Guests: Mark Halperin, Saijal Patel, Howard Fineman, Steve McMahon, Pat Buchanan, John Heilemann, Steve King, Joan Walsh, Ron Reagan
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Showdown.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.
Leading off tonight: Perry`s in. Just hours before eight Republicans
gather for tonight`s debate in Iowa, we got the word. NBC News has
confirmed now that Rick Perry of Texas, the Texas governor, will formally
announce his intention to run for president this Saturday. That`s, of
course, the same day as the Iowa straw poll and a perfect way to for Perry
to upstage the event and the other candidates.
Sarah Palin, too, is in Iowa now, and she and Perry are getting lots
of buzz. Could that be because Republicans are simply unhappy with
tonight`s debate line-up? The big question tonight is not just what
candidate`s going to win, of course, winning the debate, it`s what wing of
the party will emerge as dominant. Will it be the traditional "Whose turn
is it" Republicans, guys like Romney and Huntsman and perhaps Pawlenty, or
will the Tea Party triumph, the Bachmann wing, the side that equates any
kind of compromise with Democrats as surrender or even treason? A bad
showing tonight could spell the end of a couple of the candidacies.
Also, put together an unpopular debt deal, 30 American deaths in
Afghanistan, a terrible run on Wall Street and declining poll number, and
what do you get? A bunch of Democrats getting very nervous about President
Obama`s reelection chances.
And hypocrisy watch tonight. Mitt Romney has been bragging about how
S&P raised Massachusetts`s credit rating when he was governor up there.
What he doesn`t say, of course, is that he argued his state deserved that
higher rating because taxes had been raised. Well, how`s that going to go
over with the Republican voters, with the Tea Partiers? We`ll ask the
HARDBALL strategists tonight.
Finally, "Let Me Finish" with what may be the final takeover of the
Republican Party we once knew.
We start with Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. Mark Halperin`s
here, MSNBC senior political analyst, and he interviewed Governor Perry for
"Time" magazine, and John Heilemann. He writes for "New York" magazine.
He`s their national political columnist.
Gentlemen, Mark first, then John. Impact statement. Perry`s in?
MARK HALPERIN, "TIME," MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Chris, I`m sorry.
Could you say that again?
MATTHEWS: What`s the impact of Perry coming into the race now? NBC`s
reporting he`s an actual candidate, he will announce on Saturday.
HALPERIN: I think by most metrics we use to judge candidates, he
becomes a first tier candidate. If he performs well in the first 15 days,
I think for the time, it will be a two-person race between him and Governor
Romney. That`s a big if, though. He`s never done this. He`s a first-time
presidential candidate. But if he raises the kind of money they`re talking
about, if he builds the kind of excitement in South Carolina and Iowa in
particular, I think it`ll be effectively, for the time being, a two-person
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it, John Heilemann? Is this a two-
person race? Is he boxing out Bachmann just by getting in, on the Tea
JOHN HEILEMANN, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE: Well, as Mark said, you know,
it`s -- we`re going to have to see how well he performs. But I mean, what
Perry has, what he embodies, is the possibility -- you know, you talked
about the different wings of the party. We`ve talked on this show about
different brackets, about an establishment bracket versus a populist anti-
establishment Tea Party bracket.
Perry has the possibility of a being a kind of a bracket buster. He`s
someone who has real appeal to evangelicals, populists, Tea Party types.
But also Because of his governing credentials in Texas, the longest-serving
governor in the country, longest-serving governor in Texas history, and
because the Texas economy has done pretty well, he actually could also
appeal to a lot of mainstream Republicans who want someone who has
substantial governing experience. He could kind of break the race wide
open, if he performs well.
MATTHEWS: OK, Mark, before he -- he tries to knock out the
establishment candidate, who is, of course, Mitt Romney, he`s on the way,
seems to me, to challenging Michele Bachmann for the Tea Party crown. When
does that begin to happen? When does he begin to prove, if he does,
dominance over Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota?
HALPERIN: Well, Chris, we`re going to get a great real-time test of
this because Perry, as you know, will be in South Carolina and New
Hampshire on Saturday. But then he comes here on Sunday. He accepted a
speaking slot at the Waterloo County party dinner Sunday after -- late
afternoon, and Michele Bachmann just accepted that invitation, as well. So
unless someone else joins them, they will be the two featured speakers in
an important county, at a dinner. And I think that back-to-back
performance is going to set a lot of the tone of how they`ll compete.
Perry has backing from a bunch of groups associated with the Tea
Party. He saw the wave of the Tea Party well before most other
Republicans, national figures, and I think as powerful as Michele Bachmann
has been, as much as a following as she`s already built, Perry comes in
with a lot of oomph because Tea Party people mostly are rational. Like
most Republicans, they see a vulnerable incumbent, they want someone who
can win, and Perry is going to have that governing credential that for a
lot of people, I think, will make a difference.
MATTHEWS: Whose Waterloo is it going to be?
HEILEMANN: Chris --
MATTHEWS: Here`s how Rick Perry explained to you, Mark Halperin, what
he thinks differentiates him in the other candidates. He said, quote, "The
key is I`ve got a record, and that record, particularly when it comes to
creating jobs for our citizens, I will put that up against anybody who`s
running and particularly against this president we have today, whose jobs
record is abysmal."
