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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Monday, April 18th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: David Corn, Jonathan Capehart, Alex Wagner, Josh Marshall, Alex Wagner, Jeffrey Sachs, Chrystia Freeland, D.A. King, Jerry Gonzalez

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Birther of a nation.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight:

Trump line.  Is he or isn‘t he?  Only Donald Trump knows for sure whether he‘s committed to run for president.  One decision he has made is to ride the ugly wave of birtherism all the way to the nomination.  Trump spent the weekend dumping on Republicans who dare to dismiss him as a fringy nuisance for trafficking in the birther thing.  What he is doing is great publicity, certainly.  Is it good politics?  Is it good for the country?

Plus: For the Republican Party, the birther question has become the modern positive version of “Are you now or have you ever been?”  It‘s the price of admission now for presidential candidates.  Republicans now need to choose sides.  Are you with the birthers or against them in questioning President Obama‘s legitimacy?  But is this any way to run a presidential campaign?

Also, we are reminded today the debate over deficits in this country is more than just a political game.  For the first time ever, Standard and Poor‘s issued a negative outlook on the U.S. government‘s creditworthiness.  The message?  We can‘t keep cutting taxes and increasing spending and expect the country to keep its AAA credit rating.  The first reaction today, the Dow Jones averages tumbled 140 points on the news.

And watch Tim Pawlenty twist himself into a pretzel trying to not endorse Paul Ryan‘s plan to phase out Medicare.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with how the birther issue threatens to take the Republican Party down with it.

Let‘s begin with what Donald Trump is up.  Josh Marshall is the founder of Talking Points Memo, which interviewed Trump, and David Corn is Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” magazine, and of course, is an MSNBC political analyst.

Let‘s all remember now, as hard as it is to believe, Donald Trump is now leading the pack in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination.  So whatever value his conversation with the country is, it‘s certainly hitting some of the points over there on the Republican side.

Here‘s House majority leader Eric Cantor talking about Trump last week on CNN, and then Trump‘s response to Cantor in a Talking Points Memo interview.  Let‘s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Would you support a Donald Trump candidacy, especially with all of this birther talk?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER:  No.  I don‘t think he is really serious when we launch a—see a campaign launched on the birther issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is Donald Trump your best hope right now?

CANTOR:  No, I don‘t think so.



DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION:  And I think it‘s a very bad thing for Cantor to have done because I will tell you, people love this issue, especially in the Republican Party, and there‘s something to what we‘re saying.


MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s two points there.  He began, Donald Trump, with I think the most—the aspect that he certainly likes the most, “people love this issue,” and then got to the point, There‘s something to what I‘m saying.

Now, I want you to vet that a little bit, Josh, because you‘re a smart guy and you study the news every hour.  Here‘s a question of a guy who‘s saying, I‘m basically doing this, one reason, people love the issue.  Two, there may be something to it.  Now, does he win this argument if he finds something at all, at all in this, something nothing to do with whether the president‘s a legitimate candidate for president, whether he was born here or not, but if he gets any news out of this, does he win?  What‘s the—what‘s his win here look like at the end of this game?

JOSH MARSHALL, TALKING POINTS MEMO:  Well, you know, you see those polls.  I think that‘s a down payment on the win.  He‘s—by some measure, he‘s the front-runner now for the Republican nomination.  That doesn‘t mean he‘s likely to get it.

But you know, that—that—that segment really shows you Donald Trump‘s mentality, which is that the birther issue is a great product.  And it is a great product.  People love it.  And you know, that—you can kind of see something into Donald Trump right there.  That‘s where the primary issue—and you know, the fact that there may actually be something to it is sort of interesting but secondary.

I think the key is that, as you said, this is an issue that really divides the base of the Republican Party, and Donald Trump is in a position where the normal rules don‘t apply to him.  He‘s in, you know, the Donald Trump alternative universe.  And the thing is, he would never, ever be the nominee of the establishment of the Republican Party, to put it mildly.


MARSHALL:  So he has to play that sort of anti-establishment position that, you know, Sarah Palin was playing, and she‘s now falling to the side.

MATTHEWS:  David, I think it‘s one of those tests where you say to the people, If you‘re not willing to trash talk Barack Obama, don‘t talk to me because we hate him.


MATTHEWS:  So basically, that‘s what the right are saying.  You got to say stupid things because that‘s the price of admission to our clubhouse.  If you‘re not willing to say he‘s a—he‘s not an American, don‘t talk to us.  And I think that‘s where the real dividing line here is between the guys who refuse to play—get in the mud, like Romney and Pawlenty, and the guys who say if we‘ve got to get in the mud, I‘ll get in the mud first.

CORN:  Well, listen, what does Donald Trump care most about in life these days?  It seems to be ratings, ratings, ratings.  And when he says people love this issue, that‘s spoken like a true demagogue.  I mean, Josh is right.  It doesn‘t matter policy-wise...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what good are ratings—what good are getting high numbers for the polling if he‘s not going to run?

CORN:  Well, we don‘t know that.  I mean, we—any—it keeps him in the—in the...

MATTHEWS:  So you think he‘s running.

CORN:  I think he may run, but it keeps him in the running.  He—the whole conversation now is centered around him.  It looks like he—if he is going to run, it‘s going to be an unfriendly takeover of the GOP.


