updated 9/21/2006 11:08:15 AM ET 2006-09-21T15:08:15

Guests: Steve McMahon, Ben Ginsberg, John Danforth, Jim Webb, Rajiv Chandrasekaran

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  President Bush takes it from two leaders.  Yesterday, Ahmadinejad of Iran and today Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.  His attacks on American forces in Iraq increase and more Iraqis are killed.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Today, before the entire world community at the U.N., Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called President Bush the devil himself.  It comes after a day of President Bush‘s vow to stay in Iraq to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and his tough talk towards both Syria and Iran.

And Republicans are still locked in a family fight over how to treat terrorists.  Who‘s right, George Bush or John McCain?  And can they make a deal?  Our guests tonight include a “Washington Post” reported who gives us his expose on all the horrible U.S. mistakes in Iraq.  Plus, Bush‘s former U.N. ambassador John Danforth and in an exclusive interview, Virginia‘s Democratic Senate nominee, Jim Webb, all come here to play HARDBALL.

We begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster on the fight within the Republican Party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today President Bush met with Republican congressional leaders at the White House amidst new signs that GOP infighting over terror detainee legislation is even deeper than has been publicly acknowledged.  Last night, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist noted that a proposal from Republicans Lindsey Graham, John McCain and John Warner may have 50 votes, but doesn‘t have the 60 needed to get around a filibuster from backers of the more stringent White House bill.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER:  It is very clear to me that the Warner/McCain/Graham bill does not have sufficient votes, does not have 60 votes.  That is very clear to me now.

SHUSTER:  The threat of Republicans, the majority party using a filibuster to block other Republicans is remarkable and it something that Frist in a hastily arranged speech today said he hopes to avoid.

FRIST:  I am hopeful that very soon agreement can be reached with the president and with the majority of Republicans who believe, who know that we need an effective interrogation program.

SHUSTER:  Seven weeks before the congressional elections, the GOP infighting is not just contained in the U.S. Senate.  In the House where the president almost always gets Republicans to follow his lead, judiciary committee chairman James Sensenbrenner was recently forced to scrap a bill on the president‘s warrantless wiretap program because several Republicans explained about civil liberties.

Today, Republican Heather Wilson facing a tough re-election battle offered an alternative, but her measure would require White House concessions, including greater congressional oversight and more access by lawmakers to classified intelligence information. 

White House officials are signaling the compromise is acceptable and they believe it could heal at least part of the GOP split over the scope of presidential authority.  But the wiretap program isn‘t nearly as divisive as the president‘s proposals for terror detainees.  The White House wants a law that narrowly interprets rules under the Geneva Convention.  That narrow definition would allow CIA officers to continue to use harsh interrogation techniques against terror suspects.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  So Congress has got a decision to make.  Do you want the program to go forward or not?  I strongly recommend that this program go forward in order for us to be able to protect America.

SHUSTER:  But Senator McCain and his group are standing firm in their position that Congress should not reinterpret the Geneva Convention‘s ban on treating detainees inhumanely.  And the McCain-led Republicans have been joined by the former secretary of state Colin Powell.  Last week Powell said in a letter, quote, “the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  General Powell has said and I feel the same way this isn‘t a matter of difference of policy.  This is a matter of conscience.

SHUSTER:  White House officials and Senator McCain both say negotiations are continuing.  But it is a delicate issue.  And when McCain was informed about the harsh criticism from Bill Frist and the suggestion that McCain might face a Republican filibuster, the Arizona senator stated curtly, quote, “our negotiations are with the White House.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Late today, the prospects for legislation remained unclear and the only thing Republican leaders seemed able to agree on was that they would not be appearing in front of the television cameras.  Congress is supposed to head into recess next week and Chris, Democrats say they‘re enjoying the Republican infighting and the Democrats also say they will savor this coming election even more if the Republican-led Congress leaves town next week empty handed.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll have to see who is winning right now.  Thank you very much David Shuster for that report. 

So the question we ask is, is  this debating over torture helping or hurting the Republican Party ahead of the midterm elections?  Joining me right now is the host of “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY,” Joe Scarborough.  What‘s your verdict?  Is this a clever ploy by the Republicans to put the focus on terrorism and away from Iraq?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  Well, if you‘re a Republican, you hope they‘re that smart.  But you‘re exactly right, Chris, when you talk about the difference between the debate on the war on terror and the war on Iraq.  When politicians debating Iraq, it cuts against Republicans badly.  When you talk about the war on terror, any time you talk about the war on terror, it is positive for the GOP and in this case, were the president on the top of the ticket, were he running against John Kerry or an Al Gore in 2006, then he could be called a extremist being too far right for his own party. 

But in this case, all Republicans are winners.  If you were Chris Shays up in Connecticut, you can point to John McCain and say, see, that is my Republican Party, I‘m a moderate just like John McCain.  If you‘re Katherine Harris or if you‘re a congressman running in northwest Florida, you say, listen, those liberal Republicans and Democrats can protect detainees rights—they wouldn‘t say that, they‘d say terrorists right all they want—I‘m sticking with the president.  So in this case, everybody is a winner.

