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updated 6/16/2011 2:10:43 PM ET 2011-06-16T18:10:43

Guests: Chuck Todd, Hampton Pearson, Pat Buchanan, Susan Page, Sam Stein, Joan Walsh, Timothy Johnson, Dana Milbank

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  You call this a party?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: The Peggy Lee primary.  It turns out Republicans took one look at the party of seven that showed up on Monday‘s debate and said, in the words of the great Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”  Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman and Rudy Giuliani are all asking the same question.  And tonight, how many of the guys pressing their noses to the glass will actually get in the race, and the latest poll numbers on how little Republican voters think of the field they see right now.  Amazing.

Plus, President Obama—sticking with our music theme, an Associated Press story today suggests that the thrill is gone.  Oh, yes?  We‘ve got results from our NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll that defy that.

Also, why are Republicans sounding more and more like doves?  Are they souring on the wars in Afghanistan and Libya?  Have they lost their neocon fervor, or are they just against anything that President Obama is for?

And coming up, ladies and gentlemen, the comic stylings of the inimitable Mitt Romney.  Not folks—not at all.  He‘s no Shecky Green.

And finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with the other Republican primary, the guys who are thinking about crashing the party.

We start with the 2012 Republican field, such as it is.  Chuck Todd‘s NBC‘s political director and chief White House correspondent, and Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for “USA Today.”  So we have huge journalistic potential here to get to the facts.

Brand-new matchup numbers in our new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll.  Let‘s take a look at this.  President Obama leads Mitt Romney, but only by 6, 49-43.  It was 49-40 in February.  President Obama leads Pawlenty, who seems to be fading, 50 to 37, but it was 50 to 31 in February.  And here‘s the preference among Republicans.  Romney leads the field strongly, 30 percent, followed by Palin at 14, Cain—that‘s Herman Cain, the Godfather Pizza guy—at 12, Governor Perry of Texas at 8, Ron Paul at 7, and Gingrich, amazingly, still at 6.

Let me go to this whole question here.  Let me start with you, Chuck, and this whole question—if you look at these numbers, somebody pointed out, you‘ve got 34 percent of the Republican electorate, basically, saying they‘re for people who aren‘t really in the running, as we see—Perry, who‘s not running, from Texas, Cain, who‘s not really considered—

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR./WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  He‘s not establishment—

MATTHEWS:  -- and establishment runner, and Palin, who‘s not running at all.

TODD:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  So in other words, the preference is for what isn‘t happening.

TODD:  It‘s the (INAUDIBLE) some call it.  It‘s the Tea Party conservative.  It‘s certainly the populist conservative.  Whatever you want to call this group of voters—

MATTHEWS:  It ain‘t the establishment!

TODD:  -- it‘s not the establishment.  And you lump those three together, that‘s 34 percent.  Romney‘s sitting at 30.  Now, look, Romney‘s got a lot more strength, and this poll shows you that he has a lot more strength than any of the conservative opinion elite will lead you to believe.  Now, he‘s got all sorts of potential problems.  He‘s a fragile—you can see how it all can come apart.  But he starts with more strength than I think sometimes we all give him credit for.

But that 34 percent—and so—throw in Rick Perry.  First of all, Rick Perry, already polling at 8.  Tim Pawlenty‘s been in the race all year.  He‘s polling at 7.  That‘s not good for him—

MATTHEWS:  Well, he wussed out the other night, too.  That didn‘t help.

TODD:  Well, but you know, this poll was in the field before that.  We

can‘t do that.  And Herman Cain—here‘s what‘s fascinating about Herman

Cain.  We break down these Republican primary voters.  There‘s Fox viewers

and non-Fox viewers.  Among Fox viewers, Cain‘s at 18.  Among non-Fox

viewers, he‘s in low single digits.  This guy is—he is sort of a cable -

conservative cable phenomenon.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about this same question that Chuck just addressed, and that‘s whether what we‘re looking at is the Republican establishment field, sort of the George Will party, the party you recognize.  Huntsman probably coming in, Pawlenty already in, Romney in the lead—that‘s sort of the George Will—the usual Republican Party.  Is that the Republican Party today, that sort of George Bush, Sr., party, or is the party now much more of a Tea Party today, the real party?

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”:  Oh, no question it‘s much more of a Tea Party.  I mean, there‘s still this faction that‘s a significant size of more traditional Republicans, conservative on fiscal policy, muscular on defense.  But the energy of the party—I mean, where is that?  That‘s with these new Tea Party voters, some of them not traditional Republicans at all, who have a much more aggressive stance and are much less likely to go along with the “next guy in line” tradition that has ruled a lot of Republican primaries in the past.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I get a feel, when I look at guys like Romney—and no—I‘ve met him.  He‘s a nice fellow when you meet him, certainly, and Pawlenty seems a regular person.  And I don‘t know Huntsman, but everybody in the media who meets him seems to like him.  It‘s not about whether you like or dislike or they‘re good or bad people.  But they‘re the kind of people that run for student council president every damn year of your life.  They want to be president, so they‘ve had to go to law school, whatever. 

It‘s their obvious candidates.  They‘re not exciting Tea Party types.

Here a guy—I don‘t know—I guess this guy went to law school, too!  Here‘s New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former U.S. attorney, last night on CNN, stirring the pot.  Let‘s watch this fellow.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, “PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT”:  Who do you think right now is the best option for your party to take on Barack Obama?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  I don‘t think we have a best option yet.

MORGAN:  Who most impresses you personally?