CORN:  I mean, now, he‘s used to doing that.  He‘s used to...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think it‘s amazing!  If you can win election without any field work, without shaking hands—he doesn‘t shake hands with people...

CORN:  Listen...

MATTHEWS:  ... without going out and meeting anybody or being vetted, just do it on television—well, here‘s Greta Van Susteren asking Karl Rove if he thought Trump‘s birther stance was hurting the Republicans.  Well, here‘s Rove, Karl Rove, and then Trump‘s response to him.  This guy is playing—he‘s got a war room going.  Let‘s watch.


KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH SR. ADVISER, FOX CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, it hurts Donald Trump and it removes—he was an interesting candidate who had a business background and could have contributed to the dialogue, but his full embrace of the birther issue means that he‘s off there in the nutty right and is now an inconsequential candidate.  I‘m shocked.  The guy‘s smarter than this.

TRUMP:  He was so against me because I am questioning—all I doing is see this guy‘s birth certificate!


TRUMP:  And you know, the Republicans have to be very careful of that because, obviously, Karl Rove didn‘t do very well the last couple of years in the Bush administration because, hey, whether you like him or not, George Bush gave us Obama, and I‘m not happy about it!


MATTHEWS:  This is real—Josh, this is trash talking in the sense that he trashes everybody.  He trashes the Republican heroes, the people that get elected president, he trashed the top political consultant for the president.  It‘s fair game.  He goes after—he attacks Eric Cantor.

You know, it isn‘t—Obama—he said something there that‘s not actually true.  He didn‘t say, All I want to see is his birth certificate.  He‘s accusing him of being fraud from day one.  He says nobody knew him at school, like he was some impostor and never went to those schools.  He said he never really got into the schools in the Ivy League he got into.  There‘s something mysterious there.  He says his book was ghost written by a ‘60s radical, Bill Ayers.  He says the guy is a confection, a nonexistent figure.  He‘s suggesting that Barack Obama doesn‘t really exist as we know him.  And then he falls back on, All I want to do is see his birth certificate.  What is it?

MARSHALL:  Look, you know, if you watch Donald Trump in the ‘80s and watch the TV show, I mean, can—is it possible not to expect something over the top and clownish from Donald Trump?  That‘s what he does.  And again, his position here gives him that ability.  At the moment, he‘s only playing for the Republican—the primary contest.  And the reason that Pawlenty and Romney are trying to sort of insulate themselves from this issue is that they have an idea of actually getting into a general election in which this would be...


MARSHALL:  ... toxic and probably lethal.

MATTHEWS:  Well, will it hurt them in the meantime?  Here he is on Sunday, Trump criticizing Mitt Romney, the otherwise fund-raiser, about his business credentials, saying, I‘m bigger than you are.  Let‘s watch.


TRUMP:  Mitt Romney is a basically small business guy, if you really

think about it.  He was a hedge fund.  He was a fund guy.  He walked away

with some money from a very good company that he didn‘t create.  He worked

there.  He didn‘t create—and

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He did create companies, though.

TRUMP:  Well, he—but—but—look, he would buy companies, he closed companies, he‘d get rid of the jobs, OK?

I have a much, much bigger net worth.  I mean, my net worth is many, many, many times Mitt Romney.



MATTHEWS:  How do you...


CORN:  Yes.  That‘s good.  We need to take a moment...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you and I were talking in the make-up room back then about the—or the Green Room, whatever the hell we call it, and you were talking about how this could really kill Romney because by the time this guy knocks him out, what‘s left?

CORN:  We laugh about Donald Trump now...

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s left in the Republican Party to run?

CORN:  Listen, all hair, no cattle.  He‘s very clownish.  It‘s easy to laugh about him.  But if he spends six months, the next six, seven months going out there and trash talking not just Obama but Mitt Romney...

MATTHEWS:  Working the Iowa belt!

CORN:  ... on business...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re thrilled that a big city...

CORN:  Listen...


MATTHEWS:  ... come out to see them!

CORN:  He‘ll get media attention...


CORN:  He‘ll get media attention beyond MSNBC and the cables and the networks.  He‘ll be on “Entertainment Tonight,” on Leno, everybody, trashing Mitt Romney.  That‘s not good for Mitt Romney‘s campaign.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there he is with Melania, beautiful wife, certainly.  She‘s gorgeous.  But here we—look, here‘s the question.  Here is the question...

CORN:  Wife number three?

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t care.  Look, Josh—it‘s not my question right now.  Let me go—will you guys stop confusing me here with...


MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to get to the facts here.  Josh, you‘re a smart guy.  Three months from now, the point‘s just been raised by David—will this trash talk by this guy, this birtherism, this attack on Barack Obama, where he seems to be setting the pace for the Republican Party—basically bring the Republican Party down?  Will it?

MARSHALL:  I think it‘s very damaging to them.  You know, you‘re never going to bring a—one of the major or two political parties down.  But it‘s not just the danger to Mitt Romney because, you know, Trump is getting a lot of Republicans thinking, like, yes, why can‘t I have a nominee who‘s really going to take the birther issue seriously?  And he‘s going to have other issues along those lines, too.


MARSHALL:  So he can do—he can do a lot of damage.

MATTHEWS:  Can he get in the platform, more or less—well, platforms don‘t mean much anymore, but can he create it where anybody who wins the nomination and goes down to Tampa next summer, the end of summer, is going to have to do an applause line of some kind about the birther thing, about...

