updated 1/13/2012 12:01:06 PM ET 2012-01-13T17:01:06

Guests: John Heilemann, Jane Wells, Richard Engel, Steve MacMahon, John Feehery, Joe Williams, Robert Baer, Dana Milbank, Ron Reagan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The name for his pain, Bain.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington. Leading off
tonight: The Bain event. Newt Gingrich has unleashed his first attack ad
in South Carolina going after Mitt Romney`s time at Bain Capital.
Democrats are thrilled to see and hear Republicans like Newt and Rick Perry
hit Mitt where they believe Republicans are vulnerable, economic

Think ahead to the election match-up now between Obama and Romney, if
it comes to that. When the president called out financial speculators
during a jobs speech yesterday, he laid it out. With Romney as his likely
opponent, he`ll run against Wall Street greed, with Romney trying to run
against Washington. And Bain`s not Romney`s only problem. He`s got a
spontaneity problem, don`t you think? When things got confrontational or
go off script, Mitt tends to go off-kilter. Remember this tense interview?


BRET BAIER, HOST, FOX NEWS "SPECIAL REPORT": Do you still support the
idea of a mandate? Do you believe that that was the right thing for
Massachusetts? Do you think a mandate -- mandating people to buy insurance
is the right tool?

know how many hundred times I`ve said this, too. This is an unusual
interview. All right? Let`s do it again.


MATTHEWS: Cross your legs, nervous chuckle there. We`re going to
look at Mitt`s problem with spontaneity when he goes off the script and the
confrontations that he can`t seem to handle. By the way, his opponents are
noticing this.

And who`s behind the assassination of a nuclear scientist over in
Iran? Well, Hillary Clinton says it wasn`t us, but the Israelis aren`t
saying one way or the other. Let`s examine the covert war against Iran.

And finally, "Let Me Finish" with this attack on Mitt Romney from

We begin with the Newt Gingrich attacks on Mitt Romney`s business
background. We have two political strategists here, Democrat Steve McMahon
and Republican John Feehery.

Let`s go to this question -- let`s take a look now -- Newt Gingrich
isn`t backing down, by the way, from his criticism of Mitt Romney on the
business front. Let`s listen to him this very day, this morning on "Fox
and Friends."


can`t run saying, I have two great credentials, my governorship, which
you`re not allowed to talk about -- because it`s really pretty liberal --
and the work at Bain Capital, which you`re not allowed to talk about
because that`s an attack on -- if you talk about my record, that`s an
attack on free enterprise. That`s baloney.


MATTHEWS: That guy looks 20 years younger. He has been rejuvenating
himself! He`s mainlining on this. Newt Gingrich at what I consider his
best, on attack. That`s always been his strength.

Here he is saying, Wait a minute. Who`s this guy? We don`t dare talk
about his record as governor of Massachusetts because he was a moderate up
there, a liberal, as he puts it. We can`t talk about his -- what are you
allowed to talk about, about Mitt Romney if you`re running against him, or
aren`t you allowed to run against...


MATTHEWS: Is that the new thing?

MCMAHON: That`s the new thing. Everybody in the Republican Party is
beginning to close ranks around Newt -- or I`m sorry, around Mitt Romney
because he`s the likely, almost certain, Republican nominee.

But Newt Gingrich understands something I think the Obama people
understand, which is Bain is a cancer on Mitt Romney`s candidacy. And you
can put it in remission maybe for a little while, but it`s going to keep
popping up because it is that harmful to his political health.

And you know, Bain gets to the point that people really will make
their decision around, which is, Is this a guy who can understand the
problems I have? Does he care about people like me? The Bain thing, all
the other things that -- the inability to connect, putting the dog on the
top of his car and driving off on vacation -- those are things...

MATTHEWS: You remember that!

MCMAHON: ... that people look at and go...


MCMAHON: ... Who is this guy?

MATTHEWS: ... strapped the dog up there.

MCMAHON: Who is this guy? That`s what people are going to wonder...

MATTHEWS: He`s the guy that wants to decide tax policy in -- I loved
this one the other day -- in a "quiet room."

MCMAHON: In a quiet room.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go find a room -- John Feehery, aren`t you
embarrassed by the language this guy, the elite language -- Let`s go find a
quiet room, we shouldn`t be talking tax policy with the people listening?

Rostenkowski got tax policy.


FEEHERY: He got them into a quiet room...

MATTHEWS: Who`s Dan Rostenkowski?

FEEHERY: He`s the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I get it. That`s a good argument for you.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you -- you`ve got Newt Gingrich out there.
You`ve got Rick Perry, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but they`re
both going at him right now, saying Bain Capital cost people`s jobs. You
got Rick Perry saying he`s a vulture capitalist who hangs up on a tree
waiting for a business to get weak so he can eat it.

This is tough stuff. I would expect it from Dennis Kucinich.

FEEHERY: Well, we all would expect it from...

MATTHEWS: But -- but...

FEEHERY: ... Dennis Kucinich.

MATTHEWS: ... in fairness...


MATTHEWS: ... this is coming from behind his lines.

FEEHERY: Right. And as you know, for Mitt Romney, this is an
important time. He`s got to get the messaging right. He`s got to figure
out how to talk like a politician and not talk like a CEO and...

MATTHEWS: Is he a natural?

FEEHERY: Of course, he`s not.


FEEHERY: But people don`t necessarily love natural politicians right
now, but they -- if you`re going to make...


FEEHERY: ... they want real people...

MATTHEWS: Let me tell you something. If Bill Clinton were running
this time, he`d beat everybody on both sides.

