updated 2/21/2012 12:09:28 PM ET 2012-02-21T17:09:28

Guests: Mark Halperin, Michael Steele, Milissa Rehberger, Daniel Yergin, Eugene Robinson, Susan Milligan, Walter Shapiro, Chrystia Freeland, Douglas Brinkley
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The age of Santorum.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Escape from Santorum. Who gave Rick Santorum a weekend pass for the 21st
century? Did you hear this guy? He doesn`t like public schools, and the
alternative is he doesn`t like prenatal care. He thinks environmentalism
is a false theology. And what, Dr. Santorum, is intelligent design? He
thinks President Obama is this guy over in Europe in the 1930s.

In one weekend spree, this front-running Republican candidate for
president in 2012 was out there blasting it all -- schools, science, caring
for the environment, doing that bad old number of comparing his opponent to
Adolf Hitler. How many wild things can you say before people think you`re
the wild thing, or suddenly think tame old Mitt Romney might not be so bad?

Plus, shouts and whispers. Republicans are beginning to say out loud
what was once unthinkable, that Mitt Romney might lose Michigan and leave
Santorum as the likely nominee. The whispers of drafting another candidate
are the Tampa convention are getting louder.

Also, the good news for President Obama, his poll numbers are rising.
The bad news, so are gas prices. Could this be the issue Republicans are
looking for?

And art imitates art. How about the first family as characters in the
old "Cosby Show." If you missed it -- well, there it is! If you missed it
on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend, we`ve got it in the "Sideshow."

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with a real pick-me-up, what happened 50
years ago today that got us headed to the moon.

We begin with Rick Santorum. "Time" magazine`s Mark Halperin is
MSNBC`s senior political analyst. And we`ve got Susan Milligan here with
me. She writes for "U.S. News & World Report."

Let`s take a look at this. Here`s Rick Santorum speaking at the
Christian Alliance luncheon in Ohio on Saturday. Certainly, he knew his
audience there. He criticized prenatal testing and the public education
system of this country. Let`s listen.


free prenatal testing in every insurance policy in America. Why? Because
it saves money. Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more
abortions and therefore less care that has to be done because we cull the
ranks of the disabled in our society.

Where did they come up with public education and big education
bureaucracies was the rule in America?

But the idea that the federal government should be running schools,
frankly, much less that the state government should be running schools, is


MATTHEWS: You know, Mark Halperin, people say the media keeps
shifting attention away from the economy to these crazy cultural questions
that we thought were all long ago put to bed. There he is, Rick Santorum,
you could argue is the front-runner in the country right now for the
nomination of the Republican Party, pushing these issues sharp as nails.
He wants a fight.

that, he -- the media thinks three things about him. They think he`s
unelectable in a general election. They think he`s extreme and out of
touch. And they think he`s incompetent. And those things are going to
hurt him with the national media narrative.

But at the same time, he`s talking about issues that makes it
impossible for Mitt Romney to attack hi. and emphasizes the passion he has
on the issues he cares about.

I talked to a senior aide to him today who said they`re not backing
off any of it. He means it all. This is what he`s about. The press is
the only one who cares. They may be right, they may be wrong, but this is
Rick Santorum. This is not some fabrication.

MATTHEWS: So Susan, this is an odd argument. Not that he believes
this stuff. We know he believes it. But his fact that he home schools his
kids -- fair enough. He doesn`t think public schools are any damn good,
OK? That`s an incredible statement. Public schools as an institution he
thinks are wrong.

Prenatal testing, admitted, it`s a controversial question. Obviously,
there are people who choose abortions after the prenatal testing. But to
bring up issues like this in a presidential campaign he knows are red hot,
he`s appealing to the right.

SUSAN MILLIGAN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": He is. I mean, I think
he knows that the one way to beat Mitt Romney is to kind of whip up that
part of the party that has ever been satisfied with Romney as a social
conservative. And he`s not saying anything more out there than he ever
said when he was...

MATTHEWS: You covered him...

MILLIGAN: ... a United States senator.

MATTHEWS: ... on the Hill.

MILLIGAN: Yes. I remember when he said that the Catholic church sex
abuse scandal was a result of the liberalism in Massachusetts and the
environment that it created. And he said it, and then we went back at it
again, and he didn`t back off from that, either. I mean, he`s -- this is
who he is. So he`s not moving to the right. He is this way.

MATTHEWS: Do you buy the fact that he`s doing this deliberately, that
he knows -- he`s saying what he believes. He knows it`s tricky business.
But he`s going, as Mark says, where Mitt Romney can`t follow him?

MILLIGAN: I think that`s absolutely true because he`s not trying to
win the approval of the national media, or even right now, the independents
in this country. He`s trying to get the nomination. And he knows that
Romney has, you know, kind of shaky credibility with social conservatives
to begin with. And when he goes this far to the right on it and so
passionate about it, too...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s -- I think people watching right now are
progressives and independents and some moderate Republicans watching now,
and even some conservatives who are watching, ought to pay attention to the
fact that this is not "gotcha" journalism.


MATTHEWS: We`re trying to track what a guy is saying because he
really believes it. And according to Mark and Susan, he knows he`s being
listened to by the people he wants to win over in this primary in Michigan.

