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updated 2/16/2011 12:37:11 PM ET 2011-02-16T17:37:11

Guests: Joe Scarborough, Michael Isikoff, Chris Cillizza, Julia Boorstin, Steve McMahon, Richard Borreca, Fred Kaplan, Errol Louis

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Born in America.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Native son.  If you want to know why John Boehner refuses to denounce the birther lie, look no further than a new poll by Public Policy Polling.  It‘s a Democratic-leaning group, but it finds that 51 percent—remember that number tonight -- 51 percent of Republican primary voters believe affirmatively that President Obama was not born in America.  What this means is that in order to be nominated for the Republican Party presidential nomination, a Republican has to pretend or actually deny that President Obama is a legitimate president he‘d be running against or she‘d be running against.  The lie that won‘t die is our top story tonight.

And speaking of those Republican candidates, where are they?  Why hasn‘t a serious candidate even declared yet?  Could it be, as Joe Scarborough suggests in Politico this morning, that they secretly believe Obama‘s going to be very, very hard to beat next year?  “MORNING JOE” himself joins us tonight.  Joe Scarborough coming up in 10 minutes.

Plus, the phony case for war with Iraq.  “The Guardian” newspaper reports today that the discredited intelligence source the Bush administration relied on, known as Curveball, admitted he wanted to bring down Saddam and lied about that evidence of nuclear war—nuclear weapons.  There was no evidence.  There was no nuclear weapons.  No wonder Donald Rumsfeld doesn‘t even bother repeating about nuclear weapons in his new book.

And the budget.  I get the politics, but why is the president willing to cut programs he knows work?

Finally, out on a Limbaugh.  We‘ve been looking for a Republican who would actually say Limbaugh just doesn‘t represent the Republican Party.  It looks like someone has just volunteered for that job, and boy, did Rush hit him back.

Let‘s begin with the lie that won‘t die, that our president is not one of us, he wasn‘t born here, he doesn‘t deserve to be president, in fact, he‘s illegitimate, he‘s illegally sitting in the White House.

Steve McMahon‘s a Democratic strategist and Richard Borreca‘s a columnist for “The Star Advertiser” newspaper out in Honolulu, the city where President Obama was born.

Let me start with some of this.  First of all, this poll.  This poll is very dramatic.  It‘s the reason we‘re doing this tonight.  If you think this story doesn‘t have legs, check this out.  A new nationwide poll of Republican primary voters—now, these are the people that really pick the president on the Republican side—Public Policy Polling, which is a Democratic-leaning organization, found that 51 percent, a narrow majority, say President Obama was not born in the United States—affirming, not in confusion about this, believe he was not born here -- 28 percent say he was born in the United States, and 21 said they‘re not sure.

So there we go.  It‘s an incredible thing Steve.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It is—

MATTHEWS:  Fully 72 percent of the Republican primary voters either say he definitely wasn‘t born here, a majority, or another 21 percent say they‘re not sure, which is sort of playing the agnostic number.

Why do they say this?  Is this fighting words?  Is this a game they‘re playing?  Do they honestly, under sodium pentothol, believe that this guy somehow faked his birth announcement, somehow as a baby was snuck into the United States from Kenya or wherever else?  Do they really believe this?

MCMAHON:  I think there‘s a certain percentage of the Republican primary base that will believe anything, any bad rumor about President Obama, including this.  You know, 31 percent of those same people believe the president‘s a Muslim.  And what I think is interesting is the continual churning of this, and people throw it in polls and then we end up talking about it on television shows, which causes those numbers probably—

MATTHEWS:  Well, they don‘t do it the way we‘re doing do it.  Here‘s Congressman Paul (SIC) Labrador and former governor Tim Pawlenty cracking birther jokes at CPAC last weekend.  I think the Republican people on the real far right are not watching us, they‘re watching CPAC.  And this is the game they‘re watching.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RAUL LABRADOR ®, IDAHO:  I‘m fortunate enough to be an American citizen by birth, and I do have the birth certificate to prove it.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

TIM PAWLENTY (R-MN), FORMER GOV.:  Now, I‘m not one who questions the president‘s birth certificate and the existence of his birth certificate, but when you listen to his policies, don‘t you at least wonder what planet he‘s from?

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Richard out there in Honolulu.  Richard, you‘re watching the joke-a-rama over there at the CPAC convention in Washington about your favorite son, your native son or your—what did they use to say—your favorite son, in politics, from Hawaii.  What do the people in Hawaii think when they hear these kind of yuck-yucks coming from the conservative side?

RICHARD BORRECA, “HONOLULU STAR ADVERTISER”:  I think that people in Honolulu and definitely in Hawaii are fairly tired it.  I think the best example of that is that the legislature right now in Hawaii is considering charging $100 for people who want to take a look at the birth certificate.  So they‘re not taking it very seriously as much of a discussion.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at Boehner here on Saturday on “MEET THE PRESS”—Sunday, rather, on “MEET THE PRESS.”  Let‘s listen.  This is Boehner, the Speaker of the House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  It‘s not my job to tell the American people what to think.  Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.  Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there.  That‘s good enough for me.  The president says he‘s a Christian.  I accept him at his word.  There‘s a lot of information out there.  People read a lot of things.

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  You shouldn‘t stand up to misinformation or stereotypes?

