updated 2/28/2008 3:45:01 PM ET 2008-02-28T20:45:01

Guests: Rep. Patrick Murphy, Rep. Joe Sestak, Peggy Noonan, Pat Buchanan, Michael Smerconish, Ron Brownstein, Bob Herbert, Joan Walsh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Sniping from the right.  If Barack hasn‘t won this thing, why he is now under attack, nasty attack?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to HARDBALL.  Last night, Senator Clinton fought for her political life when she debated Barack Obama in Cleveland.  Clinton needed to score big to stop Obama‘s momentum going into the races in Texas and Ohio next week.  Did she do it?  We‘ll have the highlights from the debate in a moment.

But the big story today, Republican John McCain pounced on one of Barack Obama‘s comments about Iraq and shifted the debate into general election mode.  Senator Obama fired right back at McCain, and we‘ll get you into this with a preview of—what has turned out to be a preview of the 2008 presidential election.  Could it look like this in the months ahead?

And a sad note tonight, one of the giants of the American conservative movement, William F. Buckley, Jr., died today at the age of 82.  We‘re going to talk about the enormous impact he had with Peggy Noonan.

But first, the fight between Republican frontrunner John McCain and Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama.  Let‘s start tonight with MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell, and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, who‘s an MSNBC political analyst.

Norah, if you needed to know what the Republicans think about when this election for the Democratic nomination is over, they must think Barack Obama is going to win this thing because they‘re already hitting him hard now.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  John McCain today mocked Barack Obama for the comments he made last night, essentially saying, I‘ve got news for you, Barack Obama, al Qaeda is in Iraq.  Now, showing Obama‘s deftness, he hit back.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the whole series of events.  It‘s a new fight now.  It has the look, as Norah says of, a general election fight already between Barack Obama and the Republican frontrunner, John McCain.

First, let‘s look at what Barack Obama said last night about what he would do if al Qaeda got—well, did more than it‘s doing in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Now, I always reserve the right for the president, as commander-in-chief—I will always reserve the right to make sure we are looking out for American interests.  And if al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.  So that is true, I think, not just in Iraq, but true in other places.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Here is the snap back from Obama—from McCain himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am told that Senator Obama made the statement that if al Qaeda came back to Iraq after he withdraws, after the American troops are withdrawn, then he would send military troops back if al Qaeda established a base in Iraq.  I have some news.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  Al Qaeda is in Iraq.  Al Qaeda—it‘s called al Qaeda in Iraq.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  And my friends, they wouldn‘t—if we left, they wouldn‘t be establishing a base—they wouldn‘t be establishing a base, they‘d be taking a country.  And I‘m not going to allow that to happen, my friends.  I will not surrender!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here comes Obama back to hit him again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  (INAUDIBLE) make a Clever point by saying, Look, let me give you some news, Barack, al Qaeda is in Iraq.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  (INAUDIBLE) I didn‘t know what was going on.  Well, first of all, I do know that al Qaeda is in Iraq and that‘s why I said we should continue to strike al Qaeda targets.  But I have news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq!

(CHEERS APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  I think we may have seen a preview there of a general election debate, where one side says, I‘ll do something, and then John McCain traps him and says, Hey, they‘re already in there, al Qaeda is in Iraq, and then we get Obama coming back, said, The only reason they‘re in there is went in and opened the door for them.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, I think you have, on several levels in seed form, what the campaign in the fall is going to be about, especially if Obama is the Democratic nominee.  John McCain is going to say, I understand the world.  I understand military affairs.  I understand the dangers of radical Islam.  I understand what‘s going on in Iraq.  Mr. Obama, you‘re not prepared, I am.  It‘s going to be a larger, more amplified version of what Hillary Clinton has been trying with only limited success to do.

MATTHEWS:  So does he go back then, Barack Obama, and go after McCain as if he were Hillary Clinton and say, You‘re the one that put—you‘re the one that put us in the ditch over there, you know, that‘s the big mistake you made, now you want to keep us there 100 years?  This is a hell of a fight.

O‘DONNELL:  It is a hell of a fight, and there are clear lines on this fight on Iraq.  That‘s the case that Barack Obama has been making in these debates, is that, I represent the cleaner contrast because I have opposed this war from the very beginning.  It‘s going to be remarkable because not only will it be about the substance of the Iraq war, but it will also highlight national security credentials.  And I think it will highlight in many ways, too, sort of the generational differences, what McCain believes is his strength, being a veteran, being a former POW, being a guy who looks like he can be tough as a commander-in-chief...

FINEMAN:  And then what Obama thinks is his strength, which is that knows the world as it is today—multi-cultural, youthful, future-oriented, interested in negotiation and compromise, rather than war as an instrument of policy.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Norah, I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea that he has a clear-cut opposition to the war.  He has a long history in paper and in word of opposing the war.  Now here‘s his vulnerability.  He‘s vulnerable on the right.

O‘DONNELL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  His vulnerability is as follows.  This guy Cunningham, this other guy, this character, this radio talk show (INAUDIBLE) unfortunately has the name Bill Cunningham, which is a nice name...

