Guests: Joan Walsh, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Baked Alaska.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews up in New York.
Leading off tonight: Sarah‘s baby. Sarah Palin‘s man in Alaska gets busted for lying, and then lying about lying. Newly released documents show that Senate candidate Joe Miller confessed to all of this about an incident when he was a government lawyer. Now we may know why Miller‘s henchmen arrested a reporter a while ago for trying to dig into the case.
Plus, Democrats are now expanding the field of House seats they have
to defend, and that makes it even less likely they can hold the House. But
and a big but—could President Obama turn a Republican takeover in the House into a political win in the next two years? Could he really?
Also, ads that kill. We‘re going to show you some of the most devastating political ads that ever croaked a candidate.
And last night, Florida‘s Democratic candidate for governor, Alex Sink, told me one story about that text message she got during Monday night‘s debate. But as they say in the NFL, upon further review, the call does not stand. Let‘s go to the videotape tonight and to the truth.
And “Let Me Finish” tonight with what a candidate can say about—well, without a script and without warning.
All that‘s ahead. First an update on the latest polls. Let‘s check the HARDBALL “Scoreboard,” starting with the Senate race in California. The new CNN/”Time” Opinion Research poll has Senator Barbara Boxer up 5 over Carly Fiorina, 50 to 45. In Colorado, it‘s Ken Buck with a slim 1-point lead over Senator Michael Bennet, 47-46. Bennet‘s closing out there.
In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul is building his lead over Jack Conway, whose “Aqua Buddha” ad very may have backfired. Paul‘s up 7 over Conway now, 50-43. Out in Nevada, Republican Sharron Angle now has a 4-point lead over Senator Harry Reid, 49-45. In Pennsylvania, Republican Pat Toomey is up 4 over Joe Sestak, 49 to 45.
We‘re going to continue to check the HARDBALL “Scoreboard” on all the big races right up to November 2nd.
Now to Joe Miller and that newly disclosed set of documents that showed he cheated, lied and tried to cover up his actions while working as a government lawyer in Alaska. Chris Cillizza is an MSNBC political analyst managing editor of Postpolitics.com for “The Washington Post,” and Joan Walsh is editor-in-chief of Salon.
Joan and Chris, let‘s take a look at this. This is the e-mail that Joe Miller himself wrote to had his boss in March of 2008. This has been dug up by the press up there after a judge released it. “I lied about accessing all the computers. I then admitted about accessing the computers but lied about what I was doing. Finally, I admitted what I did, acknowledged that my access to others‘ computers was wrong, participating in the poll was wrong, lying was wrong, and there‘s absolutely no excuse for any of it.”
Well, that‘s a lot of admission right there, a big confession. Now, after all the mystery, we find out that this guy used his government computer to wage a campaign to dump some Republican boss up there, used everybody else‘s computer in this government installation to make his case, then covered it all up electronically, lied about it, got caught, got put on administrative leave, then given three days of suspension with the proviso, I‘m sure, that he offer up this confession.
Chris, he looks guilty as hell.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I guess I‘m just kind of amazed. There‘s a reason that there‘s a cliche called “The cover-up is worse than the crime,” right?
CILLIZZA: Because the cover-up is worse than the crime. I just—he clearly knew, Chris, that this was out there. It was kind of this gap in his resume. He never talked about it. You know, he said a couple weeks ago, I‘m not going to give—I won‘t give any interviews about personal information, said he wasn‘t going to talk to the press anymore.
I don‘t just understand why—you say, You know what? I made a mistake several years ago. I‘ve apologized for it. I was acting in a way that‘s not appropriate and it‘s not fitting of being a senator in this state. What he‘s done—draw this story out, and now he looks—he looks really, really bad at a time when Lisa Murkowski, according to every Republican I‘ve talked to, is moving into first place. The Republicans I talked to—I‘ve talked to a lot of them in the last couple days, Chris, they say she is the favorite in this race right now.
MATTHEWS: Even as a write-in. Let me—let me go to Joan on this now—
CILLIZZA: Yes, even though it‘s a write-in.
MATTHEWS: Joan, it seems to me this is the reason why professional politicians hire people like Terry Lenzner before they decide to run. You hire somebody to look into your past and find anything that might cause you trouble. Well, this wouldn‘t be hidden very much. I mean, he knew about it.
JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: No.
MATTHEWS: He had it under seal. He knew they had to hide it, and he knew somebody would try to get it.
WALSH: It‘s preposterous that he waited this long to talk about it. You know, when I listen to the details, it sounds—you know, it sounds dishonest, but it also sounds kind of petty and it sounds like the kind of thing that you could conceivably get out ahead of, explain, I was overzealous and I really regret it. But instead, he acts evasive. He has reporters detained for whatever reason, looks thuggish, and then it all comes out anyway. I mean, it‘s just—it‘s really amateur hour, is one thing it is, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, isn‘t this what people like Tea Partiers, the purest of them, at least, out in the country, they say, I don‘t trust government employees? This is one reason not to trust government employees.
MATTHEWS: -- the Tea Party candidate for the Senate.
CILLIZZA: You know, Chris, one thing that—first of all, I think Joan is exactly right. This is the kind of thing that he could have theoretically gotten out in front of and not have it be a big deal. Again, we‘re talking about Alaska five days before an election!
