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updated 5/24/2011 12:17:20 PM ET 2011-05-24T16:17:20

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish

Guests: David Corn, Chris Cillizza, Alex Wagner, Jonathan Martin, L. Clarke Cooper, David Smith, Willie Brown, Alex Wagner

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST:  It‘s a war of words over Middle East peace.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Michael Smerconish in New York, sitting in for Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight, blowback.  It was a remarkable scene at the White House today, Israel‘s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, telling President Obama exactly what he thought of president‘s speech on the Middle East and why Israel will not make anything close to the kind of concessions that president suggested.

Republicans have chosen to stand right behind the prime minister.  One example, Mitt Romney saying the president has thrown Israel under the bus.  When was the last time we saw American politicians lining up with a foreign leader against the president of the United States?

Also, let‘s talk about those Republicans.  Back in November, President Obama looked like a goner.  Today Huckabee‘s gone, Newt is self-destructing and Romney has failed to break out of the pack.  How did we get here so fast?

Plus, another sign of how much our culture is changing.  For the first time in its history, the Gallup poll shows a majority of Americans supporting gay marriage.

And for some, this next story may be related to the last one on gay marriage.  The end of the world is scheduled for tomorrow precisely at 6;00 PM, wherever you are.  My advice, don‘t stop flossing.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” with the story of a man who fought for a once ungrateful country who has finally seen his dream come true.

We begin with the blowback from President Obama‘s Mideast speech.  “The Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza is an MSNBC political analyst and Jonathan Martin is, of course, with Politico.

Men, I want to show you something.  This is the heart of the controversy when it comes to an Arab-Israeli peace deal.  We‘ve got an American president saying this, “Achieving an agreement will require painful political concessions by both sides while territory is an issue for both parties to decide, I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.”

Now, that is not the American president you‘re thinking of.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Achieving an agreement will require painful political concessions by both sides.  While territory an issue for both parties to decide, I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  President Bush made that statement in January of 2008 during a trip to Jerusalem.  The 1949 armistice lines that he referred to are the same thing as the pre-1967 borders that President Obama is talking about.

So Chris Cillizza, I‘ll start with you.  Here‘s “The Wall Street Journal” today—“Obama‘s Israel bombshell.”  Was it really a bombshell?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, first of all, Mike, let me say, I always refer to people who know better about this, and I talked to one of our reporters here, Scott Wilson, who was Jerusalem bureau chief for a long time.  Here‘s what he basically said to me.  This is like Jerry Maguire—remember in “Jerry Maguire,” Tom Cruise plays that agent and he writes this long memo.  It‘s a mission statement—the things we think but do not say.

It seems as though this is something that everyone who has studied this region closely generally agrees was going to have to be a starting point if we were ever going to get to real deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

And yet the very fact the president said it, even though, as you point it out, it‘s been said before, somehow stoked this gigantic media furor.  You know, as someone who‘s probably been part of stoking media furors for things that politicians have said in the past, I don‘t want to say that I‘m not culpable, but you know, in some ways, I‘m not sure that we‘re focused on the right thing here.

Look, I think this is in keeping with the way that President Obama has approached not just foreign policy but domestic policy, which is people are going to have to give.  Compromise means neither side winds up happy.  You know, that‘s what he said after they cut that budget deal and avoided the government shutdown.

So the rhetoric doesn‘t seem to me to be anything terribly new.  And I defer to the experts on this who tell me that details, really, President Obama hasn‘t said it before, but it‘s been broadly understood that that was where they started from.

SMERCONISH:  Jonathan, it‘s funny.  Chris mentions “Jerry Maguire.”  This is the language in which I like to speak because I was thinking Harry Potter.  You know, we‘ve raised four kids in a Harry Potter world.  This is the Voldemort!  In other words, it‘s ever-present.  It‘s always on people‘s mind, but very few want to say it, especially if you‘re the president of the United States.  But is this so revolutionary today?

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM:  It‘s the messenger, not the message, Michael, and it‘s the same reason why you see somebody like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich trying to scramble on health care because the ground has shifted politically.  And look, nobody in 2007 and 2008 cared about a mandate in the Republican Party.  It‘s because President Obama pushed that in the health care bill that it‘s now an issue.  President Bush was broadly aware (ph).  President Obama is on the Israeli-Palestinian borders back in 2008.  But now with President Obama pushing it, you know, it‘s a different ballgame.

SMERCONISH:  Well, to your point...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Let me show you the Republican contenders because I think this is very predictable.  Here‘s the 2012 field, or at least a portion of it—Mitt Romney saying “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus.”  Tim Pawlenty, who I think gets in Monday, “President Obama‘s insistence on a return to the ‘67 borders is a mistaken and dangerous demand.  Newt Gingrich, “No president prior to this has suggested the ‘67 borders ought to be the negotiating position because, in essence, what he‘s done, he‘s given the Palestinians a huge break without them having to give up anything.”  Michele Bachmann, she tweeted, “Once again, President Obama has betrayed our friend and ally, Israel.”

