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updated 3/11/2011 12:09:18 PM ET 2011-03-11T17:09:18

Guests: Simon Hobbs, Michelle Bernard, Spencer Coggs, John Nichols, Laura Richardson, Alejandro Beutel, Jenny Backus, Jonathan Martin, Sam Stein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Workers of the world unite.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: The Ash Wednesday ambush.  The Republicans have won their battle with the unions in Wisconsin.  Their clever maneuver last night got them what they wanted.  But as my hero, Winston Churchill, once said, there are two kinds of success, initial and ultimate.  This issue has fired up Democrats around the country much in the way that the health care debate energized Republicans last year.  The Democrats hope to turn the Republicans‘ victory this March into a defeat this November.

Plus, when Republican Peter King announced his hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims, he probably didn‘t imagine this to be the image everyone remembers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA:  Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans.  His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was the emotional reaction of Congressman Keith Ellison to this whole thing—one of the two Muslims in Congress, by the way, he is—talking about a Muslim medical technician who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.  The question for Peter King, are these hearings more likely to curb Islamic extremism or more likely to feed into the growing perception that his party, the Republicans, are fear mongerers?

Also, in the long history of human relations, has anyone tried to defend his infidelity with as preposterous an excuse as the one Newt Gingrich is dishing out right now, or rather test driving, that his patriotism got him to do it?  My question tonight—how does such contempt, how does Gingrich using this contempt for the religious voters he‘s trying to win—how‘s it going to make him look good?

Speaking of Newt, why is the GOP allowing him and Mike Huckabee to steal the spotlight?  Where are the grown-ups in the Republican Party this year?

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with the real target of today‘s hearing‘s on Muslim radicalization.  Hint: He‘s not a Muslim.

We‘ll start with the Ash Wednesday ambush in Wisconsin last night, where the state assembly just followed up what the senate did last night by passing a bill stripping collective bargaining rights from public workers‘ unions.

Spencer Coggs is a Democratic state senator from Wisconsin and John Nichols has been covering this story well for “The Nation.”

Let me go to Senator Coggs.  Senator, it looks to me like they really went draconian with this.  They went all the way, stripping away all labor rights, all collective bargaining rights.  You can‘t even do anything but stay somewhere below the cost of living.  And basically, what else?  Well, what is in this bill?  It seems like it‘s the worst example of what you can do when you have one-party control.  Your thoughts.

SPENCER COGGS (D), WISCONSIN STATE SENATOR:  Well, that‘s absolutely true.  It‘s desperation, and this is not what democracy looks like or should look like.  What you have, basically, is 18 Republicans stole democracy from the people of the state of Wisconsin.  They were saying before, This is about the budget, this is about the fiscal deficit that we‘re in, and yet what they did last night was they stripped out all the fiscal and they left in that terrible, terrible policy that hurts the workers‘ rights of the working families of the state of Wisconsin.

You know, you won‘t be able to bargain for your hours.  You won‘t be able to bargain for your safety.  It‘s just abysmal.  It‘s so brazen, but it‘s a desperate attempt, I think, by the Republican Party, especially Governor Walker, to lock in those 18 Republican senators because there are so many of them who will be getting waivered (ph) because we have got recalls against all of them.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s your colleague, the minority leader of the state assembly, Peter Barca, protesting the Republicans‘ actions last night.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s call the roll.

PETER BARCA (D), WISCONSIN SENATE MINORITY LEADER:  No!  No!  No! 

Listen, it says, “If there‘s any doubt as to whether good cause exists”—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Call the roll.

BARCA: -- “the governmental body should provide 24 hours‘ notice.”  This is clearly a violation of the open meetings law.  (INAUDIBLE) been shutting people down.  It is improper for you to move forward while this is a violation of the open meetings law.  You‘re not allowing amendments, and that is wrong.  Now, I—Mr. Chairman, this is a violation of law!  This is not just a rule, it is the law!  There must be—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This meeting is adjourned.

BARCA:  No!  Mr. Chairman, this is a violation of the open meetings law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they walked out on him, Senator.  So what do you make of the assemblyman—Assemblyman Barca‘s case that the law of the senate out there, your body, is that you have to have a 24-hour notice to have any kind of important hearing, and vote, certainly?  What about that?  Can you use that to stop this from becoming law?

COGGS:  Oh, absolutely.  This is—

MATTHEWS:  Well, can you?

COGGS: -- Republican thievery and—

MATTHEWS:  You say absolutely, but how do you do it?

COGGS:  Well, what we‘re going to do is we‘re going to use the courts initially to try to see if we can enjoin this conduct that has happened because, quite frankly, they did violate the 24-hour rule.  They did not have a draft of the bill in front of them.  I don‘t think they even have a draft at this particular time.  So the vote on the bill without a draft is also illegal.