MATTHEWS:  Well let me ask you a long-headed question.  Is this a precursor of the battle for succession between the Bushies, those who want to be seen as loyal to the president and those who want to be seen as change agents, someone to follow this president as a Republican who will be a bit different?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, as you know, Chris, and I thank you for deferring to me because you know the answer to it.  Everybody has looked past George Bush.  George Bush politically right now he may have power, but as president of the United States, but politically within his party he is a lame duck.  Everybody is already looking at John McCain or Rudy Giuliani or Bill Frist or whomever is running in 2008. 

They‘ve already picked sides, they‘re already trying to run those presidential campaigns in their own state.  So they really don‘t care what George Bush thinks.  They want to know right now—how are they going to be protected in 2008 and they‘re looking at the line of succession and right now it is looking, as you know, very good for John McCain.  So that‘s who they are worried about right now.  Either you‘re for McCain or you‘re against McCain.  And if you‘re against McCain, you better do it politely.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this absurd situation at the United Nations today.  And I grew up with Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the table up at the U.N. and making a fool out of himself, I guess to everybody but the people back in the Ukraine or wherever he came from—this guy Hugo Chavez comes in there, makes fun of the president, making fun of not just calling him the devil, but saying he left flatulence in the room.  I just have never heard a public discourse like this, if you‘d call it a discourse.  Here‘s the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, a man of the hard left talking about our president at the U.N. today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGO CHAVEZ, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator):  Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this roster, the president of the United States, the gentleman to who I refer to as the devil came here talking as if he owned the world, truly as the owner of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well there is another quote where he said the smell of sulfur is still in the chamber.  That‘s a little bit of a high school comment if I‘ve ever heard of one, Joe.  But it shows I guess that the people don‘t fear the president.

SCARBOROUGH:  No.  And it also, of course, plays into the president‘s hand.  And, you know...

MATTHEWS:  .. How so?  Explain that.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, because you‘re judged many times by your enemies and you have the president going in, delivering an address yesterday about democracy and freedom and staying the course in Iraq and it may have been unpopular, but contrast that to the guy who denied the Holocaust and extremists out of Iran, compare that to Hugo Chavez and these two cartoon characters have done the impossible.

They made George Bush look Churchillian.  I think the White House is glad Chavez played the U.N. the way he did.  He also insulted that body saying that they were helpless and just a deliberative body and could do little more.  So all in all, I think it is a win for President Bush.

MATTHEWS:  You know, the columnist Bob Novak for years has referred to the U.N. as a bunch of third-world bozos.  I think that was one of his funniest lines.  Do you think that‘s going to cement that image for the Americans?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well it certainly does and again, all of this filters into the American electorate, and they look at people like Chavez and they look at the Iranian leader, they look at some of the extremists on the left and, you know, just—and also they look at Hollywood stars like Rosie O‘Donnell saying Christians pose as great a threat to America as Islamic extremists.  And George Bush‘s enemies don‘t realize anymore than President Clinton‘s enemies in the 1990s realized that this is a sort of extremism that actually empowers their enemy. 

George bush is stronger when Hugo Chavez looks like an absolute left wing, stark raving lunatic and calls him the devil, just like the Republicans have always politically gained from Hollywood extremists stepping out and saying incredibly stupid things. 

So I suspect the White House and Karl Rove will know how to use this for the White House‘s benefit. 

MATTHEWS:  And I think the danger course in the long run is that, although that cartoon will have its effect, and the president will win this round, it does take away from the long term problem we face of erosion of American prestige in the world and our growing level of hostility to us.  And what that‘s going to mean to our kids. 

Joe Scarborough, good thought.  Thanks a lot.

SCARBOROUGH:  What I—very quickly,  what I was just going to say, of course, the president‘s unilateralism has hurt this country.  I don‘t want to detract from that.  But remember, we were loathed in the United Nations for 30 or 40 years during the Cold War also.  We survived Kruschev banging his heels on his desk, and we‘ll survive this too. 

MATTHEWS:  Kruschev, I feel nostalgic for that old bastard.  Anyway, coming up, Hardballers Ben Ginsberg and Steve McMahon will be here. 

Is the battle among Republicans overshadowing the battle to control the Congress this November?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Who is the number one star of Democratic campaign ads these days?  George W. Bush.  Big surprise.  With the president‘s job approval coming back up to 44 percent now, and with the match-up of who you‘re going to vote for for Congress about even right now, are Democrats getting the job done with these anti-Bush ads?

Here to talk about it is Republican strategist Ben Ginsberg—longtime no see, don‘t be a stranger—and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon. 

