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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for May 31

Guests: Robert Reich, Mark Green, Ed Rogers, Bobby Tyrrell, Susan Page, Ryan Lizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Who‘s off base, Bush or Rush?  An explosion on the right.  This time, it‘s the president attacking his conservative base.  Who‘s right here?  Who‘s going to win?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  So why is the conservative president giving the popular Limbaugh the bum‘s rush?  That‘s what Rush Limbaugh himself would like to know.  But Bush‘s assault on his conservative base has ignited a firestorm on the right.  The truth is, they don‘t like this immigration bill that rewards crossing the border illegally and invites millions more illegal crossings by creating a wide new path to citizenship.

But here‘s some good news on the right.  Finally, Republicans are getting a real good ol‘ boy, a Southern Baptist, Bible Belt conservative, who‘s also a TV star, to boot, a guy who not only fits the costume, he‘s played the part.  Will Hillary dare try her Southern accent out with this guy on the stage?

Meanwhile, some other fascinating rhythms on politics.  New Hampshire, that land of “Live free or die,” has adopted same-sex civil unions.  Will this Granite State—will it ignite another debate on gay marriage?  Has “Brokeback Mountain” joined the Presidential Range?

The judge in the Scooter Libby case has stirred up some worries by saying he will release next Tuesday the letters he‘s been getting pushing tough, or in some cases, lenient sentences for the convicted perjurer and ex-top Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby.

Plus, Rudy beats Hillary and all the other Democrats in my home state of Pennsylvania, making this a case where a Republican, Rudy Giuliani, can win a state Bush had two tries to win but couldn‘t.

But we begin tonight with the stock market.  It surged to two records this week and weathered an overnight sell-off in China that is expected to have a big greater ripple effect across all (INAUDIBLE) markets.  But as Wall Street catapults to new heights, is the success trickling down to the little guy?

Robert Reich served as labor secretary during the Clinton administration, and Pat Buchanan‘s an MSNBC political analyst.

You know, I don‘t know what the politics of this are.  We‘re starting it because it‘s in the news, Robert Reich.  But everybody who has stock is happy with the market right now.  Are you?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY:  Well, happy with the stock market, Chris, but there‘s a gap between the financial markets and the real economy, between Wall Street and Main Street.  And the fact of the matter is, real wages, real benefits, people who have to pay higher gas prices, higher health care costs, people who are just facing this economy, don‘t feel richer, and they don‘t feel so great about the stock market.


PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I tend to agree with him entirely.  The consumers are still spending a lot, but we‘re buying foreign goods, basically, not buying American goods.  You got a growth rate in the first quarter of .6 percent.  China is growing at 10 percent a year, Chris.  I think you‘ve got a real tailor-made issue, if this continues, for the Democratic Party in 2008.

MATTHEWS:  If they go to protectionism.

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think the country‘s going to go for protectionism, ultimately.  Everybody‘s raising Cain about the Chinese, and the administration delivered nothing in the strategic economic dialogue, it‘s called.  And that‘s not—that‘s coming.  But I think before that, you could have a very tough time, if the—if this—especially if the unemployment starts to rise, if a recession sort of starts to take hold or there‘s very slow growth, the economy will suddenly become the issue.

REICH:  Well, it is already the issue.  I mean, housing—the burst of the housing bubble, combined with gas prices and health care costs—I mean, most people, average people on the campaign trail, they‘re not looking at their 401(k)‘s, they‘re looking at their bills.  And they‘re saying to themselves, This economy is not working for me.  This is a natural campaign issue.  It does fit into exactly what Pat said.  This is tailor-made for the Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t it also causing anger, Bob, across the board, populist anger, which could cut either way?

REICH:  Populist anger can be, as you know, Chris—Pat, you know, as well—it can be channeled in all kinds of directions.  It can go against immigrants.  It can go against the poor.  It can go against the French, the Chinese.  I mean, we have seen demagogues who can channel it in a variety of ways.  But basically, hopefully, both the Democrats and Republicans will use this as an occasion to focus again on jobs and on wages and on “It‘s the economy, stupid.”

MATTHEWS:  But usually, people are more liberal in terms of social policies, civil rights and things like that, when times are good.  I don‘t think we could have had the success with the civil rights efforts we did in the ‘60s if it hadn‘t been for good economic times.  You‘re saying the economy‘s in tough shape, Bob.  Isn‘t this the worst time to liberalize immigration, like Bush is trying to do?

REICH:  Well, Chris, you‘re talking about social policies for the poor or for immigrants...

MATTHEWS:  No, working out there...


MATTHEWS:  ... and seeing some immigrant working for $7 dollars an hour.  They‘re not very happy about it.

REICH:  You are absolutely right.  There‘s a lot of fear about immigrants talking away American jobs.  The fact of the matter is, immigrants are working in a very different job market than most Americans.  But main point, I think, is that middle class are now feeling the pinch.  Health care and health insurance reform is going to be very, very high on the agenda...


MATTHEWS:  But this doesn‘t make sense because one of the arguments people make for minimum wage not just that it helps people with minimum wage get a higher wage when they need one, a living wage, but it pushes up the wages above them.  And you‘re telling me that the fact that people are willing to work for cheap hourly rates isn‘t hurting the wage scale for people above them?


REICH:  Well, wait a minute, Chris.  We have a lot of evidence on this...


REICH:  Let me just get this in.  We have a lot of evidence in places around the country, except in southern California and in Texas and in a couple of places where immigrants, new immigrants, are concentrated, immigrants are working at different jobs than most Americans.


REICH:  You know, that‘s different than the politics.  The politics...

BUCHANAN:  Cut it out, Bob!

REICH:  ... are different.

BUCHANAN:  Look, you got 36 million immigrants in the country.  You got 12 million to 20 million illegals in the country.  They are directly competitive with African-American folks and Mexican-Americans, half of whom don‘t even graduate from high school.  And of the half that does graduate, they don‘t go to college.  They‘re in construction jobs, all kinds of jobs.  Illegal immigrants and immigrants are competing with working folks. 

