Guests: Julia Boorstin, Howard Fineman, Dave Weigel, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon, Dan Gaffney, Chris Cillizza, Margaret Carlson, Willie Brown
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The eye of Newt.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Boston. Leading off tonight: Going tribal. Newt Gingrich, the notorious political scavenger, has dredged up his dirtiest shovelful. He says the president of the United States is actually a zombie animated by the ghost of his dead African father, leading an anti-colonial Kenyan quest against the white oppressors. The former Speaker of the House said this is the stunning, most profound, most predictive model to fathom the man now the head of our country.
He called Barack Obama a con man who managed to trick America into electing him. Quote, “What if Obama is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together his actions?” That‘s what Gingrich said this weekend.
I want to know, can we go any further down this sewer of hate? Isn‘t it enough to fight over taxes and spending and wars? Do we have to attack the very Americanness of the president, who brought this country such honor by his inspiring rise to office?
Plus, we heard John Boehner say he‘d be willing to extend the Bush tax cuts just for the middle class. Sounds like he‘s willing to compromise, maybe, or maybe he‘s luring Democrats into a trap. We‘re going to ask the HARDBALL strategists.
Also, the big political story in tomorrow‘s primaries may come out of Delaware, where a Sarah Palin-Jim DeMint conservative may be poised to score the biggest upset of the political season. A win by Christine O‘Donnell would be good news for the tea party, but it could—could—cost the Republican Party a chance to take over the U.S. Senate. And how Meg Whitman‘s “mad men” managed to rip the scab off a generation-ago fight between two top Democrats, Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton.
“Let Me Finish” tonight with the inspiring sight I saw this weekend in front of Independence Hall.
Let‘s start with Newt Gingrich‘s tribal attack on the president. “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and Slate.com‘s David Weigel‘s also an MSNBC political analyst.
I think you have to go back to almost pagan rites to find this kind of commentary by a major American official, talking about Obama being basically a Kenyan anti-colonial type who‘s operating almost zombie-like as his father‘s pawn in this ghost-like thing he‘s accusing him of and saying he conned us into electing him president. What do you make of Newt, Howard?
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I‘ve been covering Newt for many years. He‘s a bomb thrower. He‘s a guy who knows the weak point to attack. And what‘s interesting to me here is that he feels free to say anything at this point. It‘s a kind of free-fire zone within the conservative movement.
And Newt, who‘s always trying to say the most outrageous thing—and that goes back many, many years—now has moved from saying outrageous things about the ethics of House members and the Democratic leadership 15, 18 years ago to saying these things about a man that Newt himself has no evidence for what he‘s alleging here. He really has absolutely none. His facts are wrong, as Mr. Weigel pointed out on his own page. And I‘m just—I‘m just really not surprised but kind of depressed by it.
MATTHEWS: You know, David, you cover this kind of spiritual territory and ideological territory. I mean, he‘s accusing him of basically a zombie. He‘s saying his father hated the British white guys who ruled Kenya. The son‘s operating as kind of a zombie-like figure, in fact, governed by a ghost. This is the kind of crazy stuff that Franklin Graham, Reverend Franklin Graham, got into, saying the seed of Islam comes through the father, where you have a Christian evangelical there buying into some Islamic theory of heredity.
You know, my father voted Republican, conservative, every election I think he was in, except maybe one Philly local election. Three of my brothers are—you cannot predict behavior politically from the father. Americans don‘t buy that. We don‘t ask what your father did, we ask who are you. There‘s something really un-American about this stuff. I don‘t know what to call it. Your thoughts, David.
DAVID WEIGEL, SLATE.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It was strange. Actually...
WEIGEL: ... Newt said to this—Newt said this to me and Robert Coast (ph), who‘s a really great reporter for “National Review,” and I could see a glint in his eye as he was saying this. He knew he was going to get a new cycle or two of people analyzing what the heck he meant.
And you know what it reminds me of—is just him getting the word Kenyan into the news reminds me of, you know, that old LBJ expression, Make the SOB deny it. It reminds me of on your show two years ago, when Hillary advisers started using the word cocaine very deliberately to get us to talk about cocaine.
MATTHEWS: You‘re chuckling, David.
WEIGEL: This is what people do.
MATTHEWS: You think this is funny, David?
WEIGEL: No, I...
MATTHEWS: You think it‘s funny to de-Americanize...
WEIGEL: It‘s reminding me...
MATTHEWS: ... somebody?
MATTHEWS: This is what they did to Dukakis years ago. You take an American whose parents are—you want to see the Democrats do this to Arnold Schwarzenegger and talk about being an Austrian and what maybe somebody in his family might have done once? You want to go after the Indian-Americans who‘ve done so well in American politics, Nikki Haley and the governor of Louisiana? Are we going to go to this kind of tribal politics? It‘s not funny, David.
WEIGEL: No, I was just laughing in recognition of what—how obvious it is what Gingrich is doing here. You know, I don‘t think it‘s funny at all. I think this argument that he‘s taking from Dinesh D‘Souza is actually on the cover of “Forbes” magazine. Why is that on the cover of “Forbes” magazine? It‘s an incredibly flimsy article (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Because it‘s a Republican magazine and the Republicans are out in full force. Let‘s take a look here. Here‘s Gingrich—I mean, Steve Forbes may have an interest in this. Gingrich was reacting to a “Forbes” magazine cover story, as you said, David, by conservative Dinesh D‘Souza entitled “How Obama Thinks.”
