THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
March 18, 2013
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Guests: Lawrence Wilkerson, John Brabender
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Michael. Thank you. Thank you
for talking about "Hubris" and that overall political context of it.
I love to hear you and Gene talk about it. But it`s such an important
thing. I really appreciate it, man.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you so much for
making that documentary, Rachel. It`s a great one.
MADDOW: Oh, thanks. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
We start with some jaw-dropping information about American politics
that has been reported out by a British news source. It`s the BBC. The
BBC has just aired a new documentary based on Oval Office tapes, which
proves something about the American presidency and American modern history
that even the most conspiratorial among us would not be able to believe
were it not all captured on tape, but apparently, it`s all captured on
Here`s what happened. OK, it`s about the 1968 presidential election.
In that selection, the Democratic electorate was kind of in trouble and
that the Democratic electorate was really split. They were not at all
unified behind their candidate.
On the right, Southern white Democrats who were against civil rights,
they were being peeled off to vote for George Wallace, the former Alabama
governor and, of course, the symbol of proud segregation. So, the
Dixiecrats are getting peeled from the Democrats that year.
And also, different problem for the Democrats, people hated the
Vietnam War. And the president at the time was a Democrat, Lyndon B.
Johnson, LBJ. The escalation in Vietnam was on him. So if you were
against the war, as most Americans at that point were -- this is the Gallup
polling on the war at that time -- the number of people who thought it was
a mistake, that number going up and up and up over time.
If you were against the war, as increasingly everybody was, you were
not psyched to vote for LBJ`s successor in the Democratic Party, right? So
the Democrats were losing their appeal in the South because of race and
racism, and they were losing the anti-war vote because Vietnam was their
Well, the Republican candidate tried to take advantage of that split
on the Democratic side was this handsome devil, candidate Dick Nixon.
Richard Nixon in 1968 was running against a Democratic Party that he knew
was split. He was, in response, pledging to get rid of the draft. And he
claimed to have a plan to end the war. He argued that if you wanted the
war to end, you needed to elect him. You needed to vote the Democrats out
of office because, clearly, LBJ and his party, the Democrats and their
Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, they had no idea how to end the war.
If you wanted the war to end, what you needed was Nixon, what you
needed was total change at the White House. The Democrats had to go so
Dick Nixon could come in and end Vietnam.
But then less than a week before the election, it all went horribly
wrong for Richard Nixon, because less than a week before election, five
nights before Election Day, on Halloween night 1968, the Democratic
president, LBJ, went on TV in a surprise nationally televised address. He
made a surprise announcement that peace was at hand. The communist side,
the North Vietnamese side was going to make concessions at peace talks?
The U.S. anticipating that the other side, the South Vietnamese, were going
to agree to a deal based on those concessions.
Peace was at hand. The terms were all set. Peace was at hand.
In recognition of the fact that peace was about to be declared, the
United States would step back right away and stop all military operations
in Vietnam. LBJ said that on Thursday night. The election was going to be
It turns out the Democrats know how to end this war, this war that the
country hated. So, this was bad news for Richard Nixon for that election
right? Bad news for Richard Nixon, but good news for the country who
wanted the war to be over, good news certainly for the people who were
fighting the war. This was good news, right?
Almost. Thursday night, LBJ made that announcement, that peace was
about to be agreed to, by all sides in Vietnam. That was Thursday night.
By Saturday morning, never mind, deal was off. Peace was not at hand
because the South Vietnamese side has decided actually it didn`t want the
deal. In fact, they didn`t want to talk about it deal. They pulled out of
the peace talks.
And so, the war was back on. What happened? What happened between
Thursday and Saturday?
Now, we know.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Hello?
OPERATOR: Go ahead, sir.
SEN. RICHARD RUSSELL: Good morning, Mr. President.
JOHNSON: How are you, my friend?
RUSSELL: Just fine.
JOHNSON: Well, I`ve got one that`s pretty rough for you. We have
found that our friend, the Republican nominee, our California friend, has
been playing on the outskirts with our enemies and our friends both, he`s
been doing it through rather subterranean sources here, and he has been
saying to the allies that you`re going to get sold out. You better not
give away your liberty just a few hours before I can preserve it for you.
Mrs. Chennault is contacting their ambassador. This is not guess
work. Mr. Chennault, she`s young and attractive. I mean, she`s a pretty
good-looking girl. She`s around town, and she is warning them to not get
pulled in on this Johnson move.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1968, Saturday morning,
November 1st, explaining to Senator Richard Russell what had gone wrong
with this peace deal that everybody thought was going to end the war. I
mean, LBJ had been so sure that this was going to end the war, that he went
on TV Thursday night and told the country the war was going to end. Peace
was at hand.
