updated 5/30/2008 12:36:29 PM ET 2008-05-30T16:36:29

Guests: Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, David Shuster, Jennifer Palmieri, Steve McMahon, Steve McMahon, Robert Wexler, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Wayne Slater, Jill Zuckman, Jeanne Cummings

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Amazon man—can a number one best seller beat team Bush?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Well, where do you stand—where you stand on the following question may depend on where you sit on the political spectrum.  Did Scott McClellan finally tell the truth about deception in the Bush White House, or is he just a frustrated ex-White House official who got mad and decided to get even?

McClellan made his first TV appearance this morning on the “Today” show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEREDITH VIEIRA, CO-HOST:  So you saw him going down this road...

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  ... and I gave him the benefit of the doubt, just like a lot of Americans.  I wasn‘t sure—I felt like we were rushing into this, but because of my position and my affection for the president and my belief and trust in he and his advisers, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  And looking back on it and reflecting on it on now, I don‘t think I should have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the big question this political season—will McClellan‘s book hurt John McCain in his presidential bid?  Will it have firepower on election day?

Also, Hillary Clinton has now told the superdelegates exactly why she thinks she has a much better chance than Barack Obama of beating John McCain.  What does she know that the rest of us don‘t?  And more important, can she get past Obama first?  The answer to that question could come on this weekend, when the Democratic National Committee‘s rules committee meets in Washington to sort out the Florida and Michigan delegate debacle.  We‘ll talk to two Florida Democrats with very different ideas about what should happen this Saturday.

Also, in the “Politics Fix,” McCain and Obama take each other on over Iraq.  And on the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight, Scott McClellan isn‘t the only one out with a new book.  Would you believe Larry Craig‘s about to write a book, something to do with the “wide stance,” I think.

But first, we‘re joined by NBC News political director Chuck Todd and NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell.  And by the way, we‘re all going to be covering this thing on Saturday.  This is almost like a primary night Saturday afternoon because—you‘re laughing, I‘m laughing, because this is one of the biggest—this is “Jeopardy,” it should be called (INAUDIBLE) because we don‘t know what‘s going to happen here...

(CROSSTALK)

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  More delegates at stake than we‘ve had, I think, since junior Super Tuesday on March 4.

MATTHEWS:  This is a big Saturday political picnic down here at the Wardman (ph) Towers.

Here‘s Scott McClellan on President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIEIRA:  ... talk to you directly about Bush because you describe the president as plenty smart enough to be president, but with a leadership style based more on instinct than deep intellectual debate.  Who is the man in the suit?  Is he somebody who just follows his gut, that isn‘t reflective about anything?

MCCLELLAN:  Well, he largely is a gut player.  I mean, I think he will admit that, that he goes on gut instincts when he makes decisions.  And that‘s what happened in the decision to go into Iraq.  I think very early on, just a couple of months after—or a few months of September 11, he had made a decision that we‘re going to confront Saddam Hussein, and if Saddam Hussein doesn‘t come fully clean, then we‘re going to go to war.  So there was really no flexibility in his approach.  And then it was put on the advisers, OK, how do we go about implementing this?  How do we go about doing this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Andrea Mitchell, you know, the great thing is, you‘ve had a chance to interview the president.  I on fleeting occasions have had that experience, especially during the campaign for the president at the beginning, before I was sitting at this desk all the time.  We all want to know what it‘s like to pop into the Oval Office once in a while and say, Excuse me, Mr. President, we got a little fire (ph), we got a fire we got to put out, you know, see how quick his mind is, how political, how instinctive is he.  And here‘s a guy who‘s written a book, maybe he‘s got a “tude” about this, an attitude, but he basically says what a lot of us think, Bush is a smart-as-hell guy personally.  He‘s smart.  But he lacks that extra thing, that gadget that says, I want to know more.  Is that what he‘s saying?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s what he‘s saying, and I think what‘s also interesting and what does ring true is that George Bush after 9/11 decided that an interest in Iraq, in trying to go up against Saddam Hussein, turned into a decision.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  That decision was made so early and...

MATTHEWS:  A religion almost.

MITCHELL:  And he was...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the way it comes across.

MITCHELL:  Let‘s find the justification that will be the best sales pitch.  And that does ring true from my own independent reporting during that period.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But all the things he brings out in the book—and I‘m trying to be right down the line here, what this will mean in history 20, 30 years from now.  He says that Bush really didn‘t examine all the problems down the road—you know, what would happen if they—Shia and the Sunni didn‘t get along, if we had the problem with the Kurds, if there was intervention by al Qaeda, all those things down the road that would have caused a casualty-strewn field of war, instead of that quick overturn of events we were talking about going in there.

TODD:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he was thinking about it, it was going to be like going into one of those Eastern European countries and just watching the people tear down the statues, and that would be it, there‘d be a democratic government.

TODD:  Look, there was clearly a misconception there.  But I think what‘s interesting—we sort of forget what the job of White House press secretary and of deputy press secretary is in the White House, which is, basically, it‘s just a member of the press with incredible access.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  That really is—and I think that that‘s how this White House, in particular, treated the press staff.

MITCHELL:  It hasn‘t always been that way.

TODD:  Not always, but in this White House...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... ask Eisenhower, What the hell‘s going on here?

MITCHELL:  Jody Powell.

MATTHEWS:  Jody Powell could say, Mr. President, what‘s going on here?

