updated 12/12/2006 11:12:28 AM ET 2006-12-12T16:12:28

Guests: Tom DeLay, Mike Allen, Jim Warren, Hilary Rosen, Susan Molinari

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, six days after the Iraq commission report and 22 more U.S. troops have died.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle in for Chris Matthews.  Welcome to

HARDBALL.

Today, the president was at the State Department launching a three-day search for a new strategy in the war in Iraq.  But as President Bush and his administration load up on meetings, consultations, reports and press conferences, this war drags on.  Twenty-two U.S. servicemen have died since the Iraq Study Group released its report. 

How much more advice does the president need to hear before he settles on a new course in Iraq?  How many more soldiers are going to pay the ultimate price while Washington politicians debate and review diplomatic and political options? 

NBC‘s chief White House correspondent David Gregory will join us in a moment, but first HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Today, President Bush began a new consultation phase over Iraq, meeting with the vice president, Secretary of State and other top State Department advisors.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There‘s no question we have got to make sure that the State Department and the Defense Department are—the efforts and their recommendations are closely coordinated so that when I do speak to the American people, they will know that I‘ve listened to all aspects of government. 

SHUSTER:  The discussions, which will include a White House chat tomorrow with a top Iraqi Sunni leader, are designed to give the president what aides call a free-flowing debate, leading up to major president speech on Iraq before Christmas.

But as the president continues his deliberations and policy review, the violence in Iraq rages on.  Today, four more U.S. soldiers in Iraq were killed, and in the six days since the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group urged certain immediate actions, 22 U.S. soldiers have died. 

With the Bush White House now deflecting the commission recommendations...

BUSH:  We want to make sure the military gets their point of view in. 

SHUSTER:  ... on Sunday, the commission co-chairs tried again.  Former Secretary of State Baker and former Congressman Hamilton said it‘s OK for the president to wait on some proposals, but that others, like ratcheting up the training of Iraqi forces, should start immediately. 

LEE HAMILTON, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN:  In the last year or so, we‘ve sharply improved that training, and it can be done if we put the priority on it that we are emphasizing.  It‘s the best way forward with the options that we have.

SHUSTER:  On the recommendation to start immediate talks with Iran, the commission co-chairs defended their proposal again presidential criticism by saying that concerns about Iran‘s nuclear program should not prevent dialogue about Iraq. 

JAMES BAKER, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN:  These are limited proposals we are making.  We‘re not talking about sitting down with Iran and talking to them about everything under the sun.

SHUSTER:  Political analysts say the White House strategy over the last six days has been impressive.  President Bush has ratcheted down any sense of urgency generated by the Iraq Study Group by showing deep respect for panel members. 

BUSH:  They went to Iraq.  They thought about it a lot, and it was a very considerate, important report, and I will take their recommendations very seriously.  

SHUSTER:  The president has even adopted similar language.  The subtitle in the Baker-Hamilton Commission report is “The Way Forward, A New Approach.”  The White House is now calling the president‘s policy, “a new way forward,” but while contemplating policy changes may help President Bush politically, nothing is different right now for U.S. troops. 

DAVID GERGEN, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR:  I see lots and lots of talk in the coming days, not very much fundamental change. 

SHUSTER:  Whatever course the president chooses, generating support will not be easy.  A “Newsweek” poll finds that 68 percent of Americans believe the U.S. is losing in Iraq.  Just 21 percent see progress.

And the president‘s own party has fractured. 

SEN. GORDON SMITH ®, OREGON:  And I, for one, am at the end of my rope. 

SHUSTER:  Late last week, Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith says it‘s now time for a troop withdrawal. 

SMITH:  So let‘s cut and run or cut and walk, but let us fight the war on terror more intelligently than we have. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  For now though, there is no agreement between Congress and the White House on what “more intelligently” means.  The Iraq Study Group recommendations are still on hold as President Bush continues his own contemplation and analysis.  Meanwhile, the waiting drags on here and in Iraq, where the U.S. troop casualty list is getting longer by the day. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BARNICLE:  David, thanks a lot.

Now we go to another David, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory.

David, at the White House, options, options, options on the table, looking at this, studying this for the next two or three days.  How aware is the White House that while the White House seems to be obsessed with options, the country and many, many people in the country are waiting for a decision? 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, look, impatience, frankly, by the public within the public is not really the top concern of the president‘s right now.  He has got a much more difficult set of difficulties which is the course of the war in Iraq and whether or not this strategy that he launched can be salvaged.

So sure, but remember back to a year ago at this time, the White House was eager to let the public know, as it was growing impatient and more anxious about the war, that the president got it, that he was going to start admitting mistakes.  Well, here we are a year later and it‘s a lot more profound than that and they know it. 

So yes, they recognize, the president recognizes, say aides, that people are impatient about all of this and they have been for some time.  What they want to be seen doing here, the president himself, is listening, considering options, considering outside opinion, listening to criticism even, and there was certainly that in the Baker-Hamilton report before he actually makes a decision. 

