'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, February 24th, 2012
Guest host: David Shuster
#5 'One Ugly Race', Joe Williams
#5 'One Ugly Race', Markos Moulitsas
#4 'Gas Bags', Coral Davenport
# Time Marches On!
#3 'State Of Culture War', Irin Carmon
#2 'Breit To Remain Silent'
#1 'God, The Devil, And Rick', Lee Camp
printable PDF transcript
On the show: David Shuster, Markos Moulitsas, David Shuster, Lee Camp, Irin Carmon, Coral Davenport, Joe Williams
DAVID SHUSTER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Romney takes the lead, now leading in the Michigan polls despite still living in denial.
(Excerpt from video clip) MITT ROMNEY: We should get government out of General Motors so that the future of that company is determined by the demands by the marketplace, not by the preferences of bureaucrats in Washington.
SHUSTER: And - living on another planet.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a Dodge truck, so I used to have all three covered.
SHUSTER: And you wonder why he can't connect with the average voter.
Calling his shots.
(Excerpt from video clip) BARACK OBAMA: You can bet that, since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their three-point plan for two-dollar gas.
(Excerpt from video clip) NEWT GINGRICH: Newt equals two-dollars-and-fifty-cents-a-gallon gasoline.
SHUSTER: How the GOP is full of hot gas.
Mid-Atlantic crisis as Maryland's Senate approves same sex-marriage, Virginia's Senate continues to ram through forced ultrasounds, leading Maryland's governor to smack down his Virginia counterpart.
(Excerpt from video clip) MARTIN O'MALLEY: They say, "Vote for us, things will get better," and then you vote for the Republicans and they take a hard-right turn.
SHUSTER: And with God on his side.
(Excerpt from video clip) KAREN SANTORUM: I personally think this is God's will. I think he has us on a path, and I do think there's a lot more happening than what we're seeing.
SHUSTER: That's Rick Santorum's wife, explaining his surge in the polls.
(Excerpt from video clip) JOHN BELUSHI: Me and the Lord, we got an understanding.
(Excerpt from video clip) DAN AYKROYD: We're on a mission from God.
SHUSTER: All that and more, now on "Countdown."
SHUSTER: Good evening. This is Friday, February the 24th, 257 days until the 2012 presidential election. I'm David Shuster, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.
With Tuesday the date for the Michigan and Arizona GOP primaries, the race between front-runners Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney is getting uglier by the day.
In our fifth story on the "Countdown" - Romney's verbal assaults on Santorum in Wednesday's CNN debate seem to have had the desired effect. Although Romney may have hurt himself today, with yet another classic gaffe. The latest Mitchell Research/Rosetta Stone poll shows Romney now leading Santorum in Michigan. However, his three-point edge is still well within the poll's margin of error.
Romney's campaign staff made an error of its own today, booking the candidate into Detroit's 65,000-seat Ford Field to address perhaps twelve hundred members of the city's economic club.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I hate standing between you and your lunch, but I want to talk to you about policy today.
SHUSTER: The former Massachusetts governor then laid out his tax plan, again, before giving comics and critics a meaty mistake to chew on.
(Excerpt from video clip) ROMNEY: I drive a Mustang and Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a Dodge truck.
SHUSTER: What could make more political sense for a double-cented millionaire than to go to a depressed state and boast about owning four cars?
While Romney was mouthing that gaffe, Santorum was in Austin, Texas raising cash at a $500-a-plate fundraiser. And Santorum was still smarting from Romney hammering him Wednesday for betraying conservative principles related to support for President Bush's No Child Left Behind program.
Santorum snapped, "Mitt Romney has criticized me for taking one for the Republican team and we all know why - because Mitt Romney's teammates are all Democrats."
A Romney campaign spokesman responded, "Back in 2008 Senator Santorum endorsed Mitt Romney for president because of Mitt's conservative record. This sounds like another case of Rick Santorum abandoning his principles for his own political advantage."
Santorum is trying to regain his advantage in Michigan with a new attack ad.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN: Who's on the side of Michigan workers? Not Romney. He supported the Wall Street bailouts while turning his backs on Michigan workers.
SHUSTER: The liberal group MoveOn.org has now joined in with its own ad attacking Romney.
(Excerpt from video clip) WOMAN: My hometown's on its way back. Mitt Romney said, "Let Detroit go bankrupt." I'm grateful our country didn't listen. We need a president who will stand by us all when times are tough. Mitt Romney? He'd let America fail.
SHUSTER: And Santorum's "Red, White, and Blue" super PAC added to the fun with an Ohio ad blasting Romney and Newt Gingrich.
(Excerpt from video clip) MAN #2: Like Obama, Gingrich supported individual health insurance mandates and lobbied for Freddie Mac. Mitt created Romneycare, the blueprint for Obamacare and - just like Obama - Romney left Massachusetts one billion dollars in debt.
SHUSTER: President Obama's super PAC raised less than $60,000 last month but scored a major donation last night.
(Excerpt from video clip) BILL MAHER: I would like to, tonight, announce a donation to the Obama super PAC, which has the very unfortunate tongue-twister name "Priority USA Action." I know, it was named by Borat. Tonight, I would like to give that PAC one million dollars.
