updated 6/25/2009 10:55:20 AM ET 2009-06-25T14:55:20

Guests: Howard Fineman, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Julia Boorstin, Dan Rather, Ken Blackwell, Steve McMahon, Chris Cillizza, Jonathan Martin, Jim Warren

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Blame it on Buenos Aires.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in New York.  Leading off tonight:

Things could be finer in Carolina.  What do you say?  What does anybody say?  He was gone, now he‘s back.  He was missing, now he‘s found.  We were told he was out hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  He was actually in Argentina.  His wife said she didn‘t know where he was and didn‘t care.  That part may have been accurate.

Governor Mark Sanford held a press avail this afternoon to tell the worried world that he‘s been engaged in an affair outside his marriage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I hurt her.  I hurt you all.  I hurt my wife.  I hurt my boys.  I hurt friends like Tom Davis.  I hurt a lot of different folks.  And all I can say is that I apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So what do we say on this program about this revelation?  There was nothing illegal involved, apparently.  Governor Sanford didn‘t break any local ordinance, like the one that the senator from Idaho did.  He didn‘t become involved with a prostitute, like that senator from Louisiana or the former governor of New York.  He didn‘t get involved with a recent intern, like Mark Foley did or President Clinton did.

So his embarrassment is really the result of two tightly connected factors, his decision to disappear last week and the infidelity itself, matters which would be of no importance to us whatsoever but for the fact that Mark Sanford is governor of a state, and given his recent chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, a role he dropped today, a fairly prominent one at that.

So a matter of the heart, which this appears to be, has this time stirred up a comic tragedy, or a tragic comedy, depending on how much you care about the feelings of the men and women who have the guts, the ambition and the sense of public duty to enter big-time political office.

We begin tonight with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and Dan Rather.  Howard, let‘s both you and Dan take a look at this latest bit we‘re going to be showing people tonight on this program, portions—in fact, most of the governor‘s statement today, which was—well, it was high drama.  Here‘s Governor Sanford admitting what he did.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANFORD:  I‘ve been unfaithful to my wife.  I developed a relationship with a—who started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina.  It began very innocently, as I suspect many of these things do, in just a casual e-mail back and forth, in advice on one‘s life there and advice here.  But here, recently over this last year, it developed into something much more than that.  And as a consequence, I hurt her.  I hurt you all.  I hurt my wife.  I hurt my boys.  I hurt friends like Tom Davis.  I hurt a lot of different folks.  And all I can say is that I apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it was a strange setting there, Howard, with those giggling young people behind him throughout the event.  I don‘t know.  I felt a bit more for the fellow because of the clownish behavior of the young people behind him, but that‘s not part of the story, I suppose.  This news here, what do you make of it?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I‘ve known Mark Sanford for I guess around 18 years, Chris, and I have to say I was shocked.  And I called around South Carolina.  I know South Carolina well.  I‘ve covered South Carolina politics a lot from the inside out, starting in the mid-‘80s,  when the late Lee Atwater was around.  So I know people down there.

And I don‘t think there were widespread rumors about this.  People thought that Sanford was an odd duck.  He‘s a combination of sort of loner and vindictiveness on occasion.  They don‘t like him a whole lot there anymore.  They used to.  But I don‘t think anybody thought that this was about to happen.  And to basically watch a political career end as though a car were smashing into a wall is pretty amazing, and I have to say, unexpected.

MATTHEWS:  What do you say—why do you say his political career has come to an end?  You mean no further office after this, you don‘t figure.

FINEMAN:  I think it‘s unlikely, Chris, because if he were to do anything, I think it would be to run for president.  And he‘d been widely talked about as a presidential contender possibly for 2012.  But the Republican Party—and he should know this better than anyone—is a Bible belt-based party, Chris.  It‘s based in the South.  As a matter of fact, the modern Republican Party began to be built in that very state of South Carolina, with Strom Thurmond those years ago.

And you don‘t debut, in effect, a long run for the Republican nomination by, you know, going off to Argentina and having an affair and being gone on Father‘s Day, you know, when your four sons are wondering where the heck you are.  I just don‘t think that‘s the way, as brutal as it is, that you‘re going to make your introduction to the wider Republican audience in the country.  I just think it‘s a non-starter.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it sounds pretty bad the way you put it, and I guess it is.  Dan Rather, you‘ve been witness to many resignations in politics, including the famous one of Richard Nixon.  It‘s an honor to have you here, by the way, my friend.

DAN RATHER, “DAN RATHER REPORTS ON HDNET”:  Always glad to be here.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this?  I mean, I‘d like to stick to the politics of this.  It didn‘t involve illegality.  It didn‘t involve the breaking of a local ordinance, like having a relationship with another member of your same sex in a bathroom.  It didn‘t involve an intern, a prostitute, the usual suspects of misbehavior.  It involved a matter of the heart, apparently.  What is it, tragic comedy or comic tragedy?

