updated 12/12/2011 10:50:30 AM ET 2011-12-12T15:50:30

Guests: Chuck Todd, John Heilemann, Amanda Drury, Mark Halperin, Michael Steele, John Harris, Jack Kingston, Cynthia Tucker, Steve McMahon


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Hooting (ph) Newt.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington. Leading off
tonight: Nailing Newt. Newt Gingrich is finding out what it means to be
the front-runner. Newt`s under siege from rivals like Mitt Romney and Rick
Perry. Perry`s hitting him for his three marriages, believe it or not, and
Romney`s hitting him for changing positions and religions.

And now a conservative pastor out in Iowa who`s backing Santorum is
running a video calling Newt the Kim Kardashian of the GOP, and also
attacking his serial marriages and his conversion to Catholicism. With two
debates in the next seven days, the attacks against Gingrich are going
ballistic. But Republican voters are falling for Newt because they see him
as a gladiator. He can counter-punch, and his supporters are betting he
can survive the onslaught. Are they right?

Then, there aren`t that many House Republicans who endorse Newt
Gingrich, but we`ll talk to one of them about his chances -- Newt`s chances
-- of winning Iowa, Georgia congressman Jack Kingston. He joins us
tonight.

And dumping Trump. That debate Donald Trump wanted to host has been
rejected by -- count `em -- five Republican presidential candidates.
Huntsman, Paul, Romney, Perry and Bachmann have all passed. Only Gingrich
and Santorum are in. Did the clown show just lose a ringmaster?

And President Obama`s fierce defense against Republican charges of
appeasement proves once again that if you underestimate this president, you
may do so at your peril.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight a line from Nietzsche, Friedrich
Nietzsche, that may be a guide to Gingrich.

We start with Newt Gingrich under siege. Can he be stopped? Chuck
Todd is NBC`s political director and chief White House correspondent, and
John Harris is editor-in-chief of Politico. We`ve got the heavyweights
tonight.

Here`s the question. A new Fox poll of Republicans nationwide now
shows Gingrich at 36, way ahead of where Romney`s ever been nationally,
Romney tucked down below that, 25 percent. He never gets above a 23
percent. Ron Paul, the libertarian, is at 12, and he`s pretty much
irrelevant to this debate as to who the nominee`s going to be.

Chuck Todd, I have a theory. The more they attack -- I was going to
call him Nietzsche because he is Nietzsche. The more they attack Newt, the
better he looks because he looks more blooded, tougher, nastier, with more
dirt on his uniform, and that`s what he wants to look like.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That`s the
Rush Limbaugh theory. That`s what he said this week, that, you know, the
more you -- the more the establishment attacks him -- and it`s been
brutal...

MATTHEWS: Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Talking about Rush.

TODD: You`ve got George Will, David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, then you`ve
had member of Congress -- there`s a whisper campaign, and now it`s sort of
a megaphone campaign.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: And now we`ve got the super-PAC. And that is the risk here,
right, which is if you don`t knock him out now, what does not kill him will
only make him stronger as this marches on. So that`s why this is a
risk/reward strategy. I think the Romney people have no choice. They have
to figure out -- they can`t let him get a head of steam out of Iowa, but
boy, this comes with risk because Iowa is a place that whoever is the
perceived conservative has the -- has the upper hand.

MATTHEWS: But doesn`t it -- isn`t this almost definitional, John
Harris? If you get into a boxing match with another guy, you`re making him
into a boxer. If you start punching him, you prove every time you land a
punch, he can take a punch. Unless you actually knock him out of the ring,
he`s still -- he`s Rocky. He`s still standing there, the guy up against
the powerhouse.

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO.COM: Well, Chris, that would apply for both
candidates. The fact is, I can`t really think of any examples in modern
times where somebody has gotten a major party nomination without a fight,
without a brawl, without some turbulence along the way. Nobody coasts to
it, not even George W. Bush, who came closest in 2000.

There`s always a fight. What you say is true of Gingrich, that he`s
going to be stronger if he surmounts this -- these withering attacks, is
also true of Romney, who has looked weak. If he can somehow find his
spine, come back...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HARRIS: ... he`s going to be much more formidable. So the party
is...

MATTHEWS: Yes, but John...

HARRIS: ... better off with...

MATTHEWS: ... you`re being very fair here.

HARRIS: ... this contest.

MATTHEWS: Aren`t you being too fair, in the sense that saying that
both these guys equally enjoy the gladiatorial aspect of politics? Newt
Gingrich...

HARRIS: No, no, no.

MATTHEWS: ... is a gladiator.

HARRIS: Mitt Romney...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Romney doesn`t like this stuff.

HARRIS: Mitt Romney`s fatal weakness to date has been that he hasn`t
shown that he can really win a barroom brawl.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HARRIS: He won`t win the nomination unless he -- unless he proves
that he can do it. I do think, with respect to Gingrich -- you know, Chuck
mentioned he`s under attack from the social conservative right on the
ground out in Iowa. He`s also under attack sort of from above, the elite
of the party, of the commentariat in Washington and New York. Under
ordinary rules, no candidate could surmount this kind of -- survive this
kind of challenge.

