updated 10/10/2007 11:11:42 AM ET 2007-10-10T15:11:42

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Ed Rollins, Peter Baker, Jack Welch

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, Fred Thompson makes his presidential debate debut.  Will Thompson deliver a blockbuster performance or will Fred flop?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews, who is co-moderating the Republican debate in Michigan with CNBC‘s Maria Bartiromo.  Here‘s just a taste of what‘s going on right now in Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FMR NYC MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The difference is that under Governor Romney, spending went up in Massachusetts per capita by 8 percent.  Under me, spending went down by 7 percent.

The line-item veto is unconstitutional.  I took Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court and beat Bill Clinton.  It‘s unconstitutional.  What the heck can you do about that if you‘re a strict constructionist?  And finally, the point is that you‘ve got to control taxes, but I did it.  He didn‘t.  I controlled taxes.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Sorry...

GIULIANI:  I brought taxes down by 17 percent.  Under him, taxes went up 11 percent per capita.  I led, he lagged.

ROMNEY:  That‘s baloney.  Mayor, you got to check your facts.  No taxes—I did not increase taxes in Massachusetts, I lowered taxes, number one.  Number two, the Club for Growth looked at our respective spending record.  They said my spending grew 2.2 percent a year, yours grew 2.8 percent a year.

But look, we‘re both guys that are in favor of keeping spending down and keeping taxes down.  We‘re not far apart on that.  The place we differ is on the line-item veto.  I‘m in favor of the line-item veto.  I had it, used it 844 times.  I want to see Libby (SIC) Dole‘s line-item veto put in place, the president‘s proposal to have it put in place.  I‘m in favor of the line-item veto.  I‘d have never gone to the Supreme Court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Good stuff.  And Chris will be back at 7:00 PM Eastern from Dearborn with complete debate coverage, and MSNBC will air the GOP debate in its entirety tonight at 9:00.  This was a good one, folks.  You don‘t want to miss it.  It gets hot and heavy between especially those two guys, Rudy and Romney.

But our top story tonight: It‘s curtains up on Fred Thompson‘s campaign as he makes his first appearance at a Republican debate.  This is a golden opportunity for the candidate to define himself.  But are expectations too high or too low?

In our second story, here‘s how Dan Bartlett, the former adviser to President Bush, described the top candidates in the GOP field.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  I think the Mormon issue is a real problem in the South.

Biggest dud, Fred Thompson.

And quite frankly, having the last name Huckabee—I hate to be so (INAUDIBLE) about it, but it is.  It‘s an issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, you can tell Dan no longer is at the White House.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  But we‘ll dig into this later with the reporter who broke the story.

And tonight‘s debate focuses on the economy, and who better to ask about the issues that the candidates need to address than Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of GE, MSNBC‘s parent company, and the author of “Winning.”

But we begin with HARDBALL‘s Norah O‘Donnell in Michigan with some highlights from today‘s debate—Norah.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, hello, there.  Yes, it‘s been very interesting so far.  As you noted, this is Fred Thompson‘s debut on the campaign stage.  But what‘s most noteworthy, of course, as we watched the candidates come out on stage, and Fred Thompson was standing there in the middle, is just how tall he is.  I mean, he does have a great physical presence, which, of course, we all know he‘s been an actor, and the big question has been, we know he can act, can he debate?

He was given the first question in this debate on whether—and asked whether or not this country is in a recession.  He said no in response to that.  And yes, he was a little bit shaky.  He had a long-winded answer.  He had—some of his questions, frequently looked down at his notes when answering questions, as if he‘s trying to look for sort of tips.  That‘s different than perhaps Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani, who have had very commanding sort of answers to questions, seemed very confident standing there at the podium.  So that‘s the physical differences that we have sort of seen tonight.

Fred Thompson, as he has answered more questions, seems a little bit more comfortable on the stage, a little bit more comfortable with the subject matter, as well.  We know he‘s had from seven to nine different debates sessions, practicing with Liz Cheney‘s husband, Mary Matalin, former senator Al D‘Amato.  So he‘s practiced hard, still lacking a little bit of the confidence of the others.

And I think you pointed out in that clip, the other big story‘s going to be this clash on tax and spending cuts between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.  It‘s been going, already this fight, on the campaign trail, some with surrogates.  You know, it really came head to head.  There was a blow between those two candidates on who would be better in terms of cutting taxes in America—Mike.

BARNICLE:  Norah, as you pointed out, and I think it was the consensus of people watching the debate here in Washington, Fred Thompson‘s initial answer—and he was asked the first question, as you pointed out—seemed a little shaky.  Let‘s take a look at Fred Thompson‘s answer to the first question asked in this debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON:  I think there is no reason to believe that we‘re headed for a recession.  We‘re enjoying 22 quarters of successive economic growth that started 2001, and then further in 2003 with the tax cuts that we put in place.  We‘re enjoying low inflation.  We‘re enjoying low unemployment.  The stock market seems to be doing pretty well.  I see no reason to believe that we‘re headed for—for an economic downturn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Norah, what‘s the sense out there among you and the rest of the people covering it?  You mentioned Fred Thompson‘s physical presence on the stage, but of course, he‘s not going out for the CYO basketball team, so he doesn‘t automatically make it as the tallest center.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  And you got—you got the two guys flanking him, Romney and Rudy, who went at it, and it was very interesting, their cross exchange, almost as if leaving Thompson on the stage as a big, tall bookend.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  That‘s an interesting point.  I mean, that has been Fred Thompson‘s challenge.  He has struggled on the campaign trail when asked about several different things, whether it‘s drilling in the Everglades—he said that bin Laden should get due process.  So there seems to be, either where he‘s not prepared—he said not he was not totally familiar with the Terri Schiavo case or the Jena 6 case.  So those are questions about whether he‘s prepared out there.