Mike, what I think is striking though, at this period, is to look not just at areas where the White House is pulling away from the Baker-Hamilton report, but to really sit and look at what the potential is for actual, significant change. 

There‘s not a lot of room to maneuver here for the president.  There are not new ideas.  It‘s all about troops, when they come home, and how hard to pressure the Iraqi government through diplomacy and other means.  So there‘s really kind of a limited set of options. 

BARNICLE:  Well, then, you know, if they‘re not going to hear much of

anything new—and that seems to be a given, no matter who you speak to

over the next two or three days—are we just going through, witnessing

now basically a dog and pony public relations show here, that the president

you know, meant to convince the public that the president is, indeed, listening to criticism, is indeed—might here something new? 

GREGORY:  Well, you know, they would certainly describe it differently, and, you know, I think critics would recognize you can‘t say that they‘re not considering outside opinion and then when they do that, say that it‘s just a dog and pony show.

I mean, they are trying to bear down and look for some room to maneuver, some way to chart this new way forward, that, of course, the title of the Baker-Hamilton report.  It may be one of the only concrete measure that they take from it is to actually name their new strategy “a new way forward.” 

But I just think it‘s important to point out that out when you look at the options here, you look at what the president can do, he is certainly not going to withdraw troops right away.  He seems cool to the idea of a new diplomatic offensive engaging Iran and Syria directly.  He may support it if it comes under the auspices of the Iraqi government.  And while he wants to put more pressure on the Iraqi government, he has also signaled that Nuri al-Maliki is his guy. 

So what else is he going to do?  I think right now it‘s about kind of taking stock and trying to persuade the American people there is something to win in Iraq, there is something to salvage, trying to rebut the idea that‘s really laid out in such a grim fashion in the Baker-Hamilton report, that the situation is grave and deteriorating and that it might be too late to turn things in around in Iraq. 

He used the language he used today when the president said he is optimistic about success in Iraq and about a young democracy flourishing and about it becoming an ally in the war on terror, really pushing that theme forward and trying to convince people there is something to fight for and, at the same time, warning the public that to just sort of collectively say it‘s over and that the policy has failed would be disastrous for the country, for the region.  I think that‘s where they are right now. 

BARNICLE:  So last question, David Gregory.  Then off of that, is it logical to draw the conclusion that the president‘s speech, if he gives one prior to Christmas about Iraq, it would basically be outlining why there is still something left to salvage in Iraq and why we ought to still engage in this salvation project? 

GREGORY:  I think without question that laying out mistakes in this war, which he has done repeatedly, could not come at a more important time right now, given the American people‘s view of the war.  I do think that he‘s going to engage what they‘ve all promised, significant changes. 

But they‘ve also said privately that the Baker-Hamilton report did not contain recommendations that they hadn‘t thought of, and you hear some of the criticism from the right, including those who are close to the vice president, like Ken Adelman who was on “Meet the Press” Sunday, talking about the need for more troops, not less and also talking about the Baker-Hamilton report being misguided or impractical. 

So I think that reflects some of the internal thinking in the White House.  I think there will be a move for change, but I think people who have looked at this seriously have to ask themselves where really is that opportunity for significant change that I think the American people would say, wow, OK, they are really going in a new direction.  It‘s not clear that that‘s forthcoming.

BARNICLE:  David Gregory, thanks very much. 

GREGORY:  OK.

BARNICLE:  Now, the former House Majority leader is with us. 

“The Hammer”—that was your nickname.  Tom DeLay, how are you? 

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), FMR. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  I‘m doing well, thank you.

BARNICLE:  Mr. DeLay, let me ask you, you know, this is sort of like I‘m a pilgrim coming to Washington here.  What do people call you now, today?  You‘re no longer majority leader.  You‘re not in Congress.  They don‘t call you “The Hammer” in greeting, do they?  What should I call you? 

DELAY:  They call me Tom. 

BARNICLE:  Tom, how are you?

DELAY:  I‘m doing great.

BARNICLE:  What did you think of the Iraq Study Group‘s report? 

DELAY:  I think they need to change the name of it.  Instead of the Iraq Study Group, it ought to be the Iraq Surrender Group.  They just gave a graceful way of surrendering Iraq and letting them go off on their own and the tragedies that would ensue after it. 

BARNICLE:  So, what would you suggest to the president?  If the president called you and said, you know, Tom, I just heard you on TV calling the Surrender Group, I‘d like to talk to you about it.  What would you say?  What would you tell them?  What would your advice be? 

DELAY:  My advice would be, Mr. President, show the moral leadership you showed the day after 9/11, knowing—understanding that we are at war with people that will die to kill innocent women and children and kill their own neighbors in order to accomplish their end.

And you‘ve got—I think you have two choices here.  You can either turn it over to the government of Iraq and to this army that‘s not ready to provide security for the people of Iraq, or you can understand that we took out Saddam Hussein and we have to be responsible for bringing security to Iraq and, most importantly, Baghdad. 

