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updated 4/8/2011 3:45:18 PM ET 2011-04-08T19:45:18

Guests: Howard Fineman, Richard Wolffe, Simon Hobbs, Mark Meckler, John Tester, Steve Kornacki, Errol Louis, Clarence Page, Ken Vogel

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Who moved my government?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Down to the wire.  In just over 24 hours, the United States government will shut down unless the two sides can reach agreement.  We learned just today of some cases in which Republicans—no surprise—have said, Yes, of course, cut government spending as a matter of principle, but just keep the money coming to my district.  We‘re going to play some HARDBALL tonight, by the way, with a Tea Party leader.  What will it take besides unconditional surrender to the Tea Party‘s demands to keep the United States government open?

Also, John Boehner says there‘s no daylight between him and the Tea Party.  We can believe that.  Or more likely, as someone said, Boehner has the Tea Party holding a blowtorch at his back.  They want no compromise.  Liberal Democrats don‘t want President Obama to give any more than he already has.  So how do these two leaders of these two parties make the deal they want to make without infuriating their bases?

Plus, we‘re all potential players now in Donald Trump‘s new reality show.  To believe Trump, by the way, you have to believe that what he calls “the con” to make Barack Obama president of the United States was hatched 50 years ago, before Obama was born, even.  Try wrapping your head around the real birther theory of Donald Trump.

And Wisconsin payback.  Two elections there on Tuesday of this week made it clear Wisconsin voters are angry with Governor Scott Walker‘s attacks on the union movement.

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with the fact that four out of five Republicans now have doubts about what country our president was born in.  What a revoltin‘ development for the republic, and why that makes perfect bait for Donald Trump.

We start with the shutdown showdown and the Tea Party wants in exchange—what they do want in exchange for keeping government open.  Mark Meckler is the co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots.  Sir, it‘s great to have a leader on.

MARK MECKLER, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And you are a leader, and it may be that you‘re in charge of the United States government in this sense—you guys are calling the shots.  What is your demand?  Is it still absolute victory, you want all the cuts the Republicans talked about in that first House bill this year, HR-1, $100 billion currently pro-rated to $61 billion.  You want that or nothing, right?

MECKLER:  That‘s what we‘re looking for.  That‘s correct, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what you‘re looking for?

MECKLER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Which means?  Is that the deal?  Is that the deal maker, the only deal maker?

MECKLER:  You know, we‘re not in Congress, so it‘s not our job to make the deal.  Our job is to reflect the American people.  Fifty-seven percent of the American people say they‘re looking for bigger cuts or shut the government down, and we‘re reflecting that.  It‘s up to the folks in Congress to step up to the table and actually get a deal done.

MATTHEWS:  So let‘s ask you this.  The way most people make deals, you know, you apply—suppose you want to buy a house and you say, I‘m going to pay 105 for it, and the owner says, No, I want 130.  So you go somewhere in the middle there, right?  That‘s not the way you guys do business.

MECKLER:  Well, it is the way we do business.

MATTHEWS:  No.

MECKLER:  A hundred billion dollars is minimal compared to what—

MATTHEWS:  But you said—well, that‘s your opening bid, though.

MECKLER:  No, we made our opening bid a long time ago, and it was much higher.  The American people spoke loud and clear in November.  They wanted serious stuff done.  A hundred billion wasn‘t enough—

MATTHEWS:  What was your opening bid, if it wasn‘t $100 billion?

MECKLER:  It‘s 2.6 cents out of every federal dollar spent.  That‘s nothing, Chris.  Do doing $100 billion, that‘s a big backdown.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what was your opening bid, if it wasn‘t $100 billion?

MECKLER:  We want to see them pass a balanced budget—

MATTHEWS:  OK, you don‘t want to answer—

MECKLER: -- amendment immediately.

MATTHEWS: -- the question.  Your opening bid at the beginning of this year—would you please acknowledge that was $100 billion?

MECKLER:  No, that was the opening bid from the Republican Party. 

That‘s what they ran on.

MATTHEWS:  What was the Tea Party‘s opening bid?

MECKLER:  The Tea Party doesn‘t put out an opening bid.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MECKLER:  We‘re not—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Where are you willing to be happy, then, with the results?  If Boehner comes in tomorrow and says, You know what?  I think $43 billion, $44 billion is about right.  I‘m willing to go with that.  What would you say?

MECKLER:  What our people would say is that‘s not good enough.  They should push for $100 billion.

MATTHEWS:  Suppose he says $99 billion?

MECKLER:  They‘d want to push for $100 billion.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So that‘s your position.  Let me ask you about these other things in your positioning.

MECKLER:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s—Boehner goes out there and said—let‘s watch him.  Here he is, Boehner, talking about these additional things.  They‘re not really monetary, exactly.  They have to do with values.

MECKLER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Well, if you want to call it abortion, fine.  I think it‘s really about birth control, regulation at the Environmental Protection Agency, things like that, about climate change, the cultural questions we argue about all the time here.  Here he is, talking about why he has them on his bill.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Our goal is real clear.  We‘re going to fight for the largest spending cuts we can get and the policy riders that were attached to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s not in the clip I wanted.  The clip—another clip shows policy riders, meaning, I want to have no more regulations by the EPA in terms of climate change and I don‘t want to have any federal money going to Planned Parenthood.  Is that where you are?  Where‘s the Tea Party on Planned Parenthood?

MECKLER:  The Tea Party Patriots have not taken a position on those.  And we‘re looking for fiscal responsibility.  The riders are something the Republicans are pushing for their base.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘d be willing, as a Tea Party spokesman here on HARDBALL tonight, to say, If you can get me my whole $100 billion, which is now down to $61 billion, in terms of the months left in the year, I‘m not going to complain about this other stuff.

MECKLER:  What I can tell you is—

MATTHEWS:  Can you answer a question?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you go to Michele Bachmann school?  I asked for a simple question.

MECKLER:  All right, so—

MATTHEWS:  Will you settle for the $100 billion—

MECKLER:  Chris, you want me to behave—

MATTHEWS: -- if you don‘t go with these other riders?

