updated 11/30/2007 12:57:11 PM ET 2007-11-30T17:57:11

Guests: Dan Balz, Mike Huckabee, John Neffinger, Jennifer Donahue, Michael Crowley, Stephen Hayes

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Would Jesus back capital punishment?  Would Jesus back gun control?  How about NAFTA and the IRS?  When is this going to stop?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Last night, Rudy and Romney rumbled at the Republican debate, but the biggest news may have been made by former governor Mike Huckabee, who lots of folks think came out on top.  In a moment, we‘ll talk to Mike Huckabee, the candidate that many are crowning last night‘s victor.

We‘ll talk to some experts, as well, about who were the winners and the losers last night.  Plus, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will “truth squad” the debates.  Who was telling the truth and who was telling some tall tales?  Also, political bodies—never mind what the candidates said to us last night, what did their body language tell us?  And later in the show, as always, the HARDBALL “Big Number.”

But right now, we go to the man with all the momentum, Republican presidential Contender Mike Huckabee.  Governor, thank you for joining us.  Let‘s take a look at a bit of last night, a question from one of the YouTubers and your response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH DEARING, HOUSTON, TEXAS:  Do you believe this book?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Sure, I believe the Bible is exactly what it is.  It‘s the word of revelation to us from God himself.

(APPLAUSE)

HUCKABEE:  And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don‘t believe it.  But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says, Go and pluck out your eye—well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye.  That obviously is allegorical.

But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Inasmuch as you‘ve done it to the least of these brethren, you‘ve done it unto me.  Until we get those simple, real easy things right I‘m not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Governor, I think you, like a lot of conservatives, believe in the original purpose of the Constitution as written.  It‘s our sort of secular bible.  It says there should be no religious test ever required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.  Why are you Republican candidates submitting to religious vetting about your belief in the literal nature of the Bible?  Why put up with those kind of questions?

HUCKABEE:  Well, Chris, when guys like you quit asking it, we‘ll quit answering it.  But the fact is, we get asked these questions in the debates, and if we evade them, if we act like we‘re not going to answer them, then we‘re going to get hammered for being unwilling to address the questions that are put to us.  So that‘s why I keep answering them.

MATTHEWS:  But these are religious test questions.  They‘re not about public policy.  They‘re not about what you believe the country should be about.  They‘re what you believe about the Bible.  They‘re particularly religious testing of you fellows.  Why didn‘t somebody raise their hand last night and say, This is not what America‘s about.  If there was a Jewish fellow up here, an Arab fellow up here, a non-believer, he‘d have to say, I don‘t believe in the Bible.  Then where would we be?  Some people some giving the correct answer, according to some, and others giving the incorrect answer.

HUCKABEE:  I would love for us to be asked questions about education and health care and energy independence.  Unfortunately, those were the questions that nobody did ask us last night.  We instead got the questions that we got, tried to do them the best we can.

You tell me.  You control debates.  You‘re the ones who moderate them.  I didn‘t get to pick the questions.  If I did, I promise I‘d have picked some different questions for me and for the other candidates, as well.

MATTHEWS:  Your campaign slogan is “Faith, family and freedom.”  On your TV ad we just saw here last night, it has a big line on it, “Christian leader.”  How does that separate you from the other candidates?  I thought all the candidates running this year on the Republican side are all Christians.  Why do you single yourself out as the Christian leader, if that‘s not a religious case you‘re making?

HUCKABEE:  Well, now, you used the wrong description there.  I never said I was “the” Christian leader.  I‘m simply giving a description of who I am, introducing voters to me, since right now, there‘s not been a lot of media for me in Iowa.  This is our first attempt to sort of introduce me.

And I think it‘s a matter of letting them know that I have a background that I think they‘re comfortable with.  But I‘m not trying to impose my faith.  And Chris, very importantly, I certainly never said I am “the” Christian.  There‘s no such thing as “the” Christian.  There‘s only one “the” Christian, and that was Jesus Christ.  The rest of us are never going to be anywhere near Jesus Christ as “the” Christian, just a Christian following in his steps.

MATTHEWS:  But you said the only reason you answered questions about your Bible beliefs is because the question was put to you on a TV show.  And now you admit that you‘re putting up TV ads advertising your Christian belief.

Here‘s your ad, by the way, Governor.  Let‘s give a free shot for your TV ad.

HUCKABEE:  That would be good.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE:  Faith doesn‘t just influence me, it really defines me.  I don‘t wake up every day wondering, What do I need to believe?

Let us never sacrifice our principles for anybody‘s politics, not now, not ever.

I believe life begins at conception.

We believe in some things.  We stand by those things!  We live or die

by those things.

I‘m Mike Huckabee and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So there‘s no message there when we see the big sign “Christian leader.”  You‘re not saying you‘re more a Christian leader then anyone else running.  You‘re just saying—what?  What‘s the point of mentioning it as a selling point?

HUCKABEE:  It‘s been interesting that a lot of people have tried to read something into that ad that‘s not there.  What‘s there is, This is who I am.  I‘m not saying anything about who somebody else is or who somebody else isn‘t.  I‘m trying to describe what I‘m about, what drives my decisions, and that was the sole purpose of the ad.