TODD:  But you know what?  Mike McCurry didn‘t have that kind of access.

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t?

MELISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Hello.  I‘m Melissa Rehberger.  We will get you back to HARDBALL in just a moment, but first we have breaking news out of Texas today regarding that polygamist sect where the children were taken away from their parents about six weeks ago.  The Texas supreme court has just ruled today that those children must be returned to their parents.

NBC‘s Pete Williams is joining us now with more on that—Pete.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  This is a ruling from the Texas supreme court after just about a week of considering these issues and hearing from both sides.  The state had argued that it wasn‘t able to return the children.  It couldn‘t figure out who the parents of the children were.  The parents said, Oh, yes, the state knows that perfectly well because it‘s allowing parents to visit their children.

And now the Texas supreme court has ruled that the state acted improperly, that it did not have sufficient reason to take the children, and quoting the decision, “On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted.”

Now, this opinion goes on to say that that doesn‘t end the matter, that Texas still has some legal options.  For example, it can order that none of the parents from the polygamist sect can leave the state or can leave certain areas in the state.  The state was worried that if they won this case, they might leave Texas and forever be beyond the reach of Texas state child welfare authorities.  No, the supreme court says, there are ways to do that.  There are ways take the offending adults out of the polygamist sect, those that the state believe may have married underage children or forced their children to marry.  But it says removal of all the children was not warranted.

So this is the second big legal victory for the parents at the polygamist sect.  It means their children must now be returned to them.  Now, in terms of appeal options, this is the end of the road for Texas.  This is the Texas supreme court, the highest state court.  You could argue, I suppose, in theory that they could come here to the U.S. Supreme Court, but this case is based entirely on state law, so I think this is the end of the road for Texas.

REHBERGER:  All right, Pete Williams.  Much more still to come in the biggest child custody proceedings in our history.  Thank you very much for that.

And now let‘s go back to HARDBALL in progress.

MATTHEWS:  Who should he be loyal to, the American people or your recent boss?

MITCHELL:  How about in real time?  How about quitting, like Cy Vance did...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ... or Jerry Terhorst (ph)?

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  ... people that we never heard of that did quit on the NSC staff and stuff like this.

MATTHEWS:  How many times has one of us gone to bed at night, thinking, Why didn‘t Colin Powell, if he didn‘t agree with the Barack—the Barack! -- with the Iraq policy, walk?

MITCHELL:  But he pushed back, and you can make a defense...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ... for someone who pushes back.  We don‘t know how much Scott McClellan...

MATTHEWS:  So you say there‘s a moral issue here among people—even apart from trying to get the truth out of an administration, you think it‘s a moral question whether somebody should be even a good rat.

MITCHELL:  Yes, but there‘s another question here...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, even a good rat to tell us the truth.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... you know, I did not cover this White House.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  Those who did say that the analysis, the depth of the analysis, the writing of this book perhaps reflects some very good editing and some other information...

MATTHEWS:  So Peter Osnos (ph) wrote it?

MITCHELL:  I wouldn‘t—I have no way of...

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  ... saying that.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  I‘m just saying...

MATTHEWS:  ... it‘s written like a very sophisticated writer, for, like, “The New York Times” or someone like that.  It reads extremely well.

MITCHELL:  It doesn‘t read like a press room briefing.

MATTHEWS:  It doesn‘t read like somebody talking into a tape recorder...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  There are a lot of people we know that are better writers than speaker, so we should...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s possible.  Very well said.

TODD:  ... be careful.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look here because here‘s the reaction...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get—we have to move ahead to the—I wanted to move forward here.  Here‘s how the book is resonating through the campaign.  Here‘s the reaction to the McClellan book we‘re talking about, which is called “What Happened.”  And here is last night from John McCain and Barack.  Let‘s hear from both sides.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have not seen the book nor the comments.  But I know why I supported it, because of I believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, as did every intelligence agency in the world in every assessment.  So I was not working in the White House.  I had tried to be working in the White House, but I had not succeeded.  So I don‘t know, and I have not read the book, so I can‘t make additional comments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I haven‘t read it.  I don‘t think the subject is particularly surprising.  I think many of us have been troubled by a lack of straightforwardness out of this administration.  It‘s—the only news is that somebody within the administration is confirming what a lot of us have thought for some time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll have to guess what he had to say.  Did you hear that?  Can you...

MITCHELL:  It‘s the airplane and we have to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... to translating from the airplane noise?

MITCHELL:  He‘s saying it‘s not surprising, given what‘s happened...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MITCHELL:  ... in this administration.  I think our viewers heard it better than we did.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I hope they did.  Let me ask you this question.  Is this going to matter?  Because here‘s my theory, that there is a lot of truth in this.  To me, there is an insider voice.  It‘s not like a critic from the outside.  It‘s somebody who just walked out the door and says, You know what?  They really fought the war for ideological reasons, right or wrong.  They didn‘t fight the war over nuclear threats from Iraq.  They thought it‘d be—they did it to change the face of the Middle East.  They thought they could do it by force, they could bring democracy to that part of the world by military action.  That admission goes ahead and away from what John McCain just said.  He said there were WMD there, that‘s why we fought the war.  That book says that‘s not the reason.

TODD:  Well, but...

MATTHEWS:  And that, to me, is a question about these casualties.

