Guests: Pete Hegseth, Jon Soltz, Michael Eric Dyson; Linda Douglass; Roger Simon; John Harwood
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Hillary fires again. Will the purge of Mark Penn propel the campaign?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
Hillary purges her cheap strategist. Hillary Clinton‘s top strategist, Mark Penn, is out, supposedly for lobbying for a Colombia trade proposal that she opposes. But let‘s be clear. Winning campaigns don‘t fire the top guy. So, what does this say about the state of the Clinton campaign? And is Hillary‘s credibility—I mean, her personal credibility a bigger problem than Mark Penn?
We will have all that in just a moment.
Plus, three more Americans were killed today in Baghdad. How fast can we get out of Iraq? Clinton and Obama are calling for the United States to get out by some time in the summer of 2010, more than two years from now. John McCain today called that idea reckless.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe that anyone should make promises as a candidate for president that they cannot keep if elected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The Iraq war and how long to stay there will be front and center tomorrow, when General David Petraeus testifies before the Senate. All three presidential candidates will have a chance to question him, either before Armed Services or foreign relations.
Who gets to grab the spotlight? We‘re going to be watching tomorrow here on MSNBC.
And should the U.S. boycott the opening ceremonies at this summer‘s Beijing Olympics? Hillary Clinton said yes. We will take a look at that and much more in our “Politics Fix” tonight.
And speaking of Hillary, it turns out a story she‘s been using as part of her campaign has the same problem her Bosnia-under-fire story had: It‘s not true. And how does this keep happening?
But we begin with the 2008 race in Iraq. Tucker Carlson is MSNBC senior campaign correspondent. “Newsweek” Howard Fineman is MSNBC‘s political analyst. And NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell covers the Clinton campaign.
Let me start with Andrea Mitchell.
I want to know this. Mark Penn is not the popular fellow on this block in the campaign.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You think?
MATTHEWS: He gets the heat for the bad manners of this campaign, for the bad attitude, for the bad strategy, for the failure of everything, for the lack of a strategy for the caucuses, for everything that goes wrong. Is he going to take the pain and punishment, now that he‘s been kicked?
MITCHELL: I don‘t think so. But, for now, there‘s a lot of spinning going back and forth, saying—some people saying that Mark Penn is still going to be part of the some of the strategy calls.
I have been told, from within the campaign, that he‘s not going to be a part of the key strategy calls and is not going to be prepping the candidate for debates. So, it really is a real break with the Clinton campaign. This is not just for show.
MATTHEWS: When you fire the coach, or you fire your top manager in baseball, it‘s meant for effect. It‘s to shake up your public relations, shake up your image. Why did they do this with such a bang?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think one reason they did it is the Pennsylvania primaries coming up.
And to have your top strategist, your chief strategist, trying to cut a trade deal with the government of Colombia, while you‘re saying you want to time-out on all trade deals on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, just won‘t do it.
Beyond that, what fascinates me is that Hillary picked him to begin with. He‘s the very symbol of corporate insider lobbying strategy here in Washington. For her to have such a tin ear is what amazes me.
MATTHEWS: Is this like Nixon firing Haldeman?
FINEMAN: Well, I think he‘s very close to her. And he‘s been very close to her strategically...
FINEMAN: ... from the beginning. But she‘s got other players around her who will take over now.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look. Here‘s Mark Penn after a debate back in December.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DECEMBER 2007)
MARK PENN, SENIOR CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I think we have made clear that the—the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising. And I think this has been made clear.
I think this kindergarten thing was a joke after Senator...
JOE TRIPPI, SENIOR EDWARDS CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I think he just did it again. He just did it again.
PENN: This kindergarten thing after what the senator did...
TRIPPI: Unbelievable. He just literally...
PENN: Excuse me.
PENN: Excuse me.
TRIPPI: No, no, no. No, no, Mark, excuse me.
PENN: Excuse me.
TRIPPI: This guy‘s been filibustering on this. He just said “cocaine” again. It‘s like...
PENN: I think you‘re saying cocaine. I don‘t know. I think you‘re saying it.
TRIPPI: You just did it, and I think there‘s something wrong...
MATTHEWS: Joe Trippi‘s turn.
MATTHEWS: No, Joe Trippi‘s turn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there was Joe Trippi for the Edwards campaign pointing out there—the lovable Mark Penn has pointed out that Barack Obama had a cocaine history twice in one HARDBALL.
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC SENIOR CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He is not a deft performer on television.
You can‘t overstate he was liked from within the campaign. I mean, here‘s a guy who took a 30-point lead and evaporated it, and took $10 million. As someone close to Mrs. Clinton said to me yesterday, I could have done that for $5 million.
MATTHEWS: ... his income?
CARLSON: That‘s right. He took $10 million from the campaign.
Look, I‘m not completely convinced. I think, partly, this was a response to pressure from within the campaign. Bill and Hillary Clinton were the only people who supported him.
I‘m not convinced that he‘s going to be completely out of it. Dick Morris broke up with the Clintons in public a number of times. They were still addicted to him long after they weren‘t talking to him in public.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask, so you believe that—still, that he will play a role behind the scenes; he just won‘t be in the newspapers?
Is that right, Andrea, you think?
MITCHELL: I think he may play a role behind the scenes, but not a really substantive role. I think, at some point, you know, they needed clarity on this. And he was such a disruptive presence inside the campaign.
Labor was furious. Contributors were furious. He had alienated just about everyone, other than Bill and Hillary Clinton.
MITCHELL: And the fact that he was taking $300,000 from the government of Colombia, I mean, that kind of conflict of interests—and you have to ask what kind of judgment Hillary Clinton had from the beginning—and Bill Clinton—to permit him to keep his business going?
