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updated 8/22/2011 12:27:52 PM ET 2011-08-22T16:27:52

Guests: Hampton Pearson, Sean Smith, Cynthia Tucker, Jim Hightower, Wayne Slater, Ken Vogel,
Ron Reagan, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The bus to 2012.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Obama fights back -- sort of. Here`s the good news. President Obama
finally looks like he`s finally ready to take it to Republicans. Here`s
the bad news. He seems to running against Congress, and guess what?
Congress is not going to be on the ballot against him next November.

The president says he`s going to put out a program in September to
boost the economy and create jobs. My question -- what are you waiting
for?

Also, Perry being Perry. In the past 24 hours, Rick Perry has said
President Obama is the biggest threat to the country, that the Federal
Reserve`s policy is, quote, "almost treasonous, or treasonous, in my
opinion," and he`s also suggested Fed chairman Ben Bernanke would get
"ugly" treatment down in Texas. Well, this is why they love him on the
right and why the White House might love to run against him. The case
tonight against Perry.

Plus, when even Karl Rove worries that the Republican Party has gone
too far, too far right, you know it`s gone too far right. He`s longing, he
is, for someone to jump in and save the GOP from itself. Any chance?
Well, there`s word today that Paul Ryan and Chris Christie may yet
reconsider running. We`ll ask the HARDBALL strategists tonight.

Plus, maybe the best story of the day -- tea tax. At least two
Republican U.S. congressmen, believe it or not, including that possible
presidential hopeful Paul Ryan, have decided if their constituents want to
ask them questions, they should pay for the privilege. That`s one way for
brave Tea Party types to avoid tough questions. Let`s see our HARDBALL
strategists take that one on.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with what we know, that the Republican
presidential candidate will run against government, and what we don`t know,
what President Obama will campaign for.

We start with President Obama fighting back today out on that bus.
Cynthia Tucker`s a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist and Sean
Smith teaches media, politics and international relations at Yale.

Thank you both for joining us, Cynthia and Sean. So here`s the
interesting question. The president, seems to me, has three options. Put
up a big Harry Truman-type plan, big and Democratic, lots of jobs, lots of
spending, borrowing, but do it the Democratic way. Put people to work.
Dare the Republicans to vote against it.

Number two, compromise, a little of this, a little of that. Or roll
over and give them just what they want, more business tax cuts. That`s the
option. Where should he go?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: B and C are about the same,
Chris. Compromising with the Republicans is rolling over. That`s
virtually what happened in the debt ceiling debate. There were absolutely
no tax increases because the Republicans wouldn`t give in at all, and the
president did. He absolutely needs to be Harry Truman.

MATTHEWS: Give them something that they have to choke on.

TUCKER: You have got to go -- well, even if he proposes small things,
they`re not going to vote for it. They`re going to say no. So why not be
big, be bold, be imaginative, and hang it around the Republicans` necks?

MATTHEWS: That`s my big question, Sean. Why doesn`t the president
tell us what he would do if he didn`t have opposition? Let us know what he
stands for and let them vote against him? What do you think?

SEAN SMITH, YALE UNIVERSITY: Well, I think he`s just being realistic,
Chris. I mean, if you look at the economy proposals that he`s on the table
right now that are sitting, languishing in Congress while they do nothing,
they are respectfully (ph) to get the economy back moving again through the
extension of the payroll tax relief, the extension of jobless benefits for
those who are unemployed. He`s talked about a massive --

MATTHEWS: You think that`s appropriate, that`s enough for -- we have
a 9.1 percent unemployment rate. We have, effectively, almost 20 percent,
if you count underemployment. And what you`re talking about sounds pretty
small-bore for a Democrat.

SMITH: He`s challenged -- he`s challenged the private sector to hire
returning veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq. He has proposed
putting unemployed construction workers who have been out of work since the
housing bust back to work. The country is in desperate need of
infrastructure improvements. You`ve got a million unemployed construction
workers. We could put those people back to work tomorrow if Congress would
act on these things.

Look, I think the president know what he can likely get out of this
Republican Congress and what is definitely unattainable. And I think if
you look back on his presidency and the kind of president he said he would
be, going back to the very first speech he gave at the national level in
2004, it`s been about -- he`s been a practical problem solver. He`s not an
ideologue. He is trying to cut through the gridlock and the partisan
warfare in Washington and get things done for the American people.

MATTHEWS: I think people --

SMITH: He`s not a grandstander who`s going to propose things that
have no chance of passing.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think people want to know what he wants. Anyway,
let`s -- I think people want to know what this president stands for and
what he wants. Let the Republicans say no. That`s my view, not yours.

Let`s go to President Obama. He`s been flexing his campaign muscle
over the past couple of days. Last night, he went after Republicans at his
stop in Iowa. Let`s listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know it`s frustrating
because the other side`s unreasonable! And you don`t want to -- you don`t
want to reward unreasonableness. But sometimes, you`ve got to make choices
in order to do what`s best for the country at that particular moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, I don`t know what that means.

TUCKER: It sounded like an apology --

SMITH: I think it`s --

TUCKER: -- for the debt ceiling compromise, quite frankly. And you
know, Chris, I don`t blame the president on that one. It is absolutely
true that the Republicans are extremists. They were unreasonable. The
debt ceiling needed to be lifted. The country could not go into default.