O‘DONNELL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Unfortunately, he has it.  He attacks him the other day by saying his name is Hussein.  He‘s trying to play up him as some sort of enemy of America, an Islamic terrorist, whatever he‘s trying to imply by that.  There‘s millions of people in this world named Hussein, a lot of them on our side, and he‘s making it sound like that‘s his—I caught him, he‘s got a middle name, Hussein, I figured this thing out.

Rush Limbaugh‘s playing this game of saying, What‘s wrong with bringing up his middle name?  What‘s wrong with playing that name?  And then we got the head of the Tennessee Republican Party going after him again on that front.

Is this going to be a vicious, almost ethnic fight, going after the guy because of his heritage, his name and saying he‘s going to sell us out?  Is that what‘s coming?

O‘DONNELL:  There are some Republicans and some conservatives who want it to be that fight, who will try and disparage Barack Obama, trying to paint him as a Muslim—he is not a Muslim, he is a Christian—and as someone who is anti-Israel.  They are tying him to Louis Farrakhan today.  That‘s what the Tennessee Republican Party is trying to do.  But you‘ve seen Barack Obama try and push back.  I think, unfortunately, that‘s going to be one of the dirty storylines of this campaign.

MATTHEWS:  And magically, or rather, evilly, it has begun at the very moment it looks like Barack Obama may—may, underline may—have won this fight for the nomination.  And we don‘t know that until next Tuesday, certainly.

Let‘s take a look at how it woke (ph) up last night.  All of a sudden last night, instead of arguing about Hillary versus Barack, it‘s this thing.  Let‘s take a look at last night.  It had to do with over—about Barack Obama getting semi-endorsed by Minister Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam in this country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I can‘t say to somebody that he can‘t say that he thinks I‘m a good guy.  You know—I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements.

CLINTON:  I‘m just saying that you asked specifically if he would reject it, and there‘s a difference between denouncing and rejecting.

OBAMA:  Well, if the word “reject” Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word “denounce,” then I‘m happy to concede the point.  And I would reject and denounce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, she had a point though.  Reject means “I don‘t want anything to do with this guy.”  Denounce is “I disagree with him on this point,” right?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And in listening to what Obama said there, he did say that he denounced both Farrakhan himself and what Farrakhan had said.  And that‘s important.  He did do both of those things.  But Hillary was pressing him on it, and he was very shrewd and very smart to concede the point.  But of course, that‘s not enough for the people who are attacking him now.

Two things.  First of all, John McCain promised not to do this kind of thing, McCain, himself...

MATTHEWS:  Again, today he did that.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Yes.  In his...

MATTHEWS:  He will not use the guy‘s ethnic heritage against him.

FINEMAN:  He‘ll just call him a traitor by saying he wants to surrender.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  So McCain...

MATTHEWS:  But as a good American...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  As it‘s a good American who wants to surrender!

FINEMAN:  McCain‘ll take the high road and say “surrender”...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  These other people will say that he‘s a “furriner.”  And that‘s where we‘re headed, and it‘s going to be a classic, classic, and it‘s going to be nasty and vicious, and it‘s going to be up to Obama, who says his key ability is the ability to bridge divides, to do it again...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... to be a leader and great American leader...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  ... challenge and a great reward.

MATTHEWS:  ... somebody said to me last night, this whole thing about his middle name and the ethnicity issue—you know, he‘s half African, his parents are—his father‘s from Africa.  He put on the African costume, like every world leader does who travels.  But all of a sudden, this is coming out.  Somebody said to me last thing, better to argue about this in February than October.

FINEMAN:  No question.

O‘DONNELL:  Right.

FINEMAN:  No question.

MATTHEWS:  Because then you can sort of sift it through your head.

FINEMAN:  No question.  No question.

O‘DONNELL:  Debates are important for a lot of reasons because we see how they handle criticism back and forth.  Obama in that instance really took what could have been a negative—she was trying to get him on something throughout the night, trying to get him to make a mistake, and he responded like a debater, really, in sort of absorbing that criticism.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  He thinks very well on his feet.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  You could see him calculating...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... run a school where I could go to it?  I‘d like to go to the school where he goes, where it says no matter what somebody says about you, just go, Interesting point, perhaps I can improve on that.  Perhaps I can refine that point.

FINEMAN:  That‘s—that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... excellent performance.

FINEMAN:  That‘s an element of his leadership style.  And by the way, he‘s very strong in is support of Israel.  He has tremendous support in the Jewish community.  There are lots of people in the Jewish community who think there‘s nobody better to try to bridge the divides in the world than somebody with a middle of...

MATTHEWS:  Because we have divides.

FINEMAN:  Yes, because we have...

MATTHEWS:  And we got to deal with them.

FINEMAN:  ... them, we have to deal with them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... divides.

