'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Guests: Courtney Reagan, David Corn, Michael Steele, Melinda Henneberger, Michelle Goldberg, Evan Thomas, Jonathan Martin, John Sununu

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Mitt takes a hit.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington. Leading off
tonight: They`re just not that into you, Mitt. Every time he looks to be
on his way to the Republican nomination, the conservative base of his party
screams, No, we will not be force fed Mitt Romney!

Last night, Republicans in three states rejected Romney. Rick
Santorum swept Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, proof again that when Mitt
doesn`t bury his rivals under an avalanche of negative ads, he loses. And
look at the map after eight states. Santorum in purple has won four,
Romney three, Newt Gingrich one.

There`s more reason for Santorum to be optimistic. The culture wars
have come roaring back. Three huge issues have ignited the right: the
fight over birth control between the Obama administration and the Roman
Catholic church, the debate over funding for Planned Parenthood and the
federal appeals court decision that California`s same-sex marriage ban is
unconstitutional. Every day that the candidates are talking about birth
control, abortion or gay marriage, Santorum wins, Romney loses.

And about that fight over the administration`s decision to force
Catholic organizations -- colleges, universities and hospitals -- to pay
for birth control for their employees, the question here isn`t whether most
Catholics are with President Obama. It`s how many Catholics voted for
Obama in 2008 and could vote against him because of this decision? That`s
something for them and the White House to consider. It`s worth considering
for everyone. And here we (ph) were (ph) going to move on.

Plus, the former White House intern who says she had an affair with
President Kennedy when she was 19 years old. Well, finally, which man
running for president would more Americans want to share a cubicle with?
That`s in the "Sideshow."

We begin with Rick Santorum`s three-state sweep and what it means for
Mitt Romney. Former New Hampshire Republican governor John Sununu is a
Romney supporter. Governor Sununu -- there`s no tougher man out there.


MATTHEWS: Can you stand the winds coming from the west, Colorado,
Missouri and Minnesota? All three rejected your guy.

like to win them, but you don`t win every primary. You don`t win every
caucus. And light-turnout caucuses are always volatile. I think the big
loser, though, ended up being Newt Gingrich.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at the numbers, a triple victory, as I
said, for Rick Santorum last night. In Colorado, Santorum came up on top
with 40 percent of the vote, Romney at 35, Gingrich and Paul trailed. In
Minnesota, Santorum won by a nearly 20-point margin. He took 45 percent.
Ron Paul came in second, Romney down there at third with 17 percent. In
the Missouri primary, where Newt Gingrich did not make the ballot, Santorum
won by a landslide, 55 percent to Romney`s 25 percent. Now, in Missouri,
although it`s what we call a beauty contest, no delegates at stake, there
were a quarter million voters out there.

So a lot of people are going into the voting booth or going into
caucuses, Governor, in states where there hasn`t been this pulverization of
negative ads, and they`re voting against your guy.

SUNUNU: Look, even when we`ve had the wins on primary night, I`ve
come to you and said, Look, this is a long slog. There are a lot of states
that have to -- this process has to go through. Governor Romney is
prepared to do it. Before this, Newt Gingrich was saying it`s two-man
race. It`s a two-man race now, but it`s Mitt Romney and Santorum.

MATTHEWS: But aren`t you shocked it`s 4-3-1 now?

SUNUNU: No, I`m not.

MATTHEWS: This is with Santorum with no money.

SUNUNU: The only thing that shocked me last night...


SUNUNU: ... was Colorado a little bit. I thought the governor was
going to win Colorado by a little bit. He lost by a little bit. But other
than that, the results that have occurred here, I think people would have
told you almost down the line that there was a high probability of getting

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m not your toughest critic. Here`s Erick Erickson
of RedState. He had this to say about last night`s results. Quote, "From
Missouri to Minnesota to Colorado, the Republican electorate sent a very
clear message -- a very clear signal they want conviction over
electability. They do not like Mitt Romney. They see Santorum as
authentic. They see Mitt Romney as a fraud." A fraud. "Rick Santorum
swept the races. Romney, the front-runner, got crushed by conservatives."

What do you think of RedState? That`s a hell of a blogger out there.

SUNUNU: He blogs all over, but he`s been anti-Romney from the
beginning. Look, if conservative -- as this race goes through,
conservatives are going to begin to realize that Mitt Romney was a very
conservative governor.

He cut spending. He cut taxes. He stood with the right-to-life
people on the legislation that they cared about. He stood against the gay
marriage decision that the court came down with. He kept Massachusetts out

MATTHEWS: But he ran up there as pro-choice and he pushed through,
basically, the role model for "Obama care."

SUNUNU: Look at what...

MATTHEWS: Those are powerful arguments against him.

SUNUNU: Look at what he did after he took the oath of office, and
those are the issues that count. And on the health care issue, there is so

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a scary flag! In other words, don`t go by
what he says when he campaigns. You just said, Don`t go by what he
campaigned on...


SUNUNU: ... any candidate. Look at what they do when they are in
office and how they...

MATTHEWS: Well, how do you -- if you`re a conservative hearing
Governor Sununu speak right now, you`re thinking, Oh, my God, he`s
admitting you can`t trust a candidate by his campaign promises.

SUNUNU: No, you trust a candidate by what he performs and what his
record of performance is and what he did on legislation.

