updated 10/28/2008 12:48:59 PM ET 2008-10-28T16:48:59

Guests: Christopher Hitchens, Bill Weld, Duncan Hunter, Steve Israel, Margaret Carlson, Ron Brownstein, Chris Cillizza, April Ryan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The plumber and the kitchen sink-it's all McCain's got now.

Let's play HARDBALL. Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews. Leading off tonight: The "Seinfeld" campaign. That's what the McCain campaign has become, a campaign about nothing, a parade of tactics with no overarching strategy, no coherent message. Here's the latest McCain salvo, an attack on Joe Biden in the form of a TV ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama. The world is looking. We're going to have an international crisis to test the mettle of this guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, campaigns often throw everything at the wall when things are going badly, and things are going badly. The latest CBS News/"Wall Street Journal"-or actually, CBS News/"New York Times" poll has Barack Obama leading McCain 52 to 39. That's a 13-point spread. We'll talk to two surrogates about the state of the race and what, if anything, John McCain can do to turn it around.

To make matters worse it seems that every day brings a new Republican endorsement for Obama. Today was former Massachusetts governor William Weld. He'll join "Vanity Fair's" Christopher Hitchens for a talk about the muting (SIC) that seems to be developing in the Republican Party-the mutiny, rather-as a result of McCain's disappointing poll numbers.

Plus: What happens to Sarah Palin after the election? In today's "Wall Street Journal," Gerald Seid (ph) writes, quote, "She will be either vice president-elect or the best-known young figure in a Republican Party that will be angry, disenchanted with its existing leadership, and probably ready to rebuild around a conservative core that loves her." Not everyone agrees with that assessment, and we'll look at Palin's future later in the show. And we've got a lot tonight for the "Politics Fix." You may have heard that disturbing story of a McCain campaign worker who said she was mugged and scarred by a black man who carved a "B" for Barack on her face. Well, that story turns out to be a total hoax and the woman is being charged by the police with filing a false report. And finally, we have a clip from last night's "Saturday Night Live" special.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILL FERRELL ("GEORGE W. BUSH"): When you're in the voting booth, before you vote, think of this face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that's the president trying to get in the act, and the candidate for the president in the Republican Party doesn't want him in the act, not on television. We'll have some of that and some political fun with Andy Griffith and the "Happy Days" Richie Cunningham and the Fonz in the HARDBALL "Sideshow" tonight. But we begin with surrogates from both sides. U.S. Congressman Steve Israel-he's a Democrat from New York-and U.S. congressman Duncan Hunter is a Republican of California.

Mr. Hunter, thank you for joining us. You went through this race with John McCain.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: He won the nomination to run for president. But look at these numbers. What do you make of a 13-point spread now, a 13-point lead in the "New York Times" poll today for Barack Obama with just about a week of campaigning to go?

HUNTER: Well, first, I saw the AP spread, which was 2 points, and I think the real spread is probably somewhere in between. But you know, John McCain was down 20 and 30 points in the primary at one point. That guy came back and won. And one reason he won, I think, is because people look they look at the depth of John McCain, and I think if voters feel that this is a year and an era in which national security is the primary issue -and I think it's going to be. I think with what's happened in Iraq, Iran, the potential for an emerging Russia -- - they look at a guy who, while he wasn't as eloquent as Barack Obama in his debates, he knows how to spell one word very well-"win." He knows how to win. And Barack Obama's major mistake was when he said we were going to lose in Iraq. He was against the surge. And if we had followed his suggestion, his proposal, to get out, we would see al Qaeda recruiting halls jammed with volunteers right now and the extremists would be chanting that they had won this war against America. I think if people look deeply into the background and the judgment of these two individuals, they will see an Obama who failed on the major test, the major foreign policy test, of his time, and a John McCain, who was absolutely right.

MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman Hunter, if you're right, the McCain

campaign is dead wrong because they have not talked about the Iraq war for the last several months. All they've talked about is a long list of issues that seem so sundry and novel as to be irrelevant-the fact that Barack Obama is a celebrity and was showing in his big crowd in Berlin, that he taught sex education to young kids, that there was a "lipstick on a pig" reference-all these diversions that they've used-the fact that he might be anti-American, this whole thing that they're pushing about socialism, about Joe the plumber-what's that got to do with the security issue you say is the winner for him?

HUNTER: Listen-listen, McCain's-all campaigns have-have many, many dimensions, but in John McCain going after, for example, Joe Biden talking about the major crises that Joe Biden says Barack Obama will face, the national security crises, John McCain came right back at him, saying he hasn't been tested. I think John's wrong in that case. I think he has been tested. He was tested on Iraq. And here was a guy with great teeth, great speaking style, excellent politician and a superb debater. But when it came to the major issue of his time, could we win or lose in Iraq, he was wrong. John McCain was right. Americans want a guy who's going to win on foreign policy because that's going to be the major issue for the next 5 to 10 to 15 years.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Israel, we just heard from Congressman Hunter that the winning piece of this man's vocabulary, the winning piece of his resume is he has a nice smile, he has good teeth. Is that your assessment of Barack Obama, why he's the first African-American with a real shot to be president of the United States and is 13 points ahead of his Republican rival, that he has good teeth? Would you say that would be your estimate of his...

