updated 1/24/2008 12:23:06 PM ET 2008-01-24T17:23:06

Guests: Ed Schultz, Mark Green, Rudy Giuliani, Joan Walsh, John Harris, Jim Warren

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  There‘s a station out there who has a program called HARDBALL, and that‘s what politics is supposed to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  So as the man says, let‘s play it.  Let‘s play

HARDBALL.

That picture was of Governor Eddie Rendell of Pennsylvania endorsing Hillary Clinton and giving us a little plug there today.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Big fish—

Bill Clinton is campaigning for his wife today in South Carolina, playing the role of big fish, beating up her opponent, Barack Obama, at every stop.  Is Bill Clinton helping Hillary or hurting her?  Is he being effective or is he dividing the Democrats?  Or is he doing both, helping Hillary and dividing the Democrats?  More on Bill Clinton‘s role in the campaign in a moment.

Plus: Florida, Florida, Florida.  Rudy Giuliani‘s made Florida his fight in the presidential bid, but could it be his last?  We‘ll talk to Giuliani himself later in the program.

Plus: Weighing the dirt in the Democratic race.  Who‘s got the sleazier friends?  We‘re going to talk about that in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

But we begin with the big fish in the political pond, Bill Clinton.  Mark Green‘s president of Air America Radio and author of “Losing Our Democracy,” and he is officially neutral in this race for the Democratic nomination.  Also with us is radio talk show host Ed Schultz.

Well?  Let me go to Ed Schultz.  Is Bill Clinton a plus or a minus for the Democrats?  Let‘s start with is he a plus or a minus for Hillary?

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, I think he‘s a minus for Hillary because he‘s lying on the campaign trail, Chris.  I‘m going to lay it right on the Clintons‘ doorstep right now.  Bill Clinton is lying about Barack Obama‘s record when it comes to the war and when it comes to this comment about Republicans and Reagan.

And you know what Democrats are being reminded of when Clinton gets out on the stump?  He lied 10 years ago about Monica Lewinsky, and he‘s lying about a very viable candidate and somebody who could really bring change in this country.  He is embarrassing for Democrats.

And another thing is I think that African-Americans are saying, You know what?  He‘s picking on a brother.  That‘s why Hillary is going down as far as the rating approval with African-Americans in South Carolina.  Bill, get off the campaign trail if you want Hillary to get the nomination.

MATTHEWS:  Mark Green?

MARK GREEN, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  When the most popular Democrat in America, a peace and prosperity two-term president, the first since FDR, is your chief surrogate and spokesman, it‘s a plus.  I mean, in court, a judge would say let‘s stipulate that Bill Clinton is a plus.  He has an 80 percent favorable rating among Democrats, so I mean, I think Ed is numerically and politically wrong about that.  What is a fair debate...

SCHULTZ:  Well, how old is that poll?

GREEN:  The last week.

SCHULTZ:  How old is that poll?

GREEN:  Last week, Ed.

SCHULTZ:  And because the Clintons...

GREEN:  That‘s what—Ed, that‘s what you get...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  ... some success in the ‘90s does not mean he could have license...

GREEN:  Ed...

SCHULTZ:  ... to do what he‘s doing right now. doing.

GREEN:  When you interrupt and the answer is not what you wanted...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GREEN:  ... that‘s your problem, not mine.  Last week, he had an 80 percent rating.  Now, I was about to say we can have a fair conversation about each of the things he‘s said about Obama and his wife.  Are they true?  Are they false?  Are they helpful or hurtful?  But overall, Bill Clinton is as helpful to Hillary Clinton as 9/11 was to Rudy Giuliani, but watch—he overplayed 9/11.  It hurt him.  Could Bill Clinton overplay his popularity and his hand?  It‘s possible.

MATTHEWS:  Is Bill Clinton correct when he says that Rudy Giuliani is a Ronald Reagan fan?  I mean, that Barack Obama is a Ronald Reagan fan.  Is he right?  Is that the truth?

GREEN:  No.  Barack Obama is not a Ronald Reagan fan.  However, according to Paul Krugman in “The New York Times,” Obama made a statement that in context said, Gee, Reagan had all these ideas, and he helped entrepreneurship and the economy, he challenged the conventional wisdom.  In context in that Reno, Nevada, paper he wasn‘t endorsing any particular idea, but there Bill Clinton has a legitimate point.  And Obama, it‘s fine for him to come back.  That‘s not a lie.  That‘s what we call hardball, Chris, not beanbag.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, here‘s Hillary Clinton, a candidate for president, Senator Clinton, talking about her husband‘s role in her campaign.  Let‘s listen to Hillary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am grateful for the support that my husband has given me.  Each of us who remains in this race have very passionate and vigorous spouses who have been out there campaigning for us.  And I think that, you know, obviously, as a former president, Bill understands the difficulties of the job and how incredibly pressured it is and will be even moreso, inheriting what we will from the Bush administration.  So I think that he feels, you know, very, very strongly about what we need in the next president, and that‘s what he‘s out talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ed Schultz, what do you think of Hillary and what she just said, the senator?

SCHULTZ:  No, he‘s not out talking about Hillary.  He‘s out trashing Barack Obama and misrepresenting his position.  Now, I think I just heard Mark Green say, Well, it‘s OK if Bill Clinton lies just a little bit on the campaign trail.