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at—on a lighter note, here‘s Senator Clinton last night.  This is another tricky subject, but far less tricky than the world divide between East and West.  Here‘s one of—about Hillary Clinton being media critic last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  In the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time.  And I don‘t mind.  I—you know, I‘ll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious.  And if anybody saw “Saturday Night Live,” you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he‘s comfortable and needs another pillow.  I just find it kind of curious that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues.  But I‘m happy to answer it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I gave you the first question, Norah!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just  kidding.  You know, I‘m not sure—it may be a good point she‘s making, the first question could be the tougher one.  But I noticed last night that it didn‘t matter who got it first, it never ended.  Hillary would say something, Barack would say something.  Hillary would say something, Barack—it never ended.  It didn‘t matter who started.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, it‘s interesting.  I know that a lot of people have commented about that sound bite and saying that she probably was unfairly critiquing the media over the fact that she gets the first question.  I‘d be curious to see some data on how women reacted...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  ... to that particular sound bite.  I think that there is

a gender divide about how people view that, whether she‘s being treated

unfairly or not.  Now, whether she delivered it the right way, whether she

by talking about (INAUDIBLE) I think it is true that the CNN debate was unique in some ways that led to that “SNL” spoof, which is why Hillary Clinton—he did seem to get some of the—she seemed to get some of the tougher questions in that previous debate, not our debate last night, where it was much more fair, but...

MATTHEWS:  You think that “Saturday Night Live” was tough on CNN because it‘s another network?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Just guessing!  But I noticed they were very tough...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That woman who looked—the new woman on the show who‘s the new comedienne, she looks very much like Campbell Brown.  I thought they were really going after that...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  ... Washingtonian, by the way, small matter, and her father‘s a Republican political consultant.

MATTHEWS:  And I thought—it‘s fun that we can laugh about this, but I think there is an issue here and it‘s going to keep going.  And I think that—I think the question about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The first question I think is not important.  And the question about the pillow is stupid.  But I think the questioning was tough.  She has a bigger record to defend, a longer record.

O‘DONNELL:  The issue about that sound bite, though, is that the Hillary that showed up was Hillary as victim, as Roger Simon has pointed out, and Hillary perhaps wanting some self-pity.  That was a different, again, that Hillary anger, Hillary sarcasm—it has been a different Hillary, which has been a weakness, that there has not been a clear message coming from her campaign.

FINEMAN:  I think she‘s got a gripe.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  What?

FINEMAN:  I think she‘s got a gripe.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE)

FINEMAN:  No, but she‘s got a gripe, and we should listen to it.

MATTHEWS:  I think we should listen.  Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman.  Thank you, Norah O‘Donnell.  The sensitive man is always a popular figure.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And coming up: Six days left before the critical primaries in Texas and Ohio.  Alan Alda coming up next.  Just kidding!  Can Hillary Clinton do enough next Tuesday to keep this race going?  Much more on last night‘s debate with members of Congress supporting each candidate.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Well, obviously, I‘ve said many times that although my vote on the 2002 authorization regarding Iraq was a sincere vote, I would not have voted that way again.  I would certainly, as president, never have taken us to war in Iraq, and I regret deeply that President Bush waged a preemptive war, which I warned against and said I disagreed with.

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR:  To be clear, you‘d like to have your vote back?

CLINTON:  Absolutely.  I‘ve said that many times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Joining me now are two U.S.  congressmen from Pennsylvania, both Democrats, both supporting different candidates.  U.S. Congressman Patrick Murphy supports Barack Obama.  His new book, by the way, is called “Taking the Hill: From Philly to Baghdad to the United States Congress.”  We‘re going to have him on to talk about that at some point.  And Congressman Joe Sestak.  He‘s also from the Philly suburbs.  He supports Barack—he supports Hillary Clinton.

Let me go with Pat Murphy.  Congressman, first of all, were you impressed by what Hillary Clinton said last night about the war, wishing she could have her vote back from 2002?

REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D-PA), OBAMA SUPPORTER:  I was happy to hear her say that because I do think that we took our eye off the ball on Osama bin Laden an al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and that‘s what we need to refocus on and that‘s why I enthusiastically support Barack Obama because I think he gets it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Admiral Sestak.  You were involved in the Afghanistan campaign as—running the Navy SEALs operation.  Do you think that Senator Clinton‘s remark last night responding to Tim Russert, saying she wished she had that vote back again, is significant or is it familiar?

REP. JOE SESTAK (D-PA), CLINTON SUPPORTER:  I‘ve heard many four stars and three stars say that they wish that they had spoken up more strongly.  I think there are people out there—and she was forthright, like she is, and said, I wish I had that vote back.  I hope this nation understands that that type of experience and candidness can take us a long way in the challenges that we‘re going to meet in the future.

Let me just give you one quick example, Chris.  When we were in the

White House and I was serving (ph) for the president, Clinton at the time -

China dropped missiles off of north and south of Taiwan.  We moved two aircraft carrier battle groups off there to stop that.  Seven years later, when I was an admiral and I testified before the senator, she remembered that, learned from that, and said, Admiral, tell me, what does it mean to use now that there‘s a navy that‘s emerging from China for us, as Americans, as a maritime nation?  And that‘s why her “Foreign Affairs” article said the most important bilateral relationship we have this century is China.  This is a woman whose experience will give her the understanding to lead this nation as commander-in-chief.

