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updated 4/5/2011 2:47:20 PM ET 2011-04-05T18:47:20

Guests: Ezra Klein, Simon Hobbs, David Corn, Ed Rendell, Irshad Manji, Abderrahim Foukara, Ed Rollins, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  God wars.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, back from Israel and the Mideast.  Leading off tonight: Zealots abroad, zealots at home.  What a horrible story I‘ve come home to.  Not the tsunami, not the nuclear disaster, not even Gadhafi.  But what do you do when people, 20,000 of them, rush United Nations workers, good people doing good work in a tough place, killing them?  Why?  Because some character on the other side of the world burnt a holy book.  Is this what young men and women risk and give their lives, arms and legs in Afghanistan and Iraq, so that any time on this planet that some clown decides to say something against Islam, innocent people get killed?  Is this the deal?

I spent the last seven days in a land divided by religion.  The Israelis hold their covenant with God and to the land he promised them.  The Arabs cling to the land of their birth, to their Muslim or Christian faith, and yes, they, too, to Jerusalem.  But listen to the fanatics in this country.

They attack the president‘s basics beliefs, accusing him of thinking like a Muslim from Kenya—you hear that a lot—or—and this is the subtle version—not accepting the specialness of America, like he‘s not really one of us.  They say the president isn‘t one of us.  They say he may also be an impostor, that Democrats are anti-American.  They want next year‘s election—that‘s the people on the right—to be about who the real Americans are, the real Christians.

They let the word spread around the country.  They keep spreading, by the way, to a majority of their Republicans about how the president may have just snuck in this country, doctored his papers and now pretends to be a Christian.  Even John Boehner, who‘s obviously a sensitive guy, won‘t raise his voice one bit to stop this talk.  Is this what‘s come of the wars in the Islamic world, we begin to talk like the zealots from the Middle East?

Let‘s begin tonight with the zealots over here.  Well, no, let‘s start with the ones over there.  Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera and Irshad Manji is professor at New York University and author of the book “The Trouble With Islam Today.”

Irshad, thank you for coming back.  I wish we didn‘t keep having you back when the news was terrible.  But I keep thinking what it must be like to be a U.N. worker.  And I just bet they‘re all pretty good people.  They‘re not politicians.  They‘re not jerks.  They‘re good people over doing a tough job somewhat sacrificially.  And all of a sudden, a horde of people come sweeping in to kill them, and they realize what‘s going on is they‘re going to be the victims, basically, of a religious war, of fanatical behavior.

Now, what does this tell you?  What was Karzai‘s role in this, the guy we supposedly have as our ally over there?  He seemed to have sparked this thing, according to your reporting.

IRSHAD MANJI, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY:  Well, not just my reporting, Chris.  “The New York Times” reported over the weekend that Karzai made a speech in which he condemned the Koran burning and actually made federal a case of it at a time when the international media was responsible—for once responsible—and didn‘t cover this event.  So in fact,, the guy who‘s gotten the real pass in all of this is not the leader, the misleader, Hamid Karzai.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think he did it?

MANJI:  Oh, I...

MATTHEWS:  Because we‘re over there fighting for him.  I‘m not.  Our fellow Americans are fighting for this guy.  And I wonder how long the Americans are going to—let me show you a poll right now...

MANJI:  But I‘d like to answer your question, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

MANJI:  I‘d like to answer your question.  I think it was purely self-preservation on his part.  It wasn‘t about the people at all, as usual.  It was about the fact, I think, that because the U.S. pull-out is going to be starting in the summer, such as it is, he‘s basically currying favor with the extremist elements in Afghanistan in order to show, Guys, you really can trust me.  Please don‘t kill me.  Please keep me in power.

It was pure politics.  And that‘s the sad part, Chris.  You start with the phrase “God wars.”  It isn‘t about God at all.  It‘s about politics.

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe all God wars are.  Your thoughts?

ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA, AL JAZEERA:  Well, I mean, I absolutely agree.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s Karzai up to?  Why did he blow the whistle and send this—it looks like he yelled fire.

FOUKARA:  I think he‘s trying to stir the pot in hope that it would bolster his political position with public opinion in Afghanistan.  We know there‘s a history of him being accused of corruption and other stuff, so he resorted to that.  So this probably is as much a problem of religion as it is a problem of politics.

MATTHEWS:  We do you think—well, aren‘t we protecting this guy‘s life and limb every day?  And why is he dumping on us?

FOUKARA:  Well, I mean, it just goes back to...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t he alive because of us?

FOUKARA:  Yes, in many ways, he is.  But at the same time, he seems to think that, you know, this is the cold, cold world of politics.  And he goes where he sees...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

FOUKARA:  ... the political capital is, rather than—his own political capital, rather than...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you guys make a lot of sense to me because you‘re...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at “The Washington Post.”  Let‘s talk

about what this is going to do to us in this country, “The Washington

Post”/ABC poll out last month.  And by the way, you got to figure these

numbers are going to be more extreme than they‘re showing.  About 2 to 1,

64 to 31, people don‘t think this war makes any sense for us

Irshad, it‘s hard for me not to believe that those numbers are going to go to about 80-20 or 85-15 when people realize that the so-called ally we have over there...

MANJI:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... has been unleashing the mob on U.N. workers because some Billy Bob character, somewhere in the outskirts of Florida somewhere, decided that he was going to do some Koran burning.

MANJI:  Yes.  And what—you‘ve just nailed it, that, you know, these good-hearted, big-minded U.N. workers were sold down the river by, again, the guy who claims to be the leader of a liberated Afghanistan.

Look, Chris, I think that the U.S. government needs to call this buster out.  I really do.  And you know, I realize that diplomacy doesn‘t work that way.  But frankly, I mean, you know, diplomacy didn‘t work that way in the age of Ronald Reagan, when he said...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well...