So tonight was really an opportunity to show that he‘s prepared.  I think he‘s prepared for that.  The question is whether he has the confidence.  And listen, at the end of the day, the polls are showing—you know, his campaign points out the polls she he is still in a very strong position, second nationally, and doing very well in Iowa and New Hampshire, as well.

BARNICLE:  As referenced just a couple of minutes ago, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani did face off with each over taxes and the line-item veto.  Let‘s take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Well, we both agree with the need to cut taxes and have fought to do so, and I did so in my state, too.  We both believe in cutting back on spending, as well.  But if you want to cut taxes, you‘re going to have to cut spending, and the best tool that a governor has and the best tool the president has had is a line-item veto.  And mayor Giuliani took the line-item veto that the president had all the way to the Supreme court and took it away from the president of the United States.  I think that was a mistake.

He also fought to keep the commuter tax, which was a very substantial tax, an almost $400 million tax on commuters coming into New York.  And when it‘s all said and done, if you‘re a New York taxpayer, a city taxpayer, your state and city tax combined can reach as high as 10 percent.  And in our state, if you‘re a Boston worker, it‘s going to be more like 5.3 percent.

So we both worked real hard to get the taxes down, to get the spending down.  But I‘m in favor of the line-item veto.  I exercised it 844 times.  Thank heavens we had a line-item veto, and I‘d like to see it at the federal government level, as well.  We need it.

GIULIANI:  ... in favor of a line-item veto, except you have to do it legally.  And as the mayor of New York, if I had let President Clinton take $250 million away from the people of my city, illegally and unconstitutionally, I wouldn‘t have been much of a mayor.

ROMNEY:  That‘s (INAUDIBLE).  That‘s what it was about.

GIULIANI:  So I took President Clinton to court and I beat him.  And I don‘t think it‘s a bad idea to have a Republican presidential candidate who actually beat President Clinton at something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Norah O‘Donnell, thanks very much for joining us from Dearborn, Michigan.

Joining us now, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson and Republican strategist Ed Rollins.  Gentlemen, let me ask you, you‘ve seen the clips of this debate.  Is it my impression, as an outsider to politics or is just Fred Thompson just fading from the scene as he‘s surrounded by these other two guys, especially Rudy and Romney?

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST:  You know, it seemed to me that that first answer about the recession was a total whiff.  I mean, he‘s in Dearborn, Michigan.  It‘s almost like he drove up in a Toyota in Michigan.  You don‘t say the economy is just doing great.  It‘s not.

Dearborn was once the site of the River Rouge (ph) plant, one of the great—the Ford plant that was one of the great manufacturing facilities of the world.  That‘s gone now, basically, and it‘s kind of a symbol of what‘s happened to the economy.  It switched from a manufacturing economy.  This is a manufacturing state.  He could have done something with that.  He could have brought the crowd in.  He could have had something new to say.  And then there‘s basically nothing.

BARNICLE:  How‘s he getting this number, Pat, in the polls?  How is he doing so well in the polls when he seems so pale, so vanilla in a setting like this?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he got an enormous build-up coming in, and his numbers are good nationally.  His numbers are good in Iowa.  I think people haven‘t seen him.  Look, he did not look like a candidate in mid-campaign.  He looked like a student who was asked a question on his exam and had the answer kind of memorized.  Didn‘t want to make a mistake and was going out there.

And you‘re right.  The contrast with Romney and Rudy, who couldn‘t wait to get at each other and make their points, and Romney and Rudy had a pretty even exchange, I felt at the end, back and forth.  Both had excellent points.  And then he seems sort of vapid there.  I mean, I like Fred a lot, but I only saw the first 40 minutes of the debate, and there was not a memorable answer in any of the answers he gave that somebody‘s going to come away with.  And there are a number of things that Romney said and Rudy said that you‘d remember.

BARNICLE:  No, absolutely.  Ed Rollins, put your consultant‘s hat on for a couple of minutes, if you would.  You‘re running Fred Thompson.  You‘ve seen a portion of this debate.  What do you tell this guy?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, first of all, he looked like a miler up against a couple of sprinters.  He got off to a very slow start.  You know, I think he had answers, but they weren‘t well rehearsed and I don‘t think they were right for this particular forum.  You know, he‘s in slow motion, and he‘s definitely not battle tested.  And he‘s got to get to a point where he makes some impressions, some favorable impressions, whether it‘s intellectually or emotionally, one or the other.  He‘s not connected either way with the audience, and I think that‘s something he has to do and do very quick.  You seldom get a second chance to make a first impression, and the first impression so far has not been very good.

BUCHANAN:  And you know, Duncan Hunter clipped him twice.