So what Gingrich has to bet is that these are -- the conventional
rules do not apply. This is not a conventional year.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HARRIS: This is not a conventional moment, and an unconventional
candidate can prevail, even though, really, on the books, he`s got a lot of
what would ordinarily be fatal weaknesses.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You know, there used to be a phrase in the rules of
boxing, you don`t hit below the belt. I`m not sure where the belt is
anymore. Look at some of these attacks on Gingrich right now. The first
attack on Gingrich`s religion was yesterday in that Romney ad, highlighting
Romney`s consistency in his faith.

Take a look at this surprisingly, I think, serious mistake by Romney,
venturing into the issue of religion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think people
understand that I`m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don`t think
you`re going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do.
I`ve been married to the same woman for 25 -- oh, excuse me, I`ll get in
trouble -- for 42 years.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: I`ve been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one
company, Bain, for 25 years, and I left that to go off and help save the
Olympic games. If I`m president of the United States, I will be true to my
family, to my faith, and to our country, and I will never apologize for the
United States of America!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, a lot of people convert from one religion to
another. We do that in a free society. I think it`s very unfortunate for
someone who`s spent two years of his life converting people as a missionary
to make fun of conversion. I think part of a free expression of religion
comes the right to, if you will, change religions.

And now for the below-the-belt version of what we just saw. An Iowa
pastor who`s backing Rick Santorum is sending out a blast message to
voters, urging them to watch this inflammatory -- well, we say it`s
inflammatory -- video attacking Newt Gingrich for his three marriages.
Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newt married the mistress, of course. But after a
while, he got bored, cheated on her, and ran off with another mistress.

But don`t worry, this mistress was different! She was a devout
Catholic who not only showed Newt a good time, she also convinced him to
convert to Catholicism.

Oh, you didn`t know any of this? Oh, yes, Callista`s quite the
missionary, first lady material all the way!

Mothers and fathers of America, Newt and Callista are the last role
models we want our sons and daughters looking up to. Seriously, I can`t
stand Barack Obama, but at least he doesn`t trade in his wives like used
cars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow! John Harris, your reaction? Will people find that an
indecent punch below the belt, or will they say, I didn`t know all that
about the guy, or what?

HARRIS: I think there`ll be mixed reactions.

MATTHEWS: It`s all true...

HARRIS: It probably will resonate...

MATTHEWS: ... it`s just nastily delivered.

HARRIS: ... with some, and some people -- there`ll be a -- there`ll
be a backlash. I would say the one thing about Newt Gingrich is he is not
an unknown figure. He is not introducing himself to the electorate, the
way that Michele Bachmann was or even Rick Perry was. He`s well known,
both his strengths and his baggage. So it`s a question, in my mind, how
much these particular attacks will break skin.

MATTHEWS: I wonder how much people care about the past when they`re
so worried about the present and the future. Most people voting are
economically insecure, worried about our place in the world. And it seems
to me if you start focusing on something 20 years ago, you risk looking
like jimmy Carter attacking Ronald Reagan for where he was on Medicare 20
years before.

TODD: Yes, remember, big elections when there are big issues on the
table, the personal stuff goes away. I don`t think, whether it`s religion
-- and I -- you know, and I don`t -- in Mitt Romney`s defense, remember, he
said that at the CNBC debate it wasn`t really talking about -- he wasn`t
talking about Newt Gingrich at the time. Newt Gingrich was still sort of
an afterthought to him when he made that statement. So I think...

MATTHEWS: You mean, when he said the same marriage...

TODD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... the same religion?

TODD: It was done during that CNBC debate at the time, and it
wasn`t...

MATTHEWS: But that`s an ad that just went out.

TODD: They weren`t aiming -- right. Well, it`s the same -- what
they`re doing is an excerpt from that debate.

MATTHEWS: I see.

TODD: So I feel...

MATTHEWS: Well, they shouldn`t (ph) have put it out.

TODD: Well, they made the decision to put that out there. I think
they -- they -- they want to believe that the family stuff is -- is a big
deal to evangelicals. But I think you`re right in this sense. I don`t
think voters this time are going to worry about the personal warts. If
Newt Gingrich undoes him, is undone, he`s going to have done it to himself
in some form. I think what the Romney strategy...

MATTHEWS: In real time. In real time.

TODD: In real time. And I think the Romney strategy is hoping -- you
throw all of this stuff at the wall, you hope at some point he cracks. You
know, Gingrich every once in a while, in his past, when you`ve gotten under
his skin, he cracks, you know? He gets upset about Air Force One. And
that`s really the strategy...

MATTHEWS: Yes, but...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Get him upset, let him show his tantrums.

TODD: Right. That`s what they`re hoping.

MATTHEWS: But this kind of stuff is so familiar to him. John Harris,
you get in on this. It`s so familiar, these attacks. It`s hitting him,
you know, like hitting -- Cyrano de Bergerac has a long nose. I mean, I
thought I knew that was coming, you know?

It almost becomes a joke. It shows your pathetic nature. And I just
wonder whether going after him about his marriages, which are pretty well
known, his conversion to another religion is pretty well known -- to hit
him on those personal chops after they`ve happened in the past, I wonder if
that upsets Romney -- I mean, upsets Newt.

I don`t think it does. I think he says, Go ahead, make my day. My
hunch.

HARRIS: But these are just pieces of a mosaic that Romney and his
allies are trying to lay down. And the larger picture is that Newt is too
erratic, he`s too unstable, he`s too undisciplined, he`s too unpopular.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HARRIS: He carries too much history. And so I don`t think that the
bit about his marriages or about his religion will be central to any kind
of sustained attack.

