updated 9/14/2012 11:06:41 AM ET 2012-09-14T15:06:41

September 13, 2012

Guests: Joe Klein, Nia-Malika Henderson, Robin Wright, David Ignatius, Dana Milbank, Bob Woodward, Major Garrett

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Obama commands, Romney complains.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" with this. Tonight, President Obama leads the search
for the killers in Libya, for justice for the murders of four Americans in
the line of duty. His political rival, Mitt Romney, meanwhile continues
his desperate attempt to justify his craven effort to exploit the death of
the Ambassador Chris Stevens and the others.

For the critics of Romney`s conduct, the one question is, What made
him do it? Was it the trigger-happy politics of a candidate suffering in
the polls, or more dangerous still, the hawkish urge to attack of Romney`s
ever-ready circle of neocon handlers? Or could it be both?

President Obama benefits from the shared experience and wisdom of top
national security and foreign policy advisers, many of them career
professionals. His rival, on the other hand, is surrounded by a corporals
guard of campaign hotshots and right-wing ideologues randy for the next
Mideast war front. Imagine trying to repeat -- or rather, to reap on-the-
spot wisdom from that posse.

Joining me now to sketch out both war fronts is Joe Klein of "Time"
and Nia-Malika Henderson of "The Washington Post."

Today again President Obama was resolute and clearly in command of a
chaotic Middle East situation as he campaigned in Colorado. Let`s listen
to the president.


to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans
to justice.


OBAMA: I want people around the world to hear me. To all those who
would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the
light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No
act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.



MATTHEWS: And the president`s on the case. He sent two U.S. warships
to the Libyan coast. He sent Marines into Tripoli. And the attorney
general, Eric Holder, said today the FBI has opened up an investigation
into the attack that killed those four Americans.

Contrast that with what Mitt Romney did today campaigning in Virginia.
Let`s listen to him.


the world today, sometimes it seems that we`re at the mercy of events
instead of shaping events. And a strong America`s essential to shape
events, and a strong America, by the way, depends on a strong military.
This president has done something I find very hard to understand. Ever
since FDR, we`ve had the capacity to be engaged in two conflicts at once,
and he`s saying, No, we`re going to cut that back to only one conflict.


MATTHEWS: Joe Klein, thank you because you`ve got a big-picture look
at this. What is Romney talking about that`s relevant to our ability to
deal up front with these local situations where a group of militants in
some place like Benghazi decide to go after the American embassy, or the
same or at both times going after one an embassy and our ambassador --
ambassador`s -- the embassy itself in Cairo, in Egypt?

What does being able to fight two big land wars have to do with that?
That`s what I don`t get.

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, you know, once again, the guy
doesn`t know what he`s talking about, or he`s 25 years out of date. The
two-war strategy was a product of the cold war, when we had to have the
ability to fight the Russians on the plains of Europe and fight the Chinese
on the Korean peninsula at the same time. That costs an awful lot of

But we`re facing a very different sort of threat now, a more amorphous
threat -- you know, al Qaeda, terrorism, and so on. And so the military
has abandoned the two-war strategy. And obviously, Romney wants -- he
still thinks that the Soviet Union exists and is the greatest threat we
have out there.

I mean, it`s really remarkable that a guy who is as smart as he is is
so ill-informed on these essential issues of military doctrine.

MATTHEWS: Nia-Malika Henderson, could it be that he`s surrounded,
Mitt Romney, by neocons, who really do have a strong intellectual footing
in the cold war scenarios, where they really do have a more -- I hate to
say this, but an intellectual comfort in that kind of manichean struggle
between East and West, between us and the Russians, and they`ve never
really adapted to the situation where no matter how many troops we had in
Benghazi, you can`t fire on a crowd and start mowing people down who are
coming across the wall in a host country. You can`t do that.

And yet they think -- he`s talking about all we need are higher force
levels to deal with these very tricky ethnic and religious situations
stirred up by some crazies out in California.

surrounded by neocons from the Bush administration, people that Colin
Powell too far to the right in terms of what he believed was the right
course for American foreign policy.

Part of Mitt Romney`s foreign policy is that he wants to expand the
military by 100,000 troops, bring up the level of support to 4 percent of
the GDP, and that plays really well in a state like Virginia, where there
is a big military population.

But I think it does go up against the fact that Americans are weary of
war at this point. We already experienced a time where we did have two
large land wars going on at the same time and we saw what that did to the

So he`s very much going up against a different reality in terms of
what Americans want. But then again, he has these neocons who are
surrounding him that were part of the push to war with Iraq that, of
course, Americans have since turned against and judged to be a war that was
not worth fighting.

MATTHEWS: You know, one of the questions everybody in this business
seems to have in journalism is, What`s going on with Romney in the day that
things (ph) happened? That moment when something happens, like we had this
situation in Libya, simultaneously in Cairo, and he puts out a statement
attacking what he calls the disgraceful behavior of President Obama before
he knows what`s going on.

Who`s pushing that button saying, Release this statement, attack,
attack, attack? Who`s doing that "Tora tora" thing in his campaign, Joe?