But beyond that, no more compromises. And for heaven`s sakes, let`s
not hear any more talk of patent reform. That`s among the very small-bore
issues that the president is offering up. That makes it ring from the
rafters, patent reform? Give us a big, bold plan that would put people
back to work immediately.

It`s true that the Republicans won`t pass it, but they won`t pass the
payroll tax extension, either -- payroll cut. They won`t do anything that
they think is going to help Obama in the next election, so why not do
something, propose something bold that Americans can get behind?

MATTHEWS: You know, Sean, everybody knew, whatever you think of him,
Ronald Reagan, what he was for. Everybody got it simple. Anybody knew he
wanted to beat the Soviet Union, he wanted (INAUDIBLE) strategic weaponry
through -- whatever -- "star wars," whatever. They knew he wanted to beat
the reds. They knew he wanted to reduce the size of the government by
cutting taxes.

What`s the short answer to what Obama wants to do right now to get the
country moving again? What`s his program?

SMITH: I think, Chris, you heard him talk about it out there while he
was listening to Americans from the heartland. He has talked about ways to
bring the job numbers back and get the economic growth moving back in the
right direction. You`ve got to remember that the trend lines are going in
the right direction right now.

MATTHEWS: But what are his -- what`s his program --

SMITH: They`re not moving as quickly as the president would like --

MATTHEWS: What`s he stand for?

SMITH: I think --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What`s the president want the country to do right now?

SMITH: I think what the president wants Washington to do, Chris, is
come together, not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but come together as
Americans and take on the big challenges that are --

MATTHEWS: And do what?

SMITH: -- stifling this recovery right now.

MATTHEWS: And do what?

SMITH: To -- to -- to get an infrastructure jobs bill passed, to pass
tax cuts, to possibly get some new trade agreements, to pass patent reform.
I mean, that is a -- that is a piece of the puzzle. It can get our
entrepreneurs and -- with their ideas to the market quicker.

These are all things that can help and keep this recovery moving in
the right direction, keep the unemployment numbers going in the right
direction. We`re moving in the right direction now. We got to -- we got
to not lose faith in him and not lose faith in his approach because he`s
getting us to where we`re trying to go.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s go. Here`s the president last night talking
about his plan, his job recovery plan. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I`ll be putting forward, when they come back in September, a
very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs and to control our
deficit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there you have it. He`s promising September -- we`ll
see you in September.

TUCKER: We`ll see you --

MATTHEWS: Here he is, August 16th, and I guess we`re waiting. Two
weeks.

TUCKER: And he`s still talking about getting the deficit under
control, when actually, even many Republican economists are saying that`s
the wrong thing to talk about. We don`t have a short-term debt problem.
What we have is a jobs problem. That`s what Americans want to hear about.

And you know, there are unemployed plumbers and painters who don`t
want to hear about patent reform. What in the heck is that? For heaven`s
sakes, give me a plan that`s going to put people back to work in the next
several months. Go big. No Republican --

MATTHEWS: Here`s my question --

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER: -- aren`t going to pass it.

MATTHEWS: I`m not sure that`s clear. Sean, your answer to this
question. Does the president want to spend more money at the federal
level, borrow some, or spend less? Which is it, spend more or spend less?
I don`t even know that about the president right now. He said deficit
reduction --

SMITH: I think he would like --

MATTHEWS: He also said do something on jobs. Which is it?

SMITH: I think that he would like to see the wealthiest Americans pay
more. He would like to see some of the tax loopholes that they are
benefiting --

MATTHEWS: No, you`re not answering the question. Does he want to
spend -- does he want to spend more federal dollars or less? A simple,
fundamental question about the president. I don`t know the answer to it.
Do you? Should we be spending more money in Washington to create jobs, or
should we be spending less? That`s a simple question. What is it? What`s
his policy?

SMITH: Well I think that -- well, I think that we`re going to find
out exactly what his proposal is in September. But we know fundamentally
what he believes that -- about who can pay more to help with the deficit
reduction, but also that we probably do have to make some investments to
get this country moving again, and so that we`re not short-changing our
future, either. We`ve got to worry about the long-term economic health of
this country and our competitiveness against our rivals in the rest of the
world, in addition to our short-term jobs creation --

MATTHEWS: OK, so we should spend more?

SMITH: -- challenges.

MATTHEWS: So you think he should spend more? The government --
President Obama`s position right now, in this year, right now, in this
August of 2011, is the federal government is not spending enough money to
create jobs. Is that his position?

SMITH: I think that we`ll see what he proposes in a couple of weeks
specifically on that. But I do think that it`s likely that you`re going to
see him propose some things that are investments in our future.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks a lot. Sean Smith, thanks for coming on
HARDBALL tonight. Thanks for your great article today, "Let Obama Be
Obama." Thank you, Cynthia Tucker.

