updated 7/19/2012 10:16:31 AM ET 2012-07-19T14:16:31

Guests: John Brabender, Charles Blow, Susan Page, Jason Zengerle

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Under the boardwalk with Chris Christie.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in San Francisco.

"Let Me Start" tonight with the brazen decision by Mitt Romney to have
Chris Christie open the Republican convention. What a blunderbuss! It`s
like wheeling in the biggest, nastiest weapon on the boardwalk to blast and
snarl at the president.

Got the message? I got it the second I heard Christie`s name.
Romney`s not going to put the big guy on his ticket. Oh, no. He`s not
pluperfect enough for the team. No, we`re talking outsourcing.

Have the big noise from Jersey do the nasty stuff, pick a pleasant,
unthreatening fellow like, say, Tim Pawlenty for the ticket.

Christie now joins the tuba section, along with John Sununu and the
other big boys brought in to pound away to Obama. Having won the
nomination in a clown show, here comes the parade of elephants.

Uh-oh, look out! There`s some rogues out there, Republicans who
wonder why Mitt Romney won`t release those sticky tax returns and why he`s
letting the crazies attack Hillary`s closest aide for being Islamic.

Well, desperate to change the subject, Romney now ruminates about a
running mate. It could be close in coming. Something`s got to change the
subject, don`t you think?

My guests are David Corn of "Mother Jones," always good for an
insight, and John Brabender, who ran the Santorum campaign.

Anyway, let me go right now to you, sir, David Corn. What do you make
of this thing? Christie, who he`s not going to be on the ticket, clearly,
they`re making him the blunderbuss. What`s your thought?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know,
we see what`s happened in the last couple of days, the last couple of
hours. As Mitt Romney gets mired in this tax return issue and shows that
he really can`t get his -- get out of it, they`re going to, like, all-out
Obama hatred and attack.

So you have John Sununu saying what, Was he smoking in Hawaii and
Indonesia? You know, you have Mitt Romney calling Barack Obama foreign.

We`ve been over this a couple of hundred times, Chris. It`s all about
painting Barack Obama as non-American, as different from you and me, as the
"other." And one can see this -- racially tinged or not, it`s up to you.

And so Chris Christie is one of the best sluggers they have. You
know, what does he bring to the Republican Party that Mitt Romney doesn`t?
An earthiness. He can connect with people. He can talk like a real
person, doesn`t have to be translated into human.

So they`re going to bring him out the first -- you know, to sort of
start beating the meat, you know, just sort of tender it up. So -- for
later in the -- in the convention, when Mitt Romney finally shows with or
without his Tim Pawlenty vice president.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me -- bring you in here a second, John. Take a look at
this. By choosing New Jersey governor Chris Christie to give the big
keynote speech to set the tone for the convention down in Tampa, Romney`s
ensuring what the theme of the campaign will be, come out snarling.

Here are some examples, by the way, of Christie at his most charming.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Real big shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, on Monday, are you going to be
addressing the legislature?

CHRISTIE: Did I say on topic? Are you stupid? Thank you all very
much, and I`m sorry for the idiot over there. Take care.

Hey, Gail (ph), you know what? First off, it`s none of your business.
I don`t ask you where you send your kids to school. Don`t bother me about
where I send mine.

It`s people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that
are dividing this country. We`re here to bring this country together, not
to divide it!

You`ve got to be one arrogant SOB to be telling the people of New
Jersey he`ll decide when you`ve been good enough to get some of your own
money back!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So joining us tonight is John Brabender, who worked for
Rick Santorum. Who decided to bring Miss Personality, Miss Congeniality to
start the Republican convention? What do you think`s going on here?

JOHN BRABENDER, FMR. SANTORUM CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, honestly, I
think it`s a great pick. I mean, first of all, you have a governor who ran
in a Democratic state on Republican principles of cutting spending, cutting
taxes and got elected and is governing that way.

MATTHEWS: Right.

BRABENDER: Second of all, he is a great speaker. He will go out
there and make a great case why this president has been a disaster and...

MATTHEWS: What will he say about the guy who won the nomination?

BRABENDER: I think he`ll -- he`s been with Romney from day one. He`s
been out there supporting him and saying that, you know, we need somebody
that knows how to turn this economy around. But at the same time, you got
to remember, this is a referendum on the sitting president. And frankly,
I`m...

MATTHEWS: Sure.

BRABENDER: ... I`m happy that the Romney people are willing to take
the gloves off and start fighting back.

MATTHEWS: Well, have you noticed -- have you noticed when -- let`s go
back to David. Have you noticed that the Republicans who are up for VP are
the only ones not saying, Release your tax returns? That`s one way to shut
them up, say, You might be on my list.

Here`s a list of Republicans who say Mitt Romney should release tax
returns, and it grows day by day, of course -- former Republican chairman
Haley Barbour, Bill Kristol, George F. Will, Matt Dowd, Rick Perry, the
governor of Texas, Ron Paul, plus the editors of the benign, wonderful
"National Review," among others.

The DNC has already put out (ph) the (ph) Republicans a Web video.
Let`s look at what the Democrats are doing with the -- well, the excitement
among Republicans to have this guy show where he`s made his money and if
he`s paid any taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More and more Republicans agree that Mitt Romney
has not released more tax returns because he has something to hide.