But they did what they did illegally, and it was a tactic that they used.  We feel (INAUDIBLE) that tactic is going to backfire against them.  The people of the state of Wisconsin are not going to stand for that.  And as you can tell last night, thousands of people came to the capitol because of this terrible, terrible vote that they took last night and today, and they will continue to come.  So today it‘s—you know, it was the vote, tomorrow it‘s the recall.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about this with John Nichols from “The Nation.”  John, it looks to me like this measure that went through last night and today—or today especially—was so harsh.  Not only does it take away real collective bargaining—you can‘t get anything better than the cost of living, you can‘t even get that perhaps—you also no longer have paycheck deductions, so the unions aren‘t getting their dues.  And furthermore, you don‘t have to pay dues.  You don‘t even have to pay dues to compensate (ph) (INAUDIBLE) anybody, even if you don‘t want to join the union.  It seems to me this is really a union-crushing measure, not a fiscal measure.  Your thoughts.

JOHN NICHOLS, “THE NATION”:  Well, of course, it is a union-crushing measure, Chris.  And Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald acknowledged as much in an interview on another network yesterday, in which he said, This will help us to beat Obama in Wisconsin in 2012.  There‘s been clear acknowledgment from the Republicans that they want to weaken the public employee unions not merely because of politics but also because these are the strongest forces in Wisconsin to raise issues of concern to public services and education.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is—

NICHOLS:  So this is really about shutting down a functional debate.

MATTHEWS:  John, here‘s—senator, here‘s the governor, your adversary here, Governor Walker, earlier today talking about that senate vote last night, I call the Ash Wednesday ambush.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SCOTT WALKER ®, WISCONSIN:  For the remainder of this year, it allows us to save $30 million, which allows us to save 1,500 jobs.  And for the next two years thereafter, the next budget, it gives us at the state level the equivalent of $300 million worth of savings, which allows us to save some 5,000 to 6,000 jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What can you do now, Senator?  Can you recall the governor?  Can you recall any of the state senators you work with, the Republicans who pulled this off last night?

COGGS:  Well, eight Republican senators are under recall currently.  Senator Alberta Darling, over the past weekend, 27 percent of the signatures that are needed to recall were gathered.  Twenty-seven percent of the recall signatures were gathered against Senator Kapanke.  We have at least four others where we probably will be able to take that recall and defeat those senators.

So in a sense, they won this battle, but we and the people will win the war because the people of the state of Wisconsin have a long tradition of fairness, and this reeked of unfairness.  This is where they said, We want you to come back from Illinois.  We went to Illinois because our voice was not being heard.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COGGS:  Then what they did was ignored our voice, and they wanted us to stay in Illinois so they could take this illegal vote yesterday.

MATTHEWS:  Can you knock them out this November?  Can you move that quickly with the recall process?

COGGS:  Well, the recall process is moving very, very swiftly.  Within 60 days, they‘re going to have enough signatures to recall at least eight Republican senators.  And if we can get four of those people out by recall, we can retake the senate.  Now, with Scott Walker, the clock is tick, tick, ticking away because in January of 2012, there are going to be people who are going to gather signatures for Scott Walker.  And people say, Well, you know, you might need up to 500,000 signatures.  Well, if you look at the numbers of people who‘ve been coming to the capitol, getting that many signatures will not be that hard.

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s only the beginning, right?  You still have to beat them in a recall vote, right?  The signatures don‘t knock them out of office, do they?

COGGS:  Absolutely. .

MATTHEWS:  Right.  OK.  Several Democrats—

COGGS:  Well, look at it this way, the momentum we get is so great.

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me go back to John—let me go back to John Nichols on this.  Let‘s talk about this politically nationwide.  You cover the whole country in this fight.  This is a national fight.  Everybody‘s watching Wisconsin.  The president—is he off-duty here?  Has the president failed to get out—I mean, Jesse Jackson‘s out there.  He often shows up where there‘s a labor dispute.  The president‘s not there.  Should he be there?  What‘s your call?

NICHOLS:  I think the president—well, I have to tell you, the president has probably been wise to stay away.  The fact of the matter is that this has not been a purely partisan fight in Wisconsin.  When you go into these crowds at the capitol, you meet many Republicans, many corrections officers, many police officers—

MATTHEWS:  I see.

NICHOLS: -- who aren‘t your typical liberal Democrat.  And right now, what‘s happened in Wisconsin is that Barack Obama has yielded (ph) a great benefit from this without actually having to invest very much.

There will come a point, however, where when you see draconian moves of this kind, that there will be a greater demand on this president to speak up and to say where he stands as regard to governors who seem to be adopting what one legislator, Fred Risser here in Wisconsin, has referred to as dictatorial power.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go back to the politics in Wisconsin, Senator Coggs.  Your party lost a U.S. Senate seat last November.  You lost the governorship.  You lost the legislature.  Why didn‘t you fight harder out there to keep control?  It looks like you‘re a victim now because you lost an election, and they‘re using that election to beat your brains in.

COGGS:  Well, you know, what happens in Wisconsin, one third is Democrat, one third is Republican, and one third is independents.  Unfortunately, we did lose the independents last time, but Governor Walker in the last few Republican polls has shown that his favorability numbers are in the 30 percentile, so—and we are also showing that the independents are swinging our way.  So everything is in our direction.

Yesterday wasn‘t a great moment for the state of Wisconsin at all, but it shone a light on this bad news repair budget.  And it also shone a light on the character of our governor and the Republicans who are just trying to steal democracy from the state of Wisconsin.

