Guests: Bob Herbert, Peter Beinart, Dan Gilgoff, David Brody, David Brody, Dan Gilgoff, Joan Walsh, Amanda Carpenter, Holly Bailey
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bill Clinton says said he was against the Iraq war from the beginning. Was he? Who did he tell? Did he tell Hillary, who voted to approve the war? What gives here?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Tonight our lead story, the history of the war in Iraq. Get me rewrite. Do you get the feeling listening to these guys out there that they‘re saying now that it doesn‘t quite square with your memory of what happened a few years ago, that what they‘re saying now is just the opposite of what they claim they said back when it mattered?
Suddenly, Bill Clinton, who was marching with the band when we went to war in Iraq, has just told an Iowa audience that he was against the war from the beginning. Those wee his words, “from the beginning.” Does anyone remember him being against the war from the beginning? Does Hillary Clinton remember her husband was anti-war when she voted for President Bush a blank check to invade Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11?
And guess who else is opening himself to charges of rewrite history? Former top Bush Karl Rove appeared on “The Charlie Rose Show” the other night and blamed Democrats—believe it or not, Democrats—for pushing that quickie war vote in the Congress back in 2002.
Plus, tonight is the Republican debate. Who has the most to lose tonight? Is Romney‘s religion beginning to hurt him in Iowa? Is Mike Huckabee playing the religion card against him?
But we begin tonight with reporting on that rewriting of history from HARDBALL‘s own David Shuster.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It happened in Muscatine, Iowa, while he was trying to keep the focus on his wife.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ladies and gentlemen, I have had a great couple of days out working for Hillary.
SHUSTER: President Clinton criticized the Bush tax cuts and declared that wealthy people should pay more during a time of war. Then came this on Iraq.
CLINTON: Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers.
SHUSTER: For a president who once said it depends on what the definition of “is” is, on invading Iraq, it seems to depend on what his definition of “oppose” is. Here‘s what he said at a commencement speech soon after the Iraq war began. Quote, “I supported the president when he asked the Congress for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” Hillary Clinton also supported the war and also said so.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can support the president. I can support an action against Saddam Hussein because I think it‘s in the long-term interests of our national security.
SHUSTER: By the next event yesterday in Iowa, President Clinton had gone through rewrite, changing “opposed Iraq from the beginning” to “oppose Iraq,” present tense.
Still, it‘s not just a prominent Democrat who has found historical revisionism on the Iraq war irresistible. Last week, Karl Rove stated it wasn‘t the Bush administration pushing lawmakers in Congress for a vote.
KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISER: One of the untold stories about the war is why did the United States Congress, the United States Senate vote on the war resolution in the fall of 2002?
CHARLIE ROSE, HOST: Why?
ROVE: This administration was opposed to it.
SHUSTER: Did you catch that? According to Rove, it was Congress pushing for the vote.
ROSE: Give me something!
ROVE: I just did. I told you the administration was opposed to voting on it in the fall of 2002.
ROVE: Because we didn‘t think it belonged within the confines of the election. There was an election coming up in a matter of weeks. We thought it made it too political. We wanted it outside the confines of it.
SHUSTER: But in September 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified to Congress, quote, “Delaying a vote in Congress would send the wrong message,” and Karl Rove‘s boss, President Bush, declared...
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘m not sure how to explain it to the American people (INAUDIBLE) said, You know, vote for me, and oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I‘m going to wait for somebody else to act. And so I have—we‘ll see. My answer to Congress is they need to debate this issue and consult with us and get the issue done as quickly as possible. It‘s in our national interests that we do so.
SHUSTER: Meanwhile, yesterday in South Carolina, it was Iraq war supporter John McCain who seemed to rewrite his own history, not about the war, but about the strategy.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I proudly say to you that I fought against the Rumsfeld strategy, which failed for nearly four years. I spoke against it.
SHUSTER: McCain has also described himself as the greatest critic of the strategy, and it‘s a theme in his newest television ad.
MCCAIN: I made the Pentagon angry when I criticized Rumsfeld‘s Iraq strategy.
SHUSTER: But early on, McCain publicly praised the war strategy and said, quote, “It‘s clear that the end is very much in sight.” And in those first few months, the potential for Iraqi the sectarian violence overwhelming the size of the U.S. force did not seem to be a McCain concern.
MCCAIN: There is not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias, so I think they can probably get along.
SHUSTER (on camera): But the big story is what has been the big story this entire campaign: What do the voters think about the Iraq war? And can Bill Clinton, who tacitly supported the war and whose wife voted to authorize it, now credibly claim he opposed it from the beginning? Or has President Clinton, who many thought would help his wife get past her original allegiance with Bush and McCain on Iraq, now reopened an old wound?
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David. Peter Beinart‘s editor-at large of the -
has been editor-at-large of “The New Republic.” He still is editor-at-large. He was executive editor for a long time, but most importantly, he‘s now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. And Bob Herbert, of course, is a columnist for “The New York Times.” I read him twice a week. Bob Herbert, thank you for joining us.
Peter, you wrote an interesting column the other day that was in “The Washington Post.” It said basically that the irony of our time going into this fight in Iowa and the rest of this Democratic fight is that Barack Obama was against the war in Iraq from the beginning. Hillary Clinton voted to authorize it. And yet Hillary seems to be doing well now, despite that history. Explain. Why do you think that‘s happening? Why isn‘t she paying a price for being a hawk?
PETER BEINART, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”: I think because, as a country, we tend to not look back, even when we should, and because Hillary Clinton‘s running on strength and experience. And the more the world seems scary, the more crises that are out there, the better it plays into her strategy. Whereas Obama is the guy who you want to take a flier on, but you may not trust in crises. So when people think of Iraq and they get scared, they think of Hillary.
