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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Monday, January 30, 2012

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Howard Fineman, Michael Steele, Eugene Robinson, Chris Cillizza, Charlie Crist


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Miami. Leading off tonight: Mitt
gets mean. Mitt Romney is poised for a big win in tomorrow night`s Florida
primary. His latest lead in the polls is double digit. And the reason is
clear. Mitt got mean. Mitt Romney took his foot off the gas after Iowa.
That gave Newt Gingrich an opening. Not going to let that happen again.
Mitt`s been pounding Newt on the air, in the debates, on the stump, and
it`s paying off here in Florida.

Still, Newt says no matter what happens here tomorrow night, he`s
going to fight all the way to the convention. Candidates say that sort of
thing all the time, but in Newt`s case, he could very well mean it.
Consider this. At age 68, he`s not playing good soldier for a shot four
years from now. It`s now or never for Newt.

Plus, it`s personal. Newt`s got it out for Mitt after the
annihilation campaign Romney`s been running against him. And if he can`t
have it, why should he let someone he can`t stand have the presidency?

And here`s one thing the White House learned the last few days, last
few weeks, how to take on Mitt Romney because win or lose here tomorrow
night, he`s a much weaker candidate than he was just weeks ago. And that`s
because the Obama campaign has been taking notes on Mitt and has a
blueprint, they think, for beating him.

And the man Florida Republicans love to hate, former governor Charlie
Crist tonight here on HARDBALL on his former party, on whether President
Obama will carry the Sunshine state come November.

And finally, "Let Me Finish" with Newt versus Romney. Revenge, as the
Italians say,is a dish best served cold.

We begin with Romney`s negative assault on Gingrich here in Florida.
And with me here in Miami are the two pros, already taking this town by


MATTHEWS: ... "MORNING JOE`s" Joe Scarborough...


MATTHEWS: ... and Mika Brzezinski.


MATTHEWS: I was at your event this morning at the deli...


MATTHEWS: ... that New York-style deli this morning...

BRZEZINSKI: That was an event!

MATTHEWS: And those people were lined up, what, at 4:00 this morning
to catch your act.

SCARBOROUGH: Right. Exactly.

BRZEZINSKI: There were some very colorful characters there.


SCARBOROUGH: ... it`s fascinating...

MATTHEWS: Was Jackie Mason there?


SCARBOROUGH: Also, "The Miami Herald" reported...


SCARBOROUGH: ... that strippers were there.



MATTHEWS: Not strippers, women of the night.

SCARBOROUGH: OK, so here`s a fascinating end...

MATTHEWS: That`s what I heard.

SCARBOROUGH: ... to that story. So I asked Warren Skloronski (ph), I
said, Let me see a copy of that "Miami Herald" story because there`s a
funny picture of Mike Allen with a stripper next to him.


SCARBOROUGH: And so I`m looking, and guess what`s on the side of the
ad? "While Florida was suffering, Newt cashed in," on the side of the...


SCARBOROUGH: Everywhere...


SCARBOROUGH: I`m just saying -- no, no! Everywhere you go in this
state, Mitt Romney is hammering Newt Gingrich. And you know what? It`s
just like Rick Scott. This is how he beat Bill McCollum. He destroyed him
in 30-second ads.


SCARBOROUGH: But there`s always a cost...

MATTHEWS: You end up...


SCARBOROUGH: ... Chris. You end up being hated. And Mitt Romney may
be winning the battle, he`s going to lose the war if he`s not careful. He
needs to start telling people what`s good about Mitt instead of what`s bad
about Newt.


MATTHEWS: ... not careful. You took a little edge off that. Let`s
take a look at this. Romney has a commanding lead, 15 points, in our
latest NBC Marist poll. Now, that`s 15 points down here. He`s on top with
42 to Gingrich`s 27, with Santorum and Ron Paul well behind.

But the range in other recent polls varies wildly. In a new Suffolk
just poll out last night, Romney has a 20-point advantage over Gingrich,
42-27. But in an automated PPP poll, Romney had just a 7-point lead over
the weekend. But that dropped to just 4 if you looked only at Sunday
(INAUDIBLE) So at least in one poll, Newt is closing. What do you make of
that, Mika?

BRZEZINSKI: Wow! Newt is closing on Romney? Doubt it here in
Florida. But overall, the question is what are we going to be left with?
What is your party going to be left with after they`re done with each

SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, there`s a point of diminishing returns
and all these negative ads. Again, everything has been negative towards
Gingrich from Romney. And I just wonder, Chris, if there is a turnaround,
if Gingrich does tighten up, whether it`s a backlash against Romney doing
nothing but doing these 30-second negative ads. That does, at some point,
turn people off.

MATTHEWS: This is where I think there`s a tonal problem with Romney.
We`ve all talked about it on your show and my show. Catch this. Here`s
Mitt Romney with Matt Lauer this morning, laying out his new campaign
strategy, his theme, scale back the attacks on President Obama in time now
to focus on his arch-Republican enemy, Gingrich. Let`s watch him explain


question that politics ain`t beanbags. (SIC) And we have made sure that
our message is out loud and clear. The speaker has been attacking me all
over the state in ways that are really extraordinary, in some respects
painful to watch because it`s so revealing of him. And you know, the fact
is that he worked with hundreds of people in Washington, and only a handful
of those people are willing to support him.



MATTHEWS: This is so personal.


MATTHEWS: This is taking on your main opponent and you`re talking
about how nobody likes him.

SCARBOROUGH: Right, but...

MATTHEWS: It`s high school.