MECKLER:  You want me to behave like somebody who runs an organization.  This is what we‘re told to do by our membership.  There‘s 3,300 --

MATTHEWS:  OK, does your membership tell you they care about abortion rights or birth control, even?

MECKLER:  They tell us to go for the $100 billion.  That‘s what we‘re doing.  So that‘s what we take a position on.

MATTHEWS:  So you have no additional demands beyond those.

MECKLER:  We don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s interesting.  So who in the Republican Party has the blowtorch to the back of John Boehner, saying, I want no more money going for birth control at Planned Parenthood?  Who says, I don‘t want anything done on climate change.  Not you guys, you say.

MECKLER:  All I can tell you is we‘re pushing for $100 billion.  That‘s what they promised in the November elections.  That‘s what we expect them to deliver.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the way this is going to work out.  In the next election, you guys—how many people do you think got elected based on Tea Party support?

MECKLER:  I don‘t know what the numbers are.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think you got—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you a grand question.  Do you think you got the Republicans in the majority?

MECKLER:  The Tea Party movement?  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Do you think they could lose if they don‘t play ball with you?

MECKLER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  They‘d lose the majority.

MECKLER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And not playing ball with you, if Boehner is watching right now, and he may watching on his—he may have Fox on.  I don‘t know what they watch over there.  They may have CNN on, but they may be smart to have it on because you‘re on right now.  What would you want to tell John Boehner right now in terms of what you want him to do at the White House tonight when he meets with the president and Harry Reid?  What do you want him to do?  Do you want him to say, Mr. President, we want $61 billion in federal cuts—that‘s the current rate of what would get us $100 billion cut annually—and nothing short of that?  You want him to do that.

MECKLER:  What we want him to do is to protect America.  We want him to prevent a government shutdown.  We‘d like to see him tell the president to encourage the Senate to pass HR-1.  It‘s sitting there.  They can.  They have the power to prevent a government shutdown right now, and he should ask the president—

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about a week from now, two weeks from now, three weeks from now.  We don‘t really know about how hot this country is going to get if people can‘t go to national parks, they can‘t go to Yosemite, they can‘t go to the Smithsonian Institute, their refund checks are not coming, soldiers are not getting paid.  All kind of things we‘re not fully aware of aren‘t going to happen when these federal employees get furloughed, they get put off the job.  I don‘t really care about the BlackBerrys not working.  They can be pretty offensive at times.

But what do you thinks‘ going to be the mood of the country two, three weeks into a government shutdown?  And how are they going to feel toward the Tea Party?

MECKLER:  I think they‘re going to be thrilled with the Tea Party because the Tea Party is reflecting their values.  We can get the soldiers paid.  There‘s a bill out there right now to authorize paying the military.  The Democrats are standing in the way of that.  The president has said he would veto that bill.  I was stunned to hear him say, essentially, Bring on the shutdown.  He said, I‘m not going to fund the military.  I‘m not going to sign that bill, even if there‘s bipartisan support in the Senate to pass that bill.  I think that‘s outrageous and I think it goes against the majority of the American public opinion.

MATTHEWS:  So how many areas of exception besides the military would you point to, the government shutdown?

MECKLER:  I‘m not sure I understand that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, would you say Social Security checks should still go out?

MECKLER:  They are going to go out regardless (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  You want them to go out?

MECKLER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Mark Meckler, who is really deep down a politician.

Joining me now—joining me right now is Montana senator Jon Tester -

what a political!  Here‘s—you‘re laughing because you see how these guys play the game, too.  We‘re for all government spending cuts, we want to get rid of all government spending except for the stuff that affects the soldiers fighting for us, which makes perfect sense, and anybody out there who‘s over 65 because every single one of them votes.

Let‘s go.  Senator, thank you for joining us.  Let me ask you about this fact of this one-week extension.  The Tea Party fellow made a good point.  The president doesn‘t want a deal, he just wants the government to go back with the big deal or nothing.  No more short-term, get-along kind of things.  Why‘s the president not supporting a get-along for another week and see what we can do here next week?

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT), APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE:  Well, I think what we need in government is predictability, and I think these short-term continuing resolutions give us anything but predictability in government.  And it‘s a darn poor way to do business.

By the way, the six-month CR that we‘re working on, and hopefully, will get agreement on and keep the federal government operating isn‘t exactly long-term, but it does gets us to the end of the fiscal year.  So I think that‘s what the president‘s looking at.  It‘s certainly what I‘m looking at, too.

MATTHEWS:  What are you worried about in terms of the government shutting down out in Montana?  What‘s real?  I mean, people can live without the Smithsonian.  I think it‘s a great deal because you paid for already, I always tell people.  Come to Washington.  You already paid for all these museums.  You ought to come once in a while.

But absent museums, Smithsonians, national parks, things like that, I‘m told that the big money is still going to roll, that checks are still going to go to Social Security recipients, Medicare bills are still going to be paid.  What are you worried about?

TESTER:  I‘ll give you a few examples.  In Montana, we have a high rate of enlistment for folks to go fight around the world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those soldiers not getting paid on that military field is a travesty and shouldn‘t be happening.

You know, this is a time where folks are getting refund checks from the IRS.  They‘re critically important.  A lot of people budget around those refund checks.  They‘re not going to happen.

You know, the list goes on and on and on and on and on.  You know, contracts that are being paid for for federal funds for contractors and building rent and those kind of things are going to end up not getting paid.  I mean, the list is huge, and that‘s bad.  You know, we‘re just coming out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Chris.  And this kind of government shutdown makes no sense whatsoever.

Do we need to get a good—our arms around the deficit and the debt?  Absolutely.  And we can do that, but we‘re never going to do it just by looking at 12 percent of the budget, which is called discretionary spending.  We need a long-term plan.  The fiscal commission with Senator Simpson and Erskine Bowles came out with a good plan, a format, a blueprint, whatever you want to call it to go forth.  There‘s people in the Senate that are working on that in a bipartisan way.

MATTHEWS:  Did you support that blueprint?

