tv The Last Word MSNBC January 23, 2012 10:00pm-11:00pm PST
ability to speak and think. as it stands, having been on the other side of the brain, the stroke would likely affect the senator's ability to use his left arm and possibly his left leg, and might also cause some facial paralysis senator kirk is young, in very good shape and very healthy. all of those things are in his favor. we'll keep you posted as we learn more about tonight, the president has ever right to be wicked happy. >> i know you are all wicked happy to be here. >> this president has lowered taxes much more than he gets credit for. >> i'm barack obama and i took out osama. i like that. >> where we can fight for where i think we need to go. >> on tuesday evening, i'll deliver my state of the union address. >> president obama's state of the union address. >> where i'll lay out my blueprint for actions we need to take together. >> will likely serve more as a re-election blueprint than a
plan to bring the divided congress together. >> traditionally presidents outline an agenda for their year ahead in the state of the union address. in a campaign year, it becomes the ultimate argument for keeping their job. >> there's little doubt that his focus will be on the economy. >> an economy that's built to last. building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few. >> this is going to be all about economic fairness. >> unfairness or what is perceived to be a level of unfairness in this country with the wealthy and then the 99%. >> on tuesday night, i'm going to talk about how we'll get there. >> the president is at the mercy, chris, as you know, of broader economic forces. >> how does the president face those headwinds? >> he does have the benefit of some positive signs in recent months. >> is he going to have to say, it's better than it could have been? >> he's got to also really put it back on the republicans. >> you know, i've read a lot about what the president's going to talk about tuesday night. >> what this speech will not do
is transform american politics. >> and it sounds to me like the same old policies that we've seen. >> i'd like to know what they're spoking over there on the house side. >> and if that's what the president's going to talk about tuesday night, i think it's pathetic. >> frankly, it's a lot of bs and it's not true. >> the roughest political advice i ever got was don't get in a paying match with a skunk tonight, the republican party is on its way to nominating a presidential candidate who cannot beat president obama. the only thing we don't yet know is that candidate's name. republicans are choosing between an insincere, out of touch rich guy, who most of them simply can't stand, and another candidate who republicans forced out of his speakership after the house of representatives reprimanded and fined him for ethics violations, and who, by the way, has been a hypocritical cheerleader for family values through all three of his marriages.
when the republicans have finished campaigning against each other, how will president obama campaign against the damaged republican nominee? he certainly won't be saying things like this -- >> you have shown what history teaches us. that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from washington, change comes to washington. change happens -- change happens because the american people demand it. because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, on new politics for a new time. >> joining me now, washington correspondent for the new yorker, ryan lizza. his latest article entitled "the obama memos: the making of a post-post-part san presidency" appears in "the new yorker."
thanks for joining me. >> thanks for having me. >> i love this article. you have taken us through the obama presidency with real memos, real raw material starting with campaign memos right through these three years and you're telling a story of this presidency, basically learning the limitations of its powers. i want to read this peace, this passage from your peace. "the premise of the obama cagn change we can believe in wasn't just about a set of policies, it was more grandiose. obama promised to transcend 40 years of demographic and ideological trends and reshape washington politics. in the past three years, though, he has learned that the presidency is an office uniquely ill-suited for enacting sweeping change. presidents are buffeted and constrained by the currents of political change. they don't control them." ryan, did the president really have to learn that lesson?
