updated 2/19/2008 10:45:25 AM ET 2008-02-19T15:45:25

Guests: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Deborah Mathis, Rick Hertzberg, Ryan Lizza, Ron Christie, Wayne Slater, John Heilemann

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  ... says words are cheap, so what‘s the big deal about Barack borrowing some?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  If Hillary Clinton‘s going to stage a comeback, can it start tomorrow in Wisconsin?  She spent all day in Wisconsin today, hoping to stop Barack Obama‘s eight-contest winning streak and gain some momentum for herself two weeks before the critical Texas and Ohio primaries.

Also, what did Barack Obama, and why is it causing controversy?  Well, we‘ll take a look at that fight that erupted today over something Barack said on the campaign trail.

And the spotlight turns to Bill Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I gave you the answer.  We disagree with you.  You want to criminalize women and their doctors, and we disagree.  You want to penalize women and their doctors.  I am against abortion.  Tell the truth!  Tell the truth!  You can‘t name me anybody presently in politics that did more to introduce policies that reduce the number of real abortions instead of the hot air putting out to tear people up and make (INAUDIBLE)

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, actually, President Clinton went at it with a couple of hecklers yesterday, not always with that same profound effect.  Is his fierce campaign attitude a plus or a minus?

And speaking of former presidents, John McCain today received the endorsement of the first President Bush, George H.W. Bush.  This as McCain campaign aides calculate how to best use the current President Bush in his campaign.

But first the state of the race right now on George Washington‘s birthday with MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and the editor of “The Nation” magazine, Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

Well, tomorrow we have the Wisconsin primary.  But before we have that, we want to show you this poll that‘s just come out for Texas, showing a very tight race in Texas on March 4, two weeks ahead.  This is the first poll we‘ve had of the Texas primary after the—what we called the Potomac primaries of last week, to show the bounce, if you will.  And there has been a bounce for Barack Obama.

Katrina, we‘re showing a screen that shows in Texas among Democrats, Senator Clinton at 50 percent, Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, at 48 percent, obviously, within the margin of error.  That‘s a dramatic tightening of that race, almost to even.  What do you make of that latest poll?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, “THE NATION”:  Well, at this point in the primaries, I don‘t like to believe any polls.  But I think that‘s very interesting because Texas was supposed to be Hillary Clinton‘s state.  She has a rich network of connections going back to 1972 and before.

But I think what we‘re looking at is a generational divide opening up in Texas, a new generation of Latino voters.  And I think that people in Texas are getting to know Obama better.  I also think the primary rules in Texas, at least on the Democratic side, are like a DNA chart.  You got the primaries in the morning...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... and the caucuses in the evening.  And Obama could do very well in the evening and do far better in the morning.  I think we‘re going to see—I think for Hillary Clinton at this stage in the race, Chris, it‘s Ohio and Pennsylvania are her, quote, “firewall” states...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... for reasons that Obama has not cut as far into as he needs to among the white working class, which remains a real base for—and old-economy voters are more comfortable with known quantities.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, thanks.  Same question to you, Pat.  How do you put this together, the fact that the Wisconsin primary‘s tomorrow?  Is this make or—can Hillary take another loss?  Can she take another loss without hurting her position in Pennsylvania later on down the road, and before that, in Ohio and Texas?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think if she loses Wisconsin, and Obama wins Texas, as well, I think it‘s pretty much all over for her for this—in this sense, she will have lost the big-state argument that she‘s been making.  Also, I think it would be virtually impossible for her to win in pledged delegates, and I think the raw vote totals will go to Obama.  And in that case, I can‘t see superdelegates turning the nomination over to Hillary Rodham Clinton, if she‘s lost the pledged delegates and the—and the raw vote.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at the state of—go ahead Katrina.  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  No, I was going to say, I mean, I think that is the key question facing the Democratic Party at this stage, whether you‘re going to have the superdelegates thwart the public—the political—the will of the voters.  And we haven‘t even gotten to Michigan and Florida, and that whole issue...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... could be a train wreck for a party that wants to be unified.  But to thwart the Democratic will could lead to all of the young people and people who haven‘t engaged in politics before feeling not only angry but turned off, turned out.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s the worst thing you can say about the Democrats, they don‘t like playing by the rules.  Everybody has their own notion of which rule to break, to change.  You know, you‘d think that most grown-ups could say, Here are the rules, we‘re going to play by them.  President Clinton used to say he‘s for people who work hard and play by the rules...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and here we have his wife, Senator Clinton, saying, Well, let‘s change the rules in Michigan.  Let‘s change them in Florida.  And then we got, in all fairness, Barack Obama, who‘s saying, Let‘s not let the superdelegates be superdelegates, let‘s make them vote the way their constituencies vote.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Barack Obama‘s got an argument, as well, with John McCain. 

Are we going to accept the federal finance...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and he promised he would.  Now he‘s saying he might not.

BUCHANAN:  But let me say this.  If Hillary Clinton after Texas—say that‘s a dead heat—she wins Ohio and Pennsylvania, it will re-raise the question, Can Barack Obama get the white working-class Reagan Democrats?  Because if he can‘t, he could have a real problem and the party could have a real problem in the fall, not only in the South, where they could be wiped out, but in some of these big industrial states.

MATTHEWS:  So you think a vote for Hillary is a vote for McCain down the road?

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  He‘s grounding his rhetoric...

