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updated 8/24/2010 11:24:12 AM ET 2010-08-24T15:24:12

Guests: Mark Halperin, Howard Kurtz, E.J. Dionne, Eric Boehlert, Errol Louis, Sam Stein, Nick Leishen, Sherry Wolf

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  God and country.  We don‘t—well, it‘s the attack on Obama.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews back in Washington.  Leading off tonight: Who is Mitch McConnell, and why is he saying those terrible things about me?  Yesterday, the Republican leader of the Senate played birther politics with abandon.  What did he say when asked whether President Obama is of the religion he says he is?  Quote, “I take him at his word.”  And there you have it.  Why do 34 percent of Republicans say President Obama is a Muslim?  Why do only 27 percent of Republicans say he‘s a Christian, only 23 percent say he was born in America?

One reason might be that people like Republican leader Mitch McConnell go on “MEET THE PRESS,” as he did yesterday, and say things like, “I take him at his word” when asked if the president is, as he says, a Christian.  “I take him at his word”—pitch-perfect dog whistle to the haters.  Yes, sure, whatever he says.  Right.  This is not about belief.  It‘s an accusation that President Obama is not one of us.  The right wing‘s attempt to de-Americanize the president is our top story tonight.

Why don‘t mainstream Republicans, whose strategy has been to just say no to every proposal the president makes, just say no to this kind of extremism?  We‘ll look at whether the GOP is to be trusted when it engages in this kind of stuff.

Plus, the growing battle over that Islamic center planned just two blocks from the World Trade Center.  This controversy is gaining, not losing, momentum, as we saw with the competing demonstrations there yesterday.  We‘ve got representatives on tonight from both sides.

And whatever happened to that “reach across the aisle” John McCain, who followed his conscious and believed in campaign finance reform and in immigration reform?  How did the straight-talking maverick become the candidate who just wants to complete that danged fence down there?  He may win tomorrow but at what cost to him?

Finally, in the “Sideshow,” B-Rod compares himself to my hero, Winston Churchill.

We‘ll start with the attempt to de-Americanize President Obama.  “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and Sam Stein‘s a political reporter for The Huffington Post.

I want you gentlemen to watch what happened on “MEET THE PRESS” yesterday.  Here‘s Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell on “MEET THE PRESS.”  Let‘s listen to the give and take between he and moderator David Gregory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  The president‘s faith in the government to stimulate the economy is what people are questioning.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  All right.  That‘s certainly a sidestep to this particular question.  Again...

MCCONNELL:  Well, no, I...

GREGORY:  ... as a leader of the country, as one of the most powerful Republicans in the country, do think you have an obligation to say to 34 percent of Republicans in the country—rather, the 31 percent who believe the president of the United States is a Muslim, That‘s misinformation?

MCCONNELL:  The president says he‘s—the president says he‘s a Christian.  I take him at his word.  I don‘t think that‘s in dispute.

GREGORY:  And do you think—how do you think it comes to be that this kind of misinformation gets spread around and prevails?

MCCONNELL:  I have no idea.  But I take the president at his word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have it, Howard.  In politics, I think we call that trimming, when it‘s apparent to the person listening to you, you‘re not really believing the person, but you‘re just voicing something that undermines him.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes, that‘s what Mitch McConnell was doing there.  I‘ve covered him ever since he was county judge in Louisville, Kentucky, over the years.  He knows how to play the cultural fault lines and divides here.  And he does it in a very low key, kind of syrupy, Kentucky way, but that‘s—that‘s what he‘s doing.  That‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Parsing his words...

FINEMAN:  ... clearly what...

MATTHEWS:  ... that says he‘s not lying but...

FINEMAN:  OK.  I e-mailed Karl Rove.  I said, Karl Rove, what do you think?  Do you think—do you have any doubt that Barack Obama is a Christian?  Karl Rove e-mailed back, None whatsoever.  On the other hand, I contacted the RNC‘s office, the Republican National Committee‘s office here in Washington.  I said, What is Michael Steele, the chairman, saying about this?  Here‘s what Michael Steele—here‘s what the answer was.  “That‘s not an issue the committee has discussed.  We‘re focused on how the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda”—blah, blah, blah.  That‘s the same approach here.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, you‘re always great.  This is one thing I like about you.  The reporting is up to the minute.  And the fact is...

FINEMAN:  Well, I‘m just trying to keep up with Sam!

MATTHEWS:  No, but I mean—I mean (INAUDIBLE) Sam, but the fact of the matter is, the Republican National Committee knows this is a hot issue today.

FINEMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re prepared to answer it, and their answer is, We‘re not talking.

FINEMAN:  The answer is, We‘re not talking, which allows Mitch McConnell...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

FINEMAN:  ... to be the spokesperson.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) there‘s no accident out there.  The American people are all listening to this conversation.  This conversation here is like it is at a barroom somewhere, in a car pool somewhere.  And somehow, it—this delves down to the following, that only 27 percent of the American people, who knows this guy says he‘s a Christian, believe he is.

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) the right religion is.  Nobody actually knows what the right religion is.  Everybody says what theirs is, obviously.  But 27 percent of the people believe him...

STEIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... on the fact of what his religion is.  Only 23 percent believe hard fact he was born here of the Republican Party.  This is a highly prejudicial issue.  Republicans have a very different issue—position on this than most Americans do.

STEIN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Why?

STEIN:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  Is Mitch McConnell to blame because of this pussyfooting or whatever the right word is yesterday?

STEIN:  Well, first off, I want to up my reporting chops here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the latest?

STEIN:  I reached out to McConnell‘s office after this happened, and they were insisting that he wasn‘t trying to do anything of the sort, that he was being straightforward and saying he believes the president.  Now, to borrow their phrase, I guess I‘ll take him at his word, the spokesman for Mitch McConnell.  What I think‘s going on here is you have a dichotomy.  You have the Republican establishment that is perfectly willing and fine to let the commentariat predominantly...

