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updated 4/12/2011 12:02:07 PM ET 2011-04-12T16:02:07

Guests: Howard Fineman, Richard Wolffe, Ashley Judd, John Feehery, Mark Penn, Alan Simpson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Trumped.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Clown and country.  Today‘s “New York Daily News” front page lays it on, Donald Trump as circus clown.  But that clown image could hold for much of the Republican field.  The oxygen is being sucked up by sideshow acts like Trump and Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin still, none of whom is taken seriously by serious people.  Our top story tonight, why the best thing President Obama has going for him may be the Republican opponents out there.

Plus, game on.  Let‘s see Republicans campaign on Paul Ryan‘s proposal to kill Medicare, cut Medicaid, make the old and poor pay more while giving trillions—that‘s trillions—in tax breaks to the wealthy and to the big corporations.  As one Democrat put it, if the Republicans campaign on this, Democrats will beat them like a bad piece of meat.  Whoa!

Also, frustration with President Obama.  Democrats have claimed victory in last week‘s near shutdown, but the debate was, let‘s face it, driven entirely by the GOP.  They won cuts in domestic programs Democrats care about.  Will the president finally take the lead on this this week and will he let the—or will he let the Republican agenda drive the debate?

And tonight, actress Ashley Judd comes here to this table, joins us tonight to talk about some good things that are going on in the fight against AIDS and HIV in the world, especially Africa.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with the strange plague that‘s affecting one of our major political parties.

We start with the sorry state of the Republicans and the Republican presidential field, such as it is.  Mark Penn, Democratic pollster, former chief campaign strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton, and John Feehery—he‘s already chuckling.  I see a lot of teeth, John.  We‘ll see how you feel in 10 minutes—as Republican strategist.  Thank you, gentlemen.

Let‘s take a look at David Dreier, a long-time member of the Republican leadership, a very thoughtful guy, I think John Feehery would agree.  He was—he‘s Rules Committee chairman.  He‘s House Republican for 30 years now from California, talking to Politico.

Quote—here‘s what he said over the weekend.  “I don‘t see anyone in the current Republican field right now.  I don‘t see anyone.  And people say that to me, as well.  I‘m reflecting what I hear.”  More Dreier, quote, “Everybody‘s looking for a Ronald Reagan, and they don‘t see one.”  Here‘s Dreier mocking his colleagues.  Quote, “Well, I thought everybody was rallying around Michele Bachmann.  That was my sense.”  And by the way, that was deadpan.  And here‘s Dreier on a more serious note talking about New Jersey governor Chris Christie.  Quote, “Let me tell you, after Christie‘s performance last week, I mean, the buzz was all over this place.”

So that‘s the question.  I‘ve got to start with Feehery on this, not that you‘re necessarily the heavyweight on this panel...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... but I‘ve got to start with you.  What is the absolute desert of serious Republican candidates in a situation where President Obama is only 50 percent right now?  And that‘s sort of an up for him.  You‘ve got 50 percent of the public to play with and nobody to play with him.  No candidate.  What‘s going on?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, I would disagree.  I think you have two very credible candidates in Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, both of whom poll very well against President Obama.  I think you‘ll have two other candidates come up.  I think Mitch Daniels still has a chance of running.  I think Haley Barbour still has a chance of running.  And I think that those are the serious candidates.

Chris, it‘s awfully early.  We‘re just beginning this campaign.  Obviously, Donald Trump is making all kinds of noise, as is Michele Bachmann.  But I don‘t think, at the end of the day, they‘re going to be the serious candidates.  And I think that—I think competence is going to be sexy again.  If we have a competent candidate, I think we‘ll do very well.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me cut into your cantaloupe a little bit.  Let‘s take a look at NBC‘s latest poll.  Here‘s Trump tied for second place, Donald Trump tied for second, OK?  That sort of cuts down your argument that this is a hell of a field -- 17 percent.  Romney leads with 21.  Gingrich and Palin both in double digits, treated as serious candidates, even if you don‘t treat them that way.

And here‘s the down side for Trump and Gingrich.  NBC‘s poll showed—asked people how people feel about a candidate who has had multiple marriages.  Well, nobody said they‘re enthusiastic, 46 percent said they were comfortable.  They haven‘t counted the marriages yet.  It‘s three in every one of these cases.  A combined 50 percent either has—they have reservations—let‘s put it that way—they‘re somewhat uncomfortable.

Let me go to this.  This is a strange party, the party of family values.  All these guys have triple—are triple hitters for marriages—not that there‘s anything wrong with it necessarily, but don‘t run around there advertising, advertising the values family...

FEEHERY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  No, Mr. Feehery, you had your shot.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You said how this is a whole field and everything makes sense.  And I‘m looking at these guys—Trump, Gingrich, Palin, all in double digits.  Your party is taking these guys seriously.  I do not get it.

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, look...

MATTHEWS:  This is the party that elected Ronald Reagan.

PENN:  This has gone from a year where we talked about Sarah Palin to now they‘re talking about Donald Trump.  So...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why are they doing this?

PENN:  If you look at it that way, it‘s an improvement, right, in terms of Palin, who I think would have been the ultimate disaster.  So now I think this signals they don‘t have a candidate yet.  Romney‘s shown a little bit more staying power, I think, than people figured from last time.

MATTHEWS:  Does he benefit from the sideshow going on, that as the dogs bark at the caravan, the caravan moves on?  In other words, he‘s dull.

FEEHERY:  Well, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  He announced today—all right, Feehery, your chance.  He announced today against the sideshow of this craziness going on—there‘s the guy, a bit dull but stolid, and there he is.  Is he benefiting from the fact that everybody else is draining attention away from possible real contenders to him, like Pawlenty, like Barbour?  Those are the guys getting hurt by all this sideshow.  Just my thought.

