updated 1/9/2012 11:32:05 AM ET 2012-01-09T16:32:05

Guests: Howard Fineman, John Heilemann, Amanda Drury, David Gregory, David Corn, Joe Klein, Newt Gingrich, Jennifer Donahue


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in Manchester, New Hampshire,
four days before the first-in-the-country primary.

Leading off tonight: Chasing Mitt. We know Mitt Romney`s extremely
hard to beat here in New Hampshire, but now a new poll shows Mitt with a
strong lead in South Carolina, as well. Rick Santorum hopes to be the guy
to stop him, but Santorum is learning that that old E.F. Hutton motto holds
for presidential candidates, too -- When front-runners talk, people listen.
And Santorum is having a sticky time scoring points after his first-place
tie in Iowa.

Newt takes on Mitt. In just a few weeks, Newt Gingrich has gone from
undisputed front-runner to also-ran, and he has Mitt Romney and his stealth
ad campaign to thank for that. I sat down with Newt last night after the
program, and he did not hold back.


ought to take those ads home and show them to his grandsons and said,
Grandpa did this. What do you think about this kind of trash on


MATTHEWS: Newt vows to be the last man in the fight with Mitt.

Plus: Politico called it "Mitt`s weekend from hell," the big debate
weekend coming up with everyone looking down -- looking to take down
Romney. "MEET THE PRESS" anchor and debate host David Gregory looks ahead
to what could be a make-or-break battle this Sunday.

And speaking of Republican debates, there was one today, a phony
"funny or die" (ph) debate on Yahoo! In fact, sometimes satire is better
than the real thing. We`re going to check it out later in the show.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with the fight to fight Obama and
where it`s headed now.

We start with chasing Mitt Romney. Howard Fineman, MSNBC political
analyst and the Huffington Post Media Group editorial director, and the
great Joe Klein. He`s a columnist for "Time" magazine -- because he is the
great, as you are, Howard.


MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at these poll numbers. Basically, the
poll numbers out -- let`s take a look at the latest poll numbers out of
both South Carolina -- well, South Carolina, let`s start with that. Mitt
Romney has jumped into a first down there with a dominant lead at 37
percent. That`s up 17 points from early December. Rick Santorum also got
a huge boost. He`s in second place now down there with 19, followed very
closely by Newt Gingrich in third. So there we have that one.

We also have the latest Suffolk University tracking poll from up here.
It shows Romney remains in the lead at 40 percent in New Hampshire. He`s
followed by Ron Paul at 17. Rick Santorum is in double digits at 11, and
moving up, but slowly.

The latest national Gallup tracking poll out today, Mitt Romney leads
nationally at 29, but he`s followed in second by Rick Santorum with 21.

So Joe Klein, it looks like Rick Santorum is slowly edging up to be
the number one challenger to Romney.

JOE KLEIN, "TIME": The South Carolina number is really interesting.
I mean, I don`t want to break any news here, but this New Hampshire primary
isn`t all that interesting this time.


KLEIN: You know -- you know, the big -- the next really big deal is
South Carolina, except for the two debates this weekend here, I might add.

MATTHEWS: Well, doesn`t what happens this weekend set up what happens
Tuesday, and that sets up what happens on South Carolina?

KLEIN: I -- you know...

MATTHEWS: It`s dynamic.

KLEIN: But in the past, you could see the dynamism asserting itself
by this point in the week between Iowa and New Hampshire. I just don`t see
all that much happening out there here, and you can see that in the polls.

There are two reasons that...

MATTHEWS: It seems like such a short chasm between the two. I`m
remembering that Ronald Reagan had what, 36 days to make up what he lost
back in `80 to George Herbert Walker Bush.

FINEMAN: This is one week. This is one week. There are a couple
reasons for it. One, as Joe says, is the debates. Everybody`s --
everything`s kind of stalled, waiting for the weekend...

MATTHEWS: This Saturday night...


FINEMAN: ... for "the weekend from heck," as Mitt Romney would call


FINEMAN: The other reason is Rick Santorum, who should be coming on
like gangbusters, should be reaching up toward Mitt Romney -- he`s had a
difficult day in the past. And even though he raised a lot of money, he`s
having problems.

For example, it turns out that -- that Rick Santorum can`t buy any TV
time here in New Hampshire. His campaign said that all of the TV time for
every TV station -- and I assume that`s Boston, as well as New Hampshire --
has already been taken. It`s a small detail, but it`s an important one
that shows the difficulties he has catching up with the slow-moving, not
all that popular but still juggernaut-like Mitt Romney campaign.

KLEIN: And in the free media that he`s getting...

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about...


MATTHEWS: Let`s look at the free media. Yesterday, Rick Santorum got
into a heated back-and-forth with a college student about gay marriage. No
surprise there, given his very conservative position. Let`s watch part of
the exchange.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about the idea that all men are created
equal, and like, the rights to happiness and liberty?


we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?


SANTORUM: Everyone.


SANTORUM: OK. So anyone can marry anybody else.


SANTORUM: So anybody can marry anybody else. So anybody can marry
several people.


SANTORUM: Every -- stop! No, this is not participatory! We`re not -
- we`re not going to do this! We`re going to have a civil discussion, or
we`re going to move on to another question, OK?


SANTORUM: Thank you.


MATTHEWS: Well, you might have expected that -- you know, Howard,
every time you get into a younger generation, they`re going to have a
fight, you can generally expect, with Rick Santorum.


MATTHEWS: He`s very much for traditional marriage, as he would put
it, against any kind of same-sex -- in fact, against the Lawrence case
decision about sodomy. He`s basically for -- he said it would be fine with
him, constitutionally, to outlaw birth control. Obviously, he`s going to
have a...


FINEMAN: Yes, this is a clash. The thing that Rick Santorum is most
passionate about are these issues.


FINEMAN: Birth control, family, contraception, gay marriage,
especially. He walks into a meeting of college kids from all over New
England, who are Democrats, Republicans and independents, and that is oil
and water, and the result you saw.

