updated 4/30/2009 11:45:25 AM ET 2009-04-30T15:45:25

Guest: Chuck Todd, David Gregory, Pat Buchanan, Clarence Page, Bob Shrum, Charlie Cook, David Axelrod

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Obama hits the century mark.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, in Los Angeles.  Leading off tonight, the first 100 days of the Obama presidency.  We‘re here, 100 days since inauguration, since that 21-gun salute to our new head of state.  It‘s been the most extraordinary first 100 days since FDR, and tonight, we‘re going to look at what President Obama has gotten done, also how far the Republican Party has fallen these past three months-plus.

We‘ve got an all-star cast tonight lined up for you.  We‘re beginning with David Gregory and Chuck Todd with a hard checklist on Mr. Obama‘s presidency and the latest blow to the Republicans, long-time Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter‘s defection to the Democrats.  We‘ll hear from election expert Charlie Cook and columnist Clarence Page how President Obama is systematically undoing the Bush years.  MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan will join us alongside Democratic strategist Bob Shrum on the Republican Party‘s disastrous first 100 days under Obama.

And then we‘re in luck tonight to have one of the president‘s brain trust with us, David Axelrod, the senior adviser to President Obama, who will help us assay the politics and also the personal appeal of this new first family, from the gift of the new Obama family dog to the poaching of Arlen Specter from the Republicans.  If you will, we‘re going to cover the entire gamut from the first pooch to the first poach.

In just three hours, the president will hold his first primetime news conference.  MSNBC will, of course, have full coverage beginning at 8:00 PM Eastern.  I‘ll join Keith Olbermann on “COUNTDOWN” at 9:00 PM.  “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” comes on at 10:00, and then I‘ll be back with a fresh new late-night HARDBALL examination of the whole night starting at 11:00 Eastern.

We begin right now with the icing on the cake of these first 100 days, Senator Arlen Specter‘s flip to the Democratic Party.  David Gregory is moderator of “MEET THE PRESS” and Chuck Todd is NBC‘s chief White House correspondent.  Gentlemen, looking at this in hard political terms, how does the flip of Specter add icing to the cake of this first 100 days?  First David.

DAVID GREGORY, HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”:  I think it‘s that image today, Chris.  There he is on his 100th day, the new president, and how does he cap it off?  By presenting a Republican who‘s flipped to become a Democrat.  He‘s pulling Republicans over to his side.

He widened that appeal of the Democratic Party on election day, and after the first 100 days, he‘s widening that base yet further.  And it not only helps him legislatively, it helps with this image of further beating down the Republican Party, giving more juice to the Obama brand of the Democratic Party.  I think all of those come into play today as you look at those three out there in front of the cameras.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Chuck, it reminds me of my theory that this is the Chicago brand of Democratic politics—We‘re the only governing party, we‘re the only game in town.  Look at this, we‘re magnetizing people like Specter.  They‘re coming aboard.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR., WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  They are.  And all of a sudden, you‘re leaving your opponents fighting with themselves, frustrated, casting about—you know, the Republicans, conservatives say (ph) are angry.  They‘re saying, Good riddance to Arlen Specter.  They‘re mad at the media for playing this up, and at the same time, they‘re seeing the fact that their party is disappearing in the Northeast.  And it appears to me not enough of them are looking at this as a wake-up call.  Instead, they‘re looking, frankly, a little bit surprisingly excited about this moment.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, it all reminds me of the great scene in the movie “Gladiator” with Russell Crowe, when to celebrate the opening of a big day at the coliseum, they bring in the barbarian king in the big cage to show they keep winning the battles in the north.

Here‘s Senator Specter with President Obama today at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  I do think, Mr. President, that I can be of assistance.  You have projected an administration that I feel very comfortable with.

I think I can be of assistance to you, Mr. President, in my views on centrist government.  There are a lot of big issues which we‘re tackling now that I‘ve been deeply involved in.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t expect Arlen to be a rubber stamp.  I don‘t expect any member of Congress to be a rubber stamp.  In fact, I‘d like to think that Arlen‘s decision reflects a recognition that this administration is open to many different ideas and many different points of view, that we seek cooperation and common ground and that in these 100 days, we‘ve begun to move this nation in the right direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, politics make strange bedfellows, so let‘s look at the impact on people watching right now, not just the politics here, but the policy.  David, you first.  It seems to me that if you get out there and you care about this country and what kind of a social policy it has, you‘re thinking about health care.  We all work with people that don‘t have health care.  We know how important it is.  David Gregory, is Specter—he‘s in bad health himself and he‘s at a late age in his life.  Is he likely to resist backing a health care bill, or is he a pretty good bet to join—to put together 60 votes for the Democrats here for health care?

GREGORY:  Well, the White House certainly thinks that he can be a help.  They recognize, though, and the president alluded to it, that he‘s not the only key to this.  They‘ve got some problems on the Democratic side of the aisle, as well, in addition to...