It‘s been pointed out that Howard Wolfson took a leave of absence from his business when he joined the campaign full-time. Maggie Williams did the same.
MITCHELL: So, he was the only one who was still taking money for clients who were completely antithetical to her stated positions. It raised questions about the authenticity of her opposition to these trade deals.
FINEMAN: Well, as Tucker pointed out, he was taking it from both sides. He was raking in the money as a Clinton consultant, while, at the same time, insisting on keeping his job as the head of the Washington office of Burson-Marsteller.
The arrogance of it is stupefying. And Hillary‘s lack of judgment about it is equally so.
FINEMAN: Seriously. Seriously.
MATTHEWS: Right now, we have got the latest polling, by the way. And the Gallup tracking poll as of tonight is that Barack Obama has once again lengthened his lead.
It seems, when nothing really big is going on, he tends to pull ahead. In other words, there‘s a normal trend towards him that is interrupted whenever there‘s a firefight about a big debate or something.
Let me ask you first, Howard. Will this be seen as an upgrade in the campaign or simply just moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic? Is this campaign operation going to get any better than it‘s been because of a new strategist?
FINEMAN: I don‘t think it‘s going to get much better. I think it may change in tone a little bit.
MATTHEWS: Will it be nicer?
FINEMAN: I think it might be both a little nicer, but also maybe a little more recalcitrant about giving up. I know that sounds paradoxical. I think it could be both. I think the message will be nicer.
MATTHEWS: Your jaw dropped, by the way.
CARLSON: Well, Howard Wolfson just got a promotion. So, I mean, I think we know it‘s not going to get nicer.
FINEMAN: No, no. No, no. You‘re wrong. Tucker, I think you‘re wrong about that.
FINEMAN: I think Wolfson has in mind his desire to keep Hillary‘s reputation.
FINEMAN: He‘s a New Yorker. He came with her in the Senate race.
They have got something to protect, which is...
MATTHEWS: Capital preservation being his strategy.
MATTHEWS: This is a big question.
MATTHEWS: If their—if their goal—and, Andrea, jump in here—
if their goal is what we call in the financial world capital preservation -
in other words, long term...
FINEMAN: A workout, right.
MATTHEWS: ... then it‘s totally different than, I‘m going to do anything to bring this other guy down, Barack.
MITCHELL: Exactly. This is not a scorched-earth deal. And I think that Howard Wolfson has proved to a lot of people who cover the campaign that he is sort of the more pleasant face of this campaign...
MITCHELL: ... in contrast to the approach that Mark Penn has had...
FINEMAN: That‘s true.
MITCHELL: ... even with his own people internally.
CARLSON: Can I say something very...
MATTHEWS: So, we‘re going to get the HARDBALL College Tour with Hillary Clinton, now that Howard gets to make the call. It was Mark holding us up.
What do you think, Andrea?
MITCHELL: It‘s all—it‘s all about getting that College Tour going.
MATTHEWS: It‘s all about getting the triple play in Pennsylvania.
I have got to tell you, my job is to get these politicians in front of me, so I can ask them some reasonable questions. And we‘re going to do it with—with McCain next week. We did it with Barack last week. A lot of people watch these shows.
You laugh, Howard.
FINEMAN: I‘m not laughing.
MATTHEWS: This is what I do.
FINEMAN: I‘m saying, if they want to show...
MATTHEWS: I‘m trying to get them out in front of us.
FINEMAN: If they want to show, they have turned...
MATTHEWS: If Hillary Clinton wants to take some shots at me, fair enough.
CARLSON: I‘m totally for that.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go for it.
CARLSON: Here‘s what I think, though, that we should understand is going on.
MATTHEWS: But I think it‘s not fair, at the end of this Pennsylvania primary, that we give two hours of television to the other guys, and that Hillary doesn‘t get her chance in the sun.
FINEMAN: Absolutely. I think she should do it.
CARLSON: I agree. And good for you for giving her that chance.
MATTHEWS: No. She has the right to it.
CARLSON: What I—what I don‘t agree with, though, there is this kind of consultant world where everything the campaign does is dependent upon the consultants. That‘s the consultants‘ point of view.
At some point, with Penn gone, at least nominally, they may have to
face the fact that the problem is the candidate. They have been blaming
Penn—a lot of her intimates have blaming Penn for all this, blaming the
you know, the red phone ad, blaming his—his inevitability strategy.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a good point.
CARLSON: And maybe she‘s just not such a great presidential candidate. They‘re going to have to face that at some point.
MATTHEWS: Who calls the shots in these campaigns? First, Andrea, is it the candidate or is it the chief strategist? Who sets the tone for the campaign?
MATTHEWS: The boss candidate or the boss strategist?
MITCHELL: ... I think it‘s the candidate.
MATTHEWS: The candidate?
MITCHELL: I think it‘s the candidate. And I think, in fact, that‘s certainly the case with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
It‘s the case with Barack Obama and with John McCain. They do set the tone. They set the strategy.
MATTHEWS: Howard, your thought on that.
FINEMAN: Yes. I think that Hillary thought that Penn somehow had the magic elixir, because he helped her husband get reelected president.
MITCHELL: And her get the Senate.
FINEMAN: And—but Hillary set up a structure, number one, that had this symbol of insiderhood running it, but he wasn‘t—the structure was set up in such a weird way that he was chief kibitzer, as much as chief strategist.
MATTHEWS: And, also, and he would get the poll and paid to run polls to how his strategy was working.
