updated 6/13/2011 12:20:43 PM ET 2011-06-13T16:20:43

Guests: Hampton Pearson, Michael Isikoff, David Corn, Eugene Robinson, Howard Fineman, Wayne Slater, Susan Page, Erica Jong

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Newt Gingrich‘s Grecian formula.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Leading off tonight: Newt gets the boot.  Somebody said the other day they have never met a Newt Gingrich voter.  Well, you think that‘s a hoot?  Now you can‘t find a Newt staffer.

What caused Newt‘s campaign to collapse in mutiny almost happened before it even started?  Was it Newt criticizing Paul Ryan?  Better yet, was it his oddly-timed Mediterranean cruise they‘re calling the Greek tragedy?  Was it his wife taking too big a role in the campaign?  Well, today, Newt blamed what he called a “strategic difference,” which sounds an awful lot like divorce language—you know, “irreconcilable differences.”  But whatever the cause of the mutiny, a lot of people are now saying, I told you so.  Let me be the first.  I told you so.

Plus, President Obama‘s real opponent in 2012 may not be any Republican candidate per se, but the economy.  The recent bad economic news may help a business exec otherwise not exactly exciting, like Mitt Romney.  So why is Romney skipping the Iowa straw poll?  Remember, four years ago, he said if you can‘t compete in Iowa in August, how are you going to compete in January, when the caucuses are held?  Well, that‘s a question that now confront Romney himself now that he‘s done another 180.

Also, the Palin e-mails.  They were released today, and right now, reporters are poring over—catch this -- 24,199 pages of documents contained in six boxes weighing 50 pounds each.  We‘re going to get the latest from Mike Isikoff, who‘s up poring through them in Juneau.

And guys gone wild—Anthony Weiner, David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, to name just a few.  Why do successful male politicians take such incredible risks, if that‘s what you‘re going to call them?  We‘ve got Erica Jong herself joining us today.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” with a vanity candidate who‘s really not a candidate at all, Newt.

Let‘s start with the collapse of Newt‘s campaign.  Right now, we have two experts.  MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson—he‘s a columnist for “The Washington Post.”  And Wayne Slater writes a column for “The Dallas Morning News.”  Gentlemen, thank you for this.

I want to play you Newt‘s latest spin.  And this is almost like—well, it‘s an afterglow, really, of a campaign.  Here was Newt Gingrich the morning—this morning, today, reacting to the news that his entire staff had walked out.  He‘s sort of the Captain Bligh of this Bounty right now, and Fletcher Christian and the whole rest of the crew have left him in the little boat.

Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  But I believe we live at a time when Americans are genuinely frightened for the country‘s future and when the country really wants to have leadership that talks with then honestly and isn‘t automatically doing the old politics.

We make decisions as a couple.  I think most couples would find that refreshing, not a problem.  And I think that what we‘ve been trying to do is carry messages to the American people and listen to the American people.  And you‘ll see us over the next few weeks doing it in new and dynamic and much more open ways than the traditional consultants who (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s incredible spin, Gene.  I mean, it‘s almost an absurdity.  And here‘s Captain Bligh.  He‘s been kicked off the ship.  He‘s in the little boat now.  He has no campaign.  He‘s talking about leadership.  That‘s an odd thing to say.  He‘s just been dumped.

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, the candidate just got fired by staff.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  And look, they—they got—our titanic (ph) trio of political reporters of “The Washington Post”—Karen Tumulty, Chris Cillizza, and Dan Balz—have a story just posted on our Web site, where they kind of go inside this deal.  They all agreed, Newt and the staff, at the beginning, We‘re going to run a different, a new and different kind of campaign this time.  But they wildly disagreed on what that meant.  Newt seemed to think it meant not making phone calls to raise money or—

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t want to do what you have to do.

ROBINSON:  Flying private jets when you don‘t have the money for it, that sort of thing, and going on two-week cruise or—

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t—I think it‘s a vanity edition—I think this is a vanity edition of a campaign.

Let me go right now to Wayne Slater.  This—I want to get to you about the guy down there we‘re thinking about, this Rick Perry.  But first of all, Newt—it has been said—it has been said in my hearing that Newt doesn‘t have any voters.  I don‘t know where this constituency is.  I don‘t know what led him to believe he was a candidate, except he‘s good on television.  He does make provocative comments now and then.  But people don‘t like him, and he looks like the devil.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, that may not be fair, but I‘ve always said on this program he can‘t be the devil because he looks like him, and everybody knows the devil‘s going to look like Marilyn Monroe.  But your thoughts.

WAYNE SLATER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”:  Yes, well, the thing—I mean, the thing about Newt Gingrich—and you know this, both you and Gene—

MATTHEWS:  I know a lot about this guy!

SLATER:  Well, but—I mean, he‘s an amazing mind.  I mean, you‘re around him a while.  He‘s dazzling.  He talks about all these complex things.  He‘s a fascinating person to be around.

But I really think that‘s true, he has no voters.  He didn‘t have any voters among religious conservatives, you know, a guy with three marriages and real problems in his personal life.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SLATER:  And with the comments about Ryan, you‘ve lost any potential

voters you have with the Tea Party, which are driving, really, the

campaign, certainly in early primary and caucus states.  So I think that‘s

a real problem.  Here‘s a guy who doesn‘t have anything.  And there was

something telling in his statement, the stuff about the wife.  You know, we

--

MATTHEWS:  Why was he laying it off on his wife?  Why is he doing that?  It seems a little indecent.  By the way, he is Steven (SIC) Castevet in “Rosemary‘s Baby.”  He is the warlock that lives upstairs—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  -- at the Dakota.  I mean, I‘m sorry, that‘s who he is. 