TESTER:  I supported the blueprint to moving forward, absolutely.  Were there things in it that I didn‘t like?  Absolutely.  But that‘s the way we‘re going to get out of this mess, is put everything on the table and save serious dollars.  I mean, I went back to Montana.  I go back every weekend—

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute, Senator.  You just said you liked the Erskine Bowles plan, the whole Simpson thing, to reduce the cost of government, which had a lot of tricky stuff in there.  The deal was if it got 14 votes, it would have been soundly supported.  It only got 11.  Would you have been the 12th vote?  Would you have supported—voted for it, like Durbin did, for example?

MECKLER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You would have done that?  OK.

TESTER:  No, I absolutely would have because I think the blueprint is right.  Are there things in it that are—that aren‘t—that I disagree with?  Absolutely, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MECKLER:  But this is a give-and-take situation.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MECKLER:  It‘s a negotiation.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s not the way the Tea Party sees it.  They want to win it all.  Let me ask you this.  You‘ve got a plan out there to deny unemployment benefits to people who have a million dollars in assets.  What‘s that about?  Do people actually do that, go out and claim unemployment jobless benefits when they‘ve got a lot of money?

TESTER:  Yes, I mean, they are.  I mean, and that‘s a fact.  And as we try to get our fiscal house in order, taxpayers shouldn‘t be paying for unemployment benefits for millionaires.  It‘s just common sense, and we passed it out unanimously yesterday.  It was the right thing to do.

MATTHEWS:  Is that going to reduce the federal debt?

TESTER:  Well, absolutely because unemployment—there‘s taxpayer support to that that we‘ll be able to give it to the people who really need it.

MATTHEWS:  Are you ready to go all the way with that in cutting out Social Security and stuff like that for millionaires, benefits?

MECKLER:  Well, you know—

MATTHEWS:  I mean, means test all these federal programs?  I mean,

it‘s an idea that‘s been talked about over the years.  Do people who have -

you know, should Donald Trump—not that I‘m going to be too hard on him tonight.  I already have that planned.  But should guys like Donald Trump be pulling down unemployment checks or—not that he‘s ever been unemployed—Medicare checks for doctors when he can afford to have the best doctors in New York?  Should someone like that or Michael Bloomberg have to pay for—anywhere around the country, Buffett, those guys, should they be getting Social Security checks at 65, yes or no?

TESTER:  Well, I‘ll just tell you this.  Entitlements need to be on the table.  There‘s a way we can deal with it and—whether it‘s means testing or other ways to make sure that it functions well for generations and generations to come—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MECKLER: -- and doesn‘t add to our debt.

MATTHEWS:  You know, every time I see a CBS—they used to do these programs—I don‘t know who it was, Morley Safer or somebody did it years ago—that show these big boats, these yachts going through Boca Raton, Florida, and they‘d say, These people are drawing Social Security.  What‘s your reaction as a populist, a guy with a tractor under him?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think when you hear that kind of report?  Is—

I‘m not kidding.  I know it‘s ridiculous, but these people are pulling checks.  They don‘t want to miss a buck.

TESTER:  Well, that‘s exactly right, on one hand.  On the other hand, they paid into it, too.  What I‘m saying, Chris, is there‘s things we can do here.  And I‘m going to tell you, in the Senate, I think there‘s people on both sides of the aisle that want to negotiate a long-term deal to get our debt and deficit under control.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK.

MECKLER:  And I think it—I think it can be done.  Entitlements, military spending, discretionary spending, tax reform—all that stuff needs to be addressed.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Are you guys sleeping on couches this weekend in the Senate?

TESTER:  I will be here if there‘s a shutdown.  There‘s no doubt about that.  If we don‘t have a shutdown, I‘ll be back into the big sky of Montana.

MATTHEWS:  God!  You and Chet Huntley!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, Senator Jon Hester—Tester, rather.

Coming up—a great senator.  Coming up: So between John Boehner and the president, who‘s got the most pressure on them from behind?  Both these guys—look at them now—feel the pressure, although it looks like Boehner feels—well, he‘s sweating more, or crying, whatever.  The president never cries.  The Tea Party who wants Boehner to push for deeper cuts or liberals who worry the president may be giving too much and not being tough enough—who‘s standing up to their own people?  That‘s ahead.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s a number from our new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll the Obama campaign team is bound to like.  For the second straight time, a plurality of Americans view President Obama as a moderate, nearly 4 in 10, 3 in 10 says he‘s very liberal, 2 in 10 call him somewhat liberal.  Obama‘s improving with independents, seniors and women, key blocks he needs if he‘s going to win a second term.  Very interesting.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  The showdown over the government shutdown is shaping up to be a political test over who can survive the economy—can survive the challenges within his own party.  Can Speaker Boehner control those unruly Tea Partiers who refuse to give in on any spending cuts?  And can President Obama strike a deal with Republicans without alienating progressives, liberals in his own party?  And who‘s in a tighter vise right now?

Let‘s bring in two MSNBC political analysts, Howard Fineman, who‘s also with The Huffington Post, of course, and Richard Wolffe.

Gentlemen, let me talk to you about this fight because this is one of those interesting things.  Boehner looks like he‘s in the most trouble because he seems to look as if he‘s almost going to cry or he‘s nervous or he‘s sweating.  Seriously.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t say this lightly.

FINEMAN:  No, I (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  I do—I do feel for this guy.

FINEMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He has a lot of people behind him he‘s never had to deal with before.  These are not professional politicians behind him, they‘re newbies.  And some have come in and they just want to win, win, win and they‘re not going to compromise.

FINEMAN:  Well, what I find interesting about this is, I think, in narrow sort of poker terms, Boehner‘s doing very well.  I think he‘s cleaning the president‘s clock.  I mean, he‘s got the White House up to $35 billion or something like that.

MATTHEWS:  Starting with zero.

