updated 5/29/2012 3:18:30 PM ET 2012-05-29T19:18:30

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish

Guests: Andrea Mitchell, Sue Herera, David Corn, Joan Walsh, Chrystia Freeland, Jonathan Dienst, Diena Thompson, Daniella Gibbs Leger, Glenn Thrush

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Rebirth of a notion. Birtherism is

Let`s play some HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia and sitting in
for Chris Matthews.

Leading off tonight, the story that won`t go away, birtherism. Mitt
Romney is hitching his wagon to America`s top birther, Donald Trump, and
Trump is at it again, claiming falsely that President Obama admitted to a
book publisher that he was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia.

Why is Mitt Romney willing to risk jumping into the gutter with Trump
on that issue?

Also, gas prices. When they were going up, Republicans were blaming
President Obama, saying that he was engineering the price increases to
coerce the nation into fuel efficiency. So what do Republicans say now
that prices have come way down?

Plus, the president reminds voters that businessman Mitt Romney
insists that corporations are people. Well, here`s a question. If Mitt`s
experience in business makes him such a good job creator, why was
Massachusetts 47th in job creation when he was the governor?

And Etan Patz, the improbable story of how the missing child story
that started it all was solved.

Finally, shooting the messenger. Chris Christie explodes when told
that New Jersey`s revenues are heading way short of estimates.

We begin with the return of the birthers.

With me now are two MSNBC political analysts, Salon editor-at-large
Joan Walsh and "Mother Jones" magazine`s David Corn, the author of

David, is there a constituency for Donald Trump? Are there a group of
Americans out there who are waiting for a Trump endorsement so that they
know what to do, or Trump involvement so that they know to whom to write

hope that`s not the case, Michael, because then we`re in deep doo-doo.


CORN: You know, but I do think he`s playing to part of the Republican
base which just won`t give up the ghost on making -- on portraying Barack
Obama as some foreign other-ish entity. I mean, it just won`t go away.

And whether it`s that he doesn`t get America or doesn`t understand
America, as Mitt Romney always says, or whether it`s that he`s not really
born here or that he doesn`t understand the economy or that he`s a secret
socialist Muslim, all these things -- you know, it`s so ingrained in their
view of the president even after three years-plus of his presidency that,
you know...

SMERCONISH: But anybody -- but David...

CORN: ... we can`t eradicate it.

SMERCONISH: ... anybody who`d be motivated on that issue is already
in the Romney camp.

CORN: Right.

SMERCONISH: That`s the part I don`t understand.

CORN: This is -- this is...

SMERCONISH: Let me show you so that everybody at home knows what
we`re talking about. In an interview with The DailyBeast`s Lloyd Grove,
Donald Trump would not back down from his questions about the president,
pointing now to a photo and biography written by a literary agency in 1991,
recently uncovered by Andrew Breitbart`s Web site. Trump said to Grove,
Look, it`s very simple. A book publisher came out three days ago and said
that in his written synopsis of his book. He said that he was born in
Kenya, raised in Indonesia. His mother never spent a day in the hospital.
Actually, the literary agency assistant who wrote the description calls it
a mistake, a fact-checking error on her part.

But Trump doesn`t believe it, and he told Grove, quote, "That`s what
he told the literary agent. That`s the way life works. He didn`t know he
was running for president, so he told the truth. The literary agent wrote
down what he said. He said he was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia,
and now they`re saying it was just a mistake, just like his Kenyan
grandmother said he was born in Kenya and she pointed down the road to the
hospital, and after people started screaming at her, he said, Oh, I mean
Hawaii. Give me a break," said the Trumpster.

And here, by the way, you can see that the 1991 literary agency photo
and description of President Obama unearthed by the folks, as I say, at

You know, Joan Walsh, I have to make this observation. The folks at
Breitbart say, We don`t buy the birther argument. We`re putting this
forward because we think it`s evidence of the shoddy job done by the media
four years ago to vet the now president.

What do you make of that?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: They`re bottom feeders. I mean, my God, I
didn`t think it was possible to get lower than Andrew Breitbart, but his
spawn have gotten lower than Andrew Breitbart.

You put that out there, you know that you`re aiding and abetting
birtherism. And Michael, you know, the three of us have better things to
do on a holiday weekend than talk about the farce that is Donald Trump, but
we`re here doing it because Mitt Romney lacks the spine to stand up and
say, I`m sorry, I`m not going to have a fund-raiser with you. And it`s
really -- it`s really an important moment.

I mean, I think that the Romney campaign slogan is, Leave no Obama
hater behind. He uses surrogates like Trump to feed the base. They don`t
-- you know, we`ve got to also say -- David`s probably right, people who
love Trump will vote for Romney, or maybe they`ll stay home. There`s no
great love for Mitt Romney in the crazy crackpot Republican base, that part
of the base -- they`re not all crazy crackpots.

