'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
August 6, 2014
Guest: Dave Helling, Mark Udall, Rick Perlstein
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Good evening to you, Ezra. Thanks for
Thanks to you at home for joining us for this hour. Rachel has the night
1996. 1996 was the year that presidential campaigns came to the World Wide
Web. It was Clinton and Gore versus Dole and Kemp. And it was the first
year that American voters could dial up to the Internet at 2,400 BPS and
once the Internet finally loaded, they could learn about the candidates.
The Clinton/Gore `96 site featured an email from Clinton himself,
encouraged the voters to join the electronic barn-raising, as he called it,
and make 1997 "net year", whatever that meant.
In an effort to campaign in all platforms, the Dole camp online campaign
had a Dole interactive page and had a fun selection of images to, quote,
"customize your computer`s desktop environment," so you could choose your
support on your PC for Bob Dole. You could even change your desktop
wallpaper to a picture of Leader. Leader was Bob and Elizabeth Dole`s pet
dog, the aspiring first dog.
Dole was running as a man from the Heartland, a Kansan, someone who`d grown
up in the worst of the depression, who would pitch in to help his family
make ends meet. He was a war hero too. And that was, and that is Bob Dole
-- a small town, Middle American Republican. Not a loud, abrasive Tea
Partier, but really more of a pragmatist, a moderate, an Eisenhower
But as that campaign was heating up back in 1996, Bob Dole was in big
trouble. He was way behind Bill Clinton. And so he did something
dramatic. He quit the Senate. He was the Republican Senate leader, but he
just walked away in the middle of the campaign, an all or nothing gamble,
the presidency or nothing. And when Bob Dole did that, it was up to the
Republican governor of Kansas to appoint someone to take his Senate seat.
And that governor was the same kind of Republican as Bob Dole. And that
governor appointed to the seat another moderate, pragmatic, Eisenhower-type
And that decision did not sit well at all with a very conservative and very
ambitious freshman Republican congressman. And his name was Sam Brownback.
And Brownback challenged that new appointed moderate Republican senator in
a primary in 1996, and he won. Big.
And this was a defining moment for the hard right conservative movement
that Brownback represented. They finally had struck a big blow to the
moderate Republican establishment in Kansas.
Brownback`s campaign manager for that `96 race explained that the election
was a choice between, quote, "idea-based Republicans versus status-based
Republicans, people who were Republicans because their daddies were,
And it was those Rockefeller Republicans that Brownback was after when he
went back to Kansas from Washington to run for governor in the year 2010,
an election that he won handedly with a more than 30 percent margin. This
was a very big deal in Kansas when this happened. It has long been a very
Republican state, but Sam Brownback represented a very different kind of
Kansas Republican -- far to the right, anti-government, basically a Tea
Partier. The anti-Bob Dole.
And when he became governor in 2010, he and his fellow conservatives sought
to settle the score with that old moderate wing, once and for all. Just
two years ago in 2012, Brownback supporters led a purge of Kansas` moderate
Republican state legislators, going after them systemically in primaries,
to drive them out of the statehouse, to replace them with right wingers
that shared his agenda. And they got their way. They cleaned House in
That same year, Brownback ushered in one of the biggest tax cuts in Kansas
history. One of the biggest tax cuts of any state for decades. He
combined tax brackets, he cut state income rates, he chopped rates for
business owners, saying this would all create tens of thousands of jobs and
be, quote, "a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy."
Brownback`s Tea Party Kansas experiment hasn`t quite worked out that way.
Cutting taxes so much has meant there`s not as much revenue for the state.
In the last year, revenue was down nearly half a billion dollars.
Brownback`s Kansas is now in by what some estimates is now a mid-sized
recession. And just today, the state`s credit rating was downgraded again.
Standard & Poor`s cited the effects of Brownback`s tax slashing as the
primary reason for doing that.
All of this has had a huge effect on the state`s education spending.
Earlier this year, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state was not
spending enough on public schools and colleges, which may be part of the
reasons that Sam Brownback is now at risk of losing his job. He is now
running in a dead heat race against his Democratic challenger -- in Kansas,
the reddest of the red states. Kansas, in that state, the Republican
governor is in a dead heat with his Democratic opponent, Paul Davis.
There have been other signs of peril for Brownback, too. In the lead up to
last night`s Republican`s primary in Kansas, more than a hundred
politicians and activists officially threw their support behind that
Democratic challenger, not their party`s candidate, not their party`s
governor. And now there`s more, because something very strange and
something potentially very important happened in that Kansas primary just
Brownback won it, but that`s not the headline. The headline is that he
received barely over 60 percent of the vote, 63 percent, to be exact. And
if that doesn`t sound that bad, consider who he was running against. His
challenger`s name was Jennifer Winn. She`s the owner of a landscaping
business in Wichita. She had raised only $13,600. Brownback, $2.8
Her campaign was stymied by her past personal bankruptcy and a son who had
been charged with first-degree murder. She was not supposed to be a
serious challenger. She was supposed to be a nuisance candidate. And she
walked away with nearly 40 percent of the vote against the sitting governor
in his primary.