MATTHEWS: So the calmer it gets on the war front in the last couple weeks, the better shot Barack has.
BEINART: I think that‘s helped...
MATTHEWS: That‘s what you‘re saying.
BEINART: I think that‘s part of the reason he‘s been rising, exactly.
And I think it‘s helped Huckabee on the Republican side a lot.
MATTHEWS: Because it sounds contradictory to common sense. You would think the more people turned against the war, the more they‘d be for Barack. But you‘re saying they‘re turning for Barack because they think the war situation has calmed down.
BEINART: Because we‘ve entered a political environment I think more like the 1990s in the past few weeks. Small issues...
BEINART: ... testify to character and personality, not big crisis issues, which make small issues look small.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me try that by Bob. Bob, I guess that‘s a good question. Why is Barack doing so well in the polls? We got a New Hampshire poll that‘s just come floating in the door as we go to air tonight, from the Associated Press. And it shows him doing, you know, much better even in New Hampshire. Hillary‘s lead is coming down a bit in New Hampshire. Not to even mention how tight it is in Iowa.
BOB HERBERT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, I think Hillary‘s candidacy just seems to be weakening somewhat in the past couple of weeks. But you know, going back to this issue of Barack being against the war—this was before he was elected to the Senate—it‘s never been much of a political plus to be anti-war in this society, whether it was Vietnam, whether it‘s Iraq or—period. I mean, the country, when electing presidents, looks for strength. They may be opposed to a specific war towards the end of Vietnam, after it looked like a morass in Iraq. But when they elect presidents, I think voters are looking ahead to the possibility of another war, or the possibility of a terror attack, and they don‘t want a dovish kind of person sitting in the White House.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do you square that, gentlemen, with the fact that last November, a year ago, a lot of people went to the polls to vote for the Democrats to try to end this war in Iraq? Peter, first. I mean, everybody went to the polls. You just saw it. It was a resounding election night. Democrats want the war to end. They recapture the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on the basis of being an anti-war—drum-beating anti-war party, and now you‘re saying it doesn‘t count this election.
BEINART: No, I think they‘re consistent. I think people very much do want to get out of the war. But I think Bob Herbert is absolutely right that they want someone who connotes strength. They liked Nixon. They voted for Nixon twice on the basis of the fact that he was going to get them out of the war. They liked the fact that he was a tough guy but that he was going to end the war. That‘s the difficult sweet spot you need to occupy.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, Bob, does that mean we‘re going to Rudy or we‘re going to Hillary at the end of next year?
HERBERT: Well, I‘ll tell you something. If it‘s a Rudy-Hillary race, it will be fantastic for the media, and especially for the tabloids. I‘m not sure how great that‘s going to be for the voters. It‘s going to be a rehash. It‘s going to be a psychodrama. It‘s going to be really weird if those are the two candidates.
MATTHEWS: Which of those two, do you think, Peter, is the most Nixonian? That‘s a loaded question, by the way, and I have thought about it a lot.
MATTHEWS: Who is the most Nixonian, Hillary or—I don‘t know the answer—or Rudy?
BEINART: You know, I think they both...
MATTHEWS: You know what Nixonian means?
BEINART: Yes, but I think...
MATTHEWS: You exploit the mood of the country. You don‘t necessarily have an ideology. You exploit. You live off the land. You tend to be playing the strength card, the SOB card, but you‘re not necessarily driven that way by ideology or philosophy, you just know it works.
BEINART: But being Nixonian also means you‘re tough and you can take a punch. And I think they‘re both Nixonian in that sense. But I think Hillary has actually been more ideologically consistent throughout her political career than—than...
MATTHEWS: Where is that ideology?
BEINART: I think...
MATTHEWS: Help me.
MATTHEWS: I think she‘s has been in the centrist wing of the Democratic Party going back to 1991. She was always—always a kind of communitarian, Tony Blair style in which she believed you should ask responsibility of people. I think that‘s actually been very consistent.
MATTHEWS: You mean she‘s a technocrat.
BEINART: No, I don‘t mean as a technocrat. I believe that she was never part of a cultural left nearly as much...
MATTHEWS: Did she believe in the war in Iraq?
BEINART: I think that she—I think she probably did, actually, yes.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I think, too. And I would put her on the right in the Democratic Party.
BEINART: On foreign policy. But I think she‘s been consistent.
MATTHEWS: Bob, where would you put Hillary Clinton on this war, after all is said and done? I‘m amazed now that Bill Clinton has come out and said he‘s Jerry Rubin. I mean, he‘s now become—announced the fact that he‘s been against the war—I love the phrase, “from the beginning.” Within a few hours, by the way, the verb—the verb tense changed from the past to the present. This is like the old “is” is question. He‘s now against the war, having promised the voters a few minutes before that that he was against it. Now he‘s just saying he is against it, a lesser claim. I don‘t remember him speaking out against the war back in 2001, 2002 and 2003, do you?
HERBERT: You don‘t remember it because that didn‘t happen. It‘s hard to tell where Hillary is on this war. You don‘t know where she is on this war now. She says, you know, that she wants to bring the troops home, but everybody wants to bring the troops home. But you won‘t get very much in the way of specifics.
I mean, the truth is that hardly anyone who was—the Democrats in Congress—you didn‘t have a lot of opposition to that war resolution. The Democrats were paranoid that this would be a cake walk. They looked back to the first Gulf war, and a lot of Democrats felt that they were on the wrong side by opposing that war. They thought this was going to be easy. And so they didn‘t want to be on the wrong side in this war. And they did the same thing that Democrats do so often, they didn‘t, in many cases, vote their conscience. And when they‘re looking at the issues now, I feel like the Democrats still aren‘t listening to their conscience. So...