They‘re not competing with Chris Matthews, Robert Reich and Pat Buchanan.  And it‘s an enormous increase in the labor supply, and that drives down the price of labor, which is wages.

REICH:  Pat, you are—you are talking—you know, you and I agree on half of the stuff, and half of the stuff you and I...

BUCHANAN:  Well, half the stuff you‘re wrong on!


REICH:  I‘m looking at the actual—wait, Pat.  I‘m looking at the actual studies.  We know.  We have data.  We know exactly what‘s happening to jobs...

BUCHANAN:  All right...

REICH:  ... and wages.  And wages are going up slightly.

BUCHANAN:  Let me ask you, Robert...

REICH:  They‘re not going up very fast.

BUCHANAN:  Robert Reich said—why—why then, Robert Reich, is there a firestorm in this country, where 100 percent of Republicans and everybody are calling congressmen and senators, saying, Stop this amnesty bill?  They didn‘t use to be worried about...


BUCHANAN:  One of the reasons...

REICH:  Pat, there is...

BUCHANAN:  ... is economic.

REICH:  There is a firestorm for the very reason that Chris was talking about before.  When people are anxious and unhappy, generally speaking, when their health care costs are going up, when fuel costs are going up, when they don‘t see their paychecks going up very much, they are very, very liable to start blaming other people, like immigrants.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then why does...

REICH:  That‘s a false blame.  That‘s the politics of resentment...


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the people who have a business interest in getting cheap labor in this country and as much as possible into this country.  They‘re making a profit by paying lower wages, right?

BUCHANAN:  Sure, they are.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why they want—they want a liberal immigration policy.  They want guest workers.  They want legalization.  They want all the routes to cheaper labor.  Let‘s face it...

REICH:  Yes, but...


MATTHEWS:  They want a better deal with labor.  They want a cheaper deal, cheaper workers.

REICH:  But Chris, it‘s not—but it‘s not—you know, most of those new immigrants, they are working—you know, they‘re gardeners, they‘re working on child care.  They‘re working for...

BUCHANAN:  Construction...


REICH:  ... lower middle class...

MATTHEWS:  ... painting jobs...


MATTHEWS:  Bob, I have lunch with them at home every time I go to lunch in my neighborhood.  I know what they are.  These guys are doing skilled—semi-skilled work.  They‘re doing sheet rock work.  They‘re doing painting.  These are real jobs with real salaries, but they‘re getting cheaper wages.

BUCHANAN:  Construction work (INAUDIBLE) when you‘re a kid, the construction jobs, the best job you could have in the summer...


MATTHEWS:  ... if your father was connected, you could get one.

BUCHANAN:  If your father was connected or (INAUDIBLE) union.  And they‘re doing these jobs.  They‘re hard-working, but they‘re taking jobs away from...

REICH:  You guys...


REICH:  You guys are talking as if the problem of the middle class today has to do with immigrants.  That is a tiny piece of the problem.  What I‘m saying is that the big issues today have to do with, again, energy prices and health care costs...

BUCHANAN:  Well...


REICH:  ... and the housing bubble exploding and all of the things that have to do with lower wages...


MATTHEWS:  You‘re the economist.  I‘m asking you, as an economist, if you‘re facing this economic success with the market, with the S&P, with the Dow, it‘s going to reach a point where there‘s going to be a correction.  There‘s going to be something like a slowdown next year.  When that happens, politically and socially in this country, what do you think the reaction will be to immigration reform?

REICH:  Well, I think the reaction to immigration reform is already, as you just heard—it is a firestorm, a lot of protests.  A lot of people are blaming immigrants for losing their jobs.  The Dow-Jones industrial average—most Americans don‘t hold very much stock.  I mean, they have $5,000 on average, $5,000 in a 401(k) plan.  What you‘re seeing on the Dow-Jones...


REICH:  ... is not affecting most of the people.

BUCHANAN:  All right, well, let me talk about the manufacturing jobs.  Bush has created jobs at a far slower rate than Reagan or Clinton, and he has lost over three million manufacturing jobs.  They carry health care.  Mr. Reich is right on that.  They carry other things.  They move out of the manufacturing jobs, and they move into the jobs in Wal-Mart and these other places that don‘t have health care, and the number of people without health care rises and it increases pressure for federal health care.  Republicans don‘t realize that their open borders, their free trade policies are driving the Reagan Democrats right back to the Democratic Party.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a bigger question, and that‘s big corporations, like we work for here, GE and people who work for Chrysler.  When someone like Daimler-Benz drops Chrysler and sends them to the chop shop, to something like Cerberus one of these equity firms, these people aren‘t going to take care of the pensions for these workers.  They‘re going to end up somehow fobbing it off on some other entity, where nobody has to pay anything.  Are you confident that the social compact of a lot of working men and women in this country is comfortable, is now going to be protected, Bob?

REICH:  No!  And...

MATTHEWS:  In what‘s going on with the equity markets...


REICH:  I‘m not at all confident, Chris.  I think a lot of these leveraged buy-outs and private equity deals are premised on pushing the pensions and pushing the health care costs on to somebody else.

BUCHANAN:  Who would take them?


REICH:  Usually, the government.  I mean, we‘re talking about...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you‘re right.

REICH:  ... the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation...

MATTHEWS:  I was amazed that Barack Obama...


REICH:  You‘re going to pay and I‘m going to pay.

BUCHANAN:  There‘s two welfare states...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an incredible situation!

BUCHANAN:  There‘s two welfare states.  The conservatives like the corporate welfare state.  General Motors was the greatest welfare state of all time.  But when free trade kills that and they lose those jobs, the people that work there go to the federal welfare state.  Now, we got an alternative, as conservatives.  Ain‘t going to be zero welfare state.  It‘s either the corporations provide the jobs—or the pensions and the health care, or the government‘s going to do it.  And more and more people, Chris, are moving toward the government idea.