HUNTER: Also-also a good debater and very eloquent.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL, (D), NEW YORK: Chris, I...

MATTHEWS: OK. That's...

ISRAEL: I agree with...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... advantage, apparently. Yes?

ISRAEL: I like Duncan Hunter...

MATTHEWS: Congressman Israel.

ISRAEL: ... but he is dead wrong. He is-I like Duncan Hunter, but he is dead wrong. Look, the one thing I agree with Duncan on is that this is going to be a close race. And Senator Obama takes nothing for granted. He's going to continue to work for every single vote because this country desperately needs change. Where Duncan is absolutely wrong is on what people are responding to. You know, desperate campaigns are going to do desperate things. And John McCain and Sarah Palin are going to continue to throw everything they have at Senator Obama, and we're going to continue to talk about tax cuts for 95 percent of the American people and new investments in renewable energy and holding the Wall Street fat cats responsible and accountable for the mess they've gotten us into. We'll keep talking about issues and change, and Senator McCain will continue to attack Senator Obama and try and shift the focus from issues because when he talks about issues, he knows that the American people are onto him and a vote for Senator McCain is a vote for four more years of George Bush's policies, and we can't afford that.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Hunter, here's the question. You say the focus should be on security, and yet Barack Obama has focused on the economy, John McCain has focused on a number of issues, but he certainly hasn't focused on the war. You say the war is the winning issue for him, prosecuting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terrorism generally. But clearly, the polling shows the number one issue in the country, almost exclusively, is the terrible economy, which once again we saw hundreds of points lost today on the market.

HUNTER: Well, listen, if you look at the speeches of both John McCain and Barack Obama, you're going to see, of course-as Steve mentioned, you're going to see energy independence. There's not a politician in America today who doesn't talk about energy independence, about bringing in alternative energy sources, about revitalizing the economy. John McCain and Barack Obama both went back for the summit that ultimately produced the bail-out votes we had in Congress. So I think you've got a split on that one. I think everybody's-and you're talking you see the John McCain tax cuts. You see the Barack Obama economic plan. So I think that Americans, when they level all of that out, are going to see the one preeminent issue of the next 5 to 10 years, and that's security. And on that crucial issue of whether or not this massive investment of American blood and American money that went into winning in Iraq would have been lost with Barack Obama-it was won with John McCain. And I know that may not show up on the polls, but I think people think about those things when they go into that booth to vote for the American president. You know, all the things that Steve talked about-the economy, energy independence-those things are all a function of Congress, of thousands of independent voices, of business, lots of factors.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HUNTER: But winning a war is a function of one man. That's the commander-in-chief. And I thought Barack Obama had a great statement when he said, you know-he said the surge won't work. He said, I've talked to many generals and I can't find a single one that says the surge will work. That's before it worked.

ISRAEL: Hey, Chris...

HUNTER: But there was one guy that thought it would work...

MATTHEWS: OK, an interesting...

HUNTER: ... and that's John McCain.

MATTHEWS: ... thing here.

ISRAEL: Chris...

MATTHEWS: Congressman Hunter...

ISRAEL: Chris, I got to...

MATTHEWS: ... you're an expert on the military...

ISRAEL: I got...

MATTHEWS: ... but you're arguing something that does not hold up in the polling data. I have never heard-if you say this election should be won or lost by the candidates based on who's for victory in Iraq-the polling shows the public doesn't expect victory in Iraq. They want to end that war some way that gets us out of there and ends the occupation. You say go for victory. It seems like...

HUNTER: No, we...

MATTHEWS: ... the public isn't interested in that goal right now.

HUNTER: No, my point is-I disagree with you. We have won in Iraq. I think the Iraqi army holds. The Iraqi government holds. We have won that war. And there's going to be another crisis. You see over across the border Iran those centrifuges going up that could be used at some point to make nuclear weapons material. They need to have a guy who when he gets that phone call...

MATTHEWS: That doesn't square with...

HUNTER: ... late at night...

MATTHEWS: OK.

HUNTER: ... is going to make the right decision.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK.

ISRAEL: Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

ISRAEL: ... forgets about Afghanistan. Duncan...

MATTHEWS: OK, well let me tell you something...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The president of the United States said...

ISRAEL: I just came back from Afghanistan...

MATTHEWS: OK. Report.

ISRAEL: I just returned from Afghanistan, and the fact of the matter is that one of the casualties of the war in Iraq is the war in Afghanistan, not only by my standard but by the admission of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by Secretary Gates, who say that the climate in Afghanistan is getting grim despite the best and most heroic efforts of our troops. It was this fixation that the Bush administration had, and the McCain camp wants to continue the fixation, that has made it more difficult for our troops in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: OK, the only problem...

HUNTER: Well, Chris...

MATTHEWS: ... with the argument by you, Mr. Hunter-no, Mr. Hunter, you got to respond and explain this. You say the war has been won. If the war has been won in Iraq, why does the president say very recently, our commander-in-chief and the leader of your political party, say, We can't spare a soldier over there? We've got to keep the 140,000 to 150,000 troops in country. We can't spare a soldier. If we've won the war, why can't we spare a single troop in that country right now?

