Guests: Chuck Todd, Tucker Carlson, Pat Buchanan, David Shuster, Chrystia Freeland, Roger Simon, Joan Walsh, Joe Madison, Michael Shear, Michelle Bernard, Jonathan Allen
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Did Hillary Clinton get it right when she said her campaign has been no longer than her husband‘s or Robert Kennedy‘s, or did she just cause herself needless trouble?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Hillary Clinton‘s comments on Friday about Robert Kennedy‘s assassination continue to haunt her campaign. Questions surround her candidacy. Has she stayed in too long? Has she gone too far? Could her troubling comments now prove to be the last off-key note of the campaign? We have the latest and we‘ll get you an update on this story in a moment.
And later, we‘ll debate the furor over Hillary Clinton‘s reference to Robert Kennedy‘s assassination. Will this story leave a scar? Does it have legs? What about people around the country? What are they saying? Should she apologize to Obama personally? Could this cost her the VP slot, or is she the victim?
Meanwhile, Senator John McCain was interrupted repeatedly today by protesters while delivering a speech on foreign policy at the University of Denver.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Endless war! Endless war! Endless war! Endless war!
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends. I will never surrender in Iraq.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there you have the campaign issue itself. Senator McCain ripped into Senator Obama for not visiting Iraq since 2006 and said they should visit the war zone together. Not sure about that joint appearance, but McCain is appearing tonight with President George Bush at a private fund-raiser out in Phoenix.
Plus, our “Politics Fix” panel tonight looks again at this Robert Kennedy story.
But first, the latest on Senator Clinton‘s comments with NBC News political director Chuck Todd, “Politico‘s” Roger Simon and Chrystia Freeland of “The Financial Times.”
Let‘s take a look right now at what Senator Clinton said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just—I don‘t understand it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, Senator Clinton has said in her defense, which is quite right, to make a defense in this case, she said that her comments were taken out of context. I would suggest that she didn‘t say them in context. They came out to the public in the context of the following, unintended or not—the Ted Kennedy health problem right now, which everybody cares about, the fact that everyone cares about the safety of Barack Obama and worries about it, the fact that some of us fell a sort of deja vu about 1968 all the time, just in general, atmospheric times (ph), not about an assassination, the sense that Barack Obama is staying in the race for some outside event—not Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton—for some outside event, obviously not this tragedy, but something like another Jeremiah Wright story. There‘s a lot of context. And then the horrendous joke by Huckabee last week where he talked about—week before last—where he talked about a noise at an NRA convention, he thinking—let‘s say, comically, that it must have been Barack Obama falling off his chair because he saw somebody with a gun, as if that could every be funny.
Here‘s Senator Clinton, by the way, explaining her situation in “The New York Daily News” on Sunday. Quote, “I want to set the record straight. I was making the simple point that given our history, the length of this year‘s primary contest is nothing unusual. Both the executive editor of the paper where I made the remarks and Senator Kennedy‘s son, Bobby Kennedy, Jr., put out statements confirming that this was the clear meaning of my remarks. Bobby stated”—this is Bobby, Jr.—quote, “I understand how highly charged the atmosphere is, but I think it is a mistake for people to take offense.” This is Hillary Clinton again. “I realize that any reference to that traumatic moment for our nation can be deeply painful, particularly for members of the Kennedy family, who have been in my heart and prayers over the past week, and I expressed regret right away for any pain I caused. But I was deeply dismayed and disturbed that my comment would be construed in a way that flies in the face of everything I stand for and everything I am fighting for in this election.”
Roger, Jim Clyburn jumped on this. Of course, he said it was beyond the pale. His office put out that statement. The AP story went out that night, the Associated Press, “Senator Hillary Clinton referred Friday to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 -- in the 1968 campaign as a reason she should continue to campaign despite increasingly long odds.”
It wasn‘t the Barack Obama campaign that went after her, it was the people trying to figure out what she was talking about.
ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: The first rule about talking about political assassination is you never talk about political assassination. I mean, I accept her at her word that she didn‘t mean to say any of this, but you just don‘t go there. We all have lived in times when a president, or most of us, has been assassinated, when a senator has been assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. There were what, two attempts on the lifes of—on the life of Gerald Ford. It was no—and it was widely reported that Colin Powell did not run for the presidency because his wife was so worried about his physical safety.
We all know why Barack Obama has Secret Service and the other candidates don‘t. Hillary Clinton has it because she‘s a first lady, former first lady. You don‘t go there. Especially if you‘re searching for a reason to stay in the race, you don‘t want anyone to think it‘s because you think something terrible will happen to your chief opponent.
MATTHEWS: Chrystia Freeland, your sense of this story. Does it have a scar (ph) factor here?
CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “FINANCIAL TIMES”: Yes, I think it does. I mean, I think that Roger is right that Hillary Clinton certainly misspoke. But in misspeaking, she broke an unwritten and really important political rule. I think the reason it had so much resonance is it‘s really logical to believe that a big reason why Hillary Clinton is staying in the race is she is waiting for some unknown event to befall Barack Obama, surely not a tragic one, more like a Reverend Wright turbocharged type event.