MATTHEWS:  So let‘s go through what you‘ve got in your order of battle.  You‘ve got a court case pending here, where you can possibly enjoin the senate in Wisconsin in Madison not to have this carried through because they didn‘t give 24-hour notice.  You‘ve got recall petitions working against a number of the state senators who voted on this thing, right?  And you‘re going to gear up—I‘m just advocating this—you‘re going to gear up for the next election and take it seriously this time.  Just a thought.

COGGS:  Well, we‘re going to take it seriously.  We‘re going to take it seriously, and we‘re going to have the nation helping us.  People from all over the country have come.  Now, this is a home-grown—this is grass roots.  This isn‘t Astroturf, this movement in Wisconsin, OK?  But we are having people from all over the country helping us to go forward and move forward because in Wisconsin, our motto is “Forward.”  So we are on a momentum swing like you would not believe.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

COGGS:  Last night was not pretty, but tomorrow we will survive and we will thrive.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re talking to a guy who loves natural turf.  Thank you very much—in all sports and events such as this.  Thank you, sir, State Senator Spencer Coggs at an unknown location in Illinois, John Nichols on site in Madison for “Nation” magazine.

Coming up: Emotions ran high at Congressman Peter King‘s hearing today.  This should be the hottest story in the world, this one.  We‘re only getting to this second because there‘s another hot story.  This scene today with Keith Ellison is in the history books with the McCarthy hearings.  This is up there.  What did it accomplish?  King‘s got problems.  He went out there to do something today.  He got the opposite thrown at him.  We‘ll be right back with what happened today in those hearings of the so-called radicalization of American Muslims.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is really from “The Twilight Zone.”  Newt Gingrich has blamed his marital infidelity on his patriotism and work ethic, and now he‘s chosen where he‘ll announce his presidential campaign.  The former House speaker says he‘s going to do it in Philadelphia at Independence Hall probably in late May.  And Gingrich has picked former senator Zell Miller—you remember him, the lover of duels? -- to be co-chair of his campaign, which he says he expects will be based out of Atlanta.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  Republican congressman Peter King took the spotlight today with his much-derided hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims.  Many Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee objected to the nature and scope of today‘s hearings, saying they demonized and targeted a minority religious group.

And Democratic congressman Keith Ellison, one of only two Muslims in the U.S. Congress, testified and clearly choked up when he paid tribute to a Muslim American paramedic who lost his life in the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.  Let‘s listen, watch and remember.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA:  Mr. Hamdani bravely sacrificed his life to try to help others on 9/11.  After the tragedy, some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith.  Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was Muslim.  But it was only when his remains were identified that these lives were exposed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Will today‘s hearings prevent Islamic terrorism in this country, or will they feed into the right‘s—well, the right wing‘s game of stoking irrational fears about the Muslim faith?  Democratic congresswoman Laura Richardson of California‘s a member of Homeland Security Committee and was opposed to today‘s hearings.

Congresswoman, it reminds me of the McCarthy hearings in March of—well, 1954, when McCarthy went one way and the country went another way.  You go too far in this country, people begin to dislike you.  What did you think happened today?

REP. LAURA RICHARDSON (D-CA), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE:  Well, you know, Chris, I think this was an all-time low for Congress.  I think Peter King showed a disrespect for the House because he discriminated.  He chose to choose one religious group over looking at the evaluations of all of them, and that‘s wrong.  That‘s not what this Congress is about.  And I think he misused the power and he got the punishment for it, which was he hit a total bust on this one.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think—what do you think is the appropriate way of dealing with terrorism in this country?  Is there an appropriate way to determine if someone has been radicalized to the point where they‘re part of the terrorist threat?  Is that something that should be done by the FBI quietly?  Is that something that should be done by police officials and by people who warn people, warn police about a problem and left out of the political sphere?  How would you do it, if you were in charge?

RICHARDSON:  Well, you know, I think, first of all, it takes a total approach.  You know, Peter King in his point about a community approach—yes, we have to make sure that parents are informed, teachers are informed, classmates are informed, other adults are informed, to know what to look for.  But it‘s also, as you said, the professionals, and that‘s where Peter King failed today.  He didn‘t have a single professional there who could document and validate really the hate that he spoke.

The bottom line was this.  I brought forward on February 9th—we had Mr. Lightheart (ph), who‘s the director of the national counter terrorism.  (SIC)  And I asked the very question.  Some say that it‘s OK, how would you view, how many people are you looking at that are Muslim American?  And his answer was, A minute amount.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RICHARDSON:  So Peter King was pushing his own particular agenda, and I think today it came really to fruition.

MATTHEWS:  Wait‘ll you catch—

RICHARDSON:  Sheriff Baca was—Sheriff Baca was an excellent witness.

MATTHEWS:  Wait‘ll you catch this operation.  Here‘s Republican congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina talking up the weird threat that Sharia law is taking over America.  These are real conspiracy theorists.  They‘re wacky, and they say Sharia is taking over some kind of—I don‘t know even know what they‘re talking about sometimes. 

Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEFF DUNCAN ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I am regularly astonished and outraged—outraged—by this administration‘s continued failure to single out who our enemy is. 

An issue that is of particular concern to me and my constituents, and that is the threat of Sharia law to the United States Constitution. 