I appreciate you showing it, and if you want to show it a few more times, fee free to do it.  We need the attention.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just—but you know, if I‘d said I was—if I was the most fiscally conservative senator in the United States Senate or I had an ACA rating of 100 percent or—that would be selling points.  I just want to know why “Christian leader”—I‘ll ask it one more time—why is it a selling point for Mike Huckabee?

HUCKABEE:  Well, it‘s a selling point only in that it‘s a description of who I am.  You know, if I watch promos of HARDBALL, we‘re going to see things like “hard-hitting” or...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUCKABEE:  ... or “truth telling.”  Does that mean that you‘re the only person on television that tells the truth, that you‘re the only one that has hard-hitting questions?  I think it‘s a description of your show.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HUCKABEE:  These are labels that are descriptive of who I am.  I think it‘s a perfectly legitimate way to introduce myself to the voters of Iowa.

MATTHEWS:  But would it be appropriate for Joe Lieberman, who ran on the ticket of the Democratic Party in 2000 to say, “Jewish leader”?  Would that seem right to you?

HUCKABEE:  It would be perfectly fine.  In fact, I would appreciate it.  I think Joe Lieberman is a tremendous individual.  I think one of he things that endear me most to him and that causes me to have enormous respect for him is that he is a person who not only believes his faith, he practices it.  And he practices it in not a showy way but in an honest, sincere way.  And Joe Lieberman is one of my favorite Democrats.  I wish he were a Republican, quite frankly.

MATTHEWS:  So when the Constitution says no religious test shall ever be used as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States, that phrase in the Constitution means what to you?

HUCKABEE:  It means just what it says, there shouldn‘t be a religious test.  There‘s no requirement that a person has a religious at all.  It may have been on your program, Chris, that a few weeks ago, we talked about Pete Stark, an avowed atheist.  My point that day, and I‘ll say it again, I‘d rather have a person serving in Congress who‘s an avowed atheist who‘s honest about it than a person who tries to pretend he‘s a Christian when he doesn‘t live like it and he‘s filled with hate and venom and anger toward people.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUCKABEE:  That‘s hardly consistent with the Christian Gospel.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about capital punishment because it really does get to our beliefs, “Thou shalt not kill.”  We‘re all familiar with the main tenets of the Bible, the Old and New Testament.  The New Testament‘s more forgiving, as you know as a pastor, much more about compassion than perhaps fire and brimstone.

How do you look at the two different?  I mean, do you look at—when you talked last night—someone asked you a good question, I thought, How does your religion affect your view of public policy on capital punishment?  And you had a very funny line.  It was very funny—Jesus was smart enough never to run for office.  But you are.  And you are a “Christian leader,” self-described as such.  Therefore, what should that tell us about your views on capital punishment, being a Christian leader running for public office in secular society?

HUCKABEE:  Well, if you play the first part of the answer is anything but funny because in the first part of that answer, Chris, what I mentioned was that I carried out the death penalty...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUCKABEE:  ... more than any governor in my state.  And I pointed out that no one else on that stage had ever done what I have done, that‘s actually have to carry out the death penalty.  I mentioned that it was the toughest decision I ever made as a governor because it was the only decision that was irrevocable.  I talked about how I looked through every page of every file in every box related to that case because I needed to make sure I was right, needed to make sure there wasn‘t something there that shouldn‘t be the basis for giving that condemned person another opportunity for review.

But the result of a long judicial process and the law is that a person would be put to death.  It was never something that I enjoyed.  It was never something that I took lightly.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUCKABEE:  It was a heavy responsibility.  So there was anything but levity when it came to that issue with me.

MATTHEWS:  What would be the difference between your view of capital punishment as a chief executive carrying out the law and someone who is a non-believer?

HUCKABEE:  I‘m not sure that there would be because carrying out the law is just what it is, it‘s carrying out the law.  There are some times that I may not completely agree with the law, but if it is the law, then I have to execute it because I‘ve taken an oath to do so.

As president of the United States, I have two options.  Maybe you‘d say I have three.  I can obey the law, which is my first obligation.  I‘ve sworn to do that.  I could seek to change the law, which under our Constitution and way of government, we always have the opportunity to do.  Or I could disobey the law and then willingly suffer whatever consequences there were in doing so, but that obviously is the least of the options.

MATTHEWS:  So there‘s no role for Christian forgiveness as an executive.

HUCKABEE:  Oh, there‘s a role for Christian forgiveness, but forgiveness is not in conflict with justice.  The fact is, you can forgive someone, but that does not alleviate the temporal consequences that they should experience.  If a person‘s a speeder, I can say, I forgive you for speeding, but you‘re still going to pay the ticket.  I‘ll forgive you for robbing the bank, but you‘re still going to do five to ten years.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUCKABEE:  I‘ll forgive you for the murder, but you‘re still going to pay with your life for having brutally raped and assaulted and murdered another human being.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then it doesn‘t seem like it matters much because if you‘re going to assume your role as a secular leader in cases of executive role, an executive role carrying out the punishment of a court, even if it is the extreme punishment, the ultimate punishment, it seems like the role of Christianity, which you‘ve advertised in your public advertising and then you advertise in your public speaking when it comes up, seems to be irrelevant.