Coming up: Rick Perry says President Obama is the greatest threat to
America -- the greatest threat to America -- this is what Rick Perry`s
saying. He says the Fed chairman is "treasonous" and he`ll get the "ugly"
treatment down in Texas. I guess it`s like Adlai Stevenson getting spit on
down there. What is this, the "ugly" treatment? Anyway, the Tea Party
crowd might love it, but you got to this, is this guy really running for
president with this kind of talk? Is it this bad? We want something like
this?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: President Obama matched his all-time low in the Gallup poll
tracking poll today, 39 percent. Even that number is three times as good
as what Congress gets. Look at this number. A new Gallup poll finds just
13 percent -- like, one in seven -- approve of the job Congress is doing,
one in seven people you bump into. So when you see people, six out of
seven don`t like this Congress. That ties the record, by the way, all-
time, 84 percent disapprove. That`s a record high disapproval for the
United States Congress, and that`s why we`re seeing the president campaign
against Congress. No surprise there.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Now we`ll have some fun. Welcome back to HARDBALL. How
strong of a candidate will Governor Rick Perry of Texas actually turn out
to be? Well, he`s certainly caused a lot of excitement since his official
announcement on Saturday. But already, some of his controversial
statements on the trail out there are raising eyebrows.

He said, by the way, the greatest threat to the country -- the
greatest threat to our country right now is the president`s spending
strategy. I thought the Congress had him all wrapped up. What do you
mean, he has a strategy, by the way? I`d like to know what that spending
strategy is, in fact.

Here he is. He also said Ben Bernanke, the head of the Fed, might be
"treasonous" if he keeps printing money between now and the election.
Well, what kind of campaign is Perry running out there, and who`s he trying
to appeal to?

Let`s go to two people who really know this guy. Wayne Slater`s been
following (INAUDIBLE) he`s senior political writer for "The Dallas Morning
News." And there he is, Jim Hightower, the great radio talk show host, the
great populist hero of Texas. He ran against Perry for Texas agriculture
committee back in `90.

You know, Jim Hightower, you could have stopped him right there, but
you didn`t. He went right past you --

JIM HIGHTOWER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, it`s my fault.

MATTHEWS: He went right past you on the highway to heaven, and now
he`s up there running against Michele Bachmann and Romney, and he may well
be the nominee. What will stop him? Will anything stop this guy? Or is
he just too good, looks too good, is too good politically for people to
know what they`re up to? What`s going on here?

HIGHTOWER: No. Once you get beyond the hair, there`s the real Rick
Perry. And you know, they say that the higher the monkey climbs, the more
you see of its ugly side. Well, Perry`s got a very ugly side. And he`s
going to get the kind of media scrutiny, Chris, that he --

MATTHEWS: Well, you came to the right place, Jim. Tell us how ugly
he is.

HIGHTOWER: Well, sorry, he is -- Republicans get a two-fer with him.
One, they get the -- one of the farthest-out of the far-out Tea Party
right-wingers in Perry, sort of Michele Bachmann with better hair. And
then also, though, they get the -- the real Perry, which is the exuberant
corporate Republican who never met a corporate lobbyist he wouldn`t hug as
long as that lobbyist had a campaign check and a wish list.

He sort of -- he really is kind of a George Bush plutocrat without the
intelligence or the ethics. So that`s the real Perry, is really going to
be its corporate Perry. That`s the kind of governorship he has ran. For
example, he`s running around now talking about the great Texas jobs miracle
that he has fostered here. Well, I`m not sure --

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s all this -- what about all these --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What about all these revival meetings and everything, this
church tents, tent church stuff he does? That turns off a lot of people
where I come from. They like to keep the politics a little bit secular.
Why is this guy starting his campaign with this big revival, religious
meeting, with everybody waving their hands in the air in a very religious
fervor? What`s that got to do with running for lower taxes and whatever
else he`s running on, anti-regulation, anti-EPA? What`s that got to do
with religion?

HIGHTOWER: Well, nothing, of course. But it`s his -- it`s his answer
to pretty much to everything, everything that involves human beings, the
people`s needs. You know, we`re in an exceptional drought down here in
Texas, and he had a three-day prayer for rain. But you know, God didn`t
respond.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HIGHTOWER: That should send a message to Perry. But he puts on these
spectacles, and I don`t think they appeal even to religious people. I
think --

MATTHEWS: Well, we`ll see.

HIGHTOWER: -- Jesus himself said you should pray in private.

MATTHEWS: Well, Mr. Hightower, he hasn`t impressed you. Here`s Rick
Perry, by the way, talking about President Obama just yesterday in Iowa.
Let`s listen to the road show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I think the
greatest threat to our country right now is this president who is trying to
spend our way out of this disaster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And here he is at the same event. He had this to say about
Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, who I think has been saving this country`s
bacon. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I
don`t know what y`all will do to him in Iowa, but we -- we would treat him
pretty ugly down in Texas. I mean, printing more money to play politics at
this particular time in American history is almost treacherous -- or
treasonous, in my opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Does this guy know any history? Talking about treating
somebody "ugly" -- that`s what they did to Adlai Stevenson back in `63.
Remember `63 down in Texas? Anyway, "treasonous"? Keep in mind Ben
Bernanke was appointed by George W. Bush to be the Fed chairman.

