Guests: Tyler Mathisen, Jonathan Alter, Pat Buchanan, Willie Brown, Ari-Rabin-Havt, Michael Steele, Roger Simon, Susan Page, Al Sharpton
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Harebrained.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington.
Leading off tonight: Birther control. The Republicans are now divided into three groups, really. First come the birthers, count Sarah Palin, and of course, count Donald Trump, lots of Tea Partiers and a growing number of Fox News hosts as part of that jamboree.
Then there‘s the “have it both ways” crowd—Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal—where their stand depends on who they‘re with at the time. And finally, there are the serious Republicans who don‘t feel like a nut and worry that birtherism will take the whole party down. Birther madness, our top story tonight.
A perfect example of the Republican dilemma, Donald Trump. Karl Rove says he needs to stop the madness. Sarah Palin winks that he‘s on to something. My question—on to what?
Plus, hypocrisy watch. What percentage of the “balance the budget” Tea Party types do you suppose are against cutting any of the big spending causes in the government, the big piece of the deficit, Medicare or Medicaid? Do you think it‘s 10 percent want to cut them, 20 percent, 30 percent? Try 70 percent against it -- 70 percent of Tea Partiers don‘t want to touch Medicare or Medicaid spending. When are these people going to get serious about taking cuts in the actual government deficit?
And finally, the Republican president race has become such a gong show that even Charlie Sheen wants in.
Finally, “Let Me Finish” with the flipping out of the Republican right.
We start with birther madness, of course, tonight. Willie Brown‘s the former mayor of San Francisco, a Democrat, of course, and Ari Rabin-Havt is vice president of Media Matters.
Gentlemen, I want to ask you about—first of all, I want to talk about the—here‘s a roundup of Fox News hosts and contributors pushing the birther line. Let‘s watch this now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS “HANNITY”: Well, I think this is odd that they won‘t produce the birth certificate. It‘s beginning to get odd to me.
SARAH PALIN (R-AK), FMR. GOV., FOX CONTRIBUTOR: He‘s not just throwing stones and—from the sidelines. He‘s digging in there. He‘s paying for researchers to find out why President Obama would have spent $2 million to not show his birth certificate.
HANNITY: What‘s wrong with asking about—OK, can you just show us the birth certificate?
Why are all these people that just ask to see it—why are they—why are—why are they crucified and beaten up and smeared and besmirched the way they are?
STEVE DOOCY, “FOX AND FRIENDS”: He could end it simply. Just show it to us and it‘d be over!
DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Just show us the birth certificate.
Thank you very much, Steve. I appreciate that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Just to let these little fillips of dishonesty not get past us, Mayor Brown—and Ari, you just fill me in—I‘ve heard this—Sarah Palin—where she gets—well, she doesn‘t read, so I don‘t know where she gets this stuff. I guess she gets it by telegraph you up there. But she said that $2 million was spent by President Obama to cover up his lack of a birth certificate. Just to get to that, where did that $2 million figure get into her head?
ARI RABIN-HAVT, MEDIAMATTERS.ORG: That was taken from the total amount the Obama campaign had spent—
MATTHEWS: Spent on all its legal bills.
RABIN-HAVT: Post-campaign legal bills, which include things like FEC audits and—
MATTHEWS: And what made her think that any dollar of that was spent?
RABIN-HAVT: I mean, the—Bob Bauer did send a letter to several people filing birther lawsuits saying—
MATTHEWS: OK. OK.
RABIN-HAVT: -- This is inappropriate. But they clearly didn‘t spend $2 million.
MATTHEWS: Mayor Brown, I haven‘t had you on in a while and I respect your thinking incisively. What is going on here that a majority, a thin majority, of actual Republican primary voters support the Trump position? He‘s not out of the mainstream. He is the Republican mainstream. George F. Will, as I‘ll get to later in the show, the thoughtful Republican conservative, is out of the mainstream. What‘s going on in the Republican Party? Has it flipped out?
WILLIE BROWN (D), FMR. SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: I think the Republican Party on this issue has definitely flipped out, and I think Donald Trump has leaded them down that road. And it clearly is a road that‘s not productive for the Republican Party, nor for anybody else.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at one of the memorable instances of Trump pushing the birther issue. Let‘s listen to him. I‘m not so sure, Mayor—we‘ll talk about this the next few minutes. I‘m not sure if he‘s leading the band here or following the parade. I think they‘ve already gone down this rabbit hole, and he‘s chased down after them. But let‘s watch him. Here‘s Trump in action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I would like to have him show his birth certificate. And I can be honest with you? I hope he can because if he can‘t, if he can‘t and if he wasn‘t born in this country, which is real possibility—I‘m not saying it happened, I‘m saying it‘s a real possibility, much greater than I thought two or three weeks ago—then he has pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Mayor Brown, I just love the street talk he uses, “cons,” like the president of the United States, this Ivy Leaguer we know as our president, is some kind of street hustler—“cons.” You know, you hear the lingo he uses. It‘s very effective with the crowd he‘s trying to reach, you know, the working class white people who are buying into this thing, whatever it is. Your thoughts, sir.
BROWN: Well, Donald Trump is a master at marketing. We‘ve all known that for a long time. His credentials reflect that. The success he‘s had and all the things that he‘s tried clearly reflects it‘s strictly marketing. It‘s not substance. Donald Trump knows there‘s no substance to what happens with reference to this birth certificate, but he‘s going to ride that horse as long as he can so he doesn‘t have to talk about jobs, he doesn‘t have to talk about the economy—
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well—
BROWN: -- he doesn‘t have to talk about anything that people really care about.
