updated 12/12/2007 4:41:40 PM ET 2007-12-12T21:41:40

Guests: Jerry Della Femina, Tyler Drumheller, Jonathan Capehart, Elizabeth Bumiller, Julie Mason

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  So what are we deciding?  What is this great country of ours coming up with in this campaign?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight we pick the polls apart.  A new poll shows the only Republican who could beat a Democrat in the 2008 election, and it tells us also the only Democrat who can beat the Republicans.  And a new poll tells us who is happier with the choices befronting them right now, Republicans or Democrats?  We‘ll dig into the latest numbers in the 2008 horse race in a moment.

Plus, going negative.  Mitt Romney launched the first intra-party attack ad in this presidential campaign.  His target, the candidate beating him in the polls right now, Mike Huckabee.  We‘ll take you to the front lines of the 2008 ad wars in a moment.

Later, we‘ll uncover new information about the CIA torture tapes.  Did the agency erase them to protect themselves or to protect this country?

Then, what don‘t voters like about one-time frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney?  More on the campaigns with “New York Times” columnist Frank Rich.  And don‘t miss “The Politics Fix” later in the hour.

We begin with polls apart, taking them apart, the latest numbers.  “The New York Times” and CBS News have a new poll out.  Hillary Clinton leads the Democratic field with 44 percent.  This is nationwide.  Obama‘s at 27, Edwards down at 11.  That‘s nationwide, those numbers.  On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani leads with 22 percent.  But catch this, Mike Huckabee is at 21 percent, 1 point off the pace.  Mitt Romney‘s at third at 16 points.

In a separate poll by CNN, we see some very interesting general election match-up polls.  The headline is good news for the Democrats because Rudy Giuliani loses to Hillary Clinton by 6 points, to Obama by 7 points, to Edwards by 9 points.  He does better against Rudy than anybody.  Mitt Romney loses to Hillary Clinton by 11.  He loses to Obama by 13.  He loses to John Edwards by 22.  Mike Huckabee loses to Clinton by 10, to Obama by 15, to Edwards by 25.

Get the drift?  Edwards is looking good here.

John McCain is the only Republican with reason to smile.  He beats Hillary, and he‘s the only one that beat anybody, really.  He beats Hillary by 2.  He ties Obama, still loses to Edwards by 8.  Again, Edwards is the strongest Democrat.

Here to talk about the numbers and some new campaign television ads, our NBC News chief White House correspondent, David Gregory, and veteran advertising executive Jerry Della Femina.

David Gregory, you‘ve been out there all over the place.  You‘ve watched this.  Does it surprise you that the strongest Democrat is Edwards, the strongest Republican is McCain?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think in both cases, you have to recognize that they do have some national profile here.  Both have been national candidates before.  McCain is a national figure because of his role in the Senate.  Edwards has been a national candidate in the past, has done this before.  So I think name recognition does play a certain role here.

I also think, when it comes to McCain, it speaks to some strength among independent voters.  I mean, he‘s counting on, in New Hampshire, when you start putting him up against a Democrat.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess the question to you, Jerry, as well, is, why do the candidates who seem to be strongest in a general election setting, who look like the strongest champion to send into the fight in November next year—why aren‘t they doing well in their own parties?

JERRY DELLA FEMINA, ADVERTISING EXECUTIVE:  Well (INAUDIBLE) right now, if I was McCain, I would run an ad tonight saying, Has anyone seen the polls?  I‘m the only one who can beat Hillary.  I‘m tied with Obama.  And let me tell you, since Edwards is not going to be running against me, he beats me, so what?

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the Edwards ad, Jerry and David.  Let‘s take a look at the latest ad from Edwards.  He‘s running it in South Carolina.  He‘s playing up the fact that he‘s a Southerner, which he made that point last night on the show, saying that the last two Democrats to win the White House talked like he does.  Let‘s listen to this latest ad by John Edwards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If you‘re looking for heroes, don‘t look to me and don‘t look to Elizabeth.  We have support.  We have health care.  We have the American people behind us.  (INAUDIBLE)  They are the ones that we speak for.  They are the ones that we stand up for.  And Elizabeth and I decided, in the quiet of a hospital room after 12 hours of tests and after getting very bad news, what we were going to spend our lives doing.  For all those (INAUDIBLE) We‘re not going to quietly go away.  Instead, we‘re going to go out and fight for what it is we believe in.

It is time for our party, the Democratic Party, to show a little backbone, to have a little depth, stand up for working men and women.  If we are not their voice, they will never have a voice.

I‘m John Edwards and I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Jerry, is that ad going to work in South Carolina?

DELLA FEMINA:  It‘s a fine ad.  It will work in South Carolina.  But it‘ll only work—I mean, we‘re advertising people.  We don‘t make miracles.  The fact is, by the time they come to a commercial, frankly, there isn‘t anyone who is going to change their minds.  I mean, if someone is for John Edwards, they‘re going to absolutely react to that commercial.  And if they‘re not, they‘re not going to be swayed by it.  So I think that it‘s preaching to the converted.

GREGORY:  Well, I have to say...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do people like you get big agency fees, if these ads don‘t work?

DELLA FEMINA:  I have no idea.  Let me tell you, the ads work only if you‘re—you know, for your people.  I don‘t think that advertising really can sway anyone.  I think the last political commercial that worked was Ronald Reagan saying, It‘s morning in America.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DELLA FEMINA:  And let me tell you, that was—he was winning anyway.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to David.  What do you think of this ad? 