Here‘s the bottom line.  He‘s hurting Democrats.  Ted Kennedy‘s had a heated conversation with him.  I had Pat Leahy on the program yesterday, on the radio show, saying Bill Clinton‘s got to back off.  Today, I had Claire McCaskill on, saying that, I think that Bill Clinton is shading the truth.  We‘re afraid to say it, he‘s lying about Barack Obama‘s record, and it is turning off a lot of African-Americans, it‘s turning off a lot of core Democrats.  And guess what?  Bill Clinton‘s approval rating, whether it be 60, 70 or 80 percent, it doesn‘t mean squat when it comes to getting the nomination.  The fact is, he‘s being viewed as an attack dog.

MATTHEWS:  Mark, I want you to respond to what the president—here‘s former president Bill Clinton talking about Barack Obama yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I thought he was running against me in Nevada for a while when he said the Republicans had the—most of the new ideas and challenged the conventional wisdom in the ‘90s.  I thought we challenged the conventional wisdom in the ‘90s.  We were challenging the conventional wisdom.  So I didn‘t agree with that, but I don‘t really think he‘s running against me.  I just think that he was doing what he thought he should do, and I have no quarrel with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Mark?

GREEN:  Well, first of all...

MATTHEWS:  He is going after Obama.  Let‘s not kid ourselves.  He‘s not defending Hillary, he‘s going after Obama.  He‘s the Terminator here.

GREEN:  When Ed said that I said it was OK to lie a little...

SCHULTZ:  You know, Mark, this isn‘t about me!

GREEN:  Ed—Ed...

SCHULTZ:  This isn‘t about me!

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  Ed, you‘re not on your radio show.

MATTHEWS:  Ed, Ed, Ed...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We have to let Mark—Mark gets to talk, then you get to talk.

GREEN:  I know how radio talk show hosts do it, as do you.  When he said I said it was OK to lie a little—anyone out there hear me say that?  We just heard Bill Clinton say something that was literally true, which is that Barack Obama had implied that Reagan went after the conventional wisdom, not him, and that he was sort of chiding Bill Clinton because Reagan was more transformational.  That, of course, is not offensive.

Look, in my view, Bill Clinton‘s criticism of Obama on Iraq is not persuasive.  I think Obama has the better argument.  Bill Clinton on “Charlie Rose,” when he said, This person‘s very inexperienced, we can roll the dice—a legitimate, if colorful, way to go after Barack Obama‘s experience.  Obama and his surrogates say that Hillary Clinton is yesterday‘s news and over the hill.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here he is on “Charlie Rose,” Mark.  Let‘s watch it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me look at the pattern of what -- - both you look

at the pattern of what President Clinton has said.  He said “roll of the

dice,” he said all kinds of things.  He‘s saying “fairy tale.”  He‘s used

reference—well, his surrogates and her surrogates, Hillary Clinton‘s

surrogates, have used words like cocaine, cocaine, references to the fact of his selling cocaine or using it or whatever—using it—I think I should be clear there—all this sort of clever innuendo, talking about dealing with slumlords in the inner city.

Don‘t you sense a coloration, Mark, on the kind of snide remarks coming out of the whole Clinton campaign that sort of puts Barack back into the bad neighborhoods, sort of a street guy himself?  Don‘t you sense the way they‘re coloring him into a box?  I‘m just asking.  If you don‘t think so, let‘s argue about it.

GREEN:  Chris, I‘ve known you a long time.  I absolutely don‘t think your implication that there‘s some racializing of the criticism.  Ed and you and I were on about a month ago on this exact point.  Billy Shaheen, who referred to Obama‘s book, was out of line, was wrong, should have been fired.  I don‘t believe there‘s any systematic effort to raise that issue...

MATTHEWS:  Why did Mark—why did Mark Penn raise it on my show twice, cocaine, cocaine?  Why did Bob Johnson do it again?  Why do they keep doing it?

GREEN:  May I answer?  If you want to talk about what surrogates say, then the surrogate who said of Hillary Clinton -- - who worked for Obama—she‘s just the senator from Punjab, making fun of her pro-Indian views...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREEN:  When I read that, I didn‘t think Obama believed that.  I thought it was some idiot staff person was saying it.

MATTHEWS:  Mark...

GREEN:  Let me answer your question.

MATTHEWS:  Penn is her message person.  He‘s not a surrogate.  He‘s the guy who writes the messages like inner city and slumlord.  He‘s the confector of this theme.

GREEN:  Let me...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not some bystander.

GREEN:  Chris, that was...

MATTHEWS:  Is he, or not?

GREEN:  That was the show where you kept using the line, Do things go better with Coke?  You weren‘t raising it to be racial.  Shaheen, was an idiot, was fired.  Let‘s talk about what‘s happening with Bill Clinton now.  I think Bill Clinton is largely wrong in his attack on Iraq, largely right in his criticism on experience.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let me go to—let me go to Charlie Rose.  Let‘s let the former president speak for himself, and then Ed Schultz can respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

BILL CLINTON:  Very gifted.

ROSE:  ... then they‘re rolling the dice, is what you‘re saying.