SCARBOROUGH: But he doesn`t connect with the -- listen, I`m one of
those guys that worked with Newt and have -- obviously, have a lot of
concerns about Newt that we talked about in real time when I was a guest on

But even look at the attacks that Mitt`s making -- he`s talking about
an ethics investigation that most of us Republicans believe had nothing to
do with ethics and had everything to do with Democrats taking down the

MATTHEWS: Of course!

SCARBOROUGH: ... that took down Jim Wright. And so even in his
attacks against Newt -- if he were attacking Newt for being ideologically
inconsistent, for going after Paul Ryan`s plan, saying it`s radical right-
wing social engineering, I`d say, OK, I agree with Mitt. Instead, he`s
taking a Democratic attack against Newt, and he`s borrowing Tom Brokaw`s
newscast to do it.

MATTHEWS: I saw that.

SCARBOROUGH: The whole thing -- he doesn`t get...

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you a question...

SCARBOROUGH: ... the conservative base!

MATTHEWS: ... two questions. First let`s start with my favorite
question from the old days. I always ask this. You`re on an airplane.
Let`s assume you`re up front. You`re in 1A


MATTHEWS: Who do you want sitting with you on a plane ride in 1B for
five or six or ten hours, let`s say Australia. DO you want Newt next to
you, or do you want Mitt Romney next to you?

BRZEZINSKI: I probably...

MATTHEWS: As a person next to you.

BRZEZINSKI: (INAUDIBLE) person, I prefer Mitt Romney. But I think
that`s pretty obvious.


SCARBOROUGH: I`m strange.

BRZEZINSKI: Having said that...

SCARBOROUGH: I would prefer to be next to Newt...



MATTHEWS: ... gender difference right in this campaign.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes, I`m just saying...

MATTHEWS: That`s the gender...



MATTHEWS: There is a gender break, Mika, that`s so pronounced in this
race among men and women voters down here, something like a 20-point -- not
that you`re typical, either one of you guys. But the gender is matching up
with you guys.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, it is. But here`s the question that I want to know.
Who would Jeb Bush like to sit next to for 10 hours?

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a good question.

BRZEZINSKI: I wish he`d make a decision. Wouldn`t that help move
this down the road a little bit and...

MATTHEWS: Or Marco Rubio.

BRZEZINSKI: ... clean this up? Or Marco Rubio.


BRZEZINSKI: Why can`t they get behind him?

MATTHEWS: Your point being?

BRZEZINSKI: My point being Mitt Romney still can`t close the deal.
Are you kidding me? And we`re going to let Newt Gingrich -- you`re going
to let -- your party`s going to let Newt Gingrich do this...


SCARBOROUGH: You know, the amazing thing is the Republicans will
allow Mitt to win a race, and then they`ll reflexively move against him.


MATTHEWS: ... oh, my God, buyers` remorse in two minutes!


MATTHEWS: Buyers` -- let`s take a look -- this weekend at a rally in
Naples, Florida, down with the rich WASP -- you know, the Midwesterners...


MATTHEWS: ... and their criticism of the debates. Let`s watch this
right now.


ROMNEY: The first debate, of course, the audience was quiet. And
Speaker Gingrich said that threw him off. He can`t -- he can`t debate
before a quiet audience. Then the next audience was very loud, very loud.
And he said that threw him off. He can`t debate before a real loud


ROMNEY: It`s like Goldilocks, you know? Can`t have it this way, has
to be just so!


MATTHEWS: In a million years, do you think he thought that up


MATTHEWS: Stu Stevens (ph) thought that one up.

SCARBOROUGH: Right, right. And...


BRZEZINSKI: ... apparently!

SCARBOROUGH: ... how many times -- how many times we heard Mitt say,
Hey, politics ain`t beanbag? Everything this guy says is practiced, is
rehearsed in front of a mirror.


SCARBOROUGH: And no, it`s...


SCARBOROUGH: And that`s the real problem. At the end of the day...

MATTHEWS: That`s where the word "hardball" came from in politics, by
the way...


SCARBOROUGH: But at the end of the day, we conservatives don`t have
anybody to rally around. We had George Bush for eight years. We got
record deficits from it. And there`s nowhere to go for us.

MATTHEWS: Here`s the guy I love to hate or hate to love. I can`t
tell sometimes because Newt Gingrich is the best game in town for anybody
watching politics. Here he is on "Fox News Sunday" going after what`s been
done to him. And it has been done to him!

SCARBOROUGH: It has been done to him.

MATTHEWS: Here it is, about the carpet bombing.


has a basic policy of carpet bombing his opponent. He doesn`t try to build
up Mitt Romney, he just tries to tear down whoever he`s running against.
And it has an effect.

We`re in a very tough campaign down here. Ironically, if you look at
the three national polls this week, everyplace else in the country that he
can`t carpet-bomb, the ideas that I`m representing, the scale of change I
represent, the conservative movement I represent, we actually have been
pulling away from him in national polls. But I give Governor Romney`s
campaign due respect for the sheer volume of negativity that they use and
the sheer amount of money they raise on Wall Street.


MATTHEWS: How ironic! "I give them credit for the sheer volume of
negativity." What a kind of a statement about democracy is that?

SCARBOROUGH: It`s not whining, though, because it`s the truth.


SCARBOROUGH: But again, I go back to the Rick Scott model. I was
here when he ran against Bill McCollum...

MATTHEWS: The governor of Florida today.

SCARBOROUGH: ... the governor of Florida. All he did was what Mitt

MATTHEWS: Well, what are his numbers right now?

SCARBOROUGH: ... is doing. He ran negative ads. And as you know, he
got sworn in with a 34 percent approval rating. Mitt is really -- he`s
playing for the short game. He`s being a day trader. This is -- he`s got
to define himself in a positive way, or he`s in trouble.