Well, Steve, you‘re on the hot seat.  Bush is coming back up.  Let‘s look at these polls right now.  They are the Gallup numbers, and by the way, they are first rate numbers.  We trust Gallup.  Forty-four percent approve of the president, that‘s way up from where it was, that was hanging down there below 40, up to 44.  Disapproval at 51, still troubling, but hardly tsunami material—Steve. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, we always knew these

races were going to tighten up.  But he is a long way from being even in

his approval ratings.  He has still got a 51 disapproval, and the right

direction, wrong track numbers are still strongly in favor of the

Democrats.  And if you ask people whether you want to stay the course or go

in a new direction for the country in Iraq, on a whole range of issues,

it‘s still two to one against the Republicans.  So there is no question

that the races are going to tighten up.  The districts are drawn in such a

way that is inevitable.  But I think Democrats have a little bit of a

tailwind

MATTHEWS:  A speech a day, a press conference every other day, is that the president‘s strategy, lots of visibility—Ben Ginsberg?

BEN GINSBERG, FMR. BUSH/CHENEY COUNSEL ‘04:  Well, I think you clearly to get out there and tell your message and not filter it through the media quite as much, talk directly to the American people about the positive things that are going on and your vision for the future. 

One of the great things about the president‘s speeches is that he is presenting a vision for the future.  Now Steve and his cronies may not like that vision too much, but he is talking about the future.

(CROSSTALK)

GINSBERG:  The Democrats still can‘t figure out if they got six or eight. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re laughing and you‘ve got that grin on you, Ginsberg.  And let me ask you this.  The president got tagged the hardest in his whole administration over of Katrina because he was seen as a bureaucrat in the back somewhere. 

Now he is out front everyday with speeches that are at least a half hour long, usually 45 minutes, knowing that if he gives a 45 minute speech or an hour long press conference, the press has to put him on the nightly news, right?

GINSBERG:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  So it is a strategy to make him visible where he had been in trouble for being invisible?

GINSBERG:  Well, it‘s a great way to speak to the American people and if it gets that notice, so much the better. 

MATTHEWS:  Pretty good tactic?  Put him out front, suppose they put him out front for the next two months, you guys lose big.

MCMAHON:  No, I don‘t think so.  I mean, here‘s the problem.  The president really doesn‘t have very much to say, 9/11 was a big anniversary, it was an important one.  The president of United States spoke to the country and spoke for the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we called it an observance here. 

MCMAHON:  It was an observance, it was an important event, and a political event for the president and for the Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did it help him? 

MCMAHON:  Well, I think it helped him because people were drawn to the memorial, the remembrance...

MATTHEWS:  Could it be they still like the Bush they remembered from 9/11? 

MCMAHON:  It could be that they still like the Bush that they remember from 9/11, but he doesn‘t resemble that Bush anymore.  And they don‘t like the war...

MATTHEWS:  How not?

MCMAHON:  Well, he looked resolute and strong and he looked like he had a plan for the future.  And if you look at, whether it‘s Katrina or what‘s going on in Iraq, that‘s not the same president that people were seeing on September 11th

MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t the new strategy, no more 9/11s? 

MCMAHON:  Pardon me?

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that his strategy, no more 9/11s? 

MCMAHON:  Well, I think his strategy is to try to link terrorism to 9/11 as much as possible in the next two months, and the question is whether or not...

MATTHEWS:  Nine-eleven was terrorism.  What do you mean? 

MCMAHON:  I‘m sorry.  Try to conflate the terrorist threat and the war in Iraq.  And to some degree that is succeeding, but I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother you gentlemen both that when you watch television now --, and I‘m on the air against a lot of the nightly, of course, NBC and I‘m all against a lot of the other networks—that the war seems to have left the T.V. screen to a large extent and that is helping your party?  Does that bother you that this war is basically off television right now, because it‘s a relentless war, unsavory to watch?  People aren‘t being shown it that it that much.

GINSBERG:  Look, America has a challenge in the entire world.  Iraq, for sure, is an important part of that challenge.  But to the extent the focus is on the more global threat, I think that is a positive and necessary for the country. 

MATTHEWS:  But the number one concern when you poll people—and you

were trusting the polls tonight if you noticed, you liked the polls tonight

Is Iraq --  And yet, you don‘t see the war, it‘s not like Vietnam where you see the helicopters every night.  Does it bother you that we‘re not seeing this war anymore? 

GINSBERG:  With all due respect to the television industry to see the two or three minute snippets on T.V. that you call covering the war in Iraq, is not necessarily a definitive view of Iraq.  And what you are seeing, in large part due to the fact that the president talking about it more, is the entire global situation, of which Iraq is a part. 

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re saying like Groucho Marx, what are you going believe, me or your lying eyes? You‘re saying, it‘s better to have the president give speeches than to show what‘s going on over there?

GINSBERG:  No, you do both if you‘re in the news business.

MATTHEWS:   Your thoughts, Steve? Are you worried that the war is passing from public view right now to a large extent? 

MCMAHON:  Well, I don‘t think the war is passing from public. 

MATTHEWS:  The president is grabbing the front page. 

