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updated 10/7/2010 10:36:10 AM ET 2010-10-07T14:36:10

Guest: Arianna Huffington, Joy-Ann Reid, Albert Snyder, Steve Six

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Hillary for president, but how?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Who‘s pushing this Hillary for vice president story?  Nobody says the president‘s talked about it.  Nobody said the people close to the president‘s decision-making have, either.  So who‘s launched this trial balloon?

Second, who is Charlie Crist to ask a Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meek, to get out of the way for him?  That‘s unless Charlie‘s ready to declare himself a pro-Democratic vote in organizing the Senate.  Could this decide who controls the Senate?

Plus, just how conservative has the Republican Party become, so conservative even Ronald Reagan might be unacceptable to the current crop of right-wingers here in Washington?  We‘ll look at a proposed Republican litmus test and what it says about where the party‘s headed these days.

Also, should gay-bashing activists be allowed to disrupt the funerals of American service people?  We‘ll talk to the father of a fallen soldier who had to put up a with hateful protests and then took the case to the Supreme Court.

And wait until you see the rocket Todd Palin fired off to Alaska Republican Joe Miller after Miller wouldn‘t say whether Sarah Palin is qualified to be president.  We‘ll read it all to you in all its glory in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

Let‘s start with this trial balloon that Hillary Clinton could replace Joe Biden as vice president.  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell has been working this story.  And Andrea—and Arianna Huffington is the co-founder and editor of The Huffington Post.  Her new book is called “Third World America,” and I was at the book party last night.

So let‘s start and see if there‘s a reality to this.  Let‘s see how it started.  Why are we talking about this, Andrea Mitchell?  Vice president?  I think everybody knows that Hillary Clinton has wanted to be president, may well want to be president, but why would she want this route?  Why would she think she will be given this route?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I don‘t know that she thinks that she would be given this because I have not heard this from anybody in the Obama inner circle.  But clearly, there are people around Hillary, if not the secretary of state herself, who would like to see a political role for her in the future, who feel that maybe she‘s completed the tasks that are easily achievable as secretary of state, and are looking to see if this is something that she could do down the road.

So I asked a question—after talking to some people, people who are close to Hillary, I asked the question of Bob Woodward, knowing that he had spend so much time inside the Obama White House, and he gave an interesting open-ended response.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look.  Here‘s Andrea talking to Bob Woodward about this yesterday.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, “OBAMA‘S WARS”:  Obama seeks reelection.  His people expect him to.  He could be in trouble, like he is now, and need the support of the groups that Hillary Clinton did very well within the primary elections, bring her on the ticket and make Biden secretary of state.  They would all go out there and be delighted and happy, and it might help Obama politically.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  And then Bob Woodward said this on CNN last night when asked if this topic had come up in all of his political conversations for his book.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODWARD:  It‘s on the table, and some of Hillary Clinton‘s advisers see it as a real possibility in 2012.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Arianna Huffington.  Have you anything hard on this, Arianna, in The Huffington Post?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Well, Sam Stein, our White House correspondent, has been asking Jay Carney at Joe Biden‘s office, has been asking his sources at the White House, and they all kind of guardedly deny it.  His conclusion is that this was actually a creation of Bob Woodward, that there is no real reporting to back it up.  In fact, if you listen carefully to what Bob Woodward told Andrea, at no point does he claim there was any reporting done.  It‘s pure speculation.

And then to John King, he says there were some Hillary Clinton advisers.  This is, like, as vague a source as you can get.  The lowest kind of source on the Washington totem pole is an adviser.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUFFINGTON:  It could be her hairdresser.  And some, not even a number.  Two, three?  How many is “some”?  So that is really the kind of Washington rumor that has no backing.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, interesting thing about journalism, Arianna, and of course, Andrea, this tradecraft of ours—

HUFFINGTON:  I don‘t know—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s called journalism, and it‘s the way you get a story going and really is an interesting way (INAUDIBLE)  Let‘s imagine this.  I will just try to use my political sensors here and my knowledge.  It seems to me that something like this could develop for a very important reason, this story—a very important reason.  If you‘re close to Hillary Clinton, not necessarily her but close to her, you may be very fearful that at some point in the next couple of weeks, there will be a proposal on the table—not this illusory table that was talked about a minute ago, but “the” table at the White House—to promote her to secretary of defense.

There may be fears within the Clinton crowd if you put her on that shelf, A, she‘s responsible for an unpopular war, and B, it takes her off all this publicity about maybe being vice president.  So they want to push back on that.  And so when they heard talk of her being secretary of defense, they pushed back and said, What about this other job, vice president?  That‘s my speculation.  It‘s not totally without support.

MITCHELL:  Well, first of all, there‘s a second reason not to want to be secretary of defense because whoever replaces Robert Gates, if he does leave, as he has said he wants to, is going to be responsible for inflicting the worst budget cuts on the Pentagon budget.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  Terribly unpopular politically and unpopular with the military.  So that‘s—

MATTHEWS:  So is there a pushback going on from the Hillary camp—

MITCHELL:  There‘s definitely a pushback on that.

MATTHEWS:  -- not to be secretary of defense.

