updated 7/9/2008 11:39:35 AM ET 2008-07-09T15:39:35

Guest: Pete Hegseth, Jon Soltz, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Ryan Lizza, Maria Teresa Petersen, Del Walters, John Harwood, Pat Buchanan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Iraq to U.S.: Let‘s see your timetable for going home.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Cut and run or pack up and leave?  For the second time in two days, a top Iraqi official has said, in effect, it‘s time for the U.S. to either withdraw now or to at least set a timetable for withdrawal.  And today the U.S. said, Not so fast.  But if the United States doesn‘t get out even when the Iraqis tell us to get out, does that make us occupiers?

Also tonight, the strategists.  What do the Republicans do about a deeply unpopular President Bush at their convention?  Do they offer him a primetime moment or bury him in the afternoon somewhere, amidst the soap operas?  That and more from our Democratic and Republican strategists tonight.

And whose footsteps will Barack Obama follow this year?  Will he be Jimmy Carter from 1976, who sat on a huge lead and almost lost an unlosable campaign, or will he be Ronald Reagan in 1980, who avoided taking hard-line positions but then came from nowhere in the last weeks and won in a landslide?

In the “Politics Fix,” we‘ll look at some of the new ads that are hitting the airwaves.  And here‘s a question from world leaders at the G-8 summit.  Exactly how many dishes of food do you need to be served at lunch and dinner before you can talk about the world food crisis?  That‘s on the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.

But first: Iraqi officials are calling for a timetable for U.S. troops to withdraw from their country.  Pete Hegseth is with the groups Vets for Freedom, and Jon Soltz is with the group Votevets.com (SIC).

I want you both to respond to the news of the last day, but I want you to look right now at what these fellows are saying.  Here‘s Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki‘s statement.  Here‘s what he has to say about us leaving.  Quote, “The current trend is to reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for a departure of U.S. forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal.  In all cases, the basis for any agreement will be respect for the full sovereignty of Iraq.”

And then a further statement.  Here‘s Iraqi national security adviser Rubaie‘s quote in another “Washington Post” story just today.  Quote, “There should not be any permanent bases in Iraq unless those bases are under Iraqi control.  We would not accept any memorandum of understanding with the U.S. side that has no obvious and specific dates for the foreign troops”—that‘s what they‘re calling us now—“withdrawal from Iraq.”

Let me go to Pete on that.  They‘re telling us they want a timetable or to leave now.  They‘re saying, No permanent bases.  They‘re making these statements publicly.  How can our people in this country, like John McCain and George Bush, accuse the Democrats of being for cutting and running and for surrender if the people over there who host us are telling us they want us to set a timetable or else to leave right now?  How do we square those things?

PETE HEGSETH, VETS FOR FREEDOM:  I mean, all in all, I think this is a very good thing.  We wouldn‘t be in this political situation, where Maliki is making political statements during complex negotiations, if we hadn‘t surged and created the conditions so he could do that.  This is political progress when the Iraqi government feels empowered enough to say, You guys can now move on out because we can control our own situation.  We can take control of—take care of al Qaeda.

MATTHEWS:  So the...

HEGSETH:  This is a good political negotiation...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do the administration officials come out and say they don‘t agree with this...

HEGSETH:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... they don‘t think we should be setting timetables...

HEGSETH:  They said...

MATTHEWS:  ... they don‘t think we should be withdrawing?

HEGSETH:  They said we will withdraw.  We want to withdraw.  I think this is a back and forth in negotiation...

MATTHEWS:  No.  You‘re waffling.

HEGSETH:  This is—this is back and forth...

MATTHEWS:  No.  No.  They‘re saying...

HEGSETH:  ... on the negotiations between...

MATTHEWS:  ... they want a timetable.

HEGSETH:  ... two sides.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re saying, We want a timetable.  President Bush and McCain have said, No timetables.

HEGSETH:  Well, certainly, the State Department and others have said, We want—it‘s based on conditions on the ground.  And Maliki has said that, as well, that, OK, yes, this is certainly tied to conditions...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not what he‘s saying.

HEGSETH:  ... on the ground, as well.  He has said that...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s saying he wants a timetable.

HEGSETH:  ... in other interviews.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s try it—let‘s try it—let‘s try it with Jon. 

Did you hear what he said?

JON SOLTZ, VOTEVETS.ORG:  I heard what he said.  It...

MATTHEWS:  What did he say?

SOLTZ:  It looks to me like Maliki endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president today.  The bottom line is that the Iraqi position is similar to Barack Obama‘s position.  Our Founding Fathers, George Washington, will be rolling over in his grave knowing that the American military is beholden to the domestic politics of a foreign country.  Our soldiers cannot will the Iraqis to end this war.  It‘s absolutely ridiculous at this point that the Republican—the leader of the Republican Party, that George Bush and John McCain, think that our soldiers should fight and die wanting security and prosperity in Iraq more than Iraqis want it themselves.  The majority of Sunnis and the majority of Shias think it‘s OK to kill American troops...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re missing the point, both of you.  The Iraqi government says they want a timetable for us to withdraw.  I want to ask you, Pete, one more time, or several more times.  Doesn‘t that clash with this administration‘s position, which we will not set a timetable?

HEGSETH:  This administration, I believe—all those that have served over there want to come home as soon as possible.  And this is a positive development because the Iraqi government is saying, We‘re much closer to taking over politically.  When Jon says...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you, Pete, one more time.  Do you personally support a timetable?