But I think that‘s...
FREELAND: I think these things have a resonance if they touch on something that people believe is there. I think, in a way, Barack Obama could be a really big beneficiary of this remark because it gives him, if he‘s looking for one, a really powerful reason to not offer her the vice presidency on the ticket.
MATTHEWS: Explain that. Why would this be that because of the reaction of his wife, his reaction of—his own reaction to this? What would that be? What would be just the—should I say the off-key aspect of this comment by Senator Clinton or what?
FREELAND: Well, first of all, you know, I certainly don‘t know what is in Senator Obama‘s mind. And it could well in be that, in the end, Senator Obama calculates that actually offering Senator Clinton a place on his ticket would make him more electable.
FREELAND: And I think that if that‘s the case, he would offer it to her. But if he were to find himself in a position where there was a lot of political pressure, particularly from Clinton supporters, for him to take her on and he felt that that would be a really bad idea, possibly...
FREELAND: ... because of how it could hamstring his presidency, then I think he‘s able to say in private, Look, this remark did go beyond the pale. Maybe it was a misstatement, but...
FREELAND: ... it spoke to some real concerns about my own personal safety, and I‘m sorry, I just can‘t work with a person who was able to say that.
MATTHEWS: I‘d like to go back to the real veracity of what she said because she said that her campaign‘s running into June. And I‘m often reminded of being on the boardwalk in Cape May one time, watching a Stanley Cup playoff in the summertime, because sometimes, these things do go too long, including sports playoffs.
But the only reason I would have the problem with it right up front is the fact of it. Bobby Kennedy didn‘t begin his campaign in 1968 -- I‘m reading this wonderful book (INAUDIBLE) plug this book, “The Last Campaign” by Thurston Clark (ph). It‘s a heck of a book. You know, it‘s a really good book. But it points out again it was a very short campaign. It began in March of ‘68. And of course, he was assassinated in June.
Bill Clinton‘s race was over by March of ‘92.
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right.
MATTHEWS: Why is she claiming these as examples or precedents for staying all the way through June, if she needs them? Why does she need a precedent?
TODD: I don‘t know...
MATTHEWS: Nobody‘s telling her to leave the race. Next week is the end of the primaries. What‘s the rush?
TODD: Well, she‘s using the wrong—I mean, if she would use ‘84, ‘76 with Reagan...
TODD: ... or ‘84 with Gary Hart and Mondale, those would be much more factually correct, where the June primaries actually meant something. But I actually think what we‘re seeing here is she made a mistake. You know, this idea that somehow she‘s staying in the race because something could happen as far as Senator Obama, when it comes to maybe a scandal or something like that...
TODD: ... like the Rezko trial, for instance, which is in jury deliberations now...
TODD: No, she could have suspended her candidacy...
TODD: ... three weeks ago. She could be winning primaries without being an active candidate. She could be actually strengthening her hand and getting an olive branch out to the folks in Obamaland, who right now don‘t like her, very upset with her.
MATTHEWS: OK, here‘s...
TODD: So she‘s cost herself—she ended up hurting herself—forget this RFK comment—she‘s really hurt herself (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s hear Bill Clinton. Here‘s Bill Clinton talking about the race. I think he‘s arguing with Harvey, that mythical character in the Jimmy Stewart movie...
MATTHEWS: ... because I don‘t know anybody telling her to get out of the race. Everybody‘s telling her, perhaps, the mathematicians in the business, like yourself, are pointing out that the mathematics aren‘t there. But you know, as for the merriment (ph) of this whole thing, it‘s part of the show. Stay in this thing until the votes are counted in Montana and South Dakota next Tuesday. Nobody‘s rushing this.
TODD: But we‘re also seeing a false—there‘s a little bit of a false premise here in this whole thing because this happened—you know, John Edwards, Bill Bradley, John McCain—as they were—when they lost their primaries in 2000 and 2004 respectively...
TODD: ... you‘d start seeing them poll better than the actual nominee. And part of that is the nominee stopped running a campaign against them.
TODD: Barack Obama hasn‘t run an active campaign against her for three weeks...
TODD: ... hasn‘t made the case against her. So what is happening, she‘s able to boost her own positives a little bit...
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s take a look at Bill Clinton with another view. Here‘s former president Bill Clinton saying there are people out there trying to get her out of the race. And I don‘t understand this—we‘ll come back and talk about this with Chrystia Freeland—because I think everyone is in agreement. Let‘s have these primaries and see who wins next week.
Here‘s the former president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody told the people that ran against me in 1992 they had to drop out. This is really interesting. Why are they doing this? Because if you vote for her and she does well in Montana and she wins in Puerto Rico, when this is over, she will be ahead in the popular vote. And they‘re trying to get her to cry uncle before the Democratic Party has to decide what to do in Florida and Michigan because they are claiming that it only takes 2,029 votes on the first ballot to win. It takes a lot more than that if you put Florida and Michigan back in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Chrystia Freeland, who‘s he arguing with there?
