updated 12/17/2013 10:10:51 AM ET 2013-12-17T15:10:51

HARDBALL
December 16, 2013
Guest: Ryan Grimm, Clarence Page, Alexander Burns

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


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Boehner quits the clown car.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews, back in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this, the difference between being a child and
being a grownup. That`s a big difference. It`s a difference in stage in
life but also of job description. I got it from Charles Schulz, that
wonderful guy who created "Peanuts."


Here`s the deal. If you`re a kid, you get to sit in the back seat and
fight. We`ve all heard it. And believe me, we`ve all done it. She`s
sitting on my side. She just touched me. He just touched me. I`m hungry.
When are we getting there? I`m car sick.

That`s the kid`s job, just sit back there blaming and complaining.

What`s the grownup`s job? Well, first of all, to sit up front, make the
car payments, keep up on the registrations and driver`s licenses, pay for
the gas, pay for the insurance, and most important, know where the hell
you`re going and how to pay for it when you get there.

Well, last week, the speaker of the House, who spent the last months and
years speaking for the kids in the back of the car, spoke like a grownup
and said, I`ll drive the car, but I`m not going to drive a crazy car, damn
it. I`m the speaker of the House. I`m second in line to the American
presidency, not the Mad Hatter of the Tea Party. That`s what he said.

Howard Fineman`s the editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group
-- and he`s chuckling already, I like that -- and an MSNBC political
analyst . And Joy Reid is also happy with my words. She`s managing editor
of TheGrio, of course, and an MSNBC contributor.

It does seem strange that Boehner -- here`s a reminder, by the way, of John
Boehner, what he said last week and surprised us all, finally taking on the
Tea Party and those way-outside groups that have consistently tried to
thwart Boehner`s leadership job itself.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, frankly, I think
they`re misleading their followers. I think they`re pushing our members in
places where they don`t want to be.

And frankly, I just think that they`ve lost all credibility. You know,
they pushed us into this fight to defund "Obama care" and to shut down the
government. Most of you know -- my members know -- that wasn`t exactly the
strategy that I had in mind. But if you`ll recall, the day before the
government reopened, one of the people -- one of these groups stood up and
said, Well, we never really thought it would work.

Are you kidding me! Now, there just comes to a point when some people step
over the line. You know, when you criticize something and you have no idea
what you`re criticizing, it undermines your credibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, this weekend, "The New York Times" reported that his, the
speaker`s, criticisms of those groups in private to House Republicans was
even stronger. According to people in the meeting, Speaker Boehner said
about the groups, quote, "They are not fighting for conservative
principles. They are not fighting for conservative policy. They are
fighting to expand their lists, raise more money and grow their
organizations, and they are using you to do it. It`s ridiculous."

Powerful stuff, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST MEDIA GROUP, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He`s fighting them and they`re fighting back.

FINEMAN: And having talked to Republicans who know him and talk to him,
this was both a plan and an emotional response by the speaker. He`d had
it. He`d just had it. And the effect was galvanizing. It`s almost as
though when he said it, a spell was broken, and a lot of people who
otherwise were hanging back took their lead from him and said --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: -- and said, Enough. Now, how long that will last? Who knows?
But for the time being, the fact that he was the adult in the front of the
car and told the kids in the back to shut up --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: -- had an effect, had a real galvanizing effect in Congress, as
few things have done in the Republican leadership in recent months.

MATTHEWS: It`s Al Roker said in one of his books, Don`t make me stop the
car, Joy.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Don`t make me stop the car. And I think we just saw the car
stop there. And he said, These clowns have humiliated me, ridiculed --
made me into one of them.

JOY REID, THEGRIO, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, absolutely --

MATTHEWS: I`m not going to be the Mad Hatter of their Tea Party anymore.
And I`m wondering, is this the long-protected -- or projected Republican
civil war on the right, where what`s left of the moderate Republican Party,
what`s left of it, outnumbered or not, takes on the crazies.

REID: And Chris, what you call the moderate --

MATTHEWS: Is it?

REID: -- Republican Party is the conservative Republican Party. Look, I
think -- you know, and the reason I liked your analogy is, I mean, I have
three kids. I`ve been on those car rides and I know it can be tough to --
with the chorus on the back trying to tell you how to drive.

The reality is, is that Boehner has been trying in his own way to represent
his members. And this is what his members have been up against, groups
that are funded by -- you know, groups like Heritage Action, run by Jim
DeMint, who wasn`t exactly Mr. Popularity when he was in the Senate anyway,
groups like Grover Norquist`s Club for Growth, groups that specialize in
primarying Republicans, not going after Democrats, primarying their own
team.

And there are a lot of members who`ve been really governing in terror
because they`re afraid these groups are going to throw up a primary
challenge. They`ve been forced to do things like go for this government
shutdown. And they`ve really had the Senate -- people like Ted Cruz
telling them what to do.

I think that there`s been a lot of frustration boiling up in the caucus
because when you hear the speaker voicing that kind of frustration, that`s
also coming up to him from other members who are saying, I got to go home
and tell people at reelection time that I`ve done something, anything.
Let`s not just shut the government down.