HUNTER: Well, first, we have spared a troop. We've brought back now 25 percent of the combat brigades. We've come down from 20 combat brigades to 15. We'll continue to march down as we rotate the Iraq soldiers, the Iraq battalions, into the battlefield and rotate out Americans in an orderly manner. If we had all rushed out by the end of 20808, which is what Barack Obama said-he said we would all be gone by 2008 -- you would have chaos over there right now. But more importantly, you'd al Qaeda claiming victory over the Americans. And as you know, Chris, this war against terrorism is also a war involving confidence and morale. And the bad guys would feel that they had a victory over the United States. They'd be recruiting people like 60. But hey, Steve, thanks for going to Afghanistan. Steve's a great member of the Armed Services Committee, and I very much respect his judgment...

ISRAEL: Thank you, Duncan.

HUNTER: ... in these important areas.

MATTHEWS: Thank you both. Thank you, both of you, Congressman Israel, and thank you, Duncan Hunter.

ISRAEL: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Still 11 days to go before this election, less than-well, a real week, really, left now. But what does the future hold for Sarah Palin? Is she already headed towards 2012 if she doesn't win this one? A lot of people think so, that this person is very, very ambitious and that this is not the end of her on the national stage at all. You're watching HARDBALL. We're going to come back and talk about Sarah Palin's plans. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It seems hard to believe, but about two months ago, most of the country didn't know the name Sarah Palin. Now she's everywhere. So whether the Republican ticket wins or not on November 4, what role will Palin play in the future in the Republican Party? Joining me are Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson and "The National Journal's" Ron Brownstein. I find it fascinating. I will never forget what was said by the VP nominee of the Republican Party a couple of weeks ago, which seems like a century ago-Margaret, you first-"I've got nothing to lose." In other words, I've got nothing to lose in this race.

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG: To Rush Limbaugh.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CARLSON: To Rush Limbaugh, who's-you know, that's the wing of the party that she represents. And lately, she seems to be diverging a little bit from John McCain. In that interview on NBC last night, she talked about 85 percent of the time to McCain. You know, we've gone from "Sarah who" to "Sarah wow" to "Sarah, well, I don't know." She's a drag on the ticket. Forty-seven percent say-have negative feelings about her. But in the Republican Party, three quarters of the people say they like her and she's a positive force. What she does next depends on who gets control of the Republican Party, should McCain lose. If the rural, populist, real America that loves a human interest story and a frontierswoman gets ahold of the party, the more anti-intellectual wing, then she may do well. But if the conservative intellectuals who are going to try to figure out what direction the party goes in and think their way through it and come up with issues, then I don't think Sarah Palin has as much of a future.

RON BROWNSTEIN, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Chris? Chris?

MATTHEWS: Ron, do you think she's got a future in the Republican Party?

BROWNSTEIN: She was wrong when she said she had nothing to lose because what she has lost in a very short period was the opportunity to sort of impress the country as a potential president. And you know, right now, as Margaret was saying, on balance, you'd have to say she's a drag. In that-in your NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll this week, 55 percent said she's not qualified to be president. Only 40 percent said she is. We polled (INAUDIBLE) "National Journal" yesterday Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota. Majorities in all three states say she's not qualified to be president. She can be an important voice in a faction in the Republican Party, but I think it is going to be-it would be an extraordinary political recovery, if McCain loses, to come out of this campaign and be a viable contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 or beyond, if he loses. I mean, what has happened is a first impression. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. And the first impression that most Americans have is that this is someone who does not have the gravity, the gravitas, to be a plausible president.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's...

BROWNSTEIN: And so that-I think that's-that is an inherent ceiling, unless she can change that, and there's no signs that she is.

MATTHEWS: Well, the ceiling is much lower for other forms of professional life.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Here "The Hollywood Reporter" reports on her future options today-"But as more and more polls cast doubt on the McCain-Palin ticket, producers and agents across the entertainment world are discussing possibilities for capitalizing on her fame, ranging from an Oprah-style syndicated talk show to a Sean Hannity-like perch in cable news or on the radio." Margaret, as I said, the ceiling is lower for this business...

CARLSON: Yes, it is.

MATTHEWS: ... than it is for president or vice president. I mean, it seems to me that if she appeals to a niche of 5 or 10 percent of the American voters, that's a TV show.

CARLSON: I'm sure she has a future on a talk show, a reality show. She started out as the Osmonds, and I think she's drifted over into the Osbournes. But she definitely can do it. Mike Huckabee, for instance, has his own show. And I think, actually, she and Huckabee may fight it out for that one wing of the Republican Party. And in that fight, I would put my money on Huckabee.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, she is a Fox show waiting to happen, I suppose. But that would seem to be kind of the lesser ambition. I mean, she is going to come out of this campaign with extraordinary name identification. She has a-she has definitely the ability to connect with the Republican base. I mean, she can be a voice for an aspect of the party. But the question, as Margaret said, is, What is going to be the dominant voice in the party after-what are they going to interpret their need as being? The Republican Party's biggest problem in '06 was they lost independents...

