updated 3/2/2011 2:30:34 PM ET 2011-03-02T19:30:34

Guests: Howard Fineman, Sue Herera, Josh Marshall, Michael Steele, Steve McMahon, John Harris, Chris Cillizza, Rush Holt

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Going hard right.  Hard right.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Poll vault.  In the next few minutes, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is expected to announce his budget for the next two years, but he takes the podium knowing that two new polls show that nationwide, the public has little taste for cutting union rights or pay, and that in Wisconsin, Walker‘s beginning to pay a steep political price.  Walker may win the battle with Wisconsin‘s unions, but his party could well lose this war.  That‘s our top story tonight.

Plus, when Orrin Hatch called the new health care law a, quote, “dumb

ass program” and “a piece of crap”—those are his words, I‘m assuring you

he reminded us that the Tea Party‘s takeover the GOP has left Republicans with three choices—join them, go hard right like Hatch is doing it, challenge them to bring it on, like Richard Lugar of Indiana‘s doing it, or just surrender and switch parties, like Arlen Specter.  Which one works?  Well, here‘s a hint.  Only one of these strategies has averted electoral defeat.

Also, as head of the Government Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa has announced the first casualty of his operation, his own press secretary.  We‘ll unravel that mystery today.

And score one for the man over machine—the man who beat the machine.  This Democratic congressman from New Jersey just beat Watson, the IBM computer, in an exhibition “Jeopardy Contest.”  I am so impressed by this guy.  The question to that answer joins us later in the show.  We‘re playing “Jeopardy” right here.

“Let Me Finish” tonight with how the Republican Party now represents that old movie, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Let‘s begin with the public‘s distaste for what Scott Walker wants to do in Wisconsin.  The HuffingtonPost‘s Howard Fineman joins us.  He‘s an MSNBC political analyst.  And Josh Marshall is with TalkingPointsMemo.

Let‘s talk a look at these—the polling that‘s coming out.  A new poll by PPP, we call it—Public Policy Polling—asked Wisconsin voters, if they could vote again, would they vote for Governor Scott Walker or his opponent, the guy he beat, Tom Barrett?  Well, just 45 percent right now would vote for the governor again, 52 percent would vote for the guy they voted against last time.  In November, by the way, Walker won with 52 against 47 for his opponent.  Well, that‘s a big swing in about just four months.  PPP, by the way, is a Democratic robopoll, as I said, which some pollsters say isn‘t quite as accurate as some of the word-of-mouth polls.

Well, let‘s go to this—just assuming that that‘s roughly accurate, Howard, this guy‘s not doing well with his union bashing.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think what the internals of that poll and other polls show, Chris, is that independents and even some Republicans who were supporting Walker I think are abandoning him and are looking at this fight between what looks like union busting and deficit cutting and having second thoughts.

And I think—well, this is the new generation of Reagan Democrats. 

Remember union members—Ronald Reagan appealed to those union members. 

Now their sons and daughters are sort of—


FINEMAN:  -- moderate Republican types, but they don‘t want the union bashing necessarily.

MATTHEWS:  You know, despite the fact some people on the left like to argue—and I don‘t think they‘re ever thinking it through, Josh—most Republicans are not rich people.  They may serve the interests in their voting patterns of rich people.  They may inadvertently vote for trickle-down economics.  But most Republicans are cloth-coat Republicans.  My parents were cloth-coat Republicans.  I know exactly all about it.  They‘re regular middle-class people.  I don‘t think they‘re union bashers.  And that, of course, is the question here.

Is Howard right?  Did they venture in the last election into grabbing those middle-of-the-road Reagan Democrats to vote for them and now realize those people—I should say those people now realize they didn‘t vote for this crowd and this point of view?

JOSH MARSHALL, TALKINGPOINTSMEMO.COM:  That‘s exactly right.  It‘s a classic case of overreach.  And I think, you know, what happened early on in this struggle was, you know, the unions pretty quickly came back to Walker and said, Fine on the cuts.  On the, you know, bigger contributions to our pensions and health care and so forth, we‘ll do all of that.  And they focused on the issue of collective bargaining.

And people around this country I think get—you know, unions are kind of like democracy.  You know, has all sorts of problems to it, maybe the worst system in the world except all the alternatives.  And I think that a broad—you know, a lot of people in this country may think that this union‘s got too big a deal or this has to be changed, but when it comes down to basically getting rid of unions entirely, I think a broad majority of the country gets that if there were no unions, which is what getting rid of collective bargaining would mean—


MARSHALL:  -- it would really mean no unions, that would—that would definitely be worse than what we have now.  So he‘s kind of awakened, I think, a pretty big majority in the country.  The polls are bearing it out, that people know that‘s not—it‘s not progress to get rid of unions.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I agree with you.  Let‘s take a look at “The New York Times” poll just came out, a CBS poll, as well.  It shows 60 percent of Americans now oppose efforts, obviously, by this governor to weaken collective bargaining.  Only 33 support it.  Again, you know, labor needed a little, what do you call it, electroshock.  It looks like they‘re getting it.  You know, Howard‘s with me here, I have to tell you, the unions—you know, when you look at some of these poll, it‘s kind of scary.

The number that jumped out at me, when they asked people, Do you think people should have a right to collectively bargain, to unions, which means the basic notion that you get together and you fight the boss and try to get a raise or better working conditions or air-conditioning put into a plant or whatever -- 20 percent say they haven‘t heard enough about unions.  There are more people in this country now who say to pollsters, I don‘t know anything about unions to have an opinion, than there are members of unions.