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, let`s take a look. Well, other Republican leaders
ask the question, Back Boehner up or go after him? So far, it doesn`t seem
so. Here`s what Paul Ryan told a Wisconsin radio station. And by the way,
here he is talking back home, which is very important. Here he is not
exactly backing up his leader.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), FMR. VICE PRES. CANDIDATE: I don`t think it`s that
serious. I think John got -- his emotions got ahead of him a little bit.
I credit the Tea Party with helping us get our -- get our mojo back,
getting fiscal conservatism back into the Republican Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Kiss, kiss. Anyway, that echoes what he said this weekend on
"MEET THE PRESS." Let`s watch him -- boy, this is -- this is playing to
both sides. Here he is, sort of being nice to his leader, but not really.
Here`s Paul Ryan skipping off the reservation here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: I think John just kind of got his Irish up. He was frustrated that
these groups came out in opposition to our budget agreement before we
reached a budget agreement.

I was frustrated, too, but I think these are very important elements of our
conservative family. I would prefer to keep those conversations within the
family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I couldn`t believe Patty Murray`s face looking at the guy right
there (INAUDIBLE) she didn`t like that character.

Anyway, also today, Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas said he was sorry
Boehner took the whole thing public. Look at how these guys are heading
over to the Tea Party. Let`s watch Hensarling.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: We all need to be held accountable, but at
the same time, you know, politically, you ought to be focused on the
president and Harry Reid and those kind of folks. So you know, I think
most of us are pulling for the same thing. And yes, I thought the
speaker`s comments were a little bit unfortunate.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Howard, these guys are all jumping away from him. You know,
they`re more scared of the crazy right back home at the next Tea Party
meeting -- I always say the loudest guy in the back row is more their
leader than Boehner is.

FINEMAN: Well, I think the interesting thing is going to be watch what
Speaker Boehner does. I don`t anticipate, from talking to people who know
him well and who watch him a lot, that he is going to take the spell-
breaking outburst of the other day and continue that as a strategy all the
way along.

In other words, I do not think this is the beginning of an all-out war
between Speaker Boehner and people within his own caucus. I don`t see that
at all. I think this is where he said, You guys forced me into shutting
the -- into the government shutdown threat. I didn`t want to do it. And
this is the makeup call for that. I`m not going for it this time around.

I think he is still concerned enough that he`s not going to be in open war
with these people at all, and they know it, and they`re --

MATTHEWS: Why not? Why is he afraid of them? Because he obviously
doesn`t like them.

FINEMAN: He doesn`t like them, but he can`t -- if he`s in open war with
them, he can`t do his job as speaker at all. The only way he seemed to
have done his job is by basically doing their bidding for most of the last
year.

MATTHEWS: How many House Republicans are there, 20?

REID: Yes, there`s -- no, there`s more than that, 232, I believe --

MATTHEWS: OK, well, that`s how many seats they won. But anyway, they got
vacancies. And there`s what, how many Tea Party people, do you think?

FINEMAN: Oh, I think -- I think, functionally, 70 maybe --

MATTHEWS: So it`s that many.

FINEMAN: -- 78. Yes, I think so.

MATTHEWS: SO he`s -- but doesn`t he outnumber them?

FINEMAN: Yes, but all the others are afraid -- all the others are looking
over their shoulder at the ones who are the activist Tea Party people
themselves.

MATTHEWS: This is -- this is the tail wagging the dog. Joy, get in here.

REID: No, I --

MATTHEWS: Because this is -- this is just something to watch. Why do the
70 dominate the other -- the rest of the 230?

REID: Well --

MATTHEWS: What`s this about? We`ve been watching this thing on this show
for a couple of years now, watching the tail wag the dog --

REID: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- and the dog`s yelling back at the tail now. And now he`s -
- according to Howard, who`s knows this stuff well, he`s more afraid of the
tail. He respects the tail more than his own head!

REID: Well, because --

MATTHEWS: This is weird!

REID: Well, for one thing because you still have a couple of months yet
when you don`t have primary deadlines closing yet. I think if you were
closer to the time when it was too late for people to get into a primary,
people could be a little braver. But at this point, people could still get
in.

MATTHEWS: I see.

REID: I mean, you`re seeing people like Cornyn get a primary. You`re
seeing people like Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader getting a
primary. So people always have their eyes on those deadlines.

And the second thing is, these groups are terrible at winning special
elections because they put up such out-there candidates. But they`re
pretty good at raising big, fast money to run primaries. And a lot of the
people, even you`re not in the 70s, they`re afraid of attracting attention
because if you attract the attention of one of these outside groups, they
can pour substantial money into a primary race against you, get some Tea
Party leader to run against you, and they`re all terrified of that. So
even the ones --

MATTHEWS: OK --

REID: -- who privately may feel like they --

MATTHEWS: So --

REID: -- hate this, they`ve got to go on.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Joy, is it your bet -- then back to Howard. Is it your bet that
he`s going to tuck it in again?

REID: I think --

MATTHEWS: And he`s going to back (ph) and say, Never mind, I didn`t mean
to say something so mean.

REID: I think --

MATTHEWS: I`m really afraid of you guys.

REID: Yes. I think after the budget fight, you`re going to see the next
big chance for him to stand up is going to be on immigration. I am not --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I never thought that.

REID: I do not think he`s going to stand up to them. He`s not going to
stand up to them. He`s going to go back in a crouch.

MATTHEWS: He`s not going to schedule that vote. They don`t want that vote
scheduled --

REID: They don`t want it.

