Guests: John Harris, Lois Romano, Tony Blankley, Ron Reagan, Russell Simmons
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The countdown. Three days from now, the Republican presidential candidates meet to debate. The setting couldn‘t be better, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. Let‘s get our scorecards ready. Let‘s get ready for the Republicans to play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. The man trusted with keeping the country‘s secrets is now spilling them in a revealing memoir. Former CIA director George Tenet, who was a Bush loyalist, is now lashing out at his administration, saying that Iraq was on the White House‘s agenda from the start and that no one at the White House ever asked him, George Tenet, the CIA director, if we should go to war with Iraq.
Why didn‘t Tenet speak out when he was at the CIA? Is this another case of, Don‘t blame me for the war? Is he trying to absolve himself from the war in Iraq? In a minute, NBC‘s Tom Brokaw‘s interview with George Tenet on the “Today” show this morning.
Plus, this Thursday is the MSNBC/Politico.com Reagan Library GOP presidential debate. I‘ll be moderating it, and MSNBC will broadcast it live beginning at 8:00 PM Eastern. That‘s this Thursday.
Let‘s take a look at Tom Brokaw‘s interview now with former CIA director George Tenet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, FORMER NBC ANCHOR: You had Condi Rice ignoring your warnings, Vice President Cheney exaggerating the threats repeatedly, Don Rumsfeld and the Pentagon running what effectively was a rogue CIA, his own intelligence operation. And you didn‘t threaten to resign then.
GEORGE TENET, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, Tom, I don‘t know that I agree with the premise of everything in your question, but let me say this.
I had a job to do. We had a war on terrorism. We had conflict in Iraq. I
I thought I could best serve my country by continuing to do my job every day. A director of central intelligence is agnostic on policy because we have to become objective and give them the best data possible, and I thought it was best to serve my country by staying in my job.
BROKAW: But if the country was not getting the true story, which it‘s fairly clear from your book that it was not, that the vice president had one clear view of what was necessary in Iraq, that the Defense Department had its own intelligence operation going on, and Condoleezza Rice was not responding with alacrity to your warnings, very clear warnings in July of 2001 that an attack was imminent, doesn‘t the country deserve to know that?
TENET: Well, Tom, I chose to do my job in a way where you stay inside the system, you do your best, you push your objective analysis, you make people aware of what you believe to be true. While people think, Well, why are you talking now? Why have you been silent so long? I certainly wasn‘t silent within the purview of my job and in the councils of the administration in terms of what we said and how we said it.
BROKAW: There‘s an anecdote in your book. In August, 2001, just before 9/11, you went out to Crawford, Texas, to make sure the president was seeing all that he should be seeing, given the warnings and the briefings that had been coming from the CIA. You ride around the ranch in his pickup and talk, as you describe it, about the flora and the fauna. Did he ever stop the pickup and turn to you and say, Mr. Director, what is going on here? What do we have to worry about?
TENET: Well, Tom, throughout that summer, we had those kinds of conversations with the president. The irony is, is that by the end of July, the intelligence went fairly silent. We weren‘t seeing the same kind of eruptive threat reporting we had been seeing May, June, July, August. So in that time period, we were in a quiescent time period.
The president is the one, in concert with our own work, when he was apprised of the imminence of what we were predicting, asked a very important question. Is it possible that they‘re coming here? That was the result of an August 6 President‘s Daily Brief that said he is determined to strike inside the United States, a strategic warning, not a tactical warning. So August was a quiet period.
BROKAW: But at the end of July, one of your very best people within the agency has said they are coming here.
TENET: Tom, it was eerily quiet that day, as we had just exhausted the list of threats we were dealing with, and I suspect he was ruminating and said, They‘re coming here, and he turns out to be quite prescient.
BROKAW: You were with Colin Powell when he went to the United Nations, the centerpiece of the administration‘s attempt to sell this country on the war. You were sitting behind him when he made that presentation. Was there ever a moment that day when you thought to yourself, We‘re way out on a limb here?
TENET: No, there wasn‘t. Subsequently, of course, we learned that much of what we gave the secretary to say had turned out not to be accurate. And I‘ll say it‘s an awful thing to reflect on. The secretary of state represents the United States of America, and we did not help him and we did not help ourselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was Tom Brokaw, of course, interviewing former CIA director George Tenet this morning.
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster is here with me right now. You know, the latest—let‘s put this interview in perspective. The latest NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll showed that 55 percent, a clear majority, don‘t think victory is achievable in Iraq. Is this all covering their butts? Is this—everybody‘s got a book out now saying, I didn‘t do it.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, you‘ve got George Tenet has already been asked by six former CIA officials to return the Medal of Freedom that he was given. He‘s been asked to take his $4 million that he got in advance for a book deal and give it to Iraqi veterans who‘ve been wounded. I mean, this is an administration...
MATTHEWS: Are we going to hear from Cheney next? Is Cheney going to say, I wasn‘t part of this thing? Let‘s take a look at—here‘s Rumsfeld. This is an interesting pattern, how these people are peeling off right now. Three years ago, I asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld if he ever advised President Bush to go war in Iraq. A fascinating exchange followed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Did you advise the president to go to war?
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: He did not ask me the question.
And to my knowledge, there are any number of people he did not ask...
MATTHEWS: Did that surprise you, as secretary of defense?
