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updated 6/21/2011 11:37:28 AM ET 2011-06-21T15:37:28

Guests: Mark Halperin, David Corn, Alex Wagner, Jonathan Martin, Anita Dunn, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mark Penn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The fund-raiser has no clothes.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Under fire.  What‘s wrong with Mitt Romney?  He seems to have everything—the looks, the money, the support, everything but true believers.  This weekend, he got pounded by fellow Republicans for now being hawkish enough on Afghanistan and then for not being strong enough on abortion.  And Rick Perry, who seems to be doing his best George W. Bush imitation—droppin‘ his Gs and makin‘ red meat speeches to crowds on the right.  Will the secessionist governor of Texas become the anti-Romney?  And why is there this deep need for someone, anyone to be that?

Plus, Jon Stewart versus Fox.  If Chris Wallace‘s interview yesterday with Jon Stewart was a prizefight, Wallace must have been playing rope-a-dope.  We‘ll got to the videotape and watch Stewart‘s fair and balanced attack on the right‘s media machine.  What a fight.

Also, what‘s President Obama‘s winning playbook for 2012?  We‘ve got one of the Democrats‘ top strategists here tonight to tell us what the president needs to do and what he needs to avoid doing to win four more years in the White House.  What could Bill Clinton be doing right now?  What would he be doing?

And as I said last Friday, the Democrats have a potential challenge from women.  The big names in politics these days are on the right—Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, even Nikki Haley.  If the Democrats don‘t do something soon, this might not end well.

Finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with the problem with Mitt Romney.  If he‘s so great, why are Republicans in such bad humor about having him as their nominee?

We‘re going to start with Mitt Romney right now and those who wish he just wasn‘t there.  Mark Halperin‘s an MSNBC senior political analyst and “Time” magazine editor-at-large, and Jonathan Martin is senior political reporter for Politico.  Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

I want you to look at the results of the straw poll that was taken down at the southern—Republican Leadership Conference.  Look at these numbers.  I know these are reflective probably of a polling operation, but Ron Paul won the straw poll, way up there, at the Republican leadership convention down in New Orleans.  Huntsman was a strong second, Bachmann was third, Herman Cain was fourth, Romney finished down in fifth just ahead by 5 points—or 5 votes of Gingrich.

Mark, I‘m trying to figure out to what extent can you just ignore these and to what extent do they show something?  And I know that Ron Paul has his usual cadre, which we all have to respect.  They‘re always there.  But what‘s going on with these numbers?

MARK HALPERIN, “TIME,” MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think both things you said are true.  It doesn‘t mean too much, but it does mean something.  It means that Mitt Romney is not beloved by some members of the grass roots of the party, particularly in the South, where a lot of people at that conference are from.  But he is a formidable fund-raiser, and far and away the most likely outcome is he goes through a scare and he becomes the Republican nominee.

MATTHEWS:  So you think it‘s going to be one of the things like Mondale back in ‘84, where they get beat up by a Gary Hart or a Michele Bachmann, in this case, for a while, but then the establishment stays...

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN:  Not just like Mondale.  Dole had a scare from Pat Buchanan in ‘96.  George W. Bush had a scare when he lost the New Hampshire primary by 19 points.  John McCain had a scare when his campaign almost collapsed.  John Kerry had a scare.  It‘s true in both parties.  Almost always, a dominant front-runner—there are exceptions like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but in most years, in the modern era, there‘s a dominant front-runner.  He looks weak in a million different ways and then he wins the nomination after a scare.

MATTHEWS:  OK, I guess that‘s -- (INAUDIBLE) on the question here.  Jonathan, that‘s the question.  Will—will the establishment or the people that usually have money behind the person, money that tends to call these decisions—but there have been cases, McGovern in ‘72 knocking off Muskie, who was the formidable...

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... the formidable front-runner.  And then you had, of course...

MARTIN:  Obama.

MATTHEWS:  You had Barry Goldwater knocking off Rockefeller because he had the marriage situation there, marrying somebody and leaving the kids somewhere else.  But you don‘t think it could be a breakout, even with the Tea Party feeling out there and passion running rampant over there on the Republican side?

MARTIN:  There is always a conservative alternative to an establishment candidate in a Republican primary.  And the last few decades have shown that the establishment candidates always finds his way to the nomination.  Now, have the rules changed what they were (INAUDIBLE) Tea Party?  Well, I mean, we‘re going to find out.

But Chris, one of the things that Romney has going for him is it does not seem like, right now, at least, there is one candidate to Romney‘s right that is going to sort of coalesce...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MARTIN:  ... all the support.  (INAUDIBLE) you have Bachmann.  You have potentially Perry.  You have Herman Cain.  You have Newt.  There‘s a lot of folks, but there‘s not one obvious one just yet.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I keep going back to the fact that Huckabee can‘t stand him, that McCain couldn‘t stand him enough to put Palin on the ticket.  You know, Mark—there‘s nobody better than Mark.  I want to get back to you, Mark.  What is this internal (ph) in him that you keep getting from people, this dislike?

But first of all, let‘s look at Rick Perry this weekend exciting the crowds in New Orleans, the governor of Texas.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS:  That mix of arrogance and audacity that guides the Obama administration is an affront to every freedom-loving American and a threat to every private sector job in this country!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

PERRY:  There is no greater goal, no more crucial time than right now to take and make our stand to restore our economy, our families, our countries (SIC).  And I happen to know that we can and I know that you will!  God bless you.  And thank you all for being out here today, and God bless the United States of America!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, those jerky motions of his gestures suggest to me a person who‘s pretending something.  But why is Rick Perry doing this, Mark?  Is this thinking that there‘s a hole there that‘s not there in the numbers, a hole with Romney that can be filled by a Rick Perry.

