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updated 6/29/2011 12:34:42 PM ET 2011-06-29T16:34:42

Guests: Jim Cramer, Eamon Javers, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Ken Blackwell, Ross Levi, Susan Page, Shushannah Walshe, Ron Reagan, Cynthia Tucker

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bachmann history month.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

The frontrunner.  Don‘t look now, but Michele Bachmann may be the legitimate frontrunner in Iowa.  She‘s roughly tied with Mitt Romney out there and has a lot more room to grow than he does, but she wants to be taken seriously now.

Why does she do things like double down on what she did today, on the ridiculous idea that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery?  Excuse me, Congresswoman.  It was the slaves that were working tirelessly.  And by the way, Senator Pat Moynihan once said you‘re entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts, Congresswoman.

Also, did you notice that Bachmann, Romney and Jon Huntsman, not in that order, have all backed away from the right-wing attack stuff on President Obama for being something less than a real American?  Was it the birth certificate?  Was it the killing of bin Laden?  Was it shame?  Or did they just decide it‘s no longer a winning strategy?

Plus, Wall Street‘s high rollers treated the financial markets like a big casino and nearly tanked the entire economy.  So why are Republicans rewarding the people who screwed us with tax breaks now, giving them more reward for what they did to us while the middle class are told, Tighten your belts, forget the old people, take away their health care?

And which party wins on gay marriage?  That is a great question for me.  I don‘t know.  The Democrats, who seem to be on the side of history, or the Republicans, who may try to launch a new culture war.  They always win as an army in retreat.

Finally, is there any situation, any circumstance at all in which Republicans would be willing to raise taxes?  Not if you‘re Grover Norquist.  Check out Steve Colbert in the “Sideshow.”

We start with frontrunner—and that‘s what she is—Michele Bachmann.  Susan Page is the Washington bureau chief for “USA Today,” and Shushannah Walshe is contributor for The DailyBeast.  Ladies, thank you so much for this.

I want to show you some things today, the front pages of two major newspapers, “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” today.  Look at the kind of legitimacy.  And I mean it.  Great spreads there, Susan.  It‘s your business.  Look at those decisions.  What do they tell you about this candidacy and how the big editors of the big papers and are looking at it?

SUSAN PAGE, “USA TODAY”:  She‘s had a great launch.  You know, she‘s better known now.  She‘s had—she did an almost flawless performance at the first big debate.  She had a very nice announcement, a few hiccups in the interview she did afterwards.  But she has become the leading alternative to Mitt Romney and the representative of the Tea Party.

MATTHEWS:  Shushannah, that‘s right.  She has the cultural right, the Tea Party right, and she has pizzazz, I think.  Don‘t you?

SHUSHANNAH WALSHE, DAILYBEAST:  I do.  I agree.  She has that extra something that she really appeals to the Tea Party conservatives, as you said, but I think that she could also appeal to the mainstream Republicans in places like Iowa, like South Carolina.  I‘ve been talking to a lot of Iowa Republicans over the last couple of days, and they were—they‘ve been impressed with her, yesterday, her event Sunday night before the roll-out.

And you know, I think it has been very successful, but as Susan mentioned, there have been some hiccups today when she doubled down with George Stephanopoulos on ABC about—as you mentioned, about the Founding Fathers.  And I think that she could easily have said, Hey, I made a mistake there, but she didn‘t.  And I think that she can be her own worst enemy in that way.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I was watching Romney‘s sleepover, that thing he did, that announcement.  It was like one of those Top Grow, one of those commercials for the food you put into your lawn to make it grow better.  I mean, it was the most boring alley (ph).

Anyway, here‘s Bachmann on Fox last night livening things up.  She said that President Obama is worried about her.  Now, this is called hyping the enemy, I guess.  He‘s afraid of me.  Let‘s listen to this.  This is really nervy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The president of the United States is threatened by my candidacy.  He fears me.  He sees me as a serious, substantive competitor.  I think he sees that I have a very clear path to victory for the nomination.  And I think that he wants to do whatever he can to diminish me because he thinks he will have to see me in the debates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a way of killing the argument she won‘t be a great general election candidate, Shushannah, right, Susan?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Same deal?

PAGE:  Except she‘s exactly wrong.  The Obama people are thrilled...

MATTHEWS:  Are praying for this.  OK...

PAGE:  ... that she‘s emerging.  They would love to run against her.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s—you know that as a report.

PAGE:  I know it as a report.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go right now to the latest poll numbers in Iowa,

which will hold the first big test in seven months, which has already

begun, a statistical tie.  I think it‘s a tie, basically.  We know their

margins of errors are always no greater than 1, or certainly no less than 1

23, 22, she‘s right there at the top, in the front.

Then you look at another question, favorability among Iowa Republicans.  Look at this number here, so strong right now, 65 percent positive.  In other words, those people who know about her, Shushannah, like her.  Very little dislike.  Look at that.  That means she has room to pound Romney.  She‘s got a lot of capital to spend.  She can take a little scar tissue on the way to pounding him if she‘s at 65, it seems to me.