This is a serious warning sign for Sam Brownback. And it`s also more than
that. All the way down, the Republicans bowed in Kansas last night.
Challengers did far better than you would expect in margins against
Incumbent Congressman Tim Huelskamp just barely held off his primary
challenger. He got 55 percent of the vote after having Kansas farmers
betting against him and pouring money into his challenger`s coffers.
Three-term Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who was initially expected to
win his party`s nomination easily for a fourth term, but his Tea Party
challenger chased him until the end. Milton Wolf was his name. He`s a
distant cousin of Barack Obama, also a radiologist who caused the stir when
it was reported that he posted x-rays of some of his patients` ailments on
his Facebook page. He hounded Roberts during the campaign for a debate.
Roberts never gave in and gave him that debate.
Looking like a hard race for Roberts, who had to fend off hard spending as
well from the Senate Conservatives Fund and others who were trying to knock
him out. He did pull it off last night, though, very slim, though, 48
percent to 41 percent.
And the lesson of last night`s hard-fought battle wasn`t lost on Pat
Roberts who had this to say in his victory speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Now, the truth is, Republicans in Kansas and
nationally cannot afford the kind of intraparty fratricide that we have
seen recently. Friends, we can`t afford to waste scarce resources and
energy tearing ourselves apart. We cannot afford a fractured party. The
stakes are just too high.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That message was not lost on the Republican Governors
Association. They hit the air waves in Kansas for the first time this
morning, with a new ad buy against Governor Brownback`s Democratic
challenger. This after it seemed like the Kansas governor`s race at the
start of this year was going to be a freebie for Republicans. It`s Kansas,
Last night`s primary told a very different story. One person who seems not
to have taken it all in, though, is Governor Sam Brownback. When he was
asked last night about the tighter than expected races, he didn`t seem too
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: What`s going on within the Republican Party here in Kansas? Why
is there at least some degree of dissatisfaction with the folks that have
been representing them from the Republican side?
GOV. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Well, I think a big part of it is Barack
Obama. That a lot of people are so irritated at what the president is
doing, they just are -- they want somebody to throw a brick. And just,
they`re irritated about what has happened to their country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: They had him confused with Barack Obama. That`s Sam Brownback`s
line, and I guess he`s sticking with it.
You know, we think of Kansas nationally as just another red state, but
there is a war going on in that state`s Republican Party right now. Sam
Brownback and the Tea Party wing took it over a few years ago, but there
are a lot of Republicans who are not happy about that, who are fighting
back, right now. That is the story in Kansas this year. The question is,
will that cost Brownback his job?
And the other question is this -- is the Republican civil war that we`re
seeing play out in Kansas right now just a preview for what we might soon
see elsewhere across the country?
Joining us now is Dave Helling. He`s a reporter for the "Kansas City
David, it`s great to have you back.
So, that comment from Sam Brownback, that explanation of, well, they had me
confused with Barack Obama. I guess that`s the first time I`ve heard of
those two guys being confused for one another. But I`m tempted to ask you,
I don`t mean this too flippantly, but we look at this challenger Sam
Brownback had in the primary, who was supposed to be a nuisance candidate,
gets nearly 40 percent. If Sam Brownback had a real challenger last night,
could he have possibly lost the nomination?
DAVE HELLING, KANSAS CITY STAR: Probably not. You know, he runs much of
the party apparatus, Steve, in Kansas. So, I think almost under any
scenario, he was going to be the nominee for re-election as governor.
But you`re exactly right. The fact that Jennifer Winn was able to get
about 40 percent of the vote is a huge warning sign, among many others, for
the Brownback campaign. And the reason you heard him talk in that
interview about Barack Obama, and in fact, the reason that Sam Brownback
said Barack Obama`s name last night more than he said Paul Davis` name, is
that if he is to prevail, Brownback, in November, he`ll have to make this a
race about ideology. He`ll have to make Paul Davis and Barack Obama almost
If he can make this race about ideology in Kansas, then I think he thinks
the Republican vote will turn out and he`ll be re-elected, Brownback.
KORNACKI: You`ve been covering, obviously, Kansas politics for a while.
And as I say, nationally, we look at it and say, oh, it`s a red state. But
the civil war within the Republican Party that`s going on right now, can
you give us a little bit of context about just in modern Kansas history,
have you ever seen anything like this moment?