And you‘re right, he does have a lot it say, just like Steven Castevet.  Name a place, I‘ve been there.  He‘s got all that worldly information.  But he is evil.  Your thoughts, though.

SLATER:  I‘m not going to say that he‘s evil.

(LAUGHTER)

SLATER:  The other thing that I think that was mentioned—has been mentioned in the last 24 hours is this stuff about the money.  If a guy‘s not raising the money—you have Carney, you have Rob Johnson, you have the kind of staff that he had on, which was a real campaign staff, and sooner or later, people are asking, Are we going to get paid?  And I think the indication was they weren‘t.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You know what they tell you when you‘re thinking of running for office, which somebody once told me?  Your first job is to say, Do you like the idea of spending eight hours a day in a room with somebody, I forget the name, handler, controller, that comes in every 15 minutes and says, Faster, more phone calls, cold calling total strangers and asking for money.  And that‘s a what a candidate has to do, whether you‘re Romney or anybody.

ROBINSON:  You got to ask for the money, and apparently, Gingrich didn‘t want to make the calls.  He didn‘t want to—

MATTHEWS:  Well, these guys need to be paid!

ROBINSON:  -- dial for dollars.  What?

MATTHEWS:  Maybe that‘s why the crew left the ship—

ROBINSON:  Well, I—

MATTHEWS:  -- no pay coming in.  Let‘s take a look at on “MEET THE PRESS”—I really think our colleague, David Gregory, did a first class piece of journalism.  And as always, it‘s the direct question that gets the guy or the woman or whoever in trouble because the direction question is the fair question.  And that‘s what always gets them in trouble.

Here‘s on “MEET THE PRESS,” Newt Gingrich hinted that he might have a discipline problem.  Let‘s listen to this part of the interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  I think it‘s fair to say that I‘m going to—one of the tests on this campaign trail is going to be whether I have the discipline and the judgment to be president.  I think that‘s a perfectly fair question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, first of all, he attacked the Republican health care plan, Medicare.

ROBINSON:  Yes.  Right!

MATTHEWS:  Then the next day, he said, I apologize.  And then on Tuesday, he said, I wasn‘t talking about the Republican health care plan.  And then he takes a two-week vacation on an opulent—I don‘t know what an opulent cruiser (SIC) is, but—

ROBINSON:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  -- a nice cruise ship in the—I hear the Greek islands are fabulous—but right in the—what do you—was he taking a vacation from?  He‘d only been on the campaign for a week.

ROBINSON:  Exhausting!

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  It was just exhausting and grueling, you know?

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, let‘s figure out where this goes.  Now, we‘re hearing through the grapevine—this does get to Texas—that a lot of the people around him—Dave Carney, Rob Johnson, first-rate, apparently, staffers—these guys have all split.  And now down in—well, let‘s go to—I‘m sorry, let‘s go to Austin.  Let‘s go to Wayne.

Have you heard any rumblings about the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, making a run, a late entry into this race, and these young—or these guys might be his people?

SLATER:  Well, by the hour, I hear things that—that that could

happen.  Look, I‘ve talked to people inside—the reporting that I‘m doing

inside the Perry camp is that the departure of Rob Johnson and Dave Carney

and again, Dave Carney is Rick Perry‘s Karl Rove.  He‘s the guy who was with Perry in 1990, when Perry ran for the first statewide office, the agriculture commissioner—that these guys‘ departure from the Gingrich campaign is not an automatic signal that Rick Perry is ready to get into this race.

But what it does is makes it easier if Perry decides to do it.  I think that he is—I hear that he is leaning toward running, but that he, Rick Perry—even though his wife wants him to do it, his two kids want him to do it, and Perry is surrounded by sort of some allies and supporters who are encouraging him to do it—they met last week in Austin to try to put together a blueprint for a campaign—Perry himself isn‘t sure.

MATTHEWS:  Does he have any personal—let‘s not be too creepy here, but is there anything that‘s well known about him, like the Mitch Daniels problem, whether he had marital difficulties over those years—is there anything that everybody in Texas knows that we don‘t know, that‘s legitimate to know, that would stop him from running?

SLATER:  No.  I don‘t—I mean, there may be, but not that everybody in Texas knows.  There are always rumors about a governor, especially a handsome governor like Rick Perry.  We know absolutely nothing that would have been written had there been something newsworthy.

I think one of his—he has no two problems going into the potential race for president.  One, is America ready for another governor from Texas to be the in the White House?  And I think the jury‘s out on that.  The other is—and this is more fundamental.  This is—

MATTHEWS:  It may not be out (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It may have come in (INAUDIBLE) around 2008, but just a thought.  Go ahead.

SLATER:  Anyway—but the other—the other problem I think here in Texas, if he becomes a candidate and people begin to look at him, he has a crony problem.  That is to say that after a decade as governor, 25 years in public life in Texas, he has enormous influence over politics in Texas.  And we in “The Dallas Morning News” have written a series of stories about how he has steered state money to people who just happen to his contributors.