FEEHERY: Well, of course he would, but he`s not running.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Here`s pro-Gingrich super-PAC -- here`s the money
-- by the way, they call this -- these are all ads written basically by the
candidates, but they say they`re not. This is basically an ad put together
by Gingrich -- "Winning Our Future." It`s up now on South Carolina, going
after Romney`s record at Bain, taken from that 30-minute movie that also
went after him. Let`s watch this negative ad out today in South Carolina.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney.
The company was Bain Capital, more ruthless than Wall Street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pulled the rug out from under our plant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody was fired.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They fire people. They cut benefits. They sell

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney? Them guys? They don`t care who I

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel that is the man that destroyed us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Winning Our Future is responsible for the content
of this message.


MATTHEWS: Now, you`re in the ad business, right? You know how to
make an ad. Now, just explain something basic. You can take an ad like
that that`s on right now in January, right...


MATTHEWS: ... and you can basically take the best parts of it and run
it again in October, can`t you?


MATTHEWS: There`s no real technical reason why you can`t do that,

MCMAHON: Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: Is there any political reason why you wouldn`t do that?

MCMAHON: No. In fact...

MATTHEWS: I didn`t think so!

MCMAHON: In fact -- in fact, those ads ran the first time in 1994 in
the Ted Kennedy race when...

MATTHEWS: You were in that one, weren`t you?

MCMAHON: Well, I was -- I was...

MATTHEWS: You were still in school.

MCMAHON: Yes, I was just a child.


MCMAHON: But they ought to be sending Bob Shrum a check because,
basically, Bob Shrum and Tad Devine unearthed this argument. And you know,
I said it was a cancer on his candidacy, and it absolutely is. This is
going to keep coming back and coming back...

MATTHEWS: So Shrummy might get two wins out of it.

MCMAHON: Shrummy should get a commission on this.


MCMAHON: And ultimately, the Obama campaign will get to this
question. What kind of an economy do we want to have for America in the
next century? Do we want an economy that works for Mitt Romney and his
buddies at Bain and everybody on Wall Street who got rich? Or do we want
one that works for the people who lost their jobs, lost their health
insurance, and some couldn`t feed their families? That`s a tough, tough
thing for Mitt Romney to explain.

FEEHERY: This election is going to be a referendum on President Obama

MATTHEWS: OK, so it`s not going to...


MATTHEWS: ... how many jobs he destroyed is not going to be an issue?

FEEHERY: Well, he has a...


MATTHEWS: ... lost my job for this guy?

FEEHERY: Having this ad out there is helpful for the Romney campaign
because now they can test what the best messages are against him and they
can come up with their...

MCMAHON: You think they found it?

FEEHERY: They can. They have -- they are...

MCMAHON: Don`t attack free enterprise?


FEEHERY: ... for the Republican primary, yes.

MATTHEWS: Remember...

FEEHERY: But for -- I`ll tell you what. Mitt Romney has a better
track record of creating jobs...


FEEHERY: ... creating jobs than President Obama does.

MATTHEWS: Feehery...

FEEHERY: And so that...

MATTHEWS: OK, good. In other words, you`re going to wear it out.
Let me tell you something. One of my -- well, my dad didn`t tell many
jokes, but one the jokes he told me as a kid was there was a guy hitting
himself in the head with a hammer. And he said, Why are you doing it? He
just keeps hitting himself in the head. Because he said -- the guy says,
Because it feels so good when I stop.


MATTHEWS: And that`s right. Here`s the pro-Romney super-PAC, Restore
Our Future. He`s putting out this today in South Carolina and Florida
attacking Gingrich. This is Republicans tearing at each other. Let`s


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newt Gingrich`s attacks are called foolish, out
of bounds, and disgusting. Newt attacks because he has more baggage than
the airlines. Newt was fined $300,000 for ethics violations, took $1.6
million from Freddie Mac and co-sponsored a bill with Nancy Pelosi that
would have given $60 million a year to a U.N. program supporting China`s
brutal one-child policy. Don`t be fooled by Newt`s desperate attacks.

Restore Our Future is responsible for the content of this message.


MATTHEWS: Well, they`re as nasty as ever. Fair enough. But it seems
to me that what happens in these kind of situations -- you`re both experts,
I call upon your expertise -- when you both trash each other, somebody else
gets the vote.

MCMAHON: That`s absolutely right.

MATTHEWS: And that`s going to hurt Newt.

MCMAHON: If I were Rick Santorum...

MATTHEWS: And hurt Mitt Romney.

MCMAHON: If I were Rick Santorum...

MATTHEWS: Sit back.

MCMAHON: ... I would say, Please, gentlemen, don`t do this anymore.


MCMAHON: Can`t we have a positive campaign? Now, remember, this is
how Newt Gingrich rose to the top of the field. He attacked the media and
he attacked the Republicans for attacking other Republicans, and people
applauded him. And then they listened to him.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and by the way, Newt won`t be around in September and
October and November when the...

MCMAHON: No, of course not. His ads will be.

MATTHEWS: ... when all the nastiness and smell of these ads will
still be there.

FEEHERY: Listen, Romney is going to get through this primary. He`s
going to win the primary. And then he`s going to be the guy going against
Barack Obama, the president. And you know what? The president...

MATTHEWS: Why do you think...

FEEHERY: The president...


MATTHEWS: If that`s all true, why is Newt doing this?

FEEHERY: Well, because...

MATTHEWS: If he doesn`t think he has a prayer, why`s he doing this?

FEEHERY: I think he`s -- I think he`s mad at Romney. I think he`s
mad at what Romney did to him in Iowa. And you know, he`s got to get over
it. It`s a kamikaze effort by Newt Gingrich, and it`s not going to help
him long term.

