updated 4/29/2009 10:08:53 AM ET 2009-04-29T14:08:53

Guest: Chris Cillizza, Tom DeFrank, Rick Hertzberg, Michael Smerconish

High: Facing a tough primary election, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switches from Republican to Democrat.

Spec: Politics; Government

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Democrats turn 60.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, in Los Angeles.  Leading off tonight: blockbuster.  Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Democratic senator, is now a Democratic senator.  There‘s no overestimating the power of this right now, of his leaving the Republican Party.  It means that with Al Franken, the Democrats will now have the 60 members in their caucus that they need to end debate, to kill a filibuster, to get things done this year.  It means the Democrats may be able to push through priorities like health care without resorting to parliamentary shortcuts.

And it means that the Republican Party continues to be unable to hang onto its moderates, especially in the Northeast, where it‘s begun to resemble the 19th century pre-Civil War Whig Party.  Let‘s talk about that and the fascinating politics of Pennsylvania tonight, where strange bedfellows are being made even as we speak.

We‘ve got the best reporters in the country on this.  Howard Fineman is on the ground in Pittsburgh, reporting on this story, and Andrea Mitchell, whose first assignment was to cover Specter.

Add to that the new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll out tonight.  HARDBALL is the first show to have the results, and they‘re big.  Barack Obama‘s not just hugely popular, he‘s popular even among people who disagree with his policies.  That reminded our pollsters of one thing, one person, Ronald Reagan, who was popular even among Americans who disagreed with his policies.  And that helped make Reagan an enormously effective leader and a historic president.  We‘ll have all the key numbers for you tonight in this hugely significant poll from NBC/”Wall Street Journal” up in a minute.

Plus, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the man who was the top commander of coalition forces in Iraq at the time of the Abu Ghraib scandal, will be here.  I‘ll ask him whether he thinks torture was used to pressure terror suspects into falsely confessing a link between Iraq and 9/11.

And back to the Arlen Specter story in Pennsylvania for a moment.  One e-mail message making its way through Republican circles right now, catch this little joke, “Swine flew”—F-L-E-W—referring to that former Republican senator from Pennsylvania.  It‘s what makes this is a national story.  We‘ll have it in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And remember this one from the nut bag—the HARDBALL nut bag, I must say—when Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann had this to say on HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out are they pro-America or anti-America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Democrats are now keeping a running tally of her comments like that, the intriguing comments of Michele Bachmann.  That‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But we begin with the big news of the day, and it certainly is.  Republican senator Arlen Specter jumps ship to the Democratic Party.  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell is in Washington, D.C., right now, along with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman.

Let‘s go first to Andrea.  You started off with KYW in Philadelphia.  I remember you from a while back.  Tell me about this.  What do you make of his decision to become a Democrat?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘ve known Arlen Specter so long, I knew him when he was a Democrat.  I first knew of him back in 1965, when he was first switching to the Republican Party in order to successfully run for district attorney, covered him then when he was running for DA, running for mayor.  Eventually, he lost the DA‘s race, went unsuccessfully for the Senate, went for governor, finally got elected in 1980.

This is extraordinary, and the national significance you keyed on right at the beginning, Chris, is that this is a party that is shrinking so badly in terms of moderate Republicans.  The Northeast, no longer any moderate Republicans.  Specter listed all of the ways in which moderate Republicans have been shut out by, notably, the Club for Growth, which was led until last week by Pat Toomey, the man who was threatening him in a primary challenge and would most likely, all things being equal, have won the primary and he would have been out.

So this is, as he pointed out, going to be criticized as opportunistic.  He‘s done that before.  We‘ve seen it.  But it‘s also a matter of passion for him—health care, the big issues that he really cares about because of personal experience, personal suffering with brain cancer, and all the rest, that he‘s come back from.  And this was what he was seeing his party, the Republican Party, shutting down.

And it‘s not to be ignored that so many Republican moderates and independents switched over and joined the Democratic Party to be able to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.  The Republican Party that remains in Pennsylvania is a shrunken party, and it is far more conservative.

MATTHEWS:  Howard, your thoughts?  You were just up in Pennsylvania with your family in Pittsburgh.  What do you make of this?  I think it‘s a big surprise myself.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I‘m here in Pittsburgh, Chris, and it is my hometown, and I can tell you people here really weren‘t all that surprised on one level.  The talk of Arlen Specter switching parties has been in the air of Pennsylvania for years, so in that sense, it wasn‘t a surprise.  The fact that he actually did it may have surprised some people.  But once a recent poll came out showing the conservative Pat Toomey clobbering Arlen Specter in what would be a small turn-out Republican primary, Specter saw the writing on the wall and said, I‘m getting out of here.

This is an Ed Rendell/Joe Biden production because one of the things that had to happen here, Chris, is that they essentially had to clear the Democratic primary field, basically, and being able to promise Arlen Specter that they could deliver the Democratic nomination to him were he to switch parties.  I don‘t think that‘s going to be a problem.  Rendell basically runs the joint.  And so Arlen will be the Democratic nominee, and he may or may not go up against Pat Toomey or another conservative Republican, but the Democrats have a 1.2 million, at least, Chris, registration edge in Pennsylvania, swollen by Barack Obama‘s campaign last time around.