HEGSETH:  I believe it needs to be based on conditions on the ground, but I think it‘s a—

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s not a timetable.

HEGSETH:  ... good thing that the Iraqi government...

MATTHEWS:  Conditions on the ground is saying...

HEGSETH:  ... is stepping out.

MATTHEWS:  ... We play as we see it when the time comes.  That says we don‘t set a timetable.  We don‘t agree to leave at any agreed time.  Do you support us leaving at any agreed time, along with the Iraqi government?  Do you agree with the Iraqi government?

HEGSETH:  We need to work alongside the Iraqi government to insure that there—we leave behind a stable state where...

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know what that means.

HEGSETH:  ... Prime Minister Maliki can—can control, which is...

MATTHEWS:  Maliki says...

HEGSETH:  ... exactly what‘s happening.

MATTHEWS:  ... he wants us out now or to set a timetable.  Do you agree with that?

HEGSETH:  Maliki wants us out as soon as possible.  We want out as soon as possible.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not what he‘s saying!  OK, let‘s go...

HEGSETH:  That is what he‘s saying.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s saying he wants a timetable.  Do you want a timetable, yes or no?

HEGSETH:  Do I want a timetable?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... March of next year, March of two years from now, April of next year.  That‘s called a timetable.  Are we going to have a timetable or not for leaving Iraq, or are we going to stay there indefinitely?

HEGSETH:  It‘s always been based on conditions in Iraq.  We‘re bringing troops home...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s indefinitely.

HEGSETH:  ... and violence is going down.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HEGSETH:  We‘re bringing troops home, Chris, and violence is going down.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re missing it.  You don‘t want—you‘re not here to deal with the facts.

HEGSETH:  That‘s a good thing.

MATTHEWS:  OK, look, it‘s—I‘m going to ask you—well, you deal with the facts.  The Iraqi government says they want us to leave on a timetable.  Are you agreeable to that?

SOLTZ:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, how do we deal—how do we deal with that

if we disagree with them, it seems to me we‘re the occupier against their will.

SOLTZ:  Absolutely.  They have a freely-elected government that we established.  If they‘re asking us to leave, we need to leave.  It‘s an international—independent country that says, Hey, the American military, we don‘t want you here anymore.  It‘s the government that we established, that we elected, and the military we trained.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s what John McCain said back in 2004 to a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Let‘s listen to the exchange.  The group‘s chairman was Peter Peterson, who said, quote, “What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period”—and during that period—“a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation” at that time—in other words, we don‘t like the conditions on the ground?  “I understand it‘s a hypothetical, but it‘s at least possible.”

Here‘s what McCain said when asked what we would do if the Iraqi government told us to leave with a timetable.  “Well, if that scenario evolves, then I think it‘s obvious that we would have to leave because—if it was an elected government of Iraq—and we‘ve been told to leave other places in the world.  If it were an extremist government, then I think we would have to have other challenges.  But I don‘t see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.”

So John McCain says if they give us a timetable or tell us to leave at a specific time, we‘ll do it.  Do you agree with that?

HEGSETH:  Yes.  This is not an extremist government...

MATTHEWS:  No, you would...

HEGSETH:  ... so we‘re packing our bags and we‘re going home.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, you would—no...

HEGSETH:  We—we—that‘s exactly what‘s happening right now.  We‘re bringing troops home right now, Chris, and violence is continuing to drop.  It‘s at the lowest levels it‘s been since this war began.  The surge has created the conditions where Maliki is now strong enough to make these kind of political statements.  These are complex political...

MATTHEWS:  Why do you keep calling them...

HEGSETH:  ... negotiations.

MATTHEWS:  ... political statements?

HEGSETH:  That‘s exactly...

MATTHEWS:  Why do you keep calling them political...

HEGSETH:  It‘s a negotiation.

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean by a political statement?

HEGSETH:  Because right now, the government of Iraq and the government of the United States are negotiating over a status of forces agreement, and this is part of—this is all within that context...

MATTHEWS:  Who are they negotiating with?

HEGSETH:  ... he‘s been making these statements.  They‘re negotiating...

MATTHEWS:  Who are they negotiating with?

HEGSETH:  ... with the State Department and the...

MATTHEWS:  How do they—how do we know...

HEGSETH:  ... the United States government.

MATTHEWS:  How can we tell them, after the end of this year that we‘re going to stay in their country if they don‘t want us there?

HEGSETH:  If they formally asked us to leave, I believe we would. 

They haven‘t done so.

SOLTZ:  They have.

HEGSETH:  No, they haven‘t.

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  Absolutely not.  Absolutely not.

HEGSETH:  Chris, you know this is not...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  The purpose of the American military is to protect our country.  And the five surge brigades that went into Iraq last year should have gone to Afghanistan.  And because of that, Afghanistan‘s falling apart right now.  Now you have a country that doesn‘t even want us there, and you guys want to continue an occupation that destroys our military assets and takes us completely out of the fight against bin Laden.  It‘s absolutely ridiculous.

HEGSETH:  Jon, Prime Minister Maliki...

SOLTZ:  Absolutely ridiculous.

HEGSETH:  ... also said yesterday that terrorists...

SOLTZ:  This is (INAUDIBLE)

HEGSETH:  ... in his country have been defeated and they‘ve been defeated because our surge brigades went out there and took the fight to al Qaeda and to Iranian-backed militias.  And you say al Qaeda‘s not in Iraq...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  You have our NATO allies not meeting their missions in Afghanistan.

