updated 4/5/2012 12:27:55 PM ET 2012-04-05T16:27:55

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish

Guests: Chris Cillizza, Eugene Robinson, Michael Isikoff, Sue Herera, Joan Walsh, Michael Steele, David Corn, Robert Traynham, Beth Kassab

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Mitt buries Santorum and takes on

Let`s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish in New York, sitting in for
Chris Matthews. Leading off tonight: Will the real Mitt Romney please
stand up? With his three primary wins yesterday, Mitt Romney has all but
won the race for the Republican nomination. Now the race to define Romney
is on. Despite the long Republican campaign, Romney remains a blank canvas
to most people, and the Obama campaign is only too happy to paint him as a
wealthy flip-flopping tool of the right.

Well, today Romney responded with a Horatio Alger story and said that
the president is hiding his intentions until after the election. One thing
that everyone agrees on is that Romney needs to do something to jump-start
his campaign. Dare we say that he needs a game changer? Is there anyone
out there who could join a Romney ticket and make a difference?

Meanwhile, is it possible that the only person in America who doesn`t
know that Rick Santorum is done is Rick Santorum? Does he really think
that he can win, or is this about erasing the legacy of his big loss in

And why should this surprise anyone? Americans are divided between
black and white, Democrat and Republican, when it comes to the Trayvon
Martin shooting.

Finally, which Republican senator is staying as close to President
Obama and as far away as Mitt Romney as possible? Check out the

We begin with the race to define Mitt Romney. Michael Steele was
chairman of the Republican Party. David Corn is the Washington bureau
chief for "Mother Jones" magazine and the author of "Showdown." Both are
MSNBC political analysts.

Gentlemen, let`s begin with the attempts to define Romney and what`s
at stake in the campaign. Speaking today at the same venue where Obama
launched the general election with a stemwinder of a speech, Romney set
about defining himself and why he should be president. Let`s listen.


we`ll face a defining decision. This election will be about principle.
Freedom, and opportunity will be on the ballot. I`m offering a real choice
and a new beginning. I`m running for president because I have the
experience and the vision to get us out of this mess.


SMERCONISH: And Romney made sure to point out that his background
makes him consummately qualified to fix the country and that Obama has
blown his chance. Here it is.


ROMNEY: The first three rules of any turnaround are focus, focus, and
focus. But instead of focusing his attention on the economy, he delegated
the stimulus to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.


SMERCONISH: Michael Steele, much like the president did yesterday,
Mitt Romney, at least to my eye, casting this in very big picture terms,
cataclysmic terms, if you will.

Absolutely, Mike. And first of all, let me say congrats to David on
"Showdown." It`s going to be an exciting read and looking forward to it.


STEELE: The reality right now is that -- as you set it up, Mike, it`s
perfect -- it`s change time, and we`re moving into the general campaign.
Yes, you still have the dance between Santorum and Gingrich. They`ve made
it very clear whether they are in this thing or not. They`re going to be
in it, so to speak.

So that doesn`t really matter now for Romney. He`s focused on
defining the president and defining himself before the president, who
started yesterday, defines him first.

And that is the trick that he`s got right now to work through, is to
make sure that his message of laying out this landscape, this political
landscape between now and the convention, and absolutely after the
convention to the election, is one that he has control of.

They have been very good about that. I have to give the Romney
campaign kudos in that regard. They`re very good, once they hone in on
their message, at doing it. At least they`ve shown it against fellow
Republicans. How they do against the president, we`ll see.

SMERCONISH: David Corn, hard for the three of us because we`re all
political junkies, to understand this, but truly, to much of the country,
you know, the whole campaign remains a blank slate. And as Michael said --
and I think you`d agree with this -- so now the race is on to cast that die
and to form that initial impression.

CORN: Well, it`s sort of the new HBO show, "Mitt Romney, Shape
Shifter." And now he`s entering season two, in which he gets a chance to
start anew.

I mean, I`m glad that Michael -- and I appreciate him mentioning my
book because in it, I describe the year after the November 2010 disastrous
election, what was going on in the White House. And they were aiming for
this very stark choice. They wanted to define the choice, in fact, in a
way that Mitt Romney wants to define the choice.

It works to, I think, the White House`s advantage if there`s a choice
between values and visions between Obama and Mitt Romney because usually,
the Republican would want just the election to be a referendum on the
president because the economy`s not doing so well.

But Mitt Romney seems to agree with Barack Obama that this should be a
big, bold debate about values and visions for the future of this country.
And each side now has sort of laid down their official marker on how
they`re going to go about defining their own set of visions and also that
of the other side.

SMERCONISH: Governor Romney also sought to define his own personal
narrative. Today, he fought the impression that Obama team is hammering
home, that he`s this elite rich guy and unfamiliar with struggle. And
here`s how he did it.


