updated 12/26/2007 10:52:11 AM ET 2007-12-26T15:52:11

Guests: Kevin Madden, Rep. Anthony Weiner, David Bonior, Rep. Artur Davis, Michael Eric Dyson, Ron Brownstein, Craig Crawford

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The truth hurts, but let‘s hear it.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  The “Hot Topic” tonight, telling the truth.  Did Mitt Romney practice Olympic-grade resume inflation when he said he saw his father march with Martin Luther King?  And what about the New York press, which skewered Rudy Giuliani for something “The New York Times” now reports didn‘t happen.

And Clinton-Obama remain deadlocked in a battle for Iowa and the presidency.  Do the Clintons have something up their sleeve for the home stretch?  Can Obama keep his mo going?  We‘ll talk to strategists from the top three Democratic campaigns.

And big Bill Clinton: Does he still have the touch, or is America‘s most skilled politician too big for this job?  Is Bill helping or hurting Hillary?

And we‘ll give you the “Politics Fix” with Ron Brownstein, Pat Buchanan and Craig Crawford.

But first a comment.  It‘s my job here, as you know, to try and find the truth, to cut through the words from politicians and the copy that runs in the media to find what‘s real.  That‘s what HARDBALL has been for 10 years, whether it‘s cutting through Bill Clinton‘s story about he was ministering to Monica or the Bush crowd‘s claim that we better attack and occupy Iraq quick before they attack us with a nuclear weapon.

Well, this Friday before Christmas, I was stunned to see a page 21 report in the national edition of “The New York Times”—it was page 35 in the local edition—exonerating former mayor Rudy Giuliani of any sneaky bookkeeping on the cost of his security details back when he was in office.  I‘m talking about all that reporting that Rudy had hid, in fact, the cost of his security people when he was seeing then-girlfriend Judith Nathan.  Well, it turns out that that story, which ran for days and drove down Giuliani‘s national poll numbers, perhaps lethally, was, to use a good New York term, verkakte.  He didn‘t hide the cost of those trips to Long Island.

Quote—this is from “The New York Times” today—“All eight of Mr.  Giuliani‘s trips to the Hamptons in 1999 and 2000”—and this is from the morning “Times” this morning—“including the period when his relationship was a secret, were charged to his own mayoral expense account, according to the records.”  “The Times” reports that 99 percent of the cost of those trips that were the subject of all that media hoopla and heat the past month was paid out of the proper account, the mayor‘s.

So I was talking to a Giuliani guy this morning, who asked—it was a good question—So are they going to give back the 10 points in the polls he lost?  That‘s a good question.  Nobody ever said Rudy Giuliani‘s a day at the beach, but at least when he took those days at the beach, he squared it with accounting.  You heard that from “The “New York Times” today and you just heard it here.

If the press accepts the duty to whack candidates like Romney for fudging and inflating their biographies, we better be prepared to defend or knock our own sources of information, like “The New York Times.”  I just did.

And now we turn to Mitt Romney, who seems to be guilty of resume inflation on his way through this presidential campaign.  Here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I am pleased to welcome this good man, our friend from Massachusetts, Governor Mitt Romney.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was two weeks ago in a scripted speech when Mitt Romney tried to address concerns about Mormonism‘s racist past with this.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I saw my father march with Martin Luther King.

SHUSTER:  But the truth is that Romney‘s dad, former Michigan governor George Romney, did not march with Dr. King.

ROMNEY:  If you look at the literature, or look at the dictionary, the term “saw” includes “being aware of” in the sense I‘ve described.  It‘s a figure of speech.  My brother remembers him also marching with Martin Luther King.  And so I—in that sense, I saw him march with Martin Luther King.

SHUSTER:  But again, reporters pressed, Romney‘s dad wasn‘t there.

ROMNEY:  I saw my dad become president of American Motors.  Did that mean you were there for the ceremony?  No.  It‘s a figure of speech.  I saw my father as a champion of Civil Rights.

SHUSTER:  Whatever Romney‘s definition of “saw” is, he and his family could not have seen their dad march with Dr. King because it never happened.  While George Romney did attend King‘s funeral, he never marched with Dr. King and he never faced the challenges of those who bravely did.

Credibility questions have haunted Mitt Romney before.

ROMNEY:  I purchased a gun when I was a young man.  I‘ve been a hunter pretty much all my life.

SHUSTER:  The next day, he acknowledged...

ROMNEY:  Well, I‘m—I‘m not a—I‘m not a big game hunter.  I‘ve made it very clear.  I‘ve always been, if you will, a rodent and rabbit hunter, all right, small—small varmints, if you will.

SHUSTER:  A week ago, he pointed to his policy record on guns, noting...

ROMNEY:  I told you what my position was and what I did as governor, the fact that I received the endorsement of the NRA.

SHUSTER:  But the NRA never endorsed Romney, and they told him that.

ROMNEY:  They said, Well, we didn‘t give you the official endorsement, but they phone banked, members here in Massachusetts, or in Massachusetts, encouraging them to support my candidacy.

SHUSTER (on camera):  All of this as Romney is already under scrutiny for policy changes on abortion and stem cells could play into those Republicans who believe Romney‘s word is not credible.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Des Moines.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Kevin Madden is national press secretary for the Romney campaign.  Kevin, thank you for coming on.  Did Mitt Romney see his father march with Martin Luther King?

KEVIN MADDEN, ROMNEY NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY:  Governor Romney—what he was talking about was a memory of Governor George Romney, who was governor of—of...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

MADDEN:  ... governor of Michigan, marching with Martin Luther—marching in Martin Luther King‘s freedom marches back in 1963 in Grosse Pointe.  As you can remember, historical—there‘s many historical documents that talk about—in many historical accounts, that talk about these marches back in 1963 around the Detroit area and the Grosse Pointe area.

So I think what we have is—and I don‘t—I think the problem that we have here in the discussion that has probably taken a step too far, has been this discussion over the word “saw” and whether or not we should parse what “saw” meant.  I think what Governor Romney was trying to do was make a case and offer a—offer a historical memory of what...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MADDEN:  ... him and his brother, Scott Romney, remember from the memory that their father‘s had with working with Martin Luther King, standing with Martin Luther King...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MADDEN:  ... and working on behalf of Civil Rights.