MATTHEWS: But those are interesting issues. Let me ask you this. Do you think he‘s going to keep this property that he‘s developed—he‘s at the top of some of these polls now—or is he going flip it, as they say in real estate? Is he going to actually grab hold of this unique opportunity to maybe run a decent campaign for president or basically flip it and come up with an excuse the next couple months to get out? What‘s your hunch right now, Mr. Mayor?
BROWN: He will not—
MATTHEWS: Is he in or is he ultimately out?
BROWN: -- be a candidate—he will not be a candidate for president. Donald Trump is a showman, and a showman can never it take the ultimate step, and that‘s to get into the arena—
MATTHEWS: Oh, sure.
BROWN: -- where you really do have to be examined by people like you on your show and other shows, where you have to—
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s a very high standard!
BROWN: -- seriously respond to issues.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a very high standard, Mr. Mayor. When he comes on this show, we‘ll know he‘s real. But let me tell you, I don‘t know. I‘ve talked to him a number of times off air. I don‘t know. I think, talking to some people around him, that he does see this as his last chance to really make a run at it.
And I‘m it telling you, there is an opening out there for a Wendell Wilkie next year because the Republican Party, Ari, doesn‘t have a candidate. There is an opening. There‘s a big vacancy sign standing up in the Republican Party right now. That property‘s available. It‘s basically a dozer, as they say in real estate. You got to knock down what‘s there. Mitt Romney‘s probably not going to be a great candidate, right? What is your hunch? You‘ve done all the research. You‘ve been watching this guy. You‘ve seen how he‘s done business. What makes—well, do you have an opinion, first of all? I‘m sorry.
RABIN-HAVT: Sure. I think, you know, he‘s said—he‘s done this four times in the past—I‘m running, I‘m running—then he doesn‘t run. I think this time—
MATTHEWS: But that‘s Roger Stone time.
RABIN-HAVT: Yes, and I think this time, he‘s painting himself into a corner where—
MATTHEWS: He might run.
RABIN-HAVT: -- where he might run and—
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go to Michele Bachmann. She played to the birther crowd over the weekend. Let‘s watch this whole array, this jamboree, this conga line of people who are all bowing to the birther crowd. Here she is. She‘s been in and out on this issue. I think she‘s definitely a birther, but here she is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA: All he had to do is just answer some questions and show his document and then have people do an attestation that this, in fact, is a legal document and it‘s over. It‘s done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, here she is on “Good Morning America” this morning, and she sort of walked back her position, at least when she was with the show host, George Stephanopoulos. Let‘s see if she‘s permanently an un-birther. She may get back onto it again. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”: Well, I have the president‘s certificate right here. It‘s certified. It‘s got a certification number. It‘s got the registrar of the state signed. It‘s got a seal on it. And it says “This copy serves as prima facie evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding.”
BACHMANN: Well, then that should settle it. That—
STEPHANOPOULOS: So it‘s over.
BACHMANN: That—that‘s what should settle it. I take the president at his word, and I think were any—I am—again, I would have no problem, and apparently, the president wouldn‘t, either. Introduce that, we‘re done. Move on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So this is over. Well, this has been introduced. So this case is—this—this story is over.
BACHMANN: Well, as long as someone introduces it, I guess it‘s over.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It‘s right there.
BACHMANN: Yes. There you go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What—what do you make of that, Mayor Brown? I‘m not sure she‘s committed to the truth there. George did a good job as a journalist of shoving it at her, and she sort of looked at it—she‘s an attorney, but she didn‘t seem to really want to look at it. She said, I guess, I guess, if he says so. Wait! The state said so, darn it! What is she—she wants to—what is she up to here? I think she‘s wobbling. I think next day she‘s in front of a birther crowd, she‘ll be with them again. That‘s my hunch. Your thoughts.
BROWN: No question whatsoever. She will do exactly what Donald Trump is doing, to some extent, when she‘s with her group and with that crowd. That‘s her foundation. That‘s her base. And she will not walk away because George nailed her. And he nailed her good.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think—putting a document in front of her face—by the way, whether they call it in Hawaii a “certificate of live birth” or “birth certificate” is irrelevant to most people, isn‘t it?
RABIN-HAVT: I think all these—
MATTHEWS: That‘s the way they write it down there.
RABIN-HAVT: Yes, and all these birthers have a moving target. You can use that certificate of live birth—
MATTHEWS: There it is.
RABIN-HAVT: -- to get a passport. You can—you know, then they say Obama‘s grandmother said he wasn‘t born in the country. Well, she did in that interview—
MATTHEWS: I know.
RABIN-HAVT: -- that they use. There‘s no facts behind—
MATTHEWS: -- having it both ways. You know, Jindal‘s playing this game. They don‘t want to offend the crazy wing. They got these crazies out in the crazy closet they keep it in, but they‘re part of their crowd. Here he is, saying he has no question about being natural born, but he also says—here he is, to cover himself with the crazies—he‘s willing to sign a birther bill. Why sign a ludicrous bill? Here he is explaining. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA: I absolutely believe he is a citizen. Let‘s be clear. Look, my disagreements with this president are not about his citizenship or where he was born. What I disagree about is his agenda.
What I‘ve said about this bill is it‘s not a part of my package, but if the legislature passes it—and by the way, if they pass another bill that simply restates the Constitution, of course I‘d sign it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: These bills, Mr. Mayor, do not restate the Constitution.
Jan Brewer, to her credit the other day in Arizona, said, Enough of this.
She wouldn‘t say it in Spanish, but I can—no mas, no more of these
stupid bills out there. They‘re killing business in Arizona. This idea
you got to show a circumcision certificate or a baptism certificate in
addition to the document that George Stephanopoulos just shoved in her face
how many documents do you have to prove the obvious? Your mother was an American, your mother had you in Honolulu. I‘d like to ask a lot of these Republicans on the crazy wing, Do you accept the fact that Hawaii is in the United States? I‘m not sure they accept that. There‘s something crazy going on here. Oh, is Hawaii part of the United States? Oh, I see. Well, let me reconsider my answer here.
