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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Monday, January 2, 2012

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Michael Steele, Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Milissa Rehberger, Jonathan Martin, Joe Klein, Jeff Zeleny, Jennifer Psaki

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Giving Newt the boot.

Let`s play HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: I`m Chris Matthews, at the best place to be for the Iowa
caucuses, Java Joe`s in downtown Des Moines. We`ve got one day to go and a
rapidly changing race, and no one is confident enough about who`s going to
win to make firm predictions.

Leading off tonight: The politics of destruction. Mitt Romney has
swooped into Iowa, essentially at the last minute, and destroyed Newt
Gingrich. On the stump, Romney floats above it all, reciting "America the
Beautiful" and pretending to remain positive, but his Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde campaign has flooded the airwaves with a sewer full of negative ads
that have been dumped on Newt. You can`t turn on a TV here without seeing
Newt destroyed. Beat the only guy who can beat you -- that`s Romney`s
strategy, and that`s our top story.

Also, Donald Trump had his moment. So did Michele Bachmann, Rick
Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. And now it`s Rick
Santorum`s turn, and just at the right time. Three recent polls have all
said the same thing -- Romney`s on top, Paul has stalled, and Santorum is
surging. And most important, perhaps, if you`re Romney, Gingrich is toast.
And isn`t that just what Mitt Romney ordered?

Plus, Mitt happens (ph) historically (ph). If Republicans lose a
presidential race with a moderate like John McCain, they come back with a
conservative. But the Republican right is terrified that with support
divided among so many conservatives, the moderate Mitt Romney could sneak
in the back door and win the nomination.

And while no one was looking, President Obama`s surrogates out here
have slipped into Iowa and have begun, well, hitting Romney in ways that
his Republican opponents haven`t. It`s pretty clear who Team Obama thinks
is going to be the nominee.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with the victory of dollars over democracy.

I`ve got some great people with us here, all MSNBC political analysts.
Howard Fineman is the Huffington Post Media Group editorial director.
Eugene Robinson is a "Washington Post" columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner,
and Michael Steele is the former chairman of the Republican National
Committee. I said that right, I think.

You got it right.

MATTHEWS: Yesterday at a Gingrich event in Marshalltown, Iowa,
Gingrich said he`d been "Romney-boated," a reference to the Swift Boat
attacks on John Kerry in 2004. So I asked the former speaker if this is
the future of American politics, the lofty rhetoric on the trail by the
candidate himself, meanwhile the nasty super-PAC, anonymous ads from a
front group. Here`s our exchange.


No more than it has been in the past. I mean...

MATTHEWS: But this...


MATTHEWS: You`ve won all these debates, and you come in here, and all
I watch on television is these Restore Our Future ads that are legal now,
with no, "I paid for this ad" by Mitt Romney. And then he goes out,
looking like a million bucks, saying how great he is.


MATTHEWS: He has a beautiful family. But his ads are trashed --
trashing you constantly.


MATTHEWS: And all the...

GINGRICH: So part of the question you have to ask yourself is -- he
is assuming the American people are stupid. I don`t think the American
people are stupid. I`m sure...

MATTHEWS: But the polls show that they`re responding, though. The
polls are reacting to this.

GINGRICH: I am sure within a few weeks, every American will know this
is his PAC with his stiff...

MATTHEWS: But he took you from the 30s down to the teens with this --
this strategy.


MATTHEWS: It`s working.

GINGRICH: Oh, of course, he did.

MATTHEWS: Then why doesn`t he do it in 50 states?

GINGRICH: And by the way, all it did was guarantee that some other
conservative emerged...


GINGRICH: ... and didn`t help Romney at all.

MATTHEWS: But he`s not afraid of another conservative, he`s afraid of


MATTHEWS: He got rid of the guy he wanted to get rid of.

GINGRICH: He didn`t get rid of me, he just slowed me down.

MATTHEWS: What stops -- what stops him from doing this in every state
for the rest of his campaign?

GINGRICH: We will make it increasingly clear that these are his

MATTHEWS: How? There`s no tagline.

MATTHEWS: But you -- you didn`t have any problem with Citizens
United. You have no problem with these big donors...

GINGRICH: I have...

MATTHEWS: ... spending tons of money...

GINGRICH: I have every...

MATTHEWS: ... for anonymous ads

GINGRICH: I have...

MATTHEWS: ... attacking you.

GINGRICH: No. I have every problem. First of all, no ads are being
run by any of my friends attacking anybody.

MATTHEWS: But his are.

GINGRICH: Second, my solution would be to eliminate all the election
laws and allow people to give unlimited personal money, after tax, and file
every night and let the candidates run the campaigns and have the candidate
be responsible. I think the current mess is a disgrace. I think it
debilitates politics. I think it strengthens millionaires and it weakens
middle class candidates.


MATTHEWS: Isn`t that amazing, Gene Robinson?


MATTHEWS: There is a conservative Republican saying this anything-
goes campaigning, where Citizens United rule that a guy with lots of money,
the Koch brothers or who else, can spend zillions of dollars without
putting their name on the ad. It`s not like Little League or a bowling
league. You don`t put the name on the back of who`s paying for the team.


MATTHEWS: And they`re destroying Newt Gingrich and he supported the

ROBINSON: We need some regulation so these millionaires don`t take
over! It`s an amazing thing for a Republican candidate to be saying in
this day and age.

MATTHEWS: And Howard, here he is, the guy who`s now hoisted on his
own petard.


MATTHEWS: Republicans say money is -- well, they also say things like
"Corporations are people, too"...


MATTHEWS: ... and dollars are people and dollars are votes! Now we
find out he -- here he turns on the TV -- poor him and Callista. I`ve
never felt sorry for them for a second in my life until I got here to Iowa.