MARSHALL:  I doubt it.  I doubt it.  I can‘t imagine it.

MATTHEWS:  You think he can skip it by then?  You think it‘ll be forgotten by then?

MARSHALL:  It‘s not that it‘ll be forgotten, it‘s that no one running in a general election is going to touch that stuff.

MATTHEWS:  But how...

MARSHALL:  That‘s just the reality of...

MATTHEWS:  ... are they going to avoid it once this guy‘s primed to pump?

CORN:  Well, it really depends how far he goes down—you know, he has to—he first has to declare he‘s running.  He has to, you know, win some delegates.  There‘s a lot to be determined...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got the longest tie, I have to say.  Look at that thing.  Look at that!

CORN:  It‘s longer than Mitt Romney‘s, right?



MATTHEWS:  ... this long coat.  Interesting.  “Matrix” kind of thing going on there.

CORN:  Right now, I think Romney—like I say, Trump is a threat to Mitt Romney, clown or no clown.

MATTHEWS:  A threat?  He‘s beating him in the polls!


MATTHEWS:  I‘ll bet you the polls come out next week or later this week are going to show him way ahead.

CORN:  He‘s giving—he‘s giving the GOP the red meat...

MATTHEWS:  Is he showing...

CORN:  ... that Mitt Romney is not.

MATTHEWS:  Josh, is the real message here there wasn‘t much there to start with?  If a guy like Donald Trump can come off the beat from “Apprentice,” “Celebrity Apprentice,” basically a very gifted business guy and talk show, whatever, the whole thing, the whole—a P.T. Barnum kind of character?  I don‘t think he‘d find that offensive—that he can beat these people at the P.T. Barnum game?  Does that tell you there wasn‘t much of a circus there to start with?

MARSHALL:  Absolutely.  It‘s a very weak field.  But again, Donald Trump is Donald Trump and there‘s something sui generis about that.  But yes, he can—you know, there‘s—there‘s this divide in the Republican Party right now between the party that still wants to get back to, you know, running elections and the other that‘s in—you know, the Bachmann-Palin kind of alternative universe.  And Trump is just driving like a freight train right through that division and that‘s why it‘s damaging.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s claiming the larger part of it, I think.  We‘re going to talk about that in the next segment.  This has become the litmus test.  If you‘re a real right-winger, you‘re with this guy.  If you‘re not quite—he‘s turning Romney and Pawlenty into RINOs, Republicans in name only.  That‘s how far he‘s driving this train.

Josh Marshall, thank you so much, David Corn.

Coming up: What we talked about, Donald Trump is proving that if you‘re a real Republican today, you have to take his side or else you‘re being driven over to this marginal group called, what, non-birthers?  How exciting.  Will birtherism create the new Republican Party?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Democrats are hoping to put Texas in play come 2012, and now they have a Senate candidate they hope can do it.  Retired lieutenant general Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded U.S. force in Iraq, is expected to run as a Democrat in the race to replace the retiring senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican.  Sanchez could be an appealing candidate in a state with a fast-growing Latino population, of course.  But one hurdle he‘ll have to overcome is the fact that he was forced out of command in Iraq after Abu Ghraib, though he wasn‘t implicated in the prison scandal.

We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, the Birther movement, with the help of Donald Trump, has now taken center stage for the Republican Party, forcing 2012 candidates to come down on one side or the other when it comes to President Obama‘s actual American legitimacy to be president.  But with moderate candidates, comparatively, like Romney and Pawlenty rejecting the birther crowd and others like Bachmann and Palin pandering to it, does the birther movement threaten to divide and destroy the Republican Party?  I really think it does.

Jonathan Capehart is “The Washington Post” editorial writer and MSNBC contributor, and MSNBC analyst Alex Wagner is a reporter for TheHuffingtonPost.

Both of you come on.  It‘s good you‘re here.  You‘re both young people.  And I want to ask you about this big thing.  I want to start with you, Jonathan.  You‘ve written about this.  This obviously—I think the birther movement deeply offends people of color.  I think it deeply offends people of immigrant background.  And I think it offends—I think it offends liberals generally because it seems to be getting into the man‘s background in a way that simply reminds his enemies his background is what it is, growing up in Honolulu with an African father and a white mother, and that, itself, bothers people.  So all he has to do is remind people of that.  You know, Honolulu itself is exotic enough for some of these people.


MATTHEWS:  So is that just what it is?  Let me (INAUDIBLE) to the question.  But in terms of the Republican Party, where Donald Trump has now made himself birther of the nation, to use a phrase, has it become the divisive issue?


MATTHEWS:  Romney and Pawlenty are standing up to the guy with some kind of nobility, I think.  What do you make of it?  They‘re both saying, No, I‘m not a birther.

CAPEHART:  Right.  And I think they‘re doing absolutely the right thing, and there are other people in the Republican Party who are also saying that this birther issue is just—one, it‘s the wrong thing to run on, and it‘s not the right thing to do.  Both House majority leader Eric Cantor and Karl Rove have said, you know, this is ridiculous.

Look, what Donald Trump is doing with his faux run for the Republican nomination is appalling.  He‘s destroying that party.  And you know, I‘m not a—you know, a card-carrying Republican by any stretch of the imagination, but I do care about one of the two major political parties in this country.  And for someone to rise to the top of more than one poll based on a lie, based on a long disproven contention that the president of the United States was not born in the United States and is not an American, that is someone who should not be a party‘s nominee.