BOEHNER:  But I‘ve made clear what I believe the facts are.

GREGORY:  But is it—is it—is it because it weakens the president politically, it seeks to delegitimize him, that you sort of want to let it stay out there?

BOEHNER:  No.  What I‘m trying to do is to do my job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, his job is to admit that he‘s one of the 28 percent.  He‘s saying, I‘m one of the 28 percent of Republicans who believe he was born here legally and believe he‘s a Christian.  I‘m one of the 28 percent.  But I‘m not going to fight with that other 72 percent because they‘re a majority that have doubts about this guy.

MCMAHON:  Yes, his job as a leader is to stand up and say what he really thinks.  And he sort of says it half-heartedly, and then he sort of drags in, And the president says he‘s a Christian, not a Muslim, and so I‘ll take him at his word on that.

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON:  It‘s like—

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll buy the whole bag of tricks, in other words.  Yes.

MCMAHON:  He ad hominem attacks him without—without characterizing those attacks.  They pretend to tamp them down while at the same time raising them.  And they‘re trying to create that seed of doubt in people‘s minds about whether or not the president was actually born here, whether he was legitimate, and whether or not he‘s a Muslim.  And frankly, they know that neither is true, and they shouldn‘t—

MATTHEWS:  OK, Richard, just to get the facts straight as we go along here so nobody‘s misled by this program—out in Honolulu, I‘m—all my information since this whole dispute began, pushed by the right, has been that the local Honolulu newspapers reported—which I didn‘t get this kind of announcement when I was born, most people don‘t—that Barack Obama was born there and they had the birth announcements in the paper at the time.  Is that sort of generally known, that the newspapers covered his birth, and whatever documentation problems there might be, if there are any, are really irrelevant to the fact here that he was born there?

BORRECA:  Well, Chris, back then, we used to have a lot more space in the newspapers, back in 1961, and we ran what was called agate type.  And we got it straight from the state health department.  And both newspapers at the time, “The Star Bulletin” and “The Honolulu Advertiser,” both had in their current events section the listing of people who were born during the last two weeks.  And Barack Obama was listed as being born here in 1961.

MATTHEWS:  So what could be the theory behind the far right when they push this so effectively?  Is it that he was somehow born in Kenya and smuggled into the United States?  Because it would require him getting in without documentation, or else documentation that didn‘t survive.  I mean, what is the theory of the far right?  Do you know what it is?

BORRECA:  You would have to—you would have to have clouded the minds of editors in two different newspapers at the same time—

(LAUGHTER)

BORRECA:  -- because the two papers were independently operated at the time.  So you would have had to have subverted two newspaper editors to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess people that want to believe something, Steve, are willing to believe the whole shebang.

Here‘s House Republican leader Eric—now, these are smart people.  Here‘s Cantor again on “MEET THE PRESS” last month.  They‘re all going on “MEET THE PRESS,” but they‘re not coming out very clearly.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  There are elements of this country who question the president‘s citizenship, who think that his birth certificate is inauthentic.  Will you call it what is it, which is crazy talk?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER:  David, you know, I mean, a lot of that has been an issue sort of generated by not only the media but others in the country—

GREGORY:  Is somebody who brings that up just engaging in crazy talk?

CANTOR:  Well, David, I don‘t think it‘s nice to call anyone crazy.

GREGORY:  All right, why don‘t you just call it what it is?

CANTOR:  Because, again—

GREGORY:  I think there‘s a lot of Republican leaders who don‘t want to go as far as to criticize those folks—

CANTOR:  I think the president is a citizen of the United States, so what—

GREGORY:  Period?

CANTOR:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, the game goes on here.  Let‘s go back and look at some more.  Here‘s Boehner and Brian Williams earlier this year, gentlemen.  I want you to watch this because the beat goes on.  Here‘s Boehner with Brian Williams of NBC at the beginning here, as I said.  Let‘s listen to this one, more of this obfuscation (INAUDIBLE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER:  The state of Hawaii has said that President Obama was born there.  That‘s good enough for me.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  Would you be willing to say that message to the 12 members in your caucus who seem to either believe otherwise or are willing to express doubt and have co-sponsored legislation along those lines?

BOEHNER:  Well, Brian, when you come to the Congress of the United States, there are 435 of us.  We‘re nothing more than a slice of America.  People come—regardless of party labels, they come with all kind of beliefs and ideas.  It‘s the melting pot of America.  It‘s not up to me to tell them what to think.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You know what?  I‘m going to do something right now.  I‘m going accuse those leaders—and they‘re very smart gentlemen.  Cantor seems like a good guy, and of course, Boehner seems like a good guy.  Let me just (INAUDIBLE)  I hereby accuse them of collaboration.  I think they‘re collaborating with the know-nothings out there.  They‘re collaborating with what now believes has grown to be 51 percent of their party, at least primary voters, and they refuse to take them on.  They said, You may have something, because they keep listening to—why don‘t they just say, You guys are crazy, stop talking like this?  Or, Unless you‘ve got evidence that this guy was born in some other country, stop talking like this.  It‘s not good for the party.  It‘s dishonesty.  It‘s not fair to the president as a human being to be president of the United States and have people saying he‘s illegitimate.

MCMAHON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t they do that?