So you know, maybe his campaign thinks that there`s some percentage in
him standing by the orange-haired bully and talking to him and having his
hug and having his endorsement.


SMERCONISH: ... what`s the proper response? Joan, what`s the proper
response? I know we`re probably thinking of recent incidents on the
campaign trail, the Hilary Rosen incident where there was a repudiation of
what she said, as I recall, from both sides of the aisle.

WALSH: Immediately!

SMERCONISH: If it`s...

WALSH: Immediately!

SMERCONISH: If it`s taken place -- if it`s taken place in the birther
business, I`m unaware of it, and I`d love to be corrected. I don`t think
anybody came out...


SMERCONISH: ... and condemned Trump within the GOP and said, like,
What the hell`s he talking about?

WALSH: No. I`m -- no. No. The campaign jumped out -- I mean, I
like Kevin Madden, but there he was. You know, It doesn`t mean that we
endorse his views, he endorses our. No, there has not -- and you know,
we`ve seen this from the beginning, where John Boehner says, It`s really
not my job to tell people what to think.

They aid and abet the birthers because they`re afraid of them.
They`re afraid of that energy within their own party. This is a moment
where someone, Mitt Romney preferably, could say, You know, I like Donald
Trump, but this is the kind of politics that I don`t want to truck in.

You know, Michael...

CORN: It goes back to...

WALSH: ... honestly, one of the saddest -- just one thing, David.
One of the saddest days in the last four years was when Barack Obama, our
first black president, had to stand up and show his papers to that wealthy
white bully. That was a low moment, and Mitt Romney should want to
distance himself from that humiliation. It`s time for him to do that...


SMERCONISH: And David, I`m going to let you jump into this for sure,
but the one observation I would put forth is that this election is all
about those very few who are legitimately undecided, and I just cannot
believe, as a political proposition, that it benefits the Romney campaign
to have this issue relitigated. David, your thought?

CORN: Well, I think you`re right. I don`t think this plays to the
suburbanite independent voters, and I don`t think Donald Trump is doing
this with any strategy in mind, certainly not one that come from the Boston
campaign headquarters of Mitt Romney.

But the question is, once this does happen, what does Mitt Romney do
about it? It reminds me what happened a couple of weeks ago, when he was
confronted by a supporter who said that the president should be tried for
treason, unlike what Mitt -- unlike what John McCain did the last time
around, when he said to a woman who called Barack Obama an Arab, he said --
you know, he didn`t do anything. He just kind of laughs it off. And

SMERCONISH: Allow me to show you both this in advance of next
Tuesday`s -- in advance of next Tuesday`s fund-raiser with Mitt Romney and
Donald Trump in Vegas, of course. Romney campaign adviser Kevin Madden
told Andrea Mitchell that Trump`s support of the campaign doesn`t mean that
Mitt Romney subscribes to what Trump believes.


KEVIN MADDEN, MITT ROMNEY ADVISER: I think that what`s most important
to remember is when you support somebody for running for office that you
are essentially signing on to their views. And Governor Romney has made
very clear that he disagrees with comments like that. He`s made it clear
every single time it`s become a topic of conversation, whether it`s in the
media or whether it`s in the blogosphere. He`s made it very clear that he
disagrees with that, and that`s...

next to Donald Trump and disavow that?

MADDEN: And he`ll talk about the -- he`ll stand up next to Donald
Trump and he`ll talk about why he wants to be president, why he believes
that the economy needs to be turned around.


SMERCONISH: See, I think that -- I think the argument would hold more
water if Trump weren`t still out there as recently as today on "The View,"
joking about this subject. If -- you know, if he didn`t continue to drive
it home, then I`d be more inclined to say, You can`t hold a presidential
candidate responsible for his supporters...

CORN: But he...

SMERCONISH: ... even those who are the biggest benefactors.

CORN: Yes...

SMERCONISH: Joan, go ahead.

CORN: No, I was going to...


WALSH: You go, David.


CORN: OK, thanks, Joan. But the point here is that he`s using Trump
to raise money for his own campaign.

WALSH: Right.

CORN: You don`t have to get out there and renounce everybody who
says, I support you, and I also believe this crazy thing. That -- you
know, that`s not a game, I don`t -- I don`t expect candidates to do that.

But when you`re using that person and he`s making a prominent argument
against the president, your opponent, that`s crackpot, and then you stand
next to him and you are legitimizing him -- and don`t forget, it was only a
couple of weeks ago that Donald Trump was feting Ann Romney at her
birthday, as a -- you know, and helping the campaign that way, too.

WALSH: Right.

CORN: So this is not just, Well, we don`t have to talk about crazy
supporters. This is someone who they are using to raise money for Mitt
Romney when they don`t have to. It`s their decision. It`s their choice.
And they`re making the wrong one.