RUMSFELD: Well, I thought it was interesting. He clearly asked us, Could we win? And I said, obviously, that the military are sure that they can prevail in that conflict in terms of the—changing the regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Tenet was asked—George Tenet—last night on CBS‘s “60 Minutes” if the White House ever asked him on whether or not we should go to war in Iraq. Let‘s take a look at that exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did anyone at the White House, did anyone in the Defense Department ever ask you whether we should go to war in Iraq?
TENET: The discussions that are ongoing in 2002, in the spring and summer of 2002, are how you might do this, not whether you should do this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody asks?
TENET: Well, I don‘t remember sitting down at a principals committee meeting and everybody saying, OK, there‘s a deep concern about Iraq. Is this the right thing to do? What are the implications? I don‘t ever remember that galvanizing moment when people sit around and honestly say, Is this the right thing to do?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So here we are with history being made, or at least being reported from the people inside for the first time. Rumsfeld said he was never asked. Tenet now says he was never asked if we should go to war. But Tenet also says in this book, which I think is the big story, that Cheney came to office determined to attack Iraq. It had nothing to do with 9/11. He was going to do—nothing to do with WMD, nuclear, all that stuff. That just came out later to make the case.
So that gets Tenet off the hook, in a sense. But it‘s also making the case against Cheney, that Cheney came out and said there was a nuclear reasoning to and all these other reasons, when, in fact, he already had his reason. Cheney wasn‘t telling us that it was on his agenda, at least according to Tenet here.
SHUSTER: Right. And one of the things that‘s so intriguing about this book, Chris, is in it, Tenet talks about how—that the weapons of mass destruction case—that was just the public face of the war. He suggested that everybody within the administration seemed to know that the largely unarticulated view about spreading democracy in the Middle East, that was what was driving Vice President Cheney.
MATTHEWS: Right. That‘s the neoconservative point of view. It wasn‘t what they sold to the public, in fact, if you listened very attentively during this case for the war. And by the way, the American people were very hard to sell on this. About half the people went along with it eventually. But they went along with it, smart people, because they feared that this guy had a nuclear weapon he could use against us. It wasn‘t about Middle East politics. And that was what Cheney sold so successfully on programs like “Meet the Press.”
SHUSTER: Right. And that‘s where the controversy comes in because as Tenet is suggesting, look, it wasn‘t the weapons of mass destruction case that was the reason for the war. He was out there allowing Vice President Cheney, Scooter Libby, the president, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was then the national security adviser, to talk about the mushroom cloud. And the criticism now of Tenet is that by his silence, by his working within the channels, within the administration...
MATTHEWS: The guy‘s sitting behind Colin Powell at the U.N. while a
lot of the middle-of-the-road people who decide everything in this country
the middle road decides it—the middle road said, You know, if Colin Powell, who we trust, one of the great men of our time, believes in the WMD case, and there‘s George Tenet, the CIA director, sitting right behind him, backing him up, there must be a WMD case. The vice president of the United States, who has an avuncular style, he comes on and says, “Meet the Press,” they got a nuclear weapon they‘re working on. We say—the middle-of-the-road people—not me, of course, but the middle-of-the-road people said—because I was always skeptical of this crowd. But let‘s go on.
SHUSTER: Well, and the language was always one of certainty. You always had Vice President Cheney saying “we know.” You have Donald Rumsfeld saying “we know.” You have the president saying the evidence is clear, “we know.”
MATTHEWS: I wish somebody would write a book and tell me when President Bush, who‘s not an ideologue, why he went along with this war, with the neocons, with Tenet, with all the rest of them. I‘ve never heard that really good account. Have you?
SHUSTER: No, but...
MATTHEWS: We don‘t know why he took us to war. We know Cheney wanted to go from day one, according to Tenet.
SHUSTER: No, but what you pick up, Chris, especially with Tenet, is you pick up that there were series of people like George Tenet who were enablers. For whatever reason, the president wanted to go to war, there was George Tenet, the head of the CIA, providing information, allowing the president to make his case and saying, You know what? I‘m going to be the team player. Even though he now says he personally felt that the wrong case was being made, that the evidence didn‘t support what the administration was saying, he enabled the president through his silence, and that‘s where the criticism is coming in.
MATTHEWS: You know, I‘m skeptical of ideology all the time. Anyway, thank you, David Shuster. Thank you. George Tenet will be our guest next Monday on HARDBALL.
Coming up: Tony Snow returns to work at the White House. David Gregory interviewed him today, and he‘s going to join us to give us that interview.
And this Thursday, by the way, again, the first-in-the-country Republican debate. The 10 GOP presidential candidates meet at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. I‘ll moderate live at 8:00 PM Eastern. And you can see it right here only on MSNBC and our on-line partner, Politico.com.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Today was Tony Snow‘s first day back at work at the White House as press secretary to the president after recovering from cancer surgery. And with a veto showdown looming over the Iraq war spending bill, he‘s returning to a full workload, obviously.
NBC White House correspondent David Gregory interviewed Snow upon his return today—David.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, interesting day here, an emotional one at the White House. You‘re right, Tony Snow‘s return got a full round of applause in the press room, an unusual reaction for a press secretary, especially when times are as intense as they are. But it got one because Tony Snow has gone through a lot and faces an uncertain future. He‘s back before his chemotherapy starts for his new bout with colon cancer, cancer cells also attached to his liver. So the future is uncertain. The treatment starts, but he got a good reception today.
