Guests: Julia Boorstin, Pat Buchanan, Chuck Todd, Jon Soltz, Jon Powers, Jonathan Martin, Joan Walsh, Susan Milligan, Ron Brownstein
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A plague on both your Houses.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Double jeopardy. As goes the House, so goes the Senate. Could the Democrats lose 10 Senate seats this fall and control of that body, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives? In 70 years, no party has ever lost control of the House without also losing control of the Senate in the same election. Does this say that the Democrats better make a comeback this spring and summer or they‘ll be in worse trouble than even they imagined?
Plus, ending “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” Here‘s a quote from a GI who‘s been serving in Iraq. “yes, I think my former commander was gay. Kicked ass. Would have followed him back to Fallujah. Shame he was shot.” Let‘s get past the loose talk get to what life in the military is really like from men in uniform.
Plus: Would Ronald Reagan have been Reagan enough for Republicans these days? The GOP myth makers don‘t like to talk about it, but Reagan raised taxes. He signed a bill that granted amnesty to immigrants and he named pro-choice Sandra Day O‘Connor to the Supreme Court. He wouldn‘t even pass today‘s Republican purity test. What happens when the rhetoric smacks into reality?
Also, the tea partiers begin their convention tonight in Nashville. Catch the name they‘ve given to one of their seminaries (SIC) -- this—seminars, rather, not seminaries. Quote, “Correlation between the current administration and Marxist dictators of Latin America.” What a swell fest that‘s going to be.
And Jon Stewart and Bill O‘Reilly go at each other. We‘re going to get you to the tape in the “Sideshow” tonight.
But we begin with the Republicans and whether they can really win the House of Representatives this November and the Senate. Chuck Todd is NBC‘s political director and chief White House correspondent, and Jonathan Martin is the senior political writer for “Politico.” Gentlemen, two smart guys here.
What we‘re going to do here is assume the Republicans are in good enough shape to hold onto the seats they have, but let‘s talk about—we‘re playing a game of poker here. Let‘s imagine the Republicans get not too great a hand. Suppose they get a pair of—well, they get an easy pair of Republicans they can pick up. There‘s Delaware. You see the map pictures there. And North Dakota. That‘s Beau Biden, decided not to run. That‘s the vice president‘s son. He‘s not running. Mike Castle looks strong, the Republican. And Byron Dorgan is retiring out in North Dakota. Congressman Mike Castle and Governor John Hoeven look to be pretty easy winners.
Your thoughts, Chuck. Is that a pretty much a gimme for them?
CHUCK TODD, NBC CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is. I would just say Delaware, Democrats did find a good candidate, a better candidate than they found against somebody—against Hoeven in North Dakota. And Delaware is still Delaware, in that it is a lean blue state. So Castle has to run a very moderate, sort of in the middle campaign. He‘s perfectly suited for it. He should be able to do it. But you know, Delaware is—of the two, you would say Democrats have at least a shot at it.
MATTHEWS: You got a former governor in Delaware and a current governor in North Dakota. Looks like a pretty good bet.
JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM: Very popular governor, Chris, John Hoeven, in North Dakota. He‘s the longest serving governor in America. And he‘s someone who‘s not going to be facing the only credible Democrat that probably could have run against him, and that‘s Earl Pomeroy (ph), who has the lone House seat.
MATTHEWS: So a good bet, we all three agree, they should be able to move...
MATTHEWS: ... from 41 seats to 43 seats, all things being the way they are now. Let‘s take a look at if they do a little bitter with the hand. Here‘s a possible—we‘re calling it a full house. Suppose they knock off three vulnerable Democrats. They knock off Delaware. They pick up Biden‘s seat there. They pick up Byron Dorgan‘s seat in North Dakota. And they beat Blanche Lincoln down in Arkansas and the beat the appointed senator, Michael Bennet, in Colorado. And Harry Reid gets beaten. That is also, it seems to me, Chuck, a reasonable probability if not—let‘s put it this way, that‘s fairly plausible they win those five, right?
TODD: It is. I would right now feel the least comfortable about saying that—about Colorado in that full house. I think the Republican field is not that strong. And the dynamics in Colorado aren‘t as anti-Democratic, for instance, as they are right now in Arkansas. And then, of course, Harry Reid‘s got his own set of problems in Nevada. So Colorado is the one that is a speed bump to that full house.
MARTIN: But Chris, don‘t forget also, that field in Nevada is not that strongly against Reid. The leader‘s numbers...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but he‘s losing to all of them.
MARTIN: Right. His numbers are terrible, as we all know. He would lose right now to pretty much anybody out there, including Liberace. But the problem is that they have not yet found...
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re pushing it.
TODD: Good Chris Matthews reference, though, right, Chris?
MARTIN: Yes. exactly. But no—Chuck‘s right, though. In Arkansas especially—this is a state that was never very fond of President Obama.
MARTIN: She‘s going to have a really tough time there running as a Democrat this cycle.
MATTHEWS: So they can pick up—maybe they go up to 45 to 46 in a reasonably plausible outlook. Let‘s take a look...
TODD: But it‘s plausible, that‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at the tsunami possibilities. If Republicans can get the full house easy, then they might also draw a royal flush. Now, this would be tsunami here. Look at these five extra ones they might pick up. I can see a couple of these myself as plausible. Illinois—Mark Kirk just won the Republican primary there the other night pretty much against the field. And Arlen Specter is very weak right now, double digit down from Pat Toomey, the Republican, if he wins the primary.