CHRISTIE:  A lot of those folks impress me personally, but none of them have emerged in my mind yet as the best option.  When one of them do, I‘ll say it publicly.  But I‘m not ready to do that yet because I don‘t think any of them have yet distinguished themselves to say this is the best person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That reminds me of Mario Cuomo.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We all through he‘d run.  He‘d hold back, and then he‘d sort of review the candidates and say, Well, this guy‘s polenta!  You know, this guy is boring, you know?  Well, what do you think of this guy, Christie playing kingmaker?  Is he the head of the boys‘ club now?  We‘ve talked about—I talk about the boys‘ club, not necessarily with admiration.  But they sit in their little clubhouse somewhere, Haley Barbour, the (INAUDIBLE) and they say, Well, this year, it‘s George W., this year, it‘s—and they‘re now fishing—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  -- those guys.

MATTHEWS:  Now they‘re meeting with Rudy and they‘re meeting with Perry.  What‘s that all about?

TODD:  Yes.  Well, look, Rudy has been telling people quietly that he thinks no one in this field can challenge Romney and he thinks Romney needs a race.  Now—

MATTHEWS:  What is he going to be, the sparring partner?

TODD:  Now, I—you know, that‘s—

MATTHEWS:  That is—that‘s a—in other words, he‘s willing to go up against him—

TODD:  No, he didn‘t—

MATTHEWS:  -- just to make him work for it.

TODD:  Well, see, that—that‘s what—

MATTHEWS:  That is so condescending.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Look at what Rudy did today (INAUDIBLE) he met with Perry in the morning, and he apparently had a nice cordial thing, talked  a little bit about 2012.  Then he has lunch with Christie.  Now, you know that lunch with Christie had to be a little bit awkward, right, because Rudy was the guy with all the mojo four years ago, and now it‘s Christie—

MATTHEWS:  Why are we wasting time with Giuliani?

TODD:  -- the New York donors—

MATTHEWS:  I went to school with guys like Giuliani.  I think he—in many ways, I‘m excited by him, but let me tell you something.

TODD:  He‘s sort of a broker—

MATTHEWS:  He‘s pro-choice.  He can never be the nominee of the Republican Party, ever, ever, ever.  Right?

PAGE:  And he‘s more—look, he—

MATTHEWS:  Am I right?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- Republican Party ever name a pro-choice person?

PAGE:  No.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

PAGE:  Look how badly he did last time, and that was four years ago, closer to 9/11.  He‘s more out of sync with the party now than he was then.

TODD:  Its think it‘s more about stirring the pot, though, going to what you‘re calling for, doing exactly what you—

MATTHEWS:  To what effect?

TODD:  -- described with Christie—

MATTHEWS:  What do they want to happen when they‘ve stirred it up and Christie keep having meetings and talking to the press and going on Piers Morgan.  Why?

TODD:  I go back to Romney.  There is something—

MATTHEWS:  Wrong with Romney.

TODD:  There‘s something that the—that elites—it‘s not—you have different factions, right?  Look at Rush Limbaugh protecting Pawlenty from all the media criticism.  It‘s like a fifth—

MATTHEWS:  Is that what he‘s doing?

TODD:  That‘s what it looked like this week.  He was almost protecting him—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

TODD:  -- saying, Hey, stop picking on him—

MATTHEWS:  OK, do we know what it is about the insiders not liking Romney?

TODD:  I think they fear he‘s going to blow it.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hard to—something they can‘t write.  Nobody writes it who knows what it is.

PAGE:  Well, we know even last time around that the other candidates didn‘t like him.  But you know—

MATTHEWS:  Why?  What‘s his problem?

PAGE:  Well, because he‘s—because he‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Bad breath?

TODD:  Well, no, they—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just kidding.  What is his problem?

TODD:  -- best oppo research team of all the campaigns was the Romney shop.  And by the way—

PAGE:  And willing to use it.

TODD:  -- it‘s now an oppo—the former oppo guy is the campaign manager.

PAGE:  Yes.  Yes.  And willing—and willing—

MATTHEWS:  That tells you?

TODD:  That they‘re going to run a tough campaign.  That tells me this.  If I‘m Jon Huntsman, don‘t think that you‘re not going to—you‘re going to have an easy time, and Tim Pawlenty, you guys are going to have easy times being—trying to pretend you‘re the alternative to Romney and you‘re not going to have to—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is this campaign really like we used to play as kids, king of the hill?  The top gets up on the hill and everybody has to pull him off the hill?

TODD:  Well, that‘s the way it‘s looking today.  But you know, I would say that happens in every presidential primary, don‘t you think?

PAGE:  You know, the best—what‘s the best thing that could happen for Romney?  If the social conservatives or Tea Party types got behind one of these guys, or Michele Bachmann, that would scare some of the establishment Republicans back to backing Romney—

MATTHEWS:  OK, I don‘t see any role for Giuliani, do you?

TODD:  Most important date on the calendar—

MATTHEWS:  What‘s Giuliani‘s role as a candidate?  As a candidate, Giuliani, does he have a role?

TODD:  I don‘t think he does have a role.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What about Huntsman?  Does he have a role to the left of Romney?

PAGE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  To the left of Romney.

PAGE:  Yes.  I think it is to the—it‘s to the left of Romney, but it‘s like a more likable Romney.  I mean, he‘s got—

MATTHEWS:  OK.

PAGE:  He‘s got credentials.  He‘s a serious guy.  You can kind of envision him in a debate with Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is.  Here‘s Governor Huntsman.  We‘re all getting to know him.  Here he is on Tuesday in New York.  Let‘s watch this new guy on the block.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN (R-UT), FMR. GOV., FMR. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA:  Is anybody listening to this broadcast?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, there‘s only a few hangers-on here.

HUNTSMAN:  Well, since we‘re in select company and there aren‘t a lot of people listening in, I intend to announce that I will be a candidate for the presidency a week from today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey!

