Guests: Carla Hill, Alan Simpson, Patrick Butler, Sally Quinn, David Gergen
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A cold day in January glistens as a brilliant day in the nation‘s capital, a day of remembrance, of honor and of rare political unity.
But what‘s lurking around the corner? An escalation in the Iraq war? An historic stonewall by Congress to a president bent on victory? Exactly where are we headed?
What a life.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL.
Today America honored the life of President Gerald R. Ford. He wanted to be the Speaker of the House but history had other plans for him. Serving in a job that he never wanted in the first place, he held our country together and tried his best to help us heal in the wake of crisis and despair.
For days now we‘ve heard about how the gentleman from Michigan was simply a decent man. He didn‘t run for the job to get it. He didn‘t even run for the job to be first in line to get it. And perhaps it was for that reason, because he wasn‘t elected, that history now honors him as a man who brought a distinct humility to leading our country.
Later we‘ll will talk with former Ford White House advisers Pat Butler and David Gergen along with the “Washington Post‘s” Sally Quinn and NBC News‘ Andrea Mitchell.
But first, two people who knew President Ford very well, former Wyoming U.S. senator Alan Simpson and Carla Hills, the former secretary of HUD in the Ford administration, who served as an honorary pallbearer, both of you, too.
So, you first, Madam Secretary. What was it like inside the National Cathedral today?
CARLA HILL, FORD HONORARY PALLBEARER: It was solemn and beautiful, really breathtaking. The speakers were—each took a different slant on the president‘s life and did a wonderful job. And I just was so pleased for the family, and so proud of what they said about the president.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
Senator Simpson, about today in that room, I was—what struck you, in the eulogies, in the other moments in that service today?
ALAN SIMPSON, ® FMR. WYOMING SENATOR: It was a soaring exercise. The music, the choir, the Marine orchestra, the National Cathedral itself is a setting that leaves one inspired. But it was a goose-pimpler. It really was. It was that kind of a service. And then to sit where we were sitting and watching the family and the presidents, the ex-presidents, was a very special privilege. You felt very privileged to be there and sitting with old pals from the Senate on both sides of the aisle, seeing them, guys I had worked about. I never cared about whether they had a (D) or an ® behind their name if we could work together. And as soon as they got back to that, everything will work a little bit better.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we‘re getting back to that thanks to today‘s ceremony?
SIMPSON: I do. I really do. I sure do.
MATTHEWS: How so? How will it work?
SIMPSON: Just because they see each other. They never see each other. The first thing they‘re going to do—and it might be, again, inside baseball—the first they‘re going to do, they‘re going to have an executive session of the U.S. Senate. That means you shutter the doors, you tear out the wire, you—security is gone. The staff is gone and 100 human beings, all elected to the U.S. Senate, talk about what they‘re going to do in the future. They haven‘t done that for a long time.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a joint decision by Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid.
SIMPSON: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: It‘s a joint caucus, it‘s being called, even though—you‘re right, it‘s an executive session in effect. What do you think it will accomplish over there? This is a rarity.
SIMPSON: Guys will get up and say, you know, “Where did we go awry? Why am I not supposed to like you? Why can‘t we go to a conference committee? How did you exclude us? I don‘t think you ought to do that again. How about our amendments?”
The House—the House, ironically, their first item of business is to say, “We don‘t have time to change the rules, so we‘ll have to use your rules for a couple of weeks.”
MATTHEWS: You mean the closed rules?
SIMPSON: ... nothing. And then they‘ll settle down after they‘ve had a little snorting around on the ground.
MATTHEWS: Madam Secretary, the Gerry Ford administration is being hailed as a period of comity, of both sides getting along. Do you remember it that way?
HILL: I do. I remember the president as being highly respected by his own party and elected their leader and with some of his closest friends across the political aisle. He regularly played golf with Tip O‘Neill, the speaker. And he faced a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, wanted to bring inflation down, which he did from double digits to below five percent, and vetoed some 66 bills and sustained, I believe, 57.
That shows respect. That shows a group of Congressmen that trusted Gerry Ford.
MATTHEWS: You mean the fact that he was able to get his veto sustained?
HILL: You bet.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Senator Simpson, you were on the Iraq Study Group. You know that the first big order of business isn‘t the minimum wage. That will pass. The big order of business is whether the president will push for more troops in Iraq. And, if so,how will the Congress react? What‘s your sense of both those questions?
SIMPSON: Well, I think in our recommendations—and that was a great group, five Republicans, five Democrats—we jumped over the cliff. We said, “If we can‘t agree unanimously, we will disband, and none of that minority reporting stuff will get to cover your fanny.”
And I think you‘ll find in our report that we talked about perhaps the necessity of a surge in troops at this time, also saying that in April of 2008, depending on situation on the ground, we go into a support role rather than a combat role, letting the Iraqis pick up the slack in their own country. And it‘s all in there in the 77 recommendations.
