October 3, 2012
Guests: Dee Dee Myers, Bob Shrum, Nia-Malika Henderson, Mark Udall
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Rocky Mountain high!
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out at the University of Denver,
site of the big debate tonight.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: "Let Me Start" with that big debate. Are we really about
to (INAUDIBLE) the future of this country on which of these two guys,
Romney or Obama, can make the most of the latest gaffe by the other side,
on who can launch the most deadly zinger? That`s the word Romney`s people
have been using. What is this, the Dean Martin roast, the Don Rickles
contest, a drug store cowboy, the sharpie on the street corner? Is that
the part we`re casting here?
Sorry. I thought it was president of the United States, the person
who will lead the West, set the direction in world affairs, lift this
country up from its long economic struggle, take us to a stronger, fairer
I`m looking for the big thought tonight, the fresh, crisp, candid
thinking that is the very essence of any set of solutions we can come up
with. What I fear is a slingshot war, a night of pestering, petty salvos
from one candidate to the other, all aimed at creating bites for the next
TV ads, words to be packaged, then to be pitched out to us as examples of
spontaneous vision and uncanny wisdom.
I`m looking for the real thing, smart calls to action by someone who
knows his number one job is simply to tell us what needs to be done.
I`m joined by former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers and the
MATTHEWS: ... Howard Fineman from the HuffingtonPost. I`m kidding
because he`s so great, and so are you.
MATTHEWS: And I want to ask you first -- you`re -- you`re -- assume
you`re -- you`re Mitt Romney and you`ve had a terrible summer in September
and August, all the way through. You booted it in London. You booted over
Libya. You haven`t looked presidential. And Bill Clinton comes in like a
deus ex machina, makes the Democratic Party feel fabulous and the economy
look really good.
How do you fix all that in one night?
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, that`s what Mitt Romney has to begin trying to do. And this is it
for Mitt. That was the lead of my piece in the HuffingtonPost, words of
one syllable, This is it for Mitt.
MATTHEWS: It rhymes!
FINEMAN: And he`s got to try to change the conversation, and he`s got
to do what you said, which is to express clear, big, convincing, humane and
understandable thoughts about he -- how he could be the better person to
take the economy forward and take the country forward.
He said he wanted this to be about the economy. The Romney -- the
Obama people have jammed the radar, Romney`s radar, for six months, OK?
Now Romney`s got 60 million people out there. He`s got to look at the
camera and say, This, in simple, clear terms is how I`m going to help you
and how we`re going to fix the economy.
MATTHEWS: And Dee Dee, same question to you. The economy now looks a
little better than Romney does. That`s the problem he faces.
DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, and I
mean, I think his -- one of his biggest challenges tonight is to stand on
that stage and to convince people who are watching -- and something north
of 60 million people will tune in -- that he understands the lives and
problems of average Americans or ordinary Americans, the people who are out
there struggling to put food on the table. And he...
MATTHEWS: But that would be a fraud, though, wouldn`t it?
MYERS: Well, either he...
MATTHEWS: He doesn`t -- we know -- we`ve been watching this guy for
weeks and months and months and years now running for president, and
there`s been no evidence he gets it.
MYERS: You know, that`s my conclusion. But I think if he`s going to
truly reset this, even to get a second look, I think he needs to be able to
connect on a level that he hasn`t done very well.
MATTHEWS: That`s what people say when...
MATTHEWS: ... I gave this guy a second look.
MYERS: But I do think, though -- I think if he has a strong
performance, and if he does talk about the economy and some big ideas for
MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.
MYERS: ... and is able to show himself as a humane person...
MATTHEWS: But you say this as a skeptic.
MYERS: I am a skeptic, but I think if he debates to a strong tie --
and I think that`s possible -- he will win on points because he stands on
that stage next to the president.
FINEMAN: He said -- he has said for many months -- he said on that
secret video that was released, Wait`ll I get on the stage with President
MATTHEWS: OK. So here`s...
FINEMAN: So this is what he`s got to do. He`s got to perform.
MATTHEWS: So here`s the challenge. He has to prove he`s more
presidential than he looked in London, his overseas disaster.
MATTHEWS: He`s got to say the economy looks worse than it looks right
MATTHEWS: ... offset the 47 percent comment he was caught making,
where he basically cashiered half the country out of existence. Will
Romney be haunted by that 47 percent comment?
Here`s one of the best lines of the year by the man who`s speaking
better than anybody this year, Bill Clinton, up in New Hampshire, his old
stomping grounds. Here he is taking on Romney. This guy is a killer these
Let`s watch Clinton destroy Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I couldn`t
believe the other day when -- when the president`s opponent said that the
47 percent of the American people who don`t pay income tax just want to
hang around, be dependent on the government, and you know, we just had to
wean them off of that because they didn`t want to pay income tax.
Now, a guy with a tax account in the Cayman Islands is attacking other
people for not wanting to pay -- I mean, you got to give him credit, like I
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I love it when they put it together, when they put together
this guy, the bunch of bums out there don`t want to pay the taxes, and then
you got the guy making -- has a quarter billion dollars, and he`s stuffing
MYERS: Right. But...
MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton, your guy.
MYERS: He`s my guy. He...
MATTHEWS: You taught him this stuff, didn`t you?
MYERS: I taught him everything he knows.
MYERS: He -- no, but he really has had a great moment here of framing
these questions, right, and of putting this into terms that ordinary voters
can understand and relate to, and framing the question so that...
MATTHEWS: Well, I could understand him. I never thought of putting
those two things together like that, the fact these bums don`t want to pay
tax and this guy, the richest guy in the world, is avoiding taxes.