MATTHEWS: OK. On the "Obama care," the role model came out of

SUNUNU: No, the role model came out of the Heritage Foundation. And
the fact is, is that it is so different than what Obama has. It deals with
a small percentage of people. It took care of the deadbeats that were
keeping money out.

MATTHEWS: Hey, I`m with you because it`s "Obama care," but he has...


SUNUNU: Obama has taken over the whole thing!

MATTHEWS: The individual mandate is the thing the right wing hates
the most.

SUNUNU: The "Obama care" package takes over all of health care, and
Mitt Romney has committed himself...


SUNUNU: ... to getting rid of it...


MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Rick Santorum, why he won last night. He
ran against your well-funded, handsome candidate. Everybody says Mitt
Romney`s the one to watch, it`s his turn. The Republican Party loves the
guy whose turn it is. And there`s Rick Santorum. Everybody gives him up
for lost. He home schools his kids. He has no money compared to the guy
you`re backing. And there he is winning three states. What happened?

SUNUNU: Well, he spent -- he spent a ton of money in Colorado,
Minnesota and Missouri. He has -- he has now found some backers.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) ton of money.

SUNUNU: He spent a lot of time in Colorado, and the evangelicals gave
him what he needed.

MATTHEWS: A ton of money? How much money did he spend?

SUNUNU: I don`t know...

MATTHEWS: Our people are checking. Last night, Santorum claimed
those victories here in part due to the lack of negative advertising from
the pro-Romney groups, the usual super-PACs that create Dresden-like
disasters in every state they go into.

Let`s listen to how he explains his victory.


had an opportunity to see what a campaign looks like when one candidate
isn`t outspent 5 or 10 to 1 by negative ads imputing their integrity and
distorting their record. Governor Romney`s greatest attribute is, Well,
I`ve got the most money and the best organization. Well, he is not going
to have the most money and the best organization in the fall, is he.


MATTHEWS: Is Romney in trouble now that the issue has shifted to
cultural issues, like the Catholic church and the fact that there`s a big
fight going on -- and I`m not sure who`s going to win it -- the Catholic
church against the Obama administration on this issue of paying for birth
control insurance? That seems like a fight better for Santorum to be

SUNUNU: Well, Governor Romney about 10 days ago had a very powerful
op-ed piece in "The Washington Examiner" supporting the Catholic bishops.
When he was governor, he vetoed the legislation that was trying to do the
same thing. He filed legislation to protect Catholic Charities on their
adoption in Massachusetts. And in 2008, he got the award as the defender
of religious liberty from the Beckett Foundation (ph). He`s got a great
record on these issues, and I think that he can stand toe to toe with
anyone on what he has done to deal with issues like that as governor.

MATTHEWS: How do you get "The Washington Examiner"?


MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. I get it in my driveway, but it`s an
interesting newspaper, for certain. Thank you, Governor Sununu. He finds
the most conservative paper in Washington to cite. Anyway, thank you for
coming on.

SUNUNU: Isn`t the place to put it?

MATTHEWS: You`ve got a great -- you`ve got a great sense of humor.

SUNUNU: Isn`t that the place to put it?

MATTHEWS: And you`re backing your candidate through thick and thin,
and last night was thin.

J. Martin of -- Jonathan Martin is Politico`s senior political
reporter. He`s going to come here with the straight story now.

Well, what happened? Why did Rick pull that big upset out there in
Colorado? We were watching Minnesota, we were watching the beauty contest
in Missouri. But then again, I thought (INAUDIBLE) the outside, but he
went all the way and even swept last night.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM: Yes, because there is more organic
support for Rick Santorum, who`s an authentic culture warrior, than for
Mitt Romney in the grass roots of the GOP. And when you have these
contests where the electorate is largely comprised of movement
conservatives, Chris, Santorum is going to win.

And look, the Romney campaign has made a show of saying that these
don`t count, there`s no delegates here at stake, which is totally fair.
But what a lot of Republicans want to know, if that`s the case, what was he
doing in Colorado last night? What was he doing in Minnesota, campaigning

Once you go to those states, if you`re Romney and you engage there,
well, delegates or not, then you create a contest. And if you lose as
badly as he did in two of the three states, you create a problem for

MATTHEWS: Last year`s pre-game of this campaign was like an hour of
cartoons in the old drive-in. It was one nutty week after another --
Donald Trump one week, Michele Bachmann the next, Herman Cain the next
week. It looks like the hour of cartoons has continued this year.

I mean, look at it. It seems like every time you look at a primary or
a caucus, there`s new winner up there. I mean, last night it was Rick
Santorum. Nobody thinks it`s going to be Rick Santorum every night. And
it`s Romney for a while, but nobody think it`s going to be Romney every
night. It`s like the voters keep voting against whoever seems to be hot
because they can`t stand that person, so they vote for the other guy.

MARTIN: Well...

MATTHEWS: They keep saying no to what they see by voting for the
outside guy who doesn`t have a chance to keep this thing crazy the way it

MARTIN: Well, it does seem that every contest has been discrete, in
the sense that there`s not been the kind of "big mo," to borrow the old
Bush 41 term, that you saw from state to state. Every election in every
state has been sort of different here so far.

But I think what you have seen, though, is the conservative base of
the party saying, Hang on, we`re not quite ready to coronate Romney yet.
And look, Chris, I think you`re going to see a lot of conservatives in the
days to come saying to Romney, It`s not good enough that you just drop
nuclear weapons on Santorum, like you did Gingrich. We want more
proactive, forward-looking policy ideas from you.