And I think the reason for that was to—I think the reason for that was to let Hillary and Bill remain in charge. That‘s what I think.
MATTHEWS: Who‘s the boss, the candidate or the chief strategist?
CARLSON: Well, absolutely—absolutely the candidate.
MATTHEWS: OK. So, you can‘t fire the candidate.
CARLSON: And, also, the good things about this campaign come from Hillary. The bad things come from Hillary. And that‘s just—and consultants always pretend it‘s always the consultant pulling the strings. No, it‘s more about the consultant than we recognize.
MITCHELL: Well, one rule of thumb should be that the person who is doing strategy should not be the same person doing polling to test the strategy.
MITCHELL: There is an inherent conflict of interests.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know what they do in local television? In local television, when the anchorperson is not doing well, they fire the news director...
MATTHEWS: ... and tell them he can‘t fire the anchor.
MITCHELL: Change the set.
MATTHEWS: You have got a problem when the candidate can‘t be fired.
Anyway, thank you, Tucker Carlson, Howard Fineman, Andrea Mitchell.
Coming up: When General Petraeus testifies before the Senate tomorrow, three presidential candidates, all of them U.S. senators, will be asking the questions. Can the contenders resist the chance to show off a bit? We‘re going to see who looks good in the sun tomorrow, when all those cameras are on.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Oops, did it again. Hospital administrators poke holes in Hillary Clinton‘s latest story, this one about an uninsured woman—when HARDBALL returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Those who disregard the unmistakable progress we have made in the last year and the terrible consequences that would ensue were we to abandon our responsibilities in Iraq have chosen another road. It may appear to be the easier course of action, but it is a much more reckless one, and it does them no credit even if it gives them an advantage in the next election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
John McCain‘s attack on his Democratic rivals today may be a preview on the political showdown that‘s expected tomorrow, when the top general in Iraq, General Petraeus, and the ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, testify before the U.S. Senate.
All three presidential candidates, all three of them senators, are taking breaks in their campaigns to be part of these hearings and to grill the general, of course.
HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the latest on the surge strategy in Iraq.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, in Baghdad‘s Sadr City, fighting and violence erupted again. U.S. and Iraqi forces are trying to crack down on Shiite militias who keep firing mortars into the Green Zone. But, today, the rockets kept coming. And, on Sunday, a mortar attack killed two American soldiers in Baghdad. And, over the weekend, at least three more U.S. troops died, all of this as the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker prepare to give Congress an Iraq update.
Senators attending the hearing will include the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, and Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The key question is, has the surge worked? It‘s been a year since the U.S. troop escalation, and, today, John McCain argued the improvements in Iraq are dramatic, despite the recent violent flare-ups.
MCCAIN: The job of bringing security to Iraq is not finished. But there‘s no doubt about the basic reality in Iraq. We are no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success.
SHUSTER: Until last month, the number of civilian casualties and U.S. troop deaths had dropped by 70 percent. Still, there is a distinction between military success and political success. Last year, President Bush said political reconciliation was crucial and that the goal of the troop escalation was to give Iraqi leaders breathing room to pass legislation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 24, 2007)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America‘s continued support and sacrifice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: In fact, there has been some legislative progress. Measures have been passed on de-Baathification and amnesty for bureaucrats who helped run the government under Saddam Hussein. Plus, other bills have been approved related to the budget and provincial elections.
But, by most accounts, the legislation has been applied unevenly. There‘s been no progress on the Iraq constitution, nor on oil revenue sharing. And when it comes to disarming militias, Iraqi government forces last week tried to take on Shiite militias in Basra and needed to be rescued by U.S. troops.
And, today, the experts who advise the congressionally-mandated bipartisan Iraq Study Group released a report concluding—quote—
“Political progress is so slow, halting and superficial, and social and political fragmentation so pronounced, that the U.S. is no closer to being able to leave Iraq than it was a year ago.”
When they last testified in the fall, Ambassador Crocker acknowledged problems in Iraq politically.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2007)
RYAN CROCKER, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: There is an enormous amount of dysfunctionality in Iraq. That is beyond question. The government, in many respects is dysfunctional, and members of the government know it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: But General Petraeus focused on U.S. troops.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 10, 2007)
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL
FORCE-IRAQ: The military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The tag team proved fascinating for many lawmakers, who were trying to get to the broader question of whether the Iraq war was headed toward a definable success or not.
(on camera): But regardless of the debate over the long-term future of Iraq, tomorrow‘s hearing will likely focus on a more immediate issue:
Did the U.S. troop escalation work?
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David.
I‘m joined right now by two Iraq war vets to try to figure out what is the best U.S. policy toward Iraq.
Pete Hegseth is the executive director of Vets For Freedom. He recently visited Baghdad, where he had served with the 101st Airborne back in 2005. And Jon Soltz is co-founder and chairman of VoteVets.org.
Gentlemen, I want you—first, Pete, then, Jon—to answer the question, what was the mission of the surge?
PETE HEGSETH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VETS FOR FREEDOM: The intent of the surge was to bring the violence down to a level where Iraqis could take advantage of it politically.
And, so, with violence dropping in the neighborhoods, Iraqis have been able to first secure their own neighborhoods with Iraqi security forces. And, second, Iraqi politicians have had the ability to pass key legislation, which is exactly what they have done. David Shuster mentioned it, de-Baathification, amnesty, provincial elections, a $50 billion budget that shares oil throughout the provinces.
So, Iraqis have taken advantage of this and passed important political benchmarks that Congress had set. And, also, in the neighborhood level, where I saw it when I was Baghdad a month ago, the streets are open. Shops are—shops are being opened. Homes are being rebuilt. There‘s true reconciliation happening at the neighborhood level, as families return...