MITCHELL:  In fact, you know, without revealing too much tradecraft, I was asking the questions about secretary of defense, and what I got back in turn was, That‘s not real, but down the road, vice president could be real.  With my good friend, Arianna, I should say that my sources do not include hairdressers.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Arianna, let‘s take a look at more Hillary before we get back to Arianna.  You never know who talks, though.  Here‘s Hillary today, the secretary of state today, on this story.  Here‘s a real pushback.  Let‘s watch this one.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the vice president is doing a wonderful job.  He is a great friend of mine.  We work together closely.  He‘s an expert on foreign policy, chaired the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate for years, and we have a great relationship.  And I have absolutely no interest and no reason for doing anything other than just dismissing these stories and moving on because there‘s just no—we have no time.  We have so much to do.  And I think to both of us are very happy doing what we‘re doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did you want to say something, Andrea?  Because you‘re on top of this story.  You really are.

MITCHELL:  Well, I was just very much struck in watching that as it happened that if Hillary Clinton wanted to shut this down, why did she lead up by praising the vice president‘s superb foreign policy credentials?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- good point, Arianna, which is exactly what‘s on the table here—on the table, as Woodward would put it.  Wherever this table is, I‘m not sure.  Maybe it‘s in Woodward‘s living room.  But the fact is, this table certainly we‘ve talked about this.  Now, here‘s what I want to throw at you, and this is your specialty, Arianna, political buzz and information generally making the rounds.

Clearly, the reason for all this talk is Obama is in the pits right now politically, and there‘s a sense that this election next time around in 2012, should he run again, will be fought above the Mason-Dixon line, where Hillary Clinton could help him, in Ohio, and with the exception of going down to Florida, where she could help him.  Generally, it‘s going to be a Democratic coalition that he needs to put together again, including Hillary.  And he would bolster it, perhaps, with her on the ticket.  Isn‘t that why we keep hearing this?  She‘ll help him in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, states where he might have a little bit of problem with white working class voters.

MITCHELL:  West Virginia.

MATTHEWS:  And West Virginia.

HUFFINGTON:  Well, absolutely.  But you know what, Chris?  In the end, if the unemployment continues to hover around double digits, I don‘t know if anybody can really help the president.  Also, don‘t you forget that going back to the summer of 2004, we‘re hearing rampant speculation about who was going to replace Dick Cheney on the Bush-Cheney ticket.  Remember, Giuliani was one of the favorites.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUFFINGTON:  And it was the same kind of speculation, like, He needs somebody to help him, his numbers are down, the same kind of thing.  So we have that speculation going on every time a president is in trouble.  But in fact, it never happened, I mean, except—unless you go back to 1944 and Henry Wallace.  You know, it didn‘t happen since 1944, except, you know, when Rockefeller was replaced by Dole, but that was because—

MATTHEWS:  And that did a lot of good.

HUFFINGTON:  And that did a lot of good.  And also-

MATTHEWS:  That‘s like throwing—it‘s like throwing furniture and suitcases off an airplane.  It was clearly a sign of weakness by Jerry Ford.  And guess what?  He showed he was weak and also he was treacherous enough to dump a guy who had joined his ticket.  I‘m just—everybody forgets this.  Everybody‘s transactional these days and they say that these relationships don‘t matter anymore.  But the relationship between the president and the vice president right now is not to be played with.  Every time we talk about this, we‘re impugning the advantages of Joe Biden.

MITCHELL:  I‘m not—

MATTHEWS:  And I got to believe he‘s not going to like it and I got to believe the president doesn‘t want to hurt him.

MITCHELL:  Well, I‘m certainly not one to impugn Joe Biden, who‘s been the most effective person, perhaps barring Bill Clinton, out on the campaign trail.  He is going to be the campaigner-in-chief, is so.  You‘ve got the president tied up with a lot of foreign policy challenges.  Joe Biden has been out there campaigning in all of the places where Barack Obama can‘t go.  That‘s not to say that Joe Biden isn‘t a great partner, it‘s just to say that this is out there in the ether and—

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me just say something based—first I want to give some more reporting.  Here‘s David Axelrod, the president‘s probably closest adviser in the White House now.  “There‘s absolutely nothing to it.  The president‘s blessed to have a spectacular vice president and outstanding secretary of state.  They‘re both doing great work, and he wants to keep them on the job.”

Here‘s something I think we have to disassemble here, separate.  And you can get in on it, Arianna, second.  First of all, you, Andrea.  I think Hillary Clinton would be superbly—given her age and everything else—could quite well run for president in 2016, quite well run, no matter what happens to Barack Obama.  Win or lose next time, she‘s still (INAUDIBLE) in fact, she‘s in the queue right behind him to run for president next time.  She runs.

But not—it doesn‘t help her to be carrying the saddlebags of the vice presidency.  This idea that the vice presidency is a big leg up to the president—since when?  It worked for one guy in this century, George W.  Bush—George Bush‘s father, rather.  Generally, it‘s very hard to get a 12th year in if you‘re a Democrat or a Republican administration.  After two terms, the public generally wants to switch it out.  The only chance you have is running independently from somewhere else and being a different kind of Democrat.  You can‘t do that if you‘re on the ticket.

MITCHELL:  It is very hard for—it would be very hard for Hillary Clinton in a second Obama term to run against a Barack Obama legacy.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  She certainly can‘t challenge—

MATTHEWS:  So she ends up being an appendage.

MITCHELL:  So being a vice president is—a certain status, the first woman vice president—

MATTHEWS:  I think a lot of her former staff people probably—

Arianna, here‘s one last question, right in the buzz zone, right in Huffington, right where you‘re at.  Is there buzz from former Hillary people who may want her to be VP more than she does?  Just asking.