REICH:  And Pat, do you really think corporations are going to provide health care and (INAUDIBLE) provide pensions?

BUCHANAN:  They did!

REICH:  I mean, they...

BUCHANAN:  You‘re killing them with free trade!


REICH:  ... and they‘re not going to do it.  They wouldn‘t—even if we didn‘t have trade, they wouldn‘t be doing it because they‘re competing against each other, and they don‘t—and the unions are now down to 7.5 percent of the private workforce.  You‘re not getting the countervailing power to demand that kind of health care and that kind of pension.


MATTHEWS:  We now have a global hiring hall right now effective in this country.  It is driving wages down.

We‘ll be right back with Pat Buchanan and Robert Reich.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  We‘re back with HARDBALL.  We‘re back with former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich and MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan.

Bob, I want you to put your political hat on.  You were once labor minister of this country.  Let me ask you this.  You‘re also an old pal of Bill Clinton‘s and Hillary.  You went to school with those people back in Rhodes Scholar days.  Let me ask you about this.  Suppose we had to choose right now a president, and the choice came down to Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York and former first lady, with the help of her husband, and this guy from central casting, this Southern Bible Belt TV star, good ol‘ boy, smokes cigars, right out of the old school.  Who wins?

REICH:  Well, you know, I am obviously a Democrat.  I‘m in favor of Hillary Clinton under the scenario you gave.  But I think Fred Thompson is going to be an enormous, powerful force.  Everybody is underestimating him.  I think he has a good chance of winning.

MATTHEWS:  What is his—what is his unique selling point that hasn‘t been there with these other Republican candidates, McCain, Romney and Rudy?

REICH:  Well, not only...

MATTHEWS:  What does he have they lack?

REICH:  Not only is Thompson way over there, a real, genuine right-wing conservative, he is also a Southern good ol‘ boy, but most importantly, he‘s an actor, a grade B actor.  And grade B actors have a tremendous advantage over every other candidate because they know how to act as if they care, act as if they‘re presidents or presidential, act as if they really should be in the White House...


MATTHEWS:  Has there ever been a better actor in your life—I want an honest answer because you‘re an honest man.  Have you ever met a better actor than Bill Clinton?

REICH:  Bill Clinton was a terrific method actor.


REICH:  Boleslawski and Stanislavsky methodology were really...


REICH:  But I‘ll tell you—now, Chris, do you remember...


REICH:  Do you remember Fred Thompson‘s response to Bill Clinton‘s State of the Union in—I think it was 1994?  Fred Thompson gave the Republican response.  It was riveting.  It was extraordinary.  It was powerful.

MATTHEWS:  I loved it.

REICH:  It was the best Republican response I‘ve ever seen.

MATTHEWS:  I like the fact of how he responded the other day to Michael Moore.  He‘s got a cigar.  Of course, he can‘t light cigars in his home.  Nobody can with their wives around.  But he sat there with the cigar.  But it was refreshing to me to see a politician with a cigar.


MATTHEWS:  It was like the old days.

BUCHANAN:  Well, you‘re right.  There‘s this great naturalness to this fellow, and he‘s not—he‘s not programmed in any way and he‘s fresh as he can be.  I think he moves right into the front tier.

MATTHEWS:  But does he have the juice?

BUCHANAN:  That‘s a real question.  And secondly, he‘s got to look at that schedule, Chris.  If you‘re looking at Iowa, Iowa it could be a death trap...


MATTHEWS:  ... skip this straw poll in August and just...


BUCHANAN:  Oh, he‘ll skip the straw poll for sure.  He ought to.  But I don‘t know if he can skip Iowa.  But if I were him, I‘d really take a look at starting in New Hampshire.

REICH:  Pat, do you think—Pat, do you think that he‘s—he‘s—you say he‘s regular, he‘s genuine.  I think he‘s a great actor.  Do you think he‘s really...

BUCHANAN:  I think he‘s fundamentally—he‘s not a movement conservative, but he‘s a fundamentally conservative guy and a Republican guy, and he doesn‘t have a sharp ideological edge, which is a good thing.  But at the same time, he can be seen as a conservative...

MATTHEWS:  I can tell you, as a reporter, covering him back when he ran against Jim Cooper in that uphill race in Tennessee—I called him up.  I said—I was doing a column then, and I say, Can I see you?  He didn‘t have a title then.  Can I see you, Fred.  He says, Yes.  He said, Where do you want to meet for breakfast?  He says, Where are you staying?  I said, At this hotel.  I was staying at, like, a three star hotel.  He says, OK, I‘ll meet you there for breakfast.  No flacks, no staff, no pomposity.  He shows up.  He talked about his divorce.  He says, I wish you wouldn‘t write about that, but I got to live with it, you know?


MATTHEWS:  He seems like the real thing to me, but you don‘t think so, Bob.

REICH:  Well, lookit, I don‘t know him.  I haven‘t had breakfast with him.  He hasn‘t called me up for breakfast...


REICH:  Never underestimate the political power of a grade B actor...

MATTHEWS:  OK, but just remember...

REICH:  ... coming directly from Hollywood.

MATTHEWS:  ... he got starred by playing himself in that movie.  Just remember.

BUCHANAN:  Well, let me tell you, Chris, where I met him.  He called me the night before I testified before the Watergate committee.  And I was in my...

MATTHEWS:  And he was...


MATTHEWS:  ... minority counsel.

BUCHANAN:  I was drinking Scotch in my kitchen.


BUCHANAN:  And he said Pat—I said, I understand I got six memos.  He said, Pat, it‘s closer to 100.  Let me give you the title.  They‘re sandbagging you.  And he told me the titles of all the memos.  Do you recall this?  Do you recall this?  Do you recall that?  And so I was a little bit more prepared than I otherwise might have been...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s when you had your tour de force, right...

