updated 9/7/2007 11:05:40 AM ET 2007-09-07T15:05:40

Guests: Andy Card, Douglas Brinkley, Mike Rogers, Pete Hegseth, Brian Katulis, Chris Cillizza, Ezra Klein, Holly Bailey

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Who‘s in?  Who‘s out?  Fred Thompson enters the contest for the next Ronald Reagan.  Who will be the most feared man in Washington named (ph)?  Who will be named by the most feared man in Washington as the next gay Republican who votes too (ph) straight Republican?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Two big stories tonight.  Who‘s going to be in as the next Republican hero?  The closest thing to Ronald Reagan, that is.  And who‘s going to be the next Republican outed?  Let‘s start with the search for the new Mr. Reagan.  Today, the “shining city on the hill” paid its respects to our friend, Michael Deaver, the man who polished the image and molded the enduring mythology of President Ronald Reagan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  President Ronald Reagan restored our nation‘s spirit.  He revitalized our economy in a way that really continues to this day.  And he hastened the end of the cold war.  Mike Deaver helped him do all of these great things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mike Deaver was a great man.  He was laid to rest today.

Republicans are desperately looking for a new Ronald Reagan, and with Fred Thompson entering the race, the GOP field is now complete.  So which 2008 candidate can possibly fill Reagan‘s shoes?  Which candidate will emerge as the leader of the pack this time?  We‘ll talk to President Bush‘s former chief of staff, Andy Card, who‘s sitting with me now and who was at the funeral with me today, and presidential historian Douglas Brinkley in just a moment.

Our second story tonight, who‘ll stop the music?  We‘ve had two Republican lawmakers outed, as they say, in recent memory.  One is Mark Foley of Florida, the other Larry Craig of Idaho.  Are there more coming on this list?  Tonight, we have the guy who‘s been keeping tabs on members and their voting records and checking his list twice to see who is voting one way and living another.

And Washington awaits the Bush report on Iraq coming out next week.  But will the report be an honest assessment, or will the Bush administration manipulate the facts?  Will Americans get an honest take on the war or propaganda?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight.  It‘s going to be a hot one.

We begin, however, tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with his report on Republicans out there looking for a leader.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  At the National Cathedral today in Washington, former first lady Nancy Reagan, as well as Reagan administration staff and friends, gathered to remember Michael Deaver.  Deaver, who served in the Reagan White House, died recently.  He is credited with the 1980s imagery that contributed to the Reagan legacy of optimism, success and American renewal.  It‘s a legacy Republicans are looking for again.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FMR NYC MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Ronald Reagan won the cold war without firing a shot.

SHUSTER:  The Republican candidate most often compared to Reagan is television actor and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, who announced his candidacy last night on the “Tonight” show.

FRED THOMPSON, ®, FORMER TENNESSEE SENATOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 

I‘m running for president of the United States.

JAY LENO, HOST:  All right!  There you have it, ladies and gentlemen!

SHUSTER:  In 1984, questions about age dogged Ronald Reagan until Reagan came back with this.

GOV. RONALD REAGAN (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I will not make age an issue of this campaign.  I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent‘s youth and inexperience.

SHUSTER:  Fred Thompson, who faces questions about getting in the race late and who skipped last night‘s debate, offered his own witty one-liner.

THOMPSON:  It‘s a lot more difficult to get on the “Tonight” show than it is to get into a presidential debate.

LENO:  Exactly!  Exactly!

SHUSTER:  Still, the rest of the GOP field scolded Thompson and took aim at the perception that Thompson is lazy.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We were up past his bedtime.  But the point is, I think...

GIULIANI:  This is a nomination you have to earn, though.  Nobody‘s going to give it to you.  Nobody‘s going to grant it to you.  Nobody‘s going to crown you.

SHUSTER:  Last night‘s debate had a certain feistiness Reagan would have loved.  Mitt Romney ridiculed Giuliani‘s record on illegal immigration.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We want you in New York.  We‘ll protect you in New York.  I think that contributed to 3 million illegals in this country becoming 12 million illegals coming into this country.

SHUSTER:  But Romney himself became a target when he spoke about the future of U.S. troops in Iraq.

ROMNEY:  If the surge is working, then we‘re going to be able to start bringing back our troop levels slowly but surely.

MCCAIN:  Governor, the surge is working.  The surge is working, sir.

ROMNEY:  (INAUDIBLE)

MCCAIN:  No, not apparently.  It‘s working.

SHUSTER:  A viewer also slammed Romney for a comment a few weeks ago related to the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t think you fully understand how offended my wife and I were, and probably the rest of the people who have sons, daughters, husbands, and wives serving in the war on terror, to compare your sons‘ attempts to get you elected to my son‘s service in Iraq.

ROMNEY:  Well, there is no comparison, of course.  There‘s no question but the honor that we have for men and women who serve in armed forces is a place of honor we will never forget, and nothing compares to it.

SHUSTER:  Another viewer referred to Rudy Giuliani‘s marital failures and strained family relationships.

GIULIANI:  I am not running as the perfect candidate for president of the United States.  I‘m running as a human being who has been very successful as a leader.

SHUSTER:  New Hampshire debates often produce legendary political moments.  Back in 1980, when Ronald Reagan wanted to open up an event...

REAGAN:  I am paying for this microphone!

SHUSTER:  Last night, Ron Paul teed things up for Mike Huckabee as they argued over the Bush administration and the Iraq war.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They‘re responsible, not the American people.  They‘re not responsible.  We shouldn‘t punish them.

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, FMR ARKANSAS GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 

Congressman, we are one nation.  We can‘t be divided.  We have to be one nation under God.  That means if we make a mistake, we make it as a single country, the United States of America, not the divided states of America.

SHUSTER:  But to this day, presidential candidates often dream of Reagan‘s sense of rhetorical timing.

REAGAN:  There you go again.

SHUSTER:  Last night, the best timing belonged to John McCain.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS, MODERATOR:  Do you accuse Governor Romney of flip-flopping on this issue?  In fact, you said maybe his solution will be to get his small varmint gun and run the Guatemalans off his lawn.

MCCAIN:  I thought that was a pretty good line.

SHUSTER:  But it was the surging second-tier candidate Huckabee who evoked Reagan‘s sense of decency.

