa, you look at New Hampshire -- their unemployment rates are at
5 percent.

Jobs, jobs, and more jobs are the key concern of what the people are
talking about here in South Carolina. And I believe Speaker Gingrich has a
proven record, when he was speaker of the House, in creating the
environment for companies to build jobs and he created 11 million jobs
while he was speaker of the House.

O`DONNELL: All right. Let`s see what Newt Gingrich is talking about
in South Carolina in his television advertising. Here`s what he`s saying
about Mitt Romney and abortion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney
changed his position from pro-abortion to pro-life? He governed pro-
abortion. Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to
abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board, but failed
to put a pro-life group on the same board.

And Romney signed government-mandated health care with taxpayer-funded
abortions. Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney, he can`t be trusted.

GINGRICH: I`m Newt Gingrich and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Bob Vander Plaats, why hasn`t Rick Santorum been able to
consolidate conservatives around him? He`s been very clear on all of his
positions, it seems to me, of the candidates still standing. He`s been the
most consistent over the years on all the positions that this group seems
to care about.

BOB VANDER PLAATS, SANTORUM SUPPORTER: Well, he did. And he did in
Iowa. As a matter of fact, we`ve seen this for several months in Iowa,
that the conservatives, the pro-family conservatives are basically
fragmenting their support. As long as we did that, we would evaluate a
Mitt Romney to the nomination.

And that`s why I went out two weeks before the Iowa caucuses and
endorsed Rick Santorum. You saw a coalescing, it was kind of a perfect
storm, it was a coalescing around Rick Santorum. And, you know, basically,
it came down to a split decision between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

I believe right now, heading into South Carolina, the numbers prove
it. The conservatives are still fragmented. Speaker Gingrich, who`s a
good friend of mine, I like him a lot. If he really wants to beat Mitt
Romney, I believe he needs to consolidate his support into Rick Santorum.

I think Rick Perry needs to go back and be the best governor of the
country, the governor of Texas. But we need an alternative to Mitt Romney
to go one on one. Romney doesn`t want a one on one, and I think Santorum
could be that person.

O`DONNELL: Bob, I want to just go in reverse order here, quickly, on
this question. If Mitt Romney emerges as an unstoppable front-runner, will
you be able to support him? And what kind of support do you think he will
get from your allies in Iowa?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I think what it is, our allies and myself
included -- I mean, we`re very concerned about defeating Barack Obama. We
would definitely go in and vote against Barack Obama.

But Mitt Romney needs to come to our base. And he needs to have --
rebuild that trust gap that Tony talked about, so that not only do we go
and vote against Barack Obama, but that we`re willing to work, knock on
doors, make phone calls, and put an all-out effort to vote for a Mitt
Romney.

But right now, we`re in a primary. And our goal in a primary is to
find that alternative. That`s why I think we need to do a coalescing
around Rick Santorum right now.

O`DONNELL: Peter McCoy, how much do you worry that the damage that is
being visited upon Mitt Romney right now could just be something that is
harmful to the eventual nominee of your party?

MCCOY: I`m not concerned about it at all. And we have a lot of great
candidates that are in race right now. A lot of things do come out in a
primary situation that need to be discussed, and there are issues with
every candidate. And I`m not concerned about it.

I think that whoever wins the nomination here, and I firmly believe
that Newt will come into South Carolina and win here -- but whoever does
win, all Republicans need to gather around that opponent, because Bob and
Tony are exactly right -- what we`re concentrating on here in South
Carolina is making Barack Obama a one-term president.

O`DONNELL: Tony Perkins, quickly before we go -- it sounds to me what
you`re saying is Mitt Romney can save the right things to you that can get
you to be a real supporter of his.

PERKINS: I think he`s got to prove that these positions --

O`DONNELL: How do you prove it?

PERKINS: Well, it`s going to be difficult, because he`s not been
talking about it. But I think as we move through this process, I agree
with Bob. I think this is far from settled. South Carolina will tell us a
lot.

