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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, May 16th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Melissa Harris-Perry, Eugene Robinson, Jeremy Scahill


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thanks very much.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.


Over the space to have last 48 hours, the Republican Party lost three of its highest profile presidential contenders.

On Saturday night, in a strange hour of television, that was kind of a cross between a traveling variety show and that night when Geraldo Rivera revealed the contents of Al Capone‘s vault, former Arkansas Governor Hike Huckabee, Saturday night, announced that he would not be running for president.  He said that he checked and found that he did not have God‘s blessing to run.

The most interesting and maybe the strangest part of that whole announcement I think was how it ended.  So, here‘s Mike Huckabee having just said he is not going to run for president to end his show, he says goodbye.  He wraps up, says “I‘ll be back next week.”

And right away, this other thing happens.  I don‘t know enough about FOX News to know why this happened, this is what it looked like on the air.


MIKE HUCKABEE ®, FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR:  From New York, this is Mike Huckabee.  Good night.  God bless.  And I guess, I‘ll be back next week.

DONALD TRUMP, CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION:  I‘m Donald Trump and this is a special announcement.  Mike Huckabee is not going to be running for president.  This might be considered by some people, not necessarily me, bad news because he is a terrific guy and, frankly, I think he‘d be a terrific president.  But a lot of people are very happy that he will not be running.


MADDOW:  Yes.  And then it just goes on and on.  It‘s a Huckabee alert.  I don‘t—Mike Huckabee say he‘s not running and then he says good night.  And then a little piece of tape rolls of Donald Trump, obviously, taped earlier so responding or presponding to the news that Mike Huckabee, isn‘t running, which we just learned.  But, now, Donald Trump has just re-announced by shouting?  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.

But, then, a little more than 36 hours later, there was Donald Trump again announcing that he would not be running either to the surprise of absolutely no one other than to the mysterious people who vote in Republican Party straw polls this time of year.

But beyond Republican candidates overtly saying they will not run, one other high profile Republican candidate effectively took himself out of the running this weekend.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I am not going to justify this.  I‘m not going to explain this.  The attack on Paul Ryan, the support for an individual mandate in health care?  I—folks, don‘t ask me to explain this.  There is no explanation.


MADDOW:  If you are trying to become the Republican nominee for president—that is not to impression you are looking to make.  But that‘s how it‘s kind of going for Newt Gingrich, whose candidacy for president is already coming a little bit unraveled.

The justification for his candidacy, his brand in the Republican Party is that he is supposedly the ideas guy, right?  A policy guy.

But what they are complaining about on conservative talk radio as you just saw and what people are frankly guffawing about all over the full spectrum of news and political analysis is that Mr. Gingrich does not seem to have policy positions, even though he‘s supposedly the policy guy.

Last month, Mr. Gingrich told “Time” magazine that he liked the Paul Ryan “kill Medicare” budget.  He said he would vote for it, but it didn‘t go far enough.  Then this weekend on “Meet the Press,” Mr. Gingrich said the Ryan plan went too far and he‘s therefore against it.  On the same program, Mr. Gingrich affirmed that he not only likes the idea of an individual mandate in health reform, but he has liked that idea for decades.

This morning, however, he put out a web video denouncing the individual mandate in health care reform.  Newt Gingrich has also come out against his own advocacy for cap-and-trade as a policy to deal with global warming.  He‘s also vociferously against his own position on intervening in Libya.

It is a survivable thing for a presidential candidate to get confused about his or her position on a specific thing or even to change his or her mind on something over time.  But when it‘s every policy issue of substance and when you‘re changing your mind within 24-hour periods and sometimes changing it right back again, and you‘re supposed to be the policy guy, and you have all of the other flaws that Newt Gingrich has a candidate, then what happens is people just end up not taking you seriously.


GEORGE WILL, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST:  Newt Gingrich‘s problems are so far beyond just his multiple marriages and all that.  His ethanol love affair right now.  On 7th of March, he said, “Let‘s go get Gadhafi.”  On the 23rd of March, he says he never favored intervention.  He did on television.


WILL:  Yes, exactly.  He‘s one of these people who says that to understand Barack Obama, you need to understand his Kenyan anti-colonial mentality.  This is just not a real candidate.

I think we know with reasonable certainty that standing up there on the west side of the Capitol on January 28th, 2013 be one of three people:

Obama, Pawlenty and Daniels.  I think that‘s it.


MADDOW:  Conservative commentary George Will speaking on ABC‘s Sunday morning show yesterday.

I don‘t usually agree with anything that Mr. Wills says or argues or finds to be true about the world.  In this case, I think I agree with his analysis.  I think he‘s got it right.

I mean, think about the universe of potential and declared Republican presidential candidates right now.

Haley Barbour took himself out of the running, saying he did not have the fire in the belly.

Mike Pence, remember his mom sort of said he might be announcing that he would run.  But then he took himself out of the running, too.

