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updated 5/24/2011 12:07:44 PM ET 2011-05-24T16:07:44

Guests: Ezra Klein, Mark Halperin, Richard Wolffe, Jim VandeHei, Josh Marshall, Rob Andrews, Michelle Sigona, Christopher Dickey

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Trump, bump, thump, dump.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews up in Washington.  Leading off tonight: Trumped.  The two biggest leaders in the GOP field have in just two days voted themselves off the island.  That‘s right, Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee are out, gone, kaput.  Donald Trump promised us that this time he really, really meant it.  But from the outset, he faced three options—quit, lose or win the presidency.  He chose the gate.  Donald, you‘re fired.  Trump is out.  Huckabee is out.  Got better things to do.  But what‘s the Republican Party going to do?

Plus nasty Newt attacking Paul Ryan‘s plan to kill Medicare, the same plan Newt himself endorsed two weeks ago.  On “MEET THE PRESS” yesterday, by the way, he kept blowing his dog whistle Newt thinks only white people can hear about Obama being—catch this—the “food stamp president,” about how President Obama wants to turn the country into Detroit.  Get it?

Gingrich was also forced to confess he was always for the individual mandate for health insurance.  So were most Republicans, it turns out, until they found out Obama supported it.

And here‘s the biggest story of the day.  French leave?  Not on your mind.  Not on your life.  The head of the International Monetary Fund is now held in Manhattan without bail on the charge that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid on Saturday.  This is a man who was considered to be the top candidate for president of France against Sarkozy.

And “Let Me Finish” tonight with the disastrous marriage between the Republicans and the Tea Party.

We start with a look at the new 2012 GOP field, such as it is.  “Time” magazine‘s Mark Halperin is an MSNBC senior political analyst and Jim VandeHei is executive editor and co-founder of Politico.

Let me start with this, gentlemen.  Here‘s Trump today.  Let‘s listen to his reasoning, such as it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION:  I have decided that we are going to continue onward with “Celebrity Apprentice.”  We are going to continue making lots and lots of money for charity.  I will not be running for president, as much as I‘d like to.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP:  And I want to thank everybody very much.  Thank you very much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I want to get both gentlemen‘s response.  I respect both you guys‘ thinking.  Mark Halperin, then Jim VandeHei.  He didn‘t even go to the trouble, Donald Trump, who has lots of writers and tremendous amounts of resources, to write a really a good excuse for leaving this race, Mark.

MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he didn‘t—he didn‘t there, but he did in his statement.  He said what I think is true, which is he decided he liked business better than politics and he wanted to keep doing what his heart is into, which is business, very similar to what we‘ve seen in some of the other candidates who‘ve taken a pass on the race.  They do not have the all-consuming “get up every day, and what are the 30 things I need to do to be elected president” fire that you have to have to compete at this level.

MATTHEWS:  You think he discovered that or he knew it?

HALPERIN:  I think he discovered it in doing some of the things he had done, flying around.  I‘m not one who believes that this was all just a fake and he was never going to do it.  That might be right, but that‘s not my gut.  My gut is he tried being a candidate.  He flew to New Hampshire.  He did some other things that a politician does.  He met with consultants.  And he just decided he‘d prefer to keep it like he has, rather than throw himself into the arena with all the potential drawbacks that brings.

MATTHEWS:  Could it have been, Jim, a big gamble and he bet on black, like in—like in a roulette table, you have black or red.  He bet and said, This guy‘s got a problem with his birth certificate.  He showed he didn‘t.  That‘s the president.  There wasn‘t much to say after that, it seems, for Donald Trump.

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM:  Right.  And he was a one-trick pony when it came to the birth certificate issue because early on, when he started to get traction, he was very much talking about the economy, talking about China, getting good ground, I think, on those issues.  And then he pounced on the birth certificate issue.  And he was so effective at it that I think he‘s the reason the White House ended up releasing the long former birth certificate because they say what was happening in the polls...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

VANDEHEI:  ... and how much publicity he was getting for that.  But once that birth certificate‘s out there, he kind of lost his one big issue.

And if you remember the White House Correspondents Association dinner, where President Obama took such delight in going after him, with him in the audience.  It was clearly a pretty searing moment because he sat there stone-faced, didn‘t move at all, was clearly bothered by the attack.  And after that, you heard very little of Donald Trump and his numbers started to go down.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at a montage of Trump saying he was serious about running.  I want to go back to Jim and see if you agree with Mark.  Was it always a gambit, of was there a serious run in this man‘s heart, as Mark said?  Let‘s listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I‘ve been asked for years to do it, and I had no interest.  This is the first time I am being—at least I‘m considering it.  That doesn‘t say I‘m going to do it, Gretchen, but I am seriously considering it.

I am seriously considering running.

I am seriously considering it.

This is very serious.  I mean, I always take things seriously, but I‘ve never taken it seriously like this.  But I will tell you I am giving it serious, serious thought.  And I‘m honored by the polls.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Jim on that.  Do you agree, are you in concourse (ph) with—in concordance with Mark on the fact that he really had his heart in this and it was broken to some extent by the failure of him really to light up the charts in terms of a real going concern here?

