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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 6, 2014

Guest: John Feehery, Donna Edwards, Ryan Grim, Michael Tomasky

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Jamboree of the wild.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with this. Do you remember the bar scene in
"Star Wars," with all those wild-eyed creatures from every part of the
solar system? Well, today here in Washington, the whole tapestry of
weirdness was reenacted at the annual convention of something called CPAC,
the Conservative Political Action Committee.

Well, actually, "conservative" doesn`t quite capture this out-of-this-
world jamboree. At CPAC, it`s the far-out sharing space with the even
further out, a place for the crazy car to fill up with the usual suspects,
Cruz and Paul and Rubio and Bobby Jindal, while gassing up with the
craziest bunch of ideas since Rick "Oops" Perry couldn`t remember that list
of government agencies he wanted to kill, and ended up yelling, as I said,

The leader of the "Let`s torch this place" pack today was Ted Cruz,
the Joe McCarthy imitator, who belted out a plan to kill the IRS, a plan
which the crowd applauded wildly, unaware of the small detail that Ted`s
plan would kill the very system of tax write-offs that finances happenings
like this CPAC convention in the first place.

It turns out, as I said, that just about every organization in that
crazy room today, the Tea Party Patriots, the NRA, the Heritage Foundation,
Americans for Prosperity, the American Conservative Union, et cetera, et
cetera, all benefit from the tax write-offs and exemptions courtesy of
today`s IRS system the brilliant Ted Cruz promised those blithely unknowing
folks that he could simply abolish.

Well, having trashed the right-wing groups` financial base, Cruz then
lit up the room by trashing nearly every Republican nominee of the last
quarter century. He said they lacked principle, which he made clear today
means abolishing not just the IRS, but all kinds of right-wing goodies like
any regulation of Wall Street and any health care program. Nothing,
nothing must be done to either stand in the way of the rich or stand up for
Americans who are struggling today.

It was pure Koch brothers populism being sold out there today, words
and phrases crafted to heat up the peanut gallery, translating to cold cash
for the oil patch billionaires who approved the script.

Ed Rendell`s an MSNBC political analyst and the former governor of
Pennsylvania and John Feehery is a Republican strategist.

Governor, it is amazing to me how the regular people fall for this
stuff put together by the richest people.

Anyway, Ted Cruz was in his element, as I said, at today`s CPAC
conference. If you need to point -- us to paint you a picture of what this
outing (ph) was all about, just look at how Senator Mitch McConnell worked
the crowd by taking the stage bearing arms, showing off a huge shotgun. Is
this guy desperate or what?

Well, the crowd was there for red meat, and Cruz didn`t disappoint
them, of course, as I said, delivering a 20-minute battle cry whose theme
was, as I mentioned earlier, Let`s torch the place.

Here`s a highlight reel of Cruz essentially eviscerating everything in


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: There is a corrupt and interlocking system
of lobbyists and lawyers that are all -- and consultants -- that are
suckling off Washington!

We need to abolish the IRS!


CRUZ: We need to repeal Dodd-Frank!

We need to audit the Federal Reserve!

We need to repeal every single word of "Obama care"!

If you come to Washington and serve in Congress, there should be a
life-time ban on lobbying!

We need to pass a strong constitutional amendment that puts into law
term limits!


MATTHEWS: You know, Governor, I was listening to him today, and I was
thinking about all these abolitions he wants to accomplish. And one of
them is the IRS, and yet every organization in that room, as I said,
benefits from a specific tax exemption or a deduction. They only exist
because the government basically subsidizes them. And here he is saying, I
want to get rid of all that stuff.

he`s attacking a lot of huge Republican corporations that give tons of
money to the party, as well, who exist on their subsidies.

The problem with Ted Cruz`s approach, though, Chris -- and you know
this very well -- is when you feed red meat to the base like this, you may
wind up getting the nomination because it`s the base voters, those red meat
voters who carry the day, but you make it impossible to contend seriously
for the presidency in the fall. You campaign in the way that helps you win
the nomination but cripples you in an attempt to win the general election.

MATTHEWS: Yes, what do you think of that, John? Do you think that
kind of battle cry does anything but get him the hard-right position at the
rail? I mean, it does put him in the rail position, far right, which seems
to be what his goal is. But you know, the trouble with doing that is you
become a fringe candidate even in the primary process.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, so first of all, I am not
a big fan of Ted Cruz. You know that. But I think that on the political
stuff, political reform stuff, it`s very popular because Washington is very
unpopular. So I think some of the things he`s talking about like banning
lobbyists, getting rid of the IRS, being the extremist on these things --
you know, sometimes when you`re so extreme in the defense of liberty...

MATTHEWS: OK, what does it mean...


MATTHEWS: What does it mean -- I know everybody out there who`s a
real yahoo politically -- not everybody is a yahoo on the right, but the
yahoo argument is, Let`s get rid of the IRS. Who doesn`t -- who likes the
IRS, this time of year especially? Who likes sitting down there and
figuring out this stuff? Who likes being...

FEEHERY: Well, no...

MATTHEWS: Who likes being a chump if they don`t grab every exemption?
And the problem is, it`s just pure BS. You can`t get rid of the IRS unless
you get rid of the military, get rid of Social Security, get rid of
everything we have in this country. How else do we raise the taxes?