But there are many of us out there that want to see a true
conservative who has been tested as a conservative emerge as the nominee.
After South Carolina, after Super Tuesday, then we`ll see if we have to
come back and talk to Mitt Romney as to what it`s going to take to get
social conservative support.

O`DONNELL: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Bob Vander
Plaats, who supports Rick Santorum, and Peter McCoy, who`s supporting Newt
Gingrich is South Carolina -- thank you all very much for joining me
tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to be with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Mitt Romney says his great grandfather fled to
Mexico to escape persecution. The uncomfortable truth is that he fled to
Mexico to escape prosecution for polygamy. NBC`s Mike Taibbi found Mitt
Romney`s Mexican relatives. He joins me, next.

And later, the "Rewrite" I never thought I`d do. The Republican
candidate who first served as nothing but an object of ridicule on this
program will be rewritten tonight as the Republican candidate we should now
be most grateful to. That`s in the "Rewrite."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Boy, Mitt Romney really stuck his foot in
his mouth with this one, which is the spiciest thing he has eaten in years.
And, of course, of course, the media and the other candidates have jumped
on Mitt like Newt Gingrich on a younger, healthier wife.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE ROMNEY: Look, I`ve been poor. I`ve been poor. I`ve worked
from the time I was 12. My parents were driven out of old Mexico when I
was only 5.

My people were revolutionary refugees. They had to be fed by the
United States government and housed by the United States government. I
know what poverty is. I`ve been up through it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was from Monday night`s "Rock Center" with Brian
Williams. Mitt Romney`s father explaining his experience with poverty,
while he was running for president in 1967.

Romney`s roots is the subject of the "Rock Center" report from NBC
News correspondent Mike Taibbi, who interviewed some of the Romney clan,
still living in Mexico.

Mike Taibbi joins me now.

Mike, thanks very much for joining me tonight.

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Lawrence, how are you?

O`DONNELL: Mike, did you get any cooperation from the Romney campaign
on tracking down his relatives in Mexico?

TAIBBI: Not from the campaign, at all. In fact, once they knew the
subject of our report that we were pursuing, they said specifically they
were not interested in having any response whatsoever. And it kind of
makes sense, when you think about it.

I was listening before to Tony Perkins talk about the things that Mitt
Romney has not been willing to talk about. And one of those things,
obviously, has been his history with -- the family history in Mexico, and
his ancestry there, because it would open the door to a couple of issues
that I think would be uncomfortable to dissect in detail. That would be
immigration on the one hand and a closer look at the Mormon religion, which
Romney as a candidate, Romney as a sitting governor never sought to discuss
in any detail.

O`DONNELL: Well, it`s right there in the family history. It`s just
like right around the corner from things that Romney sometimes comes close
to. And there you saw his father with that very defensive stance about
being a rich guy, that`s very similar to his son`s defensive stance. But,
actually referring in that case to fleeing Mexico and experiencing a loss
of wealth as a result of their fleeing Mexico.

But tell the story, Mike, of why the Romney family found its way to
Mexico in the first place.

TAIBBI: Well, it was 1885, some 23 years after polygamy had been
outlawed by the -- by the federal government, and after that ban had been
reinforced and reconfirmed back in 1878. And Mitt Romney`s great-
grandfather, Miles Park Romney, decided in 1885, he already had four wives,
that he was going to leave for Mexico, because he was at that point facing
prosecution for what the Mormons call plural marriage.

And so, he led a covered marriage expedition down to Mexico and
established the first of those colonies, and they were followed by many,
many hundreds of others, including his fifth wife, Hanna Hood Hill.

And it was Hanna Hood Hill and Miles Park Romney who planted the
Romney family tree in Mexico, from which Mitt on one side, and the cousins
we interviewed who are Mike and Leighton and Meredith on the other side,
they stayed down.