FINEMAN:  Yes, starting with zero.  These are big, big cuts.  But no matter how cleverly—and I think pretty well—Boehner‘s played the inside game, he‘s losing two levels of the outside game, the first to the Tea Party people—you had one of them on saying $61 billion or bust—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN: -- and I think the wider public, which is upset with everybody, but I think in the end, will still, despite the clever maneuvering by Boehner on the military funding and all that—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FINEMAN: -- still more likely blame the Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  Richard Wolffe, the question is, Boehner, is he in a vise?  I see him in a vise three ways.  He‘s got the president pushing from one side, the Tea Party‘s from behind him, and then he‘s got the social conservatives.  By the way, the Tea Party fellow who was just on, Meckler, says, I‘m not with them.  I‘m with the money people.  I want to cut the money.  I don‘t care about these—at least, my group doesn‘t care about these other things, like birth control and environmental protection.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, let‘s talk about the inside game versus the outside game.  Right now, he only has to play the inside game, and he‘s doing it well.  But—

MATTHEWS:  The president or Boehner?

WOLFFE:  The Boehner is.  But—

MATTHEWS:  “The Boehner”?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You got to be pretty careful there!

WOLFFE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

WOLFFE:  The speaker.  He is actually—all he has to do is care about the Republican challenge he‘s going to face in the primaries and the people who put him there.  The problem is, there‘s going to be a deal.  At this point, he doesn‘t have to deal, but there will be a deal, whether it‘s three weeks into a shutdown—

MATTHEWS:  Where‘d this conceptual notion—

WOLFFE: -- or now.

MATTHEWS: -- come from, There will be a deal?

WOLFFE:  Of course there‘s going to be a deal.  He‘s going to have to

--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do strikes always end?

WOLFFE:  Because they have—yes, they do, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  Well—

WOLFFE:  And even governments reopen after a shutdown.  There will be a deal, and that deal—

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that?

WOLFFE: -- is not going to be $100 billion.  It‘s not.

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree there‘s going to be a deal in the foreseeable future?  We could go on for weeks like this.  The Smithsonian—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Well, here‘s—here‘s the—again, to go back to the poker game, here‘s where the president made a mistake, I think.  Well, there are two things that were a problem. 

Democrats didn‘t pass a budget last year, which sort of leaves—means that there‘s no firebreak for the president.  He‘s basically doing this himself, because there‘s no Democratic marker from the Senate.  That‘s number one. 

Number two, the president agreed to these little bites of the apple with a continuing resolution—continuing resolutions. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Current spending. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  OK.  First was two weeks for $4 billion.  Then the Republicans came back for another two weeks for $6 billion.  Now the Republicans are back saying, well, we just want a little bit more, sir.  How about one week for $12 billion?

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FINEMAN:  And that‘s difficult for the president. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Republicans like continuing it that way. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s watch this interesting development.  Here‘s what John Boehner said, the speaker, said last night about his relationship with Tea Party people, with House members of the Tea Party.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC ANCHOR:  You know what the Democrats say. 

They say they could cut a deal with you, but you won‘t buck the Tea Party. 

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Listen, there‘s no daylight between the Tea Party and me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, that‘s a big development, Richard.  Last fall, he was talking about how they were going to have their first sort of adult moment. 

WOLFFE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  A bit dismissive. 

Now, he‘s them. 

WOLFFE:  Well, yes, it makes perfect sense for him.  That‘s his politics.

He doesn‘t need to reach out to independents.  He doesn‘t have to play the bigger game for the Republican Party.  He just has to work for House Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  The 218.

WOLFFE:  That‘s it.  That‘s all he needs, and that‘s all he needs for

his job.  It‘s the president who has to speak to a bigger audience.  It‘s -

the Republican candidates are interested—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s how he was talking just recently as December, though, speaking to “The New Yorker” magazine in December about how he will to—keep on moving the prompter, please. 

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE:  They have shut down already. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  John Boehner spoke to “The New Yorker” in December about how he will have to deal with Republican newcomers on the issue of raising the debt ceiling.

He said—quote—this is in December to “The New Yorker”—“This is going to be probably the first really big adult moment for the new Republican majority.  You can underline adult.”  This is him speaking.  “And for people who have never in politics, it‘s going to be one of those growing moments.  It‘s going to be difficult, but we will have to find a way to help educate members and help people understand the serious problem that would exist if we don‘t do it.”

And there he is talking about the debt ceiling.  That is a bit paternalistic, or patronizing, if you will. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And, also, when you have to say something like there‘s no daylight between me and the Tea Party—

MATTHEWS:  Now.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: -- it means there is.  He‘s denying something—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a mixed metaphor.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  It means there is. 

And, secondly, yes.  And Richard is absolutely right.  In a way, the president wins by losing here, because—I mean, I‘m criticizing him as a poker player.  But, in the larger sense, if you—you had a graphic on earlier about how the president is doing better among moderates. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  If they end up with a final resolution of $35 billion, $40 billion in cuts or something like that, and it becomes finalized, the president—Boehner is then going to have a challenge from the right, but the president is going to win, because he‘s going to be the guy who was around when the moderate deal was made. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FINEMAN:  Does that make sense?

MATTHEWS:  American politics is always based on who can get to the center when the vote is coming. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  The president is racing to the center.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Yes, or being dragged to the center willingly.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s done his liberal thing.  He did health care.  He did a lot of things last year—

WOLFFE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS: -- a lot of stimulus, a lot of stuff that hurt him for a while there. 

But he‘s saying, no, now it‘s time to go to the center, whereas Boehner is saying, no, having been—spent his life as sort of a conservative, he now has to go to the right. 

WOLFFE:  The problem for Boehner—

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that a problem? 

WOLFFE:  It‘s a problem, but the bigger problem is this.  They got the majority back by talking about jobs. 

The president wasn‘t talking about jobs.  They were going to focus on jobs.  Tell me one job this is going to create.  Even Boehner says it‘s going to cost more to shut down the government and reopen it. 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

WOLFFE:  They‘re off-subject.  They‘re off-topic. 

