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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Michael Steele, Hampton Pearson, Joan Walsh, David Axelrod, Joe Klein, Robert Walker, Steven Hill

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The empire strikes back.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Mitt hits the panic button. When a candidate refers to his opponent as
zany, you know he`s in trouble. And that`s just what Mitt Romney did
today, telling "The New York Times" "zany" is fine for a campaign but not
for a president. Are you listening, Newt? He`s talking about you.

Mitt is also calling in Christine O`Donnell. Remember her, the losing
Delaware Senate candidate who famously denied being a witch? Is he
bringing her in because he believes that denial or because at this point,
his campaign needs a little dark magic?

Plus, do Republican primary voters hate President Obama so much that
they`re willing to lose a general election just to see Newt take Obama on
in the debates? We`ll talk to a Republican ally of Newt`s.

Also, if a long and drawn-out primary race was so good for Democrats
in 2008, why does David Axelrod now say it will be so bad for Republicans
this time around? He`s got to get that story straight, and we`ll ask him
about it when he comes on.

And remember this moment from one of the Republican debates?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is, under one of your presidencies, do
you intend to circumvent the progress that`s been made for gay and lesbian
soldiers in the military?



MATTHEWS: Well, you heard that booing. That was gay Army captain --
a gay Army captain who was booed, as you just heard it. His name is Steve
Hill (ph), and he`ll play HARDBALL with us tonight.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with a frightening thought for everyone
watching, especially those conservatives out there -- a bomb-thrower like
Newt Gingrich with his fingers on real, live nuclear bombs.

We start with panic in the Romney campaign. Michael Steele was
chairman of the Republican National Committee, and he`s now an MSNBC
political analyst, and Joan Walsh is the editor-at-large at

Let`s all look at what happened today, late today. It`s the breaking
story right now, Mitt Romney speaking before "The New York Times" board,
editorial board. He`s making the contrast here between him and Newt
Gingrich clear as he can in this excerpt from the "New York Times"
interview he just gave. Let`s listen.


what we need in a president. Zany is great in a campaign. It`s great on
talk radio. It`s great in the -- in the print. It makes for fun reading.
But in terms of a president, we need a leader. A leader needs to be
someone of sobriety and stability and -- and patience and temperance to
think through issues, to be careful in the choice of words he or she might
express because the world listens.


MATTHEWS: Pretty strong stuff to call your opponent zany, Michael.

and it`s a little out in left field. And I don`t think it really gets
where Mitt wants it to go. I think it probably will wind up offending a
lot of supporters out there for -- you know, for, obviously, Gingrich, but
also of his own who want a race -- yes, a competitive race, but when you
get to the name-calling, you`re right, I think it shows some desperation.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe he means what he says?

STEELE: Oh, I...

MATTHEWS: Does he believe he`s zany, his opponent?

STEELE: I believe -- yes, he -- yes, otherwise he wouldn`t say it.
And if you`re saying you don`t believe it, then that goes to...

MATTHEWS: OK, well, let`s go to...

STEELE: ... the crux of the problem people have with you.


MATTHEWS: ... he`s using. He`s saying he lacks the sobriety, the
stability, the patience and the temperance -- he means temperament.

STEELE: Yes, temperaments. And I just disagree with that. I think
that a lot of the candidates in this race have shown themselves to be sober
in their approach to these issues. Yes, there have been moments where
folks have said things that have been a little bit out in left field, but
the reality of it is, when you paint with such a broad brush and you`re
describing, you know, yourself in such a way -- like he described Barack
Obama, effectively. He`s been sober, and some people complained about that
in terms of...



MATTHEWS: Let`s get to the heart (INAUDIBLE) go to Joan. Joan,
listen up here. I`m trying to get Michael Steele, our brilliant Republican
analyst, to really get this clear.


MATTHEWS: Here are the two guys -- it`s really narrowed to them.
You`ve got Ron Paul out there as a third option, of course, but it`s really
these two front-runners. And here`s one calling the other front-runner
lacking -- saying he`s zany, which is a cartoon character`s reference


MATTHEWS: He doesn`t have the sobriety, the stability, the
temperament. That`s a serious charge because it gets to who do you trust
with -- well, I`m going to bring it up later -- nuclear weapons?

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Who do you want there on a bad day, a bad hair day, and the
guy is yelling crazy things he`s been saying. He`s saying, Oh, give him
all the nuclear weapons in the universe here.

STEELE: And I don`t think -- but I don`t think...

WALSH: Well...

STEELE: Go ahead.

MATTHEWS: No, Joan, you jump in because I think this is a staggering
charge against an opponent. It`s not like saying we disagree what the
upper tax rate ought to be or how much to regulate in the environmental

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: This is saying the other person lacks the essential quality
to be president, which is temperament.

WALSH: Well, two things...

MATTHEWS: Can he or she make the wise judgments under pressure?

WALSH: First of all, I`m less shocked by (ph) you guys by the word.
I had a different reaction. I thought it was a silly word. It just shows
Mitt is sort of stuck in the `50s. Zany -- what does that mean? It`s so
inadequate for what he`s saying.

Now, when he spells it out and we know what he`s saying, it`s a
debilitating, it`s a devastating insult. But the way he phrases it, it`s
just so, Golly, gee whiz, he`s kind of a zany guy. Mitt -- he`s tone deaf
in a certain way. So there`s that.

