updated 5/9/2012 2:42:35 PM ET 2012-05-09T18:42:35

Guests: Ezra Klein, Eugene Robinson, Alex Wagner, Amanda Drury, David Corn, Ron Reagan, Ed Rendell, Chris Frates, Mark Penn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Obama gets Osama, Republicans snarl.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Bin Laden is dead, GM is alive. How do you like them apples?

Well, the other side is saying President Obama shouldn`t take credit
for the successful attack on America`s number one enemy. They say it`s
unfair to claim it as a victory. But remember George W. prancing across
that aircraft carrier? Remember that giant "Mission Accomplished" banner?
Remember Rudy Giuliani reciting one sentence after the other that included
only "a noun, a verb and the phrase 9/11"? Remember that 2004 Republican
convention and all the hootin` and hollerin` about the "great decider" who
took us into the sands of Iraq?

Maybe the reason his rivals don`t like Osama (SIC) marking his success
over bin Laden is because they had eight years to do it and couldn`t.

Also tonight, the political marriage of the century, the 21st century,
Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. President Obama is hoping that some of that
Clinton mojo and money can rub off on him.

Last night, the incumbent and the ex were fund-raising, with the big
dog -- that`s Bill Clinton -- warning that Mitt Romney would take us back
to failed Republican economic policies on steroids. You know, this could
be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Plus, dirty, angry money. Tonight, we begin our series on the
hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into this election without any
accountability, money used to destroy without naming the candidate behind

And you probably heard a lot about President Obama at the White House
correspondents dinner Saturday night. But what you may have heard was how
the president used the event to do something his campaign has been dying to
do, needle Mitt Romney over the dog-on-car-roof story.

And here`s one from George Orwell`s Ministry of Truth. Remember that
one? The Romney campaign is now trying to take credit for saving Detroit.
You can check out that up-is-down logic in the "Sideshow," where it

We begin with the outrage -- I think that should be in quotes -- from
Republicans over President Obama and the death of bin Laden. David Corn --
there he is -- is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" magazine and
author of "Showdown." I have it here in my hand, the book. And Ron Reagan
is with us from Seattle. Both are MSNBC political analysts.

I guess chutzpah is a word that comes to mind, David Corn, the ability
of the Republicans to say, Well, you shouldn`t take credit for what you did
a year ago. We wouldn`t do something like that. Your thoughts, David.

from reading the book, Chris, that chapter 10 is all about the decision to
launch the raid. And I have to say that that whole episode is a test case
in presidential decision making.

And for Mitt Romney to come out there and say, Of course, I`d do that,
anybody would do that, shows that he -- has to read the book, of course --
but that he doesn`t understand what was involved in this, that it wasn`t
just a matter of saying go or don`t go. Barack Obama had to make several
very difficult decisions against the advice of his top aides.

You know that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Vice President Joe
Biden both advised that Barack Obama not launch the raid until there was
more definitive intelligence.


CORN: Most of his advisers actually were not in favor of the raid.
They either wanted a missile strike or something else or not do anything.
So it wasn`t a slam dunk no-brainer. And for Mitt Romney to suggest that
it was indicates that maybe he doesn`t understand the job.

MATTHEWS: And by the way, what does he know? Anyway, Mitt Romney
tried his best to diminish the president`s accomplishments last year, as
you said, David, taking out Osama bin Laden. Listen to what he said when
he was asked about it today. Let`s listen to the Republican candidate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you have gone after bin Laden?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You would have given the order, Governor?

ROMNEY: Well, of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that


MATTHEWS: You know -- I don`t know. You know, sometimes, Ron Reagan,
I have to restrain myself from the words I want to use now.



MATTHEWS: And I will restrain myself because for him to mock Jimmy
Carter on this front -- now, you can argue about Jimmy Carter`s economic
policy. You can argue about his (INAUDIBLE) anything you want. But he
sent those helicopters in to Desert One, and there were -- some of those
men were horribly killed. That was a brutal, brutal campaign to try to
save American hostages at tremendous risk to those fighters and tremendous
risk to the president politically. It did not make him look good that he
tried that.

And for this guy -- I will not use the obvious words that come to mind
here -- to mock that -- I -- it shows an unrealistic look at foreign
policy, like it`s -- he was chuckling when he said it.

REAGAN: Yes, it`s...

MATTHEWS: Who is this guy? Is he a grown-up?

REAGAN: I think it`s hard...

MATTHEWS: We`re talking about war and death here.

REAGAN: It`s hard to know. It was an odd comment to make, and it
reminds everybody, I suppose, at the very least, that Jimmy Carter made a
gutsy call himself that didn`t pan out, and Obama made a gutsy call that
did pan out.

The Republicans would desperately like to take the whole bin Laden
killing off the table. They would like to make it so toxic that Barack
Obama can`t even mention the fact that he -- not the Republicans in eight
years, but he in his first term -- actually got bin Laden.

In a weird way, it`s the same kind of thing that`s happened to Mitt
Romney under other circumstances. His signal accomplishment as governor of
Massachusetts, his health care plan -- he can`t mention it. They`d like to
fix it so Barack Obama can`t mention his signal...