Obviously, this guy is trying to sell his Southern roots here.

GREGORY:  That‘s part of it.  I think there‘s something else.  I think that embedded within that ad is a message for Iowans and also for South Carolinians, who are working people who may feel that there‘s a fairness issue at stake in this election—the loss of manufacturing jobs, the inaccessibility of health care, globalization, all sort of like a perfect storm coming to make a lot of people‘s economic and financial lives a lot more difficult.  I think that that is a big issue among grass roots Democratic voters, who feel like all of this is ganging up against them and they want somebody who will fight to stand up for them.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s an ad coming up from Mitt Romney.  It‘s running now, the first ad used by a Democrat (ph), him, of course, against another Republican.  He‘s tearing into Huckabee, who‘s beating him now dramatically in Iowa.  Here‘s the first real nasty ad from Romney against the guy who‘s now the frontrunner in that first caucus state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Mitt Romney and I approved this message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Two former governors, two good family men, both pro-life, both support a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage.  The difference?  Mitt Romney stood up and vetoed in-state tuition for illegal aliens, opposed driver‘s licenses for illegals.  Mike Huckabee supported in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants.  Huckabee even supported taxpayer-funded scholarships for illegal aliens. 

On immigration, the choice matters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David, it‘s clear that Romney knows the score and he‘s losing.

GREGORY:  That‘s exactly right.  And this is just a classic wedge ad on an issue—I‘ve been out in Iowa, where these issues come up.  Immigration comes up again and again as an issue of national security, as an issue of fairness, as an issue of competence.  And the base in Iowa, conservative voters, want to know that their nominee is going to be tough on immigration.

This is where Romney‘s trying to score points and change the subject from some of his weaknesses, whether it‘s questions about his Mormon faith or other issues.

MATTHEWS:  You know, when I look at this, Jerry, people are not embarrassed by saying they‘re against illegal immigration.  The media may be liberal, it may be more pro-illegal immigration.  Sometimes you think that‘s the way people talk in the media.  But clearly, the people out in the country have no problem telling pollsters they‘re against illegal immigration in this country and they‘ll vote for the candidate who fights illegal immigration.

DELLA FEMINA:  That‘s right.  And that‘s what—the politicians are looking at that and saying, This is the way to go.  I don‘t do political advertising because I don‘t rally like to advertise anything that you can‘t give back if it doesn‘t work.  And that‘s what most political advertising is.  I think that they‘re pandering to and looking at whatever the people want, and they‘re changing their positions.  They change them from—if it was a product, if every politician was a product, they would not get those commercials past the networks because a lot of the things that they say are not true.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, this is obviously true.  We got a problem here. 

Let‘s look at Huckabee‘s personal response.  He came right off this.  They‘re doing it now.  If they see an ad they don‘t like, they come back and talk about it.  Here‘s Mike Huckabee, the frontrunner now in Iowa, responding to the first negative ad against him from Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m somewhat flattered in that I seem to be the recipient of the first negative attack ad in the Republican primary.  That‘s the sign of desperation on the part of an opponent who feels that his only way of winning is to attack and to destroy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David, clearly, he‘s playing to the sensibilities of those Iowa caucus attenders, who don‘t like nasty.

GREGORY:  Right.  That was just what I was going to say.  I mean, it‘s not on the merits, it‘s on the style.  And he‘s had this debate.  He‘ll have it later this week, when the Republicans debate tomorrow, in fact, in Iowa, where they‘ll talk about the substance of it.  But that‘s exactly right.  The message is, you know, Look, this guy‘s desperate.  He‘s playing rough.  Is that really what we want?

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Jerry, would you use Oprah Winfrey, who had this big powerhouse weekend with Obama out there, endorsing him on the stump at four big stops, huge audiences, 30,000 people almost down there in South Carolina?  Would you put an ad together with her and him, if you were him?

DELLA FEMINA:  Absolutely.  You know, I would use Oprah Winfrey to sell anything.  And certainly, she‘s doing a great job for him and she‘s an asset.  And absolutely put her in a commercial with him.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  If you were selling a product for anything, airplane tickets or whatever, would you use Oprah?

DELLA FEMINA:  Anything that she‘ll stand up and sell, I would be behind it.  I think that she...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

DELLA FEMINA:  ... she reaches people.

MATTHEWS:  I want you to respond to this, David.  Here‘s a comparison of ads between the Clinton and Obama ads out in Iowa right now.  Let‘s take a look at the comparison, and you respond.

GREGORY:  Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It takes strength and experience to bring about change.  I have a very clear record of 35 years fighting for children and families, fighting for working people, fighting for our future.  I will stand up for you every single day in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  America, our moment is now!  I don‘t want to spend the next year or the next four years re-fighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s.  I don‘t want to pit red America against blue America!  I want to be the president of the United States of America!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David?

GREGORY:  You know, it‘s a real clear contrast in styles.  There‘s poetry and then there‘s prose.  Obama is poetry and Hillary Clinton in this ad is prose.  He‘s trying to make people feel something, become part of a movement, campaign that can make a difference.  She‘s talking about strength and experience and the ability to fight to get things done.

Let‘s remember, in Iowa, and for Democrats across the country, they don‘t want to lose again.  They feel like it‘s within their grasp and they want somebody who knows how to fight the fight.  This is about Hillary Clinton saying, I know how to take on the Republicans, and that‘s something that Democrats do want to hear.

