updated 8/24/2006 10:52:59 AM ET 2006-08-24T14:52:59

Guests: Howard Dean, Tony Blankley, Eugene Robinson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  You talking to me?  McCain says Bush was wrong on Iraq.  He promised a day at the beach in a war that‘s cost 50,000 dead.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

President Bush ventures into Senator George Allen country tonight, headlining a private fundraiser in Virginia, this one day after being publicly wrapped by Senator John McCain in the battleground state of Ohio, where McCain criticized the president, saying his administration misled Americans early in the war, inaccurately portraying Iraq as a day at the beach.  It‘s not clear whether he was indicting Bush for leading the country or being misinformed himself. 

What a difference a day makes in the political season.  Just Sunday on “Meet The Press,” McCain had nothing but praise for the president.  Is Senator McCain distancing himself from the president‘s unpopular war?  If so, does he risk the loss of the Bush base and the mantle of the president‘s heir apparent in 2008? 

In a moment, we‘ll talk politics with Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report on McCain‘s pot shot at President Bush and the political battle over Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Three months until the congressional elections, and the campaign season has now turned into a political free for all.  On Sunday, John McCain, the GOP‘s 2008 presidential front-runner praised President Bush‘s handling of Iraq. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I know that the president is committed to win, I know that he will do what‘s necessary. 

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC HOST:  Do you have confidence in the president and his national security team to lead the war at this stage? 

MCCAIN:  I do.  I do.  I have confidence in the president. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Good morning, sir. 

SHUSTER:  Then came the president‘s partisan heavy news conference. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are a lot of people in the Democratic Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period, and they‘re wrong. 

SHUSTER:  And now, McCain, while still supportive of keeping troops in Iraq, says the Bush administration has repeatedly failed to make the challenges clear. 

MCCAIN:  It grieves me so much that we have not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be. 

SHUSTER:  McCain referred to the president‘s mission accomplished banner, and Vice President Cheney‘s statement last year that the insurgency was in its last throes. 

MCCAIN:  It has contributed enormously to the frustration Americans that feel today, because they were led to believe that this would be some kind of a day at the beach, which many of us fully understood from the beginning would be a very, very difficult undertaking. 

SHUSTER:  The comments are a reminder that McCain is eyeing the White House in 2008, and knows that Iraq could decide that election.  To cement his status as the GOP‘s presidential front-runner, McCain must prove to party activists that he is loyal and capable of supporting a Republican president. 

But at the same time, warm embraces with the president could cost McCain moderate voters he, so the senator must show he is different from the president and will not repeat administration missteps.  A potential 2008 challenger to McCain is Virginia Senator George Allen. 

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  To always stand strong for freedom, because with you, freedom and justice will prevail. 

SHUSTER:  But at the moment, Allen is dealing with his own set of problems separate from Iraq.  At a recent campaign event, Allen pointed to this man, S.R. Sidarth, who was born and raised in Virginia, and is monitoring Allen for Democratic challenger Jim Webb. 

ALLEN:  And let‘s give a welcome to macaca here.  Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia.

SHUSTER:  Macaca is a term that can refer to monkeys.  Allen says he was making a reference to Sidarth‘s haircut and publicly apologized.  Today, Allen called Sidarth on the phone and apologized to him personally.  The call today came just hours before President Bush headed to a private fundraiser for Allen. 

A White House spokesman said, quote, “Allen apologized and I think it‘s in everyone‘s best interest in this day and age of politics, when everyone is trying to improve the tone and discourse, to accept apologies when they are offered.”

In the midst of all of this, a new poll is bringing more bad news to Allen, McCain and other steadfast supporters of the Iraq war.  According to the latest CBS/”New York Times” survey, 51 percent of voters say Iraq is not part of the war on terror.  It‘s a 10-point jump since June, and it comes despite a key GOP talking point stated this week by the president.

BUSH:  If we withdraw before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here.  I strongly agree with that.

SHUSTER:  If public skepticism holds and voters increasingly see Iraq and national security as separate, Republican troubles may deepen.  GOP Senator Rick Santorum spoke this week on HARDBALL.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  If this is a debate going on in the country about whether we should be in Iraq or not, and that‘s the only issue, I think it‘s a tough case to make. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  And making matters even tougher, the “New York Times” poll found that 62 percent of voters believe the U.S. effort in Iraq is going badly.  And that‘s the highest percentage of the electorate since the Iraq war began. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

We go now to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, or as Bush calls it, the Democrat Party, Howard Dean.  Thank you, Governor, for joining us. 

“A day at the beach”—that‘s a hard shot from John McCain.  He‘s doing a better job of taking on Bush than your party is.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN:  I think that the president is probably getting all he can handle from all sides.  It‘s amazing how everybody leaves the ship once the policy is clearly heading in the wrong direction.

You know, Senator McCain has got his own problems with this, where he was a huge booster of it all along until now, I guess things are getting a little hot in the kitchen, so he decided to get out.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me defend him a little bit:  Isn‘t he the guy that said from the beginning, “We need more troops.  It‘s a tougher job than the president said it was?”

He (inaudible) on that line.

DEAN:  He has.  But he certainly was a big defender of the war policy...

MATTHEWS:  He still is.

DEAN:  And the truth is, the policy is the wrong policy, and 61 percent of Americans know it‘s the wrong policy.  The president has made a mess of this.

MATTHEWS:  Should we get out?

DEAN:  Sure we should get out.  We can‘t get out tomorrow.  We can‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Give me a date?