FINEMAN:  Yes, and—

MATTHEWS:  Some 7 percent of the workforce are unions, 20 percent of the people are saying, I don‘t know enough about these.  What are unions?  Isn‘t that an incredible statement?

FINEMAN:  Well, as Josh was saying, I think that the—if the unions are lucky, the sort of vestigial memory that we have of the basic American bargain about unions—we had this argument in America about 70 or 80 -- you know, 70 years ago—

MATTHEWS:  Back in the Pinkertons.

FINEMAN:  -- yes, about whether this was interference with individual contract to create a collective union.  And we decided that, yes, you could have a collective union that would override the idea of individual contract between the owner and the employer (SIC).  We had that huge argument.

MATTHEWS:  In the Wagner Act.

FINEMAN:  Yes, and it was—and it got violent at times.  And I don‘t think—I still think there‘s a memory the American people have that this is somehow necessary as part of our democratic bargain between power and the people.  And so the younger union people that I talk to are delighted to have this opportunity to try to educate people, even though they have to educate them on behalf of public employee unions, which aren‘t always the most popular.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s interesting, the netroots really came into the real power—they didn‘t win, but they made a big argument for the public option with regard to health care, Josh.  We were all part of that discussion.  It was more than a discussion, it was a passionate, passionate cause.  And now it seems to me what might be happening here is a merging of interests and identities between the netroots people who really are younger, I would argue, younger and perhaps more educated than most people, who use computers, laptops to communicate, the Internet—they know how to get around in terms of modern communication—now say, Well, wait a minute.  I think we‘re on the side of labor here.  And they may not have thought much about it before, and now they say, You know, the right to organize collectively may not be something that‘s affected my life yet, but I‘m with these people.

MARSHALL:  Well, you know, I think, you know, the netroots stars, for lack of a better word, Kos and a lot of other people—they thought a lot about unions.  They‘ve been—they‘ve been, you know, down with this program for a long time.

But I do think you‘re right that there—and that 20 or 20-odd percent number that you said of kind of, like, I haven‘t heard enough—I mean, you know, most people think, Wow, I‘ve heard—you know, whether you like them or not, you‘ve heard plenty about unions.  And I think that‘s a real opportunity for the labor movement in this country that there‘s that many people—I mean, I think that there was another, like, 15 percent that were undecided and then hadn‘t heard enough.

So yes, I think that—I think that is a really—a really good point.  And going back to the—you know, the earlier issue we were discussing, you know, what—what Walker is saying is that, you know, We just—we just can‘t afford collective bargaining at all.  And I think that a lot of people have a basic sense of fair play, that if—you know, if the taxpayers vis-a-vis the public employees unions are represented by the government, maybe I, as a taxpayer, want the government to drive a bit of a harder bargain.  But the idea that the people—the public employees don‘t even get to negotiate—

MATTHEWS:  I know.

MARSHALL:  -- I think that offends a lot of people.  Just basic sense of fair play.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a new ad that‘s been put out by the Republican Governors Association.  They apparently made a pretty good strong buy out in Wisconsin.  They‘re airing it right now.  Let‘s look at the how the Republicans National Governors Association—they were meeting here in Washington—what they think they have as a case.  Hear the other argument.  Let‘s put it on.  Here‘s the Republican argument for Wisconsin.  Let‘s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a sea of red ink in Madison.  And while senate Democrats are fleeing their responsibility, Governor Walker is leading, balancing the budget without raising taxes so Wisconsin will be open for business again, and asking state employees to contribute to their own benefits, just like everyone else.


MATTHEWS:  Well, there you go, Howard.  Skipped the issue of union organization, didn‘t they.


MATTHEWS:  They never brought that in.

FINEMAN:  Right.


FINEMAN:  And if that‘s what the conversation was, none of this would be going on.  You wouldn‘t have the people sitting in the state capitol.  It‘s the fact that he—that the governor went the other step.


FINEMAN:  And this is a classic defense ad here because they‘re revealing the weakness that they know they have.

MATTHEWS:  Exactly!  And let‘s clarify our role here as public educators, Josh.  The unions gave on these give-backs right in the beginning.  They said, Yes, we‘ll agree to a co-pay on health benefits.  Yes, we‘ll agree to a co-pay on pension benefits.  They rolled on that very quickly, way before this ad was produced.  So this ad is really deceptive.  It‘s saying there‘s an issue at hand here that‘s already been resolved.

MARSHALL:  I think that‘s exactly right.  You know, they see that—the Republicans, Walker, et cetera, sees that that collective bargaining argument, which is really what‘s being discussed right now, is a loser for them.  And when you have these poll numbers that are 60/30, you know, those are lethal for anybody in politics—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Lethal?  Did you say lethal?  Because let me tell you who‘s using the word “lethal.”  You know how we all agreed in the media world—I think we all agreed a couple weeks ago, after the horror in Arizona, that we weren‘t going to talk about, you know, “shoot ‘em up,” we were going to use terms, ballistic term in the way we talk.  We‘re not going to say “mow down our opponents” or all that.  We‘re going to stop talking about guns and regular political discourse.

MARSHALL:  I don‘t think that—I don‘t think that—

MATTHEWS:  Somebody didn‘t get the message!