GEORGE F. WILL, "WASHINGTON POST": The cost of not releasing the
returns are clear. Therefore, he must have calculated that there are
higher costs in releasing them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s obviously something there because if there
was nothing there, he would say, Have at it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s clearly a problem with the tax returns,
otherwise he would release, you know, 10 years of tax returns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he had 20 years of great, clean, everything`s
fine, it all would be out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I don`t know what that sparkling music is supposed to say.

CORN: I know!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: But anyway, "The Washington Post" reports there are now
rifts even within the Romney campaign about how to handle the tax return
matter. "The Post" reports, quote, "Some advisers are arguing privately
that Romney needs to release additional files (ph). Others are resisting
the suggestion, reflecting the candidate`s long-time reluctance to publicly
disclose information about his personal finances."

David, you first, then John. What`s going on here? It looks like the
palace guard, the business types around Romney from the beginning, are
protecting his sensibilities or sensitivities here, whereas the tougher
political types say, This ain`t going away, Governor.

CORN: Listen, Mitt Romney went to Harvard Business School. One of
the first -- and he was in Bain Consulting before he was in Bain Capital.
One of the deepest core principles you learn in both places is cost-benefit
analysis.

He knows the political hit he`s getting. He also is probably one of
the few people, even if he does, who knows what`s in his own tax returns.
He knows whether he paid zero percent or not in 2009, a tax return that was
not looked at by the McCain campaign. He knows whether he listed a couple
of Swiss bank accounts that haven`t been disclosed previously.

You have to believe at this point in time, if he`s not doing the
obvious political move of putting that stuff out, there`s a strong reason,
and that would be that putting it out would give people a road map to
Romney world which would be not flattering or would be something that he
couldn`t overcome.

If he didn`t pay taxes in 2009, I don`t think that he could have -- he
could really stand that going into the November election.

MATTHEWS: What do you think, John?

BRABENDER: Well, I think the decision that they made to sort of move
forward but not close the door on this is the worst decision. Either they
got to put them out there or they`ve got to say, We are not talking about
this anymore. Any time anybody brings up the word "tax," we`re going to
remind them it`s this president that gave us the biggest tax increase in
history. But the sort of...

MATTHEWS: Well, what happens if they go in...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What happens, John, if they go in -- look, what happens if
he stonewalls on this -- and that`s his decision, Romney`s -- right
through, say, mid-September? They go into a national debate, an hour-and-
a-half on national television. Isn`t that the easiest pedal for the
president to push, to just say, What about your tax returns?

And then it becomes the number one story in the debates, which are
critical to Romney to show a better person, I think.

CORN: There`s no good answer.

BRABENDER: But you know what`s going to happen. Every time he throws
more information out there, there`s going to be more scrutiny, and a lot of
it`s going to be insignificant, but the Obama people are going to make it
into something that it`s not.

The Romney people know that. What they really need to do is start
acting more like a challenger than an incumbent, and instead, just start
going after this president and his record and not let this middle ground
stay there...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

BRABENDER: ... where they`re not saying anything.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s an amazing summer. There`s an old thing in
politics. Jerry Brown`s done it in the past out here in California when he
went after his opponent`s pensions he was getting (INAUDIBLE) Younger (ph)
back in the -- what was -- in `78, spend the whole summer talking about the
other guy`s pensions, and all of a sudden, you got him beat by Labor Day.

Anyway, no one knows -- and I don`t know for sure -- what`s in Mitt
Romney`s unreleased tax returns, but the void leaves room for some
fascinating guesses. Number one, Romney paid no taxes in 2009. He carried
his losses forward from, of course, the financial hit of 2008. "Business
Week`s" Josh Green, among others, writes that it`s not implausible Romney
carried forward those losses from the financial meltdown in 2008 and paid
no federal taxes whatsoever the following year.

Number two, Romney took advantage of a one-time IRS program in 2009
that gave amnesty for fraudulent non-disclosure of offshore income.
Slate`s Matthews -- Matthew Yglesias writes that even though it`s unlikely,
that could be lurking in Romney`s returns.

And number three, since 2009 is the last year in which Romney got
payments as part of his retroactive retirement deal, there could be
something in that he doesn`t want us to see. Well, this possibility comes
from NYU tax law professor Dan Shaviro (ph) (INAUDIBLE) it`s an odd name.

Anyway, let me ask you this, Dan -- David. It seems to me -- what`s
the worst case here? Let`s be honest about this. If it shows that he
didn`t pay taxes for a couple of years, I think that`s devastating to a guy
who`s talking about reducing the corporate tax rate and putting more
pressure on lower-income people.

CORN: I mean...

MATTHEWS: If he had carried interest, which is the way in which
equity people are able to get to pay regular income taxes on what`s really
capital gains. What else?

CORN: Listen...

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. They don`t pay regular taxes. They -- they
should pay regular taxes. They get capital gains treatment, which is a 15
percent rate, rather than a 30-some percent rate.

CORN: Listen, John`s candidate in the primaries, Rick Santorum, tried
to, you know, develop a populist appeal running against Mitt Romney.
Didn`t quite work. But can you imagine what he would have said if it came
out during the campaign that Mitt Romney, for all his riches, did not pay
any taxes in a given year or two?