TODD:  But I think what we forget about John McCain is John McCain is

comfortable being an interventionist.  And I—and so—you know, he was

in Bosnia.  Remember, he was one of the Republican voices standing up for -

and supporting President Clinton on Bosnia.  So this is—this is more in line with his philosophy.  He believes—you know, he believes you shouldn‘t be afraid to use military force.

MATTHEWS:  Tell the soldiers who sign up and risk their lives, and in many cases have given them, that what their mission is, is not to defend the United States, their mission is to go over there and spread democracy by force, and see how many soldiers sign up.  I mean, isn‘t that a fair question?

TODD:  That‘s fine.  This has been a debate since the start of the cold war about the use of our military and how much of it should be spreading democracy versus defending the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When was the last time we invaded and occupied a country to spread democracy, invaded one and took it over to spread democracy, that purpose?

MITCHELL:  Granada.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Bite-sized.  And maybe that was a bad role model.  You chuckle.

MITCHELL:  A slight joke.

MATTHEWS:  You chuckle.  Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell.  And by the way, anybody that starts spreading democracy by force should be called Napoleonic because he believed that was the way to do it.  And he got stopped and sent to Elba and finally St. Helena.  We have different ways—we have an election coming up.  Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, I think you.  We‘ll be all—all three of us are going to be sitting around on Saturday afternoon—when the weather‘s beautiful outside in New York City, we‘re going to be sitting inside election headquarters, trying to figure out what the RBC, the rules and bylaws committee...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... I know—of the Democratic National Committee will do to figure out—settle their fish, as they say in New York.  They‘re going to settle their fish...

MITCHELL:  We‘ll be there at the meetings.

MATTHEWS:  ... Florida, Michigan.  We‘re going to see if Hillary still has a shot at winning this thing, and we should know by the end of Saturday afternoon if she can pull a rabbit out of the hat and win enough delegates in this fight to put herself in contention.

Coming up: Is Hillary Clinton hurting the Democratic Party by staying in the race?  She maintains she‘s the best candidate come November to beat John McCain.  She‘s got the numbers to show it.  Can she prove it?

But today‘s column by Robert Novak—now, there‘s a big Democrat! -- suggests that Democratic loyalists think she‘s doing more harm than good.  Take it from Bob Novak.  Well, we‘ll hear what he has to say, anyway.  That debate next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Two days before the Democratic National Committee tries to resolve the primary disputes over Florida and Michigan—that‘s this Saturday—questions are intensifying about Hillary Clinton and what will happen if she doesn‘t like the meeting‘s outcome, if she doesn‘t like the way things go this Saturday.  Is the Democratic nomination headed all the way to the summer convention the last week in Denver in August?

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the latest, and maybe the worst.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today in South Dakota and for the first time in weeks, Hillary Clinton took a verbal jab at Barack Obama, though she didn‘t mention him by name.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My campaign is not about speeches, it‘s about solutions because I know, having been in the White House for those eight years, that when you‘re there trying to decide how you‘re going to honorably end the war in Iraq, the cameras are gone.  The speeches are over.

SHUSTER:  Clinton insists she‘s the best candidate to run against John McCain, and there are growing Democratic Party concerns that Clinton may continue her arguments all the way to the summer convention.  This week, her campaign rejected a compromise plan on disputed delegates from Michigan and Florida, and Clinton‘s position going into a party decision this weekend has been full delegate seating or else.

CLINTON:  We‘ll see what the rules and bylaws committee does with Michigan and Florida.  We‘ll see what happens in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota, and then we‘ll see where we are.

SHUSTER:  On top of concerns about a protracted fight, many Democrats believe Clinton has already inflicted long-lasting damage to the party, most recently by her explanation last week for staying in the race.

CLINTON:  We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.  You know, I just—I don‘t understand it.

SHUSTER:  Today, columnist Robert Novak referred to those Clinton remarks and said a top Democrat told him it was, quote, “a grievous wound on the party that will be difficult to heal.”  And he added, “Loyal Democrats talk to me about Clinton in the same terms that Republicans have used for 16 years.  This condemnation is not limited to Obama partisans.”

For his part, Barack Obama is dismissing suggestions that Clinton is hurting him and is offering only praise whenever he mentions her.

OBAMA:  We all admire her courage and her commitment and her perseverance.

SHUSTER:  And yesterday, Obama told reporters on his plane there‘s nothing wrong with Clinton staying in for a while.

OBAMA:  You know, it‘s not technically over until we have the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination.

SHUSTER:  The Obama campaign believes he will get that number next week, once the primaries are over and the undecided superdelegates finally weigh in.

OBAMA:  You know, if we‘ve got the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination, then I‘m the nominee.  And if we‘re short of that, then, you know, we‘ll have more work to do.  But once we achieve it, then I think we‘ll be the nominee.

SHUSTER (on camera):  Still, if Florida and Michigan are seated the way Hillary Clinton wants, she‘ll be able to claim victory in the overall popular vote even if she falls short in the overall elected delegate count.  And with Hillary Clinton supporters headed to Washington this weekend for demonstrations at the Democratic National Committee, the question is, will the Clinton nomination fight continue through the summer?

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Steve McMahon‘s a democratic media consultant who worked in the Howard Dean campaign in 2004, and Jennifer Palmieri was an adviser to John Edwards this year.

