updated 9/19/2008 11:54:15 AM ET 2008-09-19T15:54:15

Guest: Mitt Romney, Gov. Bill Richardson, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Paul Begala, Howard Fineman, Jeanne Cummings

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Unfit to lead. A top McCain official says her candidate-in fact, all the candidates are not competent to run a single major American business.

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews. Leading off tonight, the economy and the election. For the second day in a row, the economy is just about all anyone is talking about on the campaign trail. John McCain went after Wall Street, and Barack Obama went after McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: In short order, we're going to put an end to the reckless conduct, corruption and unbridled greed that have caused the crisis on Wall Street. We're going to put a stop to it!

(CHEERS)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: This morning, instead of offering up concrete plans to solve these issues, Senator McCain offered up the oldest Washington stunt in the book. You pass the buck to a commission to study the problem.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Here's the thing. This isn't 9/11. We know how we got into this mess. What we need now is leadership that gets us out. I'll provide it. John McCain won't!

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Tough words. So which candidate has the advantage now that the economy is once again topic A? Also, the strategists, one Democrat and one Republican, tonight we'll ask them about John McCain's explanation, repeated many times today, of what he really meant when he said the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

And Sarah Palin may be saying thanks but no thanks to some conservative columnists. By our count, five of the major columnists-

David Brooks added his voice today-have suggested she's not ready to be vice president. Is this the kind of help the Democrats have been waiting for?

And speaking of saying thanks but no thanks to your friends, did you hear what Carly Fiorina, one of McCain's top advisers, said today? She said that none of the candidates including hers, John McCain and Sarah Palin-neither is capable of running her former company, Hewlett-Packard. We'll take a look at that gem in the "Politics Fix."

And while it's not easy for most people to get a tan in Alaska, Sarah Palin has had no problem at all. How's that possible? A report from the land of the indoor sun in tonight's HARDBALL "Sideshow."

But first, the economy.

Former governor Mitt Romney was a Republican candidate for president. He now supports John McCain. Governor, people vote their pocketbooks. Why should they vote Republican this year?

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't think they're going to vote Republican or Democrat, I think they're going to vote McCain or Obama. And these guys have their own views about how to strengthen the economy. The economy is the number one issue. Barack Obama is going to have to back off of his pledge to start spending more money on service projects and health care and raising taxes. That would kill the economy. John McCain is right to get the tax rate down. He's right to try and stimulate growth of our economic sector. He's also right to drill for more oil, use nuclear power so we send less money outside of our economy. John McCain's right on the economy, Barack Obama's wrong.

MATTHEWS: Is he right when he says the fundamentals of our economy are strong? And what do you mean by that when you hear that?

ROMNEY: Well, what he's referring to, of course, is the underlying productivity of the American workforce, the innovative spirit of America. Those tinges are, of course, things that are the envy of the world. But right now, our economy is in real trouble, and a lot of people are really suffering. And John McCain is very concerned about foreclosures, and of course, the fact that a lot of people's 401ks lost a lot of value yesterday. Fortunately, a little bit of an uptick today.

But John McCain wants to make sure we stop the bleeding in investment accounts and in homes and we turn this economy around, build more jobs and see the kind of growth that people in this country expect.

MATTHEWS: But if you look at the word "fundamentals"-I'm looking at the jobless rate. It's up to 6.1. It was 4.2 in the beginning of this administration. Five years ago, it was better off than it is now. It's going up this season, this cycle. You've got 400,000 people in foreclosure. You look at housing sector, you look at the jobs sector. Where is it healthy? Where's the fundamentals good in this economy? What part of the economy is doing well?

ROMNEY: Well, right now, the economy is really suffering, and that's what John McCain indicated. But he's pointing out that the long-term prospects for our economy can be more positive if we build on the productivity, the innovative spirit and the capacity of the American worker.

MATTHEWS: Sure, but that's de minimis. That's not a meaningful statement. You can always say that about the American people. You can always say our workers are the best in the world. But the problem is, you can say the people at Lehman Brothers are the best in the world. The problem is that we have a financial crisis on our hands and we don't know when it's going to end. Do you have confidence in this administration, the Republican administration right now in power, to fix this problem?

ROMNEY: Well, right now, let's make sure we talk about fixing problems on a bipartisan basis. I think people in America are tired of the finger pointing and assessing of blame. You know, I look at this financial crisis, I see the Fed made mistakes, I see the administration did, Congress did, the market did-

MATTHEWS: OK...

ROMNEY: ... the rating agencies did. A lot of people did. So let's stop worrying about Republican or Democrat. Let's fix it. And the administration is doing its very best to shore up enterprises that...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROMNEY: ... if they failed, could have a systemic effect but saying, Hey, we're going to let the bubble play out here, the bubble bursting play out in other places where we don't want to step in...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROMNEY: ... and help shareholders out. And John McCain has a plan, frankly, to get this economy going again by holding down taxes, by trading with other nations and by stopping this insane use of so much foreign oil.

