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updated 6/23/2011 11:49:43 AM ET 2011-06-23T15:49:43

Guests: Mark Halperin, Julia Boorstin, Barbara Boxer, Matthew Hoh, Joan Walsh, Eric Bates, David Jones, Kay Bailey Hutchinson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  War on trial.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Getting out.  When President Obama announced the troop surge in 2009, he said we must deny al Qaeda a safe haven, reverse the Taliban‘s momentum and help Afghanistan take control of its own destiny.  In three hours from now, the president‘s likely to say we‘ve made progress on all three fronts and it‘s time to pull back.

The withdrawal of surge troops will probably be too much for the right and too little for the left, but there‘s no question Americans are growing increasingly impatient with this war and its costs.  And that‘s our top story tonight.

Plus, the elusive Al Gore comes out to criticize the president.  In a 7,000-word piece in “Rolling Stone,” the former VP says President Obama just hasn‘t made the case for action on global warming.

Also, can it get any worse for Newt Gingrich?  Let‘s say—let‘s see

his staff as abandoned him, he‘s heading south in the polls, and now it turns out he had a second debt to Tiffany worth up to a million dollars.  What more can go wrong with this guy?

And apparently, it isn‘t enough for Republicans to go try to dismantle Medicare.  Now a growing number are going after Social Security.  Do they have a political death wish?

Finally, Steve Colbert solves the GOP‘s problems for 2012 with his version of—I love the phrase -- - the generic Republican candidates.  It‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

And remember, MSNBC will provide complete coverage of President Obama‘s speech tonight on Afghanistan in just three hours, beginning at 8:00 Eastern.

We start with President Obama‘s strategy for Afghanistan.  “The Washington Post” reports that the president is expected to announce that we‘ll remove 5,000 troops from Afghanistan this summer, another 5,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and another 20,000-plus by the end of next year.  That means getting rid of the surge.  And the latest Pew poll finds that 56 percent of Americans, a strong majority, now say we should remove U.S. troops ASAP—as soon as possible.  That‘s certainly an issue tonight.

Senator Barbara Boxer‘s a Democrat from California, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and she joins us now.  Senator Boxer, I don‘t know, what do you make of this?  If he‘s getting out 10,000 troops coming back this year, 20,000 more next year, that ends the surge.  Still 70,000 in country.  Your thought?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:  Well, I think that, number one, we‘re not positive of what he‘s going to say.  It is three hours.  But I‘m going to say you may have the right information there.  And if you do, this is my response.

The good news for me tonight is that we‘re going to see, you know, this longest American war start to come to an end.  The news that may not be exactly what I want to hear is that it‘s going at a slower pace than I think is necessary.

Chris, when the president announced the second surge—he‘s had the first surge with 17,000 troops, I supported it.  He said we—this Afghan war was neglected, we have to catch Osama bin Laden, and I thought he was right.  Now that has been done.

The second surge, 30,000 troops, that mission must come to an end.  And that mission right now is counterinsurgency, which means we have boots on the ground going door to door almost side by side with the Afghans.  It is time for the Afghans to step up to the plate.

The president said the 30,000 surge was temporary.  If it was temporary—he announced it in December of ‘09 -- that—those 30,000 troops should be brought home by the end of this year, and the mission should change to one of counterterrorism and training the Afghan soldiers because we‘ve already trained almost 300,000, but they need more training.

Look, there‘s 50 al Qaeda left—that‘s according to Leon Panetta—

50 al Qaeda left in Afghanistan.  We don‘t need all of our troops there now.  We need just a small force, about 25,000, as I see it.  And we can get down there, according to the experts, to that level of force in 18 months, 12 to 18 months.

MATTHEWS:  If we can survive over there effectively with just a training mission of, say, 25,000 troops, why do we keep 70,000 there for the duration?  Why are we—what do we get done that we couldn‘t get done just by leaving tomorrow morning?  What‘s getting accomplished over there by a combat mission?

BOXER:  Well, you‘ve hit the nail on the head here.  It‘s a question of what the mission is.  You don‘t just say, I‘m going to bring home so many people, without putting it to a mission.  And that‘s the question.  Right now, it‘s a counterinsurgency mission.  I think it‘s time to change it so that it‘s counterterrorism and training the troops and protecting the personnel that we have there.  So the experts tell me you can do that with 25,000, and you could do that within 12 to 18 months.

But I have to just say, as I reread what our great president said—and listen—listen, we have to give credit where credit is due.  I may not agree with everything he says because I think the 30,000 ought to come home by the end of the year.  It was the surge.  It was temporary.  Change the mission.  Do it.  But we have to give credit.  This is the commander-in-chief that did finally get—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

BOXER:  -- Osama bin Laden and this is the commander-in-chief who is ending the Iraq war.  It‘s—we‘ll have all our troops gone out of Iraq by the end of this year.

So my heart is with the president.  I know that he‘s been, you know, really working this through.  He has voices on one and another, I hope he‘s listened to all the voices.  But I think at the end of the day, he said the 30,000 would be temporary, and I took him at his word and I hope that we‘ll see a quicker calendar than what I think we‘re going to see.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Boxer, I believe you became an activist in politics, maybe the way a lot of us did, because of the war in Vietnam.  And isn‘t it odd—

BOXER:  I did.

