updated 10/11/2007 11:21:29 AM ET 2007-10-11T15:21:29

Guests: Margaret Carlson, Dan Balz, John Neffinger, Barbara Comstock, Mark Leibovich, Emily Heil, David Brody

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Fred Thompson gets the award in the best supporting role at last night‘s debate, but isn‘t he up to the lead?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to HARDBALL.  Fred Thompson made his debate debut last night in Dearborn, Michigan, and the reviews are in.  “The New York Times,” quote, “Mr. Thompson often found himself a bystander as Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney attacked each other.”  “The LA Times”—“Thompson was upstaged by Giuliani and Romney.”  The Associated Press, quote, “The newcomer neither stood up nor screwed up.”  “The New York Daily News” gave Thompson a “gentleman‘s B,” but “The Politico” was a little tougher with this report card.  Quote, “He wasn‘t terrible.  He wasn‘t great.  He was just eh.”

I moderated the Republican debate with CNBC‘s Maria Bartiromo, and we‘ll have our own critique and talk about which candidates are today out there exploiting what happened last night later in the program.

In our second story tonight, body politics.  Actions speak louder than words, so let‘s talk about body language.  We have an expert to find out what the candidates were really saying at that Dearborn debate.  That‘s coming up second tonight.

Plus, Bartlett‘s quotations.  A dud?  A hick?  A flip-flopper?  That‘s how Dan Bartlett, the former top communications aide to President Bush, sizes up the Republican field.

So who won the Republican debate last night, the guy Bush‘s guy calls the dud, the hick, or the flip-flopper?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight.

But we begin with HARDBALL‘s own David Shuster with this report.


DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the wake of the Republican presidential debate, today it was a Mitt Romney pile-on.  There were blasts from rival campaigns and ridicule across the net, all hammering Romney for this.

MATTHEWS:  And if you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran‘s nuclear facilities?

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You sit down with your attorneys and tell you what you have to do.

SHUSTER:  The harshest attack came from Ron Paul.

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.

SHUSTER:  With the spotlight on Romney, for better or for worse, Fred Thompson now faces a problem because going into last night, all eyes were on him and his first debate performance in 11 years.  At first, the pressure seemed to show.  Is the U.S. headed towards a recession?

FRED THOMPSON (R-TN), FMR SENATOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I see no reason to believe we‘re headed for—for an economic downturn.

SHUSTER:  Thompson then settled in, but stuck to broad themes and answers.

THOMPSON:  In terms of turning our back on free trade, that‘s not the direction to go in.

SHUSTER:  And Thompson quickly became the forgotten man in the middle, as Romney and Giuliani squared off and stole the show.


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

MATTHEWS:  Sir, rebuttal here, final rebuttal?

ROMNEY:  It‘s a nice line, but it‘s baloney.  Mayor, you got to check your facts.  No taxes—I did not increase taxes in Massachusetts, I lowered taxes.

SHUSTER:  Both frontrunners stretched the truth.  Giuliani claimed to have lowered taxes 23 times as mayor of New York, but that includes nine tax breaks that were not his.  And while Romney did not raise personal income taxes or the sales tax, he did ratchet up fees.

Nonetheless, the debate underscored the clear stylistic differences between the two.  Romney approaches these events with prepared talking points, one-liners and even jokes.

ROMNEY:  This is a lot like “Law & Order,” Senator.


ROMNEY:  No, it has a huge cast, the series seems to go on forever, and Fred Thompson shows up at the end.


THOMPSON:  Not bad.  Not bad.  And to think I thought I was going to be the best actor on the stage.


SHUSTER:  Rudy Giuliani‘s style is more off the cuff and reactive.

GIULIANI:  And the point of—I think it was Congressman Paul made before, that we‘ve never had an imminent (ph) attack—I don‘t know where he was on September 11.

PAUL:  That wasn‘t a country.  That was...


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

GIULIANI:  And since September—oh, I think it was kind of organized in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

SHUSTER:  Giuliani and Romney did have one thing in common last night. 

They  both invoked the Democratic frontrunner repeatedly.

GIULIANI:  Now, you asked me about Hillary Clinton...

ROMNEY:  ... vis-a-vis meeting with, most likely, Hillary Clinton...

GIULIANI:  Hillary Clinton was asked...

ROMNEY:  Of course, that‘s what Hillary Clinton wants to do.

GIULIANI:  Hillary Clinton...

ROMNEY:  “Hillarycare” is government gets in...

GIULIANI:  Remember the Hillary bond program?

ROMNEY:  The Hillary Clinton plan...

SHUSTER:  This morning on the “Today” show, Romney explained.

ROMNEY:  Well, I think, at this stage, most of the people looking at the race think she‘s the most likely, and the kinds of things that she‘s been saying lately have really pointed out that she is way away from the mainstream of the American people.

SHUSTER:  Today, Romney also faced questions about a harsh statement about him leveled by former Bush adviser Dan Bartlett.

DAN BARTLETT, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  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 is he‘s a flip-flopper.

ROMNEY:  I think in the final analysis, the people of America are not going to choose the leader based on what church they go to.  They want to know their values.

SHUSTER (on camera):  The fears and concerns over religion is easier, though, for Romney, at least today, than explaining away his comments last night about consulting lawyers.  Romney defenders say the criticism is unfair because every president has a White House counsel giving advice on presidential powers.  Still, right now, Mitt Romney is in the hot seat.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David, for reminding me how much I love this stuff.