RATHER:  Well, I consider it a tragedy.  Certainly, it‘s a tragedy for him and his political career, and most importantly, for his family, his wife and his children.  He‘s a father.  He referred to that.  I thought he was a pretty sympathetic figure up there today.  That‘s to take nothing away from what he‘s apologized for.  But number one, I see it as a tragedy, not as a tragic comedy or a comedy tragedy, it‘s a tragedy.  It‘s a family tragedy, a tragedy for his political career, which he had nothing but blue skies and open road in front of him.  I think he could have been a credible candidate for the Republican nomination next time around.

And by the way, in parentheses, this helps Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, who now becomes head of the Republican Governors Association, as you pointed out, a very high profile place.  I‘m not saying Barbour will be a candidate the next time around for the Republicans, but it helps Haley Barbour‘s chances.

Number two, a footnote bottom of the page is that nothing illegal has happened, certainly nothing illegal that we‘re aware of.  But this won‘t end it.  There‘ll be other investigations.  For example, where did the money come from for the trip to Argentina?

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RATHER:  Was that on the taxpayers‘ dime?

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a big ticket.

RATHER:  It‘s a big ticket.  I‘m not suggesting it was, but if it was on the taxpayers‘ dime, then this tragedy will deepen.

Then the other point is that, you know, I know North—North Carolinians—South Carolinians.  Like Howard, I‘ve been covering down there for years, going back to Civil Rights times.  And like most Americans, they are a merciful and forgiving people.  Not everybody will forgive him with this, but the best thing he can do for himself—he doesn‘t need my advice—is to get to work...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RATHER:  ... not resign, just go back and do his job and say, Look, I‘ve said what I‘ve had to say about this.  I‘m dealing with my family on a personal level—and deliver as governor of South Carolina, I would think, is the best thing he could do.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the governor again.  Here‘s a portion of his statement late today, where he apologizes to his family.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANFORD:  One of the primary roles, well before being a governor, is being a father to those four boys, who are absolute jewels and blessings, that I‘ve let down in a profound way.  And I apologize to them.  And I don‘t like apologizing in this realm, but given the immediacy of y‘all‘s wanting to visit and my proximity to them, this is the first step in what will be a very long process on that front.

I would secondly say to Jenny—anybody who has observed her over the last 20 years of my life knows how closely she has stood by my side, in campaign after campaign after campaign, in literally being my campaign manager, and in the raising of those four boys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve got a statement I was just looking at, Howard.  It came in just a moment ago.  It said that the South Carolina first lady Jenny says—she asked the governor to leave, I guess to leave the relationship, his own marriage, basically, two weeks before this public admission, which does clarify her statement of the last couple days that she really didn‘t know where he was and didn‘t care where he was.  I think she was the first, I think it‘s fair to say, to let the cat out of the bag here.

Howard, let‘s put it together.  A governor—it was like Judge Crater here for a couple of days, that notorious case of the New York judge who disappeared back in the ‘30s and was never seen again.  We didn‘t know where this guy was for several days.  His staff apparently didn‘t know.  Somebody, I guess, had phone connections with him.  Somehow they found him, on a beeper or whatever.  He was in Argentina.  They told us he was out on the Appalachian Trail hiking.  So there was a cover story.

This has a lot of levels of intrigue.  He almost guaranteed, didn‘t he, a lot of interest in this tragedy, that Dan calls it.

FINEMAN:  Yes, he sure did.  On one level, he was very discreet about it.  My God, he went to another continent to have his affair.  But on another level, he so bollixed this thing up that he created a tremendous amount of interest about it.  And I don‘t want to be too harsh here.  I agree with Dan.  It is—it is a terrible tragedy.  And I‘ve known him and his wife and his kids, who I‘ve met, going back many years.  And you know, it just was always a wonder to me that somebody who seems to have it all would do something that would so clearly and obviously blow up his life, the way he has done.

And you say it‘s an affair of the heart.  Maybe it is.  But the way he handled it raises as much question—as man questions as the affair itself, Chris, because of the fact that he disappeared, because as governor of the state, he‘s an important character.

You know, one of the ironies here is, Chris, that Mark Sanford‘s political philosophy is based on the idea of states‘ rights—in the good sense, not the racial sense, but the good, old traditional sense—that states have an important role to play.  That‘s why he rejected the stimulus money, why he wanted to reject the stimulus money.  So he‘s saying, As governor of the state, I‘m equal to the president of the United States in the theory of the way this country was set up.  And then how does he treat his job leading that state?  Well, he disappears.  I mean, it totally undercuts his whole political philosophy.  It raises further questions about him personally.