BARNICLE:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  Duncan Hunter came to play in Michigan.  He knows the jobs in Michigan.  He knows the auto industry.  He knows the China trade stuff.  He‘s the one guy who‘s a moderate protectionist in there.  And Duncan Hunter, even though he‘s only a 2, 3 percent candidate, he did exceedingly well.  And he used Thompson as a foil.

BARNICLE:  You know what staggered me, watching the debate, especially

and the expectation thing with Thompson—we all have that—what he‘s going to do?  Is he going to meet our expectations?  But just on a common sense level, you referred to it, the River Rouge plant in Detroit—Ken Burns‘s documentary on the war, which just concluded on PBS—they spend a whole hour on the—on how America was geared in 1940, went to start turning out tanks and planes, every manufacturing plant in the country.  You‘re 15 seconds from where this thing happened...

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  Exactly.

BARNICLE:  ... and they‘re not talking about that?

ROBINSON:  They‘re not talking about that!  It‘s just...

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  ... incomprehensible to me why they don‘t make something of that because believe me, it‘s in the atmosphere there, and the audience would respond to it.  And look, you know, the country I think would like to hear candidates from either party really engaging with what has happened to the manufacturing industry in this country...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  It has gone away.  What is the economy becoming...

BUCHANAN:  You take the quadrant of the country, the eastern quadrant all the way from Mississippi, say, to St. Louis, Washington and Northeast, cut that out, add in California—that bloc built half of the weapons and machines used on all sides in World War II.  It is unbelievable what (INAUDIBLE)  And then to see what‘s happened to Detroit?  Used to be a town of two million.  It‘s now less than one million people out there, poverty, all kinds of things.  It really is.  And as I say, Duncan was the one that seemed really to be most—of all of them, seemed to be most in touch with what had happened there.

ROLLINS:  The other candidates seemed to be talking from their own personal experiences, whether it‘s the mayor, whether it‘s the governor or the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee.  And Fred is not going back to that.  And maybe his only career that‘s mattered to him is his acting career, and I think he‘s got to go back and talk about some of the things that he‘s done earlier in his life, either as a senator or what have you.  But he‘s got to—he‘s got to have some compassion, some connection with an audience.  And to date, I don‘t see any of that.

BARNICLE:  How about just waking up?  That‘s a head start.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  I mean, Fred, come on.  Come back to us!

We‘re going to be right back with Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robertson and Ed Rollins.

And later, one of America‘s most iconic business leaders, former GE chairman and CEO Jack Welch, joins us with his take on the economy.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Jennifer Granholm has made a big mistake by raising taxes.  I was frankly a little nervous about being here tonight.  I figured that she was going to put a tax on the debate before we got finished.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Mittster with the jokes.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  And we‘re back with MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, “The Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson and Republican strategist Ed Rollins.

Ed Rollins, where‘s John McCain in all this?  How‘s he fitting in or fitting out?  Where‘s he going?

ROLLINS:  John got off, I think, to a slow start.  John had a couple good debates, the last couple, but for some reason tonight, he sort of stepped all over himself.  And I think to a certain extent, you know, this has become kind of a Romney, Giuliani and people waiting for Huckabee to have the good one-liner.  And I think John has to get re-engaged.  Now, I only saw the first half of this.  Maybe the second half, he‘s doing better.

BARNICLE:  Has the Huckabee strength surprised you?

ROBINSON:  Yes.

ROLLINS:  No, I—Huckabee has always been an incredible speaker.

BARNICLE:  Yes.

ROLLINS:  You know, he‘s a man of real substance.  You know, if this guy could raise money, if he could raise $10 million, he‘d be a very credible candidate.

BARNICLE:  Well, we‘re going to—in next segment, we‘re going to get to Dan Bartlett, former White House counselor, saying Huckabee has a problem...

ROBINSON:  Yes...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  It did surprise me—the way he‘s able to project, you know, what George Bush called compassionate conservatism...

BARNICLE:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  ... and to express extremely conservative views in a way that comes across as kind of cuddly, in a way, and...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  You know, I think it‘s quite impressive, but he‘s not getting any money.

BUCHANAN:  I thought he‘d get a better bounce out of the Iowa straw poll.  He‘s at 12.  He wound up third out there.  Thompson is at 18 or something like that.

But I‘ll tell you what one of the crucial decisions here—the Iowa straw poll I‘ve always felt was crucial.  If Rudy had gone out there, even though he‘d gotten whipped, and put his organization in shape and gotten up there and told the 9/11 story, that whole place would have come out of their chair and he‘d run a respectable third.  Now he‘s way back there.  He‘s—I mean, he‘s running for fifth.  And if he gets really waxed badly out there, it‘s going to be very hard for him, even with his money and all the rest of it, to come back.  I think he should have gone out there.  He shouldn‘t have ducked the fight.

ROLLINS:  I agree.  He made the same mistake our old boss, Ronald Reagan, did in 1980.  He should have gone to Iowa and there never would have been a Bush.  And I think, to a certain extent, Iowans are very important to this process.  They pay close attention.  And you need to put an organization together and you need to go out there and talk to them about the issues that matter.

BARNICLE:  Well, is it too late for him to do it?