FEEHERY:  Well, I‘m not sure if that‘s the case, but I do think that Mitt Romney is not getting serious bad attention, which is good for him.  He‘s doing all the things he needs to do.  He‘s getting out to the chicken circuit.  He‘s talking to people.  He‘s not being controversial.  He‘s being coolly competent.  And I‘m not necessarily a Mitt Romney guy, don‘t get me wrong, but I do think that he‘s a serious candidate.  And I think Tim Pawlenty is also a serious candidate.

And these sideshows help them because it‘s awfully early in this presidential race.  President Obama can focus on the sideshow, people I know are not going to get the nomination.  I remember early on—and I was a Rudy Giuliani supporter.  I thought he was the top contender for many, many months, and he just...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

FEEHERY:  ... he was a disaster.  So I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You got a great track record.  You‘re like me.  That‘s what I thought, and I‘m not in your party.  Let me ask you this.  You just suggested that Romney‘s doing great and Pawlenty‘s doing great, but they‘re not your cup of tea.  Well, you‘re a professional and they‘re not your cup of tea.  Whose are they?  Who is excited about Romney?

FEEHERY:  Well—I think—I think he‘s done a lot of yard work...

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s excited about him?

FEEHERY:  Well, I think people who voted for him before, I think people who want cool, calm confidence, and you know, he‘s been out there and he‘s been—he‘s been the guy.  He came in second place last time...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Great.

FEEHERY:  ... and that‘s how Republicans usually go.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Well, let‘s take a look at—I‘ll break your heart again.  Guess who won the South Carolina poll this week, the straw vote?  Rick Santorum.  Boy, we‘re talking winners here, ladies and gentlemen!  And guess who came in second?  Newt Gingrich, right ahead of Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump.

That is the sideshow of reality, the latest polling in the Republican Party in South Carolina, the little meeting they had there in Greenville County, the largest county.  That‘s who‘s winning.  (INAUDIBLE) the chicken circus. (SIC)

FEEHERY:  Well—well...

MATTHEWS:  What is it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Mark here.  Mark—who are these people?  Hold that sign up there.  This is who‘s winning right now, these people.  Can you hold it up there, please?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can we keep looking at that for a second?

PENN:  Who‘s going to run?  Who‘s going to...

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Look at the names.  Go down the names.  Which one of them could be president?

PENN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Which one could be president?

PENN:  ... but that‘s about the voters.

MATTHEWS:  Which one of them could be president?

PENN:  None of those could be president.

MATTHEWS:  Santorum, Gingrich, Bachmann and Trump all leading in the straw poll...

PENN:  All would be wipeouts.  All would be repeat—all would be Goldwaters, you know, of the right.  I think they‘d be a disaster.  And look—but it says a lot about the voters.  Can the Republicans control their own primaries?  Remember, the primaries did in the Republican Party when the Tea Party took over them.  They‘re seeing that they can have problems getting a candidate out, even if they had one, and right now, they don‘t even have one.

MATTHEWS:  Do you worry that you could bring your heavyweight candidates that you don‘t particularly find exciting, like Pawlenty and Romney, even though they‘re not exciting to you, they don‘t turn you on, John Feehery—do you think since they‘re the serious candidates, they may suffer when they meet the actual paper?

You know the old thing about why didn‘t the dog eat the dog food with all the advertising?  He didn‘t like it.

FEEHERY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that they don‘t like these—what‘s really going on is the people are going chaotic out there and giving Trump all this attention—he‘s up to third now, or actually tied for second in the national poll we did last week—because they‘re really saying no to Mitt Romney?  It‘s really a statement, Romney‘s so boring, we‘re willing to go with this flash right here.  We‘re looking at him.

FEEHERY:  Well, I think—He‘s exciting.

FEEHERY:  Well, I think Donald Trump‘s very exciting.  I think he‘s very much an outsider.  I think he‘s saying all kinds of kooky things that people kind of like.  I think he‘s a television star.  People like that about him.  And they‘re going to vote on name recognition on those polls.  But when they get in the voting booth and actually vote for a candidate, they‘re going to vote for someone who‘s serious.  And so...

MATTHEWS:  Why would they vote for somebody who says kooky things?

FEEHERY:  Well, I don‘t think they will once they get into a...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why are they saying it to pollsters?

FEEHERY:  Well, because they say all kinds of things to pollsters.  It doesn‘t really matter right now.

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY:  This is all bogus.

MATTHEWS:  I love it.  I love this!

FEEHERY:  It‘s way too early!  Chris, you know this better than anybody, it‘s way too early for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... my intelligence.  Please.  Please don‘t—because your party is having a problem.  All I know is Barack Obama by this time in the campaign was out there campaigning like mad against Senator Clinton.  They were having a real campaign going into 2008, weren‘t they?  Where were we at this time?  They were out there.

PENN:  They were out there.

MATTHEWS:  And they were having debates and everything.  They were fighting with each other.  We knew who the front runners were...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... and either one of them could have been president.

PENN:  That was a campaign with big candidates.  I mean, look, they don‘t have big candidates here, and this thing has been sidetracked right now with Palin and now Trump, and so that‘s a real problem.  But remember, look, President Obama right now has got to run against himself.  It really doesn‘t matter who‘s on the Republican side.  He‘s got to get his numbers substantially above 50, and then it won‘t matter whether or not—who this nominee is one way or the other.  That‘s the truth of (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  He has to get his number up to where?

PENN:  Oh, he‘s got to get his number up to 54, 55.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you this about—here‘s the numbers, by the way.  We‘re looking at the actual announced candidate in the Republican Party.  You‘re laughing again—Buddy Roemer, former Democratic governor of, what, Mississippi—was it—Louisiana.

FEEHERY:  Louisiana.