ROMNEY: My dad didn`t have the chance to finish a college degree, and
he apprenticed as a lathe and plaster carpenter. And based on that
excellent experience, he then went on to turn around a car company and
later became the governor of the state of Michigan.

I was tempted to stay in Michigan and go into the car business. But I
always knew that I`d wonder if any success I might have was due to my dad.
So when I got out of business school, I stayed in Massachusetts and got a
job with the best company that would hire me.


SMERCONISH: And of course, at the same venue yesterday, President
Obama portrayed Romney as out of touch and prone to odd word choices.


OBAMA: And he even called it "marvelous," which is a word you don`t
often hear when it comes to describing a budget. It`s a word you don`t
often hear, generally.



SMERCONISH: Then the pro Obama super-PAC, American Bridge, pounced.
They brought back Billy Crystal`s famous Fernando Lamas parody to skewer


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marvelous. Marvelous. You`re marvelous.


SMERCONISH: One more. It turns out that the president is not
unfamiliar with this particular "M" word, if you will. A Romney campaign
spokesman tweeted out a story citing three times that Obama has said
"marvelous." Here`s the most recent.


ROMNEY: It is right for us to celebrate Dr. King`s marvelous oratory,
but it is worth remembering that progress did not come from words alone.


SMERCONISH: All right, Michael Steele, apart from giving us all a
couple of chuckles, what`s the significance of all this, if any?

STEELE: Well, I think the significance is first the chuckle. We all
need a good laugh, you know? But more importantly, I think Romney --
again, going back to the first point -- is trying to set out this narrative
about how this campaign is going to unfold.

Telling the story of his father in the beginning is nice, but you`ve
got to make that connection to yourself and how that ties into the American
people. It`s great that your father struggled, but we don`t get the
impression that you struggled that much as a young man trying to make it on
your own, that it was kind of not necessarily handed to you, but it was an
easier path than a lot of us.

And I think the way I would sum it up is people want to know that
you`ve at least walked 10 blocks in my shoes, let alone a mile.


STEELE: They want to understand that you have been in my neighborhood
in some degree, not literally, necessarily, but you understand what it`s
like to try to make those ends meet.

SMERCONISH: David, he seems more comfortable, at least to me, when
he`s talking policy and wonkish issues than his own background. And yet I
think much of the electorate is keenly interested for him to tell those
sort of stories. By the way, it`s a great American story, by all accounts,
and yet it doesn`t seem like it comes so naturally to him.

STEELE: But it`s not his story, I hate to say. You know, what
happened with his father or his grandfather really is not material to --
even to his own development. You notice when he said when he went to
business school, he didn`t say Harvard business school? You think that was
an accident? I don`t think so.

This guy is a creature of privilege. And listen, he can`t help being
from a privileged background. But again and again and again with his
gaffes, he has showed that he doesn`t have the common touch.

But I think, ultimately -- and this is where I think the president, to
be -- to be crass about it, is going to shove it down his throat on the
Ryan budget, with those gigantic tax breaks for the wealthy and big whacks
at social spending program that benefits low and middle-income Americans.

It`s all going to play into this issue of him being a 1 percenter and
backing a budget that is really a 1 percenter`s dream.

SMERCONISH: Let me ask this question of Michael Steele, if I might.
Does the Romney campaign want the Ryan plan to be front and center? I
mean, what are they saying, Michael, in Boston today? Are they comfortable
with this being a litmus test that defines the campaign?

STEELE: In the primary, probably yes. In the general election, it`s
more of a question mark because it`s not clear exactly how the Ryan plan is
going to be received or at least perceived by the American people. There`s
no real radar on that just yet. It just came out last week.

So right now, they can do the warm fuzzy, and anticipating that, you
know, Obama`s going to slam it and my buddy David Corn is going to hit it
hard. But when you get -- right now. But in a general election, I think
not so much we want to have it front and center. We may want to have it a
little off to the side, you know?


SMERCONISH: We talked about the attempt to define Mitt Romney. Well,
meanwhile, Mitt Romney was trying to define President Obama by saying that
he`s hiding his real agenda. Listen to this because I want to talk about
what`s going on with this clip.


ROMNEY: President Obama`s comments to President Medvedev are deeply
troubling. That incident calls his candor into serious question. He
doesn`t want to share his real plans before the election either with the
public or with the press. His intent is on hiding. You and I are going to
have to do the seeking.


SMERCONISH: David Corn, the open mike moment -- what`s going on with
Mitt Romney`s reference to it there?

CORN: He`s trying to make Obama look shifty, which has been part of
the, you know, attack on Obama since he was a candidate in 2008. Listen,
the guy`s been president for over three years now. There`s a lot to judge
him on.

It was quite obvious to me what the president was talking about. Look
at what happened with the New START treaty. You know, this is a process
that was started by Ronald Reagan, and almost every other START treaty had
tremendous bipartisan support. But the Republicans tried to block it. It
was only in the lame duck session that Obama was able to outmaneuver them
and get it passed.