We did have a chance to talk a little bit later in the day, and I started by asking him what I think is an awkward question for people when they encounter somebody with cancer, and that‘s the very simple question of, “How are you?”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I‘m doing fine. You know, it‘s funny, it shouldn‘t be that awkward. One of the things I‘ve learned the last couple years is people get so scared when they hear the word cancer that they immediately let fears dominate them and they let their imaginations run wild.
You know, as you know, I lost my mom to cancer when I was a kid. She didn‘t really stand a chance, but now you‘ve got amazing research that is moving at incredible speed. So a lot of conditions that weren‘t treatable years ago are now curable, or people are racing toward cures. So you see more and more people—Elizabeth Edwards is one of them, who‘s out leading a full life while getting cancer treatment. And it‘s possible now to do that sort of thing.
GREGORY: I remember talking to you before you took this job. And one of the things that you really hit home was, Look, I‘m going to get a clean bill of health...
GREGORY: ... before I take this job at the White House.
GREGORY: And you got that.
SNOW: Yes. You know, it‘s interesting that—I did. And even before I went in for this surgery five weeks ago, it was pretty much anticipated that I was clean. The problem you have is that some of the very best diagnostic stuff you have is still fairly imprecise, so there are some things that you can‘t see. I mean, my PET scan was clean. My CAT scan was clean. My blood work was good. And I‘m really glad that we decided to go ahead and be aggressive. We had what we thought might have been an enlarged lymph node, and lo and behold, it was a cancer.
Having said that, you go back now and ask, OK, so what‘s a clean bill of health? Are you going to be able to do your job? And the answer is yes. One of the interesting things I‘ve learned just in the last five weeks is how many people are walking around now who have cancer, who are getting regular treatments, and who are doing what I‘m hoping we‘re going to be able to do, which is to knock this into remission and then basically do regular treatment to make sure we keep it there.
GREGORY: It‘s a pretty intense time for this administration. What was it like sitting on the sidelines with all this going on?
SNOW: I was spending more of my time—I was watching, but I was sort of distanced from it in the sense that I would (INAUDIBLE) my Blackberry and read the news every day. But for me, the last four weeks, really, since I came back from the hospital, I‘ve been driving the kids to school, picking them up from school. And it‘s been, in many senses, a wonderful time. I‘ve written a magazine article. Somebody asked me to write one about my faith, and I did that. I‘ll be doing a commencement address coming up, and I‘ve worked on that a little bit.
You know, it‘s a time to think about the things that are really important for you. And in some ways, it was stimulating to do that.
The other thing is, I was really proud of the staff. I mean, Dana Perino is just great, and so were all the other people in the press office. And they all pulled together and they didn‘t miss a beat. They didn‘t need me. I think I need them more than they need me.
GREGORY: What was the president‘s reaction like, and what kind of communication did you have with him over the last...
SNOW: He—at the very—I mean, he called right away. And for the first couple of days, was calling and wanted—he encouraged me to call him as often as possible. But on the other hand, I thought, you know, You‘re busy. And so it was really nice. It‘s the kind of—he knows how to handle these things. He was very friendly. He wanted to know how I was doing, offered any support, said, you know, If you want to be phone buddies, we‘ll be phone buddies. And that‘s all I needed. I didn‘t need to take his time, but it was wonderful and nice.
And again, people may not realize, it doesn‘t take much just to give somebody that little extra bit of strength and happiness, a little phone call, an e-mail. And people did that. So it was nice hearing from him.
GREGORY: What matters to you most now?
SNOW: Same things that always have, my family and my faith, you know, trying to live—what I‘ve always told my kids is, I want you to be good. And I think, ultimately—well, no, something has changed a little bit in that there‘s more of a determination on my part to do things of service. I mean, I‘m really lucky. I‘ve got a platform. I‘ve got some experience, so I can help people. And so that is something—I talked to people before about doing that after I left the White House. It‘s even stronger. I don‘t know what I‘m going to do. I don‘t know quite how to do it. But you got a chance to do something that‘s good for people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: I was struck today, Chris, talking to Tony—obviously, a lot of people focus on reporters like me, who have tough exchanges with him in the briefing room, but this is really a day to step back and focus on some bigger issues that he‘s got to deal with. He‘s got three young kids, oldest of which is 14. And he‘s in a mode now, day in and day out, with his wife, leveling with these kids about what he‘s going through, the ups and the downs. And they are at an age where, you know, they‘re really going to conflicted by it. And so no follow-up necessary on all of that, just a lot of support for him.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t it amazing, David, how the cynicism of our lives slips away...
MATTHEWS: ... and we all sound like cornballs when we‘re telling the truth about life.
MATTHEWS: I mean, the best of life is corny in a way, to use an old expression, and he talks like that.
Let me ask you about the big story developing. Is there a chance for the Democrats who run the Congress now, our legislature, who‘ve declared they want to end this war, and the president—can they reach an agreement on this war?
GREGORY: Well, you hear within the White House and talking to Republicans outside, as well, that there is a bit of theater that has to play out here. They have to pass this supplemental with the deadline. The president feels he has to veto it. And certainly, Democrats need this for their own party‘s base. The president has his base of support behind him for the veto. And then they get down to any kind of real negotiation.