MATTHEWS:  Mitch McConnell says he‘s a Republican.  I take him at his word.

STEIN:  I take him at his word, as well.  Gut listen, you have Glenn Beck, you have the Rush Limbaughs, you have...

MATTHEWS:  And what are they all saying?

STEIN:  ... the Reverend Franklin Graham, who actually was out there saying they—you know...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s let‘s take a look at Franklin Graham.

STEIN:  ... authoritatively that (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about Franklin Graham, who‘s a man who has played this politics, not (ph) the son of Billy Graham.  He is the son of Billy Graham.  He‘s speaking here as Franklin Graham, a guy who‘s engaged in this kind of anti-Muslim comments before.  Here he is on CNN this past Thursday.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, BILLY GRAHAM EVANGELISTIC ASSOCIATION:  The president‘s problem is that he was born a Muslim.  His father was a Muslim.  The seed of Islam is passed through his father, like the seed of Judaism is passed through his mother.  He was born a Muslim.  His father gave him an Islamic name.  Now, it‘s obvious that the president has renounced the Prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ.  That‘s what he has said he has done.  I cannot say that he hasn‘t.  So I just have to believe the president is what he has said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What is this precious bodily fluids crap we‘re getting from this guy?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The seed of Islam—if he‘s a Christian—of course, Billy Graham‘s son is a Christian.  I take him at his word.

STEIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  But the fact is, he‘s out there saying that Islam believes the seed comes for the father.

STEIN:  Well, this is my point here, and that is...

MATTHEWS:  What is this talk about?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What is he talking about?

STEIN:  ... commentary.  You have a section of the Republican Party that‘s talking like this.  And now we‘re seeing it sort of filter into the actual Republican officials.  We reported today that an RNC member of Iowa, a woman out there, actually firmly believes that Republican—sorry—that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and she‘s out there publicly saying this.

MATTHEWS:  And who is she?

STEIN:  This is an RNC committeewoman from Iowa.

MATTHEWS:  So she‘s an official...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  She‘s a member of the Republican National Committee in Iowa...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  In Iowa...

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, let‘s go...

FINEMAN:  ... the state that has...

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got to get...

FINEMAN:  ... the first caucus.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got to get to Rush Limbaugh, just to complete the hat trick here.  Here‘s Mitch McConnell, Reverend Franklin Graham, and now Rush Limbaugh today on this topic.  Is Barack Obama of the—everybody watching right now, by the way, gets credit for being of the religion you say you are.  You go to the church, you go to the synagogue, the mosque, whatever.  That‘s the one you‘re a member of.  That‘s the one you are.  We accept that in America.  It‘s called freedom of religion and respect for religion.

Apparently, the new rule is, Oh, I take him at his word, which means, I really don‘t really have any reason believe he‘s telling the truth.

STEIN:  (INAUDIBLE) yes.

MATTHEWS:  Here he is.  Here‘s Rush Limbaugh on this topic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  What‘s the only proof we have that Obama‘s a Christian?  Well, OK, his—his—his word.  His word.  But Jeremiah Wright is the only proof that we have that he‘s a Christian.  Obama described Wright as his spiritual mentor.  Well, we—sorry, media, we‘ve heard Jeremiah Wright.  We know what Jeremiah Wright said.  We know what he thinks of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Does everybody watching know what was going on right there, smearing this guy?

FINEMAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, does everybody know what‘s happening here?  He didn‘t answer the question.  Rush Limbaugh has an IQ probably as high as anybody‘s around.  He‘s a smart guy.  He knows exactly what he‘s doing here.  He switched the topic from what a man says his religion is to how much do we hate Jeremiah Wright.

FINEMAN:  Yes, well, everybody who watches this show knows exactly what‘s going on because we‘re explaining it to them, and this has a deep history of fearing the other, of fearing the outsider.  Look, Barack Obama came in as a president representing something new, big change...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  ... he came out of nowhere.  This scares the heck out of these people, and they‘ll use any element of fear they can.  Sometimes, I think Rush Limbaugh‘s amusing.  Sometimes, I think he‘s useful in the conversation.  This is wrong because ministers such as Joel Hunter (ph), who‘s a conservative Republican...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  ... from Florida, is one of the people...

MATTHEWS:  Proof, pudding.

FINEMAN:  ... is one of the people whom Obama consults with...

MATTHEWS:  Making your point.

FINEMAN:  ... who he talks to all the time.

MATTHEWS:  We got the new Pew poll...

FINEMAN:  There are...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... new Pew poll out says 34 percent say he‘s a Christian, one in three, even though he says he is.  You think most people get credit for what they say.  That‘s down from 48 percent in March (INAUDIBLE) -- 18 percent say he‘s Muslim, 43 percent say they don‘t know.  This “Don‘t know” thing is getting completely out of hand.  That‘s the game that Mitch McConnell‘s playing, I don‘t know.

STEIN:  Yes, see...

MATTHEWS:  “I don‘t know” is a character assault.  If somebody says, I‘m Jewish, and says, No, you‘re not, that‘s a character assault.  You are who you say you are in this country.  And if somebody says you‘re not who you say you are, you‘re calling you a liar!

STEIN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Is basically what you‘re saying!  It‘s worse than any religion to call a guy a liar!

STEIN:  Well, the whole—the whole idea to seed doubt.  I mean, there‘s so many conflicting contradictory labels that they‘re putting on this man.  It went from black liberation theologist to a communist to a Marxist to a Muslim sympathizer to a Muslim himself.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s a question.  Pure politics.  We got the economy in bad shape.  Most people are hurting.  Middle-aged people are getting hurt.  People are losing their jobs.  Companies are dropping people they‘ve had for years, right?  It‘s not the usual unemployed.  All kinds of people are facing unemployment right now.  They got high debt that doesn‘t sell (ph).  They got taxes maybe be about to be raised again back to Clinton levels at least.  They have all of these going for them.  Why are the Republicans playing the dirtball game when they don‘t need it?  This is like Nixon.  When he could have won an election easily, he still reverted to this.  I don‘t know why people do this.