KLEIN: Well, I don`t know who`s doing it, but it seems to be his own
impulse, and it has been consistently in this campaign on matters not only
foreign but also domestic. But it really is unseemly when you have
American embassies under assault for a presidential candidate to start
playing politics with it.

And as you said before, there are people on his foreign policy
advisory staff who are neoconservatives who just don`t reflect, you know,
the views of a majority of the foreign policy establishment or of the
American people.

MATTHEWS: Any chance of a shake-up, Nia, before we go on here? Any
chance Romney`s going to say, I`m surrounded by idiots, nobody around me`s
giving good advice, I have the wrong impulses, save me with somebody new?
Any talk of that?

HENDERSON: Well, I don`t think there`s any talk of that, but what I
have heard from people who are close to Boston is that it`s sort of a
chaotic situation in Boston headquarters, somebody who just started, sort
of arrived and said that things in terms of the communication and strategy
of the place, that maybe it does need a shake-up.

I think the problem with that would be what sort of message would that
send? Republicans are already doing lots of hand-wringing about this
campaign, about this candidate. And one of the problems -- obviously, when
you have a presidential campaign, it in and of itself -- it can be an
argument for the White House, an argument for what sort of White House you
would run.


HENDERSON: So I think to have this sort of shake-up at this late
date, it certainly wouldn`t send a lot of confidence to voters or
Republican donors who at one point had a lot of confidence in Mitt Romney,
but now they seem to think that he is still fighting, I mean, not only the
cold war but fighting the primary and that he`s still tugging to the right
and hasn`t moved to the center quickly enough.

MATTHEWS: Well said. "The Wall Street Journal" columnist Peggy
Noonan, who I read every week, gave a withering assessment of the way
Romney handled his comments on that Benghazi murders that killed Chris
Stevens over there and the whole question of the Middle East violence.

Here`s what Peggy Noonan had to say. Let`s listen.


today, I feel. I mean, I`m still kind of absorbing it myself. But at one
point, he had a certain slight grimace on his face when he was taking tough
questions from the reporters, and I thought, He looks like Richard Nixon.





MATTHEWS: Well, he does, actually, there. And she wasn`t alone.
Later in a "Wall Street Journal" interview, Ms. Noonan delivered the velvet
hammer. Let`s listen to this.


NOONAN: Of course, he`s trying to focus on the economy. It is the
great immediate issue in all of our lives. But foreign policy is always
there. I think Romney`s (INAUDIBLE) is that this is what there`s an
opening for in America`s thinking about foreign policy now, the statement
of and the holding high of a grand strategy that says, This is America`s
role in the world now, this is what we intend to do, these are what our
challenges are, this is how we mean to meet them.

Do (ph) you (ph) have (ph) any (ph) (INAUDIBLE) vague ad hoc
unconnected statements about whatever foreign policy issue comes up. What
is your grand strategy, which means what is your thinking as you look at
the world?


MATTHEWS: That`s a powerful question by her. And anyway, my
colleague, Joe Scarborough, in a Politico column today, got to the core of
Romney`s problem, as he sees it. He writes, quote, "If we want to win the
battle of ideas in the long term" -- he`s talking about the Republican side
-- "we should be willing to face the fact that Mitt Romney`s likely to
lose, and should, given that he`s neither a true conservative nor a
courageous moderate. He`s just an ambitious man. Nothing wrong with that
except when you`re going to (ph) be president, you should be more than

Let me go back to that whole question. Joe, I keep thinking, What`s
Romney`s mission in life? Why does he want to be president? It`s a fair
question. What do you want to do in the world? What`s your view of the
United States` role in the world, besides this truculence that, I`m going
to be tougher and all this BS, basically -- basically, a guy who`s had no
military experience in his family, he keeps talking about how tough he`s
going to be. That`s a metaphor.

But what does it mean translated into U.S. policy? What does he want
to do, Joe?

KLEIN: Well, the scary thing about this campaign is that -- is that
we don`t have any idea what he wants to do or which policies he`s going to
support. I mean, you know, this has been, I think, an insult to the
intelligence of the American people because of the lack of details, the
lack of -- of -- you know, of content here.

And you know, you watch -- you know, we saw the stock market go up 200
points today. And when people -- you know, Romney is allegedly running on
the economy. Well, for most people, the economy isn`t the unemployment
figures, the economy is two things, your house value and your 401(k).
Housing values are going back up, and the market is almost back to where it
was almost four years ago. So the one thing that he had, he doesn`t really

MATTHEWS: And consumer confidence is also going up, Joe. I want to
talk about something here -- first of all, Nia, respond to that -- this
question I have about Romney. Do you, following the campaign, expect that
someday he`ll go to Georgetown or George Washington University, somewhere,
or up at BU or somewhere, and give us a grand look at the world that Mitt
Romney would like to lead America into?

Is he going to do that to respond to this sort of tit for tat game
he`s been playing and losing here?