MANJI:  ... “Tear down this wall”...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MANJI:  ... and completely threw away the notes that the State Department gave him.  Here‘s the point.  Can I just finish up my thought?

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

MANJI:  I think that, you know, the U.S. government needs to say to Karzai, Look, you publicly asked us to condemn this Koran burning.  We have.  Now we are publicly demanding that you go before the Afghan people and tell them that we have condemned it in no uncertain terms.  Let‘s see if...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MANJI:  ... he‘s willing to do a quid pro quo.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not—you got—you haven‘t caught up with his latest act.  He continues to argue that our government should go down into the bayous of Florida somewhere and find this guy and arrest him.

MANJI:  He knows that that‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  And he knows there‘s no law against...

MANJI:  ... the way—exactly.

MATTHEWS:  ... blasphemy in the United States.  So in other words,

it‘s now the—not only is not on him, he‘s putting the monkey on our back

look at this...

MANJI:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  ... that until we play ball with him and arrest this character, this pastor, so-called, that we haven‘t—that we‘re responsible for more murders over there.

MANJI:  Right.  Right.  Exactly.  And what a tactic, hey?  This is why we need to get out of Afghanistan.  It is not about punishing the people.  It is about the fact that even when we‘re there, striving for peace, this guy is undermining every effort at peace.  So it‘s got to be called and it‘s got to be said openly...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MANJI:  ... there‘s no point in having us there while he still is in power.

MATTHEWS:  This is scary because we‘re getting into religion, but might as well.  We‘re here.  One thing that struck me long before we got into Afghanistan after 9/11 was the blowing up of the Buddha over there because most religions have respect for other religions in terms of their historic importance in their country.  I mean, I may not be Jewish, but I respect the Jewish tradition in this country, and obviously, the freedom of everybody in this country going way back.  But also there‘s a sense that even if you‘re a minority religion, you tend to respect the larger religion that‘s been there longer and has something to do with the country‘s history.

For them to blow up the Buddha, which was dynamited and then—on national—international television, but then to complain that some character down in Florida burnt a Bible—I mean, burnt a Koran—there‘s no symmetry to this!  I mean, if it‘s OK for them to destroy a Buddha that‘s been there hundreds of years, and yet they go crazy—in other words, their religion is the only thing that matters on the planet.  Everybody else doesn‘t matter.

FOUKARA:  Chris, it‘s not even—this is not even about...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about...

FOUKARA:  ... religion.

MATTHEWS:  ... the zealots themselves.

FOUKARA:  Yes.  This is—this is a bunch of...

MATTHEWS:  Twenty thousand people!

FOUKARA:  Yes.  This is a bunch of people, the Taliban, when they blew up the Buddhas, they did something just as medieval as the pastor has done.  Why would you want to burn somebody else‘s book?  It doesn‘t make sense in the 21st century, in the same way that it doesn‘t make any sense whatsoever to blow up something like—the Buddhas were part and parcel of the history of that country.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FOUKARA:  Why would you resort to something like that?

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the question.

FOUKARA:  And ultimately—I mean, ultimately, regardless of your motives, whether you‘re the pastor—General Petraeus told him in 2010, Don‘t do it.  You‘re going to make the U.S. position in Afghanistan even more tenuous.  He went ahead and did it.  So now the ramifications...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

FOUKARA:  ... are actually for U.S. presence in Afghanistan over something totally medieval by both sides.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about our side.  Let‘s talk about this Reverend Jones here.  Here he was on HARDBALL back in—two years ago—a year ago, actually.  It wasn‘t that long ago, August, when we had this first threat that he was going to do this.  And it‘s very important to listen to his argument here because it gets to these terrible arguments that are being made in our country that we‘re being threatened by Sharia in Dearborn, Michigan, anywhere where there‘s a long Muslim population, that somehow, we‘re coming under Sharia.

Here he is making the case, this build-on, this other terrible rumor that‘s being pushed.  Here he is back in August of last year.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY JONES, PASTOR:  What we hope to accomplish by the burning of the Koran is to send a very clear—it is, indeed, a radical message, but a very clear radical message to Muslims, to Sharia law, that that is not welcomed in America.

MATTHEWS:  If somebody—somebody‘s going to react to what you do, do you think the reaction‘s going to be positive or negative?

JONES:  I think it‘s going to be positive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it‘s been great.  People are dead right now, Reverend. 

These guys...

MANJI:  What did you expect...

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t even know what religion they‘re...

MANJI:  ... him to say, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.  Let‘s go to this dangerous question.  There are politicians like Newt Gingrich—and I can‘t even keep a list anymore on the right of the charges they make that we‘re somehow falling under Sharia law.  Gaffney‘s been pushing around here, Frank Gaffney from one of those organizations, those groups, selling the argument that somehow, American law has been undercut or subverted by Sharia law.

Now, here he is saying he‘s going to keep burning Bibles—or Korans because he says we‘re being overtaken by—no, we‘re not.  That‘s a fact.  No law in the United States is being subverted by Sharia law.  We have the Constitution of the United States and laws that come out of it, and that‘s it.  That‘s (INAUDIBLE) our country.

MANJI:  Chris, let me...

MATTHEWS:  But they keep spreading this rumor on the right, people like Newt Gingrich and the rest of them.  They are building the case for this Billy Bob character to burn Korans.  And then he‘s giving a case to Karzai to save his butt over there.  This is dynamic, dangerous kind of thing that does lead to wars.  This is what happens in wars.  Rumors lead to rumors lead to rumors.  And then only in the end—I only responded to what I heard.  It‘s not my fault.  That‘s what you hear.

MANJI:  And I would love...

MATTHEWS:  The killers.

