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updated 3/4/2011 12:40:12 PM ET 2011-03-04T17:40:12

Guests: Mark Halperin, Sue Herera, Karen Finney, Eric Boehlert, Michael Eric Dyson, John Heilemann, Josh Marshall, Kweisi Mfume

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Huckster strikes again.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews up in Philadelphia tonight. 

Leading off tonight: Playing the madrassa card.  Apparently, Mike Huckabee wasn‘t satisfied with insisting President Obama grew up in Kenya.  The new smiling face of the Republican right has doubled down, now adding that while most Americans grew up around Boy Scouts and Rotary Club meetings, Mr. Obama grew up around madrassas.  Madrassas.

This is just Huckabee‘s wonderful way of saying the president is a Muslim, a foreigner from the world of terrorists, if you will, not really an American, of course.  Is this what it now takes to be a leader of the Republican Party, appeal to haters who cannot accept the legitimacy of this president?

On a parallel note, one of our pollsters tells yesterday it may be hard to understand why someone would jump off a cliff unless you understand they‘re being chased by a tiger, and that tiger, he said, is the Tea Party.  In other words, the GOP is jumping off the political cliff right now and the Tea Party is that tiger chasing behind it.  The latest example, a Tea Party leader calling for John Boehner‘s defeat because he won‘t support the Tea Party‘s draconian spending cuts.

Also, can someone who was married three times, who handed one wife divorce papers while she was in the hospital and who resigned as speaker after leading his party to an electoral disaster after being reprimanded himself be nominated for president on the “family values” Republican Party ticket?  We‘ll soon find out.  Newt Gingrich all but made it official today that he‘s in this race.

And on the subject of sex scandals, more evidence is surfacing that could lead to an indictment—whether it‘s right or not—of John Edwards for misusing campaign funds or, in fact, using funds as a campaign effort.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” with the un-American effort on the right to convince people that President Obama is somehow un-American.

We start, as we‘ve been doing because we have to, with Mike Huckabee, who won‘t quit.  Eric Boehlert is senior fellow at Media Matters and Michael Eric Dyson is author and professor at Georgetown university.

First of all, I want to get the facts.  Here‘s part of Huckabee‘s interview with radio talk show host Ben (SIC) Fischer.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BRYAN FISCHER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  You seem to think there‘s some validity to the fact that there may be some fundamental anti-Americanism in this president.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR. GOV., HOST, “HUCKABEE”:  Well, and that‘s exactly the point that I make in the book.  And I don‘t know why these reporters—maybe they can‘t read.

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE:  I guess that‘s part of it because it‘s clearly spelled out, and I‘m quoting a British newspaper, who really were expressing the outrage of the Brits for that bust being returned.  And the point was that they felt like that due to Obama‘s father and grandfather, it could be that his version of and view about the Mau Mau revolution was very different than most of the people who perhaps would up in the United States.

And I have said many times publicly that I do think he has a different world view, and I think it‘s in part molded out of a very different experience.  Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings, and you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs not madrassas.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, just to correct the record one millionth time more for Mike Huckabee, President Obama did grow up in the United States.  He talks about “other” people who grew up in the United States are different.

Let‘s go to Eric Boehlert right now of Media Matters, and Michael Dyson.  Eric, it seems to me that this fellow just won‘t quit.  And I want you to go through the record of the last four days.  It‘s now Thursday.  Why does he keep doing it?  And what‘s he been doing?  Why does he keep trying to write this guy out of our country?

ERIC BOEHLERT, MEDIAMATTERS.ORG:  Yes, he just keeps digging.  He started Monday with this radio interview.  Look, he‘s out pushing a book.  Maybe he‘s trying to make headlines.  But you know, it‘s interesting when these conservatives end up on AM talk radio, it‘s sort of a—it‘s sort of a boys‘ club, and they talk in a way that‘s a little different than the rest of the media landscape.

And luckily, Media Matters, you know, flagged it.  We monitor this stuff.  It all used to disappear into the ether.  And he makes this, you know, misstatement a couple times about Obama growing up in Kenya.  And then more importantly, he draws it into this whole mindset of maybe Obama‘s anti-colonialism or why he views America a certain way.

So later, Huckabee said, Well, I meant to say Indonesia.  But if you insert “Indonesia” to the rest of his talking points on the radio show, none of it made sense.  It had to be Kenya and that‘s why—that was his first step.  Then he comes out with this semi-apology, but the apology, as you highlight, just sort of feeds into more Obama bashing—He‘s not like us, he‘s foreign, he has a foreign influence.

This stuff just won‘t end, and it‘s really the right-wing media will not let this stuff die—will not let this stuff die.  I mean, they‘re really fighting the last war.  I mean, Obama won in an electoral landslide.  He won—you know, he won North Carolina.  He won Indiana.  This idea that he is foreign and not like us, they won‘t let it go, but the American people just aren‘t buying it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I want to get to Michael.  Let‘s go to Michael Dyson on this.  Professor, thanks for joining us.  You know, I—

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY PROF.:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  You know, everybody knows I was in the Peace Corps, I was in Africa.  And I think most Americans who grew up in my age group are familiar with the term “Mau Mau.”  It was the uprising against the British colonists in—in Kenya, of course.  It ended British rule there.  It probably, in the end, was probably a good thing.  It got them out of there.  I‘m not a colonialist.  I don‘t like colonization of other people.  I don‘t why Huckabee is somehow saying that‘s a good thing here.