Why are they saying things they know—I say, Mayor, put them under sodium pentothal. Ask Donald Trump to put a couple of billion dollars down on this, and he won‘t make the bet. He won‘t put his money on this because then Obama will flash some more paper at him. Your thoughts.
BROWN: And that‘s why I think, Chris—I disagree with the two of you because I don‘t think he‘ll put his money down to run for president. He can‘t raise the kind of money that would make him competitive. I don‘t think he has the kind of money that would make him competitive. And if I know Donald Trump, he is not going to double down when he doesn‘t have to.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s a bet I‘m not prepared to make. But your thoughts?
RABIN-HAVT: I just disagree. I think he‘s painted himself into a corner where he‘s said he‘s not going to run so many times, this time, I think—I think he‘s going to pull the trigger and I think he‘s going to lead the Republican Party down (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: They want him! They want him!
RABIN-HAVT: And it‘s going to make—
MATTHEWS: He‘s leading them, they‘re leading him. They came up with
the birther thing. He didn‘t do it. The crazies in the Republican Party -
thank you, Willie Brown. Thank you, Ari Rabin-Havt.
RABIN-HAVT: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.
Coming up: Let‘s shine the klieg lights on the number one birther, Donald Trump. We‘re going to talk a little more about him because there‘s more coming from him. This guy is the Pied Piper, well, of the loony bunch. We‘ll be right back with him and his latest reality show. It may be for real.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: President Obama‘s speaking today at a town hall meeting at the headquarters of Facebook out in Palo Alto, California. He‘s on stage there with the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. You know him from the movie.
We‘ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Donald Trump continued his calls on the president to release his birth certificate last night, although he already had, with NBC‘s Michael Isikoff. But he‘s getting a split reaction from prominent Republicans, among them George F. Will, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin. You can figure where they‘re all going.
So what should Donald Trump be campaigning on? He‘s headed to New Hampshire next week to meet with voters and state GOP officials. Michael Steele‘s the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and Roger Simon is chief political columnist for Politico.
I think it was Balzac who said that all great fortunes are based on a crime, so let‘s—
MATTHEWS: Let‘s—so let‘s treat Trump‘s birtherism as the original crime, the original sin of his campaign. Is there any way—well, we want to watch him—we want to stay with the sin for a while. Then I want to get to, Is there anything later that he might do to say, OK, I‘ve seen the documents, I‘m satisfied, now let‘s talk about jobs, and get away with it? Can he erase how he started and start in a better way?
Here he is, Trump, on NBC‘s Michael Isikoff last night on the birth certificate issue. Michael is manful is trying to get the truth out of him. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If he has a birth certificate, he should release it. But don‘t tell me about some long form certificate of live birth because it‘s a much lower standard.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS: Do you believe Hawaii officials are lying about this?
MATTHEWS: Do you have any evidence they‘re lying?
TRUMP: The governor of Hawaii said he was there when he was born. Now, do you really believe that the governor of Hawaii was there when he was born? I don‘t.
MATTHEWS: I‘m saying—
TRUMP: So I don‘t know what to tell you. The governor—
MATTHEWS: -- the state‘s health director—
TRUMP: Excuse me!
MATTHEWS: -- who personally inspected the files says—
TRUMP: I don‘t care if—then tell Obama to release it. Look, they‘re private documents, just like mine is. Nobody can get my birth certificate.
TRUMP: But if I release it, they get it, OK? I‘d say, Release it.
Anybody can have it. Release it.
TRUMP: Obama should do the same thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Did you see how he did that, the hat and the rabbit? Why don‘t we start with you, Roger. You‘re a journalist. You know, he didn‘t answer—he said—he takes the ludicrous claim that Governor Abercrombie was with him when he was born. No, Governor Abercrombie has said on the record he was friends with the family. He knew the kid a bit growing up, OK? He didn‘t say he was standing there while the kid was born.
But see, my—Trump says—he comes up with a ludicrous idea that some friend of the family is in the operating room or whatever, the birthing room, and then he denies that. And it‘s this—
ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: Now, this—
MATTHEWS: -- flim-flam. He‘s good at it. Isikoff‘s as good as—
Isikoff‘s too intellectual for that conversation, I think! Go ahead.
SIMON: You know, the big lie has worked in propaganda and politics for ages and works again now.
MATTHEWS: But what‘s the game? Suppose more documentation comes out and he says, All right, I‘ll shut out now?
SIMON: Well, some think that‘s his theory, that he has no real entre to the Republican Party, so he‘s chosen this as his entre. The trouble is, he‘s riding a tiger, and if you fall off the back of the tiger, the tiger eats you. I don‘t think—
MATTHEWS: What‘s his exit strategy? I asked it last night. .What is it?
SIMON: I think—
MATTHEWS: Does he quit?
SIMON: I think he‘s going to go all the way with this.
MATTHEWS: All the way to the presidency.
SIMON: Yes, it‘s going to be a litmus test. Is the Republican Party about lower taxes—
MATTHEWS: I‘m with you. I‘m with you.
SIMON: -- and—and less spending—
MATTHEWS: I think he‘s changed your party—
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re onto it because I‘m onto it the same way. I think the Republican Party that you represent as chairman is not the George Will party of the cerebral, Let‘s look at the issues, reduce the deficit. It‘s become—I‘m not saying necessarily an ethnic party, but a kind of a crazy tribalist—
MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, I—
MATTHEWS: -- Let‘s get those people, we don‘t like Obama, we‘ll throw what we can at him. It‘s like they‘re so angry, they don‘t want to think.