Chris Cillizza, who is the electorate?  Who is the constituency that would be supportive of the president in this regard?  Because we all know there‘s a constituency that will line up against him when he wades into these waters.

CILLIZZA:  Yes, well, I mean, I think what he‘s hoping for is the people who believe in genuine compromise.  Now, that‘s not—to Jonathan‘s point, that‘s not a Republican primary electorate.  Look, these folks are opposing President Obama because opposing President Obama is good politics in a Republican primary where—you know, I wrote about this this week, Michael, and I think it‘s important.  Everybody dismisses Donald Trump—

Oh, he was a joke, he was never serious.

But look, here‘s the lesson that I think Republican politicians learned from Donald Trump—be confrontational, fight on all fronts at all times against the president, because that‘s what the Republican primary electorate wants.  They do not want...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  ... but it‘s not the way you win a general election.  I mean, I‘ve been saying, Jonathan, that 40 percent of the country is ready to vote for President Obama, 40 percent ready to vote against him regardless of this election.  This is all about the 20.  I don‘t know that this plays into the hands of the 20!

MARTIN:  Which is why it‘s going to be very interesting, Michael, to see Mitch Daniels, if he does get into this race.  Look at what he said on this news regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians.  He was much more tempered than the other Republican contenders...

SMERCONISH:  Well, Jonathan, he said it on my radio show yesterday! 

Let me—let me let everybody hear what Indiana...

MARTIN:  Oh, good plug!

SMERCONISH:  ... governor Mitch Daniels...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  ... and I think Politico picked it up!  Thank you for that.

MARTIN:  Yes, sir!

SMERCONISH:  This is—this is me with Mitch Daniels yesterday, when I asked him what approach he‘d bring to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. MITCH DANIELS ®, INDIANA:  I‘m not saying that it‘s not worth continuing to work on, but what is going on in the Arab world these days we can now see has little or nothing to do with Israel and Palestine.  It has to do with tyrannical regimes which have really stifled the prospect of their people who are now restless for a better life.  And I think that should be encouraged.

Well, I don‘t think right now, it‘d pay very much of a dividend to spend a whole lot of time continuing to try to cut the Gordian knot of Israel and Palestine.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  All right, Jonathan Martin, what do you make of that explanation?

MARTIN:  Well, it is far less predictable than what the other contenders have done, which is just to whack President Obama with a 2-by-4 upside of the head.  Look, it‘s going to be interesting to see Daniels not just on Israel, but it‘s more broadly.  He has said he wants to run a much more respectful campaign.  He‘s not going to do the sort of, you know, red meat attacks that other folks will.

Now, Chris makes a good point.  That might not play well with the Republican base.  But Michael, like you said, there‘s an element of folks out there right now that are hungering for that brand of politics.  Don‘t forget part of the reason why President Obama did so well in ‘07 and ‘08 was because he did talk about transcending politics as usual.  So there may be some folks out there who want to hear that kind of language.

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Chris Cillizza, let me ask you...

CILLIZZA:  And Michael, can I just...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Let me just ask you about that story, if I may, because...

CILLIZZA:  Sure.

SMERCONISH:  ... I‘m intrigued with this—the timing.  The timing of this was all precipitated by the fact that House, controlled by the GOP, had invited the prime minister to speak to them.  You tell the story.

CILLIZZA:  Well, yes.  I mean, look, this is—you had the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, coming to speak to Congress.  And then you have the meeting today, which we‘ve heard and seen a lot of, though probably not as much as people like me, you and Jonathan, kind of political junkies, would like to see.  But we‘ve seen and heard some of what‘s come out of the meeting between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu.

yes, I mean, I think the president rightly wanted to try and get out in front of this, and I think what he‘s done—this is to Jonathan‘s point.  What he‘s done time after time, both during the campaign and in dark moments of his presidency, when he‘s been down a little bit, is draw on that idea that the American public ultimately—that politicians underestimate them, that they do want compromise, that they do want people who are willing to make tough choices.

I just don‘t know for Mitch Daniels—and I‘d add Jon Huntsman in there—Jon Huntsman—you know, this is a guy who had a chance to really take a whack at the president, if he wanted to, up in New Hampshire yesterday...

MARTIN:  Yes.