MATTHEWS:  You think she‘s bigger picture than Barack Obama about the world.

SESTAK:  I think- it‘s interesting.  Yes, I think she has a great understanding of the strategy of engagement, which her husband pursued and she believes in talking about (ph).  But second of all, I think Mr. Obama would be a fine president, but what I need down here as a partner in the White House is a partner who from day one will be a marvelous president.  She understands the processes of Washington, and the USS Washington, D.C., is aground.  We need someone who can get us under way, not just give us, as the captain said, this is the way we go, but can go down in the boiler room in Washington, D.C., put the piping back together and understand the processes and get us under way to follow that hope, that dream she‘s laid out.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question to you, Congressman Murphy, is do we need an improvement over President Bush in terms of ability and political and international savvy, or do we need deliverance to a whole new approach to foreign policy?  Do we need something dramatically different than what we have or do we need something smarter?  What is it we need?

MURPHY:  Chris, I actually think we need both, and that‘s why I support Barack Obama.  I think Barack Obama has gotten it right since day one, the fact that he‘s shown the judgment to speak out against the war when a lot of people had a knot in their stomach about it to begin with, including myself, but you know, didn‘t come out and really speak out, like he did, and where he showed the courage, the personal courage, to speak out against it when it wasn‘t politically popular.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of the fact that when you were over there as a JAG in Iraq, that this fellow we‘re looking at right now was opposed to that policy of you being there?  How did that feel, to be in the service of your country on a war front that someone else back home had opposed?

MURPHY:  Listen, when I was a captain with the 82nd Airborne Division, Chris, you know, I was there to execute the foreign policy of the United States.  And we left it to the folks in the Washington, D.C., to make the best decision.

And, if Barack Obama was there, maybe we wouldn‘t have went in there.  He would have spoke out against it.  But he was a state senator in Illinois at the time.  But, in his time in the state senate in Illinois and his time in the U.S. Senate, he has shown the judgment to speak out. 

And the thing that—why I get—so enthusiastically support him, Chris, is that he reaches out to Democrats, but also Republicans and independents.  My wife, for example, is a Republican all her life.  She voted for George Bush twice.  She‘s going to vote for the first time for a Democratic nominee for president.  And that‘s going to be Barack Obama.  And I couldn‘t be more proud about that. 

MATTHEWS:  How is she going to vote in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania?  It‘s a closed primary.

MURPHY:  Well, not in a primary—Democratic primary, but not this April 22, Chris, but this November, when the nominee is going to Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  All right.  I‘m always looking.  I am always checking on you guys.  That‘s my job here.

Let me ask you both, starting with you, Admiral, Congressman Sestak.  Pennsylvania, the vote numbers now, we‘re looking at the latest polling coming out of Pennsylvania right now.  It is fascinatingly close.  It‘s six points in the latest poll up there in Pennsylvania, only six points between Senator Clinton, at 49, and Barack Obama at 43, and closing fast.  It had been 16 points just two weeks ago. 

Is this really going to be a race up there?  Or do you think Senator Clinton may not make that race?  And how do you see it right now? 

SESTAK:  No, I think it is going to be a race. 

Here‘s what we‘re seeing.  You know, in the military, there‘s a saying that war is politics by other means. 

Well, I think Pat and I have learned that politics is actually war by other means.  And what you are seeing here is exactly what you should see, two people who deep—care passionately about their country and care so much about it.

But what we also want to see is the perseverance.  Here is a woman, for 15 years, that has had perseverance and taken every—all the onslaught.  This is where we‘re seeing her at her best, right down there gritting it out.

And, number two, think about where she went as first lady, China, China, who will probably be the most relationship, India, which will be the number-two economy in this world if we don‘t change how we are going, and, third, Africa, which have come from behind its veil of tears.  And, right now, we have terrorists going down there.

Here‘s someone with vision and understands the processes to take us there as commander in chief. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s—it‘s so great to have two Pennsylvanian guys up from the Philly suburbs, U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak, former admiral, always an admiral, I suppose.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And U.S. Congressman Patrick Murphy, another fighting man.

Thank you both for joining us. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next: a final salute to a giant of conservativism, William F. Buckley Jr., who passed away today at the age of 82. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1989)

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to say just a word or two about your editor, Bill Buckley.  And, unlike Bill, I will try to keep my words to single syllables, or, at the worst, only two. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

If you want to influence someone, get to him or her in high school.  It is my experience that people at that age are the most impressionable, the most searching for guidance, for example, for purpose.  It was in high school that I came under the charm and the influence of William F. Buckley Jr., the dashing, charismatic young conservative who wrote “God and Man at Yale,” “McCarthy and His Enemies, and founded the wistful, precocious, companionable monthly “National Review.” 

As a high schooler, I could tell you which drugstore got “National Review” first.  I went to hear Bill Buckley at a meeting of the Montgomery County Young Republicans.  It was from “National Review” that I gained my early affection and appetite for political philosophy and argument. 

To start out as a young conservative is not—let‘s look at the facts

to end up there.  But you have to start somewhere.  You have to care before you can think, think before you can change your mind, and, in my case, not stop changing your mind. 