HEGSETH:  Jon...

SOLTZ:  Bin Laden‘s on the loose...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, what I find interesting here is the news.  You know, for months now, the debate in America is between those like John McCain, who‘ve talked about a long-term participation in that country, a long-term commitment of U.S. troops in that country, perhaps 100 years, staying in that country for many years, like in Korea.  Now we find out that the Iraqi government does not want us there with permanent bases.  They clearly don‘t want any American bases over there unless they‘re working under the leadership, in fact, the orders of Iraqi officials.  And they want us to set a timetable for leaving or else leave immediately.

That runs completely against the rhetoric we‘ve been hearing from the administration, from John McCain, who have been saying they don‘t want to cut and run, they don‘t want to surrender, they want to stay there for 100 years.  And now the Iraqi government itself comes out and says, We want you guys out of here now or under a timetable and no permanent bases.  That completely undercuts the Republican administration‘s position and McCain‘s position.

HEGSETH:  Chris, is that not all good news?

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t see how it doesn‘t.

HEGSETH:  Chris, is that all not good news?

MATTHEWS:  No, but doesn‘t it undercut their argument?

HEGSETH:  It actually reinforces the argument that if you surge, you can create the political space for Iraqis...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  When we‘ve got guys dying in Iraq, you say we need to keep troops in Iraq and...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look now...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  ... both sides of the argument.

MATTHEWS:  Jon, let‘s listen to what the president said and Senator McCain has said.  Let‘s look at the history here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The party FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run.

If we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy‘s coming after us!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Maybe a hundred.

If we do what Senator Obama wanted to do—wants to do, and that‘s immediate withdrawal, that would mean surrender in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, that‘s what they‘ve been saying, and now we‘re hearing from the Iraqi government.  I think, Pete, you and I obviously disagree on this (INAUDIBLE) But here is the ad that your group has been putting out.  Let‘s watch your group‘s position on this campaign issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Served in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I fought in Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My son is fighting in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We all fought.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re still fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re still fighting, and today we‘re winning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Casualties are at an all-time low.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Al Qaeda in Iraq is decimated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The Iraqi army controls most of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These are the facts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They can‘t be ignored.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We changed strategy in Iraq and the surge worked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now, that‘s change we can believe in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We need to finish the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We need to finish the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No matter who is president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So over the next four years and eight years, what does “finishing the job,” mean, Pete, if the Iraqi government has basically called for a timetable for us to leave?

HEGSETH:  Chris, finishing the job...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s “finishing the job” mean?

HEGSETH:  ... is exactly what‘s happening right now.  As we bring troops home...

MATTHEWS:  No, what is it for the next four to—answer the question, Pete.  Over the next four to eight years, what does “finishing the job” mean if the Iraqi government has told us they want a timetable for withdrawal?

HEGSETH:  Finishing the job means an Iraqi government who doesn‘t allow haven to our enemies in al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, which is exactly what‘s happening.  As our troops come home, violence is continuing to drop.  This is good news.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HEGSETH:  These are great things.

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s good news that the Iraqi government is telling us to leave.

HEGSETH:  I mean, that‘s political progress.  They haven‘t formally done so Chris.  This is part of a negotiation over a status of forces agreement.  They have not formally said, We want you to leave.  They‘re communicating to their own people, to our people, trying to negotiate...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HEGSETH:  ... the best settlement they can for their long-term situation.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Jon...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pete is saying that, basically, what they‘re saying is for home consumption, that‘s not really what they want us to do.

SOLTZ:  I think absolutely it‘s for home consumption.  Thin about it.  You have a democracy now in Iraq, and a majority of Iraqis doesn‘t want us there.

HEGSETH:  Yes, we do.

SOLTZ:  OK?  So Sadr doesn‘t want us there.  And these are all part of Maliki‘s coalition.  So Maliki cannot keep a popular public statement that he thinks we should have a long-term, 100 years‘ presence that John McCain wants in Iraq.  It‘s very similar to the problem our NATO allies are having in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me say, having lived and watched through the Vietnam war, I never heard the Vietnamese government tell us to leave.  This is a staggering development.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If the Iraqi government that we‘ve been giving our blood is telling us it‘s time for us to go, that runs, to me, directly counter to John McCain talking about a Korean-style situation where we‘re there 100 years.

HEGSETH:  It‘s exactly because of folks like Senator McCain, who stood up and called for a surge...

MATTHEWS:  How can we be there...

HEGSETH:  ... and had the judgment to do so.

MATTHEWS:  ... a hundred years if they tell us to leave?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... one last time.  John McCain talks about a 100-year occupation.  How can we stay there if they tell us to leave?

HEGSETH:  How can we stay if they tell us to leave?

MATTHEWS:  If they tell us to leave.

HEGSETH:  We won‘t.  We won‘t stay if they tell us to leave.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HEGSETH:  They haven‘t formally done so.  They‘re negotiating, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK, thanks very much, Pete Hegseth and Jon Soltz.

Coming up: what should John McCain do about President Bush at the Republican convention, put him on at primetime or somewhere in the afternoon among the soap operas?  When does he want us to see President Bush?