What I‘m trying to figure out here why is it relevant to run as a Christian leader, if, when I give you particular cases of life and death, perhaps war, you resort to the secular role, which is probably more appropriate to a politician?

HUCKABEE:  Well, because, Chris, frankly, there are times when the Christian Gospel does very much apply—Inasmuch as you‘ve done it to the least of these, my brethren.  When 75,000 evacuees came to my state from Hurricane Katrina, it was my Christian faith that said, We‘re not going to wait until paperwork is done to take care of these people.  These are fellow human beings, and I want them treated like people, not pieces of paper.  It‘s why we made sure that they had a place to sleep and that we had food for them, that we had blankets to cover them and clothing for them.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUCKABEE:  And when people said, Who‘s—how are we going to budget this, I said, We‘re not going to worry about the budget.  We‘re going to worry about these people and treat them like we‘d want to be treated.  That‘s when I think you‘ll see the Christian Gospel coming to be. (ph)

Now, did I violate the law in doing that?  Some might argue that I went beyond the authority that I had to authorize the kind of expenditures, not knowing whether we‘d be reimbursed by the federal government.  I was willing to suffer whatever the consequences were because I knew that the right thing was to make sure that when that elderly person got off that evacuation airplane, I treated her as if that were my own mother.

MATTHEWS:  This is a hard question.  It‘s not a “gotcha” question because it‘s something I care a lot about.  Would you me more than less likely to resort to war as an option because of your Christianity?

HUCKABEE:  I don‘t...

MATTHEWS:  More or less likely?  Would it affect the way you look at just wars, the way you go—sort of the kind of a—the hair trigger you have in terms of action which would cost people lives?

HUCKABEE:  I think it would make me...

MATTHEWS:  Does it affect your thinking on those key issues of leadership in this country?

HUCKABEE:  In this way, knowing that war is the court of last resort, knowing that in war, you again are creating something that has irrevocable consequences in the potential loss of life of people not only in your country but in the country of someone else.  Would it affect me?  Yes.  Would I be willing to do it when it was the only way in which I could protect Americans, or best protect our freedom and liberty and future?  But I tell you, it would not be something that I would do without careful prayer, consideration and the counsel of many people.

That‘s where I think a person of faith would certainly act not capriciously and not maybe with some sense of a cavalier attitude, but with only very deliberate dispatch, after much thought and much prayer.

MATTHEWS:  You wouldn‘t believe, as president, that you were carrying out the will of God, would you?  You wouldn‘t have a messianic notion because of your deep religious belief?

HUCKABEE:  No, I think that would be very...

MATTHEWS:  You wouldn‘t have a sense...

HUCKABEE:  ... dangerous.

MATTHEWS:  ... that because you were elected...

HUCKABEE:  No, you got to be careful...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think that‘s extremely dangerous.

HUCKABEE:  You‘re never, ever to be God.  In fact, I think the most dangerous thing that a person has is this messianic complex, where he thinks that he‘s not being a servant of people, he‘s being God of people.  That‘s the opposite of what my faith teaches me.  My faith says that if you want to be great, you become servant.  You don‘t lift yourself up.  You‘re willing to allow yourself to be put down.

And I think when we see people who think they‘re running not for president but to be lord of America, that‘s a very dangerous thing.  And I certainly don‘t look at it in that way.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, thanks for joining us on HARDBALL tonight.

HUCKABEE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: Rudy and Romney get rough over illegal immigration.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FMR NYC MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There was even a sanctuary mansion.  At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If you hear someone

that‘s working out there, not that you‘ve employed but that the company has

if you hear someone with a funny accent, you as a homeowner are supposed to go out there and say, I want to see your papers.  Is what that you‘re suggesting?

GIULIANI:  If you‘re going to take this “holier than thou” attitude that you are perfect on immigration...

ROMNEY:  I‘m not perfect!

GIULIANI:  It just so happens you have a special immigration problem that nobody else up here has.  You were employing illegal immigrants.

ROMNEY:  You know, what—what...

GIULIANI:  That is a pretty serious thing.  They were under your nose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Neighbors who aren‘t getting along very well.  Who won tonight?  We‘ll talk about the winners and losers when we get back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, how did the Republican presidential candidates do last night in that big debate?  Who won, who lost, and who looked the most presidential?

Let‘s go to NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory and Dan Balz, one of the deans of the Washington press corps.

I want to start with David, who watched that last conversation I just had with Huckabee.  Huckabee‘s a charmer.  Is that what it‘s about?  Is this really likability coming to the fore here or is it his religious commitment which helps him beat Romney, who‘s a Mormon?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I think it‘s both.  I mean, I think there‘s a tactical element that he‘s got evangelical support in Iowa, and then he looks ahead to South Carolina and tries to tap into those evangelicals who don‘t trust Mormons, who don‘t believe that Mormons are real Christians.  Yes, I mean, this is hardball politics that he‘s playing.

MATTHEWS:  And when he says “Christian leader,” that‘s not a throwaway line.  You think that was purposeful in terms of the...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  But I believe two things about it.  I believe there is a tactical element, where he‘s appealing to the base.  It is also part of who he is.  And what I thought was smart about that question last night and smart about his response is that it was—it tells us something about how his mind works, how he thinks in an extemporaneous way.  And Mitt Romney was twisted up by the question...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREGORY:  Giuliani, in some ways, compromised by the question. 