HUCKABEE:  If someone is looking for a president who is going to have a mean spirit toward other human beings, I‘m not their guy.

SHUSTER (on camera):  At the Michael Deaver memorial today, there was a lot of reminiscing about the days when President Reagan and his team were considered the best of the political big leagues and Republicans were on a roll.  Now, with the GOP haunted by an unpopular war and the administration of George W. Bush, all eyes are turning to the Republican presidential candidates, who are finally hitting hard and campaigning on all cylinders as they seek the Reagan mantle.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I just love the way David mixed the past with the present.  I love politics, obviously, but the way he put together Reagan as if he‘s in our living room tonight, which we surely wish he was sometimes—it was wonderful.  I love that report.

Anyway, Fred Thompson‘s the actor.  He‘s the former senator.  He began his quest for the White House last night on Jay Leno‘s couch.  Is he the savor of the Republican Party?  And how close to the image of Ronald Reagan is this guy for real?  Andy Card‘s President Bush‘s former chief of staff, and Doug Brinkley‘s a great presidential historian.  Thank you, gentlemen.

First, from the inside, I want to ask you.  Fred Thompson—has he got a little Reagan in him?

ANDY CARD, FORMER BUSH CHIEF OF STAFF:  I think he does.  Certainly, he‘s a star.  He‘s got stature.  So there‘s a glow about him that America likes, and they‘re anxious to see if he has substance to him.  I know Fred Thompson, worked with him.  He actually helped when I was chief of staff at the White House get a Supreme Court nominee onto the Court.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CARD:  And he‘s very able.  He‘s got a wonderful way with people.  President Reagan had a wonderful way with people.  But you know, this campaign is not going to be just about one ad or campaign.  You actually have to win in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina.  You have to put together an organization.  And he‘s starting very late.  There are others who...

MATTHEWS:  Has he got the juice for this job?  Is he too old, too lazy?

CARD:  I don‘t think—no, I don‘t think he‘s too old.  I don‘t think he‘s too lazy.  But it‘s a wide open contest on the Republican side, and the front-runners are pretty well known to us.  The contest now will be broken down not into a national campaign but individual campaigns in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina.  And you know, even the dates of those contests haven‘t been fully firmed up yet.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Doug Brinkley, the great thing about these old vaudevillians like Reagan and this guy, Fred Thompson, actors, is that they seem to be lazy as they hang around their homes in Beverly Hills, but the minute they‘re on the mark, the minute the lights go on, they‘re ready for their close-up and they‘ve got juice.  Jack Lemmon, the great star—love that guy—used to say, Magic time.  Is this guy going to be able to show magic time, come alive?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  I think we‘ll know in about a month.  You know, Reagan used to say you can never tell how far you‘ll go in American life if you look good on a horse.  And you look at Fred Thompson, it‘s sort of, you never can tell how far if you‘re good at the raccoon and possum kind of front porch stories.  He has a kind of folksy charm.  If you talk to even Democratic senators, which I‘ve done about him over the summer, they all say, He‘s a nice guy, we like him...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... like Tennessee Ernie Ford, president of the United States, to use an old reference?

BRINKLEY:  Well, you know, we might.  I mean, it‘s a—we‘re looking at the—you know, the red states and in the heartland and in the South, and he is a son of Tennessee.  I could see the entire South gathering around a Fred Thompson candidacy.

MATTHEWS:  OK, is he going to bump the Mormon, to be blunt about it?  Does his Southern Baptist background give him a local and religious edge over a man of the LDS church, to be blunt about it?

BRINKLEY:  I think it might, to be blunt about it.  I think you might be right.  And I thought last night, Fred Thompson came out ahead being on the Jay Leno show, and I thought it was a bad night for Romney in the debate, and particularly the clip you just ran of that father talking about Romney kind of putting down his son...

MATTHEWS:  Well, just to do what we like to do here on HARDBALL—we like to rub it in—here‘s Romney getting grilled by that voter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t think you fully understand how offended my wife and I were, and probably the rest of the people who have sons, daughters, husbands, and wives serving in the war on terror, to compare your sons‘ attempts to get you elected to my son‘s service in Iraq.

ROMNEY:  Well, there is no comparison, of course.  There‘s no question but that the honor that we have for men and women who serve in our armed forces is a place of honor we will never forget, and nothing compares to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is this guy too pristine?  I mean, Ronald Reagan may not have fought in combat in World War II, but he was in the service in uniform and he did evoke World War II better than anybody.  This guy doesn‘t seem to evoke regular life in America.  He seems like a guy who‘s in a Powerpoint demonstration somewhere at a hotel.

CARD:  Well, first of all, he‘s a good strong leader.  All of the Republicans...

MATTHEWS:  Who is?

CARD:  Mitt Romney‘s a good, strong leader.

MATTHEWS:  Really?  How do you know that?

CARD:  Because he was a governor of Massachusetts, a tough state to govern...

MATTHEWS:  He couldn‘t have gotten reelected as governor of Massachusetts.  You know that.

CARD:  He got elected...

MATTHEWS:  Would he have gotten re-elected?  Come on!

CARD:  I think he might be re-elected in Massachusetts.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) that‘s a little weak.  That‘s not exactly the...

(CROSSTALK)

CARD:  It‘s a tough climate out there for Republicans in Massachusetts.

MATTHEWS:  I know it is, very tough.

CARD:  But Mitt‘s...

MATTHEWS:  If he had ran for governor of Massachusetts—and you know politics up there better than anybody—as a pro-life, anti-gay marriage Republican, would he have gotten elected?

CARD:  He probably would not have gotten elected.

MATTHEWS:  So in other words, he says he regrets having ran and won in the way that he did.  But had he ran the way said he would run now, he would have lost.

CARD:  But...

MATTHEWS:  Catch-22.

CARD:  ... he did a very good job as governor.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

CARD:  He kept the state competitive economically.  He put it on a good track for the future.  And I think that that will bode well.  Remember the track record that he had at the Olympics in Salt Lake City, as well.  It was in shambles.  He came in and rescued it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at Rudy Giuliani.  I know “The New York Times” magazine is going to run a very tough piece on him this weekend.  He‘s had so many pieces written about him, about his family life, his three marriages and all.  They seem to be water off a duck‘s back.  Here he is, Rudy Giuliani, handling a question again about his family history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED:  For Rudy Giuliani.  I was curious, the subject of family values is separated from the rest because it‘s something that you can only lead by example.  You can talk all you want, but it doesn‘t necessarily mean you believe in it.  And I just wanted to hear his comments on that.