WALSHE:  And (INAUDIBLE) I think people are really eating up the fact that she was from Iowa, that she lived there until she was 12 years old.  I think that‘s something that, you know, obviously, she‘s used in her roll-out, but she‘ll continue to use it in Iowa.  And I think people really like that.  It seems almost just a little part (ph), but I think for Iowans, it‘s really important.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘re doing this straight tonight, all sides considered.  Now for the trouble area—history.  Not her strength.  Here‘s Congresswoman Bachmann on “Good Morning America” with George Stephanopoulos, refusing his opportunity he gave her to stand down on her prior claims that the Founding Fathers—we know their names—

Washington, Jefferson, Madison—worked tirelessly until slavery was no more.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN:  If you look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, that‘s absolutely true.  He was a very young boy when he was with his father, serving essentially as his father‘s secretary.  He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did, in fact, one day eradicate slavery from our nation.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”:  He wasn‘t one of the Founding Fathers.  He was...

BACHMANN:  And I‘m so grateful for that work.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  He was a president.  He was a secretary of state.  As a member of Congress, you‘re right, he did work to end slavery decades later.  But—so you‘re standing by this comment that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery?

BACHMANN:  Well, John Quincy Adams most certainly was a part of the Revolutionary War era.  He was a young boy, but he was actively involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He was 9.  Anyway, the strange thing, Shushannah—I don‘t understand why you make a mistake like this and talk about the Founding Fathers.  Now, let‘s get a couple of facts, a little fact check here, the Founding Fathers.  And we know who they are.  We don‘t need to be told by anyone—the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence.  That would be Thomas Jefferson—who drafted the Constitution—that would be James Madison.  Did they work tirelessly to end slavery?

Well, let‘s run through it.  Jefferson had 600 slaves working tirelessly, to use her phrase.  One of them was Sally Hemmings, whom he had a number of children.  That was their relationship.  I don‘t have any idea what that relationship was about except that he was the boss and she was the slave.

Let‘s go to the father—he‘s the father of the Constitution, is James Madison.  He had 106 slaves in the year 1820.  George Washington, the father of the country, certainly a Founding Father, presided as president of the constitutional convention, 316 slaves at the time of his death in 1799.

So I don‘t understand why—you know, you could say that somewhere in his writings in the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson was against slavery.  But when you have so many, what does that mean?  And why don‘t you just admit that we had an original sin in this country, an otherwise God-blessed country in so many ways, except for this horror...

PAGE:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... of enslaving a whole group of people for 300 years?

PAGE:  And devotion to the Founding Fathers is one of the fundamental things that unites the Tea Party movement.  And I don‘t think this dispute hurts her with that, but it really hurts here with the other thing we were talking about, about trying to expand...

MATTHEWS:  The people that can read?

PAGE:  ... to independent—more independent-minded Republicans, less social conservative Republicans, Republicans who do not consider themselves part of the Tea Party...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do they read when they...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... distill this out.  What do they hear her saying?

PAGE:  Well, they hear her saying this and they think she‘s not someone they should take seriously, not someone one they could consider supporting.  That is honey to Mitt Romney‘s ears because...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

PAGE:  ... if she‘s consolidating the support, they need someplace else to go.  That could help Mitt Romney pull this together.

MATTHEWS:  I think there‘s philosophy behind this, Shushannah.  I don‘t think this is ignorance.  I think this—it could be.  It does seem a little unclear where she‘s getting the information from.  But I want to give her credit.  I think she‘s pushing an argument here that the original Founding Fathers are better than us, there‘s been corruption since then and deterioration from the purity of our beginnings—even though our beginnings were not pure, obviously.

WALSHE:  Chris, I actually agree with you.  I think that she believes...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have to say “actually.”  You can say, I agree.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s easier.  But that‘s a thought.

WALSHE:  I agree with you, and I think that she‘s trying to push this.  She believes it.  This is something that she‘s been taught by someone, and she trying to push this history to not just help herself, I think, to help the Tea Party movement.

But what‘s interesting—I mean, Bachmann and so many others in the Tea Party movement are so almost obsessed with learning about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.  I mean, this is just not correct, and she has decided to continue to push this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s funny that the Tea Party got its name from a fellow in our business, from a CNBC reporter who mentioned it on the stock exchange out there.

WALSHE:  Exactly.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  So it wasn‘t like they had that idea, either.  Does it go back to original intent?  Isn‘t it they just want to argue always that the government‘s gotten too big, it hasn‘t obeyed the rules of the Founding Fathers for a small government?  That‘s her notion.

PAGE:  Well, of course, and one of the things people in the Tea Party believe is that we‘ve gone astray.  The government‘s too big.  It‘s doing too many things.  We need to go back to first principles.  You know, a lot of Americans could agree with that.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.  I mean, nobody‘s perfect, and you know, everything isn‘t as nice as it was when there was only a few people here, right?  We had a lot more grass, a lot more wilderness, but we also had slavery.

PAGE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And it wasn‘t so nice for the poor people, I‘m sure.  Let‘s go to something fascinating here, which is the intramurals.  And these are, obviously, both women.  You‘re both women.  I don‘t know if this is considered a knock or not, but it seems like Palin is—Sarah Palin—incredibly good at stagecraft and she understands who‘s got the mike.  And when Romney announced—there she is again.  And when Romney announced, she showed up with her—with a bus tour, which was brilliant imagery.  And then now today, she shows up in Iowa with her new movie.

PAGE:  Because she wants to be, clearly, part of the conversation. 

Not clear whether she wants to actually run for president and...

MATTHEWS:  But she jumps on the other person‘s stage.