FREELAND: Well, I think that is exactly the right question, Chris. And as I listened to President Clinton making those comments, I had this real sense of deja vu, that he was living in the media world of 1992 or even 2000. I think one of the huge miscalculations of the Clinton campaign has been to not understand that the Internet exists and YouTube exists. And when they talk about the notion of a media conspiracy, what they are not getting is that, actually, mainstream media—and that means this show, that means my newspaper—is not setting the agenda in the way we used to.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well...
FREELAND: The agenda is being set much more by YouTube. And so, to me, there‘s a real kind of otherworldly aspect to this sort of criticism. Big issues...
MATTHEWS: Well, don‘t throw the baby out with the bath water.
FREELAND: ... like “snipergate”...
MATTHEWS: ... here!
FREELAND: You know? Well, no (INAUDIBLE) but you know, some of these issues are taking off...
TODD: A way to get yourself invited back.
FREELAND: ... because they are video clips and people are watching them. And there‘s a real democratic flavor to a lot of the issues that have taken off...
MATTHEWS: Well, I think we‘ve got...
MATTHEWS: ... just for those who don‘t think I like this campaign to continue, this Saturday, we‘re going to be covering the big meeting of the rules and bylaws committee in Washington. I‘ll be up in New York covering that all afternoon. And on Sunday, I‘ll be covering the Puerto Rican commonwealth primary. I wouldn‘t normally have been covering full-time. I‘ll be covering that on—just a minute! And then next Tuesday night with Keith Olbermann, I‘ll be covering with Keith the Montana and South Dakota primaries, which—since the time zones are way out west, we‘ll be up all night. So there‘s nobody quitting here.
TODD: Well, the—no, the big news is by televising a rules and bylaws committee meeting, this is like when ESPN decided to televise the NFL draft. We don‘t know what we‘re getting. We may turn out that this could become an annual event...
TODD: ... famous televised rules and bylaws committee.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to start covering those conference calls every day to really make things exciting. Howard Wolfson will be the star of the day.
Chuck Todd, what a man you‘ve become.
MATTHEWS: Roger Simon and Chrystia Freeland, thank you all.
Coming up: As Hillary hangs in, McCain and Obama are moving on to the general, ripping into each other over Iraq and how to take care of veterans. They‘re also going out west, where the action is—New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada—that seems to be the happy hunting ground of the 2008 election.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The Iraq war will be a divisive issue in the general election, you can bet on that. And both Barack Obama and John McCain have been playing up the merits of their opposing plans. Let‘s—yet both consider their position on Iraq to be the one that will resonate with the American voters in November. So whose read on the national mood is the right one?
I‘m joined by Tucker Carlson, MSNBC senior campaign correspondent, and Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst and author of the new book, “Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War”—long title—“How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World.” We‘ll get into that at some point later.
Let‘s talk about the current situation. First, Tucker, it‘s rare when both candidates think they‘ve got the winning argument. Barack Obama believes this war is too unpopular, too long, too endless. He‘s campaigning against it with passion. John McCain today—let‘s watch John McCain facing down the hecklers that tried to interrupt him at least five different times today, when he tried to give his speech, by yelling out “Endless war.” Here‘s how John McCain handled it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: You know, this is—this is—this may turn into a longer speech than you had anticipated.
(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
MCCAIN: And by the way, I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends.
I will never surrender in Iraq.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s John McCain, the gut, the guy talking right there.
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC SENIOR CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT: He‘s got a better argument because he‘s not arguing the rightness of going into Iraq. That argument‘s over. The Bush people lost. Most people think it was a mistake, and I think it was, too. He‘s arguing we don‘t need to be humiliated. We don‘t need to lose. We can win.
And by the way, most people, contrary to what the Obama people may believe, have tuned this war out. A good friend was at a Nationals game this weekend. He said David Petraeus was sitting in civilian clothes right in front of him. During the course of the game, one person and one person only, came up to Petraeus. People didn‘t recognize him. They‘ve tuned the war out. All they know is they don‘t want to get more complicated, bloodier and more depressing. And they understand intuitively that a withdrawal prematurely would mean that. So I think McCain‘s got a better rhetorical case.
MATTHEWS: Pat, we lost 52 people, service people, last month. We lost 900 last year, the bloodiest year of the war, ironically, given the surge. Will the American people continue to tune out? Will the media continue to turn out—or tune out in a way that helps John McCain?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the fact that the American casualties are down and that Maliki‘s government seems to be doing better, does suggest why the media are turning away from it.
Chris, the American people are of two minds. They want to get out of Iraq and they don‘t want to lose the war. Barack Obama is hitting that first theme—It was a mistake, and we‘re going bring the troops home. McCain is hitting the second side of it—There will be no defeat, there will be no American surrender. They have really—and this is where they‘re going to engage—I think they‘ll move closer together.
But Chris, I would remind you—and you know a lot of history—the anti-war candidate in wartime, whether it‘s McClellan or McGovern, has never won a presidential election.
MATTHEWS: I know. That was U.S. Grant‘s argument back in the 19th century.