GIULIANI:  I am not running as the perfect candidate for president of the United States.  I‘m running as a human being who has been very successful as a leader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Doug Brinkley, will that work?  It seems to be working, if you look at the numbers, that kind of, OK, I‘m not Jesus, I‘m not a good guy in the sense of if you‘re looking for sainthood, I‘m not eligible.

BRINKLEY:  Well, you know, Chris, he‘s been the surprise.  People thought Giuliani would start sinking in the polls, and instead, he‘s holding very strong.  He talks directly.  But most importantly, the American people, I think, right now, at least, two things about Giuliani, the 9/11 hero and the guy who helped New York get over its doldrums of crime.  And as long as he can keep those two things and remain a kind of folk hero in the heartland, he‘s looking very strong.  Fred Thompson, I think, is going to hurt Romney more than Giuliani.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Oh, so true.  You know, I come from a Republican family, as you know.  My brother‘s in Republican politics.  And I grew up listening to Republicans, the way they think and feel.  I got to tell you, the Democrats I know in the media don‘t get your party.  They think your party‘s all about the Moral Majority and Jerry Falwell.  Your party likes leaders.

CARD:  It likes—the Republican candidates, all of them, have the capacity to be a leader.  The Democrats, all of them, want to be joiners.  They want to be with the crowd.  And you know, a president actually has to have the courage to be lonely.  And leadership sometimes requires a leader to make a lonely decision.

MATTHEWS:  Can a presidential candidate win in this country who‘s had the family history of Rudy Giuliani?  Married three times.

CARD:  I think that Rudy Giuliani, because of the performance he gave as mayor of New York during a horrific time that no one could have anticipated, has a chance to be president.

MATTHEWS:  So who are you voting for?

CARD:  I‘m staying on the sidelines.  I‘ll vote for the Republican nominee.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you about Ron Paul.  I‘m sorry.  I heard he got applause last night.  He‘s anti-war.  He thinks the neocons got us in this whole thing.  I like a lot of what he says.  Does he stand for a chunk of Republican thinking?

CARD:  He tends to win the Internet voting right after a debate...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CARD:  ... but those people aren‘t the ones that show is up and stand in line to vote in the primary or go to a caucus.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CARD:  So I don‘t think that Ron Paul is going to be the Republican nominee.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s my theory, Doug.  Check me on this.  I think that the entrance of Fred Thompson into the race, a Southern Baptist, stymies the growth potential of Mitt Romney.  He doesn‘t hurt Giuliani much.  The decline of John McCain‘s outlook in this campaign—he looked very good last night, but he‘s not looking good Generally—is going to help Rudy Giuliani.  I think it‘s a three-way race with Giuliani in the lead, with Fred Thompson pulling ahead of Romney.  So I think it‘s right now Giuliani, Thompson, and Romney from here until Christmas.  What do you think?

BRINKLEY:  I agree with you.  And you know, McCain may become interesting because if he ends up having to drop out—if he can‘t win in New Hampshire, where he‘s strong, he might have to drop out.  And he‘s very close friends with Giuliani, very close to Fred Thompson, but disdains Romney.  So if McCain ended up endorsing one of them at the...

MATTHEWS:  I love it!  How do you know he disdain‘s—I can tell he does, but how did you figure it out, Mr. Historian?

BRINKLEY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  How can you tell objectively that John McCain can‘t stand Mitt Romney?

BRINKLEY:  Well, I‘m around circles.  I talk to a lot of people.  And that‘s where the—you know, there‘s—just on the Democratic side, there‘s a lot of dislike between Obama and Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BRINKLEY:  It‘s going to be very hard to imagine the two of them on a ticket.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I can think of a lot of reasons why they won‘t be on a ticket, but thank you.  Doug Brinkley, the greatest, the name of the book you‘re out with right now, still one of the great sellers of this year, “The Reagan Diaries.”  What an amazing piece of editing and thinking and journalism.  Thank you very much, Doug Brinkley.  A great book (INAUDIBLE) one of those books you put on your shelf and let everybody look at it for a while and then read it once in a while.  Anyway, Andy Card, I like your objectivity.

Coming up: The most feared man in Washington, the blogger who outs gay members of Congress, especially Republicans—he‘s coming here.  We‘ll see what he has to say.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Idaho newspaper that investigated Larry Craig‘s sexual history did so after a Washington blogger posted information about Craig‘s encounters with men.  “The Washington Post” asked in a headline whether this blogger, Mike Rogers, who‘s sitting next to me, is the most feared man on Capitol Hill.  He joins me.

Are you the most feared man on Capitol Hill?

MIKE ROGERS, BLOGACTIVE.COM:  I—only to the people who are closeted and...

MATTHEWS:  Well, the people that you mention...

ROGERS:  ... anti-gay.

MATTHEWS:  The closeted people you put on your blog site, obviously, are aware of your existence.

ROGERS:  The hypocrites are really afraid of me.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s a hypocrite here?  I mean, aren‘t there fellows out there who are straight who have had, what do you call them, relationships outside their marriage, maybe it‘s a one-night stand, 20, 30 years ago, maybe it‘s somebody they fell for and they got over?  I mean, I can imagine all kinds of—but nobody‘s perfect.

ROGERS:  I agree with you.

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s your point?

ROGERS:  My point is, is when individuals who are not perfect take their imperfections and start judging people who have the same or any kind of...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s start on the firmest ground possible, with the gay people who are patriotic and want to join the volunteer military service and want to serve their country without disguising their orientation.

ROGERS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s the hardest one to justify if you are gay yourself.

ROGERS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, you‘re saying, People like me, who love their country and are gay, shouldn‘t be allowed to be both.

ROGERS:  And...

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s a hard argument.

ROGERS:  And two weeks after he was—entered his guilty plea, Larry Craig actually wrote to a constituency that putting gays—openly gays and lesbians in the military would be a risk to troops, would risk the lives of the troops.