I think that‘s kind of thing that could cause problems for him if there‘s—if you have a big microscope, I mean—well, a big spotlight, I guess, in a presidential race.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve three tough (ph) cases of Texas presidents lately.  I mean, LBJ left because of the war.  We‘ve had H.W. Bush losing—his father losing because of the economy being in shambles when he left, and the son because of a very unpopular, I think at least controversial war in Iraq.

ROBINSON:  Well, his son did get reelected, though, so—I mean, George W. did—did survive reelection.  You know, what—what one hears around here, and I‘m not going to put Wayne on—on the spot with this because he‘s got to cover the guy, but—when hears questions about whether Rick Perry has the intellectual heft to be president—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a lightweight.

ROBINSON:  -- or to run for—

MATTHEWS:  Have you heard the lightweight charge down there?

SLATER:  Absolutely—

MATTHEWS:  Would you be willing to confirm it?

SLATER:  No, I‘m not going to confirm that.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to something that‘s real here, Romney.  Romney is, I think, in good position right now.  He‘s not Mr. Excitement, but we have an economy that doesn‘t need excitement, it needs fixing, and he can campaign, it seems to me, as—of all the Republicans, a decent economic fixer, a turnaround guy, if you will, which is his specialty.  Up against the president, I think it‘s an even-steven right now.  He‘s about 47 even right now.  It‘s a pick.  Why‘s Romney skipping Iowa, the Iowa straw poll?  You first, Wayne.

SLATER:  Well, for obvious reasons, he doesn‘t think he‘s going to win there.  He thinks his real hope is in New Hampshire.  You start off with a big win in New Hampshire.  You let someone—you let Iowa be a fight between Michele Bachmann and the Christians and Tim Pawlenty and the rest of the party, and I think it‘s a strategy.

But I think historically, at least in recent history, that hasn‘t worked very well when you skip Iowa.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Your thoughts, Gene?  Why‘s he—

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  No, I think—I think—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t want to get pulled to the right on issues.

ROBINSON:  Exactly, because he‘s already running kind of a general election campaign, or flirting with it.  I think Wayne is absolutely right, that‘s what Romney is up to.

You mentioned he turnaround expertise.  I don‘t know if he really wants to push that because the way he turned these companies around was firing a whole bunch of people.

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re a reasonable liberal.

Let me thank you, Eugene Robinson, for pointing out that obvious fact, that his way is cost cutting.  Cost cutting means cutting labor force, which means people are out of work forever.

Anyway, thank you, Gene Robinson.  I know it‘s nice to point these things about.  Wayne Slater, thank you, sir.  Maybe more from you if this questionable heavyweight down there gets in this race, Rick Perry.  I do notice he wears these very snappy blazers.  That‘s all I notice.

Up next: You can stop thinking about what candidate President Obama will run against.  His real opponent is the economy.  Let‘s find out what he needs to do to get the economy and his reelection campaign on solid ground.  We‘re talking about the president here.  Can he get it together on the economy?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Rod Blagojevich corruption case is now to the jury.  Jury deliberations began today after (INAUDIBLE) 80 (ph) -- 80 -- both sides finished their closing arguments.  Before that, B-Rod, as we call him, spent seven days on the witness stand, which is new.  That‘s something he didn‘t do the last time he was on trial, when a jury deadlocked on all but one charge against him.  The ousted Illinois governor is accused of trying to sell or trade the Senate seat once held by Barack Obama.  B-Rod faces 20 counts, including extortion and conspiracy charges.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m not concerned about a double dip recession.  I am concerned about the fact that the recovery that we‘re on is not producing jobs as quickly as I want it to happen.  Prior to this month, we had seen three months of very robust job growth in the private sector, and so we were very encouraged by that.  This month, you still saw job growth in the private sector, but it had slowed down.  We don‘t yet know whether this is a one-month episode or a longer trend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Obama on Tuesday on the sluggish economy, the toughest thing standing between him, of course, and reelection to a second term.  Headlines like this one in “Time,” magazine on the cover, “What recovery?” have got to make the Obama reelect team very concerned.

Howard Fineman is senior political editor for the Huffington Post and an MSNBC political analyst, and Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for “USA”—thank you so much.  You‘re two pros.

And I felt something move a couple weeks ago when we got the unemployment news, something that just seemed different.  And I think maybe you both share that sense, that now this election is really a 50/50 situation.  The president doesn‘t have an edge because of this economy.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, I think that‘s right, Chris.  Certainly, that‘s the view here in Washington, and I think that‘s the view in the political community.  And that has an impact because it affects the psychology, it affects the giving and the donations and the enthusiasm, and so on.

I think, for Republicans, they‘re thinking, Hey, you know, we got a shot here.  We got a real shot here.  So that enthuses them.  I think Democrats are worried.  I think the president has uttered some lines in recent days that I don‘t think it‘s good for presidents to be uttering—

MATTHEWS:  Well, this reference that it‘s a recovery but it doesn‘t produce jobs is not going to—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Well, he said, I think, in that same press—in that same event, he said something like the important thing is not to panic.

MATTHEWS:  Which is what people do, they panic.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Which is—also, you don‘t want your president to be saying, Hey, folks, the important thing is not to panic.  And sometimes, you know, he gets clinical and analytical.  He sounded like Ben Bernanke there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  People—people—even if this times are bad, people want an optimistic cheerleader guy.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  And he‘s being the economic analyst.