Unfortunately, as we‘ve seen, the longer the president has been in office, the more the numbers of Republican primary voters say they don‘t believe or have serious questions about the president‘s citizenship.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  It‘s working.  It‘s working.


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go—Alex, I want you to get in here, but let‘s start looking at some of these tapes.  (INAUDIBLE) going to do a rundown of these candidates and heavyweights in the party.  Here‘s Mitt Romney pushing back, I think to his credit, on Trump‘s birther claims on “The Cutler Report” (ph) just last week.  Let‘s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you agree with Trump that Obama should be questioned on this?  Do you feel that Mr. Obama has passed all the citizenship tests?

MITT ROMNEY ®, FMR. MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR:  I think the citizenship test has been passed.  I believe the president was born in the United States.  The man needs to be taken out of office, but his citizenship isn‘t the reason why.


MATTHEWS:  And here‘s another guy willing to take on the birther mentality.  Here‘s Tim Pawlenty also rejecting the birther movement on “MORNING JOE” last month.  Let‘s listen to Pawlenty here.


TIM PAWLENTY ®, FMR. MINNESOTA GOVERNOR:  I, for one, do not believe that we should be raising that issue, in the sense that I think President Obama was born in the United States.


MATTHEWS:  And you know, here it is.  So there‘s two there.  Is this going to be the new non-birther party?  Is it going to be the minority of the Republican Party or the mainstream?  I think they think they‘re the mainstream, but they‘re beginning to look marginalized because of Trump.


I mean, the non-birther movement could also be known as the people who are speaking the truth. 


MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WAGNER:  I would also say, look, let‘s look at the demographics here.  We have the census figures that just came out, right?  Fifty percent of the children born and under the age of 5 in this country are multiracial youths.  You look at the polls in 2008.  The black and Latino populations increased by 4 percent at polls.

MATTHEWS:  So what is the point politically? 

WAGNER:  This is the direction the country is going in.  America is going to be a multi...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but not in the next couple of elections. 

WAGNER:  2008 showed a 4 percent uptick in minority voting rates and a 1 percent decrease in white voting rates. 

MATTHEWS:  So you are saying those people will vote against this point of view? 

WAGNER:  It‘s not just about on being on the right side of history. 

It‘s about being on the right side of demographics in the polls. 


WAGNER:  It behooves Romney. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here is somebody who disagrees with you in terms of her own political direction in the short run, which is what politics is about.  Here‘s Michele Bachmann of Minnesota pandering to the birther crowd this weekend.  Let‘s listen. 


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: All he had to do is just answer some questions and show his document, and then have people do an attestation that this is—in fact is a legal document, and it‘s over, it‘s done.  And I think the president has neglected to focus on answering that question for people.  And that is why a lot of people still have it lingering in their minds. 

None of us can prove.  None of us can do attestation.  Only the president and someone who is legally tasked with attesting to the validity of that document can do that.  And I think that is what the president should do. 


CAPEHART:  Unbelievable.

MATTHEWS:  They are getting so sophisticated.

Yes, thank you, Jonathan. 


MATTHEWS:  Unbelievable.  She is setting up, as if the guy shows up at an airport and he wants to come into the United States. 


MATTHEWS:  That is how she is treating him. 


WAGNER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Hey, look, who are you, buddy?  Hey, buddy, come here.  You look a little different.  Give Medicaid that‘s a strange name, Obama, Hussein. 


MATTHEWS:  Give me your paperwork.  Oh, I got to check it out before I let you out of the holding room.

WAGNER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  That is how they are treating the president of the United States, in a holding room somewhere at an airport. 


CAPEHART:  The offensive thing about what Michele Bachmann has said

and Donald Trump has been saying, show us the birth certificate, you were -

you were the first person I ever saw show on television the president‘s birth certificate. 

And if you go to or PolitiFact, they have exhausted every possible strand of the conspiracy theory, and disproven everything. has pictures of the birth certificate with the seal and the signature and everything on the back of it.  And, still, none of these folks want to believe the truth.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  There they are. 

Let me—let me tell you something again.  I‘m only going to take 30 seconds.  This is so much baloney...


MATTHEWS:  ... because the assumption is that somehow before he was born, before he was born, he—he came out with some sort—got a RICO operation, a conspiracy...


MATTHEWS:  ... to make himself president.  So let‘s get him born over in Kenya, so we can really make it difficult...

CAPEHART:  Right. 


MATTHEWS:  ... and then say he was born in Hawaii, a regular—let‘s make it as exotic as possible, so that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama can be president of the United States someday, the first mixed race guy in history, the first guy with a Muslim name—or what do you call it, that kind of a name.

WAGNER:  Right. 


MATTHEWS:  It‘s a Swahili name.  Let‘s make it really hard and plan this whole thing. 

Are people that paranoid? 

WAGNER:  I—well, I think so.  I mean, look what is happening...


MATTHEWS:  To believe that happens? 

WAGNER:  Look what is happening in Arizona, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, OK.  You‘re broadening it.


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s just nail it down. 


WAGNER:  No, I‘m not.  The Arizona legislature is now passing—they have ratified... 


MATTHEWS:  Oh, that part of it, yes. 

WAGNER:  Jan Brewer is the one that is now pushing back on this, saying we want...


MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  I‘m sorry.  I stepped on your line.


MATTHEWS:  Here is Sarah Palin.  Let‘s watch Sarah Palin on Trump. 


MATTHEWS:  She is tying her—her—her—her—or whatever—her bobsled to this guy. 


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen. 



SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  Well, you know, I think that he was born in Hawaii, because there was the birth announcement put in the newspaper.  But, obviously, if there is something there that the president doesn‘t want people to see on that birth certificate that, you know, he sees going to great lengths to make sure that it isn‘t shown—but, you know, again, Donald Trump, he may get to the bottom of it, because he is spending the resources that probably will be necessary to do some investigation. 


MATTHEWS:  What do we make of that, Jonathan...


MATTHEWS:  ... that comment by her?  What does it mean? 


MATTHEWS:  He was born here, but let‘s have some fun with this baby. 

Let‘s run it around the track five or six more times. 

CAPEHART:  Well, I—I—I wrote something about that—that response.  We hadn‘t heard a lot from Sarah Palin up until that moment, when Jeanine Pirro asked her what she thought about what Donald Trump was doing. 

And, of course, by weighing in, we got to talk about Sarah Palin talking about Donald Trump talking about the president.  And I think Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, all of these folks who are still dabbling in this dark wormhole of birther conspiracies...


CAPEHART:  ... are just—you know, it‘s a desperate cry for help.  And, unfortunately, what is going to end up happening is that the Republican Party is going to be dragged down, and the person who is going to end up representing that party is going to have to answer for a lot of the crazy stuff that is being said right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Last word from you, Alex.

WAGNER:  I hope Sarah Palin...

MATTHEWS:  Why are they doing this?

WAGNER:  She is looking into building apartments and developing real estate in Alaska? 

MATTHEWS:  Why are the Republican...

WAGNER:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  ... people playing the birther card?

WAGNER:  Because it‘s an easy card and it plays on fear.  And, so far, playing on fear has worked for that party.

MATTHEWS:  Is it...


WAGNER:  I think it‘s—I think it‘s derogatory and I think it‘s injurious to the office of president. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it ethnic?


WAGNER:  I think ethnicity and race and religion is all part of it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Jonathan Capehart.  Thank you, Alex Wagner. 

CAPEHART:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I like your thinking here. 

Up next:  Rick Santorum‘s campaign slogan borrows from an unlikely source.  I will say.  Stick around for the “Sideshow.”  There he is, the former senator from Pennsylvania. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  



MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 

First of all, the politician vs. the poet.  Rick Santorum has a new slogan on his campaign Web site: “Fighting to make America America again.”  Sound familiar?  Actually, it‘s a take on the 1938 poem by the great Langston Hughes: “Let America be America again.”

Hughes of course was a noted activist for liberal causes.  Well, ThinkProgress confronted Santorum on the disconnect at a campaign event. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was just a coincidence? 

RICK SANTORUM ®, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Yes, I didn‘t know that.  And the folks who—who worked on that slogan for me didn‘t inform me that that is where it came from, if, indeed, it came from that. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you like Langston Hughes?  Is he a favorite poet?

SANTORUM:  I have read some of his poems.  I‘m not a bit poet guy, so I can‘t say I have a favorite poet.  Sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right.  Thanks.


MATTHEWS:  By the way, that slogan is still on Santorum‘s 2012 Web site. 

Next up: Tim Pawlenty‘s two-step.  The 2012 contender was asked about fellow Republican Paul Ryan‘s hard-hitting budget proposal, and then specifically about Ryan‘s phasing out of Medicare and replacing it with a subsidy to buy insurance. 

Watch what happened.


TIM PAWLENTY ®, FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR:  I like Paul Ryan‘s plan directionally. I don‘t think it‘s fully filled out in terms of the fact that we still have to address Social Security.  And when we issue our plan later in this process, it will have some differences. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) Medicare cuts in his plan that he keeps from Obamacare?

PAWLENTY:  Anybody else have a question besides this guy? 




MATTHEWS:  Anybody else have a question?  That‘s the central argument of our time, Medicare and its future.  And he doesn‘t want to answer it. 

I do bet Pawlenty did a little homework after that fobbing off of that question. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”  Is Donald Trump serious?  More importantly, do primary voters take him seriously?  Well, according to the oddsmakers at Intrade over in Dublin—that‘s the——what are the chances that Trump will win, actually win, the Republican nomination next year?  Eight percent, one in 12, pretty good, actually, pretty good handicapping, I would say.

The question is whether he will get in the race and stay in it.  Right now, I take my lead from the Irish.  Eight percent, a good handicap—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Call it the price of partisanship.  The stock market tumbled today after Standard & Poor‘s downgraded its outlook for the U.S. debt to negative, saying it doubts Republicans and Democrats will be able to find common ground to deal with the deficit.  Do you believe it?  That‘s how far we have come. 

That‘s ahead.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks posting their sharpest declines in a month, in part due to the Jewish holiday, the Dow Jones industrials plunging 140 points, the S&P 500 sliding 14, the Nasdaq tumbling 29. 

Weighing on markets today, concerns about sovereign debt on both sides of the Atlantic.  China is stepping up its fight against inflation with its fourth hike this year to the amount banks are required to have in reserve.  And here in the U.S., the S&P is warning it may lower America‘s debt rating if Washington can‘t get its national debt under control. 