FINEMAN: Bill Clinton`s got the best peripheral vision in the history
of politics. He knows how to do it. And he knows how to make the other
guy -- and Clinton uses a sense of humor...
FINEMAN: ... to do it, to make the other guy seem like a complete
hypocritical phony. I mean, but rather than say the guy is a hypocritical
FINEMAN: ... Bill Clinton builds the case, like he`s talking to the
MATTHEWS: I know.
FINEMAN: And that`s what he did there. And that`s the obstacle that
Mitt Romney has. The way people view Mitt Romney -- in the NBC poll, they
still basically have a negative view of the guy. He`s got to come out
there and say, I know how to fix the economy on your behalf...
FINEMAN: ... even though people know that his whole life has been
dedicated to flipping corporations and doing the magic that he did that got
him the Cayman offshore account...
FINEMAN: ... and $100 million IRA, individual retirement account.
MATTHEWS: He has to show...
FINEMAN: How does a guy...
MATTHEWS: How does that help us?
FINEMAN: ... have a $100 million individual retirement account?
MYERS: But you know, one thing...
MATTHEWS: Anyway, let`s go -- go ahead.
MYERS: One of the things that President Clinton has done so
successfully is he doesn`t -- he`s not against wealth. He`s just against
MATTHEWS: I know.
MYERS: It`s great that the -- he`s for people doing well, and he
wants middle class people to do well, too.
MATTHEWS: Did you see a wildlife movie where the cougar or the lion
gets the antelope finally and brings them down and starts to eat them?
They always do it kindly.
MATTHEWS: That`s how Bill Clinton does it. Anyway, there are a
number of new national polls out right now. Take a look at a "National
Journal" poll today. The found the race tied up even-Steven. Meanwhile, a
new National Public Radio poll has Obama up by 7. These can`t both be
Anyway, the latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, which is always
right, splits the difference -- this is on likely voters -- 49-46.
However, among registered voters, if we have a super-turnout, it`s, like, 7
Anyway, the new poll today from NBC, "The Wall Street Journal" and
Telemundo shows -- look at this gap among Hispanic voters. I`ve never seen
-- I know African-Americans have been largely Democrat, but look at this, a
50 percent spread, Howard.
FINEMAN: This is a number...
MATTHEWS: This is the lead.
FINEMAN: This is the number that drives Karl Rove and...
MATTHEWS: The architect!
FINEMAN: ... the architect -- and most other Republicans of the Bush
era completely crazy...
MATTHEWS: Because it was self-made.
FINEMAN: ... completely crazy because it`s self-made. It`s what Mitt
Romney did to himself in the primaries. It`s what the Republicans did to
themselves in the primaries. They know that unless they get 35 percent
minimum or so of the Hispanic vote, they can`t win the election.
Now, they`re going to hope and pray that that 70 percent doesn`t turn
out because Hispanic turnout traditionally is lower than the numbers
indicate. But if that percentage holds up, it makes it very, very
difficult in states like this one, in states like Colorado, a swing state
that we`re in, or Nevada, or even North Carolina and Ohio, for the
Republicans to win.
They are a minority of a minority demographically, and that`s what
that number shows.
MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the debate possibilities tonight. We
got Nate Silver`s estimates today. (INAUDIBLE) he points out some
fascinating things -- a very smart guy, writes for "The New York Times," of
course. And he points out what`s going on in this. He analyzed the polls
coming in and going out of the debates since 1976. In other words, he
doesn`t ask who won the debate. He looks at the polls before the debates
and the polls after to actually see what happened in those debates.
And normally, there`s a modest impact. He found that there is usually
a small bounce coming out of the first debate for the challenger...
MATTHEWS: ... in this case, Mitt Romney, not the incumbent, but the
candidate ahead in the polls after the first debate has always won the
Electoral College vote on election day. Also Silver warned that no
candidate who as far behind as Romney is at this stage has ever gone on to
So three big points there. The number one is the challenger tends to
get a modest bump out of this thing because he`s the new kid on the block,
and most people get to see him for the first time. Number two, it`s never
enough of a bump. It never is enough except in those rare cases like
Kennedy -- and he pointed out Reagan and W.
FINEMAN: Ronald Reagan in `89.
MATTHEWS: Most of the time, it`s not enough of a bump. And
basically, what we`re looking at right now is the final.
FINEMAN: Well, what Nate Silver documents there in great detail
mathematically is what the common sense of this thing is, which is that
Mitt Romney not only has to show up, he`s got to hit it out of the park.
And he`s got to essentially try to...
MATTHEWS: Does he know that?
FINEMAN: Oh, yes, they know that. He has to revert -- well, that`s a
very interesting question, Chris, because they`ve told me repeatedly that
they see this as a series of four encounters, you know, three presidential
and one VP. I think they`re kidding themselves. I think...
MATTHEWS: Do you think people will watch if he doesn`t win tonight?
FINEMAN: No. No, no. Romney...
MATTHEWS: Watch again?
FINEMAN: ... has got to win and he`s got to win big tonight. If he
doesn`t, then the mathematics that Nate Silver is talking about take over.
MYERS: Yes, I do think...
MATTHEWS: Don`t we have the playoffs coming up in baseball, a lot of
other things, to watch...
MATTHEWS: ... if this gets going?
MYERS: But I think -- I think Romney can win...
MYERS: ... without a big win. It`s whether he can change the
dynamics of the race. I think all he has to do is, like I said, debate to
a draw because by standing on the stage, by getting voters to give him a
second look, the media will conclude -- we`ll all conclude that he got more
of what he needed to get out of it than the president did. And so I
MATTHEWS: Oh, you`re saying what I consider the cliche of the night,
which I`ve been predicting for days now. I`m afraid you`ve just voiced it.