MATTHEWS: The reason I asked you about how confident you are of this president is because Harry Truman, every Republican's favorite Democratic president, said "The buck stops here." It's the chief executive officer of the country who's responsible for economic confidence.

Let me ask you about Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. She said that none of the candidates for president or vice president are capable of being a CEO of any major American company. Here she is on "Today."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: You were asked whether Sarah Palin has the experience to run a major company like Hewlett-Packard, which you did, and you said, "No, I don't, but you know what? That's not what she's running for."

CARLY FIORINA, FORMER CEO, HEWLETT-PACKARD, MCCAIN ADVISER: Well, I don't think John McCain could run a major corporation. I don't think Barack Obama could run a major corporation. I don't think Joe Biden could run a major corporation. But on the other hand, a major corporation is not the same as being the president or the vice president of the United States. It is a fallacy to suggest that the country is like a company. So of course, to run a business, you have to have a lifetime of experience in business. But that's not what Sarah Palin, John McCain, Joe Biden or Barack Obama are doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Did she just step in a puddle? I mean, what did she mean by that? I mean, the government of the United States is 1.8 million workers. You have to run war policy, fiscal policy. You've got to appoint the chairman of the Fed. You've got to appoint the Supreme Court. You've got to run-oversee all the cabinet agencies in the federal government. All the agencies, independent and otherwise, are under your report. How can she say being CEO of the United States is not up to the level of running a business? What does she mean by that?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, I'm not quite sure, to tell you the truth.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: Having been a governor and the CEO of a state, I know it's real tough to run a state effectively and I know it's real tough also to be a CEO. Both are very tough jobs.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROMNEY: And I believe that John McCain, with 25 years of experience in the Senate, and Sarah Palin actually having run a city and run a state, they have the experience it takes to run the government and they have the experience it takes to run a company. I'd be happy to hire them.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I thought that was the strangest thing in the world. She's a surrogate for John McCain and she said, Don't trust him to run a company. Hey, Dick Cheney ran a company. Rumsfeld ran a company. You ran a company. Governor, thanks for coming on tonight.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Chris. Good to be with you.

MATTHEWS: Joining me now is Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Of course, he also sought the Democratic nomination for president. You sought the nomination. What do you make of a surrogate who says the person she's surrogating for, John McCain, in this case, isn't up to the job that she once had but he ought to be CEO of America?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, that wasn't a very smart statement. You know, it ranks along with Phil Gramm, Senator Gramm, saying that the American people are whiners. It ranks with what Senator McCain has said, that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. When you have 6.2 percent unemployment, you've got record foreclosures, you've got the biggest depression right now, some economists say, since the Great Depression.

I mean, I don't see how they look at reality. And Chris, what I think Senator Obama has said is that he has a record of not being like John McCain, who calls himself a deregulator. He was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, where a lot of these institutions that are now falling apart-predatory lending, foreclosures-the jurisdiction over them. Where has Senator McCain been as chairman?

So you have to really look at the situation like this. This economy right now is very weak, and what we need is a new direction. You're going to need a president that creates jobs, that balances the budget, that gives relief to the middle class, as Senator Obama wants to do, that brings innovation and green jobs.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

RICHARDSON: You know, the difference is so fundamental.

MATTHEWS: But wait a minute. The minute that Senator Obama is president of the United States, should he be elected, on January 20, and the economy continues to tank the way it's going and we have an unemployment rate at 7 percent or higher-that's where it's going right now-what's he going to do to turn it around in his first six months? What's he going to do to change-this green jobs thing, you know, that's long-term stuff. What's he going to do to correct the course right away?

RICHARDSON: Well, the first thing is what his biggest asset is. He's bipartisan. You've got to get the Republican and Democratic leadership. You got to get the best economists in the country, you know, the Obama economists, even the McCain economists that are not doing too well, and we have to look at a bipartisan solution that is going to have to look at, I believe, a major infrastructure program to create new jobs...

MATTHEWS: Right. WPA kind of thing.

RICHARDSON: ... a major stimulus program.

MATTHEWS: Is that what you mean, like the Roosevelt administration?

RICHARDSON: That's right.

MATTHEWS: Big jobs program?

RICHARDSON: Absolutely-roads, bridges, mass transit, even the electricity grid. Look at how we create this green jobs, a new energy policy that's comprehensive, fuel efficiency, green jobs, more drilling but drilling responsibly, global warming. It's national and international. Balancing the budget-Chris, you know, constitutional amendment to balance the budget within nine or ten years, as long as we're not in a war or a recession...

MATTHEWS: Right.