But then, you know, Chris and Michael, there`s a bigger problem for
Michael`s party, and that is these guys cannot hit one another on the
issues because they have each flipped and flopped so many times...


WALSH: ... on the core issues that there`s nothing for them to really
have a substantive argument of integrity about. They both want to shovel
more money to the rich. They both used to support the individual mandate
and now they don`t. And they`ve moved...


WALSH: ... so far away from a kind of responsible Republican Party
that has solutions -- I may disagree, but is putting out solutions to our
problems. So they`re going to hit each other and insult each other...


WALSH: ... and do the same with President Obama.

MATTHEWS: The thing is, though...

WALSH: And that`s what is so sad.

MATTHEWS: ... Joan, once you believe someone is zany, it doesn`t
really matter what they care about specifically.

STEELE: Specifically, right!

MATTHEWS: You don`t want them in the White House!


MATTHEWS: Let`s go right now -- I think un-zany should be the first
requirement of a president. Let`s take a look here. Here`s the Romney
campaign hitting Gingrich here again with a Web ad called "Newt and Nancy."
Now, pay attention to the words in the final shot. Here`s part of it.


NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: We do agree our country
must take action to address climate change. If enough of us demand action
from our leaders...



MATTHEWS: Well, Michael, that`s pretty devastating. That`s sort of
jungle music.


MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) for the bongo. It`s not bongo, it`s...


MATTHEWS: ... vibraphones or something.

STEELE: Yes, that kind of, you know, sort of, you know...

MATTHEWS: Well, Lionel Hampton always was a Republican.

STEELE: ... new age, new age...


MATTHEWS: ... in the old days, but anyway...

WALSH: It`s eerie.

STEELE: Look, again, I get why you want to show that and you want to
try to paint Newt as, you know, sort of collaborating with the enemy,

MATTHEWS: It`s third world stuff.

STEELE: It`s third world stuff.

MATTHEWS: It`s wild. He`s out there...

STEELE: Right...


STEELE: But I think -- I think what Newt shows in that commercial is
something that leadership has not shown in Washington, and that is a
willingness to sit down and talk about the issues. And I think that that
actually is not as much a negative as people would like it to be.

Look, the bottom line right now, Chris, is that Mitt`s problem is not
Newt Gingrich, it`s Mitt Romney. And the problem he has is he can`t break
that 20, 25 percent ceiling that he`s got, and he`s got to figure out a way
to do it, and I don`t think he does it by...

MATTHEWS: Well, Joan...

STEELE: ... climbing up his back...

MATTHEWS: ... this seems to be his way...

STEELE: ... or anybody else`s.

MATTHEWS: It may not be his way three days from now, but going into
this weekend -- and we`re only a weekend or so away from Iowa. Here`s Mitt

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: These are the -- as Woody Allen would say, the key words
here are Gingrich is unreliable. That`s the new word here, "unreliable."
That`s the theme of this "Washington Post" interview, by the way, saying of
Newt, quote, "Gingrich has been an extraordinarily unreliable leader in the
conservative world not 16 or 17 years ago, but in the last two or three
years. And even during the campaign, the number of times he has moved from
one spot to another has been remarkable." And this is Mitt Romney talking.
"I think he`s shown a level of unreliability as a conservative leader

So it`s "unreliable leader" is the new catchphrase. I think he`s
latched onto what he thinks will get him above 23...

STEELE: It`s not believable.

MATTHEWS: ... by bringing the other guy down from his potential 75,
where Newt`s headed.

STEELE: But it`s not believable.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Joan.

WALSH: Well, right, it`s not...

MATTHEWS: Unreliable leader.

WALSH: ... believable -- it`s not believable because it`s -- because
it could be leveled back at him, and that`s the dangerous thing. I mean,
Mitt has done a couple of things like this. Last week, he hit him for his
religion, and Mitt Romney is already in trouble -- not for good reasons,
it`s not fair -- but he`s already in trouble on religious grounds. So to
be coming at Newt for his conversion, something that I think people really
think is kind of below the belt. Even I think it`s below the belt, and I
don`t think that there`s much below the belt when you`re talking about Newt

I just want to respond to something Michael said, though, because I`d
like to agree with Michael on the issue of compromise is a good thing.
Newt Gingrich himself said sitting down for that ad with Nancy Pelosi was
one of the stupidest things he ever did in his life. So he has backed

It`s not that he`s taken these brave positions and he`s gone where no
Republican will go before. He goes there, and then he flip-flops and he
apologizes, and it`s like the Paul Ryan plan, and tells you, Don`t use what
I said before because you`ll be lying if you do.

So he has -- Mitt is right about this critique.


WALSH: It is fair. But coming from Mitt Romney, it makes no sense
because he can be accused of the exact same things.

MATTHEWS: OK. And here`s another vulnerability of Mitt Romney as
governor. Here he was back in 1994, however, running in that Massachusetts
Senate race, a gutsy race on his part against Ted Kennedy. Mitt Romney in
that case criticized Newt Gingrich`s "Contract with America." Let`s


ROMNEY: In my view, it is not a good idea to go into a contract, like
what was organized by the Republican Party in Washington, laying out a
whole series of things which the party said, These are the things we`re
going to do. I think that`s a mistake.