MATTHEWS: Is -- Mika, looking at this as an independent journalist,
is the White House thrilled by this? Because one thing they teach in all
the "13 keys" and all these guys who write stories about predicting
elections, if there`s an intramural fight in one of the parties...


MATTHEWS: ... a real mad dog, crazy fight, the other team always

BRZEZINSKI: They`re absolutely thrilled. This is fantastic for them.
I don`t think it`s good for the national conversation. I`d like to see a
really good Republican candidate taking on the president and the
conversation being elevated. But it looks like Mitt Romney`s going to be
torn down bit by bit. And if Newt Gingrich for some reason gains some
headway, that would not be good for the country, either.

MATTHEWS: OK, we`re back to...


BRZEZINSKI: ... opinion.

MATTHEWS: It`s sweltering. My favorite scene (ph) -- excuse me --
it`s 100 degrees, 100 humidity.


MATTHEWS: Newt Gingrich shows up...


MATTHEWS: ... at the Republican convention which is going to crown --
crown -- Mitt Romney. What`s his role?

SCARBOROUGH: The same role of Pat Buchanan in 1992.


SCARBOROUGH: I mean, he`s going to come down...

MATTHEWS: He`s going to torch the place?

SCARBOROUGH: He`s going to -- he`s going to have a group of people
that are going to be thrilled. They`re going to jump to their feet.
They`re going to respond to him in a way they`re not going to respond to
the nominee.

MATTHEWS: So he`ll get -- he`ll get quality primetime time? Will he
get it if he fights to the end? He won`t get that...

SCARBOROUGH: Well, yes...


SCARBOROUGH: I think he will, or else he`ll blow the convention up.
You and I know this, and a lot of people are shocked at home to hear this,
but the Clintons didn`t vote for Barack Obama four years ago.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know that.

SCARBOROUGH: And Newt Gingrich is not going to vote...

MATTHEWS: See, I don`t know that.

SCARBOROUGH: ... for Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: You don`t know that.

SCARBOROUGH: Newt won`t vote for Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: I believe that, but I don`t know about the Romneys...


MATTHEWS: I don`t know about the Clintons.

SCARBOROUGH: But let`s just say you and I both know in really heated,
harsh, primary elections...

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes. Sure!

SCARBOROUGH: Forget about four years ago. Not only did they all go
and vote against in their party, their families...

MATTHEWS: OK, and by the way...


MATTHEWS: ... and the surmise is worthy -- worth of assault (ph).
But let me ask you about democracy. You talk about the quality of our
democracy, which our soldiers fight for.


MATTHEWS: Which is what we believe in as a country. Is it good that
a guy is on the verge of winning the Florida primary for the Republican
presidential nomination by spending $16 million in negative advertisements
against the other guy`s $4 million? Is that democracy? That sounds like a
Karl Marx criticism of democracy. You guys are just the rich guys spending
money in these campaigns to pretend it`s the average person voting.

BRZEZINSKI: No, it`s not. The system is definitely flawed and
crumbling to an extent. And the conversation`s limited between the
Republican candidates. It`s not great.


MATTHEWS: ... 16 million bucks to destroy the other guy`s


MATTHEWS: ... to win the nomination.

SCARBOROUGH: If you use the 16 million bucks to say, This is how I`m
going to save Medicare, this is how I`m going to balance the budget, this
is how I`m going to get the troops home from Afghanistan...

BRZEZINSKI: That`s not how you win.

SCARBOROUGH: ... that helps. The problem here is you`ve got Mitt
Romney, that is running a campaign without meaning, negative attack ads
using Democratic ethics attacks against Newt Gingrich. And then he goes on
the campaign trail and his punchline is reciting the words to "America the

MATTHEWS: What would you have done if your staff people had put out
the word to "The New York Times" for the front page on Sunday that,
basically, your candidate was a puppet...

SCARBOROUGH: You know what I`d do?

MATTHEWS: ... and you had to pull the strings.

SCARBOROUGH: You know what I`d do?

MATTHEWS: It just happened.

SCARBOROUGH: I`d fire them in a second.


MATTHEWS: Fire them! You are a Republican!

SCARBOROUGH: I would call Stu (ph), Steve and Stan (ph) and I`d say,
You know what? That was a great article. And I recommend you use it in
your next job interview because you`re done here. That was a disgrace!
And I mean it. Somebody needs to be fired.

But you know what that shows? The lack of respect Romney`s own team
has for him. By the way...

MATTHEWS: Remember Bob Marasek (ph) and the staff guy that did that
to him years ago?


MATTHEWS: Same thing. Anyway...

SCARBOROUGH: But you know, Ronald Reagan in 1980, I had confirmation
of what I said, that grabbing of the microphone, Mr. Green, I paid for that
mike -- a guy that worked on the campaign said it wasn`t all set -- it was
a setup. We knew it was coming. But what we did was we let Reagan do it.
We let Reagan have the spotlight instead of blabbing how smart we were...

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

SCARBOROUGH: ... to the campaign. They`re a disgrace.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. It`s a hell of a -- it shows how much
puppeteering is going on here...


MATTHEWS: ... by the Romney people. They don`t mind admitting
they`re puppeteers. Mika, thank you.

BRZEZINSKI: Thank you...


BRZEZINSKI: Thank you for having us.

MATTHEWS: ... thank you, Joe. Thank...


MATTHEWS: I`ll be on your show tomorrow morning (INAUDIBLE) at dawn.


MATTHEWS: Coming up: Newt vows to go all the way to the convention.
We`re going to talk about that all night. Newt will not go away. He is
Freddy Krueger, and he`s making it personal...

BRZEZINSKI: There you go!

MATTHEWS: ... against Mitt. It`s Friday night -- Friday the 13th
will never end.