MATTHEWS:  If we‘re in a new reset—my wife, who‘s a corporate executive, uses that term, “reset”—downward—in other words, our expectations about an incremental advantage to our children‘s lives over ours, if that‘s gone, if the idea of a reasonable unemployment rate because people are changing jobs of 4 or 5 percent has been replaced by a permanent unemployment rate of 9 or 10 percent, how does he smile through that?

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”:  Well, I‘ll tell you another thing that happens if people see that scenario is they‘ll take a leap of faith with a Republican nominee they‘re not sure about.  You know, we saw that happen in 1992 with Bill Clinton.  We saw that happen in 1980 with Ronald Reagan.  If times are bad—you know, we‘ve talked—how many times have you talked about a weak Republican field?  If times are bad, people will look at Mitt Romney and say, Hey, maybe this guy knows something about the economy that Barack Obama does not, and I am willing to take a leap of faith and vote for him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s very American, the idea of—that this is not as good as it gets.

FINEMAN:  Well, but what you‘re saying, though, Chris, is something deeper than the latest cycles of the economy.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it is.  This isn‘t a cycle, it‘s a trend.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  You‘re saying that there‘s a whole reset of the national psyche in which we‘re now saying to ourselves that things won‘t be better for our children.  And does Barack Obama dare admit such a thing?

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the question.

Does he dare admit—

MATTHEWS:  Does he get serious like Jimmy Carter, or does he talk about the future?

FINEMAN:  Well, you know what happened when Jimmy Carter did that.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  He got run out of town. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  It is not in the American grain to admit something like that, even if it is true. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, OK.  We know what—I‘m sorry.  We know what Romney is going to do.  And we are all studying this together.  It looks like he is hunkering down for the long haul. 

He knows if he has the money and he has the background, he can wait out the Sarah Palins.  She probably won‘t run.  He can wait out the Bachmanns and hope she is his only opponent.  He can even wait out maybe Pawlenty.  Just win a couple, lose a couple, win a couple, lose a couple, but lose them to different people along the way.  He keeps getting his share. 

At the end, he has the money, he has the credibility, and he ends up winning on points, and then he goes head to head with Obama 50/50.  That‘s a pretty good scenario for him.

PAGE:  And he has the—if the issue is the economy, he has got an argument to make.  And he is not hurt by the problems he‘s got on the issue abortion and flip-flopping on that or this and that. 

What is interesting about Romney now is, he is playing for the general election.  His position on global warming is a general election position he is taking, not playing in the Florida and Iowa straw polls.  He is saying, I‘m not worried about that. 

And that means he can make the argument to Republicans, you may not like me best, but I‘m the one with the best chance of beating Barack Obama.  And that‘s going to be a powerful argument. 

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  I think he is saying to the Tea Party people, as Charles Krauthammer said in a column today, this isn‘t about ideology anymore.  It is about who is going to save the American economy, who is going to get us through this. 

FINEMAN:  Well, it is fascinating to me in the middle of this, because that change in the weather that you detected—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN: -- was happening simultaneously with Romney‘s announcement up in New Hampshire last week.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we thought there was a big distraction by Sarah. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And we said, oh, this is terrible.  He is dull.  He is this and that, and Sarah stole all his thunder and everything.

But now everybody is saying, well, wait a minute.  Yes, that is all true, and he‘s going to hide and disappear BP.  But the guy has a lot of business experience.  He has run successful companies.  He knows how to manage.

MATTHEWS:  And dull is OK. 

FINEMAN:  And dull is OK if management is good.  That is the strongest argument. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I didn‘t know we would go this way, but we have gone -

let‘s take a look at this thing.  Here is a poll, a (INAUDIBLE) approval rating trend line for the president.  This is what the incumbent faces, 37.7 percent and downward. 

My concern is that what you say is so American.  The American people, I think, are like the manager in the dugout.  They see the pitcher is not getting the guys out.  And he goes there and he doesn‘t say, you‘re a bad guy.  And the American people don‘t have to dislike their president.  They just put their hand out and say, give me the ball. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And when you get—you know how they get the ball from the guy? 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s an American—there is a great ritual in baseball. 

The pitcher hands over the ball because the manager asks for it. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He never says, “I‘m keeping it,” right, Howard? 

You‘re—you‘re both—you first, Susan.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is what the American people do.  They don‘t dislike George Herbert Walker Bush, but they put in Bill Clinton, as you point out.

PAGE:  Yes.  And they still like Barack Obama.  And they like his family.  And they think he has good values and all that.

But when Romney says, he doesn‘t understand the economy, we gave him a chance, he failed, that is such hard argument to reply to, unless you make the economy better.  And making the economy better is going to be a very tough task.

FINEMAN:  That was—by the way, that was Romney‘s one genuine applause line in that event. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, even Eric Cantor—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: -- his dull event.  He actually got applaud—real applause for that. 

MATTHEWS:  Eric Cantor is very funny.  Now, he is not a funny guy generally, but he made a very tough critique the other day.

He said 37 months in a row, they have said below expectations.  Are these going to keep being the below-expectations guys?