BILL CLINTON:  Well...

ROSE:  They are rolling the dice about America...

BILL CLINTON:  It‘s less predictable.

ROSE:  ... if they don‘t choose the person who‘s had the kind of experience you‘re talking about.

BILL CLINTON:  It‘s less predictable.  Isn‘t it?  I mean, when‘s the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?  I mean, he will have been a senator longer by the time he‘s inaugurated, but essentially, once you start to run for president full-time, you don‘t have time to do much else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t know why we used that, but he said rolling the dice, but it was Charlie Rose‘s word phrase there.  He used it.  Ed Schultz, your thought?

SCHULTZ:  Well, Chris, it‘s just a part of a pattern that has taken place from the Clinton camp.  This is attacking his experience.  Now, you know, that‘s probably acceptable, OK, questioning experience.  But it‘s going beyond that.  It‘s the surrogates that have brought up the drug stuff from 25 years ago.  It‘s the position on the war, which is a flat-out lie.  And now it‘s this Reagan and Republican thing.

Now, the comment that was there—I think that we got to be fair about this—this all good ideas is an absolute falsehood.  What his comment was, the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom.

Now, do I need to remind Americans that in ‘94, Newt Gingrich came along and had some ideas that the country went with, and we saw a shift of the Congress for the first time in 40 years?  Now, was Bill Clinton president then?  Did Bill Clinton bring us NAFTA, which a lot of working folks don‘t like right now?

I mean, you know, look, this is not about Bill Clinton, but Bill Clinton is hurting the party to the point where Ted Kennedy is speaking up, long-time Democrat Pat Leahy is speaking up.  Now even a newcomer to the Senate, Claire McCaskill...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

SCHULTZ:  ... is willing to step up and talk like this.  It‘s just too bad.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come back—Mark, respond.  Go ahead.  I‘m sorry.

GREEN:  One sentence on this.  You can criticize Bill Clinton.  He screwed up and failed on health care in 1993 and ‘94.  Everybody knows that.  But because the economy was as strong as it‘s been in 40 years, because he didn‘t invade and occupy a Muslim country, most Americans, and most Democrats by far, think he was a terrific president.

And if Barack Obama is going to say, We don‘t want to—we want to turn the page and not go back to the ‘90s, guess what, Ed?  Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton will say, The ‘90s were pretty good.  What didn‘t you like about it?  That is totally fair.  And to imply that‘s wrong or lying or racial is itself unfair.

MATTHEWS:  Well, long ago, in the hearings that...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  I don‘t think it is, and I think Bill Clinton‘s a liar!

MATTHEWS:  ... my colleague, Pat Buchanan, distinguished between dirty tricks and hardball, so we‘re going to have you guys come back and argue what isn‘t fair—what‘s fair and what‘s out of bounds?  What‘s hardball, which is clean, aggressive, Machiavellian politics—I think I coined the phrase back with a book back in ‘88 -- and what‘s dirty pool?  Mark Green and Ed Schultz will come back.

Is Bill Clinton breaking the rules or is he just playing tough?  We‘ll talk about the role of Bill Clinton, whether it‘s helping or hurting Hillary‘s chances.  And by the way, does the end justify the means?  I know that‘s a rather moral question to raise on a political show, but not a bad question to raise tonight.

And later: For the Republicans, it‘s all about Florida.  And for Rudy Giuliani, it‘s do or die time down there.  Rudy Giuliani‘s coming on here.  The former mayor of New York is coming on HARDBALL tonight.  You‘re watching it, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with radio talk show host Ed Schultz and Air America Radio‘s Mark Green, and we‘re joined right now by MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan.

I want to read you all—and I‘m going to start with Mark because

he‘s being such a good sport, working out of the barrel here, here with the

look at this quote.  This is what President Clinton said this afternoon, just as we speak.  It‘s been picked up on the wires.  And we‘re also going to have a clip that he said is pretty tough, something about Barack Obama just few minutes ago.  We‘re going to get the wire to you.

Here‘s the wire story.  This is President Clinton today talking to the press.  “‘This is almost like once you—like, once you accuse someone of racism and bigotry, the facts become irrelevant,‘ a red-faced Clinton said, staring down several print and TV reporters.” Quote, “‘Not one single solitary citizen asked about any of this, and they never do.  They—

Obama‘s campaign—are feeding you this because they know this is what you

want to cover.  This is what you live for.  But this hurts the people of

South Carolina.  What they care about is not going be in the newspapers

tonight because you don‘t care about it.  What you care about is this, and

the Obama people know it and they just spin you up on this, and you happily

go on.‘”

Now, here‘s Bill Clinton accusing the other side of spinning!  This is rich stuff!

Pat Buchanan, get in here for a second.  I know this has nothing to do with ideology, it‘s political gamesmanship.  Bill Clinton believes, at least he says he believes, that all this what some people think is innuendo against Barack is not that, it‘s being read into it, all this stuff about rolling the dice and fairy tales and inner city slumlords and drug dealing, or whatever, drug using.  All this stuff is just our imaginations, that the Clinton people did not intend to raise the racial issue, but we caused it to be raised by false reporting.  That‘s what Bill Clinton says, we‘ve drummed it up for our own purposes.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, look, there‘s no doubt that the media have raised—after the drug thing came up and after the victory by Hillary in New Hampshire, we in the media started asking the question, How come all those white folks suddenly went and moved away and overwhelmingly went for Hillary?  And we raised the “Bradley effect,” which is the race issue.