was that not something he understood before taking the oath of office? >> that's a good question. because let's be honest, obama's not the first question to campaign on changing washington, right? he's not the first person to tap into the anti-washington sentiment out there, and, you know, the question is, was it all just rhetoric or did he actually mean it? and you know, after looking at this pretty closely and writing about obama for a number of years now, i think it was genuine. i think he genuinely believed in his ability to forge consensus around some of the big issues of the day. i think once the economic crisis hit, it probably should have given him more reason to think that was a possibility. after all, crisis has been the great well spring of political transformation in our country. and so i think it was a genuine promise on his part, and if you look at his personal history and his character, it's something that's, you know, sort of been at the core of who he is ever
since he, you know, was at the harvard law review, and he was the guy he picked as president, because he was the only one that could bring together the conservatives and liberals on the law review. you know, when he was running in a senate campaign, he never had a single negative ad run against him. so he arrived in washington as a senator, not as cynical as some of the other folks in washington who had been, you know, really beat up badly by, you know, the tougher side of politics. so, yeah, i do think he believed it. i don't think it was just rhetoric. and like all presidents, especially obama's on the inexperienced side of presidents, it's a learning process. and what i tried to do with this piece is go through the big decision -- go through the big decisions on domestic policy with only relying or almost exclusively relying on the printed word, on memos to obama and his hand-written directions back to his aides. because one of the things i found, lawrence, and you
probably know this working in politics for a long time, is that people's memories are bad. there's a lot of spin and you can't really get to the heart of the matter if you're just doing interviews. so i really endeavored to go and find the primary source material that told the story of his big decisions on the stimulus, on whether to nationalize the banks or not, on health care, and then on a series of very important budget and tax issues. and that's sort of at the the heart of the piece. >> well, you have the actual decision memos in here, which i love, because this is the real stuff of government. where the president is given a set of -- a proposal, and he's given a yes box to check, a no box to check, or a let's discuss. and you show him choosing basically the careful choice at every point in this process, based on, in effect, what the votes would be in the house and the senate. you quote arthur schlesinger in a very simple and important line saying, arithmetic is everything. and i can feel that going through the president's head, every time he's making these decisions. i want to read another passage
here, where you say, a year int poll showed how starkly he had failed at reducing partisanship. obama was the most polarizing first-year president in history. that is the difference between democratic approval of him and republican disapproval was the highest ever recorded. the previous record holder was bill clinton. and ryan, one of the reasons for that, which i think the president possibly miscalculated, was just how partisan the congress had become. you point out that there used to be an overlap. it used to be, even as recently as the '90s, that there were six democrats in the senate who were more conservative than another six republicans in the senate, and that's where you found the overlap for compromise, similar kind of numbers in the house of representatives, and now the most conservative democrat in the senate is more liberal than
the most liberal republican. >> and, you know, and according to the data you used, if you use the pool and rosenthal data, which a lot of political scientists use, same in the house. no overlap anymore in the house. and that's the congress obama was coming to town with to work with. and i do think it's fair to criticize obama for his analysis of politics on the edge of his presidency. you know, i went back and reread "the audacity of hope," and you read those sections about red america and blue america, and they still read very, as very inspiring on the page, but they don't describe the country we live in, frankly, in terms of political polarization. and you know, i think he learned that very, very quickly. i mean, he learned it with the stimulus debates. when a document in the piece, his aides came to him and said, mr. president, we want to get this deal done in the senate, and the way we want to get it done is by you sacrificing your
priorities. that's going to show the other side that they have a real partner here to work with. and that's in one of the memos. and he goes through item by item, the president of the united states, and takes $60 billion of stimulus out of his bill, and at the bottom of this box, he writes the words "okay." and this was, you know, the advice of his aides and there were political reasons to do this. and of course, we know how the stimulus debate ended up. it was his so far meeting halfway was not reciprocated. and of course, they, you know, worked very hard to get three republican votes in the senate. one of those people, specter, became a democrat. i don't think they got any republican votes in the house. that's a huge learning experience for the president >> ryan, i don't think anyone who's worked in the congress or the house or the senate or held office there thinks the presidency is as powerful as most outside observers do, and you capture this many times, i think, in the piece. my favorite is harry truman's