This afternoon, by the way, Perry said he stood by what he said, of
course. But a former aide to President Bush, Tony Fratto (ph), tweeted
this response to Perry`s off-the-cuff remark. Quote, "Governor Perry`s
comments about Chairman Bernanke are inappropriate and un-presidential."
I`m sure that`ll brush him back.

Let me go to Wayne here. Wayne, what do you make of this guy? Is he
all hat and no cattle? I`m looking at Jim Hightower with this big Stetson
on here. What do you make of this guy? Is he going to sell -- will he
travel well?

WAYNE SLATER, "DALLAS MORNING NEWS": For a while, certainly in the --
to the constituencies he`s trying to win in Iowa and maybe South Carolina
and maybe North Florida and so forth, yes.

Look, one of the things that people don`t, I think, understand -- I
know this conversation happened inside Perry`s political camp with his
political guru, Dave Carney -- was, it is not enough to make a pitch to a
statistically significant constituency -- there`s Teavangelicals, the
evangelicals, and Tea Party activists -- but also to be somebody who will
take the fight to Obama.

That`s what Carney said. What people want is someone who takes the
fight to Obama. I think a lot of people never figured out that part of
Donald Trump`s appeal, with that vanity candidacy and that nutty stuff
about the birthers, was --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SLATER: -- that he at least was saying, put me in the ring with this
guy Obama.

That`s what this constituency wants.

MATTHEWS: I get it.

SLATER: They want somebody who will fight. And what Perry is doing
is telling them, hey, you want a guy who`s quick, who fights, who will be
there with you, who will stand up against Obama? I`m that guy.

MATTHEWS: That`s how Schumer beat D`Amato up in New York, I remember.
The Democrats like that, too, Jim.

You like that, too, don`t you, Jim? You like a fighter.

HIGHTOWER: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: So the people on the right like what you want, somebody to
go in there and duke it out with a guy they don`t like.

HIGHTOWER: Yes, but --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is that his appeal? Is Wayne -- is Wayne right -- is Wayne
right about this?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, go ahead.

HIGHTOWER: I think Wayne is right about that. But it`s only going to
go so far, because you have to have a little bit of smarts about it.

I mean, this guy has shown in Texas for 10 years that he really knows
how to put the goober in gubernatorial, but now he`s going to try to put
the ugly in presidential. And I don`t think it`s going to work the same.
When you have got even Karl Rove coming out with Perry`s comments about
Bernanke, and saying that that is unnecessary and unpresidential, I think
you have got a lot of hurt within your own party.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at what Bob -- Robert Gibbs, who was the
president`s press secretary, said about him tonight on "MORNING JOE" today.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MORNING JOE")

ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just two years ago,
the governor of Texas openly talked about leading Texas out of the United
States of America. And now he`s -- this campaign has caused him to profess
his love for the United States. I think it`s a remarkable turnaround. And
I think any day now Rick Perry will probably ask to see the president`s
birth certificate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think there is something there, and I mean that,
Wayne. I know you`re an objective reporter, but I sell -- I smell
birtherism about this guy. His attack on Obama isn`t just policy. It`s
about the nature of the person who`s president, it seems to me. Your
thoughts?

SLATER: Yes, I was struck at the response to the Christian prayer
rally. I was there for seven hours watching that extraordinary event.

And one of the things that Perry said was, there is a dark cloud over
America, dark in the skies --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SLATER: -- and that he presented himself as like this bright light for
the future. There`s something kind of odd. Really, a dog whistle I guess
is the way we talk about it now --

MATTHEWS: Sure.

SLATER: -- but kind of a reference that clearly is designed to appeal
rhetorically to folks who he`s going to need in the primary.

But you`re right, and Jim`s right. If this guy is the nominee, then
how is he going to turn and pivot and pitch only economic matters and try
to not remind people about the secession talk, about the treasonous talk,
and about the various other things that he may have said along the way that
could make, you know, moderate voters pretty darn nervous?

HIGHTOWER: Including, Wayne --

MATTHEWS: But he -- Jim and -- Jim and Wayne, they`re not -- he`s not
even going to get the middle-of-the-road voters until next November.
That`s more than, what, 15 months from now.

So, from now until next November, next November, 2012, he can talk to
his own crowd, he can talk to the choir. He can talk to people who are
white, who are middle-class and better off, some of them. He`s not talking
to liberals. He`s not talking to African-Americans or Hispanics or people
who do want racial justice in the country necessarily.

Who`s he going to offend between now and next summer that`s going to
hurt him? How does it hurt him to be a right winger?

(CROSSTALK)

HIGHTOWER: The 82 percent -- the 82 percent majority that says they
don`t go with the Tea Party right now, the 84 percent of people you just
said don`t trust the Congress either.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HIGHTOWER: That`s -- he may be talking to that narrow band of people,
but the whole America is listening to what he`s saying, and if they don`t
want to listen, they can just read his book. He`s going to get a
readership that he did not expect for that book where he calls --

MATTHEWS: Well --

HIGHTOWER: -- for the end of Social Security, the end of Medicaid, the
end of federal taxes.

MATTHEWS: Well, here it is. Jim, thank you for bringing -- thanks
for bringing it up. Another potential liability, as you point out, for
Perry is what he said about Social Security and Medicare in the past.