Here he is at a Tea Party rally on Saturday. Romney (sic) criticized
President Obama`s energy policy here for what he says, putting concerns
about the planet above the comfort of people. Let`s watch this
philosophical argument he`s making.


SANTORUM: This is what the president`s agenda -- it`s not about you!
It`s not about you! It`s not about your quality of life. It`s not about
your jobs. It`s about some phony ideal, some phony theology, oh, not a
theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology!



MATTHEWS: Well, I couldn`t disagree with him more on this stuff.
Anyway -- well, most of this stuff. Here`s today Santorum trying to
explain his use of that word "theology," blasting President Obama for
having this "phony" -- what he calls "phony theology." Let`s listen.


SANTORUM: I referred to it the other day, and I got criticized by
some of our -- well, less than erudite members of the national press corps
who have a difficulty understanding when you refer to someone`s ideology.


MATTHEWS: Mark, this -- the question -- well, he just changed the
word right there from "ideology" to "theology." (sic) Obviously,
"theology" is a wild word. But basically, his argument is to say that if
you care about this planet, if you`re concerned about scientific theories
right now about global warming, if you worry about getting rid of -- of
just using up our resources on this planet, wearing out the planet, you are
not being a Christian. That`s what he`s saying.

I would think that caring about the planet that God created would be a
Christian or a Judeo-Christian belief -- part of our system of belief.
Your thoughts? What`s he saying here?

HALPERIN: Well, I`m not here to advocate for Rick Santorum, but I
think the way you characterize it probably goes a notch or two further

MATTHEWS: Well, go for it. You do it your way.

HALPERIN: ... than at least he intends. Look, we`ve said for months
that part of the what the Republican nomination fight is about is who can
be the most anti-Obama, who can have the most energy, who can impugn his
legitimacy and his hold on the office most emotionally and passionately.
And that`s what Rick Santorum`s doing.

As Susan said, if you`d been with him last year, the year before, the
year before that, this the way he would have talked. It`s getting a lot
more attention now.

He is undisciplined as a candidate. He`s got a lot of skills and a
lot of strengths as a candidate, but he says stuff he shouldn`t say.

As I said before, his advisers don`t think this falls into that
category, but I don`t think if he wants to be president of the United
States this is a sustainable line...

MATTHEWS: OK, so you...

HALPERIN: ... including on the environment.

MATTHEWS: ... think he`s crossed the line. You think he`s crossed
the line on the environment, where he`s questioning...


MATTHEWS: ... Teddy Roosevelt Republicans, if there are any,
certainly, conservation is a 20th century concept bought by both political
parties, we got to preserve this planet, like the Grand Canyon. I mean,
there are a lot of people that walk into the Grand Canyon and say, OK, man
can have a trail here or there, but let`s not screw this thing up. He says
that`s a false theology, to worship beautiful things, like even Niagara
Falls and things that are all part of our wonder on this continent, he
thinks we should put them below us in some food chain kind of idea.

MILLIGAN: Well, that`s -- first of all, remember that he -- that his
party on the Hill, when they took control of the House of Representatives
in 1995, changed the name of the Energy and Environment Committee to Energy
and Natural Resources to send a signal that this isn`t something for us to

MATTHEWS: It`s to use.

MILLIGAN: ... but to use. And there is -- I had heard that religious
argument that, you know, we`re all here on this earth for however long God
wants us here, and we`re here to use the earth. I don`t hear that from a
lot of people, but...

MATTHEWS: But you know -- you know, if he`s saying that -- let me
give a little -- a little sermonette here. You say I`m overstating this,
Mark. Maybe I am. But look, how long would there be a Central Park in New
York if you opened it to development? There wouldn`t be a central park.
Trump and everybody`d be in there competing. Everybody we know would be
competing to build -- Zuckerman, every real estate developer in New York
would be developing that area. There wouldn`t be a tree left, OK? Maybe a
couple trees outside your window for effect.

If you opened up most of this country to development -- the reason we
protected our environment is a way to keep it away from capitalists. Is he
saying capitalism should trump natural beauty, the environment, our
national forests, our national, actually, monuments to God`s creation, if
you will? Mark, how far do you see him going?

HALPERIN: I think he was more making a statement about the
president`s view of the environment and the place it should play in our

Look, Chris, we don`t disagree about this. If you`re David Axelrod,
you`re sitting in Chicago saying, Would I rather run against the guy from
Bain Capital with -- with investments in the Cayman Islands and
Switzerland, or the guy who`s now leaving a longer and longer paper trail
of -- and videotape of statements about birth control, the environment...


HALPERIN: I mean, both of these guys are flawed candidates. And
Santorum is maybe helping himself with parts of the party...


HALPERIN: ... but he`s killing himself with the press and fat cat
donors and the sharpies in Washington who want somebody who`s electable in
a general election.

MATTHEWS: OK, I would say Teddy Roosevelt is so far to this guy`s
left, it`s unbelievable.

MILLIGAN: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, let`s take a look at -- here`s -- here`s what he
said speaking at a Georgia church last night. Here`s Santorum comparing
the late entry of the United States into the fight against Nazi Germany
back in `41 to what`s at stake in this election. Here he describes why the
United States was late to engage. Let`s listen.