MATTHEWS: Right. And that`s not what he wants to talk about if he`s
going to...


FINEMAN: That`s right. If he talks about that, he`s got no shot

KLEIN: I was there yesterday, and it was really remarkable because he
tried to engage these kids in a Socratic dialogue, you know, a phony
Socratic dialogue. And during the course of this entire hour he spent with
them, he never mentioned his manufacturing plan or his economic policy...

MATTHEWS: Or his grandfather.

KLEIN: ... or his grandfather.

MATTHEWS: With the big hands.

KLEIN: Right.


FINEMAN: But he invites it, though, because this is -- I`ve covered a
million of his events. This is what he cares most passionately about. And
of course, they fed right into it by asking him about it.

MATTHEWS: It`s almost like Frank Sinatra -- You want to fight, I`ll
fight, you know? I mean, the guy comes in the room...

KLEIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... a kid says, You want to fight about marriage? Good.
Let`s talk about it. And as you said, Socratic method. He says, Let me
put to you another case. And he wants to have real dialogue...

FINEMAN: Well, he also...


FINEMAN: He also does it -- at his events, he does a lot of asking
questions of the crowd.


FINEMAN: That`s...


MATTHEWS: ... I say why not...

FINEMAN: Well, he asks them if they know the answer to questions.

KLEIN: It`s like bidding at bridge. You say...


MATTHEWS: And some young person who`s not going to engage in a one-
on-one kind of Socratic discussion, they`re going to challenge him as a

KLEIN: Here`s what a professional politician would do. He would say,
Look, my position on gay marriage comes from my church. I adhere to it.
We`re going to disagree on this.

FINEMAN: Let`s talk about...

KLEIN: Let`s talk about manufacturing and how I want to zero out the


FINEMAN: I think Joe and I separately concluded that he does remind
us of the social studies teacher in high school who really was interesting,
wanted to engage the kids, until he sort of went off the deep end into
something that was clearly an obsession of his. And that`s -- and the way
it is -- and that`s the way it is with Santorum...


FINEMAN: ... you know, all those teachers. And him, it`s abortion,
gay marriage and birth control.

MATTHEWS: But in all fairness...

KLEIN: But these days -- these days...

MATTHEWS: ... you can`t pick your audience. Go ahead...


KLEIN: ... had the final twist on that. He said he was a social
studies teacher at a Jesuit high school.



MATTHEWS: ... in college, they like to argue. Let me ask you about
this whole question -- I`ve been to a couple -- I went out to that Gingrich
event last night before I got the interview with him late last night. You
can`t pick your audience. The first person up wanted to talk about
MIA/POWs and said -- the woman said, And don`t give me that, I`m going to
look it up and look into it. I want a thoroughgoing answer. The next
person was talking -- was saying, Everybody here going`s to be dead in 10
years. It was an older crowd. Let`s talk about the younger people. They
want real answers. You can`t give them that...


FINEMAN: I love New Hampshire. I love it...

MATTHEWS: They don`t want quickies.

FINEMAN: It`s not Midwest nice like Iowa (INAUDIBLE) Iowa. Here
they`re in your face. That`s the style. And it`s hard to control a crowd.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to the strategic problem for Mitt -- for
Santorum. He wants to be number two. He wants to be Avis to the other
guy`s Hertz. He wants to be, We try harder. How do you get into that
position? How do you do it, if you`re him, between here and South

KLEIN: Well, you know, he`s got to beat Gingrich. He`s got to get
Gingrich out of there somehow. I mean, I...

MATTHEWS: But how do you do it in terms of audience and free media
we`re talking about?

KLEIN: I don`t know how he does it at this point.

MATTHEWS: Well, give him some help.

KLEIN: Give him some help?

MATTHEWS: Throw him a line.

KLEIN: I think he has to -- I think what he has to have is a very
concise message. He has to talk about his grandfather. He has to mention
that he happens to be a Roman Catholic in a state with a lot of them. And
he has to talk about manufacturing policy in a state where a lot of
manufacturing jobs have been lost.

FINEMAN: See, Chris, he made progress as far as he did in Iowa by
being really earnest and almost long-winded...


FINEMAN: ... with his answers on everything. That`s Iowa, because
you have the house party after house party after house parties. Here in
New Hampshire, it`s a little different. He`s got to focus his message
better than he has so far. He`s got to be concise. He`s got to stick to
it. And he`s got to not think he`s going to get points for mere earnest...

MATTHEWS: OK, also...


MATTHEWS: He had a question the other day about health care, where a
woman had a child who had cancer and all -- and he was just so tough on his
free market solution here, he just -- here it is. He rejected the idea of
universal health care, noting that people make poor decisions with respect
to their health. Well, today at a campaign stop, he was confronted by a
mother of a cancer survivor. Let`s watch part of their exchange.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m the mother of a cancer survivor, my son, and
your comments that people don`t make the right choices -- I made the right
choices when I was pregnant with him, did everything right. He was 5 years
old when he was diagnosed with cancer. Why do you think it`s OK for him to
possibly be denied health care insurance or have to pay a fee that he won`t
be able to afford?

SANTORUM: That`s not how insurance works! Insurance works when
people who are higher risk end up having to pay more, as they should. You
say in your case of your son, absolutely, he obviously did nothing wrong.
Obviously, there are a lot of other people who did a lot of things that
increased their health risk, that did do things wrong.


MATTHEWS: This is where a candidate gets in trouble. They make it
sort of a meritocratic attitude towards bad health. Like, everybody
smokes, everybody drinks too much. Some people have bad health because of
genetic reality and just bad breaks.

FINEMAN: If you want to talk about health care and changing the
health care system in the abstract, don`t do it when being asked a question
by a cancer survivor...


FINEMAN: ... a mother of a cancer survivor.

MATTHEWS: Right. You`re going to lose that argument.