HELLING: Well, we`ve seen versions of this moment, as your introductory
notes talked about, for 20 years. I mean, like a lot of other states,
Steve, the insurgent Republican Tea Party conservative movement really
began at the grassroots about 20, 25 years ago. And it has bubbled up
through the state legislature, to House races, statehouse races, eventually
reaching the governor`s office and the Senate races. And so, this is
playing out across the country.
The difference in Kansas is that it is a pure play. The Republicans have
passed a tax cut. They control every statewide office, they control all
the congressional offices, it`s really a referendum on the sort of tax-
cutting approach that many Republicans want to see pursued in 2016.
If Sam Brownback losses, that will be a signal to the rest of the country
that the sort of traditional tax-cutting approach won`t work. If Brownback
wins, I think that encourages that wing of the party nationally in 2016.
So, there are a lot of people, a lot of people paying attention to what`s
going on in Kansas.
KORNACKI: Yes, and we`ve had you on to talk about this before and talk
about 2016, certainly, there`s also the element that Sam Brownback has been
a little interested, at least, in 2016. So, his own ambition is on the
line a little bit, too.
But, Dave Helling, "Kansas City Star" reporter -- thanks so much for being
with us tonight. I really appreciate that.
HELLING: You bet.
KORNACKI: Lots more ahead tonight, including Rand Paul taking a page out
of the Ronald Reagan playbook, and maybe not the most flattering page. The
man who wrote the book is coming up next.
Stay with us.
KORNACKI: For any of you who have been hoping we would say the name Oscar
de la Renta on this program -- well, this is your lucky night. The saga of
the Bob and Maureen McDonnell trial continues straight ahead.
KORNACKI: On President Obama`s second full day in office, the White House
press secretary almost forgot he was supposed to ban torture. This was
January 22nd in 2009. Obama had promised that one of his first action as
president, he was going to ban torture.
So, he sat down that day with a stack of executive orders to sign. These
were the first executive orders of his presidency. And the first one he
put his pen on was the order to close Guantanamo. And when he signed that,
the whole ceremony almost ended right there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There we go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everybody. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`ve got one more.
CROWD: There`s one more. There`s one more. There`s one more.
OBAMA: There are three of these.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Several more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And once that was cleared up, the president did sign his
executive order banning torture.
And later that same day, the second day of his presidency, he gave a speech
at the State Department declaring the detention practices of the George W.
Bush era CIA were officially over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This morning, I signed three executive orders. First, I can say
without exception or equivocation, that the United States will not torture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So that`s what Obama made clear at the very beginning of his
presidency. The United States is not going to torture.
But the fact remained back then, and it remains today, that the United
States, and specifically the Central Intelligence agency of the United
States, had tortured. The CIA had tortured people in American custody.
And so, pretty much from the moment President Obama signed that executive
order banning torture, there`s been a fight in this country about how to
reckon with the fact that we did torture people. And that fight hasn`t
been just another Democrat versus Republican battle, the kind we see on
just about every issue in Washington. It has also been, it has maybe even
more prominently been between Democrats and Democrats.
About a month after President Obama signed that executive order in 2009,
the Senate Intelligence Committee, that`s the committee in the Senate
responsible for overseeing the CIA, that committee announced that they were
going to investigate those torture allegations. They were going to launch
a full and thorough review of the CIA interrogation and detention program.
And beyond just figuring out what had happened in the past and why it had
happened, the Senate Intelligence Committee was going to try to answer some
more important and fundamental questions, like, did torture work? Did it
lead to valuable information, as the Bush administration insisted that it
did? Did it stop any terrorism?
So, the Democrats in Congress were leading this effort to investigate what
happened at the Bush CIA, from the very beginning, the Obama administration
was not too keen on this idea. But Senate Democrats pressed ahead anyway.
Their party`s guy was in the White House, it was making him uncomfortable,
but they pressed ahead, despite that.
Senate Intelligence Committee also vowed to make a version of their final
report public, to declassify it, and to make it a part of the public
record, so that everyone could see it. Senate Intelligence Committee began
working on that report more than five years ago now.
And we have now found out that during this investigation, the CIA actually
spied on Congress. It spied on Senate staffers, who were working on that
The CIA tried and failed to get those Senate staffers in legal trouble for
working on that report.
And after completely denying those allegations, after saying it was
ludicrous to imagine the CIA would or could ever spy on Congress, CIA
Director John Brennan finally had to acknowledge just last week that it did
happen. And he also had to apologize for it. That was last week.
And this week, the next shoe was going to drop. That report, that report
five years in the making was going to be made public, finally. But that
hasn`t happened this week. And it`s because a new fight, another fight has
now broken out. And it`s between Democrats in Congress and the Democratic
White House. And it`s about redactions.