MARSHALL:  I don‘t think that‘s in the same category.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  Well, no, hear me out—


MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Boehner—well, here‘s—I‘m just teasing!  You are—I used you to tease into Boehner!



MATTHEWS:  You were part of my set-up, sir.  Let‘s take a look.  Here is John Boehner, who didn‘t get—you, of course, have always got the message.  Here‘s John Boehner on unions, and let‘s look at his metaphor.  Let‘s listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  In some of these states, you‘ve got collective bargaining laws that are so weighted in favor of the public employees that there‘s almost no bargaining.  You know, we‘ve given them a machine gun put right at the heads of the local officials, and they really have had their hands tied.


MATTHEWS:  What is this Glenn Beck talk, guns at the heads?  That‘s how Glenn talks!  I‘m going to put a gun to your head, and all this!

FINEMAN:  Well, when John Boehner backslides, he really backslides.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he‘s the guy that—


FINEMAN:  What amazes me about this whole thing is, Chris, it‘s probably been a half a century or more before the issue of collective bargaining—


FINEMAN:  -- since the issue of collective bargaining and unions was front and center—

MATTHEWS:  Big labor!

FINEMAN:  -- big labor—in a presidential campaign.  You could maybe in ‘84 with Reagan and Mondale, but not really.  Nobody took that seriously.  But to go at the guts of the question of collective bargaining and turn it into a presidential election issue, which the Republicans seem determined to do because Karl Rove just said American Crossroads is going to put $120 million—raise $120 million in the name of fighting the unions.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But that‘s sort of like LaRouche always runs—


FINEMAN:  I have not seen anything out of a guy like Karl Rove attempting to wave the bloody shirt of the unions—


FINEMAN:  -- in decades.


MATTHEWS:  He‘s looking for something hot.

FINEMAN:  It‘s been abortion or it‘s been the Panama Canal, going back a generation, or it‘s been spending.  It‘s been something else.  I haven‘t heard the unions used in that way.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you want to know the flavor of the week, go to Karl Rove.

FINEMAN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Howard Fineman.  Thank you, Josh Marshall, as always.

Coming up: As the Tea Party pushes the Republican Party far, far to the right, what‘s the best strategy for less ideological Republicans who want to survive?  If you want to root for them, go ahead.  I wish they‘d just stand for what they believe in.  Push back, switch parties our even go harder right.  We know they‘ve tried them all.  Let‘s see how it works.  That‘s ahead.  How to survive the Tea Party when it‘s coming to get your body!

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Newt Gingrich is the first major name Republican to make a formal step towards getting into the 2012 presidential race.  Gingrich is set to announce the formation an exploratory committee this week.  That means business.  The former House speaker has scheduled a pair of trips to early primary states in the next few weeks.  He‘ll be in Iowa next week, New Hampshire later this month.

We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  A Tea Party challenge is serious business for Republican incumbents, and there are three simple ways to handle it.  The first is to do what Utah senator Bob Bennett did, try to make the case for keeping your job.  Trouble is, it didn‘t work.  So that‘s what we call “the Bennett.”  Step one is to make your case.  Step two, lose.

Then there‘s the approach that Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter took.  Here he is, summing it up in 2009.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  My change in party will enable me to be reelected.  And I have heard that again and again and again on the street—Senator, we‘re glad you‘ll be able to stay in the Senate and help the state and the nation.


MATTHEWS:  Wow!  You can‘t beat that.  But that didn‘t work, either.  That‘s what we call “the Specter”—step one, switch parties.  Step two, lose.

So the only approach that seems to work is what John McCain did.  After years of calling himself, and being, a maverick, even running for president as one, he told “Newsweek,” “I never considered myself a maverick.”  And that‘s what we call “the McCain.”  Step one, go hard right.  Step two, win.

Well, that appears to be the tack that Utah senator Orrin Hatch is finally taking for 2012.  Here he was at the CPAC convention a couple weeks ago, talking about his vote for TARP.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH:  To my Tea Party people, I‘ve said I feel badly I did vote for it.  On the other hand—


HATCH:  No, wait.  No, wait.  Wait a minute.  But I also make it very

I also make it very clear, under the circumstances at that time, we were in—we were going down.  And let me tell you, we were going into a—


HATCH:  Well, let me—let me—let me answer.  Let me answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let him answer.

HATCH:  Let me answer, and then you may disagree, but you‘re not sitting there having to make these decisions.


MATTHEWS:  Sounds like he was at the zoo.  Anyway, it looks like he was going with the “Bennett” right there, and it wasn‘t working.  How about trying the “McCain.”  So here he was on Friday, Senator Hatch, talking to a group of college Republicans up at Utah State about health care.


HATCH:  Every state has different demographics.  Every state has different problems.  It‘s good to allow them to work out their own problems (INAUDIBLE) rather than a one-size-fits-all federal government, stupid, dumbass program.


HATCH:  I apologize.  I should never swear.  (INAUDIBLE) awful piece of crap.



MATTHEWS:  Well, he certainly got them giggling, those wild Republicans out of Utah State, with those dirty words like “crap” and “dumbass.”  Those were the winners for him.  So is that the answer, talk tough and dirty, and you‘re in the clear?

Michael Steele is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and Steve McMahon‘s a Democratic strategist.

Sir, is that what you have to do, be a full, full pander, a full McCain?