FINEMAN: That`s not the time to do it, OK? And Santorum, like the
other candidates, sometimes has a -- escalates everything to the
theoretical at a time when he should be talking to the person.

MATTHEWS: You`re right. He`s too case (ph), too Socratic. He likes
to be a teacher. And he also is a truth teller. Whatever you think of
Rick Santorum, he gives you Rick Santorum.

FINEMAN: Yes, he does.

MATTHEWS: He is not Mitt Romney!

KLEIN: But the problem is that bad luck isn`t ideologically
convenient for Republicans.

MATTHEWS: OK. No. And this time, he needs to make up ground, and
he`s not making it up this day. Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank
you, Joe Klein.

Coming up, my interview with Newt Gingrich. He`s taken on Mitt
Romney, and for Newt, it`s getting personal. And that`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL from the Manchester -- from Manchester, just
four days before the New Hampshire primary. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Newt Gingrich is campaigning
hard in New Hampshire, following a dramatic fall in the polls, due in large
part to a barrage of negative ads run by a pro-Romney super-PAC called
Restore Our Future.

Well, I caught up with the former speaker in Meredith, New Hampshire,
late last night, and I got his criticism of his two chief rivals now, Mitt
Romney and Rick Santorum.

Here with me to discuss my interview is John Heilemann, national
affairs editor for "New York" magazine and an MSNBC political analyst. We
begin, John, with those nasty ads from Team Romney. And I asked Gingrich
about the tone of his Republican campaign so far. Let`s listen.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about -- you made some comments about the
quality of the campaign, the tone of the campaign, and the tone of the
administration that will follow it. You talked about -- you compared, I
think, what was going on now from the Romney campaign with what happened in
2004 with the Swift-Boating of John Kerry and how that sort of polluted the
water, if you will, keeping the metaphor, for what happened in the second
Bush term. He couldn`t get things done, like privatization.

That`s right. One of the reasons I began drifting towards running was a
paper I wrote in the summer of `04, which said that on 53 issues, John
Kerry was in the minority by an average of 77 to 17, that he was to the
left of Teddy Kennedy.

You could run a clean, straight choice campaign of big issues, and
they would have won by a margin like Nixon did McGovern, or you know,
Reagan-Mondale. They couldn`t break loose. For some reason, they were
just committed to trying to take on Kerry personally. Well, when you do
this, when you run negative ads that are personal, you may break the other
guy, but you also break yourself.

MATTHEWS: And divide the country.

GINGRICH: You divide the country.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this campaign. I know you want to go
positive, but the nature of this campaign, and what was done against you in
Iowa -- let`s talk about it because we all watched it. You couldn`t turn
on a TV set without hearing a negative on you, and they were about you
personally, and they were written by somebody who did the ad copy, but they
were never signed by anybody.

GINGRICH: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: There was no name on it that said, I paid for this ad.

KLEIN: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: My name`s Mitt Romney.

GINGRICH: Right, and I...


MATTHEWS: ... our system.

KLEIN: Well, and I took Romney head on about this because it`s all
baloney. Those are his staff from the last campaign with his millionaire
friends paying for it. Those are his ads. He just didn`t have the guts to
admit it, OK?

MATTHEWS: Well, he did come out and say, I could have called off the
dogs -- not using his words. I could have made it less negative, but why
should I? This guy ought to be taking the heat. I mean, he basically
backed them up.

GINGRICH: And here`s my answer. He has grandchildren. He ought to
run a campaign worthy of his grandchildren. He ought to take those ads
home and show them to his grandson and say, Grandpa did this. What do you
think about this kind of trash on television? What do you think about
somebody being beaten up like this on television? We should run campaigns
worthy of our best, not campaigns that demean us to our worst.


MATTHEWS: Pretty tough. Pretty personal there. He`s accusing him of
basically trashing the other candidate in a way that would be embarrassing
to his own family, to his grandkids. He`s sort of below the cut of what a
person ought to be to run for president. He said he`s Swift-Boating,
basically, him. He`s accusing him of being -- in fact, he went after W. to
get him. So he nailed W. and his entire Republican campaign in `04 to
trash Romney.

know, I am always a little bit hesitant, you know, when we do political
analysis, to talk about, Well, it`s personal, so-and-so doesn`t like -- I
mean, those things exist, but usually, there`s a greater strategic aim that
they`re trying to accomplish. In fact, there`s something else going on.
Man, everything Newt Gingrich is doing right now seems...

MATTHEWS: Going after Romney.

HEILEMANN: ... seems very personal. And you know, he went from, I
think, believing at the beginning of December -- he said this, but I think
he actually believed it -- that he was going to be the Republican nominee.

And he did -- I was in Iowa for a lot of December, and it was a carpet
bombing that he experienced. And I think he thinks Mitt Romney is a person
without honor.

I also think that whenever you see someone saying, I will run a
relentlessly positive campaign, as Gingrich did, it usually means they`re
broke and they don`t have a choice in the matter.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re being tough, but that`s true. And I think he
would have -- you`re saying that he would have ran a carpet-bombing
campaign against the other guy.

HEILEMANN: I certainly think he would have fought back and been able
to try to respond in a more effective way than he did if he had some money.
He was -- he was -- you know, he didn`t really get the surge of cash until
after he had the surge in the polls, and by then, it was sort of too late
to convert that into an effective strategy.

MATTHEWS: OK, look what happened here. It`s like Nixon coming in his
third or fourth campaign and saying, There`s a new Nixon.


MATTHEWS: So Newt comes in saying, I`m not going to be a dirtball guy
this time.


MATTHEWS: This time I`m going to do it clean.


MATTHEWS: You know? It`s like Michael Corleone -- We`re going
completely legit this time. Meanwhile, the other guy, who`s Mr. Pure, goes
to church every Sunday, Mr. Nice, perfect family -- he`s killing him with
trash ads all night long, all day long, meanwhile not getting his fingers


MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t you get mad?