MARTIN: I`m telling you, you`re going to hear a lot more from the
likes of The Journal editorial page, the Fred Barneses...


MARTIN: ... of the world, really concerned about the message from

MATTHEWS: Well, Jonathan, here`s the new message. It`s a twist,
Romney now -- even though he`s worth maybe a quarter billion dollars, last
night, he portrayed his father at least as a working class hero.

MARTIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: Let`s watch him try to squeeze into that -- you know, that
costume of the little guy. Let`s watch.


never graduated from college. He apprenticed as a lathe and plaster
carpenter, and he`s pretty good at it. He actually could take a handful of
nails, stick them in his mouth and then, you know, spit them out pointy end
forward. On his honeymoon, he put aluminum paint in the trunk of the car
and sold it along the way to pay for the gas and the hotels.


MATTHEWS: Why is that relevant? Why is that relevant, Jonathan, to
anybody what a guy`s father did, when here`s a guy in his 60s, full-grown,
a career to talk about? It`s like Newt talking about his father`s
experience in the war.

MARTIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: Talk about yourself. You`re the one running. This isn`t
Europe, where you talk about your father as some lineage you`re selling.

MARTIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: It`s so desperate.

MARTIN: Well, look, he has problems...

MATTHEWS: He`s Joe the plumber now?

MARTIN: Look, he has problems with folks trying to make a connection
to him, and so he`s trying to, obviously, create a narrative that sounds
familiar to a lot of Americans, one, by the way, that Rick Santorum used to
great effect on election night back in Iowa, talking about his own
grandfather, who was a coal miner here.


MARTIN: But look, this is the problem that conservatives are talking
about. Karl Rove wrote about it last week in The Journal, and you`re going
to hear more about it here in the days ahead.

I was talking to a lot of senators today on the Hill. They want to
hear ideas and vision for the future, and less about biography, less about,
This is why my opponents are flawed. Conservatives want to put more meat
here on the policy bones. And it`s going to be really fascinating, Chris,
in the days ahead to see whether or not Romney, in addition going to after
Santorum and Newt, also rolls out more policy-oriented ideas here in the
next few days.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m personally thrilled that this is going to be a
big, long campaign, there`s going to be a lot of excitement, and the
Republicans are not settled on a candidate, any candidate. I haven`t seen
anything like this, Jonathan, since way back in 1964, when they just
couldn`t decide on Rockefeller or Henry Cabot Lodge or Goldwater. They
ended up with Goldwater because of marital problems on the part of
Rockefeller. They didn`t really fall in love with the guy.

It`s so interesting, like today. Isn`t it -- isn`t it so fascinating?
I know you`re not reliving `64, but I am. Anyway, thank you, Jonathan

MARTIN: At the Cow Palace, Chris. At the Cow Palace...

MATTHEWS: At the Cow Palace...


MARTIN: Thanks, man.

MATTHEWS: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."

MARTIN: "Is no vice"!

MATTHEWS: Coming up, the Obama administration`s decision to require
religious institutions to pay for birth control remains -- actually, it`s
getting hotter. Can the Obama administration figure its way out of this?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: New Quinnipiac poll numbers from the critical battleground
state of Virginia. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard." In the
presidential race, President Obama has the edge over Mitt Romney there, a
big gain there. Obama`s taken a 4-point lead, Obama in Virginia 47-43. In
late December, Romney led there by 2. In that hot Senate race there
between former senator George Allen and former governor Tim Kaine, it`s a
tie. Kaine has a statistically insignificant 1-point lead, 45-44.

We`ll be right back.



not reverse the department`s attack on religious freedom, then the
Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution that
we`re sworn to uphold and defend, must. This attack by the federal
government on religious freedom in our country must not stand and will not


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That`s, of course, House Speaker
John Boehner today, just hours before it was announced that the House
Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing March 1st. HHS secretary
Kathleen Sebelius is expected to testify about the rule he just described
requiring religious organizations to provide free birth control in their
employee insurance plans.

The White House pushed back today, forwarding to reporters this
petition in support of the HHS contraceptive proposal and signed by over
600 doctors, including 70 Catholic doctors. This fight has only gotten
hotter, with lawmakers on both sides speaking out loudly today. Will
either side buckle? That`s the big question.

Melinda Henneberger writes for "The Washington Post." Michelle
Goldberg writes for "Newsweek"-DailyBeast.

Thank you both for coming on. Melinda, you first. I`ve been reading
your columns on this. Why did "The Post" call you Melinda one day, instead
of Melinda Henneberger, in that column? What was that about?

Chris. It`s funny. I got some mail, some irate mail from people saying,
At least have the guts to sign it with your last name...


HENNEBERGER: ... thinking I was attempting to be semi-anonymous, but
-- or maybe it was a hat tip to Madonna ahead of the Super Bowl.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I kept thinking it was...

HENNEBERGER: But no, it was a plain old production error.

MATTHEWS: I thought it was an attempt to protect you from the
incoming. But you did get protected. Let me ask you about...


MATTHEWS: Let`s go -- let`s go straight on the air (ph), show the
politics of this. You`ve got the Republican leadership on that. You`ve
got some Republican senators. We`re going to hear from some Democratic
senators here on this. Today, Senators Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire and
Marco Rubio said this is about government overreach. Let`s listen to the
senators first, then from you reporters.


SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: This is not a women`s rights
issue. This is a religious liberty issue. And can apply to all faiths.
And I`ve heard from my constituents who are deeply, deeply concerned about
this. We need to respect the rights of conscience for all religions.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: This is about whether the government
of the United States should have the power to go in and tell a faith-based
organization they have to pay for something that they teach their members
shouldn`t be doing. It`s that simple. And if the answer is yes, then we
can read -- then we`re going to -- then this government can reach all kinds
of other absurd results.


MATTHEWS: And here`s the other side. Late this afternoon, Democratic
senators countered the Republicans by making clear this fight, as they see
it, is about women`s health. Let`s listen to Senators Boxer, Murray and


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: We`re here to stand up for the
women of America, who deserve to have access to free preventative care
through their health insurance. And we want to thank President Obama for
making that possible.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Well, we have news for
Republicans. This is about contraception. Attacks on women`s rights never
come without being disguised as something else.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: I am dumbfounded that in the
year 2012, we still are fighting about birth control. Our opponents will
look for any excuse to impose their ideology on women`s rights.


MATTHEWS: OK. There you have the ideological argument from the left,
I suppose, the progressives in this country. You heard it well-spoken
there, I believe.

Melinda, they see it as an argument over whether you`re allowed to
have birth control or get it covered as part of the insurance or not. The
Catholic Church and those who are looking at the interests of the -- well,
the First Amendment, if you will, as they see it, look at it differently.

Explain this distinction and how you look at the interests involved,
the conflicts, the rights involved here.

HENNEBERGER: I just think the two sides can`t hear each other, not
that there is anything unusual about that.

But I know, in my own conversations with friends, I`m saying First
Amendment, First Amendment, First Amendment, and what I hear back is, wow,
I had no idea you didn`t believe in birth control.

You know, this really is seen widely among Catholics and people of
other faiths as an attack on religious liberty. Maybe the founders were
wrong to guarantee free exercise of religion in the First Amendment, but
that is what they did. And I don`t think we have to choose here.

The key is that I think there are ways we can go about this where,
without infringing on any concern about a woman`s health, we can still
guarantee religious liberty, without which, I mean, there is no way this is
going to stand in the court, but it`s also a huge political liability...


MATTHEWS: OK. You say there is no way it`s going to stand in a
court. Let`s assume there is no legislation that gets signed by the
president. Let`s assume it stands between this who`s going to blink thing.

Will the Catholic Church, let`s all -- let`s ask, will they blink?
Can you imagine them saying, OK, we give up, we`re going to provide full
insurance coverage with no co-pay for everything now defined by the FDA as
birth control, they`re going to do it, they`re going to go for this?

HENNEBERGER: That actually can never happen, so they would have to
literally go -- I mean, what -- what Sister Carol Keehan is saying, who
runs the Catholic Health Association, is saying, do I really have to choose
between the call that I think came from Jesus to serve the have-nots in
this world and the government telling me that I have to do something that
goes against my faith?

I mean, this really -- that will never happen. So what they`re doing
is guaranteeing that people, you know, these Catholic outfits and other
outfits can`t serve the populations that they were called to serve. But it
does not have to come to that.

MATTHEWS: Let me go.

Michelle, your take, your reporting on this, how is it going?


MATTHEWS: Obviously, we`re looking at two conflicting interests here
and different points of view about the Constitution.

GOLDBERG: Yes, there are conflicting interests.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

GOLDBERG: There are conflicting interests, but Melinda is just wrong
about both the courts and the precedents.

We have 28 states right now that have these mandates, including New
York and California, and for that matter Massachusetts, that have the same
kind of restriction -- there are the same restrictions that are in the
federal mandate. They have for -- there is an exemption for churches...

HENNEBERGER: They are actually not the same restrictions.

GOLDBERG: ... and schools, but not for hospitals and universities.

And it went up to the Supreme Court in New York.

MATTHEWS: So they all provide -- just a minute. Just -- Michelle,
just to get the facts straight, you are saying they do the same thing as
the HHS ruled, which is say, you have to provide full insurance coverage
for birth control, including IUDs and morning-after pills, and there is no
co-pay? Is that the same in all 28 states?

GOLDBERG: No, they`re saying that insurance -- I don`t -- it`s not
about no co-pay, but they are saying all insurance policies have to cover
contraception the same way that it covers other prescription drugs.


MATTHEWS: So it`s not the same as the HHS regulation.

GOLDBERG: But that is not the fight. The fight is about coverage of
birth control. It`s not about whether there`s a $10 or $20 co-pay. So
that`s the big difference.


HENNEBERGER: The fight is about forcing people who don`t believe that
to pay for it. The fight is about forcing people who would not be able to
be in this business if they had to break church teachings to do that.

GOLDBERG: Right, but we already have these laws in many, many states.
And what we have seen when the New York...


HENNEBERGER: They`re not drawn this way. They`re not drawn this way.


MATTHEWS: Well, just a second.


GOLDBERG: ... went to the Supreme Court in 2007. The Supreme Court
refused to hear it.


MATTHEWS: Michelle, Michelle, I just have to get one fact straight.

As I understand the Catholic Church`s position -- I don`t know about
the other religious organizations -- their concern is guaranteeing full
coverage without co-pay, so they have no -- they are just paying for
everything. It is basically free.

With a co-pay, they feel that they`re not. They believe -- and
perhaps correctly -- that they`re not paying, they`re not financing or
underwriting the use of birth control.