So there you have it, the vulnerability of the president and perhaps
this guy`s strength. John Heilemann, this question. You say he could be a
doubleheader. He could win in the western division of the Tea Party crowd
and challenge, if not knock out, Mitt Romney among the "Whose turn it is"
crowd. Go in further on that. Does he have the gravitas, from what you`ve
seen, to be presidential material?
HEILEMANN: Well, he is a really extraordinarily good campaigner on
the stump. He gives a hell of a stump speech. Everyone who sees it is
very impressed. Now, the question is, can he go beyond just that first
stump speech? How does he perform in debates? How does he perform in
interviews? All of those things are unknown. He`s never faced national
scrutiny like he`s about to.
But he is going to go back to that Texas record, and a lot of people
will say if you get up close, that the Texas record is not as good as he
claims. But in a lot of cases, we look at these state records from 30,000
feet, and from 30,000 feet, Texas has produced more jobs than any other
state in the country over the course of the downturn. it`s produced, I
think, about a third of the net jobs in the entire country over the course
of the past five or six years. From 30,000 feet, it`s a very strong
record, and it`s a strong record on the main area where Barack Obama is
vulnerable, and that gives him a lot of credibility in this race.
MATTHEWS: Mark, when you talk to him, does he ever talk honestly or
credibly -- let me -- I don`t know the guy -- about his talking about
secession? Was that a brilliant ploy to the far right to show how angry he
was with Washington, or is the man just simply truly ignorant of Americans
history, thinking Texas has some personal, you know, option play here about
whether it`s in or out?
HALPERIN: Well, he -- the way he talked about it was not -- he didn`t
go out and give a speech advocating secession or waving that flag. He was
asked a question, he gave an answer that left open the door to secession.
And that alone in a presidential context I think is something that will
really -- he`ll really have to answer for. He`ll really have to explain
But make no mistake, his aides don`t think he`s going to run, he`s not
planned to run, talking about secession or even about social issues. I
quote him in my piece in "Time" saying to a group of fund-raisers week in
Austin, establishment types, If I`m asked -- if I run for president and I`m
asked what time it is, I`m going to say jobs.
He plans to run as a jobs candidate, the record John talked about. He
knows that that is the issue in the campaign. He knows that he`s got that
30,000-feet headline on jobs. And for Republicans who want someone who can
govern and take it to the president on the issue that matters, he`s strong.
MATTHEWS: Sure. Can they run a hermetically sealed campaign --
Heilemann, and then I want to go back to Mark on this. Can you run a
campaign today where you say, I`m only going to talk to party chairs, I`m
not going to allow myself to be interviewed by anybody on the center or
left in the media, I`m not going to talk to the Katie Courics of this
world, whoever they are this time around, I`m going to avoid anybody who
might ask a tricky question that might expose me as a full-mooner?
Can you do that in the Republican campaign today, avoid regular
reporters and just go to the locals?
HEILEMANN: Well, I think we`re going to see a test of that this time,
Chris. I mean, there certainly are -- and Rick Perry`s not the only one.
There are a lot of candidates who have come to believe that it`s possible
to try to get around the filter, in a way, by talking only to friendly
press. And that`s not just local reporters but also ideologically-driven
television, the bloggers, others who are friendly press.
There are people who think that this is the first election we`re going
to be able to get away with that. I continue to think it`s going to be
very hard to do --
HEILEMANN: -- and that maybe you can get away with it for some number
of months, but ultimately, that the Republican Party, the mainstream
voters, are going to want to hear these guys in big -- in big settings
talking to mainstream reporters and answering questions. I still think
that`s true. I hope it`s true. But we`re going to see.
MATTHEWS: -- on Laura Ingraham`s morning radio show -- you want to
challenge that, Mark? You think they can get away with just talking to
their own -- inside their own hermetically sealed capsule.
HALPERIN: He did do an interview with me, and I`m a non-ideological
reporter. I had to work hard to get it.
HALPERIN: Look at Mitt Romney. He`s not done your show. He`s not
done a Sunday show. I think Governor Perry will have to answer the
question by doing some additional interviews.
But the old days of George Bush getting on his campaign plane -- I
remember distinctly in 1999 the first trip to Iowa that George Bush took.
He walked onto the tarmac, and Rick Berke of "The New York Times" was doing
a two-way on MSNBC with Brian Williams. And Governor Bush stopped and,
like, monkeyed -- you know, sort of goofed around with Rick Berke in the
I don`t think you`ll see Rick Perry doing that kind of stuff.
HALPERIN: I think he`s going to keep his distance, as he has in
MATTHEWS: Let`s go to the --
HALPERIN: But he makes -- one of the reasons it`s an advantage to get
in late is the window he has to hide, if he chooses to do that, is a lot
MATTHEWS: I agree with you (INAUDIBLE)
HALPERIN: -- than it is for a normal candidate these days.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you. I think this is a quick campaign for
this guy. It`s a smart campaign. Let`s go Sarah Palin, no stranger to
crashing her fellow Republicans` big days. You remember when Michele
Bachmann kicked off her presidential campaign out in Waterloo? Well, the
next day, Sarah Palin attended the premiere of her movie, "The Undefeated,"
in nearby Pella (ph), Iowa -- at least in Iowa.
OK, when Mitt Romney announcing he was running in New Hampshire, it
was Palin who drew the top headlines in the state`s papers the next day.
Palin was in the state hosting a clambake for Tea Party activists.