BUCHANAN:  I think the Hillary voters—I think the Hillary voters are accessible to McCain.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I do, too.

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think the Obama voters are accessible to McCain.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look—you first, Katrina.  Let‘s look at this.  This is today‘s spat.  Senator Clinton has been blasting Barack Obama for being all words, no action.  Well, here‘s Obama responding in Wisconsin Saturday night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Don‘t tell me words don‘t matter!  “I have a dream.”  Just words?  “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”  Just words?  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Just words?  Just speeches?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Just words.  Now here‘s the problem area.  Take a listen now to Deval Patrick who‘s governor of Massachusetts now, when he was running for governor in October of 2006, responding to the same charge that he was using nice words but didn‘t have the substance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEVAL PATRICK (D-MA), CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR:  ... heard a lot from her staff is that all I have to offer is words, just words.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Just words.  Just words.  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Just words.  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  Just words.  “I have a dream.”  Just words!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, almost identical, of course.  So what gives?  Here‘s Howard Wolfson of the Clinton campaign blasting Obama today on a conference call.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN:  When an author plagiarizes from another author, the—there is damage done to two different parties.  One is to the person he plagiarized from.  The other is to the reader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Senator Obama responded himself today at a press conference.  Listen to him.  This continues, this fight, all day today.  Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Deval and I do trade ideas all the time.  And you know, he‘s, you know, occasionally used lines of mine, and I, at a J.J. dinner in Wisconsin, used some words of his.  And you know, I would add that I notice Senator Clinton on occasion has used words of mine, as well.  And I don‘t think that, you know, that‘s really the kind of stuff that the workers here are concerned about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Earlier in the day, Governor Patrick of Massachusetts put out a statement that he and Obama are long-time friends who often share ideas about politics and language and that he applauds Obama for, quote, “responding in just the way he did.”

Well, Patrick, you‘re giggling.  You‘re giggling because, clearly, they were using the same refrain.  In fact, “just words” was their sort of their line, their tag line, they just kept using, “just words,” “just words.”

BUCHANAN:  Well, it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  So does this fall into the category of Joe Biden pretending he‘s Neil Kinnock, the British Labour Party leader?  Is this real plagiarism or simply both tapping into the same public domain quotes that everybody uses?

BUCHANAN:  No, these aren‘t public domain quotes, like—this is a formulation.  This is a straight lift.  This is clear plagiarism.  He should have credited, As my friend, Deval Patrick, said.  It sank Biden because his campaign was just taking off.  He was about 500 feet from the ground.  Obama‘s at 30,000 feet.

MATTHEWS:  Mortal or venial sin?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think it‘s a venial sin.  I think it‘s going to cost him.  It goes to character.  It goes to...

MATTHEWS:  Character?

BUCHANAN:  Sure, it does, when you lift something from somebody and then you don‘t credit them with doing it.  And I don‘t think it‘s major.  I think it‘s still a venial sin.  But I do think this.  It will cause reporters to go back and look at other formulations of his, and it provides grist for those who are going to go after Obama...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  ... on issues of character.  This one drew...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I was talking to somebody in his campaign today...

BUCHANAN:  This one drew blood.

MATTHEWS:  ... and they say he—he got this himself.  This wasn‘t put together by a speech writer.  He had heard what Deval had heard before.  He liked what he said and he repeated it.  What do you make of it?  Is this a major crime, minor crime, so what?  Where do you put it, Katrina?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think it‘s a distraction.  I think this is why ordinary people get turned off of politics.  I mean, listen, he would—words, Martin Luther King, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Founding Fathers—to call—cry plagiarism—I mean, the larger point is not that Hillary Clinton, as some on the blogs have said today, pilfered lines from Obama, like, “Fired up and ready to go.”  The larger point is that they should both be sharpening their message and speaking...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... of what people want to hear.

MATTHEWS:  So this is nothing?  This is nothing?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think there are issues of character that can be drawn.  But I don‘t think this—this is a distraction.  And the Hillary Clinton campaign as you noted, Chris, is peddling this so ferociously that it‘s overtaking a smart populist economic message and platform that she‘s trying to drive into Ohio and Pennsylvania.

BUCHANAN:  Chris—Chris, it‘s a very bad day—I mean, it‘s a bad day for—not very bad day, a bad day for Obama.  When he‘s sitting out there explaining why he‘s plagiarized something from another speaker, and it‘s a direct and total lift, and it‘s the day before the Wisconsin primary, that‘s not good.  It‘s a lost day, the lost final day.  And a lot of journalists, especially journalists, are going to take a look, say, Wait a minute, because they know a lot of guys got in trouble for things like that in journalism...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Pat, do you think...

BUCHANAN:  ... so they understand it more than anybody.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... the workers in a ravaged factory...

BUCHANAN:  No, I don‘t think...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... in Racine, Wisconsin, care that much about this stuff?

BUCHANAN:  No, I don‘t.  But I think Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan and Katrina Vanden Heuvel are talking about it.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Yes, but that‘s part of the problem, the disconnect in this country between people on HARDBALL and what‘s going on in people‘s lives and what they want to hear from the candidates.

MATTHEWS:  Well...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  And I feel for Hillary Clinton...

BUCHANAN:  That‘s the problem, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... because her campaign is stepping on her message today, in my view, which is that she should drive and sharpen her differences with Barack Obama on health care and all of that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me get this attack clear.  You‘re attacking me, Katrina...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... for bringing up what the Clinton people brought up today.  I should not have mentioned it, in other words.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  No, but I‘m saying making so much is going to be the narrative...