And so what he says to Medvedev is pretty obvious -- We can`t do any
real arms control negotiations on missile defense or anything else until
after the election because it`s so politicized. And it`s been politicized
by the Republicans in the Senate.

SMERCONISH: Michael...

CORN: I don`t see this as a big deal.

SMERCONISH: ... let me ask you for a quick comment on this because to
me, it sort of furthers, the use of that, that open mike moment, sort of
furthers that Internet lore that, you know, Barack Obama -- he`s always
getting ready to do something evil...


SMERCONISH: ... things that he never ends up doing. He`s going to
seize your bullets and he`s going to seize your guns. And now...

STEELE: It`s true!

SMERCONISH: You know what I mean?

STEELE: Well, you know it`s going to happen! It`s the second term.
Just wait. No, I think, quite honestly, this is a very good line for Mitt
Romney. I thought he handled that very well, very deftly, laying that
argument out and making that indictment. And the bottom line is...

SMERCONISH: For the base -- for the base, is what you`re saying.

STEELE: If you think the signature piece for the first term was
health care, just wait until his second term. And that`s what people are
worried about. That`s the underlying concern that a lot of voters have.


SMERCONISH: I agree they`re going to use that to play to the base.
But are there any examples, because I can`t think of any, where in a second

STEELE: Oh, no, I mean, he...

SMERCONISH: ... a major initiative, which was kept under wraps in the
first term, is suddenly unveiled.


CORN: Now he will finally be that radical socialist that they
promised us he would be. And maybe he`ll go -- I`ll tell you what. Maybe
he`ll go...

STEELE: Yes! Absolutely!

CORN: ... on to save -- maybe he`ll go on to save another industry,
like the auto industry. Who knows what he`ll do next?

STEELE: Oh, yes. Did he save the auto -- did you see the latest
report on Ford and GM? Come on, man. Not saving the auto...

CORN: It`s better than it was, my friend.

SMERCONISH: Guys, I got to...

STEELE: ... auto industry.

SMERCONISH: I got to leave it there. I appreciate Michael Steele and
David Corn, as always. Thank you.

STEELE: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: All right. Coming up: Despite Romney`s trifecta, Rick
Santorum vows to fight on, but is he really willing to undo all that he`s
achieved by risking a loss in his home state of Pennsylvania? Or is this
about erasing his 18-point loss back in 2006?

That`s ahead, and this is HARDBALL.


SMERCONISH: DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz says that Mitt
Romney`s religion is off limits. Here`s what she told MSNBC`s Chris
Jansing when asked about Senator Orrin Hatch`s prediction that the Obama
campaign would, quote, "throw the Mormon church at Romney like you can`t


preposterous. For them to suggest that religion will be injected by
President Obama and the Democratic Party -- I mean, they need to take a
look inward at the accusations that their party and their supporters have


SMERCONISH: She went on to say that Republicans are the ones who have
questioned President Obama`s religion and nationality since he`s taken

We`ll be right back.



reached the point where it`s half-time. Half the delegates in this process
have been selected. And who`s ready to charge out of the locker room in
Pennsylvania for a strong second half?



SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Rick Santorum last
night following a triple loss to his rival, Mitt Romney. Santorum is
pledging to fight on in his home state of Pennsylvania and beyond.


SANTORUM: Pennsylvania and half the other people in this country have
yet to be heard. And we`re going to go out and campaign here and across
this nation to make sure that their voices are heard in the next few


SANTORUM: The clock starts tonight. We`ve got three weeks to go out
here in Pennsylvania and win this state. And after winning this state, the
field looks a little different in May. In 1976, Ronald Reagan didn`t get
out of the race. He was able to stand tall in May, win the state of Texas,
which we have every intention of doing.



SMERCONISH: But does he still think he can win this thing, or is he
relishing the role of spoiler and hoping to improve his chances for a run
in 2016?

Robert Traynham served as spokesman for Rick Santorum when he was in
the Senate. Joan Walsh is the editor-at-large for Salon.com. And both my
guests are MSNBC political analysts.

Robert, we`re a couple of Pennsylvania guys. At the end of the show
tonight, I`m going to do a commentary and argue that what I think is going
on here is that Senator Santorum is trying to erase the memory of his 17-
point loss to Bob Casey from `06, beat Romney this year, and then going
forward, he won`t be remembered as the guy who got drubbed on his home
turf, but rather, that at least his beat Romney in the 2012 cycle. Am I

not wrong. Look, as you know, Rick Santorum lost by 18 points -- just a 1-
point discrepancy there. But look, if, in fact, he does win Pennsylvania
on April 21st, it doesn`t matter from a political standpoint because Mitt
Romney will become the Republican nominee.

But it does matter from a personal standpoint because there`s a little
bit of redemption there, A. But also B, perhaps maybe this sets Rick
Santorum up for 2016 or -- and I`m going to break some news here because I
certainly do believe this -- Mitt Romney perhaps will put Rick Santorum on
the ticket because of the faction (ph) between the conservatives and the
moderate wing of the party.

