updated 10/24/2007 2:19:45 PM ET 2007-10-24T18:19:45

Guest: Mike Murphy, Douglas Brinkley, Joshua Muravchik, Jim Walsh, Chris

Cillizza, Ryan Lizza, Jill Zuckman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is the Republican fight getting bloody now?  Is Iraq heading to the worst case scenario?

Let’s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I’m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  It was fight night for Republicans in Florida yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We’re not going to—we’re not going to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House by acting like Hillary Clinton.

FRED THOMPSON (R-TN), FMR SENATOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Actually, Mitt, I didn’t know there was any room to the left of Ted Kennedy.

Mayor Giuliani believes in federal funding for abortion.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FMR NYC MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I mean, Fred—Fred was the single biggest obstacle to tort reform in the United States Senate.  The senator has never had executive responsibility.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I wasn’t a mayor for a short period of time.  I wasn’t a governor for a short period of time.  Governor Romney, you’ve been spending the last year trying to fool people about your record.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And I’m more than content to let you let them fight all they want tonight, shed each other’s blood, and then I’ll be ready to run for president because I’m not interested in fighting these guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So now it’s personal and point and the strategies are clear.  Fred Thompson wants to take down Romney in Iowa and Rudy nationally.  John McCain wants to take down Romney in New Hampshire.  And Rudy’s just playing defense.  And Romney’s just saying, Hillary, Hillary, Hillary.

The second story tonight: Are we seeing the worst case scenario develop in Iraq?  And tonight’s debate: Should the U.S. bomb Iran now?  All that later.

But first, let’s talk about the big Republican fight last night and what it tells us about the strategies of the top candidates.  David Gregory is NBC’s chief White House correspondent.  Doug Brinkley’s a presidential historian and the editor of “The Reagan Diaries,” and Mike Murphy’s a Republican campaign consultant.

Gentlemen, let’s start by looking at Fred Thompson.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON:  Actually, Mitt, I didn’t know there was any room to the left of Ted Kennedy, but maybe—in fact, I didn’t know there was any room to the right of him, either, but maybe...

Mayor Giuliani believes in federal funding for abortion.  He believes in sanctuary cities.  He’s for gun control.  He supported Mario Cuomo, a liberal Democrat, against a Republican who was running for governor, then opposed the governor’s tax cuts when he was there.  So I just simply disagree with him on those issues, and he sides with Hillary Clinton on each of those issues I just mentioned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So let’s try to figure out what this guy is doing.  First of all, he took after Mitt, so could it be because he’s running second to Mitt in Iowa?  And then he went after Rudy.  Could it be because he’s running second to Rudy nationally?  Look at those numbers.  It’s so fascinating.

David Gregory, you can almost figure these guys out.  They’re target is the guy ahead of them in the line.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think that’s part of it.  And I think there’s just room for who’s the real conservative.  Will that person please stand up?  And because the race is still so unsettled, and in Iowa and New Hampshire, you have such large groups, including independents in New Hampshire, who have not made up their mind, there’s room to fill in this canvas.

And I think if you look at one tactical note for Fred Thompson, he still wants to solidify himself in South Carolina, where he’s very tight in the polls with Giuliani, to stop Romney and his early state strategy.  He may be in the best in position to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Mike on that.  Let me talk about—let’s just stick on this guy, Fred Thompson, because his is the sort of wild card in this race.  We don’t know whether there’s nothing there or there’s a lot there.  He showed a lot last night.  Is this going to be the way right to the end right now for him, hard (ph) speed ahead?

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, I think he decided to get into the story.  You know, you want to own the lead in a debate with a lot of candidates, you throw a chair at somebody.  And I think Fred decided after kind of a lackluster beginning to his campaign, if he starts to swing the big Buford Pusser (ph) Tennessee stick around, he’s going to own the lead.  And here we are talking about him.  So Fred’s going to come at the other guys from the right.  He’s got a base that—of people who like him with fairly high name ID.  But view is all these guys have a glass jaw, and Rudy did a pretty good job of hitting Fred back for lobbying for things that aren’t too popular with Republican primary voters.

MATTHEWS:  I might just mention my most stimulating political movie of all time, “Walking Tall,” which got me to do something I would have normally not have done in my life.  Doug Brinkley, let me ask you this.  Fred Thompson—he’s going after the frontrunner in Iowa.  That’s Romney.  He’s going after the frontrunner nationally.  That’s Rudy.  Is this going to be king of the mountain from here on out, hit the guy above you?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  I think that’s what it is.  And I think, as David Gregory said, it’s who’s the most conservative.  I think the abortion issue predictably is becoming a very major one.  I’m here in Texas.  This past week, Governor Perry endorsed Giuliani.  And Fred Thompson, who should do well in a state like Texas, he has a very bad campaign chair, co-chair, a land commissioner named Jerry Patterson (ph) who—or Peterson.  He’s just a ridiculous guy.

And I think that’s where Fred Thompson hurts himself.  He doesn’t have these troops out there.  He hasn’t developed them over the years, so he’s throwing a lot of lines on a debate like that, but I’m not sure he has the ground troops in the states to unseat Giuliani.