GOLDBERG: No, the fight hasn`t been about co-pays. It`s been about
coverage in -- it`s been about...


MATTHEWS: OK, let me go back on that point. Let me go back on that
small, but important, perhaps giant, detail.

Melinda, is that the detail that the church objects to, that it has to
provide with no co-pay?

HENNEBERGER: Yes. They -- they object because that means that they
are in effect buying it.


HENNEBERGER: The squabble is -- and it`s more than that -- is not
about whether these people are going to be covered. Actually, that is not
the issue at all.

It`s about whether they`re going to have to break their own church
rules, church teaching, guaranteed by the First Amendment, to be able to
buy it for their employees.


MATTHEWS: Why is this an important issue for the women`s groups, as
you`re reporting this, Michelle, that it would be no co-pay, just to answer
the question? If this is the fight over it, why is it important for those
who are supporting the right of a woman to get full coverage?

GOLDBERG: Well, again, because it`s not just -- the churches would
prefer that women should have to pay for these services totally out of

And, of course, in churches, in Catholic schools, that`s totally
acceptable. But these are hospitals and universities that serve a secular
purpose. And you have already -- you have seen rulings from the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission.

MATTHEWS: But which schools would -- are you saying that my college -
- my college serves a secular purpose? Holy Cross, Villanova, Saint Joe`s,
these schools serve a secular purpose?

GOLDBERG: Georgetown -- Georgetown, Fordham, DePaul, these are
universities that do provide family planning for their faculty, because
they basically know that they have faculty of all faiths...

MATTHEWS: Yes. Right.

GOLDBERG: ... and that they have, and that those faculty play as much
a secular role as a role inculcating religion.


GOLDBERG: And that is what this is about. Should a Jewish nurse or a
Jewish doctor who works for what may be the only hospital in town have to
pay an extra $800 or $1,000 out of pocket every year for services that are
used universally by sexually active women?


GOLDBERG: You know, 98 percent of Catholic women and 99 percent of
all women use these services.

MATTHEWS: I know all that. I know all that. I understand.

This is a tough one.

Thank you, Melinda. And thank you...

HENNEBERGER: There are actually -- there is something -- thanks.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know how many more times -- thank you. This is
going to go on.

Thank you, Melinda Henneberger.

And thank you, Michelle Goldberg.

I think everybody understands these positions...



MATTHEWS: ... if they were paying attention in the last few minutes.

Up next: Which presidential candidate would more Americans want to
have working in the cubicle next to them -- there`s an interesting question
-- to have as your office mate? Who do you want next to you at work?
That`s in the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And now for the "Sideshow," another
great one.

First up: a little one-on-one. First lady Michelle Obama made her
debut on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" last night. She used the
appearance to ramp up support for her Let`s Move initiative and in so doing
she challenged her late-night host to a fitness contest.

Who do you think won? Let`s watch.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: We`re going to start with a stair race.
You ready to do this?







MATTHEWS: God, Superwoman. I think Jimmy could have used a head-
start on some of those events.

Anyway, speaking of keeping score, it looks like Newt Gingrich has his
own personal scoreboard on going ahead here. Gingrich had a dismal finish
in yesterday`s contests, of course, but the candidate still thinks he had
the upper hand in one area comparing himself to his rivals.

Here he is giving a play-by-play to CNN`s Wolf Blitzer.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Do you want a lot more presidential debates?


BLITZER: Or are you over all these debates?

way. I think most people believe that I won 15 out of 17 debates and tied
one, and probably you could argue I lost one. I think that`s a pretty good
track record.


MATTHEWS: Most people believe? Is this like kids where they school
where everybody gets a trophy, Newt?

And now for the "Big Number." When thinking about who they want to
vote for in the presidential race, some people put politics aside and say,
would I want this person to be my neighbor? Would I want to have a beer
with them? Well, how about this? Would I want them to be my office mate?

A recent ORC poll asked just that question. As far as the Republican
candidates go -- these aren`t big numbers -- 10 percent of those polled
would like to share a cubicle with Mitt Romney. That`s 10 percent, one out
of 10. Nine percent, one out of 11, went for Ron Paul. And even less went
for Gingrich and Santorum.

How many went for President Obama? Whoa. Forty-one percent. The
likability factor is nothing to brush aside here. Forty-one percent of
those polled would want President Obama as their office mate.

That would be interesting having a president of the United States as
your office mate. What would that make you? That`s tonight`s "Big

Up next: The culture wars are back. If gay marriage, abortion, and
birth control stay in the headlines, how much could that help Mr. Rick
Santorum and how much would it hurt Mitt Romney?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow Jones industrials gains about six, the S&P 500 adds three, and
the Nasdaq up 12. Groupon is out with its first quarterly report as a
public company. Revenue was better than expected, but earnings missed.
Tech giant Cisco said profits surpassed expectations. Shares were up

And McDonald`s said January sales were up 6.7 percent thanks to
strength at U.S. outlets, but Europe sales were weaker.

That`s it from CNBC. We`re first in business worldwide -- now back to

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

From the beginning, the principal rationale for Mitt Romney`s
presidency candidacy for president has been the economy. He is Mr. Fix-it.
But now, at the same time that the economy has begun to improve, three
culture war issues, abortion, birth control and the church, and gay
marriage, have emerged.

And if the Republican race centers on those wedge issues, it`s home
turf for, guess who, Rick Santorum, as he tries to build on last night`s
big three-state sweep.