MATTHEWS:  I brought it up about give minutes into the show...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m giving it three or four minutes, and I‘m asking you to assess the importance of it.

BUCHANAN:  Well, Katrina...

MATTHEWS:  We shouldn‘t be talking about it.

BUCHANAN:  ... Drudge is middle America and Drudge has had it up here for about eight hours.  It‘s been huge...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Drudge is middle America?

BUCHANAN:  Drudge is -- 10 million people go into Drudge.  For heaven‘s sake.

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you something...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Delve deep into your conscience, Katrina, if Hillary Clinton had been caught stealing direct lines like this from someone else, like her husband, would you have thought it noteworthy or not?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But I would have said it‘s a distraction even then.  Anyway, she has taken lines.  And I‘m not hitting her on that.  She has taken lines from Obama.  And she said the other day that, Obama has plagiarized my ideas about the economy, and yet he has no solutions.  She can‘t have that both ways.  But yes, I would be saying the same thing, that it‘s a distraction from the real issues, health care for 40 million, end the war...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... jobs for Americans, things Pat cares about because he is an ordinary American.

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you something.  Ask Joe Biden if this stuff doesn‘t matter, OK?  Thank you, Pat.  Thank you Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

Join us again live at 7:00 Eastern tonight for the HARDBALL “Power Rankings.”   Who‘s got the best chance of winning the White House, as we see it, as I see it?

Up next, new video of Bill Clinton getting into it with an Obama supporter.  We‘re going to watch him.  Bill is very much alive.  He‘s out there.  He‘s got a Frank Sinatra quality—You want to take me on?  I‘ll take you on.  Is the former president‘s temper showing, or is he just being a regular guy responding to a shot?  Is he helping or hurting his wife‘s campaign?  That‘s the question.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  You may have noticed the graphic over my shoulder, a picture we showed over our shoulder that was a mistake earlier in the broadcast.  We apologize for the error.

Anyway, welcome back.  Bill Clinton sparred with hecklers on the campaign trail over the weekend.  One pro-life heckler provoked the former president into taking him on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What were you doing (INAUDIBLE)

CLINTON:  I gave you the answer.  We disagree with you.  You want to penalize women and their doctors, and we disagree.  You want to penalize women and their doctors.  I reduced abortions.  Tell the truth!  Tell the truth!  You can‘t name me anybody presently in politics that did more to introduce policies that reduced the number of real abortions, instead of the hot air putting out to tear people up and make (INAUDIBLE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, another heckler was an Obama supporter who repeatedly interrupted President Clinton‘s speech and confronted him on the rope line.  The heckler, whose name is Robert Holman (ph), engaged President Clinton for a good amount of time—you can see them there—and asked him to stop the bickering between the two campaigns and have Hillary quit the race after March 4.  That‘s when, of course, the two big races in Texas and Ohio occur.  Here‘s how the heckler described Bill Clinton‘s reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, the president became very angry.  He was very irate.  And this is what I can see.  They‘re about to lose.  When you‘re losing, you become almost uncontrollable.  You‘re not able to talk clearly or illustrate (INAUDIBLE) So all the name-calling, it‘s like the bully in the yard.  He can‘t have his way.  He can‘t get nothing done.  He got very heated.  He got—I think he even hit me in the face with his hand, backed me up a little bit, but you know, I—the Secret Service got him off me real quick.  I noticed that.  But he did give me a little pop, and that was OK because I understand his tenacity for his wife.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow!  Does President Clinton help or hurt Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail?  Rick Hertzberg is senior editor and staff writer for “The New Yorker” magazine.  There he is!  Deborah Mathis is a columnist with Blackamericaweb.com.  is that the right way to say it?

DEBORAH MATHIS, BLACKAMERICAWEB.COM:  That‘s correct.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Deborah, you‘ve known President Clinton.  This kind of feistiness, is this his nature?  Is this his strategy?  Is this what?

MATHIS:  It is definitely his nature.  I don‘t think there‘s any strategy.  I think he‘s going just with his gut at the moment.  And what we‘re seeing is him off guard and off message obviously, as well.  I don‘t fault him so much for taking on the heckler about the abortion because that was interrupting the flow of his speech.  But with the rope line, he should have just moved on past that man.  I mean, it‘s un-presidential.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MATHIS:  It‘s unseemly.  It‘s time-consuming.  And it makes news instead of what he wanted to talk about.

MATTHEWS:  Rick Hertzberg, your views on the president‘s sort of Frank Sinatra aspect here?  I keep thinking of Frank Sinatra because he was the guy, no matter how big he was, if somebody wanted to poke fun or cause trouble with him, he was ready for him.

RICK HERTZBERG, “THE NEW YORKER”:  He and quite a number of his friends, too.

MATTHEWS:  You mean like Jilly Rizzo (ph)?

HERTZBERG:  Yes, those guys.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t want to put the president in that category, but you know what I mean, the willingness to say, you know, Knock this off my shoulder, buddy.  If you want to come after me, I‘ll come after you—that kind of thing.