RICHARDSON: ... we should consider that. Regulatory reform-that's what we need the most, regulatory reform so these abuses don't happen again.

MATTHEWS: OK. He's-before you have that program enacted, you need to win the election. So here's Barack Obama in what I think is one of his toughest statements to date today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Jobs have disappeared. People's life's savings have been put at risk. Millions of families face foreclosure and millions more have seen their home values plummet. The cost of everything from gas to groceries to health care has gone up, while the dream of a college education for our kids and a secure and dignified retirement for our seniors feels like it's slowly slipping away. So let's be clear. What we've seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Where's the passion, Governor?

RICHARDSON: Look...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I don't understand. He's running for president of the United States. We have a lousy economy. Everything's going to hell in a handbasket, and he looks like he's giving a lecture in 101 Economics there. Where's the passion? I don't see it. You don't see it.

RICHARDSON: Well...

MATTHEWS: You know you don't see it.

RICHARDSON: Well, he's-he's...

MATTHEWS: That was terrible.

RICHARDSON: ... coming out to New Mexico Thursday. He's got the passion. You know, look, Chris, I think he was just being somber right now over a very dire situation in the country. I mean, the country is not doing well nationally and internationally. And what he is saying is that we need to pull together.

MATTHEWS: OK.

RICHARDSON: We need to heal. We need to find bipartisan solutions.

MATTHEWS: Twenty-six thousand people are about to be dumped from Hewlett-Packard, which Carly Fiorina ran recently before she was dumped. We've lost-Lehman-everybody working at Lehman Brothers is going to be out of work, it looks like. Where's the passion about human beings? Not that the stock traders are the nicest people in the world maybe, but they're like everybody else when they lose a job. They're humiliated.

Where's the passion about unemployment? It's spiking up to 6.1. You know, back in Kennedy/Nixon days, Jack Kennedy got elected when it went to 5.9. It's already over 6, and this guy is acting like Adlai Stevenson. I just don't get it. You know what I'm talking about. You know what I'm talking about!

RICHARDSON: Well, Chris, he is passionate. Watch him in front of thousands of people at these rallies. He gets passionate. He relates to people. He is directly connecting, I believe, with the American people. This is his appeal. Again, what you're seeing right now is a total breakdown of our economy, and what we need is not just that passion but bipartisan solutions, bringing people together, healing. I think this is why Obama is connecting.

MATTHEWS: OK, Governor. Thank you very much. Always great to have you on. But I do think he needs as much passion as you usually show. Anyway, thank you, Governor Bill Richardson.

ROMNEY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Is the faltering economy now the issue in the presidential race? And if so, can Senator Obama use it to get his momentum on track? We'll talk to our strategists tonight, a Republican and a Democrat, as usual, in the strategy session. Let's talk turkey right now. We talked the economy. Let's see what it means for the planners.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Time now for the strategists. With the economy front and center, can either candidate ride this issue to a win? Joining me, Democratic strategist and former Howard Dean adviser Steve McMahon and Republican strategist and former McCain spokesman Todd Harris.

Todd, usually, when the economy goes down, the party that's running the show goes down with it. Why should that be different this time?

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it's a testament to John McCain's maverick credentials. He has for the last 10 years or so been able to assign himself an identity totally separate from the Republican Party. When I worked for him in 2000, this was a huge burden around our neck. We used to joke that if only independents and Democrats could vote for us, we'd do just fine. But now he's benefiting from that same identity.

MATTHEWS: But his chief surrogate, Carly Fiorina, formerly of Hewlett-Packard, said today he's not qualified to run a single American business, let a-well, but she says he could be a great president.

HARRIS: Could be a great president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How does that work? He can't run a single business, and yet he can run the whole shebang?

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: Someone give me a bus so I can throw her under it!

MATTHEWS: How fast (ph) will she last before she's under that bus? I would say by tonight.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You've got to wonder. She's put herself under the bus two or three times now, and with all due respect, you know, she said that John McCain-neither John McCain nor Barack Obama nor Sarah Palin could have run Hewlett-Packard, and apparently, neither could she, at least according to her board.

MATTHEWS: Oh, you are so catty!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about another issue, The fundamentals of our economy are strong. I'm looking at the fundamentals here. Production people here have come up with the fundamentals. Ready? Here are the fundamentals. Unemployment has gone up to 6.1, highest in five years. It's not a 9/11 thing. It was higher before. The deficit's now 357. It was when they came in 287 as a surplus. The debt of the United States is right about $10 trillion right now. Four hundred thousand houses in foreclosure right now, real people ready to be dumped out of their houses.

Aren't those the fundamentals, housing, joblessness, the debt, the deficit? Aren't those the reality of American economic life?

HARRIS: Yes, and the economy is in crisis, which John McCain has aid...

MATTHEWS: What does he mean by fundamentally in good shape?