MATTHEWS: Did the performance of the government in the execution of Saddam warm your heart to the possibility of those two groups, the Shiite and Sunni, sharing power?
SIMPSON: I don‘t know that anything has warmed my bosom as to if they‘re ever going to get along in this country. It‘s not just...
MATTHEWS: What about this guy, young Muqtada? Muqtada, Muqtada? He was supposed to be a hand-selected guy from the Maliki government. He turned out to be a militiaman, and then they all started getting into this lynch mob mentality.
SIMPSON: Well, I guess you can say it isn‘t a civil war, because a civil war takes two, like the North versus the South, or the Croats and the Serbs. This is the 30 plus 30. Nobody even knows—you know, it‘s impossible to know who‘s savaging who or who wants to have their revenge. And it‘s like Tito. He held one country together with a rather brutal regime. And so did Saddam Hussein. But that‘s over, and democracy is there. But it‘s like a guy waking up from a coma and the first thing they ask him is what do you want and he‘s about to say, “Food and water,” and they say, “No, you get to vote and have democracy.” And he says, “I‘m not ready for that.”
MATTHEWS: Are you for a surge?
SIMPSON: Yes, I could go along with that...
SIMPSON: ... we talked about that, from going—I think we said go from 4,000 to 20,000 -- I can‘t remember the numbers. But we did not reject a surge.
MATTHEWS: Madam Secretary, you still got your hand in this politics?
Are you supporting this war?
OK. That‘s an answer.
Let me ask you, Senator, back to you, this question of—Barack Obama put out a blog the other day rather sharply saying this president is dealing in numbers of troops instead of ideas, he‘s throwing in more troops into that country to fight the Sunni insurgents in Iraq and Baghdad especially, instead of coming up with some new idea. Pretty tough shot.
SIMPSON: Well, yes. But if he—I don‘t know what the young man—
I think the young man is being ballooned up so high that they‘ve got him pushed up next to the sun. And he‘s going to be like Icarus if he keeps going and the wax will melt and he‘ll fall right into the Aegean Sea. I hope he doesn‘t do that. I think he‘s a fine young man.
MATTHEWS: A Greek tragedy, eh?
SIMPSON: It is a Greek tragedy.
MATTHEWS: The way you‘re describing it...
SIMPSON: ... Medusa, if we could turn her loose.
Anyway, I think that—you know, hardball is the name of the game, but you‘re going to watch things change. He‘s being pushed now by his advisers that he‘s probably too moderate or too thoughtful or too this or that, and so he‘s going to sharpen his fangs. And that won‘t do him any good.
And they‘ll begin to think he‘s one of those people, instead of the savior.
MATTHEWS: Is this the old “Blame the staff” theory of life? You don‘t think that Barack Obama is deciding what he‘s saying in these statements?
MATTHEWS: Oh, you‘re (INAUDIBLE).
Let me go back to you. I‘m fascinated by...
SIMPSON: He‘s worse than Tip O‘Neill.
MATTHEWS: I know. He was the boss.
Let me ask you this, Madam Secretary. You‘re hesitant to talk about the war, so let‘s talk about Gerry Ford. His style of governance, we‘ve talked about it. we‘re going to have Pat Butler, who was one of his speech writers, to get the staff view here. He would sit around the table like this, like, you all, and it was like a work table. The Oval Office wasn‘t a lonely spot for him to work in. I‘ve seen pictures of four or five chairs sitting in front the Oval Office. You rarely see that with a president, like, “Come on in. We‘re going to have a meeting.” And he gets his pipe out and—collegiality. That‘s a different way of leading this country than the John Wayne method.
HILL: Collegiality and openness, candor and...
MATTHEWS: Women at the table. You.
HILL: Even women at the table, but, you know, if you hold your cards so close to your vest, you can‘t talk about your issues. If you can‘t talk about your issues, you can‘t change your mind. You can‘t embellish or enrich. And as the senator said, when the senators go out and hold 100-person meeting, they‘re going to exchange ideas. Some of the best bonding occurs on congressional delegations that travel together...
MATTHEWS: Hear, hear.
HILL: And President Ford was a master at listening, thinking—he was a very shrewd politician. I don‘t think that the press has given him anywhere near the amount of credit for how shrewd he was in bringing the country around, drawing a line, granting amnesty in Vietnam, granting the pardon in Nixon so the country could move on. And most people weren‘t—four out of 10 weren‘t born in the ‘70s and don‘t recall that we had double-digit inflation, an oil embargo, a Cold War. We were bogged down in Vietnam and a lot of problems. You look back at what he accomplished and everything that should be going up was going up when he left. Everything that should be going down, was going down when he left.
