updated 3/22/2012 12:39:52 PM ET 2012-03-22T16:39:52

Guests: Chuck Todd, Eugene Robinson, Susan Page, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Sheila Simon, Kendall Coffey,
Jasmine Rand, Jodi Kantor

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Clean slate?

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington. Leading off
tonight: The Etch-a-Sketch candidate. Mitt Romney beat Rick Santorum by 12
points last night in Illinois, and he picked up the endorsement of Jeb Bush
today.

But now the Republican base has new reason to worry. The Romney
campaign is now talking about wiping the slate clean and starting all over
for the general election. Listen to Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well I think you hit
a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It`s almost
like an Etch-a-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over
again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Shake it up and start again. So everything we have heard
from Romney so far doesn`t matter. We can just start over. And that`s
what Michael Kinsley would call a gaffe, when you actually tell the truth.
And that won`t help Romney with the base.

And here`s another challenge for Republicans. Some polls show they`re
losing ground among women. Maybe that`s because of a slew of new measures
that restrict access to things like birth control and abortion. The
latest, Tennessee`s proposal to publish the names of doctors who perform
abortions and provide detailed information about the women who have them.

As we move toward the general election, President Obama has a secret
weapon himself in that battle for women voters, first lady Michelle Obama,
who`s hitting campaign trail for her husband right now.

And later, our continuing coverage of the case of Trayvon Martin, that
unarmed African-American teenager shot and killed in Florida. What
happened in the final moments of his life?

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with Romney finally getting it done, but not
winning the hearts and minds.

We begin with Mitt Romney`s decisive win in Illinois and his
endorsement today, just in the lick (sic) of time, by Jeb Bush. Chuck Todd
is NBC`s political director and chief White House correspondent and Susan
Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today."

Who doesn`t respect Jeb Bush? But what`s this kind of endorsement
mean, when you get it the day after you win the big primary in Illinois?
What`s it do?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, when
it comes via a press release and then a tweet...

MATTHEWS: A tweet!

TODD: ... and not exactly -- making sure there`s no huge event, like
there was for Chris Christie. Look, what it does is it sends -- it says
what the statement said. It`s time now -- I mean, Jeb Bush said what it
is. He didn`t say, Mitt Romney has proven to be the candidate that I
envision to be the president -- none of that. It just said, It`s time for
Republicans to unite.

MATTHEWS: What do you think, Susan?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, and it means he`s not going to be the
nominee, right?

MATTHEWS: That`s what it...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: I think we knew that.

PAGE: Well...

MATTHEWS: Well, we know it now!

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE: Well, but you know, a lot of pining for Jeb Bush and...

TODD: This was different. Jeb was holding this out because he was
not happy with Mitt Romney.

PAGE: Yes.

TODD: And this is -- this was less about anything other than he was
not happy with Mitt Romney`s rhetoric on immigration.

MATTHEWS: No, he`s still not.

PAGE: So does this start -- does this start Haley Barbour? Does this
start Mitch Daniels?

MATTHEWS: Well, you...

PAGE: And we get -- we get a...

MATTHEWS: You swallowed that. You swallowed that. I helped you
swallow that. Immigration he doesn`t like.

TODD: Look, he doesn`t like this -- he`s been upset about it -- you
know, it`s funny, when Romney first...

MATTHEWS: He`s married to a Mexican-American.

TODD: When Romney first ran for president, you know, there were a lot
of people -- Bush people in Florida who indicated that Jeb was pretty fired
up about Mitt Romney and liked the idea, this idea of a hands-on governor.
He was ready to -- and he watched him go through that campaign, go to the
right on immigration, use it as a wedge against McCain. He didn`t like it.
He didn`t like it -- he doesn`t like the rhetoric in general, didn`t like
it again.

And so -- and he`s even been -- you know, he`s been critical of the
tone and the rhetoric that`s been used on the issue of immigration. So I
think this endorsement`s more -- it is sort of bowing to reality of the
situation. And you know, when you know all of that backdrop and you read
the statement, I think it`s kind of telling.

MATTHEWS: It is interesting that he`s married a woman from Mexico,
who, you know -- who`s Hispanic.

PAGE: And then his own record on issues involving Hispanics is really
strong. He has a lot of appeal with Hispanics and an example of the kind
of Republican who figures out how you can really win over Hispanic voters,
and not just Cuban-Americans in Florida, but also Mexican-Americans and
Puerto Rican Americans.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think he`s an interesting guy. I`ve always thought
that. Anyway, in his endorsement, which isn`t that interesting, the
statement released this morning, Jeb Bush said in part, quote, "Primary
elections have been held in 34 states, and now is the time for Republicans
to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal
conservativism and job creation to all voters this fall. I am endorsing
Mitt Romney for our party`s nomination. We face huge challenges, and we
need a leader who understands the economy, recognizes more government
regulation is not the answer, believes in entrepreneurialism --
entrepreneurial capitalism and works to ensure that all Americans have the
opportunity to succeed," pretty general stuff there.

Now, let`s go to the wiseguy -- I can say wise-ass comment by Newt
Gingrich, his guy, which is classically good. One (ph) time Newt as he
dies on the vine...

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... a good line comes out of him. Quote -- this guy puts
(ph) his -- R.C. Hammond, right?

TODD: Who is good with the snark.