VANDEHEI:  I have no clue if he was serious about it.  It‘s impossible to know.  Only he would really know.  I do think that he went at it and tried to figure out, Listen, can I catch fire?  The thing is, he started to catch fire.  There was polls that showed him leading in the Republican primary.  So if the idea was, Is this plausible, certainly, the empirical data suggested, Yes, it is plausible.  And then he decides, whatever, I don‘t have the stomach for this, it‘s too nasty, it‘s too much, I want to make money.

He knew that he wouldn‘t be able to make money while running for president when he was considering it.  So I to think there‘s probably an element of both.  He probably, at the end of the day, knew he wouldn‘t do it, but wanted to at least see what happens.  Let‘s see if we catch lightning in a bottle.

MATTHEWS:  I think he knew—and I think I know what I‘m talking about, based on reporting—that he thought—he knew one thing, Mark, and this is where I think you‘re right.  He knew it was his last chance, and he knew he wanted to really try that last chance before giving up on any hope of ever being president.  He thought he had some chance here.

Let‘s take a look at the latest poll.  This is a bit (ph) old poll, but it‘s not bad.  It‘s a couple weeks ago, but it‘s the best one we got.  It shows—it shows, believe it or not, that Huckabee was the leader, and he quit Saturday night.  Trump quit Monday, today.  They had 16 and 14 together, 30 percent of the vote.  Romney‘s third place.  He‘s at 13.  Palin‘s at 11.  She‘s probably not running.  Newt Gingrich is running in the worst way.  Ron Paul will run, but basically, is a—well, as a libertarian candidate.  Michele Bachmann, we‘ll see.  Mitch Daniels—how does this shape of the field look to you right now, absent Trump, absent Huckabee, Mark Halperin?

HALPERIN:  I think can you divide the field now into three pairs.  You got two decided heavyweights, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.  You got two potential heavyweights, Huntsman, Governor Huntsman, and Governor—former governor Pawlenty of Minnesota.  And then two potential candidates, Mitch Daniels and Sarah Palin.  Today, barring some entry into the race or change, I think those are the six people who can be nominated, and the two heavyweights I think have the upper hand right now.

MATTHEWS:  You think Newt Gingrich could win the general if he won the nomination? (INAUDIBLE) credible.

HALPERIN:  Not with his current image.  He‘d have to have an extreme makeover to be a competitive general election candidate, to put blue states in play.  But people have remade their image in American politics before.

MATTHEWS:  You mean like the Joker in “Batman,” that kind of a makeover?

HALPERIN:  I was thinking more...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m dead serious.

HALPERIN:  ... like “Planet of the Apes.”

MATTHEWS:  It‘d have to be a radical—wouldn‘t it have to be a pretty radical change in what we think of him?

HALPERIN:  He would have to revolutionize his public image to be a strong general election candidate.  But he‘s already thinking about the general election.  I talked to him yesterday before “MEET THE PRESS,” and he was talking about how he was envisioning things in September of 2012.  So he‘s counting on being the nominee, it seems.

And like I said, he‘s got a lot of flaws as a candidate.  All six of those people have flaws as candidates.  But he—I think, unless he says something disqualifying for the Republican electorate, I think he‘s a player, a heavyweight player in the nomination fight, even if he‘s not the most likely nominee, and even if, as you suggest, he‘s not a particularly strong general election candidate.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I don‘t know.  I just don‘t know.  Here‘s my thinking.  I think there‘s a western conference of the Tea Party type people.  I think they‘re really in trouble to find a candidate now.  There‘s the Eastern conference of establishment candidates, Pawlenty and certainly Romney at the top of that list.

And then Mitt Romney—I mean, Newt Gingrich is running as kind of the Nixon of ‘68 now in the year 2012, running as somebody who is not particularly likable, doesn‘t have a good record, in fact, has a bad record, but can somehow, in a weird, politically brilliant way, bridge the gap between Tea Partiers and the regular Republican Party.

Let‘s take a look at this picture at the White House Correspondents dinner.  The president mocked Trump.  That was referred to a moment ago.  Let‘s watch that scene.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” at the steakhouse.  The men‘s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks.  And there was a lot of blame to go around.  But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that real problem was a lack of leadership.  And so ultimately, you didn‘t blame Little John or Meatloaf, you fired Gary Bussey.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  Well handled, sir!  Well handled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Jim, I didn‘t think he knew how to handle that night, and I sympathize.  It is very tough to have the president in a room with a couple of thousand people, all with their own egos, including mine, watching a guy take a licking and enjoying it and not knowing how to react.  He didn‘t know how to react, so he didn‘t react.  He just gradually faded as a candidate after that.

VANDEHEI:  Right.  He did not—he didn‘t handle it well.  And we did this poll.  We do it with George Washington University, the Battleground poll.  And it just came out.  And if you look at those numbers, all the talk in Washington right now is how unbeatable President Obama might be come election time.  But if you look at it, President Obama has serious concerns when it comes to the economy.  People are very distrustful of his ability to handle the economic issues right now.  And independents remain very much up in the air, very much up in the air.

