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updated 12/3/2009 10:42:39 AM ET 2009-12-03T15:42:39

HARDBALL

December 2, 2009

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.

THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Guests: Rep. Jack Murtha, Rep. Mike Pence; Howard Fineman, Bob Herbert, Mark McKinnon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Nobody's happy.

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:

Fire on the left, fire on the right. Did he make the case? It's not hard to find criticism of President Obama's speech last night on Afghanistan. Democrats don't want to send more troops and Republicans don't like talk about setting a date for withdrawal. We're going to talk to lawmakers on both sides of this fight at the top of the show.

Plus, the White House party crashers story got more interesting. NBC News's Savannah Guthrie obtained e-mails between the couple and a Pentagon employee, Michele) Jones, that suggest Jones was at least trying to get tickets to the dinner. The big question, why it happened. And late this afternoon, we just got word here that the White House staff is accepting responsibility for not doing everything they could to make sure that those people did not get in the other night. In fact, they're going to make sure that from now on, White House staff are posted at the entranceways to the White House, alongside the Secret Service, to check off the list of people invited properly to the White House. So a big development there this afternoon.

Plus Mike Huckabee's troubles got a bit worse today. The coordinator for his political action committee in Arkansas just resigned over Huckabee's granting of clemency back in the year 2000 to a man who went on to kill four policemen out in Washington state last week. Did the race for the GOP next time just get shaken up a bit? Does this give Sarah Palin the right field all to herself?

Also, gay marriage fails in a state where advocates thought they had a real shot, New York state. That's in the "Politics Fix" tonight.

And check out this case of chair-throwing politics. Wow! It's not a fight over health care or Afghanistan, just a parliamentary session gone down bad in Argentina. We'll have that in the "Sideshow."

But first, I've gotten some very tough calls from parents of cadets and from former cadets at West Point about my saying last night that the president had gone to speak up there to maybe the enemy camp. I was talking about the skepticism I saw on the faces in the crowd as President Obama spoke, also, of course, about how West Point was where President Bush went in 2002 to make his most hawkish speech before the Iraq war.

Now, I've heard too many politicians say things like, Oh, that was taken out of context, to explain something they wish they hadn't said. Let me just say to the cadets, their parents, former cadets and everyone who cares about this country and those who defend it. I used the wrong words, and worse than that, I said something that is just not right. For that, I deeply apologize.

As those who watch me regularly probably got right away, my point was that the military up at West Point was probably a skeptical audience for President Obama, given his strong position against the war in Iraq and generally more dovish image. I was wrong to make that conclusion based on the lack of applause or apparent enthusiasm in the ranks of officers and cadets last night. Cadets, one former cadet and a friend of mine just told me, aren't supposed to show that kind of reaction to a speaker. He, a former cadet, reminded me that soldiers, including those now in training to face the enemy, want wars to be fought effectively and ended as quickly as possible. I had no reason to assume that the cadets at West Point or their officers who were present last night are more hawkish than the president.

People who have watched me over the years know, I think, of my strong devotion to this country and strong gratitude toward those who serve in the military. It's because our military is so good and true, I want the civilians who make the policies and set the missions to get them right in this country's best possible interest. And by the way, it's something we're allowed to argue about in this country. Whenever I meet someone with a service record, I always say, "Thank you for your service." They know I say it and I hope they know I mean it.

Now to President Obama and the criticism he's facing from both the left and the right. A few minutes ago, I spoke with Democratic congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, chairman of the subcommittee on defense appropriations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Mr. Murtha, the president wants 30,000 more troops to go to Afghanistan and basically get the job done and begin to withdraw them a year-and-a-half from now. Does that make sense to you?

REP. JACK MURTHA (D-PA), APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, what I'm concerned about is not the strategy, because I was just in Afghanistan over the weekend and I think it's probably the reverse of what we did in Iraq. They're trying to help people. They're trying to not kill people.

But what I worry about is contractors. I worry about the cost. And I worry about the fact that I'm not sure that there's as much a threat to our national security as they're indicating. So we're going to look into that before we-we're going to have hearings on the money. You know, our debt, our national debt, Chris, is going to be $800 billion, the interest on the debt. So you know, we've got a lot of concerns here and we're-and the president said last night in a little meeting we had before he made his TV appearance, he said we're going to work something out on the pay. So I'm looking forward to trying to work that out.

MATTHEWS: Well, Mr. Murtha, you're a combat veteran of Vietnam. Do you think it makes sense to send our forces over there to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan so that that will somehow help defeat the al Qaeda forces that are in Pakistan? It strikes me as a kind of a Rubik's cube, how this works. How does it work, as you see it?