Anyway, let‘s bring in NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory, Dan Balz of “The Washington Post” and Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg.

Gentlemen and lady, let‘s take a look right now at Romney when he answered my question about whether a president, a future president, should go to Congress and get authorization before a strategic attack on Iran‘s nuclear facilities.


MATTHEWS:  If you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran‘s nuclear facilities?

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 interests of 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 in leadership of our government, as well as our friends around the world.


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go around the horn with a damage assessment.  David Gregory, first, is this one of those, I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it?  Will this last?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think, if you want to bring up John Kerry, it‘s probably a little bit more like in his debate in Florida with Bush, when he said there ought to be a global test of legitimacy for war before the president launches one.  So it sounded equivocal.  It didn‘t sound as strong as he probably wanted to sound.  He had a complete answer to your question.  And yet when you really leap on it, the idea that, Well, we‘re going to let the lawyers sort it out—why didn‘t Romney have a ready answer for whether or not you think you need a war declaration or not?  This is a debate that‘s been going on for years and years.  So you would think he would have had that.

They recognize that it makes him look weak.  The Rudy people are ready to pounce on it.  They already have.  And again, as the Giuliani campaign argued today, you know, Romney is a guy who thinks like a businessman, not a war-time leader.  That‘s the contrast they want in this debate.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that same question to Dan Balz.  Do we expect our future commander-in-chief to have a gut response as to presidential authority in wartime?

DAN BALZ, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, we certainly expect him to have a different kind of response than Governor Romney gave last night.  Chris, I don‘t know how long this will cause him a problem.  They are spinning it so hard today, they clearly recognize that, at least in the short term, it was an answer that was most unfortunate on his part, and they‘re trying to walk back from it as quickly as they can.

You would have thought he would have had a better answer for that.  As David suggested, he had a somewhat fuller answer, but he kept going back to relying on the lawyers, and the more he did that, the more—the evidence that he was not quite ready to answer in a specific way.  I think he didn‘t want to answer it definitively.  I think he wanted to preserve the flexibility that all presidents want to preserve, which is, yes, technically, you should go to Congress and get authorization before military action, but sometimes you decide you don‘t want to do it or can‘t do it or you don‘t have the time to do it.  But it was an inartful answer, to say the least.

MATTHEWS:  Margaret, your thoughts on this.  Is this one of these gaffes that‘s going to become one of these bicentennial moments that we keep going back to in the archives?

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG:  Well, you know, Michael Kinsley said a gaffe is when you accidentally tell the truth.  In some ways, it‘s the right answer.  Do we wish that maybe President Bush had gone to his White House counsel and had a reading of the War Powers Act before he did what he did?  Well, maybe.

This was in some ways the right answer but the wrong place for it.  You can‘t give that kind of answer in a debate.  Listen to Rudy Giuliani‘s answer, though.  It sounded—if you took his Afghanistan and Pakistan comment, it sounded as if he would have bombed Pakistan.  So you have these two extremes.  One is a guy who‘s very cautious, and one is a person who‘s extremely bellicose.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, among the Republican fighters right now, Margaret, you can be too bellicose?  Is this the battle of who can ring the loudest bell?

CARLSON:  It is.  No, you can‘t be too bellicose.  That‘s why it was a gaffe.  It‘s—remember, Romney in one of the debates was the one who was going to, you know, make Guantanamo twice as big.  This not a person who in general doesn‘t want to be out ahead of Giuliani in terms of defense.

GREGORY:  And Chris, this is why this is even more important.  If you look at the primary, the Republican primary electorate right now, you‘ve got two guys, if they are, indeed, on top and they are nationally in the early states, in Romney and Giuliani, who want to change the equation a little bit.  Especially, Giuliani wants primary voters to be thinking about national security first, war on terror first, and forget that they don‘t agree with him on social issues.


GREGORY:  That‘s why he‘s taking such a strong stand and that‘s where he wants to fight this.  He can sort out the legalistic answers later.  He wants a really fitting contrast on who‘s really the tough guy in the race.

MATTHEWS:  And to prove that, let‘s take a look at how this story has grown legs today.  Here is senior military adviser to Mayor Giuliani, he said this today.  Quote, “Going to war is the most serious decision a president can make.  Lawyers should not debate while our national security is on the line.  In these momentous decisions, we need leadership, not litigation.”

GREGORY:  But let me...

MATTHEWS:  And Giuliani‘s communications director issued a statement today that said, quote, “Hopefully, Mitt Romney isn‘t going to check with the same group of lawyers who told him the Bill Clinton line-item veto was constitutional.”

So David, obviously, the Giuliani people are planting their feet. 

They believe they‘ve got this guy on this.

GREGORY:  Well, I think they might.  But let‘s remember, there‘s two different audiences here.  That was a national stage last night.  They‘re speaking to a lot of people, they‘re not just speaking to primary voters.  And you have to wonder whether any of these independents in the country, if they‘re likely to vote Republican or whether they‘re going to trend toward Democrats, do they want a leader who speaks and seems to articulate views that are very similar to George W. Bush, or has the country have had enough of that?  Have independent voters had enough of that?  Do they want to take the foot off the accelerator a little bit?

So there‘s different audiences for these things, but I think Giuliani is counting on hitting the primary audience, the primary voters, with a very tough message to say, I‘m strong.  I‘m a strong leader.  I‘m not only strong in—on the people on the stage, but I‘ll be stronger when it comes to national defense and the war on terror than Hillary Clinton, which is who he wants to talk about all the time.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s watch the damage control effort by the Romney camp. 