The reason peace did not happen, what he was explaining on the phone,
is that the Republican nominee for president that year, Richard Nixon, had
intervened in the peace talks to blow them up. He used an intermediary who
was involved in the talks to approach the South Vietnamese side and told
them don`t do it, approach them and tell them to pull out and not agree to
a deal, and told them this deal being worked out by LBJ, this whole deal to
end the war, these peace talks in Paris, is not going to be a good deal for
them. They should not participate. They should just wait until after the
election when he, Richard Nixon, would be president and he`d give them a
much better deal.
Johnson was going to sell them out. He, Richard Nixon, of the one he
should deal with.
Nixon`s intermediary was actually caught on tape telling the
ambassador, just hang on through the election. Hang on. Hang on. Don`t
end the war. We need the war to keep going through the election.
It`s outrageous, right? I mean, the war could have ended. It was on
the verge of ending, except a candidate for office in our country thought
that the war ending would help his opponent in the election. He thought
he`d have a better chance of getting elected if the war kept going.
And so, while saying he wanted the war to end, he did what he could to
keep it going, when it otherwise would have ended. It is astonishing. And
President Johnson thought so, too, at the time, we now know.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOHNSON: And they oughtn`t to be doing this. This is treason. I
think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a
source like this on a matter this important.
SEN. DIRKSEN: Yes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Lyndon Johnson there on the same day as that
earlier tape remarking that, as far as he could tell, this is treason.
I do not think he is saying that hyperbolically. He says it
repeatedly on these tapes. He thinks that has happened there, an American
politician purposely prolonging the war and stopping the peace for his own
purposes, he thinks that is a hanging offense. He thinks that is treason.
This was four days before the election that year. Having thought that
the war was going to be over, that the president deal being negotiated now,
the president finds out the peace deal fell through because a candidate who
wanted there not to be peace before the election intervened to make one
Now, why didn`t LBJ say anything publicly? I mean, this is right
before the election. Can you imagine how the country would have reacted to
that? This is a war the whole country was against. It was going to be
over except candidate Nixon intervened to undo the peace deal and keep the
war going? Can you imagine how angry the American public would have been?
But LBJ did not say anything publicly at the time because he thought
that he couldn`t. The reason he thought he couldn`t is because of the way
he found out what Nixon had done. The FBI illegally wire-tapped the phones
of the South Vietnamese ambassador, that`s how we knew. We couldn`t let
anybody know that we were illegally listening into the ambassador`s phone
lines so they couldn`t let anybody know what they had heard illegally,
while they were illegally listening on the ambassador`s phone lines.
So Nixon got away with it. And the October surprise, the Halloween
night surprise that the war was ending right before the election, that
October surprises ended up getting undone. The war did keep going and
anybody who was anti-war in the country really did have no reason to vote
for a Democrat.
The racist right wing guy peeled off 13 percent of the Democratic vote
on the other side of the Democratic coalition and so, yes, the Republican,
Nixon won. It worked. Richard Nixon got elected barely. Squeaked by, but
he won in part on the basis that he was the guy who knew how to end the
war, not those dumb Democrats.
And, of course, Nixon did not know how to end the war. He`d sure know
how to keep it going. But he didn`t how to end it. He didn`t have a plan.
And instead of the war ending on Halloween in 1968, the war went on for
five more years, while he was president, in which time more than 15,000
Americans were killed, as were untold numbers of Vietnamese.
So that happened. That actually happened.
And now in 2013, what are we supposed to do with that information?
LBJ is dead, Nixon is dead. Hubert Humphrey is dead. George Wallace is
dead. Fifteen thousand Americans are dead who otherwise would not have
been because of what happened, all Vietnamese who died.
How does this get made right? It cannot be made right in the most
basic sense that the people who died needlessly because this duplicitous
political decision cannot be brought back from the dead. You also can`t
get revenge. You can`t indict Nixon`s ghost.
But you can refuse to let him get away with it again. We can make
sure it is a way we tell his history and the history of that war and the
history of modern American politics. You have to include it in the
history, both so nobody gets away with it in the long run the way he did in
the short run, but also so we don`t do it again. So we at least know
something like this as possible, so we at least don`t dismiss this kind of
possibility as some conspiracy theory of nonsense. So we at least know
there is precedent, modern precedent for this particular kind of craven
On Friday night`s show, Chris Hayes was here, for which I`m very
grateful. I was in L.A., being on the Bill Maher show and I know Chris was
here, very ably helming this desk.