I think -- I don`t know if a candidate could withstand that.
(INAUDIBLE) working class voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. I
mean, Mitt Romney would be spending every day between now and November
explaining that.

He may have even a good explanation, you know, that there was nothing
illegal about it. But it just is exactly the wrong position for the top --
for this 1 percent candidate that the GOP is about to nominate.

MATTHEWS: OK. All right, I want to talk about Ann Romney`s dancing
horse. It`s featured in a new DNC Web site that skewers Romney for not
releasing more tax returns. I`m not sure this is fair game. Haven`t seen
this one yet. Let`s judge it. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, will you release your income tax
records?

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If that`s been
the tradition, and I`m not opposed to doing that. Time will tell. But I
anticipate that, most likely, I`m going get asked to do that around the
April time period. And I`ll keep that open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you release yours, will you follow your
father`s example?

ROMNEY: Maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that must be an attempt at the wind-surfing
commercial. But never go after the spouse.

Let me -- last question to you, John. Why are so many Republicans,
led by Haley Barbour, former chair of the party, all calling now for him to
release those returns? They`re not partisans against him, they`re
partisans with him, and they want him to do it.

BRABENDER: No, they know every day which is like today, where you
have somebody like myself on here talking about this issue, is a good day
for Obama and a bad day for Romney. And I think a lot of Republicans just
think it`s time to put this behind us and get back to what this race really
should be about...

MATTHEWS: OK.

BRABENDER: ... and that`s Obama`s record.

MATTHEWS: John, it`s great to have you on the show. Thank you for
joining us on HARDBALL. And David, as always, you`ve got great insight.
Coming -- and passion always, sir.

CORN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Republicans are desperate to change the subject,
as John just said, so once again, they`re trying to turn President Obama
into a -- I hate even saying this! -- a foreigner. They`re all doing it.
They do it relentlessly. It didn`t work four years ago. Why are they
doing it again? Because they`re going to try again.

Plus, vetting candidates for vice president. You`re going to find
this fascinating. We`re going to talk to a journalist who once (ph)
decided to get himself vetted by these people who are vetting people like
Sarah Palin in the recent history to see how it works.

And could the bombing, by the way, that killed three top Syrian
government officials, including the brother-in-law of President Assad, mark
the beginning of the end for the Assad regime? I`m very skeptical. I
think this guy`s going to fight to the end.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with Mitt Romney`s boardwalk emperor,
Chris Christie himself, and why he picked Christie to trash Obama.

This is HARDBALL, place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Birthers again. Old birther talk doesn`t die and
apparently doesn`t even fade away. Enter Joe Arpaio, the publicity-seeking
Arizona sheriff, who announced today that his, quote, "investigators" have
concluded President Obama`s Hawaii birth certificate is a forgery.

Hawaii officials responded that Arpaio`s allegations are untrue,
misinformed, and that he misconstrues Hawaii law itself. Arpaio`s trial of
-- trail, rather, of charges of racially profiling Latinos begins tomorrow.
That`s a trial for him.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Mitt Romney surrogate former
governor John Sununu of New Hampshire left little doubt where the
campaign`s headed when he said on a conference call just yesterday, quote,
"I wish this president would learn how to be an American."

Well, even his clarification that Obama should be learning to, quote,
"the America" -- he should "learn the American formula for creating
business" left the Romney campaign`s intent quite clear, to portray
President Obama as somehow un-American. They keep doing this over and over
again.

Charles Blow is the columnist for "The New York Times." Joan Walsh,
our friend, is editor-at-large for Salon, and of course, an MSNBC political
analyst .

You know, anybody who doubts this is really not paying attention,
Charles and Joan. This is a symphony. It goes and on. He`s foreign,
there are references to -- by Sununu all over the place. The candidate
himself yesterday said he`s foreign.

I think the president (SIC) plays the xylophone or the vibraphone like
Lionel Hampton, and he lets the whole orchestra around him fill it in with
the bugle and the trump noise from the -- Sununu. They`re all singing same
song, This guy`s not one of us. And here`s a guy who`s been president for
four years. We knows he`s one of us. He is one of us. Why are they doing
it?

CHARLES BLOW, "NEW YORK TIMES": Me?

MATTHEWS: Yes, you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Yes, sir!

BLOW: Well, I mean, you know why it is. I mean, it kind of connects
to a certain part of the base that -- of the Republican base this sees
Barack Obama, even to this day, as very other than they are. And as much
as they can drive a wedge between the American population, the American
electorate and Barack Obama, they see that as a winning strategy.

And that has happened not just in this campaign cycle, but since the
2008 campaign, of trying to paint this particular guy as "other." It`s not
completely different from Clinton, but it kind of one-ups the Clinton kind
of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you think it would be the case if he was a regular guy
with a more familiar African-American background in this country, you know,
coming up from slavery and Jim Crow, moving north into the Midwest? Do you
think they would be playing the same card, or would it be different?

BLOW: I think it`s -- I think it is absolutely different for a lot of
reasons. And part of that is that he was born in Hawaii -- for those even
believe that he`s born in America. Many of them believe that he was born
in Kenya or some other country.

His mother dated, fell in love, married two men out of her race, never
once married another white man. He was raised in Hawaii, which not every
Republican even believes is part of the United States...

MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s the funny part! I would like to see that test
on Jay Leno some night, when he does, you know, "Jaywalking." Do you think
Hawaii should be admitted to the union?

(LAUGHTER)

BLOW: I mean, it`s kind of like a forward operating base in case Asia
ever gets out of control. That`s kind of how people see it, kind of, like,
you know, not -- kind of drawn in, in that way.

And you have an education that is in part in Indonesia, and even if
you don`t know where that is, you know it`s not England. It`s very exotic,
the tale of Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but he went to prep school in Honolulu, one of the
best prep schools certainly on the island of Honolulu -- or the city of
Honolulu. He has gone to Columbia. He went to school in -- in California.
He got the Columbia undergrad, Harvard law. He`s been involved in politics
since he got out of school. He`s been a pretty public figure. He hasn`t
lived his life in the shadows.

Let me bring in Joan here. The other day, Sununu -- there he is,
attacking the guy, saying all this -- Sununu -- all this stuff about
cocaine and all this stuff...

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... all these old charges, and then saying he went back to
Indonesia a second time. He was only there for four years when he was a
kid.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Then he -- and they made it sound like he had to go back to
his homeland. He just keeps putting -- by the way, this terrible thing,
that Michele Bachmann is pushing about...

WALSH: Oh, God.

MATTHEWS: ... we`ve got Muslim Brotherhood running the show -- why
doesn`t John Sununu, who comes from a Middle Eastern background...

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... who`s members of Arab -- he`s a member of a lot of
legitimate Arab-American organizations. Why doesn`t he speak up and say,
Stop this rot! McCain has said this. He said it today.

Joan?

WALSH: Oh, yes, Chris.

McCain came out and attacked Bachmann and defended Huma Abedin.
McCain is really -- we really have to go back to 2008 when John McCain
stood up and said to that woman who called Barack Obama an Arab, ma`am, he
is a good Christian man. We disagree on policy.

That`s kind of the last decent thing that a leading Republican has
done.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s done it again.

WALSH: And he was called upon basically to do it again. And he did
it.

John Sununu should be saying that. He should be talking about his
Palestinian-American father. He should be talking about his international
roots. But he can`t, because they have doubled down on the hatred. They
have doubled down on demonizing this president that most of us recognize as
one of us, who was raised by his white grandparents, whose grandfather was
a World War II veteran, who has a different background, and then a very,
very, very American background...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, a lot us are proud of the fact of where he came
from and how far he has gone.

WALSH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: As he said in a way that always grabbed me, and I think of
this as something that only could have happened in this country.

WALSH: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Well, today on the Senate floor, John McCain showed himself
at his best again. He showed some courage and some decency. Look at what
he did here. He defended the longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who has
been on many trips -- or several trips with he and Secretary Clinton when
she was in the Senate.

And here he is going after Republicans, including Michele Bachmann,
for this trash talk. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: On June 13, five members of Congress
wrote to the deputy inspector general of the Department of State, demanding
that he begin an investigation into the possibility that Huma Abedin and
other American officials are using their influence to promote the cause of
Muslim Brotherhood within the U.S. government.

These allegations about Huma Abedin and the report from which they are
drawn are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an
honorable citizen, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Charles, it seems to me even that the right wing
on the far right ought to pay attention.

Hillary Clinton supported the war in Iraq. I of course opposed it. I
believe you did, too. It was one of my problems with her candidacy. She
was a hawk on that war. Huma was with her the whole time. Boy, that was a
clever pro-Arab strategy. Launch an American war against Iraq. Boy, she
is having a lot of influence as an Arab mole. It is so ludicrous.

Hillary Clinton is one of the most pro-Israeli politicians we have got
in this country. And good for her. But to say that she is somehow being
the tool through Huma Abedin of the terrorists, it is -- well, it is
ridiculous, but they -- somebody is buying this. Or certainly somebody is
selling right.

CHARLES BLOW, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right.

And I think that this actually is less about Huma and again it is
about Barack Obama. If you look at the anti-Sharia, anti-international
laws, they don`t pop up right after 9/11 , which you might have thought,
well, maybe that`s the impetus for this. They don`t pop up then. They
don`t pop up when we go to war in Iraq. They don`t pop up when we go to
war in Iraq.

They pop up post-Barack Obama. This is kind of that whole kind of
otherness, he is -- there is some kind of Muslim relationship there,
there`s some kind of devious activity that`s happening in the government
and it may creep into my local municipality.

And it also allows people to paint someone who is other who they don`t
necessarily live around. These laws don`t pop up necessarily in the blue
states.

MATTHEWS: I know what you mean.

(CROSSTALK)

BLOW: If you look at the way Muslims are distributed in this country,
just the top 10 states where they are, it is not really blue states.

The only one that fits into there is Texas, and there`s less than 1
percent of the population of Texas is Muslim. So it is somebody other than
the people who live next to me and I can demonize them and I can demonize
Barack Obama through these people.

And the people are being used in that way. It`s a very sad kind of
statement about where we are in our politics in America that we would
choose to do that to people who have done nothing wrong.

MATTHEWS: Well, making your point, Charles, anonymous Romney advisers
now signal in the paper today, an interview with the Web site BuzzFeed that
the next phase of the Romney campaign strategy will be ruthless. Said one
adviser, "I mean, this is a guy who admitted to cocaine use," he`s talking
about the president, "had a sweetheart deal with his house in Chicago, and
was associated and worked with Rod Blagojevich to get Valerie Jarrett
appointed to the Senate."