MATTHEWS:  You got to lay down and kiss them—

STEELE:  No, no, no, no, no.

MATTHEWS:  -- the Tea Partiers, to get by them?

STEELE:  I think—

MATTHEWS:  So what was he doing there?

STEELE:  I think he was—

MATTHEWS:  Using bad words?

STEELE:  No, I—I think that—and the senator did come back and say, well, that‘s not really his nature to do that.

But I think the one thing that I have always admired about him, he‘s a very passionate man.  He‘s very passionate about the health care debate.  He has been. 

The language was not necessarily his style, but he admitted that.  I don‘t think there was pandering going on.  I known him to be consistent.


STEELE:  He‘s a consistent conservative.  He has been.  He will be. 

And I think he‘s the best thing—


MATTHEWS:  Yes, you know what?  He was sitting on the Finance Committee and he was part of the negotiations and walked away.  He could have made that bill a more moderate bill if he wanted to, and he didn‘t do it. 

STEELE:  Well, look, they‘re—as he said, you can sit back and hindsight is 20/20.  You can always second-guess what someone do in the moment.  He did what he thought was best at the time.  And that‘s been consistent about him. 

He said that at CPAC.  He was honest. 


MATTHEWS:  OK.  You know what we do here, Michael?


MATTHEWS:  We criticize them when they do it and we remember afterwards and we criticize later. 

STEELE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  As the door closes him behind, we hit them.  OK?

STEELE:  Well, look, you can hit him all day long, but I think the one thing you can say about him is, he‘s consistent. 


MATTHEWS:  He‘s consistent?

STEELE:  Yes, he‘s been consistent.


STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  He may be principled, but he‘s also very, very pragmatic, which explains what is he‘s trying to do.  He‘s trying to run to the right as far and as fast as he can, because he saw what just happened.


MATTHEWS:  He has the most conservative voting record in the Senate now.  He‘s at 100.  He‘s gone to 100.


MCMAHON:  He saw what happened to the chairman, to his colleague

Senator Bennett, who didn‘t run to the right as far and as fast, and lost -


MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t McCain do this?  Didn‘t McCain go from being a maverick on immigration—


STEELE:  There‘s a big difference between—But there‘s a big difference between Senator Hatch and Senator McCain when it comes to these issues. 

You have got to be fair.  The senator has been—Hatch has been very consistent in his conservatism.  He‘s not waffled on those conservative issues. 

MATTHEWS:  How about McCain?

STEELE:  McCain is not up for election.  He won.  He‘s moved on. 


STEELE:  His voters know him and they voted him back in.  I think the same is true here in Utah.  And I think you will see this senator stand very strongly with conservatives in that state.  Tea Party or not, he‘s been a consistent fighter for the people of Utah, and he will be in 2012. 


MCMAHON:  One of the things that people liked about Orrin Hatch and about John McCain is when there were issues that were very important to the country, they could put aside partisanship and work with people like, yes, Ted Kennedy.  Orrin Hatch did that on a number of occasions.  And I‘m not suggesting he—


MATTHEWS:  He won‘t do it again. 

MCMAHON:  He won‘t do it again.


MCMAHON:  John McCain did it on immigration.  And neither one of them will do it again, because the crazies have taken over their party.  And they can‘t get through—they cannot get through a nominating process, particularly a caucus, where the Republican Tea Party movement is ready to toss them out of office.  Senator Lugar is the same way in Indiana.


STEELE:  I think there are number of things you need to understand here.

A lot of folks on the left and a lot of my friends out here want to blanket the Tea Party as this right-wing part of the GOP.  There are many Democrats, conservative Democrats, in the Tea Party who will be voting in Democrat primaries coming up. 

MCMAHON:  I don‘t think that‘s—


STEELE:  I think it‘s bad politics for both parties to ignore the weight and force of this movement out here. 


MCMAHON:  The Tea Party movement has not defeated a Democratic incumbent.  The Tea Party movement has not defeated a Democratic incumbent in a primary. 


MATTHEWS:  All right.  OK.


MATTHEWS:  I have got a broader brush here, Michael, now that you‘re playing defense well for your party. 

You‘re still a Republican, right? 

STEELE:  Yes, last time I checked. 




MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at these guys, top senators facing Tea Party trouble in 2012.  Utah‘s Orrin Hatch, well, we have already talked about his move to the right, no matter what you say. 

Maine‘s Olympia Snowe and Indiana‘s Richard Lugar.  Now, I think those other two people, the lady from—the gentlelady from Maine, and Lugar from Indiana are going to hold—they will hold themselves. 

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I think they have pride and I think they‘re not going to switch to the right.  What do you think? 

STEELE:  I think—I don‘t think they have to.  I think they are going to be consistent with their voters back at home.  They‘re going to go and stand before those voters, as they do every election cycle.  And I believe they will get renominated and reelected. 


MATTHEWS:  You‘re a charming guy.  And I like you.

But let me tell what you he‘s wrong about.  I see the Republican Party, everybody, moderate conservatives, middle-of-the-road conservatives, are all going hard right.  Pawlenty, I have never had any problem with the guy.  He seems like a good governor.  He‘s now saying bring back DADT.  Who is he pandering to, to bring back don‘t ask, don‘t tell?

What‘s that about?  We have gone through this argument.  The public has changed on it.  He wants on go backwards.  Then you got Huckabee out there today saying that President Obama grew up in Kenya.  He was never in Kenya one minute in his youth.  Not one minute was he there.