MATTHEWS:  I just want to get the facts straight.  Did he see him march?  I‘ll say it again.  Did Mitt Romney see his father, George, march?  Did he see...

MADDEN:  He didn‘t—he didn‘t—he couldn‘t have seen him.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t see it.  He didn‘t see it.  But did—did his father...

MADDEN:  Well, no, I think that‘s important...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  I think that‘s an important question, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to get to the truth here.  If you‘re trying to -

if you‘re on the witness stand right now...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... get the truth.  Well, let me...

MADDEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Did George Romney, his father, march with Martin Luther King?

MADDEN:  He marched...

MATTHEWS:  Yes or no.

MADDEN:  ... with Martin Luther King in—yes, he marched with Martin Luther King in the freedom marches of 1963.  And what we...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are there pictures?  Did he actually march with him?  I don‘t know if that‘s true.  Did he?

MADDEN:  I wasn‘t there.  I don‘t know.  What we have...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re the press secretary for this guy.  He‘s your client.

MADDEN:  I know.  I know.

MATTHEWS:  Did he, in fact...

MADDEN:  Here‘s what I‘m trying to say...

MATTHEWS:  ... march with Martin Luther King?

MADDEN:  I‘m trying to—here‘s what I‘m trying to tell you, is that what we have here are historical accounts of who marched and whether or not they actually were arm in arm.  Do we have a photographic evidence of Martin Luther King...

MATTHEWS:  No.  Do you believe...

MADDEN:  ... marching exactly with...

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve can only—look, you‘re a pro, Kevin.  Do you believe that George...

MADDEN:  I know, but...

MATTHEWS:  ... Romney marched with Martin Luther King—marched with him?  Yes or no.

MADDEN:  I do believe...

MATTHEWS:  Marched with him.  Yes or no.

MADDEN:  I do believe he marched...

MATTHEWS:  Marched with him.  With him in the same parade.

MADDEN:  Well, now—now—pardon me?

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you mean by marched with him, if you don‘t mean march with him in a parade, been with him, was with him when he marched?

MADDEN:  No, he was at these marches in 1963 in Grosse Pointe.

MATTHEWS:  Was Martin Luther King—OK, simple question.  You‘re on the witness stand.

MADDEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Was Martin Luther King and George Romney at the same parade ever?  Ever?

MADDEN:  That‘s the—that—right.  That‘s what—that‘s the memory that George Romney had and that Governor Romney has based on his recollections from the memories that George Romney and Scott Romney have.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So he believes his father did march with Martin Luther King.

MADDEN:  Yes.  Oh, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  I think what...

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the question.  And by the way...

MADDEN:  I think what happens is...

MATTHEWS:  ... this isn‘t all memory...

MADDEN:  And here‘s where the debate happens, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  No, there‘s a bigger problem here.

MADDEN:  ... is that what we see is...

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got a bigger problem.  You‘ve got a bigger problem here.

MADDEN:  No, what we see here over the...

MATTHEWS:  In 1978...

MADDEN:  The debate that we always have...

MATTHEWS:  ... your client—your candidate said, My father and I marched with Martin Luther King through the streets of Detroit.  Did Mitt Romney, your candidate, your client, march with Martin Luther King or didn‘t he?

MADDEN:  No, he did not.

MATTHEWS:  Did he do it?

MADDEN:  He did not.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then why did he say he did?  Why‘d he say he did?

MADDEN:  That‘s from an article in 1978 when...

MATTHEWS:  He was in his 30s!

MADDEN:  I know.  In 1978, I expect that Governor Romney either misspoke or was misquoted in that article.  He did not march with Martin Luther King in—in...

MATTHEWS:  So he didn‘t march with him and he didn‘t see his father march with him, but you still stick...

MADDEN:  Correct.

MATTHEWS:  ... to one point, at least one point here, that you believe...

MADDEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... there was a parade in which George Romney was marching with Martin Luther King, even though the press accounts say that never happened.

MADDEN:  Yes.  But there are accounts that actually say it did happen.  I mean, let‘s look back at the 1967 book by David Broder that actually has an historical account that says...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and Broder says...

MADDEN:  ... George Romney and Martin Luther King marched through Grosse Pointe.

MATTHEWS:  ... he can‘t remember who—he doesn‘t know who his source was, at this point.

MADDEN:  Well, that‘s what we have.  We have—we have an entire array of all these different varying—these varying disagreements over whose sources and what historical...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MADDEN:  ... accurate interpretation—I‘m sorry, what historical account is accurate or not.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I have to tell you, my concern is this...

MADDEN:  What happened before was that in one of those...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  My concern is a guy who claims he marched with Martin Luther King and didn‘t.  Your candidate says, My father and I marched with Martin Luther King.

MADDEN:  He did not.

MATTHEWS:  You say that‘s not true.

MADDEN:  No, he did not.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You say—he says now he didn‘t actually see, he witnessed, he knew of, he heard about from his brother.

MADDEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t actually see his father march.

MADDEN:  Right.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And we‘re still trying to find out, although the press says it never happened.

MADDEN:  No...

MATTHEWS:  What I hear is your candidate‘s father marched through Grosse Pointe a week after King did and is now calling that the same march.  That‘s what I‘m hearing.

MADDEN:  No, I think—I think what we have are different accounts of...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re going to get this straight here.

MADDEN:  ... historical accounts of what actually happened.  I‘m trying to get it straight.  Every time I try and talk, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  I understand.

MADDEN:  What happens is, we have a case of two Irishman who are talking over each other...

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no, no, no.  You can‘t play cute.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no.  I want to know...

MADDEN:  Well, let me...

MATTHEWS:  ... why it takes until Friday to find out what your candidate means on Tuesday.  Every time one of these issues comes up, he says he was—let‘s get—let‘s get an SOT.  Let‘s take a look.  Here‘s your candidate, your client, talking about how he spent a life hunting.  Let‘s watch this one.

MADDEN:  Sure.  Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I purchased a gun when I was a young man.  I‘ve been a hunter pretty much all my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Has he been a hunter pretty much all his life?