Rachel has talked a lot about redactions on this show, including a whole
segment about redaction best practices. Anyone can redact a document. Of
course, if you want to make parts of a document public, but keep parts of
it secret, you redact it. You cross out the information by hand using a
very heavy black marker or cut out that information off the page
Well, it turns out that before releasing his torture report, the Senate
Intelligence Committee first had to run it by the CIA. So the CIA could
redact. They could keep classified any information that they say would be
harmful to national security if it ever came out -- anything they think
absolutely needs to remain classified.
This was the final step before the report was going to be released to the
public. And it`s the step that we are stuck on right now, because
yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who`s the chair of the
intelligence committee, said the CIA has taken this report and over-
redacted it. That it has abused its power to redact. That it is trying to
keep too much secret.
She said the redactions, quote, "obscure key facts that support the
report`s findings and conclusions." And now, she`s vowing not to release
that final report until and unless the CIA and her committee can come up
with some compromise. She`s also sent a letter to the White House
registering her complaints.
Democratic Senator Carl Levin called the CIA`s redactions totally
unacceptable. Quote, "The classification process should be used to protect
sources and methods where the disclosure of information that could
compromise national security, not to avoid disclosure or improper acts or
Colorado Senator Mark Udall, another Democrat on the intelligence
committee, vowed today to hold President Obama to his promise to declassify
the report. Quote, "The CIA should not face its past with a redaction pen,
and the White House must not allow it to do so."
The White House, for its part, defended the redactions this week, from that
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was a good faith effort
that was made by the administration and by national security officials to
evaluate this information and make redactions that are consistent with the
need to protect national security, but also consistent with the president`s
clearly stated desire to be as transparent as possible about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The president has said that we tortured some folks. He`s also
said that part of our national reckoning with that history is to make that
history as transparent as possible in the hopes that putting it out on the
public record will help ensure that it never happens again.
This report from the Senate Intelligence Committee has been underway for 5
1/2 years now. This new fight over those redactions means that the public
record will just have to wait at least for a little longer.
Joining us now is Senator Mark Udall of Colorado. He`s a member of the
Senator Udall, thanks for your time tonight.
So, I want to talk about what is potentially being left out of this report,
as it`s currently been redacted by the CIA, because you have James Clapper,
the director of national intelligence, who said even with these redactions,
he estimated that 85 percent of that report that your committee put
together still is in place, and he said it would still offer, quote, "a
full view of the committee`s report on the detention and interrogation
program", that the heart of that report is not lost in this.
What do you say to that?
SEN. MARK UDALL (D-CO), INTELLIGENCE CMTE.: Steve, thanks for covering
this story. Let me start with that.
And also, let me just say, those of us on the intelligence committee want
to have the strongest intelligence functions possible. We want to secure
the American people. But we want to do it under the Constitution, and
under our laws. And that`s why this report is so important to be released,
so the American people can draw their own conclusions.
With all due respect to Director Clapper, 85 percent doesn`t get the job
done. You can imagine reading a novel or a non-fiction piece for that
matter, and if all the nouns, the what, where, when descriptions are taken
out of that novel and all you have left are verbs and articles and
punctuation, you`re not going to be able to follow what`s happening.
That`s really what the White House and the Intelligence Committee is
proposing with these redactions.
We`re going to stand our ground on the Intelligence Committee. There has
to be more details released. We don`t have to go this far with this kind
And in the end, the point is to learn from what we did. We detained
people, we tortured people. It`s a stain on our history, but we`re at our
best as Americans when we learn from those mistakes and vow never to make
KORNACKI: Senator, in your opinion, is the CIA, and the administration,
for that matter, trying to protect itself, trying to protect the CIA with
these redactions? Is that the motive here?
UDALL: I can only conclude that to be the case, Steve. I was taken aback
by the president`s comments the other day, but there`s clearly an effort on
the part of past and present CIA leadership to make it more difficult to
understand what happened. We know what happened. We can be a bigger and
better country once we acknowledge what happened.
And it`s in times of challenge and difficulty where we need to stand most
by our values and by our Constitution. My friend, Senator McCain, made
that point this week. And that`s why I`m not going to relent. I know
Senator Feinstein is firm in her belief that there needs to be as much
declassified as possible.
We`re America. We can embrace what happened and be the better for it.
KORNACKI: Does President Obama want this report to come out? He`s
committed to it. You say you want to hold him to it. Do you think he
really wants this report to come out?
UDALL: I do. I know -- as you know, I called for Director Brennan to step
down recently. And I don`t relish making that call, but I think we need a
leadership change at the CIA.
The director spied, under his leadership, the CIA spied on the committee.
Then he denied that they had done so. And then he called into account or
into question the veracity on the committee.