DEAN:  Well, I can‘t give you a date. 

MATTHEWS:  How about in a year?  How about in five years?  How about in 10 years?  Can you narrow it down?

DEAN:  No. I think the big difference between the Democrats and Republicans on this one is we know we shouldn‘t be there.  The Republicans insist on being there.  And furthermore, if you‘re one of the 61 percent of Americans who disagrees with the president, the vice president and the president think you‘re a sympathizer with  Al Qaida.  This administration is looking more and more ridiculous every day.

MATTHEWS:  Let me question your position:  You say not right away. 

What‘s to be gained by us staying in that country another six months? 

DEAN:  We need to withdraw carefully and thoughtfully.  As you know, we‘re talking about redeploying our troops.  We‘re talking about keeping a force in some country in the Middle East to maintain, to deal with the terrorism problem that the president‘s problems have created.

So I don‘t think we‘re talking about a precipitous withdrawal.

But I think that most Democrats would agree that we ought to be out of there by the ‘08 elections.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s to be gained by staying?  I still don‘t get your point.  You‘re saying we shouldn‘t get out now, so you‘re saying we should stay.

DEAN:  What I‘m saying—no...

MATTHEWS:  Why should we stay in Iraq?  I don‘t get the point.

DEAN:  No, no, Chris, I‘m not, of course, making any such—as you know very well that I‘m not arguing that we should stay in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re saying not get out right away, so you‘re saying stick around a while.  What do we accomplish in that little while?

What I‘m saying is we need a reasonable, thoughtful policy to redeploy our troops from Iraq, and that‘s where the president is so wrong, with his stay the course.  You don‘t make a permanent commitment to a failed policy.

We need—if you try to bring 135,000 troops home tomorrow, first of all, you couldn‘t physically do it.  Secondly, there need to be some modicum of stability as we bring the troops out.  I don‘t think anybody that I know of thinks we can bring all the 135,000 home tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if the president said we‘re getting out by the end of the year, would you criticize that decision or go along with it? 

DEAN:  I would probably go along with it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well than, why don‘t you just propose it then? 

DEAN:  Because the president has access to intelligence that we don‘t have, and I think you have to have a sensible foreign policy.  This president hasn‘t had a sensible foreign policy, but if lightning should strike and he should suddenly develop one, I would hope that the Democrats would support him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, who should a voter vote for if they‘re out there trying to decide trying to decide which party to vote for this November and they want to get our troops home as soon as possible, logically possible?    Who should they vote for?

DEAN:  I think you should vote for the Democrats because there‘s a clear difference.  We believe the war was a mistake, along with most of the rest of the American people.  We believe that the president wasn‘t telling the truth, along with a majority of the rest of the American people.  And we do not believe, as the president has repeatedly said, that these troops ought to be staying and let‘s leave this problem for the next president.  This president created this problem.  He needs to deal with this problem. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s two interpretations of what Senator John McCain said yesterday when he talked about the president saying it would be a day at the beach going into Iraq.  Either he was misinforming us, knowing better, or he knew less and he was misinformed himself.  Which reading do you take on it? 

DEAN:  I don‘t pretend to know what goes on inside Senator McCain‘s mind or the president‘s. 

We can remember Secretary Rumsfeld saying that the oil revenues would pay for all of this.  We can remember the vice president saying we would be greeted with open arms as a liberator.  Those things just simply aren‘t so. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this thing in Virginia.  The president is going to be at Ed Gillespie‘s house over in Virginia tonight, actually.   That‘s across the Potomac here.  He‘s going to be helping to raise money for George Allen.

Are you satisfied with George Allen‘s apology to the young man, Sidharth, for having called him Macaca? 

DEAN:  I served with George Allen when he was governor.  I don‘t think he belongs in public service, to be honest with you.  There are Republicans who are capable and smart, thoughtful people, and he‘s not one of them.  So you know, the people in Virginia are going to do what they want to do, but I...

MATTHEWS:  You make him sound like a knucklehead.  Is that what you think? 

DEAN:  I‘m not going to use those kinds of words. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, you‘re saying he doesn‘t belong in public service, because of why? 

DEAN:  Because he‘s always shooting from the hip.  He never thinks through what he means, and he caters to the wrong instincts in people.  And I think using derogatory terms to people of color is certainly something that a public servant might not do.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know what Macaca means? 

DEAN:  Yes, I do. 

MATTHEWS:  What does it mean? 

DEAN:   You know what it means as well as I do.  It refers to a monkey, and it‘s also a racial epithet used in some parts of the world. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Lieberman campaign:  If Joe Lieberman wins this general election, he‘s on the ballot as of today...

DEAN:  And let me just say...

MATTHEWS:  If he wins, will you accept him as a Democrat again?  Is he allowed to come back like the prodigal son? 

DEAN:  Let me add one thing to the Allen controversy.  We happen to have a great Democratic candidate who is only three points behind George Allen, and his name is Jim Webb.  Served in the Reagan administration with distinction.  There is a Democrat that the people of Virginia can be proud of, and the people of Virginia can vote for. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to give him enough money to win? 

DEAN:  How much is enough?  We‘ll see.

MATTHEWS:  Fifty percent. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I have to ask you about Joe Lieberman, because your brother is out working for Lamont.  Lamont is an impressive candidate.  Lieberman, of course, is an impressive guy.   Would you be happy if either one won, because either one would become a Democrat once they got back in the Senate?  Wouldn‘t you be just as happy with both of them?