HERTZBERG:  Yes, and I guess the question is would you guys have put the heckler on TV if the president hadn‘t engaged with him.  I mean, when a guy runs out on the field at a major league baseball game, you know, the camera cuts away from him.  This kind of encourages that sort of behavior.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HERTZBERG:  And that was certainly bad for Obama.  I mean, it was obviously—his campaign didn‘t put this guy up to it, but that was not good for Obama to have that guy out there and then on TV.

MATTHEWS:  Why?  Because?

HERTZBERG:  Because it‘s rude.  It‘s awful.  It‘s—that‘s no way to

that‘s no way to behave.  That‘s—it‘s terrible.  I don‘t think anybody gets mad at Bill Clinton for yelling back at—at a heckler.  There‘s other problems with Bill, but that‘s not one of them. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But, Deborah, Deborah, you—yes, I—we can agree on a lot of disagreements here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What—Deborah, you said that the president should have just walked by this guy, and it was a problem for him to get engaged with a guy who didn‘t have any standing, until, as Rick points out, we put him on TV. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATHIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Now everybody knows this guy‘s name. 

MATHIS:  Right. 

And, I mean, looking at the interview, he‘s kind of enjoying the attention, I would say. 

MATTHEWS:  I would say so.

(LAUGHTER)

MATHIS:  To say the least. 

I hope it will not be taken as a reflection on the Obama campaign, because I think most people can just imagine—we don‘t have to be told this—that he was not put out there to represent the Obama campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MATHIS:  I don‘t think that was...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to a more familiar topic, which is—and I will start with you, Deborah. 

President Clinton has been very circumspect the last three, four weeks, to let Senator Clinton be the star.  And he‘s been the supporting role, the supporting man, if you will, and has held to the backdrop.  He‘s gone to smaller cities.  He hasn‘t grabbed national press. 

Is this off message? 

MATHIS:  As—well, yes.  I mean, what happened over the weekend

threw him off message, because, once again, he has to remember that,

although he has a legacy he wants to protect—he has been the president -

he is a superstar in his own right—this is not about him this time. 

As difficult as that may be for him to understand, it really isn‘t about him.  He‘s supposed to be the supportive role, not the co-role.  This is not—we‘re not looking for Clinton, the sequel.  I mean, he needs to treat it like it‘s a whole different presidency and somebody that he supports.  Obviously, everybody understands that he‘s going to be the most ardent supporter...

MATTHEWS:  yes. 

MATHIS:  ... because he‘s her spouse. 

But, by the same token, he keeps about what he did as president:  I did this.  This went down.  That changed. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MATHIS:  You know, what is she going to do?

MATTHEWS:  It‘s very hard to hide Bill Clinton. 

Here‘s President Clinton over the weekend responding—or taking on the Obama campaign. 

Rick, you respond to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are two competing moods in America today, people that want something fresh and new, and they find it inspiring that we might elect a president—elect a president who literally was not part of any of the good things that happened or any of the bad things that were stopped before. 

I mean, the explicit argument of the campaign against Hillary is that no one, no one, who was involved in the 1990s or this decade can possibly be an effective president, because people had fights, and we‘re not going to have any of those anymore. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

B. CLINTON:  Now, if you believe that, I got some land I want to sell you. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  This is such a direct campaign between different views, I mean, between Obama‘s oratory and lift and the President Clinton and Hillary Clinton recognition over and over, and case they‘re making over and over, that we live in the real world; we got to go back to it. 

HERTZBERG:  Yes, it‘s unseemly. 

And he says—he says, Obama wasn‘t part of the good things that happened in the ‘90s and he wasn‘t part of stopping the bad things.  Well, he also wasn‘t part of the bad things that happened in the ‘90s and encouraging and stopping the good things during the ‘90s.  He wasn‘t—he wasn‘t—he wasn‘t Bill Clinton and he wasn‘t Hillary Clinton.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HERTZBERG:  It just—I think that the president is doing his wife damage here. 

I know this is totally virgin territory.  We never had—we have never had the spouse of a recent ex-president or any ex-president running for president before.  And nobody knew quite how to handle it.  But I think it‘s become apparent by now that the Clinton campaign would have been better off if—with Bill doing a front-porch campaign, and not getting out on the road. 

I guess they wanted him out on the road because that was two-for-one. 

That way, they could—she could go she could...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HERTZBERG:  She could go to one state,; he could go to another.  But it does not seem to have paid off. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s almost like Moses saying:  I‘m going to run for pharaoh, instead of getting out of here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s a—it‘s a totally different proposition that he‘s offering.  He‘s saying:  Let‘s clear the channel.  Let‘s start over again.

And Senator Clinton is saying:  I want to run for president to fill the shoes of George Bush and my husband.  I‘m going to do a better job than the current president. 

It seems like they‘re running for different offices. 

MATHIS:  Well, I sympathize with him for this reason.  As Rick says, this has never happened before.  So, we haven‘t figured it out.  They haven‘t figured it out either.  Nobody—we still know exactly what he should be doing and what anybody, if it were the reverse, what the...

MATTHEWS:  Well, is this a preview of what it will be like with him in the White House?

MATHIS:  I‘m...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s he doing there? 

MATHIS:  Look, I can‘t...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, what should he be doing there? 

MATHIS:  I can‘t imagine for one minute that Bill Clinton is going to be a silent—well, maybe a silent partner as far as we‘re concerned, but not silent literally. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MATHIS:  So, he‘s going to be quite active in there.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he will be out of the news? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Just guessing. 

MATHIS:  I...