MATTHEWS: Well by 1989, as the Cold War was more or less over with the Berlin Wall coming down and the iron curtain being ripped apart on the way to the end of the Cold War, it‘s interesting that the really bad stuff started about ‘89.
If you think about the Wright leadership in the Congress, Jim Wright, under him, the bitterness level that reached there, and then Newt coming in and knocking his head off and using the “Wall Street Journal” and everybody else to get to him and common cause and all that stuff.
Jim Wright ended up calling the cannibalism, but he was partly responsible because of his book deal and everything else. But that bitterness that led to Newt, that led to the hammer came out of both cloak rooms. Senator, where did it come from? That poison in the Democrat—I used to watch it in that Democratic cloak room, the anger, not just from the left. A lot of guys in the middle were screaming bloody murder at those whip meetings and it was clearly the same with the Newt go-pack crowd.
SIMPSON: I remember it well, but I think and I do believe it came from television in the chamber.
SIMPSON: And it started in the House. You remember when America thought that the Republicans were over there en masse, you know, blasting away on the Democrats and old Tip had a belly full of them. He said change those cameras, show who is in this bill.
MATTHEWS: Bob Walker was all alone out there.
SIMPSON: And Bob Walker, a very good parliamentarian, the guy from Maryland, too, a skilled parliamentarian. But when old Tip pulled the plug and said there‘s nobody in there, then that‘s it. And then it came over.
I found that the venom came from the House. After 40 years, there was such hatred, and the venom came over and so they decided I‘m going to run for the Senate, and they came, and I saw one of them looked at me as I was giving old Dale Bumpers a hug and telling a story, he said, what were you doing with Bumpers? I said I like Dale Bumpers, he is a very close friend of mine. He said, oh. So you knew it was going to go awry. And they came over and that was it. But boy, television then in the Senate, you found the show horses wanting to speak at 7:00 in the evening. You say, what do you want to speak?
MATTHEWS: Al Gore liked that time slot, didn‘t he, you told us?
SIMPSON: Well, we called him prime-time Al.
MATTHEWS: But I agree with you, because back when I worked for the Senate Budget Committee for Muskie, he and Henry Bellmon, the ranking Republican, put out the same budget. Can you imagine that? They agreed on everything on the big picture questions and in the house it was always a battle royal. They totally disagreed, 180.
SIMPSON: Well, look at the Andrews Air Base. The thing that destroyed George Bush. The saddest thing, because he didn‘t violate his rules. They had total structural reform of the budget. They had two-year budgeting. They had health care and they said in the House, we‘ll help.
Dole came back said we‘ll pass that, Mr. President. George the first said that‘s going to be tough. I know what they‘re going to do. And we passed it in the Senate, 63 to something. It went to the House. Go look at the roll call vote of that vote. The biggest from the left and the biggest from the right, stuck it right in George Bush, both sides. Go look at the poll. You won‘t believe who you‘re seeing when you‘re seeing my old pal Henry Waxman and Newtie both, you know, with the gun.
MATTHEWS: Will the funeral of Gerald Ford be a reminder of better times?
SIMPSON: Oh, yes. And it will be nostalgic, but the best thing is to hear Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell my old colleagues talking about an executive session, putting in amendments and conference committees with representation. That‘s key.
MATTHEWS: Well maybe he can get rid of the poison that seeped over from the House, because I agree with you completely. Thank you. I like agreeing with this guy. It is easier. Thank you, you are a great lady to come over here.
HILL: My pleasure.
SIMPSON: She was a great cabinet member, too.
MATTHEWS: Imagine what you were like 30 years ago, you‘re gorgeous today. Thank you very much, Carla Hills, the former HUD secretary. Am I being too good?
SIMPSON: No, no.
MATTHEWS: I‘m honest, I don‘t B.S. this, she‘s great. Anyway, thank you Carla Hills, thank you Senator Simpson.
Coming up, how did the Fords change the presidency? And what was it like inside National Cathedral today? We‘re going to talk with former Ford speechwriter Patrick Butler and the “Washington Post‘s” Sally Quinn. They were both in there today, as well as earlier guests. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, JOURNALIST: Gerald Ford brought to the political arena no demons, no hidden agenda, no no-hit list or axe of vengeance. He knew who he was and he didn‘t require consultants or gurus to change him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re continuing to discuss today‘s funeral and the legacy of President Gerald R. Ford. Joining me now is Patrick Butler, who worked very closely with the former president at the White House as a speechwriter. And Sally Quinn of the “Washington Post,” her online blog is called “On Faith.” I like that, Sally.
So I want to go to Pat, my old buddy. We were speechwriters in different presidencies, equally successful presidencies.
PATRICK BUTLER, FORMER FORD SPEECHWRITER: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Let me think, give me the picture. We‘re sitting around the table, there‘s a guy with a pipe, he‘s a pretty young guy, in his 50‘s, and he wants you to write a speech for him. OK, what‘s it like?