DEAN:  Well, Ned Lamont is a Democrat.  And he‘s a terrific Democrat.  He built his own business from nothing.  He understands balancing the budget.  He understands defense.  He understands the Middle East.  And I think Ned Lamont is the future. 

Joe is a good guy, but Joe is the past.  And I think we need a new direction in this country.  And it‘s not just the Lieberman-Lamont race.  It‘s all over the country.  People are looking for a different direction for the country, a new direction, a change.  And I think the Democrats can bring that kind of change, and we have candidates like Ned Lamont all over the country doing that. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you welcome him back into the party if he joined the Democratic Caucus next November? 

DEAN:  If Joe were to win, which I don‘t think is going to happen, but if he were to win, we would welcome him back in the Democratic Caucus.  We‘re a big tent party, and we accept all kinds of folks, and we‘re happy to have them.  But I think Ned Lamont is going to win this race.  He is the Democratic candidate.  He won a tough primary.  He‘s a smart guy.

MATTHEWS:  You know, one of the concerns I have as a voter is the two parties tend to be looking more like each other for one reason—you‘re both getting money from the same people.  The more money the Democrats tend to raise, it seems to me, the more they become like Republicans.  Do you think your party would be purer and better off if it didn‘t rely on all this money from big shots? 

DEAN:  I‘ve long believed that we ought to have public financing of campaigns.  We had it in Vermont until the right wing Supreme Court threw it over.  And I think we ought to have it again.  We need to get the big money out of politics.

But in some ways, we have made a big stride.  The Campaign Finance Reform of 2002 was a big stride forward.  So you know, reform doesn‘t happen overnight, but I think we need to keep working at it.  They‘ve done it in Arizona; they‘ve done it in Maine.  And we‘ll do it in some other places in a while. 

MATTHEWS:  You might have a clearer statement on foreign policy in terms of the Iraq war if you had a clearer ideology behind your party.   You don‘t seem to have a clear ideology. 

This president knows what he‘s doing in Iraq.  I still don‘t hear a clear statement from you, Governor, as to what you would do if you were president tomorrow, in Iraq.  What would you do? 

DEAN:  Chris, I can speak for myself as president and if I were president.  But that doesn‘t answer what the Democratic Party stands for.  What we stand for is a different direction in Iraq, which means bringing our folks home in a reasonable thoughtful way.  What the president stands for is staying in Iraq at least until the next president comes—it‘s a very clear difference. 

MATTHEWS:  That seems like a political answer, that‘s why I wanted a non-political answer from you. 

DEAN:  It‘s not a political answer; it‘s a very clear difference.

MATTHEWS:  Well, saying they‘ll stay until I‘m out of office is a political statement. 

Let me ask you, if the only difference between the number of years we stay there is how many casualties we take and how many Arabs we kill and the only reason to stay there is so you can come out of there somewhat—I don‘t know what the reason is to delay it unless you have a mission.

What is our mission in Iraq right now, Governor?  Why are we still there?  

DEAN:  I don‘t think they have a mission in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Then why don‘t you call for the troops to come home? 

There‘s no mission.

DEAN:  I just did. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

DEAN:  I just did.

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to run for president in 2008?  Are you going to run for president?

DEAN:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that a Sherman-esque statement?  If nominated, I will not accept.

DEAN:  That‘s the Sherman-esque statement.  I‘m not running for president in 2008.

MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t get to finish it—if elected, I will not serve. 

DEAN:  And I will tell you how I think we personally ought to get out of Iraq.  But it‘s not a statement for the Democratic Party.

I‘ve long advocated the Korb-Catoulas (ph) plan which is, as you know, Larry Korb was the undersecretary of defense for Ronald Reagan.  He has a terrific plan which gets us out of Iraq in a very sensible way.  It‘s called the troop re-deployment.  Jack Murtha explained it.  The press didn‘t write about it, but he explained it properly.

MATTHEWS:  I understand.

DEAN:  I personally think that‘s the right way to get out of Iraq.  But the Democrats in general have a very clear difference between our position and George Bush‘s position.  I think that‘s what the voters want to know.  A new direction, that‘s what we want. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Governor Howard Dean...

DEAN:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. 

Coming up, Democrats need to pick up six seats to take control of the Senate.  Right now, polls show they could do it, narrowly.  Could they really?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s talk politics ‘06 right now.  Polls show Democrats leading in six races against incumbent Republicans in the U.S. Senate.  Can they pull it off?  Let‘s talk ‘08.  Who do Democratic insiders and both parties like to see win the nomination?

Charlie Cook has the answers.  He‘s an MSNBC—actually he‘s an NBC News political analyst and known for the “Cook Report,” which is fabulous.  Charlie, let‘s go through quickly the presidential thing.  It hasn‘t changed much, it‘s still—the insiders here in D.C. in that “National Journal” thing, they‘re pretty smart, these guys.  They‘re lobbyists and people like that, consultants.  Hillary is still way ahead.  They think Hillary is going to win the nomination, like three out of four people think she‘s going to win this thing.  Even with those four tough races, she has to face, with Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire.  Even with all four, they think she can still win it away from these guys.

CHARLIE COOK, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think it‘s a lot closer to 50/50 that she wins the nomination, rather than three out of four, but that‘s what the insiders say.  To me, she‘s got to convince the party she can win a general election.  If she can do that, she‘s the nominee.

MATTHEWS:  How can she do it except winning primaries?