Here Governor Romney hits back today in Michigan.


ROMNEY:  If there‘s anyone with a propensity to go to lawsuits, it‘s the mayor.  The mayor‘s the one who sued Governor Pataki to keep the commuter tax in place.  It‘s the mayor who sued the government of the United States over the line-item veto.  The mayor‘s the one who shows the propensity to want to put in place a legal test.


MATTHEWS:  You know, I wonder, Dan Balz, if the governor isn‘t a bit tone deaf.  The issue here isn‘t about who is the most litigious, it‘s about who has a good gut sense of the role of commander-in-chief.

BALZ:  I was thinking of that as you were playing that clip.  I mean, it‘s sort of a non sequitur to come back on the issue of lawsuits like that.  This is clearly one where they want to get away from it as quickly as they can, Chris.

You know, the question of how bellicose they can become I think is an important one because I think there is a line that they have to walk.  As David suggested, they‘re very much focused on the primary and caucus electorate of the Republican Party, which is obviously, hawkish, which is more supportive of George W. Bush than any audience in the country, which is at this point still more supportive of the Iraq war.

But I think that there are questions even within the Republican Party of what‘s the right tone and tenor in terms of foreign policy going forward.  Yes, people want strength in a president, they also want good judgment.  And I think all of these people on the stage have got to be thinking about that, as they‘re answering these questions and as they‘re debating one another.

GREGORY:  But Chris, I think, you know, you raise an important point, which is what do Republican voters really want?  I mean, is this going to last—who knows if this is really going to last, but what we‘ve learned about is whether you have a candidate who is a gut player, which Giuliani appears to be, or Romney, who comes across as very analytical.  If Romney were more of a gut player, maybe he would have said, Look, you know, I was really pro-choice, and I haven‘t changed my mind.  I‘m going to stick with it.  I‘m going to see how it goes.  He‘s a very analytical guy.  That could be a strength and a weakness, depending on the issue.

And even his answer today in his Wolverine fleece, was, you know, if this was a debate about who‘s the mostly litigious—it‘s not—that‘s not what the debate is about.


GREGORY:  What people want to know is, what kind of leader are you going to be?  So these become quality issues.  What are the qualities that people are looking for here, and how would they apply them?  I mean, we have real-world examples here that we didn‘t have back in 2000 about Iran and other issues in national security.

MATTHEWS:  I think it all gets, gentlemen and Margaret, to the question of what is missing right now in President Bush?  Is it a lack of bravado, a lack of guts, or is it a lack of savvy?  And where do you find the savvy between Rudy, who is the hotter one, and the cooler Thompson?  Who is the most savvy?

Margaret, I guess the question is, what happened to Fred Thompson last night?  Here‘s Fred Thompson when he was asked if he waited too long to get in the race.  It was a softball, and I think he did well.


THOMPSON:  I don‘t think I waited too long.  It seems about right to me.


THOMPSON:  I‘ve enjoyed...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) question...

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



MATTHEWS:  Margaret, I thought he handled the charm questions really well.  I mean, he came off as a good old boy.  You know, I don‘t know.  I‘m not sure how he handled the whole thing.  What‘s your overall assessment of his debut?

CARLSON:  That was the Senator Thompson that we recognize, the one before he got into the race and then didn‘t—you know, didn‘t bound onto the stage and wow audiences.  You know, he‘s the kind of person who on the trail, gets more applause coming into a room than he does when he leaves it.


CARLSON:  In fact, he had to tell one crowd to actually clap for himself.  But that was a really good moment for him, but it came towards the end.  It took him a while to get there.

But as between—the question on Giuliani and Romney, Giuliani being gut and Romney being head, I think it‘s easier for Giuliani to tamp down himself and get a little bit more of a brain operating...


CARLSON:  ... and a little less gut than it is for Romney to get a gut.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, he did know who the prime minister of Canada was last night.

CARLSON:  Thank goodness!

MATTHEWS:  We were 20 minutes from the Canadian border.  And I have to tell you, my plan, fellows and Margaret, was if he didn‘t know it, I was going try to be very fair and do a round robin and see who did know who the prime minister of Canada was.  My guess is still a number of those candidates aren‘t really up to date with our relationship with our longest border and our biggest trading partner.

Dan Balz, were you surprised he knew the question or surprised more that I asked it?

BALZ:  I can only tell you, Chris, in the press room, most people were glad you didn‘t ask any of us that question.

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it wild?  I mean, you know what I think it‘s a question of, David Gregory—and I was trying to get to something fairly deep, besides trying to test them—was that, you know, when countries get along with us pretty well—and we have a very pro-American government up there, a Tory government, a conservative government—they generally don‘t get any of our attention.  If it was Trudeau up there, we‘d all know who he was.  It‘s just...

GREGORY:  It‘s a little germane because Chretien, Harper‘s predecessor

I know this because I, you know, run around with the president and know these leaders and have seen—you know, I mean, you have a much different relationship with Bush than Harper does.  So it‘s become more relevant, and particularly for a Republican candidate, not just because it‘s our neighbor and such a huge trading partner.