And to me, it just signals that there is a movement to prevent this report
from being released in the fullest way possible. I trust us as a country
to learn from what we did, and to be better for it. And for the life of
me, I can`t understand why the CIA wouldn`t work with us. And frankly,
respect separation of powers, and our oversight role on the Intelligence
KORNACKI: And just quickly, Senator, are you confident this will
ultimately come out in a way that is meaningful? And when do you think
that will happen?
UDALL: Yes, I am confident. I can`t give you a date certain, but I want
to underline, that Senator Feinstein is resolute, I`m resolute, Chairman
Levin is resolute. Many members of the Democratic Caucus are resolute.
We all understand the stakes if we were to let this report be redacted to
the point that it`s meaningless.
KORNACKI: All right. Senator Mark Udall from Colorado -- thank you very
much for your time tonight. We very much appreciate it.
UDALL: Steve, thank you again.
Straight ahead, Rand Paul, Ronald Reagan, and the art of making it up as
you go along.
Stay with us.
KORNACKI: Even the most hardened politician can, on occasion, appear
magnanimous, humble, even gracious. And the occasion to which I refer is
almost always a victory speech, when the cost of taking the high road is
zero -- which makes the victory speech in one prominent Midwestern
congressional district last night one of the more remarkable moments you
will ever see a U.S. congressman produce.
You just have to see it to believe, and you will.
KORNACKI: So, Rand Paul has really stepped in it. You`ve been seeing some
version of that headline all week.
By now, you`ve probably seen the video posted online by immigration
activists of Senator Paul being confronted by a young DREAMer -- someone
brought to this country at a young age, someone who wants a chance to earn
citizenship in this country. She tried to talk to him the other day in
Iowa, he couldn`t get out of there fast enough, although Senator Paul now
contends that his early departure from the table was nearly a coincidence,
because he had agreed to go do an interview.
And then there was this. Rand Paul -- this is the headline, "Rand Paul
says he never proposed ending aid to Israel -- even though he did."
And this might be the bigger story of the week about Rand Paul, because
it`s actually part of what is becoming an unmistakable pattern with Rand
Here`s the deal: Back in 2011, Paul was making a big deal about cutting out
all foreign aid. All the money the United States gives to our allies
around the world. And he included in that the $3 billion that we give to
Israel each year.
Here`s how he characterized it to ABC`s Jonathan Karl, as they took a ride
in the Capitol subway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I`m not singling out Israel. I`m a
supporter of Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel --
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: But not with foreign aid.
PAUL: Well, you can`t give money you don`t have. We can`t just borrow
from our kids` future and give it to countries, even if they are our
Some people interpret this to mean, oh, you`re not a friend of Israel. No,
I want to be a friend of Israel. I think they`re an important ally, but I
also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-
fourths of the rest of the world. Should we be giving money to -- free
money or welfare to a rich nation? I don`t think so.
KARL: Do you think they can handle their own defense?
PAUL: I think -- I think they`re probably ten years ahead of any
neighboring country. I think their defense is very significant and I think
probably well in advance of any of their potential enemies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And think about this for a minute. Back in 2011, Rand Paul was
brand-new to the Senate. He was brand-new to politics. He`d gotten
interested because of his father`s presidential campaign in 2008, and he
was a total outsider. Republicans had pretty much ignored his dad and Rand
was promoting the same libertarian agenda. And that agenda included
cutting off aid to other countries, including Israel.
But now, three years later, in 2014, Rand Paul is something else. Today,
he`s a major player in the Republican Party. He wants to run for
president. He`s even leading in some Republican presidential polls. He
can go a lot farther nationally than his father ever went -- but only, only
if he doesn`t scare his party`s establishment away.
And that means distancing himself from some of the more fringy things he
said and did before he became such a major figure. So, when he was asked
this week about cutting off aid to Israel -- well, he played dumb. He
pretended it was a crazy question, that there was no reason to ever think
he`d ever wanted to do anything like that.
Quote, "I haven`t really proposed that in the past. We`ve never had a
legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then
I`ll answer the question. That has not been a position, a legislative
position, we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel`s aid.
That`s the answer to that question."
But Rand Paul did proposal phasing out aid to Israel. He argued very
strongly for doing it.
Now, technically, maybe he`s right. He may not have put that into
legislative language, but there`s absolutely no doubt, on the subject of
aid to Israel, Rand Paul is now 180 degrees from where he was just a few
years ago. And he won`t admit it.
And Democrats are now screaming about this. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the
chair of the DNC, blasted him for his hypocrisy.
But this is the prob -- this is the pattern with Rand Paul. Instead of
grappling with -- instead of owning up to inconvenient things he said and
did in the past, Rand Paul just pretends they aren`t there.