And so the right candidate who comes in and is serious, isn‘t a joke, isn‘t just talking about silly superficial issues and gets at jobs, the economy and deficit, there‘s a real opening.  And that‘s why the establishment of the Republican Party isn‘t that thrilled with the field right now.  I think there‘s going to be increasing pressure to get a Daniels in there, get a Governor Christie...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

VANDEHEI:  ... get a Jeb Bush, somebody that they think can take this fight to President Obama on turf that gets conservatives fired up, keeps independents with them and gives them a real hope at winning.  And I think that is where the real action inside the party is going to be.  The fun stuff is on the fringe.  We‘re going to love the Palin coverage, the Bachmann coverage, the Trump coverage, but can the establishment find a candidate who can keep the Tea Party fired up and align them with the independents?  That‘s the key for Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  OK, gentlemen, thank you so much.  Mark Halperin, as always.  Thank you, Jim VandeHei.

Coming up: Yesterday on “MEET THE PRESS”—which was a good program, by the way, yesterday, really good—Newt Gingrich attacked the Republican plan that would end Medicare.  Boy, Gregory was tough on him.  Two weeks ago, by the way, Newt said he‘d vote for that very same plan.  Can‘t he even remember what he hates?  Newt Gingrich getting a little deranged out there.

And tomorrow—we‘ve got a huge show tomorrow coming out of California.  We go on the road with special guest star Bill Maher.  He‘s always a big hit on this show—from the Exposition Park in Los Angeles.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Rahm Emanuel was sworn in today as mayor of Chicago.  Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, of course, succeeds Richie Daley, who had the job of mayor of Chicago for 22 years.  Vice President Joe Biden was on hand for the swearing-in.  Emanuel, by the way, who also represented Chicago as a congressman, inherits a city with a $700 million budget shortfall.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, HBO‘S “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  Now, Newt Gingrich—he‘s called often, and this bothers me a lot, the intellectual of the conservative movement, this “big idea” man.  I think we have to shoot this down.  He‘s an idiot who has always been wrong about every single thing he‘s ever talked about.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bill Maher is always brilliant.  That was Bill Maher in “Real Time” last Friday night.  He‘s one of our big guests—in fact, I have to say he‘s our big guest tomorrow in Los Angeles on HARDBALL tomorrow night.

Newt Gingrich, by the way, does sell himself as an ideas man.  Here he is on Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS.”  It was a great show.  Here he is, all over the place on health care, on Obama.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I agree (ph) all of us have responsibility to help pay for health care.  And I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy.  I‘ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you‘re going to be held accountable.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR:  But that is the individual mandate, is it not?

GINGRICH:  It‘s a variation on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think he had a brain freeze or worse right there because there he was, as David caught him, acutely caught him saying exactly what Obama is for.  That sounds like support for the individual mandate.  You have to buy health insurance.  Here‘s Newt saying it was only a variation on it.  But Newt apparently woke up today feeling the need to clarify his remarks.  By the way, he got caught telling the truth, so today here he is.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  I am completely opposed to the “Obama care” mandate of individuals.  I am for the repeal of “Obama care” and I‘m against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like a Cambodian reeducation camp.  So in 24 hours, Newt goes from pro-mandate—pro-Obama, in a sense—to anti-Obama.  Is this just ongoing opportunism?  Well, obvious it is, by the ex-speaker.

Richard Wolffe‘s an MSNBC political analyst and Josh Marshall is founder and editor of TalkingPoints.  Gentlemen, I‘ll start with Richard, then to Josh.  It seems to me that not only did he get caught saying what he said, here is David catching him, and his producers did a great job.  They went back to ‘93 and found him saying he‘s for exactly for what Obama‘s for now before he got caught again yesterday.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  I am for people, individuals, exactly like automobile insurance, individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.  And I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals on a sliding scale a government subsidy so ensure that everyone has—individuals have health insurance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What century is this guy from?  Automobiles?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, first of all, I don‘t—I‘m sorry.  I‘m sorry.  Automobiles, they‘re called automobiles.  And secondly, he was for this plan.  He is for it again yesterday.  It‘s the responsible, it sounds to me, Republican-sounding approach, which is, Why should we pick you up off a highway if you have a heart attack or a stroke, pay for all your health care and you walk out the door of the ER and don‘t pay a nickel?  No, everybody has to pay their share to their ability.

Now, they were for that very Republican-sounding approach until Obama advocated it and got it passed and signed.  Richard, I just don‘t get this opportunism.  I think it‘s Newt as he‘s always been to me, a very clever, not brilliant, clever opportunist jumping around.  Your thoughts.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Actually, I think what‘s he done here is not just get caught by his own previous statements and positions, he‘s got caught by the fact that Republican rhetoric about health care reform was completely outrageous and out of whack with where they were, with where the president was.  So they got to dial back not just from what they used to believe, but from this idea that it was radical or socialist to believe in things that Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney both have advocated for.

There‘s a reason why two of the front-runners in this Republican nomination were for things that this president has approved and advocated for.  And in fact, John McCain was for the “Cadillac tax.”  This is a fundamentally free market approach to health care reform, and it was the Republican position in the Gingrich era, which was the 20th century but really isn‘t that different from now.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Josh, the American way—and it‘s not perfect, but it‘s capitalism.  It‘s free enterprise.  If you want to drive a car, you got to own one.  If you‘re going to drive a car on the highway, there are other people around, you got to pay for your insurance because you might hit somebody else and you got to pay for them, or you have to pay for yourself if you get hurt or worse.  So it‘s a very self-reliant system.