MATTHEWS: Well, how can you tell, Bob—how can you tell a young person who‘s voting for the first time to trust liberal Democrats? Because you and I went through this in the Vietnam war. The Hubert Humphreys of the world, the Walter Mondales, all those people supported the war in Vietnam right to the end, practically, until it became really politically distasteful for them and un-useful for them. They supported it in all the key votes. And then when it got really awful, they ran. But the fact is, have we ever been able to trust the liberal Democrats to oppose a popular war?
HERBERT: I haven‘t seen it. And I think the key issue there is the use of the word “popular.” These wars are popular when they get started. Vietnam was a popular war when it got under way. The country was hot to strike at somebody after September 11, which I think is actually understandable. But we struck in the wrong place. We struck in the wrong direction.
And it‘s the politicians who are supposed to be taking a sober look at this stuff and guiding the country so you don‘t make these kinds of mistakes. So to answer your question about what do you tell young people, you tell young people, you know, you look at the reality, and the reality is that you‘re right, it‘s hard to trust these politicians, whether they‘re Democrats or Republicans, on the right or on the left.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s try this on. I like the way you‘re thinking about this, Peter. Let‘s move our life through the holidays, through Hanukkah, through, Christmas, we‘re up almost to New Year‘s. In fact, right past New Year‘s, January 3. Will the voters, assuming that the current calm continues in Iraq, the casualty level, which is lower than it was before, but certainly not wonderful—people are getting killed, our guys are getting killed, women are getting killed. Will that mitigate against the war being the top issue as voters go to the Iowa caucuses?
BEINART: Yes. I think particularly in the Democratic Party, which has a natural tendency to move to domestic bread-and-butter issues anyway, and also to issues of personality and character.
MATTHEWS: So in some way, Hillary keeps talking health care and the deficiencies of the Barack health care plan. Is that why she keeps doing that every day?
BEINART: And I think it‘s also that the polls show that she has an advantage on that...
BEINART: ... and I think that—but it‘s helping Obama, this (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Bob, same question. Will we be talking as we go past New Year‘s and everybody gets up that morning, going towards the caucuses, will they be thinking, This is my chance to vote against the war by voting for Barack, or is this my way to vote for the soft center of the Democratic Party, vote for Hillary?
HERBERT: No, I—I agree. I don‘t think Iraq is going to be the major issue. I think the economy is going to be the major issue going forward. I think the Democrats should be pounding that issue. I think it goes far beyond health care. I think it goes to jobs. I think it goes to the burden of debt that‘s sitting on the middle class. I think it goes to the fears of the possibility of a coming recession. And those are issues that would tend to favor the Democrats over the Republicans, and they ought to run with it.
MATTHEWS: Who‘s going to win the Iowa caucuses? Peter?
BEINART: The Iowa caucuses? Right now, I bet on Obama.
MATTHEWS: Who do you bet on, Bob? Can you bet at “The New York Times”?
HERBERT: I don‘t know if we‘re supposed to bet. I‘ll put it this way. If I were going to be, I guess I would...
MATTHEWS: Think (ph) Charlie Hustle. Can you do it?
HERBERT: I would be on—I would bet on Obama, although I‘m surprised that he has a real shot at winning in Iowa.
MATTHEWS: Well, maybe he‘s the one that‘s Nixonian because he‘s figured out this peaking thing that Nixon was in love with, the idea of you peak right before the actual voting. Anyway, thank you, Peter Beinart, and thank you, Bob Herbert, as always.
Coming up: The Republican presidential candidates face off tonight.
That‘s the GOP debate tonight down in Florida. Who will emerge victorious? Rudy‘s going after Romney tonight. I think Romney‘s going to have to go after Mike—Mike Huckabee, that is. Is Mike Huckabee and Rudy—are they double-teaming Romney? Are they putting together a ticket right now, sort of the city mouse, Rudy, and country mouse, Mike? You can‘t say Giuliani-Huckabee. It‘s too much like the sound of a calliope.
Anyway, you‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I‘m afraid on all four of those measures, that Mayor Giuliani would be the wrong course for our party. Now, I‘m talking about his stand on abortion or life. He is pro-choice, like Hillary Clinton. He is in favor of civil union, like Hillary Clinton. He is in favor of sanctuary cities, like Hillary Clinton. And the record of ethical conduct from, in this case, Bernie Kerik, reminds us very much of the administration that Hillary Clinton was part of in Washington.
I‘m not in any way making comments about Mayor Giuliani in that regard. My comments on the distinction, or lack of distinction, with Hillary Clinton is around being pro-choice, pro-civil union, pro-sanctuary city, and having an ethical lapse in his administration, just as her administration did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It‘s always nice to wear a crew neck sweater when you‘re being nasty. Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Mitt Romney attacking Rudy Giuliani and taking the gloves off, basically, ahead of tonight‘s big Republican debate down in Florida.
Well, how hot will it get tonight, especially between Rudy, Romney and the rest of the field? We‘ve got Chuck Todd, political director for NBC, to give us the best heads-up. It seems to me that if I were moderating that debate tonight, I‘d rip the scab off. I‘d look right in the eye of Rudy Giuliani and say, Is Governor Romney personally responsible for the murder of those two people out in Seattle because he appointed the judge that let this guy out?
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. Look...
MATTHEWS: And just see what he says.
TODD: Here‘s the thing. These guys want to go at it. I think you have a—you have three Republicans. The one guy that doesn‘t—is, I think, afraid that he‘s going to get attacked a ton tonight and is not sure how to handle it is Huckabee. He‘s the guy that I‘m sort of -- you know, you‘re just wondering how much will they attack? And I think there‘s a bunch of these candidates who are interested in going after him.
