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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Howard Fineman, Chris Cillizza, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rep. Jack Kingston, Matt Kibbe

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Rolling Thunder.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

The roar from the north.  Sarah Palin has begun making her move.  She‘s hiring staff.  She‘s buying a house in Arizona.  And today she announced bus tour of the country starting Sunday at a big meet-up with Rolling Thunder.  Sarah Palin seems to be doing what it takes to make a run at the White House.  And Tea Partiers and a lot of people in the media, for obvious  reasons, are saying, Run, Sarah, run.

Also, look at what has happened to the GOP since its huge win last November.  New Republican governors are crashing in the polls.  President Obama got bin Laden and his poll numbers are up.  One top Republican after another has decided it‘s not worth taking him on next year.  So how did they get from there to here so fast?

Here‘s one answer.  Republican senators yesterday doubled down on the plan to kill Medicare, joining House Republicans in their political suicide pact.  Eventually, Republicans will realize they can neither defend the Ryan plan nor deny they voted for it.  Will they offer a deal?  That‘s interesting.

And who knew the Tea Party has its own ABM treaty, “anyone but Mitt.” 

No tea for you, Mitt.

“Let Me Finish Tonight” with why Sarah Palin is running.  Here‘s a hint.  It is not to be president.

We start with Sarah Palin, and for that we bring in our strategists, Democrat Steve McMahon and Republican Todd Harris.

Let me go to a couple of questions.  I‘ve worked hard on these, Todd Harris...


MATTHEWS:  ... because I knew I‘d face a tough Republican strategist.  Now, let‘s leave aside whether she‘s running or not because nobody can get into somebody‘s head yet, but I‘ll get to there.  If she were to run, would she finish in the money, meaning one, two or three, at the end of the whole stretch?  Would she be a serious candidate to the end and look like, Well, I was smart to get in, even if I didn‘t win it?

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  She would instantly be a serious candidate because she‘d be one of the few candidates that actually brings a base of support to—to...

MATTHEWS:  She‘s got people.

HARRIS:  She has people.  The biggest—in terms of who she threatens, she threatens people who are do or die in Iowa and do or die with social conservatives.  If you are building your winning formula around either of those two things, she‘s going to cause a problem for you because whether she runs or not, as long as there is speculation about her running, she‘s going to freeze a big chunk of the base.

MATTHEWS:  So you say—to get back it my question, not to be too tough on you, Todd Harris—but do you think she‘ll finish in the money, like we say in racing?  In other words, do a decent show, win, place or show?  Will she be in the top three at the end of the fight?

HARRIS:  Well, at the end of the fight, the only one that matters...

MATTHEWS:  No, but...

HARRIS:  ... who ultimately wins.


MATTHEWS:  But here tonight, do you think she looks like she‘s got a win in the—she‘ll be in the money if she runs?

HARRIS:  Yes.  Yes.


HARRIS:  Top three.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think so?


MATTHEWS:  Looking at the Republican Party, she is not some sideshow.


MATTHEWS:  If she runs, she‘s up there in the race?

MCMAHON:  Yes and yes.  She‘s a sideshow.  I mean, to most Republicans, you look at her numbers, she‘s still a sideshow.  But if she runs, I think she‘s going to stay in and I think she‘s going to be a player right until the end.  And there are two people tonight who are saying, Oh, thank my lucky stars.  Mitt Romney is one because she takes all the oxygen out of the Republican primary on the right and it‘ll be Mitt Romney against Sarah Palin.  And at the end of the day, he will beat her.

MATTHEWS:  Well, look at that number...

MCMAHON:  Barack Obama...


MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the latest Gallup poll, which 22 percent of Republicans with no opinion on the 2012 field so far—nobody—Romney at 17, Palin right behind him at 15.

MCMAHON:  That‘s right.  And she sits there and she‘s the person who is going to be the most serious candidate but for Mitt Romney.  And everybody on the right needs the social conservatives and the Tea Party to become the alternative to Mitt Romney, and she‘ll occupy that space and make it...


MCMAHON:  ... very difficult for anybody to get past...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) same question.  Is she (INAUDIBLE) serious candidate because I do take her seriously.  I think she appeals to people, rural people, but also people from the big states like Pennsylvania, southwestern Pennsylvania, all across the T, as we know it, the central part of the state, Franklin County.  She could do well in just about all the counties.

But here‘s the question.  Where does she lose?  If she wins—and she‘s got to be the favorite in Iowa.  If she wins Iowa, she goes up to New Hampshire and she comes in a strong second or third up there, she goes down to South Carolina, she wins there.  Where does she lose?

HARRIS:  Well, I think that—I think she could have trouble in Florida.  I think she‘d have some trouble in South Carolina.  I‘m not saying she couldn‘t win it, but there are others who...

MATTHEWS:  Against four guys?

HARRIS:  ... who could take a real fight to her?

MATTHEWS:  Four stiffs?


MATTHEWS:  No, really.

MCMAHON:  But here‘s the thing, though.  Here‘s the thing...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m serious.  Doesn‘t she win because she‘s the only woman in the race, perhaps.  She‘s the only one with any pizzazz.  And she‘s the only cultural right person.  She looks fabulous out on the stump.  She‘s a great show, and the others are not a great show.

HARRIS:  I don‘t know if she wins or not, but she would definitely be

she‘s a contender for sure.

MCMAHON:  The Republicans want to win this time, and they feel like—you know, I‘m not—I don‘t think they‘re right...

MATTHEWS:  There is no meeting (ph) of the Republicans.  Where are they meeting to stop her?

MCMAHON:  They feel like—well, I think what‘s going to happen is she‘s going to have to appear in debates.  And when she appears in debates against people like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman and even Pawlenty and some of the others, Newt Gingrich, she‘s going to appear to be less than a serious candidate.