Well, “Incredibly, the United States is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated American (SIC) socialist who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anti-colonial ambitions is now setting the nation‘s agenda through the incarnation—the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he‘s only living out his father‘s dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost.”
FINEMAN: Well, that‘s...
MATTHEWS: Newt Gingrich believes it. He said this is brilliant.
FINEMAN: Yes, I know.
MATTHEWS: He said this is stunning.
FINEMAN: Well, Newt, I think...
MATTHEWS: This is the perfect predictor of the behavior.
FINEMAN: All right. Well, David, I think, was at this event the other night, last Saturday. And my sense of it is that Newt was trying to impress the people around him waiting for pearls of attack wisdom from Newt Gingrich. But the article by Dinesh D‘Souza has tons of tons of factual inaccuracies and misstated assumptions in it. It‘s a dream/nightmare of the right about Obama. It‘s not really about Obama. It‘s less about Barack Obama, President Barack Obama, than it is about the fears and the nightmares and the resentments of the people who write articles like that. It really is more of a window into...
FINEMAN: ... Dinesh D‘Souza than it is into Barack Obama. It has almost nothing to do with Barack Obama himself. Yes, he wrote the book “Dreams From My Father,” but if you read that book, it‘s not about what Dinesh D‘Souza says it‘s about.
MATTHEWS: Who was it that said the other day they know less about this guy than anybody? Wasn‘t that...
FINEMAN: Haley Barbour.
MATTHEWS: Haley Barbour. Now this guy—and then he writes an autobiography. Now Newt goes after him, David, for having written an autobiography. I mean, it seems like there‘s no way this guy can win the argument of who he is.
WEIGEL: Well, no. And this is the myth, too, that we don‘t know this about him. If you go back and read Barack ! Obama‘s debut speech to the Democratic convention in 2004, the first line of his speech, after he gets through some throat-clearing, is about how his father was a tribesman in Kenya who herded goats.
WEIGEL: This has never been secret. He‘s been more open about this part of his life, his history, his relationship to his late father than—I mean, go back and read George Bush‘s, you know, campaign autobiography or what we knew about Bill Clinton before he ran for president.
Obama‘s been honest. It‘s just that when—they want—people like Gingrich, people like D‘Souza want to keep poking with a stick and hinting that even—in that admission, there‘s some secret to the way he‘s governing. There is no secret. I mean, this—if you—this guy appointed Larry Summers and Tim Geithner and a bunch of mainstream American liberals and Keynesians. He didn‘t appoint a bunch of anti-colonialists. I mean, this is—this is...
FINEMAN: Well, Chris...
FINEMAN: Chris, the Harvard law school has a lot more to do with the way Barack Obama governs...
FINEMAN: ... than Kenya does, but citing the Harvard law school has kind of lost its oomph since, for example, John Roberts is an alumnus of the Harvard law school.
MATTHEWS: What is this thing about inebriated? I have to tell you, we‘ve had a lot of very successful top Americans who‘ve overcome—maybe it‘s part of the reason they‘ve had to rise up as young men. Certainly Bill Clinton, certainly Ronald Reagan had fathers with alcohol problems and did incredibly well in their lives and overcame that incredibly difficult upbringing. Here he is, Dinesh D‘Souza, with the approval or the imprimatur of Newt Gingrich, going back and calling his father a drunk. I mean, what is the point?
Here‘s Gibbs, by the way. Let the White House have its say here. Here they are in response to this stuff. Let‘s listen to Robert Gibbs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think Newt Gingrich knows that he‘s—he‘s trying to—he‘s trying to appeal to the fringe of people that don‘t believe the president was born in this country. You would normally expect better from somebody who had held the position of Speaker of the House. But look, it‘s political season, and most people will say anything, and Newt Gingrich does that on a genuinely (ph) -- on a regular basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: David Weigel, it seems to me that Newt Gingrich has a history of trying to find racist attitudes on the part of liberals. He‘s gone after Shirley Sherrod, who was working for the Agriculture Department, calling her a “black racist.” He referred to Sonia Sotomayor, who was named—Sonia Sotomayor, who was named to the Supreme Court and confirmed, as a woman—a “Latino woman racist.” He seems to like to point that way. Is this to give cover to something on his side, or what‘s he up to here? Why is he always saying racist, racist, racist about minorities?
WEIGEL: Well, it‘s something he didn‘t do quite as much of when he actually had a position of power. You know, it was something, as Howard pointed out, he did it when he was a bomb-throwing, trying to get Republicans back into power. And he‘s been in that crouch for a few years now, where he sees his job as getting on TV, getting arguments that he thinks are really scintillating onto TV and into the discourse, which he‘s doing here.
I mean, it really isn‘t befitting a statesman, befitting a Speaker of the House. This is—this almost reminds me of, you know, Rand Paul talking about the Civil Rights Act as a kind of theory (ph). These are things it‘s perfectly fine—well, maybe not perfectly fine. These are things it‘s OK to dish about at an intellectual level, but these are, you know, weird allegations...
WEIGEL: ... to make about the president, with a lot of innuendo that are really not befitting these politics (ph). And I don‘t think he makes that connection. He‘s so used to being a political celebrity that I don‘t think he—he puts these things together anymore.