HENDERSON: I don`t think so. I think we`ve had these expectations
all along the way that he would do that. Remember when we went down to
Florida and he was supposed to lay out an immigration strategy? Turned out
that it wasn`t very much different than what he`d already laid out. Same
thing happened this week. When he went to Reno, Nevada, people had thought
that he was going to roll out a more robust foreign policy plan. John
McCain was asking him to get really tough on President Obama. He didn`t do

This is a candidate that believes the more details that he lays out
there, the tougher road it`s going to be. He also believes that Americans
will wake up on that first Tuesday in November and realize that the economy
is horrible and that they will lay the blame solely at the feet of Barack

MATTHEWS: And if it isn`t? And if it isn`t?

HENDERSON: And that`s the problem. And I think, in some ways, that`s
why you see them trying to widen this conversation in some ways. They did
that with Welfare. They`ve done that here with foreign policy.


HENDERSON: They in some ways did that with Medicare. But -- but I
think, ultimately, their bet is that in November, they`ll get some -- we`ll
get some bad news in terms of the economy. But I do agree with Joe, things
are looking up in terms of the economy.


HENDERSON: And people also blame Bush, as well.

KLEIN: Chris, could I...

MATTHEWS: My -- very quickly, Joe. Very quickly.

KLEIN: No, that -- well, that -- that`s OK, then.


MATTHEWS: OK, good. My quick thought is that presidents -- we always
ignore the fact -- there`s a lag effect. When George Herbert Walker Bush
did some good work on the economy, it helped Bill Clinton when he came into
office. Ronald Reagan`s real economic successes came in his second term.

Common sense tells you when you change U.S. economic policy, it`s like
turning around a big battleship. It takes a while to have an influence.
If Obama starts to get successes now, they`re a result of what he did a
couple of years ago. And that`s common sense.

Thank you, Joe Klein, and thank you, Nia-Malika Henderson.

HENDERSON: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: While Mitt Romney embarrassed himself, most
believe, trying to paint Obama as a terrorist sympathizer, here`s a
question. Where are the Republicans criticizing that film that started
some of this mess over there, that crazy anti-Islamic film out of LA?
Where`s Romney on this? In fact, Mitt Romney doesn`t like criticizing the
fringe right on just about anything.

Also, could this be just the latest incident in which Romney has shown
a tin ear for politics? It was Romney, by the way, who managed to insult
Britain on the eve of their own Olympics. Maybe the guy should have stuck
to business.

And Bob Woodward tonight -- he`s coming here -- on last year`s debt
crisis and who was to blame for the failure to reach an agreement between
Boehner and Obama.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with a man who hopes to become
president by saying -- nothing. Ask President Dewey. Remember him,
President Dewey, how that worked out for him?

And please come back at 7:00 o`clock Eastern time tonight. We`re
going to have the brand-new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" Marist poll
numbers on the three most important states in the union politically --
Florida, Ohio and Virginia. Wait`ll you catch these numbers in the 7:00
o`clock show.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, the supreme court in Pennsylvania heard arguments
today about the state`s strict new voter photo ID law. Well, that`s the
law Republicans pushed through so that, in the words of their top leader
there, Mitt Romney can win the election in November.

Well, the state estimates as many as three quarters of a million
voters may -- many of them elderly or African-American or both -- doesn`t
have the requisite photo ID to vote. And the state conceded there have
been no recent investigations or prosecutions against anyone in the state
for voter fraud.

Well, the court`s ruling could come tomorrow or sometime next week.
What a big ruling that`s going to be.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. For two days now, Mitt Romney`s response
to the violence in Libya and Egypt and his decision to try to score
political points on it has earned him criticism, even from some in his own
party. But how about the things Romney didn`t say? Namely, why hasn`t he
condemned the brutally offensive film that was at least partly responsible
for this violence in the Middle East? Well, "The Washington Post"
editorial board wrote, quote, today, "The movie is a despicable piece of
bigotry. It was striking that Mr. Romney had nothing to say about such
hatred directed at a major religious faith."

With me now is "The Washington Post" columnist and associate editor
David Ignatius and Robin Wright from the Woodrow Wilson Center.

I like both of you because you`re great people, but also you know the
Middle East. And you`ve been over there and you know a good part of this
world is Islamic. Now, the United States isn`t largely Islamic, we`re
largely Christian. But the fact is, there`s a big part of the world that
just is Islamic.

Wanting to pick a fight wit Islam is insane. There`s a billion
Islamic people who are born that way. There`s 350,000 Arabs born that way.
Why would you want to make them hate you?

My question is, why didn`t Mitt Romney at some point in the last 48
hours say, I hate people that want to stir up trouble between the two
largest religions? Your thought.


MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t he say something?

WRIGHT: I think there are a couple of things. First of all, you have
this attack on the American embassy that some -- in some ways is eerily
reminiscent of 1979 and the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran.
And this was an election that hinged in large part, Ronald Reagan`s defeat
of Jimmy Carter, on how that crisis was handled, how it dragged out.

And the Republican Party may be calculating that they`re waiting to
see how this plays out, if it escalates particularly Friday, the Muslim day
of prayer.

But there`s that other domestic component of his own religious right
within the party, and there may be many who are sympathetic to anti-Muslim
sentiment or who are skeptical that the cultural gap can be bridged. And
so I think there are a number of -- of factors, but I think...