But we have a system with health care, which for so many years meant if you really got sick, you‘d go to a hospital and wait for them to pay for you, and you didn‘t have to pay a nickel.  So the—anyway, we know what we‘re talking about here.  Everybody knows about it.  Even Newt got caught telling the truth the other day, so quickly today, he fixed himself and went back to the BS.  Your thoughts.

JOSH MARSHALL, TALKINGPOINTSMEMO.COM:  Well, you know, it did—as you said, it had the sound of one of the—what the Chinese communists used to have with those self-criticism sessions...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MARSHALL:  ... where you‘d go out and you‘d recant the next day.  But I think your point—to both of you—are exactly right, that this isn‘t just a Republican-sounding idea, it was actually the consensus sort of mainstream Republican position for about 15 years.  And the whole concept of the individual mandate concept was something that a lot of people in the center but a lot of Republicans, too, came up with as the only logical alternative to a single-payer program...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MARSHALL:  ... which is basically what they have in Europe and in Canada and stuff like that.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MARSHALL:  And they are both—Romney and Gingrich are both basically paying the price for having thought somewhat seriously about this, because if you want to—not just if you want to have universal care, but if you really want to clamp down on medical care inflation, you have to have everybody in the system.  And if you are not going to do single payer, you have to have a mandate.  There is really no other way around it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  They have almost gotten themselves out into that sort of very libertarian world, which when we were all young, I think, all loved, which is, why should I have to wear a helmet when I ride my motorcycle or motorbike?  Why do I have to have a helmet?

Well, because when you get picked up, peeled off the sidewalk, somebody is going to look out for you. 

Here‘s Gingrich, by the way, with David Gregory.  I said it was a great show.  It really was yesterday, really getting opened up like a cantaloupe yesterday by this guy, by Gregory.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS WITH DAVID GREGORY”)

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  The jobless rate now at nine percent.  You gave a speech on Friday in Georgia and you said the following about this president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  You want to be a country that creates food stamps, in which case, frankly, Obama is an enormous success, the most successful food stamp president in American history.  Or do you want to be a country that creates pay checks? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  First of all, you gave a speech in Georgia with language that a lot of people think could be coded racially-tinged language, calling the president, first black president, a food stamp president.  What did you mean—

(CROSSTALK)

GINGRICH:  Oh, come on, David. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  What was the point? 

GINGRICH:  That‘s—that‘s bizarre.  This kind of automatic reference to racism, this is the president of the United States.  President of the United States has to be held accountable.  Now, the idea that—and I—and what I said is factually true; 47 million Americans are on food stamps, one out of every six Americans is on food stamps. 

And to hide behind the charge of racism?  I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist. 

GREGORY:  Well, what did you mean? 

GINGRICH:  It‘s very simple.  He has policies, and I used a have I direct analogy.  He follows the same destructive political model that destroyed the city of Detroit.  I follow the model that Rick Perry and others have used to create more jobs in Texas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I mean, I don‘t know how else to explain this, Richard, than except that he is an altakaka, that he‘s got his ideas so old, so yesterday, he is still talking like Reagan and food stamps and welfare queens and all that lingo we went through back in ‘70s and ‘80s.

We all get tired of it.  It all had that tinge to it we didn‘t like, and we dropped it, I mean as a country dropped it.  The right wing even dropped it.  They stopped talking in this dog whistle like only the white races were going to hear you, because everybody hears you now.  They know what the whistle sounds like.

Is Newt just out of date or is he deliberately using this dog whistle in way that he thinks he knows exactly what he is doing, he doesn‘t care what we think?

WOLFFE:  You know, I‘m going to disagree with you on this one.  I don‘t think this was racism.  I give him the benefit of the doubt.

MATTHEWS:  Food stamps?

WOLFFE:  I think it was ludicrous.  That‘s what I think it was, because the idea that any president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re going with the altakaka theory, that he is just so old, he doesn‘t know the lingo he is using?

WOLFFE:  Not just—no, not just that he is old.  But the idea that any president, least of all this one, would want to have a country that is so reliant on food stamps, as if he created the recession, as if he wants people to be on this. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Richard, when is the last time you heard the two words food stamps used in a national dialogue of any kind, a debate right, left or center, last time you heard it?

WOLFFE:  You know, I have heard people talk about the number of food stamps, because it is shocking amount of people who are getting that kind of assistance. 

MATTHEWS:  How long ago did you hear it?  How long ago did you hear it?   

WOLFFE:  The last two—last couple of months.  But a serious debate about food stamps?

It is not like this is part of the economic policy.  You have got to help people who are in the long-term unemployed who need this kind of assistance.  It‘s—I just don‘t think this is comparative to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Josh, Josh, you are a new breed.  I haven‘t heard—I haven‘t heard food stamps discussed I don‘t—since the last racist guy tried to play the card.  I can‘t remember the last time it was talked about.  It has a particular tinge to it. 

