updated 3/20/2013 11:27:06 AM ET 2013-03-20T15:27:06

THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
March 19, 2013

Guests: Nia-Malika Henderson, Sam Stein, Nada Bakos, Eugene Robinson, Dick
Harpootlian, Ezra Klein

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Today here in Washington, the latest
skirmish in the Republican civil war was fought by Rand Paul against Rand
Paul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: The Republicans are just totally
bamboozled right now.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC ANCHOR: The GOP ordered an autopsy --

LUKE RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: A 98-page autopsy.

WAGNER: -- of its performance in the last election.

LIMBAUGH: They don`t understand they`re being suckered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s all about outreach, not policy.

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: To be clear, our principles are sound.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outside of pushing for comprehensive immigration
reform.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: If you wish to live and work in America
--

RUSSERT: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

PAUL: -- then, we will find a place for you.

RUSSERT: Raising his national profile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Implicitly endorsed a path to citizenship.

PAUL: Then, we will find a place for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s got a lot of people scratching their head, me
inclusive.

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I am now a single issue voter
against amnesty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s all completely incoherent.

PRIEBUS: We know that we have problems.

PAUL: And we aren`t going to deport 12 million illegal immigrants.

COULTER: I`m now a single issue voter against amnesty.

LIMBAUGH: The Republicans are just totally bamboozled right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The opposition to the Iraq war led to a crushing
defeat for Republicans.

WAGNER: Ten years to the day aftershock and awe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does political fallout still linger?

WAGNER: The war remains an open wound.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Support for the war seems to fall down party
lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s a very tough issue for the GOP.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Almost 4,500 Americans killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than 32,000 wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A hundred and thirty thousand Iraqi civilians.

WAGNER: Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it worth it?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We have no ambition in Iraq
except to remove a threat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they sold it to the American public.

BUSH: Every measure has been taken to avoid war.

WAGNER: Failures of the Iraq war are still a list in progress.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: Rand Paul began today sort of in favor of immigration
reform that includes a path to citizenship and ended the day absolutely
opposed to a path to citizenship. It was just another day in the life of a
right wing Republican trying to find exactly where he stands as the ground
shifts under the Republican Party on immigration reform and other issues.

Rand Paul began his day with a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of
Commerce in which he tried to please his audience without getting too
specific.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: I think the conversation needs to start by acknowledging that
we aren`t going to deport 12 million illegal immigrants. If you wish to
live and work in America, then we will find a place for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: After "The Associated Press" based on advanced copy of
Rand Paul`s speech reported that he endorsed a path to citizenship, Senator
Paul ran away from that as fast as he could.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: I`m not offering a new pathway to citizenship. I am simply
saying you can get a work visa and you can get in the normal line. I am
not creating a new line for citizenship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Rand Paul`s wobbling on immigration left some Republicans
very confused.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rand Paul is being more conservative than maybe a
Rubio, and now forget it. He`s got a lot of people scratching their head,
me included.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Today, Rush Limbaugh continued to scratch his head and
continued his crusade against the Republican National Committee`s effort to
rebrand the party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH: The Republicans brand, whatever, image problem, and what
they`re going to have to do is change the way they are talked about. They
don`t have to change who they are. These rebranding efforts never work.
They never fool anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Nia-Malika, it is hard for a Republican trying to figure
out immigration reform, what should I say today about it? Was this -- this
Rand Paul thing, it seems the "A.P." got an early draft of the speech, that
seemed to tell them he was for a path to citizenship, and now he`s not.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I mean, they used
this language that he was implicitly for citizenship all throughout the
day. He came and said, no, wait, it`s more like green cards, he`s not for
a new pathway.

And we`ve seen this before, right? I mean, we`ve seen this with Jeb
Bush who was for citizenship, in his book, don`t know if he wrote it, but
he seemed to not be for citizenship, now he is for citizenship.

We saw it with Marco Rubio, right, who at his speech at CPAC,
immigration reform, he doesn`t even mention it.

But I think we are seeing obviously, the struggle in the Republican
Party. There is a wing in the Republican Party that when they hear
citizenship, they here amnesty. And that`s why they`re in trouble with
this.

But if you look at the polls, most Republicans actually want a
comprehensive immigration reform, something like 60 percent. So, you see
this dance that these figures have to take around the issue.