And as you heard Romney say in that clip from 1968, his family brought
them up because of the violence of the Mexican revolution drove them out of
Mexico. And interestingly, if you listen to that clip, what you`re
reminded of, what I was, is that in a sense, George Romney, Mitt Romney`s
father, a presidential candidate, a sitting governor, the head of the
Chrysler Corporation, would have been a poster child for the DREAM Act,
which Mitt Romney, candidate, now opposes vociferously, and could
potentially be a problem for him, obviously, with the Latino voters.

But it`s interesting to hear George Romney have said -- described very
precisely what happened to him when he was brought back to the United
States at the age of 5.

O`DONNELL: And, Mike, when George Romney was running for president,
did the question of his birth, of his legitimate right to run for
president, come up? He was born on foreign soil, claiming American
citizenship -- which by all records, indicate was a legitimate claim of
American citizenship.

TAIBBI: Yes, our research shows that the question did come up, but
before that happen, before it became an issue of national discussion, we
all remember what happened. He made the famous statement of having been
brainwashed into a hawkish position about Vietnam, and that brainwashing
statement essentially derailed his candidacy`s pursuit of the presidency,
which Richard Nixon won later that year.

So, there never was a full-throated discussion either about this
issue, his citizenship, or about the Mormon religion. Don`t forget, if
Mitt Romney now wins the nomination, and many of see him -- obviously, it`s
been reported for a couple of weeks now -- through Iowa and New Hampshire,
as an inevitable nominee, he will go further than any Mormon ever has in
the presidential electoral process.

O`DONNELL: NBC`s Mike Taibbi, thanks for joining me tonight, Mike.

TAIBBI: All right, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, President Obama`s re-election campaign and what
it will be like running against Mitt Romney.

And why libertarian Ron Paul is running in Republican primaries that
he cannot win. That`s coming up.

And Mitt Romney doesn`t think we should question how he or anyone else
makes money in the free enterprise system. OK, Mitt. How about porn
stars? Or the strippers who are going to entertain your delegates this
summer in Tampa, Florida. That`s in the "Rewrite."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: One of the Republican presidential candidates is finally
saying something important, something Republicans need to hear and
something Republicans don`t want you to hear. And for that, we should all
be very grateful that he did not drop out way back when we all thought he
would. That`s in the "Rewrite".

And with the Republicans still taking swings at each other, the
president returns to the campaign trail to make his case to America.
That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you`re willing to
work even harder in this election than you did in that last election, I
promise you, change will come. If you stick with me, we`re going to finish
what we started in 2008.

We will remind this country and we will remind the world just why we
are the greatest nation on Earth.

God bless you, Chicago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was President Obama tonight in Chicago, the day after
the New Hampshire primary, which produced not so much news as the simple
fulfillment of every poll taken in New Hampshire this election season,
which showed Mitt Romney would easily finish first in the weakest
Republican field that has ever campaigned in the New Hampshire primary.

The most important news of the day actually came from Detroit, where
General Motors reported that its sales increased 13 percent last year.
That`s 30 percent higher than the industry as a whole. General Motors was
saved by President Obama in 2009, when Mitt Romney was advocating that the
company should be left to the wolves of bankruptcy, like so many companies
Romney had managed at Bain Capital.

As it was slipping towards bankruptcy in 2008, General Motors was
overtaken by Toyota as the top-selling car maker in the world. Tonight,
thanks to President Obama and no thanks to Mitt Romney, General Motors is
once again number one in sales worldwide.

In the latest "Reuters" poll, President Obama beats Mitt Romney in a
head-to-head match up, 48 to 43.

Joining me now is John Heilemann, national affairs editor for "New
York Magazine" and MSNBC political analyst. John, you don`t mind me
mentioning news from someone other than New Hampshire, do you?

JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE" No, not at all, Lawrence. Your
news judgement is exquisite.

O`DONNELL: It is an important -- it`s one of those things that`s kind
of slipping into the fact base that is going to be the general election
campaign, especially if what we`re talking about is Obama versus Romney.