Let me try to say it in the right anchorman manner. Mitt Romney did what
he had to do tonight!
MATTHEWS: Is that what we`re going to have to live through all night
and tomorrow, Mitt Romney did what he had to do tonight?
MYERS: Through the weekend.
MATTHEWS: Oh, God!
FINEMAN: Well, I think he`s got...
MYERS: Through the weekend.
FINEMAN: I think -- I think he`s got to do more than just be
equivalent on the stage because, at this point, Mitt Romney`s still not
well enough liked and he hasn`t broken through with the argument about what
he`s going to do that`s so different about the economy in the future that
he`s irresistible as the choice.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about the map. I think -- we`re here in the
Rockies. I was thinking, they`re trying to get the wagon train over the
mountain. That`s what we`re all trying to do with this economy. Along
comes this guy, the outlier, says, I can get you over. I know a pass I can
get you through.
That`s Romney. I know a pass I can get you -- I`ve been there. I
know this territory. That`s his argument, I can get you through this pass.
The question is, does he have to show us the map before we take -- we tail
after him? Are we going to go...
MATTHEWS: ... chase after Romney unless he shows us the map?
FINEMAN: No, I think he does have to show us the map. He has to show
us more specifics because we don`t really know him, and what we know of
him, we don`t necessarily like or trust.
FINEMAN: You`re not going to go over into the Rockies and up into the
snows with a person that you don`t really know and trust.
MATTHEWS: Yes, you`ll end up like the Donners.
FINEMAN: And Romney`s numbers are still very equivocal on a personal
level. More people dislike him than like him on a personal level.
FINEMAN: So people are going to say, OK, we`ll go if you show us the
map. And I think Romney`s been hurt the last several months by his lack of
FINEMAN: ... what he`s going to do on taxes and what he`s going to do
MATTHEWS: His big number is, I`m going to cut taxes, that`s going to
stimulate the economy. He sounds good. It always makes people love to get
a tax cut. Everybody gets one under him. But then he says, I`m going to
pay for that tax cut by getting rid of these huge deductions, which include
home owner deduction, charitable contributions, state and local taxes.
That`s where all the money is.
MATTHEWS: If he doesn`t tell us that tonight, will the press attack
him for not giving us the map?
MYERS: Yes, I think that one of the things that we`ve seen is voters
are actually skeptical. He says, I`m going to cut tax rates by 20 percent
across the board...
MYERS: ... but I`m not -- but I`m -- but it`s revenue neutral. But
we can`t tell you how it`s revenue neutral because, as Paul Ryan said, that
would take too long.
MATTHEWS: Will Obama go after him on that, like Kennedy did against
him back in `94? Will he say, Mr. Governor, that`s what people want. They
want to know your map.
FINEMAN: Well, I think that -- we haven`t talked much about the
president`s strategy. I think he has to stay cool and I think he has to be
careful. It`s not his job to be the prosecutor here. If Jim Lehrer
doesn`t do it, if the moderator doesn`t do it, then the president may have
to step in, depending on how Romney performs.
But if Romney doesn`t really make the case strongly, the president
doesn`t necessarily have to jump on him.
MATTHEWS: He can say at the end he didn`t answer.
FINEMAN: He can say at the end, you know, he didn`t really answer the
MATTHEWS: You`re right, let Lehrer try it.
FINEMAN: Let Lehrer try it.
MYERS: But I think the Obama campaign is very leery of being -- they
need to be a little aggressive. They need to make -- they need to take
MATTHEWS: Vince Lombardi...
MYERS: ... and make the case.
MATTHEWS: What`s the best defense?
MYERS: A good offense.
MATTHEWS: Good offense.
MYERS: And I think...
MATTHEWS: I would recommend that the president go over -- why did the
cavalry leave the fort to fight the Indians? You know why?
MATTHEWS: They`re cavalry.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. And thank you, Dee Dee
Coming up: How will we know who wins tonight? We`re going to have a
new kind of scoreboard. It`s not like it`s been in the old days, it`s not
official, but the spinners are going to be there, but let`s watch the power
of the tweeter, the Twitter. What`s going to happen? We`re going to have
people (INAUDIBLE) talking about real life, in time, while it`s actually
happening, telling us who`s winning this thing and which candidate did a
better job framing the argument, deflecting criticism. And we`re going to
(INAUDIBLE) the importance of body language. We`re going to look at that,
too, tonight, how they stand, what they look like.
Also, caught on tape, the running mate`s edition. Yesterday, the
HuffingtonPost reported on a tape of Paul Ryan saying 30 percent of
Americans wanted a welfare state. And conservatives jumped on Joe Biden
for saying the middle class had been buried over the last four years. He
should have said "squeezed." It would have been no problem.
Anyway, that`s (ph) going to be in the debate. The running mates are
causing some headaches for the presidential candidates.
Also, I`ve got some questions of my own for the candidates tonight.
I`m going to ask Michael Steele and Eugene Robinson to fill in for Romney
and Obama and answer my HARDBALL questions.
"Let Me Finish" tonight with what I want you to look for tonight. I`m
urging you to do this tonight, and it comes down to thinking big.
And this is HARDBALL, live from Denver for the first presidential
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As we`re watching tonight`s
debate -- and everybody`s going to be -- what will be the signs that tell
us who`s winning, the small moves, the tics and subtext that reveal who`s
got the upper hand?