(APPLAUSE)

HUNTSMAN:  My family looks shocked and surprised.  Of course, they are.  I hadn‘t told them yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that seems a little bit plastic.  But what do you think?  Is he a candidate that can actually go places?

TODD:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  To the left of Romney?

TODD:  I wouldn‘t call it the left of Romney.  What I would call it to is that he could really hurt Romney with the business community.  The business community isn‘t all in on Romney.  They should be.  There‘s this Bain Capital, is a guy that has great background.  But so does Huntsman have a good business background.  Oh, and Huntsman has this background of working overseas, understands the China market.  That matters to CEOs.

That‘s where he could hurt Romney.  I‘ll tell you, July 15th to me is such an important date.  That‘s when we‘re going to find out how much money Romney raised.

PAGE:  Right.

TODD:  And if he raised $50 million—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

TODD:  -- that‘s going to keep a Rick Perry out—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk—

TODD:  -- and scare a Huntsman.  If it‘s $30 million, that‘s not going to scare Rick Perry.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s another guy on the block, new fellow here.  It‘s Texas governor Rick Perry last night on Fox.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST, “YOUR WORLD”:  You have kind of, like, the Chris Christie phenomenon, very popular outside your state, still popular but not nearly as popular within your state.

GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS:  A prophet is generally not loved in their hometown.  That‘s both biblical and practical.

CAVUTO:  Oh, I think your biggest coupe was getting Carlos (ph), Jr.

(INAUDIBLE)

PERRY:  We love—

CAVUTO:  (INAUDIBLE) you entice the burger guy with?

PERRY:  Freedom.  Freedom.  They love the smell of freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Was that a New Testament reference to a prophet in his own land?  You don‘t say that about yourself, I think.

TODD:  Well, that‘s what makes Perry a fascinating figure to watch because this is a guy that can combine Tea Party and social conservative language.  And that language that appeals to both—these are not—they‘re constituencies that overlap, but they‘re not the same constituency.  You‘re able to fire up both of them, and he becomes a candidate of both, with money?  You know, I used to not think of him as a viable nominee.  I now—I now can see how he gets the nomination.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- running?  I remember the late Patrick Moynihan used to complain—Daniel Patrick Moynihan would say, How come nobody ever puts me on their list?  He was a great man, but he had that sort of academic inflection we knew about.  Is it—never mind.  For some reason, it strikes me—why is Rick Perry all of a sudden now being talked about after all these years of not being talked about?

PAGE:  Well, you know, it‘s hard to run for president, and you have to put yourself out there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PAGE:  He hasn‘t done that in the past.  It‘s just been the last couple weeks that he‘s entertained this as being a possibility, and it‘s—it‘s in the context of some Republicans being unhappy with the choice they have.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at Gingrich‘s numbers.  They‘ve tanked in a new poll.  Here he is at 48 percent negative now.  There‘s something—I thought he looked in a particularly cantankerous mood the other night in that debate.  He looked angry.

TODD:  He hates the format.  You got to remember, this is a guy that can only speak in 15-minute sound bites.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  And he‘s being asked to speak in 15 seconds.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  So he‘s annoyed by the format, so—and he lets that show—

MATTHEWS:  Has the jewelry thing killed him?  Did the Greek trip kill him?

TODD:  You put it all together.

MATTHEWS:  All this strange lifestyle information coming out.

TODD:  It‘s death by a thousand (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Last night, Jennifer—Jennifer Donahue from—with all the New Hampshire experience said that something could just blow us away, this perception we have about the Republican Party being somewhat centrist and conservative, when, in fact, fact it has moved over to the right out of anger against Obama and a lot of things, taxes and spending.

Could a Michele Bachmann, admittedly with a lot of—not a lot of historic information, inaccurate sometimes, but a—put on a good show, be very good in debate—could she go to the conservative heart and say, Embrace your heart, I‘m a true conservative.  Romney‘s not.  I‘m the real thing.  He‘s not.  Could she win the New Hampshire primary and blow him out of the race?

TODD:  If Jon Huntsman‘s still in the New Hampshire primary, if all of these guys that are splitting the establishment vote—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Yes.  I have this—

MATTHEWS:  Well, also, she‘s female, too—

TODD:  That helps.  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  -- and that may be a factor here.  I think it is.

TODD:  The irony here is you had a real smart pollster, Ann Salter (ph), who just knows Iowa better than anybody—she wrote this op-ed today, I think it was in Politico, where she said, Hey, you moderates, there‘s a whole bunch of conservatives running in Iowa.  A moderate could go win it.  Well, it‘s the exact opposite in New Hampshire.  All these moderates think that New Hampshire‘s going to be—maybe Rudy gets in, right—they all think, I‘m going to make New Hampshire my—my moment because of all the independents that can cross in.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  And guess what?  You might be leaving room for a conservative.

MATTHEWS:  Bachmann.  I‘m a Bachmann watcher.  I think she‘s got—she‘s got the “it.”  She‘s exciting on the stage.  I look at her.  I just think—what do you think, Susan?

PAGE:  She was—

MATTHEWS:  You hear the woman thing, the gender issue in politics—no, gender and politics—there are no other women running for president right now.

PAGE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the woman running for president.

PAGE:  Yes.  And you know, she was—the thing that struck me at the debate Monday was what a total natural she was on stage.  Her first national debate, she looked much more relaxed than Romney or Gingrich or anybody.

TODD:  Certainly more than Gingrich.  You‘re absolutely right.

MATTHEWS:  Never underestimate—

TODD:  The rest of them looked uptight.

MATTHEWS:  Never underestimate—and this will sound like an endorsement and it is not—the power of internal faith.  If you have real faith, you have power.  Thank you, Chuck Todd.  You (INAUDIBLE) worry about.  Thank you, Susan Page and thank you, Chuck Todd.  It‘s more powerful than all the frauds in this business who pretend to be somebody they‘re not.  And somebody who knows who they are, look out for them.

