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updated 10/26/2011 10:03:10 AM ET 2011-10-26T14:03:10

Guests: Dana Milbank, Roger Simon, John Harris, Joan Walsh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Re-boot hill.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews down in Washington.

Leading off tonight: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. In a
little more than a month, big, bad Rick Perry has gone from leader of the
pack to one step removed from also-ran. Time to reboot, time to double
down on cutting taxes for the wealthy, on birtherism, because he says it`s
fun, and on his attacks on Mitt Romney. Today was reserved for his plan to
cut federal programs while making the rich pay, of course, less.

Also, which of the following statements is not true? A, President
Obama routed Moammar Gadhafi without losing a single American life. B, he
launched the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. C, he`s ending the Iraq
war, as promised. D, Republicans are praising the president for his
successful foreign policy.

You bet, the answer is D. So why won`t the Republicans give the
president credit for doing things they support and didn`t get done
themselves?

Plus, what do you make of this Herman Cain ad?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need you to get involved because together we
can do this. We can take this country back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s in your face. Cain doesn`t seem to be taking
his campaign all that seriously, even taking his ad seriously. The only
ones taking Cain seriously are the voters, it seems, who have him up at
number one in the Republican polls.

And it`s President Obama versus Mitch McConnell over whether the
wealthy should pay a little more to keep teachers, firefighters and police
on the job. Guess who thinks it`s more important to keep taxes low on the
rich?

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with what`s going on in the Republican
Party. It`s weird.

We start with the rebooting of Rick Perry. Howard Fineman`s an MSNBC
political analyst and the Huffington Post`s Media Group editorial director.
And Dana Milbank is a columnist for "The Washington Post," who appears
quite regularly and wondrously on page two.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: This afternoon, Perry called the birther issue a
distraction, but just last night in an interview with CNBC`s John Harwood,
Perry said it was a good issue to keep alive. Let`s watch this
performance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s a good issue to
keep alive. Just, you know, Donald`s got to have some fun, so -- and the
issue is --

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC: It sounds like you really do have some doubt
about it.

PERRY: Well, I -- look, I haven`t seen his -- I haven`t seen his -- I
haven`t seen his grades. My grades ended up on the front page of the
newspaper. So let`s -- you know, if we`re going to show stuff, let`s show
stuff, so -- but look, that`s all a distraction. I mean, I get it. I`m
really not worried about the president`s birth certificate. It`s fun to
poke at him a little bit and say, Hey, how about -- let`s see your grades
and your birth certificate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know -- I use these words carefully -- that`s a clown`s
performance. He`s running for president of the United States. He`s saying
the president of the United States may not be an American-born citizen --
therefore, if you follow logically, an illegal alien -- and that`s only
something I`m doing to have fun with. That`s -- and then he tries to
laugh. Harwood`s a serious journalist. He`s not laughing with him. Who`s
laughing with this guy?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, clowns are funny.
That wasn`t funny.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And it really was two worlds. It was John Harwood trying to
get a serious answer out of the guy. And it`s Rick Perry basically saying,
Don`t pay attention to anything I`m saying. Don`t take what I`m saying
seriously because I sort of mean it or I don`t mean it, and it`s all
political theater anyway.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: It`s a good issue to keep alive.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: What does that mean?

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s this Pee-Wee Herman stuff?

FINEMAN: What does that mean?

MATTHEWS: I mean, why does he behave like Pee-Wee Herman if he`s a
serious -- even Pee-Wee Herman is an actor playing Pee-Wee Herman. Is this
guy playing what he thinks is a presidential candidate?

DANA MILBANK, "WASHINGTON POST": I think Rick Perry is stunned and
baffled because he was supposed to be -- just waltz into this race and walk
away with the whole thing.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILBANK: And then everything fell apart. And he`s saying, All right,
what went wrong? And I think what he`s come to the conclusion of is, Maybe
I wasn`t crazy enough. You know, before I used to talk about --

MATTHEWS: What a --

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK: before I used to talk about secession, and so OK, you know,
maybe not secession, but we`re back --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Look, I`m serious about this. We all are. I take it
seriously who runs this country. We`ve got serious problems. He`s the
best the right wing could offer. Howard, he`s the one they put up to knock
off Mitt Romney, the moderate Republican, the one they didn`t trust.

FINEMAN: Well, Chris --

MATTHEWS: He`s the best they had. They beat the drum for this guy
for months. Oh, wait until Rick Perry gets into this battle.

FINEMAN: Well, here`s what heartfelt conservatives need to worry
about, and heartfelt conservative Republicans. Two of their leading
candidates have basically said, I`m joking. You remember Herman Cain said,
I want to build a 20-foot fence, and I want to put electric barbed wire all
across it.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: And then somebody said, Really? And he said, No, I was
joking. And then he said after that, Well, actually, I wasn`t quite
joking. You know, we need to have a big fence.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And so now Rick Perry comes along and says, Where`s the
birth certificate? He says it first in "Parade" magazine. Then he -- then
he does this thing with Harwood. And both of them come off as people who
are play-acting at running for president, play-acting at having serious
conservative values.