BUTLER: Well, he‘s going to say basically that I want to talk about the economy, and we want to reiterate our policy about the economy and so forth, and how do we do that? And then he‘d ask me what is the best way to freshen up the material? And is there something new coming through the process that may be helpful and so forth? And then we would get a speech draft in front of him. He makes lots of edits on it, because he is a very incisive and aggressive editor of our material.
MATTHEWS: How about your jokes?
BUTLER: Well, fortunately, I didn‘t have to make many jokes. Bob Orman (ph) took care, Don Petty (ph) took care of a few.
MATTHEWS: How was he on jokes? Did he get them?
BUTLER: Not only did he get them, he was terrific about being very self-effacing. He said at the Yale University‘s law school‘s 150th anniversary, he said “I‘m honored here to be here at the sesquicentennial convocation. I defy anybody to say that and chew gum at the same time.”
MATTHEWS: So he got it. I wrote for Jimmy Carter briefly. I wasn‘t his chief joke writer. But I got to tell you, he was a tough guy to write jokes for, especially when he had the habit of reading them at 5:00 in the morning as he got up early. Jokes don‘t sound quite as funny at 5:00 in the morning.
Sally Quinn, you know Washington, you‘re an expert on it and how it fits together. Ford‘s getting a good goodbye here.
SALLY QUINN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Yes. It‘s really...
MATTHEWS: I‘m kind of surprised at the amount of enthusiasm for a president who only served two and a half years, was never elected and was sort of cashiered after two and a half years.
QUINN: Well, after—particularly after the pardon. I think it‘s given a lot of presidents who are still living hope that, even though they‘re getting terribly criticized at this point in their lives, that they may get a good eulogy when they die, but...
MATTHEWS: Do you think the approval of the “Washington Post‘s” top reporter, Bob Woodward, who‘s approved the pardon now, the approval of Ted Kennedy and the Kennedy Library? Is that what it takes, the official OK of the liberals and the establishment press?
QUINN: Do you—I mean, the pardon, when he pardoned Nixon, I don‘t know a single person who does not remember exactly where they were at the moment of the pardon. It was incredibly shocking moment.
MATTHEWS: He closed the book—I‘m reading this mystery book about Watergate. I‘m in the last chapter, and I‘m about to read the last chapter.
QUINN: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: And Gerry Ford slams the book closed, Pat, and says you can‘t find out what happened. Did you think of it that way as a loyalist at the time?
BUTLER: No. I thought—I thought the pardon was the right thing to do and maybe the wrong way to do it. I thought...
MATTHEWS: But didn‘t you want to know what Nixon had actually done, whether he had a hand in the break-in, whether he had a hand in the cover, how he played the role and everything?
BUTLER: But the way President Ford handled the tapes made all that information possible later, but made it possible. And so I think the mystery was well solved now.
MATTHEWS: OK, here‘s another mystery for you, Pat. Did you have something to say?
QUINN: Well, I was going to say, I think that what everybody wanted was to have Nixon have to stand up and say, “I am a crook.”
MATTHEWS: Well, he wasn‘t going to do that.
QUINN: That wasn‘t going to happen. But I think people wanted that at that time.
MATTHEWS: Speak for yourself, Ms. Quinn. She wanted the impossible dream here.
Let me ask you. I got a great quiz, because we can make news tonight.
MATTHEWS: Gerry Ford—Max Frankel of the “New York Times”, a real thoughtful columnist—I think he may have been a columnist at the time—asked him during the big debate with President Carter about the Helsinki Accords. He said, you know, “I asked him about Europe and eastern Europe being under the hoof of the Soviets at that time.”
And President Ford at the time looked up as if surprised by the question and said Poland and Eastern Europe are not under Soviet hegemony, he pronounced it, under Soviet domination. Why did he say that at the time the Iron Curtain was standing right in front of our face?
BUTLER: Well, he‘d already been at Helsinki and had—had negotiated this big treaty on human rights and so forth. And I think he was trying to give courage to the Poles and the Hungarians and others, saying that they weren‘t going to be permanently under the domination of the Soviet Union, and they didn‘t feel that they were permanently...
MATTHEWS: He didn‘t say that.
BUTLER: No, he didn‘t say it.
MATTHEWS: He said they‘re not under the domination of the Soviet Union when the Warsaw tanks were moving through those cities.
BUTLER: No, he misspoke. Right, yes, but it took us several days to get him to understand that he had not said what he intended to say.
But this was what was in his mind, and everybody on his staff knew what was on his mind. But we also knew he had said it wrong.
MATTHEWS: When Max Frankel gave him his second bite at the apple, he said “Is that what you mean, Mr. President?”
He said, “That‘s what I mean.”