I owe that start to the man who died today at his desk, the great author, writer, sailer of the ocean sea, alpine skier, renaissance man, and, in mine, as in so many millions of cases, teacher and political guidance counselor.

I offer two last thoughts on Bill Buckley.  In the 1950s, when it needed to be done, he exorcised old conservativism from its pre-World War II isolationism and its redolent anti-Semitism. 

There is something else that needs to said for William F. Buckley Jr.  It concerns his own religious faith.  He wrote once of the young man who stood alone in an empty church juggling balls in the air: “It was something he could do, throw balls into the air and catch them, each without dropping in a swirly feet of personal mastery.  As I said, it‘s something he could do.  It was the one thing he could offer up to God when they were, as best he could arrange it, alone together.”

And all of the books and columns he wrote, in all the editions of “National Review” he published, our great William F. Buckley was offering up his prayer.  This is what he could do.  This is what he was doing, his work, at his desk when he was taken home.  To work is to pray.  Laborare est orare.

And here is something spiffy from Buckley himself on “Meet the Press” back in ‘65. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS,” 1965)

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR., FOUNDER, “NATIONAL REVIEW”:  I have often been quoted as saying I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Now, there is a line to hold to yourself. 

Let‘s bring in a friend of mine, author Peggy Noonan, former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, “Wall Street Journal” columnist.  I read her every week.

Peggy, laborare est orare.  The man‘s lifework was his prayer. 

PEGGY NOONAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL SPEECHWRITER:  Yes, that—I have got to tell you, Chris, what you just said about Bill Buckley was beautiful from beginning to end. 

And I shared very much your recounting of what it was like to discover “National Review” when we were kids.  For you, it was one point of view that you were discovering.  For me, as a young unformed politically person, it was a magazine that told me things I had never heard before. 

There was a conservative movement.  There was something called conservativism.  There was a—a way of thinking or approaching the world that I had never heard of before, coming pretty much where you came from, the American suburbs in the 1950s and ‘60s, where I never met a conservative until I saw Bill Buckley on TV. 

(LAUGHTER)

NOONAN:  And this...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

NOONAN:  He was really a great man with a consequential life, one of the great lives of the 20th century, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I think one thing he did was open up the question whether more government, more government programs, more statism, as he would call it, or did call it, was the answer to everything. 

NOONAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And I think that question still looms before us. 

NOONAN:  Yes, it does.  It will be one of the subtexts, I think, of the coming election, even, in the year 2008.

But, certainly, when I was a kid, when the liberal Democratic world was rising, and when, to so many of us, it—it seemed government answers might be the right answers, and government spending might be the right way to go, and government taxing, of course, which goes along with it, I remember Buckley as the first person to come along and say, whoa, whoa, that may not be the way to go.  Look at it this way, smaller government.  Know who human beings are.  You don‘t want them in too much power. 

So, I thought—oh, my goodness.  I guess I could go on forever about his contribution.

MATTHEWS:  Well...

NOONAN:  But he lived a huge life. 

MATTHEWS:  So, let‘s have an argument. 

NOONAN:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, what I—what—oh, we have to have an argument, Peggy.  We always do. 

Let me ask you this question.  It seems to me that he supported the war in Iraq in the beginning.  He saw the error of his ways.  He decided it was a mistake.  He said so in his column.  I was so glad he did...

NOONAN:  Yes, he did.

MATTHEWS:  ... because I disagreed with his assessment in the beginning, and I wondered at it.

What was your assessment of the way he turned on that issue of the war in Iraq, as a philosopher, as a conservative? 

NOONAN:  I think he tried very hard—Bill was a philosopher.  And he was a man who thought with great rigor.  His way of thinking was very rigorous.  He was not a party man. 

I think, when President Bush first put forward Saddam Hussein as one of the people who—who has to be stopped and must be taken out, I think Bill probably had his doubts, but thought perhaps the government is correct.  But, when he came to decide, when he came to see that the government was not correct, he simply came out and said it, as an honest person must and should. 

I know some people were disappointed in him.  And I know some people were angry.  But I just thought he was doing his job, which was being Bill Buckley and trying to tell the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  Margaret, you are great. 

Peggy Noonan, thank you very much, from “The Wall Street Journal.” 

Read her column every week.  Read all her books, if you can get them.

Up next:  John McCain runs afoul of some conservative radio hosts again.  Will that be the case for him throughout this election season, going to war with the right?  Is he run going to come down in the middle, like Harry Truman?  It may be the smart move for him to have some enemies on the right, as well as the left.  It may be the brilliant triangulation of John McCain.  We will see.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks closed the session mixed, with the Dow Jones industrial giving up some ground, gaining just a nine-point gain on the day.  The S&P 500 lost a little bit more than a point-and-a-quarter.  And the Nasdaq saw almost a nine-point gain.

During congressional testimony, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled that the Fed is ready to cut interest rates again to boost the economy.  And that did help the stocks.  His remarks, though, pushed the dollar to a record low against the euro. 