MATTHEWS:  What about, Jerry—do they want to hear—they want to hear victory, of course, but do they want to hear fighting?  Do they want more of the Bickersons the next four and eight years, Hillary fighting nastily with somebody who‘s got 49 percent of the vote, she‘s got 51 or—do they want that for eight more years?

DELLA FEMINA:  They want to see something—they want to know—I think everyone has pretty much made up their mind who they really want to vote for.  I don‘t know what they‘ll say, but they really know where they‘re going to go.  And what they want to hear is something that will inspire them.  And that‘s why Obama‘s message was very strong and very good.  While she‘s trying to talk her way into it, he‘s saying, Follow me, I‘m going to lead you, I‘m going to be a great leader.  And he won that particular match-up.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have a theory about why Hillary‘s not doing well and why Barack‘s doing well.  We‘ll talk about that in the next segment.  But let me ask you this, David.  The whole feeling right now seems to be that Barack is moving up.  Is that your sense, looking at all the polls, that he‘s moving up and she‘s got to figure out a way, post-Oprah, of slowing him down?

GREGORY:  Right.  I mean, I think he‘s in a position where he wants to be.  He‘s finding his voice.  He‘s attacking Hillary Clinton in a way that‘s resonating, and he‘s got some momentum on his side.  She‘s coming off this idea where there was setpieces for a long time where she is the national frontrunner and was way ahead.  Now the electorate is really engaged in these early states, and he‘s bringing to bear strengths like Oprah Winfrey.  You know, so it‘s a real fight.  It‘s a real contest.  I think he‘s where he wants to be and now—you know, let‘s not forget, it‘s a dead heat.  And she‘s still got the edge in these early states, so it‘s going to be tight.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, David Gregory, and thank you to great ad man Jerry Della Femina.

I have a big thought here, which is I‘m focusing now not just on the

campaigns, I‘m looking at the American people and what they‘re trying to

decide here.  And I have a hunch—I want to test it in the next segment -

of what people are going through right now.  Everybody‘s watching this campaign now.  Everybody‘s getting ready for the holidays, but they know we got to pick a new president.  And I really do think people are trying to figure this thing out in terms of their emotions, as well as their brains.

Anyway, what does the CIA‘s destruction of a videotape showing a top terror suspect being waterboarded say about the tactic itself?  What‘s it say about torture?  Again, what‘s it say about us?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The head of the CIA testified today in a closed hearing in Washington about the agency‘s destruction of videotapes of interrogations.  The Justice Department, the CIA‘s inspector general, and House and Senate Intelligence Committees have all launched investigations into why these tapes were destroyed and who authorized their destruction.

Tyler Drumheller is the former chief of European operations for the CIA.  As a man, as a spook, as an expert, what do you think of this whole thing, interrogation of Zubaydah, one of the top al Qaeda people, and the destruction of hundreds of hours of tapes of his situation?

TYLER DRUMHELLER, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF EUROPE OPERATIONS:  I think the

it‘s—the problem is destroying things that come in from the field like that is not—is a bad idea.  It‘s something that needs to be done.  It‘s something that goes against the grain of what—of the entire history of the agency.  When things come in, you don‘t—you can‘t just destroy them.

On the other hand, I can‘t believe that Jose Rodriguez and the other people that they talk about in this would do this without checking up the line with Dexter (ph), with Goss, with the other people in the committees.  So some—it‘ll be interesting to see what the committees turn up.  But if you have something like this, you can‘t just destroy it because you don‘t like what it shows.

MATTHEWS:  Your sense, again, as a spook—do you believe they ever destroy anything, that there‘s always a—no, the reason I ask this is because I think there‘s a copy of Mary Myers‘s (ph) diary somewhere, the woman who had the affair with Jack Kennedy.  Somebody can say they burned it, but they got it somewhere.

DRUMHELLER:  It always seems there‘s something—there‘s one copy left someplace.  It always seems like that.  But it‘s—in this case, it‘s hard to say.  This was so tightly compartmented, so few people knew about this that it would be difficult—it would be interesting—it‘ll be interesting to see what the committees come up with, but it‘s—the real question is why—is this the type of thing that an intelligence service should be doing?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It seems to me—I saw “The Lives of Others.”  I‘m sure you saw it, the East German movie about the Stasi and how they learned to interrogate, a very intelligent film about how, if you‘re trying to interrogate somebody and they keep using the exact same words in describing what happened, you know they‘re lying because they memorized their stories.  So why wouldn‘t you keep tapes for training purposes?

DRUMHELLER:  Well, you would.  If you had tapes like this, you‘d want to show people how—what to do if you were being interrogated and you would want to look at it for experience.  You‘d want to learn lessons from it.  This wasn‘t all done willy-nilly.  There were very specific guidelines about they could do and couldn‘t do.  I mean, it sounds like sometimes, when people are talking about this, that it‘s like Abu Ghraib, like they were just doing this.  Very—this was a very organized process.  And again, I don‘t know all the details of it because I wasn‘t read into it...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DRUMHELLER:  ... but it was a very—a very detailed set of requirements that they had to fill and-...

MATTHEWS:  What happens if somebody dies during waterboarding?

DRUMHELLER:  Well, then...

MATTHEWS:  Is it murder?  Is it murder?