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s the Democratic side.

GREGORY:  ... the Republican...

MATTHEWS:  He is on the Democratic side now, believe it or not!

GREGORY:  Right.  No, no.  I realize that.  I do think that they think he helps in this regard.  He helps on other policy matters, as well.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREGORY:  They talk about roving coalitions.  And as recently as last week, even though they knew that there were some conversations going on, they knew that Specter was in political trouble, but they didn‘t think they could rely on him.  Now they think they‘ve got a better shot of relying on him.

But let‘s remember something else about images and the pictures here.  Yesterday, when he announced this, he appeared by himself, and he very much wants to stand alone in this rule (ph) as a Democrat in the Senate, as well.  So he‘s going to be somebody who carves out this niche.  He‘s going to get a lot more attention from us, saying, Where‘s Specter on this?  Is he going to be in line with the rest of the Democratic caucus?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, that‘s his M.O.  You nailed that.  Let me go to Chuck on that.  It seems to me that they‘re getting—it‘s a tremendous poach.  They won a guy over who could have been voting against them.  But did they get any assurances, people like Rahm Emanuel, that this guy‘s going to be more than a nominal Democrat?

TODD:  Well, I don‘t think Rahm Emanuel got those assurances, and I know that the president wants to say, Hey, we weren‘t part of a deal.  But Joe Biden very much involved in this thing.  I think he believes—he‘s given a reassurance to Rahm Emanuel and to the president, Look, we‘re going to have Specter on the issues that we need him.

And you know, on health care, you know, that‘s what makes this party switch so important, I think, for this White House...

MATTHEWS:  Me, too.

TODD:  ... is Arlen Specter, they knew that they wanted—they wanted

they need—could get his vote on some of these things, but they thought, Boy, if he‘s in this Republican primary, he‘s going to have to vote against us on things that he normally would be with us on.  Now he is going to be with them.  Look, he‘s going to be more reliable than Ben Nelson out of Nebraska, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  So well said because, by the way, if he had stayed with the Republican Party and had to deal with the Republican bosses in Pennsylvania, like Bob Asher (ph) of Montgomery County, he couldn‘t have moved over so easily to vote for health care...

TODD:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  ... because all he would be is a Republican until next April.  This way, he‘s a Democrat, at least, until next April.  We don‘t know about after April.

Republican senator Olympia Snowe is not happy about this.  This is what she wrote in “The New York Times” today.  Quote, “In my view, the political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party”—that‘s the Republican Party—“in jeopardy nationwide.  I‘ve said that, without question, we cannot prevail as a party without conservatives, but it is equally certain we cannot prevail in the future without moderates.”

David Gregory, the Republican Party of the Northeast has become almost the last of the Mohicans, if you will, a party that is just being decimated every day, with now only the two senators really left—the two moderates left in Maine.  That‘s about it.

GREGORY:  Right.  And that‘s—and this is the tension.  What is it that the Republican Party wants to be right now?  Is it a return, as you hear some of the governors around the country talking about, to those core conservative values—smaller government, less taxes, less spending?  That‘s the basis of the opposition to Obama right now.

But it‘s still predicated on the idea that Obama‘s ideas don‘t take root and don‘t get more and more support.  He‘s at a high level of support right now.  So what do they do about their positions on social policy?  Do they have a plan to expand geographically and demographically?

I mean, you hear Steve Schmidt out there, who worked for President Bush, who then worked and ran the campaign for John McCain, talking very much differently than he did during the course of this ‘08 campaign, where they, in essence, had to run more of a base campaign as they went along and say, Look, if we don‘t change some of our policies and make this a bigger party, we‘re no longer going to become a viable party.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the map from 2008.  It‘s not so many years ago.  In fact, it‘s only a few months ago.  But look at the map, guys.  Look at what we‘re looking at here, how well—although geographical, the Republican Party still has the heartland, look at the penetration you see down to North Carolina, Virginia, Florida.  Out in the Midwest, you‘ve got Iowa, you‘ve got Indiana, heartland Republican states flipping to the Democrats.  Plus you‘ve got—you‘ve got the states like New Mexico and Colorado and Nevada all joining in that West Coast move to the Democrats.

Chuck Todd, you first.  It seems to me, if you look at this map, it‘s very hard to see how they do launch a Republican threat to this president, even in a couple of years.

TODD:  Well, and they have to play defense first demographically, when you look at the growth of the Hispanic population and the fact it‘s a two-to-one population right now.  That puts Texas and Arizona potentially in play in the next four or eight years.