MATTHEWS: Here`s some snark. Everybody ready for this? This is
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said -- this is the Jeb endorsement --
quote, "It is a completion of the establishment trifecta."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Hammond was referring to the endorsements of former
president Herbert Walker Bush, Bob Dole and now Jeb. He throws in Bob
Dole! It`s his right (ph).

TODD: It is...

MATTHEWS: In other words, this is pathetic.

TODD: It was the attempt, but you know, Jeb is different. Jeb has
always been treated different by the conservative movement from the rest of
the Bushes, that there is more of a trust of Jeb in the heart and soul of
the conservative movement that (sic) there was, frankly...

MATTHEWS: OK...

TODD: ... for the rest of the Bush family.

MATTHEWS: OK, now the best part of the show. This is something I`ve
been waiting for for weeks. Top Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom -- sounds like
a Johnny Carson character -- Eric Fehrnstrom went on CNN today and made a
gaffe that could come back to haunt his guy. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a concern that the pressure from Santorum
and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right, it would
hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall
campaign. Everything changes. It`s almost like an Etch-a-Sketch. You can
kind of shake it up and we start all over again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s what Newt Gingrich said about the Etch-a-
Sketch. He showed a picture of one. I mean, have we got a copy of this?
Here`s a video of it anyway. Let`s take a look. There`s Newt. He`s
showing an actual Etch-a-Sketch. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Given
everybody`s fears about Governor Romney`s flip-flops, to have his
communications director say publicly to all of us, if we`re re dumb enough
to nominate him, we should expect that by the acceptance speech, he`ll move
back to the left, triggers everything people are worried about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: God, he really looks like Mephistopheles there with that
flashlight thing we used to do in Boy Scouts! Anyway -- and here`s
Santorum jumping on the Etch-a-Sketch remark, as well. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), FMR. SEN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said it`s
like an Etch-a-Sketch.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: He said you just turn it over and shake it, and then you
start all over. Imagine. Had Mitt Romney been around at the time we were
drafting our Constitution, he`d have just shaken it (INAUDIBLE) and just
shook it up after it was approved to rewrite it!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first of what I`m going to now call
my Etch-a-Sketch tour of America.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This is like the old senator in "Mr. Smith Goes to
Washington" saying, Everything they`ve said about me is true -- Claude
Rains at the end of the movie -- I mean, it`s like saying everything you`ve
said about Mitt Romney, that he`s a flip-flopper, can`t believe a word he
says because he`ll change, he`s a mood ring, tomorrow it`ll be different --
here`s this guy saying it`s all an Etch-a-Sketch, like we used to have
those things where you wrote it on then and it disappeared when you lifted
it up.

It (ph) all (ph) has disappeared. Now all the commitments about
immigration, all the commitments about everything are yesterday`s news now!

PAGE: You should buy stock...

MATTHEWS: It`s an amazing statement!

PAGE: ... in the company that makes Etch-a-Sketch because there`s re
going to be a run on those (INAUDIBLE) by not just his Republican
opponents, by the Obama people.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... Obama people hand these things out now?

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: ... by the Democrats on Twitter today. They launched this, and
then Newt and Santorum...

MATTHEWS: They launched the reaction to Fehrnstrom.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: You could not say a more damaging thing about Mitt Romney than
he...

MATTHEWS: He`s got to fire the guy. How does he live with the fact
that...

PAGE: I don`t know, but...

MATTHEWS: ... his biggest guy has said this without absolutely laying
on the ground and begging for forgiveness?

TODD: For what it`s worth, the campaign reached out to me. I talked
to them. And they said, He obviously -- they want to say -- they think it
should be pretty clear he obviously was referring to the campaign reset
that happens between a primary and a general...

MATTHEWS: What`s that mean?

TODD: ... versus resetting the candidate`s...

MATTHEWS: OK, what could that possibly mean?

TODD: ... positions.

MATTHEWS: What does that mean?

TODD: What they`re saying is resetting the candidate`s position --
hey, you know, there is a -- it has been an accepted fact of life that
nominees of major parties we know...

MATTHEWS: I`m not going to stand for this!

TODD: Hang on! Hang on!

MATTHEWS: I`m not going to let you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

TODD: It`s been a standard practice that nominees run one way in a
primary, and as Richard Nixon used to famously say...

MATTHEWS: This is why people hate politicians!

TODD: ... you run -- you run to the middle...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You make statements you have to live with usually within
the current year.

TODD: No, you make and you walk through...

MATTHEWS: Usually, they`re good for year.

TODD: The essential (ph) is you try figure out how to both say things
that aren`t going to alienate one part of your base and at the same time,
be something that could...

MATTHEWS: OK, so...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... he said, I`m to the left...

TODD: This is the art of politics...

MATTHEWS: ... of Ted Kennedy on gay rights and now I`m to the right
of...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: I`m not defending -- I`m just saying...

PAGE: The art of politics is doing it in way that doesn`t become a
big discussion...

TODD: Correct, and that is...

PAGE: ... for days and days and days, which is what is going to
happen with this.

TODD: I mean, the problem for Romney, obviously, is that this has
been the thing that has dogged him ever since he got -- he started running
as a conservative...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TODD: ... is that, Wait a minute, you didn`t run as a conservative
the two times you ran...