MURTHA: Well, this is the very thing that we're worried about. The al Qaeda is not only in Pakistan, they're all over the world. And the Taliban are actually people that are-worked with the al Qaeda. But I just-I worry that there's not that threat to us.

You know, all of us want to make sure there's no threat to the United

States. All of us realize that we're in Afghanistan in the first place

because of a threat to the United States. But I'm not convinced the threat

in Afghanistan is the key. And if we can't get to Pakistan-and I think

I hope the president is going to address this-is make sure that the Pakistanis are doing everything they can. And then you got to work with India to reduce some of the pressure on the Pakistanis.

So this is a very complicated thing and very costly operation. It costs, we estimate, $400 for a gallon of fuel. And there's only 10 percent literacy rate in Afghanistan. So you know, we got a lot of problems facing us, 104,000 contractors already in Afghanistan, in addition to the 68,000 troops. We're going to have more troops, Chris, than the Russians had in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the American people should be taxed more to pay for this war, this surge?

MURTHA: I think we should have been paying for the war the whole time. I voted against every one of Bush's tax cuts because I felt we should have been paying for the last war. The deficit is a real concern to me, the fact we're losing our economic edge all over the world because of the money we're spending overseas when we've got so many needs in this country. So we've got a ways to go. There's a lot of consternation on the floor. There are a lot of people that are concerned about the direction it's going.

As I told Rahm Emanuel last night as I left that little meeting, I said, Rahm, the president did a good a job as he could do, but I'm still not convinced that we need to send these troops and that there's an achievable goal. And how do we measure that goal? Those are the things that worry me.

MATTHEWS: Well, when you read the newspaper articles that leaks out, you hear that the vice president, Joe Biden, and Rahm Emanuel are on one side, and you hear that the former first lady, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, and the military are on the other side, would you have been with Biden in arguing for a different course here, had you been on the inside?

MURTHA: One of the things that they're doing in talking to General McChrystal, they're putting much more emphasis on training the Afghans. And this is something that Joe Biden was interested in, in the first place. But-and they hadn't been doing that. They only had 50 percent of the people that they needed to train the Afghans. So I'm convinced that is a crucial part of it.

The other part that's just as important is how they treat the Afghans, how they treat them in order to win their respect, and so forth. But I said General McChrystal, General, there's no way you can do this. You're not going to have three years. You have a lot less time. And this was before the president made his decision. I said, If the president makes this decision to increase the troops, you've got a lot less time. The British general understood that. He was a two star working for General McChrystal.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MURTHA: He said, We've got until the spring and we've got to show some progress.

MATTHEWS: Are you concerned that the more troops we've send to

Afghanistan, the higher the casualty rate? In fact, it's as high as it's -

it's higher than it's ever been. Could we be just creating, to put it bluntly, more targets over there for the Taliban and the IEDs?

MURTHA: Chris, historically, the British were forced out, the Russians were forced out. And there's more targets-the more troops you put out there, the more targets there are going to be.

But the main thing is, Is this essential to our national security? Is al Qaeda so dangerous that are affecting our national security? We're going to have hearings next week with the intelligence people and with the secretary of state and secretary of defense. So we're trying to make sure we cross every T. And then the cost of it-we're going to be careful about approving the money until we see exactly how much money the president is going to spend.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania. Thank you, sir.

MURTHA: Nice talking to you, Chris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: Let's bring in right now Republican congressman Mike Pence of Indiana. He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee. You just heard Jack Murtha on the appropriations subcommittee.

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA: Hi, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What do you make, Congressman, of the charge-well, he made a pretty strong surmise, maybe, that he wonders whether Afghanistan's really in our essential national interest with regard to what we have to do in Pakistan. Do we essentially have to fight this war to its conclusion over there?

PENCE: Well, you know, let me say, you know, I thought one of the high points of the president's speech last night is that he did take the time to walk the American people back through the story of our military engagement in Afghanistan. The president said last year Afghanistan is a war of necessity. He took us all the way back to September the 11th, when we were attacked from that country. And you know, I don't think too many Americans are confused about whether or not al Qaeda or their previous hosts, the Taliban, represent a serious threat to the United States of America. And it's one of the reasons why, you know, Yesterday, despite my concern about the talk about timelines, and you know, artificial dates for withdrawal and war surtaxes, I commended the president for calling for reinforcements, and I'm grateful that he did so.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you make of that basic arc of 30,000 more troops, speedily brought over there to serve the cause in the current counterinsurgency strategy of General McChrystal, but then already the word we are going to begin to draw down in the summer-in fact, in July of 2011? I mean, it doesn't-we all are in the Internet age. We can only assume that the Taliban learned about that within seconds.

PENCE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And they're going, Hoopla, we just have to hold out until, you know, some time in the summer of '11, and then it's ours. Are you worried about that?

