updated 8/31/2004 10:04:31 PM ET 2004-09-01T02:04:31

Guests: Dorothy Rogers, Laura Ingraham, David Gergen, Bob Taft, Ben Stein, Armstrong Williams

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  President Bush will make certain that we are combating terrorism at the source, beyond our shores, so we don‘t have to confront it here in New York City or in Chicago.  That‘s what it means to play offense with terrorism and not just defense!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to New York and to MSNBC‘s nonstop coverage of the Republican National Convention.  We‘re broadcasting live from Harold Square on 34th and Broadway in the heart of Manhattan.

Tonight, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opens on Broadway in the political primetime role of his career.  Plus, President Bush will introduce his leading lady, Laura Bush, as she takes the stage to portray her husband as a warrior against terrorism.

MSNBC will have it all, the speeches, the political players, the special reports from “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” Anchor Tom Brokaw and NBC‘s Washington Bureau Chief and moderator of “MEET THE PRESS” Tim Russert.  Plus, NBC News reporters from the floor and around the city.

Plus, our guests, including Senators Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Trent Lott, the senator from Mississippi, Ohio Governor Bob Taft, and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, U.S. Congressman David Dreier of California and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

And my panel, radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham, MSNBC Political Contributor Ron Reagan, “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman and, from “U.S. News & World Report,” the former presidential adviser himself, David Gergen.

Plus, first, let‘s go straight to the floor and NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell.

Andrea, let me ask you.  The big hit last night—did the Republicans believe that they beat the Democrats in their first night out?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  They do.  They believe that they really beat up on John Kerry.  I ran into one of their top strategists last night and asked what did he think of Rudy Giuliani‘s speech, and he said he did exactly what we assigned him to do, he was our hit man, he really slashed John Kerry, and that was, of course, your immediate reaction last night after hearing Giuliani‘s speech.

Despite all of the evocative phrases about 9/11 -- you can hear a rehearsal right now for “God Bless America” later tonight in the primetime program.  But despite all of the talk about 9/11 and the emphasis on the war on terror, the real game plan last night was to really hit hard at John Kerry, and, of course, they did.

The theme tonight is compassion.  It is a completely different mood tonight.

And, Chris, what we‘re going to hear from Arnold Schwarzenegger in primetime is that the Republican Party is a party that has welcomed immigrants like him to America.  Of course, this is at the same time as he is threatening a veto of a very important piece of legislation in California, passed by the Senate and the House, which would permit about two million undocumented workers to have easier access to driver‘s licenses out there.  He says that‘s an issue of national security.

Also going to hear from Rod Paige, the education secretary, talking about the no-child-left-behind legislation and from Bill Frist about health care, all of this emphasizing the domestic achievements.

But the real tableau will be the happy Bush family picture.  It‘s going to be highly choreographed.  You‘re going to see Jenna and Barbara, the twins, in primetime introducing their father who will appear by satellite from Pennsylvania, obviously a battleground state, where he will be at a college Republican baseball game.  He in turn will introduce Laura, the most popular of all of the Bushes, here on the convention stage.

So that‘s the game plan for primetime, and it is so choreographed, I think it‘s going to be very hard for any of the network anchors, any of you guys to get a word in edgewise—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I can live with that, Andrea Mitchell.  Thank you.

Let‘s check in right now with NBC‘s Chip Reid, who‘s also on the floor of the convention—Chip.

CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, hi, Chris.

Andrea just mentioned that Laura Bush is nationally the most popular Bush, and let me tell you, with the Texas delegation, it is out of this world.

And I‘m just guessing Dorothy Rogers of Waxahachie, Texas, you are a delegate and who‘s your—who are you the biggest fan of speaking tonight?

DOROTHY ROGERS, TEXAS DELEGATE:  Laura Bush, of course.

REID:  And tell me why.

ROGERS:  Because she‘s our Texas first lady, and she‘s a wonderful person and does a lot for the children and her literacy reading programs and that kind of stuff, and we think she‘s pretty special.

REID:  What do you expect her to say tonight?  This is the night just to show that the Republicans are people of compassion.  How do you think she‘ll make that clear?

ROGERS:  Oh, I think with a lot of things that the Republicans have done.  Today, we went out and did some compassion across New York, and I think she‘ll probably bring some of those things up, some of the compassionate things that the Republicans do and that she‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) responsible for.

REID:  OK.  Dorothy Rogers, thank you very much.

We‘ll be looking forward to that speech.  Chris, back to you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Chip.

Let‘s go to the panel right now.  We‘ve got Laura Ingraham, we‘ve got Ron Reagan, we‘ve got Howard Fineman, we‘ve got David Gergen.

I want to go—I want to enjoy and embroider and wallow in last night.  I‘m a big speech lover.  Rudy Giuliani last night—I think he cooked Kerry‘s goose.

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It was off the charts, and, comparing last night and Bill Clinton in the Democrats‘ convention was the big star of the first night of their convention—and Rudy Giuliani, which is really the future, a lot of Republicans think, for the Republican Party, it was unreal.  No one even minded that he went maybe 10, 15 minutes too long by some standards.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, that‘s the first time I haven‘t minded a long speech.

INGRAHAM:  Me neither.  I was like more, we want to hear more, and, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s...

INGRAHAM:  ... the important thing was that he traced the line, terrorism, where it started, Achille Lauro, Yasser Arafat to today.  That was very important, and the Bush administration sometimes hasn‘t done a good job of drawing those lines together.

MATTHEWS:  They should start with Bobby Kennedy in ‘68.