I like the guy because he‘s stuck to his political principles.  He came up here.  He said he was only going to be here for three terms in the House.  He term limited himself and he left.  He‘s a staunch opponent of federal spending, et cetera, in many ways, a very, very honest and laudable guy.  But people in South Carolina and around America, in Republican circles, began to view him as kind of an odd duck, as one political guy told me.  You know, he‘s a combination of being kind of lonely and kind of vindictive.  And I think that, in addition to everything else, is going to make it hard for him to recover here if he wants to be on the national scene.  He‘s not particularly well liked by Republicans around the country.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, it just seems to me, Dan, it used to be

they said of American politicians that they got in trouble with money and

the British got in trouble with the sex.  And you can make all kinds of

judgments.  You were saying how South Carolinians are forgiving, but look

at this run here of recent vintage—Ensign eight days ago, Gingrich—he

had a little relationship going during the impeachment thing we know about

Mark Foley, a gay relationship—in fact, he was involved in improper relations with House pages—Larry Craig broke the law, involved in a gay relationship.

It does seem a little busy out there all of a sudden, or something‘s going on.

(LAUGHTER)

RATHER:  Well, one of the things going on—and you know, I think we all agree, we hate to cover these kinds of stories.  But one of the things that‘s going on—and Chris, you‘ve been among the on television talking about the stresses and strains on people who put it on the ballot, put their whole life out there in the open—a lot of pressure.  I‘m not excusing anything.  I don‘t think there is any excuse...

MATTHEWS:  Well, he talked about the bubble.

RATHER:  Right.  And give Governor Sanford credit, he hasn‘t made any

excuses.  But these are highly pressurized jobs being a governor of a state

South Carolina not one of the biggest states, but not one of the smallest states.  I think we have to have some understanding of what the pressures are on people without apologizing for them, without making any excuses for them, to try to understand.  And what went on in his life, you know, who knows.

Unfortunately, this is not over for him, as I‘ve said before.  There‘ll be more investigation about where the money came from, and that sort of thing.  I do hope that for at least this once that the press, including myself, including everybody else, can lay off the family because the families are the ones who suffer the most in this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I want to thank you both.  Dan Rather, thanks for joining us.  And I want to thank Howard Fineman, as always, for that background, that political background on the governor.

By the way, we had him on here a month ago, and I think he certainly held up against my best efforts to bring him down on a policy question.  We had a good argument on the show, and I walked away from that thinking this guy is a tough customer.  He certainly can give and take as well as anybody, and he knows his stuff.  So life is complicated.  We‘re all a mixed bag, to some extent.  This is an interesting story.

I personally found him to be a human being today.  I thought that was interesting, the way he handled this.  And I love these guys that come out and don‘t bring their wives with them.  There‘s something—it‘s so simple.  Don‘t drag the innocent party before the cameras to share your humiliation.  I don‘t think that‘s the right way to do it.

Anyway, coming up: Governor Sanford‘s emotional admission today of an extramarital affair is not unusual in politics.  We‘re going to run through the recent, well, rap sheet of both parties.  By the way, this Republican fight for the nomination next time has begun to resemble Agatha Christie‘s “Ten Little Indians.”  They‘re disappearing in the big house.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANFORD:  Oddly enough, I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina so I could repeat (ph) it when I came back here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANFORD:  I‘ve let down a lot of people.  That‘s the bottom line.  And I let them down and in every instance, I would ask their forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not an immediate process.  It is, in fact, a process that takes time.  And I‘ll be in that process for quite some weeks and months and, I suspect, years ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  For more on the Governor Sanford story and the recent history of fallen politicians, let‘s bring in Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, who helps them out when they get into trouble, and Ken Blackwell, the former secretary of state of Ohio, who‘s now chairman of the Coalition for a Conservative Majority.

Well, Mr. Blackwell, Mr. Secretary, it does seem to be a partisan

situation in no way.  It‘s totally bipartisan, this mess we‘ve had recently

John Edwards, John Ensign, today Mark Sanford.  I‘ll give you the whole list—Mark (SIC) Spitzer, the governor Spitzer of New York, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, McGreevey, the recent governor of New Jersey, Vitter down in Louisiana, as I said, Ensign, Mark Foley from Florida, Larry Craig from Idaho, of course former president Clinton, Newt Gingrich was involved somewhat in the borderlines of this question, and now Mark Sanford.

This is a baseball team, at least, of trouble here.  What do you make of it?

KEN BLACKWELL, COALITION FOR A CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY:  Well, Chris, I think you‘ve laid it out.  Infidelity doesn‘t have a party uniform.  It goes—it happens in both parties.

The bigger challenge here for us, and it‘s something that we focus on at the Family Research Council, is, you know, what—how do we deal with the issue of infidelity, rampant infidelity in our society?  It‘s a culture flaw.  You know, do we sort of turn a blind eye to it, or do we hold our leaders to a higher standard?

And I think what Mark realized today is that he has a leadership position, and he‘s held to a higher standard.  And anything else would be pure hypocrisy. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems even more complicated than that.  Well, we will get to that.