BUCHANAN:  That‘s exactly right.


MATTHEWS:  And that‘s when you enunciated for the first time on national television the word...

REICH:  “Political hardball.”

MATTHEWS:  “Hardball”!  Pat Buchanan created...


REICH:  I don‘t remember—I don‘t remember Thompson as a hard worker.  I mean, he had a reputation in the Senate of being a pretty lazy worker, which is also...


MATTHEWS:  Ronald Reagan did not belief in working late.  And look what happened to him.


MATTHEWS:  Jimmy Carter worked until, what, midnight?  I have to tell you, we worked until midnight.  It didn‘t work!

REICH:  That‘s right.  Two...

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you...

REICH:  ... qualifications to get into the White House, a grade B movie actor and lazy.


MATTHEWS:  God, you are a man (ph) on labor standards tonight...


MATTHEWS:  Thank you for joining us.  Have a nice summer, if we don‘t see you soon.

REICH:  All right.  Take care.

MATTHEWS:  Last time I saw you was in Truro, on the beach, remember, a hundred years ago.  Anyway, thank you, Robert Reich, former labor secretary...


REICH:  ... take care of yourself.

BUCHANAN:  You take it easy, Bob.

MATTHEWS:  I tell you, he‘s smart and he gets to the point, and he‘s got passion, just like you, Pat.

When we return, Bush versus Rush.  Boy, that‘s an interesting one because I love to see Rush Limbaugh get a little angry.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We are joined right now by Air America Radio president Mark Green, and former Bush 41 adviser Ed Rogers. 

First up, Rush—Rush—I said Rush—Rush vs. Bush:  Tuesday in Georgia this week, President Bush went on the attack to sell the immigration plan to his political right. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... people defining the bills, it‘s clear they hadn‘t read the bill. 

They‘re speculating about what the bill says, and they‘re trying to rile up people‘s emotions.  This is a good piece of legislation.  It addresses the border security needs and it addresses the employment needs of our country.

This bill is not an amnesty bill.  If you want to scare the American people, what you say is, the bill‘s an amnesty bill.  It‘s not an amnesty bill.  That‘s empty political rhetoric, trying to frighten our fellow citizens.


MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know. 

Some supporters, including Rush Limbaugh, didn‘t take kindly to the president‘s tone. 

Let‘s listen to him.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It is disappointing to me.  I‘m not—I‘m not going to hide that. 

But the fact that he may be attacking me is—I don‘t—doesn‘t

bother me.  I—that—that‘s—what—what concerns me more about it -

you can‘t take this kind of stuff personally.  

He didn‘t mention my name, and I‘m not going to sit around here and start making assumptions.  The thing that is most troublesome to me is, IS that the—the words that he spoke yesterday were—were a criticism of the people who have stood by him through thick and thin, when everybody‘s been trying to destroy him, be it on the National Guard story, take your pick, Rumsfeld, the entire war in Iraq, the whole weapons of mass destruction thing.

The people have stood by him, and because they trust him and believe him on those issues.  And they also did not want the—the Democrats to get away with taking him out. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, in today‘s “Wall Street Journal,” Jeb Bush, the president‘s brother, and former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman write a bill (sic) supporting the president, saying—quote—“We hope our friends reconsider.”

Is Bush leaving his base behind? 

Ed Rogers, I have never seen a president—I guess I have to think back to maybe something like the Panama Canal issue—where there is such this nationalist fervor, this sense of, this guy is giving it away. 


MATTHEWS:  This president, we got elected—I‘m talking for the conservatives.

ROGERS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We got him elected him to protect the borders of this country, and here he is with something that basically allows people who came across the border illegally to become citizens. 

ROGERS:  Yes.  The White House is surprised by this.  They are right that the problem...

MATTHEWS:  Why are they surprised? 

ROGERS:  Nobody—nobody was right in thinking how the right would react to this immigration bill.  And they‘re not really against this bill.  They‘re against...

MATTHEWS:  Come on. 


MATTHEWS:  You knew they wouldn‘t like it. 

ROGERS:  They are against any bill. 

And, so, the president is right that he has to take this issue to the conservatives.  He ought not be attacking people yet.  And I think the Rush-Bush fight is somewhat contrived. 

But he‘s right.  The problem with this bill...

MATTHEWS:  By whom? 

ROGERS:  The—the problem...

MATTHEWS:  Who is contriving a fight?  It look like Rush Limbaugh...

ROGERS:  I think Rush is contriving the fight. 


ROGERS:  I think the other media are chiming in, and wanting to hold everybody‘s coats.

But that‘s not the point.  The point is, the problem with this bill is now with Republicans.  The Republican—any Republican member of Congress will tell you, their phone calls are running 100-1.  The president, the White House machinery needs to sell this bill to Republicans, to conservatives, no question about it. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  What do you think of this, Mark?  Because it seems to me that we tried Simpson-Mazzoli 20-some years ago.  It didn‘t work.  It didn‘t have any teeth in it.  It didn‘t really regulate border crossing.  It was just another amnesty bill. 

And now everybody says, here we go again with the same approach, legalize another 12 million people, do it again in 20 years, when it‘s 30 million people.  Just keep legalizing people. 

ROGERS:  That is the problem.

MATTHEWS:  The way to solve undocumented workers is to give them documents.  That seems to be the solution of this administration.


he is both admirably presidential and massively hypocritical. 

If a president doesn‘t occasionally take on his base, as Bill Clinton did on NAFTA, welfare, balanced budgets, they‘re probably not representing the national interests.

Bush has basically never before taken on his base.  I can‘t remember one instance him taking on the religious base—think Schiavo—the big business base—think taxes.

So, finally, he has done it on an issue I think he cares about.  He cared about it as governor, being so close to the Mexican border. 