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.

REAGAN: ... signal foreign policy accomplishment.

MATTHEWS: Ron and Dave -- you know -- you know -- we -- everybody
watching this -- this is not a partisan statement, by any means. Everybody
watching this TV right now everywhere in the world watching knows that if
President W. had had anything to with catching the guy who had blown up the
World Trade Center, that he would -- that the -- what`s his name, Cheney --
and that`s how you pronounce his name -- would be up there on a scaffolding
on Mt. Rushmore trying to carve W.`s face into it in the middle of the

By the way, last week, the president`s campaign released a video
featuring Bill Clinton talking about the bin Laden raid and its success.
The video contrasts what Obama did with what Romney has said in the past on
this topic. Let`s watch it. It`s good.


would have been horrible for him. But he reasoned, I cannot in good
conscience do nothing. He took the harder and the more honorable path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "It`s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending
billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." He was referring to
the hunt for Osama bin Laden. What did he mean by that? Because it`s
generated a little controversy, given Osama bin Laden`s role in killing,
what, 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

CLINTON: He had to decide. And that`s what you hire a president to
do. You hire the president to make the calls when no one else can do it.


MATTHEWS: God, David, I never heard Wolf Blitzer to music before.


MATTHEWS: It really works for me. I don`t know about you guys.


CORN: (INAUDIBLE) music down here, but you know, the point that the
president makes, President Clinton makes, is sort of dead on here. This
whole episode showed Obama being both deliberative and decisive.

And it was a hard call because he didn`t have the support of everybody
on his side. In fact, in the last meeting they had, on the Thursday before
he made the decision Friday morning, before the Sunday raid, the CIA came
and told him, You know, we told you there was a 60 to 80 percent chance
this guy in the compound is bin Laden. Actually, no, we`ve downgraded it
to 40 to 60 percent with a new Red Team exercise.

So the intelligence was almost going in the wrong direction. It was a
very lonely decision. And as Bill Clinton knows, as everyone knows, you
know, Ron knows, that if this had gone badly, as it did for Jimmy Carter,
Barack Obama`s presidency would probably, in all likelihood be over. So
he`s putting his own presidency on the line.

And for Mitt Romney and the Republicans to diminish the nature of this
call shows once again they don`t quite understand what it takes to be

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, not all the people criticizing Obama for taking
credit for this -- and Democrats, of course, in this campaign year doing
it. One guy I do respect, one Republican, was John McCain.

John McCain said it diminishes the memory -- here he is, his direct
quote. "Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11
and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political
attack ad."

Well, I do respect McCain for his service to our country, but here`s a
pure flackery comment by Ed Gillespie on "MEET THE PRESS." Let`s watch
him. And this is pure partisan flackery said by, I don`t know, one of the
people you see during the day just sort of saying the usual partisan
nonsense. Here he is.


ED GILLESPIE, MITT ROMNEY ADVISER: This is one of the reasons
President Obama has become one of the most divisive presidents in American
history. He took something that was a unifying event for all Americans, an
event that Governor Romney congratulated him and the military and the
analysts and our government for completing the mission in terms of killing
Osama bin Laden, and he`s managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan,
political attack that former defense secretary Frank Carlucci for President
Reagan called sad, John McCain called shameful. I think most Americans
will see it as a sign of a desperate campaign.


MATTHEWS: You know -- you know, sometimes in journalism, we have to
put on, Ron, another point of view, even if it`s nonsense, if it`s C-R-A-P,
like that was. I mean, I think most people are very proud of this country
for not because they killed Obama -- bin Laden but because we did what had
to get done.

I mean, if you get all these people killed in your home country by a
terrorist attack aimed at civilians -- aimed at civilians -- you have to do
something about it to end it, to make the statement, the moral statement,
this must not be done again.

REAGAN: Yes, a little justice needs to be done.

MATTHEWS: We finally did that under this president. Yes. And then
to go around and say there`s something wrong with taking credit for that --
it baffles me. Anyway...

REAGAN: Well...

MATTHEWS: Let`s go -- here -- yes, go ahead, Ron.

REAGAN: Oh, I was just going to say you know why they`re doing it,
and you know, I just don`t think -- they lose because it`s reminding
everybody, too, of what Obama did. So I don`t think this is going to be a
winner for the Republicans.

CORN: But the other thing, too, here is about politicizing this. You
know, Dick Cheney has come out again and again after Obama became president
saying things like, Obama cares more about the rights of terrorists than
protecting Americans. The 2004 campaign was all about, If you vote for
Democrats, they will -- you`ll be hit again by terrorists.

So they`ve been politicizing this, as you mentioned earlier, from the
get-go. And now for Ed Gillespie to cry tears over turning an act of
counterterrorism into a political matter? I mean, it just doesn`t pass the
laugh test.


MATTHEWS: Well, just to turn over the pillow and look at what we
lived through for about eight years -- this is the warm side of the pillow.
Here`s President Bush. He was certainly no stranger to using national
security as a political issue. Look at this ad from 2004, his reelection
campaign, that does mention 9/11 quite well here. Let`s watch this ad.