BUTLER: Well, yes.
MATTHEWS: Are you being a loyalist now?
BUTLER: No. It wasn‘t—it wasn‘t his finest hour.
MATTHEWS: Why do you think he meant—why do you think he said something as—something so disputable as to say that there isn‘t an Iron Curtain?
BUTLER: Well, he didn‘t say there wasn‘t an Iron Curtain. He said—what he intended to say was that these people didn‘t concede the permanent domination of the Soviet Union over their faiths.
MATTHEWS: I‘m grilling the witness here.
Pat—by the way, going to—Sally, I‘m going to give you more time when we come back, because I‘m going to have some of those brilliant insights and stick a needle in here. It‘s been two nights a day.
I spoke with Ron Reagan after today‘s church service about what his own father‘s funeral meant to him. If you missed it, go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com. Plus, log onto Hardblogger for all of MSNBC‘s reporting today on Gerry Ford‘s funeral.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Patrick Butler, a former speechwriter for President Ford, and Sally Quinn of “The Washington Post”.
Sally, we‘re going into your territory right now.
I was very impressed, as was an earlier guest, to watch Mrs. Nancy Reagan sitting next to Mrs. Carter, Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter, chatting away like old pals, lunch pals, book club members. I mean, that‘s a nice sight.
QUINN: But you know, you have to remember that there—it‘s a very tiny club: wives of ex-presidents.
MATTHEWS: Yes. It‘s one of the few you‘re excluded from, actually.
QUINN: Oh, and I want to be there so bad.
MATTHEWS: I know you do. Go ahead.
QUINN: But—and you‘ve been through so much. There are only—I remember Barbara Bush once saying to me that nothing prepares you for the White House, for the scrutiny and the criticism, no matter how much public exposure you‘ve had all your life.
And once you‘ve been through the fires of that, you come away, you really do have to have sympathy for somebody who‘s been through that, even if you disagree with them politically.
MATTHEWS: It‘s like it‘s old boxers meeting together after 20 years.
QUINN: That‘s right. That‘s right. I mean, you‘re not—I mean, they may have been rivals at some point along the way, but all of that is in the past.
MATTHEWS: It‘s like my daughter, who believes that George Foreman is the guy who sells those kitchen irons, you know? She doesn‘t know he used to be this guy from the rumble from the jungle.
Let me ask you about the friendship that developed after the White House between Carter and Ford. Pat, did you know much about that?
BUTLER: Well, yes. It started with the Sadat funeral, when Reagan sent Ford and Carter and Nixon to Egypt to—for the funeral, and on the way back...
MATTHEWS: See no evil, hear no evil. And evil.
BUTLER: And evil, that‘s what Bob Dole said. That‘s right. And they sort—and they sort of buried the hatchet and got to be friends on that trip, and that friendship strengthened their relationship.
MATTHEWS: That was it. Again, the point of Codell‘s (ph), as (inaudible) mentioned earlier, nobody wants to hear about it, but junkets are good for the soul.
MATTHEWS: And good for friendship but very expensive.
BUTLER: Well, they did something—they did something substantive, too. In 1988 for Times-Mirror, my old company, they co-chaired an American agenda project, which identified the half dozen biggest issues the next president was going to face, and one of them was the Savings and Loan debacle, which was looming, and nobody saw it until they did.
QUINN: When you talk about Codell (ph) and how people can bond on these trips, these congressional delegations, it really exemplifies what Gerry Ford was about and why people liked him, is because he really was able to be friends with people on both sides of the aisle. And so when people look back...
MATTHEWS: Nixon and Kennedy both.
QUINN: Well, Nixon.
MATTHEWS: He was pals with both of them.
QUINN: Yes. That‘s right, and also, I mean, you were reminded of Barry Goldwater, who was able to do that. And people now look back on those days and you see what‘s happening in Washington today, and you think, oh, my God.
MATTHEWS: Was he the pal of Buffalo Bill, the Quinn, that guy?
QUINN: Yes, my father, yes.
MATTHEWS: I thought your dad—he had—I love that movie we saw at your house the other night about Goldwater. He may make conservative, Sally, even you, I think, maybe. Maybe?
MATTHEWS: Got to love it, Pat.
Anyway, thank you.
Pat Butler, a great guy, thank you. A member of the Judson Welliver Society. A secret society of former speech writers for presidents.
Up next, much more on the Ford funeral with Sally Quinn.
Plus, Mitt Romney is ready to start his campaign for 2008. Is he the cultural conservative rival to John McCain and Rudy Giuliani? Former presidential advisor David Gergen and NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell will be here.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
After a sublime service today in Washington National Cathedral, the casket of President Gerald Ford is now in Michigan, where it will lie until a hometown service tomorrow in Grand Rapids.