SANTORUM: We`re a hopeful people. We think, Well, you know, it`ll
get better. Yes, he`s not -- I mean, he`s a nice guy. I mean, it won`t be
near as bad as what we think. I mean, you know, this`ll be OK. I mean,
oh, yes, I mean, maybe he`s not the best guy. After a while, you found out
some things about this guy over in Europe and he`s not so good of a guy
after all. Sometimes, it`s not OK.


MATTHEWS: I don`t know who said he was a nice guy.


MATTHEWS: We`re talking about Hitler here! Anyway, today Santorum
explained his comments, saying, "It`s a World War II metaphor. It`s one
I`ve used 100 times." When asked whether he meant to compare the president
to Hitler, he said, "No, of course not." But what was he doing?

MILLIGAN: I think he was putting this election in apocalyptic...

MATTHEWS: But he was saying if we don`t stop this president from
being what he considers a socialist...


MATTHEWS: ... he`ll -- we think he`s a nice guy socialist, he`ll end
up being a dictator socialist.

MILLIGAN: Yes. He`s trying to put this election in apocalyptic terms
and almost religious apocalyptic terms. But I think also what we`re seeing
here is that while Romney is this incredibly scripted candidate and that`s
not working for him, Santorum is incredibly unscripted.

MATTHEWS: Yes. So we`re choosing here, if you`re a Republican voting
on -- coming up on the 28th, which is now about eight days from now --
Mark, it looks to me like this is really tightening up in Michigan to
practically even right now. Is there any way -- I think Romney could
easily win this based on his trends in some of these -- the PPP poll, if
you believe it.

But is this really a bout between a guy who can`t talk and a guy who
talks too much?

HALPERIN: Well, that`s one way to frame it, but it`s also a guy who
at this point is spending a lot more money on negative ads, as he has in
the past. So Romney has some advantages here.

But look, the metaphor he used -- we all agree, Nazi metaphors just
shouldn`t be part of politics.


HALPERIN: But at the same time, there are tens of millions of people
in this country who think the president`s illegitimate and he`s destroying
America. And that`s who`s voting, to a large extent, in these contests.

I don`t -- I don`t think Santorum should use language like that, but I
think he`s -- in this case, he is trying to tap into something, which is
the urgency that a lot of people have on the side -- on the Republican and
conservative side to get rid of the president.

Romney doesn`t tap into that as well. And that -- if he does lose
Michigan, some of these other states, I think that`ll be the reason as much
as anything else.

MATTHEWS: So it`s not gotcha journalism, it`s just God-fearing,
right-wing politics.

MILLIGAN: You got to give him points for being who he is.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well said. I think we`ve learned something here
tonight. Don`t think Rick Santorum`s an idiot. Just consider him a right-
wing ideologue who`s willing to say what he is, and that`s what we`re not
used to anymore. Politicians who say what they`re -- even when they`re so
far right, it scares the bejesus out of a lot of people in the middle.

Anyway, thank you, Mark Halperin, for a very analytical look at this.
Susan, same deal.

Coming up: If Mitt Romney loses Michigan -- and this is -- I still
think he`s got the favorite opportunity out there -- will we get a brokered
convention and someone else. There is a chance we go to Florida and we got
a draft down there for Jeb Bush or somebody. If this thing keeps going
crazy like this, the voters of the Republican Party may just say, This is
chaos. The grown-ups have got to take over. Well, that`s ahead, the

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: One week after the Michigan and Arizona primaries which are
coming up next Tuesday, nine states vote on super-Tuesday. That`s March
6th. We`ve got some new numbers, new poll numbers from super-Tuesday in
the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

In Oklahoma, it`s Rick Santorum with a 16-point lead over Mitt Romney
in a new Sooner poll, 39-23. Newt Gingrich is a close third at 18. And in
Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney was governor, of course, Romney has a 48-
point lead over Santorum -- 48 points -- in a new Suffolk poll.

Massachusetts, by the way, is one home state Romney shouldn`t have a
problem winning in the primary. But the home state love doesn`t extend to
November. President Obama has a big lead over Mitt Romney in a general
election match-up -- catch this, 53-39 -- 53-39. And that could help
Elizabeth Warren, the presumed Democratic nominee in that hot Senate race
with Scott Brown.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The fear amongst Republicans
that Mitt Romney`s campaign might self-destruct is growing as he trails
Rick Santorum in every Michigan poll right now. Politico reports today
there is even talk in Republican circles now of a brokered or a contested
convention come Tampa time down in August.

Anyway, quote, "Most party veterans still believe Romney will muscle
his way to the nomination. But even among his own donors, it`s not
difficult to find concern about both his general election prospects and
anxiety about the potentially chronic nature of the rest of the primary --
the chaotic nature of the rest of the primary and the Tampa convention

Michael Steele is the former chair of the RNC and an MSNBC political
analyst and Walter Shapiro covers politics for "The New Republic" and Yahoo

Walter, your column grabbed me today, my friend, and this whole idea
that you talk it up like -- to Mitt Romney, who we all know is a bit
structured in his manner and rather unspontaneous, you (INAUDIBLE) said it
was like a business school case study at Harvard B school. Tell me about
that, the way he`s looking at this campaign.