I mean, where are the serious, thoughtful --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: -- conservatives who really are offering solutions to
problems that pencil -- in other words, that add up --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: -- and that aren`t meant to be a joke? And you -- so
conservatives are frustrated because they`ve got Mitt Romney, who`s still
out there. The reason they`re frustrated is they don`t have a serious --
don`t appear to have a serious candidate.

MATTHEWS: Let`s give some -- it`s not just that they get -- they go
after birther, which I think is insulting to the country -- he`s our
president. As well as being a Democrat, he`s our president. And to joke
about whether he`s an American or not or he`s somebody who snuck in under
the border and is somehow a Kenyan or whatever, is an insult to us.

Now he`s going into taxes. Taxes bother people. They`re heavy in
this country, maybe not as heavy as they have to be at some point, but
they`re heavy. They hurt people. And here he is with this plan. Now, I`m
going to ask you guys what you think of this so-called plan. He unfailed -
- unfurled, I should say, his economic plan today. The plan gives
taxpayers the option of playing a flat 20 percent tax, or they can keep
their old rates. The plan also calls for lowering the corporate tax rate
to 20 percent.

Here is Rick Perry today in South Carolina, touting the simplicity of
his plan. Well, you`d expect simplicity from him. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: Each individual taxpayer will have a choice. You can continue
to pay your taxes, as well as the accountants and the lawyers and -- under
the current tax system that we got, or you can file your taxes on this
postcard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Just reminds me of a bobblehead. I mean, here he is, an
interview with John Harwood, as I said, a serious journalist. He defended
the plan, even though it would overwhelmingly help the wealthiest
Americans, whose rate is higher than 20 percent. Everybody else is lower.
It`s clearly aimed directly at helping the rich at a time that everybody
resents that 1 percent having a special -- here he is, by the way. He said
critics of the plan were engaging in class warfare. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: Americans, I hope, aspire to be wealthy. I hope they aspire
to have a better quality of life. And we have this class warfare that`s
going on now, and I don`t agree with that. I`m interested in people
getting to work. And folks who generally have money are the ones who
invest money, that hire folks, so that those folks who get hired can work
their way up to become someday owning the company.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This worthless argument that rich people create jobs,
therefore, tax them less -- they have -- it is a brilliant trick of the
mind. They make more money, they have more money, therefore, tax them less
so that -- what?

MILBANK: Well, look, this isn`t the proposal of a serious
presidential candidate. This is a guy who`s sitting at 6 percent in the
"New York Times" poll.

MATTHEWS: And dropping.

MILBANK: And dropping like a stone. And he`s just barely ahead of
Rick Santorum, who`s arguably not really much of a candidate at all. What
he`s done now is no longer vying with Mitt Romney to make a serious
proposal. He`s saying, Look, it`s a Hail Mary. I`m going to try to --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILBANK: I`ve got one more time to galvanize all of the Tea Party
folks.

MATTHEWS: Who cheers --

MILBANK: And if it doesn`t work, I`ll go out (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: Who cheers this nonsense? Birtherism, tax rates aimed
directly at the wealthiest 1 percent -- who says, Wow, this guy`s doing my
work for me?

FINEMAN: Here`s the irony of it, Chris. From having talked to people
on both the Democratic side and the conservative side about this plan --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: -- if you take it seriously for a minute -- obviously, the
Democrats and progressives don`t like it because of what you`ve been saying
about cutting rates for the rich, which it would do.

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: But the conservatives don`t really like it, either because
he`s not really sweeping away the existing tax system. He`s just saying,
You can have this as an alternative. So all those lawyers and accountants
and all those people he`s complaining about, for some people, are still
going to be there.

MATTHEWS: Sure, they get a better deal.

FINEMAN: So if he really -- it`s -- sometimes when you get criticized
from all sides, it means you`ve come up with a brilliant idea. In this
case, when he`s being criticized by all sides, he`s basically being laughed
off the stage.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The idea of a multiple choice tax format is an absurd -- by
the way, I love the idea that everybody can do the short form. It`d be
great. Just fill it out on the way home from work one night, on the train
or whatever, just fill it out at lunchtime, you`re done. That`d be great.
That`s not what he`s offering. What he`s offering is basically a single
rate, a rate that`s going to help the rich. That`s what he`s offering.

MILBANK: Well, and a --

MATTHEWS: And he`s calling it simple.

MILBANK: And a lower rate for investments to benefit the rich, as
well.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILBANK: But again, I don`t think that he`s offering this as a
serious proposal. He threw out private accounts for Social Security.
Wait! Weren`t we through this once already? He knows that`s not the
direction we`re going, and he`s just throwing out something to make this --

FINEMAN: Let`s put it this way. The last thing Rick Perry wants to
do now is to sit down and have another half-hour interview John Harwood --

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN: -- all about his new tax --

MATTHEWS: OK --

FINEMAN: -- all about his new tax proposal.

MATTHEWS: I`ll tell you, it`s getting to be tricky.

FINEMAN: OK?

MATTHEWS: Who`s less serious, who is less informed, him or Cain?