HUFFINGTON:  Yes, there is buzz, not so much about VP, but there is buzz about, See?  We told you so.  She would have been better than Obama.  And there is even buzz about—

MATTHEWS:  Of course.

HUFFINGTON:  And there is even buzz about—

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s not news.

HUFFINGTON:  No, no, no.  But there is buzz even among people who chose Obama over Hillary and are now having a little bit of a buyer‘s remorse.  But in the end, if Obama was the kind of person who would make decisions based on what would improve his chances, based on buzz, he would do it.

But this is not who he is.  He is not John McCain picking Sarah Palin because it would bring some buzz or because it would improve his chances in some nebulous way.  That‘s not how Obama makes decisions.  And on the one issue which is likely to become more of an albatross around the president‘s neck, Afghanistan, Joe Biden is much more where the public is, a majority against the war, than where Hillary Clinton is.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s been proven again in the Woodward book.  Joe Biden is with the Democratic left.  Hillary Clinton‘s in the center, if not on the right, on that war, right?

(CROSSTALK)

HUFFINGTON:  I wouldn‘t say the Democratic left.  I would say where the public is.  This is way beyond left and right.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HUFFINGTON:  You have major people on the conservative side against the war.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.  There‘s a lot of business guys on the far right are not interested in this war.  Right.  You‘re correct.

MITCHELL:  And traveling with Bill Clinton, did you think that Hillary Clinton‘s political ambitions—

MATTHEWS:  I have never thought her ambitions to be president or any reason to assume they‘ve gone away.  I think somebody once said the only way to get rid of it is through—what do you call that thing when you‘re about to be buried?

HUFFINGTON:  Lobotomy!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, not—the thing they do when they take your blood out.  You don‘t ever lose—you know that Joe McCarthy—Gene McCarthy once said, my hero?  He said it‘s a lot easier to run for president than to stop.

Anyway, thank you, Andrea Mitchell.  Thank you, Arianna Huffington. 

By the way, a lot of us would like to be president.

Coming up: There‘s talk in Florida that Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek may be asked to bail out of the race, uniting the center-left behind Charlie Crist in his fight against Marco Rubio.  What a fascinating race in that growing state don there.  The latest in that bit of intrigue and how it might affect control of the Senate next year.

Plus, some brand-new Senate polls in the HARDBALL “Scoreboard” tonight.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here are a couple of numbers to give Democrats the willies.  A new Associated Press poll shows Democratic candidates for Congress are losing white voters without college degrees by a whopping 22 points.  That‘s double the margin the Democrats lost to working class whites in the congressional elections two years ago.  It‘s a huge gap that Democrats need to turn around quickly, especially when you consider working class whites make up 4 out of 10 voters in this country.

And more bad news for the Dems.  One core constituency that‘s been trending solidly Democrat may stay on the sidelines this year.  I don‘t believe this number.  It‘s incredible.  The latest Pew poll found that only 51 percent of Latino registered voters say they‘ll go to the polls next month, that they‘re going to vote, less than—just about half.  That‘s compared to 70 percent of all registered voters who say they‘re going to vote this year.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s check the latest polls in the HARDBALL “Scoreboard.”  We start with Nevada, where Republican Sharron Angle has a razor-thin edge right now over Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, 42-40.  In Connecticut, Democrat Dick Blumenthal is widening his lead over Republican Linda McMahon.  He‘s up 13.  In Missouri, it‘s Republican Roy Blunt up 13 over Robin Carnahan.  That‘s pretty bad for the Democrats.  That‘s a wide lead.

In New York, Kirsten Gillibrand is up 14 points over her relatively—in fact, completely unknown opponent, Dioguardi.  In Delaware, Democrat Chris Coons—there‘s a guy who‘s gotten a break this year—has a commanding lead over Republican Christine O‘Donnell.  Coons is up 49 to 30, and his lead gets bigger when you include leaners.  Finally, in Ohio, Republican Rob Portman leads Democrat Lee Fisher by 19 points.

We‘re going to continue to check the HARDBALL “Scoreboard” in all the big races every night here on HARDBALL leading up to election day.

Well, Republicans need to pick up 10 seats to take control of the United States Senate and they need to hold Florida, keep it Republican, to get there.  That fight heats up tonight with another big debate down there in Florida.  The latest average by Pollster.com shows both Marco Rubio, the Republican, and Kendrick Meek, the Democrat, trending up since Labor Day, while the man in the middle, Charlie Crist, the governor, is trending down slightly.  But what would happen if Charlie Crist were to take on Marco Rubio one on one?

Chuck Todd is NBC News political director and chief White House correspondent, and also Joy-Ann Reid is contributor for TheGrio.com and a columnist for “The Miami Herald.”

I‘ve got to go to Joy-Ann.  What do you know about a possible pullout by the Democrat, Kendrick Meek, to allow Charlie Crist to take on Rubio one on one and probably have more votes than Rubio to start with?