The president is not going to give in, in the sense that he is not going to allow a deadline for troop withdrawal. But he has said all along privately that the kind of pressure the Democrats are putting on, in some way, helps him...
GREGORY: ... because it helps him keep the pressure on the Maliki government to do more. Now, whether that bears fruit is anyone‘s guess at this point. And there‘s a lot of pessimists out there.
My sense is that they want to get to a place where there can at least be the articulation of some goals for the withdrawal of troops, or benchmarks, which has become the new kind of term that‘s been coined here...
MATTHEWS: I like goals better.
MATTHEWS: I think goals is great, because, if this country can reach a consensus on how many years we are going to put into that war...
MATTHEWS: ... what we are going to really try to achieve before we leave, I think the country could get united again, if—if they all agree to something, it seems to me.
And I think—I think there—there is room for that. But, obviously, things have gotten bad enough publicly, that that‘s going to be a difficult goal to meet, just in terms of getting that deal. But I think that that‘s where the—that‘s where the room is on the White House side.
MATTHEWS: Hey, thank you very much, David Gregory.
MATTHEWS: Great interview.
Up next: The Republican presidential candidates debate this Thursday. We‘re three days and counting here. And, when we return, how can you get involved in this debate? This is going to be interactive.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
This Thursday, the Republican presidential candidates will join MSNBC and Politico.com for the first GOP presidential debate of 2008. You‘re going to get to see them answer important questions, the candidates, and you will get to gauge for themselves what you think of these people.
Here now to talk about the big debate, John Harris, editor of ThePolitico.com.
John, I keep looking at the polls. I am always impressed by the fact that Rudy Giuliani keeps doing well in the polls. Everybody says, oh, Bernie Kerik is going to kill him, that suggestion to make him Homeland Security—or the fact that he‘s been married three times is going to kill him, or that he is pro-choice is going to kill him.
And, the more people say, that is going to kill him, this is going to kill him, his numbers keep going up. How do you figure this race?
JOHN HARRIS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, POLITICO.COM: That‘s right. It‘s been going on...
HARRIS: Look, it‘s been going on for three, four months now. The conventional wisdom is saying, look, this—these numbers aren‘t real, as you point out. But they stay pretty high.
The gap has narrowed a little bit in some of these polls. But, unambiguously, in the polls, he is the front-runner. I imagine, on Thursday, at the—at this Reagan Library debate, we are going to see the other candidates treating him like a front-runner. That means they are going to be taking shots.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that John McCain—well, I like to ask questions I think I know the answer to—is John McCain, who has been slipping a bit, but has come back roaring hard last week, taking shots already at—at Mitt Romney, on the—bin Laden, the importance of catching bin Laden, taking shots of Rudy Giuliani on the New York police and firemen not being on the same frequency, do you expect him to do a little free-firing on Thursday night?
HARRIS: I think he wants to show that, look, he is the most commanding figure in this race. He wants to prove that he is now what we all thought he was three, four months ago, sort of the almost prohibitive favorite in this race, by saying: Look, I had a bad spring—or bad winter, but now here is the spring. And I‘m ready to show that I‘m the class of this field.
MATTHEWS: How do people get involved in this? This debate, I think, will be the first time that, in real time, someone watching MSNBC or plugged into the computer and watching Politico—how do they get into this, and say, if they have got a brilliant question—let‘s assume they got the perfect question. How do they get that to you and to us?
HARRIS: Yes, what a softball question, Chris. This is not HARDBALL with this question.
MATTHEWS: I know. I—but somebody just asked me...
HARRIS: Thank you for asking. Thank you for asking, Mr. Matthews.
MATTHEWS: Do you want—you want to know the honest answer, in the interest of candor?
HARRIS: Oh, we...
MATTHEWS: Somebody just told me to ask that question in my ear, OK?
It wouldn‘t naturally come to mind. Go ahead, John.
HARRIS: I knew this did not sound like you. This does not sound like a classic Matthews question.
MATTHEWS: I know.
HARRIS: I appreciate your asking it.
If people go to Politico.com, www.Politico.com, they can send us suggested questions. We are going to let audience—the audience vote on these questions. And we‘re committed, in our interactive round on this debate on Thursday, to asking the questions that viewers want us to ask in three distinct segments within that 90-minute debate.
MATTHEWS: How many do you expect to get through by the end of the hour-and-a-half? How many live questions from live audience people do you expect they will get on the table? Ten? Five?
HARRIS: Well, the—yes. No, I think we will get—we will get 20 30, we hope, by the end of it.
HARRIS: These will be quick questions, no filibusters in these questions. This is—some people call it the lightning round, 30 seconds to answer. So, these are going to be quick questions. We‘re going to try to get as much in as we can.
MATTHEWS: Who is your momma, that kind of question?
HARRIS: Exactly so.
MATTHEWS: I‘m waiting to see what the censure board is going to come up with, because...
MATTHEWS: ... it‘s interesting. A lot of people who are partisan, as you know, John, will be calling in...
MATTHEWS: ... hot questions for their rivals, the candidate they don‘t want to see do well. So, it will be interesting to see how this gets competitive from the various candidates‘ corners, don‘t you think?
HARRIS: I suppose, yes. And—but the—it‘s not just who sends the questions. It‘s who votes on them, because we will—are going to be tallying the response to these.