HEILEMANN: I would. I`d be -- look, I`d be furious. And when I saw
Romney on "MORNING JOE" saying, Well, we can`t tell them to stop because
we`d go to jail for that -- it was ludicrous. I mean, of course, it`s

MATTHEWS: Well, on another occasion, he said he could have told them
to stop.

HEILEMANN: Of course, it`s true that you can`t coordinate, but
there`s nothing in the law that...


MATTHEWS: ... as the rumor mill would have said, more of the raw seat
(ph) of the hurricane.

HEILEMANN: Yes, here we go.

MATTHEWS: Here`s Newt again and his own description of his own
campaign. By the way, he`s doing some trashing here right in this
interview. Plus his take on why the Tea Party can`t stand Romney. Let`s
watch him again.


MATTHEWS: Well, what was it like sitting in a hotel room, watching
these ads?

GINGRICH: I didn`t do much of that. I was out campaigning.

MATTHEWS: But you heard about them.

GINGRICH: Well, I knew about them. I saw some of them. Look, the
reason you`re now seeing me relentlessly compare a Massachusetts moderate
to a Reagan conservative is...


GINGRICH: ... is the ad of me that was "Saturday Night Live" was one
where Romney`s people questioned if I was a conservative.

And I thought to myself, let me get this straight. This is a guy who
didn`t support Reagan in the `80s, who said in `94 he didn`t want to go
back to the Reagan policies, who voted for Paul Tsongas in `92, who
appointed liberal judges, has tax-paid abortions, puts Planned Parenthood
into Romneycare, and he`s questioning whether I`m a conservative?

MATTHEWS: Are you running a negative campaign right now, when you say
something like that?


GINGRICH: No. I`m running a fact...


MATTHEWS: You just went through a list of the tyrannies of the left
here, basically, as you see them.


MATTHEWS: And you`re laughing, but you say you`re running a positive

GINGRICH: Well, no, I`m running -- look, I`m running a campaign of
contrast on public policy, which I would not have run if Romney had been
willing to run a -- if he`d run a campaign of policy ideas, I would have
stuck with policy ideas. And, by the way, I would have beaten him.

MATTHEWS: You called him a "Saturday Night Live" joke. Well, that`s
pretty strong.

GINGRICH: Well, that ad was a "Saturday Night Live" joke.

For a Massachusetts moderate to put out an ad questioning my
credentials as a conservative is the kind of chutzpah that you really don`t
quite expect to find in somebody like Romney. I mean...

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about Tampa. I have always thought
watching this thing from the other side, watching it from the middle
sometimes, and sometimes sympathetically, I look at this Tea Party
phenomenon, which is a real phenomenon.

GINGRICH: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: It may be wearing itself out, I don`t know. Here we are
today at a Tea Party. How do these people and their representatives go
down to Tampa come the end of this summer, when it`s sweltering down there?

I always like to get the atmospherics. It`s hot. The humidity`s 105,
and they sit around and they cheer Mitt Romney. How does that work?

GINGRICH: They don`t. He`s not going to be the nominee.

MATTHEWS: Could it be -- could it work if he were the nominee? Would
they ever be able to cheer him?


GINGRICH: They would never cheer him. Why would you cheer someone --
if you are a Tea Party person, why would you cheer somebody who raised
taxes, created the prototype of Obamacare, appointed liberal judges to
appease the Democrats -- that`s his language, not mine -- and put in tax-
paid abortions, took care of Planned Parenthood?

I mean, here`s an easy question for you to ask. Name one conservative
accomplishment in public policy in Romney`s career.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Newt going positive there.


MATTHEWS: He`s accused him of a tax-paid abortions. He`s going after
liberal judges. He`s got Planned Parenthood on his rap sheet. He`s
hitting him with everything he`s got now. So where are we going here?

HEILEMANN: Welcome to New Hampshire and South Carolina, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, look at the debates. I`m prepping him. I`m not
saying this is what he`s going to do Saturday night and Sunday morning, but
you have got to believe that Newt`s ready, loaded for bear to go after
Romney tomorrow night and then definitely Sunday morning.

HEILEMANN: The relentlessly positive campaign is over.

And, look, just to be fair to the Romney super PACs -- it sounds
incredible to say that -- but a lot of things they hit Newt on, he says,
I`m just being factual. They hit Newt on taking money from Freddie Mac.
And that was a factual claim.


HEILEMANN: They show pictures of him with Nancy Pelosi. That was
also a factual claim.

So it`s a little bit hypocritical for him to claim that he`s doing
facts and they weren`t doing facts. But, look, there is fodder for him.
Bob Shrum, our friend, wrote a column the other day suggesting what Newt
should say to Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think he`s ready.

HEILEMANN: And going through and saying -- but, look, you have
pictures of Mitt Romney with Ted Kennedy signing the Massachusetts health
care law, pictures of Mitt Romney with Ted Kennedy signing No Child Left
Behind and saying, you, sir, if you`re a Republican, you`re a Ted Kennedy
Republican. That was Shrum`s suggestion.

MATTHEWS: So it`s basically -- I want to bring this back when we come
back in a minute after the break.

Isn`t what Newt`s doing serving up what the Republicans can do against
him later in the year and conservatives if they run third party against
him, right?


MATTHEWS: And the Democrats can question whether he`s a little too
nimble, moving around a little too far.

John Heilemann is staying with us. And we have got more Newt coming

By the way, stick around, because in a couple minutes, you`re going to
see what Newt`s probably going to use over the weekend in these big
debates. He`s waging a two-front war, by the way, right now. He`s got to
get Romney, but before he gets to Romney, he`s got to get past Santorum.

When we come back, you are going to see him hitting in both
directions. This is like World War II fighting a two-fight war, and Newt`s
fighting it.

Back to the Armory here in Manchester in one minute. We will be right


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We`re back with John Heilemann and more of the interview we did with
Newt Gingrich last night.

Gingrich`s chief rival now for second place is Rick Santorum, of
course, to go up against Romney. But before he can go after Romney, of
course, one on one, he`s got to beat that other guy, Rick Santorum.

