updated 10/10/2007 11:12:50 AM ET 2007-10-10T15:12:50

Guests: Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter, Roger Simon, Stephen Hayes, Jill Zuckman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Rollout, Republicans debate in Michigan.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews, welcome to HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Republican presidential debate in Dearborn, Michigan.  I co-moderated the debate, which ended an hour ago, with the CNBC‘s Maria Bartiromo.  And tonight, one of the big stories was the sparring between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney over their tax records and the line-item veto. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI ®, 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.  I brought taxes down by 17 percent, under him taxes went up 11 percent per capita.  I led, he lagged. 

MITT ROMNEY ®,PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s baloney.  Mayor, you have 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 record 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 Liddy 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 would have never gone to the Supreme Court. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tonight also marked Fred Thompson‘s debate debut.  Did Thompson show he‘s seriously preparing to be president?  Here‘s what he said when asked if he waited too long to jump into the race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t think I waited too long.  Seems about right to me. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Are we out of questions? 

THOMPSON:  I enjoyed watching these fellows, I‘ve got to admit, it was getting a little boring without me, but...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON:  ... I‘m glad to be here now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So how did Thompson do tonight and who won the match between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney?  Norah O‘Donnell is MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent.  And Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst.  And Chuck Todd—he‘s also with Newsweek, obviously.  And Chuck Todd is the political director for NBC. 

Of course you‘re with Newsweek.  Howard, who won? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think overall Rudy did himself the most good.  And I think it was interesting that he took on Romney, because Romney is still ahead in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.  So Romney, who has a—Rudy, who has a national lead, is trying to now play local politics, going after him in the two states where Romney is still ahead. 

But Rudy trained with the toughest press corps in the world in New York, and the training showed at this thing tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  He seemed to enjoy himself tonight.  Let me go to Norah.  How well did Rudy do?  Are you big—I know you don‘t—as a journalist, you don‘t want to calibrate this too tightly, but seriously, though, who did you think were the stars tonight?  Do you think Rudy was?

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Rudy was very relaxed.  He seemed very comfortable, very confident.  And he seemed very willing to tackle Mitt Romney on this issue of who is a better tax and—with tax and spending and fiscal issues. 

So he was very, very strong in this debate.  Mitt Romney was very strong on fiscal issues as well.  He was ready to engage back and forth.  And then of course Fred Thompson was a different story. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get to Fred in a minute, but let‘s start with who we think won?  Also with you, Chuck Todd, our political director, it seemed to me that Rudy avoided some of what Jon Stewart, the comedian, calls his 9/11 Tourette‘s, meaning he didn‘t mention 9/11 every answer.  In fact, he seemed to focusing, as the format required, heavily on economics, taxes, spending, trade issues. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, this thing—this format favored Romney and Rudy, and you saw it.  You know, it was interesting, if you watched that debate and asked yourself, who can go toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton?  There were only two people that fit that bill with the Republicans.  It was Rudy and Romney. 

The good news for Rudy is he didn‘t commit what I think might have been the gaffe of the night, and that was what Romney did when Romney said he was going to consult attorneys before he was going to decide whether he could bomb Iran‘s nuclear facilities.  And it‘s that phrase, “consulting attorneys,” that has all of Romney‘s opponents sort of licking their chops.  They think they got him...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go with that, because I agree with you, that‘s a fascinating piece of television arcana.  Here it is, Mitt Romney saying that he would have to go to the lawyers on the phone—at least get them on the phone before deciding whether he had the constitutional authority to attack Iran without Congress. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  You sit down with your attorneys and tell you what you have to do, but obviously the president of the United States has to do what‘s in the best interest the United States to protect us against a potential threat.  The president did that as he was planning on moving into Iraq and received the authorization of Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he need it? 

ROMNEY:  You know, we‘re going to let the lawyers sort out what he needed to do and what he didn‘t need to do.  But certainly what you want to do is to have the agreement of all the people, leadership of our government as well as our friends around the world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What are these, the Miranda rights for Iran, that you have to lawyer present to decide whether you invade or not?  It sounds odd for a politician when asked about the constitutional authority of the presidency, not to have a pretty good philosophy about what the president is able to do. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, no one wants to hear that the commander-in-chief is going to have to consult a lawyer before taking action.  It doesn‘t sound good.  It‘s almost like Fred Thompson‘s mistake that when it comes to what are going to do with bin Laden, he said, well, he‘ll get due process.  It just—it doesn‘t ring right. 

FINEMAN:  The problem here for Romney is he already comes off like a scripted guy who has got an eight-point plan for everything.  On something like terrorism in the world, people want to hear some gut from these guys, I think, recognizing that George Bush may have overdone it in certain respects, still the Republican audience wants to hear some emotion from these guys on this kind of thing to the extent that I‘m going to defend the country, I‘m going to be the president who‘s going to do it and I‘m not going to sit there with the yellow legal pad before I do.  That‘s just the emotional appeal and that‘s what the others are going to go after him for. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, the other problem raised by that is Governor Romney is not going to get prior review.  I mean, he‘s going to have to test that authority.  I mean, I don‘t think the Supreme Court will answer a query, can I go to war without Congress? 