Let‘s look at the letter that was going out to superdelegates from Senator Clinton herself.  Quote, “Ultimately, the point of our primary process is to pick our strongest nominee, the one who would be the best president and commander-in-chief, who has the greatest support from members of our party and who is mostly likely to win in November.  So I hope you will consider not just the strength of the coalition backing me, but also that more people will have cast their votes for me.”

That‘s the case, Hillary Clinton will have the most votes.  Will she have the most votes—come the end of next Tuesday, Tuesday night, after Montana and South Dakota, and after Puerto Rico this Sunday, and after all this jibber-jabber and back-and-forth about Florida and Michigan, will she be able to honestly claim that more people voted for her in the primary season than voted for Barack Obama?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER EDWARDS CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  I mean, that‘s sort of like knowing who actually won Florida.  It‘s hard to do because of the way, you know, caucuses and primaries are done.  I think it‘s just a really hard thing to rule.  But I think it‘s likely that by Wednesday, Barack Obama will have the delegates that he needs to be the nominee.

MATTHEWS:  He will have the delegates.  But who will have the popular vote?

Steve McMahon, I pass the torch to you, because it is tricky.  It has to—you have to make some assumptions here.  Give me Hillary‘s assumptions.  She will make a couple, like the caucuses didn‘t count; he didn‘t get anything in Michigan. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Right. 

PALMIERI:  Right. 

MCMAHON:  He got zero votes in Michigan.  No one in Michigan wanted Barack Obama to be president of the United States...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Like, Detroit voted straight against Barack Obama...

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  Exactly, and that everybody in the contests that everyone agreed shouldn‘t count should be counted.  The caucuses in the small states, the insignificant states, don‘t matter. 

I think it‘s a pretty hard argument to make.  And I think you see how well it‘s going.  Since May 7, I think Barack Obama has picked up 63 new superdelegates, and Senator Clinton has picked up eight. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The Hillary Clinton charge that she will have won—that most people actually voted for her, she will be making the case as an echo of Florida 2000:  More people wanted to vote for me and did vote for me.  Whether they‘re get counted or not is an argument for the process people. 

PALMIERI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Then she will be able to say, maybe I didn‘t win as many elected delegates, but I want the superdelegates to bet me—bet on me—that was a Freudian slip—because I can win in Indiana—not Indiana—

I can win Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.  He can‘t. 

That‘s her argument.

PALMIERI:  I think that, had she not—had she won Indiana by a big amount, and come close to beating him in North Carolina, I think maybe superdelegates might find these arguments to be persuasive. 

But I think that that‘s really the night that it turned for her, because Obama came out of the two worse weeks after the campaign, right...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

PALMIERI:  ... and then he—and he managed to come really close in Indiana, which he was supposed to win.  He beat her by 15 points in North Carolina. 

And I think, at that point, the superdelegates breathed a sigh of relief, and said, OK, you know, we can give it to him, give it to him comfortably. 

MATTHEWS:  Is she threatening him with her supporters, this idea of another Brooks Brothers or something like it protest on Saturday here at the Wardman Towers, where a number of people, most, I guess, older women—

I‘m just guessing—will come with a lot of passion and raise hell?

MCMAHON:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  Well, they‘re going to come with passion.  They‘re going to raise hell.  And everyone‘s going to view them as an extension of the Clinton campaign.  So, I think it‘s going to be no harm, no foul, no surprise.  And they will be discounted.  What happens inside...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The TV cameras will be on them?  They will be on Saturday night?

MCMAHON:  The TV cameras will be on them.  But what‘s going to matter on Saturday is what happens in the Rules and Bylaws Committee. 

And there doesn‘t seem to be a scenario for Senator Clinton in that committee to come out with what she wants.  The DNC attorney has already said that, according to the rules, the DNC can reinstate no more than 50 percent of the delegates.  Even the aggrieved states, Florida and Michigan, are asking for remedies that are far under what Senator Clinton‘s asking for. 

And it‘s hard to imagine that the Rules and Bylaws Committee is going to give Senator Clinton relief that the states that are aggrieved aren‘t even seeking. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me give you a characterization of how Hillary can claim victory. 

She compromises on the elected delegates coming out of Michigan.  She lets him have credit for all the non-committed votes.  She assumes they all voted for him.  So, she gives him his percentage.  She gets her percentage based on the vote for her in Michigan. 

She takes her percentage of the vote, gets the delegate equivalent of that, appropriate delegate accreditation for that in Florida.  Then she says, OK, I did come out short on the elected delegates.  He beat me on elected delegates overall. 

PALMIERI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Technically, he‘s won that part of the fight. 

But I have won on total popular vote, because now that all these states votes in Florida and Michigan count, I can count all those popular votes for me as part of my total.  I sweep him.  I beat him like hell in Puerto Rico.  I hold my own a little bit this next Tuesday.  I‘m unassailable as the popular vote choice of the Democratic Party. 

Then she goes and says, I want all the superdelegates to pick me, rather than him, because I got a better bet in November.

MCMAHON:  Right.  That‘s the argument.  And, so far, that‘s the argument that she‘s been making for some time.

MATTHEWS:  Will it work?

MCMAHON:  Sixty-three superdelegates since May 7 have said—have said Barack Obama.  Seven have said Senator Clinton, in the face of the very same argument.

MATTHEWS:  So, the main argument won‘t work this weekend?

MCMAHON:  No, it‘s not going to work.  

MATTHEWS:  It won‘t work?

PALMIERI:  No, I agree it won‘t.