COOK:  Well I think she‘s got to do it beforehand.  I mean, people have to look at her, measure up against the year, what‘s going on, who is the opposition and say yes, she‘s plausible, she can win.  If she does that, she‘s it.  I mean, eight out of 10 Democrats like her, she just has to close the sale.  Yes, I can win.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll see.  Does she have a bigger problem with men or women?

COOK:  It‘s a bigger problem—well, it‘s a bigger problem with men, but basically women are enough.  I mean, if she does well enough with women, she can not do well with men.  But she‘s got—she just has to basically say, “Look, I can get 50, I can get 51 percent.  I can‘t win by a landslide, but no Democrat is going to win by a land slide.”

MATTHEWS:  Will there be a lot of couples driving to the polls and balancing each other out, won‘t they?

COOK:  That won‘t be new, though.  My mom and dad did it for years.

MATTHEWS:  Cancel each other out.

COOK:  Heck, yes.  My dad had no earthly idea that for the longest time, my mom voted Democratic.  It never occurred to him.

MATTHEWS:  He could have saved gas.

COOK:  It never occurred to him that she might have voted any different.

MATTHEWS:  I think that might be the case in my—I really think that‘s what happened in my family. I think my mom voted for Kennedy and my dad voted for Nixon.  That‘s what I think.  Let me ask you about McCain.  Is he still the front-runner? 

COOK:  Yes.  A year ago—

MATTHEWS:  Even though he‘s whacking the president the last couple of days. 

COOK:  Oh yes, he‘s doing what he needs to do.  I mean, he‘s got to be a good party guy, but at the same time say, hey, look, I might not have done Iraq just the same.  I‘m supportive, but not exactly the same.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  That‘s what I think.  I think the country wants somebody, they don‘t necessarily want a 180 from this president, but they want a correction.  I think it‘s like remember how George Bush senior ran as kinder, gentler.  It was kinder, gentler than Mike Dukakis.  It was kinder, gentler than Reagan.  they want a little course correction. 

COOK:  A little course correction, right. 

MATTHEWS:  If the economy stays strong.  If the economy dumps than the Democrats are in a good shape.  Let‘s talk about this story now.  We look at six Senate seats up here.  We have got five of them, we know them.  That‘s Missouri, that‘s North Dakota, that‘s Pennsylvania, that‘s Rhode Island.  Let‘s look at them up on the screen.  Rhode Island, we have got six races to look at it, right, and we‘re not looking at it, but we‘re supposed to be looking at it.  There they are.  And we‘ve got, as I said, North Dakota, Conrad Burns. 

COOK:  A Vermont man.

MATTHEWS:  You have got Montana, that‘s right, you‘ve got Talent, Jim Talent of Missouri.  You‘ve got Santorum in Pennsylvania, Link Chafee in Rhode Island and you got the one in Ohio.  Then, what are the other possibilities for the democrats?

COOK:  Basically the way I look at is the five where you see the pictures and then the three, three after that, you‘ve got the open seat in Tennessee, where Frist is retiring.  You‘ve got Jon Kyl in Arizona and you have George Allen in Virginia.  So Democrats have to knock out the five incumbents, then win one of these three, and then obviously hold on to all the rest.

MATTHEWS:  OK Charlie, even though you don‘t have much of an accent, you‘re from Louisiana, right? 

COOK:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, how come you don‘t have an accent? 

COOK:  I‘ve been here way too long, 34 years. 

MATTHEWS:  I love that roll of that nice R, that nice soft R.  Let me ask you about this.  Can this Macaca thing, which is so alien to us as a slur word, I guess it‘s North African or something, can that affect this election in Virginia for Senate between George Allen and Jim Webb? 

COOK:  I don‘t think Jim Webb was going to get sufficient funding to even have any chance of making this race competitive. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you (INAUDIBLE) give some money.  He said how much do you think we need to give.  Give him 50 percent money, but you don‘t think he has enough money? 

COOK:  No, I don‘t think he was going to get any funding and then this thing sort of gets it up where Democrats are going to take a look at it, along with the other two, and he might get some. 

MATTHEWS:  Webb was here.  He was pretty good.  He was here with Miler, the guy her ran, Harris Miller.  He didn‘t seem to have the juice to run for Senate.  You have to have a little get-go, don‘t you.  He‘s a nice guy, smart.  He‘s very refined and subtle, but he didn‘t seem to have that juice like this guy Paul Hackett we had on the other day.  Hackett is something. 

COOK:  That‘s 105 on the Richter scale.  That‘s off the charts. 

MATTHEWS:  Well he‘s up there with Jim Kramer.  Let‘s go, Charlie Cook will be right back.  He‘s staying with us. 

And later a new poll shows most Americans think Iraq is not part of the war on terrorism.  We‘ll talk about that with former Secretary of Defense William Cohen.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  We‘re back talking with NBC News analyst Charlie Cook of the “Cook Report,” which is all about politics, what to expect in these November elections and of course who is running for president, doing it the best.  Here is the latest political ad, by the way, in Tennessee, for U.S. Congressman Harold Ford Jr. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAROLD FORD JR, CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE, TENNESSEE:  Once again, terrorists try to take down passenger planes.  This time, with liquid explosives.  Thank God the British stopped them.  I‘m Harold Ford Jr.  The bi-partisan 9-11 commission says our airports fail on security five years of after September 11.  And today our ports and borders remain vulnerable to terrorists.  It‘s time to put aside politics, adopt the commission‘s 41 regulations and get tough on controlling our borders.  I approve this message because there‘s nothing, nothing more important than our security. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, that‘s a new approach by Democrats.  They‘re not running against the war, they‘re running to shift the war to terrorism and away from Iraq, right?  