Well, I guess that didn`t work out, if it ever happened.

Joan, are you old enough to remember -- I`m not sure you are --
fluoridation and the right.

WALSH: Vaguely.

MATTHEWS: The crazy right was, they are fluoridating our water
because they want to somehow control our minds.

WALSH: It`s a communist plot.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WALSH: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Not to save our teeth, of course.

WALSH: No, of course not. It is to control our minds. It`s all
about our minds.

But, Chris, you know, to go back -- again, this brings up John McCain
to me because one of the things they are saying there is that John McCain
ran a lousy campaign and John McCain maybe had access to this kinds of
stuff and he didn`t use it. And that`s just not true.

The other group that is really being insulted by Romney campaign is
the media. It is basically saying that we didn`t look into the Rezko
stuff, which of course we did, we didn`t look into the cocaine stuff, which
of course people did.

This president has been vetted. We have looked into those stories. I
certainly -- we all spent time talking about Reverend Wright. They think
they are going to go back to that playbook that didn`t work in 2008 four
years later, when we know this president. You may disagree with him about
the Affordable Care Act. Have at it.

MATTHEWS: Right.

WALSH: But we know who he is. He has been under the spotlight. We
know his family, we know his wife. We know he`s one of us. This isn`t
going to work this time. But as you have made the case many times before,
this is all they have. They are terrified.

MATTHEWS: Well, speaking of that topic you just talked about and the
president`s old bad habits that he admitted to publicly, I want to thank
Charles Blow for joining us tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I`m sure you have heard that one before, Charles.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOW: That`s the worst...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Joan Walsh.

Sorry, I can`t avoid it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, up next: Holy paranoia, Batman -- El Rushbo`s
latest conspiracy theory, this one involves Bain Capital, Hollywood and the
caped crusader himself. There he is. I love when he does that.

Stay tuned for the Bat channel, for the "Sideshow."

Boy, I love it when the walrus jumps up and down like that.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": I can tell you
this. In what can only be called a bit of divine intervention, the hot
political story of the moment is Mitt Romney`s old venture capital company,
which happens to bear the same name as the most frightening and current
Batman villain.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. That`s Jon Stewart sticking in the knife and wiggling
it a bit.

Bane, that is the name in villain in the soon-to-be-released Batman
movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." Is it a coincidence that the bad guy bears
the same name as Romney`s old money machine, Bain Capital?

Enter El Rushbo. Here`s the verdict from his parallel universe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The villain in "The Dark Knight
Rises" is named Bane -- B-A-N-E.

Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really
vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever it is villain in this movie is
named Bane?

This movie, the audience is going to be huge. A lot of people are
going to see the movie. And it is a lot of brain-dead people,
entertainment, the pop culture crowd. And they are going to hear Bane in
the movie and they`re going to associate Bane...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Now back to Earth.

The Bane character was created by comic book author Chuck Dixon back
in the early `90, back when Romney was proud of his time at Bain and Obama
was still a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. So Rush`s
theory seems to be the then nonexistent team Obama conspired with the
author almost two decades ago so that the movie release coincided with an
election between the then unknown Obama and the then unnoticed Romney.

Well, here is comic book author Chuck Dixon on the point -- quote --
"Movie people are in the process of making money, not alienating 50 percent
of their potential audience with some goofy, ridiculous political point."

Well, on today`s show, Limbaugh denied that he was into a conspiracy
theory, but he does think Democrats will use the name coincidence to their
advantage.

Boy, Rushbo, that`s a fallback.

Next, here is a guy that wants to play Mitt Romney for a living.
Remember this anti-Romney ad put out by the Santorum campaign during the
primaries? Well, keep an eye on the guy playing Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: Mitt Romney`s negative attack machine is back on full-
throttle. This time, Romney is firing his mud at Rick Santorum. Romney is
trying to hide from his big government Romneycare and his support for job-
killing cap and trade. And in the end, Mitt Romney`s attacks are going to
backfire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: He looks like Romney.

Anyway, at the time, Romney called at this time most negative ad of
the season. The actor who did Romney in that ad, Mike Cote, hopes to
perfect his Romney impersonation, however.

According to the "L.A. Times," Cote has picked up on some Romneyisms.
Now, pay attention to these. These are really good. He said Romney stands
up -- quote -- "like he has a plank nailed to his back. He looks starry-
eyed when listening." That`s true. "And he wears a smirk during debates."

All three are true, I think.

"If Romney were flamboyant, impersonating him might be easier," Cote
said. But the man he`s trying to mimic is -- quote -- as he puts it, "like
a Ken doll with a string."

Whew, that`s tough. Cote obviously needs Romney to win or his
impression and his comments will be pretty much worthless.

Anyway, next, the scoop that failed. Columnist Connie Schultz wound
up more than a little more tickled after receiving an e-mail from a
conservative blogger that she is choosing not to name. She`s recounted the
exchange, however, on Facebook.

Here is what she got in the mail. "Dear Ms. Schultz, we are doing an
expose on journalists in the elite media who socialize with elected
officials they`re assigned to cover. We have found numerous photos of you
with Senator Sherrod Brown. In one of them, you appear to be hugging him.
Care to comment?"