STEIN:  We were talking about...

MATTHEWS:  Why are they using this?

STEIN:  We were talking about this and trying to put it in a historical context, looking back at the Great Depression, when there were smears against Franklin Roosevelt for being a supposed Jew.  And I think a lot of it...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was Coughlin.

STEIN:  Yes, I mean, driven by...

MATTHEWS:  Pretty far out.

STEIN:  They were trying to get...

MATTHEWS:  Did actual Republicans say that stuff?

FINEMAN:  Millions and millions of people listened to Father Coughlin...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  ... back in the day.  But the answer to your question is, right now, there are two tracks.  There‘s the economic track and there‘s this track involving immigration, race and religion.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  What I foresee happening is the two of them coming together at some point.

MATTHEWS:  The November election!

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  ... earlier.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FINEMAN:  When people are worried about the economic status that they have, they‘re more open...

MATTHEWS:  To a scapegoat.

FINEMAN:  ... to these kinds of appeals to fear...

MATTHEWS:  Hey, we‘ve seen this!

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  ... seen it with immigration.  You may see it with the...

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s a question...

FINEMAN:  ... Islam issue, as well.

MATTHEWS:  Sam, hard question, then I‘ll go back to Howard.

STEIN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that Mitch McConnell is a politician?  Just guessing.

STEIN:  Shocking, yes.

MATTHEWS:  I take him at his word.  He‘s a politician.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  He knows he‘s got a very good chance of picking up four or five Senate seats but still being at the short end of that thing, still having to face whoever the Democrats have, whether it‘s Harry Reid or it‘s Chuck or it‘s Dick Durbin or somebody running the party, but he may well be on the short end, probably.  I looked at the numbers.  We‘re all—it‘s very hard for him to run 11 to 1, which he would have to do to among the top 12 races to get the 10-point -- 10-seat pick-up.  Could it be that he figures this is going to be the winning cap?  We‘ll win on the economy, we‘ll win five or six seats on the economy, and then we‘ll take it away on culture and ethnicity and Americanism, that we can really knock the Democrats out of the batting box on this.

STEIN:  If that...

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll grab the Senate.

STEIN:  If that is...

MATTHEWS:  With this stuff.

STEIN:  If that is his philosophy, then he actually is going against some people in the Republican Party who insist that that‘s the wrong way to go about it.  They look back at the impeachment trial...

MATTHEWS:  How do they get hurt?

STEIN:  They go back to the impeachment trial of Clinton and say that

that detracted from the idea that it should have been all about the economy.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but Clinton was popular.

STEIN:  True.

FINEMAN:  I think—I think in—most of the time, Karl Rove thinks that the economy is the way to do it, OK.  So he sort of...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s how Reagan got elected.

FINEMAN:  OK.  And Karl comes back to George W., et cetera.  And don‘t forget George W. was rather benign on some of these issues related to culture and so forth.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) 2000.  He was.

FINEMAN:  OK.  He was.  But Mitch McConnell is looking at it through the lens of Kentucky.  And since I used to work there...

MATTHEWS:  He wants Rand to win.

FINEMAN:  ... I understand it.  And that‘s a native—that‘s a state where the nativist appeal outside of Louisville really works big-time.  He‘s trying to defend this guy, Rand Paul.  And they‘re going to use whatever...

MATTHEWS:  So the nativism‘s...

FINEMAN:  ... fear message they can.

MATTHEWS:  ... aimed at the center of the country.

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s aimed at Kentucky, for sure.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK, well, that‘s what we‘re looking at.  I like doing this on the show, understand why people do what they do.  These guys like Mitch McConnell know exactly what they‘re saying.  When he says, I take him at his word, those words are crafted.

Thank you.  As always, you won on the reporting, by the way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This guy is working his reporter‘s notebook to the last minute.  He‘s the best in the business!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Later on in the show, I‘m going to tell you what I really think about some of this sleazy and dangerous stuff.  I‘ve begun to.  It‘s smart, if you‘re evil.

And when we return, supporters and opponents of the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero confronted each other in competing rallies yesterday.  I‘m going to ask, How many blocks away does it have to be?  We‘ll talk to both sides of that hot topic and try to get an answer.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  In yet another sign that some Republican candidates may be too extreme, even for their own voters, former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, is throwing his support behind Democrat Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania‘s U.S. Senate race.  Hagel said today that Congressman Sestak puts what‘s best for the country before the interests of his party.  He said Sestak‘s courage and integrity as a legislator are qualities the nation needs more of.  He refused to comment on the candidacy of Sestak‘s opponent, Republican Club for Growther Pat Toomey.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Freedom is not building a mosque on our graves! 

My brother-in-law was killed here!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We say no to racist fear!  Muslims are welcome here!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  God bless America.  Don‘t let them make a mockery of these lives lost!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There will not be a mosque on this site!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was the scene just yesterday in downtown New York City, where protesters argued whether a proposed Islamic center, which will also house a mosque, should be built just two blocks north of the Ground Zero site.  This fight has become a rallying opportunity for a tapestry of people, who took to the streets yesterday, among them Nick Leishen of America‘s 9/11 Foundation and Sherry wolf of the International Socialist Organization.  Well, we wanted to hear some voices from the streets, and we‘ve got them here.

Nick, I want you to start.  How many blocks away do you want this center to be built from Ground Zero, from the site of the World Trade Center?  How many blocks away would not offend you?  Let‘s get down to the particulars because this is an issue, geography.  Location, location, location is the issue here at hand.  How far away do you want it?

NICK LEISHEN, AMERICA‘S 9/11 FOUNDATION:  That‘s an interesting opening question.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I do here.  You got an answer?