Now, the talk around here is interesting.  Ed Rendell is not going to run, can‘t run for governor again.  But he can‘t really take a job in the Democratic administration of Obama because under a quirk of Pennsylvania law, there‘s a Republican lieutenant governor.  He can‘t leave.  The scuttlebutt around town here is that one thing Ed Rendell would like, perhaps, is for his very distinguished wife, who‘s a judge on the third circuit U.S. court of appeals, Marjorie Osterlund Rendell, to perhaps get a Supreme Court nomination down the road.  That‘s how far along the line people around here are thinking at this point.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look.  Here‘s Arlen Specter explaining his decision this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate, but I‘m prepared to take on all comers—all comers—in a general election.  And therefore, I have decided to be a candidate for reelection in 2010 in the Democratic primary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, you pointed out accurately that back in 1965, when Arlen was elected DA, he made a deal with Billy Meehan, (ph) the Republican boss in the city, whose family had been running the Republican Party for years, that he would become a Republican if he won.

MITCHELL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Now he‘s become a Democrat with the conditions, I understand—check me on this—that A, he will have the field cleared by Eddie Rendell.  He‘ll have no opposition from anybody serious, like Joe Sestak, the congressman from Delaware County, no challenger of any stature.  In fact, they‘re all going to get out.  Shapiro got out today.  So they‘re all moving out.  The state rep is getting out.  So—Josh Shapiro got out.  So it looks like they‘re all clearing the field for him.

The president of the United States is going to endorse him in the primary.  The party money will be with him.  The national party will be with him.  And he‘ll get seniority in the Senate up to the level of a Democrat, had he been a Democrat these last years since 1981.  That is quite a bargain he struck.

MITCHELL:  It‘s a great bargain.  He wants to be the Appropriations chair.  That‘s what he wants.  And if you look at the track record of those who would have seniority over him, he‘s got a pretty good shot at that.  I‘m not quite clear how quickly they‘re going to clear the field.  They believe they will clear the field, and I think with the pressure of the White House, they will.  But when I interviewed Joe Sestak, earlier today, he said, Not so fast, that he wants to wait and see what Specter says about what side he‘s on and what he‘s really for and to prove that he‘s not just doing this to change the game and out of opportunism.

So Sestak is a little bit—has his nose out of joint.  He‘s raised $550,000 in the first three months of this year alone...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  ... has $3.5 million already in the bank.  He was really gunning for it.  But I think Allyson Schwartz and others will back out, and eventually, Joe Sestak will have to.  He‘s got too much of the Democratic Party against him.

And you‘re absolutely right and Howard is right, Eddie Rendell helped broker this deal.  Of course, Joe Biden.  They did it publicly.  They did it privately.  And Rendell—you know, Rendell worked for Specter.  That bipartisan DA‘s office, he was assistant DA under Arlen Specter, and eventually, in 1976, became district attorney, was elected district attorney after Specter had lost a couple years after that.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you just love these entanglements, Andrea?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody‘s under the covers together in Pennsylvania!

MITCHELL:  It‘s all one big, happy family.

MATTHEWS:  Everything is entangled.  All right, let me go to Howard.  But first of all, here‘s Senator Specter really giving hell to the Republican right, particularly the Club for Growth, that group that he was being challenged by.  He is really railing against the Republican right for basically pushing him out of his own party.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPECTER:  Republicans didn‘t rally to Wayne Gilchrist in Maryland.  Republicans didn‘t rally to the banner of Joe Schwartz (ph) in Michigan, and he was beaten by a conservative in the Club for Growth.  They lost the general election.  Republicans didn‘t rally to Heather Wilson in New Mexico.  Club for Growth challenged Linc Chafee.  Remember Linc Chafee?  They made him spend all his money in the primary, and he lost the general.  And had Linc Chafee been elected in 2006, the Republicans would have controlled the Senate in 2007 and ‘08, and I would have been chairman of the committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Howard, it sounds like a moderate Republican railing against the moderate Republicans who—or country club Republicans in a lot of cases, and they really don‘t have much fight in them.  When they‘re challenged by the right, they run.  And that‘s what he‘s saying, isn‘t he?  His wing of the party doesn‘t have the spunk to take on the right wing in the party, and what‘s why he‘s not going to stay and fight himself.

FINEMAN:  Well, really...

MATTHEWS:  Pretty tough words there.

FINEMAN:  That‘s true, and he‘s going out the door bitterly.  But it pretty much is, you know, turn out the lights, the party‘s over, as far as the moderate wing of the Republican Party.  Arlen Specter pretty much was the Republican wing...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  ... along with the two sisters of Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who also—those three people are the Republican moderates who voted for the Obama stimulus package.

Talking to Democrats here and Republicans here in Pennsylvania today, that was the thing that fired up the conservative base to organize against Arlen Specter once again, got Pat Toomey on his case, resulted in those poll numbers that I was mentioning earlier.  It was Arlen Specter‘s support of Obama‘s big signature early spending bill that he and the senators from Maine voted for.  That‘s what got the conservatives out here.  And Arlen basically said, You know what?  I‘ve had enough of this.  I‘m going lose with you guys.  I‘m going to back to my original roots.