And new home sales fell in January to the lowest level in nearly 13 years. 

That is it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to Chris and HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

John McCain is facing yet another clash with GOP ideologues, after apologizing for a surrogate‘s harsh attacks yesterday on Barack Obama. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today, John McCain faced an explosion of criticism on conservative talk radio. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”) 

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Senator McCain should start pretending that liberal Democrats are conservative Republicans.  And then he can cuss them out and throw them under his bus. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But, in Texas today, McCain brushed all criticism aside and repeated his condemnation of radio host Bill Cunningham. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  He is free to make the choices every other citizen is.  I still repudiate the comments that he made.  We have and will continue to show respect for our opponents, both in the primary and in the general election. 

SHUSTER:  As Limbaugh‘s statement shows, however, some conservatives don‘t want McCain to be respectful with Democrats.  They want him to be aggressive and tough. 

It all started yesterday.  While warming up the crowd at a McCain rally, Bill Cunningham was brutal. 

BILL CUNNINGHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  And the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing kumbaya together around a table with Barack Obama. 

SHUSTER:  The radio host called Barack Obama a hack and a fraud and mocked his middle name, while trashing the media. 

CUNNINGHAM:  The stooges from “The New York Times,” CBS, the Clinton broadcasting system, NBC, the nobody-but-Clinton network, the all-Bill Clinton channel, ABC and the Clinton news network at some point is going to peel the bark off of Barack Hussein Obama.  That day will come. 

SHUSTER:  John McCain later stepped to the microphone and spoke for an hour.  After the rally, the presumptive GOP nominee learned of the Cunningham comments, and apologized. 

MCCAIN:  And I condemn it.  And, if I have any responsibility, I will take responsibility, and I apologize for it. 

SHUSTER:  Within minutes, Rush Limbaugh called McCain‘s action unbelievable.  And, on his radio show, Cunningham offered this. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CUNNINGHAM:  He just threw me under the bus to the national media.  Well, I have had it with McCain and the whole—I am going to endorse Hillary Clinton.  I want Hillary Clinton to become the next president of the United States. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  John McCain has long had troubles with the Republican right.  Many conservatives still have not forgiven him for opposing the Bush tax cuts and for working with Ted Kennedy on an immigration plan.

In January, Rush Limbaugh raised the prospect of a McCain nomination and declared:

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”) 

LIMBAUGH:  It‘s going to destroy the Republican Party.  It‘s going to change it forever.  It‘s going to be the end of it. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Still, in terms of his general election chances, most political analysts say it is better for McCain to stay in the good graces of independents and moderates than to march in lockstep with Limbaugh. 

Today, while asserting his independence, McCain tried to be soothing. 

MCCAIN:  This is a free country.  People are free to voice their opinion.  What my concern yesterday was, this is—this was an event sponsored by my campaign. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  And it is a campaign that, at least on this issue, has earned the respect of Barack Obama.  His spokesman is praising McCain‘s remarks and the efforts to conduct this election honorably. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a good report. 

Thank you, David Shuster. 

Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.  And Michael Smerconish is a radio talk show host based in Philadelphia.  Pat, what side are you on in this one?  You have not just this guy Bill Cunningham.  You have the head of the Republican party of Tennessee.  You‘ve got Rush Limbaugh all sort of taking the side to the right of McCain, if you will.  I don‘t know if that term applies here, ideological term, in saying, it is OK to basically trash this guy, humiliate him because of his middle name. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  No, you have to separate this, Chris.  Bill Cunningham is not a nuanced fellow.  He‘s a Cincinnati talk show host, probably really famous in Cincinnati.  Anybody who goes through is on the show and it is raw, rough, conservative rhetoric.  McCain‘s problem is he is using this fellow as a warmup for his own gathering and then when he denounces him, he is a member of the talk show host community, Cunningham is, so Sean Hannity comes to his rescue, Rush does and McCain has himself between a rock and a hard place. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean those guys are untouchables?  You can‘t attack them? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, you can go right ahead in attack them.  You‘ve got no problem.  But that is part of the Republican base. 

MATTHEWS:  Should he have let it go? 

BUCHANAN:  I think—No, here‘s the thing, if the press asked him about it, he should have said, look, I don‘t agree with those comments at all.  Quite obviously, he made them.  He is a talk show host.  Here is what I believe.  But I think he might have gone too far with this.  Now he has a huge fight and he is in the middle of it.  That thing in Tennessee, Chris, that is more interesting and they are going to—we can talk about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me just tell you.  The Tennessee Republican party today issued a press release, very well written here—they know what they‘re saying—and it talks about—it‘s concerned about the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Barack Hussein Obama is elected president. 

BUCHANAN:  This is more serious stuff.  Read through that.  The whole effort there is to tie Barack Obama to radical Arabs who are tied to Hamas or Hezbollah and Farrakhan, and to drive a wedge between Obama and the Jewish community, and make him move to denounce Farrakhan or to basically - - well, basically denounce Farrakhan. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did last night. 

BUCHANAN:  And they are going to keep to driving these wedges to alienate the Jewish community, which likes McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  So it is partisanship. 