He was on this show four years ago, when he was running for the Senate in
Kentucky, and he expressed his reservations about the public accommodations
clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ask him about that now, though,
and he insists he doesn`t know what you`re talking about. How could anyone
think he`s ever been anything other than a complete and total supporter of
the Civil Rights Act?
Ask him about his former aide. Ask him about this guy who helped him to
write a book in 2010. A guy who used to call himself the "Southern
Avenger", used to wear a Confederate flag on -- a mask on his face. A guy
who said that John Wilkes Booth, that`s the man who killed Abraham Lincoln,
that John Wilkes Booth`s heart was, quote, "in the right place."
Ask Rand Paul about that former aide, and Paul will make it sound like
you`re falling for some liberal media trap. Quote, "Don`t you have
something better to read than a bunch of crap from people who don`t like
That`s what he said when journalist John Harwood tried to ask him about the
Southern Avenger last year.
So, this is Rand Paul`s game. There`s a lot in his past, his very recent
past, that can cause real problems for him in 2016. So, he just pretends
that it isn`t there. Well, it obviously drives his opponents the nuts.
While it opens him up to cries of hypocrisy and phoniness and just plain
dishonesty -- here`s the thing: it also might work. It might already be
working, because the strategy that Rand Paul is using here -- well, we`ve
seen that strategy before, and it`s worked brilliantly before.
October 28th, 1990, Jimmy Carter is running for re-election as president,
the election is a week away, the race is tied, he`s debating his opponent,
and he`s got the perfect way to attack him, because 20 years earlier, when
the bill that led to Medicare was first introduced in his Congress, his
opponent had attacked it, had warned Americans that it would mean death to
the republic if it were ever enacted. That it was, quote, "simply an
excuse to bring about what they wanted all the time, socialized medicine."
That`s what Jimmy Carter`s opponent had said about Medicare. And he had
him dead to rights on it. And he brought it up in the debate and this is
how it played out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: Governor Reagan, as a matter of fact,
began his political career campaigning around this nation against Medicare.
Now, we have the opportunity to move towards a national health insurance,
with an emphasis on the prevention of disease, an emphasis on outpatient
care, not inpatient care. An emphasis on hospital cost containment, to
hold down the cost of hospital care for those who are ill. An emphasis on
catastrophic health insurance, so that if a family is threatened with being
wiped out of economically because of a very high medical bill, then the
insurance would help pay for it.
These are the kind of elements of a national health insurance important to
the American people. Governor Reagan, again, typically, is against such a
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor?
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: There you go again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And a week later, Ronald Reagan won 40 states in the presidency.
There`s a new book out about Ronald Reagan`s rise in the 1970s, and this is
the point it illustrates over and over again, what Reagan got, what he
understood about politics and human nature is something his opponents never
And it`s the same thing that Rand Paul apparently sees today. The strategy
that he`s trying to use, that when you`re cornered on the facts, the things
that you yourself have said and argued before, you don`t admit it, you
don`t try to explain it, you just create a brand-new story -- a story that
people want to hear.
Joining us now is Rick Perlstein. He`s the author of "The Invisible
Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan."
Rick, thanks so much for being here tonight.
So, let`s start with this -- because it comes across time and time again in
your book, this sort of ability of Ronald Reagan to take inconvenient facts
and just pretend they`re not there and he creates a brand-new narrative,
and the next thing you know, his opponents are screaming and saying, he
can`t do that, he can`t do that -- but the country`s buying into it.
RICK PERLSTEIN, "THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE" AUTHOR: Right. Maybe we should
recall another debate in which the vice president candidate, Lloyd Bentsen,
said to Dan Quayle, "Senator, you`re no Jack Kennedy." I mean, Senator,
you`re no Ronald Reagan.
I mean, do you really think that Rand Paul has the chops that --
KORNACKI: So, what was -- what was the key to Reagan pulling it off? What
did he do that allowed people to say, yes, I know his opponents are saying
he had the exact opposite position two years ago, he said something
completely contradictory a year ago, and they just ignored it. What was it
about Ronald Reagan?
PERLSTEIN: Over and over and over again, you know, kind of going back --
not even to the beginning of his political career, but even before the
beginning of his political career, he developed this ability to kind of
perform kind of calmness in the face of chaos -- this kind of blithe
affect, this ability to kind of project a mythology that he kind of really
did believe in his part.
Don`t you remember what he said in 1987, when he was confronted with the
fact that he had, in fact, ordered, you know, arms to be traded for
hostages in Iran? He said, well, the documents tell me I did it, but my
heart tells me that I couldn`t have possibly have done it.
KORNACKI: That`s the key to Reagan, isn`t it? There`s this disconnect,
there`s the head and there`s the heart, right?