Huckabee, the pastor, knocked it out of the park. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  It was a pastor‘s question.

The question we‘re talking about is the one I raised just a moment ago about with Governor Huckabee.  Do you think it‘s appropriate for presidential candidates to be vetted on how they—how literal they take the Bible?  It seems to me that‘s a question for a Youth for Christ convention, not for a Republican debate. 

But he thought it was a great—an OK question.  He answered it.  He said, you guys think of the questions.  I answer them. 

But David‘s point is, that‘s the kind of question that shows him at his best. 

DAN BALZ, STAFF WRITER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I think that that‘s probably true about him. 

I was thinking back through a number of the debates, Chris, and that Governor Huckabee is the person who always gets that kind of question.  It‘s uncanny.  And I think, to some extent, it‘s unfair, because he‘s a politician.  He may be a Christian.  He may be an ordained minister, but, at this point, he‘s running for the presidency of the United States. 

But people want to ask him those kinds of questions to see how he handles them.  And I think what he‘s proven, through a whole series of debates, is, he‘s quite comfortable dealing with those questions.  I think one of the problems with the debate last night, frankly, was that there were a lot of other questions that he and others might have been asked that may be more directly relevant to voters‘ decisions about who they want to support in the Republican primaries. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at commander in chief question.  This is an exchange between Senator McCain and Governor Romney on the issue of torture. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If we‘re going to get the high ground in this world, and we‘re going to be the America that we have cherished and loved for more than 200 years, we‘re not going to torture people.  We‘re not going to do what Pol Pot did.  We‘re not going to do what‘s being done to Burmese monks as we speak. 

And I suggest that you talk to retired military officers and active-duty military officers like Colin Powell and others.  And how in the world anybody could think that that kind of thing could be inflicted by Americans on people who are held in our custody is absolutely beyond me.

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator McCain, I appreciate your strong response, and—and you have the credentials upon which to make that response. 

I did not say and I do not say that I‘m in favor of torture.  I am not.  I‘m not going to specify the—the specific means of what is and what is not torture, so that the people that we capture will know what things we‘re able to do and what things we‘re not able to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David, I—I never understood the Romney argument there.  But it looks to me like that was one time in the entire two hours of debate last night where someone won an argument without going to the right...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... where he actually took the more compassionate view and...

GREGORY:  Well, you know...

MATTHEWS:  ... and seemed to have won the argument. 

GREGORY:  What he means is exactly what Mukasey meant in his confirmation hearing and what Bush means, which is, don‘t comment on whether it‘s torture or not, because you signal to your enemies what we may or may not do. 

Look, John McCain I thought was...

MATTHEWS:  You mean somebody who is wrapping himself in bombs and blowing up buildings is sitting and thinking about, well, if they catch me, they will use this kind of torture or that kind of torture? 

GREGORY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Are we really gaming it this tightly?

GREGORY:  Well, I think some people are, number one.  And they don‘t want to invite lawsuits and such.

But I think that the—the point of the exchange...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I see, the legal—the litigation aspect.

GREGORY:  The—the point of the exchange, though, is that McCain looked strong last night, in part because he‘s litigated a lot of these issues, being in the Senate.  He‘s really captured his voice on these issues.  He‘s sure about what he believes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s been there, too, with five-and-a-half years in the Hanoi Hilton.

GREGORY:  Well, he‘s—he‘s been there, but he‘s also been there as a lawmaker. 

Romney has not.  He exposes that.  And, on the—on the Iraq questions, generally, you know, there—there has been success with the surge.  And McCain put himself out there, at great political cost, and he‘s now able argue, with some authority, look, I was critical, but I was also right in calling for a surge.

So, again, I think he has sort of hit his stride. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me have Dan respond to this one.

Here‘s Romney going at Huckabee, in a rather effective way, on the issue of giving tax breaks or—on college tuition to children who are in this country because their parents came in here illegally. 

Let‘s look at this back and forth. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  And the right thing here is to say to people that are here legally as citizens or legal aliens, we‘re going to help you.  But, if you‘re here illegally, then you ought to be able to return home or get in line with everybody else.  But illegals are not going to get taxpayer-funded breaks that are better than our own citizens, those that come from other states or those that come from your state.

ANDERSON COOPER, MODERATOR:  You have 30 seconds to respond.

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, but they didn‘t get something better.  They had to earn it.

And you know something?  I worked my way through college.  I started work when I was 14 and I had to pay my own way through.  And I know how hard it was to get that degree.  I am standing here tonight on this stage because I got an education.  If I hadn‘t had the education, I wouldn‘t be standing on this stage.  I might be picking lettuce. 

I might be a person who needed government support, rather than who was giving so much money in taxes.  I want to get rid of the tax code that we have got and make it really different.

ROMNEY:  Well...

HUCKABEE:  Mitt, let me finish.  Let me finish, Mitt.

COOPER:  Time.

HUCKABEE:  In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did.  We‘re a better country than that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

COOPER:  Another question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that ended in—to the favor of Governor Huckabee.

But there‘s another exchange, Dan Balz, where the governor from Massachusetts swept back and said, you know, it‘s not your money you‘re giving away.  It‘s the taxpayers‘ money. 