DRUMHELLER:  If they die during waterboarding?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DRUMHELLER:  You would have to look at it and see.  I—it‘s—I would think so.  But it‘s—again, that‘s my opinion. 

MATTHEWS:  Because I would think, if I was being water-boarded, my fear would be that, like, in Marine boot camp, yes, the guy would have a rough week or two, but his job is to push you as hard as he can. 

DRUMHELLER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  In this case, obviously, a more harsh situation.  But, clearly if you‘re water-boarding a real bad guy, the bad guy must figure, hey, they just might do it here. 

DRUMHELLER:  Well, that‘s the purpose.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s how they—well, we‘re watching it right now.  They might just talk.  We‘re watching a water-boarding, which is not too much fun.  But the idea to make the person think they‘re drowning.  And one way to convince them of that is to convince them that you intend to drown them. 

DRUMHELLER:  Well, they—you‘re dealing with some very bad people.  Again, these are very dedicated, serious terrorists.  And, if they don‘t believe it‘s going to work, it doesn‘t work anyway.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they believe they‘re drowning, right? 

DRUMHELLER:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they believe they‘re dying, then? 

DRUMHELLER:  They would—that‘s—that would be the only way it would really work. 

(LAUGHTER)

DRUMHELLER:  So...

MATTHEWS:  So, they have to—the catch-22 is, they have to believe you‘re willing to kill them. 

DRUMHELLER:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, if that was—if that‘s what you have got use it for, that‘s—that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  And how does—how do you push them to the point of talking and telling truth that‘s important in a ticking time bomb or a ticking clock sort of situation, at the same time, you don‘t kill them? 

DRUMHELLER:  Well, that‘s—I‘m not an expert in doing this. 

But they have—but I think you have—the people that do this have

to be trained very carefully to do it and know how to do it.  And it‘s why

it‘s something, again, it brings the whole question of, is this the type of thing that you should be doing?

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  From the time you‘re a kid, in most roughhouse situations, a kid will hold another kid‘s arm behind his back until he says uncle, or whatever, or give me some of your candy or TV.  It works.  A little bit of pain gets a little bit of price paid, right?

Why doesn‘t torture work? 

DRUMHELLER:  Torture doesn‘t work in the sense that people will say anything to get—to make you stop.  And then, for the moment...

MATTHEWS:  But, if they know that they have to tell you the right thing, won‘t they tell you the right thing? 

DRUMHELLER:  They may tell you the right thing.  But you don‘t know that there‘s always going to—that what they‘re telling you is the right thing plus something else, it‘s a version of the right thing, it‘s just something to make you stop. 

And in—I would think, if you‘re being tortured, you‘re not just thinking, OK, I have got to think of what‘s exactly right.  You think, I‘m just going to say anything I can that comes into my head. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean, if somebody tells you, I‘m going to cut your fingers off or your whatever off, and I‘m going to do it in 10 minutes unless you tell me the—and I know the right answer—I‘m just testing you right now.  Don‘t you think the person would give the right answer? 

DRUMHELLER:  Well, I probably would, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I just think common sense tells you if somebody says, I‘m

going to remove part of you permanently if you don‘t answer this question -

and, by the way, I know the answer.  So, you‘re going to give me the answer.  I want a confirmation right now. 

DRUMHELLER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that what the whole medieval torture was all about, the Inquisition was all about, getting people to admit what they had done, or...

DRUMHELLER:  But it also gets them to admit things they haven‘t done. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DRUMHELLER:  And that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

DRUMHELLER:  And you can lead people into things—into areas that they don‘t—that they don‘t want to go. 

They—they will—people that are being—all this aside, the harsh interrogations, torture or whatever aside...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we were just watching it done.  If it doesn‘t work, why do they do it? 

DRUMHELLER:  I don‘t know. 

I think—at the time, I believe, after 9/11, people were so caught up in saying we have to do something to make this work.  We just can‘t wait and do the traditional interrogation.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  President Bush clearly believes it works, water-boarding.

(CROSSTALK)

DRUMHELLER:  And so people believed that this was absolutely necessary. 

The people that do it, there are people that absolutely believe this

works and are very committed, good people that absolutely believe this is -

this is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Good torture? 

DRUMHELLER:  Well, good torture...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know.

DRUMHELLER:  They...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the business they have chosen. 

Hey, thank you, Tyler—Tyler Drumheller. 

Anyway, up next, Bill Clinton takes issue with those who say his wife is calculating. 

Plus, stick around for the freezing cold “Big Number” tonight.  It is about cold. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there?  Well, Bill Clinton wants to warm up his wife for those who see her as too much the cold calculator. 

Here‘s Bill Clinton up in Iowa defrosting Hillary. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Then she came to Arkansas to be with me.  When she came down there and we got married, I was a defeated candidate for Congress with a $26,000 salary and a $42,000 campaign debt. 

(LAUGHTER)

B. CLINTON:  Now, if she were half as calculating as somebody says, that‘s a really great way to run for president some day, isn‘t it? 

(LAUGHTER)

B. CLINTON:  I think I will go to a state I have barely seen and married some failed politician with a $26,000 salary and a $42,000 debt. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, enough of the gooey gumdrops. 

Here‘s the straight scoop on Hillary‘s decision to hook her cart to big Bill.  It‘s from Sally Bedell‘s new book, “For Love of Politics.”