Do you feel that the U.S. government has done an adequate job learning about Islam and how Islamic doctrines affect the behavior and community norms of Muslims residing in America?  And how does Islamic doctrine and Sharia law shape the responsiveness of local U.S. Muslim communities to law enforcement efforts that target Islamic jihad? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a reading—a congressman reading nonsense.  There‘s no Sharia law in the United States.  We have a democracy, we have a court system which is based on modern principles of justice. 

Congresswoman, I want you to listen to this montage of Republicans stoking fear about Islam in this country.  This is the whole radio belt and political belt of craziness that is trying to scare us.  Let‘s listen. 

RICHARDSON:  OK. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  How we don‘t have some kind of movement in this country on the left that understands that Sharia is a direct mortal virtually every value that the left has is really one of the most interesting historical questions. 

We should have a federal law that says under no circumstance in any jurisdiction in the United States will Sharia be used by any court to—to apply to any judgment made about American law. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GLENN BECK, HOST, “GLENN BECK”:  I believe that I can make a case in the end that there are—there are three powers that you will see really emerge, one, a Muslim caliphate that controls the Mideast and parts of Europe. 

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  And I could really anger some people, if I said let‘s compare the number of Muslims who have been Nobel Prize winners to the number of Jews who have been Nobel Prize winners.  And I don‘t think it is a contest. 

SHARRON ANGLE ®, FORMER NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  My thoughts are these.  First of all, Dearborn, Michigan, and Frankford, Texas, are on American soil and under constitutional law, not Sharia law.  And I don‘t know how that happened in the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, I don‘t know whether to call them a band of nitwits or what.  I don‘t think any word captures that kind of fear-mongering.  They are talking about Sharia taking over. 

And these are people with very high IQs.  Nobody doubts the intelligence of Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh or any of these guys.  I don‘t know about Glenn Beck, but most of them are really smart people.  And they are out selling this stuff, fear against Muslims taking over secretly, using the president, who is—who they claim sort of secretly is a Muslim, too. 

RICHARDSON:  You know, Chris, you hit right on the point.  This is about fear and creating horror with the American people. 

If you look at the facts, the Homeland Security Solution Institute said that 26 percent, yes, of potential plots have come to America, 26 percent, but what about the 23.3 percent of white supremacists? 

This is about fear of one particular group.  And I want to hit one point really clear.  Peter King, he—he puttered out today.  Why?  He didn‘t prove when he said two tests that he wanted to meet.  One, why was it that it was a narrow gap of considering Muslim-Americans alone?  And the only professional there to testify hit the point that it is not just Muslim-Americans. 

Two, he said that they were not participating and working with law enforcement.  And Sheriff Baca hit that one as well.  So, I think what happened today was Peter King, all he could resort to is fear and showing two parents who had had a tremendous loss. 

Come to my district.  I can show you 100 parents who have lost and who their children have been radicalized by the local gang in our neighborhood. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Well, I will tell you what‘s going to be on the front page of the every newspaper.  It will be Keith Ellison with his very emotional demonstration—

RICHARDSON:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS: -- of his Americanism and his patriotism today, and not Peter King. 

Let‘s—thank you so much, U.S. Congresswoman Laura Richardson of California. 

Alejandro Beutel is the government liaison for the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Alejandro, thank you for joining us so much tonight. 

ALEJANDRO BEUTEL, MUSLIM PUBLIC AFFAIRS COUNCIL:  My pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  I was wondering how this is going to play not just—well, let‘s talk about how it will play in the American-Muslim community. 

What are the people in Dearborn, the people all over New Jersey—they‘re all over the country—people who are of the Muslim faith, how are they going to react to the show trial today in the U.S. Congress? 

BEUTEL:  Well, I think the Muslim-American community is seeing it for what it really is, which is first and foremost that this is really blatant political theater, rather than actual problem-solving, and that, as recognizing such, that they are going to reject this sort of bigotry at hand and really continue to try to strive forward and make their voices heard and be included as part of this society. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think is the Republican—and I have to say partisan, because I think there‘s a big partisan piece to this, maybe not all partisan out there in Wisconsin, but this thing, when you have Republicans—the latest numbers are somewhere between a third and more of Republicans believe that President Obama—and they don‘t like this about him—they think he is a Muslim. 

They don‘t say there‘s nothing wrong with it.  They say there‘s something wrong with it, and he is it.  That‘s 31.  By the way, “TIME” magazine has got it pegged at 46 percent -- 46 percent of Republicans—and that includes a lot of smart suburbanites, too, who went to college, who know what is going on.  They are included in that list.  That‘s what is staggering. 

They accuse him of being part of a group and then they demonize him and the group.  What‘s going on?  Maybe I have already answered it. 

BEUTEL:  Well, yes, I think you are hitting the nail on the head there, and really that Islam and Muslims are being used as a social wedge issue right now, and that really what we see here as a community is that there‘s a cottage industry of folks who are using this to both politically and financially profiteer off of the fear of Islam and Muslims, when in fact Muslim-Americans are here, are hardworking citizens trying to contribute to the safety and security of our nation and contributing every which way possible to making our country prosperous. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that seems to be my assessment.  Thank you.  It looks like a witch trial or something, although, you know, there really are Islamic people, and they are really hurting them. 