SMERCONISH: But given all the harsh things -- and you might say,
Well, that`s par for the course, but all the harsh things that Senator
Santorum has said about Romney, how he`s just the wrong guy and far too
moderate -- I think a lot of that would be too hard to pull back for them
to unite on a ticket.

TRAYNHAM: Well, you know, Michael, but remember back in 1980, "voodoo
economics," George H.W. Bush said that about Ronald Reagan. Recall very
vividly what happened in 2008 between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
And look, there`s a lot of Democrats out there that are still clamoring for
Hillary to be a part of the ticket in 2012.

So this goes a long, long way -- back in 1960, obviously, LBJ and JFK
did not like each other at all. So there have been times, as you know, in
our past when Republicans -- when Democrats and Republicans in the primary
have literally beaten each other up, only to join forces to do one thing
and to win.

SMERCONISH: Joan, today campaigning in Pennsylvania, Santorum
addressed whether his home state is a must win. Listen to this and react
to it.


to win here, and we plan on winning here. As I said last night, the people
in Pennsylvania know me.

All of the negative attacks are I think going to fall on a lot of deaf
ears here, and we have got a strong base of support here and we`re going to
work very, very hard. And then we`re going to get into May, and May looks
very, very good.


SMERCONISH: See, Joan Walsh, here`s the thing I don`t people are
grasping. Pennsylvania is a beauty contest, so that if he wins the popular
vote, it does absolutely nothing relative to the delegate count.

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM: Well, right. And it`s all

And we all understand that ego is a very powerful driving force in
politics, Michael. But, man, on the flip side, he could fall on his face.
His lead is eroding. He`s leading by about an average of about six points
in most recent polls.

So, the other side of this is that he could wind up -- if he starts to
see his support really fall apart, he could wind up and he should pull out,
because the flip side of a great ego-stroking, redemptive victory is a
horrible -- even a close loss, I think, would devastating.


SMERCONISH: Well, it`s interesting that you say that, because on
"MORNING JOE" earlier today, Joe Scarborough described the strategy that he
said he would take if he were Mitt Romney. Listen to what he said.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: If I were Mitt Romney today, I would go up
with millions of dollars of ads in Pennsylvania today and let him know, you
know what? You stay in this race, and you make me sweat this out and you
stop me from focusing on Barack Obama, you know what I`m going to do?

I`m going to reduce you to rubble in your home state and then just
like Rome, I`m going to go to Carthage and I`m going to salt the earth to
make sure nothing ever grows back there again. I will kill you politically
in your home state.


SMERCONISH: Robert Traynham, it`s a delicate dance in terms of when
he gets out so that he`s not harmed himself further within the party. How
do you see this playing out?

TRAYNHAM: Well, two quick things. Number one, I agree with Joe

Here`s the thing. I don`t think negative ads in Pennsylvania are
really going to help Mitt Romney. Here`s why. Pennsylvanians know Rick
Santorum very well. He`s a household name in the state for 16 years. So
what Mitt Romney needs to do is focus on the positive and then thus in the
process drive a wedge between, as you know, the moderate Republican women
that live in the counter areas -- or the areas outside of Philadelphia.

That`s number one. Number two, knowing Rick Santorum the way I know
him, if in fact Mitt Romney does carpet-bomb the state, I think that
scorched-earth policy is going to hurt Mitt Romney in the general, because
Mitt Romney -- Rick Santorum will, A., not endorse Rick Santorum, but also,
two, he very well may have a contested convention going into Tampa, which
is exactly what you do no want.

SMERCONISH: Robert, Dr. Larry Sabato said that he thinks that Rick
Santorum has earned the right to run in 2016 or 2020. And that`s what I
see him jeopardizing the longer that he stays in, if he`s seen as fighting
a losing battle and just prolonging the time when Romney ought to be
raising money and focused on the president.

TRAYNHAM: I partially agree with that. Yes, Rick Santorum has earned
the right to run in 2016 or 2020.

Remember, back in 1976, Ronald Reagan went all the way to the
convention in Kansas against Gerald Ford and obviously Gerald Ford lost to
Jimmy Carter. But Ronald Reagan ran again in 1980 and he was the
conservative champion, if you will.

So it`s partially -- Larry Sabato, he`s partially right there. But,
look, Rick Santorum has a right and also the people around the country in
May, whether it be Kentucky, whether it be Arkansas, whether it be West
Virginia, there are still more people in this process that say, listen, we
still want to vote here. We`re not sure if we are for Mitt Romney or Newt
Gingrich or Rick Santorum, and we still have the right to vote.


SMERCONISH: On that issue, Joan, if I might just quickly ask you
about this, if he stays in for Pennsylvania, which is three weeks away, and
he, Santorum, is successful, how does he get out after he wins Pennsylvania
knowing that in May there are a host of states like Robert just identified
where presumably he would win?