BALZ:  Well, on this issue, Chris, there‘s no question that a good part of the country agrees, at least viscerally, with what Governor Romney was saying.

I mean, the—the anti-immigration, particular anti-illegal immigration, movement in this country is very strong.  I mean, I think what you saw last night with John McCain was an acknowledgment that the position that he had taken in the past was one that isn‘t politically viable.  So, on the—on the—the political side of this, I think Governor Romney felt he was in a very comfortable and strong position. 

On the other hand, I thought the response of Governor Huckabee, as we have—as we have said in a number of these debates, his ability to deal with these and, in a sense, take a somewhat counterintuitive position for somebody who has deep conservative views on many issues, has been effective.

And I think that, on that particular exchange, as the audience responded, he struck a chord with people, that, yes, there is something potentially unfair about penalizing children for what their parents...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BALZ:  ... might have done illegally. 

GREGORY:  You know, the other interesting thing about this is that what you saw playing out last night—Huckabee‘s moderation on immigration, if you will, from that answer, vs.—vs. Romney, McCain‘s position, saying don‘t demagogue this issue—these are the same fault lines that you are going to see Republicans and Democrats arguing about in the...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  ... general election as well, where Democrats are saying, we need comprehensive reform, we can‘t be demagogued on this, and trying to have a more nuanced view. 

I mean, this is an emotional issue.  It‘s going to play out. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I liked about last night, gentlemen, was that there was one issue that neither of these heavyweights, Rudy Giuliani or—or Governor Mitt Romney, had prepared themselves for in this campaign.

They had adjusted their positions on abortion, on gun control, on a whole array of issues to make themselves acceptable to the arch-conservatives, but they hadn‘t adjusted their records on immigration, illegal immigration.  They were both caught flat-footed last night.

And you saw that great battle between them, knowing each other was vulnerable.  They were both vulnerable on the issue, because neither one has been a red-hot on this issue. 

It‘s the grassroots, Dan, as you point out, that are the red-hots, that are driving these guys to the right. 

Thank you very much, Dan Balz, from “The Washington Post” newsroom.

And, thank you, David Gregory, chief White House correspondent for NBC News.

Up next:  So, what else is new?  And what did the Republican candidates have to say last night about President Bush.  Wait until you hear this, what they had to say about Bush last night, if you can remember it.  We will help you.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is happening out there in politics? 

Well, remember when Michelle Obama said that Barack had to win in Iowa, or else?  Well, now Lindsey Graham is setting the same bar for his pal John McCain in New Hampshire—quote—“I think, if John were honest with you, he would say he has to win New Hampshire.  And I believe he can.”

I can hear McCain right now:  Thanks for setting the bar just high enough to kill me. 

Mitt Romney has a representation as something of a pander bear.  But I applaud him for his quick no ifs, ands or buts answer last night when he got asked what he thought about the Confederate flag? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Right now, with the kinds of issues we got in this country, I‘m not going to get involved with a flag like that.  That‘s not a flag that I recognize or that I would hold up in my room. 

The people of our country have decided not to fly that flag.  I think that‘s the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

Now for Romney‘s not-so-decisive stuff.  A pro-abortion-rights Republican group called the Republican Majority for Choice is set to air $100,000 worth of TV ads against Mitt Romney in Iowa.  The group also has full-page ads in the big newspapers in Iowa and New Hampshire coming out on Sunday.  Expect the ads to point Romney as a flip-flopper. 

And now time for the HARDBALL big number.  Tonight, our big number is, well, not so big.  In fight, it‘s downright small.  It‘s the number of times the Republican presidential candidates mentioned President Bush during last night‘s debate.  In over two hours of programming, with eight Republicans talking, the name of the current president was uttered twice.  That‘s it, twice—tonight‘s big number. 

Oh, yeah.  And those weren‘t exactly honorable mentions.  Both times Bush‘s name was mentioned by Republican candidates, they were attacking him. 

Up next, we check the truthfulness of what we saw in last night‘s debate.  David Shuster will be the truth squad report.

Plus, political bodies—what the candidates were saying when they weren‘t talking last night. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks closed higher once again, just a bit, the Dow gaining 22 points, after rallying yesterday, 500 points the previous two sessions—the S&P 500 up a fraction, and the Nasdaq gaining five points. 

Sales of new homes rose almost 2 percent in October.  But that was after September‘s figures were revised sharply lower.  Meantime, prices fell 13 percent from a year ago, the largest year-over-year drop in 37 years.  And foreclosures continue to climb, up 2 percent last month from September, but surging 94 percent from a year ago. 

The nation‘s economy grew at nearly 5 percent in the third quarter.  That‘s the best pace in nearly four years, it is but not expected to continue. 

And oil surged over $95 a barrel, following an explosion along a Canada-to-U.S. pipeline, but crude ended the day at just over $91 a barrel, after supply concerns eased. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here comes this tough stuff. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In last night‘s Republican debate, two of the front-runners, Romney and Giuliani, were hit on an issue, illegal immigration, where neither seemed to have a strong record to defend.  That‘s what makes it all interesting.  They are not always ready with the tough ones. 

Here‘s HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with his report on the truth and the non-truth of last night‘s debate. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMNEY:  Mayor, you know better than that.