INGRAHAM:  Terrorism has long roots.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look, Laura, at what we saw last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR:  My point about John Kerry being inconsistent is best described in his own words, not mine.  I quote John Kerry: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”

(CHEERING)

GIULIANI:  Maybe—maybe this explains John Edwards‘ need for two Americas.

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI:  One...

(CHEERING)

GIULIANI:  One—one—one where John Kerry can vote for something and another one where he can vote against exactly the same thing!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s something to watch that done well.

Ron Reagan, those pauses, those wonderful pauses.

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that?

REAGAN:  There are so few really good speakers in politics today that when you see somebody like Giuliani stand up there and grab the room and hold it like that, it really, really makes an impression.

MATTHEWS:  Was he a great communicator?

REAGAN:  He was a great communicator, yes.  I could, you know, quibble with some of the things he said, some of the contents.

MATTHEWS:  So can we all.

REAGAN:  Yes.  But the body language, the timing and everything was there.  Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he‘s no longer in office because, you know, when politicians get out of office or even when they think they‘re about to get out of office, losing an election, they suddenly loosen up, and maybe that‘s what‘s going on with him.  But it was a very good speech.

MATTHEWS:  I loved the way he played with the crowds, and he teased with them with “Maybe that‘s why they need two Americas,” and the crowd...

Howard, they gradually caught the joke.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, they got the joke, and he just sailed on the emotion and the energy of that.

He‘s a—turned himself into a great speaker.  He wasn‘t when he first came to Washington, we remember, years and years ago.  But he‘s also not only been mayor of New York and America‘s mayor, he‘s been traveling the country for Republican candidates the last couple of years.  People haven‘t paid that much attention, but he has.  He‘s slowed his cadence.  He‘s not just speaking New Yorkese anymore.  He‘s speaking to the whole country.

That was a presidential campaign kickoff, if I ever saw one, and I predict now he will join up with somebody like Ralph Reed who knows the South, and you‘re going to have a union of the South and the Bible Belt and Rudy Giuliani trying to get the nomination next time it becomes available.

MATTHEWS:  Only an alchemist could think of that.

David...

FINEMAN:  I‘m telling you.  I‘m telling you.

MATTHEWS:  David, you have that same ability.  When you want to say something important, you slow down a bit, that control of the cadence.  You know, northerners are accused of—people like me—of speaking too fast.  I think he might travel.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  I think he‘ll travel very well.

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN:  I thought it was one of the most memorable convention speeches we‘ve seen since 1984 with Mario Cuomo, and, you know, it‘s—the  conventional wisdom is you can‘t hold an audience more than 20 minutes, and he went on for 40 minutes, and I thought it was spellbinding, partly because of the drama of 9/11 and how well he retold that story, but also because of the deft way he used humor as a weapon against John Kerry.

And if he‘d gone after him with a sledgehammer, it would have been way too heavy-handed, especially in the midst of 9/11.  But I thought the way he used the humor was very, very good.

But the other thing, Chris, you know, you all did a service last night on MSNBC showing that speech.  The over-the-air networks should have shown those two speeches last night.  That was not fair to the country to darken the screens last night at the other networks.  Thank goodness you showed it and people had a chance to see it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look, David, at another piece.

Laura, I want you to think about it and respond to the theatrics here.  Is this good for the movies?  Senator John McCain took a swipe at moviemaker Michael Moore last night.  Boy, this is a moment, I think, may well survive all the other moments of this campaign, when a big-time politician took on a big-time movie man.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  A disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe...

(BOOING)

MCCAIN:  ... who would have us believe—who...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Four more years!  Four more years!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Four more years!  Four more years!

MCCAIN:  ... who would...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was probably the worst reception at a Republican Convention since Nelson Rockefeller in San Francisco 40 years ago.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?

INGRAHAM:  Well, conservatives have been angry at John McCain for a long time.  All of us know that.  But that was almost an olive branch to the conservatives.  Go after the left‘s most powerful cultural figure right now.  It‘s Michael Moore.  And they ate it up.  They loved it.

A lot of conservatives afterwards came up to me, Chris, and said, wow, wouldn‘t it be great if John McCain said those kinds of words about John Kerry and maybe then John Kerry wouldn‘t use John McCain‘s...

MATTHEWS:  He sounded like you on the radio in the morning.

INGRAHAM:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Every day of the week.

Let me ask you about Laura Bush tonight.  Tonight is being billed by the Republican organizers, Ron, as a compassionate night.  But I‘ve been looking through some of the speeches.  It‘s very broadly defined compassion.

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN:  What a surprise.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not narrowly defined compassion.  It‘s a lot like Mommy‘s going to give you more milk before bedtime.  This is more like Laura Bush saying look out for my husband, he‘s a real fighter.

REAGAN:  Yes, yes.  Well, she is a very popular figure.  She does soften his image a little bit, but you‘re right.  And I‘m wondering if there isn‘t this sort of double standard here between the Democrats and the Republicans as far as slashing attacks go.

You remember we all sat around in the first few days in Boston and talked about how there can‘t be any Bush bashing here or else it‘s going to sink the Democrats.  They‘ve got to be very careful.  And the Democrats apparently listened to it because there was none of that.

INGRAHAM:  Big mistake.

REAGAN:  Big mistake now we‘re saying.

INGRAHAM:  Yes.  Huge mistake.

REAGAN:  These guys—they‘re not buying that at all.  I don‘t know what their focus groups are telling them.  Apparently, they‘re telling them to, you know, tear them a new one because that‘s what they‘re doing, and we‘ll have to see whether Laura sticks you know, sticks the—you know, the knife in a little bit, too.

FINEMAN:  You‘ll recall the way they did it in Boston was they saved all of the slashing for John Kerry‘s own speech because they wanted to emphasize Kerry as the fighter.