Then Indiana—Dan Coats, the former senator, is now the nominee of the Republican Party in Indiana. He‘s running that race...
MATTHEWS: ... not the nominee, but he‘s running. He‘ll probably get it. And Connecticut open seat, you‘ve got Blumenthal, the very popular attorney general up there around 70 percent, up there. He looks good for the Ds. And Barbara Boxer always seems to pull it out, out in California.
What‘s your thought there, Chuck? They could win maybe three of them.
I don‘t know about five.
TODD: That‘s the problem here. And this is where you get stuck trying to find the 10 for the Republicans. And the fact is, Connecticut and California, I don‘t think are plausible yet, particularly Connecticut anymore. The other wild card there is, with Pennsylvania, is Arlen Specter even the most electable Democrat? You‘ve still got that primary to sort out. The Indiana thing is a bit of a reach.
The real issue here for the Republicans is they can‘t be counting on Connecticut and California to round out their 10. They need to find Wisconsin or Washington...
TODD: ... and they need to bring in more—they have to put more players on the field. They haven‘t done it yet. But the fact is, they‘re a heck of a lot better shape today, closer to getting there, than they were three months ago.
MARTIN: And Chris, there are so few incumbent Republicans that are in any kind of danger. David Vitter and Richard Burr...
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that unbelievable?
MATTHEWS: Vitter, with all his problems with prostitutes, is probably going to get reelected.
MARTIN: Southern states.
MARTIN: I mean, this is going to be a great cycle for the GOP in the South.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s take a look at—so we‘re looking at some real possibilities here for the Republicans to pick up Delaware, North Dakota, Arkansas, maybe Nevada, maybe Illinois, maybe Pennsylvania. Is that the way you look at it?
TODD: Well, right, I mean, this is in this tsunami hypothetical, yes.
MATTHEWS: Yes, the only other thing Specter could do in Pennsylvania, knowing that state pretty well, is Specter tends at the end to get something on his opponent. He will get Toomey for something. He always manages to get something.
TODD: But Chris...
TODD: Exactly. I‘m not convinced he gets the nomination.
MARTIN: Neither am I.
TODD: Sestak‘s got a lot of money. And so far, Sestak hasn‘t taken the campaign to Specter yet, but if he does, I think Specter‘s got a long way to go before we can start talking about the general.
MARTIN: Let me just add one more fast point, and that is Chuck‘s point is exactly right. Republicans need to find more seats to put into play so they‘re not relying upon California and Connecticut.
MARTIN: Two names for you, Washington state...
MATTHEWS: OK, so we might see history made here, Jonathan Martin. We might see if the House does go—we don‘t know what‘s going to happen, but if the House does go, you think it‘s more likely we‘ll see history, first time ever the House goes one way but the Senate doesn‘t go with it?
MARTIN: I think right now in February, it‘s easier to see the House (INAUDIBLE) than the Senate.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that‘s true, that we‘re going to make history this year, the Senate holds, the House may go, Chuck?
TODD: I tell you, I guess my feeling is no. There‘s a reason why history is—I mean, there‘s a reason why we‘ve seen this every single time. And the fact is, they are looking for candidates in Wisconsin. I think Russ Feingold better be careful. Patty Murphy in Washington state ought to be careful.
Now, that said, there are speed bumps here, too. I think the open seat in Missouri is a real problem for Republicans because they nominated somebody that isn‘t very anti-Washington in Roy Blunt. And then they‘ve got this Louisiana deal. I don‘t think—you know, the fact is, let‘s see what happens when David Vitter has to deal with a campaign for the very first time...
TODD: ... defending his moral values.
MARTIN: And lastly, Chris, we ought to mention New Hampshire, too. That‘s an open seat. That‘s the Judd Gregg seat. That‘s a pretty big field on the GOP side. There‘s going to be an internecine battle there. The Democrats already a House member, Paul Hodes (ph). And that state‘s been really trending towards Democrats in recent years.
MATTHEWS: You know what‘s great about politics? Inevitably, even in a tsunami year, somebody wins going the other direction, whether it‘s Wayne Owens and Biden back in ‘72, but also the unbeatable guy, the unbeatable woman who you can‘t imagine ever losing an election also goes down in a tsunami. That happens, too.
TODD: Remember 1980. I mean, remember the names, the biggest names of the Democratic history...
MARTIN: Birch Bayh and Frank Church...
TODD: ... in the United States Senate.
TODD: They were giant names...
TODD: You‘re absolutely right, Chris. And look, this is such a great Senate cycle. Kentucky‘s in play. We didn‘t even mention that. Florida‘s in play. We didn‘t mention that. There‘s a whole bunch of races. We may have 20 Senate races in single digits or flipping on election night. I‘ll be honest, I‘m pretty giddy about that. That‘s a lot of fun.
MATTHEWS: ... you got a lot of tea party action on the Republican side. You got Mark Rubio, Pat Buchanan‘s favorite candidate down—a Cuban-American guy down in Florida. Charlie Crist is making something of a comeback. What do you make of that? Charlie Crist is out there fighting. We‘re going to talk about it later in the show. He‘s saying he is a Reagan guy. What do you think?
TODD: Well, look, I think the fact is, there are seven more months in this primary. And you know, you are—if you‘re the Rubio people, you sit there and you go, Boy, I hope we haven‘t peaked too soon because now, you know, what goes up must come down.