But I think Rudy and Romney want to have this fight. They—they now see it as benefiting the two of them. The more that they can have a spat, it becomes just what happened with Clinton-Obama. All of a sudden, Clinton and Obama were having this fight, and we forgot that there were a whole bunch of other people on stage.
So, Rudy and Romney, they—they want to have this fight. They want to engage, because they want to complete this sort of separation that they believe is there between them and the rest of the field.
MATTHEWS: You know, when I moderated that debate with—out of Dearborn for CNBC, I—with Maria Bartiromo, I have to tell you, when I watched it, I thought every—those two guys were operating at a different level than the rest of the guys, the rest of the candidates, that those two guys, Rudy and Romney, were so far ahead, they were like—they were like the top-ranked football teams.
Let me ask you about this question of the murder, though, because it really comes down to a key question. When you accuse another candidate, as Rudy did—well, let‘s watch Rudy here talking about the charge he‘s made against Governor Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think one of the Boston newspapers pointed this out about two months ago, that he had a very bad record, really, at dealing with crime. So, I think it—I...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, do you think it‘s unfair for him to question you about Commissioner Kerik?
GIULIANI: Oh, you can question people about anything. I think it—
I that his whole appointment of a judge goes to a much bigger point, that Governor Romney had a very poor record in dealing with murder and violent crime as—as governor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Don‘t you just love the way he said, I read in the newspaper the other day, really wouldn‘t make the charge myself, I read one in one of the Boston papers, I happened to be reading...
TODD: Right. Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: And then he shrugs, like, you know, I don‘t really want to...
TODD: ... the one Boston paper that hounds Romney all the time, which is “The Herald.”
MATTHEWS: Oh, of course. They can‘t stand Goody Two-shoes like him.
MATTHEWS: But let me ask you this. Will he say that to his face tonight? Will he actually confront the guy and say, you‘re—you‘re part of the murder here?
TODD: That, I think—I don‘t know. And it...
MATTHEWS: It‘s raw.
TODD: It—he hasn‘t done it yet, because they‘re so afraid of allowing mean Rudy to come through. Everybody‘s been waiting. The Romney people are poking.
And I think you‘re going to see the Romney people poke again tonight. And I think you will see Romney poke, poke, poke, because they want to see if they can get Rudy to lose his temper. They want to see if they can get mean Rudy has shown up.
He has not shown up this entire campaign. He has laughed off the attacks. He has gotten to stay above it all. But we have yet to see, what is it really going to be like if—if everybody‘s unloading on him? We still haven‘t seen Rudy—will he just react and just get—I mean, Romney, in that first clip you showed, Romney was prickly.
Romney was—you know, I mean, he hit it. And that Kerik thing was not below the belt, but it was a tough shot.
MATTHEWS: That‘s why he wore his crewneck sweater when he did it.
TODD: The question is whether...
TODD: Will Rudy respond in kind?
And then, of course, the—to me, the other wild card of tonight is Huckabee. How much will he attack? Will Romney go after him? You see, Romney has got a decision to make. Does he go after Rudy, because he‘s fighting off Rudy in New Hampshire? And then he‘s got to fight off Huckabee in Iowa. What is he going to do? Is he going to go after Huckabee and sort of distract himself from doing what...
MATTHEWS: How does a man of Romney‘s prominence, doing so well in Iowa in the primary, in the votes out there, in the polling so far, how does he attack this little guy who‘s become almost the mascot of the liberal media?
I mean, let‘s face it. The puff pieces written about Huckabee are unbelievable.
TODD: That‘s a good way of putting it. No...
MATTHEWS: I mean, he‘s become the mascot of the liberal press. They build him up and build him up. I don‘t think there‘s a conspiracy, because nobody is that thoughtful in this business. But it does look like they‘re building up Huckabee, at the expense of Romney.
TODD: It does seem like he‘s the most likable guy. And that‘s why
the press, whatever you want to—and the liberal columnists have
gravitated to him, because he just is the aww, shucks—he seems to be the
MATTHEWS: He‘s the creationist who wants to issue handguns to everybody.
MATTHEWS: I mean, he is. You say he‘s a nice guy. Yes, he has a nice manner. There he is looking very nice.
But, if you listen to what he says...
TODD: That matters in politics. You know this.
MATTHEWS: ... we need guns to protect ourselves against our own government—that‘s what he says.
TODD: Well, I understand that. But...
MATTHEWS: Not against hoods, not against invaders of our property.
MATTHEWS: The federal government will not respect our rights, he says in his documents he puts out, unless we have guns to protect ourselves from the black helicopters.
TODD: If Romney goes after Huckabee, he‘s only going to do it on one issue, and that‘s immigration, because he thinks that you can prove...
MATTHEWS: Huckabee is soft on that.
TODD: ... that Huckabee is soft on immigration, because—and the accusation will come in.
Fred Thompson may jump in here on this. Fred may actually jump in on the beat-up-on-Huckabee bandwagon. The one that won‘t, Rudy. Rudy‘s number one ally? Huckabee, because Huckabee is causing...
MATTHEWS: Is this is a...
MATTHEWS: ... we‘re watching, Rudy and—Rudy and Mike?
TODD: Boy, sometimes, you do wonder. Particularly let‘s say Huckabee does Rudy‘s dirty work in Iowa, and says, you know what? I won‘t go to New Hampshire. I‘m going to straight to South Carolina...
TODD: ... so he can go do Rudy‘s dirty work in getting rid of Fred Thompson, and then, suddenly, it‘s, he‘s plowing the conservative field for Rudy.
You know what? Rudy may owe him something.
MATTHEWS: Is this too much of an oddball ticket to have an odd couple of a big city pro...