REAGAN:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  And so these guys are taking that one little bit and flipping it around on him whole hog, and Laura has a tremendous amount of credibility in the country.  She‘s the most popular—probably the most popular national figure around, Laura Bush.

INGRAHAM:  I think the Democrats have made one major mistake in the

way they characterize President Bush.  They like to characterize him either

as a dope or Machiavellian or kind of an arrogant cowboy, and I don‘t think

most of America—even if they disagree with them, they don‘t dislike

George Bush,

And that kind of demonization of Bush, which a lot of these people in the crowd behind us love to do—it doesn‘t work with the regular people.  It might work on the streets of Manhattan, but it doesn‘t work in the heartland.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll try to balance off that audience later in the night.

INGRAHAM:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, we‘ll continue to preview the big speeches tonight by First Lady Laura Bush and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  That could be the big moment of this whole week here in New York, Schwarzenegger‘s speech.  I tell you.  I know him.  It‘s going to be a great speech.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the Republican National Convention in Harold Square on Broadway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The governor is entitled to be heard for five minutes.  Now he can‘t be heard for five minutes if we‘re going to have these constant interruptions.

NELSON ROCKEFELLER ®, FORMER GOVERNOR, NEW YORK:  Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

This is still a free country, ladies and gentlemen.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over):  The battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party took a nasty turn in 1964 when conservative delegates booed Governor Nelson Rockefeller.  Rockefeller‘s attempts to condemn extremist groups stoked the fire of presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.

BARRY GOLDWATER ®, FORMER SENATOR, ARIZONA:  Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the Republican National Convention.

First Lady Laura Bush takes the podium tonight at around 10:30 Eastern Time, and MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing takes a look at the first lady, who normally prefers to stay out of the limelight—Chris.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  Ladies and gentlemen, my husband, President George W. Bush.

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  She‘s the soft-spoken southern first lady who may just be the secret weapon in her husband‘s reelection bid.

JOHN HARWOOD, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Laura Bush may mean more to this president than any first lady campaigning with an incumbent president has ever before.

JANSING:  And don‘t think the first husband doesn‘t know it.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m going to give you some reasons why I think you need to put me back in, But perhaps the most important one of all is so that Laura is the first lady for four more years.

JANSING:  Seemingly immune to controversy, Laura Bush has largely remained in her husband‘s shadow, but with a 70 percent approval rating, she‘s an extremely important political asset.

HARWOOD:  She‘s extremely popular across the political spectrum, and we see that the Bush campaign has made that calculation by the fact that she‘s present both in interviews that he‘s done on television and also in their campaign commercials.

BUSH:  ... because I believe in the people of America.

JANSING:  The 9/11 tragedy thrust Laura Bush into a more public role, some even dubbing her the consoler in chief. 

LAURA BUSH:  I actually think that I had the right temperament to be able to do that, and I had worked with children and that had been my whole life, my whole career as a teacher, educator, and so, in many ways, I was prepared for that, although I didn‘t know it.

JANSING:  A strong supporter of education and literacy, she has also tackled health issues, educating women about heart disease, and defending her husband‘s position on stem-cell research.

She was also the first first lady to give a presidential radio address, using her time to speak out on behalf of the oppressed women in Afghanistan.

LAURA BUSH:  I really want the women of Afghanistan and the women of Iraq to know that American women are interested in them.

JANSING:  Laura Bush met her husband in 1977 and married him after just a few months.  She is widely credited with helping him abandon alcohol and return to his Christian faith.

She has taken a visible role on the campaign trail, criss-crossing the country, hoping to convince voters to keep her as first lady for another four years.

LAURA BUSH:  Politics is a people business, and it‘s fun to get to meet people and see people all over the country.

JANSING:  Tonight, Laura Bush will take the stage and give her personal thoughts on her husband‘s presidency, part of this stepped-up effort to put the first lady front and center.

Chris Jansing, NBC News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the panel tonight, and I think it‘s interesting—well, let me ask everybody wide open, Laura Bush, role in this campaign?

INGRAHAM:  Huge.  She‘s the anti-Hillary.  Everybody knows that.  But she has poise.  She has character.  She‘s not afraid to speak out.  She doesn‘t just seem like a yes person.  She‘s clearly her own person.  She‘s been a great mom to her daughters, and I think that Laura Bush right now is one of the single key things for her—his reelection.  There‘s no doubt about it.  Laura Bush is a winner, and, across party lines, her numbers are staggering.

MATTHEWS:  Ron?

REAGAN:  What stops a lot of people, I think, from swinging over to Bush-Cheney, if they are undecided, is that they‘re scared of these people.  They‘re particularly scared of Cheney.  Cheney is a very divisive figure, and he—he just freaks some people out.  So you see him with the grandkids.

MATTHEWS:  I think he likes being scary.

REAGAN:  I think he does, too.  But you see him with the grandkids and all that, and, suddenly, he looks like Grandpa—you know, Grandpa Cheney.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think they choreographed that picture the other night, do you?

REAGAN:  Would I—would I...

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN:  Moi?  Would I say something like that?

MATTHEWS:  It worked.  It looked nice.

REAGAN:  Yes.  Oh, it does look very nice.  And, of course, Laura performs the same function as the grandkids, you know, do for her husband.  She softens him, she makes him more approachable, and she reduces the fear factor that people might have with the warrior—you know, the war president.

MATTHEWS:  Howard, before you speak, let‘s take a look at this bite from the “TODAY” show this morning.  It‘s Laura Bush speaking about the progress for the war on terror.