HEILEMANN: Well, look, I think anything that has to do with the
economy, whether that`s the micro-economy, particularly industry is doing
better, that President Obama had something to do with -- the macro-economy,
we`ve seen another month of decent job growth. Not robust -- not as robust
as we would like to see, or as much as he would like to see in particular,
but generally a little bit of up tick in the macro-economy.

These are hugely important variables to how this election is going to
be fought. Even The republicans acknowledge that. This is going to be an
election fought largely on the economy. And those are all good signs for
President Obama`s re-election.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Mitt Romney is now saying about
President Obama saving the auto industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the general election,
I`ll be pointing out that the president took the reins of General Motors
and Chrysler, closed factories, closed dealerships, laid off thousands and
thousands of workers. He did to it try to save the business. We also had
an occasion to do things that are tough to try to save a business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: He`s not going to say that in a debate when President
Obama could come back and say, hey, look, General Motors, the company I
saved, that you wanted to go into bankruptcy, number one in the world.

HEILEMANN: No, I don`t think he is going to do that. But I think
he`s a difficult position right now, obviously being challenged on his
economic bona fides, and particularly on his record at Bain by, as you
know, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry down in South Carolina.

He`s trying to figure out a way to make an argument for free market
capitalism and make a robust defense of that. And that obviously does
involve creative destruction and laying people off. He`s talking about the
president there, but he`s really addressing Republican primary voters in
South Carolina.

O`DONNELL: There was an item in "the New York Times" many, many
months ago, so many months ago that it said they had three names on the
wall in Chicago at Obama re-election. It was Romney, Pawlenty, and the
other one maybe Perry. I can`t remember. Those were -- it was definitely
Romney and Pawlenty. They got one name up there now, right?

HEILEMANN: Well, in truth, they have had one name really on their
mental walls all along. I think the president`s re-election team and the
people in the White House have always thought not only that Rick Perry --
that Mitt Romney was the most -- the likeliest nominee. They, in many
ways, have always thought he was the only credible nominee in this field,
especially after Tim Pawlenty -- not only -- long before he dropped out, he
was clearly not up to major league standards.

They started looking very intensely at Mitt Romney. They think he`s
the only nominee. They think he`s the most formidable nominee. And as
much as we`re seeing negative ads and negative campaigning brought against
him by the Republican party on the basis -- members of the Republican party
on the basis of opposition research, you can`t imagine the amount of
opposition research that the president`s re-election team has done on the
Bain issue, on everything else from the Massachusetts governorship,
everything else in Romney`s life.

It has been an extraordinary effort. And it`s only really just begun.

O`DONNELL: Well, we`re going to see what happens with it. MSNBC
political analyst John Heilemann, thank you very much for joining me
tonight.

HEILEMANN: You`re welcome, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, what do strippers and Mitt Romney have in
common? They both don`t want you to talk about how they make their money.
That`s in the Rewrite.

And what Ron Paul`s candidacy says about our two-party system. What
is Ron Paul really up to? That`s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Newton Leroy Gingrich is still standing tonight, standing
for president, as they used to call it, before the more athletic imagery of
running for president entered our language in the 20th century. And we
should all be grateful for that. I, in this very space, in the show, have
mocked Newt Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: This is what newt Gingrich meant to say when he was
pretending to confess his sins on Pat Robertson`s Christian Broadcasting
Network: there`s no question at times of my life, specifically when I was
leading the attack on Bill Clinton for having extramarital sex, partially
driven by how passionately I felt about extramarital sex, that I worked far
too hard to make sure that extramarital sexual things happened in my life
that were not appropriate.

And what I can tell you is that when I did extramarital sexual things
that were wrong, I wasn`t trapped in situation ethics. I was doing things
that were wrong, yet I was doing them. Just like Bill Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Yes, I`ve ridiculed Newt Gingrich, but now the time has
come to praise him. Such are the unpredictable twists and turns on the
campaign trail. Newt Gingrich has earned my praise for saying things like
this about Mitt Romney to Chuck Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: "The Wall Street Journal"
yesterday reported on a company that he had invested -- Bain had invested
30 million in. They took 180 million out. That`s a six to one. And the
company went bankrupt.