But the Republican Party has to have this one debate that they have to have.  Do they want—you know, what form of government do they want to have?  Do they believe government‘s part of the problem or part of the solution?  It‘s a famous Ronald Reagan saying.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  And you can split moderates and conservatives on that question.  There are a lot of Republicans that believe government has to be part of solutions.  But those Republicans aren‘t accepted by a lot of purists in the party.  Mel Martinez, who‘s retiring, from Florida, complains about this all the time.  And it‘s one of the reasons, I bet, that he‘s leaving the Senate.  George Voinovich, Kit Bond—these are guys that are also leaving the Senate.  They‘re believers that government can be part of the solution, maybe not the entire solution, but part of it.  And until the Republican Party has that—finishes that debate, I don‘t know where they go in the next four years.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREGORY:  Also, Chris, look at the fact that in 2008, Barack Obama gets a lot more support from highly educated, upper-income suburbanites, typical Republicans in years past.  They‘re not scared off by the tax message.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREGORY:  They‘re not so worried about the fact that their marginal rate is going up some.  They can handle it because it‘s part of a larger whole for them.  They‘re more independent-minded on some of these social policies and even tax policy.  That‘s got to be an alarming trend for this Republican Party.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREGORY:  There‘s something else.  Ronald Reagan rode a wave, don‘t forget, of this national security anxiety.  And now Barack Obama, it seems to me, is riding the wave in the other direction, which is the excesses that a lot of people perceive from the last eight years on national security.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s another comparison.  Look at these numbers, David and Chuck, between he and President Reagan in the past.  Sixty-one percent of the people like the job that Obama is doing in our new poll, NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, but 81 percent of the country liked him personally.

Chuck, you first.  That seems to be so redolent of the feelings people had towards Reagan.  And one reason Reagan, I think, has made it into the top tier of presidents historically is that people liked him personally.

TODD:  And it allows him—it‘s sort of this extra political capital.  As somebody said earlier today, it‘s sort of—he‘s banking political capital and it‘s actual capital that he can spend...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... not like what‘s going on with the real banks right now.  But it allows him to sell painful legislation, frankly, to Congress, allows him to sell, Hey, guys, you‘re going to have to raise some taxes on folks making $250,000.  You‘re going to have to put the country more into debt right now, Kent Conrad, but I promise you we‘ll get back to this.  We‘ll talk about entitlements.

But because of the personal relationships that he has both with the country right now and even personally with members of Congress—shoot, there‘s Republican members of Congress talk about it.  Individually, they say, Well, geez, we really like the guy.  He does seem approachable.  That alone allows him to get some of this tougher legislation sold.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, David...

GREGORY:  Well, let...

MATTHEWS:  ... about “MEET THE PRESS.”  I want to give you a promotion here for this coming Sunday.  You‘ve got a big get.  You got him ready.  You got him early.  It seems to me that one thing Arlen Specter has to face is something like—oh, back to 1980 -- 29 years now of hard Republican rhetoric he has to defend in a potential Democratic primary, even if he faces somebody weak.  Doesn‘t he have to defend, on your show, for example, all those years of Republican rhetoric?

GREGORY:  Well, I think he does.  And we will have Senator Specter on “MEET THE PRESS” Sunday, and he‘s going to have to answer for, I think, among other things, why he wasn‘t able to stand up to the rise of the modern Republican Party that he has now turned his back on.  So I definitely think those are some of the questions.

And I think one of the issues for President Obama and the likability factor is still this question of, Will he now execute?  Can he execute?  The first 100 days were about putting in place a lot of policy and a lot of markers on the economy and on foreign policy.  He now has to execute.  He‘s got to carry through.  All of that will be tested.  That faith that Americans have in him to deal with these problems will now be tested, once he actually has to deliver on these.

MATTHEWS:  Ask him to explain the Supreme Court that he‘s created, all those pro-life Republicans that this pro-choice Democratic senator voted for.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I just think it‘s fun.  You‘re going to have some fun on Sunday.  Thank you, Chuck Todd.  Thank you David Gregory.

TODD:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: If there‘s one thing we can take from President Obama‘s first century of days is that he‘s not President Bush.  Obama campaigned on change and he‘s delivered.  Boy, this guy is not Bush.  We‘re going to talk about that when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

By the way, I‘m in Los Angeles.  I‘m on Jay Leno tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama promised change and ran his campaign against former president Bush.  And in his first 100 days, he‘s rolled back a number of Bush policies.  He ordered the closure of the detention facilities at Guantanamo.  He banned the use of torture.  He shuttered secret CIA prisons overseas.  He eased restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research.  He ordered the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq by August of 2010.  And he‘s refocused our efforts in Afghanistan and has ordered an additional 21,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan.  He‘s improved, many people believe, our overall image abroad.

Charles Cook is an NBC News analyst and editor of “The Cook Political Report.”  And Clarence Page is, of course, a “Chicago Tribune” columnist.  Gentlemen, I want you to talk, if you can, at length about the difference between this president and one—and the one we had as recently as January 20th.  Charlie, you first.