quote that you have here. where harry truman says, "well, all the president is is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they're supposed to do anyway." that, i think, is one of the important items here in your piece, is that let's start off with an understanding of just how difficult it is to persuade other adults in washington to do things they don't want to do. >> that's it. and you know, the more i liked a to the memos and the more i talked to people and the more i sort of reported out what the president was actually confronted with, the decisions that he was confronted with it, i never saw a memo where it said, mr. president, do you want to change 40 years of polarization and sweep away the fundamentals of the country? you don't get that option. you get, you know, bad option "a" or bad option "b." and you know, the more i read through this stuff, i said, that's the story here, is the constraints on this office. and i think there's a -- we all like to view the presidency in a
much more heroic way, perhaps, than the reality. the truth is, you know, it's always in hindsight that these guys look heroic. in the day-to-day, you know, business of the presidency, it's a lot of clerical work. >> to govern is to choose and the choices are never easy. and there's nothing out there right now that shows this more clearly than the decision memos you have in this piece, showing just how difficult these choices are. ryan lizza of the new yorker, thank you very much for this exclusive interview tonight. >> thanks for having me. coming up, after a year of recovery, congresswoman gabrielle giffords announces she will resign from congress. her friend and colleague, debbie wasserman schultz joins me. and a florida voter today told rick santorum that president obama is, these were his words, an avowed muslim. and that president obama has absolutely no legal right to be president. so what did candidate rick santorum say? exactly what you'd expect him to
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thank you, gentleman. well, since the primaries are heating up, we asked the facebook community to suggest campaign slogans for presidential candidates. here are some of the better suggestions, okay? here's one for president obama's re-election. tim gehrard, "i'm barack obama and i took out osama." i like that. i like that. here's one for mitt romney from rick. "whether you're a pitcher or a "whether you're a pitcher or a catcher, you need a mitt."
today my journey continues across the golden state, "whether you're a pitcher or a catcher, you need a mitt." where everyone has been unbelievably nice. mornin'. i guess i'm helping them save hundreds on car insurance. it probably also doesn't hurt that i'm a world-famous advertising icon. cheers! i mean, who wouldn't want a piece of that? geico. ah... fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent oh dear... or more on car insurance.
i never referred to obama as president obama, because legally, he is not. and, well, he constantly says that our constitution is passe and he totally ignores it, as you know. he does what he darn well pleases. he is an avowed muslim and my question is, why isn't something being done to get him out of our government? he has no legal right to be calling himself president.
>> well, yeah, i'm doing my best to try to get him out of the country. >> that was spineless rick santorum today in florida, allowing one of his fans to call president obama an avowed muslim, who has no legal right to be calling himself president. santorum did not offer one word of correction to the deranged ravings he had just heard. santorum is now deservedly in last place in gallup's latest national daily tracking poll, because he simply has no idea what it takes to be a serious presidential candidate. >> i can't trust obama. >> i got -- >> i have read about him and he's not -- he's not -- he's a -- he's an arab. >> no, ma'am. no, ma'am. >> no? >> no, ma'am. no, ma'am. he's a decent family man citizen that i just happen to have
disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about. he's not. thank you. >> and here's how the new republican front-runner handles the muslim question. >> i believe it's always good to be charitable and to assume people, when you talk about religion, are who they say they are. i mean, he clearly belonged to a christian church, as you'll remember, his pastor was actually pretty controversial, but we have pretty good proof that he belonged to the church, though. they were married in the church. their children go to sunday school. so my -- i think it's fair to say that he is a christian. i happen to think some of his views of islam are a fantasy, but that's an intellectual view. i take him at his word, and i take him at his actions. so i think it would be inappropriate to suggest anything else. >> joining me now is the democratic national committee chair, florida congresswoman, debbie wasserman schultz.