I do think the broader attack will be, We`ve got a great opportunity
to beat Barack Obama, and Gingrich is just too flawed a man, too flawed a
messenger to be the person for that job. That`s the case Mitt Romney`s
going to make...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HARRIS: ... and we`ll find out over the next month how people --
whether people find it convincing.

MATTHEWS: I`m convinced that the one way -- not convinced -- right
now, I believe the one way that the Romney people can open up Newt Gingrich
is to look at -- is to get the Republican voter in these caucuses and
primaries to think about how the White House may have thought or may
believe that they can open up Newt Gingrich like a cantaloupe...

HARRIS: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... that you`re serving up to the White House exactly what
they want, a guy who`s deeply flawed, who won`t even give the president a
contest, another -- another...

TODD: Well, or worse...

MATTHEWS: ... Alan Keyes.

TODD: Or worse, you cost Republicans the House and the Senate.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: You know, they -- they believe -- look, the Republicans believe
in this town they may lose -- the president may get reelected, but they
take comfort in the fact that they`re about 70 percent confident they`ll
reelect the House majority, and they`re about 60 percent confident they`re
going to get the Senate majority...

MATTHEWS: Yes, I agree.

TODD: ... as long as the nominee doesn`t...

MATTHEWS: Holds his own.

TODD: ... mess it up. You know, and the knock on Gingrich is going
to be that -- some of these long-time insiders are saying, Hey, you already
reelected one Democratic president, Bill Clinton in `96. Don`t do it
again.

MATTHEWS: Yes, think that`s the argument.

TODD: That`s going to try...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: The polls don`t indicate that that`s a fact yet.

MATTHEWS: That`s right. I think that`s the big challenge over the
Christmas and holidays, right now between -- between now and the 3rd of
January, is to convince that caucus voter, that primary voter, Whoa, you
may want to vote for a guy that hates like you do, a guy that can throw
shots like you can, Newt, but be careful, this guy can`t play defense, he
can only play offense.

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd for coming on. Thank you, John Harris,
sir, for coming on.

HARRIS: So long, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Have a good weekend.

Coming up: What is it about Newt Gingrich that a good many of his
former House colleagues simply don`t like? We`re going to ask one of the
few members of Congress that supports him, Georgia congressman Jack
Kingston.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, anti-incumbent fever has reached an all-time high in
the country. According to a new Gallup poll, 3 out of 4 voters now say
most members of Congress don`t deserve to be reelected. That`s 76 percent,
and that`s the highest number Gallup has measured in the 19-year history of
asking that question.

People don`t like incumbents, but when asked about their own member of
Congress, the old question, voters are much more generous -- 53 percent say
their congressman or woman deserves to be reelected, versus just 39 percent
who say they don`t.

Well, you only get to vote on your own, so I guess it doesn`t matter
that you`re hateful of all of Congress because you only get to vote on one
of them, yours, and that person looks like they`ve got a margin of
advantage here.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Newt Gingrich served as speaker
of the House for four years in the 1990s, so you might think he`d have
support from the legislative branch in his bid for the presidency, yet many
congressional Republicans are openly distancing themselves from Gingrich,
and many more tell reporters off the record how unenthusiastic they really
are about the prospects of Newt Gingrich returning to a position of power
in Washington.

Perhaps most telling, of the members of Congress who have issued
endorsements, 55 have given them to Mitt Romney. Only 8 have gone to back
already Newt Gingrich, according to "Roll Call."

One of Newt`s backers joins us now, a fellow Republican from Georgia,
Congressman Jack Kingston. I`ve got a lot of respect for you, sir, and I
appreciate you coming on the show. But let`s take a look at a few examples
of current and former members of Congress who have worked with Newt
Gingrich and who aren`t so excited about his candidacy as you are. Let`s
watch, then you respond to what their motives might be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: There`s a lot of candidates out there.
I`m not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich`s, having served under
him for four years and experienced personally his leadership. I just found
his leadership lacking.

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CONGRESSWOMAN: Most of us are
terrified to death that he would become the Republican nominee. We know
that he has these visions of grandiosity.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: As far as governing, as far as being a
leader, he`s too erratic, he`s too self-centered. The time he was speaker,
there was, like, one crisis after another, and they were almost all self-
inflicted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you make of these critiques, Congressman?

REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: Well, I certainly respect their
point of view, Chris, but I have to point out that when the dark days of
Newt`s campaign happened in May, a lot of members of Congress kind of left
the ship. And as you know, members of Congress, generally speaking, are
cautious about who they endorse because you embrace a candidate whose
candidacy implodes, and then it reflects on you and then you look pretty
silly. So members of Congress tend to hold back and be cautious anyhow.

And what Newt did in May, when he said, OK, these fair weather friends
who were going to line up behind me have left me -- I`m just going to go
straight to the voters. I`m going to go talk to the people of New
Hampshire and Iowa and South Carolina. I`m going to do the debates.

And then he started doing that, and you know, it was a comeback
Charlie. He has come back very hard. He`s shown a lot of character, I
think, in terms of his reserve, his staying power, if you will.

And now what we`re hearing and what I`m getting on the floor of the
House -- and Joe Barton and Mike Burgess and Phil Gingrey -- people are
coming up to us and saying, You know what? I want to take a second look.
Tell me more about Newt. When can I meet him? Is he coming back to the
Hill to talk to us?