MATTHEWS: Jon, your view of the mission and its success, or not success?
JON SOLTZ, CO-FOUNDER, VOTEVETS.ORG: Well, look, the surge has been an utter failure, because the purpose of the surge was for Iraqi domestic politics. And the two major Shia militias in the country are at war with each other, the scary militia, which is the Badr Corps and Hakim‘s group, vs. the Mahdi army, which is Sadr‘s group.
And the bottom line was, the surge was supposed to disarm these militias. It never happened. And this is why they have been going to battle with each other the entire last week. The core issue in Iraq is the Shia revolution, the control of a Shia Arab state for the first time in the history of the Middle East.
And this administration wants to sell us on, you know, al Qaeda in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s—let‘s go...
SOLTZ: The surge has been a—is a huge failure, because it‘s been a policy of retreat from bin Laden in Afghanistan.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at what President Bush said a year ago about the role of the surge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 24, 2007)
BUSH: Our new strategy is designed to help Iraq‘s leaders provide security for their people and get control of their capital, so they can move forward with reconciliation and reconstruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: John McCain said something today that was interesting. He
said that Iraq—the fact that—he said that Iraq that no longer needs -
an Iraq—he posed it like this—an Iraq that no longer needs American troops, no longer needs us over there as combat troops is a goal that is possible, quote, “perhaps sooner than many imagine.” Explain that new optimism by McCain, if you can, Pete.
HEGSETH: Well, I think it‘s—we are much closer. When I was there in Baghdad two-and-a-half years ago, there were barely any Iraqi security forces on the street. I was back there a month ago. Iraqi security forces were standing on every single street corner, defending their neighborhood. That‘s how we pull our men and women out and leave behind a stable society, is when Iraqis are able to stand up. And you know what? The Maliki government down is Basra is taking the fight to Iranian-backed militias in the southern part of...
MATTHEWS: ... Americans doing the fighting.
HEGSETH: I‘m sorry. Absolutely. There are Iranian agents that were leading some of the...
MATTHEWS: But our soldiers...
HEGSETH: The Iraqi army was doing the fighting in Basra. The Iraqi army...
SOLTZ: They were backed by the United States. And the key issue here...
HEGSETH: Air power.
SOLTZ: ... is that the policy that we‘ve had for the past 20 years with Iraq, and the dual containment policy with Iran/Iraq, was destroyed by the neocons and President Bush and John McCain. Iraq was a court (ph) to Iran, and the reason that Iran has grown in strength and size of Iraq is directly by the Bush/McCain policies of the last six years.
MATTHEWS: ... the future. I‘m sorry, gentlemen. I want to get to the future here because the election‘s about the future. And let‘s talk this question. John McCain has talked about a long U.S. presence there in a peaceful mode, where we‘re not taking casualties, not wounded, not KIAs. When would that begin?
HEGSETH: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: When would that period of tranquil U.S. presence, military presence in Iraq commence?
SOLTZ: It won‘t begin. It won‘t begin. It absolutely won‘t begin.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Pete first.
HEGSETH: People said it would never begin in Korea. People said it would never begin in Germany.
SOLTZ: This is totally different...
SOLTZ: This is like a Lebanon. You got multiple...
HEGSETH: Jon, allow me to finish.
SOLTZ: ... groups in this country. This is not Germany...
SOLTZ: I lived in Germany. It‘s a homogeneous population. You cannot compare Iraq to Germany or Korea.
MATTHEWS: OK, hold on, Jon, for a minute!
HEGSETH: Jon, Iraq, historically speaking, is a non—asectarian country...
MATTHEWS: The Democrats are talking about keeping our troops there, beginning to pull them out, eventually get them out by, say, 2010, the year after they‘re in. So give me a—and that‘s a ballpark of two years. What‘s the Republican ballpark? How many years of combat over there?
HEGSETH: Hopefully, not that many more. I mean, I think we‘re already moving into an advisory role. We‘re already moving into a role where we‘re providing air power for Iraqi forces in Basra without our troops on the streets. That‘s an important...
MATTHEWS: If we‘re providing air power, you got to bet that the other side‘s going to be shooting at us.
HEGSETH: Would we not give air power to our allies...
MATTHEWS: No, but wouldn‘t you be shot...
HEGSETH: ... when they‘re fighting an enemy of ours?
MATTHEWS: ... back at, if you were shooting them?
HEGSETH: Sure, but it‘s much different to have guys in B-52s than...
MATTHEWS: No, you‘re missing the point. As long as we‘re grounded over there on the ground, we‘re going to have incoming artillery, we‘re going to have IEDs because we‘re the enemy of the people we‘re shooting at.
HEGSETH: Well, not—not...
MATTHEWS: At what point—you can‘t have a one-sided war, where we‘re just shooting at other people that aren‘t shooting back at us.
HEGSETH: We are shooting back when we have to...
MATTHEWS: No, you‘re missing—listen closely. Can you imagine the American people in a combat presence, or any kind of military presence in Iraq, where we‘re killing people on the other side and they‘re not trying to shoot at us?
HEGSETH: Where we‘re standing alongside the Iraqi government and...
MATTHEWS: And we‘re not getting shot at?
HEGSETH: Well, no. I mean, we‘re going to get shot at...
MATTHEWS: John McCain says we will stay in there a hundred years without getting shot at. When does that commence?
HEGSETH: That‘s if we have an Iraqi government that can do the vast majority of fighting...
MATTHEWS: Well, when does this (INAUDIBLE) begin?