PAGE:  But she wants to—she doesn‘t want to be forgotten.  I mean, how else could you interpret her showing up in Iowa today?

MATTHEWS:  Shushannah, it seems like every time one of these characters who‘s doing well in the polls has an event, she‘s there to join them on the stage, or to big-foot them even.  She is pretty darn big.

WALSHE:  Well, she definitely sucks the air out of...

MATTHEWS:  Politically.

WALSHE:  ... the room, no matter what.  But you know, this was planned beforehand.  I don‘t think that she‘s really just trying to steal the thunder.  But she does do that.  Obviously, she could go to the filmmakers say, Hey, let‘s do this another week.  When it came to New Hampshire a couple weeks ago, she could have said, You know what?  I don‘t want to go to New Hampshire the day that Mitt Romney is announcing.  But she—you know, she really does suck the air out of everybody else‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Is she running, Shushannah?  There‘s a rumor Bristol put out the word, her daughter put out the word on one of the programs within the last few hours...

WALSHE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... that she knows her mother‘s decision.  It‘s been made. 

I have no idea how to read that.

WALSHE:  Yes, well, it was really interesting and surprising for me.  So Bristol this morning, she says that Palin—her mom has made a decision and they know what it is, only the family.  Last night, I‘m talking to Palin insiders, and they tell me—people that I‘ve trusted for years—they told me that she still is making up her mind.  So that means that inside the Palin home, there‘s a decision made, if we‘re taking all this as true, which I believe it is—that inside the Palin home, there‘s been a decision made.  Outside, there hasn‘t.  They‘re not telling anybody else.

Now, I think this is fascinating for one big reason.  Her supporters, as you know, they‘re passionate about her.  If she decides not to run, I think a lot of them are going to be very upset that they were hung out to dry here, and you know, why she‘s waiting to let them down.  But maybe she is running and she just wants to get in later.

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to be like Lebron James—you know, take an hour of TV to decide which way you go?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what it—you know what I‘m talking about, Shushannah?

(CROSSTALK)

WALSHE:  ... get a lot of viewers.

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t make her too popular in Cleveland!

PAGE:  You know, I think Palin supporters are going to be with her, whether she runs for president or not.  She‘s got—you know, she‘s a speaker, she‘s an entertainer...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

PAGE:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Does she want Romney or does she want Bachmann to win this, right as the race is now?

PAGE:  Well, I don‘t know.  That‘s...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) tough call.

PAGE:  I do—I do think Bachmann has made—filled the space that we thought Palin was—the vacancy that was there for Palin to fill in the presidential race.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s the best political actor I‘ve seen in years.  I mean, to go out there and...

PAGE:  A real natural.

MATTHEWS:  You and I do this for a long time.  To be able to go out there and just grab that microphone, grab that camera...

PAGE:  And in a debate—her first national debate, and she was...

MATTHEWS:  Look how well she did against the vice president, against Biden?

PAGE:  Yes.  And she can raise money.

MATTHEWS:  You could argue she beat Biden.  You could argue it, in show business terms, the way it‘s done by underdog—you know—anyway, thank you, somewhat (ph).  By the way, the undefeated, right?

PAGE:  That‘s it.

WALSHE:  Undefeated.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s another brilliant attempt at what Americans love, the victim.  If you play the victim, the underdog, you won the argument already.  Thank you, Susan Page.  Thank you Shushannah Walshe, who‘s our expert at this point, not knowing whether Palin‘s running or not.

Coming up—let me know when you do know!

WALSHE:  I will.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up: Some Republican presidential candidates have stopped attacking President Obama for, well, not being American.  What‘s with the change in their atty-tude, as we say in Philly?  There‘s a change in attitude.  You see it.  It started with Huntsman.  It‘s moved to Romney.  It‘s moved to Bachmann.  It seems like, finally, people are getting decent about at least acknowledging he‘s one of us.  Is that decent enough?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Michele Bachmann is not this “American Girl,” and now it turns out singer  Tom Petty is not happy with the congresswoman because she used that song in Waterloo, Iowa, when announcing her candidacy for president this week.

Well, that‘s in the event itself, and Petty‘s manager says they are asking the Bachmann campaign to not use that song, just as they asked George W. Bush not to use any of Petty‘s music for his campaign.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It looks like those Republicans who are serious about running for president have changed their tune when it comes to the current president of the United States, our president.  Jon Huntsman declared that he respects Barack Obama as a fellow American.  Mitt Romney went from casting him a “European” and to talking up the patriotism of all Democrats.  And perhaps most astounding, Michele Bachmann recanted the other day her statement on this program three years ago that the president was anti-American, in fact, “absolutely anti-American” was her phrase she used twice.

So why are these Republican contenders suddenly embracing, by their terms, the Americanization of Barack Obama?  Cynthia Tucker‘s a columnist for “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” and Ron Reagan is a political commentator.

Let me ask you both, starting with Cynthia.  By the way, Ron, thank you so much for subbing here the other day.  Everybody said...

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR:  My pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  ... it was great.  So thank you for doing that.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, really.

REAGAN:  Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS:  I do not BS on that point.  This is professional.  Anyway, thank you.

Cynthia, what do you make of this?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, “ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”:  Well, I think that each candidate has good reasons for trying to move away from the nonsense about Barack Obama.  It doesn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  What (INAUDIBLE)

TUCKER:  Well, Michele Bachmann doesn‘t want to be considered a flake anymore.  And all of this stuff...