CILLIZZA: This is a state that Republicans should win unless they‘re basically disqualified. You know, he knew Lisa Murkowski was in this race. He knew that that posed a somewhat serious threat.
MATTHEWS: You know what?
CILLIZZA: This is what Republicans were worried about, frankly!
CILLIZZA: Other Republicans that I talk to—
MATTHEWS: I know you work for “The Washington Post,” which proves all the time that the cover-up is worse than the crime. But let me get into the crime again.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s a guy who‘s geeky enough to create an on-line poll and then to go around and run around to everybody else‘s computer at a government agency, a prosecutor‘s office, using everybody else‘s computer to cast a vote, so that he would be able to cast more than one vote—
CILLIZZA: Just for the record—
MATTHEWS: -- and the only thing he set up, the poll he—I‘m sorry, defend yourself, Chris. I think the guy looks like a sneaky little guy here.
CILLIZZA: No, I‘m not—I‘m not defending him in any way, shape or form. I was just going to say I don‘t have a lot of room to speak on the political geek front. That‘s kind of a weak spot for me.
MATTHEWS: No, no. You‘re missing my point.
CILLIZZA: Chris, I think—look, Chris, I think you are absolutely right. My only point is he still could have tried to get in front of it. Joan mentioned this. It‘s not as though—
CILLIZZA: -- Joe Miller didn‘t know that this existed.
CILLIZZA: He clearly knew it existed.
MATTHEWS: OK, here‘s Lisa Murkowski, who‘s running a write-in campaign, and she should benefit from this. Quote—here‘s her quote. “The bottom line is Joe cheated. He lied. He tried to cover it up. He lied again, then finally got caught and had to admit it, just as he lied to Alaskans when he initially denied my problem—or any problems with his employment at the borough (ph)”—that‘s the agency where he worked—
“claiming his record was exceptional and second to none.”
So there you have Lisa Murkowski, who now looks like a middle-of-the-roader compared to this guy, Joan—
MATTHEWS: -- sort of the kind of person you‘d be rooting for suddenly in this strange new political compass we have right now. Lisa Murkowski—is she going to win now?
WALSH: You know, this is very good for her. This close to the election, it‘s very hard for him to overcome it. And the idea that he cheated, that he lied over and over again, even in a petty way, Chris, I think, shapes voters‘ impressions. And you know, we -- - you and Chris and I, we sit here for months and months, tuning in and examining everything and parsing every word, but this is the week that most voters—
WALSH: -- really start to pay attention. So suddenly, this guy has nothing else about him right this minute except he cheated and he lied and he went to great extremes to keep this hidden, which is also stupid.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at this issue. Here‘s outside a debate before it happened, where a Video.com or Video.org—Moveon.org, rather, supporter tried to approach Rand Paul—this is part this crazy that‘s going on—and to give him some kind of award about corporate influence peddling. Let‘s watch this and listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the police out here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the cops.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the cops!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the police!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the police.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, no, no. Come on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there you have it. There‘s nothing like a bit of videotape. That Rand Paul volunteer who stomped on the head of that woman demonstrator told a local TV reporter that she should apologize to him—that woman whose head—
MATTHEWS: -- he has his foot on should apologize to him. Now, this is how people think these days in that part of the world. Let‘s take a listen here to this guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM PROFITT, RAND PAUL SUPPORTER: She‘s a professional at what she does, and I think when all the facts come out, I think people will see that she was the one that initiated the whole thing.
I don‘t think it‘s that big of a deal. I would like for her to apologize to me, to be honest with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And here‘s another point of view on the matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What if somebody from MoveOn had tried to move through the crowd and give something to President Obama? What would the Secret Service have done? Television footage shows Valle‘s blond wig being pulled off before she‘s pinned to the ground. A man puts his foot down on her head. Now, in the video that AP itself posted, the man put his foot down on her shoulders in what looked to me like an effort to help restrain her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK, now Rush Limbaugh is not to be believed here. First of all, the person‘s head is pinned down by this foot, and everybody can see it.
MATTHEWS: And this is the kind of stuff I said the other night probably—I‘ll will say again—the kind of stuff we saw from hoodlums in the ‘30s in another country I will not mention. This kind of behavior by people who are supposedly political fans or—they go operational like this, operating as local police. This is something we saw up in Alaska, where they arrested a reporter.
What is this behavior by American political activists, where they now arrest people, stomp them? These are supposed to be people who are just good, old American Tea Partiers. What‘s the story here, Joan Walsh, this physical behavior by people?
WALSH: This woman—this woman was wearing a wig. She—it was part of street theater. She was not carrying a gun, I‘d like Rush Limbaugh to acknowledge, like Tea Partiers have carried guns to President Obama‘s rallies. She was not wearing a T-shirt saying “The tree of liberty needs to be watered by the blood of tyrants” regularly. It was street theater. She was dinging (ph) Paul on his corporate connections. That‘s perfectly legitimate. And she was stomped.
And this guy who claims that he put his foot on her shoulder, you see in the video, he takes it from her shoulder and he puts it on her head.
MATTHEWS: OK, I‘m going to—
WALSH: Can you imagine that?