STEELE: Well, let me—let me just start—
MATTHEWS: -- answer that question? Has it changed?
STEELE: No, no. It has changed. And to be rather frank about it, I think rank-and-file Republicans don‘t give a rat‘s giblet about the birther issue, but—
MATTHEWS: Well, why do 51 percent say they don‘t think he was born here?
STEELE: Well, but I don‘t know who that 51 percent is.
MATTHEWS: It‘s the majority.
STEELE: The Republican—no, I don‘t know what that—that‘s one poll. There could have been 400 respondents in the poll, so you can‘t go back and say that‘s every Republican in the country. Let‘s be clear about that.
MATTHEWS: So you didn‘t hire pollsters at the RNC? You don‘t believe in polls now?
STEELE: No, I‘m not—no, I‘m not saying I don‘t believe in polls. I‘m a realist about what the polls represent, and I‘m not going to extrapolate from one poll that shows 51 percent of any number, good, bad or indifferent, and say that that represents everybody.
Now, the view—the view of this issue I think boils down on to this. America right now is on a collision course with its future, whether or not we‘re going to really be substantive about the debt and the deficits that we face, or are we going to play here on the playground with each other—
MATTHEWS: We got some of those polls tonight—
STEELE: -- on silly issues.
MATTHEWS: -- Mr. Chairman, that show that the Republican Party, including the Tea Party fanatics, don‘t want to get serious. They don‘t want to cut the programs that are growing in cost.
STEELE: Well, just because I don‘t want to cut a program that‘s growing in cost—and I‘m glad you—that‘s a good indictment about the program, by the way—that doesn‘t mean that I‘m not serious. It means that that‘s part of the engagement I want to have with you. I don‘t want to talk about the president‘s birth certificate—
MATTHEWS: Why is—
MATTHEWS: OK. Why is Donald Trump running in—running up so well in the polls? Maybe he‘s not first. Some, he is. He‘s heavily first.
STEELE: I think—I think Donald Trump is exciting.
MATTHEWS: Why is he doing so well?
STEELE: I think—I think he‘s different. When you look—let me just—let me finish this point real quick.
I think he‘s exciting. I think he—he‘s driving a discussion that animates people one way or the other. And I think that it will level out at some point when you see the May debates begin. And we will see what happens.
MATTHEWS: OK. Watch Karl Rove, because he‘s one of the guys who tried to knock you guys off. He‘s—he was a big opponent of the Republican Party nationally.
And here he is trying to advise Trump to get off it. Here he is. Listen to—Trump—not my best friend on politics, but let‘s watch him trying to show some sanity here to the Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARL ROVE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This guy told me this weekend, well, it‘s not Mr. Trump‘s fault. He said the press keeps asking him about it.
I said, why don‘t—next time he‘s asked about it, why doesn‘t he say, well, that‘s the last—I have said all I‘m going to say on it; I want to talk about the big issues, the deficit, debt, and respect for America in the world?
And he called me back a little while, about half-an-hour later, and says, well, Mr. Trump appreciates your advice and that‘s exactly what he‘s going to do.
ROVE: And then he goes out yesterday and says this birth issue—birther issue, the birth certificate issue, is a real big issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So he promised Karl Rove, according to Karl Rove, that he wouldn‘t bring it up again.
Here he is not quite honoring his claim. Here he is on “Good Morning America,” Trump himself, with George Stephanopoulos, bringing it up again, the birth certificate issue, on his own. Here he is. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”)
DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: I have a great company. I have done a great job, which, if I run, you will see what a great job, because I will do a full disclosure of finances.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC ANCHOR: Including your tax returns?
TRUMP: We will look at that. Maybe I will do the tax returns when Obama does his birth certificate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: George is hot. He‘s doing well there. He asked him the right question, “Are you going to release your tax returns?” which is the acid test of disclosure. And he waffled. And then he threw in the birth thing. Your thoughts. A suck punch.
SIMON: He will do anything he can to avoid revealing his tax returns.
But the president—
MATTHEWS: Do you know? Why are you saying that? Because I don‘t know why. I don‘t know this—
SIMON: For the same reason Michael Bloomberg didn‘t want to, not because they have something to hide.
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t they want to?
SIMON: I would guess their tax returns are a little more complicated than line.
MATTHEWS: Everybody‘s are.
MATTHEWS: Is it because they don‘t want their rivals to know what their businesses are? That‘s what they often say.
SIMON: It‘s very possible.
But you were asking why Trump is doing so well. Celebrities do well in politics.
MATTHEWS: Rudy didn‘t go anywhere.
SIMON: Well, because, outside New York, he wasn‘t that big of a celebrity.
MATTHEWS: This guy is.
SIMON: This guy is a little bit more, but he makes the same kind of mistake that New York candidates make, that the rest of the nation loves New Yorkers.
SIMON: And it‘s this, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere B.S. A lot of people in Detroit and Chicago—
MATTHEWS: I don‘t know. I think the working guy likes this guy. I think—I don‘t think he has an ethnic problem with black people either.
MATTHEWS: I think people like him who aren‘t sophisticated like you.
SIMON: But that‘s his problem.
MATTHEWS: This isn‘t about sophistication.
MATTHEWS: You‘re chuckling, but you know he has an appeal.
STEELE: He has an absolute appeal.
MATTHEWS: And he does not have a race problem either.
STEELE: Because he‘s—
SIMON: He does.
MATTHEWS: Does he have a race problem?
SIMON: I‘m sorry. Go ahead.
STEELE: He‘s really engaged. He‘s really out there turning it up a
little bit. I think that this moment for him needs to—I agree with Karl
let it go. Now focus people‘s attention on real things.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s talk about what your party needs.