SHUSTER: Obama's super PAC is apparently among the least of the GOP's problems moving forward.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush criticized Republican candidates Thursday saying, "I used to be a conservative and I watch these debates. It's a little troubling, sometimes, when people are appealing to people's fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective."
Santorum rejected that on the "Laura Ingraham" program today:
(Excerpt from audio clip) RICK SANTORUM: I think there's a legitimate reason to be concerned about the future of this country. I've been the optimistic, positive candidate.
SHUSTER: But the GOP's turn to social issues is not working for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
(Excerpt from video clip) RUDY GIULIANI: I think - beyond all the religious and social talks - that it makes the party look like it isn't a modern party. It doesn't understand the modern world that we live in.
SHUSTER: While the last debate made conservative journalist Byron York moan, "All in all, it's been enough to make even a party chairwoman turn off the TV. What will it do for GOP voters?"
More former GOP presidential candidates.
Self-professed Romney supporter Jon Huntsman seemed to throw up his hands when he said this to CNN:
(Excerpt from video clip) JON HUNTSMAN: I think we're going to have problems, politically, until we get some sort of third-party movement or some alternative voice out there that can put forward new ideas.
SHUSTER: For more on the GOP race heading into Tuesday's primaries, we're joined by Joe Williams, White House reporter for Politico. Joe, good evening.
JOE WILLIAMS: Hi, how are you?
SHUSTER: Good. Romney's event today - first the optics: the candidate speaking to a crowd of middle-aged white men in suits in a nearly-empty football stadium. Aren't campaign advance teams supposed to make sure embarrassing pictures like that don't happen?
WILLIAMS: Well, they weren't all middle-aged white men. Some of them were masqueraded as empty stadium seats. I mean, it was unbelievable. We call this, in the industry, a campaign advance-staff fail.
Basically, the storyline is this: the Detroit Economic Club said that there was such demand for tickets for this hot event to hear Romney outline his economic plan that they had to move to a larger venue. The campaign supposedly said, "No problem. Ford Field, we can fill it." Only, they didn't and that was something that they didn't think it through, that - how this would look compared to this big, cavernous stadium.
I mean, there wasn't a library available or a high school gymnasium or even an union hall, God forbid? There could have been some other alternative. They didn't consider that. So now, they've got a week, or maybe more, of bad press.
SHUSTER: Romney's verbal gaffe. He loves cars, especially the four he owns.
WILLIAMS: Loves them.
SHUSTER: How is it that candidate famous for discipline, who likes to tweet pictures of himself eating at Subway, winds up portraying himself again and again and again as out of touch, who is simply a prince of the one percent?
WILLIAMS: Well, it's almost the flip side of Rick Santorum. This is the Romney who can't help himself. This is who he really is and who he really is is, from all research, a product of a very cloistered upbringing in the Detroit suburbs. Went to a very well-heeled, exclusive prep school, from there went to a college where - Brigham Young - where everybody on campus virtually is like him, if not in class, then certainly in demographics. And then, from there, he goes straight into business capital, goes straight into high finance, where you have a lot of other guys who are just like him and so, he's comfortable talking this way in front of these folks.
And you mentioned earlier - it's a group of largely white folks, the Detroit Economic Club. No problem. I'll roll out a couple of my jokes. It will be absolutely fine. But that coupled - but the gaffe, the unforced errors - coupled with the big, empty stadium, coupled with the fact that he really does seem like he's in his element when he's around a bunch of other stiff people, completely overwhelmed his message. Nobody remembers it, and perhaps it's just as well, since a lot of people have called it standard Republican boilerplate of tax cuts, entitlement cuts, and memes that test really well with Republican focus groups.
SHUSTER: And the optics and verbal gaffe come at a crucial time, because the latest polls indicate that Romney, essentially, has been catching Santorum. What - I assume that's a reflection of the debate. Is the theory among the campaigns that it was Romney doing damage to Santorum or Santorum simply doing damage to himself?
WILLIAMS: Well, it was equal parts of both. You had a lot of the party establishment questioning where Rick Santorum was coming from, with his newfound liberation to talk about the culture war. That basically cut into a lot of his lead. People were wondering - was he running for president or pope? And a lot of people couldn't really tell.
So he was handcuffed from the thing that he liked to do most. He was in the spotlight for the first time. Clearly, he was not prepared - or not as agile - as he has been in past debates. So he came off as, like, a not-ready-for-primetime player.
Romney, by the other hand, has a very long record, a very big history of destroying his opponents, didn't do any lasting - he did a lot of lasting damage to Santorum, but he didn't necessarily put him away. That's why the lead has tightened in Michigan.
SHUSTER: What have you heard about the MoveOn ad piling on Mitt Romney? Is this simply the Democratic group's effort to try to lift challengers who might - I don't know, not be such a challenge to President Obama, should they get the nomination?
WILLIAMS: Well, that's it, in part, but also, in part, it's to protect the Obama brand. A lot of damage has been done to the president over the last couple of weeks in the public sphere. You had half a dozen - or two dozen, give or take - swing states where the president's numbers have dropped and those, coincidentally - places like Iowa, which recently has been confirmed leaning Republican, where you had six months of relentless attacks against the president - this is one way for them to swing back and not only sort of do damage to their preferred - or rather, elevate their preferred opponent, but also protect the reputation of the president that the Republicans have been trying to tear down.