MILBANK: Boy, Michele Bachmann`s looking better every day.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Who`s less informed? I know it`s a rhetorical question.
You can abstain on this question. But according to Republican strategist
Alex Castellanos, who advised Mitt Romney in 2008, Rick Perry will go after
Romney in the hopes of raising his own profile. He told Politico that the
Perry camp will blanket TVs with negative Romney ads. He added, quote,
"Perry won`t just go negative, he`ll make your television bleed and beg for
mercy."

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: You know, what you want to hear from is one of the lightest
minds in the world, the lightest intellects, yelling as loud as possible.
That`s what he`s going to be doing.

FINEMAN: Well, he won`t be doing it himself.

MATTHEWS: The ads will.

FINEMAN: No. The ads will be brilliantly done, dark, noirish kinds
of things. And Rick Perry is a mean son of a gun. This is a guy who went
jogging with a pistol, you know?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: So he`s a tough guy from west Texas, and he`s going to put
all the money and all his chips on --

MATTHEWS: OK --

FINEMAN: -- the destruction of Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: -- we were talking about -- all the producers and I were
trying to figure out, why do you want to be known as a guy that`s just
towel-snapping at the president of the United States, just taunting him, as
he put, as a joke? I`m just taunting with him. I`m just playing with him.

Here`s a party that it -- I`m just keep keeping the list. They want
more people to fry. They love executions. They want people that don`t
have insurance to die on the gurney in the hospital bed. They want that to
happen. They want -- forget about illegal aliens. Gay soldiers, forget
about them. They`re not -- they`re there to be booed. If you`re homeless
-- foreclosed on, if you have a home, foreclose on the people. If you`re a
teacher, fireman or a cop, get rid of the guy!

I mean, this attitude of causing cruel pain on people and getting
cheers for it, what`s that about, Howard? You`re giving me that look!

FINEMAN: No, no.

MATTHEWS: Where am I heading with this? I want to know where these
candidates are heading with this.

FINEMAN: Well, I`m not sure of the answer, except to say that that
attitude of mean resentment --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: -- is very much out there in the country, and it`s all over
the place. I wouldn`t say it`s just confined to the nether reaches of the
Republican Party.

MATTHEWS: But not the big government, which they said was a proper
enemy for -- all Americans --

FINEMAN: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: -- love to bitch about the government. That`s normal.

FINEMAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: But not liking firefighters, teachers, not liking people
that are sick without insurance --

FINEMAN: Well, on that --

MATTHEWS: -- really hating people who are on the condemned row --
fine, they`re going to be executed. So you have to boo them on the way
out?

FINEMAN: Chris --

MATTHEWS: I mean --

FINEMAN: People are at a point where they -- they -- we`re in a
revolution of declining expectations about their own future and their
family`s future, and they`re looking for people to lash out at.

MATTHEWS: Schadenfreude.

FINEMAN: And by the way, Barack Obama is so despised by the base of
the Republican Party that anything Rick Perry or Herman Cain says is
acceptable to them.

MATTHEWS: So if you say he`s --

FINEMAN: About Obama.

MATTHEWS: -- a foreigner from Kenya, he`s not really an American, he`s
an illegal alien --

FINEMAN: They love it.

MATTHEWS: -- they just cheer it.

FINEMAN: They love it.

MILBANK: And Rick Perry has basically decided the prospects of him
reaching the general election are so remote that it`s worth gambling on --
on --

MATTHEWS: So what is his goal at this point?

MILBANK: I think it is maybe lightning strikes and he can galvanize
the support, and otherwise, he goes out in a blaze of glory. He`s a hero -
-

MATTHEWS: I showed them!

MILBANK: -- of the Tea Party. It worked well for a while for that one
from Alaska.

MATTHEWS: OK. You`re very good at satire, Dana, and I don`t think
you can satirize this guy. I don`t think you can get further than who he
is.

MILBANK: It is hard to --

MATTHEWS: The job`s done. The cake`s baked. Anyway, thank you,
Howard Fineman. Thank you, Dana Milbank.

Coming up: Gadhafi, bin Laden, the end of a bad war in Iraq.
President Obama`s had an comprehensive string of foreign policy successes.
So why`s he getting so little cret -- credit, actually, for keeping America
safe? That`s my question. It`s also Roger Simon`s question.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the Iowa caucuses are coming up on January 3rd this
year, right after New Year`s, and we`ve also got a new University of Iowa
poll out. Herman Cain right now is lead -- look at these numbers -- 37
percent of the vote out there in Iowa right now. Mitt Romney`s down at 27.
That`s quite a lead for that fellow from Atlanta -- followed by Ron Paul at
12. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are all down there in
single digits.

Nothing seems to change except Perry goes down, Cain goes up, and of
course, Mitt Romney stays the same. Seventy days to go until Iowa.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This president for the last
year-and-a-half has made some very poor national security decisions that
I`m afraid are going to come back to haunt this country.

These decisions that the President Obama is making I think are
strategically unsound, and our people need to step up and challenge him.
We`ve got a jobs problem. We`ve got a national security problem that`s
growing by the day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s inexplicable, what he just said there.

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Senator Lindsey Graham on
Fox, of course, this Sunday laying out his criticism against President
Obama`s foreign policy and on national security.