By the way, she‘s going to talk about that tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA BUSH:  I think we‘ve made great success in winning the war on terror, but it‘s not a war that you‘re going to have a surrender at the end.  It‘s not anything like we‘ve ever faced before in our country, and it will last a long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let me just quote something, Howard, and you respond.  This is in tonight‘s speech.  We‘re allowed to give it.  It‘s not embargoed, as we say.  This is tonight at 10:30.

“I want to talk about the issue that I believe is most important for our own daughters, for our families, and for our future: George‘s work to protect our country and defeat terror so that all children can grow up in a more peaceful world.”

Tonight‘s been billed as a night about compassion, and, in the heart of it, the most compassionate thing a president can do is protect our children from the terrorists.

FINEMAN:  That is key to the message.  I talked to one of the top strategists in the campaign today who told me that every ad that Bush-Cheney is running in rural areas and in areas where they‘re trying to reach swing voters who are women especially, moms, working moms, Laura Bush is in those ads.  In every one of those ads.  Not in a lot of other places, but definitely in those places.

And she is a gracious person.  I spent a lot of time in Austin when her husband was governor.  She would invite people in, invited me in once for dinner up there.  The ultimate in graciousness but with a steel in her as well, and that‘s part of also what you‘re going to hear tonight.

She was basically cleaning up for her husband there this morning on the “TODAY” show.  Yesterday, you know, he was quoted as saying we—you know, we can—we can‘t win “it,” you know, the war on terrorism.  She was doing the rhetorical cleanup there for him.  She‘s talented in many ways.

MATTHEWS:  That was Don Regan‘s job, wasn‘t it?

REAGAN:  Yes, the elephant parade.

FINEMAN:  In her gracious way—in her gracious way, that‘s what she was doing this morning and did it very well.

MATTHEWS:  Cleaning up after the elephants.

FINEMAN:  Well, she did it very well.

INGRAHAM:  Chris, she‘s also...

FINEMAN:  She did it very well.

INGRAHAM:  Chris, she‘s also not about unelected power, which I think a lot of people felt uncomfortable with in the previous administration, a first lady who doesn‘t really want to be just first lady, who wants to be a lot more.  She‘s pretty comfortable in the role of first lady, and she‘s grown more comfortable, I think, year after year, and I actually think she looks better than she did four years ago, if that‘s even possible.

MATTHEWS:  She doesn‘t seem executive.

INGRAHAM:  No.

GERGEN:  Let me...

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s a good thing.

REAGAN:  Yes.

GERGEN:  I—listen, I do think she‘s—I think she‘s an enormous asset for the president, and I think she‘s a—respected across the board.  Whether you‘re Republican or Democrat, people like Laura Bush.  I think she‘s going to help him.

But I think we should understand that compassionate conservatism is morphing here in this convention from what it was four years ago, which was about domestic compassion and helping poor kids and trying to move it along.  Now it‘s about the war on terrorism.

The other thing I think is you have to space here the reality that we just had three major terrorist incidents around the world today, and NBC‘s got this analysis out tonight saying that, since 9/11, we‘ve had 58 percent of the terrorists deaths that have occurred in the world have occurred since January 1 of this year.

In other words, the terrorism is spreading around the world, it‘s not contained, and this is a serious problem for the country right now.  I think the Bush administration and the Bush campaign is right to put it front and center.

But we should not be mistaken about that the world is a lot safer place.  It‘s not.

MATTHEWS:  But the argument still obtains whether going to Iraq was part of the war on terrorism, and the other argument, much more ferocious from the other side, which will be made before this election‘s over, was it not only on—off target to go to Iraq, but did it engage us in a second front with more enemies than we started with?

GERGEN:  Right, right.  I agree with that.  And last night, you know, they—the last few months have been a great effort to separate Iraq from the war on terrorism, and everybody‘s saying, no, no, Saddam didn‘t have anything to do with 9/11.

Last night, they very cleverly said as a—because of 9/11, we have to go after Saddam.  Because of 9/11.  That was the argument, and it was an interesting change that they argued.

FINEMAN:  The problem that the Democrats have is that John Kerry basically conceded the arguments when he said I would vote for the resolution even knowing there were no WMDs.  So that gives the Republicans tremendous freedom to range over the landscape here...

INGRAHAM:  That...

FINEMAN:  ... and use Laura Bush in this way.

INGRAHAM:  I mean, John Kerry could stake out still, I think, a reasonable—a more reasonable position on the war.  He could say, look, there‘s a very strong anti-war coalition in our party, and the reason they‘re anti-war is because they care about the home front and talk all the time about the home front and almost like Pat Buchanan, but, you know, not so nationalistic, but the home front, the home front, the home front.

FINEMAN:  That‘s what they‘re going to do, by the way.

INGRAHAM:  Kerry has to switch subjects...

FINEMAN:  Laura?

INGRAHAM:  ... and switch subjects really fast.

FINEMAN:  That‘s what they‘re going to do after Labor Day.

INGRAHAM:  Exactly.

FINEMAN:  In talking to the Kerry people today, they‘re going to try to shift this thing hard to domestic.

INGRAHAM:  It might be too late.

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute.

Laura, finish your thought.  How...

INGRAHAM:  No, it—I think right now John Kerry is in a mess with this whole Iraq thing.  He left the anti-war positions off on a tree.  Some people in the streets and the protesters, Howard Dean.  It‘s very popular in the Democrat Party.

A good case to be made right now that America is not safer because of Iraq.  If I were a Democrat, I‘d be making that argument.  He has to address the home front, homeland security and the home front all the time.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got to take a break.