So let`s look at this criticism coming up right now of Rick Santorum.
It`s in the interview. Let`s watch.


MATTHEWS: You have a lot of common interests now with Santorum.


MATTHEWS: In fact, I don`t think you dislike him in any way.


MATTHEWS: I don`t think there`s any personal problem. You call him
now your junior partner.


MATTHEWS: OK, well, that`s a knock. You have to hit him a little.
You have to check him, don`t you?




MATTHEWS: How are you going to be the alternative to Romney unless
you check him out of the fight?

GINGRICH: I think it will happen by attrition.

I think people are going to look and make a judgment over the next few
months. Maybe I won`t be the judgment. My hunch is I will be. We have a
national campaign. We`re organized to compete in a lot more places.

And I wasn`t trying to knock Rick.

MATTHEWS: Junior partner?

GINGRICH: He`s a good guy. I was the speaker of the House.


GINGRICH: He was a senator who wasn`t in leadership at that point.
He did some very significant things. He was the key to passing welfare
reform. I scheduled it three times. I`m just saying, we can go through
these kind of games.

MATTHEWS: You got Clinton reelected.


GINGRICH: Well, I created an opportunity for Bill Clinton to decide
to sell out the left.


MATTHEWS: You know you did.


GINGRICH: It was a wonderful moment.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the strange part of the whole thing of
Gingrich. The one good part of his record, I would argue, from a centrist
or progressive perspective, is that during the late `90s, he and Clinton
really did together as they matched wits reduced the federal deficit to
zero, created a surplus.

You can argue what you want, but they did get health care reform
through. It worked. That sort of coming together of two great minds, good
and bad, whatever you want to call them, it worked. I tried to get him to
talk about that.

He said, Santorum doesn`t get a piece of that. I did it. He only is
my junior partner.

HEILEMANN: Well, he didn`t quite say that. He said that Santorum was
important in passing welfare reform.

Look, it`s true. By the time Rick Santorum -- I covered Rick
Santorum`s 1984 campaign. He was a freshman senator and Newt Gingrich was
the speaker of the House. I don`t think there`s anybody who would say just
the fact that Rick Santorum is in the Senate makes him senior to Gingrich.
Gingrich had been in Washington a lot longer, had a lot more power than
Santorum had.

It`s a fair comment. It`s also a little bit of a ding, it`s a little
bit of a shot, but it`s based in reality.


HEILEMANN: He gave Santorum a little bit of credit here.

But the other day, Gingrich was saying quite openly that he was ready
to make common cause with Santorum if he had to...

MATTHEWS: But not yet.

HEILEMANN: ... in South Carolina.

I think the whole key is what happens here in New Hampshire. If Newt
Gingrich right now finishes where he is at in the polls, which is in single
digits, and Rick Santorum finishes up over 20, the question will be at that
moment, does Gingrich decide to lay down his arms and get behind Santorum
in South Carolina?


HEILEMANN: Because the two of them together right now are even with
Romney, their vote shares in South Carolina.

MATTHEWS: And if you through in Perry, they`re ahead.

HEILEMANN: They`re ahead.

MATTHEWS: OK, more of the interview with Gingrich coming.

Here he was an optimist about his chances against Romney in the long
run. Let`s listen to his somewhat optimistic view of things. Let`s listen
to Newt.


MATTHEWS: Jimmy Carter`s another one where he ran against four
liberals back in `76 and won the nomination, but was never really the hero
of the party.

GINGRICH: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: Same thing.


MATTHEWS: And Romney, look, he`s running against a number of
conservatives, yourself, Santorum, Rick Perry, different kinds of
conservatives. He`s splitting the conservative vote -- 75 percent of your
party in all the polling says they want a conservative, not Mitt Romney.

But you`re dividing that up, the same way the liberals gave Jimmy


GINGRICH: But, look, as a real practitioner of this game, you will
love this.

The great irony for Romney is, this is the year in which you have the
longest period of proportional representation.


GINGRICH: And, therefore, he`s never going to give more than 25 or 30
percent of the delegates until April. By April, I think it`s going to be
Gingrich vs. Romney. And, at that point, he`s going to be down -- he`s
going to lose.

MATTHEWS: So you can deny him majorities up until then?

GINGRICH: I think so. Oh, yes. I don`t think he will ever get near
a majority.

MATTHEWS: In none of these primaries?


MATTHEWS: What do you think he will get up here?

GINGRICH: Well, he was at 41 this afternoon.


GINGRICH: He will be very lucky if he`s at 41, I think.

MATTHEWS: What is it about your party that solidifies around the 75
against Romney? Just one more time into the trenches here, why do the 75
percent reject him?

GINGRICH: Because he`s a Massachusetts moderate and he`s not even
willing to be honest about it.

They know it. They all know who he is. He just hopes they don`t. He
goes around and he says, oh, I`m really a conservative.

They just think...

MATTHEWS: But how does the Tea Party who you`re with tonight here,
Thursday night, how do they accept him when they know he would never come
in his life -- if he lives to be Methuselah`s age -- will never go to a Tea
Party meeting? Because there`s maybe a class difference. There`s all
kinds of reasons why Mitt Romney won`t show up at...


GINGRICH: Right. And that`s why he`s not going to get their vote.


You said you`re up against an amateur conservative and an amateur
moderate. Who are these people? Do you want to put their names -- the
amateur conservative is Rick Santorum?


GINGRICH: Well, when you`re talking about trying to create a national

MATTHEWS: He`s an amateur?

GINGRICH: Nobody -- they haven`t created a national majority.

MATTHEWS: Well, who are you talking about when you say amateur
conservative? You must be talking about Rick Santorum.


MATTHEWS: And the amateur moderate, just to nail it down, is?

GINGRICH: Is Mitt Romney.


So you are going to be the one that makes the last stand against

GINGRICH: I think so.