SHUSTER: Politico White House reporter, Joe Williams. Joe, great stuff as always. Thanks for coming on the program.
WILLIAMS: My pleasure.
SHUSTER: For more on the teeth-gritting complaints about the presidential race within the GOP and among its fellow travelers, we're joined by Daily Kos founder and publisher and "Countdown" contributor Markos Moulitsas. Markos, always great to see you.
MARKOS MOULITSAS: Thank you very much. What a week, huh?
SHUSTER: What a week and when Jeb Bush says that he's troubled by the debates and complains that the candidates are appealing to people's fear and emotion, what does that say for the state of the GOP race and where the Republican field is headed?
MOULITSAS: Well, I think what it says is that he knows that 2012 is a lost cause, that this is a car wreck of a presidential nomination contest, and he's running for president in 2016.
So he seems to be, already, staking himself out some territory as sort of a reasonable person who can modernize the Republican party and take it beyond this mess that it currently is in.
SHUSTER: And as for Rudy Giuliani saying that the GOP doesn't look like a modern party because of its turn to the social issues, can the candidates turn back to the economy, as Giuliani and others would like, without betraying the true believers, the right wing, which tends to be much more active in these nomination fights?
MOULITSAS: Well, it's not a modern party. He's right about that and the reason is, is because the Republican party base wants to keep fighting these battles that were supposedly settled in 1960 and before.
I mean, things like birth control - access to birth control - this is what they want to talk about. They've wanted to talk about this for a long time but, I think the tea party really sort of opened the floodgates to let all the crazy out.
They can't even talk in code words anymore and dog-whistle politics. They have to overtly pledge allegiance to the really radical agenda and, like Giuliani says, it really is sort of exposing the Republican party for the retrograde rejects that they really are.
SHUSTER: And then there's conservative columnist George Will, who this week wrote that Romney and Santorum were miscast as candidates and that neither looks formidable for November. Is this why we keep hearing this sort of fantasy talk about a possible contested convention this summer, and do you see any way - any way that the Republicans could get somebody like a Jeb Bush or a Rudy Giuliani or a Chris Christie to actually, somehow, come away with this thing?
MOULITSAS: We'd be so lucky to get Jeb Bush to run against. Look, Republicans - the "serious Republicans," knew that 2012 was going to be a tough year and that's why most of them sat this thing out. I don't think there's any illusion by any of them that being - that being handed the nomination at a convention would make things easier for them.
One, it would anger the existing supporters of the existing current candidates, but two, they don't have an organization. They haven't laid any foundation. They haven't built a campaign staff and they would emerge from that convention facing a hundred-million-dollar-plus ad campaign from the Obama campaign and its super PAC and allied groups, defining that candidate before he would have the money to be able to fight back.
So, it would actually be a fantastic situation. Now, of course, the existing Republican candidates - any of them getting the nomination would also be a fantastic situation for us. So, I think all the serious candidates are really, sort of, throwing in the towel for 2012, looking ahead to 2016.
SHUSTER: And then, of course, there is Jon Huntsman, who was part of this field then dropped out. Now, he's calling for a third party, and that's just a few weeks after endorsing Mitt Romney. Is that the ultimate form of treason within the GOP, and is it even worse than Santorum accusing Romney of having all Democrats on Romney's team?
MOULITSAS: You know, I don't know if it's the ultimate form of treason. I mean, you had Rush Limbaugh today, complaining about Santorum being a team player because, apparently, not being a team player, is a horrible, horrible, horrible thing.
So - using birth control - that is kind of treasonous, apparently, these days.
So, there's a lot of things they don't like but, I have got to say, Huntsman has got to be the worst surrogate ever in a campaign season that has already shown a lot of really crazy, silly, unbelievable aspects of it.
So Mitt Romney, he needs to shut up. His surrogates need to shut up and he hopefully needs to ride this thing out because that's the only way he's going to win at this point.
SHUSTER: And yet, Mitt Romney's numbers continue to go down nationally.
President Obama's numbers continue to go up and the Democrats are sitting back looking at, for example, there is Bill Maher contributing one million dollars to that super PAC supporting President Obama. What do you make of that, and what are you hearing from Democrats and people who are close to the Obama White House about what they're viewing in this Republican mash-up?
MOULITSAS: Well, nobody wants this thing - nobody wants to get cocky or overconfident. There's things that could go wrong that could really upend the shape of this race.
But right now, I mean, I think that the clearest sign that the Obama campaign really is enjoying this primary is the fact that they're playing in Michigan. They're trying to weaken Romney because they know that, if Rick Santorum wins Michigan, that this thing is going to drag out another one to two months.
So, they realize that the longer the Republicans are fighting each other, that means the longer they're going to damage each other and the more money they're going to spend damaging each other, as opposed to trying to target Obama and other Democrats.
SHUSTER: Markos Moulitsas, a "Countdown" contributor, founder of Daily Kos. Markos, thanks as always for your time tonight and have a great weekend.