I have a sense that this election next year isn‘t going to be decided on race or even party loyalty. It‘s going to be decided on performance. If the economy looks like it is rocking and rolling, this guy is reelected easily. If it looks like it‘s getting better, substantially better, and the number of unemployment is going down, and gas prices have settled down to way below $5, way below $5, this guy gets reelected slightly.
If the economy looks like it‘s going into a second dip, I don‘t care who he runs against him, he loses, because I think the American people are going to vote on objective circumstances next year.
SIMON: Only slightly.
I agree with everything—
MATTHEWS: OK. Are the voters rational?
SIMON: If it‘s a terrible economy, he does probably lose, but not against anybody in the Republican field.
MATTHEWS: Anybody that gets nominated.
SIMON: The Republican field is not a strong field. It‘s a field of nonentities. You‘re not going to beat Barack Obama with a nonentity. There are a couple of people maybe in an economic disaster, Mitt Romney, for one, who could beat him. But the economy is not trending that way.
Can I say one word about the race—
MATTHEWS: -- latest poll in “The Washington Post” says people think the economy is getting worse. So, what is that about? It‘s gas prices.
SIMON: It is.
STEELE: And if gas is at $5 a gallon next summer—
MATTHEWS: I paid 78 the other—I said it last night—I spent 78 bucks to fill my car the other day. And it wasn‘t even empty -- 78 bucks~! Of course, it was premium, but—
SIMON: The president—the mistake—one minor mistake I think the president will correct that he is making is, he‘s stopped talking about jobs. And we can‘t have a jobless recovery. We have got to get people back to work.
MATTHEWS: I worry about business—
MATTHEWS: Corporations, your crowd—
MATTHEWS: -- your rich Republican friends don‘t want to hire anybody back. They would rather hire robots.
MATTHEWS: They want robots.
STEELE: Chris, you know better than that.
MATTHEWS: Or they want—this thing about answering the phone in India, that kind of thing.
MATTHEWS: I think Trump is right about that.
STEELE: Come on. You know better than that.
I think that this fight really boils down to what you said about the economy. And I think the reality of it is, right, Donald Trump and every Republican out there has a chance to shift this conversation back to jobs and focus on job creation in this country as we talk about and deal with the debt.
MATTHEWS: If he had to stand out there on Sixth Avenue selling hot dogs right now, nobody would be listening to him. They‘re listening because he‘s a billionaire.
Michael Steele, thank you. They think he knows something about money.
Roger Simon, you‘re tough.
MATTHEWS: Up next: talk about a “Sideshow.” Charlie Sheen is talking about running for president. Right now. That‘s how you get ink. He‘s already joined the birthers. He‘s on the conga line already. Stick around for that.
One hundred dollars a ticket, they paid to see this guy last night here.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
One hundred dollars a ticket, they paid to see him.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now to the “Sideshow.”
First up, American Idol. Florida freshman Marco Rubio told “National Review” that his role model in the U.S. Senate is firebrand Jesse Helms. Rubio adds—quote—“Politicians are not heroes, but if you look at Jesse Helms, he had a tremendous amount of influence in this place.”
Well, let‘s remember the way Senator Helms used his influence. He was a vocal opponent of the ‘64 Civil Rights Act as a radio commentator. He carried on a filibuster against the bill creating Martin Luther King Day. He fought funding for AIDS research for years before relenting because he said it resulted from what he called unnatural behavior.
In his 1990 reelection race against a black opponent, Helms ran a blatantly racist TV ad showing a white person losing a job to a black. He was of course tough on Castro‘s Cuba. Hence, skipping all the other stuff, Senator Rubio sees him as a just fine role model.
Next, need proof that the 2012 Republican field is getting crazy? Charlie Sheen is talking about entering. He floated the prospect on his “Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour here last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE SHEEN, ACTOR: I don‘t know, man. This could be the right venue.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SHEEN: The right venue to make a big announcement.
I mean, is that the craziest (EXPLETIVE DELETED) idea ever?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SHEEN: Is there anybody in here who would actually (EXPLETIVE DELETED) vote for me?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SHEEN: For starters, I was (EXPLETIVE DELETED) born here. How about that?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s a fertile mind.
As they used to say, hauling coal to Newcastle. The last thing the birther crowd needs to prove its nuttiness is another birther.
Up next, how is this for hypocrisy? Tea Partiers say they want to cut deep, deeply into federal spending, but a whopping 70 percent of the birthers—or the Tea Partiers say they don‘t want to cut Medicare or Medicaid to balance the budget. They really don‘t want to cut anything.
So are House Republicans now stuck with a budget, the Ryan plan, nobody on the right wants? That‘s ahead.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Tyler Mathisen with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Major midweek rally on solid corporate earnings. The Dow industrials up 186 points, highest level in nearly three years. S&P 500 jumped 17. Nasdaq surging 57 points.
We are in the thick of earnings season and Intel got the ball rolling with a resounding bead of estimates despite growing competition from tablets and a flaw in one of its chip sets. Never mind, stocks way up on it. Cloud computing still a hot tickle. Salesforce shot to the top of the S&P after rival VMware posted blockbuster earnings. That came yesterday afternoon.
American Express also topping estimates helped by a low ratio of uncollectible credit card debt. AT&T‘s results, they were in line with expectations after giving up exclusive rights to the iPhone. And after the closing bell, we had chipmaker Qualcomm beating on big growth and smartphone and tablet sales. And Apple, well, it just crushed on the top and bottom line estimates, thanks to soaring sales of everything with an I in its name. And you know what I‘m talking about.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Keep that government off my Medicare. Of course, Medicare is a government program, but that‘s a cry you hear a lot of over the years. But some new polls show that it‘s more true today than ever, people‘s attitudes. A new Marist poll out today asked if people support cutting Medicare and Medicaid to deal with the big government deficit right now.