HALPERIN:  Well, look, there‘s clearly a hole.  Romney is not a Southerner.  He‘s not a Tea Party favorite.  And he‘s not a religious evangelical conservative.  So there‘s a huge hole.  There‘s room to get around Mitt Romney.

And Rick Perry on paper, particularly with his record on jobs in Texas, has got a chance to do that.  I think he‘s—he‘s an—he‘s an all-star performer.  Not to take away from his record in Texas, but he is an all-star performer...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HALPERIN:  ... and he‘s exciting to the base.  And there‘s a hunger for that.  That‘s why Herman Cain has done well.  That‘s why Michele Bachmann has done well.  Perry would bring, in theory, more money and a record of governance that Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann don‘t have.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry, Mark.  You know this business very well.  My feeling—and I usually operate from watching these for years and gut feeling.  There‘s a couple people running who are what they seem to be.

HALPERIN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s another that isn‘t what he seems to be.  Pawlenty doesn‘t know what he is.  Romney doesn‘t know what he is.  Here‘s a third guy pretending—you say performer.  I take you at your word.  Performance.  At what point are the people who really believe in their passionate right-wing politics going to look through these guys and say, These guys are auditioning for my support, they‘re not one of us?

HALPERIN:  Well, Perry‘s challenge is...

MATTHEWS:  Perry‘s not for real, is he?  Is he the real thing, this guy...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... with the jerky motions and the phony talk about secession and this nonsense?

HALPERIN:  He‘s been governor for 10 years in Texas and he‘s...

MATTHEWS:  I know.  It‘s Texas.

HALPERIN:  But he‘s proven formidable down there, easily beating Kay Bailey...

MATTHEWS:  All you got do is...

HALPERIN:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  ... play to the right-wing yahoos and they fall for it.

HALPERIN:  But easily beating Kay Bailey Hutchison in the primary.  I mean, that proves something down there because she was obviously very...

MATTHEWS:  He went to the hard right.

HALPERIN:  ... formidable.  Well, of course.  But he knows how to win a primary...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Look at the way he‘s looking at the notes.  Look at the gestures, the way he‘s like...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got them written—a puppet, like he‘s got them written on a screen...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Pastor (ph) Perry.

MATTHEWS:  You got it.  I was thinking Marjoe.  Here he is, Governor Perry again.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY:  When it comes to conservative social issues, it saddens me when sometimes my fellow Republicans duck and cover in the face of pressure from the left.

And our loudest opponents on the left are never going to like us, so let‘s quit trying to curry favor with them!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘m looking at the gestures.  I‘m trying to learn.  Here‘s—there out there on the left, Mark.  My hand‘s waving out here.  I mean, actually, it‘s the right.  He‘s got the wrong hand out there.  And then you got this steeple, this steeple—the old thing about the church steeple when you‘re morally superior to the person.  This is body language that he picked up in some sort of paint-by-numbers kit somewhere.  This steeple—Oh, it really bothers me—that sort of—you know, that very serious church-like voice and—what is this, for real?  Do people buy this stuff?

MARTIN:  Well, they sure were in that crowd.  I was there, Chris, I mean, on Saturday.  He was definitely getting a huge response from that crowd.  The crowd‘s eating him up.

To Mark‘s point, Rick Perry is somebody—if you are a conservative and you don‘t want Huntsman, Pawlenty or Romney because they‘re too moderate for you, but you want someone with more credentials than a Bachmann or a Cain, Perry could be your person.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go back to you...

HALPERIN:  He‘s the most (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to bet you right now, Mark—you know the business.  Do you really believe this guy is going to face the lions, he‘s going to put his name in there, be vetted, go through all the personal stuff that goes on in politics, and really reach in there with all of his might and this Marjoe number he‘s doing with his gestures—is he really going to run for president and take the heat?  Is that your bet?

HALPERIN:  My gut has not been perfect, though I‘m doing better than 50 percent on people running and not running.  I don‘t think he‘s going to run.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think so, either.  You think he‘s going to run?  I think this is pretense.  By the way, my point on this is that—not knowing much here, but he didn‘t do a couple of a things that laid down to me why I don‘t know he‘s running.  Jonathan, why‘d he lay out all the reasons why he couldn‘t run this weekend?  I don‘t have the money ready.  I don‘t have the timing ready.  Why is he—I never heard a politician give so many reasons why he won‘t run, unless he doesn‘t want to run or he‘s afraid to run.

MARTIN:  Well, in fairness, they‘re—they‘re saying the issue is that we‘re weighing before he definitely gets in.  His adviser told me over the weekend, top adviser, Dave Carney—been around for a long time—it‘s 50-50.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Carney‘s first choice was Nick—was—or was...

MARTIN:  Was Newt Gingrich.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was his first choice.  Give me a break.

MARTIN:  So 50-50.  So look—look, I—look, I think...

MATTHEWS:  This is pathetic.  The Republican Party...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  Let me finish!

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry, Jon.  I will let you finish.

MARTIN:  All right.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll let you finish.

MARTIN:  Look, I think it‘s possible that he does run, but it‘s hardly a sure thing.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think he‘s going to run.  Let‘s take a look—here‘s John McCain hitting Romney on Sunday.  They‘re all hitting him from all sides.  I—this is fair.  This is personal.  McCain doesn‘t like Romney.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I wish that candidate Romney and all the others would sit down with General Petraeus and understand how this counterinsurgency is working and succeeding.  For us to abandon Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the Taliban and radical Islamic extremists would be repeating the mistakes we made before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, not many people see that show on Sunday.  Mark, I have to—it‘s called “This Week.”  It doesn‘t get many viewers.  But there‘s McCain.  Why would he be going on against what looks to be the front-runner if he‘s really going to be the front-runner?  Why tag him right now?