Coming up: We‘ve got the new NBC poll numbers on President Obama, and he‘s still making history.  I mean, he surprised me.  The people are sticking with him who were with him.  Why the president‘s actually in better shape now than you‘d think he would be, given that 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s a piece of good economic news for President Obama and the country.  The price of gasoline is dropping, down nearly 30 cents a gallon over the past month.  In one month, a drop of 30 cents.  Gasoline topped over 4 bucks a gallon in May, but the average gas price is down to $3.69 in some places—not in Washington.  Experts say the slide could continue throughout the summer, making the specter of $4 gas a thing of the past, at least for now.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This campaign can‘t only be about me.  It must be about us.  It must be about what we can do together.  This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle of your hopes and your dreams!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Coldest day in history, well below zero, and there he was announcing for president. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was then candidate Barack Obama announcing his bid for the presidency in historic Springfield, Illinois, home of Abraham Lincoln, in 2007.

As he gears up for his reelection bid, how does he recapture the spirit of that great campaign, especially when Americans are concerned about the economy and the jobless rate?  Joan Walsh is editor-at-large for Salon and Sam Stein is a political reporter for Huffington Post.  Thank you both for joining us.

I want to show you some numbers here which are interesting.  President Obama recently told donors, by the way, in Miami it‘s not as cool to be an Obama supporter as it was in 2008, with all the posters and all that stuff.  Well, that‘s a statement that‘s true manifestly.

The president‘s bump after the death of bin Laden turned out to be temporary, as most of us figured it would, although I think it will come back to help him.  This month in our NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, he‘s back below 50 at 49 approval, 46 disapproving him.  Just 29 percent believe the country‘s in the right direction, 62 percent think the nation is in the wrong direction.

Let me start with Joan.  You know, most of the time, when you have that very telling number about right direction/wrong direction, a lot of us believe that‘s the key number in politics, devastatingly anti-incumbent.  And yet he‘s in pretty good shape compared to that.  Put it all together.  He‘s not in great shape, he‘s more popular than unpopular, more approving than unproving—unapproving, but those numbers about the state of the country are so devastatingly bad, something‘s holding him up.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Yes, you know, a lot of people have been talking about an intensity gap.  I‘m not sure I see that yet, but I think that we have to come back to something fundamental about the beginning of his campaign and that wonderful clip, Chris, which is—you know, Obama assembled a once-in-a-lifetime political coalition, electoral coalition.  He did not assemble a governing coalition. 

And my friends on the left of the spectrum who think of ourselves as the Democratic base have something to—have something to brag about, I mean, turnout among young people, African-Americans, union members really high, first-time voters.  It was awesome.

But, at the same time, he also had that magic with the posters and everything else of being able to attract independents and even a larger number of Republicans than John Kerry had.

MATTHEWS:  I think so.

WALSH:  So, that‘s not a governing coalition.  One part of your coalition wants moderation.  They‘re not sure about government.  The other wants activism.  They want problems solved.

And then you have got the vast majority in the middle, who are very worried about the state of the economy.  And having those two parts of your coalition makes it hard to move decisively in one direction or another in solving the problems of the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  But—but—

WALSH:  So, we‘re not getting solutions on jobs.

MATTHEWS:  I completely buy your assessment completely. 

Sam, but, you know, in the past, smart leaders like Franklin Roosevelt could taking the (INAUDIBLE) from the South, the minorities and the Jewish voters who were liberal that could vote back—or did vote back then, and kept them all as one big happy coalition, even though, if they ever got together and met each other, they probably wouldn‘t like each other. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But this president hasn‘t been able to introduce the—sort of Susan Eisenhower people from the moderate suburbs who vote in Pennsylvania, where I‘m from, moderately in the suburbs, and the real hard-nosed people, a lot of them who watch our show.  You know.  He hasn‘t shown any genius in coalescing those forces. 

SAM STEIN, THE HUFFINGTON POST:  Well, I will take it one step further than Joan.

I think the key in ‘08 was not that he just brought a broad coalition together, although he did do that.  It was that he brought so many first-time voters out to vote for him.  Now, those people are inherently not going to be engaged in the political process beyond that first vote.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STEIN:  And the key is—if you talk to any Obama adviser right now, the key to getting reelected is not the enthusiasm gap.  It‘s tapping those people who came to the polls for the first time in ‘08 and making them second-time voters in 2012. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, all that e-mail stuff I keep getting—somehow I got on the list. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know how I got there, but I‘m on there.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I got this, dear Chris, signed Obama.  You probably get it, Joan, this endless stream of e-mail traffic.  We‘re having a party tonight.  Can you come?  It‘s all this sort of earnest, gee whiz, we‘re all part of this thing.

I love it, but, Joan, your thoughts.  Is that kind of e-mail traffic, the social media, is that going to do it for him, excitement? 

WALSH:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know this time.  He did an amazing job in 2008.  I got that too, Chris, asking me if I want to have dinner.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right, the dinner request. 

STEIN:  Only $5.

WALSH:  Only $5, and then there‘s going to be a lottery.  They are going to put me in a lottery.  And I don‘t know.  I don‘t—I don‘t contribute, so I‘m not going to—it‘s not going to work that way for me.

MATTHEWS:  Me neither.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s be clear on that one, Joan.  We don‘t contribute. 

Don‘t call me next time. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

WALSH:  Don‘t call me.  Take me—but I like to be on the list, just like you do, because I see what they‘re doing. 