MATTHEWS: You mean the right wants to go to war with Islam? That`s
what you`re saying.

WRIGHT: Well, not necessarily, but I think there is a religious right
that is very suspicious of other religions and...

MATTHEWS: And therefore, what do they want to do about it? What do
they want our policy to be in regard to Islamic reality in the world?
What`s their goal, to get rid of it?

WRIGHT: No, but I think there are those who are still deeply
suspicious 30 years after the takeover of the American embassy about
whether the bridge can be crossed between the Islamic world and the West.
And there are some who fundamentally just believe that the cultural divide
is too deep ever to be healed.

MATTHEWS: You know, David, you watch politics here, you watch it around
the world, the endless drumbeat in this country of dog whistles and
everything else about Barack Obama may be a Muslim himself. The other day
they were calling him sympathizing. You heard it from -- what is his name?
I can never get the name right. Priebus, the Republican chair, Reince
Priebus, he went out there saying the president sympathizes with the
attackers against our embassy, the same -- he was echoing basically what
Mitt Romney had said a few minutes before when he put out the word.

This idea that somehow Obama is sympathizing with our enemies has been
a relentless little thing out there using the argument, well, he`s not
really one of us, he`s one of them.

But now you have the problem of an active front now, a heated front in
Benghazi and in Cairo. What is the argument between the two parties on how
to address those situations?

argument that Mitt Romney should be having and that I hope we will have
down the road in the debates is, what is a strong America all about in the
21st century and especially now in the midst of these Arab revolutions?

What is the right policy for the United States to adopt? And Mitt
Romney has an argument. He did make it today in a more temperate set of
remarks, where he basically said to the country that Barack Obama is Jimmy
Carter, that American weakness has brought on this level of disorder in the
world and that, as Robin said a moment ago, this is 1979 all over again.

I think Barack Obama can rebut that. I think that he can say that to
the extent that we`re going to war with the Muslim world, we`re just
digging ourselves in deeper.

I will cite one thing for you, Chris. When I read Osama bin Laden`s
private communications that were taken out of his compound when he was
killed, one of the things that was most striking was how upset he was that
-- that Barack Obama had stopped talking about a war on Muslims, and had
started talking about a war on al Qaeda.

It drove bin Laden crazy, to the point that he wanted to change al
Qaeda`s name. He wanted to rebrand it. Now, that`s the clearest testimony
you could possibly get from Osama bin Laden that trying to do this divisive
thing, war on Muslims, just plays into the extremists` hands.

You have it from the man himself, so what more can you say?

MATTHEWS: Robin, I think that was great reporting there. I didn`t
know that before, that the bad guy of all bad guys said this is the smart
strategy from America, don`t focus on Islam, which will just stir up an
East-West war you will lose or will never end. Focus on the bad guys
themselves, and then Obama not only talks that way, he`s out killing these
guys, including the guy who rendered that opinion, bin Laden.


And the Obama administration has tried to make that point in the
campaign. General Motors is still alive and...


MATTHEWS: How can you say he`s weak? He had Robert Gates there, Leon
Panetta in there. He`s been hawkish. He`s been using drones, killing one
after another. He knocks off the -- I don`t see anything to justify the
word weak. You could argue after Desert One, Jimmy Carter looked weak
because the mission failed. It was a horrendous failure. But what`s the
point now?

WRIGHT: Well, look, this is also a particularly delicate moment.

Everyone is very concerned within the State Department and
intelligence community about what happens elsewhere in the Islamic world.
You have already seen the protests in Libya and Egypt expand to whether
it`s Kashmir or Pakistan, to -- and the danger that this becomes much
bigger and that the kind of conciliatory position that the Obama
administration has taken might make it look weak down the road, when in
fact it has been...


MATTHEWS: Certainly, you have to attack anti-Islamic stupidity. It`s
coming out of Los Angeles or the Reverend, what`s his name, Terry Jones or
any of these characters.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did that today. She took the
opportunity to denounce the offensive video coming out of L.A. and to say
that Romney hadn`t done so. Let`s watch the secretary.


clearly -- and I hope is it obvious -- that the United States government
had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its
content and message.


MATTHEWS: Why doesn`t Romney say that? Would that offend one of his

Who would be offended if Mitt Romney were to come out and say, I may
disagree with the president on foreign policy, but these people that keep
stirring up wars by burning Korans, flush them down the toilet, peeing on
them, whatever they`re doing lately, is nothing but killing American
soldiers, David?

IGNATIUS: Chris, Romney has painted himself into a corner as the no
apology guy, Mr. Never Back Down.

There are a lot of people on the Republican right who are -- have
bought into this idea that there`s a clash of civilizations going on. You
see this every day on the Internet. And I guess Romney, in a kind of a
political opportunist`s way, doesn`t want to offend people who are going to
be supporters of his.

But I do think he`s got to break out of that. He just -- every time a
foreign policy issue comes up, he hits a clinker. And he just comes across
as a guy who doesn`t have a feel for the way the world works, who talks in
sound bites and epithets. And I think it`s going to hurt him.

We will see in the debates whether he can form a coherent argument
about American power and how the world works. But he ain`t done it so far.