MATTHEWS: Chris Cillizza, I got to wonder when people are going to start wearing uniforms. I mean, they‘ve got an army out there—
CILLIZZA: Well, you can‘t—
MATTHEWS: -- in Alaska, militia people. You‘ve got these guys going around acting like street thugs. I mean, it isn‘t far from what we saw in the ‘30s, where all of a sudden, political parties started showing up in uniform.
CILLIZZA: Two things. One, take it out of politics a little bit. You can‘t do that, right? You don‘t do that. You don‘t act like that in decent society. So put the politics aside. I would say—
MATTHEWS: You don‘t think this is right-wing by its very nature?
CILLIZZA: Chris, I think—I think—
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t this extremist politics?
CILLIZZA: No, I don‘t think it is right-wing—
MATTHEWS: Physically manifested?
CILLIZZA: No. I don‘t think it is right-wing by its nature. I would say at the end of campaigns, passions get very inflamed, and sometimes people act, as this guy clearly did, inappropriately and in a way in which no person who is a member of civil society would say is acceptable. I do not think that is an ideological thing. I do not think it is a right-wing thing. I do not think it is a left-wing thing. I think there are people who—
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you the last time—
CILLIZZA: -- unable to contain—guys—there are people who are unable to contain—
MATTHEWS: Name the last liberal—
CILLIZZA: -- their passions.
MATTHEWS: -- progressive candidate who hired a private army, the last one that was stomping his political or her political opponents in the street?
CILLIZZA: I‘m not—I‘m not defending—
MATTHEWS: Name a liberal who‘s done it.
CILLIZZA: I‘m not defending that action. I‘m simply saying, by
saying this only exists on the right or it only exists on the left, isn‘t
fair. Passion—people who are unable to contain their political passions
CILLIZZA: -- and act in a responsible way, I don‘t think is because they‘re a Republican or because they‘re a Democrat—
CILLIZZA: -- or a Green Party or whatever.
MATTHEWS: Well, we see different kinds past passion here (INAUDIBLE) We see one passion being reporters trying to get stories in Alaska so they can uncover skullduggery. We have the passion of a woman who shows up to demonstrate with a wig on and a placard. And then we see the passion of the other side, which is to hire armies of paramilitaries and stomp people.
WALSH: And handcuff people.
MATTHEWS: Different kinds of passion here, I think.
WALSH: Yes, it‘s disturbing.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Chris Cillizza, a straight reporter, but I think you‘re missing some of the nuance of the far right these days. Joan Walsh, thanks forever.
Coming up, why it might be better for President Obama to lose the House. Now, this is an argument some will make. I don‘t make it, but we‘re going to hear it. Sometimes it may be better to kick the football, let the other side have it in the mud and see how far they can get away from their own goal line. We‘ll look at the best and the worst cases coming up for the Democrats and the Republicans next Tuesday.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Wow, Republicans are putting in some big-laid (ph) bets on Carly Fiorina out in California. With less than a week to go now, just six days, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is pouring another $3 million into that California race for the Senate. It‘s a risky bet for Republicans, by the way. The latest poll has Barbara Boxer leading by 5, but just 5. It‘s a bet Republicans have to make if they want to win the Senate. They got to pick up that tenth.
Remember the map, Republicans need 10 pick-ups. They can probably count on three—North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas. They have a good shot at six more—Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. But Connecticut and Washington will be hard to reach, so that leaves California as the must-win, the last newspaper you got to sell in the old business—remember when you were a paper boy, that‘s how you made the money, the last paper you got to sell. Anyway, that‘s next Tuesday night and they‘re putting all their money right now on Fiorina to pull this upset now.
HARDBALL back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, there‘s just six weeks, as everybody knows, left before the election next Tuesday, and after Tuesday, it‘s simple. With only three—if you think about it, three possible outcomes after all the smoke clears. Democrats could keep both houses. That‘s a long shot now. They could actually keep the House, not lose the Senate. They could lose both the House and the Senate. We‘ve seen how that‘s possible, especially if they knock off Barbara Boxer in California. Or they could hold the Senate and lose the House.
And here to assess the chances of those three scenarios, if you want to call them, are the political experts we‘ve got here, “Time” magazine‘s Mark Halperin is an MSNBC political analyst and The Huffington Post‘s Howard Fineman, who‘s also an MSNBC political analyst.
Let‘s take a look—Howard, great to see you. Let‘s take a look at this number one option, Democrats hold the Senate and barely hold the House. Howard, is that the worst possible scenario? What do you think?
HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Worst possible scenario for Barack Obama, ironically. After the Republicans get over their embarrassment at falling short after—and not to mention the media gets over its embarrassment at picking it wrong—
MATTHEWS: That would be me!
FINEMAN: -- I think the—well, the problem would be for Barack Obama that he would still have responsibility for everything. He would have a shrunken majority but still a majority. It would meant that the Republicans do not have all of the Tea Party people that they had been sort of hoping and crossing their fingers about, which would make the Republicans, I think, have a more manageable cadre in there. And it would give the Republicans something to shoot for for 2012.