MARSHALL:  I think Newt would be owed the benefit of the doubt if this were the only thing.

But the this is, is that Newt can‘t seem to come up with a way of criticizing President Obama that doesn‘t have some race tinge to it.  He is the avatar (ph) of Detroit.  He‘s the food stamp president.  He is a two-bit hustler.

MATTHEWS:  The Kenyan mind-set.  He‘s the Mau Mau guy.

(CROSSTALK)

MARSHALL:  He‘s got the Kenyan—yes, the Kenyan anti-colonial world view. 

It is like one of these things, there are some people who, like, they are not looking for trouble, but trouble always finds them.  Maybe this isn‘t on purpose on Newt‘s part, but he‘s got awfully bad luck, because he can‘t seem to find any way to criticize President Obama that doesn‘t have some whole history of race tinge behind it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just one more shot at Richard. 

Richard, when he talked about the predictive model of the Kenyan anti-colonial, would you call that tingey, a little tingey? 

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  No, that was—no ,that is clearly, clearly racist.  There‘s no question about it, and ludicrous.  He did both. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you, sir.  I love it when you agree with me. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Richard Wolffe,  as always—and even when you don‘t sometimes—Josh Marshall, thanks a lot. 

WOLFFE:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  President Obama has got a new spring in his step, according to “Saturday Night Live,” after catching bin Laden, killing him, actually, at least on “Saturday Night Live.”  Very funny segment coming up. 

I am here in Philadelphia because—I have it say this as a proud father—my daughter just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania magna cum laude.  And, by the way, Denzel Washington gave a fantastic, spectacular commencement address today.  It was so good.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  You light up my life. 

“Saturday Night Live” opened this weekend with President Obama having a definite spring in his step since getting bin Laden. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes, that‘s right.  I‘m not hiding anything anymore, not hiding these. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I‘m not hiding the Hussein either.  Don‘t have to.  In fact, I might even drop the Barack. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  President Hussein Obama. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  That‘s how good I‘m feeling. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes, they are going to say Obamacare.  I‘m going to say, “guy who killed bin Laden care.”

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes, yes.  They are going to say, where are the jobs?  Yes, I will say, I have got a job opening.  Al Qaeda number one, now accepting applications. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  But we can do a little touchdown dance.  Remember the Ickey Shuffle?

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Kill bin Laden. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it works because it is so opposite the guy himself. 

Next up:  Show me the money.  On Friday, Steve Colbert went to the Federal Election Commission in Washington to start a PAC that can collect and spend unlimited amounts of cash.  Here is his pitch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  I agree in the American dream. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  That dream is simple, that anyone, no matter who they are, can grow up to create a legal entity which could then receive unlimited corporate funds, which could be used to influence our elections. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT:  There are some who don‘t want you to have Colbert Super PAC, you know what?  I don‘t know about you, but I‘m not willing to ride in the back of the bus...

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  ... especially since, all this Super PAC money, I will be riding in a private jet. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT:  Who wants to ride in that jet with me? 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT:  Yes!

God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America!  I will now shake your hand for one dollar a piece. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Colbert needs permission to use his Comedy Central to promote the PAC.  The FEC has 60 days to make its call.  I guess it‘s for real. 

Coming up:  Republicans say they are opposed to the individual mandate President Obama‘s health care reform has in it, but a lot of them were for it before he was.  Now they are against it.  In fact, it was their idea.  Romney, Gingrich, even DeMint himself, they are all against it now, but they were all for it—the Republicans‘ health care plan now with the Obama label on it. 

And a reminder: tomorrow, our special guest, our star guest, Bill Maher live from the Exhibition Park in Los Angeles. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks slumped as oil prices slipped and e-commerce unraveled, the Dow Jones industrials falling 47 points, the S&P 500 shedding eight, and the Nasdaq tumbling 46 points, a decline of more than 1.5 percent. 

Stock prices were following the dollar/euro trade-off throughout the session, as the IMF was finalizing plans for Portugal‘s bailout, 78 billion euros in emergency loans over three years.  E-commerce firms under a lot of pressure today amid Yahoo!‘s dustup with Chinese online payment firm Alipay.

And late today, we had word that Facebook is meeting with banks to discuss a possible IPO.  On the M&A front, shares of NYSE Euronext plunged after two suitors withdrew their bids when it became clear the Department of Justice would not approve the sale. 

And oil prices continue to slide, down more than $2.5 to finish at $97 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Republicans have been quick to vilify health care reform under the president, and challenging the individual mandate has heart of—the heart of their case.  But that‘s a considerable change of heart from where the party has historically stood on this very issue. 

In fact, prominent Republicans were actually for the health insurance mandate, just like the president, before they were against It. 

Here to discuss this great Republican flip-flop are Democratic Congressman Robert Andrews of New Jersey, and MSNBC contributor Ezra Klein, who is also the domestic policy columnist for “The Washington Post.” 

Congressman, let me ask you about this thing.  It is stunning to me, after doing all the research our producers did.  I didn‘t know this, but people like Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, Grassley, Newt Gingrich, Romney...