And the self-serving and tone-deaf Republican criticism, which I
include that with, comes in spite of the president`s remarkable successes
in both areas of defense and national security over the past few months,
including launching the dramatic raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Roger Simon is chief political columnist at "The Politico," and Evan
Kohlmann is an NBC News terrorist analyst.

Roger, thank you for joining us, and thank you for that column this
morning, which inspired me to think about what you were thinking, and
that`s this strange world.

I want you both to see this now. Here`s a montage, as we say on TV,
of the president announcing all these various successes I mentioned. As a
reminder, all of these events have taken place in just the past half year.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I can report
to the American people and to the world that the United States has
conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda.

Earlier this morning, Anwar al Awlaki, a leader of al Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula, was killed in Yemen. The death of Awlaki is a major
blow to al Qaeda`s most active operational affiliate.

Today, we can definitively say that the Gadhafi regime has come to an
end. Faced with the potential of mass atrocities and a call for help from
the Libyan people, the United States and our friends and allies stopped
Gadhafi`s forces in their tracks.

So today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in
Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years,
America`s war in Iraq will be over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Roger, old buddy, there`s an "Alice in Wonderland" quality
to this. Think back to the Friday after 9/11, where the president of the
United States very dramatically stood next to the firefighter, put his arm
around him and said, We`re going to get the people that knocked down these
walls. Who got them? Barack Obama got them.

Who`s trying to fire firefighters right now? The Republican Party of
George W. Bush. This is "Alice in Wonderland." Your thoughts? You
inspired this discussion.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: There has been a strange reversal. The
Democratic Party has become the party of national defense, anti-terrorism.

The Republicans always said that they were the strong military party.
They were the daddy party. They would protect us. The Democrats were the
mommy party. All they cared about was social concerns. They couldn`t
protect us.

Now we see a president, not by choice, but by necessity, who has
become the leading anti-terrorist in the world. He has, as the montage
showed, at sort of a minimal loss of U.S. life, almost none, done all these
amazing things, and he can`t get the Republicans to give him credit for any
of them.

And I`m not so sure that even the people of America, concerned about
their jobs, are willing to give him credit now. But once he`s running
against a real Republican instead of some concept of an anti-Obama who will
be perfect, I think he will start to make some ground off of this.

MATTHEWS: Well, we will see. By the way, that mommy and daddy
division was something that somebody I know cooked up in "The New Republic"
about 20 years ago. I`m sitting here right now.

But a good correction on an old theory.

Anyway, let`s go right now -- let me go back to Evan Kohlmann.

Your sense of it as an expert on terrorism. It does seem objectively
that the cards are turning properly for us these days. That the people
fighting terrorism seem to be getting the upper hand lately.

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC NEWS ANALYST: Who would have imagined that five
years after the height of the war in Iraq, that there would be crowds of
people cheering the United States, cheering NATO, in a major Arab country?
I mean, that`s almost bizarre. Back in 2005, that would have been unheard
of. And not to mention the fact that President Bush, back in December
2001, had an opportunity to go in and get bin Laden.

We knew where he was, he was in a specific location, we surrounded
him. And at the time, the decision was made that it wasn`t worth taking
the risk. President Obama took that risk. And it could have gone -- it
could have gone bad, it could have gone real bad. He took the risk, it was
a good risk, and guess what, we got bin Laden. It was a courageous
decision, and it`s unfortunate that he doesn`t get more credit for that,
because I think it was a difficult decision.

It certainly -- during that raid, I`m sure there were a lot of people
wondering whether or not the president had a political future. And now
it`s been forgotten.

MATTHEWS: And I also think it`s fair to bring up, and somebody will
on the Democratic side, Roger and Evan, that the previous president, George
W. Bush, made a point of saying on camera one time, I`m not really focused
on getting bin Laden, which I thought was an odd, almost weird way of
saying something that he shouldn`t have been saying, but he was trying to
say, it`s no big deal.

Anyway, the latest poll from the Associated Press shows something
interesting. It shows that most Americans now, 64 percent, approve of the
way President Obama has handled terrorism issues, while only 40 percent
approve of his handling of the economy.

So that is a reasonable -- 46 percent, rather. So this is a
reasonable way of looking at things, I would say. Don`t you think, Roger?

SIMON: Yes, it is.

And the American people are giving him high points for protecting the
nation. The trouble with it is, everyone thinks that the next election
will be decided on domestic issues and not foreign ones. We don`t know
that for sure. But, you know, there`s one big thing that`s going to help
the president out.

When the Republicans finally nominate someone, he`s going to have to
pass the test that all Americans subconsciously submit candidates to, which
is, will this person protect the country? Will he protect the family -- my
family? Will he, as Hillary famously said in a commercial, answer the 3:00
a.m. phone call and know what he is doing?

And the question becomes, would Barack Obama be better at it or Herman
Cain? Barack Obama or Perry? Barack Obama or Romney? I mean, I think
pass that, you don`t have to even consider the rest of the Republican
field.

MATTHEWS: We will see what that choice looks like.