MATTHEWS:  Since Chris Wallace suggested that term.

TUCKER:  All this stuff about the president of the United States being un-American appealed to the extremist fringe, but it wouldn‘t get her any votes among independents.

Same is true with Mitt Romney.  You know, he didn‘t go nearly as far as Michele Bachmann, but this business about the apology tour—Obama goes around the world apologizing for the United States—he‘s decided that he‘s much better off concentrating on the economy.

MATTHEWS:  Want me to scare you, as a liberal, progressive writer?  Could it be that they believe they‘re on stronger ground now than they were a year ago and they don‘t need to do this crazy stuff?

TUCKER:  Well, the economy is—is big trouble for Barack Obama.  If they concentrate on that, they‘ve got a much better chance because they have a better chance with independents on that issue.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s interesting, Ron, that it was the “Saint Louis Post-Dispatch” that wrote the other day that Jon Huntsman answered the call I made during that promotional ad I was very happy to do, when I said the Republican presidential candidates ought to have the courage to stand up and say that Barack Obama is as much an American as they are. 

Let‘s listen to the ad, because this is what Huntsman seemed to be responding to. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I think that one of things we‘re going to see in the 2012 presidential election is whether one of the Republicans stands up and says, I disagree with Obama on taxes, on the size of government, and some foreign policy issues, but he‘s as much American as I am. 

And you know what the problem in this election of 2012 is?  They won‘t say that.  They ought to just say, he‘s as much of an American as I am.  Let‘s move on to the issues. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s Jon Huntsman taking the high road on that point when he announced his candidacy last week.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We will conduct this campaign on the high road.  I don‘t think you need to run down someone‘s reputation in order to run for the office of president. 

And I respect the president of the United States.  He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love.  But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is, who will be the better president, not who‘s the better American.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there he went to the Statue of Liberty, Ron, to do that. 

REAGAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I felt a little tear coming to my eye.  Maybe I‘m the great communicator, at least once a week in my life. 

REAGAN:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But he did seem to be responding to that tag that I put on those guys. 

REAGAN:  Yes, indeed.  He could do nothing else.  I mean, after all, Jon Huntsman has worked for Barack Obama. 

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN:  He can‘t then come out and say, I think he‘s un-American, but I was working for him anyway. 

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN:  I mean, really.

But, listen, I understand what you‘re saying here.  And you‘re absolutely right.  Smart Republican candidates realize that there is absolutely nothing for them to continue in the—let me just say it—the race-baiting, among other things, that is going on with Barack Obama. 

But that race-baiting is going to continue on right-wing radio and other venues like that. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean the chorus, the chorus, the backup group. 

REAGAN:  Yes, the chorus will continue to do that, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Well, here—here‘s Romney changing his tune a bit, generally at least.  At start of the month, he tried to cast President Obama as an outsider by calling him European.  Let‘s listen.  

Well, we didn‘t listen hard enough, but what he was trying to say there—the sound was off there obviously. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What he was saying is, he‘s awfully European.  It was very high-toned, guys.  But yesterday in New Hampshire, he did change his tune.  He said Democrats were just as patriotic as Republicans, a real switch there for him.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Look, good Democrats love this country, just like good Republicans.  And there‘s no reason we can‘t find some areas of common understanding. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So they have lost that sort of Manichaean, you know, good vs. bad, crusader notions, Cynthia, that they had fairly recently.  What‘s up? 

TUCKER:  Well, it‘s particularly difficult for Mitt Romney to pull off, this idea of casting Barack Obama as un-American, perhaps effete, because he‘s so European. 

(LAUGHTER)

TUCKER:  Mitt Romney is worth...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what they did to John Kerry, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

TUCKER:  He‘s worth nearly a billion dollars.  He‘s well-traveled. 

How many European vacations has he taken? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TUCKER:  Again, he‘s much better off concentrating on what he‘s really good at. 

He was a businessman.  He can make a legitimate argument that, I know how to create jobs.  And that‘s where this race is going to be decided, Chris.  It‘s not going to be decided by the fringe voting on whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Now before we...

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  And, Chris, for the people—for the people that that remark of Romney‘s was aimed at, European is the same at Kenyan. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know, Ron. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go now—before we give away to many Good Housekeeping awards here, let me go back to what—remember the phrase about the Japanese soldier that wouldn‘t give up?  He‘s still on the island.  He‘s fighting that war long after ‘45. 

Michele Bachmann, here are her comments on this program back in 2008, fighting hard for what she believes.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 17, 2008)

MATTHEWS:  So this is a character issue.  You believe that Barack Obama may—you‘re suspicious because of this relationship—may have anti-American views?  Otherwise, it‘s probably irrelevant to this discussion.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  Absolutely.  I absolutely...

MATTHEWS:  So, you believe it brings into—so, you believe that...

BACHMANN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... that Barack Obama may have anti-American views?

BACHMANN:  Absolutely. 

I—I‘m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.  That‘s what the American people are concerned about.  That‘s why they want to know what his answers are.  That‘s why Joe the plumber has figured so highly in had the last few days...

MATTHEWS:  What—OK.  I want to get off this.

BACHMANN:  ... because Joe the plumber...

MATTHEWS:  I want to say this.  What do you mean by...