PERLSTEIN: And, you know, I mean I -- in the book, I say, you know, Reagan
couldn`t possibly have survived the age of Google, because I fact check
some of this stuff that went by so fast when he was giving these radio
KORNACKI: Do you think he couldn`t have --
PERLSTEIN: Maybe, I don`t know. I don`t know!
You know, the thing about Rand Paul is -- you know, I live in Chicago, and
we have this mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who is very unpopular, he has 35 percent
approval rating, and there`s really no one to run against him, because he`s
raising $1 million a week. And there`s a very wonderful progressive, the
head of the teacher`s union, you`re like, where am I going with this? Her
name is Karen Lewis.
And I went to a political meeting in which we discussed the possibility of
her running for mayor. And none of us really kind of believed that he
could beat Rahm Emanuel, right? But we`re like, this is great anyway,
because just her standing on the stage with Rahm Emanuel, you know, and
calling him out on his nonsense will be useful, right?
But the thing we`re seeing from Rand Paul, all these shifts, all these kind
of trimming his sails, to kind of fit the current Republican fashion,
suggest he`s no Karen Lewis. He`s no Bernie Sanders. He really is in it
to win it, you know?
He is really fashioning himself to win the Republican nomination. And I
think that`s the most kind of -- that`s the bottom line of what`s been
happening this week.
PERLSTEIN: There are certain things you have to say.
KORNACKI: And that`s the interesting story with Rand Paul. He`s going
from that very libertarian, purist streak to now trying to be a mainstream
I do want -- in the time we have left, I do want to make sure to bring this
up. This book is causing -- I can`t quite understand it, but there`s a lot
of controversy in that Craig Shirley, a conservative who`s written two
books about Ronald Reagan, he`s accusing you of plagiarism. I know you
cite his work extensively --
PERLSTEIN: Yes, 125 times.
KORNACKI: But he`s accusing you of plagiarism. He`s suing. He wants $25
million and he wants I guess all the copies of the books burned. What do
you say to Craig Shirley?
PERLSTEIN: I`m the worst plagiarist in the world. I cite him 125 times.
My Web site links to the pages I supposedly plagiarized.
And unfortunately, there`s a smoking gun. I mean, his business partner,
he`s a public relations executive, you know, he`s represented Ann Coulter,
he`s represented Dinesh D`Souza, basically said, join our offensive, our
political offensive against this guy who`s trying to spin Ronald Reagan.
So, it really seems like it`s all about his anger at Ronald Reagan. I`m
having a lot of fun with it, actually.
KORNACKI: You think the incentive here is he`s trying to protect Ronald
Reagan from a liberal historian?
PERLSTEIN: I can`t see into his heart, but there`s two things I want to
say. One is that it`s a good book. I`m saying here, I said this in every
interview, that anyone interested in Ronald Reagan should buy his two
KORNACKI: Craig Shirley`s book, right.
PERLSTEIN: He wants to have my book pulped, I want his book read.
The other thing is, it`s completely backfiring. I mean, his -- whatever
the motive is behind this attack, it`s so thin, there`s a great article in
"Salon" by David Dayen, that folks can look up, it`s so transparent.
Just from today, my book went from 60 on Amazon to the 20th rank on Amazon.
And I`m having so much fun, this outpouring of love, I started this
KORNACKI: So, it`s getting the Craig Shirley bounce, I guess. We`ll sell
maybe a few more here, give it a promotion.
Rick Perlstein, author of "The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the
Rise of Reagan" -- appreciate you being here tonight. And it is a good
PERLSTEIN: Great piece of Rand Paul. You guys did a great job.
KORNACKI: Appreciate that. Thank you very much.
Ahead, we say happy trails to the greatest reindeer herder/U.S. congressman
in American history. Probably the only one, too.
KORNACKI: Today at the federal courthouse in Richmond, Virginia, it was
day eight of if corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.
Court proceedings have included lots of salacious details about Ferraris,
and Rolexes and designer clothes and golf bags and everything else that
made up the more than $165,000 worth of gifts and loans allegedly given to
Virginia`s first couple by businessman Jonnie Williams, who testified that
he was trying to foster a business relationship with the governor.
This week is actually hit on the heart of the case against the former
governor and his wife. Yesterday, during testimony by a Virginia health
official, the jury saw e-mails from then-Governor McDonnell to the Virginia
Health Secretary Bill Hazel, asking Hazel to take a meeting with Jonnie
Williams, this the day after Governor McDonnell returned from a weekend
vacation at Jonnie Williams` lake house, a vacation from which McDonnell
returned in Jonnie Williams` Ferrari.