MATTHEWS: Howard, you and I talk politics a lot to try to understand the way people are playing the game. Let‘s talk about this, as awful and evil as it may be as a game. Could it be he‘s attacking Barack Obama when he‘s down? The polls are tough right now. The right direction/wrong direction numbers at NBC are terrible for the Democrats. Barack Obama‘s approval‘s down to an all-time low. The Democrats are probably facing a rout, you might argue, coming up in the next couple months. So why don‘t you hit his hand into the cement while you got him down?
This argument he‘s not really one of us may be useful two years from now. Could it be that this is an insurance policy? The unemployment could drop. The economy could get better in two years. Barack Obama could recover. But this smear will stick, and this is what they‘re hitting him with when they got him down. That‘s my thought. It‘s purely political, but that‘s what Newt is, I think.
FINEMAN: Well, I think—I think Newt is visceral. He‘s a visceral attack guy. He wasn‘t very good as a Speaker because he wasn‘t an affirmative character as much as he was a brilliant attack guy. Here he‘s doing the dirtiest of dirty work for the Republican cause and the conservative coalition. Why he feels he needs to do this, I‘m not entirely sure. He used to be more focused on economics and...
FINEMAN: ... you know, issues like that than he is on this. Even though he came out of Georgia, he was seen almost as a progressive in certain respects for his—the flavor of what he said 15, 18 years ago. Why he‘s doing this now, I don‘t know. But you‘re right. It‘s to keep Obama down and to try to turn the virtues of biography around on Obama.
FINEMAN: Let‘s not forget that Obama sold himself originally and was embraced originally for his biography.
FINEMAN: I think the Republicans understand that his biography is the strongest thing about Barack Obama, that it has an “only in America”...
FINEMAN: ... uplifting quality to it. They can‘t stand the idea that Barack Obama has successfully appropriated an aspect of the American ideal, and they want to deny it to him, even though it‘s two years after the election, in preparation for the next election...
MATTHEWS: Howard, you‘ve never been better!
FINEMAN: ... and perhaps (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Howard, you‘ve never been better. The American exceptionalism, which he exemplifies...
MATTHEWS: ... which he brings to life, the idea this is the only country in the world you can come to with a name like Barack Hussein Obama...
MATTHEWS: ... in the middle of a terrorist fight, and the American people will still be open-hearted to you and still say, You know, we‘ve looked at who you are, we‘ve looked enough at you, we think you‘re a good person, we‘re going to make you our leader. Only here do we do that! That‘s what inspired me from the beginning about our country.
FINEMAN: Well, they‘re trying to take that away.
MATTHEWS: And now to turn it inside out...
MATTHEWS: They‘re—also, they‘re turning it inside out about our country. They‘re saying this country can‘t accept assimilation, and that‘s the opposite of who we are.
Howard Fineman, thank you, sir. Thank you, David Weigel.
Coming up: The White House is escalating its war of words with wannabe House Speaker John Boehner. This is back to safe ground for us all, tax policy. Let‘s talk about something really wonderfully intramural American for once. Boehner now says he‘d be willing to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class if that‘s the only choice. Question is, is the Senate going to be in the way of that decision? We‘ll ask our strategists what Boehner‘s up to, what‘s the politics. It looks like he‘s softening up. Is he just getting smarter?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the Muslim group trying to build an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero in New York, now says he would never have proposed the building at that site if he knew the backlash that was coming. But the imam says changing plans now would cause an uproar in the Muslim world, strengthen radicals there and send a message that Islam is under attack here in America.
Still, a new Quinnipiac poll shows two thirds of Americans say the mosque should be built as planned—should not be built as planned.
HARDBALL returns after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I‘ll vote for them. But I‘ve been making a point now for months that we need to extend all the current rates for all Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. With that statement on “Face the Nation,” House Republican leader John Boehner set off (ph) a fight with the White House to get control politically of the tax issue, and of course, by extension, the mid-term elections. Who comes out the winner? This is fascinating, and I don‘t know the answer. That‘s a question for the strategists.
Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist, Todd Harris Republican—well, you‘re laughing the loudest there, Todd Harris, so explain to me—you know, everybody knows there‘s more votes (ph) for people who make less than $250,000 a year than there are people who make more. That‘s just the way economics works. There‘s only a few people at the top. So what‘s he doing here? Is he just saying, I‘m not going to get in the way of middle class people—by the way, middle class extends—it extends as high as $250,000. That‘s a lot. So let‘s just say he doesn‘t want to be the bad guy. What‘s further (ph) their strategy here? What‘s Boehner up to?
TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, what he‘s saying—what he‘s saying is that he‘d rather have tax cuts for the middle class than no tax cuts at all. But what he also repeatedly said in that interview is that he doesn‘t think that that‘s what the choice is going to come down to. Republicans are pushing—Boehner has been pushing for across the board—for an extension across the board of all of the ‘01 and ‘03 tax cuts.
And as far as the political calculation, you know, you yourself know, Chris, that class warfare arguments almost never work in American politics. The and DNC is working overboard (ph) right now, trying to turn this election into some kind of referendum on class warfare, but it‘s just not working. And all you need for proof of that is to get out of Washington, to come—you can come to a place...
HARRIS: ... like Florida, where I am now, and look at a candidate like the Alex Sink, Democratic nominee for governor in Florida. She the other day came out for an extension of all the Bush tax cuts. So it‘s not just Republicans.
HARRIS: A lot of prominent Democrats agree with this position, as well.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back—let me go to Steve. Steve, what do you think‘s going on with Boehner? Why would he say, yes, go ahead, if it comes down to it, I‘m not going to get in the way of the tax cuts for the middle?