MATTHEWS:  You think?

MCMAHON:  Less than a thoughtful—yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) let‘s come back to what she‘s...

MCMAHON:  Look at her numbers.

MATTHEWS:  ... doing the (ph) week (ph).  She‘s got Randy Scheunemann, neoconservative on foreign policy.  She‘s picking up a couple of other people.  She‘s brought back a couple of other people.  What are they preparing her for if not the race for president?

HARRIS:  Well...


HARRIS:  I‘m not sure Randy is still with her, actually.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he was listed in “The Times.”  They had him on the list of people.

HARRIS:  Yes.  I‘m not sure—I‘m not sure that he is.  But I think what she‘s preparing for is everything that you do to stoke the fires of speculation.  She‘s hiring people who will be able to do all the advance work on a bus tour, who will do—who—all of the logistics.  What she‘s not doing is hiring media consultants, pollsters...

MCMAHON:  Unavailable, by the way.

HARRIS:  ... the kind of senior—right, exactly—the kind of senior strategists who would actually run a campaign.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s Palin last week on Fox.  Let‘s listen to her view of whether she‘s running.


SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FMR. VP NOMINEE:  I think my problem is that I do have the fire in my belly.  I am so adamantly supportive of the good, traditional things about America and our free enterprise system, and I want to make sure that America is put back on the right track.  And we only do that by defeating Obama in 2012.  I have that fire in my belly.


MATTHEWS:  Here‘s my question.  The first one was, will she finish in the money.  Both of you guys think she‘ll be a serious candidate and may well be near the front.  Second question is, will she change the whole nature of it?  How can you have Palin in the race?  You guys say, Well, she won‘t be able to keep up on the facts and the information perhaps and the debating points.  But she goes out there and stakes out positions and says, We‘re against anything on cap-and-trade.  We‘re against on any kind of taxes.  We‘re against—she lists—her (INAUDIBLE) litmus test.

Don‘t the other guys like Romney buckle to her?  Because then they have—because then even if they beat her, they‘re in trouble with her wing.

HARRIS:  She would play a significant—have a significant influence in terms of the issue dynamics of the race.  Ironically, she could end up playing the role that everyone had assumed that Newt Gingrich would play by really forcing debate on certain key issues.

MATTHEWS:  No, but points of issue.  Can‘t she say you have to be against...

HARRIS:  Yes.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... taxes, you have to be for the Ryan plan?  You have—and every time Romney hears her say it, he says, Well, if I disagree with her, even if I beat her, I‘m now stuck because her people will say I was wrong.


MCMAHON:  Well, except her people in the general election wouldn‘t have much choice but to vote for...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes?

MCMAHON:  ... Mitt Romney...

MATTHEWS:  They got a choice.

MCMAHON:  ... or Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  They may have a third party candidate.

MCMAHON:  Well, she‘s going to have to make a decision in most these states between running in a primary and running as an independent party candidate.  But what she will do—and you‘re right, she‘ll pull the entire field to the right and she‘ll weaken the eventual nominee because the nominee, in order to get the nomination, is going to have to...


MCMAHON:  ... tack right...


MATTHEWS:  I think she—it‘s a bad mistake for some people to do certain things.  Everybody thinks they can do everything.  Every athlete we know in history thinks they can run a restaurant, for example, and they‘re usually disasters.


MATTHEWS:  OK?  She is really good.  I‘ve watched her with wonder ever since she won the nomination.  She went out there in Minnesota, put on the best show, next to Obama at least, certainly the best speech.  Everybody (INAUDIBLE) She did pretty well against Biden in that debate.  She certainly didn‘t get hurt by it.  She probably won it on points in terms of public—how people reacted to it.  She‘s fantastic on a stage.  When she walks out on that stage, there‘s something kinetic happens.  She looks great.  Look at her!  She‘s alive.  She‘s smiling.  She‘s doing stuff.  She‘s moving around.  You can‘t take your eyes off what she‘s doing.

When she gets in that booth up in Wasilla, Alaska, with Roger Ailes or somebody directing her, she‘s in that little booth, squeezed into—answering squeezy (ph) little questions that some—some anchor person‘s asking her, she doesn‘t do well.  She needs to get out in the air, and that‘s why she‘s on Rolling Thunder this week, why she‘s meeting with bikers on Sunday.  And she‘s going to put on an extravaganza this Sunday.  You‘re going to see pictures in every local paper in the country.

Just be nonpolitical for a second.  Isn‘t she better on the stage...

MCMAHON:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... than she is in the booth?

MCMAHON:  Absolutely.  And she‘s somebody who can go out there and electrify a crowd.  But one of the things you have to do in a presidential campaign is you have to be disciplined.  You have to be focused. You have to be informed.  And you‘ve got to be able to answer questions from everybody.

MATTHEWS:  Eventually.

MCMAHON:  And I think that she demonstrated with Katie Couric and with others that she has a hard time with that.  She‘s great reading a teleprompter, giving a speech and firing up a crowd.  But I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s still true, the Steve Schmidt argument she doesn‘t know anything?

HARRIS:  I don‘t know if it is or not.  I know that one thing that she does know is that she is a master when it comes to marketing and her brand and her image.  And she understands that the best press you ever get on a campaign is the day you get in and the day you get out.  Everything in the middle is miserable.

And by stoking the flames like this, she‘s able to continue the speculation, continue the fawning press without actually having to...

MATTHEWS:  OK, you think it‘s just a bus—a book tour, is all it is.

HARRIS:  I think, ultimately, she doesn‘t run.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look.  Here‘s Palin‘s PAC, her political action committee, posted some photos of the bus on their Web site.  Now, she‘s got this bus.  Let‘s take a look at it.