HALPERIN:  Because he wants to keep John—Mitt Romney from going in the direction that the party is currently drifting, towards public opinion and against the war.  And John McCain, along with the other two amigos, Lindsey Graham...

(LAUGHTER)

HALPERIN:  ... and Joe Lieberman, are, you know, the big voices now on the right to say, Stay the course in Afghanistan.  And anyone in that position watching the debate, watching Jon Huntsman‘s rhetoric, Mitt Romney‘s rhetoric, even Michele Bachmann‘s rhetoric are seeing a different Republican Party emerging in this—towards 2012, and McCain doesn‘t like that one bit.

MATTHEWS:  You first, and then Jonathan.  Is there a sense they‘re so desperate now and they think they can win this—because it looks like a 50-50 bet, given the economy—that they‘re willing to basically drop all the rules, the acid tests, even—even not being totally strong on abortion, willing to cut off the hospitals and the VAs (INAUDIBLE) give abortions—perform abortions, not really pushing that as a hawk, the usual standards?  Are they willing to drop a bunch of them for Romney because they want him to—because don‘t think he‘s the real thing, therefore, they‘re willing not to demand he be the real thing?

HALPERIN:  That is complicated.  I think he‘s—I think he‘s going to benefit—if he keeps up stressing economics and not making mistakes, he‘s going to benefit from the fact that he‘s going to look like the safe, electable choice against a president with high unemployment.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Do you think they‘re willing—same thing—same thing—are they willing to drop all their rules, even credibility, even belief he is a tough conservative, like they‘d like to nominate?  I mean, they‘re going to get eight years with this guy if he wins, probably.  So do they really want him to be president of the United States for eight years, the people on the right?

MARTIN:  If he can make the case that he is the one that can beat Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS:  And be president for eight years.

MARTIN:  That‘s what the base of the party wants right now.  They want to beat Barack Obama.  If he...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... second he gets in, they start complaining about him.

MARTIN:  Chris, he will look a heck of a lot better if he finishes the money in Iowa and then wins New Hampshire big.  He‘s going to have big mo going into South Carolina, and...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) I‘m watching, you know, Jennifer—who was that Jennifer that was on the other night?  Donahue?  Donahue?  So smart.  I‘m going to go with Jennifer Donahue, even though I forgot her name for a second...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  Oh, in New Hampshire.  New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS:  New Hampshire.  If Bachmann pulls an upset and knocks this guy off in New Hampshire, which I think is really good, given the fact you‘re still going to—because the proportional representation...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... there‘ll still be a lot of candidates in the field.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  One woman against four or five guys, one cultural conservative, one woman, again, one real conservative against four or five guys—she knocks them off in New Hampshire, she wins 37 percent, he‘s 35, watch out.

Anyway, thank you, Mark Halperin.  Be sure to check out, by the way, the new iPad app for Mark Halperin‘s “The Page” that launched—they didn‘t expect me to say...

MARTIN:  He‘s in Twitter, too.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s all good.  Anyway, good luck with that.  He‘s everywhere.  Thank you, Jonathan Martin.  Thank you, gentlemen, both for coming on.

Coming up: We got a real prize fight coming up here, and it is somewhat imbalanced, Jon Stewart smashing his way through Chris Wallace‘s face to make a point.  It is a brutal fight.  What an assault against Fox that he led Sunday morning.  Let‘s watch it, for those who haven‘t seen it.

You‘re watching HARDBALL.  We‘re  bringing you Jon Stewart in just a minute, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is back in Houston after a weekend trip back home to Arizona.  Giffords was back in Tucson for the first time since she was shot in January this weekend.  And while she made no public appearances, she met with many of her close friends and relatives and even took a drive around the city.  And one of the places she passed, a bar called the Shanty (ph) near the University of Arizona campus, had an optimistic “Welcome home” sign hanging out that said “Giffords for U.S. Senate.”

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  How about we toast and we both take a big drink out of our mugs?

JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  I mean, you know, it‘s interesting that the mug itself...

WALLACE:  No, no, no.  Drink...

STEWART:  Oh, I‘m sorry.

WALLACE:  No talking, just drink the water.

STEWART:  Why do you want me to drink it?

WALLACE:  Just—please.

STEWART:  It‘s just interesting that you want me to drink it.  Why don‘t you have a taste of this first?

WALLACE:  I‘m drinking it myself.

STEWART:  Yes, but we could have different waters.

WALLACE:  Well, come on.

STEWART:  No, I‘ve...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE:  You wouldn‘t be scared of this.

STEWART:  All right.

WALLACE:  Not so.  There you go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Now, Chris made his first mistake when he told Jon Stewart something like, Don‘t—stop doing—he said, Stop talking.  That was where the—he gave him that look.

Anyway, back to HARDBALL.  With that wary beginning, Chris Wallace and Jon Stewart did battle on Fox yesterday.  Who won?  Well, you decide.  You can certainly figure out who lost.

David Corn‘s Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” and an MSNBC political analyst.  And up in New York is Alex Wagner.  He‘s a reporter for the HuffingtonPost and also an MSNBC analyst.

Gentleman and lady, thank you for watching.  This is one of the great prizefights of all time on television.  Here‘s Chris Wallace asking Jon Stewart about the politics of a recent comedy routine featuring Sarah Palin.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE:  You take your own shot...

STEWART:  Yes.

WALLACE:  ... recently at Sarah Palin.  You compared her video of her one bus—“One Nation” bus tour to a certain commercial.  Let‘s take a look (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As the tour rolls on...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... stopping at historic places, like Gettysburg...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And then to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell.