Well, here are some moments from past debates that became the whole
story. First, that awkward moment in the third and final debate between
George W. Bush and Al Gore. Let`s watch this moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It`s not only
what`s your philosophy and what`s your position on issues, but can you get
things done. And I believe I can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, in 1992, in a debate that was conducted in a town
hall format, President George Bush, 41, the senior Bush, was seen checking
his watch, a move that telegraphed boredom and impatience with the whole
debate, fairly or not.
And in 2008, John McCain betrayed his frustration when he referred to
Barack Obama as "that one." Let`s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was an energy
bill on the floor of the Senate, loaded down with goodies, billions for the
oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted
for it? Might never know. That one. You know who voted against it? Me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Where`d he come up with that phrase, "that one"?
What will be the clues tonight to tell us in real time who`s winning?
Steve Kornacki is co-host of MSNBC`s "CYCLE" -- "THE CYCLE." And Bob
Shrum`s a Democratic strategist.
Now, you guys both have a set of ideas to look for tonight. Shrummy,
you start with your biggest thing that you think is tonight`s going to be
the clue. And you`ve said it already. I`ve seen on my screen here. Who`s
winning the definition, meaning who`s defining the debate in their terms.
How does that go? Explain.
BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, Romney wants this and
has always wanted this race to be a referendum. And he`s made the mistake,
his people have, of telegraphing their big question for tonight, which is,
Do you want another four years like the last four years?
If the president has a strong comeback to that, he can pull this back
to what -- the debate and the campaign to what he`s successfully done over
the last few months, and that is the ground of choice. Who stands up for
the middle class? Who favors the few? Who believes we build prosperity by
strengthening the middle class? Who believes in trickle-down?
And whoever wins that battle for definition is most likely to be the
winner of the debate.
MATTHEWS: Steve, that brings up the question -- if he says, let`s not
go back to Bush, you could almost guarantee that Romney will then say,
Well, don`t blame all our troubles on Bush. And then -- and then you got
to have that surrebuttal, that final punch. He`s got to go back to, Oh,
yes? How are you different than Bush? Something like that.
STEVE KORNACKI, CO-HOST, MSNBC "THE CYCLE": Right. Well, I mean,
there has been a pact in the Republican Party for the last four years never
to mention the name Bush in public. So I -- to me, to the extent that
Romney has to talk about Bush at all, that`s a sign that he`s on the
defensive. That`s a sign that he`s losing. And we continue to see this in
polling right now.
There`s some political science that suggests that Obama`s approval
rating is maybe a little higher than it should be because he`s getting a
certain benefit of the doubt because people still remember who was
president in September 2008, they still remember where the economy was in
January 2009, and they`re giving him -- like Clinton laid out at the
convention, they`re willing to give Obama little bit more slack than they
would be giving the normal president with 8 percent unemployment.
MATTHEWS: OK. It`s your turn, Steve.
What do you see as the thing to look for tonight?
KORNACKI: The most interesting one to me, and you were getting at
this in the first segment, involves specificity.
We know that Obama will show up at this thing and demand that Romney
start providing details about, OK, you want to cut taxes for everybody, you
want it to be deficit neutral, you say you will deal with deductions and
loopholes, so let`s start talking about which deductions and which
It`s standard sort of for the opponent to do that. My question is the
neutral, independent moderator. Is Jim Lehrer going to be there demanding
and pressing for specific answers from Romney that Romney has refused to
give in this campaign for obvious reasons, because they would be
politically poisonous if he gets into them?
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think Jim will do?
What do you think, Bob? You have been through this. Will Jim Lehrer
hope that the other guy will do it or will he see it as his primary
responsibility as moderator to say -- because it`s a freeform format. Once
you get the two minutes, each of these guys, it`s up to somebody to say,
OK, do it now, here`s your time. I will give you all the time you want.
Tell me how you`re going to cut taxes.
SHRUM: I think Jim Lehrer will press on this. I think he will say,
what loopholes are you going to close? What tax benefits are you going to
take away? What cuts are you going to make in things like Pell Grants?
I don`t know exactly how he will do it, but I think he will press on
that. He prides himself on being substantive, on understanding these
issues, and on feeling that the purpose of a presidential debate is to get
these guys out of their stump speeches and into a real conversation with
each other and with the American people.
MATTHEWS: Well, that, Shrummy, is what we all try to do in this
business. I think everybody I know tries to do that. Get the person off
the memorized material, because we`re so bored with that. And we don`t
think it teaches us anything.
You had a point about behavior, body language and smiling. I was
taken with your idea that if you smile too much, it looks like a smirk,
that you have to hold your smile to what`s funny. How about that use of
the smile, when something`s really funny?
SHRUM: The smile has -- look, this is no problem for the president.
He`s a natural at this. He can just be himself.
It is a problem for Romney. If you go back and look at Romney`s
acceptance speech, they obviously told him to smile, make yourself look
warm. And after a while, it got very annoying. It looked very unnatural.
And he often looks like he`s smirking.
What Romney has to do tonight is become accessible without looking
contrived. And I think that may be very difficult for him because he`s
going to stick to a very memorized script. They have told him, I suspect,
please don`t say anything spontaneous, because, if you do, if you say the
first thing that pops into your head, it`s probably the wrong thing to come
out of your mouth.
MATTHEWS: I will bet you $10,000 he doesn`t do it. What do you
MATTHEWS: That was a joke. You can smile, Shrummy.
SHRUM: I did.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you.
OK. What`s your next idea?
No. Mine kind of plays off of that. I think Romney`s very good in
these debate settings when he`s carrying out pre-scripted attacks. When
sticking with a script, he can be very effective.
My question is...
MATTHEWS: Well, who can`t? You`re reading somebody else`s script.