WALTER SHAPIRO, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Well, the whole thing about Mitt
Romney is he`s doing everything technically right. And the problem is, he
is still losing to a ragtag opposition. No one took Rick Santorum
seriously as a first-tier presidential candidate. And Newt Gingrich, who
beat him in South Carolina handily, was like the Harold Stassen of 2012.


SHAPIRO: And yet Mitt can`t put them away. Imagine if he was up
against a real opponent.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go over to Michael Steele about that. This
whole question -- maybe, maybe -- do you hear it among your colleagues,
your erstwhile colleagues, perhaps, of the talk of some kind of -- you
know, I was thinking back in history 50 years ago. Was it -- 60 years ago,
`52. The last time a convention really picked somebody who hadn`t ran was
Adlai Stevenson.


MATTHEWS: He was the host governor, and he had refused to run. All
the party people had said, You got to run, you got to run. And Truman had
said, Run, run, run. He wouldn`t run.

But when it came time for the convention in Chicago, just like this
convention coming up in Tampa, he gave a barn-burner of a host speech, like
the guy (ph) (INAUDIBLE) host speech is boring. He gave this great speech
and he got the nomination.

Is that still possible in your party, that a guy or woman could go up
and give a speech welcoming the convention so well they nominate her --

STEELE: No. No, it can`t.


STEELE: And in fact, you know, I was the first -- one of the first
out there to raise about a 50-50 proposition of a brokered convention.

And my point was not so much about the convention being brokered where some
third party is going to come in and be the knight on white shining horse
coming in the door at the end...


STEELE: ... but more about a contested convention.

You could have a scenario where at least three of the four of these
individuals walk into that convention, 400 or 500 votes short or 300 votes
shy of what they need for the nomination. And then the contest begins
negotiating with one or the other to get the votes you need from the
delegates so that you can pull out the nomination.

That`s very likely, particularly if you see in Michigan Romney losing
Michigan, it sends a very strong signal out there about not just
eligibility, but about credibility. And I think Newt asked the right
question. How does Mitt go to his donors the next morning and say, I`m
your guy, give me more money?

Everything becomes different, it`s game changer should that happen.

MATTHEWS: So it`s Michigan next week.


STEELE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think what happens in that
situation is you`re looking at then jockeying for the position, the
strongest position to make the best argument to get the most delegates once
you get to Tampa.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at some of those new numbers that are
coming in, in states and primaries eight days from today.

In Michigan, the PPP robo-poll has Romney gaining from last week`s
poll, which was probably an outlier, you could say. Now they have Santorum
still on top 37 percent to Romney`s 33 percent, a four-point spread there.
In Arizona, in what was thought of as a Romney stronghold because of the
large Mormon population down there, Romney has just a three-point lead over
Rick Santorum, 36 percent to 33 percent.

Let me go to Walter on this.

The idea that Santorum could be doing so well, it reminds me of
Buchanan in the old says running where you can run well in one state and
all of a sudden be running well way across the country. This is a
nationalized political environment we`re in right now. Everybody who is
voting in these primaries, guys, is watching shows like this and on FOX
because the politically interested people are the ones making these
decisions, not the regular public.

Walter, do you see anything that gets in the way now of Romney being
the nominee? Because every time I sit down, they say it will end up being
Romney. It may be dirty, it may be jagged, he will end up being the
nominee in the worst, bloody way, but he will be the nominee.

Is that still inevitable?

SHAPIRO: No, I don`t think it`s inevitable at all. Because there are
some things called voters.

And the nationalization is not new. Gary Hart went from nowhere to
leading many national polls after he won the New Hampshire primary in 1984.
Of course, we long for an open convention because if it gets to the
convention there are no brokers left. And I would love to see a second
ballot. But as you point out in your book, in 1956, Kefauver won the vice
presidential nomination over Kennedy because Sam Rayburn, the convention
chairman, decided to recognize Oklahoma, instead of Illinois.

I`m not sure that lack of democracy would play very well for a
political party on national television, when we`re totally unused to the
deal making at a national convention.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to the former chairman.

Is there a chance that because of Romney`s poor performance if it
continues that you will have something like a democratic process in Tampa,
where people will actually come and actually get released by the second
ballot and actually make a decision about who the nominee should be in that

STEELE: Yes. Yes. That I think is again very, very likely if coming
out of next week and Super Tuesday, the combination of those two, you don`t
have someone with -- showing the wind in their sails, pushing towards that
magic number of 1,100 votes. Yes, I think you could have a situation.

MATTHEWS: OK. What`s more likely, Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron
Paul all ganging up on Romney or Romney buying one of the three guys off
with a vice presidency or something...


STEELE: I don`t see any of those three getting bought off at this

The problem -- and this goes back to the 2008 campaign. The Romney
operation has a way of poisoning the well vis-a-vis the other candidates so
badly that they don`t want to work with him, that they don`t want to
cooperate with them.

MATTHEWS: Oh, well, you`re telling me something here.

STEELE: And so that there`s always this, you know, thing that sticks
in their craw about him. I don`t see them sort of jumping up and down
saying, OK, I want to be on Mitt`s team after battle, particularly someone
like Newt. I don`t see that happening.


MATTHEWS: Same question to you. Do you see a more likely scenario
where they all gang up and agree on one of the three being the nominee
rather than giving to Mitt because he`s got the money at the convention to
buy them off?

