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UYGUR: The 2012 GOP hopefuls are playing to social conservatives. Of course, of course, they do it every time. They‘re going to Iowa and they‘re trying to, you know, please them in 18 different ways. But let‘s start with Haley Barbour. He went on a social conservative Bryan Fischer‘s radio show on Friday and he wanted to explain why we should reinstate the policy of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell.”
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GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI: When you‘re under fire and people are living and dying on split-second decisions, you don‘t need any kind of amorous mindset that can affect saving people lives and killing bad guys.
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UYGUR: Amorous mindset? I like where Haley Barbour mind is going. I wonder what they‘re thinking in that FOX hole. By the way, like 19-year-old straight troops don‘t have amorous mindsets? I think that‘s pretty much all guys. And how about republican presidential candidates, they don‘t have amorous mindsets? If you‘re worried about guys with amorous mindsets, this might be the guy you really have to worry about. Well, did I say something? Of course, Gingrich joined his social conservative friends in Iowa on Saturday. Steve King was hosting conservative principles conference in Des Moines, Iowa. Five hundred people attended including Gingrich and some of the other candidates. Of course, all those candidates tried to establish their social conservative street cred including Newt.
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NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: Some people may tell you that we should stay away from values and stay away from social issues. I‘m here to tell you if you don‘t start with values and you don‘t start establishing who we are as Americans, the rest of it doesn‘t matter.
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UYGUR: Come on, are you serious? Gingrich talking about values. We‘re talking about values? He had three wives! Two mistresses. I don‘t even want to tell you how he left some of his wives. All right. But look, he wasn‘t the favorite in the conference. The favorite turned out to be Herman Cain. Herman, the guy who started the Godfather‘s well, partly owned Godfather‘s pizza. And he‘s a real social conservative. And he doubled down on his anti-Muslim views in an interview with think progress.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?
HERMAN CAIN, RADIO TALK-SHOW HOST: No, I will not. And here‘s why. There‘s this creeping attempt, there‘s this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government.
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UYGUR: Who‘s doing that? That‘s cuckoo for cocoa puffs. There are no Muslims invading the country trying to take over the country with their laws and Sharia. Where? What are you talking about? You know the people who are doing that? I‘ve got to be honest with you. Christian conservatives. They keep telling us, including at that conference, you‘ve got—no, no, no it‘s all about values. My values. I want to impose my values on you. So, hey look, Herman Cain, if you say religions should not influence our laws, whoa, deal. Let‘s shake on it.
Look, honestly, I thought that was the whole point of the conservative principles meet-up, but apparently not. Herman Cain ended up of course winning the straw poll. Now, I say of course, but that‘s a little surprising. But don‘t get too excited only 127 people voted. What were the others doing? This massively political event, year on these guys and out of the 500 only 127 voted. The rest were like go, thanks for the barbecue, I‘ll see you later. I don‘t know if they had a barbecue. OK. So in the end, it‘s up to Bachmann to bring home the social issues that were important because the founding fathers said so point.
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REP. MICHELLE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: The truth is, social conservatism is fiscal conservatism. John Adams wrote, it is only for moral and religious nation, this constitution that we write. It is wholly unsuited for any other. You cannot build a nation unless it is built upon a rock solid foundation.
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UYGUR: Like Sharia law. I‘m sorry, that‘s the wrong religion. No, no, we don‘t want that—we want the Christian religion enforced on everybody else. By the way, the founding fathers, here‘s something else they say, don‘t mix church and state. Don‘t do it. In fact, we‘re going to—in the constitution. Don‘t do it, it‘s a bad idea. Funny how she didn‘t quote that part. Now, for the first of 2012 though, the important question is, will this focus on social issues help or hurt these Republicans? Let‘s find out.
Joining me now is David Milbank, national political correspondent, columnist for “The Washington Post,” and Steve Kornacki, political columnist for Salon.com. All right. The anonymous start with you. Going over there and running on these issues, is it a good idea or bad idea politically?
DAVID MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it‘s not as if it‘s a choice. It‘s the only way you can survive. I mean, that‘s why a guy like Tim Pawlenty wasn‘t participating in this one. But at the last cattle called here in Iowa, they guy sounded like a southern preacher. He even adopted a phony southern accent as best I could tell. And you know, of course, Haley Barbour is—you know, his definition of conservatism is, you know, getting the baked potatoes instead of the onion rings at his steak house. But all of these guys know that particularly in Iowa but a large extent across the country. The social conservatives are the gate keeper. So, whether or not it‘s good politics in the campaign against Obama is irrelevant. They‘re not going to get the nomination unless they satisfy the religious conservatives.