HEGSETH: Well, it‘s already began. And 100 years—that statement is misconstrued over and over and over...
MATTHEWS: He said 100 years—Jon, you do it. He said 100 years without casualties. I‘m just wondering when we start not getting casualties. It‘s not funny.
HEGSETH: No, it‘s not, but...
MATTHEWS: When are we going to be...
HEGSETH: ... without any casualties, he‘s talking about...
MATTHEWS: He says no casualties, no wounded, no KIA.
SOLTZ: They‘ve misunderstood this problem from the beginning. This is not a problem of troops and tactics. It‘s a problem of diplomacy and strategy. And when General Petraeus speaks tomorrow, it‘s up to Democrats to broaden this debate, to talk about the fact that the Army‘s been decimated by this war, to talk about the fact that McCain and Bush have had us in a policy of retreat from Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan for the last six years, to talk about the fact that we‘re never going to get anywhere in Iraq politically until we deal with the Israeli/Palestinian situation, until we...
SOLTZ: It was Iran that helped stop the fighting...
MATTHEWS: I guess the American people have to make a decision in the election. Do they choose a longer duration of military role in Iraq, in fact, an unending presence of military in Iraq, and do they think that some day, it will turn peaceful? That‘s a reasonable proposition, you say, right?
HEGSETH: I absolutely believe it‘s a reasonable proposition. We‘re much closer today than we were before, and we need to stand alongside Iraqi allies that have a chance...
MATTHEWS: So that‘s the American people‘s choice. Do they believe it‘s credible that, at some point, we will find ourselves in a peaceful deployment in Iraq?
HEGSETH: More peaceful.
SOLTZ: Never happen.
SOLTZ: It‘s a complete misunderstanding of the region as a whole in the Middle East. Our presence in Iraq is flooding Sunnis Wahhabis into the country. It gives bin Laden what he wants, which is an American occupation...
SOLTZ: ... in the middle of the Middle East.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jon. Thank you, Pete. I think you guys have a good argument here.
Up next: The witness list is up for the D.C. madam‘s trial and a U.S. senator‘s on that list.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. So what else is new out there in politics? Well, for weeks, Senator Clinton has been retelling a hospital horror story about an uninsured pregnant woman who died along with her baby because she couldn‘t pay for her treatment. Here‘s Senator Clinton reflecting this past Friday on that tragedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As I was listening to this story being told, I was just aching inside. It is so wrong, in such a good, great and rich country, that a young woman and her baby would die because she didn‘t have health insurance or $100 to get examined.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it turns out that story wasn‘t true. Administrators of O‘Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio, told Saturday‘s “New York Times” that the woman Clinton describes as being not insured and refused treatment was both. A hospital CEO pleaded, quote, “We implore the Clinton campaign to immediately desist from repeating this story.” A Clinton campaign spokesman said, “If the hospital claims it did not happen that way, we respect that.” Well, we shouldn‘t have to wait until Saturday to find out what a politician was talking about earlier. Anyway, that‘s the story.
It‘s hard to keep up with all the prostitution and other sex stories in the U.S. Senate these days. There‘s news today in the case of Louisiana‘s David Vitter, who you‘ll recall told us last summer he was involved with an escort service. Well, the Associated Press reports today that Vitter‘s long silence since then may soon to be end with a bang. He‘s on the preliminary witness list for the upcoming trial of the Debra Palfrey (ph), the D.C. madam. What a humiliating bit of business for a U.S. Senator.
And finally tonight, the HARDBALL “Big Number.” With just four months to go before the summer games in Beijing, the Olympic torch relay is off and running. So far, pro-Tibet activists have interrupted the torch trek in London and in Greece. Today activists unrolled banners on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, where the torch will be in a couple of days.
And things got really bad today in Paris, where protesters tried to extinguish the torch. It eventually forced officials to cancel the final leg of the run in the city. Before they yanked the torch from the protesters, security officials put out the flame five times to prevent protesters from putting out the flame. That‘s the HARDBALL number tonight, five, five times today that Chinese security officials extinguished the Olympic flame in Paris in order to keep protesters from doing the exact same thing.
Up next: In the fight for superdelegates, who‘s got the momentum?
We‘re going to talk numbers when we come back.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Today, another superdelegate moved to the Obama camp. Now the tally among superdelegates is Clinton 255 to 226 for Obama. Now, for months now we‘ve been saying how Senator Clinton has a huge lead. Look at how that lead has gotten smaller. Just to take you back to February 5, Super Tuesday, the tally back then was 260 to 170, a 90-vote spread for her.
Joining me now is NBC News political director Chuck Todd and CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood. If you look at the polls today, there‘s a 9-point spread in the Gallup tracking for Obama. Wherever nothing seems to be going on, he seems to a little (INAUDIBLE) And then Hillary does something exciting or razzmatazz or he does something wrong, and it slips back to even. But nothing seems to help Barack, literally. There seems to be a trend toward him, and now we see the superdelegates trending toward him. So if there‘s no campaign going on, he tends to gradually win this thing. The question is, will he do it in time for the last week in August? Is he going to get there at this speed?
JOHN HARWOOD, “NEW YORK TIMES,” CNBC: You know, he‘s been picking up a superdelegate a day, 69 since February the 5th. If he keeps up that pace, the number that Hillary Clinton would need by the end of the primaries on June 30 is so overwhelming among those remaining undecided superdelegates, and there wouldn‘t be that many undecided left, fewer than 300. So she‘s got a very tough task, but he‘s got the task, as you suggested, of trying to perform a little bit better than we‘ve seen so far in some of those big states where Hillary Clinton‘s been winning.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s the question I have. Why doesn‘t he go for a knockout in one of these states? Keep Pennsylvania close, win North Carolina, where he‘s expected to win two weeks later, and damn it, win in Indiana! Because then she would be out of race, wouldn‘t she?