JOY-ANN REID, REIDREPORT.COM:  Well, there‘s not any talk within the Meek campaign.  Now, they‘re very dug in on this race.  What‘s happening now is that you have some on the donor level, Crist donors going to Meek donors, and saying, Listen, you know, your guy‘s in third place, our guy is in second place.  Let‘s make it a race.  Rubio is still under 50.  But the Meek campaign is quite dug in.  And as a matter of fact, a couple of—for the last couple of weeks, they‘ve been arguing that Crist can‘t win.  But the problem is, is that they‘re arguing that from third place.  So that‘s really causing a lot of anxiety—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

REID:  -- especially among Democrats, who don‘t see any other path to beat Marco Rubio besides Democrats consolidating behind one or the other, Crist or Meek.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me just—before we go to Chuck, let‘s show Joy‘s latest—your latest piece for TheGrio.  “Meek himself may have drawn the template black Crist supporters could use to justify abandoning his candidacy.”

Let‘s take a look right now. 

Chuck, what do you think of this?  This is a strange race.  Most people, if you looked at the numbers, say Charlie Crist could potentially win this race as a moderate to centrist politician. 

TODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And perhaps—but doesn‘t he—if he wants the Democrats to sort of get behind him unofficially or officially, doesn‘t he have to say, I‘m going to vote with the Democrats in Washington? 

TODD:  Well, I think that if somehow he was able to talk Meek into dropping out, that would—you would assume that would come at the price. 

But my reporting is very similar to this.  It is Crist donors and Crist supporters who are going to people close to Meek and saying—you know, trying to sound it out, like, what would it take?  Is he at all open to this? 

And the fact is, the folks very close to Meek say he wouldn‘t be.  You would have to take a lot of convincing.  And they would want to see the evidence of saying, OK, Crist vs. Rubio in a one-on-one or Meek vs. Rubio in a one-on-one.  And so they are going to have to make a really hard sell to Meek to do that.

And here‘s one other wrench into this whole plan that, you know, perhaps Crist folks or maybe even national Democrats see as a potential way to basically find a way to take one Republican seat away on the Senate level.  And is that the governor‘s race.  

Look, there are a lot of Florida Democrats who care a lot more about winning that governor‘s race than they do this Senate race.  And what does Alex Sink want?  She want Kendrick Meek in the race, believe they any voter for Meek or Crist, both of them together—

MATTHEWS:  Gotcha.

TODD:  -- and an energized Kendrick Meek campaign, brings on African-Americans to a higher level and helps Alex Sink, who is in a very tough race with Rick Scott. 

REID:  Right. 

And, then, Chris, if I just could say, on the flip side of that—

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

REID:  -- for national Democrats, this is a really difficult situation. 

Kendrick Meek is the only statewide African-American candidate running nationwide. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

REID:  There is no desire on the part of national Democrats to get in between him and this race. 

Any appearance of pressure for him to get out would really redound negatively to the Democratic Party.  You have people like Alcee Hastings, Congressman Hastings, other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who are actually pushing for more national support, pushing the president, saying they want to see more visible support. 

TODD:  Right. 

REID:  And part of the Alex Sink gubernatorial strategy is to have Meek help bring out the black vote. 

Now, the issue is, right now, he is underperforming Barack Obama in terms of the black vote, so he needs more energy there.  But that was the plan going forward. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take at a look at the fight for the ads.  Take a look at the ads.  They give you a sense of how this is going.  These are clips from an American Crossroads and—ad hitting Crist.  That‘s of course the Karl Rove crowd.  And then the Crist ad hitting Rubio and a Meek ad hitting Crist.  It is a three-way.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

NARRATOR:  The choice is clear.  Marco Rubio stood up for taxpayers by say no to the failed Obama stimulus.  Charlie Crist embraced it.  Marco Rubio opposed Obamacare with its $500 billion Medicare cuts.  Charlie Crist has flip-flopped. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

NARRATOR:  Work longer, get by on less, that‘s the Marco Rubio retirement plan.  Rubio wants to raise the Social Security retirement age.  That means you will work harder and longer for your money.  And Rubio wants to cut benefits.  Well, it is already tough enough to make ends meet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA:  I‘m about as conservative as you can get.  And I‘m a Jeb Bush Republican.  President Bush, he is a leader of courage and conviction.  I was impressed at Governor Palin being picked.  I watched her speech today.  I was very impressed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Joy, isn‘t it a little dangerous for Charlie Crist to call himself a Jeb Bush Republican, when Jeb Bush doesn‘t like him? 

REID:  Yes.  I mean, that was back when he was, you know, a potential vice presidential contender with John McCain.  I mean, he is—really, it is interesting, because—

MATTHEWS:  I mean, Jeb might tut-tut that commercial at some point and say, excuse me. 

(CROSSTALK)

REID:  Right.  Jeb is attacking him now because Crist is attacking Rubio on Social Security. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I got it.

Let me ask you, how can that Republican candidate—I just want to go

is the Republican Party of Florida, is Florida that right-wing that they would actually elect that guy governor on the right-wing side? 

REID:  That is something that has astounded me from the beginning.  Florida is a net moderate state.  Charlie Crist really sort of fits the vibe of the state.  It‘s kind of a live-and-let-live state. 

Rick Scott is taking advantage of the tide.  He is taking advantage of the climate.  But even if you look at what he did in the primary, he got about half-a-million votes.  He got less than Alex Sink got.  She got about 600,000 votes, and she really didn‘t have a competitive primary.

So, there are a lot of Republicans that are really holding their nose on this Rick Scott thing, 75 times taking the Fifth, including on the question, are you the CEO of Columbia/HCA in that Medicare fraud case.  It is really ugly.