Was it opportunistic?  In a way.  But I agree with Andrea, he also has things he wants to be remembered for and known for, health care, education, and so on.  Those are more on the Democratic Party agenda now than they are on the Republican agenda.  Ironically, a generation ago, that was the Republicans of Pennsylvania.  Not anymore.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it looks like to me, Andrea, and then Howard, this is one of those wonderful back room deals where we wonder what the role of the vice president would be.  My belief about Joe Biden is if you know what he did, he didn‘t do it right, that the things he‘ll do best in the party and in the government are things behind the scenes.

What I do hear through the grapevine, and pretty good sourcing—and you guys can check me on this—Biden‘s been bugging Arlen on the train going way back for a long time.  They‘ve been on that Amtrak train together, and he‘s been bugging him to switch.  This started up at a high level in early February, I‘m told.  The conversation has continued.  It‘s Joe Biden with Ed Rendell, the Democratic governor and very close friend and neighbor of Arlen, pushing him and pushing him.

This is a good deal for Joe because it helps Barack.  It‘s a good deal for Eddie Rendell because it gives him, I think, some good will with the Obama people that he needs, given the fact he was a Hillary guy.  What do you think, Andrea?

MITCHELL:  I agree on all those points.  They rode the rails together, those two, and those were the two senators who were closest.  Joe Biden was known as the third senator from Pennsylvania.  You saw in the campaign how he emphasized his Scranton and Wilkes-Barre roots.  And I think Biden is the real player here, he and Rendell, in getting Specter along.

And Specter tried to make the point that he has always been independent and that he cannot be counted on by the Democratic caucus to avoid a filibuster.  He can‘t be the 60th reliable vote, assuming that Al Franken gets sworn in, gets certified and sworn in, and that, in fact, he just went against all his friends in labor who‘ve endorsed him over the years by going against what they wanted on the card check issue.

FINEMAN:  Chris...

MITCHELL:  So he does take positions.  I think, you know, go all the way back to the way he went up against the conservatives in his party, though, on Justice Bork, then got reelected in ‘92 with the help of Teresa Heinz, who was then, you know, beloved in Pennsylvania as the widow of John Heinz, doing a commercial for him.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  He has straddled the two wings of his party effectively for all of these years...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Chris, the Democrats are great at this kind of stuff.  Since Roosevelt, the Democrats are the ones who know how to do these kind of deals.  And Rendell‘s the big winner here, whether his wife gets on the Supreme Court or not.  I anticipate rivers of concrete flowing in the direction of Pennsylvania.  Maybe we‘ll finally get all the roads fixed up around here and we can call them the Rendell rights of way, you know, because that‘s what we need in this state.

MITCHELL:  High-speed rail, guys.  High-speed rail.  That‘s what everybody wants.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  Right.  Exactly.  That, too.  That, too.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s going to be great to watch.  We‘re going to find out what Arlen Specter really thinks now.  We‘re going to know if he‘s really a free trader, whether he sticks to his guns on that and doesn‘t just become a union guy, whether he really does oppose card check, whether he really is a free trader or a card checker.  It will be interesting to see how he develops now that he can‘t flip sides again.  He‘s actually in the Democratic Party now.  We‘re going to see how he really thinks about issues.  I think he‘s more of a liberal than he‘s let on.  We‘ll see.

Anyway, Andrea Mitchell, thank you.  As a great life-long student, as well, of Arlen Specter, it‘s been quite a day for us all, maybe most of all for me.  Anyway, Howard Fineman, buddy, take care of Pittsburgh and take care of your mom, OK?

FINEMAN:  OK.  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Much more on Specter‘s switch coming up.

Plus, President Obama on the eve of his 100th day in office.  My God, he‘s been bumped in the news by Arlen Specter!  His approval rating, by the way, remains extremely high.  We‘ve the new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” numbers.  These numbers are almost at the, to use a Pennsylvania reference, Eisenhower level.  They‘re certainly up there with Reagan.  We‘ve got the big numbers coming in on the Obama presidency tonight.

And of course, more on Arlen Specter, who‘s made the Democrats 60 strong in the U.S. Senate, which means they can stop filibusters and get bills passed now without any Republicans.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That huge decision by Arlen Specter today to become a Democrat and join the Democratic caucus, bringing them up to 60 votes in the Senate, which is now filibuster-proof, is the latest blow for the Republican Party.  Our new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll out tonight has more bad news for the Republicans because it‘s overflowing with good news for President Obama.