Well, here‘s Barack Obama speaking today in Nevada on the Iraq war.
Here it is coming at you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don‘t think we want to continue a misguided foreign policy and an endless war in Iraq that‘s cost us thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars while making us less safe and secure. That‘s the choice in this election. On issue after issue, John McCain is offering more of the same policies that have failed for the last eight years. That‘s the agenda that he and the president are raising money to support later today. But I‘m here in Nevada because I think the American people are ready to turn the page.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Patrick, back in the ‘60s, the late ‘60s, Richard Nixon kept us in the war for four more years to end it the way he wanted to end it, without surrender. But those were one hell of a lot of casualties to pay for that decent withdrawal.
BUCHANAN: Well, when Richard Nixon got into office, there were 535,000 guys there.
BUCHANAN: And Johnson and Kennedy had put them in. And he said we‘re going to try to get peace with honor. And he did pull them all out in four years. Barack Obama...
MATTHEWS: But how many guys were killed in that period of time, those four years of withdrawal?
BUCHANAN: Probably 20,000 Americans died in that, Chris, but the—
MATTHEWS: In other words, we accomplished the same thing we could have established in ‘69 in ‘73, at the cost of 20,000 guys?
BUCHANAN: Following Chris Matthews‘ logic, why doesn‘t Barack say, hell, it‘s not going to take me 16 months; it won‘t take me six months; I will get them all out there in two months?
MATTHEWS: Yes. Whatever. Whatever.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the question. You know how they—Tucker, you answer this.
You know how, in the movies, they try sell a new movie by saying by the people that produced “Gone With the Wind” or whatever or “Lawrence of Arabia”?
MATTHEWS: Should the American people trust the people that judged it was a smart move to take us into the war, like John McCain, to get us out with honor? Would you trust those people?
CARLSON: That is very smart, and I believe, fair question. The answer is, no.
But I think you may be misdrawing the lesson of Vietnam. The lesson is, the withdrawal from Vietnam was a complete disaster that took place under Gerald Ford in April of 1975.
CARLSON: The helicopters lifting off the roof of the embassy in Saigon. That‘s precisely what people remember and what they don‘t want to repeat. And that‘s what McCain is promising to avoid, that national humiliation.
CARLSON: Again, that‘s a winning argument.
BUCHANAN: Chris, let me follow up there.
MATTHEWS: ... cutting edge. Do you stay into a war you don‘t believe in anymore to avoid a humiliation, or what?
MATTHEWS: That‘s the question.
BUCHANAN: It is. In 1972, Chris, Richard Nixon had virtually all the troops out of there, and McGovern said, we have to get out even faster, and I will craw on my knees, if necessary, to get the POWs.
BUCHANAN: He got D.C. and the people‘s republican of Massachusetts. We beat him 49 states to one. We got 60 percent of the vote. You say we‘re going to surrender or be defeated again, and you will lose this election.
MATTHEWS: No. I‘m saying that, if you look at this war, as Tucker said, do you trust the people that took us in? And if you look—Pat, you know this better than I—the people that surround John McCain now, and we all respect John McCain‘s service and John McCain personally, but he has surrounded himself with the very people that talked us into this war, and you know it.
BUCHANAN: Well, they scare me. Listen, what scares me...
MATTHEWS: They‘re all around him.
MATTHEWS: They have recruited the hawks from the past administration.
BUCHANAN: The neocons want another war in Iraq Iran.
But people do look at McCain, and they say, McCain is a tough guy. He really got beat up in that last war. He‘s a patriot. And he‘s a lot better than this Chicago community organizer in terms who‘s going to lead us out of this country.
CARLSON: Well, maybe that‘s exactly the bargain he‘s trying to arrange with the American people...
CARLSON: ... that, I am the one guy tough enough to keep this from going south, because, look, people understand that a precipitous withdrawal could be bloodier, more confusing, messier, than the status quo.
MATTHEWS: Let me just say this. If you vote for John McCain and we do escalate the war at some point in Iraq, we go into Iran, can you really blame somebody besides yourself for voting for him? In other words, that vote is significant.
MATTHEWS: You really only get—it is binary. You vote for the hawk or the dove. I agree with you guys.
BUCHANAN: You‘re right.
MATTHEWS: And you have got to make your choice. You buy your ticket, you take your chance. You go with the hawk or the dove. This is going a be a clear election. We agree.
BUCHANAN: I think you‘re dead right.
CARLSON: God, you would—but I thought Obama was promising a sort of smart, nuanced middle ground.
MATTHEWS: Well, not in terms of Iraq, I don‘t think.
CARLSON: Apparently not.
MATTHEWS: What is the middle ground in Iraq?
MATTHEWS: A year-and-a-half?
CARLSON: Acknowledge it was a disaster to go in and then try and find a wise course out.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think he‘s saying 18 months. We will see. I‘m not an expert about how long it takes to have a strategic withdrawal.
I do agree with all of you. The most difficult military maneuver is a strategic withdrawal. There‘s no doubt about it. But, sometimes, you have to decide.
BUCHANAN: We all agree it‘s coming.