MATTHEWS:  But you know the Republican argument.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t play dumb. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not playing dumb. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what their argument is.  The less government spends, the more money there is for—

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  What fascinates me by this whole thing is that the president

-- 

WOLFFE:  Does anyone think it creates a job?  One job? 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  The president—fascinating to watch the president on this, because he has this ability to seem like he‘s being dragged to the middle. 

He did it on health care, to the dismay of some on the left of his party.  Now he‘s being—quote—“dragged”—or I‘m saying he‘s being outmaneuvered politically by Boehner.  But where the president is going to end up is in the vicinity of a moderate deal that‘s going to—within the context of current politics—that‘s going to raise his numbers with moderates. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, according to reports, the stakes have taken an emotional turn for Boehner. 

Today‘s “L.A. Times,” “Los Angeles Times,” reports—quote—“The emotional toll of the protracted debate had become apparent earlier in the day, when Boehner choked up at a closed-door meeting of Republicans over the support he received for his hard-line stance.”

So, he‘s feeling it.  And also the Politico reported yesterday that Boehner told the GOP Conference on Monday that those who voted against him the last time around abandoned him, a message that some lawmakers privately said was overly emotional. 

So he‘s getting emotional about people who have screwed him, basically, and people who have loved him.  This is really—this guy is really unstable here. 

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  But, look—

MATTHEWS:  I mean, emotionally, he seems to go in either direction. 

If you love me, oh.  If you don‘t love me, oh.

I mean, the guy is so—so sensitive. 

FINEMAN:  No, what he‘s saying—what he‘s saying there, though, is, look, you abandoned me on that continuing resolution thing.  Don‘t abandon me on this. 

In other words, he‘s looking forward to the deal that ultimately—I think Richard is right—is going to be cut.  And he‘s basically saying to those people, look, you screwed me on the earlier thing.  You have got to stick with me on this one. 

I think that that‘s what the message behind that was. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean that song, don‘t come knocking at my window, you don‘t love me anymore? 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  Well, he‘s basically saying, there‘s going to be something. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  OK.  You abandoned me on that continuing resolution deal. 

You are going to have got to stick with me on this. 

And, of course, maybe he‘s crying because he knows that they won‘t.

WOLFFE:  He‘s crying because he said he didn‘t want to have two bad choices, meaning two budget bad deals.

His actual bad deal is shutdown or losing the support of his caucus. 

Both of them are bad for him.

FINEMAN:  Right. 

WOLFFE:  They‘re bad for Republicans in general.  They‘re bad for him, and they‘re going to have to go through much more pain, which may be—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘m just stunned by this person.

I think we‘re going to be able to watch this at the end of the week, like a week‘s capsule, and you‘re going to see Boehner looking nervous and sweaty and almost crying, and Obama kind of delightfully debonair. 

Compromise works for Obama.  It does not work for—

MATTHEWS:  You were right.  He said that first. 

(LAUGHTER)

WOLFFE:  And I agree with everything he says. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s right, but he said it first. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  By a nanosecond, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  By a hair. 

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman and Richard Wolffe, for being smart.

They are smart.  The president wins by going to the center lately.  He had already gone to the left.  The Republicans have come toward the right and are going too far right to win an election. 

Up next:  Speaking of too far right or something, Glenn Beck explains his departure, as you might explain—or look at him.  Is that sane behavior?  Oh, geez, I can‘t look at him anymore.  I guess that‘s what happened to him.  Nobody could.  We will see more.  He‘s calling himself now the modern day Paul Revere.  That‘s him.  You can see him now, one if by land, two if by sea, Glenn Beck.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL and the “Sideshow.” 

First up:  Why is Glenn Beck really leaving his show?  If you ask him, he‘s following in the footsteps of Paul Revere. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GLENN BECK”)

GLENN BECK, HOST, “GLENN BECK”:  I want to verify something that is true.  I am going to leave this program later this year. 

Paul Revere didn‘t get up on the horse and say, “I‘m going to do this for the rest of my life.”  He didn‘t do it.  He got off the horse at some point and fought in the revolution.  And then he went back to silversmithing. 

I have other things to do, and not because it‘s good or bad for business.  But I think you, out of all the people, will truly get this.  Our only business is the business of freedom and our country at this time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Great.  Thank you.  One if by land, two if by sea, three if you think Beck‘s departure has actually raised the I.Q. over at FOX. 

Up next: the boy who cried politics.  Here he is, 5-year-old Jesse Koczon, the kid who would be governor. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What‘s making you so sad? 

JESSE KOCZON, 5 YEARS OLD:  Because everyone tells me that I‘m too small to be the governor of New Jersey. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I love that accent. 

Well, he got his chance after that video went viral.  The real governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, yesterday named Jesse honorary governor for the day, even offered him some tips. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  You and I have a talk back there about property taxes? 

KOCZON:  Of course I did. 

CHRISTIE:  All right.  What did I tell you? 

KOCZON:  Don‘t raise them. 

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE:  And, if you do raise them, what happens? 

KOCZON:  I‘m not going to do that—I‘m not going to be the governor for that long. 

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE:  That‘s right. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s Chris Christie, a recognizable human being the Republicans could probably use as a presidential candidate. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

If you have covered politics for some time, you‘re used to press releases like this one out of the Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid‘s office that reads—quote—“Republicans have shown they couldn‘t care less about those who have the least.”

Well, on the other side, from the Republican congressman leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia—quote—“Democrats have not displayed the same interest in listening to the American people.”

Well, this partisan flame throwing happens more than you think, I guess.  A Harvard professor analyzed all the press releases sent out by various U.S. senators over a two-year period.  And according to that Harvard study, how much of their communications were actually designed simply to taunt the other political side?

Well, 27 percent, almost a third, 27 percent of congressional press releases are just wasteful schoolyard taunts.  But, then again, you already knew that, didn‘t you?  Tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Donald Trump is now a full-on birther.  He‘s suggesting that President Obama has perpetrated the biggest con in American political history.  And this crazy talk is working, as he‘s surging in the polls out there on the right.  Are we all just potential players in Trump‘s latest reality show? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks paring losses to finishing only slightly lower in the end today, the Dow Jones industrials slipping 17, the S&P 500 down two, and the Nasdaq shedding 3.5. 