The fact, though, is how does Crist—it does seem like nothing sticks to Rubio. You could see how Crist fixes himself, but can he take down Rubio with it, because boy, there‘s a lot of mythology surrounding Rubio and there‘s a lot of national Republicans who are desperately hoping Rubio wins...
TODD: ... because they want a non-white face in their party in a prominent position.
MARTIN: Crist has a lot of money in the bank. That primary is not until August. He can spend a lot of money going after Rubio. Here‘s the problem for Crist, though. It‘s a closed primary. You have to be a registered R to vote in that primary. And it‘s in the dead of summer in Florida.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK. So we got an interesting race. It looks like the Senate could go Republican, after all, but it‘s going to be a long run for them if they do it. A lot of things have to happen. It has to be even worse than it is now for the Democrats, right?
MATTHEWS: Chuck, you agree? It has to be even worse than it is now?
TODD: Look, call me up when they find somebody against Feingold and Patty Murray.
TODD: Then we can really have this conversation. I think we‘re not there yet.
MARTIN: Where‘s Tommy Thompson?
MATTHEWS: As Walt Disney once taught me, Chuck, it‘s what you to with what you got that counts. Thank you very much, Chuck Todd, Jonathan Martin.
Coming up: What would getting rid of “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” mean for the military? We‘re going to ask two veterans of the Iraq war who have served alongside gay soldiers and have no problem with making the military a place for open service to the country.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Just a minute ago, we saw the swearing in of Scott Brown up at the U.S. Senate building. There it is right now. There‘s Vice President Joe Biden, the president of the Senate, obviously, swearing him in. There‘s Paul Kirk, the appointed member, behind him, leaving office at this moment. And of course, John Kerry. By the way, John Kerry just grabbed the Senate desk of Ted Kennedy, which was, of course, Jack Kennedy‘s desk, and before that, I believe, Daniel Webster‘s. But there you see the swearing-in ceremony. Democracy continues in America.
Welcome back to HARDBALL. President Obama has pledged to get Congress to repeal the military‘s so-called “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy. And the country‘s top military man, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, apparently goes along with that. He personally said so the other day, Michael Mullen. He supports allowing gay servicepeople to serve openly in the military.
So how easy will it be to eliminate the old—the current, actually, “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” rule? And what would it mean for the military? Let‘s turn to two real soldiers, two Iraq war veterans, Jon Soltz, executive director of Votevets.org, and Jon Powers, the chief operating officer for the Truman National Security Project. I‘ll call you by both your names, gentlemen, so we don‘t get confused.
John Soltz, you, sir, give me a real-life example of what it‘s like to serve with gay servicemen and women and how it works. What‘s it like, and how does it work, effectively?
JON SOLTZ, VOTEVETS.ORG: Well, the way it works right now is, you come home from the war, and like I was—I was on vacation with a couple of my friends. We were traveling around. And they said, Oh, by the way, you know that other officer that was with us? He was gay. And I said, Really? I had no idea because it just was completely irrelevant on the battlefield when you‘ve got lack of body armor, you‘re trying to figure out your mission.
And you know, I was just shocked on Tuesday when I listened to Admiral Mullen live when he said in the room, I‘ve served with gays since 1968. Everybody knows the gays are there, and when you serve with them, you just don‘t even think twice about it and didn‘t even know.
SOLTZ: And obviously, they can‘t...
MATTHEWS: Yes. It‘s funny. My dad said the same thing about the Navy in World War II. But it‘s just a fact of life.
JON POWERS, TRUMAN NATIONAL SECURITY PROJECT: Yes. Absolutely. When I was on the ground in Baghdad in 2003 -- actually, Jon and I were in the same unit—there was a soldier, one of my soldiers who, when things got really hairy and there was a firefight right outside our gates—we knew he was gay, but you don‘t ask, you don‘t tell. And he jumped in a tactical vehicle, drove outside the gate, hooked it up to a burning Humvee, dragged it back in. That‘s a guy you want in your foxhole with you. That‘s a soldier. It didn‘t matter, the sexual orientation, at all.
MATTHEWS: So we‘re talking about combat postings. We‘re talking about real in it kind of...
POWERS: Really in it. We were in the most volatile sector of Baghdad.
MATTHEWS: Well, this one I want to hear. Let‘s go to—chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen supported repealing “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” earlier this week. Let‘s listen to the admiral.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity, theirs as individuals, and ours as an institution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Jon Soltz, I was taken by it when I read the remarks later and heard him actually say “personally.” Not there because the chain of command, not because the commander-in-chief, Barack Obama, the president, but because he personally—he put that word in. It meant something to me. Here‘s a man of honor. Your thoughts, Jon Soltz, about the impact of Admiral Mullen as chairman of Joint Chiefs.
SOLTZ: Since I‘ve been running Votevets in the past four years and sitting in that room, it was the greatest surprise I‘ve certainly ever had in politics. I never expected him to say that. I was absolutely shocked, pleasantly, that he did. I think that means a lot.
And after that, there was an exchange with Senator Sessions who said, Well, I think that this is command influence, which is sort of a dirty word under the Uniform of Military Justice, to influence your subordinates. And Admiral Mullen shot back at Senator Sessions and said, This isn‘t command influence, this is about leadership.
And I mean, he talked about it being generational, how younger veterans today feel probably differently than older veterans. But to say it personally, with no politics involved, I think it‘s a real credit that we have a chairman who‘s going to give his honest opinion to Congress, no matter, you know, who‘s the president. He‘s served, obviously, for Republican and Democrat. It was humbling, and I was certainly honored to be in the room.