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Because he understands the Republicans‘ vulnerability historically is that they look out for fat cats, they look out for wealthy people and they look out for Wall Street. And what he‘s doing here is, I think, waving the white flag and basically saying, I‘m not going to do that to my members. I‘m not going to make them walk the plank on tax cuts for millionaires. I‘m not going to make them walk the plank on borrowing $700 billion in order to give it to the wealthiest Americans and give every millionaire $100,000-a-year tax cut. I‘m not going to do it.
I think the interesting thing here is what it does to Mitch McConnell and to the moderate Republicans, who need independent voters still, and some of those downscale voters in order to get reelected, particularly the two women senators from Maine.
Let‘s talk politics.
HARRIS: Steve, Steve, Steve...
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk politics.
Suppose there‘s a vote on the floor sometime before the election, and one of the options on the floor is a two-year full extension for everybody, and the other option is to only extend the tax cuts for people below $250,000. Would the first win and therefore knock the other out of the game?
Steve, could you stop Democrats from contributing to a 218-point victory, which I assume would get all the Republican votes, for 218 to basically extend all the tax cuts? How could you stop it from passing if the came before the floor?
MCMAHON: Oh, I don‘t think it would get to the floor, Chris.
As you know, the speaker controls what...
MCMAHON: Hold on a second, because you asked a very good question, and it would be a difficult question if it were not for the fact that the speaker controls the flow of legislation to the floor.
And what will get to the floor now, with John Boehner‘s support, is a tax cut for everybody who makes $250,000 and under, and what won‘t get to the floor is what John Boehner would like. It might get to the floor in the Senate, and the Republicans then will have to defend tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
But, Steve—let me go back to Todd.
I‘m not going to make you‘re fight for you, but you‘re already laughing. It seems to me, Boehner, by offering the white flag, as you put it, Steve, has got himself in a position where he can say, OK, I will vote for it if it‘s the only thing we got. Now give me another option. Let me have an up-or-down on everybody getting a tax cut.
Your thoughts, Todd.
HARRIS: Well, he certainly has not waved a white flag. And I‘m only laughing because the class warfare argument from Steve is very unbecoming, but I think it‘s funny when you have got more and more Democrats...
MCMAHON: It‘s fiscal discipline, Todd. It‘s fiscal discipline.
HARRIS: ... when you have got more and more—when you have got more and more Democrats every day coming out in support of extending all of the tax cuts, Democrats like Alex Sink here in Florida. The more the DNC tries to turn this into a class warfare argument...
HARRIS: ... the more they‘re going to be undercutting their own candidates. I think that‘s really funny.
MATTHEWS: In deference to—in deference to Todd, here‘s that ad he keeps talking about. This is the DNC ad that goes after Boehner. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE POLITICAL AD)
NARRATOR: Think Republicans have no plan for the economy? It‘s not true. John Boehner opposes funding for government jobs, jobs for teachers, for cops, for firefighters. Boehner has a different plan, tax cuts for businesses, those that shift jobs and profits overseas, saving multinational corporations $10 billion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Do you think public employees are popular, Steve? Do you think that‘s a good ad to be running? I keep hearing people gnashing their teeth that public employees are making more than the regular person in the country, and they don‘t like it.
What are the politics of this?
MCMAHON: Well, I think, first of all, the politics of going after John Boehner when most people in America don‘t know who John Boehner is, is somewhat questionable, in my mind.
HARRIS: I agree with you there.
MCMAHON: I do think that police officers and fire—police officers and firefighters and teachers are popular and contributing members in their communities. And they consistently test pretty well. And the reason they‘re in that ad is because people don‘t want firefighters and police officers and teachers laid off or run off the job because of budget cuts.
HARRIS: From a pure strategy standpoint, you know, as both Steve and I make TV ads, I agree. Firemen, teachers, nurses, they‘re all very popular.
For the average American though, if you talk about reducing the number of government workers, that‘s something that they would say amen to it.
MATTHEWS: That‘s not what the ad does, though, Todd, is it? That‘s not what the ad does, though, is it, Todd?
HARRIS: It‘s the very first thing they say.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the B.S. factor. This is why the people don‘t trust ads. What‘s the difference between a cop, a fireman and a teacher who are working for the government and government workers, Todd?
MCMAHON: Here‘s the difference.
HARRIS: There‘s a huge difference. Cops, firemen, teachers are on the front lines. Actually, I think most people would think they actually earn their salaries.
The average government bureaucrat who sits behind a desk and pushes paper, we have too many of them, and most Republicans would be for...
MATTHEWS: You‘re such a pol.
HARRIS: Oh, please. They would support an across-the-board cut.
MATTHEWS: You‘re such a pol.
Steve, would you defend the average worker that doesn‘t get seen, the one behind the—in the back, you know, when you go to the office, or she‘s in the back? How come they look so bad? How come the unseen public employee is hated, but the seen public employee is sort of liked?
MCMAHON: Well, it‘s the under—it‘s understanding the job they do. So, people very clearly understand the job that a teacher or firefighter of police officer does.
When you talk about the faceless, nameless, government bureaucrat, nobody understands who it is you‘re talking about. But when you explain to him that it‘s the person who is picking up your garbage every day or the person who is making sure that people drive with driver‘s licenses and auto insurance, then they appreciate them a little bit more.
But, generally, it‘s just—it‘s a slur. Government bureaucrat is definitely a slur.
HARRIS: Driver‘s license? I‘m glad Steve has now come out in favor of huge expansions in the number of people who sit around the D.C. DMV and do nothing all day.