MCMAHON:  Well, actually—

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they‘re—do you think they‘re avoiding offending people?  Another theory—they know this hurts the president.  They know it works with the base and energizes them and convinces them they‘re morally right to sort of unseat this illegitimate impostor.

MCMAHON:  If you deconstruct this politically, the truth of the matter, is the base that this appeals to is already voting against the president and for whomever the Republicans put up.  And this kind of talk from these leaders of the Republican Party and from people running for president of the United States makes them look outside the mainstream.  To an independent voter and to the people who are going to decide the—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you‘re talking—but why are they doing it, then?

MCMAHON:  Well, the Republicans who are running for president are doing it because the 51 percent of their base—

MATTHEWS:  Yes, they‘re afraid to offend—

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  -- are trying to get nominated.  But every single time—

MATTHEWS:  Can‘t call them nuts.  It‘s 51 percent—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- that nuttiness.

MCMAHON:  Every single time you get a piece of tape like that from the CPAC position, that puts that person in a general election in a much more difficult position because most people don‘t believe this crazy talk.  They think it‘s crazy talk.

MATTHEWS:  Where do you see Mitt Romney on this?  Because he can be a real, you know, mood ring for the party.  I‘ll bet you he won‘t take them on.

MCMAHON:  Well, he probably won‘t take him on, but it‘s interesting because if you look at that poll, among the people who think the president wasn‘t born here, Mitt Romney is their last choice.  Mike Huckabee is their first choice.  And Sarah Palin is their second choice.  I think it tells you a little bit about mainstream Republicans that they‘re upside-down—

MATTHEWS:  No, it shows that when they see an ink spot, they see some spider coming at them.  Anyway—

MCMAHON:  It‘s only 51.

MATTHEWS:  -- thank you, Steve McMahon.  Thank you, Richard Borreca.  Thank you for coming on the show.  I hope we don‘t need you again, sir, but we probably will.

Up next: Republicans aren‘t thrilled with their presidential contenders for 2012.  Are their bigger names staying on the sidelines because they‘re afraid President Obama‘s not beatable?  Guess who‘s coming to dinner!  Joe Scarborough, the morning guy, “MORNING JOE,” with a few cups to keep him awake until—God, it‘s late at night already for Joe.

This is HARDBALL—just kidding, Joe.  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This coming Monday, catch the premier of my new documentary on Bill Clinton.  I said get the popcorn out.  This is going to be a great night for people who care about this, care about the former president.  It‘s called “President of the World” because no other politician has ever had Bill Clinton‘s worldwide rock—reach, rock star appeal and historic mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(voice-over):  In January of 2001, as the Clinton administration is coming to a close, it is difficult to see what he will do next.  The president is only 54 years old and now saying good-bye to the greatest job he could imagine.

BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They may find somebody who can do this job better than me.  They will never find anybody had any more fun doing it than I have.

MATTHEWS:  After spending his whole adult life in political office, Clinton lacks an established role.

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO.COM:  He was feeling at loose ends.  I‘ve had the biggest achievement of my life.  What am I going to do next?  He didn‘t have an answer to that question.  And that left him down.

CLINTON:  When I was leaving the White House, I thought of myself as a guy who‘d been, let‘s say, a star quarterback in the NFL.  Look how early they have to retire.  Or you know, most professional athletes have, what, a career of four or five years.  Look at the career Magic Johnson‘s had in his business and with his own foundation.  He decided that he wanted to be as good in business as he was in basketball.  And while doing it, he wanted to inspire young people who could never be professional athletes to realize they could have meaningful, good, successful lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Next Monday night, a great night on MSNBC, 10:00 o‘clock Eastern, “President of the World.”  It premiers that night.  Don‘t miss it.  This is a great night to stay home and watch, well, the Democrat in action.

HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  It‘s January the year before a presidential election, and no major Republican candidate has declared his or her candidacy.  What are these GOPers waiting for?  Do they think President Obama might be too hard to beat?

Well, let‘s bring in my colleague, Joe Scarborough, host of “MORNING JOE.”  Joe, what a morning you give—what a morning you give us on my treadmill.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What a morning!  I mean, it is—

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “MORNING JOE”:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  -- so full of personality and excitement.  If you‘re alone in the world, you got company early in the morning.  It‘s a great—it‘s a real institution, I must say.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you so much.

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s a young one that you created.  So let‘s talk—you created something in this business.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the party because I read your column.  I don‘t know how you find time to write a column, as well, but you write this column for Politico, which is a pretty hot sheet.  And I caught the line about inside, and you get on phone with some people, and they say it‘s tougher—he‘s tougher to beat than people say he is, the president.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  That could be the reason why this slow-mo opening here.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  Four years—as you know, four years ago, when

you talked about it last week—Barack Obama was already out campaigning.  No major Republicans announced yet.  And in the end, there are a lot of different reasons for that, as I explain in the article.  The primary process is not as compressed.  It‘s not as early in ‘12 as it was in ‘08.

But the bottom line has to do with the fact that right now, privately, a lot of mainstream candidates that could actually win the nomination are simply afraid that Barack Obama‘s going to be too difficult to beat.  And this really went back before his poll numbers shot up to 50 percent.  I was hearing this a month-and-a-half ago, after the election, when they said, He‘s going to move to the center.  And if his numbers are at 50 percent when you‘ve got real unemployment over 10 percent, imagine what happens when that drops down to 8, 8.5 percent.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the way I was thinking.  How do you get 10 percent unemployment and a 50 percent approval rating?  That ratio doesn‘t make any sense.