Why is he talking about the Mau Maus?  And why‘s he talking about this guy‘s grandfather?  The great thing about America—and I‘m going to get to this at the end of the show—you don‘t ask somebody who their grandfather was.  You don‘t focus on their ancestry to try to make a point.  You let them score the points in the field they‘re in, whether it‘s sports or whether it‘s any other field of American life, the law—this guy was head of “The Harvard Law Review.”  You let people serve in this country to the best of their ability.  You don‘t go back into their roots to try to find something bad back there you can use against them.

Mau Mau, madrassa—this language—I know what it‘s saying.  You tell me what you think.

DYSON:  Well, absolutely right.  Before I even get to that, not only do you not go to their roots to try to disprove their American identity, you do it to embrace the fact that we can come from Europe, we can come from Italy, we can come, you know, from wherever in Western or Eastern European countries, Polish, Jewish, Italian, Lithuanian, and celebrate that we can come so America, that we come under the aegis of the call to democracy on American soil.  And wherever we began with our humble roots, we can rise to the top.

So not only are we not playing that with Obama, we should be celebrating him.  His immigrant story—that is, his father being of Kenyan descent, his mother, of course, white Kansan descent—his immigrant story is outside the arc and trajectory of the usual American immigrant story.  It‘s not Eastern Europe, it‘s from Africa, but he grew up in America.

What we‘re hearing with Mau Mau, what we‘re hearing with madrassas, is not only is he different, as brother Eric has said, not only is he foreign, and it‘s not an exotic foreign, it‘s a demonized foreign.  He is other than us.  The pedigree of his humanity is at stake.  The skepticism about him as an African—African-American is at stake.

And what Mr. Huckabee is trying to do is to engage in code words, the Morse coding of Obama as that other black man who is so dissimilar to us, so radically outside the arc and trajectory—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DYSON:  -- of our humanity, that we can‘t understand him.  And as a

result of that, it‘s not enough to make that he‘s ideologically apart from

us.  Now he has to be racialized as the great “other” who is—that makes

--

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I agree.

DYSON:  -- the American people afraid of him.  And I think that is racist politics at its worse.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t know about you, Michael, I studied the Morse code in Boy Scouts.  And I don‘t know about you, Eric, but I studied the Morse code.  You don‘t need any damn Morse code to figure out what Huckabee‘s pushing!  Here he is on O‘Reilly, “The O‘Reilly Factor” last night, pushing more of this stuff.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE:  This is not a kid who grew up—

BILL O‘REILLY, HOST:  Sure.

HUCKABEE:  -- you know, going to Boy Scout meetings and playing Little League baseball in a small town.

O‘REILLY:  No, he is not a traditional—he is not a traditional guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, the thing is that just checking the facts -

and Ed Schultz did a very good job of this.  I was watching him last night in Los Angeles on the television screen last night.  He did a very good job last night.  And the fact is that President Obama was playing that other all-American sport, basketball.  He was on a championship team.  There‘s a great picture of him.  Looking great there.  They won the Hawaii state championship.  All this is on the record.

He was a regular kid who kept his nose clean, did everything right, ended up on “The Harvard Law Review,” has a wonderful marriage, a wonderful wife.  She got herself through Princeton, I believe.  Her brother coaches out at Oregon State.  Everything about them is 100 percent true-blue American!  They‘ve done everything right in their life, done nothing wrong in their life!  They haven‘t gone out and gobbled for money!  They‘ve done the right thing in terms of public values.

Eric, I just want to go back to you, sir.  It just seems to me when a guy has done every darn thing right to live the American dream, even to the point of perfection, these awful people go out there and go after the ethnicity!  They go after something he had nothing to do with, how he was born!  He didn‘t pick his grandfather!  You didn‘t pick yours.  Eric didn‘t pick—Michael didn‘t pick his.  We don‘t pick our grandparents.  We love them, we don‘t pick them.

And this idea that somehow he‘s a Mau Mau guy, or a madrassa kid—

why doesn‘t the conservative party reject this kind of talk?  Why don‘t the

the party of Lincoln say something here, Eric?

BOEHLERT:  Well, I mean, look, we had—that was a couple of Fox News employees, you know, O‘Reilly and Huckabee, in heated agreement about how Obama is foreign and he‘s not normal and he didn‘t play baseball and he‘s not like us.  I mean, you say, Why doesn‘t—why doesn‘t the conservative movement, you know, knock this down?  That is the conservative movement.  Fox News is the conservative movement.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BOEHLERT:  And so this is what they embrace and this is what they push.  And it‘s very interesting.  I mean, Huckabee is playing a very peculiar dance with the whole birther thing.  He says, Oh, I don‘t doubt the birth certificate, but he embraces every other talking point of the birther movement—he‘s not like us, he‘s—you know, he‘s—he‘s sort of a foreign influence.  So he‘s sort of playing this cute game—I‘m not going to question the birth certificate, but I‘m going to question everything else about Obama‘s authenticity.  And we see that throughout the conservative media today.  That is mainstream conservative conversation.

MATTHEWS:  Michael, I wonder what the conversations are like in the black community about this.  I mean, you‘re not speaking for it or anything, but it must be amazing in the barbershops and regular places where people talk, you know, chatting about this, where there‘s a guy out there going after a guy who‘s done everything right.  It‘s not like he‘s done a couple things wrong in his life.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, this guy‘s a dream!