I mean, you have got a couple of fellows in your party—you have Larry Craig and—and who is the other one? -- oh, Foley—that were involved in gay relationships which broke the laws, or broke certainly their ethical roles as members of Congress with regard to interns. 

BLACKWELL:  So, Chris, would you have...

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s very complicated here.

BLACKWELL:  Would you—would you have the party abandon its platform of being supportive of traditional marriage? 

Would you say that, because Republicans have engaged in—in abortion, that we should no longer be the standard-bearer for the pro-life ethic? 

We are a party that takes reasonable and reasoned positions, and we hold our leaders to those standards.  And you‘re going to have fallout.  We‘re not a perfect party.  But we must believe that our leaders are perfectible and that our leaders are capable of—of living good and decent and respectable lives. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you—you‘re not really guilty of sending out Hallmark cards to define your party? 

BLACKWELL:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not claiming to be better than anybody else, is what you‘re saying.

BLACKWELL:  No, we...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not making that claim to be morally superior to the other party? 

BLACKWELL:  Right. 

What we‘re claiming is that there is a set of rights and wrongs. 

There is a better way of living a good life.

And we expect our leaders to look at public policies and—and advance those public policies that reinforce those good and decent behaviors. 

MATTHEWS:  So, Ken, you‘re not saying—I want to try—this is HARDBALL—so you‘re not saying your party is morally superior to the Democratic Party?  You‘re not saying that?

BLACKWELL:  No, no.  What I‘m saying is that our...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute.  Are you saying your party is morally superior to the Democratic Party? 

BLACKWELL:  Chris, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Or answer the question.

BLACKWELL:  Let me tell you—let me tell you what I‘m saying in answer to your question. 

I‘m saying that our party platform has policy positions that we hold dear and that we expect our leaders—leaders to follow.  We think that those—those positions, those policy positions, that platform is a platform that is right for America.  And we wouldn‘t be an opposition party if we didn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why can‘t you answer the question?  Is your party morally superior to the other party in the—on the—on the—you know, in the wake of Mark Sanford today, John Ensign last week, the Foley and Craig scandals, are you willing to say that your party is morally superior to the Democrats, or not? 

BLACKWELL:  Well, let me—let me say, I...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t answer it, do you?

BLACKWELL:  Chris, what I want to do is answer a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s so hard about this, Ken? 

BLACKWELL:  Let—Chris, Chris, one, what I am saying is that I think that the Republican Party platform and those standards are the—the better platform and the standards that more accurately reflect what will keep America moving into the future as a free and—and good nation. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But you‘re not—OK, just to make it easy, I will lead the witness.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re not saying your party, based upon recent—recent evidence, is morally superior to the Democratic Party? 

BLACKWELL:  No.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not saying that?

BLACKWELL:  No, I‘m not saying that Republicans, as human beings, are morally superior.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s all I want to get to.  Thank you, sir.

Let me go to Steve McMahon.

Is this fellow handling this thing as best he can, given that it‘s a matter of the heart, I guess, and is he handling it as best he can, or what? 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, that‘s kind of an odd statement, because he‘s obviously got himself in a huge mess here. 

But go ahead.

MCMAHON:  Well—well, first of all...

MATTHEWS:  And got everybody else involved in it.

MCMAHON:  First of all, the one thing that he‘s handling correctly, in my judgment, is something that you mentioned earlier, Chris, which is not dragging his poor wife out there to share in his humiliation. 

I do think, however, it would have been smart for him to think about what he wanted to say before he went out there and just had a rambling news conference, which is a little bit like watching a car accident in slow motion. 

It was—it was painful.  I felt for him.  I didn‘t feel like he was particularly well-served by his staff.  But, then again, why would they want to serve him well, after he‘s apparently lied to them, run out of the country, and made them a laughingstock, as well as himself?

And I‘m not referring now to his personal situation.  I‘m referring to the way he handled it, the way he ran out of the country, and—and came back and said, he went to Argentina to cry. 

I mean, there‘s a—there‘s a line here that he inverted.  It‘s not, don‘t cry for me, Argentina.  I guess it‘s now, go to Argentina and cry. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but why do you think he held a press conference?

MCMAHON:  But I don‘t think that the story was very plausible.

MATTHEWS:  Why did he let a press conference, with all those kids behind him laughing like clowns behind him?  It‘s the strange—and they‘re not in this picture, but I watched this picture all afternoon in real time. 

And everybody behind him was giggling and laughing during—during this emotional moment for him. 

MCMAHON:  You know, it was—yes, I don‘t know—I don‘t know why he held the news conference. 

It seems to me, if I had been advising him, what I would have suggested is that he put out a statement which says:  My wife and I separated two weeks ago.  I left the country to—to have some private time, and I—I‘m not going to have any anything further to say about it.  If I—if I have put anybody in a different position, I apologize for that.  I care about the state.  I care about my family.  And I‘m not going to go any further.