MATTHEWS: Yes, but if you go hire his staffer, chief of staff or
someone on his legislative team, to work with your constituents, you would
ask around about what he was like or she was like to work with. And here
we`re getting people who actually worked with Newt who don`t say -- it`s
not that they hold back judgment, as you suggest, they offer judgment, and
it`s negative.

How do you explain that? What`s their motive in attacking him, even
if he`s not going to be the nominee?

KINGSTON: Well, you know, I understand -- you know, Sue Molinari and
Peter King are from the Northeast, where we don`t do very well in New York
City, in general. And so sometimes it`s in the congressman`s district
interests not to support somebody like Newt. Mitt Romney is the safer
candidate.

MATTHEWS: Tom Coburn.

KINGSTON: Coburn is an outspoken guy, regardless. But I`m going to
give you that one, Chris. I understand that.

MATTHEWS: OK.

KINGSTON: But let me say this. When Newt came to power as speaker,
we had deficit projections of $2.7 trillion for the next decade. After
four years, we had surpluses of $2.3 trillion. Unemployment went to 4.6
percent. Welfare reform was accomplished, in which childhood poverty was
decreased and two thirds of the people on Welfare got jobs.

Now, this was done under a bipartisan administration, working with
Bill Clinton, and sometimes fighting Bill Clinton very famously and very
openly. And yet, despite the chaos, the achievements and the
accomplishments speak for itself.

And that`s why I think he`s doing so well among Republican voters who
have been watching this whole process for six months, tuning in on every
single debate, and saying, debate after debate, Newt Gingrich seems to be
the winner.

MATTHEWS: Well, one of the people that watched Newt Gingrich in
action is me, Congressman, back when I was the speaker`s A.A., Tip O`Neill.
And I watched a couple things which I think are objectively wrong about
him.

Now, there are some strengths. He`s obviously very smart. And in
many ways, he brought the Republicans into power. But look at how he did
it. He called Democratic leaders corrupt. That was his word. He likes
that word, corrupt. He organized special -- special -- what do they call
them, special sessions in the evening...

KINGSTON: Special orders.

MATTHEWS: Special orders, where he went after the Democrats as
traitors, as not loyal to their country.

His tactics are so vicious. Is every Democrat you don`t like corrupt?
Are Democrats traitors? I know the ends justify the means sometimes. Do
you justify them there?, the means he uses to get in power?

KINGSTON: No, I don`t. And I think that his style has calmed down a
little bit, and I do think it was too hard-charging in the day.

And, Chris, I want to point out, I`m one of the few members of
Congress who has sponsored a bipartisan piece of legislation and worked on
it with Dick Durbin and Herb Kohl in the Senate. It was signed into law.
It was the agriculture appropriation bill about a month ago. So I believe
in bipartisanship, particularly in split government.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KINGSTON: And while Newt does sometimes have a bombastic style, you
still have to remember that balancing the budget, decreasing the
unemployment numbers and welfare reform, Medicare reform, Contract With
America, all of these achievements were done with Bill Clinton`s signature
as president.

So despite the rough-and-tumble style, accomplishments were made.
Think about this. Would Newt Gingrich ever have left town and gone to
Indonesia while a super committee was working on deficit reduction? He
wouldn`t do that. He would be a very on-hands president.

Now, there`s some good and some bad in that, and I understand.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KINGSTON: But, still, I think he`s a guy of action, which is what the
voters are looking for.

MATTHEWS: Well, he would have gone to Indonesia if he got to ride in
the front of the plane.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But that`s another case where he had a tantrum because he
had to ride in the back.

I agree with you, look, nobody`s perfect, nobody`s totally evil. I do
have a couple of candidates for that situation, but I`m not going to bring
them up right now. One`s Dick Cheney, of course.

But, anyway, thank you, Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia, the
state of Newt Gingrich.

Joining us right now for a look at Newt`s chances in Iowa is "New
York" magazine national affairs editor John Heilemann. He`s also an MSNBC
political analyst.

Mitt Romney has unleashed his dogs, his surrogates, John Sununu and
Jim Talent, to attack Newt Gingrich. If he doesn`t do it himself, he`s
going to look like Pawlenty, a guy that is a wuss when he`s expected --
will this guy be a Pawlenty this Saturday night at that ABC debate, John
Heilemann?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we will see, Chris.

I think the folks up in Boston know the truth of what you`re saying.
I think they know that if this narrative is going to get changed and if
they`re going to hold Newt back and break this momentum that he has right
now, it is going to have to be Mitt Romney that does it.

I went to see Romney this morning in -- up in Cedar Rapids. He gave a
very standard, fine performance in a factory there, talking to a bunch of
people, a town meeting kind of setting. It was a very -- I have seen him
do this for the last year, when he`s done them. Not the different.

There was only one moment where he singled out Gingrich, which was on
the question of the Paul Ryan entitlement reform plan, where he criticized
him very mildly. But you could argue that he was just holding his fire
until tomorrow night, when the eyes of the world and particularly the eyes
of Iowa will be on him.

But we will see. This will be a very, very big moment, both for Mitt
Romney and for Newt Gingrich to see how he responds.

MATTHEWS: I heard part of that speech today. He`s talking about his
dad and how he got to be head of a motor company, American Motors, and how
he got to be governor. Very soft stuff. It`s hardly the kind of pre-
gaming or the buildup you do if you`re to go going after a guy`s jugular.

He doesn`t look like he`s getting in training for it.