REP. ROBERT ANDREWS (D), NEW JERSEY:  Bill Frist.  Bill Frist

MATTHEWS:  ... all of these top Republican guys, senators at the highest level of those committees...

ANDREWS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... who were chairs of all those committees, were all for pretty much requiring people to go out and buy health care, if they can afford it, and paying to the amount they can afford, so that government and the hospitals don‘t have to pay it.  That sounds like a Republican solution.  Now they are all running from it and calling the president a socialist. 

ANDREWS:  Well, you know, look, their opposition for the longest time has had nothing to do with public policy and everything to do with this antipathy toward Barack Obama. 

His health care bill that we enacted had a lot of ideas that Republicans had long supported and initiated.  I heard that clip you played from Newt Gingrich early in the show...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ANDREWS:  ... where he said he wanted a voucher system where people could buy private health insurance with an individual mandate. 

Thank you, Newt, for describing the health care bill the president signed in March of 2010. 

You know, look, their main reason to be against the bill was they want to defeat the president in the next election.  They‘re not going to be able to. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let me go back to Ezra on that.

Ezra, analyze this.  What is it—when did that begin their flip-flop against the idea of individual responsibility, which is the way we run our country, free enterprise and personal—you have to buy your own car.  The government doesn‘t buy you a car.  You have to buy your own insurance.  The government doesn‘t buy it. 

And, here, you have the president saying you have got to get your own insurance.  And they‘re saying, yes, that was a good Republican idea.  Nixon was for the employer mandate.  The employer had to pay for it. 

ANDREWS:  Yes, he was. 

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts.

EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  It is crucial to realize that the flip came very late.  It wasn‘t like it happened in ‘97 or ‘98 or 2004 or even 2005. 

Wyden-Bennett, which was this big bill with Ron Wyden and Bob Bennett, and had eight or nine Republican co-sponsors, had an individual mandate.  As late of June 2009, Chuck Grassley was saying there is bipartisan support for an individual mandate.  Then Olympia Snowe voted for an individual mandate in the Senate finance bill.

And the part of it, Chris, that I find most sort of appalling—it is one thing to turn against a bill, to say, listen, I don‘t like the whole bill, I don‘t like the way you structured your mandate.  But then every one of these guys, Bob Bennett, Grassley, Snowe, they voted for resolutions saying the individual mandate, which they had co-sponsored before, was unconstitutional.  So...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the Tea Party. 

(CROSSTALK)

KLEIN:  ... to answer the question of when they turned on it, they turned on it when the president passed it into law, but not that long before that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here, Congressman Andrews—go ahead, Congressman.

ANDREWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But let me show this to you first...

ANDREWS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... because I think this guy is to your right.  I think Jim DeMint man of South Carolina is to the right of just about everybody. 

ANDREWS:  Just a bit.

MATTHEWS:  Here he is, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.  He has been a vocal opponent of the health care reform bill.  But he praised Mitt Romney‘s health care overhaul in Massachusetts, which included an individual mandate. 

Check out what DeMint said back in 2007 when asked about Romney‘s health care plan.  Let‘s listen to Senator DeMint. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 2007)

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS:  He was able to, without raising taxes, make sure that everybody in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts wound up with health insurance.  Real briefly, can you explain how he did that and whether or not that might be something he would take coast to coast?

SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  Well, that‘s something that I think we should do for the whole country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Somebody should straighten out Steve Doocy on this baby, too. 

Anyway, two years ago, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Ohio said, “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have”—here it is—

“individual mandates.”

ANDREWS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Republican support for a health care mandate has its roots in a proposal by the conservative Heritage Foundation that was meant as an alternative to the single-payer or the Canadian-style system. 

The Heritage Foundation‘s plan said, “All heads of households would be required by law to obtain at least a basic health plan specified by Congress.”

Congressman, doesn‘t this just spin your head that they are so 180 on this now? 

ANDREWS:  Well, Senator Grassley was right.  There was a bipartisan consensus for this kind of moderate healthcare reform but he got intimidated and frightened by the right wing of his party and backing out of it—as did all the other people that you just mentioned.

Republican Party has gone from dishonesty to incoherence on this issue.  You know, the two leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney did Obamacare in Massachusetts.  Newt Gingrich, despite the hostage video you showed earlier of him today, supports the individual mandate.  So, they are all running in an electorate that is 80-20 against the Obama—probably 98-2 against the Obama plan, but they are all actually for it.

So, they have gone from intellectual dishonesty to incoherence as for as can I tell.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look.  The hostage tape obviously is the one you referred to as today where he was in captivity and told to say what he had to say to the far right Tea Party people.  Here he is—just as a reminder—here he is back in ‘93 when he was thoughtful.  This is where he supported the mandate.

Let‘s watch him.  They dug this out yet on “Meet the Press” yesterday and threw at him, and he was threw for a loop.  Here he is.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  I‘m for individuals, exactly like automobile insurance, individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance, and I‘m prepared to vote for voucher system which will give individuals on a sliding scale a government subsidy—so ensure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s back when they said automobiles.  It‘s a while ago, obviously.  But everybody pronounces things their own way.

But here he is clearly saying, clearly, he likes the idea of people being responsible for their own health insurance.