FEEHERY: It`s great rhetoric...

MATTHEWS: What`s he mean?

FEEHERY: It`s great rhetoric. I don`t know what he...

MATTHEWS: But do the people in the crowd, the peanut gallery -- what
do they think he means?

FEEHERY: It`s not a practical speech...

MATTHEWS: But what do they mean when they applaud?


MATTHEWS: Well, what does it mean?

FEEHERY: It doesn`t mean anything! It`s just...


FEEHERY: It`s a great speech.

MATTHEWS: What about going after the Federal Reserve? What`s that
mean? Let`s get rid of the -- audit the Federal Reserve. What does that

FEEHERY: Well, I think there`s a great distrust of what the Federal
Reserve is doing to...


FEEHERY: Because they don`t -- they think -- out in the country, they
think that the dollar is weakening, and they blame the Federal Reserve.
And for the base people, they think...

MATTHEWS: The base people are in 401(k)s and have seen their stock
market go double because of the Fed.

Listen, I agree with you on the policy. On the politics, the Federal
Reserve is extraordinarily unpopular.

MATTHEWS: So in other words, the full mooners are being played to

FEEHERY: Of course they are!



MATTHEWS: I can`t -- this is the Republican spokesman here -- not
spokesman, analyst here.

Governor, here`s a guy, Feehery, who`s a smart guy, admitting that
this red meat is just BS. It`s just, Let`s get rid of the government.
Let`s get rid of the IRS. Let`s get rid of the Federal Reserve. Let`s get
rid of any regulation on Wall Street and just go back to what -- the rich
get a lot richer and everybody else goes where? I don`t know -- that
sells, though. It`s like every time you say, More capital punishment, this
crowd applauds. Fry `em, they applaud!

RENDELL: But it...

MATTHEWS: They do!

RENDELL: But Chris, it sells -- it sells to this crowd, but do you
think the American people want Wall Street after what happened six years
ago -- do you think they want Wall Street unregulated again? Of course
not. The American people don`t want that. Do you think -- what getting
rid of the IRS means is that we`re going to have a flat tax. Do you think
the American people want billionaires paying the same rate as people who
earn $32,000?


RENDELL: Of course not.

MATTHEWS: Governor...


MATTHEWS: Why do these -- I`ve been to these. I`ll probably sneak by
the CPAC convention this week and just do ear baiting because they`ll yell
at me. But let me -- they`re always friendly. But let me -- you know
these -- you`ve been to these -- you probably haven`t been to these
conventions, but you know who goes there. Regular -- mostly guys, mostly
guys in their late 20s, early 30s. They`re just intellectuals. They`re
not rich. They may make $30 a year, if they`re lucky. They`re just
regular people. And yet they all buy into this. Let`s get rid of Frank --
Dodd-Frank. Let`s get rid of the -- they -- why do they benefit from any
of this stuff, this crazy right-wing economic agenda? I just don`t see why
regular people buy into what`s the Koch brothers` ambition. That`s what I
don`t get.

RENDELL: Because they`re angry and they react to red meat. Angry
people react to red meat. They don`t think.

FEEHERY: I don`t -- I don`t think it has anything...

MATTHEWS: But why do they cheer? Getting rid of Dodd-Frank.

FEEHERY: Well, because...

MATTHEWS: Do you think that affects the lives of anybody in that

FEEHERY: (INAUDIBLE) Dodd-Frank. That will give you a...

MATTHEWS: Oh, they don`t like Barney Frank. OK. The smart...

FEEHERY: But you know, the fact is that, you know, Ted Cruz had a
really smart line at the beginning. He said, All of you are probably going
to get audited by the IRS for coming to this convention.


MATTHEWS: Feed the paranoia here.

FEEHERY: IRS is very unpopular with this crowd. And you know that,
and that`s why he said it.

MATTHEWS: These young guys don`t get audited! They get a regular
salary, most of them. They`ve been working for -- this is just not about
their lives. That`s what I don`t get. Why do they rabble...


FEEHERY: ... red meat...

MATTHEWS: Why does the rabble get so easily roused?

FEEHERY: Well, because Ted Cruz -- he gave a great speech. And you
know what? There is this great sense that the IRS has investigated all
these Tea Party groups. You know, there`s a lot of -- there was a hearing


FEEHERY: ... trying to drive this story. You know, that`s...

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s watch...


MATTHEWS: ... Cruz do some of the talking. He also amped up his
battle cry about party purity, he calls it. He took aim at the Republican
Party for not being principled. Let`s listen.


CRUZ: And they say if you stand for principle, you lose elections.
The way to do it, the smart way, the Washington way is don`t stand against
"Obama care"! Don`t stand against the debt ceiling. Don`t stand against

I want to tell you something. That is a false dichotomy.


CRUZ: You want to lose elections, stand for nothing. And then, of
course, all of us remember President Dole and President McCain and
President Romney. Now, look, those are good men. They`re decent men. But
when you don`t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don`t stand for
principle, Democrats celebrate!


MATTHEWS: You know, he`s acting, Governor, like we`ve all forgotten
the last several Republican nominees. Every one of them, including a great
guy, Bob Dole, leaned so far right in `96 against Bill Clinton -- he was
out there selling the fact that he was a supply-sider, which he never was.
Mitt Romney killed himself by going so far right. McCain humiliated
himself to a slightly lesser extent by leaning over to the far right to get
the nomination.