We have had several thousand questions so far, and they are quite good. Some of these—these reader questions, whether they are from ordinary folks or maybe from the opposition research teams with the candidates, they are—they are dead on, some very good questions waiting for us on Thursday.
MATTHEWS: How are we going to know who won this debate? Do we wait to read the AP, “The New York Times” the next day?
Jack Germond is in semi-retirement. How do we...
MATTHEWS: And David Broder might tell us. How do we know—does the great mentioner have to tell us who won, or what?
HARRIS: You know, what I have noticed in these debates is, there is almost immediately kind of a vague, tentative sense that somebody did not so well, somebody did—did a little better.
HARRIS: And, then, within 24 hours, that gets amplified.
So, it was a knockout for...
HARRIS: ... for Smith, and Jones flopped.
We see the—these early very sort of slight judgments...
HARRIS: ... become really dramatic in the space of a couple of news cycles.
MATTHEWS: I have always figured the safe way to do this, as a journalist—or a pundit—is to go walking through the—in front of the print people, the newspaper people, and just sort of walk around there right afterwards, and listen very intently...
MATTHEWS: ... to the huddles, and see if you can get the word on who won.
Hillary Clinton, I guess, won the Democrats.
We will be right back with John Harris. He is staying with us.
And, when we return, we will talk about which of the Republican candidates will make the biggest splash Thursday night. There‘s a prediction. Will there be a splash?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
TRISH REGAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello. I‘m Trish Regan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
And three straight days of record closings end on Wall Street—the Dow losing 58 points today, to close at 13062. Analysts say investors sold off stocks for profit-taking. For the month of April, the blue chips index gained a healthy 708 points. The S&P 500 today lost nearly 12 points, to close at 1482. And the Nasdaq ended the day off 32 points lower, to the 2525 level.
Well, American workers racked up a seventh straight month of income growth in the month of March, income up seven-tenths-of-a-percent. However, consumer spending did slow.
Delta Air Lines comes out of bankruptcy after 19 months. Delta eliminated 6,000 jobs during the $3 billion restructuring.
And it may be finger-licking good, but it‘s healthier, too. Yum!
Brands-owned KFC says it‘s no longer using trans fats to cook its chicken. Yum!‘s Taco Bell chain has also gone mostly trans fat-free—now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
This Thursday, the Republican candidates for president will debate each other, all together for the first time, 10 of them. I will be moderating the big debate at the Reagan Library, beautiful place. You are going to see it Thursday night out in California at Simi Valley.
Here now to size up the field, it‘s very—very—we should be wearing blazers here...
MATTHEWS: ... the challenges, the expectations, are John Harris of “The Politico.” He‘s just been with us. Our debate partners, Lois Romano, of course, of “The Washington Post,” is joining us, and Howard Fineman, of course, of “Newsweek” and our own effort here.
Let me ask you, Howard, do you think—this is the question. Will they embrace the president? Will the people who seek to succeed him as president, the Republicans, will they be Bush supporters, or will they begin to what we call in politics become trimmers?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, embrace might be a little strong, because, if the numbers are like they were for the Democratic debate, there are going to be lots of people watching, not all of them dyed-in-the-wool, hard-core base Republicans.
MATTHEWS: So, they will be looking for the general election independent?
FINEMAN: They are going to be looking for the general election independent.
This is not the place—your debate will not be the place to speak only or solely to a room of 50 hard-core Republican base supporters.
MATTHEWS: Lois, do you think they will all be trooping in line, trying to show their party loyalty by showing Bush loyalty? Or how do you think they are going to nuance this thing?
LOIS ROMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I—I—well, I think, obviously, they—they have to play a little bit to the base, because they need to win the nomination first.
But they are facing an extremely unpopular war. So, they have to thread a very narrow needle on how they want to deal with the war, and still, you know, basically embrace Bush a little bit. I mean, I think what you‘re going to hear them saying is, we don‘t think this is a good war, but we don‘t think we should surrender.
MATTHEWS: John, what‘s your thinking? Are they going to hew to the Bush line, or are they going to try to show some distance, in a way, say, for example, without being cruel about it, George Bush Sr., the first President Bush, was able to run in 1988 and win sort of as a Reagan third term. But, also, he said, I‘m going to be kinder and gentler, a little nuance from the hard line of Reagan.
Do you think that they will try something like that, along that line?
HARRIS: You know, I‘m guessing what they will say is: Look, I don‘t want to get in an argument about the last eight years. I‘m talking about the next four years, the next eight years. So, it is going to really be up to—to us to frame questions that don‘t allow them to hedge like that.
Where do they stand on many of the key Bush issues and key Bush decisions?
HARRIS: Do they agree, or would they do things differently?
MATTHEWS: Well, that won‘t be so hard, it seems, with some of the outlying candidates.
Let‘s talk about some of the candidates, Lois, who may not be in the top of the list right now: Ron Paul, a libertarian U.S. congressman from Texas for years now who has been involved in Republican politics and sometimes in independent politics. You have got Tom Tancredo, very tough on the border, very anti-illegal immigration.
Some of these people—Brownback—have their own approaches to the war in Iraq that aren‘t necessarily the party line so far. Will they be the ones taking shots at the front-runners?
