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tv   Martin Bashir  MSNBC  December 12, 2011 12:00pm-1:00pm PST

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>> governor romney like to give back tall money he earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees, i would be glad to listen to him and i bet you $10 he won't take to offer. >> now a poker face from the president. >> it doesn't really matter who the nominee is going to be. the core philosophy they are expressing is the i am. ♪ you have to know when to hold them ♪ >> the stakes couldn't be higher. ♪ know when to fold them ♪ know when to walk away ♪ know when to run ♪ you never count your money zbloet we begin with newt gingrich emerging as the real heavyweight in the race for the republican nomination. the word inevitable evaporating from mitt romney like sweat in a high-stakes poker game. after slashing through his rivals in saturday's debate, newt just kept on swinging today. delivering another body blow to mitt romney, the new $10,000 man.
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>> governor romney would like to give back all the money he earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees, then i would be glad to listen to him and i bet you $10, not $10,000, he won't take the offer. >> that came after romney suggested newt should return money he got from freddie mac and, of course, it was a direct hit at romney's own money shot against himself is the day's gop debate. >> i'm just saying you are for individual mandates, my friend. >> you know what, you raised that before, rick. and -- >> it was true then and it is true now. >> rick, i'll tell you what. 10,000 bucks -- $10,000 bet. >> i'm not in the betting business. >> okay. >> for his part romney told fox news this morning that gingrich suffers from, quote, erratic outspokenness. the romney campaign sent a letter to reporters calling gingrich an unreliable leader.
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as we have seen throughout the primary, erratic is anything but a four-letter word with these candidates. the looser the cannon the better. just look at the latest nb nbc/maris poll. in south carolina the former speaker leading with 42% up 35 points from october. now nearly double romney's support. down in florida, the sun can shining on newt. leading with 44%. up 38 points from october. and when gingrich was entrenched in single digits. and the former speaker holds significant advantages over romney nationally. and a new poll from the hill shows gingrich enjoying a 15-point lead on the question of all-around ability to lead the nation. perhaps most worrying for mr. businessman romney gingrich takes a 13-point lead on who would better improve the economy. to his credit romney does well with the ladies in agenda divide
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the question whom voters would prefer to invite home for dinner. women prefer romney to gingrich by 16 points. perhaps it is his hair style. while men are for newt by 19 points. while newt's personal foibles may play a role there, his wave of popularity may come at a perfect moment. just as actual voters begin to make up their minds. let's bring in our guest now. with us from washington, clarence page, columnist for "the chicago tribune," msnbc political analyst. former dnc communicationings director, karen finney. karen, an interesting split in that poll. does it indicate women prefer romney at the polls even if they rather have dinner with mitt than newt? >> well, sure. remember what we saw some of the trends with herman cain, women will very likely decide this election -- very important voting block. be paying attention when i say this to you. so -- you know, don't discount the importance of the woman's
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vote and woman's support. remember in iowa, caucuses in particular, that is really the core of the base of the republican party because it is a long process and you need supporters who are willing to stand there and make their case and stand in the cold for quite a long period of time. so you really have to get those most motivated voters shall whether or not that will be predominantly more women or men, we don't know. >> clarence, we just learned that newt signed on to the family leader pledge and hearing to a litany of social conservative positions, including and i'm quoting, i will oppose any effort to define marriage in any manner other than as between one man and one woman. and i also pledge to uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others. i mean, that's a little bit odd for newt now, isn't it? >> well, mr. gingrich has not been a paragon of future in the past. that's something he is counter
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at this juncture. at the same time it is going to be an interesting race. you know, martin, you make a very good point about the competition n competition. three out of the four opening states in this long marathon are favoring newt now. iowa, the -- south carolina, and florida. and -- only new hampshire which in the past romney has been expected to win. and still giving a narrow lead, his lead has narrowed somewhat. and if he doesn't come out with a big win now in new hampshire, a lot of folks are going to say that that's a virtual victory for gingrich, too. he's in trouble now. got to dig himself out. >> karen, gingrich really does know how to make very personal attacks. you witnessed them personally yourself. he issued that statement about romney where -- not issued a statement but talking in the debate and he said that the only
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reason romney wasn't a career politician was because he got spanked by ted kennedy in a senate race. that's nasty, isn't it? gingrich was casting aspersions on the way romney made his money saying he earned it by bankrupting companies and laying people off. >> if i were mitt romney i would find a way to deliver something to mr. gingrich in a nice blue tiffany's box with a pretty white bo w him calling kettles black is never a good idea. this is vintage newt gingrich. as i said before on the show he's mean and he is vindictive and knows how to go for the jugular. that's part of what makes him effective and part of what makes him erratic. for? time now we have known that for mr. romney explaining his role as -- executive at bain was going to be tricky. he will say he created jobs but the flip side of that is when you take over companies and restructure them you actually lose a lot of jobs because you fire a lot of people.