POWERS: Yes, and I think one of the things he hit on really strongly was the values, the integrity. And as Jon knows, in the military, you wear your values on your dog tags. It‘s a really important part of what you do.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s listen to another view. Here‘s Jon McCain. I respect Jon McCain, certainly his service. Here he is talking about “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” with another view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I understand the opposition to it, and I‘ve had these debates and discussions. But the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the Republican to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was him on the college tour a while ago, a couple years ago, with me. But here he is now. Here he is now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: This would be a substantial and controversial change to a policy that has been successful for two decades. It would also present yet another challenge to our military at a time of already tremendous stress and strain. At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the don‘t ask, don‘t tell policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jon Soltz, what do you make of that? I mean, it seems like his policy has changed.
JON SOLTZ, CO-FOUNDER, VOTEVETS.ORG: Senator McCain is completely wrong. Let address the core points there.
MATTHEWS: No, but he‘s fighting with himself, because a few years ago on the college tour, he was open to what he heard from the military. Now he is saying he has decided this isn‘t the right thing to do now.
SOLTZ: Well, let‘s talk about why it is the right thing to do.
For the past few years, when the Army wasn‘t meeting their recruiting goals, we were letting felons into the military. And these felons came in, and they were in a town that I happened to be in, Mahmudiyah, which is one of the absolute worst town you can be in, in Iraq.
And this convicted felon murdered a family, and then two U.S. soldiers taken prisoner and killed as a retraction to that—or as a rebuttal. So, you tell me what‘s worse for unit cohesion, letting convicted felons into the military because we‘re so low on recruiting or retention issues that we face, yet people who want to serve honorably, like some of the gay troops that are serving, then get kicked out? It makes absolutely no sense.
So, at a time when the military‘s overextended and guys are doing two, three, four tours, units in the Army Reserve and National Guard and being cross-transferred and meshed together, you‘re going to say that this is not the right time? It‘s ridiculous.
Let me ask you. I will take the other view, since both of you guys are positive here. Let me just try this other argument. Is the don‘t ask, don‘t tell policy basically used not to embarrass people or to keep them from identifying who they are in terms of orientation, but it‘s one more prod toward some sort of disciplinary measure, that if you say a person—you can‘t admit you‘re gay, then you‘re putting one extra prod to keep in the discipline order? Is that an argument for it?
JON POWERS, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: I mean, when it was initially put in place, it was put in place as a stepping stone. Let‘s get here. Then we can move beyond.
MATTHEWS: Oh, was it?
POWERS: I believe so. I believe so.
And I think we‘re at a time now we can move beyond. And where I think Senator McCain is wrong is, there‘s no better time to move beyond than while we are at war, while we need these Arabic linguists that are...
MATTHEWS: If you were a chairman of the Joint Chiefs right now, Jon Soltz, and you had to implement this policy, and you were told by the commander in chief, go for it, put this into effect over the next year, what changes would you do in the military code of discipline, et cetera?
MATTHEWS: I wasn‘t in the military. I was in the Peace Corps. I assumed we had gay people in the Peace Corps, didn‘t operate in certainly as intimate an environment as the military can be.
But it was certainly no problem with the Peace Corps. But let me ask you this. Is there anything you have to do to change the way the disciplinary works once you have gay soldiers in the same barracks, for example, close quarters? Is there anything you have to do differently than you do now? I don‘t know. You tell me.
SOLTZ: Absolutely, absolutely not.
In fact, the easiest thing to do here is to tell the military, let gays serve openly. The hardest thing to do is for Congress to pass legislation repealing the law.
And the reason is because we‘re the most disciplined branch of the federal government. What our command structure says goes. So, our troops are going to listen to their commanders. And we have the strictest guidelines in regards to what we call heterosexual relationships.
So, an officer cannot be involved physically intimately in any way with a noncommissioned officer or an enlisted member. They get kicked out.
SOLTZ: So, these strict guidelines that mandate...
MATTHEWS: So, they would apply in gay relationships as well?
We have men and women serving together in places like Baghdad International Airport.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what people tell me. OK. I listen to you guys.
You were in. I wasn‘t.
Thank you, Jon.
POWERS: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jon Powers, Jon Soltz. Thanks for coming.
Please come back again. I‘m sure we are going to talk about this again. We are going to hear the other side, too, as this debate continue, although the country overwhelmingly, in principle, supports open service.
That‘s one thing that has changed. We‘re going to argue about same-sex marriage for years to come, state by state, for the years ahead. I think this issue is getting close to resolution.
Up next: Jon Stewart takes on Bill O‘Reilly. And this is pure fun.
And the California candidate Carly Fiorina makes one of the strangest campaign commercials I have ever seen. Stick around for the “Sideshow.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Time for the “Sideshow.”
Behind enemy lines.
Jon Stewart went on “Bill O‘Reilly” last night and got into a good argument with his host about that fair and balanced claim they make over there. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”)
BILL O‘REILLY, HOST, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”: You don‘t think people know “The Factor” is an opinion show? You don‘t think they know that?
JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”: It‘s not—certainly not clearly labeled. I have looked at your promos. You‘re part of the fair and balanced part.
STEWART: You‘re part of the most trusted name in news.
O‘REILLY: Well, I am fair and balanced. But you don‘t think people know “The O‘Reilly Factor” isn‘t an opinion show?
STEWART: Let me put it this way.
O‘REILLY: That‘s like saying somebody watching your show, they don‘t know it‘s a comedy show.