Chuck Todd is NBC‘s political director and also chief White House correspondent for NBC News.  Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix” for Washingtonpost.com.  He broke the Specter story today, so we‘ve got to go to you, Chris.  How‘d you get it?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Good reporting?  You know, Chris, people tell you things about races, and you confirm it as quickly as you can.  I‘ll be honest with you, I was stunned when I first heard about it.  I mean, I know there had been ongoing conversations, but I had never assumed—Arlen Specter had said repeatedly that he thought he would run as a Republican.  Any basic analysis would show that was going to be a very hard race for him to win in a primary, but—and Chris, you‘re more of a student of Pennsylvania than I am.  Arlen Specter has proven time and time again that he proves conventional wisdom wrong.  So I was always a little bit loath to write him off.  But clearly, he had made the calculation that he just simply could not win...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you and I were more optimistic about his chances than he is, apparently.  But everything I‘m getting today on the phone this afternoon, calling everybody I know up there all over the place, is he really thought he had it lost.  He was going to lose.  It‘s just a fact he only had two options, run as an independent, which is almost impossible in Pennsylvania, or run as a Democrat.  Those were the options he had because Pennsylvania has a sore loser law.  You can‘t lose a primary, like Lieberman did, and then run in the general as an independent.  You‘re not allowed to.  So he had to make his decision right now.

Chuck Todd, your sense of this.  I think it‘s a statement about the weakness of the Republican Party.  It was a good vehicle for Arlen for 40-some years.  It‘s not a good vehicle anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like throwing an old bicycle to the side of the road.  It doesn‘t work anymore for him.  He‘s got a new bike to ride.  It‘s called the Democratic Party.  Fair enough.  He‘s a middle-of-the-roader.  He‘s chosen a better vehicle, from his point of view. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, that‘s right. 

Look, this was a—it was a crass decision.  And, to Arlen Specter‘s credit, he‘s admitting why he made this decision.  He still wants to stay a senator.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  And this was the most—this was the most expedient way to do it.  OK, switch parties.  Go raise that money out of Philadelphia.  Imagine all that Philadelphia money that‘s going to show up in his—you used to always quietly you had those Philadelphia money people in the Democratic Party quietly figure out how can they get money to Specter, how can Ed Rendell sort of tacitly figure out to show that he is supporting Specter, without showing that he‘s supporting Specter. 

None of that.  All of that is gone.  Money will rush in.  That won‘t be an issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  And they—and they will drown everybody else out.

But I think this is a terrible story for the Republican Party.  OK, is it true that Arlen Specter is more moderate than the average Republican?  Yes.  But can the Republican Party be in the majority again without finding people that can win Senate seats and hold Senate seats in the Northeast? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  Chris, look at the map from 2008.  Look at the map.  It is blue from Maine.  And you just pour that blue paint.  It pours halfway down the Atlantic Coast now, through North Carolina.  It went all the way across the Rust Belt from—from the Northeast there in Pennsylvania, which hovers between the Northeast and the Rust Belt, all the way through the Midwest.  This is a devastating map now. 

And all Arlen Specter does was sort of admit where—put his finger in the wind and said, well, this is where Pennsylvania is.  It is not a 50/50 state.  It is the—you know, in his mind, it is a—a—a state where it‘s a 55/45 Democratic state.

And the other important thing, the Republican Party primary folks, they‘re so—it has become narrowcasted, and the activists are too conservative for the middle.  And when—when is that going to come crashing into each other?  Specter tried to deal with this a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  He talked about the Club For Growth guys, right? 

This is—this could come—this could become a big problem in the Republican presidential primary all over the place. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

You know what I‘m watching, guys?  In addition to what you‘re talking

about, I‘m watching the moderation of Barack Obama.  I want to get to the

polls right now.  But I have watched him do a couple things in the last two

weeks.  He talks now about affordable national health care, not free, not -

there‘s going to be a big co-pay.  Affordable is a hell of a lot different than free. 

And, secondly, he walked away from that assault rifle ban the other day.  He does not want to kiss Pennsylvania goodbye.  So, at the same time Arlen is jumping ship and joining the Democratic Party, the president is being very careful to make the Democratic Party acceptable to the center and the center-right.  He doesn‘t want to start any new fights.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, the new NBC poll out tonight...

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... half of the voters like the president and his policies.  But catch this.  Another 30 percent, on top of the half of the voters who like him—who like him—don‘t like his policies, but like him personally.  Only 12 percent of the country say they don‘t like this president. 

Chuck Todd, this is—talk about Pennsylvania politics.  This is back into Eisenhower country, Reagan country, where you have a very popular person...

TODD:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... in the White House. 

TODD:  And what it does is, it allows him to paper over tough political decisions. 

Everything about Obama in our poll is more popular personally for him than some of his policies, whether it‘s the stimulus package, whether it‘s his health care plan, whether it‘s his potential energy proposal.  None of it as popular as he is. 

He is his own best political weapon, and he‘s this one-person sort of optimism machine.  He‘s able to—look at all the negative headlines we have had, Chris, right, between the economy, GM.  Shot, now we have got swine flu.  There‘s no reason to feel good about where the country is going, on one hand. 

On the other hand, simply because of Barack Obama, the country feels better, and they‘re telling us, they feel like the country is headed in the right direction, even as everything seems to be getting worse. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

TODD:  Unemployment goes up, not down.  And it‘s all him.  He is very...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me—let me take...

TODD:  ... very powerful right now.