SHAPIRO: Well, let me try another scenario which I think is more

If Mitt can`t put away Santorum or Gingrich makes a great jack-in-the-
box comeback, and this year anything is possible, and they look like
political disasters in November, will there be pressure by the Republican
establishment for Romney to get out of the race and release his delegates
to a Jeb Bush, a Mitch Daniels, a Chris Christie, and resolve this thing in
May and June with a replacement establishment candidate for Romney?

That`s a small chance, but I think it`s possible.


MATTHEWS: Fall on his sword for the party?


MATTHEWS: Michael is laughing at the thought of such generosity.


MATTHEWS: No generosity like that, Michael, right?



STEELE: Walter, I loved your piece today, man, but that scenario is
not happening.


MATTHEWS: These guys who come in first like to stay in first.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele.

STEELE: All right, guys.

MATTHEWS: It`s been a good segment.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Walter. It`s great to see your piece today.


MATTHEWS: Up next: Mitt Romney infamously strapped his dog to the
roof of the car for a family vacation. He had it in a dog house up there,
by the way. He wasn`t just flying loose up there. But now Rick Santorum
has a dog story of his own. That`s ahead in the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And now for the "Sideshow."

First up, step away from the sandwich. The first family went Cosby
this weekend on "SNL," with each member of the family slipping into their
alter egos for "The Cosby Show." Even Vice President Joe Biden was
represented. The president found himself in the doghouse after fashioning
a sandwich that didn`t quite pass muster with Mrs. Obama. Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I hereby approve this hoagie for eating.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: But, first, some amendments. We`re going to add
a little salami to the hoagie.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I also hereby veto the rice cakes that Michelle
said were healthier than the hoagie. Here we go.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Hi, Barack. My meeting was canceled. And...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: She`s home. My beautiful wife is home.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Barack Obama, is that a hoagie? Foods like
that lead to obesity. And you know you are to never, never, never, never,
never, never, never eat them.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I know. I just found it here.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I think one of the children must have made it.



MATTHEWS: That`s a great version of Phylicia Rashad.

Ever since, by the way, the Let`s Move initiative hit the ground
running, some people have come to see the first lady as some kind of junk
food cop.

Next up, grin and bear it? Reliving embarrassing campaign moments
isn`t the most popular strategy for a presidential candidate, but Rick
Santorum gave it a go this past weekend with a specific tale involving,
what else, a dog. Here`s when a woman invited him in for a water break
while he did some door-to-door campaigning back in the `90s.


water. And the dog jumps up and hops in my lap. And the next thing I
know, there`s a warm sensation on my lap.


SANTORUM: I jump up and on my tan pants is a huge wet spot where you
don`t want a huge wet spot.


SANTORUM: Undeterred, I soldiered on.

Anybody remember the closer for the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh
Pirates? Kent Tekulve, correct. That`s Kent Tekulve`s house next door.
And I said: "Hi, Mr. Tekulve. I`m Rick Santorum. I`m running for

And he does this.

I say to him, "Mr. Tekulve, I`m so excited to meet you."



MATTHEWS: Pretty good. Santorum said he told the story to show the
audience that he`s -- quote -- "walked the path that you have walked."

Would that be a different path than the one Romney took when he
infamously strapped his dog in the kennel on the roof of his car for a
family road trip up to Montreal? I doubt it.

Finally, excitement is ramping up as baseball season approaches. But
the Washington Nationals team got things under way with another crucial
part of their team spirit this past weekend, the mascots. If you haven`t
seen them before, the figureheads for the Nationals are, fittingly, the
four presidents featured up on Mount Rushmore, George Washington, Abraham
Lincoln, Tom Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt.

And Saturday brought the last round of tryouts for mascot wannabes.
The requirements -- look at these guys -- handling that 45-pound costume,
not to mention clocking a 40-second run from center field to home plate and
even freestyle dancing. And it`s now a tradition, by the way, for the
mascots to race against each other at the fourth-inning mark. Look at it.
That`s a job, and not an easy feat.

Up next: Gasoline prices are up. We all know that. Way up. We all
know that. And Republicans think they have got an issue to use against
President Obama -- $75 to fill my car the other day.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC Correspondent: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Here`s what`s happening.

Three skiers were killed on Sunday after being caught in an avalanche
near a ski resort in Washington State. They had been skiing in an out-of-
bounds area. Authorities say there were minor only injuries after a small
plane and a helicopter flipped each other last night over Northern
California. Aviation officials are investigating that.

And U.N. nuclear inspectors are in Iran for a two-day visit. Last
week, Iran declared major progress in its nuclear program -- now back to

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Obama might be thankful for the lowered unemployment rate,
of course, and the rising stock market, of course. The Dow has been way
up. But there`s one troubling number that still faces America. It`s the
rising cost of gasoline at the pump.

Today, the AAA national average has it at $3.57 for regular. And
that`s up 18 cents from just last month, up 40 cents from a year ago. And,
by the way, it`s higher in different places, like here in Washington area.
It was a fortune for me the other day. And in L.A., apparently out in
California, it`s a fortune.

Republicans see this as a winning issue for the November elections,
obviously. But is this something that you can really argue about as an
Obama failure in terms? Is it his fault?