MATTHEWS:  Herman Cain, business guy down at—he‘s the Godfather Pizza guy from Atlanta.  Who else?  Rick Santorum.  You know, you really don‘t have a lot of winners out there that are ready to sign up.  And the question I have, if you have a debate right now, who would show up for it?  Who would actually be out there in the debate?

FEEHERY:  Well, I think you‘d have Newt Gingrich.  I think you‘d have Michele Bachmann.  I think you‘d have—I think you‘d have Mitt Romney.  I think you‘d have Tim Pawlenty.  I think you might have Mitch Daniels.  I think you might have some of these other characters.

But you know what?  This kind of reminds me of what happened in 1991, 1992.  The Democratic primary got off to an awfully early start...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FEEHERY:  ... and some little known governor named Bill Clinton, who Mark Penn knows something about, you know, turned out to be the only guy that was worth nominating...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... sounds more like a dog pound than it does like a group of people running for president.

FEEHERY:  Well, we might have a governor that surprises people.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go through—one more (INAUDIBLE) I want to try this list by both of you, starting with this.  Is there a good chance, a reasonable chance that Rick Santorum will be president next—in 2013?

FEEHERY:  I like Rick Santorum, but he‘s not going to be president.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Is there—do you think he has a good chance to be...

PENN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Is there a good chance that Newt Gingrich will be president of the United States, three marriages in?  You think?

PENN:  No.  I don‘t think it‘s about marriage...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think (INAUDIBLE) do you think, John—are you allowed to talk about a guy from the House, John?

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  I like New, but I don‘t think he‘ll be president.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to Bachmann, Michele Bachmann.  You start this time.  Will Michele Bachmann be president of the United States any time in her lifetime?

FEEHERY:  No.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Michele Bachmann?

PENN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Donald Trump.  Will he ever be president of the United States?

PENN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Will Donald Trump ever be president of the United States?

FEEHERY:  No.

MATTHEWS:  So what are we wasting our time for!  Let me give you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Buddy Roemer, Herman Cain—I mean, it‘s quite a list of wastes of our time.  We‘re sitting here talking about candidates who are wasting our time.  Is it my fault or yours, John Feehery?

FEEHERY:  There were plenty of candidates who were wasting our time last time, like Dennis Kucinich.  He wasn‘t going to be president.  Ron Paul—he wasn‘t going to be president.  You know, that‘s what happens sometimes.  You get people who want to be president and they get media attention...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, in this case...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A weak argument.  You‘ve got a majority of your guys in this pigpen are unwinnable.  Anyway, thank you very much, Mark Penn.  And Feehery, you got a good sense of humor, and you‘re going to need one.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: If you thought last week‘s battle over the budget was tough, brace yourself.  The next round‘s promised to be even tougher.  We got debt ceiling coming up.  The government could stop.  We could lose our ability to borrow money.  But the Democrats have a big fat target, courtesy of Paul Ryan‘s plan to gut—let‘s say it this way—abolish Medicare—that‘s what he wants to do—and give tax cuts, more of them, to the rich.  Give the Democrats the win in these looming fights ahead.  We‘ll see.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, take a look at what President Obama said about life in the fishbowl of the White House.  Quote, “I miss being anonymous.  I miss Saturday morning rolling out of bed, not shaving, getting into my car with my girls, driving to the supermarket, squeezing the fruit”—What is he, the godfather? -- “getting my car washed, taking walks.  I can‘t take a walk.  I just want to go through Central Park and watch folks passing by, spend the day watching people.  I miss that.”

Well, he‘ll get there.  The president made the comments to a group of Hearst magazine publishers and editors.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  President Obama is set to speak, of course, this Wednesday about his plans for a national budget mess.  Republicans, of course, already outlined their plan.  It was Congressman Paul Ryan‘s proposal, a very tough proposal to abolish Medicare and replace it with some kind of subsidies, cut Medicaid, give more tax breaks to the rich, et cetera, et cetera.  Is that the answer?  What are the consequences, however, if neither side does anything soon?

Republican—former Republican senator Alan Simpson is looking nasty already.  Here he is from Wyoming, the co-chair of the Obama administration‘s fiscal commission, which was kind enough to hire my daughter on a non-profit basis.  Senator Simpson, my daughter can‘t wait to get to Cody and have dinner with you and Mae (ph).  Can‘t wait.

ALAN SIMPSON (R-WY), FMR. SEN., DEFICIT COMMISSION CO-CHAIR:  Your daughter, Caroline (ph), should be on your show and you should be dismissed promptly.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  On that note—you want to play that way?  Donald Trump for president—will he sell in Wyoming?

SIMPSON:  Not too well.  They will Trump him there.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about...

SIMPSON:  Next?

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the field?  Because you‘re a—you were a pro-choice Republican of some belief in fiscal responsibility.  You proved it on the commission.  Is there anybody running for president right now that you think has got the right stuff and earns the Alan Simpson rough-hewn endorsement?

SIMPSON:  I don‘t know, but if we‘re going to get into social issues, we won a governorship—and I saw them saying that they‘d seen Christie—

I mean, I saw him a few weeks ago.  He is quite awesome.  But we won a governorship there in New Jersey, one in Virginia by not talking about social issues.  Who the hell is for abortion?  I don‘t know anybody running around with a sign that says, Have an abortion, they‘re wonderful.  They‘re hideous.  But they‘re a deeply intimate and personal decision, and I don‘t think men legislators should even vote on the issue.

Then you‘ve got homosexuality.  You‘ve got “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  We have homophobes in our party.  That‘s disgusting to me.  We‘re all human beings.  We‘re all God‘s children.  Now, if they‘re going to get off on that stuff—Santorum has said some cruel things, cruel, cruel things about homosexuals.  Ask him about it.  See if he attributes the cruelness of his remarks years ago—foul.