Quote: “In 1974, she, Hillary, told a colleague that Bill Clinton would be the president some day.  When her colleague scoffed at the idea, Hillary said, ‘Some day, you will eat your words,‘ and then headed down to Arkansas.”

Whatever her other emotions about Bill—and they‘re really none of our business—Hillary Clinton made a bet on Bill Clinton‘s political future, and it was a darn good bet.  It‘s nonsense for him to now deny that fact. 

Mike Huckabee just got—just took a—a shot, a religious shot, at Mitt Romney‘s Mormonism. 

Here‘s Zev Chafets of “The New York Times Magazine” reporting—quote

“I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion.”

Here‘s Huckabee‘s response: “I think it‘s a religion.  I really don‘t know that much about it.”

Then he asked—he thought it was over with, the interview.  And then he went to this.  And this—this is what Huckabee added to the conversation out of nowhere—quote—this is Mike Huckabee nice, guy—

quote—“Don‘t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”

That was the little comment that‘s going to appear in “The New York Times Magazine.”  “Don‘t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”—that‘s directly from the mouth of Mike Huckabee.

Anyway, it‘s time now for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  Iowans not only have to deal with reporters and campaign staffers descending on their humble state.  They also have to deal with ice storms, nasty, frigid ones, like the one that is wreaking havoc there right now.

In fact, early this morning, the campaigns started canceling events, scheduled events, all over the state.  How many in total?  At least 21.  It‘s a tribute to the candidates that they don‘t want someone getting killed so they can get to one of their rallies. 

Twenty-one events, that‘s our “Big Number” because of the ice storms in Iowa.  Even the campaigns have to stop because of Mother Nature. 

Up next, what are voters really looking for in this election cycle?  Why do things seem to be working so well for—so swimmingly for Obama and Huckabee, and not so great for Romney and Hillary?

I have a plan.  I have a theory.  I am going to will share with you.  I think I‘m right about what‘s going on in this election.  We are going to talk about it with some experts.  Why are the voters rejecting these seemingly perfect candidates like Hillary and Romney?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks plunged after the Federal Reserve cut a key interest rate a quarter of a point, as expected.  But Wall Street had hoped for a more aggressive half-point cut.  Now, as a result, the Dow Jones industrials tumbled 294 points.  The S&P 500 fell 38.  The Nasdaq lost more than 66 points. 

In cutting rates for the third time in as many meetings, the Fed said in an accompanying statement that economic growth is slowing, and it cited the intensification of the housing correction.  The Fed said the cut should help promote moderate growth over time, and left the door open to more cuts.

Meantime, oil prices soared, as the ice storm in the Midwest and fog in Texas interrupted oil flows.  Crude gained $2.16 in New York, closing at $90.02 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Why are Obama and Huckabee rising in the polls?  What do people see in Obama and Huckabee that they don‘t see in Hillary and Romney? 

Frank Rich—well, everybody buys “The New York Times” on Sunday just to read Frank Rich.  Everybody in my family goes directly to the Rich column. 

And, when you‘re not in the paper, we should send the paper back, Mr.

Rich. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But, luckily, you‘re in there with a gigantic spread, 1,500 words, right? 

FRANK RICH, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  It is, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Every week.  You must write all week, especially Friday.

RICH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.

Well, let me give you my theory. 

RICH:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  I think—I think that, for rightly or wrongly, when people think about Hillary Clinton and their emotions are exposed, they feel that she thinks she‘s better than us, morally, as well as intellectually. 

I think, when people think and feel about Obama, they feel that he makes us better than us.  He makes us feel better than we thought we were.  He makes us feel generous, tolerant, upbeat, fearless, future-oriented.  Just to be for Obama makes you feel better.  Being for Hillary makes you feel subservient to her, because she‘s perfect.  She has had to deal, as she put it, with evil men.  She‘s had to deal with people who are inferior to her morally all her life. 

That‘s my hunch.  You like the feel of being for Obama.  You don‘t like the feel of being for Hillary.  That‘s my hunch.

RICH:  Well, I would half agree. 

I certainly agree with the part about Obama.  And I think part of the reason that he makes feel better about themselves is that a lot of Americans feel it would be a great thing and say something positive about the country to elect an African-American president, for starters. 

I also think some of that, in some quarters, applies to Hillary Clinton, because I do think a lot of people are inspired by her, and for a parallel reason.  Some people are inspired by the idea of a first woman president. 

That said, I think what you describe as the sort of the—the feeling that Hillary Clinton is superior and knows more than we do, that‘s kind of a congenital liberal problem.  And it‘s sort of true—it‘s sort of the—you know, the stereotype of a lot of liberals in the Democratic Party.

And Obama‘s sort of the exception.  Somehow he, at least for the time being, has gotten out of that fray.  His manner, possibly his race—I don‘t know—but his message have lifted him above that sort of pious liberalism, which, by the way, could be ascribed to other Democratic contenders, not just Hillary Clinton, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, the good question in the last campaign—and neither candidate did so well—and I think Bush may have edged out John Kerry on that—to get to your point, if your car is broke down along the side of the road, and you‘re trying to fix a tire or whatever, your engine is steamed up, over-boiled or whatever, who‘s going to stop and help you, Hillary, Obama?  Who wins?  Does either one of them win it out?  Or are they both too big-picture to stop and help you? 

RICH:  Well, I think, in this campaign, they would not only both stop and help you, but they would change the tire themselves. 