MATTHEWS:  Rick, do you think the president—it‘s an insufferable, hopeless situation to try to convince people that we want more experience in the government, we have had 35 years together, we want more, but, yet, it‘s going to be different, and, yet, we‘re the change agents?  It‘s—well, what do you do?  How do you do this if you‘re the Clintons? 

HERTZBERG:  It‘s just a totally hopeless muddle. 

But what he—what he should have done—it‘s easy to say this now -

we‘re almost in retrospect on this—but, if he had kept very, very quiet and, in the background, hardly a peep to him, maybe write a letter to the editor once in a while or an op-ed piece, that would have given people an idea of, well, this is what the second Clinton administration is going to be like.  Bill‘s not going to be a lot of trouble, but he will be back there very quietly helping out. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HERTZBERG:  But this—they have—they have put out a model of what

the Hillary Clinton administration is going to look like that is—that‘s

that‘s just crazy.  It‘s just—it‘s just all over the place. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, it is revelatory. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATHIS:  He‘s driven down his mystique, I think, you know, just showing up kind of everywhere.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Rick, you and I, when we worked together, remember how hard it was for speechwriters to come back from the past and try to write?  It‘s almost phenomenal, politics, that it‘s always changing.  And the minute you get out of the business for even a couple of years, like President Bush, President Clinton, you don‘t quite click when you come back. 

Anyway, thank you, Rick Hertzberg of “The New Yorker.” 

Thank you, Deborah Mathis. 

Up next:  He‘s been called a rock star out on the campaign trail, but now Barack Obama has something in common with bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  We will see.  Stick around for the “Big Number” tonight.

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there as we honor George Washington‘s birthday? 

Well, former NBA star Charles Barkley is promising that he‘s going to run for governor of Alabama in the year 2014.  He‘s already making some political noise out there. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA PLAYER:  Every time I hear the word conservative, it makes me sick to my stomach, because they‘re really just fake Christians, as I call them.  That‘s all they are. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

Barack Obama‘s not only gaining momentum here at home; he‘s also getting big-time buzz abroad.  In Africa, “The New York Times” reports today that, at every stop on President Bush‘s Africa tour, people keep asking about Barack Obama. 

As one African man said while debating his mother about U.S. politics

quote—“Remember, Obama is from Africa.  For my heart, it is good.” 

That‘s not to say that George Bush isn‘t getting a warm reception in his own right.  Take a look at this fancy garb with George Bush‘s face emblazoned all over it. 

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

At the height of their popularity, fans for bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones would scream and cry at the mere sight of their rock idols.  In fact, sometimes, they would even faint.  Such is the case, asylum, for the rock star politician that is Barack Obama. 

Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Is somebody OK? 

Did somebody just get faint? 

You know, we—it looks like—it looks like we have somebody who may have fainted.  Hold on a second. 

Young lady, you OK?  Why don‘t you sit down, though?

Somebody guide her out and let her sit down, because she‘s just feeling a little faint. 

Is she OK?  Need an EMT?  Can we have an EMT?  I need somebody right down here.  Somebody just fainted.  They should be all right. 

You need some water over there?  Hold on a second.  Don‘t mean to break my flow, but I want to make sure that this young lady is hydrated. 

Who has got the good hands?  You got good hands? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  Audience members have fainted at Barack

Obama‘s rallies at least five different times in the last couple of months

five times when Obama had to halt his rally for a fan swept off his or her feet, tonight‘s “Big Number,” a big five. 

Up next:  John McCain picks up the endorsement of former President Bush, but it‘s McCain‘s association with the current President Bush that may make or break his campaign. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.  Here‘s what‘s happening. 

Celebrations in Kosovo after the U.S. and major European nations recognize it as an independent state.  Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia yesterday.  And, after the U.S. recognized Kosovo, Serbia withdrew its ambassador to Washington. 

The votes are being counted from today‘s parliamentary elections in Pakistan.  The vote was delayed six weeks, after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.  Results are expected tomorrow. 

A survivor of last Thursday‘s deadly shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University left the hospital today.  Seen here, 20-year-old Samantha Dehner was struck by a bullet that shattered her right arm.  Another struck her in the leg.  Doctors say she could require years of therapy.  Five students remain hospitalized, none in critical condition.  The gunman killed five students before killing himself. 

A spokesperson says Nancy Reagan has been undergoing more tests at a California hospital.  The 86-year-old former first lady was admitted yesterday after a fall at her home.  Doctors determined she did not break her hip, as originally feared—now back to HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And the indisputable fact that unites the greatest number of Republicans, the most independents, and many good Democrats as well, is the fact that no one is better prepared to lead our nation at these trying times than Senator John McCain. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

John McCain got the endorsement of former President Bush today in Houston, Texas.  But will the Republican Party, particularly the right wing, unite behind McCain? 

Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for “The New Yorker” and has a piece on McCain in the current issue.  Ron Christie is a Republican strategist and former top aide to President Bush Sr. 

Does that make you an establishment...

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY:  Junior. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, junior.

CHRISTIE:  Junior.

MATTHEWS:  You worked for Bush...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  Forty-three.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I thought—I thought you were establishment there for a minute. 

CHRISTIE:  No.  I‘m not that old. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you, then, Ryan, what does it mean? 

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Well, I don‘t think any of the endorsement mean a whole lot. 