HARRIS: He says that he's talking about the entrepreneurial spirit of the American...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: Last week, I was willing to come on this show and say I give Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt when he said the whole lipstick thing. And I think Steve should give John McCain the benefit of the doubt when he talks about the fundamentals of the economy...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Herbert Hoover said the fundamentals are sound back in '32. Why would he choose the very word that Herbert Hoover used? Is he McHoover?

HARRIS: Because he's talking-he's talking about the American worker, but he's also saying, our economy is in crisis.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: Todd, the American worker isn't what is described by the fundamentals of the economy. They are all those things that Chris just laid out.

This isn't the first-if he had just said it one time, and he had misspoken, I would give him the benefit of the doubt. But he said it 16 times now in those exact words.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Here's how he explains himself today.

Let's get the state-of-the-art version of fundamentals.

Matt Lauer this morning with John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": You said the fundamentals of the economy are strong. Yet, your campaign has released an ad saying that the economy is in crisis.

Clarify this for me. It doesn't seem as if both things can be true.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, it's obviously true that the workers of America are the fundamentals of our economy and our strength and our future.

And I believe in the American worker. And someone who disagrees with that is fine. We are in crisis. We all know that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So, when Lehman Brothers faces collapse, and Merrill Lynch has to be bought by Bank of America, we can say that the workers in those companies are good. Therefore, those companies are in good shape.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It's a meaningless statement. You could say the American auto industry, the UAW worker out there, the man and woman who is working his butt off or her butt off, they're working hard. Our auto industry is heavily challenged right now by overseas competition. Would you say it's fundamentally strong when it's facing...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Toyota every day of the week?

HARRIS: I would say the economy is in crisis, which is why it's important to look not just at what these...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: Hold-hold on a minute.

MCMAHON: So, the ad is right?

HARRIS: Not just at what the candidates are saying, but what their actual records are.

Five years ago, John McCain co-sponsored legislation that would have increased regulatory authority over both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, because he said, if Congress doesn't step in and do something, these two agencies are going to create a crisis in our housing market and in our economy. Congress did nothing. And that's exactly what happened.

MCMAHON: But he's consistently opposed any effort to rein in Wall Street, because he's Mr. Deregulation. And this is exactly what we have to show for it.

HARRIS: He's talking today...

MCMAHON: And now today, yesterday, he says the economy is fundamentally strong.

This is somebody who says the economy isn't his strong suit. And he's proving it again and again and again and again.

MATTHEWS: Let's go to commonsense land. Let's try to go away from the talk.

If the American people got to vote on this kind of thing, would they spend a billion dollars in building up the infrastructure-right now, we have just made this commitment-in Georgia, not down South in Dixie, in Georgia, over there in central Russia-in Central Asia? Would the American people take a billion dollars we have to borrow from the Chinese right now, and borrow the money at current market rates, and then send that billion dollars and tractors and everything else over to Georgia, or would they send that money, say, in Ohio or Pennsylvania?

The priorities of this administration are neoconservative ideology.

Why don't they spend the money here, instead of on their ideological

programs over in that part of the world, where they are trying to-quote

"spread democracy"?

HARRIS: I would say that most Americans would rather have an investment in a volatile area of the world...

MATTHEWS: A billion dollars?

HARRIS: ... spend a billion dollars there, than the billion dollars in frivolous earmarks that Barack Obama has requested.

MATTHEWS: Would they spend a billion dollars on developing the infrastructure, the transportation systems, the energy systems in our older states?

HARRIS: Chris, John McCain supports an investment in our infrastructure in this country, but we also can't turn our backs on volatile parts of the world.

MATTHEWS: I'm stunned...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I'm stunned by...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But you would never argue that if the Democrats did that.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: That's absolutely not true.

MATTHEWS: A billion dollars.

HARRIS: That's absolutely not true. When Bill Clinton-when Bill Clinton...

MATTHEWS: We don't have a billion dollars.

HARRIS: ... was putting an investment into Bosnia in 1995, 1996, I thought that that was a great idea.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The current deficit is $357 billion. That means every billion dollars we spend beyond that is borrowed. You would say it's good policy for us to borrow on the international markets in this time of financial crisis another billion dollars on the world market, try to float bonds somewhere in the world, so that we can spend that money over in-over in Georgia?

HARRIS: Well, I don't think-look, this is not a zero sum game. We have certain obligations.

MCMAHON: Thank-thank you, Todd.

MATTHEWS: No, let him finish.

I want you to finish.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: We have certain obligations that we need to-overseas to keep our country safe.

But, if you're looking-if you're talking about runaway spending in Washington, if you're talking about cutting pork and wasteful spending, there is not a single person in Washington who has fought harder against pork and against wasteful spending than John McCain.