You`re watching HARDBALL from the Miami Children`s Museum on Watson
Island in Miami, Florida, on the eve of the Florida primary. There`s that
-- look, it`s moving!

BRZEZINSKI: Yes! It`s awesome!


MATTHEWS: Well, just as in the Iowa primary, it`s the campaign of
annihilation here in Florida. Ad spending has topped $24 million. And as
I mentioned a moment ago, Mitt Romney and his supporters are outspending
Gingrich by about 4 to 1, nearly $16 million to $4 million in negative ads.
And it`s the super-PAC supporting Romney that`s leading the spending spree
down here. Take a look. Restore Our Future -- that`s the super-PAC that
supports Romney -- has spent nearly $9 million, while the Romney campaign
itself has spent $7 million. Winning Our Future, the pro-Gingrich super-
PAC, has spent just shy of $3 million, while Romney -- actually, Gingrich
spent a little over $1 million. You got the numbers, 4 to 1 negative
spending by Romney over Gingrich.

We`ll be right back.



GINGRICH: We will go all the way to the convention.

This is going to be a straight-out contest for the next four or five


MATTHEWS: Wow. Welcome back to HARDBALL. Even if Mitt Romney wins
here tomorrow night in Florida, Newt Gingrich declared, as you just heard,
he`s not going anywhere. And he has dialed up his attacks on Romney from
"Massachusetts moderate" to "Massachusetts liberal." That`s what he`s
calling him.


GINGRICH: I am, in fact, the legitimate heir of the Reagan movement,
not some liberal from Massachusetts!

Conservatives are going to come together and decide they do not want a
Massachusetts liberal.

The only effective vote to stop a Massachusetts liberal from becoming
our nominee is to vote for Newt Gingrich.


MATTHEWS: Wow. If Gingrich really does stay in the race for the long
haul, how`s that affect Romney`s chances in the general election against
the President?

Michael Steele`s an MSNBC political analyst and former chairman of the
Republican National Committee. Howard Fineman is also an MSNBC political
analyst and editorial director for the Huffington Post Media Group.

Howard, let`s talk about this whole thing now. It looks to me like
this guy`s loaded for bear. The Newt ain`t going anywhere.

No, I don`t think he is. I talked to a couple of his closest friends
today, who said they strongly advised him to go all the way to the
convention. And they didn`t have to do a lot of convincing. He wants to
do it, but they also want to do it because they want to keep raising money
and they want to raise money based on the idea that there`s an ideological
fight that needs to be waged for the good of the soul of the party and the
conservative movement all the way to the convention. So they`re going to
position it like...

MATTHEWS: This is Ted Kennedy!

FINEMAN: ... this not just...

MATTHEWS: Against Carter.

FINEMAN: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: It`s the Georgetown speech!

FINEMAN: It`s not about Newt. Of course, it is about Newt...


FINEMAN: ... but it`s not about Newt. It`s about we need to do this
for the soul of the party because this is not a Romney party. This is not
a Massachusetts moderate party.

MATTHEWS: This is exactly what Ted Kennedy said against President
Carter when he gave -- when he knew he wasn`t going to win the fight for
the nomination against Carter, he went and gave that speech in Georgetown
where he said it`s all about ideology.

-- and -- but there -- like then, I believe now, there`s some truth to
that, as well. There is within...

MATTHEWS: There was truth in Teddy, too.

STEELE: There is -- there is at the core of it this battle, and the
moderates and the conservatives in the party have to work out how they`re
going to get along.

MATTHEWS: Who do you like?

STEELE: Who do I like in that fight?

MATTHEWS: No, in this fight. Right now, Newt versus Romney. Who do
you think`s got the case...

STEELE: Oh, I think...

MATTHEWS: Who`s got the heart of the party?

STEELE: I think -- I think Newt does. And I think that`s illustrated
by the fact that Romney just can`t close the deal with those conservatives
out there.

FINEMAN: Can I also...

MATTHEWS: Is that also -- just to be local down here, is that why
Mitt Romney -- why Jeb Bush, who everybody seems to like down here, and
even Marco Rubio are keeping a distance?

STEELE: Backing up (ph).

MATTHEWS: What`s that about? They don`t want to endorse Romney.

STEELE: Two things, I think. One is preserving their own
opportunities for the future. And number two, recognizing that -- this is
more parochial -- you come in our state, take the time to actually fight
for the vote. Don`t assume the vote is going to be there. Don`t assume my
endorsement`s going to be there.

So there`s a little bit of that politics of it.


STEELE: But the core of it really rolls down to, what is this fight
going to be like? What does it look like?

And those guys, particularly two of them touted the way they have been
touted, don`t want to have their fingerprints in the mess.



FINEMAN: Chris, I was over in Little Havana today making the usual
stop at the great place, the Cafe Versailles, which is the equivalent of
the Palm...


FINEMAN: And I bumped into two Republican congressmen, John Mica and
Diaz-Balart and -- Mario Diaz-Balart. And neither one of them to me
sounded overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the man they had endorsed.

They both endorsed Mitt Romney. But if I can do my John Mica
properly, it was like, yes, Mitt Romney. It was, yes, Mitt Romney. And I
think it`s for the reason that Michael is talking about, which is that they
know that Newt is flawed. They -- and so they have no choice, they feel,
but to be with Mitt Romney.

But it`s not because they like him personally or agree with him
ideologically. And I think if there`s any breeze blowing here now in the
last 24 hours, with the strong endorsement from Sarah Palin of Newt
Gingrich on FOX repeatedly, with Rick Santorum having left the state
because his child is sick, with the sort of bounce-back reaction to a
little too much dancing in the end zone prematurely by the Romney crowd,
that`s going to unite the conservatives for one last push.

And I think -- I could be wrong -- I often am -- but I think it`s
going to be closer in the end...