we see the muslim question coming back up this time around. john mccain handled it correctly last time around, and there was rick santorum today in florida, actually laughing, smiling when the this woman said that this man, president obama, has no legal right to be president, which is obviously her notion that he is foreign born, that his birth certificate isn't correct. gingrich, we see, turns it into a reference to reverend wright, but grants the president's christianity. is this issue ever going to die among republican fanatics? >> well, i think that that whole series of both exchanges were examples of more attempts to distract voters from the issues that are the most important, which are jobs and the economy. you know, it's really unbelievable. i guess it really isn't unbelievable, but it's outrageous that rick santorum wouldn't knock that question down and at least do what john
mccain did, which was acknowledge that the president is a christian, that he's a citizen, and that he's just someone who shares different views. i mean, the best credit you could give to newt gingrich is that he grudgingly acknowledged that the president is a christian, because he says, the president says he's a christian and we should take him at his word. i mean, clearly the president is a christian and what's unbelievable is that these candidates for president on the republican side are willing to focus on something other than making sure that we can continue to move forward on getting the economy turned around and creating jobs. that's what's unbelievable. >> congresswoman gabrielle giffords announced that she will not try to hold on to her congressional seat in a re-election, not only that, but will resign. did you have conversations with her about that? >> i did. over the last couple of times
that i visited gabby and then recently, you know, she and mark let me know that they really felt like her recovery was something that she needed to continue to focus on full-time and gabby does, you know, nothing half way. does everything at 150%. and you know, she wanted to come back in 2012 to the congress, but i think felt like she would, if she did, be taking her focus off her recovery, and she has a real opportunity, a very good chance of making a 100% recovery. that's got to be her top priority. and we know once she gets to that point, she'll come back to public service. she loves the people of southern arizona and they love her. and i'm sure when she's ready and fully recovered, she'll have a warm embrace from them when she comes back. >> did arizona politics play any part in the way she reached this decision? >> no, not at all. i mean, if gabby had decided that she was able to continue to serve and run for re-election,
i'm confident she would have been re-elected overwhelmingly. there was no one even seriously talking about running against her. this was purely and simply a personal decision that she reached, you know, with mark, and once she reached it, once she realized that she was not going to be able to run for re-election, she felt like her constituents deserved full-time representation and that the right thing for her to do was to step down so that a special election could occur and they could have that representation. >> this creates a complicated situation in that district. does this mean that we're going to have a special election this year to fill her resigned seat and then another election in november for the same seat for a two-year term? >> yes. yes, that's what it means. after the resignation, i'm not totally familiar with arizona law, but i think it's 40 or 50 days that the primary would be set, and another period of time after that for the general election, for the special election, and then the person
who is elected for the remainder of her term for this year would run again in november. >> and do you have -- >> in a new district, i might add. >> and are you looking for a worthy democratic successor to gabrielle giffords in that district? >> we expect to have a worthy democratic successor, but right now, you know, the next few days is a celebration of gabby's public service, as it should be, and that's what the focus should be. >> dnc chair debbie wasserman schultz, thank you very much for joining us this evening. >> thanks, lawrence. coming up, we'll have full coverage of tonight's republican presidential debate where all the pressure was on the new front-runner, newt gingrich. [ male announcer ] what makes you trust a company?
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the republican presidential debate at the university of south florida in tampa is just wrapping up and the heated topic of the night turned out to be the document newt gingrich released two hours before the debate, his 2006 consulting contract with freddie mac. >> you were, on this stage, at a prior debate, you said you were paid $300,000 by freddie mac as an historian. they don't pay people $25,000 a month for six years as historians. that adds up to about $1.6 million. they weren't hiring you as an historian, and this contract proves that you were not an historian. you were a consultant. >> joining me now are wendy shiller, associate professor of political science and public policy at brown university and