MOULITSAS: You too, David.
SHUSTER: Thank you.
Coming up, even Republican economists are beginning to knock down the GOP's rhetoric on gas prices, but Republican cynicism about the sophistication, or lack thereof, of the electorate will not be denied.
And why can't Andrew Breitbart apply his own standard in condemning alleged rapes when they involve, possibly, his own associates? I'll explain. This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: In the greater Washington, D.C. area, residents of Virginia and Maryland like to tease one another about their respective states. Now, the differences on social issues could not be more stark.
The fictional Jake and Elwood Blues claimed to be on a mission from God. Their story line now seems like nothing compared to Rick Santorum's wife.
Andrew Breitbart couldn't resist making wild rape charges about the entire Occupy movement and yet, when it comes to testimony under oath against one of his own protégés, Breitbart is "hear no evil and see no evil."
And the Memphis Zoo now has a creature you won't soon forget, ahead in "Time Marches On!"
SHUSTER: Gas prices are spiking at the pump, prompting Republicans to lick their chops.
In our fourth story on the "Countdown" - the GOP establishment, along with their conservative media friends, are pulling out every stop to try and convince voters that President Obama is to blame for higher prices. Just this week, Fox News claimed - erroneously - that oil production is down under President Obama. Oil production has actually increased every year President Obama has been in office.
And the GOP presidential candidates have been claiming that prices rising around the globe are all President Obama's fault.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: All because of the radical environmentalist policies of this president.
(Excerpt from video clip) GINGRICH: Well, when I was speaker for four years, the average price was $1.13. When Obama was sworn in, the average price was $1.89. So, trying to get to somewhere between $2 and $2.50 is closer to the historic norm, it's - think of it as the pre-Obama norm.
SHUSTER: Gingrich's numbers, of course, are misleading, but never mind that. On Thursday, in Miami, President Obama defended his energy policy and made light of the Republican attempt to shift blame in his direction.
(Excerpt from video clip) OBAMA: You can bet, that since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their three-point plan for two-dollar gas. America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. My administration has approved dozens of new pipelines, including from Canada, and we've opened millions of acres for oil and gas exploration.
SHUSTER: The GOP message is simple - gas prices are up, it's the president's fault, and drilling will make prices go down, especially drilling the president has not approved. It's a simple-enough message for voters to understand and it's also free of any expertise on the matter.
Energy economists have long pointed out that gas prices are mostly due to world events - like instability in the Middle East, such as the recent threats by Iran to shut down one-sixth of the world's oil supply.
As for the short-term influence the U.S. president can have, economists say it's very limited. And the price of gas has gone up since President Obama took office but - as this graph illustrates (Shows line graph of recent gas prices) - gas prices were at their height in 2008, during the Bush administration. In July 2008, gas cost an average of $4.12 per gallon, compared to today, where the price is $3.62 a gallon.
Joining us is now is Coral Davenport, energy and environmental correspondent for the National Journal. Coral, good to see you again.
CORAL DAVENPORT: Good to see you, too, David. Good to be here.
SHUSTER: If Republicans had their way, Keystone were constructed - assuming it would take a couple of years, even though the projections are that it would take much longer - what would the impact be on gas prices?
DAVENPORT: There would be zero impact on gas prices. There are a lot of potential benefits to building the Keystone pipeline. As Republicans say, it probably would generate jobs - although, the number of jobs it would create is in dispute - and it would give the United States access to an energy source - an oil source - that is a lot friendlier than the, you know, Middle Eastern, and potentially volatile sources, that we get a lot of our oil from now. So, those are definite benefits but it would have zero impact whatsoever on the price of gasoline.
As you mentioned in your intro - the price of gas, the price of oil, is set on a global market due to a wide variety of forces and building that one pipeline isn't going to have anything to do with the global - the sort of broad, interconnected, complex global forces that set the global price of oil.
SHUSTER: On that Republican talking point about oil production, Republicans and Fox News continue to claim oil production is down under President Obama. Is there even a nugget of truth to that assertion?
DAVENPORT: No, that is absolutely false. The president loves to say, and this is true, that oil production is at its highest in eight years. What the president doesn't say as often is that a lot of the increased production that we've seen is due to leases and drilling that were initiated during the Bush administration.
The Bush administration was an aggressive, you know, promoter of oil drilling and what happens in energy policy is, a lot of times, when you implement a policy it can be several years before you see the impact. So, we are seeing a robust expansion of drilling under the Obama administration as a result of policies put in place during the Bush administration.
SHUSTER: So, if Republicans wanted to be intellectually honest, instead of attacking President Obama, they should say, "Look, we should do more of what George W. Bush did." George W. Bush gets the credit for the increase in supply.
DAVENPORT: Yes, but it is true that there is - there is going to be an increase in supply and, you know, it was more due to the policies put in place by the Republican administration.
SHUSTER: How important is energy conservation and fuel efficiencies, some of the mainstays of the Democratic administration, when it comes to gas prices?
DAVENPORT: Again, these - you know, they don't really have an impact on what the price of gasoline is. The price of gas is set by the price of oil. That's determined by factors like unrest in the Middle East, growing demand in India and China, you know, international financial markets.