O`DONNELL: Sam, it is not like Rand Paul didn`t know. This speech
was on his schedule for awhile.

He knew his day was coming and he was going to be talking about this
in front of this audience. It seems easy to keep your story straight.

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, you would think so, if you were
planning the speech. But keep in mind where he came from not even a year
or, maybe two years ago. In 2011, he had cosponsored a bill, co-sponsored
a bill with Jim DeMint, which outlawed birth right citizenship. Children
of illegals wouldn`t be granted citizenship, which they are obviously.

In 2010, when he was running for the Senate, on his Web site, he had a
proposal calling for underground electrical fence under the border to
prevent people from crossing the border. So, he started --

O`DONNELL: An underground electrical fence?

STEIN: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

O`DONNELL: Presumably in addition to an above ground electrical
fence?

STEIN: Above round was more expensive. This would detect people
crossing the border.

O`DONNELL: OK. Something he invented himself?

STEIN: It was all detailed, said I will guide you and your viewers.

But the point I am trying to make, he started very, very, very far to
the right and I think he is reflecting the movement of the party at large
and they`re not there where they`re comfortable with the words pathway to
citizenship. They want to say they`re for it because they realize the
political ramifications, but they know if they were to use those words,
they would be in trouble.

HENDERSON: And they want to tie it to border security. But, I mean,
the issue with border security is that, the border is pretty secure. I
mean, the immigration at this point, illegal immigration is net zero.

And if you look at states like Arizona, I mean, the apprehension rate
is down by like 80 percent in terms of the people they are catching. So, I
mean, there is --

STEIN: I give him credit for trying to find that middle ground. But
if you`re going to do the speech, stick with the themes of the speech, and
not try to move back and forth because then you become the story and not
the policy.

O`DONNELL: He is -- Rand Paul is a very interesting object lesson in
the repositioning Republicans are trying to figure out, because he is
actually repositioning himself every day. He really is, in his heart, like
his father not a Republican, a libertarian. And libertarians are more
opposed to most of what Republicans actually stand for than they are in
agreement with them.

For example, abortion. Listen to Rand Paul today on that subject.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So just to be precise, if you believe life
begins at conception, which I suspect you do believe that, you would have
no exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother. Is that right?

PAUL: Well, I think that once again puts things in too small of a
box. What I would say is there are thousands of exceptions. You know, I`m
a physician and every individual case is going to be different and
everything is going to be particular to that individual case and what`s
going on with that mother and medical circumstances of that mother.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: So, Sam, if I heard correctly, the guy who is opposed to
all abortions thinks there are I believe thousands of exceptions? Is that
what I just heard?

STEIN: Yes. I mean, it is tough to figure out what he was getting at
there. Clearly --

O`DONNELL: He was just straddling. He doesn`t want to discuss it.

STEIN: On the one hand, he wants to call it a white and black issue,
there`s absolute and you can`t compromise. On the other hand, well,
there`s a thousand shades of gray, so to speak.

And I think you can`t do that in the Republican Party today. I agree,
it is an incredibly complex issue when you grant exemptions, whether it`s
for the safety of the mother, whether it`s because of, you know, economic
situations, whether -- there`s a variety of issues.

But if you`re in the Republican Party, that`s an absolutist issue.
You are either for abortion or against abortion and there aren`t lines you
can drive either way.

HENDERSON: But at this point, there are so many versions of the
Republican Party, right? I mean, there`s libertarian, there -- government
get off my lawn and things like that. There`s the evangelical wing,
there`s Tea Party wing.

So, that`s why you see -- I think that`s the case with Marco Rubio.
Sometimes he sounds like a moderate Republican, sometimes like a Tea Party
Republican. I think this is a fight we`re going to see people -- these
politicians have with themselves and also with the larger party.

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: This goes back to your rebranding issue which is that you want
to come off as a sensitive, compassionate politician, while at the same
time sticking to those core principles that aren`t exactly popular or
necessarily compassionate. It`s very difficult to have it both ways.

O`DONNELL: Nia, where do you think we are in this re-branding story?
Is this the beginning of a six month period of confusion? Is this going to
be so confusing?

HENDERSON: Only six months?

O`DONNELL: Or could it be just so confusing that Republicans can`t
take it any more by the end of the week and say stop it, we`re going back
to everything we said last year.