MATTHEWS: OK, I`m -- I think this may be the story of the week
because this is one of those wonderful metaphors you look for, like Jimmy
Carter and the hostages. You want to find a hostage -- OK, that`s
weakness.

Here`s a guy, when you say you`re two-faced, you pull out a machine
that says "two-faced." He`s going to be accused of being an Etch-a-Sketch
himself, Romney. That`s what he is, a guy that he can say anything, do
anything, and it doesn`t matter tomorrow morning.

PAGE: And -- and you know...

MATTHEWS: And Maureen Dowd has been brilliant on this, as always,
saying, You don`t know whether he`s the guy on Thursday he was on
Wednesday. That`s pretty tough stuff.

PAGE: And see, if the other candidates had had similar statements
made, it would have no effect. We know that Santorum believes what he
believes. I mean, Newt Gingrich has been on many sides of issues, but he`s
-- but it`s not that he changes position because it`s a different...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: ... "New York Times" headline today? They went through these
old writings of Santorum on Monday, and they said -- and the headline was,
He`s been strikingly consistent.

PAGE: Consistent!

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: As if it was a shock to them that a politician might be
consistent...

MATTHEWS: Yes!

TODD: ... in his views and statements. And that is Rick Santorum in
a nutshell. What he has said -- what he was in, you know, 1998, 2000, and
what he said then at the -- are the things you would expect...

MATTHEWS: Well, you like to think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How much is consistent within the year? Is that asking too
much?

TODD: Well, and I think...

MATTHEWS: Anyway, let`s go on here to some other interesting
developments, although I do consider this the number one issue that I`m
going to be ringing like a bell here, like a leper`s bell for a while now.

Let`s take a look at this one. Erick Erickson, who`s apparently one
of the real touchstones of the conservative movement, on his site,
RedState, wrote this morning, quote, "Rick Santorum will probably win
Louisiana. Conservatives will rally to Santorum and continue protesting
Romney as the nominee. But it will not be enough. Romney will do well in
New England and the remaining mid-Atlantic states. He will do well out
West, winning California. He will be the nominee. Conservatives may not
really like Mitt Romney, but they do not want a fractured party too divided
to beat Barack Obama. There will be no white knight, no dark horse, and no
brokered convention. We have our nominee." Pretty profound.

TODD: It is. And -- but we...

MATTHEWS: That`s as of today.

TODD: We knew this three weeks ago. You know, we knew -- the
question always was, Could somehow -- because you knew it wasn`t going to
be Santorum. You just -- you know, what was Jeb Bush waiting for? That
was always, to me -- and I still think it`s odd that you still have sitting
out there Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels...

PAGE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... Paul Ryan...

MATTHEWS: All holding out.

TODD: What are they holding out for? Are they really debating here
between Santorum and Romney? I don`t believe it. And I don`t -- and I`d
put them to a lie detector test. I don`t believe it.

MATTHEWS: So just to nail it down...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: My theory is simply they`re worried embracing Romney too soon
could come back to haunt them some day when they run for president. And
they want to get...

MATTHEWS: They don`t want him on the record.

TODD: They don`t want -- they don`t want him on the -- look at the
way...

MATTHEWS: You mean they`re not Etch-a-Sketches.

PAGE: But they`re -- but they`re...

TODD: That`s my theory.

PAGE: They`re going to endorse him.

TODD: Of course they`re going to endorse him...

PAGE: I mean, you know, they`re going to endorse him.

TODD: ... not they want to do it in a way that isn`t...

MATTHEWS: OK...

PAGE: Like by a press release and a tweet?

TODD: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Can he get 1,144 by June at this point?

TODD: You tell me (INAUDIBLE) Wisconsin and I`ll tell you if he gets
1,144.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Chuck.

TODD: I think Wisconsin`s everything.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Chuck Todd. Thank you, Susan Page. Etch-a-
Sketch.

Coming up: Republicans are passing a slew of new measures that would
restrict access to birth control and abortion. Is this a war on women?
They`re losing support among women in many of these polls right now, and
that`s ahead.

MATTHEWS: You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: President Obama is now leading his Republican challengers
among independents in a dozen swing states. Let`s check the HARDBALL
"Scoreboard."

The president leads Mitt Romney by 8 points, 48 to 40, among
independents in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North
Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa,
Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. And he leads Rick Santorum among
independents in those states by 11, 50 to 39. That`s pretty strong.

Last month, Santorum actually had a 2-point lead over the president in
this same poll of swing states. President Obama`s benefiting as more and
more independents say the economy is getting better. Big news there.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASHINGTON: They call it a war on
women. And as a woman, I`m here to tell you the Democrats are off base.
And as Americans look a little deeper into these issues, what they see is
not that Republicans are trying to undermine women`s health, what they see
is that Democrats are trying to scare American women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was my next guest,
Republican congresswoman from Washington state Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

But just this Sunday, Senator John McCain had a different take. Let`s
listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that there is something of a war on
women among Republicans?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think we have to fix that. I think
that there`s a perception out there because of the way that this whole
contraception issue played out. We need to get off of that issue, in my
view. I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in
their lives and make that clear, and get back onto what the American people
really care about, jobs and the economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, women in the 2012 vote and access to health care.
How will this affect elections on the national and state levels this year?