According to testimony and evidence, the Virginia health secretary sent one
of his deputies to attend the meeting with Williams. There are also e-
mails Williams` personal assistant and Bob McDonnell`s scheduler, that show
an effort to get Williams to sit down with Senator John McCain. At one
point, Williams` assistant wrote, "Jonnie really needs Governor-elect
McDonnell and/or Senator McCain to go to dinner with him. Jonnie said that
the governor-elect and his staff can use his jet well past retirement if
you guys can make this happen."
That meeting never happened. But the meeting between Jonnie Williams and
Virginia state officials did happen. E-mail evidence makes it appear that
it happened at the request of the governor.
This trial is getting a lot of public attention right now because of its
"Days of Our Lives" twists and turns.
But that`s deliberate. That`s a strategy, and it`s the strategy of Bob
McDonnell`s defense team. They want to make this trial about a marriage
that was on the rocks, a lonely first lady seeking personal luxury. The
defense wants to make this about anything except the exchange of money and
goods for the influence of the governor, because that is a crime -- and a
forlorn spouse and a shopping spree is not.
Watch this space.
KORNACKI: You would be hard-pressed to find a more intense electoral
victory lap than in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last night, because last night
was the House Republican primary for Michigan`s third district, pitting
two-term libertarian Congressman Justin Amash against challenger Brian
But Ellis had far and away more support from the Republican establishment.
He ran a tough campaign against Amash.
Nevertheless, Amash won last night`s primary. But he made it clear in his
victory speech that all is definitely not forgiven.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: To Brian Ellis, you owe my family and
this community an apology.
For your disgusting, despicable smear campaign. You have the audacity to
try to call me today after running a campaign that was called the nastiest
in the country. I ran for office to stop people like you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I`d hate to hear Amash give a concession speech.
So, that was Michigan`s third district, where the Republican establishment
had a tough night.
But in the 11th district in Michigan, it was a totally different story. To
tell it, we really need to start at the beginning.
Thaddeus McCotter, the man, the legend, the four-term Republican
congressman from Michigan`s 11th district, who also waged a brief campaign
for the Republican presidential nomination back in 2012. The same year
that he resigned from Congress abruptly after his staff turned in forged
signatures in an effort to get his name on the ballot for reelection.
So, Thaddeus McCotter resigned in 2012, putting on a dramatic statement
saying that it was time to leave because, quote, "one cannot rebuild their
hearth of home amongst the ruins of their U.S. House office."
And rebuilding that heart of home away from Congress at such a late date in
the 2012 cycle also meant leaving just one other Republican`s name on that
primary ballot, a man named Kerry Bentivolio. He`s a part-time Santa Claus
impersonator/high school English teacher/reindeer herder from Milford,
For context, here`s the guy. He is trying to kiss the stuffed reindeer.
I`m having trouble reading that one. He was just some random fringe
candidate on the ballot in 2012.
But then when McCotter imploded, he became the only candidate on the
ballot, so he got the Republican nomination. Because this is a Republican
district, he won in the fall and he became a member of Congress. And as a
congressman, he`s been a reliably conservative vote. He joined with other
friends of the Tea Party last fall and he voted not to end the government
shutdown. He`s also offered conspiracy theories from Alex Jones and Info
Wars in at least one official House Committee on Oversight hearing.
He`s daydreamed about impeaching President Obama. But nothing could
compare to possibly the single greatest congressional tape this side of C-
Span3. Kerry Last summer, attempting to introduce to the floor his fellow
member of congress, the distinguished member from American Samoa, Eni
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KERRY BENTIVOLIO (R), MICHIGAN: The chair recognizes the gentleman
from American Samolia. Mr. Fing -- Faleomabinga.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Now, in fairness, that is one tough name to pronounce. I
covered congress for a year, I still had trouble getting it right. But
American Samolia, the best part of that tape, though, was Eni Faleo see, I
can`t get it. Faleomavaega`s reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENTOVOLIO: The chair recognizes the gentleman from American Samolia. Mr.
Fing -- Faleomabinga.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
REP. ENI FALEOMAVAEGA, AMERICAN SAMOA: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, it is
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I don`t mind you butchering my name, but don`t mess with
American Samoa. Kerry Bentivolio has had an interesting run in Congress to
say the least, but unfortunately for him, that run has come to an end,
because last night, Kerry Bentivolio was defeated in the Republican primary
in his Michigan district. Republicans in Michigan swung into action this
year to relieve the so-called "accidental congressman" of his duties. And
now, Dave Trott is set to face Democrat Bobby McKenzie in the general
election this November.
But Americans of all partisan stripes will never forget the legacy left by
Congressman Kerry Bentivolio, for all the good times, the shirtless Santa
photos, the stuff reindeers. And, of course, the Faleomabinga or whatever
he said there.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow night.
Now, it is time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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