DYSON:  Look—look, if you can‘t like this black man, not only as president, but as another human being, there‘s no black man then made that‘s existing that you will like.  He went undergraduate at Occidental College, transferred to Columbia University, went on to work on Wall Street for a while, decided he wanted to be a public servant, went back to law school, worked in the field as a community organizer, worked his way up.  He is Horatio Alger in blackface.  He created a future out of the dim past from which he had been descended.

And in terms of the recreating the possibility of the American dream in his rhetoric, he has articulated as brilliantly as possible the rich resources—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DYSON:  -of what it means to be an American.  And now he‘s being demonized as other.  I want to ask Karl Rove, I want to ask Mike Huckabee, I want to ask all of these conservatives, Show me your birth certificate.  Better yet, show me your passport.  I don‘t even know if you‘re from earth!

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DYSON:  Show us your leader.

BOEHLERT:  I agree.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know one thing.  They‘re being very un-American here. 

Very un-American.

DYSON:  It‘s deeply—it‘s profoundly un-American and it‘s anti-

patriotic.  And Obama is the greatest patriot.  And black people who love

this country—here we are, Chris, about to celebrate 150 years of the

beginning of the Civil War for people who were Confederates who embraced

the flag—you know

DYSON:  -- and a president, Jefferson Davis, who was against this nation, who are considered patriots!  And black people have never gone anywhere but deeper into the American psyche rise up as the greatest anti-patriots.  It is ridiculous and balderdash!

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go after a couple points here.  There was a Rotary Club, according to Ed Schultz last night—I loved his reporting on this—in Honolulu as far back as 1905.  This kid—when he was a kid, Barack Obama went to Catholic school, St. Frances Catholic school in Indonesia, most of his upbringing in high school.  This kid played basketball—I‘d like to see—which, by the way, is the most American sport there is.  It was invented here, by the way.  I wish people would remind themselves of that.  And I‘d like to see some of these characters who claim to be more American than him beat him in a couple games of basketball.

Anyway, thank you, Eric Boehlert, sir, for getting the facts.  Thank you, Michael Eric Dyson from Georgetown, professor, for joining us on the backdrop, the sad backdrop of this whole story and the way it‘s played in this country.

Coming up: Well, the honeymoon seems to be over for John Boehner.  The Tea Party Nation now wants to run a challenger against him in the next primary.  They don‘t think he‘s being tough enough on their agenda.  This is the price of the friends you make.  We‘ll be right back—the Tea Partiers on the warpath against their leader, the guy they put in the speaker‘s chair.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Newt Gingrich isn‘t the only Republican getting into the presidential race right today.  The former Speaker of the House, as we told you at the top of the show, all but made it official that he‘ll be running for the White House.  He announced the launch of his Web site, but stopped short of forming an actual exploratory committee.  But also today, former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer announced the formation of an exploratory committee.  But Roemer, a one-time Democrat, is a serious long shot.  I guess—well, maybe he is.  We‘ll be right back.  He‘s running, too, Buddy Roemer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  The American people want us to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, and passage of this short-term spending bill, I think, shows that we‘re listening to the American people.  And the House‘s position is we passed a bill.  It‘s out there.  And I think it‘s time for them to outline for us what‘s their position to keep the government funded?  We‘ve done our work in the House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) got to get Dan Aykroyd to play that guy.  Anyway, Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was House speaker John Boehner Wednesday.  Some Tea Partiers aren‘t happy with him.  They aren‘t happy with how Republicans are handling the whole spending fight up on Capitol Hill.  Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips wrote Wednesday, “There is no other way to put this.  The Tea Party movement should find a candidate to run against John Boehner in 2012 and should set as a goal to defeat in a primary the sitting speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Well, is the Republicans‘ return to power in danger of falling to the very people, the Tea Partiers, that got them in there?

We‘re joined by MSNBC senior political analyst Mark Halperin of “Time” magazine and “New York” magazine‘s John Halperin (SIC).  We got the heavyweights on tonight, Mark and John.  Mark, you first, and then John.  Is there a schism here between the people on the warpath that created a Republican majority last November and those who benefited from it here in Washington, with all the perks of office?

MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  There is.  It‘s going to be extraordinarily difficult to navigate.  But between now and the next election, it‘s going to be binary.  Either there‘s going to be a big budget deal that conservatives and Tea Partiers are happy with, or there‘s not.  And I think, so far, based on everything that‘s happened since the mid-terms, it‘s more likely than not that there will be.  Some Tea Partiers won‘t be happy with it, but It‘s going to have enough deficit reduction in it that the party can hold it together.

MATTHEWS:  Well, John Heilemann, it seems like the way you make—and the great thing about our numbers system is it allows for compromise.  If the Democrats agree to come up to around 40, the Republicans are around 60, you come in around 50, you got a deal.  The government goes on.  Is that the way it‘s going to work this time?

JOHN HEILEMANN, “NEW YORK”:  Well, I think that that‘s pretty likely, Chris.  You know, I imagine that there‘s going to be a way for a deal to get cut that satisfies the mainstream elements of both the Democratic and the Republican Parties, and you‘re going to end up with some kind of a deal.  But I don‘t know that I completely agree with the notion that that‘s going to satisfy, in the end, the more adamant members of the Tea Party in their coalition.

And you know, I think this was predictable from the outset.  You know, we saw it back in 1995, 1996, again back then, too, you know, where the revolutionaries are inclined to want to eat their own.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HEILEMANN:  And you can tell for months—as soon as this—as soon as November 2 happened, you looked ahead and you said John Boehner is going to have trouble here.  He is a much more establishment figure, a much more mainstream figure than a lot of the new people coming in and a lot of the new constituents in the Republican Party who are animating so much of it.