TODD: A lot of syllables, huh?
MATTHEWS: Well, a big city guy, pro-choice, thrice married, to use a biblical term, thrice, and this other guy, Huckabee. He‘s Mr. Clean, country boy, Baptist, total evangelical, a longtime Baptist minister. Is this too much of an odd couple for the Republican ticket?
TODD: I think it—I think it depends on who—no, I mean, I think Huckabee has to go Southern. Huckabee is going to have to go Southern and go conservative.
TODD: And, if not Huckabee, it‘s going to be a guy like Haley Barbour or something like that.
MATTHEWS: God, the longest bumper sticker in history, Giuliani-Huckabee. How many words is that? How many letters is that?
TODD: But I think Huckabee—for Huckabee to have a shot to get on the Rudy ticket, Clinton needs to be the nominee, because Huckabee provides a natural—you know, the other guy from Hope to go after the Clintons. And he would enjoy being the Arkansas attack dog on Clinton.
MATTHEWS: Interesting stuff.
Anyway, the latest in South Carolina. We got a late poll I was about to give you. I will give it to you when he comes back again.
Thank you, Chuck Todd.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Bill Clinton‘s I-formation. Who is this guy pushing for president? Wait until you count the number of times he talks about Hillary, compared to the number of times he talks about himself.
You‘re watching HARDBALL—that‘s our big number coming up, by the way—you‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
So, what else is new out there in politics?
Well, Joe Biden has got tons of experience, as we all know. He‘s got 35 years in the United States Senate. He‘s chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So, what‘s up? Why isn‘t he up there with Barack and Hillary and Edwards?
That‘s what a voter just asked Biden to his face—quote—“Why haven‘t you taken these guys on?” a voter asked Biden. “I understand it‘s hard, but the disparity of experience and ability is so great, it‘s not even funny. And, yet, they‘re the ones getting all the press.”
Well, Senator Biden‘s response: “Thank you for your assessment of my capabilities. I admit I have been reluctant.” Whew.
Those retirement bells are breaking up that old gang of mine. I‘m talking about, of course, the famed singing senators, which has boasted the vocal talents of Jim Jeffords, John Ashcroft, Larry Craig, and Trent Lott. With Lott resigning, Larry Craig, of all people, hangs in there as the group‘s last serving member.
As a tribute, tonight, I give you the Singing Senators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Finally, it‘s time for the HARDBALL big number tonight.
Tuesday in Iowa, Bill Clinton gave a big speech in which he mentioned Hillary Clinton‘s name seven times in the first 10 minutes of his speech. But seven, ladies and gentlemen, is not tonight‘s big number, not even close.
Tonight‘s big number is the number of times Bill Clinton mentioned the word “I” just in the first 10 minutes of that same speech. Here‘s a taste.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I say...
I guess I will...
If I knew what I...
I want to...
Why I think...
Well, I think...
And I say...
I say that...
I like it...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That‘s what you call self-referential. Anyway, that‘s 95 I‘s in 10 minutes, 95 references to himself. It‘s also tonight‘s big number, 95.
Up next: Mike Huckabee is coming on strong in Iowa, at the expense of
Mitt Romney. Are Republican voters concerned about Romney‘s religion? And
are they becoming a bit too comfortable—or, let‘s say this, comfortable
with Huckabee‘s Baptist background? He was preacher for most of his life.
You‘re watching HARDBALL. Let‘s talk about religion and politics when we come back.
BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC.com Market Wrap.”
Wall Street posting its best day in four-and-a-half years, with credit easing and expectations of a Fed rate cut, the Dow closing at 13289, a gain of 331 points. The S&P 500 was up 40. And the Nasdaq picked up 82.
Stocks also get a boost from falling oil prices, crude dropping under $91 a barrel on word of supplies being better than expected.
The housing slump, though, gets worse. Existing home sales in October fell for the eighth month in a row, with median prices also down by a record amount.
And the latest snapshot of the economy from the Federal Reserve warns that the weak housing market and ongoing credit concerns may hurt the holiday shopping season this year—now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Jerry Falwell Jr. threw his support behind Mike Huckabee today. In his latest TV ad, by the way, Huckabee, who is in Iowa, touts his Christian faith and plays right to evangelicals.
Let‘s take a look at the new Huckabee ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN AD)
MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And faith doesn‘t just influence me. It really defines me. I don‘t have to wake up every day wondering, what do I need to believe?
Let us never sacrifice our principles for anybody‘s politics, not now, not ever.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HUCKABEE: I believe life begins at conception.
We believe in some things. We stand by those things. We live or die
by those things.
I‘m Mike Huckabee, and I approve this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, can evangelicals push Huckabee to the top of Iowa? And should Romney address questions about his Mormon faith for political reasons, the way that John F. Kennedy did back in the ‘60 race?
Well, David Brody is covering the presidential election for the Christian Broadcasting Network. And Dan Gilgoff is with the political—he is political editor, actually, of BeliefNet.com, that covers religion.
I want to go you, David, first of all.
Do you as a person find yourself offended by somebody running so clearly on their religion, to say Christian leader? I mean, they‘re all Christians in this race of one form or another. To call yourself a Christian leader, in contradistinction to other candidates, sounds to me like establishing a religious test.
DAVID BRODY, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING
NETWORK: Well, you know, Chris, the bottom line is, it‘s the meal ticket in Iowa. I mean, this is what he‘s doing.
And, you know, you can imagine what was going on in the Huckabee campaign. I mean, how large is the font size going to be that says “Christian leader”? It‘s the meal ticket there. And, so, you know, that‘s obviously going to play out.