Joining me now is Illinois lieutenant governor Sheila Simon and U.S.
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, vice chair of the House Republican
Conference. Thank you both for joining me.

Let`s hear right now -- we have a couple points here. Congresswoman,
what do you make of -- in Virginia -- by the way, Congresswoman, what do
you make of the charge that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, is making in her new
fund-raising letter that there is, in fact, a war on women being waged by
the Republicans?

RODGERS: The reality is, in 2010, the Republicans won the women`s
vote. And the Democrats know that in order to win the presidency, in order
to win the seats in the House and the Senate, that they have to scare
women, that they have to win the women`s vote.

And they`re trying to scare women by manufacturing this war on women
to really distract American women, as well as Americans in general, of the
real issues. And the real issues are that President Obama`s policies are
failing, whether it`s his economic policies, his health care policies or
the debt that he`s leaving to our children and grandchildren!

MATTHEWS: Governor Simon, your view on this? Is it fair to accuse
the Republicans of a war on women, or is that too strong?

LT. GOV. SHEILA SIMON (D), ILLINOIS: I don`t know if it`s too strong.
There are certainly a lot of skirmishes going on, though. And what scares
us is those attacks on our basic constitutional rights. In Virginia and
other states across the country, we want to protect those basic
constitutional rights that we have grown to depend on.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s look at a case in point. In Virginia, where a
law requiring a woman to have a mandatory ultrasound before an abortion, a
new poll shows voters disagree. By a huge 51-point margin, Virginia voters
say government should not make laws which try to convince women seeking an
abortion to change their minds.

Congresswoman, where are you on that poll? Are you with the 72 or the
21?

RODGERS: I`m here to say that the polls are showing that -- that when
it -- the debate that`s been in Congress has been over the right of
conscience. And on those -- those polls, the American people are with the
Republicans position, and that Obama`s approval rating among women is at a
record low. It`s at 41 percent.

I believe that when -- when women look at these issues a little deeper
that they see that it is not about any kind of war on women by the
Republicans. It`s really...

MATTHEWS: Well...

RODGERS: It`s really about the...

MATTHEWS: Let`s get below the rhetoric -- let`s get below the
rhetoric, then. OK, let`s -- I`ll ask you the question they put to women
voting in Virginia. Should the government try to discourage a woman who
shows up at an abortion clinic to have the procedure? Should there be
steps taken at that point, at that point, to discourage her from going
ahead? What`s your principled answer?

RODGERS: I would say, you know, that is not the issue that`s on the
forefront of the voters` mind, and that...

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s your position on that issue?

RODGERS: Well, it is an example of where I believe that we`re -- that
there`s an effort under way by the Democrats to really distract Americans
from the real issues, which are -- it`s the economy, it`s health care, it`s
the debt that is...

MATTHEWS: OK...

RODGERS: ... we`re passing on to the next generation.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Well, why are state legislatures doing all this stuff in an election
year for president? You say a distraction. Fair enough. Who is causing
the distraction? Why are these Republican-led legislatures, as in
Virginia, pushing this social legislation which is so controversial in the
midst of a presidential election? They shouldn`t be doing it, but they
are. What is your position?

MCMORRIS RODGERS: Well, I would say, in Washington State, there is a
social agenda being driven by the Democrat legislature.

They passed gay marriage, which is going to be on the ballot this
fall. And they are working on other pieces of a social agenda. I`m here
to say it is all a distraction from the real issues that are facing
Americans. And we need to get back to the debate over economy and jobs,
health care.

Women make 85 percent of the health care decisions in this country for
themselves, their families. And they are fearful.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

MCMORRIS RODGERS: The real scary part is that the federal government
might step in and start making their health care decisions.

SIMON: Well, I think health care really is the question that we are
talking about here.

And as the congresswoman mentioned, it is women making decisions about
health care. That`s where we are getting scared in Virginia and other
states that are proposing these laws that are really trying to peel away at
our constitutional rights.

MATTHEWS: Just to respond to the congresswoman -- Congresswoman, I
want to give you a list now. Over the past decade, just the past decade,
the number of states that are hostile to abortion, for example, defined as
having enacted four or more provisions that have put up a hurdle for women
seeking that -- seeking one, has doubled.

Here is just a sample of what is happening in various states. In
Arizona, which has a series of bills right now in the works right now that
would limit abortion access, a Republican representative sent this e-mail -
- quote -- "Personally, I would like it make a law that mandates a woman
watch an abortion being performed prior to having a surgical procedure."

In Utah, the Republican governor just signed a law extending the
waiting period for women seeking abortions from 24 hours to 72 hours.
That`s three days. In Tennessee today, a bill that would have mandated
publication of information identifying abortion providers, doctors, and
possibly their patients was amended to strip those requirements, perhaps in
reaction to the national criticism.

All of these state legislatures have been busy bees out there pushing
this stuff, adding hurdles to this kind of decision by a woman. My
question to you is, is it the Democrats raising the issues, these social
concerns you say are distracting, or is it conservative legislatures led by
Republicans?

MCMORRIS RODGERS: I`m a member of Congress. I serve in Congress.
The House released its budget yesterday.

And the criticism that came immediately from the women, Democrat women
in the House, was that they said it was anti-woman. That`s where I say
this is a distraction from the real issues.