MATTHEWS: Or else you stay in as an occupation power. But if you stay in there for 10 more years, are you going to be better off as a country or just have more enemies and more debt?
BUCHANAN: Chris, we all agree it is coming.
BUCHANAN: McCain is now saying, four years, most of the troops out. Barack Obama, 16 months. I think you‘re moving—both of them are moving together. They‘re both moving out on different timetables.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Tucker Carlson.
Thank you, Pat Buchanan.
I‘m not sure I like this new middle ground you have discovered here.
Up next: What kinds of things does Barack Obama like on the campaign trail? What does it look like out there? We have got the next—the list next in the HARDBALL “Sideshow,” plus, a “Big Number” that presents a big challenge for Barack.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
Caring for Barack. Today‘s “New York Times” profiled 26-year-old Reggie Love, a former Duke football and basketball player who now works as Barack Obama‘s body man. That‘s the guy in charge of making sure the candidate has everything he needs all the time.
So, what did we learn about Obama‘s habits? Well, apparently, he likes Planters Trail Mix, Dentyne Ice gum, Nicorette when necessary, and cheeseburgers with cheddar.
And I have to ask, how does a guy stay so skinny wolfing down cheddar cheeseburgers? Aren‘t they the worst?
Goodbye, Gravel. The Libertarian Party nominated Bob Barr on Saturday, passing over inimitable Mike Gravel, who, earlier this year, ran as a Democrat. Gravel said afterwards—quote—“I just ended my political career. From 15 years old to now, my political career is over. And it‘s no big deal.”
Gravel told me a while back that he‘s been hiding under a rock in all those years since he was a U.S. senator from Alaska before just showing up last year to run for president.
I wonder if that rock is still available.
Castro weighs in. Former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro apparently has some thoughts on the U.S. presidential race this year. On Monday, he called Obama—quote—“the most progressive candidate to the United States presidency.” But he also criticized Obama for planning to keep up the trade embargo against Cuba.
The politically aware Castro also acknowledged that his endorsement won‘t do Obama much good—quote—“Were I to defend him, I would do his adversaries an enormous favor”—close quote.
The funny this is, Che Guevara is going to be the hero of a new movie this year starring Benicio Del Toro. I guess the old line is true, that the only good communist is a dead communist.
By the way, I did love “Motorcycle Diaries.”
As you know, last week, we started polling all of our guests with one simple question. What does Hillary Clinton really want? Well, here‘s tonight‘s updated tally. We now have 10 who say she just wants to be president, period, whether it‘s now, in 2012, or whenever.
Eight say she wants to be Obama‘s V.P. Two say she wants to be on the Supreme Court. That‘s growing. Two say Senate majority leader. That‘s growing. One says attorney general. And here‘s a new one. One says—oh, somebody said she wants to be secretary of health and human services. Well, that‘s not aiming too high.
And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”
As he gears up for the general election, Barack Obama has to get something out of the way once and for all: He‘s a Christian—not that there‘s anything wrong with other religions. According to a new “Newsweek” poll, what percentage of the country believes either Obama is Muslim or doesn‘t know what religion he belongs to? Thirty-three percent. That‘s one out of three voters.
And I blame a lot of this on propaganda churned up on e-mails. He might want to make sure, by the way, that people are clear on this matter as soon as possible. Of course, Hillary Clinton is not helping by saying “He‘s not a Muslim, as far as I know.”
Anyway, that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next, the big debate: Hillary Clinton‘s comments about Bobby Kennedy‘s assassination as a reason for her staying in this presidential race, is this going to leave a mark on her politically?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks posting healthy gains, as oil prices plunge—the Dow Jones industrial climbing 68 points, the S&P 500 up nine, and the Nasdaq gaining 36 points.
Oil prices tumbled, as the U.S. dollar strengthened. Crude fell $3.43 in New York, closing at $128.85 a barrel. That‘s after oil hit a record high last week, above $135 a barrel.
Mixed news from the home front. A closely watched gauge shows home prices fell more than 14 percent in the first quarter, compared to a year ago. That‘s the sharpest decline in two decades. On the positive side, though, sales of new homes rose more than 3 percent in April. That‘s the first gain in six months.
And consumer confidence dropped for the fifth straight month, to the lowest level in almost 16 years.
That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Exactly one week from today, voter participation in the 2008 presidential primaries will come to an end. The Democratic primary in Puerto Rico is on Sunday. And next Tuesday will mark the primaries in Montana and South Dakota. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain were in the midst of a busy campaign day today.
HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster joins us with the latest—
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, John McCain is having a fund-raiser tonight in Arizona with President Bush, but the venue was changed, so that the television cameras would not be there.
Meanwhile, earlier today, John McCain gave a speech, a policy speech, on nuclear proliferation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A quarter of a century ago, President Ronald Reagan declared, “our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.” That is my dream, too. It is a distant and difficult goal. And we must proceed toward it prudently and pragmatically, and with a focused concern for our security and the security of allies who depend on us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: McCain said the United States should not rely just on diplomacy or just on the threat force, but on a combination of both.
