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updated 8/23/2011 1:26:16 PM ET 2011-08-23T17:26:16

Guest Host: Ron Reagan
Guests: Richard Wolffe, Brian Sullivan, Richard Engel, Howard Kurtz, Wayne Slater, Steve Kornacki, Michael Crowley, Hisham Melhem, Robin Wright

RON REAGAN, GUEST HOST: Showing a tyrant the exit in Libya.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Ron Reagan, in tonight for Chris Matthews. Leading
off tonight: On the way out. There is still fierce fighting in part of
Libya`s capital, Tripoli, but as President Obama put it this afternoon,
Gadhafi`s rule is over. There are celebrations in the streets as Gadhafi`s
forces have largely melted away and his four-decade rule appears certain to
come to an end. We`ll get a report from Libya and look at what Gadhafi`s
fall means for the region and for the United States.

Of course, in a rational universe, Republicans would be praising
President Obama for taking the long view and aiding the rebels. But
instead, they`re falling all over themselves to criticize him for not
doing, quote, "enough." No surprise there. In May, Osama bin Laden went
down. Now it looks like it`s Gadhafi`s turn. The sour grapes Republicans
aside, doesn`t President Obama deserve a lot of the credit?

Plus, Rick Perry admitted if you close your eyes and listen to the
dropped G`s, the "act before you think" rhetoric, you could swear George W.
Bush was doin` the talkin`. Whenever Perry speaks, a lot of progressives
begin suffering from Bush PTSD -- Bush post-traumatic stress disorder.
We`ll see if there`s a cure.

And look who`s offering the toughest criticism of the Republican
field. Not President Obama, not even Democrats. It`s Jon Huntsman, who
had at his rivals, like Rick Perry, for dismissing global warming and
evolution. The GOP is a party with a fringe on top, and Huntsman says the
extreme right wing of the GOP will find itself unelectable.

Finally, "Let me Finish" with the Republican Party`s attack on logic
and science.

We start with the situation in Libya. Richard Engel is chief foreign
affairs correspondent, and he joins us on the phone from Tripoli, Libya.

Welcome, Richard. Glad you could join us.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (via
telephone): Well, thank you very much. Communications have been a little
bit complicated today, but I am now in Green Square, which is in the center
of Tripoli. There are some rebels here, perhaps 100 or more. They`ve
brought their heavy weapons. I think in the course of our conversation,
you`ll hear some of them probably fire them in the air.

They are still celebrating. There have been celebrations in the city
all day. But at the same time, there is also fighting going on in this
city. The rebels hold about maybe 90 percent, but that key 10 percent they
do not hold is Gadhafi`s compound.

And don`t think of Gadhafi`s compound like some sort of vacation
villa. This is a military base. Gadhafi lives on a military base. And
inside of it, he still has tanks and artillery and he has been firing those
tanks and those artillery rounds into civilian areas here in Tripoli,
making people obviously very nervous, and they want to storm the complex.
But the rebels don`t seem to have the firepower to get inside this military
complex.

REAGAN: Richard, do we know where Gadhafi is at this moment? Is the
feeling that he is in this compound In Tripoli, or is the feeling that he
has left, escaped somewhere?

ENGEL: Well, logic would dictate that he is in the compound. Else
then why would people be fighting so hard to defend it? But logic is the
only reason to base that upon because we really have no idea where Gadhafi
is. No one in this country has any clue.

People speculate that he`s left the country, that he`s in the south.
Maybe he`s in the compound. Perhaps it`s just some of his hold-out troops,
who fear if they come out, they`ll be lynched in the streets. We really
don`t know who is fighting in the compound or who is -- who is in the
compound and where Gadhafi is. But we know that rockets and artillery are
coming out of there, heading into the city.

REAGAN: What is your feeling, Richard, about the eventual end game
for Gadhafi? Is he the type of leader who will be offered asylum by some
Arab country, perhaps, or is he going to end up on trial like Hosni
Mubarak, or could it go even worse for him? Could he perhaps not survive
this coup?

ENGEL: Well, I think there`s a very strong likelihood that he could
not survive this. The rebels want to go into his compound tonight, if they
can, and ransack it and hang him from the ramparts of Green Square which
I`m looking at right now. They want a NATO air strike on the compound to
finish the situation for once and for all and put an end to Gadhafi.

Whether NATO will do that is a different matter. NATO has shied away
from directly targeting heads of state in the past and said it never
targeted Gadhafi, it was only targeting leadership targets and things like
that. So I think there`s a political decision that would have to be made
to target the compound, if the belief is that he is inside.

REAGAN: Are NATO planes still flying sorties over the capital or over
Libya right now?