Let me say this about Bill Clinton as a surrogate.  He is the most effective surrogate I have seen, certainly in the last decade, in this sense.  Since he got into this thing, got down on the field, sacked Obama, Obama‘s been on the defensive.  Obama has...

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mark Green has...

BUCHANAN:  ... lost two straight races.

~MATTHEWS:  ... an ally in this discussion!  Are you happy now you‘ve been joined, Mark...

BUCHANAN:  Let me agree with Ed, in this sense.  I think there has been distortion of what Barack Obama said about Reagan and...

MATTHEWS:  Does the end justify the means in politics?

BUCHANAN:  He—well, what—what justifies...

MATTHEWS:  Does it?  Does the end justify the means?  Does winning justify distortion?

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, I don‘t think you ought to distort, but at the end of the game, they‘re going to say who won, who lost...

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

BUCHANAN:  ... if she‘s in the White House, Chris, and that‘s what he wants...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I mean, I think, Mark, Pat‘s with you on this, the end justifies the means of distortion.  Or as Ed Schultz calls it, half-lies.  My view is, it does work, but I also think down the road, you‘re known as “Slick Willie,” you‘re known as a great politician, down the road, your character, your reputation suffers, but you win the bout.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You do win!

GREEN:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  And later on, people say, I remember how you won.  That‘s all.

GREEN:  I don‘t intend to criticize implicitly my friend, Pat Buchanan, in our 100th appearance on television in this situation.  But Richard Nixon found out the end doesn‘t justify the means after Watergate, to use an exaggerated example.

The last people or couple you can accuse in this country of being racially manipulative, in my view, are the Clintons.  And it is true that some of the media will look behind innocent language about experience and say, aha, isn‘t that racial?

For example, Chris, you said the use of the word slumlord—I saw the debate.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GREEN:  And, of course, the Clintons have criticized Obama more than the reverse.  And Obama came ready for bear, so he whammed Hillary Clinton on being a corporate lawyer for Wal-Mart.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GREEN:  Then, Hillary Clinton, tit for tat, came back, said, well, you were a lawyer for a slumlord.  Both statements were true. 

If Bill Clinton is caught saying repeatedly untrue things, it would hurt his reputation and his wife‘s candidacy.  At the moment, the people you cited at the beginning of this show...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

GREEN:  ... like Leahy and others, are—and Daschle...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Just ask me—just...

GREEN:  ... are supporters of Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Just—OK, Ed, you get in here.  It is not my fight.

Let me just say this.  Hillary Clinton, who is a brilliant woman, and Mark Penn, who is her brilliant message guy, somehow, between the two of them, come up with line slumlord in inner-city Chicago.  It was very well stated.  It was—Hillary Clinton rarely uses evocative language.  That was evocative as hell, Ed Schultz.

She knew what message she was sending:  This is one of the guys preying on the people in the inner city. 

Ed Schultz? 

SCHULTZ:  Well—well, I think that, if Hillary Clinton can now convince the American people that she will get the oil executives in the Oval Office and talk to them like that, she might have a chance.  But everything seems to be directed at anybody that is going to take her politically down. 

Let me say this about in context for ‘04.  In ‘04, Democrats were frustrated that John Kerry didn‘t respond to the Swift Boat.  Now, when Barack Obama is responding to falsehoods, half-truths and misrepresentations, he is viewed as a whiner. 

He‘s setting the record right.  I think he is doing core Democrats a big favor.  If he can‘t stand up to the Clinton machine, who is going to do it?  And how can he stand up to world leaders, if he can‘t stand up to Bill Clinton?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Ed, they do sound—they do sound—Ed, they do sound like whiners and criers.  They‘re—Bill Clinton is doing this to me.  He‘s doing that to me.

And the truth is, Bill Clinton is whacking him in the head and in the back of the head and everything else, and they are winning this battle.  And Bill Clinton is fighting for his wife.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s fighting for the Clinton restoration.

GREEN:  Well...

BUCHANAN:  Are there distortions?  There are all kinds of distortions.

But a lot—there is a lot of truth behind what Bill Clinton said. 

And there‘s a lot of exaggeration.

GREEN:  Well...

BUCHANAN:  I haven‘t seen any bald-faced lie yet. 

GREEN:  Let me agree with my friend Pat Buchanan.  To compare this debate on...

SCHULTZ:  No, there has been a lie, Pat.  You are wrong on that. 

GREEN:  One second.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  He is absolutely lying about what he said about the Republicans and Reagan. 

GREEN:  One second.  That‘s—to compare Swift Boating, which made John Kerry, a proven war hero, into a war coward, was the opposite of the truth. 

To debate on how favorable Obama was on Reagan in the interview in Nevada is a fair fight. 