The way the Supreme Court operates is through judicial review.  You‘re the attorney here, and they look at a bill or they look at a presidential action.  So the president has to sort of know, it seems to me, doesn‘t he, Chuck, whether he can go to war or not? 

TODD:  Well, that‘s right.  And you know, to pick up on what Howard said, you know, Rudy has been almost all emotion when it comes to trying to sort of gloss over some of his social positions that don‘t appeal to the base of the Republican Party and try to appeal them on emotion, on terrorism. 

And Romney is like a xylophone.  I think it‘s a line you like to talk about all the time that Democrats are that way, you know.  But literally, Romney, you know, he mentioned Michigan.  He was very careful.  He knew exactly where he was.  So he mentioned Michigan and drop of a hat had a Jennifer Granholm joke.  So it was like, note M for Michigan.  You know, and he goes along, you know, mention Liddy Dole...

MATTHEWS:  Ha!  I love it.  You‘re learning my lingo. 

TODD:  You know, he mentioned the Liddy Dole...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I do like, candidates who hit all the bells on the xylophone or the vibraphone. 

TODD:  And that‘s what Romney does.  And the thing is, is that, who‘s listening?  Is it going to be conservative activists listening, and saying, you know what, boy, Romney is learning how to talk to me and figuring out what my group cares about?  Or is it Rudy who sits there and says, yes, you know what, that‘s the guy we have got to put up against Hillary, forget all this other stuff, it‘s a gut. 

And it‘s sort of like it‘s sort of your head.  Romney is sort of trying to play to the conservative head and Rudy is trying to play to the conservative gut. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I don‘t think Jack Kennedy spent a lot of time with lawyers during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Anyway, today we also heard from Fred Thompson, his first—let‘s take a look at the debut of the debut, the first time—well, here he is, actually, a little later in the debate where he talks about Iraq, one of the hot issues outside the economy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON:  Now that we see a window of opportunity for things to turn around and us to stabilize that place and not have to leave with our tail between our legs.  If we did that, it would make for a more dangerous United States of America.  I think we‘ve got to come to terms with the nature of the threat that our country faces. 

It‘s a global war.  Islamic fascism has declared it upon us.  They look at it as something that has been going on for a long, long time.  They are perfectly willing for it to go on for a long time more, killing millions of innocent people in the process. 

They play by no rules and they are intent on bringing down Western civilization and the United States of America.  So we have to understand what‘s necessary and the determination that we need to show to friend and foe alike that we‘ll do what‘s necessary to fight on any front. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the first time he spoke today.  This is a little later when he talked about Iraq.  Let‘s take a look at him on an economic question early in the debate. 

A lot of people—I will not render a judgment, I was trying to moderate this thing, I was busy enough, so let‘s take a look at what‘s called—some people think he was very nervous and awkward in his first response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON:  I think there‘s no reason to believe that we‘re headed for 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 we‘re headed for—for an economic downturn. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Does he look like he‘s enjoying?  I mean, he listed all of the elements in our society that are enjoying.  Is he? 

FINEMAN:  Well, he didn‘t look like it there at the beginning.  At the beginning he looked like he needed a very large digestive pill of some kind. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You are so tough. 

FINEMAN:  But no, but the thing is that there‘s tone deaf and then there‘s being oblivious here.  Most of the other Republican candidates conceded tactically in one way or another that the economy needs help in one place or another, especially here in Michigan. 

Now Fred Thompson made a passing reference to Michigan, but the screaming headline of The Detroit Free Press this morning when I got off the plane was Chrysler cutting thousands of more jobs.  He has got to be aware of that and he has got to start from that base to say what new can be done. 

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s singing the highest in the choir.  I mean, he‘s basically saying the war is going well in Iraq, we‘re doing all the right things.  The economy is going well.  Do you think that is just sort of his pocket.  He‘s just going to stay in that pocket of being a Bushie on everything? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think he is.  And I think on the war on this earlier, the second clip—the first clip that you showed, that is where Fred Thompson got to be Arthur Branch. 

MATTHEWS:  The guy on “Law & Order,” he plays.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:   So there‘s all those bad guys out there, we got the Islamos out there, and all that kind of stuff.  That was him being the character that frankly a whole generation of American kids and some of them voters now have grown up with. 

I was sitting next to a blogger for a conservative Michigan publication.  He loved Fred Thompson, he couldn‘t quite say why I don‘t think on the issues, but he liked the reassurance that Thompson was giving him on the screen during that answer. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, this was Fred Thompson‘s debut.  And this was an opportunity in debates, we size people up.  That‘s what debates are about, sizing them up.  You know, he is big.  He has a big, tall presence.  But he was nervous.  There were jitters, clearly.  He kept looking down at his notes. 

And he seemed to warm up as it went on and he got a little more folksy and said, it has been boring here without me and he had a good rejoinder to when Mitt Romney said this was like a scene in “Law & Order” where, you know, Fred Thompson shows up at the end.  And then Fred Thompson said, yes, I thought I was, you know, the only—I‘m not the only good actor on this stage, which got a good laugh. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  He stuck it to Romney. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.  He stuck it back to him.  So he seemed to warm up as it went along.  But you know, I loved that response, that clip you played.  You know, have you—the question, you know, do you feel like you should have gotten in sooner?  He said, no, I‘m fine.  You know...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is the opaque...