MATTHEWS: You turn on the TV an it`s sewage coming out of the TV set


MATTHEWS: This guy can give a million debate performances, it won`t
matter. And by the way, Romney out there with his beautiful family...

FINEMAN: Right. Well...

MATTHEWS: ... reciting "American the Beautiful"! It`s like that
scene in "The Godfather" when they`re killing...



MATTHEWS: ... in Chicago while he was at the opera!


MATTHEWS: Remember? He`s crying at the opera?

FINEMAN: As we saw the other day, Chris, at the rally, Romney`s out
there with the flags waving and the klieg lights...

MATTHEWS: "America the Beautiful"!

FINEMAN: ... meanwhile, Mitt Romney`s (SIC) saying, I can`t do modern
politics. He really said that...

MATTHEWS: Here it is. Here`s Romney. This is the scene out of "The
Godfather." Remember that scene with the -- anyway, let`s watch him
(INAUDIBLE) just a few days ago. Let`s watch.


words of that -- that national hymn, if you will, "Oh, beautiful for
spacious skies, for amber waves of grain" -- do corn -- do corn fields
count as amber waves of grain? I believe so. "For purple mountains`
majesty" -- we don`t have a lot of those in Iowa. "Oh, beautiful for
heroes proved in liberating strife." The song writer said this. "Oh,
beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years."


MATTHEWS: OK, isn`t that beautiful?


MATTHEWS: Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National
Committee, there you have the perfect reason why people don`t like
politicians, an absolute bogus fraud show. Here`s the guy looking like a
million bucks, singing the praises of America...

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... while the sewage pours out of the television set that
his friends with big money are paying for! Your thoughts?

STEELE: And I`m supposed to be upset about that?


MATTHEWS: I thought you might have a conscience.

STEELE: Well, no, I do.


STEELE: I think -- it struck me it`s interesting that the tone that
Romney has taken in the last few days of this campaign vis-a-vis Newt has
been much more conciliatory, much more sort of -- you know, what he`s
saying. Now, what his folks are doing is very different...


MATTHEWS: ... nice distinction, Michael, but let`s watch what his
folks doing.

STEELE: Here`s my point. But it reminds me of the Good Samaritan who
comes and helps the guy up off the ground, but he doesn`t tell him, The
people who beat you up were my guys.


STEELE: So it`s that...



MATTHEWS: Anyway, here he is, the pro-Romney super-PAC, quote,
"Restore Our Future," which has nothing to do with Mitt Romney, of course,
hammering Gingrich with negative advertising. Here`s a piece of it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barack Obama`s plan is working. Destroy Mitt
Romney, run against Newt Gingrich. Newt has a ton of baggage. He was
fined $300,000 for ethics violations and took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac
before it helped cause the economic meltdown. Newt supports amnesty for
illegal immigrants and teamed with Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore on global
warming. Maybe that`s why George Will calls him the least conservative

Check the facts at Restore Our Future, Inc., is
responsible for the content of this message.


MATTHEWS: Well, here`s another one. Let`s watch the second one.
This is along the same line, Michael Steele. This is what you call the
Good Samaritan. Here he is, another (INAUDIBLE) ad, another pro-Romney
group -- same one, by the Restore Our Future, while destroying Mitt Romney
-- I`m sorry -- Newt Gingrich. Let`s listen.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ever notice how some people make a lot of

GINGRICH: It was probably a mistake.

I made a mistake.

I`ve made mistakes at times.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So far, Newt Gingrich has admitted his mistakes
or flipped on teaming up with Nancy Pelosi, immigration, Medicare, health
care, Iraq, attacking Mitt Romney and more.

GINGRICH: I made a big mistake in the spring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Haven`t we had enough mistakes? Restore Our
Future is responsible for the content of this message.



MATTHEWS: Yes, restore our future with -- they never say the word
"Mitt Romney," even though all his people are involved in it and his donors
are involved in it. You`re shaking your head...


FINEMAN: Here`s one reason why this is working here. First of all,
the sheer tonnage. I mean, I`ve never seen in a concentrated space so much
advertising, you know, from Davenport all the way out to Sioux City and

MATTHEWS: You can`t escape it.

FINEMAN: You can`t escape it.

MATTHEWS: You can watch "Entertainment Tonight," you can choose


FINEMAN: OK, the other thing is here -- the other thing here, Newt is
to some extent made vulnerable by the way he rose to prominence here.


FINEMAN: Because he did it on a media wave of debates, flying above
the air, so to speak. He didn`t spend a year-and-a-half...


FINEMAN: Listen. He didn`t spend a year-and-a-half here in Iowa
becoming an Iowan. Rick Santorum has essentially become an Iowa. He
speaks to Iowa from the inside out. People know who he is. They know his
record. They know what he stands for.

The other reason this kind of advertising works is that most people
here in Iowa didn`t really know anything very much about Newt Gingrich, so
this negative advertising is painting on a blank canvas...

MATTHEWS: Except...

FINEMAN: ... a famous guy who`s a blank canvas.

MATTHEWS: There`s a John Henry aspect to this. Newt Gingrich earned
that positive number he came in here with by live debate performances.

FINEMAN: Right, on his own.

MATTHEWS: He didn`t do it by...


FINEMAN: He didn`t do it by going from town to town.


ROBINSON: ... town, but he performed in the debates. Look, Newt
Gingrich knows a lot about policy, about domestic policy, foreign policy.

FINEMAN: But Iowans didn`t know a lot about him. That`s my point.

STEELE: Wait a minute. I take that up to a point. You cannot sit
there and think that the folks of Iowa were totally clueless about his
tenure as speaker of the House, his -- his takeover of, you know, the
conservative movement and moving it into the prominence in 1994, with a
historic election.