Weighing on stocks today, that quake in Japan, a spike in oil prices and the prospect of a government shutdown, but some better-than-expected retail reports helped the markets bound back—bounce back from what was a 100-point decline, March sales figures beating estimates with a gain of 1.5 percent.  Analysts had actually been expecting a slight drop in same-store sales. 

Airlines and consumer discretionary stocks still under pressure, as oil prices top $110 a barrel.  Drugmaker XenoPort, shares of that guy skyrocketing after the FDA approved its new drug for treating restless leg syndrome. 

And, overseas, the European Central Bank boosted interest rates a quarter-of-1-percent to 1.25 percent in response to rising inflation there. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS:  You are not allowed to be a president if you‘re not born in this country.  He may not have been born in this country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was, of course, Donald Trump on “The Today Show” basically pushing his conspiracy theory about President Obama‘s birth, saying that he may not have been born in the United States.  It‘s called birtherism. 

And are we all just players now in the latest Trump reality show, which is what it‘s becoming?

Steve Kornacki writes about—writes about this for Salon.com.  And we also have Errol Louis on.  He‘s host of “Inside City Hall” in New York. 

Let me go to Errol on this. 

It seems to me that this is a reality show in the making.  No one who thinks about it believes that a young woman, a white woman in this case, with an African husband somehow wired it so that it would look like she was in the country, when she snuck off secretly, without any paperwork, off to Kenya or somewhere else, and came back, had it wired with the hospitals to lie and tell the local newspapers that these reports of the birth were true, lied to the government, got the government of Hawaii to cooperate, this elaborate conspiracy theory. 

And then Trump goes on and says, well, nobody really knew him when he was a kid.  So he enlarges on it to the point of suggesting that he is an impostor.  He isn‘t even the kid that was born back then.  He‘s something else, playing to the right wing rubes out there, the rub—I don‘t know who you call these people, but they‘re not very learned about this—who don‘t want to think about it, who just don‘t like him basically because he‘s black. 

I think that‘s what it‘s about. 

Your thoughts, Errol.  That‘s my thought. 

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK 1:  Well, I don‘t know where it comes from, but I do know that what Donald Trump is doing is the way to get a sizable number of voters interested in you.  And it seems to be working.  The polls seem to bear it out.  

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, who are these voters?  What kind of people are they? 

LOUIS:  Well, they are—they are the kind of people who don‘t pay attention to the long list of facts that you just read and who are—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Because they want to believe the worst about this guy named Barack Obama.  They want to believe.  They‘re willing to believe it. 

(CROSSTALK)

LOUIS:  The particulars of the birther case are not as important as the fact that there are some people who just can‘t accept the fact that the guy is the president, for whatever reason.  They can‘t accept the fact that what they believe in, what they voted for, what they hoped for, what they want in foreign policy and domestic policy—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LOUIS: -- is not what the majority of the country chose in 2008. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s Trump‘s exchange with Meredith Vieira on “Today.”  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)

TRUMP:  I have people that actually have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they‘re finding. 

I think the Tea Party has done an amazing service for this country, because people now, even very liberal Democrats, are starting to think for the first time, well, maybe we can‘t just keep giving everything away. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of that, Steve?  What is going on here with the right, the far right?  I think they were desperate for a leader, someone with a lot of money, a lot of prestige, a TV hero, a showman, if you will, a smart guy. 

And they say, hey—I can hear them at the truck stops this weekend:

Hey, this guy believes it.  Maybe it‘s right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He gives credibility to this crowd. 

Your thoughts.

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM:  Yes, absolutely.  I mean, he—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s probably got the highest income of anybody who‘s a birther.  I think that‘s probably fair. 

KORNACKI:  The—the—the irony of this is that, even if what Trump is suggesting, the conspiracy theory that he seems to have finally stumbled on here -- 

MATTHEWS:  That his mother engaged in, his father engaged in, the hospital engaged in, the state of Hawaii engaged, all that people who knew him as a kid, they all engaged to confect this history of the guy so that he could be president of the United States with the name Barack Hussein Obama, of mixed racial background.  And it‘s that little mother figured all this out.  Isn‘t she something?

KORNACKI:  Right.  But, look, if you—now, it‘s not true at all.  But even if you took the basic premise of this, that an American mother happened to be in Kenya when her son was born and then, a few days later brought him back to the United States, that is what Trump is now basically alleging happened.  That would basically be the circumstances—

MATTHEWS:  There‘s no evidence of that.

KORNACKI:  That would basically be the circumstances of the birth of John McCain who was born in the Panama Canal Zone to American parents.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re missing here.

OK.  The point of the matter is, to suggest that she wired it—let me go back to Errol.  Errol, you‘ll be more helpful, I think.  When you—when you have the evidence here that there was a birth announcement at the time of his birth that appeared nine days after his birth, somebody must have had a plan long before this con occurred by the president, somebody way back when said, let‘s have a kid and let‘s have him over in Kenya with the idea of saying he was born in the United States.

I mean, this conspiracy had to be hatched back before.  You‘re wrong -

you‘re absolutely wrong, Steve.  The way this thing has to work is before he was born, because you have to wire the whole thing.  You can‘t say the mother happened to be over in Kenya and then wired it so it appeared in the newspapers back then and the hospitals would all—you have to set this up way ahead of time.

           

KORNACKI:  You‘re applying a degree of logic to this that just doesn‘t

--

           

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I‘m trying to point out.  The average interviewer is not asking the right questions here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s a reality show.

KORNACKI:  There is no right question to ask Trump, because this is something people wanting to believe no matter what you tell them factually.  If you correct them on the facts, they will invent new facts.

MATTHEWS:  Then what is going on here?

LOUIS:  Well, here‘s what—let me tell you what‘s going on.  I sat with Trump for a one-on-one interview for about a half an hour last month.  And he‘s a very sharp, savvy guy.  He knows how to go out and push buttons that will get people to watch his show, to show interest in him, to push him higher in the polls.