MCMAHON:  Well, the president‘s grabbing the front page, there were a series of remembrances, as you put it, over the last couple of weeks that I think gave the president the ability to do that.  It took the war off the front page and out of the evening news. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he still your best battering ram to get back into the House?

MCMAHON:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  The president?

MCMAHON:  His numbers are still not desirable numbers for an incumbent, and the right track, wrong direction, do you want to stay the course, or do you want to go in a different direction still favors the Democrats by a pretty significant margin.

MATTHEWS:  Just to be even-Steven here, have you noticed that the “New York Times” the other day, they did a survey of Republican ads and Democratic TV ads and they noted that the only people using the president in their ads are the Democrats.  Why isn‘t your party using your leader in the ads? 

GINSBURG:  Our president is using our leader in a number of ways, if not the ads.  Because the president isn‘t the issue.  There is a two track conversation in the country.  One is the national dialogue, very important, we‘re talking about it here in districts where contested elections—

MATTHEWS:  You could never pass a lie detector.  You‘d fail water boarding.  I don‘t need even need water boarding with you. 

GINSBURG:  That‘s a terrible thing to say about a lawyer.

MATTHEWS:  Because you honestly show exactly what you‘ve got in your hand.  And when I say how come you guys haven‘t showed Bush in your ads, what did you say?  

GINSBURG:  I‘m not sure I can remember. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll be right back with Steve and Ben.  This is interesting because they‘re telling the truth.  Coming up later, the Virginia Senate battle gets more interesting every day.  It gets weirder too.  We‘ll talk about it with the man actually who is trying to beat Senator George Allen, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, the Democratic candidate, who is trying to exploit George Allen‘s troubles.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Republican strategist Ben Ginsburg and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.  Well, I wanted to talk about that match-up number.  You know, everyone is focused on who is going to control the Congress after this election and whether the president is going to have two strong years left or two weak years left.  How does that look to you right now, Steve?

MCMAHON:  Well I think it looks close.  I think the Democrats still have a slight advantage. 

MATTHEWS:  In winning the necessary 15? 

MCMAHON:  Yes, and one of the things that happens when you make the president the star of your ads, if you are a Democrat, is you tend to partisonize (ph) the race.  And what you are seeing right now is the beginning of the partisonization of these races all over the country. 

But the Democrats still have this big tail wind because if you ask people whether or not they want to stay the course with the president, his plan in Iraq, his plan for the economy, his plan for, you know, additional tax cuts for the wealthiest or whether you want to change course and go in a new direction and have some timelines and accountability and bring troops home from Iraq, people want to go in a different direction. 

MATTHEWS:  They want change?

MCMAHON:  They want change. 

MATTHEWS:  You really believe that? 

MCMAHON:  Absolutely.   

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe they want change?  Here‘s Ben.

GINSBURG:  I think in the contested congressional seats, there are 20 open Republican seats.  In 18 of them, the president won with 61 percent or more of the vote.  The more they want to show the president in ads with our candidates, given that we have a got pretty good turnout operation there, and this election may indeed be a lot about who can turn out his or her voters the best, I don‘t understand what the Democrats are doing, but more of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that new generic number that says they‘re even right now?  Do you believe it is 48, 48? 

MCMAHON:  I believe that Gallup Poll showed it, but I think the generic number is not terribly relevant to knowing what is going on. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it asked people are you going to vote for a Democratic candidate or a Republican candidate.  It‘s pretty clear and it‘s even. 

MCMAHON:  But you‘re asking it all around the country and you‘re not asking it in the districts that matter. 

MATTHEWS:  And you would find in those districts, you say, are more red than blue? 

GINSBURG:  Twenty of the Republican open seats, 18 of them the president won by over 61 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  What I‘m noticing watching these races seat by seat is the closer we get to November, we are only about a month from there now, it seems like the people who are incumbent, like Schwarzenegger, like Granholm, like Cantwell, that had problems, seem to be moving ahead.  Everybody who is a big name seems to be fixing their wagon right now. 

Right?  

MCMAHON:  It is the Democrats mostly who were thought to be in trouble some months ago, who have solidified their position.  And then people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who are acting like Democrats for the purposes of their re-election campaign.  Ben‘s right in those 20 districts, but there are far more than 20 districts in play here.  There are about 40 or 45 districts.  

MATTHEWS:  Is your party still going to pick up three seats in Pennsylvania, three seats in Connecticut, that kind of gain? 

MCMAHON:  I think they are right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you still going to beat Santorum. 

MCMAHON:  Oh, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Absolutely?  Are you going to pick up Rhode Island? 

MCMAHON:  Rhode Island is tough.  Rhode Island is tough, but I think the Democrat are going to win. 

GINSBURG:  The seats that you were saying, that we were both saying three months ago were trouble, are getting taken off the table one by one.  The financial advantage that Republicans have in those contested seats, plus the party‘s superior fund raising operation, plus what I think is a better generic turnout operation, is going to pay the dividends. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we should use water boarding here to get the truth out people or just go with it? 

GINSBURG:  We‘re telling the truth now.  You don‘t need it for us.