STEWART: You have become in some ways the voice of sanity here, which, as I said, is like being the thinnest kid...
O‘REILLY: Is Cavuto sane?
STEWART: Which is like being the thinnest kid at fat camp. So, let‘s just get that straight.
Here is what FOX has done, through their cyclonic, perpetual...
O‘REILLY: We‘re back to the cyclonic, all right.
STEWART: ... their cyclonic perpetual emotion machine that is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a week—they have taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into a full-fledged panic attack about the next coming of Chairman Mao.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. Jon Stewart is a smart guy, a funny guy. Let‘s leave it there.
He‘s dead right about what‘s going on over there at FOX, where they yell fire every night in a movie theater.
Now, words don‘t do this next video justice. It comes courtesy of Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard, who is running for the United States Senate out in California.
Thanks, Fiorina‘s camp unveiled an attack ad against her Republican primary opponent Tom Campbell. She makes him out to be a demon sheep. You have got to see it to believe it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CARLY FIORINA CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: Tom Campbell, is he what he tells us? Or is he what he‘s become over the years, a FCINO, fiscal conservative in name only, a wolf in sheep‘s clothing, a man who literally helped put the state of California on the path to bankruptcy and higher taxes? Fiscal conservative, or just another same old tale of tax and spend, authored by a career politician who helped guide us into this fiscal mess in the first place?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: God, that‘s a pretty nasty ad this early. The Republican primary is not until June.
Now for the “Number.”
Over in England, members of Parliament got whacked last year for charging the government with highly questionable expense accounts. They were using taxpayer money for things like mortgage payments, horse manure, adult movies.
Today, the auditor filed his report on the scandal. He found quite a few current and former lawmakers were at fault and have to pay the government back. How many in all? -- 392 members of parliament, a figure that includes over half the House of Commons -- 392 British lawmakers singled out for questionable expenses, tonight‘s big bad number.
Up next: Republicans talk a lot about Ronald Reagan, but would they accept him today? Would Reagan himself be considered Reaganesque? Would he be Reagan enough? That debate is coming up next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
A brutal sell-off on Wall Street today on worries about the U.S. job market and rising levels of European debt. The Dow Jones industrials plunging more than 268 points, briefly dipping below 10000 for the first time since November, the S&P 500 falling 34 points, and the Nasdaq shedding 65 ½ points.
Global market kicking off the spiral amid worried about skyrocketing debt in Portugal, Spain, and Greece, the head of the International Monetary Fund Calling for painful measures to get budget shortfalls back under control.
Then it was the U.S. jobs market rattling investors, initial jobless claims rising by 8,000 last week. Analysts had been predicting a drop of around 10,000. Disappointing earnings from MasterCard only making things worse. Profits were up last quarter, but not as much as analysts were expecting, shares plunging almost 10.5 percent.
But Macy‘s one of the few bright spots, adding more than 2 percent on strong sales numbers and an improving outlook.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE EARLY SHOW”)
GOV. CHARLIE CRIST ®, FLORIDA: Well, if I‘m a RINO, then so is Ronald Reagan. I mean, I‘m a less-taxing, less-spending, less-government, more-freedom kind of guy. And I just take a pragmatic, commonsense approach to government. And if that‘s not what the people want, they will let me know. But I‘m confident that it is. I really am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, is he confident enough? That‘s the point.
Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who is fighting a big fight on the right out there in Florida, this morning on CBS.
He‘s getting hammered by the Tea Party crowd down there in Florida. Some hard-right Republicans tried to get their party to adopt recently a candidate purity test. They failed. But would even Ronald Reagan have passed that test?
Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst who worked for President Reagan. And Joan Walsh is editor in chief of Salon.com.
Does Charlie Crist have a point, Joan Walsh, that Republicans are submitting themselves to a test that even Mr. Reagan wouldn‘t have passed, in regard to amnesty for immigrants into this country, with regard to tax-raising occasionally, with regard to negotiations with the enemy?
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM: That‘s right. Oh, absolutely.
I think Ronald Reagan, if he were a Republican politician in 2010, he might very well have a Tea Party challenger. It‘s clear that Reagan, when he began his career, was a kind of dark figure who played on a lot of racial concerns in California in 1966, Chris.
But by the time he ran for president, he was a sunny guy. He was a compromiser. He worked with your old boss Tip O‘Neill to save Social Security. He raised taxes to pay for Medicare. And he also did something very interesting, which was, he created Reagan Democrats. Some of them were in my family.
And I don‘t see Tea Party Democrats. The Tea Party movement and the people like Rubio are really trying to narrow the base, not expand it. So, I think Ronald Reagan would have a hard time with this part of his party right now.
MATTHEWS: Well, there you are in the old Oval Office with you in that room. Weren‘t you there, Pat?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.
MATTHEWS: You walked in that room.
BUCHANAN: Many times.
But, look, I think it‘s really false to say Ronald Reagan played on racial fears. There were riots, disorders in the mid-‘60s the Republicans ran against and denounced. But let me tell you why Ronald Reagan—
Charlie Crist has got a problem. Ronald Reagan gave that great speech, for he was a Goldwaterite. He was a lion in our defeat in those years. He won his great victory in California.
He stood up against the demonstrators. He fought for the Panama Canal. He came out and debated Bobby Kennedy on television. He challenged Gerald R. Ford. He denounced detente. All of these things he had done, Chris, to make himself the leader of a movement. At the same time, he is an experienced, practical governor of California, politician, who raised taxes in California. And he raised them three times as president.