GREGORY:  But I just think, you know, the point on Thompson is that what he‘s counting on is that voters look up and say, Yes, that‘s my alternative to these two guys who make me uncomfortable as a conservative.  And I don‘t know anybody who thinks that Thompson really stole the show last night.  He seemed to do fine, and he was charming in places and he sort of—you know, he knew his stuff, and that‘s all fine.  But did he really—did he steal the show?  Did he steal the stage?  And that‘s, I think, you know, an important threshold for him.

MATTHEWS:  You know, and I don‘t think the parts he‘s played in the movies are really starring roles.  They‘re very winning supporting roles, very likable, very solid, but they‘re not for sustained performances.  We‘ll see as he gets on.  It‘s only been his debut.

Thank you very much, David Gregory.  Thank you, Dan Balz.  And thank you, Bloomberg‘s Margaret Carlson.

Coming up, body politics.  What did the actions and the body language of the candidates in last night‘s debate say about their chance of winning?  We got an expert coming up who says it‘s more important how you behave than what you say in communicating.  I love this stuff.  I hope you do, too.

And later, the roundtable on Dan Bartlett‘s knocks on the Republican field.  He knocked them all out.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


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

Biggest dud, Fred Thompson.

Quite frankly, having the last name Huckabee—I hate to be so light about it, but it is.  It‘s an issue.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Sometimes, it‘s not what candidates say, but how they say it—their body language, it‘s called—or the tone of the voice.  That can tell you more than their words alone.

So, John Neffinger watched the debate last night.  And he‘s an expert on what those candidates were really saying.  In fact, he makes a living coaching people on how to talk in front of groups and the importance of how to say something, not just what to say.  He works with business people.  He‘s also coached some Democratic candidates for office. 

Thank you, John.

First of all, I want you to take a look at Romney‘s setup piece. 

Obviously, he wrote it ahead of time, or somebody did. 

Here‘s his thing about the “Law & Order” role of Fred Thompson. 



MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is a lot like “Law & Order,” Senator.


ROMNEY:  It...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.

ROMNEY:  It—no, it has a huge cast.  The series seems to go on forever...


ROMNEY:  ... and Fred Thompson...

MATTHEWS:  Senator?

ROMNEY:  ... shows up at the end.


MATTHEWS:  Senator...


MATTHEWS:  Senator...

FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And to think I thought I was going to be the best actor on the stage.



MATTHEWS:  Great comeback, I thought, John. 

What does it tell you about both fellows and the way they communicated? 

NEFFINGER:  Well, it‘s kind of a nice line for Romney, but, again, he‘s preplanned.  We can all tell that. 

On Fred Thompson‘s side, this joke, his comeback about not necessarily him being the best actor on the stage actually worked perfectly with his overall presentation last night.  He was the authentic rube.  His jacket didn‘t even fit correctly.  It‘s kind of weird to see this guy...


NEFFINGER:  ... who we know is a polished lobbyist...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he dressed for—did he dress for a lack of success or what?  What did he do, dress down? 

NEFFINGER:  I—I don‘t know what he was thinking, or if it was accidental or on purpose.  But he was kind of—you know, he was just regular guy up there.  He was a little bit of a shambles, kind of a Foghorn Leghorn thing going o. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Do you think he was too laid back? 

NEFFINGER:  I don‘t necessarily think so. 

I think, in contrast to Romney and Giuliani, actually, his presentation was reassuring.  It was honest. 


NEFFINGER:  If anything, it made the other two look like they were trying a little bit hard. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at the other two guys right now.


MATTHEWS:  Judge them after you watch this. 


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

MATTHEWS:  Sir, rebuttal here.  Final rebuttal.


ROMNEY:  It‘s a nice line, but it‘s baloney. 

Mayor, you have got to check your facts.  No taxes—I did not increase taxes in Massachusetts.  I lowered taxes.


MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that?  That was to me a very effective

I guess I love politics so much.


MATTHEWS:  But those guys looked like the pros out there.  They were fighting on a different level than the rest of the candidates. 

NEFFINGER:  Well, they were fighting.  And they, theoretically, were having a clash of facts.

But, really, this is a clash of wills.  And with the way that shows up is in the tone.  So, Rudy, when he was talking, after they started to engage, Rudy, he would say, when he would make his point, he was very self-assured.  This is how it is. 

Romney did fine.  But, by contrast here, he was a little bit more pleading.  He was kind of having to say no, no, really, and another thing, got a little defensive there, saying, secondly, you know, the Club For Growth, blahbity blah, whereas Rudy was very composed, very self-assured.

They both did OK.  You know, sort of the 11th commandment, they were fighting in a very courtly manner.  But, on points, I have got to give it to Rudy. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think Rudy is—well, there‘s a soul question, rather than a behavior question. 


MATTHEWS:  Why do you think Rudy is so self-assured?  He didn‘t seem so self-assured when it looked like he was going to go against Hillary back in 2000 for the Senate. 

Why has he got sort of this inner strength?  Is it 9/11?  What is it? 

NEFFINGER:  I guess it might be 9/11, Chris.  It‘s—certainly, he‘s never more at home than when he has something to fight against.  And 9/11 has really breathed new life into his political life, obviously.


NEFFINGER:  Although, lately, it is very interest.  He doesn‘t bring up 9/11 all the time.  He‘s bringing up Hillary all the time, so that he can...

MATTHEWS:  Interesting.

NEFFINGER:  ... fight against her.  That‘s, in fact, much more...


NEFFINGER:  ... effective for him, because it allows him to show a little bit of his warmth side—warm side by showing humor. 