O‘DONNELL:  ... he has got this—he has this confidence but he hasn‘t sort of gotten over sort of the jitters.

MATTHEWS:  He was the only one, Chuck, who gave a one-word answer.  Of course, Maria followed up on a one-word answer, but he basically was willing to leave something with a big, fat no, reminding some of the olders (ph) of us of Mike Mansfield from Montana, the senator, that would answer a question with one word. 

Chuck Todd, you don‘t remember Mike Mansfield, but he knew how to answer with Gary Cooper simplicity. 

TODD:  Well, you know what‘s interesting about Thompson is that he sort of—he just reminds me of the guy that people in a small town would go gather around and listen to pontificate in a town square.  And if he‘s by himself, he‘s very engaging. 

The problem he had with standing up there, he didn‘t look comfortable, he did get a little more comfortable at the end, but I don‘t think he enjoyed being the star.  You know, remember, he was always a supporting actor.  He was never the lead actor in a lot of stuff.

And you almost thought he seemed uncomfortable being the center of attention, that he would feel better if he could have been on our side and judging these guys and doing critiques and saying, God, how come they‘re doing this or saying that rather than being the performer himself. 

And that is what sort struck me.  He just didn‘t seem like—he caught up to where he had to be, but I‘m still trying to figure out how this guy is going to be the star and somehow eclipse Giuliani, I just don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  He didn‘t want to play Wilt Chamberlain today.  But he was put right in the middle there.  And like Wilt Chamberlain...

FINEMAN:  He didn‘t take any of the others on.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let‘s take a look at an interesting little fight, there was some sort of bantam weight fighting here tonight, interesting fight between Governor Romney and Mayor Giuliani over taxes.  And let‘s face it, this rather esoteric question about the line-item veto, which is the ability of a president or governor to take apart a spending bill, say, I‘m going approve this, I‘m not going to approve that.  But that way he can really segregate out what he doesn‘t want to spend money on—not waste money on. 

Let‘s say it‘s an esoteric issue.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Well, we also 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 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 would like to see it at the federal government level as well.  We need it. 

GIULIANI:  I‘m in favor of the line-item veto except you would 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 is what it was about.  That is 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)

MATTHEWS:  That looks like a debate, guys.  Let‘s go to Chuck first.  I like this kind of debate because these guys‘ personalities are at odds here.  Clearly there is the feisty, big city, gritty mayor and this very formulaic corporate guy with his PowerPoint display.  One is kind of coldly numerical and the other is just pure city grit.  What do you make of that back and forth?  I feel like a fight promoter.  What do you make of that back and forth, Chuck Todd?

TODD:  Well, I guess, you know, from 30,000 feet, you‘re sitting there, like, what are they debating?  They are debating over the constitutionality—it‘s like, why is it that they keep wanting to bring lawyers in?  I mean, this is amazing.  The Democrats usually are the ones criticized for always wanting to legally argue everything and get a lawyer involved. 

But here you had Romney talking about attorneys and bringing in—consulting attorneys for bombing Iran nuclear sites.  And then you had Rudy talking about, well, he has got to legally change the law in order to—before you can start doing a line-item veto.  Then of course, you had another—you know, the southern trial lawyer in the middle.

It is interesting that a Republican Party whose base usually hates the idea of lawyering up everything, these guys seem to be debating about doing just that, lawyering up everything. 

FINEMAN:  Well, also, Rudy and Romney come from New York and Massachusetts, two of the most liberal, big-spending states in the country that most Republicans...

MATTHEWS:  And probably most litigative (sic) too.

FINEMAN:  Most litigious. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  And that moment Republican base voter, especially in the South, regard with deep suspicion.  So here you have two guys who are suspect on spending and taxes, trying to prove to the base of the party that they‘re the genuine article.  I daresay if either one of them wins the nomination, it‘s not going to be because they have made that sale, it‘s going to be because of something else. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  They just have a different lingo.  Anyway, thank you, Norah O‘Donnell.  Thank you, Howard Fineman.  And thank you, Chuck Todd over there across the room. 

When we return, we‘ll hear from three of the candidates in today‘s debate, Governor Huckabee, Congressman Paul and Congressman Duncan Hunter, all three are coming up here on HARDBALL live following the debate.  You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Republican president candidates‘ debate from Dearborn, Michigan, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, we‘re going to talk to three of the candidates in tonight‘s debate here in Dearborn, Michigan, Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas; Congressman Ron Paul of Texas; and Congressman Duncan Hunter of California.  HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, from Dearborn, Michigan.  We‘re joined right now by one of the presidential candidates, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. 

Governor Huckabee, what do you make of this debate here?  I mean, it‘s still one of the most difficult things to watch, your eyes can‘t bring in all of these personalities, I mean, nine guys up there. 

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Yes, I think we need to get rid of some of them.  I have got a list... 

MATTHEWS:  Ha! 

HUCKABEE:  ... that I‘m going to go ahead and suggest which ones have to go.

MATTHEWS:  You want to dump—you want to get rid of Romney and get rid of Giuliani. 

HUCKABEE:  At the next debate, I get the center position...

MATTHEWS:  Get rid of Thompson.

HUCKABEE:  I get all the questions.  And I‘ll see if I have anything I want to toss to the others. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that big eight-foot tall guy from Tennessee coming in the room tonight? 