HEILEMANN: I agree. And it`s funny, Chris. It`s like this has been
-- you know, one of the things that makes Gingrich appealing to base voters
in the Republican Party is the fact they think not only can he possibly
beat Barack Obama, but that he kind of beat him up and that he can bloody
him and give him a black eye.

MATTHEWS: Exactly.

HEILEMANN: They find that lacking in Mitt Romney. And now Romney
will have to demonstrate that in spades right now.

And this is why this is a great opportunity for Romney, because if he
can now take Gingrich on, he not only can break Gingrich`s momentum, but he
can actually demonstrate to conservative voters that he is capable of
taking on a dragon, taking on a big guy like Newt Gingrich, and therefore,
like Barack Obama.

But it is like the -- it is the make-or-break challenge for him. If
he can`t do this, he will fall short in two different ways on the same
front, I think.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, in writing your book about this, you might
think about the fact that this is how Newt Gingrich got to be powerful in
the House. He took over the House leadership, really, because the nice
guys, like Bob Michel before him, wouldn`t go for the jugular.

You know, even moderates like Lynn Martin of Illinois, said they ended
up voting for Gingrich for power knowing how nasty he is because they were
tired of losing.

HEILEMANN: Yes, 40 years out of power.

And, as you know, Chris, back at that time, the idea that Republicans
would ever take control of the House of Representatives, although everybody
liked people like Bob Michel, this was a guy who was never going to lead.

They needed to have an insurgent energy. Gingrich was the insurgent
energy. He was sometimes the nasty energy, but he was also the successful
energy that made it possible for them to do what many people thought was
unthinkable at that time. And I think that`s one of the things that for a
lot of Republicans, they remember that, and they`re willing to forgive
Gingrich a lot of sins because of that huge, signal, historic
accomplishment on behalf of the party.

MATTHEWS: This guy`s Geronimo, isn`t he? He`s the guy going over the
top with. Anyway, I think it`s Geronimo. I don`t think Geronimo`s a
peacemaker or a deal-maker. He`s not going to unite the country, but he
may take the hill.

Anyway, thank you, John Heilemann.

Geronimo!

Up next, remember Rick Perry? He`s so desperate to get his campaign
back on track, he`s attacking gays and lesbian. I think it`s a pretty
shameful strategy.

By the way, Mr. Perry, Governor, there are nine members of the Supreme
Court, not eight. I wonder if you could pass a citizenship test right now.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

First up: Lesson learned? Well, definitely not the right lesson in
this case. Remember, this week, we showed an ad released by Rick Perry`s
campaign that in addition to blaming President Obama for a -- quote -- "war
on religion," it also slams letting gays serve openly in the military.

Well, let`s watch a portion of the Perry ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RICK PERRY CAMPAIGN AD)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m not ashamed to
admit that I`m a Christian, but you don`t need to be in the pew every
Sunday to know that there`s something wrong in this country when gays can
serve openly in the military, but our kids can`t openly celebrate Christmas
or pray in school.

As president, I will end Obama`s war on religion, and I will fight
against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, no surprise that the ad sparked backlash from people
on both sides of the political divide and even garnered close to 500,000
dislikes on the campaign`s YouTube channel.

And apparently that`s what really got to them. The campaign`s
response, they simply disabled the like and dislike icons for the newest
addition of their ad lineups, so they don`t get bad press there.

Still, Perry stuck to his argument when asked about President Obama`s
-- quote -- "war on religion." And true to form, his response was not
without a snafu.

Let`s listen for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you really believe he`s waging a war on religion?

PERRY: I do, when you see his appointment of two, from my
perspective, inarguably activist judges, whether it was -- Matomayor.

QUESTION: Sonia Sotomayor?

PERRY: Sotomayor. Sotomayor and Kagan are both activist judges,
whether it`s about prayer in school, whether it`s -- you can celebrate
Christmas. Those are decisions that should be left to the states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Oh, God. At least he knew what the name rhymed with --
"Matomayor."

And, as I mentioned earlier, Perry also referenced the fact that we
currently have eight Supreme Court justices. I guess he had a brain freeze
before thinking of the other one.

And, finally, how should a presidential candidate who hasn`t been
invited to any of the recent presidential debates know he`s hit rock
bottom? Well, ask Buddy Roemer, whose campaign currently looks a bit more
like a one-man show.

A piece in today`s "Washington Post" gives an inside look at the lack
of enthusiasm surrounding Roemer with an account of his recent attendance
at an Occupy rally up in New Hampshire -- quote -- "The rally was scheduled
to start at 6:00, so Roemer arrived at the park 15 minutes early with two
of his aides. The temperature was below freezing. And, finally, at 6:15,
Roemer`s director of scheduling looked at his watch and realized his boss`
parking meter was about to run out. Roemer had already received four $20
tickets in the past month.

"Fearful of more tickets, his staff had taken to pausing its work
every two hours to refill the meter. `Governor, we better deal with your
car now,` the scheduling director said. `OK,` said the governor. `Let`s
call it a night. There`s no audience here anyway.`"

Well, not quite the image you usually associate with a presidential
campaign, is it? I think calling it a night might apply to the Roemer
campaign itself.

Up next, from the "Sideshow" to the clown show, now with no
ringmaster. Donald Trump has been unable to attract more than a pair of
contestants to his December 27 debate. He`s got Newt and he`s got Santorum
and none of the rest. And that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Amanda Drury with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

Stocks closing near their session highs, with the Dow Jones
industrials soaring near 185 points, the S&P jumping 20 and the Nasdaq
climbing by 50 points.