Well, 92 percent of Democrats say no way, hands off; 73 percent of Republicans say leave Medicare alone; 75 percent of independents say leave it alone. And get this. The people that come out against government spending and they really do care about it, 70 percent of Tea Partiers say leave it alone, don‘t get Medicare or Medicaid.
But yet these two programs add up to about 20 percent of the federal budget. That‘s one out of five dollars obviously spent by the government. How can President Obama and the Republicans ever cut a deal if the public is so unwilling to even consider talking about that as part of a deal?
Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief for “USA Today.” She‘s ready by everybody across the country. And Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC political analyst and one swell historian.
I want to start with Susan. And I want to get to this question. It seems to me that nobody really has a solution. Even that poll says modest cuts in Medicare and modest increases in taxes. No. People don‘t want to get hurt again. They‘re paying big gas taxes. They just paid their taxes. They don‘t want to get hurt again.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “USA TODAY”: And it‘s a political advantage for President Obama, but it‘s a policy problem, because the fact is we will have to do something about Medicare. You can‘t deal with the exploding deficit that—
MATTHEWS: But, politically, was he smart to play possum on this?
PAGE: Oh, yes, absolutely, and get through the reelection campaign perhaps with this.
MATTHEWS: Jon, I‘m amazed by this—well, not amazed by it, but it‘s always. I like numbers that are clear-cut. I don‘t like 50/50 numbers.
Number of Democrats who want to—are willing to cut Medicare and Medicaid, what do you think it is? Five percent.
JONATHAN ALTER, NBC NEWS CONTRIBUTING CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
MATTHEWS: That‘s it. No—and he knew this months ago, because the president has got—as you know, got his pollsters working ahead of this poll.
What do you make of the way he‘s handled this politically and putting Ryan out there to bake?
ALTER: Very, very skillful in the short term.
I think the challenge for him is that people believe two contradictory things. They don‘t want to cut Medicare, but they do want to cut the deficit, so he has to appeal to that part of them, too, with a credible deficit reduction plan that maintains his ability to take a whack at these Republicans who voted for the Ryan bill.
The word about that bill that passed the House last week has not yet filtered down to the public. So people don‘t yet understand that Republicans last week in the House voted not to reform Medicare, not to have a little nip and tuck here and there, but to end Medicare—
ALTER: -- to turn it into a voucher program, where instead of knowing where the check is coming from, seniors within 10 years would have to shop on the open market, like everybody else—
ALTER: -- which they don‘t want to do and they shouldn‘t have to do,
be at the tender—not-so-tender mercies of the insurance companies. So -
MATTHEWS: At 78 years old, do you want to be buying health insurance when you‘re sick?
ALTER: Yes. Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at the Tea Party numbers. The “Washington Post”/ABC poll found that only 43 percent of Tea Partiers are strong supporters, a majority of them against it, and 30 percent of general Tea Partiers want to cut Medicare.
But you look at these numbers on the other side, 69 percent of Tea Partiers against these cuts in Medicare. It‘s so interesting.
I was thinking—what do you think of this, the Tea Partiers?
PAGE: Well, it means that they‘re just like everybody else, right?
They do want a smaller government. They want cuts in federal spending. The deficit and the debt are the things that really sparked the Tea Party movement, big government.
But when it comes down to a program that just about every family in America benefits from, they don‘t want anything done to it.
MATTHEWS: Well, the only cuts that they seem to want are the cuts for the poor people. And you have a modest majority, 52 --
MATTHEWS: You‘re laughing because you know how right-wingers think.
MATTHEWS: They don‘t mind cutting the poor people who get Medicaid.
ALTER: But what‘s so interesting about this—
MATTHEWS: If you—
MATTHEWS: Look at that -- 52 percent—
MATTHEWS: -- a modest majority of Tea Partiers, strong, zealous Tea Party people, have brought themselves to willingness to cut poor people.
That doesn‘t surprise me, but your thoughts.
ALTER: Well, I think what‘s interesting about that is they assume that those are poor people who are not seniors, or I don‘t know who they think those poor people are.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, a lot of them are on long-term care.
ALTER: But a lot of them—a lot of them are their parents.
MATTHEWS: Yes, on long-term care.
ALTER: Because the way it works in this country is that, yes, when you get old, you draw down your—your net worth, so that you‘re eligible for Medicaid, and it will pay for the nursing home.
So if the Ryan plan, what is now the Republican plan, if that were to become the law of the land, and you block-granted Medicaid, which would essentially gut Medicaid, under this Republican program, what you would have is large numbers of seniors who would move—move from the nursing home into their children‘s home, into the den—
ALTER: -- maybe one of their kids‘ bedrooms, because there wouldn‘t be the money anymore to have them have nursing home care.
So, these are some of the implications of this bill that was passed in this ideological frenzy that people have not yet fully understood. And I think once the details filter down, the implications of the Ryan plan filter down, you‘re going to see real hell to pay for Republicans in swing districts. A lot of them slit their own throats by voting this bill.
PAGE: And, you know, Jonathan says people aren‘t yet aware about all the details in the Ryan plan.
MATTHEWS: Seniors are, I think.
PAGE: But they will when they‘re in a re-election campaign.
MATTHEWS: I think a 65-year-old person or people are aware of the fact that the reason they like Medicare, and everybody likes it, Republican, right, left and center is one it, likes it, because it means for the first time in your life, somebody is paying the bills for you. And you can‘t afford to pay them when you get older.
PAGE: And it was remarkable that the Republicans in the House held together so much. I was surprised that they weren‘t more people peeling off because they will be facing—
MATTHEWS: Here‘s President Obama last week on Paul Ryan‘s plan.