But, however, he cut the top rates from 70 to 28 percent. And he stood up to the Soviets at Reykjavik, and he won the Cold War. What Reagan has going for him, Chris, is, he was an astounding success, the most successful president I think almost we have ever had.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s take a look at some of these issues. Here‘s another policy position from that failed RNC resolution. “We support legal immigration by opposing amnesty.”
Ronald Reagan did sign Simpson-Mazzoli back in the ‘80s, right?
MATTHEWS: Which allowed for—it was supposed to solve the problem by allowing for legalization, et cetera, et cetera. But it didn‘t really...
BUCHANAN: I was in the White House.
MATTHEWS: It didn‘t really get into effect very well.
BUCHANAN: As Mark Russell said, it was a complex bill. The way he could figure it out was that Simpson could stay but Mazzoli has got to go back.
But let me say this. We signed that bill.
MATTHEWS: What does that mean?
BUCHANAN: That‘s a funny line by Mark Russell.
MATTHEWS: All right.
BUCHANAN: But, here, we signed that bill, and we did it not realizing how many would be amnestied and believing that the crackdown would come, that they would stop illegal immigration, now that we had solved the problem.
The truth was, we had not solved the problem. And, by 1991, this was apparent in California, when I ran against George Bush. And it‘s been an enormous problem to where you got—what, you have got 20 million or 12 million. Nobody knows how many illegals in the country there are.
WALSH: Twelve. It‘s more like 12.
BUCHANAN: That‘s why it‘s an enormous problem.
But let me tell, Joan, they‘re taking thousands—rather, there are seven million illegals employed. And those are jobs working-class Americans, white, Hispanic and black, get as soon as the unemployment—as soon as the illegals are sent back.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about Ronald Reagan, though.
Let me go to Joan on this question. The question is whether Reaganism is in fact the standard by which current policy in the Republican Party is being set. I mean, that‘s the question. Ronald Reagan did on occasion raise taxes to justify the fiscal realities...
MATTHEWS: ... immediate fiscal realities.
He did try to do something with amnesty with regard to immigration. It didn‘t work out. It wasn‘t enforced properly. He did try it. He did try something in terms of dealing with the enemy.
WALSH: But he also didn‘t use the kind of rhetoric that...
WALSH: Right. He did negotiate.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Joan. Your thoughts.
WALSH: He just didn‘t—he didn‘t use the kind of rhetoric that has become common about immigration either. He opposed English-only laws.
You know, I‘m not—look, I‘m not saying Ronald Reagan wasn‘t a conservative. I‘m not saying that I agreed with him. I think the point that Pat made that, you know, oh, we should be so happy that he cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, we are still living with the problems of that.
But he did—once he became president, he did—he did take an approach to compromise. And he took a—he reached out to the other side. You know, poor Charlie Crist is being—is being hammered for hugging, for hugging Barack Obama, when I just found a great picture of Reagan with your boss Tip O‘Neill. The two of them are sharing a belly laugh. They clearly liked each other and got along.
Those days are gone. And the Tea Party factor and the hard-right factor is making sure that there can be no accommodation with—with Democrats.
BUCHANAN: Joan, you...
WALSH: Yes, Pat.
BUCHANAN: Yours is a caricature of Ronald Reagan‘s tax bill. When he came in, what was the bill? He wanted 30 percent, across the board, for all taxpayers, the same cut in rates. And a number of folks who were working poor were dropped from the rolls. You cannot call that a just for the rich tax cut. Sure, he cut capital gains taxes from 70 percent to 20 and the economy boomed for 20 years. Through Reagan and Clinton, we created 40 million jobs. It worked.
WALSH: Reagan gets the credit for the Clinton boom, OK.
BUCHANAN: I think Clinton gets a lot of credit for cutting that budget and keeping it down, frankly, and running a small-C conservative economic policy. I‘ll give him credit.
WALSH: One of the sad—but one of the sad—
BUCHANAN: It kept the economy going. And so did Volcker.
WALSH: One of the sad tax legacies of Ronald Reagan, though, was that he raised those payroll taxes, which really are regressive taxes, which really hurt—
BUCHANAN: Joan, they‘re for Social Security. They make the program solvent.
WALSH: There were other ways to do it. So he was a person who accommodated reality in a way that the Tea Party folks don‘t. He was a person that, to the detriment of my party, expanded his party. He was a big tent Republican. Now we have tiny tent Republicans. They want the party to fit into a Tea Bag, Pat.
BUCHANAN: Let me answer your point about Social Security. He appointed the Greenspan commission. They came in with the recommendation, and raised taxes. He did not like it, what they were doing. But had said, OK, if this is the only way to save Social Security, we‘ve got to do it. You don‘t see anything like that today in solving Social Security and Medicare.
WALSH: First of all, there are different ideas to solve Social Security and Medicare. And they‘re not necessarily the crisis that they were back then. But Barack Obama just proposed a fiscal commission that liberals like me really didn‘t like. And he couldn‘t get Republicans to go along with that. Barack Obama couldn‘t do the kinds of things Ronald Reagan was able to do, because he can‘t even get the Republicans who support the things that he—
MATTHEWS: Let me get back to the question. It seems to me—I want to deal with practical politics. It seems to me that even the Tea Party people, who are ideological, are smart enough to know they‘ve got to win elections. You see the situation with Scott Brown up in Massachusetts. He‘s pro-choice. They know they can‘t win with a pro-lifer up there, so they go with a guy that can win. It looks like the fellow who won in Illinois the other night, Kirk—I‘ll bet on him in the general. So they‘re picking a guy that‘s not a Tea Party guy. It seems to me they‘re not using this litmus test. They didn‘t pick him. They didn‘t beat him either.