But, beyond the merits of it, Chris, Rush Limbaugh is really funny, and so is George Bush.  Bush is probably scratching his head, wondering where these opponents use such demagogic phrases as amnesty—it‘s not literally amnesty, as you know, because you have to pay a fine—when he is someone who says, oh, the terrorists will follow us home; stop the death tax—which doesn‘t exist—for example, so, his use of fear-mongering on Iraq to here.

And now he is wondering why the kind of demagogues in his party, who have always used this rhetoric, are now using it against him. 

One last point on Rush Limbaugh, I know exactly who he is, enormously talented.  He gets higher ratings than Air America.  He has 10 million people listening.  He has 5 to 8 percent of America listening.  Good for radio.

ROGERS:  I sense jealousy.

GREEN:  Awful—awful for politics.  Eight percent doesn‘t win an election.

Rush Limbaugh is irrelevant to someone who doesn‘t care about winning Republican primaries. 


ROGERS:  If Rush Limbaugh is irrelevant, what is Air America?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s not get into...


ROGERS:  All right.  Sorry.


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at this interesting story here, first off, Barack Obama.

Let‘s talk about Mrs. Obama.  She doesn‘t get much attention.  Bill Clinton, of course, is the most famous spouse on the campaign trail.  He gets all the attention.

But Michelle Obama is working hard to help her husband beat Hillary, of course.  Here she is in an interview today with NBC‘s Janet Shamlian. 


MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA:  I think that this country is ready for the person they think can get us to the best place.  and I don‘t think—I think that people are ready to vote for who they think will make the greatest change, the greatest good.  And...     


OBAMA:  I...

SHAMLIAN:  ... gender or color? 

OBAMA:  I think that—that this country is ready.  That‘s what we have been seeing out here.  I mean, folks aren‘t asking about whether Barack is black or what have—they want to know, what‘s his policy positions, what is his stance on the war in Iraq, what is he going to do for domestic issues, what is his—what are his issues on the environment? 

Nobody is asking about, you know—they are not confused about race on this. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that sounded pretty good to me, Robert. 

What did you make of her?  I think she is a great spouse.

GREEN:  Who is Robert? 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  I was with Robert Reich. 

I‘m sorry, Mark. 


ROGERS:  He‘s gone. 

MATTHEWS:  Mark—Mark...

GREEN:  We liberals all don‘t look alike. 


MATTHEWS:  No, you don‘t. 

ROGERS:  You sound alike. 

GREEN:  Ed, watch yourself, son...

ROGERS:  Sorry.

GREEN:  ... because Air America represents 70 percent of America on Iraq.  You and Rush represent 15 percent. 


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me...


MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know why they‘re doing this.

But people think that Michelle—that Michelle is very interesting, because we don‘t know anything about her. 


ROGERS:  She is a net plus, in that she is good...

GREEN:  Yes. 

ROGERS:  She is good timing for the Obama campaign. 

I think the guy is slipping into reality and becoming somewhat banal.  And, so, they need a little charge.  The most exciting thing in American politics is when somebody bursts onto the scene, goes from nowhere to somewhere real quick. 

She is very appealing.  She has a cool television demeanor.  They need her right now.  And everybody‘s spouse—everybody‘s spouse gets softballs.  They get a certain amount of distance.  They have a lot of goodwill and respect from the media.  So, she will—she will be a huge asset, right when they need it.

MATTHEWS:  Mark, do you think that he can—do you think he can catch Hillary? 

GREEN:  Two things. 

On Michelle Obama—I have never met her—she is not a huge issue.  She is incredibly appealing.  Voters like to see what you are like in betraying moments, which is not in a TV commercial or in an interview.

And, when someone is with his spouse, and she puts him down and makes fun of him with his socks and his dishes, it‘s an—everything that everybody likes.  But, at the end of the day, I can‘t remember who has been nominated and elected purely because—purely because of their—of their spouse. 


GREEN:  The question is, will Obama catch Hillary?

Chris, I watched you for months saying that you thought Obama would catch Clinton by Memorial Day.  And, as we know, in all the polls, to the extent that matters this early, he is a solid 10, 12 points behind. 

However, when you have to assume that African-Americans, who are now voting for Hillary at 50 percent, I‘m guessing, will naturally slip—will naturally move toward the first credible candidate to be—African-American to be president, it is almost a de facto tie in money and in polls, if you discount for the African-American vote. 

Hillary is extremely strong with African-Americans, but she is not Barack Obama, at the end of the day. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I wonder.  I keep waiting for him to do what we call in racing a sprint, you know, a kick.  When is he going to say, I‘m going to go for this thing?  Maybe he will wait until the fall.

He is the only person right now poised to be able to catch Hillary Clinton...

ROGERS:  In October, people are going to...


MATTHEWS:  ... actually beat her nationwide.

ROGERS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course, Edwards could beat her in Iowa.  But, I will tell you, nationwide, in terms of all the numbers, Barack Obama is the alternative right now, until Gore gets in it.


GREEN:  Let me quote Ronald Reagan. 

He used to say, in movies and in politics, you have to have a strong opening, glide, and a strong closing.  Barack Obama is not going to start sprinting with nine months to go. 

I have watched this from Gary Hart, who was the Obama of ‘84, new ideas, new generation.

MATTHEWS:  So well said.


MATTHEWS:  You are so right.  You are so right. 

GREEN:  And they can jump to 20 percent.  Dean did.  Hart did. 

And then they hit reality called the party.  And Mondale‘s advantage in ‘84 is Hillary Clinton‘s advantage in ‘08, is an organizational power and strength, through her, through President Clinton, that it is a competitive race, but it‘s still... 


ROGERS:  Candidates won‘t panic until October, November. 

MATTHEWS:  But I think—I think—Mark certainly knows the Democratic Party.  And I completely agree.  There is such a thing as a party there.  It‘s not just a name I.D., calling yourself a Democrat.