MATTHEWS:  So, is this a reality show we‘re showing, being created right now?

(CROSSTALK)

LOUIS:  But he carefully puts in “may.”  He says I‘m coming to believe, or it may be this or it may be that.  So, you know, when you turn the cards over, he‘ll say, well, look, I never said it definitively.  So, he‘s being a politician.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, the biggest con in history, what‘s that mean to you?  Street corner, black politician what‘s that con?  Where‘s this language—Errol, would you listen to the words being used, biggest con in history?  What‘s that say to you?

LOUIS:  Well, you know—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- on the street corner?

LOUIS:  Some of the words that I heard or that I focus on are the more serious ones because this to me is foolishness.  I mean, when he talks, though, about—about foreign trade pacts and about manufacturing policy and how we‘re getting our pants beaten off us by some other countries, he sounds like your colleague, Ed Schultz, over there.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me—

LOUIS:  He‘s got some substance there and I think we should focus on the substance.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not what‘s getting these numbers.  Let‘s take a look at the CNN poll.  Let‘s give Donald Trump his due here.  A new CNN/Opinion Research poll has 20 percent of Republicans now are sure Obama was definitely born in the United States.

Now, here we go, what‘s going on here.  So, four out of five Republicans have doubts about the president‘s birth in the United States.

Steve, isn‘t that the reality he‘s playing with?  He‘s got a field—a big dance floor here.

KORNACKI:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  If four out of five Republicans have doubts about him born here, Trump is the only guy willing to say he has doubts.  Therefore, the other guys he‘s running, including probably Michele Bachmann, who won‘t play this game because they‘re serious, lose—because if the only guy that says, I‘ve got doubts just like the four out of five of you have doubts, he‘s on the playing field, they‘re not.  He‘s playing birther politics, they‘re not.  He might get a lot of votes out of this.

Your thoughts, Steve.

KORNACKI:  Well, now, there‘s a poll out that says he‘s in second place right now nationally in the Republican field, 17 percent.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KORNACKI:  But I think that‘s a very significant number but I think it‘s more significant for what it says about the rest of the Republican field.  About the fact that they are -- 

MATTHEWS:  What, for being honest?

KORNACKI:  This is a field that does nothing to excite anybody on the Republican side.

MATTHEWS:  Well, one way to get everybody excited is to say insane things.  We just saw Glenn Beck do it for a couple of years.  All you have to do in this medium, I‘m telling you, is say loony tune stuff, far left, far right and you will find your niche.  What he has done is found the niche of the birther crowd.

I mean, probably some truther on the Democratic side could have pulled the number that George W. Bush blew up the World Trade Center, and he or she could have gotten 5 percent of the Democratic vote.

There are a lot of nuts that are desperate for information.  And, by the way, deep down they don‘t want the information, they want the sales pitch.

Your thoughts.

KORNACKI:  I agree with you.  My—just to complete my thought there, the issue is, this is sort of a phenomenon of the early months of the Republican nominating process.  This is why I don‘t think he‘ll actually run for president, because right now, he‘s a celebrity—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, we may disagree.

KORNACKI:  -- he‘s a celebrity who can connect with the base by saying things like this.  If he actually gets in the race, in all of his past gets unearthed, all—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that‘s months from now.

KORNACKI:  He‘s a guy who was talking a few years ago—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s what I bet.  Errol, is he running?

KORNACKI:  -- tax on the super rich.

LOUIS:  Listen, all I‘ll say, folks, is that Jimmy Carter was unthinkable, Bill Clinton was unthinkable, Ronald Reagan was unthinkable—almost up until the day that they won.

MATTHEWS:  What agitates me is this con is really being perpetrated by Donald Trump.

Anyway, thank you, Steve Kornacki.  Thank you, Errol Louis.

You‘re wrong, Steve, he‘s running and this is proof of it because this is stuff he shouldn‘t be saying.  He‘s 10 times smarter than this.

KORNACKI:  Look what he said 10 years ago.  Look at what he said 10 years ago.

MATTHEWS:  What?

KORNACKI:  Ten years ago, he was trying to sell a book and pulled the same con.  He talked about the surcharge on the wealthy -- 

MATTHEWS:  No, this is real.  I think he‘s running this time.

KORNACKI:  He had a platform.

MATTHEWS:  Donald is running.  He can‘t be this crazy and not running. 

It‘s one or the other

Up next—you have to be loony tune Republican Party to look at the numbers going up in the poll.  Anyway, thank you.

Coming back, we‘re talking about payback in Wisconsin.  What‘s really happening out there with—this is not a reality show, it‘s what‘s happening with workers in Wisconsin.  The voters are fed up with that governor out there.  This guy overreached.  We‘ll be right back.

They‘re going after Scott Walker out there.  That‘s ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Democrats are hoping to beat Senator Scott Brown up in Massachusetts next fall, obviously.  But the senator looks strong for re-election right now.  Apparently right now, a new Suffolk Poll up there shows that the only Democrat to hold below 50 percent is former Congressman Joe Kennedy and he‘s ruled out running so far.

Brown led actually every other potential Democratic challenger by at least 15 points.  Brown also has a big campaign war chest.  He raised $1.7 million in the first quarter and has more than $8 million in the bank.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, Tuesday‘s elections this week in Wisconsin are widely seen as a referendum and a rejection on Governor Scott Walker out there, who made a national name for himself, of course, when he took on the unions and basically the turnout out there was tremendous.  Double, or greater than it‘s ever been in this kind of election.

In a race to fill to Scott Walker‘s old seat as county executive, the Republican was trounced by 22 points.  In the other contest for state Supreme Court, the Democrat came out from nowhere, and now holds a razor-thin lead over the Republican incumbent Supreme court justice.  A race that‘s likely headed to a recount.

Ken Vogel writes for “Politico.”  And Clarence Page is a columnist for the great “Chicago Tribune.”

Ken, this race—is it just an objective fact that labor and the Democrats got up, roust up in this race in a way they never were before by this attack on collective bargaining by public employees?  Is that a fair fact, this state?