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute. Do you think there`s ever going to
come a time -- just following that anger theory -- where Romney`s going to
say, I forgive you, Newt, if you stop doing this, I`ll give you a big
cabinet appointment, if you want one?

FEEHERY: He`s never going to get a cabinet...

MATTHEWS: Well, then, why doesn`t he just keep doing it?

FEEHERY: Well, because he`s going to run out of money eventually.
That`s why.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the -- here`s "MORNING JOE," which has
been great this past week. It`s always good. South Carolina Republican
Jim DeMint was on there. He warned that Romney needs to have a good
answer. Here`s the most conservative guy in the Senate saying Romney`s
vulnerable in the general election if he doesn`t get his act together and
explain this thing. Here`s Jim DeMint going after Romney`s need to explain
himself. Let`s watch.


SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: But this is something that would
have been an attack on Romney if he`s the nominee anyway. So he needs to
figure out how to explain to America that these decisions sometimes have to
be made in business. Now that Newt and others do not appear to be in the
game, to damage a front-runner makes no sense to me.


MATTHEWS: Well, there he is, the South Carolina guy who wants to win
the general. It seems to me that these Republicans now -- not you because
you`re a straight shooter, but all these guys are circling the wagon to
protect their assets.

MCMAHON: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: So you got all these meal tickets out there, all these jobs
that want jobs with Newt if he -- or Mitt, when he wins, all running around
saying what a great guy he is. Rush Limbaugh never said anything good
about Mitt Romney until last week.


MATTHEWS: And all these other guys are doing it, all the magazines
he`s quoting -- they want -- they`re meal tickets, we call them in
politics. They show up election night, they want jobs. They want
patronage. They want consideration. And that`s why they`re being nice to
Romney. They don`t think he`s that great.

MCMAHON: And you know, when they circle the wagons about this...

MATTHEWS: Are you one of them?

FEEHERY: I actually think that people who are defending Mitt Romney
now are shocked by the attacks from Newt Gingrich from the left.

MCMAHON: Better get used to them.

MATTHEWS: Rush Limbaugh is shocked?

FEEHERY: I think that they`re shocked that...


MATTHEWS: Rudy Giuliani is shocked?

FEEHERY: Not the idea of attacking him but attacking him from the --
I don`t think Rush Limbaugh cares about a meal ticket. I don`t think...

MATTHEWS: Does Rudy care?

FEEHERY: I don`t think Rudy cares that much, either. They`re not
going to get appointments.

MCMAHON: It`s the wagons circling, but that`s going to make Newt
Gingrich even angrier and it`s going to make him push even harder...


MCMAHON: ... and say even more outrageous things. And NBC News did
something recently, which might actually have a big impact on this race,
and that is they took their footage from the debate, and I presume from all
the other news shows, and said, Anybody can use it for any purpose for as
much or as little as they`d like.

So you now have media consultants...


MATTHEWS: They`re giving stuff away?

MCMAHON: We used to not be able to use debate footage that was owned
by NBC. You now have media consultants like me who have all this footage
of people like Newt making these attacks...

MATTHEWS: Do you have to credit the network to do that?

MCMAHON: Well, they`ll be happy to credit the network. It makes it
more credible.


MCMAHON: It says, Listen to what neighborhood said, and then pretty

FEEHERY: At the end of the day...


FEEHERY: We used words that Hillary Clinton had against Barack Obama
and Joe Biden had against Barack Obama. It has limited effectiveness. And
this -- listen, this Bain Capital thing is something that Mitt Romney has
got to figure out.

MCMAHON: It`s a cancer on his candidacy.

FEEHERY: It`s a very tough attack...


MATTHEWS: Let me remind you of your candidate, Teddy Kennedy. The
damage he did to who was my candidate at the time, Jimmy Carter, was so
ferocious in 1980, by the time Reagan came along, it was easy. And you
know it. The damage done in these primaries...

FEEHERY: Yes, but Carter was the incumbent.

MATTHEWS: ... does stick through the general.

FEEHERY: But he was the incumbent. This is different because this


MATTHEWS: Obama`s -- OK, got you. Got you. There is a difference.

MCMAHON: Listen, let me tell you something...

MATTHEWS: But you know what?

MCMAHON: Let me tell you something...

MATTHEWS: You`re still wrong.


MATTHEWS: Steve McMahon, thank you, John Feehery.

Coming up -- see, the Irish can laugh in (INAUDIBLE)


MATTHEWS: Coming up, a preview of coming attractions. If President
Obama runs against Wall Street greed -- (INAUDIBLE) ad -- which he`s doing
already, and Mitt Romney runs against Washington, who wins? By the way,
they both got a problem.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



MATTHEWS: Billionaire Warren Buffett says he`s ready to call the
Republicans` bluff on taxes. Last fall, Senate Republican leader Mitch
McConnell said that if Buffet was feeling guilty about paying too little in
taxes, he should send in a check. Well, now, in a new issue of "Time"
magazine, Buffett says he`s ready to do just that, pledging a one-for-one
match for all voluntary contributions made by Republican members of
Congress. That`s a safe bet! And Buffett says he`d up that to a three-
for-one match for McConnell himself.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Mitt Romney has made himself the
likely Republican nominee so far by winning Iowa and then New Hampshire.
He`s consistently attacked, by the way, President Obama`s policies, while
the president`s been speaking out against Republicans and economic
inequality generally. Are those the prevailing arguments we`re going to
hear during the general election?

"The New York Times" political writer John Harwood writes in today`s
paper, "In the sour, fearful mood that economic setbacks have produced,
American voters loathe both major symbols of the forces squeezing their
pocketbooks and life`s savings. President Obama will seek reelection
vowing to rein in one of them, Wall Street. Mitt Romney will focus on the
other, Washington." Well, Wall Street versus Washington. That`s it.