And I thought McCain rose last night.  Everybody went after Hillary.  Everybody had their Hillary line.  He seemed to have the best Hillary line of the night.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let’s take a look at Rudy, who, according to Bob Novak, is rolling it up in California in terms of ground organization.  Here’s Rudy Giuliani playing defense last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI:  I mean, Fred was the single biggest obstacles to tort reform in the United States Senate.  He stood with Democrats over and over again.  He voted against $250,000 caps on damages, which they have in Texas.  He voted against almost anything that would make our legal system fairer, “loser pays” rules, things that would prevent lawsuits like that $54 million lawsuit by the guy who lost his pants, you know?

THOMPSON:  Mayor Giuliani went to the court, filed suit himself to overturn our abolition sanctuary cities.  And fortunately, he lost.

GIULIANI:  The senator has never had executive responsibility.  He’s never had the weight of people’s safety and security on his shoulders.  I have.  And I think I outperformed any expectation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, it looks like to me like, David, that Rudy doesn’t mind playing defense.  He likes you to take a shot at him and he attacks from a defensive position.

GREGORY:  I also think he has been the most forthright in saying, Here are my weaknesses, and let’s take them on, and let me tell you how I want to kind of change the culture of the party and change the strategy in this election cycle.  He’s really taking those things on.  And he recognizes he’s not going to win a race by who’s the most conservative in the race.  He wants to try to redefine it.  And so you’re right, I think he likes to play defense and tries to change the equation and change the debate onto his turf.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  He’s not competing to be the most conservative, he’s competing to be the leader.  Here’s John McCain.  I’m so fascinated with McCain.  He was just on the show recently.  Here he’s taking a little soft jab at Rudy Giuliani and a really tough one against Romney, a guy he clearly resents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I wasn’t a mayor for a short period of time.  I wasn’t a governor for a short period of time.  For 20-some years, including leading the largest squadron in the United States Navy, I led.  I didn’t manage for profit, I led for patriotism.

Governor Romney, you’ve been spending the last year trying to fool people about your record.  You can’t—I don’t want you to start fooling them about mine.  I stand on my record.  I stand on my record of a conservative—of a conservative, and I don’t think you can fool the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I love that stuff!  Mike, he pulled the blackjack out of his pocket and whacked the guy with it.

MURPHY:  Yes, it’s true.  McCain had the line of the night.  You got to give it to him.  And his campaign needs it to kind of re-spark and go.  I think it’s kind of weird.  In some ways, Romney had a great night because he got back to the Mr. Fixit message, which I think is really his path to do the best he can.  The truth is...

MATTHEWS:  Does the country want a tinkerer or do they want a change? 

Do they want a deliverance or an improvement?

MURPHY:  They want a change.  This is a change election, and that’s going to be important.  If the Republican candidate we nominate can defend an argument of change and run on change, we’re in the hunt.  If it’s status quo, we’re in big trouble.

MATTHEWS:  Let me—here’s Romney.  Let’s give Romney a shot, Governor Romney last  night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  We’re not going to—we’re not going to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House by acting like Hillary Clinton.  Hillary Clinton is trying to rewrite history.  We’re not going Hillary’s way.  Hillary Clinton wants to run the largest enterprise in the world, the government of the United States.  It employs millions of people, trillions of dollars in revenue.  She hasn’t run a corner store.  She hasn’t run a state.  She has run a city.  She has never run anything.  And the idea that she could learn to be president, you know, as an internship doesn’t make any sense.  The answer is—anyone here want to vote for Hillary?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David, do you think he was doing a little George Stephanopoulos there, with letting that hair fall down in the front, sort of like a European movie star?  Did you notice that?  This guy, everything is programmed with him.  OK, you don’t have to respond, but I just thought that was interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I did notice—I saw it was fixed later, so it must have been an aberration.

MATTHEWS:  He did fix it, didn’t he.

GREGORY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Romney is so picture perfect.  It looked to me like his picture perfection is really getting to McCain.

GREGORY:  Right.  I mean, I think—that’s part of it.  But I—and I think McCain is saying a lot of important things at once.  It’s so interesting to me that in 2000, and Mike knows this better than anybody, his real problem was with the Republican establishment.  He wasn’t able to change the equation in the Republican field in the primaries the way Giuliani is trying to, by saying, Let’s judge conservatism based on fiscal responsibility and national security and let’s take social conservatism off the table.

And I think what both McCain and Giuliani are trying to do to Romney is say, Look, this guy’s really—he’s not for real.  You know, he will—he’ll attack and he’ll change strategy and he’ll tell you what you want to hear, but we’re real leaders here.  And they both have their reasons to back that up.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s—let’s go to Doug for a second.  Doug, you’re down in the southern part of the country.  I have a sense that the coasts are going to be owned by Rudy Giuliani just because of the unit rule and the way he can roll it up in Florida and New Jersey and California.  And I think that Romney’s got a good start, a head start in Iowa and probably New Hampshire.  But I think that the interesting question is your part of the country, the Bible Belt, going all the way down to Texas, Louisiana, et cetera.  Can Thompson win down there just because he’s the home boy, just because he’s the local?

BRINKLEY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  With the accent.

BRINKLEY:  Yes, he can.  He’s counting on it.  I mean, he absolutely has to win South Carolina.  He’s got to sweep the South, which is a huge part of the Republican Party.  That’s what he has going for him.  They likes his accent.  They like the way he talks.  Romney’s got to cut in on that.  Romney’s got to play in the South.