MATTHEWS: OK...

BROWNSTEIN: ... 57 to 39. They have a potential for another wipeout. The problem is not the base at the moment.

MATTHEWS: Suppose she changes her approach and gets rid of that windshield-wiper wave of hers that's not really quite serious and comes back a couple months from now as a serious voice of cultural conservatism and really does address the country in well-written speeches, two or three a season, and says serious things from the cultural right, doesn't do a lot of interviews, stays to her strength, which is stage performance, smart speeches written well, and doesn't get involved with interviews with Katie Couric and the other heavyweights. Can't she do it that way? I think she can do it that way.

CARLSON: I think she can improve her standing. As Ron says, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Her first impression has been incredibly, indelibly imprinted on America.

MATTHEWS: I think she's tried to be-tried to be attractive, glamorous, even, with the duds they gave her and the waving in that sort of nice way.

CARLSON: And that the winking and the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It's not-yes, I don't think that's a way of showing your gravitas, but I think she could do it.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: But, Chris, even-even Dan Quayle, who got to be vice president for four years, when he tried to come back and run on his own, after that initial impression, could not get off the ground. I mean, he could not even get to the starting gate. And I think the challenge for her would be, you're looking at very high numbers -- 55 percent or more-saying that she's not qualified to be president. That is a difficult impression to overturn.

MATTHEWS: And I know Dan Quayle. I worked with Dan Quayle.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWNSTEIN: Dan...

MATTHEWS: She's no Dan Quayle.

I really do think that-that she can manage it, because I think you can change her approach. We will talk about this. I had a thought there. I can't remember it. But I do see a possibility here. Anyway, Margaret Carlson, Ron Brownstein, I think we will be talking about Sarah Palin for a while yet. Up next: He's back, Will Ferrell, as President Bush. This is, I think, the best political satire I have ever seen, because it's so on the nail of what's happening this week-much more ahead. We're going to take a look at "Saturday Night Live"'s Thursday night edition, and something that was done last night which was so on the mark. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: Before I leave, I wanted to help Sarah Palin and John McCain by giving them what every candidate wants most, a prime-time, heavily publicized network endorsement from George W. Bush.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: Hey, don't pinch yourself, John. You are awake.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow." This is, I believe, the best-the best satire of the year so far. Imagine you're John McCain, Republican candidate for president, at a time when only one in 10 Americans think George W. Bush is leading us in the right direction, and George W. Bush wants to endorse you on prime-time television. Imagine the feel of his hand as it tightens on yours, and you instinctively try to pull away. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: It will really help your campaign out.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: Let me do this.

I, George W. Bush, endorse John McCain and Sarah Palin with all my heart.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: John was there for me 90 percent of the time over the last eight years.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: When you think of me-when you think of John McCain, think of me, George W. Bush.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: Think of this face.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: When you're in the voting booth, before you vote...

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FERRELL: ... picture this face right here.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FERRELL: A vote for John McCain is a vote for George W. Bush.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: You're welcome.

(LAUGHTER)

FERRELL: So, I want to be there for you, John, for the next eight years.

TINA FEY, ACTRESS: The next 16 years.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

FERRELL: Thank you. Let's get a safety. I think I blinked on that last shot. Thumbs up, everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow, dynamite. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of John McCain these last days before the election, what the big-time press calls the narrative. And it's not a good one for the man running on the Republican label. Next, a get-out-the-vote video that is now on the Internet, it's aimed at people who grew up watching "Andy Griffith" and also "Happy Days." Here's director Ron Howard in real time preparing himself to head back in time for Barack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON HOWARD, DIRECTOR: I have never done this before, and I hope never to do it again, but I guess you could say I'm feeling pretty desperate these days. Hey, pa.

ANDY GRIFFITH, ACTOR: Hey, Ope. You look like you got something on your mind, son.

HOWARD: Pa, why are people so set on staying on the same road that's been messing us up for so long?

GRIFFITH: Well, Ope, people are funny. Sometimes, change scares them, and they would rather keep doing the same old thing that's been messing them up than change to the thing that can help them.

HOWARD: Oh, gee, Fonz, I sure hope our country gets itself back on track.

HENRY WINKLER, ACTOR: You know, I will tell you something. Eight years ago, I thought to myself, OK, we have got these president of the United States, Cheney, Bush, we should give them a shot. Was I wr-I was so wr...

HOWARD: You were wrong, Fonz?