We‘re in the thick of earnings season as well.  Citigroup traded flat after revenues took a hit from a sharp drop in fixed-income trading.  Halliburton posted strong earnings after boosting North American production to make up for Middle East disruptions.  And Texas Instruments disappointed due to supply disruptions from its operation in Japan. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide --  now back to



TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY:  Congress is going to have to raise the debt limit.  They understand that.  That is absolutely essential to preserve the creditworthiness of the United States of America. 

You know, we‘re a country that meets its obligations.  And we have to meet our obligations.  And they recognize that.  I heard—in fact, I heard the leadership tell the president that again on Wednesday. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That is of course Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on Sunday‘s “Meet the Press.”  Here is House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan‘s take on CBS‘ “Face the Nation.”


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Nobody wants to play around with the country‘s credit rating.  Nobody wants to see default happening, but we also think it‘s important to get a handle on future borrowing as we deal with raising the debt limit. 

So, nobody is saying we want to see the default.  We just want to get some cuts and controls in spending going forward.  And that is what we have been telling the White House. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Congressman Ryan said no one wants to play around with our credit rating, but the fighting over fiscal future, our fiscal future, did just that today. 

Look at Standard & Poor‘s revised outlook for the United States‘ economic rating, from stable down to negative.  Part of their statement reads—quote—“We believe there is a material risk that U.S. policy-makers might not reach an agreement on how to address medium- and long-term budgetary challenges by the year 2013.”

Boy, this is scary. 

Chrystia Freeland is the editor of Thomson Reuters Digital.  And economist Jeffrey Sachs joins us.  He‘s director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. 

It‘s great to have you both on, but I really don‘t like the fact I have to have you on.  The reason I have you on is...



MATTHEWS:  ... is because I‘m really worried about this thing, and I want you to put it in perspective.  What did it mean when Standard & Poor‘s pointed out that they don‘t believe there will be a deal between the Republicans in the Congress and the president to somehow reduce our deficit and our debt over time, enough to really make the difference?  What does it mean when they say we‘re downgrading the quality of our credit? 

FREELAND:  Do you want me to go first? 


FREELAND:  So, I actually don‘t think that this particular warning from Standard & Poor‘s is a reason for us to get all hot under the collar. 

You know, I think you would have to be a Martian not to know the things that S&P told us, which is that the U.S. does have a deficit and a debt problem, and that there is a real war going on between the Democrats and the Republicans over this. 

They—they didn‘t actually downgrade.  They just said that their outlook is a little more negative.  So, I think we don‘t need to exaggerate the significance of this statement.


MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s not like hitting the iceberg? 

FREELAND:  No, no.  They are saying the iceberg is a little closer than maybe we would like. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you...


MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you, Jeffrey, on this. 

Is that your—are you that—What is the right word? -- calm about what you‘re hearing here from the Standard & Poor‘s today? 

SACHS:  I think it‘s like you asked, can you believe this? 

I mean, what is happening in our country?  Absurd.  We used to be the definition of what a safe asset meant, a U.S. government security.  Now we have a negative outlook by Standard & Poor‘s.  I do think it‘s very significant.  I think it shows the way that the rest of the world also is looking at us, especially since there are so many countries that are facing a debt crisis right now. 

It says the United States absolutely could fall into this as well.  Our politics really are so bizarre.  Both sides are irresponsible.  And remember that, while they are moaning and groaning about the—the deficits right now, both the Democrats and the Republicans agreed in December to give up $1 trillion of revenues in a deal that they made that widened...

MATTHEWS:  I know.

SACHS:  ... the deficits enormously for this year and next year. 

So, it‘s not surprising that Standard & Poor‘s has made this statement, but it is deeply disturbing.  It is a sign of what is wrong with this country. 

MATTHEWS:  I share your cynicism.  I believe, for politicians, the deficit is the solution, not the problem.  They would rather not raise taxes.  They would rather not cut their favorite programs.  The solution, let the deficit float. 

Here is, however, the big theory that I‘m worried about.  And this is Tim Geithner coming out, talking about what would happen if we don‘t raise the debt ceiling soon.  Here he is on “This Week” on ABC this Sunday. 

Let‘s listen.


TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY:  What will happen is we‘d have to stop making payments to our seniors, Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security.  We‘d have to stop paying veteran benefits.  We‘d have to stop paying all of the other payments, all the other things the government does.  And then we would risk default on our debt.  And if we did that, we‘d tip the U.S. economy and the world economy back into recession—depression.  I think it would make the last crisis look like a tame, modest crisis.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Your thoughts, Chrystia.  That scares me when he says the word “depression” and when he says if they don‘t cut a deal.  My question to you is: if they don‘t cut a deal on debt ceiling fairly soon in May and don‘t put it off into “Perils of Pauline” with our government and our country tied to the railroad tax all the way through to July, doesn‘t this bring into question the soundness of the dollar again?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, REUTERS:  OK.  So, here I am really scared.  I‘m much more worried about the debt ceiling debate than the S&P statement today.  And that‘s because of precisely what you said, Chris, and what Tim Geithner outlined.