CHARLES COOK, “COOK POLITICAL REPORT,” NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Chris, elections have consequences.  When you think about the last two elections, 2006, 2008 combined, Republicans have lost 54 House seats, 14 Senate seats, not counting Arlen Specter, and they‘ve lost the presidency.  This is not an ambiguous public statement.  People signed on for change.

Now, the question is, once they start seeing the specifics of specific proposals coming down the pike, do they stay on board, that you have—when—you know, these are—these are—the president‘s not taking bite-sized little baby steps.  This is—he‘s doing—this is big stuff.  It‘s tough stuff.  It‘s controversial.  It costs a lot of money.

And so we‘ll see.  People signed up for change.  The question is, do they stay on board?  I mean, they signed up for this cruise, but do they stay on board once all the specifics are out?  That‘s the great question.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the grass is always greener, Clarence.  It‘s still green, it seems to me.

CLARENCE PAGE, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, it does seem green.  You know, I think President Barack Obama has shown himself to be a transformational leader, unlike George W. Bush, much more like Ronald Reagan, in that he has really swung—helped to swing the political pendulum back toward the left, back toward progressive policies at a time when the country is in, what, two wars and a deep recession, the kind of a situation that no previous president has run into.

He‘s had more success in this first 100 days than I expected, or I think anybody had a right to expect. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Charlie, let‘s start with you guys.  Both of you look at the first set of issues.  Let‘s talk about the war policy.  We‘re pulling back on Iraq.  We‘re going in deeper into Afghanistan. 

What do you make of that, politically?  Is that a political assessment we can make right now, or do we have and wait to see what happens, Charlie? 

CHARLIE COOK, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, “THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT”:  Well, I‘m a little skeptical about whether we‘re going to be able to actually keep to the Iraq timetable. 

But I think voters are going to say, he wants to get us out.  He‘s trying to get out.  He‘s going to get us out as soon as he‘s feasible—as soon as it‘s feasible. 

And, so, they may not hold him to the specifics of a timetable.  Now, the question is, can he keep this coalition together, as Afghanistan looks like it‘s going to get a lot worse?  And, then, when you see casualties get two or three or four times the level they have been now, and if the casualties start, God forbid, getting up towards the way it was in Iraq, do people stay on board there? 

So, this is a tough—I mean, these are—these are tough decisions.  And I agree with Clarence.  He‘s a transformational leader.  And people are sticking with him so far.  But, boy, I—I would argue the next couple of hundred couple of days are going to be a lot tougher than the first 100. 

MATTHEWS:  What about that cutting-edge reality, where we do face more

if we escalate in Afghanistan, if we begin to lose position in Iraq, do the centrist people out there begin to say, wait a minute, I wish we had a hawk back?

(CROSSTALK)

COOK:  Well, or do the centrists hang on, or do the liberals hang on? 

I mean, I would argue the liberals are being very patient with him, but are they—do liberals stay patient if casualty figures go up?

I‘m sorry.  I stepped on Clarence. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Clarence.. 

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE:  That‘s OK.  It happens all the time on this show, Charlie. 

(LAUGHTER)

But, no, I think the—what troubles me about Afghanistan is that our goals and the endgame are not that clear.  President Obama has rolled back the rhetoric a bit.  We‘re not trying to establish democracy throughout Afghanistan, although that is part of the—of the semi-stated mission. 

The real problem is, what do we do with the Taliban and what do we do with Pakistan right next door...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

PAGE:  ... and that very porous border?  And Pakistan‘s got nukes.  They‘re—the Taliban is resurgent.  How do we know—how do we define success in that region?

And that‘s where we run into that problem that previous countries have run into in Afghanistan.  How far do you go before you decide, OK, you all take care of your own problems?

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me take a look at something David Gregory got out of Secretary Gates, who is the holdover, of course, at the Defense Department.  He asked him about what‘s the difference between working with President George W. Bush and working with the new president?  This was quite a revelation, I thought. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS,” MARCH 1, 2009)

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  I think that, probably, President Obama is—is somewhat more analytical, and—and he—he makes sure he hears from everybody in the room on an issue.  And, if they don‘t speak up, he calls on them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s about intellectual curiosity.  Maybe that‘s the intangible we have got here. 

Gentlemen, it seems to me, when you watch this president deal with everything, from buying a dog or getting a dog as a gift, to dealing with swine flu, the man seems to be thinking all the time, and being quite eloquent about what he‘s thinking like, Charlie, and then Clarence. 

COOK:  Yes. 

Chris, back in September, the Pew Research Center did a national poll, and they asked people, what‘s one word that you would use to describe Barack Obama?  And the word that came out more than any other, more frequently than any other, was “inexperienced.”

When they asked that question again in March, you know, two months ago, last month, it was “intelligent.”