Here‘s the president, one last word here from him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It says that 10 years from now, if you‘re a 65-year-old who‘s eligible for Medicare, you should you have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn‘t worth enough to buy the insurance that‘s available in the open marketplace—well, tough luck, you‘re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Jon, you said a minute ago that nobody is out there this telling them about the Republican plan. I just saw this guy doing it. His name is Obama. He‘s out there. He‘s the troubadour explaining this issue.
ALTER: He did. But if the party as a whole cannot wrap the Ryan plan around the necks of those Republicans who voted for it, and we‘ll see whether it comes up for a vote in the Senate, it‘s a big decision Harry Reid has to make—if it they can‘t do that, they should find another line of work, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
ALTER: This is a big fat one over the middle of the plate for the Democratic Party.
MATTHEWS: Actually, it‘s all politics. I went through the whole thing with Tip O‘Neill, this is what will they used to fight about and they‘re still fighting about it.
Thank you very much, Susan Page. Thank you, Jonathan Alter. Both of you for joining us.
Up next: President Obama brought leaders to the White House to talk about illegal immigration the other day, yesterday. But is anyone in either party really serious about stopping illegal immigration and fixing the system so it actually works? Our debate with Al Sharpton and Pat Buchanan. It‘s an interesting duo that agree on nothing.
I want to thank the people, by the way, at Daemen College last night. What a warm welcome I got up there. It‘s a great college up in Buffalo, New York. I gave a speech there. Great crowd. Love it. Anyway, thank you.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Trouble back home for a couple possible Republican presidential candidates. In New Jersey, voters are split on Governor Chris Christie. His approval/disapproval is virtually even right now, 47 to 46. That‘s 11-point drop in just two months.
Also a majority of voters say they‘d stick with President Obama if Christie got in the race. Worse up in Alaska for Sarah Palin, her disapproval numbers right at home have soared to 61 percent in new Alaska poll. Six in 10 have an unfavorable opinion of the governor, the former governor. Only 36 percent like her.
We‘ll be right back. This is Alaska number.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back.
On Tuesday, the White House held a closed door meeting with dozens of high profile like-minded leaders I think, maybe, to talk about immigration. Well, the big question is: will anything actually happen this time before the next election or ever? Or is this just political posturing by both sides?
Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was at that meeting, along with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Reverend Al Sharpton was also at the meeting. He joins now us, along with MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.
Reverend Sharpton, thank you. That was a wonderful dinner you had up there the other night.
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Thank you. Great to have you.
MATTHEWS: And I appreciate so much your kind words.
But back to HARDBALL and our usual tussle here. Your thoughts: is there a real—the word reform is thrown around rather promiscuous I think in this town, Washington. Reform to me means we‘re going to clean up the immigration system, people that are here are going to be allowed to stay if they obey certain rules and do certain things. People coming in tomorrow have on to come in legally. No more craziness, no more leakage, a serious system of hiring people legally—coming into the country legally. That means reform.
What do you mean by reform?
SHARPTON: I think exactly what you said. You‘re not going to get 11 million people out. I think that you‘ve got to have a definitive plan on how you protect the borders in terms of people coming in, how you deal with those that are here, and how you don‘t do it in a way that abuses people‘s human and civil rights.
And I think that the gathering of 70 people from different walks of life, a lot of law enforcement leaders, mayors and all, that the president had yesterday are people that approach it from different vantage points but understand that and are committed to it. And if something can happen, I think those are the types of people that are going to have to build from the ground up to make something happen in that area.
MATTHEWS: Pat, can there be a deal that‘s worked out in our democratic process to formalize immigration? So, like every other country in the world, when you come into our country, every country has a right to decide who comes in to it, we do it in a formal way. You come in, you have to permission to come in, you stay as long as you have permission to stay, it‘s done fairly, perhaps progressively. But we it actually have a system that‘s honored by the law.
Do you think it‘s possible, we can actually have it?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it‘s possible. We got an immediate problem that Al just talked about. You got maybe 12 million illegal aliens in the country, Chris.
And people are still coming in. The borders are not secure. Parts of it are very secure, parts of it are not. And this is a serious problem.
But politically, the forces are not there. In the Senate, the DREAM Act, which was, depending on the way you looked at it, was killed in the last Senate some controlled by Harry Reid. It will never get through this Senate. It will never get through the House.
MATTHEWS: You said it was Harry Reid‘s fault that they didn‘t do the DREAM Act? I thought it was the Republican‘s fault.
BUCHANAN: Well, the Republicans opposed it. But I said Harry Reid controlled the Senate with 58, 59 votes. If he couldn‘t get it through there, you‘re not getting it through a 53 Democrat Senate.
But the point of this is, I think this whole thing that Al Sharpton—this is an amnesty planning group and it‘s going nowhere.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s the problem—respond to that.
SHARPTON: I think there are many people in the room that aren‘t talking about amnesty all. I think they really want to find a way that you solve the problem. And Republicans, no Democratic administrators have solved it. The president was making it very clear in the beginning of his term and made it clear yesterday, he wants to see it solved. And I think it‘s wise to have the law enforcement in the room with those of us that are opposing a lot of what has happened in the past.
MATTHEWS: What‘s to be gained, Pat, by making life difficult for people who made their lives here? They came here, maybe 30 years ago. Their kids were born here, maybe two or three years of age when they‘re born here.
All right, legally, they are illegal. I get that. They‘re undocumented. No doubt about that. Under the law, they are not supposed to be here.
BUCHANAN: Well, do nothing.
MATTHEWS: What are you going to do about that? Are you going to tell them to come home?
BUCHANAN: You‘re going to do nothing and quite frankly you—
MATTHEWS: You torture people having to hide in the shadows for their whole lives, what good does that do?