Here is what he told The Daily Beast just last fall on the record: "I
think every program needs to stand the sunshine of righteous scrutiny,
whether it`s Social Security, whether it`s Medicaid, whether it`s Medicare.
You have got $15 trillion" -- or "$115 trillion of unfunded liability in
those three. They`re bankrupt. They`re a Ponzi scheme."

So calling Social Security, Wayne, a Ponzi scheme to somebody watching
right now this program who`s 65 or older and is getting Social Security,
may not like the sound of it being trashed as a Ponzi scheme. They may
say, this is a legitimate thing I paid into when I was working for 50
years. I`m now benefiting righteously from it. Stop trashing it.

Your thoughts, Wayne.

SLATER: Yes. I think that is absolutely the mode of entry for
Democrats in the fall if Perry is the nominee.

You hear Democrats talk right now about the Texas miracle really
wasn`t a miracle and a lot of low -- you know, minimum wage jobs and
pollution and so forth and so on. That`s not going to work in the fall if
the economy`s still bad.

The question is, the attack on Perry is that Social Security is a
Ponzi scheme, Medicare needs to be changed or potentially abolished, which
is not precisely what he said, raising questions about the Voting Rights
Act, saying it is just a tool for gerrymandering in the South, and the
Civil Rights Act, the terms under which we established -- this has the look
of someone who, when he talks about states` rights, states` right, states`
rights, could make some voters, again, very nervous.

MATTHEWS: Yes. This could be Bull Connor with a smile.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you very much, Wayne Slater.

And, thank you, Jim Hightower.

HIGHTOWER: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Michele Bachmann`s own mother catches her in
something of a fib. That`s next in the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

Michele Bachmann`s alibis. First, as she touted her straw poll win in
Iowa this weekend, she found herself with a jampacked schedule. On Sunday
night, a reporter asked why she was late to a particular event.

Let`s listen to her excuse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had a full
day today. We had Ames earlier today, and I was doing a number of things
down in Ames. And then we had a big family reunion just north of Waterloo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: A big family reunion?

Well, as it turns out, there was a family get-together on Sunday, but
Bachmann herself didn`t attend. In fact, it was the candidate`s
mother who informed a Politico reporter that not only was her daughter not
at the event, but she never even expected her to attend because of her
weekend schedule. A spokeswoman for Bachmann confirmed today that she did
not attend that Waterloo big family reunion, but said that she was with
other family members at the time.

Hmm.

In other words -- well, in other news for the Bachmann front, the
candidate reached out to Elvis fans today and wished the rock legend a
happy birthday. Only problem, this is the day, the anniversary of Elvis`
death.

Anyway, next up, President Obama took on those who have derided the
health care plan by dubbing it Obamacare. Well, during an appearance in
Minnesota yesterday, oh, that`s what they were talking about. And, of
course, it was also the perfect opportunity to remind us of Republican
presidential nominee Mitt Romney`s strikingly similar health care plan up
in Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Affordable Care
Act, health care reform, also known as Obamacare -- by the way, you know
what? Let me tell you. I have no problem with folks saying "Obama cares."

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I do care.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: If the other side wants to be the folks who don`t care, that`s
fine with me.

You`ve got a governor who`s running for president right now who
instituted the exact same thing in Massachusetts. This used to be a
Republican idea, by the way, this whole idea of the individual mandate.
And, suddenly, some -- it`s like they got amnesia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Romney`s not having an easy time trying to shaking
that one. Don`t expect him to be embracing the term Romneycare any time
soon.

And, finally, the irony. That`s what former President Bill Clinton
thinks of Rick Perry`s intentions if he ever actually makes it to the White
House. He actually seems downright amused by this guy. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I got tickled.
I watched Governor Perry announce for governor -- for president. He`s a
good-looking rascal.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: And he says, oh -- he said, you know, I`m going to
Washington to make sure that the federal government stays as far away from
you as possible, while I ride on Air Force One and in that Marine One
helicopter and go to Camp David and travel around the world and have a good
time. I mean, this is crazy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: A good-looking rascal.

Anyway, the former president just trying, like the rest of us, to
figure out what this Perry hype is all about.

Anyway, up next, call it a Tea tax. At least two Republican members
of the United States Congress, including the great Paul Ryan, if you will,
if you think he`s great, are skipping the traditional free town halls these
days and charging constituents money for the privilege of asking them a
question or two.

That`s ahead. You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Hampton Pearson with your
CNBC "Market Wrap."

A three-day rally in stocks came to a halt today on Wall Street. The
Dow Jones industrials fell almost 77 points. The S&P 500 lost almost 12,
and the Nasdaq fell by about 32. Wal-Mart shares closed about 4 percent
higher today, after the retailer reported a 5.5 percent increase in profits
for its second quarter. However, Wal-Mart U.S. store sales dropped for a
ninth straight quarter, dropping by almost 1 percent. Wal-Mart says sales
are falling because fewer people are coming in the door.

More Americans are keeping up on their credit card payments. Credit
card delinquencies dropped to a 17-year low last month. And more trouble
for home builders, the Commerce Department today reporting a 1.5 percent
drop in housing starts in July. Analysts say foreclosures and short sales
are hurting home building.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to
HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The international
average for the corporate tax is 25 percent. Ours is 35 percent.