Here is my question.  Based on your reporting, can you say the president is really open-minded about whether the economy will pick up or is he deluded? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to phrase this correctly.

He said just a moment ago on that tape, we don‘t know whether this is a blip or whether this is a trend. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  That‘s right. 

FINEMAN:  My sense of Barack Obama, what I have heard about some private conversations that he had with other Democrats is that he is anything but deluded. 

I think Barack Obama is a very, very frank-with-himself kind of guy.  How he translates that into the campaign rhetoric, we don‘t know.  He knows very much what is going on.  He knows that there are a lot of weak economic numbers out there. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  He knows the mortgage foreclosure thing has the potential of dragging the economy back down again.  He knows all this stuff. 

He is not deluding himself about it at all.  They have got a—he‘s going to be realistic. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  I don‘t know how he‘s going to try to sell the—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at Krauthammer.  He is a conservative.  I don‘t agree with him on much.  I respect him a lot, though. 

Here—quote—here‘s Krauthammer today—“Suddenly, the election theme has changed.  The Republican line in 2010 was, he is a leftist.  Now it is, he‘s a failure.  The issue is shifting from ideology to stewardship.  As in ‘92, it‘s the economy, with everything else a distant second.  Romney is the candidate least able to carry the ideological attack, but when it comes to being solid on economics, competent in business and highly experienced in governance, Romney is the prohibitive front-runner.”

Well-written, isn‘t it?

PAGE:  And what a difference with—we talked about the advantages of having run before.  Boy, you see that with Romney now.  He knows what his message is going to be. 

If the economy gets a lot better, Romney will have some trouble, right, because the core of his argument.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What would you do if you were the president, in his ear, if you‘re Bill Daley or one of his top political people, or Plouffe?

Would you say to him, keep going out there, going to all these sunrise industries, these—he does it almost every day.  He is flying somewhere.  Be part of the auto—automotive industry.  Point to the good spots, the green sprouts, we used to call them.  Point to the good stuff.

Or would you say, you know we have got to make some changes?  And let me tell you something that is not going to sound right.  We have to do something with the dollar.  We have to do something with—would you tell him the hard stuff and really fight for it with Congress, knowing they would probably say no?  Would you really push for something you think is the solution? 

FINEMAN:  My answer to that is that the green shoots, the green spots are too dissonant with the overall feel, attitude and mood right now.  People aren‘t listening to those. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you are off-tone? 

FINEMAN:  You are off-tone.  And I think you have got to try something big.  You have got to try something big again.  Democratic economists like Paul Krugman are pushing for it.  They aren‘t going to do with Krugman wants. 

MATTHEWS:  What does he want? 

FINEMAN:  Well, Krugman wants a big public works—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I want. 

FINEMAN: -- yet another big public works—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you come in and say replace the smell of decay with the smell of construction?  Start building highways, start building bridges.  By the way, start building fast trains. 

Put the heavy industry guys to work.  Put the labor unions to work.  Put the minorities to work.  Give people jobs.  Be Roosevelt.  If the economy is really in a serious double-dip now, or facing one, shouldn‘t you take the some kind of extreme, I hate to use the word, radical measures that Roosevelt attempted?  Don‘t be a middle-of-the-road president.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  That‘s never going to get through Congress.

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe that‘s—I mean, that‘s OK.

PAGE:  And that is at odds with some of the public view now, too, which is this all this—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Run against Congress.  It‘s a Republican House.  They‘re not going to do anything but cut programs. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, cutting programs is totally off-base right now.  I don‘t think anybody believes you are going to get elected by getting rid of Medicare.

FINEMAN:  Well, I think he has got to do something big.  I think he is going to have to do something big, if this psychology continues to take hold.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got to take on Chris Christie and take on that guy down in Florida, Rick whatever his name is. 

PAGE:  Scott.

FINEMAN:  Scott. 

MATTHEWS:  All those guys that don‘t want to do anything, call them do-nothing bums and say it is time to build.  This country moves or it dies. 

Thank you, Howard Fineman.  Thank you. 

I just thought of that.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Howard Fineman, Susan Page. 

It‘s Friday. 

Up next:  Mark Foley, remember him?  Well, he was the congressman who resigned after getting caught up sending explicit e-mails to mail pages.  Now he‘s got some advice—and I think good advice—for Anthony Weiner.

That‘s next in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 

First up:  Take it from me.  A surreal moment last night.  Former Congressman Mark Foley deconstructed the latest D.C. sex scandal on FOX.  Foley of course is infamous for sending explicit messages to underage male pages. 

His advice for Anthony Weiner?  Resign. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

MARK FOLEY ®, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  I had to get help.  And I did.  And I have recovered from that help. 

But while I was in the cauldron, I would have never fixed my life.  I didn‘t sit there and try and run the clock out.  I said, this was wrong.  And I resigned.  In my heart, you cannot fix this from inside that building.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  What a statement. 

Someone once said in a movie, you only truly believe what you discover for yourself, as Mark did.  He is a good guy, by the way. 

Next:  Is President Obama messing with Texas?  That‘s what the state senior senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said on “The Daily Rundown” today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS:  Well, I see a bias in this administration against Texas. 

We didn‘t get the help on the wildfires that I think any other state would have gotten. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  You really believe the

administration didn‘t give you extra help simply over politics?  That‘s a -

that‘s a strong charge. 