SMERCONISH: Allow me to show you what took place this morning when
Joy Behar tried to have a little fun with Trump and he continued his calls
for the president`s birth certificate.


JOY BEHAR, "THE VIEW": I have something for you, my birth




SMERCONISH: Joan, it`s an issue that`s just not going to go away so
long as Trump is still on the stage in a presidential context.

WALSH: Obviously. And what I was going to say, Michael, is that, you
know, Trump is using Romney, too. If Trump wanted to be -- you know,
somehow be morph into an elder statesman of the party, he would shut his
trap about this and he would enjoy the limelight and enjoy the fact that
they`re raffling off a dinner with him and he`s a big celebrity, like
George Clooney or President Obama. I mean, talk about a stature gap
between the two parties. That`s what Obama raffled off to his supporters.

But anyway, if he were trying to rehabilitate himself and play a
positive role, he would shut up about this. But he`s actually humiliating
Mitt Romney. You know, in my opinion, he`s really asking for Mitt Romney -
- he knows that he`s making trouble and he doesn`t care. He wants to float
this issue, and he`s going to use a presidential campaign to do it. He`s
going to humiliate Romney because he knows he doesn`t have the backbone to
stand up to him.

SMERCONISH: Last night was a pretty extraordinary night here on
HARDBALL. Chris asked Newt Gingrich, in the midst of that great interview,
why some Republicans can`t let go of the birther talk.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: You know, I don`t think you believe a word of
this, but why do some people in your party, including the very wealthy
Donald Trump, who I have mixed feelings about, of course, like everybody
does, perhaps not you -- and I like him in some ways, but he`s not stupid
enough to believe this birther certificate, and yet he keeps playing it.

Barack Obama has a birth certificate, the same as ours, right? He
comes from a father who`s from out of the country, but he`s clearly locally
born in Hawaii. Why do some people in your party keep pushing he`s not an


MATTHEWS: Thank you.


SMERCONISH: Oh (INAUDIBLE) David Corn, it beats the speaker, the
former speaker.

CORN: But wait a second. Let`s not let the speaker off easy here.

WALSH: Right.

CORN: Because what did he say last year? He said that Barack Obama -
- the only way to understand this guy is if you realize he has an anti-
colonialist Kenyan perspective, the guy who took out Osama bin Laden. I
mean, this is -- you know, he`s had his own crackpot way of dealing with
this overarching issue that...

WALSH: Right.

CORN: ... the president is different, that he`s a foreigner, that he
doesn`t have an American mentality, that he doesn`t understand America. He
did it in maybe a more sophisticated, esoteric way, but it`s the same type
of baloney that the birthers are passing. And -- you know, and that`s just
now Newt did it. So when he says, Oh -- distances himself from birtherism,
it`s really a disingenuous activity.

SMERCONISH: David Corn...


SMERCONISH: ... thank you for being here. Joan Walsh, have a great
Memorial Day weekend. We appreciate you both, as always.

WALSH: Thanks.

CORN: Sure thing.

SMERCONISH: Coming up: When gas prices were going up, Republicans
blamed President Obama. Now that they`re way down, do you think they`re
giving him the credit?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


SMERCONISH: Tonight, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker faces off
against Democratic challenger Tom Barrett in their first debate. But
Walker`s in good shape heading into the election less than two weeks from
now. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new Wisconsin Public Radio St. Norbert College poll,
Walker leads his Democratic challenger, Tom Barrett, by 5, 50 to 45. And a
similar story in the New Reason poll. It`s Walker by 8, 50 to 42.

We`ll be right back.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. About 31 million people will
hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA. Today, the
national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline, $3.67. That`s
down 17 cents from last month.

For months, Republicans couldn`t talk about anything but gas prices.
They accused the president of causing the spike in prices this spring, and
they said that he had always wanted the prices to go up to satisfy his own
environmental interests.

Both accusations absurd -- gas prices are set on the world market, and
as to the latter point, it doesn`t take a political genius to debunk that.
Why would a president in the middle of a reelection want Americans to feel
pain at the pump?

Under the logic of the Republicans, does the president deserve credit
now for lower gas prices? Chrystia Freeland is editor of Thompson Reuters
Digital. Daniella Gibbs Leger is a Democratic strategist with the Center
for American Progress.

Chrystia, let me start with you. As you know, for months, Republicans
have been accusing the president of having an environmental agenda to make
gas prices go up. Here was Haley Barbour last summer.


policies clearly have been to drive up the cost of energy so Americans
would use less of it. That`s environmental policy, that`s not energy
policy, but that`s their policy. They think it`ll give you less pollution,
make these alternative energy sources more competitive.


SMERCONISH: And Newt Gingrich earlier this year tied gas prices
directly to the president.


CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: You believe that he wants to see more
expensive gas, you have said?

GINGRICH: Of course he does. Come on, Charlie. You know that. I
mean, he has said it himself. His policy has been outrageously anti-
American energy. The high price of gasoline is a direct result of Obama.