BACHMANN:  ... asked the question that a lot of Americans want to know.

What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look.  I wish they would.  I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? 

I think people would be—would love to see an expose like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, after channeling the great Joseph McCarthy—I didn‘t mean that, the great—but the Joseph McCarthy history, here she thinks past Sunday, with Bob Schieffer asking Bachmann about those very comments she made here.  And she completely recanted for him what she said about the president.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FACE THE NATION”)

BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, “FACE THE NATION”:  So what does that mean, Congresswoman?  Did you mean he was unpatriotic, that he didn‘t love this country? 

BACHMANN:  No, I don‘t believe that at all.  I don‘t believe—I don‘t question the...

SCHIEFFER:  Well, what does that mean, anti-American views? 

BACHMANN:  ... president‘s—I don‘t question the president‘s patriotism at all. 

I think what people are concerned about right now is that the president doesn‘t seem to have an understanding of how the economy works.  It doesn‘t seem that he has a basic understanding of how to do the job of president of the United States.  And I share that view. 

SCHIEFFER:  There‘s a long way between that and saying he‘s anti-American. 

BACHMANN:  Well, you know, all of that has been dealt with in the past.  But, again, as I said, I don‘t question his patriotism.  I think what‘s most important is, how has the president performed?  I think, quite simply, the president has been wrong in his policy prescriptions for the country.  That‘s really what is important right now, because we‘re in serious times, and we‘re in trouble. 

SCHIEFFER:  Well, do you wish you had put it a different way when you said he had anti-American views? 

BACHMANN:  Oh, sure.  There‘s a lot of things I wish I would have said differently, of course. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Cynthia, I just love Bob Schieffer‘s deep Texas accent, the way he puts these logical questions. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Last thought from you.

Why are they turning to sort of reasonable debate now from these anti

accusations of anti-Americanism? 

TUCKER:  Because they want to get elected.  Michele Bachmann‘s biggest problems is, Republicans believe she‘s unelectable.  She‘s trying to prove that she is. 

MATTHEWS:  The flake.  She is trying to lose that flake charge.            

TUCKER:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Last word quickly, Ron.  Why are changing tune to something more like mainstream talk? 

REAGAN:  It‘s not a strategic change.  It‘s just a tactical change. 

The Southern strategy lives.

And, by the way, Sarah Palin will not run for president, but she will be the new point guard for the Miami Heat. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  I‘m going to work on that one.

Anyway, thank you. 

The Heat could use one.

Thank you, Cynthia Tucker and Ron Reagan.

Up next:  Just how serious is small-government advocate Grover Norquist about opposing tax hikes?  Well, read my lips.  Read his.  He wouldn‘t raise taxes if his grandmother‘s life depended on it.  Wait until you catch this.  The “Sideshow” coming up next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  How serious is government-hating Grover Norquist—there‘s a name for you—about his no-tax pledge?  Well, dead serious.  Here he is last night with Stephen Colbert. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE COLBERT REPORT”) 

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Is there any time and any circumstance under which raising taxes would be the right thing to do? 

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM:  No. 

COLBERT:  Good answer, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Now, let‘s amp it up a little bit.  OK?

Terrorists have kidnapped all of our grandmothers. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  They have got in a subterranean borough, which you know they have.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  And all of our grandmothers have been slathered with honey.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  And they are going to release fire ants into this borough who will bite our grandmothers to death. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Their only demand is that we increase the marginal tax rate on the top 2 percent of Americans. 

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  And we will release them. 

Do we increase the tax rate, or do we let our grandmothers die by ant bite? 

(LAUGHTER)

NORQUIST:  I think we console ourselves with the fact that we have pictures. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Whoa. 

On that note, today, Jon Huntsman is the only Republican presidential candidate who has said out loud that he won‘t sign this Grover Norquist pledge of no taxes.  Huntsman said he won‘t sign any pledges shoved at him like this. 

Also on late night, David Letterman took issue with Michele Bachmann‘s latest rewrite of history. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  She said, I‘m going to run my campaign in the same spirit as John Wayne, also from Waterloo. 

Well, and this is what makes me crazy.  It turns out John Wayne is not from Waterloo. 

I remember two things about John Wayne.  He was in a lot of Westerns and he was a heavy smoker. 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  So, what—where—I guess it‘s message I‘m trying to import here tonight is, do a little homework.  Just do just a little bit of homework.  I mean, don‘t you just—well, what about page two of Google or Wikipedia? 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Page one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I understand why Dave‘s upset with this sloppy performance

by a presidential candidate on simple facts. 

Why did she say John Wayne came from Waterloo, if he didn‘t?  That‘s not the kind of thing people normally get wrong.  You would know if someone like John Wayne was born in your town.  Again, why would you say so if you didn‘t? 

Up next:  Republicans are proposing tax breaks to the same Wall Street executives who nearly crushed the U.S. economy, at the same time telling the poor to tighten their belts.  Why are they catering to the crowd that caused the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

EAMON JAVERS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Eamon Javers with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Two rallies in a row fed by easing concerns about the Greek debt crisis, the Dow Jones industrial soaring 145 points, the S&P 500 climbing 16, and the Nasdaq surging 41.  Greek lawmakers will vote Wednesday and Thursday on new austerity measures aimed at keeping the country from defaulting on its debt.  Demonstrators gathered outside Parliament at the start of a 48-hour protest strike, but most analysts are confident the measures will still be approved. 