(LAUGHTER)

RICH:  I‘m joking. 

And there may be also a gender issue there that you would...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RICH:  ... you would think the man would do it. 

But—but I do think it‘s a continuing problem among Democrats in general, if not Obama.  For instance, that‘s why, even if it‘s unfair, the $400 haircut keeps coming back to haunt John Edwards.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RICH:  And sort of the brilliance of George Bush was, even though he was an aristocrat, an Andover-Yale-Harvard blue blood, he somehow convinced the American public that he would change that tire and buy you a beer, while he had a non-alcoholic beer himself...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RICH:  ... and share it with you. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at the Republicans now in the same thought.

Romney‘s perfect.  I mean, Dana Milbank at “The Washington Post” just nailed him for his perfect haircut.  I have a theory about people who have great hairlines are probably more pro-Clinton than those who don‘t.  That‘s just an old theory of mine.

But the new theory seems to be, I guess, really, all the people I know who are for Romney are rich. 

RICH:  How—I can‘t say I know that many people who are for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know anybody who—I don‘t know anybody who is for him who‘s not rich.  And it just seems to be the fact out there.

Romney‘s perfect.  He‘s never had a hangover, never done anything wrong.  He‘s always been loyal to his wife.  He‘s done everything right, again, perfection.  And along comes Huckabee, who—well, I don‘t know Huckabee is selling. 

You are bigger on Huckabee than I am, in terms of understanding him. 

What do you think is selling Huckabee over Romney? 

RICH:  Well, I think Huckabee—I think you just hit on one very important point. 

Huckabee does come across as human.  He also comes across—although his policies, in my view, are—some of them are outlandish, and these things are coming out like quarantining people with AIDS and so on that are terrible. 

But, that said, his manner, unlike Romney‘s, is warm.  At the debate, particularly at the YouTube debate, when everybody was bashing immigrants, he—you know, he said, we‘re a better country than that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RICH:  He comes always as more lower-case Christian. 

Also, he lost 100 pounds, so he‘s—he‘s had hair and waistline out -

out of place.  I wouldn‘t underestimate that, in terms of humanizing him, as opposed to, indeed, someone like Romney, who, as you said, is so perfect and has never, as far as we know, committed any sin in his life, is the only major Republican candidate, besides Huckabee, I guess...

               

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RICH:  ... who has been married once, and so on. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, the thing that‘s ironic is that, if we were filling a CEO job position, we would be looking for the person with the most experience, the one who has solved problems before, who‘s got a real track record of achievement. 

And, yet, Romney and Hillary have those things.  And, also, other candidates, like Dodd and Richardson and Biden, all the ones with experience, have been pushed to the back of the line.  We‘re looking for somebody who‘s either a fundamentalist or an idealist.  It doesn‘t seem like we want to deal with the nuts and bolts—with a nuts-and-bolts-type person. 

RICH:  Well, I think you‘re right. 

And I think there are two things operating there.  First of all, people want a new vision for the country.  And—and, in a way, Huckabee and Obama, although they have almost antithetical political views, are two sides of that coin.  One may have a fundamentalist view.  One may have Barack Obama‘s view.  But it‘s just, turn the page; let‘s have something new and different. 

Also, we just are coming out of a presidency that was billed as the CEO presidency, and had at top policy positions, like Cheney and Rumsfeld, people with great resumes, proven accomplishments; and it‘s turned out to be, in the view of many Americans, as incompetent a presidency as we could have. 

So we‘ve had our CEO—our flirtation with CEO.  We want something different, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m concerned a bit about liberal journalists being very nice to Huckabee, almost treating him like a mascot.  A lot of people are writing good stuff about him and they haven‘t really looked at his position papers.  Here‘s a man who says we need to have guns in this country, not for sporting and not for self-protection, which a lot of people believe—and most people certainly believe in both those.  But he believes we need to have guns to protect ourselves against the denial of our rights by our government.  That‘s pretty strong stuff.

RICH:  He raised his hand that he didn‘t believe in evolution.  We‘re in the 21st century, where how we compete with China and other places in this new technology—technological world is of paramount importance to America.  So I think this will pass.  I think people that were getting a little bored in the press.  And here‘s a new flavor.  It will probably fade soon. 

But whether it fades with the voters in the Republican party remains to be seen, however much journalists may ultimately pick apart his record. 

MATTHEWS:  All I know is we have the greatest universities in the world, practically all, and we have the greatest medicine, in terms of advancement in the world, and everybody comes here, whether they‘re a dictator, or dictator‘s son, to get educated or saved—their life saved; and we‘re not going to have that if we kick science out the door. 

RICH:  That‘s a tragedy. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks to Judaism and Christianity have both embraced science.  Churchill figured that out.  It‘s why our cultures have done so well in the world, and the others haven‘t, because—well, not so much all the others.  But we‘ve done well because our religions have embraced science.  Truth will set us free. 

RICH:  I agree. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve got to go.  I‘ve got to go on that, because that‘s my lecture.  Frank Rich, you‘re the best columnist in America.  I read you assiduously.   

Up next, who do the voters like in the presidential field and which candidates from which party do voters from the other part like?  This is fascinating.  Who‘s the most popular Democrat among Republicans, the most popular Republican among Democrats?  We‘ll tell you in the political fix straight ahead.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time for the politics fix.  Let‘s go right to the round table.  Elizabeth Bumiller is with the “New York Times.”  She‘s the author of a smashing new book, “Condoleezza Rice, An American Life.”  Jonathan Capehart of the “Washington Post,” of course, is with us often.  And Julie Mason, as well, from the “Houston Chronicle.” 