The reality is, the Republicans won the women`s vote in 2010 and the
Democrats know they have to win the women`s vote and that they are scared.
These are scare tactics to scare women. And they have -- they have often
used the abortion...

MATTHEWS: Whose tactics are they? I`m just asking you, whose tactics
are they? You say they`re Democratic tactics.

How did Democrats get Republicans legislators to make these proposals?
How tricky are they, these Democrats? They get the Virginia legislature to
bring up all this stuff on abortion. They get Santorum to talk up
contraception. These Democrats are ventriloquists? How do they get the
Republicans to say all this stuff? They are really masterful, I would say.
I know I`m being sarcastic.

But you know the evidence is a lot of right-wing social activists in
your party are giving the Democrats catnip here, right? You`re admitting
that.

MCMORRIS RODGERS: There are a lot of left-wing social activists that
are also pushing their agenda in various legislators -- legislatures, and
here in Congress, the same thing.

What I`m here it say is that when it comes to women right now, two out
of three businesses are started by women. They understand firsthand the
challenges that they face in trying to start a business, grow a business, a
regulatory nightmare because of the federal government that makes it harder
and harder, the tax burden.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well...

MCMORRIS RODGERS: Women make the health care decisions and they don`t
like the idea of the federal government making these decisions. Those are
the issues that are driving the women vote.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me just tell you, if you run against Cantor for
speaker, I will endorse you, OK?

MCMORRIS RODGERS: Oh. I`m not sure that would be very helpful.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think it -- well, it wouldn`t help you, but it would be
fun.

Let me just tell you this. I think you have got a weak case here
because I think a lot of these right-wing social activists get elected on
the tax issue, right, Governor? They win on lower taxes and less
government. And the minute they get into office, they push the screaming
right-wing social agenda that never got elected in the first place.

The Tea Party movement of 2010, Congresswomen, had nothing to do with
all this abortion and contraception stuff.

MCMORRIS RODGERS: No, it didn`t, right.

MATTHEWS: Contraception -- well, why are you guys all pushing it?

MCMORRIS RODGERS: I`m in Congress. We are talking about jobs, the
economy, what it`s going to take to get Americans back to work.

There was a very common sense measure that helps protect women, there
are reasons why women are paying attention to these issues right now.
That`s the debate that we`re having.

SIMON: Well, the Republicans in a Senate committee just voted against
reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a very commonsense
measure that helps protect women. There are reasons why women are paying
attention to these issues right now.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much.

SIMON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: You come from a great family. I hate to sound like an old
guy, but your father is great too.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s what they always say to people. I knew your father.

But the fact is, Paul Simon was great.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Congresswomen, for coming to HARDBALL. You
don`t know how much it means to me to have you on the show, to meet a new
brilliant talent on the Republican leadership ladder. I think you`re on
that ladder.

Anyway, up next, some -- thank you, Governor.

SIMON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next, some of lighter moments from last night`s St.
Patrick`s Day celebration at the White House. I was there.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and now to the "Sideshow."

First up: the luck of the Irish. St. Patrick`s Day didn`t end on
Saturday for the team at the White House. The president has been hosting
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny this week. It`s now been dubbed St.
Patrick`s week. At a reception last night, President Obama joked about
receiving a gift from his Irish counterpart, the topic, well, think birth
certificate.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ENDA KENNY, IRISH PRIME MINISTER: And on your behalf, for your
historic homecoming, Mr. President, it is my honor to present to you, on
behalf of the Irish people and of the government, this formal certificate
of Irish heritage.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you.

First of all, this will have a special place of honor, alongside my
birth certificate.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, back in 2007, the president discovered that he had
some Irish ancestors, believe it or not. Some Republicans have yet to put
that birther nuttiness to bed.

Florida Congressman Cliff Stearns touched on the subject with
reporters just yesterday, saying -- quote -- "I am, shall we say, looking
at all of the evidence."

What a joke. So, the little clown show continues on.

Next up, where was Ron Paul while Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum
awaited the result of the Illinois primary yesterday? Well, sitting down
with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show."

Here he is talking about the speculation that he and Mitt Romney are
in cahoots, also why he doesn`t want Secret Service protection as a
candidate. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": There were these
rumors going around that there was some sort of secret deal with you and
Mitt Romney. You seem to be very friendly during a couple of the debates.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right.

LENO: Anything to that?

PAUL: There is something about -- it`s very secret, because he and I
don`t know a whole lot about it.

LENO: Should Newt Gingrich get out of the race?

PAUL: Well, I`m not telling him what to do, but I think the other
three should just get out of the race.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: You think the other three should get out.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LENO: Why did you reject the Secret Service protection? It seems
like that would be a...

PAUL: Well, it is a form of welfare. You are having the taxpayers
pay to take care of somebody. I`m an ordinary citizen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Well, Secret Service codes were the buzz yesterday when it was
revealed that Mitt Romney chose to be called Javelin, while Rick Santorum
chose Petrus, as in St. Peter. Ron Paul also said -- he said Bulldog would
be his top pick, even though he has opted out of Secret Service protection
for now.

But next: the Trayvon Martin case. What went on in the teenager`s
final minutes? Let`s see if we can find out. We`re going to talk to a
Martin family attorney.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been over three weeks since the shooting of the unarmed Florida
teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.
Pressure is mounting for Zimmerman to be arrested, but a self-defense law
in Florida known as stand your ground allows a person who perceives a
threat to use deadly force without first trying to retreat from a
confrontation.