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watching the two of them try to duke this out between their various, you know, baggage is going to be very fun over the next three weeks. >> clarence, we know that newt likes to take the high road and play the professor. just listen to his response today in new hampshire when he was asked about why he resigned from the house. listen to this. >> why i stepped down? >> yes. >> sure. i ran out building to convince my members to be reformers. they were burned out and exhausted. they are tired. i wasn't willing to stay. >> and that's extraordinary, isn't it? i wasn't willing to be a normal politician. i mean -- he was forced to resign in disgrace. >> yeah. i was going to say there are several different versions of that story how he came to resign. he was shown the door by his own colleagues. a number of which -- are graciously restraining themselves from going public with their real senty umts. but privately, there is a lot of
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bad blood still on capitol hill leftover from the gingrich years. and this is -- part of what terrifies a lot of republicans now about potential victory that erratic image. there is a lot of evidence that -- background to back that up. >> karen, he says he wasn't willing to be a normal politician so he left the house. has he forgotten he paid a fine of $300,000 and was disgraced and forced to resign? >> yeah. he is a bold-faced liar. his people came to him and said you are out. go now. and by the way, we are also going to go after you for your ethics violations. he had no choice at the time that he left office. but here's the thing. it is this erratic behavior and i think to some degree more than the sort of three marriages that need to be focused on because in the same way that mitt romney is a flip-flopper and, therefore, what untrustworthy, so is mitt -- mr. gingrich in that, you know, if you look at house
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past behavior and you still see shades of that very same behavior now, he's an he rattic person and he is untrustworthy as the standard -- of the republican party. as a democrat i will tell you i would love to run against him and the question will be whether or not mitt romney can get his act together and actually, you know, he hasn't really had to fight that hard thus far. >> karen, karen, when you -- you -- you know, mount up all of his misdeeds, and yet when you attack him in a debate as others did, he rolls with the punches. look at how he responded to the -- accusations and comments about adultery and unfaithfulness and rick perry saying, you know if you are going to be unfaithful to your wife, you are going to be unfaithful in business, and he just rolls with it. he seems to be able to rewrite history on the immediacy at that moment and simply take the glancing blow and carry on as if nothing has happened. >> he lives in this beautiful fantasy world where, you know, it just doesn't even seem to stick. here is the thing about gingrich, though. incredibly thin-skinned. in an environment like that
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where he's prepared for and it no doubt in his debate prep sessions, focused very closely on how to handle these kinds of interactions, mitt romney could actually learn a thing or two about how to better handle that, it is really when -- those moments when you are on the road and if you look at newt's history, when he -- gets a little bit comfortable and starts speaking off the cuff and talks about the habits of poor people which he did in 1995, not just recently, when he talks about, you know, all kinds of issues and says things that are erratic and irresponsible and sort of nonsensical. it is those are the moments that you really have to go after him and, you know, we know and n a campaign you are vulnerable to, you know, everything you and say do is being recorded at all moments and i think that lack of discipline is going to be what hurts him at some point along the way. >> clarence, a case in point, gingrich had a bit after spar over the middle east, as you know with romney rejecting newt's claim friday that palestinians are an invented people. romney suggested that israelis
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may not like that. and then the palestinian authority president said gingrich's comments, i'm quoting him, constitute ad totally unacceptable distortion of historical truth and described them as vulgar, hurtful and ridiculous. a bit like gingrich, i guess. >> well, it is -- about -- those are serious statements that he made. which are at variance with -- gee, last four, five republican presidents. i mean, they are -- for him to be challenging the very -- peoplehood of the palestinian people. makes it very hard for him at the same time advocate two-state solution which is his official foreign policy position. this is the kind of thing karen was talking about earlier that when he starts getti inting prophesarprophesa