CILLIZZA:  ... was very kind of restrained.  He didn‘t put out an official statement of any sort from his PAC.  And he responded to a question up in Hanover basically by saying, I think we should let Israel do, you know, what they think is right.  That‘s really different tonally than Bachmann, Pawlenty and Romney, those statements you just played, Michael.  So they‘re—Mitch Daniels and Jon Huntsman are doing something totally different in this primary and a lot more similar to what Barack Obama did in ‘07 and ‘08 than what a lot of the other folks running for president...

SMERCONISH:  Very, very...

CILLIZZA:  ... on the Republican side are.

SMERCONISH:  ... good observation.  Hey, men, you could cut the tension when they got together today, the president and the prime minister.  And let‘s just enjoy a couple of cuts from what took place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our ultimate goal has to be a secure Israeli state, a Jewish state, living side by side in peace and security with a contiguous, functioning and effective Palestinian state.  Obviously, there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that‘s going to happen between friends.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER:  The only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakeable facts.  I think for there to be peace, Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities.  The first is that while Israel is prepared it make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines because these lines are indefensible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Jonathan Martin, read the body language.  Tell me what you see.

MARTIN:  Well, I think that Netanyahu is much more in the mood for confrontation, which helps him politically back home.  President Obama, I think, wants to be much more conciliatory there.  You notice that President Obama never brought up the ‘67 lines.  It was Prime Minister Netanyahu who brought that up.

So look, President Obama is trying to sort of broker some kind of compromise, bring some kind of a peace deal to the Middle East.  For the Republican candidates, it is in their interest right now, overwhelmingly, to oppose President Obama.  It‘s good politics.  It helps, too, on fund-raising.  It makes the most sense.

SMERCONISH:  A final question for each of you.  Here it is.  The president is going to speak to AIPAC Sunday.  I want you to each come up with the applause meter score, 1 to 10, on how well he‘s received.  We‘ll start with Chris Cillizza, on a 1 to 10 applause meter, the president walks into AIPAC.

CILLIZZA:  Well, where is polite?  Is that, like, a 3?

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA:  I‘m going with police.  However you want to grade polite on the 1 to 10 scale.  Look, it‘s not going to be, I don‘t think, an uproarious standing ovation, but I also don‘t think they‘re going to sit stone-faced, either, out of politeness.

SMERCONISH:  Jonathan, what do you think?

MARTIN:  (INAUDIBLE) a 5 or a 6.  But look, don‘t forget, you know, Jewish American voters in this country obviously care about Israel, but they also vote overwhelmingly Democratic for other reasons, too, besides just Israel.  And if President Obama can get a threshold level of support that he‘s for the Jewish state, talk about issues like abortion rights, talk about issues like the role of government, the welfare state, I think President Obama will still do very well next year among (INAUDIBLE) Jewish votes.

SMERCONISH:  Thank you both, Chris Cillizza and Jonathan Martin.  Men, we‘re out of time.  I appreciate it very much, though.

MARTIN:  Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH:  With Newt Gingrich making headlines for the wrong reasons, it‘s been a bad week for the Republican candidates for president.  Are we about to see a big name shake up that field?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Dominique Strauss-Kahn has posted bail.  A judge in New York ordered the ex-head of the IMF released from jail, sending him to a temporary home detention location in lower Manhattan.  Initial plans to have him stay with his wife fell through because of objections in her apartment building.  The judge ordered a strict house arrest, including monitoring by armed guards.  Strauss-Kahn is accused, of course, of attempted rape and other charges after allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel worker in New York.

We‘ll be right back to HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE, PRES. CANDIDATE:  So let me say on the record any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood and because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate, and I‘m prepared to stand up and—when I make a mistake, and I‘m going to on occasion, I want to stand up and share it with the American people that was a mistake because that way, we can have an honest conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Newt Gingrich on Tuesday, predicting the future.  Well, 72 hours later, the future has arrived.  Here‘s a new ad that‘s running in South Carolina by the Democratic group Priorities USA Action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Newt Gingrich says the Republican plan that would essentially end Medicare is too radical.  Governor Haley thinks the plan is courageous and Gingrich shouldn‘t be cutting conservatives off at the knees.  Mitt Romney says he‘s on the same page as Paul Ryan, who wrote the plan to essentially end Medicare.  But with Mitt Romney, you have to wonder, which page is he on today?

Priorities USA Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Willie Brown is the former mayor of San Francisco and the former speaker of the California state assembly.  The HuffingtonPost‘s Alex Wagner is also an MSNBC contributor.

Alex, I think the danger for Newt Gingrich, in part, is the fact that many Americans who will be voting in the next election, they weren‘t of voting age, they weren‘t paying attention, many weren‘t in the drill, so to speak, at the time when he was in office.  So this is a first impression.