PENCE: Yes. Well, I think-I think it's-I think it's-it's very problematic any time in a field of battle to tell the enemy when you will quit the fight. And I raised that issue with Secretary Gates today at the Foreign Affairs hearing.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PENCE: He himself, Chris, as I'm sure you know, as recently as September, spoke against timelines and exit strategies. I rather liked your characterization last night if-if-you know, that the Taliban would put up, I think you said, a Post-it note and say, Well, if their surge is beginning now, then our surge will begin in July of 2011.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PENCE: What we ought to do, what Secretary Gates said as recently as September, is we ought to-we ought to make a commitment to win, provide our soldiers the reinforcements that they need and send an unambiguous message that we are going to achieve a decisive victory and get our troops home safe as soon as possible.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, along that lines, here is John McCain, Senator John McCain, at that hearing you talked about with Secretary Gates. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: You either have a winning strategy and do as we did in Iraq and then once it succeeded, then we withdraw or we-as the president said, we will have a date of beginning withdrawal of July 2011. Which is it? It's got be one or the other. It's got to be the appropriate conditions or an arbitrary date. You can't have both.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: As I suggested, we will have a thorough review in December 2010. If it appears that the strategy's not working and that we are not going be able to transition in 2011, then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Congressman, I said something else last night-I want to know if you agree with that-I don't think you will, which is that you can't repot (ph) Afghanistan. It is in that part of the world. You know, we all grew up with reading about the Khyber Pass and we know about the Pashtuns and...

PENCE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... and their attitude towards the West. They're very war-like. They're very independent. They're renegades. It's not a unified country, really. Do we really have a chance of changing the nature of that country in the reasonable near term, like five years even? Can we do it over that period or can we even-Jack Murtha was raising the question, we might be able to make a change in 10 years, but the American people will not submit to a 10-year war plan. Your view.

PENCE: Well-well, I think-I-you know what? I think-I think we are talking about an extraordinary people when we talk about the Afghan people. You know, I've been to Afghanistan several times. I've been to the Khyber Pass. This is a proud and independent nation.

And I don't think we really need to change the character of Afghanistan. Rather, what we need to do is-is-and the president alluded to this-we need to stand up the civilian and domestic security forces sufficient to protect themselves, and we need to do everything possible on the front end to defeat the Taliban and to defeat al Qaeda before we head home.

I just-I really do believe that the lessons of September the 11th, and frankly, the lessons of "Charlie Wilson's War" is that...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PENCE: ... that we need to finish the job there. We need to give our soldiers first and then the Afghan people the resources to stand up against the extremists of the Taliban and al Qaeda. I'm believing that the counterinsurgency strategy the president embraced last night will work if we give it a chance in Afghanistan every bit as much, Chris, as it worked in Iraq.

MATTHEWS: OK.

PENCE: We're employing the basic surge strategy that did turn things around in Iraq in 2007. And I appreciate the president for embracing that. I just hope we give it a chance to succeed.

MATTHEWS: I appreciate you for coming on tonight, U.S. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana.

PENCE: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: The White House admits it did not do all it could do to help the Secret Service the other night at keeping the wrong people out. There you got a look at them. Interesting development now. They say they're now going to be standing guard at every social occasion alongside the Secret Service. Big development. Just broke late this afternoon, 20 minutes before we went on the air. We'll have the full story with Savannah Guthrie.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm, you know, new to this sort of social scene in Washington, having commuted all these years. So I just assumed they were part of, you know, the social fabric of Washington. But I didn't know who they were until I saw them on television.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Joe Biden explaining the advantages of commuting to Washington from Delaware all these years and not knowing people like these and knowing that they were basically crashers. The vice president's talking about, of course, that couple that crashed the White House state dinner for the president of India the other night-the prime minister of India.

And late today, the White House deputy chief of staff sent out this memo. It just got out, by the way, a couple minutes ago, titled-I love this formality-"Review of White House procedures during the state dinner and new guidelines." There it is. Quote, "After reviewing our actions, it is clear that the White House did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service in ensuring that only invited guests enter the complex. White House staff were walking back and forth outside between the checkpoints, helping guests, and were available to the Secret Service throughout the evening. But clearly, we can do more and we will do more."

Well, where is this going right now? Savannah Guthrie's NBC White House correspondent and Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist worthy of this topic tonight!

Savannah, we now-we now what Jim Messina does for a living. The deputy chief of staff got to put this baby out, not the chief of staff.