So you enforce the rule of law.  You go after the terrorists that are there.  You go after the insurgents that are there.  You go after the leaders that are breaking the law.  And you put them a cell or a cemetery.  That‘s how you enforce the rule of law.  That‘s how the people on the ground that have to live there day—and protect their children understand that they are—they have security in their own homes. 

BARNICLE:  That would obviously entail the insertion of many, many thousands more...

DELAY:  Yes.

BARNICLE:  ... of American troops. 

DELAY:  Yes.

BARNICLE:  Where would we get them? 

DELAY:  We get them from volunteers here in the United States.  You have an effort.  You have to set static and say, OK, we‘ve got these—I think we‘ve got many more troops.  This is so important now.  You‘ve got to start bringing troops from Germany and other places to fight this war and we have to tell the nation that we‘re going to win this war.  And we have to do what it takes to win it. 

BARNICLE:  What would you say to people, you know, from your district in Texas or just ordinary people that you see during the course of everyday who come up to you and say, Tom, the Hammer, Mr. DeLay, whatever they‘re going to call you—and they say, you‘ve called for the insertion of thousands of more troops to fight this war in Iraq and yet, the Sunnis are killing the Shiites, they‘re more interested in killing themselves and in killing us as a secondary objective, let them kill themselves.

DELAY:  Mike, when you go to war and you pull that trigger, you cannot not run a war by consensus or by committee or by political correctness.  We‘ve tried that.  We tried it in Vietnam, actually.  We lost the Korea because—because our nation lost the will to fight the war.

It‘s incumbent on the president to explain what is going on in larger terms than just Iraq.  This is part of the war on terror.  I believe that it is part of the war on terror, that going after Saddam Hussein was part of fighting the war on terror. 

Now, the aftermath of taking out Saddam Hussein is still part of the war on terror.  And the American people need to see that the future of this country and countries around the world—you have to go after these people.  This is not negotiating with a state.  This is going after people that would rather die in order to accomplish their means.  And you ought to help them do that. 

BARNICLE:  Now, it sounds to my ear—and you‘ll correct me if I‘m wrong—that part of you, I don‘t know how much of you, thinks that the president may have dropped the ball in terms of leadership along the way in this war on terror. 

DELAY:  Well, I‘m not sure.  I haven‘t been privy to what‘s been going on in the White House. 

BARNICLE:  Let me...

(CROSSTALK)

DELAY:  Yes, we got bogged down.  We did not communicate to the American people the big picture constantly, which is important.  I mean, Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II was constantly talking to the American people about why we‘re doing it, yes, we‘ve had losses here and people are dying there, but the overall goal of where we‘re headed and where I‘m trying to lead the nation is important.  That has not been going on, to be quite honest.

We talk about Iraq as if it‘s an isolated war and it‘s not part of the big picture.  We‘re not talking about it as—we are at war with people all over the world that want to destroy our way of life, in Indonesia, in Malaysia, in the middle East, in Europe, right here at home.  And we have to fight this war on the big scale and understand that it‘s going to take lots of resources.  But we have no choice.

BARNICLE:  This is interesting.  I want to talk to you about this and more and your blog.  Tom DeLay the blogger.

Tom DeLay is staying with us.

And later, the “Times‘” Mike Allen and the “Chicago Tribune‘s” Jim Warren will talk about Senator Barack Obama‘s big debut in New Hampshire. 

And tomorrow on HARDBALL, Chris Matthews returns for the HARDBALL COLLEGE TOUR, live from the University of North Carolina with 2008 presidential contender John Edwards.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. 

You were saying off the air about the Iraq Study Group I should not be surprised, nobody should be surprised at what they recommended because?

DELAY:  Because of the world view of the study group.  I mean, it‘s the same world view that had the attitude that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and back when they were negotiating with Saddam Hussein against Iran, empowered him.  He invaded Kuwait, we had to go to war.  We didn‘t finish that war because of diplomatic issues.  The same group that went and negotiated with Syria, empowered Assad to go into Lebanon and killed thousands of people in Lebanon.  The same group that considered Arafat their partner in peace.  I mean, sometime you have to understand that the enemy of my enemy just might be my enemy. 

BARNICLE:  But years ago, I mean, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld—I mean, the three—you could‘ve found the three of them with Saddam Hussein in a sauna, they were that close, selling him weapons and everything. 

DELAY:  No, it was the negotiations, thinking that you could negotiate a utopia that undermines the effort to—when you have the face the reality that there are people in the world that want to kill Americans. 

BARNICLE:  Let‘s switch, if we can, to domestic politics here.  This is the first time I‘ve met you.  You know, you seem like a terrific guy.  I enjoy talking to you.  And yet, when I would see you on TV, you know, just sitting out there in the country, watching the news, I would get the sense just from your persona on TV that you absolutely hated Democrats and were inclined to blame them for everything, from psoriasis to the war in Iraq.  Not so?

DELAY:  Not so.  I have the utmost respect for legitimate liberals, Democrats that fight for what they believe in.  I enjoy the fight.  I‘m passionate about what I believe in.  I fight very hard for what I believe in.