So you can`t paint this brush that the people here in this state had
no clue who Newt Gingrich was. They did. They had it in context. What
these ads did was take it out of context. And that`s the point of negative
advertising, is to take you out of context...

MATTHEWS: OK, by the way, Newt...

STEELE: ... by painting a picture that isn`t legitimate necessarily.

ROBINSON: My sense is that all the negative ads are working, that --
that people I`m talking to...


ROBINSON: ... are aware of what`s in all the negative ads about all
the candidates...

FINEMAN: Well...

ROBINSON: ... and they can recite...

FINEMAN: Gene, that`s why...

ROBINSON: ... all the reasons from the ads not to vote for this
candidate, not to vote for that candidate.

FINEMAN: That`s why -- that`s why, according to some polls, there`s
still 40 percent undecided.


MATTHEWS: ... out there turned off all the candidates...

FINEMAN: Turned off to all of them.

MATTHEWS: ... so that libertarians will vote for Ron Paul. They
would have done it 400 years ago.

FINEMAN: Right. Romney people...

MATTHEWS: The Christian conservatives will probably go to Santorum,
which they would have done 400 years ago...

FINEMAN: With 24 percent for...

MATTHEWS: What happens to the rest, we don`t know. But here`s
Gingrich lining up his attack for New Hampshire. This guy ain`t quitting.
I`ve said he`s Freddy Krueger, just to make sure I`m not rooting for him.
Here he is, going to New Hampshire with this. Catch this line of attack.
He ain`t defenseless. Let`s watch.


GINGRICH: Yes, I think New Hampshire is the perfect state to have a
debate over "Romney care" and to have a debate about tax-paid abortions,
which he signed, and to have a debate about putting Planned Parenthood on a
government board, which he signed, and to have a debate about appointing
liberal judges, which he did. So I think New Hampshire is a good place to
start the debate for South Carolina.


MATTHEWS: Well, you know, it`s one of those battles like in
"Spartacus." Each guy has his own weapon. Newt has a lot of money. He`s
got a knife in his hand. OK, he`s going to go up there to New Hampshire to
propel himself into South Carolina.

STEELE: South Carolina, that`s right.

MATTHEWS: How can you vote for Mitt Romney, Governor Romney, if he
signed a pro-abortion funding bill?

STEELE: That`s right. New Hampshire`s all about South Carolina for
Newt. And that`s his staging ground to sweep into the South, to pick up
what he can there, move into Florida, and leave Romney battered, bruised on
those issues that matter to the core of our party.



ROBINSON: And what we know about Newt Gingrich is that, you know, if
he`s wounded -- you`ve got to kill him! I mean, you know, Romney`s going
to have to...

MATTHEWS: Has he killed him?


MATTHEWS: Has he killed him?

ROBINSON: No. And I think Newt is going to continue because he
believes that indefatigability is the key to success.

FINEMAN: Well, also...


FINEMAN: Well, also, he`s a fighter. And he actually fights better
from behind than ahead, OK? That`s the why he is mentally. The other
thing is, he`s got the Manchester "Union Leader"...

MATTHEWS: Endorsing him.

FINEMAN: ... in New Hampshire, which endorsed him. Now, "The Union
Leader" doesn`t have quite the power it did a decade ago, but they are...

MATTHEWS: Will they jump in this...


FINEMAN: There`s no bigger sport among conservatives in New
Hampshire, no more fun they can have than attacking Mitt Romney. They`ve
been doing it for years and years and years.


FINEMAN: Joe McQuaid, the editor of "The Union Leader," is going to
go nuts on Newt`s behalf, I predict.

MATTHEWS: OK, here`s the toughest question for you pundits, all of
you. Start with the Republican leader, former Republican leader, ersatz...



MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you this, who`s going to be Mitt Romney`s
biggest opponent two, three weeks from now? Will it be Santorum, who`s
doing very well here and may win tomorrow night, or will it be Newt
Gingrich, who will still be in the fight?

STEELE: I think it`ll be Newt. I think it`ll be Newt.

MATTHEWS: Still biggest threat down the (INAUDIBLE) down the road.

ROBINSON: I think more likely to be Newt.

MATTHEWS: Tough one, huh, Howard?

FINEMAN: Newt`s better copy. Newt`s better copy.


FINEMAN: It`s that simple. He`s better copy.

MATTHEWS: OK, I think it`s Newt. Anyway, Gene Robinson, Michael
Steele and Howard Fineman are all staying with us. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Coming up, the Santorum surge. Could Rick Santorum wind up
the winner here in Iowa tomorrow night? That`s ahead (INAUDIBLE) HARDBALL
(INAUDIBLE) Java Joe`s.



MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, all the polls coming out
of Iowa show one thing, Rick Santorum has the momentum. The "Des Moines
Register" poll has Romney with a narrow lead, Romney at 24 percent, Ron
Paul`s at 22. And Rick Santorum`s in third with 15. But don`t go by that.
You also got Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and -- Rick Perry trailing the

But when you look at just the last two days of the polling -- here`s
what`s interesting -- Santorum rockets up to second place, to 21, all the
way from 15 to 21 in a matter of four days, leapfrogging Ron Paul. That`s
the kind of "big mo" that often decides an election and comes in first.

We`re back with our panel of MSNBC political analysts Howard Fineman
of the Huffington Post, Eugene Robinson of "The Washington Post," and
Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Down the line here, let`s look at the thing -- let`s play pundit now,
pure pundit without any attitude, which is just picking this thing. What
do you see in the numbers, Howard?

FINEMAN: What I see in the numbers is Santorum coming on strong, Ron
Paul having a lot of enthusiasm out there, and Mitt Romney trying to hang
on, having allowed expectations to get a little bit out of hand here. Now
he needs a win, and I think it`s going to be very close, down to the wire.
But the two who have the energy, the genuine energy and the genuine
momentum, are Santorum and Paul.