Well, there we see her MO, John Heilemann. She`s doing it again
today. She`s in Iowa in the midst of the debate tonight, but not in the
debate, not in the straw poll, not in anything except the headlines. Is
she going to do this throughout or is she going to back Perry?
HEILEMANN: Well, look, first of all, there`s an element of Sarah
Palin so far in this cycle that`s been kind of like, "Where`s Waldo?" And
you can always predict where she`s going to pop up, as to where the cameras
HEILEMANN: I think that if Sarah Palin has a plan, and she doesn`t
want to run, Rick Perry`s entering into the race gives her a good
opportunity to say, Well, now someone`s running who I totally support and
represents the issues and the values that I care about.
But look, I still -- I find her impossible to predict because I think
most of the ways in which we think about how politicians act, we apply a
rational filter and rational paradigms of viewing them. I think she acts
much more by instinct and whim and caprice. I mean, she could have woken
up last Thursday and just though, you know, Hey, let`s go to Iowa. That`ll
And so it`s hard to know why she`s coming, but I think there`s at
least some part of her that wants to keep the door open, at least just a
little bit --
MATTHEWS: OK. I love this stuff!
HEILEMANN: -- to getting into this race.
MATTHEWS: So what`s she more like -- I want you to do, Mark, what you
hate to do, give me a character assessment here right now. Is she more the
person who`s smart and shrewd and says, You know, I want to ride shotgun on
the Perry campaign, I like that seat off to the right of the passenger,
I`ll be a little to his right, I`ll give him a few hints now and then, I`ll
be the clear person behind him, ride shotgun -- it`s a great sort of
Western notion on the stagecoach -- shotgun? Or will she see him wearing a
better looking cowboy suit and be envious of him and say, I want to be the
one wearing that fancy cowboy suit, I want to be that guy?
Which one is she personality-wise? Does she want to be the person or
be the kingmaker behind him?
HEILEMANN: Personality-wise, she wants to be the person. She wants
to be the top person. But I think the reality of the difficulty of getting
in, raising money, hiring a staff, building a structure -- unless she`s
done a lot of that secretly behind the scenes -- even though Rick Perry has
just started out publicly, his people -- and he`s got trained, experienced
political operatives around him who`ve done national politics --
HALPERIN: -- she doesn`t have that. Perry`s got some movement, not
to mention the other people who`ve been in for a long time. So from a
rational point of view, I think she`d like to be the top person. I`m not
sure that window is still there unless she moves real quick.
MATTHEWS: OK --
HEILEMANN: I`ll tell you what else she wants to do --
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
HEILEMANN: Chris, I`ll tell you what else she wants to do. She wants
to torment Mitt Romney, and she`s going to have a good time doing that in
either seat. Either whether she`s running shotgun or in the driver`s seat,
she`s going to be tormenting him for months to come.
MATTHEWS: I think she`s going to wait a few months and then endorse
Perry when it has the most impact. Just a thought. But I like the way you
think, Mark and John. Thank you, Mark Halperin --
HEILEMANN: That`s a good bet.
MATTHEWS: -- John Heilemann. Great to have you together.
When we return: The first Iowa debate is tonight, but which side the
Republican Party`s going emerge as dominant? Will it be the old "Whose
turn is it" party of Bob Dole and Dick Nixon and those guys, and Mitt
Romney, of course, and Jon Huntsman, or will it be the party of the Tea
Party? Have they taken over? Is it a Michele Bachmann night tonight?
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Well, we now know all 12 members of the bipartisan super-
committee tasked with finding ways to bring down the federal debt. House
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi named her picks today. They are Congressman
Jim Clyburn, one of the leaders of South Carolina, Congressman Xavier
Becerra of California and -- California -- Congressman Chris Van Hollen of
Maryland, my congressman. Pelosi`s calling for a grand bargain. And
another member of the super-committee, Republican congressman Dave Camp,
says everything`s on the table. But one of his aides later said that
wouldn`t include tax increases.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: With Rick Perry jumping into the race, we`ve got another
Tea Party favorite among the Republican field of candidates. So who will
emerge victorious in Iowa this week and beyond, a Tea Partier or someone
from a "Whose turn is it" wing of the Republican Party?
Congressman Steve King`s a Republican from Iowa. Welcome.
Congressman King, thank you. And we have you on tonight in an unusual
circumstance. We`d like you to advise us. I don`t want to argue with you
tonight too much, any more than we have to.
What does it look like in your party?
REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: That`s fine with me, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I grew up in a Republican family in Pennsylvania, where
they have moderate Republicans. We had people like Eisenhower, an
Eisenhower Republican, sort of a moderate Republican. We had the liberal
Republican crowd, like Rockefeller. Then we had Nixon sort of in the
middle all those year.
Now it looks like a fight between the Romneys, who would have ran --
he`s probably been running since he was a kid when his dad failed to win.
Pawlenty`s probably a guy who`s been running for years in his mind. And
now we have these new people coming into politics, some of them with a
religious background like Bachmann and Rick Perry.
Who`s going to win this, someone of that new kind of background in the
Republican Party, or the traditional wing, sort of the "whose turn it is"
KING: Well, that`s a good question, and that`s, hopefully, what we`ll
be helping to decide tonight at the debate and then Saturday in the straw
poll and beyond into the caucus and the primary, Chris.