ALEX WAGNER, HUFFINGTONPOST, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  And what an impression it is!  Newt put it mildly, I think, when he said it‘s been a challenging week.  You know, I mean, we‘ve seen him sort of double down and then double back.  I think my favorite quote of the week was—I think yesterday, when he was saying that—he likened his campaign to Haley‘s comet, something of this magnitude and originality only comes once or twice a century.  And so the news media can‘t quite wrap its head around that.

Look, it‘s a campaign in disarray, and I think that you are seeing some blowback from the donor base.  I think you‘ve now seen the Republican Party letting out a collective “youch,” with Democrats going at all the candidates on Medicare now, and some real defense mechanisms.

So to your point, for the younger voters that are just being introduced to Newt Gingrich right now, I‘m not quite sure this is a case of putting one‘s best foot forward.

SMERCONISH:  Mayor, how do we get to where we are?  You know, last November, it seemed like anyone other than the president would stand a great shot if they emerged in the GOP field.  And yet the world seems to have been turned upside-down.

Let me show you Suffolk‘s new poll, which shows Mitt Romney leading with 20 percent, but undecided also gets 20 percent.  Governor Palin is at 12 percent, Newt Gingrich at 9.  Rudy Giuliani, who, as far as I know, not in the race, he is getting 7 percent. 

Talk to me about the transformation that we have seen in the last several months from the Tea Party victory, the retaking of the House to the current field. 

WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO:  I think that each of the Republican potential candidates have not demonstrated the kind of qualities that would cause anybody to become very excited about their candidacies. 

I think you are going to see Sarah Palin coming back because as least she has some legs and some credibility.  In addition thereto, I wouldn‘t—it wouldn‘t surprise me if the governor of New Jersey suddenly appeared, because you see the Republicans just don‘t have a candidate.  Over the last six months, everybody who has put their head up has demonstrated an inability to organize. 

SMERCONISH:  I had the opportunity yesterday, Mayor, to interview Mitch Daniels.  On the fiscal issues, I think the man‘s got a pretty solid record. 

Alex, let me ask you, how do you assess Mitch Daniels getting into this race?

ALEX WAGNER, THE HUFFINGTON POST:  He is the great hope for, I think, the Republicans right now.  There is so much interest.

You have Laura Bush calling Mitch Daniels‘ wife, who apparently is the linchpin to whether or not he‘s going to run for office, effectively giving out a sort of “Luke Skywalker, you‘re our own only hope” sort of message.

I think there is real interest there.  Chris Christie is practically going to be drafted, and has threatened:  I can only kill myself.  Suicide is the only way to show you guys that I‘m not going to run for president. 

I think that speaks to is a field that nobody is particularly happy about.  I think you could put Bob Dole in that poll and he would probably get some portion of the electorate. 

SMERCONISH:  George Will has an interesting perspective on ABC on Sunday.  Let‘s listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WILL, ABC NEWS:  I think we know with reasonable certainty that standing up there on the west front of the Capitol on January 20, 2013, will be one of three people, Obama, Pawlenty and Daniels.  I think that‘s it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Mayor, Tim Pawlenty formally gets into this—I lose track of who is at what stage, because there seem to be so many steps, unlike the old days, but it seems that Governor Pawlenty gets in on Monday.  How do you assess his candidacy?

BROWN:  I don‘t think it will go anyplace either. 

You see, this is a national stage.  And we are literally subject to the criticizing people, looking at people, examining people.  And unless you have been out there, you really don‘t get a chance to lay your program in place and have it not contested by the news media and by the respective organizations. 

Pawlenty is going to be in that same position and I don‘t think that he will be do as well as Sarah Palin. 

SMERCONISH:  One wonders if there is a name out there, someone else who might emerge that we haven‘t spoken about. 

Now, here is New York Congressman Peter king on MSNBC earlier today. 

Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  If you saw a smile on my face, it is because when I was growing up in Sunnyside, Queens, I never thought any national network anchor would be asking me if I‘m going to be running for president of United States.  So, some of that reality still hasn‘t sunk in. 

But my job is to get reelected to Congress and do the job as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.  But, hey, listen, if something happens with the presidential rate, I will decide at that time.  But right now, don‘t expect to see me in Iowa or New Hampshire, unless I‘m there to campaign for Governor Christie or Mayor Giuliani. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Alex, Peter King?

(LAUGHTER)

WAGNER:  I—I don‘t see it.  I really don‘t see it.  I think he has a lot of negatives after his hearings in his—on his side of the columns. 

But, look, what is the downside to entertaining the possibility of running?  Sarah Palin, nobody puts Baby in the corner.  She wants to be part of this.  Everyone is jumping in.  There is this sense that, hey, why not?  In the worst-case scenario, it‘s going to raise your national profile. 