MATTHEWS:  You agree it won‘t work?

PALMIERI:  Everything you said is true, but I don‘t think that it will work.

The interesting thing, I think, is what would have—if it was reversed, what if she were ahead in the pledged delegates and Barack Obama were ahead in the popular vote? 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  Well, be honest.  Make your point.

PALMIERI:  I think that would be different.

I think that—I think that—I think that there would have been an outcry that, you know—I think there would have been an outcry for him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, you think the African-Americans, who are most passionate for Barack Obama, because this is the first African-American nominee of either party, you think they would say—let‘s be tough here—you get out on a ledge...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... if they had popular vote claim, they would claim the right to this nomination?

PALMIERI:  Yes, I think it would have been—I think it would have been a lot harder if it was—I mean, they would have said Hillary Clinton‘s—you know, her people—Harold Ickes built these rules.

MATTHEWS:  Even if they had lost the elected delegates...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They wouldn‘t have tried to make...

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  No, no, no, because everybody agreed at the beginning of this process that Florida and Michigan don‘t count, and that delegates matter.

The Clinton campaign was saying that right after New Hampshire. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  They‘re not saying that anymore.               

MATTHEWS:  Yes, OK.  We will see, Steve.

I like this, Steve McMahon, Jennifer Palmieri, excellent. 

Up next: the HARDBALL “Sideshow” and a “Big Number” with big insight into what John McCain thinks about George Bush these days. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL.  It‘s kind of a funny one tonight, as it often is.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

Amidst the Scott McClellan book frenzy, a bit of Republican political news was lost.  John McCain won Tuesday‘s Republican primary out in Idaho with 70 percent of the vote.  No surprise there, but guess who came in a distant, but decent second place?  Ron Paul, with 24 percent.  That‘s one of Ron Paul‘s better showings all year, which will certainly fuel the fire of vocal supporters who want to see their Libertarian hero speak at the Republican Convention this summer—not exactly what John McCain needs, an anti-war aria to spoil his week, a peacenik raining on his war parade.

Here‘s some more news from Idaho.  Want a new bathroom read?  Well, Senator Larry Craig has one in the works.  Here he is talking to NBC‘s affiliate in Boise. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO:  Well, there will be a bit of what‘s happened in the last year and the way it evolved.  And I think that‘s important for Idaho and those outside Idaho who are interested to know.

We‘re in the process of putting it together now.  Usually, those books take six, seven months to write, and then another eight or nine months.  Probably mid-year next year before it‘s out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The Larry Craig story, all you didn‘t want to know.  Dare I say, Boise will be Boise? 

Anyway, Senator Hillary Clinton is campaigning out in South Dakota again today. 

Listen to this “New York Times” description of her campaigning yesterday—quote—“Clinton was accompanied by a skeleton crew of aides and a diminished press corps Wednesday as she continued to tour some of the remotest parts of America.”

Think that‘s tough?  Look at today‘s “New York Post” cover.  Look at it: “Rock Bottom.”  That‘s their description of the Hillary campaign.

NBC‘s Mike Memoli reports that Senator Hillary Clinton—quote—

“smirked” and threw her hands up when asked if she could picture herself up there on Mount Rushmore.  Another reporter asked her if Bill Clinton should be on Mount Rushmore.  Senator Clinton didn‘t like the line of questioning at all.  She just told the reporter, “Why don‘t you learn something about the monument?”

And, as you know, last week, we started polling all our guests with the question, what does Hillary Clinton really want right now? 

Well, we now have 12 who say she just wants to be the president, period, whether it‘s now or in 2012, or whenever.  Nine say she wants to be Obama‘s vice president.  Two say she wants to be on the Supreme Court.  Two say Senate majority leader.  Two say attorney general.  And two other options got one vote each.  One of them, by the way, isn‘t the biggest job in the world, HHS secretary.  That‘s kind of a degrade.

Anyway, now, it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.” 

President Bush hit the campaign trail to fund-raise for Senator McCain in Phoenix Tuesday of this week.  But you really wouldn‘t know it unless you watched this piece of tape.  Here they are, Bush and McCain, the president and the candidate, arriving on the airport tarmac before President Bush departed. 

Look at this.  This is the meeting of them.  Watch them.  This is how much time they‘re spending together.  This is a fairly brief opportunity to catch the—the two leading Republicans in the country right now, and Cindy.  And the point we‘re making is going to be fairly clear.  It‘s how brief a time they were visible together on Earth. 

And there it is, 27 seconds, tonight‘s HARDBALL “Big Number” -- 27 seconds that Senator McCain and President Bush appeared together in public on Tuesday, before President Bush hopped back on to Air Force One -- 27 seconds of photo opportunity. 

Up next:  Saturday‘s meeting of the DNC Rules Committee could be the last, best chance for Hillary Clinton to be president.  What should the Democratic Party do about those delegates in Florida and Michigan?  We will ask two Florida members of Congress, one for Obama and one for Clinton.  Should be interesting. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Mike Huckman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

And stocks rising for a third straight day—the Dow Jones industrial gaining 52 points today, the S&P 500 up seven, and the Nasdaq up 21 points. 

Stocks climbing, as oil prices plunged.  Crude fell $4.41 in New York, closing at $126.62 a barrel.  Traders ignored a big drop in U.S.  inventories and focused on the strengthening U.S. dollar. 