MANJI:  And I would love to hear Frank Gaffney and Newt Gingrich, and you know, Michele Bachmann and others openly and firmly condemn Jones.  By the way, I refuse to call him pastor...

MATTHEWS:  Fat chance.

MANJI:  ... because I think that just, you know, trivializes a very...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m waiting for that list, by the way.

MANJI:  ... noble—yes, well, so am I—a very noble profession.  That having been said, let‘s also remember that there‘s a role in this country for moderate Muslims to be speaking out further.

And Chris, I would love to see those Muslim-American clerics who travel the country preaching to Christians and Jews about not feeding into anti-Muslim stereotypes to take just half their time and go to countries like Afghanistan and preach to the people there about not behaving in ways that feed anti-Muslim stereotypes.  It cuts both ways.

MATTHEWS:  Well...

MANJI:  And we have a responsibility as Muslims in this country...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) what do you think?

MANJI:  ... if we‘ve got a platform to step on.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s kind of hard.  Why don‘t people in this community, our community, our fellow Arab-Americans in this country—why don‘t they come out and say something?

FOUKARA:  I think they have been saying something.  But you know, Chris, I think people need to listen to themselves when they speak because people in the Muslim world who think all Americans are like Pastor Jones...

MATTHEWS:  They do not!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They really believe that?

FOUKARA:  There are people who think that.  At the same time, there are people here who say things like the pastor.  And they‘re talking about Muslim extremism.  Well, how does he sound...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

FOUKARA:  ... to people in the Muslim world?

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you one thing.  We have politicians in this country so ignorant of what‘s going on in the Middle East right now, the way it works geographically and religiously and culturally and how complicated the situation is in the Holy Land, that maybe they are equally ignorant on the other side.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There are probably Arab people as ignorant as Sarah Palin out there.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Abderrahim Foukara.  And thank you, Irshad Manji.  Great writing today.

Coming up: From zealots abroad to zealots here at home.  President Obama is off and running for reelection.  I got the word this morning.  I think it came on the e-mail this morning.  The Republicans trying to defeat him are attacking his basic beliefs.  And catch the religious wars at home here.  He‘s a Muslim.  He‘s not really an American.  He‘s got fake papers.  He snuck in the country.  I‘ve never seen anything like this in any political situation.  The attacks on him are the worst ever.  And this poor guy is fair game for this anti-American talk.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  The Obama administration announced today that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of 9/11, will be put on trial before a military commission down at Guantanamo, Gitmo, not in a civilian court here in the United States.  It‘s a big reversal for the administration which was criticized for initially saying he‘d be tried in federal court in New York City.  Four alleged co-conspirators will also be tried in military commissions down in Gitmo.  We‘ll have much more on the story later in the show.

We‘ll be right back with HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, it seems like the last couple of elections that we‘ve had have been almost kind of turning-point campaigns.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Kind of nervous about it.  It‘s, like, it‘s coming.  Here it is, 2012, the elections!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think it needs to reflect the changes that we‘ve seen in the last two-and-a-half years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Even though I couldn‘t exactly vote at the time, I knew that some day, I‘d be able to help reelect him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And unfortunately, President Obama is one person.  He cannot—plus, he‘s got a job!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was the part—that was part of a video out today to announce President Obama‘s reelection bid.  Those voices represent the coalition the president‘s campaign obviously he‘s counting on to put everything together—women, minorities, young voters and swing voters.  And he‘s facing a Republican Party that‘s increasingly radicalized with Michele Bachmann now and Donald Trump, who‘s now actually talking like a birther on the facts there, as the party‘s most famous candidates.  Former—Donald Trump will like the last word, famous.

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell‘s an NBC News analyst now, and Ed Rollins—welcome back, Kotter!

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Ed Rollins, one of the smart people on that side.  In fact, I‘m not sure you still fit in with that party.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He chaired Mike Huckabee‘s campaign in 2008.  I think you‘re too—well, I‘ll say it, mainstream bad guy, you!

ROLLINS:  Oh, that‘s—you just destroyed me, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  You‘re finished now.  Governor Rendell, I want to ask you about the coalition.  I‘m going to go back to something you couldn‘t be more a party to.  We just looked at the “USA Today” chart that showed the only time presidents get defeated is when their party is split.  Basically, you go back to Taft and Teddy Roosevelt back in the ‘12 campaign.  You remember that one?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That was a big street campaign.  A lot of street money in that race.  And then you‘ve got the, of course, Carter and Teddy Kennedy.  And then you‘ve got Pat Buchanan tearing the hell out of George Bush, senior, over, I will not raise taxes, “Read my lips,” and all that stuff.  This time around, the party‘s united, the Democrats.  It isn‘t a—the Democrats in disarray ain‘t being the word this phrase—this year.

ED RENDELL (D), FMR. PA GOVERNOR, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Now, I think that‘s right, Chris.  And I think what‘s helped enormously is overreaching from the conservative or the right.  The overreaching on this crap like the birther stuff, that‘s had a very solidifying effect among Democrats.  And the overreaching by some conservative Republican governors, in terms of trying to do away with collective bargaining, I think that has solidified the Democratic Party more than anything we could do ourselves.

It‘s also there‘s a second blessing that comes from that, and that is independent voters.  Independent voters sit by and listen to this stuff, that the president‘s a Muslim, the president wasn‘t born in the country, and it‘s beginning to scare the living bejabbers out of them.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  What do you think of that?  You know, I‘m sort of a near suburb guy, Ed Rollins, I mean, right at the city edge.  I know what it‘s like to be a suburbanite and a city guy both.  Suburban people don‘t like this crazy talk, this crap talk the governor‘s talking about.  They don‘t like tom-tom drums and crazy talk from the right, like birther talk.

Everybody knows, by the way, what they‘re up to with that, Ed.