Look, all—all the Republicans are lining up behind him, right?  So, the Republican leadership in the House endorses him one week.  Now the former president is endorsing him. 

But I will say that I thought it was somewhat stunning, jaw-dropping, that Bush, out of nowhere, sort of took some shots at McCain‘s right-wing critics today.  If anything is going to sort of open up the wounds that McCain is just starting to heal, it‘s Bush 41, who is not beloved by conservatives.  Conservatives attacked him, the same way they‘re attacking McCain. 

Him sort of saying how angry he was that conservatives are going after McCain, even citing Reagan‘s diaries, about how Reagan complained the right wing attacking him, I thought that was kind of—I thought that was not something you do if you want to unite the party.  That was something you do to sort of pick at the scab a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, tell us about the division in the Republican Party. 

What is it about? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, I think a lot of Republicans are very concerned about the tax-cutting record, for example, of John McCain. 

John McCain originally was against the Bush tax cuts.  Now John McCain has said he‘s in favor of keeping the Bush tax cuts in place.  The Republican Party, right now, I think is in transformation.  Who are we as a party?  What is on our identity?  Where have we evolved since the Republicans took over Congress in 1994? 

And I think that that fervor from that initial class has changed.  And now we‘re looking for the soul and what is the new generation of the Republican Party. 

LIZZA:  I agree 100 percent. 

The great irony is, there is no candidate that ran in this primary that is more positioned to reinvent the Republican Party.  And, yet, he‘s boxed in, because he didn‘t win this primary from the right.  He didn‘t win it by winning conservatives. 

He‘s the first—Newt Gingrich showed me in this piece, he‘s the first Republican candidate to win the nomination since 1952, since Eisenhower defeated Taft, by not accommodating the conservatives in the party. 

And because of that, he‘s starting the general election wooing the right, rather than the opposite.  You win—you do what Romney tried to do.  You win the right first.  Then you can start the general election by going to the center.  That‘s his problem. 

MATTHEWS:  This was Jimmy Carter‘s challenge in ‘76, by the way. 

Jimmy Carter ran against the liberal crowd, the in-crowd.  And he won.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But then he to keep—he had to act like Eleanor Roosevelt by the end of the primary—the end of the general election just to hold the Democrats. 

CHRISTIE:  Right. 

But, see, this is where I—I slightly disagree with Ryan‘s point.  I think it‘s very important that Bush—President Bush 41 endorsed John McCain today.  He is very widely perceived as being an establishment member of the party.  He‘s very well respected, particularly post-presidency.  A lot of people like President Bush 41.  

John McCain...

MATTHEWS:  But do right-wingers like him? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, do the right-wingers like Bush 41?  Yes, they do.  I think that they do.

MATTHEWS:  They do? 

CHRISTIE:  Yes, they do.

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that?

LIZZA:  The tax-cutting—the tax-cutting wing of the party is still

is still not fond of 41. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at somebody who may not like him. 

Let‘s go look at this.  In Ryan Lizza‘s “New Yorker” piece—you‘re here—I‘m now quoting you—Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, says of McCain and his supporters—quote—“I think this is the victory of the moderate ring—wing for the moment.  But I think that‘s partially due to a collapse of the DeLay wing of the party.”  That‘s former Texas Representative Tom Delay.  “And secondarily a collapse of the Rove/Bush wing of the party.” 

Rove/Bush/Delay wing, have they all lost? 

CHRISTIE:  I think the former speaker is slightly mistaken in what he saying.  This is the President Bush part of the Republican party, the pro-life, the pro-cutting taxes, the pro-strong national defense.  That‘s where I think the soul of the Republican party is right now.  The former speaker, in my opinion, is mistaken in his characterization. 

But the important thing is this, as you pointed out, for Senator McCain to win, he‘s got to attract the independents.  He‘s got to attract some of the Democrats who are looking for an alternative, someone who is a little bit more conservative.  I don‘t think a more conservative candidate on our side would have as good a chance of winning.  I just don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  It just reminds me so much of Carter in 1980; he couldn‘t hold his own party.  I was working there at the time.  I was a speech writer for President Carter.  You sensed it around you.  The Kennedy people weren‘t happy.  They couldn‘t even shake hands at the platform.  They couldn‘t even work together.  It seems like the Republican party is in the same kind of schism. 

LIZZA:  The box it puts McCain in is that his personalities is so much a part of his appeal, and the straight-talking, that whole part of his character.  And every time he has to do something to placate the right, it cuts against—it cuts against sort the of truth-telling nature.  The fact that he has had to become totally doctrinaire on tax cuts, he‘s had to go back on what he was saying back in 2000-2001 on tax cuts, and has had to just sort of, you know, grit his teeth and support the Bush tax cuts; I mean, that‘s deadly. 

MATTHEWS:  Everybody wants the Blue-Plate Special.  They want a person to—no exceptions on the menu.  If you‘re a conservative, you got to buy the thing, the whole number.  You‘ve got to take the Blue-Plate Special, everything, the potatoes.  You can‘t have string beans.  You have to have potatoes.  The liberals are exactly the same way. 

CHRISTIE:  Chris, even a conservative like John McCain, where people might say is he really our conservative guy, John McCain at his worst is far better than a Hillary Clinton or a Barack Obama for the conservatives.  The conservatives will coalesce around John McCain in November. 

MATTHEWS:  Will you give that speech in St. Paul? 

CHRISTIE:  I will give that speech. 