And, as it goes forward, Romney has got some issues on his hands, because now Huckabee can say, listen, I‘m the guy that has the values that Romney has, and, wink, wink—not that he‘s actually going to say this—but the reality is, is, he can say, listen, I‘m the Christian leader.
MATTHEWS: But isn‘t he just daring Romney to come back and say, this guy‘s playing the religion card against me?
BRODY: Yes, I think so, to a certain degree.
And I also think, clearly, the JFK speech that we have heard so much about is—is a foregone conclusion. I mean, it seems like, at this point, it‘s going to have to happen. Why? Because Huckabee is pushing Romney in Iowa. And look at the polls today. As you have—as you have seen, 28 to 25, within the margin of error, Huckabee on top, not Romney.
MATTHEWS: Dan Gilgoff, I don‘t know you as well, but let me ask you the same question.
As a person watching and covering this campaign, are you offended that a candidate has so clearly played the religion card, in fact, a particular form of Christianity, the evangelical, I suppose, he‘s suggesting here?
DAN GILGOFF, POLITICAL EDITOR, BELIEFNET.COM: Yes, I think it‘s somewhat disturbing.
If you look at the ad and the speech that Huckabee gave at the Values Voter Convention last month, he seems to be making this kind of direct sectarian—sectarian appeal to evangelical voters. And I don‘t know how comfortable we would feel if there was a Jewish candidate appealing to Jews on the basis of his Judaism or a Muslim candidate doing the same.
And, so, that‘s why I actually think it‘s kind of a healthy development that some of the biggest players in the Christian right, people like David‘s boss, Pat Robertson, or James Dobson of Focus on the Family, have actually withheld their endorsement altogether, like Dobson has, or at least have endorsed another candidate, like Robertson has, because it telegraphs to Christian voters or to evangelicals at the rank and file that, hey, just because someone‘s an evangelical doesn‘t necessarily mandate that evangelical leaders have to support them.
And I think that‘s healthy for this democracy.
MATTHEWS: You know, I was thinking the same thing.
BRODY: I mean, Chris, also...
MATTHEWS: I was thinking the same thing, gentlemen, which is, if you did have a race involving a Jewish candidate, and one of the other candidates had actually said Christian leader, that would be damn well offensive to everybody watching.
But, since it‘s a sectarian distinction here within the Christian community, it seems like nobody‘s calling foul here.
BRODY: Yes, I think—and—and, you know, look, he‘s right. The bottom line is, there‘s going to be a backlash, I mean, at some point, if he continues to go down this road.
What—but what Mike Huckabee is doing here is saying, I‘m a conservative, but I‘m not angry about it.
And, quite frankly, Chris, that offends people like Gary Bauer and others, some of the evangelical leaders, who say, listen, are you talking about us exactly? I mean, who are you talking about?
So, in other words, while he plays to the grassroots Christian activists and voters out there, at the same time, the liberals, the moderates seem to kind of look at him and go, you know what? I kind of like of a little bit of what he‘s saying as well. So, he‘s able to play both sides extremely effectively.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, Dan, you covered these people, the conservative cultural people. What is the connection between the Second Amendment and God? Why is a guy who is so pro-evangelical—so pro-Christian and proud of it, why is he also selling the fact that we need guns, the right to own guns to protect ourselves against the government? It is so clear in his literature.
It is not just about hunting or protection against home invasions or self-defense, or any of the usual reasons, he is actually saying, if you don‘t have guns in your possession, the government can take away your other rights.
DAN GILGOFF, AUTHOR, “THE JESUS MACHINE”: Yes. Well, I think that he is banking on the fact that evangelicals are conservative culturally across the board, not just on social issues. And I think this is what actually the race in Iowa is going to come down to. If you look at the next few weeks, the Huckabee—the Romney campaign is getting very nervous.
And I talked to them before coming here tonight. And one of the things they said they are going to do with Huckabee is to call him out on immigration and to call him out taxes, because they know that Christian conservatives are not single-issue voters.
GILGOFF: So that Huckabee has the pro-life vote sealed up. Now Romney is going to attack him on these other cultural issues. You will see Huckabee use his support of gun rights as a way to lash back.
MATTHEWS: I see. What about—let go back to you, David. David, will there be a speech, a la the Houston ministers speech that JFK gave back in ‘60, by Romney?
BRODY: I think there has to be. And the answer is, most likely, yes. I mean, I think Romney and the campaign up there in Boston, they know they need to give this speech. The question is the timing. And Huckabee is pushing them in Iowa to deliver it more rapidly. The question will be exactly when? Clearly it is going to have to probably come before January 3rd.
MATTHEWS: Are they going to mouse-trap on that? Dan, will he get mouse-trapped on that into making claims about his religion being not a problem for Christian conservatives? Or—you almost have to answer the question—I don‘t want to write this speech for him, it is too tricky, but he has to either argue his religion relevant to his presidency or it is not relevant. If he argues that it is not relevant, almost the way Jack Kennedy did, I don‘t think that will sell. If he argues that it is relevant, doesn‘t he fall into the sectarian arguments about whether Mormons are mainstream Protestant or not, that sort of argument, which I don‘t even want to get into?
GILGOFF: Sure. Well, I think you are right. I think the Romney campaign knows that, that it is a catch-22 and really a lose-lose proposition. I talked to a top Romney adviser today and he tells me that there has been something of a turnabout within the campaign.
For the last several weeks there have been those in charge of the evangelical outreach for the Romney campaign really pressing him to deliver a Mormon speech. And now just within the last week or so, that faction of the campaign has come around to this opposite view, that drawing attention to Romney‘s Mormonism is only going to cause him trouble.
He is already polling well in Iowa, polling well in New Hampshire. And there is no use to mess with that kind of success yet. So apparently there is no Mormon speech in the offing.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, David Brody. Thank you, Dan Gilgoff.