The U.S. economy was stronger than initially thought in the first quarter.  Revised figures show a nine-tenths-of-a-percent gain, rather than the original estimate of just six-tenths-of-a-percent. 

General Motors says about 19,000 hourly workers are taking the company‘s latest buyout and early retirement offers.  That‘s about one quarter of GM‘s blue-collar work force. 

And, after the closing bell today, computer-maker Dell reported quarterly earnings that beat analyst estimates.  In after-hours trading, Dell shares are up about 10 percent. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In two days, the Rules Committee of the Democratic National Committee will decide—or try to decide—one of the most contentious issues in this whole presidential race this year, what to do about Florida and Michigan. 

And lawyers for the party say that rules call for both states to lose at least half their delegates when they get to the convention.  Does this hurt Clinton‘s chances of cutting into Obama‘s lead at this point? 

Florida U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the national co-chair of the Clinton campaign. 

Thank you for joining us, Congresswoman.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  And Florida Congressman Robert Wexler is an Obama supporter, both from Florida with different views. 

I want to go with Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz first. 

What is this about?  Is this fight about seating delegates, or is it really about Hillary‘s last chance to be the nominee of the party? 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, it‘s actually even bigger than that. 

This is nothing short of a fight to make sure that the Democratic nominee, no matter who that is, can win the general election in November.  If, on Saturday, the DNC Rules Committee decides to do anything less than seat our full delegation at the convention, then we are jeopardizing our opportunity to win the general election in November. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean the full—as if you had never done—as if you had never done anything wrong? 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Florida has suffered enough penalty.  The voters in Florida did not break any rules.  They followed the rules.  The state law in Florida set the primary on January 29.  We had a record turnout. 

And I hope that Robert—that my good friend Robert Wexler would agree that we should not go into this general election with one hand tie behind our back, which is what we would be doing if we do anything short of seating our full delegation.  I mean, what‘s the point?  It‘s pointless. 

MATTHEWS:  And you would be saying the same thing if you were for Obama, right?  You would be saying the same thing?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  I‘m a Floridian.  And I‘m a Floridian first.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No matter what candidate I support, I fight to make sure that my voters get their votes counted. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, what‘s another view?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA:  There isn‘t another view. 

The view that the Obama campaign has is that Florida must be represented at the convention, that we hope that what the Rules and Bylaws Committee will accomplish is a fair resolution, where there can be a consensus, so that Democrats can move into the general election in a unified status. 

That‘s what‘s important.  And, if the Floridians that voted feel, as I believe they will, if they‘re treated fairly by the Rules and Bylaws Committee, if Florida‘s seated, then I think we can move on from a position of strength. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Does Hillary Clinton get credit for the votes she got in the Florida primary, or not?

WEXLER:  That‘s what the Rules and Bylaws Committees will determine. 

MATTHEWS:  Should she?

WEXLER:  That‘s what they will determine. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  She certainly should.

WEXLER:  But the important thing is that both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton should agree that they will abide by what the Rules and Bylaws Committee says, so that, in fact, we can go forward.  They should agree to that regardless of what the decision is.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Would the Clinton campaign agree that, once Florida‘s delegates are accepted, even if 100 percent of them are accepted, full credit, as if there had been no violation of the rules, will the candidates both agree that the person who gets the most elected delegates is the nominee?  Will they agree to go by the count of elected delegates?  If that‘s going to be the biggest fight, getting credit for all the elected delegates, and you‘re leading that fight down there, shouldn‘t those elected delegates decide who wins? 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  But, Chris, that‘s not the rules.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  The rules of the Democratic Party provide for a combination of types of delegates that make the selection for the Democratic nominee. 

We have elected delegates.  We have pledged delegates.  We have at-large delegates.  And we have superdelegate.  And it‘s not any one type of delegate that ultimately determines who the nominee is.  So, when we have a combination...

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re fighting for the accreditation of all your delegates.  But, in the end of the game, you don‘t think the elected delegates should decide this thing?  You should—they can be overruled by the superdelegates, you think? 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Chris, we should—if the—if the refrain that has occurred throughout this campaign has been we need to follow the rules, we need to follow all the rules.  We can‘t pick and choose.

MATTHEWS:  The rules are—the problem is Florida broke the rules. 

Go ahead. 

SCHULTZ:  The nominee is selected—no, Florida didn‘t break the rules.  The Republican legislature made a decision. 

MATTHEWS:  And the Democrats voted with the Republicans.  How did the Democrats vote in the legislature? 

SCHULTZ:  The Democrats in the legislature voted for a total elections package, in which this one provision was a part of.  That is not an endorsement of the moving of the primary outside of the window.  We‘re way beyond that. 

MATTHEWS:  Did they offer an amendment to clarify their position? 

SCHULTZ:  Yes, they did. 

MATTHEWS:  What happened?  They offered that amendment and then they voted for the full package? 

SCHULTZ:  And you know why they voted for the full package, Chris, because that bill included an insurance that we would finally move to an election system where we could make sure that we could have manual recounts, which is what we‘ve been fighting for since 2000.  We have very raw nerves in Florida from the recount, and we can‘t have a repeat over counting votes in Florida. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Wexler, it‘s very hard to find clarity here, where you can find a clear cut position where Florida is not guilty of violating the Democratic party rules.  Therefore, it‘s hard to see how they shouldn‘t be in some way sanctioned.  Or else the party rules don‘t mean anything. 