I thought this was predictable.  You could see it coming.  It‘s actually happened faster than I thought it was going to happen.  To have someone actually calling for a challenge to Boehner in the first week of March—that is pretty fast to see—

MATTHEWS:  Well—

HEILEMANN:  -- their frustration getting to this point.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s some numbers from our polling that just came out, the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, that may back up the fact there is going to be this reign of terror.  The Republican base of John McCain voters, Tea Partiers and self-identified Republicans are much more concerned about spending cuts than are swing voters.  And when you look at these numbers, it‘s the deficit spending is their top issue for McCain people, Republican people, Tea Party people, but not for other people. 

On the flip side, those swing voter groups, like independents, seniors, suburban women, are much more concerned that those big cuts are going to hurt them. 

Mark, that is a challenge.  If you see your party split in half between those who are fiery to get cuts, and the other half are the independent voters and the suburbanites, Republican women mostly, who say, wait a minute, they‘re you‘re coming after me—you‘re coming after child care, Social Security, Medicare, health care, education—I care about those things. 

HALPERIN:  Chris, we have talked a lot about how Barack Obama has this challenge of dealing with the Republican House.  And he can‘t pass anything into law now that the Republican House won‘t pass with big Republican votes. 

The Republicans and the Tea Party movement have the same problem with the Senate and the president.  If you are a serious person and not just an extremist, and you want serious deficit reduction, you have got to get it through Harry Reid and Barack Obama. 

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN:  I think that those people on the list who say they want serious deficit reduction are going to have a chance to get it if they‘re people—and there are a lot of people like this in the country, probably millions—if your attitude is, if Barack Obama is for a budget, there‘s not justify enough deficit reduction in it, then they‘re never going to be happy.

But we have seen these freshmen.  They‘re hard-core and they‘re tough.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HALPERIN:  But they‘re willing to compromise.  A lot of them are very realistic about what it‘s going to take to get through substantial deficit reduction, not everything they want, but substantial. 

MATTHEWS:  So, we see a lot of people out there in trouble like that.  Orrin Hatch is in trouble with the Tea Party people, maybe Olympia Snowe up in Maine, Indiana‘s Richard Lugar.

I want to go back to the really hot thing we were just talking about, if you don‘t mind, John and Mark, John first.

It seems to me that the—since Sarah Palin may not run, Bachmann may not run for president, Thune is not running, that some mainstream Republican type or all of them are all going to try to act—Pawlenty is one of these—they‘re all going to attract like these crazy wild right-wingers. 

Look at the way Huckabee‘s been behaving last week.  Is that what is going to go on?  They‘re going to appeal to this far-right crowd on the birther issue, playing little games with that thing about Mau Maus and madrassas, because they want to get that crowd that doesn‘t have a candidate.

John.

HEILEMANN:  I don‘t know if all of them are going to go that far, Chris, and we haven‘t seen, for instance, Tim Pawlenty go that far so far. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he wants to go back to DADT.  He wants to go back to don‘t ask, don‘t tell.  That‘s playing to the right wing. 

HEILEMANN:  I agree, but that‘s not—I‘m just saying that‘s not as far as going on the birther and the madrassa front. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HEILEMANN:  But I think your central point is exactly right, especially if Mike Huckabee doesn‘t run and Sarah Palin doesn‘t run.  You suddenly have this huge gaping opening where the most energized part of the party has no national spokesman for it.

And so you‘re going to see all of the establishment candidates in one way or the other—it really does matter where they draw the lines, but in one way or the other, they‘re all going to be trying to tap into that energy.  They‘re going to be trying to claim that constituency, especially in places like Iowa and South Carolina, where the nomination is going to be decided and likely will be decided by that cadre of voters. 

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re going to awkward doing it.

Here‘s Tim Pawlenty.  Let‘s take a look at him.  Here‘s a Web video from him.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY ®, FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR:  I think the Tea Party a great addition to the conservative coalition and the coalition for change in this country.  They are part of the energy, the passion, the call for change, and they need it.  And I think that‘s a great energy.

And each generation, each—a big change, historical change in this country usually starts with a group that‘s somewhat fresh, somewhat new, starts out with a little bit of outsider status, but then, over time, they become the driving force for change.  And I think the Tea Party is a welcome, helpful, energetic and forward-leaning organization. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was pretty much, Mark, a 100 proof suck-up, wasn‘t it? 

(LAUGHTER)

HALPERIN:  Well, it was so much like the Palin videos that have gotten attention, except they lacked Sarah Palin.  They had Tim Pawlenty instead. 

Chris, look, going back to the first point, if there‘s a budget deal, I would be stunned if more than one or two Republicans running for president supported it, even if it has the support of John Boehner and some of the freshmen.  They‘re all going to be against it.  And it‘s going to be an easy thing to be against. 

And that is the issue.  All the social issues, the president‘s birthplace, and don‘t ask, don‘t tell, all that stuff can fit in the mix.  But deficit reduction is the big issue.  And I think that it will be a freebie for them to oppose whatever deal is struck, if there is a deal. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the game that the Republicans are going to play is they will have Boehner on the inside cutting the deal, and all the guys running for president and maybe some women running for president will all say, I had nothing to do with it, clean hands.  I‘m out here on the cultural and fiscal right.  I wouldn‘t have anything to do with Washington.  I‘m not there.