And what should Barack Obama do about the Clintons, especially Bill, at the Democratic convention?  We‘ll see.  We‘ll get to those answers and those questions with the strategists, one on the right, one on the left.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Iraqi political leaders are calling for a timeline now for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.  What does that mean for Senators McCain and Obama?  Let‘s talk about that and more with the strategists.  Tonight, Steve McMahon is a Democratic campaign consultant who advised Howard Dean back in 2004.  And Todd Harris is a Republican campaign consultant who served as John McCain‘s spokesman back in the 2000 campaign.

By the way, we couldn‘t find any winners tonight, but we do appreciate both of you for joining us tonight!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Steve McMahon, you should laugh.  But here we go.  The Maliki effect, Steve—this looks like a gift to Barack Obama after being accused of being a cutter and runner, a surrenderer, an appeaser.  Now it looks like the Maliki government wants us to leave, wants us to set a deadline for getting out of there.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It sure does.  It looks like everybody wants a timeline for an exit from Iraq, including, of course, the American people, except for John McCain.  And the question is, how long will John McCain stand in the face of calls from the American voters, from Senator Obama and now from the Maliki government?  I thought it was interesting, your last segment, Chris.  Apparently, it doesn‘t count unless it‘s certified, sealed and delivered with a return receipt requested.  I just don‘t understand the argument that the Maliki government hasn‘t asked for us to leave.  They‘ve clearly asked for us to leave very directly, I think.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Todd?  It seems to me that the previous guest, Pete Hegseth—and I thank him for his service to the country as a military guy, but he was basically debunking the statements from the Iraqi government as if they‘re a bunch of hacks over there, we don‘t have to listen to them anymore, especially when they tell us it‘s time to leave.

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  You know, I don‘t know what any of you guys are talking about.  Yes, Maliki—and I don‘t know who to believe about any of this, either.  Maliki came out and made a statement, and then immediately, his top political adviser came out and said, Well, of course, this timetable would be totally contingent upon the security and the situation on the ground.  So I‘m not sure what we‘re hearing coming out of Iraq, and I don‘t know what we‘re hearing...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we heard another statement, no permanent U.S. bases coming out of Iraq.  That seems to shatter the 100 years theory of John McCain.

HARRIS:  Well, that‘s fine.  If they don‘t want us there, then we‘re not going to be there.  But—and I also don‘t know what to believe coming out of Barack Obama.  Let‘s remember, just a couple months ago, Obama said, I don‘t care what the generals say, I don‘t care what the situation on the ground is, we‘re getting out of Iraq in 16 months.  Now, just a couple days ago, he says, Well, you know, of course, I‘ve always said it‘s contingent upon conditions on the ground, and I‘m going to refine my position after I go to Iraq and talk to the generals.  So it seems like McCain is the one guy who‘s actually been consistent on this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s consistently a hawk.  You‘re saying Barack is not consistently a dove.  Is that what you‘re saying?

HARRIS:  Well, Barack Obama is changing his position on Iraq now...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think he‘s—you don‘t think he‘s opposed to the war in Iraq and wants to get our troops home much faster than McCain?  You think there‘s really not a dime‘s worth of difference between these guys? 

HARRIS:  I think McCain—having served in combat, I think John McCain knows how badly he wants to get our troops home as soon as possible, as soon as conditions on the ground will allow us do that. 

And I think what we saw last week was Senator Obama moving closer to John McCain‘s position. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We will see about that.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  But that‘s, of course, not what we saw last week with...

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk about the positions of the two ex-major figures in the two political parties. 

What would you do, Steve McMahon, if you had to decide where to put Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention?  Would you have him speak early Monday, during prime time, when the broadcast networks, as well as the cable networks, are covering, or would you give him a big splashy opportunity?  Where would you put him? 

MCMAHON:  I would give him a splashy opportunity on Monday. 

I would ask him to introduce his wife.  I would ask him to frame the election.  And then I would have Hillary Clinton come in and talk about why she is so enthusiastically supporting Barack Obama.  I think that‘s a great moment for Democrats.  I don‘t know what the heck the Republicans are going to do with George Bush.  I can‘t wait to hear from Todd. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Todd, what are you going to do with George W. Bush? 

HARRIS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s running about somewhere less popular than gay marriage among Republicans.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Were are you going to put this guy? 

HARRIS:  My guess is that they will give him a speaking role on Monday night.  Conventions all—are all about symbolism and telling stories. 

And the story that the McCain campaign is trying to tell right now is that, yes, he‘s in the same party at George W. Bush...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HARRIS:  ... but he‘s not the same as George W. Bush.

So, we will get it gone on Monday night, and then have three nights where McCain can focus on his message. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re going to put him on against Jerry Lewis on Labor Day? 

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS:  We will hope for a new “Harry Potter” movie to come out that night. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You said that. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, by the way, I heard that the John McCain speech that Thursday night is going be opposite the NFL kickoff that night.  Good advance work by the Republican Party, Todd.  You got to wonder about that.

MCMAHON:  Barack Obama—Barack Obama is—Barack Obama is going to fill an NFL stadium, and John McCain is going to try to compete with one, not very smart. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You thought of that before we went on the air, I‘m sure. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you to go back and respond.

TODD:  Busted.

MATTHEWS:  Steve McMahon, strategist, sir, I want you to respond to a shot taken just a minute-and-a-half ago by your colleague here. 

Todd said that Barack Obama is flip-flopping on issues like FISA, on issues like financing of the campaign, on the timing of our withdrawal from Iraq.  Is he or is he not flip-flopping? 