MATTHEWS:  And the—and the B.S. behind that is that anybody who has served in the military knows there‘s the usual number of gay people in the military as there are anywhere else, and maybe more. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  Maybe more. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody knows this. 

ROGERS:  Everybody knows this.  And they‘re taught by their leaders to not like gay people.  This isn‘t about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is that true? 

ROGERS:  Absolutely.  Look at the surveys of the -- 73 percent of Iraqi war veterans of the Iraq war who come back say they have no problem with the folks who are gay or lesbian.  And that‘s approximate percentage.

MATTHEWS:  And they can tell who—they can tell who is. 

ROGERS:  People are out.  They‘re out, many of them. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they spend 24/7 with these people. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  Sure.  And many of them—and many of them are out of the closet.  They‘re going home on their leave to their boyfriends.  Their colleagues know.

MATTHEWS:  So, even though they say don‘t ask, don‘t tell, it‘s not a fact. 

Let me ask you about politicians. 

ROGERS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  If a member of Congress represents a conservative state, like Idaho, right, which is...

ROGERS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... what, 80 percent Republican or something, and they have conservative values, a lot of LDS people, a lot of Mormon people, a lot of just conservative Protestants and Catholics, why shouldn‘t they vote with their state, even if they happen to be born gay? 

ROGERS:  I have no problem...

MATTHEWS:  Why shouldn‘t they vote right wing on cultural issues, if that‘s the view of their constituents?

ROGERS:  They should just be honest.  They should say, this is what I am.  I‘m voting against my own community, just like I think, if a woman is representing a conservative district and votes for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, and then, Tuesday night, after the vote, goes and has an abortion, I think people have the right to know that, that they want to set one set of rules—Larry Craig wanted one set of rules that he could live by, that he could ignore the set of rules when he was in the bathroom. 

He himself was a veteran and ranking member on the Veterans Affairs Committee.  This guy was a powerful veterans person.  And he made no effort to try to soften the don‘t ask/don‘t tell policy, which is tossed...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make—you‘re gay, right? 

ROGERS:  I am. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of people who—like he, who say, I am not gay, even though they were caught in this very—well, what‘s the right word? 

ROGERS:  Compromising position? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, if you will...

ROGERS:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... to laugh about it, but, clearly, were caught in a situation that clearly establishes, to most people‘s minds, that they were gay, and interested in gay behavior, activities?  What do you say if a person—does that person necessarily flunk a lie-detector test or a sodium pentathol test?  Or could they actually mean it? 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  They actually might think that they‘re not gay, because, A, a whole lot of people are put through reparative therapy programs that start off on the premise, you‘re not gay.  We will help you fix yourself. 

So, that‘s one way.  And the other thing is, is that I think...

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t think he‘s gone through that, do you? 

ROGERS:  I don‘t know what his life experience is, in terms of that. 

But I do know that I think that there‘s a difference between Mark Foley, who was living with a partner in Florida, who was pretty much out in his own circle of friends.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think—I think—I think most people who knew Mark

and I liked the guy—I like him.  I meet him today, I like him.  I thought he was gay.  I always figured he was. 

ROGERS:  Right.  And I think...

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m not sure I‘m Mr., you know, in charge of deciding who is and who isn‘t.

ROGERS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Because I think I could be wrong, as well as right. 

ROGERS:  That‘s my job, right? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, I could be wrong. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  A lot of people can be wrong.  But I think that he didn‘t, like, pretend to be straight. 

ROGERS:  Right.  And—and someone like Larry Craig is an entirely different psychology.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, we‘re in tricky language.

ROGERS:  Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... even get in this, because you only get in trouble for saying you can tell who‘s gay and who‘s not. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  I think—I know.  And I think that Larry Craig is a man who has sex with men.  I think that that is different than realizing for himself, whether he‘s out of the closet or not, that he‘s a gay man.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, when he‘s out on a vote, when he‘s out on the floor of the Senate, as opposed to the floor of a men‘s room somewhere, and he‘s out there voting against gays serving in the military, against gays being able to form civil unions, let alone getting formally married, like at a...

ROGERS:  Gay adoption, he voted against. 

MATTHEWS:  What does that say to you, and why are you opposed to it? 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  It says to me he‘s leading a double life. 

It is hypocrisy.  It has nothing to do with who he is sleeping with. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ROGERS:  It has nothing to with any of that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What are you going to do about it? 

ROGERS:  I‘m going to keep reporting it.  I mean, Larry Craig is done.

MATTHEWS:  When do you decide?  You have got a list of—I saw your list on your blog, said...

ROGERS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... you have got some actual members of Congress.  I think there‘s one or so members in there I already know are gay. 

ROGERS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to—what‘s your standard for how you‘re going to release these names to try to get them in the newspapers? 

ROGERS:  Just like every journalist, I take my story.  When the story‘s complete, I put it up on the site.  And I work to help...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But some names are already up there, but they haven‘t bounced into the mainstream media yet. 

ROGERS:  Right.  Well, we‘re—there‘s a little more attention paid to this work now, and we‘re going to certainly revisit some of these old cases.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What do you think about David Vitter, who‘s been caught with a—a prostitute...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  David Vitter is a hypocrite.  It‘s not my bailiwick, but I‘m hoping that folks in...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How so is he a hypocrite? 

ROGERS:  He was espousing a family-values agenda.  He was out there telling people, basically, gay people are bad; they shouldn‘t have equal rights; my family is, you know, the whole thing. 

His wife actually went out and...

MATTHEWS:  You know what I would like to see? 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Two different kinds of running for office.  One kind of office, you bring the family on, the dog on, your girlfriend on, and you say, check me out.  I‘m who I claim I be. 

ROGERS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  The other guy or woman runs and says, don‘t assume anything about me. 

ROGERS:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Nothing.

ROGERS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Just assume the worst, if you want to.  Vote for me, and leave me the hell alone. 

ROGERS:  Right.  I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I would—I would like that, wouldn‘t you? 

ROGERS:  I would love it.  If people would leave people alone, on both sides, either the elected politicians...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROGERS:  ... or the folks...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t make any claims about being whatever. 

Anyway, Mike, it‘s nice to have you on. 

ROGERS:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not sure I agree with your tactics, but, if I didn‘t have you on...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  You don‘t want to report hypocrisy? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why am I arguing with that?  I have you on.  Then I would be a hypocrite. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROGERS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And I don‘t want to be that.