STEWART:  You know what‘s cool, man?  The way they had reporters finishing each others‘ sentences.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  Where have I seen that technique before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... Genital herpes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I try to be careful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Very careful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Very careful.

WALLACE:  Sarah Palin and a herpes drug?  Really?

STEWART:  Yes.  As a technique for a commercial?  You don‘t—so you‘re saying that by comparing the technique that she used in her video to a technique...

WALLACE:  To a herpes commercial?

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE:  You were not making a political comment?

STEWART:  You really think that‘s a political comment?

WALLACE:  Yes.

STEWART:  You‘re insane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s strong language!  He‘s saying “You‘re insane.” 

Who‘s right on that one?

DAVID CORN, “MOTHER JONES,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  David Corn?

CORN:  I thought—my advice to Chris Wallace is never try to outwit a true wit, which is Jon Stewart.  I mean, Chris didn‘t look like he brought the ammo to this showdown, to this fight at the OK corral, which he was trying to wage.  I mean, he‘s...

MATTHEWS:  He wielded a Howitzer!

CORN:  He‘s up against Mark Twain!  Would you get on Mark Twain‘s case for being tough on slave owners in the South?  I mean, I thought it was like two different worlds colliding, and Chris just didn‘t look like he had a foot in either one.

MATTHEWS:  You know, actually, I waiting for him to get—he was thinking that Jon was going to say, yes, you got me on that, yes, you‘re right, I‘m wrong.  Fox is right, I‘m wrong.  It was—he was pretty smart in responding to him with nuance, like, Give me a break, did I actually say herpes was the same as Sarah Palin?  No, you‘re the one that picked up on that.

ALEX WAGNER, HUFFINGTONPOST, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think the idea, the contention that Chris Wallace was trying to equate that with a partisan political attack was some sort of fuzzy math. 

And when it comes down to it, look, Jon Stewart says over and over again, I am a comedian.  And in this—and in this case and in a lot of other cases, the fodder on the right happens to be a lot more powerful than the fodder on the left. 

You have to look no further than the GOP presidential debate last week.  You have Michele Bachmann saying the EPA should be called the job-killing organization of America. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  So, there‘s more target out there.

WAGNER:  You have Herman Cain talking about Muslims who are trying to kill us. 

There‘s just a lot of fuel there.  And so can he be blamed as a comedian for going there for his joke material?

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s Stewart himself distinguishing himself from Chris Wallace.  This is very personal.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”:  Here is the difference between you and I.  I‘m a comedian first.  My comedy is informed by an ideological background.  There‘s no question about that.

But the thing that you will never understand and the thing that in some respects conservative activists will never understand is that Hollywood, yes, they‘re liberal, but that‘s not their primary motivating force. 

I‘m not an activist.  I‘m a comedian.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  All right.  I want to thank you for saying that because...

STEWART:  Yes?

WALLACE:  ... “Baltimore Sun” TV critic David Zurawik—put it up on the screen—says that is your dodge: “Stewart is never held accountable in his media criticism, is he?  When he is wrong, he goes in the tap dance of saying, OK, he‘s only a comedian and shouldn‘t be taken seriously.”

STEWART:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about that—when did I say to you I‘m only a comedian?  I said I‘m a comedian first.  That‘s not only.  Being a comedian is harder than what you do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

CORN:  If that wasn‘t a swing and a miss, I don‘t know what was.  He‘s like, oh, we have the Baltimore TV critic.  He‘s going to put you in your place.  And guess what?

MATTHEWS:  Who you have never heard of. 

CORN:  He doesn‘t.  What was Chris Wallace thinking?  He couldn‘t even make the criticism himself.  That‘s what kind of made this sad. 

MATTHEWS:  Your first point was so smart.  Alex, you‘re up against a wit. 

Jon Stewart, whatever you think is politics—and I think he‘s generally right—he‘s so fricking smart that you cannot take him on mano a mano. 

WAGNER:  Absolutely.

And this is—this is stuff that he‘s thought about.  It‘s not—he does not hold a rally to restore sanity without thinking of the implications of that.

He clearly wants to be something more than just a showman.  But at the end of the day, he is—he doesn‘t—he doesn‘t pretend to be that.  He‘s not a politician.  I think Jon Stewart has a very healthy skepticism of the American political machine.  I think he thinks it‘s in a lot of respects broken and too partisan.  And like some of the best journalists out there, he aspires to keep people honest. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  My problem with Stewart is, I think his attack on everybody, including me and everybody else in our business, fine.  Satire is all important.  Keeping us honest, trashing us is fine. 

But, in the end, you have to have something to replace us.  You still need elected officials.  You still need newspeople.  You still need analysts.  These are necessary forces in a democracy.

Here‘s Wallace and Stewart disagree on what each aspires to be.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)

STEWART:  Are you suggesting that you and I are the same?  Are you suggesting that—what am I at my highest aspiration, and what are you at your highest aspiration?  Tell me.

WALLACE:  I think—honestly...

STEWART:  Honestly.

WALLACE:  ... I think you want to be a political player.

STEWART:  You are wrong.  You‘re dead wrong.  I appreciate—I appreciate what you‘re saying.

Do I want my voice heard?  Do I want my voice heard?  Absolutely. 

That‘s why I got into comedy.

Am I an activist in your mind, an ideological, partisan activist?

WALLACE:  Yes.

STEWART:  OK.  Then I disagree with you.

You can‘t understand, because of the world you live in, that there is not a designed ideological agenda on my part to effect partisan change, because that‘s the soup you swim in. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s just ad hominem, OK? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s—can we live with that?  He‘s just trashing him at that point.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Alex, you first here, young lady.  Let‘s go to this whole point here.