Who can`t be good?
KORNACKI: But here`s the thing that I`m looking at. There`s a common
trait among people who have run against Mitt Romney, Democrat and
MATTHEWS: They don`t like him.
KORNACKI: They don`t like him.
MATTHEWS: How did I know the answer? They don`t like him.
KORNACKI: They resent him personally, Giuliani, McCain, and by all
MATTHEWS: That`s why McCain picked Palin, because he couldn`t stand
KORNACKI: He would never put that guy on the ticket.
So I`m wondering, if Romney is very good at carrying out these
attacks, and Obama generally resents this guy, bristles at his criticism,
is it easy for Romney to get under his skin?
And I`m thinking of the most unflattering debate moment that Barack
Obama has had was in January 2008 up in New Hampshire, when he said to
Hillary Clinton, you`re likable enough, Hillary. And I`m wondering if that
part of Obama...
MATTHEWS: Was that just smugness or did someone get that -- he just
seemed to do that spontaneously. I agree, it was terrible.
KORNACKI: Yes. And that`s what I`m saying. Can Romney knock him off
his game by getting under his skin
MATTHEWS: What would drive Obama crazy?
KORNACKI: The attacks, when Romney comes at him with just these broad
stroke indictments of the last four years.
MATTHEWS: Bob, and something that is really serious tonight, and it
could get ugly, we`re hearing all this stuff leaking from the Romney camp
about how he`s going to hit him on dishonesty.
I don`t know how somebody stands on a platform and lets somebody go
across them with broadsides about their integrity being a problem. I don`t
want you do with that. How does Obama deal with a charge that he`s
dishonest, if it comes?
SHRUM: Oh, I think he just answers it.
My bet, by the way, is, he`s come a long way since that debate where
he told Hillary Clinton she was nice enough. He is going to be very
contained, very self-controlled, and I suspect very presidential.
My guess is that that`s part of the whole preparation process the
president`s gone through. He`s not going to let Mitt Romney get under his
skin because he`s very conscience of the fact that that would represent a
victory for Romney. That would become the story of the debate, much as Al
Gore`s sighs became the story of the 2000 debate.
MATTHEWS: Yes, the sighs, the bridge of sighs.
Anyway, thank you. Thank you very much, Steve Kornacki of our network
anyway. And thank you, Bob Shrum.
SHRUM: You`re welcome.
MATTHEWS: Great stuff.
As we go to break, we have got new poll numbers from our NBC
News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, also Marist polls. Let`s check the
In Florida, President Obama has a one-point lead over Mitt Romney.
Boy, that`s precarious, 46/47. In Virginia, the president`s lead is two,
48/46. And in Ohio, President Obama has a more comfortable lead, I would
say. He is up 51/43, and that`s eight points.
We will be back with more from Denver and our coverage of the first
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want you to know
that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I`m not going to
exploit for political purposes my opponent`s youth and inexperience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: We`re out here in perfect Rocky Mountain fall weather. And
we have some people here to ask some questions of the candidates. Maybe
they will hear them right now.
A question for who?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a question for both candidates. How will
you assure that all Americans will have access to affordable health care,
especially those battling cancer and other serious diseases?
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For president -- or, rather, for Governor Romney,
I would ask, if you`re going to repeal and replace Obamacare, what are you
going to replace it with?
MATTHEWS: Well said, both of you.
Your thoughts? Who`s it for? Who`s the question for?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is for both candidates.
I`m an archaeology student here. I care a lot about historic
preservation. I want to know what both candidates would say about funding
for the Department of Interior and park services specifically.
MATTHEWS: And you were the Pioneer, right? The Pioneer is the
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: OK. What side are you on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama. Obama all the way! Obama all the way!
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, don`t you have a question for Obama, or you got
all your answers?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a question for Obama and for Romney.
How are you going to manage the student debt crisis and make college
and grad school affordable for all Americans?
MATTHEWS: What`s going on with student loans right now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, for graduate students, we have lost the
ability to have unsubsidized -- thank you -- unsubsidized loans. So I`m
paying a whole lot more out of pocket than I was a year ago.
MATTHEWS: Do you know what I paid for my student loans? Three
percent. Is that a deal, or what?
Anyway, thoughts. Question for who? Question for who?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is for both candidates about gun control.
After this incident we just had in Aurora, we would like to know how we
will have better gun control.
MATTHEWS: That`s Gabby Giffords, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gabby Giffords.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. She`s doing OK, I think.
How you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have the same question about student loans.
MATTHEWS: How are the Sox doing this year?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not too well. Not too well.
MATTHEWS: Well, you got one more painful day, I guess.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Exactly.
I just have a question for Mitt Romney about the student loan debt.
Same issue, what will he do about the rising student loan debt? It`s a
big, big issue for us here.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think since they`re at a college here, they ought
to answer the question, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For both candidates, I would like to know what
you`re going to do to protect the environment from big business. Green
MATTHEWS: Green Party. OK. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a question for Romney. Why not pro-life?
MATTHEWS: He is pro-life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, the women`s abortions, taking away birth
MATTHEWS: Oh, OK. Pro-choice. I think we`re talking pro-choice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pro-choice.
MATTHEWS: That`s all right. Those terms are shorthand anyway.
What do you think there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a question for both candidates and I want
to know what you`re going to do for prisons, how to clear them out, how to
lower costs that affect the voters.
MATTHEWS: Did you want to ask a question back here?