And—and—and, to watch him at press conferences and all these things, you say, wow, this guy—you know, I don‘t know if I agree with him on all these things, but this is a very, very, very sharp guy.  And for a—for a guy that is somewhat inexperienced, he seems to be picking this stuff up pretty quickly. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s as open-minded as he seems?  Clarence, you‘re from Chicago.  He comes across as a thoughtful person, therefore, a person who is open to new ideas. 

But one of the criticisms is that he‘s really a basic liberal and he‘s only acting like he‘s open-minded; he‘s already got his ideas figured. 

PAGE:  Not that there‘s anything wrong with that in Chicago, anyway, being a basic liberal. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PAGE:  Well, he is a basic liberal, but the fact is, he wants to get things done. 

And—and you have certainly seen a lot of discontent to his left that he has not done more in regard to—to torture prosecution, or—or to Guantanamo and other policies like that. 

I think that, though he has redeemed what George W. Bush once sarcastically referred to as the touchy-feely approach, the idea of thinking and rethinking these issues and—and programs, he—Bush prided himself on being a man of action.  Obama does take time to think first. 

If there‘s any bad rap on Obama, it has been that he can be kind of a cold fish sometimes...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

PAGE:  ... that he—he is a kind of a guy who, while he understands people, does he really like them?  He‘s great with his family.  You can see that kind of rapport.  And he gets along well with folks. 

But he has been accused in the past of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I love the way you do this, Clarence. 

PAGE:  ... you know, getting tired of people and walking away from them.

MATTHEWS:  Clarence, I love the way you did that.  I love it, because I have had the same experience with him.  The limited experience I have had with him is, he‘s a very cool customer.  And I—I compare him to that old movie actor Ray Milland, you know, very cool, very calm...

PAGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... not exactly lovey-dovey, I wouldn‘t think.

PAGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Clarence, thank you very—thank you very much, Charlie Cook.

Both you, gentlemen, thank you. 

Up next:  Like Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama knows the value of a great image.  I‘m going to look at some pictures.  This is great stuff we‘re going to look at.  We‘re not going to listen to what Barack says.  We‘re going to watch what he does and what that tells us about him. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, right now, on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

Long before we had—we had television, what you are seeing right now, an ad man in the 1920s said a picture is worth 1,000 words, or, to put it more bluntly, as Groucho Marx once put it, who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? 

Well, let‘s face it.  We listen to politicians, but we believe what we see them actually doing.  And this makes it vital for any leader to not just speak his beliefs, but show his stuff, or her stuff.  Oh, yeah, and do it early. 

Remember what we were taught about first impressions?  So, here he goes, our sage look at the first 100 days of Barack Obama, the unforgettable pictures that have defined this young presidency. 

It started the night of January 20, when Barack and Michelle took to the floor during the inaugural balls, Michelle in that stunning one-shoulders ball gown.  It was clear that they were ushering in a new era in American politics. 

We saw Michelle Obama—I hate to cut from that scene—we saw Michelle Obama quickly come into her own as first lady, breaking ground at the White House, in more ways than one.  There she is, planting her version of a victory garden with area schoolchildren at the start of spring.  Some people think that was the most important moment so far.  It made her our first lady. 

And what hard heart can help but smile at those pictures of Sasha, Malia, and, yes, the new dog, Bo, named for Bo Diddley, out there on the White House lawn.  Frisky first family, they are. 

Of course, great leaders show their true mettle in making tough, clear decisions, and getting them carried out with crack precision.  In ordering that successful mission to rescue an American captain from Somali pirates, President Obama showed that he has a calm and steady hand at the wheel. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We are resolved to halt the rise of privacy (sic) in that region.  And to achieve that goal, we‘re going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks.  We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise.  And we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, he was attacking piracy, not privacy. 

But I promised myself I wasn‘t going to quibble about the little stuff with this new president, but focus instead on the big stuff, whether he gets the right stuff right or not. 

Finally, to the world, if Barack Obama‘s election held the promise of change, his trip overseas this month was the first step in its fulfillment.  Here he is winning over a small town in far-off France with his new brand of American democracy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Over the last seven, eight years, as I said in my speech, a lot of tensions have developed between the United States and Europe.  And one of the legacies I hope for my administration is, is that we start bringing our historic alliance back together in a much more effective way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  No strutting there, the quiet American at work, an American president holding a multinational town hall, like it‘s something we hadn‘t done before, which we had never done before.  Look at that.  We‘re going to see more of that stuff. 

Anyway, as Bob Cummings used to say in the early days of television, I think you‘re going to like this picture. 

Up next:  Arlen Specter‘s switch to the Democratic Party caps off a very rough 100 days for the Republicans.  With President Obama riding high, where does the GOP go from here? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 27, 2009)

OBAMA:  There is no military solution in Iraq, and there never was.  I will begin to remove our troops from Iraq immediately. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

OBAMA:  I will—I will remove one or two brigades a month, and get all of our combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks rallying after more better-than-expected earnings reports and as the Fed says the recession appears to be easing.  The Dow gained 168 points.  The S&P picked up 18.  The Nasdaq climbed 38 points.