Your thoughts on what they are up to now.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has been an interesting development, because, earlier in the week-in fact, I think it was Monday-the first opportunity all of us had to ask the White House about this on camera, Robert Gibbs made a point, really, to say that they weren't examining their procedures, that the Secret Service had acknowledged the error here, that it was a Secret Service problem alone, essentially, and that they weren't going to do a review of any social secretary procedures could have exacerbated the problem or could help them, on the other hand.

But, by the next day, when Gibbs was on "The Today Show," he had softened that a bit, saying, of course we're going to look at all the procedures, and we want to be helpful, so the Secret Service can do its job.

And now, on the third day, we have this from Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina saying, we are going to have new procedures and we're going to put social secretary staff right at the checkpoints. They will be responsible for checking guests off the list.

Now, to be fair, the social staff were around. They were mingling around in between the checkpoints and were available. But, obviously, there was a breakdown here, one that may have not happened perhaps-speculating-if there had been social secretary staff right there at the checkpoint.

MATTHEWS: What did the White House say? Have they said anything about the report we had here right after it happened from Roxanne Roberts, who covers these kinds of events for "The Washington Post," saying that, the evening of, she went up to two White House staffers and told both of them that there were interlopers in the room. And what-how do they explain it?

How do they explain the fact that they got this advanced warning of these crashers?

GUTHRIE: Well, as I said, up until basically today, they have really been putting off those kinds of questions, and kind of underscoring that it was a Secret Service error.

And there is no question about that, Chris. I mean, the Secret Service has acknowledged one of-at least one of its officers passed these people through having looked at the actual guest list, not seen them on it, but then passed it to the next checkpoint.

The Salahis themselves say they had their I.D.s checked three different times and still were allowed to go through. So, basically, up until this point, what the White House has done is really underscored the fact that this was really a Secret Service error.

This is the first acknowledgement really that the social secretary's office may have played a role here.

MATTHEWS: Right.

Well, what I find interesting, as always, is power.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And I see here, if you read this memorandum that came out from the deputy chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel's chief of staff-below him is Chief-is Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.

Jim Messina says-quote-"I met with the office of the social secretary, which has the lead on the event, as well as other departments, to review their procedures," thereby establishing that the decisions and the discipline will come from the top, I think.

ROBINSON: Yes, right, that it will come from the top. This is-this is embarrassing. This is a glitch. You can kind of understand how it might happen at a first state dinner and this and that.

But it really shouldn't have happened and it shouldn't happen again. And doesn't it make sense to have someone from the social secretary's office there with the list in case, for example, some huge Democratic donor forgot his driver's license, OK? So, you could get him in.

MATTHEWS: Yes. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me just suggest how-let me try to remind you, because you are a pro, an old pro, like me, and I'm almost as much of a pro as you are from a different perspective.

Savannah, it is issues like this that it's been my experience-I want your reaction to this-that seem small to the public that cause a real problem down the road. And it seems like they were smart to deal with it today.

Back when I worked at a White House, the Jimmy Carter White House, Bert Lance got into trouble in the beginning. Everyone circled the wagons, around him, including Jody Powell, the late Jody Powell. And everybody got really ticked at the press for continuing to pound on this issue.

GUTHRIE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: There became a personal rift between the people working for the president and the people covering the president, even though it seemed like a small issue at the time.

Is this like that, and this is why they had to pop the boil today, why Messina and probably Rahm Emanuel had to move and smarten out the operation?

GUTHRIE: Well, I think so.

And, frankly, by the posture that we had on Monday, where they were taking absolutely no responsibility whatsoever, not even making the quite unremarkable statement they will look at every procedure, it kind of extended the story by a few days. And instead of the focus being on this couple that allegedly crashed the party or even the Secret Service that had acknowledged blame, people starting asking questions, well, what about the social secretary? Well, why was she a guest at the dinner?

There was a tough piece in "The Washington Post" today about the social secretary. So, I think they all recognized, look, perhaps we played a role here. We don't have to say it is all our fault, but we can do better.

And I think that is what you're seeing here, Jim Messina, the deputy chief of staff, trying to get a lid on this...

MATTHEWS: Right.

GUTHRIE: ... and try to get this story behind them. There is a lot of frustration here that we are all still talking about it.

MATTHEWS: I know.

Well, somebody made it a big call today. Again, back to an important point, earlier today, we got the word that the White House had basically used executive privilege to deny Desiree Rogers, the social secretary...

ROBINSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... the option, even personal option, of going to the Hill to testifying before the Bennie Thompson committee tomorrow.

ROBINSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: So, that would have been the big story in your paper tomorrow and across the country.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: And here tonight...

ROBINSON: And, here, they have preempted that story. They have jumped ahead of that story...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: By fixing the problem.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: So, somebody is alive there. The lights are on and somebody is home.