I hear you collaborating. One more. One more.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a question. I have a question for
Romney. The GOP platform states that they have an obligation, they have
this moral obligation to uphold -- to support women who are faced with
So since he`s going to be cutting programs and sending everything back
to the states, and TANF is going to be hurting, we have got a lot of women
who look to TANF to support them when they have unwanted pregnancies. So,
he`s got this moral obligation, Who`s going to do it? Is he going to step
up and pay the bill?
MATTHEWS: Well, we`re getting a lot of questions out here about
women`s rights, abortion rights, of course, a lot about health care and a
lot about student loans. I think it was really great.
Everybody going to vote here?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: I think that`s great.
We will be back with more HARDBALL.
HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Hampton Pearson with your
CNBC "Market Wrap."
The Dow gains 12, the S&P five, and the Nasdaq rises 15 points.
Hewlett-Packard slid 13 percent after the tech giant cut its 2013
earning forecast. Oil prices slid to close at about $88 a barrel, a two-
month low following lackluster economic data from China and Europe.
And employers added 162,000 jobs to payrolls last month, according to
ADP. The September jobs report is due out Friday from the Labor
That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: Great crowd out there.
By the way, there`s a lot of interest there in health care and a lot
of interest in student loans and how expensive they`re getting.
Anyway, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney find themselves in the hot seat
tonight, but their vice presidents have also -- or vice presidential
candidate as well -- have put them in the news as they cross the country,
the country on behalf of their candidates as they go cross-country and both
Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face criticism from their opponents for troubling
statements caught on tape.
And they`re not all the same, of course.
Senator Mark Udall, by the way, is a Democrat here tonight, his home
state of Colorado, and he`s with us right now. And Nia-Malika Henderson is
a political reporter for "The Washington Post" and there she is back at
Anyway, I want you to talk about this. We in the business of
journalism I think are too casual or cavalier about the term gaffe.
Sometimes, somebody says something, they really mean it. And it may cause
some trouble, but it`s not a gaffe because they believe it.
Now, Romney -- we`re going to talk right now about Biden. Let`s take
a look right now. Here`s Vice President Biden. He talks about --
Republicans who are seizing on a line in his remarks yesterday when he
describes the difficulties facing the middle class in the current economy.
Let`s take a look at what Biden said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is deadly
earnest, man. This is deadly earnest. How they can justify, how they can
justify raising taxes on the middle class that`s been buried the last four
years, how in lord`s name can they justify raising their taxes with these
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that created an opening.
Shortly after Joe Biden uttered those words, Mitt Romney tweeted the
following: "Agree with @JoeBiden, the middle class has been buried last
four years, which is why we need a change in November."
By the way, there`s the hashtag cantafford4more.
And later in the day, Paul Ryan, his running made, referred to Biden`s
remarks on the campaign trail thusly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vice President
Biden just today said that the middle class over the last four years has
been -- quote -- "buried."
We agree. That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney
the next president of the United States!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator, this is the new politics. It`s quick reaction,
war room kind of politics. Is it worthy of our attention? Does it mean
something when Joe Biden says buried because he means the middle class has
been squeezed between the rich who are making a fortune and the cost of
living out there?
SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: Chris, we know what Joe Biden meant.
He meant that the previous administration`s policies of eight years
had put the middle class behind the eight ball. The great recession of `08
put the final stamp on those policies. Joe Biden was saying, we need to
continue supporting the middle class, building outwardly from the middle
class and producing an America that`s invested in the 21st century.
It is tough, though. Every day you get back and forth. Some days, I
think we need more substance in our politics.
MATTHEWS: Nia, is this because we need a headline every day, these
headlines that don`t -- I agree it`s a good spitball opportunity for the
Republicans to say that the economy`s buried, the middle class has been
buried by President Obama.
That`s not what he meant. He meant that they`re in a squeeze. But
should we quibble over words or that`s just the nature of the beast?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON
POST": Well, I think it`s certainly the nature of the Romney campaign
They have been chasing rabbits throughout this campaign and I think
this is just the latest example. They had honest Joe T-shirts out that
they rolled out this morning with this comment and with a picture of Joe
Biden. And you have seen them do this, sort of take comments out of
context and then run with them. They did that with the "You didn`t build
that" comment from President Obama.
But, ultimately, I don`t know how far it goes. It`s a news cycle that
we find something to talk about every single day. And it`s hard to believe
that this will actually last.
But I do think it will be something that will come up in the debate
tonight. I imagine that Romney will quote Joe Biden in saying that the
last four years haven`t been so great. And then I think with Ryan`s 30
percent comment, that will likely come up as well, either in the debate
tonight or certainly in the debate next week.
MATTHEWS: Well, my general take on Biden gaffes, as they are, is
they`re harmless. There`s no harm, so therefore no foul.
The Republicans have been caught saying very serious stuff on tape
they didn`t want anybody to hear. These weren`t mistakes in public where
you say the wrong word and you meant to say something else. It`s when
you`re caught saying something you don`t want anybody to know about except
the chosen few who gave 50,000 bucks to hear you.
Here`s a tape of Paul Ryan the "Huffington Post" has dug up this tape
of Ryan last year, talking about 30 percent of Americans wanting a welfare
base. They want to live off the hog, basically. Sounds a lot like Mitt
Romney`s comments 47 percent. Let`s watch the V.P. in action when nobody
was paying attention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Today, 70 percent of Americans get more benefits from the
federal government in dollar value than they pay back in taxes. So, you
could argue that we`re already past that tipping point.
The good news is, survey after survey, poll after poll, still shows
that we are a center-right, 70/30 country. Seventy percent of Americans
want the American dream. They believe in the American idea. Only 30
percent want the welfare state.