BEUTEL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Witches didn‘t exist.

BEUTEL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But there are really people here getting hurt. 

Thank you so much, Alejandro, for coming on, Alejandro Beutel.

BEUTEL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the hottest thing the Republicans have going for them, according to this one woman in this meeting.  Just watch what one female voter told the governor.  This is fun stuff, actually—I guess we could use some humor tonight—at a town hall last night in Jersey.  Check it out next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching it.  And there you are.  There‘s Chris Christie right there.  You can‘t miss him. 

HARDBALL coming back on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: style over substance?  “The New York Times” today came out with a very critical front-page story on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie under the headline: “A Governor‘s Blunt Talk Isn‘t Always Straight.”

“The Times” reports—quote—“Chris Christie‘s misstatements, exaggerations and carefully constructed claims belie the national image he has built as a blunt talker who gives straight answers to hard questions, especially about budgets and labor relations.  Candor is central to Mr.  Christy‘s appeal.  And a review of his public statements over the past year shows some of them do not hold up to scrutiny.”

Tough reporting.  Perhaps this moment at a town hall yesterday cushioned the blow. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I think having a governor that is smart and that has the perseverance to do what is right is hot and sexy. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  You know, let me—let me just

let me just say that—that—

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: -- I‘m going to ask you before you leave here—

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: -- to write a note to my wife.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE:  Comments like that after 25 years will keep her on her toes.  She won‘t take me—

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE:  She won‘t take me for granted. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  I will say this for Christie.  He is a more natural politician than any Republican out there. 

Next:  Hell hath no fury. 

Doug Hampton is of course both a former chief of staff to Senator John Ensign of Nevada and husband of the woman the senator had an affair with.  Well, his reaction to Ensign‘s retirement announcement the other day:  It doesn‘t come soon enough.

Ensign, remember, is under an ethics investigation in the Senate stemming from that affair.  Hampton, who has had to talk to investigators, went after his former candidate yesterday—quote—“The cost to the taxpayers of this fruitless exercise flies in the face of John‘s claim of being fiscally conservative and a protector of the taxpayer‘s money, much like his affair with my wife flew in the face of his claim of moral righteousness.”

I guess he‘s saying, this former staffer, husband of, he thinks Ensign ought to resign right now because it will save the money that is going into his ethics investigation. 

Well, it is an interesting argument and a tough one.  I think this senator has got himself an enduring adversary. 

Time for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

“The National Journal” here asked Republican insiders which 2012 candidates had their fortunes rise the most over the past few months.  Who is at the top?  Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota tied for the top spot—Daniels and Pawlenty‘s stocks are on the rise, tied for number one, tonight‘s “Big Number.”

I wouldn‘t be surprised, however, that the insiders pick the most boring candidates. 

Up next:  Will Newt Gingrich‘s bogus “I loved my country too much” excuse about his marital infidelity fly with the Christian conservatives he needs to win in order to win the Republican nomination?  I don‘t think so.  And what about women?  Are they going to buy this Newt stuff?  It is unbelievable, what he‘s saying. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

Unbelievable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SIMON HOBBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening.  I‘m Simon Hobbs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks plunging today on a virtual grab bag of global concerns.  Check this out, the Dow Jones industrials sinking 228 points to finish below 12000, the S&P 500 tumbling 24, the Nasdaq down 50. 

Investors shaken by widening trade deficits and renewed concerns about European debt.  Many were looking to the dollar, unusually these days, as a safe haven bet today, as oil, gold and metal prices, along with the euro, fell, besides stocks. 

We had a bunch of separate factors coming together to stir up lingering jitters about debt in Europe, including a Moody‘s downgrade of Spain‘s credit rating, in addition to that, word that China‘s trade deficit soared to $7.3 billion in February, the largest gap in seven years. 

There were bright spots.  Starbucks and Green Mountain Roasters both soaring on word they will be teaming up to take on the booming single-serve market.  And Human Genome jumping after the FDA approved the new lupus drug it created with GlaxoSmithKline, the first new drug for 50 years. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK)

GINGRICH:  At times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard, and the things happened in my life that were not appropriate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You can say anything.  The guy can say anything. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That‘s Newt Gingrich, the—there‘s no way to talk about this guy.  Christian Broadcasting Network gave him an opportunity to say this stuff about his marital infidelities.  He brought it all up, about his passion for the country that led him into the trouble area and his hard work.  So, it was the work ethic and patriotism that caused all his troubles. 

Well, here‘s some reaction today, what it looked like.  “The Washington Monthly” has called him the political animal.  The column reads, “If Gingrich thinks the public will find this persuasive, he has completely lost his mind.”

David Frum, a conservative who wrote for President Bush, writes in his column, his Web site: “It‘s not the infidelity.  It‘s the arrogance, hypocrisy, and most horrifying to women voters, the cruelty.  Anyone can dump one sick wife.  Gingrich dumped two.”

Michelle Bernard is an MSNBC political analyst, and Jenny Backus is a Democratic strategist.

Thank you both, ladies, for coming on. 

I want you to look at the whole thing, because I have never—I have covered politics forever, and have been involved, as you all know, forever, and I have heard some—nothing like this.  This—just let it alone.  Nobody is perfect.  Let it alone as part of your past.