MATTHEWS: -- he`s not going to schedule it. Not on path to citizenship.

FINEMAN: This is my point, Chris. This is a -- to some extent, it`s a
one-off. The other thing that you don`t see is a truly organized effort by
John Boehner, by Karl Rove, by the Chamber of Commerce, by all the, quote,
"establishment Republicans" to counter the focus and rigorousness of the
Tea Party people.

REID: Exactly.

FINEMAN: It`s sort of like the NRA against --

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s not get so establishment here in our thinking
(INAUDIBLE) analysis because I`m with you. But I also step back to my gut
sense of politics, which is what word do you want to yell really loud right
now if you`re a Republican? Yes or no?

FINEMAN: No, I know what --

MATTHEWS: I think they want to yell no. And that`s why I think when they
go into a primary, they want to say no to any --

REID: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: -- name-brand Republican, any establishment position, the
easiest, guttural gut -- gut way of saying something else (ph). You know
what I feel? No!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And Boehner`s trying to say yes.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: I was fascinated -- I was fascinated by the fact that he said
there in that sound bite, I didn`t want to shut the government down. I
think he even said I didn`t want to -- I didn`t want to end "Obama care."
That was the phraseology he used.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: The way forward to join the two parts of the Republican Party is
to focus on "Obama care."

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And that`s -- if they can do that, if they can get the Tea Party
people and the establishment people to focus on the dismantling of "Obama
care," that is the Republicans` "no" theme for 2014.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think they`ve got a lever to do that, though.

REID: No, they --

MATTHEWS: Do they.

REID: And then they`re going to get sidetracked --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They`re going to go fight over debt ceiling --

(CROSSTALK)

REID: They`re going to fight over immigration, too. They`re going to get
sidetracked --

MATTHEWS: Yes, I don`t think --

REID: -- into the unattractive no --

MATTHEWS: -- they`re going to (INAUDIBLE)

REID: -- which is on immigration.

FINEMAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: We got to go. This is going to be a hot fight this year. I`m
still waiting to see whether Boehner`s going to be a stand-up guy or not.
I`m sorry, that`s not a sexist comment -- stand-up person. Is he going to
stand up to these enemies of his that have made fools out of him? Will he
be the Mad Hatter anymore? Anyway, we`ll see.

Howard Fineman, thank you, Joy Reid. See you soon.

Coming up, march to madness. The best evidence that Republicans are
willing to take the American economy hostage again. Paul Ryan says the
party will see what it can get by threatening default. And he`s supposed
to be the moderate among the redhots.

Anyway, plus, another sign that if you`re a conservative, you can`t be
against the affordable health care act enough. A Republican state senator
said the law has done more damage to the U.S. than the Nazis, the Soviets
and the terrorists combined. And that wasn`t even the weirdest Republican
remark about the law this weekend.

Also, it sounded crazy at first, the idea that New Jersey governor Chris
Christie would purposely cause an epic traffic jam on the George Washington
Bridge to punish a mayor on the Jersey side who didn`t support him. But as
crazy as it sounds, is it true or not?

And "SNL" declares open season on the selfie seen around the world, of
course, that one with David Cameron, the prime minister of Denmark and
President Obama.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the 2016 Iowa caucuses are still two years away, but we`ve
got an early look at how caucus goers rate the probable field, thanks to a
new "Des Moines Register" poll. Catch this. On the Republican side, Iowa
Republicans love Paul Ryan. He`s viewed favorably by 73 percent of
Republicans, three quarters, versus just 10 percent who view him
unfavorably. They also like Mike Huckabee, who last week said he may be
open to another presidential run. Two thirds view Huckabee favorably, less
than one fifth unfavorably.

Different story for Ted Cruz. Less than 50 percent of Iowa Republicans
view him favorably. And Chris Christie doesn`t fare that well, either,
with the highest unfavorables among Republicans in the entire poll. I
guess he`s too East Coast.

On the Democratic side, Iowa`s ready for Hillary. Nine in ten Iowa
Democrats view her favorably versus just five percent who view her
unfavorably. Boy, that shows who`s leading the pack there.

And we`ll be right back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The march to madness -- after taking
it on the chin in the polls during the government shutdown, Republicans,
some of them at least, are finally giving up the kamikaze tactic to destroy
the government. Some of them.


Last week, the House passed a two-year budget agreement which paves the way
for a shutdown truce. And the Senate`s expected to give the legislation
the go-ahead later this week, perhaps tomorrow, though just barely.

But with the threat of a government shutdown likely off the table this
year, the far right is lining up an even bigger hostage, and it`s a
familiar one, the American economy.

Speaking with FOX News`s Chris Wallace, Paul Ryan, the architect of this
budget deal, for this Christmastime, made one thing clear. Republicans
aren`t backing down one bit. In fact, they`re gearing up for an even
bigger fight over, you guessed it, the debt limit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Are you going to demand more in
return for raising the debt ceiling?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), FMR. VICE PRES. CANDIDATE: We as a caucus, along
with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we
want out of the debt limit. We don`t want nothing out of this debt limit.
We`re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit
fight.