ROBINSON: The lights are on.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON: They didn't want that story.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, that-by the way, that piece today was about Desiree Rogers, who will probably continue to get good press, now that this issue has been dealt with.

Savannah Guthrie very calmly on the story here, but I know there is a tempest at the White House these days.

Thank you, Savannah Guthrie, from the White House for NBC News. Thank you very much.

And, Eugene Robinson, thank you, sir, for handling this in Pulitzer fashion.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Up next: Google releases its list of the most buzz-worthy names of the past year, the names that people searched online and began to search less throughout the year. It's interesting. It's about how you drop in-in importance over the year. It is kind of painful, actually. It's sort of schadenfreude, as the Germans would say. We are going to jump to that in the "Sideshow."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the "Sideshow."

First up: It is year-end list time. Google has just put out its review of the most buzz-worthy people and topics of 2009. Here's what they're calling the 15-minute list, the people who had their Andy Warhol episode of fame, albeit without meaning to.

Coming up at number four, John Edwards-news of the campaign affair only got worse in '09.

And, number three, Rod Blagojevich, old B-Rod. Look for him in 2010 as well, when he faces his corruption trial. Just ahead of B-Rod, South Carolina's and of course South America's Governor Mark Sanford. And taking the top rise, Bernie Madoff, Bernie Madoff, the man who came to symbolize corruption. Love that name, Madoff, as in made off with the money.

Google also put out a list of its fastest falling search terms. Some noteworthy politicians made this list of people who have gotten fewer searches of their name as the days have gone by.

At number five, Sarah Palin, though I will bet her stock is going to rise again soon. Nudging her out at number four, Barack Obama. And the fastest falling search term this year-you might have guessed it-John McCain.

Of course, all three of them ended their campaigns in 2008, which probably accounts for the loss of online interest.

Next, think the debate over health care is out of control? Check out this scene at a local parliament down in Argentina yesterday. Look at this. This fight broke out just after the legislature's presidential election. Members of the new president's own party were calling him a traitor, as most of his votes came from the other party.

Things got so bad, they had to call in riot police. I love-well, I don't love it, but, wow, what a picture.

Up next: Are Mike Huckabee's days as a presidential contender over? Is he Hucka-was? As Arkansas Governor Huckabee commuted the sentence of the guy who shot those police officers, all four of them, out in Washington State, and then got gunned down himself, so does that open the door for Sarah Palin on the right?

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATT NESTO, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matt Nesto with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

Stocks ending mixed today, the Dow slipping despite an upbeat report from the Federal Reserve-the Dow industrials down 19 points, the S&P up a fraction, the Nasdaq also up just nine points.

Stocks opened higher after a pair of private employment reports showed mild improvement on the jobs front. The Fed's Beige Book report shows a moderate uptick in consumer spending, homes sales, and construction. But the Dow moved lower as the dollar began to pick up lost ground intraday against the euro and the yen.

A dip in oil prices also weighing in on stocks, as America's-

Americans pinch their pennies, causing a modest buildup of inventories, but retailers mostly higher on a strong showing for sales over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Amazon up again after a tracking company said online spending on Cyber Monday was up 5 percent from a year ago.

And Verizon shares slightly higher, after AT&T dropped its lawsuit over the coverage maps in those new ads.

And that is it from CNBC. We are first in business worldwide-now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The murder of four police officers out in Washington State last weekend is a tragedy, of course. And while our thoughts remain focused on their families and their community and of course their own loss of life out, there is also a delicate political issue here for Mike Huckabee, who granted clemency to the now dead suspect who was shot by police and who is assumed to have been the person who committed those killings of those police officers.

He commuted his sentence for serious crimes back in 2000. And some conservative critics now are really hammering Huckabee. Is his political future over? Can he actually run for president in 2012, as he did before?

Mark McKinnon is a former campaign adviser to John McCain and much respected in his field. He also worked for George W. Bush. He's contributor to the fabulous Daily Beast.

Willie Horton comes to mind. It was Al Gore that first dug up that little sugarplum on-on Mike-Mike Dukakis, and sort of worked that against him. And, then, of course, the Republicans really lashed him with that issue back in '88 and helped George H. Walker Bush get elected president.

Is this guy going to be Willie Hortoned-Mike Huckabee-Mark McKinnon?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER MEDIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: He already is.

In fact-in fact, Rush Limbaugh is already equating Maurice Clemmons to Willie Horton and Mike Huckabee to Mike Dukakis.

Mike Huckabee probably has a great future as a-on FOX News or as a motivational speaker, but his career in politics is done. Stick a fork in him. In America today, given-the problem for this is-I mean, incident itself is bad enough, but there is a pattern. As governor, he granted clemency and pardons to over 1,000 prisoners, which is three times the number of pardons and clemencies granted by three former governors.