MATTHEWS: Well, that wasn`t political, was it? Anyway, here`s Vice
President Cheney trying to scare Americans in that same year, 2004, warning
that if they voted the wrong way, America could be attacked again. Now,
this wouldn`t be political. Let`s watch this one from Cheney.


essential that (INAUDIBLE) weeks from today on November 2nd, we make the
right choice because if we make the wrong choice, the danger is that we`ll
get hit again and we`ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the
standpoint of the United States.


MATTHEWS: Well, the guy who made the wrong choice there, David Corn,
as you and I know, was Scooter Libby for covering for this guy and taking
the hit for him so that he could skip away free. Your thoughts on that

CORN: Well...

MATTHEWS: By the way, if they`d done the job right, they wouldn`t
have had to go through all that -- machinations that got the...

CORN: I mean, yes...

MATTHEWS: ... this poor chief of staff in trouble. Go ahead.

CORN: You know, they invaded a country on false pretenses and waved
the 9/11 flag over and over again. Then when we had an election, which
that would have been or could have been the key issue, they were demagogic.
And then Dick Cheney has continued to do that up until the Obama presidency
and throughout the Obama presidency.

So I mean, if they want to talk about terrorism, if they want to talk
about what`s best to be done -- and of course, as you know, Chris, at the
beginning of the Bush years, when people talked about al Qaeda, people like
Paul Wolfowitz said, No, no, no, no, no, the real problem is Saddam
Hussein. So they`ve...


CORN: ... been wrong again and again, and they do this to try to
cover up that past.

MATTHEWS: Just to pounce on the grave of this insanity we`re hearing
from the other side, Ron...

REAGAN: Please! Pounce!

MATTHEWS: ... please watch this picture right now. This reminds us
all of never using politics, never using war, never using the guts and the
sacrifice of our servicemen for political gain. Never do this. There he
is, with his "Mission accomplished" banner up on that carrier. We didn`t
catch him in the flight suit there. That was an earlier portrait he gave
us that day.

But I`ll tell you, this is politics, and there he is using our

Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan, for joining us and making it clear that
both sides take credit for victory. There`s nothing wrong with that, but -
- there it is. There he is in his costume. I mean, unbelievable. There`s
the costume. No, he would never play politics, nor would any Republican.
Anyway, Ron Reagan, thank you, sir. Thank you, David Corn.

REAGAN: You bet.

MATTHEWS: On this Wednesday, by the way, a special edition of "ROCK
CENTER" on NBC, by the way, Brian Williams takes on inside -- inside the
Situation Room for the first time in television history during -- to follow
the killing of bin Laden.

Coming up, the Obama-Clinton alliance. This is rich politics, which I
love. This is what I love about politics, when you get together for common
goals, bury the hatchet, do the right thing and win elections. Let`s get
into it, why this relationship is so important for both of these two guys



MATTHEWS: Well, Mitt Romney`s auditioning yet another potential
running mate. This time, it`s New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte.
Ayotte`s name has been heading up the charts in recent weeks, and she might
help Romney with women voters, of course, who have been slow to warm to him
thus far. There she is. The down side for Ayotte, she`s only been in the
Senate for two years now.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. A strategic alliance may be emerging
between the titans of Democratic politics, President Obama and former
president Bill Clinton. We just saw it Friday when the Obama campaign
rolled out a Clinton-narrated Web -- Web ad touting Obama`s strength -- we
showed that to you -- and also resolve in taking out Osama bin Laden.

Well, last night, Clinton introduced Obama at a big Democratic
fundraiser in Virginia, the first time they`d appeared together at such an
event. Obama started his comments saying, You guys get two presidents for
one out of this event, which is a pretty good deal. And on NBC`s "FIRST
READ," a Democratic source described last night`s event as kind of a first
date, if you will, between Clinton and Obama.

Ed Rendell`s former Pennsylvania governor, former mayor of
Philadelphia. He`s an MSNBC political analyst. Mark Penn is a Democratic
strategist, who was a chief -- well, he was the chief strategist for
Hillary Clinton`s 2008 presidential campaign.

I always look to you, Governor Rendell, for anything to do with the
Clintons. You are their guy. You are close. It`s a relationship. It`s
not transactional, it`s for life. So here`s the question. Is this a good
marriage? Will it last through November, which is all that matters?

Absolutely. Yes. It`s a marriage born of a lot of things. Number one,
President Clinton`s belief that President Obama has done the best he could
under difficult circumstances and going back to the Bush economic policies
would be a disaster.

But secondly, Chris, born of a real respect for President Obama in the
way he`s handled the relationship with Secretary Clinton. They have a
relationship of mutual respect, admiration and even genuine friendship.

And I think President Clinton has been enormously impressed with that.
So I think this is all-out, 100 percent, not leaving anything on the table.

MATTHEWS: So I`d like you to go over that a bit because we don`t hear
much of that in politics in these divisive times. It has been -- by your -
- and you`ve got a close relationship, telephone relationship, with the
former president. It`s his feeling about the personal and professional
respect between the president and the secretary of state which has endeared
him, politically at least, to Obama.