SCARBOROUGH:  Chris, it‘s stunning.  I mean, you saw what happened to Ronald Reagan, who came in, was extraordinarily popular in 1981 and 1982.  He got thrashed because unemployment rose over 10 percent.  And his numbers didn‘t really start rising until the unemployment numbers went down.

Barack Obama right now mathematically has a winning formula.  You look at the fact—and you know this—that in off-year elections—and we said it all last year—the voters are older and they‘re whiter.  In presidential years, they are younger and they are less white.  And as long as President Obama is getting 95, 96 percent of the African-American votes, 75 percent of the Hispanic vote, he has the progressive base locked down regardless of who‘s running against him, that puts him at 48 percent, 49 percent.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Let‘s take a look at this new poll because I want to know what you think of the lineup.  Maybe the lineup has something to do with this.  I sometimes think we‘re overheated by watching or hearing about what Fox puts on and maybe Rush Limbaugh and some of the right-wing radio because we get the sense that these people are larger-than-life figures.

Nate Silver at “The New York Times” has put together this little bit of information.  It‘s a survey.  When you look back to this time in the campaign for president eight years ago—actually, 11 years ago—George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole were overwhelmingly seen with net favorability nationwide.  The same goes for 2008. 

I mean, it was always pushing because I was looking at these numbers.  Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, they had huge favorable ratings net, positive over negative.  But you look at it today, and all the candidates that are running, only two really have net positive.  That‘s of course Romney and Huckabee. 

And all the others seem to have net or zero favorability—unfavorability.  I don‘t know.  You know, I‘m kind of shocked when I see that Palin is down at negative-23.  I‘m not sure what that does in primaries or caucuses. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s a hell of a negative thing to overcome. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We—we—

MATTHEWS:  Are they thinking that they don‘t want to run against this headwind? 

SCARBOROUGH:  We—we live—I mean, those of us that—that work in the media and people that love politics, that watch your show all the time and watch my show all the time, sometimes, we—we might get disconnected from mainstream Republican voters.

And I was just having this conversation before with somebody that said, mainstream Republican voters—and I know this—the people that elect candidates, they‘re—they‘re—they don‘t—most of them don‘t sit and watch cable news at night.  Most of them don‘t—don‘t listen to talk radio in the afternoon. 

Chris, you know them.  I mean, most of them are guys, or like my dad, that, you know, they came from a blue-collar family.  They were the first to go college in their family.  They became middle-class.  They work hard all day, and they come home, and they are watching football. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They are not talking politics.  They are watching their kids do their homework.  They are not screaming about what Glenn Beck or Joe Scarborough was talking about earlier in the day. 

They are focused on getting their family ahead.  Those are the people that swing elections.  And, just bluntly, they don‘t look at somebody like Sarah Palin as a serious candidate.  And Newt Gingrich has too much scar tissue.  That‘s why I think, in the end like, if somebody Chris Christie doesn‘t run, I think you have Mitt Romney winning by default.  I think it will be very ugly, but a guy like Mitt Romney wins.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let‘s take a look at—let‘s take a look at a poll to back up what you just said.

This is the WMUR poll, a famous local affiliate up there in New Hampshire.  And I‘m looking at these numbers. It‘s Romney at 40, and then Giuliani, who has done nothing except say he might be interested, at 10, which shows he‘s got endurance up there.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I always thought he had a lot of appeal to moderate Republicans, tough law and order guy, obviously cleaned up New York.  In a lot of ways, people like him.  He‘s difficult to deal with maybe, but I like him.

Anyway, Pawlenty at 7, Huckabee at 7.  Then you‘ve got Newt at 6 and Palin down there as well as 6. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s interesting that Palin gets all the ink.  Giuliani, Pawlenty doesn‘t get any. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

Pawlenty—if I were Pawlenty, I would be pleased at that 7 percent.  Romney.  Romney—you have heard it—I wrote about it in the article—everybody talks about it—his is support a mile-wide and an inch deep, but, in 2012, that may be enough.  It really may. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Again, I keep going back to the one name that was not on that list and the one name that I hear everybody talking about, whether it‘s—it‘s Republicans in the Northeast or South Carolina Tea Party members, or you heard Ann Coulter talk about it even, Chris Christie. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

SCARBOROUGH:  Everybody is waiting for Chris Christie jump in the race.  This is a man who seized the moment. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What he‘s done in New Jersey has influenced Andrew Cuomo in New York, who now sits with like a 77 percent approval rating.  Christie is doing well.  So, the question is, will somebody like Chris Christie jump in?  If he does not—

MATTHEWS:  It tells you what the—it tells you what the Republicans want.  They want an executive with—who cuts spending, who does it—

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS: -- who doesn‘t just talk about it.

Let‘s take a look at this, Joe.  We only have a—a little time here.

Jonathan Martin, of course, you know, and Ben Smith wrote at Politico about Palin‘s lack of support in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, the big three of the early states.  In all three states, Republican operatives and political pollsters repeated one word: serious. 

The states take their early responsibility seriously, they said, and they don‘t see Palin, with her shortened term as governor, her penchant for public snits, and her reality show, as a serious candidate. 