WRIGHT: Yes. He looks clumsy and slow when it comes to any of these
crises. And he keeps putting his foot in his mouth when he`s gone abroad.

And I think that`s a problem for him. Wait and see is not going to
work in his favor on this very volatile issue.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, it`s one thing to be a robot. It`s another
thing to be a robot rigged for the right.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, David Ignatius. Thank you, Robin

I don`t know if I like his networking in that brain of his.

Up next, as everyone knows, Chris Christie is a Bruce Springsteen fan,
but so far Springsteen hasn`t returned the love. So, what is about that?
Anyway, the "Sideshow" is coming up next with some Jersey news.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: First, some technology buzz.

Jimmy Kimmel took to the streets to get some pedestrian input on a new
device, or what they thought was a new device. Mitt Romney gets a nod here
in the tech talk.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": We told people outside to
check out the new iPhone 5, which is unavailable so far. In reality, what
they were looking at is the current iPhone 4S that everyone has.


KIMMEL: And, well, here`s how that experiment played out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it`s way better.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s nice. It looks like the screen is a little

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Faster, lighter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot lighter than the last one. It`s a lot
faster as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you drop it, it looks like it`s not going to
break, like this one has a million times.


KIMMEL: The company Fujitsu and Japan`s National Institute of
Informatics have teamed up to create a robot that they hope will be able to
pass the entrance exam at Tokyo University.

We`re already way ahead of Japan on this one. American researchers
have already created a robot that`s smart enough to be president of the
United States.


KIMMEL: And that`s him.



MATTHEWS: I don`t think Romney`s ever going to escape the robot
Romney zingers.

Also, over the weekend, Florida pizzeria owner Scott Van Duzer grabbed
headlines for giving President Obama a bear hug -- there he is -- and
hoisting him up off the ground. Well, Van Duzer has dubbed his embrace the

Which politician, by the way, swung by the restaurant yesterday
looking for the same action? The clue? He`s already been the subject of a
high-profile hug. It`s former Florida Governor Charlie Crist. He`s got
something in common with Van Duzer when it comes to not toeing the line of
political parties. Crist used to be a Republican, is now a -- I guess you
would call him a Democrat-leaning independent backing President Obama.

Van Duzer is a Republican, but says he`s voting for President Obama in
November, just as he did in 2008. As for that other high-profile hug I
mentioned, you know the one, Crist with Obama back in 2009, the former
governor said Obama`s hug with Van Duzer puts that one -- quote -- "to

Next, all it takes is a look at Chris Christie`s recent interview with
Jimmy Fallon to recall that he`s a big Bruce Springsteen fan.


Springsteen shows where the guy that screams all the words louder than
Bruce Springsteen me, pumping his fists.

Could you do a little "Thunder Road" or something?


FALLON: Yes, I will do it with you.



MATTHEWS: Unfortunately for Christie, Springsteen hasn`t shown any
sign of returning the love.

So imagine the shock when a later from Springsteen recently arrived at
the governor`s office. A truce? Far from it. The letter was from
Springsteen`s 20-year-old daughter, Jessica, an accomplished equestrian.
She was pressing the governor to sign a bill banning the slaughter of
horses in New Jersey.

Well, the bill was passed by the legislature in Jersey. It is still
sitting on the governor`s desk.

By the way, Springsteen`s song "We Take Care of Our Own" was played
after President Obama`s DNC speech last week. There was a whopping
increase in sales, we`re talking over 400 percent, in the days following
the event. Wow. That`s marketing power.

Up next, brand new poll numbers from the three states that could
decide this election: Florida, Ohio and Virginia. And we now have a clear
leader in all three.

And that`s ahead. And you`re watching it, HARDBALL, the place for


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are focusing a lot of their
attention on three key states this November, obviously -- Ohio, Florida,
and Virginia. And according to new poll numbers, today, Romney is at a big
disadvantage in all three states.

Here`s the latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll:

In Florida, Obama now has a five-point lead over Romney over likely
voters. That`s key.

In Virginia, the president also has a five-point lead here, 49-44,
among likely voters.

In Ohio, the president has a seven-point lead. Romney gets 43 percent
of the likely voters, to the president`s 50 percent.

All told, that`s bad news for Romney, and leads to the question: what
can Romney do to turn things around?

Chuck Todd is NBC News political director and chief White House
correspondent, and Major Garrett is White House correspondent for "The
National Journal."

Gentlemen, starting with you, Chuck.


MATTHEWS: I don`t know what all of this means because I still see the
debates coming, four and a half hours of razzmatazz, who knows what`s going
to happen?

TODD: And I think you can say it`s so far of the bounce. Our polls
are conducted Sunday through Tuesday. And that`s still in the -- as a
Republican reminded me when they heard about these numbers, hey, don`t
forget, it`s part of the bounce.

MATTHEWS: The sugar high, as they call it.

TODD: Which also tells me, they know the numbers are pretty right,
where the race is right now.

MATTHEWS: OK, what`s interesting --



TODD: Yes.

MATTHEWS: This is a very rigid electorate. People basically have
decided who they like of these two candidates. This is a big -- is this
real? Is this any less real, this five-point lead, that we`ve seen before?