But I would say this, that one person that`s left out of this equation
that hasn`t been much discussion about is Ron Paul, who has built a lot of
organization here. And we should not underestimate the five years of work
that he has invested in this.
Aside from that, then I think what you`re looking at is, will the
energy that`s generated by these candidates carry them through in a straw
poll victory? And of course, we`ve got some candidates that are fairly
high-profile that have not entered into this straw poll competition, and
that changes the shift (ph) of this. And actually, it`ll shift this debate
It`s going to be interesting to see how candidates that aren`t on the
ballot at the straw poll on Saturday may feel like they`ve got some license
to tackle some of the candidates that are looking like they might have a
chance to win the straw poll ballot on Saturday.
MATTHEWS: How much strategy is going into the voter who shows up --
obviously, the voter who shows up in the straw poll is very activated, very
much a political person. How much thinking are they putting into who can
win next November?
KING: Well, there`s a fair amount of thinking there. But if I look
back on past Iowa caucuses and the straw polls that went with it, it seemed
to me that the strategy on who could win took a hold more moving towards
the caucus in February 6th, as it`s scheduled now, than it does for the
straw poll. This poll is more, I think, about how you can generate the
energy to get people to come here for this vote on the day on Saturday.
That`s how I would view it, Chris.
MATTHEWS: So it`s really heart, how much do voters feel excitement,
passion rather than numbers.
KING: Well, I think that one of the things I`m watching is the kind
of energy that is injected in how people respond.
KING: And, for example, last night, Herman Cain spoke up at Okoboji
to a crowd of about 500. He had a long period of time where he could
speak. And he moved those people considerably. But it`s a 2.5-hour drive
down to Ames.
KING: So, that`s a different equation than if had been standing in
Ames with a crowd like that.
And I think you will be looking at how much does Tim Pawlenty invest
and how much energy did he generate with that. Rick Santorum says a lot of
right things. We are going to see if they have got the energy to come to
town. And I wish that we had Mitt Romney engaged in this full-bore. And I
wish Jon Huntsman was here full-bore. Then there would be more of a
balanced measure, but as it is, the debate will set the stage for the straw
poll on Saturday, and who knows how it will be evaluated in the end.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Romney.
Sam Stein of the Huffington Post reported that he -- quote -- "On at
least 16 separate occasions, Michele Bachmann petitioned the federal
government for direct financial help or aid. A large chunk of those
requests were for funds set aside through President Obama`s stimulus
program, which Bachmann once labeled fantasy economics. Bachmann made two
more of those requests to the Environmental Protection Agency, an
institution that she has suggested she would eliminate when she gets to the
Now, here`s a question about jobs. I want to get to policy now, not
just politics. And that`s the question of job creation. It seems to me
that everybody when I grew up wanted to have a military base near their
House because that meant jobs. They liked the aerospace program. That
meant jobs. They loved Boeing out in Seattle. That meant jobs.
So the idea that the federal government can`t create jobs doesn`t seem
to be questioned locally, even by people like Bachmann. They want a chunk
of the action if the government`s going to spend the money.
Now, do federal programs like the stimulus bill that creates job, do
they create jobs locally or not? And if so, what`s the problem with doing
KING: Well, I hear both sides of that argument. I hear companies
that say that we didn`t add anybody on, but we had to change our
bookkeeping to say that we did because the federal government insisted that
we re-categorize some of our employees because we had some stimulus money
that came in under a contract that they might have been fulfilling.
On the other hand, you can`t deny that when government money is spent,
there are people that are earning that money and, yes, it is jobs. But the
other -- here`s the connection. And it`s this. The vitality of the
private sector is -- creates the wealth that is taxed to pay for the
And we`re coming to this point now where the vitality of the private
sector, the private sector specifically, is being diminished by taxes and
regulation in an increasing way. I think this debate is about the
difference between Keynesian economics, which is government can tax and
borrow and spend and create jobs by developing a consumer economy, vs. the
private sector, which produces goods and services that have a marketable
value domestically and abroad.
MATTHEWS: I agree with that part.
KING: That will be the dividing line in this upcoming president --
MATTHEWS: But what about -- what about our history? What about the
biggest economic lesson of the 20th century, where World War II, the
buildup, when we started to do lend-lease and supporting the Brits and the
other allies in that fight against the Nazis and then we got in the war?
That boomed our economy because of all those defense jobs. Wasn`t that an
example where government spending created jobs?
KING: There are a lot of economists that will say so, and President
Obama is one of them.
And I have heard him say it, that along came World War II, which was
the greatest economic stimulus plan ever. He regrets that FDR didn`t spend
more money in the New Deal.
But I will tell you that our Dow Jones industrial average that we have
watched go up and down dramatically in the last couple of weeks didn`t
recover from the October 29 crash until 1954. And I believe that part of
that was the interest and the principal that we had to service on our debt.
So there`s a balance.
KING: And most economists that look at the data will say a percentage
of the GDP is all you can take. There`s an optimum point there. I say
it`s 18 percent. And I hope we pass a balanced budget amendment that will
say just that.
MATTHEWS: Well, it`s a good debate. It`s a good debate.
Thanks so much, Steve King --
KING: Yes, it is.
MATTHEWS: -- congressman from Ames, Iowa -- in Ames tonight.
Howard Fineman is editorial director for The Huffington Post Media
Group and an MSNBC political analyst.
Well, there you heard the fundamental American argument. We did it
nicely tonight. We usually yell louder.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.