ENGEL: That, I think, is one of the reasons it`s been so difficult to
communicate today. We`ve been trying to broadcast and then had our
communications cut all of a sudden and as we hear NATO aircraft in the sky.
So NATO planes are certainly above Tripoli. They`re not right now. I
think if they were, we would be having trouble just talking on this phone.
But we`ve been hearing them. We have not been seeing them. And we`ve been
seeing -- we`ve been having -- feeling the effects of them and their
jamming equipment.

REAGAN: All right. Thank you, Richard, NBC`s Richard Engel. Stay
safe there in Tripoli. I know it`s a dicey situation there, so you take
care of yourself. Thanks for joining us.

ENGEL: Thank you very much.

REAGAN: Hisham Melhem is the Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya
news channel and he joins us now. Hisham, welcome. Thank you for joining
us.

HISHAM MELHEM, AL ARABIYA: Thanks.

REAGAN: What do you think happens next? Who are the rebels that are
taking or are going to take Tripoli or appear to be about to take Tripoli?
And what are the prospects for democracy moving forward, do you suppose, in
that country?

MELHEM: Well, now that the Libyan nightmare is over, we have a group
of Libyans -- some of them used to be part of the old regime, Gadhafi`s
regime, including the head of the Transitional Council, the prime minister
and others. Then you have another group of Libyans, Libyan exiles who,
many of them, are extremely talented, who lived in the West, Arab world.
They went back to Libya after the uprising began.

So now you have this group working together over the last six, seven
months. That was the only silver lining in that long slog against Gadhafi.
These people began to rediscover each other, know each other, coordinate,
collaborate. They do represent, you know -- again, this is not a
democratic-formulated council, but they do represent the various political
currents in Libya, including the Islamists.

So we have a group headed by a man who is highly respected, Mustafa
Abdul Jalil, who spoke today from Benghazi. Now, their biggest challenge
is to restore order in Tripoli and other cities, then to start to lay down,
you know, a road map that would include writing a constitution, preparing
for elections, forming a transitional government.

And I think many of them, including Mr. Abdul Jalil, realize that
transitions by nature are extremely precarious and difficult, and that`s
why today he said something very interesting. He even threatened to resign
if some of the rebels engage in lawless activities such as settling of
scores or committing violence. So that`s a very encouraging sign.

I mean, these are serious people, and I think now they deserve and
will receive the support of the neighboring countries, Arab countries,
African countries, as well as the Europeans and the United States.

REAGAN: In Martha`s Vineyard today, President Obama welcomed the news
that the tide had turned in favor of the Libyan opposition but warned there
was still risk. Hisham, let`s listen to what he had to say.

MELHEM: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For over four decades,
the Libyan people have lived under the rule of a tyrant who denied them
their most basic human rights. Now the celebrations that we`ve seen in the
streets of Libya shows that the pursuit of human dignity is far stronger
than any dictator.

I want to emphasize that this is not over yet. Although it`s clear
that Gadhafi`s rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce further
bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and
calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms for
the sake of Libya.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Hisham, what, in your mind, should happen to Colonel Gadhafi
now? Should he be granted asylum? Should he be put on trial? What do you
think will happen? What do you think should happen?

MELHEM: I don`t think any -- definitely, no Arab country will take
him. He has been universally reviled by the Arab world. And in fact, he
alienated all of his neighbors. So exile is not in the cards.

I don`t see and I hope that the Libyans will not put him on trial in
Libya because they lack the legal infrastructure that will guarantee a
transparent, fair trial.

So the best option, at least from my -- you know, my vantage point, is
to refer him to the ICC, the International Criminal Court. And then this
will give the Libyans at least the chance to focus on the real things, how
to rebuild the country from scratch.

You see, Ron, unlike Tunisia and Egypt -- the dictators there fell,
but the structure of the country remained. The Libyans are going to start
from scratch because Gadhafi was the system. Now, it was a hollow system.
He collapsed. The whole system collapsed. And Libya is a country bereft
of functioning institutions. There are no voluntary political, social
organizations. Civil society was decimated. There`s no legal structure.
And on top of it, the physical infrastructure was heavily damaged during
the last six, seven months of fighting.

So you have a country that on paper has lots of money in the banks in
Europe and the United States and they have oil reserves. But it`s going to
take a great deal of political organization and an orderly situation in the
country to start the process of transition.

This is what you call now "transition blues," and transitions are
going to be extremely difficult because you have a country where politics
ceased to exist for 42 years. And now the Libyans are going to discover
the ABCs of basic politics, how to do -- how to engage in coalition
building, how to build institutions, how to have representation. Then we
can talk about real democracy the way we know it in the West.