HEILEMANN:  Exactly right, and especially, Chris, so many of these candidates who are plausible on the Republican side are in fact either current governors or former governors. 

There‘s no Washington representative who‘s thinking about running for president on the Republican side.  Now that John Thune is out, there‘s no sitting senator.  And Mike Pence is not running, so there‘s no member of the House, except for maybe a Ron Paul.  Other than that, you‘re going to have a lot of outsiders who are going to find it very easy, as Mark just said, to use what they will say is the capitulation of Boehner and McConnell.

MATTHEWS:  So, they‘re going to triangulate.

HEILEMANN:  Exactly right, a different kind of triangulation, a kind of right-wing triangulation.  You‘re going to see it all across the primary landscape.

MATTHEWS:  So what we‘re going to have is a Republican challenge to Barack Obama beginning in the next couple of months that has nothing to do with reality in terms of running this government, Mark, nothing to do with compromise, nothing to do with the numbers that are real. 

All you do is do the war whoops on the outside, raise questions about the guy‘s Americanness, and make all kinds of promises how you‘re going to reduce the cost of government, and just raise hell.

HALPERIN:  Strong presidential candidates run for the nomination in the center.  They don‘t pander to the extreme wing of their party.  We‘re dealing with a Republican field that‘s largely weak.  And that weakness is manifesting itself in a variety of ways, including a race to pander to the far right on a lot of issues, which could help them get the nomination.

But this is what the Democrats and what President Obama‘s advisers are counting on, that it is going to be exactly as you described it.  And that‘s going to be a difficult place to come from, even for someone with a more centrist background. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All they need to do is keep their recording machines going for the next year, and they will have a campaign, the Democrats.  Just record all this stuff. 

Anyway, thank you, Mark Halperin, John Heilemann.  You guys are writing the book.  I can‘t wait to read the next one. 

Up next:  Since when are these palm trees in Wisconsin?  Wait until you catch—Colbert has caught them using out-of-state pictures to show the Wisconsin protesters.  It‘s unbelievable.  What a desperate move on FOX.  Check the “Sideshow” coming up.  We caught them.  Well, Colbert caught them, and we got Colbert catching them. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: outfoxing FOX.  Last night, Steve Colbert caught that network using misleading footage to make the peaceful Wisconsin protests look bad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”) 

BILL O‘REILLY, HOST, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”:  Can you break the crowd down?  How many are professional left-wingers, and how many are just regular folks? 

MIKE TOBIN, FOX NEWS:  You get a lot of out-of-towners.  A lot of people are bused in from not just Wisconsin, but a lot of surrounding states. 

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Shocking footage from Madison, Wisconsin.  They‘re not only busing in people from out of state.  They‘re also busing in palm trees. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Of course, the liberal blogocrats out there have jumped all over papa bear for this.  But it turns out there‘s an explanation.

O‘Reilly used this footage earlier in this broadcast when talking about union thugs in California and understandably used this violent footage again while talking about Wisconsin.  I say, if Wisconsinites wanted O‘Reilly to use footage of their protest while he was talking about possible violence in Wisconsin, those peaceful Wisconsin protesters should have been violent. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Think TV.  It‘s a visual medium. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Nice catch by Colbert. 

Next, we move across the pond.  Conservative member of Parliament Graham Evans was videotaped yesterday playing air guitar during a presentation by the British defense secretary.  Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Redundancy, Mr. Speaker, is never a painless process, whether in the armed forces or elsewhere.  And it is sad to see committed and patriotic men and women lose their jobs.  But in that process, it is essential that they are made fully aware of the options available and the time scales involved. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, not to let that scene go to waste, Labor‘s shadow defense minister is now accusing Conservatives of treating defense cuts as a joke. 

Up next, Newt Gingrich is running for president, we all know now.  Here‘s a guy who‘s been married three times, served divorce papers on one wife while she was in the hospital and was forced out of the speakership after having an extramarital affair right in the middle of the Clinton problem.  During that impeachment trial, he was doing all his stuff. 

And for all these flaws, what makes Newt think he can win?  That‘s coming up.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUE HERERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Sue Herera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A rocky session ending in positive territory today.  The Dow Jones industrial average surging to the upside by about 191 points on the trading session.  The Standard & Poor‘s up 22.53, and the Nasdaq composite trading on the upside by about 50 points on the trading session. 

In other news at this hour, the market was not the only news that we had today.  We also had oil prices holding at about the $100-per-barrel mark on the trading session.  That was encouraging to traders.  In addition to that, they are looking at retail sales, which were pretty strong for most of the major stores that reported today. 

However, they are saying that a late Easter and some bad weather may make the rest of the month a little weaker than expected.  The focus tomorrow will be on jobs.  We will be keeping an eye on that for you. 

That‘s your CNBC news update.  I‘m Sue Herera—and now back to HARDBALL and Chris. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  We are today establishing a Web site, NewtExplore2012.com.  And that Web site is up I think as of about an hour ago.  We will look at this very seriously, and we will very methodically lay out the framework of what we will do next. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I guess you know a guy‘s running when he starts using the royal we—we, we, we. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former Speaker Newt Gingrich all but saying he‘s in the race

and I think he‘s saying it—for the Republican nomination.  He‘s one of the better-known Republicans, for better or worse, to toss his name into the ring, but probably not for all the right reasons.

Can Newt Gingrich reinvent himself?  Or is he doomed to be who he was?