One of the things that Chris talked about was the appearance at CPAC
this year of the last Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney. Chris
talked about how Mr. Romney expressed defiance optimism about the future of
conservative politics and the Republican Party.
But the thing that struck me the most about Mitt Romney`s speech,
which was his first major public appearance since losing the presidency,
was the part at the end of his speech where he talked about the Iraq war.
He described the Iraq war as a war of liberation. We fought the Iraq war
to liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny.
You know what? Actually, the Iraq war was supposedly to get Saddam
Hussein`s weapons of mass destruction and the nuclear weapons he was going
to set off. We were going into that war to stop him from giving those
nuclear weapons and those biological and chemical weapons that he
supposedly had to stop him from giving those weapons to the terrorists that
they told us he was working with in al Qaeda.
That`s why they told us we had to go to war in Iraq. That`s what they
told us about why we had to have that war. None of it was true.
Ten years ago this week when we invaded Iraq, we were told that it was
all about 9/11, that if we didn`t go invade Iraq, that the next attack on
us by the same people who attacked us before would be a nuclear attack, a
chemical weapons attack, a biological weapons attack, or a nuclear attack.
The smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud.
And that was not true. There was no nuclear program. There was no
weapons of mass destruction. There was no relationship between the Iraqi
government and the people who attacked us on 9/11.
And yet, there`s the Republican presidential nominee, the last one to
run, saying actually the Iraq war was a war of liberation. At the
Republican convention this year, when they picked presidential nominee, the
foreign policy speech was given by the person who was national security
adviser during the Iraq war, the one who said the smoking gun would be a
mushroom cloud, who describe that war in her speech that night at the
convention as a hard, hard decision to keep us from being attacked again,
the way we were on 9/11.
Ten years in, it was very hard to get right with, to come to terms
with the fact we went to war based on something that our government told
us, that our president told us that was not true.
There is nothing that can bring back the 115,000 Iraqi civilians who
died in that war, the more than 4,400 American troops who died in that war,
the more than 30,000 American troops who were wounded in that war, will not
be made whole by anything that we can do now. We cannot bring them back.
We cannot heal their injuries retroactively.
And George Bush and Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and all the rest
of them are still around. You know, I don`t know what justice would like
for them at this point.
But in terms of how we get right with this as a country, the
accountability can`t just be personal about the decision makers. It has to
be about telling the story honestly about what happened so that they, like
Nixon, don`t get away with it in the long run the way they got away with it
in the short run. So that we tell the story correctly and honestly, so
that it doesn`t happen again. So, it`s not dismissed as a conspiracy
theory, generations hence, by Americans who can`t believe something this
evil and duplicitous would happen in our country.
It did. And to right by what happened, we need to teach it that way
and learn it that way if we want to have any hope of it not happening
In American politics there were plenty of Democrats who went with the
Iraq war 10 years ago, who believed it, who fell for it, who advanced it,
and made the lie more convincing by virtue of their Democratic endorsement.
On the Democratic side, though, since, that at least has since become
a source of shame. It`s a strike against you in Democratic politics. It`s
part of the reason we have a president named Barack Obama who was not part
of that mess and not a president named Hillary Clinton who frankly was part
of that mess.
In the Democratic Party, people who were wrong on the Iraq war are
seen as having been wrong about the Iraq war. They`ve had to apologize and
explain why they were wrong. That vote for the Iraq war has held against
On the Republican side, though, it`s not like that. On the
Republican, Nixon still does have a secret plan to end the war. On the
Republican side, Iraq was a war of liberation if you ask them in 2013. On
the Republican side, the Iraq war is what kept us safe so we wouldn`t get
attacked again the way we did on 9/11 if you ask them in 2011.
That smoking gun could have been a mushroom cloud. Thank God we went
They are still -- they`re arguing that. We have been through two
presidential election cycles since then. It is now 10 years after the war
and the war is over. And this is still the line at the top tier of the
Republican Party, trying to sell us the same lies that got us into that war
in the first place.
And until the Republican Party gets right on that, the history will
never be told honestly because it will always be told as a contested and
How does this ever get right?
Colin Powell`s chief of staff at the State Department from the lead up
to the war joins us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The problem here is that
there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire
nuclear weapon. But we don`t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Condoleezza Rice who was then President Bush`s national
security adviser, talking during the lead-up to the Iraq war in September
2002, about something that was not true.