MATTHEWS: Tomorrow night.

FINEMAN: ... tomorrow night than people anticipate.

MATTHEWS: Yes, you told me that. You might be all alone, but we will
remember that if you`re right.



MATTHEWS: By the way, do you think the Republican conservatives look
upon Mitt Romney as Fredo in "The Godfather"? He`s my brother, but he`s

STEELE: Yes. That`s a good way to look at it.

MATTHEWS: OK. We will leave it at that.


MATTHEWS: Sarah Palin says she wants Gingrich to keep on fighting.
One reason, by the way -- wants him to keep on fighting because he`s tapped
into the Tea Party anger. And, boy, we know that. Let`s listen to her.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Look at the players in the
establishment who are fighting so hard against him. They want to crucify
him because he has tapped into that average, everyday American Tea Party
grassroots movement. So, if for no other reason, rage against the machine,
vote for Newt. Annoy a liberal vote. Vote Newt. Keep this vetting
process going, keep the debate going.


MATTHEWS: Wow. That`s the pure gold there.

One reason why Newt might want to -- well, another reason why Newt
might want to stay on his numbers are -- his numbers nationwide are much
because they are better than they are in Florida. According to the Gallup
daily tracking poll, Nationally, Gingrich and Romney are basically tied.
Gingrich is actually up a point.

So, Howard, it looks like Gingrich has a very good case no matter what
happens here tomorrow night. If you`re right, he`s close, he has a better


MATTHEWS: But no matter what happens here, he says, look. Look at
the national numbers. I`m in this fight. I may not have...


FINEMAN: As long as he can cloth it in the nobility of the
ideological fight...

MATTHEWS: Of the cause.

FINEMAN: ... in the cause, then he can convince himself and some
others to stay with him.

And I think the key thing is going to raise money over the next month.
Then, if he can make it out to Super Tuesday...

MATTHEWS: How does he get through February?


STEELE: The caucuses will feed that energy with no doubt about that,
because that`s all grassroots in many respects.

Yes, Nevada problematic, Michigan problematic, but that`s already
factored in. That`s already baked into...


MATTHEWS: You mean even losing all these races we`re looking at, he
can hang in until March, when he should do very well in the South?


FINEMAN: He`s got to figure out some way to do that financially and
in terms of free media strategy between now and then. What the answer to
that is, I don`t know. But Newt is a master at getting free media. Who
knows what he`s going to do between now and then.


MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you a question. Does your party still have
-- I used to call it the white boys club, the governors that got together,
terrible term.

How about the boys club?

STEELE: The boys club.

MATTHEWS: The governors, is there still a pack of them to get
together in some club somewhere at a hotel and say, we`re the party, we
have to clean this thing up, we got to get rid of this Newt guy?

Is there any party group that could get together like that?

STEELE: No, not really, because -- no, because I think you have seen
attempts at that at various stages where you may have some of the governors
rallying around a particular candidate, like Mitch Daniels, but, no, not

This is what`s so exciting for me. This is all grassroots that is
driving this now. And it`s great.

FINEMAN: But think about what we know about Newt already. The three
marriages. The Ethics Committee violations. Every bad thing has been
thrown at him, and he`s still there, he`s still there, he`s still there.


MATTHEWS: He`s got a gender gap problem. Women are not as


STEELE: Gives him a chance to close that gap.


MATTHEWS: That will be an interesting gap to close.

Thank you, Michael Steele.

Women are going to love Newt after they know more about him.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Howard Fineman, Michael Steele.

Up next: The chairman of the Republican Party compares President
Obama to that Italian cruise ship captain who jumped ship and left the
passengers to whatever. Is this disrespecting the president? Well, I
would say so.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the "Sideshow."

First up: resorting to nursery rhymes. Newt Gingrich may be saying he
will carry on in the Republican race until the Republican Convention this
summer regardless of how he fares in tomorrow`s primary. Well, that will
make for a more exciting spring and summer for us, of course, but it`s
certainly rattling the world of the Republican establishment.

Here`s George F. Will yesterday.


friend, because the more time he has, the more he talks, and the more he
talks, the more he says things, as he just did here this morning.

He said, I would love to be civil, but I`m running against a maniacal

Now, that`s pretty strong language. I don`t know if you have ever
told Longfellow`s nursery rhyme to your 4-year-old daughter, Alice.


WILL: There is a little girl, who had a little curl right in the
middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very good, indeed, and
when she was bad, she was horrid. And we`re at the horrid stage with Newt


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the GOP establishment talking.

And I`m rooting for Newt of course to stay in this thing. It will
create mishegas for the Tea Party world and a compelling political
spectacle for us.

Next up, taking it to the extreme. RNC Chair Reince Priebus is facing
heated backlash today as the result of his comparing President Obama to --
get this -- the captain of that Italian cruise liner who abandoned ship
after taking the Costa Concordia on the rocks.

Let`s hear what Priebus said about GOP infighting on CBS yesterday


in a few months, this is all going to be ancient history and we`re going to
talk about our own little Captain Schettino, which is President Obama, who
is abandoning the ship here in the United States and is more interested in
campaigning than doing his job as president.

BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": What did you call President

PRIEBUS: I called him Captain Schettino, you know, the captain that
fled the ship in Italy.


MATTHEWS: Well, that captain, that ship captain is facing charges,
including manslaughter, for his involvement and reaction to the wreck.

U.S. Congresswoman and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released a
statement calling him Priebus for making that terrible comparison.

It reads in part: "Chairman Priebus should be ashamed of his comments
comparing President Obama to the captain of the wrecked Italian cruise
ship. That he would compare the president of the United States with a man
now charged with manslaughter for his action shows a lack of respect for
the president that`s beyond the bounds of appropriate political discourse."