SMERCONISH: Mitt Romney misquoted the president to make it seem like
he wanted higher gas prices. Here`s that tape.


ROMNEY: Well, there -- there`s no question but that when he ran for
office, he said he wanted to see gasoline prices go up. He said that
energy prices would skyrocket, under his views (ph), and he selected three
people to help him implement that -- that program, the secretary of energy,
the secretary of the interior and the EPA administrator. And this gas hike
trio has been doing the job over the last three-and-a-half years, and gas
prices are up.


SMERCONISH: The president never said that he wanted to see higher gas
prices. As a candidate, he once said that curbing greenhouse gas emissions
would cause electricity prices, not gasoline prices, to necessarily
skyrocket. "The Washington Post" reports that domestic oil production has
actually risen each year of Obama`s presidency.

OK, Chrystia, what do you make of this? Is it fair for me to call it
all a conspiracy that had been woven about the president that is now being

conspiracy, but I would call it cynical politics as usual. Look, everybody
knows that the U.S. president cannot in the short term affect the price of
gas at the pump.

Now, as it happens, the high prices in the spring were about politics,
but not U.S. politics, they were mostly driven by Iranian politics. And
markets were factoring in what looked like very high risk of a war with
Iran because of its nuclear program, and that`s really what set the prices
high. And analysts at that point were predicting that the price would go
above $4, maybe as high as $5 this summer.

Republicans saw an opportunity. This is, I think, going to be an
election chiefly about the economy. And you can talk about GDP and other
esoteric statistics all you like, but if the price at the pump is high,
that is an economic number that people really feel. So they went for it.

SMERCONISH: Daniella -- Daniella, does the president have some
vulnerability, if not on gas prices, on the whole Keystone pipeline issue?

really think so.

I think most people understand, as you said, that the president can`t
do anything short term to lower gas prices in the immediate. And I do
think, though, that when people look at President Obama`s energy policy,
that he really has put forth at "all of the above" strategy.

Domestic production under this president I believe is higher than it
has been in decades. So no one can actually say that he is not pursuing
all avenues to create -- to increase our energy production, and I think
it`s really cynical for the Republicans to have jumped on its back then.

And I`m waiting to hear all the credit now that gas prices have gone
down, and it`s Memorial Day. Typically, now is when prices are at their
peak and it`s really been lower than it`s been in months. So where are the
Republicans now?

FREELAND: Can I jump in there?

SMERCONISH: Chrystia, take -- Chrystia, take a look at this chart, if
you would, which strongly debunks the notion -- and we have all talked
about this -- that policies of any president can have a major impact on gas

If you look at the prices in Europe vs. the prices in the United
States, which are reflected on the bottom, they go almost in lockstep. And
the only difference is that American prices are lower because taxes on
gasoline are lower.

Pretty clear, is it not, that it`s one of those subjects, and I think
there are a handful of them, where, if it goes well, the president gets
credit sometimes that he doesn`t deserve, and when it goes poorly, he gets
blame that he equally doesn`t deserve.

FREELAND: Yes, I think that`s absolutely right.

Look, we all know that the price of oil is set on the world market,
and that is not a market that the U.S. president controls. I do, though,
disagree with Daniella about the Keystone pipeline.

If I were a Republican strategist, I would be hammering that issue.
And I think we have already seen them doing that. We saw Mitt Romney push
it this week. It doesn`t have an impact on the price of gas at the pumps
today, but if the Republicans are looking for an issue where they can say
concretely this president is not in favor of, is not supporting getting
more oil directly into the United States, the Keystone pipeline is an issue
where they can do that.

And they can also throw in -- they can say, look, that was going to be
also American jobs. So I think actually that was a misstep for the
Democrats and I think they`re going to pay for it.

SMERCONISH: Daniella, last month, political ads that are based on gas
prices, they dominated the airwaves.

According to Kantar Media, in April, listen to this, there were nearly
17,000 ads negative ads that were aired in the country; 81 percent of them
groups focused on energy.

In fact, here`s one of those ads from Karl Rove`s group, Crossroads
GPS, that tied gas prices to President Obama`s record. Watch this.


NARRATOR: Then and now, the difference, President Obama`s
administration restricted oil production in the Gulf, limited development
of American oil shale, and Obama personally lobbied to kill a pipeline
bringing oil from Canada.


SMERCONISH: So, Daniella, is this now an issue that is being removed
from the table of those A-list issues that we are going to be hearing and
talking about from now until November? If gas prices stay where they are
or continue to decline, has it pulled out of the GOP arsenal?

GIBBS LEGER: I think it has been.

And just to go back to the Keystone pipeline, I think when you look at
independent studies, it showed that like, Chrystia said, it wouldn`t reduce
the price of gasoline and the amount of jobs that it would create were
actually in question. So I don`t think that was her strongest argument and
maybe that`s not why they were not going for it.