MATTHEWS:  -- to have a Republican like Huntsman to the left of the president on this?  Huntsman‘s saying that Afghanistan isn‘t really isn‘t the front.  It‘s dealing with the economics of the world, keeping our competitive edge with China, et cetera.  What does that make you feel like, to have a Republican president candidate to your—to use an old phrase, to your left?

BOXER:  Well, I think it‘s just great that, all of a sudden, the Republicans have decided that they don‘t love every single war.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BOXER:  I mean, this is good.  And you know—if it‘s real.  I think it should be embraced.  But the fact is, this president knew when he came into office that Afghanistan was neglected.

Look, I voted to go after bin Laden, and George Bush turned totally around and went into Iraq and neglected Afghanistan.  The president came in, and I think he‘s done what he said he‘d do.  He went after bin Laden, he captured him, and he‘s training these Afghan troops.

The thing is, when I hear Karzai say some of the things he says, which is, You‘re occupiers, you‘re this, you‘re that, you know, I think it‘s time to change that mission and get our troops out of there at a quicker—at a quicker pace.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you so much, Senator Barbara Boxer, member of the Foreign Relations Committee from California.

Matthew Hoh‘s director of the Afghan Study Group and, of course, a former Marine Corps captain.  He‘s got a hell of a record behind him.  He served in Iraq.  And in 2009, he resigned from the diplomatic assignment he had in Afghanistan to protest U.S. policy over there.

So let‘s—let‘s get to your view.  I asked the question of the senator.  What are we getting done over there that we—in the next three years and all the lives—we‘ve lost 1,000 lives of Americans since the president took office, this president.  What will be accomplished if we string this out through 2014?

MATTHEW HOH, AFGHANISTAN STUDY GRP., CTR. FOR INAT‘L POLICY:  Not much, Chris.  I mean—

MATTHEWS:  What—

HOH:  -- false—false security, right?  Al Qaeda‘s not there.  You know, you look at where al Qaeda has attacked us from.  Look at the last several attacks against the U.S. by al Qaeda.  Where are they from?  They‘re from Bridgeport, Connecticut.  They‘re from Nigeria.  You had the guy from Denver.  You had that guy in Ft. Hood.  Al Qaeda is not—

MATTHEWS:  So what are we fighting over there in Afghanistan?

BOXER:  We‘re involved—

MATTHEWS:  You were over there.  What are we fighting?

HOH:  Yes.  We‘re involved in someone else‘s civil war, you know? 

When we went there in 2001, it was the right thing to do, Chris, you know? 

What we got involved in was we got involved in someone else‘s civil war.  When we intervened, we took one side.  And it‘s a multi-sided conflict.  I mean, there‘s ethnic things.  There‘s regional things, a lot of conflict.  Our kids are caught between Hatfield and McCoy type feuds, right?  So that‘s what we found ourselves in.

And now, 10 years later, after constantly taking one side in the conflict, that‘s why, over this last couple years, as we‘ve seen a 60,000 troop increase on the part of the U.S. over the last couple years, we‘ve just seen the insurgency blossom.  That‘s why when we spend tens of billions dollars more every year in Afghanistan, you see the insurgency blossom because that money is only going to help certain people in the population.  It‘s excluding others.  So our role there with troops or with money has been—

MATTHEWS:  OK, what about—

HOH:  -- disenfranchising—

MATTHEWS:  -- the McCain argument?  We bombed out (INAUDIBLE) got out of there after we beat the Soviets, after Charlie Wilson‘s war.  The Soviets left.  We left.  The Taliban took over.  If we leave, how long would it take for the Taliban to take over?

HOH:  I don‘t think they would.  Why would the Pakistanis back the Taliban the way they did in the ‘90s?  Most of the support—you know, I mean, it doesn‘t make sense.  (INAUDIBLE) go against our red (ph) lines (ph).  Why would the Taliban—even if the Taliban did take over, why would they invite al Qaeda back because it would pass—it would go past our red lines.  We bombed them once, took them out of power once.  They‘ve learned their lesson.

The other thing—why would al Qaeda want to go back?  They‘re in Pakistan.  They‘re in Dubai.  They‘re in New York.  They‘re in London.  They don‘t need to go back.  It‘d be like asking a modern company—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

HOH:  -- to give up the Internet—

MATTHEWS:  -- the soldiers over there, men and women over there, in harm‘s way—when they get up in the morning, who are they fighting?

HOH:  Each—who are they‘re fighting?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HOH:  They‘re fighting—

MATTHEWS:  Because we‘re losing lives.

HOH:  Yes, we are.  Yes.  Lots of lives.

MATTHEWS:  So are we fighting the Taliban?  You say we‘re involved in a civil war.  Who‘s on the other side from us?

HOH:  It‘s this broad, multi-dimensional insurgency, right?  Some of it is ideological.  Some of it is religious.  But a lot of it goes back decades.  You know, they‘ve been fighting in Afghanistan since the ‘70s.  So you know, we‘re taking part in this war that‘s been going on for decades.

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re fighting anybody that doesn‘t like the central government, right?

HOH:  Those who compose the central government, yes, as well as other

--

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re Karzai‘s constabulary.  We‘re Karzai‘s garrison force.

HOH:  We‘re propping Karzai up and making him and his cronies rich.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we leave in three or four years, will it be any different if we leave then than now?  And that‘s my central question—the most hawkish person in the world, besides John McCain and those guys.  Generally, we‘re probably not going to stay more than three or four more years.  At the end of three or four more years of combat operations, through 2014, the president‘s plan, how will it be different over there than if we left tomorrow morning?