RENDELL: I think absolutely. I mean, the president has given Hillary
Clinton the ability to go out there and create a persona for herself, and
she`s done a great job. The American people love what Hillary Clinton has
done. And I think President Clinton is very appreciative of the way
President Obama`s handled it.


You know, it`s amazing, Mark. You`re a political strategist. And I
don`t know what you thought at the time, but -- maybe you had mixed
feelings. But I had no idea watching this through my life -- that`s all I
do, is watch politics. Well, I do other things, but I do it.


MATTHEWS: That Hillary Clinton would be so smart.

And I`m sure she made the decision along with -- along with her
husband, from what you hear, to take that. She could have been the
loudmouth, if you will, senator from New York, always being the magnet --
what do you call it, the lightning rod. Anything people like Obama, she
could have been the one -- like Ted Kennedy was all those years.

But she chose to join the team and become maybe the major personality
besides the president. And it`s made her grow as a global figure. I never
-- wouldn`t have seen that.

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I always thought that was a great
decision on her part.

MATTHEWS: Did you, from the beginning?

PENN: Oh, absolutely, because it gave her the chance to go out and
defend and speak for the United States of America for four years, to not be
only out of politics, but you`re to be in the core substance of managing
our international and global relations. And she`s done a magnificent job,
as of course we all knew she would.


Well, I didn`t know it would turn out to be -- here`s my question
about the politics, because it also allows her -- again, I`m thinking --
I`m just trying to anticipate what you`re going to say, Governor. She`s
allowed to be not necessarily to the right or left of the president, but
she can be in a strong forward position, whereas, if she were senator from
New York, the natural politics of New York would have her most of the time
on the left of the president, which is nowhere where you want to position
yourself if you want to have the option to run for president next time.

You don`t want to get to the left of Obama, do you?


MATTHEWS: See, you`re holding back here, but isn`t this the smart
thing for her?


RENDELL: No, no, I think your analysis is absolutely right. You`re
absolutely right. It gives her the ability to do exactly that.

The question is whether she wants to run again. And I, for one, hopes
she does. I`m ready to be the co-chair with Kirsten Gillibrand, but I`m
not sure that she does right now.

But I think if the president is reelected and Secretary Clinton gets
to step down and get a little rest, I think she will think about 2016
seriously again. I for one hope she does.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about -- I know you don`t want to -- you`re
smiling now because you`re primarily a Clinton guy, Mark. That`s why we
have you on. I mean, almost exclusively a Clinton guy. How does this help
the president get reelected, this strong role by Bill Clinton?

PENN: Oh, I think it`s an incredibly smart decision by the president,
because it gives him in effect a second V.P. out there.

There`s only so much president to go around in a presidential
campaign. You need really strong, great surrogates. And here you have got
President Clinton, who can go out in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, key swing

MATTHEWS: Those are the places.

PENN: Talk about the economy, the deficit, health care, all the
topics that he really specialized in as president of the United States in a
credible fashion supporting Obama.

I think it was a great decision. I think it will help the Obama
campaign. I think -- I think nominees Gore and Kerry didn`t make a smarter
decision with President Clinton as Obama just did.


Governor, you`re from Pennsylvania, of course. And I`m thinking of
southwestern Pennsylvania, which is very tough. I`m thinking of north --
well, northwestern Pennsylvania.


MATTHEWS: Look at all those places in Pennsylvania. It looks like
those -- those difficult areas to reach for a moderate Democrat, whereas
Bill seems to have an appeal to working white people, to be -- and I`m not
knocking anybody else or saying there`s race involved, but just normally he
has such a great appeal with working-class whites, that that has got to
help in those states.

RENDELL: Right. No question about it.

There is no better messenger. And, by the way, Bill Clinton told the
story of why Al Gore should be president better than Al Gore did. So I
think he will be a great messenger in those places, the similar places in

And the second factor here that is enormous for the president is
Clinton`s ability to raise money off of their group of loyalists, which
heretofore has sort of stayed on the sidelines, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Exactly.

Well, let me ask you, Mark Penn, because you have been smiling me
every time the camera gets off you. So I want to know this question. Is
it better for Hillary Clinton if she runs for president for Obama to get

PENN: Look, it`s better...

MATTHEWS: No. No. I want a yes or a no.


MATTHEWS: Is it better for Hillary Clinton if she runs for...

PENN: Oh, yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Absolutely, without a smile?

PENN: Absolutely. There`s no question about it.

MATTHEWS: There`s no question about it.

PENN: No question.



You agree -- you agree, Governor, that there`s no number -- there`s no
other number that could possibly be going on here where it`s harder to run
for an extra four years once a party has been in office for eight, which is
historically difficult, or is it harder to run against an incumbent
President Romney? What is harder...


RENDELL: No, you want the open seat. You want the open seat. You
don`t want to run against any incumbent.

MATTHEWS: Is that right?

PENN: Absolutely.


PENN: I think the governor has got it absolutely right.