John Heilemann is national affairs editor for "New York" magazine and
Joe Williams covers the White House for Politico.

John Heilemann, who`s also an analyst here -- John, let me ask you
about this, you know, different blame game. Populists -- from the
beginning of our country`s history, politicians have blamed New York
bankers, Big East money. It`s always been part -- almost like apple pie,
going back to Huckleberry Finn. This is what we do in American politics,
blame the big city, New York and the wealth.

Will it work this time for President Obama running for reelection?

Chris, I don`t think President Obama is or has ever been a comfortable
full-throated economic populist. There`s no doubt that the White House and
his reelection team is pushing him more in that direction. And we saw the
speech that he gave in Kansas a few weeks back. It seems like only a few
weeks, although it may have been longer. There`s no doubt they`re going in
that direction.

But look, the president is, as I say, no Huey Long. He`s not someone
who has ever taken up that mantle very comfortably. And he`s also someone
who continues to receive a lot of money, a lot of support from the
financial services industry. He had a chance to -- in doing Wall Street
reform, to really crack down on the big banks and didn`t do that.

So I think he`s going to walk a line that`s going to be more of a kind
of soft populism when it comes to policy.


HEILEMANN: But he also is certainly going to try to tie Mitt Romney
to the worst excesses of Wall Street, going to try to paint him, in the
same way Newt Gingrich is now, as a Gordon Gekko figure, and try to -- kind
of put him in that box.

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, that makes sense. Here`s President Obama laying
out his election strategy, more or less, in his Kansas speech last month,
which people -- well, I`m one of them -- believe it`s a very smart speech
because it`s not just that it`s soft, it`s not maniacal, it`s not hateful,
but it does particularly target a certain kind of money making, which he
knows people particularly don`t look up to, people who make money off
money, rather than making things. Fair or not, that seems to be the
discourse right now.

Here he is last month in Kansas.


warfare, this is about the nation`s welfare. It`s about making choices
that benefit not just the people who have done fantastically well over the
last few decades, but that benefits the middle class and those fighting to
get into the middle class. A strong middle class can only exist in an
economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main



MATTHEWS: That`s sort of a Sunday morning attempt to be a populist.
I mean, very soft -- he had one guy doing almost a Baptist "yes" there...


MATTHEWS: What do you make of this president who is so successful in
American life, he hardly has a personal grief with anything about the
system? Look how well he`s done. He doesn`t ever make it as an angry guy,
you know? And he is basically offering himself up as the people`s tribune,
champion against the excesses of Wall Street.

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO.COM: Well, it`s going to be a very easy
argument for them to make. I mean, the one image that keeps coming to mind
when we talk about these sorts of things is of Mitt Romney with the dollar
bills coming out of his suit and talking about how Bain Capital was a
raging success and how they`ve have done so many...

MATTHEWS: Is that why...


WILLIAMS: I think that`s -- well...

MATTHEWS: He`s worth a quarter billion.

WILLIAMS: ... among other things, it -- talk about the politics of
wealth envy, I mean, any time he does something like that, it would
completely play into that hand. The White House...

MATTHEWS: You mean, I like to be able to fire people?


WILLIAMS: (INAUDIBLE) you like to be able to fire people -- that he`s
got enough money to, like, buy several things that we even only dream
about, cars, private -- you know, whatever it might be, he`s got money at
his fingertips.

And what John is saying is very interesting. President Obama has not been
a full-throated populist. But, certainly, the opposite is true when
compared to Mitt Romney, who definitely has the 99 percent -- the 1 percent
on his side...


MATTHEWS: Boy, is he comfortable defending wealth.

Here he is during his victory speech Tuesday night taking on President
Obama in Washington. But here he is directing his guns at Washington.


faith in government. We put our faith in the American people. This
president is making the federal government bigger, burdensome, and bloated.
I will make the federal government simpler, smaller, and smarter.


ROMNEY: He raised -- he raised the national debt. I will cut, cap
and balance the federal budget.


ROMNEY: This president -- this president has enacted job-killing
regulations. I will eliminate them.


MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the numbers, by the way, about the size of

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel, the federal work force
totalled 4,430 people in 2009 when Obama took office. In 2010, a year
later, the number increased to 4,443, a difference of only 13 people. And
local government during that time has gotten smaller dramatically.

In 2009, it was 14.9 million people were working for state and local
governments. But the number dropped to 14.7 million in 2010, according to
the Census Bureau.

So, John Heilemann, I know it`s always great rhetoric to say the
government is ballooning, exploding with people, the government is getting
bigger and bigger to this leviathan. And it`s not. If anything, there`s
been the reality of the economic reports to come out every first Friday of
every month, which are government jobs have been depleted. They are
shrinking. Everybody who lives in places kill Scranton knows the pressure
on mayors and Philadelphia, a place that like I`m familiar with. You`re
always letting people go.

How can they keep selling the idea we have this gigantic growth of
government when we also hear daily reports of lost jobs in government?

HEILEMANN: Well, Chris, I think what -- Mitt Romney and others who
believe that the federal deficit`s growth is a huge problem for the
American economy and long-term prosperity, they will focus on the growth of
government in the sense of the monetary, the fiscal growth of government,
the size of the deficit, the size of debt. That`s what he`s going to hit
on, rather than the specific numbers.


MATTHEWS: But that`s a result of the aging population and
unemployment. You know that. It`s not because they create new ideas to
spend money. It`s that more people turn 65 every day than the day before.
More people are getting sicker and using health care, because they have
understood what they can get from doctors and hospital care, are using it
more than ever.