ROMANO: I think so. I think you will see Ron Paul develop as the Kucinich of this group. He is very anti-war. And—and he will do that.
And then you will see Tom—you know, from Colorado...
MATTHEWS: Tancredo, yes.
ROMANO: Tancredo, right.
ROMANO: He is going to after them on immigration. I mean, that‘s his
his big thing, border control. He is probably going to go after McCain for flip-flopping a little bit or hark back to McCain‘s alliance with Ted Kennedy. We probably will hear the big Kennedy name there.
So, I think—I think—yes, I think they will try to show that—and Brownback also—that they are individuals; they are different. And I think, for Brownback, he is going to basically try to carve out a little bit of the base for himself. I mean, he believes that there is still some room in this whole big group of 10 for somebody with really core conservative values.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well, I think that‘s very true, because there isn‘t really a—quote—“easy conservative sell” out there. A lot of these people have mixed records.
Let me go to Howard.
It seems to me that there are some opening here for these folks. You can go after Giuliani, because he is pro-choice, and says so. He is for funding of abortion for poor people. I mean, they could go after him on that, right?
They could go after—they could go after Mitt Romney for his record as a more moderate, or more liberal, even more tolerant, governor of Massachusetts than most conservatives are on issues like gay rights and abortion rights.
FINEMAN: Well, I think they could, and—but I‘m not sure that they will, unless you ask them the questions that require them to.
The reason is that nobody is so far ahead in this...
MATTHEWS: You mean I have to play hardball?
FINEMAN: Yes, you have to play hardball.
MATTHEWS: OK. I‘m just asking.
FINEMAN: But nobody is so far ahead in this race that the others on the Republican side, that the Republicans have to gang up on them and drag them down be—lest—lest they run away with it.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me challenge you, Howard.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s have a debate here.
MATTHEWS: Giuliani is at 39 percent in our poll, the NBC poll, which is godlike here.
MATTHEWS: OK? We—we like that...
MATTHEWS: ... “The Wall Street Journal” poll.
McCain is at 24.
MATTHEWS: He slipped a bit, but he is still way ahead of—Romney is at 12. Now, he has broken into double digits. That‘s interesting.
The people who say none of the above or haven‘t figured out are only 11 percent.
MATTHEWS: A lot of these people—John Harris, you pick up—these people have become committed already. It seems like, even though it‘s way early, there are not that many undecideds floating out there.
HARRIS: Well, I would guess that some of that support is fluid. And, so, there are going to be people watching this debate. These are tentative judgments that people have made, getting behind these candidates.
HARRIS: They are not final judgments. But that‘s why events like this are important.
MATTHEWS: I just wonder whether we‘re going to see a real fight between the backbenchers and the leaders tomorrow—Thursday night.
FINEMAN: Well, it‘s—you know, the 39 percent for Rudy is impressive in such a large field—large field. I grant you that.
And maybe one way that you impress the base is by attacking Rudy on some of those issues. So, that could happen. I agree with you that could happen.
But it‘s not like he is running away with the thing right now. The feel of it out there is that he is dropping back into the pack just a little bit, and there is plenty of time to take him down.
MATTHEWS: Who would you bet now?
FINEMAN: Plenty of time to take him down.
MATTHEWS: Who can you bet on now that might come from the back, somebody who is a—a comer? Who can come from the back and break into the top three, make it a top four?
FINEMAN: Well, I hate to mention any of the people who aren‘t going to be on the stage on Thursday night, but you still have at least three more candidates who could get in this thing—Fred Thompson, Newt Gingrich, and I still think Chuck Hagel, who is the really anti-war candidate.
MATTHEWS: He would shake things up.
FINEMAN: He would shake things up enormously. It‘s only May of the year before.
MATTHEWS: Let me give you a reason. Not that I want to bring an extra added attraction beyond what we can present Thursday night. But the latest polling in Iowa, the first in the nation test, says that 50 some percent of Republicans, who are going to vote in that caucus, think we should be out of Iraq in six months. They are more in tune with Hagel than the others.
FINEMAN: There has to be somebody other than Ron Paul, with all due respect to Ron Paul, to pick up that standard.
MATTHEWS: As they once said in an old Walt Disney movie, it‘s what you do with what you got that counts. Anyway, thank you John Harris. Thank you Lois Romano. Thank you Howard Fineman. Remember that one; what you do with what you got that counts.
Anyway, up next, which Republican candidate best carries the mantle of President Ronald Reagan? That‘s a question for us this Thursday night. HARDBALLers Tony Blankley and Ron Reagan join us next. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The president is digging in, saying he will veto a war funding bill with a timetable for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq. How will the 10 Republicans who want to be the next president deal with an unpopular war as they debate each other for the first time this Thursday here on MSNBC? And how much distance will they put between themselves and the president, if any?
For a preview, let‘s go to HARDBALLers MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan and Tony Blankley of the “Washington Times.” Ron, we‘re going out west. Your mother is going to be there. It will be an interesting home game for the Reagans. What‘s your view of this as a television drama this Thursday night?
RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it should be very dramatic. Of course we have a very dramatic moderator for the event. That will help a little bit. It‘s going to be interesting to watch if any of the second or third tier candidates can actually make a move on the top three, the Romney, Giuliani, and McCain group, and whether any of those top three stumble a bit. I think McCain has the most to lose here, but that might be just my opinion.