Well, the incident also entered the fray at today`s White House
briefing, where Jay Carney called Priebus -- quote -- "desperate for

Finally tonight, an inside look. Since the successful raid of Osama
bin Laden`s compound in Pakistan last night -- we have heard bits and
pieces of course of what went into the high-risk decision to go forward
with that operation.

Well, Vice President Joe Biden gave us another piece of the puzzle
during a speech to House Democrats this Friday. As it turns out, the
decision was far from unanimous. Let`s listen to Biden.


person in that room hedged their bet, except Leon Panetta. Leon said go.
Everyone else said 49-51. They got to me. They said, Joe, what do you
think? I said, I didn`t know we had so many economists around the table.

I said, we owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion
is, don`t go. He walked out and said, I will give you my decision.

The next morning, he came out to the diplomatic entrance getting in a
helicopter I believe to go to Michigan. I`m not positive of that. He
turned to Tom Donilon and said, go.


MATTHEWS: And the rest of the story is history. Biden used the
president`s decision on bin Laden to hit back at opponents who attack the
president for -- quote -- "leading from behind."

Up next, even if Mitt Romney wins big here tomorrow in Florida, the
Obama campaign knows a lot more about how to beat him, Romney, in a general
election than it did just a few weeks ago. That`s ahead, the big story,
Obama, how is he going to do it?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Sue Herera with your CNBC "Market

The Dow Jones industrials lost about seven points, the S&P 500 down
three. The Nasdaq fell four and change. On the economic front, consumer
spending was flat last month. According to the Commerce Department, that
was the weakest since June, but incomes rose about a half a percent.

Shares of U.S. Airways rose 4 percent following a report that Delta is
considering an offer for that airline. According to "The Wall Street
Journal" Delta hasn`t approached the company just yet. It`s also said to
be looking at AMR, which is American Airlines.

On the earnings front, Wendy`s reported a 30 percent drop in profits.
The burger chain has been struggling with higher food costs among other
things. The stock lost nearly 4 percent. And group shares were also lower
today. A published reported says the company`s chairman, Richard Parsons,
may be leaving to pursue other interests. Parsons joined the banking giant
in 2009 following the financial crisis.

And that`s it from CNBC. We are first in business worldwide -- now
back to Chris and HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republicans are focused on what happens here tomorrow night, of
course, but for the White House, all bets are on Romney. They think he`s
the winner and they are prepared to run against the former Massachusetts
governor already.

A new poll today shows how tight that race would end up being.
According to a "USA Today"/Gallup poll of 12 key swing states, the states
that matter in these decisions, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are in a
virtual tie. It is a tie, 47 percent for the president and 48 percent for

It`s a far different picture than what a race between the president
and Newt Gingrich would look like. Look at this. According to the poll,
Obama would lead the former House speaker by 14 points. No wonder they are
focusing on the guy they would have a fight with.

Over the past few weeks, Romney has shown some important weaknesses as
he battled Newt Gingrich and others. And you can be sure -- we all can --
that the Obama campaign has been taking notes. What exactly right now is
president`s team learning from the primary fight that they can use in the
general election later this year?

We`re going to find out that right now. Eugene Robinson is an MSNBC
political analyst and a columnist for "The Washington Post." And Chris
Cillizza is also an MSNBC contributor and managing editor of PostPolitics
down in Washington.

Let`s talk about this thing right now. We looked at these numbers.
And let me ask you. Take a look now at Axelrod talking on "Meet the Press"
yesterday about what they`re learning. Here he is.


are fleeing Governor Romney now, and his numbers are falling. He`s
underwater nationally. This process is not helping him. Because he`s so
intent on pandering to those forces on the right of his party to try and
win this nomination.


MATTHEWS: He`s on the mark there. There`s some evidence of Mitt
Romney`s fall right now among independents in the latest NBC/"Wall Street
Journal" poll.

While those independents rating him overall positively have remained
steady, his negative rating has gone up. In November, 22 percent viewed
him negatively. In December, that number was up to 29 percent. Now that
number is up to 44 percent. So he`s rising on the negative side.

Take a look at how Romney and Obama match up now among independents.
Back in November, Romney beat Obama by 13 points. That`s in November. Now
Obama beats Romney by nine -- actually eight -- 44-36.

Let me start with you, Gene.

It seems to me that there`s been collateral damage here, damage that
might last. The question of course will it last on Romney`s side?

been collateral damage.

This has been a bad patch for Mitt Romney, who is supposed to have
this wrapped up. We now know that there are vulnerabilities on the money
issue and on the question of his wealth, how did he make it, why does he
ship it off to Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, and lots of questions
like that, how much tax does he pay.

And we have also learned that the Romney camp has a tendency towards
overconfidence -- we have seen that a couple of times -- and toward going
so totally negative that they forget to project a positive image of their
guy, which, you know, as you know from history, that`s not a good idea.

You have to make a positive case for your guy to be president. And
they are not really doing that.

MATTHEWS: Chris, this is like -- I have never seen one, but it`s like
a snuff movie we have been watching here. They kill -- they kill Newt
Gingrich, but they don`t sell the candidate.


Yes. No, Chris, I think Gene`s point and your point is right, which
is, Mitt Romney has succeeded -- almost by his own admission, he said he
wasn`t tough enough on Gingrich himself in South Carolina and he wouldn`t
make that mistake again. So what have they done in the intervening nine
days? Make a very tough case against Newt Gingrich.

Now, making a very tough case against Newt Gingrich is not the same
thing as making a positive case for Mitt Romney. My guess would be, if he
wins Florida, that is Mitt Romney, if he wins Florida tomorrow night by 10
points or more, they will try to pivot and use the month of February to
start again focusing on President Obama and why Mitt Romney would be a
better choice.