Instead, he went out there and he basically had a stream of consciousness.  And it was like—it was almost like watching a session on a couch.  And he‘s got a political future, or if he had a political—he certainly had a political future prior to today—I don‘t think he has much of one now. 

And I‘m not sure, by the way, that he‘s even going to survive in South Carolina, because there‘s already questions about whether he took trips to Argentina on taxpayers‘ dollars and... 

MCMAHON:  Who raised that question?

MCMAHON:  That was in the “Southern Political Report” today.  And it‘s

and it‘s already...         

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you have no reason to believe that, do you? 

MCMAHON:  No, no, in fact—in fact, Politico is about to break a story, if they haven‘t already, that says he did go to Argentina using state taxpayer dollars.  He went to China and Brazil as well.  And the question is, what was the purpose of that trip?

MATTHEWS:  Really?  You‘re saying now that—you‘re reporting now that he used tax—South Carolina public money to go to Buenos Aires? 

MCMAHON:  I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying that? 

MCMAHON:  Yes, I am. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MCMAHON:  I am.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what Rush Limbaugh said today, his reaction to the Sanford news.  Let‘s listen to Rushbo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”)  

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Oh, Sanford could have been our JFK.  Oh, another career down the tubes. 

Nobody caught him.  Nobody caught—nobody caught him in the act.  He came back:  Yes, I was screwing off, literally, south of the border, girl from Ipanema, comes back and admits it.

I wonder if Sanford thought he was going to get away with this. 

(MUSIC)

LIMBAUGH:  They all do, I guess.

(MUSIC)

LIMBAUGH:  Could have been our JFK. 

(MUSIC)

LIMBAUGH:  Could have had it all. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think he meant by that, Ken, Rush Limbaugh? 

It‘s hard to interpret him sometimes. 

BLACKWELL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But what did he mean by, “He could have been our JFK”?

Was the—was the potential of Mark Sanford that grand before this moment? 

BLACKWELL:  Oh, I—I think Mark was the total package as a—as public policy leader. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BLACKWELL:  And I think he had a great future ahead of him.

But we all—we all agree, one, he—he transgressed.  Two, he was wrong.  He admitted he was wrong.  Three, we need to focus, as he needs to focus, first and foremost, on his family and those four boys. 

His—his wife, who he admitted today had been with him through thick and thin, has been—has been wronged.  And I don‘t think Mark would now try to defend his having wronged her. 

And—but this is going to be something that is going to be played out within—within the family. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BLACKWELL:  I think you both got—I think you both are—are right.  He does have a larger set of problems and questions that he‘s going to have to—to—to stand up and—and face the music on. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I—I have to tell you, unlike Steve, I—I did think I—I liked the way he came out and was relatively honest, without a clever staff-written B.S. line of what happened.  I‘m—I‘m—I like to see people a little less Machiavellian when it involves someone so intimate as this. 

He might as well just let it hang out and tell us the truth.

MCMAHON:  But, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  And, you know, at least we know what his emotional situation is.

He looks like he‘s a bit, either in love, or distraught, or a combination, or—or a little bit—well, what do you think, Steve?  Give him a little break here.  What do you think this guy‘s situation is right now? 

MCMAHON:  I think he may very well be in love with another woman.  I‘m he‘s distraught.  He‘s got to recognize that his political career is over.

He may not even be able to finish his term as governor. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCMAHON:  I actually—I actually feel great—great sympathy for him.

But I—I don‘t think he did himself any good by going out there and doing what he did today. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MCMAHON:  I think there was a way for him to handle it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead.

BLACKWELL:  I agree with Steve.  I agree with Steve. 

I—I thought the—the press conference was poorly handled.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BLACKWELL:  But I—I—I hope that we hold the family in our prayers. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BLACKWELL:  It‘s a—it‘s a good family.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.

BLACKWELL:  And those are good boys. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said. 

Thank you very much, Steve McMahon. 

Thank you, Ken Blackwell.

MCMAHON:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Much more ahead on Governor Sanford.

And, later, it‘s—well, is it “Ten Little Indians, that Agatha Christie play where are they just seen disappearing one after another, these people that we talked up so big about 2010?  The list is dwindling.  Haley Barbour could end up on top. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell joins us now. 

Andrea, we just had Steve McMahon on talking about the possibility that the governor of South Carolina used public funds for that—that trip down to Argentina. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  You know, Politico, according to Steve, is working on that story. 

If that is the case—and that was the first question that I asked earlier when talking to the young reporter from “The State” newspaper down there—the first question you would ask is, what funds did he travel on?  And that‘s what I‘m sure that reporters working on this are looking at, because that would certainly escalate the current situation for the governor. 