MATTHEWS: Well, now here`s the flop. In an interview with "The
Washington Post," Romney changes his tune on that when he says, quote, "I
applaud the fact that Gingrich was wise in crafting the `Contract with
America.` I didn`t think it was a very good political step. He was right.
I was wrong."

This man is so nimble, Michael, you`re right. He can`t attack the
other side for flip-flopping.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: This guy is, like, doing jumping jacks!

STEELE: So was Newt reliably conservative then and he`s not now? I
mean, look, this is the problem. The base gets this whole thing, believe
it or not. They have decided who they like, who they want their stalking
horse on the president to be, and it`s going to -- the only way it`s not
Newt Gingrich is if Newt Gingrich undoes (ph) himself.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, here he is -- by the way, speaking of that zany
comment, here`s -- here`s Christine O`Donnell. She`s back. She`s, of
course, the failed Senate candidate from Delaware.

WALSH: Zany!

MATTHEWS: Check out her endorsement. I love the fact she`s endorsing
Mitt Romney. Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So tell us who gets your endorsement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people say that Mitt Romney isn`t the most
consistent candidate because he`s changed his mind about big, important
issues over the years.

O`DONNELL: You know, that`s one of the things that I like about him
because he`s been consistent since he changed his mind.



MATTHEWS: Well, I can`t beat her, but by the way, I just wanted to
bring in Christine O`Donnell whose most famous line -- I`ve got a few of
them myself, I have to admit. But her most famous line is, "I`m not a
witch." And to bring her in the -- is it witchcraft? What possible
advantage does she bring, if she has no dark powers?

STEELE: I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: It`s not intellectual powers.

STEELE: I like Christine a lot, but...

MATTHEWS: Of course. Who wouldn`t like her? That`s not the issue.

STEELE: That`s not issue. That line...

MATTHEWS: What power does she bring in?

STEELE: That says it all, Chris. I don`t know what power she brings


MATTHEWS: What does she bring to the campaign except a very sad,
unfortunate memory for her, which is that she was forced to deny her fact
that she was a witch, which is an absurd thing to say, one way or the
other. Go ahead.

WALSH: And sad for the party. And sad for the party.


WALSH: She actually lost Michael`s party a Senate seat, a very -- you
know, a very winnable Senate seat. So it`s not -- it`s not just kind of a
flub on the campaign trail, it was kind of a disaster for the Republican

And again, what -- who`s advising Romney? I mean, it`s been said that
maybe this had something to do with Sarah Palin saying nice things about
Mitt. And my God, I never thought I`d say something nice about Sarah
Palin, but Christine O`Donnell is no Sarah Palin. She doesn`t have the
gravitas, dare I say it. She doesn`t have the following. She doesn`t have
the clout. So this is -- she`s a punch line. She`s a joke from 2010.


WALSH: To bring her in as...

STEELE: But I think that...

MATTHEWS: By the way, Mitt is -- Mitt is on the down side -- as you
point out, he`s on the down side of this race (INAUDIBLE) and clearly, Newt
Gingrich has the bit in his mouth. He`s going for it.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Now, here`s the question. Do you think his brilliant move
the other day of firing a staff member for what they said before joining
his staff -- Mitt Romney -- I mean, I`m sorry, Newt Gingrich did this --
for making what looked to be an anti-Mormon comment, although the person
was just simply saying...


MATTHEWS: ... he thinks it`s going to hurt Romney, that issue.
Brilliantly, he underlines the issue, makes himself the good guy and hurts
Mitt Romney...


STEELE: I think -- again, you know, to do that says that Newt
understands the dynamic he`s in right now, number one. I think...

MATTHEWS: He`s ahead.

STEELE: He`s ahead, and he`s -- you know, everybody`s sitting there,
waiting for him to fumble the ball, you know? They can play the prevent
defense all day long, but it`s not going to work here, I don`t believe. I
think Mitt and Newt have their targets sighted, and Newt right now is in...

MATTHEWS: Explain, as a good jock, the prevent defense because I use
that phrase a lot.

STEELE: The prevent defense is when you`re sitting on a lead and you
think you`ve got the game in hand and you`re going to play this defense
where you`re going to give the guy who is trying to work his way down the
field as much latitude to do that, keep everything in front of you, don`t
let anything get behind you. And guess what happens?


MATTHEWS: Well, you win. Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele,
explaining the prevent defense, which is exactly the current strategy of
Newt Gingrich.

Coming up -- thank you, Joan. We`re learning these things with (ph)
great definition.

Coming up: The Obama campaign thinks -- well, it seems to think a
long, drawn-out fight between Mitt and Newt is a bad thing for Republicans.
But don`t I remember people like David Axelrod saying four years ago saying
that the long fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton turned out to
be a very good thing for the Democrats? Can both be true? The Obama
campaign senior strategist David Axelrod joins us to untangle what looks to
be a contradiction.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Nate Silver of "The New York Times`s" 538 blog is out there
with his forecast for the Iowa caucuses. Silver built statistical models
based on state polling. And he says Newt Gingrich is just under a 50/50
chance to win Iowa. Newt comes in at 49.6. Well, that`s a close one,
50/50 for Newt.

Next, according to Silver, is Ron Paul, with a 28 percent chance of
winning in Iowa. Mitt Romney has a much smaller chance of victory, Silver
says, just under 10 percent. Well, I guess he better not (ph) try for it
anyway. Rick Perry`s at 5, Bachmann`s at 4.