MATTHEWS: Except that he supported every dollar for every war, for every foreign expenditure.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And, by the way, you talk about runaway spending. The spending is running away. It's going over to Iraq and over to that part of the world. All the money we're spending is over there.

HARRIS: So, should we-should we not be investing in Afghanistan?

Should we just turn our backs on Afghanistan? Is that what...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: That's the alternative.

MCMAHON: We're building roads and schools and bridges in Iraq. We're spending $10 billion a month there. And John McCain will stay for as long as it takes.

This is exactly why we need to-to-to bring our troops home and get our resources back into this country, because not just is the Georgia $1 billion off the books; the entire Iraq expenditure is off the books. We're running a $500 billion deficit. And it looks like we're going to run that deficit as far as the eye can see.

And if John McCain becomes president, he will cut taxes and he will add $300 billion a year to that deficit. It's just lunacy. And you talk about-you talk about earmarks, but they're $18 billion a year. If you killed every single earmark every single year, it would take 100 years to retire the debt.

MATTHEWS: All I know is, the spending priorities of this administration cannot be defended on national television. If your candidate goes in that debate with Barack Obama and has to defend a billion dollars going to Georgia at this time, when we don't have any money to spare, we're broke, we can't afford a single troop out of Iraq, I think it's a hard case to make.

But you are a good guy to make it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I appreciate you.

And, by the way, Carly Fiorina couldn't do what you do.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Steve McMahon.

Thank you, Todd Harris.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That statement, she will withdraw that by midnight tonight.

She will say, yes, McCain is capable of running a company I ran.

HARRIS: Or she will be summering with Phil Gramm...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Dick Cheney could...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Rumsfeld could run them. Those guys can run anything.

It's amazing.

Anyway, you're probably-by the way, he couldn't run the Defense Department.

You probably heard that Sarah Palin tried to sell Alaska's jet on eBay or that she got rid of the chef at the governor's mansion. But wait until you hear what she had installed at the mansion when she became governor. Of course, she paid for it. It's fair. She paid it. Wait until you hear what she paid for.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.

Time for the "Sideshow."

Musicians up in arms. People who write songs and perform them have always been angry about hearing their tunes played at political rallies by politicians they don't like. This year was no different.

Here are four groups that didn't like hearing that John McCain used their music to win votes.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Fact is, there's not much they can do about it. The McCain campaign covered itself by buying licenses in 2007, a year ago, that allow them to use those songs at all public events.

Next: the chef, the driver, the jet. We have heard a lot about what Sarah Palin got rid of in the Alaska governor's mansion. Now we have got the scoop on a little something she added: a tanning bed. That's right. Reports are out today that Governor Palin used her own money to install a private tanning bed in the governor's mansion when she moved-when she moved to Juneau last year.

I guess that comes with the territory when you live in Alaska.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Now, with the economy in crisis and campaign coffers that need filling, how do you raise big bucks? Call up Barbra Streisand.

The Oscar-winning actress and longtime Clinton supporter is doing her part to help Barack Obama with a big-time fund-raiser in Beverly Hills tonight. Reuters reports that tonight's event is on track to raise $9 million, a figure that would break the one-day fund-raising record.

How do you raise that kind of money? By charging $28,500 just for dinner and $2,500 for a ticket to see Streisand herself.

By the way, it will be quite a show anyway.

Now for tonight's "Big Number."

John McCain may have made a big gaffe yesterday by saying the fundamentals of the economy are strong. This was a day when the Dow fell over 500 points and a major investment bank filed for bankruptcy.

Senator McCain tried to clarify that statement today, but it wasn't the first time he said it.

Here's a look back at John McCain on the stump this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 17, 2008)

MCCAIN: Our economic fundamentals are strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MARCH 11, 2008)

MCCAIN: The fundamentals of our economy are strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, May 5, 2008)

MCCAIN: The fundamentals of our-of our economy are strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 5, 2008)

MCCAIN: The fundamentals of our economy are very strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 15, 2008)

MCCAIN: The fundamentals our-of our economy are strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

All in all, how many times this year has John McCain stated that the fundamentals of our economy are strong? At least 22 times, dating all the way back to January of this year. He stuck to his line. McCain said the economy is fundamentally strong 22 times. That's tonight's "Big Number."

Up next: Sarah Palin energized the McCain campaign, but is the McCain/Palin team peaking too soon?

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

And what a difference a day makes, the Dow finishing up 141 points, the S&P up 21, and the Nasdaq up 28. The Federal Reserve disappointed Wall Street, though, deciding to leave interest rates unchanged.

Meantime, there is growing speculation that insurance giant AIG will avoid collapse, with some federal help.

And Barclays Bank is buying Lehman Brothers' core broker unit for around two billion bucks, saving 9,000 jobs.