COOK:  That‘s right and I tell you, if Harold Ford doesn‘t win, it won‘t be because he is not running one of the smartest campaigns of the year.  The guy is a great candidate.  He‘s running a great campaign.  You know, there are other things involved in the race.  But if I were advising a Democrat running anywhere, I would say you listen to what that guy says. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he‘s been talking about port security.  We saw that awhile ago.  He‘s focusing on security of this country and the polls show that people don‘t think Iraq is part of that campaign. 

COOK:  Within 72 hours of the Dubai thing blowing up, he was in Baltimore harbor filming an add.  I mean, there‘s no flies on this guy.  He‘s really quick. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Lieberman thing.  We talked about it off air.  I‘m fascinated with it because we‘re just up there.  Both smart guys, one may be old school and one‘s new school, but who wins that one?  How is that going? 

COOK: I think that you add up the number of Republicans and the number of independents, and the Republican, Allen Schlesinger, is getting next to nada, you get 60 odd percent of the vote.  I think Joe Lieberman has a pretty fair chance of getting elected.

MATTHEWS:  So he gets elected with a majority of Republican votes? 

COOK:  With Republicans and independents.  Keep in mind independents are the biggest group in the state. 

MATTHEWS:  Well then he caucuses with the Democrats, this is weird. 

COOK:  Because he votes with Democrats 90 percent of the time. 

MATTHEWS:  And Republicans are going to like that? 

COOK:  I‘d say independents and Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think independents in Connecticut, who are probably well known to be dovish on the war in Iraq would vote for a guy who‘s the most famous, most respected, but certainly the most famous Hawk in the Senate on the Democratic side?

COOK:  Because I don‘t think independents are likely to be voting on Iraq as much as Democrats are.  And I think they‘re just going to sort of look at a lot of other things and I also think that Lamont had, pretty much, a free ride in the primary.  I think he‘s going to be dusted up.  I‘m not sure having, you know, Al Sharpton and folks like that up at his side  on election night.  

MATTHEWS:  Sharpton was with him from the beginning.  When Jesse showed up there, I don‘t get that. 

COOK:  That‘s not what you do going after independents and Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  I have to tell you, you‘re saying what my religion is, election night and what you show the night you win, when everybody is watching.  Remember how Jimmy Carter won back in 1976, relaxed, sitting in a hotel room on a nice chair, winged back chair, talking comfortably about the presidency?  He won the election that way.  Thank you Charlie Cook. 

Up next, former defense secretary William Cohen plays HARDBALL On Iraq, Iran, North Korea and terrorism.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Bush is going on the offensive with the war in Iraq at a time when a new poll shows that 53 percent of Americans believe that going to war in Iraq was a mistake and when one of the hawks on the war, Senator John McCain, says the administration misled the country on how difficult the war would be. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  It grieves me so much that we have not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.  And it has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today because they were led to believe that this would be some kind of a day at the beach. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did the Bush administration mislead Americans about the toll, the cost this war would take on the country and was it a mistake to go in the first place?  William Cohen served as secretary of defense during the Clinton administration.  He‘s the author of a new novel called “Dragon Fire.”  It‘s as new as today‘s headlines.  Look at that.  There it is.  What‘s your book about?

WILLIAM S. COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  It‘s about a rogue Chinese general linking up with a Russian oligarch Mafia boss and they conspire to find ways to reduce America‘s power in the world.  So acts of terror, a secretary of defense is assassinated through the use of an anthrax poisoning tactic and it starts from there. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  And you think this can happen? 

COHEN:  Well, anthrax of course—I talked about this when I was secretary of defense.  There are tons of anthrax in existence.  We saw the mail system here in Washington was virtually shut down with a few spores going through the mail.  New York, NBC, certainly became a target.

MATTHEWS:  Tom Brokaw got it in a letter and so did Tom Daschle.

COHEN:  And we still don‘t have any idea who was the person to launch this particular attack, but if you think about the volume of that material available in the world, sure, it‘s a real possibility.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the neocons were saying it was Saddam Hussein, because he did everything. 

COHEN:  Well, I think Saddam Hussein did a lot of things. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he do that?

COHEN:  But one thing he didn‘t engage in, as far as I‘m concerned, acts of terrorism directly against the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  And you were a long time moderate Republican senator and

Congressman before that from Maine.  You worked as a secretary of defense

in the usual reverse motto of working for the other party, because that‘s -

a lot of people have done that, Secretary McNamara was Republican and he worked for Kennedy. 

Let me ask you about this charge by Senator McCain.  He said the president told us it would be a day at the beach.  Do you think he‘s accusing the president of misleading us by underselling the cost of the war, or do you think he‘s saying that the president was misled by the people around him?  And which is worse? 

COHEN:  Well, I think it became clear, if you look at some of the statements that were made at that time, there were statements such as it should be a cake walk, that we‘ll be greeted as liberators not as occupiers, that we‘ll be able to use the revenues from the oil to help provide for the economy of Iraq and to repay any kind of damage done to our Treasury. 

None of that has proven to be the case, so I think that‘s what Senator McCain is talking about, this notion that it will be over quickly, we won‘t have that much of a commitment.  Democracy will break out. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe the president and the people you mentioned and those statements that were made in good faith or do you think the people were just selling a used car? 