However, his support for the use of force in Iraq brought out those protests today. And, as you pointed out, five different times, McCain‘s speech was interrupted by protesters.
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas today, Barack Obama hammered John McCain on two different issues. First, he took McCain‘s to task for the change in venue and for the cameras being kept away from that fund-raiser tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, John McCain is having a different kind of meeting. He‘s holding a fund-raiser with George Bush behind closed doors in Arizona, no cameras, no reporters.
And we all know why. Senator McCain doesn‘t want to be seen, hat in hand, with the president whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The original point of Barack Obama‘s speech today was to focus on the economy. And he hammered John McCain on that as well, saying that McCain has not provided enough detail for how McCain would deal with the dropping housing market and the foreclosure crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And Senator McCain is so out of touch with the struggles of working people that he gave a speech laying out his economic agenda last week, and he couldn‘t be even bothered to talk about the foreclosure crisis that has put so many families on the brink of financial catastrophe and put our economy on the brink or in recession.
We have had enough of the can‘t-do, won‘t-do and won‘t-even-try approach from George Bush and John McCain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: As for Hillary Clinton, she‘s campaigning at this hour in Montana. Hillary Clinton has radio and television ads on the air. But they‘re mostly positive. There‘s no negative reference, directly or indirectly, to Barack Obama.
And, finally Chris, the Clinton campaign said again today, blamed the media and Obama again today, for the fact that people are still focusing on Hillary Clinton‘s comments about Robert Kennedy‘s assassination. Again, the Clinton campaign maintains, it is not Hillary Clinton‘s fault that this has been misconstrued, but, rather, they say, it‘s the fault of the media and the Obama campaign—Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, David Shuster.
Well, the firestorm, such as it is, over Hillary Clinton‘s assassination remark continues to dominate the headlines. And will this cost her the vice presidential nod?
Joe Madison is a radio talk show host for XM Satellite‘s “The Power.”
MATTHEWS: And Joan Walsh is editor in chief of Salon.
Joan, your thoughts. I was just reading a quote from—I remember quotes. I love to have people dig them up for me. And somebody dug this up for it. This is FDR, one of my heroes: “Never speak of rope in the house of a man who has been hanged.”
I think we shouldn‘t talk about assassinations in this period of time.
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM: You know, Chris, she chose her words poorly. I wish she had referred to Bobby Kennedy still campaigning in June, because that was her point.
I mean, even you, leading into this segment, have suggested that she‘s keeping her campaign alive because Bobby—Bobby Kennedy, you know, was assassinated in June. She did not say that, Chris. She was making the point that campaigns have run into June before.
WALSH: It was an unfortunate choice of words. But she is being bloodied for this. And I have no doubt that it came originally, somewhat, from the Obama campaign.
I got the e-mail on Friday from Bill Burton, making sure that thousands of reporters saw the remarks and that they construed it in the way he wanted them to.
WALSH: I got the e-mail from the Obama campaign, saying that Keith Olbermann—Keith Olbermann‘s special comments on it.
MATTHEWS: Let me get Joe...
WALSH: They have used this. There‘s no doubt about it.
MATTHEWS: But that was later in the evening. That was later in the evening.
MATTHEWS: Certainly, they used it. But the Associated Press reported this story pretty much straight. They said—this is how we led our story at HARDBALL last Friday: the Associated Press, Senator Hillary Clinton referred Friday to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in the 1968 Democratic campaign as a reason she should continue to campaign despite increasingly long odds.
WALSH: That was wrong.
MATTHEWS: What was wrong about the AP story?
WALSH: That was wrong. She was not using that as—the Kennedy assassination as the reason she was staying in. She was making the point that people have campaigned before in to June. Jerry Brown did it and Bobby Kennedy did it. That was her point, and I think it‘s been deliberately misconstrued and it‘s quite outrageous.
JOE MADISON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I absolutely, totally disagree. All one has to do is listen to my show, other shows. There was an immediate visceral response to what people heard. I began getting e-mails from just the average listener, who said, did you hear what she had said?
Let‘s understand, there‘s a pattern here. One, this is a man who almost had to have Secret Service protection from the day he announced. Two, the Roswell newspaper has him on the cover in cross hairs of a rifle.
Three, you have Huckabee‘s joke, which was just outlandish.
WALSH: It was. It absolutely was.
MADISON: And so, I say to you that there is no other candidate that has run for the presidency in this cycle that has had these kinds of comments made, not on the Republican side or the Democratic side.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that when she said what she said to the paper in South Dakota that she meant to say, I‘m staying in this race in case something horrible happens and I‘ll be there to win. Do you really believe she meant that? I don‘t. Nobody would say that.
WALSH: Nobody would say that.
MADISON: Here‘s what people are saying: they‘re saying the Clintons are desperate. They may say anything. These may be code words. Now, the reality is—
WALSH: Code words? Come on, Joe, you don‘t believe that. These were not code words.
MADISON: Excuse me. Did I say I believed it? I said what people are saying.
WALSH: What do you believe?