Anyway, thank you, Mike Rogers...

ROGERS:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  ... the man—the most feared man in Washington. 

Up next, Obama finally talks tough to Hillary.  And John McCain shows up in New Hampshire ready to fight. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for some more political nasties. 

Barack Obama has just started to call Hillary‘s bluff.  She brags about her experience.  He says it‘s not about living in the White House.  It‘s about serving in elected positions—quote—“I have been in elective office longer than John Edwards or Hillary Clinton,” he said.  “I have passed more bills, I‘m sure, than either of them.”

Well, Barack‘s problem, obviously, is that his claim to all this experience now undermines his louder claim to being the new kid on the block, the young fellow unscathed by all the slime in the political world. 

Speaking of tough, last night, people reported a sighting of the old John McCain, the fellow with spit in his voice. 

Here he is going after Mitt Romney, somebody I doubt he likes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  What I have indicated is very consistent with what the president is speaking about and what we‘re hearing from Iraq right now, and that is that the surge is apparently working.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Governor, the surge is working.  The surge is working, sir.

ROMNEY:  That‘s just what I said.

MCCAIN:  It is working.  No, not “apparently”; it‘s working.  It‘s working because we have got a great general.  We have got a good strategy.  Anbar province, things have improved.  The Maliki government is not doing the things we want it to do.  The police are not functioning the way we want them to do, but we are succeeding.

And the great debate is not whether it‘s apparently working or not.  The great debate is going to take place on the floor of the United States Senate the middle of this month.  And it‘s going to be whether we set a date for withdrawal, which will be a date for surrender, or whether we will let this surge continue and succeed.

And I can assure you, it‘s more than apparent, it is working, and we have to rally the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And how about this fight between the straights and the gays? 

David Vitter, who got caught with a prostitute, denies there‘s a double standard that lets him stay in the U.S. Senate, while Larry Craig gets the bum‘s rush for seeking sex with a male undercover detective.  Vitter says, anybody who says there‘s a double standard is just being partisan.

Also on the Larry Craig front, some of his backers are now calling for a boycott of the Minneapolis Airport.  They want to—quote—“punish” the airport for ambushing their guy. 

To paraphrase Larry Craig, that naughty, nasty airport. 

Up next, tonight‘s HARDBALL debate:  Will the Bush administration‘s Iraq report be an honest assessment or propaganda? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

All green arrows today, the Dow Jones industrials gaining almost 58 points, the S&P 500 climbing six, and the Nasdaq gaining eight. 

Retailers reported surprisingly strong back-to-school sales in August

among the winners, Wal-Mart, Target, and Saks.  New mortgage foreclosures, though, hit an all-time high in the second quarter.  It was the third straight quarter that a new record was set. 

Worker productivity, meantime, rose in the second quarter at the fastest pace in nearly two years, while wage pressures actually eased sharply.  Those developments should reduce inflation worries.  Meantime, claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week for the first time in seven weeks. 

And facing an outcry from iPhone customers who bought the device before yesterday‘s $200 price cut, Apple announced it will offer them a $100 store credit. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

General Petraeus is expected to deliver his report on the surge in Iraq next week.  But will it be an honest look at Iraq, or will it be the latest example of misrepresentation and cherry-picking the numbers to support the Bush administration argument that security is actually improving? 

That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight. 

Pete Hegstreth—Hegseth—is an Iraq war veteran and executive director of Vets for Freedom.  And Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. 

Well, Pete, you start. 

What do you think we‘re going to get from General Petraeus, as it gets, oh, let‘s—let‘s put it this way, polished by the White House speechwriters? 

PETE HEGSETH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VETS FOR FREEDOM:  Well, I don‘t think General Petraeus is going to let the White House speech—speechwriters write his report.  He‘s going to come back—or write his assessment.  It‘s not a report.  He‘s coming back to provide an assessment about progress on the ground. 

He‘s the most informed person we have got over there.  He‘s got a new strategy that he‘s been implementing.  He understands what‘s working.  He understands that military progress is a prerequisite...

(CROSSTALK)

HEGSETH:  ... political progress.

MATTHEWS:  And he has the freedom—you believe he has the freedom, as a serving general officer, field officer, to say, it‘s not working? 

HEGSETH:  He has a duty. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he have the freedom to tell the truth? 

HEGSETH:  He has a duty.  He has a duty, as a general officer.  And he‘s...

MATTHEWS:  To tell the truth? 

HEGSETH:  ... served his country well. 

To tell the truth.  And I believe he will.  He said he will.

MATTHEWS:  Even if his commander in chief doesn‘t like it? 

HEGSETH:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HEGSETH:  I mean, we have got a history in this country of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Brian, your view of what‘s coming next week.  Are we going to get a clean report or are we going to get a doctored report? 

BRIAN KATULIS, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  We know what he‘s going to say.  They‘re cherry-picking the facts already.  They‘re defining special categories on what is ethno-sectarian violence and constructing these categories that don‘t make any sense at all. 

The levels of violence are deadly and high.  The NIE told us that. 

And it‘s a mess. 

(CROSSTALK)

KATULIS:  And—and he‘s saying it‘s down 75 percent, and they‘re ignoring whole swathes of the country, picking and choosing, cherry-picking the facts, like they did on the NIE.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go back to the original reason for this surge.  The war was losing popularity, as you all know, a year ago, deadly down in popularity. 

And the president said, let‘s give it one college try.  Let‘s see if we can protect Baghdad and allow the politicians to cut deals and bring together some unity in that country, so we can leave.  So, let‘s give them really good security.  Let‘s throw in 30,000 more troops into Baghdad, clean it up, so the politicians can cut a deal, and we can get out of there. 

HEGSETH:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Has that been done?  Is Baghdad secure now for the politicians to get their work done?  And are they getting it done? 

HEGSETH:  It‘s more secure, absolutely.  And they focused on the beltways around Baghdad first, to cut off the entry routes of al Qaeda and their suicide bombers and their car bombs.  And Baghdad is more safe than it was.

MATTHEWS:  Is—is—is the goal of creating a secure political environment for Baghdad working? 

HEGSETH:  Absolutely.  From the ground up, you‘re seeing tribal leaders come together and provide security for neighborhoods. 