So essentially, one would hope that there will be basic respect for
basic human rights and whether -- you know, based on gender, minorities and
whatnot. And then the other thing also is that Libya has some serious
cleavages, political and social, cultural cleavages. You have ethnic
minorities like the Berber. You have Libya divided by east and west so
there are regional differences, ethnic differences and tribal differences.

REAGAN: In other words, it`s going to be -- it`s going to be a tough
road ahead for them.

MELHEM: Absolutely.

REAGAN: It`s a lot harder -- a lot easier to overthrow a government
than to actually build one from scratch.

MELHEM: Absolutely.

REAGAN: Hisham Melhem, Al Arabiya, thank you so much for joining us,
as always, Hisham. Appreciate it.

MELHEM: Thank you.

REAGAN: Coming up: President Obama helped the rebels in Libya and now
they`re on the verge of toppling Gadhafi. So why aren`t the Republicans
giving him credit? That`s next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN: Just when we thought the 2012 presidential field was set,
more potential candidates say they`re thinking seriously about running.
Republican strategist Karl Rove says he bets Sarah Palin will get into the
race shortly after her visit to Iowa this week. Former New York governor
George Pataki is, quote, "strongly considering" joining the field. Former
New York mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani says he`s seriously
considering a run. Oh, yes, and billionaire Donald Trump now says he would
seriously consider a run as an independent.

But seriously, folks. One possible candidate made it clear today he`s
out, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Oh, darn!

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN: Welcome back to HARDBALL. What do the latest developments in
Libya mean for President Obama? He faced heat earlier this year for how he
handled the situation. Does he now deserve credit for his policies?

Howard Fineman is Huffington Post Media Group`s editorial director and
Robin Wright is a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the
Woodrow Wilson International Center. She also authored a new book called
"Rock the Casbah." Welcome to you both.

Howard, no U.S. troops on the ground, no U.S. casualties that I`m
aware of. Is Gadhafi`s fall a vindication for Barack Obama`s strategy of
"leading from behind"?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: In this
case, yes. I think any fair observer -- and I`ve been talking to some of
them today -- would have to say so. He was criticized for not putting more
muscle, American muscle, in the air or on the ground. But Gadhafi`s going,
going, almost gone.

He formed and became part of an international coalition that -- that
took control of the skies and took over what I think is now going to take
over the diplomatic situation, if they can. And I think, in this case, his
vision of careful multicultural -- multilateral diplomacy and careful
pinpointed use of force really did -- really did work, and he deserves
credit for it.

REAGAN: The Republicans, of course, don`t see it that way. They`re
sort of nitpicking the situation. Do they risk looking peevish and small-
minded as a result?

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: I`m laughing because if they -- if they ever worried about
the risk of seeming peevish and small-minded, I haven`t noticed it.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: If they -- if Barack Obama came out and said, you know, I
really love apple pie, they would say, Apple pie is a socialist plot, you
know. No, I -- look, the fact is, as this situation was developing, some
people such as Senator John McCain, then and now, were saying we should
have been more forceful. We should have had more planes in the skies and
maybe even troops on the ground.

But at the same time, on the other side of the Republican coin, there
was sort of the new isolationist wing of the Republican Party saying, By
what right are we involved here at all? There should be a declaration of
war. Let`s impeach the president, et cetera.

What`s interesting to me, Ron, actually, is that the Republican Party
is sort of mute, in the sense that the presidential candidates aren`t
saying that much about this. The president got an equal amount of noise
sort of from the isolationists and the hawks in the Republican Party. And
the American people really aren`t focused on it that much at all.

REAGAN: Republican senators John McCain, as you mentioned, Howard,
and Lindsey Graham issued a statement on Libya last night that said, in
part, "Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping
to defeat Gadhafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming
due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our
air power."

Yes, they`re still at it.

FINEMAN: Well...

REAGAN: Robin...

FINEMAN: Yes. Excuse me. Go ahead.

REAGAN: No, I just wanted to ask Robin now -- what now, Robin? Do we
get out? Do we get out quickly? Or do we linger there? Do we leave our
ships off -- off the shores of Tripoli so that we can sort of monitor what
happens next?

ROBIN WRIGHT, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: The United States` role will
probably be to work, again through the international community, try to work
through releasing frozen assets. The United States has between $33 billion
and $36 billion of Gadhafi`s money in U.S. banks. We can use that to help
reconstruct.

Libya is actually one of the few places in the Arab world that
actually has a prospect of improving sometime in the near future. It has a
very small population, 6.5 million people. It has enormous oil wealth. In
trying to address the economic and political needs of the people, it can
deliver.

It has also had this unique experience with five months of a
transition national government that has been in place, that has learned not
only how to bring diverse political forces together, but also how to
collect garbage. And so they have done what other countries haven`t gone
through.