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r ial, words have consequences and you go back to a map before 1948 and find israel is not on the map, palestine is on the map. the whole statement itself just opens up a can of worms he didn't need do. >> so much for the brilliant historian. corrected by clarence page. thanks so much for joining us. next, 10,000 reasons why president obama may be smiling on this monday afternoon. >> it doesn't really matter who the nominee is going to be. the core philosophy that they are expressing is the same. and the consequence con trast and visions between where i-want to take the country and where they say they want to take the country is going to be stark. ♪ ♪
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♪ outreach to ordinary americans, the president is making the case for a second term by laying out a stark contrast with republicans in terms of where they want to lead the country. speaking to "60 minutes'" steve kroft, president obama predicted a long battle for the gop nomination. >> it doesn't really matter who the nominee is going to be. the core philosophy that they are expressing is the same. >> what do you make of this surge by former speaker gingrich? >> he's somebody that's been around a long time and is good on tv. and is good in debates. and, you know, but -- mitt romney is -- showing himself to
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be somebody who is good at politics as well. i think that they will be going at it for a while. >> with us now from washington, dnc communicationings director brad woodhouse. good afternoon, brad. >> i imagine that you couldn't believe your luck when mitt romney, who has been the most sensible and stable individual in all of these debates, suddenly offered the $10,000 wager to rick perry. why was that so significant to you and your team? >> it certainly was a significant moment. look, i think because it really speaks to who mitt romney is. i mean, you know, politics, as david axelrod, i'm sure you heard has said, you know, is an mri to a person's soul. and you know, anythe one that can casually make that type of bet on stage as if it is something he does every day, says a lot about who they are. i mean, then there's other stuff that reinforces this. i mean, this is someone who called a tax cut for middle
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class americans to the tune of about $1,500 a little band-aids. he laughed about being unemployed with a group of unemployed americans. he's worth about $200 million. and, you know, just kind of goes on and on. >> you have just -- you basically rehearsed one of your own videos. >> yeah. absolutely. >> the dnc has been attacking mitt romney. you got your first web video attacking newt gingrich. which of these two candidates would you prefer to face? the bomb thrower gingrich or the bain capital executive romney? >> i think you just thought nail on the head there. we kind of get the best of all possible worlds in facing either one of them. speaker gingrich as we called the original tea partier, he says medicare should width other the vine. he got the government down in 1996 over the things republicans in congress are trying time pose on americans today. cut medicare, cut social security, and news ever use that
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money to fund tax breaks for wealthiest americans. so on the one hand you have -- newt gingrich who is the tea party before the tea party was cool so to speak and mitt romney who, you know, did spend his career firing people and laying off people, sending jobs overseas to enrich himself and his partners. >> gingrich clearly regards himself as a combination of, i guess, isaac newton and albert einstein. given his debating skills, though, be honest with me, would it not be -- would he not be a more formidable opponent than mitt romney to the president? >> well, look, i think -- i think that you have seen in -- i think have you seen in mitt romney and newt gingrich people who are very adept at this. i mean, mitt romney is running for president for the second time. he had the debate ted kennedy when he ran, you know, ran for the senate, you know, many, many years ago when he started his political career. and newt gingrich has been through the battles. i think they are both -- have shown themselves to be very, very good on the debate stage
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and very, very good on tv. and we wouldn't take anything for granted in a debate between the president and either one of . >> thank you for joining us. when we come back, john boehner doubles down him self is says he will reject the house's jobs bill if it includes support for this project. this is no time for the same old my way or the highway theatrics. ♪ baby baby amy burnett opened the next step broadway dance studio in jersey city with children's dance classes and expansion in mind. she monetized by renling space and added adult classes on,
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summer cam and partnering with another group on performances of the nutcracker. for more watch "your business" sunday mornings at 7:30 on msnbc. ♪ ♪ ♪ mom? dad? guys? [ engine turns over ] [ engine revs ] ♪ he'll be fine. [ male announcer ] more people are leaving bmw, mercedes, and lexus for audi than ever before. take advantage of exceptional values during the season of audi event. try bayer advanced aspirin.