ROLLINS:  Look, first of all...

MATTHEWS:  This guy isn‘t some white guy from Arizona who might have been born in the territory.  They get the point.  He‘s a Mao-Mao guy from Kenya who killed white people.  I mean, that is the message you keep hearing from these people all the time now, from Huckabee, your guy.  He‘s a Mao-Mao guy.  Where‘d he get that crapola from?

ROLLINS:  No, no, no, no.  Let‘s—let‘s just...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, because he did say that just a week or two ago. 

ROLLINS:  I have waited three years to get back on your show here. 

You know, I was one of your first guests. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINS:  And I have been on another network.  So, I‘m here.  So, I would just like to get a little word in here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Go for it. 

ROLLINS:  When you and I started in politics in the late ‘70s, early 80s, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 2-1.  There‘s now a parity.

Even though that Obama had a tremendous campaign and a tremendous victory, a great deal of that was, we had a very weak candidate and there was a real Bush fatigue. 

So, at the end of the day, you know, we‘re going to have a candidate who has been a governor, I assume.  There‘s no Washingtonians in this mix.  It ain‘t going to be Donald Trump.  I don‘t think it‘s going to be Congresswoman Bachmann.

And, you know, when we get finished with our process, we will have someone who will go make an issue.  And the issue won‘t be about birthers and birth certificates.  It will be about a runaway economy.  It will be about unemployment. It will be about making tough choices this president has a total inability to make. 

MATTHEWS:  Front page “New York Times” today has a headline, it plays up the Tea Party.  It reads, the Tea Party favorite—that‘s—Bachmann stirs Iowa, and, no, her name ain‘t Palin. 

I think Bachmann is going to win the Iowa caucuses if Huckabee doesn‘t go in.  Do you think that is true?

ROLLINS:  Well, you don‘t know and I don‘t know whether Huckabee is going to run again.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ROLLINS:  If Huckabee runs, I assume he would be a very viable candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Ed Rendell, I once asked how did Florida go so strongly for Obama?  And I said, was it Sarah Silverman going down there with the big schlep?  And they said, no, it was the other Sarah that scared the hell out of people down there, because they thought they saw a theocrat coming to South Florida. 

RENDELL:  Yes, I think it‘s absolutely true.  And I think Ed is right. 

That‘s the best-scenario for the Republicans. 

But, Ed, even if that‘s the case, even if you have a very good ticket, like a Romney/Pawlenty ticket, you are still going to have the crazies on the right screaming and yelling.  You will have the Tea Party spewing out their hate.  And it‘s going to scare, as I said, bejeebers out of independents.

ROLLINS:  You know, I assume your party will be organized.  And I assume young people are going to turn out.  And I assume African-Americans are going to turn out in record numbers again.

But in the end of the day, as we found in the 2010 election, white voters, which is very important in your home state and across this country...

RENDELL:  Sure.

ROLLINS:  ... turned out in record numbers because they weren‘t happy with the health care bill, and there‘s a lot the Democrats that have done that have scared the bejesus out of our side. 

So we will have two energized parties, I think.  Hopefully, we will have a good nominee picked not after too long of a process.  And they will go fight for independents, as we have done for the last several elections. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the map, gentlemen.  I only have some time here.

But I want you to both look at the map.  Here‘s the brand new 2012 map put together by NBC‘s political team.  We‘re already in the running, guys.  Democrats start with 232 electoral votes, Republicans with 191, and there are 10 tossup states, all of them taken by Obama last time, with 115 electoral votes among those states.  President Obama won all of those in 2008. 

Governor Rendell, the problem with Obama is, the experts are saying he‘s not going to carry a single state, nobody can think of one, that he didn‘t get last time he will get this time.  So, he‘s playing defense.

Do you agree?

RENDELL:  Yes, I think that‘s right.  I think we got as many as we‘re going to get the last election, no question about that. 

ROLLINS:  Well, the bottom line...

MATTHEWS:  Why are you—why is the party, the Democratic Party—

I‘m going to go to Ed on this.  Why are the Democrats meeting in Charlotte?  Why is your party going down to Tampa in September, when the temperature will be 105, the humidity will be 105, the room will be packed with Tea Party wild people beating their drums, demanding a Tea Party nominee, and you give them Pawlenty? 

ROLLINS:  Well, what do you mean I give them Pawlenty?  Pawlenty is a good candidate and obviously... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  For the Tea Party types? 

ROLLINS:  No, no, you can‘t concede it at this point in time.  That‘s nice of you to be able to give away our nomination, but please let us go fight for it. 

At the end of the day, the president cannot put 270 electoral votes together today.  We can‘t either.  And lot of those battleground states and a lot of those states he won last time by small margins, we now have Republican governors.  We have Republican legislatures.  We are back in the game again.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROLLINS:  Now, I‘m not going to tell that it‘s going to be easy.  I‘m going to tell you it‘s going to be very difficult.  But I will tell you, we will be prepared for it. 

RENDELL:  And let me say this, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  So, there‘s not a division in your party?  There‘s not a division in your party between the wild cultural types, who think birtherism is a big issue, who would rather fight on abortion than anything else...

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  I was there in ‘76, when the establishment of the party, when people like Lowell Weicker said what went on in Kansas City with Ronald Reagan was not what the Republican Party was. 

Four years later, Weicker dropped out of the primaries before even a vote was cast and basically went onto have a mediocre career after that.  And the Rockefeller Republicans—the Rockefeller Republicans...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re so kind.

ROLLINS:  The Rockefeller Republicans are basically no longer in existence.  There‘s not a single...

RENDELL:  Hey, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he was elected governor after that.  But that‘s all right. 