Mike Huckabee again this weekend, he said he did not think he had God‘s blessing to run.

Donald Trump today took himself out of the running, saying something about promising to still be loud.  I don‘t know.

Newt Gingrich, technically is still running, but struggling to be taken seriously.

Ron Paul—yes, Ron Paul is running again.  Ron Paul revolution.

Gary Johnson essentially the same policy position as Ron Paul without the charisma or the following.

Rick Santorum—just Google him time.  Not at work, though.

There‘s a guy named Fred Karger who is running, locking up the pretty lonely far right, pro-gay marriage platform.  Yes.

Buddy Roemer, he once lost a Republican Party primary to David Duke, the Klansman.

John Bolton—moving on.

Herman Cain, former CEO of a mafia-themed pizza chain.

Michele Bachmann, she—I would say—is most likely to win the Mike Huckabee memorial but otherwise meaningless first place in the Iowa caucuses award this year.

Mitt Romney could conceivably win New Hampshire.  Much to the chagrin of everybody in the Republican Party, there is no well-known, well-financed figure in the Republican Party who is more disliked among Republican operatives and politicos than Mitt Romney.  He does not have a friend in the world in that world in which he needs friends.

Sarah Palin, she could make a run of it.  Who knows if she will?  I guess we will cross the bridge when we come to it.

Jon Huntsman, Barack Obama‘s former ambassador to China, which may be enough said about him.

And that brings us as George Will said, to Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels.  The relative merits of each widely understood and just as widely, frankly, dismissed as neither of them is known to have much more charisma than your average grape tomato.

Mr. Pawlenty, though, at least has been actively campaigning for the nomination, participating in rather sad affair that was the first FOX News Channel candidates debate, alongside Mr. Paul, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Cain, and the man who you should not Google at work.  Tim Pawlenty is making campaign videos.  He‘s participating in debates.  He‘s overtly trying—he‘s overtly trying to shape his image to at least give you something to think of when you think of him, even if he makes you a little sleepy.

Mitch Daniels, on the other hand, has not jumped into the race.  And he is essentially counting on his behavior as a sitting Indiana governor to be the thing that will spring-board his potential campaign.

Even though the Beltway media says social issues are dead and all anybody cares about in Republican politics right now is economy and fiscal issues, it tells you everything to know about how wrong that common wisdom is.  When you think about what is going on for Mitch Daniels right now, it is no liability for Mitch Daniels that he was George W. Bush‘s budget director.  He was George W. Bush‘s budget director.

What happened to the deficit under George W. Bush?  Yes.  What about to jobs under George W. Bush?  Yes.  What happened to the economy overall under George W. Bush?

Mitch Daniels was George W. Bush‘s budget director.  Not a problem apparently with Republican primary voters no matter how much the Beltway crows about how all they care about is the economy.

What is an actual liability for Mitch Daniels in campaigning for the Republican nomination for president is an interview that he gave to the “Weekly Standard” last year, in which he said that Republicans are going to have to declare a truce on social issues, to not campaign on social conservative matters at least for now because there are more important things for the country to work on.  That really is a problem for him—in terms of campaigning for the still abortion-obsessed and homosexuality-obsessed Republican activists of this year and next year.

And so, as the governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels is trying to rectify the political problem that he‘s got.  He is trying to re-establish his social conservative bona fides by doing something that—when you look at the rest of the country—is pretty radical.

For all of the demagoguing and talking smack about Planned Parenthood and abortion rights happening on the political right this year, Mitch Daniels actually did something that no other state has done and that the federal government has not done.  He blocked essentially all public funding, even federal funding, from going to any to have 28 health centers in his state that are run by Planned Parenthood.  This is not blocking taxpayer-funding for abortion.  They already don‘t get taxpayer funding for abortion.  What he‘s done is made it so that nobody in his state who is on Medicaid can go to Planned Parenthood for anything.

You know what?  I know this is a little bit weird.  I can tell this is

not working.  I can hear myself saying this stuff about Mitch Daniels and

it sound like all of the other reporting on this decision by Mitch Daniels

that hasn‘t been noticed at all, that hasn‘t had any political impact that

never gets talk t about in the Beltway or by anybody debating presidential

politics, the words I am saying are correct.  They are true.  I am

accurately describing this radical thing that he has done, but I can tell -

it‘s not resonating.  It‘s not sinking in.


Can we do the plan B thing that we talked about?  Do we have the new backdrop?  Can we have the props?  Do we have the props?

All right.  We have the props?  All right.  Thanks, you guys.

All right.  This is desperate times, desperate measures.  This is awesome.  Oh, wait.  OK.  Thank you, guys.  That‘s very nice.  Can I—OK.

We call this is man cave set.  Ahem, ladies, you can take a powder.  I just need to talk—I just need to talk, you know, to all the men folk who are watching right now, just me and the guys.  I‘m apparently allowed to open a beer, they told me.