Coming back—coming up, rather, the governor of what may be the biggest battleground state of this election, Ohio‘s Bob Taft.  There‘s a famous Republican name.  He‘ll be joining us here at Harold Square.  Robert Taft IV.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the Republican National Convention on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY STEWART, LATE ACTOR:  I give you the first lady of our land, the first lady of our world, Patricia Ryan Nixon.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over):  First Lady Pat Nixon received the star treatment in 1972 when Hollywood legend Jimmy Stewart welcomed her to the convention stage.  The appearance was such a success that, four years later, Stewart‘s “Philadelphia Story” co-star Cary Grant was on hand to introduce First Lady Betty Ford.

BETTY FORD, FORMER FIRST LADY:  What woman could turn down Mr. Cary Grant?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the Republican National Convention.  One state that may well decide this year‘s election among others, is Ohio.  And we‘re joined right now by the governor of the Buckeye State, Bob Taft.  What‘s it feel like to be the heart of the fight? 

GOV. BOB TAFT ®, OHIO:  We are front and center.  The president has been there almost every week recently.  We like the attention, but we know we have a lot of work to do, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Geography.  Explain the geography, the political geography of your state. 

TAFT:  It is very diverse, almost like the nation.  We‘re a crossroads.  We have large cities, we have small towns, we have agriculture, we have Appalachia down near West Virginia, southeastern, southern Ohio.  Very diverse state. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘ve looked at it, historically.  It is a state, in the southern parts is more Bible Belt and northern parts is more ethnic, right?

TAFT:  That‘s exactly right.  The northeast Ohio and Toledo are very ethnic.  The southeastern is more similar to parts of Kentucky and West Virginia. 

MATTHEWS:  You broke Al Gore‘s heart last time around.  Why did you do it?  How did you—I know why you did it.  How did you do it? 

TAFT:  Well, we worked very hard.  In fact, he pulled his ads off TV with three weeks to go in Ohio.  But we did very well in the southern part of Ohio, in southeastern Ohio and I think that will happen again. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is your state off the national average right now?  You‘re not—it‘s basically still hanging in there as a Kerry state, even though the other national numbers have pulled even? 

TAFT:  Well, we‘ve always been very evenly divided, always gone with the winner.  We went with Clinton.  We went with first President Bush when he won.  We went with...

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re not now. 

TAFT:  Well, it‘s 50-50 and I think it is going to go right down to—it is a very close battleground state.  I think it will be within the margin of error until the election.  But we have a tremendous turnout program for the president. 

MATTHEWS:  How is the economy? 

TAFT:  The economy is improving.  We still have a ways to go.  We‘re under 6 percent unemployment, which is better than last year.  But we still need President Bush‘s policies on tax cuts and free trade and job training and small business to come back. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you say to the guy and the woman who are trying to make it.  They‘ve got three or four kids, they‘re looking for second jobs, they can‘t crack $7 an hour.  What do you say to those people who are going out, working at midnight and having a second job, working all night trying to compete for their kid—with their kid for $7 an hour.  What do you tell them about the hopes of this administration? 

TAFT:  Well, that President Bush is really helping small business create more jobs in Ohio, sometimes under the radar and secondly, his job training program, Jobs For The 21st Century.  More money to community colleges to retrain people to upgrade their skills for tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  Ronald Reagan once asked, “are you better off than you were four years ago?”  Is Ohio better off than it was four years ago? 

TAFT:  We have had a lot of shocks to our economy, Chris.  We‘re coming back and I think under the president‘s policies, we‘ll continue to do so. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you better off than you were four years ago? 

TAFT:  We‘ve lost a lot of manufacturing jobs. 

MATTHEWS:  Therefore? 

TAFT:  But we gained 3,400 jobs last month, 3,000 manufacturing jobs. 

We think we‘re on the path to recovery with the president‘s policies.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have more jobs now than you had when President Bush was elected or fewer? 

TAFT:  We have fewer.  But the question is, who‘s policies are going to create more jobs the next four years, that‘s President Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the difference between Bush and Kerry on economics?  If you had to point to one law that would be passed that would differentiate these two fellows in terms of helping the working people of your state, and not just a job but a decent wage per hour, what would it be? 

TAFT:  I think, you know, the Child Care Tax Credit, the Marriage Penalty Tax Relief.  Those things are very important.  Plus they help the small business to create more jobs and a level playing field for trade because we are a major export state in Ohio. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the cultural issue?  To what extent does it help to have Laura Bush as the president‘s running mate, in effect? 

TAFT:  Oh, Laura Bush will help the president tremendously.  She has wonderful support all across Ohio.  She‘s been to Ohio many times and I know she will be here again before November 2. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much. 

TAFT:  Thanks, Chris.  My pleasure. 

MATTHEWS:  Fellow peace corps volunteer, Bob Taft.

Joining me right now is Ben Stein.  He‘s a commentator, a game show host, a presidential speech writer.  He‘s author of a new book, “Can America Survive?”  That‘s pretty Gothic.  He‘s also a Californian.  Where is Ben Stein?  Is he coming up to see me?  Where is Ben Stein?  Let‘s go to Chip Reid right now on the floor of the convention—Chip.

CHIP REID, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Chris.  We have been talking to people about this theme of compassion.  You know, yesterday it was all about courage.  And kind of a left turn here to the issue of compassion.  But it‘s crucial.  Yesterday, they were appealing to swing voters and Independents by arguing that it is not the social issues that are so important, it‘s the—it‘s keeping us safe. 

They are trying to appeal to what used to be soccer moms and some people now call security moms and today they‘re trying to appeal to the people who say, hey, the Republican party with its hard-core positions on abortion and gay rights, things like that, may be a little too harsh for me and today they‘re going to make the point that, no, on issues like education and health care, they‘re not harsh at all.  That they have a big heart and they‘re very compassionate and they‘re going to try to bring back that compassionate conservatism that George Bush talked a lot back in the 2000 election—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Chip Reid.  I‘m joined right now by Ben Stein.  He wrote speeches for Richard Nixon.  His father was in fact a top economic adviser to the country for years.  Let me ask you, Ben, about the speeches last night.  What did you think of Rudy? 