Joining me now, Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican
National Committee, and David Corn, D.C. bureau chief for "Mother Jones."
Both are MSNBC political analysts.

I want sheer analysis right now. I thought this race, like a lot of
people -- and I was saddened by it -- looked like it was over and it was
going to get boring for three months.



MATTHEWS: It is anything -- Michael, it`s anything but boring now.


didn`t believe me.

MATTHEWS: Because Rick Santorum rises like a Phoenix in the West.
It`s like he`s got the Midwest. He is doing well out there in the Big
Eight -- what used to be called the Big Eight.

STEELE: Watch Ohio.


MATTHEWS: You`re saying Ohio, too. And there he is doing well.

And my question is does he get wings now from this cultural focus on
issues like the church and having to pay for birth control in their
insurance policy?

STEELE: I think the cultural issues will give him a little lift,
absolutely, because it puts those issues back in the debate.

But it is still going to boil down to, as we know jobs, economy...


MATTHEWS: But in the primary fight.

STEELE: But in the primary fights, yes, absolutely, I think it gives
him some leverage and some ground to stand.

And it`s ironic because I remember telling him at one time, talk less
about the cultural issues and more about the other stuff.

MATTHEWS: And now you`re saying?

STEELE: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: And now you`re saying?

STEELE: Hey, go for it.


STEELE: Talk about it.


MATTHEWS: Go for it.

What if times have changed?

CORN: Well, what he is also taking advantage of is the Mitt Romney
vacuum, the fact that Mitt is not connecting with voters on economic issues
or anything else.

MATTHEWS: What about that? He`s trying to do the cultural thing.


CORN: But look at the turnout.


CORN: The turnout in these states is really low because no one is
excited to come out for Mitt Romney.


CORN: But so there are some die-hard, you know, conservatives, social
conservatives out there who did come out for Rick Santorum. It still is a
really small base, but since no one is coming out for Mitt Romney, if Rick
Santorum gets out there and talks about these issues, he scores big.


MATTHEWS: These cultural issues are red hot.

STEELE: They are, yes.

MATTHEWS: We had a wonderful debate here, a civilized debate -- and
we want to keep it that way -- with Michelle Goldberg and Melinda
Henneberger, who take different perspectives. They`re both straight
journalists, great journalists, straight journalists, trying to figure this
thing out.

It seems to me like those issues arouse more passion than sitting
around talking about Bain Capital and how much money you made in the equity

CORN: Capital gains taxes.

MATTHEWS: How much money you made in the equity business, it just
doesn`t work for television, certainly.


STEELE: I think in a lot of ways, Chris, the culture wars, as a lot
of people like to refer to them, they are not over. They stay with us.
There are a lot of unresolved issues on issues not just about, you know,
whether you`re talking abortion and so forth, but even in racial aspects of
it. When you talk about, for example, this whole issue now with gay
marriage and the church and all of that...

MATTHEWS: Well, gay marriage issue has popped up...


STEELE: ... those issues have different results and different aspects
in cultural...


MATTHEWS: Here`s Rick Santorum in his victory speech last night.
Boy, did he deserve a victory speech. He deserved to give one, talking
here about the president and the church, his church, the Catholic Church,
and the birth control issue.


first-generation American whose parents and grandparents loved freedom and
came here because they didn`t want the government telling them what to
believe and how to believe it, that we had a First Amendment that actually
stood for freedom of conscience, that we`d have a president of the United
States who would roll over that and impose his secular values on the people
of this country.


MATTHEWS: Wow. He`s acting like he thinks this is an FDR court packing
thing. Overreach is the phrase you`re hearing a lot. I don`t know whether
it is. That`s to me a leap too a far, but they are really playing this up
as a big win for the right.

CORN: Let`s remember who he is talking to.


CORN: A small group of people who really believe strongly. I think
it`s relatively small.

MATTHEWS: Give me a number. Percentage or a number.

CORN: I give you a percentage of Republican voters, say 40 percent,
30 percent of Republican voters. But if you look at the Catholics as a
whole, a majority of Catholics support the president`s policy.

STEELE: No, no.


MATTHEWS: Thirty percent to 40 percent of the electorate.

STEELE: I don`t know, Chris. I don`t know --

CORN: Of the Republican electorate.

STEELE: I don`t know what statistics you are quoting there, but I
can assure you this has, as a Catholic and someone who sat and watched the
faces of my congregation when the cardinal`s letter, which was a very good
letter, was read a couple weeks ago, this is not -- a lot of Catholics even
though they may use contraceptives in their own personal choice, this is
about how they view the church being assaulted here. How they see -- how
they perceive this as something coming against their faith not necessarily
their own personal decision.

MATTHEWS: Gay marriage doesn`t seem to be grabbing people that way
for some reason, right?

STEELE: Exactly.

CORN: Well, gay marriage is a dead issue for the right just
demographically speaking. They can try to hold on to it, but it is not
going to get votes in the general election. Although Rick Santorum I would
imagine, since this news has come out of his victory, will be using this on
the campaign trail as he goes to Michigan where he is trying to draw the
line against Mitt Romney on his own turf using social issues against him.

MATTHEWS: Let me talk about the primaries. Michael, you talk
primaries, you know primaries.


MATTHEWS: Primaries are not a time to necessarily pick a president.
They`re the time to express a feeling and attitude. You want to go in that
voting booth. It`s not essential that you vote.