But the success, how he`s turned this campaign around in the last
nine days, Chris, is to go after Gingrich. He`s not selling a positive
Mitt Romney. He`s saying, do you really want this guy, Newt Gingrich, to
be your nominee?


Let`s watch something that`s rare in politics. It`s where a
candidate for president, here in Mitt Romney, who we think is smart,
intellectually, maybe not a great politician, but smart intellectually,
here he is giving away the store early this month in an interview with
Laura Ingraham on the radio. Asked about the economy, Romney said it`s
getting better. It`s getting better, the Obama economy.

This is his number one challenger speaking. God knows why he said
that. But let`s listen.


LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO SHOW HOST: How do you answer the president`s
argument that the economy is getting better in a general election campaign
if you yourself are saying that it`s getting better?

getting better. The economy always gets better after a recession. But the
question is, has it recovered by virtue as something the president has done
or has he delayed the recovery and made it more painful. The latter is, of
course, the truth.

INGRAHAM: Isn`t that a hard argument to make? Is that a stark
enough contrast?

ROMNEY: Well, have you got a better one, Laura? This happens to be
the truth.


MATTHEWS: Have you got a better one, Laura? Is he asking Laura? I
mean, I like Laura -- you know, I disagree with her, but I think -- is he
like counting on her to give him a better campaign strategy.

you know? What`s interesting about that, of course, it`s a would have,
could have, should have, right? And it`s a hypothetical. Of course,
that`s his very case against Obama, and that`s Obama`s argument. Obama has
made the recession worse.

Obama says, you know, if I hadn`t done the things I did, it would
have been much worse than it was.

MATTHEWS: Too much nuance.

ROBINSON: So, it`s very difficult for Romney to say that Obama`s
argument is ridiculous and in fact he`s making the same argument.


MATTHEWS: Chris, last question to you.


MATTHEWS: Why would you give away the store on the way to buy
something? Why would you give it all away and say, yes, it`s getting
better? Sure. And, by the way, do you have a better argument for me,
lady? Can you help me out here because I don`t have to a better one?

I mean, give me a break. He`s admitting he doesn`t have an argument
against Obama.

CILLIZZA: I think Laura Ingraham asked the exact right question,
which is, isn`t that a tough argument to sell? And the reality is, Chris,
it is. We know for a fact in politics is that the president probably gets
too much blame, I should say probably gets too much blame, when the economy
is bad, gets too much credit when the economy gets better.

Romney seems to try to thinly slice that onion to say, well, yes,
things are getting better, but it wouldn`t have gotten better as slowly if
it wasn`t for what President Obama did.


CILLIZZA: It`s a lot more complicated argument than just say, things
aren`t getting better. And remember in politics, especially campaign
politics, especially presidential politics, simple is what sells.

MATTHEWS: Yes. You won the football game, but I would have won it
by more points. Give me a break.

Eugene Robinson, thank you, sir. Thank you, Chris Cillizza.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Laura Ingraham, actually.

Up next, let`s get a firsthand view of the Republican race and
whether President Obama can win Florida right here in the general election.
We have the former governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, joining us when we

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Well, here`s proof that the partisan divide in this
country is actually getting deeper if you believe it. In his third year in
office, President Obama has an approval rating of 80 percent among
Democrats, but only 12 percent among Republicans, according to Gallup poll.
That`s a gap among party lines of 68 points. It`s the highest ever for a
president at this point in his term, the greatest gap we ever had. The
previous high was 59 points in the third year of George W. Bush`s second
term in office.

We`ll be right back. It`s getting worse.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Mitt Romney`s lead over Newt Gingrich down here in Florida is up to
double digits right now, just one day before voters go to the polls here.

One person who knows a lot about Florida politics and how fickle the
voters can be here is Charlie Crist. He was elected governor here in 2006,
and four years later, badly lost a Senate bid.

I want to thank you very much for joining us. He rarely makes such
appearances, especially on this network, but also anywhere.

Governor Crist, thank you so much for joining us.


MATTHEWS: I`m going to give you a wide open view as a pundit. What
do you think of this race where it looks a four to one negative advertising
campaign has blown Newt Gingrich out of the running? What`s it say about
your party, your former party, the Republicans?

CRIST: Well, it certainly means that money matters in politics. I
think the old expression is, and you would know this better than me, Chris,
that money is the mother`s milk of politics. And certainly that`s been the
case this week.

To the Romney`s campaign credit, they raised an enormous sum of
money. I think the spending is about four to one compared to Speaker
Gingrich. That`s hard to overcome and it`s making an impact here, just
like I think it did probably in Iowa for the speaker in the first race.
But that`s made a big difference and it`s having a profound impact in

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of this whole Citizens United deal
where you can run independent PACs, you don`t have to have your fingernails
on it, your fingerprints? And maybe you don`t have your fingerprints on
it? But the effect is totally negative advertising. I mean, you turn on
any show now in this state, I saw it in Iowa. It`s even worse there. You
couldn`t watch "Entertainment Tonight," a totally non-political show
without getting blasted with this negativity.

CRIST: It`s incredible. It really is. It`s very distasteful. You
know, it`s like a circle firing squad, if you will.

And I know that other Republicans have talked about the challenge and
the difficultly this could present to the nominee, the eventual nominee,
facing President Obama, who doesn`t have this back and forth going on.
There`s some, of course, that argue maybe it`s healthy because you get more
of the Republican message out. But it`s got to have a detrimental effect.
I think the negatives building up both for Speaker Gingrich and Governor
Romney are being shown in the polls most recently.