And in stocks, Starwood led hotels higher after announcing plans to expand its presence in Saudi Arabia with two new properties in Medina.  Home improvement retailers climbed on a report showing a 15 percent jump in remodeling jobs this year.

And business networking site LinkedIn surging 12 percent on an avalanche of analyst upgrades. 

And the Chinese version of YouTube, Youku, soaring 30 percent after teaming up with Warner Brothers to deliver video-on-demand titles in China. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  I will tell him the truth about request by some in his party that we increase spending and raise taxes.  Not only are they counterproductive from the standpoint of an economic recovery.  They‘re also politically impossible, since Republicans oppose tax hikes and Democrats have already shown they won‘t raise taxes in a down economy either. 

So, let‘s start by taking both proposals off the table and focus on what can actually pass Congress. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell before his meeting with President Obama on Monday.  He said taxes are off the table, including any new revenues, any plugging of loopholes, no ifs, ands or buts. 

Here‘s New York Senator Chuck Schumer responding to that today.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  When you say no taxes, do you mean that some of our largest corporations should pay no taxes?  When you say no taxes, no taxes should be on the table, are you saying we shouldn‘t close corporate loopholes?  Are you saying people who are making a billion dollars shouldn‘t sacrifice, and all the sacrifice should be the middle class? 

The question is, when you tell an average teacher or cop or firefighter you have to sacrifice, are you going to tell the millionaire they have to sacrifice, too?  Not because we dislike them, but because it should be shared across the board?  And Senator McConnell has said, no. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Politico‘s David Rogers reports that Democrats are working on a plan in which the Bush era income tax rates wouldn‘t be targeted.  Instead, the focus would be on corporate tax subsidies or capping deductions that most benefit the wealthy. 

Will Republicans make such a deal?  Do they really want their image to be the party that keeps rewarding the crowd that got us into this mess in the first place? 

New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin is a CNBC contributor and the author of “Too Big to Fail.”  And Jim Cramer is host of CNBC‘s “MAD MONEY.”

Let me ask you about this fat cat issue.  And it seems to me—I‘m going to talk about it later tonight, Andrew—it seems to me that Democrats could make a very good argument, if they did, that, wait a minute, we know that Obama didn‘t create this mess.  He may have a real problem getting us out of it, and he may not being—succeeding getting us out of it.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, FINANCIAL COLUMNIST AND REPORTER, “THE NEW YORK

TIMES”:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But he didn‘t create the hell of the fact that older people can‘t sell their houses, younger people can‘t buy a house, that everything‘s below sea level, that everything‘s down, nothing‘s moving.  He didn‘t do that.

SORKIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s just been unable to get out of it. 

Why don‘t they target—well, is it—is it smart to say it was the smart—the smart alecks on Wall Street that got us into this? 

SORKIN: Politically it is very smart and I think, by the way, you‘re going to see more and more of it.

I also think the other issue, though, around the tax hikes is—are they actual tax hikes or are we actually just getting rid of the loopholes?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SORKIN:  I think, politically, that‘s actually the very smart argument.  Let‘s get rid of the loopholes.  The problem with the “let‘s get rid of the loopholes” argument ultimately is that the Republicans are going to say, we can‘t do that unless we bring the ultimate corporate tax rate down, which is to say, make the corporate tax rate competitive and also get rid of the loopholes.

And so, I think that‘s where we‘re actually going to see the biggest friction.

MATTHEWS:  That brings in no new revenue, right?

SORKIN:  That, and that is the problem.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, OK.  Let me go to—let me go to Jim on this, the whole question of politics and economics.

It seems to me the Republicans, particularly McConnell, who was so tough there, he‘s saying basically, not only can‘t you raise the tax rates, not only can you not extend the—go after the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, you better not start plugging loopholes.  I want no revenue net increase.

What kind of position is that when you have a $1.7 trillion deficit?  Any business would do cost cutting, any business would go in and try to deal with the revenue side, wouldn‘t they?

JIM CRAMER, CNBC HOST, “MAD MONEY”:  ludicrous position.  Now, when I was hedge fund manager, I always paid on my gains.  I paid an ordinary income rate.

Now, you got to pay a capital gains rate.  It‘s ridiculous.

If you want to be a progressive Democrat, you go after people who are only paying 15 percent on what basically is their salary and tell them they got to pay ordinary income just like everybody else.

This is not loophole.  It‘s the way it should be.  And everybody in the hedge fund game is laughing their heads off knowing they‘re going to get away with this.

MATTHEWS:  It just seems to me—you guy, let‘s look at a couple of numbers here.  Who can explain?  This is a new McClatchy/Marist poll.  And I love these kinds of polls because they look at how people do the blame game.  Sixty-five percent of Tea Party supporters basically blame Obama, 61 percent of Republicans to do that.  They say the economic conditions are mostly the result of President Obama.

As you go down that list, you see only 31 percent of registered voters overall say that.  And then you see, you go down to the bottom, only 12 percent of Democrats, Andrew, blame the president.

SORKIN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Now, let me get back to a simple, economic—I‘m a political, not an expert.  Nobody‘s is an expert these days, trying to figure things out.