MATTHEWS:  Let me offer you a middle case.  I agree with everything you have reported there, but there‘s another piece to this. 

Sure, the economic conditions are still headed downward in the—in the whole.

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But the government is moving.  We have a government now that‘s activist. 

TODD:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Every day, it looks like it‘s doing something for the people.  It‘s moving around on expending the money supply, on fiscal stimulus, on recapitalizing the banks, on the toxic assets.  Everything is moving, even on the auto industry.  You see a lot of—I think the public likes the movement.  They like the concern of this president‘s vigilance. 

Your thoughts, Chris Cillizza.  I don‘t think it‘s a question of just cosmetics vs. reality.  I think, in the middle, they see government in a way they haven‘t seen it a few weeks ago, Chris Cillizza.

CILLIZZA:  You know, Chris, I was going to—I would just call it the metabolism. 

I think the American public likes President Obama‘s metabolism.  They feel like—now, we know that action or movement does not necessarily equal progress, but when you have an economic crisis the size of which we are facing, when you have people worried every single day about how they‘re going to—are they going to keep their jobs, what does the future hold, can they send their kid to college, can they pay for prescription drugs, having someone who is at the top of the country leading the country out, doing things actively, even if they don‘t necessarily agree with what each of those things are, is tremendously reassuring. 

And it goes back to Chuck‘s point.  I think Barack Obama has done a very good job of using his personal popularity to leverage popularity and confidence on other things.  He comes out and says, we can do this on the economy.  My proposals will do this. 

Even people who feel a little bit shaky about his proposals say, I do like the guy.  He seems like he‘s doing everything that he can.  Let‘s try it. 

Now, do the rooster—do—do—does that all come home to roost at some point, especially on the spending front, or if the economy doesn‘t get better?  Possibly.  But, in the first 100 days, certainly, you have got to give Obama credit for using that personal popularity to push what could be, if he wasn‘t as popular, a somewhat controversial agenda. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Chuck, isn‘t—isn‘t politics great, Chuck Todd?  Isn‘t it phenomenal? 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  It‘s unbelievable.

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it unpredictable?

TODD:  What a great day.  It‘s just fun.

MATTHEWS:  I love—anybody—there‘s no such thing as political science.  It‘s an art.

TODD:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s unpredictable. 

Chris Cillizza, too.

Thank you both, gentlemen. 

CILLIZZA:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  But, up next, regular HARDBALL viewers know all about Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  Remember her.  She‘s from Minnesota.  She still is.  She‘s the one who suggested on this show, HARDBALL, that there are members of the United States Congress who are anti-American and need be investigated by the American media for anti-American activities. 

Anyway, the Democrats are keeping track of her wild statements.  We are going to come back on that with HARDBALL “Sideshow.”  That‘s coming back right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up tonight:  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose job it is, is to find beatable Republicans, has created a new Web site with the sayings of Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. 

By the way, here is a favorite from HARDBALL, which I would include among the more intriguing recommendations ever made on this program, ever.  It came to us care of Congresswoman Bachmann last October. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 17, 2008)

MATTHEWS:  How many are anti-American in the Congress right now that you serve with? 

(CROSSTALK)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  You would—you would have to ask them, Chris.  I‘m focusing on Barack Obama and the people that he‘s been associating with.  And I‘m very worried...

MATTHEWS:  But do you suspect that a lot of people you serve with...

BACHMANN:  ... about their anti-American nature.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s a United States senator from Illinois.  He‘s—he‘s one of the people you suspect as being anti-American.  How many people in the Congress of the United States do you think are anti-American?  You have already suspected Barack Obama.  Is he alone, or are there others?  How many do you suspect of your colleagues as being anti-American? 

BACHMANN:  Well, I—I think—I—what I would say—what I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look.  I wish they would. 

I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that belongs in the HARDBALL nut bag. 

Anyway, I have said it before.  Politics is phenomenal.  You never know what‘s going to happen or what some people are going to say. 

Here is the Democrats‘ new Web site, bachmannwatch.com, dedicated to that woman, the congresswoman from Minnesota, and her more interesting comments.  They‘re obviously hoping, the Democrats are, that people—well, that she will keep being Bachmann.  And they are just going to keep collecting the tapes. 

Now I have got a special treat tonight, a personal treat, a long-deserved tip of the hat HARDBALL‘s booking producer, the man on the front lines, Querry Robinson.  Querry was the subject of a Politico magazine feature this week, which rightly named him the gatekeeper of HARDBALL. 

I also have to give a shout-out to Querry‘s partner, partner in work, HARDBALL booker Colleen King. 

So, to both our bookers, Querry and Colleen, the unsung heroes behind this show‘s greatest moments, my congrats.  Keep booking those interesting guests, like Michele Bachmann. 

Up next:  The White House apologizes, after that military photo-op over Manhattan yesterday.  A lot of people were fearing the worst when they saw these pictures of airplane—of an airplane going through the skyscrapers.  We have had a hell with that one before.  Nobody wanted to be reminded of that picture.  And now an investigation is under way.  How could that have happened? 

We will be back with that little story. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closing little changed—the Dow fell eight points.  The S&P 500 lost two, and the Nasdaq shed five points. 