Well, it turns out she did care to comment. Here is what she wrote
back. "Dear Mr. `Blank,` I`m surprised you did not find a photo of me
kissing U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown so hard he passes out from lack of
oxygen. He`s really cute. He`s also my husband. You know that, right?
Connie Schultz." That`s how she signed it.

Wow. And that`s right. Schultz and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown have
been married since 2004, not the hardest info, by the way, to track down if
you are a great blogger. No word from the wildly off-base blogger who sent
that stupid message.

Up next: the journalist who got vetted like a vice presidential
candidate and lived to write about. We`re going to find out what this
vetting that is going on in Mitt Romney`s world is all about right now.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Amanda Drury with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

The Dow gains 103 points, the S&P up by nine, and the Nasdaq adding
32.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was back on Capitol Hill today. He
reiterated his view that the Central Bank is ready to act if needed to
boost the economy. Meanwhile, the Fed`s regional report on the economy
called the Beige Book showed hiring was tepid in most areas. And ground-
breakings for new homes rose nearly 7 percent in June. That`s the fastest
pace in more than three years.

And that`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- back to
HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and back to the sheer game of it.

There`s been a lot of speculation about when Mitt Romney might name a
running mate, when and who. And will it be former Governor of Minnesota
Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, or Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal?
They are thought to be topping the list right now.

The V.P. vetting process itself is shrouded in mystery, in secrecy,
too. But "GQ" magazine`s contributing editor, Jason Zengerle, went
straight to a former McCain campaign vetter, one who vetted Sarah Palin,
for example, for better or worse, to get himself vetted, so he could see
what it is like.

He writes about it in the magazine`s August issue.

There he is

Thanks for joining us, Jason.

And Susan Page is a veteran Washington report who covers, well, nine -
- hate to do this to you, Susan -- nine elections so far.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: She`s the Washington bureau chief.

I think I might have you beat.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: The Washington bureau chief of "USA Today." Thank you so
much for joining us.

First of all, I want to ask Jason about this, about the vetting
process.

What are you asked about? We were going some through dangers here.
And I will put them in regular English so everybody will know. You are a
married guy, right?

JASON ZENGERLE, "GQ": Yes.

MATTHEWS: So, girlfriends, drugs?

ZENGERLE: Yes, girlfriends. They ask about -- just lots of questions
about your sex life. Have you ever paid for sex? Have you ever been
accused of sexual harassment. Are there any sex tapes? Have you ever had
a homosexual encounter?

There are lots of questions about your sex life. They want to know
about drug history, alcohol use. They want all of your tax records. It is
a fairly invasive process.

MATTHEWS: Now, who does the questioning usually? Is it the candidate
for president? Or who -- what kind of -- is it a high-level campaign
person or somebody just as good at this kind of thing, digging?

ZENGERLE: It is usually a high-level campaign person.

In 2008, for John McCain, A.B. Culvahouse, who was a former White
House counsel for Ronald Reagan...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ZENGERLE: ... was in charge of the process.

You know, for Romney, this time, it`s Beth Myers. Eric Holder did it
for Obama in 2008. So it is always someone who is fairly, fairly prominent
in the party and has a lot of Washington experience and has a lot of trust
built up with the -- with the particular presidential candidate.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to the history books.

Susan, it seems to me this all started with Tom Eagleton back in `72,
who had electroshock therapy. And Frank Mankiewicz, who talked to him, who
was the campaign aide and press guy for George McGovern, never actually
said, "Did you ever have electroshock therapy?" I mean, you think he would
have voted -- I love Eagleton, but you should think he would have offered
that up.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: You would think so. That`s one reason we
know the standard final question people are asked when vetted, is there
anything I haven`t asked you that could prove to be embarrassing if it came
out during the campaign? That is the Eagleton question.

And we have seen this process get more and more detailed into
finances and drug use and employment of household workers. That`s
something that wasn`t asked too far long ago and then became an issue with
a couple nominees for Senate confirmation, not really for vice president.

So, it`s become a much more elaborate process and, you know, they
also look at things that are more personal, like the personal rapport
between the presidential candidate and the prospective vice president
because that`s something we know is also important to these nominees.

MATTHEWS: What about -- what about questions of belief? I know this
sounds a little ethereal, Jason. But what do you believe? What`s your
religious beliefs? Did they get into that?

Why did you convert from one religion to another? Is it that
intimate?

JASON ZENGERLE, GQ: It was with me. I think Ted Frank was sort of
following a script that he used in 2008. He had a lot of questions about,
you know, stuff like my synagogue attendance, when I was bar mitzvah`d.
Whether my son had a bris.

I think, you know, if you`re vetting someone for this job, you want
to be comfortable that they`re sufficiently religious because I think in
some ways, you know, an atheist candidate would be the last taboo and they
want to make sure they won`t get tripped up on something like that.

MATTHEWS: Well, Susan, one of the problems of this elaborate vetting
is the old way of shaking hands and saying I like the cut of the guy`s jib
is you are now responsible, it seems to me, for anything that comes out.
You have to say one of the two following things: I knew it but thought he
would still be OK, or I never asked him.