RENDELL:  As an independent, as an independent. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.  But that‘s not mediocre just because it‘s independent, though, Ed.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  And he broke his pledge.  He had promised that he wouldn‘t raise taxes.  And he did. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ROLLINS:  So, at the end of the day, and let‘s talk about what our party is. 

We are a strong party.  We have basically the Reagan Republican Party.  And the Tea Party has played a very critical part this time.  And hopefully they will again. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL:  You make a great point, Chris.  Let‘s picture that Tampa convention. 

And I don‘t care if it is Pawlenty or if it is Romney. 

(LAUGHTER)

RENDELL:  With the Tea Party-ites spewing the type of hate they spew...

(LAUGHTER)

RENDELL:  ... the effect that that is going to have on the suburbs of Philadelphia, where Pennsylvania elections are won or lost...

ROLLINS:  Governor, give...

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL:  ... the effect that that is going to have is going to be dramatic. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  Give us a break.

When we went to your state, to your city, when it was hotter than hell in August...

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL:  There was no Tea Party.

ROLLINS:  ... when it was hotter than hell in August, we didn‘t exactly carry the state. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  So, wherever you go in August, wherever you go outside of San Diego, it‘s a very hot place.  It‘s going to be hot inside.  And, at the end the day, we will have an nominee...

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL:  Ed, you missed the point.

The point is, there was no hate in 2000.  And the reason that there was no hate is one of the reasons you won.  Because George Bush got across to the American people that he would be a compassionate conservative.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  Excuse me.  There was no hate in 2000, when you were the party come?  You‘re—you‘re younger than I am.  You‘re 10 months younger than I am.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  You‘re slipping a little here.  If you don‘t think there was hate in 2000, you are nuts, man. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINS:  It was hot and heavy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you, Governor Rendell is correct.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It was a very smooth-run convention in Philadelphia and people were happy. 

RENDELL:  Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And when they get down to Tampa, you are going to be working that air-conditioning...

RENDELL:  It‘s going to be a zoo.

MATTHEWS:  ... for all you‘re worth, because the (INAUDIBLE) factor is going to be through the roof.  And the craziest of those people will be the hottest. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And the Democrats, if we have anybody left, like—where is Dick Tuck when we need him?  Dick Tuck will be down there kicking the hell of that air condition... 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And...

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  And you guys don‘t need any in North Carolina. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... handkerchief on your head.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  I promise we have a better shot of winning North Carolina than you do Florida. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK. 

Thank you, Ed Rollins.

ROLLINS:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Interesting point there.

Up next—he might be right—up next, how do you handle the birthers?  Bill Clinton has got some advice for President Obama.  That‘s coming up next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  How should President Obama deal with those birthers?  Well, if you ask Bill Clinton, the answer could be do nothing. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Donald Trump even comes out questioning now.

I mean, do you think at this point the president should just say, you know what, I‘m sick of taking the high road and just either fight back or handle this once and for all? 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think he will fight back. 

But I think that one of the elemental rules of combat is, you don‘t want to get in your opponent‘s way if he‘s shooting himself in the foot. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Well, four candidates, by the way, in the 2012 GOP field, Trump, Bachmann, Gingrich, Huckabee, are all toying—rMDNM_toying with this idea of the president being a foreigner. 

It‘s a deeply personal issue, obviously.  It would be to you or me.  The indictment is that he‘s not really an American, that he‘s lying about his basic identity as an American.  That‘s the birther charge. 

Ask yourself, what are the birthers really saying here?  It‘s not a paperwork issue.  They think he‘s foreign and has tricked us. 

Next, is Glenn Beck trying to save his job?  On Friday‘s “O‘Reilly Factor,” Beck went after Donald Trump and his claims about the president‘s birth certificate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”)

BILL O‘REILLY, HOST, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”:  Could you vote for him? 

GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, “THE GLENN BECK PROGRAM”:  He‘s made me a little uncomfortable here recently. 

If you don‘t believe that he has a birth certificate, you can say, I don‘t believe that he has a birth certificate.  But then he goes into, I don‘t believe that he has a birth certificate, and then he releases one that‘s worse than Obama‘s.  And then he comes back and he says on your program, he might be a Muslim, too. 

I would hope that we could get serious candidates who could shake things up by not saying provocative things, just by stating the truth of what‘s going on. 

O‘REILLY:  OK, but...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s clawing his way back to job security.  I love it when all they do is try to say how the other guy is crazy and the other guy is nuts.  Just notice the guy and his behavior.  Did he seem sane?

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Richard Nixon, a 1937 graduate of Duke Law School, hasn‘t gotten much credit from his alma mater over the years, obviously.  Not only did they decline to give him an honorary degree when he gave his speech back in ‘54, a commencement address.  They have since refuse to house his presidential library and papers. 

Well, fast-forward to this year.  Duke has had a change of heart.  “The New York Times” reports today that the school‘s new musical on the president, “Tricky Dick,” has garnered rave reviews and sold-out shows.  Nixon‘s only portrait at Duke has, by the way, also been taken out of hiding. There it is.  It‘s now prominently displayed at the law school library. 

All this make‘s tonight “Big Number” 74 -- 74 years after graduating from Duke Law, Dick Nixon makes his come back.  By the way, he was number three in his class at law school, nothing to sneeze about.  But 74 years, he‘s back.  Nixon is back—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next: the budget battle.  Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, wants to revamp Medicare and Medicaid and cut it a bit.  It‘s either political courage or perhaps political suicide.  Our strategists join us next.  This is a hot one, especially for retirees or those who would like to retire some day. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks drifting to a mixed close in another quiet trading session, the Dow adding 23 points, the S&P 500 up a fraction, and the Nasdaq slipping less than a point. 

Investors sticking to safe bets today without a lot of economic data or earnings news to really stir the pot.  We did see some weakness in the tech sector, notably with chipmakers.