The tribute to President Ford‘s life and legacy has made for a somber start to 2007. In just two days, however, Democrats will take over Congress for the first time in 12 years. So what‘s it going to mean to President Bush, who sits in the White House, and what will it mean for the options the president has to execute with regard to the Iraq war?
David Gergen was an advisor to President Ford and three other presidents. He‘s also editor at large of “U.S. News and World Report”. He‘s also on the Harvard faculty.
And NBC News‘ Andrea Mitchell was in Washington National Cathedral today. I‘m not going to go through all your academic degrees, Andrea.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: OK.
MATTHEWS: But let me start—let me start with David right now.
David, you worked, as you‘ve written in that great book of yours, “Witness to Power”, for four presidents. What made Ford distinct from them, if you could point out a distinction? What is really different about him compared to the others?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR: A fundamental decency and his integrity.
MATTHEWS: The others weren‘t?
GERGEN: No, they were all fine men.
MATTHEWS: Nixon was a fine man?
GERGEN: Everyone else I‘ve known—well, no, Nixon, underneath, he had a bright side. He had—obviously had a dark side.
But everyone else I‘ve worked with has, other than one, there was at least one occasion where somebody went out and told lies to the public, either to the press or somebody else, or there was somebody inside.
You know, one of the things, as the communications person in the White House, you usually had to go to some of the substantive people and say what‘s going on? And I would get misled sometimes. Andrea can tell you, you know.
MATTHEWS: You were sent off with...
GERGEN: Yes. I was bum dope. Ford never allowed that.
MATTHEWS: Bum dope.
GERGEN: Bum dope, right.
But Ford was—you know, the only other person I met like that was Jim Baker. He was totally straight with me every time.
But Ford always encouraged a complete atmosphere of candor with the public. And you take your cues, as you know, from the leader of the group.
GERGEN: And everybody else acts the way the leader does. So if you get a guy who‘s squirrelly at the top, everybody else is squirrelly. If you get a guy who‘s a congenital liar, you get everybody else lies.
Ford was a congenital truth teller, and I think it encouraged other people around him to tell the truth. And I liked that about him.
MATTHEWS: Do you see the same thing, Andrea?
MITCHELL: I do. And it was remarkable in talking to a number of the people who had been part of that administration, and I have gotten to know many of them over the years at these annual reunions, which were in themselves remarkable, in that most presidential alumni don‘t get together one a year in June as the Ford alumni did, is that the inherent decency and honesty of the man, the integrity.
Henry Kissinger spoke to it today in the eulogy, as did others, that he never lost those simple virtues. He was really of Main Street, USA. And as a middle American, honest broker, he brought back to the White House. And it was such a breath of fresh air. That was certainly the implication of Tom Brokaw‘s eulogy today, when he said he had no personal demons.
But that was also the recollection of many others, obviously, including my husband, Alan Greenspan, who was one of the honorary pallbearers and said that he worked alongside five American presidents, at least, and that Gerald Ford would always be his president.
MATTHEWS: Well, just to clash with that wonderful memory of both of you, your shared memory of a decent man at a decent time...
MATTHEWS: ... about a president who didn‘t want to put out what you call bum dope.
MATTHEWS: Now we have a story in the papers today about Rudy Giuliani, one of the, I think, the three frontrunners for the Republican nomination. Someone got a copy of someone‘s battle plan within that campaign, about how he‘s going to raise $100 million and deal with some of his vulnerabilities, and leaked it to the “New York Daily News”.
And then we got this statement tonight of one staffer‘s bag was not returned after a flight, a private flight somewhere after repeated requests over the course of a few days. The bag was finally returned with the document inside.
Because of our—“our staffer had custody of this document at all times except for this one occasion, it is clear this document was removed from the baggage and photocopied.”
Here we have skullduggery, accused skullduggery of one campaign, the Giuliani campaign, against some, or according to the “Daily News”, some opponent did this, leaked this.
GERGEN: Well, we‘re going to face a lot of this, I‘m afraid here, in the next couple of years. We‘re into an intense battle here for both nominations and for the White House.
And who knows what was going on here, whether it was a real document, whether it was a serious document, whether it was written by somebody really close to Giuliani or by somebody else really far down the line that has no importance.
You know, the—obviously, the contents, it‘s not just the leaking. It‘s the contents are going to be a problem for him, because anybody who sort of says you have these five legal problems, let‘s take them to the lawyers and figure out how we‘re going to defuse them, is like a road map for the press and the opponents.
GERGEN: Saying now go and investigate all these things. If his candidacy becomes a serious thing, here are all the areas you all are investigating.
MATTHEWS: Well, is it a heads up, Andrea, to the Giuliani campaign? They already got themselves. I mean, this was a memo leaked by someone else. They‘re reading their own memo now after it‘s been leaked. What‘s the damage, really?