Let‘s take a look at—here he is...


MATTHEWS:  ... Rudy, picking on Hillary, who wasn‘t even there. 

NEFFINGER:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes. 


GIULIANI:  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 will give you an example.  Hillary, the other day—remember the Hillary bond program?  She‘s going to give out—she‘s going to give $5,000 to every child born in America, with her picture on it.


GIULIANI:  I think, right, right?  OK, OK, OK. 


GIULIANI:  I challenged her on it.  I challenged her.  She has backed off that.  She has a new one today.  This one is, she‘s going to give out $1,000 to everybody to set up a 401(k).  The problem is, this one costs $5 billion more than the last one. 


GIULIANI:  So, I don‘t know.  Hillary is filled with endless ways to spend.


Congressman Hunter?

GIULIANI:  And we‘re going to have to control that.


MATTHEWS:  Is that OK, for a guy to ridicule with such relish a woman candidate?  Do you think this whole physicality thing of just laughing at is going to work in a Republican primary?  Or even in—certainly, in a general election, would it? 

NEFFINGER:  Yes, I think the lighthearted approach here is probably pretty effective for him. 

MATTHEWS:  You think that was lighthearted? 

NEFFINGER:  That was—that was lighthearted enough that he didn‘t seem too mean-spirited about it. 

And everybody knows Hillary Clinton can take it.  It‘s not a—it‘s not an issue of her being beat up on or something like that. 


Let‘s take a look at where you see the candidates‘ facial expressions not really...


MATTHEWS:  ... matching up with what they‘re saying. 

Let‘s watch Governor Romney... 


MATTHEWS:  ... how he did last night.


ROMNEY:  It‘s inexcusable that Michigan is undergoing a one-state recession, that the rest of the country is growing and seeing low levels of unemployment, but Michigan is seeing ongoing, high levels of unemployment, almost twice the national rate.

Industry is shrinking here.  Jobs are going away.  This is just unacceptable.  And, therefore, everyone‘s going to have to come together to solve the problem. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that, John? 

NEFFINGER:  Well, the phrase you always hear with Romney is central casting.  He‘s gorgeous.  He looks the part.  He‘s exactly who you want to play the role of president. 

The thing about this, though, he‘s not feeling it.  When he‘s saying “inexcusable,” he can‘t even keep the smile off the corner of his mouth.  He‘s not emoting.  He‘s not...


NEFFINGER:  ... being empathetic with people.

MATTHEWS:  You mean, he‘s talking about the bad news, and the job worker—the factory workers out of work, and their families not having health care, and he looks like he‘s proud of what he‘s been able to come up with...

NEFFINGER:  That‘s...

MATTHEWS:  ... rather than their problem? 

NEFFINGER:  That‘s exactly right.  He‘s so impressed with his own cleverness. 

And you saw that most—most harshly, I think...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

NEFFINGER:  ... when he made that gaffe about his sons working on the campaign, and that‘s how they were serving, instead of risking their lives in Iraq. 

People who had children over there were not buying that.  They‘re—they‘re clearly seeing somebody who is out of touch with their experience. 

MATTHEWS:  I love it.  I love this stuff, John.  Keep it up.  We want you back.

John Neffinger, thank you for the brilliance you have given us.  I think everybody agrees with what you said.  That‘s the proof in the pudding. 

Up next...

NEFFINGER:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Al Gore a hero?  Will he be a hero?  A group called DraftGore.com wants the former veep to get in the race now—a little late, I think.  The political headlines are next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There‘s a new liberal group in town with enough bucks to also buy a full-page ad in “The New York Times.” 

Check out this open letter to Al Gore from the DraftGore.com organization.

It reads: “Mr. Vice President, there are times for politicians and times for heroes.  America and the Earth need a hero right now, someone who will transcend politics as usual and bring real hope to our country and to the world.  Please rise to this challenge, or you and millions of us will live forever wondering what might have been.  Sincerely yours, DraftGore, on behalf of the thousands of volunteers and the 136,000 people who signed our petition asking you to run for president.”

I‘m sure the folks living in Hillary land right now are wondering, like Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid in that movie, who are those guys? 

A California county has passed an ordinance that bans people from smoking where they live.  Yes, that‘s what‘s passed in Belmont City, California.  Thought to be the first of its kind in the state, the ordinance declares second-hand smoke a public nuisance and extends the smoking ban to include multi-unit, multi-store residences. 

Additionally, smoking will be banned in outdoor workplaces, parks, stadiums, and sports fields. 

In our lost and found department tonight, the missing mayor of Atlantic City has turned up in a psychiatric and addiction facility.  The resort city‘s mayor, Bob Levy, resigned today after weeks of speculation when he rather dramatically dropped out of sight.  His lawyers cited multiple health problems.  Levy is under federal investigation for lying about his military service, possibly in order to increase his veteran benefits. 

Finally, in 2006, the Republicans worked overtime to portray Harold Ford as a playboy when he made a run for the U.S. Senate.  Let‘s watch that ad. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Harold, call me. 


MATTHEWS:  (AUDIO GAP) married after a three-year courtship.  Ford

proposed over dinner at the Ritz-Carlton in Paris—that‘s pretty classy -

where his fiancee, Emily Threlkeld, was on a business trip.  There‘s word that Ford could run for governor of Tennessee in the year 2010. 