You know, I am really struck, Chris, by, of all things in this, the—the wife‘s—the dignity of his wife.  She issued a statement, and she detailed how hard she worked, and they worked...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  ... but how hard she worked to try to keep this marriage going, that her interest, her legacy, she said, is in her four boys, in her children, and that, now, in the interests of preserving her dignity with her children, in the eyes of her children, she asked him to leave. 

And she asks for privacy.  And one has to really feel for this woman, who left a Wall Street career, worked at—at his side for the past 15 years in politics.  Here, he was a rising star in the Republican Party.  And one has to really—really feel a great deal of thought and feeling for the personal lives of the people involved, not he, who had control over the situation, but the unfortunate victims of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you‘re right. 

Let‘s take a look.  Here‘s a portion of that statement by the first lady, Jenny Sanford.

Quote: “When I found out about my husband‘s infidelity, I worked immediately to first seek reconciliation through forgiveness, and then to work diligently to repair our marriage.  We reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect, and my basic sense of right and wrong.  I, therefore, asked my husband to leave two weeks ago.  I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance.”

Well, this is so human.  And I feel like we should move apart, away from this for a while...

MITCHELL:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and maybe—and maybe permanently. 

This is about two people who have devoted themselves to each other for all these years.  And now this romance, I guess, got in the middle of the whole thing.  And we‘re going to find out about it. 

But, well, this is what it is.  And disagree with our political experts who were just on.  I prefer to see, if not innocence, at least honest guilt show itself.  We have so much pretense in politics, and so much clever staffing. 

I don‘t want some damn staffer to write some guy‘s explanation of why he cheated on his wife.  I want the guy to tell us in his own bad words. 

Andrea, let me ask you, this other story is, of course, far more important to us.  That is use of public funds.  And story, as you point out, is being worked right now. 

MITCHELL:  We don‘t know any facts about this.  I was saying that, following up on what Steve McMahon suggested, if that were the case, that certainly elevates this even beyond what is now apparent. 

But the fact is that the Republican Party, the broader story, is the difficulty the Republican Party is facing now, with so many of the major players, as you look down the road, for future national political office...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MITCHELL:  ... are in trouble.  And they—this is a real problem, especially because of the apparent hypocrisy of this. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we will be right back to talk about that very question.

And that is whether—I thought Ken Blackwell was right to finally admit it.  Well, it‘s obvious.  The human beings in each party are not better than the human beings in the other party. 

MITCHELL:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would they be? 

Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.

Up next:  What a year it‘s been for virtually any Republican who has been thinking about running in 2012.  It‘s like the Carter expedition that went into King Tut‘s tomb.  What‘s going on here? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks closing mixed for a second straight day—the Dow loss 23 points, while the S&P 500 picked—almost six points.  The Nasdaq gained 27 points.

After a two-day meeting, the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged and pledged again to keep rates at exceptionally low levels for an extended period.  The Fed also said the weak economy will keep inflation in check.

Sales of new homes fell six-tenths-of-a-percent last month. 

Economists had expected sales to increase 2.3 percent. 

Meantime, orders for big-ticket manufactured goods rose a better-than-expected 1.8 percent in May.  It was the second straight monthly increase. 

And oil prices dropped after it was reported U.S. gasoline inventories swelled last week.  Crude fell 47 cents, to $68.67 a barrel.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Today, Governor Mark Sanford, as we all know now, joined Senator John Ensign as a Republican mentioned, well, for 2012, until today, until he mentioned the affair today.

Here‘s Governor Sanford just two months ago on this program. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 14, 2009)

MATTHEWS:  But are you going to run for president?  You‘re doing all this theater.  You must be up to something.  This is a national thing you‘re doing right now. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re on my show, by the way, which is a leading indicator you‘re going national. 

(LAUGHTER)

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  No, I tell you what we‘re going national on, 2010.  I happen to be chairman of the Republican Governors Association; 2012 matters not one iota for the Republican parties unless you get 2010 right with regard to the redistricting and the census, based on the governorships that are at play. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Mark Sanford.  We hope to have on again soon, by the way.  Is being in the mix for 2012 a curse?  To reassess the field, we have NBC chief White House correspondent and NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and the “Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza. 

Gentlemen, two experts on on a yucky day.  But let‘s talk politics and away from the affair itself.  Remember, gentlemen, we all heard about the King Tut‘s Tomb thing way back in the beginning of the 20th century.  A bunch of people went down into that grave and everybody seemed to start dying.  What is it about this pursuit of 2012 that seems to be killing off Republicans?  Sanford, Ensign; Palin‘s not had a good time; Gingrich of course got crazy over Sotomayor; Jindal, not exactly a great debut, as he went past that winding staircase in that scene from, well, “Streetcar Named Desire,” maybe; and Rick Perry, of course, he talks secession all of a sudden in his moment of madness. 