MCMAHON:  His positions on some things have evolved.  But on the major issues, on Iraq, for instance, his timetable of 16 months has been consistent.  That‘s the goal.  And, obviously, he‘s going to listen to generals on the ground.  Any commander in chief would have to. 

But the fact is, his goal is 16 months.  And John McCain‘s—well, he doesn‘t have a goal. 

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  It‘s not just FISA—it‘s not just FISA and Iraq.  It‘s gun control, campaign finance, taxes, foreign policy, on and on and on. 

You know, Bob Herbert in “The New York Times” just yesterday has dubbed this the Obama two-step.  If Bob Herbert is now calling Barack Obama a flip-flopper, then you know that he‘s a certified flip-flopper. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to go to this.  I think we‘re going to argue about that.  And both sides make an interesting argument.

Let‘s take a look at this V.P. fight right now.

Terry McAuliffe was quoted out West, out in, I think, Denver somewhere today, as saying at a group meeting that he was asked directly to show his chops as a political pundit.  And he believes that Joe Biden will be the V.P. nominee.  Do you believe that, Steve McMahon? 

MCMAHON:  I think Joe Biden is as plausible as anybody.  He would be a great pick. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, as an opponent for you guys, Todd? 

HARRIS:  Well, look, I think Senator Biden would probably be a good pick, you know.  I think that they would have to edit him down a little bit to keep him from speaking quite as much.  But, yes, he would bring a lot to their ticket. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of Charlie Crist‘s 11th-hour marriage?  Do you think that will celebrate him enough and make him exciting as sort of the new groom?  Do you think that will give him enough luster to be the pick for the nomination for V.P.? 

HARRIS:  Well, married or not, I think that Governor Crist is certainly an impressive figure.  He‘s been a great governor down in Florida.  I‘m not sure that that‘s ultimately the direction that the campaign is going to go in.  My guess is that they‘re looking at governors from the Midwest.  My money‘s still on Pawlenty.  But, you know, Governor Crist, obviously a very impressive guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the marriage help, Steve, help him get nominated here?  Is this going to give him some luster and excitement? 

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  Well, I don‘t know, maybe luster and excitement to his life, but I don‘t think to Senator McCain. 

What Senator McCain really needs is a Republican who help—who can help him steal a blue state, since Senator Obama looks to be stealing so many red states. 

MATTHEWS:  You are so tough tonight.  Do you think a good and Pawlenty is a good ticket, McCain and Pawlenty? 

MCMAHON:  I‘m not sure what Pawlenty brings.  I think someone like a Tom Ridge, who makes John McCain competitive in Pennsylvania, is a smarter pick. 

I think somebody like a Rob Portman, who maybe helps get him Ohio, is a smarter pick.  Minnesota, Pawlenty, not so much. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think you‘re both smart. 

Thank you, Steve McMahon.

Thank you, Todd Harris.

MCMAHON:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, there‘s been a lot of talk about the possibility of Hillary Clinton as Barack‘s running mate, although one guy, Jonathan Shates (ph), said in “The L.A. Times,” a cold day in hell that‘s going to happen.  But who is the woman candidate who might be John McCain‘s—on the long list, at least?  Let‘s talk about her when we come back.  She‘s a big-time corporate leader.  The answer ahead in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

Jay Leno jumped on Barack Obama last night, spotting some symbolism in the candidate‘s airplane troubles yesterday. 

Here‘s Jay. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  A big scare today for Barack Obama.  His airplane had to make an unscheduled landing because of problems.  While the pilots were steering to the left, the plane was apparently drifting to the right.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Nobody could really quite figure out what was happening. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Which gives me an excuse to plug that Jay‘s having me on two Mondays from now. 

John McCain likes to let everyone know that he loves the give-and-take kind of political event.  Everyone already knows he hates formal events, when he has to read from the Teleprompter. 

Well, he got some straight talk in Denver that would startle even the most seasoned politician.  Check out this rant. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You tax us when we‘re born.  You tax us when we‘re dead.  You tax us when we eat.  You tax us when we sleep.  You tax us every which way.  Get off of my back.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Talk about an applause line. 

Anyway, FOX News loves presenting itself as the alternative to the other news networks.  Roger Ailes, the guy behind the network, figures that the Hillary campaign needs a new home, now that she‘s out of the race for president. 

So, abracadabra.  Howard Wolfson, the voice of the Hillary campaign, has just been hired by, you guessed it, FOX News.  Wolfson has just signed a contract as a regular contributor.  He told “The New York Times—quote “It is important to have a strong progressive voice on the network.”

Well, I think the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  It reminds me of a movie.  It‘s called “Howard‘s End.”

Now for “Name That Veep.”

Today, “The Washington Post” examines a potential McCain number two, describing this vocal surrogate as a risky running mate who could also be the most rewarding of McCain‘s options.  She‘s got proven executive experience at helm of one of the nation‘s top companies, “The Post” reports.  And, as a woman, she may persuade die-hard Clinton supporters to switch party lines.  So, who is it?  Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

She may have been forced out of Hewlett-Packard, fairly or not, but she‘s been getting some positive buzz as a McCain campaigner. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

The world‘s top leaders are all in Japan this week, where the global food crisis tops the G8‘s agenda.  On his way to the meeting, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged his country to—quote—“cut food waste” to do their part to solve the problem.