HENDERSON: Right. Well, I think it`s something, it defends on who
you listen, right? I mean, if you listen to Rush Limbaugh, he is singing a
different tune, if you listen to Rand Paul. I mean, part of the problem,
it`s completely leaderless. I think this is a fight that has to be fought
out in 2016, and in some ways in 2014.

My goodness, sit back, and grab your popcorn.

STEIN: Also, let me add. I think one of this, it`s sort of the
boomerang effect of gerrymandering where you have a number of Republicans
whose only threat to political survival is the prospect of being challenged
in primary, outside of that, they`re golden. That makes it hard to do re-
branding project.

O`DONNELL: Nia-Malika Henderson and Sam Stein -- thank you both for
joining me.

STEIN: Thanks. Two nights in a row.

O`DONNELL: You were a big hit last night.

Coming up, a former CIA agent tells us what went wrong in the
intelligence community as President Bush worked his way to launching the
Iraq war exactly 10 years ago tonight at this very hour.

And in the "Rewrite," what happens to the failed saviors of the
Republican Party? Hint: does the phrase reverse mortgages mean anything to
you?

And later, congressional Republicans wandered into a political
twilight zone that only Ezra Klein can explain. Ezra will join me. That`s
coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: This program`s choice for this year`s Nobel Peace Prize
went back to school today. Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old girl shot by
the Taliban last year for speaking out for the rights of girls to receive
an education started at a high school for girls in England today.

In a statement, Malala said, "I am excited that today I have achieved
my dream of going back to school. I want all girls in the world to have
this basic opportunity. I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much, but
I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends in
Birmingham."

She and her family will be staying there while she continues
outpatient treatment.

Up next, at this hour exactly 10 years ago, George W. Bush announced
the start of the Iraq war. An intelligence analyst working in the CIA then
will tell us what it was like dealing with Dick Cheney in those days.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: A this very moment 10 years ago, and I do mean this very
minute. At 10:16 p.m. on March 19th, 2003, the president of the United
States said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces
are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its
people, and to defend the world from grave danger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: It turned out the world was not in grave danger. A CIA
analyst working in the Counterterrorism Center at the time says now that
the prewar intelligence on Iraq, quote, "turned out to be bogus" and that
her job was, quote, "keeping the really, really terrible versions of it out
of our analysis."

Joining me now is that former CIA analyst, Nada Bakos.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

NADA BAKOS, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Thank you for having me.

O`DONNELL: You published this article describing what it was like
working in the CIA at that time, and all the pressure you were under from
the vice president`s office. I wanted to show you this clip that you
mentioned from "Meet the Press" back then. You mentioned this in your
article. Let`s look at it again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We know he`s out trying once
again to produce nuclear weapons and we know that he has a long standing
relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al Qaeda
organization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: In your article, you say were you shocked when you heard
him say that. Tell us about that.

BAKOS: So we had already written an assessment talking about the
relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda and we found there was no
substantial connection. How it played in the press and statements made by
the administration at the time gave the impression there possibly was and
that intelligence backed that up.

And that was my concern at the time was that the American public would
walk away from that thinking there was a connection. And that we had
actually found that.

O`DONNELL: You and your team were under such pressure from the vice
president and Scooter Libby that you actually ran mock meetings with them
in your office where some of you played Dick Cheney and someone else played
Scooter Libby grilling your team. Just -- you went through exercises like
that just in preparation of having meetings with them.

BAKOS: Right. I had -- I worked with an amazingly dedicated team. I
had a branch chief who understood the questions the administration was
probably going to ask.

So, we did a mock briefing just to prepare us in case the questions
would arise that, you know, would lead us down a rabbit hole. You know,
you could have a lot of hypotheses that you go over and over and over
again, and eventually moving away from the objective truth as we knew it at
the time. So, she wanted us to be prepared for the answers and felt solid
on the basis of our intelligence.

O`DONNELL: And you talk about how challenged you felt by the vice
president`s office on this. In your piece you write, "In the abstract,
challenging CIA`s analysis is a good thing, agency analysts get stuff wrong
as evidenced by Saddam`s non-WMD. But in this case, it was problematic."

Why was it problematic to be interfered with and affect this
situation?