And you have to ask yourself, if you`re going to get a six to one
return but the company`s going bankrupt, gee, what if you`d only taken
three to one?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Newt is simply ask, what if Romney had only taken 90
million instead of 180 million. Would the company have avoided bankruptcy?
Would the human suffering involved in that bankruptcy been cut in half? Or
perhaps avoided completely?

What if basic human decency had entered Mitt Romney`s calculation on
how much money to pull out of that company? Newt Gingrich is asking that
question. It would be an entirely ignorable question for Republicans if I
asked it.

Last night on our election coverage, I said the trick question for
Republicans like Mitt Romney is what legal thing would you not do to make
money? I`m sure that question, as I put it, created no discomfort among
Republicans, provoked no introspection.

But Newt Gingrich is now saying the same thing to a much larger
audience. His comments are being carried on every news network. And Newt
Gingrich is the second most influential conservative Republican of his
generation. The most influential, of course, being George W. Bush, who was
able to work his will on a Republican-controlled Congress only because Newt
Gingrich seized Republican control of that Congress, from the Democrats,
before George W. Bush was even close to running for president.

A Democrat, or a liberal like me, decrying the excesses of Romney-
style greed changes no minds. It gets appreciative nods from people who
think already the same thing. But a conservative Republican, the first
Republican speaker of the House of Representatives in 40 years, the sharp-
tongued attacker of liberalism, when he says things like this, people will
listen to it, people who will never listen to a Democrat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: Criticizing one businessman for one set of practices is not
an assault on capitalism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: We need Republicans to understand that. Criticizing one
businessman for one set of practices is not an assault on capitalism.
Saying Newt is assaulting capitalism is like saying "the New York Times"
book review is assaulting literature when it criticizes a novel. Or you`re
assaulting TV when you find a sitcom you don`t like.

What Newt Gingrich is saying is vitally important and would not be
heard or seriously considered in any way by Republicans if a Democrat said
it. And what Newt Gingrich is saying is costing him friends.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: My gosh, that`s what the people
who indict capitalism say. The way Newt`s talking here, I`ve never heard
him speak this way before, I must tell you. And the way he`s speaking,
this sounds like left-wing social engineering.

Folks, things happen. Sometimes they happen for a reason. Now, one
of the things that you have to say that is happening here is, whether he
intends it or not, we`re finding out some things about Newt that we didn`t
know. He sounds like Elizabeth Warren.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Yes, Newt does sound like Elizabeth Warren, up to a point.
Elizabeth Warren has much more to say in this area and has many more
substantive policy ideas about how to regulate harmful business practices.

But Rush is right. There is the faint echo of Elizabeth Warren in
what Newt Gingrich is saying. And it`s being heard by people who would
never hear and consider those words if they were spoken by Elizabeth
Warren.

Mitt Romney and Rush Limbaugh are, of course, lying when they pretend
to be in favor of any legal capitalistic undertaking. They are lying when
they say they believe in free enterprise and that any money made in any
legal enterprise has the same moral value.

Mitt Romney and Rush Limbaugh do not believe that the earned income,
including tips of the strippers at Skin Tampa, who will be entertaining
Republican convention delegates this summer, is the moral equivalent of the
earned income of the nurses at St. Joseph`s Children`s Hospital of Tampa.

Republicans are hearing things from Newt Gingrich that they have never
heard from a Republican before. They are hearing that in our capitalist
system, the freedom to choose our occupations, the freedom to choose what
we will do for money requires us to check not just if it`s legal, but if
it`s the right thing to do.

That requires judgment, sometimes ethical judgment, sometimes moral
judgment. It requires a sense of decency. It requires restraint in
situations where the situation would allow you to exploit others.