MATTHEWS: Tony, I think he also has the most to want the same thing as Ron just said. I think he really wants to turn it on. My hunch is the last week or so he has been revving up.
TONY BLANKLEY, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”: I have no idea what McCain is
planning to do. I take these early primaries -
MATTHEWS: That‘s no reason why you can‘t speculate. That‘s no excuse.
BLANKLEY: I think these early primary debates are sort of like the opening of a chess game. It‘s not like a general election debate in September, where 50 million people are watching, and you either make a huge mistake or you confirm a trend. Here, it‘s less the big mistake that any of us are going to comment on in the first weeks, an opening that you may provide another opponent. Little statements that may not seem like a big deal to any of us, but the clever opponent—
MATTHEWS: Rate the last week of Democrats. Did somebody do something that was lethal?
BLANKLEY: Not lethal, but Obama opened up a little opportunity, which Hillary quickly got into on toughness, on—
MATTHEWS: He didn‘t say retaliate fast enough.
BLANKLEY: And you saw Hillary then go out and saw people putting out a message on that. You saw John Edwards show an absence of moral certainty.
MATTHEWS: So well said. Tony, so well said. If you are asked who your moral advisor is or leader, you should have an answer.
BLANKLEY: You should. That‘s going to be exploited in many little ways. So it‘s more a question of did you give little openings. This is not going to be a decisive debate. They never are decisive at this point. And you can write off—I mean, Tancredo is going to obviously hit the immigration issue on polls, libertarian isolationists. He will hit no spending and no foreign policy.
That won‘t matter. It will be interesting, I think, to see how they try to, as you were discussing in the previous segment, separate themselves a little bit from Bush. The problem is that 2/3 of Republicans support the president, support the war, and 2/3 of the country don‘t support the president and don‘t support the war. So they can‘t show much separation. They can sort of confess that mistakes have been made. I don‘t think you‘re going to see a whole lot of separation going on.
MATTHEWS: It‘s interesting, Ron, that this test of mettle is a TV test. Your father was an expert on television. He really was. I grew up with him in the 1950‘s, watching “G.E. Theater.” Just apart from ideology, this medium was his medium, his ability to communicate by the millions. Do you sense any of these candidates, if you want to stick your neck out, who has anything like the power of the Great Communicator?
REAGAN: Well, Rudy Giuliani is probably the most charismatic of them, but you mentioned it before the break, that the Republicans have been looking for a new Ronald Reagan. The problem for them is there just isn‘t one out there. Yes, Rudy Giuliani is somewhat charismatic. He is a good speaker. But he has got a lot of problems with his candidacy.
McCain, he‘s hot and cold. You never know quite which John McCain is going to show up. This is why people are excited about Fred Thompson. There are Republicans who think that Fred Thompson, maybe because he works in television, can be a guy who can come in and seal the deal for them. He has to get in the race first, of course.
MATTHEWS: And we have to see whether he can turn a crowd on or not.
REAGAN: That‘s right. I don‘t think Fred Thompson is another Ronald Reagan either, to tell you the truth.
MATTHEWS: I wonder whether—let me ask you this, because you lived with your dad. This is again apart from politics. Don‘t you have to have the bug? Don‘t you have to really want to run for president? Your dad ran in, I believe, 1968 and lost to Nixon. He was kind of a long shot. Then he ran again in 1976 against a sitting Republican, Gerry Ford. Then he finally won on the third try. You have to really want it enough to keep going for it. To have to be talked into it the way Fred Thompson is, I have never seen that before. Maybe Adlai Stevenson was talked into it. That didn‘t work.
REAGAN: You have to be ready and eager to give up any semblance of a normal life forever, because if you win, that‘s it. Your regular life is over. You really have to embrace that.
MATTHEWS: Your campaign slogan can‘t be get my slippers.
BLANKLEY: You know, there is an interesting—there is an interesting aspect of this field of Republicans. We all observed there is no other Reagan out there, and clearly there isn‘t. In an odd way, this gives the Republican party an opportunity, because this is not 1980 or 1984. I wish it was. It‘s not. The issues set that could win then can‘t be replicated now.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the question, why aren‘t they looking for another George W. Bush? Isn‘t that a problem. No, I‘m being serious. Isn‘t that part of our conversation that‘s a problem. They don‘t really want to emulate entirely or in large part—
BLANKLEY: Other than an FDR or Reagan, you don‘t usually—the country is tired of the president. They were tired of Truman.
MATTHEWS: So well said. They were tired of Truman. They were tired of Ike even. And Ike was immensely popular. Anyway, thank you. Tony, you get wiser every time I get older. Any way, thank you Ron Reagan. Great report tonight. Thank you Tony Blankley.
When we return, race in America. How much has the Don Imus incident changed what we can and cannot say, if anything? Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons has a new book out. That‘s a heck of a book, by the way, he has come out with. It‘s not an ethnic thing. It‘s for everybody, this book, from what I can tell. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Russell Simmons is a music mogul, is one of the most influential figures in hip hop music and in our economy. His book is called “Do You, Twelve Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success.” First of all I love the concept. This should be a gradation speech, to tell the kids who graduate to do you.