And this guy Cruz comes along and said all these guys were somehow --
they were -- they were heretics or something. No, they weren`t. They
bowed to the right-wing line, and I believe that`s why they got in trouble
in the general. I don`t know where his history comes from. They weren`t


RENDELL: I think there`s no question about that. If Mitt Romney had
run as the governor of Massachusetts, having done what he did, having
gotten Democrats to go along with a lot of his programs, I think he`d be
president of the United States today. He lost because he sold out in the
primaries to win the primaries. He might have won them anyway. But he
sold out by moving so far to the right that it was impossible to move back
to get enough Americans to put him over the top.

MATTHEWS: You know, I thought that, too, when I was watching that
movie, the movie about him by the young Mormon guy who had the movie. I
thought that`s what he was thinking. Why didn`t I go down the right way?
That`s me. I blew it by trying to be somebody else. There`s nothing worse
than losing when you`re pretending to be somebody else.

FEEHERY: Well, you know, Chris, my question to Ted Cruz is -- they
were the most moderate ones in the campaigns, but they won because there
wasn`t a conservative challenge that could meet credibility tests. And
that`s the problem for the conservatives. They got to have credible
candidates who can beat the more moderate...

MATTHEWS: OK, will this Roman candle be the nominee of your party?

FEEHERY: No, I don`t think Ted Cruz...

MATTHEWS: How -- how far right can he go and still the general?


MATTHEWS: Simple. How far? Can he go as far as Rubio and still win
the general?

FEEHERY: Yes, I think -- I think...

MATTHEWS: He can beat Hillary.

FEEHERY: I think Rubio can beat Hillary, yes. I don`t think that Ted

MATTHEWS: Rand Paul can beat Hillary?

FEEHERY: He`s got some interesting ideas. His -- his -- I don`t
think he can get the money, though.

MATTHEWS: Bobby Jindal?

FEEHERY: I don`t think Jindal. I think...

MATTHEWS: So the only guys that can beat Hillary are Rubio...

FEEHERY: I think Rubio. I think Kasich could. I think Jeb Bush
could. I think Chris Christie, if he survives this...


FEEHERY: ... could be...


MATTHEWS: You`re just playing to me. He is playing to me because he
knows I like Kasich and Jeb Bush! Your thought, Governor. How far away
can they get away with and even challenge Secretary Clinton, even challenge
her, get in with -- within 5 or 7 votes from her?

RENDELL: Well, I think they`ve got to be very -- I think they`ve got
to be very careful to divorce themselves from a lot of the crazy social
issues that are going on and that are happening with state legislatures,
just ripping -- you know, the war on women is a real war, no matter what
Republicans say. You can see it in all the things that are happening in
state legislatures.

You`ve got to divorce yourself from some of that, or you`re dead in
the water. I think Senator Rubio`s biggest problem is he flip-flopped on
immigration. And you know, the way to beat Hillary Clinton is to get a
significant portion of the Latino vote. And I think he lost it when he
flip-flopped on his own bill.

MATTHEWS: Governor, you`re going to...


RENDELL: ... real problems.

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. I got to break in because you`re going love
what we`re going to do later in the show. We`re going to show you the
potential vote for Hillary Clinton. It`s up to 66 percent of people that
can see voting for her. I think (INAUDIBLE) a lot of suburban women here,
especially, and men who like women in the right way, which is always, of
course, but like them in the right way politically, supporting this thing.

I think it`s going to be fascinating to see that she has a 66-point
potential ceiling. I`ve never seen a candidate like that.

Thank you, Ed Rendell, Governor Rendell, and thank you, John Feehery,
doing a good job here defending the center-right.

Coming up, fallout. Recall the Elijah Cummings-Darrell Issa hearings
yesterday, those fireworks at the IRS hearing. Watch this.


MARYLAND: If you will sit down and allow me to ask the question? I am a
member of the Congress of the United States of America! I am tired of


CUMMINGS: We have -- we have members up here each who represent
700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation!


MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, that fight has just entered round two today.
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus called on Speaker Boehner to
strip Issa there of his committee chairmanship. Boehner`s -- of course,
he`s refused. But the fight goes on.

Plus, how the neocons learned to hate the president of the United
States and love a former Soviet KGB officer. Guess who? They now praise
the erratic Vladimir Putin as a way to bash President Obama.

Also, it`s been said Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in
line, but the latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll shows this year is
different. While voters do seem ready for Hillary, they`re falling in love
there, there`s nothing close to a front-runner on the GOP side. It`s
nobody`s turn. And this is going to be a lot of fun. The Republicans
don`t have anybody whose turn it is.

Finally, take a close look at this picture from President Reagan`s
Moscow visit back in `88. Who`s that tourist with the camera on the left
there? Could it be Vladimir Putin with more hair?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Some good news for Democrats. Former Massachusetts senator
Scott Brown has been making noise, of course, about running in neighboring
New Hampshire for the Senate, but a new poll might give this guy pause.
Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to the new Suffolk University poll, Brown trails Democratic
incumbent Jeanne Shaheen badly. It`s Shaheen up to 52 -- that`s a reelect
number -- Brown 39. That`s a 13-point lead for Democrat Jeanne Shaheen
over Scott Brown, the carpetbagger.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Some House Democrats are pushing
John Boehner to remove Congressman Darrell Issa as chairman of the
Oversight Committee. Yesterday, of course, Issa staged an effort to berate
former IRS official Lois Lerner. And when U.S. Congressman Elijah
Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, tried to speak, Issa cut
off his microphone.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I have a question. If you will
sit down and allow me to ask the question? I am a member of the Congress
of the United States of America! I am tired of this!