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI:  No...

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY:  Yes?  OK, then listen.  All right?  Then listen. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was a contentious debate right from the start.  And the disputes began on the topic of immigration. 

ROMNEY:  The mayor actually brought a suit to maintain its sanctuary city status.

GIULIANI:  It‘s unfortunate, but Mitt generally criticizes people in a situation in which he‘s had far the worst record.  For example, in his case, there were six sanctuary cities.  He did nothing about them.

SHUSTER:  So, what is the truth?  And what exactly is a sanctuary city?  Sanctuary city means a local government that has a don‘t-ask/don‘t-tell policy, whereby city employees are not required to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities. 

Two years ago, the Congressional Research Service identified New York City as a sanctuary city.  But these cities in Massachusetts have been identified as sanctuary cities as well.  As for Giuliani‘s lawsuit...

ROMNEY:  That‘s the wrong attitude. 

SHUSTER:  ... the lawsuit was to not uphold a label of New York as a sanctuary city, as Romney suggests, but, rather, to make sure children of illegal immigrants could go to school and get health care. 

As for this personal charge about hiring illegal immigrants...

GIULIANI:  You did have illegal immigrants working at your mansion, didn‘t you?

ROMNEY:  No, I did not.

SHUSTER:  Actually, Romney did.  However, the illegal immigrants working on his home were hired not by Romney, but, rather, by a company he paid to do the work. 

The debate also featured a sharp exchange over torture...

MCCAIN:  This is a defining issue. 

SHUSTER:  ... and whether this tactic defies international and U.S.  laws. 

MCCAIN:  Well, Governor, I‘m astonished that you haven‘t found out what water-boarding is.

ROMNEY:  I know what water-boarding is, Senator.

MCCAIN:  Then I am astonished that you would think such a—such a torture would be inflicted on anyone in our—who we are held captive and anyone could believe that that‘s not torture. 

SHUSTER:  The Bush White House has refused to say whether water-boarding is torture, though top Justice and military officials back up McCain, and say it is. 

Romney dodged. 

ROMNEY:  But I do not believe that, as a presidential candidate, it is wise for us to describe precisely what techniques we will use in interrogating people.  I oppose torture.  I would not be in favor of torture in any way, shape or form.

SHUSTER:  But, in a previous debate, Romney seemed to express a different view. 

ROMNEY:  But enhanced interrogation techniques, yes.

SHUSTER:  Several candidates last night boasted about their records of reducing crime. 

According to Giuliani, when he started as mayor:

GIULIANI:  ... at a time in which New York City was going through a massive crime wave, averaging 2,000 murders a year, 10,000 felonies a week.

SHUSTER:  That‘s true, but the average was going down three years before Giuliani took office in New York, and the trend continued nationwide.  On the line item veto. 

GIULIANI:  The line item veto is unconstitutional. 

(CROSS TALK)

GIULIANI:  The line item veto is unconstitutional, to be determined not by John McCain, but by the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court found that the line item veto is unconstitutional.  If I hadn‘t challenged that, I would not have been carrying out my duty to the people of New York City.  That was money that was illegally deprived of the people of my city.

SHUSTER:  Giuliani is right on that one.  The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.  There were other less consequential mistakes.  Duncan Hunter got confused over Anderson Cooper‘s first name. 

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Cooper, Cooper, a great debate.  It‘s nice to listen to lots of statements.  Cooper, very simply, to the critics of America, I would say this -- 

SHUSTER:  And Michigan native Mitt Romney had some trouble with the championship drought of his new baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. 

ROMNEY:  Eighty seven long years—we waited 87 long years. 

SHUSTER:  Actually, it was 86. 

(on camera):  But the serious number is now 35.  That‘s the number of days that are left until the Iowa caucuses, when the rhetoric, the spin and the truth will start to get settled by the voters. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  Now to the candidates‘ body language last night.  I love this stuff.  John Neffinger writes—actually, makes a living coaching people on how to talk in front of groups.  His clients are mostly business people, but he has also coached some Democratic candidates along the way.  It‘s all part of our full disclosure.  John, let‘s take a look right now at Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, and the issue we were talking about on this program with him about, capital punishment. 

JOHN NEFFINGER, COMMUNICATIONS ANALYST:  You bet. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE:  I believe there‘s a place for a death penalty.  Some crimes are so heinous, so horrible, that the only response that we, as a civilized nation, have for a most uncivil action is not only to try to deter that person from ever committing that crime again, but also as a warning to others that some crimes truly are beyond any other capacity for us to fix. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What was the message he was conveying with his manner there, John? 

NEFFINGER:  This was a great moment for him, Chris.  The message was he is both strong and warm.  This is a real human moment that he shared with the audience there.  He really connected.  What he did was he slowed down.  The whole tone in the room changed.  You weren‘t in a political debate.  You were suddenly in the hands of a pretty good southern preacher. 

He made it story time.  He‘s, phrase by phrase, going slowly through what that experience was like for him to have to make that decision.  His tone was soft.  His brow was concerned.  But he was not smiling, on one hand, and also not angry on the other.  It was a wonderful moment. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he running against George Bush here, George Bush who is known to be cocky?  I think Vincente Fox called him, the president of Mexico, the cockiest man I ever met, who is very blithe about capital punishment, spent 15 minutes at the most looking at the jacket.  Here, it seems like this guy‘s saying, almost the way George Bush ran against Reagan, saying, I‘m kinder, gentler.  Is he saying I‘m more compassionate?  I‘m more thoughtful. 