And, after the closing bell, Morgan Stanley reporting that quarterly earnings beat estimates.

That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to

HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: What we have seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And I am running for president of the United States because the dream of the American people must not be endangered anymore.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

David Brooks is the latest in a string of conservative columnists to criticize Sarah Palin's inexperience.

He wrote in today's "New York Times"-quote-"Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she would be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns, and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness."

Why are conservative columnists knocking Palin? And does this pose a problem for McCain?

Tucker Carlson is a conservative columnist, as well as a colleague here, and MSNBC senior campaign correspondent. And Democratic strategist Paul Begala is author of the new book "Third Term."

Paul, I'm stacking them up here...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: ... Krauthammer, who is a neoconservative, obviously, very strong on foreign policy, George Will, sort of an all-around intellectual.

But there is a true intellectual, yourself, "Third Term: Why George Bush"-what is the subtitle of that, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, AUTHOR, "THIRD TERM: WHY GEORGE W. BUSH HEARTS JOHN

MCCAIN": "Why George W. Bush Loves John McCain."

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you, why...

BEGALA: It's a love story, Chris. It's a love story.

MATTHEWS: Before we get to your book...

BEGALA: OK.

MATTHEWS: ... which you want to talk about, why are the intellectuals in the Republican Party turning on their young?

BEGALA: Yes.

You know, I wonder-I actually don't believe it's a vast right-wing conspiracy to aid Senator McCain and Governor Palin. But I think that's the effect. You know, I have said to the Democrats in the beginning of this thing that the way to talk about Palin is only how she reflects on John McCain, by which I mean, remind voters that John McCain is 72, he has had cancer four times, and when it's time to pick the vice president, who might have to succeed him, God forbid, if something happens, what does he do?

He goes, "Ah, God, what was her name? I met her once."

One meeting and a 15-minute phone call, and he offers potentially supreme executive authority to her. In other words, define McCain. I think this has been a rabbit trail for the Republicans-Democrats, chasing after Sarah Palin. I wouldn't do it. I would only use it as a vehicle to attack John McCain. Because I would everything as a vehicle to attack John McCain, because he's the candidate.

MATTHEWS: Tucker, you're harder to figure on this.

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC SENIOR CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think it's a sign of intellectual honesty that people who support McCain are calling into question his judgment in picking Sarah Palin. I'm not attacking...

MATTHEWS: What was his judgment?

CARLSON: I'm not attacking Sarah Palin.

MATTHEWS: What was he looking for? Was he looking for...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Well, I mean, politically, it was brilliant, by the way.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I agree.

CARLSON: Everybody I know and conservatives: "Oh, who is this person? This is a disaster." And it turned out to be more effective than any vice presidential pick certainly in my lifetime.

But here's-here's the problem with attacking Sarah Palin. One, nobody cares about experience, nobody. The Democratic party nominated a guy who has no experience. I'm not attacking. He just doesn't. Nobody cares. People don't want experience. They want to be inspired.

MATTHEWS: He won the nomination of one of the major parties.

CARLSON: I'm not taking that away from him. I'm just saying experience didn't enter into it, except to the extent that a lack of experience helped him. OK? And second, they attack Sarah Palin's lack of experience, it brings up his lack of experience.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this question, the vice president under the Constitution has only two jobs, to preside over the U.S. Senate and to replace the president if necessary. For which is she qualified?

CARLSON: Well, presumably Senator McCain feels she is qualified to be president. I mean, you have to think he does and he's making that case. You know, it's hard to argue she's the most qualified person. She's not. But obviously the American people, and this may reflect poorly on our country or not-it's up to you to judge-aren't on the market for someone with the most experience. They want to be inspired and entertained.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Paul. I know your politics, but is this like a Clarence Thomas, where they wanted to pick an African-American for the Supreme Court, so they pick the kind they wanted, in this case, a guy very conservative, who hued to the line of the conservative court? They have a person here who is apparently, to some extent, in terms of foreign policy, tabular Rosa, someone they can fill up with all of this neo-conservative thinking, including vocabulary, apparently, based upon her performance with Charlie Gibson.

Is that what they want, just sort of a vessel to sell and carry their product, rather than someone with independent thinking on foreign policy?

BEGALA: Well, I clearly she hasn't had any independent thinking on foreign policy. That's certainly impressive. I know she can see Alaska or Alaska can see Russia or she can see something from somewhere. I don't care. You know, I think that-it's not so much experience, though. It is, again, what it says about John McCain.

Charlie Gibson now, who you just mentioned, has spent more time rigorously interviewing Sarah Palin for the job of vice president Than John McCain ever did. I think the way for Democrats to talk about this is to indict McCain.

His central appeal is character. By golly, when he was in that POW camp, he showed real heroism and suffering and service and sacrifice and honor. But as a politician in this election, he has shown nothing but dishonor. Of I think this has brought dishonor to the McCain camp.