The advantage, you know - the idea of what President Obama and Democrats are doing with conservation is saying - if you put in place policies like increasing the vehicle fuel mileage - you know, right now, President Obama has mandated an increase of vehicle fuel economy to 55 miles per gallon fleet average by 2025.
If you have a car that gets a 55-mile-per-gallon average, it matters a lot less what the price is. The price of gasoline could be four, five, six dollars a gallon, but it doesn't hurt - it doesn't hurt your pocketbook. It doesn't hurt your household. It doesn't hurt the economy because you don't need - you don't need nearly as much gasoline to put in that more efficient, conservative tank - you know, fuel - fuel-efficient, fuel-sipping tank. So, it does not have an impact on the price but it has an impact - it means that those prices aren't going to hurt the economy as badly.
SHUSTER: And without getting into the science, I keep reading that there are certain issues related to gasoline additives that cause prices to go up in the summertime and go down in the winter.
DAVENPORT: Absolutely. I mean, we see this every single year. There's - oil refiners each year, gasoline refiners, change their blends seasonally. They change it in spring and then again in fall and that actually does, seasonally, cause prices to go up every year around late spring, right before Memorial Day. There's a - there's a, you know, every year there is an annual increase in price and then that's exacerbated, usually, by the fact that Americans tend to drive more in summer, so there's an increased demand.
But every year we see this, you know, the price starts to go up around May. It tends to hit a peak around July and that's probably when it will be a central political issue.
And then, it tends to go down after Labor Day and a lot of times we see this pattern again and again. This is a huge issue in the middle of the summer and then, by November - when people go to the polls - they've changed the mix, the demand has gone down and it's not really an issue at the front of voters' minds.
SHUSTER: Coral Davenport, energy and environmental correspondent for the National Journal. Coral, thanks for your time tonight. We appreciate it.
DAVENPORT: Oh, it was great to be here.
SHUSTER: Just ahead, there were indications today that Andrew Breitbart has a double standard when it comes to his concerns about victims of alleged sexual assault.
But up next, the unstable ways of Vladimir Putin and the bobsled he's been riding, in "Time Marches On!"
SHUSTER: Coming up, Virginia and Maryland. So close geographically, yet so far away on social issues.
But first, the "Sanity Break," and it was on this day, in 1938, Variety reported that the film studio MGM bought the rights to L. Frank Baum's children's novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," and that 16-year-old Judy Garland would be cast in the role of Dorothy Gale.
The movie, of course, was hugely successful, ranking sixth on the American Film Institute's top 100 greatest films of all time and, I believe, it was later very loosely adapted as an HBO prison drama.
"Time Marches On!"
VIDEO: Baby dances to Will Smith's "Getting Jiggy with It."
We begin, as we always do, with a baby "Getting Jiggy with It."
Will Smith isn't only producer Ron Zech's favorite entertainer. He appeals to kids of all ages. DJ Jazzy Jeff could not be reached for comment.
VIDEO: Russian Prime Minister Putin tries his hand on the bobsled track.
We travel to Russia, and check in with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Always the adventurer, Putin decided he would try his hand at bobsledding. He takes a seat in the back of a two-seat sled and off they go.
Gonna make it, gonna make it, gonna make it and - not enough mustard on that one.
In Russia, bobsled drives you.
Putin was more successful on his next attempt, but says it wasn't nearly as exciting as his favorite movie "Cool Runnings."
VIDEO: Alpha monkey attack thwarted by glass at the Memphis Zoo.
Finally, we end - as we always do - with a little monkey business.
While at the Memphis Zoo, this man noticed that the alpha monkey behind him was staring him down. The monkey shows off some of his skills to intimidate the man.
Finally, the monkey makes his move. And there he goes. Whoa!
Unfortunately, the glass thwarted his attack and it's bedtime for Bonzo. The zookeeper later described the monkey's behavior as, "Bananas, just bananas."
"Time Marches On!"
Just ahead, we got more proof today that Andrew Breitbart seems to be concerned about alleged sexual assaults only when it's politically expedient. We'll bring you the allegations involving his own colleagues.
But up next, the social and political divide is now even wider between the neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland. This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: We bring you "Countdown," live each night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, primary replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.
The culture war is raging on. As one state advances equal rights, the other seeks to roll back women's rights.
In our third story on the "Countdown" - the Potomac dividing line didn't stop Republican Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland from sparring over their respective state social issues today in Washington.
Each governor was thrust into the spotlight this week. In Maryland, O'Malley vowed to sign the newly-passed gay marriage bill. In Virginia, McDonnell backtracked on a bill requiring women to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound before having an abortion. And today, O'Malley had some harsh words on state GOP overreach.
(Excerpt from video clip) O'MALLEY: They say, "Vote for us, things will get better," and then you vote for the Republicans and they take a hard-right turn, outlawing gay relationships, outlawing women's rights, outlawing unions, outlawing all sorts - throwing all sorts of social wedge issues out there, when what people really care about is jobs and the economy.
SHUSTER: Republican Governor McDonnell pushed back.
(Excerpt from video clip) BOB MCDONNELL: Governor O'Malley is the only one that's got social issues at the top of his agenda. I don't. So, I'm not sure what he's talking about.