Let‘s take a look at this.  Among potential Democratic voters right now, here‘s how the favorites break down.  This is nationwide.  These are favorabilities.  Clinton at 68, Obama at 54, and Edwards at 36.  Let‘s look at the Republicans as well.  Among potential Republican voters, Giuliani most favorable at only 41 percent.  You‘ll notice here, Romney‘s at 36, Huckabee at 30. 

No Republican enjoys majority support from his own party.  Elizabeth, this is a strength for the Dems.  They are much more inclined to like the candidates at the front of the field. 

ELIZABETH BUMILLER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  That‘s right.  It shows a lot of trouble for the Republicans.  This close to Iowa, they are still having a hard time settling on somebody they like.  There‘s problems with almost every Republican candidate.  Giuliani has had a couple of rough weeks on all these allegations and reports about his—the security for his girlfriend, his then girlfriend, now wife.  And Romney has made his speech on his religion.  You know, we had received mixed reports at best.  So the Republicans are still searching around, really. 

MATTHEWS:  Really a kind of flat liner operation here right now in terms of—I mean, I‘m looking at these numbers.  Nobody breaks much of 40 percent popularity.  These are favorability numbers.  If you think about Hillary—and everybody says, John, that Hillary‘s controversial and polarizing and you either hate her or love her.  Well, 68 percent like her among Democrats. 

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Right.  That number was actually very surprising.  I think, wasn‘t it Karl Rove who said—actually, everyone says Hillary Clinton has high negatives. 

MATTHEWS:  Outside of the party.

CAPEHART:  Negatives in the 40 percent range and she‘s road kill.  And this actually, after two months of kind of bad news for Senator Clinton, this is actually a bit of good news for her. 

MATTHEWS:  The Clintons are popular in the Democratic party, that‘s for sure.  Let me go to Julie.  Julie, it looks to me like the Republicans have a problem.  The dog doesn‘t like the dog food. 

JULIE MASON, “THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE”:  Yes, that‘s one way to put it, Chris.  I thought it was interesting, Fred Thompson doesn‘t register anywhere on these polls.  He‘s down in the single digits with John McCain now.  It‘s true.  It looks like the Republicans haven‘t found their candidate yet.  It seems like Iowa and New Hampshire will have to sort it out for them. 

MATTHEWS:  I really mean that.  They put all the bowls out for the dogs and the dogs are sniffing around and they‘re just walking away from the bowls.  Where‘s the bowl I like?  Nobody seems to go for any of these candidates, where at least the Democrats like Clinton.  They like Obama.  And they like Edwards about more than they like most Republicans in the Republican party.  So here we go. 

Let‘s take a look at this funny part here.  This is cross-dressing, if you will.  This is Republicans—what Democrat Republicans say they like.  The interesting thing is, they like Obama the most.  Look at this, they like Obama the most.  John?  Well, that‘s no surprise.  They least like Hillary.  But Republicans like Obama, African-American guy, interesting background, who‘s come from nowhere and they give him the edge, not by a whole lot. 

CAPEHART:  Not by a whole lot, but I can‘t explain that at all.  Come on. 

MATTHEWS:  It is considered—here‘s what‘s consistent.  Edwards is at 19, pretty close to Obama.  Edwards does the best among the Democrats in taking on the Republicans, which I find consistent here.  Let‘s take a look at who Democrats like on the Republican side.  This doesn‘t surprise me.  They like Giuliani the most.  They like him 24.  They like him the same amount they like McCain, who always does well in these general election match ups.  They don‘t much like Huckabee much.  That‘s a theory I have.  They‘re not going to go for the country mouse too much.  What do you think, Elizabeth?

BUMILLER:  I think Giuliani appeals to a lot of Democrats because he‘s liberal in the social issues.  That‘s a no-brainer.  He‘s pro gay rights.  He‘s pro abortion. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s been for gun control. 

BUMILLER:  Right.  He doesn‘t want us to remember that.  And McCain, of course, has long appealed to a lot of Democratic voters because of his truth telling.  He seems to—has a moderate—except for the war, he‘s had a moderate—

MATTHEWS:  Something about him—let me just offer an opinion—seems authentic.  He also served his country better than anybody‘s ever served it.  Of any of these guys, a lot have been in uniform.  Well, maybe not a lot of them.  Some of them have.  But nobody spent five and a half years being tortured and in prison in Hanoi for their country.  And has spent their life, basically, in that kind of mode, of a lover of his country.  He‘s got quite a track record there. 

CAPEHART:  Sure.  But I think Elizabeth is right.  John McCain appeals to Democrats because he‘s a truth teller, but he‘s a truth teller to George Bush, who the Democrats do not like at all. 

MATTHEWS:  So they like his maverick history? 

CAPEHART:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Julie? 

MASON:  Who doesn‘t like a maverick.  I agree with what Jonathan says 100 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  I know who don‘t like mavericks.  The Republicans don‘t like mavericks.  What are you talking about, Julie?  You betray your roots.  Republicans want a leader, and they want to follow him.  Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. 