WINKLER: OK. That's the word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Talk about a time machine. Now a big-spending number courtesy of the Obama campaign. How much money has the Obama campaign been spending the first two weeks of this month? Two hundred and ninety thousand dollars an hour. Obama's $293,000 per-hour spending spree, that's tonight's "Big Number"-a lot of money being spent on ads. Up next: Is it too soon for conservatives to be pointing fingers and playing the blame game over the McCain campaign? "Vanity Fair"'s Christopher Hitchens and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, a Republican, will be here. Neither has stuck with John McCain this election.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Margaret Brennan with your CNBC "Market Wrap."A global market sell-off brought U.S. stocks to a five-and-a-half year low Friday. The Dow dropped 312 points, or nearly 4 percent. That's nearly 40 percent lower than where we were a year ago. The S&P 500 lost 31 points, and the Nasdaq dropped by 52. Experts say global markets have moved beyond volatile into chaotic. Currency seesawed wildly today, with the yen soaring to multi-year highs vs. the dollar and the euro. Oil prices continued a steep slid slide, ending the day at $62.65 a barrel, on fears that the economic downturn would sap oil demand, that decline despite OPEC cutting production. Meanwhile, financial officials from China, France, Germany, Japan, and other nations are meeting in Beijing to try to address the global crisis. They're backing the International Monetary Fund as the lead agency in helping cash-strapped nations. That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. While John McCain starts to whack at President Bush, some big-name Republicans start to walk away from him. In a moment, Christopher Hitchens will be joining us from "Vanity Fair." But with us right now, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, a Republican who backed Mitt Romney during the primary season, but today has endorsed Barack Obama. Sir, you're quoted as saying: "It's not often you get a guy with his combination of qualities"-that being Barack Obama-"chief among which I would say is the deep sense of calm he displays. And I think that's a product of his equally deep intelligence." Do you want to expand on that, sir?

BILL WELD ®, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Well, I-I think the calm that Barack Obama has demonstrated, in the face of having everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him for the last two years is hugely impressive, and evidence that he could start Monday as president of the United States. I do think it's linked to the fact that he's obviously a very, very sharp guy. He's also got what I would call a first-class political temperament, and has reached across the aisle in the past. I think he's very well-suited to be-sit in that Oval Office.

MATTHEWS: Well, Chauncey Gardiner was calm in "Being There." I mean, are you sure that that's enough evidence, the calmness, there's-there's something else that would point to a direction of competence, in terms of being an executive of this country?

WELD: I mean, I think you have to look where we are, Chris. And after eight years of fiscal policy that I would have approved of along the way, look where we are. We're in the cheap seats. And our-our confidence is broken at home and our standing in the world has not been lower for-for a while. And I think Obama can change all that with his election.

MATTHEWS: Well, you have always been a fiscal conservative. In fact, I think you are a fiscal conservative. That's fair enough to say. And you have-you have always been concerned about deficits and keeping budgets balanced, sort of a traditional conservative view of things. What happened to this administration, and why is it off course? And, apparently, you and John McCain agree on that, but now you're stuck with a president with about an 11 percent approval rating of the direction he's taking us, and a candidate who is not happy with the sitting Republican president, and you're not happy with the Republican candidate.

WELD: Well, it wasn't all-it wasn't all the fiscal policy. It was the subprime mortgage mess. It was a lot of people trying to make a lot of money in a big hurry. And I think that's the-the fundamental-fundamental cause. But I think Obama has laid out a real good set of prescriptions to turn that around. A tax cut for 95 percent of the people is a good start.

MATTHEWS: Well, what else? What else leads you to confidence in him? I mean, tax cuts for the people below $250,000 income level, I wonder whether-I guess I'm looking for some hope here, beyond hope.

WELD: Oh, it's beyond hope. I mean, I have gone deeply into his energy policy and what he's proposed for the smart grid, and all kinds of incentives, and job creation. It all hangs together. That's-that's one area I-I know something about myself, and his platform is outstanding.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of John McCain's temperament? I use the word temperament in the sense that it was-it was used in regard to President Roosevelt, that he had a first-rate temperament. Do you see John McCain having one...

WELD: Well, I do think...

MATTHEWS: ... even-keel ability to handle crises, keeping things in proper proportion in terms of the people around him and the world around him?

WELD: I think-I think John McCain is a very good man. My-my choice here of Barack Obama is based entirely on Obama. I mean, I think he's a once-in-a-generation talent, maybe even a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's talk about judgment here. Do you think John McCain was right in picking Governor Palin as his running mate?

WELD: I actually...

MATTHEWS: Was that a good judgment?

WELD: I actually think anyone that can get themselves elected governor of a state is qualified to be president of the United States. So, I wouldn't-I wouldn't jump on that pile.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Well, that's a pretty low standard.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "VANITY FAIR": If you do say...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is that because you did?

Come on. You are really...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Honestly, let me apply to her with you here. Is she ready to be president of the United States, should that be necessary, come January 21, 22, or 23 next year?

WELD: Well, you-you could argue that either way. But, you know, being elected governor beats the heck out of being an American citizen and 35 years old.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Governor. I see-I see a dodge when I see one. But you're very sound on Barack Obama. And you like him. And I guess you like Biden as his running mate.

WELD: I do. I do.

MATTHEWS: Oh. OK, thank you. It's great to have you back in our world here, Governor Bill Weld, former governor of Massachusetts.

WELD: Good to be with you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Christopher Hitchens is a-is a columnist for Slate.com. He's also a starring-one of the best around, actually, with "Vanity Fair." He also says, vote for Obama. Sir, you are what I call a-sort of a neo-neocon. You have supported the war in Iraq. You were tough on Bill Clinton, as I was. Why are you big on Obama?

HITCHENS: I'm not that big on Obama, but I think it's become morally and intellectually impossible to vote for the Republican ticket this year. And, if you would like, I will say why that is.