All right.  Here‘s the deal, are you ready?  Man cave moment.  Here‘s the deal.  Every 3,000 miles—that‘s a familiar concept, right?  I don‘t want to talk about synthetic oil.  Let‘s forget that synthetic oil and that whole complicated thing.

Every 3,000 miles, you know what I‘m talking about, right?  Every 3,000 miles, oil change.  Every 6,000 miles, rotate your tires.  At a certain number of miles, you check the brakes, you check the differential, maybe the spark plugs you can check at home depending on your skill level.

But when it comes to getting an alignment, rebalancing your wheels and all that stuff, basically speaking, you take it in.  Not because there‘s anything wrong with your vehicle, fellows.  It‘s just preventive maintenance.

So, preventive maintenance, right?  Preventive maintenance, Planned Parenthood.  Oil change, breast exam.  Rotate your tires—can I say pap smears on TV?

At the same time that I just opened a Budweiser.  Fellows, just like your car needs a little bit of preventive maintenance from time to time, so do the ladies in your life?  Is this making it sinking at all?  Is this helping with the politics here?

The ladies in your life, just like all of the automobiles in your life, they have sort of a 3,000 mile thing, every 3,000 miles.  It‘s not like if anything‘s wrong.  Certainly, if something‘s wrong, you got to go get things taken care of.

But even if nothing is wrong, even if everything is going to fine, you‘ve got to have your 3,000-mile check up and you‘ve got to do it every 3,000 miles.

So, now, imagine that Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana is the fleet manager of, say, 9,000 cars in the state of Indiana.  And he‘s just decided that those cars—no more oil changes, no more checking the spark plugs, no more tire rotations, no more preventive maintenance.  There are more than 9,000 people in Indiana whose health insurance is Medicaid, and who get their preventive care, who get their 3,000-mile check ups at Planned Parenthood.

Because Mitch Daniels can mess with that as a governor and because he wants social conservatives to like him for president, those 9,000 Indiana patients have just been cut off from their preventive care.  Breast exams, STD screenings, pap smears, birth control, all of it.  This is not about abortion.  There‘s not any public funding for abortion.  It‘s not about cutting off abortion services in Indiana.

This is about cutting off the proverbial oil changes, preventive care.  If you want to be irresponsible with your vehicle, if you want to be penny wise and pound foolish, you stop going to Jiffy Lube, stop doing any preventive maintenance on your car.  When your car inevitably breaks down, you will know why it happened.

But in this ridiculously overstretched, totally Neanderthal sexist metaphor, Mitch Daniels is the guy who is responsible for thousands of cars.  He is responsible for setting the policy by which these cars are maintained.

And his idea is, his big idea is, the idea on which he wants to run for president is no oil changes.  No rotating the tires.  Maintenance, schemaintenance (ph).

All right.  We now have to lose the man cave.  I can‘t believe we did this.

All right.  In Republican politics, essentially, (INAUDIBLE).  Thank you.

Newt Gingrich wants to be seen as the policy guy, right?  That‘s not really working.  Mitch Daniels wants to be thought of as the serious, responsible policy guy, too.  He wants to be thought of as the guy who‘s pioneered responsible, serious, conservative polices in the states and it‘s all common sense stuff.

The Beltway press and the conservative commentators—they see Mitch Daniels as the Republican Party‘s best hope.  If so, the Republican Party‘s best hope is the “don‘t catch your cancer early” governor.  And he‘s spending money to do it.  This Planned Parenthood ban in Indiana is expected to cost the state millions of dollars per year.  So, don‘t catch your cancer early, and pay more for the privilege.

I am pretty sure that this whole car, man cave metaphor thing is going to help people understand Mitch Daniels better.  But I cannot say I didn‘t try my damndest.

Joining us now is Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University and an MSNBC contributor.

Melissa, I‘m very sorry.


MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, the only problem, Rachel, is that your football there should be shaped like a pink, fuzzy uterus, because the thing that they‘re using at the political football here is, in fact, is it uteruses or uteri?  That‘s what‘s really being used as a football here.

MADDOW:  So, that whole part where I said I‘m just talking to the guys and the ladies can leave the room.  Now, we‘ve just sent all of the guys out of the room.  So, it‘s just you and me?  So, we can now talk about anything that will never be quoted.

HARRIS-PERRY:  Yes.  Look, you know, interestingly enough, talking about our uterus or talking about our cervix is, in fact, a more challenging public conversation than, for example, talking about our breasts.  I mean, I just want to point out there was a point in which, you know, what you just talked about—you know, the idea of breast self-exams would have been seen as almost pornographic in the public realm.  But women‘s lives were at stake.