Well, I don‘t know what to make of that thing.  I guess it‘s a bus.


MATTHEWS:  It‘s not a very exciting bus, anyway.  She‘s going to go out on the road.  But I think the big story is Sunday.  She meets with the Rolling Thunder guys, the bikers, the guys who—a lot of MIA-type guys very angry the Vietnam war, being disaffected, a lot of them with ponytails, big guys with the—you know, the vests they wear.  And they ride big hogs, big bikes.  She‘s identifying with that part of America.  Tell me about that culture, what statement she‘s making.

HARRIS:  Well, what she‘s saying is, I am the anti-elite.  I‘m the anti of Washington.  I‘m someone who‘s very comfortable hanging around with -- with...


HARRIS:  ... a bunch of—a bunch of bikers, you know, wearing—and on Harleys, wearing leather jackets.  What will be interesting is that there are always some fringe elements of Rolling Thunder who are actually very critical of John McCain.  And I guarantee you, if she spends time with them, some of them are going to be...

MATTHEWS:  Because they‘re—they‘re still going for the guys they believe are still back there.

HARRIS:  They still think there are still people back there.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re the MIA people.


MATTHEWS:  Well, I think it‘s a smart move politically.  I think she‘s going to be all over the news next week.  We agree.

HARRIS:  Great pictures.

MATTHEWS:  I think she‘s going to be awesome in terms of the country people, if you will.  And a lot of people feel country even if they live in the city, right?  I think I‘m on to something.  Of course, I want her to run in the worst way!

MCMAHON:  So do I.  I want her...


MATTHEWS:  And I want her to run because I think the Republican side right now, these three guys right there—I‘m not going to call them the Three Stooges.  They‘re men of great intelligence, probably.  Pawlenty, I don‘t get it, except Romney, then I get it.  He‘s less boring than Romney.  Huntsman doesn‘t like Romney.  But this doesn‘t make sense to me as a—the only options your Republican Party has any year you know have a shot at being the president.

HARRIS:  I have to tell you, but Pawlenty‘s got a great blue-collar message if—I think...

MATTHEWS:  You on his team yet?

HARRIS:  I‘m not on his team.  But his message I think could...

MATTHEWS:  Excites you?

HARRIS:  He actually does.

MCMAHON:  Jon Huntsman.  Jon Huntsman is the guy to watch.  Jon Huntsman.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  I‘ve heard that.  Thank you—I keep hearing this, but I don‘t see it.  Thank you, Steve McMahon...


MATTHEWS:  ... sell you is unbelievable (ph).

Coming up: What‘s has gone wrong with the Republicans since their big win last November?  It‘s really strange.  These governors are getting killed.  Maybe it‘s their plan to kill Medicare, President Obama got bin Laden.  That helps him.  But a whole new ballgame seems to be working out there against the Republicans.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Sharron Angle has dropped out of the Nevada congressional race down in that state.  The state‘s Republican Party is relieved, of course, on learning that.  Angle was a candidate in that special election to replace Dean Heller (ph), who replaced John Ensign in the U.S. Senate.

But she‘s quit the race now after a judge has ruled against a free-for-all election, where any number of candidates could run.  The judge‘s ruling means now the parties will pick—likely pick their own candidates.  And Angle, who‘s not a favorite of the Nevada Republican establishment, would be left out in the cold, which is where she is right now.

We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Republican Party has been riding high—well, it was back in the fall of 2010 after the mid-term elections, picking up big governors‘ seats in swing states like Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin.  But since then, those governors have taken a dive politically, facing upside-down approval ratings now, while Obama is faring better in places like if Florida.  He‘s now at 51 percent approval down there in Florida, the Sunshine State—by the way, a state he has to win.  So what happened to the Republican victory march that seemed to be so strong last November?

The HuffingtonPost‘s Howard Fineman and “The Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza are here, both MSNBC political analysts.

Howard, let‘s take a look at this.  In Florida down there, the Quinnipiac poll now, as the president (ph) just said—I just said is 51 to 43 now, popular.  Back in April of this year, he was 44 to 52 disapproval.  So what‘s going on in that state?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think what‘s going on there, Chris, and what‘s going on in a lot of other places, is that Republican governors who were elected as reformers are running up against the fact that their states have run out of money.  The stimulus money from the federal government has disappeared.  State budgets are hemorrhaging.  Republican governors are having to make tough, unpopular choices, whether it‘s cutting education or money for schools or for health care or for roads and bridges, for all of the things that state government does.  People wanted reform, but they wanted somebody else‘s welfare program to be cut, not...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Medicare, too.

FINEMAN:  And their Medicare and their...

MATTHEWS:  What about saying no to...


MATTHEWS:  ... the choo-choo train from Tampa to Orlando.  Did that hurt him or help him down there, do you think, saying no to that federal money, because it went to all the other states now?

FINEMAN:  Right.  Right.  Well, I think (INAUDIBLE) question.  I think it probably hurt him.  I think that was a case of him sticking up for his convictions where it probably hurt him politically.  But that‘s the problem that the Republicans have.  They got elected and then had to make good on their rhetoric...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, look at this guy...

FINEMAN:  ... on their rhetoric.

MATTHEWS:  I never liked the cut of this guy‘s jib.  Rick Scott, by the way—I want to ask you about this, Chris—he‘s down now to what, 29 percent down there.  He‘s not a popular guy.  I never thought he would be.  But 57 disapproval—so quickly they don‘t like him, Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you know, first to Howard‘s broad point—I mean, I think, Chris, some of this is a function of why governing is hard.  Look, Barack Obama learned this in the first two years after getting elected in 2008.