What we do for money and what harm we do while doing it goes a long
way to define who we are. Mitt Romney took over businesses and, among
other practices, fired people to make money, not to make a modest profit
that would keep the business alive, but to make massive profits, hundreds
and hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, unspendable amounts of
money for him and his family, so much money that Mitt Romney fears even
showing us just one year of his income tax returns, which would be but a
tiny measure of his actual current wealth.

And Newt Gingrich is asking, how many people could have kept their
jobs if Mitt Romney was willing to make a couple of hundred million dollar
less than what he made at Bain Capital? If Newt Gingrich stops talking
about this tomorrow, if Rush Limbaugh scares him into silence on this, Newt
Gingrich has already done an admirable job of forcing Republicans to think
about something that they don`t like to think about: the difference between
doing something -- between the right to do something and doing the right
thing.

THE LAST WORD on this, goes to Newt Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I am not saying anything that Mitt Romney`s done was
outside the law. I`m saying it may be bad judgment. It may have been an
exploitation. It may be inappropriate. And I think as a potential
president, you ought to look -- you know, the idea of saying, well, I was
barely inside -- I was inside the law, so it`s OK. No, was it the right
thing to do?

Just because you have the right to do something doesn`t mean it`s the
right thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: but I sort of have to
chuckle when they describe you and me as being dangerous!

That`s one thing they are telling the truth, because we are dangerous
to the status quo of this country!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: And now to the riddle of Ron Paul. What does he want and
why does he want it? Joining me now are political columnist for Salon.com
Steve Kornacki and from Washington, D.C., senior adviser to the Ron Paul
Campaign, Doug Wead.

Doug, thanks for joining us tonight. You know, I look at the Ron Paul
candidacy and I look at the numbers. I look at his policy positions. And
I say, it`s absolutely impossible for him to get the Republican nomination.
I don`t see any math that you can put in front of us tonight that indicates
there`s any possibility of it.

Why is he running in Republican primaries?

DOUG WEAD, RON PAUL CAMPAIGN: Well, let me give you some math. Your
own NBC/Marist poll, "the Washington Post"/ABC poll, the Rasmussen poll.
He`s been hidden in plain sight for about six months. What the pundits
have focused on are the questions like, who do you think and who do you
believe, especially the electability issue. We`ll run eight, nine percent
in these polls --

O`DONNELL: No, Doug, tell me what poll he`s in the lead in. I look
at the polls and I say, there`s not a single poll that indicates he has any
kind of chance. Is there any poll that I missed that shows him winning in
a state or winning nationwide?

WEAD: Yes, every one of those polls that I just mentioned to you,
when they pit Barack Obama against Ron Paul --

O`DONNELL: No, Ron Paul against Mitt Romney. Show me a poll where
Ron Paul beats Mitt Romney anywhere.

WEAD: He`s within two points of Mitt Romney in those very polls, when
pitted against Barack Obama.

O`DONNELL: No, OK, that`s just a poll. You`re not going to -- OK,
you`re going to do that spin. That`s not it. We saw what he got last
night in New Hampshire. Where else is he going to get that?

WEAD: I agree with you that Mitt Romney is the front-runner right
now. But the one lesson we`ve learned from this cycle is that anything can
happen.

O`DONNELL: Well, not anything.

WEAD: Almost anything.

O`DONNELL: A lot of things have happened. But once we got to the
ballot box, the thing that everybody thought was going to happen happened,
which is the front-runner became the front-runner.

WEAD: But a lot of these candidates that are in this race that you`ve
been talking about tonight aren`t even on the ballot in Virginia. They`re
not on the ballot in Illinois, some of them. Some of them aren`t on the
ballot in Arizona, where there`s 24 candidates on the ballot.

So we`re running a serious campaign. And we`re going to go all the
way to Tampa.

O`DONNELL: Steve, I`m told we`ve got a problem with your mic. So
what I`m going to do here, while we get Steve`s mic working, is I`m going
to give you my theory that I`ve come up with about the Ron Paul campaign,
Doug.