The Federal Reserve wrapped up a two-day meeting, saying, the economy

economic outlook has—quote—“improved modestly” since last month. 

It also said it would continue to keep interest rates exceptionally low for an extended period to ensure a recovery. 

Chrysler will reportedly sign a partnership deal with Italian automaker Fiat by tomorrow, when Chrysler faces a government-imposed restructuring deadline.  The deal is the last piece of a restructuring plan needed to keep Chrysler alive. 

And the government reported U.S. oil inventories rose last week to their highest level in almost 19 years.  Despite that, crude rose $1.03 today, closing at $50.95 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

What we have had these last 100 days has been good for the Democrats, but not so good for the Republicans.  Here are just a few of the things that have happened. 

Arlen Specter has jumped ship.  In the polls, less than a quarter of the people now say—in fact, 21 percent, one in five, say they are Republicans.  Sarah Palin and her family have spent a lot of time in the tabloids.  Republicans have been branded the party of no.  Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rose—Rove have dominated the headlines.  And Democrat Scott Murphy lost that easy special in Upstate New York. 

The Democrat—I‘m sorry—he won that one.  He‘s the Democrat.  He won. 

Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst, Bob Shrum, Democratic strategist, would you two duke it out and tell me why the Republican Party is in such bad shape, that the rats are jumping ship, even as we speak? 

Pat Buchanan.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I don‘t—I wouldn‘t call Arlen Specter a rat, Chris.  I think that is overdoing it a bit.  He is a defector.  There‘s no doubt about that. 

Here‘s what happened.  It frankly is, the Bush administration did not succeed.  It got us into an unnecessary and bloody war in Iraq.  It spent enormously heavily, and there‘s no returns from all that spending.  You had the greatest crash since 1929, virtually, in the stock market. 

They nominated a moderate Republican who was no good in terms of reach to the Reagan Democrats on trade or on border security and things like that.  They made a series of blunders. 

And I have talked to one of the most famous Republicans in America, who shall remain nameless.  And it was right around election times.  And I said, we‘re going to take a beating.  And he said, it is well-deserved. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of the fact that John McCain now, in our latest poll that just came out last night, is even with President Obama among independents?  They are both at 60 percent.  You say the candidate was weak, but he was very strong among independents.  Still is.

BUCHANAN:  Well, John McCain was behind every single week of last election year, Chris, except for the two weeks after he picked Sarah Palin.

You and I were out in Denver.  Obama came out of that convention with an eight-point lead, an outstanding speech from—in terms of the country the night of the—the last night of the convention.  The next day, McCain picked Palin.

For the next two weeks—before Lehman Brothers collapsed, McCain vaulted into the lead.  He had someone there who had tremendous reach, the queen of NASCAR, if you will.  That was before the Katie Couric interviews. 

And he had excitement, energy, and fire, not only of the base, but to a lot of those working-class Democrats...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  ... the Reagan Democrats. 

But he lost them all on that—came back on that bailout.  One hundred percent of the country opposed it, and he came back to help President Bush get it. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, are you going to spend the next three years playing Saint John the Baptist for Sarah Palin? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I—you never miss a beat here.  You push for her harder than any...

BUCHANAN:  Well, wait.

MATTHEWS:  What did she DO for—I‘m sorry.  Her husband was in the split-from-America party with you. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Is that what it—she was a pitchfork family, or what?

BUCHANAN:  But, no, Chris—Chris, your problem is...

MATTHEWS:  What is the love affair here about?

BUCHANAN:  Your problem, again, is this woman problem you‘ve got, Chris.  For two weeks—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, here we go. 

BUCHANAN:  For two weeks after the convention, McCain was in the lead. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, my woman problem.  Would you relax?  Pat, I forgot that you were the new Alan Alda of our times.  Let‘s go to Shrum, who won‘t go below the belt on this one.  Shrum, what is going on with this Republican party? 

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  First, I‘ve got to say, by the way, I told Pat on the air that the Palin bounce was a bubble and it was going to go away, and it did.  I think that Pat is right about the failures of the Bush administration, but it goes much deeper.  It‘s almost typological. 

The smaller a party gets, the more small minded they get.  I think that‘s what you saw happening with Arlen Specter.  He probably would have stayed in the Republican party if he thought he could win that election.  But once he cooperated with the president on the stimulus, the conservatives organized.  They said, we‘re going to run someone against him. 

And that someone, Pat Toomey, by the way, who is probably going to be the Republican nominee right now, is going to lose that election badly to Specter in a general election.  So the Republicans, to top off the 100 days, achieved a miracle the Democrats couldn‘t achieve for themselves, 60 Democratic votes in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, is your wing of the party driving the Rinos out of the party, the Republicans in Name Only?  Is that what‘s going on here? 