MCMAHON: No, no, Todd, they make sure you have a driver‘s license.
MATTHEWS: OK. Bottom line, bottom line, we get to election eve, the people go to vote, which of the two realities will they face? Will they have the Democrats saying the Republicans held up the tax cut for the middle class because all they care about is the rich, or will the Democrats be—will the Republicans be able to say all the Democrats want to do is futz around with this bill; now your taxes are going up?
Todd, you first. What will they be saying when they go to vote?
HARRIS: Look, any time we‘re talking about taxes, it‘s a good issue for Republicans. I think the Democrats are going to cave and come our way.
MATTHEWS: Give the full tax cut.
Go ahead, your thoughts, Steve. What will be the voter thinking when he votes or she votes?
MCMAHON: The Republicans are going to hold up the tax cut for everybody, and everybody‘s taxes are going to go up because the Republicans insisted that millionaires and billionaires should get the same kind of tax treatment that average working-class families get.
And I think the Republicans are going to lose this. And I think John Boehner knows it, which is why he waved the white flag on Sunday.
MATTHEWS: I know, because you know you‘re not going to get the 60 votes in the Senate. And that‘s the bottom line. And that‘s what we all know is the truth here. Boehner knows it. All three of us know it.
In the end, they won‘t get the tax cut they want, because the Democrats won‘t be able to get the 60 votes. And if they don‘t get it their way, I‘m not sure you‘re right, Steve, they‘re going to throw in the white towel. What it is? It‘s always the white towel.
Anyway, Steve McMahon...
MCMAHON: White flag.
MATTHEWS: White flag, white towel.
Anyway, thank you, Todd Harris.
Thank you, Steve McMahon.
Up next: John Boehner is not just facing scrutiny for changing his mind about taxes. He‘s hearing it about his smoking habit. Wait until you hear this conversation between Bob Schieffer of “Face the Nation” and a major political figure about—Bob licked the habit of smoking. Now he wants this other guy to do it. What is this, a crusade from Bob Schieffer?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the “Sideshow.”
Is John Boehner calling it quits with his smoking habit, that is? Watch what he told Bob Schieffer yesterday on “Face the Nation.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FACE THE NATION”)
BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, “FACE THE NATION”: Mr. Boehner, I‘m going to ask you this question because I‘m not objective about this. I‘m—I‘m a cancer survivor. I used to be a heavy smoker. Do you still smoke?
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I do.
Bob, tobacco is a legal product in America. And the American people have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to partake or not.
SCHIEFFER: If you should become speaker, you could set a good example for the country by saying, I‘m going to try to stop smoking. Maybe you could get the president. I understand he smokes too. Maybe the two of you could find a way to try to stop smoking. That would be kind of a good thing, wouldn‘t it?
BOEHNER: Bob, I appreciate your suggestion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Bob, a noble effort, but let Boehner be Boehner. Let Obama be Obama.
Now to the “Big Number.”
As the saying goes, it appears the cake is baked this November. Per analyst Nate Silver, what are the chances that Republicans will gain control of the House come November 2 by nightfall? Sixty-seven percent. Republicans have a two-in-three shot at taking over the House of Representatives, tonight‘s fast-rising big, bad number.
Up next: Republican Mike Castle was a shoo-in, many thought, to win the Senate seat in Delaware—that‘s the old Biden seat—until a Tea Party challenger steamrolled ahead of him in the polls. And that‘s given the Democrats new life up there in Delaware. Are the Republicans on the verge of losing a race they had in the bag?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
An upbeat day for stocks on new banking rules out of Europe and an encouraging report on Chinese manufacturing—the Dow Jones industrials climbing 81 points, the S&P 500 adding 12, and the Nasdaq jumping 43 points.
Big banks getting a boost from new rules aimed at averting another global meltdown. The rules turned out to be not as strict as many has feared, and banks have until the year 2018 to comply.
Meanwhile, industrials and materials benefiting from a larger-than-expected increase in Chinese industrial output. Microsoft shares leading blue chips higher on rumors it may be planning a debt offering to pay for dividends and buybacks.
Xerox surged to the top of the S&P after an enthusiastic cover story in “Barron‘s.” And, in M&A news, Hertz beat out Avis in the bidding war for Dollar Thrifty, offering a little bit more than $1.5 billion.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Republican primary in Delaware, the little state of Delaware, tomorrow could have big implications for the Republicans nationwide and their ability to take over the U.S. Senate, which is possible.
Republican Mike Castle fending off a tough challenge from Tea Party candidate Christine O‘Donnell. And polls show he‘s in the race of his life. Actually, that‘s a close—too close to call.
Here‘s an ad—a couple of ads that reflect what‘s going on up there. Let‘s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: Do you recognize this Delaware politician? Here‘s some hints. According to “The News Journal,” she didn‘t pay thousands in income taxes, had to be sued by a university for thousands in unpaid bills, defaulted on her mortgage.
She ran up a huge campaign debt and left vendors and staff unpaid, while using campaign funds to pay her own rent and personal expenses.
Say hello to Christine O‘Donnell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And Sarah Palin of Alaska has recorded a radio ad and a robocall for Christine O‘Donnell, the Tea Partier.
Here‘s part of it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, O‘DONNELL CAMPAIGN AD)
SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Hi. This is Governor Sarah Palin.
Vote for Christine O‘Donnell for U.S. Senate this Tuesday.