I think McCain has a New Hampshire strategy.  If he wins in New Hampshire, he can become one of the two or three, instead of four.  And—but I thought last night, Fred Thompson didn’t really excel.  I know you’re leading with him, but I don’t see where he gained last night.  I thought McCain had the funniest lines and defended himself.  He’s starting to make people remember his biography, McCain was.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BRINKLEY:  He talked about the Woodstock line, that Hillary’s spending that money—he said, I was all tied up.  That line got the biggest...

MATTHEWS:  That is the greatest line of the year!

BRINKLEY:  It was a great line, and it got the biggest applause last night.  So I think McCain’s—he’s inching up percentage here.  I don’t think we should have—people wrote him off a month ago, and he still might be in the fray.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, people stood up and applauded McCain when he said, I was all tied up at the time of Woodstock, because he was all tied up by the bad guys, by guys whose nicknames I cannot repeat.  They were his North Vietnamese prison keepers.

Let’s look at the guy who’s sort of the dark horse in this race, who seems to be the favorite of a lot of Democrats, whatever that’s worth, Mike Huckabee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE:  I’m more than content to let you let them fight all they want tonight, shed each other’s blood, and then I’ll be ready to run for president because I’m not interested in fighting these guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David, is this vanilla pudding going to sell in Iowa, this, I don’t fight like the other guys do?

GREGORY:  Well, I mean, it’s an alternative message, so it helps him separate from the pack.  And there’s, you know, obviously precedent for—you don’t want to see the top two candidates eating each up with attacks, that that can turn a lot of people off.  And again, so many undecided voters in Iowa and New Hampshire both, so maybe it gives Huckabee some running room here.

But again, it’s worth coming back to how to put it all together.  And for Giuliani, he’s got to like seeing Thompson and Huckabee fighting to split up the right and take it away from Romney.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I’m looking for the exciting thing, David and everybody else, and Mike and Doug.  I’m looking for Huckabee to win in Iowa, for McCain to pull an upset in New Hampshire, for Thompson to win in South Carolina, and this whole thing to be wide open right through next year because I want a fight that goes all the way to Minneapolis, the home of you know what.

Anyway, thank you, David Gregory.  Thank you, Doug Brinkley.  Thank you, Mike Murphy.

Coming up next: Dick Cheney beats the drums for war against Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our country and the entire international community cannot stand by as a terrorist-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Fire when ready, Gridley (ph).  Anyway, you’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  ... and Iran’s rulers and declarations of the Iranian president and the trouble the regime is causing throughout the region, including direct involvement in the killing of Americans.  Our country and the entire international community cannot stand by as a terrorist-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Bush administration is, as we’re just hearing, ratcheting up its rhetoric against Iran, and Turkey is threatening to send troops into northern Iraq.  Has the war created the worst-case scenario that people predicted if we went into Iraq?

Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.  Patrick, it looks like this thing is unwinding exactly the way the war critics said it would.  A breakup of Iraq comes with our occupation.  That breakup brings in Iran.  It brings in Turkey.  Let’s talk Turkey.  What is going on in that northern front?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  The PKK is a terrorist organization in the Kurdish region of Turkey.  They’ve had a peace agreement or a truce with the Turks for a number of years now, Chris, I think since about ‘96.  However, they are now deliberately murdering Turks inside Turkey, and they’re operating from Kurdistan in Iraq.  They are deliberately provoking the Turks to the point where the Turks are going to have to go in, the way the Israelis went in in the summer of 2006.

So I think you’ve got a real probability of a Turkish invasion of Iraq, at least those portions of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.  I think that’s a disaster for American policy because a lot of trucks driven by Turks bring our supplies, munitions, through that area, through Kurdistan, down into the south.  I think that’s one problem.

Secondly, the president of the United States last week said it is World War III if we allow the Iranians to get the knowledge of how to build a nuclear weapon.  Clearly, if they’re enriching uranium, they’re getting that knowledge right now.  Cheney and Bush are laying down markers for themselves which they’re going to have to meet.  And if the Iranians, as—they’re toughening their line on the nuclear issue.  I don’t see how we can avoid striking them or how Bush and Cheney can avoid attacking Iran and retaining their credibility going out of office.

MATTHEWS:  If Turkey attacks Iraq, does the Turkey (SIC) army, such as we’ve trained it and equipped it, go to war with Turkey?

BUCHANAN:  You mean does the Iraqi army?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  No, the Iraqi army can’t get up there.  The Kurds will fight.  And the Kurds in northern Iraq—I think if the Turks come in, they will fight with their PKK cousins.  And I think that is a complete disaster for the United States, where you’ve got our strongest ally in Iraq, our most reliable, and you’ve got one of the strongest NATO allies—they fought with us in Korea, for heaven’s sake—fighting with each other.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why didn’t the Turks talk this administration, the one governing our country now, that’s being re-elected since, out of the war with Iraq if the Turks knew that this would bring about the fragmentation of that region?

BUCHANAN:  Everybody in the Middle East knew this would be a disaster, Chris.  That’s why the Turks refused to allow us to let the 4th Army attack from Turkish soil.  They knew that.  But you didn’t—all you had to do was look at George Bush after the “axis of evil” speech to see no matter what, no matter who was with him and who was not with him, he was going to march to Baghdad and do this.  He and the neoconservatives are the ones who have started this war, and frankly, the Democrats went along with it.  Hillary went along with it, Edwards, Kerry, and the rest of them.

Chris, the question you got to ask is the one you asked at a recent debate.  Where in heaven’s name is the Congress of the United States?