COHEN:  I think the key people involved were anxious to go into Iraq to take Saddam down, and to also try and spread the seeds of democracy, so I think they fervently believed in that.  I don‘t think they would ...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re saying the ideologues between the war were basically willing to say what it took to get us in?  Is that what you‘re saying? 

COHEN:  Well, you may recall—what I‘m saying is you may recall Paul Wolfowitz gave an interview for “Vanity Fair” in which he said that there was no consensus on the reasons for going into Iraq.  The only thing they would agree upon was weapons of mass destruction. 

So that was some indication there were a number of people within the administration who felt that trying to instill democracy in that region was a long-term benefit of the United States.  They didn‘t try and sell Congress on that.  The only thing they sold Congress on, because that‘s all they could reach a consensus on, was weapons on mass destruction.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Rumsfeld, your successor.  What kind of a job do you think he‘s doing, looking back to the beginnings of this war, to the beginnings of his term in office? 

COHEN:  Well, I‘ve tried never to criticize or offer commentary about predecessors or successors.  I think he has got a tough job, I think he‘s in a very difficult spot trying to lead the country, and to lead ... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But see, somebody wrote this question down for me to ask it, so I have to ask it.  What do you think?  We‘re in a tough bind here, Mr. Secretary.  What do you think of Rumsfeld‘s service to our country? 

COHEN:  I think he serves at the pleasure of the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Not your pleasure. 

COHEN:  At president‘s pleasure. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s a scapegoat?  Do you think the people on the right, who really sold us the bill of goods, you could say, about the war—they got a lot of facts wrong about how we were going to get cheaper gas, their oil was going to pay for the war, it was going to be a cake walk, all of that stuff you‘ve just gone through.  Do you think they covered their keister on this?  They‘re saying oh, it‘s Rumsfeld‘s fault because he didn‘t do the job right. 

COHEN:  I just indicated before, he serves at the pleasure of the president.  If the president was unhappy or dissatisfied with his service, he would request his resignation.  The president has made it clear that he feels that Secretary Rumsfeld has done a good job for him in carrying out his policy. 

Changing Secretary Rumsfeld doesn‘t amount to a change of policy, so it really goes back to the president.  If he satisfies the president, that‘s what counts as far as ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s a tricky question for our country.  Let‘s talk about Iran, because I really don‘t think it has much to do with—well, it has a lot to do with geopolitics, it has to do with strategic ability.  Do you believe, knowing what you know about our material, our weaponry, that we could identify the location of those facilities, those nuclear facilities, if we had to and blow them up? 

Could we do that if we had to, if all diplomacy failed, if it looked like Ahmadinejad was getting wackier and wackier, that he was going further and further toward actually getting and using nuclear weapons, do you think we could knock him out? 

COHEN:  I think it would be very difficult, not impossible.  I think that with the right kind of intelligence as such—and that‘s the key factor here.

MATTHEWS:  Human intelligence?

COHEN:  Human intelligence, identifying sites, then developing the weaponry that would be able to do that.  I don‘t think that‘s a realistic option at this particular point.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

COHEN:  Because I think that we ought to try every diplomatic initiative and I think that‘s important because the Security Council has a lot of stake here.  We can‘t have them continue to pass resolutions and condemning certain types of action, and then not enforce them through effective sanctions.  If they don‘t measure up at this time, I think that calls into question the entire viability of having a Security Council resolution on anything.

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe this is moot, but, you know, I keep hearing from people on the right—Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol, the guys who are the most hawkish and most articulate in making their case—and they may be right that if, at the end of this administration, this hawkish administration that was willing to go into Iraq and Afghanistan—if this president‘s not willing to knock out those facilities, no future president‘s likely to do it.  We‘ll be stuck with a nuclear arms Iran, which can rant and race around that region, threatening Israel, Saudi and everybody else and we‘ll be stuck with it.  So their argument is try the diplomatic route, try everything.  But in the end, we have to hit them.  Do you buy that?

COHEN:  I don‘t buy that at this particular point because I think that this is the kind of argument you make to the Security Council.  You say everyone has a stake here.  If Iran goes to a nuclear weapons program, it will change the dynamic throughout that entire region.  It may in fact make a conflict, warfare more likely.

If we want to avoid that, now is the time to take effective diplomatic action, impose strict economic sanctions, bring Iran around to a proposal, which is very much in their interest.  We will welcome them to the diplomatic community.  We will provide economic infusion of capital.  Their people will be better off, world will be safer.  That‘s the argument that has to be made.  You make war less likely if you impose effective sanctions.

MATTHEWS:  Should the president speak with Iran, general discussions right now, unconditional negotiations right now?

COHEN:  I think it‘s better to talk than to shout and better to shout that to ultimately shoot.

MATTHEWS:  Better to jaw draw than more wars, Churchill said.

COHEN:  I think that‘s the case and I think that we should be willing to do that in the right circumstances.

MATTHEWS:   You‘re a man of great moderation and forethought and a great novelist, I‘m told.  “Dragon Fire.”  You know, if I didn‘t work every day, if I didn‘t have to be on top of things every day, I would read novels, but thank you.  My wife reads novels, I‘ll give it to her.

COHEN:  There‘s a lot of fact in this fiction.

MATTHEWS:  But you know why I don‘t read—hate these books?  Because I can‘t tell if this is true or that‘s just the novel part of it, these historic novels.  I get—I want to know exactly what‘s true and what was made up by people like you.

COHEN:  I want to confuse you so you don‘t know what‘s true and what‘s fiction, so it all melds into one.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I did like it.  The last historic novel I read was “A Tale of Two Cities.”  I did like that one.  Anyway, thank you, Bill Cohen, former secretary of defense.