And I think they‘re going to have—I think they were really, really affected—they had a timing problem with that particular e-mail, Chris and Sam.  I‘m sure you‘re thinking the same thing, because there was that big story in “The New York Times” about he‘s having a dinner with of all his Wall Street buddies, trying to lure Wall Street back -- 

MATTHEWS:  There you have it, the conflict for an incumbent. 

WALSH: -- while he‘s telling—he‘s telling those small—those small donors, you are the backbone of my campaign. 

That was never true.  He was the candidate of Wall Street.  Let‘s be honest about that.

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN:  Hold on.  Those e-mails are not meant to gin up support for him.  Those are meant to raise money for him. 

What‘s more telling is what they are going to be doing in terms of staff on the ground in critical states. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

STEIN:  They want to get organic meet-ups going. 

WALSH:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go to the reality check. 

We‘re talking politics.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  There‘s a big thing in—in—Saturday in San Francisco. 

They want people out. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I keep thinking of the Phillies, my favorite thing.  I keep thinking they have got great pitching.  The president‘s a great pitcher.  Boy, nobody pitches better than him.  Bats.  Where are the bats? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And I worry about in the end, will they have the guy?  And I‘m talking about the unemployment rate.  Here‘s -- 41 percent of Americans approve of how the president is handling the economy.

Boy, are they loyalists; 41 percent like the way things are going? 

Wow -- 54 percent obviously don‘t. 

But when you ask people how they think the economy will fare, it is a killer.  Over the next year, 29 percent think it will be better; 30 percent think it will get worse.  And that‘s a lot more pessimistic than last month.

Joan, your thoughts here.

No, Sam, your thoughts here, first you. 

It seems to me that people can‘t keep being pessimistic about the world they‘re in and optimistic about this president.  Won‘t there be a crash, unless something changes?

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN:  Yes, there‘s an inherent contradiction to it.

And what‘s hurting the White House even more than that is that they‘re really out of tools.  They can play the deficit reduction game alongside Republicans, but then they are only going to be compared to Republicans in terms of how much they‘re going to cut. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well said. 

STEIN:  They need something else to turn to say, this is what we‘re doing, whether it‘s on job creation, mortgage modification.  They need something to turn to, to say, look what we‘re doing.  But so far, we have seen it from the debt ceiling talks, from the debt reduction talks, nothing. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that, Joan, that objective facts have to change?  They have to come up with something that unleashes the housing market, that does—even if they have to inflate the economy to do it.  Whatever technique they have to come up with, they have got to break things really before they can break them politically. 

WALSH:  I happen to believe that, except I don‘t see it happening, because—and I do criticize the administration on this front, because I think at a certain point back in time, they bought into the Republican framing that this is about—that we have to care most about deficit reduction.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.

WALSH:  All polls show that people want—care way more about jobs than about deficit reduction.  And there‘s no way to reduce the deficit anymore, Chris, that doesn‘t affect jobs.  We are shedding jobs. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I agree. 

WALSH:  We are shedding federal jobs.  At the state and local level, we are shedding jobs.

So, once he‘s bought into that particular frame, he‘s—his hands are tied.  They are—I was going to say literally tied.

MATTHEWS:  Build, baby, build. 

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  We should be—and I think the progressives ought to be saying, build, baby, build.

WALSH:  Build, baby, build.

MATTHEWS: -- just like the far-righters say, dig, baby—or drill,

baby, drill.  Build, build, build highways, bridges.  Get the list of below

below-code bridges and below-code everything, and fix it. 

WALSH:  There‘s so many.  There‘s so many things. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t get it.  I don‘t get it. 

STEIN:  It‘s not just progressives.  It‘s the Chamber of Commerce, too, that wants infrastructure spending, so it could be a coalition.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Got to go. 

I don‘t know why we‘re not building things.  We should see the cranes up and the highway crews out. 

Anyway, thank you, Sam Stein. 

STEIN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, we agree completely on these things. 

Up next:  Newt Gingrich speaks out about his campaign staff.  Wait until you hear this.   He‘s blaming everybody else for him.  Wow.  Stick around for that.  And he belongs there in the “Sideshow,” right there forever.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  It‘s not you.  It‘s me.  Well, that‘s how Newt Gingrich is explaining away the breakup last week with 16 senior members of his campaign staff. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m for an idea-oriented campaign at the grassroots that builds a momentum so big that we pick up a dozen Senate seats and 30 or 40 House seats. 

I frankly feel liberated.  My campaign consultants understood 30-second attack ads.  They didn‘t understand that you could actually write a book with big ideas.  You could actually campaign talking about big ideas, and they found—it made them very uncomfortable. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, stay on FOX with that argument. 

My hunch is these people saw what they were being taken to.  They were being taken along on a ride, a Newt ride, with only his rainbow at the end.

Next up:  Talk about stealing the show.  Yesterday, Texas Governor Rick Perry gave a big speech up in New York.  The hitch?  His introduction by Guardian Angel Curtis Sliwa.  Bizarre doesn‘t begin to describe it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CURTIS SLIWA, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  If—Governor Perry, if you do take the plunge, let me warn you about the shark-infested water of New York State politics, because the pit bull terriers will be sicced on you. 

The schlepper Chuck E. Cheese Schumer, the father of Anthony the whiner Weiner.  King Cuomo, like all governors in New York, always fancy themselves as being the next president of the United States, whereas we know Texas (INAUDIBLE) is a state where you can actually go and get a job. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell reports that Governor Perry had no idea his introducer was going to say all that.  How could he possibly have told him he was going to do it? 

Finally, say cheese.  Just from—these mug shots of former—John Edwards show the former senator—there they are—with an inexplicably wide smile on his face given the circumstances.  There it is.  You would think it was a campaign photo-op, rather than a booking on charges of conspiracy and campaign finance violations.