The wave of positive change can really sweep across our land with the election of constitutional conservatives like Christine, who promise to use common sense and rein in federal government spending.
I can relate to the vicious personal attacks on Christine and can tell you it‘s sad to see the establishment‘s desperation in this.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
Joining me is Delaware radio talk show host Dan Gaffney and WashingtonPost.com managing editor Chris Cillizza.
Dan, give me a sense. Do the voters of Delaware know how important this vote is tomorrow, that this could affect the—I guess you would call it the outside chance of the Republicans grabbing the Senate, as well as the House, come November?
DAN GAFFNEY, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, I think many of them do, but some of my talk radio callers don‘t care. They are more interested in winning the actual battle than the war.
And there‘s such a wind of anti-Castle—there‘s an anti-Castle wind in the air. And even when presented with the fact that Castle has a better chance at beating the Democrat, Coons, many people don‘t care. They want to vote him out anyway.
MATTHEWS: Boy, that sounds like the Democratic left sometimes. That sounds like November doesn‘t count. I grew up with it. It‘s called NDC.
Cillizza, you‘re shaking your head positively.
The one thing about a polarized electorate is, it doesn‘t care about practical electoral consequences.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Yes.
MATTHEWS: By the way, I want to give a salute, if not a positive salute, a reality check, to the far right. Bob Bennett was knocked off. The guy that beat him, Lee, is going to win the general.
Crist—Crist has been bumped out of his party, but Rubio could well win that. He‘s ahead in the polls down there. Specter was knocked out of his party, but Toomey is well ahead by about seven points in P.A.
And who am I missing? Murkowski. Well, I got to bet what‘s-his-name up there, Joe Miller, is going to win that, or—if gets in that thing clean, one on one. So, you could argue that the Tea Parties have had a pretty good record of positioning themselves to win generals, maybe not in Nevada, but other places.
CILLIZZA: Chris, first of all, isn‘t it amazing that we‘re talking about Delaware? You‘ve got New Hampshire Senate race. You‘ve got New York. You‘ve got Wisconsin. We‘re talking about Delaware.
This is a state we never thought we would be talking about. Number two, that state you just listed, Alaska, Utah, those kind of states, the one thing that is different, this is Delaware. This is a Democratic state. Mike Castle‘s been elected for more than 40 years. He‘s been the governor of the state.
GAFFNEY: He‘s been the at-large representative. This is not a state where whoever winds up being the Republican nominee—Utah, Alaska—has a big leg up in winning.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me give you—let me give you—let me give you some history, young fellow.
MATTHEWS: Joe Biden, back in 1972, bonked out a guy who had won the House seat—and let‘s go in here, Dan—you‘re the expert—had been a House member, a Senate member for X-many terms, and a governor, just like this guy Mike Castle.
Joe Biden, at the age of 29, knocked him out of the seat and held it for, what, 40 years.
MATTHEWS: So, isn‘t it possible that Christine O‘Donnell could be a senator for life? We don‘t know, do we?
GAFFNEY: Well, let me tell you what my original opinion was, that, if she wins the primary tomorrow, we would say hello, Senator Coons. That was my original opinion.
GAFFNEY: But now I‘m starting to think that, if she pulls it off tomorrow, if—that‘s a big if—she could do anything. If she can beat Mike Castle in this state, she can do anything.
MATTHEWS: What‘s your state like these days? Is it as unhappy as the rest of the country and could it say, you know what, she isn‘t quite prepared, or may be this other fellow, Coons, has more executive experience? The usual logic way we make decisions may not be in play this year. There‘s so much anger.
GAFFNEY: No, it‘s very emotional, Chris.
GAFFNEY: It‘s very emotional. There‘s a lot of anti-establishment, anti-incumbent sentiment. The Tea Party movement is strong. There is a strong sentiment, especially in the southern part of the state. There are only three counties, the two lower counties, much more conservative, much more likely to go to Christine O‘Donnell. The upper country, new Castle, is urban, it‘s the city of Wilmington, much more likely to go toward Mike Castle.
However, will he win enough in New Castle to take the whole state? It‘s a crap shot. All of my political pundit friends are saying the same thing to me. I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s talk about the country. Chris, go back, let‘s pull back and look at the whole country.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Sure.
MATTHEWS: People watching now from California want to know this. It‘s possible with Boxer in play, with Patty Murray in play, with Harry Reid in play, with Russ Feingold in play—
MATTHEWS: -- that Democrats could lose the Senate. It‘s very possible on a bad night, a waif night. You‘re the expert, right? Delaware matters.
CILLIZZA: Yes. Look, I would say, Delaware, you used the word in the intro, Chris, shoeing. And I thought to myself, that‘s exactly right. That‘s we consider this like I met Chris Coons, I like Chris Coons, I didn‘t think Chris Coons is going to beat Mike Castle.
I agree that Christine O‘Donnell, you never know what‘s going to happen if she wins. But she‘s not a strong a candidate as Mike Castle in the general election. Doesn‘t mean she can‘t win but she‘s not a strong a candidate.
So, if you take Delaware and move into the “we don‘t know category,” now you‘re looking at rather than winning two out of three of Wisconsin, Washington and California, now, you‘re talking about winning all three. Is it possible? Yes. It‘s absolutely possible.
MATTHEWS: Ha! I love it.