In other words, if he doesn`t get out soon, you would think it`s
another full month that this is going to go on, if not two.

WALSH: No, I think you`re right about that.

I think, if he won -- if he won Pennsylvania, I don`t think it would
be that big a deal because of the points you have already raised, and it is
his home state, for God`s sakes. It`s not really a game changer to win it.
But I think he would be encouraged and if he wants to fight on even for
2016, the longer he stays in, the better he does.

But he`s just not a Ronald Reagan figure. He`s not leading a surge.
He`s not on the cutting edge of political change. I think at the end of
this season we will find that he`s hurt the Republicans, he continues to
hurt the Republicans, and it`s going to be a very tough general election
for Mitt Romney because of the damage Santorum has done.

SMERCONISH: I don`t know. If Mitt Romney loses -- if Mitt Romney
loses a general, Robert, you know what happens. Rick Santorum says, see, I
told you so, he was too moderate.

TRAYNHAM: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Robert Traynham.

Thank you, Joan Walsh. We appreciate you very much.

WALSH: Thanks.

SMERCONISH: Up next, John McCain knows something about how not to
pick a running mate. And he`s got some advice for Mitt Romney. That`s
next in the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL.


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

First up, to the veepstakes. Arizona Senator John McCain hasn`t been
too vocal about his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate back in
2008. But if you have seen the HBO "Game Change" adaptation, you know how
it all went down.

Anyway, McCain had some tongue-in-cheek advice for Romney during a
round of interviews this morning. Let`s watch.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it should be Sarah Palin.


MCCAIN: We have a wealth of talent out there, and I`m sure that Mitt
will make the right choice. Obviously, it`s a tough decision.


MCCAIN: I think that I would obviously tell him that not to rush to
judgment, for one thing.


SMERCONISH: Speaking from experience. We will have much more on
Romney`s potential short list in just a couple of moments.

Next up, let`s turn to that key Massachusetts Senate race between
Republican Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren.
The Massachusetts Democratic Party has a new ad out linking Brown to, you
guessed it, the state`s former governor.

Here it is.



SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: And now I`m even more proud to
call my very, very dear friend. Please welcome Governor Mitt Romney.

take him anywhere I can take him.

BROWN: There`s no one I would trust more than Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: I was in a hotel the other day. And this lady came running
across the lobby, and she came up to me. And I`m kind of used that now,
because I have been on TV a bit. And she said, are you Scott Brown?




SMERCONISH: By the way, Brown has to know that he has a Romney issue.
He`s trying to stay as close as he can to President Obama and as far away
as possible from Mitt. Massachusetts, after all, a very blue state.

And, finally, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have said that they will
support whoever ends up winning the Republican nomination. Both have
dragged Mitt Romney through the mud, however, in an effort to stop him from
gaining the nod. Politico put together a list of zingers that might come
back to bite Santorum and Gingrich if they eventually join team Romney.
Let`s watch.


who doesn`t have a core. He`s been on both sides of almost every issue.

moderate can debate Barack Obama successfully, because there`s not a big
enough gap between the two of them.

SANTORUM: He`s the worst Republican in the country to put up against
Barack Obama.

GINGRICH: And there`s something so grotesquely hypocritical about the
Romney campaign.

SANTORUM: The Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.

He was for climate change, manmade global warming. Now that it`s not
popular, now that the climate changed, guess who changed along with it?
Governor Romney.


SMERCONISH: More of that coming up from team Obama soon on a TV set
near you.

Up next: veepstakes. Does Mitt Romney need a game changer as a
running mate? We will look at his options when we return.

And, by the way, you can follow me on Twitter, if you can spell

You`re watching HARDBALL.


SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Sue Herera with your CNBC "Market

Worries over Europe send the Dow down 124 points, the S&P off 14 and
the Nasdaq sinking about 45 points. On the economic front, employers added
209,000 jobs to payrolls in March. That`s according to the private firm
ADP. Not Yahoo!, however -- that Internet giant is cutting 2,000 jobs,
about 14 percent of its work force. The move is expected to save about
$375 million annually.

And demand for mortgages bounced back last week, reversing seven weeks
of declines, as interest rates fell once again.

And that`s it from CNBC. We are first in business worldwide -- and
now back to HARDBALL.


Mitt Romney has not even won enough delegates yet to secure the
delegation, but already talk of his V.P. selection is beginning.

MSNBC`s John Heilemann weighed in this week in "New York" magazine.
He wrote that the search for the ticket`s number two is always a big deal.
But, "for Romney, it may be especially significant, given the severity of
the damage that he suffered in the past months with key segments of the
electorate, among them Latino and female voters."

So, who will it be? Does Romney need to choose someone bold and
interesting, a game changer, if you will? Does he need someone who can
improve his image with the conservative base of the party, or does he need
someone safe, someone who won`t overshadow him?