ROBINSON: I see the Santorum surge. I think he`s peaking at the
right time. The numbers also show that his supporters are more likely --
say they`re more likely to actually go out and caucus tomorrow than
Romney`s do, for example.

MATTHEWS: Yes, 76 percent say they`re actually going to...

ROBINSON: They say 76 percent...


MATTHEWS: This is cold weather out here, like it is in a lot of

ROBINSON: Yes, but they`re used to cold here.

MATTHEWS: It`s windy too. Very windy.


MATTHEWS: I know. Does the bad weather affect Iowans?


FINEMAN: This is nothing.

MATTHEWS: No, doesn`t affect you?

FINEMAN: This is warm.


ROBINSON: Well, it`s not warm, but it`s not that bad.


ROBINSON: But I see Santorum.

MATTHEWS: What do you think, Mike?

STEELE: I see right now the trend lines are certainly there for
Santorum. I think the numbers, the 56 percent voter turnout enthusiasm for
Ron Paul, is understated.


FINEMAN: I agree.

STEELE: I think it`s closer to the 76 percent...


STEELE: But longer term, I think this is an opportunity coming out of
Iowa where the conservatives of the party say, Maybe Santorum is the guy
that we can begin to coalesce behind. Maybe he`s the one who can -- has
the meddle to go the distance. And that`s going to be an interesting, I
think, one-week transition between here and Iowa to see...


MATTHEWS: Huckabee won this last time with 38 (ph) percent...


MATTHEWS: ... Romney with 24 percent, 25 percent. Could that happen
again, just like...


FINEMAN: Yes, it could happen. And don`t forget about yesterday.
Yesterday, all the power pastors were out, OK? And Santorum has worked
them to a faretheewell. Michele Bachmann thought she had a line into them.
She doesn`t have the major ones. Santorum has them. They`re coalescing.
And Santorum has a lot of former Huckabee people in his campaign, both in
his inner staff and among what I call the "power pastors" around the state,
all the way out in Sioux City, all the way east in Davenport and so forth.

MATTHEWS: Do they name names? Will they endorse...

FINEMAN: Well, they don`t do it from the pulpit. You don`t do it
from the pulpit, even though some pastors now think you should challenge
the IRS and do it. They basically don`t do it.

But they have huge networks. They have got congregations of 1,000,
1,500. They put out the word. These people are active in politics.
They`re almost like the guys back in Philly, Chris, OK, except they have
got their precincts and their precincts are their parishioners.



MATTHEWS: I heard the message at church yesterday out here. At the
Catholic Church yesterday out here, the bishop was talking about voting
your values. Now, he didn`t name a candidate.


FINEMAN: The Catholics are going with Santorum.


ROBINSON: Right. And those values voters are really attracted to

That`s one reason, I think, he`s going to do so well. But I think
Newt Gingrich is likely to come out of Iowa with enough support left to
contest Santorum for that coalescing conservative bloc, if indeed it


MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at Santorum. Here he is going after Mitt
Romney on what Romney considers his greatest strength, his business
background. Let`s listen.


chief executive officer for this country. We`re looking for a commander in

We`re looking for someone who has experience, someone who can lead,
someone who can lead our military, but also someone who can lead in
convincing the American public and the Congress to do the things that are
necessary to transform this country. And that`s not what CEOs do. CEOs
assign people who work for them.



And getting back at him, here`s Romney who kept his criticism trained
on President Obama, but yesterday he took this delicate swipe, almost
patty-cake, at Santorum and Gingrich. Let`s listen to what he said.


enough to endorse me last time around. I appreciate that. And we have
been friends.

I can tell you that our backgrounds are quite different. Like Speaker
Gingrich, Senator Santorum has spent his career in government, in
Washington. Nothing wrong with that, but it`s a very different background
than I have.


MATTHEWS: That is patty-cake, Michael Steele. Does he want to keep
Santorum in this race, the way Clinton wanted to keep Tsongas in the race?

STEELE: Oh, absolutely, oh, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Because he can beat him later?

STEELE: Well, yes, and that`s the goal.

No, but that`s a very good analogy to the Tsongas race, because
Santorum helps do a number of things. One, it gives the conservatives
someone else to look at while they may still play a little bit with Newt
and with Perry. So you`re keeping that division within the rank and file.

I said to Michele Bachmann early this morning, I said, have you guys
have ever thought about having a meeting where everybody just kind of says,
look, let`s pick one of us.

MATTHEWS: Who chairs that meeting?

STEELE: Yes, who chairs the meeting?

ROBINSON: Well, what did she say?

STEELE: Well, she said no.



STEELE: But maybe they should.


FINEMAN: I have got to say, my first reaction to the Santorum video
that you just showed is that he`s lost every Iowa State graduate in the...


FINEMAN: He was wearing a University of Iowa jersey.

MATTHEWS: Oh, right.


MATTHEWS: OK. But here`s Mitt Romney took a shot at President Obama
with a pop culture reference. By the way, it`s about the Kardashians. He
may have written the line about Lucille Ball, maybe, one in 1,000 chances.
One in a million chances he wrote this thing about Kardashian. Let`s


ROMNEY: I have been looking at some video clips on YouTube of
President Obama, then candidate Obama, going through Iowa, making promises.
And I think the gap between his promises and his performance is the largest
I have seen, well, since the Kardashian wedding and the promise of `til
death do we part.


MATTHEWS: Shecky Romney? I don`t think so.


ROBINSON: If you lined up the three Kardashian sisters in front of
Mitt Romney, he could not tell them apart. I would be willing to bet --


ROBINSON: Ten thousand dollars, how about that?


MATTHEWS: Who writes this stuff? It isn`t him. Is he trying to be
too cool?