I guess I have a hard time figuring it out. They know what their vulnerabilities are, the man‘s three marriages, the fact that he hired Bernie Kerik, or recommended him for a high administration position, whatever his business dealings are, I mean, and his position on issues like abortion and gay rights.
MITCHELL: Well, Giuliani has always had this outsized reputation, and as a speaker at the convention, he was such a popular figure, it was the post-9/11 Rudy Giuliani. Obviously, he was much more controversial before that.
So he has been known as America‘s mayor. And his name recognition has obviously inflated the popularity in the polls so far.
And I always felt that he would be vulnerable on a number of points once we got into the nuts and bolts of the campaign and once the opposition went after him, and the road map for the opposition candidates clearly there already.
They are smart enough to figure out what the vulnerabilities are. But that‘s the kind of campaign I fear we‘re going to have. And it is a far cry from what we had 30 years ago in political campaigns. I think, with the first open contest in both political parties in half a century, you‘re going to have a very rough campaign on all sides.
MATTHEWS: On another front in the Republican Party, Mitt Romney is about to announce an exploratory committee tomorrow. And what happens, the “New Republic” runs a front page story on the cover of their magazine about the dangers of a Mormon president. That is pretty rough stuff. And I read the long piece. I don‘t think it does the damage they thought it would, but boy, what a long, exhaustive attack on someone‘s religion.
GERGEN: Can you imagine if someone who had been—when John Kennedy was running, if the “National Review” opened up the great big package on the cover the dangers of having a Catholic in the White House? Bill Buckley would never have done that. Of course, he is Catholic, but nonetheless, that is just so below the belt and so inappropriate.
MATTHEWS: Is this the season we‘re entering?
GERGEN: Well, I hope not because the mormonism issue is there. It‘s lurking there, but it seems to me it‘s been entirely unfair to have this kind of whisper campaign that says a Mormon can‘t win. You know, the conservatives believe that Mormons are engaged in witchcraft.
You know, you hear that buzz out there, and, you know, Mitt Romney may or may not be your choice for candidate. But he‘s got one heck of a record of accomplishment over a lot of things over time, that deserve to get a lot more attention before we ever turn to the question of whether the Mormonism is right or not. In a day when we‘re burying Gerry Ford, I mean, I just find this stuff so...
MATTHEWS: ... Andrea, I worked for a man who was LDS, Church of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon, Frank Moss in Utah, and I must say, the whole two years for this wonderful senator from Utah back in the ‘70s, his religion, I hate to say it, was irrelevant to his public life.
It just didn‘t come up in the office. It didn‘t come up in his legislation. I never heard any discussion ever affecting the way he voted on issues, economic issues, political issues, whatever. I wonder whether this is a bum rap.
MITCHELL: Well, I think it might be. You know, we‘ve heard much from people analyzing the south, for instance, who say that Mitt Romney‘s religion will be a problem with southern evangelicals. Yet he did very, very well—I think he came out on top in that initial straw poll in Tennessee.
MATTHEWS: Actually Frist came out on top, but he gave the best speech. That was a home court advantage for Bill Frist, I think. But he gave a great—you‘re right though in your overall point. He was very well-received down there. He gave a heck of a good speech. He‘s prepared. He‘s not exactly lovable, but he‘s damn confident, I think.
GERGEN: Well, he‘s run a—you have to give him a lot of credit. You know, if you look at about two years ago, he and Mark Warner are about the same place in their parties way back in the pack. Mark Warner then dropped out.
MATTHEWS: He‘s fighting it out, he‘s butting heads with McCain right now for running the show, pretty much.
GERGEN: That‘s exactly right. So you‘ve got to give him a lot of credit.
MATTHEWS: That‘s why he‘s getting—that‘s why he‘s hanging fire.
That‘s why people are writing about him.
GERGEN: But you know, I hope we have bigger things to talk about than whether a Mormon is a good idea in the White House.
MATTHEWS: Maybe we don‘t. We‘ll be right back with David Gergen and Andrea Mitchell, they‘re staying with us.
And later, we‘re going to look at some of the memorable moments—and there were a lot—at today‘s funeral for President Ford at the National Cathedral. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARY GRANT, ACTOR: To introduce to you and to the nation, the president‘s first and our first lady, Betty Ford.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That‘s the great Cary Grant from the 1976 Republican National Convention introducing First Lady Betty Ford.
We are back with former presidential adviser David Gergen, the editor in chief of the “U.S. News & World Report” and NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell.
Andrea Mitchell, I would consider that, if I were Betty Ford, the moment to remember. That would be an affair to remember, that one.
MITCHELL: That was such a love affair, Betty Ford and Gerry Ford.
MATTHEWS: How about Cary Grant?