CILLIZZA: Polling actually suggests that it could happen, but it seems odd to me. I think Wisconsin—in order I think—Wisconsin, California, Washington, even the most sort of optimistic Republican strategists I talked to say, look, we‘d love to win two out of three, that would make a great night. But two out of three and losing Delaware, that—
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Gaffney, a fellow Irish. I got you on the show. I got to ask you this: Do you think it could be the year where guys like Beau Biden and guys like me were smart enough to make the run?
I‘m looking at this situation. You cannot predict this year. It is a crap shot. And there‘s certainly anti-establishment out there, that they recognize your name and they say, I knew that name three months ago. They don‘t like you.
GAFFNEY: Well, I think Beau Biden—
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that true?
GAFFNEY: It is true. Beau Biden should have gotten in this year. I mean, he probably—
MATTHEWS: Could he have beaten neither of these candidates? Could he have beaten Castle or beaten O‘Donnell?
GAFFNEY: Yes. I think he could have.
GAFFNEY: Not that I would support him, but I think he could. Yes. Beau Biden, absolutely.
CILLIZZA: Chris, can I make one quick point that matters?
CILLIZZA: Alaska, August 24th, what was interesting about that state? A small state by population, where a relatively small number of people—we weren‘t sure exactly who were voting. Delaware, a small state by population, where a relatively few number of people that we aren‘t sure who‘s going to vote.
That‘s why Republican strategists are nervous. Everyone I talk to today and I talk to a lots people, most of them supporting Castle—
MATTHEWS: OK. Great.
CILLIZZA: -- say we think he‘s going to win, but we don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Tell me something I don‘t know, Cillizza. Is Murkowski going to go three-way up in Alaska?
CILLIZZA: No. Absolutely not.
CILLIZZA: Her only option now is write-in in and even if she did, it‘s very, very, very—another very on there—difficult to win a write-in case anyway.
MATTHEWS: OK. Dan Gaffney, what is the first state?
GAFFNEY: The first state? We are the first state.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. Delaware‘s the first state. I‘m just giving you an easy end to end the segment. Thank you.
CILLIZZA: Why do I get that question?
MATTHEWS: Because you‘re on the show too often.
Anyway, thank you, Chris Cillizza. Thank you, Dan Gaffney of Delaware
Up next: Republican Meg Whitman has already spent over $100 million on her campaign for governor and ready to spend a lot more. Now, she‘s trying to use Bill Clinton to bring down her opponent, Jerry Brown. What an ad she‘s put on the air.
Brown and Clinton butted heads when they were both running for president back in 1992. She‘s ripped the scab off that and got them fighting again, I guess. I guess it‘s good politics. It‘s nasty stuff.
Back in a minute with the fight in California. This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Senate Democrat leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, still can‘t shake the Tea Party challenger Sharron Angle. A new Mason-Dixon/”Las Vegas Review-Journal” poll has the race dead heat: Reid 46, Angle, 44, right in the margin of error. And with 50 days to go until the election, the most powerful Democrat in the Senate is still on shaky ground.
HARDBALL back in a minute.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back.
An 18-year-old fight between Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton has been reignited. California‘s Republican candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, fashioned an entire ad on TV out of the Clinton attack on Brown back in 1992 during a primary debate. Here‘s the ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)
NARRATOR: Jerry Brown‘s good old days. But what really happened.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: CNN—not me—CNN says his assertion about his tax record was, quote, “just plain wrong.” Jerry Brown went out there and took credit for the fact that the people of California voted for Proposition 13, which lowered taxes, which he opposed. And now, he‘s taking credit for it. He raised taxes as governor of California. He had a surplus when he took office and a deficit when he left. He doesn‘t tell people the truth.
SUBTITLE: Jerry Brown. Same story. New decade.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, and then Brown, the guy candidate for governor, actually took the war of words to a new level when he assailed the ad by taking a swipe at Clinton and invoking Clinton‘s impeachment ordeal. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Meg Whitman, she stops at nothing. She‘s even got Clinton lying about me. That‘s right. No, did you see that? Where he said I raised taxes. It‘s a lie. So, the “New York Times” said—the “L.A. Times” said that.
But they‘ll say anything and that‘s why we have to have our own truth squad to get the word out. OK? I mean, Clinton‘s a nice guy but who ever said he always told the truth?
BROWN: You remember, right? There‘s the whole story there about did he or didn‘t he? OK, I did—I did not have taxes with this state. So, let‘s be clear about that. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘ll see how that plays out.
Willie Brown is the former mayor of San Francisco, the former speaker of the assembly out there. Margaret Carlson with “Bloomberg.”
Let‘s establish one fact before we get in the rigmarole here. First of all, Brown is right. According to Brooks Jackson, he wrote the report back then. Governor Brown did not raise taxes—the CNN report that Bill Clinton was using back then wasn‘t accurate.
So, let‘s get back now to the facts straight. There‘s no evidence that Brown raised taxes while he‘s governor. But let‘s get back to the statement.
Margaret, you first. Why would Jerry Brown reignite—despite the cleverness of this “Mad Men” ad, this brilliant ad by Meg Whitman, and she got all the money in the world, hired the smartest Don Draper she gets her hands on. The fact is, why would Jerry Brown make a fight now with the most popular Democrat in the country?
MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG: Well, Jerry Brown is one of those candidates who can‘t be handled and he does stick his foot in his mouth. And after Willie Brown, Bill Clinton must be one of the most popular Democrats in California. And nobody thinks back to impeachment. That‘s ancient history.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.
CARLSON: And for Jerry Brown to bring it up, about such a popular Democrat, is—is lunacy, really.