I think people like John Kasich in Ohio, and obviously, down in Florida, Rick Scott, are struggling with the fact you make promises on the campaign trail, you come in and you either have to make good on them or you have to figure out how to work—do more with less because the state budgets are just being squeezed.

With Rick Scott in particular, though—look, this is a guy who has not helped himself, Chris.  He has almost no relationship with the press.  He‘s not had a good relationship...

MATTHEWS:  I noticed that!

CILLIZZA:  ... with the Republican-controlled legislature.  You know, there are things he could have done that I think might have helped him a little bit, maybe made a concession here or there.  You mentioned taking the economic stimulus money for the railway.  I think that that would have probably helped him a little bit in these economic times.  So I think he‘s actually a combination of having to govern after running a campaign and making some poor kind of personnel, but also...

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s a bit of a...

CILLIZZA:  ... political decisions.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a—isn‘t he—but you‘re objective, but isn‘t he a bit of a knucklehead, just to think (ph)...

CILLIZZA:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... just to be...


MATTHEWS:  ... turning down federal money for railroads that they need down there?  They want to modernize that state.  Why would you—you‘d have to be a knucklehead to turn down federal money, wouldn‘t you, and have it go to all these other states?

CILLIZZA:  Well, he was elected...

MATTHEWS:  Why would you do that?

CILLIZZA:  He was elected as a reformer, Chris.  But the problem is, is, you know, you—I don‘t—if he‘s running to do one term, to do everything that he can in one term and he doesn‘t care about getting reelected, fine.  But he‘s certainly not done anything that—in the sort of political 101 of how to govern-slash-campaign you would follow...


CILLIZZA:  ... those rules.

FINEMAN:  I guarantee...

CILLIZZA:  Maybe that‘s just what he‘s doing.

FINEMAN:  I guarantee you—and I know this—in states like Mississippi and Alabama, hit by tornadoes, and now in Missouri hit by tornadoes, all the Republicans in those states want 100 percent federal money...


FINEMAN:  ... to clean up.  Like in Joplin, Missouri, Senator Blunt put out a statement today, I want 100 percent federal money...

MATTHEWS:  And no spending cut...

FINEMAN:  ... for Joplin, Missouri.

MATTHEWS:  ... offsets, either.

FINEMAN:  Yeah, no offsets, no nothing.  They don‘t want any offsets.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  These guys are such self-reliant types until something goes wrong.

Here‘s Ohio - I like this guy, obviously - a friend of mine, I guess - I haven‘t seen him in so long.  But John Kasich, he‘s just not doing well out there.  And he has got a personality.  He is a regular guy, a working-class guy that has made it -- 38 percent.

It just seems—a couple of things. 

Let me run this by you, Howard, my buddy. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me the idea of cutting government spending is always going to be a good idea, because the implication we were taught is, oh, that‘s welfare money.  That is foreign aid.  It‘s fluff.  It is waste and abuse. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  

MATTHEWS:  But then you get to look at the pie, the pie graph. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And you realize, well, it is defense.  It‘s paying off the national debt, which you legally have to do.  And it‘s Medicare, Social Security, stuff that affects you and your parents. 

And you go, wait a minute.  I don‘t want to do this. 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

And at the state level, since we are talking about what is happening in these states, they don‘t have the defense portion of it.  They don‘t have the interest on the national debt portion of it.  All that pie is stuff that people know about and can see. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s them. 

FINEMAN:  It‘s schools.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  It‘s medical care.  It‘s roads.  It‘s tangible things that they know about. 

But it doesn‘t seem to be cutting the bureaucracy in the state capitals.  What the people are seeing are that their benefits are cut, their schools are being cut, their programs are being cut.  But somehow Harrisburg or Columbus or wherever, they still seem to have a lot of people working there. 


MATTHEWS:  But even when it gets to fighting the public employees—we have championed their cause on this network. 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They are popular.  So, when it says, get rid of bureaucrats

Chris, even when they say get rid of bureaucrats in city hall, the bums

what do they call them?  The drones in city hall, we used to call them when we were growing up in Philly, the drones down there hanging around drinking coffee all day or booze or whatever. 

Now, when it comes to them, who—the public roots for those guys and women. 



MATTHEWS:  So, who do they want to cut when they come down?  What do they want to get rid of in government I guess is my question to the Tea Partiers.  What do you want to get rid of? 

CILLIZZA:  Yes.  I think they want to get—it‘s like the devil is in the details.  I have to echo Howard, Chris, and you.

Look, the idea of cutting waste, fraud and abuse sounds like a good idea.  But when you get into...


MATTHEWS:  Or welfare queens.

CILLIZZA:  Well, you can campaign—right, you can campaign on this. 

Oh, the government has all this fat.  It needs to be trimmed. 

You get in there, now all of a sudden everybody—these programs have more value.  People are worried about cutting those programs.  There is political loss to be lost in those programs. 

The other thing I would say about Ohio, Chris, look, this is a swing state, right?  John Kasich won narrowly.  He won with 50, 51 percent of the vote.  This is a swing state.  There are lots of people in the state, independents, who are just going back and forth. 

I think a lot of people, whoever is in power—we have seen this with

look at the special election in New York. 



CILLIZZA:  The Republicans are in power.  Now they don‘t like the Republicans.  In 2010, the Democrats are power.  They didn‘t like the Democrats.


FINEMAN:  For the two Chrises, the other thing that is happening here is that national economy isn‘t recovery that vigorously. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

FINEMAN:  You read about the comeback in industrial heartland.  Yes, but compared with what? 

So in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Florida and all these states, the economy just isn‘t good.  And that makes whoever is in power, including the governors, unpopular. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to a guy who is not in power, but seems to get more popular everyday. 

As you pointed out, I was chatting with him on the street corner the other day at the service for our great lost friend Sidney Harman.