MITCHELL: Well, Cary Grant absolutely. You know, it‘s hard to describe this marriage. This marriage was a relationship that started in the Midwest. It was a love affair from the very beginning. And in fact, you could see it in the events of the last few days, absolutely devoted to each other for all of those years. And the pain that they went through, the illness, all of the suffering of the last year, in fact, that Betty Ford helped her husband through, but that ability to hold that family together, and to carry them through to these final days, it was really a triumphant passage.
MATTHEWS: Was that an equal marriage, a modern marriage?
MITCHELL: A very modern marriage. It was, in fact, Gerry and Betty Ford who brought to the nation the issue of breast cancer, when it was a taboo, and then after they left the White House, the family‘s intervention with her dependency on drugs that started with a pinched nerve and became excessive, the combination of drugs and alcohol, with all of the loneliness of her life as a political wife, and her honesty about that and the fact that she saved thousands and thousands of other people through the Betty Ford Center.
MATTHEWS: Do you think she had influence on her husband‘s thinking in latter years when he would say things like the Republican Party has gone too far right on cultural issues?
MITCHELL: I think he was there all along, really. I think David can help you on that, because he was there at the beginning, but I think that his acknowledgement of her support for the equal rights amendment, that was not at all part of the Republican conservative ideology.
He was with her at every step of the way, and, again today, when the Reverend Robert Certain, in his homily today, referred to Gerry Ford in his final months, as ill as he was, calling him in and saying before Dr. Certain was going to the episcopal convention, that he should do what he could to heal the divides in the episcopal church over the issues of homosexuality and women‘s leadership, that was classic Gerry Ford.
MATTHEWS: Do you think President Nixon resigned based upon conversations he had with Al Haig, that he believed he had a good shot at getting a pardon from Gerry Ford? Not that Ford said, “I‘m going to give you one.” But do you think somehow Nixon got the message, “I got a good shot. That‘s why I should resign. This is a good deal for me.” ?
GERGEN: No. Listen, I do think that he know that Al Haig had talked to Jerry Ford, that he had talked to him about a pardon. I don‘t think he had any reason to believe there was a deal...
MATTHEWS: Not a deal, but didn‘t he have reason to believe, based upon the fact that President Ford did not say, “I won‘t give you one.”?
GERGEN: Chris, I don‘t think that‘s why he resigned. I think he resigned when the Senate delegation went down there and told him, “Mr. President, you don‘t have a vote. When you get impeached, we‘re going to vote you out of office.” And it was over. I think that‘s what swung it.
I do think that he had some belief in the back of his mind he might be able to get a pardon...
MATTHEWS: From Jerry Ford?
GERGEN: From Jerry Ford. I don‘t think...
MATTHEWS: Because Jerry Ford was a friend?
GERGEN: No. I think that that‘s been way overblown about the friendship. I just think, you know, this man was sick. He was—you know, he understood that he was going to be going through a long criminal process that was going to be deeply engaging for the president. He could foresee that. He was not a dumb man. But I don‘t think that‘s why he resigned. Nor do I think friendship is what prompted Jerry Ford to give him the pardon.
I thought that Bob Woodward, as much as I respect Bob Woodward—and I think that he had some wonderful stories here in the last few days about this. I thought it was overplayed, the friendship.
MATTHEWS: What was the motive for the pardon then?
GERGEN: Well, Jerry Ford told me several times after he left office that he was primarily concerned because he was spending all his time -- 25 percent of his time worrying about one man and he wanted to spend all of his time worrying about 250 million people. He had a summit coming up. He had raging inflation. He had Vietnam. And the press was obsessed with it.
I do want to—before you leave, Chris, if I could just take one moment of your time—you know, Jerry Ford was so good about reaching out across the aisle. And one of the things that I admire was your old boss, Tip O‘Neill, and the friendship that they had right to Tip‘s death. And when Tip wrote his memoirs, he talked about Ford being the right man at the right time. And he said, and this is what Tip O‘Neill said—wrote:
“Nothing like Watergate had ever happened before in our history but we came out of it strong and free. And the transition from Nixon‘s administration to Ford‘s was a thing of awe and dignity.”
MATTHEWS: Well said by Tip O‘Neill.
Thank you for that.
Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.
Thank you, David Gergen.
When we come back, we‘ll look back at the intriguing tributes—and some of the more intriguing, especially from Henry Kissinger—to Gerald Ford.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Today‘s national day of mourning marked the life and legacy of President Gerald Ford. Here now is a look back at some of the poignant moments—and there are a lot of them—and the beautiful voice of Denise Graves (ph) singing the Lord‘s Prayer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, God‘s in heaven and all is right with the world today, at least.
Watch MSNBC Wednesday for full coverage of the final service paying tribute to President Ford in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And play HARDBALL again with us again tomorrow night when we‘ll have a sharper preview of the start of the 110th Congress.
See you then.
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