HUCKABEE:  Well, I‘m glad he showed up for this one.  It was good.  And I thought it gave him a chance to play ball with the rest of us.  But as far as evaluating his performance, I‘m not a good person to do that, I‘m sitting there trying to evaluate my own. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of evaluation, former Bush—President Bush adviser Dan Bartlett criticized the Republican field with a rather scathing analysis the other day.  Let‘s take a look at what he said about you, sir. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  Quite frankly, having the last name Huckabee, I hate to be so light (ph) about it, but it is, it is an issue.  Politics can be fickle like that.  I mean, you‘re trying to get somebody‘s attention for the first time, and they don‘t—they‘re (INAUDIBLE), Huckabee?  You got to be kidding me.  Hope, Arkansas, here we go again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, he actually said some very profound things, I thought he actually said—Dan Bartlett, he‘s a pretty shrewd judge of political horse flesh.  He said, you were basically running about the best campaign but he thought your surname was too hick, basically...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  About you were all doing Gomer Pyle stuff out there tonight.  The name Huckabee, is it—“I Heart Huckabee, is this a problem? 

HUCKABEE:  No, it‘s not a problem.  The American people aren‘t that bigoted where they would discount me because of my name.  What they want is a president with ideas, not a last name they like. 

And you know, I‘m proud of my last name.  It‘s not a name that‘s like Clinton or Bush where we will have 28 years of the same family, it‘s a name that is different.  It‘s a name that resonates with people that had to work hard for a living and know struggle. 

And so I‘m proud of the kind of with blue collar roots I‘ve got.  And if somebody wants to make fun of it, they‘re making fun of the vast majority of America out there.  I‘ll tell you another thing too, there is an...

MATTHEWS:  Dan Bartlett is one of those elite Texas Bushies, huh?

HUCKABEE:  Well, you know, there‘s an old thing that says...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a country club Republican? 

HUCKABEE:  ... at first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, and then they swear you in. 

MATTHEWS:  No, and then you win.  That‘s Gandhi. 

HUCKABEE:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Gandhi.

HUCKABEE:  That‘s Gandhi. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your success in the state of Iowa.  You have moved into position ahead of I believe Giuliani and McCain. 

HUCKABEE:  Yes, right.  We‘re solid. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re now in the top tier. 

HUCKABEE:  I‘ve been saying that for a long time.  People are catching on.  I‘ll tell you another thing that is interesting, when Iowa voters were asked who did they absolutely commit to, I was in first place among the voters who had really made up their mind, not the ones who said, I prefer this guy or that.

And I think that‘s important, is that when people are on board with us, they know why.  It‘s not just, oh, I saw his ad or, yes, I‘ve heard his name a lot because he‘s, quote, the front-runner” and he gets all the attention.  It‘s because they know what I‘m saying.  They agree with it.  And they know it‘s the right kind of thing for America. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s a little untoward for some of the other candidates to start debating Hillary today?  I thought it was interesting, we‘ll have some of the clips in a moment, but it seemed like Mayor Giuliani and Romney were out trying to outpoint each other in their ability to debate—a shadow debate Senator Clinton.  What was that about? 

HUCKABEE:  I think it‘s the nature of them trying to say, we‘re sort of above this fray, we don‘t really need to deal with all you other guys.  And that‘s fine, let them do that.  I thought today was the beginning of sort of their duel.  I was going to hand both of them both a pistol and let them take 10 paces and finish each other off. 

I‘ve always said, when A takes care of B, C gets to be the nominee. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, in (INAUDIBLE), they say the shape of the field defines the winner, meaning the kind of people in a race almost tell you how it‘s going to come out. 

Now for example, you‘re a southerner. 

HUCKABEE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re from the Bible Belt.  You‘re Protestant, you‘re up against a fellow who is LDS, who is Mormon, and a guy who is a New York guy, a Catholic, that it gave you an advantage in terms of the region obviously where you‘re from which had such a—almost a foundational role in the Republican Party these days, the heartland of the country going south of the Mason-Dixon line. 

Does Fred Thompson poach on your territory? 

HUCKABEE:  Doesn‘t seem to be.  In fact, if anything, since he has gotten in the race, my numbers have soared upward.  So it doesn‘t seem to be hurting me, it may be hurting someone else.  But the people who are with me are with me because they know that I stand solidly and clear, not just in what I‘m saying, Chris, but what I‘ve done in terms sanctity of life, Second Amendment issues that really touch the heart and base of the Republican Party.

But what is also going on is that I‘m getting a lot of attention from people who aren‘t necessarily Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about it.  I can‘t tell you the number of people who come up to me, Governor, who you would never think are Republicans, right?  African-Americans, a lot of working people, who you have assumed from the way you‘ve conversed with them over the years, they‘re all a bunch of Democrats.  And they like you. 

What good is it going to do you?  I mean, they‘re not going to get—unless you get in the general those votes are useless. 

HUCKABEE:  But you know what, a lot of times we forget, the Republicans are smart enough surely to nominate somebody who can actually get Democrat votes.  When I got 40 percent of the African-American vote in my state, my governor‘s election, a lot of people said, how do you do that?  What the point is, that‘s the kind of Republican that we had better nominate or we‘re not going to win the general election in ‘08. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought the idea of life was to sort of talk loud and get ahead by bragging and stuff like that.  And you‘re doing very well with being nice and soft spoken. 