There are reports Citigroup and Bank of America will need to raise more capital based on preliminary results of the government stress test. 

Meantime, the Treasury Department has reportedly reached a tentative agreement with Chrysler‘s major debt holders, as the automaker struggles to avoid bankruptcy.  Under the agreement, Chrysler‘s debt would be reduced from $6.9 billion to $2 billion. 

A widely watched index showed home prices plunged 18 percent in February.  But, in the positive side, for the first time in 25 months, the rate of decline eased. 

And Federal Reserve policy-makers began a two-day meeting to take a fresh look at the economy, amid the potential new threat from the swine flu outbreak.  No change in interest rates in expected.

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Obama apologized today for that eerie flyover yesterday over Manhattan, where a jetliner, one of the presidential 747s, flew low over New York—the skyline, as I said, accompanied by an F-16 fighter jet. 

New York officials, including the mayor, Bloomberg, went nuts over that, and were unaware, by the way, that the flyer was meant for souvenir photos of Air Force One. 

Here is the president today trying to explain it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It was a mistake, as was—as was stated.  It was something we found out about along with all of you.  And it will not happen again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tom DeFrank is the Washington bureau chief for “The New York Daily News.”

Tom, of all the klutzy decisions.  I mean, I watched those pictures, and I‘m not freaked out, necessarily.  I don‘t live in Manhattan.  But, when you see airplanes flying amid the skyscrapers, one memory comes back loud and clear. 

TOM DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  Yes. 

And—and it comes back loud and clear every American, even those who

who weren‘t on—in Lower Manhattan on 9/11.  It is one of the more boneheaded moves in recent political memory, Chris.  

And it‘s just—it‘s just kind of crazy.  And nobody—nobody asked,

what were they thinking?  I mean, nobody in the Military Office seemed to -

seemed to have a clue that this might go down poorly. 

I think the other key to it was the whole notion of demanding secrecy, calling a photo-op mission a classified mission, and then pretending that nobody was going to see, was just part of—of the tin ear to all of this. 

MATTHEWS:  Where were the cameras set up?  Do we know—I mean, what

what—I mean, the trouble with this is, it suggests that dozens of people had to be involved in planning this, and that not one of them raised their hand and said, this is crazy. 

DEFRANK:  Yes, I—I think that‘s—that—well, there‘s going to be a White House investigation to determine whether anybody raised his or her hand and said, is this crazy?

This is the kind of thing that‘s done all the time.  I had to smile yesterday, Chris.  I pulled out of my pocket a business card of Air Force One flying over Mount Rushmore. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEFRANK:  The Air Force One crews have used these sorts of things for years, for goodwill things.  They will—they will take a picture of Air Force One flying over Mount Rushmore.  The pilot will sign it.  They will distribute it to police departments.  They will distribute it to—to airports where Air Force One has come in. 

It‘s a—it‘s a novelty thing.  And they put it on their business cards, one of which I have in my pocket.  So, that part of it is not strange. 

What is strange and incomprehensible is, as you say, nobody said, wait a minute.  Is this the right place to be doing a new picture?  We want the Statue of Liberty, not Mount Rushmore.  That‘s OK, too.  But, I mean, nobody—they all were just totally asleep at the switch here, at least in the White House Military Office. 

I don‘t think the West Wing of the White House had any knowledge of this at all. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just laughing, Mr. DeFrank, because I think about all the times the Democrats, especially the Republicans, are looking around—looking around in the federal budget for places to save money. 

How about this as a candidate to save money; kill the public-relations department of Air Force One?  Why does an airplane need a P.R. team to go around and make people like it, by giving them souvenir autographed pictures?  I mean, why is there a budget for that nonsense? 

DEFRANK:  Well, maybe since I spent a long time in the Army, Chris, I‘m not all that exercised about that piece of it. , But it is sure dopey.  And, of course, Air Force One pilots, just like every other pilot, has to fly a certain number of hours a month.  So what they usually do is call this, quote, a training mission. 

This is probably something that may have a little trouble in the next budget go around.  I think you‘re right about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Will there be any sackings of people because of this move, this—

DEFRANK:  Chris, I‘m betting not.  Louis Caldera, who was Bill Clinton‘s last secretary of the Army, was the guy who is taking the fall for this.  He had a reputation at the Pentagon in those years of being a gracious, personable, very accomplished guy with a political tin ear.  And I think he seems to have shown that here. 

But here is the bottom line: Hispanics are still a little irritated with Barack Obama, Chris, because they don‘t think there are enough of them around the cabinet or at high levels of this White House.  And so to force Louis Caldera to take a hike here I think would probably cause Obama more trouble with Hispanics.  So I would bet, after a little more wood-shedding, and this better not ever again—I suspect that he will survive. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you have looked at this from all the angles.  Tom Defrank of the “New York Daily News,” bureau chief in Washington, thank you.   Up next with Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania—I grew up with this guy.  He‘s the first guy I voted for, I think—switching parties to become a Democrat overnight because his poll numbers sucked in the Republican primary—opportunism, fine, what else is new in politics? 