Now, you know, that‘s the kind of guys that are going to be on my ticket, you know, makes you sort out hard what Reagan said, you know, Stick with your—stick with your folks.  But I‘m not sticking with people who are homophobic, anti-women, you know, moral values while you‘re diddling your secretary while you‘re giving a speech on moral values.  Come on.  Get off of it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, don‘t stop!

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON:  No, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, I think it‘s what killed your chance to lead that party because you talk like that.  They don‘t think like you do.

SIMPSON:  I did.  I even held hearings on the AARP.  I said, I‘d like to know what you people do.  Are you patriots or are any of you just patriots or are you all marketers?  That got me in a lot of trouble.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about that.  Well, let‘s talk about the budget because you‘ve been equally candid on the need to something about the—I‘ll tell you, when it comes to budget issues, I am pretty conservative and I have to tell you, I don‘t know what the hell‘s going on.  We run a $1.6 trillion deficit right now.  We‘re heading towards, as you know already, passing the GDP in terms of debt.  Even under the Paul Ryan plan, the GDP—or the debt goes up to about $26 trillion or something down the road.

What‘s that going to mean to people like my 21-year-old?  And you‘ve thought about this—not just bad numbers, but what does it actually mean to an American citizens who‘s going to live 20, 30, 50 years from now?  What‘s it mean to them we‘re running this debt up?

SIMPSON:  It means nothing to them because they don‘t know what a trillion bucks is.  They may know what a billion is.  They‘ve kind of sorted (ph) that.  But they‘ve got to get out of their system that dealing with the “B” billions is nothing.  We have to deal with the “T” trillions.  And somebody said, What is a trillion?  One guy the other day said, If you spend a million bucks since the birth of Christ to today, you wouldn‘t be at a trillion, you‘d be about $760 billion.

If you spent a dollar a second, you wouldn‘t have a trillion exhausted until the year 400,000-something.  I mean, it...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SIMPSON:  Nobody can sort it out.  So, if you can‘t sort something out, then you have got problems.  And that‘s where we are right now. 

These are figures that are incomprehensible.  But if you just say to the American people, here you are, pal.  If you spend more than you earn, you lose your butt.  And if you spend a buck and borrow 40 cents of it, you have got to be stupid.  And that‘s your government today, borrowing 40 cents for every buck we spend.  That is stupidity.  Here we are.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if there‘s a disconnect, Senator.  And I look about it this way.  And I know a lot of people—and I have this cowboy spirit, too.  I‘d love to have the government leave me alone.  On issues like abortion and things like—leave me alone.  I want to be out there on my own life.

And yet I know that the government, through Democratic and Republican administrations, has created this welfare system for people over 65.  All health care expense under President George W. Bush, all your pills, all your medicines covered.  Did we live—have we created a schizoid mess, where we think like cowboys, like people from Cody, Wyoming, but we have created this welfare system where we have to pay it?

So, everybody says, keep the government out of Medicare.  What a ludicrous statement.  The government created Medicare. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And you laugh, but people think like this. 

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON:  No.  I—I—Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Keep it out of Medicare. 

SIMPSON:  Oh, well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do we do about this?  We have a welfare state run by cowboys that don‘t believe they have a welfare state. 

(CROSSTALK) 

SIMPSON:  Well, in Wyoming the other day, there were five members of the legislature, all of my party, who voted to kill off something which would have helped the contractors this summer in Wyoming, with extending unemployment for a little while.  And they found that—and they voted against it. 

And they found that all five of them had been taking care of through various ways through the Agriculture Department.  They either had the subsidies.  They had crops.  They had corn or wheat.  I mean, you can‘t—you can‘t do this—the original sin is hypocrisy.  It‘s just hypocrisy to have people again babbling of family values, babbling they hate the government. 

An interesting article today in “The Washington Post” about

Oklahomans.  They hate the government.  And, boy, they‘re in it, one of the

they‘re the second highest state in the union getting federal funds, Tinker Air Base...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SIMPSON:  ... this and that.  I mean, you know, it‘s total disconnect. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, my dad loved—my dad was a Republican all his life. 

He loved voting against—except when there was a pay raise for the city.  He was working for the city in Philadelphia.  The rest of the time, he voted Republican.  But the minute—but the minute he got Medicare, he loved it.  Medicare was great. 

They pay the bills. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re laughing, but every...

SIMPSON:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... cowboy out in Wyoming loves Medicare.  Everybody loves Medicare. 

And yet it‘s going to cost a zillion dollars, and the government doesn‘t have any way to pay for it.  How do we pay—how do young people, 25-year-old people working today, how are they going to keep paying for the medical bills of people in their 70s and 80s?  How are we going to work this thing out?  Because that‘s what this whole thing is about.  Or do we keep borrowing from the Chinese? 

SIMPSON:  Well, you have to—if they would read this commission report -- 18 people of good faith, it took us three months to establish trust, because the first few weeks and months was, who‘s the biggest spending president in the history of the U.S.?  Answer, George W. Bush.  Never vetoed a single bill, spending bill, for six and a half years. 

And then the Republicans would sit there and say, yes, but this guy is worse than he is 3-1.  And, finally, Erskine and I said, we‘re going to do a two-man report.  We‘re not going to listen to this stuff anymore.  This is absurd. 

And so here‘s where you are.  You have to get in and you have to do something with Medicare and you‘re going to have to do something like cutting doctors, cutting providers, affluence testing patients. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SIMPSON:  If you got a wad of bucks in your pocket, you‘re going to put up a bigger co-pay.  Make hospitals keep one set of books, instead of two.  And that‘s the way you do it.  And that ain‘t fun. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  It sure isn‘t. 

Alan Simpson, Senator Simpson, thank you so much. 

SIMPSON:  A pleasure, always.

MATTHEWS:  You have been a straight shooter on every front, what you said about social issues, what you said about the budget.  You are a rare breed, sir.  Thank you so much for coming on HARDBALL. 