Are you used to this kind of personal back and forth on television?  This is rare to be—they were talking to each other, not to principles or to cartoons, but people, each of them. 

(CROSSTALK)

WAGNER:  This felt sort of like a holier-than-thou sort of rant, and Jon Stewart looking down from the great mountain of popular comedy at this little FOX anchor and sort of dressing him down.

And the soup you swim in, you just get this vision of a gnat sort of swirling the drain. 

CORN:  Yes.  Yes. 

WAGNER:  I thought that was unfortunate.  And I think it undermined his larger point. 

And I think, look, he has some legitimate criticisms to lob at FOX—lobby at FOX—lob at FOX News, but he didn‘t do a very effective job, precisely to your point, Chris, because it seemed so personal and because it seemed almost like a vendetta. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I just thought that the whole thing was a bunch of trash that was put together for Jon Stewart, and he‘s faster than they are. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  I disagree with Alex.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Go with it.

CORN:  I think that Jon Stewart, he just said, you can‘t touch me. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CORN:  It was like watching a ballet dancer and an IRS tax auditor.  There was no competition here.  He says, you can‘t conceive of my world, you don‘t understand me.  You think you know me.  But you have no clue. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s try to explicate this poetry.  It seems to me that Jon Stewart is saying in his defense or offense, number one, my number-one goal is entertainment.  My number two goal, which I have, is to make a point. 

CORN:  Right. 

But Will Rogers, Mark Twain, Mort Sahl, a lot of people have done this over the years.  There‘s nothing new about that. 

MATTHEWS:  What was Chris Wallace‘s point that his number-one goal was politics, his number-two goal was entertainment?  What was it, Alex? 

WAGNER:  It was to—I mean, his point was that FOX was a viable alternative to the partisan rhetoric that‘s being espoused by certain channels and people like Jon Stewart. 

But I think lumping Jon Stewart in with certain media channels and certain politicians is inaccurate.  And I think Jon Stewart made a very good case as to why it‘s inaccurate. 

MATTHEWS:  Then he went back 15 -- well, here it is.  Here‘s Wallace and—Chris Wallace on viewers.  Let‘s take a look at what they‘re saying. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)

STEWART:  The embarrassment is that I‘m given credibility in this world because of the disappointment that the public has in what the news media does.

WALLACE:  I don‘t think...

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART:  ... not because I have an ideological agenda. 

WALLACE:  I don‘t think our viewers are the least bit disappointed with us.  I think our viewers think, finally, they‘re getting somebody who tells the other side of the story. 

STEWART:  Right.  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART:  And in the polls...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE:  No, no, no, no.  One more example. 

STEWART:  ... who is the most consistently misinformed media viewers, the most consistently misinformed?  FOX, FOX viewers, consistently, every poll. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CORN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  You know, this is the problem with people who are in the media criticizing the media.  This is why I try to avoid it, because just like whenever you read in a paper about a baseball player trashing some other baseball player, it doesn‘t look right, does it? 

CORN:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Play ball.  Do your job. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  But Jon Stewart had the facts on his side, and Wallace didn‘t respond. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CORN:  To me, the most interesting part of that exchange was what Chris Wallace said.  He said, what do we do at FOX?  We tell the other side of the story. 

He said that earlier in the interview too.  He said we‘re the counterweight. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an admission Roger wouldn‘t have made.

CORN:  We‘re the counterweight. 

But wait a second.  I thought they are fair and balanced. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said.

CORN:  He‘s—no, he‘s saying...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think he should not have admitted that.  I think that‘s the truth. 

CORN:  That‘s the truth, yes.

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, I think that‘s what all viewers of FOX know they‘re watching, an alternative to other medium—other media. 

They don‘t think they‘re watching fair and balanced.  They think that‘s a joke, fair and balanced.  They‘re a balancing act.  That‘s different. 

(CROSSTALK)

WAGNER:  Of course. 

(CROSSTALK)

WAGNER:  Four of the five president—there are serious presidential contenders that are FOX News anchors.  To presume that that channel isn‘t some sort of bullpen for the Republican Party, I think, is ludicrous.  And it‘s something that, you know, Jon Stewart didn‘t bring up.

CORN:  Serious?   

MATTHEWS:  Quote of the night, quote of the night, the bullpen for the Republican nomination. 

Thank you, David Corn.  Thank you, Alex Wagner.

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  The Republicans brought an Obama impersonator to their conference this weekend, the Republican Leadership Conference.  I don‘t know about this.  You decide.  Was it offensive or not, these jokes about—were they too ethnic?  I guess there‘s good ethnic, but this wasn‘t it. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

In case you missed it, Bill Maher had me on Friday night, along with the great Kevin Nealon. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”)

BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  I remember when Dick Cheney was in office.  He used to go hunting.  And I said that, once, he shot like 70 pheasants in one day. 

To me, this is so much more psychotic than anything Anthony Weiner ever did. 

MAHER:  And...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MAHER:  ... he—he—do you remember that story? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you on...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But who had more fun? 

MAHER:  What?

MATTHEWS:  Who had more fun?  Cheney. 

KEVIN NEALON, COMEDIAN:  Politicians like to show us that they‘re hunters, so they can protect our country during a war. 

MAHER:  Right. 

NEALON:  But I don‘t think we have ever been at war with pheasants before, have we, or animals of that nature.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  I guess there‘s a difference in smashing Easter chicks in a box, but I don‘t know...

(CROSSTALK)

NEALON:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes. 

MAHER:  All right, let me ask...

MATTHEWS:  Cheney had a lot of deferments when it came to people. 

MAHER:  Yes, five deferments, exactly.  Yes, tough guy.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  By the way, his name is Cheney.  It‘s not Cheney.