MATTHEWS: But the congressman and I had the fundamental argument
about whether government can create jobs. And I guess I want to ask you
now about politics, because you`re an expert at it.
This is a battle tonight. It begins, it seems to me, between what you
and I call I think the establishment wing of the matter, the "whose turn it
is" party against this new wilder party of passionate people who really
don`t like government, period.
Who`s going to win this in the beginning? Who`s going to win it in
the end, Howard?
FINEMAN: Well, the beginning, it`s the passionate people, as
Congressman King was saying.
The debate tonight, which will then focus on the straw poll on
Saturday, is really, Chris, about the base of the base of the base of the
new Republican Party, whether that`s evangelical Christians or Tea Party
people, people very skeptical of the role of the federal government, even
if they`re sometimes taking money from the federal government.
And that`s what this event and this caucus season early on is all
about. So the focus in -- tonight and then on Saturday is going to be on
two people. It`s going to be on Michele Bachmann, who had taken the lead
sort of in the energetic wild wing, if you will, of the party --
FINEMAN: -- and now with Rick Perry running around and with Michele --
with Sarah Palin coming to the state to go to the state fair and so forth.
It`s whether Michele Bachmann can kind of hold the lead she forged as the
early wild one out there on that side.
And then the other person who`s going to be under the gun is going to
be Tim Pawlenty. Tim Pawlenty is from that establishment side, and yet he
has said, I can be the crossover guy.
FINEMAN: I can work both sides of the street.
If he doesn`t do well in the debate and if he doesn`t do well in the
straw poll on Saturday, I think he`s pretty much finished even before the
MATTHEWS: God, it`s beginning to look more like a three-way fight
among Romney, Bachmann and the new guy on the block, Rick Perry.
FINEMAN: Right. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: Let`s look at Romney. He took some heat today. He was
heckled today at an event out in Iowa. Let`s watch and see how he handled
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You get to ask your
question. I get to give you my answer. If you don`t like it, you can vote
for someone else.
Barack Obama is killing this economy. Barack Obama is why 25 million
people don`t have jobs and can`t find jobs --
CROWD: Wall Street greed. Wall Street greed.
ROMNEY: OK. Next question. Have we got another question?
ROMNEY: I`m going to go over here.
ROMNEY: You have had your turn. I have had my turn.
MATTHEWS: God, it sounds like some of my producers out there.
MATTHEWS: Wall Street greed.
This is not a typical Republican crowd, is it?
MATTHEWS: I guess some populist Democrats got into that crowd,
because they don`t blame the government.
FINEMAN: Yes, I would think so.
MATTHEWS: They blame the Wall Street guys.
FINEMAN: I would think so.
Well, the -- Congressman King kept talking about energy. And he`s a
good example of what I`m calling the base of the base of the base of Iowa.
And I don`t think he`d apply the word energy to the Romney campaign, even
though they have raised a tremendous amount of money, even though they have
FINEMAN: He`s playing it very safe.
He took a pass on being part of the straw poll on Saturday. He`s
going to be in this debate tonight. But Romney sort of has a semi-pass out
of Iowa because of his strength elsewhere in the country. But, you know,
if he keeps going through situation likes the one he went through today,
you know, that energy factor is not going to be there early on.
And at some point people are going to start saying, even if you have
got money, you`re not exciting the crowds.
Let me ask you a tough question, but it`s not that tough. Can Rick
Perry be the Republican nominee? Can he beat President Obama? Does he
have the stuff?
FINEMAN: Well, I -- the answer is, yes, he`s got a chance to do that.
But as Mark and John were saying earlier on tonight, he`s never really
faced fastball pitching from outside of Texas. He`s in the Texas league.
He`s now put himself in the major leagues. And even if he avoids most
interviews and most tough situations, he`s going have a lot of questions
asked. He`s putting his best foot forward on the jobs record --
MATTHEWS: OK. I got to go.
FINEMAN: -- but there`s a lot more to be said about him personally and
MATTHEWS: Well, I have got couple for him down near the knees if he
wants to come on this show.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman.
FINEMAN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: They`re at it again, Republicans saying President
Obama is anti-American. Only Republican right-wingers seem to use that
One thing I will say for the progressive side of things, they don`t
usually accuse the other side of being traitors. Anyway, this time, it`s a
sitting United States pulling this number, not one of the brightest bulbs
in the box either.
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."
First up: straight far from the right on the radio today. Republican
Senator Jim DeMint railed against President Obama, not just against his
policies, but for being anti-American.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We saw within a few days that
this president was going to be heavy-handed. He was going to implement his
agenda and pay back his political allies.
And it just went on from there to Obamacare and then to Dodd-Frank.
And it has been the most anti-business and I consider anti-American
administration of my lifetime. This president is doing something that`s so
far out of the realm of anything Republicans ever did wrong, it`s -- it`s
hard to even imagine.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the use of that term anti-American seems to signify a
certain kind of politician, doesn`t it?
Can a Republican be anti-American, or are only Democrats eligible for
that moniker? And why is this slur only used by those on the far right?
They seem to love it. Hmm.
On a lighter note -- it`s easy to have a lighter note than that -- we
knew it was just the beginning when comedian Steve Colbert got approval
from the FEC to form his own super PAC back in June. Well, the PAC, called
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, has released its first ad of the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AMERICANS FOR A BETTER TOMORROW, TOMORROW AD)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": A storm is gathering
over Iowa, a money storm.