Yes, let`s take a look here at the Republicans, the way they`re sizing
it up. Here`s, Roger and Evan, what they are saying, they have been saying
about President Obama on foreign policy and national security. Let`s
listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president indicated and
his administration indicated over the summer and fall that they were
working to have a status of forces agreement that would keep troops in
place.

They indicated they were working on that effort. And they either
failed to do it by virtue of ineptitude or they decided that it wasn`t that
important, politically or otherwise. And to understand whether their
failure was due to politics or due to ineptitude, we`d have to hear from
the military commanders on the ground.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president has
announced what will be seen by historians as a decisive defeat for the
United States in Iraq.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And to be in a position
where really the Iranians now have more sway over the Iraqi government than
the United States just shows the weakness of our diplomatic effort, the
weakness of this president in being able to shape the battlefield, if you
will.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think
President Obama clearly is not respected, the United States is not
respected, and the president has been a failure when it comes to foreign
policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Evan, I don`t quite get it, but I guess it`s just
sheer politics.

The government of Maliki over in Iraq, which we have stood up, has
asked us to leave at the end of the year after all this commitment of
troops and blood and treasure and limb going way back to 2003. It seems to
me wars should end at some point.

They have told us it`s time to end it. How can Newt Gingrich say this
is a defeat to all the servicepeople over there? A defeat? What does he -
- he will say -- he is Mephistopheles in his politics. He will say
anything that hurts the other side.

KOHLMANN: What do you think people have less respect for, the fact
that we invaded Iraq under mistaken pretenses or we`re withdrawing after 10
years? I think the answer is, is that these candidates --

MATTHEWS: Well said.

KOHLMANN: -- need to answer the fundamental question, why did we get
into Iraq to begin with? That`s a question we have never heard the answer
to.

MATTHEWS: To stay forever. Their definition of success seems to be
remain there as a colonial power forever, and if we ever come home, that`s
called defeat.

Roger Simon, great to have you on.

Thank you, Evan Kohlmann.

I think we agree, the president deserves credit for the facts on the
ground, as the right likes to say, because on the ground, he looks pretty
good. It`s up in the air where the B.S. flies that he`s having a problem
with the Republicans.

Up next, televangelist, of all people, Pat Robertson is sounding the
alarm bells about the Republican presidential field going too far right.
Catch the "Sideshow," coming up next. You`re watching HARDBALL, only on
MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, to the crazy talk. Radical televangelist Pat Robertson has
some words of wisdom surprisingly for the 2012 GOP lineup. Think he has
got some fire of his own to add to the mix? Well, you will be surprised.
Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT ROBERTSON, HOST, "THE 700 CLUB": I believe it was Lyndon Johnson
that said, don`t these people realize if they push me over to an extreme
position, that I will lose the election? Those people in the Republican
primary have got to lay off of this stuff. They`re forcing their leaders,
the front-runners, into positions that will mean they lose the general
election. They have got to stop this. It`s just so counterproductive.
Well, if they want to lose, this is the game for losers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, this coming from the guy who said earlier this
year that it would be reasonable to divorce your spouse if they are
diagnosed with Alzheimer`s.

Well, if he says things are going overboard with the extreme comments
out there on the right, it`s time for them to reevaluate, don`t you think?

Next up in the hot seat, GOP Jon Huntsman stopped by "The Colbert
Report" last night and was game for everything, from his previous post as
ambassador to China to his rather low standing in the polls. He must have
known it was all coming, am I right? Well, let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": You speak Mandarin, do
you not?

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do.

COLBERT: OK. Say the most non-scary thing -- if you don`t mind,
would you say the most non-scary, nicest thing in Mandarin, please?

HUNTSMAN: (SPEAKING IN MANDARIN)

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Terrifying.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: What did you just say? What did you just say?

HUNTSMAN: I just said, I think that you ought to consider being my
running mate for vice president.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: Well, sir, recent polls, you are at 2 percent. Are you
ready for the Colbert bump?

(LAUGHTER)

HUNTSMAN: I am so ready for the Colbert bump.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: We`re going to get you -- Governor, you may be at 2 percent.
We`re going to get you up to whole milk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Now, we had him here last week.

It seemed like he was hoping the Colbert bump had a little more
substance to it. Anyway, then fast-forward to this evening`s late-night
scene. Who`s hitting up "The Tonight Show" tonight with Jay Leno? None
other than President Obama himself.

And we have got an advanced highlight, actually, from the back and
forth, which was taped earlier today. Let`s listen to tonight`s "Tonight."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Now, have you been
watching the GOP debates?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m going to wait until
everybody`s voted off the island.

LENO: Really?

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Once they narrow it down to one or two, I will start paying
attention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, funny stuff, although we know from his previous
comments he hasn`t waited until everyone gets voted off the island. He has
caught the more unsavory moments of the debate, such as when audience
members booed a gay soldier over in Iraq. That was one of the glimpses the
president caught. He`s obviously been taking a look now and then at the
other side of the race.

By the way, catch the president on "The Tonight Show" tonight, the
whole show with Jay Leno tonight, of course, on NBC.