Up next, Bill‘s Iraq backtrack. Will former President Clinton‘s contradiction on Iraq hurt Hillary?
Plus, the “Roundtable” on Rudy versus Romney. Huckabee‘s rise out there in Iowa. And who has the most to lose in tonight‘s Republican debate down in Florida. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: Coming up tonight on “Nightly News” on your local NBC station, we will talk politics, the campaign trail, what Bill Clinton has been saying about Bill Clinton lately.
Also, the house guest at the White House for the peace talks, a man who once arrived by motorcade and with full military honors. That, and more, tonight.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Let‘s go right to the “Roundtable.” Amanda Carpenter of townhall.com. Holly Bailey of Newsweek. And Joan Walsh—boy, I‘m outnumbered, Joan Walsh of salon.com.
Joan, thank you for joining us from out West. You go first. Let me ask you this about the Republican debate tonight. It seems to me, as I said before, if I were moderating it tonight, which I‘m not, I would say to Rudy Giuliani, are you accusing Governor Romney of accessory to murder by letting that—putting that judge in office who let that killer go out and kill two more people? I would rip the scab off.
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: Well, it is really interesting because of the YouTube element of the debate, Chris. You wonder how much freedom they are going to give themselves to deviate from those questions.
But I mean, Rudy got a punch today in the Politico. They revealed that he actually charged hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel expenses to obscure boards in New York when he was mayor. And it looks like they were trips to visit Judy Nathan. It is very well documented. And I‘m not like throwing out rumors.
MATTHEWS: So what would be the unethical aspect of that? Just nail it down for us.
WALSH: The unethical aspect would be that he was not doing city business, A, that he was traveling to see his girlfriend. And, B, they were charged to things like the Loft Board and strange commissions that had nothing to do with any alleged business that he was doing.
Bloomberg complained about it. There was an investigation. And, you
know, I don‘t usually flack for other news organizations, but the Politico
really has the goods. So he was charging the city, the taxpayer, for
WALSH: His police escorts, exactly. You know, several police officers who had to accompany him on all sorts of trips, and did and stayed at lovely, you know, Southampton hotels. I mean, it is nice, lap of luxury kind of.
MATTHEWS: So the main point is, if he is going to mess around, he should do it without security?
WALSH: He should do it without—you know, gee, I‘m not going to give him advice about to mess around.
MATTHEWS: Well, that is what we are really saying here. I mean, let‘s—you can‘t have it both ways, either he should have gone out, snuck out away from his security team, or he shouldn‘t have messed around in the first place, which is a moral argument.
WALSH: That is a moral argument.
MATTHEWS: Or he should have gone—if he was going to mess around, he shouldn‘t have charged it to the taxpayers and make sure he didn‘t get mugged along the way. But I guess the point.
WALSH: Right. Maybe she should have come in to the city, right.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s take a look. Here is the latest Republican polling out of New Hampshire. Romney is still up there. In fact, he is moving up a bit in Hampshire, 34. Giuliani is number two. McCain is at 13. Ron Paul and Huckabee are down in single digits.
Let me go to Amanda. It seems to me that Rudy has always wanted to come in at least third in Iowa, come in second in New Hampshire, and then go big casino in South Carolina. He is still on course.
AMANDA CARPENTER, TOWNHALL.COM: Yes. He wants the 50-state strategy. I mean, these guys, there is a disadvantage to breaking too early. I think that is why Hillary Clinton is trying to downplay expectations too. I mean, if he can kind of hold off and hit it big at the end, you know, take the big states, you know, maybe have a shot at California, put that into play.
MATTHEWS: He is sweeping in Florida right now.
CARPENTER: Yes, exactly, that is the strategy. And you know, if he can pursue that, and it is really the best chance he has because he can‘t appeal to social conservatives in Iowa.
MATTHEWS: I want to go back to you, Holly, the big story tonight, I think it is the main bout tonight, will Rudy take on Romney and will he hit him on the murder of that young couple of Seattle by the criminal who got out of jail because this judge in Massachusetts that he appointed let him go?
HOLLY BAILEY, NEWSWEEK: Well, I think Joan is right. This is the problem with the YouTube debate is it is so limited. They are going to focus on questions that were taped weeks ago. So even if some major breaking news is happening today, they are going to be talking about things like immigration and.
MATTHEWS: You mean, it is now restricted?
BAILEY: Yes, I believe so.
MATTHEWS: You mean, Anderson can‘t ask a question that is newsworthy?
BAILEY: Well, I‘m sure he will, you know, but they are going...
MATTHEWS: I‘m sure he has got a president of a huge network who is saying, ask the big question. I‘m sure he doesn‘t do it himself.
BAILEY: I‘m sure they are going to focus a lot on the YouTube videos as well. So it is limited. I mean, there is no question.
MATTHEWS: OK. When is Huckabee going to stop being the mascot of the liberal media and start suffering the travails of being a candidate for president of the United States instead of getting the sweet treatment he has been getting?
BAILEY: It is a good question. I think a lot of people are already starting to look at his record. You know, there was a story—AP story out today about the ethics committee in Arkansas that had, you know, requests out the door for—to look at the ethics things that happened with him when he was governor.
I think the scrutiny is now beginning. But the problem is that in Iowa, you know, are people paying attention? They love him there.
MATTHEWS: OK. Joan, do you think the fact is that Huckabee is such a long shot, even if he wins in Iowa, that the major press hasn‘t put the enterprise reporting into his background that might be necessary to get a good story?
WALSH: I think that is part of it. But you know, Chris, we ran a cover story last week by Max Brantley from Arkansas who has really followed the governor, and really nailed down all of those ethics questions. The gift registries, so people could buy him and his wife tax deductible gifts when they left the governor‘s mansion.