ANDREWS:  That doesn‘t sound very food stamp or Detroit to me.  You know, it sounds rather Texas.  I mean, look, he is incoherent because he hasn‘t found a place to fit in to the Republican Party right now.

Mitt Romney I think is trying to say as little as possible because he actually agrees with in substance the bill that we enacted last year.

MATTHEWS:  You know, he reminds me of the character (INAUDIBLE), running up and down the stairway with his sword drawn like he‘s Teddy Roosevelt at the battle at San Juan Hill.  Newt is so out of it.

Anyway, thank you, Congressman Rob Andrews of New Jersey.

ANDREWS:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Right near Philly.  And, Ezra Klein, as always.

Up next: the head of the IMF, a French fellow, the International Monetary Fund, is behind bars in New York, away from home, held without bail, charged with attempted rape of a maid in a New York hotel room.  This guy has got to come up, ahead in his way may have a lot of years here.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was at Kennedy Space Center today as space shuttle Endeavour blasted into orbit.  What a story.  Giffords made the trip to Florida from her rehabilitation hospital in Houston where she‘s recovering, of course, from an attempt on her life back in January.  Giffords‘ husband, what a couple—Mark Kelly is the commander of the space flight which is NASA‘s second to the last shuttle mission.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A strange story—it‘s a story involving power, sex and money.  The head of the International Monetary Fund is accused of sexually assaulting a maid at a luxury hotel midtown Manhattan.  Today, a Manhattan judge denied his bail and he‘ll stay in jail until his next court date on Friday.

Michelle Sigona is an investigative crime reporter.  Christopher Dickey is Paris bureau chief for “Newsweek.”

Michelle, describe this guy, and what he did.

MICHELLE SIGONA, INVESTIGATIVE CRIME REPORTER:  Dominique Strauss-Kahn was visiting New York City over the weekend.  He was staying at a very luxurious, posh, New York City hotel.  When the criminal complaint that I have in front of me that I got from the D.A.‘s office alleges that he came out of bathroom, was naked and attacked a female housekeeper, who was inside his room.  He shut the door, would not let her leave, and made a lot of sexual contact with her.

According to the specific charges that are listed out in this complaint, there may be some DNA in this case.  And so, we do know that some DNA samples were, in fact, taken, based on that.  And also, the fact that he was found on a first class flight sitting in first class on Saturday afternoon 4:30 in the afternoon, getting ready to take off for a flight to France, brought back to the United States, the judge today said absolutely no will be granted.  And as you mentioned, May 20th is his next court date.

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, this is strange.  I just want it get one detail that I can‘t quite figure.  I mean, obviously, there‘s a lot of rumors about this guy in the past.  No wrap sheet but similar behavior.  He‘s been accused by people without having gone to court, or gone with the law with it.

But how does a guy, he‘s is in the shower.  Just give the scene, because most people can‘t figure the scene out.  He‘s in the shower.  He hears there‘s somebody comes in his room to clean the room, one of those turndown services or whatever.  He never called the person to show up.  He walks in the room, out of the shower, I guess, wet—and all of a sudden, there‘s a person there and he attacked her just on that spur of the moment.

SIGONA:  Just in the spur of the moment.  No, you‘re exactly right.  It even says right here in the complaint that he grabbed the informant‘s breast without consent and also prevented the informant from leaving the above location.  And so, at that particular point, some other sexual acts allegedly took place.  And then she was able to break free and leave the hotel room.

Now, what you have to remember in all of this, is that there are a ton of surveillance camera throughout that hotel, Chris, throughout New York City, that will be able to track down and really nail down his time line from the moment of this alleged attack, all the way up until he was on that flight getting ready to take off out of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Christopher Dickey on the politics of this.  This is not some, you know, odd ball out of nowhere.  He‘s headed the International Monetary Fund, which controls all the lending around the world.  The monetary system of the world depends on this guy‘s thinking, split-second decision-making.  He may run against Sarkozy—well, he‘s not going to run now.

How do we put this into political perspective, Christopher?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, NEWSWEEK:  Well, in political perspective, it‘s turned everything up side down in France and by extension, in Europe.  I mean, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was really expected to win the presidency next year.

Nicholas Sarkozy, the current president, he‘s really very unpopular.  He‘s got approval ratings below 30 percent.  So, it looked like a walk on for Strauss-Kahn.  And now, he‘s walked right offstage.  He‘s walked right into jail.

So, it‘s turned everything upside down in French politics, and we have no idea how things will shape up over the next year.

As far as the monetary fund is concerned, you know, this was a guy that was trusted around the world.  He had come into the monetary fund in 2007 when it didn‘t look like such a great job.  But as the global economy fell apart, people kept turning to him and saying, can you fix it, can you fix it?  And he was the guy at the center of trying to set everything straight again.

Now, again, he‘s in jail.

MATTHEWS:  Did they have a record of his at least reputation before this that made people accept the story coming out of New York?

DICKEY:  No, I don‘t think people really do accept the story coming out of New York.  And I think there‘s some aspects of the story that are being played up as if they‘re really very sensational and people go, really, is it so sensational that he was getting on a plane bound for Europe since he had conferences on Sunday with Angela Merkel and other people?  And, no, it‘s absolutely normal he was getting on a plane and absolutely normal that he was flying first class.  That‘s the kind of thing did he all the time.