And so, activists who are Democrats and Republicans, right, wealthy and poor women, got together on breast cancer questions in a way that‘s made breast cancer and the discussion of breast health so common, you know, that in the month of October, everything is pink.  You know, even the NFL are wearing pink bands in October, because we got serious about thinking about women‘s health.

Now, I think we‘ve got to go a little farther south on this question.  It‘s not just our breasts that matter.  It‘s, in fact, all of our reproductive organs.

MADDOW:  And it‘s the whole idea of preventive health, generally speaking.  But it‘s specifically not targeting preventive health care for anybody other than women.  It is Planned Parenthood clinics that are being singled out here.  They‘re not going after prostate exams, for example, for men.  They‘re not going after other kinds of, you know, asthma screening for kids and stuff.

They‘re specifically targeting preventive health care for women.

And do you feel that is driving the broader appeal of this as a socially conservative political issue?

HARRIS-PERRY:  Absolutely.  I mean, in fact, I doubt that this governor—given who we know about his sort of fiscal hawkishness and his general, you know, we should call a truce on these sorts of social issues, this isn‘t because he has some moral anxiety about women having pap smears.  This is a way of signaling I am not on the side of poor women, of women, in general, of women of color, or particularly of women who might be using their reproductive organs.  I don‘t know, you know, for things like sex.

You know, it‘s all about kind of a signaling game where you say all of these people, particularly poor people, brown people, black people, young people, we‘re against that.  And it‘s really—the thing is it‘s not symbolic of you are the woman who can‘t get the pap smear.  But it is a symbolic move, a kind of, you know, putting his hand out a gesture to a part of the Republican Party that he hasn‘t pandered to as, you know, governor of Indiana.

MADDOW:  I‘m asking you to do a little bit of media analysis here—why do you think the social conservativism issues in Republican politics this year are really getting no traction in terms of how people are talking about the Republican presidential nominating process and how people understand the differences between the candidates?

HARRIS-PERRY:  You know, I have to tell you this particular nominating process and this sort of bench full of nobodies as you‘ve shown or almost laughable characters, I‘ve seen this before.  I actually saw it before in the state of Illinois when Barack Obama ran for the U.S. Senate.  And all of his sort of real and likely, both Democratic challengers and then a very sort of eligible Republican challenger, imploded.  And he ended up running against Alan Keyes.

Now, I don‘t think that there‘s any sort of fate going on here, but there is an interesting sort of comparison where for some reason, this group—and I don‘t think it‘s just some reason.  I think it‘s because you have a strong incumbent here.  And because you got a strong incumbent, the really strong challengers are sitting it out.  They figure in four years is a much better opportunity for them than this one.

MADDOW:  Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC contributor, professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University and a brave, brave guest—thank you very much.  I appreciate it, Melissa.

We‘ll be right back.


MADDOW:  Almost two years ago, President Barack Obama gave a major foreign policy address in Cairo.  And, boy, howdy, is Cairo a lot different now from the way it was 20 years ago.  In many ways so is the whole Middle East.

And to mark that distance travel, the president will give another major foreign policy address about the Middle East at the State Department on Thursday.  Politics in the Middle East have been a tinderbox for so long that it feels like always.  But this really could not be a more volatile or tense time in that region—which does not make it surprising that the president of the United States is wading into the middle of it with a major policy address.  But it does make it important to note how carefully he is treading.

On Friday, the White House announced the resignation of their Middle East convoy, George Mitchell.  Tomorrow, the president is scheduled to meet with Jordan‘s King Abdullah.  Then there will be the speech on Thursday.  Then, the president will meet in person with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Friday.

And then, this weekend, President Obama will address the powerful pro-Israel lobby group, APAC.  That is a lot of presidential time and attention covering a lot of bases.  It shows how important the White House thinks this is right now and also how sensitive.

Whatever your own politics around Israel and the Palestinians, everyone can agree that this particular moment in the Middle East is even more delicate than usual.  It is time for a deliberate calm, of a light touch.  Any American assertion in the region should probably be done with an appreciation of the great sensitivities involved right now.


GLENN BECK, “THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM”:  As a citizen of America, and no more or less than a brother in the family of man, I come to you today and ask you to stand—to stand with me in Jerusalem.  They‘re going to spread across the Middle East.  The things that I told you are coming will come.  It‘s only a matter of time.

And there are forces in this land and forces all over the globe.  God is involved in man‘s affairs, but so is the force of darkness.  I want you to know, the very gates of hell are going to open up against us.


MADDOW:  Oh, good.  Glenn Beck is holding one of his rallies.  And this time, it‘s going to be in Israel.  And don‘t worry, Glenn Beck followers, there will be travel deals for you to get yourself physically to Israel—to make it convenient for you to bring your subtle, political nuance understanding to a part of the world that really needs you.

In terms of America not helping matters in the Middle East, what could be worse than FOX News exporting its end of the world conspiracy theorists who sees communists and George Soros is a Jewish puppet master in everything, what American export could be less helpful to the Middle East than that?