So I do think that it was tricky for them to put all of their eggs
into the gasoline basket, because, again, right now, gas prices are low.
And even if they do go back up, we will just hit back with the argument
that the president cannot control day-to-day gas prices.

What you have to look at is what are the long-term policies that each
candidate is putting forth to help create energy dependence and reduce our
prices? And when looking at Mitt Romney vs. President Obama, I think the
American people will realize that the path that President Obama wants to go
on is the one that will actually create energy independence for us.

SMERCONISH: Thank you. Thank you both.

Thank you, Chrystia Freeland.

Thank you, Daniella Gibbs Leger.

We appreciate your being here.

GIBBS LEGER: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Up next, we have seen some weird campaign ads this year,
but we found one for a congressional candidate in South Dakota that might
just beat them all. That`s next in the "Sideshow." This is HARDBALL, the
place for politics.


SMERCONISH: Hey, back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

First off, there`s been a lot of buzz lately about how much the 1968
presidential campaign of George Romney, Mitt`s father, is influencing
Mitt`s current strategy. George`s political career toppled with one simple
word, brainwashing, which he used to describe his initial support for the
Vietnam War.

Well, Mitt got candid in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" -
- quote -- "I don`t think my father`s comment figures into my thinking this
at all." It`s his own mistakes, he said, "that makes me want to kick
myself in the seat of my pants. I have had a couple of those during the
campaign which have haunted me a little bit, but I`m sure before this is
over will haunt me a lot."

So which gaffe did Romney cite as an example?


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I like being able to fire
people who provide services for me.


SMERCONISH: I can see why that would be a lowlight.

Next up, how did a rubber chicken, a chess set, and talk of perfect
teeth all wind up in one campaign ad? Well, just ask Jeff Barth, a
congressional candidate in South Dakota`s Democratic primary. We have all
seen our share of out-there campaign ads. This one might just take the


second and I will tell you why I`m just the right fellow for the job.

Born in Minnesota, my dad was a coach and a history teacher. He got a
job with the CIA and then became a diplomat for the U.S. government. We
lived around the world.

Along the way, I learned chess in Iceland. I have ridden an ostrich.
I have done a lot of stuff. My wife and I raised our two daughters, who
both have straight teeth, college degrees, husbands. For six years, I
served on the U.S. military with one of these.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress is broken. Who is going to fix it, D.C.
insiders? They have got their horses in the race, but they`re heading
north and all we see is their south end.


SMERCONISH: In Barth`s own words, he was -- quote -- "winging it,"
but come on. He`s ridden an ostrich. How are you not convinced?

Finally, when the numbers don`t add up. David Rosen, New Jersey`s
chief budget officer for the Officer of Legislative Services, recently
projected that the state`s revenue might fall short of Governor Chris
Christie`s estimates by over a billion dollars come June of 2013.

True to form, Christie struck back at Rosen and the state`s Democratic
lawmakers. Let the name calling begin.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: These people across the street
are going through withdrawal. They are on the floor sweating, shaking,
they don`t know what to do because they need to raise taxes. They have to,
because they have to spend more.

The only thing that makes them shake more is the possibility that we
might actually cut taxes. So they needed to call in the Dr. Kevorkian of
the numbers.


CHRISTIE: David Rosen, the Kevorkian from the partisan Office of
Legislative Services.

Why would anybody with a functioning brain believe this guy? How
often do you have to be wrong to finally be dismissed?


SMERCONISH: Well, you have heard it, Dr. Kevorkian. Now, Rosen
himself concedes that these kind of estimates are anything but foolproof.
Somehow, I doubt that team Romney watching that outburst might think, hey,
there`s our veep.

Up next, Mitt Romney says he knows how to create jobs. His record as
governor of Massachusetts says something very different. That`s ahead.

And if you want to follow me on Twitter, all you need do is figure out
how to spell Smerconish.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


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

The Dow shed 75 points, the S&P lost three, the Nasdaq down almost two
points. An upbeat report on consumer sentiment was mostly overlooked. It
rose in May to its best level since October of 2007. Facebook shares ended
the day off more than 3 percent. They have actually lost about 17 percent
this week alone.

But, on your Memorial Day barbecue, well, it`s going to cost you a
little bit more this year. According to the USDA, steak, pork and chicken
prices are all up compared with year-ago levels.

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


Des Moines last week, warned about a prairie fire of debt. That`s what he
said, prairie fire. But he left out some facts. His speech was more like
a cow pie of distortion.




In speeches this week, President Obama made clear he is taking the
lead in attacking Mitt Romney.

Here are some of the highlights.


OBAMA: when you`re president, as opposed to the head of a private
equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits.

Those of us who have spent time in the real world know that the
problem isn`t that the American people aren`t productive enough.