OmniVision plunging 7.5 percent on word Apple may be switching to Sony for its iPhone imaging components.

And big news breaking after the closing bell, Texas Instruments buying National Semiconductor for about $6.5 billion in cash.  McDonald‘s moving slightly higher on news it will be hiring 50,000 employees April 19.  And drugmaker Vivus spike on a study showing its weight loss drug Qnexa also lowers high blood pressure. 

Finally, this weekend‘s deadly test flight crash of General Dynamic‘s new Gulfstream jet sends its shares tumbling more than 5 percent. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  By the authority vested in me as president by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, in order to affect the appropriate disposition of individuals currently detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo, and promptly to close the detention facility at Guantanamo consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interest of justice, I hereby order.  And we then provide, the process whereby Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was plan A.  And plan B came out today. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That of course was President Obama shortly after taking office as president issuing an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay prison.  Today, a visibly frustrated Attorney General Eric Holder said that Congress had forced him to reverse that decision and try the 9/11 mastermind and four others at Gitmo.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I respect their ability to disagree.  But I think they should respect the fact that this is an executive branch function, a unique executive branch function. 

I have to deal with the situation as I find it.  And I have reluctantly made the determination that these cases should be brought in a military commission. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, joining me right now are the strategists.

Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist, of course.  And Todd Harris is a very successful Republican strategist.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you guys.  I want to start, this—I guess other people are more excited about this than I am.  But I have always believed these guys are guilty.  You‘re never going to let them go.  The only question is whether they‘re going to be executed or have life in prison.  We‘re never going to let these terrorists go, especially Sheikh Mohammed.

Does it matter whether they‘re tried in the United States, the way the original plan was, at Foley Square, someplace in New York City, in a criminal court or down at Gitmo?  Does it matter to you?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It doesn‘t matter.  It doesn‘t matter to me. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Does it matter to you?

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I mean, I think they should be tried in a military—I don‘t think that they broke civilian law.  I think that—I think we are at war. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, what‘s the political fight here that you‘re arguing? 

HARRIS:  Well, nobody wanted—for Republican and Democrat alike, nobody wanted the trial to be in their backyard. 

MCMAHON:  No politicians did.  No politicians did. 

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  No one in the public wanted it.

MCMAHON:  The president—the president made a point during the campaign—and he‘s right about this—as a matter of confidence around the world, that it would be better if the entire world could see these people tried in U.S. courts, where there are rules of due process, rules of evidence. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s your argument?

MCMAHON:  Well, no, it‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, it is your argument. 

MCMAHON:  It is an argument.  And it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s yours.

(CROSSTALK) 

MCMAHON:  ... a civil libertarian argument.

MATTHEWS:  It is your argument. 

MCMAHON:  It is my argument. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, we got it.

So you‘re a lawyer. 

HARRIS:  Well, yes.  It...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s his argument.  What was wrong with his argument? 

HARRIS:  Well, yes, it would be better. But it would be better if we didn‘t have terrorists trying to attack our country.  It‘s not the reality.  What we‘re seeing here is the difference between campaigning and actually governing.  These are easy promises to make in a campaign..

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It‘s the professor meets the president.  He‘s right as a matter of idealism.  He‘s right in terms of what would be better.

The practical reality is, United States Congress is filled with politicians and they read polls.  And the politicians in New York who read the polls said, oh, my Lord, we can‘t have it here.  You had the police commissioner, Mr. Kelly, and you had, Mr. Bloomberg, both flip-flopping on this because they initially supported the trials in New York City and then after they read the polls, they decided.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is he right to say the world would have been impressed if we had criminal trials?

HARRIS:  I think that—yes, I think the world would have liked it.  But I think, you know, I think—if someone from the Bush administration were here, they would say we‘re not really interested in impressing the world.  We‘re interested in convicting terrorists.

MCMAHON:  It‘s not about impressing the world.  The verdicts would have had more legitimacy if they would have come in an open court where there are rules of evidence, where there are rules of civil procedure and where there‘s due process.

MATTHEWS:  Who thinks they‘re innocent?

MCMAHON:  Nobody thinks they‘re innocent.  But that doesn‘t mean they‘re not entitled to a trial.  It happens every single day.

HARRIS:  They‘re going to get a trial.

MCMAHON:  That people who committed crimes, even people who admitted

crimes, like John Hinckley, have trials.  And that‘s what you do in a rule

of law and it‘s a better thing to do.  I understand that they bended and

they bowed to political reality here.  But that doesn‘t mean it was the

right thing to do from

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  As a lawyer.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s saying it would have been better to go to New York and get a conviction.  Yes.  But suppose you got an acquittal in New York.

MCMAHON:  That‘s the danger.  That‘s the risk.  And you‘re going to have rules of evidence and trial could take a really long time.  I understand why the politicians didn‘t want it.  I understand—

MATTHEWS:  What would you guys have done if they got an acquittal in New York and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, got an acquitted in New York City?  What you guys have done?

HARRIS:  Well, it‘s beyond politics there.

MATTHEWS:  What would you have done?  What would you have done?  An honest answer.

HARRIS:  It can happen.

MATTHEWS:  A New York jury.

HARRIS:  No, no.

MATTHEWS:  You can never predict the -- 

HARRIS:  No, no, I‘m saying, we could not allow a situation where that would be possible.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, he‘s wrong?

HARRIS:  Yes, I do.  Yes, I think Steve is wrong.

MATTHEWS:  So, we shouldn‘t have a criminal trial in New York.  So Obama was wrong.  Now, he‘s right.

HARRIS:  I think he has reversed himself.  But I think he‘s heading the right way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s probably and let‘s go to the economics issue

that probably affects more people

Medicare affects more people than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed‘s trial.  Let‘s go to Paul Ryan.  He‘s the chairman of the budget committee and the political risks of a budget plan.