And one added story:  Former President Jimmy Carter slammed Vice President Dick Cheney today, calling him a disaster for the country.  In an interview with the BBC, President Carter said Cheney is a militant who avoided any service of his own in the military, and said he‘s had too much influence—that‘s Carter saying this—in setting foreign policy. 

Up next, the HARDBALL debate:  Who‘s the big winner from the Dearborn debate? 

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


BRIAN SHACTMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Brian Shactman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

Stocks closing mixed this Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrials dropping almost 86 points.  The S&P fell more than two, but the Nasdaq gaining more than seven points—Google at another all-time high. 

But we have some breaking news at this hour after the trading day—

Reuters reporting that the United Auto Workers and Chrysler have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.  It ends the strike that you‘re looking at right there by thousands of workers that began this morning. 

Also, Boeing announcing that it is delaying the first deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner by six months because of what it called assembly challenges.  Shares of the Dow component fell more than 2 percent on the day.  Stocks were also hurt by earnings warnings by Chevron and Valero Energy and disappointing earnings by Alcoa.

Oil climbing again, rising $1.04 in New York, closing at $81.30 a barrel.

And that is it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, who won last night‘s GOP presidential debate?  That‘s the HARDBALL debate here tonight. 

Pat Buchanan, of course, is an MSNBC political analyst.  And Barbara Comstock is a senior adviser for Mitt Romney. 

So, let‘s start with Patrick Buchanan. 

Sir, who won? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Among the top-tier candidates, Chris, I think Rudy won it. 

I thought Romney had done well, equally well as Rudy.  I thought the humor might have given it to him, but I think the lawyer comment and the aftereffects of that meant that he did not do as well as Rudy Giuliani, who didn‘t make a mistake, who was offensive, aggressive, and who defended his line-item veto pretty well.

MATTHEWS:  And offensive is a good thing to be, right? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s good to be.  He did it with humor, toughness, and effectiveness. 


We have got Barbara Comstock.

It‘s great to have you on, Barbara. 

But what—how do you think Romney did?  Can he handle—can he claim victory last night? 


I think he‘s been making the consistent case that he is the person who can bring together the—the mainstream conservative coalition, that brings together national security conservatives, economic conservatives.

We saw him talk about a very strong economic record that he had in Massachusetts, where he cut 15 percent of the budget, where he was able to not raise taxes.  And he has—he‘s put out an aggressive plan already, not only on keeping taxes low and lowering them further, but cutting spending. 

He‘s the only candidate out there with a specific plan to cut spending by less 1 percent of inflation, so that it would save $300 billion.  And he‘s also the only candidate who has been out there saying, you know, he wants to, you know—he supports the marriage amendment, which some of the other major candidates don‘t. 

So, in terms of the family conservatives, bringing together...


COMSTOCK:  ... those three wings of the party that we need to win, the Ronald Reagan coalition that I know Pat knows about...


COMSTOCK:  ... which is what we need—we need to have those three parts of the party to win.  And he‘s been the person talking about that...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COMSTOCK:  ... I think making a very strong case about Romney‘s leadership on that.

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re not—excuse me.  I have got to interrupt you, Barbara. 

Do you really say that he won that debate last night?  You think most people watching that debate walked away and said, damn, that Romney hit a home run tonight; he was great? 

COMSTOCK:  Yes, well, I think obviously Mayor Giuliani and Governor Romney mixed it up.  On the line-item veto amendment that you talked about, he was bragging about getting the line-item veto killed.  The person who wrote the dissent in the line-item veto case was Justice Scalia. 

And I would rather be in agreement with Justice Scalia as a conservative than Justice Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion.  Ronald Reagan was for the line-item veto.  You had almost all Republicans for it.  And Rudy Giuliani wanted to have big spending and get rid of it.  So he is bragging about it.


BUCHANAN:  Chris, I think Romney would have won the night because he had terrific humor.  Some of it is programmed but he‘s excellent.  His exchange was very good with Rudy.  It was an even battle.  I think he‘s on the right side of the line-item veto. 

If it hadn‘t been for that lawyers comment, as we know today, there is all kinds of second-day stories on it, which are presenting a problem for the governor because it acts like he‘s going to be a president, you know, we‘re in a crisis and he‘s calling up the attorneys and saying what can I do? 

And that doesn‘t sound like a.


BUCHANAN:  . a conservative or a neoconservative either.


COMSTOCK:  Actually, the governor responded to that himself, talking about how his point, because Chris had raised a hypothetical, that obviously you‘re going to do whatever you can to protect the American people.  He has been one of the first people out there going after Ahmadinejad. 

He didn‘t want him here at the U.N.  And he said, of course you have got to do this within the legal and the constitutional constraints.  But from the beginning of this year, he has been—made very clear we have to be tougher on Iran so that we don‘t have a military situation. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope that—we all hope it‘s a hypothetical, but there‘s so much talk, Barbara and Pat, about the fact we may have to go to war with Iran under this administration or the next one.  Let‘s take a look at my question again and how Governor Romney responded to it. 

This is about the question, does a president have to go to Congress to seek approval for a strategic attack—not a tactical one, a strategic attack on nuclear facilities in Iran? 


MATTHEWS:  If you were president of the United States, would you need to go to Congress to get authorization to take military action against Iran‘s nuclear facilities? 

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  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 of 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 is of Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he need it? 

ROMNEY:  You know, we are 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 in the leadership of our government, as well as our friends around the world. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Pat?  What do you think he was thinking there to recite—to go to the lawyers is such an odd response.  He is a smart guy.  Do you think he was trying to avoid answering the question? 