BAKOS: You know, from our optic, looking at the possible Iraq, al
Qaeda connection and that there wasn`t one, we were laying out the case as
exactly as we found it. And there was, we felt, no stone unturned.

So, to cherry-pick through some of the information that may be alluded
to a possible connection and then leaving out the other pieces of
information that brought to light that there was no connection was hugely
problematic. And I think you have to look at it in total.

So without doing that, you can come away with the assessment that yes,
there was some kind of unfounded connection between the two organizations,
but the CIA is not a policy making body and I think it`s important for
history to determine for us in this instance, you know, mixing the two is
hugely problematic.

O`DONNELL: You go on to write about what it was like working there
after the war started and you find yourself under a whole different kind of
pressure, which was in effect a retroactive search for justification for
the war. You say, "They were so frantic to respond to White House
questions that supporting the actual war effort took a back seat."

Tell us about that.

BAKOS: So, you know, the piece that I actually write about was just
from my personal perspective, talking about how they couldn`t even spare me
at that moment or the boss`s boss couldn`t to do weapons training, just so
we are all hands on deck answering the questions. And well after the
invasion, I was still working as an analyst, answering the questions in
2004, historical questions.

So it took a long time for us to be able to walk away from that and
really focus on what was happening in Iraq, and we were doing both
simultaneously.

O`DONNELL: What was it like to be at the CIA during what was probably
the slow dawning of the realization that no, there are no weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq?

BAKOS: So I was in Iraq shortly after the invasion. I was there in
June of 2003 and it was becoming somewhat clear that there was not an
immediate -- nobody was finding an immediate connection to any kind of WMD.

I was skeptical personally. From my own opinion, I was skeptical
about the invasion from the beginning. I thought if there`s a reason to
invade another country, having to make a case in front of the U.N. assembly
just doesn`t seem like it is warranted. War should be obvious, the reason
should be obvious.

O`DONNELL: Nada Bakos, former CIA analyst, thank you very much for
joining us tonight.

BAKOS: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: This Friday at 9:00 p.m., watch a special replay of the
documentary "Hubris: Selling the Iraq War," followed by "Talking Hubris".

Coming up in the "Rewrite", how losing presidential campaigns can lead
to a rewarding career as a TV commercial actor.

And Stephen Colbert`s sister was a big winner in South Carolina. We
will have the latest in that congressional race, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Great television suffered a great loss yesterday. Henry
Romell wrote for some of the best shows of our time, "Northern Exposure",
"I`ll Fly Away", "Homicide", "Life on the Street", and more recently, two
of Showtime`s dramas, "Brotherhood" and "Homeland". I never had the
pleasure of working with Henry, but I know if I had, I`d be a better writer
for it.

I know countless from the cast of "Northern Exposure", to the cast of
"Homeland" whose performances were enriched by Henry`s writing. I know
many television writers learned much from Henry Romell.

He won the esteemed Humanitas Prize for his writing on "I`ll Fly
Away". He was an accomplished novelist, a husband and father of two
children. He suffered a heart attack yesterday and died at the age of 65.

Henry Romell`s family and friends will miss him and you will, too.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH COLBERT BUSCH, CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS: Done. Guess who I
voted for?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: In the Spotlight tonight, Colbert for Congress. Tonight,
Elizabeth Colbert Busch easily won the Democratic nomination in South
Carolina`s first district`s special primary. Colbert Busch`s brother,
Comedy Central`s Stephen Colbert, says he will do whatever he can to help
his big sister win the general election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": She`s my sister.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

COLBERT: And I`m willing to, you know, break the jewel of my own
creation to try to do something for her. Like I`m not worried about what
it would do to me or my show to try to help her as myself, not as my
character but to help her as myself. You know, if people don`t think
that`s not the right thing for me to do, I don`t care. It is my sister and
I`m willing to help her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: South Carolina has still not decided who Colbert Busch`s
opponent will be. The field will be whittled down from 16 contenders to
just two. Former South Carolina Governor and Appalachian Trail hiker Mark
Sanford won the most votes in the Republican primary. But because he did
not win more than 50 percent of the vote, Sanford will face a challenge in
a special Republican runoff on April 2nd. It is too close to call right
now who Sanford`s challenger will be.

The winner of that run off will face Colbert Busch in the general
election on May 7th.