What do you think, Chuck Todd?  Is something strange that‘s making Haley Barbour bob to the surface here? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  No, let‘s look at the people who seem to be getting it right, are the ones with a tortoise-like mindset, number one, and number two, have sort of been around the block.  Haley Barbour‘s been around the block before.  You‘re not going to see him make -not have his own personal house in order before his pokes his head up.

I mean, in the cases of Ensign and Sanford, they clearly didn‘t have their own house in order before they poked their head up.  Jindal, I think in the case of him, he was listening to too many consultants, getting too much advice.  That‘s the mistake of a first-time candidate, somebody trying to move up into the major leagues. 

And so, you know, all of a sudden, you look around and see a guy like Mitt Romney, who he‘s made all his mistakes.  He‘s been around the block.  Haley Barbour, he was there when the Republican party was last at this low point, and he helped rebuild it.  He‘s been around the block.  He‘s seen guys make a lot of mistakes. 

So suddenly you‘re looking at a field where I think you‘re going to see these—a plodding, boring guy—I watched Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota, who, in a weird way, when he went through the whole VP vetting process himself, got a taste of it, but is doing this in a much lower-key fashion so far than some of these other guys. 

MATTHEWS:  So veterans do well in the playoffs.  That‘s the old argument. 

TODD:  That‘s exactly right. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, but you were doing this with such tremendous clinical perfection.  I have to hand it to you, how you stayed so far from the yuck, which you should, which you should properly.  Chris, maybe you won‘t be that successful with this.  But I have to tell you, it is astounding, if you compare these lists.  Mark Sanford just a month ago was debating the issues of the Republican governors success coming up next year with me.  John Ensign looked like a million bucks.  He is central casting in terms of looks and background, it seemed. 

Gingrich was hot, back on the playing field again, until he got a little too hot.  And then Jindal, obviously his debut was a bit premature.  And then Rick Perry talking secession, not exactly a move if you want to lead the Union, to say you want to leave, not a good starter.  What do you make of this thing today? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Chris, I‘ll talk just about Ensign and Sanford, because in the last two months, I‘ve spoken with both of them for a relatively extended period of time about the state of the Republican party and their own role in that.  John Ensign told me point black over the phone, I‘m going to play a bigger role, because my party needs leaders like me.  We need people to step up. 

The ability to, I guess, to put it nicely, compartmentalize the fact that you have this other thing going on here, which is going to sidetrack your ability to emerge as a national leader—I found absolutely astounding that Mark Sanford would go on your show and say, we‘re focused on 2010, but be very coy clearly about 2012.  He was doing any number of things behind the scenes to prepare for 2012, including emerging as one of the leaders of these teas parties, the fiscal conservative wing of the party, when he knew—when he had been visiting this person who he had been romantically linked to for the better part of the last year. 

I find it, in a way, sort of stunning and amazing that they‘re able to bifurcate their national ambitions with these things that are clearly big hurdles in the way of those national ambitions. 

TODD:  Chris, we had John Edwards announce his presidential campaign and do it. 

CILLIZZA:  Right. 

TODD:  So you can‘t ever figure humans out, right? 

CILLIZZA:  That‘s what makes—Chris, and Chuck, we all agree on this, I know.  Chuck and I have talked about.  That‘s what makes covering politics so fascinating.  Human nature is endlessly fascinating.  Covering politicians who act sometimes against their own better interest, it‘s a fascinating thing that we‘re doing. 

MATTHEWS:  So one of the things a politician has to have, he or she has to have the ability to compartmentalize like with iron, the ability to keep the thing that they‘re really worried will get caught so out of their heads that they can perform well, even knowing it‘s there intellectually, but not emotionally.  Amazing stuff.  We‘re learning stuff all the time about the people we cover. 

Chuck Todd, thank you so much for joining us from the White House, and Chris Cillizza of the “Washington Post.”

Up next, the politics of Mark Sanford‘s apology today.  How should a weathered Republican party deal with Sanford‘s affair?  Can the Democrats use this—I‘m not even going to bring this up.  Do you think they might exploit this?  I think Steve McMahon started to.  Anyways, this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix, with MSNBC contributor Jim Warren, and “The Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin.  Here‘s more, by the way, before we go further, of Governor Sanford making his big statement today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANFORD:  Well, in these—from a heart level, there was something real.  It was a place based on the fiduciary relationship I had to the people of South Carolina, based on my boys, based on my wife, based where I was in life, based on where she was in my life, a place I couldn‘t go and she couldn‘t go.  And that is a, I suspect, a continual process all through life, of getting one‘s heart right in life.  So I would never stand before you as one who just says yo, I‘m completely right with regard to my—on all things.  But what I would say is I‘m committed to trying to get my heart right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to Jonathan Martin.  As far as I understand, nobody‘s got this story as to what paid for this trip, right? 

JONATHAN MARTIN, “POLITICO”:  No, not that I‘m aware of, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t have anything from “Politico?”  Steve McMahon was on the other segment of the show.  He didn‘t have it, you don‘t have it. 