We will talk about this right now.

Now Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Martin family, says new evidence
provided by a teenaged girl who was on the phone with Trayvon moments
before his death exposes flaws in Zimmerman`s defense. Let`s listen to
that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF TRAYVON MARTIN: He had no
intention of getting back in his truck, doing what the police instructed
him to do. He kept pursuing Trayvon Martin. And how do we know? Because
this young lady connects the dots. She connects the dots. She completely
blows Zimmerman`s absurd self-defense claim out of the water.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So will the Zimmerman defense work?

Let`s go to Jasmine Rand, who is a lawyer who is also representing the
Martin family. And Kendall Coffey is a former federal prosecutor and
former U.S. attorney down there.

So I`m trying to find out different theories. I guess we try to get
to the facts and then to the law. I want to get to the facts of the case
as we can possibly determine them, not having been there.

Ms. Rand, thank four coming on the program.

Can you get us -- do you have a theory in your mind, sort of a
cinematic notion of what happened in those tragic moments down in Florida?

JASMINE RAND, ATTORNEY FOR MARTIN FAMILY: And I think that the 911
tapes say it all, especially Zimmerman`s initial call to the officers, when
he says on there that he is -- that he sees Trayvon, who he identifies as a
suspicious person.

The only reason he was suspicious was, he identifies him as black, and
as a black male wearing a hoodie. You know, we know now that there was
nothing suspicious about Trayvon, that all he had on him was a pack of
Skittles and an iced tea.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s go to the facts. I know you are making an
argument, but try to stay with the key facts here.

What was going on in terms of the actions of the two people? What
actions did the two of them take that led to this killing? Give us a sense
of the action of the two of them. This guy gets out of his car. He`s
moving after the guy. The teenage boy who was killed was walking somewhere
through the neighborhood. He began to pursue him. And then what do you
believe happened?

RAND: I think that he began to pursue him.

We have the new witness, a 17-year-old witness who came forward and
said she was on the phone with Trayvon in the final moments of his life,
that Trayvon reported to her that he was being followed, and she told him
to run.

Zimmerman says that Trayvon also began to run on his audio portion.
So the last thing we really know is that Trayvon ran. The witness also
said that Trayvon at some point lost Zimmerman. And it`s clear that
Zimmerman pursued and followed Trayvon, found him behind the apartment and
shot and killed him.

MATTHEWS: And what is your sense of what was the motive for the
killing?

RAND: I mean, I think the motive for the killing has some clear
racial undertones.

MATTHEWS: Well, what was the motive, though?

RAND: I`m not in Zimmerman`s head. I`m not in Zimmerman`s head. So
I don`t know his true motivations.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that there was a confrontation which was
physical and in any way endangering to Zimmerman in those last moments?

RAND: I do not believe that. And I think that the evidence is clear.
Zimmerman had a .9-millimeter. Trayvon had a pack of Skittles.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go over to -- let me go to Kendall Coffey.

In this case, trying to find out what happened, what is going to
happen if this goes to court in trying to determine a sense of what
happened? Was it a guy that went out to do a murder because he was out to
get a black kid? Was it a guy who went out to try to stop someone he
thought was a burglar or a robber and then got involved in a scuffle with
him? Are we going to be able to get to something about the nature of this
tragedy?

KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, Chris, that`s a
really important question, because to prosecute a case you have to have a
realistic theory of what actually happened.

And we all know that if you go too far -- take the Casey Anthony case,
which is notorious -- and you claim it is first-degree premeditated and you
don`t have the facts to back it up, you could blow the whole thing.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COFFEY: And these have been very tough cases at any level to get
prosecutions in.

And so they have got to come up with a theory that`s realistic, that
works, that can somehow overcome the giant obstacle of the Florida stand
your ground law, which has defeated a lot of righteous prosecutions.

MATTHEWS: OK.

COFFEY: Here`s what I think the theory is. This guy was a self-
appointed vigilante who want to be cop, who thought, maybe because somebody
happened to be black, that he must be some crook who was up to no good.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COFFEY: And I do suspect that there was some racial profiling in the
mindset of George Zimmerman. So, he, the wannabe cop, the self appointed
vigilante, runs after the kid. He is hunting them down.

Then in some moments that is very difficult to reconstruct because
the only one who survived it is Zimmerman. Zimmerman, I suspect, had a gun
on the kid was in some fashion trying to get control of the situation, play
cop. And Trayvon either was trying to get away or moved in some quick way,
not at all menacing, not threatening. I don`t think there was
justification. But something happened that caused Zimmerman, not trained,
to exercise the lethal force, to kill the kid.

I don`t think he woke up that morning planning to kill somebody, but
I think that his culpability was enough to justify some charge of homicide.

MATTHEWS: Jasmine, Ms. Rand, let me ask you this about what you have
been able to discover from prosecutors or the D.A. down there, the state`s
attorney. You said -- I heard from our producers, that they are not going
to use the "Stand Your Ground" defense in this case. They`re just going to
use standard self-defense.

What`s your understanding what their case is, from their point of
view?

RAND: And I actually had a one on one meeting with the assistant
state attorney, Pat Whitaker, about two days ago now.