RUSSELL SIMMONS, HIP HOP MOGUL: It is meant to inspire you to look inside. The truth is, when you look inside, there is a piece of god in you. If you can access that, anything you can imagine is yours. There is no secret without god. And the idea is that all the scriptures tell you the same thing. This book is based mostly on the Yoga Sutras, but all the scriptures run parallel.
And the real truth is when you look inside any business idea or anything you want to imagine, you can create. The book is about that. The title is a very funny story, because it was the 12 laws of success and I gave the book to Oprah. She read the book and it was the funniest thing. She called me and told me I had a corny title. So she tells me I have a corny title, and then she told me the name, which is the title of the second chapter. The book is about the inner voice.
MATTHEWS: She thought this was corny?
SIMMONS: No the 12 laws of success was corny. She renamed the book.
SIMMONS: To “Do You.”
MATTHEWS: Oh, she did that.
SIMMONS: Yes, it‘s kind of funny. But I would have thought that her naming my book would be out of the question.
MATTHEWS: Are you giving her a cut?
SIMMONS: No, she doesn‘t need it, I don‘t think.
MATTHEWS: This is graduation time, and I think one message to kids graduating—I always say to them, I hung out with a kid who knew all about music. Today he‘s Curt Loder. I hung out with another guy in college. He‘s from Buffalo. That all he did was talk about sports. Now he is a sports reporter for the “Buffalo News.” People do end up doing well what they had a hunch about.
SIMMONS: Every success I‘ve had—my first rap record was made before there were rap records. The Def Comedy Jam was a joke for HBO. The Def Poetry Jam is the longest running show they have, and that was a favor. The Reverend Run TV Show, for instance, is a show about a reverend and five kids. It‘s not popular at MTV, but now it‘s the number on show there.
So, my success has come from listening to my voice and having the courage to live up to what it promises me. And I think that it‘s a very obvious formula and it make you happy. And the idea that you want to connect to that thing that makes you happy, the thing that is the unity in all of us. And that is what the book is about.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me go into a problem area. I was writing a while ago, and I was going to put it into a book, but I decided not to for the following reason: it seemed to me that the guys in this business of talk, like Limbaugh and O‘Reilly and Imus took years to get their act right. For years they tried to be something else and they finally became themselves and they got good at it. Limbaugh couldn‘t get guests up in Sacramento, so he did the show without guests. O‘Reilly, people could stand, but he said, fine, a lot of people will like me, even though I‘m a little bit difficult to deal with. They‘re going to like me. You know, a couple million people is all it takes.
Now Imus, what was your view on Imus, what happened?
SIMMONS: Well, the you I refer to is the higher self. It‘s that thing, that Christ consciousness, that Somati (ph) the Yogis refer to, Nirvana the Buddhists call, you know, the toxic life-style that the Jews refer to, that is the you I am referring to. When you are disconnected and you don‘t realize that you are a part of, you know, all of mother Earth and you are a part of all of those things, that is the you I refer to. Not the one‘s that separate or isolated.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not egotistical?
SIMMONS: No, it‘s not at all. It‘s about letting go of the ego and looking for the strength that comes when you are really connected. That is where even—people who you might think are not spiritual, not connected, that is where their strength comes from. That‘s the law. The cosmic laws are unbreakable. So if you want to promote happiness, then you can receive it. If you want to give something that‘s lasting and stable and good, then you get back a lasting and stable and good result. So that‘s what the book is about.
MATTHEWS: What about Imus? What happened there.
SIMMONS: The Imus story is—I am the chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. And Rabbi Snyder, who is the chairman of the World Jewish Congress, is the president. And our first response was that is Imus and maybe there is something we can do, some dialogue behind the scenes, that would promote something better. But America‘s response to him was good. It gave us a chance to talk more about race. It was very good. I was happy with not so much what happened to him, but the fact that we are discussing this now in such a meaningful way.
MATTHEWS: One candidate for reelection in Virginia, George Allen, was coasting to reelection as a senator until he called a kid Macaca, which is a North African reference to a black kid. Do you think we‘re changing, that we‘re getting more sensitive, or are we just being politically correct? Are we getting better or just more careful?
SIMMONS: You know, rappers talk often about things that bring up things in us, the misogyny—I wouldn‘t say racism, but homophobia, the violence, the truth. The truth about us is that we like to sweep things under the rug. And the lack of consciousness on the part of all the smart people, the sophisticates, is everywhere.
MATTHEWS: Was it good to put it out?
SIMMONS: I think it was good that they discussed it publicly.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but he got fired for it. Rap singers don‘t get fired for incitive language.
SIMMONS: They have a certain poetic license that they should enjoy.
I think we have to protect that.
MATTHEWS: But not talk show hosts?
SIMMONS: I don‘t think so. I think those words should be removed from mainstream television and radio.
MATTHEWS: The words he used?
MATTHEWS: I think they have been removed, Mr. Simmons. There‘s nothing like a noise like that to get fired. Anyway, thank you. I do like the title. Oprah, as always, is a genius. “Do You,” it‘s a great book. It‘s going to be high on the Amazon list tomorrow morning. Thank you very much Mr. Simmons. The name of the book is “Do You.”
SIMMONS: It already is.
MATTHEWS: Sorry, it will be higher. Tomorrow on HARDBALL, Bill Maher. And don‘t forget, the first Republican presidential candidates‘ debate coming up this Thursday. The countdown is on. Three days to go. Right night it‘s time for Tucker.
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