MATTHEWS: Go, sir.

HITCHENS: Well, it seems to me-I hate to say it, in a way, but it has to be said, and I think a lot of people are noticing-John McCain is a lot older than he was in January, a lot older. And it shows. He sounds querulous. He looks weird. He automatically raises the question, with all the collapsing scenery speeches that he's making. You never know what he's going to say next. And you get the feeling he doesn't really know either.He therefore makes it very urgent to consider the question, well, who has he picked for his caretaker, which makes it doubly, triply, quadruply, more disgraceful he's picked someone who isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, qualified, maybe not to be governor of Alaska. Sorry, Governor Weld, for saying so.

MATTHEWS: Well, is-his selection, does that indicate he is in some or intellectual disorder, as well as being a bad pick to succeed him?

HITCHENS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Does it say something about him?

HITCHENS: I simply think that, if you-everything, from him suddenly saying, he wants not to be mentioned in the same breath as George Bush, as he recently said to Senator Obama, if you wanted to say that, you should have done it several years ago. You can't start saying it now. Collapsing scenery occur yet again-to calling this nut bag in Pittsburgh, before anybody has done any time for checking. Disgraceful. Disgraceful.

MATTHEWS: Yes, the young woman who claimed to have been mugged and had her face scarred with a B for Barack, and it was totally a bogus claim.

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS: Someone who herself is obviously, if not a racist or a bigot, someone who has got a severe personality disorder.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HITCHENS: Does nobody tell him, don't jump on this; don't call?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is that a sign of desperation, that he reaches for that?

HITCHENS: Yes. Yes, it is. And, so...

MATTHEWS: So, let me ask you. Let me track your thinking, because you have been covering public policy for a long time. Do you think John McCain was fit for the office a year ago?

HITCHENS: Just about, I suppose.

MATTHEWS: What changed?

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS: Well, it didn't...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The stress of campaigning?

HITCHENS: It's a hard thing to say. And I think-I think there's a big difference to be made between-or enforced, actually, between being a veteran, being old, being experienced, and simply being elderly, and borderline senile.

Now, a year ago...

MATTHEWS: You believe that?

HITCHENS: Yes. I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What's your evidence of borderline-borderline senility?

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS: Just the-if you listened to the debates between him and Obama on radio, which, a couple of times, I have had to do, because I have been stuck in a cab trying to get home to watch them on TV, it's worrying to hear the sort of whistling note in McCain's voice and the sort of querulousness. And, then, when you watch it, it's often not that very reassuring either. There's something weird about the way he reacts.

MATTHEWS: Why did he improve, by most public estimates, by the third debate? This third debate was a fairly close call in terms of how the public saw it.

HITCHENS: Only if you were more impressed by "Joe the Plumber" than, say, I am. And the cutaway shots to his reactions were weird, as were his behavior in-as was, I mean to say, in his behavior in the run-up to this.

MATTHEWS: When he refused to recognize the physical presence of his opponent.

HITCHENS: Yes, tried to get out of the first debate, looking flakey and cowardly, tried to insert himself to no effect into the credit crisis.

MATTHEWS: Well, how do you know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How do you know he sought to avoid going? He claimed at the time it was the fiscal mess the country was in and he couldn't-he didn't think it was appropriate to have a first debate in that environment?

HITCHENS: Sure. That makes it more important to have an election debate than less. If the credit system of the country is.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Let's talk about policy. You support the war in Iraq.

HITCHENS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: You support its conduct so far.

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS: . the war, I think the United States has a responsibility for Iraq which it has been upholding better and better lately.

MATTHEWS: OK. Barack Obama gets elected president. Assume he wins. He gets into office, what should he do, what John McCain would have done?

HITCHENS: Well, Barack Obama has been, as he has with everything else, actually in his life, incredibly lucky in that the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Malaki says that it thinks there ought to be a deadline for Americans to withdraw.

MATTHEWS: Yes, they want us out eventually.

HITCHENS: So that in a sense, the elected Iraqi government comes to the aid of Obama. So the traction that was there at one point on that, he could be accused of starving our boys.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think that's a political call, and I accept that, that's a smart political call, because when a government tells you they're no longer hosting you, it is time to leave because then it becomes a forced occupation. But here's the question that I have.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I put this question to Duncan Hunter, who is a military guy. I said, how come you say we should stay there and pursue victory, when you say we've already gotten victory? And if we've already gotten victory, why can't we spare a troop over there?

HITCHENS: Well, there are two kinds of victory. One is stabilizing Iraq, getting a federal system in place, getting the oil running again, redoing the infrastructure that Saddam destroyed. That's the long term thing. But we have inflicted a battlefield defeat on al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Not just beating them militarily, but discrediting them politically in front of a very large and important keystone (ph) state society.

MATTHEWS: But they weren't there until we got there.

HITCHENS: Yes, they were. That's one of the very few things Colin Powell got right in his speech to the United Nations. Zarqawi was in Iraq long before the United States was there. And every American intelligence report, every single one says that there was at least some contact between the Baath Party and.

MATTHEWS: Some.

HITCHENS: Yes, well, you think this started on the day we arrived?