Joining us now is retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He served
as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell ion the lead-up to the
war in Iraq. He has since then a rather unafraid truth teller about what
went so wrong at that time in our country.
Colonel Wilkerson, thank you so much for your time tonight.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET): Thanks for having me,
MADDOW: How would you describe the prevailing mindset in your party
among Republicans active in the party today about the war in Iraq? A lot
of Democrats supported the war. That has become a political liability and
Democrats essentially had to repent if they supported the war.
How do you think Republicans feel about it now?
WILKERSON: Rachel, that depends on to whom you`re speaking. Some
like myself, I think Brent Scowcroft, Chuck Hagel, and others, I would
describe as moderates, a dying breed in the Republican Party, by the way.
As Hagel as said in the past, believed that Iraq was a catastrophe, still
believe that and believe that history`s verdict ultimately will be that.
Others in the party are trying desperately to defend the decision
because they see it as impacting their future possibilities of particularly
regaining the White House. And still others just don`t want to listen.
They`re sort of like that crew that you were describing in your opening
remarks that won`t believe the truth even if it hits them in the face.
And, incidentally, I was using the LBJ revelations in my seminar today to
demonstrate to my students some of the nefarious and venal things that
happen at the highest levels of power in this country.
MADDOW: You know, thinking about the Republican possibility of
regaining the White House, as you say, people are making that political
calculation about how they have to explain their past behavior, I think
that in any presidential year, it`s about a 50/50 chance that a Democrat or
Republican will take the White House, I mean, give or take the
But as I think about that, that`s why I am worried about the
Republican Party not sort of getting right about what happened there.
Because it`s possible we are going to have a Republican president sometime
soon again, and I want to know that the Republican Party has been through
an acknowledgement about what went wrong there, and some sort of process to
make sure it doesn`t happen again.
Do you feel like there is at least honesty that it was a mistake, that
there`s some effort to make sure it doesn`t happen again?
WILKERSON: I wish I could say yes. I wish I could answer in the
I will tell you that one of the basic reasons I cast a vote for
President Obama this time around, even though I`m a Republican, a second
time around, although I`d lost some faith in him because he didn`t close
Guantanamo and didn`t do some other things I wish he`d done, the main
reason I cast that vote that way was because I kept thinking that Mitt
Romney would be another George Bush, that despite the fact there`s often
the inconsistency, regardless of who`s in the White House in our foreign
policy, that of late, there`s develop this kind of schism in that foreign
policy and Mitt Romney would indeed lead us down the road to another
catastrophic war in western Asia, this one with Iran. I still believe
So, I`m quite happy that I voted the way I did.
MADDOW: Having been there while it was going so wrong, and knowing so
many of the players involved, seeing it up close, when you think about our
governance, do you think there`s something that we can do now as a country
to try to make it right, to fix the harm we did to ourselves as a country
by doing that, not just politically, but the real harm caused. Is there
any kind of way we can fix the strategic error of that war internally and
WILKERSON: I think it boils down to the American people. I would
like to say there`s institutional change we could make statutorily or
otherwise. I would like to say that we could elect different people. I
would like to say all manner of things that would be easier to do, but I
think the bottom line is the American people have got to get angry and
they`ve got to start doing things, local things, state things, national
things, whatever they can find or think to do.
I was in Great Neck, New York, talking to a synagogue group this last
weekend, and I`ll tell you that all those people were war-weary and sick
and tired of all the people we`ve been spending. They`re Jewish Americans
and yet they see what we`re doing in terms of Israel, they see what AIPAC
does from time to time in terms of influencing U.S. policy, and they see
how it would lead potentially to another war, this time with Iran as I
And the American people need to get angry. They need to get as angry
as these people were. They need to do things. They need to write their
senators, write their representatives, call them. Do whatever they can do
within their capacity. Some have a greater capacity than others.
But it`s ultimately going to take the American people to say, we are
sick and tired of the military instrument being that which represents
America to the world and war being its manifestation. Until we do that,
we`re going to have more of it.
MADDOW: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of
State Colin Powell during a lead up to the war in Iraq, that view that you
are seeing out in the world, that you`re talking about is reflected in
public opinion polling. That`s people say they think the war in Iraq was a
mistake. They don`t want another war anywhere else. But whether it`s
manifest in the way that resonates inside the Beltway, I think it`s still
an open question.
Thank you so much for your time tonight, sir. I really appreciate
having you here.