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

GREEN:  Look, I don‘t blame Obama for being frustrated, because he is running against two people. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  If you think that smear campaigns don‘t work, you are living in a dream world.  The fact is, the majority of Americans think that Barack Obama is a Muslim.  They think that.  And that is wrong. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  Where did all that start? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute, Ed.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I have never heard that come from a Clinton person. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Have you, Ed?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  That is a charge, ed.  Have you ever heard a Clinton person surrogate or supporter ever say the Muslim thing? 

BUCHANAN:  No.  Let me...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ed, Ed, I am calling you on this. 

SCHULTZ:  You telling me they‘re not a part of that?  I think they...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever heard them tied to that kind of charge? 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  I think that the Clinton camp needs to disavow themselves from that comment, because, right now, it is scorched-earth policy for the Clintons.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes.  It was Bob Kerrey you‘re talking about.

SCHULTZ:  It‘s like the old Al Davis thing.  Just win, baby.  Just win.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.

BUCHANAN:  Let me correct Ed Schultz.

What Ed said—look, when Barack Obama says, for the last 10 or 15 years, the Republican Party has been the party of ideas, 15 years ago this month, Bill Clinton was inaugurated.  What do you think he thinks when he hears that?

He thinks, look, that guy is saying all the Republicans had the ideas, and we didn‘t.  And he comes fighting back.  And Obama squeals and hollers when he comes fighting back and punches him. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  No, he‘s not squealing and hollering.

MATTHEWS:  I think none of understood how good a job Bill Clinton would play as a surrogate attack dog.  He has been spectacular.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We never thought he would play that role that well. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  Chris, can I attempt to elevate this beyond slanders that haven‘t been said?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The proof is in the pudding.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know.  He is not acting like a former president.  He‘s just acting like a husband.  He‘s been unbelievable. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan.

Thank you, Ed Schultz.

I like the way you fight, Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  And, Mark Green, you have a complicated position.  You are neutral, but, yet, you defend Hillary and Bill.  It gets very complicated in these celestial positions. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  I know what Obama feels like—I know what Obama feels like being two on one, with you and Ed. 

MATTHEWS:  I—I speak for the truth. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you. 

You never—nobody knows where I stand. 

Anyway, you heard what Barack Obama said about Bill Clinton being the first black president.  Coming up, let‘s hear Bill‘s comeback.  It‘s pretty funny.

You‘re watching HARDBALL.

But it had a message.  It has a message.

You‘re watching it, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, let‘s talk, as Barack Obama would say, some other stuff. 

Everyone is still buzzing about Barack‘s hip response to whether or not he believes Bill Clinton was the—quote—“first black president”—close quote. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think Bill Clinton did have an enormous affinity with the African-American community, and still does.  And I think that‘s well earned.

I would have to, you know, investigate more of Bill‘s dancing abilities...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  ... you know, and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother. 

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  But...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

WOLF BLITZER, MODERATOR:  Let‘s let Senator Clinton weigh in on that.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I‘m sure that can be arranged.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was a nice American moment. 

Anyway, even if Bill—even Bill now is weighing.  In on the campaign trail in South Carolina, he said—quote—“I would be willing to engage in a dancing competition with Barack, even though he is much thinner and younger than I am, but only if I got an age allowance.”

“Younger than I am”?  “Age Allowance?”  Don‘t be fooled by the cuteness here.  It is funny, because it is also a direct shot at Obama‘s alleged youth.  The big fish is always on message. 

Now to John Edwards.  Remember this video from last year which quickly became an Internet hit? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Never, ever, ever, if you are a male candidate for anything, use a compact mirror. 

Anyway, well, those handsome $400 haircuts continue to dog poor John. 

Here he is last night on “The Late Show With David Letterman.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Could I just mess up your hair a little bit?

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You want to?  Go ahead. 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Do you mind?

EDWARDS:  I don‘t mind. 

LETTERMAN:  Has it ever been messed up? 

No, no, no.  

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of good hair, now to Mitt Romney.

Yesterday, we brought you son Matt Romney‘s practical joke on his dad, in which he had Mitt convinced that Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the telephone. 

Well, according to this morning‘s “Washington Post,” it turns out that the Romney family has a longstanding penchant for pranks like that.  Mitt is notorious, for example, for wedding stunts, like covering a honeymoon car in feathers with dead fish under the floor mats, or writing “Help me” in nail polish on the groom‘s soles, visible when he kneels at the altar. 

Whoa.  Mitt Romney, the Milton Berle of the Mormons. 

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number” tonight.

Democrats hold a razor-thin advantage in the U.S. Senate right now, effectively a 51-49 majority.  But, this election season, Democrats could turn that paper-thin advantage into something big.  Just 12 Democratic seats are up for election in the cycle.  Compare that to tonight‘s “Big Number,” the number of Republican seats that are exposed this year for defeat.  Twenty-three Republican seats could go down, any number of them, because they are all exposed, a big opportunity for the Democrats. 

Tonight‘s “Big Number”: 23.        

Up next: on to Florida.  It is do-or-die for Rudy Giuliani, who is finally competing head on, going for first in Florida.  I will ask him whether he can survive coming in second down there. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARON EPPERSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Sharon Epperson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Talk about a wild ride.  The Dow industrials closed up almost 299 points.  That‘s after being down 326 points earlier this afternoon.  The S&P 500 gained 28 points.  The Nasdaq gained 24. 