WEAD: I`d like to hear it.

O`DONNELL: I believe that what we really have here -- I kept saying
in our coverage last night, ignore that Ron Paul number. It doesn`t
matter. He`s not going anywhere. Nothing`s going to happen. But what
Steve is going to tell us is, yeah, you can ignore the number, but there is
something important going on here.

Here`s one of the things I think is going on. He started running for
president as a libertarian 24 years ago. None of us mentioned his name
when he did. A couple of friends of mine who were libertarians knew his
name and voted for him. OK.

He realized in order to get any kind of attention, you`ve got to be in
one of the national parties` primaries. So he started doing it in the
Republican primary. And what that means is what we really have here is a
libertarian candidacy. It`s really a third party candidacy, but he mounts
it within the Republican party, so he can get this debate attention to his
ideas.

And he`s hoping over a long period of time -- he`s in this for the
long haul and he`s got a son who`s in it for the long haul after him --
that eventually the libertarian position will be viable in a national
election. And he just knows that if you`re serious about this, you`ve got
to stay with it for at least 30 years.

WEAD: That`s a very good analysis. There are few little nuances that
you might have missed. It`s not quite libertarian. For example, we talk
about South Carolina. You have these Evangelicals on early in your show.
I`ll actually be at that event in Texas Friday.

Ron Paul is one of only two southern Baptists in South Carolina. He
polled second among Evangelicals in Iowa. There`s a very curious change
that`s a paradigm shift taking place in the Republican party.

And the thing that makes him different -- Ron Paul different from a
Patrick Buchanan insurgency or Jesse Jackson insurgency is that it`s not
just libertarian, but it is philosophical. It`s better to describe it as
Constitutional, back to the Constitution.

And it`s created a whole intellectual awakening among young people,
their publishing companies, their blogs, their nonprofits. It`s something
like the Barry Goldwater revolution and a fascinating change in the whole
party.

O`DONNELL: Steve, tell me how to think about Ron Paul.

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: I think he`s both very significant and
very insignificant at the same time. He`s significant for the reasons you
outlined. There`s a long game here. And I think the long game, in terms
of the politics, presidential politics, isn`t about Ron Paul. It`s about
Rand Paul.

It`s about the son from Kentucky who has some advantages that Ron Paul
doesn`t have. He`s a better communicator. He`s made inroads into the
conservative establishment that Ron Paul has failed to make. And he`s
shown certain ability to be sort of savvy politically. He`s sort of
modulated the way he talks about foreign policy in a way that Ron Paul
won`t, but in a way that makes him more acceptable to the Republican
establishment.

So if you`re Ron Paul -- and this is the reason why I don`t think Ron
Paul will run as a third party candidate this fall. If you`re Ron Paul,
you know, you make your statement now. You step aside gracefully. And you
know that in 2016 or 2020, your son can run and say, OK, 25 percent for Ron
Paul in New Hampshire; that could be 35 percent for Rand Paul some day.

So that`s the long game I think they`re playing.

O`DONNELL: Steve, I`ve got to say, I love hearing him talk to
Republican audiences about Republican parties` over-enthusiasm about war
making, to put it mildly, to talk to them about the craziness of our drug
laws. He is opening a dialogue within the Republican party that never
existed before.

KORNACKI: There`s definitely something there in the Republican party.
There`s something bigger in the Republican party that will quash that for
now. But yes, let`s see what happens over the next decade.

O`DONNELL: Doug, quickly before we go, you`re going to advise him
against any third party run. Aren`t you?

WEAD: I will do that.

O`DONNELL: OK. Doug Wead, you`re on the record for that one. Doug
Wead, adviser to Ron Paul, and Steve Kornacki, whose mic wasn`t working
long enough, I`m sorry to say. Read his piece at Salon.com about Ron Paul.
It`s great. Thank you both for joining me tonight.

"THE ED SHOW" is up next.
END

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