BEN STEIN, CO-AUTHOR, “CAN AMERICA SURVIVE?”:  Very good speech, very strong speech, clear speech.  Best speech I‘ve ever heard him give.  He didn‘t do his Mafia gangland imitation stuff that‘s so boring.  I thought it was a good speech. 

MATTHEWS:  Am I in “Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off” right now? 

STEIN:  No, that‘s the way I always talk. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the speeches of this—you used to write speeches.  It seemed to me that...

STEIN:  ...Gergen was my boss. 

MATTHEWS:  There he is up there but he‘s no more going to be responsible for what you are going to say next. 

STEIN:  He is in charge of me still. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you, in your dry manner, tell me what Arnold‘s going to be like tonight. 

STEIN:  I think he will be wonderful.  He is a guy who‘s exciting just by virtue of having been the Terminator over and over again.  It hardly matters what he says.  He can say the most obvious cliches and people will still love him.  That is the magic of being a gigantic movie star.  You don‘t have to be profound, you don‘t have to be deep, you just have to make a few jokes, say a few very obvious things and people will absolutely love you. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you say the word “exciting” for me again? 

STEIN:  Exciting. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the battle of bands last night.  I thought Ron Silver gave the best speech until he was topped by McCain and then he in turn was topped by Rudy.  Are they more impressive spokespeople for this ticket than Bill and Hillary were for the ticket of Kerry and Edwards? 

STEIN:  Well, Bill and Hillary have their fans and people are going to love them.  I thought Ron Silver was very impressive because 20, 15, 10 years ago he was an arch liberal, flaming liberal and he has changed.  I‘m not quite sure exactly why.  But he has changed dramatically and has become an incredibly nice guy.  I‘m waiting for Al Franken to change at the 2008 convention.  I‘m waiting for Al Franken to speak up for McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  And I‘m sure he is waiting for you to change.  Which is equally unlikely.  Let me ask you about the stakes in this campaign.  In all seriousness, beyond the rhetoric, when it comes down to November 2, the earliest election we‘ve ever had, I think, the first Tuesday after the first Monday, it can‘t be earlier.  When we have this election and people going into that booth, in New York and in Texas and everywhere else, what is the number one thought on their mind?  Is it the state of the American economy, which is mixed?  Or is it the state on the war on terrorism, which is mixed?  What is the killer issue for most people? 

STEIN:  You know, I‘m going to say something none of these people I think have said.  It‘s faith.  I think out in the nation‘s midsection, not in New York, not in San Francisco, in the heart of the country, in the south, in the northwest, it‘s whether or not the candidate they‘re talking about is a man of God and a man for whom faith is the decisive—plays the decisive role in his life.  I see an evangelical revival going on in this country like nothing I have ever seen before in my life.  And I think it is going to determine the fate of this election.  This is a referendum on faith more than on tax rates or on who‘s going to be able to not pull us out of the ditch in Iraq.  It is about who is the man of faith.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about that question because that‘s a very analytical thing as well as a matter of sentiment on your part.  What I‘ve been hearing is that one of the goals of this campaign coming out of New York is for the Republicans not to get the undecided voter who will probably remain undecided, but to try to enlarge the number of voters from that evangelical community. 

STEIN:  I think that‘s exactly what he is trying to do and I think he is going to do it successfully.  But I‘m in places in the Midwest and the south and the northwestern U.S., they are not talking about the war, they‘re not talking about rates of tax on dividends or capital gains, they‘re talking about who is a man of faith, who has God running his life.  I‘m not saying whether that‘s right or wrong.  I‘m just saying that is what is happening in the world. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think causes the kind of almost hysterical sentiments back and forth.  We‘re hearing some of them right now about George Bush.  He doesn‘t seem to be the most dramatic sort of personality.  Why do some people really seem to hate him? 

STEIN:  I think it has to do with his being what‘s called a weak predominant father figure, same as Richard Nixon.  He is dominant, but he is weak.  So, people who are afraid to attack really scary people like the al Qaeda, even in their shouts on the streets of New York, attack someone who‘s safe to attack like George Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  But what is it?  Is there something about—like his father never aroused this kind of emotion.  A lot of presidents, Gerry Ford, didn‘t arouse this kind of emotion. 

STEIN:  But Nixon did.  There is something about him.  There is a certain something about his weakness combined with his dominance that sparks anger, just the way a teenager gets angry at a weak predominant father. 

MATTHEWS:  What would you say to these people behind us who are screaming against Bush? 

STEIN:  I would say it is very rude of them to do it while we‘re trying to have a conversation.  But it answers some psychological need deep in their psyches that I don‘t think we can stop them. 

MATTHEWS:  I think they want to be rude.  Thank you, Ben Stein.  Let‘s go back down to NBC‘s Chip Reid who is on the convention floor with radio talk show host Armstrong Williams—Chip. 

CHIP REID, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and one thing I want to talk to—he didn‘t want to talk about it before, because he wants to speak spontaneously.  He doesn‘t like to know the questions in advance.  But yesterday the theme was courage.  And there was some shots taken at Kerry, and there was a little bit of a harsh edge to it sometimes.  Some people would say today we‘re taking a turn to the left and talking about compassion. 

Do you see it that way? 