Let me -- so there`s definitely -- it`s a positive for both sides.
Let`s look at some of the -- let`s look at some of the other things.

Oh, out of time. You guys are great. You are really good guys. You
were -- you want the president to get reelected, Mark, right?

PENN: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: And, Governor, I know you do because you`re a fantastic

RENDELL: No question.

MATTHEWS: ... and a man for all seasons.

RENDELL: No question.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania.

Thank you, Mark Penn, who almost got Hillary Clinton elected president
the first time. He will probably get her elected the second time.

PENN: We did get President Clinton the second time.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much. You did it both -- you`re a man
of great success.


MATTHEWS: Up next -- just like getting bin Laden.

But next: Mitt Romney famously wrote an op-ed entitled "Let Detroit
Go Bankrupt." How is he going to walk away from that, "Let Detroit Go
Bankrupt"? Anyway, now they`re trying to credit Mitt as the spectacular
success of the auto bailout. He didn`t -- they`re trying to spin it
around, and they can`t do it. And that belongs in the "Sideshow." It`s
coming up.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


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

First up, we all know President Obama`s go-to sport is basketball,
right? Well, tough to forget that 2008, look at it, that three-pointer
when he was visiting the troops over in Kuwait. Swish. Well, Republican
Senator Scott Brown has been pressing himself for a face-off with the
president since before he won his Senate seat.

Well, if you had any doubts, it sure seems like it could be quite a
match. Take a look at this feat from Scott Brown at a Massachusetts
community center. Wow. It`s a high school up around there -- earned the
nickname Downtown Scott Brown for his ability to sink those long-range
baskets. By the way, that was the same shot -- not that good.

Moving on, President Obama went after Republicans this morning during
a speech to the Building and Constructions Trades Department the AFL-CIO.
This morning, the president got to reminiscing about his visit to John
Boehner`s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, last year. Notice the backdrop to
this speech, a bridge in need of repair.

Well, here`s the president today.


sent Congress a whole series of jobs bills to put people to work, to put
your members back to work.

And time after time, the Republicans have gotten together, and they
have said no. I went to the speaker`s hometown, stood under a bridge that
was crumbling.

Maybe he doesn`t drive anymore.


OBAMA: Maybe he didn`t notice how messed up it was. There are
bridges between Kentucky and Ohio, where some of the key Republican
leadership come from, where folks are having to do detours an extra hour,
hour-and-a-half drive every day.


MATTHEWS: God, they have got to keep talking jobs.

That nod to Kentucky, by the way, is for Senator, Minority Leader
Mitch McConnell, who is against everything.

Finally -- especially jobs -- and, finally, much of President Obama`s
pitch for reelection hinges, of course, on the success of the auto industry
bailout, saving GM and Chrysler from going under. Well, get this, Eric
Fehrnstrom, one of Romney`s aides, now says, believe it or not, he says the
comeback of the auto industry is really all thanks to advice from Mitt

Here he at a "Washington Post" forum on Saturday.


op-ed for "The New York Times" in November of 2008, when George Bush was
still president. He said, look, if you want to save the auto industry,
don`t just write them checks. That will seal their doom.

What they need to do is go through a managed bankruptcy process. They
went through that managed bankruptcy process. It`s exactly what Mitt
Romney told them to do. So consider that. The crown jewel, the only
economic success that President Obama has had, is because he followed Mitt
Romney`s advice.


MATTHEWS: It looks like a support group.

Anyway, what Fehrnstrom doesn`t say is that there was no one in the
private sector willing or able to lend Detroit that $80 billion that was
needed to get the car companies back on their feet.

So team Romney is taking credit for something that could not have
happened under their leadership.

And, by the way, the Obama campaign hit back saying -- quote -- "If
Mitt Romney had had his way, the American auto industry and millions of
jobs it supports would cease to exist. Dishonesty and distortions are
nothing new for the Romney campaign, but they can`t change this simple

By the way, the headline of that "New York Times" article that Romney
wrote was, in fact, catch this, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." How do they
walk away from that one?

Up next: dirty, angry money. We begin our reporting tonight on the
billions of dollars actually being spent to destroy candidates for
political office. And find out why we should all fear the influence of big
money in politics. That`s millions. It`s not billions yet.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


"Market Wrap."

Well, worries about the economy sent the Dow down 15 points, the S&P
falling five and change, and the Nasdaq losing 23. A 3 percent decline in
Apple shares dragging down the techs, helping put the Nasdaq in negative
territory for the month. However, Barnes & Noble soaring more than 50
percent on Microsoft`s $300 million investment in the Nook e-reader. On
the economic front, consumer spending rose just 0.3 percent in March, while
income grew 0.4 percent.

And that`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now it`s back

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Tonight, we`re kicking off a new series, "Dirty, Angry Money," and we
mean it, looking at the influence of super PAC money on our electoral
system, especially this year. Someday people may look back on 2012 as the
year of the super PAC. A few guys with billions of dollars are able to
throw huge sums of money into political races.