So Newt has a big lead right now, but he`s still 50/50, and according
to Silver, statistically, the race is still wide open. He can win it or he
can lose it, but you got to be betting right now on Newt, according to Nate

We`ll be right back.



STEVE KROFT, "60 MINUTES": You`re being judged now on your

judged against the ideal. And you know, Joe Biden has a good expression.
He says, Don`t judge me against the almighty, judge me against the


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. While Newt Gingrich and Mitt
Romney are duking it out, it`s fair to say, on the Republican side -- looks
like one guy`s getting duked and the other guy`s winning -- President
Obama`s team in Chicago is preparing strategies to run against either

Back in -- actually, back in 2008, Barack Obama actually benefited
from a long and drawn-out primary season against Hillary Clinton, but will
a similar scenario on the Republican side hurt Newt or Romney, depending
who wins the nomination?

David Axelrod is the much beloved senior strategist for the Obama
campaign. He`s out there in Chicago. You`re looking grim. This is a --
this is called friendly territory, compared to other territories, Mr.
Axelrod. So let me ask you and give you a chance to talk about one big

Many people, myself included, liked Barack Obama not just because we
were thrilled by his love of this country and what he said about our
country in his very being but also in his words, he was against that damned
Iraq war, and now he`s bringing it to a conclusion.

Is this going to be a big part of the fight next year against a
candidate -- well, it`s either going to be Newt or Mitt, both of whom were
hawks on Iraq, both would have loved to have started that war -- is the
issue of that war going to be a campaign issue again next year?

true that the president ran on a very solemn pledge to bring that war to an
end, as you know. It was an integral part of his campaign. And today, as
you -- as you`ve reported, he`s seen that through and the troops are -- are
home as of this month. So it is a big deal in terms of following through.

He also said that he was going to redirect his attention at al Qaeda,
the people who actually attacked us, in Afghanistan and along the border
there in Pakistan.

MATTHEWS: That`s right.

AXELROD: And now Osama bin Laden`s been brought to justice. Most of
the leadership of al Qaeda`s been destroyed. So he made -- he made
commitments to the American people. He`s kept those commitments. I think
that is going to be important, particularly against candidates who are so
unsteady and uncertain about where they are from day to day.

MATTHEWS: OK. So he`s done some great things. He`s put points on
the board, as we say, in sports. He`s achieved historic health care
reform. It has to be implemented.

But it one of those things. Like, Ronald Reagan said he was going to
do something and he did it. This president said, I`m going to do health
care. Historically, he did what Harry Truman, FDR, Jack Kennedy, and
Lyndon Johnson all tried to do. He did it. He also ended the Iraq war.


MATTHEWS: He also caught probably the worst fiend in American
history, Osama bin Laden. So he`s done specific things.

As you go into next year`s election, do you expect the president will
lay out some mission goals with the same kind of specificity for a second
term, where we can judge him? In other words, will he say, I did health
care in this first term, I`m going to do something else that I will point
to in the second term?

Will there be that kind of scoreboard setup as there was last time?

AXELROD: Yes, there will be, Chris.

Let me just say before we move on to that on health care, just today,
there was a new report out that shows that 2.5 million young people between
19 and 25 have health insurance now who wouldn`t have had health insurance
because of the -- because of the health care reform, the Affordable Care

So it`s just one more indication of -- of the impact of that law, the
positive impact of that law as it`s begun to be implemented. So that`s
going to be important for -- certainly for those kids and those families,
but for the country as well.

Look, you know, I think this president`s done some enormously positive
things. You named some of them. Saving the American auto industry is
another, ending don`t ask, don`t tell. I mean, there`s a whole range of
things we can talk about.

MATTHEWS: That`s true.

AXELROD: But the fundamental issue that drove him in 2008, it`s what
drove him in 2004, frankly, it`s what drove him way back to when he was
working in the shadow of closed steel mills, is how we get the economy
working in such a way that people can feel like if they work hard they can
get ahead, that hard work will be rewarded, responsibility will be
rewarded, everybody will play by the same rules.

That`s what the American people are hungering for, so we need not just
to recover from this recession, but we need to restore the economic
security that so many Americans have lost and build an economy in which
people can get ahead again. And there are things that we have to do to do
that, and the president addressed some of that last week in Kansas relative
to education, relative to research and development, innovation, relative to
rebuilding the physical plants of our country.

He will have more specifics in the State of the Union about that, and
I think we will have a big debate about that in 2012, because, as you know,
the Republican prescription is pretty much to go back to doing as business
as usual...

MATTHEWS: I agree. Look...

AXELROD: ... roll back the rules on Wall Street, cut taxes at the
top. I think it`s a great and important contrast. We ought to have a big
debate about this.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think it`s -- what I liked about the Kansas speech
-- and I thought it was fine because it got to a lot of attitudes most
Americans have.

Most Americans like people getting paid for what they work. If you
get really hard and you`re a good, skilled worker at a factory or whatever,
you ought to get a good wage for it.


MATTHEWS: If you`re an entrepreneur and you really create something,
like Steve Jobs, that was wasn`t there, or Steve Spielberg, somebody --
something that wasn`t there before, and you make it -- Lee Iacocca --
people love doers.