FINEMAN: Did he also compare the president to Lucy in the chocolate

MATTHEWS: Well, he compared Newt Gingrich to that.

FINEMAN: Oh, Newt Gingrich.


MATTHEWS: ... conveyor belt.

FINEMAN: So, wait a minute. So he compares Obama to Marie

MATTHEWS: Oh, a pattern here.

FINEMAN: He compares Newt Gingrich to Lucy Ricardo, and he compares
his enemies to the Kardashians.

I guarantee you, it`s not accidental.

MATTHEWS: All women.

FINEMAN: All women. Not accidental.

MATTHEWS: What do you think he`s up to here?

FINEMAN: What they`re up to is, it`s the effete, it`s the this, it`s
the that. You know, it`s the culture war translated through the lens of
Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: So what separates you, Howard Fineman, from the average
pundit is the ability to step back and see the common patterns of evil...


MATTHEWS: ... and to see the malevolent...


FINEMAN: No, no, I`m not saying it`s malevolent. This is a strategy.


MATTHEWS: Howard, that`s why you`re the best.

Eugene Robinson, sir, you only have a Pulitzer Prize.


STEELE: And I just have the suit.



MATTHEWS: Mitt Romney has a path to victory. And that means
Republicans may well nominate another moderate for president, something
that terrifies the right wing.

You`re watching HARDBALL at Java Joe`s in Des Moines on the eve of the
caucuses, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: So we`re out here in the Iowa caucuses at Java Joe`s, one
of the neatest restaurants in the world.

How many of you come here regularly? And how -- how many come here
regularly? And how many come here for HARDBALL?


MATTHEWS: OK. That`s what I like.

Let me ask you, are you voting in the caucuses?


MATTHEWS: Who are you going to vote for?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really like his policies.

MATTHEWS: OK. Are you a moderate, conservative, conservative, right
of center, far right of center? Where are you?


MATTHEWS: That makes sense. He won`t say that. You will.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m voting for Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama all the way.



MATTHEWS: I`m afraid this would happen. It`s breaking my heart.


MATTHEWS: Obama. It`s breaking my heart. Don`t go breaking my




MATTHEWS: See, this is what I -- anybody here voting Republican this
year? Oh, we got one. We got a live one here.

Who you voting for?


MATTHEWS: Why? What`s your reasons?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like his policies.

MATTHEWS: How would you describe yourself? Right of center, right-
wing, far-right, somewhere near the middle, moderate?


MATTHEWS: Is Mitt Romney a moderate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tends to be, somewhat.

MATTHEWS: Is he willing to admit it?


MATTHEWS: How come the other day when I asked him if he could say,
let them eat cake, can you say that in French, Governor, he said, yes, but
I won`t? Why do you think he`s afraid to speak French in Iowa?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, probably because he knows we won`t
understand what he`s saying.

MATTHEWS: Oh, God. Why won`t Mitt Romney speak French? Does anybody
know? Anybody have any ideas?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn`t want to seem too elitist.

MATTHEWS: But if he does speak French, does that means he`s elitist?



MATTHEWS: So he`s actually talking down to Iowa by saying, I think
you people think that if I can speak a second language, there`s something
too elitist about me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I think he`s the type that needs the
perfect amount of scuff on his shoes for us.

MATTHEWS: Good, you`re good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Des Moines is a French name.

MATTHEWS: I love it.

What did you just say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said Des Moines is a French name.

MATTHEWS: Oh. So if he pronounces it Des Moines or what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Des Moines would be fine.


MATTHEWS: He`s in big trouble.

Everybody, I will ask you one thing. Loud as you can yell, Democrat
or Republican, who`s going to win the caucuses tomorrow night? One, two,


MATTHEWS: Everybody who thinks it`s Romney, yell it now. One, two,

CROWD: Romney!

MATTHEWS: Everybody who thinks it`s Bachmann, yell now all together.
One, two, three.

CROWD: Bachmann.


MATTHEWS: All the people that think it`s going to be Huntsman
tomorrow, one, two, three.

OK. Everybody who thinks it`s going to be Gingrich tomorrow, one,
two, three. Everybody who thinks it`s going to be Ron Paul tomorrow, one,
two, three.

CROWD: Ron Paul!

MATTHEWS: OK. Everybody who thinks it`s going to be Santorum
tomorrow, one, two, three.

CROWD: Santorum!

MATTHEWS: God, Romney just won this thing.


MATTHEWS: Romney has just won the Java Joe`s caucus.


MATTHEWS: We will be right back with more HARDBALL.


what`s happening.

Authorities in California have arrested a man believed to be
responsible for dozens of arson fires in Los Angeles. They have not
identified the suspect, but police say he resembles a person of interest
who was caught on video. The 53 fires terrified area residents. No
injuries have been reported, but the blazes caused about $2 million in

Police believe a body found in a remote area of Mount Rainier National
Part is that of the Mount Rainier shooter. An identity has not been
confirmed, but authorities think it is that of Iraq war veteran Benjamin
Colton Barnes. Barnes is suspected of killing park ranger Margaret
Anderson. He`s also a suspect in another shooting that left four people

And as voters turn their attention to Iowa, President Obama wraps up
his vacation in Hawaii. He and his family will be leaving tonight and
arriving in Washington Tuesday morning. He will be landing just hours
before the GOP presidential candidates square off -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: According to polls, Mitt Romney is seen as the most
electable Republican candidate against Barack Obama, but on the eve of the
Iowa caucuses, he remains flatlined with a ceiling of 25 percent support.

Conservatives in the party are trying to rally behind an alternative.
The problem for them is, they can`t seem to agree on who that alternative
is. The result could be Mitt Romney sneaking through the pack and eking
out a win.