HUCKABEE:  I try.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a new approach. 

HUCKABEE:  I try to be nice.  I try to be me. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s an unusual approach for me, coming from...

HUCKABEE:  There are enough nasty guys out there.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not sure you could make it in a big city like Philly, but you‘re doing well out here.  Thank you, Governor. 

HUCKABEE:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And coming up, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, he‘s a libertarian.  He‘s doing well in raising money, are the Republicans looking for a libertarian—an anti-war libertarian?  He‘ll join us here in Michigan.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, its coverage—our coverage of the Republican presidential debate from Dearborn, Michigan, right up near the Canadian border, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to Dearborn, Michigan, and HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the Republican debate out here.  Here‘s U.S. Congressman Ron Paul, responding to Mitt Romney‘s suggestion he would consult his lawyers before attacking Iran. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This idea of going and talking to attorneys totally baffles me.  Why don‘t we just open up the Constitution and read it?  You‘re not allowed to go to war without a declaration of war. 

Now as far as fleeting (ph) enemies, go, yes, if there‘s an imminent attack on us.  We‘ve never had that happen in 220 years.  The thought that the Iranians could pose an imminent attack on the United States is preposterous.  There is no way. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  This is just war propaganda—continued war propaganda, preparing this nation to go to war and spread this war, not only in Iraq but into Iran, unconstitutionally.  It is a road to disaster for us as a nation.  It‘s a road to our financial disaster if we don‘t read the Constitution once in a while. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re here with the Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.  You know, I just know that there are people all over the country jumping up and down with glee.  No, they‘re not all Republicans, a lot of them are Democrats and independents. 

But how come a big number of people in this country who think this war was a huge mistake and believe all this talk of going to Iran is just war fever, that we are getting big buildup—a propaganda buildup to go to war, why don‘t they have—since they dominate the polls, why don‘t they dominate the politics? 

PAUL:  I have no idea.  You wonder about this, but they will be sucked into it every time.  It‘s almost human history that they do.  But they have to be feared.  They have to build up fear.  And that‘s what is happening now.  It‘s that they‘re going to attack us and that our enemy is another Hitler.  And even though it doesn‘t exist, if you say it over and over again, how many times...

MATTHEWS:  Can I suggest something?  This is the choir in which I sing.  The vice president of the United States went on “MEET THE PRESS” and programs like it, one after the other, talking about the fact that Saddam Hussein, this third-world dictator, had a nuclear weapon that he was going to put on some sort of balsa wood plane and fly over and kill us with it. 

And on that basis, a lot of people said, oh, I guess we have got to go to war. 

PAUL:  That is true, and that means we should be more on guard but we‘re not.  That is history.  I mean, this is the way it works.  The governments have been doing this notoriously for a long, long time.  And I‘m just begging and pleading that people be alert. 

But you know, in a way we should be a little bit more optimistic about getting this message out, 70 percent of the American people want to come home from Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but they‘re not coming home because the politicians keep voting to fund the troops have and they have a real problem in restraining presidential authority. 

Now what did you make of the fact that Governor Romney said, when asked whether he thought the president could actually start a war for strategic reasons, initiate—attack the nuclear facilities in Iran? 

Clearly that would have required a resolution because it would have involved a situation where we decide that somewhere down the road this country is going to be a threat to us.  A deliberate decision should be cleared by Congress.  And he says, I‘ve got to check my lawyer before I find out if I can do that or not. 

PAUL:  I was a bit outraged, as you recall.  I just couldn‘t believe this was being said, because I think there‘s so little respect for Constitution.  As a matter of fact, I think to bomb somebody is an act of war and you should have a declaration of war, not just a resolution. 

Just think of how many less wars we would have been fighting since World War II.  We wouldn‘t have been fighting any of these wars if I had my way, think of how many men and women would be alive today, how many would be not injured if we just followed the rules, don‘t go to war unless you declare it. 

MATTHEWS:  But look at all of the wars we‘ve had with the Bushes, we‘ve gone to war with a Panamanian dictator, with Noriega.  We went to war with Grenada, that was supposed to be a threat. 

PAUL:  Then you wonder why the South Americans have so little respect for us when we go in there and arrest a president and bring him up and put him in our prisons?  I mean, it is just totally absurd.

MATTHEWS:  A the lot of people think like you, I dare not say I‘m one of them.  Anyway, thank you, Ron Paul.  Congressman Ron Paul.

Up next, Congressman Duncan Hunter joins us.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC and we‘re covering the Republican presidential candidates‘ debate, which is going to be on MSNBC at 9:00 tonight.  We just did it here.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)         

GIULIANI:  You asked me about Hillary Clinton.  At the last Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton was asked by Tim Russert whether she agreed with my position on Iran—I like that form of debate by the way, any time you want to do it that way.  Ask her if she agrees with my other positions as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, sir. 

GIULIANI:  But on Iran—on Iran—on Iran, what she said was, she was asked, would you take a strong position that Iran will not be allowed to become nuclear and that we would use a military option if we had to, and she didn‘t answer the question. 