I mean, I talked to a very, very well-wired Republican operative, a guy who‘d been in the White House, been in campaigns. I said, What do you want to—what do you think‘s going to happen? He said, Well, I think we‘re going to win the House. I said, What do you want to happen? He said, I hope we fall one vote short in both chambers.
MATTHEWS: Yes, the weirdness of that is you might—if you‘re Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, you may not reelected because—
FINEMAN: Yes. That, too.
MATTHEWS: -- there‘s a number of House Democrats—
FINEMAN: There‘d be a lot of turmoil in this.
MATTHEWS: -- who are openly saying they‘re not going to vote for her again.
FINEMAN: Right. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: Mark Halperin, is that too weird, that the Democrats may be in worse shape if they hold the House by a couple votes?
MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I respectfully disagree with Howard. There‘s a lot of problems—and Howard did a good job of laying them out—if the Democrats narrowly keep both chambers. I think they‘d take those problems over the problem of being in the minority, not just the investigations of Republicans but—
MATTHEWS: Because the subpoena power would go to the Republicans.
HALPERIN: The subpoena power, and also—and also, they‘d control the floor. That‘s the biggest problem, if they lose control of the House, as opposed to keeping it narrowly, is they lose control of the floor and what gets moved in the House. I think giving that up—I think the White House would rather keep that than—and deal with all the problems.
MATTHEWS: You know what I think?
FINEMAN: They‘re not going to move anything.
MATTHEWS: How does the House—it could be if they hold the House by just a couple seats, they won‘t control fiscal policy.
FINEMAN: They aren‘t going to move anything anyway.
MATTHEWS: -- because there‘s a lot of guys out there who are Democrats who want to vote for a complete extension of the Bush tax cuts right now.
HALPERIN: We already know, whatever the outcome, the president will not have effective control of either chamber. He just won‘t.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s—
FINEMAN: That‘s my point.
HALPERIN: And so he‘s going to have to negotiate with Republicans.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at another option.
MATTHEWS: This is the option I‘m looking at, guys. I think it‘s going to happen. They lose both houses.
Now, what does that do to Barack Obama?
Again, you, Howard, first.
What does it do if they lose—they lose all 10 potential seats, they lose the sweep, basically, of potential losses in the Senate, because it is that wave?
FINEMAN: Well, first of all, let me say that I don‘t think most of this is about passing any legislation, because almost, you know, very little is going to get passed one way or the other. They have to have some kind of deal on taxes, but, beside that, I don‘t know what.
If the Republicans are in charge, if they sweep in with majorities in
both the House and the Senate—and that‘s what we are talking about now -
FINEMAN: -- that a lot of Tea Party people get in there. It means a couple of things.
First of all, the Republicans share full responsibility for the economy over the next couple of years. That is number one. And that is not necessarily going to be a good thing. Number two, it means there are going to be tons of Tea Party people here. And Mitch McConnell and John Boehner saying, you know, we can handle the Tea Party, we can get their energy without, you know, running aground, I‘m not sure that is going to be as easy as they think.
And the Democrats will have smaller internal supply lines and will be left with basically the liberals in the Congress, which in an odd way will allow Barack Obama to play defense.
The big problem that Obama has here in this election is, he is trying to say don‘t elect these people, all kinds of bad things are going to happen. But it sounds abstract. If the Republicans have big majorities, they are going to be under unstoppable pressure from their base to try to seriously pass all this stuff, which will then strengthen Barack Obama‘s defensive argument going forward.
Is he better of losing both houses, politically?
HALPERIN: No. I think the president—I agree with the president. The country‘s challenges are too serious to worry about the political implications for 2012 of this election. He wants to get stuff done. He has got more—
MATTHEWS: Yes, we are asking you to be a political analyst. If you are a political analyst, is he wrong?
HALPERIN: His goal is to get stuff done, not to get reelected. He cares about getting reelected.
What I‘m saying is, the more—it‘s simple. It‘s not counterintuitive. The more Democrats get elected, the more leverage he has in negotiations. Howard will probably be right in the end. There will be gridlock. I hope there isn‘t. And I know the president is going to try to break the gridlock, whoever is in the new Congress.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s think about what is likely to happen by most estimates. Howard, again, you first.
Most people, if you go to the conventional wisdom around, people who really study the polling and who is likely to vote, say the Democrats will probably lose the House by 10 or 15 seats and hold the Senate by one or two. And if that happens, which is the most predicted outcome next Tuesday night, how does that affect the president‘s ability to get reelected president in the second term?
FINEMAN: Well, a couple of things.
I hate to shift around here, but to go on to Mark‘s territory here, I think, actually, this is the scenario where deals are most likely. I actually—I think that is the case. The other two, I think less so.
But, here, both sides are going to have more of an interest and there will be more of a structural dynamic to try to actually at least pretend to get something done, so they might get trapped into actually doing something.
I think that is what is going to happen. In terms of the presidential race, I‘m not sure. I still think the energy—if the Republicans only get one chamber, the energy is going to be on their side with the Tea Party, because they are going to be arguing, look, we are only partway there. We need to get the Senate in 2012 and the presidency in 2012.
The Tea—they will have an excuse, though, for not being able to do everything the Tea Party people want them to do.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me be Pollyanna and remember something that happened rather magically in the late ‘90s. Newt Gingrich got control of the House and forced Bill Clinton towards decisions that helped Bill Clinton, not necessarily the welfare reform bill.