One of the problems or concerns I have with the debt limit is we don`t know
when it`s going to hit. Jack Lew, the Treasury secretary, has ultimate
discretion on when this could occur. So the timing of this is very much in
doubt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, if the debt limit is not raised, experts project that the
government could default sometime between March and June, which also
happens to be the heart of Republican primary season in the U.S. Senate.

Look at this calendar of events. John Cornyn`s Texas primary is in early
March. Mitch McConnell`s Kentucky primary is May 20th. Thad Cochran`s
Mississippi primary date is penned for early June. And Lindsey Graham`s
South Carolina primary is scheduled for just a few days later. So they`re
all in hot water in those states.

David Corn is the Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones" and Ryan Grimm
in the Washington bureau chief for the HuffingtonPost. Both are, of
course, MSNBC contributors.

Let`s start, David, then we`ll go to Ryan. This is an interesting
combination. We think this is going to be a smooth season getting through
the holidays. But they`re already lining up for the big gunfight at the OK
corral, if you will. Sometime between March and later in the spring, they
could shut down -- well, shut down the American economy if they go over the
limit.

And these guys say they don`t want to do it. They all say it, but then
they all say, We`re going to threaten to do it right in the middle of the
time that Mitch McConnell is worried about being defeated, Thad Cochran is
worried about getting defeated, Cornyn`s worried about -- so they`re all
tending to go to the right, which means shutdown, which means in this case
default.

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, it
kind of reminds me of "Godfather Part 3," when Al Pacino says, Every time I
get out, they pull me back in.

What`s pulling them back in is the gravitational force of the Republican
Party, which is still on the crazy side of the ledger.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: -- you know, those states that you went, but throughout the board.
So while -- you know, I saw Jack Lew the other day, and I asked him if the
-- you know, if the budget agreement means that maybe there won`t be a
default fight. He says, Well, I think it shows that they`re learning.

Now, maybe John Boehner and people in Washington are learning, but
nothing`s changing that much at the grass roots yet. So there still is a
lot of pull on these guys to disrupt, to force Obama to his knees, to take
hostages, and go through the same rigmarole that we`ve had before. That
hasn`t changed, particularly when you have these primaries coming up --

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute! Let`s talk (INAUDIBLE) Do the Republicans
agree they screwed up with the shutdown? Yes, right?

CORN: Well, most of them do --

MATTHEWS: But no --

CORN: -- but not all of them.

MATTHEWS: They don`t seem to have agreed that they screwed up with
bringing this country to fiscal default. That doesn`t seem to scare them
because they didn`t actually do it. They actually did shut down the
government and paid the price for it. But they didn`t -- Ryan, they didn`t
actually default on the debt, so they haven`t paid the price yet.

I`m afraid it`s one of those things where we`re going to walk right up to
the cliff, and one of these times, we`re going to go over it and suffer
permanent damage to American fiscal credibility, which we`ll pay for for
centuries in terms of increased interest payments and the fact that nobody
wants to invest in our country, or Chinese people not want to keep our
paper any longer.

GRIM: That may be inevitable down the road, but I don`t see that happening
on this --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You don`t see them going this far?

GRIM: Not in the next few months, because I don`t think you can take
anything Republican leadership, including Paul Ryan, take seriously now
before the budget deal is inked.

He can`t go on --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You think this is just a payoff to crazies?

GRIM: Yes. Well, he can`t go on TV right now and say, OK, we`re going to
cave on this budget deal and then, oh, by the way, we`re also caving three
months from now. He has to say, oh, yes, we might fight down the road.

MATTHEWS: Is he that smart?

GRIM: Yes. Yes, oh, I --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is that political?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I thought he was an ideologue. He didn`t think like a
politician.

CORN: Well, this is pretty obvious, because he knows that there`s a lot of
dissatisfaction on the right. Whether he`s running for 2016 for the -- in
Iowa or not, he and the party still has to deal with this.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CORN: So, it`s a very easy thing at this point -- Ryan is right -- to say,
well, we`re going to be firm on that, until we get to that point.

MATTHEWS: Well, the only problem is there`s sort of a rejectionist wing of
the party that doesn`t accept climate change, evolution or a debt default.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Look at this. There`s a whole class of Republicans out there on
the record now who have said that the consequences of default are about as
real as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.

That includes red-hots and Tea Party types like Justin Amash, Mick
Mulvaney, Joe Barton. These are all members of Congress -- David
Schweikert. It also includes those on the fringe on the fringe, like Steve
King and Ted Yoho, whose name has been shortened, as well as senators like
Mike Crapo, Tom Coburn, Pat Toomey, and Rand Paul.

Ryan, there are people out there that think that somehow you default and it
doesn`t screw up the American economy, when every sane person says it does.

GRIM: And you will have plenty of no votes on this upcoming debt ceiling
fight.

And whether or not we ever go off the cliff has to do with how this fight
within the Republican Party eventually unfolds. But, right now, leadership
feels -- feels confident. You have listed a lot of the primary dates. And
a lot of folks do have primaries.

And they can vote no in the upcoming. But there are enough Republicans
that can vote yes and move it through. But the key part about primaries is
that there won`t be enough time for somebody to get on the ballot if
there`s a no vote in, say, the middle of March. If your primary is in
March or in April and you haven`t started a campaign yet, you don`t have a
threat. So, there are plenty of Republicans who will see it as a free
vote, because they won`t face a real threat for another two years.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And that`s when they realize they don`t have a primary opponent.