MADDEN:  He has hunted throughout his life, but I think that‘s—that‘s one of those statements where, upon reflection, I think the governor would probably agree with me, as others would, that that could have been more accurately phrased.  The governor has hunted throughout his life.  But the term life-long hunter, for those people who are life-long hunters...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, why did he say that?  Like why did he say he marched with Martin Luther King?

MADDEN:  Well, I think—look, I think it‘s the way...

MATTHEWS:  Why does he say these things?

MADDEN:  Chris, I‘m going to try and answer...

MATTHEWS:  You didn‘t say it.  I‘m not accusing you of dishonesty.

MADDEN:  No, I know that.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m accusing him...

MADDEN:  I know that.

MATTHEWS:  ... of what looks like resume inflation.

MADDEN:  I know that.  Well...

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like—if I marched with Martin Luther King, I would damn well be proud of it.

MADDEN:  Look—look...

MATTHEWS:  If I didn‘t march with Martin Luther King, I wouldn‘t say so.  And he has said so.

MADDEN:  Look, I think the...

MATTHEWS:  If I was a life-long hunter, I would admit it.  I wouldn‘t claim I was if I wasn‘t.

Let‘s take a look at this other one.  You‘ve got another problem here.

MADDEN:  No!  Let me answer the first one, Chris!

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s another one.  Here‘s...

MADDEN:  Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  ... answer the first one.

MATTHEWS:  No.

MADDEN:  Let me answer the first one, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

MADDEN:  OK.  Well, you‘re using these words like accusations and why did he say it and what—look, I think that everybody has to have a certain realization that when you‘re on the campaign trail, things are said that aren‘t necessarily accurate reflections of the exact, precise thing that happened.  And when—if you look at the clip that David showed in his package, what we have is a bunch of quibbling over the word “saw.”  Well, you know, there are a lot of times where people go out there on the campaign trail and they say, I stood with the men on the picket line.  But they didn‘t actually stand on the picket line.

So what we have is...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MADDEN:  ... this quibbling and this agonizing dissection of every single word.  And then you said, Did he march with him?  Now we‘re going to have a big argument over whether or not the word “with” is exactly accurate and precise.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what else could you mean by it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You were using—look, like, I‘m not getting into this argument.

MADDEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at another example and let the people watch, if they see a pattern here.

MADDEN:  Sure.  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Here he is talking about his endorsement from the NRA on “Meet the Press.”

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMNEY:  I told you what my position was and what I did as governor, the fact that I received the endorsement of the NRA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did he receive the endorsement of the NRA?

MADDEN:  No, he did not receive the official endorsement of the NRA. 

I think what the governor was trying...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what are we to make of these words that—I saw, I marched with...

MADDEN:  Well, look...

MATTHEWS:  ... I was a life-long hunter, I got the endorsement—when you put it all together...

MADDEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... there‘s a pattern here of resume inflation...

MADDEN:  No, I...

MATTHEWS:  ... not outright lying...

MADDEN:  I think what we have—no...

MATTHEWS:  ... is just building a little bit into something really big.

MADDEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe his father did march in a parade that had something to do with King.  He marched in some other parade that was somewhat affiliated with King.  He didn‘t see it.  He certainly didn‘t march himself, even though he said he did.  He wasn‘t a life-long hunter, although he may have gone out with a gun once or twice in his life.

I mean, this is—this is deceiving information.  It‘s suggesting that he can‘t come straight on the simplest things.  No one would have voted against him if he hadn‘t claimed he marched with Martin Luther King.  No one would have voted against him if he hadn‘t claimed to be a hunter.  No one would have voted against him if he didn‘t claim to have the endorsement, which he couldn‘t substantiate.  He says things that aren‘t necessary to say, and they turn out not to be true.  That‘s the problem.  Explain.

MADDEN:  Well, I think what you—I think what you have is the governor trying to—you know, when you have these live interviews and you have these—you know, these press gaggles and media availabilities that take place all throughout the campaign trail, I think what you have is an effort for the governor to share information about his record, where he stands and what he hopes to do for the American public as far as public policy.

And then on the flip side of that, as you know well in this YouTube world and this world where blogs and transcripts are—there‘s this agonizing scrutiny and pressure put on every single word that‘s said.  And then it‘s getting matched against a—against a past statement, and then there‘s this—another whole entire dissection of whether or not he meant it, what he meant by it.

And it happens with me all the time, Chris.  I deal with...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MADDEN:  ... with you on shows like this.  I deal with reporters all day long on the phone, and they all want to say—they all want to take a 1,000-word transcript.  They want to look at one word and they want to dissect it.  And very oftentimes, what happens is that in an effort to share a viewpoint, an effort to get across a policy viewpoint, talk about the governor‘s—for example, the 2nd Amendment and NRA endorsement—there were—the NRA went out and did a lot of work for Governor Romney in 2002, when he was running for governor.  And the governor made a connection where that was essentially the NRA and members of the NRA endorsing him.  Was it an official endorsement?  No.  Was that an entirely 100 percent precise statement that...

MATTHEWS:  You know...

MADDEN:  ... the governor made?  No, but what we can do is, again, share the sentiment...

MATTHEWS:  Kevin, you‘re doing a good job.  You‘re doing your best.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But let me tell you something.  You apply for a job...

MADDEN:  Well, you keep throwing these pitches...

MATTHEWS:  No...

MADDEN:  You keep throwing these pitches on the inside of the plate, you know?

MATTHEWS:  No, I throw them hard and fast and right over the plate.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  It‘s called HARDBALL, not curveball.

MADDEN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  If you‘re applying for a job and you make these little mistakes that he seems to be making, and somebody discovered it who was a head hunter and went through the thing—well, here‘s what I‘d say.  Well, did he march with Martin Luther King?  That‘s pretty impressive.  Well, actually, he didn‘t.  Did his father?  Well, actually, his father wasn‘t in the same parade, he was in another parade.

MADDEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  Did he actually—was he a life-long hunter?  Well, actually, he wasn‘t.  Did he get the endorsement of—well, he actually didn‘t.

MADDEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  After a while, the “actuallys,” “he didn‘t,” keep you from getting the job.  That‘s all I‘m saying.

MADDEN:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  I see where you‘re going with that.

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s where I‘m going.

MADDEN:  Merry Christmas.

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s where I want to end up.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, buddy.

MADDEN:  Merry Christmas.

MATTHEWS:  Great to have you on.  On the Democratic side...

MADDEN:  You bet.  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  ... the race in Iowa now is a three-way tie.  We‘re going to talk to the strategists from the Obama, Clinton and Edwards campaigns coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re 13 days now, believe it or not, from the Iowa caucuses, and the attacks in the Democratic race are going strong.  Members of Congress acting on behalf of the Hillary campaign are criticizing Obama‘s voting record when he was an Illinois state senator, and a union supporting Hillary sent out flyers the other day criticizing Obama‘s health care plan, but used John Edwards‘s name to do it.

Former congressman David Bonior‘s an Edwards campaign manager.  Congressman Artur Davis is an Alabama co-chair for the Obama campaign.  And Congressman Anthony Weiner‘s a Hillary supporter.

Let me start with this quote.  Congressman Weiner, you had Billy Shaheen up in New Hampshire going after drug use.  You had Mark Penn on this show talking about cocaine use by Obama back when he was a teenager, admitted in his book.  Are you comfortable being part of that attack squad?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-NY), HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER:  Well, you know, let me just start by saying that any of the three candidates who are going to emerge in Iowa and get the nomination on their worst day are better than the Republicans on their best day.

I think, you know, this is towards that part of the campaign where voters are really starting to pay attention.  We‘re looking at people‘s records, looking at things that they said to one another.  I don‘t think anyone wants to be attacking fellow Democrats, but I think these are legitimate things to be discussing at this point in the campaign.

MATTHEWS:  So you think Mark Penn was right to come on this show and say the word “cocaine” twice in reference to Mr. Obama.

WEINER:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  He was right to do that.

WEINER:  Look, I think it‘s fair that when people disclose things about themselves, they‘re going to be part of the campaign, that there‘s going to be a discussion about them.  I think, to some degree, that it has gotten a little bit too hot.  I think I‘m—I‘m partially to blame for that.  I think some of the things that I‘ve said have gotten too hot at the end here in the campaign.  But I think that one thing we should keep in mind as—now, as we get to the home stretch, is that I think all three candidates, whoever emerges, is going to do a great job as our nominee.  I hope it‘s Hillary Clinton because I think she‘s got the experience to change the direction in this country.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

David Bonior, what do you think about the Clinton campaign getting AFSCME to put out that mailer attacking Obama, using the name of your candidate to do the dirty work? 

DAVID BONIOR, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Well, I think they should have used the quote from Senator Clinton, especially since AFSCME is supporting Senator Clinton, and rather than John Edwards‘ name. 

But we‘re just very pleased with what we‘re seeing here, Chris, in Iowa, great enthusiasm, big crowds, endorsement from Mari Culver, the governor‘s wife, Bruce Braley, congressman.  Our phone calls have been coming off on our side in the last three days.  We feel very good that we‘re headed in the right direction.  We feel we‘re going to win it. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s going out there?

Congressman Davis, you‘re watching the Iowa situation, a lot of fire directed at the biography of your candidate, going back to when he was in kindergarten, trashed for having ambitions to be president back when he was 5 years old, trashed for him making the admission about blow in his biography, trashed for his performance as a state legislator. 

They‘re almost catching up to today.  They‘re going through every aspect of his life.  It‘s coming from the Hillary people, from people like Mark Penn.  Does it bother you? 

REP. ARTUR DAVIS (D), ALABAMA:  Chris, it bothers me as a Democrat, but it doesn‘t surprise me. 

Unlike my friend Anthony, I don‘t have anything to apologize for regarding my campaign.  The Obama campaign has been very issue-oriented.  Now, if our opponents decide that the issues aren‘t working for them, so they have to resort to personal attacks, that, frankly, makes me feel good about our positions. 

I agree with Anthony.  Whoever wins this race is a long way ahead of the Republicans in terms of stature.  But, as an Obama supporter, our message is getting out.  People are responding to it.  And this message has been consistent.  It‘s been a message of change.  It‘s been a message of bringing this country together. 

And, if you look at the whole life of Barack Obama in public service the last 15 years...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DAVIS:  ... he‘s had the same consistent message.  He hasn‘t had to change his message every time a different set of polls come out.  He hasn‘t had to say, well, this message didn‘t work; let me try out another one now.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS:  One message for 15 years about bringing people together and strengthening our ties in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think African-Americans, particularly, are going to

be offended by the fact that you have a white candidate going after an

African-American candidate on the issue of youthful drug use?  Do you think

that‘s going to be particularly sensitive as an issue that has been raised

by the Clinton crowd against Obama? 

DAVIS:  Well, Chris, what I think is—well, what I think is offensive is that the Clintons, of all people, know the downside of personal attacks in politics. 

The Clintons have been unfairly attacked for the last 20-some years.  And I regret that.  And I‘m sorry that‘s been the case.  And they, of all people, ought to be trying to set a tone in this campaign that says that we‘re not going to smear people with innuendo; we‘re not going to play the old Nixon tactic of, oh, wouldn‘t it be a shame if this were said or this came out?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DAVIS:  The Clintons, of all people, ought to be super-sensitive about this, because so much has been done that‘s wrong to the Clintons over the last 20 years. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let‘s take a look at Mark Penn on this program recently doing what I think you just described. 

Here‘s Mark Penn going at it with Joe Trippi of the Edwards campaign on HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK PENN, SENIOR CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Well, I think we have made clear that the—the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising.  And I think that has been made clear.

I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator...

(CROSSTALK)

JOE TRIPPI, SENIOR EDWARDS CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  I think he just did it again.  He just did it again.

(CROSSTALK)

PENN:  This kindergarten thing, after what the senator did...

TRIPPI:  Unbelievable.  They just literally...

(CROSSTALK)

PENN:  Excuse me. 

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  No, no.  No, no, Mark, excuse me.