MAHER:  I know.  You insist on that, Chris.   

MATTHEWS:  It‘s his name...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... anybody in the Wyoming phone book and ask how you pronounce the guy‘s name.  It‘s Cheney.

MAHER:  All right.  All right.  All right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  I know everybody has their little thing. 

NEALON:  Who has a Wyoming phone book? 

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Who still has a phone book?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here it is. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, actually, it is Cheney.  He just doesn‘t care what people mispronounce it.  He doesn‘t care what you think, period.  Cheney.

Next stop: entertainment going wrong.  This weekend, the organizers of the Republican Leadership Conference down in New Orleans hired an Obama impersonator.  What do you think of this material? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My favorite month is February, Black History Month.  You see, Michelle, she celebrates the full month, and, you know, I celebrate half. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My father is a black man from Kenya.  And my mother was a white woman from Kansas.  So, yes, my mother loved a black man, and, no, she wasn‘t a Kardashian. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Well, I guess he got the hook—there it is—when he went after Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. 

By the way, ethnic humor can be tricky.  Sometimes, it works—sometimes.  And, sometimes, apparently in this case, we‘d be better off without it.  Kardashian humor?  Anything about them leaves me cold. 

Anyway, up next: what I think could be a real problem for the Democrats and President Obama.  They have got to do something about the lack of women, the star power at the highest level of their politics.  The Republican right seems to be dominated with women power right now. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks moving to the upside in very light trading, a double-digit gain for the Dow, adding 76 points, the S&P 500 tacking on six, the Nasdaq jumping 13 points. 

Especially light volume today, as investors wait for a decision on the Greek bailout and Wednesday‘s statement from the Federal Reserve.  Health insurers gained on growing interest in a sector that has held gains despite a pullback in the broader markets.  Financials were the only sector finishing in the red, after Citigroup cut price targets on Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. 

PNC Financial struck a deal to buy the Royal Bank of Canada‘s retail operations for $3.5 billion.  And most retailers moved higher after J.C.  Penney filled in some details about the upcoming CEO switch bringing in Apple‘s former head of retail operations.  And China trimmed tariffs on luxury goods. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The 2008 presidential campaign, historic for many reasons, was watched with huge interest among women, as Hillary Clinton fought Barack Obama for the nomination right to the end.  Will the Republicans, well, can they tap the excitement and spark of Sarah Palin this time, Michele Bachmann, and up-and-coming governors like South Carolina‘s Nikki Haley?

Do the Democrats have enough women in the Cabinet and in national office, big governorships, for example, to counter the right this time?

Let‘s ask two influential Democratic women, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who runs the Democratic Party.  And, also, let‘s talk about—well, let‘s talk about—let‘s talk to Anita Dunn now.  She served as communications director for the Obama White House and as senior adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign. 

Let me talk to you, first, Debbie.  Congresswoman thank you so much for this. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me that the Republican—all the acts—I personally think Michele Bachmann, your colleague, is going to be a real challenger to Mitt Romney.  And I think she may knock him off in New Hampshire.  There‘s going to be a lot of excitement. 

At the convention come next summer, at the end of summer, you‘re going to see Palin out there in prime time.  Probably, you‘re going to see Nikki Haley in prime time. 

Is this—I have heard this from one of our producers over and over again.  So, I repeat it now.  The star quality on the right needs to be matched by star quality on the left and center-left. 

Your thoughts. 

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA:  Well, my thoughts are this.

Women voters in this country are not superficial, that they go to the polls based on substance and the issues that matter to them, particularly when you have got an economy that is continuing to—to need to push forward and pick up the pace of recovery.

Women make the majority of the economic decisions.  So, when you have got—quote, unquote—“star power” on the other—on the other side that‘s appealing to the extreme right-wing fringe, I think actually that will repel most women.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  And just the fact that you have got some women who happen to be on the ballot on their side, I don‘t think that‘s going to find—I think that‘s going to leave most women voters in this country wanting, because they‘re dramatically out of step with the priorities of women voters. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Anita, that may be well, because I remember, Florida, where Congresswoman Schultz is from, certainly, Sarah Palin scares the bejesus out of a lot of people in South Florida. 

ANITA DUNN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  That‘s right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s one of the reasons why the president did so well there.

But let me look at some things, some facts.  The Cabinet right now, there are 16 members of the president‘s Cabinet.  Only four are women, in the top ranks, only Senator—or Senator, now Secretary Clinton in the top eight positions. 

Shouldn‘t a party that owes most of its votes to women, who most of the voters are women, shouldn‘t it be more represented at the top in Cabinet posts, in governorships, in top positions?

DUNN:  You know, Chris, it‘s interesting when you raise these issues, because I look at—I look at the Democratic Party right now.  And, you know, Debbie can‘t say this, but I will.  We have a next generation of women stars who will be equally exciting when all of the coverage of Democrats isn‘t as focused on the White House and the administration.

So, for example, it was almost 20 years ago that we had the year of the woman, right, in 1992.  Yes, think about it, 20 years ago.

MATTHEWS:  I remember it very well, a big year for senators.

DUNN:  It was a huge—but also for members of the House of Representatives where we had a huge number of Democratic women swept into office.  And what‘s interesting now is we had the next generation of stars coming along, people like Debbie Wassermann Schulz, who is the chairman of the Democratic Party, when you talk about women in leadership positions.  You know, the junior senator in New York, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand—how can anybody say she‘s not a rising star?

MATTHEWS:  I think she‘s a rising star.

DUNN:  She is a rising star.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Now, we‘re getting something done here.

So, let me go to Congresswoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz.

I‘m sorry for calling you Debbie.  This is the first time I‘ve ever done this.  We‘re talking about women powers.  It‘s my faux pas of the night.