CUMMINGS: We have -- we have members up here each who represent
700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation!

There is absolutely something wrong with that, and it is absolutely


ISSA: We had a hearing. We have adjourned. I gave you an
opportunity to ask a question. You have no question.

CUMMINGS: I do have a question.

ISSA: I gave you an opportunity (OFF-MIKE)

CUMMINGS: Mr. Chairman, what are you hiding?


MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, it reminded me of this famous exchange over a
microphone back in 1980, when then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the sound man please turn Mr. Reagan`s mike


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well you turn on the microphone, please.



MATTHEWS: But the spectacle in Congress yesterday did not sit well
with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Today, they stood in
unison on the House floor condemning Issa`s behavior, and sent a letter to
Speaker Boehner urging him to remove Issa as chairman.

CBC chairwoman Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio, said, quote,
"Congressman Darrell Issa of California abused his authority, and therefore
must be reprimanded to ensure the dignity of the House of Representatives
is preserved. In fact, we urge to take prompt action to maintain the
integrity of this body and remove Mr. Issa as chair of the Oversight and
Government Reform Committee immediately."

Well, Boehner responded by declaring his support for Issa. And the
house then voted 211-186 to table the resolution filed by Democrats to
reprimand Chairman Issa.

Donna Edwards is a Democrat from Maryland and a member of the
Congressional Black Caucus, and Ryan Grim is Washington bureau chief for
The Huffington Post.

Thank you so much, Congresswoman.

You know, I was watching that yesterday. When I had on Congressman
Cummings, who is such a dignified fellow, who I think really hated to get
agitated like that -- he never does that. And I said, was this a matter of
indignity on your part? He said no.

He didn`t want to play it that way. He thought it was a rejection of
the rights of the minority on that committee. But something happened
overnight. This became a Black Caucus issue. Tell me about it, how that

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: Well, and became an issue for the
entirety of the Democratic Caucus.

I think what Mr. Cummings was saying and what we feel as members of
the Black Caucus is that, in fact, there was indignity displayed, not just
to Elijah Cummings, but really to all of us as minorities.

And we are governed by a set of rules in the House. And Darrell Issa,
this is the last in a long list of ways in which Darrell Issa has
demonstrated disrespect for the ranking member and for minority rights on
that committee. And when I watched it to, too, not only was I offended for
Mr. Cummings, but I was offended for the House, for the fact that we have
to be able to govern ourselves with a set of rules that we all follow.

And the complaint that we lodged on the floor today was saying that,
in fact, those rules were not followed. And in order to maintain the
respect of the institution, that`s the reason that we have to deal and the
leadership needs to deal effectively with Mr. Issa.

MATTHEWS: When you said there was a lack of dignity given to the
minority, did you mean capital M. or lowercase M.? Do you mean ethnically,
racially, or do you mean just the members of the Democratic Party in the


EDWARDS: No, I mean, the members of the Democratic Party.

I mean, we set out with a set of rules that all of us understand as
House members with respect to conduct of these committees. Chairman Issa
took to the -- to the bench. He had his piece, and then he refused to
acknowledge the minority. That is against the rules and practice of the

And so it`s an indignity to the institution and to all of us. And if
we can`t depend on the rules governing our behavior, then we`re no better
than any of these other emerging governments and democracies that are
building themselves. This is really an indignity to the House and to our
minority rules.

And one day, the Republicans are going to be in the minority, and when
they were, we didn`t treat them like that. Were Mr. Cummings the chairman,
as he would be if we were in the majority, Mr. Issa would not have been
treated like that.

And that is why it`s incumbent on Speaker Boehner to -- to really have
some respect for the institution to deal with this, because one day they
will be in the minority. And I dare say they wouldn`t want to be treated
like Mr. Cummings was treated just yesterday.

MATTHEWS: Two questions, Ryan. One is the show trial aspect of this,
that there was really a show-and-tell. Lois Lerner, who is the bureaucrat
over there at the IRS, came in. And they knew she was going to go with the
Fifth Amendment. But yet he went through 10 sort of opera buffas, making
her repeat over and over again, I`m taking the Fifth, which I thought was

But the other question is this comity. And I worked on the Hill, you
know, all those years. And there is a sense, even though there`s a lot of
fighting up there, a sense of you have got common rules and respect, or
things don`t work.

RYAN GRIM, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Right. And there is a rule on how
you adjourn a committee.

And, you know, this might seem technical to people from the outside,
but, as you know, it`s not. The rule is, you need some unanimous consent
or you vote to adjourn a committee. That`s how it`s done, and that creates
consent, that we have brought this committee in together. We`re going to -
- we`re going to disagree during this time here. We`re going to adjourn it
together, and then we`re going to go on and hold our dueling press

He didn`t do that. In the middle of Elijah Cummings speaking, he
didn`t like the direction that the speech was going. I guess he thought he
was giving a speech, rather than a question.