And—and some in—particularly in the liberal media portrayed me as otherwise. 

BARNICLE:  I‘m sure.

DELAY:  The nickname Hammer came from the “Washington Post”.  It wasn‘t something that I think describes me. 

BARNICLE:  Your mom didn‘t call you that while you were growing up?

DELAY:  Not at all.

BARNICLE:  Well, the elections just concluded.

DELAY:  Yes.

BARNICLE:  Do you think the elections would have gone differently, had you been over there in the House every day, out in the country every day, raising money every day?

DELAY:  No.  I think Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats were brilliant in the way that they put together one of the most largest coalitions I‘ve ever witnessed in my—in my adulthood, in my career.  They were amazing.

They also knew that, if they took me out, it wasn‘t a matter of taking me out; it was a matter of disrupting the leadership that was left.  And the leadership was disrupted.  They had a hard time getting together.  We had a leadership race.  They had to put together staff.  For six months, they were incapable of planning when they should have been—should have been planning for their campaign. 

BARNICLE:  Where‘s the legal deal with you?  Where do you stand?  Are you OK?

DELAY:  No.  I still have that rogue district attorney in Texas, Ronnie Earle, who‘s using the process to drag this on.  I‘m trying to get to trial.  I want to go to trial.  I‘ve been wanting to go to trial the day I was indicted.  You know, I‘ve been indicted on laws that don‘t exist in Texas.  Yes.

BARNICLE:  You know, everyone in the country is familiar with the fact that on both sides there‘s been the demonization aspect of politics in campaigns. 

DELAY:  Very sad.  Very sad.

BARNICLE:  Has what you‘ve gone through, has that given you any new insight into, you know?

DELAY:  I‘ve always been against the politics of personal destruction.  I didn‘t like what happened to Jim Wright when he was speaker.  I didn‘t like what happened to Newt Gingrich when he was speaker.

This politics of personal detraction destroys the institution, undermines the confidence in our institution and is very bad for the country.  But that‘s what we‘re into now. 

BARNICLE:  What do you think about Nancy Pelosi?  Do you like her?

DELAY:  I like her.  I think she‘s an honest liberal.  She‘s fighting very hard for what she‘s doing.  I disagree with everything she stands for and—and am willing to fight with her toe to toe.  And that‘s why I came out with my blog, TomDeLay.com. 

BARNICLE:  I want to talk to you about that.  I want to talk to you about—we‘re coming back with Tom DeLay.

And later, HARDBALL with Susan Lolonari and Hilary Rosen break down what‘s happening in the early stages of the fight for 2008. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re with former Texas congressman and House majority leader, Tom DeLay. 

TomDeLay.com, right?  Is that—is that the blog?

DELAY:  That‘s new today.  Yes.  That‘s my blog that we came out with today.  And we‘re very pleased with it.  We‘re getting a lot of comments and a lot of hits on it. 

BARNICLE:  So, like, do you get up first thing in the morning and start blogging away?  Or what do you do?

DELAY:  Well, I‘m not a very good writer.  I have the ideas, and I have somebody else put the words together.  But yes, we‘re going to post a lot during the day.  And we‘re going to respond to questions and comments. 

And it‘s—the conservatives need to push back on communications, and we need to compete, instead of... 

BARNICLE:  You‘ve got to be kidding me.

DELAY:  No.

BARNICLE:  I mean, look at—you‘ve got Rush Limbaugh out there. 

DELAY:  Oh, yes.  Radio talk shows are great. 

BARNICLE:  You mean conservative bloggers?

DELAY:  In any media.  If there‘s a blogosphere, we are sorely lacking in enough conservative bloggers to offset the liberal bloggers that are there.  And I want to set—be a role model that the leaders ought to have their own blog, and they ought to talk to people around the country on these blogs.

BARNICLE:  So do you have contributors to your blog lined up?  I mean, other conservatives, other members of Congress or...

DELAY:  Not right now, but we do have a grass roots organization that we‘re saying if you agree with me and want to be an activist and be part of driving a conservative agenda, sign up. 

BARNICLE:  So I log on to TomDeLay.com, and I write you a question, you answer the question?

DELAY:  That‘s right. 

BARNICLE:  Like I write, you know, “Do you—Tom, do you think you‘d ever run again for anything.”  What would be your answer?

DELAY:  Probably not.  I don‘t know where my future leads me.

BARNICLE:  Dear Tom, what do you think of your candidates in ‘08?  Do you think Romney has a chance?  Will his being a Mormon hurt him?  What do you...

DELAY:  I think we need a good solid conservative, and I‘m not sure we know who that is yet. 

BARNICLE:  What do you think of the Republican side of ‘08?  McCain, Romney, probably a couple of others?  Sam Brownback.

DELAY:  I think they‘re all people that certainly can run in the Republicans, but I‘m looking for a good solid conservative to carry on the legacy of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. 

BARNICLE:  What is a good solid conservative?  What‘s a good solid conservative?