LEISHEN:  Good job.  I do.  It‘s not really how far I would want it because it‘s not about me.  It‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Well, give me an answer, though.

LEISHEN:  It‘s about the people...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s about you.

LEISHEN:  ... who are...

MATTHEWS:  How far do you want—well, do you want to speak for them?

LEISHEN:  I know enough of them and...

MATTHEWS:  OK, speak for them.

LEISHEN:  ... I deal with...

MATTHEWS:  How far away do they want it?

LEISHEN:  I believe...

MATTHEWS:  There are a lot of mosques all over Manhattan.  They‘re all over the place.  So how far?  There‘s one a few blocks away from this one.  But go ahead.  Where do you—how far away do you want this to be?

LEISHEN:  I think you‘d have to speak in generalities.  This would be in the shadow of the towers and...

MATTHEWS:  How far away do you want it?  The shadow is probably a block or two.  How far do you want it, literally?  We‘re looking at some of the mosques that are there already.  Go ahead.

LEISHEN:  I don‘t know what the appropriate location for a mosque would be...

MATTHEWS:  Well, when would you stop being angry, personally?

LEISHEN:  I don‘t really think that I am angry.  I‘m concerned for the people that...

MATTHEWS:  OK, when would you stop being concerned?

LEISHEN:  ... are and...

MATTHEWS:  Look, we‘re arguing about geography, and you can‘t tell me.  Help me out here.  You don‘t want it two blocks away.  It‘s not on the site of the World Trade Center.  How far away do you want it?

LEISHEN:  I...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go—I mean, because I can‘t go anywhere if you don‘t help me with this.

LEISHEN:  All right, I‘d have to say...

MATTHEWS:  Because we‘re arguing about geography.

LEISHEN:  ... that—out of the sight from the World Trade Center...

MATTHEWS:  Out of sight.

LEISHEN:  ... would be more appropriate.

MATTHEWS:  OK, so it‘s not within view.  Let me go—let me go to our other participant from the International Socialist Organization, Sherry wolf.  Sherry, why do you support the rightfulness—we know they have a right to build it there.  Why do you support the rightfulness of placing this mosque, this Islamic center so close to the tragedy site of 9/11?

SHERRY WOLF, INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST ORGANIZATION:  Well, listen, I‘m a Jewish lesbian socialist.  I‘m not a Muslim.  I have no personal stake in this.  But I do have a personal stake in living in a country in which we don‘t have rampant Islamophobia and bigotry of every sort, and that‘s what this is really about.  A few years ago, when a handful of Catholic priests were found, were exposed to having raped small children, nobody in their right mind would have suggested that we tear down the Catholic churches anywhere near schools—not two blocks or six blocks or even in the church themselves because it would have been insane and bigoted.  And this is what‘s going on here, however unintentional.

I don‘t know this individual.  You know, I don‘t—I don‘t know Nick, but the fact is that...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF:  ... bigotry against Arabs and Muslims.

MATTHEWS:  Sherry, suppose they built this thing right square like the Islamic construct right over the Wailing Wall over in Jerusalem or the Carmelite nuns who put their monastery right on the grounds of Auschwitz?  Isn‘t there a point at which you just say, No, that‘s sacred ground for so many people, I‘m not going to offend it?

WOLF:  It‘s also...

MATTHEWS:  Is there—no, it is geography.

WOLF:  If it is sacred ground, isn‘t it sacred ground for the dozens of Muslims who were killed on 9/11, as well?

MATTHEWS:  So you wouldn‘t have any problem with the mosque right on 9-zero -- 9/11...

WOLF:  No, I wouldn‘t, actually.  If you‘re going to build, you know, investment houses that are going to destroy the lives of millions of Americans on hallowed ground, why not an Islamic center?

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, so there‘s—so you don‘t see any problem.  You don‘t understand why the people who are victims of 9/11 are upset about this?

WOLF:  Not all of them are.  September 11 Families...

MATTHEWS:  No, why do you think the ones who are, are?

WOLF:  ... for a Peaceful Tomorrow absolutely support the building of the center.

MATTHEWS:  You said they‘re all Islamophobes.  Do you think that‘s really honest—an honest statement?

WOLF:  Well, whether they intend it or not, however witting it is, that‘s the upshot of it.  I mean, look at what‘s going on right now in Gainesville, Florida...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

WOLF:  ... rather far from Ground Zero, I might add.  You know how—they‘re calling 9/11 “Burn the Q‘uran day.”  I mean, this is Nazi-type activities taking place...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

WOLF:  ... across this country against Arabs and Muslims.

MATTHEWS:  Nick, here‘s the question.  Back to you.  how far away do you want it?

LEISHEN:  Well, I don‘t think that I‘m the person to answer that, but if I...

MATTHEWS:  You are such a chicken!  You‘re a (INAUDIBLE)

LEISHEN:  I would say...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a member of the 9/11 Foundation.  You come here to represent the group.  Just give me—because this is being negotiated right now, as we speak.  This is not a BS question I‘m putting to you.  Somewhere in the next couple weeks, there might be a compromise.  Daisy Khan suggested, the wife of the imam, they‘re talking about maybe having a discussion about—Governor Paterson is talking about finding another site more appropriate.  It could be in the general region.

Here she is, by the way, on “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour. 

Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAISY KHAN, EXEC. DIR., AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR MUSLIM ADVANCEMENT:  This

is like a metastasized anti-Semitism.  That‘s what we feel right now.  It‘s

it‘s not even Islamophobia.  It‘s beyond Islamophobia.  It‘s hate of Muslims.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST:  But so is moving on the table still?

KHAN:  We—right now, it‘s not until we consult with all our stakeholders.

AMANPOUR:  The last word.  Do you think it will go ahead?

KHAN:  Of course.  It has to go ahead.  There‘s too much at stake.

AMANPOUR:  Where (ph)?