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month, then 160 million americans will find themselves paying at least a thousand dollars more in tax. for more on this i'm joined by nbc's luke russert on capitol hill along with nbc's kristin welker of the white house. luke, house republicans, as i understand it, expect to vote tomorrow in the house on their plan. it is unlikely to pass in the senate as you always say. if this is another failed attempt to resolve the issue what comes next? >> that's the million dollar question here on capitol hill, martin. this is very similar to what we have seen in these types of debates in the past. the crunch time for the payroll tax cut holiday extension and all the business in congress needs to get done by the end of the year. what's going to happen? the house gop bill will pass the house tomorrow and it will go over to the senate and most likely no not even get a vote on the senate floor. and there is a -- lot of reasons for that. one, it cuts unemployment benefits from 99 weeks to 59 weeks and reform there as well as having an extension of the keystone pipeline. a decision must be made by the president under the house gop
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bill within 60 days and that's something a lot of folks over the senate and democratic sides says it is not fair and should be more of a debated issue. so where is this going to go? we will see negotiations between boehner and reid go in later this week. possibly next week. all the way up to maybe even december 23rd is the latest date i heard to try to figure out the impasse. >> the president has stated, as you know, a great deal on resolve thing matter, his speech in kansas. his appearance on "60 minutes" yesterday. do you know of any specifics as far as plans for the white house to move this to resolution? >> well, the white house isn't giving any specifics at this point in time, martin. i can tell you that it is possible we might see some increased engagement between the white house is congressional lead others capitol hill. as you know, president obama met with democratic leadership last week and possible we will see some more of that this week. you know, this is really a marked difference from what we saw this summer when there were rapid fire meetings between the white house and congressional
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leadership. the president's strategy in this case really seems to be taking his case to the american people. and there's that countdown clock here in the white house briefing room. the president threatened to postpone his own vacation and has urged congress to do the same if they can't get a deal done on extending the payroll tax cut. mostly what we have seen is the president going out and talking about this and making the point you just talked about, mayor tin if this is an extended -- isn't extended americans will pay around $1,000 in tmore in taxes every year. >> thanks so much for joining thus afternoon. >> take care, martin. >> stay with us. the top lines are coming up. >> over $500 million that went to solyndra. yes. but lately we've been using k-y® intense™. it stimulates arousal so the big moment is...
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mocking the donald and cameo by the pillsbury doughboy, here are today's top lines. >> said last week something about revealing portions of the child labor law. i certainly don't agree with that. positions over time that he and i disagreed on, but we will get a chance to evaluate nose as time goes. >> when you are talking about taking over $100 million and what your office is on the rodeo drive of washington, d.c., and you are taking money to influence the outcome of legislation in washington, that's the epitome of the establish. >> not only did i make a vow to my wife but i made a vow to god. that's pretty heavy lifting in my book. i have always have been of the opinion that if you cheat on your wife, you will cheat on your business partners. >> places where we disagree. let's see. we can start with his idea to have a lunar colony with mine minerals from the moon. i'm not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that.
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>> let's start with the last one. let's be candid. the only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to teddy kennedy in 1994. >> well, now wait a second. wait a second. rick, i will tell you what. 10,000 bucks -- $10,000 bet. >> i'm not in the betting business. >> oh, okay. >> holy mackerel. that's just a lot of money for most people. and i guess not for mitt. >> i also called him newt romney would be the ideal candidate. >> if you look at newt romney, if you look at newt romney. >> if you look at newt romney. newt romney. if you look at newt romney. michele bachmann is the proven conservative. >> a lot out there. >> this newt gingrich thing, we have to get that out up. newt and romney thing, sorry. >> let's get right to it with our panel on this monday. joining me in the studio msnbc contributor and democratic strategist crystal ball.