Chris Cillizza is the managing editor of PostPolitics.com, Eugene
Robinson a columnist for "The Washington Post" and both MSNBC contributors.

All right, men, we are strategists for Romney.


SMERCONISH: We`re in a room together, we need to pick a V.P.

Eugene, what is the top of our priority list in terms of what we`re
looking for?

list I think for Mitt Romney would be someone whose conservative
credentials would not be questioned.

It doesn`t have to be a total flat-out Tea Party type, but it needs to
be somebody who isn`t seen as a Massachusetts moderate, and would further
either alienate or depress the Republican base. That would be the first
thing I would look for.

SMERCONISH: Chris, I didn`t appreciate until I wrote what you
published today how often in the past the GOP has always gone in the
direction of so-called ideological balance.

Is that where you see this going this time?

interesting -- first of all, there are as many theories about how the vice
president gets picked as there are people mentioned to be the vice

So let`s say that first, Michael.


CILLIZZA: But, yes, I do think -- I do think this kind of ideological
mixing does have some real heft to it.

McCain is in a -- was in a similar position to where Romney is now,
won the nomination, but distrusted by the conservative base, and he picks
Palin. In 2000, Bush picking Cheney was more of sort of a gravitas pick,
but I don`t think Bush could have picked someone to his ideological left, a
Tom Ridge from Pennsylvania, for example.

Keep going back and go all the way back in fact to Ronald Reagan.


SMERCONISH: Well, we have got -- we have got it up on the screen now.

CILLIZZA: Yes. Right.

SMERCONISH: It`s amazing, McCain and Palin, Bush and Cheney. Dole
goes to Kemp. Bush Sr. goes to Quayle. And Reagan goes to George Herbert
Walker Bush, going in the other direction, meaning a conservative who taps
a moderate.



The Reagan-George H.W. Bush in `80 I think is the fascinating one,
because it proves that it`s not just always a moderate, tonally moderate
candidate who wins the nomination.

SMERCONISH: Right. It goes the other way too.


CILLIZZA: Reagan clearly was a conservative`s conservative. But he
was not an establishment guy. George H.W. Bush, former congressman, former
head of the CIA, this was a guy who was kind of the establishment`s


SMERCONISH: I remember, in 1980, his slogan was a president we won`t
have to train.

CILLIZZA: Exactly.

SMERCONISH: Hey, let`s look at some of the people who are likely to
be on the short list. For the most part, they fall into these two

On the one hand, you have the potential game changers. And they
include Marco Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Louisiana Governor
Bobby Jindal, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, and Wisconsin
Congressman Paul Ryan.

On the other hand, Romney might look to safer bets, among them,
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, South Carolina Senator John Thune, former
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Ohio
Senator Rob Portman.

Eugene, I can`t see him throwing a long ball the way McCain did four
years ago. I joked earlier today I think he has got some algorithm that he
will be applying to figure out who his V.P. should be.


SMERCONISH: In terms of the lists we just showed you, anything jump

ROBINSON: I agree with you, Smerc.

I think it`s unlikely that he goes for a game changer. I think it`s
much more likely that he picks someone like, say, Senator Portman, who, on
the calculation, if the algorithm had spit out that that gives you three --
three potential precincts in Cincinnati that can tip the state of Ohio into
the Republican column, therefore, that`s the one to go with, I think that`s
his instinct.

But if the situation, when it really comes time to pick, looks dire,
if it looks like he`s not going to win or he`s way behind, then every --
all bets are off.


ROBINSON: And it may be he decides that the only way to be in the
game is to go with a game changer.

SMERCONISH: Follow this analysis, a little bit complicated, but the
payoff is great.

It`s from Republican strategist John Weaver. And he diagnoses
Romney`s problem like this.

"Number one, the base doesn`t trust him or like him. Number two, to
fix that, he`s done everything possible on position-altering to attract
them. Number three, number two hasn`t worked. Four, while attempting
number two, he`s alienating key general election constituencies, Hispanics,
women, working class whites. So, he`s in the box.

Does he try to fix number two or pick someone who can help with one
of the constituencies in number four or someone that might help deliver a
state? I personally would bet on the base`s intense antipathy, smoldering
hate, actually, toward the president and try to get someone who can help in
a battleground state or fix a constituency problem.

Chris Cillizza, it sounds like an SAT question that I want to fill.
But now, I understand it. I like it.

What do you make of that analysis?

CILLIZZA: I`m still trying to figure out if A and B are true, does
that make C true (ph)? It`s very complicated.

No. Look, I think a play too excite the base, to me, given where
Romney is, yes, I think he needs to do that. I also think he would like to
get someone who could be history-making in some way, to kind of counter the
Barack Obama is the first African-American president and ideally someone in
a swing state.

If you go by those three criteria, it seems to me -- and I`ve been
talking about this a lot -- but it seems to me that Marco Rubio from
Florida is the clearest pick. He`s a hero among the Tea Party. He is
Cuban-American and he is from Florida.