But when you go in the voting booth like Hemingway said, you know
what`s good and bad? What you feel good about afterwards. You feel good
like I think people went in to vote for Santorum because if they`re
conservatives and --

CORN: Sure.

MATTHEWS: -- they want to walk out of the booth like they took a
bath, not like they need one.


MATTHEWS: And I think that`s the difference.

CORN: But he is drawing out people who want to make a statement
while Mitt Romney is not.

MATTHEWS: What is Romney`s statement?

STEELE: There is none. And I`ve been saying it for six months now.
There is none and that`s why --

CORN: His position is America is beautiful.

MATTHEWS: He is not a rebel without a cause.

STEELE: But that`s the problem. He has to find that connection.
And this week everybody is flowing into town for CPAC. What is Romney
going to say to this enormous gathering?

MATTHEWS: You`re talking about his daddy or something.

STEELE: The point is you can give a great speech in that CPAC
moment, but what are you going to do when you get out with the rest of the
country? And that`s --

CORN: But look at the speeches he has given when he won in
primaries. He gets up there and basically sings "America the beautiful,"
says he uses nothing but buzz words. He`s not --


MATTHEWS: Remember what was said about Mondale?

STEELE: What`s that?

MATTHEWS: Polenta.


CORN: Pawlenty.

MATTHEWS: Polenta.

Anyway, thank you, David Corn. Thank you, Michael Steele.

Up next -- it`s a boring Italian food.

Up next, a former White House intern says she had an 18-month affair
with President Kennedy. There she is. The former Mimi Fahnestock, former
Mimi Beardsley, now Mimi Alford. She`ll tell her story tonight on NBC`s
"Rock Center." It should be a big show.

We`re going to talk about it in a minute. We got the details.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: The Republican race for president moves to Maine where a
week-long caucus window culminates on Saturday night. We`re going to have
live coverage by the way this Saturday night beginning at 7:00 eastern.
I`ll be here.

By the way, HARDBALL back after a minute.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

It`s been a half century now but the Kennedy myth endures certainly,
and this week we`re learning new details about the former president --
certainly new details. In a new book, a former White House intern opens up
about what she said was an 18-month affair she had with President Kennedy.
Her name is Mimi Alford and she gave an exclusive interview to Meredith
Vieira which will air tonight on "Rock Center" on NBC.

Let`s look at a portion of that interview.


MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC NEWS: You`re 19. He`s 45. What did you talk

MIMI ALFORD: Well, we didn`t have a lot of time to talk. He was the
president. What we talked about was certainly not world affairs. The
president was very boyish and playful with me.

VIEIRA (voice-over): In her book, Mimi calls their sexual
encountered varied and fun, describing the president as a sensualist who
also enjoyed being completely silly, especially in the bath tub.

ALFORD: He had a collection of little yellow rubber ducks and they
were in the bath tub and rubber ducks became sort of part of the game.

VIEIRA: What did you do with the rubber ducks?

ALFORD: We had races with rubber ducks in the bath tub. He was not
being president when he was with me.

VIEIRA: No. I mean, he`s definitely not being president.


MATTHEWS: Well, there`s a lot more to her story and we`ll get into
it now.

Evan Thomas is the author of numerous books, a big seller, including
Robert a -- great book he wrote on Robert Kennedy`s life.

You and I have been looking at Kennedy since we were born
practically, trying to figure the guy out. And what is this? I`m throwing
the hot potato to you. What does the rubber ducky story tell you about
Jack Kennedy?



THOMAS: I mean, while he is saving the world from the Cuban missile
crisis and doing great affairs of state, he is having affairs not just with
her but plenty of women. He obviously compartmented his life incredibly.
I mean, I think, unbelievably, he had a good marriage even as he was doing
all this terrible stuff.

MATTHEWS: Doesn`t it strike you? You put together her story with
the new Jackie tapes.

THOMAS: Yes. I mean, she was clearly devoted to him. If it`s
possible for it to be a serial philanderer and have a good marriage, I
guess it`s not, but somehow he did.

MATTHEWS: I consider -- I think about a giant ocean liner with all
these compartments, all heavily sealed off against each other and nobody
got to walk through the compartments except him.

THOMAS: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Here is Mimi Alford herself writing about traveling with
the president around the country. He brought her along on trips. She was
19, an intern supposedly, but obviously his paramour where she would spend
most of her time waiting in hotel rooms for the president to come see to

Meredith Vieira asked her about how she viewed the relationship.
Let`s watch this part of the interview.


VIEIRA: And that`s where you started something you called the
"waiting game"?

ALFORD: I did. Yes. Waiting in the hotel room.

VIEIRA: Did you feel at all, you know, like I`m being used here?
It`s almost like you were a call girl to him.

ALFORD: But I never felt that.

Now looking back, I can see it`s not a good place for a 19-year-old
to be in a relationship that`s so imbalanced and with such a powerful
person and an older man and at the beck and call. I see how sad it was.
But that is not how I felt at the time.

VIEIRA: Can you give me an example that would say to me that this is
more than just being a mistress?

ALFORD: Just the way he was. The way he smiled with me. I feel
that he did. I feel that he actually cared about me.


MATTHEWS: You know, we talk about this all the time. The work with
the producers and I and every I meet with the idea of the standards. Now,
obviously, it`s a different standard. Workplace rules have changed
completely. You cannot have a relationship with somebody below you in the
food chain, obviously. That`s just unacceptable, even outside the office.