MATTHEWS: Well, it wasn't a justification for war.

HITCHENS: No, you can't possibly.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, so you're basically still a hawk, but you're for Barack, that's what I find interesting.

HITCHENS: I'm for fighting Baathism and bin Laden.

MATTHEWS: No, but you're still for the war in Iraq, going in was a smart move, you believe.

HITCHENS: Which was a smart.

MATTHEWS: Going into Iraq. Whereas Barack's major statement has been.

HITCHENS: I wouldn't want it on my headstone, "the smartest move ever made," but I think it was a necessary and just.

MATTHEWS: But you and I disagreed about that. I mean, I always thought the war was a mistake. Barack thought it was a mistake. You think Barack is the right man to lead the country. But he said it was a mistake. You said it was the right course.

HITCHENS: In the debate he had with Mrs. Clinton in Texas, was it in Austin?

MATTHEWS: Could have been.

HITCHENS: Almost nobody noticed what he said when the surge question was asked. She, of course, had to denounce it, because she had to.

MATTHEaWS: I think he dodged.

HITCHENS: Well, no. He was good. He said, remember that the-he made a local point. He said, remember how the soldiers from Fort Hood came out of their barracks and really smashed al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, drove them out of Baghdad? He said, just because I'm against the war doesn't mean I can't say a good word about the surge. He went right down the middle in a very, I thought, intelligent way. It might have been a little opportunist, but it shows he can think on his feet. And it shows he is not condemned or committed to any one position, just as he has gone to the right of McCain, you could say, on the Pakistani aggression against Afghanistan, which is the real name for what has gone wrong there. He says, we won't let Pakistan re-colonize Afghanistan again using the Taliban as its proxy. We'll cross their border if they cross ours. And McCain says, no, no, we should negotiate, we should be diplomatic. So I don't think the moveon.org people have realized how much war Obama has in theory committed them to. But this is not a guy who is just trying to avoid the hard questions.

MATTHEWS: You know what I find interesting, Christopher, because you are one the best thinkers around, I find it interesting that both men of the right and women of the right and men of the left and women of the right and women of the left have an interesting coincidence of appreciation of this guy, Barack Obama. When I look at Chris Buckley, who was on the other day, he's a novelist, not a pundit. But he has some pretty sound thoughts about this. I know some conservative people who find something in Barack Obama they find good. They like his conservative mind, his conservative cast of mind, the way he thinks about things prudently.

He has a way of deliberating about things. He doesn't rush to them.

He's not erratic. Something about his temperament.

HITCHENS: He's not demagogic, no, he's not.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HITCHENS: And I think what Chris-the importance of Chris Buckley is that his father spent many, many years trying to get the demagogues and the nutbags out of the American right.

MATTHEWS: And the anti-Semites out of the party too, in the right.

HITCHENS: And all the John Birchers, like supporters, say, of the Alaska Independence Party, people like that, crackpots.

MATTHEWS: Well, I was impressed-as a kid, I loved William F. Buckley. And one of the great things he did is get the crackpots out of the right and get the bad guys out of it, he did. And I agree with you. I try to keep up with you, Christopher Hitchens.

HITCHENS: Just one the point of.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You write for Vanity Fair and you can no longer speak on this program because we're out of time. Thank you for coming in.

HITCHENS: Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS: . and expressing your newsworthy opinion. Up next, the latest ad from Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. It's all about what she said on HARDBALL last week. We'll show it to you next and you can make your own judgment about the way in which she's dealing with what she said here, it's hard to believe, just a week ago. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming up, Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota tapes a new ad now in response to her comments here on HARDBALL last week. It's about the comments she made about Barack Obama and her suspecting him of being anti-American and her calling on the media to investigate Democratic members of Congress for being anti-American. We'll show what the new ad says and how it may adjust what she has to say on the topic, when HARDBALL returns with the "Politics Fix."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL now and the "Politics Fix." Tonight's roundtable, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, and April Ryan of the American Urban Radio. Let's take a look right now. Here's Minnesota U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's new TV ad just available to us tonight in response to her appearance on HARDBALL a week ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: Once again, our nation is at a crossroads and it's at a time for choosing. We could embrace government as the answer to our problems or we could choose freedom and liberty. I may not always get my words right, but I know that my heart is right because my heart is for you, for your children, and for the blessings of liberty to remain for our great country. I'm Michele Bachmann and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Chris Cillizza, what do we make of that ad? It an unusual ad if you didn't know the context.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think she's trying to do two things. I think, look, she doesn't go on television unless she thinks it is a problem. You ignore things that you don't think is a problem. At the same time, she doesn't want to inform people of this whole controversy who don't know about it. So I think for the people who know, this is going to be seen as an apology, although very importantly, she never says sorry or I apologize. She says, I may not always get my words right, but my heart is right. And for those people who haven't heard of it, they say, oh, that's nice, the congresswoman talking to us about why her heart is right. So they're trying to do two things here. But again, the most important underlying thing to remember, if this wasn't hurting her politically, this would not be on television.