So a pretty positive reaction today to the results of the big economic
summit in Brussels -- 26 of the 27 E.U. nations agreed to pursue tighter
fiscal integration, but Britain blocked proposed treaty amendments after it
failed to win some key concessions.

Back here at home in the states, consumer sentiment improved for the
fourth month in a row. Consumers are feeling better about the economy
overall, but still skittish about their own personal finances.

And the trade deficit narrowed to its lowest point in 10 months.
Unfortunately, though, that was due in part to slower import and export
activities.

A couple of stocks to mention for you. GE gaining after boosting its
quarterly dividend by 2 cents a share, but chemical giant DuPont skidded
after slashing its profit outlook on slowing demand in end-user markets.

That`s it from CNBC. Have a great Friday, everybody. We`re first in
business worldwide -- back over to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.

Is Donald Trump`s political clown show finally coming to an end? For
months, we have watched candidate after candidate make the pilgrimage to
the court of Donald Trump. This week, however, almost all of them said no
to his so-called debate later this month. Only Newt Gingrich and Rick
Santorum have said they`re coming. It`s not exactly the blockbuster he`d
hoped for.

"TIME" magazine`s Mark Halperin is MSNBC senior political analyst, and
Michael Steele was chairman of the Republican National Committee and is an
MSNBC political analyst.

Mark, I guess -- I think there is a shame factor. I guess there were
so many hoots from the crowd that people who were running for president
decided it wasn`t really fitting for them to show such a -- such support
for someone who is not really, in any way, in the political process.

MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Chris, I think
the other factor for a lot of these candidates is they don`t want to do an
unpredictable debate that close to the caucuses. They have got two more
debates in Iowa before the Trump debate is scheduled.

And I think the risk-averse candidates, like a Mitt Romney, decided
getting involved in an unpredictable thing with an unpredictable moderator
just wasn`t something they wanted to take on.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this, how it got started.

I think Trump got started here. He is a brilliant showman. He
obviously is very good at business. You can argue about what kind of a
billionaire, seven times, or just once. Once is pretty good, pretty
amazing to me.

If he`s -- what is he up to? He decided to announce for president.
Think about the gambit he pulled here. That got him at the top of the poll
in your party.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MATTHEWS: That`s a source of embarrassment, I would say, for your
party, the fact that a guy from outside the process, with no political
experience -- number one, what does he -- how does he win at this game?

We`re talking about him tonight, but something broke in his game this
week. After pushing this thing and pushing this thing, it finally broke
against him. They`re not showing up.

STEELE: Well, I think what Mark said is exactly what it is.

You`re talking about going on in an unpredictable environment, five
days before the first votes in Iowa. A lot of these folks are going to not
take that risk. Newt and Rick Santorum said, look, this is a great
opportunity for us to go out and continue the discussion, and for Newt
especially to continue to build that momentum going into Iowa.

The interesting thing for me, though, was what Santorum in his press
release earlier this week said that I think is dead-on. Look, you wanted
to be around Trump. You go to New York, you want to kiss his ring, get the
photo-op, have the pizza, and now he wants to have you at a table where you
can discuss the issues, and you run away from it.

I would submit to this, that if he had done this in, say, September,
they would all do it. They -- I think you would have gotten a different
response from the crowd.

MATHHEWS: The stakes are too high now?

STEELE: Yes, the stakes are too high right now. I think Mark is
dead-on about that.

MATTHEWS: Well, this morning, Trump had some particularly strong
criticism of one of the people who`s not showing up, Michele Bachmann, who
said she wouldn`t attend. Let`s listen to his shot at her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN: You know who I`m very disappointed,
Michele Bachmann. She`d come up to see me four times, four times. She`d
call me. She`d ask me for advice. She said, I should be her vice
presidential, you know -- if she wins, she`d like to think about me for the
vice presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`d better work.

TRUMP: And then after all of that, she just announced she`s not
going to do the debate. It`s unbelievable!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m surprise --

TRUMP: You know, it`s called loyalty. It`s actually called loyalty.
How do you do that? I mean, it`s amazing to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: John, I think the two Donalds are using the same
hairdresser there. Did you catch that? A shot of our buddy, Imus. I`m
just kidding!

Let me ask you, Mark, you`re the top guy around here in terms of
understanding this thing. Is he going to be a factor, as we go further in
this process? Is Trump going to come in here, possibly as a third party
guy, say if Romney wins the nomination, a moderate Republican, a mainstream
Republican, rather than Newt, is there an opening for Trump to go third
party? Seriously?

HALPERIN: I don`t think there is in terms of actually happening,
because of getting on the ballot, I don`t think he`d be the Americans elect
nominee, and I think getting on the ballot is something that is pretty
burdensome. He could do it if he wanted to, but I don`t think he wants to
go through that.

And I think Trump would want to run if he thought he could win, or if
he thought he can contribute to the debate. Both of those would be
somewhat questionable. He`s pretty good at gaming the system to be part of
the debate, whether he`s a formal candidate or not.

I do think that his issue of China isn`t being talked about very much
by the candidates, and that is still a huge sleeper issue for the
Republican candidate in this race.

MATTHEWS: And what`s his argument?