KHAN:  There‘s too much at stake.  We have to go ahead with this project.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of a compromise, Nick?

LEISHEN:  I think it‘s a great idea.  But first of all, let me clarify something, Chris.  I was not down there to protest yesterday.  I was down there in my official capacity of a member of the executive board of America‘s 9/11 Foundation, escorting a group of American motorcyclists in our annual Never Forget Ride.  It was planned very long before this controversy.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

LEISHEN:  And we intentionally steered them away from the protests, where we went down and we held a small presentation near the PATH station with several hundred American patriotic motorcyclists.  And our event was completely disconnected from that.

The foundation is not political and we are not part of any protests.  But we do have an opinion about the location of the mosque.  And to be honest with you, the safe way is to take the, you know, politically correct road and say, No comment, on the location of the mosque.  But it really deeply and painfully is injuring people that are very close to us, the people we care about, those that are most directly affected by 9/11, the victims‘ families, survivors, which are many of my friends, and even many, many Americans who were so badly hurt and still are still hurt from 9/11.

I myself am a career law enforcement officer.  I worked temporarily for NYPD for about four weeks during the recovery, and I spent a lot of time at Ground Zero.  I saw a lot of terrible and ugly things.  I escorted the grieving family members, 80 of them in a group, along with Mayor Giuliani.  And we took them...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re not anti-Islamic.

LEISHEN:  No, not at all.

MATTHEWS:  Sherry?

WOLF:  Of course...

MATTHEWS:  Respond to that.  Does he sound an Islamophobe?

WOLF:  I don‘t know what he is.  I don‘t know how he feels.  That‘s almost irrelevant to the question.  You have—you have a ratcheting up of Islamophobia going on in this country.  You have clear (INAUDIBLE) from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to California to Florida this kind of rhetoric.  What you have is a right wing in this country whose economic and foreign policies are failed, and some of them, like Rick Lazio, who clearly has no other platform for governor of New York, other than to ratchet up hatred against Muslims and Arabs.  This is what‘s going on.  This is really what it‘s about.

And I‘m for—I work with StopIslamophobia.org, a coalition of activists here in New York, that formed to try and defend this mosque, this community center, and the right of Muslims to organize and pray as they please.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  Last question to both of you.  A yes or no answer would be appropriate.  Nick, then you, Sherry.  Do you think it would be better if they agreed to move it somewhere nearby but not that close?

LEISHEN:  I think that that would be much more appropriate.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Sherry, do you think it‘d be better to move it...

WOLF:  Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS:  ... somewhere nearby or stay right there?

WOLF:  It would be caving to bigots.  It would be caving to bigots and bigotry.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

LEISHEN:  None of this is about Islamophobia or bigotry.

MATTHEWS:  Well, well, I‘m hearing...

LEISHEN:  I saw a lot of bleeding and injured and hurt people, and we‘ve spoken to many of them.

WOLF:  And some of them were Muslims.  And some of them were Muslims.

LEISHEN:  This is completely true.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think everybody can see your points of view.  Thank you very much, Nick Leishen, and thank you, Sherry Wolf.

Up next: Who thinks he‘s just like Winston Churchill?  Here‘s a hint.  His mistrial got 23 or 24 counts against him last week—well, they—he got one of the jurors.  I guess that makes him Winston Churchill.  The “Sideshow” is next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.”  Rod Blagojevich, who last week escaped major corruption convictions by the grace of one juror, but still faces the prospect of a retrial, is talking comeback.  For historic effect, B-Rod‘s also comparing himself to my hero, Winston Churchill.  Here he is on Fox yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  You said the other day that you don‘t rule out a political comeback, and you compared yourself to Winston Churchill.  You can‘t be serious.

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FMR. ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  I—comparing myself to Winston Churchill, no.  You‘re right, I‘m not serious.  I don‘t smoke cigars or Scotch, and I think I can run faster than him.  But if you‘re asking me, do I believe there‘s a potential political comeback in the future?  When I‘m vindicated in this case, absolutely I do, because people will see that I was willing, almost by myself almost, and my band of lawyers, who are working very hard and have done a great job, to fight the power of the federal government and correct this imbalance (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I can run faster than him?  He passed away in 1965.  By the way, B-Rod, Churchill did a couple of things to make those comebacks happen.  One, he warned against the Nazis and was proven right.  Two, he warned against the communists in the Iron Curtain speech.  You tried to create a market for Obama‘s old Senate seat.

Next, an inconvenient truth.  Two months ago on this show, Democratic Florida Senate candidate, Jeff Greene, said he could not remember whether he voted for Ronald Reagan for president or not.  Well, yesterday on NBC, Norah O‘Donnell once again pressed the converted Democrat on his voting record.  Guess he still can‘t remember.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS:  Did you run for Congress as a Republican in California?

JEFF GREENE (D), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE:  Yes, 28 years ago, in 1982, in my 20s.  I made a mistake.  I admit it.  I‘ve been really supporting Democrats, voting for Democrats the last 27 years.

O‘DONNELL:  And who did you vote for in 1980?

GREENE:  I don‘t remember that, who I voted for.  We‘ve had that discussion before.  I can‘t remember.  I can tell you that it was—

O‘DONNELL:  Ronald Reagan?

GREENE:  I can‘t remember who I voted for.  I don‘t remember who I voted in 1980.  I can tell you that I was—

O‘DONNELL:  But who did you vote for in ‘84?

GREENE:  ‘84, look, it was, look—

O‘DONNELL:  ‘88?

GREENE:  I can tell you this, I supported—I remember supporting President Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  I don‘t know anybody who doesn‘t know whether they voted for Reagan or not, Ronald Reagan.  The people who don‘t remember must have forgotten a good part of modern American history.  This guy is hiding something.  I think he‘s hiding the fact he‘s a Republican.