MATTHEWS: Dishonor is a strong word.

BEGALA: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He didn't like Romney. He thought Pawlenty was too boring.

He just said, OK, I can't pick the guy I want to pick, which is Lieberman. I want to pick Tom Ridge. I can't pick somebody I respect, so I'm going to pick somebody who is going to help me politically what else is new in politics?

BEGALA: But if you can't stand up to your own political party, how do you stand up to Putin? He did want Joe Lieberman. Good for him. He did want Tom Ridge. I think this was sort of a fit of peak. It was impetuous and impulsive. That combined with the lies he's telling in his campaign really does, it discredits McCain message.

MATTHEWS: Speaking of neo-conservatives, here is a smart one, Charles Krauthammer said, in the "Washington Post," quote, the choice of Palin remains deeply problematic. The vice president's only constitutional duty of any significance is to become president at a moment's notice. Palin is not ready. Nor is Obama. But with Palin, the case against Obama evaporates."

CARLSON: They weren't going to make that case anyway. I think Charles Krauthammer is a very smart, very deeply principled man.

MATTHEWS: He is principled.

CARLSON: But that case was not going to be made by the McCain people.

As my pal, long-time friend, Paul Begala always says, a hurt dog barks.

You can see it in the response to Sarah Palin.

MATTHEWS: That psycho-babble. Let's go to George Will, another guy who is not a neo-conservative, paleo-conservative, closer to Buchanan, no, not too close. Someone in the middle. Quote, "the man who would be the oldest to embark on a first presidential term has chosen as his possible successor a person of"-a love this word-"negligible experience. Any cook can run the state, said Lenin, who was wrong about that too."

He brings in Lenin to make his case, Tucker.

CARLSON: But how can you argue-in my heart, I'll be honest with you, I agree. I do agree. It's a serious job. It needs a serious person of great experience. I would have liked to see Chris Dodd get the Democratic nomination. How can a person simultaneously argue that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be vice president and then support Barack Obama. You can't.

MATTHEWS: OK, while you're in this moment of greatness, this moment of honest greatness. Is Carly Fiorina right that none of these candidates for president or vice president has the equipment to run any single American company?

CARLSON: Well, I think the standards for running a large American company are so much higher than the standards running for government. You don't get a pass.

MATTHEWS: Cheney ran Halliburton. Rumsfeld ran some big corporation.

CARLSON: Look, whatever! I mean-

MATTHEWS: I'm saying they've shown some capability in this area. Go ahead, your thought, Paul. I've never heard a chief surrogate-she's been everywhere on television, certainly on cable, selling this guy to say, of course, he couldn't do my job.

BEGALA: This is an admission against interest. The more Carly Fiorina is out there, the better the Democrats do because she's an idiot. She took Hewlett-Packard's stock price down --

CARLSON: Come on.

BEGALA: Let me make the case. She took Hewlett-Packard's stock price down something like 16 percent, fired 18,000 people. She said, I only regret I hadn't fired more people faster. She sold computers to the Iranian regime, the terrorists in Iran, and she says that even McCain or Barack or Biden or Palin are unqualified to do her job? She was unqualified to do her job. She's a disaster for the Republicans.

MATTHEWS: By the way, they lost 26,000 new jobs today at Hewlett-Packard.

CARLSON: Wait a second. She's an idiot? I've talked to Carly Fiorina. She's not an idiot.

BEGALA: She's an incompetent. I used the wrong word.

MATTHEWS: I think it's very strange and I do think by midnight tonight-I don't know anything about running corporations, but I do know something about these campaigns. By midnight tonight, she'll take that back.

CARLSON: Wait a second. What if she said, absolutely, this is a person who knows nothing about the computer business. She's qualified-she's just being honest. Of course she's not qualified to run it. Neither am I. That doesn't make me an incompetent.

MATTHEWS: Truth is no defense.

CARLSON: We're going to get fired anyway. We might as well tell the truth.

BEGALA: Neither was Ms. Fiorina qualified to run Hewlett-Packard.

MATTHEWS: Tucker Carlson, thank you, and Paul Begala.

Up next, can John McCain distance himself from the Bush administration on the economy, or does he have to do what Governor Romney was trying to do a couple of minutes ago, say the Republicans are not running for reelection, John McCain is running for president. Don't blame him for his uniform. Or will he, John McCain, pay for the price for the economic sins of the last eight years? This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Senator Obama took more money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac than anyone but the chairman of the committee they answer to. And he put Fannie Mae's CEO, who helped create this problem, in charge of finding his vice president. That's not change. That's what is broken in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Whoa! That's John McCain late today in Vienna, Ohio. Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix. Tonight's round table, Howard Fineman of "Newsweek," "The Politico's" Jeanne Cummings. Thank you both for joining us.