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know, he—I mean, Romney—all the—all the good people out there, they get organized.  The Christians are behind various people, Huckabee and Brownback.  Tancredo‘s got his share.  Ron Paul‘s got his guys.  And they all got them out there, and Rudy could have had a good share of them.  He was going to get beat.  Romney organized like, you know, nothing out there, and everybody knew he was going to win.  But if you come in strong in one of those things, you come in second or third, you get a big—you know, guys on TV—Look, Rudy did very well out there among the pigs and the cows, you know, and he‘s a New Yorker.

BARNICLE:  Well, what...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  The pigs and the cows.  I‘ve never heard that before, but that‘s pretty good.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  What about the feeling—and you can sort of sense it in New Hampshire, where I‘ve been more than a few times in the past two or three weeks, about Giuliani?  I‘ll ask all three of you this, starting with you, Gene.  And it is this, that no matter how rabid ideologically the Republican delegates or potential Republican voters might be, there‘s something about his candidacy that in it, they see he might be able to win.  Out of all these guys, he might be able to win.  And I‘ll put my ideology on the shelf for a second to vote for him.

ROBINSON:  Well, yes, I mean, I think that this is a big argument in Rudy‘s favor. 

I think Republicans would have the sense that, you know, he is going to go toe to toe with Hillary.  I think, in a way, he and Hillary Clinton help each other...

BUCHANAN:  For some folks...

ROBINSON:  ... because Democrats think she will go toe to toe with him. 

BARNICLE:  Pat?

BUCHANAN:  But, for some folks, I know it‘s the only argument for Rudy...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  ... that‘s he the only guy that can win.  Otherwise, I mean, you take a look at the baggage that he brings out of New York City, sanctuary city, gay pride marches, and all that stuff, pro-choice, he wouldn‘t have anybody with him.

People think he can win.  And they think, you know, maybe he will shift and be a Republican.  But the idea of electability is his most powerful argument. 

BARNICLE:  Ed Rollins, quickly?

ROLLINS:  Yes. 

In 2000, that is what—that is what made George Bush the—the front-runner and—and chased everybody out of the field.  He could be Al Gore, right?  Today, some—we‘re looking desperately for someone that can beat Hillary Clinton.  And people see him as a good campaigner, tough campaigner. 

In spite of all the baggage that Pat lays out ideologically, he‘s still an American hero and he‘s still basically leading the polls.  Long ways to go, but he‘s still a tough campaigner. 

BARNICLE:  Ed Rollins, Eugene Robinson, and Pat Buchanan.

The cows and the pigs in Iowa, was that it?

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  A lot of...

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  A lot of people, too, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  A lot of corn...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINS:  ... cat won New Hampshire.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  It‘s patbuchanan.com. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Up next, a former top adviser to President Bush has some choice words for the Republicans who want to succeed him. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

One of the president‘s closest and most loyal advisers let loose on the GOP candidates recently.  Dan Bartlett was White House counsel until he stepped down in July.  At a recent speaking engagement at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bartlett gave his unvarnished opinion about the GOP field.  And it wasn‘t pretty. 

Here‘s what he thinks of Fred Thompson. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, FORMER COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  Biggest dud.  Fred Thompson.  Biggest liability was whether he had the fire in the belly—belly to run for office in the first place and be president.  So, what does he do?  He waits four months, fires a bunch of staff, has a big staff turnover, has a lot of backbiting, comes out with his big campaign launch, and gives a very incoherent and not very concise stump speech for why he‘s running for president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  OK. 

Well, here‘s Dan Bartlett on Mitt Romney. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARTLETT:  I think the Mormon issue is a real problem in the South. 

It‘s a real problem in other parts of the country.  But people are not going to say it.  People are not going to step out and say, I have a problem with Romney because he‘s Mormon.  What they are going to say is, he‘s a flip-flopper. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  And even the aforementioned Mike Huckabee didn‘t escape Mr.

Bartlett‘s notice. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARTLETT:  Quite frankly, having the last name Huckabee.  I hate to be so light about it, but it is.  It‘s an issue.  Politics can be fickle like that.  I mean, you‘re trying to get somebody‘s attention for the first time.  And if they don‘t (INAUDIBLE) you know, president.  Huckabee?  You have got to be kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

BARTLETT:  You know, Hope, Arkansas.  Here we go again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Peter Baker wrote about the Bartlett comments for “The Washington Post” today.  You can read them on WashingtonPost.com.

Peter, you figure he knew he was being taped and filmed? 

(LAUGHTER)

PETER BAKER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Yes, it‘s a very good question. 

These are sort of comments you would never have heard Dan Bartlett utter in a public fashion until—until just now.  You know, he spent the last 14 months very, very disciplined about what he said in public as the messenger, in effect, for George Bush. 

And now I think you see Bartlett unleashed.  It‘s very interesting analysis he‘s given. 

BARNICLE:  You know, I‘m not going to ask you to give anything up here, but, you know, off the record, when he was off the record, if he ever was off the record with you while he was at the White House, would he be at all like this, as we just saw him? 

BAKER:  Well, sure.  Of course he could be more candid off the record.  But, you know, he was obviously careful about what was said on the record, careful about what was said in the president‘s name. 

Both he and the White House today, by the way, made sure to point out that he was not speaking for the president in this instance.  But I think it‘s interesting to hear it in a public setting, hear it in speech that he‘s giving to a bunch of businessmen about his real view of what‘s happening in the race to succeed the man he helped make president. 