And—and Barack Obama may appeal to a lot of loosely identified Democrats, and idealists, and young people, and minorities.  But the people that go to those meetings, that are organized, the labor people, the issue groups, the interest groups, the ethnic groups, that get together and show up at these meetings, are there for Hillary. 

Anyway, we will be right back to see more of—we‘re going to see more of Michelle Obama tonight, by the way, on “NBC Nightly News” tonight.  They‘re going to do a package on her.

We will be right back with Mark Green and Ed Rogers.

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


VERA GIBBONS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Vera Gibbons with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closing little changed today—the Dow Jones industrial average falling five, the S&P 500 gaining a fraction, closing at a record high for the second straight day, and the Nasdaq gaining almost 12. 

After the closing bell, computer-maker Dell reporting first-quarter profits and sales that beat analyst estimates—the company also announcing it will cut 10 percent of its work force, which would mean eliminating about 8,800 jobs. 

Revised gross domestic product figures show the economy grew at an annual rate of just six-tenths-of-a-percent in the first quarter.  That‘s the weakest pace in four years and less than half the government‘s original estimate. 

Gasoline futures fell again, sliding more than 2 cents.  And the government reported, inventories rose slightly more than expected.

And 30-year mortgages rose for the third straight week, to a nationwide average 6.42 percent, the highest level in eight months.

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We are back with Air America‘s Mark Green and former Bush 41 adviser Ed Rogers. 

Next up: civil unions.  New Hampshire, home of the country‘s first presidential primary, has a new issue for the contenders to chew on.  As he signed a bill today to legalize civil unions for gay couples, Democratic Governor John Lynch said—quote—“We in New Hampshire have a long and proud tradition taking the lead in opposing discrimination.”

Is this going to be a tough issue for Republican candidates, all of whom I believe are against civil unions, to go up there and fight over? 

ROGERS:  It will be an issue among a big cluster, but it is not going to be the issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it going to rile up your conservative base, your cultural base?

ROGERS:  Absolutely.  And it does.

The whole question of gay marriage, and its sidecar of civil unions, rile up our base, no question about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it a voting issue?

ROGERS:  It drives some votes.  It is not the issue.  But it‘s not irrelevant.  And New Hampshire will matter, because now everybody, every ‘08 candidate is going to have to speak to this issue within the week. 

MATTHEWS:  Mark Green, will it identify the Democratic Party as somewhat left-of-center on a social issue, or do you think this is mainstream now, civil unions?

GREEN:  It will accurately identify Democrats as somewhat so-called left-of-center on a human rights issue.  It will have no impact on what is critical now, not the New Hampshire general election, but the New Hampshire primary.

And the reason, because all Democrats who are the top-tier contenders say the same thing.  They are all against so-called gay marriage, but they are all for civil unions, before it‘s crazy in this country to tell two people who are in love they can‘t live together with equal rights...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GREEN:  ... because it threatens my marriage.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is the difference—what is the difference between civil unions for—for a gay couple or a straight couple and a marriage for a gay or straight couple?  Aren‘t they the same thing?  A civil union is a marriage, isn‘t it? 

GREEN:  Basically, the difference is rhetorical. 

If you now polled, Chris—and polls matter—are you for gay marriage, something like 70 percent of people over 60, a clear majority, are against it.  A majority under 30 are for it. 

Ed and I and you will not be having this conversation in two election cycles.  It is basically bigotry.  It‘s anti-miscegenation laws.  And, so, it may help Republicans marginally in a general election, but the issues are the economy, terrorism. 

It‘s not going to—one last thing.  The base of the Democratic Party, who could be upset, gay and lesbian Democrats, are not that upset about gay marriage, because they‘re very sophisticated.  And they don‘t like it, but they understand why Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson are not for gay marriage. 

My guess is, all four will be for civil unions...


GREEN:  ... because they are for equal justice. 

MATTHEWS:  Ed, you like being called a bigot? 


ROGERS:  Did he call me a bigot?  I was just about to, with exception around the margins, I was going to agree with what Mark said. 

MATTHEWS:  But if everybody opposed to guy marriage is a bigot, then we have a hell of a lot of bigots in this country? 

ROGERS:  Gay marriage is not going to happen any time soon.  Mark is probably write about civil unions.


MATTHEWS:  What is the difference? 

ROGERS:  How philosophical do you want to get?  How theological do you want to get?  Marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman.  He laughs at that notion.  I am glad the left does that.  That‘s what will drive votes to us, is the fact that they laugh at the institution of marriage being a sacred institution between a man and a woman.

GREEN:  One second, I can laugh because I am not running for office. 

How, Ed—how does it hurt my marriage if two women want to be married?  Don‘t go to the rhetoric of sacred institution.  Please answer the question. 

ROGERS:  A contractual basis between two people that want to live together, Will concede is different.  Marriage is between a man and a woman, Mark.  Please say that it is not.  Say that it is not.

GREEN:  You are being conclusory.  By the way, Massachusetts disagrees with you, right? 

ROGERS:  Massachusetts disagrees with me on a lot of things. 

GREEN:  France disagrees.  Spain disagrees with you. 

ROGERS:  I have got problems with France as well. 

GREEN:  OK, so you can‘t simply make a circular argument? 

ROGERS:  Mark is selling the French, Massachusetts point of view on socialist issues.  Please Mark, get more air time.  

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the problem with all the splinters we‘re trying to do here.  If somebody gets a, quote, civil union, and they are from the same sex, and it is recognized—in fact, it is official in states like New Hampshire now.  And then they go to a church, a synagogue or a mosque and have a quiet religious ceremony.  Put those two together, the quiet religious ceremony, which nobody can stop, and a civil union, that adds up to being a marriage. 

ROGERS:  That‘s between them and their church.  It‘s not between them and the state sanctioning—a government sanctioning that relationship as marriage.  Marriage is something different. 