But he does have a record as a womanizer.  Now, that‘s true.  Everybody knew that he‘d had affairs, some of them had been public, some not.  He was just recognized as a skirt chaser and that‘s with a problem that his wife—his three wives have had to deal with over the years.

But that‘s not the same thing as attempted rape.  That‘s not the same thing as criminal sexual conduct.  And that‘s what he‘s being accused of.  And nobody expected anything quite like this.

There‘s one incident from 2002 that‘s now being played up very big where a young woman who actually knew him, she knew his daughter, her godmother is his second wife, went to interview him and he arranged for it to be in an apartment where nobody else was, and supposedly he made unwanted advances that she had to fight off.  That was 2002.  She didn‘t talk about it publicly until 2007.  And that was in a talk show with candles around a dinner table, sort of casually talking about how what a bad guy Strauss-Kahn was, with his name bleeped out.

So, it‘s all—it‘s all murky.  But nobody thought he‘d do anything like this.  And it just doesn‘t seem in character.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s put it together, first of all, Christopher, you and then, Michelle.  It wasn‘t a casual getting on a first class seat on a plane.  He had gone through a police lineup this weekend.  So, put that together.  He didn‘t—did he think he could go from a police lineup to being a suspect in what is a serious criminal matter to just flipping out of the country like that?

Christopher first, then, Michelle.  Yes, then, Michelle.

DICKEY:  No, but that‘s not the sequence.  That‘s not the sequence, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

DICKEY:  He was in the hotel.  He had had lunch, an early lunch with his daughter, apparently.  He was in the hotel, he left the hotel.  All these things were supposed to have happened around 1:00, maybe they did, maybe they didn‘t, it‘s still allegations.

He goes to the airport, he‘s on the plane at about 4:40.  It‘s about to take off.  And the police stop the—say stop the plane and they get on the plane, the port authority police get on the plane and take him off.  He‘s taken to the NYPD.  They question him for several hours.

He‘s taken off the plane remember before 5:00 in the evening.  He‘s questioned until 2:15 in the morning and then, he‘s formally charged and arrested.  So, no, he was in a lineup long after that.

MATTHEWS:  OK, great, thank you.

DICKEY:  He was in a lineup yesterday, not the day before.

MATTHEWS:  Well, getting the story straight from you.

Thank you very much, Michelle Sigona.  Thank you, Christopher Dickey.

SIGONA:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  When we return, “Let Me Finish” with why the marriage between the Tea Party and the Republican Party is destined for a divorce.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, on only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the disastrous marriage of the Republicans and the Tea Party.

Would anyone marry for hate rather than love?  It‘s a hell of a question, isn‘t it?  Terrible question.  Why it‘s even asked?  Why on earth would marry someone, hitch up with them because of hatred?

Well, this is the exact problem of the Republican Party today.  It got married, hitched up politically with the Tea Party.  But not because the Tea Party loves the Republican Party.  Don‘t even think about that happening this week.

No, the marriage between the Republicans and the Tea Party is based on hatred—hatred of government, hatred of the Democrats, hatred of Barack Obama.  What‘s love got to do with it?  Zip.  You‘ve got to be kidding.

Look at how the marriage is coming apart and you‘ll see what is based on.  Look at the latest CNN poll.  It‘s got Donald Trump right up near the top, just inches below Huckabee—the other guy who just who dropped out.

Trump was running on one issue, how much trash talk he was able to say on Obama.  He wasn‘t born here, didn‘t go to school here, by the way, had bad grades, couldn‘t write very well, a con artist.  All the imagery of anger at him.  Anyone listening got the point.  Look at how that  rung the bell of the Tea Partiers.

Why don‘t Romney or Pawlenty or the other mainstream Republicans talk like this, that Tea Parties want to know?  Well, the same reason the mainstream media doesn‘t, because it‘s not true.  None of it.

But the Tea Partiers can‘t take it.  The haters can‘t take it.  And this is why they jump for joy with Trump.  He gave them exactly what they wanted to hear, exactly what Republican candidates, mainstream candidates, can‘t say because it simply isn‘t true.  All of it is hate.

And this is why the marriage is failing, why it‘s coming apart between the Republicans and the Tea Partiers, because the Republicans will not say what the Tea Parties live for, the hatred of government, of the Democrats, of President Obama.  They have to hear he doesn‘t simply disagree with them, but that‘s not one of them.  It‘s evil.  It‘s hatred of what works over there.  And it‘s over there that spells political death for the Republicans.

So, goodbye Trump and hello reality.  The Tea Partiers vote for the Republican next November.  It isn‘t going to be about love and it‘s not going to be a walk down the aisle together.  It‘s going to come near the end, and it‘s going to be dammit, I guess I have to vote for this guy just because I hate Obama so much.

Not exactly a marriage made in heaven.  In fact, no marriage at all.

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

And, don‘t forget, tomorrow, I‘ll be at Exposition Park in Los Angeles with Bill Maher, our star guest on the show.

Right now, it‘s more politics with Cenk Uygur.

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