“The New York Times” reports this weekend, reports as of this weekend that the man who founded Blackwater, Eric Prince has a new venture in Abu Dhabi, where he is setting up a private military with a strict no Muslims hiring policy.  Former employees told “The Times” that said Mr. Prince also wants to train for-profit no-Muslim armies for any government in the region that may want to put down any pesky internal revolts.

Joining us now is Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for “The Nation” and author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World‘s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.”

Jeremy, I can‘t say correspondent, and I apologize to you for that. 

And thank you for being here.


MADDOW:  What is your understanding of the scale of this new venture from Eric Prince?

SCAHILL:  Well, first of all, the American as apple pie Eric Prince fled the United States, moves to the United Arab Emirates which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States in the midst of all these investigations of his company, says he wants to go and teach high school like Indiana Jones was also a teacher.  Well, he‘s the antithesis of Indiana Jones.  In fact, he is the mercenary.

And what he‘s doing in United Arab Emirates is working for the crown prince there, setting up this private army that could be used to smash rebellions that grow out of these big labor camps that they have in United Arab Emirates with Filipinos and Pakistanis and others.  But also, they are engaged in an operation that could potentially be used to defend against the rising Iranian influence in the region.

And, in fact, Eric Prince in a speech that I obtained that he gave about a year ago, said that the U.S. should advocate sending in these small groups of private American armed forces into these Middle Eastern countries to directly confront Iran, saying it would be politically expedient and cheaper for the U.S. to do that rather than sending in large groups of U.S.  troops.

MADDOW:  He wants to wage a private war on Iran?

SCAHILL:  Well, I think that his idea is that you can wage a shadow war on Iran, or a proxy war in Iran, by using countries like the United Arab Emirates or the Yemenis if it remains an area that the U.S. can do business, or the Saudis, and that you, actually, are able to have American boots on the ground without having to say we have the American military there.

So, I think it‘s aimed at sort of small acts of sabotage, or directly striking at the enemies of these countries, as “The New York Times” indicated, the Abu Dhabi crown prince was interested in a Blackwater-type force doing.

MADDOW:  Is this legal?  I mean—I don‘t mean internationally.  I don‘t mean whether or not this would be legal in United Arab Emirates.  Is this legal under U.S. law?

SCAHILL:  Well, under U.S. law, if you‘re going to export these kinds of services, training services of any kind, with the kind of expertise that Eric Prince, a former Navy SEAL has, the kinds of operations he‘s been in for the CIA, the DOD, the State Department, then you have to get a license to do that.  I‘ve inquired about that today.  I‘ve gotten no answer yet.  Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who‘s on the intelligence committee and has been ferocious in going after Blackwater says she‘s going to be investigating whether they have the necessary licenses and permissions from U.S. government to engage in this kind of activity.

Blackwater has been fined in the past for not getting those licenses.  So, it wouldn‘t shock me if they didn‘t have the permission, and though, hey, I‘m Eric Prince.  I can get away with it.

MADDOW:  One of the things that really leapt out for me from “The New York Times” reporting was the no-Muslims hiring policy.  Is that—is that something that we have known about and that I just never keyed on before?  And isn‘t that sort of going to be a problematic restriction if this becomes known that he‘s doing this?

SCAHILL:  Right.  Well, let‘s remember that from federal court filings, we know that Eric Prince‘s own employees viewed him as a Christian crusader who had an agenda that was literally aimed at wiping out Muslims.  So, the idea that he wouldn‘t work with Muslims on the security force like this wouldn‘t be surprising.

The stated reason for it, though, Rachel, was that Muslims wouldn‘t kill their fellow Muslims.  That was the concern.

So, I think that when you look at how Eric Prince has trained certain Muslim militaries like the Jordanian military and but then encouraged a jihad—a Christian jihad against other Muslims, you can say that the politics boil down to the politics of being a mercenary.  That money is the bottom line.  And as long as you can, you know, go, woo-hoo, my Christian agenda is going to be successful and I‘m running off to the races with money of some corrupt sheik in the Middle East—well, my agenda is going to win.

MADDOW:  Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for “The Nation” and the author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World‘s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”—eventually, this guy‘s going to stop being in the news and we‘ll have to start talking about other things.  But, otherwise, I think I‘m going to see it frequently.

SCAHILL:  Blackwater does make a line of teddy bears and infant onesies.  So, you know, if the mercenary business doesn‘t work out, your children can be geared up in the Blackwater gear.

MADDOW:  We can put a shelf up for them in the man cave.


MADDOW:  Thank you, Jeremy.

SCAHILL:  I wore the man cave jacket tonight.

MADDOW:  Yes.  You could have been a prop, my friend.  Very tough.

SCAHILL:  Yes.  No Planned Parenthood for me.

MADDOW:  All right.  One of the truly lovable things about the more bombastic figures in conservative media that is they are really, really good at riling people up.  More on that in a moment.