They don`t particularly like people who make money off money. Fair
enough. But how do you reinforce that...


MATTHEWS: ... so kids don`t all go to law school and all become high
bankers and everything, that kids start to go to those engineering schools
where they actually make things?

The president talks about that affirmatively, but how does he as
president create a society that really rewards making things and doing
things, not just coming out on top financially?" How does he change that,
as president, really, really?

AXELROD: Well, I think you can change that by really emphasizing
education in a way we haven`t.

MATTHEWS: But engineering?

AXELROD: You can change it by working with business, business and --
well, certainly we need to create more engineers. We have got -- we`re
graduating one engineer for every four openings, and so you have got a lot
of good jobs that are going wanting because we`re not preparing kids and
people are coming in from other places to take them.


AXELROD: So, yes, there are things that we can do there. We also
need to create high-end jobs, and that`s where research and development --
you know, you mentioned Steve Jobs, but -- and an incomparable genius and
America and the world has benefited from his genius, but the fact is that
it was government investments in research and development that led to the
Internet, that laid the groundwork for things like Google and GPS.

And he wants to double down on that and really keep America on that
cutting edge so we create those high-end jobs and then train people to fill
them. The Republicans have no such strategy. They want to withdraw from
that fight. They essentially want to run up the white flag and let all
those jobs go elsewhere.

And we can`t afford to do that in the 21st century.

MATTHEWS: You know, in the last campaign President Obama, thanks to
your good offices, was able to come to a college campus, a really good one,
West Chester University in Pennsylvania. We had him for the whole hour
talking to students.

AXELROD: I remember.

MATTHEWS: Do you think you could commit here and now to him doing
that again fairly soon as part of his reelection effort?


MATTHEWS: Because we`d like to bring him to the students to talk
about these values in creating jobs and being entrepreneurial and not just
going into the iBank kind of world.

Do you want to do that right here and now?

AXELROD: Chris, I`m having this incredible sense of deja vu. I feel
like I had this same discussion with you about this time four years ago.

MATTHEWS: Successfully.

AXELROD: And I think that -- and, yes. And I think that it was a
good experience for him. I would love to see us have that opportunity

I can`t commit to you now. I don`t have the authority to commit to
you now.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, I know you will try.

AXELROD: But I commit to you that I will make the case. I will make
the case for you.


MATTHEWS: Every university in this country is hoping that it will be
them, so we have a great opportunity to choose, thanks to you, where to go
with the president. If he`s ready, many schools will be ready to receive

David Axelrod, good luck in the campaign. I mean that. Thank you,

AXELROD: All right. Thank you. Thank you. Good to be with you.

MATTHEWS: Joe Klein covers politics for "TIME" magazine. And he`s
one of the great reporters in the country right now.

And I`m always fascinated by his thinking. Look at the polling right
now and look at this thing. I understand through the grapevine you don`t
think Newt has this baby locked right now. Even our polling is showing
that he has got -- Newt has got problems in the general, but we look at our
polling at The Wall Street Journal and NBC. He looks really good in this
fight for the nomination.

You`re not sure he`s got it.


I mean, we have reached the stage in this campaign that I really love,
because every day you have a week`s worth of events happening, and today
you -- you`re beginning to feel a little bit of a Ron Paul boomlet.


KLEIN: You had that one outlier poll yesterday that had Paul one
point back of Gingrich. You have the Romney attacks, the zany stuff, and
so on now.

And also in the Gallup tracking polls over the last week, Newt`s been,
you know, sinking a little bit. If -- if he`s not increasing, you know,
the fever may be abating just a little bit at this point. It`s not that
Romney is coming on, but I think that we`re getting to real crazy time in
Iowa, where you`re going to have some of the secondary candidates moving

I mean, you have got Rick Perry starting a road trip for 10 days of
intensive, intensive, you know, campaigning, the kind of stuff that
politicians used to do.

MATTHEWS: Well, I guest we disagree. I think -- I think Newt`s got
the horse under control here. I look at -- let me ask you about Bill
Clinton, the most fascinating and most popular politician in the country,
Bill Clinton.

Will he come in and play attack dog? I don`t mean dog negatively.
Will he go in and take on -- we know he will say nice things about the
president that. That won`t have as much impact. Is he willing to come out
there and do the tough job of pointing out the now -- called now zany
candidacy of Newt Gingrich? Will he get tough like that, the way Mitt is
getting tough on the front-runner now?

KLEIN: Well, Bill Clinton isn`t as reliable as he used to be and he
certainly isn`t that reliable as far as Barack Obama is concerned.

I would much prefer if I`m the president to have Clinton focusing on
the Republicans and on their policies than praising him, because he knows
something might leak out, you know, that -- that, you know, reminds us of
2008 a little bit.


KLEIN: But, you know, Clinton -- Clinton is an excellent and really
important tool when it comes to making economic arguments. If he could
keep it at that and do some of the border states, like Virginia and North
Carolina, where the president is now leading the Republicans, if -- those
are the areas where Clinton can be very effective.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he`s more effective going after Republicans
for the very reason that people doubt his love affair with Barack Obama?
They doubt that it`s a fully requited love between these two, but they are
willing to believe him when he pounces on the Republicans?