And more people are unemployed than ever before. That`s why
unemployment benefits and that`s why all kinds of benefits are going up.
Your thoughts on that, Joe?


WILLIAMS: The additional one is that government employment, as you
pointed out, in several cities has gone down because we don`t have the
money to pay for it.


WILLIAMS: And a lot of -- the free market was allowed to do its will
for the last eight years. There are very few people who would argue
against that.

And it hasn`t done the wealth creation that they might argue. And the
reason why this argument kind of resonates is because of sort of
aspirational politics that seems to be on the Republican side.

MATTHEWS: What would you rather run against, big government or big

WILLIAMS: Well, it`s easy to run against big government because it`s
something that everybody sees. It`s very obvious.

MATTHEWS: OK. What do you think? What do you think, John? Your
question, is it a sharper or better tool to blame the government or to
blame business, wealthy business?

HEILEMANN: Look, I think the overwhelming trend in the public opinion
research over the last 20 years is that people in America have more
antipathy towards big government, fairly or not. I hate, Chris, when you
introduce facts into the debate here because Republicans have been very
good at obscuring some of the facts that you pointed to.

But that`s been a political winner for Republicans ever since Reagan,
as you know, beat up on big government. And it`s been a winner for them in
the past. Because the deficit numbers and the debt numbers are getting
bigger, it might very be well again.

MATTHEWS: I have to explain your sarcasm. What you`re really saying
is I did a good job introducing facts.



MATTHEWS: But the way we talk, you and I, off-camera, gets very hard
for people to decode.

Anyway, it is important to get the facts straight. There`s less
people working for the government than when this president came into


WILLIAMS: And not to mention the fact that -- quick fact -- that wage
has remained flat. It behooves him to pay attention to what happened to
Elizabeth Warren -- what is happening with Elizabeth Warren in

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m rooting for her. I think she`s going to run a
great campaign. We will see who wins.

John Heilemann, thank you.

Thank you, Joe Williams.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next, Jon Huntsman`s rather pathetic goal for the South
Carolina primary. He`s not aiming too high down there. That`s next in the

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


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

First up, as the 2012 candidates swoop into South Carolina this week,
what do you think tops their list of priorities before next Saturday`s --
next week`s Saturday primary in the state? Well, one would think it`s
beating Mitt Romney, the front-runner, but Jon Huntsman has set his sights
pretty low. Here`s his number-one goal.


Election Day, you all are going to say Huntsman has got to clear a certain
hurdle to stay relevant, to stay alive. And we`re going to have to find
that after the votes are all cast, we actually clear that hurdle.


MATTHEWS: I get it. You, Huntsman, don`t have to beat the spread.
The other guy, Romney, just doesn`t have to beat -- have to beat his.

Well, a recent PPP poll actually has late-night host Stephen Colbert
beating Jon Huntsman in South Carolina. That`s because Colbert is from
there, maybe, but it was actually Jon Stewart who came forward with some
hard-swallow-advice for Huntsman last night.

Let`s watch.


was Huntsman`s big gamble. He skipped Iowa to concentrate all his efforts
on winning there, moved there for a year, and finished a distant third.

No confetti for third place!


STEWART: How does a guy spend a year in New Hampshire and not

HUNTSMAN: As they would say in China (SPEAKING MANDARIN).


STEWART: Oh, right, he speaks Mandarin.


STEWART: I can`t believe that`s not impressive to a Republican
primary audience, who won`t even eat mandarin oranges because they don`t
want to take jobs away from American fruit.


STEWART: You know what, Huntsman? Meet me at camera "you came in


STEWART: I know this is hard for you, but it`s over. It`s time to
put the confetti into storage. Let me put this in terms you can

(through translator): Even Napoleon at Waterloo...


STEWART (through translator): ... came in second.



MATTHEWS: Look, Huntsman may not have connected in New Hampshire with
the voters, but he didn`t do badly with those of us covering that race.

Next up, not too many kids can say they have spent a good portion of
their youth in the White House, but according to first lady Michelle Obama,
her young daughters don`t exactly revel in all the attention drawn by their

Let`s hear a few examples from a portion of the first lady`s interview
that aired on CBS this morning.


GAYLE KING, CBS NEWS: What do you and the president do that embarrass
your daughters?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: They don`t really want us to come up to
school, especially the president, because when he comes for a parent-
teacher conference, it`s a motorcade. And the other day Malia was like,
"Oh, no, all right, is dad coming?"


M. OBAMA: "Is he bringing all those cars? Really? It`s like the
other day, I think they almost hit my teacher."


MATTHEWS: So, they have put up with what we have been putting up with
over the years, the wish by your kids that you were invisible.

And now for tonight`s "Big Number."

The 2012 presidential election promises to be a divisive one between
the two parties, but get this. In this week`s New Hampshire Republican
primary, some voters did cast a vote for President Obama, the total number,
282 votes. None of New Hampshire`s 10 counties were devoid of at least a
few votes for Obama -- 282 votes for President Obama in the New Hampshire
Republican primary, and that`s tonight`s oddly "Big Number."

Up next: An Iranian nuclear scientist is mysteriously assassinated.
Is there a covert war going on against Iran?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


JANE WELLS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Jane Wells with your CNBC "Market

The Dow Jones industrials finished up 21 points today. The S&P 500
gained three, and the Nasdaq adds about 14. The latest report on weekly
jobless claims show more Americans filing for first-time benefits.
Applications were up 24,000 to 399,000. That`s a six-week high.
Economists say a jump like last week is typical for this time of year, as
holiday hires are let go.