(LAUGHTER)

SIMPSON:  Well, I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We will see you for—we will see you and your beautiful wife you do not deserve at some evening. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to sneak out there, my daughter and I, and we‘re going to come see you, OK? 

SIMPSON:  Well, bring Kathy.  That will add a dimension to it. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It will raise the I.Q. of the room. 

Anyway, thank you.

Up next:  As Donald Trump goes further off the deep end, look who‘s now right by his side, Sarah Palin, his new sidekick.  She‘s his notary public, I guess, vouching for this stuff.  I don‘t know what to say, except I‘m going to keep talking about this guy‘s B.S. as long—well, I‘ll keep telling the truth about him as long as he keeps telling the B.S. about Obama.  Our “Sideshow” coming up. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  And now to tonight‘s “Sideshow.”  And what a “Sideshow.” 

Today, “The New York Daily News,” the city‘s hometown newspaper, stole our music, as we told you up front, with this broadside front cover, “Sideshow Don, “Sideshow Don.”  It puts Trump in the cages along this gangway, showing him as the clown of the circus for his wild obsession about the president‘s birthplace.

Page five of the paper gives readers a useful side-by-side of Trump‘s nasty charges against the clearly available evidence out there.  And, yesterday on CNN, Trump came out with his latest array of reckless and, let‘s admit it, malicious charges about the president, the president‘s parents, the president‘s grandparents, the hospital in which he was born, the local Honolulu newspapers out there who announced the president‘s birth at the time he was born, the state of Hawaii that documented the childhood friends of the president‘s back when he was a kid, as a child, including the current governor, who hung out with that family back then, Neil Abercrombie, all witnesses to the truth against the man who‘s not telling the truth, Donald Trump. 

Our country suffered through this kind of mischief back in the early 1950s.  It was called McCarthyism.  Here comes a one-man band of it. 

Just to keep the spotlight set, here‘s Trump‘s latest notary public to make it all clear. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I appreciate that the Donald wants to spend his resources in getting to the bottom of something that so interests him and many Americans.  You know, more power to him. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What a duet.  So, that‘s the standard, somebody who doesn‘t read the newspapers helping a guy, a new friend of hers, get his name in them. 

What‘s the latest from the people at the White House to this jamboree of sword swallowers we‘re describing here?

Well, here‘s senior adviser David Plouffe. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THIS WEEK”)

DAVID PLOUFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  I saw Donald Trump is kind of rising in some polls.  And given his behavior and spectacle of the last couple of weeks, I hope he keeps on rising. 

There may be a small part of the country that believes these things, but mainstream Americans think it‘s a sideshow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  A sideshow.  We do the “Sideshow.” 

Anyway, all are welcome, especially Dr. Trump—or Mr. Trump.  As long as you keep up this line of nonsense, the more we‘re going to report it.  After all, you have made the whole Republican Party into a sideshow.

Up next:  President Obama gave up more to avoid a government shutdown than Republicans initially wanted, actually.  He‘s facing stiff criticism from the left, of course.  They don‘t want to cut really anything, certainly not in their programs.  Will President Obama take control of the debate this week or let Republicans continue to run this game—this game?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good afternoon.  I‘m Tyler Mathisen with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closed narrowly mixed, despite a flurry of M&A activity.  The Dow Jones industrials added a single point.  The S&P 500 slipped by three, and Nasdaq gave up nearly nine, investors trading cautiously today ahead of the start of earnings season.  Alcoa kicked that off after the closing bell, beating profit expectations for the fourth straight quarter, but revenue came in a little bit light, shares falling in after-hours trading. 

Oil prices fell 3 percent to finish below $110 a barrel.  That‘s bad news for oil companies, but good news for airlines, especially U.S.  Airways, soaring more than 3.5 percent. 

And a busy day in M&A.  Communications company Level 3 buying Global Crossing for about $3 billion.  Endo Pharmaceuticals will buy American Medical Systems for about $2.9 billion.  And Flowers Foods gobbles up Tasty Baking, Tastykakes, for about $34.5 million, plus the assumption of a lot of debt. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Because Congress was able to settle its differences, that‘s why this place is open today and everybody is able to enjoy their visit.  And that‘s the kind of future cooperation I hope we have going forward. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Smart move.  He‘s up at the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate the end of the government shutdown, or the lack of a government shutdown. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That‘s President Obama‘s surprise visit of course to the greatest cathedral we have in Washington, actually, a secular cathedral, the Lincoln Memorial this weekend, where he praised the cooperation he says led to that budget deal this late Friday night. 

But Republicans didn‘t characterize it the same way. 

Here‘s House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.  Let‘s listen to his angle. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  For the last two months, we have had to bring this president kicking and screaming to the table to cut spending. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t look like he was kicking and screaming. 

Anyway, he was debonair and sweatless while you guys were shvitzing all over the place.  On Wednesday, the president will lay out his long-term deficit reduction plan.  He‘s going to take control of the fight?  Well, will he or won‘t he?

Howard Fineman, senior political editor “The Huffington Post” and an MSNBC political analyst nonpareil.  And Richard Wolffe is also an MSNBC political analyst. 

I hear from one of our colleagues here.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I like to say that word—that you—and you may well as

believe that there was strategy behind this. 

WOLFFE:  Sure there was. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what the president did in letting them go first, like a bicycle race, let Paul Ryan get out there and say, I‘m going to slash Medicare, I‘m going to do all this stuff, I‘m going to bring down the house, and then he planned this Wednesday thing, coming up Wednesday.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  This wasn‘t just a timing, the sequencing in terms of going after them.  You let other people put the price down first.  In any negotiation, you come in second. 

But the sequencing has been in the works for months.  They knew when they were putting the tax deal together at the end of the lame duck, the end of last Congress, that they would come up against this budget deal.  They would give up a lot, and then they‘d have to put something on the table in terms of entitlements and taxes, to those conservatives watching right now, not just entitlements, but taxes, too, at this point. 