You know, people wear out their welcome in American politics.  And I‘m

not going to be too fast on this, but I do think we talk about her too

much.  I think Palin may be like a fan belt on your car.  You know how you

a fan belt wears out and you have to get a new one?  It just wears out. 

And you get a new one. 

Is she a fan belt that‘s just been thrown? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I—yes, I—

MATTHEWS:  Is she off the—when I see 6 percent, with all the publicity she‘s gotten in the last two years, explain. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  I—I think you look at her statements.  She certainly didn‘t help herself following the Gabby Giffords shooting, not that she was responsible for it—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH: -- but her response sound self-interested.  When everybody else was talking about this woman and when they were burying a third-grade girl, she was going on Facebook talking about herself.  I—I think that was a turning point. 

But, also, it seems like everything she says seems to always involve a fight.  She‘s—she just hasn‘t had the political operatives around her—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH: -- that could say, you need have a positive message. 

What‘s your—how are you going to project yourself?

And I do think, at this point, she‘s put herself in a terrible position politically.  I think most Republicans I talk, they felt sorry for her in 2008, thought the media was unfair to her in 2008, have now just sort of shook their heads and moved on and said, she‘s—she‘s not serious enough to be president of the United States.

And I—and I think that‘s why you see the numbers dropping.  And I suspect, like Newt Gingrich, the scar tissue has already gotten too—too severe for him.  I just don‘t think that they can win the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Where do you think you are right now?  I think you‘re sort of center-right-right. I would say you‘re about two-thirds of the way over, not all the way over. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  Where would you put yourself, honestly? 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, it‘s so—

MATTHEWS:  I got—talking to you, I think you‘re not—you‘re not far-right, certainly.  You‘re not a liberal.  You‘re not what I call a moderate, which is sort of Milquetoast.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Chris, it‘s—it‘s fascinating.  You have known me since 1994. 

I went on HARDBALL all the time in ‘95, ‘96, ‘97.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And I was saying the same thing then that I‘m saying now.  I don‘t think—if you want to just talk about where the Republican is economically, I don‘t think they are conservative enough. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They are talking about slashing 12 percent of the budget, but they‘re not talking about Social Security. 

MATTHEWS:  Touching 12 percent. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They‘re not talking—

MATTHEWS:  Touching 12 percent.  They‘re not slashing 12.

SCARBOROUGH:  Touching, touching 12 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, I‘m saying—I‘m telling them you need to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Pentagon spending, get out of Afghanistan, do all of these things that would—would help us become—because—get out of this debt crisis.

And, yet, my Republican Party, just like they did during the Bush era, is not stepping forward and making those courageous cuts right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, I don‘t know.  I mean, it used to be that that position would make me more conservative than where establishment Republicans are in Washington, D.C. 

But I guess, since I don‘t run around talking about where the president was born, and because I say that he‘s a Christian because he says he‘s a Christian, I suppose that‘s the new measuring stick for what makes you conservative. 

I guess, these days, for a lot of people online and on cable TV, you have got to actually hate the president, or else—

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  No, I‘m dead serious, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m laughing because of the truth of what you said. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m~ -- I‘m dead serious.  It—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It has nothing to do with ideology anymore, because I‘m more ideologically conservative on budget matters than anybody I know on Capitol Hill, other than Rand Paul, Ron Paul, and a handful of people.

But because I don‘t hate the president, because I think he‘s a good man and I think he‘s a good father, and I just disagree with his policies, I guess, by 2011 standards, that makes me a liberal. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t get it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well—well, it makes you a great colleague—

SCARBOROUGH:  It—it has more to do with personality—

MATTHEWS: -- a great colleague.

SCARBOROUGH: -- than it does with what you believe.  And I think that‘s sad and pathetic.  And that‘s why the Republican Party is where it is right now. 

MATTHEWS: “MORNING JOE,” you built this place, like—

SCARBOROUGH:  In the morning.

MATTHEWS: -- Moe Greene.  He built this place.  There‘s not a monument to this guy.  There‘s not a sign. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He built this place. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe Scarborough, “MORNING JOE,” his own—

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS: -- great creation.

Thanks for coming on tonight. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I greatly appreciate you having me. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks.

Up next:  Mitch Daniels may just be the first high-profile Republican to take on Rush Limbaugh.  Let‘s see if he can take the punishment he‘s getting already from Rushbo.  I would love to see him take it and give some back.  Check out the “Sideshow” coming up.  Somebody is finally taking on the king of, well, Rush.  You‘re—I don‘t want to say anything.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

First: Mitch Daniels out on a Limbaugh.  Last Friday, on CPAC—at CPAC, the Indiana governor delivered a not-so-subtle whack at hard-line conservatives and right-wing radio. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MITCH DANIELS ®, INDIANA:  We have learned in Indiana big change requires big majorities.  We will need people who never tune in into Rush or Glenn or Laura or Sean, who surf past C-SPAN to get to “SportsCenter,” who, if they ever heard of CPAC, would assume it was a cruise ship accessory. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, El Rushbo was of course quick to take offense. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”) 

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I didn‘t take personally Mr.  Daniels saying we—we need to move beyond the audiences of people on talk radio.

But in—in the process of doing so, you don‘t dis the people who are already audiences of those shows.  You don‘t say that they are irrelevant or unnecessary, who won elections for your party year after year after year, and all this, of course, done to impress—impress the mainstream media. 