Out-of-state groups like Grow PAC and Jobs for Iowa PAC are flooding
the Iowa airwaves telling you to vote Rick Perry at the Ames straw poll.
We want you to vote for Rick Perry, too, but not their Rick Perry -- our
Rick Parry. That`s Parry with an A, for America; with an A for Iowa.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I wonder if some people know that Colbert is kidding with
all this stuff.
Anyway, up next: With Wall Street teetering and his approval rating
stuck below 50 percent now, Democrats are getting very nervous about
President Obama`s reelection chances. What should the president do right
now to calm the jitters?
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
SAIJAL PATEL, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Saijal Patel with your CNBC
A hunger for bargains overcoming the fear that has been rocking the
markets -- the Dow Jones industrials soaring 423 points, the S&P 500
surging 51, and the Nasdaq climbing 111 points.
Glimmers of hope on the jobs front helping to fuel the rally. Weekly
claims hit a four-month low, falling below four 400,000, but on the flip
side, the U.S. trade gap widened in June, as imports and exports declined,
a sign of slowing global demand.
On the European front, French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor
Merkel will meet next week to talk about Eurozone governance. And after
U.S. markets closed, Eurozone regulators announced new restrictions on
short selling in Belgium, France, Italy, and Spain.
In stock news, News Corp. surged 18 percent after beating earnings
expectations and hiking its dividend. And tech bellwether Cisco jumped 16
percent on strong earnings and an upbeat outlook.
That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Democrats are getting nervous about President Obama`s chances for
reelection next year. And the polls show they have cause for concern.
Take a look at the new Pollster.com trend line of the president`s approval
rating from this year. He`s been able to keep his approval pretty even all
year long, but this approval rating started to take -- to tank actually in
July, last month, until the current all-time low of 43 percent. So it`s
going down now.
And joining me right now are Salon`s Joan Walsh, of course, and
political commentator and author Ronald Reagan.
Ron -- Joan first and then Ron.
It seems to me that something has broken bad lately. What do you
think of that, Joan first?
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM: I agree, Chris.
I think that the president went out of his way to get a deal with the
Republicans. He put a lot of thing on the table. As a liberal Democrat, I
wasn`t happy with that, but I was rooting for him to get a deal. And he
And I think that his "I`m the best compromiser/I`m the reasonable man"
routine, it`s not a routine. It`s who he is. I think that that is -- is
wearing a little bit thin, and I think that we really need to see him begin
to articulate a Democratic Party vision of how to get this country moving
again. And until he does, we may continue to see slippage.
There is something wrong with what just happened in the last two
weeks, and everyone agrees on that point. He needs to articulate what`s
going to make it better, besides cutting the deficit more than the other
You know, Ron, it seems to me a politician has to either be tougher
than the other side or a lot smarter, a lot cleverer. And he didn`t show
either in this last go-round.
RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, he really didn`t.
And I think progressives -- many progressives, at least -- understand
that the country is in a place right now where we really need a sort of
transformative leader. And that was the sort of leader that President
Obama promised he would be. He talked about being a transformative
But, once he got into office, we seem to discover now that,
temperamentally, he is unwilling to -- to, you know, break the furniture,
you know, tip over the -- the system that already exists here, and really,
really get down to the brass tacks of -- of doing something different,
transforming the system, which we all agree is broken. He just doesn`t
want to seem to do that and we get the feeling what we really elected was
kind of a center-right politician.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s "The Washington Post" rundown on this, the
straight news coverage, here describing Democrats anxious.
Quote, on the front page today, "Growing numbers of Obama`s allies
have expressed disappointment in the past. Obama`s standing has been
further challenged by a string of recent events that are testing his
presidential mettle. As a result, more Democrats are saying it is time for
him to scrap his more cautious, conciliatory approach and advocate bolder
programs that would generate jobs and economic growth, even though many of
those ideas would have no chance of passing Congress."
Well, Of course, that`s me talking there. That Karen Tumulty has
described and I`m not a Democratic activist, but I`m a commentator and
that`s my view. That sometimes, you don`t have to be brand new and novel.
You simply do the right thing.
If a fire`s burning, you put it out. Sometimes things are basic. If
people are out of work, you put them to work. It ain`t complicated, Mr.
What do you think it is, Karen -- because I have to tell you, is he
willing to say to Eric Cantor and those people -- McCarthy and those guys,
Kevin McCarthy and those people who are fronting for the Tea Party people
who are willing to bring down this government, screw its credit rating,
wholesale. Is he willing to say that you are wrong or just disagree with
him? It sounds like he doesn`t want to say they`re wrong.
WALSH: He has a very hard time coming out and saying that they`re
wrong, and specifically naming the people who were wrong.
He did a great job fighting the Paul Ryan budget. I believe it was
back in April, Chris. You and I both talked about it. He really sounded
like a Democrat. He really explained to Paul Ryan why he was making a lot
of mistaken assumptions about the way America works. That was awesome, and
he backed away from that.
I think was right to try to compromise. It was right to take office
in 2009 and try to reach out to the other side and believe that there were
reasonable Republicans, but it didn`t turn out to be true.
MATTHEWS: Joan, he made himself attacked like dummy. Paul Reagan
stuck his neck out and this guy punched his head off.
But this time around up, he`s up against shrewd, smart customers.