MATTHEWS: What do you think Newt Gingrich is going to do walking out
of here tomorrow? If he walks out of here badly wounded, his character
assaulted if not decimated now in two states, the personal attitude he must
have towards Governor Romney -- where does that lead from there -- from

CRIST: Well, it can`t be warm and fuzzy. I mean, you know, this is
-- I`ve heard a lot this week. This is not bean ball. And certainly --
bean bag, whatever -- that certainly is the truth. But the kind of
comments that have gone between the two candidates have been unusually
caustic, I think.

And so, there`s going to be bad blood as a result of that. But
what`s important for the Republican Party, just as it was for the Democrats
four years ago, is to heal quickly, be able to get your act together,
because the president is going to be formidable in Florida. And I think
formidable in his re-elect across the country.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s Gingrich, the candidate who will probably
lose tomorrow. But who knows? Howard Fineman thinks it`s going to be very
close. Here is Newt Gingrich on "GMA" yesterday morning skewering Mitt
Romney, let`s listen. Actually this morning.


short amount of time with four or five or six times as much money. Most of
it raised on Wall Street from the guys who got bailouts from the
government. In the long run, the Republican Party is not going to nominate
the founder of Romneycare, a liberal Republican who is pro-abortion, pro-
gun control and pro-taxes. It ain`t going to happen.


MATTHEWS: So you are in Tampa, Governor, right now. Suppose it`s
next September, late August next -- this year, actually, nine months or so
from now -- imagine Newt Gingrich talking like that at your convention.

CRIST: Well, it`s tough talk. There`s no question about it.

But, you know, that`s been sort of the line. It`s interesting to
watch because you see that there is a conservative insurgence, if you will.
You know, comments from Rush Limbaugh, I understand he talked about, you
know, you need to back off the heat and the rhetoric as it relates to
Speaker Gingrich. And we saw Sarah Palin come out I think this weekend
saying that, you know, if you want to upset a liberal, vote for Newt and
things like that.

So, there`s an insurgence to Speaker Gingrich`s campaign that the
"establishment," quote/unquote, doesn`t seem to like or light up to. And
so how difficult or how interesting things are going to be here in Tampa
during the convention in August, only time will tell for sure.

What I heard "MORNING JOE" talked about a little bit, I guess this
weekend, he said that there`s a play for Gingrich if, in fact, he does lose
tomorrow in Florida -- getting to Super Tuesday where you have some other
southern states where he might be able to draw upon to sort of reignite
himself once again. He`s already done it twice. So, I don`t think you can
necessarily count the guy out. He`s certainly a fighter.

MATTHEWS: I don`t want to waste -- I don`t want to waste this chance
to have you on for a minute or so, Governor. I respect your politics
because I think you are a 40 yard line guy. You are sort of center right.
I`m sort of center left on a lot of issues, sometimes left, very rarely the
other direction.

But I think there ought to be room in politics for someone like you
somewhere around the 40 yard line. Is there a future? Is it all going tor
hard right and hard left from now on?

CRIST: Well, I hope there`s a future because in order to move the
country forward, I think you have to have people who are willing to
honestly compromise. I mean, you understand this probably better than a
lot of people on TV, having worked for Tip O`Neill, how Tip O`Neill would
work with Ronald Reagan.

At the end of the day, they might go out and have a bell together.
But the important thing was that they could make a deal on a handshake and
it really meant something. And even though they were from different
parties, they were Americans first, and that`s desperately what this
country needs to move forward.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s what we need to govern because it`s not
working this way. You can`t get a deal that works. That`s my concern.

Thank you so much. It`s an honor to have you back on, Governor
Charlie Crist of Florida.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with this Shakespearean tragedy we`re
watching between Newt and Mitt. Revenge, as the Italians say, it`s a dish
best served cold.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

Is it democracy, what`s happening here in Florida? Is it democracy
when one guy spends or has spent $16 million to destroy the other guy`s
character -- $16 million to destroy another guy`s reputation and in just
one state? Would you forgive someone who did that to you? Would you
smile, shake hands and chuckle over the deliberate effort of another human
being to destroy you, to make you look like a crook?

Well, here`s what I think. I think that Newt Gingrich is not going
to forget what Mitt Romney has done to him in Florida, has done to him in
Iowa, is doing to him nationwide. He`s not going to get out of the way and
make it nice for Mitt. He`s not going to lay down on the side of the road
like some wounded dog.

What goes around comes around. That`s a Washington expression. And
it means something. You do wrong against someone on your way up and they
remember it when it`s time to get you heading down.

Newt Gingrich is paying for his political sins now. Romney`s right
about done. It`s why he`s got only a handful of backers from his days as

But Mitt is also going to pay for what he`s done to Newt. There`s
some Shakespearean justice coming in this drama. He who kills must die.
Watch for Mitt to get his (INAUDIBLE).

So, I predict that Newt Gingrich stays in this fight to the end, long
enough to exact revenge. There`s no way he can tell himself that Mitt
showed any quarter to him in his annihilation of him in Iowa and Florida.
Why should he, Newt Gingrich, goes sweet on Mitt now? What does he owe
Romney? He owes him defeat. That`s what he owes him.

And I`m betting on Newt to pay that debt. The day will come this
year when Romney pays for what he did to Newt here in Florida. And when it
comes, everyone will know why.

Mitt Romney did what he was told was necessary to win in Florida.
Newt Gingrich will remember how deliberately and brutally Mitt did exactly
that. If the ends justify the means, Newt will remember the means and he
will administer justice.

This fight is not going to end soon. It is not going to end nicely.

There`s a wonderful word for what`s coming here in Florida in this
Republican fight. It`s a word popular in southern Florida (INAUDIBLE) --
Hell breaking loose. Craziness.

We`ll be covering it here on HARDBALL. Stay tuned.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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