MATTHEWS:  In Baghdad? 

HEGSETH:  In Baghdad. 

MATTHEWS:  In Baghdad?

HEGSETH:  And you know what?  Everybody wants to discount Anbar Province.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No.  Now, I just want to focus on what the president focused on when he started this surge...

HEGSETH:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... which is Baghdad political unity. 

HEGSETH:  Sure. 

(CROSSTALK)

KATULIS:  Chris, we know it‘s not happening. 

MATTHEWS:  Brian?

KATULIS:  I mean, this government has fallen apart.  Half of the ministers in the Maliki government aren‘t even there.  They have withdrawn. 

And, in Baghdad, in the areas that there‘s increased stability, why? 

Because there‘s been sectarian cleansing.  The NIE told us that.  Populations have been displaced.  Nearly—nearly half of the people who have been displaced in Iraq happened since this surge. 

The—the—the numbers of people who have been pushed out of their homes doubled since the surge started. 

HEGSETH:  No.  It was...

(CROSSTALK)

KATULIS:  And that‘s—that‘s a fundamental problem.  We‘re talking about certain neighborhoods.  We‘re crawling up a tree, but we‘re not looking at the forest.  And the forest is on fire, and there‘s earthquakes, and it‘s a mess in Iraq.  And we‘re saying, OK, it‘s getting a little better in certain neighborhoods.

But we‘re not talking about why.  And it‘s because of sectarian cleansing in Baghdad.  It‘s because we‘re—we‘re making these alliances with—with tribal forces that, frankly, don‘t want us there in the end.  They want us to get out in about five or six months, when you ask them.  They hate the Persians first, which they talk about the—the Maliki government. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HEGSETH:  No.

KATULIS:  They hate the U.S.  And they don‘t like Israel, by the way, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s not surprising. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the situation in 1952 in Korea, in 1968 in Vietnam.  In neither case was the United States losing on the battlefield.  We were moving up to the 38th Parallel in Korea.  We were moving back toward—pushing the Chinese back, regaining territory. 

In Vietnam, a lot of argument about what Tet meant, but a lot of people would argue, we never lost a battle in Vietnam.  So, it‘s not about winning or losing the battle.  But are we not somewhere in that twilight zone right now over there, not winning and not losing?  Are you contending that we are winning, Pete? 

HEGSETH:  I‘m contending that we‘re heading in the right direction. 

MATTHEWS:  That we‘re winning?  No.  Are we winning? 

HEGSETH:  Absolutely.  We are heading in the right direction. 

MATTHEWS:  Winning?

HEGSETH:  We are moving in the right...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  How many years will it take us to win? 

HEGSETH:  How can...

(CROSSTALK)

HEGSETH:  We can‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, no, but I can ask you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No.  We‘re in a war going into the sixth year.  I can ask you, if we are winning, how many more years will it take us to get it done? 

HEGSETH:  You can‘t draw a definitive timeline.

MATTHEWS:  How many, roughly?  Fifteen?  Ten? 

HEGSETH:  You can‘t.  I don‘t think you...

MATTHEWS:  Well, give me a rough estimate. 

I think we will all want to talk in a few years and not in decades, certainly.

MATTHEWS:  A few years?

HEGSETH:  Nobody—nobody wants...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we could possibly get...

HEGSETH:  We want our guys out as soon as possible.

MATTHEWS:  Can we get out of there with victory in three or four years? 

HEGSETH:  Chris, history...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I need to know this. 

HEGSETH:  Chris, history is not going to judge us on when we leave. 

It‘s going judge us on what we leave behind.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re having an election next year.  And the American people want to know what the outlook is. 

HEGSETH:  And what we‘re going to leave behind is a haven for al Qaeda from which they can...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the outlook?  What‘s the outlook going to be next year at election time? 

HEGSETH:  The outlook is going to be largely very positive, if we continue the strategy we have got. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

You argue, if we keep the troop strength we have right now, by next year, we‘re arguing here at this table, a year from now, it will look better? 

HEGSETH:  You cannot discount...

MATTHEWS:  You say it‘s going to look better?

HEGSETH:  It‘s going to look better.  And you can‘t discount the military progress and what that does in a counterinsurgency.  You have to shift the sympathies of a population in a counterinsurgency.  And the only way to do that is to provide security.  And that‘s exactly...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HEGSETH:  I mean, I saw it firsthand.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He says we‘re—he says the Petraeus report will say that we‘re providing security over there.  Are we? 

KATULIS:  Look, at the end of the day, Iraq is in a civil war. 

(CROSSTALK)

KATULIS:  They‘re in a vicious struggle for power.  This is not a counterinsurgency.  A counter-insurgency, you need an ally that is aligned with us.  Some of these Shiite militias that have infiltrated the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army, they‘re planting IEDs on our soldiers.  You read the seven enlisted soldiers in the “New York Times” who said it‘s a mess.

MATTHEWS:  How can we tell—forget the bulletins coming out of the White House, the communiques, the papers they give to the press—I want to ask you, Pete, how can we as American voters and journalists tell who‘s telling the truth here? 

HEGSETH:  Walk the streets.  Walk the streets of Baghdad.  Walk the

streets of Anbar, like members of Congress have done, and they‘ve come back

(CROSS TALK)

KATULIS:  We‘re paying people 2,500 dollars to say open up your shop for an hour or two so we can walk a Congressman through here.  It‘s ridiculous.  And the security has come from sectarian—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what the problem is with your proposal?  It‘s very hard for someone like me to get into Iraq.  Maybe Katie Couric—I salute her for getting in there and reporting.  But it‘s very hard to get in there.  It‘s very hard to get the kind of military support or even the best odds you have of walking the streets and coming back alive.  That‘s the tricky part. 

HEGSETH:  And the best person to give an assessment is a general who walks the streets and—

MATTHEWS:  I have been living my life with generals who say yes, sir, we can do what you ask us to do, because that‘s what they‘re trained to do, obey orders.  And it seems to me they‘re supposed to say we‘re winning.  I never heard of a general saying we‘re losing and keeping his stripes. 

KATULIS:  And I think the American people get it.  The American people get it.  Enough‘s enough.  We‘ve done our share. 