But, instead, he‘s going back, with the help of the Christian Broadcasting.  They asked him the question.  It‘s the setup.  And here he came through with this incredible—well, it‘s—we often use the word incredible.  This is incredible. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Newt Gingrich on the Christian Broadcasting Network with host David Brody.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK)

DAVID BRODY, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING

NETWORK:  You know the question.  And I‘m not going to ask it the way everybody else will ask it, but as it relates to the past and some of those the personal issues that you‘ve had, you‘ve talked about how God is a forgiving God.

And I‘d like you to expand about—upon that, as you went through some of those difficulties, how you saw God‘s forgiving nature in all of that.

GINGRICH:  Well, I mean, first of all, there‘s no question that, times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard, and the things happened in my life that were not appropriate. 

And what I can tell you is that, when I did things that were wrong, I wasn‘t trapped in situation ethics.  I was doing things that were wrong, and yet I was doing them. 

I found that I was—felt compelled to seek God‘s forgiveness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, the two excuses there that he brought up in front, I think he started to cover for them later in that dialogue there. 

But, first of all, he said, it was partially driven by how passionately he felt for his country and then by how hard he worked.  He‘s explaining a couple divorces along the way there, I guess.

What‘s the story on this guy?  Why does he feel that he has to make ludicrous excuses for his behavior?  Why not just say I did wrong things, and move on?

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, that‘s what I don‘t understand.  Whoever is advising him is clearly giving him very bad advice, because the most appropriate thing to—that he should have done would have been to not only apologize to the ex-wives that he is talking about, but to apologize to the American public. 

Women are going to be looking at this.  The conservative voting base is going to be looking at this.  And an apology is more important than anything else: “I did wrong.  This is between me and God, but I did something that was very terrible.  I regret it.”

I think that‘s what the public is looking for, not this happened partially because I was—I loved my country so much.  I worked too hard.

MATTHEWS:  Why is he doing this?  Why is he running for president with all his baggage?  And why is he weighing into the religious part of the Republican Party?

He‘s not running on taxes and cutting government.  He‘s running on the values front.  He‘s moved into that Iowa values evangelical crowd.  He wants to run in that conference, the “western conference” I‘m calling it.  Why is he doing this to us?

BACKUS:  Because, first of all, there‘s a great gaping gap in the Republican field.  I mean, yes—

MATTHEWS:  But you got—you got Santorum out there.  He‘s not good one either.

BACKUS:  Right, but he‘s looked at the motto that Huckabee had last time.  Iowa, if you win the Iowa caucus, you get some attention.  You get some money.  You sort of get a second look.

And so, he knows that if he wants to go play in Iowa, because Romney probably won‘t go to Iowa.  Pawlenty is not doing a lot of traction there.  He‘s got to at least play to the middle.

And he‘s counting on something that I think George Bush used when he ran in 2000, which is the idea with the evangelical crowd, which is a good Christian idea that I agree with, of forgiveness.  He is looking for redemption and forgiveness to—speaking in some of the language.  If you keep reading into that interview, he has obviously been—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s spinning.

BACKUS:  Right.  He‘s a hypocrite.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  No, but he‘s using his past behavior, which would normally be baggage, and turning it into a winning argument, because I‘m a Christian, because I‘m a Catholic, because of all this stuff, therefore vote for me because of my past, like—it is like a—it‘s claiming victory over something.  How does that—how do you put that against Obama with the perfect marriage, the perfect kids, never done anything wrong?

And here‘s a guy reprimanded by the House of Representatives, all kinds of ethnic problems in the House of Representatives, all kinds of marital stuff going on, and all that stuff going and he puts it up against President Obama and says I‘m a better man than him.  Based upon what, forgiveness?  A forgiving God—

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  I don‘t think—I don‘t think you‘re ever going to see him say he‘s a better man than Obama at least when it comes to virtues.  I think what you‘re seeing with Newt Gingrich is that 26 percent of the nation is evangelical.  If you look at Republicans, if you look at conservatives, that number is enormous.  He is dealing with this issue now because the election is in 2012.  He‘s dealing with it early so that he can sort of pivot.

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘m going to explode here.  I‘m going to explode.

He‘s the same guy who claims to be a good Christian who‘s out there saying Obama is a Kenyan, Obama is a Mau Mau, he‘s a predictive model.  I mean, he‘s throwing this slime at the other guy—at the same time says I am—God forgives me.  And then he keeps throwing this line.  He wants it both ways.

BACKUS:  Well, I know.  He‘s running—he‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Does he have any super ego, anything in his head that says you‘re a clown?

BACKUS:  No.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- something wrong and says you‘re a clown.

BACKUS:  He is slightly—he is slightly a gift to the Democrats as is Huckabee because you win presidential nominations on the D side or R side by being disciplined and by working hard.  And these guys are forgetting -- 

BERNARD:  They have a very thick skin.  I mean, if you look at people

this is horrible what—

           

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- of attacking Obama with every he‘s got, ethnically, you know all of the secret code, the dog whistle, this guy is black, this guy is (INAUDIBLE), he‘s got this long name.  He‘s one of them.  He‘s secretly conspiring to push the Kenyan—the Mau Mau killing white people.  He‘s got the whole number and then he slings back into this, I‘m a religious convert, love me because God forgave me, so you better forgive me and vote for me.