BUCHANAN: They broke into the country, Chris.
MATTHEWS: What good does it do to have them hiding in the shadows?
BUCHANAN: Well, the point is, you go after the businesses that hire
illegal aliens, and gradually, they will go home. Let me ask you something
MATTHEWS: No, but if you give them a chance to stay here legally, they will stay.
BUCHANAN: We got 14 million unemployed Americans.
MATTHEWS: OK. I‘m just waiting for a compromise. Somebody offer compromise here because neither guys—Al Sharpton, Reverend Sharpton, is there a compromise?
It seems to me a reasonable person, a God-like decision would be, these people are here, they‘re going to stay here. All we can do is make their lives a little better by legalizing them. That‘s the only thing we‘re going to do.
But the people that try to get in tomorrow don‘t send them the signal it‘s easy to get in. Say to them, look, from now on, you come into the country with papers or you don‘t come in. You don‘t work here without paper.
Are you for that kind of compromise?
SHARPTON: I‘m for—
MATTHEWS: Schumer wants to do it. No, you say secure the borders. Would you like to make it illegal to hire somebody in this country who‘s not in the country legally, ultimately? Would you like—
BUCHANAN: It is not --
MATTHEWS: No, no, make it enforced.
SHARPTON: I would be for enforcement, but also be for how you can gradually make them citizens. I think you‘ve got to set a way where they could become citizens.
MATTHEWS: What‘s wrong with that idea?
BUCHANAN: I‘m against it.
MATTHEWS: Why? Why are you against an enforced legal immigration policy?
BUCHANAN: Let me make my point right now.
BUCHANAN: When I talk the 14 million, I‘m talking unemployed Americans. In 2009, we had something like 7 million lost their jobs and 1 million legal immigrants with green cards were brought in to take jobs. You got guys down at McDonalds with college degrees trying to get jobs and you got 11 million illegal aliens in the country, you got legal folks coming into the country—we ought to have a moratorium on all immigration until unemployment goes to 6 percent. I‘m talking about legal and illegal.
SHARPTON: But I think that‘s why you want to have a system set up where you can make them legal because then you don‘t have people, because of an illegal status, they have to work. It would be wages that are beyond what legal citizens would have, they‘re not protected. They take a lot of these things because they are in the shadows. You take them out of the shadows, you solve a lot of that problem.
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton, you are dead right.
MATTHEWS: -- who want fresh illegal immigrants because the fresh illegal immigrants, the guys just got across the border will work for squat. They like that guy.
BUCHANAN: All right. You legalize them, Chris, let‘s say we legalize all of them.
MATTHEWS: Part of it, enforcement.
BUCHANAN: Then they are eligible for food stamps. They become eligible, earned income tax credits. They become eligible for all kinds of programs like they got out in California, which have bankrupted that state. You put 12 million more in there, poor and working class, people on the welfare --
MATTHEWS: What‘s your solution?
BUCHANAN: My solution is to go after the business guys, secure the borders. And once you keep doing that, then you deal with the problem. That‘s the first thing to do.
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton, last word.
SHARPTON: My last word is I think that you‘ve got to have a way of gradually making them citizens, give them rights, which deal with a lot of the unemployment problem. I think you‘d have a serious law enforcement at the borders based on having a fair policy for those that are here and their children.
BUCHANAN: Al, when you say you‘re going to be citizens now or put them on the path, there would be 1 million at the border coming across to get in under the wire.
MATTHEWS: OK. I want a Bobby Kennedy approach. Justice with compassion. Justice with compassion.
Thank you, Reverend Al Sharpton and Pat Buchanan.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you both.
When we return, “Let Me Finish” you‘re probably with (INAUDIBLE) --
“Let Me Finish” with the great divide erupting in the Republican Party. I love the way the Republican Party is showing its crazy attitudes.
HARDBALL coming back in a minute.
MATTHEWS: “Let Me Finish” with a divide opening in the Republican Party. On one side of this divide are the men whom George F. Will has dubbed “plausible.” By that, he means candidates who could plausibly be nominated and go on and actually beat the president next November.
Mr. Will‘s implication is that those men fit into the mainstream of the Republican Party. In other words, they constitute actual, regular Republican thinking these days and the others—Trump, Huckabee, Bachmann, Palin and the rest—don‘t.
Well, there‘s a problem with this argument. It assumes that someone who thinks like most Republicans these days can beat Obama. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a whopper. The evidence is the opposite and that is that the Republican Party has a conundrum.
To woo the Republican voters today—especially the sort who appear in caucuses and vote aggressively in early primaries—is to talk like them, feel like them, get a little wild like them. To win then, in other words, you have to act like someone George f. Will would view as a madman or mad woman.
Today‘s activist community is peopled by birthers. Go check the numbers. To woo them, you must sound like them, act like them, again, get a little wild like them. Got it? You‘ve got to be a birther like them. See the problem?
If you are today‘s mainstream Republican, you are precisely the kind of person who cannot compete, by George F. Will‘s assessment, in a general election against Obama. To talk this birther talk, to actually think the conspiracy through and buy into it is to mentally, emotionally flunk a competency test, much less the usual, somewhat higher test for being president of the United States.
This is why Trump is winning the polls among activist Republicans, the kind who vote in primaries and caucuses. It‘s because he‘s willing to talk like them while the plausible list of candidates, those who want to actually get through the Republican primary season without joining the silly season, won‘t. He‘s willing to kill himself as a general election candidate to make himself an exciting caucus and primary candidate. He‘s willing to make that deadly deal that get you up in the polls and leave you looking more than a little nutty to the sober citizen who shows up to vote in November.
So, get your head around this: until further notice, George F. Will is no longer the Republican norm. Donald Trump is. Wild, huh?
That‘s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.
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