HOH:  It won‘t be.  And that‘s why we made a mistake in 2009 escalating this conflict.  You know, the phrase I‘ve been using recently is, 2009 we‘re waist deep in quicksand.  Now we‘re chest deep in quicksand.  So what we don‘t want to see happen, of course, is—because we‘ve been there so long, Chris, spending so much money, we‘ve got 100,000 of our troops, 40,000 allied troops, 100,000 contractors, tens of billions of dollars—you know, we‘re propping the place up.  So if we just pull out now, leave tomorrow—

MATTHEWS:  OK—

HOH:  -- we‘re going to—you know, I mean—

MATTHEWS:  -- give the president his due right now.  He‘s going to get rid of 10,000 -- bring back 10,000 troops this calendar year, by the end of ‘11, then another 23,000, I think, next—this is a pretty good report we‘re getting on tonight‘s speech.  They leaked it, I guess.  And then sometime between then, the two subsequent years, 2012 -- rather, 2013 and ‘14, over that period, we‘ll get the rest of the combat troops out, reducing our complement over there to about 25,000, down from 100,000.

What does that all up to, as a plan?  What do you think of that plan?

HOH:  I don‘t—I don‘t think much of it, Chris, because if we don‘t change the strategy, right, if we don‘t go from being a belligerent to a mediator in the conflict, if we don‘t realize that we‘re just making things worse, then we‘re just going to be in the same conflict this time next year with 10,000 less troops or 20,000 less troops.  2014 getting all our troops out is—

MATTHEWS:  All our combat troops.

HOH:  Our combat troops.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll still going to keep 25,000 trainers over there, which is amazing to me.

HOH:  That‘s—yes.  You know, I mean, so getting to that point, though, is predicated on our militarily defeating the insurgency.  And we haven‘t seen it.  For all this talk of progress—

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s the dangerous point.  Could the president be going into the most dangerous area, which is somewhere in the middle where nothing gets done?

HOH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He will have less troops over there to do a bigger job, and the job will keep getting bigger with us having fewer troops.  That sounds like a recipe for disaster.

HOH:  I think—

MATTHEWS:  In other words, instead of 100,000 troops fighting the same kind of war, they‘ll be down to 25,000 fighting the same kind of war.

HOH:  Yes, I mean, basically.  You know, I mean, what you get is, you get—I think the president is, similar to 2009, trying to please everybody, cutting the difference again, which—you know—

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll find out as the program goes on tonight—we‘ve got another edition tonight.  I want to find out why the president believes in this war.  You don‘t.  Senator Boxer believes we‘ve got to come home.  The president doesn‘t quite agree with that.  He believes we‘ve got to stretch this thing out and stick it out for three or four more years.  Anyway, thank you, Matthew Hoh.  Appreciate your service.

Coming up: Al Gore is back.  He‘s blasting President Obama over climate change.  The president‘s not doing enough, he says.  Does Gore think a President Romney or a President Bachmann would do a better job?  It‘s what you do with what you‘ve got.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  While, foreign policy dominates the news today, President Obama has new worries on the domestic front.  A new Bloomberg poll out today shows Americans are increasingly frustrated with his handling of the economy, and the number of voters who say they‘ll definitely vote for him in 2012 is dropping.  According to the poll, only 3 in 10 say they‘re certain to vote for reelection of the president in 2012, versus 36 percent who say they definitely won‘t vote for him.

But the news isn‘t all bad for the president.  The poll also finds that 6 out 10 say it will be very hard to vote for the Republican in the race because they‘ll have to move too far to the right on social and fiscal issues just to win the nomination.  That‘s pretty discerning.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  In 2000, when you overwhelmingly made the decision to elect me as your 43rd president—

(LAUGHTER)

GORE:  -- I knew the road ahead would be difficult.  We have accomplished so much, yet challenges lie ahead.  In the last six years, we have been able to stop global warming—

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was “Saturday Night Live,” and of course, that sketch probably has a bitter grain of truth for Al Gore.  If he had won in 2000, chances are we would be further along in combating global warming.

You may not have heard much about Gore recently.  Of course, he left politics, took a very low profile, grew a beard there for a while.  Now Gore has written in “Rolling Stone” magazine that President Obama has been a disappointment on the environmental front.

He writes, “Obama‘s election has accompanied—was accompanied by intense hope that many things in need of change would change.  Well, some things have,” Gore writes, “but others have not.  Climate change, unfortunately, is in the second category.”

Gore adds, “President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.”

Well, we got a friend here.  Joan Walsh is editor-at-large for Salon.  Eric Bates is executive editor of “Rolling Stone” magazine.  Thank you very much, Joan and Eric, for joining us.

Let me go to Eric.  This piece, you commissioned it.  Did he come to you or did you go to him?

ERIC BATES, “ROLLING STONE”:  We talked to him about doing this.  We felt that everybody knows the science.  Gore has made clear what the science says, that climate change is real, that the planet faces a grave risk.  The question is, why hasn‘t more been done to stop it?  And we thought he was in a real position to give us an analysis of that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think is the problem?  The Republican Party are basically aligning themselves as anti-science, with some exceptions like Huntsman.  They‘re willing to go out there and say they believe the world‘s about 5,000 years old.  They basically go back to fundamentalist views about creationism.  And they really don‘t have any problem being anti-science.