KLEIN: Yes, especially if he makes those -- you know the times when
he`s leaning over the lectern with those big paws and he starts talking
down-home, and makes those -- makes very complicated arguments in simple
ways on the economy?


KLEIN: That`s when he`s at his best. You know, he might stray off
the reservation a little bit in -- when it comes to talking about the

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the president right now. Do you have
a sense that that he really wants to run against Mitt Romney still and
really -- I`m sorry.


MATTHEWS: He wants to run against Newt; he still wants to run against

KLEIN: Yes, I think he does.

And, you know, the point that you were raising before about whether a
long Republican campaign is a really interesting one, because those of us
who are covering this crazy primary race are kind of like locked on to one
of Newt`s moon colonies. We`re in this hermetically sealed world where all
of a sudden people can talk about privatizing Social Security as if it
isn`t the most ridiculously controversial idea out there.


KLEIN: And the longer that the Republicans hold center stage, the
more those ideas may become acceptable in the mainstream, so I...

MATTHEWS: Wow. I love it.

KLEIN: ... I think that there is some danger to a really long
Republican campaign.

MATTHEWS: In other words, the more they talk in their world, the more
dangerous it gets to the outside world.

KLEIN: Right.


MATTHEWS: Thank you.

KLEIN: Newt is talking about, you know, going to war -- regime change
in Iran. This is nuttiness.


MATTHEWS: Well, zany, that`s the new word.


MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Joe Klein.


MATTHEWS: We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

During the 11:00 a.m. hour on MSNBC today, we reported on a blog item
that compared a phrase used by the Romney campaign to one used by the KKK
way back in the 1920s. It was irresponsible and incendiary of us to do
this, and it showed an appalling lack of judgment.

We apologize, we really do, to the Romney campaign.


CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow Jones industrials drop 131 points, the S&P 500 losing 14, the
Nasdaq down 40. Concerns over European debt sent stocks down for a third
straight day, leaving the Dow down 3 percent this week, investors again
fleeing stocks for the relative safety of treasuries and the dollar.

Commodities were slammed. Gold slid 5 percent to $1,584 an ounce,
trading below its 200-day moving average for the first time in two years,
oil prices also down 5 percent. Sliding commodity prices weighed on the
energy sector. ExxonMobil off 1 percent. Schlumberger off nearly 5
percent. Transocean down 4 percent. Halliburton falling 3 percent.

And Groupon also ending the day lower. Analysts are taking a caution
stance on the company, which had one of the most highly anticipated IPOs of
the year. According to "The Wall Street Journal," of the 15 firms covering
the shares, 10 have a neutral rating on them.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There`s no denying right now that Newt Gingrich has a solid lead in
the Republican primary field right now. He`s winning in all the numbers
games right now. Look as the latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. He
almost doubles the support of his closest rival right now, Mitt Romney,
among Republican voters.

Gingrich has benefited, of course, from strong debate performances and
a weak Republican field, but can he sustain the lead into Iowa and beyond?
And if he were to win the presidency, what would a Newt Gingrich White
House actually look like?

There are many Republicans who worked with him when he was speaker of
the House in the 1990s who aren`t eager to find out -- aren`t eager to find
out, but there are critics out there who worry about his tenure as leader.
They`re found him troubled, erratic and self-centered and said he was prone
to creating crisis all by himself.

But he does have his defenders out there. And among them is former
Congressman Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, who served with Newt in the
Congress until 1997.

Mr. Walker, I used to be on the other side, and I will give you a full
responsibility to explain your long-ago confrere. I was kidding you The
Blues Brothers are back.


MATTHEWS: You and him are coming back into power, right?

WALKER: We used to do a pretty good performance on C-SPAN and so

MATTHEWS: Yes, you were. OK.

WALKER: ... and did pretty well by it.

MATTHEWS: Well, I want you to be his best friend and explain some of
the things he has said.

Here he is talking about that terrible situation where obviously a
disturbed mother killed her two kids by putting them in the car, locking
them in the car and backing them into this pond. The mother was convicted
of murder after she did so.

And here`s what Newt said after that: "I think that that mother
killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American
how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things. The
only way you get change is to vote Republican."

What does a statement like that mean?

WALKER: Well, I think what he`s saying is that we have a lot of
problems in our society at the present time and that -- that there are
conservative concepts that would help the society to deal with those.

MATTHEWS: How would the defeat of Democrats in the election of
Republicans stop a disturbed mother from killing her two kids in such a
deliberate and awful way?

WALKER: Well, I don`t think --

MATTHEWS: Do you really subscribe to that thinking?

WALKER: I don`t think that that`s the point that newt was making at
all. I think the point that he was making was that these crimes of passion
and the things that we see happening in society that are horrible to all of
us, whether it`s the Penn State problems and so on, are symptomatic of some
problems in society that we believe that there are some conservative
concepts that would help to deal with them.

MATTHEWS: So you think that was a fair comment, to blame it on the

WALKER: No, I don`t think it blames the Democrats at all. I think
it was simply a statement on his part that voting for Republicans gives you
conservative government.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s take a look at this one. This was Newt
Gingrich. He had this to say about the president in an interview with
"National Review" last year.

"What if Obama is so outside our comprehension, that only if you
understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together
his actions? That is the most accurate predictive model for his behavior.
This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world
works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he
is now president."