Up next, the HARDBALLers dig into the latest for 2006 and 2008.  Is John McCain back on that straight talk express?  We actually like him there.  Have George Bush‘s presidential hope—George Bush—George Allen‘s been derailed by that macaca comment?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  For the first time since the Iraq war began, three and a half years ago, the poll by CBS News and the “New York Times” finds a majority of the country does not think the Iraq war is part of the president‘s war on terrorism, even though he says it is.  Tony Blankley is editorial page editor for the “Washington Times” and Eugene Robinson‘s a columnist for the “Washington Post.” 

Eugene, why do you think that‘s splitting in half between terrorism and the war that the president is saying is central to the war on terrorism?

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST:  What do you mean?

MATTHEWS:  Well people are saying it‘s not part of the war on terrorism when asked.

ROBINSON:  Well, because it‘s not really.  I mean, I think people perceive that the president has sold Iraq as the central front on the war on terrorism and I think people see him as two different things, the war on terrorism is a war on Osama bin Laden, on the Islamic fascists, as the president says.  Iraq was an elective war, we decided to depose Saddam Hussein and make a democracy.

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON TIMES:  Look, analytically, whether it‘s productive or counterproductive part of the war on terror, clearly it was motivated by events of September 11th.  Clearly it has become part of the terrorist calculation.  I think as the war has become less popular, you‘ve seen it gradually slide down, so less and less people each month think it‘s part of the war on terror.

And now it‘s apparently crossed over into a minority status.  Bush has been making that point strongly that it is and as he‘s become less popular, that argument becomes less credible.  I don‘t think it‘s an either or.  I think it‘s been sliding along with the decreasing popularity of the war.

MATTHEWS:  Now I‘m going to get any to the richer territory of John McCain‘s latest words.  John McCain is a fascinating news object, no matter what is going on.  John McCain said the president told us the war in Iraq would be a day at the beach.  Was he saying by saying that that the president misled us by underselling the cost of the war, under admitting in the beginning?  Or was he saying the president was misled, he didn‘t know any better?  It‘s only two possibilities that I know of today.

BLANKLEY:  The first thing is whether McCain was doing this out of calculation or out of impulse, these statements.

MATTHEWS:  Well what would be the difference?  One would be more honest or less than the other?

BLANKLEY:  Well the calculus might be that he has to slowly position himself in a way for 2008, to separate himself from Bush—they‘re both in favor of the war.

MATTHEWS:  Well let‘s say it‘s first degree calculation, he did it on purpose.  What does that tell you?

BLANKLEY:  I mean, then it just tells you that he‘s calculating he‘s got to be there.  I don‘t think McCain is—really believes that—certainly he‘s never said that he thought that Bush lied us into war, so I don‘t think he‘s taking that position now. 

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s saying Bush was misled?

BLANKLEY:  I think he‘s just tonally shifting.

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s one or the other.

BLANKLEY:  Yes, I agree with you.

MATTHEWS:  It has only two meanings, either he said the president was misinforming us or the president was misinformed, if he didn‘t tell us the cost of the war.  If we knew the cost of the war, we probably wouldn‘t have gone -- 50,000 people dead in that country, almost 3,000 of ours, 20,000 wounded.

BLANKLEY:  There‘s something a little cynical about McCain after all of these years suddenly chirping up on this proposition.  If he thought this a couple of years ago or six months ago when everyone was talking about it, he could have chirped up then.  This looks like calculation on his part.

MATTHEWS:  I think it was (inaudible) that once said when you‘re writing an account of what somebody just said, you say he said.  You don‘t say he claimed, he stated or he chirped.  I think if you want to give a fair rendition of what somebody just said, you simply said he said.  But from now, it will be McCain chirped.

ROBINSON: Well the chirping I think was first degree calculation and I think he was separating himself from Bush and establishing the yes, it was the right war, but he did it wrong kind of position.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this macaca thing.  Washington D.C.  loves ethnicity.  The guy who‘s accused of it, it either means monkey or it means local, in North Africa by the French use.  It‘s like one of those terrible words in South Africa, kaffir is one of these terrible words, a racially angry word.  Why do you think it took him so long to apologize?  It‘s taken like two weeks to get this thing out of his crawl today.

ROBINSON:  Well you know, he did apologize fairly quickly, he‘s just had to keep apologizing because it was such a silly thing to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it better to apologize than to confess the providence of this word?  Tony, he has yet to say where he learned the word.

BLANKLEY:  You know, this is one of those horrible things that happen

to politicians, where it‘s a little tiny event and he can‘t figure out how

to get out of it.  My sense is usually get it over with as quickly as you

can.  If you‘re going to make the full apology, make it and move on,

instead of -

MATTHEWS:  So if he called you limey bastard, would you have taken it to heart? 

BLANKLEY:  Well I am a limey. 

MATTHEWS:  Not a bastard.

BLANKLEY:  Not a bastard.

MATTHEWS:  I was just looking at how long, somebody put this together, this Webb for Senate campaign, put this together.  He said it on the 11th of August, it‘s the 23rd now.  He said it and then he said if Macaca was a variation of Mohawk, which didn‘t sell and then he said it was really just made up, and then he said he didn‘t have to apologize for it.  Then it had something to with (INAUDIBLE), anyone that wants to interpret that, it was really one of those terms.  He‘s had so many explanations for this thing and he also says I call my niece Macaca and then finally today, having yet having to explain what the word is, he says I apologize for calling you a word I don‘t know what it means. 