That‘s not to say the debate will end on Wednesday.  It‘s the first shot of a very long debate. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Is it smart to let them say we‘re going to get rid of Medicare and then say, no, as opposed to getting rid of health care for people over 65 in this country, which is what you‘re threatening to do, we‘re going to offer some combination of modification in the costs of Medicare and a tax increase for the wealthy to offset that?  So, in other words, we‘re being nicer to people than the Republicans. 

Is that a strategy? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  Is that the strategy? 

FINEMAN:  The thing is, maybe the White House had planned it all this way.  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you think they might be B.S.ing this? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When did they fill you in on this, before or after this weekend?

WOLFFE:  Way before. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  All right. 

FINEMAN:  And Richard writes the definitive books, so he—I‘m sure he knows. 

But the—the—whatever the pre-planning was, the good thing for the president in this situation, even though he doesn‘t—hasn‘t been controlling the debate, because it‘s been about deficit cutting, which is not the Democrats‘ thing, the good thing for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Domestic cutting. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

The good thing for the president is the Paul Ryan Medicare plan, because it makes people angry.  And, first of all, it scares seniors. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, it should.

FINEMAN:  Yes, and it should.  But, at the same time, it exempts 55 and over, so it‘s going to really annoy younger people who are going to at some point get—supposed to get the Medicare benefits -- 40 to 55...

MATTHEWS:  Howard, you know—you‘re close to me in age.  Let me just point this out. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Most people who follow the news and watch the newspapers every day and watch television shows like this on FOX or this network, MSNBC, or anywhere, on CNN, they—those most attuned to this debate over the budget are either retired or close to it. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They are very sensitive to the fact that they have planned in their retirement that their medical costs will be covered by their Medicare plan.  They don‘t have to save $20 million so they can pay for their medical expenses when they get older, right, which are going to get more costly as they get older. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The federal government promised that back in the ‘60s, that they would take care of people who have worked their whole life for their medical costs. 

Now the Republicans are saying, no, no, we‘re not going to do that anymore. 

FINEMAN:  I totally agree.

My only point was, in addition to scaring everybody for those very valid reasons...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  ... it‘s not going to win points among younger people below 55 either.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

FINEMAN:  Because they‘re going to turn it into the plan where you only get a certain amount of money. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  In other words, all the changes are going to be for those younger people.  So they‘re the ones who ultimately will get screwed. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Here‘s your Borders book $10 gift certificate that‘s going to pay for your million dollar health care costs.  It‘s a joke. 

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  Right.  But here‘s the perverse thing. 

For a start, the age exemption didn‘t work for Bush when it came to Social Security.

MATTHEWS:  It went nowhere.

WOLFFE:  So they know that‘s political...

MATTHEWS:  Why?  Because people don‘t hear this? 

FINEMAN:  They don‘t hear it.  They don‘t hear it. 

WOLFFE:  They don‘t hear it. 

But that‘s a political opportunity that, perversely, this White House is not going to leap on right now.  There may be lots of people in the Senate on the Democrats‘ side who say, let‘s use it as a political football, but this president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re saving it for November. 

WOLFFE:  This president—no, no.  The president is going to say, if there‘s a deal out there, let‘s do it, but the deal has to be reasonable; the deal has to include taxes. 

What‘s unreasonable...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is smart.  In other words, don‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t let it be dead on arrival. 

WOLFFE:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Let the Republican sit out there, sit out there, as the basis for a compromise. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re that smart?  They‘re that smart? 

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re that smart?

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  They are smart enough to play that game, but they‘re going to say, if you are serious about deficits, you cannot leave taxes off the table. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  He...

MATTHEWS:  Will—will that ever sell with the country?  Will the Congress ever adopt a combination of some modification or cost-cutting, which we know has to come into place, somehow squeeze the costs of Medicare -- medical costs, and a tax increase for people who can afford it, as a—as a more democratic, a more fair way to deal with this problem?  Will they get that through and signed by the president, or is that just a posture?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think it‘s a possibility but they‘ll be glad to talk about it for the next few months.  The one thing the president doesn‘t want to do is talk about tax increases in isolation.

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough.  I‘m with you.

FINEMAN:  As Richard was saying, you‘ve got—you can‘t—that won‘t work for Democrats, even if you‘re just going to tax rich people.  You have to put it in the context of a plan.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, guys are so smart.  I‘m with the smart people here.

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  So, the plan is the president says, look, let them offer a big slash in Medicare, which is going to kill half the people who watch this show.

Here‘s White House adviser David Plouffe explaining the stakes in the budget fight.  Let‘s listen to David.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID PLOUFFE, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER:  I think the president‘s goal—and he‘s been clear about this—is to protect the middle class as we move forward here.  So, people like him, as he‘ll say, who have been very fortunate in life, have the ability to pay a little bit more.  Now, under the Republican congressional plan, people over $250,000 get over $1 trillion in tax relief.

So, this is the important thing.  You‘re making a choice.  You‘re asking seniors and the middle class to pay more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Suppose they make them make that choice, say, in the couple of months, on the debt ceiling thing.  Republicans get back and say, nice try, try raising taxes to pay for the debt ceiling.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, hang on a second.  They‘re going to have a debate about the Bush era tax cuts all the way through the next year and a half, because they‘re going to expire at the end of the 2012 election cycle.  So, this is not about the debate is going to not end right now.  Even if Paul Ryan‘s budget was adopted right now, the Republicans would have to vote to raise the debt ceiling.  They‘re going to have to raise the debt ceiling whoever is in power, whatever budget they take.