What that tells us is, at least half of those people who are
currently in that category are there not of their wish or their will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, I don`t know what he`s talking about. People on
Social Security want to be alive. You get it when you`re 65. That`s the
What`s the problem? He says, like -- like they didn`t want to be
there. They want to be alive. They want to collect their benefits.
He makes it sound like there`s something really wrong getting a check
from the government, and it makes you dependent when you may have worked
from the time you were 14 to 65, and you got a couple of years, maybe 15
years, or 20 years you have good health, of benefits. That`s the deal.
That`s not bad.
Why is he doing this?
UDALL: It seems like they`re doubling down again. And there`s a
dispute between Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney about whether it`s 30 percent or
UDALL: We`re focused on 100 percent.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Why, if you can you have been to politics, can you
remember a time where a political party has carved out a huge percentage of
the country saying we don`t like you, we don`t respect you, we want to get
rid of you in terms of the way you live.
UDALL: That`s the impression they`re leaving, Chris. And certainly,
President Eisenhower didn`t do that, President Nixon didn`t do that,
President Reagan`s success was that he made all of us feel like we were all
in it together. I didn`t always agree with his policy.
MATTHEWS: Well, Nixon said silent majority. These people are trying
to put away the --
UDALL: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: What do you think, Nia, I`ve never seen a politician say,
I`ll take the other part of the vote. I`m not interested in your half, or
in this case, 70 percent he`s giving away.
HENDERSON: That`s right. I have never heard such language. I think
it will allow Obama to do is extend the 47 percent argument to not only
Ryan but also the entire Republican Party. He can say, this is a party
that slices and dices the American public.
And in some ways I think this argument about 30 percent of the people
being lazy, 47 percent of the people being lazy, very much goes against the
idea of American exceptionalism. How can America be that exceptional if,
in fact, 50 percent of the country is lazy?
Of course, we know that`s not true. America is an exceptional
country. So, I think you`re going to see both Romney and Ryan struggle
with this and have something to answer to tonight on stage and then when
Ryan takes the stage ultimately next week. But I do think Ryan and Biden
do have something that neither of the principles have.
And that is, they speak from their gut. They speak from their
hearts. And I think that`s certainly -- it rouses up the base. You see in
Biden, somebody who can speak to biker chicks, who can speak to NAACP --
MATTHEWS: You know why? Nia, are you one of those people that
doesn`t have an underlined copy of "Atlas Shrugged"?
MATTHEWS: Because that`s what these guys have, they have underlined
copies. It`s all about the elite that are holding up this world. They do
all the work. They`re the atlases. That`s what this guy Ryan believes.
That`s -- Rand Paul, he`s named after Ayn Rand. It`s a whole clack
of these people that believe that only the elite are worth talking about.
UDALL: It`s a great novel --
MATTHEWS: They don`t get many votes.
UDALL: It`s a great novel, Chris, but it`s certainly not something -
MATTHEWS: I agree. I love the fact -- anyway, thank you, Senator
Mark Udall. It`s good to see you.
UDALL: Thanks. Chris. Thanks.
MATTHEWS: And, Nia Malika Henderson, back in Washington. It`s
beautiful out here, Nia. It`s for Rocky Mountain. It`s great.
Up next, just answer the question. We`re going to tackle some
questions that could come up in the debate tonight and try to get some
This is HARDBALL live from Denver, first presidential debate here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MODERATOR: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would
favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
MICHAEL DUKAKIS, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don`t,
Bernard, and I think you that I`ve proposed the death penalty during all of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It`s too bad the debate tonight is going to be indoors.
It`s a beautiful part of the country, as you can see.
Anyway, an old presidential debate trick is not to answer the
question that was asked but to answer the question you wish had been asked.
So, tonight, I`m going to ask some direct questions of my own that I want
to hear answered. Answer the question, please?
With me now are two MSNBC political analysts, Pulitzer Prize-winning
columnist Eugene Robinson, will play the role, or defend the role of
President Obama tonight, and former RNC chair Michael Steele is going to
defend the role or even play the role of Mitt Romney tonight.
Let me ask you this question, Mr. Romney -- oh, no, Mr. Obama --
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Yes, go to Obama.
MATTHEWS: You say, sir, because you`re a big friend of the teachers
union, you`re completely against school choice. How come you`re sending
your two beautiful daughters to private school? Is choice just for the
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Chris, let me tell you
what I believe. Let me tell you what I believe.
MATTHEWS: Answer the question.
ROBINSON: I believe in good schools.
MATTHEWS: OK. Who doesn`t?
ROBINSON: I believe in schools that will prepare every young boy or
girl for the 21st century.
MATTHEWS: Are you for school choice?
ROBINSON: I believe that that effort necessarily has to be centered
in the public schools. The private schools are going to do their jobs.
They`re doing their jobs now.
MATTHEWS: But no help to them up. You don`t want to give them any
I know Michael does because we agree on this.
STEELE: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to you because that answer I found --
ROBINSON: -- you cut the funding --
MATTHEWS: Somewhat adequate but only for a day of (INAUDIBLE).
ROBINSON: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: Let`s go to Romney. Mr. Steele, you say it`s fair you a
pay a lower tax rate than most average Americans pay. You pay about 13
points. The average top rate or the top rate is 35 for marginal income in
your bracket. Tell the American people why you think that`s fair, that you
pay 13 in the tax reforms you let out, and most people have to pay tax book
that says 35 percent top rate.
STEELE: Well, in typical fashion, you know, the liberal media has
misled my record and misled what I`ve said.
So the reality of it is that I paid the 35 percent on that income
when I earned it. I invested that income and then that money that I earned
off of those investments, I paid what the cap gains rate is which was about
13 percent. The typical person out there who`s making $50,000 a year,
their effective rate, Chris, if you know this, is about 5 percent to 7
percent. So I`m still paying more based on your argument.