STEELE:  I don‘t Huckabee is running.

MATTHEWS:  Here he is back—he‘s back to birtherism.

These guys are all going hard right, and you know it, Michael.

STEELE:  Well, they‘re going—

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going hard right.

STEELE:  You can characterize it as going hard right.  I characterize as they‘re reflecting the concerns, the questions, that issues that a lot of people have out there right, left, center, a lot of Americans, a lot of Americans out there. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, they‘re pandering.  They‘re pandering. 


MCMAHON:  Republican primary voters.  No, no, so here‘s what‘s going on.  If they‘re in the Senate—


STEELE:  I mean, Huckabee is not running, so he‘s not a panderer to a Republican primary voter. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is he talking about the president growing up in Kenya? 

STEELE:  I don‘t know.


STEELE:  I didn‘t hear the quote, so I can‘t comment on the quote. 


MCMAHON:  You know why.  You know why.  He‘s appealing to the base vote, even though he‘s not running.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s like Boehner, who won‘t go after the birthers.

MCMAHON:  It‘s the base vote of the Republican Party.  It‘s the base viewer of the FOX News Network.

And what the Republicans who are running in Senate primaries are doing is they‘re running to the right, except for the Republicans who, as Chris points out correctly, are basically they‘re—they‘re standing up and saying, I‘m principled, like you say Orrin Hatch is.  I‘m not going run away from my record.  I‘m going to stand up for my record.  I‘m going to defend my record.  And if I lose, I lose.  That‘s frankly what politics should be all about. 


STEELE:  And I think policy should be that.

But let‘s see how the Democrats, the seven or eight Democrats who are going to be in trouble in ‘12 who are in states like Pennsylvania and elsewhere, who are going to be struggling in their general election with these very same voters that you‘re now talking about—


MATTHEWS:  Nice try, Michael.  Did you see “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”? 


MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s what‘s going on in your party. 

STEELE:  Please.  Come on.  Come on.  Please.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele and Steve McMahon.


MATTHEWS:  Up next: a Texas-sized gaffe from Governor Rick Perry.  He seemed to forget where his state ends and Mexico begins.    

You‘re watching HARDBALL.  I like when Perry blows it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

He dresses well, I think.



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

First up:  We know a lot of Republicans wrongly believe that President Obama was born and raised in Kenya, over in Africa.  Guess who recently joined the birther chorus?  Mike Huckabee.  Here‘s Huck on radio yesterday talking about the president. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t you think we deserve to know more about this man? 

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR:  I would love to know more.  But what I know is troubling enough.  And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, the reality, of course, is President Obama grew up in Hawaii, one of the states of the union, and Indonesia, when he had a stepfather there.  In fact, he didn‘t even visit Kenya in his entire youth ever. 

Huckabee‘s spokesperson, by the way, finally backpedaled late today, saying his boss simply misspoke.  Yes, he was pandering to that radio guy. 

Next up: border wars.  Yesterday, during a meeting of drug

enforcement, Rick Perry, the Tea Party governor of Texas, warned—quote -

“Juarez is reported to be the most dangerous city in America.”

Well, Juarez is, of course, across the border in Mexico, not the U.S..  And they quickly corrected him on that point—a lot of corrections from the Republicans these days.

In addition to geography, Perry, it seems, also has issues with reporter access.  A number of journalists noticed they were being blocked from following the governor‘s Twitter feed.  Perry‘s spokesman didn‘t deny the snub, saying it‘s the governor‘s personal account, so he manages it as he sees fit. 

Governor Perry apparently wants to keep his Twitters—his tweets, rather, to himself, 30,000 online followers, just not the reporters covering him. 

Finally, Chris Dodd proves that there are second acts in American life, despite what F. Scott Fitzgerald said.  The longtime Connecticut senator has just been named to head the Motion Picture Association of America, a big job.  In case you forgot, Senator Dodd‘s no stranger to the big screen.  Here he was in a cameo in that great movie “Dave.”


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  The president has proposed a comprehensive full employment program unparalleled since the days of FDR.  The proposal brought swift reaction here on Capitol Hill. 

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT:  I think President Mitchell‘s on the right track.  I think putting people to work in this country is what we ought to be doing.  It‘s far better to have someone with a job than collecting a welfare check. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, it was one of my all-time favorite movies, obviously.

In a fitting move, Senator Dodd will take up his new role on March 17. 

He‘s a great Irish-American.  That is Saint Paddy‘s Day.

Up next:  Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, promised to clean up when he got his powerful chairmanship, but he‘s been forced to start in his own backyard.  He fired his press flack. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Sue Herera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

March coming in like a bear, the Dow Jones industrials plunging 168 points, the S&P 500 giving up 21, the Nasdaq shedding 44 points. 

Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke telling Congress that high oil prices could stall economic growth and boost inflation if they persist.  And those oil prices are still climbing with all the Mideast unrest.  U.S.  crude jumping 3 percent today to finish just under $100 a barrel. 

Investors were also locking in profits, especially in the auto sector.  The automakers mostly lower despite strong February sales pretty much all the way across the board.  The Las Vegas Sands tumbling on word that it‘s being investigated by the Justice Department and the SEC.  Goldman Sachs shares slipping after the SEC accused a former board member of insider trading.  And J.P. Morgan slumping on word that its legal losses could top $4.5 billion.  And that is more than it has in its litigation reserves.