And that is correct. What he told me, thus far, is that they do not
intend to use the "Stand Your Ground" or Castle Doctrine, and that they are
looking at strict self-defense. What concerns me about what I heard from
state attorney is that when I began the conversation, as an open-ended
question, why hasn`t an arrest been made, the state attorney told me he is
continuing to investigate the claim, to see whether or not there is a valid
claim for self-defense.

When asked whether or not is his job to, you know, prove Zimmerman`s
defense, he said, well, no, it`s not. So, you know, I understand that he
is looking at the case from all different angles. But he didn`t begin the
conversation by saying, "I`m looking to see if there is enough evidence to
prove manslaughter or murder". He began the conversation saying, "I`m
looking to prove a claim of self-defense" and his word choices are
indicative to me of his mindset.

MATTHEWS: Well, if that`s true, it sounds right.

Let me go to Mr. Coffey again.

Mr. Coffey, last question. In a standard self-defense case, as you
describe what might be a theory to the case, that there was some kind of
move toward him or whatever, some sense of personal endangerment, under the
standard law, forget the "Stand Your Ground", just common law, motion of
self-defense -- what does it require for a person to shoot somebody?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If somebody is going to slap you and run away, can you
kill him because you didn`t want to be slapped and have run away? If
somebody wants to push you out of the way and run away, if somebody gives
you lip or whatever that, or did it have to actually be threatening your
life. What is the rule here in law?

COFFEY: The rule in Florida, like most places, is you have it
reasonably believe that someone is trying to kill you. That someone is
trying to do serious bodily harm. Or in Florida, somebody is committing
what amounts to a forcible felony.

You have to have reasonable basis for that. And that`s why, I think
at the end of the day, there`s not going to be a valid self-defense.
Although very tough to get prosecution successfully turning into conviction
in this kind of case, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s hope we can get to the case and facts. We are
trying to figure out the law.

Thank you so much, Ms. Rand, for coming on the program.

RAND: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And thank you so much, Kendall Coffey. We`re going to be
looking at this case for several days.

There are so many points to look at this -- why is a guy armed if he
is on neighborhood watch. Neighborhood watch people shouldn`t carry arms.
Why is a guy acting like a cop who isn`t a cop? These points of incredible
tragic discretion where you have to make a secondary, momentary decision
should only be made by professionals. Here`s a guy carrying a gun making
decisions of life and death.

Up next, she just maybe the President Obama`s best asset as he runs
for second term. First Lady Michelle Obama, is she going to come out and
be a star in this campaign? Let`s find out.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re in thick of a 2012 presidential campaign obviously
but Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has already made her candidate
clear for 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Here`s what Senator Gillibrand told BuzzFeed today. "I`m going to be
one of the first to ask Hillary to run in 2016. I think she would be
incredibly well poised to be the next Democratic president. I think she`s
extremely well prepared." Obviously.

Senator Gillibrand replaced her, by the way, in the Senate when the
former first lady became secretary of state.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

First Lady Michelle Obama has actually been hitting the campaign
trail with enthusiasm lately. In recent months, she`s made 27 campaign
stops in 19 states, including five different events in a battleground state
of Florida. On Monday, she headlined a star-studded fundraiser up in New
York, hosted by Robert de Niro.

She also appeared on "The Late Show" with David Letterman, where she
talked about her family`s blue collar background.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: My father was a working class guy.
We are a very close family. My father had multiple sclerosis and I never
knew him to be able to walk. But my dad worked so hard and he loved us so
much. And I think from him, I learned just absolute, complete,
unconditional love. We had rules, we had boundaries. But there wasn`t
anything my dad wouldn`t do for us. And --

DAVID LETTERMAN, COMEDIAN: The --

OBAMA: Don`t make me cry.

LETTERMAN: No.

OBAMA: This isn`t Oprah. You`re David Letterman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I think she`s great.

So, what is it about Michelle Obama that makes her such a potent tool
for her husband`s reelection? Here`s an easy one.

We have Jodi Kantor. She`s a reporter for "The New York Times" and
author of "The Obamas". And Eugene Robinson is general man who knows many
things knows about many issues, including this one. He`s with "The
Washington Post" and he`s an MSNBC political analyst.

Let`s go to the expert on the Obamas.

My question to you, Jodi -- congratulations on the book -- is why
three years of hiding her in the White House as the mother of the
president`s children, as the wife of the president, certainly dignified in
that role, but not actively political? What`s changed?

JODI KANTOR, AUTHOR, "THE OBAMAS": Well, she has been accumulating
and guarding her political capital all this time. This is the big one.
This is their last race. And she is all in and determined to see her
husband reelected.

MATTHEWS: Why is she a plus now and hasn`t been one for three years?
Or hasn`t been used as one? When the times was already tough, in 2010,
Democrats are getting their butts kicked in all those congressional races -
- why did they not put her out there then to soften the image of the
Democratic Party?

KANTOR: They did. She did about eight events back then, which is
not that much. And there was some tension within the White House about how
much she was willing to do. You know, her own feeling was that she wasn`t
willing to put herself out there as much for congressional candidates as
she was for her own husband. She sees her job is getting her husband
reelected.

MATTHEWS: So, she`s not Madam Democrat?