MATTHEWS:  You both make good arguments.  We will see next week.  I‘m afraid it‘s going to be murky and this argument‘s going to continue.  Pete Hegseth and Brian Katulis.  You never thought your name would be the easy one to pronounce.

Up next, our HARDBALL round table on Fred Thompson‘s big entrance, Larry Craig‘s big scandal, and the big fight over Iraq.  We are already starting here.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It‘s round table time;

“Newsweek‘s” Holly Bailey, who wrote this week‘s cover piece in “Newsweek”

on Fred Thompson, the “Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza and the “American

Prospect‘s” Ezra Klein 

First off, Reagan‘s Republicans.  Republican presidential hopefuls have been talking about President Reagan instead of President Bush since the campaign started.  Here‘s the latest from last night‘s debate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  In January of 2000 -- 1981, Ronald Reagan came to power and raised his hand as president of the United States of America.  By more than coincidence, the Iranian hostages returned on that same day.  I would employ some of his methods. 

GIULIANI:  Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot.  But it was because he pointed like a thousand missiles at soviet cities. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Fred Thompson, an actor just like Ronald Reagan, has jumped into the race.  Is he the guy they‘ve been looking for?  Let me go to Holly Bailey.  What do you think?  Is this the genuine article?  Is this going to be the actor who plays himself, basically, now playing himself running for president? 

HOLLY BAILEY, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, it‘s hard to say.  I mean, he‘s in the race.  And the one thing I noted about today‘s announcement is just how somber it was here in Des Moines.  He came on stage, and people clapped.  But it wasn‘t so exciting, at least not as exciting as it was on “The Tonight Show” last night.  So, you know, what we‘re really going to be looking for in the next couple of days is how much enthusiasm he can really generate up on the trail. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he have any great applause lines?  Does he have any Reaganesque manner to him? 

BAILEY:  I mean, he got up there and sort of talked the same way that he talked on the video that he released last night.  And not really a lot of applause lines that I heard.  Like—

MATTHEWS:  You are tough.  You give him the big build-up with your cover and now you‘re debunking the guy.  You‘re saying he‘s still in that La-Z-Boy recliner. 

BAILEY:  I think there‘s a difference between lazy and somber.  The problem is, honestly, for Fred Thompson that people show up expecting to see Arthur Branch from “Law & Order,” and what they get is somebody that‘s very different, has a different delivery than he has on script, on TV. 

MATTHEWS:  Ezra, it‘s always interesting, as you‘ve been lucky, like I have, to meet some actors along the way in this business and they never quite have the lines that they have in the movies. 

EZRA KLEIN, “AMERICAN PROSPECT”:  We all need writers.  But you saw it, right.  He didn‘t want to go on without his script.  He could have done his announcement on Leno a day before, but he didn‘t want to go on to a live broadcast with eight or nine or 12 or 27 other Republican contenders and defend it on the spot.  I think that he‘s—the other candidates are smelling a little bit of fear from him.  I think that‘s what they took from that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Chris, I think one thing—let me try this by you all.  I think Democrats want meetings.  They love to get together and have lunches and clap about each other and talk about how much progress they‘re making and all the interest groups get together.  Republicans want a leader.  They want Ike.  They want Reagan.  They want a guy to give them the orders and tell them which ware we‘re going.  Do any of these guys look like that kind of a guy?  Romney seems like an efficiency expert. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think there are two.  In a room when they walk in there are two; I would say Thompson and Romney.  Thompson‘s a big guy.  He‘s about 6‘5 or 6‘6, imposing deep voice.  He has that movie star appeal to him.  Romney is a different kind of presence, a little more frenetic. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he a leader? 

CILLIZZA:  I think both of them give that feeling.  But I do think that—you‘ve seen this in poll after poll after poll—the Republican primary voter is unhappy with the whole field.  And I would put Fred Thompson in there, frankly, because he‘s been running this whole time, even if he just formally announced.  The Republican primary voter doesn‘t think there‘s a Ronald Reagan. 

It‘s the old comparison in the Democratic party, is he the next JFK.  Well, JFK wasn‘t JFK when he was running.  Everyone fails in that comparison.  I think when you try and compare yourself to Reagan, you‘re really—you‘re treading a very thin line that you may not be able to live up to—

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Holly. 

KLEIN:  I mean, Carter wanted to run against Reagan at the time.  They thought he‘d be easy.  He only turned out to be Reagan after he was shot to some degree. 

MATTHEWS:  He was pretty good in the debates.  Let me go to Holly right now.  Holly, the question is what happened to John McCain?  He looked good back in 2000.  When we covered him in the HARDBALL College Tour down in Clemson, South Carolina, it was electric.  He got beaten down there in a dirty race.  He was beat up in a bad way by the Bush forces, Karl Rove and company. 

He doesn‘t seem to have it.  But then last night people say god, he‘s got some of his spunk back.  Can John McCain still get back in this race, join the front-runners, and win this thing by New Hampshire?  Can he? 

BAILEY:  Well, I think, you know, last night was a really good step. 

One thing that I‘ve always wondered—

MATTHEWS:  I heard he won last night. 

BAILEY:  Well, looking at the debate last night, he did pretty good.  I mean, he sounded like he does when he‘s talking to town halls in New Hampshire and Iowa and South Carolina, which is something—he didn‘t sound like that at the last few debates.  And so if he‘s really going to come out and sound like this at every debate I think it‘s a huge help. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you thought about that? 

CILLIZZA:  He‘s freed from the fact that he‘s no longer the front

runner.  The problem is, he‘s no longer the front runner.  So I don‘t know

if you would like that freedom.  I think his role in this right now is he

remains popular in New Hampshire.  So I think his role is potentially to be

a spoke in the wheels of Mitt Romney.  He clearly does not like Mitt Romney

MATTHEWS:  Not a spoke in the wheel.  You mean a flat tire.

CILLIZZA:  I‘m sorry.  yes.  A stick, a stick in the wheel. 

MATTHEWS:  A nail in the wheel—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s what I see.  He knocks Romney out, Rudy wins. 

CILLIZZA:  I think it‘s very possible. 