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—and now back to HARDBALL and Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

If you have ever wondered if there‘s a cozy relationship between journalists and the politicians they cover, listen to this that erupted over the last 24 hours.

Last night, Politico, the great news sheet and political informer sheet for us, reported that a spokesman for Congressman Darrell Issa of California, who is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the House, had been sharing his e-mail correspondence with Washington journalists with another journalist, “The New York Times”‘ Mark Leibovich, who is writing a book on Washington personalities and culture.

Well, today, after Issa conducted his own internal investigation, that spokesman, Kurt Bardella, was fired by the chairman, Issa.

Here to give us the details is Politico editor in chief John Harris and Chris Cillizza, managing editor of PostPolitics.com. 

I have got great respect for you guys and I‘m trying to figure out this story and how to explain it to people who don‘t do what we do for a living.  We all do something a little different in this journalism business.

But, John, you‘re one of the kings in this business right now running Politico.  What is it that happened here where a flack, a press secretary from a top member of Congress, was apparently sending out copies of e-mails to Leibovich, who is writing this book about relationships between him and journalists? 

JOHN HARRIS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, POLITICO.COM:  Yes, something like that happened, Chris, we now know.

I should say that we still don‘t know the full facts of what happened.  What I know of this is that, starting late last week, we‘d heard reports that this activity might be taking place.  We made inquiries to Congressman Issa‘s office, got very incomplete and frankly somewhat troubling responses from his office, which made us think that this might—this activity might in fact be taking place. 

I wrote a letter to Chairman Issa saying I thought that when reporters are dealing with the people he pays to represent him, there is an expectation that that material is not going to be surreptitiously shared. 


HARRIS:  And I thought this was improper.  

He told me in a subsequent phone conversation that he agreed that there was an expectation that the sort of professional code between journalists and people who represent public officials would not allow for this kind of surreptitious and clandestine sharing. 

And he said he would get to the bottom of it.  Today, he said he did get at least partially to the bottom of it and made a decision to part ways with the press secretary who was engaged in this activity. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Congressman Issa put up this statement saying in part: “It‘s become clear to me that the committee‘s deputy communications director,” this guy Kurt Bardella, “did share reporter e-mail correspondence with ‘New York Times‘ journalist Mark Leibovich for a book project.  Though limited, these actions were highly inappropriate, a basic breach of trust with reporters it was his job to assist and inconsistent with established communications office policies.  As a consequence, his employment has been terminated.”

You don‘t get many people that are fired that abruptly, Chris Cillizza, and in public light.  This is a big story now, firing a guy, not letting him quit, not letting him sort of say I have to resign because I was write a book. 


MATTHEWS:  Is this is a big—here‘s what I‘m trying to figure out.

Did they have—is Leibovich on to cases where a reporter might call up a press secretary and say I need this for deadline, all I need is one answer to this one question, I‘m not going to hit him on this girlfriend he had two months ago, I just need this thing answered tonight, I need to get the damn story, tell him to please answer my question? 

Is that supposed to be somehow incriminating, a cozy relationship?  Is that what Leibovich is working on here?  I can‘t figure out what the—what they used to call the MacGuffin in a Hitchcock movie is.  What does he want, Leibovich? 


CILLIZZA:  I think what he wants, Chris, is to show kind of both the fascinating, the sublime and the ridiculous in Washington, which you, John and I know exists. 

One important thing—


MATTHEWS:  Oh, there‘s more meat than there than that.  He‘s going for something that is going to sell books, not the day-to-day stuff.

CILLIZZA:  Absolutely.  No question, that‘s what we‘re—that‘s what we‘re all after. 

But what I would say, Chris, one important thing, I think, for—for your average person watching this, it might seem weird.  You used the phrase a reporter calling Kurt Bardella and saying, hey, can you give me this? 

The truth of the matter—I will put myself in this category—I probably do 95 percent of my reporting via e-mail.  And I think that‘s why to John‘s point, this is so insidious and can be a breach of trust.  Look, I probably send 200, 300, maybe more emails a day cajoling people, asking people—


CILLIZZA: -- to give me stuff before they give it to John and his folks.  I mean, that‘s our business.  That‘s what we‘re in.  But unlike a phone call, Chris, where unless you tape it and then you replay it for someone—


CILLIZZA: -- it‘s so easy now with email to just say, hey, check out what this guy who I don‘t like sent me.  It‘s troubling I would say as a reporter because—


CILLIZZA: -- ultimately we deal in trust.  You know, if I‘m sending you something, I don‘t assume you‘re then sending to somebody else.  I think that‘s what John—


MATTHEWS:  This guy apparently was bragging in the “New Yorker” a couple of months ago, John Harris, about how he could go to a reporter and say, here‘s a story, dishes the story to somebody, and next thing it runs verbatim the way he dished it and he‘s saying reporters are hacks, I can get them to write them anything I want.

Now, this is something the public would like to know if from some pal from California is able to have his flack call up a major newspaper or TV station and say here‘s the story I want out today, Issa said to investigate Sestak or something, I need that.  Or Issa not to investigate Sestak, fills him up with 500 words and he‘s got a story.

Is that what you got here?  What do you got, John?  Come on, tell me what you got.  Come on.