MATTHEWS:  We didn‘t need it tonight.  Usually we would need it.  Thank you Ben and I‘m not even sure how bad it is.  I‘d like to try it out on a few senators, by the way, who say it isn‘t torture. 

MCMAHON:  I‘m sure they‘d love to let you do it.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sure they would.  Thank you Ben Ginsburg.  Thank you Steve McMahon.  When we come back, former U.N. Ambassador John Danforth will be here and later Virginia Senate candidate Jim Webb.  He‘s in the middle of it, with an exclusive HARDBALL interview.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

John Danforth is an Episcopal priest who was elected to three terms in the U.S. Senate from Missouri.  Since retiring from the U.S. Senate, he‘s served as Bush administration‘s special envoy in Sudan, and as ambassador to the United Nations.  He is author of a new book called “Faith and Politics.” 

Mr. Ambassador, Senator, thank you for joining us.  Reverend, all those good things. 

JOHN DANFORTH, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, were you stunned as a former U.N.  ambassador to the performance today by Hugo Chavez who made, you know, almost high school remarks about the president of the United States? 

DANFORTH:  I‘ve been on a plane all day, Chris, so I did not see it, but I can‘t say that I ... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me give you the ...

DANFORTH:  ...would be particularly surprised by anything he said. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he said that the president was the devil himself and then he said I can still smell the sulfur from his presence in this chamber.  This is the president of a country. 

DANFORTH:  Yes.  Well, it‘s extremely far out.  I doubt that it impressed too many people who were reasonable, you know.  I mean, there are people who just delight in bashing the United Nations.  It was probably an applause line for them, but so what? 

MATTHEWS:  You were there.  What does it feel like in the U.N.?  Do you feel it is a serious body with international opinion that is representative of the world and a serious body to negotiate issues, or is it a bunch of bozos as I‘m sure the president will make clear in the days ahead after these performances by Ahmadinejad and this guy? 

DANFORTH:  You know, I think—look, I think it does some real good and obviously the agencies of the United Nations, UNICEF and so on, the World Food Organization, they do some good.  But one thing that the U.N.  and especially the Security Council, which is where all the power is, can accomplish is to put the spotlight on important questions such as the North-South Peace Agreement and now Darfur. 

I mean, it‘s—they don‘t have the permission of the government of Sudan to send troops into Darfur, but with respect to the North-South Peace Agreement where I was involved, the president—the presence of the Security Council in Nairobi for the peace talks was a tremendous weight on the scale and I think helped accomplish peace. 

So it can do some good.  It is not going to be terribly forceful because in a body which any of five countries can veto a resolution, the resolutions are going to be weak. 

MATTHEWS:  Your party, the Republican Party, seems to be divided.  I have to say this in a crude way, but it is along the lines of your book, “Faith in Politics.”  The Republican Party that you grew up in, that we all grew up in, was rather secular.  It had northern Republicans. 

It was—in fact, a huge percentage of the party came from New England.  I remember when almost every New England state had a Republican senator.  New York had two.  Pennsylvania had two and they were both moderates at one point. 

And now it has become more of an evangelical, southern-based party.  A red state party we think of is almost entirely that way.  Is that a good thing that it has shifted to the south and it has shifted to the evangelical approach rather than the secular? 

DANFORTH:  I don‘t think it is a good thing.  What has happened with both political parties is they are appealing to their base voters, their core voters, as opposed to concentrating on the center of American politics and competing for people who are neither strong Republicans nor strong Democrats. 

When I was in politics, all the competition was for the undecideds.  Now it is all for energizing the base, and the base of the Republican Party has become conservative Christians. 

And the history of our country and, in fact, various parts of the world, is that when politics gets entangled with religion, it becomes very, very divisive.  And that‘s what has happened in the Republican Party.  Our party—my party has become so identified with one version of Christianity that it has become, I think, divisive. 

MATTHEWS:  In the upcoming election do you believe that that will be decisive or is there a chance for your party to nominate a John McCain, a Rudy Giuliani, a Mitt Romney, or does it have to be someone like Frist or someone from that culture of the evangelicals?

DANFORTH:  I think that this religious identification of the Republican Party is going to run its course.  I can‘t tell you exactly when it‘s going to run its course.  It seems, I guess, practically, to be a good idea right now because hey, here is a whole new group of voters for Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DANFORTH:  But I think the American—if the American people were asked the question do you think we should have a religious party in our country, and do you think we should divide along religious lines, most people would say no. 

So the point of my writing a book and trying to speak out on the subject is to encourage a lot of people in our country also to speak out, to weigh in on it, to ask themselves the question what is the appropriate role of religion in politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the question you pose very well in your book, “Faith and Politics.”  Senator John Danforth.  Senator, thank you for joining us here on HARDBALL. 