And that`s bad news for our democracy. Some of the nastiest ads we
have seen this year have come from super PACs, which means the candidates
can keep their fingertips off the attacks. The numbers tell the story. So
far this election, President Obama`s campaign has raised more than double
what the Romney campaign has raised.

But look at the biggest super PACs. The pro-Romney Restore Our Future
PAC and Karl Rove`s super PAC, American Crossroads, dwarfed the amount of
money the pro-Obama PAC, Priorities for U.S. -- Priorities U.S. took in.

And that`s only part of this story for American Crossroads. When you
combine it with its sister non-profit arm, Crossroads GPS, they have raised
an astounding $100 million, and they`re expected to rake in about $240
million before November. That`s a lot of money to influence races and run
negative TV ads from the top of the ticket on down.

Ezra Klein writes a powerful column for "The Washington Post." He`s
an MSNBC contributor. And Chris Frates is a reporter for the great
"National Journal."

Ezra, I read your column the other day. It stirred me. We have done
a couple of shows on this. We`re going to keep doing it.

What you said -- well, let me just read from your column because I
think it makes a point no one else has thought about. It`s about the
influence of super PACs, not so much on presidential races, but on the
regular local congressional race.

"Just as youth is wasted on the young, money is wasted on the rich.
Money is least useful in contests where news coverage is most intense and
opinions are most entrenched. But how many people do you know who still
aren`t sure what they think of Obama or are undecided about Romney?
Probably not many. But how many people do you know with a strong opinion
on their congressman or on his or her challenger? Do you even have a
strong opinion on your representative? And that`s the kind of low-
information race where money can have a big impact."

Lay that out a little more. I think it`s so fascinating, the way you
said that you can scare a member of Congress into voting for some crooked
little break for corporate taxes, for example, just by scaring the heck out
of him or her you`re going to run $200,000 or $300,000 in negative ads the
last week or two of the campaign.


So there are two questions to ask when asking whether money can change
a race, right? One is whether or not voters know a lot about the two
candidates. If they do, they don`t really care what ads go. They have
probably already made up their mind. Voters aren`t dumb.

The other is, is there already a lot of money there? If the candidate
has a lot of money and a super PAC comes in at the end and dumps in a
million bucks, well, then the candidate just spends another million bucks.

It`s not that hard to see when somebody has begun running more ads
against you. In the presidential race, people know the candidates and both
candidates have a lot of money. In, Congress when you`re dealing with, in
the 3rd District in Arizona, when people don`t know the challenger, a super
PAC can make a big difference because people don`t know the challenger and
the challenger doesn`t have a lot of money.

That does two things. One, it means that super PACs can end up
deciding races by coming in at the end, as they are doing, and just
spending $800,000, $1.2 million. That can be enough to flip an entire
race. Number two, it means that people on the Hill, congressmen on the
Hill, senators on the Hill, are more afraid of super PACs.

And that means they don`t even necessarily need to spend their money.
You can come in. You can imagine a super PAC run by hedge fund managers
who don`t want to lose the tax break that lets them treat -- that lets them
get taxed at 15 percent, as opposed to at 35 percent. If they just make it
known that they will spend $1 million in any race where the candidate
opposes keeping that tax break, which candidate is going to oppose keeping
that tax break?

It`s not a big deal. Most candidates don`t know much about it, most
voters aren`t following. It`s fair enough to -- better not to get yourself
into that kind of trouble.

MATTHEWS: And it`s bad enough, Chris, having worked on the Hill all
those years, when there are these esoteric little votes that only the
people who benefit from them know about it.

But now you have the tremendous cannon that you can bring in and make
the guy who -- even the good government guy or woman who really tries to
vote the right way, says, wait a minute, do I really want to lose my
congressional seat over this wrinkle in the tax law, when nobody at home is
going to give me credit for it, and they`re just going to gun me down over

CHRIS FRATES, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": Absolutely. And I think Ezra
has a point here. And what`s interesting to watch is we`ve already seen
this happen. We saw it happen last cycle with a couple big members, Dave
Obey, for instance.

And, you know, you see -- I wrote about this last month, and I asked
people, I said, are we going to see congressional super PACs come to the
levels that we saw in the presidential? And the answer, even from the
people raising the money for the super PACs was, no, because the president
takes so much air out of the room and that it`s very difficult, it`s not as
sexy of a race and we`re just getting our feet under us here for
congressional super PACs. It does have the bigger impact, exponentially
bigger impact.

But I think it`s going to be difficult for them to really attract
those big donors because everybody wants the sexiness of the White House.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think what`s going to happen is they`re going to
look around for where they can knock off a Democrat, for example, who is
narrowly getting reelected in a difficult district and for a few bucks
right near in the end, they can waste this guy or this woman.

Let`s take a look, Ezra and Chris, at this ad. It`s put up by --
it`s a new super PAC down in Florida that`s backing U.S. Congressman Connie
Mack. The ad takes on his opponent, Senator Bill Nelson, for being too
cozy with President Obama. Let`s watch it.


AD NARRATOR: President Obama said no to the Keystone XL Pipeline.
That`s saying no to lower gas prices, no to more jobs, no to greater energy

Senator Bill Nelson chose to side with President Obama over the
people of Florida.