BARNICLE:  Peter, you know, Dan Bartlett has been with George Bush since Dan Bartlett was about like 9 or 10 years of age. 

(LAUGHTER)

BAKER:  Exactly. 

BARNICLE:  I mean, he has been with him forever. 

So, what do you think?  And I‘m not asking you to mind-read here.  But his comments, are they reflective, do you think, in any way or in any sense out of what happens within that Oval Office when the president looks at the other candidates? 

BAKER:  Well, I mean, again, you know, what Dan Bartlett would tell you today and what the White House would tell you today is, he‘s not speaking for anybody else.

But, of course, you know, Dan Bartlett has spent 14 years channeling this president, really—really as his closest adviser in a lot of ways, he and Karl Rove.  And you have to think that this reflects the discussion and the thinking, the broad—the broad outlines of the viewpoints within the president‘s inner circle. 

This is—this is not, you know, suddenly born out of the head of Zeus for the first time in this speech.  So, I think it‘s revealing.  I think it‘s helpful in understanding how the White House probably views some of these candidates who are working to replace him at this point. 

BARNICLE:  Peter, he—he gave this in a speech before the U.S.

Chamber of Commerce a couple of weeks ago, I think...

BAKER:  Right. 

BARNICLE:  ... the middle of September.  How did you hear about it? 

When did you hear about it?

BAKER:  Well, you know, it‘s just been sitting there.  Nobody happened to notice.

No reporters, I think, obviously were in the room.  People would have written about it if they were.  But I was doing some Internet searches over the weekend and happened across his biography on the speaker‘s bureau that he uses now to give speeches.  And they had video of it right there.

I clicked on it and watched it and was quite struck by what was there waiting for us. 

BARNICLE:  Man, Peter, that‘s how you spend your weekends? 

(LAUGHTER)

BAKER:  It‘s pretty pathetic, isn‘t it? 

(LAUGHTER)

BAKER:  Can we take that back?  I would like to erase that. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Well, let me ask you, was there anything in you—I mean, all of us in the newspaper business, there‘s an element of the cynic in all of us.  Was there anything in you that said, no, this has got to be a put-on? 

BAKER:  Well, no, I don‘t think it was a put-on.

I mean, I think this is his—you know, he was being paid by the Chamber of Commerce to give his view.  He was appearing with Terry McAuliffe...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

BAKER:  ... who is the chairman of Hillary Clinton‘s campaign.  They were doing a Democrat/Republican tandem thing. 

You know, and I think McAuliffe gave his, you know, unvarnished view probably as well.  And it was meant to be a, you know, let‘s open up.  Let‘s talk about what really we see out there. 

BARNICLE:  Peter Baker, “Washington Post”—thanks very much, Peter. 

BAKER:  Thank you. 

BARNICLE:  Up next:  The Republican candidates are talking about the economy.  So, what are the biggest issues they need to address?                 

Former GE chairman and CEO Jack Welch joins us next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCOTT COHN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Scott Cohn with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A record-breaking day on Wall Street.  The Dow Jones industrials closed at a record high of 14164, after gaining almost 121 points.  The S&P 500 also closed at a record high, after gaining 12-and-a-half points.  Meantime, the Nasdaq was up 16-and-a-half. 

Stocks shot up following the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve‘s September 18 meeting.  Those minutes showed policy-makers voted unanimously to aggressively cut a key interest rate by half-a-percent.  But there was indication whether another rate cut is coming. 

After the closing bell, Dow component Alcoa reported third-quarter earnings that fell a penny short of analyst estimates.  In after-hours trading, though, Alcoa shares have turned modestly higher.

And oil prices rose today, after climbing $1.24 in New York.  They closed at $80.26 a barrel. 

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

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Republican presidential debate is still ongoing in Dearborn, Michigan. 

And joining us now to discuss the candidates‘ economic plans is Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of GE.  The man, the myth, the legend is here.

Jack, I noticed that you‘re coming to us from New York.  Before we talk about the economy, what‘s the mood in the city today?  The Yankees go down to the Indians.  And our guys, the Red Sox, play the Indians Friday night. 

JACK WELCH, FORMER CHAIRMAN & CEO, GENERAL ELECTRIC:  Massive depression.  First, the Mets, and then the Yankees, Mike.  This place is in the tank. 

BARNICLE:  Well, I‘m sort of glad to hear that, in a sense. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Jack...

WELCH:  Well—well, I had a very tough night last night, because I was kind of rooting for the Indians.  But I love to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox.  So, it was a very torn event last night. 

BARNICLE:  Well, get over it, because Cleveland is in on Friday in Boston. 

But let me ask you.  The debate is ongoing right now in Dearborn, Michigan, Republican candidates for president standing on a stage—Chris Matthews is there—answering questions about the economy, our future, our economic future, as a nation and as individual families. 

Do you think it‘s possible, given the way politics runs and is covered in this country today, for any of these candidates, Republican or Democrat, to speak truth to the economy? 

WELCH:  Well, I think yes.  I think they have a tough time, and as they run for office, talking about some of the entitlement programs we have that are going to weigh us down. 

But, Mike, I think one of things you have got to recognize, this is

one hell of a good economy.  I—I don‘t get all this hand-wringing.  We -

our deficit, our budget deficit, is 50 percent lower than the last 50-year average.