By the way, I still think these charges are trumped up.

Up next:  More Republicans are coming out against the wars in Afghanistan and Libya.  Usually, they‘re hawks.  What happened to the Republican Party?  Now they sound more like doves.  Are they just against anything President Obama is for?  I wonder. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL—we will find out—only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A rough day for stocks, as the Greek debt crisis intensified and manufacturing slowed unexpectedly in the Northeast, the Dow plunging 178 points, the S&P falling 22, the Nasdaq tumbling 47 points. 

We were off to a rocky start this morning, as thousands rioted in Athens to protest a new austerity package aimed at saving about $9.5 billion, but it cuts one-fifth of the public work force, and unemployment there is already topping 16 percent. 

Meanwhile, Eurozone leaders failed to agree on a bailout plan, sending the euro skidding nearly 2 percent against the dollar, its sharpest drop in almost a year. 

And that rising dollar helped push oil prices more than 4 percent lower to settle around $95 a barrel.  Also weighing on oil prices and just piling on in general today, we had a surprise contraction in Northeast manufacturing, the region‘s first trip into negative territory since last November. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. WALTER JONES ®, NORTH CAROLINA:  When the president made a decision to go into Libya, our phones were ringing off the hook:  Why and how are we going into Libya? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That‘s Republican Congressman Walter Jones, one of 10 lawmakers, three Democrats and seven Republicans, who today filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration for taking military action in Libya without authorization from Congress.

And at the GOP debate this week, a clear theme of anti-interventions -

anti-interventionism on foreign policy came through loud and clear. 

Have Republicans become more dovish, or do they just want to oppose anything the president, President Obama, is for? 

U.S. Congressman Tim Johnson of Illinois one of the 10 who filed the lawsuit.  Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst. 

Congressman, thank you so much for coming on.  I guess, over the years, especially during the Iraq war, or the second Iraq war, we got used to the Republican Party being more hawkish than the Democratic Party, almost on both sides, being knee-jerk about it.

How do you—how does your position fit in with that, that sort of theme or that history?

REP. TIMOTHY JOHNSON ®, ILLINOIS:  Well, I have a long history, Chris, of having opposed our intervention in the Middle East. 

I, for example, during the Bush administration, opposed the surge, and quite frankly still think the surge was a mistake.  I have a long history, together with Walter Jones and a number of Democrats, of having been more than skeptical about a war that we can‘t win, that costs us lives and that costs us trillions of dollars. 

So this is not some Johnny-come-lately position for me.  I can‘t speak for all my colleagues, but, at least in my case, I have had a long history of having opposed what I think are failed policies. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe you should tell your—your colleagues that you are in the tradition of Republican conservatism in non-involvement in areas that shouldn‘t involve us. 

Pat, that is the tradition -- 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Certainly. 

MATTHEWS: -- of Barry Goldwater.  It‘s the tradition of Bob Taft.  It goes all the way back.  Sometimes, it‘s been wrong, but generally that‘s been the position. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, it goes right back to Washington and Jefferson.  We say out of quarrels that are not—where America‘s vital interests are not imperiled or not engaged.  And we stay out of those wars.

And we did so I guess all the way up to—you could say the war against Spain, in which the United States grew into the greatest country on Earth, while the Europeans had all been tearing themselves apart. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let‘s take a look at this larger question.  Let‘s take a look at a couple questions, Congressman, while we have you.

It seems to me that you heard all these stories about the intramurals in the Obama administration that led to us getting involved in Libya.  What do you think about the case that was made that, if we didn‘t go in there, there would be a slaughter of humanity in Benghazi and we would blamed like we were blamed in Rwanda for having stood aside and let that happen?

JOHNSON:  I think that case was made, but not convincingly, Chris. 

I believe that the case was made only very tangentially.  There was no absolutism.  And there was a very, very vague reference to what the ultimate result would be. 

So, I simply believed and believe now that we can‘t continue to act on a variety of premises as a basis for American intervention around the world. 

One of the recent speakers at Congressman Paul‘s Thursday luncheons analogized this doctrine to the Bush doctrine of preemptive nation-building.  This is a preemptive humanitarian intervention. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

JOHNSON:  Frankly, if you ask people where these acts have occurred, they say, well, they would have occurred.  Well, who knows whether they would have occurred.

But, in any event, there are over 200 countries around the world, and most of them don‘t share our principles of democracy, humanitarianism and otherwise.  And it‘s just simply not possible, manpower-wise or financially, to act as the world‘s policeman. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at Mitt Romney.  He‘s the front-runner right now on the Republican side.  Here he is on Afghanistan and Michele Bachmann on Libya at that big debate this week.  Let‘s listen to both. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s time for us to bring

our troops home as soon as we possibly can,

But I also think we‘ve learned that our troops shouldn‘t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation.  Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan‘s independence from the Taliban.

JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR:  Congresswoman Bachmann, should the president have supported, joined additionally more U.S. presence, now a NATO operation?  Was that the right thing to do?  Is that in the vital national interest of the United States of America?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  No, I don‘t believe it is.  Our policy in Libya is substantially flawed.  First of all, we were not attacked.  We were not threatened with attack.  There was no vital national interest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s interesting, gentlemen, and, Congressman, especially.

I‘ll start with Pat, because you‘re well-known as a noninterventionist guy.  It‘s—you‘re a paleo-conservative.  You‘re not a neoconservative.  And I‘m just thinking, four years ago, as we watch the debates, every time Ron Paul made a noninterventionist comment about one of these wars overseas, he was booed down and ridiculed by Rudy Giuliani.  And the whole room would mock him.

That seems to be a total change in the mood this time with overseas involvement.  What‘s happened in four years?