So, it‘s hypothetical.  They‘ve got to put something out on the table and say, let‘s make this the path, let‘s negotiate—

MATTHEWS:  Suppose they threaten to go into default.  The federal government goes into default this summer because we don‘t deal with the debt ceiling, and the Republicans say, as Mr. Boehner said today, the price will be high.  There‘s going to be very, very big cuts.  And then he says, well, I don‘t want to cut spending to deal with the debt, I want to raise taxes.

Can Obama do that?

FINEMAN:  No, I don‘t think he can do it as that.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  It‘s got to be both.  But the problem is -- 

MATTHEWS:  Let Boehner make his case because he‘s laying it down.  Here‘s John Boehner saying on raising the debt ceiling.  Here he is just now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I can just tell you this.  There will not be an increase in the debt limit without something really, really big attached to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Really, really big.

FINEMAN:  Yes, OK.  But it‘s—the thing is if the president—to some extent, the president undercut his case about taxes by agreeing to extending the Bush tax cuts, I think it does make it marginally -- 

MATTHEWS:  Last fall.

FINEMAN:  Last fall.  It makes it marginally more difficult for him to now draw the line in the sand and say, I‘ve got to have it.  But he will have to have something like this as part of this big package with Boehner.

MATTHEWS:  Is that politically or fiscally?  Is that because he has

--

      

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  It‘s got to be both.  The fact is Paul Ryan‘s numbers don‘t add up because he has huge tax cuts in there.  So, fiscally, yes, and politically, yes, because the president hasn‘t given the left wing of the Democratic Party anything that I can think of in the last six to eight months.

MATTHEWS:  First, we don‘t think Republicans are stupid enough to back the Paul Ryan plan as is.  Do you think they are?

FINEMAN:  Well, they have been talking it up the last couple of weeks.  The reason they were is they knew they weren‘t going to get the $100 billion out of this current budget.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Do you think they‘ll vote for this kind of budget?

FINEMAN:  I think they‘ll put it to a vote, yes, I do.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think?

WOLFFE:  Sure they will.

MATTHEWS:  Cutting all that stuff, killing people overseas?

WOLFFE:  It‘s not real.  It‘s a bit like Obama voting against the debt ceiling when he was a senator.  It‘s a protest.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  But it‘s real enough for the Democrats to make ads out of it in fall of 2012.

MATTHEWS:  I think the Republican Party can kiss control of the Congress goodbye if they pass the Ryan budget.  Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman.  Thank you, Richard Wolffe.  The people who vote do not want to see the end of their health care.

Up next, actress Ashley Judd is coming here.  We‘re going to talk about her great work out there.  Things I want to talk about, about AIDS in the world.  This country ought to do some good in the world.  We‘re going to talk about what she has been doing.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Ten-time Olympic medalist Carl Lewis is taking a leap into politics.  Lewis announced today he‘s a candidate for the state Senate up in New Jersey.  Lewis, a Democrat, recently lived in Los Angeles but grew up in south Jersey, still owns a home there.  He won nine Olympic gold medals and a silver in his 17-year track and field career.  He was named sportsman of the century by the International Olympic Committee.  What a record!

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.

Well, it‘s honor for us, you may know actress Ashley Judd for her work in films such as “Double Jeopardy.”  I love that one, “The Divine Secrets of the Yaya Sister.”  I didn‘t see that one.

But for the past several years, she spent her time and her life dedicated to combating HIV and AIDS as a global ambassador for Population Services International.  You can read about her in her new book such as—here it is about—Rwanda, the Congo, India and all that in her new memoir “All That is Bitter and Sweet.”  That‘s the name of the book.

Ashley Judd, she joins us right now.  Here she is.

Here you are.  It‘s great, your vision.  Thank you for coming on.

This question that I‘m learning about—I thought I knew a lot about this stuff, but you go around the world for this organization and you go to places that most women who have any freedom would never go—brothels, these third world hell holes and fourth world hell holes where women are probably taken into captivity like in horror movies, kept there for sex.  I don‘t know who would enjoy this kind of sex.  But these guys go in there, this horrible—tell me what‘s going on in this world that you discovered.

ASHLEY JUDD, AUTHOR, “ALL THAT IS BITTER AND SWEET”:  Well, in my work with PSI, I have discovered that gender and equality really does fuel so many of the most pressing problems in the world.  And the good news about that is it means there are a variety of levers that can be pressed to help empower women and help, at the grassroots level, households, societies and ultimately, nations progress towards economic stability.

Sheila (ph), for example, a young woman I met in Nairobi, who‘s in forced prostitution, she got into that pickled because of a variety of reasons.  She had a mother die from a totally preventable cause.  When her dad died, his relatives came in, pushed her off the land, she had no legal rights.

And then she had no knowledge about her body.  When her boyfriend and she had two consecutive unintended pregnancies, he left her and she ended up on the streets while still lactating, selling herself for sex in order to feed her small children.

So, you see, there are a variety of insertion points where story Sheila‘s story could be turned around.  With PSI, in particular, I‘ve seen the public health piece and what a huge difference it makes.  It is the essential building block of development.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I know Thabo Mbeki, the last prime minister or last state president of South Africa, was a little slow to go on this issue of what causes HIV.  And a lot of women I know from working with—meeting with Peace Corps volunteers and places like Mozambique and Swaziland, where I was, you can‘t even go into a village and tell people what you‘re there for.  The men get angry.  They think you‘re going to ruin their sex life, that you tell the women they can‘t do certain things without condoms.

Tell me about that misconceptions that you came across, what cause -

women don‘t even know what causes HIV, that ruins their lives, kills them.

      

JUDD:  There‘s still a lot of misinformation, there‘s a lot of stigma, and that‘s why like talking to peer education at that grassroots level is making a difference.

MATTHEWS:  How do you tell a girl you get AIDS from sex?  I know everything else you learned about how, your boyfriend has sex with a virgin is not going to rid of HIV.