DUNN:  I did too, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  But you can, you‘re a colleague of hers.  I‘m covering her.

Let me ask you this about—when people come up to me, and it really bugs that I don‘t know the answer.  Just forget Jennifer just a second, they say, who are the rising stars?  You cover politics, who‘s going to be the ones running for president where Barack Obama has gotten this run, or Mitt Romney has his run, or whatever happens?  Who are the women, for example, 2016, 2020?

MSNBC already signed contracts for the Olympics.  When you look ahead to the Olympics, politically, who‘s coming around the corner—

Congresswoman?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA:  As Anita just said, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar.  You have so many women like those two.  We do have a next generation of women.

MATTHEWS:  Keep going.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Hilda Solis, who is the cabinet secretary for labor.  I mean, we have a number of different women around the country that are in the next generation, that are going to have a opportunity to excite voters.  You‘ll see them evolve over the next two years and they will pick up the mantle and carry on with the issues that matter to women—because, again, like I have to go back to the substance, Chris.  I mean, women care about making sure we don‘t devastate the education system in this country.  That we make sure that we make those investments so our kids can get prepared to be the best they can be on the path they choose in life.

Kids—women want to make sure that we‘re not cutting the legs out

from under our seniors by ending Medicare as we know it.  I mean, the bread

and butter issues that matter to women voters are really driven by women

candidates all across the ballot.  And nine times out of 10, the exciting -

the exciting candidates, the exciting elected officials and the exciting women appointees are Democrats.

      

That‘s why there is a hugely lopsided number of women that serve in Congress as Democrats as opposed to Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re watching—we‘re all going to watch the Republican fight.  I believe—I‘ve had her on this program.  In many ways, I think this program made her, for better or worse, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

DUNN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t say absolutely.

DUNN:  Chris, you will live with that.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m thinking she—I think she is what she is.  I think she‘s—I don‘t think there‘s any fraud in that woman—that person at all.  I think there are people like Romney and Pawlenty and this guy, Rick Perry, who are thinking every day, what am I going to be tomorrow.  I think she knows who she is—on the right.

Now, you as a woman, not as well as me, but you watch it and say—

I‘m asking you this—are you watch her and wish we had a woman fighting this out on the top of the Democratic side this year?

DUNN:  Well, you know, Chris, I actually am very happy that we have Barack Obama fighting it out at the top of the Democratic side.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Absolutely.

DUNN:  And, frankly, I can‘t think of anybody better.

But let me make a point because you raise a really good one.  First of all, it‘s healthy for the system that the Republican Party finally has women moving up its ranks the way the Democratic Party has for decades.  And I think then senator now Secretary Clinton‘s race in 2008 did say to women—come on, take a chance.

Now, look, I‘m going to ask—

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she may be partially responsible for the move on the right by women?

DUNN:  Well, maybe.  And let me—let me add one other name to the list of the people on the right, that‘s Susana Martinez, who‘s the governor of New Mexico, who I se as a rising star also.  This is a good thing.

But let me also point out that in 2008, after then Senator Obama defeated Clinton for the nomination, there‘s a lot of press speculation about, well, you know, women aren‘t going to vote for Obama.  And, of course, when Sarah Palin was chosen, there was a lot of the sort of—oh, now, all of the women are going to vote for Sarah Palin—which is insulting.

Women like any other people in this country are going to make an independent, educated choice.  And it goes back to what Congresswoman Wassermann Schultz was saying, which is at the end of the day, there are issues here.

Now, Michele Bachmann is—she‘s as authentic a person as you‘re going to se anyone who watched the debate as I did, walked out of it saying, wow, those 23 foster children, what an admirable person.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DUNN:  But being admirable doesn‘t make her, for instance, somebody I‘d vote for for president.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Chris—

MATTHEWS:  Well, not you.

(LAUGHTER)

DUNN:  Not me.

(CROSSTALK)

DUNN: -- for a lot of other women.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, go ahead.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  I wanted to just follow up on the heels of what Anita is saying, because it would put a little meat on the bones of what President Obama has done for women.  And that‘s what‘s going to drive women voters to the polls.

The first bill that he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Act, to make sure that women could have equal pay, fight for equal work for equal work in court.  He appointed only two—the only two Supreme Court appointments, both of them women.  He has passed the Affordable Care Act to finally end the discriminatory practice that private insurance companies had against women, treating women just because of our gender as a pre-existing condition.  And the list goes on and on—fighting to protect the woman‘s right to choose.

I mean, there are dramatic differences between the priorities of Republicans and these extreme radical candidates that they‘ve got on the other side.

President Obama‘s mainstream policies for women talking about the issues that women—that matter to women economically, making sure that women can stand up for their kids, and making sure that—because that‘s all women care about.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Most women care about making sure that they want to press forward, to make their children‘s lives better.  And if you look at the difference, it‘s Democrats under President Obama‘s leadership that will be able to do that.

MATTHEWS:  We have to do more shows on this.  Thank you very much, as always.

Thank you, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee.  And Anita Dunn, who‘s a real pro.

Up next: What does President Obama need to do and what does he need to do—avoid, rather, to get re-elected.  Longtime Clinton strategist Mark Penn joins us next.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, finish with the Republican candidate that has no clothes.   Wait until you hear at the end of this show.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ve said it before many times, the most important alliance in Democratic politics right now is the partnership between President Obama, former President Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, forged by the appointment of her as secretary of state.

President Clinton is on the cover, by the way, of “Newsweek”—there he is, talking about something that could sink President Obama, the jobs number.

What can the Clintons do for President Obama in 2012?

Mark Penn could—is really a great guy.  He‘s former senior strategist for both the Clintons.