MATTHEWS:  That sounds like speech on Tuesday night, the Keynote perhaps.  Ron Christie—It could be it.  Thank you, Ron Christie.  Thank you, Ryan Lizza, congratulations on another big piece in the “New Yorker Magazine.” 

Up next, it‘s the eve of the latest test in the presidential campaign, the Wisconsin primary is tomorrow.  We‘ll get the politics fix next.  This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I‘m asking for your help tomorrow.  This is a close election.  I have a great deal of respect for my opponent.  It is an incredible moment in history for the two of us to be vying for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States of America. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight our round table, MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell, John Heilemann of “New York Magazine” and Wayne Slater of the “Dallas Morning News.”

Wayne, we have to start with you, because we have a new poll out tonight.  It‘s the new CNN/Opinion Research poll out of Texas.  It shows that in your state, Senator Clinton is getting 50 percent of the vote right now.  Barack Obama is getting 48 percent.  Boy, that‘s not a lot of undecided in that state.  What‘s going on there? 

WAYNE SLATER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”:  No, it‘s not.  It‘s close.  I think you‘ve seen three or four polls in the last two weeks, they all indicate pretty much the same.  One will say Obama‘s ahead.  A couple will say Hillary‘s ahead.  This is very, very close.  This is a race where they‘re both competing not over geography but constituency groups.  Hillary largely for Hispanics and older women, that group.  Barack Obama in the two big cities, Houston and Dallas, African-Americans, and in places like Austin, the liberal capital of America, for these young progressives who love him. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Is Austin the liberal capital of America?  I thought New York was still up there.  Let me ask you, Norah—by the way, Wayne, I have never seen a poll that showed them within the margin of error before, have you?  I saw an eight-point spread. 

SLATER:  The other day. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s new to me. 

SLATER:  But there‘s another one here that was that close.  I think, if you look at the group of polls, I think she still looks like she‘s ahead.  But, you know, look at the momentum. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Hillary‘s campaign is increasingly worried about the state of Texas, not only because the polls show it tightening, but also because of the very convoluted delegate way that it‘s apportioned in that state, which means that she could win the state in terms of percentage points and that he could end up winning more delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  Who gets the headline, Norah?  Who gets the headline? 

O‘DONNELL:  She may get the headline. 

MATTHEWS:  So the popular vote gets the headline or the delegate vote gets the headline? 

O‘DONNELL:  The delegate vote, in the end, matters. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking about this because of momentum.  If Senator Clinton does well but loses by seven or eight points in Wisconsin, still able to say, I‘m in the game.  Then you go to Ohio and Texas on the 4th of March, which is two weeks hence.  Whoever gets that headlines, who wins the double header, that‘s going to matter.  We‘re talking momentum here.  We‘re not talking delegates because Hillary is way behind in delegates.  What I‘m worried about is—what I‘m looking at is Hillary has to keep the momentum thing in check by getting that headline, I won Texas and Ohio. 

JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK MAGAZINE”:  I think that‘s right.  But I think that both campaigns now have defined this campaign in terms of delegates.  So, it‘s hard for her to lose the delegates and still claim that she won the state, given that they have been as clear as the Obama camp. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s easier for him to win the delegates. 

HEILEMANN:  It‘s easier to win delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is it easier? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it‘s the way that the state is apportioned.  Essentially what Wayne just mentioned, in the heavily African-American districts, like Dallas and Houston, they will get more delegates than south Texas. 

MATTHEWS:  Because they traditionally vote Democrat.  You get rewarded for past performance. 

O‘DONNELL:  The other interesting thing, especially in Texas too, is that Latinos in Texas are younger voters.  In fact, the average Hispanic in Texas is under 30 years old.  Barack Obama does better with younger Latinos.  So not only is he trying to pull away Latinos in Texas, but he‘s also on this working-class push to pull in more working-class people.  He‘s also trying to do it in Ohio and Wisconsin, for instance, but that‘s where he‘s trying to pull away these pillars of support for Hillary. 

MATTHEWS:  Wayne, what are you watching in the next couple weeks to see which way that race is going, as you report it? 

SLATER:  Basically looking for two things; one, you go to South Texas and try to measure the enthusiasm.  She has to get 65, 66, 67 percent of the votes.  And even if she does that in these Hispanic districts, as Norah has said so accurately, she still comes away with maybe a delegate advantage, or he may win.  The key here then goes to the cities, Houston and Dallas, African American community where I see the possibility of 85 percent, possibly approaching 90 percent of that vote, and a pretty good turnout among African-Americans. 

MATTHEWS:  What about Anglos, white Democrats?  What about white Democrats?  What are they doing? 

SLATER:  First, there aren‘t very many anymore white Democrats in Texas.  They all became Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess that‘s why you aren‘t even talking about them.  Neither you nor Norah said they are worthy of mention here.  What‘s a real minority in Texas?  A white Democrat, that‘s a minority, huh? 

SLATER:  But there are some.  There are some.  You look at parts of

East Texas—we saw Bill Clinton there the other day, appealing to the

somewhat remaining moderate whites.  And you look at the area of Austin,

where it is true they are young.  But there is an enthusiasm element here 

these are white Democrats who, in large part, seem to be talking a lot about Barack Obama. 

So, this is clearly Hillary Clinton trying to eat into his younger base, which will be very, very difficult, and Barack Obama trying to see what he can do with respect to some of these women, especially in the suburbs. 