GREEN:  New Hampshire‘s motto is live free or die.  Suddenly, anti-big government Republicans like you—


GREEN:  And tell people who love each other they can‘t marry because government doesn‘t want them to.  Where‘s your principles?   

ROGERS:  There is such a thing as marriage.  Marriage is between a man and a woman, Mark.  You can contort other relationships, and that‘s OK with me.  And I don‘t want to argue with you about that.


MATTHEWS:  And by the way, I don‘t like being called a bigot because I‘m thinking about something.  I just don‘t like being called a bigot when I‘m trying to figure something out, and part of a social change.  I may be for it.  I may not be in five years.  But I‘m not a bigot now, and not one in five years.  You‘ve gotten used to something.

GREEN:  Chris, I obviously wasn‘t talking about you two, but here‘s my point: I do think it discriminates against gay and lesbian Americans to deny them equal rights. 

MATTHEWS:  By definition.  But you know what, it has done so for how many thousand years.  And if we change it, we change it.  But can‘t call everything in the past bigotry just because we want to make some social change.  Anyway, thank you Mark.  I love your honesty.  Ed Rogers, thank you. 

Up next, the HARDBALLers are going to dig into Fred Thompson‘s game plan.  We‘re back to him because he is the news of the day, the big boy, 6‘5, Fred Thompson, not Tommy Thompson, Fred Thompson is running for president.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Does Fred Thompson have the oomph to go the distance, the juice I‘ve been asking?  Are Republicans excited about someone new or about Fred Thompson, or are they just trying to go for none of the above.  Plus, it‘s Bush versus Rush Limbaugh.  What an interesting fight that‘s going to be.  You never fight with a guy who‘s got a microphone.

Anyway, we‘ve got joining us right now to dig into this—we have Susan Page, who broke the big story in the “USA Today” today, and “American Spectators” themselves Bobby Tyrrell, who‘s of course other of “The Clinton Crack Up,” host of that big, big meeting of all those conservatives with Fred Thompson the other night that we were hearing about in Bob—the prince of darkness‘ column.  Anyway, and Ryan Lizza from the “New Republic.” 

I see you there Ryan.  I will get to you, even though you‘re in an isolation booth somewhere nearby.  Susan, congratulations, you got the big scoop.  And you can say, reading between the lines, he is running for president? 

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”:  You didn‘t really have to read between the lines.  He didn‘t offer any hedge.  He didn‘t say if I run.  He talked about I have got some advantages already from the way I‘ve gone about this.  Here is what I plan to do.  So, he left no question in my mind. 

MATTHEWS:  And you have no doubt as a keen journalist that he is running? 

PAGE:  I think he is running, yes.  Leaving that interview, I would say yes, he is running. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s interesting, Bobby, how he manages to create just a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock suspense here.  You know, everybody figures he‘s running.  When he does announce in two or three weeks, or whatever, it will get a headline.  He‘s managed to preserve that latest—when he actually runs.   

R. EMMETT TYRRELL, “AMERICAN SPECTATOR”:  Well, having had dinner with him two nights ago with all those journalists, I can say that your piece in “USA Today” was right on the money.  It was very accurate. 

MATTHEWS:  Even though it was off the record the other night. 

TYRRELL:  Half way through the dinner I said is this on or off the record.  He said well, it‘s Washington for us all here.  So I figured the first half was off the record and the second half was on the record. 

MATTHEWS:  How did you get George Will to come to a dinner with other journalists?  I didn‘t he deigned to do that.  I thought they had to be one-on-one for George. 

TYRRELL:  I don‘t know.  You know, George goes way back at the “American Spectator.”  We are old friends and old antagonists at times.  And he is kind of like an American journalistic monument. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes he is.  Is he warming up as well to Fred Thompson?

TYRRELL:  That I can‘t tell you. 

MATTHEWS:  Will we know in a future column perhaps?

TYRRELL:  You will probably know.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Ryan Lizza, the youth of our brigade here tonight, of my very impressive “New Republic.”  I am very impressed with your magazine.  Do you think Fred Thompson might offer a new gust of hope and freedom for the conservatives in this country?  They don‘t have to run Bush again with the war as the major issue.  They can run somebody from the Bible Belt who seems somewhat charismatic.   

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  I think if he survives the initial vetting, maybe.  But, you know, it‘s like not running is the new running in this campaign.  And, you know, everyone sits on the sidelines and begs these big candidates to get in.  Once they are in, the opposition research starts flying and people learn about their positions, and they get a little disappointed. 


LIZZA:  How does he live up to the expectations?


LIZZA:  -- went through this with Wesley Clark and Wesley Clark was going to save the Democrats.


LIZZA:  Wesley Clark, a week after he got, everyone was like, he‘s a terrible candidate.  What were we thinking?  You know, running as an outsider is very popular right now.  That‘s the way to run in this election.  But when people find out that Fred Thompson spent 14 years as a lobbyist and eight years in Washington as a senator and then became a lobbyist again after he left the Senate.  You know, stuff like that is going to come out and people are going to start to second guess him a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me explain the rules on HARDBALL.  When interrupt, Ryan, let me interrupt.  OK?  Can you hear me?  I don‘t think you can hear me.  That‘s why you have to follow the rules here, Ryan.  You are never going to get anywhere if you don‘t learn to be interrupted.  That is good point though, Bobby, the fact that he does have a past.  But I think his voting record is going to be obviously conservative.

TYRRELL:  What Ryan just said reminds me of Chris Buckley‘s new joke. 

He is a real insider.  He has been a lobbyist.  He knows how to lobby man. 

That is what you want in the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what presidents have to do.  Let me ask you about the voting.  Does he have any sense he has to play defense.  I noticed he hired this guy Tim Griffin, who‘s reputation is that of an opposition research guy.  That‘s an odd first appointment to make, isn‘t it, op-research? 