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Bush has no authority to go to war against Iran, in the absence of an attack on us.  They haven’t attacked us.  And, yet, he’s threatening war, and Congress is paralyzed. 

MATTHEWS:  The people that count on the liberals to stand against this hard-line foreign policy have been wrong time and time again.  Pat, I agree with you completely.  It’s not just Hillary.  It’s Kerry.  It’s Dodd.  It’s Biden.  It’s Edwards. 

They all got in line in 2002, when the roll was called who wanted to be on board with the war and who didn’t.  And they got aboard.  And it’s so clear they’re doing it again with Iran. 

What do you make of this Lieberman-Kyl resolution which basically declares Iran an enemy state? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, Lieberman has been beating the drums for an attack on Iran since June.  He has said we ought to attack the Al Quds forces. 

Chris, the rationale has been changed.  The—the—the weapons of mass—I mean, the Iranian nuclear plants weren’t doing it with the American people.  The argument shifted that the Iranians are aiding Iraqis and murdering American soldiers.  That strikes home with every American.  Lieberman has been working that line since June. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  And he’s got the other...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But that was—Pat, but that was also predicted.  Let’s look now at what Dick Cheney himself warned way back in 1994. 

“If you take down the central government in Iraq, you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off.  Part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west.  Part of the eastern Iraq, the Iranians would like to claim, fought over for eight years.  In the north, you have got the Kurds.  If the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you have threatened the territorial integrity of Turkey.  It’s a quagmire.”

This is Dick Cheney laying out the future, which he then supported. 

In other words, he went to the worst-case scenario on purpose. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I don’t want to be too harsh, but isn’t that what he’s done? 

BUCHANAN:  Dick Cheney—that Dick Cheney in 1994 is one of the reasons a lot of us felt really comfortable with George Bush, who was a novice in foreign policy, clearly, that it was the Cheney who said, look, who was a prudent man, like Bush’s father was, who said, look, we got Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.  We don’t want to go to Basra.  We don’t want to go to Baghdad.  We don’t want this whole can of worms on our doorstep. 

But Cheney changed in the 1990s, late 1990s.  He very much is influenced by the AEI, neoconservative crowd, as is, incidentally, Chris, they’re gravitating to Rudy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know that.  I see that. 

BUCHANAN:  Take a look at Rudy’s foreign policy team, from Podhoretz and Frum and all the rest of them, are moving there because that’s their last chance to light—to ignite another gas station in the Middle East. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Rudy is susceptible to the influence you say that’s been so effective?  I personally disagree with you.  I think Dick Cheney is his own man, but Dick Cheney wanted to go to war, obviously, in the worst way this time.  And I’m not sure it was an influence question, as much as it was a decision.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He just had a change of heart.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Rudy Giuliani has a change of heart—I mean, not a change of heart—he is a foreign policy neoconservative, if you will, now? 

BUCHANAN:  I think—first, I think, to be fair to Cheney, I agree with you.  Cheney believes deeply that what he doing is best for the country.  And, frankly, he will tell the president, smash them in Iran, even—I don’t care what they call us, if he believes it’s best for the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  I think Rudy Giuliani is of the same mind. 

MATTHEWS:  So did Curtis LeMay.  Pat, so did Curtis LeMay. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Well, look—no, I mean, he will—I mean, they will do it—let me tell you, I think Rudy is of the same mind. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  And I sure know his advisers are...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  ... because they have been writing articles, saying—you know, praying for the bombing of Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.  When you bring in John Bolton in, you’re asking for a bombing, probably. 

Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan.

Up next: today’s hottest political headlines.  And what happened on Bill Maher’s show the other night?  I was watching it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”)

BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  This is the problem sometimes with the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Chris Matthews, you (INAUDIBLE) 

MAHER:  Hey, do we have some (EXPLETIVE DELETED) security in this building? 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  Or do I have to come over and kick this guy’s ass out of here? 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MAHER:  Would you get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of my...

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER:  Hey, hey, hey.  Out, out, out, out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for some wild politics. 

Last week, President Bush said a nuclear Iran would mean World War III.  This week, the vice president, Dick Cheney, is threatening with Iran with serious consequences. 

So, what does that mean for Hillary Clinton, who voted to label the Iran Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization?  Well, word that Iowa Democrats will punish her if the U.S. does attack Iran.  Hillary has just sent a three-page e-mail to Iowa voters, trying to distance herself from a possible lead-up to war with Iran. 

In the letter, she defends what she calls a vote for stepped-up diplomacy, not military action. 

That’s right, the same thing she said about her vote authorizing the war with Iraq.  Hillary wants hawks in the party to think she’s the most hawkish of Democrats and still make the cut with the doves.  Talk about a wide stance.

Well, this weekend, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said that senators who voted in favor of labeling Iran a terrorist country—and that includes Hillary -- -- quote—“absolutely, unequivocally, positively now share responsibility for a possible war with Iran.”

Here’s what Biden had to say about that vote. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THIS WEEK”)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think it’s a gigantic mistake.  The president is going to stand there and say, if he does, ladies and gentlemen, as the United States Congress voted, they said these guys are terrorists.  I moved against them to save American lives.  They’re terrorists. 

That’s what he will do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  A wise man now. 

Anyway, meanwhile, Barack Obama is out with a new TV ad in New Hampshire.  It, too, gets to the same message, that Hillary is too far to the right for the Democrats. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message.