Not as typical or expected, the Commerce Department says retail sales
were only slightly higher in December, rising 0.1 percent from November.
But it was enough to lift overall sales to a record $400.6 billion for the
month. And for all of last year, sales were up 8 percent over 2010.
That`s the largest percentage gain since 1999.

And Starbucks hit an all-time high today after brokerage firm UBS
raised its price target on the stock. The coffee giant ended 1 percent
higher to close at $47.60 a share, which will buy you one venti no foam
half-caf latte. The company rolled out its new Blonde Roast to compete
with Dunkin` Donuts earlier this week.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There`s an amazing spy story taking place in Iran. Yesterday an
Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated in a rush hour attack in streets
of Tehran. It`s likely part of a wider covert war going on against the
program, nuclear program. Look what`s happened just in the past few years.
At least five scientists have been targeted in similar attacks. One of the
scientists survived. The others were killed.

A number of mysterious explosions have been reported at sites thought
to be military complexes. One of the attacks killed a top missile expert.
And back in 2009, the Stuxnet computer virus infested the country`s nuclear
facilities, causing significant damage and delay.

No country has taken responsibility for any of these attacks on the
Iranian nuclear program, but Iran has accused the United States and Israel.

Well, yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forcefully denied
American involvement.


categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of
violence inside Iran.


MATTHEWS: So what`s going on here?

Robert Baer is a former CIA officer in the Middle East. He`s now an
intelligence columnist for "TIME" magazine. His latest book is "The
Company We Keep."

Thank you, sir. What`s going on? Just generally, what`s going on?
Do these attacks have a pattern? Does it have the fingerprints of Mossad,
the Israeli agency?

the Israelis. It couldn`t be anybody else.

You just look at the targets, if it was the Iranian opposition, they
would be going after political leaders, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Corps, intelligence agencies. You look at the target and you look at the
capabilities. It`s not American. There`s no lethal finding against Iran.

The Israelis, as far as I can see, are trying to provoke the Iranians
into doing something.

MATTHEWS: What would that -- that`s always my question, consequences
explained and consequences dealt with when they come. What could -- we are
vulnerable over there. We have an American over there who has just been
condemned to death for espionage.

Is that one of the assets, if you will, brutally stated against us,
that they can execute him? Would they go that far as payback for something
like this, assuming we had some role in knowing about this at least?

BAER: Oh, they have done a couple things. One, they have hit the
British Embassy, overran it. They kidnapped this American ex-FBI agent
Levinson. They can do a number of things.

But what we`re seeing is an escalation, Chris. And it`s almost as if
the intention is to get the Iranians to fire a missile at an oil tanker in
the Strait of Hormuz, which would cause a wider war.


MATTHEWS: Why would that help us?

BAER: It wouldn`t help us. It would help them because the Israelis
would force us into hitting the Iranians, hitting back, and that`s exactly
what they want.

MATTHEWS: Oh. You think it`s Israel trying to get us into this

Let`s go right now to NBC`s chief foreign correspondent, Richard

Richard, you had a report on "The Nightly News" last night. Give us
the gist of it. Where are we at on this thing?

need to understand this in the larger context.

Last month, the United States passed incredibly harsh sanctions on
Iran. And the expected outcome of this is that Iran feels backed into a
corner. Iran has responded with some very bellicose language. And now
there`s tension in the Strait of Hormuz.

So, going back to what your last guest, who I admire greatly, was
talking about, if you want to hit Iran, and you need a context to do that,
you need a pretext to do it, the way to do that is by forcing Iran into a
corner, forcing your adversary to make some sort of aggressive move and
then everyone will think you are correct when you respond with force.

MATTHEWS: Why is it important for Israel -- if it`s Israel I assume
doing the eventual attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities, why would
Israel -- how would that help Israel, if they were to take -- would they be
seen as somehow defending their rational -- the whole world is tough on
Israel. Let`s put it that way.

Would anybody ever take the edge off their antipathy toward Israel
attacking Iran, no matter what preceded it?

ENGEL: Well, right now, let`s say Israel goes out and launches an
attack on Iran. The next day, oil prices go through the roof.


ENGEL: We`re talking $200-plus a barrel for oil. Everyone blames
Israel: You picked a fight, and there was ways around this.


ENGEL: If, suddenly, Iran feels strangled, its economy is under
collapse, it does something like put some sea mines in the Strait of
Hormuz, oil prices go up any way, then an Israeli attack happens or a U.S.-
Israeli attack happens, or some sort of military action happens against
Iran, then you look like you`re the savior, not someone who provoked a

MATTHEWS: Well, let me get back to Bob. Do you believe this is
what`s going on? I mean, speculations tell me that. But do you think a
rational observer looking at this would say, this is moving towards
creating a pretext for an eventual attack on the Iranian nuclear

BAER: Oh, I think absolutely. This is speculation, of course. I
don`t know what the Israelis are planning. I know the White House doesn`t
want a war with Iran, not before this election. But we see from all
quarters, this pressure, this logic of war that keeps on marching forward,
and the Iranians are looking at this way. They`ve got a year or two to hit
the nuclear facilities. They can`t -- as Richard said -- they cannot be
seen to initiating this.

So, if you keep on assassinating these people in Tehran, it`s a
humiliation to the Iranians. You just make it a reaction out of them which
will look stupid and the world to say, you know, there`s nothing else we
could have done except hit the Israelis.

And I think there`s a strategy here because these assassinations
alone don`t stop their nuclear program. They are simply a provocation.

MATTHEWS: Is that a good analysis objectively from your view,

ENGEL: I think it probably is. The Israelis can`t be seen or it`s
very difficult for them to be seen as drawing first blood. Killing a 32-
year-old scientist who worked in procurement is not going to stop the
program. They have so far killed five people, four of them civilians --
one of them a general who were involved in the missile program or the
nuclear program directly.