SHUSTER: After instructing state lawmakers to axe the "vaginal probe" requirement - following protests and media scrutiny - McDonnell insisted, today, the move did not constitute a reversal on his part.
But back in Richmond, Republican Jill Vogel, sponsor of the Senate ultrasound bill, struck down her own measure from that chamber's voting calendar, explaining in a press release, "It was never my intent to force a woman to have a vaginal screening against her will, only to ensure that women seeking abortions are fully informed and that current state-of-the-art safety procedures are followed. But at this point in the process, it was - for me - a matter of conscience."
Although, according to Vogel's office, she intends to vote on a House version of the bill on Monday which still subjects women seeking abortions to stomach ultrasounds.
Let's bring in Irin Carmon, staff writer at Salon.com Irin, thanks for your time tonight.
IRIN CARMON: Hi, David.
SHUSTER: Over the course of nine days in Virginia, we saw an invasive ultrasound bill that was on the fast track to becoming law. Then the public started paying attention and there was an outcry, prompting the GOP lawmakers to make some drastic changes. Do the Republicans not see the backlash coming or are they just defending the views that make them famous?
CARMON: I mean, Republicans could be forgiven in being surprised, because a lot of these bills have passed with only a little bit of protest from the usual corners. There has actually been a building movement around all these different states. In Texas, for example, they have one of the worst laws, where they force woman to look at the picture of the ultrasound and listen to the heartbeat whether they want to or not. They said you could cover your eyes.
So, I think Republicans really felt that they could get away with this, because it's only the usual suspects of reproductive-rights activists that are protesting.
But what's happened is that you have this building momentum where people are trying - are starting to connect the dots and say, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute, when you said 'ultrasound,' I thought that meant the warm and fuzzy kind." Suddenly, they realize that all of this is trying to dissuade women, as if they don't already know their minds and now it's blowing up in their face because people are rightly fed up.
SHUSTER: And there's also an issue of cost and that is - even if you perform this other ultrasound - it is going to add to two to three hundred dollars and, from what I see, the Republicans are not suggesting that the state should pay for that.
CARMON: There is already a great barrier to women who are seeking to pay for their abortions, because Republicans are trying to impose various bans on insurance paying for abortions. You know, we already have the Hyde Amendment, where the federal government - Medicaid - can't pay for abortions. So any burden that they can put in a woman's way, even though she's made up her mind and it's her life and her body and it's her constitutional right, they think that if they put enough roadblocks in her way then they can dissuade her.
SHUSTER: What do you think is going on with Virginia Governor McDonnell? I mean, is this simply about the national spotlight for him?
CARMON: I think he did not realize that these are not consensus issues and I think he thought he could have it both ways. I mean, this new bill is trying to have it both ways. He thinks if he takes the word trans-vaginal off the table that that's going to be enough.
But I mean, his response, just then, to O'Malley really amounted to, "I know you are, but what am I?"
Again, everybody is sort of making their agenda known. You have - you can sort of judge them by their record at this point, and each of them, you know - one of them is a surrogate of Obama, one of them is surrogate of Romney and you can just judge them by their legislative priorities.
SHUSTER: I've been living in the greater Washington D.C. area for more than 20 years. I still don't quite get how Maryland and Virginia, which are so close to each other, can be so far apart on social issues. What do you think is going on?
CARMON: Well, again, this is pretty recent for Virginia. It was only until both houses turned Republican - these bills used to be dead on arrival when one of the chambers was Democratic. And now, we have a Republican governor.
So I think it's - it's actually - it's certainly not all of Virginia. You had a thousand women protesting outside. I think that there's a real battle over the heart and the soul of Virginia and which way is it going to turn. And it feels like some of the people are actually rising up and saying, "This is not what we want for our state."
SHUSTER: And what does it say about the GOP that they are eager, in Virginia and some other states, to focus on social issues right now?
CARMON: You know, I am quite surprised that they're continuing, because I think that there has been a tremendous backlash, but what they're doing is they're being honest about what their intentions are.
You can see Rick Santorum and his opposition to birth control. He says it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that are opposite of what it's supposed to be. They want to de-fund Title X, which provides contraception to low-income women.
Again, the talk around this - they said, "If you've already been penetrated, you can be penetrated again."
All of this is really a moment of truth. We're really seeing what is the Republican agenda for women and - as far as I'm concerned - keep on telling the truth, because then voters can assess for themselves whether that's the same vision that they have for women and for families.
SHUSTER: And this Virginia bill, as far as my reading of it is - even if you are raped, there is no exception for you. You still have to have this ultrasound. In other words, you still have to go through the second humiliation.
CARMON: That is absolutely the case.
SHUSTER: Where do you see this going? Will there be court challenges? What's next?
CARMON: Well, right now there is a court challenge afoot against the Texas law, where they said that it violates the patient and the doctor's freedom of speech, their First Amendment rights. Right now, it's not really looking good. It is - for the challenge because, you know, there's a very, very conservative Fifth Circuit over there and it looks like it's probably headed to the Supreme Court.
SHUSTER: Irin Carmon, staff writer at Salon.com. Thanks for coming in tonight. Nice to meet you.