You know, you never know -- and Rubio is new to the national scene.
You could make the argument, is he ready? You know, he may be hurt a
little bit by the specter of Sarah Palin, is he ready to be president of
the United States? But I would say I think if you`re ranking it today,
Michael, you put Rubio first. And in my opinion, there`s a gap between
first and second and third.

SMERCONISH: Well, you`re in good company because if you had to bet
on who the V.P. nominee would be, you`d be wise to go with Marco, because.
Intrade say that they put the odds of Rubio`s selection to 25 percent,
making him by far the odds on favorite.

Eugene, I would have to believe that Paul Ryan is going to climb in
that wagering, because this week it`s been all about him, and if the focal
point of this campaign is going to in large part be the budget that he put
forward, wouldn`t you think that he could be in that mix?

figure out, well, he`s going to own the Ryan budget anyhow, so he might as
well own Ryan as well, he might as well have the guy who explains it better
than anybody else on his team.

And Ryan has -- you know, he`s young. He`s good looking. I mean, he
has a certain presence.

He`s not the greatest speaker, but the base loves him and he might be
seen as a persona, as not terribly threatening to independents. So --

SMERCONISH: Doesn`t do anything with Hispanics or women, though.

ROBINSON: Absolutely nothing.


CILLIZZA: He is from Wisconsin, though. He is from Wisconsin, just
adding another potential swing state, to bolster Gene`s argument.

SMERCONISH: I know, but I don`t think since `84 it`s gone in that

CILLIZZA: A very good point.


SMERCONISH: Any way, as always, Chris Cillizza, Eugene Robinson --
terrific. Thank you.

Up next, we`ll separate the facts from the rumors in the Trayvon
Martin case.



SMERCONISH: President Obama will host a screening of the classic
movie "To Kill a Mocking Bird" tomorrow night at the White House. And the
president will also introduce an airing of the movie this Saturday night on
the USA Network. It`s the 50th anniversary of the release of the film in
which Gregory Peck portrays Southern lawyer Atticus Finch, who defends an
innocent black man against the charge of rape.

We`ll be right back.


SMERCONISH: We`re back.

The Trayvon Martin story remains in the national spotlight ever since
his death in late February.

According to a new poll from Pew Research Center, people of different
races and political affiliations are deeply divided over whether there`s
been too much news coverage of the case. Fifty-six percent of Republicans
say there`s been too much coverage compared to 25 percent of Democrats.
And 43 percent of whites say there`s been too much coverage compared to
only 16 percent of African-Americans.

NBC News national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff has
been tracking the story from Sanford, Florida. And he joins us now.

Michael, what`s the latest?

Well, the latest is that George Zimmerman has hired a new defense lawyer,
Hal Uhrig, who is a former cop, a former prosecutor, a specialist in DNA
cases. So suggesting he`s looking for somebody who has a background,
strong background in forensics, which is going to be crucial in this case.

He clearly needed one. He had one lawyer who had never tried a
homicide case, who had been representing him through all of this.

What`s extraordinary, though, is that both of these lawyers in an
interview they did with the local FOX affiliate last night acknowledged
that neither one has actually ever met George Zimmerman. He`s been in
hiding ever since this case erupted.

SMERCONISH: That`s strange.

ISIKOFF: It is very strange, to be representing a client in a highly
charged case like this without ever actually meeting your client, looking
him in the eye, going over the whole story. And, you know, it`s fair to
say that most seasoned lawyers would not take on a representation like this
without sitting down with their client and doing that.


Michael Isikoff, thank you as always. We appreciate it.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Beth Kassab is a columnist for "The Orlando Sentinel"
who`s been covering the case. You`ve made me an "Orlando Sentinel" reader
on a daily basis. I think the coverage has been tremendous.


SMERCONISH: Can we go through some of the myths, facts of this case?
You`ve been reporting new developments relative to Trayvon Martin and
dispelling some of the myths. And I want to quickly run through a couple
and correct the record as to whether it`s fact or myth.

For example, George Zimmerman, was not arrested because his father is
a former judge who pulled some strings.

What`s the story?

KASSAB: Well, Michael, there`s no evidence of that whatsoever. His
father has said that he is a former magistrate in Virginia. But the police
didn`t know that at the time and we have nothing to show that that factored
into the decision in this case.

SMERCONISH: Fact or myth -- Zimmerman outweighed Martin by 100

KASSAB: Another myth. Mr. Zimmerman weighs 190 pounds, according to
his family. His weight actually wasn`t on the original police report. So,
we weren`t sure for a while how much he weighed. Trayvon Martin`s weight
his family says is about 150 pounds. So, as you can see, it`s not 100-
pound gap that`s been reported.

SMERCONISH: Fact or myth -- Trayvon Martin shouldn`t have been
walking through the gaited community where he was shot.