OBAMA:  We are a beacon of light around the world.  At least that’s what we can be again.  That’s what we should be again.  When we break out of the conventional thinking and we start reaching out to friend and foe alike, then I am absolutely confident that we can restore America’s leadership in the world. 

We are going to lead with our values and our ideals by deed and by example.  I want to go before the world and say, America is back. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

OBAMA:  America is back.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Pretty good stuff. 

Mitt Romney was asked this weekend about the 28 percent in the country who say they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon, according to a “Newsweek” poll. 

Here’s Governor Romney’s response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FACE THE NATION”)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think the reason that some 28 percent, 29 percent are not comfortable voting for a Mormon is, they think they’re voting for Harry Reid. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is that a joke?  Does Mr. Romney think it’s a joke to show concern about his religion?  Does he think his religion is irrelevant to the campaign?  Then he should say so.  Does he think it’s a plus?  Then he should say so.  A comedian, he ain’t. 

By the way, most of the country doesn’t really know Harry Reid, much less what religion he happens to be, Governor.

Will Democrats appear on Don Imus’ radio show when he returns?  Former Democratic Bob Kerrey of Nebraska emphatically says they should.  In a weekend op-ed in “The New York Daily News”—and God knows why he wrote this—he wrote—quote—“If they keep away from the show all the way through next year, it could do real political damage, if not in votes lost, at least in courage points.  Take my unsolicited advice and just say yes.  Forgive Imus his terrible transgression and run the risk of being interviewed by the man.  My guess is that you will benefit, even if he gives you a very rough time, which I sincerely hope he does.”

Both John McCain, by the way, and Bill Richardson are saying that they indeed go on the new Don Imus program. 

Finally, the joys of live TV, as we know here.  Well, this past Friday, I was a guest on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher.”  Some protesters tried to interrupt the taping on several hot occasions.

Let’s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”)

MAHER:  See, this is the problem sometimes with the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Chris Matthews, you (INAUDIBLE) 

MAHER:  Hey, do we have some (EXPLETIVE DELETED) security in this building? 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  Or do I have to come over and kick this guy’s ass out of here? 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MAHER:  Would you get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of my...

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER:  Hey, hey, hey.  Out, out, out, out.

Jesus.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MAHER:  God. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They won’t chant “Jerry” for you, though?

MATTHEWS:  You know...

MAHER:  Is it that hard to throw somebody out of a building?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What about (INAUDIBLE) Bill?  That was cowardice!  Attacking a man for asking a question.

MAHER:  I will kick your ass out of here, too.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MAHER:  Get her the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out. 

MATTHEWS:  What is going on here?

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER:  Hey, this isn’t the Iowa caucus, OK? 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  It’s not a debate.  It’s a debate is between us.  You’re in the audience.  “Audience” comes from the Latin, “to listen.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I love improvisation. 

Not since the days of Ernie Kovacs have we seen that kind of television.  I couldn’t stop laughing.

Anyway, coming up next, the HARDBALL debate, what a hot one tonight, what an important one:  Should the United States bomb Iran now?  What a question.  Apparently, it’s a real one, too. 

We will be back to talk about it here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks closing higher, after Friday’s steep losses.  The Dow Jones industrials gained nearly 45 points on the day.  The S&P 500 was up five points, and the Nasdaq gained 28. 

After the closing bell, Apple reported a quarterly profit that rose 67 percent on strong sales of its new iPhone and iPod players.  Earnings easily beat analyst estimates.  In after-hours trading, Apple shares are up fractionally, after gaining more than 2 percent today in anticipation of that earnings report. 

Meantime, Microsoft surrendered in its nine-year legal battle with E.U. antitrust regulators.  The software giant said it would not appeal a court decision last month which reaffirmed a 2004 ruling that Microsoft should share its technical information with rivals.  Microsoft shares were up 1 percent on the day. 

And oil prices fell back, dropping $1.04 in New York trading today, closing at $87.56 a barrel.

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Iranian regime needs to know that, if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.  The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message:  We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Vice President Dick Cheney issuing a strict warning to Iran: 

Stop your nuclear program, or else. 

Or else what exactly?  That is the HARDBALL debate tonight.  Should the United States bomb Iran now? 

Joshua Muravchik says yes.  He is a—and, by the way, Joshua is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.  And Jim Walsh, who is down here from MIT, says, no, no.  No bombing to Iran.  He’s a research associate at the security studies program at MIT.

I want to ask, you first of all, you met with—with Ahmadinejad recently.  We will get to that in a moment. 

But make your case, sir.  Josh, make your case for why we should bomb now Iran? 

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK, RESIDENT SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: 

Well, there are two points, Chris. 

One is that Iran having a nuclear weapon would create a series of really terrible risks, which I would be glad to elaborate. 

MATTHEWS:  Go for it. 

MURAVCHIK:  And—well...

MATTHEWS:  Make the case. 

MURAVCHIK:  Well, one is, this is the regime that is the biggest international sponsor of terrorism, has a long history of using its own diplomatic facilities, diplomats, in terrorist acts, and in fomenting and supplying terrorist groups. 

Secondly, this is a regime that is on a mission that starts with hegemony over the Middle East.  And it is—it sees itself, in a sense, at war with us.  It’s already arming our enemies in Iraq and in Afghanistan and anywhere else it can.  And, if it gets a nuclear weapon, it will use that as a—as a kind of umbrella with which to push forward its quest for dominance in the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think it will use the weapon for?  What’s your worst—what’s your notion of how it will use this nuclear weapon? 