ROBINSON:  Does he know what the word, I don‘t think he.  I‘m willing to concede that he doesn‘t know what the word is.  I think the problem is he dismissed, you know, the entire Indian subcontinent as Macaca. 

MATTHEWS:  The funny thing is, I know for a fact, studying politics and living in Washington, there were 10,000 people of south Asian descent, recent south Asian descent, just in the high tech industry over here in Herndon and I don‘t know how many people, they‘re all voters and smart people and they‘re listening to this.

BLANKLEY:  Look, Chris, you know the politicians, it‘s very hard to get them to say I was wrong.  I mean, whether it was my old boss Reagan. 

MATTHEWS:  I just want them to say what they said.

BLANKLEY:  But the point is the easy and obvious solution is to get out there right away and say if I offended anyone, I‘m deeply apologetic. 

I didn‘t mean it.  I‘m terribly sorry and that sort of ends the story, but

by trying to define it, in a way, he‘s turned into.

MATTHEWS:  So you wouldn‘t fall for Hakuna Matata from the Lion King, would you? 

BLANKLEY:  I don‘t know what the truth was, but as to his motivation. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you be this kind to a Democrat?

BLANKLEY:  In Italian, I‘m told it means a clown.  And his mother was Italian. 

MATTHEWS:  And in Spanish it means crap, of course.  We‘ll be right back with Tony Blankley and Eugene Robinson.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  It is universal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  Let‘s give a welcome to Macaca here. 

Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Tony Blankley of the “Washington Times” and Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post.”  You know what, there was an interesting big time flutter in the polls yesterday.  The Gallup Poll, which was published by “USA Today” showed all about a tsunami, the Democrats picking up the House, maybe picking up the Senate, huge swing in the vote like in 1994, they had it within the margin of error.  Two points.  What‘s going on Tony? 

BLANKLEY:  I‘ll tell you what I think is going on.

MATTHEWS:  It looks like the House will not go Democrat.

BLANKLEY:  No, it‘s too soon for that.  Every time there is good news in Iraq or bad news in the world in terror, that is every time the polls spike for Bush up and the generic ballot shrinks between the gap between D‘s and R‘s.  So it happened when you have an election in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  But look how that‘s tightened up, from 16 points down to two. 

BLANKLEY:  I know.  But after the terrorist was killed in Iraq.

ROBINSON:  Zarqawi. 

BLANKLEY:  Zarqawi, thank you.  You know, the numbers went up and then they went down.  These have been constant spikes.  Now this has spiked out of the London event.  The question is whether it can stabilize.

MATTHEWS:  So it depends on what happens the week before the election?  Let‘s take a look, by the way, I mean it.  If we have a terrorists attack it helps the president.  If Iraq is particularly bad that week it helps the Dems. 

Here‘s what Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party, had to say on this program about George Allen.  Let‘s get back to Macaca land here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN:  Look, I served George Allen when he was governor.  I don‘t think he belongs in public service to be honest with you.  There are Republicans who are capable and smart, thoughtful people and he‘s not one of them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I followed up by saying you make him sound like a knuckle head and all I can say is I thought he was about to say I‘ve served with him, because that‘s in Washington parlance, he‘s a decent man, I know he‘s not a racist, all that.  Instead he says he doesn‘t belong in public service. 

ROBINSON:  He went the other.  That‘s severe.  He was my governor.  He‘s my senator.  I‘m not a huge fan, I don‘t think he‘s the brightest light in the Senate.  You know, is he the worst senator?  Is he worse than Conrad Burns?  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to endorse George Allen at the “Washington Times?”  You get to decide that? 

BLANKLEY:  Yes, I think that we will do an endorsement and typically we would endorse a very solid, intelligent, competent Republican conservative, but we haven‘t made a final decision.   

MATTHEWS:  So he fits the bill. 

BLANKLEY:  So he fits the bill, but look for a party chair to say rude things about another party‘s candidate for an important Senate and possible presidential contender in not exactly news. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, airing tonight, let‘s see if it makes new tonight, Howard Dean had this to say about Joe Lieberman.   

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN:  Joe is a good guy but Joe is the past.  And I think we need a new direction in this country, and it‘s not just the Lieberman-Lamont race.  It‘s all over the country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is that news, Tony? 

BLANKLEY:  That is news, particularly because on election night, if the Senate is close, the way in which Lieberman decides to vote organizing, he could decide ...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re opening the possibility that Joe Lieberman might become a Republican in the Senate. 

BLANKLEY:  Well, if Democrats say enough rude things like this, just maybe.  The Republicans will certainly offer him the keys to the kingdom if they need him. 

MATTHEWS:  If he wants to get reelected again and again in the Senate from Connecticut, he will register, he will organize for the Dems.  That‘s a fair bet, just out of self interest, right?  What did you think about that shot, saying the guy is yesterday?   

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, I understand Dean doing that.  I don‘t think Lieberman is going to go with the Republicans.  I just don‘t see that. 

MATTHEWS:  Someone is out here spreading the word.  It‘s going to hurt him with the Democrats.  I think that race is going to go down to the wire.  I‘m not taking sides.  Anyway, I don‘t have to take sides.  Anyway, thank you Eugene.  Great to have you.  The “Washington Post” and “Washington Times.”  Play HARDBALL with us again Thursday, Pat Buchanan, number one on Amazon with Bob Shrum, he‘ll take him on.  Right now it is time for “TUCKER.”

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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