We‘ll be right back with the round table.  We‘re going to have of the politic fix when we come back.  You‘re watching it, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back to the politics fix.  John, who was the big winner with Oprah?  My theory is, she gave him a soulful endorsement, not a political endorsement, soul-to-soul.  My soul says he‘s a good soul.  Can that arm him against Hillary‘s—what looks to be a coming attack from Hillary‘s people about his character? 

CAPEHART:  It will protect him if she also walks on water.  Look, Oprah got people into the stadium.  He‘s the one who has to close the deal.  Whether she‘s actually effective, we‘ll know on January 3rd.  I‘m still not there that Oprah is the anointer. 

MATTHEWS:  In the near term, a week or two from now, will his polls be higher because of this big push over the weekend? 

CAPEHART:  I don‘t know, because unlike—Oprah—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s ahead in Iowa now, my friend.  He is clearly ahead. 

CAPEHART:  Bill Clinton will be out a lot more going up to January 3rd

MATTHEWS:  Bill Clinton says he did not—that Hillary did not fall him to Arkansas because he looked like a political winner.  It had nothing to do with her calculation.  Why does he say things like that?

BUMILLER:  What do you expect him to say? 

MATTHEWS:  Nothing.  If you can‘t tell the truth, shut up.  Why does he keep saying stuff that‘s so transparently ridiculous.  Of course she loves the guy.  Nobody‘s questioning that.  But she thought he was a winner.  She told everybody he‘s a winner. 

BUMILLER:  He‘s also a charming person.  He‘s a charming man. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not the point. 

BUMILLER:  She talked about how he looked like a Viking when she first met him. 

MATTHEWS:  Why does she say that she thought he was this looser making

as if 45 wasn‘t a good salary back then.  It‘s always a good salary. 

Why is he out there—Julie, help me here.  You‘re laughing.  Why does Bill Clinton keep saying the incredible—I did not have sexual relations with that woman.  I was against the war in Iraq from the beginning.  Why does he keep laying on this malarkey? 

MASON:  Because he keeps getting away with it.  Now he‘s saying Hillary‘s a changed agent, which certainly is a contradiction to how her opponents have tried to define her.  He can say anything.  He‘s Bill Clinton.  He‘s out there staying stuff. 

MATTHEWS:  He says things like, I‘m not here.  I heard a comedian imitate him one night.  He stood in front of us at one of these press dinners and said, I‘m not here, the ultimate Clinton. 

John, why did he say that his wife didn‘t think he was going to make it?  Why do you say stuff like that? 

CAPEHART:  One, was he just talking off the cuff or was he asked a question?  I often wonder, is he just up there taking like a crazy man or is he answering a question from someone?  Do we know the answer to that?

MATTHEWS:  Or is he the greatest, biggest, most inflated pander-bear in the history of man.  Is that possible.  Julie, by the way, happy birthday. 

MASON:  Oh, thank you very much, Chris.   

MATTHEWS:  I‘m having a birthday too, but it‘s not going to be as fun as yours, because I‘ll be older than you.  But Julie, you are so great.  I love your laugh, because you laugh at my stuff.  It‘s great to have you on.  Let‘s face it, this has been a good week for Barack Obama.  It‘s been a good week for Huckabee.  I agree with Frank Rich, people want either a return to fundamentalism in the Republican party, something pure and clean after the last seven years, or the Democrats want something idealistic, at least right now.  John? 

CAPEHART:  OK, but will idealism win out when people go into the polls?  I‘m not convinced of that.  There are too many huge problems facing the country right now, from the environment, to Iraq, to health care, that I really do wonder, when people go into the voting booth, will they really choose someone because of a soul to soul connection with Oprah or someone they think they might not like, but they respect, and who they think will actually tackle the tough problems, and who can do it. 

BUMILLER:  Maybe this is dating.  That always happens at this point in the campaign.  You look around.  You flirt.  You think about things.  And then you settle down on somebody else.  Maybe. 

MATTHEWS:  But when you begin dating after having been married to someone for a while, that‘s a sign of something, isn‘t it?  I mean, they were all for Rudy, and they were all for Romney, and they were all for Hillary.  And then they said, I think I‘ll date now.  By the way, congratulations on your new book.  Condi Rice, does she have any clout or is she just sort of there now? 

BUMILLER:  Yes, she has some clout.

MATTHEWS:  Is she going to bring peace in the Middle East. 

BUMILLER:  Well, she‘s going to try with the president.  Yes, she has some clout.  She‘ --

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a little late to this game of peacemaking, isn‘t he? 

BUMILLER:  The president, yes.  It took him seven years to get to this point, but he‘s now committed, she says. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s possible that when we‘re both 80, if we make it that long, we won‘t be talking about the Middle East crisis?   

BUMILLER:  I think it‘s possible.  There will be another one. 

MATTHEWS:  That will be my dream.  Condi Rice, I always found her to be an interesting person.  We wish you well with this book, because you‘re a beautiful writer. 

BUMILLER:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And you are a great reporter.  “Condoleezza Rice.”  Thank you all.  It‘s nice to hear the sirens down there, Julie.  It gives us a sense of Cinema Verite here, and we get back to reality.  So much for the idealists.  So much for the fundamentalists like Huckabee and Barack.  We have to go back to the street level crime in Washington and who is going to deal with it. 

Thank you very much, Julie.  Happy birthday Julie Mason.  Thank you Jonathan.  You‘re so sober.  And anyway, Elizabeth Bumiller.

CAPEHART:  Somebody has to be. 

MATTHEWS:  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  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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