Joining me now, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for
the "Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Dick Harpootlian,
chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

Eugene, you have been manning the South Carolina desk here.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": All my life.

O`DONNELL: Counting every one of these votes as they come in.
Stephen Colbert`s sister won with about 150 percent of the voters.

ROBINSON: Yes. She ran against a sort of random perpetual candidate
who, you know, wasn`t going to win. So she won. So this will be very
interesting. She`s an interesting candidate in her own right, and has a
shot at, in a very red state, of winning a Congressional seat.

O`DONNELL: Dick Harpootlian, is Mark Sanford maybe the only
Republican she could beat in that district?

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, CHAIRMAN, SC DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, I think that
he is -- he`s not the only Republican, but he certainly is the easiest
target. If you look at the numbers tonight, almost two out of three
Republicans voted for somebody else in this primary. So He is by no means
home. So I think we prefer to run against him.

He has not only the Appalachian Trail, but he was a guy that in
Congress and served in Congress and promised term limits. And yet he is
running again. Of course, the scandals of his governorship, both ethical
and moral, are renowned in the state. So I think he is the candidate of
choice for us.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to Mark Sanford talking about re-entering the
world of politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SANFORD, FORMER GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA: You know, you step
in with more than a bit of fear and trepidation because you knew you blew
it. And you knew that everybody knows that you did. It`s certainly been
out there. I don`t know whether I am going to win or lose this thing. I
just know I feel I am supposed to be crawling back on to this larger
playing field that I had stepped away from for a couple of years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Gene, crawling back on the field, there`s something not
very triumphant --

ROBINSON: What is he doing? Can the man not find a job? We all
remember how he left office the last time. And it wasn`t pretty. So he is
apparently now engaged to his Argentine sweetheart. And you know, take
off, go to the Pompos (ph), have a nice life. I -- it mystifies me why he
would say he wants to crawl back onto the playing field, not in triumph,
but in disgrace.

O`DONNELL: Dick, how is this Sanford campaign playing down there?

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, you know, South Carolina has been the butt of
many, many jokes, many of them by Stephen Colbert. We have been the
laughing stock of the country. And this is just the latest chapter of the
Mark Sanford humiliation tour. He somehow feels he has something to
contribute in public life, which he has never done in the last 20 years
while he has been in public life.

So again, we`re embarrassed. We`re humiliated. But we believe
Elizabeth Colbert Busch can perhaps stop the pain.

O`DONNELL: The -- he made a very interesting choice, Gene. He
actually tried -- you know what, I`m going to let him tell the story, how
he tried to talk his wife into running his campaign.

ROBINSON: Let him tell it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANFORD: The first thing that came along when this larger question of
race versus no race came along was, was she running, because there was
actually talk of her running for this office. And I don`t think that there
could have possibly been anything more disruptive for our boys. And
frankly, it would have been just a circus to have a former husband and wife
running. I mean, that would be crazy.

So I met with her to make sure that she wasn`t interested. And when
she wasn`t, I said we`d still love to have you involved in any way that you
would like because, you know, she is an incredibly intelligent woman, knows
campaigns and elections very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Gene, she turned down that offer. I don`t understand this
woman.

ROBINSON: Yes, right. Inscrutable. So let`s get this straight. If
they had run against each other, that would have been crazy. If she had
been his campaign manager, that wouldn`t have been crazy?

O`DONNELL: No. And his running now apparently is not crazy.

ROBINSON: It actually is a little crazy. Let`s get back to planet
Earth. It is crazy. So how is she going to react when she`s asked about
his candidacy in the coming weeks.

O`DONNELL: Dick Harpootlian, I want to get back to your candidate,
Elizabeth Colbert Busch. She is the big winner tonight. What does she
have to do in the general election to win this thing?

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, I think that she has to do something none of the
Republican candidates did I the primary with Mark Sanford. And that is
explain who he is, remind them of his history, and -- and compare him to
her. She`s a business woman. She has run a business. He is born the rich
son -- the son of a rich doctor, grew up on a plantation, has never had a
real job, never other than taking a government check for the last 24 years
or so. He has never earned a check.

She, on the other hand, had businesses. She now is a renowned
business leader in the low country. So she needs to show that comparison.
She has created jobs. He hasn`t. And if -- I think the district`s
conservative, there`s no question about it. But they`re not crazy. And I
think they`ve got to be crazy to vote this guy back into office again.