But a lot of Republicans just want the governorship, because, look, redistricting is coming up.  There are important reasons they want that seat, so they are holding their noses and they‘re going with Scott. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy, it‘s amazing what you can do when you hold your nose. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd. 

Thank you. 

Chuck, do you have a thought on that race?  Do you think that guy can win, the Republican guy, with all this nose-holding? 

TODD:  He is on the air with 4,000 points of TV ads a week right now.  That is four times what is normally considered a legitimate statewide TV buy. 

He is outspending her three and four to one.  And so you sit there and you‘re—it‘s almost—you‘ve got to remember with Florida, they have short memories because there are so many new residents in the state all the time.  And, so, all of this old stuff with Rick Scott, it‘s going to take a big education campaign. 

Now, Alex Sink is up with a pretty tough—I think it is going to be a pretty effective ad talking about this issue with Rick Scott, but I will tell you, she has got a huge financial problem. 

MATTHEWS:  I hope the voters get their smell-o-meters out. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great to meet you, Joy-Ann Reid. 

REID:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  We will have you back, of course. 

Up next:  Todd Palin fires back at Joe Miller.  It‘s a great intramural fight, a little snow fight going on up in Alaska.  The Republican candidate for Senate up there couldn‘t quite bring himself to endorse Sarah Palin as mentally or physically, or whatever, emotionally qualified to be president.  Her husband took offense—no surprise there.  Let‘s catch up on that little spat. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.” 

First: tempest in a Tea Party?  Remember this refusal to answer out of Joe Miller last month? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  Do you think that Sarah Palin is qualified to be president and would you like to see her run? 

JOE MILLER ®, ALASKA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  You know, I‘m running a U.S. Senate race right now in the state of Alaska.  That is what I‘m focused on.  I‘m—I have been asked about various candidates throughout the country during this race.  That‘s not my role, to comment on those candidacies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Blah, blah, blah. 

Anyway, the Palins, who, after all, made Joe Miller, were none too pleased with that nonanswer. 

The Alaska blog Mudflats posted an e-mail reaction from Todd Palin himself.  It was sent last month to the treasurer of SarahPAC, to Palin‘s attorney, and to Joe Miller himself. 

Here it is—quote—“Sarah put her ‘blank‘ on the line for Joe, and yet he can‘t answer a simple question:  Is Sarah Palin qualified to be president?  I don‘t know if she is.  Joe, please explain how this endorsement stuff works.  Is it to be completely one-sided?  Sarah spent all morning working on a Facebook post for Joe.  She won‘t use it, not now.  Put yourself in her shoes, Joe, for one day.”

Well, that is a rare look at how the Palins play politics, and I think further real confirmation that Sarah Palin is at least considering seriously making a run for president.  She is touchy about this stuff. 

Next: Steele trapped.  At least four Republican candidates have come out and questioned the minimum wage.  The bigger problem, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, doesn‘t even know what the minimum wage is.  Here he is with Lawrence O‘Donnell last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  What is the minimum wage, Michael? 

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  You really like the minimum wage, don‘t you? 

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  I want to talk about a lot more things besides one issue, Lawrence. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  Whether the minimum wage is $7, $10 or whatever it happens to be in whatever part of the country you live in, the fact is, if you don‘t have a job, that number is irrelevant, until you get one. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, the minimum wage is not $7 or $10, but let‘s move on to jobs.  You have said, Michael—

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE:  All right, that will be your headline.  That will be your headline, Lawrence.  Steele doesn‘t know the minimum wage. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s certainly ours tonight, and it‘s definitely the last headline that Republicans need going into November, that their chairman don‘t know.

By the way, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  And, all truthfulness, I looked it up. 

This last item for those of you who believe in metaphors.  The presidential seal fell off the lectern during the president‘s last night at the “Fortune” Most Powerful Women Summit. 

Watch what happened. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Especially in fields like science and technology and engineering and math. 

We cannot sustain—whoops.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  Was that my—

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  Oh, goodness.  That‘s all right. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  But I‘m sure there‘s somebody back there that‘s really nervous right now. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  Don‘t you think? 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  They‘re sweating bullets back there right now.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, who is in charge of the crazy glue?  Anyway, you saw it there, the president working without a teleprompter.  He should do it more often. 

Now to tonight‘s “Big Number.”

When it comes to passing legislation, both houses of Congress are separate, but not equal.  Since this Congress was sworn in, how many bills passed the House of Representatives, but got stalled up in the Senate?  Just guess.  You will never get it right -- 420 bills died in the Senate, testament to the power of the filibuster -- 420 bills held up in the Senate of this Congress that already passed the House, tonight‘s big, bad number. 

Up next:  This year, Republican bounced—the Republican Party

bounced Lisa Murkowski up in Alaska and Bob Bennett in Utah for not being -

can‘t believe it—conservative enough.  But, by that standard, some of the giants of the modern Republican Party would fall the conservative—they would fail the conservative litmus test. 

That‘s ahead.  Let‘s talk about, how right do you have to be to be right in the Republican Party? 

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks ending mixed, with the Nasdaq under particular pressure today, the Dow Jones climbing nearly 23 points. The S&P 500 was down just a fraction, and the Nasdaq skidding 19 points.

Investors taking a drop in private sector hiring pretty much in stride, waiting to see if another round of quantitative easing, whether the Fed is going to be buying up more bonds, whether that is going to be on deck.  But the tech sector was under heavy pressure today, investors growing concerned about overcrowding in what‘s called the cloud computing states. 