After the closing bell, eBay reported quarterly earnings that easily beat estimates.  It—but it fell short of expectations.  It also announced, longtime president and CEO Meg Whitman will step down.  In after-hours trading, eBay shares are down 6 percent. 

Ford and the United Auto Workers Union have reportedly reached a new agreement on a new round of buyouts that will be offered to all 54,000 union workers in the U.S.  The automaker reportedly wants to trim as many as 11,000 union jobs and up to 2,000 salaried positions. 

And oil fell $2.22 in New York trading, closing at $86.99 a barrel. 

That is the lowest level since last October. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have tremendous respect for Senator McCain.  I think I have said more than once, if I wasn‘t running , I would probably be supporting him for president of the United States. 

(APPLAUSE)

GIULIANI:  I just—well, I just happen to think that there is a better candidate, me, but, you know, that‘s...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was Mayor Rudy Giuliani back in September, when John McCain‘s campaign was crashing.  Now Rudy is fighting it out with McCain in Florida, when McCain could crush Rudy‘s shot at the nomination. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

As they said on the House floor, do you want to revise and extend those remarks, Mr. Mayor? 

GIULIANI:  No, I want to emphasize them.  I think I would be a better candidate for president and a better president.  Still have the same respect for John, though.  Exactly what I said then applies now. 

MATTHEWS:  In the past, the cultural right candidates have been eating each other alive.

(CROSSTALK)

GIULIANI:  You wanted a flip-flop, didn‘t you? 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk turkey here.  I wanted you to change your mind. 

No, I don‘t want—whatever you want, sir. 

Let me ask you this.   It seems to me, in all these primaries you have been watching from afar so far—and caucuses—the cultural right has been eating themselves alive.  Huckabee has been taking votes away from Romney, Romney away from Thompson.  They‘re all in dishevelment, these guys.  The only one surviving is Romney.

Now he gets to take on you two more maverick, more hard-to-read Republicans.  You‘re not cultural right.  Isn‘t this a danger for both you and McCain? 

GIULIANI:  I think that I am going to win this primary because I think this is a state in which we have done the most work, where we have been the most relevant as far as what the people in Florida are thinking about and caring about.

I think that economy now being such a major issue works very much toward our candidacy.  I have had the most experience in turning around a government economy.  None of my opponents have ever really done that.  I took over New York City when it was in difficult shape, when its economy was in difficult shape, 17th largest economy in the world, financial capital of the world.  And my policies helped to turn it around.

And just today, my tax package, which is the boldest of any of the Republicans, was introduced in Congress by Congressman Dreier, and it was proclaimed to be one of the best vehicles for growth by the Club for Growth. 

So, I think we‘re—I think we have got a very strong candidacy here.  We have also been more involved in the whole issue of the National Catastrophic Fund from the point of view of homeland security.  I think we understand it better than the other Republican candidates, realize the need for it, and would fight for it if I were president of the United States.  It allows people in Florida to get insurance.

MATTHEWS:  How would you fund that fund?  How would you fund that—yes, let‘s talk about that fund, that catastrophic fund.  How do you fund it?  Where does the money come from? 

(CROSSTALK)

GIULIANI:  You are funding it anyway, Chris. 

John McCain is not in favor of it.  He says FEMA should do it.  Well, FEMA is paying out billions and billions of dollars.  So, you set up a backstop.  And it would only be used if it is a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation occasion.

And, therefore, it would allow insurance companies to have accessible insurance.  It may never get called on.  And the reality is, if there is a catastrophe...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who underwrites it?  Who underwrites this insurance?  What money is coming into—everybody pays a premium.  Who pays the premiums here?

(CROSSTALK)

GIULIANI:  It is underwritten—it is underwritten by the government, in the same way—let‘s say there were a terrible hurricane, God forbid, in Florida. 

What is going to happen?  Federal money is going to come in, right? 

We know that.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GIULIANI:  Sometimes, it is billions.  Sometimes, it‘s multiple billions.  I think Katrina was over $100 billion.

The idea is, you have a backstop, so people can get private insurance.  It would actually be fiscally sound.  It would save money.  People would still have to pay.  They would still have to pay based on risk, but it wouldn‘t be the situation that people are facing in Florida, that people faced in New York because of the lack of terrorism insurance for a while, in which you can‘t get insurance at all. 

And I think it is an important issue for the people of Florida, but also for the people of California, New York, other places. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, pretend you are Franklin Roosevelt, our Great Depression president, and we are facing what looks to be a significant recession coming our way.  Explain the connection between European funding, European capital markets, the sub prime problem in the United States, where people are getting loans who shouldn‘t have gotten them and couldn‘t afford them?  Put it all together.  Explain how we get out of this mess if you are president. 

GIULIANI:  The way we get out of this mess—and it is good that you called on Franklin Roosevelt, because the only fear that we should have is fear itself.  America is in a strong position if we are competitive.  We have to think of ourselves now as one country among the most (INAUDIBLE) economically powerful, but still a country that has to compete.  We can‘t over-tax.  We can‘t over-spend.  We can‘t over-regulate.  We can‘t over-sue. 