You know, America is like a family that needs more credit to keep on paying its debts.  And if that debt ceiling isn‘t raised, then Secretary Geithner is absolutely right.  America would go into default.  Now, that is such an extreme step that I just have to believe the Republicans will be saying on this issue.  But if they‘re not, I don‘t think that Secretary Geithner is exaggerating about the consequences.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there are games being played, Jeff.  I know from watching the politics of this, that‘s—I hear that the Republicans in the Senate are going to say we‘re not going to filibuster to force the Democrats to come up with the 51 votes in the Senate, or 50 with the vice president‘s signature, breaking a tie, because they‘re not going to lift a finger to pass the debt ceiling.  That‘s their game.

In the House side, you got so many Tea Partiers than you probably need Democrats to help out Boehner.

So, I think there‘s problem here how long it‘s going to take to cut the necessary deal here.

JEFFREY SACHS, ECONOMIST, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY:  Well, look.  I mean, the votes are there and if it takes the Democrats to pass it on a party line, they should do it.  And they should get the public‘s praise for being responsible.  If the Republicans really hold to the whole country hostage over this, it would just be nuts.  We just went through—

MATTHEWS:  I know, but what they are threatening to do, Jeff.

SACHS:  Yes.  And if they do, let the Democrats vote this thing and let‘s get on with it.  You know, it‘s so dishonest, this debate, especially on the Republican side, frankly.  Though, both sides have no sympathy right now.

But the Republicans say we‘re going to somehow handle this without a penny more of taxes.  What are they thinking?  Everyone knows how phony this is.

MATTHEWS:  Well, one guy that agrees with you is Alan Greenspan, the former Fed chair.  Here he is on “Meet the Press” to answer your question.  Here he is, Alan Greenspan, yesterday.  Let‘s listen.


ALAN GREENSPAN, FORMER FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN:  I think this crisis is so eminent and so difficult that I think we have to allow the so-called Bush tax cuts all to expire.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  So, you say let them expire for everybody, go back to Clinton era rates?

GREENSPAN:  Yes.  And I think that what we have to become aware of is that if we allow taxes to fill in the holes here, we are going to find that we are getting ever closer to the type of economies that exist in Europe, which are very heavily-laden and not rapidly growing the way ours can.


MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Chrystia?

FREELAND:  Well, I would say amen to raising taxes, but I‘m getting a little bit tired of people beating up on Europe and claiming that the U.S. economy is in such better shape.  If you look right now at the western industrialized world, I think that Germany is doing better than anybody.

And, you know, really everybody, including the U.S., should be learning some lessons from Germany.  There is a strong manufacturing sector, growth is good.  Employment is much stronger.

So, you know, I think that we need to get away from the mythology that the U.S. is better.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I guess they balance their budgets.

Thank you very much, Chrystia Freeland.  Thank you, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs.

Up next: lawmakers in Georgia pass a tough Arizona-style bill to fight illegal immigration.  But progressives say the law would demonize Latinos.  We‘ll see.  A familiar fight is moved over to Georgia from Arizona.  That‘s the hottest news today on the immigration front.  That‘s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Sarah Palin was on a Tea Party rally in a battleground state of Wisconsin over the weekend.  Now here‘s a clue she may be inching toward a presidential run.  She‘s launched a new Web site for her political action committee.  According to “Politico,” it was a significantly more it had a lot more content to it than she had before, including a new way to gather email addresses and information from her supporters.  And that‘s fueling speculation Palin actually doesn‘t want to stay on the sidelines after all.

We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Last week, Georgia lawmakers passed a tough new immigration bill that‘s being compared to Arizona‘s law, which by the way, is still being fought in federal court by the Obama administration.

Georgia‘s bill is different from Arizona‘s law in some ways.  Most notably, the police can only check someone‘s immigration status if that person is already under investigation for a criminal offense.  The bill would require, however, many businesses to verify that their workers are eligible to work here in this country.

Plans for signing the bill into law haven‘t been made yet, but a spokesman for Republican Governor Nathan Deal told “The Wall Street Journal” that the bill, quote, “fulfills his campaign promise to crack down on the high expenses that state and local governments here incur because of illegal immigration,” closed quote.

Well, D.A. King is a supporter of the bill.  He‘s president of an immigration policy advocacy group called the Dustin Inman Society.  And Jerry Gonzalez is the director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.  He opposes the bill.

First of all, what is the case for—D.A., what is the case for the bill?  Why do you need it?

D.A. KING, DUSTIN INMAN SOCIETY:  Obviously, the state, not only has the right, Chris, but I think the duty to protect the citizens from lost wages, lost jobs, and the relentless negative effects of illegal immigration.  We are simply crime fighting here.

MATTHEWS:  And you don‘t think the federal government is doing the job?

KING:  I don‘t think anybody thinks the federal government is doing their job on border security or immigration.  No, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Gonzalez, why are you posed to this bill?

JERRY GONZALEZ, GA. ASSN. OF LATINO ELECTED OFFICIALS:  Well, fundamentally, you can‘t be passing a law to try to enforce the rule a rule of law by at the same time breaking the law.  Fundamentally, we believe this bill is unconstitutional.  It will create an extremely hostile environment in Georgia for all Latinos and all foreigners.  And, fundamentally, it‘s going to be an economic disaster for our state.

I think when you have the agricultural industry relying heavily upon immigrant labor, if we do have—which is what happened in Arizona—if we do have a mass exodus of workers, then our agricultural industry is going to suffer.  So, fundamentally, this bill is flawed.

MATTHEWS:  Does the agricultural industry of Georgia depend on people here without documents?  To be blunt about it.