I have problems with that, the way it was done, but in terms of fiscal responsibility. Mark, they did move towards a balanced budget. They did reach the goal and go to a surplus because of the pressure from the conservatives, as well as the Clintonites. They worked together with the pressure from the right, and it worked.
Will the president, a Democrat, a progressive, with a conservative House of Representatives and moderate Senate, Democratic Senate, be able to work with the debt commission and really deal with long-term national debt? Will they get to that problem together?
HALPERIN: It‘s all about the personalities. I think it has little to do with the substance.
If there were no politics in it, I think the president, Boehner and McConnell could strike that deal in 45 minutes. It is all about how the pressure, how McConnell and Boehner deal, whether they are in the majority or other minority, how they deal with the pressure of their constituents.
MATTHEWS: OK, but Howard, their backbenchers now, their new backbenchers, their crazy people, if you will, won‘t be so crazy because they will want to do something about the debt. That is an area where there is common sense that could prevail.
FINEMAN: Well, the only problem here is, Chris, that unlike the ‘90s that you were talking about or even farther back than that, almost under—under any of these scenarios, there are not going to be any conservative Democrats left. There are not going to be any Blue Dogs, as we have been calling them.
MATTHEWS: I know.
FINEMAN: And those people were crucial, a kind of crucial balance wheel in the middle to helping stitch—to mix my metaphors—to stitch the stuff—
MATTHEWS: I get you.
FINEMAN: -- stitch the—that‘s gone. I think that is going to be gone. These parties are more and more like parliamentary—European parliamentary parties.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, maybe the president has to leapfrog that middle and go --
FINEMAN: He has got to do it.
FINEMAN: Mark is right.
MATTHEWS: He‘s got to bring the left and the right together.
FINEMAN: And it‘s going to depend on Obama‘s personality.
MATTHEWS: If he doesn‘t deal with the debt under these circumstances, with a debt commission, with a conservative House, we will never deal with it.
Anyway, thank you, Mark Halperin.
Thank you, Howard Fineman.
FINEMAN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next, we have got the facts on Florida‘s Democratic candidate. Finally, I didn‘t get them last night from the Democratic candidate, Alex Sink, but we got them, thanks to one of our colleague networks out there. We‘re going to show what you we have, now that we have boosted the sound of what was really said during that debate.
The video very clearly shows something different than what that candidate told me last night.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the “Sideshow”—some “Sideshow” tonight.
First, the follow-up on our interview last night with Florida Democratic candidate for governor, Alex Sink. Sink has been accused of cheating in her debate with Republican Rick Scott on Monday night. A makeup artist showed a smartphone message to Sink that turned out to be from one of her campaign aides. A communication from staff was strictly against the debate rules.
I asked Sink about it last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX SINK (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: What happened was, Chris, last night that the makeup artist held up her phone and said: “I just got this message. I don‘t know who it‘s from.”
I looked at it because, you know, I‘m a mom. My instinct is, my daughter‘s in Europe. I don‘t know who this message is from. I glanced at it. I didn‘t understand even what it was. And I just ignored it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Ms. Sink told me she wasn‘t sure who the message was from, but, last night, CNN boosted the audio on that tape. You can hear makeup artist say, “The message is from Brian.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is from --
SINK: I don‘t know who that is from, if it is from Brian.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Brian May is the staffer who actually set the rules that candidates couldn‘t get messages, and he broke the rule by sending in that message.
Well, moving up to Connecticut, a once-in-a-lifetime Associated Press lead up there, here it is—quote—“A federal judge has ordered Connecticut‘s top election official to allow voters to wear World Wrestling Entertainment clothing to the polls.”
Well, some had questioned whether wrestling wear constitutes political advertising for Senate candidate Linda McMahon, who used to head, as everybody knows, the WWE. Well, state law restricts such advertising within 75 feet of polling places. S, does wrestling garb constitute campaign advertising? You be the ref, but, remember, wrestling is fixed.
Now to tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Berlin-based Transparency International just released its list of the most corrupt countries in the world. Among the least corrupt, Denmark, New Zealand, Singapore. The most corrupt, Somalia, Afghanistan, Burma. What about the U.S.? Well, this may surprise you. On a list of 178 countries, with one being the least corrupt country, the U.S. ranks 22nd. That is actually a drop from 19th place last year.
According to this group in Berlin, the U.S. ranks as the world‘s second—actually, 22nd least corrupt country. That is not exactly great, is it? But it is our “Big Number.”
Up next: killer political ads. Our strategists score the best of the worst, the best negative ads in campaign history, ads that put the nails in the opponents‘ coffins.
You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks ending the session mixed, the Dow down 43 points, the S&P off three, and the Nasdaq reversing an early sell-off to finish six points higher.
Money moving into technology against the trend today on solid earnings from chipmaker Broadcom and cable company Comcast. International Paper shares surging more than 4 percent on strong profits driven by a spike in demand, but apparel stocks skidded, as weak cotton harvests drove prices to their highest levels since just after the Civil War—now back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: If she takes her negative ads, as reasonably defined, I will take mine off, no question. If we do it together --
MEG WHITMAN ®, CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I will take down any ads that could even remotely be construed as a personal attack, but I don‘t think that we can take down the ads that talk about where Governor Brown stands on the issues. I just think it is not the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You heard that booing there.