CARMON: Great to meet you.
SHUSTER: Just ahead, Rick Santorum's wife thinks her husband's rise in the presidential campaign is due to divine intervention. She's not the only one. Trust me.
But up next, Andrew Breitbart is giving the silent treatment to his former protégé James O'Keefe and it makes that outburst against the Occupy movement even more amazing. We will explain. This is "Countdown."
SHUSTER: Andrew Breitbart claims to be a champion of alleged victims of sexual harassment, except when the allegations are made by one of his own bloggers against a former Breitbart associate. And then, it's silence.
And later, Rick Santorum's campaign may be short on money, but his wife says they have something even more powerful on their side - God.
SHUSTER: All this week, this show has been doing a nightly mash-up of Andrew Breitbart's unhinged rant against Occupy protesters. With Keith Olbermann out tonight, we are putting the mash-up on hold.
However, there is something I would like to contribute. Andrew Breitbart's overall claim is that Occupy members and journalists covering the movement have shirked the obligation to report rapes and sexual assaults. Breitbart's allegations, as you've seen on this program, don't hold up.
Still, the great irony, at least to me, is that - while Breitbart has proclaimed to be an aggressive champion of rape victims - he has said virtually nothing about one of his own female bloggers, Nadia Naffe, who has made some stunning allegations against James O'Keefe.
O'Keefe, as you may recall, is a Breitbart protégé, conservative activist, and convicted felon, who is infamous for his ambush-style, selectively-edited interviews.
As "Countdown" first reported in December, here's the background on O'Keefe's incident with Naffe: according to courtroom testimony, O'Keefe asked Naffe, in October, to participate in an undercover plot targeting Occupy Wall Street. As part of their discussion, O'Keefe allegedly met Naffe at a New Jersey train station. O'Keefe then stopped to purchase alcohol before bringing Naffe to his parents' home.
During the evening, there was apparently a dispute and Naffe says she told O'Keefe she wouldn't participate in his scheme. She testified, however, that O'Keefe refused to drive her back to a train station, was verbally abusive, and repeatedly insisted she stay overnight in a barn on his parent's property. Naffe also testified that she felt increasingly incapacitated:
"I found it hard to move and control my muscles." She also testified, "It was his intent to persuade me to spend the night in the barn."
When Naffe threatened to call police, she says O'Keefe finally agreed to drive her to the train station. She passed out in the car, woke up at the station, and then got on the train.
A few days after the incident, Naffe testified that O'Keefe offered her money to stay silent. Naffe refused. She testified he then harassed her privately and publicly: "He made me out to be a tramp. He used other people to torment me."
In late December, the judge presiding over Naffe's criminal complaint dismissed it on a jurisdictional ruling, which found there was insufficient evidence to show O'Keefe's alleged harassment originated in the court's town. However, the judge urged Naffe to take her claims against O'Keefe to civil court.
Now, this afternoon, I asked Andrew Breitbart for a comment on this incident and he refused to address it. Breitbart's silence, of course, stands in remarkable contrast to his attack and condemnation of the entire Occupy movement.
(Excerpt from video clip) BREITBART: Stop raping people! Stop raping people! Stop raping people! Stop raping people!
SHUSTER: Andrew, let me be clear. Your silence in the O'Keefe/Naffe matter is actually appropriate. You didn't witness anything. You weren't involved and this matter may continue in the courts. This approach, though, towards O'Keefe - in light of that outburst about Occupy - underscores what Democrats and many Republicans have been saying about you for years. You are a hypocrite and a frequently unstable, publicity-seeking hack. Andrew, get some psychological help.
SHUSTER: It's become almost commonplace these days to hear that a candidate is running for president because of some sort of divine intervention, and now Rick Santorum is the latest to join the list of those who have been called upon.
In our number-one story - fresh off the controversy earlier this week about Rick Santorum warning, in 2008, that Satan has his sights set on America, Santorum's wife Karen has now suggested, in an interview, that her husband's run for president is also somewhat celestial.
(Excerpt from video clip) GLENN BECK: Three months ago, you're at two percent, three percent. Why is this happening?
(Excerpt from video clip) KAREN SANTORUM: I personally think this is God's will. I think he has us on a path, and I do think there's a lot more happening than what we're seeing.
SHUSTER: Hmm. Or to put it another way -
(Excerpt from video clip) BELUSHI: Me and the Lord, we got an understanding.
(Excerpt from video clip) AYKROYD: We're on a mission from God.
SHUSTER: But God's will wasn't always so clear to Mrs. Santorum.
(Excerpt from video clip) RICK SANTORUM: I said, "I'm thinking about doing this," and I said, "We need to pray about it." She said, "No, I'm not going to pray about it. God couldn't possibly want you to do this."
(Excerpt from video clip) KAREN SANTORUM: I did always feel in my heart that God had big plans for Rick. And, you know, eventually it was there - that, you know, tugging at my heart.
SHUSTER: It isn't the first time we've heard this. In 2000, when considering a run for president, George W. Bush reportedly told televangelist James Robinson, "I feel like God wants me to run for President."