O`DONNELL: Gene, can a candidate`s little brother, who has gone off
to New York and thrown in with that show business crowd, actually help a
candidate back in a district in South Carolina?

ROBINSON: Well, sure, sure. First of all, this is the Low Country.
The Low Country is a little different. And second, he is from South
Carolina. He grew up there. He made it big in the Big City. And it is
with those sort of fancy TV folk like you.

But -- but sure, he can help his sister. And again, Dick made a very
good point about Mark Sanford. Here is a guy with 100 percent name
recognition running against a whole bunch of people with zero name
recognition. And two-thirds of them voted for somebody else. So I think
there`s a vulnerability here.

O`DONNELL: Dick, what role would you like to see Stephen Colbert play
in this campaign?

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, I think has done a good job -- just a couple weeks
ago, there was a dinner in Charleston. I attended it. He raised -- helped
raise a couple hundred thousand dollars for Elizabeth. He continues to use
his celebrity and his fame to help his big sister raise money and get
attention.

I think -- you know, I spent a significant amount of time with him at
dinner the other night. The guy is bright. He is from Charleston. Nobody
regards him as being from New York. And he is a state treasure. He`s
something everybody -- a guy everybody admires.

So just his presence and words help her. By the way, I think
everybody in Charleston knows her as Lulu. That`s the nickname that she
grew up with, and everybody has known her by that for years. She is a
Charlestonian. She grew up there. She spent her entire life there. So
has Stephen. These are not outsiders coming in. These are folks that are
known by the people of that district. And I think he can help her simply
by being there and helping her. He just shows up.

O`DONNELL: Eugene Robinson and Dick Harpootlian, thank you both for
joining us tonight.

Coming up, Congressional Republicans are now in a Twilight Zone that
only Ezra Klein can explain.

And in the Rewrite, we can now see the future for the new saviors of
the Republican party. And that future is not in the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Oh, America hates losers. And the most recent vice
presidential losing candidate who will never be president is upside down in
favorability polls. A new Rasmussen poll shows Paul Ryan is viewed
favorably by only 35 percent. And among Republican voters, he has dropped
to 52 percent from a high of 83 percent last August, when he was chosen to
be the next losing vice presidential candidate who will never be president.

Paul Ryan`s budget Twilight Zone is coming up. The Rewrite is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, I`m Fred Thompson.
And you know, if you`re like a lot of folks out there lately, then finances
might be a little tight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Well, luckily for me, my finances are not yet so tight
that I have to do reverse mortgage commercials like former Tennessee
Senator and failed Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson. But
when my day comes, as it surely will, and I`m desperate to do reverse
mortgage commercials, I won`t have a chance of getting one unless I first
run for president as a Republican and lose.

That is actually the surest way to book a national ad campaign as an
actor. It all started with Bob Dole. To get his career in commercials
started, first he lost the 1996 presidential campaign to Bill Clinton.
Then became a spokes model for a new pill that was a big game changer for
older men.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB DOLE, FORMER SENATOR: When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer,
I was primarily concerned with ridding myself with the cancer. But
secondly, I was concerned about possible post-operative side effects like
erectile dysfunction, E.D., often called impotence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Bob Dole, who really was one of the funniest senators I`ve
known, really clever, witty guy, made even more money in another commercial
that mocked his own Viagra commercial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOLE: Hi, I`m Bob Dole. And I`ve always spoken to you frankly, no
matter what the subject. That`s why I am eager to tell you about a product
that put real joy back in my life. It helps me feel youthful, vigorous,
and most importantly vital again.

What is this amazing product? My faithful little blue friend, an ice
cold Pepsi Cola.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the revitalizing effects of Pepsi Cola right
for you? Check with your local convenience store counter clerk and start
living again.

DOLE: I feel like a kid again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The joy of Pepsi!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Oh, that`s what I love about Bob Dole. He really is a
great guy. Anyone who is waiting for Fred Thompson to mock his reverse
mortgage commercials should realize that Fred Thompson doesn`t have half
the sense of humor that Bob Dole has. Fred Thompson is still committed to
the cause, still churning out reverse mortgage ads after all these years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON: You really ought to consider a reverse mortgage with AAG.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: I don`t know. It looks like Fred might be auditioning for
a Viagra commercial with that ultra hip facial hair he`s sporting in that
latest ad. The newest entry in the Republican losing candidate turned
pitch man group is the Republican politician who actually tried to seize
political ownership of 9/11.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: At the time, we believed
that we would be attacked many more times that day and in the days that
followed. Without really thinking, based on just emotion, spontaneous, I
grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerick. And I said to
him, Bernie, thank God George Bush is our president.