BUCHANAN:  That is more effective politics than what we have been talking about. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, is this partisanship, bigotry, what is it?  How do we talk about this issue fairly and honestly in politics?  You have to do it on the radio every day. 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I think that John McCain did the right thing.  I disagree with my friend Pat.  First of all, relative to Cunningham, you know, you hire a magician for a kid‘s party.  Don‘t be offended when somebody shows up with a rabbit.  This is part of his schtick.  This is what the guy does. 

Where I think he crossed the line was with the reference to the middle name.  Because, come on, usually when you referencing the middle name it is John Wayne Gacy, or it‘s Mark David Chapman, or it‘s Lee Harvey Oswald. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a murderer. 

SMERCONISH:  In this case, what they‘re saying—let‘s be clear.  They are playing on that urban legend that the guy is a Muslim and he is not.  I have no problem with anything that Cunningham said, because that is part of his persona, except for the middle name business, and John McCain should stay far away from it. 

And one other point, I think a battle with Rush Limbaugh is good for John McCain.  I have been saying this for weeks on your show.  The only thing better is to fight Ann Coulter, because in the end, he needs the middle of the road. 

MATTHEWS:  So he is doing a Harry Truman campaign.  Let‘s all remember back, even though none of us were really thinking about things, except for Pat back then, but back in 1948, Harry Truman took on the segregationist Strom Thurmond.  He took on the Dixiecrat party.  He took on Henry Wallace, the left wing party.  He ran right down the middle and beat the Republican candidate and won the presidency in an election nobody thought he could win.  Is that the John McCain template here? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes, it is.  But let me tell you in 1948, after the New Deal, the Democratic party was a huge party.  It was a national party.  Republicans were a minority party.  The Republicans today are not a majority party as they were under Reagan.  We are 50-50 parties, Chris.  You need everybody.  McCain was making ground with the conservative community, which he should.  He should not be part of it, but they should be with him or going after Obama in the general. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s not more votes in the middle? 

BUCHANAN:  No, he has reopened the breech with them. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he trade a vote on the right to get three in the middle?

BUCHANAN:  You don‘t want to lose any votes on the right.  You do want to get the votes on the left and in between. 

SMERCONISH:  But, Pat, the people who rely on Rush—and I recognize there are a lot of them out there—there is no way, in the end, they sit home when it is Barack Obama and it is John McCain.  They are coming out to vote and they are pulling that McCain lever, whether they admit it today or not. 

BUCHANAN:  Michael, I agree with you.  They might, they might not.  But if the Republican is going to win, you have to have energy, fire and enthusiasm.  Look at Bush; you had to have that gay marriage thing in 13 states to get out the evangelicals to where you could win Ohio in 2004.  You want the right wing radio talk show hosts energetic on your side, if they are not enthusiastic with you, going after Obama by October and November. 

MATTHEWS:  So you say don‘t go against the right.  Michael says, you have to at this point. 

BUCHANAN:  No, I said he would have been better off if McCain had not gotten into this fight. 

SMERCONISH:  Chris, the battleground are the suburbs of America and we need someone moderate on those social issues or you are not winning a general as a Republican. 

MATTHEWS:  I think McCain can pick up three votes for every vote he loses on the right, because I think you‘re right.  I think the right will vote.  I also think those suburbs are looking for a candidate still.  That is why you keep hearing about Bloomberg.  Thank you Pat Buchanan.  Thank you Michael Smerconish. 

Up next, a day after the Ohio debate, perhaps the final one between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton; who has the leg up in Ohio and Texas?  These are the two big states coming up Tuesday.  They could end it all, decide it all, keep it going.  That is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the politics fix.  Ron Brownstein is with the “National Journal.”  Bob Herbert is with the “New York Times.”  He is one of the great columnists up there.  And Joan Walsh is with Salon.  I have been reading you, Joan, all day today. 

Let‘s get to it.  Let‘s think political right now.  Let me ask you, first of all, Ron, you are Senator Clinton.  You have the whole Clinton operation.  What do you know in your head, despite all the stuff you say to the press, what do you know in your head you have to do next Tuesday as a minimum success for Tuesday in the big primaries? 

RON BROWNSTEIN, “THE NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  What you have to do is produce a result strong enough to stop the unmistakable trend of the elite of the party, the super delegates, the institutions, toward Barack Obama.  What is that?  She has to win Ohio.  I think she has to win Texas.  And I think she has to win them by margins big enough that elected officials, who are now moving steadily toward Obama, see this race as still breathing. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a high bar, Texas and Ohio both.  Joan Walsh, your sense of what they think or what you think, if you want to throw it in as well, their necessary minimal requirement next Tuesday. 

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  You know, they may be preparing themselves to call a close loss in Texas a win, Chris.  But I don‘t think it is a win.  I agree with Ron.  I think she has to win both.  I think maybe I am defining it all downward.  I don‘t think she has to win by a lot to stay in it.  I think she needs to win both states though solidly. 

MATTHEWS:  And Bob Herbert, your sense of the bar and where it is in their heads, or maybe combining that with the objective assessment that is inevitable? 