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman after Matt Lauer challenge her to stop airing negative ads. Her opponent, Jerry Brown, said he would. Then Lauer tried to prod Meg Whitman again. Let‘s listen to what happened the second attempt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”: I think a lot of people would love to you say, Governor Brown, shake hands, you‘re on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, you hear Arnold Schwarzenegger, supposedly her ally, chuckling away at her discomfort.
Anyway, negative ads are powerful in politics, we all know. Now we‘re going to look at some ads that delivered the knockout punch in past elections.
Joining me now, our friends, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, our other our friend, Republican strategist Todd Harris.
I want to show you these, guys, because these are my favorites, and you probably agree with them.
Here is an ad. I want Todd to comment on this. Here‘s the ad that the Bush campaign, Herbert Walker Bush, the first Bush, ran to knock out, to blow away Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. Let‘s watch and listen and enjoy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: Michael Dukakis has opposed virtually every defense system we developed. He opposed new aircraft carriers. He opposed anti-satellite weapons. He opposed four missile systems, including Pershing II missile deployment.
Dukakis opposed the stealth bomber against, a ground emergency warning system against nuclear attack. He even criticized our rescue mission to Grenada and our strike on Libya. And now he wants to be our commander in chief.
America can‘t afford that risk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Don‘t you love that, Todd? The last scene is him doing one of those political waves from the platform. He puts his finger out, he points, and he shows his teeth and giggles, after that horrible rendition of everything he was against.
TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It—this ad was devastating for Governor Dukakis.
And there—I think there are probably two key reasons why. One of the first things that you want every good negative ad to do is to reinforce something that voters already think or maybe even just sort of subconsciously fear about your opponent.
You don‘t want to have to introduce a lot of new information, if you can just tap into a vein that they already think. And, so, you know, Democrats for—for years had been viewed as weak on defense, and this perfectly crystallized that message.
And the second thing that I did that—or that ad did that I think made it so compelling was that it found an incredible visual to reinforce that message.
HARRIS: And so people didn‘t remember all the scrolling text, and they didn‘t remember any of the substance. They just remembered the absurdity of Governor Dukakis in that big, oversized hat riding around in a tank.
I love, by the way, your metaphor about finding an open vein. It sounds like it‘s a lethal injection, the way you describe it.
HARRIS: Well, that one—that one was.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look. I want—unfortunately, for you, Steve, these are both ads against Democrats, but I think you will see the art in this one.
This is an ad by a group called Democrats for Nixon headed up by John Connally of Texas. It hit McGovern pretty hard back in ‘72. Let‘s watch this baby, this killer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: Last January, senator McGovern suggested a welfare plan that would give a $1,000 bill to every man, woman and child in the country. Now he says maybe the $1,000 figure isn‘t right.
Last year, he proposed to tax inheritances of over $500,000 at 100 percent. This year, he suggests 77 percent. In Florida, he was pro-busing. In Oregon, he said would support the anti-busing bill now in Congress.
Last year, this year. The question is, what about next year?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It‘s chilling, Steve.
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is chilling.
And, you know, one of the tactics that an incumbent, particularly an incumbent president, tries to employ is this sense that, if you—if you go with a challenger, you are taking a big risk. And that seems to work much better at a time of economic uncertainty, as you had in 1972.
You know, Nixon had come out with wage and price controls. And then George McGovern appeared to be running at some point a fairly decent campaign. And people wanted to end the war, something that Richard Nixon had promised to do, but couldn‘t do.
MCMAHON: And then all of a sudden, Nixon comes out and says, can you really count on what George McGovern says or is he going to flip-flop?
And these kind of character assaults, which is really what this is, are very, very effective and they do tend to reinforce perceptions that people have, and I‘m sure that was a perception that the Nixon campaign—
MCMAHON: -- believed voters had about George McGovern. That was a very effective ad.
MATTHEWS: Todd, I want you to look at this ad. This was used against a Republican in Pennsylvania back in 1986. It was an ad by the Bob Casey, the senior Bob Casey, linking William Scranton to transcendental meditation into a hippie lifestyle. Now, here‘s a guy whose name couldn‘t have been better in the gold standard. The Scranton name is magic in Pennsylvania. His father was an extremely popular, maybe the most popular governor we‘ve ever had. The son was lieutenant governor, squeaky clean.
And here‘s the ad that Bob Casey ran the last Saturday night in the rural parts of Pennsylvania, not the sophisticated suburbs, the big cities, just in the T, the Alabama part. Here it is, the ad that killed Bill Scranton, Jr.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1986 POLITICAL AD)
NARRATOR: Is Bill Scranton qualified to be governor? After college, he bought three newspapers with family money but he stopped going to work and the papers failed. Scranton joined transcendental meditation and became the disciple of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. “TIME” magazine said Scranton traveled the world evangelizing for transcendental meditation. And he said his goal was to bring transcendental meditation to state government.