It‘s this under—OK, it‘s this notion that conservatism is not enough to win.  That bothers me, because, clearly, it is. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What a show he puts on. 

Here‘s the problem right here.  Say a word about Rushbo, and he goes to war against you.  Let‘s listen to hear if Governor Daniels apologizes for his little tiff.  If he doesn‘t, he deserves our respect, and he will get it.

Next:  John Boehner does an about-face.  Today, the speaker of the House was asked about job losses from Republican—Republican budget cuts.  Here it comes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Over the last two years, since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs.  And if—if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So be it?  What is he, a pharaoh?  So be it?  Is he the grand pooh-bah who decrees?

And, by the way, that figure Boehner cited, 200,000 new federal jobs under the Obama administration, I think it‘s inflated a bit.  It‘s 10 times higher than the number from census and OMB comparing Bush in 2002 and Obama in 2010.  Where does he get these numbers?

Up next:  Eight years later, we‘re getting more information about the lies that took us into the war in Iraq, including word that the discredited intelligence source that the Bush crowd relied on admits now that he was lying.  He didn‘t like Obama, so he told us—well, he told at least the people at the—that there was a—nuclear weapons over there.

Anyway, the phony case for war with Iraq—next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks retreating today on a mixed bag of earnings and retail results, the Dow Jones industrials shedding 41 points, but off the worst levels of the day, the S&P 500 giving up four, and the Nasdaq slipping nearly 13 points. 

A couple of big-name mergers setting the tone today.  As expected, the NYSE Euronext exchange is joining the German Deutsche Boerse in a deal worth $10.2 billion.

And Sanofi-Aventis has reportedly agreed on a $19.2 billion price tag for Genzyme, boosted by future payments based on the performance of an experimental drug. 

January retail results coming in weaker than expected, but still higher for the seventh straight month.  SiriusXM radio shares tumbling 8 percent after posting a fourth-quarter loss on rising operating expenses.

And Dell reporting earnings after the closing bell, blowing past expectations on revenue and profit, topping it off with a very upbeat forecast. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 7, 2002)

GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  America must not ignore the threat gathering against us.  Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Absolutely embarrassing to our history. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That, of course, is President Bush in October of 2002 making the case for war with Iraq.  Now we know that a report from one month prior to that says—quote—“Our knowledge of the Iraqi weapons—nuclear weapons program is based largely, perhaps 90 percent, on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”

It was written, by the way, by Secretary Rumsfeld‘s—at his request by Major General Glen Shaffer, who was then the director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense. 

Joining me is NBC investigative correspondent Mike Isikoff and Fred Kaplan, who writes the column “War Stories” for Slate.com. 

Gentlemen, thank you both for coming on.

You know, I argued against the war because I was skeptical from day one about the case they made for nuclear weapons.  And now it turns out they don‘t even make the case anymore. 

Here‘s Rumsfeld with his big tomb, admitting in it that they didn‘t have—they had no—we‘re going to get to all the facts but we did it last night—no evidence of any purchases of nuclear weapons, no evidence of any attempt to purchase, and no evidence of any construction of nuclear weapons.  Zero nuclear weapons, simply the possibility that he intended at some point to do that and then to find out that the director of intelligence is basically saying all the evidence they had is imprecise.

And then, today, we get the report, the curve ball, talk about the aluminum tubes or whatever, that he was lying just to get whatever he wanted because he hated Saddam.  No evidence.  It‘s almost the most purist form of dishonesty.  And I have to wonder—did they know they were doing this?

Bush, Condi, Powell, Cheney, the rest of them—why didn‘t they get this fact there was no intel?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go to Fred, first.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS:  OK.

FRED KAPLAN, SLATE:  There‘s a phrase—there‘s a phrase about a prosecutor who tries to frame a guilty man.  You know, I think they thought, well, of course, Saddam has nuclear weapons.  Why wouldn‘t he have nuclear weapons?  There haven‘t been any inspectors there for five years.  He did it before.  Why wouldn‘t he do it again?

The CIA keeps saying, oh, no, we don‘t have any intelligence, but we

don‘t believe the CIA.  So, let‘s pull together, cherry-picked information

--

           

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KAPLAN: -- from the raw intel files and construct a case that they may have it.  And remember Dick Cheney‘s idea about the 1 percent factor?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But they didn‘t have 1 percent.

KAPLAN:  I don‘t even—well, you can‘t even calculate these things because, you know, 50 percent of zero is still zero, right?

ISIKOFF:  I mean, that said—I mean, this new document that Rumsfeld himself—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why isn‘t this on the front page of “The New York Times”, lies?

ISIKOFF: -- to have the senior—

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t they do it now?

ISIKOFF: -- intelligence officer in the Pentagon telling the secretary that we may know nothing about Iraq‘s intelligence programs.  And, of course, in the book, what Rumsfeld does is he falls back and quotes the NIE, the NIE that the CIA had coordinated and put together that said that they did have nuclear weapons, that suggested they did have a nuclear program.  What he omits is—

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  He quotes, although we assess—this is from the NIE report of October 2002, “Although we assess that Saddam does not have - - does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them.”  It‘s intent.