Now, Bill Clinton was never going to come and campaign for Jerry Brown. There were a lot of wounds in that campaign, including Jerry Brown attacking Hillary Clinton. But you don‘t want Bill Clinton against you in a state where he‘s very popular.
MATTHEWS: Well, that may be—I‘m not sure the plan‘s right. But I‘m trying to figure out if he had a plan, Margaret you may be right.
But I would think, Mayor Brown, he would have probably come out there for Barbara Boxer and she‘s in a tough race, and he would have said good things about Brown along the way. I guess this is tricky now.
WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: Well, let‘s be very clear. I think Senator Clinton, as is the case with now-Secretary State Clinton, will probably at some point, be in California. That‘s just the way the political game is played. And I think she will say good things about all of the Democratic candidates.
Even more importantly, I think President Bill Clinton will be in California. And probably more than one time. And he, too, will say good things about Democratic candidates.
Jerry Brown has to be very, very careful. He‘s so bright, so able, and so combative on every occasion when everybody attacks him, he flashes back. And this is one of those occasions where he just made a tactical error. He did not know somebody was there with the television camera—
BROWN: -- watching and hearing exactly what he says.
BROWN: I‘ve been in that position before—
MATTHEWS: I know.
BROWN: -- and I know how awful it is.
MATTHEWS: Margaret, what‘s the matter with politicians in the 21st century, they can‘t remember that they‘re in the 21st century?
CARLSON: I know. Right.
MATTHEWS: You are here to represent. You have a guy or a woman in the back, I don‘t care if they‘re 3 years old, they‘ve got a cell phone and it‘s pointed at you, pay attention. I mean, there‘s no secret meetings anymore.
CARLSON: No. There are none. And I mean, macaca moment—
CARLSON: -- went around the world and, you know, Jerry Brown is pretty smart. But, you know, he is one of these spontaneous politicians, because you and I had dinner with him a few years ago. And he hadn‘t lost any of his—I mean, it was reporters‘ dinner—where, you know, he‘s just an original and he can‘t hold back.
And I bet that was his line. It just came out of his mouth. Nobody gave it to him ahead of time. He couldn‘t resist.
MATTHEWS: You know, Mayor Brown, Jerry Brown‘s been at my house on weekends with my kids, my grown-up kids now, and he narrates the morning with them. He gets up in the morning. He says, here we‘re having breakfast together, we‘re making some coffee, we‘re talking about day.
He‘s always sort of giving that running narrative. I mean, I guess that‘s his problem. He was giving us too much of a narrative of what happened 18 years ago.
BROWN: Well, Margaret is correct. Jerry Brown is an original.
She‘s incorrect, though, nobody can supply him with any words. He creates all of his own words. And then finally, you‘re right again. He‘s not in the 21st century because he must know that he is being followed 100 percent of the time.
If Meg Whitman can spend more than $100 million doing all of the things that she can, she can hire 10 people to follow him around with a camera, and some of them will be Democrats, and they will turn in their information every night. So, he‘s just got to watch out for that prospect.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I have no reason to believe that Meg Whitman is as smart as the ad she put on the air. But the guy who made that ad or the woman who made that ad is one freakin‘ genius. That is one piece of work. That rips the scab off. And better yet, it started the fight between the two top Democrats in the country now. It‘s what you do in politics.
You‘re laughing, Mayor, because you know how the game is played. That ad deserves the Cleo for trouble-making.
Anyway, thank you, Willie Brown. It‘s great to have you on.
And as always, Margaret Carlson, my pal. Thank you for coming on.
CARLSON: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: When we return, let me finish tonight with some very positive thoughts and a tough day in the news about sending the right message against the lunatic fringe. Thanks to Governor Ed Rendell and what he did this weekend. It was so admirable.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with something good that came of this book-burning craziness in the now-related issue of the New York Islamic center.
This Saturday, I stood facing Philadelphia‘s Independence Hall as a group of Islamic, Jewish and Christian leaders prayed from the religious text in a spirit of interreligious tolerance.
Governor Ed Rendell, who hosted the event, spoke of the great irony that circles around the New York Islamic center to be built two blocks from the World Trade Center. He said that the people of the World Trade Towers themselves had set aside a stair well between the 106th/107th floor for the Muslim workers who worked there to say their daily prayers. He said that space was made available because people working high in the towers would otherwise would have had to gone down 100 floors and walked four blocks to the nearest mosque.
Rendell said it was ironic that he would be so comfortable leading what was essentially a demonstration of interfaith respect for all of their holy texts of the three great religions, emphatically, including the Koran. As he pointed out, the governor of Pennsylvania himself happens to be Jewish.
The people who spoke in front of Independence Hall where—they must have known a small counterpart of the vast global publicity stunt earned by the pastor threatened to burn the Koran. But they were there anyway, proud to remind themselves, if only those who heard about it, that this country was founded on religious freedom, that every person who came to this country freely came here for more freedom, to think and worship freely.
Newt Gingrich said something awful this week, and he said that the president of the United States represents Kenyan anti-colonial thinking. There is one purpose of that statement, to de-Americanize Barack Obama. It plays into the thinking of those who say that the president is not an American.
Weirdly, Gingrich goes further. He declares Barack Obama to be some zombie walking around as the guidance of his African father.
Who better honors the values-country, those who stood at Independence Hall this weekend or the former speaker who takes upon himself the role of Ellis Island gatekeeper, decreeing who is an American really depending on the dictates of the next election?
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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