But what is this going to do to the Democrats.  They now find themselves, through no good work of their own, with 60 Democratic senators.  They can pass all kinds of bills.  All they have to do is keep the party together. 

And by the way, the Republican party can‘t do anything if all it does is vote Republican.  We‘ll be right back to talk about what that means now with the politics fix.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the politics fix.  Rick Hertzberg, senior editor and staff writer for the “New Yorker,” and Michael Smerconish is an MSNBC political analyst and talk show host, whose new book is “Morning Drive.” 

Let me go to Rick Hertzberg.  Rick, when we grew up together, there was a Republican party in the northeast, Keating, Clifford Case from New Jersey, Weicker from Connecticut, Norris Cotton, Aiken.  They were all over the place.  They had Chafee.  God, Saltonstall.  The northeast was filled with Republicans.  Scott, Schweiker, Heinz.  They are all gone.  All of them are gone. 

RICK HERTZBERG, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Even a few presidential candidates like Tom Dewey. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HERTZBERG:  All gone, good-bye.  All gone. 

MATTHEWS:  So what happened to the last of the Mohicans, Arlen Specter?  He‘d rather switch than fight, obviously. 

HERTZBERG:  He‘d rather switch than get scalped anyway. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HERTZBERG:  That‘s what he was looking at.  It was be a Democrat or be a nobody.  He chose Democrat. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re concisely accurate.  Let me go to Michael Smerconish, who is a big Arlen supporter.  Michael, are you with him now that he‘s with a different party? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Yes, I‘m with him.  I put friendship and loyalty ahead of any party label.  And, Chris, I have seen this coming for a long, long time.  You and I have had many conversations about my view that the Republican party, particularly in Pennsylvania, is totally out of touch with its electorate. 

Look at that “Washington Post” and ABC News study this week that said only 21 percent of Americans identified themselves as Republicans.  I think that number is now down to 20 percent since Arlen left. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go back to what it means, Rick.  I know you‘re a big believer in government.  And you have always argued with me that the party in power ought to be the party in power, and enough of this checks and balances stuff.  Are the Democrats finally ready to move now that they have 60 seats in the U.S. Senate?  No more excuses.  All they have to do is unite the party and they can do something historic on health care, for example. 

HERTZBERG:  Well, I certainly hope so, and they certainly had better do that.  Now the ball is in their court.  Now it‘s up to the Republicans to approach Democrats, not the Democrats approach Republicans.  But I believe in an alternation.  You know, I‘m not for—the check and balance I‘m in favor of is you put your program in.  If people don‘t like it, they kick you out and put the other guys in. 

But right now, we‘re really short on other guys.  There‘s not a credible opposition party. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, what about the Democrats again?  Don‘t they have to now put up and do it?  How many times can they claim that Ben Nelson of Nebraska wasn‘t with them or—how many times can they blame it on a few foot draggers? 

HERTZBERG:  Well, it depends on how many foot draggers there really are.  I think the Democrats will and Obama will go whole hog to enforce discipline, that their future depends on getting things done, because hopes have been raised so high by Obama, by the Democrats, that if they don‘t deliver, they‘re going to be severely punished. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Michael Smerconish.  You have made the tough case against the Republicans for not having a moderate wing.  Now that the Democrats are picking up the moderates and holding the left and the center left, don‘t they have to deliver good government?  In other words, no more excuses, no more whining.  They promised health care since Harry Truman‘s day.  They got to do it. 

SMERCONISH:  Well, you presuppose that Arlen Specter will be that 60th vote.  And all you have to do is ask the Republicans in Pennsylvania how reliable a person as a member of a party is he?  He‘s unreliable.  That‘s his beauty.  It‘s his independence. 

I‘m focused on the Republicans.  Is this going to be a wake-up call?  So far, no.  Michael Steele put out a statement today, Chris, and he talked about Arlen Specter‘s left wing politics.  That kind of labeling, that kind of name calling—you know, Obama‘s socialist.  Why not use his middle name.  That‘s what got the Republican party into this jam.  They haven‘t heard the wake up.  They didn‘t need a tea party.  They need double espresso. 

And this ought to be it, but I doubt they will hear the bell. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens to the Republican party?  Does it go to the way of the Wigs or the Mohicans in lore, James Fenimore lore?  Do they just cease to be? 

Look at this Senate race.  It looks to me like Arlen‘s biggest challenge will be to win the Democratic nomination.  But he has the president on his side.  He‘s got the governor on his side.  He‘s got the Democratic party organization on his side, from what I figured out this afternoon. 

He can‘t really lose the Democratic primary.  And, therefore, he can‘t really lose the general.  He‘s really been re-elected already by what he did today.  Right, Michael?  Didn‘t he just win reelection today?

SMERCONISH:  I think he probably did.  The Democratic party has a million plus voter registration edge.  I think he survives a primary if he has one. 