Up next, Herman Cain is still leading in the polls, but his latest ad
has a lot of people wondering how serious a candidate he really is. Wait
until you catch this ad. It`s a strange ad, with smoking in it.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A sharp sell-off on some weak corporate guidance and more pessimism
about the European debt crisis, the Dow Jones industrials plunging 207
points, the S&P 500 tumbling 25, the Nasdaq giving up 61 points.

It`s down to the wire in Brussels. Everybody`s expecting some kind of
plan for dealing with the crisis, but today`s ministers had to cancel a key
meeting because there were still too many details to hammer out.

On the earnings front, investors were more interested in guidance than
last quarter`s results. But DuPont slumped, despite beating expectations
and raising its full-year outlook. Netflix shares plunged 35 percent after
it reported losing 800,000 subscribers last quarter. And after the closing
bell, Amazon delivered a big earnings miss. Shares are taking in a
pounding in after-hours trading. And IBM announced that Virginia Rometty
will replace retiring CEO Samuel Palmisano on January 1.

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

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The rise of presidential candidate Herman Cain continues to rise in
the race for the Republican nomination. It`s been the talk of politics
lately. A recent ad, by the way, featuring his campaign COO, Mark Block,
is all the buzz on YouTube. Let`s watch this bizarre ad by Herman Cain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HERMAN CAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

MARK BLOCK, HERMAN CAIN CAMPAIGN COO: Mark Block here.

Since January, I have had the privilege of being the chief of staff to
Herman Cain and the chief operating officer of the Friends of Herman Cain.
Tomorrow is one day closer to the White House.

I really believe that Herman Cain will put united back in the United
States of America. And if I didn`t believe that, I wouldn`t be here. We
need you to get involved, because together, we can do this. We can take
this country back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It is so good, that ad. And I don`t know why exactly.

So how does the Energizer Bunny of politics just keep going and going,
while the establishment coalesces boringly around Mitt Romney? Is the joke
on the GOP?

John Harris is editor in chief of politico and Gene Robinson is the
columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Gene, you`re here, so I have got to ask you this first. I am telling
you, could we live in such a phenomenal world? I remember. I have got to
be careful, but I remember when the ACC, right, the Atlantic Coast
Conference, got Charlie Scott. And all of a sudden, all the other teams
integrated.

(LAUGHTER)

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes?

MATTHEWS: So is the Republican Party doing what the ACC did? You
have got Barack Obama, we have got to bring in Herman Cain? What is going
on here?

ROBINSON: You know, I have given up saying that firsts can`t happen,
because firsts happen all the time now. So I don`t know what`s going on.
I mean, it`s improbable, but --

MATTHEWS: Look at the numbers today. I want to show you these
numbers, everybody, because everybody thinks, well, Herman Cain`s just
dodgeball. He`s just another way not to vote for Mitt Romney. Now, maybe
he is somebody.

But look at the numbers again, now 25 percent. Romney is at 21. He`s
going up a bit, but he`s getting lapped by this guy at some point.
Gingrich is at 10. Paul`s at 8. Perry`s down at 6.

Perry has lost everything to Cain, because Cain can talk.

ROBINSON: Yes. Cain can talk. And Cain takes the positions that
that wing of the party likes. Immigration really hurt


***40






should pay a little more to keep teachers and emergency responders on the
post.>


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Perry`s down at 6 percent. Perry has lost
everything to Cain, because Cain can talk.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Cain can talk. And
Cain takes the positions that this wing of the party likes. Immigration
really hurt Rick Perry --

MATTHEWS: They hate illegal immigrants. They hate the government.
They hate taxes. They love free enterprise.

ROBINSON: Right. And so Perry can pass on most of that stuff. But
on immigration, that, I think, is more important, really, than his
inability to talk.

MATTHEWS: You know, I got to go back again to the ethnic factor.
We`ve seen this before, John Harris. We`re going to be figuring this out
when the voting gets real in Iowa, by the way, where he`s also sweeping
ahead to 37 percent, Cain now, although everything out there is volatile.

You know, what is this? Is this the LDS factor? Is this the fact
they think that Mitt Romney really is a closet -- not a well-closeted
moderate Republican from Massachusetts? That the only conservative game in
town happens to be an African-American business guy without political
experience, but they`re damned determined to vote for a conservative, and
he`s the real, credible candidate to do that for them?

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO: Well, that`s part of it, Chris. But I would
also say, we`ve seen throughout this year the candidates are almost like a
fashion choice, that they come and go with the season. And people are
making a statement about themselves in who they back in these polls, not
necessarily making a statement about who they think is going to be the
Republican nominee or should be president.

MATTHEWS: But there`s nobody waiting in line behind them, John.
John, if there`s nobody behind him, what`s he do? If you can`t switch from
this guy to the next Donald Trump, the next Bachmann, because there`s none
left, don`t you get stuck holding this guy as your candidate against Mitt
Romney?

HARRIS: Well, look, the roller-coaster ride isn`t necessarily over
yet, Chris. We`ve had rides up and down, and I think there`s going to be
several more twists and humps to go up and down and over in this race. So
I don`t accept what you say, that Cain is the last man standing as the
alternative to Romney. He is for the moment the one attracting the most
attention and he`s getting quite a ride.

But we`ve seen too many times this cycle somebody rise up and rise
down and in the case of Perry, possibly make an effort to come back. So,
anyway, enjoy the ride.