Isn‘t that really the problem, not that Gore has a problem with Obama?  Where‘s the problem with climate change?  Isn‘t it that half the country‘s being sold nonsense?

BATES:  That‘s right, and that‘s exactly what this essay says.  It‘s interesting, the essay is really about the press and the media and how they‘ve fallen down on the job in terms of being the referee in the fight between science and reason.  Gore really points out that the media hasn‘t done its job and has kind of taken a “He said, she said” approach to climate change, when, in fact, there‘s truth and there‘s falsity in this and—

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you on that.

BATES:  -- the two are being conflated.

MATTHEWS:  Boy, I‘m with you on that, Eric.  I hate that so-called evenhanded, so-called objective journalism.  You know—you know, you can‘t say something isn‘t true if it‘s true in the interest of evenhandedness.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Joan, your thoughts about this.  Let‘s go to Al Gore.  He‘s been sort of in and out of public life for a while after getting sort of screwed out of the election back in 2000.  We can argue about how it was done, but it ended up being—

WALSH:  Very bad.

MATTHEWS:  -- some bad calls by him in terms of the recount, and some very bad intervention by the Supreme Court, very bad.

WALSH:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  We can all agree on that, a lot of us.

WALSH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a qualified guy.  I think he ran a terrible campaign in 2000.  But here he is—he did “Inconvenient Truth,” which is a hell of a documentary, with Davis Guggenheim (ph).  And now he‘s back.  What do you make of his going after the president in this fashion?

WALSH:  Well, you know, Eric made a really good point, Chris. 

I did real the whole 7,000 words.  It‘s really inspiring.  It‘s a little bit depressing, but most of it is really spent on us—not the three of us, of course, because we‘re doing the right thing, but on the media and on this fog that has been caused by spending, by powerful interests who are against any action on climate change. 

That‘s really what it‘s about.  Then he comes to Obama.  And when he gets to Obama, give him some credit for things that he‘s done, but it‘s—he says that he hasn‘t used the bully pulpit.  And it‘s kind of bigger than that, because what he‘s saying is what other liberal advocates say, too.

He hasn‘t really told a story of, A., what we‘re up against, but also, B., what we can do about it. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

WALSH:  And this speaks to something that you are interested in.  He talks about we could have a great industrial renaissance, R&D on alternative energies.  We could be solving the unemployment crisis while we‘re solving the climate crisis and making national security less of an issue because we‘re not dependent on Gulf oil. 

So, he sees the way these things are interconnected.  And so does President Obama, but President Obama has kind of gotten stuck in the gridlock of Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, the gridlock and fact—let‘s go back to Eric and the journalism here.

Eric, I want to get back to a couple points here before we go back to this article by Al Gore.  And it‘s this.  The House Democrats who stuck their necks out on cap and trade have had their heads cut off.

WALSH:  Right. 

BATES:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  The Senate didn‘t vote.  The Senate never got to it.  You can argue it‘s the president‘s fault, but the Democratic Party is giving up whole states in the interest of climate change.  West Virginia used to be a Democratic state in the Bobby Kennedy and Jack Kennedy day.  It voted for Clinton.  It‘s gone. 

You can‘t talk cap and trade in South Western Pennsylvania.  There‘s a lot of places in coal country you dare not spend a nickel for climate change issues.  Isn‘t that the problem, not the president? 

BATES:  That‘s right. 

We have gone from a place where we knew the facts, where “Inconvenient Truth” has really laid it out, and we knew the crisis that we were facing.  And now you can‘t even talk reasonably about the solutions. 

And I think that‘s Gore‘s main point, is that—that the attack on climate science is really attack on the rule of reason.  It‘s an attack on our ability as a democracy and a society to hold a rational debate on what the facts say and what we need to do. 

MATTHEWS:  When we ever—going back to Joan—Joan—and, Eric, jump in, too.

Have we ever had a time where one side is willing to just say something—you can argue about wars.  And there are always issues of values and measuring facts, but here‘s fact on the table, global warming, climate change. 

Rush Limbaugh says stuff that is just non—well, it‘s just not true. 

I never use the word lie, but it‘s appropriate here. 

WALSH:  It is.  It is. 

MATTHEWS:  People like Glenn Beck, I heard him months—or years ago on the radio, before he was on TV, saying there‘s no climate change, playing, pandering to these business types, pandering to people that don‘t want to deal with reality.

These people are evil in what they‘re doing.  I‘m not saying their souls are evil, but what they‘re doing is really, really wrong.  And it‘s not the president.  It‘s this corrupt media on the right.  It‘s corrupt media. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re making good salaries telling people what they know is not true.  Rush Limbaugh is not a stupid person.  Glenn Beck is not a stupid person.  They‘re saying it on purpose.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Your thoughts. 

WALSH:  They‘re serving the interests of people who are making a lot of money from our system being exactly the way it is, and they don‘t care.  They‘re not just doing this for entertainment.

And I think you‘re right.  I mean, the president has had himself blocked, but there‘s a need for more leadership on this issue.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

WALSH:  And I think there‘s a feeling that he could do more than he did.  I don‘t know what he could have done in the Senate, though.

I look at—I read the piece, and I know that there was a juncture back then when senators seemed interested and Lindsey Graham walked away.  I think it was very complicated. 