WILKERSON: Thank you, Rachel. Appreciate it.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. And a reminder that our look back at how the world and the
country was sold on the Iraq war, "Hubris" is going to air this Friday at
9:00 p.m. Eastern.
All right. Today was a big day for new ideas in American politics.
By new, think Betamax. Think Commodore 64. Think pong, boldly into the
future. That`s just ahead.
MADDOW: Today was a big day in Republican politics. Republican Party
Chairman Reince Priebus held court today at the National Press Club to talk
about a new RNC report calling for drastic changes if Republicans want to
remain a viable competitive political party. Among the many things that
need to be changed, according to the new report, is the party`s
relationship with people of the lady persuasion.
Quote, "The RNC must improve its efforts to include female voters and
promote women to leadership ranks within the committee. Additionally, when
developing our party`s message, women need to be part of this process to
represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have.
The Republicans say they want to do training programs for messaging,
communications and recruiting that address the best ways to communicate
with women. They say they want to book more women on TV on behalf of the
party. They want a more aggressive response to Democrat rhetoric regarding
a so-called war on women.
They want to use women`s history month as an opportunity to remind
voters of the Republican`s party historical role in advancing the women`s
rights movement -- emphasis on historical role.
On discussing the 100-page report as whether it might help Republicans
today to appeal to women more, if they stop aggressively promoting and
enacting policies to roll back women`s rights by decades at a time in this
century. That is one unexamined problem area with the ladies that the
Republican Party is apparently not trying to change.
In Congress, this current session, this new one this year, it opened
up in the House with two dueling Republican bills to defund Planned
Parenthood. In the Senate, Republican savior Marco Rubio started off the
year by sponsoring a brand new federal abortion restriction. Senator Rubio
then found himself one upped by his rival for the Republican savior label,
Rand Paul, who introduced a personhood bill which would ban abortion
altogether at the federal level. The bill would also likely ban hormonal
birth control as well as in vitro fertilization.
Whatever you think of the viability of all the Republican federal
anti-abortion and anti-contraception and anti-Planned Parenthood
legislation, it has to be said that the place where this brand of
aggressive Republican activism turns into law and not just into politics is
all over the country in the states -- the states where Republicans are in
power, in the states where Republicans are in power, they are doing stuff
right now that they have never done before, as long as abortion has been
legal in this country and constitutionally protected for the past 40 years.
They have never been more radical than they are right now. We have
reported before on this show about the radical turn taken this year in
Arkansas` newly Republican controlled legislature where lawmakers just
passed a ban on abortion that starts at 12 weeks, the governor of Arkansas
vetoed the ban, citing the fact that it was unconstitutional and the fact
that the inevitable lawsuit will cost the state`s taxpayers dearly. But
the Arkansas legislature went ahead and overrode the veto because the
Republicans in Arkansas simply do not care that new law is illegal under
the constitution, or that they are definitely 100 percent going to get sued
over it, and they very clearly will lose that lawsuit and they will
therefore waste a bunch of money in the process.
Much as they would like to, Republicans cannot just ban abortion,
thanks to Roe versus Wade, which is why the Arkansas decision is kind of
strange. But now we know that the Arkansas decision is not an outlier.
Arkansas does not stand alone because now Republicans in North Dakota
have passed an even more extreme and obviously unconstitutional ban on
abortion. Theirs doesn`t start at 12 weeks. Theirs starts at six weeks,
which is before many women even know they`re pregnant in the first place.
North Dakota`s Republican governor has three days to either sign or veto
the bill. He has not said what he will do, but the bill passed with enough
votes in the House and the Senate that even if he does veto it, the
legislature can`t just override them like they did in Arkansas.
And while he decides what to do about the most radical, new, blatantly
unconstitutional, obviously illegal abortion ban in the country,
Republicans in his legislature are poised to send him a couple more even
more radical bills to consider after this one. There`s two Rand Paul style
personhood bills that would ban all abortion and birth control pills and in
vitro fertilization. Those bills have already passed the Senate. They are
set to skate through the House and they`ll be on their way to him
It is getting harder and harder for any one unprecedented totally
unconstitutional abortion ban to hold the title of most extreme abortion
restriction in the country. Republicans are essentially in a race now. In
the Beltway they are preaching about how to appear more reasonable to the
women folk among us, while where they are governing, it is now a
competition, it`s a race to see who can get the most extreme the fastest.
And these are not just proposals for political benefit. This is not
just a wish list on the fringe anti-abortion movement. These are actual
bills that are being passed through entire legislatures and enacted into
law in Republican-controlled states.