KASSAB: Look, that`s absolutely a myth. Trayvon Martin was there
visiting his father and his father`s girlfriend. You know, he had every
right to be there. He was a guest, he had family member who lived there.
And, you know, it wasn`t walking through at 3:00 a.m., as some had
reported. It was only about 7:00 on a Sunday evening.

SMERCONISH: Fact or myth -- the Department of Justice is
investigating civil rights by the Sanford Police Department in the Martin
case and years prior.

KASSAB: OK, there is only one civil rights investigation going on
right now and that`s according to the Department of Justice and the FBI.
They are looking into civil rights allegations against Mr. Zimmerman.
Right now, the police department as a whole is not being investigated.

SMERCONISH: At the outset of this conversation, you heard me relate
some polling data that shows the discrepancy between blacks and whites, Rs
and Ds, in terms of how they view the level of news coverage. Were you
surprised to hear that or does it comport with your finger on the pulse in
your community?

KASSAB: No, it`s not surprising me at all. It really registers with
the feedback that I`ve been getting and that we`ve seen nationally.

SMERCONISH: In other words, you believe that the folks locally would
be in those same mixes?

KASSAB: You know, I think they would. I think there is a bit of a
divide between R and Ds on this topic. Gun control has become a big topic
of conversation when people talk about this case, and that issue tends to
split them along party lines.

SMERCONISH: And "Stand Your Ground" as well, I guess is what you
mean to say, right? Not only gun control, but whether that Florida law
ought to stay in the states.

KASSAB: Sure. You know, gun control as a larger issue, and
specifically, "Stand Your Ground," the 2005 law that was passed here in
Florida and has since spread to other states. And that is the statute that
is getting the most talk, you know, since Trayvon was shot.

SMERCONISH: All right. Many thanks, I begin with a click on the
"Sentinel" every morning because I want the latest on this case.

Thank you, Beth Kassab.

KASSAB: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: When we return, "Let Me Finish" with what I think Rick
Santorum is up to in Pennsylvania.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


SMERCONISH: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

Now that the Maryland, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. primaries are
behind us, all eyes are shifting to my home state, Chris` home state, and
Rick Santorum`s home state of Pennsylvania.

Today, "The New York Times" headline: "Pennsylvania Lets Romney Go
Straight for Jugular." At "Politico," it was "Santorum puts his money on

Well, permit me a quick primer on Pennsylvania. There are two things
that you need to know.

First, on the surface, the primary election dynamics would seem to
benefit Rick Santorum. Yes, the last time Santorum was on a Pennsylvania
ballot in 2006, he lost by 18 points to Bob Casey, Jr. But today, poll
after poll shows Santorum leading Mitt Romney, albeit by a dwindling

Santorum`s chances have been aided by electoral changes that favor
his primary prospects, but won`t bode well for him or the GOP come
November. Consider that over the last four years, the state`s GOP has lost
almost 140,000 voters. And meanwhile, the ranks of the unaffiliated, and
that`s what Pennsylvania calls independents, has swelled by almost 161,000,
or 43 percent. In other words, six years after he decisively lost
Pennsylvania, including a total blowout in the traditionally moderate
Philadelphia suburbs, Santorum will compete for votes in a primary that now
better suits his strengths, a smaller, more conservative one.

The exodus of moderates from the GOP helps Santorum in the short run,
but it bears no relation to his general election prospects if he somehow
becomes the nominee.

Now, the second thing you need to know about Pennsylvania is this
primary is a beauty contest. If Chris were here, he`d explain it with a
history lesson. In 1976, Ronald Reagan was competing for the nomination
with President Ford. As the campaign headed toward the convention in
Kansas City, Reagan said his running mate would be Pennsylvania Senator
Richard Schweiker, a move designed to win over the Pennsylvania delegation.
Why? Because Reagan knew that Pennsylvania doesn`t tie its delegates to
the victor of its primary.

That strategy, it didn`t work in `76, but Reagan benefitted from the
beauty contest four years later, when George Herbert Walker Bush won the
Pennsylvania primary, but a majority of the state`s delegates went with the
Gipper anyway. How can this happen? It`s because those running for
delegate to the convention are listed on the ballot in their home
congressional district without any stated commitment nor tie to a
particular candidate.

I know, because in 1984, I was an alternate delegate elected to the
GOP convention in Dallas. What usually happens is that the GOP faithful
are the ones who run for the slots. They include party loyalists who are
involved in their local committee, and they tend to be influenced by the
establishment, which has been reluctant to support their former colleague,

Nevertheless, Santorum has said he has every intention of winning the
Keystone State. And because the party has narrowed in its composition, he
could certainly do that. But he and his campaign must surely know that
winning Pennsylvania`s popular vote won`t put him any closer to the
delegate count needed to actually win the nomination, which means this
could be all about erasing that 18-point loss in 2006, a beauty contest

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

"POLTIICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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