WEXLER:  There is clarity about this point: Senator Barack Obama on his victory in the state of Oregon won a majority of the elected delegates.  The Democratic party has always nominated the candidate who wins a majority of the elected delegates. 

In addition to that, Senator Obama has done exceedingly well with the so-called super-delegates.  But this is a contest for elected delegates.  It‘s a contest for delegates.  Those are the rules.  Senator Obama is on the cusp of becoming the Democratic nominee.  We hope Senator Obama has asked that Florida be seated.  We hope that the DNC on Saturday will bring this to a finality, so that Floridians can feel that they have been heard and then we can move from a unified position. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be a reason, Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz, for the Democratic super delegates to choose a candidate or to join in choosing a delegate different than the one who got the most elected delegates?  What would be a reason for that?

SCHULTZ:  Well, the role of a super delegate at the Democratic National Convention is to make the decision that they think is best to ensure that we have the strongest possible candidate going into the general election.  That‘s why super delegates exist.  Should we change the whole nomination process?  We‘ve talked about this when I‘ve been on this show before.  I think the nomination process should be changed, because I think the process is elitist. 

The process we have now allows the super delegates to make their own decision about who the best candidate is. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Wexler, what should that decision be based on?  Should there be an extraordinary reason for the super delegates to over-rule the elected delegates?  

WEXLER:  Of course, you would have to have some extreme reason, which, of course, we do not have in this circumstance.  Speaker Pelosi has come out and effectively said, the person, the candidate, who gets the most elected delegates should be our nominee.  The members of Congress I‘ve talked to, the over whelming number have concluded that the person who wins the most delegates will be our nominee.  It will become quite evidence. 

SCHULTZ:  I think Robert is absolutely right. 

MATTHEWS:  Will we have a Democratic nominee by the end of June? 

SCHULTZ:  I think we will, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we will, Congressman Wexler? 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I guess that‘s good news if you want a nominee by the end of June.  Anyway, thank you both, Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz from Florida—both good arguments.  I think people understand it that time.  Anyway, Congressman Robert Wexler, thank you both for joining us. 

Up next, the politics fix, will Scott McClellan‘s memoir sway voters either way this November?  Will his case against this administration from the inside hurt John McCain? 

Plus, the newest battle between McCain and Obama.  Wait until you catch this one, it‘s about whose visited Baghdad last.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Our round table tonight, Wayne Slate of the “Dallas Morning News,” Jill Zuckman of the “Chicago Tribune,” and Politico‘s Jeanne Cummings.  Let me get to this whole question about McClellan—there‘s a misstatement, Wayne.  The McClellan book, how does it hurt McCain?  It seems to me it raises the whole question of the bogus case for going into Iraq.  We didn‘t go in there because of nuclear threats.  We went in there because of ideology.  Is that going to reseed that garden of concern? 

WAYNE SLATER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”:  I think does.  We‘re pretty far out from the general election, so a lot of this will go away.  I think the Obama people made a mistake, strategically, when Obama on the airplane said, you know, this doesn‘t surprise me.  We all know these things.  That obviously has to be the Democratic line.  What you really ought to say is the opposite.  This is amazing.  This is a corroboration of all the bad things we thought of this administration and that John McCain would continue in a third term.  I think will have some impact, but not a great impact. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Jeanne Cummings.  I share the assessment.  I thought it sounded like—when you read the book, it reads like Claude Raines in “Mr Smith Goes to Washington.”  Everything the guy says is true.  He‘s admitting that the other guy, the good guy is right, if that‘s your perspective.  What did you think? 

JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO:  I don‘t think this is good news for McCain‘s campaign, obviously.  They don‘t want to go back and fight over again whether we should have gone there and if we went there based on the right kind of arguments.  I think this pushes the debate back into a place that McCain hoped they had gotten past, and they can talk about the future of Iraq and not the beginning of the Iraq war. 

MATTHEWS:  This is the Democratic question, not the Republican question.  The Republican question is how do we get out honorably.  The Democratic question is who the hell got us into this situation. 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Senator McCain wants to talk about where we are now and where we‘re going from here.  He doesn‘t want to talk about the decision to go to war, because people have gone back and said that was a bad decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Starting with you, again, this time Jill.  What about the more insidious stuff?  I‘m hunching, but the people that really don‘t like this administration have a problem with the war.  They have a problem with the president personally.  When they see him they don‘t like them.  I don‘t share that sort instinctive dislike that a lot of these people seem to have.  Then they look at Dick Cheney and they say he personifies a lot of things that are troubling about this administration, the secrecy. 

This is what Scott McClellan was saying on “The Today Show” this morning with Meredith, the secrecy, you know, the energy policy that was cooked up with some energy executives, the whole question of what we‘re doing in the war and how that was put together.  All private, inside stuff; the whole CIA leak punishment of the Wilsons.  All that seems to be around Cheney. 

ZUCKMAN:  Well, look, I think one of the reasons we‘re seeing Obama and McCain talk so much about transparency in government is a response to the last eight years.  And I think one of the reasons that there‘s been this tremendous publicity and focus on Scott‘s book is because he was such a loyalist, such an integral part of this administration and the way they did things.  I mean, how many times did he stand up at the podium and shoot reporters down?  Or say that tell-all books were not worthy to be commented on? 