Now, the president as we know, whatever we think of his politics,
left, right or center, was not raised by his Kenyan father. He never met
him until he was an adult. What is this anti-colonial Kenyan behavior that
he ascribes to our president?

WALKER: I think what he`s referring to is the fact that the
president has been very much a president that has moved around the world
apologizing for the United States.


WALKER: And he -- he believes at the bottom of that that we have
acted too much like the British empire and that we ought to back away from
that as a stance.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the president has a Kenyan point of view?
That`s what Newt says.

WALKER: Well, I think that`s Newt`s point --

MATTHEWS: How would he get a Kenyan point of view?

WALKER: I think it`s an anti-colonial point of view is the -- is the
point that Newt was making.

MATTHEWS: And that`s a predictor of this president`s thinking and
behavior that he`s a Kenyan and he has an anti-colonial --


MATTHEWS: By the way, we Americans are anti-colonial, by the way.

WALKER: He didn`t -- he didn`t say that he was Kenyan. What he`s
saying is that the -- the way in which the British empire was responded to
is -- is something that we ought not emulate in this country.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your personal experiences with Newt
Gingrich. Do you find him to be a steady leader, that people have
complained about him from the other side, the critics have found him to be
erratic. They say he`ll have one good idea, you can listen like a fire
hydrant coming at you, he`ll have 20 or 30 ideas. One of them will be
good, and you better grab that one -- but a lot of them are best left to

What`s your experience working with him on ideas and his basic

WALKER: Well, I think that what he is he`s very disciplined and very
focused. He took a party that was a basically a -- a non-activist party, a
very passive party in the early `80s and -- and made it into an activist
party. He developed a set of concepts and policies for the Republican
Party that led us to a majority.


WALKER: He used that majority in order to transform the dialogue in
this country from center-left to center-right, by balancing budgets, by
reforming the entitlement programs and by practicing growth economics and
creating new jobs.

MATTHEWS: Well, why was he dump as leader after less than a
presidential term? Why did you guys dump him?

WALKER: No, the fact -- I didn`t -- I didn`t dump in.

MATTHEWS: Well, the party did. Your party dumped him. He had just
gotten into office. You described how he got you in power, but by `98, you
had dumped him.

WALKER: But the fact is that there were a lot of tough things done
in order to achieve those successes. There were people who were denied
committee chairmanships. There were people who -- who didn`t get their
particular policies included as a part of our agenda.

MATTHEWS: So he wasn`t a uniter, he was a divider.


MATTHEWS: He created so much animosity your party got rid of him.

WALKER: But again, that`s your interpretation.

MATTHEWS: What other interpretation could there be?

WALKER: No, no, my interpretation of is that he achieved the goals
that he set out. Let`s remember that the Contract with America was largely
a document that he ran on. 70 percent of that contract was enacted.

MATTHEWS: Are you saying he left the leadership, the speakership of
the House on his own? You guys were in power another six years. I mean,
had you him as a leader and you said better without him. Why was that
decision made -- better without Newt?

WALKER: Well, I think in part he made that decision, too?

MATTHEWS: He did? He was reprimanded.

WALKER: Well, he was -- the fact is, if you take a look at what he
was reprimanded for. He was reprimanded for not hiring a tax lawyer and
for providing the committee with documents that they regarded as perhaps
inaccurate which later on the IRS ruled were totally accurate.

MATTHEWS: Yes. OK. So you would rule that you would say based upon
your firsthand experience that he was a calm helmsman. He was a man of
great probity and temperament.

WALKER: No, no -- nothing around Newt is ever calm. I said what he
was is disciplined and focused and so on that he brought about huge

MATTHEWS: All right.

WALKER: But the fact is there are people who have grudges to bear
since that time that we`re hearing from now.

MATTHEWS: Are we going to hear from Dick Armey some day in this

WALKER: I don`t know whether we will or not. But the fact is --

MATTHEWS: I keep waiting to hear from him.

WALKER: But the fact is that Dick and Newt were a pretty good team
for a large portion of that time. I think it`s also well to realize that
those successes came at some price and Newt paid that -- paid that price in
many ways, including some of these phony ethics charges that were leveled.

MATTHEWS: I understand. Do you think he`d be a calm temperament as
-- as commander-in-chief?

WALKER: I think he`s a much different person now than he was in
those days.

MATTHEWS: OK. That`s what I want to hear. No, you`ve said what you
wanted to say. Your best case is he`s not what he was.

WALKER: No, I think he was very successful in what he did.


WALKER: But the fact is that -- that his temperament is different
today, that his --

MATTHEWS: He`s a grandfather.

WALKER: And conversion to Catholicism, happy marriage to Callista.

MATTHEWS: OK. I`m getting yelled at in my ear. Bob Walker, thank
you. We`re going to you back a lot. We need apologists for Newt. We`re
going to need a lot of apology for Newt.

WALKER: I don`t apologize for him. I support him.

MATTHEWS: I accept that.

Up next, the Iraq war veteran who is booed by the Republicans at that
Republican debate for being gay basically. You heard those boos. Captain
Steve Hill joins us when we return.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Well, mark your calendars. House Speaker John Boehner has
invited President Obama to deliver his State of the Union Address before a
joint session of Congress, and the date of the State of the Union will be
Tuesday, January 24th.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

In a year of memorable Republican the relationship debate moments,
sparked (ph) what shock and outrage I`d say as the audience is booing a gay
soldier in the field who submitted a question on "don`t ask, don`t tell".
Let`s take a look.