MATTHEWS:  You know, I—Bill Clinton is unbelievable. 

I mean, I think the guy seems young.  He seems happy.  He seems together.  And when you chat with him, as I was lucky to do the other day, he is full of ideas and thoughts about everything. 


And he is the guy who can explain to the Democrats how they can be credible on the budget-cutting issue, while still protecting Medicare and other social programs at the same time. 

MATTHEWS:  Has he got a plan to do it? 

FINEMAN:  Well, he...


CILLIZZA:  He can go anywhere.

MATTHEWS:  Can he deal with the debt?  Can he deal with the problem of government spending, waste and fraud, the real waste and stuff, and still keep the Democratic constituency content, Chris?  Last word.  Can Bill Clinton find that route to the Indies, if you will?


CILLIZZA:  Well, he did—now, the economy was a lot better, but he found that route to the independent voters in his two reelection—you know, in his election and reelection.

And he did quite well in that—to Howard‘s point, that Industrial Midwest, where I think we‘re going to be talking about throughout—through 2012.  I think he is a good messenger there.  I think he can go there and be credible. 

And the thing that Bill Clinton has, the great gift that got him to where he is, Chris, is he can make complex things simple to people in a way that they can digest and they can say, you know what?  That makes sense.  This sacrifice makes sense. 


MATTHEWS:  I think Obama needs him next year.

CILLIZZA:  It is critically important in politics. 


CILLIZZA:  You don‘t have 20 minutes to make your case.  You have 30 seconds.  And Bill Clinton knows that and does it, I think, as well, if not better, than anyone in the Democratic Party. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I want to congratulate you, my young genius friend, Chris Cillizza, because I was saying the route to the Indies, like in Columbus, route to the Indies, and you immediately thought independent voters.  You are a smart guy.  You translated my mistake into something normal and intelligent. 


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Howard Fineman.

CILLIZZA:  I do my best. 

MATTHEWS:  And happy—if I don‘t see you, happy Memorial—I shouldn‘t say happy Memorial Day.  Have a fine Memorial Day weekend. 

And we all should remember what this weekend is about.  It is about remembering those who served our country. 

Up next: more evidence—Howard, my friend, have nice sunny weekend. 

FINEMAN:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  More evidence that the Republican Party is in the anti-science mode.  Boy, are they back into their troglodyte ways. 

How about this solution to global warming?  Cut down the forests.  I think I got the wrong textbooks on this one—that idea from Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.  Wait until you hear this one.  This is dunderhead stuff.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


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

First up, we know that rain forests are our best ally in reducing greenhouse gases.  So, here is Congressman Dana Rohrabacher asking at a congressional hearing how to destroy these rain forests—quote—“Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?”

Yes, it‘s just as ridiculous as it sounds.  Politico, by the way, checked with a climate expert, who confirmed, as if we needed that, that trees, far from being the problem, actually end up absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide. 

If you believe in the environment, you might want to let Congressman Rohrabacher know that.  By the way, rain forests are our friends.  Keep going here for our friends. 

Anyway, next up, it‘s been a bad week for the House Republican-passed budget plan to phase out Medicare, the one designed by Congressman Paul Ryan.  That budget is being blamed for the Republican upset in New York 26, that congressional district up there. 

Yesterday, five Republican senators joined in voting it down.  And to top it off, Congressman Ryan has just been given the big embrace by Darth Vader himself, Dick Cheney. 


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I worship the ground that Paul Ryan walks on. 


CHENEY:  I think he is an enormously talented individual.  I think he is trying to do the right thing and deserves the support, all the support we can provide him.  And I hope he doesn‘t run for president, because that would ruin a good man. 


CHENEY:  He‘s got a lot of work to do as the chairman of the House Budget Committee. 


MATTHEWS:  Perhaps Cheney would have been—more credibility on this issue if he wasn‘t part of an administration that nearly doubled the national debt. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Sarah Palin today edged closer to making a late bid for the Republican nomination next year.  It may help to get her poll numbers back up.

Consider this.  She needs to do it.  Last summer, Palin‘s chance of winning nomination stood at 29 percent in the money bet.  Where is it now?  Down to 8 percent. 

All this means one thing.  If she is going to run, she has got to get out there and ramp things up again, which is exactly what she is doing this weekend with Rolling Thunder. 

Palin‘s chance of GOP gold now stands at a low 8 percent—tonight‘s not “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Republicans are doubling down on their plan to kill Medicare.  All but five Senate Republicans voted for it.  When will they wake up and realize they‘re committing political suicide?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

We had stocks ending slightly higher again.  That‘s despite disappointing economic reports.  The Dow Jones industrial average added eight points.  The S&P was up by five, and the Nasdaq gained 21.

Investors were fighting some economic headwinds today, a still sluggish second-quarter reading on the GDP and a surprise jump in jobless claims.  The Commerce Department took another look at first-quarter GDP growth, the high gas prices, government budget cuts, weaker-than-expected consumer spending, and left it unchanged at 1.8 percent. 

Analysts were expecting new jobless claims to fall last week.  They didn‘t.  They rose instead by about 10,000 new claims. 

We did have some upbeat earnings today.  Data storage firm NetApp helped lift the Nasdaq with strong earnings and a robust outlook. 

And high-end retailers did well after Tiffany delivered higher sales and profits and an improved forecast. 

I‘m sure Chris Matthews will be all over that one, especially with Newt Gingrich.

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

All but five Senate Republicans, all but five of them doubled down on the House plan to kill Medicare as we know it, giving Democrats what they think is their best weapon to bludgeon the Republicans in 2012. 

U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida is chair of the Democratic National Committee.  She joins us right now.

You‘re smiling, and I think I know why. 