MATTHEWS: So money you make off of money, you only pay 13 percent.
So if you don`t sweat, you don`t pay that rate?
STEELE: That`s the law. The top rate --
MATTHEWS: You`re running for president to decide what the law is,
and as president you get to decide --
STEELE: -- Republican Congress get the numbers right.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about a foreign policy. We`re having
a lot of problems in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama. Vice President Biden had a
plan to change that a couple of years ago. He said switch from a counter
insurgency strategy which puts troops on the ground fighting all those
tribal wars, and go back to simply an anti-terrorism strategy, which
perhaps even protects or strengthens that country, limits our casualties
and focuses on al Qaeda.
Why not do that? Why didn`t you do that, Mr. President? It would
have saved a lot of lives.
ROBINSON: First, I think that`s kind of an oversimplification of the
vice president`s position. He`s a very sophisticated analyst of that
region. I`m filibustering here.
ROBINSON: But, then, if I were President Obama I would say, look,
the vice president and I agree that when we came to office, we were losing
a war. We were losing it badly and losing it in a way that would have been
catastrophic for the region and would have made Americans less safe.
So I increased the troop presence there, stabilized the situation,
get to a point where we could begin the withdrawal. That`s what we do.
MATTHEWS: Was Biden right?
ROBINSON: Biden was one of our advisers. He had input on our
decision as he has and --
MATTHEWS: In the fight over whether to stay in Afghanistan and
fighting a counter-insurgency campaign, were you wrong and was your vice
ROBINSON: Vice President Biden understood very well the challenge of
Afghanistan and understood what we needed to do and what we need to do
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go to another war front. Governor Romney, you
supported the Vietnam War. You were one of the people jumping up and down
in the demonstrations. You were demonstrating for the war.
MATTHEWS: And we had a couple million people go over there and fight
that war. Were their lives worth it but yours weren`t? Your time wasn`t
even worth it. Why were you such a hawk on that war as a student but never
bothered to join up?
STEELE: Well, Chris, you know, everyone had an opportunity to serve
their country and at the time, you know, I had religious objections in one
MATTHEWS: What were those?
STEELE: Well, just from my own personal faith tradition.
MATTHEWS: But you were for the war.
STEELE: Yes. But I`m just saying, my own personal view of it and
supporting the national effort is two different things.
MATTHEWS: Where do you get a crazy religion like that? That`s a
religion you just made up, sir. I`ve never heard of that religion.
STEELE: It`s how you answer the question.
MATTHEWS: That makes a lot of sense. I don`t get shot. The other
guy does but that`s my religion.
MATTHEWS: I can`t believe what you`re saying.
Let`s go back to you. What do you think is going to be the biggest
thing tonight, the biggest fight?
ROBINSON: The biggest fight? Boy, good question. I don`t know that
there`s going to be a fight.
MATTHEWS: Is this going to be an attempt by Obama to get the answer
from Romney, what are you going to actually do with all of these taxes?
ROBINSON: Well, here`s the thing about tonight. Michael and I were
talking about this earlier. We don`t know -- either of these guys could
screw up tonight basically. I mean, so we don`t know that they are going
to be -- there is going to be this correct debate and everybody is going to
do what they ought to do.
MATTHEWS: Do you think they will stay careful?
ROBINSON: I think they are conscious and weary at first, but either
Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, just because of the people they are, either
one is capable of giving that wrong body language, that wrong --
MATTHEWS: OK. I`d be nervous, Gene, and I`d be nervous if I were
Romney if we`re 15 minutes in and it seems boring, I`d begin to get
STEELE: I think you`re right. In that moment he`s got to make a
decision, does he play that card to ramp it up or stay with the flow of how
things are going? Because if he stays with the flow of how things are
going, he`s probably going to play to the president --
MATTHEWS: You know what I do in the show sometimes when I think it`s
a slow enough a little bit?
STEELE: What do you do?
MATTHEWS: I throw the bomb.
STEELE: You do.
ROBINSON: But you have a good sense of people.
ROBINSON: And you like interacting with people.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I do.
STEELE: Neither of these men do.
MATTHEWS: How did you know that? These guys are (INAUDIBLE). You
have just nailed it. These guys would rather not be here tonight.
Anyway, I think we`re having more fun. Anyway, thank you, Michael
Steele. Thank you, Gene Robinson.
When we return, let me finish with what I`ll be looking for, for the
You`re watching HARDBALL, live from Denver, the first presidential
debate. We`ll be back.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish with what I want y`all to look for tonight.
Look for motive. What is he out there this guy? What`s he really want to
do as president? And who for? Why does he think he should be president at
this time in our history?
Look also for passion. What turns this guy on -- America, the idea
behind this country, the chance to help people deal with their really hard
And what makes this guy laugh, makes him cry, makes him give a damn,
beneath the nice suit, the tie, and the shine shoes, what`s soul lies
there? What spirit, what`s the music to this man?
And, finally, maybe the easiest to catch, and the hardest to forge,
spontaneity. OK. The lights are on, is anybody home? Does this person
react to the moment? Does he come alive when faced with a challenge, a
question he hadn`t expected? Does he like this arena of the mind? And
through it, does he love the challenge of serving and leading this country?
And if he has it all -- motive, passion, spontaneity, stop looking
for a president. You found one.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Join us again at
7:00 p.m. Eastern for another live edition of HARDBALL from Denver. And
then at 8:00 Eastern, I`ll join Rachel Maddow and the MSNBC team for full
"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.
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