BUCHANAN: I agree with you. I don‘t agree—
MATTHEWS: I don‘t think the Republican party is ready to throw in the towel on moderate Republicanism.
BUCHANAN: I don‘t think you ought to have a national litmus test. We had to get Weicher (ph) up there in Connecticut when we were trying to get our majority, Nixon, in the Senate. Let the state party do it.
I can tell you this. If a guy comes in at the state level and wins the United States Senate seat and he‘s pro-choice, and he‘s liberal on the social issues, I can tell you, Chris, he‘s got a cut of point in his career.
MATTHEWS: Where are you on McCain versus Hayworth?
BUCHANAN: If I‘m out in Arizona, I would vote for J.D. Hayworth, who is a friend of mine and a conservative. And if he lost, I would vote for John McCain.
MATTHEWS: OK, we know where you stand.
WALSH: We absolutely know where you stand. He‘s a birther. He‘s an extremist. Thank you, Pat.
BUCHANAN: This is why you lose—do you know why you lose these people? Because you show contempt for them. You call them birthers. You call them names. I‘m talking about the people, the Tea Party people. All they want, Joan, is respect. And you liberals never give it to them. You call them all names. No wonder they go over to the Republican party.
WALSH: You know what, Pat, that‘s really unfair. I went to a Tea Party in San Francisco last April 15th. You can go read about it on my blog. I talked to people who I thought were common sensical. I talked to people who were very upset about Tarp, who felt like there was a complete give-away to Goldman Sachs. I pointed to the places where the left and right could make common cause.
But, for the most part, these Birthers, they‘re not reaching out. They‘re hysterical about Barack Obama and they‘re dividing the country. So don‘t tell me I‘m the problem and that I‘m not reaching out.
BUCHANAN: I‘ve helped put together two coalitions, one for Reagan, where it was basically Evangelical Christians and all these protestants down there who didn‘t like a lot of folks also. You‘ve got to bring them in. Also with Nixon, we brought the whole Wallace movement, whatever you say about it—at one point it was at 23 percent. He got 13 percent of the vote.
WALSH: That was a racist movement.
BUCHANAN: You call them all that.
WALSH: If you‘re proud of it, that‘s great.
BUCHANAN: Who did they vote for in 1964? Lyndon Johnson, for heaven‘s sakes.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Pat—
WALSH: And Lyndon Johnson went to the wall for black people and for Civil rights. And he said at the time that he was giving the south away and he knew it.
BUCHANAN: He would have never called those people names because he came from them.
WALSH: Well, I come from some of them, too. I‘m a working class Irish Catholic, Pat. I just don‘t like the demonization of the president.
BUCHANAN: You‘re demonizing these people. I don‘t agree we should demonize the president. But you are demonizing millions and millions of people, Tea Party people.
WALSH: I‘m not. I‘m demonizing the ones that are—
MATTHEWS: I‘ve got to go, guys. I think this is an important American argument. Let‘s go with Pat. Pat, thank you. And Joan, my buddies both. Actually, both my friends.
Up next, the National Tea Party Convention, it ain‘t going to be much, maybe. We‘ll see. It‘s certainly a commercial operation that‘s going to be in Nashville this weekend. Wait until you hear what‘s on the agenda this weekend. Pat may be talking reasonable conservatism; wait until you catch some of these seminar titles. Back in a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Civility also requires relearning how to disagree without being disagreeable, understanding, as a president said, That Civility is not a sign of weakness.
Now I am the first one to confess I‘m not always right. Michelle will testify to that. But surely, you can question policies without questioning my faith, or, for that matter, my citizenship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. A direct response to the birthers out there, who question whether he‘s an American or not on the far right. That was President Obama this morning at the National Prayer Breakfast. What an interesting place to raise that issue.
He‘ll have a tough time finding civility down at the national Tea Party Convention, perhaps, which opens tonight in Nashville. A Friday afternoon workshop is called—catch this one—“Defeating Liberalism Via the Primary Process.” On Saturday, attendees will hear question—I love this topic—“correlations between the current administration and Marxist dictators of Latin America.” That‘s interesting.
On Saturday night, they‘re going to hear from Governor Palin in their keynote address. Does this movement have the staying power to remake the Republican party? Big question.
Ron Brownstein is political director of Atlantic Media, and Susan Milligan covers politics. She‘s over at the—she‘s with “The Globe,” “Boston Globe.” She‘s over at the rotunda.
Susan, you first. It seems to me that there‘s a whacky wing to every political movement, I could argue, and certainly the Tea Parties have their whacky elements. The question is, does it have the credibility to really move the Republican party to the right?
SUSAN MILLIGAN, “THE BOSTON GLOBE”: You know, I don‘t—I don‘t know. I think that they ran though that in earlier elections, where you had the social conservatives at war with the fiscal conservatives. That didn‘t work out too well for them. I think the Republican party desperately needs the Tea Party movement to help galvanize Republicans and keep people energized. They‘re the angriest voters in America right now. There is a lot of angry voters.
But I think it would be a mistake for the Republicans to completely adopt their legislative agenda, or they are going to lose in a lot of—in a lot of districts, you know, like that upstate New York district that isn‘t going to elect somebody that conservative.
MATTHEWS: Can they overdo it?
RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA: Sure. The Republican party has been pulled in this direction since Ronald Reagan‘s time, as you were talking about in your last segment, when there was Lowell Weicher, Chuck Mathias and Jack Danforth and people like that. The entire Republican party is more conservative than they used to be. No matter wherever the baseline moves, there are always people who want to move it further.
They‘re not going to adopt the Tea Party agenda in full, but, to a striking extent, the Republican party now is monolithically a conservative party, especially on role of government issues, I think, post-George W. Bush.
MATTHEWS: Ron, do you think it is possible—Susan, you don‘t remember this, except you learned it in school. I will ask you the first question. Sometimes a party is on a roll to victory and they just signal something that‘s too whacky and scary, like Spiro Agnew back in ‘70, where they were headed to huge victories in that ‘70 midterm, the Nixon party, and then Agnew just sounded a little crazy and they lost a lot of the races they could have won otherwise. Could the Republicans suffer from overkill with the Tea Party crowd?
MILLIGAN: I mean, I think they could. On the other hand, you know, who would have thought Scott Brown would have been elected from Massachusetts? I think a lot—midterm elections are largely decided by turnout. If they can get a lot of people to turn out, I think they can get a lot of Republicans elected this fall.
BROWNSTEIN: The answer to your question is really a 2010/2012 question. Midterm elections—it is harder for the party in power to make it a choice election. That‘s clearly what the democrats want to do. They want to talk about Republican ideas. Paul Ryan, that very smart House Republican, put out a budget last week that talks about, again, replacing Medicare with a voucher for everybody under 55. That‘s something the Democrats more than Republicans are likely to want to talk about in the fall.
It‘s harder to do that in the midterm. In a presidential year, though, if the Republican party continues to be pulled in this direction by the Tea Party energy, it is more of an asset I think for Obama to make—
MATTHEWS: You heard Henserling here the other night, talking about basically getting rid of Social Security for people below 55, come in with a defined benefit program, in other words a private insurance program.
BROWNSTEIN: Right, defined contribution from the federal government, moving much from—going back to Bush‘s individual accounts. In the midterm election, it‘s hard for Democrats to get to that.
Look, in many ways, what is happening now is similar to what we saw in 1994, when Grover Norquist called it the Leave Us Alone coalition. If you have a Democratic government, a Democratic president, Democratic house, Democratic senate, and they‘re doing the things the Democrats want to do, there is a big chunk of the country, somewhere between a third and maybe 40 percent, that will recoil from that, overwhelmingly white, mostly downscale, heavily rural. We are replicating what happened in ‘94. The longer term question between now and November, certainly between now and 2012, can Obama reassure more of those independents, who are less ideological, but right now are not seeing results.
MATTHEWS: I know. He‘s out there trying. We will be right back with Ron and Susan to talk about whether Republicans can actually sweep this November, win the Senate as well as the House. You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We are back with the Atlantic Media‘s Ron Brownstein and the “Boston Globe‘s” Susan Milligan. Let me start with Ron. It‘s interesting. We were talking about earlier in the show that the Republican party can easily pick up Delaware and North Dakota in the senate races this year, because Beau Biden, the vice president‘s son, isn‘t running, and Byron Dorgon is retiring in North Dakota. Former Governor Castle and current Governor Hogan, in those two races, can easily pick up those seats.
BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. Look, for the Republicans go all the way to taking control of the Senate, they need ten seats. The last time either party won ten senate seats in one election, 1980, Ronald Reagan, Republicans won 12. On the other hand, there is a tradition that in big wave years, 1980, 1986, 1994, 2000, 2002 and 2008, all the close races go in one direction. So it is a reach for Republicans. But it‘s not entirely out of reach.
MATTHEWS: Susan, here is how it works easily. You review these. They pick up Delaware, North Dakota. They pick up Colorado, Nevada, Arkansas. They beat Harry Reid, who is doing weak performance out there. That seems plausible, doesn‘t it?
MILLIGAN: Look, I wouldn‘t even—I wouldn‘t even take Illinois off the table at this point. I think that, you know, if things continue the way they are, and the Democrats don‘t seize on this, they could be in trouble. On the other hand, I think it is a mistake to assume that this populist movement is only a conservative movement. There is a lot of populist anger out there among progressives as well. And the Democrats have a long time to sort of capitalize on that and tap that energy and energize those people. I could see it happening.
On the other hand, who knows, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, you just don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Where do you see a Democrat capitalizing on the anti-incumbent attitude right there?
MILLIGAN: Let‘s see—
BROWNSTEIN: Missouri might be the best, where you have got—
MILLIGAN: Roy Blunt is the House leader.
BROWNSTEIN: And Robin Carnahan (ph), who has got a good good name and is secretary of state there. Susan‘s right, Democrats will give themselves a lot more breathing room if they can some how win any of these four Republican seats that are somewhat vulnerable, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get to where you‘re expert right now. You really know it. Scott Brown was sworn in this afternoon. Susan, last thought from you. What are the Democrats learning from that defeat?
MILLIGAN: Well, I think that they are learning that nobody‘s safe anywhere. But I think they are also being careful not to read too much into that. I think a lot of the Republicans are reading way too much into it, and thinking that Massachusetts is going red or that they‘re against the health care plan.
It‘s not that simple. A lot of people in Massachusetts who don‘t like the health care plan don‘t like it because it doesn‘t have a public option. But they are a little shell shocked by that. They know they have to have a better candidate.
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re right. Thank you very much, Ron Brownstein. Thank you, Susan Milligan. 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.
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