Well, you‘ve got to answer the question.  The answer is, yes, we would.  Iran is a greater danger than Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, live from Dearborn, Michigan, where the Republicans had a big presidential debate here.  And we‘re joined right now by U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter. 

I‘m trying to figure out the Republican Party on the trade issue.  It seems to me it is—if I looked at the numbers tonight when we surveyed the nine candidates, most are pretty much free traders.  Are you a free trader? 

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought you were one of the odd men out here. 

HUNTER:  Yes.  And I think—and you know something, there‘s only two Republicans on Mount Rushmore, Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln, neither one of them were free traders.  And the Republican center has always been with the middle class of this country.  Right now you‘ve got China is cheating on trade, my gosh, Chris, they‘re devaluing their currency by 40 percent below where it should be.  That means they move a product into the United States and that product is less than the cost of materials alone for an American manufacturer. 

And according to the last study that we moved 1.8 million manufacturing jobs out of this country, about 55,000 from Michigan alone to communist China.  And you know, Ronald Reagan—I know John McCain said, well, Ronald Reagan loved free trade.  Ronald Reagan said, when one of the sides is cheating, there is no free trade. 

China is cheating on trade, I‘d stop that.  That‘s a president‘s obligation to do that, to provide that level playing field for American workers.  And you know, you‘ve mentioned the fact that the middle class, the Reagan Democrats are not coming aboard the Republican presidential campaigns.

One reason they‘re not is because we need it reach out to them and we need to remember that jobs are important and having those people in good, solid positions where they can take advantage of the opportunities of this country is important.  We‘re not doing that right now, but I intend to do it. 

MATTHEWS:  What about this issue of foreign ownership, we had the big issue with the Dubai company trying to—that was about to take over some U.S. ports.  And what do you make of the fact that tonight it seemed to be an overwhelming percentage who said there was no problem—of the candidates, who thought there was no problem with Dubai getting 20 percent of Nasdaq, the stock index? 

HUNTER:  Yes.  Here is what I see...

MATTHEWS:  You were one who didn‘t like it. 

HUNTER:  I didn‘t agree with it.  Here‘s what I see in my mind‘s eye.  I‘m reminded of the briefings that I got from the Customs Service where the American Customs officers were on the docks in Dubai and they were telling them please don‘t ship nuclear triggers to an anonymous buyer in Pakistan.  And the Dubai government said go ahead and do it and they sent those triggers out.  That was definitely against the interests of the United States. 

And I think that action alone requires that we do something to let Dubai know that we don‘t appreciate what they‘ve done in terms of technology transfer.  I do not trust a government that will sell nuclear triggers while we‘re asking them not do it.  That was not a case of negligence. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is this just about Arab countries or all countries?  Would you mind if the Dutch took over part of Nasdaq? 

HUNTER:  Well, I think you have got to look at it carefully.  Any country that sells nuclear triggers to anonymous buyers, I would not trust with any important transaction. 

MATTHEWS:  You were against Ron Paul.  You took the majority position tonight, Congressman, on this issue that a president has sort of an inherent authority as commander-in-chief to commence military action basically anywhere. 

HUNTER:  Well, the problem is...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, in terms of a strategic attack on Iran, it wouldn‘t be an attack based upon hot pursuit of Iranian forces across the border, it wouldn‘t be a tactical attack on perhaps some base that‘s supporting that kind of arming of the Iranian—insurgents or the militias.  But it would be a strategic decision to say, we‘re going to stop a country from developing a nuclear weapon. 

It strikes me that that‘s a classic example where the Congress should be brought in for decision-making by the United States government.  You say no. 

HUNTER:  In most cases, yes.  But in the briefings that I‘ve had and in watching this development as Iran is developing the capability to, with the centrifuges to refine nuclear weapons grade material, at some point you may have a window that is only hours long or minutes long to interdict that material, or operate against that material before it gets out of Iran or goes into somebody else‘s hands, or is in some other way taken away from the prospects of American control. 

You know, this is going to be on era...

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute...

HUNTER:  ... because you—where you have to move very quickly.  And so my answer was, if you have to move within minutes or hours, yes, you can‘t bring Congress back and give them the briefings and tee up this thing for a big vote. 

MATTHEWS:  All right.  Let me ask you a question. 

HUNTER:  Otherwise you do have that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If the United States CIA discovers it has a good target site for the bases where they‘re developing the facilities for building nuclear weapons, would you think the president should go to Congress for that or not?  Can he do it on his own? 

HUNTER:  Yes.  I would say if it‘s a long-term prospect, and there‘s no need, if there‘s not a fleeting target and there is also not the prospect that you‘re going to see these people bury it...

MATTHEWS:  And if Congress refuses to give him that authority, should he still he be able to go? 

HUNTER:  I would, if...

MATTHEWS:  Tough.

HUNTER:  ... I thought that it was—that they were going to develop a nuclear device that would harm the American people.  You‘ve got a Constitution.  The Constitution says the president is commander-in-chief and that gives him certain inherent capabilities. 

And you‘ve got another aspect to the Constitution that says that the Congress has a right to declare war.  So the question is, does a president have the right to move very quickly, within a matter of minutes or a matter of hours or in a short—and as you know, the War Powers Act gave the president the right to do a lot of things within 60 days. 

MATTHEWS:  I also know presidents won‘t give back any authority they think they might be able to get potentially. 