This is what Republican governance looks like right now. It is more
radical on abortion and contraception that anything else in 40 years.
Happy Women`s History Month from the Republican national Committee.
MADDOW: What would you do if one of the most high profile members of
your political party, one of your party`s rising stars said this over the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: If standing for liberty and standing for
the Constitution makes you a wacko bird then count me proud wacko bird.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What would you do if one of your rising stars said that on
tape this weekend, proud wacko bird?
And on the very same day, another high-profile member of your party at
the same event said this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: More background checks?
Dandy idea, Mr. President. Should have started with yours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What would you do if the most guaranteed to get headlines
member of your party decided to stick with the birther thing and your
rising star on the same day called himself a proud wacko bird, and in the
same 24-hour period, the man in your party who has more name recognition
than any conceivable candidate for national office said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Way too many people believe
Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-
worker, and the list goes on and on and on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: If that from Jeb Bush and the background birther thing and
the proud wacko bird thing all happened all at once in the same 24-hour
period, thus setting up your party for about a week straight of a miserable
news cycle, what would you do? What would you do almost before sunrise on
the following Monday morning to prevent those clips from getting any more
air-time than they absolutely had to get? What would you do to step on
What happened early this morning to knock those clips right out of the
headlines, that is straight ahead. Don`t move.
MADDOW: The Conservative Political Action Conference is really good
at generating attention. If you`re a conservative, it`s a place you go to
get headlines, to make waves. The sheer waves were made by Republican
Senator Rand Paul, fresh off his old timey talking filibuster. He said at
CPAC that the Republican has moss growing it.
A man named Donald Trump talked about his new golf course at CPAC.
That made waves of some kind.
Newt Gingrich tried to make waves by bringing props to his appearance.
It was a shouting match at one panel titled: are you sick and tired of
being called a racist when you know you are not one? It did not help when
the white nationalist contingent showed up.
Former Alaska governor and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah
Palin used her turn at the podium at CPAC to try to start a fight with Karl
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: The last thing we need is Washington vetting our candidates.
If these experts, who keep losing elections yet keep getting rehired,
reeking in millions, if they feel that strongly about who gets to run in
this party, then they should buck up or stay in the truck. Buck up and
run. The architects can head on back to --
They can head on back to the great Lone Star State and put their name
on some ballot, though for their sake I hope they give themselves a
discount on their consulting services.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: One heartbeat away from the presidency, thanks to John
So, yes, CPAC is not a place where ideas or ideas or programs or
policies get launched. It is a headline generator. It`s cable news chum.
It`s three days of conservative fantasy where elections do not have
consequences and Breitbart.com is where you get some of your news from.
Because there`s always so much guaranteed red meat at CPAC, there`s so
much off the wall kookiness.
People pay attention to CPAC. CPAC is fun, right? It`s fun to cover.
CPAC started Thursday. It ended Saturday. It got a ton of press and
frankly, people might still be taking about Sarah Palin and her starting a
fight with Karl Rove and her taking a sip out of a giant tub of soda pop,
or maybe Mitt Romney`s farewell speech to politics where he called Iraq a
war of liberation. People might still be talking about all this stuff if
it were not for this.
The day after CPAC ended, the morning after CPAC ended, the Republican
National Committee stamped any glowing embers of CPAC news by releasing to
the public its party-wide postmortem on why they lost the 2012 election.
The Republican Party booked the National Press Club today first thing
Monday morning for the big event. And that, of course, gave everybody a
new story to talk about in Republican politics instead of the CPAC
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: The report notes that the way we
communicate our principles isn`t resonating widely enough. Focus groups
described our party as narrow-minded, out of touch, and, quote, "stuffy old
men". That`s frustrating, because we care about every voter. We want to
lift people up from poverty, to put the American dream in reach for
We`ll champion school choice and solutions to lowering the costs of
healthcare. The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic,
community, or region of this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The main thrust of the Republican Party`s autopsy of what
went wrong. Their plan for how to get back from the electoral wilderness
is as Ben Smith of BuzzFeed pointed out, I think correctly, it`s kind of a
redo of compassionate conservativism.
The Republican Party took a month`s long look in the mirror and they
came up with the solution that they should try to be now what President
George W. Bush wanted to be remembered for, which ended up not being at all
what he is remembered for.
Compassionate conservativism was supposed to be the signature of the
George W. Bush party -- a kinder, gentler Republican Party, a kinder,
gentler approach to immigration, more funding for Medicare and education.