Chipmakers feeling the heat of a double downgrade from analysts in that sector.  And software-maker Citrix plunging to the bottom of the Nasdaq 100 after a strong run-up starting back in early July. 

Meantime, Verizon and Apple slightly higher on a report that they are teaming up on a new iPhone due out on the Verizon systems in early 2011.  A lot of folks have been waiting for that. 

And General Electric surging more than 2 percent on word that it is buying energy equipment-maker Dresser, Inc., for $3 billion. 

GE is the parent company of CNBC and MSNBC.

That is it from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  We are back. 

After Tea Party voters ousted—I love that word—longtime Republican senators like Utah‘s Bob Bennett and Alaska‘s Lisa Murkowski, “Washington Post” columnist Dana Milbank crunched some numbers to see how their conservative credentials stack up against Republican leaders of the past.

Well, it turns out, based on their actual voting records, the American Conservative Union gave Murkowski a 70 percent rating and Bennett an 84 percent.  But look at their company.  Bob Dole‘s lifetime rating was about 82, same for Howard Baker.  What about Jerry Ford, who became the president?  Sixty-seven percent. 

So, does the Republican Party have a long-term problem if they keep narrowing the gauge of what‘s acceptable as a conservative in the short term? 

“TIME” magazine‘s Mark Halperin, who is a genius, who knows everything about politics, and syndicated radio host Michael Smerconish, who knows the burbs cold.

Michael, you have been on this since I have known you, which is a long time, that the Republican Party, to be a national party, to be really a governing party, if that‘s what they want, have got to widen their track a bit to include people center-right, not just right. 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, they are not—they are not listening to me.

And the way that I—I try and lay it out now is that, in Orson Welles‘ terms, there is a planet GOP that is right now the subject of a battle, planet GOP. 

And you‘ve got the RINOs, Republicans in name only, and they are on the run from the IPOs, who are electable in primary only.  So, Christine O‘Donnell is my IPO in chief, because I don‘t think she can ever win a general election in Delaware.  And I will put Governor Palin into the mix.  I think she is eminently able to be nominated by the Republican Party, but could never win a general election for the presidency. 

But, Chris, the people who are the IPOs, they like it this way.  They are just happy to be rid of the RINOs.  And pragmatism is a dirty word. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, I know about the left better than the right, and there‘s just as much crap like that on the left.  It was called NDC, November doesn‘t count, which is exactly like these IPOs. 

As long as you win the primary, we don‘t care who wins the general, because we want to control the left. 

MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, “TIME”:  How can you do that IPO and RINO thing without Claymation?  It seems to me—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But what do you think about—is it true that people in Delaware, for example, are happy they knocked off Mike Castle and are stuck with Christine O‘Donnell? 

HALPERIN:  There are some people, but this is—the Republicans are going to be able to finesse this through November, because there is agreement about beating Obama, about getting control of Congress back. 

I think everybody is focused on, how is the president going to react

to the midterms?  I think the Republican Party is in just as much danger,

maybe more, because this is a problem they have to solve.  And I don‘t see

--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What happens when these eight guys win?  Here are the eight Tea Party Senate nominees.  And I think a lot of these people could win. 

Joe Miller could certainly win a general if he gets there he can be.  Sharron Angle is a point ahead we saw tonight.  Ken Buck is pretty well-positioned ahead of Michael Bennet out in Colorado.  Mike Lee is going to win in Utah.

Rand Paul is ahead out there in Kentucky.  John Raese is winning right now in West Virginia.  Marco Rubio is winning in Florida.  Christine O‘Donnell is losing badly right now, but that‘s a pretty good track record among the right-wing there.

HALPERIN:  They have a good chance to come to Washington.  The question is: what do they want to do?  Do they want to get things done, solve the nation‘s problems?  Or do they want to keep the Republican Party being a minority party and out of the White House?

It‘s going to be up to Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and the 2012 presidential candidates to say that that group and Republicans at large, OK, we did a good job, we put down some markers, now, how do we grow the party, move them more towards the center without sacrificing our principles?  It can be done but it takes a kind of the leadership that no Republican has.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s the question, Michael.  If the purpose of the Republican Party, they win seven of those eight right-wingers win, those Tea Party people, they‘re not all right winger, but people of the right.  These people come in and all they want to do is reduce the deficit.  That is a popular idea.  All they want to do is cut taxes—that‘s a popular idea.

How does that hurt the Republican Party, to be blunt?

SMERCONISH:  They can‘t get it done on their own, because I think conventional wisdom is: they‘ll control the house.  They‘re not going to control the Senate.  They‘re certainly not going to control the presidency.

The folks at the Pew Research outfit just two weeks ago polled on the question of whether compromise is a virtue.

MATTHEWS:  I saw that.

SMERCONISH:  And by a two to one margin—two to one margin, Chris, Republicans said absolutely not, we‘d rather have elected officials who stand their ground.  So, those that you‘ve identified are now going to go down to Washington and be responsive to individuals who don‘t want them to given an inch.

What are we headed for?  I think we‘re headed for gridlock from 2010 through 2012.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  People want gridlock according to that poll.  The poll you mentioned says people want gridlock.

SMERCONISH:  That‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the problem for the Democrats.  Suppose the House gets Republican, everybody telling me now it‘s going to go Republican.  If that happens, they pass bills like this, continue to tax cut for everybody, including the top two 2 percent.  Goes to the Senate, it gets slowed down there, nothing happens.  They go to conferences somewhere in the middle.  The president signs it.