CORN: They want to talk about Obamacare. They think it`s good for them.

MATTHEWS: They don`t want to talk about this.

CORN: No, they don`t want to talk about this.

GRIM: Right.

CORN: So if they do bring the government to the brink again four months,
five months before the general election, that could really be bad for the
Republican Party.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think some of these leaders are talking out both sides of
their mouth.

CORN: Of course.

MATTHEWS: Like Ryan, for example.

Just a few weeks ago, Republican leaders like Boehner and Mitch McConnell,
even wacko birds like Ted Cruz, were warning about the perils of a default.
And just a sampling from Boehner, McConnell and Cruz, here it is, during
the October debt limit, listen to them tell -- this is when they say it`s
for real. Don`t screw it up. Don`t go past the debt limit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: My goal here is not to
have the United States default on their debt.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The relief we hope for is to
reopen the government, avoid default, and protect the historic cuts we
achieved under the Budget Control Act. This is far less than many of us
had hoped for, frankly,but it`s far better than what some had sought.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: No rational person supports a default. We
should never default on the debt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I just don`t believe this guy Cruz. He`s the guy leading the
fight to default and he says, I don`t believe in it. What does -- what do
-- what do we -- how do you read him if you`re a right-winger? How do you
know what he`s saying?

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: Yes, this is what`s dangerous, because they say they don`t want to
default, yet they say they will use the prospect or threat of a default, as
Paul Ryan said, to get some concessions. So they`re whipping up their
base, and at the same time President Obama has been very clear for the last
two years he will not negotiate on the debt limit.

So they are sort of raising expectations at the same time saying, well,
we`re not really going to do this, but maybe we will as we ink this deal
because we don`t want to tick off our base. It`s very complicated.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What`s better politics? I`m sorry.

What`s better politics, Ryan, talking about debt and craziness or trashing
poor people and African-Americans with food stamp talk and all that stuff?
What`s the better P.R. for these people, because they seem to go back and
forth?

GRIM: Nothing. Like, dead silence is the best politics for them. They --
and that`s what the smarter ones in the party want to do.

MATTHEWS: They will win because people don`t like Obamacare.

GRIM: Keep their mouth shut and just cruise into 2014 and hope that
Obama`s approval rating and whatever they --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Smart thinking.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: And they get those gerrymandered districts. Things -- they have a
lot to their advantage at the moment.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think you`re right. I think there`s some secret
message, which is don`t talk.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. Thank you, David Corn. Thank you, Ryan
Grim.

Up next, the return of the President Obama rodeo clown. And this is
HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

"Saturday Night Live" had no shortage of political material to parody over
this weekend. And so it came as no surprise at all that President Obama`s
famous selfie from Nelson Mandela`s memorial service made it into the
opening sketch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE":

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Yoo-hoo. Hello.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: It`s your favorite German chancellor,Angela Merkel.
Hello.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: OK. What are you doing here?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I have a favor to ask.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: The Danish prime minister has been bragging all over
Northern Europe about her selfie with you.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: And I was hoping that I could get one as well.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I -- I don`t think so.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Oh, really? I feel like you kind of owe me after
the whole wiretapping my cell phone thing.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: OK. But make it quick.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: OK. That one was serious. Now let`s do fun one.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: All right. Don`t worry. I won`t guten Tag that on
Facebook.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Finally, "TIME" magazine`s person of the year has inspired one
small town in Missouri to hold a similar contest of its own. But the honor
in this case may go to an unlikely and perhaps undeserving character.
Remember this guy? Yes, it`s the rodeo clown who made national news for
his some say racially charged mockery of the president at the Missouri
State Fair back in August.

Well, his name is Tuffy Gessling. And while he`s been banned from the
state fair for life, he`s currently leading the pack of nominees chosen for
person of the year award in Sedalia, Missouri, at least the local one. I
guess no bad deed goes unrewarded in Sedalia.

Up next, we have heard a lot of crazy things about the president`s health
care law from the mouths of right-wingers, but the two we heard this
weekend may be the biggest head-scratchers yet. The clown car rolls on in
overdrive coming up next.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.

Just a short time ago, the Senate confirmed Jeh Johnson as the new head of
homeland security. The confirmation is part of a string of presidential
nominations that Senate Democrats are pushing through before the break.

A 500-acre wildfire along California`s Central Coast has forced dozens of
families to evacuate. At least two homes have been damaged. No injuries
are reported.

And Tuesday`s Mega Millions jackpot has hit $586 million. Officials say
brisk ticket sales could push it even higher -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Ted Cruz has a formidable challenger in the hyperbole department these days
when it comes to Hitler references, of course, in describing the Affordable
Care Act. This weekend, a Republican state senator from North Carolina
tweeted this gem -- quote -- "Justice Roberts` pen and Obamacare has done
more damage to the USA than the swords of the Nazis, the Soviets, and
terrorists combined."

Top that, Ted Cruz.

Anyway, "The Charlotte Observer" reports that the North Carolina Republican
Party chairman said that the state senator should apologize, but the state
senator in this case -- his name is Bob Rucho -- is standing firm.

He told a reporter from that paper -- quote -- "The bottom line is I still
believe fully that the negative impact on the finances of North Carolina
and its people is going to be significantly impacted even in comparison to
any of those wars that occurred. People need to open their ears or their
eyes. And this is a serious problem."