SMERCONISH:  Mayor, I want to ask you about the week that Arnold just had, because one of the subplots, politically speaking, has been what Governor Schwarzenegger has been going through, and of course spouses and personal lives are always a subplot to the presidential year.

Here is the question that I have for you.  So, we now know or we think he know that he carried on this relationship of sorts before he was elected.  It didn‘t come to light.  If it had come to light, he would never have been elected. 

But what occurs to me, and I want to see if you will buy into this, his record might be mixed.  But there is no ethical impropriety with which I‘m familiar.  So does Schwarzenegger, in a way, stand for the proposition that there can be separation between one‘s personal and public business? 

BROWN:  I think he is the classic example of exactly that.  And I think you put it as succinctly as directly as the American people should put it.  And that is that he was the governor of this state. 

He had engaged in some conduct five years before becoming the governor, that it did not take one thing away from his performance on the substantive issues, and not until he left office that this becomes something that we were concerned about. 

I would say to you it‘s clear now that you can have a private life, you can have a private life that should not interfere with your performance in whatever position you have been elected to. 

SMERCONISH:  Alex, can I get a female perspective on this? 

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH:  Listen, I have to tell you I get telephone calls from people when we address these sort of things.  And they say, no, if you are cheating in your private life, you are going to cheat on the public‘s dime. 

I‘m not sure that‘s the case.  And I look at Arnold.  I what the numbers were when he left that office, but, again, ethics, as far as I know, beyond reproach. 

(CROSSTALK)

WAGNER:  I think it is something called character that has unfortunately been absent from a lot of our political discourse of late. 

And I do think it‘s linked.  And I think if we are talking about trusting public servants to go forth and make the right decisions for us as a nation, how they treat loved ones and their family absolutely factors into that. 

SMERCONISH:  But I don‘t know that it factors into what kind of a governor he was.

I mean, this is like a lab rat experiment.  We now have a case in front of us where we know there were improprieties and yet it doesn‘t appear to have spilled over into his conduct while in office. 

WAGNER:  I think for that—it is a personal decision and it‘s a personal opinion.  For me, I think the way someone treats their wife is exemplary of what kind of person they are.  And their character drives their choices politically. 

SMERCONISH:  But one wonders, Mayor, if there are people—and I‘m not trying to recommend that those who have cheated on spouses jump into the political fray. 

But one wonders if there are not people who are looking at the way these things get handled and they could be good public servants, they could be solid citizens in office, but maybe there a pot issue in their past or who knows what, a DUI, fill in the blank, and they say, you know, who the hell needs it?  I‘m not getting into this proctological. 

BROWN:  That‘s exactly where most of—most of people now in the world of politics or who are thinking about the world of politics will do an examination of their own on themselves.  They will do opposition research. 

And any little thing that can be exploited keeps them usually from entering the fray.  And we lose some of the most talented people we could ever want to be in place to assist us.  After all, the current president of the United States of America, the questions were asked about his character as it relates it drugs during the early years of his life. 

He was very forthright, very up-front, and the people elected him, and has performed very well.  So, I think it‘s about...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Mayor, I have got to leave it at that. 

But I thank Mayor Willie Brown and I think Alex Wagner as well. 

Thanks for being on HARDBALL.

Up next: the political ad that some are calling the most depressing of all time.  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now to the “Sideshow.”

First up, spoiler alert.  Jack Davis is the Tea Party candidate running in a tight three-way race for Congress in New York.  Davis, remember, made headlines this month when he assaulted a rival campaign worker carrying a video camera. 

Now he has come out with a new campaign ad that some are calling the most depressing of all time.  Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Daddy. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Hey, dad. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Honey, you‘re early. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I don‘t have a job any more.  The company‘s moving to China. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  How can we pay for my chemotherapy without health insurance?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Will I be OK? 

NARRATOR:  Both parties support trade deals that ship our jobs overseas.  Jack Davis will fight to keep jobs in America. 

JACK DAVIS, NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Jack Davis, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Republicans believe that Davis may draw enough votes away from their candidate to give the race to the Democrats.  We will find out when voters head to the polls on Tuesday.

Next:  An endorsement goes up in spoke.  Earlier this week, we told that you country legend Willie Nelson was backing former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson for president.  Johnson‘s big issue?  Legalization of pot.  Well, catch this.  Willie Nelson has just rescinded that endorsement.

He now says that he had previously pledged his support to Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich—I didn‘t know he was running—who, no surprise here, is also for legalizing pot. 

And now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

There‘s no question that Newt Gingrich has stumbled out of the gate, but does he still have a chance?  Can campaigns recover from rough starts?  Newt might want to consider the following statistic about baseball.  At the end of May, baseball teams played about 50 games apiece.  How many teams with a losing record at that point end up winning 90 games and putting themselves in playoff contention?