How does that hurt the Republican Party?  They have moved the whole country a bit to the right on taxes?

HALPERIN:  On taxes, I don‘t think it will hurt them.  But I think on deficit reduction, for instance, it may well hurt them as well—

MATTHEWS:  Well, they come in with a budget that has a lower deficit that the Senate.  They go to the Senate, they compromise, the president agrees to it.  But they have moved the country to the right.

HALPERIN:  Well, because deficit or meaningful deficit reduction doesn‘t involve cutting discretionary programs.  They‘re going to have to say some serious things about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m for looking at that in the long run.

HALPERIN:  And I think the president is going to be for it, too.  And he‘s going to make—

MATTHEWS:  Look at it in the long run, maybe not the short run, but you got to look at it in the long run.

Is this, Mike—let‘s talk about Turkey.  It seems to me that all this is basically a game of chicken.  At some point, it‘s going to happen.  The question put to Joe Miller up in Alaska the other day was by Chris Wallace: is Sarah Palin qualified to be president?

At some point, out in the public light, with everybody listening, Mitt Romney is going to have to answer that question.  Huckabee has got to answer that question.  Mitch Daniels has got to answer that question.  All these—Chris Christie in New Jersey has got to answer that question.  Tom Corbin, Pennsylvania—they all have to answer that question, no matter how many jobs they got and how many office these won, they have to answer the question: is Sarah Palin presidential material?

And when they whimper out or say, you got to be kidding me under their breath, they lose the Tea Party crowd.  Is that when the civil war in the Republican Party occurs, Michael?

SMERCONISH:  Yes.  And I think it‘s—yes, and I think it‘s already underway and I sense no compromise from those who are on the right who call me every day, e-mail me every day, the sort of folks who—you saw at that Mike Castle town hall meeting, the woman who shouted out, “I want my country back.”

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  That mentality is not going to allow any compromise whatsoever.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thanks, guys.  Thanks, Mark.

HALPERIN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks for coming in.  Thank you, Michael, my buddy up in Philly.

SMERCONISH:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next—go Phillies, of course.

Up next: the Supreme Court heard arguments today in the case of the fringe church group that protests disgustingly at funerals of American service people.  The group says military deaths are God‘s judgment—punishment, rather, for country for tolerating gay rights.  We are going to talk to the father of a fallen soldier who endured these disgusting protests at his son‘s funeral.

This is not a hard one to take sides on, as my hero Churchill said, it‘s not hard to decide between the fire brigade and the fire.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I love this story.

Meg Whitman‘s former housekeeper is hitting back, saying Jerry Brown‘s campaign had nothing to do with her saying that Whitman knowingly employed her despite her being in the country illegally.  Nicky Diaz says she spoke out because she wanted people to know who Meg Whitman really is.

Whitman has repeatedly said Brown‘s campaign is somehow behind the Diaz‘s charge but has yet to prove any evidence to back that up.

And now, another one of Whitman‘s former nannies is defending Diaz, saying Whitman treated household staff as though they were disposable.

Don‘t bet against Allred.  This episode may be taking a toll against Whitman.  Despite spending well over 100 million bucks of her own money, she‘s fallen behind in the polls.  People like this personal information.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Snyder versus Phelps, a case that will test the limits of First Amendment rights.

At issue: does an anti-gay church group have the right to protest at funerals of slain military men and women?  Marine Lance Corporal Michael Snyder—Matthew Snyder was killed while serving his country in Iraq.  At the burial ceremony at the church, protesters held signs like these, they are despicable.

The group says the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is God‘s punishment for America‘s tolerance of homosexuality.

Matthew‘s father, Albert Snyder, took the protestors to court.  He won.  Then a federal appeals court dismissed the case on First Amendment grounds.

Today, the Supreme Court heard it.

Steve Six is the Kansas attorney general.

Mr. Snyder, thank you for joining us.

ALBERT SNYDER, SUING WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  What is your case based as an American about the case that you‘ve made that nobody should be allowed to go to the funeral of serviceman and just use it this way and abuse it?

SNYDER:  Basically, that‘s what it is, Chris.  I feel like in many military families that are along with me feel like this is a great abuse of free speech.  Nobody has the right to target an individual person for their benefit.  And that‘s basically what they do.  They target funerals so they can get the publicity for it.

MATTHEWS:  Steve, they just pick out anybody at random basically and they say, this person, we‘ll blame him and use his funeral to go after some tolerance of gay rights somewhere.  They did as a generalized assault.  But they pick out one (AUDIO BREAK).

STEVE SIX, KANSAS ATTORNEY GENERAL:  They pick out the ones that they‘re going to get the most reaction.  They were working with gays and lesbians.  They went to Matthew Shepard in Wyoming.  That started to lose its speed and then they targeted -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, they get more fire problem by not going after a gay person.  They go up to just another person.  They pick somebody at random and they go after them, right?

SIX:  And now, the military funeral, with a service member who‘s given the ultimate sacrifice.  That is where you get a big reaction.  And that‘s why they‘re there.  I mean, Al Snyder is a private person.  The First Amendment doesn‘t give you the right to hijack—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m not a lawyer.  Sometimes I‘m glad I‘m not.  But I want to ask you, supposed you go to a guy‘s funeral or a woman‘s funeral, just to rig at their funeral, and you start yelling obscenities from across the street—is that legal?  Is that protected, just yelling obscenities for the heck of it?