Why is he peddling the same bad ideas that brought our economy to the
brink of collapse? That was tried, remember? The last guy did all this.

He famously declared that corporations are people.



SMERCONISH: Some are questioning whether being his own surrogate is a
smart move for the president.

But what no one doubts is that the president intends to hit Romney
early, often and hard.

NBC`s Andrea Mitchell is the host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS" on
MSNBC, and Glenn Thrush is senior White House reporter for Politico.

Andrea, are you surprised that he is his own Dick Cheney?


entirely, because let`s take a look at just the track record of some of his
own surrogates over the last couple weeks, notably on "Meet the Press" Joe
Biden and then Cory Booker.

If you can`t rely on your surrogates to be your attack dogs, then you
have to be your own attack dog. But more seriously, I think that they know
that Crossroads and the other super PACs on behalf of Mitt Romney are
coming after them double-barreled. They`re going to be caricatured. He`s
going to be caricatured. And he has to fight back first because the pro-
Obama super PACs don`t have the reach and have not shown the facility to go
negative and go hard as much as some of the Republicans have.

SMERCONISH: Glenn, historically speaking, and if one goes back just
the last couple of cycles, don`t we typically find that, by this point,
Memorial Day weekend, you don`t have the president invoking, if he`s an
incumbent, the name of his opponent, that it is a bit unusual that we get
to where we are so quickly?

GLENN THRUSH, POLITICO: It is, but, you know, as Andrea said, we are
in the post-Citizens United era here.

And I think with surrogates like Cory Booker and Ed Rendell, Obama
needs to do some of this work himself. And the other point here is, with
the acceleration of the news cycle, who is going to remember that Obama was
saying this stuff this early on?

I think to a certain extent, it`s a lot better to be making these
direct attacks in May and June than it will be in October and November. So
I think the calculation is, do it now, so that you don`t have to do it

SMERCONISH: Right, but I guess what I would respond to that, Andrea,
by saying is that the best thing, politically speaking, that the president
has going for him is his likability.

You know, even some folks who won`t vote for him think he`s a pretty
decent guy. Doesn`t he run the risk of driving down that popularity number
if he`s the attack dog?

MITCHELL: Yes. No, he does, and he does need to worry about the
independent voters and losing the independent voters.

And some of the Bain attacks, frankly, have cost him support, not only
on Wall Street, with larger sectors in the business community. That said,
if you look at the enthusiasm gap that we now see, where there is so much
less enthusiasm on the part of the Democratic base for President Obama
compared to the enthusiasm on the part of the Republican base for Mitt
Romney, then you have to really figure you`re going to fire up that base
and you have got to do it with this kind of aggressive campaigning.

So, I think that`s the calculation, that they are in the mode of
getting their supporters out because it`s going to be this closely fought,
and they now have a lot of people who are pretty much sitting on their

SMERCONISH: Glenn, let`s talk jobs.

Romney, of course, has argued that his years as a successful
businessman qualify him to fix the nation`s economy, but it`s not as though
Romney has never held a government position. He was, after all, the
governor of Massachusetts for four years, something that he rarely

THRUSH: Are you sure about that? Did you check Wikipedia?

SMERCONISH: In Des Moines, President Obama pointed that out.



OBAMA: He doesn`t really talk about what he did in Massachusetts, but
he does talk about being a business -- business guy.


SMERCONISH: In a piece about how Romney`s governorship is playing in
this campaign, you have written "No candidate in modern history has so
aggressively undersold what has been seen as the most desirable
qualification for the presidency since the 1970s, running a state."

And here`s one reason why Romney might be mute on his years as
governor. For the entirety of his term, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job
growth, and job growth was just 1.4 percent.

Expand on your remarks.

THRUSH: Well, I mean, how can you -- how can a candidate --
particularly when you have had, what, five of the last six presidents, or
five of the last seven presidents emerge from governor`s mansions, can you
imagine having a candidate who has that as a central part of his resume,
and doesn`t discuss it? The majority leader of the Massachusetts House
told me the other day that recruiters always tell you to look for the gaps
in the resume and that he thought there was a four-year gap in Governor
Romney`s resume.

But I think, you know, to a certain extent, Governor Romney is going
to have to talk about this. The record is out there. The Obama folks are
going to hammer them. I think after this round of Bain attacks, we`re
going to see some Massachusetts attacks. He might as well get out there
and own it, and you know, it is not an entirely terrible record, even when
you throw in health care reform. You know, he --

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Andrea, I know that some people
would say that -- I know that some people would say that it`s because of
health care reform that he doesn`t talk about his Massachusetts record,
because to talk about what he did as governor would immediately conjure up,
among other things, the record on health care.