I‘m joined by former Democratic Congressman Kweisi Mfume and editor of Talking Points Memo, Joshua Marshall.

Congressman, I‘m so amazed to have—well, I‘m great to have you on tonight, because you‘re an eyewitness to this guy‘s performance. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He went out during a book scandal, a marital craziness that was going on there.  Right in the middle of the Clinton thing, he was having his own problems in that part of the world, that behavior pattern. 

He was reprimanded formally.  A lot of people think he should have been censured.  And then he got kicked out basically by his own party, with three or four guys running against him.  And he had to leave and he was probably going to get hit by Larry Flynt or somebody else on the way out the door. 

And now he‘s back completely forgiving himself, having rejuvenated himself in some bizarre way on the right.  Is this just a sign of how bad the Republican list is, that he‘s even on it?

KWEISI MFUME (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Well, that‘s a litany to go through.

I can only say that Newt would probably argue that you don‘t have to be a saint to run for president.  However, you do need to find a way to respond to all those issues, whether it‘s GOPAC, whether it was the 22 bounced checks during the House scandal or some of the other things that have come up over time. 

(LAUGHTER)

MFUME:  I‘m sure he‘s responded to these things over and over again.  It‘s just that when you put yourself out, as he‘s doing, even though he has not said candidate, it raises those issues in the minds of a lot of people.

And I have to say that Mr. Gingrich is very smart in what he‘s doing here.  He‘s not saying he‘s a candidate.  He‘s not saying this is a presidential committee.  He‘s calling it exploratory.  So, when you do that, you‘re outside of FEC regulations.  You don‘t have to report donors.  And to some extent, you lower the degree of scrutiny that you bring on to yourself. 

MATTHEWS:  Joshua Marshall, what‘s this about—I can‘t believe the American people would ever elect this guy president with his rap sheet.  But he will be very good in the debates.  He‘s a sharp cookie, for better or worse.  He knows how to pull the knife out and hit the other guy hard, stick it to him.  He‘s very good at the negative.  He‘s a great sort of assailant.

I‘m not sure he proposes anything.  Your thoughts? 

(LAUGHTER)

JOSHUA MICAH MARSHALL, FOUNDER AND EDITOR, TALKING POINTS MEMO:  I

think that‘s exactly right.

The problem with Newt is, there are number of things in presidential politics that would usually rule you out.  One of them is being a highly polarizing, divisive figure.  Another is having a lot of ethics scandals.  Another is having a lot of personal or sex scandals, another, megalomania. 

(LAUGHTER)

MARSHALL:  The thing is, with Newt, he brings together all of those things into a single package.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MARSHALL:  And that‘s why I think that you have a lot of Democrats sort of salivating at the prospect, because you‘re right. 

Newt, there‘s no question.  You go back to 1994 in the lead-up to the 1994 midterm.  The guy has this sort of boffo, in-your-face kind of rhetoric, where he will just—he welcome hit so hard.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  He‘s good at it.

MARSHALL:  Yes.  And to the people who are being hit, often, it seems so outrageous or so bold, that they‘re sort of stunned into silence. 

But, again, that‘s not—that is not the kind of person that gets elected president. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

MARSHALL:  That‘s the kind of person who makes debates very interesting for reporters, but not the kind of person who gets elected president. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, because in the end, Congressman and Josh, you are running for head of state, the person who represents the country.  I‘m not sure he‘s ready for that particular prime-time close-up. 

He‘s NBC‘s latest polling with “Wall Street Journal.”  It‘s got him—interestingly, he‘s in the pack.  It‘s who should be the nominee, who is the first choice actually to be the nominee.  And he‘s up there at 13 percent behind Huckabee at 25 percent, Romney at 21 percent.  He‘s at 13 percent.  Palin‘s down at 12 percent. 

Now, that‘s kind of a shock, Congressman.  Here he is edging out a woman, a person, who‘s gotten more publicity than anybody.  She‘s had almost like Charlie Sheen publicity now for about two years or three years now.  I don‘t mean that bad obviously.  But Newt, who I thought was a man of the past and sort of the dark past, here he is back edging around.

What does he—objectively, what does he offer the Republicans that‘s got him up there in a win, place, show position already?

MFUME:  Well, he‘s got a 25 year constituency of loyalists who are still within the party, who still make a difference, still have a vote and who still remember him.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MFUME:  And in some instances may want him back.  Ms. Palin doesn‘t necessarily have it.

So, I think the numbers you‘re seeing are people who have been comfortable, quote, “with” Newt Gingrich for all these many years and they‘re still saying they support him.

But the bottom line is we‘re a million light years away from the election.  And as we get closer, those numbers will probably drop.  They will probably increase for Romney and maybe Huckabee.  But I think that what Newt Gingrich wants more than anything else is an audience, a stage, a platform—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MFUME: -- a soapbox to be able to raise issues that heretofore he‘s not been able to raise in the same sort of way.

MATTHEWS:  He used to be a congressman from the donut down there, around Atlanta, part of that sort of back wash to join the Republican Party after the Democratic Party came out for civil rights in the ‘60s.  Let‘s take a look at this stuff that he was putting out, this sort of feed, this malarkey we‘ve been getting from Huckabee this week.  He was sort of like the first responder with this nonsense.

Here‘s what Newt Gingrich told the “National Review” last September, I believe.  Quote, “What if Obama is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together his actions?  That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.  This is a person who‘s fundamentally out-of-touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.”