SIX:  You know, then you start to get into—in this case, it was a tort claim brought against the direct targets put on the Snyder family, and targeting them in their grief and at the funeral.  If you showed up at a random funeral and started yelling things across the street, it would depend on the facts.  But if it‘s just, you know—

MATTHEWS:  You‘d be allowed to do that?

SIX:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not disturbing the peace?

SIX:  Well, then, it would get into a factual analysis if you wanted to sue that person for invasion of privacy or—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why can‘t you win the case by just saying, these guys are interrupting a private funeral with distractions and they‘re—it‘s my private affair.

SNYDER:  They are claiming it‘s free speech.

MATTHEWS:  You mean, as long as it has a political tag to it, it‘s free speech.

SNYDER:  But you can do that with anything, Chris.  You can put—you can tag a political statement to anything you say and then call it free speech.

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever talked to this character, this reverend—I don‘t know what kind of religion he represents.

SNYDER:  Between you and I, I don‘t even think they are a church. 

They are a group of maybe 60 people right now and they represent—

MATTHEWS:  I want you to look down at the picture right here.  I mean, you folks have gone through this hell.  You, sir, especially.  Thank you for the service of your family.  But—I mean it.

But look at these kids—these people are bringing their kids to do this stuff.  And the signs these kids are carrying (ph).  These kids are going to grow up and remember that—and see these pictures and say, how did my parents drag—look at the grown-ups, are they all crazy people?  Who are they?

SIX:  Their church is less than a mile from my office.  We see this almost every day in Kansas.  Now, they are exporting it to places like Maryland.

But, yes, I mean, the tragedy is—

MATTHEWS:  Look at that little kid down there.

SIX:  Yes.  I mean, look at the sign.  I mean, that really breaks your heart.

MATTHEWS:  What are they?  Are they morons?  I mean, where does this stuff come from?

SIX:  You know, they claim very fundamentally, a Bible-based, Old Testament type of view.  But it diverged—

MATTHEWS:  I‘m talking about basic human reference for a guy who serves his country was killed over—on duty.  Don‘t they have—doesn‘t that overwhelm any American, that patriotic feeling?

SIX:  Well, you know—

MATTHEWS:  They claim to be—I‘m sure they claim to be on the right.  They probably claim to be patriotic in some weird way.  But how do they live with this?

SIX:  Yes, I can‘t analyze that.  But, you know, I just can tell you that the constitutional protection to be left alone in this country is pretty strong.  And the Snyders didn‘t ask for any of this, their family.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, sir, the real question.  Can the Supreme Court, even led by Scalia and the other people over there, Roberts, can they find a way to carve out areas where you have this respect?  You should get respect from the government and from the people.  If you are having a funeral for somebody, whether it‘s military or any funeral, where somebody can‘t just come up with noise-making signs and start screaming stuff.

SNYDER:  I think they can—I think they can, Chris.  And I think we have to.  I hear from military men and women over in Afghanistan that have told me, they‘re not—they‘re not going to make their decision on reenlistment until a decision is made on this because they‘re not going to fight in the field for 18 hours a day, get six hours off and have to worry about whether or not their families—

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for this fight.  It‘s a good American fight.

Thank you, Albert.   Thank you, general—thank you, Steve Six, attorney general of Kansas.

When we return, I‘m going to have some thoughts about the Hillary for vice president rumors.

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with a story out there about Hillary Clinton for vice president.

Well, the way to look at this is politically.  If Hillary Clinton wants to be president, in an active sense, meaning she wants to make the right moves to get there, all the right moves, a number of options apply.

One: she stays where she is and plays a big role in the Mideast peace deal.  That, history shows, is Nobel Prize territory.  If a deal gets cut involving Netanyahu and Abbas, the U.S. secretary of state, especially when it was senator from New York, will get and deserve a huge share to the political creed.  OK, that‘s one route.

She achieves victory as secretary of state, stays to this presidential term and returns to private life, perhaps heading up a university and running for president from there.  It worked for Ike.  He was president of Columbia before running for president.

           

Another route: she becomes secretary of defense, stays there through 2012 or 2013, heads out and runs for president from that position.  Having headed up the U.S. military, she would have proven bona fides for commander-in-chief.  A presidential campaign with that behind her will be totally different than the one she ran in 2007-2008.

Option three and four: President Obama names her as his running mate in 2012.  The ticket either wins or loses.  If it wins, she gets the challenging task of carrying on Obama-style Democratic rule for 12 consecutive years—a tough row to hoe.  She would run as a chosen successor to Obama, taking with it all the baggage of eight years in office.

Option four: the Obama/Clinton ticket loses.  In this case, she would have a free hand to run in 2016.  The problem is: she‘d be forced to run against an incumbent Republican president.

It‘s fascinating, isn‘t it?  And every one of these four options is in plain sight.  We can imagine her staying on and winning a Mideast peace, imagine her getting picked as defense chief.  We can certainly imagine all of us are accepting the running mate route and taking her chances.

Right now, I‘m betting on option one, that‘s because I have never seen a better U.S. team working for peace in the Middle East, never seen a two sides so determined to take this seriously.  As hard as it is to do, I‘d place my bet on her taking the hard, historic road to the White House, not the easy one because the hard road takes her through the front door.

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

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

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

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