MATTHEWS:  He came out when Richard Clarke wrote his book, the anti-terrorist expert, the security expert, when he wrote his book, and he basically called him a disgruntled former employee, the same thing they‘re calling him now.  Jeanne, that seems to be what they do.  They sort of compare these guys to postal workers when they write, these people are somewhat deranged.  You can‘t go by what they say.  That‘s, in fact, exactly—I was digging it up the other day or today, that Scott McClellan, himself, said about Richard Clarke, always disgruntled because he didn‘t get the jobs he wants in this administration; he‘s just ticked off. 

That seems to be the way they‘re dumping the guy.  It seems to me, as Jill points out, there‘s a real question here about, do people like the secrecy of Dick Cheney? 

CUMMINGS:  I think those kinds of—that discrediting or Scott McClellan is a little hard to do.  I covered the White House during the time when he was the White House press secretary.  He‘s a very decent human being.  He was very well liked and very loyal.  And when you—these relationships in the White House become very personal, your relationship to the president and the other parts of the team.  And when we discovered that, you know, these people he truly trusted lied to him, and then when his credibility was so low he got canned because they couldn‘t use him anymore, that caused him to reflect, rethink that relationship and a whole lot more. 

I think in the way he‘s laid this all out, I think it lends a lot of credibility to the kind of questions and the critiques that he‘s offering about the White House, because it seem so painful on its face. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that was Cardinal Woolsey‘s line, if I was as loyal to my god as I was to my lord, I would not now stand naked to my enemies.  We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of the politics fix and the new McCain/Obama fight over visiting Iraq.  The charge to McCain he hasn‘t been there lately.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  It seems to me, Jeanne, even though Senator Clinton is fighting very courageously now to stay in this fight, and perhaps pull an upset this point, that Barack Obama and John McCain are basically crossing swords right now.  Here, just the other day, in fact again today, John McCain is basically saying Barack Obama has no right to talk about Baghdad or what‘s going in Iraq under General Petraeus because he hasn‘t been there in the last two years.  Therefore, he has no standing to talk.  He better get his butt over there, is basically what he‘s saying.  Is this a grownup discussion at this point. 

CUMMINGS:  I‘m not sure if it‘s all played out in the most adult way.  I do think that McCain scored some points today.  I think he made Barack Obama go off his message.  I think Barack Obama had to mention that indeed he might go visit Iraq.  I think both of those things are wins for McCain, essentially because Barack Obama had to move over and start talking about what John McCain wanted to talk about today. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you completely.

ZUCKMAN:  Also, this issue dove tails with the other issue of whether Senator Obama would meet the heads of these rogue nation states that they have been having this argument about.  If all fits very nicely into the McCain campaign‘s bracket for Obama, which is that he‘s inexperienced and naive and really doesn‘t know what he‘s doing.  Both of these issues together work to McCain‘s advantage. 

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne, the point there is that, in addition to what you just said, Jill, is OK, he will sit down with Ahmadinejad in Bashar al Assad and all the bad guys over in that part of the world, but he won‘t sit down and meet with General Petraeus in the field or the other generals. 

CUMMINGS:  Precisely.  It becomes a very powerful argument.  When you add in the timeline, I think the timeline is difficult for Barack Obama because it is pre-surge, post-surge.  So the decision—McCain‘s accusations that he decided to quit on the war before he went to see what the surge had accomplished could have some legs out there. 

MATTHEWS:  This is tactical.  It‘s interesting, Wayne, when you see tactics playing a role.  As Jill say, touche.  It may not solve anybody‘s problem about Iraq, those who think the was a blunder and those who think it was swell and necessary, but it does show McCain‘s got the hot hand in terms of tactics.  He says, look, get over there and see what‘s going on, if you‘re going to be such an expert. 

SLATER:  Absolutely, there‘s only two choices that Obama has.  One is to go over there or not go over there.  He almost has to go over there under some terms to see that he‘s there.  You know that old movie where John Travolta plays a trial lawyer and Robert Duvall says in the case of one potential witness, this witness must never testify before the grand jury.  I have to think inside the Barack Obama campaign they‘re saying, Barack Obama must never appear in the same frame with John McCain in Baghdad, because he‘s diminished as a result. 

When he goes over there, he‘s damned if he does and damned if he doesn‘t.  He‘s goes over there, things are going fairly well, it undercuts his message.  It‘s a very difficult thing, clearly a tactical win by the McCain side. 

MATTHEWS:  So he‘ll go over and get that market scene with the helicopters, the Blackhawks overhead, guaranteeing his safety.  The military will want to prove there isn‘t any trouble over there, right?  Is that right, Wayne? 

SLATER:  That is the picture that Obama would want.  I‘m there.  I see what‘s going on.  I‘m up to date on the issue, but it still ain‘t good over here.  We‘ve got to have this same kind of scene that we saw with John McCain.  That‘s what they‘ll do.  My sense is he‘ll be doing that in the next month or so. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t even want to talk about this. 

CUMMINGS:  I think Obama‘s argument would be different than McCain‘s argument.  He‘ll go over.  He‘ll be in the bubble, and the military will show him the best perspective on Baghdad.  That‘s all true.  But the real change has to come with the political leadership in Iraq, not with—

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne, got to go.  You‘re well said.  Thank you very much, Jeanne Cummings for joining us.  Thank Wayne Slater.  Thank you, Jill Zuckman.  Right now it‘s time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.

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

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