CARL PALADINO ®, FORMER NY GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Because make no mistake: you have not heard the last of Carl Paladino.



MADDOW:  It turns out dude was right.  He has returned to politics as of today.  It is a good day for the news business.  That‘s next.


MADDOW:  With Donald Trump done even pretending to run for president, the race to become the most catastrophic major party candidate, top of the ticket candidate of 2012, is slightly clearer but still pretty wide open.  In 2010, the contest for that distinction was hard fought, with a lot of really wickedly catastrophic candidate.  You may remember Alvin Green in South Carolina.  Alvin Green, the product of the South Carolina Republican -- excuse me, South Carolina Democratic Party sort of forgetting to run somebody for Senate.  Mr. Green lost to Republican Senator Jim DeMint by 34 points.

Remember Dan Maes?  Republican Party nominee for governor in Colorado.  He said he had been a secret agent in Kansas.  He got a whopping 11 percent of the vote.

Christine O‘Donnell, not a witch, lost the Delaware race for the United States Senate by nearly 17 points.

Of all of them in 2010, the one you really can‘t believe was a major party nominee at the top of the ticket has to be Carl Paladino, who lost the New York governor‘s race by 29 points.  Carl Paladino‘s campaign included a mailer he sent out that had a garbage smell added to it.  We obtained one of these mailers at the time and I can assure you, it did smell like garbage.  We still have it around the office somewhere and I can tell you that because on humid days, it makes itself known.

There was a physical fight between Carl Paladino and a reporter on the campaign trail.  That happened on camera.  There was also Mr. Paladino‘s racist email trouble.  Most but not all of his astonishingly racist emails were about the president, either on the theme of black people as subhuman or the president and first lady as pimp and hooker.  Also, just straight up porn, including bestiality porn that Mr. Paladino would send around occasionally, including his own appreciative comments about what he liked about it.

This was the Republican Party‘s candidate for governor in New York state in 2010.  Not like back in your great grandpa‘s day something this crazy happen.  But last year, the Republican Party ran this guy as their nominee for governor of a large state and he lost very badly.  And you would think the Republican Party would want to make the memory of Carl Paladino go away.

But no—today, in the special election in Upstate New York to fill Christopher Lee‘s House seat, there was Carl Paladino brought in to literally stand right behind the Republican candidate and be photographed alongside her, to remind everybody that when you think Republican in New York, you can think about the racist, bestiality porn guy who lost by almost 30 points.

It was a bad day for the Republicans for that special election today just all around.  In addition to the Carl Paladino endorsement decision—genius—the “Rothenberg Political Report” changed its rating in the race to lean Republican to toss up/tilted Democratic.  Also, a Democratic-leaning group called House Majority PAC is launching this new ad in the district which will not, of course, level the playing field with all the money spent by Karl Rove‘s groups and the other Republican groups spending tons and tons of money there, but it may make it a competition.

Regardless of the outside money, though, regardless of the personalities and Paladinos of this race, the major issue of this race, the issue that seems to be at the heart of why a Democrat even has been able to get within a striking distance in a district this red, the issue continues to be Medicare—specifically killing Medicare, specifically the Republican candidate in the race saying she‘d vote for the Paul Ryan budget to kill Medicare.  That is what turned this race around.

And, so, the single worse thing that happened for the Republican Party‘s chances for holding on to that seat in New York 26 today, on a day that a lot went wrong for them, the single worst thing is that Paul Ryan, author of the kill Medicare plan, cannot stop talking about it.  After the House Republicans backed away from it, said they wouldn‘t pursue it, the ways and means chairman said he wouldn‘t even try to move it forward, after even the speaker of the House recognized that political reality was not going to be with them on the kill Medicare thing, Paul Ryan himself is still flogging it and getting a national audience whenever he does it.  He gave a whole speech on his wisdom of his plan to kill Medicare today at the Economic Club of Chicago.  Thus, doing the Republican candidate in that poor special election in New York 26, the favor of reminding all of those voters and the country why it ought to be a Republican district like this is even conceivably in play.

Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post.”

Gene, thanks very much for being here.


Happy Monday.

MADDOW:  Thank you.  Well, it‘s always a happy Monday when Carl Paladino is back.

Can you explain bringing Carl Paladino back and putting him front and center at a Jane Corwin event?  Is there—do you -- 

ROBINSON:  Explain Paladino, those words go together in a sentence?  I don‘t know.  I don‘t think so.

Look, I predict, and this—I‘m going out on a limb here, but I think the Republican candidate Jane Corwin will indeed wish that Carl Paladino had been wrong when he said you haven‘t heard the last of Carl Paladino.  We wish we had heard the last of him last year.