It has a psychological impact, but it`s not going to really slow down
or stop the program. So I think you have to look at what is the other
objective. Is the objective to try and make yourself feel better? Is it
to try ands put the Iranians on edge? Is it to try and provoke a response
from them? Or is it a bit of all of that?

MATTHEWS: How can the United States not see this adversarial by
Israel to try to hook us into a war, Richard? If that`s the case, if Bob
Baer is right in saying this is an attempt, a three-way move to try to get
us in by getting the Iranians mad at us, by the actions they`ve taken in
terms of these assassinations. If that`s seen to manipulate us into a war
we don`t want to get into, how can we not see that as relatively -- well,
from an ally certainly, hostile?

ENGEL: Well, the -- I`m not sure if it`s necessarily to draw the
U.S. into a war, but it gives Israel the ability to do this action


ENGEL: I don`t think that Israel would tell the United States that
it`s going to do it.


ENGEL: I think we would just wake up and it`s happened. They would
need to tell a few people, probably Saudi Arabia to give them fly-over
rights, but I don`t think the Israelis expect the U.S. to do this for them.

MATTHEWS: No, I meant to say -- OK. Last thought from you, Bob -- I
thought you were saying maybe you are, let`s get it clear on the table
here. You`re saying that Israel is trying to provoke the Iranians into
attacking us, or attacking them? What are they trying to provoke here?

BAER: If we`re attacked, it gives the Israelis and Americans, it
puts them on the same side, no choice but to hit the Iranians.

MATTHEWS: I see, I got you.

BAER: It`s -- you know, they need our Air Force to complete the job.
They cannot do it alone.

MATTHEWS: Going after the facilities. Thank you.

This is something we`re going to be talking about by the way from now
to Election Day because I`ve been reading Elliott Abrams today in "The Wall
Street Journal," all the politics are on the table right now. This is of
interest of both our country, Israel, and of course, Iran. It`s all
involved in politics to a larger extent and not just the survival of Israel
down the road.

Anyway, thank you, Richard Engel. Thank you, Bob Baer.

Up next, Mitt Romney seems to have a problem with confrontation and
the need to be spontaneous. When things get rough, he gets kind of weird?
And that`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with Mitt Romney`s spontaneity program after
this. This guy can`t react well to new things.

Back in a minute.



David Axelrod famous said, quote, "Campaigns are like an MRI for the
soul. Whoever you are, eventually, people find out."

And the more we see of Mitt Romney in debates and interviews and
interacting with voters, it`s increasingly clear he likes order. Did you
hear it? He can get knocked off stride by spontaneous, unscripted moments
and confrontational exchanges.

How is this going to affect his candidacy and game plans of his

Well, Ron Reagan is here, a political commentator and author. And
Dana Milbank is political columnist, of course, for the "The Washington

Gentlemen, I want you to watch a bit of stuff. We`re talking about
in an October debate, not a thousand years ago, Rick Perry, who at the time
was high in the polls, unnerved Mitt Romney apparently on the issue of
illegal immigration. Listen closely at the end of this when Romney calls
out for a lifeline.


all of your standing from my perspective, because you hired illegals in
your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand
here before us and talk about that you`re strong on immigration is on its
face the height of hypocrisy.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Governor Romney?

ever hired an illegal in my life. And so, I`m afraid -- I`m looking
forward to finding your facts on that.

PERRY: I`ll tell you what the facts are. You --

ROMNEY: Rick, again -- Rick, I`m speaking. I`m speaking.

PERRY: It`s time for you to tell the truth, Mitt.

ROMNEY: You got 30 seconds. This is the way the rules work, is that
I get 60 seconds.

PERRY: But the American people want the truth.

ROMNEY: And you get 30 seconds to respond, right?

PERRY: And they want to hear --

ROMNEY: Anderson?


MATTHEWS: Anderson. Anderson?



MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Dana? I want Dana first here
he`s on my face.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST: I`ve started transcribing in my
columns the ha, ha, ha that Romney says after laughing his own joke.

MATTHEWS: What does it mean?

MILBANK: It means, I am attempting humor now. We have seen this
before. It`s like the Al Gore problem that Romney gives many outward
impressions he`s human. But when you get behind it, like something seems a
little bit off there. And that`s the nature of the campaign that Obama
needs to run against him. It`s not so much on policy, but in-authenticity
that there`s -- remember Gore`s wooden problem that became a joke? I think
we`re going to have a similar thing here.

MATTHEWS: Well, Ron Reagan, let me ask you what you`d do. I mean,
the lack of spontaneity has been a problem with other candidates -- Jimmy
Carter, Jerry Ford.

Remember when the lights went out, the electricity went off of their
debate. They just froze there like they were like the Hall of the
Presidents. They were like statues down in Orlando at Disneyworld. They
couldn`t move.

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It`s very hard to be spontaneous
when you`re always being calculating at the same time. I mean, if you
really know what you believe and somebody throws you into a situation you
are unfamiliar with or a little rocky, as long as you have these core
principles, whatever is coming out of your mouth, however you`re asking, is
going to be authentic. But if you are always calculating your response,
tailoring it to this audience or that, very difficult to be spontaneous.

And you saw there, too, here`s a guy who is like every -- the kid
everybody hates in the playground in grade school. You know, Mr. Anderson,
Ricky broke the 30-second rule. You know, you got to get him in trouble.

Contrast that with a moment in New Hampshire where Ronald Reagan in
his campaign hanging by a thread in 1980, as the moderator is trying to
shut off his microphone, he stands up with it and says, "I`m paying for
this microphone, Mr. Green." That message is, "I`m the biggest guy in the
room. If you want the crown, you got to come through me."