STEPHEN HILL, SERVING IN IRAQ: In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq,
I had to lie about who I was because I`m a gay soldier and I didn`t want to
lose my job. My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend
to circumvent the progress that`s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in
the military?


type of sexual activity has no place in the military.


MATTHEWS: That`s a first.

Anyway, well, that soldier, Army Captain Steve Hill, returned from
Iraq last month. He`s with us tonight to share his reaction to that
response tonight.

Welcome. Steve, thank you so much for coming on.

And I don`t have a whole lot of time. But you`ve got all of it, OK?

HILL: Hey, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Tell me what the reaction was to that event for you, what
the reaction has been since you came out with your orientation, thanks to
the end of the DADT. Take some time and tell us about the whole

HILL: Basically, when I submitted a question -- I`ve been in the
Army for about 20 years and I submitted the question because I`ve had a lot
of times in the military where I`d go to the fireworks and, you know, I`d
be sitting there and they would say, we want to put a shout out to the
troops and it made me like I thought I should feel really, really happy at
that moment. And then I realized that I was fighting for everyone`s rights
except my own.

And so, when I heard some of the Republicans candidates say that they
would repeal the repeal of "don`t ask, don`t tell," I asked them, is that
true and is that what you would do because so many people said that they
might come out? And I was fearful for them to come out and then have that

I was pretty surprised when the boos happened. You know, it was
shocking to me. My gut kind of dropped out. I thought that I had done
something wrong and I was a little bit afraid that I had done something

But I think worse is probably Mr. Santorum`s response got so many
cheers where, you know, he said that it`s a special privilege for me to be
in the military. And I can`t tell you so many times that people would come
over to my house, fellow soldiers, and I`d have to run through my house,
and I`ve had to hide pictures of me and Josh, my husband, that I`m married
to. I mean, that`s not a privilege to me at all.

MATTHEWS: What has been the general reaction -- you know, my dad
told me he was in the Navy. He said there are no secrets, there were gay
guys working with him, it was just accepted. This period where you
couldn`t really say what you were but people knew who you were.

How is it different now that people know who you are because you say
who you are?

HILL: You know, the military has been 100 percent positive.
Everybody in the military has been awesome about this, because I think that
when people know you as a soldier, they know that you`re a soldier and
that`s what matters to them. And as a matter of fact, you know, the New
Hampshire representative, Alfred Baldasaro, I think, had made some comments
about me coming out and to the Republican debate. And he said, I`m glad
that they booed him.

And my fellow soldiers were really, really angry at some of those
comments because they said -- he basically said that we wouldn`t protect
them in the field and they said, no, that`s not correct at all. We would
always protect a fellow soldier. And, you know, it would be horrible for
anybody to think that a soldier would not protect another soldier, gay or
straight. So the military has been awesome.

MATTHEWS: Well, Captain, thank you for your service. I mean it on
all fronts, and I`m glad that this country gets better all the time. And I
always say, the fight for rights always wins eventually in this country and
always does win. Progressives ought to know that. It takes a long
struggle. But the good guys eventually win like you.

Thank you, Steve, Captain Steve Hill for coming on this show. We`ll
get you back here when this heats up in a positive way.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with a frightening thought. Now,
here`s a frightening military thought -- a bomb thrower, Newt Gingrich with
his hands on a nuclear weapon -- all of them.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

Think about Newt Gingrich with tens and thousands of nuclear weapons
at his disposal. Interesting thought, isn`t it? A man known to be a bomb
thrower with real live bombs in his hands. You know, this idea, that the
genius of our Constitution is making the president the commander in chief,
it ensures that the top position in the military is the person the American
people themselves elect.

Well, the other part of this constitutional requirement is that we
the people elect as our president and make commander-in-chief someone who
has the temperament to handle this extraordinary power.

Newt Gingrich has thrown around words lately that are classic bomb
throwing. He ridicules the highly nationalistic Palestinians, dismissing
them as an invented people, that they are all terrorists.

So, what do you think about having this guy out there in the Middle
East debate, throwing bombs around like that against people on the other
side, in a region where certain person who are not our friends talk much
the same way, throwing insults and accusations around for the single
purpose of taunting the other side?

Newt Gingrich would be at home in this world of crazed, wildly
agitating rhetoric where words are meant to anger, to insult, to enrage.
Newt would be good at stirring things up and causing trouble and lobbying
grenades over the walls and into the narrow winding streets in the Mideast.
He`d threaten, he`d incite, he`d show `em that a wild western could be just
as crazy as the craziest of them.

Now, Newt is asking Republican voters to give him the presidency, to
him not just the bully pulpit but the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and
all the weapons, conventional and nuclear, in the world`s greatest arsenal.

His oldest associates say he can receive results even if he is
erratic, yet when they had him as a leader, he was out as speaker long
before they were. They know what they were dealing with. Newt was hardly
this sort of individual you`d give license to over the world`s greatest
stockpile of nuclear weapons. You don`t give WMD to someone known even by
his old former allies to be in a crunch or even whenever things get edgy to
be himself a weapon of mass destruction.

America needs many things but a nuclear armed Newt Gingrich is not
one of them.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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