PAGE:  I don‘t think we know the full story about what kind of staff he‘s going to have.  Obviously one problem he has got is that other people have been hiring up people for months and months.  But just Ryan‘s point, Wesley Clark did turn out to be a terrible candidate.  We know that Fred Thompson can be a very good candidate.  I mean, he‘s got some history of having—

MATTHEWS:  He was elected.  Wesley Clark was never elected to anything? 

PAGE:  That‘s right.  And the first time in race where he started out way behind.  He says what he needs to do is follow his gut and run a campaign that authentically represents him, which is what he did in that first Senate race, and which, I think, would probably wear pretty well with conservative Republican voters. 

MATTHEWS:  One thing in learned in the Miss America contest is: is this act something you want to see again?  I think it is a great standard for politicians.  Do you want to go to a Fred Thompson speech?  Do you want to have dinner with him again? 

TYRRELL:  Sure.  He is very charming.  But, you know, he‘s being kind of teed up as the new Reagan, a B grade actor, a guy from the outsider. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re falling for that liberal crap.  I am sorry, Ronald Reagan was an A grade television personality.  He was one of the highest rated shows on television with “GE Theater,” number three in the ratings, 09:00 Sunday night until “Bonanza” came along.  He is not a B grade actor.  That‘s an old cliche.

TYRRELL:  I didn‘t say it was my cliche‘.  I said that‘s their cliche.

MATTHEWS:  -- by the left to knock Reagan.  Let me tell you something.  This guy is a popular figure, and when he walks in the room, a celebrity walks in the room.  That is not the case for most of these other candidates, right? 

TYRRELL:  The next thing they are going to be questioning him about is if he colors his hair. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he doesn‘t have much to color. 

TYRRELL:  That‘s a joke.  That‘s the joke.

MATTHEWS:  Went right past me.  We‘ll be right back with Susan Page, Ryan Lizza, who can hear me now, and Bob Tyrrell.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the “USA Today‘s” Susan Page, who broke the big story on Fred Thompson, the “American Spectator‘s” Bobby Tyrrell, who broke the big story on Fred Thompson, and the “New Republic‘s” Ryan Lizza, who has got something hot for us in a moment, because he just talked to Al Gore. 

Check out this Quinnipiac poll of Pennsylvania voters.  In a hypothetical match up, Rudy Giuliani beats both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  Look at those numbers.  But he loses narrowly, although it‘s not statistically significant, by one point, to Mr. Al Gore, who is not running.  Ryan, how does he sound when you talk to him? 

LIZZA:  He sounds—look, I‘m not one of these people that believes that Al Gore has changed all that much. 

MATTHEWS:  Good, you‘re a smart man. 

LIZZA:  No, but look, I have a pretty—I thought he was pretty good in 2000.  I don‘t think he‘s all that different now.  I think in intimate settings he‘s always been a lot better.  As he said to me, and he‘s used this line a number of times, he doesn‘t think he‘s very good at politics.  That‘s sort of his standard answer when you ask if he‘s going to run for president.  He doesn‘t think he is very good at the game. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he seem—you know, back when he debated President Bush, he had three debate appearances.  Each one was a much different personality than the other.  He wasn‘t quite sure who to present himself as.  Does he seem a little more real now or not?  I‘m leaving open the possibility he hasn‘t changed at all. 

LIZZA:  It‘s funny, you know, in his book he actually deals with that.  He talks about how he wrote in college a paper about the Nixon/Kennedy debate, and a lot of good that did, because he screwed up the debates in 2000.  I think if he gets in the race, people‘s expectations will be that he‘s all of a sudden some great politician, and he‘s going to be great on the campaign trail.  I think it‘s unlikely that he gets in.  But I think if he does, those expectations are false. 

He‘s not—he hasn‘t changed all that much, for better or worse, I guess, is the bottom line. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Bobby, first of all, and then Susan, you guys are pros.  Do you there could be a Gore-Obama ticket or is that just wistful? 

TYRRELL:  I think there could be.

MATTHEWS:  People say that could win the general.

TYRRELL:  I must tell you, I think Gore is the best candidate.  I think people are forever—when I was finishing this book of mine on Clinton in retirement, I wrote a lot about Hillary.  And Hillary has got 50 percent of the American people saying, under no circumstances will they will vote for her.  Obama has got very little experience.  And gore has had this wonderful experience of his green revolution. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he a good default for the Democrats to go to?  

TYRRELL:  I think so, and I frankly think he would be a fairly good candidate.  It‘s a mystery to me why he is so wooden. 


MATTHEWS:  He is what he is. 

PAGE:  I don‘t think there‘s any sign he‘s running.  I think he‘s having a lot better time now than he ever had when he was running for office.  And I also don‘t think you don‘t win it if you don‘t run for it.  So I don‘t think anybody is going to hand this nomination to anybody.  If he wants to have the nomination, he‘s got to get in with Hillary or Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  If he wins the Nobel Peace Prize, does that make him feel that he has finally defeated the Clintons? 

LIZZA:  I think that certainly changes things.  Right, if he wins it, that‘s something he accomplished that Bill Clinton didn‘t.  Right?  And, you know, just go back to these fantasy scenarios.  Some people close to Gore, their fantasy scenario is that he‘ll make a deal with Obama and say, hey, let‘s run together in the primaries. 

We‘ll run as a Gore/Obama ticket.  We‘ll take out Hillary.  We‘ll be unstoppable.  Alone maybe we can‘t beat Hillary, but together we can. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Obama would go for a deal like that as long as he‘s in the running or only when he fades a bit more? 

LIZZA:  I mean, he would have to make a serious calculation, can he take out Hillary on his own, or can he do it with Al Gore‘s help. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask every watching a question, has you know ever changed?  That‘s my question.  Everybody doesn‘t change.  Anyway, thank you very much Susan Page, Bobby Tyrrell, never changes, Ryan Lizza.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”  Nobody changes.



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