(APPLAUSE)

GIULIANI: I say it again tonight. Thank God that George Bush is our
president. And thank God --

(APPLAUSE)

GIULIANI: And thank God that Dick Cheney, a man with his experience
and his knowledge and his strength and his background, is our vice
president.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Now, the guy whose arm he grabbed that day on 9/11,
Bernard Kerick, his police chief, he is in jail tonight. Now what you just
heard from Rudy Giuliani, that`s the kind of statement that could make all
future Giuliani endorsements worthless. But there`s at least one company
that doesn`t think so.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: Looking forward to your tax refund? So are identity
thieves. They can steal your identity without you knowing it in order to
get your refund. It happens to thousands of people every year. You have
to be proactive when it comes to identity theft, especially during tax
season.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your identity needs protection. And no one does
it better than Lifelock.

GIULIANI: Identity thieves steal from everyone. You have to protect
yourself. I protect myself with Lifelock.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Now, remember when Rudy Giuliani was Marco Rubio?
Remember when he was the savior of the Republican party? Remember when he
was going to be swept into the presidency in 2008 by linking every single
campaign issue to 9/11? That was actually the same year that Fred Thompson
was briefly the savior of the Republican party, until he opened his mouth
in a presidential debate, and without that reverse mortgage teleprompter in
front of him, was as slow and lifeless as a potential party savior has ever
been.

It is very unlikely that Republican presidential loser Mitt Romney
will ever find himself in position that his finances are so tight that he
has to go pitch reverse mortgages on TV.. But Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris
Christie, we have seen your future and your future is reverse mortgages.
And if you study the Fred Thompson commercials closely enough, one day you
too will be able to say this kind of thing with a straight face.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON: I`m extremely proud to be associated with AAG.

I am extremely proud to be associated with AAG.

I am extremely proud to be associated with AAG.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We do not have an immediate
debt crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Yes. You have entered the Republican Twilight Zone.
Republicans are suddenly saying the national debt is not about to destroy
life on this planet as we know it. Even Paul Ryan agrees that the debt is
not crushing the life out of America. But the problem for Republicans is
they have insisted that the debt is the reason we need to do the kind of
Draconian budget cutting that they have been proposing since President
Obama won the White House back for Democrats.

And look what happens to the conservative rationale for budget cuts
when conservatives get a bit more honest about the debt and deficits.
Conservative "New York Times" columnist Ross Douthat says about the new
Ryan budget, "in effect, it sacrificed seriousness for seriousness by
promising to reach budgetary balance, not over the long term as budgets 1.0
and 2.0 did, but in a 10 year window. This is not going to happen. And
more importantly there`s no reason why it needs to happen. Modest deficits
are perfectly compatible with fiscal responsibility."

Talk about singing a new tune. And the conservative think tank the
American Enterprise Institute asks "why does the budget need to balance in
10 years? Debt reduction doesn`t require balance, just that the economy is
growing faster than the debt. While the plan does put the debt to GDP
ratio on a downward trajectory, it probably doesn`t need to be quite as
steep."

Ezra Klein, this is a big deal. And you`re here on this show to prove
it is a big deal. You would never come out this late if this wasn`t a huge
deal.

EZRA KLEIN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": At 10:50, absolutely not.

O`DONNELL: No, this is huge. This is -- the debt is the reason we
have to do all these terrible things to Medicare, which we Republicans
really, really love. It is just the debt is forcing us to do it. There`s
no rationale anymore.

KLEIN: That is the absolute key. If you read Paul Ryan`s budget --
and for my sins, I actually have read every iteration of the budget in full
-- the first 10 pages of each one of these budgets is the same, which is a
very apocalyptic, Mad Max scenario about the kind of debt crisis America
faces, a crisis in which the currency is completely devalued. We just
print and print money, inflation races up, the financial markets collapse.