BOB HERBERT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  They have a tremendous problem, Chris, because I think, even if she takes both Ohio and Texas, she can stay in, no question about that, but if she figures out some way to seize the nomination from Obama after this big run of momentum that he has, it is a real possibility that it will tear the party apart.  The Obama supporters, who really feel that they have this thing won, are going to feel like it was stolen from them, and that would really hurt the Democrats. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Unless she wins it on the playing field. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  If she loses Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, how can it be stolen from her, if it is elected that way. 

HERBERT:  Because if you look at the delegate count, she is most likely, unless she really wins all three of the states very big—she is most likely going to be behind in the delegate count. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, there is a rebuttable presumption at this point.  Most elected officials seem to be moving on the assumption that Obama is the nominee.  That movement continues today with John Lewis, Byron Dorgan, the list goes on.  She needs something big enough, I think, out of next Tuesday to stop that.  Because even if she can survive, Chris—even if she can survive, if it continues in the direction that it is going, it is a slow bleed. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, go ahead with your full thought here, because I have thought to follow it with. 

WALSH:  Well, I just think that to continue to raise this specter of the super delegates tearing apart the party is a little bit unfair.  The super delegates tend to be trending toward Obama.  They tend to be following the voters.  And if she does win those three big states and she wins them big, I want to see what the vote count is and I want to see what the delegate count is, because then she can continue to say, she wins these big states that are crucial for Democrats. 

I think that the specter of these evil super delegates tearing the party apart is a little bit unfair. 

HERBERT:  I am not talking about evil super delegates tearing the party apart.  The delegates seem to be breaking toward Barack Obama right now. 

WALSH:  Right, they are. 

HERBERT:  What I am saying is, even is she wins both states, if she doesn‘t win them huge, and she stays in and then ultimately figures out a way to seize the nomination—I think it‘s very difficult—

WALSH:  Well what would that be besides the Super Delegates. 

HERBERT:  Barack‘s supporters will be very upset. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you Bob, if you are Senator Clinton and you have a future in mind, whether it is a run again for the presidency, if it is open in four or eight years, or a run for the Senate leadership, or something bigger than she is already, which is big enough, you might say, why wouldn‘t she wait and try to win Ohio big, try to squeak it, at least, try to do well enough in Texas to look OK, and then say, I am going on to Pennsylvania, a state that looks like it is winnable for her, and then quit. 

Why wouldn‘t you want to quit when you‘re in stronger position, have more clout at the convention?   

HERBERT:  She may well stay in it, especially if she wins both states.  I would assume she would stay in and go right through Pennsylvania.  What I am saying is I don‘t really see a scenario where she gets the nomination in a way that doesn‘t really upset the party.  That is my contention. 

MATTHEWS:  But she might leave the field stronger if she sticks until Pennsylvania, but then again, I have a new Pennsylvania number tonight which is almost within the margin of error, a state where she had it by 16 points.  We will be right back with the round table with Ron Brownstein and Joan and with Bob.  We‘ll be right back. 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for the politics fix.  I want to talk about John McCain now.  We‘ve talked about Barack and Senator Clinton.  You first, Joan Walsh, let me ask you about John McCain.  Should he keep up a strong front against the far right, if you will, the people that are making fun of Barack Obama‘s middle name, Hussein.  Should he really uphold his position against that knocking of the guy‘s heritage. 

WALSH:  I hope he does, you know.  I wish he had come out and denounced the woman who called Hillary Clinton the B-word.  I‘m glad that he‘s finally standing up for some class and for the high ground in campaigning.  I hope he continues to. 

I think personally he did the right thing.  He‘s always mindful that he‘s eventually playing to the middle, as you said before, Chris.  I think it was the right thing to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Herbert, he called Barack Obama a hack, this guy Bill Cunningham.  He then called him Hussein, a play on the H-word.  He obviously sees the ethnic potential for that, maybe out in the country, but maybe across the country. 

HERBERT:  I think we‘re going to be seeing this—if Obama is the nominee, we‘re going to see this all the way through November.  It would be to McCain‘s credit if he consistently takes a position he‘s not going to tolerate that.  I happen to agree with you that I think it‘s smart for McCain to move towards the middle, if he‘s running against Hillary or Barack. 

BROWNSTEIN:  McCain‘s style politically is to try to, on a stylistic level, to always be respectful, to talk about partisan differences in a very muted tone.  He has got a balancing act here.  On the one hand, he has tied himself to President Bush on the most important foreign policy, the war, and domestic policy, extending tax cuts.  On the other, he was the nominee of the moderate minority of the Republican party.  The conservatives never really rallied around him until after it was done.  This is going to be a rocky ride all the way through, as he both attempts to reach out to the middle, but constantly having this need to reassure the right, which will continue to snipe, as Rush Limbaugh has shown—

MATTHEWS:  Is this ‘48 or ‘68 or whatever, maybe a totally new dispensation.  Anyway, thank you Ron Brownstein.  Thank you Bob Herbert.  Thank you Joan Walsh.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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