George W. Bush used to talk about his armies of compassion.
But armies of compassion are not what George W. Bush is remembered
for. Now more than a decade later, the Republican Party seems to have
revived the strategy that got him elected in the first place, this idea of
compassionate conservativism, a kinder, gentler, less mean-seeming
The question is why would it work now when it did not end up working
for George W. Bush except to get him elected once? And how can you earn an
image change like that without changing any of your policies that earned
you the image you now want to change?
Joining us now for the interview is John Brabender. He`s a former
chief adviser to Rick Santorum`s presidential campaign. Mr. Brabender,
it`s great to have you here. Thank you so much for being here.
JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I`m glad to be here, and every
I`m here, I become increasingly convinced you are not going to switch and
become a Republican.
MADDOW: You know, I will keep trying to persuade you of that.
Let me ask you if you think my analysis is biased by the fact that I
am not a Republican. I look at sort of the Republican Party prognosis for
what went wrong, the diagnosis that autopsy that they unveiled today, and I
see that as trying to rebrand as compassionate conservativism again? Do
you see that?
BRABENDER: Well, I actually think it`s more complicated than that.
First of all, I do think that Chairman Priebus had very good intentions,
tried hard, did all the processes and actually put out a pretty good
I don`t necessarily agree with everything in there but I think there
was a lot of good things in there.
One of the things I thought that was important but not getting as much
press is the whole point about the American dream not being reached anymore
by lower income and middle income Americans and how we have to get back to
doing something about that. So, they understand we`re fighting for them.
I think that the perception is that the Republican Party today fights
for the wealthy with tax breaks for the wealthy, for corporations,
loopholes, and doesn`t really understand the average hard-working American
anymore and that`s really what we`ve got to get back to.
MADDOW: I was struck by that piece of it because it seems it`s not a
sort of a hypothetical or divorced from the facts assessment. I mean,
during the primary campaign where your candidate Rick Santorum did very
well against Mitt Romney, at one point in the campaign where Newt Gingrich
and Rick Santorum got the most traction against Mitt Romney, was really him
talking about some of those economic, populist angles on the way that Mitt
Romney had behaved in corporate America and the unfairness for workers,
when CEOs were doing very well and sort of vulture capitalism and that
It wasn`t endorsed uniformly by all of Mr. Romney`s critics, his
competitors in the primary but it did seem to work. And then there was
just a vociferous backlash among the Republican establishment that you
shouldn`t talk that way about success.
How do you think that plays out in the long run?
BRABENDER: Well, I think there was some truth to that, that it looked
like we were attacking capitalism, and I don`t think that was the intent.
But I do think this -- all over this country tonight, there will be people
waking up at 3:00 in the morning, tossing and turning and not be able to
get back to sleep, and it`s not because they`re worried about tax breaks
for the rich. It`s not worried about financial bankers on Wall Street
getting too small of bonuses, it`s about how they`re going to get their
kids in college, it`s about their take home pay that`s becoming smaller,
it`s about becoming more difficult to raise children frankly in this
And, you know, Ronald Reagan was good making what was known as Reagan
Democrats feel very good that he was fighting for them and I think our
party has gotten away from that.
MADDOW: Your candidate in the primaries, don`t mean to con flat you
and Mr. Santorum, I know that you have different views and you come from a
different place, but he was really the champion of cultural politics at
high level Republican politics, really hitting still on issues about gay
rights, on issues about sexual morality, on issues like abortion.
I see the party as not moving away from those issues, even as some of
the intellectual discussion in the party says that stuff needs to be left
Do you think that`s the party`s future? Or do you think it`s only the
BRABENDER: Well, I would say there`s two things. One is the mistake
or trap we fall in is we allow ourselves to be singularly defined by those
issues. I would argue things like abortion is a very important issue.
However, we can`t let our party only be about abortion. And sometimes we
fall in the trap of letting that happen.
The second thing is a lot of people are looking at demographics and
election results and say we have to become a different party. I would
argue that if a consultant came to you and said they could get your ratings
up, but only if you change your positions on things like abortion or gun
control or marriage, chances are you would say no, you`re not doing that,
that`s your core convictions. I think the Republican Party has to be the
MADDOW: Let me just -- on the abortion issue, though, this is
something I cover a lot on this issue, and I feel like I just don`t
understand it. It is not just difference of opinion, I just don`t get it.
That a lot of Republicans say we don`t want to be defined as or seen only
as being interested in anti-abortion politics, but then you look at what`s
going on where Republicans are governing and they really are in an
unprecedented anti-abortion activist wave rolling back abortion rights in
the states more so than any time other than 40 years.