KAPLAN:  Artfully worded.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, guys, you went to grade school.  I went to grade school.  We all studied the causes of war.  And they would say the immediate causes of war were one was assassination of Archduke Ferdinand or something, or the sinking—back to the sinking of the Maine, or whatever Spanish Civil War.

Fred, we always had an argument given to us in school why there were wars.  How in the world are you going to be able to explain this war to students coming along?  What does a teacher say in a good school right now?  Why did we go to war?  Because somebody said they had nuclear weapons that they weren‘t supposed to have them under some decree that we put down after they lost the first war.

Oh, do we have evidence they had nuclear weapons?  Well, we thought they had the intention maybe of doing it.  Therefore, we went over there and killed 100,000 Iraqis, 4,500 of our guys were killed, 30,000 of our people were wound, because we thought they might want to do this.  How can you write that in a history book?

KAPLAN:  Well, remember, Rumsfeld even goes further than you‘re suggesting.  In his book, he says, well, you know, I never really put it on nuclear weapons.  I thought we should go war for other reasons.

But, by the way, he then quotes—he then quotes it, there‘s one piece of evidence he can‘t evade that after we were occupying the place for a while, somebody at a press conference said, where are the nuclear weapons?  And he said, well, I—we know where they are.  They are outside of Tikrit, in Baghdad.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KAPLAN:  In the book he says, well, I wasn‘t talking about nuclear weapons.  I was talking about suspect sites.  Well, you know, by this time, everybody knew about the suspect sites.  They are wondering where are the weapons.

MATTHEWS:  This is—this is beyond—I just look at Bush.  I think, some day, we‘re going to find out this guy under sodium pentothal, his last memoir when he‘s 90 years old, he‘s going to write, I admit, my reason for going to Iraq had something to do with the fact—well, I thought this would be a good way to spread democracy, and so, the big neocon argument.  Or they shot my daddy or they‘re trying to kill my daddy, or some other reason.  I don‘t know what Cheney‘s reasons are going to be.

ISIKOFF:  The most damning indictment of them, of Rumsfeld and the whole crowd—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s 100,000 dead people because of this.

ISIKOFF:  But they took these against reports that were filled with uncertainties, that were filed with dissent.  The NIE, after you got through the conclusions, had all sorts of dissents from throughout the intelligence community and they papered them over—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Condi Rice, if you‘re watching, Condoleezza Rice, you‘re a great person, I think.  Why don‘t you raise hell about being used?  Colin Powell, why don‘t you raise hell about being used?  And, Cheney, you‘re hopeless.  I don‘t expect any help from you.

But I‘d like to hear from the good people in that administration, when they were talking about mushroom clouds with no evidence whatever.  None.  We went to war for no reason except they wanted to go to war.

Last thought, Fred, quickly.

KAPLAN:  You know, Rumsfeld created a special office.  It was called the Office of Special Plans.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

KAPLAN:  They went into raw intelligence files.  This was more about links between Saddam and al Qaeda.  They picked out bits of raw intel that seemed to suggest they were there.  The GAO, afterwards, criticized the outfit and said this was illegal, policy outfits were not supposed to be disseminating intelligence, and not a word of this is mentioned in Rumsfeld‘s book.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know, it‘s going to be a cake walk, 100,000 dead people.

Anyway, thank you, Mike Isikoff.  Thank you, Fred Kaplan, for coming aboard.

Coming up: the budget battle.  Why is President Obama willing to cut programs he knows work like good ones like CDBG and community action, things like that, and make tax deals that cut—well, give breaks to people who really don‘t need it.  And why does he go through mishmash of stuff in the stimulus with all kinds of junk in it and then cuts the good programs?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, if you thought this was the end of the line for the political career of the Charlie Rangel, think again.  The New York Democrat filed papers to run for another term.  Rangel has been in office since 1971 and he had a rough year last year, of course, when he was censure.  But it doesn‘t seem the 80-year-old Rangel is ready for retirement just yet.

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Obama is taking heat from members of his own party for his plans to cut funding for Community Development Block Grants and home heating assistance for the poor.  So, why is it OK to give tax cuts to the wealthy but scale back on programs that are clearly valuable to the country and have proven to work?

Chris Cillizza is an MSNBC political analyst and editor of PostPolitics.com, and Errol Louis is the host of New York 1‘s “Inside City Hall.”

Errol, thank you.  We haven‘t had you on for a while.  Cillizza has been on more recently.  So, I‘m going to go to Errol.  Let me go to you.

It seems to be that all those who studied economics in school understood what stimulus is.  When the government spends money, people are getting their paycheck, they go to the corner store, they spend the money, they got to the corner store, the woman there, she spends the money.  The money gets multiplied, and gets the money moving.  And especially among poor people who live right up to the edge, in fact, beyond the edge in terms of economics.  It‘s vastly stimulative.

Rich people on the other hand, when they get a tax break, put it away.  They don‘t need the money a lot of cases.  They put it—they sock it away in whatever accounts they‘ve got.  They might try to find something to invest in, but it‘s not going to stimulate the economy right away.

Why is the president supporting tax cuts to the rich as part of this deal coming in its term, this Congress—cutting programs that clearly will be spent 100 percent dollar for dollar?