It seems to be there‘s two groups of people in this country the president is going to have to win back with enthusiasm, the left—the Netroots young people, who are basically are younger.  They‘re not rich.  They‘re not making a lot of money.  They‘re not tax sensitive as older people with big money are.

And then you have the working guy.  The Appalachian guy, the guy in south Philly, the working guy, who works with his hands, or a woman does.

These people both agree, you got to blame somebody.  They‘re not happy.

Why doesn‘t he point the finger at the rich guys that got him into this mess and they‘ll say, exactly, we‘ve seen your movie?  So, they should see it and there‘s a new movie coming out called “Marching Call,” which is a lot like your movie, Andrew, that basically points to happen with the deception in Wall Street in the clear-cut terms.

SORKIN:  OK.  So, here‘s the problem, the problem is that the president has boxed himself in.  On one side, he‘s getting killed from the left who‘s saying he‘s not done enough.  He hasn‘t called them fat cats, that rhetoric—he‘s actually stopped some of that rhetoric.

And on the other side, Wall Street is saying you‘re killing us, you‘re killing business.  And that argument—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SORKIN:  -- I‘m not saying it‘s a strong one, but you‘re hearing it over and over and over again.  The president‘s bad on business.  Jim can talk about this.

And so, you know, that is sort of the central problem he has, which is how far can he take it, you know?

MATTHEWS:  I see.

SORKIN:  And sort of in an environment where jobs and -- 

(CROSSTALK)

SORKIN:  I know, but where jobs and employment are ultimately the story, you have to look at least like a pro-business, at some level, I think a president, and that puts him at a tough position on the other end.

MATTHEWS:  Good analysis there.  I read your piece today.

Let me ask the same question to Jim.  How does he act like a Huey Long, act like a real Democrat, act like my colleague Ed Schultz—how does he talk like that?  Because if he doesn‘t, the Netroots are going to stay asleep or be asleep, I think.  And the working guy and woman out there in Appalachia, Western Pennsylvania, southwestern Pennsylvania—all those working people in South Philly, again—you know who they are—regular people, are saying what side is this guy on?

CRAMER:  All right.  Here‘s what you do.  North of $400,000, big, big tax increase.  Now, it hurts me, I don‘t care.

Listen, I‘m in line at Geno‘s getting a cheese steak with whiz, OK?  I don‘t want to look around because I know that I‘m paying less than the other guy.  That is ludicrous -- 400 G‘s north, come on!  There aren‘t that many of us.  We can afford it!

MATTHEWS:  Cramer, I love the way you brag.  Hit me, hit me.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, both of you gentlemen, thank you.  Andrew, great writing as always.  I think you pointed to the problem.  The president‘s got to choose a side.

Andrew Ross Sorkin of “The New York Times” and Jim Cramer of “Mad Money” on CNBC at 6:00 and 11:00.  He comes from Philly.

Up next:  will gay marriage, same-sex marriage, be a powerful wedge issue for the Republicans?  Do they have one more last hurrah bashing gay people?  Do they have a shot here?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Former U.S. congressman and twitter fan, Anthony Weiner, is reportedly calling Democratic leaders to try to have a say himself who will replace him in Congress.  “The New York Post” citing anonymous sources reports that Weiner has spoken with the Queens Democratic Party chair about who should replace him and has been even contacted a number of politicians who are thinking of running for the seat.  King maker, Weiner.

It‘s also possible the district will disappear next year, since New York state will lose two seats in the House.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK:  I believe New York has sent a message to this nation loud and clear.  It is time for marriage equality all across this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That‘s New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo celebrating his state‘s vote to legalize same-sex marriage.

In 2004, Republicans successfully used gay marriage as a wedge issue against Democrats.  Will they try to use the same playbook in 2012?  Can it still work?

Ross Levi is the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.  Ken Blackwell is senior fellow at the Family Research Council.  He‘s a former Ohio secretary of state and author of “Resurgent: How Constitutional Conservatives Can Save America.”

Ken, will you guys you use this issue against the Democrats next year?

KEN BLACKWELL, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  I think it would weaken the moral authority of our argument.  We will defend traditional marriage as -- 

MATTHEWS:  Or use it as an election issue?

BLACKWELL:  Like I said, I think that it‘s the president that is going to use it as an election year.  He‘s going to turn the page away from his inability to create jobs.

MATTHEWS:  How so?

BLACKWELL:  Well, as he‘s going to turn the page and put the emphasis o on, you know, same-sex marriage.

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute.  He said he‘s evolving on the issue. 

He hasn‘t even come out for same sex.

BLACKWELL:  Well, he‘s evolving on the issue.

MATTHEWS:  You think he‘ll come out for it?

BLACKWELL:  Yes.  I think

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.   Let me—that‘s probably good news to Ross Levi.

Ross, I‘ve watched politicians like in Ohio in the 2004 election with the help of Don King, the fight promoter, black clergyman up in Cleveland, the Cleveland area, to get their flocks to vote against the Democratic candidate John Kerry on that issue.  They got the vote out.  They created a lot of rumble and excitement about the evils of same-sex marriage and the communities that are very much in need of more marriages, obviously, because they‘re more stable in many was—some of the families.

But here‘s the question, are you concerned that the Republican Party will use it as a wedge issue what‘s happened in New York against President Obama?