It can`t be that you do that and don`t want to be known for it, right?
I mean, either you keep it as your policy focus and you are known for it or
you stop doing that in policy and then people start thinking about other
things that you do, right?
BRABENDER: Well, basically one of the things I would look at is what
the report talked about is the success of Republican governors and in many
cases, Democratic states, why? They`re still pro-life, they`re still pro-
marriage, you know, they`re pro-gun, but they`re not defined that way.
They`re defined on a lot of times budget issues and so forth.
The other thing, too, is as a party we often talk about being pro-
life. And I would argue too many times only pro-birth and we kind of
forget about the person as they get older.
Are we fighting as hard for the life that`s not going to bed at night,
and not getting the food they need, and are under poverty and fighting for
them? And I would say, again, we need to do a better job at that.
MADDOW: I think you guys are always going to be famous for policy, no
matter what you want to be famous for, what you do is what ends up making
the news. I think it is a fascinating discussion. Seeing the Republican
fight amongst yourselves about this stuff.
I think it`s -- so far, I think it`s a constructive discussion. We
will see if it extends to policy. But so far, the talk at least is great.
John Brabender, former adviser to Rick Santorum`s presidential
campaign -- John, thank you so much for being here.
BRABENDER: Glad to be here. Take care.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: OK. Today is Monday, which means tomorrow is Tuesday, but
tomorrow is not just any kind of Tuesday. Tomorrow is this kind of
MADDOW: Yes, if it`s Tuesday and you hear that music, it must be an
election day somewhere. It is rare to get to hear this wonderful music in
an odd numbered year. But we already did once last month with the primary
in Illinois for Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.`s vacated house seat. And
now, here we go again.
Here is what you need to know. It`s tomorrow, the election in South
Carolina`s first congressional district.
And here is why it is happening. Back in 2010, Senator Jim DeMint of
South Carolina won re-election to his Senate seat. He`s rather handily
beat the guy on the right side of your screen, one of the stranger
candidates of 2010 cycle, a man named Alvin Green. Beating Alvin Green,
Senator DeMint earned another six-year shot at playing conservative king
maker in the Senate.
But then, just two years into that new term, Jim DeMint quit. He
suddenly gave up, he gave up his Senate seat, resigned to become president
of the Heritage Foundation instead, which used to be a think tank but now
just employs guys like Jim DeMint.
In any case, that vacant seat gave South Carolina Republican Governor
Nikki Haley a free shot at filling that vacant Senate seat with whoever she
wanted. The guy she picked was this man on the left side of your screen
here, Congressman Tim Scott. He had only first been elected to the House
in 2010. He only had one term under his belt when he got the nod to move
up to the Senate.
But thanks to that appointment, he became the first African-American
senator that South Carolina has ever had. And now, it is his seat in the
House that is vacant.
And tomorrow, both Democrats and Republicans are going to hold their
primary elections to try to fill that seat.
On the Democratic side, the nominee is expected to be Elizabeth
Colbert Busch. Her brother uses a much fancier pronunciation of their last
name, you know him as Stephen Colbert.
On the Republican side, the front runner is the guy who almost as
famous as Stephen Colbert and more famous than Stephen Colbert`s sister but
not for a good reason. It`s former Governor Mark Sanford. He does have a
big national profile, but it is because of his fake hiking trip on the
Appalachian trial, which has now become a famous national euphemism for
what he was actually doing at that time which shtooping his Argentinian
Mark Sanford apologized. He finished out his term as governor and
then he withdrew from public life for two years. Now, he is back, trying
to win back the public`s trust and respect by trying to win back the
congressional seat that he once held for three terms.
Mr. Hiking the Appalachian Trail though is only one of 16 Republicans
trying for that seat tomorrow. The others include the son of media mogul
Ted Turner. Conveniently, his name is Teddy, which makes Ted Turner really
hard to forget. Internal polling reportedly says that Mark Sanford is the
frontrunner in this primary, but unless he gets more than 50 percent of the
vote in a field of 16 candidates, then it will be a runoff. He and who
comes in second will have a runoff election next month.
In any case, the polls open tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. in South
Carolina. This will be the first federal election in South Carolina since
the state passed a law requiring photo ID. Justice Department personnel
will be monitoring polling tomorrow to ensure they`re in compliance with
the Voting Rights Act and, of course, we will be watching, too, the results
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Thanks for being with us.
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