PENN:  Excuse me.  Excuse me

TRIPPI:  This guy‘s been filibustering on this.  He just said cocaine again.  It‘s like...

PENN:  I think you‘re saying cocaine. 

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  No, no.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  You just did it.

(CROSSTALK)

PENN:  I think you‘re saying that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, Joe Trippi‘s turn.  

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Joe Trippi‘s turn.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI:  What has happened—no, look, the person who won today was -

was John Edwards.  Why?  Because he‘s speaking to the frustration of Americans about something that‘s going on, how greed‘s taken over Washington, is stopping health care from happening, stopping—stopping trade—you know, trade deals that go through.  They will talk about corporate profits. 

He was talking about real stuff that—that is really, really affecting working people here in—in Iowa who are frustrated and worried about their jobs, while we listen to this garbage that has been going for a couple of days now and needs to stop. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Weiner, you say you have no problem with that little—little interjection by Mark Penn, the message man for Hillary, about cocaine?  It doesn‘t bother you? 

WEINER:  Well, so far, it‘s been you talking about it and my good friend Mr. Davis talking about it. 

The line of the campaign has been, let‘s look at health care.  It‘s not a personal attack to say Barack Obama doesn‘t cover everyone.  Let‘s look at the—the—the senator‘s record in the state legislature.  It‘s a legitimate issue to say, if we look at what you vote yes for and what you vote no for...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WEINER:  ... it‘s also legitimate what you vote present on. 

The campaign had nothing to do with talking about that subject that I won‘t mention, for fear of being accused of mentioning it. 

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.

But Mark Penn is in charge of message for the Hillary Clinton For President Campaign.  He‘s the very man who writes the ad copy.  And there he is on our show raising the issue.

WEINER:  Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And you say he didn‘t raise it? 

WEINER:  Chris, he just—he was raising it in the context of saying it wasn‘t what the campaign—the Sheehan situation was something that was regrettable.  And the campaign distanced itself from it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

WEINER:  Now, it‘s kind of hard for me to answer the question.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s exactly what—OK.

WEINER:  Am I going to be accused now of mentioning it because I‘m responding to your question?

MATTHEWS:  No.  No.

And, by the way, you can‘t do this by carrying it to extremes, but you can have to deal with the fact that Congressman Davis just said, this is a Nixonian tactic, to say, somebody else might raise the cocaine issue, when the person on your side just did it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Davis, isn‘t that what you just accused them of? 

WEINER:  In fairness, though, Chris—here, let me just answer that point, Chris. 

You know, yesterday, we had a discussion with you and others about whether or not the voting record of Barack Obama was on—was something we can discuss. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WEINER:  And that was called a personal attack by the Obama campaign. 

Everything isn‘t a personal attack just because the person is Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let me ask you, Congressman Davis, do you agree with that, that that thing we just saw from Mark Penn, the message man for Hillary, was kosher here? 

DAVIS:  Chris, I watched it live when it happened.  And I was bothered by it then. 

I‘m not faulting anything my friend Anthony‘s saying today.  I am faulting what Sheehan did and what Penn did, because what Penn did is something that‘s familiar to every one of us who‘s been in a tough campaign.  An opponent tries to get something in the public bloodstream, opponent tries to get something out there, so people can talk about it. 

And the old rule of thumb is, make them have to deny it, or, in this case, make them have to admit he said it.  I don‘t have anything to apologize for on behalf of my candidate, because we‘re arguing about who has a better plan for this country‘s future.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

DAVIS:  We‘re arguing about who is most electable.  We‘re arguing about who‘s the strongest change agent.

And we, as Democrats, ought to be happy about that debate.  Trippi was wrong about one thing. 

BONIOR:  Chris?

DAVIS:  The winner of that exchange was the Republican Party.  Romney and Giuliani and Huckabee and that crowd were the winner of that exchange...

BONIOR:  Chris?

DAVIS:  ... because people want a more forward-leaning, future-oriented conversation. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

DAVIS:  And my guy...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I have to let David in here. 

David, your thoughts on this back-and-forth.

BONIOR:  Can I have the last word on this one? 

MATTHEWS:  You have the final word, sir. 

BONIOR:  Thank you, sir. 

Well, I‘m not going to get into the differences between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama on this. 

But I think what Joe Trippi said and what John Edwards is saying very eloquently here is, the fight shouldn‘t be among the political people here.  What‘s really stopping America from moving forward on health care, on global warming, on education, on trade, on tax reform, on all the big issues, is the corporate and the special interests. 

And that‘s where John Edwards is standing up and fighting.  And that‘s what our campaign is all about.  We have got to change that dynamic in Washington, D.C., before we can get these things to happen.  John Edwards was made for that fight.  And that‘s why he‘s going to win this race, because that issue is resonating with people in Iowa. 

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, thank you, David Bonior, Congressman Artur Davis, Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Up next:  Iowa front-runner Mike Huckabee weighs in on the tabloid story of the week, the pregnancy of Britney Spears‘ little sister. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.    

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there politically? 

Well, Mike Huckabee may not know about national intelligence estimates on Iran, but he‘s right on top of Jamie Lynn Spears. 

Here‘s what he told reporters about Britney‘s 16-year-old sister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Apparently, she‘s going to have the child.  And I think that‘s the right decision and a good decision.  And I respect that and appreciate it. 

I hope it‘s not an encouragement to other 16-year-olds to think that that‘s the best course of action.  But, at the same time, I‘m not going to condemn her.  There will be plenty of people in line to do that.  And I always look for the shortest lines. 

So, you know, I just hope that she will make another right decision, and that‘s give that child all the love and care and kindness that she can. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I always look for the shortest lines.  I love that. 

Bill Richardson, who has been cozying up to Hillary Clinton for

months, is now taking a different turn.  It turns out he called up a “New

York Times” reporter the other day, yesterday—Patrick Healy is his name

and, out of nowhere, proceeded to slam Hillary for flip-flopping on her earlier promise to keep a contingent of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. 

Finally, it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number” tonight. 

As I talked about earlier in the show, the New York press delighted in ripping apart Rudy Giuliani for what it portrayed as secret Hampton trysts with Judith Nathan, paid for secretly by the City of New York.