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Because when you‘re the frontrunner, you don‘t need to go for a knockout. Now, I know that—you may see a path that makes it easier to quickly go for the knockout, and early on, there was an opportunity to do it...
TODD: ... where Hillary Clinton missed her opportunity to go for knockouts early because you didn‘t think you needed to do it. When you‘re the frontrunner, you don‘t ever because that‘s riskier. I mean, let‘s put it in pure boxing terms. You want to go for the knockout. When you take a hard swing at somebody, what happens? You open yourself up to...
MATTHEWS: That‘s military rule. I‘ve studied that...
MATTHEWS: ... from a defensive position is one of the smartest moves in military history.
TODD: But when you...
MATTHEWS: So it‘s right.
TODD: ... have the upper hand, and I think he would open himself up...
MATTHEWS: That said, Tuzla doesn‘t require any nastiness toward Senator Clinton. It requires playing over and over again a fish story that she was under enemy fire, a very elaborate kind of story about wartime and risk and courage and survival that turned out not to be at all true. Who would hold that against Barack? I can imagine Mark Penn running series of ads over and over again. I can imagine a saturation campaign. Why doesn‘t he do what Hillary would do?
HARWOOD: Well, first of all, Barack Obama has cast himself as a somewhat different kind of candidate, running a less attacking—conventionally attacking campaign. The second thing is, that‘s a double-edged sword. Barack Obama said a few things that turned out not be to be exactly right, like, you know, that his parents were inspired by the Selma march. And of course, he was born a couple years before the Selma march. So I think that‘s part of the reason why...
MATTHEWS: That‘s really being inspired!
HARWOOD: Yes, exactly!
TODD: Well, but there‘s also the fact that...
HARWOOD: Immaculate inspiration!
TODD: No, but there‘s also the fact that he is playing it. He is using it. It‘s just you don‘t need to hit somebody over the head with a sledgehammer on it because if he does, it does undermine what John was talking about, this image that he has. But if he does it the way that they‘re working it now, which is in the press trying to drag out the trust issues and drag out credibility—there‘s a new poll out in North Carolina over the weekend that showed...
MATTHEWS: We had a poll here that shows Hillary Clinton at 25 on credibility. That‘s a low number.
TODD: It‘s not only that. Well, look, we saw it. There‘s a pattern
going on here. We saw it when our NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll was in
the field over those two days that Tuzla was in the news, and her personal
ratings just took a huge hit. You throw in—you‘re starting this issue -
and credibility and trust—look, Bill Clinton‘s one of the few politicians that has lost on the honest and trustworthy question against an opponent, back in ‘92 against Bush, and won an election. It is rare to win an election if you‘re seen as the least honest and trustworthy.
MATTHEWS: ... ever been able to do well at that category of trustworthiness? Was he ever high on that schedule, on that score?
TODD: The Clintons have always struggled on that because it‘s the way that his primary campaign went in ‘92. But he was able to win. It was the right atmosphere. He had a different message. That wasn‘t the most important issue at the time. But this credibility issue has hurt—and this, I think, goes to the whole Mark Penn thing and the ultimate mistake Mark Penn made, which they never bothered to fix that. They never thought, How are we going to fix this? And they had 12 months to fix it. They had an entire run-up...
HARWOOD: What Bill Clinton had credibility on was that he was focused on the problems of the American people. And I think Hillary Clinton still benefits to some extent to that kind of credibility.
MATTHEWS: That has always been the salvation of the Clintons. The sense from regular people making a regular income that they‘re looking out for them. That is always their strength.
TODD: What actually made them more credible, because hey they‘re just like us.
HARWOOD: Barack Obama is going for the knockout.
MATTHEWS: That is manifest.
HARWOOD: Barack Obama is going for the knockout in terms of his cash. He is outspending Hillary Clinton in Indiana by four to one on television. She‘s just going up—he‘s been up for a couple of weeks.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk turkey now, Pennsylvania, what‘s the real marker now? Is it possible or even plausible for Senator Barack Obama to close it within five?
TODD: I think it‘s possible, but let‘s remember who‘s—she has the entire machinery. Pennsylvania is a machine state. You know it‘s a machine democratic state. It is an old school machine state and she has the entire machine behind her, other than the Casey family. She‘s got the state party officially behind her. The state party chair behind her. The governor, the mayor. If that—to me, that mean she has a three to four point cushion. Now does that mean he can still overcome, but if you look at a poll and what you think the margin is going to be, and you add three to four points to Clinton‘s number. The question is, does that make or go from a four point win to a seven or eight point win, or eight to 11, or does it make her go from even to three which probably is the worst potential --
MATTHEWS: I think she‘s going to get about eight right now, but who knows.
TODD: I think she has at least eight, but who knows.
HARWOOD: It‘s possible he can narrow it, but not likely.
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s eight at least, but any way we‘ll see. If it‘s double digit, its blowout time and she‘s back in the race big time. If it‘s high single digits, she‘s had a good night, right? By the way, the confetti‘s going to fall if she wins by a vote. No question about it.
TODD: No question at all, but Obama‘s played the expectations well.
If he loses by less than five --
MATTHEWS: Want to know something very interesting? I‘m a Pennsylvania person, I love to watch this. Governor Rendell has been very tough, like on “Meet the Press” this Sunday, advocating the case for his candidate, Hillary Clinton. He has not taken any shots at Barack Obama. I think that‘s telling. He does not want to engage in any kind of personal problem with Barack Obama. That tells you a lot about the kind of campaign he‘s running. He is not going negative.