Daniel Yergin is a great expert on energy. He`s author of The Quest,"
big book, "Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World." He`s
also a CNBC energy analyst. Chrystia Freeland is editor at large for
Thomson Reuters.

We have two great people on. Unfortunately, this show deals with the
bottom line of politics. So let`s just talk about the bottom line here.

Daniel, it`s great to have you on.

Why are gas prices going so high now? I said I paid 75 cents (sic) to
fill up my car with super the other day. Why so up so fast?

DANIEL YERGIN, CNBC ENERGY ANALYST: The basic reason is what has
happened on the front page. It`s about what Iran, the fear of a disruption
of supplies, what Iran is threatening, to close off the supply of oil.

And both -- the U.S. is putting sanctions on the Iranian Central Bank.
The Europeans are putting an embargo on, so there`s a sense that all of
this is intensifying. And that means there may be problems in the supply
of oil.

MATTHEWS: Why does a fear of a shortage of oil down the road drive
prices up now?

YERGIN: Well, it`s because -- it`s because people are in the market
now getting ready, preparing themselves. No one wants to be caught short
of oil.


MATTHEWS: No, big oil companies are buying as much oil futures as
they can in case this happens?.

YERGIN: Well, not necessarily just the big oil. Kind of everybody.
Airlines are doing it, everybody else.

MATTHEWS: I got you. So they are buying it now because they don`t
want to be cut short?

YERGIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: So, Chrystia, your sense of this thing and whether it`s
going to keep going up. I know I`m just a pedestrian political guy here,
but I want to know one thing. Where`s the price of gasoline going to be
during this summer when people travel? I hear it always goes up in the
summer because of the demand of vacationers, of families getting on the

happen, although with the brilliant Dan Yergin, I`m not going to forecast
the price of oil.

What I will say is that I think that this is tactically a smart issue
for the Republicans to be focusing on, because as you pointed out earlier
in the show, Chris, the culture wars have gone so far to the right in the
Republican Party that in the general election, I think that kind of a focus
could really kill them.

And they will have to try to find a way to return to the economic
debate. But with economic numbers looking a little bit better, it`s hard
to find something to peg that on. So the oil price really could be the
issue. I think that if they are smart, they will raise the Keystone

MATTHEWS: Well, as Don Rumsfeld, the late, I`m not going to say
great, secretary of defense, said, you fight the war with the army you
have. And their army is gas prices.

Look at this. Here`s yesterday on FOX News. Newt Gingrich, who
always knows how to exploit an issue, pledged to drive down gas prices
under his informed leadership. Let`s listen to him.


you is the Obama program has higher prices, more dependency on the Middle
East, more vulnerability to Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Iran -- exactly the
wrong direction.

Now, can we get to $2.50? Can we get to $2? It was $1.13 when I was
speaker. It was $1.89 when Obama was sworn in. I mean, $2.50 is not some
inconceivable number, except in the Washington establishment, which always
explains to you why whatever you want to do that`s good for the American
people can`t be done.


MATTHEWS: OK. His boogeyman is us, in Washington, the establishment,
because he`s getting his keister (ph) handed to him.

Is there anything he said that`s true?

YERGIN: I think it`s mainly -- it`s -- if he can change the outcome
in the Middle East, if he can solve -- anybody can solve the Iranian
imbroglio, short of the kind of tension that`s around it now, then we`d see
prices lower. We actually -- on top of what`s happened with Iran, the
world oil market is kind of tight in terms of other supplies.

So, if you just talk about an embargo of Iranian supplies and making
it hard for them to sell it, you have to figure out where --

MATTHEWS: But these same characters that they`re saying, let me go
to Chrystia into this, I`ll be back to you, Daniel. Chrystia, the same
characters like Newt Gingrich, they are saying he`s going to solve the
whole thing overnight are also saying let`s bomb Iran tomorrow morning.
The minute you bomb Iran, whether it`s good policy or not, you have to
calculate a lot of factors. But one of those factors is Iran will have a
reaction. That reaction is not going to be cheaper gas for the West.

FREELAND: Absolutely. I totally agree with Dan that the main thing
driving the price of oil right now is uncertainty around Iran.


FREELAND: If that war, you know, if that conflict gets hotter, then
the oil price will go up very significantly. I wonder to what extent that
is figuring into the White House calculations on that issue.

MATTHEWS: You mean if we bomb or encourage Israelis to bomb, not
that they need a lot of it, they have a reaction, just cut off the Straits
of Hormuz, the gulf becomes a log jam. Then what happens?

YERGIN: Right. And in fact, the Iranians are very shrewd. They
know that if they threaten to cut off -- close the strait or have the large
these military maneuvers, the price of oil goes up because people get

MATTHEWS: So, what would we do? If you were the president of the
United States, Dan Yergin, what would you do to keep prices through the
election? Total political Machiavellian, what would you do?

YERGIN: I think the options are quite limited in what you can do. I
mean, you can jaw a bone. You can tell people don`t gouge. You can go --

MATTHEWS: I`m going to the Saudis and say, open the pumps.

YERGIN: The Saudis have said that. The Saudis have said it in a
kind of this -- they`ll say we will meet the needs of our customers. And
the Saudis have just about enough oil -- extra oil supply to put in the
market that can replace Iranian oil.