HALPERIN: That China -- the United States doesn`t do enough to have
leverage with China, that China economically is making the United States a
victim, and the Chinese know it and they laugh at us. I have found from
Hillary Clinton who has talked about it as an issue in this state and
elsewhere four years ago, and when Trump talked about it, I found tons of
resonance on that issue. That`s a hugely resonant issue.

But that alone I think makes Trump`s capacity, maybe not Trump
himself, but Trump`s sense of where the country is at something the
Republicans, at least, can pick up on.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s hard to argue with your banker. As long as the
United States owes billions of dollars to China and they`re holding our
paper, it`s very hard to be mouthy with them. You know, so what we`re
doing now, it seems to be more aggressive than before.

We`re putting bases in Australia. We`re starting to, I don`t want to
say encircle, because that gets them strategically concerned, but we are
trying to check them a bit.

STEELE: There is a check process going on by the U.S. and I think
Trump on that issue wants to make sure that in this presidential debate,
particularly when you get to the table next year, when it`s the Republican
nominee and the president, that this is, if not front and center, it`s
pretty doggone close to it. And he`s going, I think, carry a lot of weight
and sway over the next few months, and his endorsement, again, everybody
went to New York for it. So it means something.

And I think the fact that if this debate goes off at the end of the
year or not is not so much the point. The point is that he`s going to be
at the table. He`s going to have something to say. He`s got an issue that
he wants addressed.

And like you said, the banker may be -- we may be looking at our
banker as China, but in terms of the GOP --

MATTHEWS: OK. He should stay off the birther junk and focus on the
stuff that matters strategically in this country. I think the birther
stuff is playing to the wrong element.

STEELE: I don`t think he`s going to go down that route.

MATTHEWS: He`s done it more recently than he should have.

Here`s an incredible response, by the way, Trump had to a FOX News
interview just this afternoon, talking about President Obama and whether he
deserved credit for the death of Osama bin Laden. Let`s watch Trump in
action, national security expert Trump. Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Let`s talk about Osama bin Laden. I mean, he gets a lot of
credit for that. Look, he happened to be sitting in the Oval Office and
the generals called up and they said, "We have him." And he says, "We have
who?" Osama bin Laden.

Now, here`s his choices, he`s got three. Leave him alone, take him
out with a missile, or go in and get him.

Now, if you`re president, if I`m president, if anybody`s president,
the first thing you say if we got him, "Leave him alone" is out, OK? We`re
going to go get them.

So, the first thing we should get (ph), but you take him out with a
missile or you take him out the way we did. So we took him out the way we
did. So, why is he getting credit for that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don`t understand why he`s making fun of his success.

Mark Halperin, why do you make fun of the president`s call to not go
in with a drone attack of some kind, which might be messy and unclear as to
who it would kill, but going in man on man, doing it the traditional way of
guts and facing down the enemy and making sure we had him and identified
him, making it clear that we`d accomplished there, seemed to be the tougher
call and he made it. He should get credit for that, I think.

HALPERIN: Well, this is a broader issue in Michael Steele`s party
than just Donald Trump, which is, we live in a time where if you oppose
President Obama and you`re a Republican, you don`t give him credit for
anything. You don`t give him credit for even something so in the national
interest, such an emotional issue for America.

And I think that`s a mistake. Whether you consider Trump qualified
to talk about the issue or not, there are plenty of things the president
has accomplished in foreign policy where Republicans are just reflexively
opposed to him. And I think that`s a bad idea politically. I think it
cheapens our politics and I think it`s a bad idea in terms of the country.

MATTHEWS: I mean, this isn`t the Redskins against Dallas where you
just always dump on the other team. At some time, you`ve got to show some
brains and some generosity of heart and brain and he didn`t there. You`ve
got to give this president credit for the tough call and everybody around
him does give him credit. Mark Halperin --

STEELE: If I could real quickly, and I think this one you have to,
because the president did what he need to do, we got the job done, and
Republicans can`t take that away from him.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, sir. Thank you, as always, Michael
Steele. Thank you, Mark Halperin. Have a nice weekend.

Up next, when President Obama responded to phony charges of
appeasement by saying, ask Osama bin Laden about that, he destroyed his
critics and reminded the rest of us not to underestimate him personally.
But why haven`t we seen that side of this president more often?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: I`m ending my six-week book tour around the country for
"Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero" next week Monday at the 92nd Street Y in New
York. The big place we all go to with the book. That`s on Tuesday, by the
way. I`ll be back here in Washington at the National Archives. It`s been
an honor to encourage people to get out there and bring back a great
American hero this Christmas. The true story of Jack Kennedy`s heroism is
a gift we all need now, even if we don`t read it, we need it.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

President Obama is giving Republicans a strong reminder that he`s not
to be underestimated, and he did it in a response to a charge from Mitt
Romney that he is an appeaser. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask Osama bin Laden
and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who`ve been taken off the field
whether I engage in appeasement, or whoever is left out there, ask them
about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s pretty cold.

Cynthia Tucker is a visiting professor of University of Georgia, and
Pulitzer Prize-wining syndicated columnist. And Steve McMahon has never
won a Pulitzer Prize as a Democratic strategist.

I don`t think they`d give for flackery or running campaigns.

But what do you think of that, Cynthia?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: Well, I think --

MATTHEWS: The cold, the kind of Clint Eastwood kind of comment
there?

TUCKER: The campaign has been joined. You know, the Republicans
have been saying this sort of thing about the president for the last couple
of years. He`s weak, he apologizes, Mitt Romney -- the apology tour.