MATTHEWS:  No, you‘re right.

WALSH:  I think that sometimes people ask the president to be Superman in these situations.  And that‘s his job, sort of, but we have to be really realistic about Congress. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Joan, as always, I agree with you 99 percent of the time. 

Eric, good editing there.  You have got a good piece there. 

I would just say about our president—and he‘s our president—on my issues, he‘s always my president, on some of the big ones, like climate change, and race, and things like that, and wars—I—my belief is this.  And Churchill, my hero, said this once:  I refuse to be impartial between the fire brigade and the fire. 

The president is the fire brigade on this.

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He may not be the greatest fire brigade, but, damn it, he‘s not the fire.  Glenn Beck is.  Rush Limbaugh is the fire.  The Chamber of Commerce, “The Wall Street Journal” editorial page, they are the fire.  Let‘s not forget it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  What‘s George W. Bush doing with a crowd of people wearing sunglasses at night?  Well, that‘s just about right, isn‘t it?  That‘s ahead in the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow” tonight.

First up:  Steve Colbert has solved the Republican Party‘s problem for 2012.  This is great stuff.  Here he is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”) 

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Obama leads all specific Republican candidates in the polls, even beating the Romney. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Now, thankfully, the Republicans do have a dark horse. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The generic Republican, if you find that person, beats President Obama. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Guess what?  I found that person -- 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: -- on my way to work this morning. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Republican Party, say hello to your generic presidential nominee. 

Look at this guy.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT:  I mean, he‘s got everything you want.  He‘s got a strong stride. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  He‘s well-known.  Plus, he‘s a family man. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  And, as you can see from the briefcase, he‘s got business experience. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  But he‘s also worked blue-collar jobs. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

COLBERT:  This guy has something for everybody.  He‘s well-read. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  He‘s outdoorsy. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  He loves flags -- 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: -- or rectangles. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  The only knock on this guy, other than his head not being attached to his body, is that Republicans do not need another candidate who spends a suspicious amount of time hanging around men‘s rooms. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Perfect generic candidate.  He‘s any Republican candidate. 

He‘s no Republican person exactly. 

Next up:  The wheels on the bus go round and round, or maybe not.  2012 speculation exploded again when Sarah Palin‘s bus started to rumble up the East Coast, but then most of the headlines focused on her eating pizza with Donald Trump and turning Paul Revere‘s ride into an NRA commercial.

So, did her road show run off-course?  RealClearPolitics reports that Palin‘s aides had drafted itineraries that would have taken her through the Midwest and the Southeast at some point this month, but those travel blueprints are now in limbo. 

Sarah Palin knows how to dart out there, doesn‘t she?  Get lots of publicity, and then head inside somewhere and not be heard of for months.  That‘s good for publicity, not so good for actually doing anything.  Did you notice? 

And, finally, another history-making moment for George W. Bush.  The former president was part of the crowd at Tuesday night‘s Texas Rangers game to set the new Guinness world record for—Ready for this? -- the most people wearing sunglasses in the dark. 

Perfect, a war without purpose, sunglasses without purpose. 

Up next:  It goes from bad to worse for Newt Gingrich.  It turns out Newt ran up another tab at Tiffany‘s last year for as much as a million dollars.  Apparently, a necklace was involved.  That little sugarplum comes just as more campaign staffers defect.  They‘re all quitting this guy.  Isn‘t it time for Newt to declare he‘s not a serious candidate for anything? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks selling off in the final hour of trading after the latest meeting of the Federal Reserve, the Dow Jones Industrial Average giving up 80 points, the S&P shedding eight, the Nasdaq losing 18 points. 

The Federal Reserve lowering its economic forecast for the rest of this year and the next, but giving no indications of another round of quantitative easing.  Bernanke said inflationary and other pressures weighing on growth are likely to be short-lived, and the Fed does expect the economy to pick up the pace going forward. 

Today‘s earning from FedEx appearing to back up the Fed‘s assessment with stronger-than-expected profits and a robust forecast.  Online used car retailer CarMax‘s earnings blowing past estimates as well, as consumers shy away from new car purchases in this struggling economy. 

And Bed Bath & Beyond posing earnings after the close easily topping expectations and raising its full-year outlook.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The bad news just keeps coming for Newt Gingrich.  Yesterday, two of his fund-raisers quit amid a report the campaign is $1 million in debt and more revelations about Newt‘s buying spree at Tiffany.  We know about the five-year-old disclosures by his wife, Callista, but now NBC‘s Mike Isikoff, our own, reports he had purchases last year including a diamond necklace worth up to a million dollars he went on the cuff for. 

Newt tried to tell an Atlanta audience this morning he‘s not only—he‘s not the only one who‘s had campaign upheavals. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  On the day of the New Hampshire primary in 1980, every—the top 13 people in Ronald Reagan‘s staff quit. 

In 1976, Ronald Reagan lost five straight primaries, and Nancy actually tried to convince his staff to talk him into dropping out.  The fact is, campaigns go up and down.  I am not running to talk about the nuances of campaigning.  I‘m running because we have enormous problems. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, first of all, just to get the facts out there, everything he said there, especially about the Reagan campaign in 1980, is totally dishonest. 

John Sears, as everybody who follows politics my—at least my generation remembers clearly—and that includes Newt—who know damn well what happened, John Sears was fired by Ronald Reagan on Election Day in the primary in New Hampshire.  He didn‘t quit among 13 other guys.  He was fired.