howard fineman, aol, "huffington post" editorial director and an msnbc political analyst at the site of tonight's debate. howard, what was the feeling there? it seemed like a relatively subdued debate, compared to the other ones we've seen. >> well, the overall atmosphere of the debate, lawrence, was very subdued, very low-key. just as a general matter, i think the reporters here are tired, i think the candidates are tired. frankly, this thing has been going on nonstop from the middle of december until now. iowa, new hampshire, south carolina, lots of hand-to-hand combat in seeking out voters. everyone came down here to florida and things sort of loosened up a little bit. but i do think you were right to focus on what was really the most politically substantive part of the debate, which came right at the beginning, where mitt romney had really studied his brief and really went after newt gingrich on the topic of freddie mac, which matters here
in florida because of all of the foreclosures and all the problems in the real estate industry, except that mitt just kind of tried to blow it off, and it didn't really, in the end, generate as much drama as perhaps it should have. >> wendy shiller, how do you score it? >> well, i think that you're raising a really good point, howard, about mitt romney. he looks uncomfortable when he goes negative. you can really feel it. he was doing what he was supposed to do, and he soaked up a lot of time on the issue, which i think dented gingrich a little bit, but he looks very uncomfortable. and it's unclear what his learning curve is. after he was done with the negative, he repeated everything that was the exact same thing we've heard all year. why can't he innovate a little bit? as a businessman, innovate in your arguments, both against gingrich and against obama. i thought he scored some points against gingrich, but he looked very pained doing that. >> newt gingrich actually picked up an endorsement during the debate on fox news. let's look at that now. >> i have come to the growing
realization, for me, anyway, that newt gingrich is the guy who can articulate what america is all about, american exceptionalism can make the case, not just read the talking points or do it off a teleprompter, can make the case for free markets and our basic case that lower taxes can be good for everybody, and bring about growth. it's good for everybody. and he's not afraid. >> howard fineman, there's former senator thompson, who ran against romney in that field last time around. just couldn't quite bring himself to endorse mitt romney, who is a very unpopular guy among people who run against him. >> yeah, and it's -- listen, mitt romney did his best to make the case that the handlers told
him to make about newt gingrich. and there's a lot to attack in newt gingrich's record. the notion that newt gingrich is running as an outsider is preposterous. the notion that he was a historian for six years for freddie mac is preposterous. but even those points being made don't necessarily help mitt romney, because other politicians who have some skill as politicians, who have some fire in terms of what they believe in and the people they know they can reach don't respect mitt romney. now, fred thompson ran for president briefly. i covered all ten minutes of his presidential campaign four years ago, but fred thompson is a skilled communicator and he knows how to communicate with voters, and he did it very well when he was in the senate and if he chose to or had the energy too, he could do it well even right now. and i actually think that having fred thompson at newt gingrich's side is going to help newt gingrich in the big super tuesday primary that will be coming up. might even help him here in florida.
if fred thompson gets interested in it, interested in the project, he could be a very good salesman for newt gingrich, because he appeals to the same kind of disaffected, middle class, resentful voters in the south that newt gingrich won running away in south carolina. >> wendy, it seemed to me that newt gingrich made a conscious decision to not do what everybody was expecting him to do. you know, where's that right out of the gate, shot at brian williams. just take a real hard whack at the moderator and at that horrible elite media that is always setting up republicans to, you know, fight with each other. he seemed to really do a change-up. he wanted to show he could be, i think, maybe his notion of presidential. because he stayed very calm and steady throughout this thing. >> he did. and almost dismissive sometimes when they were attacking him. and i think it's a testament to brian williams, frankly. i don't think gingrich was about to attack brian williams. it's a different ball game here, i think. but i think that gingrich in particular was bracing for
attacks that he thought were going to be worse than came. and i think he wanted to save his energy, stay calm, to the let it get away from him. but he never really got the real kind of fire i think he was anticipating. so i think that's why he started so calmly, just in case he had to ramp it up to defend himself. >> we're going to take a break here. howard, we're going to take a break right here and come back with more debate coverage. stay with us. we're going to be joined by chris matthews, who's also on the scene. we'll be back. eese stolen. now there is a policy that covers you in the event of macaroni and cheese loss: macsurance. an insurance policy for mac and cheese? talk to me. i have a policy with kraft that covers me in case a grown-up eats my share. with kraft macsurance you have piece of mind in an unsafe world. coverage feels good! [ male announcer ] gooey, creamy, delicious kraft macaroni & cheese. you know you love it. kraft macaroni & cheese. over time, my lashes thinned. after 40, i didn't have enough lashes.