Romney`s message seems to be: if you want the crown, check with
Anderson Cooper. He`s the little silver head figured fellow over there.

MATTHEWS: Well, in all respect, Ron, the reason your dad said that
is because it`s what Spencer Tracy said exactly in the exact same situation
when he was playing a guy named Grant Matthews running for president of the
United States against Harry Truman in the movie called "State of the
Union." It`s the exact same line.

REAGAN: It doesn`t matter. You still got to deliver the line.


This week`s -- this Sunday`s "Meet the Press" debate, Romney had a
dust-up with Rick Santorum about why he didn`t run for reelection as
Massachusetts governor. It`s a good moment here.


ROMNEY: Run again? That would be about me. I was trying to help
get this state in as best shape as I possibly could. Left the world of
politics, went back into business. Now I have the opportunity, I believe,
to use the experience I have.

You got a surprised look on your face. Wait, hold on, wait, it`s
still my time.

people you`re not going to run for re-election for president if you win?

ROMNEY: Rick, it`s still my time.


MATTHEWS: You know what? He called him out. He said you got a
surprised look on your face. Yes, it sort of calls for reaction. He said,
but it`s my time.

MILBANK: Sure. And run again for governor would be about me, but
running for president is a gesture of selflessness and altruism.


MILBANK: You know, don`t you get the sense that he`s running through
index cards in his head and say, what do I need to project?

MATTHEWS: OK. More and more to show, here`s Bret Baier. A great
interview on FOX. He got Romney completely off-script, got him
uncomfortable because he was being challenged on FOX. Let`s watch.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: Do you still support the idea of a mandate?
Do you believe that that was the right thing for Massachusetts? Do you
think a mandate mandating people to buy insurance is the right tool?

ROMNEY: Bret, I don`t know how many hundred times I`ve said this,
too. This is an unusual interview. All right. Let`s do it again.


MATTHEWS: Hey, Ron. Ha, ha, ha.


REAGAN: There`s the unsincere laugh again.

Yes, he`s a jolly sort of fellow, isn`t he, Mitt Romney. Talk about
a legitimate question, and did he not think he was going to have to face
that sort of question? But he seems like the kind of guy that`s just not
used to meeting people on an even playing field, where they`ll ask you
questions and you better have an answer.

He`s used to being the boss and the millionaire where, you know,
nobody asks you uncomfortable questions. Nobody puts you on the spot
because you`ll fire them and you`ll like it.


MATTHEWS: Well, there is a difference between in a business press
and the political press. Let`s put it that way. That`s for sure.

MILBANK: That`s true. It`s ha, ha, ha and then it`s aah at the end
when he realizes nobody else is laughing and then he awkwardly moves on.

MATTHEWS: But what does it tell us is important to a voter right now
about this guy? Yes?

MILBANK: Well, it tells us that he`s got the Al Gore problem, as I
was saying. The one bit of good news is, you know, Romney was in hiding
for months away from the press. He came out because Gingrich forced him
out. Well, guess what? He`s going to go right back behind that. Now,
you`re going to see fewer interviews. You`re going to see fewer town hall
meetings, fewer availability.

MATTHEWS: OK. Ron, last thought. When he has to debate the
president, what happens? Is this going to hurt him or not?

REAGAN: Barack Obama, I think, kicks his behind. No, I think Barack
Obama kicks his behind because he`ll get in his face a little bit and Mitt
won`t be able to handle it.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think they`re going to -- the president I think is
going to be prepared to do weird things even, unusual, off-beat to catch
the other guy wrong-footed. I love that. That`s the new British phrase
now, wrong-footed.

REAGAN: As long as he doesn`t sigh.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, you catch the man wrong-footed.

Anyway, you learn. Look it up. It`s there.

Thank you, Ron Reagan. And thank you, Dana Milbank.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the attack on Mitt Romney from
behind him.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

This attack on Mitt Romney from behind is the most exciting thing to
happen in this election. Imagine if a couple of Democrats started
attacking President Obama as an anti-colonial Kenyan from the Mau Mau --
remember? That was something Newt Gingrich leveled at him awhile back.
Imagine if it were a high-level Democrat throwing that stuff at him.

What if a couple of Democrats started blasting Barack Obama for being
some socialist from Europe trying to bring this country down with the
welfare system they over there? Well, imagine if it were a Democrat or a
couple of them going after their own man for being a disciple of Saul
Alinsky, portraying him and his disciples both these enemies of capitalism,
rooters for the great radical overthrow? You wonder why the protectors of
Mitt Romney are getting out there raising bloody murder over Newt Gingrich
and Rick Perry, this is why -- they are feeling just as scared at the
Democrat would feel if one of their own midst, right in the midst of them
were throwing out these attacks at Obama. Nothing spooks the herd like
when one of its own starts goring the others, starts raging in the night,
starts making noise that the way things are being done is not the right way
at all. You are talking stampede when that starts happening.

So, here we are at the start of this big fight between the Democrats
and Republicans, a couple of big-time Republican candidates are saying the
lead steer is loco, that what he`s done with his life, making money is
really not about creating jobs but precisely what his investors went in
there to do: make money. Not by killing jobs, not necessarily, but if
killing jobs made them money, oh, that`s the name of the game. This is the
business we have chosen -- to use a handy "Godfather" phrase.

So here we go. Loop de loop -- a presidential campaign where we see
trouble on the home front. A couple of bulls are raging at the front-
runner. Can`t get better than this, but maybe, just maybe, it will. So,
hang on to your hat. And if you are a Republican, hang on, period.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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