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO:  Oh, yes, absolutely.  I mean, there‘s no question.  And there‘s also no question that this was a referendum on Scott Walker.  In many ways, the county executive race in Milwaukee was more of a referendum because this is, in fact, a seat that Walker held before he was governor.  The guy who was running to replace him, the Republican, was a real protege of his that expressed support for his policies.

Of course, a lot more attention has been on the court race because it‘s a statewide race and also because the court could, in fact, end up deciding the fate of the controversial union—collective bargaining reforms that Walker pushed through.

Both equally important, and both big wins for labor, which really turned out get out the vote effort and outside advertising, which reached a record $3.6 million in the Supreme Court race.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s an advertisement from the race, from Milwaukee County executive, that shows the race was really all about Governor Scott Walker, as you just said.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  Jeff Stone is running to county executive and Milwaukee families are concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jeff Stone?  I thought he was Scott Walker‘s twin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It sounds like more of the same.

NARRATOR:  Stone praised Scott Walker as a template for county executive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mismanaged county government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jobs have been lost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And Stone wants more of that that?

NARRATOR:  Worse, Stone even said he stands with Walker‘s unfair plan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘ve got to be kidding me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jeff Stone?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jeff Stone is Scott Walker.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think eight years of Scott Walker is enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, anybody thought the labor movement was dead was wrong because they are brilliant at this.  They have come back and had made the issue of almost their termination into a real sales pitch.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Indeed.  They have.  It kind of reminds me of back in the ‘90s, when the Clinton people had ads attaching Bob Dole to Newt Gingrich like they were Siamese twins.  That same sort of thing.

And this whole scenario now, Chris, reminds us of when shortly after Barack Obama‘s election, Republicans had big victories, in governors‘ races in Virginia, New Jersey, and a Senate race in Massachusetts and people were saying, oh, it‘s—

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  You know, this is what‘s happening now, only it‘s in reverse. 

This—we‘re seeing it in the polling, a real backlash against Walker now.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I guess the goal—Ken, tell me the—let‘s look at this nationally.  Let‘s move it around the country because these are some interesting numbers.

Down in Florida, I never thought much of this guy‘s appeal, but Rick Scott is down to 35 percent approval.  He‘s the Republican governor down there.  Nearly half of Floridians disapprove of the job he‘s doing.  That‘s more than twice as many as disapproved in February.  Look at this.

Let‘s go down to Ohio.  A friend of mine, John Kasich, out there is not doing well.  His disapproval it‘s almost 50 percent.  That‘s twice what it was in January.  He‘s sinking out there.

And, of course, Scott Walker is doing better actually than the rest of them.  Actually, I‘m going to Michigan right now.  Scott Walker—I‘ll get Michigan up here—he‘s 53-41, say their opinion of Walker is strongly unfavorable.

What‘s the Michigan doing up there?  It‘s supposed to be Wisconsin. 

Wisconsin is supposed to be up there?

Well, what do you think, this pattern?

PAGE:  Well, yes, there‘s a trend—first of all, it‘s bad for incumbents right now in states where they‘ve got to solve these tremendous budget problems.  But on top of that, you‘ve got certainly—with Kasich and Walker, you have Republican governors who are slashing a lot of popular programs.  They‘re going after collective bargaining, which has got the union angry.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you t do people, all of a sudden, like the unions? 

They were tough on them for years.

PAGE:  Well, you know, the thing here, Chris, in the polling, it‘s not so much love for the unions, but love for collective bargaining.  There‘s a sense of basic fairness here that‘s involved.  Folks are saying, do we really to go—how is collective bargaining help us meet our budget deficits?  That‘s the questions being asked.

And a lot of folks who don‘t belong to unions still say, well, the unions at least help to keep basic wages up for everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Keep the standard up.

Ken Vogel, your assessment of what‘s going on in the country.  Is it just about unions?  Is it about the progressives coming back?  Are we seeing a comeback of the left largely defined all the way from center over to left—people waking up to the fact that the Republicans have the strong arm on them?  Is that what‘s going on?

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO:  I think it highlights the delicate balancing act that Republicans are having because, on the one hand, these reforms are very popular.  The clamp down on unions that we see, Kasich, Walker and even to some extent, Scott pushed in Florida.  Very popular with the Tea Party wing, but if they push too far inside too much for the Tea Party, they‘re going to find a backlash from the left.

MATTHEWS:  Overreach.

Thank you very much, Ken Vogel.  The big word of the day—overage. 

Ken Vogel and Clarence Page.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with Donald Trump turning the presidential race into a reality show.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with Donald Trump‘s masterful move to convert the competition into a reality show.

This reality show is a work of art.  When it comes to hype like this birther thing of his, the guy is no apprentice.  He‘s a grand master.

It‘s based on his proven ability to get people to focus where he wishes them to focus.  He‘s first and enduring technique Donald Trump is using staging, lighting, personality, suspense to get the audience‘s attention and not let it go.

Here it‘s birtherism, the dark suspicion that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore is ineligible to hold the office of president.  It‘s obviously why Trump would choose topic, four out of five Republicans have doubts that Obama was born in the U.S.  If Trump‘s willing to join them—and the other candidates won‘t—he‘s in Clover.

What‘s not so obvious is whether Trump has thought through the supposed intrigue behind his indictment—for certainly it‘s a criminal indictment, even treasonous, for someone to assume the American presidency knowing his parents conspired with the state of Hawaii, the Honolulu hospital that confirmed the birth announcement and the local newspapers, their family and friends to confect the false narrative of this baby‘s birth; not only that, but the covering up of all those supposed secret travel documents that showed Obama‘s mother flitting off to Africa, having him there and then heading back for the weird purpose of having him say he was born in the U.S.—the only legal reason would be to have him, this mixed-race kid, elected to the country‘s highest office.  Barack Obama would be an American wherever he was born simply his mother was.  Let‘s get that straight.

Just think of what this guy, Donald Trump, could be doing if he put this moxie to good use and talked about something important—like how to avoid what looks a lot like, to a lot of Americans, like an American economic reset right now downward.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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