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♪ [ male announcer ] get a retirement plan that works at e-trade. and we're back with more of our debate coverage with wendy shiller and howard fineman. howard, i believe in the first, i think in my notes, it says seven minutes. in the first seven minutes, mitt romney said that newt resigned in disgrace three times from the congress. that clearly was something mitt romney was trying to attach scandal to newt gingrich and his congressional career in this debate. >> sure. that was the main attack point that mitt romney wanted to make. he made it repeatedly. but as we've all said, newt gingrich's strategy coming in here was not to take the bait, to say, give such explanation as he could get away with and then say, read the rest on my website. and i think it was up to mitt
romney to really try to force newt gingrich to say more, to try to take over the debate and do that. but just as newt gingrich didn't want to really challenge brian williams, i don't think mitt romney really wanted to either. but these are sort of desperate times for mitt romney that require desperate measures. and he's got to go at them frontally and has got to corner newt gingrich if he can. but because now, even though they're independent spending pacs, even though there's advertising out there, mitt romney has to bring the message himself, and he has to bring it can conviction. he has to sound like he's really, in fact, very concerned about newt gingrich's possible succession to the nomination, and he did what he could, but mitt romney's mitt romney. >> well, let's listen to newt's defense of his electability after romney attacked him on the resigning in disgrace and repeatedly attacked him on that. brian williams asked newt
gingrich what his case was for his electability. let's listen to that. >> what's the case you make to the american people and voters and republican primary contests about how you've changed, mr. speaker? >> well, first of all, the case i make is when i was speaker, we had four consecutive balanced budgets. the only time in your lifetime, brian, that we've had four consecutive balancd budgets. most people think that's good. 11 million new jobs were created. most people think that's good. we reformed welfare. and two out of three people went to work or went to school. people think that's good. i left the speakership after the 1998 election, because i took responsibility for the fact that our results weren't as good as they should be. i think that's what a leader should do. i took responsibility and i didn't want to stay around, as nancy pelosi has, i wanted to get out and do other things. and i'm very comfortable that my four years as speaker, working with a democratic president, achieved the kind of conservative values that most republicans want to have in a president.
>> wendy, how do you think republican voters are going to score that, you know, accusation of resigned in disgrace versus, well, here's what i did when i was there. >> well, i think that they are going to -- i mean, people who -- obviously, republican voters are craving leadership. they like this intangible thing that newt brings to the table. he's full of contradictions. i mean, can we just say that in 1993, when the budget passed under clinton, not sanl republican voted for it, and gingrich was one of those people who didn't vote for it, which brought us to the point where we could balance the budget. first fact-checking problem with that statement. but republican who is like him are going to ignore that. i thought he did a pretty good job. ron paul undercut him by taking some time out of his response to go back and say, wait a minute, let me tell you what really happened. he lost eight seats and we kicked him out. so i think his credibility a little bit was damaged tonight in some ways. if you do a little digging, i think gingrich went out a little bit on a limb and bragged too much and i think you can punch some holes in that. >> i agree with that, lawrence. i think ron paul in his own sort of quiet way really undercut newt gingrich more than mitt romney did, for the reasons
we've just discussed. and i think if you're going to -- if you're going to get newt gingrich, you have to do it slowly and carefully and piece by piece and persistently. you've got to build the case. you've got to state the facts. you've got to be serious about it. you can't just have a few sound bites here and there. newt gingrich's too smart and too elusive and too determined to be slowed by a few sound bites. you have to corner him, you have to build the case against him, and you have to do it methodically, carefully, and consistently to flush out his contradictions, his hypocrisies, his evasions, his self-grandeur and all that kind of thing. and if i'm the mitt romney campaign, i'm about that project in a very serious, sustained way, day by day, minute by minute, piece by piece. because if you don't do it that way, then newt gingrich is going to be the able to bluster his way from here to election day next tuesday in florida.