GARRETT: Well, the fundamentals remain the fundamentals. But one
thing that is interesting, in addition to this polling data, that the three
polls taken after the two conventions, right track, wrong track, the 10
polls in August taken before the conventions had the right track number on
average of 31 percent. The three taken after the party conventions had the
right track at 38 percent.

People felt better about the country after watching the convention.


TODD: Same thing you saw here.

GARRETT: Was the Democratic convention.

MATTHEWS: By the way, economic optimism is also going up and studies
of consumer optimism.

TODD: I think this is a Bill Clinton --

MATTHEWS: People really feel better about the country because of

TODD: Honestly --


TODD: No, no, I think it`s the Bill Clinton and I say this because he
sat there and his job was to explain, OK, you think the country is off the
wrong track but I`m here to tell you it`s on the right track.

MATTHEWS: He took away the fear.

TODD: Who was in charge of the right track speech? Not the
president, it was Bill Clinton. So I`m glad that Major brought this up on


TODD: The most important thing and the people --

MATTHEWS: As David Gregory would say, unpack that (ph).

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: Why was the president able to sort of take away some of the
fear of the economic future.

TODD: Well, he was trying to explain why is the economy not getting
better, is it going to get better? And so, the president`s job was to
explain, look, I couldn`t make it any better than it is today but trust me,
it`s on the way back. And I have credibility, you remember me, I`m the guy
who did it, who created --

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m amazed that the objective sense of things getting
better because of a political event. That`s pretty amazing.

GARRETT: Not only that. But if you look at the underlying numbers in
Ohio, Florida and Virginia, Mitt Romney does not have the lead among white
voters he needs to carry those states. The president is running more
competitively than they would like to see, and he`s not winning with upper
income voters nearly by as much as he would need to. He`s not putting a
distance between himself and the president.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the president`s job approval numbers,
which are the key in all three states. In Ohio, 53 percent think he`s
doing a good job. In Florida and Virginia, his approval is 49, it`s a very
close to where it has to be.

TODD: It`s a ballot test. Look, his job approval and the ballot test
will be the same number on Election Day.

MATTHEWS: Ballot test --

TODD: Meaning, the ballot test right now with Romney is what, 49 in
Florida, 49 in Virginia. What`s the approval rating -- 49-49.

Another way to watch these polls, by the way, and I`ve talked with
both campaigns and they agree with this, if the president is sitting at 47,
(INAUDIBLE) in the election, he loses. If he`s at 48, we`re at the coin
toss. Forty-nine or obviously 50 -- but at 49, he`ll find the one point he
gets to 50 and he`s going to win re-election. So that 49 number is a big
deal to beat.

MATTHEWS: So, is it a referendum or is it a choice?

TODD: Yes, it`s both.

MATTHEWS: Yes, thanks for --

TODD: Of course it is.

GARRETT: Of course it`s both. But it has become more of a choice and
a more clearly defined choice aspect of that decision than it was before
the convention before Paul Ryan was put on --

MATTHEWS: I`ve got you two heavyweights here, I`ve got a question for
you. It`s about what we`ve been talking about the whole show. Who`s in
the room when Romney when he has to make a quick call, to say something
about what just happened to Libya, to say something (INAUDIBLE) Obama, for
that quick opportunity in that news cycle? Who is in that room and tell
him what to do, help him with that quick decision because there`s been a
real question if he`s doing it right?

TODD: My understanding is he trusts a couple of people in that room.
One I think is Stuart Stevens. I think the other is Bob White, somebody
who`s been with him since the Bain days.

But a lot of that is him. I mean, that`s what people need to
understand about Mitt Romney, is that he`s more in charge of his campaign
than I think people in the political class appreciate.

You know, we in the political class -- there`s too many people --
who`s really running things in who`s the Karl Rove?


MATTHEWS: Let`s take a shot at the president, who says this?

TODD: I think there was -- the guys traveling with him were pushing
him to do it.

MATTHEWS: Was it neocon ideology or political opportunism?

TODD: Don`t forget --

MATTHEWS: Which one --

TODD: Mitt Romney -- oh, I think this is part of a fight he`s been
trying to pick for a while. Remember the title of his book, "No Apology."
So, he`s been wanting, this is a fight he`s been wanting. He wants to
prove -- everybody says, no, no, he can`t win on foreign policy. He`s sort
of -- it`s almost like a chip on his shoulder, he wants to prove --

GARRETT: And it will be incumbent upon him, if he`s going to make an
argument, about the president`s policies, post-Arab Spring. He`s going to
have to define what`s wrong with it and what he would do differently. And
if he doesn`t, then this will look more and more overtime like opportunism.


MATTHEWS: Who he`s apologizing --

TODD: No, no, no, I think he`s with more aggressive, the John Bolton
wing of the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: Yes, they want to fight it generally.

TODD: But you know what? He doesn`t have an answer to the question -
- would you have pushed Mubarak out?


TODD: He didn`t have it. I asked him that direct question. He
wouldn`t say.