MARTIN:  I heard about that.  I‘ve been filing my own story, working on it all afternoon.  I haven‘t been focused on that angle.  I‘ve been doing other stuff today.  So that‘s news to me here.  Again, there could be somebody else here working on it. 

MATTHEWS:  Jim Warren, assuming that he‘s clean on that—we can‘t assume anything but right now; innocent until proven guilty.  Assuming he wrote his own check, used his own credit card to go down to Buenos Aires, where does this go? 

JIM WARREN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  For starters, I think there might be other definitions of arguable derogation of duty, and arguably unethical conduct.  I‘m somebody, Chris, as you know, and we talked about it with John Edwards, John McCain, when these things have come up before, believes that we get a little too puritanical, a little bit too prurient when we discuss these matters.  There should be a sharp distinction between the private and the public, particularly when the private does not impact one‘s public duties. 

This is a little bit more curious.  A guy out of pocket for as long as he was, and a guy who perhaps misled his own staff as to where he was.  There‘s still a lot to know about the relationship of him and this woman.  Did he somehow misuse the powers of the governor‘s office of the state of South Carolina. 

But where it goes in the short run, I think, nationally is it‘s obviously a big plus for the Democrats, the Obama White House.  And you‘ve been beginning to see the Republicans get a little bit of traction on some issues, bashing you on health care, government-run health care, bashing you on your responses or non-responses to Iran.  This kind of takes a little bit of air out of that balloon. 

You also had an issue coming down the pike, which nobody is paying any attention to, with the House vote on Friday on so called cap and trade legislation, which Republicans could perhaps exploit.  But boy, this makes it really hard.  In a state like Illinois, too, where, as you know, the White House, in my mind, is exaggerating next year‘s Senate race, exaggerating the possibility that the Republicans could defeat them. 

If you are a Republican like Mark Kirk, a moderate Republican congressman from the North Shore, considering a Senate race, and you were going to run against the evil Rob Blagojevich infested, polluted Democrats, boy, I don‘t think you could take the high moral road like in the same way you might have before this. 

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan?

MARTIN:  Chris, Jim Vandehei and I have a story today.  One of the biggest challenges the Republicans have right now in their comeback is the fact that they seem to keep hurting themselves in the vice department, be it sins of the flesh like here, with Sanford, or last week with Senator John Ensign, or all of the other gaffes that we‘ve seen so far this year.  They seem to be their own worst enemy in so many ways. 

So yes, President Obama‘s numbers are softening.  But just when the Republicans seem to have an opportunity, they hurt themselves.  So many of their top prospects—and Chris, the previous segment I heard you go through this—they‘ve done damage to themselves in just the first half of this year.  It‘s hard to believe after last fall‘s drubbing, but they‘re probably in a worse place now as a party than they were last fall when they got their butts handed to them. 

MATTHEWS:  All I can tell you is the press never seems to break these stories anymore.  They always come out of press conferences held by either the principal himself or somebody who is ratting them out.  It‘s always somebody involved in the matter itself who brings out these stories.  It isn‘t the press digging up this dirt.  It‘s the dirt being thrown at us at press conferences. 

We‘ll be right back with Jim Warren and Jonathan Martin.  More with the politics fix when we come back.  You‘re watching HARDBALL here on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Jim Warren and Jonathan Martin.  You know, Jonathan and Jim, this is an unusual combination of stories.  We‘ve had disappearances going back to Judge Crater (ph) back in 1930 in New York, a judge that disappeared.  I grew up with that story.  Maybe he was last seen on the Atlantic City boardwalk.  We all these little theories.  This one was a disappearance, followed almost a week later by a reappearance by a governor admitting to an affair. 

Jim Warren, you are the pro here, putting this together, old pro, I should say.  It is an amazingly attractive story, because there was this long build-up and then this today. 

WARREN:  Yes, well, and we learned that the Appalachian Trail extends from the Berkshires in Georgia to Buenos Aires, a geographic revelation to us all. 

But yes, at the heart of it is a guy who is an intriguing character, this sort of libertarian Republican who somehow has botched having a Republican legislature.  Somehow he‘s alienated them.  I think a mix of interpersonal skills or lack of same, and dogmatic views, plus some stunts. 

This is a guy, you remember, who brought a pig into the state legislature to sort of show them the middle finger and portray them as proponents of pork barrel spending.  And then fittingly, I think symbolically, the pig crapped on the floor, and that may have been the start of a long downward stride for Mark Sanford, who‘s not a stupid guy. 

MARTIN:  Chris, some breaking news here, the state paper in Columbia, South Carolina, has just posted online exclusive e-mails between this woman and Mark Sanford.  Her name is Maria.  She‘s an Argentine woman.  And some of these e-mails are going to make this story significantly worse for Governor Sanford. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘ve already read them.  Thank you very much, Jim Warren.  Thank you, Jonathan Martin.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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

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