I have a different theory. If he had been the governor of one of the
49 other states, would he be more apt to talk about his record? In other
words, is there this thought process in the minds of Americans that they
associate Massachusetts with liberalism and consequently Governor Romney
doesn`t want to talk about the record because he doesn`t want to talk about
being a Massachusetts governor?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: I think it`s a combination. I think it`s
health care, the mandates, you know, the whole Rick Santorum mantra about
that. And it`s also Massachusetts. And maybe primarily Massachusetts.

Michael Dukakis, the way --


MITCHELL: -- that it`s been caricatured by Republicans. It`s the
Tea Party and it`s the way the Tea Party approaches being governor of
Massachusetts. That surely was a theme of the campaign. It was a theme of
all of his challenges in the campaign.

SMERCONISH: Hey, thank you both. We had the A-team. Andrea
Mitchell and Glenn Thrush, we appreciate you being here.

MITCHELL: Thank you. Great to be with you, guys.

SMERCONISH: Up next, how police in New York crack one of the highest
profile cold cases of the country 33 years later.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


SMERCONISH: We`ve heard a lot about how this presidential campaign
is going to be the most negative in history. But so far, the facts don`t
bear that out. In fact, according to our friends over at Kantar Media,
which tracks political advertising, 51 percent of the broadcast ads on TV
have actually been positive versus 49 percent that have been negative.

We`ll be right back.



Pedro Hernandez, the man arrested for the killing of six-year-old
Etan Patz in 1979, is being arraigned today from his bed at New York`s
Bellevue Hospital Center where he remains under suicide watch. It may be
the end of a story that`s haunted New York City and parents everywhere for
decades. Etan was abducted on his first ever solo trip to the bus stop
near his Manhattan apartment 33 years ago today.

Jonathan Dienst is reporter for WNBC and he`s been covering the
developments in this case. Diena Thompson is the mother of Somer Thompson,
a second grader who was abducted and killed on her own way from school in

Jonathan, am I right that this is a fellow who was never interviewed,
he was on the radar screen peripherally but was never interviewed by
investigators in the first go-round three decades ago?

JONATHAN DIENST, WNBC-TV: That is correct. Police Commissioner
Kelly detailed that at a news conference yesterday. What led them to this
suspect 33 years later was a tip. Apparently, this suspect had been
talking to relatives about how he had harmed a child in New York years ago.

He does suffer from mental illness, according to his relatives, so
perhaps they didn`t take those claims seriously until just recently when
the FBI and NYPD began a new search digging for a body down in that
neighborhood, and one of the relatives apparently real realized, oh, my
goodness, perhaps what he was talking about -- about harming a child, that
this could be a connection.

So they alerted police --

SMERCONISH: Apart from his confession, apart from his presumed
confession, is there any evidence that we`re aware of that ties him to the

DIENST: The only evidence that we know of is this confession. You`ve
got hours of written and audio ands videotape confessions, and the claims
that he made to three other witnesses, if you will, over the years.

As of now, we know of no physical evidence. They don`t have a body.
There`s no videotape that shows them. There`s no witness who says I saw
him with that kid way back when in 1979.

So, police --

SMERCONISH: I guess what I`m driving at -- I guess what I`m driving
at is I`m thinking of cases like the Lindbergh baby case where there were
multiple people who came out and said, Bruno Hauptmann didn`t do this, I
did it. Have the police ruled out the crackpot factor here?

DIENST: Look, that`s certainly what perhaps the defense is going to
be going out. The analogy some New Yorkers are talking about is a
Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, if you remember that one, where there was
probable cause to make an arrest, but then the case fell apart because the
credibility of the accuser, you know, didn`t hold up. In this case, what`s
the credibility of the person who`s making this confession? He`s on
medication, he has a history of mental illness, but the confession is
apparently detailed.

The police actually took him back to the scene and had him do a walk-
through where they say he detailed --


DIENST: -- what happened, where he said he lured this little boy
with the offer of a soda can down into the basement of his bodega, and it
was there where he strangled this child and put him in a garbage bag and
left him on the sidewalk to be picked up by the coming garbage trucks with
the rest of the trash that terrible day back in 1979.

SMERCONISH: Diena, my condolences to you on the passing of your
daughter. And I`ve been watching and I appreciate the strength that you`ve

You are sadly, uniquely qualified, to tell us what kind of closure
the family of Etan Patz might be able to draw from this.

find out who did this to your child is always a breath of fresh air, if you
will. You just want to know who it is so you`re not under anybody else`s
suspicion that you were involved, because we know the statistics and that
most of the time you know, or they know. And so, I`m sure they`re
breathing a sigh of relief that, you know, even if someone did think
they`re guilty, you know, that they won`t be, plus, they know now possibly
that they got the right person.

SMERCONISH: What has been the significance of the Etan Patz case to
the movement to make sure we`re protecting the interests of children over
the last several decades?

THOMPSON: I don`t know that. I feel bad. But, you know, I`m
basically the same age that he would be. So obviously when he disappeared,
I was just a child and didn`t expect that something like this could happen
to know me.