Let‘s listen to this guy.  He‘s got a lot of guts.  Let‘s see if he‘s too gutsy or whatever.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN ®, WISCONSIN:  We are—we are giving them a political weapon to go against us.  But they will have to lie in demagogue to make it a political weapon.  We can‘t keep kicking this can down the road.  The president has punted.  We‘re not going to follow suit, and yes, we will be giving our political adversaries things to use against us in the next election.  And shame on them if they do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Can you run in Florida with that kind of argument?  Cut Medicare, cut Medicaid.  Can you win an election in Florida where a lot of people are retired?

HARRIS:  Marco Rubio travelled across Florida and said I think we need to reform Social Security and I want to raise the retirement age and maybe even means tested.  And in our tracking poll, we actually won on the question of who do you trust to preserve and protect Social Security.

So, it will be use against use?  Yes, absolutely.  The question is going to be: Does President Obama want to play small ball or does he swing for the fences?  And if he wants to swing for the fences, then a budget plan that will cut $4 trillion in spending is something that I think we -- 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s ballsy.  Are these guys?

MCMAHON:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  Are they right to go for the fence and you guys are doing this in a whiffle ball thing, don‘t blame me, it‘s not my fault?

MCMAHON:  The presidential commission wasn‘t whiffle ball.  So,

first of all

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It wasn‘t his commission, he never agreed with it.

MCMAHON:  It was the presidential deficit commission.  He hasn‘t agreed with it yet.  But he wanted the Republican—look, he‘s a politician, too.  And he wants to get reelected.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCMAHON:  So, he‘s going to let Paul Ryan float his program out there.  Let me tell you what‘s not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  He just said—they can carry Florida by being honest. 

Are they right?

MCMAHON:  No, $4 trillion in cuts is something I think everybody agrees are necessary.  The question is how you‘re going to do it.  What Paul Ryan did, which was courageous, it was as courageous as it was politically stupid because he proposed taking it out senior programs and programs for the poor, not a penny out of defense.  In fact, the Republicans want to give Pentagon even more than they ask for.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I see the demos who watch this show.  A lot of people who watch this show are 75, in good shape, mentally as sharp as anybody here.  Well, maybe better.

Watching this show thinking, wait a minute, I don‘t mind taking a little bit.  Maybe I‘ll put up with some of these new restrictions on Medicare if I can, if I‘m not really in bad shape and I need this procedure.  But I want to know that it‘s all being shared.  I want to know that rich people making trillions of dollars, the Donald Trumps of the world, are paying a reasonable tax rate.  I want to know that the Defense Department is not gold-plating and spending tons of money that they shouldn‘t be doing.

Is your party going to do all three?

HARRIS:  Well, first of all, I say to that 75-year-old viewer, none of this talk about entitlement reform is going to affect you because we are only talking about people who are under the age -- 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you‘re really swinging for the fences now, aren‘t you?

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  You can vote.  You won‘t be affected.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Are you going to do all three?

HARRIS:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  Absolutely.  Look, we don‘t have—we don‘t have a tax problem.  We have a spending program.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You heard it all here.  They don‘t want to do tough stuff except on Medicare.  And that hurts you.

Up next: Republicans in the United States have signed a proposed constitutional amendment to balance the budget.  We‘re going to look at the B.S. factor.  Is it really going to pass?  Is it going to do anything more than gives some people a free ride politically?  Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post” comments and he‘ll talk about what he calls the worst idea in Washington.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at where President Obama stands among past presidents in this April before reelection year.  Obama is at 45 percent, according to the Gallup Poll.  George W. Bush was at 70 percent a year before the election.  He won reelection.  Bill Clinton was just under 50.  He also won a second term.

The first President Bush was close to 80 at this time before his re-election but he lost his reelection.  Reagan was at 42, four points lower than Obama and he won a landslide.  Carter was at 40 and, of course, lost.

These figures are not predictive.  Bottom line: a lot can happen between now and next November.  You can‘t tell, but the parties united that‘s going to help Obama.

More of HARDBALL coming back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

All 47 Republicans senators, that‘s all the Republicans in the Senate recently signed onto a proposed balanced budget amendment that would cap spending by the federal government and 18 percent of the country‘s gross national product or gross domestic product.  And Congress would be prohibited from raising taxes unless approved by a vote of at least two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress.  All but though could waive during wartime.

So, why are Republicans doing this?  And do they think they can get this amendment passed on either house?

Joining me are two MSNBC political analysts: Ezra Klein of “The Washington Post,” who wrote a good analysis of this.  And David Corn of “Mother Jones.”

Ezra, I‘m looking at this thing.  It doesn‘t look like even a workable document.  And I‘ve been following, ever since I got into politics, covering and working for politicians, they‘ve been talking about balanced budget amendments, this doomsday machine that‘s going to come in and solve all our problems.

Why do they keep going to that mechanism?  Why don‘t they just pass a balanced budget?

EZRA KLEIN, THE WASHINGTON POST:  I guess it‘s messaging.  But isn‘t workable.  This is such a stringent amendment that Paul Ryan‘s road map would be unconstitutional under it.  Every year of Ronald Reagan‘s presidency would be unconstitutional under it.  This isn‘t just something that can‘t be done.  It‘s something that every time Republicans actually sit down and write a plan about how you would actually run governmental fiscal policy, they realize it also shouldn‘t be done.

So, they‘re not going to try to pass it, but it looks like they‘re on the side of balanced budgets while Democrats aren‘t.  It‘s all messaging, but it‘s really bad economic policy.