And there`s more coming here. Former Pennsylvania Senator and presidential
candidate Rick Santorum speaking at a Young Americans for Freedom event
described a near-apocalyptic set of emotions -- or motions coming into play
by the Affordable Care Act.

It`s a little hard to follow what he says here, so listen closely and see
how many downright falsehoods and loony conspiracy theories he`s packed
into this paragraph. Here we go, Rick Santorum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: If we have a system where the
government is going to be the provider, principal provider of health care
for the country, we`re done, because then you are dependent upon the
government for your life and for your health.

But when Thatcher ran for prime minister, she said -- remember this -- this
is the Iron Lady. She said, "The British national health care system is
safe in my hands." She wasn`t going to take on health care, because she
knew, once you have people getting free health care from the government,
you can`t -- you can`t take it away from them.

And -- and the reason is, is because most people don`t get sick. And so
free health care is just that, free health care, until you get sick. And
then, if you get sick and you don`t get health care, you die. And so you
don`t vote.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: It`s actually a pretty clever system.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: Take care of the people who can vote. The people who can`t
vote, get rid of them as quickly as possible by not giving them care, so
they can`t vote against you.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: That`s how it works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s how it works in the world of Rick Santorum.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I don`t get that deal. There`s so many lies -- I`m sorry --
mistruths here, it`s hard to know where to begin there.

First of all, the government in England -- and, by the way, this one is not
the provider of health care. Every dollar spent in the new Obamacare
system -- if you want to call it Obamacare -- goes to insurance companies,
every dollar spent, whether the subsidies or you pay yourself, or whatever,
self-reliance or a little help from the government, all the money goes to
private sector insurance companies that already exist.

Second of all, people even in the U.K. aren`t getting nothing free. You
don`t get anything free, health care, over there. They pay for it in much
higher taxes.

And Santorum, is he really suggesting that the government of the United
States would deny health care to keep someone from voting so they will die?

Ron Reagan is an MSNBC political analyst and Clarence Page is a Pulitzer
Prize-winning columnist for "The Chicago Tribune."

Ron, let`s go through this, a couple things. First of all, it`s a lie to
say that the government is paying for -- is getting all this money. Two,
the idea that you get free health care anywhere is crazy. You pay for it
in taxes. You always have to pay for it somehow.

But this part here, this sort of death panel write large, that somehow if
you have any kind of national health system, the one that we have now or
the kind of they have in England or Germany or Canada, a different system
of public single provider, they will cut it off to kill you if you don`t
vote their way.

RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And they somehow check the voter rolls and somehow know what
happened in that voting booth and somehow kill off -- what kind of crazy
talk is this by -- by the unusually crazy sometimes Rick Santorum?

REAGAN: Only in the -- only in the fever swamp that Rick Santorum -- only
in the fever swamp that Rick Santorum lives in does this sort of thing
happen.

I mean, can -- may I just observe that, as you implied earlier, that this
was a lot of self-contradictory gibberish, too? Does this man not speak
English, first of all? Can he not express himself clearly? But beyond
that, he`s proposing two things.

One, you can`t have the government provide health care for the people,
because then the people won`t give it up. You can`t take it away.

MATTHEWS: Right.

REAGAN: At the same time, you can`t have the government provide health
care for the people because then they will take it away, this paranoid
fantasy that if a Republican is in the White House, Democrats can`t get
health care and vice versa.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: I mean, really, what sort of a swamp does this guy live in?

MATTHEWS: Well, he must mean -- must mean, Clarence, that if they take
away, they got to be lethal about it. They must kill you, not just wound
you.

(LAUGHTER)

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well --

MATTHEWS: They can`t just have a sickness for a couple weeks. They got to
knock you out of the system.

But this --

PAGE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: This is like, it`s not -- what we`re going to talk about this in
the next segment, whether a governor did it or not so they would cause a
traffic jam to get even with some local mayor.

We`re talking about a guy, a president of the United States who would
systemically kill people by cutting off their health insurance when they
were in dire need.

PAGE: Well, it`s bizarre.

And I read his statement several times.

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE: I heard it. And trying to decipher it, it sounded like he was
actually saying you had better vote for Obamacare and get -- rather, you
had better sign up for Obamacare, get healthier, so that will live and be
able to vote against Obamacare, which doesn`t make any more rational sense
either.

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE: But I think Santorum was really searching for a laugh line here in
this speech to a conservative group. And he wasn`t going to let facts get
in the way of it, right?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Look, we have been thinking about this, but the producers and I
and the executives, everybody has been trying to figure this thing out.

So, let`s all take a look at Rick Santorum and see if he`s sane.

PAGE: Right.

MATTHEWS: If this makes any sane sense on second listening.

Ron, you jump on in this one. You have watched it, and see if you can
decipher any truth here, any truth in this statement.

REAGAN: Uh-huh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: If we have a system where the government is going to be the
provider, principal provider of health care for the country, we`re done,
because then you are -- you are dependent upon the government for your life
and for your health.

But when Thatcher ran for prime minister, she said -- remember this -- this
is the Iron Lady. She said, "The British national health care system is
safe in my hands."

She wasn`t going to take on health care, because she knew, once you have
people getting free health care from the government, you can`t -- you can`t
take it away from them.