Now, according to a review of city records in “The New York Times” this morning, it turns out, it‘s not true.  In 1999 and 2000, Giuliani‘s Hampton trips were charged to his own mayoral expense account, just as they were supposed to be. 

And where does “The Times” bury it?  On page 35.  Is the New York press also going to give back the 10 points that Rudy has dropped in the polls?  Fair is fair.  Page 35, tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

If you‘re looking for a gift this weekend, and you‘re a HARDBALL fan, you know, a last-minute quickie you can get is a copy of my new book, “Life‘s a Campaign.”  It‘s got all the secrets I have picked up over 36 years of watching these guys, how to get ahead, the whole thing.  Hope you enjoy it for Christmas. 

Up next:  Is Bill Clinton helping or hurting Hillary‘s chances? 

And later: new polls in the politics fix tonight.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

An old-fashioned Christmas rally today, with the Dow Jones industrial average soaring 205 points, the S&P 500 up 24, tech stocks adding about 51 points to the Nasdaq. 

Fueling today‘s rally was a better-than-expected increase in consumer spending last month.  It surged 1.1 percent, the biggest one-month jump in three-and-a-half years, thanks in part to heavy promotions and holiday spending. 

Also helping stocks, strong earnings reported last night by BlackBerry maker Research In Motion and reports Merrill Lynch will get a $5 billion cash infusion from an investment arm of Singapore‘s government. 

Meantime, Circuit City shares plunged, after the number-two electronics retailer reported a much-larger-than-expected quarterly loss of $208 million.  Shares there fell more than 27 percent. 

And a big jump in oil prices today, with crude oil surging $2.25 in New York‘s trading session, closing at $93.81 a barrel, thanks in part to the better-than-expected consumer spending report, which leads to greater demand for energy. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  And now we talk about the greatest politician of our time. 

We‘re back at HARDBALL. 

When President Clinton campaigns for his wife, he makes news.  And, even though he‘s certainly a draw on the campaign trail, is he really helping her with voters?

Michael Eric Dyson is a professor at Georgetown and a Barack Obama supporters.  His wife, Marcia Dyson, a Hillary Clinton supporter, was supposed to join us from Iowa, but she got caught in the snow. 

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that rough? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, we‘re going to—I know you‘re going to represent her. 

Now, here‘s Bill Clinton, by the way, talking on “Charlie Rose.” 

Let‘s see what he had to say. 

And I want an open-minded view of what he had to say. 

DYSON:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  What your wife would...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “CHARLIE ROSE”)

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST:  They can say we think those things matter, but we choose to go this way because we think there is an overpowering reason to make another choice.  You know, and ...

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And we‘re prepared to roll the dice.  We‘re prepared to ...

ROSE:  You want to say to the voters if they are prepared to choose someone with less experience but perhaps other qualities—as you‘ve said, gifted in politics.

B. CLINTON:  Very gifted.

ROSE:  ... gifted in intellect, then they are rolling the dice, is what you are saying?

B. CLINTON:  Well ...

ROSE:  They are rolling the dice about America if they don‘t choose the person who has had the kind of experience you are talking about.

B. CLINTON:  It‘s less predictable, isn‘t it? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think of this guy?  I mean, he‘s good, you know? 

DYSON:  Well, he‘s good, but, look, is this...

MATTHEWS:  Rolling the dice.  That‘s not—it‘s not ethnic.  It‘s not nasty.  It‘s just like saying, you know, Hillary‘s a little safer bet, you know?

DYSON:  Yes, but it‘s playing to a lot of sub-rosa tensions there. 

And what is interesting is that it contradicts his own assent. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he saying, the guy is black, so he will probably lose the general?  Is that what he is saying?  Come on. 

DYSON:  Yes, he‘s—he‘s saying—he‘s saying—look, he‘s saying that the guy is not as experienced as my lady.  He‘s saying that, you know, he‘s not as gifted. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DYSON:  He‘s not in line.

But he‘s saying this also.  He‘s also saying that, don‘t trust the people who trusted me. 

Bill Clinton was an untested commodity, so to speak, nationally at the level when he came up.  He was a political prodigy like a Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DYSON:  But I think he‘s playing to some unconscious tension and fears about, if you give it to this guy, and he‘s in charge, then what‘s going to happen with this nation?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We want you to give us a total scoop on how good he is doing.  Here he is campaigning in South Carolina for Mrs. Clinton, Senator Clinton.  He answered a question about his wife‘s number-one priority if she got into office. 

“Well, the first thing she intends to do, because you can do this without passing a bill, the first thing she intends to do is to send me”—that‘s Bill Clinton talking—“and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again”—except that he hadn‘t checked with 41.  And, apparently, the president is not about to go with him, the former president.

DYSON:  Yes, right.

Well, here‘s the thing.

MATTHEWS:  Was this loose lips sink ships?

DYSON:  Well, I don‘t know if it‘s going to sink the ship, but it certainly created a little stir on the—the masthead, so to speak. 

I think that Bill Clinton is an incredibly gifted guy.  The reality is, is that what he wants to do for his wife is amazingly generous.  He‘s out there for the fight of his life.  He knows that my man Barack Obama is pushing hard.  So now he‘s pulling out every canard in the right wing Republican book used against him and Hillary, to now use it against Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not a golfer, but when you hit a golf ball off into the rough, and you try to hit a good drive, I know this much, you sometimes, in a casual game, get what‘s called a Mulligan.  You get to hit another one that doesn‘t count.  Is her campaign his mulligan?  He blew the presidency in many ways, but he wants a mulligan and she‘s his mulligan.  Is that what he‘s up to? 

DYSON:  In part that‘s the case.  But others would claim that Bill Clinton didn‘t blow it at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did. 

DYSON:  He had it blown in parts and had it blown in parts.  What‘s interesting about Bill Clinton is that Bill Clinton understands the nature of this game almost instinctively.  It‘s never a liability, ultimately, to have him on your side, except when he‘s making arguments that are taken directly from the play book of the opposite side used against him.  All we have to say is, Bill, it didn‘t work against you, it can‘t work against my man. 