MATTHEWS: Well, he was giving a speech, to be fair.


MATTHEWS: He had a point to make.

GRIM: Certainly. But it`s not up to the chairman to adjourn...


MATTHEWS: Why did you think, politically, he thought it was better
for him to put on that scene there of looking like a dictator, rather than
letting Mr. Cummings make his points? It will be in the paper the next
day, but you can live with it.

GRIM: Well, he`s -- his brand at this point is standing up to


GRIM: Standing up to the president is -- is the -- is the way that he
has cast a national figure.

He is a huge fund-raiser, second biggest fund-raiser in the House. He
was just in New Hampshire. He`s -- so he has become a national figure this
way. So this is an extension of standing up to Democrats.

MATTHEWS: You know, it strikes me, Congresswoman, that Darrell Issa
wanted to be a U.S. senator, spent a ton of money, I think over $20
million, in a fruitless case -- campaign out there, knew he would never get
to be a senator, so decided he is going to be a hot shot House member. He
was going to be an investigator, that kind of thing, make your name through
exposing things.

The problem is, I have watched this, and I`m open to it. I couldn`t
find an example of any White House involvement with the IRS mess. There
may be a mess over there. There may be a lack of clarity or consistency in
figuring out which organizations -- which organizations deserve tax
statuses. But I have never seen anybody in the White House nailed as
making a phone all over there even. Your thoughts.

EDWARDS: Well, I mean, Chris, you have pointed to the substance here.
And this is the reason that it was important, in addition to Mr. Issa
having his say, for the ranking member, for Mr. Cummings, to be able to
raise exactly those points.

I mean, there have been time and time again where Mr. Issa has
effectively cut off the participation of the minority because he doesn`t
want to hear the fact that there is no there there in this so-called


EDWARDS: And Mr. Cummings was trying to raise that.

And, look, I think that they`re -- not only are there violations of
the rules in the House, but there actually may be ethical violations as
well. And Mr. Issa needs to be held to account. And if the leadership
doesn`t do it, then we have to find some way in our process which will
allow those issues to be raised.

MATTHEWS: Will the CBC stay on this?

EDWARDS: Pardon me?

MATTHEWS: Last question, Congresswoman.

Will the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, stay on this case and
continue to push for his removal as chairman?

EDWARDS: Well, I think that we have to.

I mean, there has to be an account here. Otherwise, all of the rules
are just completely up in the air. What other committee chairman is going
to decide that they want to effectively shut down the minority voice? And
why does Darrell Issa get to decide how Elijah Cummings uses his time that
is legitimately his during these proceedings?

MATTHEWS: I agree. Thank you.

EDWARDS: This is a really important matter, and it really goes to the
heart of how we have minority participation in these proceedings and in the

MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, you are -- Congresswoman Donna Edwards of
Maryland, you are always welcome here at HARDBALL. We love having you on.
I mean that.

Ryan Grim, thank you so much.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: You`re the congressman from Staten Island, aren`t you?

GRIM: That`s right.


MATTHEWS: I`m just kidding.

Up next, the story behind this photo. This is really funny coming up.
And it may well will be real. It`s President Reagan over in Moscow back in
`88. But look at the man behind the young boy, the guy on the far left
with the blond hair. Is that future Russian President Vladimir Putin?
There is reason to believe it might be.

We will be right back. That`s ahead.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Time for the "Sideshow."

Well, "The Washington Post," as I said, picked up an interesting story
about a 1988 photograph of President Reagan in Moscow, which has been
circulating lately online. The photograph shows Reagan about to shake
hands with a young boy. But look closely at the guy with the camera to the
left of the kid there.

The article points out that that man looks a lot like a young Vladimir
Putin, who was an officer in the KGB at the time. So we dug through the
footage of that day in 1988 just to see if that encounter was caught on
video, and indeed it was.

You can see the mystery man in the background there looking on as
Gorbachev and Reagan take questions from some Soviet citizens in Red
Square. While the footage doesn`t necessarily shed any new light on the
identity of the man with the camera, the now famous still photograph was
taken by Pete Souza, the official photographer of the Obama White House,
who also served under President Reagan.

Well, here is what Souza had to say about the trip and the photograph
on NPR back in 2009.


Secret Service agent, I said, I can`t believe these tourists in the Soviet
Union are asking these pointed questions.

And the Secret Service agent said to me, oh, these are all KGB


SOUZA: Now, what is really interesting is, I have a picture in my
Reagan book. And off to the left is this -- one of these tourists with a
camera around his shoulder. And it`s been pointed out to me and verified
that that was Putin.



Today, however, the White House told us that Souza, the photographer,
can`t be sure it`s Putin. Well, we will find out, won`t we?

Doesn`t our intelligence agencies have facial I.D. capability? Isn`t
this a matter of science now? So, let`s check it out, guys.

Up next: One thing is for sure in the Ukraine crisis. The far right
in this country has fallen in love really with Vladimir Putin. He is the
kind of leader they like, all of a way to criticize President Obama, of
course, by comparison.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


La Cruz. And here`s what`s happening.

President Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin today for
an hour about resolving the crisis over Ukraine diplomatically. He
proposed direct talks between Moscow and Kiev`s new government, as well as
the return of Russian troops to their bases.