MADISON: Wait a minute. Who‘s doing the questioning here? You or Chris? the bottom line—I mean—the bottom line is I mean what I say and I say what I mean. That is I said what people are saying. Whether I believe it or not, I‘m sharing with you there was a visceral reaction and let‘s get to the crux of our discussion. She‘s not going to be the vice presidential nominee. She just ruined that opportunity.
And this is the other factor. I‘ll close there—and by other things, this. Again, there‘s a pattern. There‘s a pattern. I‘ll tell you the other thing. If this pattern continues, she‘s going to ruin the Democrat chances in November.
WALSH: I‘m going to tell you what‘s going to ruin the Democrat‘s chances, Joe. If people continue to demonize both Clintons and treat them like monsters, that will ruin the Democrat chances. Bill Clinton is our only two-term Democratic president in my lifetime. Has he made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I criticized him? Absolutely. Has she made mistakes? Certainly. But to act like she is capable of making a statement like this and summoning up the worst fears and tragedy of our democracy, to act like this woman is capable of that, there will be people staying home in November if this continues. There really will. It‘s outrageous.
MADISON: I think the FDR statement you led with was very appropriate. Any time you have a single candidate that has been on the front page of a newspaper with cross hairs, whose life has been threatened—let me tell you what upsets a lot of people also, she apologized to the Kennedys, which she should have done. Do you know she did not issue an apology to Obama and his family?
WALSH: She didn‘t say anything about Obama. Why should she apologize to Obama? She didn‘t say anything about him.
MADISON: What do you mean she didn‘t say anything?
WALSH: She didn‘t say anything about Obama. She has nothing to apologize for.
MADISON: If I were her, I would have said, I apologize to the Kennedys and I‘m sorry if the Obama family misconstrued what I said. I would have apologized to both.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s a good argument for her to make? First of all, everyone knows the primary season is going to end next week. There‘s really no argument anymore, Joan, it seems to me. It‘s going to play itself out. I don‘t know who they‘re arguing with. I don‘t know anybody saying quit this week. We‘ve got the super delegates apparently ready to stampede after next Tuesday. What is the argument, by the way—what is the argument the former president is making right now? What is he arguing for?
WALSH: Chris, I was watching the earlier part of the show. I always watch your whole hour, whether I‘m on or not. You‘re a passionate person. I love that about you. I feel like you‘re forgetting recent history. Our friend Jonathan Alter, in February, suggested she should get out of the race. That awful conversation between Keith Olbermann and Howard Fineman, that Keith had to apologize for, was Howard and Keith saying, we need a super delegate to take her into a room and only one of them comes out.
People have been trying to push her out of the race literally since February. I know what the president‘s talking about.
MADISON: Where we do agree is I don‘t think she should get out of the race. I think—
MATTHEWS: As Jesse would say, the question is moot, because this thing‘s going through until next Wednesday. Next Wednesday‘s going to decide this thing. We‘re going to know if she wins all three.
MADISON: It‘s going to go to August.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll see. Thank you very much, Joe Madison. Thank you, Joan Walsh.
Up next, Bill Clinton says he‘s never seen a presidential candidate treated so disrespectfully as his wife. We‘re going to get into that with the Clintons. What are they up to now? My question holds, what is the Clinton plan here? Joe Madison says it‘s an August strategy. Let‘s find out when we come back with the politics fix. Are they going to August? Are they going to June, which is coming on? July for the credentials committee, or all the way to Denver? This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL and in the politics fix. Tonight‘s round table, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, Jonathan Allen of “Congressional Quarterly,” Michael Shear of the “Washington Post.” Gentleman and lady, I want to thank you for coming on. There has been a little bit of a dust up here. Apparently Barack Obama‘s been saying on the campaign trail his great uncle, his grandmother‘s brother, Charlie Payne (ph), was part of the liberation of Auschwitz. It was, in fact, Buchenwald. That was corrected by, apparently, the RNC. Are we really into small matters of differences here or the essential? What are we into here, Michelle?
MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, I‘ve seen the RNC statement. I hate to disagree with the RNC, but this is really ridiculous. I don‘t think that we should be arguing over the fact that his—I think it‘s his great uncle. A concentration camp is a concentration camp and what happened to the Jewish community was absolutely horrific. And I think this is one argument that we need to stay out of.
JONATHAN ALLEN, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”: The point he seemed to be making was that there were horrors of war. Warriors come home and we should treat them well. If he got the wrong concentration camp when he was trying to describe that he had an uncle or great uncle coming home from war, and he had seen horrors, then that‘s a minor mistake compared to the underlying point.
MATTHEWS: Michael Shear, your thoughts about the difference here? Is it important that the Republican party point out that his great uncle, Charlie Payne, liberated Buchenwald rather than Auschwitz?
MICHAEL SHEAR, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: You know, I agree. I don‘t think the underlying point is important. I think what it points out is the hyper-sensitivity to gaffes that we‘re in. You remember John McCain made the mistake, Sunni versus Shia when he was abroad. Everybody leaped on that. I think you can go back, and you‘ll see, when we look at the history of this campaign, that these little minor slip ups often do become evidence of a hyper-sensitivity to what these candidates are saying.