HARWOOD: Don‘t you think that‘s a vice presidential thing?
MATTHEWS: No, I don‘t think he‘s doing it on purpose. I personally think he‘d be a tremendous vice presidential asset, because ethnically, geographically, in terms of being a Clinton person, he solves so many problems and he gives her a really good shot in Florida. It gives Barack a shot at Florida he doesn‘t have. It holds down a blue state that must stay blue. It opens up the chance to Ohio which is a red state that could go blue. Rendell is the perfect solution ironically as Hillary‘s greatest champion she‘s ever had for Barack if he needs a champion.
Any way, Chuck Todd, John Harwood. Programming note, Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, who was in prison for all those months will do his first cable interview tonight on “Verdict” with Dan Abrams, that‘s at 9 o‘clock tonight. Siegelman has just been released from prison as I said. He charges that his prosecution for corruption was politically motivated and that good old Karl Rove was behind it. That‘s “Verdict” with Dan Abrams tonight, a real newsmaker tonight at 9:00 eastern. Up next, it‘s the HARDBALL panel with the politics fix. This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL for our politics fix, tonight, the roundtable is Roger Simon of Politico, Linda Douglass of the “National Journal,” Michael Eric Dyson, author of the new book, “April 4th 1968”. Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s death and how it changed America. Good luck with the book, Michael. You‘re on the road, you‘re going to Philly tomorrow, right?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN U. PROFESSOR: Going to Philly tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: Get up there. Ok, let‘s talk about this interesting thing. When you dump your top strategist that usually means you‘re not doing too well Linda Douglass. Hillary Clinton has dumped Mark Penn, the much beloved, I‘m being sarcastic, fellow, who gets blamed for everything. Is this like they used to do when they would put the devil in the pig and then run the pig off the cliff to exercise somebody? Is this what they‘re doing here?
LINDA DOUGLASS, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”: First of all, he‘s still on the conference calls, he‘s still involved in the campaign. He was on the conference call this morning.
MATTHEWS: This is a sleazy bit of cover-up? He‘s still there. You mean he‘s still in the campaign?
DOUGLASS: Well he still was on the conference call this morning and he‘s still going to be involved in some way according to what everybody‘s finding out about this. But look, I think this says a couple of really important things. Number one, Hillary Clinton has always believed in the importance of consultants. She‘s the one who brought Dick Morris, remember, back into the White House in 1995. Number two, I think it really underscores the fact that she‘s a little tone deaf when it comes to ethical issues. The idea that you have a guy who is representing interests who want favors from the government while he‘s running her campaign.
MATTHEWS: And she‘s running against those people.
DOUGLASS: Right, and she‘s called him brilliant in her book, she‘s always trusted his judgment. But clearly she was not able to see that this was an ethical conflict.
MATTHEWS: Why didn‘t he take off from his business for a year or two and run her campaign if it were so important?
DOUGLASS: Well, apparently he had the power to be able to do that.
You know George Bush was able to get Karl Rove to give up his clients.
MATTHEWS: Usually you got to clean your fingers before you come work for me.
DOUGLASS: That‘s what Bush did with Karl Rove. He certainly said, I don‘t know his exact words—
MATTHEWS: Even Cheney had to quit Halliburton to go become vice president, under the Clinton rule you keep the vice presidency and the CEO job. That‘s what—I‘m sorry, but that‘s what Mark Penn did. He stayed CEO.
DYSON: Yeah, no doubt. And I think that Linda is right, the fact is that there‘s a kind of ethical quandary going on here, and it‘s kind of embarrassing because Mrs. Clinton was so hard. Senator Clinton was so hard on Barack Obama when one of his aides went and talked to some Canadians about (INAUDIBLE) - And then now, it turns out to be the case that it‘s being practiced from within.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go big time here. Roger, is Mark Penn the name for her pain? Is this going to mean anything positively for her campaign? Will she get nicer, will she get more lovable, will she get more successful with the voters of Pennsylvania and elsewhere because Mark Penn has been thrown from the train?
ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: I doubt it. I think it‘s a little late in the game to have a personality transplant. I think she‘s campaigning the way she wants to campaign. Look, she didn‘t dump Mark Penn because she didn‘t like his strategy. She‘s liked his strategy just fine for a long time. She dumped him because he became an embarrassment to the campaign. I don‘t expect we‘re going to see any huge changes in the form or substance of what Hillary Clinton is saying.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Obama. Do you think Obama has got it in him to win this Pennsylvania primary? Or is he just going to do this Fred Astaire thing he does now? Which is not quite go for it. It‘s finesse, its charm, it‘s elegant. But when is he going to bring this fight to an end?
DYSON: Well, here‘s the thing. He‘s in a tough position, because if he brings it to—if he fights like he wants to bring it to an end, then he would like he‘s attacking Hillary Clinton and he gives her more ammunition.
If he stays back and says you, “Look—look, you stay in the race as long as you want. You make your choices. Let the voters speak.” He picked up another delegate. He‘s delegating authority. We hope it works, because he‘s in a no-win position that regard.
DOUGLASS: And I just said that I think he‘s going to be a much stronger candidate if he can avoid doing that. Look at the weeks when she was going after him for Reverend Wright, and he was going after her for the allegations that she‘d inflated her resume and said that she‘d brought peace to Northern Ireland. And some in his campaign people said that was vastly overstated.
Their numbers start to drop in comparison to John McCain as they began to attack each other. So if he can somehow win this without having to do that, that‘s going to make him a better candidate.