HUNTER:  Well, you know, said as the guy...

MATTHEWS:  I know how it works.

HUNTER:  ... who used to work for the speaker of the house. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  But I know how the Constitution...

HUNTER:  You didn‘t want to give authority away.

MATTHEWS:  I know, the Constitution is always in flux.  Thank you very much, Congressman Hunter who is...

HUNTER:  Hey, thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... also (INAUDIBLE) Congressman Duncan Hunter. 

Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable on today‘s winners and losers.  This is HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Republican presidential candidates‘ debate out here in Dearborn, Michigan, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON:  I don‘t think i waited too long.  Seems about right to me. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Are we out of questions?

THOMPSON:  I‘ve enjoyed watching these fellows, I‘ve got to admit, it was getting a little bit boring without me, but...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON:  ... I‘m glad to be here now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, what is it, Tommy Smothers?  Hey, well, we‘re back in Dearborn, Michigan, with the roundtable.  Let‘s go right now to Stephen.  We‘ve got Stephen Hayes joining us right now.  And Jill Zuckman.  And the Politico‘s Roger Simons.  I‘ll give you your institutional connections in a minute. 

Roger, you first.  Will this laconic, laidback Gary Cooper approach signal—all he sends is not of excitement but of sort of definite sort of definition is all they are, is this going to work? 

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  I know, I thought it was a lost opportunity for Fred Thompson.  I mean, he had a good chance to make a strong first impression, I don‘t think he made it.  I‘ll give him credit, he knew who the prime minister of Canada was.  But past that...

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

SIMON:  It‘s more than I knew.  But past that...

MATTHEWS:  I think that would have been a—it might have been unusual knowledge on his part.  Let me go right now to Stephen.  Right now, Stephen Hayes. 

Did you—this is going to be the question all over the newspapers in two or three days now because he‘s the new kid on the block.  Did he do well? 

STEPHEN HAYES, WEEKLYSTANDARD.COM:  I thought he did well enough.  I mean, I don‘t think he hit it out of the park.  I don‘t think people were sitting at home watching Fred Thompson saying, that‘s definitely my guy.  But at the same time, I don‘t think he did anything that made people—you know, Republicans or specifically conservatives who would say, meh, he‘s not the guy, he clearly was out of his league, anything like that.  So I think he did fine. 

MATTHEWS:  So he has still got a few steps on Huckabee you think? 

HAYES:  I think he does have—I think he has a lot of steps on Huckabee.  I mean, it was interesting, if you look at the first hour, I think he was tense, I think he seemed nervous, and then by the end, the clip that you all just showed, he was clearly much more relaxed.  He seemed to almost be having a good time.

MATTHEWS:  I liked his one-word answer he gave to Maria.  She asked for more information, but I thought that showed some real self-confidence at one point.  Note, I like that stuff. 

HAYES:  He did that.  I did this long interview with him back in April, it was like four-and-a-half hours or something, and he did that repeatedly throughout the interview.  And it‘s one of these things that shows a guy to me who seems really comfortable in his skin.  And I agree with you, if he does that more it will reflect well on him. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s better than saying, I have to talk to my lawyers, which is going to be one of the strangest, strangest reactions, it‘s like, I keep thinking of those ads in the paper, you know, for—you know, workplace injuries and stuff.  Let me get the lawyer in here.  Go ahead.

JILL ZUCKMAN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Well, I just thought that Fred Thompson didn‘t fail tonight.  He hung in there, but he was so overshadowed by Giuliani and Romney mixing it up at the beginning. 

MATTHEWS:  Weren‘t they the lightning kids? 

ZUCKMAN:  They were the stars of the show. 

MATTHEWS:  They were enjoying it. 

ZUCKMAN:  It was fun. 

MATTHEWS:  They were like glittering kids, showing off their anti-Hillary virtuosity.  They kept showing, I‘ve got another way to go after Hillary, I‘ve got another way.  And they were like testing their stuff. 

ZUCKMAN:  But how about testing, I know statistics about your city, I know statistics about your state.  I can do you one better.  I mean, it was like back and forth, back and forth.  I thought it was great. 

MATTHEWS:  It reminded me of language class in the Peace Corps, where there was always two or three guys who were unbelievable and they were showing off.  You know, Roger, those two guys did seem to be in the fast stream tonight. 

SIMON:  Oh, they did.  And it was the most heated exchange of the debate and it was the most interesting exchange of the debate.  And these are two guys who have got to stop each other.  One of them is leading in the all the national polls...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s too bad they were debating the line-item veto.  That‘s the only problem.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I think they left a lot of us behind on the line-item veto.  That‘s not is going to make the nightly news, is it? 

SIMON:  You know, they had an easy audience in that most people don‘t—including most people in the press room, don‘t follow economics that closely or finance that closely, they could have said anything, we would have nodded our heads. 

I mean, but when you‘ve got Giuliani leading in the national polls, you‘ve got Mitt Romney leading in the key state polls.  Something has to change there.  The dynamic has to change if one of them is going to pull away. 

MATTHEWS:  So—go ahead, Stephen.

HAYES:  I would say that one of the reasons that I thought Giuliani really did better than everybody else, I thought there were tiers in this debate, and Giuliani was here and others were down here.  One of the reasons was that exchange on the line-item veto for exactly the points that you and Roger both make. 