Mark, thanks for coming on.  And I don‘t know if you‘re going to give away any trade secrets here.  But I keep wondering—is this alliance holding?

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Oh, I definitely think it is.  I think the Clintons are going to do everything they can try to help Barack Obama get re-elected.

MATTHEWS:  And what does the key from him to them?  What does he have to do for them to make sure that they—I think of southwestern Pennsylvania, some tougher areas, Appalachian, Pennsylvania.  I think of Ohio, Rust Belt people, where Bill Clinton could be great.

What does the president need to do?  If you were on the phone with Bill Daley right now, the chief of staff, what do you want him to do for the Clintons to make sure it was all out?  Or is it just a one-way street?

PENN:  Well, I think the important thing is to, you know, ask the Clintons to do as much as they can, to go anywhere.  I think—I think it‘s very important.  President Clinton wouldn‘t just go to safe areas.  President Clinton can go now and reach out, I think, to voters that Barack Obama needs most, the working class voters of America because President Clinton‘s got the credibility on the economy.

MATTHEWS:  He could have gotten Al Gore elected in 2000 if he‘d go on out there.  But they had good alliance at the end, right?

PENN:  It was one of the biggest mistakes Al Gore had, not having President Clinton campaign for him.

MATTHEWS:  Like in Arkansas.

PENN:  Absolutely.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s funny because it‘s one of those things that‘s so sad it‘s funny.  Let me—if you‘re a Democratic.

Let‘s take a look at the things you think.  What do you think of the things that—you‘ve talked about this in “G.Q.,” you wrote a piece, with the toughest problems, you talked to Lisa DePaulo, one of the great reporters of “G.Q.” magazine, about what might he do to get re-elected?  What would you say are the key things?

I‘ll read them.  He could take a big risk that flops.  He could turn people off with too much chest-thumping.  Let‘s go to those first two.

PENN:  Well, I think it‘s very important now for Barack Obama not to get overconfident.  He had a huge success with the mission that he ran on Osama bin Laden.  Be very careful.

MATTHEWS:  Give me an example what he could do now that would be equal—

(CROSSTALK)

PENN:  Well, you know, he could do another mission in Afghanistan or Iraq.  He‘d go after the Taliban that way.

MATTHEWS:  Mullah Omar.

PENN:  Exactly right.  And if he goes that and it flops, it will erase the success he‘s had.  So, be careful.  Don‘t get overconfident.

And also, don‘t beat your chest about Osama bin Laden.  Don‘t use it in political ads.  It‘s off of politics.  People know you did a great job and it‘s successful.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the mother load of politics, the unemployment rate right now—economic gap along those lines that President Bush senior did.  What is an example of that?

PENN:  Well, you remember scanner incident.

MATTHEWS:  He‘d never been to a scanner in a supermarket.  He didn‘t know what they were.

PENN:  Right now, Barack Obama has got tough gas prices.  He‘s got high unemployment.  He‘s got to be particularly sensitive to the working men and women of America.  He‘s got to know the facts that they live in their everyday lives because the truth of the matter is, they want to see that he‘s connected to them.  And if he fails on that one, it will reinforce the Republican story line, he‘s not connected to the average folks.

MATTHEWS:  Is he?  How is he doing?

PENN:  People in America like Barack Obama.  They want to re-elect him if they can.

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s well said.  Thank you so much.  We‘ll have you back a short time.  We really want you back.

We‘re going to be right back.  That‘s Mark Penn, who knows his stuff.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with why Mitt Romney is not selling with Republicans.  I think there‘s a hole in this guy.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the front-runner with no clothes.  You mean, the front-runner has no clothes?  Did someone just yell that from the crowd that mitt Romney who looks right might not be what he seems?

That is what Republicans are saying in Republican fashion.  Let‘s face it, traditional Republicans opposed to the full-mooners on the right are quite car in the conservative train.  They don‘t yell.  They make their points in ways you have to pay attention to to get.

If Mitt Romney is so great, why did John McCain go to Alaska to pick an alternative as his running mate last time?  If Romney is so great, why does Huckabee say terrible things about him like he doesn‘t think Romney has a soul?  Why is Huntsman in the race?  Didn‘t Romney save the Salt Lake Olympics?  Isn‘t he a hero out in Utah?  Why is Rick Perry talking himself up?

So, what‘s the problem?  Some point to his backing of health care up in Massachusetts.  Others point to religion.  Or is it that he empty suit problem—that he‘s willing to dress for success as a conservative to win in 2012 just as he was willing to dress for success as a moderate to liberal up in Massachusetts back in 2002?

I hear about Romney being a straw man, a guy not that deeply involved in the issues he speaks out on as someone who really sees competition for the presidency as a course you run, things you say and not say, ways you have to present yourself, but basically not really about you but about them, the audience, you have to please.  They want to see a candidate—show yourself to be that kind of candidate.

It‘s just a game.  The importance thing is to know the game and win it so can you move on to the winners circle where you were be born to be.

Well, I wonder, really?  If passionately committed conservatives zealots really are willing to go along with this kind of process, where they support a candidate for president they really don‘t think gets—they get themselves.  Rejecting true believers like them, like Michele Bachmann and perhaps some others who they are ready to watch these debates and pick as the winner, the one who simply plays the cards right.  The three by five cards that is.  To say what they, the listening conservative public, expects to hear.

Well, mark me down as skeptical.  There are candidates in this field who are there—who are really there.  Bachmann is one.  And those who are, for the audience, what the audience wants to see.  Romney is one.

Does anyone really disagree with this?  Is there anyone out there who doesn‘t wonder if not whether the front runner is without a clothes, but whether he might just be wearing someone else‘s?

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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