For some conservatives, that prospect reminds them of John McCain back
in 2008, the moderate senator who never won the love of the conservative
base. Could it happen two election cycles in a row?

Joe Klein`s a "TIME" magazine columnist and Jonathan Martin is senior
political reporter for Politico.

Joe, you start here. Usually, parties correct themselves. They run a
pragmatist. If that doesn`t work, the next time they run somebody with
deep conviction. It looks like Romney is still the favorite right now to
follow up John McCain, another pragmatist, someone in the senator.

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": That`s why you see so many unhappy
Republicans these days. That`s why the crowds are low this time, that`s
why the turnout may be lower than last time, because Republicans simply are
not excited by this field.

Now, Romney and McCain are two different as moderates as moderates can
be. Romney`s a corporate moderate and McCain was an immoderate moderate.


KLEIN: He was a man of passion.

MATTHEWS: He`s a maverick.

KLEIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: But the question you have to ask, Jonathan, is this
question. Who`s the problem for them? McCain`s problem was he couldn`t
beat Obama. But everybody thinks Romney could be a pretty good opponent
for Obama. He would definitely fill in a lot of that center vote.

if you talk to Iowans, as we have for the last few weeks, you hear the same
response when you ask about Romney.

It`s not because he stirs some deep passion in them about storming the
barricades. It`s because he`s seen as the guy that can beat the president
they despise.

MATTHEWS: Did you hear these two people back here? I said, why do
you like Romney? They said, he`s a moderate. They`re a moderate. So
moderates are voting for the guy believing he`s a moderate. But he doesn`t
even admit he can speak French. Any indication of sophistication, he has
to hide.

KLEIN: Well, he`s taken so many positions that you kind of expect the
default position...


MATTHEWS: I can speak French, I can`t speak French, keep going back
and forth. I won`t.


MATTHEWS: By the way, here it is, a little funny. It`s not
important, except it`s funny.

Here`s Mitt Romney. He doesn`t like to advertise it, but he`s fluent
in French from his period as a Mormon missionary over in France. That
trait has a previous presidential candidate -- well, we will see how it
looks. Here he is. John Kerry had that problem. Romney said President
Obama reminded him of Marie Antoinette on Friday.

I caught up with Governor Romney on the trail and I asked him to speak
a little French, in fact, to say, let them eat cake, the old line
supposedly given by Marie Antoinette. Let`s watch.


MATTHEWS: Can you say "Let them eat cake" in French?


ROMNEY: I can, but I won`t.



MATTHEWS: "I can, but I won`t."

By the way, he didn`t lift his head up. He didn`t want to get the
camera shot.

KLEIN: We`re in Des Moines. It`s a town named by the French.


KLEIN: But he`s just a man of the soil, and not a very sophisticated


MATTHEWS: I look at these numbers out here, like we have all done
now. This is so ironic.

Here`s a party that`s largely conservative, the Republican Party.


MATTHEWS: It`s deeply conservative -- 75 percent of the people
relentlessly say not Mitt in the latest polling. He`s only up to 23. It`s
almost like that roulette wheel in "Casablanca." It keeps coming up with
the same number.

It never gets past 23, Joe. How is he going to be presidential
candidate of a party of which 75 percent of the people regularly reject

KLEIN: Well, there`s only one of him and there are like five of them.
And that`s what`s helping him.

The other thing that`s helping him is the, oh, OK, factor. You hear
it all the time. People have dated Newt, they have dated Santorum a little
bit. They have dated Michelle. And they said, oh, OK, he`s the guy who
looks like a president. We will go with him.

And, remember, this is the Republican Party, where there`s a genetic
predisposition to go with the guy who seems like the most likely president.

MARTIN: And, Chris, there`s not a Goldwater, there`s not a Reagan.
There`s no galvanizing figure on the right who is bringing folks away from
the Rockefeller or the Bush 41.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I know.

MARTIN: There are a handful of conservatives, none of which have
really sort of captivated the imagination of the party`s conservative base.
Santorum was the closest thing to that. And he`s only got here in Iowa for
about 10 days now.

MATTHEWS: I just don`t know why they`re not willing to outsource
their nomination, give it to a guy who`s not one of them.

Yesterday, Newt Gingrich made the point that support for conservative
candidates was much higher than for the moderate Mitt Romney.

Let`s watch the point we`ve just made by one of the candidates.


combine Santorum and Perry and Bachmann and me, and compare it to the
Romney numbers, it`s going to be overwhelming that the conservative base of
the party is still there and that Governor Romney remains, basically, a
Massachusetts moderate. And he`s not -- he has not broken out, despite
spending millions of dollars.

And I think as we go on, through New Hampshire, to South Carolina and
Florida and beyond, those numbers will ultimately prove decisive in the


MATTHEWS: Jonathan, when you look around the country, this is the
first test tomorrow night. This is Iowa. We`re going to have New
Hampshire next and then South Carolina and Florida.

At what point is somebody else going to emerge as the true blue
conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, who everybody seems to know deep
down is a moderate Republican, sort of, of the old school?

MARTIN: That`s right. If Santorum wins here tomorrow or comes close
to the top, he will have a case to make for why he should be that

Here`s the problem, though. When Santorum gets to South Carolina in
January, he`s going to find --

MATTHEWS: It is January.

MARTIN: The 21st of January, when the votes are cast in South
Carolina, he`s going to find Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and perhaps Michele
Bachmann --

MATTHEWS: Still there?

MARTIN: -- all down there waiting for him. It`s what Joe was
saying. It`s math. If you got four them and one of him, they`re there.

KLEIN: South Carolina will be the Super Bowl for the true
conservative candidates that emerge. And then you`re going to have, after
that, in Florida and elsewhere, you`re going to have Romney, you`re going
to have the anti-Romney, and you`re going to have Ron Paul. And Romney is
going to have to struggle to get 51 percent of the votes, because this
thing could go on for a while.