Our unemployment rate is running 4.6 percent to 4.7 percent, at a very low level.  We have added nine million jobs in the last four years.  And, if we didn‘t have a war today, we would have a balanced budget. 

Mike, this—this whole thing of wringing our hands about the economy, the stock market today—well, at the break, your people just interrupted to say another new record. 

BARNICLE:  Yes, but don‘t—don‘t you think—you mentioned the war.  Don‘t you think a lot of the hand-wringing—and, if it‘s not hand-wringing, it‘s mental anguish, let‘s say—about the cost of the war, in that no America has been asked to help pay the cost of the war, to make any sacrifice for this war, and it‘s a bill that is going to come due eventually?

WELCH:  No, Mike, we have the lowest budget deficit in the developed world, at 1.2 percent of GDP.  We can afford to spend $150 billion to $200 billion on this war. 

Now, we all wish we were prosecuting the war better.  We all wish the outcome were clearer, all of those things.  But don‘t get confused about the economy and our ability to pay for this war with a strong defense budget.  We can do that. 

BARNICLE:  Several of the candidates this evening, Jack, have mentioned the loss of manufacturing jobs to China.  You, more than any other corporate citizen in the 20th century, were instrumental in building bonds, I think, with countries like China, countries like India, establishing an industrial base over there for countries here. 

And, yet, there are many, many cities in this country, in Michigan and elsewhere, that have been denuded of jobs as a result of—of things occurring in China and India. 

What do we do about that going forward, about rebuilding our manufacturing base in this country?  Or can it be rebuilt? 

WELCH:  Well, we are building a lot of operations here that are on the high-tech front, whether it‘s jet engines, Boeing planes, whether it‘s power plants.  We—we—we do that. 

But, look, Mike, our trade with China has done wonders for our inflation.  Billions and billions of dollars have been saved for American consumers, who have got a better standard of living because of that. 

Now, we have lost some jobs, and we ought to put in great retraining programs.  A company‘s responsibility is not to guarantee a job, but it‘s to guarantee employability.  So, a company has to create skilled workers, spend the money, train them, and get them prepared, if they can‘t compete in their—with their industry, to allow them the flexibility to move elsewhere. 

So, it‘s an obligation of companies.  It‘s also an obligation of the government, in retraining.  But the idea that we‘re going to bring back manufacturing, we‘re not going to, Mike.  We‘re going to build things that take us in the front ends, whether it‘s the biotechnology, whether it‘s jet engines, whether it planes.  We‘re constantly moving up the food chain, while China and others will make other stuff. 

BARNICLE:  So—so, what do we do about the segment of our population, let‘s say, you know, men and women 50 years of age and over, who have lost their jobs through attrition in the last two, three, four, five years?  How do we retrain them?  Whose responsibility or obligation is it?  Is it government and the private industries themselves?  Is it a joint operation?

WELCH:  It‘s both together. 

BARNICLE:  Both?

WELCH:  It‘s both—it‘s both together, Mike. 

I mean, there‘s no question that companies like GM, and Ford, and GE, and Boeing, and companies like that have great training programs, but the government has also got to help in—in softening the blow of some of these transition industries. 

And, in fact, it is happening.  People are moving.  That‘s why the unemployment rate is 4.6 percent. 

BARNICLE:  What do you do about the biggest economic anchor that drags down so many companies, or I would imagine impedes progress among companies?  And that‘s the cost of health care to many companies in this country.  What do you—what we do about that? 

WELCH:  Get a more efficient health system. 

But we don‘t get it by a massive government program that‘s going to cost us even more.  I mean, you do see some—some businessmen taking the easy road out these days by saying, let‘s get a government health care plan and get this off our books. 

That isn‘t the answer.  The answer is for all of us to pitch in, find a way to cover more people.  And get a private system that in fact works with options.  Where people can purchase healthcare, with more portability, moving it from state to state to state and not being tied into one plan.

BARNICLE:  How frustrating is it for you given your career, given your record of efficiency, economic growth, great prosperity, General Electric when you ran it, to look at the healthcare system in this country and listen to the way the politicians talk about it and years go by and nothing gets done.

WELCH:  Go to your doctor‘s office and look at the walls of records.  Paper upon paper, file upon file.  That‘s just symptomatic of what you see everywhere.  We have got to improve the I.T.  We‘ve got to improve the whole system.  We have got to give choice.  But there are ways to solve this and people will get at it.  But it‘s not a government mandated program.  What one of these big government mandated programs have you seen make us more efficient?

BARNICLE:  I haven‘t.  I haven‘t seen a single government program that makes us more efficient.  But let me ask you, as we wrap this up, Jack, on the subject of the growth of government, of course, the candidates, Republicans and Democrats have a series of debates.  And yet, I somehow get the sense that very few people I know believe that Washington can get anything done anymore.  Do you buy into that?

WELCH:  No, I don‘t.  I think that what you‘re seeing now, Mike, is a lot of noise.  When you have - what do we have 14 or 15 out there?

This is—this is going to be clarified pretty clearly in first quarter of next year when we have a Republican candidate and a Democratic candidate.  Then the lines will be drawn in the sand.  And people will be able to see, this is what candidate A stands for and candidate B stands for.  And then we‘ll get a much clearer debate.