JUDD:  You have another girl tell her.  You know, you have a peer with whom she has some rapport tell her.  And we‘re 30 years into the HIV/AIDS emergency, 31 million people worldwide are living with HIV.  And in spite of that staggering number, there has been a lot of progress.  And through education and awareness, young people adopt safer sex practices, and in the 15 most affected HIV countries, the incidence of HIV has dropped 15 percent because—no, 25 percent in those 15 countries because of education awareness and prevention.

MATTHEWS:  Well, a good portion of Africa has been wiped out.  I mean, it‘s almost—I‘ve seen the numbers.  It‘s bigger than World War II. 

Fifty million killed in World War II in all fronts.  This is worse.  It‘s -

and nobody talks about it, right?  I don‘t know why.

      

Why are you the only one talking about what‘s going on in the world?  Like it‘s bigger than tsunamis.  It‘s bigger than anything else in the world.  Tsunamis get all the TV, you know?  We talked about it for a week, what happens in Japan.  It gets all the attention.

And yet, we have this huge part of our world population dying right now because of HIV.  And some of them are getting the cocktails and some aren‘t.

JUDD:  Well, and speaking of the cocktails, there are 5 million people now living with HIV who are on antiretroviral drugs.  And that makes a huge difference in quality of life for them and it reduces the instances of orphan-hood.  And so, the things that PSI is doing, things such as the One Campaign, which raises tremendous awareness about how simple these drugs are to use.

MATTHEWS:  What about Bill Clinton?  Tell me, because I don‘t mind seeing singing his son, my son worked for him, and I think in Rwanda I know where Michael worked, he‘s done great work.  And nobody else ever did it before.  AID, the American agencies didn‘t do anything, he went in there and all of a sudden, these people are alive.

JUDD:  Yes.  I‘m a big fan of the Clinton Global Initiative.  I think that it is making a remarkable impact worldwide.  And I‘m very grateful that the president appointed me to the rethinking refugee committee on which—

MATTHEWS:  President Clinton?

JUDD:  Yes—on which I served.  We want to move the needle on the refugee issues, because 80 percent of all refugees worldwide are girls, are women and children.  And so, we‘re going to work specifically in Congo where I‘ve been to Congo multiple times.  I‘m going back in July, and also, you know, naturally, we need to improve the conditions in camps, but we need to eradicate the underlying causes and conditions that create forcibly displaced populations.

MATTHEWS:  Why did you give up acting to do this?

JUDD:  Because this is more fun.  I love this.  I love this with all my heart.

MATTHEWS:  Because you‘re a big star.  You may be again.

Let me ask about malaria because I had it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But I had it, it is bad news.

JUDD:  Mosquito bite.

MATTHEWS:  And they‘re cutting the—they‘re talking like 30,000 people are going to die because of this Paul Ryan plan.  He‘s probably a good guy, but he‘s not a good guy when you cut malaria treatments for—

30,000 people die.

JUDD:  PSI has programs in 65 countries worldwide.  And I have seen programs in 13 countries so far and counting.  And one of the things that keeps me going is the effectiveness of making available a long-lasting insecticide treated net.  We‘re the largest distributor in the world.  It absolutely saves lives and no one should die from a mosquito bite.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  “All That is Bitter and Sweet,” you‘re a good person.

JUDD:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I miss you from the movies, but I guess they don‘t miss you enough or what you‘re doing.  Good work.

JUDD:  I kind of prefer this.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Here‘s the book.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with the strange plague, I mean, metaphorically now, afflicting the Republican Party.  What‘s going on?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with this strange plague that‘s besetting the Republican Party.  There was supposed to be a big debate at the Reagan Library this spring, there won‘t be.  No candidates.

Now, that‘s a strange thing to say, but not as strange as the people showing up so far as would-be candidates.

Trump is out there making charges, personal charges of the worst kind about the president.  The fact that there‘s no evidence behind him—behind those charges that involve the president‘s parents, his grandparents, the hospital in which he was born, the state administrator out there at the time he was born, newspapers at the time, childhood friends at the time, he was a kid, such as the current governor, tell you just how bad the situation has gotten in terms of Trump‘s charges.

I wonder when, if, it‘s going to get any better than this.  Maybe God is on the side of President Obama.  How else do you explain the sorry state of those responsible for coming up with his opponents?

Congressman David Dreier, a thoughtful guy from California, just told “Politico” that he doesn‘t see anyone out there running that could win.  How could that be, you have to ask.  Our NBC poll has to the president right now at just 50 percent approval.  That leaves 50 percent out there looking for someone to run against him.  Why aren‘t they grabbing hold of that opportunity?

Well, there are a number of people I can imagine actually sitting in the Oval Office come January 20, 2013.  I‘m basically thinking about those Republicans who serve as governors in this country, who did serve as governor.  They‘ve shown their ability to run a government, meet a payroll, meet a budget, show a seriousness towards public matters.  I even give Rick Santorum credit for being a serious person.  He believes what he believes, of course, and has been willing to take the heat, even defeat, for it.

I don‘t think you can find this kind of ability or seriousness in some of the other so-called candidates.  They throw up whatever will get them in the run in the current news cycle—the nastier the better.  In fact, that‘s all they do.  Newt, Trump, Bachmann—that‘s all they do: is talk trash about the president.

Well, there‘s talk of a draft out there where the people in the Republican Party go out and demand that someone heavier run, someone more serious—whether they want to or not.

Well, it‘s an old idea.  It hasn‘t been done since 1952 when Henry Cabot Lodge went out there and got General Eisenhower to allow his name in a primary—or later that year when the Democrats at their Chicago convention succeeded with a draft of Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson.

That‘s sick decades ago.  It seems like a long way to go back and find a way to pick a good candidate.  That‘s until you take a good look at the bar scene from “Star Wars” that‘s shown up so far.

      

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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