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, you know, John McCain—you cannot find a better guy than John McCain.  in fact, John McCain is a Mother Teresa of the Republican Party.  And John McCain is a dear friend of Senator John Kerry.  And what Senator McCain—remember, John Kerry tried to woo Senator McCain as his running mate, but Senator McCain said no.  He feels that in times like this, you need serious leadership, leadership that has been tested and not wishy-washy leadership, you know exactly where a person stands.  And he believes that that person, in the times we‘re in now, is George W. Bush.  He never mentioned Kerry‘s name last night and I‘m sure it had to do with the fact that they have a very close bond—there‘s a bond between them. 

But he really believes that George Bush is the best person to fight this war on terrorism. 

REID:  Let‘s talk about the night, this compassion theme.  What is that about, what are they trying to accomplish, who are they trying to get? 

WILLIAMS:  I don‘t think the Republican Party wants to be perceived as the party who are against the small guy and you know, their platform recently, they strengthened their position on same-sex marriage and, you know, they have these gay protesters and these ads running around the country and gays do not feel the Republican Party is inclusive enough.  So, what they are trying to do is use moderates like McCain and like Giuliani, like Schwarzenegger and others who have sort of reached out and expanded the debate to people who are the edge, more the moderates in this country. 

Not just Republicans, but Democrats who really don‘t want to be a part of -

·         a party that they perceive as racist and non-inclusive and reach out to them and say, hey, we‘re not as right wing.  We‘re not a party of Tom DeLay.  We‘re not the party of Rick Santorum, we‘re a party of the American people, and we represent all your values. 

REID:  OK, fantastic.  Thank you, Armstrong Williams, conservative commentator.  We‘ll talk to you later on in the evening. 

And Chris, back to you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chip Reid and Armstrong Williams.  When we come back, we‘ll go back to our panel.  We‘re going to gear up for tonight‘s speeches by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Laura Bush. 

I want to talk about what Ben Stein raised a minute ago, about the evangelical vote, which is a huge part of the audience right now watching.  You‘re watching the Republican National Convention on MSNBC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  George, I‘m in your corner.  I‘m ready to volunteer. 

(APPLAUSE)

REAGAN:  I‘m ready to volunteer a little advice now and then and offer a pointer or two on strategy, if asked.  I‘ll help keep the facts straight and just stand back and cheer.  But George, just one personal request—go out there and win one for the Gipper. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I love that song.  I don‘t know who‘s singing but, it‘s wonderful.  And We are clearly on the streets of New York right now. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the Republican National Convention.  And all other conventions being held in this immediate area.  You know, Ben Stein made an interesting point.  The Republican Party isn‘t going to try to get the undecideds, they‘re alienating as hell.  They are going to try to get the evangelical vote, the Bible Belt, if you will.  The people who don‘t like politics normally.  They think it‘s dirty—Howard. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, POLITICAL ANALYST:  That‘s who they‘re talking to.  I talked with a strategist for the campaign today.  They have done surveys of 8,000 to 9,000 voters in the battleground states and sifted out who the soft Republicans are and they found that there is more evangelical Christians in that group than the public as the whole.  They‘re laser beaming at it.  George Bush is having these ask George Bush round tables.  They‘re doing it in small towns in Lima, Ohio, Cambridge, Ohio, places where there are lots and lots of evangelicals and Pentecostals and so forth.  Karl Rove, the manager, thinks they can raise that turn out by four million votes.  That‘s his target, that‘s his obsession since 2000 and that‘s exactly what this is about and what Laura Bush‘s speech is about tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of that won‘t show up in the polling because they didn‘t vote last tine.  Laura, you talk on the radio every day with people.  I want to talk to you about the people who don‘t often vote, but have strong feelings about the country and about values. 

INGRAHAM:  A lot of them are home schooling parent whose decided that the public education system has failed their children or they‘re anti-God.  A lot of people think the courts have taken key decisions away from the people.  So, they‘re like why should I bother to vote on an issue, like partial-birth abortion, these things, when a court can just come in and just wipe the will of the people away.  A lot of people are cynical about politics and I think we have to remember, among people of faith, people who attend church regularly, they‘re voting overwhelmingly Republican.  George Bush, has to remember that while Rudy Giuliani is great and that Schwarzenegger is great, all these speakers are fabulous and entertaining and interesting, they‘re not social conservatives.  And if the Republican Party thinks they‘re going to win an election without appealing to the social conservatives, they better think again.  It‘s not going to happen in this election and it‘s not going to happen in 2008. 

Laura, the issue that aroused the evangelical vote, and I hope I‘m saying it the right way for people who are evangelical, is the issue of prayer in school.  Years ago, an issue that was never elected or voted on, the Supreme Court said you can‘t mention “God” in class as part of a religious exercise.  And that—all of sudden, people say, well, wait a minute, I guess politics does affect my life.  And that‘s when a lot of these people began to vote Republican, right?

INGRAHAM:  Yes.  And I that this debate is continuing and gay marriage has taken over, I think, the...

MATTHEWS:  Gay marriage is the new prayer in school.

INGRAHAM:  ... new test issue.

MATTHEWS:  David.

GERGEN:  Chris, did you notice how they ended the convention last night?  They ended with a prayer.  Can you remember a convention evening that ended with a prayer?  I thought that was symbolically  very interesting and emphasizes this outreach.  And Rudy Giuliani talked about God several times in his speech.  So I think there is this quiet effort to do that.  But I want us to continue to argue that the real race is over  who‘s going to be the better commander-in-chief. 

And the important news that has not been talked about much today came in a “Washington Post”  poll this morning, the “Washington Post”/ABC.  And if you are in the Kerry camp, it would have to have a bit of a jarring impact.  On August 1, Kerry was ahead by 10 points, 8 points on who would make the better commander-in-chief, who is better qualified to be commander-in-chief, he was ahead by 8.  Today he‘s down 10.  An 18-point shift over the month of August.  Something has happened to the deterioration of Kerry‘s standing, maybe its swift boat, maybe it‘s other things that is really jarring.  I would have to assume this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... about three weeks.