PAGE: You know, that`s right. Of course, one of the -- vice
presidents don`t make that much difference in campaigns but long time since
the vice president has really determined an election. But what -- it does
tell people something about the decision-making process that a potential
president would go through.

So, if you don`t have a thorough vet and something embarrassing comes
up, it makes you look like you are not a good decision maker and tells
voters something. I mean, that was one of the things with Sarah Palin, I
think. In the end, it didn`t reflect well on John McCain`s decision-making
process. And that hurt him with some voters.

MATTHEWS: Well; let me ask you starting with Susan, because you and
I are pros more than the other fellow here, Jason. I`m sorry, Jason. We
know more than you.

But let me ask you this -- it seems to me there are more intimate
questions you want to get out of a candidate for V.P. that have nothing to
do with this squarely list, one of them. Do you feel comfortable working
with this person on a regular basis for maybe four to eight years n they
are going to be in the room with you?

Number two, do they have the kind of character where you don`t stay
up at night wondering what they are up to, that you absolutely know they
are telling thank you truth and not trying any crazy stuff around your
back?

And three, do they have judgment. Will they be forcing you --
getting up in the morning and read something stupid thing they said in the
paper the day before?

So, judgment, character, and comfort -- personal comfort. You can`t
get somebody to vet that stuff, can you?

PAGE: Well, that`s right. And -- those are the more important
things. You can find out that someone had an affair, had smoked dope in
college and still think that they were OK to put on the ticket.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: But you want somebody that you trust and you trust to have
your back. And that`s not -- not going to embarrass you. That`s why I
think you -- among the reasons I think that Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman
have come to the top of the list --

MATTHEWS: Me, too.

PAGE: -- because these are people that I think Governor Romney seems
to trust and when you see them campaign together, you can see that they
have a relationship of some comfort.

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re top two. Did you have a third possibility
in your list from what you have been able to get?

PAGE: Well, you know, I was out in Wisconsin before that primary and
I was really struck by the relationship, personal relationship there seemed
to be between Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. You know, they campaigned
together in a way very comfortable. That made Paul Ryan a little high
other my list than he would be otherwise, because he comes with some risk
because he has that --

MATTHEWS: Well, he can be OMB director, too. There are a lot of
jobs out there.

Your thoughts. Do you have any thoughts on this, Jason, young man?
Do you have anything the obvious pros here, who say either Portman or
Pawlenty? I smell pawlenty for all these personal reasons.

ZENGERLE: I think the three mentioned. I think the personal sort of
-- you know, relationship between the two is really important. I think
that`s something that in 2004 with Kerry, he had a bad feeling about
Edwards in his stomach and he ignored it.

MATTHEW: Right.

ZENGERLE: You saw the result of that.

So, I think, yes, looking at sort of the way these guys interact with
each other, and seeing Portman and Pawlenty and Ryan, it seems like, you
know, just based on that, it would have to be one of those three.

MATTHEWS: I think Pawlenty seems like a good guy, whatever your
views are. I would sense that would be Romney`s reaction. Portman, a
little bit too boring. If that`s possible in the case of Romney that
thinks somebody else is too boring. But, anyway, I`m getting sarcastic. I
don`t to do that.

Jason Zengerle, thanks for that experience you went through. You`ve
been vetted. You are clean.

You can read about his vetting process in "G.Q."

Also, thanks to Susan, as always, Susan Page, for joining us.

Up next, can we be seeing the beginning of the end in Syria? Now,
this is really we`re going to look at this from a human point of view.
Here is a guy Bashar Assad who didn`t want this job. He`s now had to do
the dirty work and he`s doing it.

The question is: what options does this guy have now? And are we
seeing today`s bombing of government officials there and killing of people
so close to him, including his brother-in-law, suggesting we may be the --
quote, "facing the end" of this regime?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Last month, President Obama softened this government`s
policy on some illegal immigrants who had been here a long time. And now,
he`s reaping the political benefits, the president is.

Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard. A poll of registered Latino
voters by Latino Decisions, which is sponsored by two progressive groups,
finds the president leading Mitt Romney now 70 percent to 22 percent. It`s
the first time in almost two years Mr. Obama has been in 70 or that high in
this poll.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We are back.

The violence in Syria and in the words of Secretary of Defense Leon
Panetta today is spinning out of control. Bombing this morning by the
opposition hit in the heart of the regime and killed three senior officials
very close to President Bashar al-Assad. The casualties included the
country`s defense minister and a deputy defense minister, who also happens
to be the president`s brother-in-law. Boy, it`s getting close to the
leader.

So, the question today is how much longer can President Assad hold
the reins of power? The country seems to be on the precipice of what is
Assad`s next move. And what are his options? What can he do? And will he
evacuate or start killing people by the thousands? In other words, start
killing people by the thousands.

Richard Engel is NBC`s chief foreign correspondent.

Richard, I`m not saying I identify with al Assad, but I do think
about his predicament. Does he have any options really in life now?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, his probably
only physical option would be if he wanted to leave power would be go to
Russia. I think that`s probably the only country that would take him in at
this stage.

I don`t see any kind of political solution. The international
community, if such a thing exists, keeps talking about a ceasefire or a
political reconciliation. That`s not realistic. The opposition doesn`t
want him. They want to kill him. They tried to kill him today.