NEFFINGER:  That‘s exactly the word.  You watch him and you think compassionate conservative.  He‘s got it.  Bush threw the label around a while a go, but never really came through with that.  This guy looks like the real deal here. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Giuliani here on the issue of sanctuary cities, where they give you a break if you‘re here illegally, to put it lightly. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI:  New York City allowed the children of illegal immigrants to go to school.  If we didn‘t allow the children of illegal immigrants to go to school, we would have had 70,000 children on the streets at a time in which New York City was going through a massive crime wave. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEFFINGER:  So interesting.  This is as meek as I have seen him in the entire came.  This is a very far cry from the bold, dynamic Rudy, who has propelled—he‘s essentially pro gay rights, pro abortion rights.  Yet, he‘s at the head of the Republican field.  Why is that?  Because he‘s been very strong, tough and dynamic.  Here he‘s anything but. 

His tone is very soft.  It‘s as if he doesn‘t want to be saying this.  He just has to because he has to answer the question.  In fact, if you look very closely, there‘s a moment there, right after he says that he allowed the children of illegal immigrants into school where he does this; he actually clamps down on his upper lip, as if to say, I can‘t believe I just heard myself say that to a roomful of Republican primary voters.  I have to clamp down on my mouth before anything else stupid comes out. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s damage minimization right there.  Let‘s take a look at McCain on the issue he knows a lot about, torture. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, governor, I‘m astonished that you haven‘t found out what water boarding is. 

ROMNEY:  I know what water boarding is, senator. 

MCCAIN:  Then I‘m astonished that you would think such a torture would be inflicted on anyone who—we are held captive, and anyone would could believe that that‘s not torture.  It‘s in violation of the Geneva Conventions.  It‘s in violation of existing law. 

Governor, let me tell you, if we are going to get the high ground in this world, and we‘re going to be America that we have cherished and loved for more than 200 years, we are not going to torture people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  John. 

NEFFINGER:  This is a really instructive moment, Chris.  If you think about it, what Romney is saying, his actually position here, is what the polls suggest, what the people in that room actually believe.  McCain, on the other hand, is basically talking liberal talking points there.  That‘s essentially his line. 

Yet, because of the difference of delivery, McCain clearly wins this. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he won when he said the Geneva Convention.  Everyone in that room is probably pro military.  And everybody in the military supports the Geneva Convention.  I thought it was the right word to use, the right reference.

NEFFINGER:  That‘s right.  He‘s definitely leading with his military credentials here.  If you think, Romney was also talking about Khaled Sheik Mohammed, which is the right argument to make if you want to say we need to do what we need to do.  But when he said it, he moved through it very quickly.  There was not a stern look on his brow.  Whereas when McCain spoke—

MATTHEWS:  Hey, John, you‘re the best.  We got to go. 

NEFFINGER:  All right, thanks a lot Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  We have to mention tonight some sad news; Henry Hyde has died today.  The long time congressman from Illinois was a hero to those who opposed illegal abortion.  He was a lover of the institution of the Congress, someone who took great pride and pleasure in being a member of what members of Congress fondly call the People‘s House.  There he is. 

Up next, with Mike Huckabee moving into the top tier of candidates, what is next for him.  We‘ll here from the round table about where this race is heading after the big debate the other night.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER:  What would Jesus do?  Would Jesus support the death penalty in. 

HUCKABEE:  Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson.  That‘s what Jesus would do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was a dodge.  Anyway, that‘s Mike Huckabee at last night‘s debate.  Now to the round table.  Steven Hayes is with the “Weekly Standard.”  Michael Crowley is with the “New Republic.”  Jennifer Donahue is with New York Institute of Politics.  Thank you all for joining us. 

You know, there‘s three or four issues out there floating around which I find fascinating right now.  Nobody has figured out where they‘re going to lead.  One is the thing about Romney up in Massachusetts appointing a judge who lets this guy out who killed two people out in Seattle.  It‘s sort of a Willie Horton story.  Another Willie Horton story of a kind down in Arkansas, where Governor Mike Huckabee was rooting for this guy to get out of jail who had been castrated for rape and goes out gets kills somebody after he gets out of jail. 

And then, of course, of a somewhat lesser degree, there‘s Rudy Giuliani and questions about hanky panky, in terms of the budgeting and the life style of the former mayor of New York.  Which of these issues is going to grab anybody?  How about in New Hampshire, Jennifer?  Which of these issues has legs, as we say? 

JENNIFER DONAHUE, NEW HAMPSHIRE INSTITUTE OF POLITICS:  The one with legs today, Chris, is on the front page of the “Union Leader.”  It‘s the one about Giuliani taking Judith Nathan to the Hamptons.  It‘s an issue that brings unethical corrupt behavior to the fore.  Voters up here will not accept that.  They‘re sick of it.  It‘s what they don‘t like about the Bush administration. 