And it is compared to that -- it is compared to that complete
destruction of the modern American economy in which block granting and
deeply cutting Medicaid, completely repealing Obamacare, voucherizing
Medicare, doing all of the things he does -- that -- in comparison to the
debt crisis, all of that is fine. It`s moderate. It is just a necessary
painful medicine for a very deep disease.

If we don`t have a debt crisis though, if that whole thing is not
about deficit reduction but about making radical conservative reforms to
the nature of the federal government, then nobody likes it. That, by they
way, is what Paul Ryan found out during the first 10 years, 12 years, 15
years of his career, when he didn`t have the deficit reduction thing and he
just pushed Social Security privatization and unfunded prescription drug
benefit. Nobody wanted the big conservative reforms.

It was only when he became the budget guy and he cloaked them in
deficit reduction that people took things like voucherizing Medicare
seriously.

O`DONNELL: If you go back 20 years in our Congress to, say, the Bob
Dole era in the Senate, Bob Dole was a reasonable Republican, then
considered, by the way, a conservative Republican, who was glad that we had
a system called Medicare and glad that we had a system called Social
Security. And he was concerned about its long term financing. He may have
wanted Social Security and Medicare to be less generous than Democrats
wanted it to be, but that was the size of the difference. It wasn`t
philosophical.

I believe what you have here is Paul Ryan, philosophically, is opposed
to the existence of Medicare, the existence of Social Security, in an Ayn
Randian view of the world. And he could never say that. Instead of making
it a philosophical point, he wanted to make it an accounting discussion.
We`ve got -- because of these accounting problems, we are going to have to
do this.

KLEIN: I think this is key to this. The debt operates under a weird
set of rules in Washington, that reporters and everybody else -- reporters
are able to openly cheer for deficit reduction, the Simpson-Bowles, in a
way they could never openly clear for Obamacare or, on the other side, the
Ryan Budget. And the debt also --

O`DONNELL: By the way, most of them don`t quite realize that they are
cheering for it when they`re cheering for it.

KLEIN: It`s just --

O`DONNELL: Hopes for a grand bargain were dashed, like that`s a
terrible thing.

KLEIN: Yes, like you hope the sun will rise tomorrow. It`s the same
thing. It is completely unexamined on some level. And then secondarily,
because of that, there is a kind of -- if you say something is deficit
reduction, the partisan valance and the ideological valance of it are
leeched out. All of a sudden, we are just talking about whether or not it,
in fact, will work to balance the budget. If, by the way, along the way,
35 million become uninsured, well, that`s sad, but we don`t really talk
about that because CBO didn`t mention it in the score.

So that has been the great trick of Paul Ryan, to recognize that if
you are only talking about budget deficits, if you get the entire
conversation to be about where does your budget put the deficit 10 years,
20 years, 30 years from now, the amount of things you can sneak in under
that cloak, that you could never put into the conversation in a serious way
in normal times, is tremendous. That has been I think the central
political innovation of his career.

O`DONNELL: And their favorite thing in this accounting discussion is
to compare the government to a family and say, you couldn`t -- well,
families do run debt. They cannot afford to buy their houses for cash. So
they have a thing called a mortgage, which is the national debt of the
family, in effect. I mean, this -- they try to oversimplify everything in
this thing. But is there some break through here in this point of
Republicans saying, hey, you know what, the debt isn`t such a serious
problem?

KLEIN: No, I think there`s no breakthrough here. I think it is a big
deal that Boehner and others at this point cannot uphold the idea that a
debt crisis is coming now or even coming very soon. But you still have the
same thing. I mean, if you go through that -- through what he said there a
little bit further, he says, it is looming, it`s coming. This is always
the thing with this particular strain of deficit hawk, that there`s always
at some point in the future the great crisis we need to fear so badly.

They can`t quite say when. Those who have said when have been proven
a bit wrong. Two years ago, it was supposed to be then. But at this
point, at least they`re backing off it being all that soon. That`s eroding
the underlying foundation of the argument.

O`DONNELL: Is this also a thing to help explain why they`re doing
nothing, that the debt isn`t such a big deal anymore?

KLEIN: I think that`s right. Also, they have the sequester. So what
more do they need?

O`DONNELL: Ezra Klein gets tonight`s LAST WORD. Thanks, Ezra.

KLEIN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: "THE ED SHOW" is up next.

END

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