MATTHEWS:  You got 40 Republicans to sign on to the death march here.  Are they—I guess Republicans are more united than Democrats, but they did stick to the team there. 

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA:  Well, and on top of that, Tim Pawlenty today, one of their leading presidential candidates, actually said that if that plan, if the Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it was put on his desk as president, he committed that he would sign it into law. 

So, I mean, I think it is really—it couldn‘t be more clear that Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it and yank the safety net out from under our senior citizens, deny them affordable health care.  And Democrats want to make sure that we can sit down around the table with Republicans, work to save Medicare, make sure that we can add to—more to the long-term security of Medicare, like we did with the Affordable Care Act when we added 12 years of solvency to it. 

We can do that and more.  We just need a willing partner to sit down and compromise with us. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you have been a willing partner.  You‘re a producer of our show now, it turns out, because here is that he clip you recommend we bring up. 

Here is Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty talking to reporters...


MATTHEWS:  ... in New Hampshire.  When asked if he supported the Republican Medicare plan, here is what he said.  Let‘s listen. 


TIM PAWLENTY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We will have our own plan.  It will have many similarities to Congressman Ryan‘s plan, but it will have some differences.  And the Medicare part of our plan will have some differences, too.  It will have some similarities also. 

But if I can‘t have my own plan—as president, I will have my own plan.  If I can‘t have that and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan‘s plan, of course I would sign it. 


MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, you represent some people down there.  I was just down in Florida, by the way, in the Keys.  I love that state.


MATTHEWS:  But in your district, I guess you are a bit above Miami. 

Do you have anybody in your district, Republican, independent or Democrat, who has ever called your constituents worker, your constituents staffer, and said, I would rather not get the Medicare benefits that are coming to me at the age of 65?


MATTHEWS:  Has anybody said, I don‘t want Medicare?  I don‘t care how right-wing they are. 


In fact, the folks that have been coming to my town hall meetings lately have been very, very concerned about the potential for Medicare to be ended, that the Republicans—that is what Republicans have proposed. 

And I think it is interesting that Tim Pawlenty wasn‘t willing the other day, when he was in Florida on a swing through my state, to say what the answer to that question was on whether he would sign it.  And when he left Florida, now, suddenly, he is willing to answer it.

Why wouldn‘t he stand up in front of Florida voters and say whether he would sign it into law as president?  Because he knows that it‘s unbelievably unpopular, that Americans support Medicare, that Floridians, in the swing state that we are, are strongly supportive of Medicare and wouldn‘t want to be supportive of a presidential candidate, whether they‘re Republicans or Democrats, that would end it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what the president had to say.  He was overheard.  I don‘t think he was embarrassed by this at all, but he was overheard conversing with Paul Ryan.  This is Bill Clinton, the former president, talking with the congressman we‘re talking about, the Republican who pushed this plan to basically get rid of Medicare as we know it. 

Let‘s listen to the former president talking to the man in question, Paul Ryan. 


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   I‘m glad we won this race in New York, but I hope Democrats don‘t use it as an excuse to do nothing. 

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  My guess is, it‘s going to sink into paralysis is what‘s going to happen. 

And you know the math.  It‘s just—I mean, we knew we were putting ourselves out there.  But you got to start this.  You got to get out there.  You have got to get this thing moving.

CLINTON:  If you ever want to talk about it, give me call.

RYAN:  Yes.  Great.  Thanks.


MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s Bill Clinton in a nonpartisan mode. 

Now look at him today.  Here he is yesterday, by the way, talking about the same subject.  Let‘s listen to the president, former president. 


CLINTON:  I‘m afraid that the Democrats will draw the conclusion that, because Congressman Ryan‘s proposal, I think, is not the best one, that we shouldn‘t do anything.  And I completely disagree with that.  I think there are a lots of things you can do to bring down Medicare costs. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that opens the question.  If the Republicans do recognize that they made a mistake and are in a negotiating posture before the next election—I think McConnell is, by the way, the leader of Republicans in the Senate. 

He does not want this next‘s year election to be about their plan on Medicare.  Will you, as a leading Democrat, be open to a negotiation for the right kind of fix to our entitlement programs? 


And that‘s what President Obama suggested a few weeks ago, when he gave his speech on his vision for the 2012 budget and dealing with the debt ceiling vote, and making sure that we can focus on deficit reduction, that we have to have some bipartisan consensus on how to deal with entitlement reform. 

And I hope that the message that the Republicans got from Tuesday‘s election and from the election in Jacksonville, Florida, where we elected a Democratic mayor for the first time in more than 20 years, and the statehouse race in New Hampshire in a solidly red district that the Democrat won 58-42, all of those elections have turned on the radical proposals that—that voters are pushing back on against Republicans.

And I hope that Republicans take that message and sit down with at the table with us and work out the long-term solvency of Medicare together.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Your knowledge base has become so wide now.  You know about every race in the country, Congresswoman.  I keep thinking of you as a congresswoman.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  That‘s what I signed up for.

MATTHEWS:  You know all this stuff.

Thank you very much and have a nice weekend as we celebrate.  In fact, we honor the people that have served this country with unbelievable courage and patriotism.

Let‘s go right now to Congressman Jack Kingston, a Republican from Georgia.

Sir, you‘ve been in Congress a while now.  I‘ve always watched your career.  You‘re tough.

Is this too tough to handle, this Ryan plan?  I mean, older people vote like bandits.  Nobody doesn‘t vote after 65 and nobody turns down Medicare after 65.

REP. JACK KINGSTON ®, GEORGIA:  You know, Chris, one of the things the Democrats don‘t say and I don‘t think it‘s their job to say it, but as you know, the Ryan plan doesn‘t affect anyone over 55.  Medicare trusties have said that if Medicare is going broke in 12 years.  So, if you‘re under 55, it‘s not going to be there for you anyway.