And -- and the reason is, is because most people don`t get sick. And so
free health care is just that, free health care, until you get sick. And
then, if you get sick and you don`t get health care, you die. And so you
don`t vote.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: It`s actually a pretty clever system.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: Take care of the people who can vote. The people who can`t
vote, get rid of them as quickly as possible by not giving them care, so
they can`t vote against you.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: That`s how it works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ron, is that how it works, in this Rube Goldberg version of life
here? I`d never heard of anything as crazy as that.

REAGAN: I don`t think a single sentence in there and it was hard to pick
apart the sentences themselves because it all kind of one big run on, but
not a single sentence made any sense. I mean, did you notice that? Most
people don`t get sick.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: Well, that crowd would applaud. Yes, most people don`t get sick.
Everybody gets sick. Every single human being gets sick. And will need
health care.

I mean --

MATTHEWS: By the way, the Margaret Thatcher, we can argue about her. She
was admirable in many ways.

REAGAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I don`t like her social policies. But I got to tell you, she
didn`t cut off anybody`s health care and screw the Labour Party.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, that`s the key here. You know,
why didn`t Margaret Thatcher cut off or even attack health care because for
all of its flaws, the Brits love it compared to --

MATTHEWS: Churchill wouldn`t touch it.

PAGE: Thank you. Same thing with the Canadian system.

MATTHEWS: I know. That`s what they`re afraid of.

PAGE: That`s what they`re afraid.

MATTHEWS: Many people will like it. Maybe he (ph) likes the cereal.

Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan. Thank you, Clarence Page.

Up next, why that kerfuffle involving a New Jersey governor, or Jersey,
most famous governor in Jersey in centuries, Chris Christie, and the most
heavily travelled bridge, the George Washington -- there it is -- become a
national story. Yes, this is the kind of personality we`re going to cover
when it comes to Christie because we`re trying to figure out if the word
bully applies or not. Let`s keep it open for a few minutes.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas hoping to be the next
wild man on the right to defeat a veteran, establishment Republican. But
new polling in Texas shows he`s got an uphill battle ahead. Let`s check
the HARDBALL scoreboard.

According to new poll from the Republican polling firm, Wilson Perkins
Allen Opinion Research Center, John Cornyn leads Stockman in their
Republican primary by 44 points, as of now. It`s Cornyn 50, Stockman six.
Like a bad football score.

Anyway, 39 percent say they`re undecided. That`s a lot. The primary is
three months from now. We`ll see.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Our next story seemed so farfetched at first, it was hard to imagine. The
suggestion that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie intentionally caused a
massive traffic jam on his side, the Jersey side, of the George Washington
Bridge as political payback against a Democratic mayor in Jersey who didn`t
support him for re-election.

But now, two aides close to the governor have resigned and is being treated
as a legitimate news story in papers like "The Wall Street Journal" and, of
course, "The New York Times."

Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for
Politics told "The Newark Star Ledger," quote, "When you run for president
you`ll be questioned about absolutely everything. And you can`t bluff your
way past something like this. It`s not personal life or his weight, it`s
related directly to his conduct in office."

But Christie sarcastically denied any involvement in closing the lanes on
the bridge and mocked the reporter who asked the question in a press
conference. Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I worked the cones, actually, on
that. Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was
in overalls and a hat. So, I wasn`t -- but I actually was the guy working
the cones out there. You really are not serious with that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, we asked the Governor Christie`s office late today whether
he instructed anybody to close those lanes to the bridge. His deputy
communications director referred us to what the government said himself in
the press conference this past Friday when asked whether he told anyone to
close those lanes. Governor Christie responded absolutely not. So you got
an answer from him.

Ed Rendell is the former governor of Pennsylvania and MSNBC political
analyst.

Alexander Burns is a senior political writer for "Politico".

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

This seems to be a story and I think I know why. But, Governor, why do you
think it is a story about something where there may have been some payback,
political -- you know, the usual sort of sharp elbow stuff that goes on in
politics occasionally. Why is it a story now?

ED RENDELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s only a story because it feeds
into the narrative that Governor Christie is a bully, that he`s intemperate
and that he`s vengeful.

And the reason this story seems to have legs is no one`s given any
explanation why the lanes were closed if the governor didn`t order it. And
that the two port authority people who supposedly ordered it stepped down.
It`s going to raise serious questions. And again, it plays into the
narrative of a bully.

MATTHEWS: Yes, let me go to Alex.

I agree with you, Governor, on that, because I think what people like is a
little bit of tough guy. They like the fact that when somebody asked him
in a press conference, why do your kids go to private school, he said "none
of your business." To an extent, it is within his world and he`s allowed
to protect that world.

But New Jersey`s not his world. That`s not his household. That`s the
state of Jersey.

Do you think this brings into question whether the guy is just too much of
a tough guy if it`s true? And if it is, certainly he needs to be more
declarative in killing the story.

Go ahead.

ALEXANDER BURNS, POLITICO: Sure, and he`s light with his candor at the
press conference Friday, sort of almost daring Democrats in the state and
nationally to come after him, and the state Democrats are delighted to do
it, Chris. If you look at the results of that election last November,
Christie really had no coattails. He still has a very robust Democratic
majorities in both the state assembly and Senate, and these are people with
subpoena power who are going to make the absolute most of it against a guy
who they view as a likely Republican presidential nominee.