Well, reports of the leader‘s own dining habits have leaked from the meeting.  And they tell their own story.  According to the U.K.‘s “Telegraph” newspaper, the world‘s most powerful dined on caviar, smoked salmon, Kyoto beef, and something called a G8 fantasy dessert, all before their planned talks on the world‘s food shortage. 

All in all, just how much food did the world‘s top leaders consume during the first day of the G8 meeting?  Twenty-four dishes worth.  That‘s right.  They were served six dishes—that‘s six courses—for lunch, 18 courses for dinner in one day, 24 dishes for the world‘s top leaders, no word on how many forks they were given, 24 -- tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  As Barack Obama takes hits for softening his line, is he making the mistake that Jimmy Carter did back in ‘76, or is he being smart, like Ronald Reagan back in ‘80 and sticking to his strengths?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A $5 drop in oil helped a volatile market finish up with a triple-digit gain on the Dow Jones industrial average in the final hour of the trading session.  We shot up by triple digits to a 152-point gain, the S&P 500 up 21, and the Nasdaq saw a chunky 51-point gain. 

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac regained ground that was lost yesterday after reassuring words today about new accounting rules.  The nation‘s top regulator says that the federally-backed mortgage firms will not need billions in extra capital. 

More bad news for a troubled housing market—a report from the National Association of Realtors says that pending home sales dropped nearly 5 percent in May, the third lowest level on record. 

And United Airlines is cutting 14 percent of its domestic flights by the fourth quarter.  The company blames record-high fuel prices and a softening economy.

And Southwest Airlines is going international.  The low-fare carrier said today that it plans to offer its first trips out of the U.S. in partnership with Canada‘s WestJet. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, Senator Obama‘s been taking some hits from his hard-core supporters for supposedly softening his line on a number of issues.  Is he making the mistake that Jimmy Carter did back in ‘76 of giving up his edge that carried him through the primaries, or he is he laying the groundwork for a late surge and a landslide victory, the way Ronald Reagan did by controlling his message back in 1980? 

Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.  And John Harwood is CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent. 

So, Pat, the big question is, is Barack Obama dropping some luggage along the way that won‘t be helpful, or is he dropping the main message of his campaign by finessing it? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think what Barack Obama‘s doing is what he ought to be doing, Chris. 

I think he realizes that, in the last two months of the campaign against Hillary Clinton, who ran as a centrist and even conservative Democrat, he was beaten consistently.  If he doesn‘t move out of the left, he can‘t win the election. 

I don‘t say everything he‘s done, he‘s done smoothly.  But he‘s moving to the center on the war issue.  He came out for the Scalia decision on guns.  He had to do that.  If he wants to win Louisiana, he had to take that position on the death penalty, even if, you know, MoveOn.org doesn‘t like it or “The Huffington Post.” 

I think he‘s setting himself up for a Reagan finish, which is, people are still worried and nervous about him and he‘s going to come in those debates and remove those doubts, the way Reagan did in that final week.  And the last 10 points then flowed totally to Ronald Reagan. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you completely.

All Ronald Reagan had to do at the end, because he ran such a smooth campaign, without mistake, was to prove that he could meet Jimmy Carter one to one.  And he did that in the debates.

Let‘s think of—what‘s John Harwood think? 

John, do you think that he‘s given away any important territory in his positions on FISA, on campaign finance, on the timing of our withdrawal of troops from Iraq? 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  In the main, no, although I‘m not quite ready, like Pat, to envision a, you know, a big double-digit win for Barack Obama at the end when he gets to the debates. 

But I don‘t think he‘s done anything fundamental yet.  And I do think that the real acid test, Chris, is going to be the war.  When he says that I‘m going to go to Iraq and then refine my policies, I think, to most Americans, that sounds pretty reasonable. 

The question is, what is the refinement?  How much does he shift?  And how close does he get?  He‘s got a 16-month timetable for withdrawing combat troops.  John McCain says most of them will be out by 2013. 

How close does Barack Obama get to there?  I suspect, at the end of the day, realizing that that‘s the issue that he‘s identified with, that‘s what most animates the Democratic base, that he‘s not going to shift all that much on the timing, and the refinement will be fairly small.  If that‘s the case, it‘s not going to cost him that much. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Well, both you gentlemen, Pat and John, listen to what Barack had to say today on Iraq.  Here he is today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am going to bring this war to an end.  So, don‘t be confused.  I will bring the Iraq war to a close when I‘m president of the United States of America. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Pat, is that sharp enough?  Is that enough of a change argument to separate him from John McCain? 

BUCHANAN:  I think he‘s—everyone believes he‘s separated from John McCain.  As you said earlier, Chris, he clearly is going to start moving troops out of Iraq.  What he‘s saying is, look, if the situation has changed, and it has, and I go over there and talk to General Petraeus, I can‘t set my feet in concrete.  What‘s the sense of going?  I think he‘s trying to get to a position where he says, I am going to end this war, but we‘re not going to lose it the way we did in Vietnam by pulling out and having this thing collapse. 

And I think it‘s smart because that‘s the reassurance the American people want.  They want out, but they don‘t want to lose a war and have another Vietnam ending. 

HARWOOD:  Exactly right.  Go ahead.  I was just going to say, Chris, the key point is the American people want out.  As Pat just said, they‘re tired of the war.  Even the McCain people realize he may have an advantage with his profile on national security.  But they‘ve still got to confront at the end of the day the weariness that people have with this war, the amount of money we‘re spending on this war.  They want to get out. 