According to “The Wall Street Journal” today, just 9 percent, the surest indication that where you start is likely where you will finish.  Newt, of course, can only hope that baseball stats don‘t apply to primary politics.  Nine percent is tonight‘s very telling not-so-“Big Number.” 

Up next:  For the first time in the history of the Gallup poll, a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage.  And that could mean big things for the 2012 election.  That‘s ahead. 

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 go slumping into the weekend, the Dow Jones industrials tumbling 93 points.  The S&P 500, it was down 10, and Nasdaq slid 20. 

Let‘s start with some news breaking after the closing bell.  The IMF has just approved a $37 billion emergency bailout for Portugal, this after the euro sank during today‘s session on concerns about the restructuring of Greece‘s debt. 

A rough day for some retailers.  Gap plunged 17 percent after cutting its full-year outlook, citing the rising cost of cotton.  Aeropostale tumbling 14 percent after coming up short on sales and delivering a weak outlook there.  And Ann Taylor reporting a 21 percent jump in quarterly earnings, but shares fell on shrinking margins at Ann Taylor. 

Barnes & Noble, though, moving the other way, jumping 30 percent on news that Liberty Media put in a $1 billion takeover bid for Barnes & Noble. 

And cloud computing Salesforce had A good day after beating sales expectations, and that despite a 97 percent drop in first-quarter profit. 

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

HARDBALL. 

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Americans‘ opinions have been shifting on gay marriage over the past several years.  A new poll out by Gallup has reached a milestone.  For the first time ever in their polling, more than half of Americans support legalizing gay marriage.  The 53 percent majority is nine points higher than when Gallup polled on this issue just last year.  That‘s almost a reversal. 

So, who are the Americans who are changing their minds on this issue and what role could this play in 2012? 

David Smith is a vice president at Human Rights Campaign.  And R.

Clarke Cooper is the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. 

Men, thanks for being here. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  It seems to be a generational kind of a divide, Clarke, does it not? 

R. CLARKE COOPER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS:  It is. 

And we have seen that in the Republican Party with polling. 

In fact, anecdotally, just last Congress, when we did lobbying with Republican offices, with staffers and members on repeal of don‘t ask, don‘t tell, a majority of staff were for repeal of don‘t ask, don‘t tell, which didn‘t match up with their members of Congress. 

So, I would say 95 percent of the Hill staffers we lobbied said, hey, I‘m with you.  You just help me convince my boss to vote for repeal on don‘t ask, don‘t tell. 

We have seen this with Young Republicans, College Republicans, essentially the younger voters.  This is 18-34 demographic we‘re talking about. 

COOPER:  David, take a look at the data, the difference among age groups really staggering on this issue—seven in 10 Americans 18-34 support legalizing gay marriage, while less than four in 10 do at age 55 and up. 

DAVID SMITH, VICE PRESIDENT, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN:  Yes, and younger people are voting in much larger numbers.  And the actual more striking number is the number of independents that support marriage equality.  That is very encouraging for the 2012 elections and should be a very—a warning shot to the Republican field that this issue is not to be played with politically. 

SMERCONISH:  Well, but, Clarke, it is interesting because, when you look at the breakdown among the parties, the difference is striking, as David suggests. 

The D‘s and the I‘s have seen an increase in support, but the Republicans are holding firm at 28 percent favoring legalizing gay marriage, or I could say only 28 percent. 

I wonder whether it means that this issue will continue to be used as an issue for voter turnout campaigns. 

COOPER:  Well, hopefully not in the—in the wrong way. 

And what I mean by that is, as you look at the numbers—and there‘s different stratas.  ABC/”Washington Post” put out that 31 percent of Republicans supported same-sex marriage or marriage equality.  And if you actually look at civil unions, Republicans, the numbers increased about 50 percent.

And so, that‘s where part of the dialogue is in conservative community is, most Republicans do support some sort of legal recognition.  The issue where several fellow conservatives and some folks that I worked with in the Bush administration were wrapped up on was the word “marriage.”

And so, it‘s about educating fellow conservatives and Republicans that marriage is about full equality in the law.  It‘s a courthouse process and not to get hung up on the religious process.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST:  Well, and I‘ve said, David, that most conservative of views on this issue is to be supportive of same sex relations along the line of—that‘s your thing, I‘ll do my thing.  It‘s none of my business.  And what goes on in my bedroom is none of your business.

DAVID SMITH, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN:  Hey, Michael, there are some green chutes in the Republican Party on the issue of marriage equality.  You have Ken Mehlman, the former RNC chairman, in support.  Actually very active raising money for marriage equality in New York state.  You have John McCain‘s campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, in support of marriage equality.  You have the Cheney family.