UYGUR: I want to come back to Pawlenty later because he‘s one of my favorites. But Steve, let me ask you this. Mitt Romney didn‘t go, Pawlenty didn‘t go as Dana pointed out. Why didn‘t they go if these guys are the gatekeepers?
STEVE KORNACKI, POLITICAL COLUMNIST: Well, you know, you don‘t think Romney wanted to show up and promise to engage in discriminatory hiring as his first act as president. Maybe he could have be Herman Cain in this straw poll. It makes perfect sense in Romney, what you think, this strategy at this point for Romney to a lesser extent, you know, Pawlenty is to be sort of the last, you know, say this within the realm of the Republican Party, the last seen guy standing. So, you let Iowa go, you let one of the early states go and maybe in a worst case scenario for the Republican Party, someone like Michele Bachmann comes out and wins Iowa. And then if you‘re Mitt Romney, you‘re sitting there and you‘re hoping that, you know, still 50, 60, 70 percent of the Republican Party is sane enough to look at that and say, absolutely not. No way. We‘ve got a problem with Mitt Romney, let‘s go make the nominee now.
UYGUR: Now, those are two really interesting points. First off, let me go to you on this. Can Romney win without winning Iowa? I mean, Iowa is pretty damn important as we saw with Barack Obama‘s candidacy. Last time around, and second of all, does Michele Bachmann have a real shot at Iowa?
MILBANK: Well, certainly those of us in the journalistic party hope so. Because she‘s been an endless source of amusement to us. But, you know, look, it has always been calculated. And John McCain was the real test, can you ignore Iowa and get away with it. He ignored it in 2000 and didn‘t quite get away with it. So in theory, you can do that. In practice, it will be a very difficult to pull that off for him.
UYGUR: So, if Bachmann—Bachmann gets—wins Iowa, OK, if that‘s a big if, but I think it‘s possible. Because she energizes the crowd like no other.
KORNACKI: From your lips to God‘s ears.
UYGUR: If she does that, is she a real contender?
KORNACKI: No, I don‘t think so. I mean, I still think, I think the Republican Party has obviously clearly for decades now been moving farther and farther in the right in the way information flows now. You know, it really is tougher than ever to get away from a Bachmann message and succeed in the Republican Party. But I think history still shows a little bit, you know, 22 years ago, Pat Robertson went out to Iowa, got 25 percent of the vote in the caucuses. He‘ll be the sitting vice president. Alan Keyes got third place there in 2000. So, they‘ve been coming closer and closer to this moment. You know, there used to be somebody like George W. Bush who, you know, could sort of tower over them and he could be acceptable to enough social conservatives and then you can have the establishment. I think, now you reach them but there‘s not that great acceptable guy who can run and can sort of, you know, nip these guys in the bud there.
UYGUR: I know, but look, if she wins in Iowa, are you sure she‘s not going to win in South Carolina?
KORNACKI: Yes. Here‘s what it is. It‘s what happened when Pat Buchanan beat Bob Dole in the New Hampshire primary in 1996. The Republicans did not like Bob Dole. He—with 73-years-old, put everybody to sleep. But they said, you know, what? We‘ll put the sleepy old man up because there‘s no way we‘ll put Pat Buchanan up.
UYGUR: All right. Well, look, I don‘t know if that‘s the same Republican Party, I mean this Republican Party is a lot crazier. And they love Bachmann. That‘s what the crowd seems to indicate. But Dana, look, I liked the two people from Minnesota on the republican side. That‘s me coming back to Pawlenty who I think is the dullest candidate we‘ve had in a long, long time. And I want to play a game with the audience before I ask you, OK? We all know he was governor of Minnesota, you watch the news you know that, right? What else has Pawlenty done? Give him time, give him time. I don‘t know. I don‘t even know. Dana, what has he done? I think Bachmann has a ten times better chance than Pawlenty. What do you think?
MILBANK: Well, I mean, Tim Pawlenty was a champion for cap and trade. Oh, wait. He‘s taken that back now. So, never mind. Now, look, he‘s a guy—look, governors are—should be competitive in a general election. He‘s got a decent record of running in what is primarily a blue state. But the primary electorate doesn‘t necessarily want to hear about that right now. And I think Cenk your point about yes, you know, the South Carolina electorate is going to look a lot like Iowa. And it is correct overall, things are different in New Hampshire, but in general, the religious conservatives have come to dominate the republican electorate throughout the country now, just because it‘s gotten to be a narrower and narrower slice that‘s making that decision. So, I don‘t think it‘s all impossible that a Michele Bachmann getting the voters that would otherwise have gone to Sarah Palin can become not necessarily the winner but a very strong contender.
UYGUR: Yes, it‘s fun man. It‘s a fascinating conversation. It‘s going to go on for a while of course. Dana Milbank, Steve Kornacki, thank you both for your time tonight. We appreciate it.