I mean, there are a lot of Arkansas reporters who were quite angry at the national media, because they come in, and they like his smile and they like the Chuck Norris commercial and they‘ve ignored the groundwork that they had done on these ethics problems.
MATTHEWS: Well, didn‘t Hillary list—didn‘t Hillary do a listing for her new apartment or new house when she left the White House, and didn‘t she have all of her contributors kick in like she was getting married?
WALSH: I don‘t think it was—but it wasn‘t tax deductible. And I think.
MATTHEWS: She registered, didn‘t she, for gifts?
WALSH: I remember something like that, but it wasn‘t tax deductible, it was...
MATTHEWS: Oh, it wasn‘t tax deductible. You know, the idea of registering for gifts in politics is just something else. We will be right back with the “Roundtable.”
We will talk about Bill Clinton and the fact that Bill Clinton is now trying to pretend that he is Jerry Rubin or something, or some big anti-war person. I don‘t remember that when the war started in Iraq. I thought he was playing in the band. You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And that is Bill Clinton Tuesday in Iowa, that is yesterday, saying he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. We are back with the “Roundtable.”
Amanda, do you remember that?
MATTHEWS: No, do you remember.
MATTHEWS: Well, I remember yesterday. Do you remember him opposing the war back in 2001, ‘02, and ‘03.
CARPENTER: No, not at all. But if he wants to talk about his record on the Iraq War, that thrills me. Let‘s talk about Osama bin Laden.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, did he oppose the war from the beginning?
Is there any record on Google or on NexisLexis or any of these?
BAILEY: No, if he did, he certainly wasn‘t, you know, very verbal about it. I recall him saying, you know, that he supported the president, actually.
MATTHEWS: What does it mean to oppose if you don‘t verbally say you are against the war?
BAILEY: Well, what he—I think what he was trying to say is that he didn‘t go out and campaign against it, which is what I took from that. But it still doesn‘t make any sense. And it doesn‘t help Hillary at all.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t get it. What do you think, Joan? What does it mean to say, I was against the war from beginning? What does that mean? It sounds to me like he is making it up. I can‘t get it.
WALSH: I think it was—I honestly think that it was dishonest. I like the president, I think he was a good president, but, Chris, you and I both know, it was lonely out here if you opposed the war. I went looking for his statements. I parsed his statements at the time.
And you know, Tim Grieve in Salon this morning did a great job breaking down everything he said, giving him the benefit of the doubt. He certainly said he would have preferred to let sanctions work, to let the inspectors work, but he also said.
MATTHEWS: What does that mean?
MATTHEWS: This administration wasn‘t serious about.
MATTHEWS: About inspections.
WALSH: We knew what they were going to do.
MATTHEWS: The minute they got the right to inspect, they said, they don‘t matter, they wanted to bring Saddam Hussein to bring all his weapons out and blow them up in front of everybody like the South African whites did.
It was a ridiculous dodge. We were going to war. Everybody knew it. The polling was 80 percent said that we knew that the president was taking us to war, 80 percent of the country knew, at the time the Democrats voted for that resolution.
Hillary Clinton knew damn well, four out of five people knew it, we were going to war. That was a blank check to go to war. And to say now that they were, what, against it from the beginning?
WALSH: Yes, I hope he comes out today and clarifies or even apologizes.
MATTHEWS: I don‘t get it.
MATTHEWS: . clarifies—well, he has already changed the tense from, “I was against it” to “I am against it.” You know, they are really underestimating the intelligence of the American people when they try to claim—you were right, Joan, it was lonely being against the war. People questioned your judgment, they questioned a lot of things about you.
WALSH: Bill O‘Reilly called us out, you know, night after night.
MATTHEWS: The Dixie Chicks took it. We were having Freedom Fries and all of that nonsense. And where was Bill again?
Anyway, here is what latest New Hampshire polling shows among Democrats, it is tightening up a bit. Hillary is at 34, still in strong lead over Obama at 22. What do we all make of that? Edwards at 15. What do you make of this, Holly?
BAILEY: Well, the one number that I really want to see is independents. They are going to be the crucial voting block in New Hampshire.
MATTHEWS: And they could come in for Obama, perhaps.
BAILEY: Right. And some of the polling of independents we have seen so far has been for Obama. And so that is the voting block that I‘m watching.
MATTHEWS: And if Obama gets a good bump out of Iowa, it is likely that the independents will then go to him.
CARPENTER: Yes, they have to be convinced that he actually has the stamina to win a state like Iowa. You know, once he gets the big “mo” going, anything can happen.
MATTHEWS: So he could possibly, if he gets a one, he could get a one-two. What do you think, Joan?
WALSH: I think that is possible. He gets a lot of momentum if he comes out of Iowa on top. And he has got a great organization in New Hampshire that is hoping to capitalize on that.
MATTHEWS: Well, with this flimflam coming out of Bill Clinton, I just don‘t know what to say. I have finally been mastered by Bill Clinton. I finally don‘t think I can match him for chutzpah, that is a good Yiddish-ism for the ability to say something absolutely ridiculous.
Anyway, the fact that he was an anti-war candidate—an anti-war Democrat is absolutely amazing to me. I‘m glad you are laughing, Joan, because you were in this thing with me. And I have got to tell you something, I wish Maureen Orth—Maureen, not Orth, Maureen Dowd would say something about this in The New York Times. She would know how to handle this, this anti-war guy that we never saw before.
Anyway, Amanda Carpenter, Holly Bailey—I always get it mixed up with Halle Berry, and Joan Walsh. Join us again tomorrow night. And right now it is time for “TUCKER.”
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