BUCHANAN:  No, I don‘t.  I think you caught him a little off-guard there, Chris.  I mean, the natural answer is—it‘s very simple.  Like Jack Kennedy, if the threat is grave and imminent like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the president may have to act unilaterally and alone.

But if, as you describe it, we‘re going after their nuclear sites, which we have got plenty of time to do, of course you‘ve got to go to the Congress of the United States, which alone has the power to declare war or authorize war. 

And I think that‘s what he should have said and he would have been fine.  Actually, he was saying those things.  I just don‘t know why he brought the lawyers into it. 

MATTHEWS:  Barbara? 

COMSTOCK:  Well, I mean, as I said before, and as the governor pointed out today, he was answering a question about, you know, how you‘re going to, you know—his quote was, you know, I make a decision based on the safety of the American people. 

And that is obviously the top priority, what he has talked about all year.  But you do have to look at the lawyers.  And as you asked him, did George Bush do that, I was at the Justice Department in the pre-Iraq War run-up time, I can tell you certainly that the Justice Department and the White House Counsel‘s Office was very involved in talking about that. 

But of course the priority always was, what is the best thing for the American people?  That‘s what George Bush was doing, as he made his decisions.  But he always had the lawyers involved in that process.  Starting on 9/11, the lawyers were involved immediately because that‘s part of the process, but the priority, as Governor Romney clearly laid out, is to protect the American people and to do things like get sanctions on Iran so we don‘t have to go to war.

So that we can be tougher on these guys, to start treating Ahmadinejad like the buffoon that he is and not give him—you know, rolling out the red carpet at Columbia like we did. 

BUCHANAN:  But, Chris—Chris, President Bush first went to Congress to get authorization for Gulf War I.  And President Bush II went to get authorization because—for Gulf War II for the simple reason that the threats were not imminent or grave, in which case they might have had to act. 

MATTHEWS:  We are going to have more on this. 

COMSTOCK:  And I‘m sure he talked to his lawyers.

MATTHEWS:  This debate will continue. 

COMSTOCK:  . as he also worked with Congress too. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Pat, I think you‘re right.  I think it was the first—well, it‘s a gaffe because the president should talk about leading the country, not about talking to lawyers.  But we‘ll see. 

Pat Buchanan, sir, thank you.  Barbara Comstock, you‘re always welcome to this show.  Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable on last night‘s winners and losers. 

Plus, did Dan Bartlett know he was being—well, I don‘t know, you either know it or not, the interesting thing is what he said.  He went through the list.  We are calling it, “Bartlett‘s Quotations” like the book.  He went into each of the candidates for the Republican nomination.  And he was tough.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


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




SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m the only one on this stage that four years ago said this is a failed policy in Iraq.  It‘s not going to work.  It has got to be changed.  I was criticized by Republicans for my severe criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld. 

I advocated the strategy that‘s succeeding and thank God the American people are giving us a little window so we can let this thing succeed and not have happen, as the president of Iran recently said, the United States will leave Iraq and there will be a vacuum and Iran will fill it. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  Let‘s bring in our roundtable tonight.  Mark Leibovich of The New York Times; Emily Heil of the Roll Call; and David Brody (ph) of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

And I want to ask each of you in order, imagine the people watching right now did not watch last night.  Although millions of people did.  Mark, give me a summation of what really happened in this campaign last night. 

MARK LEIBOVICH, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, what really happened in the campaign, certainly from Fred Thompson‘s viewpoint, is he I guess met expectations and the expectations were set for him extremely low.  People were suggesting that, you know, if he just got up and were—wasn‘t—didn‘t nod off, he would be a victor. 

You know, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney probably got the best reviews, although Romney‘s remark about how—about the Iran and the lawyers remark could come back to haunt him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Emily on that question, the same question.  Give me a (INAUDIBLE) review of the show last night, and what it will do in the campaign to come? 

EMILY HEIL, ROLL CALL:  Well, I don‘t know that it is going to have a whole lot of impact on the campaign to come.  I think that is the story.  It was sort of—it wasn‘t a thumbs up, it wasn‘t a thumbs down review. 

Sort of a thumb, you know, totally horizontal.  I don‘t think that we.


MATTHEWS:  You mean Thompson, he is cool (ph) -- but what about the Romney statement that he was going to check with his lawyers about war powers? 

HEIL:  That might come back to haunt him.  And that‘s one of the few I think real punch lines from the evening, was that particular line that will come back in certainly ads to come. 

MATTHEWS:  What about you, David Brody, what did you think happened?  I‘m talking about what—is this a plot turn in the election or is it a flat line, as Emily suggests? 

DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK:  No, you know, Chris, I think it was a subtle—a very subtle turn in the election in the sense that Romney went ahead and got aggressive with Giuliani.  And that was very important, because where is he going to attack Giuliani?  Is he going to attack him on 9/11?  That‘s tough.  Is he going to attack him on social issues?  Probably not. 

So clearly what he has to do is attack him somewhere.  He went after the fiscal issues.  You know, Giuliani had a chance to attack Romney at first.  He did not.  Romney did.  He was clearly the aggressor and I think that‘s what you are going to see as we move forward. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s ask about the other candidates.  Did any of the other candidates, besides the three we talked about, Thompson, Giuliani and Romney, make any noise or any gain last night, Mark? 