HUTCHISON:  Well, I think if you look at the things that have not happened in Texas, I think it‘s pretty clear that there is a bias against Texas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, remember, was the guy that was talking about seceding from the union.  And I think Kay Bailey is buying into him.  By the way, I would say it is Rick Perry who‘s the problem with the rest of us, talking secession again.

Coming up: document dump.  Reporters are poring through more than 24,000 e-mails from Sarah Palin.  We will get the latest from Alaska.  Wow. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A major sell-off to close out another losing weak.  The Dow Jones industrials plunged 172 points to finish below 12000 for the first time since mid-March.  The S&P 500 slid 18.  The Nasdaq tumbled 41 points. 

All the major indices between 1.5 percent and 3 percent lower on the week.  That makes six negative weeks in a row, the market‘s longest losing street in nearly nine years.  Financials started out firmly in the red, but turned it around on word that a hike in amount of cash banks are forced to set aside against potential losses will likely be smaller than anticipated. 

Insurers were kept from tagging along with those rising financials, however, after Travelers said it is slowing its share buyback program in the face of about $1 billion in tornado losses.  But steel stocks were higher across the board after Morgan Stanley said a sector-wide recovery is on the horizon. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  After nearly a three-week wait, the state of Alaska has released more than 24,000 e-mails Sarah Palin sent and received during her half-term as governor and during the time she was John McCain‘s running mate. 

And we are joined right now by two experts, journalists who have been feverishly poring over those documents.  NBC News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff has been sifting through the e-mails.  There he is up in the mountains of Alaska.  And MSNBC political analyst David Corn, who was the first to ask the state to release Palin‘s e-mails just 10 days after McCain tapped her as his running mate. 

So, here we go, Christmas morning, you‘re opening up Santa‘s mailbox here, or Santa‘s pack. 

Mike Isikoff, what do you have in the bag so far? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  A lot of wrappings to go through to get—to find the nuggets. 

Look, there‘s some interesting e-mails for political aficionados showing how closely she was interested in the talk about her being a possible vice presidential running mate.  She was getting inundated with e-mails from around the country when talk about John McCain might pick her as his running mate, even well before he actually did. 

Palin was closely watching them, closely reading them, forwarding them to a Web site, and clearly watching very closely what the reactions were both in the media and in the political world. 

There is also references to a lot of the controversies that she was facing as governor, the firing of the public safety commissioner who had resisted her husband‘s efforts to get rid of that state trooper who was in the messy divorce with Sarah Palin‘s sister. 

But I got to say, so far, I don‘t think anybody found any bombshells here—some interesting.  Political—political e-mails, one in which she is praising candidate Barack Obama‘s energy speech, I think that‘s going to be of interest to people.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s look at that.  Here we have that, Michael.

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  But—yes, sure.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s show that now.

Palin praised, as you just said, Michael, Obama‘s energy policy three weeks before she joined McCain‘s ticket—quote—“He gave a great speech this morning in Michigan, mentioned Alaska, stole our energy rebate, $1,000 check idea, stole our TC-Alaska gas line talking points, et cetera, so we need to take advantage of this and write a statement saying he‘s right on.  Glad he‘s flip-flopping on OCS, too.  Joe, could you help crank this quick statement out as our reaction to some of Obama‘s good points this morning?” 

And in a follow-up e-mail, the governor said—quote—“He did say yay to our gas line.  Pretty cool.  Wrong candidate.”

Well, that‘s how she talks, sort of in tweeter language there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But just a minute.  Let‘s go to David. 

It seems like you may have caught her there cheering the enemy, her enemy. 

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, there‘s that.

You know, right now, we are still poring through these.  We have gone through maybe 1,000, 2,000.  There are 24,000. 

And a few interesting things.  They found an e-mail from—from 2007, when she is trying to make room in her schedule to get to a religious event with John Hagee.  You might remember John Hagee.  He‘s—

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t like him. 

CORN:  No, he is the anti-Catholic—

MATTHEWS:  Well, he is very anti-Catholic.  And that‘s what I think of him.

CORN: -- evangelical who John McCain had denounced.  He‘s also said

that it was God‘s will that there was a Holocaust against the Jews.  So,

she was rushing

MATTHEWS: He hits all the bases.

Let‘s take a look, just to get you ahead of this thing.  In May 2007, in an e-mail to a staffer, she asked if her schedule was free so she can attend an event hosted by, as you say, Pastor John Hagee up in Juneau.  She wrote, quote, “Is schedule free to do John Hagee event in June?  Please CC me and Erica on that.  Thanks.”  In a follow-up email, she wrote, “I should try to get back to Juneau for this one.”

Now, can you square in the timeframe here, whether she knew that this guy had a reputation of being anti-Catholic at the time she was buzzing around to see him?

CORN:  Well, I don‘t—I mean, he had been a controversial figure for years.  It was still a year before the controversy exploded with John McCain accepting his endorsement then renouncing him.  But it was no secret at that point in time.

But she was part of the evangelical Christian right where he sort of stood tall.

MATTHEWS:  Anything more up there?  Michael Isikoff, you are up there going through the bales, anything else we should know about it?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS:  Right.  First I want to, you know, pick up on that.  It is true she is sort of an evangelical Christian movement, if you will.