Hey, come on, everybody, let`s -- let me -- all right. If you`re
yelling, I just want to ask you to leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Whoa.

Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Congressman Paul Ryan at a town
meeting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, back this April. During the -- this August
weekend -- recess, rather -- Ryan will meet with many people in his
district, including at a 15-per-person rotary club luncheon. He will also
conduct telephone town halls, but he won`t be in a face-to-face open town
hall, like you just saw in that clip.

Ryan joins at least one other Republican lawmaker, U.S. Congressman
Ben Quayle, son of Dan Quayle, in avoiding the open town hall format during
this August break and sometimes speaking at events where a third party
charges a bit of a fee.

Is this limiting people`s right to petition the government?

Ron Reagan is an author and political commentator. Ken Vogel is chief
investigative reporter for Politico.

Ron Reagan, it seems to me that the right to petition Congress is
right there in the Constitution. These guys are putting up a little, you
know, what do you call it, a little toll booth there. You want to get
through the toll booth to talk to me, you can.

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Your thoughts.

REAGAN: Well, it`s in keeping with Republican principles. Of course,
they like to privatize and outsource everything. So, why not constituent
services as well?

But I suspect that the real reason is that -- that clip you played
earlier here. Paul Ryan does not want to repeat that YouTube moment.
These Republican candidates don`t want to be in a room full of angry
constituents. They come out with this, you know, privatize Medicare, turn
it into a voucher program and all the rest of these phony-baloney Heritage
Foundation numbers and stuff. They show up back in their home districts
and they have got a lot of angry people there who have got some very
pointed, knowledgeable questions for them. They don`t want to repeat that.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go -- let`s go to this very key question here, Ken,
and that is the objective fact that the town hall, which was such a part of
building the rage, of creating this firecracker attitude of: We have got
to blow up and do things and change everything and vote against nothing or
vote for nothing.

Now, once you`re in office, and they have situations like defending
the budget they passed, getting rid of Medicare as we know it, they don`t -
- they don`t seem quite as horny, if you will, to meet the public?

KENNETH VOGEL, POLITICO: Well, on both sides, it`s really become a
forum for sort of manufactured outrage.

And that`s not to say that there isn`t a real sort of grassroots
sentiment here. It`s hard to get people to come out to a town hall in the
middle of August, when there are plenty of other things that they would
rather be doing.

But, you know, when you have people coming out, being sort of, in many
cases, actually driven out, if not given instructions as to where to go to
these town halls with talking points to confront their lawmakers on both
sides of the aisle, it`s sort of -- it`s easy to understand why these
lawmakers would want to avoid this and sort of limit their interaction with
potentially angry and well-informed, as Ron said, constituents who could
put them on the spot and make them look really bad.

MATTHEWS: Ron, do you think it has anything to do with the fact that
tonight, we announced Congress` disapproval rating or disapproval rating --
well, start with the easy number -- 13 percent approval. I have never seen
a number -- I don`t know whether Idi Amin had a higher approval number back
in the old Uganda days. But 13 percent. Robert Mugabe, 13 -- do you
think? I`m talking of unpopular leaders around the world.

REAGAN: Casey Anthony, Charles Manson -- I mean, then you get to
Congress.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REAGAN: Yes. It`s amazing. And this is -- you know, Republicans in
particular like to pretend the entire country is with them. That everybody
wants to privatize Medicare. Everybody wants to go down this road of
slashing and spending for everything.

But then they get home and they realize that, hey, I guess that`s not
really true. Most people don`t like what we`re talking about here in
Congress, and they`re going to let us know it. You know, again, they`re
just scared.

MATTHEWS: Well, Ken, let me get to this objective fact about
congressmen having meetings in Nashville, what`s it`s called, the Nashville
independent businessmen group. The National Federation of Independent
Business People, the rotary, charging 15 bucks to see them. I mean, maybe
that covers the sandwiches, but it seems to me there ought to be a right to
petition Congress.

In fact, I think there is a right to petition Congress. It`s in the
Constitution, First Amendment.

How can they charge people, these members of Congress, like Ben Quayle
and Paul Ryan to listen and talk to them?

VOGEL: Well, I mean, these types of events aren`t knew. We`ve
definitely seen these sort of like charging whether they`re fund-raisers
for the actual lawmaker, a politician, or for some outside organization in
order to interact.

That said, I think there is something to be said for -- you know,
these town halls. It`s really the truest manifestation of democracy. It`s
where you have the most unscripted, the most sort of back-and-forth type of
interaction that you can really have with your elected officials. So, the
fact that they`re limited regardless of precedent here is something that I
think is a little bit disturbing, and, you know, no amount of e-mailing or
tweeting or telephone town hall or small group, $35 a head fundraiser is
going to replace that.

And, you know, these town halls have been a barometer of public
sentiment and have actually affected the debate. So, again, it`s
understandable why these lawmakers would want to stay out of situations
where they think they`re going to be called on the carpet, but that doesn`t
make it excusable.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, one of them has been called on the carpet.
Here`s a spokesperson, a flack for Congressman Ben Quayle, says this is
their defense. The spokesman said, quote, "The implication that Mr. Quayle
has not been actively engaged with his constituents in a variety of public
forums during this recess is false. Nearly every day, he is back in the
district, Congressman Quayle is talking to his constituents in various
forms about the issues that matter to him most."