MATTHEWS: Well, I'm not sure her wording on this program was a problem. She openly suspected and essentially suspected the Democratic nominee for president of being anti-American. And then she called for the media to investigate the Democratic side of the aisle for being anti-American. That wasn't a question of the wording. That was a heartfelt concern she had. And the question is, does she withdraw that concern? Does she deny it? Let me go to April Ryan on that. April, this is-maybe it's too much in context to what happened here, but you know, it is really what she said and all you can do as you sit in my seat here is ask the questions, as you know, as we all do.

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Yes. You know, Chris, Basically, she was-that night from what I've seen from your show, she was basically doing what many Republicans, to include what John McCain was doing that night, taking a wet noodle of spaghetti and throwing it up against wall to see if it would stick, and it did not stick. And her opponent used it against her. And again, she just-she made an apology indirectly and she's trying to save her political life right now. First rule of thumb.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you-well, I'm not going to get in the way of that goal. Everybody should save their political life.

Chris Cillizza, let me ask but the last week of this campaign. It is coming. Look at it in the work weeks. There is a work week left. And not much happens on Sundays. So we have two Sundays left, two Saturdays. Things happen on Saturday, so basically we've got about six or seven days left. It seems to me that what's happening so far is nothing, a lot of very clever tactics used by the McCain campaign, whether it's, oh, he supports teaching, sex education to 5-year-olds, to toddlers, or he is a celebrity over in Berlin, or he-you know, it goes on and on. He is a socialist with regard to "Joe the Plumber." I mean, it is so sundries-it is like those old drug stores that said "sundries and notions" on the outside, you always wondered what it meant. The campaign has no clarity to it.

CILLIZZA: You know, two things, Chris. First of all, I would argue it is probably only three or four real days where people are paying attention left. I think once you get into that last 72, even 96 hours, a lot of opinion is cemented. Not all. Things can change. But people largely have made up their minds. Secondly, yes, look at the polling. Look at The Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll. We've had Obama up 9, 9, 11, and 9 nationally. That's a problem for John McCain because it is exactly what you said, Chris, there is no obvious route for him to go to close the gap.

MATTHEWS: April, I'm going to come back with you and let you give me a sense of what you think is left in this campaign. We'll be back with the "Politics Fix" with April and Chris. And this Sunday, John McCain is going on "MEET THE PRESS." That should be a big one.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with Chris Cillizza and April Ryan. April, let me ask you this about the rest of this campaign. We've got a week. What is left to happen?

RYAN: Well, Chris, within that week, 11 days, what have you, it is still a lot of time, believe it or not. Anything can happen. And many people within the McCain camp are really, really trying to find their footing in this last minute of the last 11 minutes, I guess you would say, of this presidential race. And, you know, what is left? I mean, you have an economy that is tightening around the world. You also have other issues going on, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan. And still yet, this campaign-both of these campaigns are neck-and-neck in some polls. And many people are saying, look, the only thing that is making it so close is the issue of race. So the question is now, how will that issue be played to the benefit of John McCain?

MATTHEWS: Well, that's the question, of course. But I want to get to the two pincers-or the salients here. The Republican campaign of John McCain is going in two directions in the last minute. One is to bring up the question of readiness. The Joe Biden comments about the six-month threat he is going to face after he gets into office with Barack Obama as the newcomer. The other one is the-sort of the "Joe the Plumber" question of taxation going up too high for working people. The idea of socialist attitudes coming in. Which are they going to push? The security issue or the socialist issue? Are they going to hit hard in the next week?

CILLIZZA: I think-I think the security issue, because ultimately, the only way John McCain can win is if it is a referendum about security. Now security can mean a lot of things. It can mean national security, but it can also mean economic security or insecurity.

I do think, Chris, that some in the McCain campaign thought that this economic crisis would pass, and they would be able to sort of turn this back into national security, who is really toward lead to world. Well, the biggest financial reorganization since the Great Depression doesn't just pass in a month's time. That didn't happen. They've really scrambled-April is right, they've scrambled to find something that shows that John McCain not only knows about the economy, but cares about the people who are being left behind in this economy. He has got to find a way to do it. Is "Joe the Plumber" the answer to it? Polling doesn't suggest it is. Maybe they close strong with it, though.

MATTHEWS: April, which direction do you think they'll go? Security or socialism? I'm being blunt here because they seem to be blunt charges.

RYAN: Well, I think-I believe that if foreign policy is his strength, and I think he's trying to hone in on that, but you have to remember this, you know, Joe Biden may have opened mouth and inserted foot, and he may not have needed to say it, but no matter what president comes into office, history has shown there are indeed some issues that have happened. You know, look at former presidents George W.-or George Herbert Walker Bush. He had to deal with the issue of Pan Am 103. Look at Bill Clinton, he dealt with the World Trade Center, the first bombing. So it is a pattern. There are some issues. And also, Gordon Brown, the first couple of days thing of his reign, you know, he had to deal with a bombing. So there is indeed a possibility. And that is something that is a strong point of John McCain's. But you know, it could it happen to either one.

MATTHEWS: April Ryan, thanks for joining us. Chris Cillizza, thank you.

Join us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL for the last week of the campaign. Right now it is time for "RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE WITH DAVID GREGORY."

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

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