There is a lost encouragement in terms of within the Republican Party for support, even though the House Republican leadership which tends to be on the far right is defending the Defense of Marriage Act in a very vociferous way.  There is encouragement.

And we should really cling to the positive and encourage more Republicans to be supportive, because, clearly, the American people are siding on the side of fairness.  They are coming on the side of fairness.

And this is not the only poll that shows this.  As Clarke alluded to, this is the fourth national poll in just a few months that shows the vast majority of Americans, over 50 percent, support marriage equality and this is a very positive development.  It‘s a tipping point.

SMERCONISH:  Clarke, I‘m reading—actually just finished reading Janny Scott‘s biography of the president‘s mother.  The president‘s mother, as everyone knows the story—a white woman with Kansan roots who marries truly an African-American.  And what struck me in the book and I interviewed the former “New York Times” reporter is the fact that when that marriage took place, somewhere ‘59, maybe 1960, the interracial marriages were still prohibited in about half the states in the country.  You look at that now and you say, my God, that was only ‘59 or ‘60 or ‘61.

My question is, in our lifetime, because the three of us look we‘re relatively of the same age, are we going to reach a point where we look back and we say, ha, that was illegal in the course of our lifetime, or is it the next generation where this is all going to come to fruition?

COOPER:  No, we will.  We will see this.  And interesting you mentioned that.  Ted Olson, who, of course, is huge advocate.  He‘s a conservative advocate for marriage equality, he and David Boies, who represent the Perry versus Schwarzenegger, which is now Perry versus Brown case in California, Ted just referenced that this week about this is loving versus Virginia.  This is the case brought forward regarding interracial marriage or that it was illegal in many states at the time.  And in fact, marriage certificates were created by the state, in many states, to actually prevent or preclude interracial marriage.

So, again, we shouldn‘t use the state to impede upon people‘s right to love each other and be with each other.  It‘s actually anti-federalist to have a federal statute to be an encroachment upon state‘s rights and on individual liberties.

SMERCONISH:  David Smith and Clarke Cooper, many thanks for being on HARDBALL:  We appreciate your time.

SMITH:  Thanks for having us.  Thank you.

COOPER:  Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH:  Up next: you might not want to make any plans for next week.  That‘s because this weekend is the beginning of the end of the world as we know it—at least in the minds of some believers.  That‘s ahead.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  So, for anyone hoping to see ousted Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich take the witness stand in his retrial, you might be in luck because sources close to the former governor‘s defense team tell NBC in Chicago that they‘ve decided to have Blagojevich testify in his own defense.  Publicly, the defense team says they are ready with the witness list that includes, quote, “people of some prominence”—which some speculate could include U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Chicago‘s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel.

Stay tuned.  We‘ll be right back to HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Where will you be at 6:00 tomorrow, May 21st?  It‘s important know because it could be the end of the world—or so says Harold Camping, who founded the Family Radio Network.

On his Web site, a video warns of what‘s to come.  Here‘s a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The whole world has to know that Judgment Day is near.  This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all of the world for a witness unto all nations and then shall the end come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have to talk about this.  This is not an option.  We have to say it again and again and again.  May 21, 2011 is the day of judgment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  David Corn is Washington editor for “Mother Jones” magazine and MSNBC political analyst.

David, I have decided I‘m in the wrong area of radio, because I‘m from Philly.  We got these billboards around us in Philly.  I‘ve seen them in Jersey.  I woke up this morning in Indiana.  There it was as I drove to the airport.

How are they funding this?  There‘s got to be a heck of a lot of money in religious broadcasting that supports this.

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES:  Well, there is.  And, in fact, we at “Mother Jones” did a little—not a little—did a story on this group today, and they have, according to their 2009 tax forms, $72 million in assets—many of those coming from donations.

So, Michael, if you can get a couple thousand, tens of thousands of people out there to believe you indeed are a prophet, you can ask them for money and you‘ll get a good bit of it in return.

SMERCONISH:  I happen to have spoken myself to Harold Camping.  He‘s the gent behind this who says the end is near, on my radio program.  You might find it interesting to see what he sounds like.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  Where do you expect to be on May the 22nd?

HAROLD CAMPING, FAMILY RADIO NETWORK:  On May 22nd, I expect to be in heaven, because the rapture occurs on May 21.

SMERCONISH:  And those who don‘t accept or believe that which you‘re offering—where will they be on May 22nd?

CAMPING:  They will be in the second day of judgment that continues for five months.  And this whole world by that time will be in total shambles.  There will be millions that have already been killed in the initial earthquake, unquestionably, that is going to be coming along in every city May 21, 6:00 p.m., because that‘s what we can -- 

SMERCONISH:  Six p.m.  And, sir, what if you‘re wrong?