There‘s absolutely no truth to the story.  By the way, instead of going for federal financial aid in this campaign, this guy ought to go for federal disaster relief.  This is the worst campaign in history, and deservedly so. 

For more on the status of the Gingrich campaign, what is left of it, the wreckage, let‘s bring in “TIME”‘s Mark Halperin and “Mother Jones”‘ David Corn.  Both are MSNBC political analysts.

Could it get worse, Mark, for this fellow? 

MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, sure.  He could be forced from the race.

I actually think he‘s got a chance to get it at least somewhat better, but not on the route he‘s taking currently.  I think Newt Gingrich has to decide, does he really want to be president, does he want to do what‘s necessary to be president? 

He can‘t be the angry guy he is.  He‘s got to be a happy warrior, and he has to be hardworking and discipline, and stop focusing on all this stuff which is going to keep coming back in his face.  He‘s got to deflect it like Reagan would, in a cheery way, not in an intense and negative way he‘s dealing with this problem now. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why is he putting out what everybody knows who is a political junkie is political dishonesty?  Everybody who follows politics knows that Ronald Reagan had a very bad experience in Iowa, fired John Sears the day he won the New Hampshire primary. 

Why does he put out that they all quit, when he knows damn well that Reagan fired the chief?

HALPERIN:  Because, like Ronald Reagan himself, Speaker Gingrich occasionally likes to tell his versions of stories—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not a version.

HALPERIN: -- rather than the actual facts.

MATTHEWS:  Mark, I know you have to deal with these guys.  It‘s not a version.  Come on. 

(CROSSTALK)

HALPERIN:  I said his—I said his version. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Right.  All right.  Your version. 

Well, what do you make of this guy? 

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES:  Listen, Mark just said that there are things that things Newt could do to right the ship that‘s sinking. 

MATTHEWS:  Like quitting it? 

CORN:  Maybe.  But I think the issue is the one that you raise. 

I don‘t think he‘s capable of being honest about his campaign, about other policy matters.  His whole trouble began when he spoke to David Gregory and said—and criticized Paul Ryan‘s budget and what it did with Medicare, and then came out the day or two after it and said he never said that, went on Rush Limbaugh‘s show, and said, I never said that.

And Rush Limbaugh said, you‘re lying to me. 

He said in response to the first revelations about Tiffany‘s, we‘re very frugal people. 

By that definition, you don‘t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on jewelry.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mike Isikoff is the best in the business.  I say it all the time.  He‘s broken the story that the guy went out and bought some kind of necklace that drove his debt at Tiffany up to a million—certainly over $500,000, because that‘s who he reported it.

This is what Newt had to say, by the way, when grilled by CBS‘ Bob Schieffer, as you were saying.  Let‘s watch this, because this is where Gregory opened up the cantaloupe. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FACE THE NATION”)

BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, “FACE THE NATION”:  You owed between $250,000 and $500,000 to a jewelry company.  What was that about, Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH:  Well, first of all, it is about obeying the law. 

SCHIEFFER:  Did you owe a half-million dollars to a jewelry company at one point?

GINGRICH:  We had a revolving fund.

SCHIEFFER:  Well, what does that mean?

GINGRICH:  It means that we had a revolving fund.  It was—

(CROSSTALK)

SCHIEFFER:  I mean, who buys a half-million dollars worth of jewelry on credit?

GINGRICH:  No.  You—it‘s a—go talk to Tiffany‘s.

SCHIEFFER:  It‘s very odd to me that—that—that someone would run up a half-million dollars bill at a jewelry store.

GINGRICH:  Well, go talk to Tiffany‘s. 

SCHIEFFER:  I mean, you‘re running for president. 

GINGRICH:  Right. 

SCHIEFFER:  You‘re going to be the guy in charge of the Treasury Department.  And it just—it just sticks out like a sore thumb.

GINGRICH:  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was Bob Schieffer, not David Gregory, our colleague here.

Let me go to Mark Halperin.

Let me ask you about this, because you—you think there‘s still an opening for him.  How would he, from this day forward, rebuild a campaign team, pay off the million he owes, not to Tiffany, although that is personal money—he has that, I guess—but pay off what he owes, start to—would anybody give him money right now? 

HALPERIN:  Very different to see big bundlers, traditional Republican donors giving him much money.  I think he‘s got—he still has a pretty grassroots following and e-mail list from some of his organizations.  I‘m not saying he‘s got like a clear path to nomination.  But he can do better than he‘s been doing if he rights himself.

I‘ll say, though, I‘m incredibly skeptical that he can do that, because he‘s put himself substantively in a very bad place.  And he‘s put himself attitudinally in a very bad place.  He‘s—he could—if he can‘t attract 12 new people at a top level availability to work with him, then I think he should get out of the race because it‘s a big country.  You should be able to get 12 people who believe in him.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think 12 -- this Tiffany‘s story is a lot easier to report than anything else around.  This is going to be all over the place.

Last night, by the way, Newt refused to answer questions about whether his campaign is $1 million in debt.  So, let‘s listen to this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  I‘m happy to talk to you about public policy.  I‘m not going to talk to you about campaign stuff.  That‘s all campaign gossip.  You can talk to R.C. Hammond about it.  But I‘m not going to discuss it. 