Moving up to New York, an entirely new look on compassionate conservatism.  Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has a new plan for welfare reform.  His plan for the poor, send him to underused prisons.  Here he is in a newly publicized June interview with a local newspaper talking about converting prisons into welfare communities.

Quote, “Instead of handing out welfare checks, we‘ll teach people how to earn their check.  We‘ll teach them personal hygiene.  The personal things they don‘t get when they come from dysfunctional homes.”

When asked by the “Associated Press” to clarify, Paladino said the prison living would be voluntary, that it would be an opportunity for the poor to take state-sponsored positions far away from their homes.

I never thought of prison as a place to brush up on your personal hygiene.  Sorry, Mr. Paladino.

Time for tonight‘s big number: Republicans often portray themselves as defenders of the U.S. Constitution as the party of strict constructionist.  You know, original intent of the Founding Fathers and all that.  So, you‘ll find the next figure food for thought.

How many amendments did the U.S. Constitution have Republicans in this Congress proposed, just in the last two years?  Forty-two amendments to outlaw flag-burning, to bar same sex marriage, to take away birthright citizenship in the 14th Amendment, to eliminate direction election of senators.

I guess these folks look at the Constitution as a kind of legal cafeteria, grab what you like, leave the rest.  It‘s sort of like when you get married.  I love you.  Now, change.

Forty-two proposed amendments tonight‘s big number.

Up next: Republicans certainly know how to say no.  But why don‘t they say no to this kind of political extremism we hear about from the far right every day?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The extremism of the far right seems to reach a fevered pitch.  So, why haven‘t Republican leaders spoken out against it?

In today‘s “Washington Post,” columnist E.J. Dionne writes of the

Republican Party, quote, “There is something far more troubling at work:

the rise of an angry, irrational extremism.  The sort that says Obama is a Muslim socialist who wasn‘t born in the U.S.  What the current right has on offer is far worse than anything Bush put forward, which means that this election isn‘t about whether it will go back into the ditch, it‘s about whether a movement that‘s gone over a cliff will be rewarded for doing so.”

Joining me now on the far right and the Republican Party, “The Washington Post‘s” E.J. Dionne himself, joined by “Media Matters‘” Eric Boehlert.

Thank you, gentlemen, Eric and E.J.

E.J., the column struck a lot of chord here.  It hit a lot of people reading it today, because it seems like the Republican leadership does have a strategy: play the crazies—play the anger on the far right, don‘t disabuse people of it, don‘t correct them, agree to them by silent consent.

E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST:  Right.  And I think—you know, you talked about it earlier on the show when Mitch McConnell said, “I take him at his word that the president is a Christian.”  Not, “It‘s absurd to call him a Muslim.”  That tells you something about what they‘re—what they‘re up to.

And I think there‘s an old thing that happened on the left when sort of people on the left didn‘t condemn communists or the riots from the left.  People said, well, they are just adopting a “no enemies on the left” policy.  Now, I think, what you have among responsible conservatives who ought to know better is a “no enemies on the right” policy.

And it‘s very different, for example, from what William F. Buckley

did back in the 1960s.  Buckley is a real conservative.  I think everybody

--

      

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DIONNE:  -- was really conservative.  He condemned the John Birch Society.  When you fall—

MATTHEWS:  He also condemned the anti-Semitism on the right generally.

DIONNE:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  And when Reagan didn‘t really, Reagan accepted the Bircher vote.  Remember, there‘s a great quote where he said, “I‘m not telling them how to think.  I‘ll accept their votes.  I‘m not subscribing to them.  They‘re subscribing to me.”

DIONNE:  Well, he said to a lot of people.  But Reagan represented a far sunnier kind of conservatism than this sort of dark conspiracy-laden conservatism.  And I think, it may win him an election, but I‘m not sure it‘s not going to win them an election.  I think Democrats have not talked about this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, first of all, this stuff is all dishonest.  We should never stop admitting, it‘s dishonest.  Barack Obama, by all the documentary evidence, was born here.  By all the evidence of his life, he is a Christian—all the evidence.  There is no evidence to the contrary in either regard.

Let‘s take a look at FOX.  Here‘s Newt Gingrich talking—playing ethnic politics again with the mosque Ground Zero issue.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen.

Newt Gingrich running for president—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  Nazis don‘t have a right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.  We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right.

GINGRICH:  There‘s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have it, Eric.

ERIC BOEHLERT, MEDIA MATTERS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s classic Newt exploiting an issue, raising it, heat-seeking and raising hell about something he has no intention of improving upon except to exploit.

BOEHLERT:  Right.  And he‘s taken as a very serious person inside the Beltway.  I mean, back during the Bush years, anyone on the left even mentioned, you know, Nazis or Hitler or anything, a passing single frame and online ad.  I mean, you know, Republicans broke out the smelling salts.  And we—you know, there was a huge controversy about that sort of thing.

The far right media has been wallowing in this stuff literally since

Inauguration Day.  And you talk the Republican Party.  The Republican Party

is not in control anymore.  There‘s no adult supervision of this right wing

--

      

MATTHEWS:  How do you know they‘re not exploiting it by silence?  By this sort of equivocation that we saw from Mitch McConnell yesterday?  How do you know that‘s not strategy?

BOEHLERT:  Well, I mean, I think their hands are clean because the inmates are running the asylum on the right wing media, and FOX News and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck‘s radio show.  They have driven this thing off the cliff.  And as E.J. rightly says, points out in his column, where are the leaders of the Republican Party?  Where is someone to stand up and say, you know, no Obama is not a black Manchurian candidate and he did not get elected in order to ruin America from within?  That is now mainstream conservative dialogue every day on A.M. talk radio.

MATTHEWS:  Well, this power up suggestion is not to be believed.  I remember that great movie “The Anatomy of a Murder” when the guy said, don‘t think to the jurors, don‘t think of a blue cow.”  Immediately you start thinking of a blue cow.  Don‘t—they‘re like saying, these guys, I don‘t know if he‘s a Muslim.  I guess he says, I guess he‘s not.  He says he‘s not.  Yes, I guess not.