>> now we're going to go back to what was a romney and gingrich exchange on the freddie mac contract. was it lobbying? was it consulting? was it being a historian? they actually mixed it up a little bit on this one. and, look, the debate really didn't have any significant differences between romney and gingrich on how they would govern in the united states going forward. it's all about the past, in this case, romney's taxes, which we'll talk about in a minute. but let's look at this exchange. this is romney and gingrich, starting with romney with the big reveal of, we just learned what was in your contract. let's listen to that. >> we just learned today that his contract with freddie mac was provided by the lobbyists at freddie mac. i don't think we can possibly retake the white house if the person who's leading our party is the person who was working for the chief lobbyist of freddie mac. freddie mac was paying speaker gingrich $600,000 at the same time freddie mac was costing the people of florida millions upon
millions of dollars. >> now, wait a second. he just went on and on and on, making a whole series of aelss. first of all, he may have been a good financier, he's a terrible historian. the fact is, the vote object ethics committee was in january of 1997. i asked the republicans to vote yes, because we had to get it behind us. the democrats had filed 84 ethics charges for a simple reason. we had taken control of the house after 40 years and they were very bitter. and the fact is, on every single ethics charge with substance that was dismissed in the end, the only thing we did wrong, we had one lawyer written by letters -- i mean, written one letter, and the one letter was in error. i didn't pay a fine. i paid the cost of going through the process of determining it was wrong. i left two years later, and frankly, we are right to get it behind us, because the tax cut that led to economic growth, the four balanced budgets all came after that vote. so you have all this stuff just jumbled up. apparently your consultants aren't very good historians.
what you ought to do is stop and look at the facts. >> wendy, how are the historians at brown university taking this historian defense? are they offended that he is trying to blame their profession? >> well, there's a difference between an inaccurate historian and someone who makes things up and revises history over and over again. and you've got to argue that gingrich is really engaging in a lot of revisionist history. >> he's like a history creator and re-writer. >> he's a smart guy. he knows what he's doing. he knows when he says something that's not true and he's shading the facts. but one of the things i thought about the debate that we haven't covered at all is they really looked weak on foreign policy tonight. for such grand intellectual power, i thought the answers were quite weak, even from gingrich. very, as ron paul, 1960s in the approach. so i thought gingrich kind of -- but hitting historians, if you're romney hitting historians, if you're gingrich hitting romney, what gingrich should have said, not everyone's as rich as you, mitt, and i had to make a living. and that's the truth. he made a living. >> howard, let's go to that --
>> lawrence? >> howard, go ahead. >> i was just going to say, thinking over it now, as i review the debate in my mind, when newt gingrich isn't on the attack, he isn't very good. and i think having won in south carolina, he was kind of a little immobile tonight. that answer that he gave about the freddie mac lobbying was terrible. he didn't answer the question at all, didn't give a credible defense at all. and even though there was very little drama in this debate, i think as people look at it and comb over the transcript and kind of look for areas where newt gingrich was giving a little too expansive history of himself, there are going to be things that people are going to be the able to attack here. and as i say, it depends on whether romney and his campaign pick it apart piece by piece. if they do, they may get somewhere. >> wendy, gingrich's success in the last debate was all about excitement and giving republican voters in south carolina something to be excited about. i didn't see where the
excitement played in tonight's debate, for republican voters in florida. >> right. i think the air was just seeping out of that room, the longer we went in that debate. i think howard's exactly right. gingrich is great when he's making a dramatic point. but when he gets attack ordinary has to really explain his positions, i think he gets into some trouble. so i think ron paul, frankly, was the most relaxed, most entertaining guy up there this evening. >> well, you've got nothing to lose. the ron paul is in that wonderful position of nothing to lose. >> also, there's body language, right? the spacing's different now, there's more room on the stage, they're further apart, they're more tense. i think howard's right, they're getting tired. but, absolutely, romney has to keep hitting gingrich, every single time. truth meter, fact meter, whatever you want to call it, he's got to keep undermining that gingrich grandiosity and figure out a way to trip him up at some point. >> msnbc political analyst howard fineman and brown university professor wendy shiller, thank you both very much for joining me tonight. chris matthews is going to join
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governor, how about your father's model of 12 years' worth of returns? >> you know, i agree with my dad on a lot of things, but we also disagree, and going out with 12 years of returns is something i'm not going to do. i'm putting out two years, which is more than anyone else on this stage. >> joining me now, host of msnbc's "hardball," chris matthews. chris, how do you score it tonight? >> oh, it was a lot of goose eggs tonight. i thought it was a dreadfully boring debate. i have no idea what they were trying to accomplish. they must be all dead tired, lawrence. i guess i count up a couple things important to our country, though.