I‘m not going to discuss it.

REPORTER:  Your campaign is $1 million in debt, is that true?

GINGRICH:  Let me try again—I‘m not going to discuss it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a lot of things he won‘t talk about.  He won‘t talk about his debts.  He won‘t talk about Tiffany.  He won‘t talk about the money he owes in his campaigns or in his private life.

CORN:  I think he‘s a bit out of touch with where he is, what he‘s doing, and with who he‘s with because he has no staff, as Mark said.  And he keeps saying, these consultants—you know, these consultants, they didn‘t understand that I‘m not a normal candidate.

Well, one of the consultants who left was Rick Tyler, a longtime press spokesperson, campaign fundraisers have left him.  He can‘t talk honestly about any of this, and I think that‘s leading to a tremendous credibility problem beyond those people who already love him.  That‘s probably not enough to win Iowa or any other state.

MATTHEWS:  Just to bring up to date as we leave, the Newt campaign—now consists of him going to events he can get to by cab.  He doesn‘t go anywhere by air anymore.  It‘s anywhere within his—the nearby vicinity.

Anyway, thank you, Mark Halperin, as always sir.  An expert—always hopeful about the full field of candidates.  You like a lot of them out here.

Coming up: first, Republicans wanted to end Medicare, and now, they‘re going after—well, at least one is going after Social Security.  Tricky business.  Courageous you might say.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas joins us next.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, just one day into his presidential campaign, Jon Huntsman has become the hunted.  He‘s already under siege by some Republicans for supporting civil unions and working as President Obama‘s ambassador to China.  Now, the right wing Club for Growth is tagging Huntsman as a big spender.  They‘re criticizing his record of spending while he was governor of Utah and for calling health care a right.

Huntsman is betting he‘s an electable general election candidate.  But the hard part is going to be winning the nomination, of course, in a party steadily tacking to the right.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison says if we‘re serious about fixing our economic problems, it‘s time to look at cuts in Social Security.  She‘s written to Vice President Biden to get her proposal which would raise the retirement age included in a deficit reduction package he‘s working on with lawmakers from both parties.

Senator Hutchison, welcome.  You‘re one of my favorite senators.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t want to get off-balance with that compliment but it‘s true.

What do we need to do in terms of the biggest entitlement of all, Social Security, to deal with this debt (INAUDIBLE) that‘s looming over us?

HUTCHISON:  Because we have 75 years to look at and 25 years to deal with it, we can make very gradual changes that will not hurt in the big picture, and will save social security for 75 years, will have no tax increases on anyone, and will not have any cuts in core benefits.  I think it is essentially that we do this, because I don‘t think we can balance the budget with just discretionary spending when it‘s such a small part of our budget.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re talking, as I understand it, correct me if I‘m wrong about raising the retirement age to 67 by the year 2019, instead of the planned raise which is in 2027.  So, moving that up about by eight years.  You‘re also talking about a further moving back of the retirement age to 69 by the year 2027.

You‘re leaving politics, but you are a political person.  What do you think voters who are in that age bracket right now think of that proposal?

HUTCHISON:  I think voters realize that if we don‘t do something that‘s gradual now, it‘s going to be worse and worse and worse.  And in 25 years, the Social Security trustees have said this is over.  There‘ll be a 23 percent cut.

That is absolutely wrong for us to sit here and let that happen.  When we know it‘s coming, and we can do gradual things that will save the system without tax increases and without cutting those core benefits.  And that‘s what I‘m trying to do.

MATTHEWS:  How do we—look, I want to go along with you, because I think most people know that we‘re lucky to be living longer than back when Franklin Roosevelt said 65.  Back then, I hate to say it this way, but 65 was probably a good bet for the government.  Most guys especially weren‘t making it past 65.  Women were in most cases.

But what about a guy who drives a big truck, a semi?  What about a guy or a woman who has a real tough job, an industrial job, or a really, really strenuous or tedious job that drives them crazy going to work and not like being a senator or doing what I‘m doing, or being a lawyer—what do you do for those people?  You make them work until 69?

HUTCHISON:  No, I think we do have to have some leeway for hard labor-type jobs or an airline pilot that has a cutoff.  And I think what you do is try to adjust the early retirement so that they‘re not penalized.  I think you‘re going to have to do that on a case-by-case basis.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you do it?

HUTCHISON:  Well, I think—

MATTHEWS:  Suppose a guy driving a truck?  You practically have to have (INAUDIBLE).  Those are rough road jobs.  You go over highways.  You‘re driving huge amounts of time.  You can hurt yourself after too long.

HUTCHISON:  I think—

MATTHEWS:  What do say?  How do you describe this?  Where do you draw the line?

HUTCHISON:  I think you have to have some leeway that gives a discretion to the Social Security Administration to exempt or allow for the early retirement for people in jobs like that.  In ours we raise the early retirement age to 64.  Again, three months a year.  That‘s all we do, starting in the year 2016.

So, we go to 64 for early retirement.  That would help a lot for people who have these kinds of jobs.  But those are special exceptions.  Most people have what you would consider an easy job, mine or yours.

And I think that we can—we can do a lot for reducing the deficits and making the Social Security system good for 75 years, which my plan does.

MATTHEWS:  You know what territory you‘re in right now, because, you know, you‘re younger than me, I believe.  I‘m pretty sure you are.