BUCHANAN:  You‘re exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  Is it just that we have a Democratic president?

BUCHANAN:  But—Ron Paul—remember when they had the phone-in polls after the debates?  All of a sudden FOX News, what‘s going on?  Ron Paul won the policy.

There‘s been a tremendous and growing anti-interventionist mood in the Republican Party.  It goes back to Bob Taft.  It goes back to Barry Goldwater.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:    But you‘re exactly right, Chris, notice last night, people listened to Ron Paul respectfully to his opinion, and all of them are moving toward his opinion.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to the congressman.

Your colleague, Ron Paul, was a voice in the wilderness as a non-interventionist, not a neocon.  He was paleocon, an old traditional conservative.

Why is he now more in fashion, even with Mitt Romney joined in that chorus?

JOHNSON:  It‘s amazing how things evolve.  I spoke in support two weeks of the Kucinich resolution, supported our immediate withdrawal.

And I made this challenge to Republicans and Democrats.  To my Republican colleagues, I made this point—I challenged them to understand that if they‘re serious about debt reduction, that you can‘t take things off the table, including defense, when we‘ve had now in excess of trillions of dollars expended in the Middle East, and you have to balance the budget.  Those are counterintuitive.

BUCHANAN:  Right.  And, Chris, let me—

JOHNSON:  And I made a challenge to my Democratic friends that if they are opposed to war and the loss of innocent lives and American men and women, that‘s just as applicable to an Obama administration as—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I would have a lightning round question.

Congressman, really quickly, would Ronald Reagan have taken us into Iraq in 2003?

JOHNSON:  Absolutely not.  Absolutely not.

BUCHANAN:  No, he would not have taken us into Iraq.  He used military force three times.  Grenada took about a day.  He took out Libya and the attack -- 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he another problem.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  And then he put the Marines in Lebanon and then he said it was the worst mistake he ever made.  He would not use military force unless American vital interests were imperiled.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  And that‘s why you see Jon Huntsman, another new kid on the block, joining the campaign next Tuesday says of Afghanistan, “If you can‘t define a winning strategy, an exit strategy for the American people where we somehow come out ahead, then we‘re wasting our money and we‘re wasting our strategic resource.”

Boy, there is—Congressman, again to you first.  That is an astoundingly strong statement for a guy who‘s only entering the campaign and trying to get his footing.

JOHNSON:  Absolutely.  The wheel dynamics have changed.  They haven‘t changed for me and Walter Jones and Dennis Kucinich.  They changed for a lot of other people.

BUCHANAN:  Let me tell you why they‘ve changed, a couple of reasons, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the war‘s gotten long.

BUCHANAN:  Six thousand dead.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Forty thousand wounded.  One trillion invested.

Secondly, we‘re broke.  We can‘t fight these wars anymore.  We‘re borrowing money from Europe to defend Europe, borrow from Japan to defend Japan, borrow money from the Gulf States to defend the Gulf States.  It is over.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I can‘t wait to read the Republican platform next year and see if you guys are anti-war after all, or if you‘re hawkish again.

Thank you, Congressman.

JOHNSON:  Thank you very much, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I think the Iraq war has not sold well.

Tim Johnson and Pat Buchanan—thank you very much.  Congressman, please come back.

Up next, is it hip to be square?  If it is, Mitt Romney should be a shoo-in for the presidency.  Wait until you catch the guy‘s humor.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, good news.  Now, another milestone for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  She‘s been released already from her rehabilitation hospital down in Houston, and she‘s moving in with her husband in his house and their house.  Giffords‘ doctors say that after five months of treatment, her cognitive abilities and physical strength have improved to the point where she no longer needs to stay in the hospital.  Amazing what she looks like.

They say they have no doubt she‘ll continue to make significant strides in her recovery.  Great for her.  She‘ll continue treatment now on an outpatient basis.

We‘ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On the debate stage, Mitt Romney comes off as a poised and confident fellow, you might say.  The candidate is always in control.  On the campaign trail, it‘s a different story.

Watch here as Romney pretends that a waitress has just grabbed his backside.  It was yesterday at a New Hampshire diner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Ride in the middle.  Oh, come on.  Much closer.  Much closer. 

Oh, my goodness gracious.  Oh!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think he did it—it‘s so corny, so yesterday, but so funny.  I‘m sorry.

He looked like he was grabbed from behind.  Is the awkwardness endearing or will it turn off voters?

“The Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank, who‘s very good at “The Washington Post” to figuring out these sociological and anthropological realities that make all the difference.

We were talking about how Al Gore, although I still think he came out on points, blew the lead—or gave Bush a big lead back in 2000 with that geeky performance in the debate when he walked up to the guy and said the stupid comment to Bush and got in his space and everything.  Everybody were like, come on, guy.

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Yes.  I think there‘s a lot of similarity there, in that Mitt Romney has a bit of that Al Gore disease.  Both of them look and feel like human beings, but yet there‘s something different from other people.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MILBANK:  And they don‘t seem to relate to humans in the same way.  It‘s not that odd in the sense that they both have very powerful fathers, grew up in this sort of rarefied environment, and they have a little trouble with the chitchat and the diner.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But they all were on football teams.  They all hung

out with other guys.  They know how to deal it.  I think there‘s something

maybe the father, overpowering father.

           

But I want to ask you about Romney, it‘s spontaneity.  It‘s a—a friend of mine is a pollster, a Canadian pollster, once said you need to have spontaneity.  If you can‘t react to surprising events or have fun, people can tell that, the lights aren‘t on.

MILBANK:  Yes.  And I was just following him to a four stops yesterday.  I got this constant feeling like he‘s struggling and trying to find, like he sees a guy shopping in hardware store and he says, “Are you shopping here?”