GARRETT: And he fell all over the map in Libya when he was asked to -

MATTHEWS: Would you fire on a crowd if they were approaching the
embassy? There`s the question that comes down. You can`t fire on a crowd
and start killing people.

TODD: Not, in foreign country.

MATTHEWS: No, you can`t.

Anyway, more in the polls. There are also some new numbers in the
Senate races in the big three states.

In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown was on the show yesterday, he`s got a
seven-point lead among likely voters. That`s a good number to be against
Josh Mandel.

In Florida, Democrat Bill Nelson has a 14-point over Connie Mack.

And look at Virginia, this one is too close to call. Tim Kaine and
George Allen, dead even at 46.

My thought about Virginia is really a problem. That`s a challenge.
For some reason, Allen is doing well.

TODD: And Allen is doing better than Romney. Allen is doing two
points better than Romney and the difference is with independent voters.
Independent voters, Allen is doing better with independent voters than

MATTHEWS: You can see it`s more conservative and a --

TODD: Well, they have been pounding Kaine and trying to tie him to a
more liberal wing of the Democratic Party. We`ll see, Kaine -- I still
can`t figure out how Kaine loses if the president carries the state.

MATTHEWS: Well, who`s the last liberal senator from Virginia?



MATTHEWS: Is there ever been a liberal senator from Virginia?

GARRETT: Not classically defined.

TODD: Some Republicans might say it`s John Warner, you know?

MATTHEWS: He`s a moderate conservative. But really --

GARRETT: Chris, can I lay down something to the table? It`s
something to watch as this race develops.

If Romney cannot spring back and get closer to Obama and put more of
these states credibly in play, what you may begin to see in these Senate
races is Republicans adopting a message they would not do it now, check on
power. Obama might win, elect a Republican to restrain what Obama --

TODD: What Haley Barbour did in `96, remember he`s running the RNC?

GARRETT: It hasn`t happened yet.

TODD: They threw Dole under the bus.


MATTHEWS: -- is that Paul Ryan is running for reelection as a
congressman in Wisconsin.

TODD: However, to his -- wait a minute, his TV ads, though, are on
national message.

MATTHEWS: OK. What he`s running for reelection.

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd -- Plan B, stay where you are.

Major Garrett, thank you.

Ever wonder what a candidate who knows he has a problem with women
voters looks like? Check this out.

That`s Mitt Romney campaigning today in Fairfax surrounded by -- well,
look, who`s behind him? Nothing but women -- everyone on that stage is
obviously a woman. I don`t have to tell you that. In fact, all for the
introductions at that Fairfax, Virginia, rally today were made by woman.

Up next, investigative journalist Bob Woodward joins us to talk about
who is to blame in last year`s debt crisis?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We`ve got new polling from Michigan and Montana, two states
with critical Senate races. Let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

First to Michigan where Senator Debbie Stabenow has 11-point lead over
Republican Pete Hoekstra. That`s according to a new Epic-MRA poll.

In Montana, a much closer race, Senator Jon Tester, the Democrat, is
leading Republican Denny Rehberg by just two. Tester is ahead, 45-43.

Now, the presidential race on those two races. In Michigan, President
Obama has a 10-point lead, 47-37. That was supposed to be close. It

In Montana, Mitt Romney is up by five, no surprise, 50-45. But fairly
close for that state.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

What happened to that grand bargain President Obama and Speaker of the
House John Boehner tried to reach last summer. Well, it`s an old he
said/he said Washington story. The president says the speaker walked away
from talks because he couldn`t or wouldn`t stand up to the right wing in
his party, the Tea Partiers. Boehner says the president is at fault
because he insisted on additional tax revenue at the last minute.

By the end of July, the talks had broken down.

In his new book, "The Price of Politics," Bob Woodward deconstructs
the tumultuous events of last summer and concludes, quote, "Neither Obama
nor Boehner was able to transcend their fixed partisan convictions and
dogmas. Rather than fixing the problem, they postponed it. When they met
resistance from other leaders in their parties, they did not stand their

Well, Bob Woodward joins me right now.

Bob, I want to ask you, because you`re obviously the great reporter
and you deal with the facts as you find them. What were the fixed partisan
convictions and dogma that stopped Boehner? I thought he`s practical guy.
He didn`t have fixed dogma. And now, the president, we can argue about
that. I thought they were both willing to deal, it was the people on the
right that kept them from dealing.

BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, there`s a war going on in the
Republican Party, as you know, and Eric Cantor, the number two in the House
majority -- Republican majority is much more connected to the Tea Party.

But don`t kid yourself, Boehner is a conservative Republican, a much
more moderate one and he was laying down the law with Obama, said no tax
increases. We can`t increase --

MATTHEWS: But he agreed to 800 billion --

WOODWARD: Through tax reform which is tricky. I mean, it`s possible.
But I call it the great white whale. You chase it in the ocean and it
might kill you.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the Republican Party in the House. We
know there are x number of Tea Partiers, who were just against any
revenues, just cut everything, cut spending cut spending. I heard that
every time Boehner come back from the White House with the deal he thought
he could meet with the president, make with the president, he would get a
call from his staff, Barry Jackson, Eric Cantor is talking to the crazies
out there. We`re not going to be able to hold this deal.