It`s had a bit of experience. They`ve tried to form an alternative
government. They`re not going to have the military takeover. This will be
an entirely fresh start. And so that`s why Libya is actually in some ways
the most hopeful, even though it`s at the moment the bloodiest.

REAGAN: Howard, if -- if chaos ensues here, and we all know that some
of the most difficult days for Libya are ahead. It`s one thing to run a
despotic ruler out of town. It`s another thing to take over the government
yourself and make it -- make it function, make it work for the people.

If chaos ensues here, will Obama then take the blame for that, at
least in the Republicans` way of looking at things?

FINEMAN: Probably.

But I think he has to be in -- in the fine work of -- I mean -- I mean
finely tuned work of diplomatic and military management continuing on into
the future. He can`t -- he can`t quit paying attention. And he has paid
attention. But he`s done it in a different kind of way from what we were
used to during the Bush years.

So, that means, if there`s going to be a big diplomatic convocation in
Paris, we have to be intimately involved in that. As Robin says, if
there`s all those frozen assets and they`re going to be repatriated back to
Libya, we need to have a role in that.

But the key thing here has been that this has been of, by and for the
Libyans for the most part. We haven`t been bombing the country into
oblivion. We -- this hasn`t been an American-led change. The whole point
-- I think Robin -- and Robin knows far more than I -- the whole point here
is that this is something that`s happening in Libya with Libyans and for
Libyans.

We have to help assist, but we can`t be running the show. And the
president`s going to have to run the risk of it not being smooth, but he`s
taken the risk so far. He will have to continue doing the same.

REAGAN: Robin, looking ahead, does the success in Libya provide some
sort of blueprint -- or could it, perhaps, provide a blueprint for other
countries?

We`re looking at Syria now. And some people are even talking about
how we should go in and do the same thing that we did, you know, to Gadhafi
to Hafez (sic) Assad. Do you have any concern or are you aware of concerns
in the region that now the U.S. has a great reason to just start playing --
openly playing the world`s policeman?

WRIGHT: I think most people in the region understand that Libya was a
unique case because of its own involvement in international terrorism, its
-- you know, its shenanigans in the past, and because of the instability of
its leader.

This is the beginning of phase two of the Arab uprisings. This is a
period where you bring together this critical moment when it`s proven that
no amount of military force can quash a rebellion, even by some ragtag
militiamen, that you have in Egypt the trial of Hosni Mubarak being held to
account, being brought to justice, and the international community, from
Washington to Tokyo, coming together and saying to President Assad of
Syria, it`s time to go.

This is the kind of shot of adrenaline that will, I think, inject a
kind -- a new momentum, a new enthusiasm for the future. I don`t think the
United States has any interest, nor does the international community, in
replicating what we did in Libya in Syria.

The idea of a NATO military alliance or even a U.S. role militarily in
trying to back up the rebels on the ground, the -- the sequence of events
is very different. In Libya, you had the disintegration quickly into
confrontation and that looked a little bit like a civil war.

In Syria, you still have the majority of people turning out week after
week after week in peaceful civil disobedience. This is a different kind
of dynamic. And the U.S. and its allies are going to have to kind of stand
back and let Syria play out. But Syria is the next big case and arguably
the most important country in the Arab revolts right now.

REAGAN: Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman was asked about Libya
earlier this month at an event in New Hampshire. Let`s listen to what he
had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What should Congress be doing with the fact that he went
that he went around Congress, and he`s not -- he`s not abiding to the War
Powers Act?

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think -- I think Congress
is in a mild uproar about it.

QUESTION: Very mild?

HUNTSMAN: I have a fundamental problem generally, I mean, beyond this
decision, just with the decision that has been made to get involved in
Libya, in a tribal country, where we have no definable interests of state,
and where we have no exit strategy. Look at Afghanistan. Do you want to
get involved with tribal government, how hard it is to extricate yourself
once you have gotten involved? Let history be your guide.

QUESTION: Do you think it`s impeachable?

HUNTSMAN: We will let Congress make that decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: Well, he sort of punted, Howard, on the impeachment...

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: ... idea there. I don`t see that really happening.

But does the constitutional issue have any legs here? And -- and
beyond that, is the American public really paying attention to what we`re
doing in Libya?

FINEMAN: Well, a couple -- a couple things.

First of all, the ship has long since sailed on getting a
congressional declaration of war, even when there are -- you know, are
hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground. I mean, that hasn`t
happened in decades. And I think if Congress wants to get that power back,
this wasn`t the case to do it on.

Did the Obama administration cut things a little fine by saying, you
know, we`re not involved -- quote, unquote -- "because we don`t have any
boots on the ground, we`re just flying planes overhead and bombing selected
sites"? That was a little excruciating, I mean, a little -- a little too
finely argued.