LEIBOVICH:  Well, I mean, I think, first of all, going back to what David was saying, I think, you know, clearly if someone puts the Iran lawyer comment into a deftly put-together 30-second ad, it could be a real problem for Romney going forward.  So I think that that‘s a point worth making. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, I think you may have just given them a cue.  I mean, not that they need the training in your department, but it‘s seems to me.

LEIBOVICH:  I was going to say, I guarantee they thought of it first.

MATTHEWS:  . it‘s a tank—it‘s a ride in a tank opportunity, isn‘t it? 

LEIBOVICH:  Well, it could be.  I mean, again, it‘s all in the ad.  But I think, you know, whether we‘re dissecting what happened night and who wins and who loses, I mean, actually it could go a longer way depending on how they decide to spin this and use it in... 


MATTHEWS:  Were there any other bicentennial moments last night that might be used for fodder? 

LEIBOVICH:  I hadn‘t really heard of any beyond that.  I mean, I think McCain, you know, maybe because Thompson was there, didn‘t shine as brightly as he did in previous debates as far as what reviewers were saying.  Huckabee seemed to lose a tiny bit of luster, not so much in that he performed badly, because again, Thompson took a lot of the air out of the balloon and he had—you know, Huckabee had kind of taken a lot of the maybe dark horse currency in recent performances, so. 

BRODY:  Hey, Chris. 


BRODY:  I was going to say, one of the untold stories here, regarding Huckabee, is him and terrorism.  I mean, this was real important.  I mean, what we‘re hearing, it is kind of under the radar right now, is that one of the reasons Mike Huckabee hasn‘t really caught on across the country is because he has this appearance of being soft on terrorism. 

Whether or not that is necessarily above the radar, it‘s not quite there yet.  But this is some of the whisper campaign against Huckabee.  Last night when he addressed the congressional war issue with your question, he was very, very direct and he has to do more of that to make some sort of stand to say, listen, I‘m the guy, I‘m not just V.P. material. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  One last—quickly, Emily, your thought, did any of the also-rans run well last night? 

HEIL:  Well, I think that the Ron Paul contingency, you know, just got more fodder for why they stand up for their guy.  I mean, he had some really great lines in there and so I think that the real small but hardcore Ron Paulers probably found something to like last night. 


MATTHEWS:  I agree with you completely.  I think people there are people jumping up and down all over the country in bars and everywhere else saying, thank God there‘s one Republican who disagrees with this policy, who is an old Barry Goldwater libertarian. 

We‘ll be right back with the roundtable.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.



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

The biggest dud, Fred Thompson. 

And quite frankly, having the last name Huckabee, I hate to be so blithe about it, but it is, it‘s an issue. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re back with the roundtable.  Mark, take a shot at those.  I mean, you don‘t want to hear from an expert on communications from the Bush White House what your problem is.  He talked about Huckabee‘s name, the religion of Romney, and the flip-flopping.  What do you make of that assessment by an insider as to these guys who want to get inside?

LEIBOVICH:  You know, it was withering coming from Dan Bartlett.  I mean, it is probably something that any number of people on either side of the aisle have talked about privately for any number of months. 

I mean, the issue is, you know, is Dan Bartlett speaking for the White House?  And obviously this is one of the most tightly-controlled and judicious White Houses in recent memory.  So, you know, I don‘t think he would have expected this to leak to the press.  But I‘m guessing that his speaking appearances in the future might be a little bit more restrained. 

MATTHEWS:  Ha!  David Brody, it just seems to me that if you whisper something in the middle of the night in a dark room with nobody around—I mean, Tip O‘Neill used to say, the walls have ears.  But I‘m not even sure he didn‘t know he was on camera.  I think he did know it. 

And the question is, let‘s get to the facts here, not who delivered them.  The religion question.  Do we all agree it is still up in the air?  We don‘t know how voters in Tennessee or elsewhere are going to vote on this fellow with the LDS religion.

BRODY:  There is no doubt about it.  I mean, you know, whether it is under the radar, over the radar, listen, the reality is, the Mormonism issue is an issue.  And you know, how it is going to play out, no one knows.  And it will be interesting to watch the exit polling. 

You know, I thought that what Dan Bartlett said regarding the pragmatic voter.  In other words, this may be the year of the pragmatic voter.  And that may help Rudy.  That is a very interesting observation.  Because at the end of the day, you know, Rudy Giuliani told me that he was the 50-state candidate.  That he can win in all 50 states, so to speak. 


BRODY:  You know, when are Thompson and Romney going to push back on that and say, hey, listen, Mr. Mayor, you are not necessarily the most electable.  And that will be interesting to see if they can advance that argument. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think Rudy is right.  Let‘s go to Emily Heil and that question.  What do you think of Dan Bartlett‘s commentary? 

HEIL:  Well, one interesting thing that we didn‘t mention yet is that he actually had very complimentary things, aside from making fun of his name, to say about Mike Huckabee, and said that he was a really compelling candidate.  And I think that is something that is interesting coming from a very plugged-in Republican insider. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  And by the way, all you hear is good words about Huckabee.  But the name comment, it probably does apply to big city people like me.  They are not used to people named Huckabee.  And they are just not.  It is part of getting used to all kinds of things, like how do you spell Giuliani when you live anywhere but New York. 

Anyway, thank you, Mark Leibovich.  Thank you, Emily Heil.  And thank you, David Brody.  Right now it is time for “TUCKER.”



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