MATTHEWS:  John, what do you make of this development today?  It‘s hard to read it, because it‘s coming from another country, and perhaps another culture in a lot of ways.  But when Maliki, the head of the government that was elected over there with our protection, comes out and says he wants a timetable or an immediate withdrawal, basically either/or, and then you have his security boss saying the same thing; in fact, saying, I don‘t want permanent bases over here of U.S. troops separately under different orders from our own troops.  What do you make of that?  That seems to undercut the hard-line position of John McCain. 

HARWOOD:  It does.  Although, I‘m not sure that the American people invest a lot of significance in the words that come out of the Iraqi government.  I think they‘re going go look to American leaders and politicians for their cues there, realizing that governance in Iraq is pretty difficult right now, has been for a long time.  I do think that is a marginal benefit for Barack Obama to say, yes, this is what the Iraqis want as well.  But I think that only goes so far. 

BUCHANAN:  I think what Maliki is doing is this: he‘s in a battle with Sadr.  Sadr wants a referendum on this, to have the Americans go.  He‘s trying to abort that referendum.  He‘s saying, in effect, look, I‘m going to negotiate with the Americans.  We‘re going to move them out.  I think that‘s a long term goal.  I do believe he‘s playing to his own politics there.  I think when they come down to the final agreement, there will be general terms for getting out down the road.  It will not be a hard, specific timetable.  I don‘t think Maliki‘s there yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look, Pat, at Barack Obama.  I thought he said this pretty well today.  Here he is denying the charge that he‘s waffling.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Let me, first of all, talk about the broader issue, this whole notion that I am shifting to the center or that I‘m flip flopping or this, that or the other.  The people who say this apparently haven‘t been listening to me.  One of the things that you find as you go through this campaign is everybody‘s become so cynical about politics that the assumption is you must be doing everything for political reasons.  And the message I want to send to everybody is, you‘re not going to agree with me on 100 percent of what I think.  But don‘t assume that if I don‘t agree with you on something that it must be because I‘m doing that politically.  I may just disagree with you. 

But we can agree on 90 percent of the things that are important.  And on those 10 percent, we‘ll agree to disagree. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think that was pretty good, Pat.  What did you make of that political banner back and forth, that chat he was having there?  You‘re laughing at my—I thought it was pretty good. 

BUCHANAN:  I thought it was utterly unpersuasive.  Look, here‘s a guy who went up to Philadelphia and talked about cringing when my grandmother made these racist comments about some black fellow that accosted her on the bus.  Now Grandma‘s been rehabilitated and starring in the ad as the person who inculcated in him these old good Kansas values.  He‘s moving, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t throw her from the train, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  Come on.  I cringed at—

(CROSS TALK)

HARWOOD:  Chris, Pat thinks it‘s impossible for anybody to disagree with him in good faith. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Pat, I just want to congratulate you on going to that flee market and getting John Dean‘s old summer suit out.  I think it‘s great of you to be wearing that tonight.  Thank you very much, Pat Buchanan and John Harwood. 

Up next, the politics fix.  As conditions on the ground improve and top Iraqi leaders call for withdrawal of the U.S. troops, who stands to benefit?  By the way, we‘ll talk about those conditions at some point in greater detail.  The fact is that Iraqi leaders are calling for us to withdraw under a timetable, irregardless of positions.  That is an amazing development.  We‘ll be right back with more HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, Maria Teresa Petersen from Voto Latino, Del Walters, an old pal of mine, from EbonyJet.com—he‘s also author of the new book, “The Race”—and Ryan Lizza of “The New Yorker.”  I want you to start off, Ryan, because we were talking a second ago.  You seemed very ready to talk about this.  We read the wire copy today.  It was in the “Washington Post today,” that all of a sudden, Maliki, who is head of the elected government of Iraq, is now issuing independent statements about how long troops should stay over there, saying there ought to be at least a quick withdrawal.  He says a withdrawal now or a timetable withdrawal. 

His security chief backs that up by saying, in a separate statement, no U.S. bases over there on a permanent basis.  Everybody works for the Iraqis, no Korea style engagement or long-term occupation.  What does that do to John McCain‘s campaign promise of a long term U.S. commitment of some kind in Iraq? 

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Well I think, Chris, what you have is two conversations going on.  You have the Iraqi government and the U.S.  government negotiating this status of forces agreement.  So you have some public jostling over the details of that agreement.  Then you have the American presidential campaign, where Obama and McCain are engaged in a separate argument. 

Now, does Maliki know that his words will affect domestic policy?  Maybe, what he said may have just been independent of what we‘re all talking about in the American campaign.  Having said that, obviously it has a big political impact here.  It‘s completely undercuts McCain‘s argument here, at a time where Obama was under a lot of fire for shifting his rhetoric on Iraq.  It puts him back in the driver‘s seat on that issue. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, 16 months doesn‘t sound precipitous if the Iraqi government is telling us to get moving. 

LIZZA:  If the debates just about a timetable, then Obama is in a better position now.  All of a sudden, the debate is not about the micro issues with regard to Obama‘s Iraq position.  It‘s just are you in favor of a time table?  Obama and the Iraqis both are.  McCain is not. 