Meanwhile, the president signed an executive order slapping visa
restrictions and economic sanctions on those responsible for Russia`s
actions in Ukraine. He says the measures will impose a cost for the recent

I`m Veronica De La Cruz -- now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the Conservative Political Action Conference going on right now,
CPAC, convened today in the midst of our country`s serious crisis with
Russia. And, of course, speakers offered their own reasonable -- that`s
sarcasm -- critiques of the president`s foreign policy and a number of
serious counterproposals. Of course, that`s all nonsense.

But let`s watch.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Now, having witnessed the events
abroad these last several days, as we see the president of Russia invade a
neighboring country, while our president wants to downsize our military,
President Carter, I want to issue a sincere apology.


JINDAL: It is no longer fair to say he was the worst president of
this great country in my lifetime. President Obama has proven me wrong.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The president loves to point to Ronald
Reagan and say, well, Reagan talked to Russia. Reagan talked to the Soviet
Union. Why can`t we talk to Iran?

But there is a difference. Reagan dealt with the Soviet Union because
they had nuclear weapons and he wanted peace, but he never accepted the
Soviet Union.

And our biggest national security crisis is Barack Obama.


BOLTON: We`re going to get what we see today in the Ukraine, where
Vladimir Putin has a strategy, and Obama has nothing, where Putin has a
growing defense budget, and ours is shrinking. We do not accept an
American president who is weak, indecisive and apologetic about our


MATTHEWS: Well, add Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio and John Bolton -- that
was him -- to the long list of conservatives who have used the events in
Ukraine to hit President Obama for being weak.

In fact, they love to compare our weak president to Vladimir Putin,
who, by comparison, they say they almost seem to admire. Ted Cruz wrote
that -- quote -- "It is almost as if the Russians have a renowned grand
master playing chess and the United States is playing checkers."

Meanwhile, it was Rudy Giuliani who just hates how President Obama has
to think about things before he makes decisions.


wants to do and he does it in half-a-day. Right?

He makes a decision and he executes it quickly. Then everybody
reacts. That is what you call a leader.

President Obama, he`s got to think about it, he`s got to go over it
again, he`s got to talk to more people about it.


MATTHEWS: And, of course, they`re joined by Sarah Palin, who finds
the presidencies -- well, the president`s potency lacking. Really.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: The perception of him and
his potency across the world is one of such weakness.

And, you know, look it, people are look at Putin as one who wrestles
bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom
jeans and equivocates and bloviates.



MATTHEWS: You can`t match that.

So what is behind this strange dynamic on the right, the -- this need
to compare President Obama and President Putin`s toughness at the
president`s weakness anyway?

The Daily Beast`s Michael Tomasky joins us now. He wrote in his
piece: "The neocons, on some emotional level, prefer Putin to Obama. He is
rugged. He goes shirtless. He knows his way around a Kalashnikov. And
every time John Bolton and Charles Krauthammer and Lindsey Graham and
others carry on about Obama`s weakness, they`re also implying that he`s not
half the man Putin is. And in" -- I love that word, Putin -- I love it --
"And in the neocon world, it always comes down to who`s the manlier man."

Well, Michael Tomasky joins me now, along with Joan Walsh, who loves
this conversation, editor at large, of course, for Salon and an MSNBC
political analyst.

I will start with Joan.

This thing, it started with Marty Peretz of the -- I have been
following the neocons for so many years. They love references to
muscularity and weakness. And only Sarah Palin -- I guess you have to be
female to pull the potency issue out, but she pulled it out of her bag.


MATTHEWS: It gets so personal. Why don`t they just agree to disagree
with the president? Why does it have to go into manliness, this...

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: I mean, it`s so creepy. I mean, it`s so
creepy. Sarah Palin --

MATTHEWS: Well, there that is the new word, creepy. Maybe you`re

WALSH: She is the worst. But they`re all terrible. I mean, these
are the people who would have us at war with Iran right now. We`d be
talking what to do with our war in Iran if they run the world, Chris.

But this goes back -- you know this. This goes back to old Republican
notions of Democrats as soft and weak, soft on communism, soft on hippies,
soft on anti-war protesters, whatever. And it`s a really outdated script,
obviously, when you`ve got the president who got bin Laden, who`s left
thinks he is too hawkish on national security issues, who did let sanctions
work and who has let diplomacy work in Iran, but who has been very tough.

And this fetishization -- you know, `The Daily Caller" actually ran an
urgent news poll tonight that`s Tucker Carlson saying, asking if people
thought Putin or Obama was a better president. They`re talking about this
at CPAC. It`s unbelievable.


MATTHEWS: Well, they`re supposed to be any (INAUDIBLE), I guess they
lose his number (ph).


MATTHEWS: Just going through the list as you make this point, Joan,
I`m going to follow up on that. Jindal, Rubio, Bolton, Cruz, Giuliani,
Palin, which one had military service? Which one fought in the war? Which
one face the enemy?

So, all this talk about muscularity and manliness is metaphor.
Metaphor for an attitude.

WALSH: Absolutely.

TOMASKY: Yes, of course.

MATTHEWS: Just an attitude.

TOMASKY: Just an attitude.

MATTHEWS: Not about a reality.

TOMASKY: Just an attitude and a presentation. And adding to people
who didn`t fight in any war, George Bush, Dick Cheney. We can go on and on
that list.