And so this is a problem. This would be a problem in a general election for Huckabee. But this will be a primary issue in the Republican primary, where law and order issues are really salient.

So, this is a real problem for Mike Huckabee. And it really-and, ironically, just a few days ago, polling came out that Huckabee was not only leading the Republican field, but he was within four points of President Obama. So, this is a spectacular fall.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Is this considered a human fault? I mean, let's get down to this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I remember, Norman Mailer, one of my heroes, as a writer, once helped John Henry Abbott get out of prison. He went and knifed somebody in a bar fight right after that.

Whenever you show some sort of Christian charity or whatever you want to call it to somebody who is basically stuck with a life sentence, you are basically carrying them the rest of their lives, aren't you? You are responsible for everything they do henceforth, aren't you? That's what going on here, isn't it?

MCKINNON: You really are. And absolutely.

And having worked for a number of governors, every one that I worked for says that these issues were the hardest-and death penalty issues were absolutely the hardest issues that they had to deal with.

And, clearly, Mike Huckabee has got a compassionate component to his -

to his thinking. And, you know, he is a deep Christian. And I'm sure that factored into a lot of his thinking. But it's precisely those things that create a practical political problem for him, when, in reality, you know, those may have been seemingly the right things to do at the time, at least I'm sure the-the victims of the shooting would disagree.

But that's what is tough about being a governor.

MATTHEWS: Well, his potential opponents are-his potential-excuse me-his potential opponents are circling.

Look at this. Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of-Is he still governor of Minnesota? -- told-still governor-told Laura Ingraham, our colleague over there on radio-quote-"I don't think I have ever voted for clemency. We have given out pardons for things after everybody has served out their term, but, again, usually for more minor offenses. But clemency? Certainly not. Commutation of sentences? Certainly not."

So, he put a knife in, basically. He said-you said, the fork is in. I think the knife is in for Pawlenty. These guys aren't going to give this guy-it looks like the competition has already begun. We haven't heard from Mitt Romney yet.

But this does clear-you are an expert. I want to ask you an expert's question. Does this clear the field on the right for Sarah Palin? I thought Huckabee was her biggest obstacle come the Iowa caucuses.

MCKINNON: It creates a huge opening and perhaps just the spiritual nudge that-that Sarah Palin talks about. She says that looks for doors opening to give her-you know, give her thoughts about what her next moves might be. And this might do just that.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MCKINNON: But Mike Huckabee was soaking up a lot of that oxygen on the Christian right in the Iowa primaries. With him gone, there is a huge opening there now for Sarah Palin or somebody like Rick Santorum. But Sarah Palin obviously has got a great deal of attention right now and is likely to step into that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, but Huckabee is a smart fellow, Mark.

I mean, I want to give him a credit here, as he-as-as you say, he is headed out of the field, because didn't he say a while back, when the birthers were going after the president, saying he wasn't born in the country, he was somehow illegitimately a candidate and then illegitimately elected, he said to his conservatives, don't you think that Hillary Clinton would have found this out and used it against him if it were true? That is a tough way to make a point to a conservative audience. In other words, I'm not a birther, because I think Hillary Clinton is a lot smarter and tougher than you guys.

MCKINNON: Well, listen, that is part of why I like Mike Huckabee. I think he's a really entertaining guy. I think he actually has been a great elected official. He's been a great candidate. I think he is good for the Republican Party. He brings a lot of optimism and good policy ideas to the table. I think we'll miss him, but he ain't going to be there, Chris. I can guarantee you.

MATTHEWS: Here is what he said in his defense. He was on our colleague, Joe Scarborough's show the other day. He said, quote, "it really does show how sick our society has become that people are more concerned about a campaign three years from now than those grieving families in Washington State. It is disgusting, but people use anything as a political weapon."

I wonder if he isn't overstating-well, overstating what he already grew up with, which is politics ain't bean bag.

MCKINNON: Yes, this is just practical reality in American politics, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the field, now that you've come in-you're always an expert, Mark McKinnon. The Republican field for president in 2012; you have included the name Scarborough on that list. I must say, that is fascinating. I think Joe is a hell of a communicator, should he change fields two years from now. What do you think? Why did you put him on that list as a potential? Do you think something that we don't know about? What do you think you know that we don't know? Is it just he's got the right stuff? What do you think?

MCKINNON: Well, I think he appeals to people like me. I think there are a lot of Republicans out there that aren't happy with the perspective field out there. I think he surprises folks with the position he takes. I think he is a genuine conservative, but he also takes moderate progressive positions. He doesn't just drink the Kool-Aid on a lot of issues. And I think he's a fairly independent thinker. He's got obvious media savvy.