HARRIS:  I would agree that that practice, his critique of the press was interesting.  I‘m happy to say as the editor who runs “Politico” that I don‘t believe that kind of lazy reporting is happening here.  I think his problem was when the press secretary becomes the story, that‘s not a good thing.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I do.

HARRIS:  Paul Begala had this line during the Clinton years like the problem with this White House is we wear our underwear on the outside.


HARRIS:  And I don‘t think you as a press secretary want to be wearing your underwear on the outside.  That‘s more attention on you and the process than your point you‘re trying to make.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go to the gold one here.  This is the golden one here.  Howie Kurtz, probably the major media reporter in town here in Washington, called him up, to put on the phone with a guy named he thought Issa.  It turns out he was talking to a guy named Bardella.

He was talking to him, the press guy.  He does the whole interview with the guy.   He calls him congressman all through the interview.  He prints out the story, puts in print.  It‘s on the record as an interview with the congressman.  He thanks the guy for it.  And it turns out it was Bardella impersonating the boss the whole time professionally, not as a gag, but acting like he‘s the congressman.  What‘s that tell you, Chris, about the way this guy perhaps riding a little too high in his own notion?

CILLIZZA:  Let me, first, say this in the interests of full disclosure, I don‘t know Kurt well.  I‘ve played basketball with him, but I don‘t know him well.

That said, there is a pattern of behavior I think that would not lead to you the conclusion that this was a guy who was long for the job.  I think a lot of people I talked to after the—after the Ryan Lizza story that you mentioned, the “New Yorker” story came out, thought he might be gone.  You add that Howie Kurtz, was he talking to the congressman, was he not?

Look, I think in a lot of ways, Mark Leibovich got exactly the story he was looking for or what he‘s looking for in his book, which is a kid, you know, Kurt is in his late 20s, a kid who rises very past with a member of Congress, who‘s on a fast rise, too, and then falls very fast.  John knows that.  We all know.  That is a story that‘s played out time and time again here in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  You know, unless you‘re watching—in case you‘re watching Mark Leibovich, I really like you, by the way, buddy.  I never thought of you before.

Anyway, thank you, Harris—and John Harris likes you, and Chris Cillizza.

HARRIS:  You‘ll be playing basketball with him anytime.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, you‘re apparently saying that Bardella took too many shots beyond the three-point line.  Anyway, thank you.

CILLIZZA:  He didn‘t pass me the ball enough.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, sirs.  We‘re getting to the bottom of this, I think.

Coming up: the United States congressman who beat IBM‘s Watson super computer at “Jeopardy!”  Finally, a politician who knows more than you know maybe.  New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt coming on, he‘s the guy that did it.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Well, if the Republicans do pick Mitt Romney as their presidential nominee, he‘ll make a race out of key swing state of Michigan.

A new poll shows a Romney-Obama match-up would be competitive, with each getting 38 percent.  That‘s a lot of undecideds out there, 24 percent.  And leaners—and leaners in Romney leads the president in Michigan by five points.  So people are tending towards him there.

His father was, of course, the governor out there.  Romney has ties to the state.  His dad was governor back in the 60s.

HARDBALL back after this.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back and it‘s time to play a quick game of “Jeopardy!”

At the top of the show, we did give you this clue: this Democratic congressman from New Jersey just beat Watson, the IBM super computer, in an exhibition match of “Jeopardy!”  The correct question, of course, it‘s always backwards, who is Rush Holt?  He‘s a Democratic congressman and nuclear physicist.  He defeated Watson, the machine, 8,600 points to 6,200 points in a remarkable triumph of man over machines, real John Henry stuff here.

And here he is to tell us about it.  Remember John Henry, the guy that beat the machine, and then died back in mythical times?

REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY:  That‘s right.  He died with his hammer in his hands.

MATTHEWS:  Died with his hammer in his hands.  How did you do it?  Did you feel—I hear the machine is faster than man, but it‘s not always right, obviously.

HOLT:  Well, Chris, it‘s good to be with you.

I‘m not sure that IBM Watson computer wasn‘t having a low voltage night, but, you know, it was all for fun.  But with a real point—and the point to emphasize the importance of research.  And, you know, that‘s why IBM did this.  To show that programming, complicated decision-making and information retrieval can be done in a way that is good for medical diagnosis and transportation planning and, yes, even playing games.

And so, I did it because for decades I‘ve been trying to highlight the need for more investment in research and science education.  That‘s what it was about.  But it sure was fun.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you also did a lot of reading out of school.  I know the secret.

Here is an example where you beat Watson in a category called presidential rhyme time.  The clue was Herbert‘s military strategies.  And you said, what is Hoover‘s maneuvers?  That‘s—love that one.  I never heard that one.

Category was called also a laundry detergent.  The clue was a three letter nickname for the Beatles.  And your correct answer was, what is Fab?  Like the Fab 4.

And in the category of phobias, the clue was someone who has hippophobia has a fear of what.  And you said, what is horses?

So, sir, we have one for you right now.

HOLT:  Oh, no.

MATTHEWS:  All right?  We have three—no, no, they‘re not as hard but they will be recorded.  Let‘s try a few exercises.  The first clue, he was the youngest president.

HOLT:  John F. Kennedy.

MATTHEWS:  Actually—

HOLT:  Who was—no.

MATTHEWS:  Who was Teddy Roosevelt?

HOLT:  You stumped me.  That was my second choice, I got to tell you.