So, there you have the defense there.

Thanks, Ken Vogel. Thank you, Ron Reagan.

REAGAN: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next, Karl Rove says the Republican Party has gone too
far right. That`s Rove talking, and he wants someone like Paul Ryan to
jump in the race and save the party from itself, apparently from Rick Perry
who he doesn`t like personally.

We`re going to ask the HARDBALL strategists about this. Is this
personal pick or is it good assessment by Mr. Rove? Only on MSNBC,
HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Democrats in Wisconsin are hoping to stave off a pair of
recall challenges tonight. Two state senators were up for recall after
they left the state rather than vote on Republican Governor Scott Walker`s
anti-union agenda. Last week, two Republicans state senators lost their
seats in recall elections, but Democrats need to win three seats to take
control of the Senate. Republicans in Wisconsin are hoping to take one or
both seats tonight and reclaim some of their momentum heading into fall.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

With Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann among the top three Republicans
running for president, is the Republican field just too far right to beat
Barack Obama next year?

Well, Karl Rove warned yesterday that staying right may not win the
general election. Here he was on FOX.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FMR. W.H. CHIEF OF STAFF: You don`t want these candidates
moving so right in the Republican primary that it becomes impossible for
them to win the general election, because it will become a self-defeating
message in the primary. People want to win. They don`t want somebody who
goes so far to the extremes of either party that they lack a chance to
carry a victory off in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And later last night, Rove pushed the idea to Chris
Christie and Paul Ryan are reconsidering running for president. I`m not
sure if that`s true. It seems the Republican establishment, the Bush
crowd, is looking outside the field.

But can they convince a grown-up, if you will, to run? They don`t
have much success with Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, or Chris Christie or Haley
Barbour.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL strategists, Democrat Steve McMahon,
Democratic strategist, of course -- and Republican strategist, Todd Harris.

You know all these people. Republican first -- I get the sense when
Rick Perry came in this weekend, it`s, sort of, the cake was baked. These
other four people we kept talking about -- Mitch Daniel and Jeb and Haley
and Christie -- they are not being asked to come in. This is just pure
Karl Rove. He doesn`t like Rick Perry and is sort of settling scores here.

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it`s true. It`s true that
they don`t like each other. It`s pretty public down in Texas.

But there has been a fair amount of buzz over the last couple of weeks
whether, it`s just gossip, rumors, wishing, longing. There has been a fair
amount of buzz among rank-and-file Republicans wondering, is Ryan going to
take another look? Is Chris Christie?

MATTHEWS: I don`t want to waste time here. He`s not running for
president, Paul Ryan.

HARRIS: I don`t think it`s going to happen. No.

MATTHEWS: To the larger question -- before I get to Steve -- is this
team, this three-way option base we were facing right now of Bachmann, Rick
Perry and Romney, does that tilt just too far right to position your party
for the general?

HARRIS: No, I don`t think so.

MATTHEWS: You disagree with Rove?

HARRIS: No. Karl didn`t say that. What Karl said was, look, anytime
that you are in a primary, you don`t want to go too far to the right or to
the left.

STEVE MCMAHON: What primary he`s talking about that, Todd?

HARRIS: He never said that --

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: -- he never said that`s what he thought was happening now.
And if you look at what the White House is doing, and you look at polls
whether it`s in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, it`s not what voters think.
Voters obviously think, given the fact all of these guys are either tied or
within the margin of error of the president, voters obviously don`t think -
-

MATTHEWS: So, you think Perry is within the 40-yard line, you think?

HARRIS: Well, with every poll that shown a matchup with him and the
president within a four or five points.

MCMAHON: Well, I think Karl Rove --

MATTHEWS: OK, your thoughts? Are you taking advice from Karl Rove or
just exploiting him?

MCMAHON: Well, no, no. Karl Rove is a smart person when it comes to
Republican Party politics. And he was saying that for a reason. And the
reason is very clear. He thinks this field is moving too far right to be
elected in the fall.

And, you know, the truth of the matter is, it`s like one of those
things if it doesn`t kill you, it will make you stronger. That`s the rule
that applies to Mitt Romney right now because he`s looking presidential,
he`s standing in the middle, he`s getting attacked from the right.

And they may take him down. Rick Perry may take him down. Michele
Bachmann may take him down. And they`ll produce probably in all likelihood
a candidate who can`t win in the fall.

But if they don`t, they`ll make him stronger because it will make him
look more reasonable.

HARRIS: Steve is absolutely right that if you are the current front
runner, the more talk about people coming in, turmoil in all of the people
who are running to be they not-Romney, all of this accrues to Mitt`s
benefit.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s take a look "The Wall Street Journal" editorial
just yesterday, described the Republican field of candidates and their
prospects. Here it is. Quote, "Republicans and independents are desperate
to find a candidate who can appeal to appeal across the party`s disparate
factions and offer a vision of how to constrain a runaway government and
revive America`s once-great private economy. If the current field isn`t up
to that, perhaps someone still off the field will step in and run. Now
would be the time."