Let me ask you, Jeanne, Carly Fiorina has become the constant face of the campaign, watching our network. Here she is. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO and John McCain surrogate, Carly Fiorina, early today on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell, suggesting that none of the candidates could run a U.S. corporation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FIORINA: I don't think John McCain could run a major corporation. I don't think Barack Obama could run a major corporation. I don't think Joe Biden could run a major corporation. On the other hand, a major corporation is not the same as being the president or the vice president of the United States. It is a fallacy to suggest that the country is like a company.

So, of course, to run a business, you have to have a lifetime of experience in business. But that's not what Sarah Palin, John McCain, Joe Biden or Barack Obama are doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Of course, if you have a lifetime in business, you can run the U.S. government and tell us how to run it. You know, Howard, I've never heard anything like that in my life. She's the chief surrogate for a guy. She said he is not fit to run an American company, but he is fit to run a 1.8 million employee federal government, win wars, conduct U.S. diplomacy overseas, conduct leadership of all the U.S. cabinet agencies, all the independent agencies, deal with floods, every natural catastrophe, protect the United States, its economy, its physical and national security reality. All that is under the rubric of a president that Harry Truman once said is responsible for where the buck stops. And she said that's not really a big job. It is like a figure head deal.

What is she talking about?

HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I think she will be spending a lot of time explaining that over dinner with Phil Gramm, the guy who said the American people were whiners and who was dismissed as an economic adviser to John McCain. It was a politically dumb thing to say.

MATTHEWS: It seem like she's bragging about the job she's had.

FINEMAN: She was trying to make the rhetorical point there. And she was trying to talk about her own business experience. It was all wrong because McCain has to say that he understands leadership and he understands the government, which is why he is the one capable of changing it. Not Barack Obama, who is this university-bred guy who doesn't know about how things work.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jeanne. Your thoughts on this. I don't want to pound on this too hard, except my experience in politics and journalism tells me that she will be gone, at least with that argument, by midnight tonight. She can't sustain the guy she is pushing for president is not a real CEO.

JEANNE CUMMINGS, "POLITICO": Well, if she doesn't take it back by midnight, I think we probably won't see her for a little while. This is not the first time that she has fallen off of the message, and in big, dramatic ways. She has misrepresented Senator McCain's abortion record. She brought up the idea of medical coverage of prescription contraceptives and issues that John McCain opposes.

She's done this several times and has proved not to be the most reliable surrogate. They brought her out here now on an issue that she should have been able to hit home runs on because of her business experience. Now we have this.

MATTHEWS: I wonder if her fundamentals are sound. We'll be right back with the round table for more of the politics fix. You're watching HARDBALL with Howard and Jeanne, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with the round table. Jeanne Cummings, I want to ask you about style in this campaign. When I see this thing going to hell in a hand basket with the numbers, terrible. They're going south on Wall Street. They're going south in the jobless rate, the debt, the deficit. Look at housing. Look at the foreclosures.

Then I see Barack Obama out there as the challenger of the state of the way things are so dispassionate, almost like teaching an economics course. I guess I look for-where's Hubert Humphrey? Where are the old days?

CUMMINGS: I don't think Barack Obama can pull that off. He is who he is. The campaign, I'm sure, is hoping that a calm demeanor at a time like this when everything is seeming to just be running amok, that that calm demeanor would be a comforting thing. Now, the one thing I do think they did today that helped them was, we don't get very many clarifying moments in a campaign. This collapse on Wall Street has the nation's attention. This is a little gift, a gimme to the candidates.

(CROSS TALK)

CUMMINGS: They're turning on their TV and they're reading their newspapers. Now is a great moment to get your message out. And I think Barack Obama, by giving this speech that he did, at least got into his policy responses to this. And this is why McCain, I think, got hurt pretty badly by two rhetorical missteps that are now dominating his message for today.

MATTHEWS: We're off the lipstick on your collar number that won't for days. We tried to fight it here. You can only fight so hard these cultures. Everybody in the McCain campaign wants to talk about who. Who do you want to run this country? This nice lady from Alaska who hasn't done much in the federal government? Clean as a whistle because she's never been there? John McCain, the war hero?

They're the who they like, better than Obama, the new kid on the block, and Biden. The issue the Democrats win is it seems is what? What do you think of the economy? What do you think of the way it's affecting your life? What do you want done? It seem like they win the what question. The Republicans want it to be a who question.

FINEMAN: I agree with Jeanne. It took the largest bankruptcy in American history and a 500 point drop in the stock market to get the attention away from Sarah Palin and the cultural campaign that the Republicans know how to run, that they've run for 40 years, often quite successfully.

MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you, Howard Fineman, as always. Thank you, Jeanne Cummings. Join us tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it is time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.

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