MATTHEWS: How about being in one schoolyard fight in your life? At
least when somebody punched you in the teeth, at least they`ll say, well,
you`re blooded, at least -- at least blooded. I don`t think so. Maybe
Rudy. Maybe Rudy. He might have been in a fight.

But this idea, back to your point, finish it out. Why do they do it?

TOMASKY: That`s how they see the world, you know? And that`s who
they want to win. They see the world in these black and white terms, these
tough guy versus weak guy terms, and they do prefer Putin to Obama. And
they did the same thing --

MATTHEWS: So, by that definition, George W. Bush is George Foreman.


MATTHEWS: Your thoughts, Joan. I mean, by their definition, going
into Iraq was the ballsiest thing in history. My god, this shows he is the
guy, right? I shouldn`t say ballsy, but I did.

WALSH: Absolutely, and what -- you did.

And what`s amazing -- what`s amazing here is actually, they don`t have
anything to offer. I saw John Bolton the other night with Greta Van
Susteren. And, you know, she asked what he can do, he`s like, well, we
can`t do anything for three years until we get a new president.

It`s sort of like Obamacare. They have nothing to replace it with.

MATTHEWS: You`re right. Nothing but talk.

Thank you, Michael Tomasky. Great writing.

Joan, as always, great to have you on.

Up next, when it comes to picking a president, Democrats usually fall
in love while Republicans fall in line. That`s the old saw. Not this
time. Democrats want Hillary Clinton like gangbusters. While the right,
they don`t even have a "who`s turn it is". And they are really -- they
don`t like it when there is not a who`s turn.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Voters say they`re ready for Hillary Clinton. Republicans,
they`re just not ready.

That`s next when HARDBALL returns.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Hillary Clinton, should she decide to run for president, is in a
league of her own out there according to a new "Washington Post"/ABC poll
out today. The poll asked the same question about Hillary Clinton and nine
Republican potential nominees. Would you definitely vote for or consider
voting for that candidate?

Well, for Secretary Clinton, two-thirds of America say yes, 66
percent. That`s the ceiling that she could get. It`s that many people
might vote for her. It dwarfs everyone else on the Republican side.

The ceiling for Republicans should definitely vote for or consider
voting for the poll`s top tier of Republicans is 47 percent, less than a
majority. That`s delivered by Rand Paul and Chris Christie. They get 47
percent possible votes.

And filling out the Republican field in the lower tiers Marco Rubio,
Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Rick Kerry, Ted Cruz and finally,
Scott Walker, all with lower possibilities.

As "The Washington Post" characterizes it, the contest for the GOP
nomination in 2016 is as wide open as any in the modern era.

"Time Magazine`s" Mike Halperin joins us now, and "New York
Magazine`s" John Heilemann are both MSNBC political analysts and co-authors
of "Double Down."

Mark and John, both of you, since you guys think so big about all
this, what does it mean when you see a spread like that when Hillary has a
potential vote. I guess there`s a lot of moderate suburban women included.
Up to 66 percent of people say when asked say, yes, I could vote for her.
Whereas on the other group, nobody seems to even break 50 percent.

Your thoughts?

JOHN HEILEMANN, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, Chris, I think it speaks to
obviously, she`s had an incredibly productive last four years, or four
years that she was in the administration. She was outside politics. And
that certainly helps your ability to appeal to a nonpartisan, or centrist
voters who are not on one side or the other.

Right now, her image is kind of above politics. And the other thing
she has an advantage than most of those Republicans is universal name
recognition. There is no one who doesn`t have an opinion of her.

And right now, she -- those who do have opinions of her, she is at the
highest standing she has ever been, and she is probably at the highest
standing right now that she ever will be, because as she gets back into the
mud of politics, those numbers are inevitably going to down, at least a
little bit.

MATTHEWS: Yes, we saw that with Ted Kennedy.

Mark, let me ask you about -- the old Jack Germond, the old expert
used to say these early polls don`t mean anything. He always said on the
"McLaughlin Group".

Is that your view? Or do you hold a view there is something of use
there in figuring this whole thing out, the polls we`re seeing now?

MARK HALPERIN, TIME MAGAZINE: I don`t want to say that Walt Disney
and Jeff Bezos wasted money on that, but he does mostly measure I think
name idea. But It does show Republicans don`t have a strong front-runner.
They`ve always had a strong front. Now, the Democrats have one.

I think the good news for Republicans is that the Electoral College is
what matters. And while Hillary Clinton looks strong in a lot of ways I
don`t think she`s a big breakthrough on the Electoral College.

The bad news for them is they cannot win with nobody. And right now,
I think that poll overstates the strength of the Republican field to some
extent. Yes, they`re not well known, but none of them have much time.
This thing is going to be engaged in the blink of an eye.

Hillary Clinton, for all her flaws as a candidate, for all the
challenges she faces, she`s ready to do this. She`s ready to put a team
together. She`s ready to go out on the playing field.

These Republicans do not have much time to find one or two who can be
gladiators and go up against her -- again assuming she runs.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to John on that question. Is this country
so angry on the right and perhaps center-right, they`re willing to go with
a surprise, someone they don`t know who is tested, like Barack Obama. They
just want to go with a surprise.

OK, we don`t know if you`re tested but would rather have you than
somebody who is already there. Are they that angry?