I think he would light up the boards immediately if he were to take the step. I encourage him to do so.

MATTHEWS: You encourage him to do so? You want to run his campaign?

MCKINNON: Well, I would certainly be glad to hold the flag and encourage others.

MATTHEWS: I'm just teasing. I'm not teasing. I think it is very

interesting. Thank you Mark McKinnon. >

Up next, President Obama made the decision on Afghanistan. Now the hard work begins of selling the Afghan war on Capital hill to left, right and center. The independents are going to be tough too, not just the liberals. That is next on the politics fix. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back. Time for the politics fix, with "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman, who is an MSNBC political analyst, and the "New York Times'" columnist Bob Herbert. Gentlemen, heavyweights for a heavyweight question. It looks to me, based upon our interviews tonight with Jack Murtha and Mike Pence, that this is going to be an odd campaign up on the Hill, the president having a tougher fight with the Democratic party, a somewhat easier fight with the Republican party. I just was watching that mayhem down in Argentina, where the president, in that local parliament, got elected by the other party and the chair throwing started.

I just wonder, are we going to see chair throwing, Bob Herbert, because the Democrats are enraged that a war is being prosecuted by their president, of their party, and the votes of the other party?

BOB HERBERT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don't think we will see chair throwing. But you are right about the Democrats being upset. And liberals, especially, are angry. Barack Obama came to prominence essentially, fairly or unfairly-he came to prominence as an anti-war candidate. Now he always, you know, stressed that he was against-he said he was not against all wars. He was against dumb wars. He said Iraq was a dumb war. He did not characterize Afghanistan that way.

But I must say that people did not take-maybe they were projecting, but they did not take away from his candidacy the idea that he was going to escalate in Afghanistan the way he has chosen to do.

MATTHEWS: Even though he said he though we needed two to three more combat brigades during the campaign?

HERBERT: I think an awful lot of people were watching that campaign, enthralled with Obama, and hearing what they wanted to hear.

MATTHEWS: Right. Howard, is that true?

HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK": I agree with that completely. It is the war that made him. And it's another war that may unmake him here, because he really put a huge bet on here. However careful and grim and almost woeful his presentation was last night, in saying, look, we've got to do this. We don't like it. It is bloody. It is costly. But we've got to do it. And choosing the backdrop of West Point to actually speak to the left wing of his party. He wasn't really speaking to the soldiers there. He was speaking to the left wing of his own party.

You know, he set the stage for a lot of internal conflict. Talking to Democrats on the Hill today, he has a tough sell. They are going to send up the national security adviser for a secret briefing tomorrow in the basement of the Capitol with all senators.

MATTHEWS: What is the secret? This is interesting reporting, Howard. But what are the secrets they want to tell members of Congress the president won't tell us? The secret reason for war?

FINEMAN: My guess would be-and it is strictly conjecture on my part-that they are sending the national security adviser, General Jones, in there to talk about the semi-unspoken part of the strategy, which is Pakistan. I'm just guessing here. The ways in which what we do in Afghanistan can be helpful to us in Pakistan, because that is politically difficult to talk about in public, because of the sensitivities of the Pakistanis.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it is so tough to go to a parent or a loved one who has fallen in battle, Rob-I mean, Bob. I mean, it just seems so hard to say, your son or daughter was killed fighting the Taliban, so that the politicians in Islamabad, in the country next door, will get serious about fighting the people that attacked us on 9/11. It is a Rube Goldberg. I'm not a cartoonist, but I can imagine some weird cartoon where a punching bag hits this and some bucket falls over and that leads to something else. Maybe it's what got me so frustrated last night, this argument we are fighting one crowd so the other crowd will fight some other crowd.

HERBERT: It is incoherent, you are correct. I mentioned in a column that presidents are very seldom straight with the public-politicians, not just presidents, are very seldom straight with the public when it comes to warfare, I mean, the reasons, the ins and outs, the behind the scenes maneuvering and that sort of thing. Very seldom do they come out and tell you the straight truth.

So, for example, Obama was conveying two messages last night. One was that we're going to send 30,000 troops in there. The other is that this is allegedly the beginning of an exit strategy. Those are two messages that are just in conflict. I don't care what kind of contortions you go through trying to explain it. That's in conflict.

I would be very, very, very surprised if 2011 rolls around and the administration doesn't say, we told you when the president made his speech back in 2009 that he would make a decision based on what's going on on the grounds, that he said that there would be, perhaps, the beginning of an exit in 2011, but that determination will be made by the facts on the ground. I do not expect any kind of big deescalation in Afghanistan in 2011.

MATTHEWS: I agree. I think the people have this idea of July 2011 emblazoned in their heads right now, as the beginning of the end of this war.