Is he American?  Well, you know, you have to look into this.  You know, I want to see the paper.

Constantly edging people over to the point where now we got these numbers -- 27 percent of people believe he‘s a Christian, 23 percent think she‘s a born American.  That‘s it of the Republicans.

DIONNE:  A third of Republicans think he‘s a Muslim.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DIONNE:  No.  The—I think the amazing thing about this is that there‘s been an effort to delegitimize Obama from the beginning that was not true of George W. Bush.  Our conservative friends like to say, “Well, you liberals who are really tough on George W. Bush.”  Yes, liberals were tough on George W. Bush.  It really didn‘t start happening until after the start of the Iraq war.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DIONNE:  If you look at the first—

MATTHEWS:  The rally of this country behind 9/11 was unbelievable.

DIONNE:  Exactly, and supporting Bush.  And no one ever made accusations, untrue accusations, as bizarre as the ones being made against Barack Obama.  So, there‘s something very specific that‘s happening with Obama.

MATTHEWS:  I want to go back to Eric.  You say that it‘s the crazies running the nut house, to rephrase you.

BOEHLERT:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But here‘s the question I put to you as a media critic and somebody who represents progressive thinking in a lot of ways.

BOEHLERT:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Let me hit you over this one.

They got the same score card.  Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, the people in the front, Newt Gingrich—they‘re looking at November with the exact same score card as Mitch McConnell.  If the Democrats lose the House, if the Republicans make sizable gains in the Senate, Glenn Beck is having euphoria.  Let‘s face it.  Newt Gingrich is on the warpath.

So, it‘s the same score card.  You say they‘re not on the same team. 

I think they‘re on the same team.

BOEHLERT:  I think—no, no, no—I think they‘re on the same team.  I think that the RNC and the Republicans are playing catch up.  You know, after Obama won the election, there was a very large power vacuum.  And FOX News and Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing media swooped in and decided, “We‘re the opposition party.  We‘re going to run the conservative movement.”

RNC and Republicans can play catch up.  They can comment if they want.  We are in charge.

But as E.J. pointed out on his column—where are the comments?  Where are people saying you are off the cliff with this hate stuff?  This is insane.

MATTHEWS:  Because they want jobs.  This is a Republican jobs bill.  They‘re going to win the seats in Congress—that the right wing media has stormed (ph) to create.

Anyway, thank you, E.J.

Thank you, Eric for joining us.

And congratulations on the column in “The Washington Post” today.

DIONNE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  In a few minutes, I‘m going to tell you what I think about the sleazy tactics Republicans are using to use that silent treatment to nail the guy.

Up next: Senator John McCain may win tomorrow‘s primary in Arizona. 

It looks like he will.  But did he have to sell his soul to beat J.D.

Hayworth?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, a big primary day tomorrow in Arizona and in Florida with the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Kendrick Meek with a comfortable lead over Jeff Greene, the guy who can‘t remember whether he voted for Reagan or not, 39 percent of voters are likely have supported Meek, while 29 percent support Greene, with 28 percent said they still don‘t made up their mind.  It looks good for Meek.

In a second, we‘re going to talk about the race in Arizona where John McCain is now more likely to beat J.D. Hayworth.  In fact, he‘s now a heavy favorite, he‘s paid a price.  And we‘ll talk about that price when we come back with HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

Earlier this year, Senator John McCain looked like he might have trouble beating J.D. Hayworth in Arizona‘s Republican primary.  Well, tomorrow is primary day.  And the polls show McCain well ahead of Hayworth.  He‘s up by an average of more than 20 points.

How did he do it?  And what was the price?

“TIME” magazine‘s Mark Halperin is MSNBC senior political—and we also have Errol Louis joining us.

There‘s Mark.

Mark, you know, what was the price that John McCain paid?  He‘s denied being a maverick.  You talked about—I take him at his word—but he really was a maverick.

MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he‘s done more than that, Chris.  You know, for me, elections are fun and interesting, but it‘s about governing.  And in Washington, there have been debates on climate change.  There have been debates on immigration.  There have been debates on the budget deficit.

And John McCain, in order to position himself to save himself and his seat, has not been a participant.  He could have forged historic compromises.  He chose not to because he wants his job back.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why?

HALPERIN:  Why does he want his job back?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  And he doesn‘t want to do anything anymore.

HALPERIN:  I don‘t think he knows anything else but to be a United States senator and live in Washington.  And I think he was afraid of having his career end with back-to-back losses in a presidential race and then in a Senate race.  And I think there‘s a very real chance if he hadn‘t done those things and if he hadn‘t hired a much professional operation—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but here‘s the price.

HALPERIN:  -- then he would have lost.

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t the price means he has to go back and become like Jon Kyl, his roommate out there, just be a no man, just vote no on everything, be nasty, miserable and say no, no, no, no to everything and not really be the kind of senator that Barry Goldwater was or a Everett Dirksen was, or one of the great—even Lindsey Graham is now—a senator that helps legislate and get things done?

HALPERIN:  There‘s some chance that after he wins, he‘ll win the nomination and win the general election almost certainly.  He‘ll go to Washington and he‘ll reverse course again.  But I think that his reputation as somewhat who put—as he often says—the nation ahead of politics, has been badly tarnished by the way he‘s changed a lot of positions and walked away from a chance to be a real compromiser and big bridge-builder during the last couple of years in Washington because he was afraid of losing.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at this.  Here‘s Errol Louis with another view.  He‘s a columnist from the great “New York Daily News.”  He‘s a radio host for WWRL up in New York.

Errol, thanks for joining us.

This is the fall of the “House of Usher” you might say, a fall of great house, you know?  The McCain brand was great.  He was Mr. Maverick.