But I -- I don`t think the American people were paying that much
attention as long as there weren`t American troops dying there. On the
question of whether Libya matters strategically -- again, Robin would know
more than I, but if there`s a possibility of a more friendly and
cooperative regime that`s sitting on top of one of the largest pools of oil
in the world and wants to do business with the West, I think that`s a very
important strategic consideration for -- for -- not only for the United
States, but for Europe.

REAGAN: Well, this story isn`t over.

Always a pleasure to talk to you both. Always interesting to hear
what you have to say. Thank you, Howard Fineman and Robin Wright.
Appreciate it very much.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Ron.

REAGAN: Up next: Rick Perry vs. Rick Perry. It turns out the Texas
governor was against Social Security before he was for it or something
like that. We will let him explain in the "Sideshow" -- coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: "Fed Up." That`s the title of the book penned by GOP
candidate Rick Perry just last year, covering topics including the alleged
unconstitutionality of Social Security.

Responding to some of the bash -- backlash from Perry`s position and
likely anticipating a tad more to come, Ray Sullivan, Perry`s
communications director, explained, "`Fed Up` is not meant to reflect the
governor`s current views on how to fix the program."

Unfortunately, it seems that Perry was unaware that his nine-month-old
book had become obsolete when his campaign began earlier this month.

Let`s listen to how he responded to a question from a voter on his
plans for entitlement reforms at his first stop in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Have you read my book
"Fed Up"? Get a copy of it and read it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: I guess the memo hadn`t gone out yet.

Next up: excuses, excuses. That`s all we`re getting from Florida
Republican Senate candidate Mike McCalister, who has -- who has come under
fire for embellishing his record as a military serviceman, saying he had
testified before Congress on national security issues. Not true.

In his first public statement since the accusations have been made,
McCalister said, "If there was any misrepresentation, I accept
responsibility."

If? Not quite sufficient to drop the issue entirely. Despite having
creatively beefed up his resume, the candidate`s reasons for being unable
to speak to reporters have been somewhat lame. Last Wednesday, the
candidate claimed he could not speak to a reporter because of poor cell
service. And, yesterday, his spokesperson had an ease out ready to go when
the rapid-fire questioning began.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Well, I believe he also said he was...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The colonel has to use the restroom. Excuse me.
Thank you very much.

QUESTION: The colonel has to -- you can get your hand off me, if you
don`t mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: What`s next? I lost my voice? The Internet was down? Dog
ate my homework?

I don`t think they have heard the end of this one.

And now for the "Big Number."

Maybe not the best timing for a presidential candidate who just months
ago bonded with voters by saying he was -- quote -- "also unemployed," not
to make plans for a massive upgrade to his $12 million home. That`s right.
Mitt Romney is planning a huge expansion for his already sprawling mansion
in California. Just how much larger will the finished product be? Four
times its current size.

Speaking for the candidate and his wife, a spokesman for Romney
explained that the home at its current size is -- quote -- "inadequate for
their needs." What, are they doing, like, football games and thoroughbred
racing?

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: That`s the "Big Number."

Up next: Presidential candidate Rick Perry reminds a lot of people of
George Bush. Can we handle more Bush-style swagger in this country?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIAN SULLIVAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Brian Sullivan with your CNBC
"Market Wrap."

Stocks squeezing out some modest gains today. The Dow Jones
industrial average picked up 37 points, the S&P 500 up fractionally, the
Nasdaq tacking on, oh, about three-and-a-half points. Pretty quiet trading
today, all in all, especially if you`re looking back at some of the wild
swings that we have had over the past couple of weeks. The Dow was up
about 200 points earlier in the session, but really quieted down after
noon.

Banks weighing on the markets a bit, after Wells Fargo cut its price
target on Bank of America, citing market volatility and concerns about a
possible double dip in the U.S. economy. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein
has reportedly hired high-profile defense attorney Reid Weingarten, who
represented former WorldCom and Enron executives. Goldman Sachs telling
CNBC that it is common to hire a defense attorney when you know that you`re
going to be investigated or at least questioned.

All right, solid gains for Hewlett-Packard after announcing plans to
kill its six-week-old TouchPad tablet.

And home improvement retailer Lowe`s announcing a $5 billion stock
buyback.

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

REAGAN: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

OK. Admit it. When you hear Rick Perry, you think George W. Bush.
That may be fine if you`re a Texas Republican, but for a lot of people,
it`s causing a case of Bush post-traumatic stress disorder, or Bush PTSD.

Here`s former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd talking to George
Stephanopoulos earlier this month on the similarities between the two Texas
governors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIS WEEK")

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Now, part of
his problem is, he sounds a lot like George Bush. He looks like a
president, though, if you just look at the picture, but he sounds and has
similar mannerisms to George Bush.