The other thing I would say is this, looking at Newt Gingrich, I
would not want to be on a debate stage with that man this weekend.

MATTHEWS: No, because he`s going for the kill now.


MARTIN: McCain won in a plurality in 2008.


MARTIN: He got 30-some percent in South Carolina, and that`s all he
ultimately needed there. So I think the same thing could happen.

The next big question in the next three weeks, Chris, will
conservatives pressure somebody to drop out of the race. Will there be
pressure on Perry, on Bachmann, on Newt to make room for Santorum? That to
me is going to be key here coming behind --

MATTHEWS: Let me get tough here. Suppose this goes to South
Carolina in a couple of weeks, Mitt Romney perceived to be a moderate
governor of Massachusetts, was pro-choice up there. Now -- he`s also LDS,
which could be a problem with some people, Mormon. We don`t know that yet.

KLEIN: Upstate.

MATTHEWS: Upstate.

And then he goes -- then we have the problem, he signed a bill which
basically has funding of abortion as part of it, which nobody seemed to
focus on until today, basically. All those things together, will that kill
him among the evangelical South, the Baptist South?

KLEIN: Well, he could still win South Carolina.

MARTIN: Right.

KLEIN: But, you know, with the others dividing their vote.

The other thing is that Newt could come back there. All the polls
have showed him pretty strong. It`s almost a home game for him. That`s
his advantage.

Perry`s advantage is --

MATTHEWS: I think a lot of Freddy Krueger in this guy. I think Newt
Gingrich can come back and back and back, "Friday the 13th".

Thank you very much, Joe Klein. Thank you, Jonathan Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: That will be value-added there. Anyway, Joe Klein,

Up next, the invisible campaign. President Obama`s team has quietly
slipped into Iowa. President Obama`s here. And they`ve been hitting hard
at Mitt Romney. That`s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, at Java Joe`s in Des Moines -- Des Moines, how do
you pronounce that? It`s French -- only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

You know, while most of the focus in Iowa here has been on the
Republican presidential candidates ahead on Tuesday`s caucuses, tomorrow`s
caucuses, there`s one other candidate actually participating. He`s been
running a well-organized and you must say stealth campaign out here,
President Barack Obama.

Four years ago, Iowa helped propel Obama to the presidency. He won
here and now, the Obama team has opened eight campaign offices across the
state. It`s held 4,000 personal meetings with potential supporters and
it`s made over 300,000 telephone calls to supporters in advance of
tomorrow`s caucuses.

Joining us now are Obama campaign surrogate, Jen Psaki, who also
formerly worked as the White House deputy communication director. And Jeff
Zeleny, the great reporter for "The New York Times."

First of all, let`s get an objective -- and I know we get it from
you, Jen. Objectively, tell me what you can tell me about the Obama
campaign here tomorrow and on to the general election.

JEFF ZELENY, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, for one thing, President Obama is
actually on the ballot tomorrow. Democrats are going to go out to voice
their support for him. So, one thing that they`re trying to do is to make
sure that that number is fairly high, and make sure there isn`t any trouble
in places like Johnson County and Iowa City to get someone else on the
ballot or to nominate someone else in those precincts.

But the real point of the Democratic caucuses is sort of a test run
for organizing. I`ve spent a lot of time with some neighborhood volunteers
and organizers from Obama for America, and these people have been out here
making phone calls, out trying to drum up support. You know, first for the
health care initiative, then for other things. But finally they have
something really to organize.

So, the things tomorrow night is just trying to drum up support to
fire up the old gang, if you will, because they have a lot of work here to

Jen may disagree, but the Obama campaign has an uphill battle here in
Iowa over the next 10 months.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s respond to both those questions. How good is
your organization? Is it aimed at warming up the line, getting it hot for
next fall? And two, how big of a challenge is it to get the president --
the delegates, the electoral votes from Iowa?

it`s great to be back in Iowa. This is a place that has so much history
for the president. And he`s been continuing this conversation with the
people in the state since he won four years ago and had that incredible
night. And you can tell by the crowd here, we have a lot of Obama
supporters in the crowd which we love.

MATTHEWS: Actually, they`re HARDBALL supporters.

PSAKI: Well, maybe they`re HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: That`s maybe both.


PSAKI: That`s fine. That`s fine.

MATTHEWS: How many here for Obama?


MATTHEWS: You made your point.

PSAKI: There are some Obama supporters here.

But I will say that the most interesting thing about the next several
days is when the Republican candidates pack up, they clean up their
offices, and they leave. The Obama campaign is going to be here on
Wednesday. You mentioned eight offices. You mentioned the calls.

This is a continuing conversation. Tomorrow night`s a part of that.
The president will be live-streaming into caucuses all across the state,
having a conversation with the people.

But we know that we need to talk about what needs to be done with the
economy, where we`re going to lead the country, and that`s exactly what
he`ll be doing tomorrow night.

MATTHEWS: So, how would you describe, as a partisan, and that`s fair
enough? How would you describe the need to carry Iowa? How important is
it, the Hawkeye State?

Do you need it?

PSAKI: You know, of course, it`s very important.

MATTHEWS: Do you need it?

PSAKI: You need, there`s many path to get there, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK. That`s a flap argument, I know.

PSAKI: I love -- but could the president love the state, I think
there`s no question he wants to win in next November.

MATTHEWS: OK. What do you think, Jeff, in terms of the importance
of the state.

ZELENY: He absolutely needs Iowa. I cannot imagine a scenario where
this president being reelected if he does not win the state of Iowa. Of
course, mathematically it`s possible. But if you`re not winning in the
place like Iowa, that means that you are in trouble in other places.