WOODWARD: Yes. There`s a scene at one of the key moments where the
president is asked for that $400 billion additional revenue.

MATTHEWS: Eight hundred billion up to 1.2, yes.

WOODWARD: And so Boehner calls Eric Cantor and his chief of staff
down and says, what do you think of this? And Eric Cantor`s chief of
staff, Steve Stombres, classic former Army intelligence officer, bald head,
very aggressive, asked Speaker Boehner and said, well, how many votes do
you think you can get for that? Boehner says, 170. And Stombres, you`re
crazy, not very polite. Very much in the face of the speaker. And Cantor
backed him up and Cantor they thought they`d only get 50 votes for that.

So, there`s a war there. But as you know, there`s also a war in the
Democratic Party. The president could not control Pelosi and Reid on some
of these --

MATTHEWS: Look, we don`t have a British-style parliament. We have a
congressional party. We have Congress and we have the president. If the
Congress begins to behave like a parliamentary party and votes down the
line discipline and says no to the president of another party, has anything
get done? Does the system work?

WOODWARD: That`s exactly the problem. We have got a situation now --
let`s not kid ourselves -- where the financial house is not in order. And
that is -- we`ve got $16 trillion of IOUs out in the world with Europeans,
people in this country, the Chinese and so forth.


WOODWARD: We have to make good on the principal payments and the
interest payments and the president and the Republicans in all of their
talks and it`s not just what happened last summer. I cover 3 1/2 years.
They postponed everything. They said, oh, yes, we`ll do it in 2013.

MATTHEWS: Let`s look for bad guys, Bob. Let`s look for bad. Does
Grover Norquist is responsible? He has every member of the Republican
Party basically sign a thing that they won`t raise taxes.

If you don`t raise taxes, the Democrats won`t go along with it. There
won`t be a deal. So is that a deal breaker?

WOODWARD: Well, don`t blame Grover Norquist. He believes he has
strong convictions on it. Believe the people who signed up.

Look, you`ve got to have compromise. In the book, I described at
crucial moments where it`s Joe Biden who comes in with the old approach.
He is the -- he`s called the McConnell whisperer, the guy --

MATTHEWS: The horse whisperer?

WOODWARD: Yes, the guy that can deal with Mitch McConnell, the Senate
leader, who`s a real hard ass, as you know. But Biden can sit down with
him and say, one for you, one for me, we`re going to cut a deal.

MATTHEWS: And what does McConnell say?

WOODWARD: As long as you don`t raise taxes, I`ll go along with it.
And --

MATTHEWS: But you can never sell that, as you point out, to the
Pelosi party. The hardcore of 150, 180 Democrats are not going to sign any
deal that doesn`t have some kind of balance with revenue and spending cuts.

WOODWARD: But if you dig into this, as I spent 18 months doing,
talked to the president, talked to the Republicans, talked to Speaker
Boehner --


WOODWARD: -- they all feel that they can get -- you know, if they
agree on something, and they stand before the microphones and the cameras
and say, this is the deal, this is in the interest of the country in the
long run that people will swallow some of that dogma. But they never got
to that point. And so now we`re dancing on the edge of the razor blade.

MATTHEWS: Well, as always, you`re right at the front edge of reality.
I`ll see you on Sunday show for more time with Bob Woodward, "The Price of
Politics." Once again, the frontlines, the great Bob Woodward.

When we return, let me finish with who is who? The man who is running
for president without ever saying anything. We`ll ask Tom Dewey. He
didn`t quite make it to the White House, did he? He didn`t say anything

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: So let me finish tonight with this. Mitt Romney is
fretting his hour upon the state. He served his time getting there running
and losing, running and saying what he had to say. Signing the documents
of admission that right in place before him. He was when asked to cite his
stronger character trait: resolute.

Resolute? Yes, but towards what?

Some troublemakers in Los Angeles put a preview of an anti-Islamic
movie. It goes viral. It translated into Arabic, hits the Cairo streets
and cafes. Suddenly there are militants climbing the walls of our embassy.

What does Romney do? Does he decry the anti-Islamic movie? Actually,
no. He had nothing to say about that. Nothing at all. All he did was put
out a statement attacking a statement from some official in the Cairo
embassy put out decrying the anti-Islamic movie.

Mr. Romney had nothing to say about the movie that stirred things up
because -- let`s agree on this -- except for the snippets to the issues
attacking his rival, he doesn`t have much at all to say about anything, and
that`s the huge emptiness people starting to notice in this person.

Except for his faith, family, and business, he doesn`t have a whole
lot in his mind. He`s been in public life a long time, perhaps a
generation now. If he thought anything was curious about anything, had
discovered anything in life, he`s yet to let it out. And yes, this is why
his tent is starting to flap.

The great writer William Manchester described the 1948 presidential
campaign of New York Governor Tom Dewey, superbly organized, rigorously on
schedule, providing the very latest thing in media equipment, design to
carry spread and disseminate whatever he wished to say. He wished to say

And that could end up being the epithet for Romney in 2012. He didn`t
want to say anything.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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