MATTHEWS: John, remember -- Gene, remember the old Gandhian rule,
which is always do when I`m feeling low, which is first they ignore you,
then they laugh at you, then they attack you, then you win. That`s what
happened to Gandhi.

Well, here`s Karl Rove proving that he`s at the attack speed here.
Here he is going after this guy, Cain, on FOX News brought out his
whiteboard to list all the reasons why Cain isn`t up to being president of
the United States. Let`s listen to the inimitable, the unpleasant,
perhaps, Karl Rove, with part of his explanation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Cain has had a number of
misstatements. I mean, we`ve had abortion, we had earlier this year, that
he didn`t understand what the right of return was, the Palestinian demand
for the right of return. He recently said he didn`t understand what
neoconservatives were when it came to foreign policy. He had a rather odd
answer on Afghan policy, basically I`ll figure it out after I get into
office. The federal sales tax, the way he handled into the debate, apples
and oranges.

The whole effect of this is to not create an image I think of him not
being a flip-flopper. I think it is to create an image of him as not being
up to this task. And that`s really deadly -- that`s really deadly for a
presidential candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So smitten with the tablets? What is this guy doing with
the -- he`s got this big like mosaic tablet here, and he`s quoting from it.

ROBINSON: Did you see the vein in his temple that seemed to be
throbbing. I mean, this is going -- this is driving him nuts -- you know,
driving the Republican establishment nuts.

MATTHEWS: Why?

ROBINSON: Because people won`t --

MATTHEWS: They`ve lost control.

ROBINSON: Right, they`ve lost control. They think that Mitt Romney
is the guy who can best challenge Barack Obama. And, so let`s just go with
the guy. It`s driving them crazy.

MATTHEWS: Is this -- is this, John, is the Republican Party used to
being disciplined? Will they please clear the aisles, and clear the aisles
at the conventions. They did what they`re being told, it`s time to pick
their candidate and they`re resisting Mitt.

HARRIS: Well, there`s obviously some of that. But I said to you,
enjoy the ride. But Karl Rove is saying, look, no, I`m not enjoying the
ride. I don`t think this is about a ride. I think this is about who can
actually beat Barack Obama.

And the thing on his list, his tablet from the mount, as you say --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HARRIS: -- those are authentic liabilities in any sort of normal year
for somebody who wants to be a serious contender for the Republican
nomination. Karl wasn`t just making those things up.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HARRIS: Those are things that are difficult for Cain to explain.
Those are reasons why we have to wonder whether this souffle will collapse
just as Michele Bachmann`s did and Rick Perry`s and some of the others that
we`ve seen in this cycle.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Again, you need a souffle, though, and he`s the last
one rising. Anyway, I`ve got to go.

Thank you, Gene Robinson.

Thank you, John Harris, of the wonderful "Politico."

Coming up, President Obama versus Mitch McConnell over whether the
wealthy should pay a little more to keep teachers and emergency responders
-- you know, firefighters and police -- on the post. Is the president
picking a fight he can win? Well, we`ll see. That`s ahead.

And this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: President Obama`s quarterly job approval rating has slid to
a new low. Gallup has averaged his approval ratings by quarter, and in
this, the 11th quarter of his presidency, Barack Obama is averaging 41
percent job approval. The only president since Eisenhower to have a lower
number in his 11th quarter was Jimmy Carter -- not a good role model there.

But some hopeful news for the president, both Ronald Reagan and Bill
Clinton were in the 40s if their 11th quarter, and, of course, both won re-
election rather handily.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell kept his caucus in lockstep
last week, as you know, and derailed the president`s jobs bill, which would
have saved 400,000 jobs for firefighters, police officers, and teachers.
When asked to defend his action, McConnell offered his own perspective on
it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The question is whether
the federal government ought to be raising taxes on 300,000 small
businesses in order to send money down to bail out states for whom
firefighters and police work. They are local and state employees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, he gave the president a tool right there, a weapon,
if you will. Speaking at a fund-raiser yesterday, President Obama called
out -- well, he called out Senator McConnell by name for calling the jobs
bill a bailout. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But all the Republicans
in the Senate said no. Their leader, Mitch McConnell, said that -- and I`m
going to make sure I quote this properly -- saving the jobs of teachers and
cops and fire fighters was just, I quote, "a bailout."

A bailout. These aren`t bad actors who somehow screwed up the
economy. They didn`t act irresponsibly. These are the men and women who
teach our children, who patrol our streets, who run into burning buildings
and save people. They deserve our support.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, they are laying off a lot of police officers, and the
president called out McConnell again today at a San Francisco fund-raiser.

So, Obama versus McConnell -- is this a fight the president wants to
have? Joan Walsh is out there. She`s editor at large of "Salon."

I guess it`s always smart to pick your opponent. He has taken a good
look at Mitch McConnell, his absolute negativity, his absolute
partisanship. And he said this guy is when I want in the ring with me,
right?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Absolutely. And, you know, it`s totally fair,
Chris, because it didn`t just start last week. I mean, you remember this.
"The New York Times" had a great story about how Mitch McConnell in the
dead of winter before the president was inaugurated, he had a 70 percent
approval rating. Republicans were terrified, and he brought them together,
the Senate minority caucus and said, if we stick together with 40 votes, we
can block him.