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and with us from washington, msnbc contributor jonathon capehart, opinion writer for "the washington post." crystal, if i can start with you, with just -- you know, as you know, very few short weeks away from what will happen in iowa, michele bachmann, of course, won the iowa ames straw poll. rick perry's thrown huge sums of money into that. and yet, according to the polls, nights rer doing particularly well. is it too little too late for them now n. >> i think it is. things have been set there. this debate this past weekend, i think, was a really critical moment. and i really don't see any stopping newt gingrich. i mean, rick perry, as you pointeded out, has been spending a lot of money in iowa. it barely moved the needle. i would say if you are mitt romney, you are praying that those two candidates pick up at least a few points because the more that they increase their support, that directly takes away from newt gingrich. >> ron paul has been vocal in attacking the king of bling for
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receiving money from freddie mac. released an ad on that very topic today and had this to say on "meet the press." listen to this, john. >> many should he give the money back? should he apologize for receiving the money from freddie mac? >> well, legally he doesn't have to but i would think that morally he hadn't received this money, yeah, i wouldn't have taken their money. just for the fact that i think it was an immoral thing to take money so it was, as far as i'm concerned, about as close to the government as you can get. to call that private is -- is not exactly accurate. >> now, john, while newt attacked one another, might we see a candidate like ron paul there who has a real organization in place and he could surprise us all in iowa? what do you think? good right. he could. he has a real organization in place but also has real supporters. if you look at the polls, he's consistently -- he has been bumping up in the polls in iowa and whenever i write about any
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of the other candidates, i invariably get an e-mail from a ron paul supporter complain being the fact i'm not writing about ron paul and all the support he has. if ron paul takes iowa, that could -- that could spell trouble for gingrich because he will have been king of the hill for so long. but also for mitt romney, who desperately needs to win in new hampshire, if he is going to go -- if he will go any further in the contest, so ron paul coming in first or second could upend the race as we know it. >> how significant is iowa in the election cycle? mike huckabee took iowa the last time around and ended up on fox news. >> right. gingrich has solid support as we are looking at polls of all the early states. gingrich has very strong support, sort of across the board. i actually think iowa is quite critical this year if gingrich wins, that's a lot of momentum. i can see him even -- winning in new hampshire and going on and
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doing -- really locking it up early. and if romney does better than expected, that's big momentum from him. if ron paul wins and gingrich has a disappointing performance, that does really put a damper on his prospects. i do think no matter who wins and how it all comes out, iowa is going to be quite critical. >> john, when you saw the debate on saturday, you watch the way gingrich handled virtually every single attack, he really did do very well when you think about it. he is a revisionist when it comes to history. we know he will introduce ideas, make up history on the spur of the moment. but you have to give the guy credit. he rolls with the punches and is pretty good at rope-a-dope, isn't he. >> right. good at rope-a-dope but he has that cool detachment of a person who feels he is above everyone else on that stage. so it is easy for him to take shrinks and eyarrows of lesser mortals. he does it so expertly and calmly i think that's the reason
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why we are now seeing newt gingrich at the top of all of the polls. he just handles himself well and people think that he's smart and he reminds them in a he is smart and he's, you know, been a leader and he has been around a long time. and i think for a republican primary voters, that's a -- a comfort there with him that just isn't there with mitt romney. obviously. >> john is spot on. there's that sense of exuding confidence and authority. frankly, some of them are incapable of doing that in the race. some emanated that kind of authority. in gingrich he is the master. >> put aside actual positions he has advocating -- >> content. between can't talk about that. >> we can't talk about that. but his performance was a ten. it was masterful. he handled the attacks, he didn't get ruffled and he was aggressive and what republican primary voters, i think are really looking for is someone
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that can be nasty with the president and can go toe to toe with him on a debate stage and not be embarrassed. i think they found their guy in newt gingrich. >> do you think that this is about a confrontational character as opposed to a considerate one? >> sure. look at all the people that were number one above mitt romney. newt gingrich, michele bachmann, donald trump even though he didn't get into the race. these were all people who took it right to the president with very bold, blunt red meat language that thrills the base. >> think about whether rick perry was riding high in polls, saying things like we need to -- ben bernanke wouldn't be treated very well down in texas and his most aggressive language was when he was doing the best in the polls. >> indeed. that's the secret of this republican race. thanks so much for joining us thanks, martin. coming up, how the tea party came to accept the ultimate washington insider.