FINEMAN: He said to begin-he said to begin, subject to further review.

HERBERT: Exactly.

FINEMAN: OK. First of all, I hate to make a joke out of such a serious topic, but the great Marx Brother movie, where Groucho sings the song, "Hello, I Must Be Going." This is like, "Hello, I Must Be Going." But you have to look at this in the framework of the 2012 election, which Obama, I guarantee you, has that clock ticking in his head. There will be some deescalation. Bob might be right. It's not going to be a big deescalation. But I guarantee you the movement of troops-the arrow is going to be out by the summer of 2012, if not the summer of 2011.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS: Quitting time is not a good argument for a war. You have to sort of say winning time. It's a hard one. I'm with you, Bob, because, I tell you, it's very hard to get juiced up about a war, I guess, especially if you have to fight one, that's already on the clock. It's already said, this is going to be over. So, you know, everybody knew their magic number in Vietnam. Now the whole Army is going to know the magic number, which is July 2011.

FINEMAN: Yes, but I think sort of the tone of the language of this has changed somewhat. It's less amount eradicating-although he does use the word-the president last night did use the word defeat al Qaeda.

MATTHEWS: Finally, after dismantle.

FINEMAN: Yes. But the tonality of it is not that we're ever going to eradicate them, but we're going to try to keep the pressure on them. There's a lot of language about keeping the pressure on. That doesn't sound like the kind of war that most Americans understand.

MATTHEWS: It reminds me how they say they're going to reduce the amount of ant hairs in your Hershey bars or some other candy product out there. Walter Cronkite once went on television and said, under a new, some new agriculture law, FDA law, there's only go to be so many animal follicles allowed in your candy. I'd like to know there are none in there. We'll be right back. Excuse me, Hershey Bars, my favorite candy. We'll be right back with Howard Fineman and Bob Herbert for more of the politics fix. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with Howard Fineman and Bob Herbert for more of the politics fix. Bob and Howard and I, we probably all agree that the younger generation has a different view on same-sex marriage than most people over 40. This country, if we were only composed of people under 40, it would probably pass. But that's not reality. Older people vote. Older people have influence. The New York State senate, same-sex marriage was just defeated 24 to 38, in a state that most people consider fairly liberal, your state, Bob.

HERBERT: Yes, New York is fairly liberal compared to other states. But when you start talking about legislatures and gay marriage, I mean, I think you can, for the most part, forget about it. I never thought that would pass in New York.

There's a point I would like to make. You know, New York State is in desperate fiscal trouble. It's right at the edge of a budget cliff. And the legislature up there in Albany cannot get its act together to deal with the state's financial problems. But it could get its act together to defeat this legislation. Very interesting, their priorities there.

MATTHEWS: Well, are they related at all, Howard? A lot of people think partners' benefits and all those things become issues.

FINEMAN: I don't think this was about economics. I think it's about culture. As Bob well knows, upstate New York is an entirely different universe from the city.

HERBERT: It sure is.

FINEMAN: This is one of the places where upstate legislators, who feel ignored and abused and led around by the power of downstate, can rebel. My guess would be, if you look at the map of New York State, most of the opposition was upstate, which is culturally still-even though it's become more Democrat-oriented more toward the Democratic party-

MATTHEWS: Here in D.C., we have a liberal community, as you know, Bob Herbert, on most social and economic issues. The D.C. City Council has moved already on this. And I guess they might have some Congressional review at some point on this. Clearly, this is a community we're in right now which is very pro-same-sex marriage. In fact, it's become a big issue, like so many issues have, with the Catholic church and its huge role in social services in this town.

HERBERT: Yes, it's huge. Washington is, I think, an anomaly when you start talking about legislatures in this country. It's very liberal and it is supporting gay marriage. But, you know, I think that politically the deck is stacked against it, which is why you have people like President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and so many others who are out there on record as not being in favor of.

MATTHEWS: Howard?

FINEMAN: You look at the numbers, Chris. There are 31 states in this country that have, by referendum, gone on record through votes of the people saying they don't want same-sex marriage marriage. Six jurisdictions have it.

MATTHEWS: I have a question for everybody: is same-sex marriage a right or is it something that's up for the legislators and the population to vote on? I would think at some point along the road, the people pushing rightly or wrongly for gay marriage are going to say, this is a right; it's not up to vote. A lot of rights wouldn't be approved if you had a vote on them.

FINEMAN: Good luck with the current United States Supreme Court on that one.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Howard Fineman. I think that will be their effort, anyway. Thank you with that wonderful duo pushing for it. Bob Herbert, thank you, as always, for joining us form the "New York Times," and Howard Fineman from "Newsweek." And from here, join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it's time for "THE ED SHOW" with Ed Schultz.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END

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