His only real job was lieutenant governor and they gave him that because of his father‘s name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: Just brutal. You know, that spot was done by James Carville and, you know—
MATTHEWS: It made his bones, let‘s be honest about it. That‘s the one that made Carville, Carville.
HARRIS: Yes. Yes, that‘s absolutely right.
MCMAHON: Well, actually—
HARRIS: With that—with that spot—
MATTHEWS: Bob Squire?
MCMAHON: It was a Doak and Shrum ad, James Carville was running the campaign. James was the person who approved putting it on the air. Bob Shrum, our old friend from HARDBALL, and Dave Doak, were the guys that made it. I actually worked in that the firm, full disclosure, and it did crater young Bill Scranton‘s campaign.
HARRIS: Well, let‘s definitely give Dave and Bob credit for it.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go back, Steve—I want to have a Democrat one. Here‘s a Bill Clinton campaign ad in ‘92 which again croaked George Herbert Walker Bush on that famous promise to “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Let‘s listen to this killer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: Read my lips: no new taxes.
NARRATOR: Then he gave us the second biggest tax increase in American history. Bush increased the gas tax by 56 percent. Can we afford four more years?
Bill Clinton, a different kind of Democrat. As governor, Arkansas has the second lowest tax burden in the country, balanced 12 budgets. You don‘t have to read his lips, read his record.
Clinton/Gore—for people, for a change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I love it, Steve. The second largest tax increase in history. Just to put a little humility into the thing.
MCMAHON: Right. That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Not largest, because everybody always says that—the second largest.
MCMAHON: It actually makes it more credible when you say it wasn‘t largest, it was the second largest.
MCMAHON: By the way, one of the reasons this ad was so effective and this is really hard to do to a president. I mean, think about what was going on here. It‘s a throw-way race. Bill Clinton informs second or third at the time. And he had to basically do something to George H. W. Bush that was going to also be effective against H. Ross Perot.
And so, what he basically did was he did a jujitsu on taxes and on the economy and on competence to run a government, and he essentially, I think, went after both people, even though he only named one, which is why that ad, I think is the most effective of the ones that we‘ve looked at so far.
HARRIS: Yes, and the jujitsu move that was particularly effective here, was basically co-opting a message, an issue, that traditionally everyone thinks is—belongs to your opponent. So, Republicans are supposed to “own,” quote unquote, the whole issue of cutting taxes.
HARRIS: By undercutting Bush on the tax cut message, it basically—not only did it mitigate tax as an issue, but it also introduced this whole idea of whether you could trust what the president was saying. It‘s very similar to what the second Bush campaign did in 2004 to John Kerry on the whole issue of, I guess the swift boaters going after his record, because that was supposed to be a plus for John Kerry.
MATTHEWS: And I think in execution these call this the coup de grace, when the body is down there lying almost dead, they put the handgun to the head. These are the ads that put you away. Maybe we will see one at the end of this election. But you never know, gentlemen, whether it works until the election is over. So, we‘re saving our call.
I think some of Jerry Brown‘s against Meg Whitman may be in this category.
HARRIS: Joe Sestak against Arlen Specter, that spot was just devastating.
MCMAHON: Yes, it was.
MATTHEWS: What was that? I mean, what was that? Remind us.
HARRIS: The one where—the one where Senator Specter said, I switched to become a Democrat so I‘d have a better chance of winning the election.
MATTHEWS: Oh, I did that to protect my political career in the Senate. You‘re right. It nailed him. It‘s always good to get the other guy—to get re-elected. It‘s always good to get the opponent to put the noose around his neck.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Steve McMahon. Thank you, Steve Harris.
Up next: How‘s President Obama‘s mood heading into the midterms? Well, we have an expert who just got an interview with him, Michael Smerconish, a Philadelphia famous, just interviewed the president today, a hot radio interview. He had him on the phone.
Let‘s see if he got little warmth and schmooze time with the president to his good and ours tonight. Let‘s hear what the president had to say on the phone today.
Back on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Wow. The number three Republican in the House of Representatives is considering stepping down from his leadership post. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana has become a welcomed guest on this show, maybe planning a possible bid for president or governor of Indiana in 2012. “Politico” is reporting that the Indiana conservative would tell colleagues that he can‘t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, which would free him up for a bigger campaign.
Pence won the presidential straw poll at last month‘s Values Voters Summit. But the only sitting House member to ever make it directly to the White House was James Garfield. Things didn‘t work out too well for him back in 1880.
HARDBALL will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): I think the only poll that matters is going to be on November 2nd. And I still feel confident that it is a very close race in terms of the House. You‘ve got close races all across the country, including, in your hometown. So, we‘re going to have to wait and see what happens. And a lot of it is going to depend on turnout.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We‘re back now.
That was President Obama on the phone with Michael Smerconish, our friend on MSNBC. He joins us now from Philadelphia.
Michael, what do you get? What was your get? You got the interview.
What did you get out of it?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I got the impression, Chris,
that he wishes that Democratic candidates who had voted in support of a
health care bill were out there thumping their chests, extolling their
virtues of this courageous vote, you know, on their part, and running on
it, instead of running from it. Because I said to him, Mr. President, why
why is it that no one who supported it seems to be touting it? And in responding to me, he said, well, there‘s a barrage of negative commercials out there that make it difficult to do so, and then he rattled off all of the talking points in support of it, as if to say—and I‘m reading the tea leaves—but as if to say, you know, here‘s the way they could have got it done.