Up next, an exclusive HARDBALL interview with Virginia Senate candidate Jim Webb.  What a race he is in right now.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Another unexpected development is making headlines in that Virginia Senate race between Senator George Allen and challenger Jim Webb.  After blasting a reporter‘s question about his family tree, Senator Allen said publicly for the first time on Tuesday that he has a Jewish background.  Allen‘s campaign manager has now accused Webb‘s campaign of quote, continuing an anti-semitic strategy.  Senator Allen declined our invitation to appear tonight.  I expect him later. 

Former Navy secretary Jim Webb is in Alexandria, Virginia.  Mr.  Secretary, this is quite a charge coming from the campaign from the campaign manager for the senator.  Quote, “they have been continuing that anti-semitic strategy through their paid bloggers.”  Do you have paid bloggers and are they pushing this story about Allen‘s Jewish grandparent?

JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE:  Look, Chris.  First of all, I did not know that this would even be the subject of a discussion with you when I agreed to come on your show.  Dick Waddams is part of a Karl Rove method of conducting political campaigns.  He worked for Karl Rove for several years.  This is clearly an attempt to turn something around onto us that has nothing to do with what we are doing in this campaign.  This is absurd.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he was trying to hide his ancestry all these years?

WEBB:  I have no comment on that.  People asked me about it.  Let me start a little further back.  When the “New Republic” or the—I guess it was the “New Republic” article came out on George Allen beginning in this campaign, I was asked to comment about it.  I said I didn‘t think it was relevant to the campaign. 

This sort of thing when I walked off of the debating platform the other day and I was asked did I believe that that was an appropriate question, I said I thought it was irrelevant to what we‘re trying to do.  And I think your question to me right now is irrelevant to what we‘re trying to do.

MATTHEWS:  Is your opponent, the incumbent senator from Virginia an honest man?

WEBB:  I‘m trying to talk about what I‘m bringing to the table here, what the issues are and quite frankly I‘m getting a little tired of having political campaigns go down to that level where they have those sorts of questions. 

George Allen has a record people can look at.  I have positions that I take and I‘ve been running on three basic themes ever since February.  They haven‘t changed.  They are reordering our national defense, they are trying to do something about economic inequality in this country that has come about as a result of the internationalization of corporate America, the outsourcing of jobs and the impact of immigration.  And I‘ve been talking about how we need to step up to administration abuses in the wake of 9/11.  Those are the issues.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Iraq.  How is your position differ from the senator‘s, Senator Allen‘s on Iraq on whether we should have gone, should have stayed, should be there now?

WEBB:  My position on his has been different from the beginning.  I was one of the first people warning about the strategic error of going into Iraq.  I have been talking about the way that we should be approaching removing our combat presence from Iraq and I‘m talking about this for two years very clearly. 

This is an administration and a senator who don‘t have a plan and they are trying to turn things around.  Anyone who comes up with a solution they either ridicule it or say it‘s not different from what they‘re doing, and it‘s very clearly different.  Every aspect of what I have been saying about how to approach the issues in rMD+IN_rMDNM_the Middle East is different.  What I‘ve been saying is this was not about terrorism when we invaded Iraq. 

Once we invaded Iraq, we had the terrorism in Iraq.  And what we need to do is to say clearly that we have no long-term aspirations for bases in Iraq and beyond that, convening a group of nations, people—particularly the nations that are in that region that have cultural and historical ties to Iraq in a conference probably similar to what we saw in Madrid after ‘91 or maybe even the Dayton Accords so that we can force the diplomatic solution to this.

And I would not be surprised quite frankly if this Jim Baker commission comes up with that sort of recommendation after the elections.  Part of the process is to begin talking specifically with Syria to break up the alliance between Syria and Iran and also to start working toward a situation where we can bring Iran into the international community without having to back away from our positions on the recognition of Israel and the nuclear areas.  Those are the types of things with the right kind of leadership that we can do something about.  Those are the types of things we need to be talking about.

MATTHEWS:  Are you concerned that the president has been able to shift public attention from the war in Iraq, maybe with the help of the media because there‘s so damn little coverage of that war anymore with all the violence that keeps up ticking over there and spiking.  The president has been able to shift attention away from the hell going on in Iraq to whether he is for or against water boarding?  Has that been a ploy that‘s working?

WEBB:  I think that clearly when people come back with all these rosy pictures of Iraq like Senator Allen did, he wants to talk about how happy everybody is and how we have this Democratic government and how we have this democratic government and you look around and you see 100 people dying a day, and say that is not a civil war.  A hundred civilians in Iraq a day dying is the same thing as probably a thousand or more Americans dying every day, civilians dying every day in sectarian conflict and we have to address the realities in Iraq and we have to come up with solutions.  These people have blinders on.

MATTHEWS:  Well part of the blinders is that we‘re not getting—Mr.  Secretary, are you concerned—I want to ask again, that the media seems to be giving short shrift to the violence in Iraq right now and more attention to the internal Republican publics of torture?