DELAY:  What‘s a good solid conservative?

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

DELAY:  A person that believes in the Constitution and believes in the first principles of order, justice and freedom, that—that wants to completely change and redesign the government, that wants fundamental tax reform, that wants to fight the culture war, end abortion as we know it, that wants to hold the judiciary accountable. 

BARNICLE:  With only a couple of exceptions, I mean, you just described Barack Obama. 

DELAY:  No.  Barack—you‘re going to learn who the real Barack Obama is. 

BARNICLE:  TomDeLay.com.  Thanks very much, Tom DeLay.

Up next, President Bush is having a bunch of conversations about Iraq this week.  Will anything change soon?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(STOCK REPORT)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  And will President Bush find some options for Iraq that he likes?  Will Democrats find a big fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for 2008?  Will George W. Bush backers find themselves torn between John McCain and Mitt Romney?

To find the answers to those questions and more, let‘s bring in Mike Allen, White House correspondent for “TIME” magazine, and Jim Warren, managing editor for the “Chicago Tribune”. 

Mike Allen, this week in “TIME” magazine, you‘ve got a piece in there describing the White House seen as exceeding bitterness from the White House, none too pleased with the Iraq Study Group‘s report and I guess with Jim Baker personally.  What‘s the deal on that?  How deep is this bitterness?

MIKE ALLEN, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  Well, Mike, you know this president, and one thing about him is he likes people to remember that he‘s the president.  He told Bob Woodward years ago, he said, “I‘m the president.  I don‘t need to explain things to people.  Maybe they need to explain them to me.”

When we said that he was the decider, that was really a window in how he looks at things. 

And so what the White House people say is the president is happy to receive the advice, some of it appreciated, some of it not, from the Iraq Study Group, but they do not want people to get the idea that the president was being pushed into a corner by these recommendations or that somehow, whether Secretary Baker or anybody else on that commission was dictating where the United States was going to go in Iraq. 

The press secretary, Tony Snow, today called it a menu of advice that the president is getting.  That‘s probably appropriate to the season, I guess.  And he‘ll be getting some recommendations or some options from the State Department, from the Defense Department, the Iraq Study Group. 

Those will be taken together and they will inform what the president has already signaled, is going to be—he‘s called it a new course, a new direction, a new way forward.  The White House is telling us there are going to be significant changes, and Mike, as you know, we expect that not this week, when the president has an Iraq event every day this week, except for Thursday when he does the first lady‘s malaria conference.

But a speech sometime next week, probably after Monday when the new secretary of defense is tentatively scheduled to be sworn in. 

BARNICLE:  Jim Warren, you heard Mike speak about the buffet, the lunch, the menu at the White House.  What do you figure in terms of options, opinions, academics, generals, that they‘re meeting with this week?  Do you figure there‘s anything new that this president is going to hear?

JIM WARREN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  The answer, no.  And I mean, the thing that‘s a little startling up to this point, Mike and Mike—great to be with you, also—is that he shows absolutely no signs of acknowledging right now that we‘ve got to get out, that the key parties there in Iraq exhibit no more leadership than they are doing.  And he shows no desire of acknowledging the need, even a quasi-desire, to talk to the key outside parties of Syria and Iran. 

So where does that leave one?

One can think that, on one hand, it leaves one with the status quo and this sort of double-edged sword of what I think is one of his greatest strengths, his moral certitude.  But when it comes to the war, I think it is a distinct a weakness.  And the fact that he is not a stupid guy.  He realizes what‘s going on now is not working. 

So could we have some, you know, big swing for the fences ploy coming in January or after Christmas?  Perhaps, but it‘s not going to be any alternative that‘s a surprise to any of us, because all those alternatives have been laid out pretty darn clearly. 

BARNICLE:  Well, let me ask both you guys about this.  And Jim Warren, you‘re absolutely right in terms of I think everyone in this country knows that the president‘s moral certainty is his strong suit with regard to the policy in Iraq. 

And yet “TIME” magazine in your piece right now—it‘s online right now—you describe one of the political guys around the White House as saying no matter what you think about this president, he is a political realist. 

And yet, to both of you, how can you be a political realist and be going through the public relations, some would call it a charade with regard to Iraq when others in the country is walking around, scratching their heads and saying, “What is going on in Washington?”  How can you be a realist?

ALLEN:  Well, Mike, I think that‘s why you‘re seeing the very deliberate process this week where the president is showing himself to be involved in the type of consultations that Jim Warren referred to. 

To the people in the White House, they see some of these Democratic criticisms as being sort of a rusty trombone, things that they‘ve all heard again.  What they‘ve said is this president does know that he needs to make changes.  That‘s the realist part of a quote in the piece that I did with Michael Duffy this week somebody said that they didn‘t want to give the Baker Commission too much instant gratification. 

So they‘re showing that they‘re own—doing their own work on this.  So while you and I may be off at our bad sweater parties, they‘re in the White House working on these different option papers, coming up with something that is, we‘re told—will re-examine the fundamental pillars of the president‘s Iraq policy.  You don‘t often hear the White House saying that.