But she was also—and people tend to forget this—at least for the first year and a half of her governorship, known as a reformer, pretty pragmatic and references in the e-mails to opposing the oil company tax that Senator Murkowski was - the then-Governor Murkowski, previously Governor Murkowski had push.  That was—did favor the oil companies and Palin fought that and she worked with Democrats against that.  And that‘s why she was known as a pragmatic reformer, at least at first, to a certain extent.

Even on climate change, which she since renounced her position.  In the early days, she was open to the idea that climate change was real and it was man-made.  She later changed that.

So, she underwent a transformation, clearly a transformation after she was picked as John McCain‘s running mate and after she came under the scrutiny of the national media.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s take a look this.  Palin‘s political action committee, her PAC, made a three-minute video of her bus tour.  Here she is extolling the virtues of knowing, of all things, American history.  Not that she‘s an expert by any means.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  To express to America how much we appreciate our foundation and to invite more people to be interested in all that is good about America.

NARRATOR:  Today, it began with a trip to the National Archives, to see the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Later in the day, she visited Mount Vernon to Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

PALIN:  As it says on our Web site, that the point of it is to restore the good in America, the principles that this country was founded on.  The whole purpose is to showcase America‘s foundation.  But it‘s so important that we be in touch with our nation‘s history so that we can learn from it and so that we can move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the most famous statement about her and I‘m sure it‘s going to be part of this new HBO film, in “Game Change,” is that when Steve Schmidt, the campaign manager for John McCain, after listening to her being vetted and trained basically to be a V.P. candidate, saying she doesn‘t know anything.  So, I think that will stop her from running for president not knowing anything.

Is she going to back Rick Perry of Texas?  Do you guys hear anything on that?

CORN:  Oh, you know, I think she has to decide whether she‘s going to do it herself.  And if she doesn‘t do it herself, if she backs someone else, then she is putting someone in front of her own parade.  I‘m not sure she‘s ready to do that.  I can see her planning all sorts of interesting games.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s too generous.  Too generous.

CORN:  It might be too generous.  But also, at some point, it means passing the torch on to someone.  And right now, judging from that video and the bus tour and the movie coming out, she still wants to be the main attraction, whether she runs or doesn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  I think she wants to be the main attraction on the right.  And that might mean she wants it keep Obama‘s president, so she could be the leader of the opposition.

Thank you, Michael Isikoff, up there in Juneau, Alaska.  Say hello to Joe McGinniss up there.  Tell him we are looking for that book up in Wasilla.

Up next—I can‘t wait for that one in September.

Up next, why do powerful men like Anthony Weiner take sexual risks? 

This is the most exciting—well, enticing part of the show coming up.  What makes guys like Weiner behave the way we do?  We‘ll ask Erica Jong, an expert on feminism, and tonight, men.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know about this one.  President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner set to play golf next Saturday.  Vice President Joe Biden is coming, too.  Last member of the foursome was Boehner‘s pick.  It‘s—and he‘s made the decision.  It‘s Ohio Governor John Kasich.

So, there‘s the foursome for next weekend‘s golf game—Obama, Boehner, Biden and Kasich.  Biden will come out with the lowest score.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  I don‘t know what I was thinking. 

This was a destructive thing to do.  I‘m apologetic from doing it.

From time to time, I would say to myself, this is a mistake, or this conversation, someone could listen in on or translate to someone else.  This was me doing a dumb thing—and doing it repeatedly and then lying about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Back to HARDBALL.

Congressman Anthony Weiner is in a tough line right now.  He is the latest in a long string of male politicians to be knocked down by brazen sexual conduct.

And you have to know, his question was pretty good.  What was he thinking?  And why—what was Hugh Grant thinking?  Remember that one?  And why do powerful men get engaged in such risky behavior?

Joining me is Erica Jong, author of the groundbreaking book, we never forgot.  In certain words on this book, we cannot repeat even on this show.  The book was called “Fear”—and you know exactly what they are, Erica, you can‘t say them here.

Erica, the “Fear of Flying” is a groundbreaking book—your big book right now.  It‘s anthology, “Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex.”

But here‘s the question.  You know, I remember Jay Leno asking Hugh Grant after, you know, he got stopped for a prostitute on the street corner, even though he is married to Elizabeth Hurley.  And Jay said, “What were you thinking?”

And I guess that‘s the question.  What was Anthony Weiner thinking or feeling that led him to do lay out his career on the Internet basically so that anybody that wanted to ruin his career, screw him, if you will, had free access to doing so?  Why would a guy do that?

ERICA JONG, TIME:  He wasn‘t thinking.  You know, late this afternoon, the “Smoking Gun” released the news that Daniel (ph) Issa and other Republicans were watching him all through his tweeting.  Why an ambitious guy like Anthony Weiner—a badly named guy, let‘s say.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

JONG:  He seems to have had a problem about his name.

But why would he not think his Republican enemies would be waiting to bring him down?  There‘s a kind of grandiosity and a kind of going into a zone where you can‘t imagine that anyone would know what you were doing.  I don‘t believe in virtual sex, anyway, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t even know what it is.

Let me ask you this, because nothing is new about extramarital sex. 

Nothing is new about premarital sex.  Nothing is new about sex, generally.

But this is virtual.  It‘s going out and basically advertising about your vulnerability.  He‘s sending out basically the evidence to total strangers he never intends to meet apparently.  Then, he as a U.S.  congressman, (a), he lets them all know that, (b), he gives them evidence that they can all use against him—for what?  For what?