MURAVCHIK:  The best scenario is, as I said, using it as a umbrella, just a threat against its neighbors, so that it can become the dominant power of the Middle East.

The worst is that it would hand it off to terrorists.

MATTHEWS:  To try to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... basically to Finlandize the region...

MURAVCHIK:  To Finlandize the region.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the Soviets used to do? 

MURAVCHIK:  I think—right, a combination of intimidating people, and also being the champion of radical Islam, of a kind of Muslim resurgence.

MATTHEWS:  And, so, the—so, the—the prestige factor of owning that weapon, even if they never use it, is horrible?

MURAVCHIK:  I mean, exactly.  That is a prestige...

MATTHEWS:  Jim? 

JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF

TECHNOLOGY:  Well, you know, a couple of things. 

First and foremost, it would be extremely costly.  I mean, if you like the war in Iraq, you would love the war in Iran, whether it’s battlefield deaths in Afghanistan or Iraq, because, you know, Iran is not just going to sit there and take it.  They’re going to come back after us.  If we have an IED problem today, imagine what it’s going to be like.

MATTHEWS:  What would they do if—if we sent if in our Air Force, or with the Israelis, did it with them, or however we do it, and bomb the hell our their nuclear sites, set them back five years, what would they do next to respond? 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Oh, I think they would flood Iraq and Afghanistan with intelligence operatives and members of their Revolutionary Guard and retaliate.  They have made those threats.

MATTHEWS:  On the ground? 

WALSH:  On the ground. 

MATTHEWS:  Against U.S. forces?

WALSH:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  That’s it? 

WALSH:  No, I think that’s the beginning.  You can imagine what world oil markets would be like.  But I want to come back...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How would they?  No, you have got to help me here. 

WALSH:  Yes, sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Explain how they would—you’re the political scientist.  What would they do to our oil markets, our sources of supply in that part of the world? 

WALSH:  Well, immediately, the price of oil would go up, and it would go up dramatically. 

Why?  Because oil traders could not depend on a secure supply of oil coming out of Iran or other countries.

MATTHEWS:  Are you counting on them striking at the straits and shutting off the oil flow as a retaliatory step? 

WALSH:  I’m concerned about that, but, actually, I think there are bigger fish to fry here that make me more worried than that.

I worry about U.S. men and women in Afghanistan who suddenly have not only the Iraqis that they’re fighting.  They have a whole other group of people who are fighting, and they’re working for a government. 

MATTHEWS:  You expect people to go in there with the Iranian National Guard? 

WALSH:  I expect Iranian intelligence.  Let’s go back to the issue terrorism.  This is a legitimate issue to raise.  Two things on this.  One, there’s no country in the history of the world that’s transferred a weapon of mass destruction to a terrorist group, not a nuclear weapon, radiological weapon, biological weapon, chemical weapon. 

MATTHEWS:  What’s the fence?  What stops them? 

WALSH:  Because they don’t want it coming back and blowing back against them.  They can’t trust these crazy guys. 

MATTHEWS:  Respond, because that’s the one that scares people the most in this country? 

MURAYCHIK:  Well, the fact that no one has done it yet—we haven’t had this kind of terrorist regime in possession of a nuclear weapon before.  It is kind of—to say it hasn’t happened until now doesn’t really tell us anything. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn’t there a bigger danger than the former Soviet Republics, when there’s an engineer there that’s hard up for cash, hasn’t that always been the biggest fear, that you can go buy a suitcase bomb that’s available? 

MURAYCHIK:  I don’t think they’re available, but there is a fear. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the Iranians are capable of developing the kind of nuclear weaponry that could be transported by a terrorist group? 

MURAYCHIK:  I’m sure they are.  I don’t know how long it will take them.

MATTHEWS:  You say bomb them now though?  

MURAYCHIK:  Yes, because I don’t know, because it could take them longer.  It could take them shorter. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you know of anyone who believes, in your area of expertise at AEI, who believes that they’re on the verge of getting a weapon that could be transported by a terrorist group?  You say bomb now?  That’s why I’m asking.  There’s a lot of routes down the road we could use, but you say bomb now.  Don’t wait for the diplomacy.  Don’t wait for sanctions. 

MURAYCHIK:  No, we’ve waited. 

MATTHEWS:  You say bomb now.  So you have to argue there’s an imminent threat, it seems to me. 

MURAYCHIK:  I don’t mind if we bomb next month or the month after.  I think we have to do it sometime in a short time frame. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

MURAYCHIK:  Because we don’t know how long.  We have consistently—

MATTHEWS:  No one believes that you condense the process of developing a nuclear weapon that would be transportable, even delivery by an airplane, in a couple of months?  Do you?  Do you anybody who believes that? 

MURAYCHIK:  In a couple of months, no. 

MATTHEWS:  You said soon, if not now.  I’m trying to follow your logic.  Why attack now? 

MURAYCHIK:  Well, Chris, you know, it—as I said, it doesn’t have to be this minute. 

MATTHEWS:  What about a year from now? 

MURAYCHIK:  A year from now might be soon enough.  The point that I’m trying to make is that there’s no alternative way to stop them.  Whether we do it this month or next month—

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a political question—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  I respect you coming on and you’re a logical thinker.  Let’s go to the logic of this.  The one reason to bomb them now is you don’t trust the incoming presidency, the next president of the United States to do it.  So you say let’s get Bush to do it.  He’s the most likely guy to do it. 