So however real big the changes are, they want them to be packaged as big, real changes.  That‘s the way—someone said to me, “We need to show that we‘re listening.  We need to show that we get it, and this president is prepared to do that.” 

BARNICLE:  When did you see my sweaters?  How did you know they were bad?

ALLEN:  I thought it was mine. 

BARNICLE:  Jim Warren, let me ask you.  I mean, you‘re out there in Chicago.  I‘m here in Washington.  I come here as a pilgrim.  I don‘t live here.  And I want to ask you, in Chicago, in your life, the people you know, apart from the newsroom, of the troop (ph), do you get the sense, do people get the sense that Washington has become one big sound stage with actors playing their parts, while the rest of the country merely goes through this agony every day over Iraq?  I mean, the disconnect is incredible.

WARREN:  Yes, I‘ll agree with that.  And I assume you get a little bit, too, in Boston where you commute from, Mike. 

You know, it‘s interesting.  After 9/11, now that you mentioned it, I never sensed this same sort of reaction here in this part of the country, the so-called heartland that we‘ve had on either cost.  I think that may have been partly because there wasn‘t the same sense of vulnerability that we‘ve had in New York and Washington or on the West Coast. 

And I think that somehow has also morphed in the last couple of years to a certain lack of involvement and lack of intensity of feeling toward the war in Iraq, other than a mounting sense that we‘ve made a huge mistake. 

And I think part of it has less to do with the supposed liberal media that always gets bashed than it does the lot of local television coverage.  And I think in the last year or so, the sight on the late news, whether it‘s 9 p.m., 10 p.m., 11 p.m. wherever you live, of the funerals and the sobbing moms and dads has had more of an impact than all of the op-ed pieces and all the page one military analyses that any of us could possibly write. 

So I think right now that it‘s going to be very, very hard for the president, absent doing something that really would be a shock, namely setting a definite timetable to get out, it would be hard to come up with anything that would be (INAUDIBLE) many of the men and women on the street in this part of the country.

ALLEN:  Boy, what Jim Warren just spoke to is so true, Mike.  The isolation that most people have from this war in Iraq, you know, they don‘t meet people who serve.  They don‘t know military families.  It‘s a huge gap. 

WARREN:  I think that‘s right.  And that‘s why you hear the president refer to the families.  I asked the president about a month ago, I think, right after the election, whether he thought that when he left office at noon January 20, right, 2009 if his goal of having Iraq as a country that can sustain, defend—protect be a war—ally in the war on terror, if those goals will be met.  And he said, you know, that he wasn‘t going to be trapped into talking about a timeline.  But he said that he had a message for the families of the military, and that if he did not believe that those goals could eventually be achieved, that he would pull the troops home now. 

And Mike, you saw that video that a British editor last week very impertinently questioning the president.  And I can tell you that he‘s somebody who does appreciate being questioned impertinently.

He said, appreciate that question, which is a sure sign that he didn‘t  But he responded there also by talking about the families of people in Iraq.  And Mike, I know you‘ve written and talked to them and you know how that must weigh on the president. 

BARNICLE:  Guys, thanks very much.

It‘s depressing talking about this subject. 

Mike Allen, Jim Warren, thank you.

Up next, we‘ll have much more on Barack Obama‘s big trip to New Hampshire and the fight over Iraq.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Senator Barack Obama visited New Hampshire for the first time on Sunday in the state with the nation‘s first presidential primary. It received him like a rock star. 

Tom Curry is national affairs reporter for MSNBC.com and has more on the senator‘s trip—Tom.

TOM CURRY, MSNBC.COM:  Yes, Mike, it was euphoria up there.  But there‘s a little bit of backlash.  They don‘t—the people up there who have been through primaries don‘t quite—they don‘t quite like this all of this media excitement and frenzy and reporters.  They‘re used to candidates ramping up a little bit more slowly. 

BARNICLE:  So, he draws this huge crowd in Manchester, New Hampshire, and, I guess, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and the locals were not put off by him, you‘re saying.  But they were put off by us, the media. 

CURRY:  Well, there were some people in the crowd who already have decided that they would support him if he becomes—if he runs for the nomination.

But there were others who were concerned that the media frenzy and the euphoria surrounding his visit, that it may change the nature of the New Hampshire primary.  You know, the people up there, as you well know, they like to be courted.  They like you to start out in the living room if you‘re a presidential contender—come to their living room, come to their coffee shop and answer some specific questions.

And they found the news media frenzy a little bit bewildering and they couldn‘t quite figure it out.  And, you know, he will have to go back, obviously.  And he will have to go to peoples‘ living rooms and answer some specific questions about Iraq and tax policy and the environment.  But they‘re very traditional up there in the way they like to question their candidates and they‘re little stunned by the juggernaut. 

BARNICLE:  Tom Curry, thanks very much.  We appreciate it.