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just a year ago the tea party seemed to be in the ascendancy. more than 80 freshmen swept into congress promising to take back government from the washington elite. shrink government in the lives of americans. immediately they railed against
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t.a.r.p., bank bailouts and president's health care reform. how is at this time tea party appears to be lining up in favor of newt gingrich? the candidate who is favored an individual main n -- who favored an individual mandate for health care and something the tea party dlams to despise. we think michele bachmann makes the point bet are than we ever could. >> when you are talking about taking over $100 million and what your office is on the rodeo drive of washington, d.c., which is k street and you are taking money to influence the outcome of legislation in washington, that's the epitome of the establishment, that's the epitome of a consummate insider. >> johnson phillips is the founder of the tea party nation. good afternoon. >> hey, martin. good afternoon. >> i know you have been personally attracted to newt gingrich in 24 race for some time. but can you tell me how is it that tea partiers can flock to support a man who spent 30 years in washington and have been
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corrupted by virtually every vice the tea party rails against. >> i don't know that he has been corrupted at all. but what we are looking for and -- >> hundreds of millions of dollars from health care system companies, freddie mac and so on. >> well, first of all, a, newt is an entrepreneur. b, that didn't go to his personal pocket. it went to his corporation. what we are looking for, or what i'm looking for, i'm looking for someone who is a revolutionary. newt led the 1994 conservative revolution in congress. i'm looking for someone who will come into the white house and do the very same thing. and that's what newt gingrich is saying he will do when he is elected and has the track record for doing it. >> but i thought tea partiers wanted their politicians to be conservative by conviction. but gingrich is clear lay convenient conservative when it suits him to oppose climate change and does so. when it doesn't he appears in ads with former speaker nancy
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pelosi. >> you know, i have personally asked newt about that a few days ago p and he says that's the dumbest thing he ever did. >> johnson, he did it. he did it, though. >> he did and it goes oops, i made a mistake. i don't hold politicians to the perfection standard. people can and do make mistakes. and as long as they learn from those mistakes and move forward, i can accept that. >> how about then the hypocrisy standard of suggesting that barney frank should be sent to jail and at the same time as he does so, he knows full well he personally banked $1.6 million from freddie mac for his historical services? >> he was a consultant. that's what he said he did. he offered them advice. >> i'm asking you about hypocrisy. >> don't make bad loans! that's so obvious. the question would be why did freddie mac and fannie mae even have to go ask him that? >> what about gingrich's serial
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adultery and rick perry's suggestion that unfaithfulness in marriage is a sure sign of unfaithfulness in other parts of one's life. i mean, perry referenced the business world. but what about that as an accusation against gingrich? >> you know, by all accounts when gingrich got married he converted to can a thol sism and from everything i have been told, he is a changed man. i will accept that. given the publicity he had recently if he weren't a changed man, i think we would be hearing about it sort of like we heard about things about herman cain. >> when rick perry makes the point that if you have been a serial adulter, it is an indication of an endemic personality and disposition to cheat and you reject that entirely. >> i believe in the human possibility to change. and like i said, from everything -- >> how do you know he changed this time? this is his third marriage. how do you know it is this time he made the change? >> well, like i said, based on
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what people who know him much better than i do have told me that they say he's a changed man. and, again, give it -- given all the attraction and attention he is getting now if he were not, i think we would be hearing about it. >> you have been out of -- gingrich was going to rise to the top and i -- i give you due props for that. but are you confident that he's sufficiently disciplined or do you share one writer's view he's literally a walking hand grenade that could detonate at any moment and do we really want a man like that in charge of the most powerful nation on the earth? >> well, i don't quite agree with peggy noonan on that. newt gingrich is -- without a doubt, brightest guy on the stage. i mean, it is very obvious when those debates are going on, he's the brightest guy up there. when he faces barack obama in the debates, it is going to be painfully obvious who the brightest guy on the stage. i do want somebody who is a visionary. let's face it, we all agree. our government right now is broken and needs to be fixted ad
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immediate someone who has the past and vision to make real change-up there. and as far as i'm concerned, the only guy who can do that is newt gingrich. >> remarkable. >> thank you. >> the coals for our steak are not quite dinner. hang in there. the war in iraq winding to a close. we will take you to baghdad. hampton pearson has the cnbc market wrap. >> hello, martin. rough start to the trading week here. last week's optimism about a possible outline of a settlement for the european debt crisis giving way to a different kind of reality today. right now looking at the stocks. dow down 182 points. s&p down 20. the nasdaq is down almost 39 points. and that is it from cnbc, first in business worldwide. the markets never stop moving. of course, neither do i.