WEBB:  Well, I think what we really need is for people to focus on affirmative solutions.  And there are people, and I‘m one of them, who have been trying to discuss how we can resolve the situation in Iraq in a way that doesn‘t further destabilize the region.  And those are real issues.  It‘s very hard to do in a campaign with sound bytes.  But those are the issues that need to be discussed.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, former secretary of the Navy, Jim Webb, running for the United States Senate from Virginia.  Up next, what is life like inside Baghdad‘s Green Zone, a fascinating description coming up.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘ve talked here an awful lot about the Green Zone in Iraq.  That‘s where the Americans are headquartered over there in Baghdad.  Well, Rajiv Chandrasekaran served as the Baghdad bureau chief for the “Washington Post” for the first year of the war over there, and his new book is called “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.”  It details what life is really like inside that heavily-fortified green zone. 

So you were there at the beginning.  What was it like when we built this so-called Green Zone in the middle of Baghdad? 

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, AUTHOR, “IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY”:  It was like a little America.  It was this enclave of towering palms, swimming pools, six bars, a disco, a dining hall. 

MATTHEWS:  What, was it Club Med? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, you know, there certainly were elements of it that were very comfortable, but there were—it was tough for people out there as well.  I mean, they lived in trailers.  I don‘t mean to suggest that it was a holiday environment, but it certainly did not resemble the rest of the Iraq. 

You had a mess hall, a dining hall, that served pork bacon, this in the middle of a Muslim country where Muslims find pork very offensive. 

MATTHEWS:  So this wasn‘t a place to win the hearts and minds.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  No, this was the walled-off bubble.  This was a place to rest and relax.  It was a place to get work done for some people.  But it was really the American enclave.  It was not representative of the rest of the country. 

MATTHEWS:  So how many miles—if we were to—how would you describe this?  Is it like 10 blocks square?  How big?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Seven square miles.  It‘s a city within a city. 

MATTHEWS:  Seven square miles. 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  So Americans over there and coalition forces can come into this place and almost be in America, because you say that they sat around eating bacon cheeseburgers, and grilled cheese with bacon and American music playing, and the whole atmosphere was American.  Now, you did not have any Iraqi cooks for fear of poisoning, right? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Exactly.  The Iraqis were relegated to real support

roles, janitors, maybe translators, but for food service and other stuff,

Halliburton brought in Indians and Pakistanis and what they call third

country nationals.  But it was so American that women could run around—

jog on the streets in shorts.  There were salsa dancing classes, bible

study classes, gymnasiums

MATTHEWS:  Well, how did the Iraqis take to this, the people outside this Emerald City, as you call it?  What did they think of it?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, most Iraqis could not get in.  It was only if you could prove that you had some official business inside, or if you had a house in there from before the war.  And if that, you had to be patted down three times, you had to be thoroughly inspected.  Those Iraqis who came in, it was like entering another planet.  They felt like they had sort of blasted off from Iraq and wound up on Mars. 

MATTHEWS:  And they would lie to the drivers and all to tell them that they were really in there to try and get their brother out of prison or something like that, according to your book? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Precisely.  Nobody wanted to be seen, or very few people wanted to be seen as working with the Americans.  They didn‘t wanted to be branded as collaborators, so if they were taking a taxi to the Green Zone, they would say to the driver, look, I have to go there only because the Americans are detaining somebody, or I have some business there, but I really don‘t like them. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one of the reasons for the war was the American people believed it was a necessary war to fight, the possibility of weapons of mass destruction, the possible connection to 9/11 and the ease with which it was sold that we could actually overtake that country. 

Now, our vast ignorance of the fact they weren‘t going to resist us, is that being made worse by the fact they don‘t like us even more because they got a good look at us now? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, I think ...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, are we making more enemies in Iraq than friends? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Almost certainly.  I mean, in those early days after the war—I was there, Chris.  They did not throw flowers, but Iraqis were so happy, I saw them giving cold cans of soda to troops.  You know, rMD+IN_rMDNM_they would embrace me.  When I said I was a journalist with the “Washington Post,” they would come up and hug me. 

They‘d invite me into their house.  The greatest risk I faced was being served some lunch with food of unknown provenance.  I mean, Americans had it good there.  There was that moment.

MATTHEWS:  How long was the honeymoon? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Several weeks into several months.  We started cutting away, chipping away at it when we went first went to the United Nations and said we want occupying authority and we want to stay there in an open ended basis, and then Bremer‘s decision, Ambassador Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, his decisions to de-Baathify the government, to disband the army. 

We wound up doing things again and again, step after step that made things more difficult for us.  But we had a window of opportunity.  We just squandered it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you get the feeling—I know you‘re a journalist and not a pundit.  You don‘t do a lot of philosophizing, but there is a lot of merit to what you say about what this argument—how it should go.  You make it sound like the people who took us into Baghdad, the people behind the war who believed in the war and believed in its merit to democratize that part of the world, believed it was a lot like Eastern Europe. 