We have to get control of those things.  We need reasonable levels of taxation, which is what my tax plan proposes, a single-page tax form as an option.  We need to reduce government spending and we need to do it right now, today.  We shouldn‘t rehire half of the government employees, civilian employees, who come up for retirement.  We should hire only one position for every two. 

We have to go to look at our regulation, like Sarbanes/Oxley, a lot of others.  We have to stop regulating businesses out of the United States.  We are sending the jobs abroad by the over-spending, by our over-regulating, by our over-taxing.  We‘re also doing it by over-suing.  We sue too much in this country.  When you do comparisons in the United States against other developed countries, businesses find other places more favorable. 

An American president has to focus on the fact that we have to compete.  That is what I had to do for New York.  I had to make New York competitive.  I did.  I slashed unemployment in half, grew jobs by 450,000, and turned it around from a deficit to a surplus.  We can do the same thing for this country.  We do it aggressively.  We do it optimistically.  And we do it as competitors, as a competitive nation. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is a pretty conservative message.  I mean, you‘re basically saying cut corporate, cut cap gains, and get rid of the requirements that the CEOs and CFOs sign on to the financial dealings of big corporations, after all the sleaze we‘ve seen in recent years.  A lot of people believe we have already had too much tax advantages for the rich and we‘ve already had too much sleaziness at the top of our corporate world.  You are saying, unleash the corporate world and give them a tax break. 

GIULIANI:  What we are saying is be competitive.  Of course, we should have regulations.  They have regulations in Europe.  They have regulations in Asia.  But if we over-regulate, then we lose jobs and businesses to Europe.  We lose jobs and businesses to Asia, if we overtax.  Our corporate tax, Chris, is the second highest in the world.  Even Democrats want to reduce our corporate tax. 

How can you have second highest corporate tax in the world and be competitive?  You are going to lose jobs.  You are sending jobs out of the United States when you have the second highest corporate tax in the world.  You reduce that corporate tax from 35 percent to 25 percent and you will see an immediate influx in our economy. 

Think of what the Fed is doing.  The Fed is putting liquidity, with these lower interest rates, into our economy.  But from the fiscal side, we should be putting liquidity into our economy.  We should be putting more money into our private economy.  That will stimulate it. 

This is not the old good for the rich, bad for the poor, bad for the rich, good for the poor.  This is good for America and good from the point of view of how you manage to work with an economy that is a competitive economy. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you are right.  You are certainly right, Mr. Mayor, a lot of money has moved over to London because of the Sarbanes/Oxley.  I just think the politics are very tricky at this point to sell a loosening up of regulations of top corporations after the sleaze we have seen.  Thank you very much, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, running for his life in Florida. 

GIULIANI:  That is why you need leadership. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, sir.  Up next, we get to the bottom of the fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over shady contributors.  Who has got the biggest pile of dirt?  She said he defended and took money from a slum lord, and today Obama‘s campaign fires back.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back now.  It is time for the politics fix with our round table.  Jim Warren is the managing editor of the “Chicago Tribune, “Politico” editor in chief John Harris, and Joan Walsh of Salon.com.

I want Joan and you gentlemen to listen to this.  Here is former President Clinton very late today down in South Carolina. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  I am just reacting to the fact that yes, they did have ideas. 

B. CLINTON:  --the public complaints when Mr. Obama said Hillary was not truthful, had no character, was poll driven.  He had more polls than she did.  When he put out a hit job on me, at the same time he called her the senator from Punjab.  I never said a word.  And I don‘t care about it today.  I am not upset about it. 

The only thing pointed out was that there was substantially no different in her record and his on Iraq and that he had said in 2004 there was no difference between his position and President Bush.  And he said that was somehow dishonest, but he never answers how it‘s not accurate.  So this is crazy.  This rhetoric is getting a little carried away here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, in another quote we want to read you that is not in byte—I want to read this to you, “this is almost like you accuse someone of racism and bigotry and the facts become irrelevant.  Not one single solitary citizen asked about any of this and they never do.  The Obama campaign is feeding this because they know it is what you in the media want to cover.  This is what you live for, but this hurts the people of South Carolina.  What they care about is not going be in the newspapers tonight because you don‘t care about it. 

“What you care about is this and the Obama people know it, and they just spin you up on it.  And you happily go along.”  That‘s Bill Clinton taking a shot at the media. 

John Harris, you know Bill Clinton.  You wrote the biography.  Is he telling the truth about the spinning by the other side, or is he himself spinning? 

JOHN HARRIS, “POLITICO”:  Well, what struck me about the clip is that is the authentic Bill Clinton, who has a lot of resentment against the press, loves chewing up politics, mixing it up that way.  And what they have learned is that by just letting Clinton unleash, the unvarnished Clinton, they think is actually good politics.  They don‘t have to muzzle him. 

For Bill Clinton it is like learning that doughnuts are health food, or something like that. He can eat as much as he likes and it is good.  Who is spinning who?  Both sides are spinning as best they can, but they have decided that letting Bill Clinton mix it up that way, attack the press, attack Obama is good politics.

MATTHEWS:  Joan, I never thought that Bill Clinton, the former president, would be so good at distracting and, as David Broder in the “Washington Post” said this morning, getting into the head of Barack Obama.  Barack Obama, I mean, he is sleeping rent-free in Barack Obama‘s head right now.  And it is driving Barack Obama nutty, like you know those people in the Utah Jazz out in Salt Lake City, those kids sitting behind the foul line, waving those stupid things?  That is what he is doing to Barack every night it seems, distracting him and driving him into a frenzy. 