And then, early last year, just before declaring her candidacy, former GOP presidential candidate and frightened-deer-in-the-headlights Michele Bachmann said that she'd also had that calling and that tugging on her heart. According to Bachmann, she'd also been called by God to run for Congress in 2006.
This is not to doubt the conviction of these candidates or their sincere belief in these divine endorsements, but with Santorum's poll numbers now on the decline, it certainly seems that God moves in mysterious ways.
Joining us now, comedian and author of "Moment of Clarity," Lee Camp. Lee, good to have you tonight.
LEE CAMP: Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: So Rick Santorum, in 2008, says that Satan is setting his sights on America. Now, Santorum's wife is saying that God has called on the family to make this run. Are the Santorums setting up the narrative that Satan is after us and God has called on Rick Santorum to fight back?
CAMP: I think he's getting his strategy from - maybe a Stephen King novel, like, crossed with "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." It's absolutely bizarre.
This is the man who believes Satan is talking to him in his head. He's hearing voices. If I told people that the Tooth Fairy was telling me how I should run the country, would you give me access to nuclear weapons? You know, nothing against schizophrenics, but we don't give them weapons systems.
SHUSTER: God is clearly not in control of poll numbers, since Santorum's are declining since the last debate. So, how might a believer explain the path that God has Santorum on now, since Santorum doesn't seem to be heading towards the nomination?
CAMP: I have a sneaking suspicion that God - this God of his - just needed some entertainment, just was looking for - because, you know, in Elizabethan times, people would pay to go watch bears fight monkeys. And you know, no one really thought the monkey had a shot, but they told the monkey he had a shot.
So, I think Santorum is the monkey but we're a little more civil now. We put a sweater vest on the monkey. So, it's different times, really.
SHUSTER: Maybe that's also an act of God, for all we know.
President Bush said, in 2000, he was called on by God to run and then, in 2003, Bush famously said that he was on a mission from God to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Why didn't God tell George W. Bush or any member of his staff that there really were no WMDs in Iraq and did - I don't know, did God also have some bad intelligence?
CAMP: Yeah, apparently. His God had no idea what was going on. No, I - this God - like, of all of them - it's, like, that God is apparently fine with killing lots and lots of his creations, lots of civilians. That God also seems to be very against, like, colored people and women and gay people. Basically, their God is only for about 12 rich, white men. That is it. That's all he's looking after.
SHUSTER: And maybe also Tim Tebow.
CAMP: And Tim Tebow, that's it.
SHUSTER: Michele Bachmann was also called upon by God to run for the GOP nomination. Did God change her mind - I'm saying God is a she - did God change her mind about Bachmann and why did God endorse both Bachmann and Rick Santorum? How's that possible?
CAMP: Again, she was just looking for highest entertainment values. Sometimes you put a little money on the bear and money on the monkey, just to cover all bases. Like, this - this campaign season has made a clown car look roomy. You know, just so many crammed in there I've never seen so many - just this gaggle of bobble-headed giggle twits all vying for our attention like box of raciest puppy dogs. It's bizarre. It's awe-inspiring, really.
SHUSTER: And does God ever call on people to get out of the race and, if so, does the Almighty, I don't know, not have Newt Gingrich's phone number or email or Twitter?
CAMP: No, Newt Gingrich is in the - he's in the race because he is on God's holy mission to get children back on the factory floor, okay. This is - he is speaking for the patron saint of child labor, I think.
SHUSTER: Politics seem to be one of the few professions where God is involved in the staffing process, as we like to say. You never hear a used car salesman say, "I got a calling from God to sell this used car." Why does God focus mostly on politics and sports?
CAMP: Yeah, God, for some odd reason, never gets - he never gets blamed for the game-losing shot. He never - he or she never - he never tells anyone to get out of the race. Apparently, he's just not involved in that kind of thing and never touches those.
SHUSTER: Candidates seem to be much more openly religious than they once were, yet Santorum recently talked about Obama oppressing religious freedom. How is religious freedom being oppressed when you're free to talk about Satan targeting the United States and God calling on him to be president?
CAMP: I know. Recently, it seems like they have reversed the word of "freedom." Like, they're using it in the opposite - they think freedom is their freedom to press their religion on other people. It's like Orwell would just stab something in his ears if he were around right now.
It's like, "Look, you have the freedom to believe whatever it is you want, all right?" I, then, have the freedom to say you make a block of cheese look bright, all right? I have the freedom to say that you're a puppet show to distract everyone from the corporate pillaging that continues to go on in this country that - you know, by CEOs that make Charlie Sheen's moral compass look like that of Harriet Tubman.
SHUSTER: But maybe - actually, we do have proof for God in this race and that is simply because of how much all of us are entertained by all of this and just how crazy it's become. Maybe this is God's way of saying, "Let's have some fun in 2012."
CAMP: I think - I think God is George Burns. He's just an entertainer looking for a good time, some good ratings. What do you say?
SHUSTER: Comedian and author of "Moment of Clarity," Lee Camp. Lee, thanks for your time tonight. We appreciate it.
CAMP: Thank you.
SHUSTER: And that's our report for tonight. I'm David Shuster. For all of us here at "Countdown," thanks for watching and have a terrific weekend, everybody. We'll see you next week.