KANTOR: No. Well, you know, there have been questions about the
extent to which the president as well sees himself as sort of the head of
the Democratic Party. And she did eventually go out there and campaign for
Democrats. But it`s really clear that this time, she`s on a mission. She
believes in her husband`s presidency, and their accomplishments.

She talks a lot in her campaign events about sort of watching from
the front lines, right, watching it home every night. The Michelle Obama
eye view of what her husband has accomplished. She really stresses his
sincerity, determination.

MATTHEWS: OK.

KANTOR: You know, it`s interesting, because of part of her role is
to rally the base, the Democratic faithful, and she really stresses the
fact that he hasn`t accomplished everything that he wanted to do, but that
she wants Democrats to hang on for another four years and being energized.

MATTHEWS: Gene, your sense of this generally. Then I want to ask
you about particulars.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Generally, I think she`s
doing what first ladies do. Yes, her primary loyalty is to the president
and his agenda. They are certainly partners in this endeavor as she is a
trusted advisor. You know, she went to Harvard law, too.

And it -- and so, I think this is -- this reflects what she sees as
her role as a partner, as Jodi said, in this last election.

MATTHEWS: Now, the particular question. At Monday`s fundraiser up
in New York, the first lady repeated a bit of a stump speech she`s used
before apparently, talking about the Supreme Court. She told the audience,
quote, "Let us not forget what their decisions -- the impact those
decisions will have on our lives for our decades to come -- on our privacy
and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and, yes,
love whomever we choose."

Well, some of the gay community took that last part as a wink to the
gay marriage. I certainly would.

Jay Carney, the president`s press secretary, was asked about it
yesterday. Here`s what Jay said. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: She has said this before
and has for some time, and that is a reference to the president`s position
on the Defense of Marriage Act. The president and the first lady firmly
believe that gay and lesbian Americans and their families deserve legal
protections and the ability to thrive, just like any family does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: OK, well, that was spin. It was clearly more than -- love
whomever we choose, come on.

KANTOR: But I will --

ROBINSON: The president has had it both ways on this issue.

MATTHEWS: OK. The first lady --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But how do you read this in English, love whomever we
choose? You get in here, Jodi.

KANTOR: No. But, you know, I have to say -- this is not a first
lady who is interested in making news. We have seen this for years. She
plays it so safe. She does so few interviews --

MATTHEWS: Is this safe?

KANTOR: -- when she talks -- you know, it`s often about school lunch
and whatnot. She`s not looking to be in the headlines. She`s not going to
cause controversy.

MATTHEWS: This is headline material, Jodi.

KANTOR: I mean -- it may -- then maybe it was the smallest of winks,
but it`s a line she`s used a lot before.

MATTHEWS: OK.

KANTOR: And maybe -- you know, maybe it`s in the White House`s
benefit to have it interpreted both ways, right?

MATTHEWS: The gay community heard it loud and clear.

(CROSSTALK)

KANTOR: -- can depend on what they`ve said before.

MATTHEWS: Jodi, here we make news.

KANTOR: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Jodi Kantor, thank you. We don`t nuance and we don`t
shade. Thank you, Jodi Kantor. Congratulations again on your book.

KANTOR: Thank you so much.

MATTHEWS: And always congratulations, Gene Robinson, on everything
we do here together and winning Pulitzer Prize.

"Let Me Finish" with how the Republicans ended up with Romney.
They`re not in love, they`re just in line.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

The man on the white horse is not coming to save the Republican
Party. No Lone Ranger. No Cisco Kid. Nobody is coming to the rescue.
It`s going to be one of the town members who saves the day, just one of the
businessmen from Main Street.

And this is how the story of 2012 is gong to be told from now, it`s
going to be Mitt Romney, a man of business, heading out there at high noon
to go face to face with the president.

How did it come to this? Because of the nature of things I supposed.
The Republican Party has been picking its champions the way, the same way
since I began paying attention.

They go for the guy whose turn it is, the guy who`s been beaten, even
beaten up some, but he`s waited his term. And that`s what matters. Just
like Dick Nixon and Ronald Reagan, even George Herbert Walker Bush and Bob
Dole and John McCain, he`s taken his lumps from the other side, taken them
from the party itself, finally gotten to where his chance has arrived.

It`s different for Democrats, of course. They feed the hot hand, the
young guy comes along, a JFK, a George McGovern, a Mike Dukakis, a Bill
Clinton, a Barack Obama. They feed them the ball and let them take the
shot.

Republicans like to see their candidates endure, suffer, marinate a
bit. They want to see Ls next to the guy on his record before they get
their W. They like to see the scar tissue on the matinees end up running.
Ask Bush Senior, or Bob Dole, or John McCain.

So, now, coming out of Illinois is Mitt Romney, veteran of almost 30
primaries and caucuses, and a far greater number of wounds, most of them
self-inflicted. He may not have much sparkle left in his candidacy, but he
certainly knows the rounds now. He`s taken enough abuse to know who his
friends are, his friends are the people who have now come to accept him --
no matter how much they put off saying so, no matter how long they`ve
lingered in hopes of a man on a white horse racing into town.

They accepted Romney without excitement because they never felt from
him the strength of commitment one feels in the leader who comes to the
rescue. And that remains a problem, doesn`t it?

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now with the parents
of Trayvon Martin.


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

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