But, I think, probably, the worst thing that continues to happen to her in terms of her chances of winning it‘s not Carl Paladino, yet.  It‘s Paul Ryan.  It‘s the Medicare issue which is, to all intents and purposes, from all appearances, a true loser for Republicans in this race and maybe in a lot of other races, too.

MADDOW:  Well, the Democrats for once, do seem to have a unified strategy on that.  They would like to keep talking about the Republican kill Medicare plan every day between now and November 2012.  But is there a unified counterstrategy from the Republicans?  Do the Republicans want to talk about killing Medicare?  Or do they not want to talk about it?

ROBINSON:  Well, it depends on which Republicans.  And that‘s the problem.  They do not have a unified strategy.

Look, the Republican establishment realizes the political pros who are adding up the numbers realize this isn‘t working for us.  We need to back off.  We need to just change the subject.  But Paul Ryan doesn‘t want to change the subject.  He believes in this, you know, ideologically, in a kind of Ayn Rand, this is the way the world ought to work kind of way.

And so, I don‘t think he‘s going to shut up about it and I think it‘s going to hurt Republicans.

MADDOW:  While I have you here, Gene, I have to ask you about your feeling about how this issue fits into the crop of Republican presidential candidates.  We have Mike Huckabee and the real estate guy whose name I‘m tired of saying officially bowing out of the race.

This Medicare issue, as you say, continues to be kept alive depending on which Republican you ask.  It seems to be something in which they do not have a unified party message yet.  What‘s your take right now on the strength of the field?

ROBINSON:  There is hardly any strength in the field.  This is a really weak field.  And this cannot be the final field, because it‘s hard to pick up a viable candidate out of it.  You kind of get Mitt Romney by default if he can get through the Republican primaries.  Newt Gingrich, who by the way, hates Paul Ryan‘s Medicare plan and blasting it is not presidential.  And I don‘t think most Republicans can imagine him winning the presidency.

But who‘s got any pizzazz?  Who‘s got any, sort of, aura of leadership in the Republican field?  Mitt Romney, kind of, looks like a president.  They‘re hurting.  And I think that‘s why you‘re hearing all these calls from prominent Republicans for others to jump in.

Mitch Daniels, Mr. Excitement, Jeb Bush who has that last name problem.  Chris Christy who‘s been governor of New Jersey for five minutes and is somewhat volatile.  I don‘t know—you know, I think he‘s probably right that he‘s not ready.

So, now, all that said, the Republicans will come up with a viable candidate.  I don‘t think, Democrats should perhaps enjoy this interlude, but they shouldn‘t count on it lasting.  There‘s going to be a candidate, the candidate is going to have tons of money.  And anybody who thinks this is going to be a cake walk—it is certainly a winnable election for President Obama and he should be considered the leader, a strong incumbent.  But anyone who thinks this is going to be a cake walk over a buffoon I think is wrong and is certainly overly optimistic.

MADDOW:  Eugene Robinson, MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for “The Washington Post” and the man who has crowned Mitch Daniels officially on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW “Mr. Excitement”—thank you, Gene.  Thank you very much.

ROBINSON:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  Over the weekend, freshly minted presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said, president Obama is the most successful food stamp president in history.  I would pay Mr. Gingrich $5 to say that to Ed Schultz face-to-face.  Mr. Schultz rebuts forcefully right after this show.

And here, “The Best New Thing in the World” takes the words right out of my mouth.


JAY SMOOTH, ILLDOCTRINE.COM:  He‘s horrible, insufferable Lester Maddox meets Andrew Dice Clay routine.


MADDOW:  The best thing in the world coming up right at the end of this show.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  “The Best New Thing in the World Today” and the last best reason to ever say onaldy umptry (ph) on cable news ever—coming up.


MADDOW:  As much as politics can feel like lawless territory, as much as elections can seem like the Wild West when it comes to greed and corruption at least, there are technically rules about how politics is supposed to be conducted, about who can give money to whom and how much and when and what it can be spent on and what it cannot be spent on.  There are laws about disclosure and laws about record-keeping and all of that stuff.

The sheriff who enforces those laws is ridiculous.  And I mean that as a term of art.  They are or they ought to be the subject of ridicule.

We‘re supposed to have laws about campaigning and elections.  We do, in fact, have them on paper.  But the enforcement of those laws is left to these guys, the Federal Election Commission.  And if you are planning on breaking the law and getting away with it, pray the kind of laws you will be breaking are the ones that fall under their jurisdiction.

But don‘t just take it from me.  Take it from them.

Remember the check for $96,000 that Senator John Ensign paid to his mistress after he fired her?  If that payment of severance, if the senator paid that money because he was firing her which, he apparently admitted in front of witnesses many times over, then giving his mistress that check was likely a violation of federal election law.  So, that would be under the jurisdiction of the Federal Election Commission, which, as I say, is the worst sheriff ever.

When the worst sheriff ever looked into this matter of Senator Ensign and the mistress and that $96,000 check, the staff attorney at the FEC looking into it advised the commission that they should go after Mr. Ensign for that.