BUCHANAN:  No, the liberals who are getting—you cannot blame the conservatives who are winning in their district for the fact that all the Republicans who are losing in their districts up in the north.  There‘s no doubt, Chris, the Republican party has a deep long-term demographic problem in the changing nature of the American electorate, which is not what it was in 1972 or 1984.  It‘s dramatically different. 

Short-term, Chris, though, this is 1965.  It is the liberal hour.  Everybody is praising Obama.  I remember LBJ got everything through.  Two years later, he lost 47 seats.  Republicans went on and won five of the next six presidential elections. 

MATTHEWS:  Your wing of the party water boarded Arlen after he got re-elected the last time, because he wouldn‘t swear fealty on the choice issue with you guys, the life issue.  You guys water boarded him.  He had to come out and beg for mercy. 

BUCHANAN:  Your completely false there.  What, Arlen Specter was riding to the nomination.  So he goes into the tank for Obama on the stimulus bill, which every other Republican—except for the two gals.  Then the guy ran against him.  He ran away from the fight.  He chickened out and went to your party. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, in 19 -- in 2004, when Arlen Specter was re-elected by the party, defeating Joe Hoppel (ph), your party made him swear to god and recant—it was like medieval.  You made him recant his position on a litmus test on abortion rights.  Remember that?  You didn‘t forget that, did you? 

BUCHANAN:  You‘re telling me that Arlen Specter gave up his principles for power?  I don‘t believe that. 

SHRUM:  Arlen Specter did the right thing and Republicans should have delivered 10 or 15 votes in the Senate for the stimulus package.  What‘s really happened is they have become the party of no.  They are out there attacking someone who—Chris, as you smartly pointed out when that poll came out last night, the percentage of people who like him is even higher than the percentage of people who approve of his performance. 

That gives him an extra cushion.  It‘s the same kind of extra cushion Ronald Reagan had.  I don‘t think we‘re going to see what Pat hopes for, a 1966 election again.  I think what we‘re going to see instead is the opening of a new era, where we have much more progressive policies and where the Republicans are going to have to totally rethink who they are or they‘re going to be in the minority for a very long time. 

BUCHANAN:  I like Arlen—I mean, I like the president of the United States.  I think he‘s a nice guy.  I think he‘s got a good sense of humor.  But Republicans are exactly right to stand up, unified on principle, saying, look, we believe this is wrong.  We like this president.  Stand there.  Look, if this thing—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat, I owe you this one.

(CROSS TALK)

SHRUM:  That‘s what you guys are hoping for, is failure, right?  You want him to fail. 

MATTHEWS:  Patrick Buchanan, is it true that Sarah Palin has promised you the ambassadorship to Mexico when she gets elected president? 

Is it true? 

BUCHANAN:  No, perhaps.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Bob Shrum. 

Up next, with President Obama marking his 100th day in office, what are his priorities for the next 100 and beyond.  White House senior adviser David Axelrod is joining us in a minute.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back on the 100th day of the Obama White House.  With us is White House senior adviser David Axelrod.  David, thank you for joining us right now. 

I‘m very interested in the health care issue.  I admit it.  I talk about it all the time.  Do you have any assurances from Senator Specter, who is now a Democrat, that he‘ll help you with getting a health care bill through this year? 

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER:  I think he‘s interested in health care as well, Chris.  But let‘s be clear, you know, one thing about Arlen Specter is he‘s independent.  You know him very, very well.  He‘s going to be independent as a Democrat, just as he was as a Republican. 

So I don‘t think he‘s going to be rubber stamping anything.  But I think he is very interested in health care.  It‘s been an area of interest of his.  I hope that he‘ll be part of the coalition we build. 

MATTHEWS:  You mentioned he‘s independent.  He is that.  I‘m not sure he‘s a visceral Democrat.  I think we can agree on that.  Nor was he a visceral Republican.  He‘s his own guy, in many ways.  But what do you make about this situation?  Suppose a congressman, the former admiral, Joe Sestak were to run in the Democratic primary for the Senate nomination.  Would the president actively oppose a life-long Democrat against this new guy? 

AXELROD:  The president has made it clear he supports he supports Senator Specter. 

MATTHEWS:  Even against a Democrat? 

AXELROD:  He‘s not supporting him against anybody.  He‘s supporting him because he appreciates the decision he made.  He appreciates his support on the economic recovery package.  So he‘s indicated that he‘ll strongly support Senator Specter.  Governor Rendell has done the same.  And that‘s where they‘ll be. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s a deal.  He will support Specter against even a seasoned respectable major Democrat like Sestak or Schwartz or Pat Murphy?  Even if one of those heavy weights from the southeast of Pennsylvania were to run, your president would back Specter against the Democrat?

AXELROD:  I‘ve not changed my answer from 30 seconds ago, no. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just rubbing it in. 