It‘s even why we‘re seeing Hillary Clinton, in recent weeks, up here vulnerable.  It‘s because voters want to see an honest candidate.  If Giuliani looks snarky and he looks like he‘s accusing Romney of things he‘s done in his own personal life, he‘s going to get himself in trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  It was interesting last night.  There was a lot of innuendo between the candidates.  For example, who was it that said, I wouldn‘t talk about the people he hired? 

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Thompson. 

MATTHEWS:  It was Thompson taking a shot at Rudy for Kerik.  I‘m not sure all the people out there watching caught it.  But they all have such package now on display.  They just have to indicate to the other guy, I wouldn‘t go there if I were you, kind of stuff. 

HAYES:  Right, It was an interesting moment.  I think you‘re right, most of the people in the audience didn‘t pick up on exactly what Thompson was saying.  It was a reference to Bernie Kerik, his many problems, the fact that we was indicted.  Thompson, I think he would have actually mentioned Bernie Kerik‘s name and said that, it would have likely opened up a bigger discussion about these things. 

Of course, Thompson has to be careful, because he has someone who was one of his chief fund raiser—

MATTHEWS:  Michael Crowley, are we at the point in the campaign where these issues are going to get scrutinized.  It was a Freedom of Information thing that led to the thing Jennifer was taking about, how Rudy paid for—his security went out—when he was out dating—I‘m using a nice word for it—Judith Nathan.  These are the kinds of issues that didn‘t matter when these guys weren‘t front-runners.  But now they do matter. 

MICHAEL CROWLEY, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  I think people are realizing we are in the final crunch.  If you don‘t have momentum now, you don‘t have a lot of time to start rising up or bringing the other guy down.  You can‘t rise above the fray.  For a long time Rudy thought he could coast above it all on the power of his celebrity.  In Rudy‘s case, in particular, I think he‘s seen Romney has it figured out in Iowa and New Hampshire.  He can‘t coast on his national celebrity anymore.  So, you got to start swinging.   

MATTHEWS:  Are we looking, Steve, for the next three, four weeks, all the way through the holidays—are we going to see nothing but scum, basically, on each of these candidates?  That‘s what is going to be raised by the other guys. 

HAYES:  It will be interesting to see what happens around the holidays.  I think certainly we‘re going to see that in the next three weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  Is anybody going to look better than they do now come Christmas? 

HAYES:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Jennifer, is anyone going to look shinier? 

DONAHUE:  I think they will, Chris.  You know what, someone will, because someone—Last night, it was John McCain and Huckabee—there are candidates in that field smart enough to know that if Romney and Giuliani want to have a mud fight, they‘re best to stay above it. 

MATTHEWS:  Huckabee looks like Lockenvar (ph) right now.  We‘ll see how long that lasts.  We‘ll be back with round table.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to round table.  I want to start with Jennifer.  I was offended, I have to tell you, by the question in that debate.  I was offended that the candidates answered it.  Why are we in America, when we‘re trying to end religious wars over in Iraq—we‘re trying to settle down people on religious lines.  Why are we asking sectarian questions of our candidates for president?  A sectarian question, meaning asking where you stand on the literal nature of the bible.  That‘s a sectarian question. 

Some people have different attitudes about the literal nature of the Bible.  Some are more fundamentalist.  That‘s what religious wars in the West have been fought over for 2,000 years.  Why are we going back to that and testing our presidents? 

DONAHUE:  I think you‘re absolutely right.  I, too, was personally offended by that question.  I think it‘s one of the dangers in having the Youtube questioners.  Although, of course, those were looked at by CNN.  It‘s not like it passed through, somehow.  It seemed directed at Romney.  I found that upsetting.  I think realistically—I work for a school that‘s harbored in a Catholic College.  People of faith are not discriminatory people by nature.  So, if there‘s a concern that Romney, for example, doesn‘t have a literal interpretation of the Bible and he‘s forced to answer that, that‘s really setting a tone that I think is quite dangerous. 

MATTHEWS:  Especially when you are appealing to people who are fundamentalists, Michael. 

DONAHUE:  You are—

MATTHEWS:  Michael. 

CROWLEY:  I think in an ideal world religiosity would be left out of it.  We‘ve come out of an administration where I think it played a really important role.  I think there are indications that were people who were shaping our policy who felt like there may have been sort of a divine element to decisions they were making.  And so I think it is quite proper now for us to want to know the extent to which people may be following that model in the future. 

MATTHEWS:  But in their—this isn‘t a public policy question last night.  They didn‘t ask how will the Bible guide you as president, which might be a very fair question.  It was what do you think is the meaning of the Bible as a human being, a question that could be asked to anybody, not as a public policy leader. 

HAYES:  I just don‘t have that much of a problem with it.  These are presidential candidates.  They have to be able to field these kinds of questions and other questions that some other people might find more offensive.  To the extent that it seems to be targeting Mitt Romney, that‘s a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Ask me on television what I think of transubstantiation, or ask me what I think of exorcism.  These are ridiculous questions to ask in a secular context, ridiculous questions.

HAYES:  I think Mike makes a good point.  We‘ve been talking a lot more about religion.  It actually goes back to Bill Clinton‘s administration. 

MATTHEWS:  I have an idea, let‘s stop.  Thank you, Stephen Hayes.  Thank you Michael Crowley.  Thank you Jennifer Donahue.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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