The Republican Party is trying to look forward and move forward in doing something.  Now, I want to point out something also, the president‘s budget did not get one single vote.  While it‘s true the Ryan budget plan only got 40 votes, the president of the United States budget got zero.  And so, when Debbie, good friend she is, says we want to sit down an talk, you have to have an alternative.  They haven‘t offered anything.

So, if she and other Democrats are so concerned about seniors who are on the program now, they should do something to protect and preserve the program like offering their own alternative.  And they‘re not there at all.  And I think that‘s extremely important.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s going on?  Just take it on the point here, because I think most people, we poll them, anybody polls them wants to see deals made.  That‘s why you folks are in Congress.  Not to argue all the time.  But to reach a deal on programs that matter to people.

My question is this: isn‘t Joe Biden, vice president, isn‘t there people like Saxby Chambliss, all involved in these efforts to try to find a compromise right now?

KINGSTON:  You know, Chris, I‘m glad you brought that up, because the gang of six, now the gang of five, has been talking and meeting and talking and meeting.  And Joe Biden also is working with a working group of 14, again talking and meeting.  And in order for us to sit down with Democrats which we absolutely want to do because Medicare should not be a partisan issue.  And that‘s why Paul Ryan‘s budget doesn‘t affect anybody 55 or older.  He is trying to protect and preserve it for future generation.  But we need to have an alternative that the Democrats offered.  And so far, they‘re not doing anything.

And I think the Democrats should listen to what President Clinton said.  Don‘t misread the election in New York as a reason not to do anything on Medicare.  That would be negligent.

And the other thing Democrats need to keep in mind is you had a third party Tea Party candidate, Democrat himself but he ran under a Tea Party, who spent $3 million of his own money and siphoned off 9 percent of the conservative vote which would have tipped the election in the other direction.

So, I don‘t the Democrats truly believe the New York race was a mandate on the Ryan Medicare proposal.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re getting 47 percent for a D in that district.  It‘s still pretty good.

Let me ask you about the Ryan plan.  What bugs me about the Ryan plan is—you know, when you are 65, you can take care of yourself in most cases.  Some people have bigger health problems.  Some can.

By the time you are 75, it‘s pretty precarious.  By the time you‘re in your late 70s, early 80s, your health costs are a big part of your life, meeting them.  Then the Republicans come along with the Ryan plan and say we‘re going to give basically this voucher.  It‘s not going to cover all your premium because you‘ll probably have to pay a little more.

How do you tell a person we will give you some money to take care of your health but we‘re not really going to take care of your health, you‘re going to have to meet your end of it?


MATTHEWS:  That gets pretty hard to do when you don‘t—most people have about $14,000 in income when they get older, about $14,000 is what they‘re living.  They have a house if they are lucky.  How do they pay health care out of that, out of $14,000 a year?

KINGSTON:  Well, Chris, remember, there is a sliding scale that it‘s a heavier subsidy if you‘re lower income.  I think that is the right thing to do, that it is sort of a means test on Medicare which Democrats bring up.


KINGSTON:  And, remember, there was a 1999 proposal of Democrat Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Senator John Breaux, Democrat from Louisiana, endorsed by two of the Clinton era Medicare trustee.  So, this isn‘t some radical think tank from the Heritage Society.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

KINGSTON:  And that‘s what is so frustrating in this town, is you know what, Chris, I said it many times—this is like skinny dipping.  Somebody has to be the first one in the pool and it is real lonely when you‘re the only one in the pool.  Paul Ryan is in the pool.  We want the rest of the town to come along.  You know, put a proposal on the table.

The president‘s “Mulligan” budget which Debbie just alluded to, you know there were no proposal in there.  It was total rhetoric.  There was nothing to it.

MATTHEWS:  All right.

KING:  If the president lays down a plan, absolutely, we will negotiate.  That‘s what we want to do.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re the best arguer for this situation I‘ve seen.  And by the way, it‘s got to be a deal.

I appreciate that.  Have a fine weekend, Congressman.  Thank you so much for coming on HARDBALL.

KINGSTON:  Well, thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, the Tea Party wants to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican nomination.  This is serious business.  There‘s a stop Romney movement already.  How far can they go with this?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Well, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, we call him B-Rod here, testified today in his own defense.  He took the witness stand in his retrial telling jurors, quote, “I used to be your governor and I‘m here to tell the truth.”

B-Rod is facing 20 federal corruption charges, including allegations he tried to sell President Obama‘s vacated Senate seat for personal gain.

Last year, in his first trial, B-Rod didn‘t testify and the jury deadlocked on most of the charges.

We‘ll be right back.  I‘m fascinated by this case.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, Tea Party power in 2012 could make or break the Republican candidate for president.  That‘s why this headline about one of the most influential Tea Party groups is so significant.  Quote, “FreedomWorks Goal:

Stop Mitt Romney in 2012.”

Well, Romney has got the looks, as everybody says, and money, as everybody says, and experience, I guess.  So, what is it that Tea Partiers don‘t like about this fellow?  Romney,  who‘s leading all the polls.

Matt Kibbe is president of FreedomWorks.

Matt, thank you so much for coming on, from Pittston, Pennsylvania, up near the Wilkes-Barre area.  I‘m going to give you some time to make your case.  We have a little bit of a delay here, so speak out.

What‘s wrong with the Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney?

MATT KIBBE, FREEDOMWORKS:  Well, I‘ve been traveling all week through Pennsylvania talking to Tea Party leaders.  And time and time again, what I hear from them is they can‘t get past Romneycare.  They can‘t get past the idea that a Republican candidate for president would support an individual mandate where the government forces every American to buy a mandated insurance package, regardless of whether or not they want it, need it or can afford it.  That‘s just not the proper role of government.