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

MILBANK:  What do you think?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s Romney at a Martin Luther King parade back in 2008.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Come on.  Who‘s got the camera though?  Who let the dogs out? 

Who, who?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that?  That‘s normal.  That‘s how I behalf right now.  I used to put my arm around people, laugh it up.  Get the pictures taken.

I‘m not a celebrity like him, but I mean, I love having fun with people when I meet them.

MILBANK:  I guess he wants to look like he is having a good time. 

There‘s program, projection, have a good time.

You know, I saw him in one of these diner stops and he hugs the proprietor.  And instead of saying good-bye he says, “You should put your Eggs Benedict in hubcaps,” because he wanted a pun of, there‘s no place like home for the holidays.  So, he said, there‘s no plates like chrome for the Hollandaise.  And she said, “Ha.”

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s Romney explaining his hunting experience back in 2007 (ph).  We‘ve been very unfair here.  Let‘s go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I‘m not a big game hunter.  I made it very clear.  I have always been, if you will, a rodent and rabbit hunter, all right, small varmints, if you will.

And I began when I was 15 or so.  And I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then, more than two times.  I also hunted quail in Georgia.

So, it‘s not really big game hunting, if you will.  It‘s not deer and large animals.  But I have hunted a number of times, of various times of small rodents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What is he (INAUDIBLE), I mean, is Gabby Hayes (ph), varmints?  You could check most people‘s vocabulary in the history of television and they‘ve never said the word varmint on television.

MILBANK:  Outside of a cartoon or something.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Varmint.

MILBANK:  I think what happened there is he said he‘d been because—

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK:  -- then he realized, uh-oh, I never had a hunting license, so how do I get out of this, and he took the varmint route which, of course, gets you back -- 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  He‘s got a strange story, and I don‘t judge anybody by small events.  I hope I don‘t, although it is fun to do it.

He and his family took one of those trips we and our family, my mom and dad took us on.  Everybody in the East Coast gets a ride up to—you go—the closest thing to you Europe, you go to Quebec.  You go where they speak French and it‘s kind of like going to Europe, only a lot cheaper, right?

So, they go on there in a car and they‘re riding—but he puts the dog, which people sometimes travel with, we did, on the roof, in some kind after doghouse up on the roof.

Here he is in 2007, he told a bizarre anecdote about strapping the family dog to the roof of the station wagon for a 12-hour ride.  Well, here is Chris Wallace trying to figure that with him on FOX.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  Question: what were you thinking?

ROMNEY:  This is a completely air tight kennel, and mounted on the top of our car.  He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself.  He was in a kennel at home a great deal of time as well.  We love the dog.  It was—he was comfortable.  And we had five kids inside the car.  My guess is, he liked it a lot better in his kennel than he would have liked it inside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) kids out there.  I mean, first of all, air tight, which is a little scary.

MILBANK:  It‘s going to be a short ride.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you odor, 12 hours without air.  And he says, I think he liked—what‘s the great line?  He said, I‘m pretty sure he liked up there more—my guess is he liked it a lot better.

Well, how does he know what the dog likes?  I mean, what is this—first of all, most people think they will have cartoons.  They won‘t be in a kennel.  The dog in the cartoon with his ears flopping, flying in the wind, tied to the roof.

MILBANK:  You know, what do you do to—

MATTHEWS:  I never heard of this before, by the way.

MILBANK:  No, and who knows if that actually occurred or not.  Maybe he was trying to tell a joke and it went awry.  You can just see it in his face when he knows he said something that‘s going to get him in trouble.  He was looking at the long skirts by the middle aged waitresses and said, “Oh, it‘s just like hooters.”

MATTHEWS:  Oh, no.  OK, well, I can‘t do any further.

You know what?  Dana Milbank, it‘s great to have you on the show. 

Thank you.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with my thoughts about Republicans who are thinking about crashing the party.  They‘re not happy with this party list.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the intrigue on the right.  How right is the Republican Party?  Is it too right for pro-choice Rudy Giuliani to even think about getting in?  So right that Jon Huntsman who‘s for civil unions and climate change is wasting his time joining this jamboree?  Too right even for Mitt Romney?  Is New Hampshire too right for him?

This is the question for 2012.  Has the right word shift to the Republican Party gotten so advanced that the mainstream analysts have lost track of it?  We heard this view last night right here on HARDBALL.  It‘s what Jennifer Donahue told us about New Hampshire and it‘s got me thinking.

Supposed the Republican Party, strengthened as it is by the power of the Tea Party, goes with its heart rather than its head.  What if it feels the pull of Michele Bachmann?  In fact, not just in the Iowa caucuses but in New Hampshire as well?  I believe it can and I base that on the record.

Patrick Buchanan ran a strong campaign against the first President Bush in New Hampshire in 1992 and almost pulled an upset up there.  In 1996, he did pull up an upset against front-runner Bob Dole.

Does it sound reasonable to believe that New Hampshire voter is no longer the old moderate Republican Yankee, but is much more like the angry anti-tax Republicans of the Tea Party, nationwide?

An awful lot of people have moved to the Granite State to escape the taxes in Massachusetts.  They are tough, pro-life and anti-tax.  And they might just find Romney just too darn bland.  They might find Michele Bachmann has the same feelings as they do, the same beliefs, the same conservative gut that they do.

So, here‘s a reality check: is the Republican Party the party of George F. Will and the senior George Bush, or is it the party of the Tea Party?  My evidence from 1992 right through 2010 is that the temper, “don‘t rock the boat” approach of the establishment conservative has lost out to the loud, passionate, “let‘s go for it” attitude of the angry right.  And that‘s going to make all the difference on who gets to win when the party gets to Tampa.

So, stay tuned.  We haven‘t seen nothing yet.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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