So I think he either has to pack it up, go to Russia, live in exile,
live badly and then be hunted down by International Criminal Courts or he
has to try and win this conflict which doesn`t seem likely.

Or he goes down fighting and probably is arrested or killed. And
that seems most likely at this stage.

MATTHEWS: Well, I look at that predicament. I mean, he knows what`s
going on. He watches television. He`s seen history. He saw what happened
to Gadhafi, what happened to Saddam. They went and hid somewhere and they
got found. That seems to be the worst way to end it.

ENGEL: Or even Mubarak.

MATTHEWS: Why can`t Russia protect him? Why couldn`t Russia -- I
was reading history recently. The history of the Ba`th party and the
Russians back through the Soviet Union going back to the `60s if not the
`50s was strong. Don`t the Russians want to keep some semblance of a
worldwide network of power by showing their loyalty to this guy?

ENGEL: That`s exactly what Russia has been trying to do. But it
seems like Russia misplayed the Syria card. Russia was very upset when
Libya suddenly went from a humanitarian intervention to an all-out military
assault for -- that involved regime change. Russia felt duped by that and
lost one ally which was Libya. And Russia decided it wasn`t going to lose
another ally and it wasn`t going to do what the Obama administration did
which was turn on an old ally in President Mubarak and decided to ride it
out.

The problem was, Bashar al Assad turned out to be a brutal dictator
in his final months. There`s that expression be careful of the quiet ones.
A lot of people, including -- I was very surprised at the way the Syrian
regime was acting. This was not the kind of person you would expect to
become a Saddam Hussein-like leader. Yet for the last several months, that
is exactly what the inner circle of Bashar al Assad`s government has been
behaving.

MATTHEWS: Was it like Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" where he
just gradually became more evil, more evil, more evil, until he was a devil
basically? Or was it a bunch of uncles he found took over thinking he`s an
ophthalmologist, he`s a doctor, he ends up on the throne, but he realizes
immediately he`s surrounded by a bunch of uncles telling him what to do?

ENGEL: Yes.

MATTHEWS: What happened here?

ENGEL: A little bit of both. And in the beginning if you remember,
Bashar al Assad was the darling of the international community. And some
people in Syria were very happy that he had come. And there was talk that
he was going to be the new reformist and he was going to change the tone of
Syria. Syria was becoming a hot travel destination. And there were travel
magazines writing about the old city of Damascus.

And they were not lying. It was a great place to visit a few years
ago.

MATTHEWS: What about "Vogue" magazine building up his family and
glamorous? The superficiality of a lot of journalism.

ENGEL: Exactly. Then when pushed and cornered, I don`t know if it
was an evil streak within Bashar al Assad himself or if he became a
prisoner of his inner circle or as I said earlier, a little bit of both I
suspect.

But this regime started behaving like Saddam Hussein`s regime in the
worst days. There`s really no way to go back from there.

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, I wish there was some place to go. Some old
sandals or something where we could dump these guys and leave them alone --

ENGEL: Sandals?

MATTHEWS: We wouldn`t have this many people killed in the end. It
always seems these guys go down and tens of thousands of people go down
with them in their death rows.

ENGEL: Chemical weapons are the biggest concern. Syria has a lot of
chemical weapons. And the big concern is that Syria could use them.

It`s not like a nuclear weapon. You can use chemical weapons for
practical purposes, to deny terrain. To punish a particular area. Saddam
Hussein did that. I don`t know if he`s going to do it. I hope he doesn`t.

MATTHEWS: His father did it, he could do it. You`re right. There`s
a precedent there.

Thank you so much, Rich, for being on top of this, as always. You`re
one of the best. I think you are the best when it comes to anything
foreign. Anything outside this country, you`re the best.

ENGEL: You`re nicer to me than on the last guest. At least you
didn`t call me a young kid that doesn`t know anything.

MATTHEWS: That`s not true. I can`t think that fast.

When we return, let me finish with Mitt Romney`s boardwalk emperor.
You know who he is. Why pick Chris Christie to trash Obama.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.

So, the word has gone forth. The torch has been passed to the king
of the boardwalk, the killer of hecklers, the defender of the faith, New
Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He`s the voice that Mitt Romney wants
belling forth from Tampa the week before Labor Day, where once it was the
great Jerry Lewis setting the tone for back to work week, now it`s the
emperor of the boardwalk himself.

I think this tells us what Romney is up to. Outsource the trash
talk, the snarling and spanking of Obama then put a more pleasant fella on
the ticket. He doesn`t want to hang out with Christie. He just wants him
out there doing the dirty work.

He wants a nicer person like Tim Pawlenty on the ticket with him,
hopefully sharing West Wing space with him some day. Clever division of
labor, use the big guy from Jersey to clear the beach of Obama so that Mitt
and Tim can put their beach chairs together for the next four or eight
years. Let Chris scream the bad stuff about what`s going on, let Tim enjoy
the comfort of a good job with what`s coming.

Well, this is the way I see it shaping up, a dirty, snarling attack
campaign with Christie and Sununu and the other raging elephants trampling
their way around the circus tent with Mitt and trustworthy Tim getting the
jobs in management.

Well, that`s the old Romney formula. Support the enterprise by
shipping the dirtier jobs offshore, in this case, to the seashore, while
giving comforting futures to the boys in the front office. Now, that`s
what I call equity.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

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

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