But I‘m not negative on Washington.  I‘m actually kind of encouraged by the plan I saw Rudy Giuliani had, which would to cap unemployment and have attrition take care of it over the next eight years.  I thought that was a pretty creative plan.

BARNICLE:  Any of the candidates—you mentioned Mayor Giuliani.  Any of your candidates hit your hot button when you listen to them?

WELCH:  Well, listen, I think the Giuliani and Mitt Romney have about the same platforms.  I think Giuliani from my standpoint is more electable because I think he sweats more, I think he connects more with ordinary people.  I think they‘re both bright and capable.  But I think that the more electable candidate is Rudy.

BARNICLE:  You think Josh Beckett is going to beat C.C. Sabathia Friday night?

WELCH:  It will be a hell of a match.  And I‘m dying to stare across home plate at you.

BARNICLE:  Jack Welch, it‘s always a pleasure.  Thanks very much.

WELCH:  Thank you.

BARNICLE:  Up next, the HARDBALL round table with more on today‘s Republican presidential debate and a reminder, you can watch the debate in its entirety here on MSNBC tonight at 9:00 Eastern.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Well, we‘re back and I bet you‘re glad.  Tonight president‘s debate is raging on in Dearborn, Michigan.

Joining us now with our HARDBALL roundtable, Jonathan Capehart from the “Washington Post”, Jonathan Allen from “Congressional Quarterly” and from the White House lawn, Julie Mason, from the “Houston Chronicle.”

We were speaking earlier, Julie and the two Jonathans here, about Dan Bartlett, former White House counsel, counselor to the president, has been with President Bush for 14 or 15 years since he was like 12 years old, giving a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The speech was recorded apparently by the speaker‘s bureau which represents Mr. Bartlett and he had several things to say about Republican candidates now running for president.

Some of the things he said were quite surprising.  If we have that Dan Bartlet tape, let‘s rack that up because he talks about - OK, put it on.  Lets of listen to it and then we‘ll react to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  The biggest dud is Fred Thompson.  The biggest liability is whether he has the fire in his belly to run for office in the first place to run for president.  So what does he do?  He waits four months, hires a bunch of staff, has a big staff turnover, had a lot of backbiting and comes out with a big campaign launch and gives a very incoherent and not very concise stump speech for why he‘s running for president.

I think the Mormon issue is a real problem in the South.  It‘s a real problem in other parts of the country.  But people are not going to say it.  People are not going to step out and say I have a problem with Romney because he‘s Mormon.  What they‘re going to say he‘s a flip-flopper.

Quite frankly, having the last name Huckabee, I hate to be so light about it, but it is, it‘s an issue.  Politics can be fickle like that.  I mean, you‘re trying to get somebody‘s attention for the first time for the first and they‘re trying to go for president.  Huckabee?  You have to be kidding me.  Hope, Arkansas, here we go again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Okay.  There he is.  Dan Bartlett on Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.  Julie, you down there at the White House.

JULIE MASON, “HOUSTON CHRONICLE”:  Yeah, it just started raining here, Mike.

BARNICLE:  Was it raining inside the White House?  After hearing what Dan Bartlett said?

MASON:  I think it‘s the tears of George Bush hearing what Bartlett had to say about Huckabee.  Harsh words.  The name is wrong?

BARNICLE:  Any White House reaction?  Official White House reaction?

MASON:  No, they‘re not talking about this.  I think they‘re embarrassed by it.  Bush has been having his little off the record chats.  But Bartlett doesn‘t work here anymore.  That‘s the bottom line for them.

BARNICLE:  Imagine how great the government would be if when he was White House counsel that he spoke like that.

MASON:  Even off the record Bartlett never spoke like that.  So I guess he has a new freedom.

BARNICLE:  Jonathan, what did you think?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, watching that, that was my—really my first time seeing that, I was wondering did he know he was being recorded?  I mean, he was speaking so freely.  I mean, if you‘re a government official, you would only speak that freely if you felt reasonably comfortable that you weren‘t being recorded, that you were amongst friends, or at least amongst a friendly audience and giving them the real inside - the real inside dope.

BARNICLE:  I wondered the same thing.

JONATHAN ALLEN, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  He ought to be on retainer with Giuliani.  You notice Giuliani escaped that tirade against just everybody else.

BARNICLE:  We haven‘t seen the whole tape.

ALLEN:  That‘s a good point.  Maybe there‘s something else in there.  You know, he may be the only person in the country who doesn‘t heart Huckabee at this point.  You listen to all the talk these days on talk shows, Huckabee is really gaining popularity.  I don‘t know that a name is going to kill him.

BARNICLE:  Help me out here.  Because all three of you know much more about politics than I do.  How is it that Fred Thompson is doing as well as he is in the polls, having recently announced but not done much, when everyone is hammering him.  How is this happening?  Jonathan Capehart?

CAPEHART:  I think it‘s happening because they haven‘t seen Fred Thompson en masse just yet.  You know, the debate is raging on in Michigan at the moment.  And if they‘re watching, I don‘t know if he‘s going to stay in his standing in his polls will remain.  Because to be quite honest, the Fred Thompson who is there at the debate is rather—I don‘t know how - kind of tiring.