So, Saudi Arabia is the main place to go for other oil. Saudi Arabia
is also in the Persian Gulf, however.

MATTHEWS: Yes, so it`s very hard to deal with it, to get the oil out
even if they want to.

YERGIN: But the Saudis --

MATTHEWS: But right now, could we go to the Saudis and say, prince,
whether your highness, or whatever, can you reduce the price of gas so I
can get reelected?

YERGIN: Well, I think it would be put that way. You could say, can
you put more oil into the market to help reduce the price. And I wouldn`t
be surprised if those conversations are already going on.

MATTHEWS: OK, you`ve told us something. Thank you, Daniel, the
brilliant author "The Quest." If you want to understand this issue, read
that book in yellow.

Thank you, Chrystia Freeland. I notice how differential you are to
somebody that happens to be a particular expert on this issue.

FREELAND: I love Dan.

YERGIN: It`s mutual.

MATTHEWS: You care about your emotions. I`m just kidding.

Thank you, Chrystia. Please come back.

Up next, what will Bill Clinton do to help President Obama win
reelection? We want to talk about the Clinton factor. It`s huge. I know
it is somehow. He`s going to bring in the vote this president needs.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: That final county in Maine finally held its caucus this
weekend. Despite a big turnout for Ron Paul, it doesn`t seem to be enough
to overtake Mitt Romney up there. The results from Washington County gave
Ron Paul 163 votes, Romney, 80, Santorum got 57 and Gingrich won four. So,
that leaves Romney with the overall lead in the state over Paul of 156
votes, that`s all he won by.

We`ll be right back. Total votes.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Well, it`s been over 10 years since Bill Clinton left the White
House, but he remains one of the most fascinating political figures in the
world. We talked -- I had in the documentary on that recently.

Over the next two nights, PBS will air a four-hour American
experience doc examining the former president`s life from his humble
beginnings in Hope, Arkansas, to his time in the presidency. Here`s the
trailer for "Clinton."


NARRATOR: In his teen years, lots of people were saying they
expected Bill Clinton to be president some day. They hated his guts and
they would go to the end of the earth to e destroy him.

What a squandering of talent possibility.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Tonight has made Bill Clinton
the comeback kid.

NARRATOR: A definitive look at the man and the president, "Clinton".


MATTHEWS: Actually, that comeback was before the problem.

By the way, joining me right now to talk whether the former President
Bill Clinton, about him, are former or actually current historian Doug
Brinkley, and "Washington Post`s" Eugene Robinson, who`s also an MSNBC
political analyst.

I want to start with Gene on this.

Covering politics today and you look ahead to this spring and summer,
as the Democrats come alive in their campaign and when Obama really hits --
starts hitting on all of the pins, all the pistons start pumping, what role
does Bill Clinton play in that?

an adversary to Democrats in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio and places
that the president really wants to win that maybe he`s a little soft among
traditional Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Older, whiter?

ROBINSON: Older, whiter, more blue collar, more -- you know, Clinton
has that sensibility. Obama doesn`t. Obama didn`t do that badly among
those voters last time.

MATTHEWS: But those who cling to their guns and religion, as Obama
said, in felicitous, out in San Francisco, they like Bill Clinton better.

ROBINSON: Right. Bill Clinton, he has the -- he has that touch.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that. I don`t know how you improve on that,
Doug. He has that touch they are looking for in the presidency right now.

know, the super envoy. He`s going to be an incredible job. Bill Clinton
has really become a folk figure in America. He`s more like Babe Ruth or
Buffalo Bill than a politician. And just going as Eugene said, college
campuses imagine in Pennsylvania and Ohio, or even at the convention just
standing there with Barack Obama, he has a very high public approval
rating, Bill Clinton. And post-presidency, he`s been quite remarkable, and
he still has this wife Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

So, the Clintons are very important. They remind people of what a
good economy was when the Democrats had eight years.

MATTHEWS: So well said. So well said.

So we`re talking about the past, the present and the future. The
past looks damn good right now. We had great unemployment numbers. We had
a growth. We had the eyeball.

Everything was high time. Everything was great, right? In fact,
when the Republicans say restoration, they really mean go back to this guy,
not W. Nobody wants to go back to W.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: So, let`s talk about the president. Of course, my son
worked with him in the global initiative, fantastic work around the world.

Let`s talk about the future. Insipient, when you look at Bill
Clinton and you look at Secretary Clinton, you don`t just see the past.
You see the future.

What role does the potential of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state
to retire for a year two and then head for the presidency, play in the

ROBINSON: Well, I think she still has the opportunity, if she wants.
And I, frankly, I think that`s an if. Some people don`t think that`s an
if. Some think it`s a when.

I think if she wants, she still is such a prominent Democrat, such a
well-known figure. She`s done a good job as secretary of state. She is
Hillary Clinton.

And so, in four years, she has the potential there for --

MATTHEWS: Who would -- I mean, let`s go to Doug and let`s do some
prospecting here. If she decides to go out there and take a year, oh, I
thought she`d probably want to take a year after this excruciating
worldwide job she`s had. Take a break. Don`t get committed to anything
that would tie her down and begin to run, say, a year or two before the
presidential election.