I remember him up with the Al Smith dinner a couple of years ago, kidding me up with (INAUDIBLE) up there with Hughey Carrie‘s (ph) family and he was kidding me saying, I lost Chris‘ support because I can do maverick, I can‘t do messiah.  He was very funny.

But, you know, that John McCain, that rascal of the center is now

sort of trying to pretend he‘s more right than J.D. Hayworth

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS:  Well, look, the center has moved quite a few steps to the right in the Republican Party.  And the reality is, you can‘t win the game if you‘re not in the game.  So, the price of staying in the game is to move himself a couple of steps to the right.

I think within that now very conservative conference, he‘s going to

I wouldn‘t rule out the idea of him re-emerging perhaps as a maverick. 

I mean, a maverick right now is somebody who says no instead of shouting no right now.  I mean, they really are moving in lock step.  All of that could change after January.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a heck (ph) of nuance.

By the way, I would vote for John McCain tomorrow in primary if I were an Arizona Republican.  I‘m sure he doesn‘t want to hear that.  But that‘s quite a jump.

Anyway, by the way, here he is quoted in “Newsweek”: “I never considered myself a maverick.”

LOUIS:  Oh!

MATTHEWS:  How do you deal with that?  How does John McCain, who is the essential maverick, Mark, live with that quote in his American political almanac or his Wikipedia forever now?

HALPERIN:  It‘s hideous and it‘s a kind of thing that he would have mocked in other politicians.  Look, I never was quite as in love with John McCain, I‘ve always liked him and respected him, but I never as quite as much love him as some of our colleagues.

MATTHEWS:  You like me.

HALPERION:  So, I saw him as having feet of clay when everybody was celebrating him.  And I think what he‘s doing is typical for a politician trying to save himself.  What‘s significant about it and I think the reason we‘re talking about it is, he has always held himself out as somebody different, as somebody who was a maverick, who was not afraid to stand up to the establishment of his party.

And in this case, again, to save his seat—and you hear this from people who worked with him and admired him for years, he‘s changed a raft of positions and then denied that he‘s changed positions.  He hasn‘t said he‘s grown or circumstances have changed.  He‘s just in denial and saying he‘s not a maverick and never said he was, even though it was in his book and in his TV ad, is sort of the most stark example of just how extreme he‘s willing to be in order to save himself.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s the Republican nominee for president in the last election.  We keep forgetting.  He is what we used to call the titular head of his party.

Here‘s J.D. Hayworth today with Andrea Mitchell.  Let‘s listen to J.D. making his best case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. REP. J.D. HAYWORTH ®, ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE:  It‘s real simple for Arizona voters.  If they want to be double-crossed again by John McCain who will rush across the aisle to again work for amnesty, they can vote for him tomorrow.  But I don‘t think they want a ridiculously expensive impersonation of a conservative, Mr. McCain‘s $21 million con job.  I believe they want a consistent conservative.  And that‘s why we‘re poised to make political history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow. Errol, he sounds like he‘s going to be tough. 

That‘s when you foul the guy to get the ball back, right, in the NBA?

LOUIS:  You know what he sounds?  He sounds like what he was, which was a six-term congressman from the fifth district.  Arizona‘s got funny politics.  You find very conservative pockets.  He used to represent one of them.

But then statewide, you get people like a Janet Napolitano.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

LOUIS:  You get people like the sitting attorney general, Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  Got to go.  Hey, Errol, thanks a lot.  I really do think he looked like that player in the game who wants to get the ball back by fouling the other guy.

When we return—thank you, Mark Halperin as always—when we return, I‘ll tell you what I think—really think about some of these despicable tactics being used to basically de-Americanize our president.

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with this sleazy tactics being used against the president.

Here‘s the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, the world‘s greatest deliberative body, out there playing ball with the birther crowd.  The people systematically trying to deny the president‘s identity as a Christian born in this country.

It‘s really quite sleazy the way they‘re doing it.  They don‘t have the nerve to go out and say he‘s not American and he‘s a secret member of another religion.  They do it what Senator Mitch McConnell did Sunday, encourage that notion, underwrite the crazies—meanwhile, undermining any positive action by the government they‘ve sworn to serve.

Here‘s McConnell playing the game: when asked repeatedly by David Gregory on “Meet the Press” why so many Republicans believe the president is a Muslim.  First, he dodged the question of why so many Republicans, members of his party, believe the president is a Muslim.  He refused to stop the propaganda campaign, refused to give a simple answer that, of course, he believes the president is a Christian.

Finally, he said, quote, “The president says he is a—the president says he‘s a Christian.  I think him at his word.  I don‘t think that‘s in dispute.”

I don‘t think that‘s in dispute.

It‘s a comment like yours, Senator, delivered on a prestigious Sunday program, which is the very reason the president‘s identity is in dispute.

McConnell was asked again, why so many Republicans believe this.  He said again, here‘s his direct quote, “I have no idea, but I take the president at his word.”

Well, here are the numbers.  Only 27 percent of Republicans say the president is a Christian.  The rest, about ¾ of the party, in the Pew Research Poll increasingly believe he‘s a Muslim or assume is the McConnell stance of being noncommittal on the matter.  Just 23 percent of Republicans today say the president was definitely born in the U.S.  In other words, that he‘s a legitimately elected president or even, I suppose, that he‘s even legitimately in the country—just 23 percent say that.

So, this is the strategy the Republican leadership.  Let people who think President Obama is a secret Muslim think it, as long as they vote Republican.  Don‘t rattle their cage.  Keep them in the pack.

Meanwhile, they‘re underwriting their worst theories, thinking he‘s a secret Muslim, pitch (ph) hand and glove with thinking he was born in Kenya, undermining anything he tries to do on the economy, on health, on anything constructive.  Make him as foreign, as un-American as possible by undercutting anything he tries to do.

What a great American way to meet your oath of office, Mr.

McConnell.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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