MATTHEWS:  He was talking to the “Concord Monitor” up in New Hampshire and he said, quote—This is Bill Clinton—“if people think she‘s a little too edgy”—that‘s his wife—“I would ask them to just remember what she‘s been through in the last 15 years.  Many people would have been broken by what they did to her.  Every thing that Ken Starr and that crowd charged her with, every single thing has proved to be baseless.” 

Clinton also said, quote, “when I left office, the people that spawned all that hatred against me didn‘t have me to kick around anymore.  They needed an object for their derision”.  So he‘s saying the transfer of hatred goes on from him to her. 

DYSON:  There is no question about that.  There is a kind of transmittal value.  That‘s the down side of having Bill Clinton.  The up side, of course, is she inherits many of the people who think that he‘s a great guy, who give him implicit trust, and, therefore, she‘s gotten a big kick off of him, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he setting up her for the charge that here we go again?  If all this hatred has been spawned, and all this polarization is out there, isn‘t he just reminding the country, if you want the sitcom for eight more years, vote for Hillary. 

DYSON:  No doubt about it.  Even though he doesn‘t think he‘s doing that consciously.  Unconsciously, people are seeing the symbol of him and her together.  I think that‘s problematic. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he want her to win.

DYSON:  I think he does.  Obviously because that gives him a chance of redemption.  Don‘t think he‘s trying to undercut her. 

MATTHEWS:  Does Obama got something planned for Christmas?  Is he going to keep this roll going or is he going to get stymied again?  He‘s a little episodic as a candidate, if you notice.  He has had some good weeks and then he goes and takes a powder.  Is he going to have a great Christmas or is he going to go to sleep? 

DYSON:  He‘s going to have a great Christmas.  Man is a fourth quarter player.  He‘s ready to go. 

MATTHEWS:  You better watch the Clintons, because they are very good in the clutch.  They don‘t lose. 

DYSON:  He‘s got a hell of a jump shot, brother, so he‘s ready to throw down. 

MATTHEWS:  He better Hail Mary for that buzzer sound.  Anyway, thank you Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown.   

Up next, it‘s Friday, it‘s time for the politics fix.  The round table is coming.  We‘ve got a heavyweight round table tonight, right out of the round table of King Arthur.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s get right to the politics fix right now.  We‘ve got Ron Brownstein of the “National Journal,” author of the new book, “The Second Civil War, How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America,” and our MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan, and, of course, Craig Crawford, who joins us as a colleague so often and so successfully . 

Let me ask you all about the “New York Times.”  I read the paper this morning, page 21 -- it was 35 in the local edition—where they basically retracted the account that said that Rudy had hidden the cost of security when he went out to visit his girlfriend back in 1999 and 2000.  The damage has been done, I think, Ron. 

RON BROWNSTEIN, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  Ray Donovan said where do I go to get my good name back in the Reagan administration.  Look, there‘s more journalism and quasi-journalism, faux-journalism then ever before in this campaign.  The “New York Times” is, you know, certainly at the—

MATTHEWS:  The Great Lady got it wrong. 

BROWNSTEIN:  And, you know, if in fact we are all kind of walking back this story, it‘s a black eye for the reporting world. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Rudy has been damaged very badly.  I thought at the time the whole thing looked like an effort to get the affair with Judith onto the front page, the secrecy of it all.  What happened is, every time Rudy went on television or got in the debate, the moderator asked him, did you move the funds around and all this.  It was never really about that to Republicans.  It was about, look, this guy‘s sneaking off and he‘s married and all that sort of thing.  That‘s what hurt him, not the fact that he put it in the Legal Defense Fund. 

MATTHEWS:  Craig, in the environment where you had Reverend Mike Huckabee raising the moral issue in the cross every moment, I think it created a focus on the moral question.  Rudy got hurt. 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Very much so.  I think Pat‘s right on it, it wasn‘t the accounting of this.  If this reporting turns out to have been completely wrong, it doesn‘t change the fact that he was taking his mistress out to the Hamptons.  And it raises the profile of that story, even though she ultimately became his wife.  But Ron‘s point is good, this reporting on this—we need to walk back this. 

The autopsy on this; our friends at “Politico” launched this story.  It got a lot of attention for it.  It‘s up to them to respond to this “New York Times” piece and explain their original story and whether or not it was truly false. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we all say mea culpa?  Can you say it, Ron?  Mea culpa.  Because we played it here.  Let‘s look at John McCain‘s Christmas ad.  This is fascinating.  Let‘s take a look at John McCain, who is making some of a comeback up there.  We were just up there.  This guy could win New Hampshire. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  One night after being mistreated as a POW, a guard loosened the ropes binding me, easing my pain.  On Christmas, that same guard approached me, without saying a word, he drew a cross in the sand.  We stood wordlessly looking at the cross, remembering the true light of Christmas.  I‘ll never forget that no matter where you are, now matter how difficult the circumstances, there will always be someone who will pick you up. 

You and your family have a blessed Christmas and happy holidays.  I‘m John McCain, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What struck me when I heard that story a while back, Pat, was that the Vietnamese are Catholics, many of them.  Some are Buddhists, but some are devout Roman Catholics.  Even though they‘re under a communist regime, there was that stirring of religious sentiment in that guard. 

BUCHANAN:  The French had been in there.  One million fled North Vietnam.  They were still there.  You‘re exactly right.  It‘s a very powerful story from a number of standpoints.  One, the story is very moving, and it brings you back to John McCain lying in a prison—prisoner of war hospital bed.  And it brings you, at Christmas—it‘s a very powerful, very legitimate ad. 

BROWNSTEIN:  The bio is the great strength of John McCain.  It‘s a reminder of that.  It‘s also politically the fact is that he‘s not done well historically with the most religiously devout Republicans, those who are most animated by social issues.  But putting this in the context of the Mike Huckabee ad and whether there is a cross floating behind him, I mean, you see a focus on—a direct focus on religion in this race that is extraordinary and kind of wondering exactly where we‘re going here in this Republican race.

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

BROWNSTEIN:  I mean, with Mitt Romney talking about religion—

MATTHEWS:  Who started this?  Did the Reverend Huckabee pull the whole thing over to the religious side, away from the secular, away from the war issue?  Craig, your thoughts? 