GERGEN:  But listen...

INGRAHAM:  Duh. 

GERGEN:  But listen.

MATTHEW:  Had he said to you, you didn‘t deserve your medals, for three weeks, on every television program in America...

GERGEN:  Kerry was ahead by 11 points on who‘s better at the economy.  He‘s down by 1 now.  August has been a horrible month for him coming into this.  And so if they can keep this up here at the Republican Convention and get a little momentum coming out of this, this race may have dramatically  changed on us over the last four or five weeks.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask all of you the same question.  Sometimes it‘s the dog that doesn‘t bark and we all wonder what it was until later and we go, my God, I never though of that.  But one of the things we never thought about is, first of all, we haven‘t been hit again.  And we‘re getting very close to a  re-election situation, having  not been hit. 

Sure we have demonstrators, we don‘t have bombs going off, we don‘t have buildings coming down.  That is a profound reality as we get close to the election.  And it has become clearer and clearer we‘ll  probably get now to the finish line of this election without a major disaster, we hope.

Secondly, the battlefield reports have not been coming in to the front pages.  They haven‘t been hitting the evening news, for whatever reason, of war coverage and restrictions or tedium, ennui, call it what you want, we‘re getting towards 1000 KIAs of our guys and women in Iraq and it doesn‘t seem to be on the front pages. 

David, you study the news.  Why are the bad news stories not on the front page?

GERGEN:  Well, it is some of the great ironies that the press, which is blamed by Republicans as being sort of anti-Bush, and the mainstream press, the irony is that ever since, you know we turned over power, the mainstream press has taken a lot of this story inside.  So—and also a lot of people being killed.  When a dozen Nepalese get killed as they did in the last 24 hours, it‘s not a big story here.  Americans are.  The number of American deaths has gone down but the number of deaths in Iraq has been very, very high.

FINEMAN:  Things have also been going America‘s way in recent weeks there.  Ayatollah Sistani went out of  the country.

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

FINEMAN:  They took back Najaf.  And I was on the floor the other day and I heard—listen to this...

MATTHEWS:  David looks as skeptical as I do.  Things have been going well?

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  No, I‘m just saying in terms of—in terms of—yes, in terms of getting him, Sadr out of there.  I was on the floor of the convention the other day.  Governor (sic) George Allen of Virginia says to me, that Sistani is really great. 

(LAUGHTER) 

FINEMAN:  I thought I‘d never hear something like that.

MATTHEWS:  Now Howard, you brought me in.  I have got to bring it home to us—Ron.

REAGAN:  We‘ve been concentrating on Najaf and Sadr here.  But in the meantime, in the west of Iraq and the rest of the Sunni Triangle, basically the militias are taking over the towns.

FINEMAN:  I was talking about the reasons why it‘s off the front page. 

MATTHEW:  This is where I‘m going to now bring it back to the question to the only woman on the panel, let‘s start with you, but it‘s a question for everybody, with families who have to deal with this, does this election come down to one question:  Who do you trust to bring your kids home safely from school at night, get them home safe?

INGRAHAM:  No.  I think it‘s who do you trust to be the commander-in-chief, because I think this country now thinks it is firmly on a Cold War-like footing.  The commander-in-chief, who do you trust more?

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have a fear of getting hit on the home front?

INGRAHAM:  I don‘t think people have that in their minds still, I really don‘t, even with all this in New York.

REAGAN:  Not to be glib about it, but the question, if you want to put it that way, is, who‘s your daddy?  And I don‘t mean that in a humorous way.  But people want a father figure in the White House.  And if Kerry comes off as the aloof cold father and George Bush is a strong, warm father, he wins. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he the uncle that never shows up? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he is a father.  I mean, what is his figure, Howard? 

FINEMAN:  I think it is the security, stupid, to paraphrase James Carville from ‘92.  I do think overall, everything else is subsumed under that.  The economy, the war in Iraq, everything else, it‘s who is going to keep us safe here at home and what style of leadership is best suited to doing that.  Is it the diplomat or is it the...  

INGRAHAM:  Work with the French.

MATTHEWS:  A long time ago, David, I wrote an article for “The New Republic” called “The Mommy and the Daddy Party.” And it said the Republicans are good on guns and national protection, crime and law and order, frying the bad guys; the Democrats are good on health care and education and taking  care of our parents and raising our kids with rich development --  what do our wives say, they want enrichment all the time?  Is that still sure, the Republicans are going for the mommy role as well as the father role tonight?

GERGEN:  They‘re going for the daddy role.  Laura Bush is going to come out and testify about how strong her husband is. 

MATTHEWS:  And she‘s selling daddy, not herself.

GERGEN:  She is the witness to his masculine strength.  And that‘s what this is all about.  Listen, they had Iraq and an economy where there are two bleeding wounds, and they‘re moving in this convention to make safety here at home the transcendent issue because that is tissue at which they win.

INGRAHAM:  Women care about security just as much as men and we‘re finding that out in this   election.  We‘re going to find it out...

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t buy this mommy-daddy...

INGRAHAM:  It‘s over. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Great.  I want to thank Laura Ingraham for being very disagreeable tonight. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan, I want to thank David Gergen for being on our panel as well.  Howard is staying with us. 

And don‘t forget, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Laura Bush will be speaking at the convention coming up tonight.  That‘s the big—they‘re the headliners.  And later in our next hour, coming up immediately, we‘ll check in with NBC‘s Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert. 

Plus, Senator Trent Lott will join us.  HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the Republican National  Convention continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END   

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