So, here‘s Mr. Con referring to a con on the part of our president, who‘s been clean as a whistle his whole career and life, accusing the president of some sort of corruptive way of selling his anti-colonial, I guess he forgot the phrase, Mau Mau here, which here, which this other guy uses, Congressman.

This—where does he get this Newt stuff from?  Where did he—does he get this?  What trough does he get it out of, this stuff?

MFUME:  Of course, I don‘t know.  I mean, I have known Newt Gingrich for years.  I served with him for 10 years.  He was a back bencher in the Congress.  He had a lot of ideas.

Nobody really paid attention to him until he got a group together and did this Contract on America.  And then, you know, overnight, after attacking Jim Wright and other things, he became a sensation.

But he is too far of a fringe candidate to be seriously elected president in this country.  I think most people know that people are not on the far left or the far right, most people are on the middle.  And those—that kind of rhetoric takes you out of the middle.  In fact, it takes you off of the planet in many respects.

(LAUGHTER)

MFUME:  So, I think you‘re going to see Newt Gingrich trying to conform himself to come inward again.  But it‘s too late—the record is the record, his remarks are his remarks.  And more than anything else, he‘s going to be the candidate that I think are going to make a lot of other Republicans uneasy because of the issues that he‘s going to drive in this campaign.

MATTHEWS:  I think the fact that he‘s floating to the top of this group of candidates tells you more about the other candidates.  By the way, I love the way you said Contract on America, Congressman.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I was thinking about this contract form.

Anyway, thank you, as always, a little partisan is good.  Kweisi Mfume from Maryland, the great state of Maryland.

Thank you, Josh Marshall, as always, of “Talking Points.”

MARSHALL:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next: there‘s more evidence coming to light that could lead to an indictment of John Edwards.  What an interesting murky this is.  It has to do with a girlfriend, the cover up and apparently a charge coming from the U.S. attorney that there‘s a law being broken here, a felony.  We‘ve never seen anything like this before.  We‘re going to show you some of the audios that—we‘ll listen to rather, that‘s got some incriminating evidence apparently.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Another Senate Democrat has announcement his retirement, Hawaii‘s Daniel Akaka won‘t run for a fifth term next year.  He‘s the fifth Democrat not to run for reelection, following Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Virginia‘s Jim Web, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and, of course, the great Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.  And while Democrats will try to recruit a top candidate, that guy will benefit from having President Obama at the top of the ticket.  By the way, the Democrats will win in Hawaii, they always do.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

A series of voicemail messages from John Edwards at one of his top fundraisers are using—are being used by prosecutors apparently to suggest the former presidential candidate coordinated an attempt to cover up his affair and his child that he had with her, Rielle Hunter.  The recordings obtained by ABC affiliate WTVD in North Carolina where phone messages left for former Edwards aide, Andrew Young, and they have been turned over to the federal grand jury that‘s investigating whether Edwards violated campaign finance laws by using campaign funds here.

It‘s interesting.  Here‘s an audiotape of Edwards from December 2007 on the campaign trail in New Hampshire purportedly calling Andrew Young to check on Rielle Hunter.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m standing out in 18-degree temperatures to call you.  And please tell her I said hello and I‘ll call later tonight.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney was a communications director for Elizabeth Edwards.  He‘s also served the same role for the DNC.

Karen, you know, the charge being brought here apparently by the U.S.  attorney down there.  He‘s a Republican holdover from the Bush administration.  I‘m skeptical about this.

The charge is that the money paid to quiet down or to cover up this affair that the senator had, the candidate for president, had with this woman and the baby had with her was somehow a new kind of campaign contribution.  And therefore, the money used for it should have been reported as a campaign contribution.  And that‘s apparently the theory of this prosecution.

What do you make of it?  I‘ve never heard of a campaign expenditure category called covering up girlfriends and babies.

KAREN FINNEY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well

MATTHEWS:  I mean, it seems like a strange argument.  It may be bad behavior, but is it a crime?

FINNEY:  Well, but, Chris, you‘re not supposed to use campaign funds for personal use.  And so, the question is—

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s not the charge.  The charge is this is—this is improper use.  This is a campaign expenditure.  That‘s the theory of the prosecution.

FINNEY:  Right.  But here‘s the problem, Chris, what you had was—in this prosecution, a 527 was set up.  Then there was an LLC set up with a similar name.  Part of what the prosecution is charging is that funds essentially went from the 527 and then to the LLC, the LLC, which has to file with the IRS, has different recording requirements than the 527.  And that‘s how the money kind of went through the loop and then got to Rielle Hunter and to Andrew Young when they were sort of hiding out and trying to hide things.

The question has been—as it always is, what did he know and when did he know it?

MATTHEWS:  But what‘s the crime exactly?

FINNEY:  Well, the crime—what they‘re alleging is, did he know that monies that were supposed to be used for the campaign were actually being used to keep, you know, Andrew and Rielle and Andrew‘s wife essentially traveling all over the country kind of hiding out.

MATTHEWS:  All right.

FINNEY:  So—I mean, you know, it‘s interesting, though, Chris, because technically it could create sort of a different loophole into campaign finance regulations.

MATTHEWS:  No.  It‘s just that they say this was done to keep the guy‘s record clear so he wouldn‘t be embarrassed out of the campaign.

FINNEY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And then it was a campaign expenditure.  (INAUDIBLE).