ERROL LOUIS, NY1:  Sure.  What the problem is that John Maynard Keynes never had to run for office, you know?  I mean, a budget is a very political document.  And the president has made clear all throughout that he‘s not going to try to shove something past Congress that Congress isn‘t going to vote for.  And he can‘t afford—I mean, that would weaken him more than anything, to put something out there that gets shot down, including by members of his own party.

So, he‘s trying to steer a cautious course and get something that will actually work.  And his argument, of course, is that‘s the way you preserve those programs.  You don‘t put it up there and let it get shot down, you maybe try and, you know, amend it, shrink it, but not let it get killed outright—which is what could very likely happen.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go—let me go to Chris on this.  The politics, please, sir.  Pure and simple, what‘s he‘s up to?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Sure.  Yes, well, OK, Chris, this is the fiscal year 2012 budget that the president put forward to Congress yesterday.  What else happens in 2012?  A presidential election.

I agree 100 percent with Errol.  Look, this is about—look at the budget and then go look at what the president said in that news conference today—tough choices, we‘re all going to have to sort of tighten our belts, everybody is going to have to sacrifice for the common good.  This is an independent‘s message.  And I don‘t mean an independent‘s freedom message, I mean, a political independent‘s message—the idea that the two parties can work together, that the president recognizes he‘s going to have to make some cuts in programs that are favored by liberals that Republicans are going to have to sacrifice, too.  That‘s what people want to come out of Washington.

One other quick thing on the politics of it, Chris, things like LIHEAP, which is the fuel subsidies for poor people, things like Pell Grant cuts—I wouldn‘t be surprised if the president isn‘t smart enough, and I think he probably is, to know that they have really strong Democratic defenders in the Senate, and those people are not going to let a budget with those kind of cuts go through—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are more cynical than I can ever be, Chris Cillizza.

CILLIZZA:  He proposes them, get credit for them.  But ultimately, it doesn‘t happen.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Errol, you‘re smiling, I can tell.  Is this—is this to throw it up, knowing it will be thrown back?

LOUIS:  Chris, you know more about this budget than 90 percent of America.  And the reality is, you know, when you poll it, it turns out that people think we‘re wasting lots of money on foreign aid, when we give almost nothing.  I think it‘s less than 2 percent of the budget.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Hey, Chris, can I just add something?  Errol, I just want to—I think Errol is still right.  I was looking—Pew did a poll on this last week in which they asked people, what‘s more important, deficits or the economy, spending by the government?  The one thing that got a plurality in terms of people saying they‘d be willing to cut from—foreign aid to poor people.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  There is not widespread—the devil is in the details. 

People say, yes, we need to reduce spending, we need to cut the debt. 

Well, what about this thing?  Well, not that.

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, guy, the minute you list those countries you want to stop the aid to, they‘ve got their favorite countries they want to keep the aid going to them.  So, it‘s even less than that.  It‘s such crap—I‘m sorry, it‘s not nice.

Anyway, Chris Cillizza, Errol Louis, you guys are more skeptical than I am.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with one big reason no serious Republican has announced his or her candidacy for presidency yet.  It may have to do with the fact that in order to win the nomination, you have to deny President Obama was born here.  You‘ve got to say he‘s illegitimate.  That‘s the new game.  Joe Scarborough is right.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with this unbelievable presidential campaign that‘s about to begin.  Watching President Obama today explaining and defending his budget, both the substance and the politics, I was struck by the question: could any of the possible Republican candidates out there do this?  Does any one of them have the precision of mind, the command of recall, the orderly process of thinking and evaluating, the reasonable moral compass?

You can play this game, too.  Think it through.  Throw those names and faces onto your mental viewing screen and think deep.  Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Bachmann, Barbour, Santorum, Gingrich—is there one of them we think could do what Obama can do?

I‘ve been in close quarters with the president twice.  The first time I came to the conclusion that this guy ought to be president of the United States.  There‘s a peace to his presentation, a calm understanding of the information, of his values, of the world.

A look at the Republican field, with all its negatives, I look at Nate Silver‘s numbers and see the problem that the party has in finding someone to field against the president—someone who can stand up on the same platform, talk the issues with this competence and wonder—then it come to me, that they may not be in the business of looking for something with the match to Obama, simply someone to attack him.  I‘m talking about a protest candidate—someone who is—who yells at the government, mocks the country‘s condition, is clever, sarcastic, and when it works best, cute in their cutting.

A look at the joke-telling at last week‘s Conservative Political Action Convention, a look at the new poll showing a majority of Republican voters don‘t believe the president was born here, even though it was announced in the newspapers at the time.  I look at the strange wackiness that echoes through the one stable party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, and Ike, and wonder if they accept any of those guys today?  Do you think they‘d take a guy who wanted to take away states‘ rights?  Who wants to fight for conservation of our wilderness lands, who wants to build an interstate highway system or create a federal system of loans and grants for higher education?

Forget about it, they‘d never pick those guys.  No, The Republicans aren‘t that party anymore.  They‘re becoming more and more the party that doesn‘t believe in science, whether it‘s evolution or climate change; doesn‘t believe in government; doesn‘t believe the president is an American.

It‘s very off to being the party of the John Birch Society, adhering to the while preachments of that society‘s latter day apostle, Glenn Beck.  That‘s right—the John Birch Society that said Ike was a communist; the apostle who now believes that President Obama is an avatar of a burgeoning world-dominating caliphate.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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