MATTHEWS: One thing, it brings up the possibility of saying something very important, which is if you come to Washington, everybody should go to the Holocaust Museums. It‘s one of the most amazing museums I‘ve ever seen in my life. It‘s all movies and stuff. What it grabs with is the feeling of being one of these tanned, well turned out Americans GIs going into Auschwitz—I think my uncle George was one of those tank commanders at Buchenwald, it may have been. I‘m not sure which one. I tell you, he said how skinny everybody was, how they had no preparation for this. Goes see to the museum. Don‘t argue about this thing.
MATTHEWS: The museum is the most amazing Washington experience these days is that museum. Let me ask you about Bill Clinton. Here‘s Bill Clinton with something a little heartier in terms of criticism. Here he is on the Democrats in history who have not been asked to drop out of running for president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why have these people tried to run her out of this race?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because they‘re scared of her.
B. CLINTON: Yes, they are. We‘ve had other—nobody told Ted Kennedy he should drop out in 1980. Nobody told Jesse Jackson he should drop out in 1988. Nobody told Gary Hart he had to drop out when he ran in 1984.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there you have it, Jonathan. By the way, can he get a better flag? It‘s one thing to have a flag on your lapel. Everybody is George Patton now.
ALLEN: In point of fact, lots of people told Ted Kennedy to drop out in 1980. He ignored them, went to the convention, divided the Democratic party. Ronald Reagan became president. So the analogy of how long the campaign went is a very good one. The analogy of what happened at the end is probably something Hillary Clinton wants to avoid.
MATTHEWS: I think Ronald Reagan did a good job of chopping Gerry Ford down to size, by the way, by sticking to that convention. Michelle, anymore examples here?
BERNARD: I can‘t think of any examples, other than Bill Clinton, himself, might be one of the reasons that Senator Clinton should get out of the race. It‘s been one mistake and one gaff after another. They keep pushing the goal post. I got to say, you got to hand it to Bubba, because he always comes up with a different argument as to why his wife should stay in the race and how it‘s either men, or African Americans, or whomever is being mean to Hillary.
MATTHEWS: Remember “Arabian Nights” when the girl kept coming up with new stories so the king wouldn‘t kill her? We‘ll be right back with the round table for more movie metaphors and those from the classics as well. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. CLINTON: She‘s winning the general election today and he‘s not, according to all the evidence. And I‘ve never seen anything like it. I‘ve never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, did he treat her respectfully? We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix. That guy‘s unbelievable. I mean, we‘re all supposed to feel guilty.
BERNARD: I‘ve never seen anything like it. What is the evidence? I want to know, what is the evidence he‘s looking at that shows she‘s winning the general election? Unfortunately, I wonder if anyone in the audience is actually paying attention and truly believes this. It‘s pretty scary.
MATTHEWS: Senator Clinton has run a heroic campaign. She‘s won states, upward of 40 percent majorities. In Pennsylvania, 9.4 percent, a very strong campaign run against her opponent, a heavily advertised campaign. She‘s won big in Ohio. She‘s won big in West Virginia and Indiana. She‘s run a very effective campaign. She hasn‘t been disrespected. Go ahead.
ALLEN: I think the idea he has here is he‘s looking at polls from some traditional swing states, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio, that have Senator Clinton doing better than Senator Obama. Not to say she wins all three and he doesn‘t win all three, but that she‘s doing better. But then you look at other states that he makes competitive and she doesn‘t. You start getting into arguments in late May about what‘s going to happen in November.
MATTHEWS: Michael, who is his audience there, the former president? He‘s a very smart politician. Who‘s he talking to about his wife being disrespected? Is he talking to—are they trying to gin up the vote for next Tuesday, or is he planning beyond Tuesday and to stay in this fight?
SHEAR: I‘m not sure what they are planning and whether they are going to stay in longer. I think they are talking about us, the media. They are talking—
MATTHEWS: To what affect though? Is this a blame game? Is this, I‘ll be able to play this game under protest, to say I lost unfairly? Or is it to gin up their own vote in the next couple primaries? That‘s what I can‘t figure out.
SHEAR: I don‘t think it could possibly be the next couple primaries. That‘s what‘s going to be is going to be. I think it‘s how do you look back over this campaign and how do you rewrite history to decide that after if she does indeed lose, how do you explain it away? Part of it is laying the groundwork for explaining away that somehow she wasn‘t treated seriously. If you look back at her campaign from the beginning, her campaign was taken for more seriously than his was at the beginning, just because of the resources that she had. How he can say that she was disrespected, it‘s hard to imagine.
MATTHEWS: I think she got in trouble by losing 11 straight primaries and caucuses. That‘s probably what got her in trouble.
BERNARD: And not having a plan after Super Tuesday was a huge problem.
MATTHEWS: Look, it was maybe the closest election for a nomination in history. Michelle Bernard, thank you, Michael Shear, Jonathan Allen. Join us all again tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. It‘s Tuesday night. Right now, it‘s time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.
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