Let‘s go through some of the evidence here.  Here‘s a message from a top campaign backer Fred Baron who later admitted that he paid the money, the rent for Rielle Hunter and Andrew Young.  Let‘s listen.  This is supposedly the payoff here.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FRED BARON, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN BACKER:  Hey, Andrew, it‘s Fred Baron.  I just wanted to give you an update on our dear friend, Rielle.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, and here‘s a message from Baron, he‘s the big money guy, in July of 2008, just four days after the “National Enquirer” caught John Edwards meeting Rielle and their child at a Los Angeles hotel.  Let‘s listen to this one.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARON:  Hey, Andrew, it‘s Fred.  I just had a long conversation with Edwards and this has just—you know, it‘s been awful.  But we‘re going to get through it, and I just wanted to be—you know, just to tell you how positive I feel like we‘re going to get through this thing.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I want to play one more as we get all these behind.  Here‘s Edwards, the “National Enquirer” side (ph) talking to Andrew.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

EDWARDS:  Andrew, it‘s John.  It‘s 5:48 North Carolina time.  I did just find something out about what‘s on the cover of the “National Enquirer.”

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, they‘re obviously all talking together.  Andrew Young was apparently going to hold the bag and say that he was the father of the child to cover up for the candidate.  And, of course, Fred Baron had something to do with financing some of the costs of all of this.  And a lot of this is on the record.

I guess, I‘m—it‘s the old question, Karen.  And I know you‘ve been in politics for a long time.  And I had worked with it a long time.  And I wonder whether we‘re getting to a case when something is hanky-panky, are we turning it into a federal case, properly or not?  What‘s your judgment?

Is this really a good use of federal time to investigate and prosecute a guy for something that was wrong but maybe it‘s a strange way to use the law?

FINNEY:  Well, I mean, it‘s certainly very seedy.  I think the question is, you know, again, if the candidate knew that monies were being improperly utilized and if he potentially was the person who authorized that or ordered that or OK‘ed that in some fashion, that is a problem, frankly.  I think there‘s a secondary issue as to whether or not this additional loophole was created.

But remember, John Edwards has claimed and what these messages showed, Edwards has claimed he didn‘t know anything about it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINNEY:  Once Andrew kind of, quote-unquote, “came clean,” he said, of course, he knew about it.  He knew everything that was going on.

So, I think these messages are meant to support the idea that John Edwards did know what was going on, which is exactly the crux of the case.  And, you know, I mean, Chris, it‘s for people to judge whether or not, you know, it‘s a good use of federal time.  Unclear—but certainly it‘s disconcerting if, you know, different systems were set up in order to sort of, you know, hide the money here and there.

And like I say, I mean, you‘re not supposed to use the funds for personal use.  I would say hiding your mistress would count as personal use.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what—that‘s what I would think would be the common sense way of looking at this.  And I agree with you about that.  You don‘t want to give money to a candidate and find out he‘s used for hanky-panky cover-up.

FINNEY:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  But apparently, this U.S. attorney, this Republican U.S.

attorney, is bringing this case on the theory that this was a campaign

expenditure.  One with a purpose, which is to keep this guy in the running

by covering up something, and it wasn‘t reported.

           

FINNEY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  What a strange case.

Karen Finney, thank you for your expertise in one weird situation.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with what‘s really un-American.  These attacks, these attempts by Huckabee and the rest of them to make this president seem like a foreigner.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with this horrible talk we‘re hearing in this country.  I was out last night in California, Los Angeles, with a large of former Peace Corps volunteers like me.  We were at UCLA talking about the Corps‘ 50th anniversary this week, ever since John F.  Kennedy decided it was a good idea to get young Americans out there in the world, helping countries develop, sharing some of our American “can do” spirit, and in the process, learning something about how the rest of the world looks at things.

It came to me that everything good about that is being assaulted these days.  This guy, Huckabee, and Gingrich and W. before him were out there trashing the whole idea of learning anything from about world, anything from the rest of the world.  This whole stupidization of things that began with Bush‘s inane attempt to rename French fries.

Now, this guy, Huckabee, is going around the right wing radio world singing the song that our president isn‘t really one of us, because his father, who stayed with him until the age of 2 infected him with some kind of foreignness.  You know, he‘s a Kenyan, he‘s a secret Muslim, he‘s over there where those African people, where those different people live.

I thought we were beyond this yahoo talk, this fear of the world, this monkey trial nonsense.  But we‘re not, are we?  We‘ve got knuckleheads promenading around the right wing radio belt playing to the God knows who crowd saying how Obama was somehow involved with the Mau Maus, hanging around madrassa schools—all the while that this young kid way back then trying to make it in this country.

And all he did, everything he did was right as a regular American kid, playing basketball on a championship team in Hawaii.  That‘s what I wanted to do growing up, be a championship basketball player.  He went to Catholic school, like I did.  He got into Occidental College in California, then to Columbia University.  And then he went to Ivy League and with the Harvard Law where he made that law review.

What more do you want his kid to do?  He‘s done everything right.

Look at his marriage.  Michelle has done everything right.  Her brother is a top basketball coach out of Oregon State.  Their kids look like they‘re right out of a picture book.  This isn‘t just the American Dream, it‘s done (ph) near perfect.

And what is this right wing goon squad doing?  They keep talking about his father, his grandfather.  What about his grandfather who fought under Patton in World War II?  What do these people are looking for?  Some evidence that he‘s black?  Is that it?

They ought to be ashamed of themselves.  You know what‘s un-America? 

Huckabee and Newt and the rest of them—this stuff is.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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