And all we had to do was knock off Ceausescu or Hanaker (ph) or someone like that in Eastern Europe or central Europe, the people would be Democratic and free and everything would be fine and we could leave.  And yet, you say we went about it the same way we de-Nazified after World War II.  We went around looking for Nazis to get them out of the government.  It seems like we are using old models the way you write it. 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  And a bunch of models that were not applicable.  One way of looking at it was we thought it was Germany or Japan after World War II, a thoroughly defeated nation that would tolerate us there as occupying powers to completely remake the government.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you say we?  Who thought that? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, we being people in the Pentagon.  You know, the royal we here, but elements of the Bush administration ...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a well-educated guy.  Do you know of any country that has been overtaken without resistance in attitude towards the people that came in?  Any country in history at any time? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  There no good examples for this, no precedents here.

MATTHEWS:  So why did the people in authority in the Pentagon, the civilians and the president and the vice president, why did they believe we could walk into a country, decapitate its leadership, try him if we could find him, kill him or not, and everybody would just thank us? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  It‘s hard for me to get into their brains, but I think that they felt that Iraqis would be so grateful that they would give us a very long leash.  And Iraqis were grateful, but then we squandered that opportunity. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about what it‘s like.  Do you think that—

I know that the army is not the Peace Corps, and they carry rifles, they‘ve got to fight people, but do you think that there is any kind of active effort over there to try to win the minds and hearts of the people of Iraq to our view that it‘s better for them to accept the American style, or at least something like democracy rather than what they had before, and they should sort of thank us for that? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, I certainly think the vast majority of Iraqis want a Democratic government.  They want to live in peace and in freedom.  They just don‘t want it imposed from the outside.  They want this to be an organic process. 

And I think what has happened now is the right thing.  They have had national elections, they‘ve drawn up a constitution.  The problem here, Chris, and I think what is responsible for a lot of the mess that we have now is that we waited too long.  We needed to do this stuff earlier. 

MATTHEWS:  You pose an almost comedic notion of how we went in there.  We went in there, built this little America, as you say, seven miles square of Americana with hot dogs, hamburgers, and music, and just like home and no Iraqis cooking the food. 

And then you talk about this almost Katrina-type disaster over there in terms of who we hired.  We were hiring people with absolutely no—a 24-year-old kid is in charge of the Finance Ministry?  We‘ve got a health minister who thinks the number one concern is smoking.  These people sound like clowns we put in there. 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  We did not send the best and the brightest.  We sent the loyal and the willing.  The problem was ...

MATTHEWS:  You mean they had their Republican cards stamped.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Precisely.  You know, to get out to Baghdad, to work for the Reconstruction Authority, and having Arabic language skills, background in the Middle East, expertise in post reconstruction, that was not the most sought after ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What did they look for?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  They looked for loyalty.  They looked for loyalty at the Republican Party. 

MATTHEWS:  The right kind of Republican as you wrote? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t like rhinos of moderate Republicans to go over there. 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  They want true believers, and people who voted for the president, people who supported the president‘s vision for Iraq.  In fact, some people ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that sounds to make sense.  Wouldn‘t you want to put people over there that believed in what Bush was trying to do? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Fair enough, but some people were even asked what their views on Roe versus Wade were.  They were subjected to discussions about capital punishment in their pre-deployment interviews.  What does that have to do with the reconstruction ...

MATTHEWS:  Was it a patriot scam?  You make it sound like a patriotic scam to hire a bunch of out of work Republicans.   

CHANDRASEKARAN:  And put them in jobs ...

MATTHEWS:  Is that was it was?  I‘m asking you, was it a patriot scam?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, it clearly was an effort to bring a lot of people onboard. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it a Michael Brown situation where you take a guy who wasn‘t right for the job? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, it was Michael Brown times 100.  It wasn‘t just one Michael Brown.  There were a lot them there. 

MATTHEWS:  This book is really good.  I want to tell you something.  I like to read books, and sometimes I really get into them.  I think just in terms of whatever your politics or view of the war, this is pretty interesting because it tells you about a part of the world you‘re not going to get to visit if you are lucky. 

You‘re not going to get to visit the Green Zone, but this—it reminds me of the old writing of Joe McGinnis years ago about Vietnam and how we would go over there and build gigantic American playhouses, you know, bowling alleys, all this stuff because we‘re going to be there forever.  It‘s clear we are not going to be there forever and this is not apparently the road to getting their well and back again. 

Anyway, thank you, Rajiv.  A hell of a book.  It‘s called the “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” the Emerald City being the Green Zone.  Thank you for joining us, Rajiv. 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

Finally, last night I was invited, as a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals game against the Braves.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The host of “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews and the “Chris Matthews Show.”  Chris Matthews served as that a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland from 1968 through ‘70.  Since then, Matthews has distinguished himself as a broadcast journalist, newspaper bureau chief, presidential speechwriter and best-selling author.  Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Matthews. 

When you‘re ready, Chris, it‘s your pitch.

Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Matthews.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  A little on the outside.  Play HARDBALL with us again Thursday.  We‘ll talk decision 2006 with K.T. McFarland, Kweisi Mfume, Ed Rogers and Harold Schafberger (ph).  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

transcript

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,