In those days, there were no such rules. It was mad men time

THOMAS: Not only no rules but enablers. I mean, the aides to Jack
Kennedy helped him. Nobody is saying, "Hey, Mr. President, you shouldn`t
do this." Quite the opposite. They are helping him do this.


What about discretion in the press in those days? I keep thinking it
was all done inside the White House or in secret hotel room liaisons. You
know, assignations, he would say, meet me in this room, you`ll be in 238.
I`ll come by at 10:30.

I mean, even today it seems to me that would get away -- that
wouldn`t be part of the journalist surveillance. A president could still
do that. I`m not sure what I`m arguing here except everyone says the
president changed everything.

I`m not sure we`ve changed things in a guy is going to be discreet
about it and the person he`s involved with is going to be -- what`s
interesting, too, is all these women kept the secret.

Now, my question is if they had taken it to a major newspaper editor,
you were an editor of a magazine, if they brought it to someone like you
back then, what would have happened? Guess what? I`ve just had an affair
with the president. Would the editor say what?

THOMAS: I think they wouldn`t have published it. I think they
didn`t know everything, but they knew a lot. And I think the rules then
really were you do not write about the private lives of public officials.
That all changed in 1975. I guess Wilbur Mills jumping in to the Tidal
Basin with a woman not his wife.

MATTHEWS: And Judy Exner.

THOMAS: Well, Judy Exner, but that came --

MATTHEWS: Because "Time" apparently had that story for years and it
sat on it.

THOMAS: I don`t know that.

MATTHEWS: Well, someone told me they got it, directly from one of
the top reporters there. So, it was -- it sat there a long time.

THOMAS: (INAUDIBLE) of "Time" knew a lot of this stuff. I didn`t
about Judy Exner.

MATTHEWS: But even the handling of the Monica incident. Not to
bring that up at any length, but that was handled very carefully by the
news magazines, even if it got leaked by Drudge rather prematurely.

THOMAS: We wanted to make sure -- I was in the middle of that. We
wanted to make sure we were right before we published them.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, let`s take a look. Here`s more of this. She
writes that the president was, quote, "a charmer, a seducer, an insatiable
lothario." And here`s what she said about their first sexual encounter for
those who want to know. Quote, "He had maneuvered me so swiftly and
unexpectedly, and with such authority and strength that short of screaming,
I doubt if I could have done anything to thwart his intentions."

Meredith Vieira asked if she felt overpowered by the president. And
here`s her response. Let`s watch.


ALFORD: I think overpowered in the sense that he was the president.
It was this unbelievably handsome man, 45 years old -- not overpowered
physically that someone had grabbed me and made me do something that I
wasn`t really willing to do because I really think I was willing to do it.


MATTHEWS: You know, it`s interesting here as you talked a moment ago
about how the inner play works. Here is the guy as president of the United
States, married. And what seems to be when you listen to the tapes from
Jackie and everything we know, a full marriage, where they shared emotions
and the ups and downs of life in the White House and all that. Jackie knew
all about politics. And yet this was going on.

Do you think it affected negatively? Is there any evidence if he
hadn`t gotten caught, is there any damage to his work?

THOMAS: It had always been his life. It was his father`s life. It
was like breathing for him. It was just a way of being that seems kind of
appalling now but was normal to him.

MATTHEWS: He never got over being a bachelor.

THOMAS: And he was -- and everybody around him accepted that and
told Jackie. She was sad. I don`t know how happy she was. She was sad
about that.

MATTHEWS: And people tell me that she knew. She knew.

Anyway, thank you. People close to her said that. How can she be
happy about this?

Thank you, Evan Thomas. You`re a great historian.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with what I`ve learned about the life
of Jack Kennedy that fits into this.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with Jack Kennedy.

In war, he saved the lives of his crewmen swimming for four hears
with the strap of a man`s lifejacket in his teeth. As president he saved
his country and the world from a nuclear war with cold detachment, cold
calculation, and a brazen ability to cut the secret deal that got us
through. He stood up for civil rights with a strong voice and with federal
troops to cut through history. He had the strong, positive hopeful vision
that none of us will ever forget.

But he was, too, what he was. This new book by Mimi Alford gives us
more details of a story most of us already knew well. Certainly, his widow

The week after he was killed, Jacqueline, just 34 at the time, told a
reporter, all men are a combination of bad and good. She said his mother
never loved him, where she`s trying to explain that cold detachment of his
that knows so well the feelings and motives of others and used them for his
own purpose, yet not to be moved by them, that edge that made him a cold
steel leader, so heedless, too, of the people close by.

In 1980, long after he was gone, Jacqueline Kennedy called him that
unforgettable elusive man. It`s from those words that I drew the title of
my own book. She said that after hearing someone say, he made no pretense
of being free from sin or imperfection. She said that was the one true
portrait of him that has ever been done.

Well, Jack Kennedy was hard to figure. He prayed at his bed side
each until the night. A ritual his wife thought superstitious. He went to
mass every Sunday, grieved prayerful for his lost brother and sister and
his lost child.

At his Protestant boarding school, he would go to mass in town, to
another island when he was a naval officer, a confession right to the end
of his life.

He lived life in so many compartments, sharing himself with
Jacqueline in one, his political confederates in another, his social pals
in another, his affairs in yet another. His religious beliefs, believe it
or not, in still another compartment.

He was a flawed hero. But looking coldly at history and what he did,
a hero nonetheless.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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