MATTHEWS: Roger, can he win with finesse? Or does he have to have a punch?
SIMON: I think he has to have a punch. I think he has to have finesse, too. I don‘t think you win this thing by—by taking the high road all the time. I think he‘s got to fight back when attacked. He‘s been fairly effective doing it.
But you don‘t have to do it when you‘re—your opponent is digging herself in such a deep hole. Look, if Hillary Clinton runs a credible campaign and loses, she‘s still got a few tricks. She could run for Senate again, president again, governor of New York.
If she runs a train wreck of a campaign, and you‘ve got to say the Mark Penn thing is very close to train wreck, then she may be through as a politician in this country. She‘s really got to make a choice here.
DYSON: Well, I think there‘s no question that she‘s dealing with legacy, as well. Because how he leaves will determine how she‘s seen subsequently and what authority she has. If she goes out of this gracefully, even if she‘s a hard fighter, and to the end, to the bitter end, she may save things.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s cut do the reality here. She wants to be president to try again in 2012. Barack must lose the general election. There‘s only one way for her to come back and try again. That‘s for him to fail in the general. And if you believe that‘s their strategy, you must also accept the very strong, plausible fact they want Barack to lose the general—
SIMON: I think if she does not hope far place on the ticket, should Barack Obama be the nominee, she might just secretly hope for him to lose the general. Sure, a lot of Democrats would, by the way. A lot of Democrats are lining up to run again in 2012.
But let me also add, there‘s no law that you can‘t run against the sitting president. It‘s difficult to do and hasn‘t been done with much success in modern times, but you can do it.
DYSON: She can sit on her hands too. I mean, the reality is that she doesn‘t have to actively (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but she can sit on her hands and try to undermine him.
MATTHEWS: You said that very well. Thank you to the round table.
Boy, I like it when people say things subtly, the way I didn‘t.
Anyway, you‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with the round table for a politics fix.
Let‘s give Hillary Clinton a good, gold star for jumping out and saying let‘s not go to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and celebrate the wonders of the Beijing government.
DOUGLASS: Well, certainly, that was No. 1, something that‘s able to change the subject for her today, so that we stop talking about Mark Penn all the time.
No. 2, she didn‘t necessarily say this all along. So I think it‘s, you know, certainly a position that many Democrats are embracing. But it‘s interesting to sort of analyze how this became her position today.
MATTHEWS: How did it?
DOUGLASS: I mean, you know...
MATTHEWS: It seems to be Roger puts her on—I know nobody likes to use the term anymore, but it puts her on the good-guy left in the Democratic Party.
MATTHEWS: The Amnesty International folks, the people that don‘t like torture. It puts her out there with people that care about Tibet.
SIMON: But it‘s even more clever than that. It satisfies the most liberal wing of her party, who care about Darfur and Tibet and want to do something about it. Yet, it doesn‘t alienate the mainstream, because we‘re still going to send our athletes.
It‘s not like Jimmy Carter. You know, we‘re not going to go to Moscow. So it satisfies them. The only trouble she gets into is if, let‘s say, Bush actually does this and the Chinese government says, “OK, we‘re not going to buy your notes for a month just to see how you like it.” I don‘t know how exactly she explains the policy. But so far because she knows Bush is going to go anyway, it‘s a very clever policy.
MATTHEWS: Cashing our checks after we do this or not? That‘s the question.
DYSON: Well, she‘s going to do it. But I don‘t know how—this is
the politics of distraction. I hate to—I don‘t want to gainsay the
moral authority that she has by saying what he said. But I don‘t know how
I‘m heading to Philadelphia tomorrow. The Penn Relays are still on.
Mark Penn is still going to be an issue.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t say “gainsay.” I love that word. How do you explain gainsay? That‘s like deny? Put down, ignore, debunk?
Let me ask you about—this last question about the Hillary story. It‘s not as bad as the Bosnia story. But this story of a woman who went to a hospital. She wasn‘t inured. She wasn‘t treated. It‘s a harsh story, but—what‘s the name—Denzel Washington made a movie about that.
DYSON: Right, right, right.
But she can say, look, it doesn‘t have to be true. It doesn‘t have to be literal to be true. In other words, there are stories like this that could be replicated across the country. If I were in her camp, I‘d say, “Look, particular story is wrong. I‘m going to stop saying it.” But the tragedy is stories like this are created.
MATTHEWS: ... newspapers for that stuff. A composite story...
DOUGLASS: No, I mean, Ronald Reagan made up an anecdote that he told over and over again, which turned out to be a scene from a movie.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.
DOUGLASS: It was Tail-Gunner Joe.
MATTHEWS: It was a movie story rather than a real story. You‘re right.
DOUGLASS: But candidates...
MATTHEWS: He didn‘t say he was in the plane.
DOUGLASS: The danger—the danger...
DYSON: He was under sniper fire.
SIMON: It kills me when campaigns who have no respect whatsoever for the press make mistakes that a rookie reporter wouldn‘t make. She has a vast staff. She couldn‘t say to somebody, “Spend an hour and check out this story.” That was told to me anecdotally by a deputy sheriff.
This was a totally avoidable mistake which she put in her stump speech and used three or four times a day.
MATTHEWS: Right. Where was her editor?
SIMON: She doesn‘t need this headache. She has other headaches she can deal with.
MATTHEWS: And it also fits into a pattern, coming out of the Bosnia story. Here‘s another, you know, another fish story.
Anyway, thank you Roger Simon. Thank you, Linda Douglass. Thank you, Michael Eric Dyson.
Join us again tomorrow night at 5 and 7 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE” with David Gregory.
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