MATTHEWS: Well, there he is and predicts -- let me give you the
latest polling just came up here. It`s WMUR up here in Manchester.

It`s got Romney moving up to 44 percent, getting close to 50 up here,
at least, in a very favorable state to him. Ron Paul in second place at 20
percent. And Santorum and Gingrich still stuck in single digits at eight
points each.

That`s not a good picture for the challengers.

HEILEMANN: It`s not.

And again I will say again what we were talking about a second ago.
This has been the one state that`s been the exception for Romney, for a lot
of different reasons, where he has been able to break through that 25
percent ceiling that we always talking about.

But today in -- the South Carolina poll has Romney at 37 -- 37 in
South Carolina is a pretty good number for Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: For a guy from Massachusetts.

HEILEMANN: And if he starts building that out from state by state, if
he does well in South Carolina, he does that in Florida, I think the
ceiling may disappear, and you will start to see Romney rise above it.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, John Heilemann, a real pro.

Up next: It won`t just be Newt coming from Mitt Romney this -- going
for him this weekend. There are two debates, by the way, including
Sunday`s on "Meet the Press."

And everyone`s going after Mitt. Look at the numbers up here. They
have got to go after him. David Gregory`s going to join us in just a
minute when we`re back. And I will also be joined -- also, by the way, at
Barnes & Noble this weekend in Manchester this Sunday, in Manchester, they
will be having a signing ceremony for me. Actually, it`s a book signing.
It`s not a signing ceremony...


MATTHEWS: ... for my book "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero."

It`s not that grand. By the way, it`s still top of the -- up there on
the "New York Times" bestseller list for nine weeks now.

We will be right back.


"Market Wrap."

Well, the Dow ended down 55 points today. The S&P lost three points.
And the Nasdaq slightly higher with a gain of four. The big news of the
day of course was the better-than-expected jobs report. The economy added
200,000 non-farm jobs last month. That helped push the unemployment rate
lower to 8.5 percent, a near three-year low.

It was not, however, enough to move stocks higher, as investors were
worried that some of the gains were just seasonal hires. Meanwhile, Best
Buy finishing higher today while sales fell 1.2 percent last month. The
company reaffirmed its earnings outlook. That sent the stock up by 3
percent. Netflix shares jumped nearly 9 percent and they`re up more than
20 percent this week. Investors betting the company will be the target of
a takeover.

And while many of us are enjoying the mild winter, it is taking a real
bite out of business for ski resorts. The lack of snow means fewer skiers
are hitting the slopes. The Vail Resort says visits are down more than 15

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide. Have a great
weekend, folks. I`m going to hand you back to HARDBALL.


government money. He made it more difficult for entrepreneurs and
innovators to come up with the new ideas in the future. This president
doesn`t understand how this economy works. It`s time to get a president
who does.



MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the heart of it, by the way.

Welcome to HARDBALL.

By the way, that`s Mitt Romney`s strongest argument, maybe his main
argument for the presidency, is that he knows the economy and he can get it
turned around.

Well, today`s jobs numbers show the economy moving in the right
direction. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent. It`s the lowest
level since the spring of 2009. And employers added 200,000 jobs in the
month of December.

Well, today, President Obama acknowledged the progress while noting
there are a lot of people still hurting.


think rightly understand that there are still a lot of struggles that
people are going through out there. A lot of families are still having a
tough time. A lot of small businesses are still having a tough time. But
we`re starting to rebound. We`re moving in the right direction. We have
made real progress. Now is not the time to stop.


MATTHEWS: Well, for a candidate like Romney, who`s made business
experience his calling card, how does an improving economy affect the race?

David Gregory is moderator of "Meet the Press" and this Sunday morning
will moderate the big Republican presidential candidates debate in Concord,
New Hampshire. And Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today,"
which is at our door each morning up here, I must say.


MATTHEWS: By the way, David, you can`t escape "USA Today" when you


MATTHEWS: Anyway, this chart we`re looking at shows the huge jobs
mess President Obama actually inherited from George W. Bush.

As you can see, the economy was hemorrhaging the jobs. The jobs there
-- red are losing jobs, and Obama had to climb out of that trough. Well,
today`s report has 200,000 jobs added this past December, as I said. Now,
look at how the stock market has performed during that same time period,
going up, up, up, from a low of 6500, and the Dow way up to now well over

By the way, anybody who`s retired or is looking at their money all the
time knows what I`m talking about.

Surprising progress, David, and this is the question. The Romney
approach is: I have got the toolkit. I have got the know-how. Let me at
that car. Let me get under that hood, and I`m going to fix it.

If these numbers continue to progress, not just with the market and
the Dow, if the unemployment numbers continue to go down, how does -- how
does he campaign in a general election?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: I think it gets a lot harder. I mean, I
think it ultimately it becomes a question of credit. Can the president
only get the blame and none of the credit?

Here`s an important question to answer your question with -- which
is: can this president combine a positive trend line on the economy by
getting big business off the sideline? Has he lost them? Are they gone to
the Republican? Or can he get them to actually start committing some of
their capital? If they start to do that --

MATTHEWS: The $2 trillion they`re sitting on.

GREGORY: That they`re sitting on in the course of this year. If we
get to the fall of this year, how different could the economy look? Look,
we got big structure --

MATTHEWS: But you`re also asking a very interesting strategic
question. Are there some people on the sidelines who want to stay there
until they get a more pro-market president?

GREGORY: Right. And you`re going to get some of that argument from
the Republicans who say, look, you`re not going to get him off the sideline
because they don`t know what President Obama will do in a second term on
regulation. He`s already done health care.

But on some of these other pieces that they just don`t know about.