MATTHEWS:  Austin. 

HEILEMANN:  You‘ve also got this very tricky situation with this—

with this primary, in that it‘s a split primary and caucus.  It‘s this

weird two-headed animal, which—you don‘t want to get in the weeds about

this, but the truth is you have a primary vote and then later in the same

day, you have a caucus.  What we‘ve learned over the course of the campaign

--

MATTHEWS:  Did the same people who designed these primaries and caucuses used to write the literacy requirements down south, make it as complicated as possible.  We‘ll be right back with the round table.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  I‘ve got to go to Wayne right now, Wayne Slater down there.  We did a lot of buzz at the beginning of the show about Bill Clinton out there in the crowd taking on hecklers twice this weekend.  One was a pro-life heckler he sort of took down.  I think he accused him of wanting to criminalize abortion.  I‘m not sure that was the guy‘s position, but he sort of won that fight.  And then he got into a face-to-face fight with this guy who was heckling him.  He was an Obama-ite.  Who wins in these things? 

SLATER:  Let me tell you, Bill Clinton doesn‘t win; Hillary Clinton doesn‘t win.  I think you‘re right, earlier on you were talking about the idea of taking on the anti-abortion group.  It was probably a good mix.  He did well in that crowd. 

But when Bill Clinton looks like a Republican—he‘s looking like one of these old guys on the senior tour, where he‘s kind of frowning.  He‘s at the best on these deals when he‘s smiling, when he‘s talking about the bridge to the future.  What we‘re seeing now is Bill Clinton talking about the bridge back to the ‘90s.  It‘s not working. 

MATTHEWS:  John Heilemann, does he look like he‘s been pulled off the golf course or what?  What are we talking about here? 

HEILEMANN:  I think he‘s been, from start to finish, a total disaster for her.  And I think if they could make him disappear with a snap  of the finger, there would be a hundred snapping fingers in Arlington right now. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got a big personality.  I don‘t know how he can become a little schmoo.  I don‘t think he knows how to do it.  He‘s like a Thanksgiving float.  All she can do is hold on to the ropes.  Several times she goes up in the air, holding on to him.  Isn‘t that what he is, a big Thanksgiving float. 

O‘DONNELL:  I think the Clinton campaign was worried after what happened in South Carolina.  That caused Hillary to say, listen, I‘m in charge of my campaign.  But they put him back out there and he has helped as a megaphone for her message, which is that it shouldn‘t just be—

MATTHEWS:  I wish the camera caught this sigh I‘m getting from John. 

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m not in the business of defending either side in this because I‘m a straight political reporter.  But the argument that he made with this anti-abortion heckler, essentially defending his wife.  The way he made the defense is what is raising eyebrows.  It suggested that he was upset or angry. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the second heckler.  That one we all agree on.  He looked pretty good at taking down that guy.  Although I think he accused him of something that guy might not have advocated, which is putting women in jail for abortions.  It‘s usually the doctor they go after, the pro-life people. 

But that second offense, when he‘s like—we caught him there in that silhouette there, with him going head to head with that guy.  We‘re taking a look at it.  That‘s almost like a crime scene the way they show these things.  Here he is head to head with this fellow who later bragged about it on camera.  He loved his moment.  It was his big Andy Warhol 15 minutes.  What do you make of that, John?  You‘re shaking your head.  Get in on camera, buddy.  Don‘t give it away looking at me.  Would the camera please pick up John Heilemann so I can get this attitude here? 

HEILEMANN:  I‘m shaking my head.  I can‘t help it.  Look, I think every time he does this, not only does he not look presidential, but I think he makes her look weaker.  I think she is able to fight her own fights for herself.  I don‘t think they put him out there.  I think he goes out there and does what he wants to do. 

O‘DONNELL:  I think that Bill Clinton can become a distraction.  That‘s the worry.  The point is that he‘s supposed to compliment her campaign and act as that megaphone and that he can be a distraction. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so hard.  Wayne, thank you for joining us.  Thank you, John.  Thank you, Norah, as always. 

I would like to not two events, by the way, in the life of the man whose birthday we celebrate today, George Washington, of course.  In David McCullough‘s best selling book “1776,” he tells how a 17-year-old private from York, Pennsylvania who had been captured by the British learned of George Washington‘s stunning victory after crossing the Delaware.  The owner of a grocery store, fearful of being overheard by the British, pulled the young private into a back room and kept shaking his hand and trembling with such emotion he was unable to speak. 

Quote, “I looked at him and thought him crazy or mad, but as soon as he could give utterance to his word, he says to me, General Washington has defeated the Hessians at Trenton this morning and has taken 900 prisoners.”

Well, imagine being in that room at that moment, when you‘re losing the War of Independence, and it looks like you might just win it because of this guy? 

The other moment came when George III of England was getting his portrait painted.  He asked what George Washington, the leader of the rebels, as he saw them, intended to do after the war.  When he was told that George Washington would simply return to his plantation and private life, this is what King George III said, “if he does that, he‘ll be the greatest man in the world.” 

Winning our independence, then setting a model of limited public service for the American presidency—he left office after two terms—maybe the two great contributions that George Washington made to our country.  He deserves his day.  Happy Washington‘s Birthday.

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  Join us at 9:00 Easter, join Keith Olbermann and I for live coverage of the Wisconsin primary tomorrow night.  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.

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