The FEC declined.  And one of the most incredible federal official quotes I have ever seen in “The New York Times,” listen to this.  Listen, quote, “An election commission official who asked not to be identified while the case was pending acknowledged that the commission took the senator at his word.  This official expressed anger to learn the true circumstances behind the $96,000 payment.”

Quote, “I hate it when people lie to us.  If somebody submits a sworn affidavit, we usually do not go back and question it, unless we have something else to go on.  Maybe we should not be so trusting.”

Could we just put the last part back up by itself?  Just the last do we have just the last part?  Yes.  Thank you.

“Maybe we should not be so trusting,” the FEC official said.

Maybe?  You think?  You are—you are the part of the government that‘s supposed to make sure the campaign laws of the nation are followed.  And when they are not followed the people who break the laws are punished. 

That‘s your job.

The way you have been doing that job is to ask people if they‘re guilty and when they say no, you say, OK, sorry to bother you, sir—that‘s how we enforce election laws as a country?  “Maybe we shouldn‘t be so trusting”?  “We took his word for it”?

Oh, no, mom and dad.  That‘s my new incense you smell.  It‘s called can of biscuit (ph) baking, homegrown.  I mean, homemade.

This old botch by the FEC matters again now because the Senate Ethics Committee that‘s investigating John Ensign says there‘s good reason to believe he did, in fact, violate those campaign laws.  And because the ethics committee has referred its investigation back to the worst sheriff in the world, that means the FEC, the commission, may get another chance to not be so trusting.

Also, because it is not just Senator Ensign who there are questions about, but also his fellow Republican senator, Tom Coburn.  When Senator Ensign needed help getting out of the affair with the married staffer he was shtooping, the ethics committee says Senator Coburn appears to have helped broker a deal with the mistress and with her husband who also worked for Senator Ensign.  Ethics committee says there‘s reason to believe John Ensign helped the husband get a lobbying job right away without registering as a lobbyist or waiting a year which is required by law.

When the husband started lobbying on behalf of an airline, one of the senators he met with was Tom Coburn.  Since Senator Coburn was good friends with John Ensign and he knew the husband of the mistress and he knew he‘d been an Ensign staffer and he knew about the affair and he maybe even negotiated a deal to help end that affair, it is not unreasonable to ask whether or not Senator Tom Coburn knew that that guy lobbying for that airline at that time was against the law.

But here‘s the thing about breaking the law.  It matters, first of all, whether the government enforces that law or whether maybe they‘re too trusting.  It also matters if you had traded information for immunity.

Senator Ensign‘s chief of staff made an immunity deal with the ethics committee.  Information for immunity, the head of the watchdog agency that has pressed for an investigation of Ensign and Coburn told us last week she wonders if Senator Coburn made an immunity deal, too.


MELANIE SLOAN, CREW:  I think Senator Coburn owes the American people an explanation of his full role in this scandal, to answer questions about all of it and if he indeed got immunity from the Department of Justice, I think he should share that.


MADDOW:  Senator Tom Coburn for the record is not talking.  Over the weekend, he gave the home state paper “Tulsa World” a no comment on the story.  We contacted his office specifically about this question of immunity and got the same response.  No comment.

So, did Senator Tom Coburn make a deal in which he got immunity from prosecution in exchange for information about the John Ensign scandal?  Again, the answer so far from Senator Tom Coburn is no comment.

We will keep asking.


MADDOW:  “The Best New Thing in the World Today” has to do with the Republican fake presidential non-campaign that blessedly died today, the one by this guy.  Do I have to say his name?  I have successfully avoided saying his name all that much.

But on the occasion of him finally getting out of the fake race he was never really running but getting lots of attention for anyway, I would like to say that the best, most succinct, most damning take on what just happened with the whole mess of that fake Republican campaign and its coverage comes from Jay Smooth, of whom I am a fan.  Jay Smooth does awesome, short videos at the Web site


JAY SMOOTH, ILLDOCTRINE.COM:  A real news story broke that forced everyone on the news to stop talking about Donald Trump, and lo and behold, after one week of TV news people not talking about Donald Trump, they took another poll and found out that nobody cared about Donald Trump anymore.

How could this be?  It‘s like a miracle.  Could it be that there was no organic force of nature compelling everyone to care?  Could it be that there is no law of Trump gravity?  Do you see what I‘m saying?  I think it was because of you, TV news people all along.  People cared so much because you talked about it so much.  It was you.


MADDOW:  It was you.  Nailed it.

That is my nomination for “The Best New Thing in the World Today,” Jay Smooth at Ill Doctrine, which is  He is a genius.

The whole—that was about 30 seconds of it.  The whole thing is only about two minutes long.  It is posted at our Web site in its entirety.  That‘s

Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”  Thanks for being with us tonight. 

Have a good one.



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