And usually the president just let`s it roll off his back, doesn`t
respond. But the campaign has been joined. He`s tough. He went right in
there after them. He`s not going to let any of these comments pass without
taking him on.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s kind of Cool Hand Luke there and I just wonder
whether we`re going to see more of that, because I think the people that
watch this program, most of them, are looking for that.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. And, you know,
this is -- this is what John Kerry actually never did during the campaign
when the Republicans challenged his service in Vietnam. He never smacked
them down like this.

MATTHEWS: Whose idea was that?

MCMAHON: Oh, I don`t know. The president played this beautifully
though. This is an area where Democrats traditionally, foreign policy and
strength overseas, it`s an area where Democrats traditionally don`t have an
advantage.

Barack Obama has an advantage of the American people --

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s look -- let`s broaden this besides getting Bin
Laden. He also said the drone strike that got that guy al-Awlaki. He also
-- and I don`t agree with a lot of stuff and I`ve said so, he doubled down,
he doubled our forces in Afghanistan. He kept the war in Iraq going for
most of his term. It`s only now ending, a 10-year war now, doubling
actually a surge strategy.

TUCKER: It has been --

MATTHEWS: And this China thing -- we`re starting to push the Chinese
a bit.

TUCKER: It is very difficult for the Republicans to take Barack
Obama on on foreign policy because he`s had so many successes. You can
disagree with him about drone strikes, but he has taken out far more
terrorists and drone strikes.

MATTHEWS: Here`s a smart Republican. There are several out there.
But here`s Chris Christie warning the GOP candidates not to discount Obama
in an appearance here just last month. Let`s watch the governor of New
Jersey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Anybody who underestimates the
president over the next year underestimates him at their own peril. I`ve
watched the president now since he`s gotten more campaign-styled things, he
gets more energized, he gets more animated, he`s off the prompter, he`s
seemingly speaking from his gut. That`s the person that the people elected
in 2008. That`s the guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Here`s a guy talking about a guy. He`s got testosterone
in that room right there.

MCMAHON: That`s exactly right. And, you know, one of the things
that people loved about Chris Christie -- I didn`t -- but the Republicans
did, was the fact that he had that emotive ability. And the president,
you`re beginning to see it now.

MCMAHON: None of your business?

MCMAHON: He`s gone from being the professor in the White House and
the law professor and scholarly person who`s a very good interrogator of
the facts, to somebody out there on the campaign trail, much better on the
campaign trail.

MATTHEWS: You know, I can`t stand this knock that he`s not a pro-
Israel. All American presidents have been pro-Israel, we have to be pro-
Israel and we have to be the peacemakers over there.

We got to two jobs, two jobs. We got to play both of them. The
Republicans never admitted we have the second job.

But he`s over there. He kept the Palestinian state to work in the
U.N. for being named. I thought it was inevitable.

TUCKER: Absolutely. For heaven`s sakes, in Israel, he is regarded
as a friend of the United States. He`s also --

MATTHEWS: You mean a friend of Israel?

TUCKER: Excuse me, in Israel, regarded as a friend of Israel.
Absolutely.

He`s also stepping up the pressure on Iran in case Republicans want
to tackle him on that.

MATTHEWS: I hope he doesn`t stump on them too much. Anyway --

TUCKER: He is back on cue with domestic issues, taking it to them
over middle-class issues. Again, the campaign has been joined.

MATTHEWS: He`s got them over a barrel, by the way, on payroll taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I was listening to a radio today to a conservative, they
cannot win that.

Any way, thank you, Steve McMahon.

MCMAHON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Cynthia. Have a nice weekend, Cynthia
Tucker.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with a famous line from Nietzsche
that definitely applies to Newt Gingrich.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

What does not kill him makes him stronger. If that line by Friedrich
Nietzsche proves correct, God help the Republicans trying to put away Newt
Gingrich. The more Mitt Romney and others attack the former speaker of the
House about his past, the more it makes him into the man to beat right now.
They throw the kitchen sink at this guy and he used it to wash his hands.

This could be the predictor of the fight to come. If Newt gets past
his rivals, he will be stronger than he is now. If the president and his
people then begin the same assault, they may look to be shifting attention
from the problems the country`s voters are feeling now to the distant story
of how Newt Gingrich performed back in the 1990s. The effect might be
precisely what happened when President Carter attacked Ronald Reagan, not
for his economic proposals in 1980, but for his opposition to Medicare way
back in the 1960s.

Going after Reagan`s past instead of his present was what earned
Carter the attack line that killed him -- there you go again, Mr.
President. That dismissive putdown that said, you poor desperate
politician clinging to office with tired, old charges that mean nothing for
the guy looking for a job.

So pay smart attention to this primary about this weekend. The pre-
Christmas Republican debate Saturday night will be the first time that we
get to see Mitt throw his best punch. If he does throw it, it better hit
home. If he doesn`t throw it, he will be accused of pulling a Pawlenty, he
being the former Minnesota governor who promised to go after Romney, didn`t
do it and was thrown out of the race.

This campaign is getting serious. It`s picking up the pace and it`s
showing more and more with each narrowing of the fight the kind of brawl
we`re going to get in four national debates this autumn. Ready, get set,
the worst is yet to come.

Also, the best chance to see what Barack Obama`s made of. I don`t
think it`s sugar candy.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>