Now, you have a choice.

Connie Mack supports Keystone XL. As our representative, he has a
long story of standing up for the ideals of freedom, prosperity and
security. Say no to Bill Nelson and choose Connie Mack for U.S. Senate.

Freedom PAC is responsible for the content of this advertising.


MATTHEWS: It`s so awful. I mean, Ezra, I love the way they describe
your column, this sort of grainy pictures they show in these ads with that
grim, forbidding voice. I wish everybody would just promise -- pray to
themselves, I will not be influenced by any ad that shows black and white
pictures that only aims up being sort of a subversive seeming and making
this guy look evil, without even saying the words.

But this work, don`t they?

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC POLICY ANALYST: They do work. And I don`t know,
Chris, that Bill Nelson guy sounded pretty terrible to me, just from
watching him.

MATTHEWS: He was chuckling about something important. He didn`t
look serious to me, that ad.

KLEIN: The funny thing about these ads, too, and this is their up
side. They are issue ads. One interesting thing about negative ads, they
tend to have more issue content in studies than non-negative ads. You did
hear that, Bill Nelson really did side with Obama against the Keystone
Pipeline, though that wasn`t a very fair assessment of the issue.

But nevertheless, what they are -- the key point there was right at
the end, paid for by Freedom PAC. Who is Freedom PAC? What do they want?
Who is funding them?

And that is really what Citizens United ended up doing here. But
Congress could reverse it. It`s important to say, if Citizens United said,
corporations can spend as much as they want, but Congress could pass a law
and say that they have to disclose who is funding them. We could have an
ad like that where it says paid for by Freedom PAC, the largest donors of
which are X, Y, and Z.


KLEIN: But as of yet, Republicans in Congress can block that bill

MATTHEWS: OK. I`m afraid for November, what could happen in October
where one of these guys could go out there and spend a zillion dollars and
turn an election, which I think is going to be close between President
Obama and Mitt Romney, turn it by a point or so with huge spending of money
totally negative on Obama, just sheer oil money, the Koch brothers, the
money they all could get together and each spend $100 million at a party
somewhere. We`re all going to spend the money and really put a billion
bucks down on the table right at the end.

I think it`s possible, Ezra. We`re warning the voters. I`m not sure
it`s going to work but it`s something we have to do.

And thank you so much for coming, Chris. And, Ezra Klein, I love
your column. I learn some more. And, Chris Frates, thank you so much.

I`m going -- by the way, I`ll be at Brown University tomorrow night
at Providence, delivering the Ogden lecture on international affairs. I`ll
be talking about "Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero," my book. But most
importantly, I`ll be focusing on the 50 anniversary of the 1962 Cuban
missile crisis. That`s up at Brown tomorrow night. It`s open to the

Up next, the White House correspondents` dinner gave President Obama
the perfect chance to do something he`s been wanting to do, tweak Mitt
Romney -- tweak him -- tweak for putting his dog on the roof of his car.
That`s ahead.



MATTHEWS: As I mentioned, it`s been nearly a year since that Navy
SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and nearly 11 years since the
September 11th attacks. Today, the World Trade Center is once again the
tallest building in New York City, workers pushed its steel skeleton to
roughly 250 feet high. Look at it up there, higher than the Empire State

Construction won`t be completed until next year when the tower will
top the old Sears Tower in Chicago as the tallest building in the country
and the third tallest in the world.

We`ll be right back.



everybody is predicting a nasty election, and thankfully, we`ve all agreed
that families are off limits. Dogs, however, are apparently fair game.


MATTHEWS: Fair game. There`s a phrase I know.

Anyway, we`re back. And that was President Obama at Saturday night`s
White House correspondents` dinner, invoking the famous Romney dog on the
roof story as he once referred to it, as a boy eats dog story.

Anyway, the Romney campaign hit back on the issue this month by
seizing an excerpt from President Obama`s memoir where he ate dog meat as a
child growing up in Indonesia. Well, President Obama got the latest word
on the war on dogs at the White House correspondents` dinner, where he
queued up a fake ad from a fake pro-Romney super PAC. This is funny.
Let`s all watch it together.


NARRATOR: What about Barack Obama? Under his failed leadership,
man`s best friend has been forced into government-controlled automobiles.
Just imagine the European-style dog socialism Obama has planned for the
next four years.

More government handouts. A life of government dependency.
Indoctrinating our children. A left left-wing social agenda. Leading from


NARRATOR: America`s dogs can`t afford four more years of Obama. For
them, that`s 28 years. Our dogs need leadership now.


NARRATOR: This guy.

And that`s why we need to join Mitt Romney in sending a message this
November. I`m an American and dog gone it, I ride outside.


MATTHEWS: Well, there you have the dog up on the roof, pooch on the

Anyway, my colleague Alex Wagner joins. She`s the host of the very
impressive "NOW," which comes on at noon here. And Eugene Robinson is an
MSNBC political analyst.

Gene, I have to start with you. We`re chuckling about this.