I don`t think that`s as much of a problem in the Republican primary.
It could be a problem in the general election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: So, is the public ready for more Bush-style Texas swagger?

Joining me are Wayne Slater of "The Dallas Morning News" and MSNBC
political analyst Richard Wolffe.

Welcome to you both.

Wayne, so they walk alike, they talk alike, but are George W. Bush and
Rick Perry really that much alike?

WAYNE SLATER, AUTHOR, "THE ARCHITECT: KARL ROVE AND THE MASTER PLAN
FOR ABSOLUTE POWER": No. They`re actually very different people.

That caricature of George Bush that we -- we all participated in
painting about a decade ago, the swaggering, drawling cowboy, is really --
it was something of a construction. And it`s really what -- what Rick
Perry is in real life. So they`re really not the same.

Perry is more conservative. He is more -- he is shrewder. He`s the
kind of person who is partisan, whereas George Bush, at least in Texas,
really hewed a bipartisan way of doing things. They are not the same
person at all.

Perry is much more expressive about his religious faith. So, in many,
many ways, they`re different.

REAGAN: So...

SLATER: But you`re right. The problem is...

REAGAN: So, in other words, Perry is sort of...

SLATER: ... when people listen to them -- well, I think, when people
listen to them, they say...

REAGAN: ... Perry is kind of the authentic George W. Bush?

SLATER: Is he what?

REAGAN: Is he the -- is he almost the authentic George W. Bush? Is
he -- is he really what Bush, George W. Bush, pretended to be?

SLATER: This is exactly -- you have got it exactly right.

REAGAN: OK.

SLATER: This is the real thing, the real cowboy from a dryland farm
on West Texas, who the suggestion is that he`s the guy in the cowboy boots
from Texas. As you know, George Bush was -- was born in Connecticut. So
Rick Perry is the real thing.

Now, is that a good thing or not? It might be a bad thing in some
places.

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: It could be.

Here`s Perry pronouncing a certain word just the way his predecessor,
George Bush, did. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It seems like
you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge
necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

PERRY: I am a supporter of nuclear energy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: What is it about nuclear and "nucular"? I don`t get it with
these guys.

Richard, an interesting thing, when Perry got into the race, the
people who jumped on him first and began pointing out problems with his
record and things like that were not really the Democrats so much. They
were old Bush hands, old W. Bush...

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

REAGAN: ... hands and -- and others associated with that family.

What`s responsible for the rancor between these -- these two camps?

WOLFFE: Well, a lot of rivalry there.

And it`s not just the personal rivalry, although that does take these
kinds of disputes a long way. You know, the McCain folks still harbored
resentment to the Bush folks because of Texas rivalry among the advisers
dating back many years. So, these things can linger.

But there`s something else going on here which is a question of
sincerity on both sides. Wayne points out that, you know, to the Perry
folks or Perry supporters, Bush was not the real thing. Well, when you
talk to Bush folks about Perry, they say the same about Perry. They say
he`s not authentic. He flip-flops. He used to be a Democrat. He`ll say
anything, he`ll do anything.

And more than anything else, they don`t like his uncouthness.
There`s a sort of an un-subtlety, an impoliteness that really offends them.
So, this has gone on for many years and has really it over and is really
quite deep and real. They just don`t think -- you know, if you think back
when Bush was running for president in 2000, he said he was a different
kind of Republican. You`ll never hear anything similar or see anything
similar from Rick Perry. And that, to be honest, offends the Bush people.

RON REAGAN, GUEST HOST: It may be, Richard, it may be better off --
it might have been better off for Bush to be kind of a fake Texan, because
he sort of understood and appreciated, oh, the ethos let`s say of the
Northeast.

But what about Rick Perry? Does the kind of Texas twang, swagger,
boots with a suit kind of stuff that`s really real, that`s him all the way,
is that going to play elsewhere in the country?

WOLFFE: Well, I don`t know how it plays it around the country,
frankly, because if you look at where former President Bush stands in
approval ratings, he`s nowhere near good enough to want to evoke those
memories. He`s better than he used to be when he was in office. But he`s
not like some other former presidents who are up in the 60s when it comes
to approval ratings. President Bush is still somewhere in the 40s, which
is not that far off the current president.

So, it`s not a great platform to be on. It`s still too soon for the
full rehab of President Bush to come into effect.

And on top of that, there`s the sort of personal problem that Rick
Perry has. I once had the good fortune of watching Perry try to schmooze
one Wayne Slater. And it`s not a pretty thing

(LAUGHTER)

REAGAN: Do you remember that, Wayne? Have you been schmoozed by
Rick Perry?

WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Many times, many times.

REAGAN: And lived to talk about it?

SLATER: I lived to talk about it.

I do think, one of the other things, I know that one of the private
conversations inside the Perry camp before he did the rollout for the
presidential race was that we, Rick Perry, this is from his political
adviser, Dave Carney, we, Rick Perry, have to present ourselves as --
exactly as Richard said -- as a real Republican that the Bush people say he
isn`t. And that as someone who is like Ronald Reagan, someone who has bold
colors and optimism.

We haven`t heard very much on the optimism thing. But that was a
conversation.

One of the things about George Bush, and I covered him all his time
here as governor, is they always resented that his father was overshadowed
by the memory and the shadow of Ronald Reagan. And Bush never was a Reagan
champion in the way that so many Republicans are. And Rick Perry wants to
be sort of the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

REAGAN: Does he actually ride horses, Rick Perry?

SLATER: Oh, you bet. Hey, we`re from west Texas. Absolutely.

REAGAN: All right. So, those cowboy boots actually go into
stirrups, occasionally. Unlike the first W -- who was scared to death of
horses as we know.

This is really for both of you guys -- but, Wayne, you can start.
Rick Perry would seem to have some real deficits when it comes to policy
ideas. He wants to do away with Social Security, thinks it`s
unconstitutional. Apparently wants to do away with the federal income tax,
which provides 80 percent of federal income.

How is this a winning platform for a presidential candidate from any
party?

SLATER: You know, it`s interesting -- you pointed out his book, "Fed
Up." When that book came out less than a year ago, Perry said, this is
evidence that I am not going to run for president because anybody who
wanted to run for president wouldn`t be saying Social Security is a Ponzi
scheme. We ought to change Medicare. Medicaid is bad. The Voting Rights
Act has questions about it. And the Fed is a problem and we ought to get
rid of the income tax and all the rest of this -- this right wing diatribe.

Perry did that in his book.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: I`m sorry, I didn`t mean to interrupt you. I just wanted
Richard`s take on this, too. Is he just too conservative for America,
Richard? Too far out there?

WOLFFE: I don`t see how he can appeal to independent voters in the
way that Bush did in 2000 with this kind of rhetoric and this kind of
platform.

You know, and on top of that, this White House is going to be more
than ready to point out that for a guy who ran against -- who runs against
government, government spending, stimulus spending, he was more than happy
to take those Recovery Act checks and spend them all on those government
jobs that have helped his job creation numbers in Texas.

There is a reality and a rhetorical difference between the Perry
we`ve seen, the Perry we`re hearing, and the Perry who spent that
government money in Texas. This White House is ready to jump on that one.

REAGAN: That`s right. Net job increase in Texas, it was all
government jobs in the last three years.

Thank you, Richard Wolffe and Wayne Slater. Appreciate you being
here.

Up next, he is trailing in the polls. So Republican presidential
hopeful Jon Huntsman is attacking the GOP front-runners. Are we already
seeing too much negativity on the GOP campaign?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN: It is a case that brought political tensions on both sides
of the Atlantic. And now, prosecutors in New York have asked a judge to
dismiss sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former
managing director of the International Monetary Fund. His accuser, a hotel
housekeeper, and her lawyer, met briefly with prosecutors today. Questions
have surrounded her credibility and the strength of the evidence that a
forcible encounter occurred in his hotel room back in May.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right now, this country is
crying out for a sensible middle ground. This is a center-right country.
I`m a center-right candidate. Right now, we`ve got people on the fringes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Republican candidate Jon Huntsman making the case for why he
should be president. And in the course of that interview with ABC News, he
took a few shots at the GOP front-runners.

Here he is on Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNTSMAN: You know, if to talk about his inconsistencies and the
changes on various issues, we`d be here all afternoon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Last week, Rick Perry said it would be, quote, "almost
treasonous for the Fed chief to print more money."

Here is Huntsman`s take on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNTSMAN: I`m not sure that average voter out there is going to hear
that treasonous remark and say that sounds like a presidential candidate.
That sounds like someone who is serious on the issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: And Michele Bachmann said if she were president, gas prices
would go below $2 per gallon.

Here is Huntsman`s reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNTSMAN: You know, I just don`t know what world that comment would
come from. You know, we live in the real world. It`s grounded in reality.
And gas prices just aren`t going to rebound like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: Is this the way for Huntsman to win the nomination?

Michael Crowley is "Time" magazine`s deputy Washington bureau chief
and Steve Kornacki is a political columnist for "Salon".

Welcome to you, both.

Is, Steve, is Huntsman saying things that could resonate with voters,
even Republican voters, or is this just a desperate candidate who is trying
to claw his way out of single digits here in the polls?