People aren‘t following the line-item veto debate carefully.  They don‘t a lot about the AMT.  But when Rudy Giuliani successfully turned that to, I took on Bill Clinton and I beat him... 

MATTHEWS:  And I‘m a strict constructionist too.

HAYES:  I‘m a strict constructionist.

MATTHEWS:  He managed to win on the integrity issue. 

HAYES:  I think he took—he opened the debate with an attack on Hillary and every answer went back to Hillary. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go back and watch what has now become an alley-oop play.  Every time Ron Paul says something that is more along the lines of my kind of thinking on these wars, Rudy Giuliani does this amazing lay-up.  He just—every time he does—let‘s come back. 

I hope we can set this up where Ron Paul says something like, yes, I can‘t imagine some foreign country attacking us here in this country.  And then he says what he says.  Let‘s take a look at that, we‘ve gotten used to this sort of jockeying, we‘ll be right back.  Featuring Stephen Hayes, Jill Zuckman and Roger Simon, but the action is on the floor between Rudy Giuliani and the libertarian Ron Paul.     

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the roundtable.  Here is Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, with Ron Paul going back and forth on—it has now become a classic, the 9/11 attacks. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI:  The point that I think it was Congressman Paul made before that we have never had an imminent attack, I don‘t know where he was on September 11th

PAUL:  That was no country. 

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL:  That was 19 thugs that had nothing to do with a country. 

GIULIANI:  And since—well, I think it was kind of organized in Afghanistan and Pakistan and if we had known about it, maybe hitting a target there quickly might have helped prevent it.  In any event, we have had 23 plots since September 11th where Islamic terrorists are planning to kill Americans. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you have got \new conservative and old conservative there.  What do you make of it, Steve?  That is the classic, the old libertarian isolationist taking on the guy—the new kid who is focused on terrorism. 

HAYES:  Well, I think at a couple points there Ron Paul sounded frankly crazy.  When he suggested at one point that it‘s not possible that we could be attacked by Iran, that‘s crazy talk. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what he was—well, his distinction between a state and terrorist group I think he was trying to make. 

HAYES:  Sure, sure.  As if there are these distinctions.  I mean, a lot of times—and Giuliani I think was right to point out that the Taliban and al Qaeda were basically interchangeable.  In Sudan throughout the late 1990s, the Sudanese government and al Qaeda, basically interchangeable.  But Ron Paul wants to divide them and make the world simple, put everybody in boxes.  It just doesn‘t work that way.  And I thought Giuliani smacked him pretty well for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to be a Giuliani ride to the White House, do you think?  Just finding somebody who will say something pre-9/11 so he can do a takeoff?  It seems to me that he needs it.  It works.  Yes?

ZUCKMAN:  How long is Ron Paul going to be hanging in here?  Is he going to be around Giuliani long enough so Giuliani can keep smacking him down? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me tell you what we figured out, because I heard it through my ear during the debate.  Roger, the analysis I heard, quickly, through my ear in the debate is as follows.  Watch the question that was put to the candidates tonight, especially the second-tier candidates, will you back the nominee of the party if obviously you don‘t win? 

And both Tancredo and Ron Paul said no.  The way people assume that is to be interpreted is that means both gentlemen will stay with his campaign to the end trying to defeat the frontrunner no matter who it is and they will not be easy to win over in the end. 

SIMON:  Oh, I think that‘s true.  And I think what‘s keeping candidates in is two things actually, the Internet and the ability to raise money over the Internet.  But the second thing is these debates.  All you need is the money for a plane ticket and a hotel room at a Motel 8 and you get a national audience.  That‘s keeping weak candidates in and it will continue as long as they get their soapbox. 

In the exchange between Giuliani and Ron Paul, what I thought was the impressive thing is that Giuliani is actually listening to Ron Paul‘s answers.  He is reacting to them.  You can bone up for a debate.  You can have your prepared remarks, but Giuliani actually pays attention and reacts over what his... 

MATTHEWS:  So smart. 

SIMON:  ... opponents say. 

MATTHEWS:  That is so smart, Roger.  It is—I have to say in my new book “Life Is a Campaign,” but it really is.  It‘s about listening.  And we try to get people who debate on this show to listen to the other side because like a painter, that‘s your pallet.  What the other person says in a debate is what you can react to.  And if you don‘t let them speak clearly and completely, you have nothing to come back from.  Steve? 

HAYES:  Well, I think that‘s one of the areas that Fred Thompson needs to improve on.  There were a couple of times where there were cut away shots and he seemed to be gazing off in the distance. 

MATTHEWS:  He is not playing well without the ball. 

HAYES:  No, right.  And he needs to improve that.

ZUCKMAN:  Or how about the long pause—the really long pauses and the looking down at the notes all the time. 

MATTHEWS:  Free advice.  Free advice for Senator Thompson.  Anyway, thank you, Roger Simon, great work.  Thank you, Stephen Hayes, great.  And thank you, Jill. 

In one hour watch the thing itself, the Republican presidential candidates‘ debate from Dearborn, Michigan.  You really do get a look at these people, an unexpurgated look, undistilled at the candidates themselves with myself and CNBC‘s Maria Bartiromo moderating. 

“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.

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

END   

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