So, we‘re back, I guess, according to Tom—to the apocryphal story out of the New Hampshire primary that, you know, Mrs. Dunfrey (ph) of Rye, New Hampshire is alleged to have said at one primary or another, you know, Morris Udall is a great guy, Jimmy Carter‘s a great guy, Bill Clinton is a great guy—incidentally, and Hilary Rosen is with us, and former Congresswoman Susan Molinari. 

Forgive me for not introducing you. 

How are you doing?

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Good. 

SUSAN MOLINARI, ® FMR. U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN:  Good.

BARNICLE:  So anyway, to continue the story, is alleged to have said about one candidate or another that, you know, he seems like a nice guy, but I‘ve only met him six or seven times. 

MOLINARI:  Right. Exactly.  You can certainly see—those of us who have worked in primaries in New Hampshire for candidates, they want to be the people who help to make that next president or next party nominee.  And you can see where they would be put off in their way by having this type of anointing.... 

BARNICLE:  They better get over it. 

ROSEN:  It‘s going to be very big houses that they‘re going to need to fill these living rooms for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  And the Democratic Primary, I think is going to attract a lot of attention. 

BARNICLE:  Well, not only that, but, I mean—let‘s go with the Republicans first.

Your guy, Rudy Giuliani, I mean, he‘s not going to show up just getting out of a station wagon, him and the driver.

MOLINARI:  You know, it‘s interesting.  Both parties have attracted a lot of fans.  They have sort of their name there, whether you‘re talking about from a Republican standpoint Rudi Giuliani, who is my candidate, or, you know, Governor Romney or Senator McCain, you know, they all—Senator Clinton, they all have that, you know, sort of star quality that‘s going to attract a lot of attention. 

ROSEN:  You know, we say this every primary, that this is going to go on long past New Hampshire and Iowa.  But this time it really is because what‘s really happened is there is now kind of so much money in politics that no candidate is going to—none of the major candidates going into this presidential election are going to let themselves be spent out by the time Iowa is over.  So New Hampshire won‘t have overwhelming importance.  Iowa won‘t have overwhelming importance.  Nevada won‘t have overwhelming importance.  South Carolina won‘t have it.  There‘s a collective there.  And people are going to have to do well in a majority of those places because people are going to stay in this for the long haul. 

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  Who can raise that kind of money?

Who can raise the money? 

MOLINARI:  Let‘s get back to the last presidential, too.  I mean, all it takes is that one mistake, that one line, that one bad joke, that one move that doesn‘t go across on the TV and you can be a front runner and you‘re out.  And there‘s going to be that second string that‘s going to be there...

ROSEN:  ... and other people are going to be standing there with the money.

BARNICLE:  OK.  But who can raise the money?  I mean, Hillary Clinton

can you tell me how or why she could spent there are $30 million for a New York Senate seat when she was basically unopposed?

What‘s up with that?

ROSEN:  Yes.  It was a lot...

BARNICLE:  A lot?

ROSEN:  ... and I think they regret it now.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI:  New York media is very expensive...

ROSEN:  It‘s very expensive.  But she gave a lot of it away to state and federal candidates around the country, number one.  But she has built a national base.  She‘s built—I don‘t think she‘s spent money on her Senate campaign on her presidential, but she had a lot of supporters supporting that Senate race.

Look, she can raise more.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN:  Money is not going to be her problem right now.  She starts off with something.  Barack Obama is going to raise a lot of money.  John Edwards is going to raise a lot of money. 

BARNICLE:  All right, but money is not going to be an issue for Senator Clinton.  We‘re agreed, OK?

ROSEN:  Absolutely. 

BARNICLE:  Let‘s say money is not going to be an issue for Mayor Giuliani.  Are we agreed? 

ROSEN:  Yes. 

BARNICLE:  Let‘s say money is not going to be an issue for Mitt Romney.  Are we agreed?  Or John McCain?  Agreed?  Everyone else is going to have difficulty raising money. 

ROSEN:  I think that‘s true. 

MOLINARI:  You know, one thing that has to be established that I think leads to Senator Clinton‘s favor is people believe she is running now.  And so you know, the money...

BARNICLE:  Do you think she is running? 

MOLINARI:  Oh, I think she is.

BARNICLE:  Do you, Hillary? 

ROSEN:  Yes.  I think she‘s running.

MOLINARI:  Why shouldn‘t she? 

BARNICLE:  Barack Obama.  What does that do to her candidacy?

ROSEN:  You know, she‘s a marathoner.  She‘s not a sprinter.  I don‘t think she ever thought she was going to walk into this primary, into the general with no primary.  This is going to be the most heavily contested presidential on both sides that we‘ve had in years, because why not?  Everyone who‘s ever wanted a shot, why not go now?  And she‘s prepared for that. 

BARNICLE:  Let me ask both of you.  I mean, the assumption is that Hillary Clinton, she‘s so powerful, name recognition, 100 percent, she‘s going to have a ton of money.  If Barack Obama were to get into this and give her a close contest in Iowa, beat her in New Hampshire—this guy is out there selling the one product that people are lining up to buy in this country.  He‘s selling hope.  And they are selling fear in a lot of other camps.  He‘s selling hope.