CRAWFORD:  A man that spent the time he did as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, he can put that cross on his face as far as I‘m concerned.  That‘s just fine with me. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you.  I‘m with you.  I guess it‘s all a question of style.  You know what I think?  He‘s talking to the people who are obviously up in New Hampshire.  He‘s not going to make a big thrust in Iowa with the evangelicals.  He‘s talking to Catholics and Yankees up in New Hampshire. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  Huckabee is the guy that brought it in.  It was very smart for Huckabee, because he was running—his opponent is Brownback.  The two of them were running for this constituency.  He beat him in the straw poll by 300.  Huckabee drops out and he moved at once to consolidate it.  And nobody else is competing for it.  Frankly, it‘s a very good strategy.  In my view, it‘s certainly not illegitimate. 

BROWNSTEIN:  I agree with Craig.  Certainly, it‘s legitimate for anyone to raise whatever they want to raise.  But does the Republican party want a definition of itself primarily around religious terms?  Do they want to be—do they want to be seen as—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, there‘s a large group of people—maybe not a large group, but a very vigorous group called Jewish Republicans, who were very active in the last couple of campaigns, because they‘re concerned obviously about the Middle East.  How are they going to respond to this, the fact that you have to be a Christian to be a Republican?  Where‘s that going to come from?

BUCHANAN:  Once you get the nomination, you move to the social gospel, Chris. 

(CROSS TALK) 

CRAWFORD:  Chris, I want to point out about the POW thing, I think it is interesting how McCain has changed how he‘s handled this.  Back in 2000 he wouldn‘t talk about it.  He even joked that hey, I was only a POW because I was a lousy pilot and crashed.  Now he‘s using it, and I thought he should have used it then.  I think it‘s effective to use it now. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got to come back and talk about Mitt Romney and this thing.  There‘s a couple of points of difference between the reality, and reality described by the candidate.  Did he see his father march with Martin Luther King?  Did his father march with Martin Luther King?  Did he, as he claimed, march with Martin Luther King?  Was he a life long hunter?  Did he get the endorsement of the NRA.  Or is like somebody once said of Barry Goldwater back in the ‘60s, you have to wait until Friday to find out what the candidate meant on Tuesday. 

We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of the politics fix. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table.  Let me ask you, Craig Crawford, first, for a journalistic assessment of what went wrong or what has gone right with this Romney claim that he saw his father march with Martin Luther King.  We had Kevin Madden on, his spokesman on in the early part of the show, who really admitted, at least he did so technically, that, no, he didn‘t see his father march with Martin Luther King.  He wasn‘t sure that his father ever did march Martin Luther King.  He was wrong to say that he and his father marched with Martin Luther King.  He was wrong to say that he was a life long hunter.  He was wrong to say he got the endorsement of the NRA.  A series of claims I would put in the category of Olympic grade resume inflation. 

What do you make of it? 

CRAWFORD:  Yes, in saying that he was speaking figuratively, that he was walking with Martin Luther King in spirit or something, a lot of people did that.  He‘s now adding credibility issues to his flip-flopping problems, and it‘s sort of like impeaching a witness in a court trial.  You can impeach them on some small point, like a date or something, and that casts doubt in the jury‘s mind about everything else, including the important thing that the witness says.  And that‘s the problem I think Romney is now going to face, is what else is he making up. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat? 

BUCHANAN:  Look, I knew George Romney‘s father.  His father was a strong civil rights Republican.  His father stood up against Barry Goldwater, who was against the Civil Rights Act.  His father marched in Gross Point.  He didn‘t march with Dr. King.  He marched at a later rally. 

MATTHEWS:  What kind of neighborhood is Gross Point like?  A dangerous neighborhood like Selma, Alabama, where you have guys in pitch forks?

BUCHANAN:  A neighborhood, apparently, Martin Luther King was marching in.  He marched in it. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the wealthiest neighborhood in America. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me say this, I think Mitt Romney here—I think he‘s being hammered excessively on this.  His father was civil rights—his father marched with the body of Dr. King down in Atlanta and so did Richard Nixon, for heaven‘s sakes. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he tell the truth? 

BUCHANAN:  Did he—is that sort of an exaggeration?  I stood with Barry Goldwater.  That doesn‘t mean he and I stood in a department store together. 

BROWNSTEIN:  The problem is look—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  That was 30 years ago and he misspoke.  Clearly if he said he marched—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  What are we to make of that statement when a guy says that? 

I marched with Martin Luther King?  What does it mean? 

BUCHANAN:  David Broder made a mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking what Romney meant when he said it. 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s 1978. 

MATTHEWS:  What did he mean? 

BUCHANAN:  Me and my father were with the guy. 

MATTHEWS:  He thought he was with him. 

BUCHANAN:  No, he didn‘t think he marched with him.  He was with him in soul and spirit. 

BROWNSTEIN:  The reality is the father was a civil rights Republican.  And when you look at these one by one, everybody around this table knows, candidates are spending—and people like us—are spending more time with a microphone in front of your face than ever before.  You‘re going to say things that are not exactly right.  But with Romney, the question is it fits with—it‘s against the back drop of a candidate who has changed a lot of views on a lot of issues, and it all becomes part of one larger narrative about is this someone who is simply telling you what he thinks you want to hear, in order to get where he wants to go. 

I can understand any of these individual comments, you know, the mistake on the NRA, the comment on hunting.  But when they all add up together is where they become more problematic.  Even then I find myself conflicted about what it really means, because the reality is, more media than ever before, candidates are going to make mistake.  That is simply the reality. 

(CROSS TALK)

CRAWFORD:  This is another example of what happened to Al Gore, where the narrative set in that he was a serial exaggerator, some of it very unfair, particularly the Internet stuff.  This is what‘s happening to Romney. 

MATTHEWS:  I hate to tell you guys, but this is how you don‘t get a job when you get caught doing this thing.  Anyway, Ron Brownstein, thank you, sir.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Craig Crawford. 

Happy holidays to everybody.  We‘ll be back.  Join us again Wednesday night after Christmas at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  We don‘t miss a day around here except like Scrooge.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,