So, I think a couple of things --

MATTHEWS: The unemployment rate here, by the way, is terrible --

ZELENY: It`s 5.7 percent.

MATTHEWS: -- which should mean it should be better for him.

ZELENY: It is. But Republicans have become more organized over the
last four years. Republicans had great victories here in 2010. Governor
Branstad is back. You know, I mean, he`s -- and several Republicans, so
they control the House and things.

So, I think it will be pretty even up, and the good thing is, we`ll
come back to Iowa many times between now and next November.

MATTHEWS: If the unemployment rate goes back up to about nine, of
course, that`s the worst case scenario, how does the president make his
case for reelection? If the number goes back again to that 9 percent,
which seems so awful?

PSAKI: Well, it is. But, you know, the case is, that the contrast
between what the candidates are offering. And you have -- whether it`s
Mitt Romney or Rick Perry or whomever is running on the Republican side or
platform, they`re running against a plan for it`s economic security of the
middle class. And the president is presenting a contrast to that.

You know, I would encourage anybody to go back and read the speech
that the president gave when he won the Iowa caucuses, because he promised
the tax cuts for the middle class and end the war in Iraq, affordable and
accessible health care for all Americans. And he`s delivered on those, but
the journey is not done and he wants to continue to serve in the next year
and five years.

MATTHEWS: So you`re hopeful?

PSAKI: Absolutely.


Jeff, how do you bet this state right now?

ZELENY: I think right now, it depends who the nominee is, of course,
and we`re going to have a window into that, into the results of the Iowa
caucuses tomorrow night. If Mitt Romney happens to win, it will be a short
nominating contest, and Romney and Obama will be going after each other a

I think Mitt Romney could actually have some strength here. He`s a
middle of the road conservative, although he sometimes doesn`t look like it
in this primary. But at the end of the day, I think Iowa will be very

MATTHEWS: I think he`s more moderate than he`s willing to admit.

ZELENY: Some people, though, like that.

MATTHEWS: The Democratic National Committee, by the way, has been
hitting Mitt Romney. They do believe he`s the candidate for the past month
and now, they are holding events in Iowa with Randy Johnson, a man who`s
fired from his job in 1992 after Romney`s company Bain Capital, took over
the company where he worked.

Listen how Johnson characterized Romney and his co-workers at Bain
Capital in an interview with ABC News just last week.


RANDY JOHNSON: I really believe and I think it`s come out over the
years since this time, but other Bain Capital directors, that they had
actually had a philosophy, a way of doing business, and it was to make
themselves richer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the expense of --

JOHNSON: Of the workers. I mean, they were able to make the
companies lean. They were going to drive up debt, charge fees, sell stock,
whatever it takes to make big dollars for investors. Families were
devastated. In some cases, we had the husband and wife both working there,
they lose all income. It doesn`t get much worse than that.


MATTHEWS: Boy, he makes himself like the classic chop shop
operation. You go into a company and fire everybody. The company dies in
a few months. But you made a ton of money.

PSAKI: Well, look --

MATTHEWS: Is that what Bain Capital is all about?

PSAKI: I think Mitt Romney has been parading around as big job
creator. But the guy was working for a company where his job was to make a
profit for its investors. That`s how a lot of businesses work. But let`s
not pretend you`re out there running --

MATTHEWS: So, Mitt Romney is a job killer, not a job creator?

PSAKI: Well -- and a benefit cutter as well.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Jen Psaki. Good luck out there.

Jeff Zeleny, as always to have you, with "New York Times."

ZELENY: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: When we return, "Let Me Finish" with dollars over
democracy. You`re watching HARDBALL from Des Moines, on the eve, the night
before the Iowa caucuses -- only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

This Republican caucus in Iowa has the looks of a travesty, a victory
of dollars over democracy, financial equity over equality.

Romney is destroying the only opponent he fears for the nomination,
with the relentless wealth-driven advertising campaign the voter can only
escape if he turns off his television set. He`s doing it without his
fingerprints on the ads, without his face or his name attached to it. He`s
doing it while he stands before crowds, reciting their verses from "America
the Beautiful".

If there`s ever been a more cynical use of money and media, it is
hard to recall it. And so, what exactly will Tuesday nights results mean,
will they mean that Iowa likes Romney? Or will it say that the voters of
Iowa have been used to destroy his most formidable national opponent?

What it looks like Iowa will say, in the headlines at least, is what
it says often, that it likes the candidate who adheres most closely to the
evangelical line. In this case, they have a perfect vessel, Rick Santorum
of Pennsylvania. He`s pro-life, he educates his children at home, he`s
opposed to same sex marriage. He is to the evangelicals and other
Christian conservatives, one of them.

So, if Santorum gets up around the high 30s tomorrow night, that will
be about right.

Ron Paul will also get his share of the vote tomorrow, the
libertarian vote, bolstered by the young and the anti-war of all ages.

You may have noticed that no Republican has even whispered the name
W. in this campaign. Try and find Republicans who are ready to stand up
and say the Iraq war made sense or want a decider, as they call themselves
out there, working the rope line for them.

No, this campaign fits a groove. The evangelicals have found their
soul brother, the libertarians have a genuine article in Ron Paul. And the
conservatives who are looking for someone who thinks like them and could
still beat Obama have seen their hope killed by an expensive, stealth
campaign that`s left them with a choice of voting for Mitt Romney and I bet
they flinch from that. They will hold back in hope of finding some way to
avoid voting for someone they know in their souls is not one of them.

If Mitt Romney even breaks 50 percent of the vote tomorrow night, it
will be a victory of stealth over openness, cynicism over conviction -- and
as I said -- financial equity over equality of voters, and dollars over
democracy. How ironic it was that it was the conservative who made this
kind of campaign legal.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "POLITICS
NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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