MATTHEWS:  Messaging I think is important, just to get, so they could put out a statement, only yesterday, I co-sponsored a bill to require a balanced budget.  That‘s a quick letter.  You send it to everybody who ever writes you a letter, and you look like a good guy.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES:  And better yet, you say we have all 47 Republicans in the Senate who have sponsored this and not a single Democrat.  I mean, there are basically two words to sum this up: magic pony.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

CORN:  It‘s just candy.  It‘s political eye candy.  And there‘s no -

it‘s not going anywhere.  It won‘t pass.

      

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go—

CORN:  They‘re focusing in on it now.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  A lot of people like the sound of it.  I want to tell one (ph) here.

This is Senator John Cornyn yesterday saying he‘ll vote against raising the debt ceiling unless this amendment is passed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS:  I intend to vote against raising the debt ceiling unless we get some systemic reform, the kind the president‘s own fiscal commission recommended in December of 2010.  I think we need to pass a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution that 47 of my colleagues and I rolled out this last week.  I hope we get bipartisan support.  We came within one vote in 1997 of a balanced budget amendment of the Constitution, which would force the federal government to live within its means instead of spending money we don‘t have.

But that‘s the price that‘s going to have to be paid, systemic reforms in order to get Republican support for raising the debt ceiling.  Otherwise, I think you‘re going to see Democrats having to do that all by themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know how (INAUDIBLE) thing works, Ezra.  But let‘s look at this.  I‘m sure you‘ve studied it.  Looking at the texts, I used to work on the budget committee for three years.  Look at this, it says that you can‘t spend more money than you bring in that year, except you don‘t know how much you bring in until September 30th to the fiscal year.  How do you enforce that?

KLEIN:  You can‘t.  I mean, there‘s actually an interesting part at the end, where they say any court that attempts to enforce cannot do so by raising taxes.  So, I think what they‘re expecting to happen is in many years, it actually wouldn‘t be done.  You wouldn‘t balance the budget.  But then the courts, because they have to enforce the constitutional duties of the Congress, would come in and then do spending cuts on their own.  It creates a level of potential judicial activism in the system that is like nothing we have ever experienced before.

MATTHEWS:  Last point, how do you say that the government can only spend 18 percent of the economy, David Corn, if you don‘t know how much the economy was?  Our economy is up and own all year.

CORN:  Chris, you‘re looking at this too practically.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m reading the bill.

CORN:  I know.  But it‘s not about making a system that works.  This is about just fooling people into thinking they care more about the budget being balanced.  This is what I would like to see them do.  OK, Senator Cornyn, you want this—you want this done next year, the year after, give us the budget that would reflect this.  What are you going to cut?

MATTHEWS:  Ronald Reagan balanced—

CORN:  They can‘t do that.

MATTHEWS:  Ronald Reagan was for every balanced-budget amendment and never proposed a balanced budget.

CORN:  They can‘t do it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you this, Ezra, you‘re on top of this.  Will a couple Democrats jump on board, because it looks too sweet to be on the ship?  Joe Manchin of West Virginia, will Ben Nelson of Nebraska jump aboard this ship?  Yes or no?

KLEIN:  I wouldn‘t—I think they might.  But I wouldn‘t be shocked at all.  But I just want to say one thing about how you enforce it.  It‘s the year before.  So, it‘s 18 percent of the budget the year before.

MATTHEWS:  I know, that‘s right.  I read that.

KLEIN:  Which makes it, what‘s even crazier about that—

MATTHEWS:  You won‘t know that until September 30th.  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

KLEIN:  -- of the current year.  So, we didn‘t have 16.7 since 1955.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Ezra Klein, good reporting, good analysis. 

Thank you, David Corn.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with how the zealots took over the Republican Party.  What a job they‘ve done on the party of Lincoln.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with what I see happening to one of this country‘s historic political parties.

The Republican Party has given us great moderate leaders in the past: Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower.  It‘s given us flawed leaders who are nonetheless great Americans, I think of Ulysses S.  Grant, for example, who won the Civil War and was a true believer in reconstruction after the war.

I don‘t know where the tradition I‘ve just described broke off and this new thing took over.  I think it was passage of the Civil Rights bill back in ‘64 -- when the enemies of civil rights flipped from the party of Jefferson to the party of Strom Thurmond.  Or maybe it was the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in public school.

But what we have today is a different—deeply different—

Republican Party than the one that fought slavery and championed conservation in the old days.

I listen to Palin and Gingrich and Bachmann and Huckabee and what they believe.  I listen to Romney and Pawlenty and now Trump trying to talk their language and I think we‘re talking something very different the mainstream Republicanism—the kind that has long won in the independent, moderate suburbs, won with the people I grew up with, with my family, actually.

Palin talks like thinking isn‘t necessary; it may not even be good for people.  Gingrich uses his mind to say truly hateful things.  Huckabee is a theocrat, someone who statements about the Mideast are downright incendiary.  Mitt Romney knows better.  So does Pawlenty.  I‘d hate to see Haley Barbour start dueling in these woods.  He might be smart enough to beat those folks at their own game.

But beware, Haley, or anyone else who‘s thinking of joining the jamboree.  The evidence out there is that the Republican Party today, you can‘t say you believe in science, you can‘t say you believe in evolution or in climate change or in gay rights, or even in separation of church and state.  If you do, you lose the zealots, and the zealots will be waiting for you in Iowa to make sure you eat your words.

John McCain tried to beat them, the zealots, once.  The family values types went after his family.  George Bush‘s father tried to take them on.  Ronald Reagan managed to charm them, but he was a rarity.

The danger today is that the only way to win the Republican Party presidential nomination is to get past the gatekeepers of the right, and they aren‘t looking to let anybody past who isn‘t dead right like them.

Maybe this is God‘s will, that Obama not have a reasonable opponent out there.  How‘s that for an incendiary statement?

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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