But let me just go to the facts here.  Older people have a lot of time on their hands to think about this stuff.  They watch the government policies.  They aren‘t just art people or American of Associated Retired People.  All kinds of people, they sit around and they talk about it.

When they hear that there is a move to raise the retirement age, say they are 59 years old.  They got it planned or say they are 55, Paula Hawkins was senator.  Remember her?  Republican from Florida, gone on this issue.

Jeremiah Denton, I believe, from Alabama, gone on this issue.  Remember in ‘86 when Don Reagan, the treasury secretary, pulled the rug out from under those folks?

You know that history.  What happens to politicians who says raise the retirement age like you‘re doing?

HUTCHISON:  Well, first of all, if you‘re 58 or older, you‘re not affected at all.  This doesn‘t take effect until 2016 and then it‘s only three months a year, Chris.  And I think that people realize that if we don‘t do something, we‘re going to have drastic cuts and big tax increases and people really don‘t want that.

And, of course, people who are in the lower levels of age that you and I have missed for a while, 35, 45 --

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HUTCHISON: -- they think Social Security isn‘t going to be there at all.  And if it is, it‘s going to be minuscule.  That‘s not fair.  They‘re putting in to it.

We need to protect them, as well as people in the 58 and above bracket.  They‘ll be completely protected.

And then, if you are 57, you retire three months later.  So—

MATTHEWS:  What about Medicare?  Would you give people Medicare at 65?

HUTCHISON:  Well, I‘m not dealing with Medicare because I -- 

MATTHEWS:  But that is

(CROSSTALK)

HUTCHISON:  I think it‘s more complicated.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you—it‘s related though, because if you extend retirement to 67, for purposes of income, wouldn‘t you have to—the people obviously keep working.  They have to keep working until 67.  Would they get Medicare until they are 67?

HUTCHISON:  Well, if they are working, then they will have insurance coverage as they do now, either through the private insurance or their employers or whatever we end up with, hoping that it‘s in the private system.

And I think that Medicare does need to be reformed, Chris.  But I think that the easier one that we can could do with very little pain to anyone and huge gain to our country and for the future is Social Security.  That‘s why I‘m focused on it.  I think we can do a big thing here, but it must be bipartisan and the president must agree that this is essential in the debt ceiling issue debate.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I wish you had run for president, you know?  Better than that other guy from Texas.  But that‘s just my cup of tea.  I think you‘re a better presidential candidate.

You never thought of it, did you?

HUTCHISON:  Well, I have two 10-year-old children.  I have thought about it at one time.  I would love to go in the arena, I really would.

But there is no way you can do it at this point with my children.  And

but I‘d love to be in this debate because I think we‘re missing a lot—in foreign policy—

           

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HUTCHISON: -- in the place of America in the world, in our NATO alliance, and most certainly, in our economy.  I think we need someone with business experience and foreign policy experience and I wish I could do it but I can‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you are probably a wonderful mother and it‘s a loss for us.  Thank you that you‘re not running for president.

Thank you, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

HUTCHISON:  Great to be with you always.  I appreciate your show.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, great.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Back with MSNBC political analyst, David Corn, the Washington bureau chief of “Mother Jones.”

I think you and I, our politics are very similar.  I have to tell you my gut feeling about wars—you better prove it before we go to war.

CORN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I set a very high bar to know we have to fight.

CORN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Pearl Harbor, I give you that.  Germans, World War II, we give you that.

CORN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  After that, I want to hear a really good case. I never heard a good one for Iraq.  You didn‘t either.

CORN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Afghanistan, the case was we‘re catching bin Laden, sort of.  Ten years later, we caught him in another country.

CORN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Afghanistan, how do you it in ideological terms as a moderate?  You‘re a progressive.

CORN:  Yes.  I‘m not the one to defend this particular war, but I think—I think when you inherit a war, it‘s even tougher than when you start a war, because you come in, troops are engaged, you‘re half way into this process.  Do you sort of call it quits?

MATTHEWS:  That was Nixon‘s problem.  Give them credit for that.

CORN:  But Nixon said he had a secret plan to get rid of the war.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CORN:  And he did all sorts of things to make it worse.  So, Obama came in.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did withdraw most of the troops by the time—

CORN:  Eventually, I think against his will.

But Obama came in and inherited this war that he had actually supported on the campaign trail.

MATTHEWS:  The good war.

CORN:  You know, this was—you know, as opposed to Iraq, he wanted to take troops out of Iraq and deal with Afghanistan on the theory that if you take care of Afghanistan, it helps protect us against al Qaeda, helps us to crush al Qaeda.

Now, we just killed the heard of al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda is said to have maybe a couple dozen fighters in Afghanistan at most who are involved in local fighting, not transnational fighting.  Pakistan is the problem.

And the question that the president has, that I think he‘s had a tough time convincing the public is that by keeping 100,000 troops there in Afghanistan, it really makes a difference in thwarting al Qaeda where we see it popping up in Yemen, we see it active in Pakistan and every place else.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Biden was right, go to counterterrorism, get away from counterinsurgency, get out of the—

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  I‘ll tell you, in April 2009, I was at a cocktail party with Biden and I had a long conversation with Biden.  I found him convincing.

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s very good on foreign policy.  Thank you, David Corn—as you are.

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

We‘ll be back in one hour with a preview of President Obama‘s big speech on Afghanistan tonight.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

           

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