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Yes, I think it`s more of the second. I
mean, the strategy that the Huntsman people have been sort of following,
the roadmap that they think they are following at least is sort of what
John McCain did when he ran for president the first time back in 2000 when
he debuted the straight talk express. He skipped Iowa, he went to New
Hampshire. He had all those everything on the record bull sessions with
reporters. He really broke through in New Hampshire and for a few weeks he
was really the biggest thing in the political world.

I think there was a lot that McCain had going for himself personally
that Huntsman lacks when you look at like his war story and everything.

But I think the bigger issue is that Republican Party in 2011, 2012,
is nowhere near where it was in 2000. I mean, Jon Huntsman sort of
advertises himself there as a center-right candidate. This is not a
center-right party. This is the party that nominated Sharron Angle,
Christine O`Donnell, Joe Miller -- you know, people like that for the
United States senate last year, willingly lost winnable elections for the
United States Senate because it`s so dedicated to purity right now.

So I look at Huntsman`s rhetoric and I say, he`s got a shot at the
Democratic nomination maybe but I don`t think the Republican one.

REAGAN: Michael, I mean, Steve makes a good point here. Is
Huntsman, by seeming to be, to my eyes, at least, the most reasonable
candidate among the Republican nominees? Has he essentially disqualified
himself by that?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, TIME: Well, look, I think that he has no other
choice at this point. He`s just -- you know, I mean, one of the problems
here is that he set out promising to run a positive campaign and saying you
don`t have to run other people down when you run for president. And I
think what he found quickly was, that was the only way he could get
attention. And now, the only way anyone is noticing him is through his
negative comments about the other candidates.

Everyone knew John McCain when he ran for president in 2000, he
didn`t have to introduce himself. I think Huntsman has this trap where,
first of all, people don`t have a good sense of who he is. And now to the
extent they are learning about him, they see him sniping at other
Republican candidates.

So, you know, I think it is a little bit desperation. I mean, has he
disqualified himself? There are moderate voters in the Republican Party
and, you know, there are scenarios where the very conservative candidates
splinter the conservative vote, the Tea Party vote and the moderate can
rise to the top by default. You know, maybe in New Hampshire where the
primary is open and you can have independent voters, it`s not necessarily
going to be all religious conservatives and Tea Partiers are going to make
up a lot of the electorate in Indiana caucuses.

But I just don`t think -- it`s a real long shot for that to break his
way and then for him to succeed in other states like South Carolina, for
instance.

REAGAN: We got to leave there. Bu I`m sure we could talk more about
this.

Thank you, Michael Crowley and Steve Kornacki.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with my thoughts on science and the
Republican Party. You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN: "Let Me Finish" tonight with science and the Republican
Party.

Two out of the three presidential candidates generally considered
front runners for Republican Party nomination believe the moon is made of
green cheese. Does that cause you concern? You`d think it would. After
all, astronauts have been to the moon and have brought back rocks that seem
utterly cheese-free and no large space mice have been observed nibbling at
lunar craters.

All but Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, the front runners in
question, don`t believe NASA ever landed man on the moon.

As for space mice, the governor and congresswoman think they may just
be lurking out of sight on the moon`s dark side. I`m kidding, of course.

As far as I know, neither Perry nor Bachmann really harbors any such
thoughts about our planet`s satellite. If they did, they`d be laughed
right out of any presidential contest, wouldn`t they?

I mean, the moon made out of green cheese? NASA landing is fake?
That`s way too crazy for the White House, right? That`s out there where
the busses don`t stop.

Yes. Trouble is, Bachmann and Perry profess other beliefs just as
crazy. For instance, neither seems to accept Charles Darwin`s idea that
species, including the human species, evolve over time. Instead, they
pretend there is scientific controversy evolving evolution where none
exists.

Both also reject the consensus of over 90 percent of climate
scientists worldwide that human activity is warming our planet to
dangerously disruptive levels. One of Rick Perry`s first pronouncements
upon entering the presidential contest was to declare any such scientific
consensus a hoax. Bachmann seems to agree.

That would be a massive global charade involving not just the world`s
scientists but the governments of virtually every nation as well. If they
wanted to be taken at least bit seriously, anyone making such an
extraordinary claim would have to back it up with extraordinary compelling
evidence, wouldn`t they?

But Perry and Bachmann offer no such evidence, not a shred. Any
rational person would consider such wild unsupported claims an
embarrassment and the folks who made them unfit for office. Yet, here they
are, Perry and Bachmann, frontrunners for the Republican presidential
nomination.

That ought to tell us something and it`s not something good about the
current Republican Party. And if either of these two were to actually move
into the White House, it would say something even more tragic about our
body politic, president and crazy are not two words we want connected.

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.
END

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