Rival dog -- there`s a dog food right there, rival dog food. The old
-- here we go with a weird ad making fun of the president`s vulnerability
on the dog. Does he face vulnerability like Romney did for putting the dog
on the roof on a trip to Canada because as a kid he ate dog meat? Is that
what he`s trying to immunize himself against here? What`s going on?

vulnerable on the dog issue?

MATTHEWS: But why is he bringing it up?

ROBINSON: I mean, I know it`s rough out there, but does it really
hurt either candidate?

I think the White House`s calculation is that, being 6 years old in
Indonesia and eating dog meat is only going to turn off the people who
already think that Obama is a socialist Muslim. Whereas putting a dog on
the roof of the car is something that might tick off independent voters.
That could be the calculation.


MATTHEWS: It sounds like something like a guy here likes firing
people and he likes putting dogs on the roof.


MATTHEWS: But, you know, this has gotten contorted so much.

Alex, you got Romney out there saying how much the dog loved going up
on the roof, didn`t want to be in the car. Then he got the president with
a big happy dog in the car with him, by the way, presidents like to be seen
with big dogs, I notice. Not little ones like poodles. They like those
big healthy-looking dogs. That`s my theory.

Your thoughts on this inane conversation.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: Look, I think as all great comedy and
satire does, Chris, it pokes holes in sort of lunacy and ridiculous sort of
maybe heavy-handed political theories. This, I thought, was a masterful
stroke by the president in so far as it again reinforces the fact that
President Obama is funny. He`s got a great character.

MATTHEWS: He sure does.

WAGNER: He really connects with an audience, but also, you know,
undermines these ridiculous notions that he`s a socialist, that he`s a
European communist, that he`s a Swede, that he wants to turn this country
into Denmark, whatever it is. And also I think draws again, it skewers
Mitt Romney on the character thing, which is what kind of guy puts man`s
best friend on a roof for six hours when the dog is sick.

Now, I heard that the White House loves this talking point because
they`re less worried about the character issue with Obama vis-a-vis eating
dog food, which is a cultural thing in Indonesia apparently. Whereas
Romney`s decision is much more, I think, in a lot of ways creepy, or speaks
to a certain coldness, and reinforce that`s he is wooden and can`t really
connect with our inner humanity.

MATTHEWS: Well, I love the comment by Jimmy Kimmel the other night
where he said, the president, he said, cover your ears if that`s physically
possible. And them you can see Michelle laughing at that joke. And here`s
the president of the United States making a joke about his physical

Anyway, President Obama was dishing it out himself on Saturday night,
but that doesn`t mean he couldn`t take some heat. He turned to tables and
made fun of himself, riding a wave of criticism for having eaten dog meat
as a child growing up in Indonesia, as he referred (ph) in his

Well, let`s watch him talk about this.


getting back into the game, which reminds of an old saying. What`s the
difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? A pit bull is delicious.


MATTHEWS: You know, Gene, that went right over my head, you know? I
watched that, and he`s making jokes about eating pit bulls, it`s such a
disgusting idea that --

ROBINSON: Yes, it is.

MATTHEWS: He`s actually joking about eating pit bulls. I go --

ROBINSON: It is. Well, you know, you choose to get into the
subject, how do you get into it? I mean, it`s first funny, but it`s -- I
don`t see how anyone, you know, wins big or loses big --

MATTHEWS: OK, you take this, Alex. You take this last one. Here`s
Jimmy Kimmel talking about dogs. Let`s watch the last one.


JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: Some advice: if Mitt Romney ever invites you
to go for a ride, call shotgun, and if the president tries to butter you,


MATTHEWS: That`s it for you. No thoughts about that one. If he
tries to butter you, run, advice to dogs.

Anyway, thank you, Gene Robinson. Thank you, Alex Wagner. That`s
all the time we have for that one.

Anyway, when we return, "Let Me Finish" with why I wouldn`t bet on
those Republicans who want to deny President Obama what he did with killing
bin Laden. He deserves he`s taken.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

I understand why some of the president`s partisan critics are going
after him over his successful mission against bin Laden. People always
attack their rivals for doing what they didn`t do themselves. The
Republican Party championed the civil war in this country and took credit
for it for generations. The Grand Old Party and the battle hymn of the
republic went together like a horse and carriage. General Grant was
elected president because he was the best general president in the war,
just as General Eisenhower is elected almost a century later for being the
general who received the Nazi surrender.

Republicans do it, so why can`t a Democratic president do it? If
George W. Bush had gotten Obama bin Laden, this country would still be
shooting confetti out of cannons, don`t you think?

So, McCain ands Gillespie and some other Republicans are out there
this week in trying to rain on the president`s parade. I understand why.
I have no problem with them doing their duty to their party.

But I wouldn`t bet on these gentlemen. History and the voters know
the difference between success and sour grapes. True victory by the man in
the arena and a Bronx cheer from the cheap seats. If it was that easy to
find and kill Osama bin Laden, everyone this side of Abbottabad knows that
W. would have done it and danced himself silly in the end zone, and Dick
Cheney would have done cartwheels.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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