BACKUS:  But you just made his argument.

BERNARD:  Yes.

BACKUS:  He‘s running on patriotism.  I mean, patriotism allows—

MATTHEWS:  Made him mess around.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  It‘s not going to work.

MATTHEWS:  Driven by how passionately I feel about this country. 

What‘s the connection?

BERNARD:  There‘s no connection whatsoever.  It‘s a horrible argument. 

The advice he was given was absolutely rubbish.

MATTHEWS:  Why are you saying he‘s got this off stage (INAUDIBLE) he is this one, look at him.

BERNARD:  But the bottom line is the decision is his.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Does he look like he needs help in (INAUDIBLE) department?

BERNARD:  Look, he made a bad decision.  He‘s going to realize it.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s running for president.

BERNARD:  We are all talking about this.  He‘s made a very bad decision.

MATTHEWS:  No, I want to know why he‘s right in the religious right.

(CROSSTALK)

BACKUS:  And so, forget this thing I did over here and I really did this because I was working too hard and I was distracted and I kept my eye off the ball, but I‘m patriotic and I‘m not all these horrible things because—

BERNARD:  And like you, I‘m scared of that black man in the White House also.  That‘s part of the argument.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for saying it—Michelle Bernard, Jenny Backus, nice to see you guys again.  Jenny, I haven‘t seen you in a while.

BACKUS:  I know.  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for coming back.

Up next: Where are the adults—this is what it takes to get you back.  Where are the adults in the Republican Party who is willing to speak out against this crazy talk we‘re getting from Newt and Huckabee?  Boy, it is a clown show.  That‘s ahead.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said to the today the United States should not take unilateral military steps against Libya.  Testifying on Capitol Hill, Clinton said no-fly zones didn‘t oust dictators in Iraq or Kosovo and that if the United States gets involved in Libya on its own, it will have unforeseen consequence.  I agree with her.

Clinton heads up—heads to Egypt and Tunisia to push for democratic reforms and meet with the Libyan opposition members.  That should be interesting.

The Obama administration did take one step today, suspending relations with the Libyan embassy here in Washington.

HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

TIM PAWLENTY ®, FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR:  Well, thanks a lot.  Or as President Obama would say, you‘re welcome.

HERMAN CAIN ®, TEA PARTY ACTIVIST:  The United States of America is not going to become the United States of Europe—not on our watch.

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  The government does not loan power to you, and that is the fundamental division between most Americans and the secular socialist people around Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS:  God, he‘s a Muslim. He‘s with a radical black church.  And he‘s, what, a secular humanist or whatever.  They‘re re hitting him with every direction.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Newt hit from every direction.

That was the scene Monday this week in Iowa with a few of the people thinking about running for president.  As Newt Gingrich trashes the president, Mike Huckabee talks about the president‘s Kenyan upbringing.

Where are the grownups in this presidential field? And why aren‘t the plausible contenders, as George Will calls them, speaking out against this stuff?

With us tonight, “Politico‘s” Jonathan Martin who was just out there, and “The Huffington Post‘s” Sam Stein.

Thank you, gentlemen, for coming on.

Jon, you were out there watching this show.  What is it about Iowa that makes it an extraordinary place to pick a president if you‘re a Republican?  Is it all religion?  Is it all values?  Can a guy like Newt break in there?  Does Huckabee own if he goes in?

What goes on out there?

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO:  Well, you got about half of the Iowa caucus goers on the Republican side who are born again or evangelical.  I‘ve seen it as low as 45, as high as 60.  But it‘s about half.

So, if you are someone that‘s a practicing Catholic or a born again Christian and you are running, Chris, on those kinds of issues related to faith, talking about issues like gay marriage, issues like abortion rights, then you‘re going to have built in appeal.  Look back at the past 25 years in the caucuses.  Go back to Robertson—

MATTHEWS:  Pat Robertson.

MARTIN:  -- in ‘88 who came in second place and beat a sitting vice president.  Every four years, there‘s always a space, a quarter of a vote or more for a cultural conservative in that state.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why people like Mitt Romney and John McCain stay out of there and Dukakis on the—

MARTIN:  Right.  Because they saw H.W. Bush, a sitting vice president, come in third in ‘88.  They see folks like, you know, Gary—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But why is it a useful place for Republicans to pick nominees then if these crazier guys, these more fringy people win out there?  You were saying before we went on that Santorum is doing well out there.  What‘s the point of nominating a guy like Santorum?  He‘s Schiavo.  He just takes us back to the Schiavo controversy.

MARTIN:  The principle of Iowa is this: it gives people who don‘t otherwise have an opening, aren‘t famous nationally, a chance to get known.  And, Chris, Jimmy Carter is an example on the Democratic side.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look—let‘s take a look at this.  Sam Stein, your views out there.  First of all, here‘s George Will saying these plausible candidates, that‘s his word about who could actually be president, he likes Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty—there are the pictures of them.

And he says these other guys like Santorum, like Newt Gingrich, like Huckabee, are really just having fun.  They‘re buffoons basically.  They‘re raising all their crazy issues, trying to pretend they‘re something they‘re not in many cases.  They‘re not going to be president, not going to be the nominee.