Who would be her opponent? Who would try to challenge her for the
nomination? Actually, Andrew Cuomo, I guess. But who would have a chance
to beat her given how much she`s established politically and

BRINKLEY: You could have somebody like Evan Bayh trying to come in
playing the Midwest, particularly if the Democrats lose in the Midwest in

But she -- when she leaves if she leaves in, I`d say, probably March
of 2013, if Obama got re-elected, she`d write a memoir, become a number one
book. She got a great deal of money, probably rest up. She needs a rest.
I think she`s done a lot of world travel.

She`s going to be on everybody`s top of the list for running in 2016.
She`s been an extraordinarily effective secretary of state.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think so.

Let me ask you about the politics my favorite question. Let`s tie it
all together.

What does Bill Clinton want from Barack Obama to go out and campaign
his heart out for this re-election so that Hillary Clinton -- how does that
connect to his wife becoming president some day? Is there an interlock
here we should be looking for?

ROBINSON: Well, what I think he wants is props first of all. I
mean, this is Bill Clinton who Barack Obama --

MATTHEWS: Let me the latest lingo.


ROBINSON: Barack Obama, remember when he was running, he kind of
wanted to go beyond Bill Clinton. He wanted to be --

MATTHEWS: No more referring to Bill as the --

ROBINSON: Like Ronald Reagan. He didn`t say like Bill Clinton.

OBAMA: He wants a little more respect.

ROBINSON: Exactly. He wants a little more respect and, look, he`s
going to get it from Barack Obama. He`s going to get it.

MATTHEWS: He`s got to get it.

Do you think there`s any deal there? We don`t know when the
president decided to name Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton at the time,
Secretary Clinton. We don`t know how that will work out. It just worked

Doug, do we know historically how that worked and what may be part of
a future transition politically here?

BRINKLEY: Well, I was just going to add, I think, remember, the
mistake that Barack Obama could play if he tries to distance himself from
Bill Clinton because, you know, Al Gore did that in 2000 and it wasn`t a
smart idea.


BRINKLEY: The rap against Obama this summer is going to be he`s a
Jimmy Carter 1980 president -- double-digit inflation, long gasoline lines
and a problem in Iran. And instead, when you have Clinton there, it`s that
constant jobs, jobs, jobs reminder. The economy was better under the
Democrats and it does put some of the blame on W.

MATTHEWS: Doug, you`re great. Doug Brinkley, great American
historian. Thank you, sir, for being on, anytime and get on. We
appreciate you.

And Gene, of course, the same exact truth, from a Pulitzer prize-
winning great guy. Thank you so much.

We all agree, Hillary Clinton may well run for president. We don`t
know the slightest whether she will or not. It`s up to her, obviously.
It`s an amazing decision because she could easily win this thing.

Thank you.

We`re going to finish with a milestone tonight what all Americans
could savor. What a time we`re united behind.

Think about John Glenn. Think about how popular he was. Fifty years
ago today, he went around the world three times.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

When I was growing up, we got a lot of our science from television.
There was Mr. Wizard who taught us chemistry; and Wernher von Braun, with a
little help from Walt Disney, who taught us physics.

The main lesson was that we Americans were first in everything, that
we were going to be the country to conquer space. We were going to start
the conquest by putting little things called satellites into orbit around
the earth. Yes, that was how it was going to be.

And then came that terrible day in 1957 when we awoke -- we awoke,
Americans, to find the Soviets had done it. That there was indeed a
satellite, a really big one winging its way around our world. But it had
been launched out there into space by the communists, the people we had
been taught by Wernher von Braun and Walt Disney were hardly in the game.

Well, it made us sad. It made me sad because it undermined us. It
made me us think that the communists were doing something we were trying do
but couldn`t. It had to do with booster rockets, with something called
thrust. Their rockets were bigger, stronger, therefore, better than ours.

Well, for five years, it went on like this. They would send a man
into space, Yuri Gagarin. They would send a man into orbit, (INAUDIBLE).
And we could send one vanguard rocket up after another, only to watch it
topple right there in front of us, barely off the launching pad.

Well, then came the first American successes into space followed by
this wondrous day 50 years ago today. On February 20th, 1962, John Glenn
became the first American to orbit the earth, circling the globe three
times in Friendship 7. Glenn met with President Kennedy at the White House
both before and after that mission. Even space, especially space, isn`t
free of politics.

And John Glenn well understood that. He recalled that Kennedy knew,
quote, "We were actually superior to the Soviets and that`s what we were
there out to prove."

Well, Glenn`s triumphant space flight proved the boost NASA needed
and he knew it. Quote, "I think one reason my flight got so much attention
was because we sort of turned the corner in public opinion at that point."

Well, in fact, conquering space offered us an unprecedented thrill
for the American people. Suddenly, it seemed as if extraordinary things
were truly possible. And, yes, there was a time in the lives of so many of
us watching right now that one of the extraordinary things today was quite
ordinary, that we Americans could all root for one thing together. It was
us against the Soviets for leadership in space. Leadership we knew in
science, engineering and in all possibilities.

And one of the great things about the early 1960s, besides the thin
ties and the 50-mile hikes was the sense we Americans could do the things
we set out to do and could do them together. As the voice of mission
control said back then, "Godspeed, John Glenn."

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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