Those guys fronting for the Tea Party knew what they were doing. They had
enough people to behind them to give them bulk and they went at the
president and said, we`re going to knock you off here. We don`t care what
you think. We`re going to knock you off unless you say uncle.
REAGAN: He doesn`t seem to understand that he`s dealing with people
that want nothing more than his destruction.
REAGAN: With people who are not trying to help the American economy,
at least not for the next, you know, year or so.
MATTHEWS: Or a year and a half.
REAGAN: They want the American economy to suffer for the next year so
it will hurt him. That`s the kind of game they`re playing.
And Joan is absolutely right. He needs to call these people out. He
needs to identify them and he needs to identify their tactics and their
strategy as well.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you all. Thank you. We all agree tonight,
which is scary.
Thank you, Joan. Thank you, Ron -- because I think -- I really do
think it`s time for good old action old time religion. Put people to work
and make the Republicans say they can`t work because we don`t want them to.
Up next: how`s this for hypocrisy? Mitt Romney brags about how S&P
raised the credit rating when he was governor of Massachusetts, but he
doesn`t say how it worked. It was that they raised taxes. That`s how you
got a better credit rating. What will Republicans make of that sugarplum
in his background?
Well, this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: I talked about the paltry Republican presidential field
last night and here`s more proof. A new CNN poll finds only one Republican
is leading President Obama nationally. And that Republican is probably not
even running. Rudy Giuliani leads President Obama by six points, 51 to 45.
That`s why he is thinking about getting in this, I guess.
But Romney is the only Republican with a lead. The president edges
out Mitt Romney 48-47. He beats Rick Perry by five points. He`s ahead of
Michele Bachmann by six.
These are only now, unfortunately for the liberals. That`s only now
for progressives. Don`t think you`re ahead for long. This is right now.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back.
Americans are ready to blame Washington for the debt crisis, of
course, for the S&P downgrade. And according to them, both parties are
equally at fault. Plus, Mitt Romney has been touting his record as
governor when the Massachusetts was raised, but maybe not for the reasons
you might have guessed, here it is, out in "The Washington Post."
The HARDBALL strategist Steve McMahon, Democratic strategist, and Pat
Pat, what do you make of the fact that Romney bragged about the fact
that he got better credit rating from the S&P out of Massachusetts but
never noted the fact he got because they raised taxes in the assembly up
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that wouldn`t be
something he would want to bring up and put out front.
BUCHANAN: Perhaps you think that might be advantageous to him, but it
wouldn`t be, Chris. But I think if you look at it overall, I know Romney
will probably be hit on this, but the taxes, the real taxes, were enacted
in the governorship before his, which was a Democrat, and then he took
advantage of that and got the state`s credit rating raised, which I think
was a good thing and then he cut taxes 19 times.
I read that, Chris, and I read it pretty closely. I don`t think it`s
really a real issue that someone on the conservative side of the Republican
Party can use to great effect against Romney.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it, Steve, looking at it from the
liberal sides of things, do you think that this is an issue that shows
hypocrisy? That he got a good credit rating but he did by a balanced
policy, not some wild out supply side notion he never raised taxes?
STEVE MCMAHON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Senator Kennedy
used to say that Mitt Romney wasn`t pro-choice, he was multiple choice and
he actually has a multitude of positions on a lot of things, including
apparently a balanced approach to fiscal sanity.
Massachusetts had it right. They had some tax revenue increases where
they needed to. They made some cuts where they had to. And they had a
pretty strong fiscal record.
Mitt Romney took advantage of that fact and, you know, it`s a surprise
to me now that he`s -- he is running off the Tea Party folks and kind of
running away from his record in the end.
MATTHEWS: But, Pat, I got to catch up here. I want to go with this
poll, "The Washington Post" poll, fascinating poll, in one second.
MATTHEWS: I got to ask you a question. The entry tonight, big news
tonight, NBC is reporting that Rick Perry is going in the race on Saturday.
His entry -- does it knock out Bachmann? Does it, who`s it more of a
threat to, Bachmann immediately or Romney down the road?
BUCHANAN: I think, immediately, it`s a threat to Bachmann, who has
really emerged as a Tea Party social conservative challenger to Romney and
one who`s going to do very well in the Iowa straw poll. I think
immediately it`s a threat to her. But, quite obviously, it`s then a threat
But, look, Chris, from Romney`s standpoint, he`s got to come down to
the finals here and there`s going to be someone on the other side from him,
and who does he prefer, Bachmann or Perry? I would say, right now, looking
at it, he should probably prefer Bachmann rather than Perry who looks like
he does have cross over strength as two-term governor, that makes him solid
with the conservative base -- I mean, Republican base and also as something
of a movement leader.
MATTHEWS: By the way, that`s what Heilemann said earlier tonight.
Last quick thought. I have to get to this poll -- Steve.
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Pat over here dusting off his
pitch fork. He is heading to New Hampshire.
BUCHANAN: I don`t have cross over strength, Chris.
MATTHEWS: No, you never tried.
Here`s a "Washington Post" poll which asked Americans if the federal
government is focused on the right things or wrong things. Pretty simple
question. Look at these answers -- 71 percent said the government is
focused on the wrong things.
