PLAYBOY: You angrily attacked potential Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee when he said President Obama grew up in Kenya.
O’DONNELL: I wasn’t terribly angry about it. I just commented. He said, “The one thing I know is that President Obama was raised in Kenya.” I said, “If that’s the one thing Mike Huckabee knows, he doesn’t know anything.”
PLAYBOY: And yet some right-wing pundits continue to encourage the birthers and other Obama conspiracy theorists.
O’DONNELL: Yes, the number of people in America who believe these lies would be dramatically lower if the Huckabees and Republican congressmen and O’Reillys were all sharply and clearly adamant and honest. You wouldn’t see this alarming mushrooming in the number of people who think Obama wasn’t born or raised here or think he’s a Muslim. The numbers would be far lower if people treated this the way John McCain did during the campaign. He clearly said that Obama isn’t Muslim and is an American. They’d go away if everyone treated obvious falsehoods the way Ann Coulter does. She’s adamant about the birthers being crazy.
PLAYBOY: Do the ones who fuel the flames, encouraging the misinformation, do so intentionally, manipulating their audience, or do they believe the lies?
O’DONNELL: I don’t think a single Republican congressman believes there’s any issue with Obama’s birth. Not one. And I don’t believe Sean Hannity or O’Reilly or any of those people ever thought there was any issue with Barack Obama’s birth either. I don’t think anybody working at Fox News thinks that. But the thing people fear most with an audience is offending them. When you know a significant portion of your audience thinks Obama isn’t a citizen, you talk about it in a different way if you’re in the audience-preservation business or the voter-preservation business. It’s brave when someone like Ann Coulter says the deniers are nuts. She may be losing a speaking fee here or there because of it, but apparently she’s interested enough in electing conservatives to separate herself from the crazies.
PLAYBOY: How will that help elect conservatives? They’re the ones making the assertions.
O’DONNELL: She knows you need to appeal to independents in order to elect conservatives and that when you want to appeal to independents, you do not want to sound crazy. George Will dealt with this in his column, talking about these increasing “vibrations of weirdness,” he called them, coming from Republicans and Republican candidates, and that week he labeled Huckabee the newest and worst offender of them all. Will wants conservatives to prevail electorally, and the crazier they sound, the less likely they will.
PLAYBOY: It sounds as though you don’t think Huckabee has much chance of becoming the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
O’DONNELL: [Shakes head]
PLAYBOY: How about Sarah Palin?
O’DONNELL: Palin is the most recent losing vice presidential candidate who will never be president. In the television age, no losing vice presidential candidate has ever succeeded. Exactly two managed to get themselves back on a convention stage: Walter Mondale and Bob Dole. They lost. Palin knows this, and she has no intention of running for anything again in her life. She made that absolutely clear the day she quit the governorship in Alaska. She’s doing everything she should do as a moneymaking operation, which is what she is. She will never say she’s not running for president until it’s absolutely beyond obvious, because she understands the second she’s not running, Tim Pawlenty becomes more important.
PLAYBOY: Has Palin been good for commentators like you? She seems to provide an endless supply of faux pas, family scandals and shocking statements.
O’DONNELL: She’s been good for us, and we’ve been good for her. We are doing everything we can to feed her moneymaking capacity by keeping her alive. What if we treated her as we did Dan Quayle? How much is a Dan Quayle speech worth right now? She is absolutely a cable news creation. There is no Dan Quayle phenomenon, and there wasn’t after he was on the losing side of the vice presidential slot. There was no Joe Lieberman phenomenon after he was on the losing side of the vice presidential slot. I think she knows that, which is why she does what she does to keep herself on our radar.
PLAYBOY: Does Newt Gingrich have a shot at the nomination?
O’DONNELL: No. Newt is trying to make us French. He won’t succeed.
PLAYBOY: How is he trying to make us French?
O’DONNELL: He’s trying to say three marriages are okay. At some point three marriages will be okay, but not now. Two marriages weren’t okay until Reagan came along and won. McCain had two, but he lost for other reasons. At this point, Newt cannot be elected with his marital record. I don’t care about it, but many people do. I would have voted for Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather, who had five wives at the same time, if I agreed with him on policy. I’d vote for Newt Gingrich if I agreed with him on policy. But I don’t decide the elections. People who decide elections, the swing voters, apparently care what kind of person you are. Newt’s story includes stuff that a consensus of Americans finds extremely negative. Having your wife in a hospital for cancer treatment and going in to discuss divorce terms is considered uncool by enough people, especially conservative Republicans. Also, I don’t think he can overcome the optics of running for president.
PLAYBOY: What optics are required?
O’DONNELL: You can’t look the way he looks. You have to be thinner. You have to be trimmer. He would lose in the general election, absolutely, but he’ll never get to a general election.
PLAYBOY: What’s your take on Mitt Romney?
O’DONNELL: Romney is going to have a problem with Christian fundamentalists who believe Mormonism is not an actual Christian branch but a heretical branch. They will not vote for a Mormon under any circumstances. I could vote for someone who married five times, and I could vote for a Mormon for anything. Tell me what your tax policy is. Tell me what you want to do with Medicare and Social Security. But Republicans, at least evangelical Christian Republicans, would have a serious problem voting for a Mormon, and they won’t. It’s why Romney gave a speech in which he tried to explain his religion. He talked about the faith of his fathers, but he didn’t say anything about the faith of his fathers. He didn’t say a single thing his fathers believed, not one. And the one Mormon he cited, Brigham Young, he cited heroically.