ROSS LEVI, EMPIR STATE PRIDE AGENDA:  I think that‘s largely a tactic whose time has come and gone.  As more and more LBGT Americans have come out to their family, their friends, their co-workers, their parishioners, we‘re now real people.  It‘s not as simple as just looking at this as an abstract issue.

And you‘re actually asking people in some cases to vote against their kids or vote against people they care about.  That it makes it hard to make this just a purely political wedge issue.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about the conservative areas among older voters?

LEVI:  Actually—we‘ve actually found that both younger and older voters understand this issue.  One of my co-workers said when this passed in New York, the first call she got was from her grandmother that said, congratulations, I‘m so happy.

I think older folks understand at the end of life what matters in life, it‘s love, it‘s family.  And we certainly know with younger voters—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re my kind of guy, you‘re an optimist.

I know an optimist when I see it.  You‘re not afraid at all that are in the more conservative areas where this election will be decided, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, states that probably are not going to be on the cutting edge of this issue, they‘re not going to try to use it.

LEVI:  They may try to use it.  What I‘m really concerned are they going to be successful in using it.  When we know that independents and Democrats are firmly in favor of this, this is a motivating issue for those voters, actually.  Some of the biggest applause lines Andrew Cuomo got when he was running for governor, and I heard a lot of times when he didn‘t even know I was in the crowd, was around marriage equality.

MATTHEWS:  So, glee will meet—not to be comical about it, will glee beat fear?

LEVI:  I think so.  I think, in general, Americans understand fairness.  And like I said, this is now about real people.  Americans want to be on the side of love.

MATTHEWS:  Ken, respond to this.

BLACKWELL:  Chris, look, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, the people have spoken to this and they‘ve spoken through the ballot box and I tell you—

MATTHEWS:  Against marriage, against same-sex.

BLACKWELL:  Against same-sex marriage in defense of traditional marriage.  I think the president has to be worried about two demographic groups, white women over 55, and white working class voters.  And that‘s because he, in fact, should be focused on job creation as opposed to advancing the cause of same-sex marriage.

MATTHEWS:  But he hasn‘t been out front on this.  Let me ask you, Ross, has the president been out front on the issue as same-sex marriage?  I don‘t think he‘s for it.

LEVI:  No.  Right now, it‘s not a vote.  It‘s interesting.  I think most Americans think he is.  He certainly has been talking about evolving on this issue.

BLACKWELL:  That‘s absolutely, Chris.

LEVI:  And, in fact, I think the president actually I think stands everything to gain and nothing to lose by coming out in support of this.  Look, those who are going to vote against him are already going to vote against him.  This isn‘t going to change their mind.  This is the president that decided I‘m not going to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, I‘m going to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” passed the hate crimes law.

Right now, what he stands to gain—what, right now, he stands to gain is those Democrats and independents -- 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  One question, are you going to advise your party not to make the issue of opposing same-sex marriage a part of the platform this year?

BLACKWELL:  No, I‘m not.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  You want it in the platform?

BLACKWELL:  I want defending traditional marriage in the platform. 

I think it is the essential building block to our civilization.

Look, Chris, in all of Western civilization, you know, there have been societies that celebrating the homosexuality, the ancient Greeks.  But they, in fact, protected the institution of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  They got the joke.  And the American people get the joke.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

You heard the argument, ladies and gentlemen.  I think it will matter in this election.  I wish you were more—well, you are an optimist, Ross.  I hope you‘re right.

Ross Levi, thank you.  Ken Blackwell, as always, you‘ve stated the case.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with one simple question: why should we reward the people who got us in the economic mess we‘re in now?  Why reward the bad guys?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a simple political question.  Why on God‘s earth should we reward the people who got us in to this financial mess?

You can‘t sell a house because you can‘t get a decent price for it.  You can‘t buy a house today because people can‘t believe what you‘re offering for it.

Who created this political dung hill?  Who created this financial horror show that has older people dying over their miniature 401(k)s, young people hopelessly out of work, certainly out of good work?

It all started in a splurge of greed and deception and grab what you can before the building falls down, that George W. Bush begot us late in the year 2007.

That‘s what we‘re living right now.  OK.  Obama hasn‘t been able to get us out of it yet, but no doubt on that front.  But that‘s what we‘re suffering from.  And there‘s no sense blaming one party to the other, but there‘s a hell of a lot of sense in keeping an eye on the people who did to us, who made millions on all kids of off the wall investment products and then dumped it out there to people who didn‘t know what they were getting.

All I ask is why anyone, regardless of political philosophy, want to be out there barking for better tax breaks for these people, why they should be so shameless to tell us it‘s better to screw the old people out of their Medicare so that you can keep the tax breaks that Bush jammed through heading out the door, even if we have to deliver them in hot checks courtesy of the latest borrowing abroad?  Why?

Ask somebody.  Why reward the big shots who shot this economy dead with more millions in tax breaks, a running bonanza of generosity of you and the people who got screwed by the very people with their hands out for more?  It‘s a no-brainer for the average taxpayer.  It‘s simple.

There has to be pain to keep the country solvent so we don‘t go the way of Greece.  Where do we come up with the deal?  Do we sock it to the people who are old and sick or to the people who are making the big bucks who never really come on, never felt the hell they brought down on this country in the first place?  The hell they left in town behind them.

Fair is fair.  Please repeat: fair is fair.  This isn‘t just about ability to pay, it‘s about who—given how we got here—ought to pay.

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

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

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