JONG:  It‘s sheer self-destruction.  And I think, really, he does go into a zone where he believes no one will catch him.  So, that‘s very poor judgment.

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s throwing it to them.  They do catch it.  That‘s what I don‘t get.

I mean, when we use the phrase—do you know the phrase “beer glasses”?  That‘s what guys out—young guys, generally.  They drink too much beer, whatever.  They begin to think because they don‘t think they‘ll remember it or do they don‘t think anybody is watching.

JONG:  I think it has to do with the kind of narcissistic behavior where you really think nobody is watching me.  And somebody like Anthony Weiner should know about it.

However, his constituents want to keep him.  And that‘s another interesting wrinkle in this whole story.  I think we‘ll see more about that in the days to come.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk gender, your expertise.  And I will play defense, if I have to, or maybe to shut up.

Now, here‘s the story.  I‘m at dinner last night, actually a dinner with my in-laws, with my wife‘s sisters and brothers and everybody.  And everybody is sitting around having great conversation.

All of a sudden, all the women start together and all the men just leaned back.  They are going after Arnold.  They‘re going after every interesting case.  They‘re going after Eliot.  They‘re going after every name we know and they pounding us guys saying, “It‘s the guys.  What‘s the matter with you?”

And I‘m just sitting there, what is our story?  What is going on? 

Now, you got—

JONG:  Can you imagine a woman politician putting the bait out like this so that you could bring her down?  I can‘t.  I‘ve seen many male politicians do it.  I can‘t think of one.

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t either.  Pat Schroder, a delightful person, shed a tear once about the emotions of politics which can be extreme.  She was chased out of the presidential election basically.  John Boehner sheds a tear like nightly.  Well, I don‘t—first of all, I think he‘s a mince (ph).  I‘m not going to hold it against him.  I don‘t mind emotions.

But the rules seem to be a bit split.

JONG:  Women don‘t do this.  And maybe it‘s because we know that we won‘t get a free pass and that we have to be careful.  I don‘t think women do virtual sex, period.  We‘re not interested in it.

We are interested in real feeling.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

JONG:  I think maybe many men are not.  They find that an interference with their sexual fantasy.

The virtual—the virtual sex thing is the ultimate zipless bleep.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You know, I was just wondering about this.  Explain to me the existence to this day of soap operas.

JONG:  Well, they are going off the air more and more.

MATTHEWS:  So, what does that tell you?  Because they are about intimacy.  They are about good-looking young people.  I watch them every day come in to work, I say, is that what women do like?  Is that healthy stuff or is that just fading as well?

JONG:  Women want emotion and perhaps a lot of men in their sexual fantasies want lack of emotion.  And that seems to be a divide.  But it‘s not true of everyone.  Not every woman is like that or every man.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to go home and think about this, Erica Jong.  And I understand you are a fan of HARDBALL.  And that is feeling to me.

JONG:  I love HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s feeling to me.

JONG:  I think you are great.

MATTHEWS:  My heart, I‘m feeling it.

JONG:  But, I won‘t tweet you.

MATTHEWS:  Erica, don‘t tweet me just watch me.  My ratings—

JONG:  Your ratings are fabulous.  I love MSNBC.  I love you and Maddow and many of your other people.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s a great team.

Thanks.  Erica, it‘s an honor to meet you.  You are an icon, if you don‘t mind me saying so, Erica Jong.

JONG:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  When we return, “Let Me Finish” with Newt Gingrich‘s so-called campaign.  How can you explode nothing and how a step walk away?  I mean, this guy is Captain Bligh on the “Off the Bounty.”

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: “Let Me Finish” tonight with this crazed Republican candidate field, Donald Trump, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour.  You can‘t keep up.  It keeps happening.  They keep falling of the screen.

Well, now, there‘s Newt.  His staff ran off and left him sitting there writing blogs, just to show he‘s still alive as a candidate—little literary proofs of life that he‘s still running.  Well, same thing happened when he was speaker of the House.  Remember?  Realizing that he was not really a leader, the Republicans pulled a coup d‘etat.  When they were ratted out, Newt survived, but only for a while.

Now, he‘s a candidate without a campaign.  He‘ll just hobble from one debate to the next saying quotable provocative things, anything to set himself off from the rest of the Republican pack.  And that is really what he‘s good at, standing outside the building, tossing pebbles up at the window so that someone will notice him and let him in the door.

Well, he attacked the Republican Medicare plan.  Remember that a few weeks ago?  To get attention.

Then he apologized for attacking it.  Then he said he wasn‘t really talking about the plan.

Well, he got caught running up a quarter of a million dollars or a half million dollars in jewelry debt and simply said, “Well, go talk to Tiffany‘s.”

But people who get elected to Congress and people who work in big time presidential campaigns are more serious than that.  They are not going to throw away their time for a person who‘s not really running, who‘s really just up there on that debating stage like a panelist on one of those old TV quiz shows like “What‘s my line?” or “To tell the truth.”

Now, Newt‘s not really a candidate for president.  His staff did us the favor of seeing that first and saving the people—us—the trouble of discovering it for ourselves.

That‘s HARDBALL for now and it really is.  Thanks for being with us. 

I love Erica Jong on.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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