KLEIN:  I think it‘s possible.  I think none of them know who to attack anymore because it‘s not clear if they attack somebody if they help themselves or—

MATTHEWS:  Holly, I think we may have the first convention in 50 years, the first convention that picks a candidate.  It‘s not picked by the end, they get out there in Minneapolis, that town made famous by Larry Craig and bridges falling down, and they‘re going to have to pick a candidate at the convention.  This could be old-time religion.  We‘ll be right back to talk about Larry Craig and this fellow that sat next to me a few minutes ago and the nature of the Republican situation right now.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Breaking news right now; according to a group that monitors radical Islamic websites, a new video message from Osama bin Laden is expected to be released in the next 72 hours to address the sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on us.  It will be the first time bin Laden has been seen, at least on videotapes, in three years. 

Let me go—what is the significance of that?  Does that sort of—I hate—it‘s more important, I guess, politically, since it‘s just a message.  It‘s not an attack.  Does it help the Rudy there?  Does it help the Republicans generally? 

CILLIZZA:  My mind is so written for political consequences, that‘s what I jump to, is that it immediately brings to mind September 11th.  It immediately brings to mind the sense that we are still in this war on terror.  I think anytime that that dynamic exists in the political dialogue it helps Rudy. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you buy that, Holly?  I say anytime you say Iraq it hurts the Republicans.  Anytime you say terrorism it helps the Republicans. 

BAILEY:  I agree with you.  But, you know, the fact is that this sort of brings to the forefront the fact that, you know, George W. Bush hasn‘t caught Osama bin Laden and it‘s, you know, six years later.  And so I wonder, you know, what—

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t that take a curly Q of thinking to come that way?  Don‘t you have to take an extra step mentally to say yes, we‘re facing a terrorist threat out there, and it scares me, and I want a strong leader to protect me; and oh, yes, Bush didn‘t catch him?  Doesn‘t that take an extra mental step beyond I‘m scared, give me a tough guy to protect me? 

BAILEY:  Well, I think, you know, that is what people are going to be saying.  I mean, especially—I would imagine Democrats are going to be quick to jump on this and say look, he‘s still out there. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, if you have a high crime neighborhood and you have tough cops out there with big necks and bad haircuts and they‘re look out for you, you don‘t say I want liberal cops now because the tough cops haven‘t caught the bad guys yet.  You don‘t do that. 

KLEIN:  The point is if the bad guy never gets caught, you do say something, you want new cops.  Holly, your magazine had a great cover story on the hunt for bin Laden.  He‘s not been caught.  There were unbelievable errors.  We transferred the best Arabic speaking division to Iraq from Afghanistan, where they were looking for bin Laden.  I think there will be a question as to how long we can put resources into a war we‘re not winning and let this guy just wander around and sort of—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the thoughtful development.  I‘m not sure it always comes to mind.  I think the first thing that comes to mind is when in doubt, when in danger go right.  People go right when they‘re scared.  Let me go.  I have to ask you about—speaking of going right, we just had a fellow on here, Mike Rogers, who talked about—he‘s a blogger.  He‘s notorious for outing conservatives who vote conservative but are gay in their behavior and their activities.  And he argues that they‘re hypocritical. 

If this keeps up, this continual outing, first Mark Foley a year ago, now Larry Craig, is this going to shatter the Republican coalition, the conservative caucus, basically, of people who vote Republican because of values? 

CILLIZZA:  I don‘t know shatter, but I think it puts a crack in it because, look, the Republican brand right now is tarnished for any number of reasons, from over—too much spending, the war in Iraq.  The Republican base, a lot of it is sort of migrating because they don‘t like it.  They don‘t know what we‘re doing.  I think this is just another thing you that throw on that pile.  And I think, at some point, maybe it‘s the 2008 election, maybe if they lose the 2008 election it‘s after that, Republicans say hey, wait a minute, what do we stand for?  It‘s sort of what we saw Democrats do a few years ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Ezra, instead of going gently into that good night, Larry Craig keeps fighting, fighting not just for his legal freedom, but also—from the charge, but also for his political exoneration, if you will, before the Senate.  They must hate this, the Republicans. 

KLEIN:  I‘m sure they do.  As I remember, his press secretary today said he would only come back if they restored his committee chairmanships.  So, they‘re not going to do that.  He‘s not going to come back.  They don‘t want him. 

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s he up to? 

KLEIN:  What‘s he up to? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Why has he hired all these lawyers?  Why is he fighting in the Ethics Committee?  Why is he fighting to get his guilty plea withdrawn? 

KLEIN:  Because he‘s desperate.  He may even be doing it just for appearances to his wife, for all we know. 

MATTHEWS:  And his kids. 

KLEIN:  And his kids. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  That would be a very human reaction. 

KLEIN:  We saw with Clinton; people when they‘ve done something wrong, they sometimes dig themselves a little bit deeper. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe that‘s the only thing he can do.  Holly, will this case go on?  It looks to me like he doesn‘t want this to end, Larry Craig. 

BAILEY:  His press secretary said later this afternoon that he thought he‘d go ahead and continue down the path to resignation.  But the fact is this is a disaster for Republicans on the Hill.  They want this guy to go away, and he keeps clinging on and, you know, they‘re not happy about this. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you hear, Holly, about Republicans on the Hill who are gay, allegedly, about this guy who was just on here, about his continual campaign to out them? 

BAILEY:  Well, they‘ve been aware of him for a long time.  In fact, if they‘re even aware of him at the White House—a few years ago he called Scott McClellan and taped him on the phone and tried to spread rumors about him being gay.  So this guy has been around.  They‘re aware of him.  Are they worried about other shoes to fall?  You know, who knows? 

MATTHEWS:  Any thoughts on this, guys, this ticklish subject. 

CILLIZZA:  I guarantee you that Mike Rogers—no one wants to field that phone call from Mike Rogers.

MATTHEWS:  Apparently, the first question he asks you is are you gay on the telephone. 

CILLIZZA:  That‘s the nightmare—

MATTHEWS:  I think everyone says they wants transparency.  I don‘t think they do.  Just guessing.  Ezra? 

KLEIN:  I think that‘s probably right. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, don‘t be so careful.  Holly Bailey, congratulations on the cover piece.  Chris Cillizza, and Ezra Klein.  By the way, the other day I told you about catching a 25-pounder striped bass.  Here‘s the fish.  Look at me.  There I am.  It really did exist.  It wasn‘t a fish story. 

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   

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