And when asked who is to blame for that focus on the wrong things,
they blame everyone takes it. Thirty percent say the president and
Democrats. Thirty percent say the Republicans. Thirty-two percent say
Steve McMahon, this is trash both houses poll. This country is in a
rotten mood right now. This is August. There`s nothing that politicians
can do from now to Labor Day to fix things. I say it gets nastier between
now and Labor Day.
MCMAHON: I think you`re absolutely right, Chris. And one of the
things that you`re seeing is that the politicians now in Washington have
begun to figure out that nobody won here. Everybody lost.
There was another number in that "Washington Post" poll, which I don`t
know if you reported. But it was a 17 percent re-elect for your own member
of Congress -- and off then times people say that Congress shouldn`t be re-
elected but they`ll say their own congressman should be. This number, 17
percent for their own congressmen in a "Washington Post" poll is a new low
and new record and it`s real trouble for Congress.
MATTHEWS: Pat, you know, historically, you and I watched other
countries that don`t have a stronger constitution as this one, in fact we
got one. But this looks like what went on in places like Greece before the
colonels took over, where the parliaments just couldn`t do the job of
running the country. It`s what happens in so many Latin countries over the
years, Latin American countries where the parliament just blow it with
their B.S. and corruption and wasting our time.
The inability of these two parties to function in a partnership to me
is the kind of thing that drives people way from faith in their
constitution. Your thoughts?
BUCHANAN: Chris, you know what, it looks like the French fourth
republic in the 1950s, head to the wars into China and Algeria.
BUCHANAN: And the people were disgusted, Mendes-France, one after
another government. And finally the people said enough is enough and they
called Charles de Gaulle back in 1958. I think we are close to a de Gaulle
moment in this country. But --
MATTHEWS: Who`s de Gaulle?
BUCHANAN: But I think our country is so much stronger than France was
that point. France had gone through a real defeat and everything. But
there`s no doubt, three straight repudiating elections and we are looking
like we are heading for a fourth.
MATTHEWS: Is there any way can you advise, Steve, that this president
of ours, president Obama, who is president of the United States, can
recover -- recover -- leadership?
MCMAHON: Well, I think he needs to offer a specific plan for
improving the economy. And I actually think, unlike some of my progressive
friends, he needs to be mindful of what could pass -- which probably is
some balanced of extending payroll tax cut for employers and for employees,
probably extending the middle class tax cuts. Pick a fight on the tax cuts
for the rich and do some things that make it difficult for Republicans to
vote against a balanced approach and do some things that will help
employers create jobs. That`s what he really needs.
BUCHANAN: Chris, I`ll tell you how he can do it. If he will just
recognize that this balanced approach, all the rest of it, you`re not going
to run over the Tea Party. The Tea Party is not going to run the Brian
plan over you. Get rid of that. Go first for the budget cuts on
entitlements and then go for tax reform.
Tell the Republicans: give us those exemptions and all the rest of it.
We`ll give you your lower rates.
If he does that in a two-step way and gets away from the idea of
raising taxes, I think he can do something. He won in December by telling
the Republicans, OK, you got your Bush tax cuts. You got those, now, let`s
work on these.
But if he goes down there and does the same thing again, and tries to
run over those guys, that same play again, he`s going to be stopped cold at
the goal line again.
MATTHEWS: I still think he`s got to go to jobs. But anyway,
gentlemen, thank you for your thoughts. Steve McMahon, thank you. Pat
Buchanan, great having you on the show.
When we return, "Let Me Finish" with my thoughts about the battle
within the Republican Party. We may find ourselves next November with only
one choice for president, which isn`t the American way. This Republican
Party may juts trash itself by going so far right.
You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this Republican Party. This
party that has to make a big decision and start making it right now, this
I grew up around mainstream Republicans. They voted for Eisenhower
and people like him -- people who believe in less restraint, less
government in the United States, less interference in other countries
There was a centrist political movement at work here that stood for
balanced budgets, not supply side craziness, who believe in pay-as-you-go
economics, the government paid for what it`s spent. If it spent more, it
raised taxes to pay for it -- some Rockefeller Republicanism. Fascinating,
isn`t it? Common sense, down the middle, reasonable economics.
Well, today, we are watching a battle between what was once the
Republican Party, the conservatively inclined middle, and the new right --
the religious people who vote for Republicans because they prefer them to
Democrats. They get involved in politics because their religion leads them
into it, anger over not having prayers in school, anger over the government
not prosecuting people for abortion, anger over the government recognizing
same-sex marriage, anger over -- let`s face it -- the way things are.
So, tonight, it all begins in Iowa, a debate followed by a straw vote
this Saturday and it`s likely to start a drift. There really only two
candidates running today for the GOP presidential nomination who qualify as
the kind of Republicans most of us grew up with. One is Mitt Romney, the
other is Jon Huntsman.
The others, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick
Perry are in the religious faction, those who treaty elections as
deliverance -- some deep change in the American soul that can be triggered
by hard stumping between now and next November. These revivalists are out
to take charge of the Republican Party for good.
So, it`s a dangerous game we are watching. This country is run by
voters, by the way, who like it have a choice every four years between the
Democratic Party and the Republican Party. If one of our two parties, the
Republicans, gets taken over by the wild ones, the religious folk, will
make it hard for the independent voter to choose them. Not impossible, but
What should be interesting to see what happens this week in Iowa, it`s
certainly going to be important, especially if it`s a start of something
big, the final takeover of the party of Lincoln by all that he opposed.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
More politics ahead with Al Sharpton.
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