MATTHEWS: Let`s look ahead to the debates this weekend, including
the one that David`s going to be holding Sunday morning on "Meet the
Press". It looks to me like Newt Gingrich`s showing his teeth. I mean, we
did in the interview I think we just showed where he`s basically saying
where he`s headed. I`m going after him on taxpayer-paid abortions up in
Massachusetts. I`m going to get him on Planned Parenthood, the red meat of
the Republican Party.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: And, of course, this is Newt Gingrich`s best
form, right? He`s really excelled in the debates. His whole candidacy was
launched by his performance in the debates. And it sounded in his
interview like he`s going straight after Mitt Romney, although in some
ways, he really ought to be going after Rick Santorum, because we have a
race for number two in the New Hampshire primary.

If he doesn`t -- if Newt Gingrich trailed Santorum by a significant
margin here as he did in Iowa, what`s his argument for staying in in South
Carolina and dividing that part of the electorate, the anti-Mitt Romney

MATTHEWS: How are you going to do this? You have to moderate this.
He`s got to fight two-pronged war, it looks like.

GREGORY: Well, he is, but don`t forget, Newt Gingrich says that Rick
Santorum is the junior partner here.


GREGORY: So, you know, Newt Gingrich is the grownup, right, who`s
supposed to attack Mitt Romney. Somebody`s got to slow Romney down. I
mean, if Romney is the real front-runner, he`s got to demonstrate that he
can win big, but he can do it in this state, potentially. That`s the

MATTHEWS: Who`s in the debate on Sunday, which of the players?

GREGORY: Everybody. Everybody is going.

MATTHEWS: Perry`s out or in?

GREGORY: He`s in.

MATTHEWS: So, he`s also going to be taking shots?

GREGORY: He is, and going after Santorum. So -- I mean, this is
really the factor here. Is that Romney is still up against a splintered
field. That certainly is to his benefit.

MATTHEWS: And question is, so what`s interesting is to look at the
mathematics of this. Because anybody can watch at how this game is
developing. Looking down at South Carolina, you can look at Romney picking
up speed, he`s up into the high 30s now. But even in the high 30s, there`s
three guys, Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry, whose total vote is way over the
other guys.

So, there`s still all of that wealth of conservative votes. And I
guess the question is, at what point is that magic moment in this fight
where the conservatives say, we`re losing this because we`re divided?


PAGE: Well, I think that point comes after New Hampshire. I think
this field is set for Tuesday. At that point, I think there will be an
assessment. We saw on MSNBC earlier today that Richard Land from the
Southern Baptist said that there would be a movement to try to consolidate
behind a real social conservative.

MATTHEWS: Social conservative.

PAGE: Social conservative, behind someone that he would feel
comfortable with, which means someone who would not be Mitt Romney, but be
prepared --

MATTHEWS: Isn`t the funny thing, they have to choose among two
Catholics, the idea of a social conservative didn`t used to include that.
That`s the question. I want to ask you about this debate again on Sunday

Ron Paul, the odd man out. We were talking about it before. It
seems to me the candidates agree on one thing. They don`t think Paul`s one
of them, the other candidates.

GREGORY: They don`t. And I think it`s a real question as to
whether, you know, if they were backed into a corner whether they could
really support him. I mean, they recognize his danger and his danger is
newcomers to the process, his danger is money and organization. He was
taking on Rick Santorum today in an interview.

MATTHEWS: He just raised, what, $9 million or something? Some chunk
of money.

GREGORY: It`s unbelievable. It`s also his strength among
independents. What does that do? If you`re Huntsman, for instance, and
you want to make some noise in the state, you`re behind an independent,
behind Ron Paul, that`s very tough.

MATTHEWS: Sunday morning.

GREGORY: I`ll be there.

MATTHEWS: The man.

GREGORY: Thank you. I`ve got a thank you for this thing right here,
for this -- Sunday, it`s "Meet the Press." I`m very grateful.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, not "Meet the Press," but thereafter, there`ll
be an hour-and-a-half of well-moderated discussion and you`re going to join
us with us here on MSNBC.

GREGORY: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: So, it will be hour and a half on NBC, the network,
broadcasted in here, which is simulcast in here an hour and a half to
really chew it up. By Sunday noon, you will be an expert, stay right here,
coming up.

GREGORY: On what`s going on.

MATTHEWS: I`m not sure to tell them to watch NBC or MSNBC. Just
leave the dial where it is.

Coming up -- by the way, Susan Page, thank you. Coming up, there
will be a Republican debate this morning, by the way, kind of. It was

We`re going to show you a little fun right now for Friday night.
This was an amazing satire, very well done.

We`re in Manchester right now, four days before the New Hampshire
primary. We`ll be right back with some fun.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

It`s often said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery,
but that may not be the case when it comes to political satire. Early this
morning, Yahoo! News and comedians at Funny or Die teamed up for a mock
debate among the Republican candidates.

Take a look at this clip of the candidates, that`s the satiric
candidates, being introduced.


ANNOUNCER: The Yahoo! News/Funny or Die GOP presidential online
Internet cyber debate. Starring Governor Rick Perry, former Speaker Newt
Gingrich, Land`s End model, Mitt Romney, Chinese food enthusiast, Jon
Huntsman, child collector, Michele Bachmann, noted homophobe, Rick
Santorum, leprechaun king, Ron Paul. The real battle for the GOP
nomination starts here.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining us now is Jennifer Donahue, a fellow at the
Eisenhower Institute and a "Huffington Post" contributor, and MSNBC
political analyst David Corn of "Mother Jones."

Let`s watch right now the candidates on why they want to be
president. Some of this is quite good.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would I make a good president? It`s a very
good question. But, actually, am I out of time? It`s OK with me if I am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I owe a "you`ve spoken, loud clear." I get it.
There`s no "I" in Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to say something for 20 seconds.
This is this is stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could say I could good at executions, because
people like that, or that gays give me the heebie-jeebies, but Santorum has
already got the homophobic vote. I just don`t want to make another

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love my dad. He`s always been there, whether
it`s teaching me throw a football -- or giving me millions when my campaign
runs out of fund.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Internet is -- gosh, it`s a dumping ground
for gay pornography, during some of my very own comprehensive research. I
found myself lost for hours at a time.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The things that you see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said they want smaller government, I want
even smaller. Look how small I am. How much government do you think I


MATTHEWS: Some brutal stuff, by the way, there about Michele
Bachmann and her husband Marcus that`s really -- we didn`t put that on.
You can watch that yourself. But this is an amazing thing. I`m just
thinking the notions we have, the preconceptions about these candidates,
even this, the campaign, are so strong.