And Mitt Romney, more than anybody else, has been unwilling to walk away from what has been a failed experiment in Massachusetts.  They can‘t get past that.

And it‘s an anathema to the basic Tea Party values.  We fought Obamacare.  We fought against that government would intrude so deeply into the most personal aspect of our lives, and we‘re looking for something better out of a presidential candidate.

But isn‘t it true, just to make the case against you, while you‘re here, Matt, that a lot of Republicans over the years have supported this individual mandate concept, that the government or, rather, the hospitals shouldn‘t have to have people come to the E.R, pay for all their treatment and then get stuck without the check, that somebody ought to say, look, you got to pay your way in this world.  I mean, people like Grassley and Orrin Hatch over the years, and, of course, Mitt Romney, when he‘s talking of running for Senate against Ted Kennedy, he was for a national requirement like this.

Is it your position as a Tea Party that it‘s up to the hospital to pay the medical costs of somebody who shows, that the people don‘t have to pay into health care insurance to pay your own way?  That‘s your position?

KIBBE:  No, of course—no, of course not.  Our position is that we want individuals to have more control over their own health care.  I‘d love to get third parties out of the system, whether it be insurance companies or the government, and the key to that is to fixing the tax code and letting individuals control those decisions they make with their doctors.

The last thing we want is a gray-suited bureaucrat in the basement of HHS dictating what services we can or cannot get.  That‘s just—frankly, that‘s not American.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s look at this.  FreedomWorks‘ grassroots liaison said, quote, “I don‘t think I‘ve met any groups or any groups or any local activists that like him, that‘s Romney, or want him to be president.  They just don‘t believe he‘s authentic.  That‘s the biggest problem in addition to the heath care thing.”

So, let‘s talk about authenticity.  I keep hearing things from inside the Republican Party, people, like, Huckabee, or everybody in my business seems to respect a lot, who said that the man has no soul.  You hear things like John McCain refused to put him on the ticket last time and chose somebody, a newbie like Sarah Palin, rather than pick Romney.

What is the personal problem you have with this guy?  It seems like there‘s a character problem, something more than just a position he took on health care.

KIBBE:  Oh, I don‘t have a personal problem with him.  I actually think he‘s a pretty nice guy.  I think he‘s a successful businessman, but we are looking for authenticity.  We‘re looking for—

MATTHEWS:  Is he a man of belief?  Does he have conservative basic gut instincts?

KIBBE:  Well, I think that‘s the concern that Tea Partiers have. 

They‘re not sure he believes what he says.

And what we‘re trying to do in this process is see when candidates can actually do more than talk the talk.  Do they believe it?  Do they seem to be speaking from their hearts on the issues the Tea Parties care about?

And there‘s a lot of candidates in this field, and I don‘t think we have to settle necessarily for has-beens from the old Republican establishment.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  You‘ve got Pawlenty.  You‘ve got Huntsman and you‘ve got Mitt Romney.  Does any of them light up your charts in terms of Tea Party enthusiasm?

KIBBE:  You know, I really like what Tim Pawlenty has been doing this last week, particularly going to Ohio, and challenging a sacred cow like ethanol in Iowa.  That‘s contrary to traditional Republican and Democratic politics.


KIBBE:  But I think what Tea Partiers are looking for is someone who‘s willing to be bold, willing to be different, willing to take on the establishment a bit.

MATTHEWS:  Gotcha.

KIBBE:  You know, we‘ll grade folks on a curve.

MATTHEWS:  I hear you.  I hear you.  Thanks so much.  You‘re looking at Pawlenty as a better example of somebody who‘s going to talk to your issues.  Thank you.

When we return—thank you, Matt Kibbe, as always, from FreedomWorks.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with why Sarah Palin may end up stronger in defeat than in victory.  She may run just to run, she may run to make a point, even if she doesn‘t end up winning this thing.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with rolling thunder.  There‘s a certain outlaw quality to Sarah Palin, just as there is to these bikers who converge on Washington this weekend.  Think easy rider on the right.  They come out of the Vietnam War experience, these men.  They came back to America in the early ‘70s and became a different version of the antiestablishment left that opposed the war that they fought.

Well, this Sunday, Sarah joins the bikers of rolling thunder to produce some powerful Memorial Day pictures for the country.  It‘s a statement.  Let‘s not kid ourselves, of what she could offer to the country starting after Labor Day.

Sarah Palin is about the stake out a barricade situation politically.  She isn‘t out to win the presidency, but to lead a rebellion.  Losing will only build her strength.  It‘s not the country she wants to lead, it‘s the cause.  He cohorts don‘t expect her to even want to run the government.  They want someone out there leading the fight against it.

The key to witness here is not the words she will speak in this quest but the anger she will show, what Romney, and Pawlenty and Huntsman have—government experience, the ability to move and deal in the establishment—is not what the Tea Party people want.  What the Tea Partiers want is what Sarah Palin has, the passion of the dispossessed.  They want somebody to stand up on the national stage and bellow at the government, to champion their anger and keep it hot, and getting hotter.

If Palin roars into this campaign with rolling thunder, expect that the rest of the Republican season will be a battle to keep up with her.  I hear Huntsman will steer the Republican middle.  Don‘t expect Romney or Pawlenty to let her be seen as the true conservative against them.  They will move to keep up with her because they want what she has, the backing of the Tea Party.  The backing they want the second either one beats her.

So, watching her catch up with the rolling thunder, the matchup with the thunder this Sunday, remember it‘s not about the words, it‘s about the outlaw attitude.  It‘s about the bikes and the roar they make.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.



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