If he beats her in New Hampshire, what happens to her money?  Because she also has this cloud around her, doesn‘t she not, that she could probably win the nomination but lose in the fall, because she‘s a polarizing candidate.  What would happen to her if Obama, bang, beats her? 

ROSEN:  You know, again, I think she is going to have enough money to stay in there for the long haul.  It‘s a long way between now and New Hampshire.  Obama has got a vision.  She‘s not going to be selling fear.  The Democrats are going to be selling change.  And you know, how they do in the Congress for the next two years is going to be a big part of it.  You know, I think they both are going to have a chance to perform, and she knows that. 

But basically, the Democratic Party—I think you‘ve really got—you have the opportunity to send a new direction.  More than opportunity than the Republicans are going to have. 

MOLINARI:  OK.

BARNICLE:  We‘ll be right back.

MOLINARI:  And start with me.

BARNICLE:  (inaudible) Susan Molinari and Hilary Rosen.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We are back with the HARDBALLers, former Republican Congresswoman Susan Molinari and Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, finally the both of you introduced together.  Now, before the break, you said something that horribly annoyed Susan. 

(CROSSTALK) 

BARNICLE:  What was it?

ROSEN:  Well, the Republicans are not selling hope. 

MOLINARI:  And I disagree with that, obviously, because I think what we have to sell also is leadership, and when we talk about the situation we are going to find ourselves in—look, hope, you know, bringing this country together, that‘s always a message that is going to resonate, and particularly now, there is no doubt about it. 

But I think we‘re still going to be, you know, the front pages are still going to be covered with the war on terror, with the threat, with the videos coming from, you know, people who want to hurt the United States, and I think leadership and the ability to stand tough and stand toe to toe and eye to eye with these people around the globe is going to be very important, and I think that plays to Republican strengths.  And by the way, Mayor Giuliani. 

BARNICLE:  Don‘t you think, you know, I don‘t want to really dump on your marketing campaign here, but bring us together...

MOLINARI:  It‘s not marketing... 

BARNICLE:  ... Nixon used that in ‘68, and we are still not together. 

MOLINARI:  Well, that‘s the message of hope, we are not a red state, we‘re not a blue state, we‘re the United States.  And of course, that‘s true, but I think at a certain point I think you also have to think, people want us to just all get along. 

But they also want to make sure that we are world leaders and that we are protected. 

ROSEN:  But President Bush has such—his strategy has, like, 17 percent approval ratings these days, let‘s stay in Iraq and stay fighting and keep doing that.  Those Republican candidates are going to have to decide in those last two years of his presidency, are we going to be with the president or are we not going to be with the president?  And every time they go somewhere, that‘s going to have to be...

MOLINARI:  And Senator Clinton is going to have, obviously, the same issues. 

ROSEN:  No, she is obviously not with the president. 

MOLINARI:  Well, now she is not. 

ROSEN:  And hasn‘t been.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI:  Hasn‘t been?

ROSEN:  No.

MOLINARI:  She certainly has been with the president with regard to the establishment of the war with Iraq and declaring war on Iraq.

ROSEN:  She voted to give the president the authorization, but this is his execution...

(CROSSTALK) 

ROSEN:  War is not going to (inaudible).  This is not going to be it.

BARNICLE:  Let me ask you both about Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts, clearly attracting a lot of attention.  Seems like a pretty strong, viable candidate at this point in time.  He is a Mormon.  Do you think the issue of his religion, Mormonism, will be an issue in the campaign, or could it be an issue?  Or if it is, does it mean anything? 

MOLINARI:  I mean, I think it will be an issue, because it‘s the first time that we have a national candidate that we have to deal with a new religion that people have to learn about.  I think the media, obviously, will do everything that they can to educate the public, some from a positive standpoint, some from a negative.

I don‘t think it hurts him, though.  I think at this point in time, he is a known quantity to the people.  He has shown tremendous leadership in the past and has been a successful Republican governor of a blue state, and I think we are at that point where that‘s what we are most looking for. 

ROSEN:  I think it‘s exciting that we are going to have a campaign where all these diversity issues are going to be talked about, whether it‘s a woman, whether it‘s an African-American, whether it‘s diversity in religion. 

I don‘t think that is going to be Romney‘s problem.  Romney‘s problem is, you know, is he a real conservative, and was he a conservative three years ago when he was—you know, four years ago, when he was running against Ted Kennedy for the Senate—six years ago, and he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate—he had very different views than, you know, what he‘s saying in Republican living rooms today.  You know, it‘s who is the real Mitt Romney is going to be his issue, not his religion. 

MOLINARI:  Well, that may be.

BARNICLE:  OK.  Susan Molinari, Hilary Rosen, thanks very much. 

Tomorrow, Chris Matthews is back for the HARDBALL college tour with 2008 presidential prospect John Edwards at the University of North Carolina.  I can‘t wait for him to get back.  See you then. 

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

END   

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