And he knew that the president, for better or worse, had campaigned on
a promise of bipartisanship, and he was smart enough to know, hey, guess
what? To be bipartisan, you need a partner -- and he committed his caucus
to blocking everything the president did.

So, this isn`t some new battle that just got picked up last week.
This is an old battle, and I`m really -- I`m very happy that the president
is finally getting in the ring with this guy.

MATTHEWS: I think that people are paying attention. There`s a new
poll that came out a couple of days ago this, last week, that showed that
the public hadn`t paid attention to that fight over the debt ceiling. They
didn`t like the performances of Eric Cantor and all the Tea Party people on
the right side --

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- Republican side. And they said basically we much prefer
a Democrat-controlled majority in the Congress, so I think -- I think Mitch
McConnell is off base on this. I don`t think he looks too good.

WALSH: Yes, I agree.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look --

WALSH: Go ahead.

MATTHEWS: The president here, what he`s up to. He`s going to do the
"we can`t wait" plans. We`re going to do things by executive order, won`t
wait for Congress who won`t do anything.

Monday, he talked about mortgage relief, we talked that last night on
the show. Today, he`s talking about jobs for veterans. On Wednesday, he`s
talking about student relief. So, it seems like -- on student loans, of
course, which is killing a lot of kids in their 20s and 30s now as they
become young adults.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: It seems like he wants to show a positive face of what he
can do without a nasty, do-nothing Congress and at the same time let
everybody know that they are a do-nothing Congress.

WALSH: Right. And it`s a very good strategy. I`m really happy to
see him doing this. I mean, the other thing that we saw after the debt
ceiling, Chris, is that polls said they wanted the president to fight back,
that they actually, even Republican-leaning independents said we want to
see him fight. He shouldn`t cave to these guys. You know, they have gone
too far.

And so, I think he saw the polls and is doing what`s right and what`s
in his heart. You know, I think that the student loan issue is exactly
what you`re saying. It`s driving "Occupy Wall Street." These kids are
coming out of college and paying in student loans what people used to pay
in mortgages for their first home so they can`t buy a first home.

We`ve got veterans coming home, thank God, from Iraq. Wouldn`t it be
nice if they came home to jobs rather than unemployment?

So, these are winning issues -- mortgage obviously as well. These are
winning issues. He can do something on his own. I`m happy to see him
taking that strategy, and at the same time, keeping the fight up and
letting Americans know he tried to have a partner and he just couldn`t find
one.

MATTHEWS: Thanks a lot. It`s great to have you on, Joan Walsh.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with why the fight for the Republican
nomination is defining the norm. It`s so bizarre out there with this guy
Cain winning. What are they up to?

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this: you have to wonder
what`s going on in the Republican Party this season. If it were a regular
Republican year, we`d have the party falling for a presidential candidate
by now. They`d have a favorite and they`d be getting ready to run them
against the Democratic incumbent this. This would especially be the man in
the case when the man in the White House looks to be vulnerable, as he does
now.

It`s not happening.

What we`re seeing now is not the normal Republican situation where you
have a candidate gaining strength. We`re seeing the opposite. We have a
moderate Republican Mitt Romney compared to the rest of the field sitting
on about a quarter of the vote, and one candidate after another popping up
as his number one alternative.

There was all that insiders` excitement about Governor Mitch Daniels
of Indiana, and then, a big dustup over Haley Barbour of Mississippi. And
then came, of all people, Donald Trump before he blew the birther issue.

We had Congresswoman Michele Bachmann who rose up and then dropped to
the floor.

We all got excited about Governor Rick Perry of Texas as a
conservative prospect and then saw him flounder in TV debates.

And now, Herman Cain is dominating numbers and matching Mitt Romney in
a way that must make Romney think anybody but him will always get a number
equal to or higher than him.

You know what year this one is beginning to remind me of? 1964. In
that year, one candidate, Henry Cabot Lodge won New Hampshire and another,
New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, won the Oregon primary and still
another, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater won California and with it the
nomination.

This has been a political season much like that -- one candidate after
another, popping up and then flattening out.

Could it be that we`re watching the same situation now as in `64? The
Republicans don`t seem to be happy with their presumed candidate, that`s
Romney, so they are shopping around for someone -- anyone else.

One difference is the timing, of course, with the caucuses and the
primaries pushed up to New Year`s this time. The election campaign is
basically being fought right now months ahead of what it was in `64.

So, what`s the same? The relentless rejection of the front-runner.

The only question is whether Mitt Romney can lose the nomination fight
to nobody. It will take somebody, of course, winning it for him to lose
it. That alone seems to make it look good for Romney. They don`t like any
of the other candidates that have been coming along all much more than they
do him -- although I`m beginning to wonder about Herman Cain. He`s
starting to open -- he`s opening up a lead over Romney.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

Don`t forget to catch President Obama on "The Tonight Show" tonight
with Jay Leno. That`s tonight.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.

END
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BE UPDATED.
END

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