We all know about Rick Perry being, what?

JENNIFER DONAHUE, HUFFINGTON POST: Oops, I don`t know what to say.

MATTHEWS: That`s why he`s at 5 percent.


MATTHEWS: We all know that Rick Santorum`s got a problem with the
gay community, to put it lightly. Yes?

CORN: Yes. Yes. Well, that`s why it`s really heart to do parody,
because a lot of these lines could come straight from the debates
themselves. So, I tip my hat to the people at Funny or Die and Yahoo! for
being able to find a way to make what`s already funny even funnier.

MATTHEWS: The guy they had to play Huntsman actually looked like
Huntsman. I thought that was funny.

DONAHUE: Chinese food and --

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at some of the ones -- first of all, do you
think this hurts? I remember, I have a long memory, as you know, about
these politics. I remember, I really do think it destroyed Jerry Ford.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: The clutch stuff.


CORN: I think that`s one of the few times, though, that you can
point to when humorist really did in a president. David Frey was doing
Richard Nixon for years --

MATTHEWS: How about Herb Block and the newspapers?

DONAHUE: And what about Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin? That destroyed

MATTHEWS: I think that`s a good question. Do you think Kathy Couric
did more with a simple than Tina Fey did with a satire?

DONAHUE: I think Tina Fey did more with the satire than Katie Couric
did a single question.

MATTHEWS: Here`s the Republican so-called candidates, these are the
satiric figures competing for the Reagan mantle. Listen as the moderator,
by the way, the real live Larry King, explaining the rules of the Reagan
speed rounds.


LARRY KING: We give the candidates seven seconds. And whoever can
mention Ronald Reagan`s name the most wins the round. Go!

CANDIDATES: Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan.

LARRY KING: Time`s up!


LARRY KING: And the winner of the Reagan speed round is -- Jon


MATTHEWS: You know, the absurdity of it, it used to be whereas Rudy
Giuliani would say 9/11 in every sentence. Now, they say Reagan. I have a
theory. Why do they say Ronald Reagan? I have a theory.

They don`t have really positive identities themselves, so they`re
trying to be hermit crabs. They`re trying to pretend, hide themselves in
the shell of the mantle of Ronald Reagan, because they don`t want to say,
I`m a Michele Bachmann. I`m a Huntsman.

Who wants to be a Huntsman? Who wants to be a Michele Bachmann? Who
wants to be a -- I want to be a Reagan.

CORN: But they also have pretty pessimistic views of the country and
society. If you`ve listened, as you have to Newt Gingrich and Rick
Santorum, particularly the past few days, they`re up there with a really
darkness and pessimism, while the president actually looks quite sunny
compared to them. Ronald Reagan is remembered as an optimist and a sunnier
figure than any of these guys.

MATTHEWS: By the way, for the thing he did that was the most
moderate, most liberal, ending the Cold War.

Here is Barack Obama, he has a lot of rebuttal, with a conclusion of
this spoof. Listen as the impersonator tries to entice Republicans to vote
for him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not even your type. You`re into conservative
candidates. Well, let me tell you a little secret. I am a conservative.
Do you know how many Wall Street bankers I have prosecuted? Zero. The
health care bill I passed? It`s a carbon copy of the one Republicans
floated as an alternative to Hillarycare. Just extended the Bush tax cuts

You like that, don`t you? So vote for me. I won`t tell anybody. I



MATTHEWS: The great seducer.

Anyway, thank you, guys. Have a nice weekend.

Great debate this weekend, David Corn, Jennifer Donahue.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with what the Republicans like with
Mitt Romney. It ain`t much, but it`s something.

You`re watching HARDBALL from Manchester, New Hampshire, only on


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this Republican test to see
who goes up against President Obama. Leave it to the Republicans to do it
differently than the Democrats.

Democrats, as I`ve had said before, pick the guy with the hot hand,
the candidates who seems to have something special to say to the American
people, the one who seems just right for the times.

Republicans pick the candidates whose turn it is, the guy who was
rejected last time around or a couple times before, but who`s the right
Republican candidates for the basic reason that his name has become
familiar. Republicans always prefer a shoe that`s been worn into a new
one. Just out there on the market. They like their presidential
candidates scuffed up a little from previous outings.

They don`t feel comfortable with someone with an unfamiliar exotic
name like Dukakis or Barack Obama or Santorum. No, look at the names they
like -- Nixon, Bush, Dole. Now, those are names they field worn in,
scuffed a little -- sure, the shine is gone, but look how comfortable they
feel. Romney, know his old man, scuffed him a bit with the old days, nice
fella, Reagan put him in the cabinet, something to do with housing and that
incognito urban affairs.

Republicans don`t do urban affairs, but somebody had to do it. The
boy got scuffed up a bit, too. The boy, too, last time around. That was
good for him, made him a regular guy.

And this time, Mitt Romney feels just right as a candidate. No rough
edges, just good old Mitt Romney. I have a feeling that Rick Santorum or
Newt Gingrich will have a hard time breaking into the line ahead of Mitt.
It`s his turn.

And let`s face it -- everyone else in the party seems to know it, to
get it. This time, Mitt`s the one -- just like years ago, Nixon was the

Is this democracy? Well, not if you mean some wide-open thing where
anybody can get into the game, not like the Democrats where anyone can run
and get to be president. Nobody is like Jimmy who, and Bill Clinton and
Barack Obama -- no. But if your daddy ran once, like Bush or Romney did,
or you take years of abuse like Nixon or Dole, then get in line, wait your
turn, and some day -- some cold day in New Hampshire -- it`s going to be
your turn.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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