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Well, I think a couple of things are going on here, Chris.  First of all, the media tend to be suspicious of President Clinton, but the public tends to like him.  So everybody has been saying for a long time, he is going to do his wife a disservice and she has been winning ever since he took the gloves off.  So that‘s one thing.

The other thing is, I really do agree with President Clinton that Senator Obama has mostly, mostly gotten a free ride from the media.  And so now that they are facing some adversity, I don‘t think they know how to deal with it.  So I think they are on their heels a little bit, and I think they will toughen up in the next couple of weeks.  But there is a dynamic here that the president I think is correct in identifying. 

MATTHEWS:  I want Jim Warren to look at this clip.  Here is Hillary Clinton the other might in the debate going after Barack and sticking it to him.  After he goes after her on Wal-Mart, she comes back like a thunder clap here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  I am just reacting to the fact that, yes, they did have ideas and they were bad ideas.  Bad for America.  And I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Rezko, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago. 

OBAMA:  No.  I was an associate at a law firm that represented a church group that had partnered with this individual to do a project.  And I did about five hours worth of work on this joint project.  That is what she is referring to. 

Now, it is fine for her to throw that out.  But the larger reason that I think that this debate is important is because we do have to trust our leaders and what they say. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Jim Warren of the “Chicago Tribune.”  What is this story about Rezko?  Did Rezko and Obama do anything dirty together?  Did Obama take something wrong from him?  Did he give something to—something in terms of service or money to this guy Rezko? 

JIM WARREN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  No.  For starters, let me say that Joan is painting a little bit too broad of a brush.  We have covered him and critically so, like a blanket for a long time.  We haven‘t given the guy any pass.  I think that is—

WALSH:  I think that is true.  The Chicago papers have been fair.  The Chicago papers have been good, Jim.  I will give you that. 

WARREN:  The charge of being a slum lord, Chris, verges on pure absolute baloney.  If he had had a little more time and been a little clearer the other night, he would have said that he worked a few hours at a law firm which did business with multiple non-profit groups who partnered with Rezko‘s development firm. 

Throughout the 90‘s Rezko was quite the up and coming developer in Chicago with a very good reputation.  He had spotted this is hot shot guy coming out of Harvard law school when nobody knew him, gave him a lot of money personally through his firm, gave them a lot of money.  So there is no empirical proof of this slum lord charge.  And you can also debate whether or not those buildings would actually constitute slums. 

But that said, the real problem here, if the Clinton camp was smart and wanted to really say something about Obama‘s judgment, is when you fast forward to 2005, at a time when everybody here in town knew that Mr. Rezko was no longer the white knight developer, but in fact was under grand jury investigations for some very sleazy and possibly illegal dealings with the Democratic governor of the Illinois, Rod Blagojevich and various state boards, not anything to touch Obama.  But the two of them on the same day in 2005 buy adjoining lots in the Hyde Park Neighborhood in Chicago.  The one Obama got had a big mansion on it and then there were some private dealings with Rezko at a time when Obama really should have been staying a million miles away from the guy. 

So the slum lord thing is baloney, but there is other stuff. 

WALSH:  And he has since said that there was no way he didn‘t know.  He couldn‘t have known at the point they bought the houses together.  But, in fact, the “Sun Times” and the Tribune both had headlines before that happened, talking that problem. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s admitted that he had a problem there and he shouldn‘t have don‘t it.  That‘s easy to say afterwards.  We‘ll be right back with the round table and the politics fix about who has the bigger bucket of sleaze to carry around with them.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  We are back with the panel for more of the politics fix.  Let‘s listen to a little bit of Bill Clinton, the former president, talking about his problem with the media right now. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON:  The facts become relevant.  There are facts here.  The final thing I‘d like to say is, you‘re asking me about this.  You set through this whole meeting.  Not one single solitary soul asked about any of this, and they never do.  They are feeding you this, because they know this is what you want to cover.  This is what you live for. 

But this hurts the people of South Carolina, because the people of South Carolina come to these meetings and are asking questions about what they care about.  And what they care about is not going to be in the news coverage tonight, because you don‘t care about it.  What you care about is this and the Obama people know that. 

So they just spin you up on this and you happily go along.  The people don‘t care about this.  They never ask about it.  You‘re determined to take this election away from them, and that‘s not right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, there‘s the former president saying the media is taking the campaign away from the people by focusing on his words.  What do you make of that Joan Walsh.  Is he right? 

WALSH:  I think he‘s partially right.  I think some of the racial complaints about the Clintons were unfair.  Hillary‘s remarks about Martin Luther King were politically stupid but not racist.  His calling Obama‘s Iraq record or whatever it was a fairy-tale might have been questionable.  It was not racist.  They are getting slammed with something that isn‘t exactly fair. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  I think we can debate this a bit more.  Jim Warren, thank you sir.  Thank you John Harris.  Thank you Joan.  Tomorrow night I‘ll be in Florida for the Republican presidential candidates debate.  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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