MATTHEWS: So, let`s go to the factual reporting quest here. Why did the
two top guys in the port authority quit? They are Christie appointments,
apparently. Why did they walk, except he told them to walk or they took
the blame, they took the bullet here? What`s going on here?

Governor, you answer this. Why would your top guys quit in such a public
fashion from the very place in which there`s charges being made here about
misuse of power?

RENDELL: Well, only two reasons. One, because they were told to quit,
told to resign, or two, because they did it on their own.

And if they did it -- I can`t imagine two people closing the busiest bridge
in America on their own. Can`t imagine that.

MATTHEWS: Yes, suppose -- let me get back to Alex -- suppose there`s an
accident, suppose somebody needs medical care. There are so many unknowns
in a situation where people are waiting in line. You know, we`ve all been
stuck there wishing we weren`t stuck in traffic, and things go wrong in the
cars that have to be dealt with.

BURNS: Well, exactly, and that`s why the explanation that`s been offered
to date, which is that the lanes were closed in some kind of traffic study
-- really, that`s a bit of a tough sell on a bridge where it`s hard to
believe you would create more traffic than there is unnecessarily by
choice.

So, Chris, I think that, you know, there are a lot of reasons why people
resign from their jobs. I think that -- it behooves all of us to remember
that whenever something goes wrong in government, we do tend to call for
somebody`s got to get fired. Somebody`s got to take the blame.

So, the best-case scenario, the most generous explanation for Christie is
that that`s exactly what`s happening here, that there was a mistake and
somebody had to go.

MATTHEWS: You know, these little things, I was looking back, Governor,
about political history. I know you love it, too.

When Tom Dewey, the governor of New York, was running, way front-runner
back in `48 and a train bolted ahead by accident because some conductor did
something wrong, and Tom Dewey, who was way ahead of Truman at the time,
said some lunatic just started this train. And next thing, the guy says,
yes, I don`t think anything more of him than before, which isn`t much, and
he lost points at that.

People got a look at his personality, Tom Dewey`s in this case, and they
thought he was an arrogant SOB and didn`t like him. They thought typical
elitist looking down on the working guy. This isn`t there yet, but it`s an
interesting look into what might be an M.O. here. Might be.

RENDELL: And if you put all the incidents together, chasing the guy down
the boardwalk, screaming at him -- you put them all together, it paints a
picture that`s not a picture that`s going to play well in areas of the
state that are not like Philly or New York or New Jersey, that are not
rough-and-tumble areas.

MATTHEWS: You didn`t want that reputation, did you?

RENDELL: No, I wanted the reputation --

MATTHEWS: You never had that.

RENDELL: I wanted the reputation of being a tough guy who stood up, but
not being a bully.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think there`s a -- give me the fine line, Alex, here,
because people really -- I know myself, jersey relatives, they loved it
when he said none of your business when it was a family matter. This isn`t
a family matter. This is a governmental matter.

BURNS: No, it`s not, Chris, and even when you do add up all the reactions,
as the governor was just saying, the guy on the boardwalk, the don`t
question my kids, the helicopter to the kids` soccer match or whatever
sport it was. You know, you can put together a pretty good clips reel of
Governor Christie looking fairly thin-skinned, and the Democrats have and
they will continue to do that.

MATTHEWS: Governor, how`s he put a cap on this, if he did have something
to do this? Does he admit it or hope time will forget it? I don`t think
time will forget it.

BURNS: I think he has to let it ride and take whatever damage he takes in
the short run. In and of itself, it`s not a big thing, Chris, but it`s
part of the narrative, and what he`s got to do is pivot off this and be a
kinder, gentler Chris Christie.

MATTHEWS: Yes, maybe he should be out there removing the cones sometimes.

Anyway, thank you, Alexander Burns. He says he doesn`t do that kind of
work.

Anyway, thank you, Ed Rendell, governor -- former governor of Pennsylvania.

When we return, we`ll finish with the Democrats who might run for president
next time around. The race is still very much up in the air.

And we`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

Christmas is upon us, and we just got back from New York and the annual
weekend of the Pennsylvania Society. Vice President Joe Biden gave a
powerful speech about his roots in Pennsylvania, which was very well
received by the big dinner crowd at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

It made me think that the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is still
very much up in the air. We don`t know if former Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton is running. My strong hunch is that the vice president,
Joe Biden, would very much like to be considered for the top job.

We will know a lot more a year from now after the midterm elections.
Secretary Clinton will be under pressure then to declare. The vice
president will have to make his move, perhaps without knowing what the
front-running prospect Secretary Clinton will do. All this will make it
interesting.

And I`m wondering if Secretary John Kerry is giving thought to a run
himself in 2016. He`s doing a powerful job at state, there`s no
questioning that fact, only the extent to which he reaches success with the
Iran deal, and of course, with the Middle East. If he makes progress on
both fronts, his success will have to be considered by all wanting to keep
the White House in Democratic hands. Again, all depends on what Secretary
Hillary Clinton decides, and nobody, perhaps not she herself, knows the
answer.

It`s what makes this business of national leadership so exciting. It comes
down to the individual spirit of individual people. As Winston Churchill
once said, "man is spirit," and that goes for women, too, obviously.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


END

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

Copyright 2013 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>