MURAYCHIK:  No, Chris, that’s not right.  What I’m saying is there’s no alternative way to stop them, that we have tried diplomacy, we have tried sanctions.  

MATTHEWS:  What about the consequences that Jim laid out? 

MURAYCHIK:  Hold on.  There’s no alternative way to stop them and therefore—and we don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take them to get a nuclear weapon. 

MATTHEWS:  Nobody says months. 

MURAYCHIK:  But we—actually in the past, we disastrously underestimated how long it would take the Soviet Union.  We underestimated how long it would take China. 

MATTHEWS:  Can I make a comment?  We didn’t know how many east Germans they had.  They had a hell of a lot of German scientists helping them back in those days in the late 1940’s.  The Russians didn’t develop the nuclear weapon without the Germans. 

MURAYCHIK:  Iran has a lot of German help, actually. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they? 

MURAYCHIK:  A lot of the technology that they have comes from Germany. 

Yes, it does. 

MATTHEWS:  Last point, quickly. 

WALSH:  Just on the issue of terrorism—if we’re concerned about terrorism, bombing Iran is absolutely the worst thing you can do?  Why?  It will unite the Arab and Muslim world.  It’s giving al Qaeda this giant gift.  Hey, come join our cause.  We’ll help fight—

MATTHEWS:  Can you live with a nuclear Iran? 

WALSH:  I would—that’s not my goal. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you? 

WALSH:  I’d rather not.  I don’t want to.  I think we have had countries go nuclear.

MATTHEWS:  Would you prefer a nuclear Iran to a war?

WALSH:  Yes, on the theory that we can roll it back.  Remember, North Korea got nuclear weapons.  We didn’t bomb them to the Stone Age.  And now they’re disabling their reactor.  The history of the nuclear age is filled with countries that started—

MATTHEWS:  Are you more afraid of a guy who’s drunk like il Jong Lee (sic) or whatever his name is, or a religious fanatic? 

WALSH:  Kim il Sung—not Kim il Sung, Kim Jong il.  A religious fanatic.  But Ahmadinejad is not calling the shots.

MATTHEWS:  Drunks aren’t as scary as religious fanatics.  Thank you, gentlemen.  You’re good guests.  Thank you both.  It was a very seasoned debate by two experts. 

Anyway, Jim Walsh, and Joshua Muraychik, thank you.  All right, coming up the Republicans take on Hillary and each other.  They go at each other.  We’ll talk more about the big Republican fight last night and what it means, because it’s interesting.  Everybody seems to know who they have to beat now.  This is getting down to the wire.  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In case you missed it, a few days ago Senator Clinton tried to spend one million on the Woodstock Concert Museum.  Now, my friends, I wasn’t there.  I’m sure it was a cultural and a pharmaceutical event.  I was tied up at the time, but the fact is—but the fact is—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  I love show business and politics, and that’s one of the great lines I’ve heard this year, if not the best.  Now it’s time for our round table to discuss it.  TheWashington Post.com’s Chris Cillizza, the “Chicago Tribune’s” Jill Zuckman, and Ryan Lizza of the “New Yorker.” 

Let me go to Chris.  Chris, buddy, I just love it because he found a wonderful way to remind people he served his country in a way that no one else could.  He was tied up at the time of Woodstock. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Chris, I thought that made him the winner.  I wrote on my blog today, you know, McCain had the line of the night, and I think carried the moment.  People in the comment section said how can you say one moment defines a night?  You have to look at the whole thing.  But the reality of these debates, which I think we’re roughly on about number 87 of in this election cycle, is that one moment does stand out.  We live in a sound bit society, and he had the best sound bite, frankly. 

It was a good line.  It’s exactly what you said.  He made a point of the fact that, yes, he is a POW.  But he also did it in a light way.  He wasn’t sort of trying to make everybody feel bad about it.  He was just saying, hey, look, at the time this was going on, I was serving my country in a significant way.  I think it’s smart.  I still think it gets to the fact that McCain, out of everybody in this Republican field, has the best story to tell.  That’s why you’ve got to be careful about writing him off. 

MATTHEWS:  Chris, I completely agree with you.  In fact, I put it in my new book, “Life is a Campaign.”  I really did.  I really believe in rights of passage.  I believe if you don’t have a right of passage in your life, some early event, whether it’s Dianne Feinstein keeping San Francisco together or fighting in war, or Roosevelt dealing with Polio, something early in your life that says this is who I am, your right of passage.  Otherwise, you look like a pol with a flat-line career that’s pretty boring. 

Bill Clinton never had one of those, really.  It hurts.  Does it hurt Romney that he’s kind of boring that way?  I mean, really?  And does it help McCain to remind everybody I’ve done something in my life besides politics? 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, McCain’s story is an incredible one, and it does help, because voters are fascinated by it and it makes them think that he knows something more than the others, that he understands what’s going on in Iraq, because of his experience in Vietnam, which most of these other candidates have not had. 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s get deep, Jill.  You’re being tortured for 5 ½ years, two years in solitary confinement, not knowing if you’re going to get out.  How do you know more?  what does that teach you about life? 

ZUCKMAN:  I think for John McCain it gave him a perseverance. 

MATTHEWS:  Love of country. 

ZUCKMAN:  I talked to one of the fellow POWs who told me, when they were together, we used to talk all the time about how can we serve our nation?  What we would do when we got back home. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Machiavelli taught that the more you give, the more you’re in love, the more you’re bonded with the person, or whatever you give.  He gave a lot to his country. 