GONZALEZ:  It is estimated—U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss has said that 50 percent to 70 percent of the nation‘s workforce is undocumented immigrants.  That being said, that number is probably higher here in Georgia.

MATTHEWS:  So, you need it.  Do you deny that you need the people working without documents, people who are not in the country officially—do you think the economy of Georgia can make it without them?

GONZALEZ:  It‘s the number one industry.  It‘s responsible for $68 billion for our industry.  So, our state produces $68 billion in our agricultural industry.  It‘s the leading industry for our state, and if these were to disappear, our agricultural industry could certainly suffer.


Mr. King, do you rely on illegal immigrant labor, to be putting it blunt?  Do you rely on people being in the country illegally for your economy to prosper in Georgia?  Yes or no?

KING:  No.  We certainly don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t need them?

KING:  And it should be pointed out to the viewers that the agriculture industry has access to unlimited, no ceiling number of legal guest workers under the existing H-2A visa system.

People who are right now somewhere in the world are anxious to be willing workers and accept a living wage, proper housing and the treatment with human dignity.  When we watch the outward migration that will certainly happen when this bill is passed and signed into law, we will also see the inward migration of willing, legal workers from all over the country who are anxious to take the jobs now being filled by people who have escaped capture at our borders.

MATTHEWS:  Does that make sense to you, Mr. Gonzalez?  That there were people pour into your state who will fill the jobs that normally are only filled by people who are desperate enough and hard working enough to take really tough jobs in the sun?  Do you buy that, that there are other people, tens of thousands of people that would come in and fill those jobs?

GONZALEZ:  Absolutely not.  There are jobs available right now.  Fundamentally, our picking season is happening for Vidalia onions.  There‘s jobs available in poultry plants that aren‘t being filled because there aren‘t enough willing workers.

Even in a down economy, these agricultural industries are having a hard time filling these jobs.  So, bottom line is, the fact that obviously Mr. King hasn‘t spoken to many farmers, because I‘ve spoken to many farmers and they say that there aren‘t enough workers.  Even with the H-2A visas.  there aren‘t enough visas available for these workers to be able to enter the country.


KING:  That‘s a complete nonsense.  Chris, that is complete nonsense.  One more time, the H-2A agricultural visa has no ceiling.  It‘s not a matter of there‘s not enough visas.  Some hocus pocus.

We can bring in as much legal labor as is needed.  The gripe from the farmers all during the committee process on this bill was that the legal labor costs too much.  It was that cut and dried.  It‘s all about the money.

Every place that any state or local government has enforced immigration and employment laws, unemployed Americans and real legal immigrants rush to fill that space.


KING:  Nobody is making this up.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Mr. Gonzalez, I‘ve only got 20 seconds.  Do you support any kind of border enforcement or immigration enforcement, or are you just for basic legal, allowing people to come in who want to work here?

GONZALEZ:  No, we absolute need to have—we‘re a sovereign nation.  We need to protect our borders.  We need to make sure we have secure borders.  We need comprehensive immigration reform.

And instead of the Republican legislature pointing the finger at Washington, D.C., they need to work with President Obama to come up with a comprehensive immigration bill.

MATTHEWS:  I want a bill.  I want a comprehensive bill.


MATTHEWS:  I want a bill.  A real one that‘s enforced.  Unlike Simpson-Mazzoli, I want a real one that‘s fair and enforced, but I may be alone on that.

Thank you, D.A. King.  Thanks f or coming on, Jerry Gonzalez.  Thank you, both of you.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with how the birther issue is threatening to destroy the party of Lincoln.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a defining issue on American right.

The American right is represented in politics and government today by a coalition of the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement.  They work together on the general goal of opposing government spending.

It‘s interesting where they disagree.  It is on this extraordinary discussion of whether the president somehow tricked his birth announcement, forged the newspaper accounts, got the state of Hawaii to issue a certificate of live birth and state officials to insist that he was born on the day and in the city, Honolulu, where he says he was.

Well, some of the right believe this is a matter of dispute, a matter to be raised in the public square and kept there until the president joins them there in a debate on whether or not he is an imposter.

Well, it‘s hard to know what Donald Trump, the chief provocateur on this topic, believes.  In defending his magnificent obsession with the matter, he told Talking Points Memo, quote, “People love this issue and there‘s something to what we‘re saying.”

But Trump goes much further.  He questions whether the president actually earned admission to the schools he attended, questions why, as he puts it, no one knew him growing up, accused the president of having his best-selling book ghosted by ‘60s radical Bill Ayers.  To Trump, Barack Obama does not exist.  His entire biography is a sham, a creation of unknown forces.

Michele Bachmann, whose notions about history—the belief that the Founding Fathers fought slavery, that Lexington and Concord are towns in New Hampshire—suggest a certain lack of rigor on her part—offers a thumbs up to Trump‘s demand for more documents from Obama.

Sarah Palin, who said once that Ronald Reagan, her hero, went to

college in California—certainly a new look at the man famous for his

Midwestern roots—now says more power to the man she—in tabloid talk -

calls “the Donald.”  She said she appreciates that he‘s spending his time on, quote, “something that so interests him and so many Americans.”


What an odd world.  Trump defends his obsession by saying people love this stuff.  Palin says more power to him because he‘s pushing something, quote, “that interests him.”

Is this grown-ups talk?  It sounds more like kids in daycare center talking about some new game.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.



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