CAMPING:  Well, there‘s no possibility, you know, the Bible is absolutely—has given so much information.  We don‘t have any plan B at all.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  OK.  David, this is HARDBALL.  So, let‘s assess the political ramification.  If a whole host of people go to heaven on Saturday night, and the rest of us are left here fending for ourselves, but presumably we can still vote on the 2012 election—how does it bode for the president?

CORN:  Well, you know, I have to say—I think judgment day is really good news for Newt Gingrich.  I mean, after the week he‘s had, this can only—things can only get better for him with the rapture.

I mean, it‘s really hard to take any of this seriously.  It‘s a great subject.  You know, personally, if you ask me personally, I just can‘t believe the Mayans were wrong, because they said 2012.  So, what does this guy know that the Mayans don‘t?

SMERCONISH:  I tell you what I found sad.  I‘m sure you read that front page story in “New York Times” today where you got this handsome family, a middle age couple raising three teenage kids.  The parents buy into it, you know?  And here are the kids, who I assume for Facebook for the rest of their lives are going to be confronted by this story.

CORN:  Well, I mean, that is the sad component.  When I joked earlier they had raised $72 million.  This is money that‘s come from people who probably could be using it for much better purposes, such as maybe giving their kids a better education than what they‘re getting right now.

SMERCONISH:  Well, here‘s what‘s even—but here‘s what‘s even worse, because, initially, I said to myself, well, OK, on Sunday, you know, at least everybody now knows that the gig is up, right, and therefore that funding source dissipates.  But it seems like the experts say that faith will be strengthened when it doesn‘t happen, because they‘ll have some cockamamie excuse for it.

CORN:  Well, Harold Camping is zero for one so far because he predicted a judgment day as well back in 1994.  It didn‘t come around.  And what was his explanation?  I didn‘t have my reading in the Bible exactly correct.  So, now, a few years later, he seems to say it‘s going to be better.

I want to know where they‘re holding the press conference on Monday morning.

SMERCONISH:  Here‘s New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the up side of Armageddon.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK CITY:  I can just tell you this official policy from the Sanitation Department, the Department of Transportation -- 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You do have to -- 

BLOOMBERG:  If it does tomorrow—it does end tomorrow, alternate side parking will be suspended, although I think alternate side parking will take on a whole different meaning.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH:  All right.  David Corn, where you‘re going to be tomorrow at 6:00?  Because I‘m going to be having a pop and I‘m going to have one for Harold Camping as well.

CORN:  Well, I won‘t be paying my credit card bills just in case.  But I‘m supposed to be out with my daughter playing soccer.  And I think we‘ll do that and we‘ll be waiting for the tremors.

SMERCONISH:  All right.  And come Monday, I‘ll be the guy who‘d be reciting the Lord‘s Prayer at the end of my broadcast.

Thank you, David Corn.

CORN:  Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH:  And if the world doesn‘t come to an end tomorrow, you can follow me on Twitter @Smerconish if you can spell it.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with a story of a Vietnam hero healing a 40-year-old wound.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a story about changing times.

Nearly 40 years ago, David Christian attempted to pursue a law degree after returning home from the war in Vietnam.  He had been through hell, and the last place that he expected to face more of the same was in academia.  But the climate in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was often inhospitable to those who served in that war, even the most highly decorated.

Christian had first enlisted in the Army paratroopers at age 17.  He was the youngest 2nd lieutenant in Army history at 18, and then the youngest 1st lieutenant and then the youngest captain.

The wounds that he sustained in many Vietnam battles drove him to the retirement at the age of 21.  He‘d been shot in the back, chest, both legs and left arm.  He was paralyzed in his right hand, received napalm burns on 40 percent of his body and spent six years in hospital recovering.

He earned seven Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, the Air Medal, and Combat Infantrymen‘s Badge, and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry.  After he was sufficient rehab, Christian graduated from Villanova University in just 19 months and enrolled at Rutgers University Law School in 1973.

But this was a different time, because of the opposition to the Vietnam War and antipathy to those who fought it, Dave Christian had the faculty made a circus of his attempt to earn a law degree.  He told me that certain of the deans disputed the existence and severity of his war injuries.  He remembers faculty members posting list of purported Vietnam heroes that would include the names of the North Vietnamese.

He recalls being in constant pain, which required him to consume a steady diet of medication.  He received little sympathy from his law school, and dropped out just a few credits shy of graduating.

Well, two years ago more than three decades after he left, his daughter Colleen contacted Rutgers to see if dad could return.  Christian was readmitted, studied for a year, and yesterday, at age 62, Dave Christian graduated from law school.

When his classmates used personal computers in class, Christian stuck with blue books.  He says they sometimes looked at him as antiques.  For one of the most decorated law school graduates in American history, that‘s probably a good thing.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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