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Yes, he’s got the most stirring story. 

Look, Mitt Romney does have a version of this. 

MATTHEWS:  What the Olympics? 

LIZZA:  He’s got the Olympics, and the turn-around guy.  It’s not as stirring or as inspirational.  But it is a guy who says, you know, I went into these institutions that weren’t working well; I fixed them.  Look, Now, That’s not coming—that’s not showing the perseverance of being a captive in a POW camp.  But in the age of Katrina and Bush mismanagements, a basic level of competence isn’t the worst thing to be selling. 

MATTHEWS:  Doesn’t it look like—Let me—I’m not going to keep pushing this.  Let’s talk about Fred Thompson last night.  Fred Thompson last night, Chris, was very aggressive, very unlike the debate I co-moderated a while back for CNBC and MS.  He was taking shots at both Rudy, whose the national front runner, taking shots heavily at Romney, whose the leader in Iowa.  He wants to be a leader.  He wants to win this thing. 

CILLIZZA:  Chris, I feel like somebody a few weeks ago whispered into Fred Thompson’s ear, hey, you better get going.  You know, I think the first month—or few months of the campaign has not—it’s been a continuation of what was a not all that great run-up to the campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CILLIZZA:  Look, the reality of this thing is that voters choose between the set of candidates that are out there.  In order to get them to jump off of Giuliani or Romney or McCain or whoever it is, you have to make arguments on why you are better able to represent their needs.  I think Thompson did some of this last night.  The only thing I would say is he doesn’t seem to have the sort of natural willingness to inject himself into things that he’s not being directly asked. 

You know, he did speak about Giuliani sort of reciting the litany of things that Giuliani has done wrong that don’t make him a conservative.  But I felt like unless he was directly asked a question, he wasn’t really there.  You know, they’d ask him a question and you’d be like, oh, wait—

MATTHEWS:  We’ll be right back with Jill to pick up when we come back.  But he does look like he wants to win this now.  We’ll see.  We’ll be back with the panel to talk about Fred Thompson and McCain and the others.  It looks like the Republicans are actually getting excited about this election.  We’re still waiting on Obama, by the way.  You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We’re back with the round table.  Chris, I have a theory that this is going to be following.  That Huckabee is going to surprise everybody in Iowa.  McCain is going to pull an upset over Romney in New Hampshire.  Thompson is going to pull an upset in South Carolina.  And this whole crazy thing is going to go all the way through next year to Minneapolis, when they meet in September and try to pick a candidate for president. 

CILLIZZA:  As a political junkie, I would say, I’m whole-heartedly in favor of your theory.  I think that would be amazing.  We have not seen an extended primary fight in a couple of elections.  It would be nice if it even got to February 5th, frankly, from my perspective. 

But yes, I think there’s a real possibility.  I guess I’m more skeptical about Iowa, because I think Romney has enough organizational strength there.  But even if Huckabee came in second there, I think he wind up being the story there.  I do think John McCain remains a real presence and has a real chance to win in New Hampshire. 

Even if those two things happen, Huckabee second in New Hampshire—

I’m sorry, Huckabee second in Iowa, McCain first in New Hampshire, you would see chaos.  What would Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, that would be ideal for all of us. 

MATTHEWS:  Jill, chaos, the chaos theory here?

ZUCKMAN:  I love the chaos.  But I also think that McCain has a real shot in South Carolina.  I wouldn’t just hand it to Fred Thompson on a silver platter. 

MATTHEWS:  He’s going to roll in New Hampshire. 

ZUCKMAN:  I traveled with him there recently.  He got great crowds.  He got incredible media attention.  That state has more veterans there than any other. 

MATTHEWS:  It’s a military state. 

ZUCKMAN:  It’s a big military state.  I think that what he has to say speaks to them.  I think he’s in the hunt. 

LIZZA:  I like your theory about upsets in Iowa.  Everyone talks about organization in Iowa, organization. 

(CROSS TALK)

LIZZA:  Gephardt and Dean had the best organizations and what happened?

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody’s got the best organization. 

LIZZA:  Every cycle they turn more and more into a primary where the momentum at the end matters more than anything.  For a guy like Huckabee, that’s a good thing. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the Huckabee appeal? 

LIZZA:  Well, liberals seem to love this guy.  It’s kind of funny. 

MATTHEWS:  People in this room here like Huckabee.  I know somebody that likes Huckabee a lot.  He’s right over there across the room. 

LIZZA:  Because I think Bill Clinton said, he’s a conservative but he doesn’t sound like he’s mad at anyone. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if this sherbet and pudding and all the nice flavors, is that what people want to run the country, somebody’s who’s nice? 

CILLIZZA:  You know, I think the problem—I’ve been making a bunch of calls on Huckabee today because he had this very good showing at the Value Voters Summit.  He did well at the debate last night.  Everybody that I talk to says the following, that the central question for Huckabee, can you turn like into votes.  Everyone likes him.  Everyone sort of thinks he’s affable.  He’s smart.  He’s a good conservative.  They love to be with him if they just thought he could win.  That’s the problem.  He’s got three months to solve that problem.

MATTHEWS:  He thinks the solution to down town crime in big cities is right to carry.  Thank you, Chris Cillizza.  Thank you Jill Zuckman and Ryan Lizza.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00.  Right now it’s time for “TUCKER.”

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