HEILEMANN: Well, I think it would go against -- I mean, look, first
you have the Republican nomination process, Chris, which as you know has
traditionally favored front-runners, as Mark just pointed out, there really
isn`t one.

So, the question is, does this environment favor someone who`s got
kind of a surprise candidate? It would go against all the Republican
history that we know about. You know, in 2012, the Republican Party was
really angry. And yet, and had a lot of chaos in its field. And yet ended
up with the safest candidate they could pick in Mitt Romney.

I don`t think the Republican Party or country is angrier than it was
two, three years ago.

MATTHEWS: Mark, I like when you say something I`m thinking about.
The Electoral College, do you think Secretary Clinton may have a problem in
states like Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida? Is that what you`re
talking about when you say Electoral College?

HALPERIN: If Republicans have a chance to win, it`s in those states
where -- look, it`s difficult for a party to win three in a row. George
Herbert Walker Bush did it. But Hillary Clinton in the very states you
named, I`d add Wisconsin to that list, I`d add Iowa to that list, a state
where she`s had trouble, today, I`d make her a favorite in those places
against any of these Republicans.


HALPERINO: But the notion that she could expand it, you know, could
she win in rkansas, could she win a Louisiana, could she win a Kentucky?
It just doesn`t seem likely right now.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you.

HALPERIN: So she`s a strong candidate.


HALPERIN: And it`s not a mirage. She`s got flaws. It`s not a

But the difficulty for the Republicans, you`ve got one, a one-line job
description. Who can win states away from Hillary Clinton in the Electoral
College? And, again, right now, there`s vulnerability there, but they
can`t beat her without somebody who`s ready to step up.

And I`ll say, again, you look at that list. Most of them, I don`t
think, are close to ready. I don`t see how they get ready between now and
the end of this year which is really when they have to start being ready.

MATTHEWS: Well, do we, even the middle weight guys like Rubio, not
Jindal, but Rubio, or Scott Walker, one of those or perhaps Kasich, or
anybody who run, don`t they come, John, with power pack of eight years of
Democratic rule, eight years of increasing unpopularity on the part of the
president? They have all those thing they bring with them, that propels
them forward, even though they don`t have it inside them, they have it
pushing from behind them. They have that tailwind.

HEILEMANN: They do. Look, I mean, any general election in addition
to the fact as Mark said that it`s hard for me party to win the White House
three in a row. This is not so far a gangbusters economic recovery,
though, if we continue on the path we`re going now, we have a pretty mild
recovery. We will have had eight years of Barack Obama not having had any
kind of real economic boom and you`ll have a candidate in Hillary Clinton
who`s going to have to own a lot of the Obama record.

And so, Republicans will have tailwinds on that score. But, again, as
Mark said, you can`t win with nobody and you think about a lot of these
Republicans who are out there right now. They have a long road to hoe to
get into the league of political performance, and financial packing that
Hillary Clinton brings to the table from day one.

MATTHEWS: OK. Quickly, Mark, it seems to me the advantage the
Republicans have is they have to duke it out whoever gets the nomination,
who`ve been through a hard fight, will be in training. How does Hillary
Rodham Clinton get back into training without exposing herself to the cheap
shots after the minute she starts talking? It used to be you go to New
Haven to try out.

How does she try out?

HALPERIN: There are some challenges. I think maybe doing a couple
HARDBALL college town halls will do it. Look --

MATTHEWS: It would help us.

HALPERIN: -- the reality she`s got the benefits of being an incumbent
without having to run the federal government. If you think of her as an
incumbent, which right now she is an incumbent within the Democratic Party,
those people win. You look at Clinton, and you look at Bush, and you look
at Obama, when they don`t have nomination challenges.

That`s why I think avoiding a serious nomination challenge is so
important. Yes, she`ll be a little rusty. Yes, she`ll go in the first
general election debate, not having been tested of late. But avoiding
that, having Republicans beat each other up and having her go through that
process, raise all the money for the general, that`s a lot of strength.

I`ll take the rustiness if that`s the tradeoff.

MATTHEWS: I got a tunnel for you guys, hat trick. OK? How about
triple play? Hat trick, what do you think?

Anyway, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann --

HEILEMANN: We`ll put those in the hopper.

MATTHEWS: They`re going to be doing it again.

Up next, let me finish with the anger of Ted Cruz. It`s torrential.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.

I have never seen a candidate for national office, certainly not a
presidential candidate as angry as Ted Cruz. He`s angry at the Democrats,
angry at the Republicans, angry even at the human tendency to try to meet
sometimes in the middle.

To him, the goal is to head as far right as possible, stand there,
then oppose anyone and everything to your left and then claim the right to
rule because no one else in the country is as radical as you are.

Well, this is the politics of the zoo, where each animal gets to rule
its own cage, gets to roar or whine or snort or whatever as loud as he

Ted Cruz doesn`t mind who owns the zoo, of course. He wants it own
his own cage. He wants to be the only one who`s all alone in the farthest
right position of the Republican Party -- so far alone, so far extreme that
no one else appears in the same picture.

But the simple reason, that no one else, not Marco Rubio, not Rand
Paul, OK, maybe Bobby Jindal is desperate, wild enough, nuts enough to want
to be in the same cage with this character.

Anyway, that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.



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