What‘s your thinking?  Sam?

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST:  I think George Will is probably right.  And, you know, let‘s go back to Iowa and the candidates that they produce.  You know, they don‘t always go on to win the nomination.  In fact, a lot of them don‘t.  George H.W. Bush did in fact get the nomination.

MARTIN:  Right.

STEIN:  John McCain did in fact get the nomination.  Even Bob Dole, who didn‘t do very well in Iowa, got the nomination.

So, yes, Iowa is a good place to serve as a launching pad and I think institutionally helps support some of the more evangelical, what liberals would say crazier candidates out there.  But it doesn‘t mean that the winners are going to be the Republican nominee in the end.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MARTIN:  Although Dole did win in ‘96.  George W. Bush won pretty—

MATTHEWS:  He won because he‘s from a neighboring state.

MARTIN:  Yes, because Grassley endorsed him.  But, you know, Bush won

Chris, Bush pretty convincingly in 2000 there.  So, it is possible for an establishment candidate to win Iowa.

           

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re from adjoining state, too, like Gephardt was.

I mean, let‘s go—here‘s David Brooks who said in “Time,” he told “Time” magazine, “Newt Gingrich is not going to be president.  I wouldn‘t let that guy run a 7-Eleven, let alone the country.”  It‘s probably pretty hard to run a 7-Eleven.

What would be Newt be doing?

MARTIN:  So, look, he‘s going to play there pretty hard.  But, you talk to folks on the ground there and they are polite, but they bring up the baggage.  That‘s the euphemism for somebody who has ethnical problems, who, obviously, is now on his third marriage.

MATTHEWS:  He was reprimanded by the House.

MARTIN:  Right.  So, he‘s got baggage.  So, if Huckabee is not running and that sort of the C.W. right now, if Palin is not going to run, if New has baggage, Chris, who‘s that left on the right?  It leaves an opening for somebody like Santorum or Michele Bachmann to really go out there—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is bottom feeding for the Republican Party, which has a good 50-50 shot of beating the president next November.  Why aren‘t they allowing this to happen?  Why aren‘t the heavyweights in this race?

MARTIN:  Well, somebody like a Romney is going to play in Iowa, but is not going to spend the amount of time there that he did four years ago, because like Sam said, McCain proved that you don‘t have to win Iowa to win the nomination.  So, if Romney can come in a gentleman‘s second or third there, his spin is going to be, that‘s OK, if he wins New Hampshire.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Last thought, real quick, Sam?

STEIN:  Well, I‘ll say he‘s going to balance it out, too.  Remember, Hillary Clinton didn‘t want to play in Iowa either and she got sucked into it.  It could be a money (INAUDIBLE) for Mitt.  So, he‘s got to balance that out.

MARTIN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, Jonathan Martin.  It‘s a very weird thing when a party has a good shot on the presidency and they‘re wasting it so far.  Sam Stein, Jonathan Martin.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with what I think Peter King‘s hearings did today and how they fit on this attack on President Obama.  It is partisan.  It really is.  That‘s the way it worked today.  The trouble is, it backfired on those guys.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a cold fact that a third of Republicans now say our president is a Muslim.  A campaign against his birth and his faith has succeeded to a point where only a third of the people in this country, all of the people, view him as a Christian.  With a much higher number saying they don‘t know what he is.

It‘s against that backdrop that the Homeland Security Committee held its hearing today on the radicalization of the American Muslim community—the backdrop being the belief by a substantial number of Republicans that our president is a member of that community.

Are we getting truth from this national discussion being led by the Republicans with the fullest influence coming from the far right?  Are we?  Or are we getting propaganda, are we getting agit-prop aimed at marginalizing the Islamic community and with it, President Obama himself?

Listen to the relentless claims that the United States is being subverted by Sharia law, law by the Koran.  Listen to Newt Gingrich pushing this crazy talk, his claim that America is having Sharia imposed on it.

By whom?  Who in this country is advocating that we change our laws to include the rules of Koran?

No, the names aren‘t given.  Because there are none.

Better the suggestion, the vague suggestion, the alarm bell ringing in the night that somehow it‘s Obama, the president himself, who is conspiring in this goal of having America become a country ruled by the Koran—something Newt Gingrich now calls a “mortal threat.”

Well, this scare tactic used again and again is being heard at the same time Congress holds a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, thereby stirring a perfect storm of fear.

What‘s the goal of this fear-mongering?  Well, just think about it.  What are people to do if they fear those in high places conspiring to transform this country of modern justice into an ancient ritual of religious discipline and punishment?  Stonings, the cutting off of hands, the whole arsenal of religious maiming.

What do you think those stampeded by this fear-mongering are supposed to do?

Well, think about it.  They are to vote out the people responsible for this horrendous state of affairs, against Obama, of course.  Vote for the Republicans.  You betcha!

Who are the ones raising the cry of danger, alerting us to fear this subversion within our midst, this silent, creeping rise to power of the infidel within our midst?

Those on the political right who want this fear to whip this up to vote, to win a vote they can‘t win on the issues of the day—those plain questions of who‘s going to get us back to work, who‘s going to build a better country for all of us.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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