rick santorum is a fanatical hawk, who was going -- talking about a war with iran with such relish that it actually scared me, how far he wanted to go and how excited he was about the prospect of a war with iran, despite the concerns which brian williams, the moderator, expressed about the difficulty of such a war and the number of days and obviously the number of casualties involved. it didn't seem to hold him back. i did think it was odd for what romney said, if castro dies, he will go to another and land. i've got to think through that one for a while. i have no idea what that means, that theology. i have to tell you, i, again, thought that newt gingrich showed incredible restraint. three times he was accused of basically being run out of the house of representatives, forced to resign in disgrace, words clearly intended to egg him on, and he must be saving himself, believing that tomorrow's headlines from romney on his
taxes and his low rate of payment of taxes will be so devastating that he will let that ride. he's got enough momentum coming out of south carolina, he will take the next step, which is to exploit the impairment going to romney. i can only assume that, because he didn't land a glove tonight, land a punch. >> yeah, chris, i was struck by how subdued newt gingrich was, especially when attacked by mitt romney. he -- the text of his responses were full enough, but there was none of that punch in it, there was none of that newt smack back stuff that we've grown accustomed to in watching these debates. my only theory on it, chris, was he wanted to do an appearance in which he would create an aura of being presidential. this is what a president gingrich will look like. is that possible? >> yeah, but when somebody attacks your character, i'm not sure their correct response is just to take the punch. i mean, it was a great opportunity to say to mitt romney, the only reason you're
saying these things, let's be honest, is that you're losing. you're not -- you haven't taken the opportunity for now 15 debates to make these kinds of attacks on my character. you are trying to destroy me, as a possible opponent, because you can't sell your candidacy. you're basically telling the american people what jimmy carter, if you will, told the american electorate back in 1980. you have to vote for me, because this other person is unacceptable. what a rancid approach to the american people to tell them they have to vote for you because the other guy is no good. is that all you've got? that's what i would have said to romney. is that all you've got? is it i'm not acceptable? you can't say yourself out on this stage before a prime-time nbc audience, and you're not going to use that to sell mitt romney, just to destroy me? that says a lot about your character. i can't believe he didn't come back in that fashion. >> chris, let's go to the foreign policy question that plays in a big way locally down there in southern florida, which was the cuba question. brian williams asked then to
image a world in which fidel castro had died and the castro brothers were no longer in power and how would they respond as president of the united states. did any one of them find the right appeal to that anti-castro vote in florida? >> well, ron paul had the most novel, and it's the one that a lot of people on the progressive side has taken for years, which is the greatest opportunity to destroy a control system is to open it up, and then people see the opportunity for free trade, free movement -- freedom. and the more freedom you give people, the more they'll want it. and the best thing you can give castro is an excuse, which is what we've been giving them since the 1950s. an excuse for his failure for his system to deliver to the people, in the extent that he has clearly failed. i thought that was interesting. i thought mitt was very oldtime in his attempt to stir up the older cuban american community in havana, in little havana. i thought that was pretty tired.
but the saddest part of the whole thing was the belief that simply because raul castro dies and fidel castro dies is almost like the revolution has failed. it's almost like these guys have succeeded and the only thing that will defeat them is their natural death. there's a lot of sad defeatism in that thinking win thought. and maybe recognition that there was more appeal to the castro brothers than the right ever admitted. that it is more of a mixed bag. it's certainly a strange claim that, gee whiz, we're going to take over when they naturally die, and go to, as mitt romney said, another land, which i still think is an extraordinary use of language there. i'm not familiar with that theology. >> i think both mitt romney and newt gingrich were both trying to say that fidel castro will go to hell, and they simply didn't want to use the word "hell." >> yeah, and i don't think we should get into that kind of conversation. boy, that's demagoguery, and it's stupid. what's the point? the guy's old. he's outlived all of these presidencies.