DEL WALTERS, EBONYJET.COM:  I think the bottom line is they just handed the issue to Obama.  There was the question of whether or not he was he flip-flopping.  The bottom line now is that we have rescued this person from the swimming pool.  We‘ve given him mouth to mouth resuscitation.  They‘re out.  Now, all of a sudden, they wake up and look at us and say, get out of my face.  It really doesn‘t matter anymore about who flip-flopped or who said what.  The bottom line is the Iraqis don‘t want us there.  The American public doesn‘t want us there.  Time to move. 

MATTHEWS:  Maria Teresa?

MARIA TERESA PETERSEN, VOTO LATINO:  I think that‘s absolutely it. 

What happens now is all of a sudden, McCain has egg on his face.  Right?

MATTHEWS:  The hundred year occupation doesn‘t sound like it‘s in favor over there. 

PETERSEN:  Not at all. 

WALTERS:  He was speaking—

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder whether the term, Ryan Lizza, back to you, that --  it seems to me you can‘t call the word timetable bad or surrender or bugging out or cut and leave or cut and run if the government over there is saying we want a timetable. 

LIZZA:  One thing to remember is, if what we‘re witnessing is just some public jostling in a negotiations with the U.S. government, then the Iraqis could change their mind and we don‘t know where they will end up on this issue.  So it could turn again.  But it does appear that Obama has the upper hand now, because his position and the Iraqi government‘s position now line up.  John McCain, according to that clip you played there, is in favor of the U.S. leaving if the Iraqis don‘t want us there. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of time table—I‘m sorry.  I have to move on to the timetable issue.  Do you believe the acceptance speech of Barack Obama is going to be on Thursday night, late in August.  It‘s going to be on opposite all these exhibition games of the NFL?  All these games across the United States are now played Thursday night. 

WALTERS:  They are going to watch. 

MATTHEWS:  On the night that John McCain gives his power house acceptance speech is the night of the NFL kick off of the regular season.  Who is planning this stuff?

WALTERS:  It was terrible programming from a television stand point, but it may actually work in John McCain‘s favor.  Teleprompters do not work in this man.  He‘s very, very stiff.  So it wasn‘t going to be pretty. 

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t want anybody to watch.  I think that‘s unusual programming.  Don‘t watch.  I just think it‘s odd that we‘re forcing the American people to choose between football, which is almost our national sport, and politics, which is our national sport.  We‘ll be right back with the round table with more of the politics fix, and new ads.  We love those fresh ads from Obama and McCain.  Catch me tomorrow.  I‘m going to do “MORNING JOE” tomorrow morning if you want to catch me on the other end of the clock.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  Let‘s take a look at a new John McCain ad.  I love it.  It has a title.  It‘s called “Love.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was a time of uncertainty, hope and change, the summer of love.  Half a world away, another kind of love, of country; John McCain, shot down, bayoneted, tortured.  Offered early release, he said no.  He had sworn an oath.  Home, he turned to public service.  His philosophy, before party, polls and self, America. 

A maverick, John McCain tackled campaign reform, military reform, spending reform.  He took on presidents, partisans and popular opinion.  He believes our world is dangerous, our economy in shambles.  John McCain doesn‘t always tell us what we hope to hear.  Beautiful words can not make your lives better, but a man who has always put his country and her people before self, before politics can.  Don‘t hope for a better life, vote for one.  McCain.

MCCAIN:  I‘m John McCain and I approved this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Maria Teresa? 

PETERSEN:  I think there‘s a couple things.  One is that I think he used this ad to disassociate him from Bush, number one.  Number two, I think he‘s also trying to send a message to middle America, saying that he‘s one of them.  Finally, I think he‘s trying to make the youth vote almost frivolous, saying, you know, you really don‘t understand this country and I do.  It‘s about sacrifice.  It‘s about hard work. 

WALTERS:  I think if you‘re an African-American you basically say, what happened?  Where were we?  You walk through that ad and you see one African American walking beside him.  He bypasses the entire civil rights movement.  He makes no mention of the most pivotal moment in our lives. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he really going for the black vote in this campaign? 

WALTERS:  You have to look at it and say, if you‘re not going to care, then put that spot out there.  It obviously looks like he doesn‘t care. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s going for the white folks, which is in play.  Does the nobility—let me ask Del this question; does the nobility and the heroic nature of that ad trump the fact that he‘s running on an unpopular platform of the Republican party? 

WALTERS:  No, because I think when you use words like nobility and you have to look at the Obama campaign; he‘s arguing inclusiveness.  If that ad is not inclusive, then it basically points to the Obama campaign as being the campaign of America and John McCain the campaign of old America.  That‘s exactly what he does not want.

MATTHEWS:  Ryan, do you buy that?  This is an old man‘s ad?

LIZZA:  It‘s an ad about his biography and his character, which I find a little unusual.  Usually in these campaigns, you lay out all the biography really early on and then you move on to the nuts and bolts of the issues.  One thing this reminds us of is the McCain campaign is just figuring out their strategy here.  And they‘re trying to go back to McCain, the guy of character, the guy who takes on the Republicans.  And they‘re trying to rebrand him as McCain the maverick, the guy that got lost during these primaries. 

WALTERS:  It‘s like Ronald Reagan saying morning in America.  You have to decide—

MATTHEWS:  It works.  Morning in America works. 

WALTERS:  You have to say, which America are you waking up to? 

MATTHEWS:  I like the ad.  OK, thank you Maria Teresa Petersen, Del Walters, and Ryan Lizza.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 eastern for more HARDBALL.  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.

END   

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