MASON:  He sounds like Larry Hagman from “Primary Colors”.  Governor Fred Pickle.  The more people get to know Fred Thompson I don‘t think they‘re going to like him that much.

ALLEN:  I think what he has proved today is that he can be just as dull as anybody else in the presidential debate.  It may just kind of freeze him - which freezes him with everybody else, nothing particularly, you know, outstanding about any of his answers.  What‘s interesting, Jonathan and I were talking about this in the green room, is that his campaign staff has been putting out these attacks, just minute after minute after minute.

BARNICLE:  They have killed a National Park.  A National Forest.

ALLEN:  The campaign staff is so good at sending this stuff out during the debate it makes you wonder about the dissonance between them being that good and him being .

BARNICLE:  I don‘t know that much.  But when it comes on in this debate or anyone else, you want to tape your eyelids open.  I mean, never mind the star of “Law & Order”.  He might have been the star of “The Night of Living Dead”.

CAPEHART:  You don‘t want to pile on though.

BARNICLE:  We have—do we have another segment coming up or do?  Are we going—we‘re going to another segment.  Keep going.  We‘re going to keep going.

But the rest of the crew, the thing that struck me about the debate is Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney got into a fairly intense, very interesting one-on-one discussion.  And not only Fred Thompson, but the other candidates, John McCain and Mike Huckabee seemed to pale in comparison to the vividness of the debate.  I wonder if that struck you at all.

ALLEN:  It absolutely did and these guys are the ones that have the most to fight for.  Particularly in Michigan.  If you look at the way that they‘re polling, they‘re right next to each other and they want to show themselves to be energetic not only in context with each other, but also with Thompson making his debut today.  Important for them to get in some zingers at each other one way or the other to just show that they‘re into it.

CAPEHART:  And the one interesting thing that Mayor Giuliani is doing, while he‘s fighting with Romney and holding everybody else at bay, he‘s also attacking Hillary Clinton.

BARNICLE:  Yeah.

CAPEHART:  He is going after her in any answer where he can work in the name Clinton, he will.

BARNICLE:  Julie, I‘m sure you noticed that, and what you notice I think when you‘re on the ground in some of the caucus and primary states like specifically New Hampshire, where I‘m sort of familiar with, there are many Republican voters, more than a few Republican voters, they have their ideology and they‘re fairly right of center.  They have the deep beliefs and yet, they look at Rudy Giuliani and I think more and more of them seem to be saying, look, I don‘t agree with him on abortion, I don‘t agree with him on gun control.  But he can beat Hillary Clinton.  Do you sense that in your coverage of the campaign?

MASON:  Absolutely.  Everyone is looking for electability right now.  But I think as more people look at Giuliani and get to know him better, he‘s still running on the fumes of 9/11.  That‘s partly his own fault.  But as they get to know his positions better and look at the other candidates, I think we‘re going to see a lot of support for him dropping off.  Romney and Giuliani were both going Hillary in this debate.  They both want to be her boyfriend because she‘s the front runner and they want to be the one that‘s going after her.  I think it‘s too early for that.

CAPEHART:  That‘s bad news they want to be her boyfriend.

MASON:  Campaign boyfriend.

CAPEHART:  That was interesting.  Giuliani said he was the only person who‘s ever beaten a Clinton before.

BARNICLE:  Well, let‘s listen to him.  Here‘s Rudy Giuliani.  Here‘s the former mayor of New York City from the debate just a few seconds ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hillary Clinton, the governor mentioned wants to put a lid on us, she wants to put a lid on our growth.  We want to give people freedom.  I‘ll give you an example.  Hillary, the other day, remember the Hillary bond program, she is going to give $5,000 to every child born in America?  With her picture on it?  Right?  Right?  OK.  OK.  I challenged her on it.  She backed off that, she has a new one today.

This one is she‘s going to give out a thousand dollars to everybody to set up a 401(k).  The problem is this one costs $5 billion more than the last one.  So I don‘t know if Hillary is filled with endless ways to spend.  We‘re going to have to control that.

BARNICLE:  You know, I‘m telling you, you can say what you want, you can think what you want about him, and he‘s got—you know, elements of craziness in his past as we all do, but there‘s something about being a mayor of a city where you‘re hands on everything that gives him the ability I think to connect with voters much more so than many of the other candidates.

CAPEHART:  Well, I also think it‘s—yes, being a big-city mayor but it‘s also being Rudy Giuliani.  Yes, he‘s running as the 9/11 mayor.  America‘s mayor.  But when he was mayor of New York for those eight years, he knew the ins and outs of everything.  He was the police commissioner, he was the fire commissioner, he was the health and human services person.  He was everything.

BARNICLE:  Jonathan?

ALLEN:  Yeah, I mean, I think being decisive is a key—key component for any presidential candidate.  And it worked for George Bush.  We have seen a lot of governors win the presidency.  Same thing applies to a mayor and maybe even more so as you suggest their hands are in everything.  That‘s certainly where Giuliani‘s, you see him in the debates.  He‘s very decisive.

BARNICLE:  Jonathan Capehart, Jonathan Allen and Julie Mason, thanks very much.

In one hour, join Chris Matthews for a live edition of HARDBALL and then at 9:00 Eastern, watch the presidential candidates debate.  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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