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in just 19 days, all american combat forces will cross the border and leave iraq permanently. president obama today welcomed iraqi prime minister nuri al maliki to the white house, where they sought to present a united front after almost a decade of engagement and to express gratitude for america's role in the rebuilding of iraq. he also went out of his way to address reports of iran's growing influence on the region. >> i have absolutely no doubt that these decisions are being made based on what prime minister maliki believes is best for iraq, not based on considerations of what iran would like to see. >> nbc news's chief foreign correspondent, richard engel, was there when u.s. forces first invaded and has seen more of this war than almost anyone else. he joins us live from baghdad. richard, this appearance by
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prime minister al maliki was designed to reassure americans that iraq has a viable and independent future. but does it? and will they be able to hold off iran's continuing influence in the region? >> reporter: the iranian question is one that has many iraqis very worried. and it's fair to say that maliki is not an iranian pawn. the iraqi government doesn't take its orders from iran. but what's different now, and the dynamic that has so many people in this country concerned and other middle east analysts, is that iraq has become a shiite government. iran is a shiite government, and now iraq is a shiite government. so while iraq may be independent, it certainly can does feel a certain affinity to its fellow shiite neighbor. and there is already a tremendous amount of cross-border traffic between pilgrims. there's a tremendous amount of trade between the two countries. just to give you an example about flights, there are currently now no direct flights
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between the united states and baghdad. there are, on some days, a dozen direct flights from iraqi airports to iran. so you get a sense of which country iraqis are connecting with right now, and it's not the united states. but that doesn't mean that maliki gets a phone call from iranian authorities every day and tells him what to do. >> indeed. the president today acknowledged that, in fact, the iranians do have a downed u.s. drone and are, so far, refusing to give it back. this may be a new chapter in the story of iraq and the dark shadow of iran. but the end of this story, it's a long way from being written yet, isn't it? >> it's very hard to know where this country is going, but i think the dynamic we were just talking about, the rise of a shiite-led state in this country is going to be the one that will have the most long-term impact on iraq. the sunnis in this country, who are about 15 to 20% of the population, they're very worried they don't have a future in this
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country. they feel that the shiites have won. the heights are build busy ties, perhaps even political ties with iran, and the sunnis worry that they are going to be pushed out of power, perhaps for good. and that could lead to some violence down the road. and i think that dynamic of iran on one border, a friendly shiite government just across the border, is one that's going to be very important. and look at the sanctions regime. the united states just to continue this point, the united states is trying to impose a sanctions regime on iran, and that whole idea is to punish iran economically, to seal the iranian borders so that goods can't go into iran, so iran would hopefully abandon its nuclear program. well, iraq, the state that the united states has helped create, has a huge border with iran that is now open and trading and the united states, perhaps inadvertently, created a major trading partner for iran. >> nbc news chief foreign correspondent, richard engel, there in baghdad.
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it's time now to clear the air. and with just over three weeks until the iowa caucuses, and after 16 republican presidential debates, we now know much more about these candidates. but it's still tough to make any sense of any overall narrative or emerging theme for republicans to latch on to. we know that mitt romney has plenty of money, but few principles, whereas jon huntsman has plenty of principles, but barely registers in the polls. we know that in political terms, rick perry has never lost an election, whereas newt gingrich was the first house speaker in history to be censured, fined, and forced to resign from
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office. thereafter, perry couldn't lose and gingrich couldn't win. michele bachmann's poll rating has gone down even as her debate performances have gone up, in terms of quality. herman cain was forced to suspend his campaign after he was accused of having a 13-year affair, but newt gingrich, well, he's a serial adulterer and now the clear front-runner. gambling in any form, whatsoever, is condemned as morally evil by mormonism, but on saturday mitt romney offered a $10,000 wager with rick perry after an argument about romney's book. rick perry says energy is his number one industry for job creation, but then calls solyndra a country and not the solar energy company that it once was. here's the thing. the longer this race goes on, the more confusing these candidates appear to become. and the one person who seems to stand head and shoulders above all of them, he hasn't appeared in a single debate.