But I know that he`s the first child to be on a milk carton, and, you
know, it just exploded from there on what we`ve been able to do.

SMERCONISH: Is one of the ramifications of the -- all of this
attention, dumpsters were not something that would have historically been
searched when you had a missing child, and now the whole drill and the
whole response from law enforcement has been altered?

THOMPSON: Yes, it has. I mean, I don`t know about -- before Somer,
I don`t think it was part of their procedures to look in the trash. I
mean, we got lucky by the grace of God to find Somer in the trash, and it`s
a shame how many children are actually in our landfills. But, yes, that has
all come a long way since then.

SMERCONISH: You`ve received closure in your case in so far that the
man is behind bars, life in prison, that was a decision with which you were
comfortable, am I right? Originally, you thought of death panel, but then
determined that life in prison was probably the best outcome you could hope

THOMPSON: Well, I wanted to make sure that he paid for what he did,
and I didn`t want to allow him to be in my children and family`s life for
the rest of our life, such as dragging us to the appellate court. So, I
just wanted to take care of him and put him where he belonged.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan, with regard to the gentleman now suspected for
the Etan Patz case, what kind of a life has he led for the last three

DIENST: He`s had a pretty normal life. After working in a bodega in
New York City, in his teenage years, he got off, married in New Jersey, has
children, a normal life, no criminal history to speak of, so that`s what is
baffling about this. Yes, he has a history of mental illness and has been
on medication, but the police are now scrambling to try to interview
everyone he`s come in contact with both in New York and New Jersey to try
to see if they can come up with anything that will link him to this case
and also to try to see if he is connected to any other case.

Right now, they have their work cut out for them. This weekend,
they`re going to have a very busy weekend pouring over this 33 year case
history and find witnesses and evidence that could link him or help
corroborate the confession that he`s given.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan, I just have barely a minute left. The why the
question. OK, so he lured him with soda allegedly, why? What was the
motivation? What transpired? Do we know?

DIENST: We were told police asked him in the hours of questions time
and time again, and he was never able to offer an answer, he never did give
an answer as to why he went after that beautiful child that day.

SMERCONISH: So darn sad, but at least, we hope that the family gets
closure to the extent that this is the guy and there`s a conviction and so
that their lives can go on and be more fulfilling.

Thank you so much, Jonathan Dienst.

And, Diena Thompson, appreciate you`re having been here as well under
difficult circumstances.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: When we return, allow me to finish with a big fight over
free speech. Should people be able to post comments anonymously online?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


SCHMERCONISH: Let me finish tonight with this:

The blogosphere can be a vicious place. Go on any news Web site that
allows the postings of anonymous comments below its stories, and you can
see exactly what I`m talking.

Now, Matt Peckham at Time.com is reporting that the state of New York
is seeking to ban anonymous comments from Web sites. The proposal would
amend the civil rights laws in order to protect a person`s right to know
who is behind an anonymous Internet posting. And the definition of Web
sites includes social media. The intention apparently is to combat cyber

The Supreme Court has upheld anonymous free speech rights. Back in
1995, the court said protections for anonymous speech are vital to
democratic discourse, allowing dissenters to shield their identities, frees
them to express critical minority views. The court wrote, anonymity is a
shield from the tyranny of the majority.

And back in 1960, Justice Black reminded that if anonymous speech had
been unlawful at the time of the "Federalist Papers," well then authors
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay would have been forced to
disclose their real names or the papers would perhaps simply remain

Still, I was curious what comments would be appended to the Time.com
story and to see how many people would sign their name. Well, some did and
they framed the issue nicely.

Julian Rojo said, "This is no different from something that President
Hu Jintao supported in order to crack down on dissidents in China.
Protection of feelings over freedoms can never justified.

But mobileweather.org said, "It is not freedom of speech to tear into
people mercilessly under the guise of a fake user name. If you are going
to have to do it, then have the blanks to use your real name. I`m with New
York. Stop the cowardly hate.`

Steve Cray said, "Protection from bullying can be covered under
libelous speech, hate speech, and in some instances even the Violence
Against Women Act. If I call you a blank and a blank because I don`t like
what you posted, that`s my right. And besides, many experienced bloggers
can recognize a troll and report him or her to the moderator.

Patriot Engineer Analyst USA said, "The Internet is not a forum for
free speech. It is not a free-for-all. There are rules. If you`re unable
to man-up and identify yourself when you comment, then take your free
speech and your soap box and go elsewhere."

And finally, Dan Schaefer responded, "Freedom is not free."

Well, he is right. My heart likes the New York initiative to ban
anonymous postings, my head says otherwise. It`s doubtful that the
contemplated law could withstand constitutional scrutiny. And just as
well, as we go into Memorial Day weekend, it`s important to remember that
many died to preserve the right for free speech, even the offensive.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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