MATTHEWS: You know, let‘s take a listen to what he said, because the sad thing is, if you‘re a presidential supporter, which a lot of us are, the problem that you have here is, the reason that the Republicans are running their ads against health care is because they know it to be unpopular. It‘s not that they‘re making it unpopular, they know it is. That‘s why they‘re running—they‘re running against health care, they‘re running to win elections using health care.
So, let‘s take a look at his defense and then I want your wrap up on it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Mr. President, why is no one who supported the health care bill running on it?
OBAMA: Well, I think that you‘ve seen couple of hundred million dollars worth of negative TV ads that make it very difficult to do so. I mean, the fact of the matter is that, you know, there was an awful lot of misinformation about this health care bill while we were debating it and that has continued after we‘ve finished debating it and afterwards into law. So, you know, I recognize that, you know, folks feel barraged by negative information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, does—that really begs the question: why aren‘t—you know, when you do something as popular, when it‘s end of war, win a war, or something, if you pass a bill, people all want, are you going to brag on it? For example, if you lower the voting age to 18, you go tell the college kids I got you to vote. If you‘ve got working class people with health care that doesn‘t have it before, the uninsured work people, why doesn‘t he go to them and say, I‘ve got your health care? Why isn‘t everybody doing that if it‘s not such a popular issue?
And his contention is: it wasn‘t sold at that time it passed, which is his fault. It‘s not being sold now because the Democrats choose not sell it.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s not a very good defense, is it?
SMERCONISH: No, I don‘t think it‘s a good defense to say, well, there‘s so much misinformation out there. Consequently retreat. I think it‘s better to say there‘s a lot of misinformation—politically speaking, there‘s always misinformation out there. And consequently, you‘ve got to attack it spot on.
I mean, you‘ve got all of these individuals who are running for re-election. They‘re in bad shape now, going to go down as a result of this vote, in large measure, but not even defending themselves on this basis, not even at least touting the virtues of the bill as they see it. So, they‘re getting the bloodbath but they‘re not getting the attributes.
SMERCONISH: And the next cut was for him to give the sound bites that they could be offering.
MATTHEWS: We‘re following the Senate race where the Republicans have a chance to pick up the 10 seats they need to control the Senate, all eyes in the last couple of weeks now. It looks like the latest CNN poll out of Pennsylvania shows Toomey, the Republican, four over Sestak. That‘s still within the money.
But let me ask you this question, Mike. It‘s a tough question, Michael. It‘s so tough.
I talked to an expert the other night on turnout. He says Philadelphia and the suburbs of Philadelphia cannot possibly meet the role models, the models, in these debates—in these polls, that there‘s no way you‘re going to get like 42 percent turnout in that region of this entire state vote. It‘s not going to happen. Therefore, Sestak is going to have almost an impossible time running this race and winning it.
SMERCONISH: I don‘t think that the passion really exists in the suburbs of Philadelphia, which historically, as you know, has driven the vote. The passion exists in the T. You just made reference, when you‘re talking about that Bill Scranton commercial, to the T. That‘s who‘s certainly coming out to vote.
And, Chris, as you and I think would both agree, what Toomey has going for him, passion. What Sestak has going for him, the registration of 1.2 million.
SMERCONISH: But I think passion—
MATTHEWS: It sounds like it wasn‘t good a good year for a guy on television to run for the Senate.
Anyway, thank you, Michael Smerconish.
When we return, let me finish with what makes a great leader and why one candidate for governor of California has it, and the other probably doesn‘t, based on recent information, like yesterday.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with what it takes to be a great leader.
Every great leader, a smart pollster once told me, has three key elements: motive, passion, spontaneity.
Motive—you know why they‘re in public life. You know what they care about, what they‘ve devoted themselves to achieving in public life.
For Lincoln, it was ending slavery.
For Roosevelt, it was the victim—all the victims of the Great Depression. The people he called the “forgotten men.”
For Reagan, it was his strong notion of personal freedom and defeating the communists.
Passion—now, there‘s something that you see in every great leader. You see it in their obvious patriotism. The emotion in their eyes, the delight they get in a good fight, the anger that flashes when their values are offended.
And then there is spontaneity. It‘s a sense you get every time you see them, that there‘s a real person there, that the lights are on and there is someone home. You see that spontaneity in their rapt reaction to events, to the unexpected situation, the unscripted moment, when unsurrounded by advisers, they know what they‘ve got and they show it.
We saw it yesterday when Matt Lauer asked Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman to agree on the spot, to drop their negative advertising. To shake hands on it, right there on the spot. Jerry Brown jumped. “If she quits ‘em, I quit ‘em.” “No question,” he said. “We do it together.”
Instead of matching, Meg Whitman parried. She couldn‘t make the deal. “I just don‘t think that‘s the right to do,” she said. When Matt Lauer said people would like her to shake on it, she couldn‘t.
Long after people forget all the nasty 30-second ads Meg Whitman pays for between now and next Tuesday, that moment of stubborn refusal may be the one moment people remember.
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.
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