Let me give you another headline from Pennsylvania.  Everyone is talking about, well, Pat Toomey drove him out of the Republican party.  I don‘t think that‘s some badge of honor, by the way, for Pat Toomey.  I don‘t believe that Toomey will be the Republican nominee.  I think perhaps the Republicans will say, wait a minute, this guy can‘t win a general election.  How about a draft of Tom Ridge, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of Tom Ridge‘s statement that he‘s going to be looking into this.  Quote—here‘s what Tom Ridge said today in a late statement.  “So let‘s begin the discussion of ideas, with a respectful contest, as Pennsylvania and the nation continue to work collectively through these challenging times.” 

The very popular two-term governor of this state—Rick Hertzberg, get in on this.  This guy‘s pro-choice.  He‘s been tough on things like the MX, military waste.  He‘s been very independent with people like Dick Cheney.  Can he bring back the Rockefeller Republican party? 

HERTZBERG:  Somebody is going to have to eventually.  I mean, the Club for Growth is not universally popular in the Republican party.  I mean, do you know what Huckabee said about the Club for Growth?  This is a year ago December.  I interviewed him.  He called it the Club for Greed.  He called it a despicable political hit organization that has no integrity and is cowardly, has a disregard for the realities of how you actually govern. 

He said governing would be very simple under their formula.  It wouldn‘t require an IQ of a broccoli to do it, because you just go and you say, we‘re going to eliminate all taxes.  That‘s the Club for Growth.  That‘s what the Republican party—that‘s one of the corners they‘ve painted themselves into. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael Smerconish, one of the reasons the Republican party has moved to the far right is because it won all of those Dixiecrats back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, after Lyndon Johnson basically hurt the Democratic party down south by fighting for civil rights.  Because it‘s been anchored in the south by Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, people like Haley Barbour, and people like that have been rulers of the party.  Isn‘t that the reason it doesn‘t feel so good to be a Republican in Pennsylvania?   

SMERCONISH:  Well, I think you‘re speaking a little bit in code.  Let‘s just lay it out.  There‘s a very heavy religious influence in this party.  And with that religious constituency come a whole host of litmus tests.  It‘s abortion.  Look at the treatment of Governor Sebelius.  It‘s the Terry Schiavo case.  I think there have been a hell of a lot of moderates, people like and me—I hope you don‘t mind me hawking the book.  It‘s all that I write about in the book—have been driven from this party, because on these social issues, we want to be libertarians.  We don‘t want other people calling the shots for us. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe you‘re the one out of step.  The party seems to want to get rid of people like Specter and you, Michael.  They want to be the party of the religious right.  They don‘t like abortion rights.  They are fighting about it all over the place.  Maybe they think you are out of step. 

We‘ll be right back with Rick Hertzberg and Michael Smerconish about the death of the Republican party that‘s been described here today.  We‘ll see if we see green spouts in that Republican party in the next election.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Rick Hertzberg and Michael Smerconish with the politics fix.  Michael, like you, I think I try to look for Republicans to vote for.  I do.  I‘ve always voted for local Republican candidates for Congress.  I voted for Michael Steele once.  I voted for Arlen Specter when he ran for mayor as a reformer, back in the old days.  I look for good Republicans to balance the act out.  What are we going to do in the future here? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I think the irony of this situation is look at a guy like Tom Ridge.  Tom Ridge is a Republican worth voting for.  Yet, Chris, he was better than Sarah Palin and John McCain wouldn‘t take Ridge.  Why?  Because he‘s pro-choice.  That sort of litmus standard is insanity. 

Tom Ridge is the sort of Republican who ought to be elected. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s what Michael Steele said about Arlen Specter leaving the Republican party.  “Some in the Republican party are happy about this.  I‘m not.  Let‘s be honest, Senator Specter didn‘t leave the GOP based on principles of any kind.  He left to further his personal political interests, because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.” 

That‘s when he got weird.  “Republicans look forward to beating Senator Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don‘t do it first.” 

I guess that where that piece got a little weird there, Rick.  When you start referring to Arlen Specter as a leftie. 

HERTZBERG:  Well, then you pretty much ceded the ground to the left.  And who isn‘t a lefty then?  Just a hard core base of Rush Limbaugh ditto heads, and a few Club for Growth greed heads.  That‘s all that‘s left. 

MATTHEWS:  Rick, I loved your—

(CROSS TALK)

SMERCONISH:  Without Arlen Specter, there would be no Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about that some other night.  Here‘s the one.  Rick, I loved your column today saying Texas ought to really take it seriously.  Do you want to follow up on that?  When you talk about leaving the union, maybe the real conservative states should leave. 

HERTZBERG:  Yes, maybe they would be happier, really.  They seem to be very unhappy with the fact that they are being condescended to by eastern elites and Hollywood degenerates, and stuff like that.  Wouldn‘t they be happier on their own?  And wouldn‘t we be happier, too?  Maybe a civilized divorce would be for the best. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know what I think?  I disagree.  I think the south keeps us a little conservative.  The north keeps the south a little secular.  The marriage works.  Any way, thank you, Rick Hertzberg, Michael Smerconish.  It‘s like, you know, a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  Remember how that worked?

Join us tomorrow night, President Obama‘s 100th day coming up tomorrow.  More HARDBALL.  Lots more news tomorrow.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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