MATTHEWS:  Teddy Roosevelt, he was the youngest elected president, John Kennedy.

HOLT:  Oh.

MATTHEWS:  Remember Teddy Roosevelt came in with McKinley.  McKinley was shot.

OK.  These aren‘t hard.  These are easy.  OK, here‘s one.  It is our most Southern state.

HOLT:  Hawaii.

MATTHEWS:  Hawaii.  What is Hawaii?

HOLT:  What is Hawaii?

MATTHEWS:  What is Hawaii?  Very good.  You get one out of two.

HOLT:  Yes.  Watson would have rung in by this time.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I know.  But here‘s the tiebreaker.  I‘ll give you a little more time with this because it‘s shear politics, and I‘m a political junkie and I wouldn‘t ask you a question I didn‘t know well myself.  He was Harry Truman‘s vice president.

HOLT:  I do know this one, too.  Kentucky.


HOLT:  Barkley.


HOLT:  Alben Barkley.  Who is Alben Barkley?  Thank you.


MATTHEWS:  That‘s pretty good.

HOLT:  With your help.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re very good.  You beat a machine.  You can beat me.

Let me ask you about this, on tiger moms—there‘s a lot of talk about really hard, rigorous education of kids.  No play time, no overnights, no TV, nothing.  Just really—like the aspirational cultures to come this country from Asia and other countries.  Tiger moms, is that too much for kids in America?

HOLT:  Well, you know, that‘s one of the reasons I liked this “Jeopardy!” game.  It showed that hard thinking, which is what the researchers put in to develop this kind of software that can make these word games and information retrieval and so forth, can be fun.


HOLT:  And so, that‘s—it‘s serious in the sense that they‘re developing ideas that are applicable in all sorts of things.  You know, I showed up because it‘s fun.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Apply Watson, this machine—the machine that‘s beat a lot of really serious contestants in “Jeopardy,” what use could you put this machine do you think in terms of application, other applications?

HOLT:  You know, that‘s the point of research.  When you start, you don‘t always know where it‘s heading.  I‘m sure they‘ve learned some things about decision-making that will be applicable in medicine, you know, where you got a difficult diagnosis, where somebody presents with something other than the textbook symptoms.  But it‘s not entirely, you know, different.

Or in traffic management where you‘ve got to keep track of lots of different inputs but think with a certain amount of imagination.  In other words, not entirely predictable.  So, you know, I think it‘s going to be all sorts of things.

I did say that I don‘t think it‘s going to take the place of either a member of Congress or of a congressional staff members, because, you know, there‘s no—there is no computer that is wise nor is there any bank of parallel processors that can balance the competing interests of school lunches versus space exploration versus traffic safety.  This requires the kind of human gestalt that I don‘t think a computer will ever have.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we will have a replicate of a human being mentally at some point?

HOLT:  Well, no, see?  That‘s my point.  I don‘t think so.  There‘s no question that these computers will find—provide tools.  They already do provide tools like we‘ve never seen.

MATTHEWS:  What about the HAL 9000 in “2001,” the movie.  The HAL 9000, that developed the personality of its own and began to manipulate events.  In fact, it started killing the spacemen.

HOLT:  You know, Chris, I would have been worried if Watson has started calling me Dave.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m scared, Dave.  I‘m scared.

Thank you.  A great movie, by the way.  Thank you and congratulations. 

I‘m very impressed—Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey.

HOLT:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  When we return, “Let Me Finish” with the invasion of the body snatchers.  That‘s what‘s happening right now to a lot of Republicans in the U.S. Senate.  I‘m serious.  This is a horror movie.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a grade B horror movie.  If we still have drive-in movie theaters, this one would be on the midnight spook show, right at midnight.  It‘s called “Return of the Body Snatchers.”  This is a story of how regular somewhat intelligent people are now being transformed into zombies right on the floor of the United States Senate.  How regular Republican senators, some of them distinguished members, are having their bodies taken over by the right.

You know the plot.  One minute, the guy or a woman seems normal—a person who thinks, lives, acts for themselves.  The next second, you meet them, and you realize from the blankness in their eyes they‘ve been transformed, their bodies snatched by this weird force taking over.

Remember Arlen s, proud modern Republican.  Modern Republican, he of the Scottish verdict and the Clinton impeachment trial.  Snatched.  One day, he awoke a Democrat, said it was a matter of survival.

A lot of this is to do with fear—fear of defeat, fear of losing careers, fear of the power of the Tea Party people and whatever candidate they can throw up against you.

Remember John McCain, the maverick, a guy with enough guts to get out there and back immigration reform, campaign reform?  He was ready to take on the haters and big right wing fund-raisers and still managed to win the Republican nomination for president.  Snatched.  One day, he awoke in the Arizona desert a full-blown right-winger himself.  No J.D.—what‘s his name—was going to take his Senate seat away from him.

Orrin Hatch—used to be able find common ground with Ted Kennedy.  Actually helped him along personally when he needed a good friend, did some good educational work with the senator from Massachusetts as I recall.  Snatched.  This week, Hatch is out there making gross comments about President Obama‘s health care program using bad words to do it.

Is this the route for safety to Republican senators?  Is this what the future of Olympia Snowe and Richard Lugar and the others who managed to keep independent, political person going to be all about?

Will the invasion of the body snatchers continue until it snatched every single Republican in the U.S. Senate?

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.




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