AXELROD:  I know.  I sense that.  Only if a prominent television commentator jumped in would that be a conflict for us.  But other than that, no. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I got that.  I didn‘t want that, but I‘ll take that.  Let me ask you about the real challenges for your administration.  You did have a wonderful 100 days.  You got the stimulus, the expansion of the money supply, the recapitalization of the banks.  You‘re going after the public private with the toxic assets.  I see a lot of this—I think the president has done a good job of explaining it.  I think you‘ve helped too.

The question is, where do we go?  If you have to look at this—are we out of this recession?  According to what we‘re hearing today, we‘re on our way out of the recession.  The market went up almost 200 points today.  Is that your view? 

AXELROD:  My view is we‘re making progress, Chris, but I would be—it would not be right to say that I believe we‘re out of the woods by any stretch.  The president said repeatedly that he thinks we‘re headed in the right direction, but this is going to be a rough year.  I think it still will be. 

One of the point that I think we have to understand here is that employment is always a lagging indicator, even when growth begins.  So that we want to put people back to work.  That‘s our goal.  We want people in good jobs.  We want income growing.  When that happens, we know that we have arrived at where we want to go.  But it‘s going to take a while. 

I think the American people know it‘s going to take a while.  But they also know, I think, that we‘re moving the right direction.  One of the great things in the first 100 days is not just what we‘ve been able to do, but the fact that the American people I think have a much brighter view of the future today than they did 100 days ago.  That‘s a very positive thing. 

MATTHEWS:  One of the most stunning things to happen in American politics is the selection of the secretary of state by President Obama, Senator Clinton, who was his rival, and won 18 million votes.  Is there a sense that she can be helpful to this administration on the economic front, politically at home?  In other words, over the next year or two, if it is rough going, she can bring the Clinton coalition to bear on behalf of the president? 

AXELROD:  Well, I don‘t know.  I would say this, Chris, she‘s got her hands full.  We have a lot of challenges in the world and she‘s working tirelessly at them.  We‘re not thinking about ancillary uses of the secretary of state.  When you think about Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East, you know, her dance card is pretty full. 

MATTHEWS:  How is she doing? 

AXELROD:  Great.  I think it‘s been a wonderful partnership.  The president chose her because he knew her as a rival and a colleague, as someone who is smart, tenacious, well-prepared, had a great knowledge of the world.  All of that is coming into play. She‘s been a great leading light of the administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Was he inspired Jimmy Smits‘ character picking Alan Alda in “West Wing” when he beat him for the nomination—actually beat him for the presidency?  Was he as inspired as I was by that move?

AXELROD:  I don‘t know how inspired you were, and I haven‘t talked to him about that particular episode in the series.  But I will say you know that one of his favorite books is “Team of Rivals.”  I think he was inspired by that.  Mostly he was inspired to make that appointment by his knowledge and sense of then Senator Clinton.  And I think his instincts have proven out. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back with a little more time with David Axelrod.  Thanks for joining us.  We‘ll be right back with David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with White House senior adviser David Axelrod.  I think one of the most dazzling successes of your administration is an intangible, and that‘s the role of the first lady.  I have looked at the numbers.  I know you see these numbers.  Her numbers are through the roof. 

AXELROD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you assess that?  In the way you developed the relationship between the East Wing and West Wing, how does it work? 

AXELROD:  First of all, what I ascribe it to is people getting to know Michelle Obama.  You know, at the beginning of the campaign for president, she was subject to kind of caricatures, and came under attack.  Then when people began to get to know her at the Democratic convention, that changed overnight. 

That‘s continued ever since.  She‘s an incredibly engaging person, very, very genuine, very well-motivated, a wonderful role model, and people have come to know her as such. 

And in terms of her relation between the east and west, our White House is very coherent.  There‘s a great feeling of conviviality and congeniality.  So we work closely with her, but her focus in the first 100 days has largely in getting her family situated, her kids in school and well settled, and then to meet the federal employees. 

That‘s been good for us.  But, again, primarily her task was to, in her own mind, was to get her family situated. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the Victory Garden went over so well?  I‘ve read it everywhere.  Something connected with people on that.  What do you think it was? 

AXELROD:  Well, I think the idea of—first of all, healthy eating was part of the message, but also just doing something constructive, involving people in something constructive, involving young people in something constructive.  I think all of that resonated with people.  And of course she does everything with great enthusiasm.  That I think is incredibly engaging. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘d like to have a HARDBALL college tour at the college of her choice.  We‘d like to have Michelle Obama be our star.  David Axelrod, I‘ll be calling you on that, as soon as I get the 200,000 dollars it costs to do one of these things.  Anyway, thank you very much for coming on HARDBALL.  Congratulations on your first 100 days. 

AXELROD:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Join us again after President Obama‘s press conference tonight at 11:00 eastern for a special edition of HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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