It seems to me that basically all your party has the same message. I
don`t understand what far light means anymore. Government is bad.
Regulation is bad. Taxes are bad. Government should go into a cocoon
instead of our lives.

That is -- you`re smiling, but that is your party message.

HARRIS: It`s not the party`s message.

MATTHEWS: It isn`t? That`s all I hear.

HARRIS: Even Rick Perry who uses certainly the most colorful language
--

MATTHEWS: He said the government shouldn`t be part of your life.

HARRIS: I understand, but his announcement speech was about creating
jobs. That --

MATTHEWS: By getting government out of your face completely?

HARRIS: Well, look, either government is going to create jobs or the
private sector is going to. Yes, do Republicans think that we ought to put
more emphasis on private sector job creation? Yes, we do. Does Rick Perry
believe that? Yes, he does.

But ultimately the message is about job creation.

MATTHEWS: So, bottom line, I think you`re arguing that the Republican
Party stands vulnerable right now to be taken over by the Tea Party.

MCMAHON: It`s being taken over by the Tea Party. And, you know, the
truth of the matter is, you have these events in Iowa, and Iowa is the
place where God love it, I went to law school there -- I love the state.
But it produces people out of the Iowa caucuses that can`t win a general
election. Most of the time, they can`t win the Republican nomination.

So, whether it`s Pat Robertson or Mike Huckabee, you basically have --
the right wing of the party in Iowa is basically controlling the
conversation.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but this year is different. I think -- look, I don`t
know your party as well as you do.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Don`t you think that Rick Perry can win New Hampshire now?

MCMAHON: I don`t think he can -- I think he has a tough time in New
Hampshire. I think Mitt Romney is going to do well in New Hampshire
because he`s a neighboring governor and he thinks like they do. Rick Perry
comes up there and he sounds just like George Bush.

I don`t think Perry wins New Hampshire. I think Perry has a little
tougher row to hoe when it comes to the primary calendar than most people
are.

MATTHEWS: So, you think -- you agree that your party is still
segmented with religious people really in Iowa, the evangelicals, and then
going back to the Granite State, old Yankee, sort of old Republican
moderate types. And then you go down South, to the Baptists, it`s
different. They`re all different.

HARRIS: The Republican Party is no more segmented than the left is
with unions, with social leftists, with economic leftists. It`s just that
the Democrats have President Obama to rally around so there`s a unifying
factor here.

MATTHEWS: Your party hasn`t to rally around, too.

HARRIS: Yes, we do. But someone has got to win this nomination and
nominations are about contrasts. And that means there should be --

MATTHEWS: OK. Can you see yourself, Todd Harris, backing Todd
Harris, backing -- not Harris -- can you see yourself backing Rick Perry
for president next November if you had to?

HARRIS: Sure.

MCMAHON: Yes, I mean, the Republicans --

MATTHEWS: One point, it`s not too far right.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: He`s going to be too far -- I mean, the guy wants to secede
from the Union.

MATTHEWS: He ran a candidate against him.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Steve McMahon and Todd Harris. Todd Harris will
end up with Rick Perry.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with the essential question at the
heart of this presidential campaign, this one.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish tonight with the joy of American democracy.

What I love is that the American voter -- and we`re talking about
picking presidents again -- is always looking for something grander,
someone who can carry us to a higher, more hopeful place. This is how
Barack Obama won, of course, how Ronald Reagan won, how Jack Kennedy won --
hope. It`s not "I`m in the mood for love," it`s hope -- whether it`s high
hopes in Jack or the man from hope, Bill Clinton, or that great poster with
the word hope and the picture of the man right now in the White House.

And so, it would go as this political season gets underway in
September. Just like the school year that`s beginning anew. It`s going to
be hope -- hope we can do better this grade this time. It`s going to be a
battle of hope, I hope, between the candidate Republican voters choose and
the hope of what Obama will be able to do with a mandate for a second term
of historic action.

Yes, this is the shape of the battlefield, not who can play defense
and who can play offense, not the defense of this administration against
the assault of the wrecking machine, it`s a battle of two candidates
competing to convince American voters- - especially that 20 percent in the
middle who hold the strongest promise of taking this country to a better
historic place.

And I say this now because this isn`t going to be about playing it
safe or tough, it`s going to be about who can convince a sales-resistant
American, a middle of the roader, that he or she has the stuff to turn this
country around, to get us back on the track to greatness.

Well, a Republican will promise that less government is better, less
taxes, less spending, less regulation, less involvement. He or she will
say that the smart move is to have Washington pull back into a cocoon of
small activity and leave the might corporate world, which have been
recently assured it`s just people like us, with all the good intentions of
mankind, all the compassion and human concern, and, of course, looking out
for one`s fellow man, alive and thriving in the executive boardroom.

Well, the live pending and intriguing unknown is what President Obama
will offer, what Obama program, what Obama push, what Obama historic sweep
of action will be showcased for our consideration as we enter the polling
booth, what alternative to the compelling argument that government should
simply get the heck out of the way so that the lion of capitalism can let
loose its mighty roar. What will be the other roar is my question. And
having it now almost three years in is my quandary.

Anyway, thanks. That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Al Sharpton.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
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